Posts tagged War on the Informal Sector

War on the Informal Sector, Tamale Control Edition

For your own safety, natch.

450 illegal tamales from Mexico seized at LAX and ‘incinerated’ (not steamed)

Apparently there are illegal tamales.

A passenger at Los Angeles International Airport learned that the hard way earlier this month when he tried to bring pork tamales into the U.S. from Mexico.

The passenger arrived from Mexico on Nov. 2 and was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists, who found 450 pork tamales wrapped in plastic bags in the passenger’s luggage.

The passenger apparently denied that the tamales were made with pork, which is on the list of products that travelers may not bring into the country under customs regulations.

For many families, tamales are a quintessential holiday tradition. Making a batch takes days of planning and exhaustive preparation — all for a tasty bite of corn masa, red chile mole and pork, beef or chicken.

The passenger would have been in the clear had he tried to bring sweet tamales – or those all masa ones that always seem to be left over.

. . . The passenger, who was not identified, was fined $1,000 because authorities believed the tamales were going to be sold and distributed.

As for the tamales, they met their demise. But not in the traditional manner: By being devoured.

All 450 of them were destroyed. The tamales were literally “incinerated,” a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said.

–Veronica Rocha, 450 illegal tamales from Mexico seized at LAX
Los Angeles Times, 18 November 2015.

Now of course Customs is being ludicrous, mean-spirited, invasive and petty. This is a heavy fine, and a pointless assault on the freedom of a peaceful traveler who did nothing to violate the rights of even a single living soul. It’s also a waste of perfectly good tamales, and just kind of a damned shame all around. But it is — qué pena! — just the most recent installment in a long, ludicrous history of American government’s mean-spirited and petty war on tamales and tamaleros:

By 1901, more than a hundred tamale wagons roamed Los Angeles, each paying a dollar a month for a city business license. Their popularity spurred others in outlying cities to follow their example. In 1906, Sonoran immigrant Alejandro Morales began selling his wife’s tamales from a wagon he commandeered through Anaheim. Morales, a ditch digger by trade, grew the concept into a restaurant, then a tamale factory, then Alex Foods, a multimillion-dollar empire now known as Don Miguel Mexican Foods.

. . . It wasn’t just Latinos who operated tamale wagons — African Americans, European immigrants and whites also partook in the industry. In 1905, even the YMCA opened a temporary tamale wagon to raise funds so it could send a boy’s track and field team to compete in Portland, Ore.

Strangers coming to Los Angeles, reported The Times, remark at the presence of so many outdoor restaurants, and marvel at the system which permits men … to set up places of business in the public streets … competing with businessmen who pay high rents for rooms in which to serve the public with food.

Not everyone appreciated those first loncheras. L.A.’s press sensationalized any fight, quarrel or theft committed around the eateries, leading to a perception in polite circles that they weren’t safe (typical headline: “Says the Tamale Wagon is a Nursery of Crime”). As early as 1892, officials tried to ban them; in 1897, the City Council proposed to not allow tamale wagons to open until nine at night at the behest of restaurant owners who didn’t like their crowds. Four years later, Police Chief Charles Elton recommended they close at 1 a.m. because they offered “a refuge for drunks who seek the streets when the saloons are closed for the night.”

Los Angeles school trustees constructed kitchens at the city’s high schools (including the first prep cafeteria in the country at Los Angeles High) in 1905 to offer healthier lunches after having “long waged a crusade against the tamale wagons,” according to the Herald. And in 1910, 100 downtown businessmen signed a letter asking the council that tamale wagons be prohibited because they didn’t reflect well on the district.

The tamaleros fought back with their most powerful weapon: their fans. In 1903, when the council tried to outlaw them altogether, they formed a mutual-aid society and presented the council a petition with the signatures of more than 500 customers that read, in part: “We claim that the lunch wagons are catering to an appreciative public, and to deprive the people of these convenient eating places would prove a great loss to the many local merchants who sell the wagon proprietors various supplies.”

They also found an ally in Councilman Fred Wheeler. In 1920, he offered an impassioned defense in council chambers when tamale wagons once again faced the ax. “The tamale put Los Angeles on the map,” he thundered. “These wagons are almost an institution of our city. Cabrillo and his sailors are said to have found them here when they landed. Drive these wagons from our streets? Never!”

Wheeler convinced his fellow councilmen to spare the tamale wagons that year but wasn’t as lucky in 1924, when a resolution booted tamaleros from the plaza. They continued as usual, though, a move that sparked The Times to quip, “Those lunch carts have more lives than the eighty-one incarnations of Methuselah’s nine cats.”

