A real March madness

With the field now set for the big college basketball dance, it’s time for the annual riffs on that theme – and what better style of madness than to determine seedings for the Democratic presidential field?

I’m going to go from #16 to #1, but feel free to handicap the bracket yourself.

#16: Marianne Williamson, 66. She’s a non-traditional candidate who’s best known as an author and motivational speaker; however, she has one recent (unsuccessful) run for Congress under her belt.

#15: Andrew Yang, 44. The other non-traditional major candidate in the field, he’s an entrepreneur who founded a non-profit called Venture for America. His key issue: a universal basic income for Americans.

#14: Tulsi Gabbard, 37. A member of Congress from Hawaii since 2013, Gabbard also served two tours of duty with the Army National Guard in Iraq, a deployment that cut short her initial political office in Hawaii’s House of Representatives, where she was elected at age 21.

#13: Pete Buttigieg, 37. He was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana in 2011, and prior to winning a second term in 2015 served for seven months as a Naval reservist in Afghanistan. Shortly after returning from that deployment, Buttigieg announced he was gay. He is the only candidate in the field who still has an exploratory committee.

#12: Julian Castro, 44. Castro was Ben Carson’s predecessor as HUD Secretary, serving from 2014-17 after five years as mayor of San Antonio as well as a city councilman.

#11: Jay Inslee, 68. The governor of Washington state since 2013, he previously served seven non-consecutive terms in Congress – one as a representative of a more rural area and the last six in a Seattle-area district after he moved there. His main issue: climate change.

#10: John Delaney, 55. The founder of a business lending institution, Delaney served three terms in Congress before declining re-election in 2018 to focus on his Presidential run. He was the first candidate in the race, announcing a year and a half before the Iowa caucuses.

#9: John Hickenlooper, 67. He served most of two terms as mayor of Denver before leaving that post as the elected governor of Colorado in 2011. He recently concluded his second and final term in that post.

#8: Kirsten Gillibrand, 52. The most recent candidate to make it official, as she took the exploratory committee training wheels off over the weekend, Kirsten was Hillary Clinton’s replacement in the Senate, moving up from the House barely two years after her arrival there in 2007. She won election in 2010 to finish Clinton’s term and re-election twice since, 2012 and this previous November.

#7: Cory Booker, 49. He’s been New Jersey’s junior Senator since being elected in a 2013 special election, moving up after serving for over seven years as the mayor of Newark. He won that job in his second try, four years after concluding his one term on their city council with a defeat in his initial mayoral bid.

#6: Amy Klobuchar, 58. She has served as a Senator from Minnesota since being elected in 2006; previously she was the county attorney for Hennepin County, which is essentially Minneapolis and its suburbs, for eight years before moving up to the Senate. She announced her bid outside in a Minnesota snowstorm.

#5: Beto O’Rourke, 46. He’s perhaps most famous for a race he lost, falling short of replacing Ted Cruz in the Senate last year. By running for Senate, he abandoned a three-term House incumbency that followed six years on El Paso’s city council as well as a colorful past that included computer hacking and touring the country as bassist in a punk rock band.

#4: Elizabeth Warren, 69. She was elected to the Senate in 2012 after serving as the initial administrator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but being passed over for formal nomination to be the CFPB’s director in favor of Richard Cordray. A longtime law professor, her other claim to fame is being known as “Fauxcahontas” for claiming American Indian ancestry, perhaps even getting professional benefit from that claim. Ironically, she makes no secret about once being a Republican but switching parties in the 1990’s.

#3: Kamala Harris, 54. Stop me if you heard this one before: young black lawyer runs for President based on a few years in state office and barely two years in the Senate. Indeed, this is the case with Harris, who spent seven years as the District Attorney in San Francisco before going statewide in 2010. Six years later, she won her Senate seat and now she’s running for President.

#2: Bernie Sanders, 77. The only current aspirant to have run for President before, if you count several unsuccessful campaigns before he finally won a race (for mayor of Burlington, where he served for eight years) you would find his political career is older than five of his fellow candidates – he first tried for office in a special January, 1972 Senate election to a seat he would eventually win 34 years later, in 2006. That followed a 16-year stint as Vermont’s lone House member. While Sanders has always officially been an “independent,” he’s caucused with the Democrats since joining Congress.

#1: Joe Biden, 76. Yes, I know, he’s not formally in the race. But I’m going to give him the top seed because all these folks to his left, not to mention his association with a still-popular President, make him the most popular candidate – even more so than the ones in the race. The RCP average has Biden up seven points on the rest of the field.

