Category Archives: Government

The Problem With Automatic Voter Registration

Tonight at Hillary Clinton’s debut on the Ricki Lake Christiane Amanpour CNN Townhall, there was a discussion about “mandatory voting” (what is this, China?) and “Automatic Voter registration.”

Election Law Blog notes:

5:55 p.m.: Asked if there should be mandatory voting, Clinton “no,” but argued “there should be automatic registration.”

“When a young person turns 18, that young person should be registered to vote,” she said. “And I deplore the efforts by some to restrict the right to vote.”

Now, I suppose trial lawyers might love the idea of a bigger jury pool — or maybe they won’t. Friend of the blog and former professor of mine Doc Lawrence says:

I actually don’t have a problem with this (although I think automatic registration would not have a very large effect on voter turnout; frankly I think the biggest depressing factors in the US are election fatigue and weekday voting).

Doc’s views are on point, but my concern with automatic voter registration is one of procedure. I think it would probably cause a lot of problems.

Potential candidates for President usually don’t campaign on non-federal issues, so I don’t think we’re assuming wrongly that Hillary is talking about a federal proposal to automatically register voters*. (*= Assuming felons, green card holders, illegal aliens excepted.)

Typically, and with some notable exceptions, election law  is left up to the states. But the feds do have the ultimate say.

Oregon has been considering such a measure:

which would allow the state to automatically register any Oregonian when a state agency already has their name, age, address and digital signature

Whereby:

The measure calls for using driver’s license data from the state to automatically register people if they are citizens and meet other criteria for voting. Under the bill, the secretary of state’s office would send a postcard to all new registrants giving them a chance to opt out of registering.

Now, imagine 50 some odd voting jurisdictions forced by the federal government to coordinate sorting this mess out. Yes, they already have to coordinate it, but imagine adding lots of young people who are going to be transient for the near future, and don’t vote in great numbers.

What’s the point? Registering to vote is not hard.

Compounding the problem is that these kids go to college, meet an activist in the dorm/on the street who convinces them to sign a petition and register to vote for whatever cause. Their driver’s license, license plate, state where they pay income taxes all (likely wrongly) might be another state.

But now they think they’re registered to vote in another state despite all of that. And come fall, assuming they don’t lose interest, they plan to vote there.

Or maybe when they’re back home they plan to vote back home. Surprise!

With Oregon, somebody decides to change their driver’s license while attending college in Oregon to get in-state tuition. But, they still (wrongly) consider themselves residents of the state where their parents live, and still pay taxes and vote there.

Dumb as it seems, these things happen — and my friends who think I am a residency Nazi are also the same ones trying to convince me that keeping their out of state whatever isn’t some sort of fraud. (The DC/MD/VA area is pretty harsh on failing to become a resident.)

And these are adults we’re talking about — not 22 year olds.

Residency, we’re told, is all about intent — and people love cheating for whatever reason. Whether it’s taxes, making their vote “count more”, or their silly customized license plates they’ve had.

If Oregon, a state with just under 4 million residents expects an automatic voter ID law would result in 500,000 new voters, you can imagine the complications that would cause across the country in keeping the system safe and fair.

My opinion is that the complications of the real world get in the way when it comes to a national automatic voting system, and on top of that, it’s pretty much an unfunded mandate.

Enjoy jury duty!

My Nemesis, the Black Vulture, Comes to D.C.

I hate black vultures, and not because I generally hate birds — I have a professional hatred for black vultures.

Back when I was a hill staffer, constituents contacted the office I worked for through the local agriculture county extension agent complaining about black vultures eating their livestock. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t vultures only eat dead animals? No. Black vultures also eat live ones, especially cute newborns.

They team up in packs, take out the eyes and other aspects of the face of their victim, and boom — dinner is served.

Black vultures are actually protected by a treaty the United States stupidly signed with a bunch of other countries. The logic of course being that we wanted to give these non-endangered violent birds with few (if any) known predators a license to kill other animals across the globe while simultaneously protecting the non-endangered ones that are logos for outdoor clothing companies like Eddie Bauer.

