#TexasWineFreedom: Texans, please call our legislators and ask them to support a bill that would allow Texans to DRINK WHAT THEY WANT

The following post is taken from Wine Freedom Texas, a blog devoted to promoting Texans’ freedom in choosing the wines they want to drink. Texans, please call the numbers below and leave a message for our legislators asking them to support this bill. Its passage would be a monumental leap forward in freeing Texan wine lovers from the yoke of big business interest and its “ridiculously anti-competitive” hold over our state’s shipping laws, as the bill’s author, Dallas-area Republican state representative Matt Rinaldi, has called it it.

WINE FREEDOM FOR TEXANS
(House Bill 2291) – Updated May 2, 2017

Texas law bans its citizens from receiving shipments of wine from out-of-state wine stores, internet wine retailers, wine clubs and wine auction houses. [Texas Legislature] H[ouse]B[ill] 2291 would remove this ban and create a free market in wine for Texans and giving its wine lovers access to hundreds of thousands of wine now unavailable to Texans.

STATUS OF BILL

A hearing on HB 2291 was held on May 1 in the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee. In testimony by Texas consumers, the National Association of Wine Retailers and the bill sponsor, Matt Rinaldi, committee members heard how consumers could not find the wines they want, how the current anti-competitive and anti-consumer law impacts consumers, and how HB 2291 would not harm Texas package stores. By contrast, lobbyists for Texas wholesalers and package stores testified that they ought to be protected from competition and that the bill was a threat to minors’ safety.

The Committee members did not vote to pass on the legislation to the full house at the May 1 committee hearing. The future of HB 2291 could take three possible paths: Committee members vote to kill the bill in committee, take no vote and let it die or vote to move the bill to the floor for consideration.

CONSUMER ACTION NEEDED

Call Key Committee Members. Now is the moment when committee members need to hear from Texas consumers. Call the committee members below and respectfully tell them you support HB 2291 and that you are calling to urge them to vote it out of the Licensing committee.

Chairman John Kuempel: (512) 463-0602
Rep. Ryan Guillen: (512) 463-0416
Rep. John Frullo: (512) 463-0676
Rep. Charlie Geren: (512) 463-0610
Rep. Ana Hernandez: (512) 463-0614
Rep. Abel Herrero: (512) 463-0462
Rep. Chris Paddie: (512) 463-0556

Read more here…

“I used to be a racist but racism’s just got to go.” A ray of hope in southeast Texas in Trump America

“I love you, man” were the first words I heard Tim utter when he finally reached me at the Shell I-10 Travel Plaza in Cove, Texas, a few miles west of Old River Lake, roughly an hour east of Houston where we live.

Tracie P, our girls, and I were in two cars caravanning back from our Easter with her family in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border, when a faulty piston in our Honda minivan unexpectedly forced Tra to pull off the road at the first opportunity.

Luckily, it happened not far from the truck stop. We switched the girls’ car seats to my Hyundai sedan and their mother and they were delayed just a half hour before getting back on the road for home.

But I had to wait for Tim, the tow-truck man, for more than 3 hours at the Travel Plaza: an unexpectedly busy Easter Sunday had found him working his stretch of the interstate on his own and he had two jobs ahead of mine.

“Thanks for working with me on this,” he said with the unmistakable mellifluous drawl that you only hear in southeast Texas, where people eat and speak more like Louisianans than Texans.

“I had two tows that were emergencies and I knew you were already safe. I appreciate it, man!”

He held out his hand, blackened by the soot of the highway, and shook mine warmly.

After he secured the van on his truck’s bed, I climbed in the cabin with him. I was his last tow of the day and he was in a talkative mood. We had a nearly hour-long drive ahead of us back to southwest Houston.

“Where were you coming from?” he asked.

“Orange,” I said. “We had Easter with my wife’s family. She’s from there.”

“Orange, huh?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “That’s not far from Vidor,” the notorious southeast Texas town that lies a stone’s throw from where my wife grew up in Orange, one of the strident holdouts of Jim Crow-era attitudes and a historic happy place for the Klan.

“Some of my guys won’t let me send them out there,” said Tim, taking a puff off of one of his Marlboro reds. “And I’m not just talking about black guys. Not even my Mexican guys will go out there for a tow.”

