Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. He's also a fellow at the U's Supercomputer Institute. Read more about Gleason.

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Those pesky wackos are back again ... Finally time to do the right thing?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: December 15, 2013 - 11:51 AM

In a seemingly endless stream, pesky wackos roll off the line at a bottling plant ... 

Source: Flickr

[The University of Minnesota's]  senior director of communications sent out an internal message that read in part, "I looked her up [Dr. Judy Stone] and can't tell if she's a wacko or not…. I get nervous about anyone who would pay any attention to Carl."  [link]

"Carl" is Dr. Carl Elliott, Pathetic. 

Wacko - anyone who does not agree with the University of Minnesota administration's official position

University of Minnesota Communications Handbook 

Background

Earlier posts on the Markingson case have appeared on the Community Voices site:

Send in the wackos ...

and

Markingson Case: Has the Gordian Knot puzzle
been solved at the University of Minnesota?

 

Recent Developments

Although the Faculty Senate at the University of Minnesota voted overwhelmingly for an outside, independent, investigation of the Markingson case, it appears that an attempt to ignore what went wrong in the case is in progress.

President Kaler said in a recent interview with the Minnesota Daily:

I’m a big believer in shared governance, and so I’m willing to take the advice of the Senate and the panel. ... I think they will find that our review processes are robust and that we do, in fact, protect patients in clinical trials, but there’s been concern raised in how we do that, and so our goal is to air out clearly and very publicly what we do and have a panel of external experts validate that and be sure we are doing this absolutely as well as can be done.

It’s certainly resulted as a consequence of a lot of repetitive publicity about the Markingson case, but it’s not a review of the Markingson case; it’s a review of what we are doing now and what we’re going to do moving forward.

"it's not a review of the Markingson case"

"It's certainly resulted as a consequence of a lot of repetitive publicity about the Markingson case, but it's not a review of the Markingson case."

These remarks seem more than a little defensive. And the direction in which they lead do not seem much different from the one we've seen out of the University of Minnesota administration since the inception of the Markingson case. 

Letter

And so it should be no surprise that these wackos who have been generating a lot of repetitive publicity about the Markingson case are back whining and writing more letters, this one requesting that a promised outside investigation be done right.

The nerve of these wackos ...

Lemmens Follow Up Letter Senate Dec 11 2013 by MarkingsonCase

Time to do the right thing? 

 Da Mayor: "Doctor, always do the right thing."

(link)

The time is always right to do the right thing.   Martin Luther King

 
Do the right thing, even when it is hard.  Joel Osteeen


Do the right thing because it is right. W. Clement Stone

 
Sometimes it is better to lose, and do the right thing... Tony Blair

Leaders are people who do the right thing. Warren Bennis

 
In plain Texas talk: It's do the right thing. Ross Perot

 
You do the right thing, even if it makes you feel bad. The purpose of life is not to be happy but to be worthy of happiness. Tracy Kidder

 Or, as Mark Yudof said in his inaugural address as president of the University of Minnesota:

"Simply stated, it is imperative that we continue to embrace our land-grant roots if we are to thrive."

"The need for integrity permeates every aspect of the University. The education mission of the University must be taken seriously--not just the way to get state funding."

"Administrators should tell the truth, keep their word, implement what they promise, and not dissemble. My point is plain enough: Without integrity, the phrase higher education is an oxymoron."

"When making decisions, I view shared governance and consultation with constituent groups as only fair because of the enormous stake they have in the University. Without fairness there is no legitimacy and no buy in to the institutional vision." 

 

Mark Yudof handled a horrible scandal in the athletic department with grace and dignity,  with no excuses and no dissembling. I have been very disappointed with the University of Minnesota administration since his presidency. Yudof fired people (the athletic director as well as coaches and support staff) and had Tonya Moten Brown essentially take over the athletic department. And his humility was not false.