So that’s the way the seeding goes. I see exactly zero chance of a 16 over 1 upset, but that 15 vs. 2 matchup may be more interesting than people think. 3 vs. 14 is pretty much a walkover, as the Gabbard campaign is having several issues, but I wouldn’t sleep on 4 vs. 13 – I think that may be your first upset special.

Oftentimes 12 vs. 5 is a trap game for the higher seed, but I think the more popular Texan takes it. 11 vs. 6 is probably not much of a contest, but 10 vs. 7 may be a close call, too. I think 9 wins over 8 in the mild upset.

Of course, all that does is put the 9 seed out in the second round as the 1 seed advances to the Final Four. The 2 seed will crush the weakened 7 seed in a contest that isn’t as good as the intriguing 2-15 matchup was.

In a thrilling 6 vs. 3 contest, I think the lower seed takes it in a big upset. And it sets up another crazy matchup of 13 vs. 5 that nearly becomes a second huge shock to the system.

Because the 5 seed had so much taken out of him in the prior game, he’s no match for the #1 seed. But the 6 seed moves on, ousting the #2 seed as his game runs out.

So in my final I would have Klobuchar vs. Biden. If Biden ran into foul trouble (i.e. an ill-timed inappropriate remark, which he’s quite prone to do) this could be Klobuchar’s to win. But she has a little baggage of her own, and people are pretty much immune to the things Joe says, so I think he would hang on in a very close contest.

Obviously a lot can change in the coming months, but I think that’s the state of play for the moment.

Observations on an avocation

Because people have actually paid me for doing this stuff for over a decade now, I consider freelance writing to be my side hustle. But with a steadier full-time job, I really hadn’t taken the craft seriously enough until I got closer and closer to finishing The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party – in part because I didn’t wish to repeat the mistakes I made with my first book seven years ago. (As part of taking it seriously, Lord knows the tempo of posting here has slowed to an agonizing crawl, right?)

So this year I had a door opened as I found out the Eastern Shore Writers Association was hosting a self-publishing track as part of their annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. I hadn’t previously been a member but now I am among their ranks, and it’s an interesting group – as I found out last Saturday.

One feature of their conference is a bookstore of their authors’ products, and I learned that, for the most part, my peers in the group work in fiction and poetry. It’s not something that I have an issue with at all; in fact, I salute their creativity and imagination in pursuing their craft. However, it should be said that I am probably the outlier when it comes to both genre and viewpoint – I tell people I’m “barely left of militia” but my observation was that most of these folks are likely left of center – and a few barely this side of Stalin.

But I think all of us share a goal of getting out our story, whether it be a fictional figment of wild imagination or a historical and political documentation like Rise and Fall. I know it may not have the audience of a Tom Clancy thriller nor the reach of someone who’s a known figure and can negotiate a $65 million advance. (Heck, I would have done cartwheels for a $6,500 advance – or maybe even $65.) Still, I was a bit disappointed that no one really wanted to take a chance on being an agent for the book, but I shouldn’t have been surprised given the hundreds of thousands of titles produced annually, many by already-established authors.

Fortunately, I have an available outlet in self-publishing and over the six hour-long seminars I attended I learned a lot about the ins and outs of selling that way. One author made her series of romance novels a hit by studying the trends of well-selling similar books and adding those elements into her stories, which are set on the Eastern Shore. Another shared her insights on producing a good finished product, still a third talked about the art of face-to-face hand-selling of hard copies, and so on. I have pages of notes and several handouts to guide me. Now I have a strategy in mind for marketing, incorporating some of the elements I already have in place such as my book website.

So now I’m doing the final edits to Rise and Fall, among other things taking care of one maddening aspect that I found to be an easy enough fix. But I suppose I can let it slip that Rise and Fall won’t be the last book I do, and hopefully in about 18 months there will be a companion to it on fine bookshelves and e-readers everywhere. At this point that’s all I will reveal.

All in all, the Bay to Ocean event was good for me, and hopefully you’ll soon agree that it made me a better writer and marketer. I have definitely found more appreciation of craft after the event.

What comes around, goes around

I’ll tell you why! Those of you who have been here awhile know that I do an annual “picks and pans” as a Shorebird fan after each season. Today’s post is a long time coming since I spent part of my 2015, 2016, and 2017 picks and pans talking about the subject of today’s photo essay.

