Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What our lifestyle vintner-in-chief does to us all

                                              America as one big hole                            
         My new book, Napa at Last Light, will be published in February 2018. For twenty-five years I have written about the social and natural evolution of Napa, a diverse county that includes rare and valuable biological “hotspots” and 140,000 people, most of whom are associated with what’s now referred to as the wine “industry.” During that time I have learned something about developers.
     Foremost is the fact that inside all of them is a six-year-old kid dying to get out and dig a really deep hole. When they finally do get to do so, they fill  the hole up with something that wasn’t there before and then repeat the experience with minor variations ad infinitum.
More disturbing, with far-reaching ramifications for all Americans,  is the other fact: developers deeply, irrationally, and often vindictively resent anyone who objects to their plans, for whatever reason. This includes neighbors, citizens, scientists, clergy, and elected officials. But none receive more opprobrium than "environmentalists."
Developers’ discourse, already full of  Orwellian neologisms - “decrepit” for uncut forests, “unimproved” for pristine land (by this reasoning Mount Desert and Bridle Veil Falls are unimproved) - turns nasty when developers find themselves up against the committed, knowledgeable people living on or near land for which they have “improvement” plans. In Napa, the very definition of agriculture is being changed to better accommodate yet more development.
     Which brings us to Trump, as all discussions do these days (See Trumped Wine: https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=5505515248189957268#editor/target=post;postID=4840747335859414506;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=31;src=postname). Remember his reaction when a handful of locals on the west coast of Scotland at Aberdeen objected to his building a heretofore illegal dune between them and the sea? A farmer and his animals were “disgusting,” according to the man now president of the United States.
Napans protesting disruptive winery practices in their own neighborhoods are dismissed by developers and their clients as “having nothing better to do” and being “out of touch,” as well as “geezers.” The same language is applied to hundreds who have, in one decade-long struggle, so far prevented the cutting of thousands of oak trees on more than 2,000 acres in a remote part of Napa county by Dallas developer/lifestyle vintner Craig Hall. 
This disruption of one of the last bits of untrammeled Napa isn’t for food crops, it’s for more wine in deeply-punted bottles far beyond the financial reach of all but the upper two per cent. Meanwhile locals fear more mansions in gorgeous, fragile terrain where vineyards in California often serve as stalking horses for more real estate development.
The amount of ready money sloshing around the valley in search of a vanity project is enormous. Much of it comes from abroad, including China, and not even global warming can scotch this bonanza. (In fact, it seems to have inspired some to get in on the last vendage, before everybody moves on to the Pacific Northwest or the Rockies.) The Napa Valley floor has no more plantable land available, which means all eyes are now on the forested hills, a  priceless watershed for the valley below whose visual appeal draws more than three million tourists a year.
But the craving for lifestyle vintner status is inexhaustible and apparently untrumpable by concerns about conservation,  social discord that has grown in the valley, and Napa’s reputation as home of America’s grand crus slipped.
       Last year, thousands of Napans signed a petition to put an initiative on the 2016 ballot to increase regulation of timber cutting and bulldozing in the hills. But the Napa Valley Vintners Association, host of the exclusive wine auction, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, the Farm Bureau and the Winegrowers of Napa County, an oddly named coalition of corporations and the wealthiest individuals, all opposed it. And the county’s so firmly under their purple thumb that it disqualified the initiative on a technicality.
These struggles may be of little import to most Americans, but what the Lifestyle Vintner-in-Chief is doing on a national scale is something else again. Appointments such as that of Scott Pruit to head the Environmental Protection Agency, a man dedicated to its neutering, is in my opinion a direct result of Trump’s many fights to get concessions wherever he wanted, and occasionally being thwarted. As all the world now recognizes, he lashes out with force and vitriol, without regard for lasting damage done.
Opening up public lands in the West, one of America’s greatest legacies, to heedless, unregulated development is part of the same impulse to get even.  So is the scrapping laws regulating clean water and air, sought by complicitous Republicans, will not harm just the country and the planet but also sicken and eventually kill Americans. In the West, as in Napa, natural beauty is being “harvested,” in the argot of the developer. And selling public lands denies Americans recourse to what has always been a last resort, an abridgment of citizens’ rights  and a squandering of one of America’s great achievements.
Meanwhile, the president and his minions in Congress dig on, as the like-minded do in Napa. At the end of four years that hole will be very deep indeed; America could well fall into it. 
To order my book about the loss of American place go to:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Napa Confidential: Look up

    Word has it that the lock-step march of the wine industry in opposition to hillside protection (see https://cjonwine.blogspot.com/2016/08/four-horsemen-of-apocalypse-in-comely.html) is wavering.
     Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Listen to the trees

This issue has profound implications for the entire state of California and comes at a time when forests and fish face unprecedented environmental stress. Napa County is one of the few that can well afford these necessary precautions, and resistance by vintners and developers is both wrong-headed and unconscionable.