And then he said something that really blew my mind, something I never expected he would say.

“I used to be a racist,” he said almost proudly but earnestly and honestly, with an emphasis on used, so as to prompt my inference that he no longer was one.

Wow, I thought.

“But racism’s got to go!” he declared looking over at me from behind the wheel as we headed toward the Sidney Sherman Bridge where we would span the Houston Ship Channel.

His wife is originally from southern California and she’s an ex-service member, he explained. Her experience in the diverse workforce of the U.S. military had shaped her own attitudes about race and racism. And she wouldn’t stand for his racist beliefs and values in their marriage. And so he changed his ways.

“I used to be a racist. But racism has just got to go,” he kept on saying.

Though I gauged he may not meet an ACLU acid test for what racism is or isn’t, I believed him.

We talked for the entire trip, 47 miles to be exact. Historic racism in southeast Texas, contemporary politics (he’s an avid Trump supporter), and his love of the movie “Hidden Figures” were among the myriad topics. He highly encouraged me to see the film.

At one point, he told me that he often stops and helps stranded motorists even when he’s not on the clock.

“My wife says I’ve got to stop doing that,” he lamented. “She’s says ‘you get paid for this now.'”

“I just like to help people, that’s all,” he said. “The world would sure be a better place if we all helped each other.”

As we crossed over the ship channel, he pointed out the yard where he drops off his scrap cars. I was his last tow of the night and he was my last chance to escape the forgotten bayous of Old River Lake and make it home to my girls.

I think that he enjoying seeing Georgia and Lila Jane as much as they marveled at watching him unload our Honda Odyssey in front of our house.

“They are so damn cute,” he said. “Are they spoiled rotten?”

The sun was also setting over southeast Texas as Tim headed back to the Sidney Sherman Bridge and Tracie and I put them to bed.

Thanks for reading…

Texas Wine Freedom: how Texans and all Americans can help end anti-competitive, un-American shipping policies

Above: the statue of Stephen Austin, founder and “father” of Texas, in the Texas state capitol. Below: the cupola as seen from below. I took both photos in February when I visited the state capital to interview representative Matt Rinaldi in February.

For years, here on my blog and in the Houston Press, I have written about the Texas government’s anti-competitive and un-American retail wine shipping policies. Despite our nation’s Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, Texas still prohibits the shipment of wines to consumers from out of state.

It took a redder-than-red Texas state representative, Matt Rinaldi, Republican from the Dallas area, to have the courage to stand up to the Texas wholesalers lobby and propose a bill in the current legislative session that would right this wrong.

In an interview I did with him for the Houston Press, he called the current policies “ridiculously anti-competitive.”

“We value our freedom first and foremost,” he said. “Government shouldn’t be interfering with that. [Texans] should be given the freedom to do what makes them happy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of anyone else.”

The following message was penned by wine retailer Daniel Posner of New York and shared with me by my good friend and Manhattan wine retailer Jamie Wolff. Wine industry consultant and advocate Tom Wark is the creator of Wine Freedom, a grass-roots initiative devoted to raising awareness of anti-competitive shipping policies currently in place across the U.S.

Thanks for reading. G-d bless Texas and G-d bless America!

*****

Dear Texas Wine Lover,

We need your help to bring Wine Freedom to Texas. 

A bill, HB 2291, would formally allow Texans to receive shipments from out-of-state wine stores and Internet wine retailers.

To help this bill succeed, we MUST get a hearing on the bill scheduled. You can help by emailing or calling:

• Representative John Kuempel – Chairman of the House Licensing and
Administrative Procedures Committee

Ask him to schedule a hearing on HB 2291

The best way to do this is by visiting the TEXAS WINE FREEDOM page: https://www.winefreedom.org/wine-freedom-for-texas/

Information is on this site allowing you to easily:

• Email or call Representative Kuempel
• Sign up for Alerts and news on the bill
• Sign a petition supporting the bill.

You only need to tell Representative Kuempel the following:

“I live in (name of city) and I support HB 2291, the Wine Shipping Bill in your committee. I urge you to schedule a committee hearing on the bill.”

