A Portmanteau to Celebrate

June 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

GALVESTON – This town has an assortment of neighborhoods such as beautiful old mansions next to pawn shops. The mansions were probably built in a neighborhood of mansions at that time. Here is one example: Ashton Villa, a magnificent home now sitting across the street from a seedy-looking loan company. Scattered around the area are equally well-worn establishments. It was built by James Moreau Brown, beginning in 1859. The family occupied the house until at least 1926. But what happened on the villa’s second story balcony changed Texas’ history and, eventually, America’s. In a word: Juneteenth.

Actually, according to the calendar, the date was June 19th, but this year even Apple added Juneteenth to its calendars under official U.S. holidays. The date was recently celebrated, but if you’re new to Texas, Pilgrim, we’ll discuss why. During the Civil war, on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Order #3, better known as the Emancipation Proclamation, effective as of Jan.1, 1863. It declared that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were to be freed. This order excluded the five states known later as border states, which were slave states but not in rebellion. So when you think about it, who exactly was freed? Not a soul. A noble gesture, but absolutely meaningless.


Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas.

Here in Texas, although most slaves lived in rural areas, by 1860 more than 1,000 resided in both Galveston and Houston. The war actually caused the number of slaves to increase in Texas as slave owners fled here from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slaves with them. At the end of the Civil War, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. (San Antonio, being mostly Hispanic, had only168 among a population of 3,436.) As for Galveston, it was the only part of Texas that was conquered and occupied by the Yankees. As part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, on Oct. 4, 1862, eight Union warships entered Galveston harbor and demanded the Rebels’ surrender. After a brief skirmish, the Southerners, commanded by Col. Joseph J. Cook, struck a truce and left, having already sent their heavy artillery ahead. So with gunboats off shore, 264 men of the Forty-second Massachusetts Infantry, led by Col. I. S. Burrell, finally arrived on Dec. 25 to occupy and patrol the town.

Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder took command of Confederate forces in the fall of 1862, and, showing far more courage than his predecessor, started planning to recapture Galveston. On New Year’s night, with a combination of armed river steamers offshore, and dismounted cavalry and infantry crossing the railroad bridge (wouldn’t you think the Yankees would have burned that bridge by then?) the Rebels stormed Galveston. In fierce hand to hand combat, the Union forces were pushed back. Their warships simply sailed away, leaving the hapless Yankees no choice but to surrender. Galveston remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.

Now we come to Juneteenth. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but word was slow to get to Texas. Indeed, the last land battle of the Civil War was fought in South Texas, and the Confederates won. On June 18, 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas. The following day, standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of General Order No. 3 announcing the total emancipation of the slaves. They were advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. “They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” Since this occurred on June the nineteenth, it became Juneteenth, a portmanteau. And what, exactly, is a portmanteau? It’s a new word made up of parts of other words. Smog was coined by blending smoke and fog, and motel, from motor and hotel.

Anyway, upon hearing the news, Galveston’s former slaves celebrated, and a year later the freedmen, as they were then called, organized the first of what became the annual celebration of Juneteenth in Texas. According to the Handbook of Texas, in some cities African-Americans were barred from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities. Across parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations, such as Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

In the early 20th century, attention flagged and Juneteenth lost some of its movement, but during the Great Depression and during World War II, many black Texans moved to the west coast and to northern cities seeking work or just to get away from the segregated Lone Star State. They took with them the celebration and meaning of Juneteenth, and soon blacks in such places as Portland, Maine, and Flint, Michigan, held their own celebrations. Oh, and in Paris, France. As historian Isabel Wilkerson wrote, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s put Juneteenth back in favor, and following the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to Washington D.C. called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, many attendees, first hearing about the celebration from Texans, returned home and formed Juneteenth celebrations in new areas.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday — state government offices do not close but may operate with reduced staff, or a skeleton crew. As of May 2016, 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia had recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday, a day of observance. States that do not recognize it are Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota, mainly because none of them has any blacks to celebrate.


