Archive for November 2011

European Thought for the Day

World Banks are joining forces to try to keep borrowing costs low in Europe, but that is only one piece of the puzzle.  I have been reading the Grand Pursuit:  The Story of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar and she has a great section on the end of WWI where the victors guaranteed us WWII by enforcing severe austerity on Germany and her allies to pay off everyone’s war debts.  With declining economies and little hope for recovery, chaos was assured and then along comes Hitler.  See any parallels in the extreme austerity the ECB and others are forcing on the debtor nations (Read Germany)?  After WWII we had learned our lesson and we implemented the Marshal Plan to rebuild Europe and its economy and restructure their debt.  Apparently the Europeans learned nothing from this history as they still think austerity is the only answer.  It is if you want massive civil unrest.

Mind Numbing Frustration – Whose to Blame

I picked up the paper this morning (first mistake), turned to the op-ed page (second mistake), and then saw this Op-Ed piece:  How to Free Congress’s Mind.  I knew it was going to be trouble because the description of the article was, “Members of Congress need to change their minds about compromise, or voters will need to change the members of Congress.”  So I was thinking since they used the term “members of Congress”, I suspected this was going to be a politically correct blame both sides equally piece.  So I decided to gut up and read the column (third mistake and strike three).

Sure enough it was another one of those politically correct, blame both sides for the gridlock implying that the voters should pick new people who will compromise.  I hear Kumbaya playing in the background. Let’s all hold hands and work together going nowhere (my assumption that compromise is not enough).   The other point was that campaigning, vilifying the other side, is not conducive to governing where compromise is required.  A no-duh moment from a president and professor at two prestigious universities (Princeton and Harvard).  So lets pick apart what is so wrong with this piece and why it perpetuates the problem.

First and foremost if you want to pick people who will compromise (their term, “toxic partisan gridlock”) you have to figure out who is not compromising.  This piece perpetuates the myth that both sides are equally at fault.  Do these people read newspapers?  Ezra Klein, the Washington Post reporter that follows legislation in Congress, described the process as “the Democrats take two steps forward and the Republicans take two steps backwards.”  Look at every piece of legislation that has passed and see who gave the most by any unbiased report.  Remember the Democrat’s caving at extending the Bush Tax Cuts, or John Boehner’s “I got 98% of what I wanted” in the debt limit extension.”?  Who exactly is using the filibuster at historic levels to block any legislation through the Senate?  Who would not accept any tax increases on the wealthy in the Debt commission?  Oh, and since all of the jobs/tax proposals to help the economy being rejected are recycled old Republican ideas, who really is being intransigent here?  Please!  Once again the media and people who are afraid to ruffle feathers will not point the finger at the offending party, leaving the voters confused about where the problem really lies and it is no wonder with this kind of writing and reporting, we will get the same fools in 2012.

Second is the nonsense about campaigning.  As near as I can tell, those who were elected in 2010 are doing exactly what they said they would do.  Isn’t that what we voters demand from our politicians?   These people ran on a pledge to refuse to raise any taxes and they are being faithful to their promise as stupid as that is.  We have gridlock because that is what Republican and independent voters (no not Democratic) wanted.  We have two really diametrically opposed views of our way forward.  The Republicans want to return to the 19th century in terms of size and role of government, ignoring the lessons learned in the intervening 100 years, and the Democrats sort of understand that government has an important role to play in our future and in leveling the playing field.  Should you not point that out when you are campaigning and stand for what you said you would stand for?

Government is dysfunctional because reporting like this refuses to point the finger at the real offending party.  The Republicans are blocking everything and why don’t they just say it instead of perpetuating this partisan gridlock nonsense?  The reason is some misguided idea that you have to be fair and balanced to be considered a serious commentator, and in this case, in order to do that, you misrepresent the whole problem.  If Americans really want compromise in Washington, then they need to elect Republicans (no not Congress people, but Republicans) who will compromise, or things are not going to change anytime soon.  Sadly that is not going to happen because primaries are not set up that way with the Tea Party nuts controlling their outcome.  So if you want middle of the road politics, you had better elect moderate Democrats who have already proven they will give away the farm.  I am really ashamed of the New York Times for running this piece.