The 360 degree concourse was originally slated to be built between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the final funding wasn’t put into place until last spring. And yesterday it was formally opened up. I missed the ribbon cutting and didn’t win any of the giveaway prizes.

But I got a batch of pictures to share. How’s that?

Our first unique and new view is from the right field corner. I suspect the kids will soon figure out this is the place to beg for t-shirts and frisbees. There’s something new about that aspect, too, as I’ll get to in due course.
From where I was on the above shot, you are right under the scoreboard.
If you went as close as you could to dead center – a spot from which you couldn’t see the field because of the batter’s eye – this is what you would see.
This is taken from the left field corner looking toward center. It’s one location where there is no drink rail and one of the few disappointments I had. I was hoping they would have a wider area here where they could set up a stage or higher platform for seating, but they left a lot of unused space there.
Part of the saving grace is adding the metal drink rail along this fence, a space I suspect is going to be very popular for families – especially those with kids who like to chase foul balls. It will also be fun for those who like to check on the bullpen.
I stopped by my summer home for a few minutes – about as much as I could brave the chill.
Before I finish the tour, I noticed the Shorebirds got a new truck for Sherman, since the old one advertised a dealer who is no longer with us. You sure would miss them. But he has new wheels from which to toss those frisbees and shirts.
This is one of the new tables in the upper section of the Hardball Cafe, which also features the nifty new chairs. These same tables and chairs are up on the luxury level on the third floor.
The low tables, though, are half-round along the rail and the chairs for them swivel and have a mesh seat. Very comfy and surprisingly not cold to the behind on an evening like last night.
The suites aren’t set up any differently, but it looks like they got new finishes. Only 2 of the 6 are corporate-owned now – a couple years back there were 4 corporate and 2 left open for nightly rent, now we have the reverse.

Since this current phase of renovations of our now 23-year-old ballpark began after the 2015 season, they have rebuilt the entire field and sub-surface drainage, renovated the clubhouses, put in new seating throughout the stadium (with the possible exception of the outfield picnic areas, which I didn’t check out during my rounds), installed a new scoreboard and video board, and now have completed the concourse. About the only thing they need to do now is modernize the food service and perhaps renovate the restrooms, front office space, gift shop, and Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame. (Not to be confused with the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame, which is constantly renovated each off-season.)

So old Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is looking pretty good now. In a couple weeks I think it will be time to return to a short-lived tradition and take my wild guess as to who will be sporting the Shorebird black-and-orange this summer. That will be fun.

So, about those Jeremiah conservatives…

I made an executive decision as I wrote this: an edited (no blockquote) version is crossposted to my book site.

I’ve been meaning to get to this all week and the opportunity has finally arrived. Last week Erick Erickson at The Resurgent did a piece on what he called “Jeremiah 29 conservatives.” In the post, he cites Jeremiah 29:5-7, which is a portion of a letter from Jeremiah to those who were captured and forced to relocate to exile in Babylon. Erickson uses it to springboard to his main point:

There is a growing class of conservatives in the United States who can be considered Jeremiah 29 Conservatives. They have given up on national politics. It has become too ugly, too compromising, too unaligned with their values, and too willing to make compromises with bad government and big government to advance a compromised agenda.

These conservatives are trying to seek the welfare of the cities in which they live, recognizing that it is there they will find their welfare. They want good government and understand the most important fight of the day is the one for their family’s daily well being. Washington, they know, is too far removed from their daily lives and, in their mind, Republicans and conservative institutions in Washington have made too many compromises to be effective.

At the end of the Bush Administration and beginning of the Obama era, thanks oddly enough to the Citizens United case, grassroots groups were springing up around the country to help conservatives down to the local level. There were training sessions for conservative activists on simple things like the best way to write editorials to local papers. They grassroots groups provided tools for local activists to contact their state legislature. They explained how to find when a city council met and how to show up to speak on an issue. They encouraged conservative activists to run for the school board.

As the tea party rose, conservative organizations began focusing more and more on fighting Barack Obama. They abandoned the fights in the states.

Obviously this quote hit home with me given my passion for the TEA Party and its principles. But to a great extent it’s true.

I’ve probably researched the TEA Party more than 99% of the people out there and I found that it was a very unusual phenomenon in that the TEA Party began as a nationwide effort but then decentralized itself to the local level for a time. Think of the TEA Party as three early stages, which I’ll distinguish by their dates: February 27, April 15, and September 12. (All these occurred in 2009.)

