Environmentalists Are So Low Energy…

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Grasping at Windmills

Asymmetric warfare is on in California’s wine country. She’s this place everybody wants a piece of. Sweet to drink, fine to sleep with and when you’re done owning her you’ll flip her and move on down the line.

That’s life tangled in the vines. No broad brushing the truth here. The developers masquerading in denim overalls have it figured out. Pull that violin out and play the sentimental heart tugging tune.

Big Agriculture’s the bully and you will dance to their tune. I said dance, and lift your feet a little higher when I say dance. The wine making isn’t the thing it’s the incessant expansion. The valley is built out. That deal is done. What about the hillsides? That games on.

Most American’s don’t have the money to play. International billionaires can come and take a piece of it. Trophy property is so tedious to maintain. How many times can someone eat at the French Laundry?

The environmentalist is a tenderhearted patsy going up against a cold calculating developer who eats obstacles in their way with a crack of the back of their lawyers hand. The goodie two shoes haven’t a chance.

I was in France last month. We were in the Languedoc-Roussillon. We visited O’ Vineyards outside of Carcassonne. No traffic, no crowds, no run up in real estate prices. Tasted some reds I’d drink again. The winemaker was a good man. He was making a heroic effort to bring quality. Toiling in obscurity searching for poetry in the sunlight. Bravo

Everybody wants a piece of Napa. They want her. They need her. They must have her. This isn’t going to end pretty. Ask our salmon and steelhead? They’re extinct… in just the last ten years. It was a good run for five million of them, but what the hell we have a crush to get out. You are so not getting it man. Environmentalists are so low energy…

Against the Grain

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The Next Steps

The current novel I am drafting is set in Napa County. Climate change, inequality and the health of of both the people and environment is under stress. Studying groundwater levels, fish extinction events, the alarming increase of childhood cancer rates (the highest in any county in California) has been painful to acknowledge. There has been a loss of innocence in my life. County officials in lockstep with the biggest agricultural corporations in the valley dictate what does and doesn’t happen here. The climate is changing, the available water has all been claimed. It is a jewel of a county and California’s smallest. It has grown into a world class international tourist destination. Both businesses and visitors clamor to come here and get a piece of the action. A wide array of community organizations are struggling to slow the rapid rate of growth. We’ll need more soul searching to bridle the billion dollar corporations that find sustainability issues irrelevant to their business plans. The struggle to thwart the rich and powerful from reining down ruin upon this world class destination falls upon the ordinary citizens who live here. Tough stuff… now with the changes in Washington DC the mood of the country seems to have turned against any further supervision or regulation of this great treasure the gods have handed to us. So, yes, I am the loyal opposition. Good ideas I’ll cooperate with and bad ideas I’ll resist. This is where we find out if we can save the world…

So Long Small Time, Lonely at the Top

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                            Neighborhoods  of our Minds

I listen to Marc Maron’s podcast WTF. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was on his April 20th episode. Veep is her now, Seinfeld her then, Second City was in the way back, and SNL was shoehorned in the credits as well.

Marc and Julia talk of many things. What begins stiff soon gets loose.

Then, the most interesting moment in their conversation unfolds. It is a topic of interest to my long list of friends and coworkers that I have shared life with in San Francisco.

Marc and Julia bantered about how dull and soulless NYC has become. Where once there was grit, drugs, muggings, a certain seediness. There is now a monoculture. It is a place to live for those with the means to afford the place. The expensiveness has chased away the up and coming new break out artists. Instead it is filled with gawking tourists. There is Wall Street, the internationally stupendously wealthy, real estate moguls, and then as we descend from the lofty heights lesser players who come with their meager millions and pretend to be something they are not.

Julia has been a leading actress on television for twenty plus years and she can’t afford New York City. That’s probably a state of mind, but it speaks.

Here in Oakland, next to Emeryville where I live reside the remnants of a once sizable cohort of artists I shared San Francisco with. My wife and I left San Francisco in 2009. We might have stayed but other plotting and planning pulled us to new projects. Then, as the Great Recession rolled on, then the staggering increase in the dot com boom hit, then the jump in real estate prices, then next the exponential increase of the exodus, until San Francisco is as hollowed out as New York City, as London, as as as…. Sydney.

Street performing always has relied upon a steady stream of pedestrians to work. Better yet a steady stream of people, common ordinary run of the mill working people out for a bit of a jaunt. That audience has been interrupted and the connected and wealthy don’t trifle with such diversions much and when they do they’d be hard pressed to relate. How can their tossing a fiver into a hat move a needle?