Don’t Read This – You Really Don’t Want to Know – Don’t Worry, Be Happy

I woke up at about four thirty this morning and this blog was composing itself in my mind.  We are oh so screwed and sadly it is our own fault.  The world economy is collapsing around us.  Oh I know, the markets were up yesterday on rumors the Europeans would help themselves, but that is just a symptom of our sickness.  We are grasping at straws.  The EU as we know it will collapse.  The Euro will maybe exist in a few countries with similar economies, but for most, they will revert to their own currency (See Simon Johnson:  End of the Euro).  Economic stagnation will be the result and it did not have to be this way.

Europe is in a mess because they refused to do what history has taught us to do in these crises.  To sum up a complex problem, disparate economies were combined under a common currency without a commitment to back each others debts.  When we (yes we) crashed their economy and reduced their incomes, their debts became unsustainable (Greece is a separate issue whose debt was always unsustainable).  Then the Europeans, like our own economic policy makers, went on a Calvinistic moral crusade to punish the sinners.  Those with high debts must suffer through austerity.  Somehow austerity was going to instill confidence in these government’s and the reinvestment will happen.  But what happened and predicted by our better economists like Paul Krugman and Simon Johnson and…, well the list goes on and on, is that it made things worse, much worse.

But economics is not about morality, it is about what works and what was required was for the whole EU to pull together.  The rich were going to have to bailout the indebted by backing their debts through the ECB (European Central Bank), and stimulus spending to get the economy moving again.  That would keep interest rates for the troubled countries manageable, and provide some growth through stimulus to allow the peripheral countries economies to pay down their debts.  Except they couldn’t bring themselves to do it.  What was politically possible was failure because of resentment, selfishness, and a false sense of moral superiority.  Does this sound familiar, “Why should we bail you out when you have spent yourself in debt?”.  Certainly there had to be belt tightening in the troubled (peripheral) countries, but the austerity that was enforced simply depressed their economies further, making their debts even further unsustainable.  People have to have hope.

Okay, Europe is going to crash in a bed of their own making.  It will also bring us down.  Think back to late 2007 and early 2008 and that is where we are going back to.  And once again we have nobody to blame but ourselves.  The way out of this mess was blazoned back in the Great Depression and yet we embarked on a great austerity kick ourselves.  People were just overcome by fear of the growing deficit and their was no real analysis of it in terms of our historic economic past.  Like the Europeans, we let the conservatives stampede us into believing in the confidence fairy (if we cut everything, markets will have confidence and start investing again).  I have given some thought to why this is and I have come up with two plausible solutions:  First we have the same Calvinistic tendencies as the Europeans, we must be punished for our sins or we must punish those for their perceived sins; and second we are tripped up by our own false analogies.

The first explanation is almost self-explanatory.  We feel we have been on a spending spree (Remember it is all those foolish people who took out bad loans according to many conservatives?), and we have been on a spending spree, although more private spending than public.  The public debt we have is really a function of falling revenue after the housing bubble popped and the banks crashed, and our failure to pay taxes.  So we demand suffering for our sins.  Spendthrifts should not be rewarded! Nice thought, wrong solution as noted in the European mess.

The second explanation shows how far we have fallen intellectually.  Americans are not critical thinkers.  Sadly if they think they know something,  it is because they “feel” it is true.  If everybody is saying it, then it must be true.  When faced with what we perceived or were convinced was our overwhelming debt, our operative  analogy, our understanding of how to handle debt, came from our own personal experience.  Who hasn’t heard the claim, “I can manage my own debt.  I can live within my means, so what the hell is wrong with the government?”.

The problem is that it is a false analogy.  If you live on a fixed income or salary, and your debts get out of hand, the obvious solution is to cut back on your spending and focus on paying off your debts.  It is what you know in your gut will work because it has and it just takes discipline so why can’t the government do it?  Well there are many complexities, but the simple answer is that when you cut back on your spending, your income is not affected, but when government cuts back on its spending in a repressed economy, its income decreases.  The more frugal you are, the more you reduce your ability to pay off your debts.  What we feel in our guts is the right solution has been proven in our economic history (actually the world’s economic history) as exactly the wrong thing to do.  But it is exactly what we have done and things are not improving.  Worse the Republicans want to do more of it only harder and expect a different result (definition of stupidity).  You can explain this over and over (Poor Paul Krugman has tried), but most stick with their gut instinct even in the face of repeated failure.