Taking action now is critical since the Texas legislature will not meet for another two years and this is your only chance to change the laws on wine shipping in Texas.

Trump America the day after: the women’s march in Austin

austin-women-womens-march-trumpIn the wake of Trump’s election, Tracie P and I begin planning our trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Women’s March with our girls.

We had even lined up a place to stay, with friends in Bethesda. But when someone fired a gun at a favorite pizzeria in their neighborhood (claiming he was investigating a Clinton conspiracy theory), we decided that the potential for violence was too great. We agreed that I would stay home with the girls and that Tracie would attend the march in Austin, the Texas capital.

That’s Tracie above (in the back row, more or less in the center, green sign in hand) with her group of friends and comrades who marched yesterday in Austin.

According to the Austin American-Statesman (the paper of record) and the Austin police department, up to 50,000 persons attended the march. According to the Washington Post, more than one million persons attended the marches in the nation’s capital. One of them was our Houston cousin Dana.

Since the election in November, Tracie has organized a women’s activist group that meets regularly in our home. She has visited both U.S. senator Ted Cruz’s and senator John Cornyn’s office to protest Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (a core issue for us). Last Sunday we, including the girls, attended a rally led by U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to protest the ACA’s dismantling by republicans as well (below).

In the light of Trump’s campaign platform, I still can’t wrap my mind around the incongruous fact that Evangelical Christians supported Trump in the election in such great numbers. Recently, I’ve taken to studying the Christian Bible to get a greater understanding of their reasoning. The following passage, from the Epistle of Saint James, sticks out in my mind:

Come now, you rich people… Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

G-d bless America. I will continue to write about Trump America here on the blog and I’ll continue to post updates on our family’s efforts to raise awareness of issues faced by the disenfranchised among us.

sheila-jackson-office-houston

Is being Mexican in Trump America a zero-sum game?

chicano-park-san-diegoOver the span of one week, conversations with two friends of mine, both of them middle-aged and middle-class American women of Mexican heritage, revealed a dichotomy in attitudes about Latinos living in the U.S. in the Trump era.

In Houston, the Texan of the two told me that she and her family are deeply concerned about how the president-elect’s immigration policies are going to affect them and the wider network of their community.

If Trump makes good on his pledge to deport 11 million Latinos from the U.S. and, in particular, if he revokes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, her extended family will surely be affected.

No one knows for certain what Trump will actually do but it’s highly likely that his newly implemented immigration policies will literally rip her family apart.

In North County San Diego, the Californian of the two told me she hopes that Trump acts on his vow to expel “undocumented” Latinos living in the U.S.

“Not another Mexican should ever be allowed into this country,” she said (verbatim).

I grew up in Southern California and called it my home until I was 30 years old.

Now 49 years old, I’ve lived in Texas since 2008.

According to the most recent data on demographics in the two states that I could find (notably here and here), roughly 40 percent of the people living in both states are Latinos. And in California, there are currently more Latinos than Whites. In Texas, the number of Latinos is expected to surpass the number of Whites by the end of this decade.

When I was a child, my caretaker was a Mexican woman (who is still a close friend of my family). I learned to speak Spanish fluently by the time I was 13 years old (long before I learned to speak Italian). My classes were filled with Mexican kids during my years of high school (La Jolla High) and college (U.C.L.A.).

When Trump announced his bid for the presidency in 2015, he said that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (Read the text of his June 2015 address here.)

Aside from my decade in New York and my years as a student in Italy, I’ve lived almost 40 years in states where Spanish is spoken regularly as a second language and where Mexicans and Whites live, work, study, and raise families side-by-side (as the demographics reveal, Texas and California are very similar in this regard). Gauging from my own personal experience, Trump’s remarks (in his opening bid to become the U.S. president) are as far from the truth as they are deeply offensive.

As a contributor to the Washington Post wrote about a month before the general election, “anyone… sold on the idea that Trump’s comments have simply been misunderstood or taken out of contest seems unable to grasp is that the act of declaring an entire group prone to illegal activity is about as close to a textbook example of bigotry and xenophobia as possible.”

In January when Trump takes office, we’ll see how he intends to implement his often repeated campaign pledge. Some states, like California, are already taking steps to protect their residents from Trump’s bigoted and xenophobic approach to immigration reform.