By then, the wagons sold more than tamales — the massive wave of migrants from central Mexico over the previous 20 years had introduced other Mexican delicacies to the city, such as barbacoa, menudo and tacos. But their era was waning. “They belong not to the new order of things,” The Times editorialized in 1924. “They were born of the pueblo — they perish in the metropolis.”

The plaza, of course, transformed into Olvera Street, as a new generation of Angelenos wanted a more refined Mexican culinary experience than that offered by the chaos of Tamale Row. As the automobile grew in popularity, Latino families loaded up their trucks and drove through East Los Angeles selling food before settling in downtown, the precursor to today’s loncheras.

By 1929, when Samuel C. Wilhite received a patent for a “Tamale Inn” — a tamale wagon shaped like its eponymous snack complete with awning, rows of windows, and even steps — there was no need for it. He parked it on Whittier Boulevard and named it the Tamale, where the structure still stands, although it’s currently a beauty salon. The last tamale wagon on Southern California’s roads belonged to the Morales family: their Tamale Wagon, a legendary sprint car that captured the minds of race fans for decades.

–Gustavo Arellano, Tamales, Los Angeles’ First Street Food
Los Angeles Times, 8 September 2011.

Free the tamales and all political prisoners.

See also.

War on the Informal Sector (Cont’d)

Here is some moderately good news about a ridiculously awful story, from Occupied Las Vegas:

Three years after a confrontation between Las Vegas police and a costumed street performer in front of The Venetian spawned a lawsuit, the Police Department has agreed to settle with Zorro for $105,000.

Jason Perez-Morciglio, who performs as Zorro on Las Vegas streets, and his brother, Sebastian Perez-Morciglio, sued in June 2010 after they said Venetian security officers kidnapped and detained them for more than an hour on Jan. 15, 2010, before kicking them off the property. The brothers also alleged that Las Vegas police officers illegally handcuffed and searched them at the resort.

These security guards handcuffed the brothers, searched their persons and belongings, demanded identification, and photographed them, the lawsuit documents said.

On Monday, The Metropolitan Police Department’s Fiscal Affairs Committee agreed to pay the brothers $105,000, something that Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who sits on the committee, thinks was the best option to avoid negative exposure for the department. The potential cost could have been significantly more, Sisolak said. . . .

For the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which provided general counsel for the brothers in the lawsuit, the impact of the settlement transcended monetary value.

The main thing in the case is that it was never about the money. It was about verifying again that the sidewalks in front of the hotels are a public forum, and the people have a right to First Amendment activity there, said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada.

According to Sisolak, accompanying the settlement was what he called a clearer and more definitive policy on how officers will handle street performers on the public sidewalks.

— Colton Lochhead, Las Vegas police settle lawsuit with street performer,
Las Vegas Review-Journal (April 22, 2013)

Also.

Well then I suppose they will lose their waffle cones as well as their principal.

In recent news, from the Money Monopoly, Ethan Clay, the owner of a Pittsburgh-area ice-cream parlor, has been offering a small-time check-cashing service and community bank through his shop’s gift card system. The interest on deposits is paid out in ice cream gift cards. From the WSJ story, it sounds like he was largely motivated by frustration over fees from the cartelists in the Bureaucratically Correct banking system. So he’s offering a neighborhood alternative that’s designed to minimize fees, offer a moderate rate of interest on deposits, and offer low-interest microloans.

PITTSBURGH–State banking officials want to put the freeze[1] on the owner of an ice-cream parlor who opened a community-bank alternative that pays interest in the form of gift cards for ice cream, waffles and coffee.

Ethan Clay, 31 years old, opened Whalebone Café Bank seven months ago in his shop, Oh Yeah!, a year and a half after he was hit with $1,600 in overdraft fees from a local bank where his account was overdrawn by a series of checks.

Mr. Clay says he wants to offer an alternative banking experience, and has accepted small deposits and made small loans. He claims he isn’t subject to banking rules because his operation is a gift-card savings account.

. . . Mr. Clay’s ice-cream-bank novelty is drawing attention at a time when people, irritated over banking fees and overdraft penalties, are increasingly looking to alternatives to traditional banking. Today, 8.2% of the nation’s households—up from 7.7% in 2009—are managing their finances without a bank, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

. . . Mr. Clay said he has $550 from depositors and has loaned $1,700, an amount that includes some of his own seed money. My goal is to get to $100,000 in deposits by Dec. 21, he said. This is the prototype, but I hope to become the neighborhood bank.