And because it’s a treaty, it’s not easy to fix when the unintended consequences become clear. The Navy discovered this when the nutters at Earth Justice went after them for bombing masked boobies on a small island the U.S. owns. (Yes, really. Masked boobies.)

Coragyps-atratus-002Farmers and ranchers out in the district wanted to comply with the law (read: not go to jail for killing a bird that’s not a Bald Eagle), and asked our office to look into it.

So, I called Fish and Wildlife and asked what the deal was with stopping them from killing livestock. Would FWS come out and capture them? Send them to a vulture foster home? A vulture preserve?

Nope.

The FWS-proposed solution was they could go to a regional office and apply for a permit to kill one black vulture. After killing it, they instruct the rancher to hang it from a tree to scare away the other black vultures. (In retrospect, this sounds kind of racist.) The constituents weren’t pleased with this solution.

Short of withdrawing from the treaty, which won’t likely happen, that left them in kind of a pickle. Killing one of these without a permit can land you in the slammer for six months and a fine of $15,000. I couldn’t say this at the time to the constituents, but I wondered why they just didn’t kill the damn birds. After all, who would miss these things aside from wealthy liberal ornithologist city slickers, bureaucrats, and environmentalists?

It’s not like FWS has roving patrols of meter maids checking on the growing populace of  federally protected violent predators with no real predator to kill them. And it’s the middle of the country.

Anyways, the Washington Post reports that vultures, and by the photograph I’m nearly certain they’re black vultures, are now in Washington, D.C. — on K Street, no less.

I left the hill for the lucrative world of journalism and never heard if the vulture situation back west was really resolved. I emailed the local agriculture rep I once worked with, and he confirmed “We still have them here, just glad to share the over-abundance.”

The only known predators for black vultures are a few species of the eagle. And now that they’re in Washington, perhaps MetroBus can be added to the list of known predators.

It will be interesting to see if the black vultures become a problem in Washington. My guess is they’ll just be the butt of a “lobbyists are vultures” joke until they murder some hipster’s rescue dog at a dog park.

Only then will we hear the outrage.

 

Meet America’s Awesome New Missile

“In testing conducted at the US Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, CA from December 2013 – January 2014, a Brimstone-equipped MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) scored nine direct hits against stationary and maneuvering targets traveling at speeds as fast as 70 MPH, while launching from up to 7 miles away at altitudes as high as 20,000 feet – realistic “middle of the envelope” shot profiles.”

Yoga Mats ARE Scary

Meet Vani Hari. She’s a self-described organic “food activist” who apparently hates chemicals in commercially produced food.

Today, it seems, she’s won a big battle with Subway saying it will remove an ingredient from its bread called azodicarbonamide. It’s super scary, guys, because it’s used in the production of Yoga Mats.

Vani’s blog/online organic food store, called “Food Babe” says this ingredient is DANGEROUS. The Chicago Tribune, regrettably, weighed in with the headline: “Subway removing yoga mat chemical from bread.” Which is like saying that Coca Cola is “removing a packing peanuts ingredient from soda” by switching from corn-based sugar to cane sugar. Or, as friend of the blog Jeryl Bier notes on Twitter:

StopUsingAzodicarbonamide1

Vani’s campaign against azodicarbonamide is a classic scare campaign, a common theme on her website. She urges readers “beware of MONSANTO Butter” because “Choosing the wrong type of butter can secretly ruin your health without you even knowing it!” And, she made it on television with LABEL GMOs signs during Tom Vilsack’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. A real go-getter.

Don’t worry, though, Vani’s blog has you covered with an “Organic, Non-GMO, Real Food, Weight Loss” plan that you can sign up for at the low, low price of $17.99 a month. Beware of people who immediately have the solution to the problems they are complaining about.

