A Warning About Ordering Records From Europe

So, if you don’t know me, I collected records in middle and high school… back in the 80s when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In fact, I recently got a new storage solution for my records and went through my core 80s collection for the first time in ages. I posted many of my favorites to my Instagram account – just scroll back a couple months.

Anyway, I got out of record collecting in the early 90s, when it seemed like CDs had conquered vinyl once and for all. And from 2008 until 2020, I’d buy a record every few years, be it an old favorite or colored vinyl,” just because”.

I really started buying vinyl again in 2022. I’ve ordered maybe a dozen LPs from Europe, and I’ve discovered something: European LP mailers suck. Like, almost all of them. So if you really want a record from Europe, it may be worth your time to see if anyone in the US has it. Not only will shipping be much cheaper from the US than the EU, we here in the US use proper packaging.

This is mailer for a record I ordered from Norway. The center of the mailer had a “tear here” strip, so that’s how I opened it. That part’s SUPPOSED to look bad. But the problem here is that while the cardboard is thick, it’s very soft. It feels like it was made with mostly recycled cardboard. In any case, you can see all the dents and bends the record suffered on the way here. The record arrived with a torn and dented outer sleeve. I emailed the label, who opened a new copy of the LP and mailed me that sleeve. They coulda avoided all that by just using better quality mailers.

Norway Mailer 01

Here’s another shot of the Norway mailer, at a slightly different angle, so you can see all the dents, and how thin it is on the side:

Norway Mailer 02

And this is the mailer a French company sent my copy of Alice et Moi’s new album, Photographie in. In this case, the cardboard itself is actually quite strong. But again, it’s so thin – thinner than an album sleeve – that it offered little protection, and the sleeve was again damaged in shipment:

French Mailer 01

French Mailer 02

I could email the label about the damaged sleeve, but I’ve just learned my lesson and will think long and hard before buying overseas again. Unless it’s Saint Etienne’s Christmas stuff. I’m helpless against their Christmas records.

And speaking of the UK, of the dozen overseas records I’ve ordered, Rough Trade was the only vendor who packaged their LPs well. And I know I only showed you two examples of bad packaging today. But it seems to a Europe-wide thing: I cross my fingers with every overseas order knowing it will be packaged horribly no matter if ordered from Scotland, France, Germany, The Netherlands or Belgium.

And hey… it’s easy to criticize. So tell us, oh wise one, what does a GOOD mailer look like? Well, this is what Polyvinyl Record Company uses here in the US:

US Mailer 01

US Mailer 02

That Alvvays LP was shipped between two pieces of thick, study NEW cardboard, surrounded by more thick, study NEW cardboard, and one more layer of thick, study NEW cardboard! You could STOMP on this thing and it wouldn’t hurt the record.

And here’s a mailer from Fat Possum Records out of Oxford, Mississippi. The packaging is similar to Polyvinyl’s and more than adequate for the task. But I just wanted to share their corporate motto, perhaps my all-time favorite: “We’re trying our best”

Fat Possum Mailer

I finally left Virgin Mobile!

Ah, the ZTE Max XL… the phone they should have named the “ZTE Max RD”, ‘cos you need to reboot it daily! Gather ‘round children, and let me tell you the story of the phone that was so bad it finally made me quit Virgin Mobile!

I got the ZTE Max XL last Christmas. And it seemed pretty awesome at the time – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 octa-core processor, a 6” 1080×1920 screen, a 13 MP camera, a 3990 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the back, all wrapped up in some Nougat 7.1 deliciousness! And the thing was only $125 on Virgin’s site! Sounds killer, right? What’s not to like?

(pic via Virgin Mobile)

Well, plenty.

For one thing, the screen is glitchy. Do you remember when a VGA cable would get loose or start to die, and if you brushed against it with your foot, you’d get weird streaks or other artifacts on the screen for a second or two? Yeah, the ZTE Max would often do that when playing YouTube videos, or when I’d play my slot machine games. It wasn’t especially bad – maybe 1 or 2 very short glitches during 30 minutes of game play or video watching – but it was certainly enough to make me worry.