Ashby is free at ashby2@coscast.net

Follow the Money

June 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE DEALERSHIP – Oh, hi. I am just picking out what color Lamborghini I’m going to buy. You should do the same, because Big Bux are headed this way. And we deserve to get our share. The story, a scandal, really, is fairly well known. From 2006 to September 2015, nearly a decade, Volkswagen had a great way of selling more cars in the U.S. than Toyota, to become the world’s number one carmaker. Their aces in the hole were “clean diesel” vehicles. Fawning press reports stated: “About 580,000 such sedans, SUVs, and crossovers were sold in the U.S. under the company’s VW, Audi, and Porsche marques. With great fanfare, including Super Bowl commercials, the company flacked an environmentalist’s dream: high performance cars that managed to achieve excellent fuel economy and emissions so squeaky clean as to rival those of electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius.”

There was just one problem: It was a hoax, a con job. In a nutshell, VW altered its test cars to produce lower pollution and higher mileage than those actually sold on the market. The scam was discovered, VW executives – the plot was known to the highest levels – were hauled into court, and a fine was recently levelled: $2.7 billion. Texas gets about $30 million, enough to cover a pay raise for our legislators. No, the money is supposed to go to programs to improve our infrastructure with encouragement for more electric cars with more charging stations, that sort of thing. Gov. Greg Abbott chose the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) as the lead agency responsible for the administration of funds. That’s the same toothless TCEQ that has cleaned up our air so that the American Lung Association’s 2018 scorecard gave all of the big Texas cities poor marks for ozone pollution.

That’s the idea: millions of dollars to clean up our air. Good luck. We should remember the Master Settlement Agreement, or MSA. That was the deal in 1998 in which the tobacco industry would pay out $246 billion over 25 years to treat tobacco-related health issues and to prevent young people from taking up the cancer sticks. Ah, but did anyone really think Big Tobacco would shell out all that money? The entire cost of the settlement is being paid – not by the tobacco companies, but by smokers through price increases.

Where did that tobacco money go? The settlement made no mention of how the states would spend it, so you will recall from previous discussions on this matter, Michigan spent 75 percent of its settlement funds on scholarships for high school students. New York allocated $250 million for debt reduction. While only spending $5 million on youth smoking prevention, Illinois dropped $22.1 million to improve state buildings. Two Nevada PBS stations received $2 million to develop high-definition TV capabilities in exchange for airing some anti-tobacco ads. Niagara County in upstate New York spent $700,000 in tobacco settlement funds for a sprinkler system at a public golf course. The county also spent $24 million for a county jail and office building. In Wrangell, Alaska, $3.5 million of the tobacco settlement money was used to renovate shipping docks. In Los Angeles, former Mayor Richard Riordan proposed using $100 million in tobacco money to defend cops who are accused of planting drugs and guns on suspects. He was turned down.

North Carolina spent $42 million of the settlement funds to market tobacco and modernize the tobacco curing process. North Carolina also gave $200,000 in tobacco money to the Carolina Horse Park, an equestrian center near Pinehurst, N.C. The center defended the grant, saying it will boost economic development. But local taxpayer groups thought the allocation was wasteful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that states should spend approximately $3.3 billion per year on tobacco prevention and education, but the states budgeted a little less than 2 percent of that money, or less than $500 million. That means that for every dollar the states got from the tobacco settlement, two cents was spent on preventive programs.

Texas got $17.3 billion, so how was it spent? I mean, have you seen any anti-smoking TV ads? I, haven’t. It reminds us of that little box you could check on your electric bill that would add one dollar – a single buck – to help cover the electric bills of poor souls who couldn’t pay for their a/c in the summer. The Legislature took those millions, and funneled them into the general treasury. Then there were the lawyers. The national tobacco settlement was and remains by far the largest money transfer in the history of plaintiff litigation, and attorney fees just kept mounting. In Texas, five lawyers took on the tobacco industry, which until then had won every single court battle, on a contingence fee — if they lost, they got zero. The Tobacco Five, as they were known, won and received $3.3 billion, another record.

Back to our impending fortune. Texas has an unexpected windfall of approximately $30 million from VW. The money is supposed to be spent to clean up the air, including something about reducing nitrogen oxides in the environment. I have no idea what a nitrogen oxide is, but we’ve got to figure neither does the clerk at the TCEQ who is handling the millions. So we start a company called Nitrogen Oxide of the United States, or NOXIOUS. Slogan: “We clean up stuff!” How about a car company manufacturing automobiles called the Eletrix? The car runs on gasoline, but what Austin bureaucrat is going to stick his head under the hood to see?

