Archive for January 2010

Reality Intrudes on the Republican Retreat in Baltimore

I am sure that some of you at least saw in its entirety the exchange between the Republicans and President Obama on Friday (Baltimore Republican Retreat).  It was reality meets talking points.  There was the President ready to take on all comers without help or script and the Republicans had all their talking points ready.  The poor Republicans had no idea what they had got themselves into.  As the President pointed out the false assumptions many of their “questions” were based on, you could see them shaking their heads.  They weren’t having any of that reality stuff.  If you hate big government, any reality that upsets that underlying belief is just noise.

What was probably most amazing about this encounter was that President Obama had his facts all in order and could parry and pivot on every allegation.  Media morons take note:  When you let these people spew their lies, it would really improve the interview if you had done at least some homework so that you just didn’t just act as a megaphone for their propaganda.

But the most important thing that happened there was the point that President Obama make over and over again.  Republicans have painted themselves into a corner with their outrageous claims that Obama was destroying the country.  Now if they decided to work with him, and their base believes all the outrageous stuff they have been putting out about him and his policies, they are committing political suicide.  In other words the dialogue that has been part of their talking points, egged on by the media who loves outrageousness, crafted to ignite their base, is the primary factor in preventing any solutions.  Now if they find something they like, they can’t be caught working with him or they too will be a traitor to the country.

So did he make any headway?  No, of course not, at least not with the Republicans.  Note it was going so bad for the Republicans that Fox Noise cut off coverage in the interest of not confusing any of their viewers with reality or facts.  But maybe if enough of those independents out there see it, they will start to finally understand the problem.  Maybe they will start to understand that the Republican agenda is failure for this President and the country.  Just saying no is not a policy and wrapping lies around their alternative solutions that don’t stand the test of a real examination is not governing.   Oh come on Congressman Price, nobody believes you can cover everyone with health care for free through Republican alternatives .  Well maybe some of your moron followers do who think that all it takes to fix the country is more free rides for everyone (tax cuts and elimination of government spending).  Everything they do is to make the President look bad, not to try to find solutions.  If you want to define unpatriotic, this is it.

I think the President has staked out the way forward for Democrats.  Engage these guys, because even a cursory look at what they are proposing shows the bankruptcy of their ideas.  Example: Congressman Pence, their heavy hitter, wants to cap all spending and have cross the board tax cuts.  So which is it.  Spending cuts devastate the economy although help the deficit, while tax cuts empty the Treasury.  So are you trying to solve the deficit problem or bankrupt the country?  Probably what was most evident is that they accepted no responsibility for how we got to where we are today. Some how it was all Obama’s fault.  So now it is time to take the battle to them on the offensive.  Maybe eventually they will re-engaged with real ideas.  Oh, I forgot.  It was those same ideas that brought us down.  What it will do is expose how there failure to engage, there lack of realistic solutions,  and their blocking any way forward is truly hurting the country and just maybe there will be a political price to pay for this.

It was an amazingly frank exchange and hopefully the Democrats will now be reinvigorated to take the fight directly to the Republicans and make them pay a price for their nihilism.  It is the only way to get the country back from the brink.

The Progressive Answer to the State of the Union

President Obama laid out a basic truth in his State of the Union Address that appealed to everyone.  The Chinese are moving forward on green everything and we don’t want to be second in the world economy.  What he didn’t say forcefully enough was that we sit stymied by the filibuster and just saying no to everything.  He pointed out that the market place the Republicans love to worship won’t work unless government sets up the incentives to make it work.  That will require some self-sacrifice by all of us, and that is not part of the Republican repertoire, hence going from boom to bust in the last decade in terms of our deficit.  Everything, in their minds, can be solved by cutting taxes, smaller government, and less regulation.  Ask no one to sacrifice.  It has worked out swimmingly hasn’t it?

What I will take great exception with is that the President was not thinking big.  In fact he was perpetuating some of the conservative myths that should finally be put to rest so our country can finally start to progress.  He is making the same play that Bill Clinton made back in the 90s when he turned conservative after the Republicans were sweep back into office in 1994.  While it got him re-elected in 1996, what Clinton did was to enable the Republicans to bring us George Bush and the conservative party that was the first decade of this century and almost totally destroyed our economy.

The big lie, and the policy that is right out of the Conservatives playbook, was that we can start trimming the deficit in these tough times.  It flies in the face of what we learned in the depression, or what the Japanese learned in their lost decade.  It was crafted to appeal to the independents who don’t yet see the total failure of conservative ideology in the 21st century.  But it perpetuates a false assumption and if we actually do it, it will hurt, not help the economy whose only prop up right now is the stimulus bill.   It makes doing what we need to do that much harder because sooner or later, we have to discredit conservative ideology if we are to move forward.

Right now we have to prime the economy, not worry about the deficit.  If you are paying attention, while economists are focused on the stock market, States are facing massive budget overruns and are making draconian cuts.  For my conservative friends who think this is just fine to get government under control, they forget that that spending is what is keeping them afloat and without it, then they start to go down.  Unless the Feds come up with a massive aid program to the states, the unemployment rate is going to start climbing again.  So step one in thinking big is a massive aid program to the states.

Step two is to put in place real incentives for green energy, both on the consumer side and the R&D side.  President Obama has taken some steps already on the R&D investment side, but nothing on the consumer side.  Oh get ready here.  I am going to say the “T” word.  We need a real and meaning full TAX on fossil fuels, from gasoline to fuel oil.  Nothing stimulates the market place more than an opportunity to serve a need at a cheaper price.  So you have to make green energy cost effective.  Waiting for innovation to do that is ceding the markets to the Chinese who are making these massive investments.

Oh, you thought that was radical?  Well step three is punishing the banks.  That one ought to be popular since this nation is big on revenge.  One might think that the housing boom was caused by stupid borrows.  But lets not forget stupid lenders (and the whole driving force, the need for debt instruments to sell to the rest of the world).  Now the lenders who are holding these loans, of which it is estimated that 1 in 4 of all mortgages are underwater, want the home owner to stay paying their debt that they will never even break even on so that the banks don’t have to face up to their bad loan decisions and their overvalued equity.  But if our economy is going to get going we have to reset home mortgage values so that the housing market can recover.

Now the way to do this is to reset the mortgage values on these houses to the current value and ban adjustable mortgages.  So the homeowner would have the option of walking away from his loan without any impact to him, or the bank can negotiate not just a longer payment period, but an adjusted mortgage value at a fix rate mortgage. Now the banks cannot offload their bad debt on the homeowners, but must share in the pain of their bad loan decisions.  Oh radical, radical, radical, but actually making the market place work by punishing bad decisions.

The rest of President Obama’s ideas are wonderful, but way too small except of course for that stupid pander of freezing discretionary spending..  Higher education has to be available to everyone who can qualify.  Loans to get credit moving for small businesses needs to be ten times the $30 billion proposed.  If you want to attack the deficit right now, health care is the number one way to do it, but as usual President Obama failed to put a line in the sand on what is acceptable.  The current plan is a disaster, and without a real public option, it will fail.  So get on with reconciliation Senators.

So there you have it.  It is the only way forward and yet we can’t seem to get off the dime, stuck in conservative falsehoods that are going to bring the country down if we don’t soon shake off their chains.  I am struck by one thought.  Maybe if the President cannot bring himself to think big and wants to bring us the lost decade of the Japanese, why not just turn things over to the conservatives, let them implement  their ideas and then they can finish the work of the last decade and totally destroy our economy.  Then, maybe just then, we could finally once and for all discredit the conservative nonsense and start moving the country forward.

State of the Union – Reaction to the Speech

Okay, I listened to it.  Let’s face it, he is a great orator and the speech was a strategic thrust into the war for the independent voter, with only a few bones for real Progressives.  It was a great speech because he rose above the battle and acted like a leader of the country. He made those in Congress look small.  It was a strategic speech because, if he follows through with real challenges to the Republicans, they will look like what they are, total obstructionist to any progress.

The speech was written to appeal to those who still think the problem is that the two parties should quit fighting partisan battles.  That is really a hard argument to make if you have been watching how the Democrats have turned themselves inside out trying to bring a Republican, any Republican to vote for anything with a yeah.  But instead of falling into the Republican’s plan to paint the Democrats as partisan who have shut them out, he seemed like the reasonable one.  There were wonderful little traps that cornered the Republicans and made them look like the fools they were if they didn’t stand up and support what he was saying even though they would vote against it the first chance they get.

If fact if you really look at it, what he offered was some of their own stuff recycled. The programs he offered were way too small to really help.   But it was a great tactical move because he may corner them if he plays his cards right and they will be caught reversing their positions and taking very unpopular positions in their attempt to block all progress in government.  If, big if here, if he follows through and takes an active role from here on out, and engages these guys in their two-step, he will expose them for what they are for all to see.  Up till now, they have been able to take the debate to him, claiming the Democrats have “locked them out” when the reality is the only compromise they will except is their way, the same way that got us the disaster we are now in.

So the table has been set nicely for the Democrats to parry and take the offensive.  Will they?  Will Obama fully engage on these issues and trap the Republicans in their lies and deceit?  I can only hope so, but I am not optimistic.  If you are a realist, the Republicans are not going to vote yes on anything.  It is what they have now done for one year so the realistic game is to gut up and proceed understanding that you can play at bipartisanship, but for the Republicans, no matter what you give them they are going to say no.

Can the Democrats summon the courage to discipline their own ranks and move forward with reconciliation?  Not with the likes of Harry Reid at the helm.  The House has done their part.  Now the Senate has to get a backbone.  The only way that will happen is if President Obama engages them nose-to-nose. What is really important is what happens in the next month to see if it was just more soaring rhetoric with no there there, or whether he now understands the playing field and is ready to engage. I can only hope.

State of the Union

Warning:  Some profanity to follow!

Well the big speech is tonight and I don’t think I am going to listen.  I think it is all bull shit.   The President enters and they all cheer and fight to shake his hand even though most don’t like him.  Ass kissing at its ultimate.  Fat white men everywhere straining to get some face time with the camera.  Then there is the audience.  The guys on the left applaud and the guys on the right sit on their hands, then the guys on the right applaud and the guys on the left sit on their hands.  Everyone tries not to get caught looking bored or picking their noses.   Can the VP and Nancy Pelosi look in rapture for 45 minutes?  It is one big Washington production.

But the ultimate turn off is the speech.  A year ago I would have looked forward to our President laying out our course.  Now I have no idea who he is and I have no idea if anything he says is anything more than a political gimmick.  There was hope when I wrote last week about maybe finally getting the message on Wall Street and the banks, and then it turns out it was all smoke and mirrors.  Then there is this freeze on discretionary spending.  This is the ultimate pander for no effect except to encourage Republicans to do even more to obstruct while doing less to help our economy.

If you detect that I have given up on the Obama Administration, then you have got it right.  I guess up until now I have held out the hope that I was just naive about politics and I was missing something, but I don’t think so anymore.  From the stimulus package which was grossly watered down by the Republicans, to a health care bill turned over to Max Baucus, to catering to the banks, to not providing mortgage relief, their approach has been worse than sophomoric and is approaching moronic.  They have allowed the demoralized Republicans to regroup and now, misreading the falling poll numbers, they are capitulating and handing them a victory while hurting the country.

The Obama Administration did not loose the independents because they lurched to the left, but because by staying in the middle right, they were ineffective.  And now after Massachusetts they are trying to politically game the system and making things much worse.  Maybe they never did believe in anything and all those promises during the election were just more political pandering.  That is what it is starting to look like.  Had they held firm to the progressive roots they convinced us they had, and made decision based upon those values instead of gaming the system for political gain, they would not be where they are now or making their situation worse.

Right now I only see one salvation for the Democratic Party.  First lose Harry Reid.  Kick Lieberman out of the caucus and strip him of his chairmanship.  Start ignoring the conseradems that are destroying you.  Start listening to your younger Senators and putting people like Russ Feingold in leadership positions.  Start playing hardball by laying out your bottom line and no compromises to failure.  For the Obama Administration, get rid of Geithner and Summers.  Put Robert Gibbs on a leash and tell him to start listening instead of explaining why we don’t get it.  Put Axelrod out to pasture.  He is a terrible spokesperson for the administration.  You want young, smart, and quick like Congressman Anthony Weiner who knows where he stands.  Start representing the people who got you there.  Quit defending your stupid mistakes, learn from them, and although you have missed your opportunity, start standing up for principle.

None of this is going to happen.  They are not listening, they are misreading the signs, and much like the Bush administration, they are trying to game the system politically instead of doing the right thing and fighting for it.  Where are the big ideas?  That is why I have given up on them.  I am truly discouraged that our only hope to get this country back on track lies with the Democrats and they are terminally inept.  But what really tells me it is over for this administration is when I talked to my politically rabid son and he said he would probably skip the speech.  What’s the point?

Note:  Reading this morning in Paul Krugman’s blog (The Conscience of a Liberal), he is making a similar point.  Obama was never really a Progressive and that is why he won’t stand up for progressive ideas.

So You Want to Grow Grapes Part III – Farming

Farmer Steve and the June Spray Campaign

My continuing vacation from politics may end soon as I see the nation is again running amuck.  This is based upon Simon Johnson’s Baseline Scenario where he chronicles that the signs are that the Obama administration’s leaning toward Paul Volcker and real reform of the banks may be populist PR since all the bank and Wall Street flacks are still holding sway in his administration, and the conservatives are trying to sell us that Obama has lost popularity because he has lost his base, instead of the real problem, he has lost the independents.  But I will give it one more day and continue my narrative on what it takes to become a grape grower.  Then I will re-don my cape and leap into ranting blog action to save the country and my three readers.

So the Spring is springing and you are starting year three, there are grape plants in the field, you have sprayed around the plants during the winter to push the cover crop back from competing with your young plants, and you may have mowed the grass once.  Things are just about to bud out when your adviser tells you to go cut your grape plant back to two buds.  This is a shaping year, so you go out and remove the milk cartons (I’ll get to that) cut them back, wonder if you finally killed them, and hope for the best.  The milk cartons are used to protect the plants from critters and it is way cheaper than the plastic tubes.

So the rest of this summer is fairly simple.  As the two buds push shoots up the stake, you finally pick the strongest one, and cut the other off, tie it to the stake, and when its gets about a foot taller than the stake, or the cordon wire on your trellis system, you cut it off and it starts pushing lateral shoots.  If any grapes actually form, you pick them off because you want the plant to focus on root and shoot development.  Seems simple enough except there are in my vineyard about 1500 plants so that is a lot of tying.  When they are sufficiently up the stake, you can cut off the milk cartons.  I found that about every tenth one had a big black widow spider nesting in there so I learned to use heavy gloves.

Eventually for the head trained varietals, you are going to pick about 6 or 7 shoots evenly spaced around the plant for balance and remove everything else and this is going to be your base for new growth every year.  For the trellis plants, you are going to remove the lower shoots, pick two strong ones at or just below the cordon wire level (horizontal wire) and tie them off to form a “Y” with the tops of the Y running along the horizontal wire.  And of course, you tie, and tie, and tie.  If you are lucky and you have a hearty growing year, you will get everything shaped this year.  You may have to mow a couple of times until the grasses and clovers go to seed and die out, and of course water, but that is about it.  You just let them grow.  End year three.  Gee that wasn’t so bad….  Now I am one of boys, right?

Pruning Debris Cleanup in April

Year four is a really important year because depending on how much growth you got the year before,  this could be a crop year.  You could drop all your fruit and wait one more year to develop more root and plant structure, but I already had hardy growth so this was going to be a production year.  Again and every year you are going to have to control growth around the grape plant so the plant is not competing with your cover crop for nutrients.  I spray the rows when they are dormant, about a 2’ path right in the line of the plants, and then spot spray during the summer to control any re-growth.  The pruning this Spring is a big event and you want someone who knows what they are doing because this is going to shape your plants for all future growth.  I am not going to give you a course in pruning here, but just know that it takes time and experience and a crew of 6-8 guys will take several days to do my small 3 acres and pruning is not something that will wait.  They all have to be done at once when they are just getting ready to leaf out.

Now I am going to list the chores that have to be done each year and I’ll explain a little about them:

  1. Early spraying of the rows – Explained above
  2. First mowing to control growth of the cover crop – Explained above, and a second mowing when the grass has gone to seed and browned out.
  3. Pruning – Cutting last years shoots back to 2 buds, picked for best growth of new shoots, 6 spurs (last years shoots) well balanced on the head trained, 6 spurs each side of the “Y” on the cordons, well balanced and positioned for vertical growth (see pictures in the vineyard pictures page)
  4. Pruning debris removal and burning – Some use a flaying mower to cut up the debris.  I rake and remove to the burning area and then burn.  It takes a full two weeks of work
  5. Suckering the plants – Once the pruning is done, the buds will develop rapidly and those two nice neat buds you picked will push out all sorts of shoots along with ones in other unwanted places on the plant and you need to continually remove them.  You are going to want two strong shoots on each spur and you are going to get dozens so you must remove the unwanted or poorly placed growth.  Get used to walking through your vineyard and making decisions.  Not everything is going to be perfect.  Let’s see, 1500 plants time six to twelve spurs, each one getting individual attention.  Well you get the idea.
  6. Pushing the shoots up through the wires – Once things get really moving, the shoots can grow three or four inches a day.  For the trellis grape plants, as they reach the next wires up, you need to push them through the wires and be careful because they are green and will break off.  This is another chore that won’t wait.  If you wait too long, you are going to have a mess of growth that you will  damage  trying to push it up through the wires.  Don’t forget, suckering, suckering, suckering.
  7. It is now early June and you need to start three rounds of spraying for powdery mildew (different schedules in different micro climates).  It’s just sulfur, relax.

The Whole Point of the Exercise - Harvest

If you haven’t figured it out yet, late March, April, May, June, and early July are very busy months and you need to be there in the vineyard.  After early July, the tasks become a little less time dependent and can be spaced out over July and August.  These are cover (leaf) management, balancing the leaf density and providing morning sun to the grapes; fruit density, dropping fruit in early August to focus the intensity of flavors into the remaining grape clusters; and water management which gets simpler as the plants mature and require less and less water.  September is really the month you can sit on your deck, sip your wine, overlook your vineyard and think about buying new shirts, jeans, and socks because the ones you wore in the vineyard this year are permanently stained with red dirt and sweat.  Then it is October and harvest and the end of another year.

So there it is.  It is an amazing amount of very hard work.  There are lots of other little details like erosion control, adding roses, controlling weeds, but you get the gist.  I guess the satisfaction is trying to work and craft with nature to produce something special.  At three acres, I break even.  But I do know that I have created something beautiful and that is what makes it all worthwhile.  So now you know what it takes.  Do you really want to do this?

Okay tomorrow back to politics.  The President is giving his State of the Union, and who cares anymore.  It appears to be more smoke and mirrors.

Back to Writing the Blog

So You Want to Grow Grapes Part II – Construction

The End State

In my continuing vacation from politics I will continue my narrative on what it takes to become a grape grower.  I feel in good hands as Frank Rich (After the Massachusetts Massacre)  continued the pressure on the Obama administration to get a spine this Sunday morning.  With mainstream columnists taking up the mantra maybe I can take an extended vacation. Finally!

So on to what it takes to establish a vineyard.  Now you have your piece of property and you know your varietal or varietals, clone or clones, and rootstock.  You should also know your trellis system choice.  This will be based upon your varietal selection and what your area and years of experience tells you what is best for that varietal.  That will impact your construction costs since wire trellis systems (and there are many) are more expensive than simple head training (simple stake). The whole idea of a trellis system is to give the plant the optimal exposure for growing grapes.

There is one more choice you need to make before you start construction and that is your irrigation system.  There are really only two choices, overhead sprinklers, and drip.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but it is more complicated than just picking the most economical system.  Some growers think that sprinklers are better than drip because it gives a larger water pattern and allows better root formation.  They also use overhead water for year round cover crop (grasses between the rows) and frost protection.  The decision about all of this is based upon what you want to accomplish in the field and your budget.  I think sprinklers are grossly wasteful, require expensive water delivery pressure systems, and drip works fine for root development.  I live in California where it rains all the winter and is dry in the summer so I plant an annual cover crop and only have to mow twice a year.  It dies out in the summer and reseeds itself for next fall when the rains come back.

Let the construction begin. Over the last winter is when you were deciding on the varietal, you were also laying out your vineyard.  This means deciding how the rows will run, spacing of the rows, spacing of the plants, designing the zones for watering, and deciding where you will have to terrace in the steep areas.  Once again you need an expert.  Row spacing and clearance at the end of the rows is based upon clearance for your equipment to operate (tractor, forklift, spray equipment, mowing equipment). Don’t kid yourself.  You will at least have a tractor and forklift in the vineyard at harvest. A ton of grapes does weigh a ton.  Spacing of the plants is based upon what has been learned in your area about what is optimal for your varietal in your terroir.  It’s a guess.  Qualitatively what you are looking for is a spacing that stresses the plant to produce quality grapes, but not so close as to weaken the plant through over competition.  But through an advisor or your own wild ass guess, you have a layout plan.

You are going to construct all summer.  First you must clear the property of trees shrubs brush, everything.  In my case that was to clear-cut a forest, use a big Caterpillar to push out the stumps and rough grade the area, ship the logs, and burn the slash.  The last part of this is that once the land is cleared you are going to rip it at least down to 3’.  That means plowing up and turning over 3’ of the topsoil.  Then you will spend endless fun hours moving rocks out of the vineyard or saving them to put in the rows later.

Next is the final grading and contouring, cutting terraces where necessary.  Then a survey crew will come out and layout the rows marking the position of every plant (usually with a plastic straw pushed into the ground).  Once the rows are laid out you can then dig and install your main irrigation piping to supply each row and zone.  Last is to install your deer fence and plant a cover crop to control erosion over the winter.  Then you let the land rest till next year.  In the fall you order your plants because they will be grafted and grown over the winter so they are ready next year.  Having fun yet?  You should have seen the dust clouds.

Okay, year two is when the fun does begin because you will eventually plant real grape plants.  Your cover crop is out of control and you will have to mow and spray out the lines where the plants are to be planted. Now you will install your trellis/stake system. Some growers wait until the plants are in to install their trellis, but I prefer to have everything done so when the plants go in, there are no further disturbances in the vineyard. Once the trellis system is in, you can run all the support wires and string your irrigation lines and install the drips.  Now it is really starting to look like a vineyard, just sans the grape plants.

Finally the great day arrives when the nursery tells you your plants are ready.  This usually happens in early July, when the plants are delivered, inspected by the county, and planted with some fertilizers by a large crew of guys so they can all go in together.  Then you do nothing but water and watch your little bushes grow, until the fall arrives, the plants become dormant, and winter sets in.  By the way this cost between $15,000 to $20,000 and acre.  Are you still there?  Tomorrow, the final step:  Farming big time.

So You Want to Grow Grapes Part I – The Decisions

Winter in the Rows

I thought I would take a little vacation from politics for a couple of days since it just gets worse and worse.  The Republicans are totally nihilist, and the Democrats can’t find their spine.  See Bob Herbert Saturday for what is obvious to all of us except them (They Still Don’t Get It). Instead, because I get a lot of hits on my vineyard pages, I thought I would write an extended blog about what it takes to grow grapes, quality grapes.  I will combine all this into a separate page for those who eschew politics, but love wine.

It usually starts with a fantasy.  Picture the tanned, well dressed, handsome man standing next to a beautiful woman, both with wine glass in hand looking lovingly at each other, on a deck overlooking a beautiful vineyard.  Now picture a guy all sweaty, very tired, in very dirty jeans, beer in hand, and wife glaring at him, warning him not to track that dirt into her beautiful home.  You can guess which is the real picture.

Okay, the reality is somewhere in between.  So why grow grapes and what does it takes?  Why I grow grapes is a personal thing and I wrote a whole blog about it (Vine/Wine Friday).  Here, I would like to focus and what it takes.  So if you have decided to be a farmer, here are some tips on the way forward.  Note that I do not make wine (see blog above) and if that is your intent, get a good line of credit or be wealthy. 95% of being successful as a wine maker is marketing, but I will leave that discussion for another day.  I always dreamed of being a gentleman farmer with labor to do as I bid, but the reality of finances says you will do most of the work.  The workers I do use call me “El Patron who works”, but I just like to think of my self as “El Hefe”.  I have an active fantasy life.

So you have decided to grow grapes.  The first thing you have to do is match the varietal to your chosen location.  Probably the biggest mistake small growers make is to fall in love with a varietal and not carefully evaluate if it will grow well on the chosen location.  Pinot does not grow well in hot climates.  Syrah does not like shade or north slopes.  If it is a varietal you are focused on, then you must find a location that suits it.  If you already have a piece of property, you are going to have to evaluate if it is conducive to grape growing and then what varietals.  This involves evaluation of the soil type, and terroir.  My advice is hire a consultant who knows varietals, clones, and rootstock that grows well in your particular micro-climate.  One other minor little consideration one should consider is whether there is a market for what you are growing.  Oh, the details.

Okay, a little sidebar on varietals, clones, and rootstock:  We all know what varietals are, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.  Note my preference for reds.  Generally they are propagated by cloning, and that is you take a cutting from the varietal and graft it to a rootstock (will get to that in a minute). Technically speaking it is an exact copy of the varietal the cutting was taken from.  But even with this method of propagation there are mutations over time that make some, say pinots, a little different from other pinots.  Growers over time have found which clones grow and produce the best wines for their specific terroir. So that is one choice you have to make.

Finally comes rootstock.  Rarely are grape vines allowed to grow on their own roots because they are susceptible to disease.  Vinus Vinifera, which are the European grapes we love to make wine out of, were almost completely wiped out by Phylloxera, an infestation of the roots.  It was saved by grafting the prized European varietals to American grape roots (Vinus Lambrusca), that had a natural resistance to the bug, but make poor wine (Welch’s grape juice).  As rootstocks proliferated, they are selected based upon how they affect growth, susceptible to other diseases, water needs, grow in your terroir, etc.  So selection of rootstock is another one of those problems that requires talking to someone who is experienced with your type of soil, and the terroir.

Okay, you have your piece of property and you know what to order from the nursery.  The next step is the construction process of the vineyard.  Tomorrow I will write about the construction process, and the growing process.  Then if you still want to grow grapes, you are like me, a nut.  Welcome to my world.

A Glimmer of Hope

Yesterday, the Obama administration at least appeared to finally wake up at least on the banking issue when they finally sided with Paul Volcker on limiting the size of banks so that there is no such thing as a bank too big to fail, and then let the market place destroy them for their mistakes.  But is it real and are they starting to get out of their bubble and start listening to the people who elected them.  Yesterday in the Blog, the Baseline Scenario, the economist Simon Johnson wrote:

The major question now is – will the White House have the courage of its convictions and really fight the big banks on this issue?  If the White House goes into this fight half-hearted or without really understanding (or explaining) the underlying problem of unfettered banks that are too big to fail, they will not win.”

And there is the crux of the issue for the last year:  “will the White House have the courage of its convictions”?  If the President doesn’t layout his convictions in terms of hard and fast policy positions, we will have another repeat of the health care reform debacle.  In that case he said (after the election), “We need health care reform.  Now Congress, get me some.”  The critical issue was the definition of “some” and as we found out, leaving it to a bought and industry paid for Congress was a gross mistake.  Today’s world is in flux with a failed ideology trying to fight its way back, and with Congressional Democrats all over the map on what is required.  The President and the White House are going to have to enter into the fray with establish positions, and lines in the sand for what is and is not acceptable.  This would mean fighting for specific legislation, not some broad policy statement that one could drive a train through the lack of detail.

If the White House would have carefully considered health care reform and began the debate with some hard and fast positions on cost control, including a requirement for a public option to provide realistic competition, it would have been obvious that the 60-vote goal was unrealistic.  They have nobody but themselves to blame for the failure to reform health care.  It is really sad in a way, if you look back at the campaign for the Presidency.  President Obama laid out firm positions and then the day he got into office, he abandon them to find compromise, and the carnage is there for them to examine.

So back to the specifics of making the world safe for banks.  I can only echo what Simon said in his blog.  What are the details and how big, and what loop holes?  If this is left to Congress, it will languish as the Supreme Court emphasized yesterday, they are bought and paid for and now it’s all legal.  So President Obama is going to have to layout the details and fight for them using a populist approach because on this one, I don’t think most conservatives would disagree.  He is going to have to use the power of the FED to implement this if Congress is too bought.  But that is only the beginning.  He is going to have to go after banks for their failure to re-evaluate mortgages and kick start lending.  No more pretty speeches, it is time to go on the attack.  Will he do it?  He is capable but I am not sure yet that he understands that his power will come from a populist approach.  Congress and Democrats in Congress are for the most part worthless.  This means aggressively attacking the status quo and using his base, and that includes independents who came over during the election, to fight the status quo and Congress.  To do this, he needs to read his campaign speeches and start standing up for some of those things he promised us.

It Just Gets Better and Better

New York Times:  Supreme Court Rejects Campaign Spending Limits

“The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on their participation in federal campaigns.  The court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The decision almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns and threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.”

Corporation control of our elections.  Are we on the right path or what?

Democrats are Untrainable

I got a call from my son yesterday trying to put a happy face on the election outcome in Massachusetts.  He is not alone in the effort.  The hope is that the Democrats will learn from this defeat.  The lesson would be that accommodation does not work, it makes you look weak, and half measures are not what independents and your base put you in power for.  The path you have been on just sends a message you don’t stand for anything and when push comes to shove, you run from a fight.

So there was  White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, on the Ed Show yesterday, explaining to us how we did not get it, and the problem was just a failure to communicate.  The problem is we get it, you don’t, and apparently you are still not listening.  Ed tried to challenge him and Gibbs tried to use the Republican tactic of just hogging the microphone instead of listening.  David Axelrod, White House Advisor,  was out peddling the same garbage.  I love it when you see a failing effort, and all the metrics indicate that you are losing ground, and you continue to argue that people just don’t understand you.  It is pathetic, defensive, and screams weakness.  The American people have been demanding strong leadership, and that includes a firm position on issues.  What we have gotten is a leader who refuses to lead, and Democrats who are willing to compromise to oblivion.

The obvious solution for Democrats is to rethink this whole bipartisan thing.  They need to stake out strong positions that, as Tom Friedman calls them, are not suboptimal solution to cater to a failed Republican ideology.  Democrats need to stand up for what will work, not some marginal change that everyone in the country knows will not have any impact on them.  Then they need to fight for those ideas and not give them up.  They need to start showing strength and conviction.  They need to redefine themselves because whether they believe it or not, out here in the country our perception is that they don’t stand for anything.  You can talk all you want Democrats, your actions are screaming at us out here in the hinterlands and that is that most of you would compromise your mother if it meant getting a bill, any bill.

Meanwhile the President has left the Democrats rudderless in this whole fiasco.  This morning I read where he may retreat on Health Care (President Obama Considers Paring Goals for Health Care).  Let’s see if we can find the sub-suboptimal solution.  I rest my case.  They have learned nothing and they stand for nothing.  Their focus is on a bill, not on real solutions to our health care process.  AND THEY LOOK WEAK.  Americans are quite frankly unsure about what is the way forward.  They need strong leadership with firm principles.  The Republicans have nothing to offer but old failed tax cuts and less regulation, yet they look strong and united, confident in their approach and that is their drawing card.  People want definition and this White House and the Democratic Party have given them wishy washy.

In my mind, everything the Democrats have done has lead to failure.  Oh you can say that the Stimulus package saved jobs, but not enough jobs.  You can pass a very watered down health care bill, but if Americans don’t see a real change, that too will be perceived as failure.  You passed a credit card bill that no one sees as effecting how the banks are screwing us.  You continue to cater to Wall Street.  Democrats fail to understand that you are in this battle for the long haul.  Losing could be winning, if you offer real change, stand up for it, and let the Republicans defeat it.  Then people will know what you stand for, understand that it is not getting done because of Republicans, and show their anger at the polls at the other guy for once.  But instead you compromise away your principles, the bill has no teeth, nothing changes, and then you are seen as the problem.  When are you going to learn this lesson?  Never, I think.

The solution is simple.  The President has to find his moral compass and lead.  He has to take positions in fights based upon values and what works.  The Democrats need to fire their leadership and get real fighters.  Democrats have to start redefining themselves with real lines in the sand.  Failure to do this will bring back Republicans and the country will waste away as it did during the Bush years.  I fear that all the signs point to the fact that that is the road we are on.  What a gross disappointment is the Obama Administration.