Actual email from this week:
Sent: November 13, 2011 7:41 AM
Just watching the news where they say there would be NO fee for a Christmas tree at least for this year. I do think it is a religious discrimination.
Will there be a fee for raising goats or sheep that is used in the Islam religion?
Will there be a fee on the turkeys that are raised for Thanksgiving?
Wow, I couldn't even formulate a response to that one. Each year, there are only a handful of emails I just simply don't answer - and this was the first of 2011.
This whole Christmas Tree tax thing has broken down into the surreal on so many fronts. All because one blogger with some kind of ulterior motive decided to call the checkoff program a tax on trees, even though it isn't. Some people just simply refuse to see the facts, even when presented with them in a clear and concise manner.
I thought of an analogy for this:
If we go to the zoo and look at a giraffe, we're both looking at the same giraffe. But then you might say, "I think that's a mule."
I would respond, "No, it's not, it's a giraffe. We're both looking right at it, and mules are different from giraffes."
But you could still say, "I don't care. I think it's a mule and I'm going to call it a mule from now on no matter what you say."
And you do just that. You tell everyone who walks by that they're looking a mule. Maybe you even stand on a fencepost and shout it as loud as you can.
Well, that doesn't magically make the giraffe a mule just because you call it that. It just makes you wrong.
But the moral of this story is that unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who just believe what they are told. And if you tell them often enough and loud enough "that's a mule," some of them will believe you, even if they're looking right at the giraffe. For this audience, I just don't think it's worth it to keep replying, "It's not a tax" ... they're never going to believe us.
And then, the majority of people renew my faith. Here's a typical exchange:
Sent: November 9, 2011 1:17 PM
Subject: the christmas tree tax
Last night when I first read about this, I KNEW it had to be some trade group behind this ... and it turns out it was YOUR group! Gee ... I wonder how much money you gave to or promised to give to Obama for this little favor ... hmmm.
And good thing it's been 'delayed." Why does your group even exist??? You're just trying to sponge off the taxpayers.
Here was my answer:
Agricultural producers have created promotional boards like this one since 1966, and they date back to the Johnson Administration. There are more than 20 such boards in existence currently, and some well-known promotional boards have developed successful advertising and promotion campaigns, including the "Got Milk?", "Pork: The Other White Meat" and the "Incredible Edible Egg."
There are zero tax dollars involved here. USDA bills all costs associated with these promotional efforts to the industry groups that create the boards.
These promotional boards are created when the industry gathers together and decide to petition USDA to create a promotional board. USDA reviews the petition, opens it up to industry and public comment, and then creates the board if it meets certain criteria. That is what happened here.
Fresh cut Christmas Tree producers have long been concerned about losing market share to artificial tree makers and foreign imports. In response, the domestic producers decided, as an industry and as is their right, to fund a promotional effort, similar to how the dairy processors created the "Got Milk?" campaign. They want to self-assess this 15-cent fee on domestic Christmas Trees for producers who sell more than 500 trees a year.
To ensure fairness, and as required by law, the USDA works with the industry at the start of this effort to ensure that consumers or growers are not gouged and to provide ongoing oversight to ensure the program meets its stated goals.
Many producers, from dairy farmers to livestock producers to blueberry growers, have created research and promotion boards because it increases their markets and they prosper.
Will wrote back:
Sent: November 9, 2011 4:26 PM
Subject: RE: the christmas tree tax
Thanks for the reply. And I stand corrected re this being a tax. Thanks. But ... you gotta admit ... you've gotten some bad PR on this thing. Not a great time to be raising prices, or having your group tied to Obama. Anyway, good luck. And thanks again for the reply.
FWIW, I get a fresh tree every year.
Thanks, Will. It was folks like you who kept me going the past week or so.
Hey, I've got an idea. Next week, let's start talking about trees, shall we? We're only one week away from sales season opening. Woo-hoo!