Is there a way out?  Politically no.  What goes as policy discussions in the media and in the halls of Congress today doesn’t even begin to address the problem.  With the Republicans on some moral crusade against actually paying for what we need and want (taxes), with Democrats unable to propose anything bolder than moderate Republican (circa 1990) solutions, and a President who even Ezra Klein of the Washington Post describes as a moderate Republican, we are going nowhere and the double dip will soon be on us.  But yes there is a way out, however I suspect that we have to be truly down and out before we will actually show all that exceptionalism everyone blathers on about and the discipline to pull together and sacrifice to actually accomplish it. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting closer.

Let’s face it, there is no going back to the economy of yesterday.  What that means is that we have systemic problems with the way our economy is running and we need major changes.  Right now the 99% are telling us that the transfer of the wealth to the wealthy that has been going on now since Ronald Reagan is not working.  Add to that, we no longer live in a world where we dominate competitively anymore.  So the challenge is to restructure our economy to make it fair for everyone, to provide the backbone for a 21 century economy, and to regain our competitive edge.  So what does that mean and how do we do that, and no Virginia, it does not mean lower taxes, less regulation, and smaller government.  Going back to the 19th century as the Republicans are trying to take us, will simply make things worse except for the 1% and in the long run, they will suffer too.  As noted in my last blog (It’s the Conservatives Stupid) the solutions are not new, rocket science, or mind shattering.  They are where we have been before.

We need to realign the tax code, massive investment in infrastructure and our human resources, and make government smart government which partners with industry (not a lap dog) for planning our future.  If you followed Michael Spence, a Nobel Laureate Economist and professor at NYU’s explanation on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS Sunday, he laid it out in the simplest terms possible.  We need a real energy policy that forces us to innovate, we need to rewrite the tax code to raise revenues and to be fair.  And we need massive investment in infrastructure and our people.  Here is what he said and it is the only way forward if the future for our children is going to be brighter that what the Republicans have planned for most of us unless you are one of the “special” people in a state of grace (read 1%):

“I am sure you have heard this, but the great depression came to an end in WWII and two things happened at that point.  One, there was a huge fiscal stimulus because we could not finance a war effort on current income, and then we got rid of it over time, and the second one was that we went to the people and said you know what, it is a war and we are going to have to invest a huge amount of our resources in this and your consumption levels are going to have to go down because we can’t keep them up and make this big investment.

We just don’t have the resources and because it was a war, people said okay.  And so we created this powerful engine that not only took us through the war, but took us into the post period in pretty high gear…If we really wanted to overcome this one fast, then what would happen is a political leader would go and say this isn’t a war, but it is that sort of challenge and create recovery (war) bonds…I mean that is pretty politically unrealistic, but that would really put a jet engine behind this thing over time.”

And that is where we are now.  As a country we need to make massive investments in our future through investments in infrastructure, education, and R&D.  In order to do that we are going to have to “invest a huge amount of our resources in this and your consumption levels are going to have to go down because we can’t keep them up and make this big investment.”  What that means is that either through taxation or “recovery bonds” we, the people, are going to invest in this.  Don’t misunderstand.  With the investment will come jobs, but the sacrifice and self-discipline is that we as a people will be spending less on ourselves and reinvesting that money in our country and our future either through bonds or taxes.  It is the only way out of this morass, and in order to have the political will to do it, we will have to be looking into the abyss.  But don’t worry, with our present policies, and with the Republican’s help, the abyss is just around the corner.  Or as I like to say at the end of my Vine/Wine posts, Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) because unless we change course, there may not be many more to seize.

