Archive for December 2009

Steve’s Realistic and Pessimistic Forecast for 2010

As I watch the end of the year shows and the media losing sight of reality I thought maybe I could inject some sober thoughts into the forecasts for 2010.  So here goes:

  • Will President Obama come out of his Washington bubble and finally lead the nation?  In a word, no.  I fear the health care reform bill was a lesson for all of us. Root cause of our health care problems is for profit medicine and in his interest to get any reform, he left the rotten apples in place.  It became clear that gradualism is far more important than efficacy.
  • Will we finally attack the tough problems such as our dependence on oil and climate change?  Again another resounding no.  We have a totally dysfunctional Congress owned by special interests that lacks any sort of political courage.  In this case it does not depend on whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, what we see is local interests (coal industry for one) driving the train over the long term interests of the country.
  • Will the economy get better?  Marginally.  The question that should be burning in your head is what is it that we will build and sell to the rest of the world.  The last driver of our economy was selling debt as investment to the rest of the world.  This was fueled by the bubble in housing prices and the easy credit which allowed money to flow into the economy as people took advantage of their home equity.  It was a false economy from top to bottom.  Many have suggested that the road to a prosperous future is to recognize that the world will need energy that does not destroy our world, but to date with special interests too invested in the status quo and Congress too heeled to that special interest, China and other producers are leaping ahead of us on capitalizing on this market.
  • Will the financial markets and banks get reformed?  See bullet two above.  No.  The appropriate way to reform the financial markets and the banks was to force them to feel the pain.  The first step would have been to have them assume the loss in value of inflated mortgages that were and are now underwater instead of sticking it to the home owner.  The next step would be to force all financial transaction (buying and selling of instruments like derivatives) to be completely transparent.  The third step would have been to break up any institution that becomes too big to fail so that the market place can really function.  Seen any of that happening?  We still live on a totally false premise that as the stock market goes, so goes the economy, and that the stock market is the engine of innovation and new business.  But the reality is that this is really a roulette wheel for the bankers and investors while the unemployment rate continues to stagnant and businesses cannot get capital.
  • Will the present health care bill save the Democrats 2010?  No.  The present bill is loaded with stuff that even I, as a progressive, think is wrong headed.  Forcing people to buy insurance and not giving them a public option is criminal.  Their failure to stand tough on what they believe in will alienate the young voters and independents who brought them into power and they simply won’t vote next time in disgust.  Granted that the Republicans offer nothing for solutions, but the Democrats have failed to vigorously challenge their lunacy or stand firm for what is right.  This will be translated into voter apathy in 2010 and the Tea Partiers will hold sway in 2010.  Judging from the present lineup of lunatic Senators and House Representatives that the Republicans have now, this does not bode well for our future.
  • Finally will Afghanistan turn into a nightmare?  Yes.  The country and a national people that has been described doesn’t exist and the police and the Afghan National Army are a shambles.  We are involved in a civil war and we are the primary fighters.  We simply can’t afford to fight their war for them and there is no strategic interest in doing so.  Nation building needs to come home.

As Dickens’ Scrooge said to the third ghost to visit him, isn’t there anything I can do to change this future?  The answer is of course, yes, but it would require the following:

  1. Congressional Democrats finally find their backbone and start vigorously attacking the conservative lies and the liars instead of treating them as colleagues.  They are not and they are destroying our country.
  2. The Senate needs to modify its rules.  One Senator cannot hold up consideration of a nomination for office, and the filibuster rule needs to be change to say 55.  Otherwise we are going nowhere as we eschew majority rule.
  3. The media needs to wake up and understand that they are creating another WMD moment, except in this country because they fail to fact check conservative talking points and repeat them incessantly as entertainment.  They also need to demand real solutions instead of simply accepting wild accusations from their guests and be ready to challenge them on the facts.
  4. We need a President who leads.  Accommodation days need to be over.  There is a way forward built on sound principles and beliefs that could lead to, as Thomas Friedman likes to call them, optimal solutions.  Settling for sub optimal solutions just puts us further and further behind.  Time to draw a line and fight for what will work instead of accommodating what has failed.
  5. We need less religion in politics both nationally and in the world.  Then there would not be some supreme being justifying immoral acts by the truly depraved.
  6. Finally we need to recognize that conservative ideas have failed.  Whether it is the Neocon approach to world affairs, the tax cut solution to all problems, or the idea of less government will cure all our evils, these ideas in the last 30 years have set us back and lead to disastrous consequences.  We need a rational discussion of solutions, not ideological food fights egged on by media as entertainment.  If the country is going to move forward and regain its footing, the present crop of Republican fools need to be challenged and rejected as they are preventing even moderate solution to our problems.

Is it going to happen?  Well I am an optimist so I can hope so.  I mean after all, we are talking about the future of our children.  I would personally be quite happy if we did allow Texas and the real South to succeed from the Union. Oh lets throw in Oklahoma and their two moronic Senators.  That certainly would solve many problems and we could at least try something different.

Our Ever Worsening Media

If we are hoping that the media is going to help us understand the issues or clarify the choices, will then think again.  I had not watched 60 Minutes in some time, so I turned it on Sunday and there were some promising stories on, including the water crisis in California and the war in Afghanistan.  Both turned out to be monumental flops as the coverage was so superficial as to be nothing more than over simplified opinion pieces.

Let’s start with Lesley Stahl and the water crisis in the valley.  Needless to say farmers are facing a crisis because of the reduced water flow to them.  There was Lesley interviewing a farmer about how an endangered little fish was ruining his life.  How, oh how could we put this farmer and our nations breadbasket at risk over a little fish for which a judge had ruled to cut the flow through the turbines that send the water to this farmer to save this little fish.

Of course this is not the whole story and what I was hearing was the oversimplified and self-serving blame on the environmentalists I hear all the time up here.  Oh, for sure they touched on the other side, but just barely.  The lack of water is caused mostly by our drought, which if anyone looks at California water history, is a reoccurring phenomenon.  Oh and that stupid little fish?  It is an indicator species for the whole Delta estuary and the collapsing ecology of the Delta is making the salmon extinct and other domino effects on the ocean.  Oh but why confuse yourself with all that when you can just hate a little fish and those bleeding heart tree huggers.

So back to the farmer who is lamenting that he has worked hard and he deserves his water.  Like 90% of the rest of the world doesn’t work hard and yet live in poverty?  But what they did not report on at all is how much the rest of us subsidize his water.  In fact the whole nation subsidizes it through Federal Water Projects.  Finally back to the scientist who raises the issue of the crop selection may not be practical to the reality of the shrinking water supply and  drought cycles (Why grow cotton in an arid climate?  Answer: Because the government subsidizes the water so it is cheap to do).  The farmer and his livelihood are really dependent on government handouts, but he would never see it that way.  He is a real American who works hard and deserves his water.  But instead of focusing on real policy, Lesley was back to hating fish.  It is so much easier to dumb down the story for apparently a dumbed down audience than dealing with all those irritating realities that are the real issues.

Now on to Afghanistan.  Here we have Lora Logan interviewing Harry Crumpton, ex-CIA operative, who helped the Afghans defeat the Taliban after 9/11, on how important it is to stay there.  This was followed by her interview with the head of Afghan Security about fighting for his country and why we should stay there.  Now watching Lora Logan interview dirt could be entertaining because she is so much darn fun to look at, but does symbiotic relationships come to mind?

Do we think that maybe Harry has a vested interest in seeing us win there?  I mean after all, what was that sacrifice he made back in the Taliban war if it amounts to nothing today?  As far as the head of Afghan Security is concerned, I was hearing a repeat (Lora would be too young to remember) of the interviews of Vietnamese generals before we pulled out.  I guess it is true he is fighting for his country, but the rest of his countrymen are not so why should we?  His clan or his valued position there, I am sure, does not enter into his calculation.  Lora herself has been over there reporting the war and also owes her career to it.  Nowhere in the story was a real consideration of our strategic interests or whether this war really has anything to do with Al Qaeda.  As we have learned in Yemen, they just move to where there are more stupid impressionable religious nuts.  When you look at all of them, you have to wonder what came first, the war or their career and how the two are related to give reporting a very biased edge.  But none of that was examined.

Meanwhile on Monday we had a full-blown discussion of the terrorist attempt on the plane headed into Detroit and whose fault it was.  The media, instead of examining the real faults, what could be learned, and how we could improve our security, had the Republican and Democratic strategist pointing fingers at each other, with the media egging them on.  Oh there were the token security experts (another symbiotic relationship unexamined) who proposed spending more money on new technology to address the latest attack, (you know, like using the strategy for the last war in a new conflict that is totally different) but no real examination of what are effective strategies for the future.

So on and on it goes.  The media continues to dumb us down and most of us just take it in and don’t fight back.  And you wonder why things don’t ever get any better or old solutions get tried over and over again and still don’t work?  Maybe because we have forgotten how to do critical thinking.  If this reporting is any indication of our ability to deal with complex issues, we are screwed.

Common Sense and the Terror Threat

We have all read about the Nigerian man who taped explosives to his leg and tried to bring down a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  My first thought was, “direct flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, who would have thought?”  Then there was the news that President Obama has ordered a review of our security procedures trying to figure out how this guy, who was on a watch list, could have gotten on the flight unchallenged and without some additional security checks.

Now here is what I don’t get:  Why isn’t there a team that is forever trying to breach the system to find the holes?  I don’t know about you, but every time I fly, my engineer brain goes into overdrive thinking about the screening process and what I could do to thwart it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would never try, but it is like puzzle and like any good American, I am always looking for ways to tweak a system to improve it.  Why doesn’t Homeland Defense have a team of troublemakers like me that is forever gaming the system to improve it?  Kind of like when you hire hackers to try to breach a system to improve security?

Maybe this is done, but the results aren’t getting filtered up.  My many years working for the federal government taught me that my supervisors, no matter how incompetent, never wanted to be embarrassed and therefore tried to hide things that I always thought was public information, since the public paid for it.  I have a feeling the same kind of thing might have been in play here.

If you hired a bunch of trouble makers like myself who could come up with “breach” scenarios, and then test these scenarios, we would have a much more secure system and maybe get rid of some of the ridiculous screening that does no good and wastes precious resources on non-threats. But if one were to implement such a system, then some news organization would report each successful breach and put some bureaucrat’s career in jeopardy and therefore this kind of real world testing either doesn’t happen, or the results get buried to stem criticism and nothing ever changes until a real breach occurs.  Let’s face it.  The latest breach was a rank amateur and that should really scare you.

There is one other thing that might help us here and that would be to recognize that profiling works.  I know this is against our values of religious freedom and guilty by color of skin or religious preference.  But let’s face facts.  This is an attack usually by Muslim men radicalized in a religious fever. We could probably learn a lot from the Israelis who are masters at profiling to prevent terrorist attacks.  It is time to recognize that the blond bombshell or the grandmother probably are not the threat and focus our efforts on those who are much more likely to be candidates for extremism.

If someday we recognize that guys and gals like me will be very unlikely to do such a violent act because we don’t believe in God and therefore don’t have some higher being authority to take the lives of our fellow citizens, then we can focus on the real terrorists.  These would be primarily religious extremist whether they be Muslims or Christian Evangelicals.  It is time to start profiling these people and leave the general masses to minimal screening.  But what do I know?  I just pass through that screening from time to time and then start mentally gaming it in my mind as a reflex because I am an engineer.

Some Idle Thoughts on Traveling

Flying to San Diego and dealing with the world of traveling always awakens me to some of the more irritating quirks of travel.  I often wonder if the different companies that service the traveler send their executives out and give them a few obstacles so they can observe first hand some of their policies and their effects.  First and foremost is the travel time.  If I were to drive to San Diego it would take about 9 hours.  For a 1 hour and twenty minute flight it takes six hours. That would include driving to the airport, the baggage drill on both ends, renting a car and finally getting to your destination.  Somehow that is just wrong.

On this trip, because of my bad knee, I was wearing my brace and had my cane.  People in airports are always in a hurry, pushing and shoving, but when they saw the brace and cane they gave me plenty of space.  I guess they are just focused on themselves until they see the plight of others and then it kind of brings them back to the human race.  Too bad we couldn’t get that kind of effect on conservatives.  We might have a reasonable health care bill.

Of course you cannot go through security wearing a metal brace without setting off the metal detector, so I got the full security treatment.  They check my cane and brace for explosives, gave me a full body wand and pat down, and checked to see if I was on any no fly list.  I guess all in all I am a very dangerous looking traveler.  They would have been better served to take my cane least I be tempted to smack some unruly kid whose parents think the world revolves around them and they are running amuck in the airport.

As usual flights are full on the holidays, but I usually fly Southwest which in my experience is the best airline going for customer care.  I had checked in at the moment they allowed on-line check in to get good seating so I could hang my leg out into the aisle if necessary.  When we took our seats, people saw my brace and gave me wide berth so we ended up with one of the few empty middle seats between us.  I may wear it every time I travel because the usual experience is that middle seat stays empty until the last person boards the plane weighing in at slightly over 300 pounds and wants that seat.  But they then requested that you put your computer bags under your seat (robbing you of leg room) so those  carrying everything they own could put their stuff in the overhead instead of checking it.  Screw that.

I like to use Alamo Rental for my car in San Diego because the rates are competitive and they have a kiosk so you can skip the line at the rental counter, and get you reservation directly from the machine.  But that is where the troubles begun.  I got a KIA which was fine with me, and it worked fine for the first few hours.  Then in the evening when we were going to a party, the engine would not turn over.  After various attempts, it did finally turn over and start and I am thinking bad battery.  So we drive to the party, but the check engine light was on.  When we got there it started fine, but I figured in the morning I would have a dead battery.

So the next morning I went out and it started right up.  Two hours later it would not start.  So I called their 1-800 number.  This was a mistake.  I am thinking I have a defective product and they need to bring me a good one.  The national spokesperson on the phone explained that since I had declined roadside coverage there would be a $48 charge to come jump it.  So I tried to explain to her that the problem wasn’t a dead battery, but a problem in the electrical system.  She then began to explain how one jump starts a car.  That is when I lost it.  I think I said, “Listen lady, I am a god damn electrical engineer, don’t explain car electrics to me, get me a new car, this one is defective.  She was highly offended.  She was sticking with her $48 charge story even if it didn’t fit the facts.  I explained to her that I have triple A and I would get the car back to the rental place and I wanted a new one.  To make a long story short, I finally got it started and then the check engine light went out.  When I got it back to the rental car place, and may I say they were super nice, it was acting quite normally.  They gave me a new car and the rest of the trip was uneventful.  Needless to say the lesson here is always deal local and don’t call the national idiot center (called that because they think all of us are idiots) for help.  She had a script and she was sticking to it and trying to get me to pay for their defective product.

One last little bump in the road.  When we got to Sacramento my truck battery was dead.  Must have left the overhead light on.  But AAA was Johnny on the spot and we were soon on our way to Camino and home.  So another trip on planes and trains, and automobiles and it is miserable.  I would kill for a high-speed train sans all the security, delays, pushing and shoving.  All I want for Christmas is a trip that is not an “event” just getting there.  No wonder people drink a lot in airports.

Christmas Eve Feast

Being in San Diego for this wonderful holiday, I thought I would share one of the real culinary treats down here.  Christmas Eve we had reservations at Pacifica Del Mar (in Del Mar).  This is a neat restaurant with a lovely ocean view whose seafood and clientele are to be taken in and enjoyed. We had discovered this place on a lark last summer so it was a natural to spend Christmas Eve there.  Their fried calamari is the best I have had anywhere.  My meal consisted of:

  1. Fried Calamari and a Stella Artois beer
  2. Japanese Clam Chowder (a lighter chowder with shitake mushrooms) (still sipping Stella)
  3. A bottle of Cristom 2007 Pinot from Oregon
  4. Butter lettuce with roasted tomatoes, red onions, blue cheese
  5. Dungeness crab cakes

I find it better to order ala carte when I am dining and hungry for seafood so I can graze the whole menu.  The wine was a Christmas Eve special, half off each bottle.  I could not resist.  I thought about a white with the crab cakes, but when the waiter informed me of the Christmas Special, I went for the good Pinots.  Pinot Noir always go well with fish, in this case a shellfish extravaganza.  Then we moved into the bar where the rich and beautiful who live and play down here were meandering through.  I wonder if they noticed we weren’t in that set?  All in all it was a great Christmas Eve.

Will go to the beach for a couple of hours today, then go see Sherlock Holmes, then off to a local bar for the Charger game.  All and all a very good Christmas day with the two of the most important people in the world to me.  Merry Christmas.

Vine/Wine Friday – Merry Christmas From Lightner Vineyards

May all your days end as beautifully as this. Merry Christmas from Steve and Candace

Missed Opportunities

When one thinks of missed opportunities the big one that comes to mind is not going after Osama Bin Laden at Tora Bora.  Only now are we really starting to examine that one to understand why.  But probably the more monumental one is staring us in the face and most have not grasp it yet.  And would be the failure of Barack Obama to take the mantel of leadership in this last year.  I would even go so far as to say the moment may have passed.  It may now be too late.

I am not just talking about health care reform, which as I chronicled the last two days, is most probably a failure for Progressives no matter what is passed now.  There was this moment in time during the election and right after when Barack Obama had captured the imagination of the country.  Not only had he mobilized a young progressive movement that thought real change could happen, but he mobilized the independent voters who thought they saw something new.  And then he did nothing with it but shrink from the fight.

Drew Weston, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University writing for the Huffington Post (Leadership Obama Style and the Looming Losses in 2010)  pointed out his failures in detail, but what was most striking to me was he description of how he used to listen to every speech and now he ignores them.  I know how he feels,  lofty words with no follow through.  When he gave his press conference on the 60 vote to stop debate on the health reform bill, and painted a happy face on this mess that is not reform, I knew it was over.  I have no idea what he stands for except a legislative success.

I think Professor Weston hit on a couple of other important facts that the mainstream media is oblivious to.  He pointed out, as many others have, that there does not seem to be a there, there with President Obama.  By that I simply mean none of us have any idea where he stands on real issues and where he draws lines and says this is principle.  More importantly, Professor Weston noted as I have, that people were ready to follow him, and not just liberals or progressives.  He had caught the attention and the allegiance of the so important independent voter.  Then he basically disappeared.  There was no vision, and there was no push back or leadership against the conservative onslaught.  In a word, he lost them.

At that is what is so sad.  In contrast to the conventional wisdom that is being spun by both the media and the right, this country was more than ready for middle left.  It was ready for a progressive lurch and all it required was a strong leader to make the arguments and fight the fights., to actually take bold action.  And instead what we got was a leader who could launch a campaign with a lofty speech and then was nowhere to be found when the real fight began.  As Professor Weston points out, pick your issue, whether it is immigration, gays, banking reform, credit card reform, war, opening up government, jobs, health care, climate change, you name it, nothing has really changed.

So sadly when he speaks now, I just turn him off.  Nice speech, but it is all noise, albeit pleasant noise.  And that is what the independent voter is seeing.  This is not about disappointing the left, but about losing the whole middle by failing to define himself and be a leader.  They were all there ready for change, craving strong bold leadership, and he just faded away with safe positions.  Now I think he has set back Progressives a decade as his moment in time to act and make difference is probably over.  Oh, well he is likeable enough, even if we found out there was no there, there.  There really is no difference between Democrats and Republicans.  Sad end to such a promising year.

One last little comment on health care reform and then I will shut up until after Christmas.  As I listen to Democrats tricking themselves into thinking that this bill is okay and will be improved on later, there were a couple of things to think about.  First the stocks on most insurance companies rose over 26% which should tell you something.  Second the largest nurses organization came out against it.  Nurse are really the front line on health care and they are a real “indicator” species.

Lastly, when you hear the argument that we will improve it and make it better and there are real restraints in the bill on the health care industry, stop and think.  In a world where we trumpet our innovation, we don’t think the health insurance industry won’t innovate ways around these rules?  How do you think we got into the banking fiasco?  We got there by little unnoticed changes in this bill and that bill, through careful lobbying to finally make regulation and oversight ineffective.  Why do we think this will be any different?  Without a public option to hold them accountable, it will be business as usual in no time and the Democrats will be held responsible for this fiasco.  Merry Christmas.

When the Euphoria Ends

The Democrats are euphoric because they have the 60 votes for the health care bill and it is hard not to get caught up in their excitement of finally overcoming the Republican no machine.  But one has to ask after the confetti settles, what was really accomplished and is now the Senate completely dysfunctional with the filibuster and the 60-vote requirement for every bill becoming the national standard?

I think what will dawn on most people if they really look at this thing is that it is not a health care reform bill, but a health welfare bill.  From my vantage point it looks like we simply added a bunch of people to health care coverage under the existing system, with no reform of the existing system.  But what do I know and it is true that there still could be a decent bill as a result of the conference committee between the House and Senate, but I doubt it.  What is even more scary are the issues raised eloquently by Howard Dean and Tavis Smiley on MSNBC’s Meet the Press.

First lets focus on what Dr. Dean brought to the table:

Here’s the major problem, David.  We have committed–in this last week of unseemly scrambling for votes, we have committed to go down a path in this country where private insurance will be the way that we achieve universal health care.  That means we’re going to have a 30-year battle with the insurance industry every time when we try to control costs and try to get them do things.  It is not a coincidence, David Gregory, that insurance company stocks, health insurance company stocks, hit a 52-year high on Friday.  So they must know something that the rest of us don’t.

It is possible to do that.  Two other countries that I know of do that exclusively in private insurance.  It is very, very difficult. It is very, very expensive.  We are nowheres near where Switzerland and the Netherlands are in terms of their regulatory apparatus on the private insurance industry.  So I, I, I just think this is going to be a very, very difficult, tough row to hoe.”

In simple words he laid out the problem, that would be private insurance companies and they were in the drivers seat on crafting this bill.  So to think we could implement the kind of control necessary to make this system work is really a pipe dream.  But Tavis Smiley took this one step beyond and focused what has happened and what it portends for the other tough issues we face:

And here’s the problem for me.  It’s not just, David, that we’re not getting the kind of health care that we were promised we were going to get, it’s that in the president’s first big fight with a powerful lobby in Washington, the White House lost and they lost big.  And that, I think, portends something very dangerous down the road for all the other issues we have to deal with where lobbies are going to be pushing back on the White House.”

But I do believe that you have to stand on your principle.  And with all due respect to the White House and the president, who deserves great credit for taking this issue on and pushing it further down the field than any other seven presidents have done, you still have to ask where is the principle that we started out with, and how firm have we stood on that principle?  I think that the danger of this White House is this, that the president and his team appear to be incrementalists.  I, I warned the last time I was on this program, quoting Dr. King, about taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. I don’t know that we get from here to there on all the issues that matter to Americans, that we sounded off on at the polls last year.  If the strategy on health care, on torture, on climate change, on the economy, is going to be one of incrementalism, that ain’t going to get it done.”

Said another way, if you compromise your principles to get a bill, any bill, there will never really be any change.  Even worse, this approach previews the failures ahead on the other great issues before us.  Of course all of this would not be necessary if the Senate still was a place for majority rule.  I have often argued that visionaries and the great changes they bring are not because of a super majority see that way forward.  It requires overcoming the conventional wisdom and getting a simple majority is hard enough.  Paul Krugman, in his column this morning (A Dangerous Dysfunction) touched on this problem and how the Senate could simply do away with this onerous requirement. Nothing in the Constitution requires a super majority.  Will we fix it?  I doubt it.  But if we don’t we are doomed to repeat the failures of the last thirty years.

False Choices

Bernie Sanders, the socialist Senator from Vermont, was asked if he would vote for the Health Reform Act, and he said he was of mixed emotions.  He felt the bill was terrible, but he was torn between voting it down and adding coverage for millions of Americans who would otherwise go without and some would die as a result.  Andrea Mitchell, on MSNBC, made the comment that the Democrats have to get something passed.  This is the conventional wisdom with the talking head set right now.  Both are wrong.

Here is why both Bernie and Andrea have it wrong:  The present bill is a disaster.  What it does is enroll millions more (good) in health insurance, but forces everyone to buy insurance and doesn’t give them an option to not buy from the private insurance firms that are the problem.  The end result will be that more will be covered, but the cost of private health insurance will balloon.   In effect what they did was increase the rolls of the insurance companies without providing the cost control that competition would bring through either a public option or a Medicare buy-in.  The real impact will look like  a tax increase on the middle class that can least afford it as their rates go up to pay for those at the lower end.  Oh, and don’t get fooled by the fact that now insurance companies will have to cover all comers.  Insurance firms can triple their fees for higher risk patients, basically pricing them out of the market.

So what we have is a bill that is a conservative’s dream.  It will cost more and improve nothing and finally prove that Democrats are tax and spend fools.  What is so ironic is that the bill became that way in order to accommodate these conservatives.  One has to wonder just how stupid Democrats are.  There was never going to be 60 votes for this thing unless it was completely worthless and would infringe on a woman’s right to choose.  They let the very worst of the party determine the terms for this bill, guaranteeing it would fail.  Basically what people will see as a representation of the Democratic Party is a bill bascially crafted by those who are not really Democrats.  Howard Dean has done Democrats a favor by speaking truth to power when he said that in its present form, it should be voted down.  The White House has returned his favor by attacking him.

The White House has fallen for the same conventional wisdom that they must get a bill, any bill passed, not seeing that in the long run this would be a disaster.  I have to say that I have lost all confidence in the White House or our President in understanding that change can’t just be any change or marginal adjustments around the edges, it must be real change.  I believe if this bill passes in its present form the Obama Presidency will be a failed one

Sadly it would appear that both President Obama and Harry Reid are ill equipped for the challenges that lay in front of us.  We are in a war of ideas for our future and they are playing Neville Chamberlain, appeasing Nazi Germany before World War II.  What a disappointment.  What a failure to understand the historic place we are in.  Another man was there almost 73 years ago and in his second inaugural speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt saw what we see today.  Here are some excerpts that maybe our President needs to read and think about if he is to save his presidency by ignoring the political flacks around him:

Our progress out of the depression is obvious. But that is not all that you and I mean by the new order of things. Our pledge was not merely to do a patchwork job with secondhand materials. By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations.

Shall we pause now and turn our back upon the road that lies ahead? Shall we call this the promised land? Or, shall we continue on our way? For “each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.”   Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. Comfort says, “Tarry a while.” Opportunism says, “This is a good spot.” Timidity asks, “How difficult is the road ahead?”

To hold to progress today, however, is more difficult. Dulled conscience, irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already reappear. Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster! Prosperity already tests the persistence of our progressive purpose.

Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.”

But when he announced his new deal he  gave the most important advice and insight to the nature of the opposition to our weak kneed President:

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.

Mr. President, do you understand that conservatives hate you and will do everything in their power to see you, and if necessary, this country fail?  Are you up to welcoming their hatred and entering the fray for real?   You have certainly been no Franklin D. Roosevelt who saved this country by understanding the nature of the fight.  If you are not up to this battle,  please don’t let the door bang you in the ass as you go out in 2012.

Vine/Wine Friday

After 5 days of rain, no snow.  Welcome to California winters

After 5 days of rain, no snow. Welcome to California winters

Well as you can see, the rain has washed away all the snow and the vineyard is now in its winter glory.  Not much to do until March when we prune and begin another year.  I have about 10 weak vines I want to replace, but that will wait till next summer (but need to be ordered now).  So I can focus on healing my knee so I can again work in the vineyard.

My daughter is going to visit a wine family in Napa this weekend and she asked me to prepare a little bio and why I grow grapes after retiring up here so I thought I would share:

Son of a general, Ex-F4 Backseater, B-52 Bombardier, Water Resources Structural Engineer, Navy Public Works Engineer, and Army Corps of Engineers’ Field Engineer, Field Engineering Project Manager, Chief of Construction Project Management Branch, Program Manager for the Total Environmental Restoration Contracts, and Chief of the Environmental Project Management Branch, this is where I have been and you probably know this stuff.  I still make my living organizing other people’s messes.  But when I retired from the Corps of Engineers, I felt like I had not really accomplished anything important.  When you look back at life there are only really two important things, the people you have touched, and did you create anything beautiful (actually one and the same).  Did you make the world just a little better place?

So I was up here on my 23 acres of mountaintop and my good friend Ron Mansfield of Goldbud Farms thought my hillside would be a wonderful site for Rhones.  I had cultivated a taste for quality wine and food.  I loved the beauty and the artistry of the creations, and I loved what good food and wine can do to people to bring them closer together, sharing this wonderful gift.  Babette’s Feast comes to mind.  I also found that I really liked these people who try to create wonderful wine and food.  Their passion is contagious.

So I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to just maybe create something beautiful.  I was no fool and although I have a fairly good palate, learning how to make great wine for me would be a 20 or 30 year adventure that I neither had the time or the money to embark on.  But the other side of the coin, providing grapes that are distinctive in their quality was something I thought I might be able to do.  I certainly had the setting for it.   Without the profit motive driving my train, I could plan and develop my little 3 acres to produce quality.  There would be good years and not so good years because I am growing right at the limit of where these grapes will flourish.  Quality in my mind is not chasing the latest trend in wine making, but producing a wine that starts big, but doesn’t overwhelm, has an interesting understated complexity, and a finish that stays with you and does not let you down.  Most important to me is complexity and subtleness.  This is a convergence of quality grapes, a good wine maker, and the style of wine making that fit your grapes.  I thought for sure I could be part of that equation.

Why did I think that not knowing anything about growing grapes?  First and foremost I cared and hard work does not scare me.  It invigorates me.  I am intellectually voracious and could learn the basics quickly.  Second I was working under the tutelage of Ron who has the passion and the gift, not to mention the education and experience.  If you do not get a passion for wonderful fruits and grapes, not to mention wine and the food that goes with hanging around Ron, then you really are a lost soul.

What I have learned is nothing is a recipe.  You have to learn your own terroir and adjust to what your grapes tell you about the soil, the weather, the moisture, and any unpleasant visitors in the vineyard.  I am just getting to know my grapes and my terroir after 5 harvests now.  In another 10 years we might be closer friends and have more intimate knowledge of each other. Like a marriage, it matures slowly.

But I do know this:  A fine wine is the result of so many people working with nature.  When I watch someone enjoy a great wine, are they thinking about just the taste, or is it the terroir, the vintage year, or the wine maker, or the grower, or the most under appreciated of this equation, los hombres who work so hard in the vineyard.  I know what a good wine is. I know what it takes to make a good wine.  I have been part of a couple.  I know it is the magical confluence of all those factors I just listed.  And it is the most meaningful thing I have ever been apart of, to create a momentary glimpse of perfection and beauty in this world.  That is why I do it.  Maybe someday I might even be good at it.

Lightner Vineyards is a small, 3-acre vineyard near Camino (Apple Hill) California where I grow Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, and Counoise and produce about 5 tons of grapes each year. It is at an elevation of 3000′ taking advantage of a longer growing season and cooler nights.  I sell my grapes to Holly’s Hill and Donkey and Goat, both producers of Rhones in a style that I think is approaching exceptional.  Long live Syrah.