And speaking of “worry”, the entire time I owned this phone I worried constantly about the battery. I’ve never owned a device that ate battery quite like this phone. After charging overnight on my nightstand, I’d wake up, unplug it and spend 15 minutes or so checking my email, catching up on headlines, and seeing what was going on with Reddit. And it wasn’t uncommon for that short usage to drain the phone to 92% or so. Yes, the phone used 8% of a charge just by using Outlook for Android, Google News and Weather and Relay for Reddit for 15 minutes. But that’s better than what I got doing chores: I like listening to music while doing dishes, and 35 minutes of Spotify + Bluetooth headphones could easily eat 20% of a charge. It got to the point where I’d eat dinner and let the phone charge back up to 100%. Then I’d do the dishes, only to watch the battery drain from 100% to 79% in a mere 35-45 minutes. It also didn’t help that the phone had the battery percentage RIGHT THERE on the notification bar, with no obvious way to disable that feature. It was almost like it was taunting me: “You want to listen to the new Sylvan Esso album? Hahaha! That’ll cost you 10% of this charge!”

You might have noticed I said “Outlook for Android” in the previous paragraph. That’s because almost anything Google-related on the ZTE Max did not work once the phone reached a certain amount of uptime.

Continue reading “I finally left Virgin Mobile!”

Thanks, Spotify!

One of the big draws of Spotify Premium is that the service allows you to download music for offline listening. So if you’re going somewhere where LTE or Wi-Fi might not be available (camping) or might be expensive or slow (most airports and flights), you can save tunes to your device and listen offline. Hell, even if LTE or Wi-Fi is available, you might want to download a song anyway: if you’re one of those people who plays a track on repeat, it’s better to download a song once over Wi-Fi than use your precious data to download the same bits over and over again.

Spotify Premium allows you to download music to (up to) 3 devices. Like most software with such limits, you can log in to your account and revoke permissions for a device… in case one of your devices is lost, stolen or broken and you order a replacement. But Spotify’s UI isn’t that helpful:

Spotify WTF

I have Spotify installed on an LG G Stylo (phone), Asus ZenPad (tablet) and Amazon Fire (tablet). But I can’t tell which device is which, because Spotify’s programmers can’t be bothered to add a few lines of code to their app.

Thanks, Spotify!

I’m DONE with Target

Lots of people love Target. I don’t.

For one thing, Target seems to never, ever have what I want. No matter how mundane the item – be it a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a Snickers bar, Irish Spring soap or a simple 4×6″ picture frame… if I need it, Target won’t have it. I often joke that the reason Target has CCTV cameras in the parking lot is so they can see me coming and hide whatever it is I’m there for.

But what’s worse, though, are the employees. I don’t know if Target only hires really stupid people, or if they train them poorly… but every time I ask a Target employee about the item I can’t seem to find, they not only act as if they’ve never heard of the thing before, they act like they can’t imagine why someone would want it:

“Orange… juice, you said? And you said it’s some kind of… beverage?”


“Kitty… ‘litter’? Am I saying that correctly? ‘Kitty litter’? And it’s some sort of… pet accessory? For cats?”


“Sandpaper? It’s not in office supplies? That’s where the paper is. Never heard of SANDpaper, though.”


There are a couple other things I could niggle. For one, Target’s grocery selection really sucks. Say what you will about Walmart, but my local Walmart has a full-blown grocery store inside. It doesn’t really cater to exotic tastes, but a family of four could easily buy all their groceries at Walmart, no problem. My local Target, on the other hand, has hundreds of items, but only one or two of any given item. Walmart has 15 types of canned chili; Target has three. Walmart has 84 different types of bread; Target has, like, six, tops. And the worst part is, unless you’re willing to compromise a lot, you can’t even buy a whole meal’s worth of stuff at Target. You want slow cooker pot roast with veggies? Target will have everything but the actual roast. Or they’ll have the roast, but no potatoes. Or potatoes but no carrots. Or they’ll have all the food, but no slow cooker spices. Or they won’t have slow cooker liners. Or something. It’s always something with Target.