But then, what the hell do I know.  As I like to refer to myself as no one in particular (N.I.P.), what gives me any particular insight into our problems except a glass of wine and a beautiful vineyard to overlook while I ponder our present condition?  Oh, and I read a lot which might set me apart from most Americans.  I mean, after all, aren’t our leaders doing a bang up job of it so far?  So I will go back to kibitzing about the daily soap opera masquerading as news and serious policy analysis (who has Herman Cain slept with now and how is Newt doing in the polls) and I will leave you with Bobby McFerrin’s insightful singing back in the 1980’s that applies so well today, Don’t Worry, Be Happy:

It’s the Conservatives Stupid

One of the great quotes this morning was from an Op-Ed by Bill Keller who writes and edits for the New York Times.  He decided to do a little research to see if he could understand our economic crisis and path forward (The Politics of Economics in the Age of Shouting):

“The first thing I gleaned from this little tutorial will probably not surprise you: There really is a textbook way to fix our current mess. Short-term stimulus works to help an economy recover from a recession. Some kinds of stimulus pay off more quickly than others. Once the economic heart is pumping again, we need to get our deficits under control. The way to do that is a balance of spending cuts, increased tax revenues and entitlement reforms. There is room to argue about the proportions and the timing, and small differences can produce large consequences, but the basic formula is not only common sense, it is mainstream economic science, tested many times in the real world.”

The answers are out there, they are tried and true and yet we refuse to do them.  Here is my favorite quote from Paul Krugman on our continued stupidity:

“Future historians will look back in astonishment at the Great Pivot of 2010, in which all the Very Serious People on both sides of the Atlantic– and, sad to say, in both parties in the United States — decided that in the face of high unemployment, weak growth, and low inflation, what the world really needed was austerity.”

On the Euro crisis, which, my friends, will also bring down our own economy and is headed to do just that, the answer is really quite simple.  The ECB needs to be the lender of last resort.  While the interior countries spend to stimulate, the peripheral countries need to belt tighten.  But when the whole EU is belt tightening, and the ECB refuses to step in, growth is not going to just stall, it is going to plummet.  In some Calvinistic belief that suffering for your sins leads to redemption, they are on the path to destroying the world economy.  Sometimes what seems moral is just plain counter productive, but a very conservative thing to do.

All of this was brought home on Sunday Television if you were paying attention, mostly on Chris Hayes’s UP on MSNBC.  One of his guests, Robert Johnson, a leading expert on European Economics,  was a managing director at Sorros Fund Management, served on the UN Commission of Monetary Reform, who basically said, Austerity doesn’t work, Austerity is over, it is killing the planet….The biggest causes of deficits is idle resources, and that is true in America as well…We need programs to put people back to work.”

His next guest, Paul Starr who was an adviser to the Clinton White House on Health Care Reform, noted that the biggest contributor to the deficit going forward is growing health care costs and how our country, unlike the rest of the world, cannot come to terms with reforming the system.  He noted that Obama Care, referred to as the worst thing that could happen to medicine by the conservatives, is nothing more than Republican ideas a few years ago. He noted the hysteria of conservatives around the discussion of allowing the federal government to pay for health care (public option) as though that was somehow communism.  His greatest contribution to this discussion was to note that if public education was private today and someone proposed having education funded by the government, the conservatives would see this as government plot to control the minds of our children.

But probably the most insightful conversation occurred around the way forward.  Maya McGuineas was the conservative on the panel, albeit calling herself independent.  When asked what she would like to ask the guests on the Sunday morning talk shows, she wanted to ask the question to Chuck Schumer on Meet the Press, that with the failure of the debt commission, “What are you going to do next, because we can’t just sit back and do nothing.  It goes back to leadership.  What are they going to put in place to make sure that big deficit plans are going to get considered and move forward.”

Now what is interesting is her shift back to austerity and the deficit instead of growth and jobs, the cart before the horse.  But what was even more interesting was this really moderate Republican’s belief that leadership in the presently constituted Congress can do anything.  Ezra Klein pointed out that the media had done a terrible job of covering the negotiations on the deficit and for every two steps forward the Democrats would take to try to come to an agreement, the conservatives would take two steps back.  At one point he noted that Obama, the conservative’s socialist, was nothing more than a moderate Republican from the 1990s.  We have a conservative Republican Congress that will not take yes for an answer and are marching the country off a cliff.