It would be interesting to find out, in a few years, exactly where that $30 million went, and if all that money actually made even a slight difference in Texas’ air pollution. For us, this is a can’t-miss gold mine. Make room in your garage for that Lamborghini. I understand it has low emissions and is very fuel efficient.


Ashby gets rich at ashby2@comcast.net

International Food & Arts event San Miguel de Allende- from July 12-15

June 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

With summer here and travelers seeking fun festivals, one of the hottest tickets in July will be the international Food & Arts event taking place in one of Mexico’s most popular destinations – San Miguel de Allende- from July 12-15:
Dozens of dinners, events and activities are planned over the four days including themed feasts, tastings, art exhibits and performances, and a grand marketplace of food, spirits and art.  The themed dinners and lunches, which cost between about $77 and $150 each, and the After Party can be booked at www.magmexico.com. 
MAG will get underway on July 12 with a Kickoff Dinner in Moxi at Hotel Matilda themed “Beyond Borders – Mexico.” The event will feature acclaimed Mexican chefs Eduardo Garcia of Maximo Bistrot, Alan Mendez of Pasillo de Humo and Francisco Ibañez of Moxi, along with exhibits by artist Eugenia Martinez and music by Los Rumberos de Massachusetts.
A series of themed dinners and lunches will celebrate the cuisine of different countries with noted chefs cooking and artists exhibiting their works. In addition to the Mexico-themed dinner at Moxi, there will be:
  • July 13: Dinner at Rosewood San Miguel with Reylon Augustin, chef of One-Michelin-Star Madeira at Rosewood Sand Hills, and artist Adrian Gonzalez.
  • July 13: Dinner at Casa Dragones with chef Norma Listman and Saquib Kebal from restaurant de Masalá in Mexico City, artist Pedro Reyes.
  • July 14: Brunch at Moxi with chefs Eduardo Echeverria, John Gallo and Rene Reyes from PINCH based in Miami.
  • July 14: Australia dinner at Bovine Brasserie with chefs Paul Bentley and Duncan Welgemoed from Africola, a restaurant in Australia
  • July 14: Dinner at L’Otel with Chef Justin Smillie from Upland Restaurant in NYC
  • July 15: Brunch at Fatima 7, Casa Blanca 7 with Chef Donnie Masterton and artists from Colectivo Hoja Santa.
A grand market of gastronomy, food, drink and art, the Marché, was a huge hit in the inaugural MAG last year and it will be back for three days, July 13-15. Held in San Miguel’s beautiful Parque Juárez, it will feature some 100 booths offering tastings ‒ dishes by leading restaurants, tequila, spirits, beers, wines and cheeses, as well as an installation by artist Eugenia Martinez.

 

Hoax Springs Eternal

June 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE WATCHTOWER – They are out there somewhere, and I’m going to do my civic and find ‘em, capture ‘em and terminate ‘em with extreme prejudice, as the CIA puts it. (This is the same government agency which refers to torture as “enhance interrogation.”) I am looking for the enemy of America. No, not the press, as President Trump calls the media, rather, I am looking for Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik. You remember them, the two Russian agents who came to Texas to check out our gullibility and paranoia. At the same time, I am keeping a wary eye on either a roundup of Obama opponents or a military takeover of Texas. And here comes the zinger: the two – Russian spies and a military roundup — are connected. Who would have thought?

But let me go back to the beginning, because this is one ridiculous story that makes Texas look, well, ridiculous. In 2015 word went out that the U.S. military was going to conduct an exercise called Jade Helm 15. Although the name sounds like one of Stormy Daniels’ co-workers, it was actually an annual maneuver taking place in several states, including Texas. But rumors spread that Jade Helm 15 was a cover for an Obama plan to round up political opponents or an outright military takeover. Gov. Greg Abbott became so concerned that he called out the Texas State Guard to monitor the military. Incidentally, this is NOT the National Guard — the governor of Texas has sole control over the State Guard because it is not subject to federal activation and thus could not be used for a military takeover.