Also, people say Target has “nicer” stuff than Walmart. I’m sure that’s true to an extent. Their crappy bookshelves are more stylish than Walmart’s crappy bookshelves. Target’s wastebaskets do look more like something you’d see at a hip spa or salon than Walmart’s “what old lady’s house did they steal this from?” wastebaskets. And, if you’re under the age of 25, Target’s clothes probably are cooler than Walmart’s. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but get the feeling that Target’s stuff costs 25% more than Walmart’s, but isn’t 25% better. Their crappy $129 bookshelf won’t last any longer or hold more weight than Walmart’s crappy $99 bookshelf, and their $7.50 Hanes t-shirt won’t last longer than Walmart’s $5 Hanes shirt.

*     *     *

Today was the last damn straw, though.

See, thanks to all the online security scares, I’m kind of wary about using a credit card online. So I try to use gift cards when possible. I pay for my mobile phone service with prepaid cards, which is easy to do, because almost any store that sells such cards will carry ones for my provider, and there’s a 99% chance I’ll be going to one such store at least once a month.

Spotify cards are somewhat harder to find, however. Despite Spotify’s site saying they’re available at many large (specific) retailers – Kroger! Target! Best Buy! Walmart! CVS! – they’re actually kind of hard to find.

Last night I was reading the Spotify subreddit, where some post playlists and others ask questions about the service. I saw a question about gift cards… which got me curious enough to look for them at Amazon. No dice. I googled “Spotify gift card” and got a link to this page at Target. Here’s a screencap:

Spotify at Target
(click to embiggen)

As you can see, this is a $30 Spotify card being offered for $21. It’s “only sold in stores”, “not available for free pickup” but is “in stock” at my local Gastonia (North Carolina) Target. It’s also located on aisle F29.

I had to run an errand today that would take me somewhat close to that Target, so I figured I’d buy a couple of cards. Hey, six months of Spotify for $42 instead of $60 isn’t that bad a deal, right? It’s almost like getting two months free!

So I went to the store, and went to aisle F29 (who even knew Target aisles were numbered?) I found the cards, but they were marked at $30, No problem, I figured. I’d just get them to adjust the price at checkout. Just to be sure, however, I looked closely at the rest of the cards on the aisle. No other Spotify cards, just these.

Of course, they can’t price match at the register. That would be too damn easy. After waiting for several minutes at a slow-ass register, the nice but clueless cashier (whose nametag read – I kid you not – “New Target Associate”) directed me to customer service.

The guy at Customer Service first told me that he couldn’t match the price, because the graphics are different. I asked him why the hell that matters. Packaging changes all the time, but the essential bit of a giftcard – the barcode and pin – don’t. He hemmed and hawed for several minutes, then said that he couldn’t price match because the pictured card was for “3 months of service” while the cards in my hand were “gift cards”. I told him that was a distinction without difference. Virgin Mobile used to sell Broadband2Go, PayLo and Beyond Wireless cards… but it didn’t matter which one you used, because it all went into the same Virgin Mobile account. He hemmed and hawed – no really, I think he actually said “heeeeemmm” and “hawwwww” – then said, “yeah, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it”. I asked him to get me someone “higher up the food chain”.

After a few minutes, a Target manager came up and asked me what she could do. I explained the situation, and was literally floored by her “logic”.

See, the cards were on clearance, and that’s why you can’t order them online for pickup. OK, but Google Play cards are also “not available for in-store pickup”, but they’re not on clearance. So what’s the difference?

Well, she said, they don’t have any in stock. OK, so why does the webpage say “in stock at Gastonia”? Because we have them in stock, but not those cards. What the hell does THAT mean? Oh, the cards that are on clearance? You’re out of those? So why does the website say you do have them in stock? Because they do have $30 Spotify cards in stock, but not those $30 Spotify cards.

After a few minutes of her circular logic, I held up the printout and asked: “OK, let’s pretend that you don’t work for Target. You go to Target.com and search for ‘Spotify’. This is one of the results. The webpage clearly says ‘only sold in stores’, that you can’t buy them online for pickup. It also says that they’re available in this very store. What would YOU think?” Apparently she’d “be confused too” but she’d understand because there’s some vital difference between whatever the company posted on their website and what they had in the store (despite all evidence to the contrary).