Finally on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS, he had Michael Spence, a Nobel Laureate, a professor at NYU, looking at the real problem in America, the great divide in inequality.  When asked how he would fix it and our economic woes, Professor Spence noted that after reforming the tax codes, first we have to recognize that the deficit is not the short term problem.  We need to get the economy running again and face the deficit in 7-10 years.  Then he said:

“I am sure you have heard this, but the great depression came to an end in WWII and two things happened at that point.  One, there was a huge fiscal stimulus because we could not finance a war effort on current income, and then we got rid of it over time, and the second one was that we went to the people and said you know what, it is a war and we are going to have to invest a huge amount of our resources in this and your consumption levels are going to have to go down because we can’t keep them up and make this big investment.  We just don’t have the resources and because it was a war, people said okay.  And so we created this powerful engine that not only took us through the war, but took us into the post period in pretty high gear…If we really wanted to overcome this one fast, then what would happen is a political leader would go and say this isn’t a war, but it is that sort of challenge and create recovery (war) bonds…I mean that is pretty politically unrealistic, but that would really put a jet engine behind this thing over time.”

Well there it is.  The path forward is a no-brainer and conservatives (and some Democrats) simply won’t allow the country to move forward.  Policies President Obama are proposing are nothing but 1990’s recycled Republican ideas, but the party has move so far to the right that no compromises and no accommodations are possible.  It is not the economy that is the problem, it is the conservatives.  If they aren’t replaced in 2012, which sorry to explain this to you Maya, but that is our only chance for any movement forward, then the country is doomed to stagnation and depression. The present crop will just move further and further right so there can be no compromise with the feckless Democrats.  And any compromise that might be possible will be antithetical to solving any of our problems.  Conservatives are the problem.  The answers are already out there and it is mind boggling that we can’t act on them because of ideological morons.

Sunday Morning’s Random Thoughts

I think we would all agree that Steve Jobs was visionary.  Can you think of any present day Republicans who are “visionary”.  Today’s conservative could better be described as stunted.  That is hunker down and see what happens.  Could you see today’s Republican investing in the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system, or the man on the moon program?  What brought this to mind was an article in the NYT bringing attention to our fight out here to develop a high speed rail between LA and San Francisco (California Rail Project Advances Amid Cries of Boondoggle).  Republicans see it as a big boondoggle:  “This will go down in history as one of the great white elephants in California history,” said Bob Dutton, the Republican leader of the State Senate. “It’s a boondoggle. The state cannot afford it.”

Meanwhile the rest of us think we can not afford to wait and as the article points out, “It’s not putting someone on the moon, but it’s a state version of making a giant leap forward,” said Bob Blumenfield, a Democrat in the State Assembly. “We in California pioneered the public project. It’s not a luxury; it’s a critical piece of infrastructure.”  It is about dreaming for tomorrow and it is the dreaming that brings big things.  And as always, the devil is in the details. “The California High-Speed Rail Authority projected that the bullet train would create 100,000 jobs and argued that one way or another, California would have to spend money to develop its transportation system to accommodate a population increase of an estimated 25 million over the next 20 years.”  Do we really want to saddle ourselves with people who spend their whole lives saying no to dreaming the big dreams, and making sure they keep theirs while you slowly sink in the sunset?

In the same vein, the likely Republican Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, wants us to just let the mortgage crisis run its course.  Sure why not, it doesn’t affect him or his kind.  But it is insanity not just on the bleeding heart issue of the people who suffer, but for our economy.  So once again we see Republican conservatism in operation (do nothing, I got mine) and it is really counter productive to what they really want, a healthy economy.  Like so many of their misplaced ideas the devil is in the details and in this case, making the consumer suffer more is not going to help a lack of demand problem in the economy.  I like the Icelanders for refusing to bail out the banks and their economy is coming back fine.  My final solution here would be to force banks to write off the inflated prices (they made the bet just as borrows did) and be made to feel the effects of their bad policies instead of just the borrower.  Anyway the NYT covers this topic well in Mr. Romney on Foreclosures.

But finally, Professor Krugman expressed what I think so often writing this blog, “Blogging is a lot like teaching the same class year after year; you’re always encountering the same arguments you’ve refuted in the past, and you want to demand why they weren’t listening the last time.”  In this case he was trying once again to explain to conservatives (a hopeless task) that Obama has not grown the federal government.  As always the devil is in the details and while conservatives claim that government spending has increased 4% of GDP since 2007, the reality is most of it is related to Mr. Bush’s fine handling of the economy.  As Paul points out, a little over a fourth of it came from loss of revenue in the downturn, another fourth came from insurance programs (automatically kicks in because of unemployment), another small piece came from Medicaid again due to more people entering the program because of the economy, and finally the rest came from the stimulus, increased healthcare costs, and social Security retirements  and Medicare from baby boomers retiring.  So just where was the massive growth of government the right wingers like to throw out there (The Obama Spending Non-Surge)?