The time for stonewalling has passed. Trying to dodge the issues inherent in the Markingson case is a fool's game. A university without integrity is not really a university. Bread and circuses do not a great university make, nor idle chatter about the infamous third greatest public research university in the world.

Time to walk the talk, President Kaler.  Otherwise,  disappointed  University of Minnesota alums will have to take a hike from their alma mater.  In the Twin Cities alone there are plenty of places for higher education philanthropy besides the University of Minnesota - Augsburg and Macalester colleges being two examples. Note that at these two schools the student debt at graduation is lower than that at the public University of Minnesota, to our everlasting disgrace.  I hope not.

One might whine that Mac is a school for the rich, a terrible and untrue argument, but such a charge ridiculous on its face for Augsburg College with its much more modest endowment. When Auggie, as it is familiarly known,  got donor money of questionable provenance, they gave it back. This is what doing the right thing means.  And the education available at Auggie is hardly for chumps. An Auggie, Peter Agre, recently won a Nobel Prize in chemistry. Nice ROI on that, I'd say. Kudos, Auggie, a Minnesota school that makes me proud. Macalester is also in this category as well as many other fine Minnesota  small liberal arts colleges, or SLACs to use au courant higher ed jargon.

Our recent University of Minnesota debt-saddled alums and their parents are none too happy with the performance of our university. Nor are our state legislators who are heartsick and bewildered by the fact that we are one of the leaders in the country - for student debt. Perhaps the plan is to salvage our position with sports dollars? I understand that Louie Nanne has been charged with raising two hundred million dollars for our athletics program. Under the present circumstances of crushing debt for our students, this is pathetic.

And of course if one desires to contribute money for medical research, there is always the Mayo. What's been going on at Fairview-University hospital lately does not exactly inspire warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of the populace. People will vote on the University's performance with their feet and their checkbooks. This goes also for the people in the state legislature.

If the University wants to see private philanthropic support, perhaps they should give us something to be proud of? Manufactured hash tags like #umnproud will not suffice.

Is it finally time to do the right thing in the Markingson matter?

More evasion will only serve to further erode our reputation in the real world. Out there where recent University of Minnesota administrations apparently would prefer not to go.

A Cover-up Culture at the U of M? Denial as Administrative Policy?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: December 1, 2013 - 6:06 AM

Link to Video

KMSP-TV has been punching above its weight lately. First they did a story on the Markingson case that I commented on earlier on Community Voices. See: "Send in the Wackos..."   Their latest effort in the Investigators series is quite good and thought provoking. Long time newsies will recognize the narrator for this piece, the excellent Trish Van Pilsum.

This new piece is titled "U Insider" where insider is being used in the same way that it is used in the phrase "insider trading." I'd encourage those interested to watch the video - link given above - or at the same location the case is outlined in text form. I've also put up most of the report on my blog The Periodic Table with highlighting of the very best parts...

So what's the short version? (source of all quotations)

1. A university employee was allegedly harrassed into taking a supervisor on an illegal mule deer hunt on a reservation in  South Dakota. She was cited, admitted guilt, and paid a fine. 

The Standing Rock Reservation is in South Dakota -- 430 miles from the Twin Cities campus, and U officials -- like the vice president of university services -- would very much like to play up that distance.

"I really don't have any comment about something that happened off university property or off university time," Vice President of University Services Pam Wheelock told Fox 9.

Louden pleaded guilty to the two citations. Off campus? Sure -- but very much a universtiy issue because according to an anonymous complaint filed with the U, Louden repeatedly harassed one of her subordinates to take her on the hunting trip in the first place, calling him dozens of times until he relented. He ended up paying a $250 fine for aiding and abetting the illegal hunt. 

Professor David Schultz, a nationally recognized expert on business ethics at Hamline University, had this to say:

That seems perfectly inappropriate.  "This is using your position of authority for purposes of getting something from your subordinates that seems completely illegitimate."

Au contraire?

The U says its own internal investigation found no evidence of harassment. They wouldn't say if they checked Louden's phone records -- something they wouldn't turn over to the Fox 9 Investigators, citing privacy.