Finally exasperated, I asked: “So… you say that such cards actually exist somewhere in the realm of Target. How can I buy some of these? What can you do today to sell me these?”

“Well, I guess you can drive to another Target. There’s one at Metropolitan, and….”

Go to hell already. You know what? If I’d talked to the store manager, and if the manager had said “because fuck you, that’s why we’re not price matching”, I’d somehow feel better. I’d feel better than having to listen to someone half my age trying to explain something she clearly doesn’t understand, and clearly making it all up as she went along. I don’t have kids, but I can easily recognize someone making up teen-level bullshit on the fly. And this was weapons-grade bullshit, my friends.

I went ahead and bought a single card… because why the hell not? I’d wasted an hour of my life arguing with a 20 year-old girl at Target… that has to be better than making a special stop of Best Buy just to make a “spite purchase” of a whopping $30.

Still, though… it bugged me. So when I got home I called Target’s customer service number. I spoke to a nice lady in India (I think.. possibly the Philippines). I gave her the 18-digit receipt number and she was able to pull up the transaction in her system. She immediately saw and understood the issue, but couldn’t help much. The best she could do was issue me a refund on the on the difference… $9… in the form of a Target gift card. Dammit. I could use it to buy a mobile phone giftcard… but I bet it’ll say “cannot be used on gift card purchases”.

Bastards. I hate Target.

Taco Bell’s Wi-Fi Sucks

My local Taco Bell is in a Sprint “dead zone”. I get voice, and can sometimes get 3G, but never LTE. So I often try Taco Bell’s free wi-fi… which sucks.

I discovered this several months ago. We’d decided on Taco Bell for dinner, and I was tasked with picking it up. Since nearly everything at Taco Bell looks exactly the same in the wrapper, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing two separate orders. This way my GF’s mostly-vegetarian stuff doesn’t get mixed in with my steak and chicken stuff… ‘cos it’s always hilarious when someone thinks she’s biting in to a bean burrito and gets a mouthful of ground beef instead.

Anyway, since I have two orders, it’s easier to go inside than deal with the drive-thru. And it was Saturday night, so the place was busy as hell. I’d been watching a college football game at home. I don’t remember what game it was, but it wasn’t important enough to delay going to Taco Bell, but was important enough for me to want to know the score once I was there. So I whipped out my phone, got on Taco Bell’s free Wi-Fi… and I saw this:


Yes, Taco Bell uses FortiGuard, a web filtering service often used at companies you wouldn’t work for. So I tried CBSSports.com. Big surprise:


OK, so sports of any kind are out. Well, how about seeing what’s up on Instagram, then?


Sweet! Just for kicks, let’s see if Google works:


Oh nice. As you probably know, Google defaults to HTTPS now, so my browser wanted a certificate. But FortiGuard uses shitty self-signed certificates. I wouldn’t dream of using Taco Bell’s wi-fi to do some online banking in any case, but this just screams “man in the middle” attack, no?

So… Taco Bell, please fix your crappy wi-fi that blocks every site a consumer on the go might actually want to visit, and seems designed for malware and hack attacks. It’s awfully strange that Taco Bell – who built an empire on the backs of drunks and stoners – blocks popular websites, but the the wi-fi at Chick-Fil-A – with their reputation as gay-hating holy rollers – doesn’t seem to block anything.

[Note: although the story is set several months ago, the screen caps were taken last week. They’re also out of order relative to the story – see the clock in the corner of the pics – because I didn’t actually start taking the screen caps until I became frustrated with the service and “retraced” my steps via screen cap.]