Vani is not a scientist or medical expert. (Nor am I, for that matter.) In an interview, she shared her unique take on appendicitis:

“One night, I felt a sharp, intense pain in my stomach. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I discovered my appendix was going to burst and I needed to have surgery immediately to have it removed. Since that day, my life has been changed forever. They say having appendicitis is random, but I think that is just not true. I know my lifestyle of high stress and poor nutrition caused this horrible thing to happen to my body.

And a star was born!

Yes, lots of countries have banned azodicarbonamide because they’re fearful it could cause health problems. But the World Health Organization isn’t so sure those studies were done very well. They conclude in their evaluation of azodicarbonamide’s health effects that:

“The limited toxicology database and lack of exposure data make it difficult to adequately assess the risk to humans potentially exposed; hence, there is a need for further information.”

Website Food Navigator USA notes, correctly, that the FDA has deemed azodicarbonamide safe for human consumption. It also notes, incorrectly, that the WHO “linked the chemical to asthma and other respiratory issues, concluding that ‘exposure levels should be reduced as much as possible.'”

The World Health Organization did not link azodicarbonamide to asthma and respiratory issues regarding food consumption, as they suggest. Here’s the line from the report:

who

The key word, here is occupational exposure. Unless your job is to eat Subway sandwich bread, your exposure to azodicarbonamide is not occupational. I kid, but the azodicarbonamide skeptics at Undergroundhealth.com understand this, saying: “Even a chemical that produces a disease such as asthma in its raw concentrated form is not tuned to the natural state of the human metabolism and does not belong in our food at any ANY dosage.”

And I don’t agree with that logic because lots of airborne things can cause asthma. According to the NIH:

Many substances in the workplace can trigger asthma symptoms, leading to occupational asthma. The most common triggers are wood dust, grain dust, animal dander, fungi, or chemicals.

I suppose by the logic that fungi can cause occupational asthma, we should ban the consumption of mushrooms, too.

Azodicarbonamide should be celebrated, not scorned. It keeps bread fresher for a longer period of time. You know, like “eat fresh”? It saves consumers money that way. The smear campaign against it comes from people who also wrongly smear GMO crops that save millions of lives.

And yes, yoga mats really ARE scary. Hopefully they’ll remove the bread ingredients from them as soon as possible.

bsig

Further Reading: A Canadian chemist from McGill University shares his thoughts here.

The Salt Shortage That Wasn’t?

With the polar vortexes ravaging North America, cities and states are finding themselves running out of salt. The media is freaking out, especially after the nightmare in Atlanta.

Here’s a sampling of headlines in my feedly reader:

salt

Before you freak out, thinking your municipality is going to start spraying salt-heavy cheese all over your roads, the salt experts have something to say:

There isn’t a salt shortage. 

Believe it or not, there is a Salt Institute here in Washington. I suppose if everyone has their own lobbyists and think tanks, Big Salt deserves one, too.

Here’s what Lori Roman, President of the Salt Institute, has to say about the state of salt:

There isn’t a salt shortage—salt is in abundant supply. However, some of the country is experiencing a more severe winter than normal leaving some municipalities and Departments of Transportation with low inventories. While many agencies try to have enough salt on hand in the fall to get them through an entire winter, recent weather is forcing many to order again mid-season which is not an ideal situation as there is a lead time for delivery.

bsig

Can Reason Save Cleveland?

Earlier today, I shared Matt Yglesias’s story on why Silicon Valley should relocate to….Cleveland.

The facebook post I shared came with this message:

Yglesias writes “It’s time for tech hubs to go where they’re welcome.” And he picks…. Cleveland? What? Off his rocker.

The post received a number of comments, including one from a thoughtful a neighbor, whose son I played hockey with. He writes:

So Jimmy, you have been away long enough that you are now a Cleveland basher as well? True, we have three months of bad weather…..but unbelievable property values, great cost of living, great culture (I would put the Cleveland Orchestra up against any from San Francisco or Washington), the largest theater district west of NYC, a great art museum, the Hall of Fame, fantastic restaurants, great music ……and, oh yeah, you can actually get to all of them within 30 minutes – not 2-3 hrs. BTW…how much would your old home on Eaton Rd cost in either SF or Washington?