Once New York, Boston, and San Francisco were filled to the brim with such citizens. Our run up in asset prices, of stocks and bonds, homes and condos, has gutted the whole urban project.

Contrarian’s may choose to disagree, you can still hang with fewer scheckles on Capital Hill in Seattle. Plenty of urban artistry overflows in Oakland. But, something has been diminished. Some emptiness has set in. As they say it is lonely at the top, and our best cities chilly winds have altered the sidewalks we use to find our soul.

Crushing Fame Games

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Scene from 2015 Valley Fire

Lake County, California

Plenty busy now and well along on my fourth novel. In this scene I am dealing with how money in politics is influencing the winegrowing region of Napa County.  The billionaires in the region have an outsized influence over the valley. Preserving this wine growing wonder of the world is in harms way. Too much money and too few citizens appreciate the pressure California’s smallest county is under.

“Alex Dominguez is the dude. County Board of Supervisor. I read on the website that he describes himself as a moderate, friendly to business Democrat.” Tyler starts filling out the check. “One man’s business friendly Democrat could look an awful lot like a bend over backwards do anything you want Republican. Alex needs to understand that the business friendly Democrats up here in Soda Canyon have a different point of view than those business friendly Democrats down on the valley floor.”

“I’m not here to talk policy, make any promises. That’s what Alex does. He makes the promises.”

“A broken campaign promise will get my dads Texas temper in a tantrum. He is the epitome of what you call a business friendly valley floor Democrat.”

“You can give to the campaign if you and your group want. But, Alex can’t make any specific promises.”

“My daddy, the valley dude, he told me while he was still bouncing me off his knee if you want good representation you have to be wiling to help get that person into office, that’s how politics in this country is practiced.”  He tore the check out of the register. “We got a beekeeper up here worried about maintaining the wild forage her honeybees depend on. Got a family with relatives from Flint, Michigan concerned about vineyards contaminating our watershed. We’re worried about climate change, spike in childhood cancer rates.” Tyler handed over the check. “We are concerned about the having some big shot, private equity operators coming up here on the east side and smooth talking the supervisors into cutting down what’s left of our wild oak woodlands.”

“This is for twenty thousand dollars.” The man said.

Tyler, Ronnie and Jessica laughed, “There’s a lot of money in honey.”

“There are lots of folks who don’t want anymore trees cut down.” Jessica said.

Tyler started walking the staff member off his property. Put his arm around his shoulders to confide privately, “I’d like to hear Alex take a position on what he’s going to do before the election. Otherwise we might have to do the same thing he trying to do and play both sides of the isle.”

“I’ll let Alex know.”

“I finally feel like we are communicating.”

Lonely at the Top, Stupid at the Bottom

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Knowing Where You Are, Setting a New Course

The main ultimate highest priority of one of our two political parties is tax cuts. Even though if you take the time to go read the polls you will discover that a vast swath of the people of the United States are concerned with a great many other priorities.

Grover Norquist’s Club for Growth has had a hammerlock on the policy apparatus of the R’s for decades. Go read anything by Robert Reich and what you end up reading are story after story of upward distribution of income to the top. Get it? Poorer Americans are working to make wealthy Americans ever more wealthy. Nice work if you can get it.

Abortion, race, immigration, education, privatization, deregulation, contract work, financialization, oil subsidies, air pollution and on and on… they are all proxy fights held on the front pages of our news sites so that the implementation of more tax cuts and the maintenance of the existing tax cuts may continue.

This has all gone haywire this year. What is so rotten of all is that business R’s have allowed so much damage in the pursuit of this one plank.

Grover Norquist’s fetish has brought the R’s to the eve of their destruction. There is a lot to be upset about, and a terrible tearing to the social fabric of our country. We need to get off this one trick pony. Heritage Foundation, Cato, Club for Growth and all the various interlocking organizations that have been ramming the tax cut thing need to be called out for the failures they are. They are the creators of the Trumpestein mess we find ourselves in. The magnitude of the failure we are witnessing approaches epic until you listen to the petty quarreling. This is so beneath us, so small, so terribly scrawny. We can do much much better.

Finding Patagonia’s Better Nature

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You Can Get Anything You Want

I arrived in Patagonia, Arizona for the very first time in 1993. The bitty place along the southern border met spring that year with a spectacular bloom. The tallest cottonwoods in North America make their home along Sonoita Creek. That they are that much larger, in a town that is just that much smaller, exaggerates the terms of being smitten with this treasured place.