It is really amazing to me that anyone can listen to these people anymore and yet I live in the midst of them as they reinforce their beliefs in the evil President Obama causing all their problems, not examining the real numbers behind most of their claims, and thinking small and believing this will make us great again.  I just keep wondering when we are going to wake up from this nightmare and start dreaming the big dreams again and then doing the amazing things.


Remembering Our Past on Thanksgiving

No, I am not talking about the way we disenfranchised the Indians as we, the illegal aliens, stole their land.  I am talking about where we have come from economically.  I am reading a wonderful book called the Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar, that traces the history of recent economic thought.  It is a wonderful human book about the lives and thoughts of some of these very great thinkers.  My point here is that we forget where we have been and then with the Republicans trying to take us back to the early 1800’s in terms of economics, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of history, and painfully relearn their lessons.

The particular period I am reading about is the late 1800’s, early 1900’s in the thinking of Marx, Marshal, and most importantly, Beatrice Potter.  They of course saw the world very differently, but were grappling with the great economic inequities that were occurring as capitalism took off.  Ms. Potter went from a true believer in Laissez Faire economics where the poor were destined to be destitute in the capitalist state as others were destined to increase their wealth, to very liberal politics believing we have a responsibility to help the poor through government action.  At her gatherings and dinners were George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, assorted politicians, and Winston Churchill.  Churchill started out in the laissez faire camp but over time and due to some of the research and arguing by Ms. Potter (Mrs. Webber), started to understand the problem.  “Churchill was preaching what he called the “cause of the left-out millions” and urging “drawing a line” below which “we will not allow persons to live and labor.”” All of this as a result of the policies Ms. Potter was urging on him.

But here is the best part, and this is about 1908.  Beatrice Potter wanted to stop the government from just “dispensing welfare and into the business of eliminating poverty’s causes.”  Here is a quote from Sylvia Nasar book that flies in the face of Republicans today:

“Webb (Beatrice Potter’s married name ) dismissed the notion that destitution could always be traced to a moral defect (take a bath and get a job).  Instead she listed five causes that corresponded to the main groups of destitute individuals and families:  the sick, widows with young children, the aged, and people suffering from a variety of mental afflictions, from low intelligence to lunacy.  The most troubling group were the able-bodied destitute.  Their destitution, Beatrice argued, was the result of unemployment and chronic underemployment.

Beatrices’s idea broke with the whole tradition of Gladstonian liberalism (conservative Republicans today) that promised equality of opportunity but left results up to the individual and the market and went far beyond anything being discussed at the time by anyone except the Socialist fringe.”

Churchill, who had become one of Beatrice’s best students, was appointed President of the Board of Trade in the British government and he outlined his personal policy wish list:

“Churchill defined his minimum in terms of five elements and listed them as his legislative priorities:  unemployment insurance, disability insurance, compulsory education to age seventeen, public works jobs in the road building or state afforestation in lieu of poor relief, and nationalization of the railways.”

Think about it.  This is 1908 and they were learning what could lift all people up on the tide of capitalism and they knew that government must play an important role.  Go through Churchill’s five elements and you will see today where the present day Republicans want to take us back to those dreary days:  no extension and end unemployment insurance because “it encourages unemployment”; severely cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare; do away with public schools; don’t invest in infrastructure or any stimulus package; and of course, kill Amtrak.  In other words, let the poor fend for themselves, and why?  Because they are poor due to some moral deficit, not because the system is rigged against them.  We have come a long way haven’t we?


Vine/Wine Whatever (Usually Friday)


Well it is truly the end of the season.  This picture was taken last Saturday morning (11/19/2011).  This was followed by another rain and cold weather so soon nothing will be out there but bare shoots truly marking the end of this season.  How was it?  Strange.  It started out as a cool/cold spring with snow as late as 28 May.  That definitely reduced the yield.  Then the summer was very cool and although from the heavy moisture in the soil and heavy growth, the grapes were very late, almost a month behind at every phase from bud break to verasion.  Harvest followed suit and getting the Brix (measure of sugar) up to 24-26 was almost impossible with the grapes picked at about 22.  However these grapes seem to have great flavor.  Again with early rains and late maturation, the fear of botrytis (bunch rot) was palpable.  There is not much you can do except thin the cover so that the grapes get lots of drying winds, thin the bunches so you can force maturity on fewer bunches, and sort after harvest. In my case, yield was down (big loser this year with all the extra maintenance) but I think what we got was excellent.  I am still waiting feedback from Donkey and Goat where all my grapes went this year.