Advice for Bloggers

For some reason, I enjoy reading food blogs. It’s kind of inexplicable, because food blogs are the most likely to drive me insane. If you’re thinking about starting a blog – especially a food blog – please read this before you start:

HIRE A PROOFREADER – If you want to get payed for riting on you’re blog, yoo shuld hire to proofreeder, or at least have sumone reed you’re stuff before yoo post it up their. I mean, come on, folks… I’m the King of the Rambling Sentence, but I *do* have a firm grasp of grammar basics like “there\their\they’re” and “your\you’re”. It’s amazing to me that some people want to write, but can’t even get past minor stuff like this. There’s a snack blog out there where the author constantly uses the word “yea” (as in, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”) instead of “yeah” (as in, “yeah, these are good.”). I want to stab that guy in the eyeballs… repeatedly. To cope, I have to read all his posts in a mock English bishop voice: “Yea, though Frito Lay hath given unto man these Cheesy Garlic Bread chips, I enjoy them not, for thy flavors offend every living thing that creepeth.”

GET TO THE POINT – I’ll admit that I like writing stories where the first couple of paragraphs seem to have nothing to do with the title. I haven’t actually checked, but I’m certain that every History Blog article starts that way. But the other day I was at a site that reviews Trader Joe’s products. The average review seemed to be around 1,000 words, and 100 to 500 of those words often had nothing to do with the product. If the review was about a frozen food item, then half the review might be about being stuck in traffic, and how traffic has gotten much worse since Barry Schoch took over as state DOT secretary, and why can’t our state have FastPass lanes on toll roads like other states, how SiriusXM has gone to hell since the merger, and why Subaru can’t build a reliable transmission, and.. oh yeah, getting home late was why they were reviewing the frozen item… which was “just OK”, by the way.

Continue reading “Advice for Bloggers”

(More) Android Annoyances

Oh, Android… you’re the operating system I love to hate. Android could be SO AWESOME, if only carriers would allow Google to update ALL handsets… and if Google would just fix some of the tiny annoyances that make Android so frustrating:

– I’ve owned four Android devices, The first ran Froyo, which was upgraded to Gingerbread. The second was a Gingerbread phone. The last two are a phone and tablet, each running Jellybean. Every single one of those devices had this “bug” where, after anywhere from two to six months, they’d stop being able to get a DHCP address from Wi-Fi. No combination of toggling airport mode on or off, or “forgetting” the network and adding it back, or rebooting and\or pulling the battery will fix it. Seems to me that there are only two ways to fix it: one is to switch to a static IP; this works great for home networks, but is absolutely useless for public Wi-Fi connections, since you don’t know what subnet the public router is on, or what addresses are available. Which is why the second fix – resetting the device – is the only real fix, and that means starting over from scratch. Hooray.

– Speaking of resetting a device… can anyone explain exactly how Android’s built-in “backup and restore” feature is supposed to work? I said that I’ve “owned four Android devices”, but It would actually be more accurate to say that I’ve owned 9 devices: 2 Samsung Intercept phones, 2 Motorola Triumph phones, 3 Samsung Galaxy Ring phones and 2 Asus MeMo tablets. The tablet had a bad pixel and was swapped out a few days after purchase. The Intercept was a piece of crap that constantly locked up and required battery pulls several times a week; Virgin Mobile replaced it once, then sent me the Triumph. The Triumph was much more stable, but not without issues of its own, including odd vertical lines developing on the screen, which is why VM replaced that phone. I bought the Galaxy Ring on impulse, not knowing that reviews on VM’s own website talk about spontaneous reboots and lock-ups. They’ve already replaced it twice, and I’m **this close** to sending in the third one as well. 

Anyway, the point is… I’ve owned many Android phones, and have had to restore my stuff at least 7 times just for hardware swaps. That’s not counting the 15-20 additional resets I’ve done just to fix stuff (like the Wi-Fi issue), or when I’d upgrade the Triumph to the latest build of CM. But I’ve never been able to get the restore feature to work consistently. 