"That's all the comment I have," Wheelock said. "It was investigated and closed without discipline."

The U also wouldn't tell Fox 9 if they reviewed the poaching criminal file. The Fox 9 Investigators obtained it through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

2. A University of Minnesota supervisor apparently rigged bids for a contractor friend.

What appears to be tiny, toy people scurrying atop a cold, windy roof on the U's East Bank are real bidders taking part in a process that is supposed to be a level playing field. No one company should have an edge in order to protect the taxpayer.

"Certainly, it sends up the red flags," Schultz said.

Yet, anonymous facilities management workers complained that Louden rigged the system, eliminating the competition for a roofing company owned by a guy she's known for a long time. The business is Skyline Building Envelope Consultants, mostly roofing consultants. The man is Rod Schalesky.

An internal investigation by the university dismissed the complaint after Louden insisted their relationship was purely professional, but the U's own investigation failed to note the following things revealed in e-mails obtained by the Fox 9 Investigators:

Unfortunately for that claim, e-mail records obtained by the KMPSP investigators revealed that:

1. Schalesky said he would drop proposals at Louden's home for her to review -- a practice that other consultants for several companies in the same business say is unheard of.

2. When Schalesky moved from his home and office, Louden told him in an e-mail, "If you need something, let me know."

3. Twice before, Schalesky's company was to present competitive bids on large products, and he discussed his bids with Louden. This, according to U policy, is supposed to be a confidential process.

4. The university paid Skyline's liability insurance so the company would work on a U project.

U officials say Skyline's work was still a bargain, but the e-mails show that the finance folks -- even Beth Louden's boss, Mike Berthelsen -- didn't like it. Still, the insurance got paid and Skyline got the job.

"I don't believe that violates any policy," Wheelock said repeatedly when asked whether such payments were appropriate.

The university apparently dismissed a complaint that the bidding was organized to favor the bidding by the company Skyline owned by Loudon's friend Schalesky:

but according to e-mails, it appears she and her staff did just that.

Instead of considering the inspection of several buildings as one big project, which would have to be put out for bid, she told them to break up the inspections building by building. That kept prices low enough that Skyline would be given the work without bidding for it.

A pile of purchase orders show Skyline pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 5 years.

So why would UofM supervisor Louden try to give Skyline/Schalesky the edge?

A few years back, the Loudens wanted to join a class-action lawsuit against the company that made the old shingles on her house, but before she could, she needed an inspector to sign off that her shingles were bad. A former inspector for Skyline did just that.

Yet, when asked how much Louden paid for that inspection, Schalesky told Fox 9, "There was no inspection."

Schalesky owns Skyline, and at first, he denied his company helped Louden with her lawsuit; however, when Fox 9 told him his former inspector had spoken with reporters, Schalesky said, "He went out there and picked up a sample of the shingles that had fallen off the roof."

The former Inspector said there was more to it than that, and settlement documents appear to confirm it. He says he took three samples from the roof and took photographs before filling out paperwork. Fox 9 checked to see what was actually required for the settlement -- photos and a sample from the roof.

The inspector said he didn't get paid for what he described as a $200 to $300 job. Why? Schalesky told him Louden was a good customer. Schalesky does not dispute it was done as a favor to Louden.

But according to Professor Schulz:

"There is no such thing as a small favor."
 

3. Have "favors" been done by University of Minnesota employees at the Loudon residence?

Favors? The U's investigation checked out complaints that Louden had employees working on her home or property. She denied it. That was good enough for the U auditors -- but Fox 9 spoke with neighbors who say they've seen university vehicles coming and going from Louden's house during the day.
 

4. Complaints were made about unnecessary spending

One of the complaints about her said she spent what she wanted on things like food for meetings and gatherings. Two years of food receipts show the department spent $12,299 on food bought from local business for routine meetings -- most involving Louden or her workers. By way of comparison, the University of Wisconsin's facilities department didn't spend a dime because budgets are just too tight.