The February 27 wave occurred in fewer than 50 cities and was really put together for one purpose: to make a statement about the unwillingness of government to consider solutions other than top-down financial stimulus and increased government control in addressing the Great Recession. Some may have organized this believing it would be a one-time deal, but there was such a success created that thousands of others, helped along by mass media, decided to get in on the action at the local level.

So rather than 40-odd mainly large cities, the April 15 (and later July 4) wave of TEA Parties took place in a thousand cities around the nation, big and small. Each local event had its own flavor, with some rallying around strictly financial and national issues and others departing from that script to address local items or topics dear to social conservatives, particularly those in the pro-life movement. There was no “right” way to do a TEA Party, and part of its appeal was the grassroots organization that didn’t get marching orders from a party or inside-the-Beltway group.

But by the September 12 Taxpayer March on Washington – an event I simply call 9/12 – local groups were being encouraged to join up in a national organization, supposedly to increase the clout of the movement. While some TEA Party groups remained fiercely independent, most others gravitated toward an alliance with organizations such as the Campaign for Liberty or Americans for Prosperity. (The latter is basically what happened to our local TEA Party.) This also coincided with the rise of Tea Party Patriots as an umbrella group, although they weren’t the only one as many states had similar entities.

Once the rallies became less frequent, though, hundreds of TEA Party groups withered on the vine. And many of those individual participants who stuck it out for the first couple years were perhaps made complacent by how easily the political tables were turned in 2010 and figured the movement didn’t need them anymore – they let the most passionate ones soldier on. So by the time 2012 and 2014 rolled around, many of those who believed in the TEA Party early on saw that the movement was no longer locally grassroots but corporate-style Astroturf, and no longer fiercely independent but now the red-headed stepchild of the national Republican Party.

As Erickson might tell it, that’s what happens when outsiders try to get involved in national politics, which is way out of the league of the average person. Most people are more interested in local activism, and (to be honest) if government were as it should be that’s all they would need to deal with.

So today I decided to look again at the Tea Party Patriots’ website as they celebrate their tenth anniversary. In a celebratory op-ed by Jenny Beth Martin – the only one of the three original co-founders of Tea Party Patriots to still be with the group – she cited a number of Washington initiatives as accomplishments of the TEA Party and noted they would continue to fight in the halls of Congress – just like any other lobbying group. They pay lip service to the local groups, but their focus is on stopping socialism on a national level. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s stop pretending they’re a grassroots group, okay?

It’s very sad to think that the TEA Party may have missed its golden opportunity because they lost focus on the local groups. If local needs are addressed, it’s more likely that states will follow and eventually the nation.

I have a suggestion for all this, but I can’t reveal it here – it’s waiting until my book is ready. (That’s called a tease.) Good Lord willing and if the creek don’t rise, look for it April 15.

monoblogue music: “The Starman” (single/video) by Lord Sonny the Unifier

This is going to be a “value-added” review. I was originally asked to write on the single and video in the title, which this Brooklyn-based band put out back on February 8. However, one of the links was to the advance review copy of the album that The Starman is featured on, called “Final Notice!” So I’m going to talk about that a little bit, in part because The Starman is very representative of the collection as a whole.

Like I said, the video and single came out last month and, rather than make you deal with Spotify I’ll just embed the video for your viewing pleasure. It’s the same song.

The second single and video from the forthcoming release “Final Notice!” by Lord Sonny the Unifier.

Trust me, this video is nowhere near as weird as their first one from the album, the initial single Right In Your I.

But if you didn’t get the vibe from the latest video – which, admittedly, needs a lot of explanation to allow me to “get it” – you might correctly imagine this album would almost have been more at home dropping in 1979 than 2019. Strangely enough, the influential records listed by the band for their forthcoming full-length are smack dab representative of that album rock era.

I can hear a lot of those influences – or at least the ones that I know, since I haven’t listened to every track therein – on “Final Notice!”, which I believe is slated to come out in mid-April. And I have to say that, while all the songs are different enough to hold your interest, there’s really not a bad one in the bunch. Obviously there are some I like better than others, such as First In Space and March Forth (the latter really should be released to the world on Monday, naturally) but they all are pretty enjoyable in their own right. And the cool thing is that they can use 2019 technology now to make 1979 sound even better.

