California’s “Wine Country” Could Take Years To Recover From Deadly Wildfires

Wildfires that have been raging across Northern California’s “wine country” since Sunday have destroyed at least four wineries and seriously damaged at least nine more just as the season’s harvest came to an end. The damage could leave one of the state’s signature industry’s hobbled for years, according to NBC.

Of course, assessing the scope of the damage will be impossible until the fires subside. The Napa Valley Vintners trade association has not heard from all members, especially those in the most vulnerable parts of the valley.  By the time the fires started on Sunday – accelerated by dry conditions and strong winds -about 90% grapes had been picked. And most of the remaining crop of thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grapes not expected to be affected by the smoke.

Most wineries remain closed from power outages and mandatory evacuation orders.

What remains of the Signorello Estate winery…

At the Gundlach Bundschu – the oldest family-run winery in California, started in 1858 – in Sonoma County, workers were not sure whether the grapes above the winery survived the fires, Fox reported.  

Katie Bundschu, a sixth-generation vintner, recounted a scary Monday night in which the flames licked at the perimeter of the winery but were beaten back by firefighters. A century-old redwood barn and her grandmother's 1919 home were spared.

"The winery was in the path of the fire but escaped being engulfed by the flames. We have some damage to fix. The wine is secure in our cellars. We are cleaning up and hoping to have the power back on this week," Bundschu said.

However, Bundschu said that her winery, while damaged, will soldier on, and was seeking to dispel rumors that the business had been utterly destroyed. With information from the affected areas trickling out, a few other wineries have sought to inform customers that their facilities can be quickly repaired and expect to be back in business soon.

Burned out wine bottles at Signorello Estates

Millions of locals and out-of-staters flock to Napa and Sonoma counties every year to sample wine, sit in mud baths and soak in the region's natural beauty.

Even one of the four wineries that was reportedly destroyed by the fires, the Signorello Estate winery in Napa, may recover. According to Fox, its vineyard appeared to be untouched by the flames.

Signorello Spokeswoman Charlotte Milan could only confirm damage to the winery and a residence. Fortunately, the estate's 2015 reds and 2016 whites were stored off-site.

Burned out wine bottles at Signorello Estates

Not every winery was so lucky. The Paradise Ridge Winery in Sonoma County posted that it was "heartbroken" to announce that the facility had burned.

About 12% of grapes grown in California are in Sonoma, Napa and surrounding counties, said Anita Oberholster, a cooperative extension specialist in enology at the University of California, Davis. However, the grapes grown in those counties are of the highest quality and are used in the most state’s most expensive wines.

Since the year’s harvest had already been mostly completed by the time the fires broke out, the fire did little damage to crops, though it would’ve presumably destroyed stocks of harvested grapes and wines that have already been bottles.

What's left of the Signorello Estate winery is seen through a window

Also, since the soil was unaffected by the fires, next year’s crop should be unharmed, Oberholster said.

Sara Brooks, chairwoman of the Visit Napa Valley Board of Directors and general manager of the historic Napa River Inn, said she has had some cancellations, but expects tourism to bounce back as it did after the 2014 Napa earthquake.

"It's heartbreaking," she said, "It's tough to see these places you've seen your whole life on fire."

However, for some vineyards, the process of rebuilding could be painfully slow. At least 15 people have died from the fires, while 150 more remain missing. More than 1,500 buildings have been destroyed.

Empire-Destroying Wars Are Coming To America Under Trump – Part 1

Authored by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

There are a variety of reasons Trump supporters voted the way they did in November, but one clear message many found attractive was the idea his administration would be driven by an “America First” doctrine.

America first meant a lot of things to a lot of different people, running the gamut from economic populism and immigration, to an avoidance of barbaric and costly overseas wars. The economic populism part was the biggest ruse from day one, a betrayal which (as we had seen under Obama) became undeniable as soon as he started appointing lifelong swamp-dwelling billionaires and Goldman Sachs partners to run his administration. 

Irrespective of who you elect, Wall Street runs the empire, as Trump proved once again.

The coming massive pivot when it comes to destructive wars abroad will take a little longer, but the writing’s been on the wall for months. I’ve published several posts on the topic, with the most popular one titled, Prepare for Impact – This is the Beginning of the End for U.S. Empire.  Here’s an excerpt:

This is not the sort of thing you see in a confident, brave, and civilized nation, it’s the sort of stuff you’d expect to see toward the end. It’s the stuff of craven war-mongers, of dishonest cowards, of a totally deranged and very dangerous media. The signs are everywhere; imperial decline is set to accelerate rapidly in the coming years…

 

Expect more of all the above as the U.S. empire enters its most devastating phase of collapse. Think about what it might mean for you and your family and prepare accordingly.

When I compare who Trump currently has advising him and who he’s getting closer to, the future looks increasingly ominous. This is especially true when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal. Irrespective of what you think of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, these two look like a couple of the most sane humans on earth compared to some of the others Trump’s cozying up to. I alluded to this earlier today on Twitter.