I frequently, and sometimes more harshly than I should, criticize Cleveland. I’d like to clear the air and share my thoughts on the matter. I don’t hate Cleveland, I criticize because I love where I grew up and want my hometown to thrive — despite its efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here’s my response to my former neighbor, an all around good guy who frequently inspires great discussions on my facebook wall:

Dr. S. — I don’t disagree with your points on Cleveland the region. I do think, and agree, that the region would be good to host a wide range of industries for the reasons you express. And, for what it’s worth, I love the bad weather.

Indeed, the house I grew up in on Eaton road would easily go for a million or two here in Washington or San Francisco, if not more. (So, three to six times the cost.) Detroit, as Yglesias notes, has even more affordable housing, but he wrote them off as a lost city, noting that if he had picked Detroit, people likely migrate to Ann Arbor. I don’t think Cleveland is lost yet, but it’s not going out of its way to improve things, in my opinion.

Solving Cleveland’s inability to attain the growth it could attain is a puzzle, one with locally imposed constraints and with ones imposed by the state. The Cleveland area has many great attributes and it also has some things it needs to work on. That goes for Ohio, as well.

While I am frequently critical of Cleveland — sometimes more harshly than I should be — it’s because I’d love for my hometown to be the next Silicon Valley, but at present, I don’t think it can be. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t. Some of that is on the city of Cleveland itself, some on the suburbs, and some on the state. Before I forget, some of it is on Cuyahoga County — now with less corruption!

One reason is because I think that municipal income taxes are a poor way to structure things, especially if individuals who live in one city but work in another have to pay taxes to both in some respect. Unlike other comparable jurisdictions in other states, potential employers would have to pay more in salary and benefits to offset the tax differential. Not exactly a welcome beacon to relocate to NE Ohio. Sure, low-income earners get an exemption, but, in the case of the Yglesias example, tech employers probably employ fewer people exempted than those subject to paying taxes in Cleveland and (insert name of other jurisdiction).

Like the electoral map, Ohio has a bunch of residential clusters and a larger swath of area with lower population density.  Yes, California has high taxes — but it doesn’t allow city income taxes the way Ohio does. I do think an examination of the state’s tax policies are in order. That could benefit Cleveland and NE Ohio greatly.

Yglesias is correct to note that, unlike Detroit or Buffalo (no offense to my Buffalo friends), Cleveland could be fertile ground for such a resurgence. But, knowing that Cleveland and nearly every other major city does what it can to sell itself to businesses (like Philadelphia is doing to California’s Sriracha maker, under fire from the city in which it does business), businesses aren’t flocking to Cleveland. I wish they would, because I’d love to move back some day and watch the Browns lose in person. Maybe some day, we’ll win big.

My other concern/criticism with his piece is, at least as it pertains to the city, is this: If Yglesias thinks that it’s time for “tech hubs to go where they’re welcome” because SF residents are complaining about private bus stops — wait until he learns about some of Cleveland’s NIMBY problems.

Cleveland’s zoning and regulatory policies, for me, leave much to be desired. In my opinion, the city of Cleveland’s problem isn’t due to one-party rule, it’s more a problem of ideology. It’s more of a “our job is to help business ‘thread the needle‘ of regulations” than it is to make the regulations and laws more conducive for businesses to want to locate there in the first place.

My TL:DR is this — If Yglesias were revealing some secret about why everyone should “flee to the Cleve” and move their business there, people would already be doing it. I wish they were, as Cleveland is a great area with a lot to offer. But they aren’t. It’s not because of a lack of publicity or PR. Other journalists, with a love for Cleveland and Ohio, have already suggested some reasons why Cleveland might want to shun PR and focus on change, but they’ve largely been ignored.