According to a memo written by Louden, she and 9 others planned to head to Las Vegas for what's billed as the largest trade show for custodial supplies in North America.  

Conference officials say the average size of groups attending was just 5, and none of the Big 10 universities the Fox 9 Investigators checked with -- Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, Illinois, or Michigan -- sent anyone to Vegas this year. Wheelock didn't know the U planned on sending people until Fox 9 told her.

So there you have it...

Nothing to see here, move along?

This situation certainly reminds me of the way the U of M has handled the Markingson case. But of course the death of a clinical trials patient is a much more serious matter. 

But as an indicator of the institutional culture at the U, this case speaks volumes. The discrepancy between words and actions is obvious. Most of us can recognize why the situation described above is wrong and have witnessed similar behavior in our own lives. To the lay person the Markingson case may at first seem complicated and beyond comprehension, because who is to decide when doctors disagree?

This is but one more example of why an outside investigation of the Markingson case is necessary. 

Send in the wackos ...

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: November 24, 2013 - 3:45 PM

Link to video on KMSP-TV

KMSP has recently called attention to the scandal and tragedy of the Markingson case in which a young man committed suicide while enrolled in a clinical trial at the University of Minnesota. The position of the university is that nothing wrong has been done by the U, the matter has been thoroughly investigated, nothing to see here. Move along.

If you have some time and have not already seen it, I'd urge readers to click the link above and have a look at the KMSP video.

Of course the university immediately tried to brush the matter off. As a recent post in MinnPost put it:

In a letter sent Tuesday to the U of M's medical community, Dr. Aaron Friedman, the dean of the university's medical school, said Baillon's report was "full of inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims," although he did not detail them.

This is of course standard operating procedure by now at the U. What exactly were the inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims? These blanket denials are insufficient given the evidence in the record.

One of the claims that the U has used many times is that sufficient investigation has already done that has exonerated the U of M.  This claim has been demolished by Professor Trudo Lemmens, a faculty member in the law school at the University of Toronto. In an excellent summary Professor Lemmens has taken each of the proceedings the U claims has exonerated them and illustrates why this is not the case.  I strongly recommend that anyone with an interest have a look at this summary on ScribD. (Unfortunately because of the way it is formatted and the length, it would be difficult to summarize here.)

I've posted before on the Markingson case at the University of Minnesota. See for example:

May 20, 2013: The Markingson Case: A Tragedy But Not A Scandal?

"It is critical for the University of Minnesota to regain its good name and to take steps to see that something like this never happens again.

To defend the behavior of the University in the Markingson case is a fool's errand."

June 5, 2013: Response to University of Minnesota President's Letter 

I am perplexed as to how the president could make the claim that the actions of the University did not "in any way" contribute to the death of Mr. Markingson.

Even a small sampling of the events that occurred makes this claim very difficult to back up.  The fact that the General Counsel at the University of Minnesota did an investigation means exactly nothing. He is the University's mouthpiece and the results of his supposed investigation were never made public.

So why is the University of Minnesota so afraid of an unbiased, outside, investigation?  If it is true that the U has done nothing wrong, why not do it?  The fact that a large number of people both inside and outside the University have asked that this be done is of no consequence?  Many of these people are alums, faculty, and citizens of the state of Minnesota.

Send in the wackos...

From KMSP news:

In March, a writer from "Scientific American" contacted the school for a piece she was doing about the Markingson case

"I became more and more appalled at errors and breaches in normal research conduct," writer Dr. Judy Stone, MD, said.

The university's senior director of communications sent out an internal message that read in part, "I looked her up and can't tell if she's a wacko or not…. I get nervous about anyone who would pay any attention to Carl."

"I was shocked that the university response to my inquiry was that I'm a wacko," Stone said.

Stone spent 24 years conducting clinical trials and even wrote a book about it. She said she started her reporting on Markingson with no interest on one side or the other, and she has never met Elliott.