The key event I believe will set the groundwork for a coming disastrous confrontation with Iran, is Trump’s highly anticipated announcement that the Iran nuclear agreement is against U.S. interests. This wouldn’t immediately end the deal or lead to new U.S. sanctions, but it would represent the first step in heading in that direction. A direction I believe will ultimately lead to US aggression against Iran in a similar fashion as Iraq, except this miscalculation will have even more disastrous consequences for the American empire.

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand what’s going on with regard to Iran and who now has Trump’s ear on foreign policy. Let’s start with some color from a recent New York Times article:

President Trump is expected to overrule his top national security advisers and decline to certify the Iran nuclear agreement, according to people who have been briefed on the matter, a decision that would reopen a volatile political debate on Iran but is likely to leave in place the landmark deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

 

By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Mr. Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now.

If Trump isn’t listening to Tillerson or Mattis, who is he listening to?

Congress will have to decide whether to reimpose sanctions, which could sink the deal, or use the prospect of that to force Iran — and the other parties to the deal — back to the negotiating table to make changes in the agreement.

 

That is the approach favored by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who has emerged as a leading hard-liner on Iran and is working closely with the White House to devise its strategy. On Thursday, Mr. Cotton met with Mr. Trump to discuss Iran and other issues.

 

“Congress and the president, working together, should lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face,” Mr. Cotton said in a speech on Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. Reimposing sanctions, he said, would be a “backward-looking step.”

 

The deal is also contentious inside the administration. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have both urged Mr. Trump not to back out of it, in part because that would free Iran to begin producing uranium and reprocessing plutonium immediately, not after 13 years, as is stipulated in the agreement.

 

But Mr. Trump, after twice certifying the deal, has warned his aides that he would not do so again. As a result, the administration is looking for ways to claim Iran is in violation of the “spirit” of the accord, even if it has complied with inspection criteria. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran was in compliance; when it has found minor violations, they have been quickly fixed.

Tom Cotton is as dangerous a war hawk as exists in America today. In fact, the guy’s such a total lunatic, I’ve been warning followers on Twitter about him for years. Since most of you probably aren’t caught up on him, definitely take a moment to read the following article published by Alternet  in 2015, 10 Horrifying Facts About GOP Senator Tom Cotton.

We should probably go ahead and update this list as it didn’t even mention how Cotton claims the U.S. has an “under-incarceration” problem even though it has only 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of its prisoners. Seems like a swell guy.

Jokes aside, Tom Cotton might actually be the most dangerous person in the entire U.S. Senate (which is saying a lot), so the fact he’s become so cozy with Trump on foreign policy is extremely dangerous. Indeed, he’s become so influential, Politico recently conducted an in-depth interview with him where he made his positions quite clear. Here are a few highlights:

This is a moment of truth for President Trump’s national security team. He is set to overrule both his secretaries of State and Defense on the Iran nuclear deal this week, declaring it no longer in the U.S. “national interest” in explicit contradiction to their public position. And if they don’t like it, Senator Tom Cotton says, then they should get out.

 

Cotton, who has personally advised Trump in recent days about the new Iran strategy he is set to release this week, stopped short of saying either embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis should in fact resign. But his comments were nonetheless a striking acknowledgement of the giant rift that has opened up in the midst of the Trump team over foreign policy.

 

The interview with Cotton took place before this latest explosive twist, but even then it was clear a new rift of significance was opening up inside the Republican foreign policy world. I spoke with Cotton Thursday, the day after Tillerson’s unusual press conference to deny press reports he was considering quitting, and just a couple hours after Cotton was summoned to the White House for a private Oval Office meeting with Trump to discuss the Iran strategy. In the interview, Cotton did not really try to paper over the rift or offer the usual assurances that it would all be papered over. Instead, when I asked him directly whether there would be resignations, Cotton did not say there wouldn’t be, only that he did not believe they were “imminent.”

 

Because Cotton today is one of the few Senate Republicans who pay close attention to foreign policy who is still out there making Corker’s initial case for engagement with Trump, and he insists it’s paying off with substantive shifts in Trump’s thinking on subjects as varied as how to deal with Russia and the continuation of the war in Afghanistan.

 

Until now, Trump has shied away from outright confrontation with the experienced hands he’s hired to oversee his national security policy. But the Iran deal now seems to have finally forced a public rupture.

 

Cotton, who has repeatedly consulted with Trump and other top White House officials in recent days, appears to be on the winning side, pushing Trump to adopt the formula his administration has now settled on of refusing to re-certify the Iran deal to Congress but holding off – for now – asking Congress to blow it up by imposing new sanctions. Iran “is on the president’s mind right now, probably more than anything,” Cotton says, and he says he believes Trump will take the step of not certifying as a way to send “a very important signal to Congress and to our E.U. plus three partners and to Iran that this president is not going to abide by a disastrous nuclear deal.”