While I’d love it if Ohio and Cleveland adopted the Texas and Houston models, that is unrealistic. It won’t happen. It’s part of the culture, which is fine. Even some modest changes in that direction, though, could help Cleveland.

bsig

UPDATE: I recommend this post by Daniel McGraw on the same topic.

Buying Local and Foraging to the Extreme

foragingI have nothing against the “buy local” crowd, the foraging crowd, or the urban gardening crowd per se.  I have no problems with people liking each of the concepts. My complaints and problems with each of the groups stem from absurd and cult-like adherence to each dogma as if it were its own religion, forced on others, or taken to the extreme.

While buying local might be worse for the environment in some cases, or more expensive than mass-produced items shipped from a distance, people should be free to pursue the best course of action they see fit. Even if it means more harm to the environment and their wallet. Urban foraging, provided you’re not stealing from your neighbor — like chefs in local-food-crazed Portland are doing — is a little weird, but if that’s what you want to do, fine.

This recent story I read in Bloomberg Businessweek is an extreme example in buying local, urban gardening and foraging craze — or as I call it, going Authentically Amish (with apologies to the local furniture store.) A half hour outside of Albany, NY is Earlton. Here, there is a restaurant with a five-year waiting list.

The restaurant with the longest waiting list, five-years to be precise, is a small, nondescript, 12-table basement located in Earlton, N.Y ., named simply enough Damon Baehrel after its owner and chef. Its guests come from 48 countries and include such celebrities as Jerry Seinfeld, Martha Stewart and Barack Obama himself. However what makes Baehrel’s restaurant the most exclusive restaurant in the world is not the decor, nor the patrons, some who fly overnight from Manhattan to pay $255 for dinner (before wine and tip), nor the hype (although all the advertising is through word-of-mouth), but the food, which is all cultivated, grown, prepared, cooked and served from and on the property, and where Baehrel is literally the only employee. “I’m the chef, the waiter, the grower, the forager, the gardener, the cheesemaker, the cured-meat maker, and, as I will explain, everything comes from this 12-acre property.”

By that math, if this restaurant is open five days a week, with 12 tables and two people at each averaging $255 a head, Mr. Baehrel is raking in close to $1.5 million a year.

Bloomberg notes that it’s about half that, but still:

This hyperlocal, hyperunderground strategy is paying off. Baehrel won’t provide exact numbers but says he serves a few thousand guests each year and generates annual revenue of at least $750,000.

For foodies, visiting the so-called “Michael Jordan” of the movement has to be a big treat. There are similar restaurant concepts here in Washington.

But it is a cautionary tale of foodie-ism taken to the extreme. A five year waiting list? Must be nice if your last name is Baehrel, but to those wanting to go to a nice restaurant, pay a more modest price, and not have to wait five years, it’s good that the market offers other options.

The world would look a lot more like this if the extremist-type locovores were able to impose their whims on the rest of us, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. More likely, the locovores wage smaller, more winnable battles. And what start out as suggestions often become requirements later.

If you are among the Manhattan elite and can afford to pay and wait for such food, I hope it’s worth the wait. And to some, I’m sure it is. Nobody should begrudge Baehrel his success in offering something that clearly has high demand.

As for me, I’m happy to get my corn from where it’s most efficient to grow corn, beef from where it’s best to raise cattle, and my high-fructose corn syrup from the plant best able to deliver a quality product to the Coca Cola bottler near me. Or Mexican coke with that cane sugar. Delicious imports.

So long as the market isn’t unduly inhibited by regulations, locovores and free traders should both be able to enjoy the fruits of the harvest in harmony. bsig

 

The Sriracha Story … How Will It End?

The timing for Griffin Hammond’s documentary on Sriracha sauce couldn’t be better. More on that in a bit. This holiday season, I highly recommend this 33 minute documentary, which you can buy for $5 on his site. Put it on a flash drive, tape it to a Sriracha bottle, and give it to a loved one as a stocking stuffer.

My only complaint is that I wish it were longer and included the current fight over the ability of Huy Fong to sell its products.

Fans of the sauce will especially love the film, and those who can’t stand anything spicy will still find the story of it fascinating.