So that is about it this year unless anybody wants to hear about grape processing.  If we get some warm days in December, I will start spraying out the rows around the plants to prevent the ground cover from competing with the plants.  I have to take my Herbicide/Pesticide applicators test again and get re-licensed (no pesticides, but herbicides to control powdery mildew is a must).  Then pruning in March.  Until then I will leave you with these pictures:

"Chateau" Lightner in Fall -Soon snow and bare trees

Roses Still Blooming, and Ground Cover Going Strong












Don’t forget that life is short and unpredictable:  Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)






Romney’s Ad

I am sure you have seen or heard of it.  Romney is blasting Obama with quotes that are not quotes but taken out of context statements about what the Republicans have said.  Even more disingenuous is other claims in the ad which as pointed ” is the ad’s exaggerated claim that the new health care law is “killing jobs.” The truth is that the law’s effect on employment is expected to be slight, and the law’s main requirements on employers don’t become effective until 2014.”  That actually is not the most consequential issue here.  Best video showing the lies is at the Huffington Post.

When this ad was shown to the ex-Republican Chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele, he laughed it off as politics as usual.  Boys will be boys and all that.  It is the silly season.  I don’t think so.  This election should be about real ideas and real consequences.  Instead of trying to mislead the voters shouldn’t we be giving them realistic choices?  If you have to lie about your opponent’s record or your accomplishments, aren’t you really being anti-American?  I think this ad should be labeled just that, anti-American, dishonest (not question here), and unpatriotic.  I see the Republicans do this all the time (watch Fox News anyone?), but they are not alone.  Just watch FactCheck.Org and you will catch Democrats exaggerate what they have accomplished (Debbie Wasserman Schultz head of the DNC on manufacturing jobs (Factcheck.Org)).

So I would hope that every exaggeration, every lie, every misdirection is called out.  We need to have an honest discussion about where we have been and where each side wants to take us, and right now, neither side is distinguishing themselves with honesty in this arena although by all accounts on fact checking the Republicans are the all time leader in disingenuousness.  If the Democrats could take the high ground here, admit failures, and stick to the truth, you would eat the Republican’s lunch.  When will you ever learn that right makes might.

Democrats are a Bunch of Whiners

Apparently, although sadly I have not read it, there is a piece in the New York Times Magazine (probably for Sunday) that points out that Democrats simply are never happy with their President.  In other words we are just a bunch of whiners who are never satisfied as opposed to the Republicans who can get behind their President.  I heard this on Chris Mathews yesterday while I was working out on the elliptical and I burned an extra 100 calories doing a slow burn.  First as was pointed out, about 73% of Democrats support the President which seems to counter the claim, but the author of the article countered that supporting the President is way different than being happy with him.

But the better argument, assuming this article is kind of blaming Democrats for their own malaise, was put forward by Joan Walsh of who made the point of asking why we should ever be satisfied with our leaders and should we not be pushing them to be better.  Maybe that is the strength of the Democratic Party in that as a leader you are never going to be allowed a free ride.  We are all not going to stand around and say, “Look what you have done, aren’t you special?”  We are going to say, “Look what you have done, couldn’t you have done better?”

But here is where I take real issue with this writer and I may have to take all this back after I actually read the piece.  In many ways President Obama has really let us down. There is no question in my mind that he had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to move the country in a different direction and he chose to be the accommodater  Instead of playing outside the box, he played very much inside the box and a very defeated Republican Party regrouped.  I could list his cave on Guantanamo, or not investigating torture, or no public option in health care, or his failure to change the banking system, but most of all I fault him for not giving us an alternative narrative to Republican thinking.  When the Republicans attacked the debt instead of the real underlying problem jobs, he went right along with them.  It took the 99% to refocus the discussion.  He has let them set the agenda.