Now if you believe the backstory to this album – and after watching their videos there are a couple doubts creeping into my mind, but we’ll go ahead and roll with it – this band was a successor project for lead singer Greg Jiritano after he a) did a 6-year “extreme sonic experimentation” with a collaborator and band that produced music which couldn’t be performed live and went unreleased, and b) decided after plan A didn’t pan out to do a DIY project only to have the studio burn to the ground shortly before its release, destroying all of his work. So you are listening to plan C, which may very well be a good name for a band or album. (The rest of the Unifier band: Tyler Wood on keyboards, Derek Nievergelt on bass, and drummer Carmine Covelli. With a name like that, he had to be a drummer.)

Given the subtle but pleasing strangeness of Lord Sonny the Unifier and their album from another era, I can’t say plan C wasn’t the correct play.

Why $15 is the wrong fight

I have seen reports all over social media and the “real” media that the Maryland House of Delegates has passed an increase in the minimum wage that will eventually lead it to $15 per hour by 2025. I’m not up on just who is who in the House these days but I presume a 96-44 vote is pretty much party line – there may have been a Democrat who voted against it, but I don’t know and it likely doesn’t matter in the scheme of things because it’s a vetoproof majority and the way Democrats are ramming this through it will be passed at a time when the veto can be overridden in session. (With Larry Hogan’s record, I can no longer say “inevitable veto.”)

It should be pointed out first of all that the “fight for $15” is sort of a misnomer because the raise from the current $10.10 per hour – a rate established last July – to $15 an hour would not be complete until January, 2025. This is a significant change from the original bill, which mandated the raise be in place by July, 2023. (The House bill has been amended while the cross-filed Senate bill remains as it was originally intended, so it works well for comparison.) But since the state began regularly raising its minimum wage in January, 2015, workers have already received a 26.3% bump in four years – well beyond the rate of inflation and a far cry from the normal 2-3% annual raises many workers receive if they are lucky. Whether it takes eight years or ten years, a salary increase of 87.5% for gaining absolutely no skills is far more than the market would naturally allow.

I’ll circle back to that point in a moment, but it’s also worth considering that union workers who have their wage rates tied to a point above the minimum wage will also get a raise. And when workers get a raise, guess who else does?

In today’s climate of dramatic minimum wage increases of 50% or more, unions — predominantly in the service sector — can also directly benefit from minimum wage increases because their members’ pay is less than the new minimum. Take California, for instance, which passed a $15 minimum wage last year. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) usedCensus Bureau data to estimate that roughly 223,000 union members in the state will receive a direct pay increase by the time the law is fully implemented.

It’s bad news for taxpayers, but a solid investment for unions. A powerful California-based SEIU local spent about $1.6 million to collect the signatures needed to qualify the $15 ballot measure that forced Gov. Jerry Brown to back such a mandate. EPI estimated that California unions can expect a return on investment of roughly $9 million in additional dues per year.

“Why Do Unions Fund The Fight For $15 Minimum Wage? Because They Gain A Financial Windfall In Return,” Ed Rensi, Forbes, January 19, 2017.

You can bet your bottom dollar that Big Labor here in Maryland has similar deals with business owners held hostage to these union contracts.

Now circle back with me if you would and think about who earns minimum wage from a job. Generally they are people just entering the job market or those who don’t develop their skills beyond the point of being barely hireable. My first “real” W-2 job was working in the on-campus dining halls at college, and it was a minimum wage job – just as my roommate who snagged a cushy library job made. Since I was essentially a temporary worker, it didn’t matter to the school that I was making $3.35 an hour to run a dishwasher. And since most of my money went to the local sub shop or to buy the occasional 12-pack when I became legal, I didn’t much worry about it, either. In fact, my first job out of college at a department store was minimum wage – but this college graduate quickly parlayed his degree into a 49% raise when the architectural firm I interviewed with a few weeks earlier offered me a position less than a month after I started working at the store. More skills and a little bit of work experience = higher wages. I created more potential value from my labor.

This is the problem with minimum wage as I see it. Do you think Maryland workers are going to instantly create another 75 cents to a dollar’s worth of value to their employers each hour just because the calendar flipped from 2020 to 2021 or 2024 to 2025? Of course they won’t – but if a business owner had 20 minimum-wage employees who worked an average of 20 hours a week, it’s an extra $300 or $400 they need to clear.

I’ll grant there’s a bit of merit to the argument that raising the wage creates people with more money to spend, but what are the chances enough people will take their extra money and spend it at the business in question? When the percentage of workers who make minimum wage hovers in the low single-digits, there’s not enough of an impetus for that so-called “extra” money to make much of an impact on the economy at large but, at the same time, it can be devastating to a business that requires a lot of unskilled labor.