By all accounts what work a hearty new arrival might find Patagonia is less than none. Santa Cruz County has been drying up for decades. Patagonia for all its rural majesty requires that you come prepared to bet on yourself. I’d met a biologist that had wagered his life. He was sent by the Smithsonian to study the rarest and tiniest of birds… the elf owl. He had found a grand total 37 individuals scattered over thousands of square miles both near and far along the southern Sonoran Desert. Elf owl hunting is convenient to nothing. It came up in our whittled  conversation that once his research was completed he’d likely remain here instead of moving on. That’s how the town grows.

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Former Residents Doing Eternity

No two people are alike. Patagonia tends to attract the oddest lot. The binding that glues souls together here is quirkiness. One thing everyone should understand is that big bugs become a part of your daily awareness. Then there are the venomous creatures you’ll share Patagonia with. Then, there are the many different types of hummingbirds that make their home here. You’ve got drug smugglers and Border Patrol Agents playing cat and mouse. All this in a town you can walk end to end in less than ten minutes if it’s not too hot and your not too addled by drink.

There is nothing really you can do in Patagonia. Not on your own. If you stick it out your life fills up with time spent sharing mutual circumstances with neighbors. You’ll borrow sugar, have a cup of coffee, barbecue steak on mesquite wood and knock tequila down then chase it with as ordinary a can of beer as the least amount of money will buy.

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Last Century Fixer-Upper Just Came on the Market

Weather is a good topic to talk to death. Maybe a friend has four wheeled off the mountain, where they homestead, to come argue at the Wagon Wheel over the political Armageddon the legislature is the fault of in Phoenix. The dang urban refugees that have made home here have brought their permissive and decidedly progressive ideas with them. Patagonia’s problems do not require ideology. You can toss that there narrow mindedness into the septic tank.

A random cross section of humanity has been littered throughout the town. The spiritually awakened are cheek to jowl with the atheists. What remains of the ranchers holding on here bellies right up with the radical environmental activists. Everyone aims to improve Patagonia so long as it does not involve pavement. There is little use for improvement. Dirt and dust are preferred. If that seems a bit contrary that’s the whole point of the thing. You will find that a dirt road self selects a new arrival. If they can see the beauty in dirt that is a sure sign that they will be best suited to fitting in here.

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Four wheel driving nowhere to spend time doing nothing

 About now, in spring, is glory in Patagonia, Arizona. It’s the time to come. As soon as you are ready. Many of the migratory birds are moving through. The mesquite is blooming and Sonoita Creek is running. Get off the pavement, park that rig, take a hike. Think about things. Be available for nothing. If you are lucky enough you might just find the biggest prize of all, the chance to be in intimate rural contact with yourself.

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San Rafael Valley Southeast of Patagonia with the Huachuca’s Yonder…

Fair/Free Trade Con Artistry

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YOU ARE LOOKING AT A FAIR TRADER

I’m going after James Kitfield today. He is a storied reporter, beltway veteran, and quintessential centrist. He holds all sorts of views I have no quarrel with, but on trade he’s off by a Moon shot, perhaps a crash landing on Mars.

Look, the new world order, the one we helped build from the ruins of what was left of the world after World War II? That deal included our helping to get Germany and Japan back up on their feet.

We also have spent most of the last seven decades building up a global trading system. That isn’t a black and white proposition, it isn’t all good or all bad, it is a mixed bag.

I feel like a one armed poker player in a a two sided argument. I feel like the house is dealing from the bottom of the deck. They’ve won every hand and there are way too many journalists (Kitfield to Cokie Roberts) who are participating in an underhanded card counting game of intentional duplicity.

Our globalized trade system is a mashup of all manner of treaties, bilateral agreements, and codified understandings. You and me? We don’t need to be bogged down in the details. They’d like us to be. It would be useful to the free trade advocates. We’d be on their turf.

All you need to know is this. Whatever agreements the United States makes either to amend previous agreements or in making new agreements must include representatives from the many  many labor representatives, environmental representatives and progressive (non-market likely educational institutional) economists.

What is missing is balance. We can make superb trade agreements that will be good for the world trade system, but we’ll need to bring the right members of our country to the table. The Big Banks, Wall Street, multinational corporations and their many many sycophant’s need to be excused from the table for the next half century why we clean their’ tilting the playing field in their favor’ mess up.

I repeat… we are in favor of fair trade not the con job free trade agreements that have been foisted on our country. Those agreements have been a disaster. James Kitfield misdirected his listeners today. The French wine industry knows how the game is played. Paris listens. It is time Washington get with the people and do our country right.

Centrist trade apologists are toxic right now. Fair trade… repeat it is fairer trade we want to negotiate… not the end of trade… unless free mindless trade is what you mean by that Frank Luntz tested phrase?