Watershed ballot proponents seek California Supreme Court review

Proponents of a proposed Napa County watershed and oaks protection ballot measure want to take their case to the California Supreme Court.
Whether the state Supreme Court will accept the case remains to be seen, given it hears less than 5 percent of civil case petitions. At issue is whether the county correctly disqualified the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative from the November 2016 ballot on a technicality.
A victory would mean proponents wouldn’t have to once again gather more than 3,700 signatures from local registered voters to qualify the measure for a future ballot. The proposed measure seeks to strengthen protections for watershed oaks and streams and would affect mountain vineyard development.
Still, proponent Mike Hackett doesn’t expect a Supreme Court decision would be made in time for the 2018 elections. He said Wednesday that supporters are willing to collect signatures again.
“One hundred percent,” Hackett said.
In trying to convince the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the California First District Court of Appeal, proponents say the stakes extend beyond Napa County.
“The First District’s opinion upholding the county’s action will wreak havoc in elections law,” their request for state Supreme Court review said.
Last year, Napa Valley Vintners, Winegrowers of Napa County, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Napa County Farm Bureau stated their opposition to the proposed ballot measure. They said the county already has strong watershed protections.

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The legal issue centers on the state’s “full text” law for petitions being circulated to qualify measures for the ballot. California law requires that potential signers be able to read a proposed initiative so they can know what they are signing.
Last year, Oak and watershed initiative proponents went to shopping centers and other places to gather signatures with a text of their proposed measure. But their papers only referred to sections of the county’s existing Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan and didn’t include a copy.
The county concluded that the initiative would make parts of the Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan mandatory in certain cases. For that reason, the county concluded, the petition needed to include the appropriate Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan sections.
With that decision, what promised to be a ballot box battle royal over a controversial issue never happened. County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur rejected the initiative petition on the advice of county counsel.
Initiative proponents said that the measure merely refers to the county oaks guidelines. California law allows petitions to cross-reference existing laws without including copies of them.
“As this case shows, establishing a uniform definition of ‘text’ is no academic exercise,” their Supreme Court filing said. “County’s unprecedented interpretation of ‘text’ was used to keep the proponent’s initiative off the November 2016 ballot.”
Proponents for the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative include local residents Hackett and Jim Wilson. They are represented by the San Francisco-based law firm Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger.

To order my book about the loss of American place go to:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Enemies of the Impostors

    From the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times

In Donald Trump's America, the mere act of reporting news unflattering to the president is held up as evidence of bias. Journalists are slandered as "enemies of the people."
Facts that contradict Trump's version of reality are dismissed as "fake news." Reporters and their news organizations are "pathetic," "very dishonest," "failing," and even, in one memorable turn of phrase, "a pile of garbage."
Trump is, of course, not the first American president to whine about the news media or try to influence coverage. President George W. Bush saw the press as elitist and "slick." President Obama's press operation tried to exclude Fox News reporters from interviews, blocked many officials from talking to journalists and, most troubling, prosecuted more national security whistle-blowers and leakers than all previous presidents combined.
But Trump being Trump, he has escalated the traditionally adversarial relationship in demagogic and potentially dangerous ways.
Most presidents, irritated as they may have been, have continued to acknowledge -- at least publicly -- that an independent press plays an essential role in American democracy. They've recognized that although no news organization is perfect, honest reporting holds leaders and institutions accountable; that's why a free press was singled out for protection in the First Amendment and why outspoken, unfettered journalism is considered a hallmark of a free country.
Trump doesn't seem to buy it. On his very first day in office, he called journalists "among the most dishonest human beings on earth." Since then he has regularly condemned legitimate reporting as "fake news." His administration has blocked mainstream news organizations from briefings and his secretary of State chose to travel to Asia without taking the press corps, breaking a longtime tradition.
This may seem like bizarre behavior from a man who consumes the news in print and on television so voraciously and who is in many ways a product of the media. He comes from reality TV, from talk radio with Howard Stern, from the gossip pages of the New York City tabloids, for whose columnists he was both a regular subject and a regular source.

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But Trump's strategy is pretty clear: By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know whom to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration's far-fetched storyline.
It's a cynical strategy, with some creepy overtones. For instance, when he calls journalists "enemies of the people," Trump (whether he knows it or not) echoes Josef Stalin and other despots.

But it's an effective strategy. Such attacks are politically expedient at a moment when trust in the news media is as low as it's ever been, according to Gallup. And they're especially resonant with Trump's supporters, many of whom see journalists as part of the swamp that needs to be drained.