Hammond tells the story of one of America’s favorite hot sauces with a cult-like following from a societal perspective, from that of David Tran, the Huy Fong company’s founder, and from a historical perspective about the sauce’s origins in Thailand. Now, Sriracha isn’t my favorite hot sauce (it’s hard to pick one), but it was one I stupidly avoided at burger joints. I’m happy to admit I am wrong, because this sauce is wonderful.

Just the “how it’s all made” portion of the documentary, which is well-filmed and produced, would be enough to interest me. Hammond bills it as “The origin story of an iconic hot sauce, finally revealed.” He’s not lying.

Tran, the founder of the most known version of the Sriracha-type chili sauce (with a green cap and a rooster on it), came to the U.S. by way of Hong Kong after the fall of Saigon. As an ethnic Chinese man, he wasn’t really welcome in Vietnam after it went communist.

hf2Tran got out of Vietnam on a boat. When the British told the boat to turn back, it stayed there for a month. The British relented, and Tran made his way to America as a refugee.

In 1980, he founded his company, selling his version of the Sriracha sauce in the Chinatown neighborhood in LA to local restaurants. The company’s name?  Huy Fong — the name of the ship that saved him from communism and a society that didn’t welcome him.

He has never marketed his sauce, though fans appear eager to do so for him — including the webcomic The OatmealTran seems more interested in bringing his product to the masses.

Much success has come to David Tran and his chili sauce factory. His former factory was once a Wham-o factory that made frisbees and hula-hoops, but demand grew too much. So, in 2010, he arranged for a bigger factory — a few times the size of his old one — in nearby Irwindale. In 2012, he sold 20 million bottles of the stuff.

In the making of chili, during the fall harvest, the peppers need to be pureed and mixed with other inputs at the most ripe point, when they are red. So, for much of the ripe-times for these chilis, the Huy Fong plant excretes a delicious chili aroma. Then it’s aged and stored before it is bottled and sent out.

Irwindale’s citizens, fewer than 30 of the city’s 1,400 residents– including a city councilman’s son — complained about the chili odor. And because of this, the city sued, saying the smell of chili was a “public nuisance.” This, after Tran and Huy Fong installed filters not once, but twice in response to complaints. The South Coast Air Quality Management District visited numerous times, but didn’t cite Huy Fong for violations.

Tran won the first round, but on appeal, the city won — even though the judge said there was a “lack of credible evidence” tying health problems to the factory’s smell — on the public nuisance complaint. For now, it doesn’t matter that much until next fall, since the harvest is over. The fight, though, isn’t.

According to the LA Times, some of the closest neighbors to the plant, however, fail to see what the problem is:

Sal Hernandez, a 75-year-old former Irwindale councilman who lives on Azusa Canyon Road, just a few houses from the Huy Fong plant, said he has never noticed a smell. He said he was surprised the city went after the maker of Sriracha hot sauce so quickly and aggressively.

“It hasn’t bothered me yet. I haven’t had any effects from it, and I’m right next door to it,” Hernandez said.

A former reserve police officer who has lived in the city for more than 30 years, Hernandez said few people go before the council to complain about the smell from other factories in town – like the huge MillerCoors Brewery or a dog food manufacturer on Arrow Highway.

“Things we should go to court for we don’t, and for this thing, we’re taking [the Sriracha company] to court,” he said. “I’m surprised. They were praising this thing before they even came in. Everyone was praising it.”

Praising it, indeed. The city even went out of its way to attract those Huy Fong jobs, offering a really good loan for a small town that, when you think about it, is kind of nuts.

The LA Times reports:

Huy Fong Foods decided to locate its factory in Irwindale three years ago when the city offered a loan with “irresistible” terms: pay only interest for 10 years, with a balloon payment at the end.

Huy Fong took the loan and contributed $250,000 a year to the city of Irwindale each year as part of the deal, Tran said. The company then built a $40-million factory that at full capacity could generate about $300 million a year in sales, according to Tran’s statements.