On Ring #2, I went through setup and logged in to my Google account… and the phone immediately started downloading all the apps I’d had on Ring #1. All I had to do was wait 45 minutes or so for everything to download and install, then log in to any app that required it. Everything was just like it was before. Smooth! But when I moved to Ring #3 I did the exact same thing… and 45 minutes later, the only thing the phone had done was prompt me to update the pre-installed apps. It was the same when I reset the MeMo a few days ago: I checked the “Do you want to restore this device?” and… 20 minutes later… nothing. No sign whatsoever that anything had been updated or restored… just the prompt to update all the pre-installed apps. I’m assuming that iPhones have a similar restore feature. Does the iPhone version have some sort of progress indicator? Because that would be a nifty thing to have, knowing that the Android restore was somehow stuck at 0%, or was 23% done or whatever. Just “putting the phone down and hoping for the best” doesn’t seem like it works very well for me.

– But hey, at least with ICS Google finally allowed you to set up a Wi-Fi connection before it asked if you wanted to restore your files and settings. Nothing’s more fun than wasting 200MB of your 2.5GB data plan restoring your apps because Google can’t figure out the proper sequence of steps in a setup routine!

– In Jellybean (or maybe ICS, which I leapfrogged) Android introduced this SUPER ANNOYING warning message that comes up when you turn the volume past a certain point: “Listening to music at loud volumes for extended periods can damage your hearing” I have four problems with this: one, the warning comes up no matter what audio device you’re using, even Bluetooth; two, the threshold for the dialog is set way too low, if you turn the volume up past 33% – as most people would – it comes up every single time; three, the dialog is modeless, not modal… which means that instead of retaining focus, the message can “fall behind” your music or video player, so you have to exit the player, press “OK” on the message, then restart the player; four, there is no “don’t show this again” check box. You can say what you will about Microsoft, but I can’t think of a similar warning message in Windows that DOESN’T come with a “don’t show this again” option.

– And hey – the Android API is up to version 19, and there’s STILL no option to mute notification sounds when listening to music. Sure, you can go to settings and manually mute the sounds… but then you’d have to go back and un-mute them when you’re done. Would it be SO HARD for Android to have an API that allows music players to add a “when music’s playing, don’t play notification sounds” option? This is one of the most common questions asked of third-party media player creators, and their unanimous answer is: “great idea, tell Google to add it to the OS”.

– “Insufficient Storage Available”. This is annoying as shit. I picked up my phone last night after several hours of not using it, only to find that the battery was much lower than I’d expected. Why? Because Android was fruitlessly and repeatedly trying to update the Facebook app. I had 507 MB of free space in main storage, yet somehow that wasn’t enough to update a 20.1 MB app. Thus: “Insufficient Storage Available”. But WHY Android needs free space in excess of 25 times the app it’s installing is a mystery.

Save WRAS!

I don’t often ask you guys for help, but today I want to talk about something near and dear to my heart: a radio station named WRAS. It’s the “student voice of Georgia State University”, which broadcasts “live from the concrete campus in downtown Atlanta”. It played a HUGE role in making me who I am today, and is one of the things that made Atlanta a great place to live.

See, WRAS isn’t just your average college radio station. It has a 100,000 watt transmitter, which made it the most powerful college radio station in the United States before Georgia Tech’s WREK upgraded their tower to 100,000 watts, too. WRAS can be heard over the entire metro Atlanta area. Founded in 1971 – the same year I was born – the station is known for being one of the most innovative college radio stations in the country:

  • WRAS was the first radio station in the world to play Arrested Development.
  • WRAS was the first radio station in the world to play OutKast.
  • WRAS was one of the first radio stations to ever play R.E.M. and was the first to put them in regular rotation.
  • WRAS was one of the first stations to ever play the Indigo Girls, and was the first to put them in regular rotation.
  • Bob Geldof was sitting in the studio at WRAS giving an interview when news of a school shooting came over the station’s teletype machine. The shooter was asked why she did it, and her reply was “I don’t like Mondays”, thus inspiring Geldof to write his most famous song.
  • The Replacements’ song “Left of the Dial” was inspired by WRAS’s slogan, “left on the dial, right on the music”:


But now, it’s all in danger. A couple weeks ago – on the next to last day of finals, when the campus was nearly empty – GSU announced a “partnership deal” with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) in which GPB will air talk radio from 5AM to 7PM. WRAS’s “regular” programming will air outside after those hours; during the day their music programming will be relegated to an HD subchannel and online streaming only.