There’s also the impact on workers who make slightly to significantly more than minimum wage to consider. They won’t get an automatic raise, but their standard of living declines by the amount that businesses have to raise their prices to cover costs. It may only be an extra percent or two in scattered businesses, but eventually that adds up. Note that amendments to Maryland’s most recent minimum wage bill not only slowed down the increase by 18 months but also scrapped the automatic increase based on inflation – probably to make it an issue for the 2024 or 2026 elections.

I have often said, and will continue to say because it’s true, that the real minimum wage is zero – the amount you make when the job you may have secured when the minimum wage was $8 an hour and you weren’t a significant risk to the employer if you didn’t work out is the job that’s no longer available at $10.10 an hour.

Regardless, it’s all but certain that a minimum wage increase will pass in Maryland this year. The Left needs that victory and many others in order to try and tank the state and national economy for the 2020 election. (Notice the lack of enthusiasm over the 2.9% GDP increase despite the fact it’s our best since 2015 – losing by a fractional .0009% – and close to the first 3% annual calendar year growth rate since 2005. One could argue the Schumer-Pelosi-Trump shutdown may have cost us that 0.1 percent.) Apologists for the Obama economic record (“Analysts have called into question just how much a particular president actually impacts the economy during his tenure”) now expect a recession to hit by the next election (“While the fourth-quarter cooling isn’t quite as extreme as some economists feared, the metric does little to placate existing concerns about a global economic slowdown.”)

But someone believes in magic, as in that people will magically produce more value through an arbitrary wage increase. Cue the pixie dust and unicorns.

monoblogue music: “Jammin’ With Juma” by Rich Lerner and the Groove (featuring Juma Sultan)

This is another review of a monoblogue music alumni, and it’s an album that was a long time in the making.

You may recall back in January, when I followed up on my previous top 5’s, that Rich had been in the studio over the early part of 2018 but “the trail (seemed) to have grown cold.” This review is the bloodhound regaining the scent.

As it turned out, this album came out at the back end of 2018 but rather quietly, considering the album release party didn’t occur until just a couple weeks ago. And Juma was there: Juma Sultan is a longtime percussionist whose initial claim to fame was sharing the Woodstock stage with Jimi Hendrix. That bloodline is immediately set forth on the album’s first track, Hey Baby (New Rising Sun), which was a song Hendrix wrote and performed.

I can’t say whether The Groove’s version is as good as the original because it’s not a Hendrix track I’m familiar with. What I can say is that, if I didn’t know it was a remake, I’d be digging it anyway as a seriously good jam.

It’s not a music video in the true sense, but the audio is pretty cool and sets the tone for Lerner’s latest release.

“Jammin’ With Juma” is a good mixture of covers that I knew and some variant of the following: covers which were so obscure that a Google search couldn’t dig them up, or stuff that Rich had kept in his back pocket. In the category of covers I knew you can place the old Eric Burdon song Spill The Wine and a song originally by Freddie Scott and redone by a solo Ron Wood called Am I Grooving You? (That one came via Rich’s song listing on his band’s website.) The remake of Wine starts out a little shaky but improves as it goes, while the take on Grooving is that of a more straight-ahead rock song placed on a sea of very psychedelic relics and jams.

There are two other songs on here that are only done once. I honestly thought Ghosts of Jimi was also a cover, but the other song that has a similar title isn’t the same track. Too bad for it, because The Groove made this song into a jam band tune with very catchy lyrics. Similarly, Paranoia Blues isn’t the version Paul Simon made famous: instead, this one has a large Tom Petty influence with a really cool outro.

I say “only done once” because the final two tracks on “Jammin’ With Juma” are reworked versions of two previous songs. Be Here Now is already a strangely successful interplay of a hint of dub music (lots of echo) with some country overtones. I noted on the original play (it’s track number three on the record) that it had a good jam band potential but seemed rushed to finish – well, the producer picked it up with a reprise in track eight for an extra minute and a half to a more satisfactory close.

The other example is track two: the heavily reggae Seven Sunsets, which is nicely done except for being a touch weak on the vocals. On the last track this one is really dubbed out and (naturally) rechristened Sunset Dub (Head Mix). The song is definitely made different by the effects.

But as I generally say, you’re the best judge of what’s good to your ears so feel free to listen for yourself. I know I liked this one a lot, and although it’s waaaaaay too early to consider this year’s top 5 I can see “Jammin’ With Juma” being a contender.

Remembering the rant

For the first time, I’m cross-posting to my book website.