 

Cotton gave a lengthy address at the Council on Foreign Relations the same day as Mattis’ testimony taking the opposite view – and a link to it was soon tweeted out approvingly by an Iran deal hardliner inside the administration, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

I’m glad Nikki Haley came up, as she’s a certified grade-A maniac and bloodthirsty neocon. While she’s dangerous enough at the U.N., there’s talk that she could ultimately replace Tillerson as Secretary of State. Any combination of Cotton and Haley moving into increased prominence within the Trump circle of influence effectively guarantees more disastrous war in the Middle East.

The writing’s on the wall and you can feel free to ignore it at your own risk. Beyond what I outlined in this piece, a key question is how will Trump sell the coming conflicts to his base, and what will the ultimate implications of the coming wars be? I plan to address both those things in tomorrow’s post.

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National Rents Stall For 4th Month In A Row As Multi-Family Supply Glut Takes Its Toll

After a steady march higher in the wake of the ‘great recession’ nearly a decade ago, a note today from Rent Cafe reveals that average rents in the United States have now stalled for 4 months in row with September’s national average coming in at $1,354 per month, which is virtually flat from the $1,350 average reached in the summer.

National rents have barely moved through the entire peak rental season and into September, marking the longest period of stagnation in recent history — 4 consecutive months. Coming in at $1,354 for the month of September, the average rent is only 2.2 percent higher than this time last year. This is the slowest annual growth rate we’ve seen in more than six years — having reached a high point of 5.5%-5.6% peak growth around two years ago — a pretty good indicator that the rental market has entered calmer waters.

 

Still, that doesn’t mean rents have flat-lined everywhere. Though nationally and in the most expensive cities for renters prices have finally come to a full stop, there are still some holdouts—and it seems renters in smaller and mid-sized cities are not yet getting a break, on the contrary.

 

As we pointed out over the summer, just like almost any bubble, stagnating rents are undoubtedly the symptom of a massive, multi-year supply bubble in multi-family housing units sparked by, among other things, cheap borrowing costs for commercial builders.  Per the chart below from Goldman Sachs, multi-family units under construction is now at record highs and have eclipsed the previous bubble peak by nearly 40%.

Goldman

 

But, while rents are certainly slowing – and construction is indeed playing its part – the impact isn’t spread evenly across all markets as Rent Cafe notes that the construction boom in Texas has earned the state 6 out of 10 of the worst performing rental markets in the country. 

The anticipated rent drops from Hurricane Harvey have not been realized in the city of Houston, but are seen in other Texas communities, with the biggest changes being outside of Harvey’s reach, as a result of the major apartment construction taking place throughout the state. Lubbock, located on the west side of the state, came in at No. 1 for biggest year-over-year rent decreases in the nation, with rents dropping 3.4 percent since 2016.

 

Rents for apartments in Round Rock, a suburb outside Austin—another city barely touched by Harvey, dipped to $1,092—3.4 percent below last year’s numbers. Round Rock took the No. 2 spot for biggest rent decreases of the year.

 

Texas claimed the third spot, too, with McAllen’s 2.6 percent drop in rents since last year, and three other Texas towns—College Station, Waco and Plano—also made the top 10, with decreases of 2.4 percent, 2 percent, and 1.1 percent, respectively. The rest of the list was spread throughout the nation, with California’s Simi Valley taking No. 4 (down 2.6 percent), New Orleans at No. 5 (down 2.4 percent), Manhattan, NYC at No. 8 (down 1.9 percent), and Tulsa, Oklahoma at No. 9 (down 1.5 percent.)

Meanwhile, areas with stronger job markets and/or better overall affordability are still seeing demand growth which, combined with a lack of capital investment, is driving rents considerably higher.

Though smaller and mid-sized towns used to be a haven for renters looking to avoid the sky-high prices of large urban areas, it seems those days are in the past. September’s list of fastest-growing rents is dominated by small and medium-sized towns—many boasting double-digit growth since this time last year.

 

The Lone Star State’s Odessa and Midland—both hubs of oil and gas activity—came in at the top two spots, with jumps of 24.7 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively. Odessa rents now clock in at $1,060 per month, while Midland’s reach even higher, coming in at $1,225.

 

The rest of the nation’s fastest-growing rents can be found largely on the West Coast, with California, Washington, Nevada and Colorado taking up the remaining bulk of the list. The only Northeastern cities to see big year-over-year rent growth were Buffalo, New York, with an 11.2 percent jump over 2016, and Elizabeth, New Jersey, which saw rents climb 8.5 percent to $1,187.

 

Finally, here are the top 10 most and least expensive rental markets in the U.S. at the end of September 2017.  To our complete lack of surprise, New York and California continue to dominate the expensive list while Southern and Midwestern markets continue to provide the best value…perhaps this is why all those domestic migration studies show a mass exodus from the cities on the left to the cities on the right?  Just a hunch…