"They won't talk to me and have told other faculty also not to talk to me," she said.

And for a supposed senior director of communications at the U to make the statement: 

"I looked her up and can't tell if she's a wacko or not..." 

is both outrageous and incompetent. It takes a simple Google search to discover that not only does Dr. Stone have experience in clinical trials, she has also written a highly regarded book on that topic that is rated at 4.8/5 stars on Amazon. I will not further embarrass the director of communications by quoting from the many laudatory reviews of this well regarded book on clinical trials. 

So the other pernicious and disturbing aspect of this case is the implication that anyone who would pay attention to Carl Elliot is a wacko. This is outrageous.

So 3,413 people who signed a petition for an independent investigation of the matter are wackos? Including practicing psychiatrists, medical ethicists, medical journal editors, U of M alumni, and citizens of the state?

170 scholars recently requested, in a letter to the U of M faculty senate, that they call for an independent investigation of the matter.  These people are all wackos?

A link to the institutional affiliations of the 170 scholars may be found here.  The qualifications of some of the petitioners may be found here. To dismiss the opinion of these people because they "pay attention to Carl" beggars belief. 

As the highly regarded psychiatrist and psychoanalyst  Dr. Mickey Nardo put it:

...the care [Markingson] got didn’t approximate his best shot – not even a good shot. He spent 6 months languishing in a halfway house on a weak-sister medication that was having, at best, a sub-optimal effect. And he succumbed to a violent psychotic suicide in plain view, a testimony to the inadequacy of the treatment. Such things can happen in the best of circumstances, but this was the nowhere close to the best of circumstances – a patient under care who was neglected.

...neither burnout or understaffing appear to be the case here. This is something else that shouldn’t ever be in the mix – corporate greed. And in this case, it filtered down to the people doing the clinical trial itself and resulted in negligence in medical care, failing to engage the case at hand. It is a scandal that deserves full investigation and exposure, at a minimum – and maybe its days in court. 

What EXACTLY is it going to take for my university to step forward, take responsibility, and see that things like this don't happen again?

I am not #umnproud. I am #umn ashamed, sorry to say.

William B. Gleason
University of Minnesota faculty and alum

[It isn't the wackos that are the problem here, it's the clowns.]


 

Response to University of Minnesota President's Letter

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: June 5, 2013 - 3:45 PM

 

 
 
 
 
Brief Background:
 
 
Elliot told me in an interview last week. "There were so many things that went wrong -- the consent process, the commitment order under which [Markingson] was recruited into the trial, the financial incentives of the university, the financial incentives of the investigators, the sheer worthlessness of the trial. Anyone who looked into this and knew anything about clinical research would say this is terrible."
 
 
See the article by Paul Tosto and Jeremy Olson in the Pioneer Press:
 
 
"A schizophrenic, Markingson killed himself in 2004, while enrolled in a study at the U comparing anti-psychotic drugs. Documents surfacing the past year in a lawsuit over his death have raised questions about whether the U psychiatrist running the study followed university ethical guidelines. They also raise questions about why the Institutional Review Board, the internal group charged with protecting people in university studies didn't intervene."
 
It should be noted that the work of Olson and Tosto was awarded the Premack Prize for investigative journalism by the University of Minnesota School of Journalism. Judges said of their work: "Through the eyes of one patient, this story shed considerable light on the complicated and competing interests between the development and path to market of new drugs, funding needs of the University and the integrity of medical research."
-----
 
My colleague Professor Leigh Turner of the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics has sent two communications to President Kaler asking him to sign a petition - currently at 2700 signatures - for an independent review of the death of Dan Markingson, a participant in a clinical trial at the University of Minnesota that ended for him in suicide.
 
I am perplexed as to how the president could make the claim that the actions of the University did not "in any way" contribute to the death of Mr. Markingson.
 