Abbott wrote to the guard commander, Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty, “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” As best as I can determine, Abbott’s firm action prevented a roundup or takeover, although around Christmas I did spot members of the Salvation Army ringing bells, and there is an Old Navy store in every mall. But Abbott’s actions made our state look downright stupid.

Now we drop the other boot. As you and I recall, those two Russian agents, Krylova and Burchik, the real Natasha and Boris, visited Texas in June of 2014 to gather intelligence. These were not your run-of-the-steppes agents of the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin’s disinformation and sneaky election-changing department. Krylova was described as the agency’s third-highest-ranking agent. Burchik was described as the executive director or second-highest-ranking agent. They bought political ads under fake names and staged political rallies. The two got email servers like Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook to pass along their messages. They even set up fraudulent bank names to open PayPal accounts to pay for their work. The pair organized rallies in Houston, same place, same time. One was pro-Islam, the other anti-Islam, hoping for a fight that never materialized. The Ruskies had a false name to cover their work: “Matt Skiber.”

Texans’ gullibility and paranoia was the green light for President Vladimir Putin. Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, said the Jade Helm 15 controversy in 2015 was used by the Russians as a test to see how much influence they could exert through online means. “They took their game to North America in 2015, and I won’t belabor it here, but there was an exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 15 that Russian bots and the American alt-right media convinced most — many — Texans was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”

“It got so much traction that the governor of Texas had to call out the National Guard (again, it was Texas State Guard) to observe the federal exercise to keep the population calm. At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying ‘We can go big time’ and at that point I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.'” Hayden, our chief spy, said the Jade Helm 15 misinformation campaign was “a strategy that reports indicate they have continued to use to sow division on other issues since then, including in the 2016 presidential election.” Hayden later said he flatly believes Putin helped elect Trump.

So the Jade Helm 15 hoax in Texas was a pilot project which proved so successful that Putin ordered similar schemes to be used in the entire nation to get Trump elected. Be proud, Texas. But now we come to the next phase. As Hayden said, “they have continued to sow division on other issues since then.” This means the Internet Research Agency is still churning out misinformation, the real fake news, neatly disguised as ABC, CNN and the Washington Post, with ridiculous stories about porn stars, mass hirings and firings in the White House, even reports that Trump dyes his hair. Have they no shame?

As for Texans, given our track record, obviously we are in the crosshairs. We’ll believe anything. So, as the expression goes, “Be alert. This country needs more alerts.” With the fall elections cranking up, be prepared for an onslaught of rumors, fake news and doctored photos. Expect to see emails about a candidate’s pedophile background, his-to-her operation or tax cheating. Indeed, some candidates won’t even reveal their federal income taxes. Be suspicious of anyone who orders borscht or drinks vodka. Eastern European accents are a dead giveaway, unless she’s married to a President. We all know that Deep State is conniving to undermine the current administration, so report any politician who was secretly born in Africa or wants to pry your mortar from your cold, dead hands. Be especially suspicious of anyone named Matt Skiber. Putin wants us to be cynical, suspicious, and believe any story that strengthens our own beliefs. To avoid this, we must be cynical, suspicious and believe any story that strengthens our own beliefs. Meanwhile. I am in this watchtower guarding you against the truth.


Ashby is alert at ashby2@comcast.net

Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival

June 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Dining, Events

Experience the very best wines from Rioja and tapas you will never forget!

The Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival of Houston is a one-day celebration offering a flavor-packed experience showcasing the best in food and wine culture from Rioja, Spain. Join us for the perfect Saturday filled with unlimited tapas and perfectly paired sips.

From first bites to endless wine flights, here’s what’s in store for our guests:

Your Ticket Buys You … Everything! A unique culinary experience of gastronomy and prominent wines from Rioja, all served by some of North America’s most forward-thinking food creators and bodega leaders. Experience Rioja through exclusive tastings, libations, hands-on wine seminars and more at the biggest wine event of the year! All guests are entered to win a Rioja wine cellar.

Going on its fourth year the festival welcomes over 50 of Rioja’s best winemakers and notable Houston and nationally renowned chefs in the stunning atmosphere of Houston’s iconic Corinthian venue. A portion of the proceeds will benefit charity. For more details visit https://www.riojafest.com.

Click here to watch a video!

FEATURING RETAIL PARTNER Goody Goody Liquor