So in my mind, there is a lot to be disappointed about in this President.  Look around you.  Voters will vote on how they feel about the economy in the next election and he has barely moved the needle nor has he, until recently even been willing to communicate a plan forward, much less lead on it.  And I will tell you that what he has proposed in the way of jobs, which are really retread Republican ideas designed to show what obstructionists Republicans are, is a drop in the bucket for what really ails the economy and what is really needed.  He can thank his lucky stars that the Republicans have only light weight loony tunes  to run against him, and still it might be a close election.  What that is a reflection of is that the rank and file Democrats will vote for him, but his real support, the young, haven’t seen that much to be motivated about.  They were all excited back in 2008 and then it was accommodation and cave.  Sure you can say he did get a lot done, but do they feel it?  No.  They are out of work and their future looks more and more in jeopardy.

So should we lambast Democrats because they are never happy?  Should you be happy in this economy where we are heading for policies that force more cuts in our future?  Should we be happy that the President is rethinking making birth control free in the Health Care Act for special cases like every fruit cake religious organization who objects?  Should we be happy that he reneged on EPA rules because he bought into the job killing bullshit.  Actually I think he was just making political calculations to win the middle and he can’t ever seem to get the fact that as a leader he must do what’s right and then sell it to the middle.  So no we shouldn’t be happy, and I don’t think we ever should be.  Otherwise we are never going to “move the pile”.

Banner Day

Well it is kind of a banner day for your amateur blogger here.  I picked up the paper and there were stories/op-eds on all my favorite topics and mostly agreeing with me.  Maybe I am on to something or more likely, the media is finally catching up with reality and the rest of us.  To Wit:

  • Tortures Future by Eric Lewis in the NYT takes Obama to task very methodically for his moral failures on torture.  What Mr. Lewis points out how he has thwarted attempts to legally reign in torture:  “he has made it clear that criminal prosecutions for torture will not go forward; he has opposed the creation of a truth commission to examine events comprehensively; and he has affirmatively intervened to stop civil litigation by detainees against their torturers.”  Sadly without these actions the next President, and by all indications if it is a Republican President, will reinstate torture.
  • In Central Bankers Stop Dithering and Do Something and Boring, Cruel European Romantics, the first by Adam S. Posen, an American economist, and a member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, and the second by Paul Krugman, they make the point that austerity is not working and we need strong government action in easing of the money supply (Europe) and stimulus spending (Europe and the United States).  Paul goes further in that the “technocrats” who are going to save us are really romantics believing in the confidence fairy and not letting reality change their minds.  Most importantly Mr. Posen points out how we are failing to learn from our mistakes in the Great Depression and the Japanese stagnation.  Mr. Krugman points out that we institute policy based upon how we want the world to work in our own moral imperatives instead of how it really does work and using that knowledge to do the right thing.
  • Then there was Fixing Medicare that basically pointed out that cutting services where the program already has serious lapses in coverage was not the answer and such things as doing away with Fee for Service way of paying doctors and hospitals was one reform that would pay dividends.  This editorial noted that we need to quit trying to apply our ideological lens to reform and instead have a more reasoned discussion about things that might actually work and carefully evaluate the unintended consequences of easy fixes.  Look at Europe anyone?
  • Finally in Lawmakers Trade Blame as Deficit Talks Crumble, the article points out that there is no hope (no duh here) and “Some members of Congress were vowing to pass legislation to repeal the automatic cuts, locked in by the law that raised the debt ceiling in August.”  In other words, the automatic cuts that were suppose to happen to force them to compromise are too draconian and they can’t face them so they will not live up to their agreement (mainly Defense cuts).  “Democrats blamed the Republicans for their unwillingness to yield on a no-new-taxes pact they signed at the request of a conservative anti-tax group, arguing that the American public realizes that no grand deal could be reached without a combination of spending cuts and new tax revenue.”  Meanwhile, the Republicans  “said it was the Democrats’ inflexibility that had caused the impasse, particularly when it came to agreeing to major money-saving changes in social programs like Medicare and Social Security.”  So one side wants to even up the tax system to help pay for the deficit and the other wants to solve the problems by burdening the elderly and poor, and this is a partisan bickering match according to the media.  I love it.

If we continue to get reporting like this, maybe I can take a holiday and write about my feelings or how the color reflecting off the vineyard makes my heart sing.  Or not.