But after complaints about the smell began last year, Tran said he began to get an “odd feeling” about the city’s behavior. In response, the company has taken out a loan with less favorable terms from East West Bank to pay off the city’s loan.

Could Irwindale be suffering from buyer’s remorse? Perhaps. The town with 1,400 people did offer to front a loan for Huy Fong similar to the interest only mortgages popular before the housing crash in exchange for jobs and commerce, which seems like a bad idea. Tran’s premonition led him to pay off the loan early, like some TARP recipients did in the wake of the financial crisis when the Treasury imposed special regulations on loan recipients.

Or is Irwindale angling for a settlement deal? Also possible.

The city could be taking action for all 20-some citizens who have a problem with the plant, though based on former councilman Hernandez’s comments, the city’s actions seem strange — like that of a spurned crazy ex-girlfriend.

One thing is for sure, taking loans from the government may save you money up front, but the special terms of the deal often appear after you’ve signed on the dotted line, as seems to be the case here.

Tran looks like he is taking this personally. He put up a big banner that reads “NO TEAR GAS MADE HERE” and hung it out in front of his factory. The sign gives the impression Tran plans to fight this in court, but the company is largely keeping quiet.

Los Angeles County, where Irwindale is located, has a higher than average unemployment rate — 9.5% as of October. Like the Dollar Shave Club commercial says, “I’m no Vanderbilt but this train makes hay” — Tran’s brought commerce to Irwindale, but do they really want this litigious NIMBY reputation? It doesn’t appear the city has put much thought to the trade offs such a lawsuit brings.

If Irwindale’s sudden and bizarre reversal weren’t enough for Huy Fong, the state of California has made matters worse.

According to a report by ABC News:

The Southern California-based maker of Sriracha has been told it can’t ship any more of its popular hot sauce to food distributors until next month because the state Department of Public Health is enforcing stricter guidelines that require a 30-day hold on the product.

Health department spokeswoman Anita Gore told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the 30-day hold is needed to “ensure an effective treatment of microorganisms present in the product.”

The move by the California Department of Health might be seen as suspicious by some, given the timing. But it appears that the regulation that went into effect wasn’t specifically targeted at Huy Fong.

LA Weekly reports that the 30-day requirement “has existed for years but that it was recently modified in a way that now applies specifically to Huy Fong’s hot sauces.” The Department of Health cited federal regulatory law as the justification for the change in their enforcement, despite the sauce being produced there for over 30 years. The regulations were changed in 2011, under the Obama administration, state that companies that deviate from the scheduled process for acidified food must “set aside that portion of the food involved for further evaluation as to any potential public health significance.”

California has stricter rules than the rest of the U.S. for guns, cars,  and apparently, hot sauce.

One wholesaler is very unhappy, telling ABC News that he’s already received 30 angry phone calls — more than the total number of complaints in Irwindale — about the problems it’s causing. Unfortunately for consumers, they don’t have a city to sue on their behalf, only David Tran, Huy Fong Foods and his legal team. The delays, the wholesaler says, could cost him $300,000 in lost business.

Other cities’ officials are trying to lure Tran and his company to relocate to their city. One such place is Philadelphia. While it’s unlikely Huy Fong — which only uses one chili supplier — would ship its chilis across the country in an expedited manner to make their product there, nearby Arizona and Nevada might be a better fit.

In the film, Tran tells us that if people no longer like his product, he’ll stop making it. His product’s popularity isn’t the problem at present — it’s California, and Californians. David Tran waited a month on a ship to escape Vietnam, so Irwindale should expect no lack of patience from him.