Continue reading “Save WRAS!”

Is it just me, or…

Am I the only person driven to the brink of insanity by this?

This week’s episode of Intelligence (a new CBS series featuring Josh Holloway from Lost, aptly described by some as “Chuck without the humor”) opens in London:


The very next scene – the first actual scene after the opening shot of London – is of a guy walking through a door:


What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll give you a hint:


OK, the screencap is a little dark, and maybe you can’t see the detail. So let me use the old CSI tactic of zooming in and enhancing it:


Yep… even though we’re supposed to be London, the set has North American electrical outlets. It might seem nitpicky to some, but it’s the FIRST SCENE of the episode, and the outlets are RIGHT THERE!

This little “flub” also struck the season premiere of Psych a couple weeks ago: leads Shawn and Gus went to England so the show could do a Guy Ritchie parody. And here’s what happened:




And Psych took it further by showing the “English countryside”… which apparently looks a lot like British Columbia:



No Kidding?

So the other day I was reading this post at The Daily Caller. The gist of the story was that increasing tobacco taxes decreases revenue. This should seem obvious to anyone who took ECON 101 in college: the higher the price, the less demand there will be for the product. Because, ya know, that’s how supply and demand works.

Yet America’s politicians keep piling on the taxes and end up amazed when the higher tax generates less revenue than the lower tax did before. The linked article cites a study by the National Taxpayers Union, which found that (among other things) a 2006 cigarette tax increase in New Jersey actually produced $52 million less than the lower tax did the previous year. And broke-ass Illinois approved a $1/pack increase last June… which led to 39% less revenue compared to the lower tax the year before. Total shortfall: $130 million.

Of course, it helps that neighboring states might have lower taxes. Illinois has Missouri on one side (which has a 17¢/pack tax, the lowest in the country) and Indiana on the other side (which has half the excise tax of Illinois). And, for much of Massachusetts, dirt-cheap smokes and booze are only a 30-minute drive to New Hampshire.

Believe it or not, of all the issues we disagree on, THIS has always been my main beef with the Democratic Party. Not cigarette taxes specifically, but how Democrats want to have it both ways.

Back in 1990, Congress passed the infamous “luxury tax”, which added a 10% surcharge to jewelry and furs over $10,000, cars over $30,000, boats over $100,000 and private planes over $250,000. The theory, of course, was that wealthy Americans could easily afford such taxes, and would happily pay them. Or, to put it in more economic terms, TAXATION WOULD NOT AFFECT CONSUMPTION.

So… what happened? It was a disaster for American boat and airplane manufacturers. Before passage, Congressional policy wonks had estimated that the luxury tax would generate $9 billion in revenue over 5 years. But in 1991, the first full year of the tax, government revenues from the luxury tax were a mere $3 million. Demand for new boats plummeted by 70%, and at least 7,600 people in the boating industry lost their jobs (other estimates are much higher: one source says 13,000 workers in Florida alone lost their jobs, and as many as 30,000 people in related industries lost their jobs, too). It’s almost certain that the federal government paid out more in unemployment benefits than they gained from the tax. At the same time, the “boat tax” helped make a bunch of Bahamians and Panamanians rich. I don’t know if the tax did not apply to purchases made outside the US, or if the tax was simply easy to evade with overseas purchases, but suddenly overseas boat salesmen were swimming in money, thanks to Democrats in Congress. Odd how the world works sometimes..

The tax was such a disaster that Congress repealed it in 1993. And you know a tax is a mistake when the New York Times (a bastion of right-wing thought if ever there was one) says so. But yet, that very same year, First Lady Hillary Clinton advocated raising the tax on cigarettes by as much as $2/pack, with the publicly stated goal of “reducing teen smoking”. Thus, TAXATION DOES AFFECT CONSUMPTION.

So Democrats… which one is it? Does taxation affect consumption or not? You guys might be surprised to find that Chief Justice John Marshall figured it out all the way back in 1819 in McCulloch v. Maryland:

“the power to tax involves the power to destroy”

Use that power wisely, folks.