In the meantime, countless people who reside in our country are living in fear of what will come next.

It was only two generations ago that my family immigrated to the U.S. when my grandparents’ families fled religious persecution and economic subjugation in what are now Russia and Poland. All of my ancestors were Jews and nearly all of them were poor, disenfranchised, and “undocumented” migrants. According to our family mythology, my paternal grandmother came from a family of bootleggers. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know that she was born into abject poverty. As the tide of history in Eastern Europe has shown, her family’s migration probably saved their lives and their biological legacy. My children are her great-grandchildren.

Trump claims to be a Christian and the majority of Whites who elected him identify as Christians (including Evangelicals’ nearly unmitigated support).

I often wonder how my White-Christian friends are sleeping the days, now that Trump is poised to become the leader of our nation.

I know for a fact that a lot of my Mexican-Christian friends have been losing a lot of sleep.

mexican-park-barrio-logan-san-diegoImages of Chicano Park in San Diego where I grew up via Peyri Herrera’s Flickr. See also the Wiki entry for Chicano Park.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans Memorial in Orange, Texas and what it means in Trump America

sons-confederate-veterans-memorial-orangeThe closest Starbucks to my in-laws’ house in Orange, Texas is nearly 22 miles away, roughly 30 minutes by car.

I was there early on Thanksgiving Day using the Google-powered internet and working quietly on a project that I’m trying to finish before year’s end. Over the 3 hours I was there (from about 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., more or less), I saw Asian kids, black kids, Mexican kids, white kids, and even a table of camouflage-wearing middle-aged white people, women and men, who spoke very loudly of their approval of Donald Trump and the new direction he’s taking our country.

Taking the long way back to Orange, which lies on the Louisiana border, I made a detour to visit the Sons of the Confederate Veterans “Memorial of the Wind,” which is located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. where it intersects Interstate 10 (in the photo above).

When you exit the eastbound freeway, before you travel beneath the underpass to get to the north side of the road where the memorial is located, you see the billboard below. It “welcomes” visitors to Orange, home of the West Orange Stark High School football team. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. is one of the city’s main thoroughfares and so it’s only natural that the exit is well-trafficked.
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Amatriciana for Amatrice: Slow Food founder calls for restaurateurs and diners across the world to support Amatrice in year-long campaign

best amatriciana recipeAbove: my friend and client Tony Vallone’s Amatriciana here in Houston.

In Italy yesterday, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini proposed that “every restaurant in the world” serve Amatriciana for the next 12 months and donate €2 for every dish served directly to the Amatrice municipal government (see bank info below).

The village of Amatrice (AH-mah-TREE-cheh), known for its production of salumi and its celebrated Pasta all’Amatriciana (ah-MAH-tree-CHEE’AH-nah, long noodles dressed with tomato sauce and sautéed guanciale, cured pig’s jowl), was virtually destroyed in this week’s devastating earthquake in central Italy.

Petrini’s proposal, “A Future for Amatrice,” is a long-term fundraising initiative intended to provide sustained aid to Amatrice and its residents even after the “emotional wave of the moment has passed,” he wrote in a statement released to mainstream and social media.

Here in Houston, my friend and client Tony Vallone was already a step ahead of Petrini: yesterday, he began setting aside $2 for every dish of Amatriciana he serves (above) to be donated to Italian Red Cross relief efforts.

Ammado is the official micro-donation for the Italian Red Cross: here’s the link to donate.

You can also donate through the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (another client of mine). The Chamber is taking donations through PayPal and will donate funds collected to Italian Government relief efforts.

And if you want to send money directly to the Amatrice municipal government, here’s the bank code provided by Petrini in his statement: IT28M0832773470000000006000.

The destruction of Amatrice and a string of picturesque hilltop villages in this week’s catastrophe is a tragic loss for the Italian people and the world at large.

See the op-ed published this week by political commentator Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times.

“And in the space of just one summer’s night,” he writes, “Amatrice is all but gone.”

Alfonso Cevola responds to a post (and breaks our hearts)

alfonso cevola glazersAbove: Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in a happier time in our now defunct friendship, which dates back to 2007. Here’s a profile of Alfonso I wrote for the Houston Press after he won the Vinitaly International Prize in 2013.