I doubt Tran will go full Atlas Shrugged and deny foodies, hipsters, and hot sauce fanatics his great product. But its fans should take notice to see what the NIMBY crowd and regulatory overreach is doing to one of their prize condiments. Don’t expect any hilarious criticisms of regulatory overreach by The Oatmeal.  Unless Tran wins in court, the price of Sriracha is set to rise, or the California label might be coming off the bottle.bsig

Apparently Smokey Bear Is Essential

While National Parks are closed, it appears that perhaps the most famous spokesman for fire/wildfire safety in national parks and forests isn’t on furlough.

smokeybear

Commuting in Washington

By no means am I a super commuter. I don’t live out in the exurbs or in West Virginia. My commute is ordinary. I live across from a metro station and bus hub relatively close to Washington, D.C. — but I’m done taking the train every day.

For starters, I’m lucky that my phone has an unlimited text plan. If not, the amount of texts would really put a crunch on my plan.

WMATA texts me more than a psychotic ex-girlfriend. While I’ve never had one of those, my friends who have inform me they received about a hundred texts or so over the course of a month or two. WMATA easily meets that.  Except that instead of “I miss you” you get soul crushing texts like “Red Line: Single tracking btwn Van Ness & Friendship Heights due to a sick customer aboard a train at“. In other words, “Say goodbye to twenty minutes of your day.

Of course, these alerts are only helpful if your phone works underground. Which, thanks to the stellar work of WMATA, hasn’t happened.

It’s the same story with email.

In the past month, WMATA has emailed me no less than 138 times. In that time, Jos. A. Bank emailed me about 25 times. When your email rate is five times that of Jos. A. Bank, you’re in trouble.

Are these alerts helpful? Sure. So is WTOP, but WTOP isn’t subsidized by my tax dollars and tells me where the traffic is for the cost of a few advertisements. These alerts are more of a mea culpa of failure.

Since I’ve had enough, I decided I am driving to work now every day. I’ve done this before, and I loved it. (A parking spot in the shadow of the Capitol helps.)

Driving may end up being slightly more expensive, but I have ways of mitigating the increase in cost. Driving enables me to stop at the grocery and bring in food for lunch conveniently, and that will save money over getting lunch at a sandwich joint every day.

It will also save me time and, as we all know, time is money. Even with Washington’s horrible traffic, on average, I beat WMATA during my normal commute time by close to 10 minutes each way. On late nights, it’s close to 30 minutes of savings.  Tonight, with a major accident on the 14th street bridge, a Nationals game, and bumper to bumper traffic on 395 N to 295 S, I tied my normal metro commute. I’m on track to save close to 20 hours of time this year. Admittedly, it helps knowing the back streets.

In addition to the time it will save me, especially given my irregular hours, it will certainly save me the frustration of having to actually ride WMATA. It’s a miserable experience if you have to ride it regularly, if you’ve never had the pleasure. It’s like the popular bar in a tourist-driven resort town. Its patrons are either regular drunks (commuters) or hawaiian shirt-wearing visitors (tourists) who just crowd the place. The bar is run by incompetents and managed by those who know the tourist and government gravy train isn’t getting shut off, so little changes.

But hey, at least it’s clean!

To avoid having to take WMATA on short trips, I registered for what I call BikeSocialism — or Capital BikeShare as it’s known around D.C. The RFID key they sent me looks like a Soviet flag.

Some of the money used to subsidize the BikeShare program was meant to “address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” That hasn’t worked out, according to a recent story by Reason magazine which reported that “95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D….”

I figure if my tax dollars are going to be used to subsidize a bike commune at below-market rates, I might as well do what I can to capture the subsidy — even if I am a college graduate.

Mind you, I have nothing wrong with bike sharing.  I just don’t think our tax dollars need to subsidize it and the lanes we dedicate take away from motor vehicles when the cyclists don’t pay the same taxes that auto drivers do to maintain the roads. Call me crazy.

I am just plain sick of riding WMATA. The fares are going up, the PIDs are never correct (if they’re working), and the experience is getting worse and worse. Going forward, my goal is to give as few dollars possible to WMATA as possible. I realize that this won’t make much of a dent in their balance sheets — not that they particularly care too much about those. I know that my tax dollars will continue to their coffers, but my discretionary/pre-tax transportation dollars? Not so much.bsig