So Long Small Time, Lonely at the Top

image

                            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

mugshots

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

Garmin

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

Patagonia 6

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.

Patagonia 4

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.

Patagonia 2

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.

Patagonia 5

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.

Patagonia 1

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

Fair/Free Trade Con Artistry

Pouilly Fuisse

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?

 

 

Surrender Your Bowling Shoes

Windmill

Fashioning a New Path

DeLong, Krugman and Stiglitz my touchstones all have been posting on free trade. Labors circumstances have been damaged. The economists penciled out positive economic growth, but none penciled in trade negotiators ripping labor a new one.

I got people in my life,  avid both-sides types, infinitely reminding me that Labor Unions were filthy, slimy, scum sucking gangster riddled enterprises, they were nothing but graft and mayhem makers. They skimmed off the top from the hard working people they faked representing. So why don’t you tell me how you really feel?

So, the circumstances, this leadership that lacked a certain aspect of integrity (Union bosses would break your windshield if you even looked like you’d cross a picket line) but in fact besides being Neo-Paleolithic were decent hard drinking, cigar smoking big hearted thugs.

The weasels of Wall Street, the negotiators for a more globalized world paid their hitmen to do a job on the ‘blue collar Bruce Springsteen listening factory workers.’ Keep  taxes low, rape the EPA, deregulate every single industry you can think of, keep saying the tax breaks are for the job creators while shaming Democrats as being anti-free trade or worse still they were vote seeking protectionists.

For decades we have been put through this ringer. Dem’s kowtowing to the name calling shame and slime crew. R’s dismantling every factory they can find while eagerly shipping the carcass of capitalism to China. Both sides getting their pockets filled while the citizens got their pockets picked.

And now the f’ing pile of excrement has hit the fan. For the longest time we remained frozen in front of our television sets and watched, and plenty still do, while they keep playing with democracies fragile matches. Fox, Limbaugh and the Wall Street Journal have taken the rhetorical hammer and literally beat the living snot out of moderates and liberals to the point progressive political operative acts like battered housewives. (And I do not diminish male violence against women…) I mean why have we stayed in this relationship?

Part of one fragment of one reason is that the economissts we depended upon to help us frame policy stuck it to us. Yes, open markets are good, but they are not absolutely good, and the extra money, the growth that can come from trading with our trade partners if managed correctly can be a benefit to our entire society. At least in theory, but you have to set that policy and you have to supervise that policy, and you have to sustain that focus on that policy. They didn’t and we failed.

So, now here we are. The workout will be quite difficult, bottom line? We start writing fair trade deals. Stop with the free trade nonsense. We get the sane and sensible to help set new policy, and we get the gutter balls to turn in their bowling shoes back in and call it a lifetime.

Primary section break HSH

 

 

Fairer Trade… Looks Like This

Congress one

Where the Ploys Are…

“Income distribution characteristics” is a term to describe how a free trade agreement alters how and where money flows in an economy.

It may be true that a new trade deal increases the total amount of money being exchanged between two trade partners, but it may also be true that more of that money ends up distributed to fewer people not more.

During negotiations there are rules and agreements written into the trade deals. What has happened is that regardless of what is promised the profits of free trade have not been distributed back down to the workers. Most of the profits have been diverted to the executives and shareholders.

So we are smeared with terms like protectionists, anti-free trade etc.… when that isn’t true. What is true is this. A trade deal should be good for workers too. They have to distribute the profits accordingly. Then, we have fair trade and a reason to support such agreements.

Our democracy thrives with a healthy middle class. It is in all of our interests to do what it takes to make that middle class as big and as robust and as prosperous as is possible. Enlightened fair trade agreements that have provably enlightened income distribution characteristics good for our country would go a long way toward that goal.