Even a small sampling of the events that occurred makes this claim very difficult to back up.  The fact that the General Counsel at the University of Minnesota did an investigation means exactly nothing. He is the University's mouthpiece and the results of his supposed investigation were never made public. 
 
The Hennepin County District Court only concluded that the University was immune from prosecution, not that the University did not do anything wrong in the matter. The claim that the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice investigated the matter is simply meaningless since the records of the Board are closed. So to claim that the U has somehow been exonerated by the Board is unprovable. 
 
The FDA investigation has also been debunked. See: "How the FDA got the Markingson case wrong."
 
So why is the University of Minnesota so afraid of an unbiased, outside, investigation?  If it is true that the U has done nothing wrong, why not do it?  The fact that a large number of people both inside and outside the University have asked that this be done is of no consequence?  Many of these people are alums, faculty, and citizens of the state of Minnesota.
 
And these people - like me - will remember, when the subject of the University of Minnesota comes up, the less than honorable way in which the U has behaved in this matter.  People thinking about enrolling in clinical trials should be aware of what happened at Minnesota to Dan Markingson, and that the University apparently thinks the way he was treated is perfectly OK. They should also be aware that if any negligence should occur, the U is immune from a lawsuit. I hope that this information is given to prospective enrollees as part of the informed consent process. 
 
The University of Minnesota needs to fix its demagnetized moral compass. Just because something is not illegal does not mean that it is ethical. 
 
Hoping to be a proud Gopher again, when this situation is finally addressed by the University of Minnesota. 
 
 
Bill Gleason
 
U of M alum and faculty member
 

 

The Markingson Case: A Tragedy But Not A Scandal?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: May 20, 2013 - 5:09 PM

 

 

 

"Dean of the University of Minnesota's medical school Aaron Friedman

put his head in his hands..." 

(AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Renee Jones Schneider)

 

For some background on this matter please see my earlier post on the petition to Governor Dayton calling for an independent investigation of the suicide of Dan Markingson

Since that time more than 2500 people have signed the petition including citizens of Minnesota, and students, faculty, and alumni of the University of MInnesota.

Also among the signers are three former editors of the highly regarded New England Journal of Medicine; the editor of the Lancet - a highly respected British medical journal, a former editor of the British Medical Journal and the former health and disability commissioner of New Zealand as well as more than 200 experts in medical ethics and related disciplines. Others include a medical historian with expertise in the Guatemala syphilis studies, which resulted in an apology by President Obama in 2010, and one with expertise in the infamous Tuskegee experiments. 

In his recent opinion piece on the Star-Tribune, Dean Friedman hypothesizes that "The University of Minnesota research case is not a scandal." 

The first thing that pops up on the web for a definition of scandal is:

scandal (noun): An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outratge. 

synonyms: disgrace, shame

Based on the signatures, qualification, and comments of those calling for an independent investigation, I'd say that this situation qualifies eminently as a scandal. 

The fact that the Dean starts his piece with this semantic argument indicates how weak his case really is.

 

But there is more...

Dr. Friedman states:

"The story may be familiar to some readers. For years, Elliot has focused his energy on this single issue. Yet as Elliot clamors for more examination, he seems to feel no responsibility to accurately report what has already been done."

Two points:

a) Dr. Elliot has contributed greatly to our understanding of what I will delicately call the academic-medical-pharmaceutical complex using the Markingson case as well as many others to make major contributions to the medical ethics field. To belittle his efforts is unworthy of a medical school dean.

b) "accurately report what has already been done"  This statement is almost laughable. Dr. Elliot has published copious documentation in this case on ScribD, as well as on his website. All we have gotten from the university is the same boilerplate denials. The tactic is simply to deny and stall and then to claim: "well that happened a long time ago."

In Dr. Friedman's own words:

"Nine years later, it is time to stop blaming our university and our researchers."

 

Finally:

What really galls me is the following statement by Dean Friedman:

"Judge the university not on unfounded accusations, but on careful examination of the facts surrounding this case, and on the scale of the groundbreaking advancements taking place across our campuses every day."