On a humdrum Thursday morning, there were probably a few dozen thousand who were watching the CNBC show “Squawk Box” and a lot of them probably weren’t paying full attention when one man’s statements were the spark that lit the fuse of pent-up political frustration. It was a fire that raged out of control for several years before being contained by a political party more interested in power and winning elections than in its stated principles.

I half-jokingly wrote that night that I thought Rick Santelli would be the next guy on the unemployment line, but instead he’s become something of a cult hero for those things he said a decade ago. Yet in looking up his whereabouts it appears he’s doing pretty much the same thing as he did a decade ago. In that respect, he’s a lot like most participants in the TEA Party who did what they did out of love for the country, not fame, fortune, or political power. I’m sure his name has come up a lot today, though.

But in just eight days after Santelli made his remarks, tens of thousands of people got together in over thirty cities around the nation and began a phenomenon that people still talk about today. And because there are a number of useful lessons that came from the TEA Party, I wrote a book detailing its history: Good Lord willing, I’ll have it ready in time to commemorate the tenth anniversary of one of the most massive and widespread grassroots uprisings in recent American history, the Tax Day TEA Party of 2009 on April 15. I was at the one here in Salisbury, and five months later I was at the unforgettable 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington. (I posted on that event in two parts the next two days, and the posts reminded me I had even more photos on my then-relatively nascent Facebook page. Revisiting this with the new WordPress block setup allowed me to add the captions I wrote originally, too.) As they say, the rest was history.

And to think: how many people just thought February 19, 2009 was just going to be another humdrum winter’s day?

Considering the state of emergency

We have reached the point where the perceived inability of Congress to do something – anything – about stemming a tide of illegal immigration across our southern border with Mexico has led President Trump to declare a state of emergency, the preamble of which follows:

The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency.  The southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics.  The problem of large-scale unlawful migration through the southern border is long-standing, and despite the executive branch’s exercise of existing statutory authorities, the situation has worsened in certain respects in recent years.  In particular, recent years have seen sharp increases in the number of family units entering and seeking entry to the United States and an inability to provide detention space for many of these aliens while their removal proceedings are pending.  If not detained, such aliens are often released into the country and are often difficult to remove from the United States because they fail to appear for hearings, do not comply with orders of removal, or are otherwise difficult to locate.  In response to the directive in my April 4, 2018, memorandum and subsequent requests for support by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense has provided support and resources to the Department of Homeland Security at the southern border.  Because of the gravity of the current emergency situation, it is necessary for the Armed Forces to provide additional support to address the crisis.

“Presidential Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States,” February 15, 2019

My reading of the actual directive – which is not long at all, just 629 words – is that, under the National Emergencies Act of 1976 (which would have been passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress under President Ford) the President is authorizing the use of military personnel and funds to build a border barrier in the most vulnerable places. I’m going to presume that it’s going to be the style of wall such as this prototype.

A prototype of the border wall preferred by President Trump. (Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)

Naysayers, of course, make the claim that such a wall could be cut through to go with the other claims that a wall can be tunneled under or flown over. Of course, these statements are true but unless the average person has superhuman strength or a MacGyver-like streak of ingenuity with objects carried on one’s person – since I don’t think most would-be border-crossers have a steel-cutting saw, extension cord, and a few spare hours to cut through several inches of steel nor did they bring a backhoe with them to dig a tunnel – I think such a barrier will keep most people out or (as they are really supposed to) funnel them to more easily-guarded ports of entry. It’s part of an “all of the above” border security solution, not the be-all and end-all for the problem.

(To truly solve the issue of illegal immigration, though, we don’t just need border security but also to eliminate the carrots that attract illegal aliens: an end to chain migration and birthright citizenship as well as a crackdown on those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. One would think there is a way to check whether they have duplicate Social Security numbers, forged work visas, or other phony documentation.)

The first question then becomes whether this state of emergency is Constitutional. (Well, if it isn’t first on your mind it really should be.) It took nanoseconds for this to be brought into court, so how should a court decide this?

In such times as this I lean on expert advice, so I looked at what those close to the Constitution Party have to say. This piece from KrisAnne Hall, who bills herself as a “Constitutional Attorney,” says, no, there is not Constitutional justification for the state of emergency. On the other hand, there is Constitutional justification for Trump’s actions in general, argues “Publius Huldah,” a pseudonym for another attorney, Joanna Martin. Thus, the answer would seem to be that a state of emergency wasn’t needed but President Trump couldn’t just capriciously move the money so he chose to use that route instead of citing some of the Constitutional points Publius Huldah did.

