And You Were Expecting What, Exactly? (Thoughts On The PA Pay-To-Play Scandal)

Vinted on September 5, 2017 binned in commentary, PLCB, wine news

“The most endangered species –
The honest man”

-Rush, Natural Science

In the great room of my house, there are two 5″x7″ framed prints in Chinese script, each of which represents one of the two “house rules” of the home shared by me and my daughter (it’s generally too big of a space for the two of us, but she understandably – and emphatically – did not want to move after I filed for divorce).

And yeah, there really are only two house rules at Chateau Dude. One represents Integrity, the other Honesty.

And yeah, we really do believe in and live by them. The fact that I feel compelled to write that last sentence is, I think, indicative of just how far through the looking glass we have come, socially speaking, in the USA, even in my relatively short lifetime.

And yeah, this will eventually get to the topic of wine, but that’s not the crux of this article (you have been warned). To get to that, we’ll need to review a couple of articles by W. Blake Gray that were recently published on Wine-Searcher.com [ full disclosure: I utilize their affiliate program ]. The first of these, Pay-to-Play Scandal Exposed, detailed the fallout from illegal bribes (including several thousand dollars spent on “adult entertainment”) offered by the likes of mega-distributor Southern Glazer’s to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to influence what alcoholic products were/weren’t carried on its state store shelves.

That story justifiably got a lot of traction. But it’s Gray’s follow-up story that, to me, is actually more important, and should have most of us outraged…

In that one, Digging Deeper in Pay-for-Play Scandal, Gray describes just how little justice has actually been served so far in this case (e.g., only four companies have paid fines to date, several PLCB staff potentially involved have not been charged, etc.). Not only is the lack of swift and meaningful justice not surprising, Gray sums up the collective thinking of the wine biz regarding this case – and the prevalence of illegal pay-to-play activity within the wine industry – near the end of his article:

“…most of this is probably happening in many spots around the country. We only know about Pennsylvania because wine and spirits are bought and sold there by a state monopoly.”

As wine lovers, industry folks, and just plain old humans who give a shit, we should be outraged at scandals like this. We should be pissed off that bribery and deceit are affecting (in secret) the choices of our favorite beverage in the Universe, in a supposedly free market.

But we’re not.

More likely, we’re just more f*cking exhausted than we are pissed off. I know that I am.

Look, I spent an embarrassingly long time having the wool pulled right over my eyes in my life, and while I’ve been called a good number of disparaging things in my time, “dumb” and “naive” has never been two of them. When I decided that enough was enough with the lies that were undermining my personal life, I was astonished at how flippantly people generally treated outright lying and deception. The attitude seemed to be “well, shit, everyone is lying all of the time anyway,” as if all lying were somehow equalized in scope, importance, and impact.

The problem is that attitudes like that one – enabling, cowardly attitudes of complacency – are cop-outs, and also happen to be dead wrong (e.g., see the Chateau Dude House Rules at the top of this article). Most people lie about something, usually when the stakes are small; but most good people do not actively deceive, especially when the stakes are large. When you do that, you’re probably an asshole, and from the looks of things, Southern Glazer’s and the PLCB have ample supplies of assholes, who were, in secret, determining to what beverages the people of PA should and should not have access.

The fact that we’re not surprised by any of this is a sad indicator of just how low our collective self-opinions and expectations regarding the truth have sunk (at least in the USA). No matter what your political stance, only a non-reasonable person would not recognize that we have recently elected one of the most publicly prolific liars in recent memory as President of the United States. One of the most popular, entertaining, and well-written wine websites at the moment consists not of investigative journalism or reviews, but is almost entirely insider-baseball style satire; while I love it, I’ve been unable to read it lately because it feels progressively less and less absurd compared to the absurdity that we accept around us daily.

The crux here, if there is one, is to demand better.

Not just from the wine business, though it would be great to have such a storied, enduring, fantastic, and civilized industry become an example of how above-board business can be successfully conducted in the USA. But also from ourselves; if you’re not angry, maybe it’s time that you did get a little angry. Not kick-the-dog angry, but just angry enough to clear out of the haze of complacency, and demand better conduct from both ourselves and the industry that we love.

Cheers!

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