He said he came up with the idea after he paid 45 fees at $35 each to his local bank. If I’m overdrawn by 64 cents, the bank should charge me 10 cents and not $20, said Mr. Clay. At some point, he said he might have to consider a small penalty for borrowers who spend money they don’t have.

You have to have a way of making it uncomfortable for people to be overdrawn, he said.

— John W. Miller, Wall Street Journal (2012-09-13)

The story doesn’t mention anything about it, but I expect that accepting the deposits would also be a good way for Clay to capitalize his small business without having to go through the high volumes or bureaucratic demands for getting standard business loans from a bank, and without paying off the Money Monopolist’s skim. In any case, the prospect of a community alternative to cartel banking is certainly more than enough for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking to leap into action. My God, the man is threatening to compete. And he isn’t even a banker!

Now of course I do in general terms understand the cartelizing function of banking regulations, and the role that they play in insulating incumbent capitalists from the threat of market competition. And I know that these cartelizing and insulating functions are in fact, and always have been, the essence and the raison d’être of the regulations. And I realize that there really isn’t any micromanaging defend-the-status-quo, control-at-any-cost argument so baldfacedly idiotic that it can’t still be assimilated and rationalized and seriously produced by the internal logic of bureaucratic rationality. Still, when I read this stuff from a guy like Ed Novak, Spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking …

It’s a strange case, we don’t have the authority to go close an ice-cream store, said Ed Novak, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking. But we are going to do something. You can’t mess with people’s money.[2]

. . . There are other issues, as well. Oh Yeah! does not have depositors insurance. If a bank goes under, the depositors get their money back, said Mr. Novak. If the ice-cream store goes under, who knows what happens?[3]

— John W. Miller, Wall Street Journal (2012-09-13)

… I do still find myself wondering, at some level, how you ever get to a point in your life when you can actually say this kind of stuff without just falling over laughing at yourself. In any case, when he ventures to say it in public, the rest of us ought to at the very least to pick up the slack and laugh him out of the room for it.

In any case, here’s a bit more from Novak:

There is also the question of enforcing banking charters, which licenses institutions to cash checks. Banking in the 19th century was a hit-or-miss proposition, says Mr. Novak. And we have a banking system now to make sure that that’s not the issue.

— John W. Miller, Wall Street Journal (2012-09-13)

Now, of course, you can’t mess with people’s money, and we don’t have any of that hit-or-miss stuff. You can’t mess with people’s money because now we have a Banking System which owns all the money, and only allows you to do what they please with it. And within the enclosed game reserve of that Banking System, there is no hit-or-miss: government guarantees that megacapitalists like Citi and J.P. Morgan-Chase will bag their targets.[4] Whether you think all this is a good thing or not depends on how much you like being in the crosshairs.

Also.

  1. [1][The Editor would like to extend his apologies. The Wall Street Journal story seems to exist mostly in order to print as many awful journalistic puns as you can fit in the available space. –RG]
  2. [2][This was apparently said with a straight face. –R.G.]
  3. [3][This too. –R.G.]
  4. [4]If they should miss on their first shot, FDIC and TARP will roll up in a tank and open fire on their behalf.

The War on the Informal Sector (cont’d)

WASHINGTON — If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk, said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

. . . Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn’t be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches.

We’re not looking to come across as being heavy-handed, he said. We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we’re still going to enforce.

— James Rosen, McClatchy (2009-08-20): Seller, beware: Feds cracking down on garage sales

Like most invasive government regulations, the rules of engagement for this particular war hurts all of its targets — that is, they ratchet up fixed costs for all resellers, hurting them directly and also hurting their ability to provide a cheaper alternative to their main competitors (in this case, mainly big discount retailers like Wal-Mart). But within the resale market, it hurts some players more than others:

Staffers for the federal agency are fanning out across the country to conduct training seminars on the regulations at dozens of thrift shops.

Even before this law, we had good mechanisms in place for pulling recalled products, said Jim Gibbons, the chief executive of Goodwill. The law just kicks it up a notch, so Goodwills around the country will continue to improve our process.

Goodwill uses $2 billion in annual sales at its 2,300 thrift shops nationwide to pay for its job-training and employment placement programs.

— James Rosen, McClatchy (2009-08-20): Seller, beware: Feds cracking down on garage sales

Those of us who want to resell old toys but don’t have $2,000,000,000 in annual sales to dip into for regulatory compliance and who don’t get training seminars from the United States federal government may have a harder time kicking it up a notch. As usual, regulation props up big established incumbents and hurts grassroots, ad hoc, or just plain small-time players; state corporatism artificially enforces consumerism by burning out reuse markets, and props up the strip mall by burning out the bazaar.

See also: