Paid Well Enough to Not See it Coming…

For 25 years, I have written about the social and natural evolution of Napa, a diverse county that includes rare and valuable biological “hotspots” and 140,000 people, most of whom are associated with what’s now referred to as the wine “industry.” During that time, I have learned something about developers.

Foremost is the fact that inside all of them is a 6-year-old kid dying to get out and dig a really deep hole. When they finally do get to do so, they fill the hole up with something that wasn’t there before and then repeat the experience with minor variations ad infinitum.

More disturbing, with far-reaching ramifications for all Americans, is the other fact: developers deeply, irrationally, and often vindictively resent anyone who objects to their plans, for whatever reason. This includes neighbors, citizens, scientists, clergy, and elected officials. But none receive more opprobrium than “environmentalists.”

James Conaway, Opinion Piece in Napa Register Guard May 26, 2017

http://napavalleyregister.com/wine/land-use-wine-and-trump/article_e093b513-692f-5da9-ae76-d908161b6e5f.html

 

Beyond the Present

Napa County’s 140,000 citizen’s can’t halt the torrential rain of developers arriving here with plans to build. If you are keeping score at home the developers remain unbeaten. Among the wealthiest among us a trophy property in this famed wine region is an essential element to any property portfolio. Government is controlled by Big Ag. You may want to be on the Board of Supervisor’s only if the wine industry deems your vote as sympathetic to the cause and your spine sufficiently pliant.

The velocity of the pillaging has only increased with land prices. Ordinary folk are squeezed out. The wealthiest among us grouse about not being able to land helicopters at “our” vineyards. They are crestfallen to learn their original 20,000 square foot chateau’s are going to be needlessly scaled back.

All this desecration is taking place before a numb and distracted public. Big money drowns the popular will. Getting in the way of the juggernaut risks personal ruin.  Fish extinction events are in the history books now. Childhood cancer rates are the worst in the state and remain under study while astute players continue to spray pesticides and resist regulation. Water tables are fragile and any slowdown in pumping of groundwater is deemed unnecessary. With the valley built out what remains is now under threat.

That’s the score. This is the truth beneath the veneer. The barons of big business can’t help themselves and the ordinary citizens are so far unable to organize and stop them. The denial is soon to come to a bitter ecosystem induced end that nobody paid well enough to look the other way ever saw coming.

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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…

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.

The Lunch Bucket Card Carrying Men in My Family

lunch bucket

Card Carrying Sandal Wearing Lunch Bucket Raised Man-Boy

I grew up in a lunch bucket household. The men I knew carried union cards. They drank beer, smoked cigarettes and loved Kenny Stablers stylish Oakland Raider leadership. They voted straight D ticket right on down the line.

Oakland wasn’t much of a port unless you call the Army Depot a port, but that was for the boys in Viet Nam. The Warehousemen, Longshoremen, Teamsters, Stevedores… they were on the Embarcadero in the City moving cargo in and out of town by truck, train and ship.

Then, the world changed. We got lots of stuff. Boy did we get stuff. We also got NAFTA, we got China into the WTO, we got stuff happening around the world while we hollowed out the working stiffs world here.

Arugula eating Whole Foods shopping people working at the highest high tech companies within the confines of some of the sweetest zip codes in North America were thought the wave of the future, not just the future they were the ever present stakeholders in our go-go everybody’s an investor economy.

Then, the thud and dud of the financial sector, the end of retiring on selling houses to each other, and the reality that those lunch bucket friends of ours are pissed off. I thought it spot on that R’s discussing cuts to capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes had to be blowing it out of their …. Lunch bucket workers want jobs, wages, benefits, and paid vacation. Few if any of us need capital gains tax relief.

So, here is my bottom line. Fair trade right? Not free trade. We need to set policy so that the lunch bucket types get a living wage, some medical, dental, and a school that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg and their first born donated to the bank they got their student loans from.

Not so difficult to grip hold of is it? Clean streets, decent infrastructure, good schools, get on with the renewable energy revolution, stay the hell out of foreign wars, and could we cut the crap out of beating up on women? Right? Simple enough…

Those of us with the lunch bucket history? We drink less whiskey than our ancestors and we don’t smoke anymore. We drink wine. We watch our cholesterol. We like football but are worried about the concussion thing. And if the people in Washington don’t snap out of it and start doing the lunch bucket crowds business we’ll go there and bang a few heads together until they remember who we truly are.