Of course, we're not perfect. Some readers find news organizations too cynical; others say we're too elitist. Some say we downplay important stories, or miss them altogether. Conservatives often perceive an unshakable liberal bias in the media (while critics on the left see big, corporate-owned media institutions as hopelessly centrist).
To do the best possible job, and to hold the confidence of the public in turbulent times, requires constant self-examination and evolution. Soul-searching moments -- such as those that occurred after The New York Times was criticized for its coverage of the George W. Bush administration and the Iraq war or, more recently, when the media failed to take Trump's candidacy seriously enough in the early days of his campaign -- can help us do a better job for readers. Even if we are not faultless, the news media remain an essential component in the democratic process and should not be undermined by the president.
Some critics have argued that if Trump is going to treat the news media like the "opposition party" (a phrase his senior aide Stephen Bannon has used), then journalists should start acting like opponents too. But that would be a mistake. The role of an institution like the Los Angeles Times (or The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or CNN) is to be independent and aggressive in pursuit of the truth -- not to take sides. The editorial pages are the exception: Here we can and should express our opinions about Trump. But the news pages, which operate separately, should report intensively without prejudice, partiality or partisanship.
Given the very real dangers posed by this administration, we should be indefatigable in covering Trump, but shouldn't let his bullying attitude persuade us to be anything other than objective, fair, open-minded and dogged.
The fundamentals of journalism are more important than ever. With the president of the United States launching a direct assault on the integrity of the mainstream media, news organizations must be courageous in our reporting and resolute in our pursuit of the truth.
To order my novel, Nose, click on:  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Farming a la Orwell

To change a word is to change reality, which is precisely what they intended. Any way you look at it, it's outrageous


Napa County's new definition of agriculture to include marketing and sales

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's here, rain or shine


                        Climate Change Is Real

By Lynne Baker, from the Napa Register:

As a parent, a nurse, a woman of faith, an interested citizen and an involved climate activist, I find the just-released executive order to rescind the nation's Clean Power Plan profoundly alarming, absurdly imprudent and completely without merit.
Climate change is real. The threat of doing nothing, or reversing the efforts thus far put forth, spells disaster for us and for generations yet to come. Each day, we learn more deeply and more thoroughly about the near and long term risks to our earthly home and all who inhabit it because of insidious and far-reaching effects of largely man-made threats to the environment.
From the perspective of national security: Secretary of Defense James Mattis remarked, "... the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation." His remarks echo those of his predecessors who have long identified climate change as a major security threat.
From the perspective of health and well-being: "WHO estimated that, in 2012, 12.6 million deaths (23 percent of deaths worldwide) were attributable to modifiable environmental factors, many of which could be influenced by climate change." Further: "The direct impact of climate change result from rising temperatures, heatwaves and increased in the frequency of complex extreme weather evens such as windstorms, floods and droughts. The health and social consequences of these events are far-reaching, ranging from reduced labor productivity and heat-related deaths, through to direct injury, the spread of infectious diseases and mental health effects ...  The results of climate change will be ... mediated across different environmental and social systems resulting in changing patterns of the burden and distribution of infectious diseases, changes in food productivity and potential effects on food and water shortages, population displacement and conflict. Climate change places undue burden on the countries least responsible and least able to respond, with low-income and middle-income countries experiencing multiple impacts simultaneously" (The Lancet, vol. 389, March 18, 2017).
From the perspective of environmentalism: "...[the crisis], which includes climate destabilization but also plummeting biodiversity, deforestation, dramatic losses of topsoil, fresh water scarcity in many locales, crashing fish stocks, the growing toxification of the biosphere, and, most scarily, the acidification of the oceans, which risks unraveling the entire marine food chain and could hamper phytoplankton’s oxygen-generation capacity (probably 50 to 80 percent of global oxygen creation). That last one is probably the most terrifying, as, should that acidification accelerate and reach a tipping point that reduced oxygen levels in our atmosphere, it could eventually spell the end of mammalian and much other life on the planet.
"We have to hope the increasingly dramatic, tangible, clearly visible impacts of climate change will finally convince a sufficient swath of the population to at least begin to face the situation with the urgency required to avoid catastrophe. The jury is out…" (J.P. Harpignies, Bioneers, March 21, 2017).

From the perspective of faith: "... local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples. Because the enforcement of laws is at times inadequate due to corruption, public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society, through non-government organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power -- national, regional and municipal -- it will not be possible to control damage to the environment" (Pope Francis, Laudato Si: Care for Our Common Home, May 24, 2015).
From the perspective of political momentum: "We are not fully meeting the challenge of climate change yet. We are doubling down on our commitment. We are reaching out to other states in America and throughout the world and other countries …. We have plenty of fuel to build this movement. ... This is real. The nations of the world have recognized it in Paris … I will continue doing my best to work with and rouse the world community, whatever the politicians in Washington do or don’t do" (Jerry Brown, Governor of California, March 28, 2017).