In the spirit of fair and balanced wine blogging, I’d like to share a note from leading Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in response to my June 27 post, “Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors.”

Your post last week, claimed three falsehoods:
1) The two large distributors do not control 99% of the market
2) As for heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales –Texas is #43 (along with California) in state wine taxation among the 50 states.
3) RE:The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks – Outside fulfillment is legal as long as the fulfillment company ( and the trucks they are using) have proper TABC permits. And yes, small distributors can (and do) pool deliveries in Texas.

Alfonso is the Italian Wine Director for Glazer’s, previously one of the two biggest wine distributors in Texas. Now, with the completion of the Southern-Glazer’s “mega deal” merger, the company is part of “the U.S. market’s largest wine and spirits distributor by far, distributing more than 150 million cases of wine and spirits annually, employing more than 20,000 people and operating in 44 states plus the District of Columbia, the Caribbean, and Canada. Total revenues are at more than $15 billion” (Shanken News Daily, June 30, 2016).

I don’t entirely agree with Alfonso’s assessment but felt it was important to share it here. I have also updated my June 27 post with an errata corrige.

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See why I moved to Texas? Thank you, Tracie P, for giving them to us!

tracie and georgia thumbWhat a joyous day for this proud daddy yesterday when Georgia P performed in her first big dance recital at the Stafford Centre theater in southwest Houston!

She was part of the ensemble performance by her four-year-olds class at the Banbury School of Dance (located in our neighborhood, Westbury; they did a fantastic job of producing this show, btw).

That’s my little ballerina with her mother, above!

georgia on stage thumbMan, can you imagine the lump in my throat and the pounding in my chest as we waited patiently in the audience for her big stage debut!

And lo and behold, she took the stage with that gorgeous smile on her face and unbridled confidence in her steps.

Georgia P, I couldn’t have been more proud! The stage lights, the packed house, and a sizable cast of talented dancers: you handled yourself like a pro, my sweet, sweet girl!

lila jane thumbAnd Lila Jane, you had so much fun cheering your sister on!

You sat so patiently through the dress rehearsal and the show. By the end of last night’s performance, you were performing the moves in the aisle!

Tracie P, thank you for giving us these beautiful girls. You gave them your big heart and your brilliant smile.

And you have given me a dream life that I never could have imagined until I came here to Texas to be with you.

I love you all so much…

Texas high school football, just like in the movies

west orange stark football championshipOur daughters (and their dad) got a crash course in Texas high school football yesterday when we attended the Class 4A Division II state championship, where Tracie P’s alma mater, the West Orange Stark Mustangs (14-1), beat the Celina (pronounced sah-LEE-nah) Bobcats (15-0) at Houston’s NRG stadium (where the pros play) 22-3.

That’s Georgia P (age 4), above, in the arms of her cousin Lesli (who lives in Los Angeles).

Everything you’ve ever heard about the high school football phenomenon in Texas? It’s true.

There were roughly 25 members of the Branch-Johnson side of our family in attendance, mostly from West Orange (where Tracie grew up a block away from campus) but also from Austin and Houston (and even one from California).

When I went to visit the restroom at halftime, an impromptu reunion of diaspora Mustangs alumni was taking place, with women and men and their families gleefully greeting each other and exchanging notes and hopes on the course of the game.

nrg stadium houstonOne thing that really impressed me about the experience was the fans’ ardent loyalty to the teams and the intensity of their cheer.

This was no mere social event or pageant intended to foster character among the young men on the field.

No, this was Texas football…

west orange stark football scoreThe other thing that impressed me was how nice and just downright polite everyone was.

That’s our daughter Lila Jane (2), above, btw.

As raucous as the crowd was, I didn’t hear or witness one tense exchange among the throng of people trying to reach their seats.

I ascribe the mood and air of sisterhood and brotherhood in part to the joy that Texans derive from the sporting experience.

But I also attribute it to Texans’ general attitude of friendliness and thoughtfulness when they gather.

This locus amoenus was a happy place where people — literally — from all walks of life came together to celebrate the fanfare and wholesome excitement of our state’s “national” pastime.

Congratulations to the Mustangs on a great season and a job well done!