I've already indicated who has carefully examined the facts (Elliot) and who is in denial of them (Dean Friedman) but this final argument that we should just forget about the Markingson scandal because of the "groundbreaking advancements taking place across our campuses every day" is preposterous.

Because advances are made we should ignore the plight of mistreated clinical trials patients. They are just so much broken crockery to sweep away?

And what is even worse about this argument - Dan Markingson did not die on the altar of "groundbreaking advancements" but in the service of a pharma sponsored trial of a drug (Seroquel) that can only be described as a marketing study. 

For more information, gentle readers might want to consult the artlcle by the Strib's Maura Lerner and Janet Moore. There they will learn that in 2009, documents revealed in litigation against AstraZeneca illustrated that Dr. Charles Schulz, head of the U of M's psychiatry department and a highly paid Astra Zeneca consultant had inaccurately represented the benefits of Seroquel in both research presentations and press releases. The groundbreaking  work of Dr. Schulz actually established that Seroquel was no more effective than older, existing drugs such as Haldol (haloperidol). 

Someone seems to have forgotten about first, do no harm and other ethical matters, Dr. Friedman. 

It is critical for the University of MInnesota to regain its good name and to take steps to see that something like this never happens again.

To defend the behavior of the University in the Markingson case is a fool's errand. 

 

What will an increased tax on alcohol really cost?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: May 10, 2013 - 3:14 PM

 Many years ago I was lucky enough to have summer jobs working as a busboy in the Park Schenley restaurant in Pittsburgh. This summer job allowed me to earn the $600 necessary - with generous financial aid - to attend Northwestern University for my undergraduate degree. It was a tough job. On Satudays we started set-up at 10 am and were not finished until clean-up at 2 am Sunday morning. There was a break from 3pm-5pm when I took a nap in the Carnegie public library. 

Good times. And I was very fortunate because at that time the unemployment rate in Pittsburgh was about 25%.

Fast forward to the present. I've been going to Zipp's liquors for many years and have been very impressed by the hard work put in by Andrew and Jennifer Schoenzeit, a brother and sister team who are the owners of Zipp's, a liquor store on Franklin Avenue in the Seward neighborhood. Zipp's is an excellent example of a locally owned community business. Their prices are reasonable, they have a decent selection of wines, and trustworthy people to help you in selecting the right wine. 

I have been rather confused lately in trying to figure out what would be the actual effect of the proposed increase in alcohol tax being discussed at the state capitol. Some say that it will only be seven cents per glass of beer, but others claim that it will be a lot more.  When I asked about this Ms. Schoenzeit provided me with some information that is quite striking concerning current alcohol taxes in Minnesota and in other US locations.

 

 

(Used with permission)

 

The striking thing about this illustration is the high penalty that alcohol vendors  in Minneapolis pay compared to the rest of the state. But even the tax outside of Minneapolis is quite high compared to our neighbors and places in the rest of the country.

For example:

 

 

(used with permission)

 

So my point is: the taxes paid on alcohol are ALREADY higher in Minnesota than in other locations.  Any further increase should be very small and that does not appear to be the case.

Some other things to consider include whether a tax is progressive or not. If you can afford Veauve Clicquot the additional cost of the tax is probably not going to affect your decision to purchase it. However, if you are a beer drinker of modest means an increase in cost of, say, two dollars for a twelve pack may change your choice of beer brand. That is why in graduate school, I drank Buckhorn, the absolutely cheapest beer available at the time. Nowadays, my favorite is Summit. 

The great increase in quality of craft beers like Summit has been a boon to new businesses including breweries in the state. Even local restaurants like the Birchwood now serve beer and wine. And I have yet to see anyone in the Birchwood who had too much to drink. 

So I hope that our state legislators and the Governor will keep these points in mind while trying to decide what taxes they raise. Unintended consequences of this action may have a devastating effect on businesses that depend on alcoholic beverages as part or all of their revenue. 

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