From the other side of the spectrum, you get this paranoid article in The Atlantic written by attorney and Brennan Center legal analyst Elizabeth Goitein, who posits that Trump would use these emergency powers to conjure up a reason to disrupt the 2020 election. More of a mainline, comparative view comes in this assessment by William B. Fisch, then a law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law (now professor emeritus, as this was written in the early 1990s.) Fisch argues that the courts have generally deferred to government during times of crisis, snapping back to normal if the subject is questioned and reviewed after the crisis has passed.

In this case, the crisis will likely pass when the first of two differing possibilities occurs: one, the barrier is built to President Trump’s satisfaction, or, secondly, a Democrat becomes President – in that case, the state of emergency regarding the border will be immediately rescinded.

This leads to the second part of the question, which stems from the threat made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that a national emergency could be declared by a Democrat to invoke gun control. (Fellow Democrat Rep. Emanuel Cleaver took this even farther on Twitter, as he considers climate change, income inequality, and access to healthcare as national emergencies, but not border security.)

It’s certain that a Democrat president would try these actions, citing the capricious nature of President Trump’s declaration – a declaration that in this case Democrats didn’t agree was an emergency. (Would it be their intention to encourage illegal immigration, then? You either are for border security or you’re not. Having an easily-breached fence at the border as is the current situation is obviously not doing the trick.)

Yet the effects of illegal aliens in this country are relatively quantifiable to the extent we have statistics on those effects. In terms of crime, though, statistics have suggested that the illegal alien population as a whole is not more likely to be in prison than native-born Americans are: although one piece of research I found is a couple decades old, a more recent Cato Institute study suggests that illegal immigrants are actually less likely to be criminals than native-born – but far more likely to be criminals than legal immigrants.

There’s also the claim that apprehensions are down, but apprehensions are those who were caught, not the total number crossing. Still, there are also costs in education and health care to consider, despite the fact that a large number of the children of illegal aliens are “anchor babies” who have, via a long-standing but improper interpretation of the 14th Amendment, birthright citizenship.

Yet in the other instances Pelosi, et. al., seek to consider as “national emergencies,” there are one or more obstacles in the way – some are legal and others are logical.

With regard to gun control, there isn’t a true national emergency with regard to the tool as there is the attitude that makes those who use it as a weapon to kill (outside of self-defense) believe it’s okay. Having access to a gun does not justify its use to get even with a company that fired you or with someone who defeated you in a game. If there’s any national emergency in that regard, it’s the callous disregard for life our culture seems to have. The gun is not the problem, and leaving a situation where only government has guns will surely lead to abuse of that authority. (Hence the biggest obstacle: the Second Amendment.)

Nor is climate change a national emergency, mainly because there’s little we can do about it. Given the lack of actual accurate observation, we are only speculating what the climate was like until the last couple centuries, but the conventional wisdom holds that our planet has been both warmer and colder as a whole than it exists today. So what is the true optimum climate? We can’t say for sure – for all we know, this so-called climate change could be a return to normal.

Democrats tend to forget there are things bigger than they are.

And then we have “income inequality” and “access to health care.” I just checked, and nowhere in the Constitution are we guaranteed an income or health care. But let’s do a little math in terms of income.

According to the Census Bureau, U.S. median income is $61,372 per household. But over the states, the scale varies widely: Maryland happens to have the highest median income, while Mississippi is the lowest, with a difference of approximately $35,000. To achieve true income equality, a household in Maryland would have to send $35,000 to one in Mississippi. Of course, those in Mississippi would think that’s great but a Maryland family will protest the whole time – what did that family in Mississippi (that probably doesn’t vote the same way as us) do to deserve our $35,000 that we earned?

Now I know that “income inequality” is really a code word among the Left for class envy – a hatred of the so-called 1%. But what would its effects really be?

A rough estimate of CEO-to-employee pay disparity is that CEOs make up to 3,000 times the pay their employees do – that seems to be a favorite complaint on the Left. So let’s say there’s a company with 10,000 employees and one CEO: just to make my math easy we’ll say the employees make $1 and the CEO $3,000. Income equality means that employees share in a pool of $13,000, meaning they all get $1.30. Now a 30% raise sounds great to an employee, but the nearly 100% pay cut means the CEO quits. Then who runs the company?

Actually, this illustration of income inequality is a corollary argument to health care access. Using Maryland and Mississippi as examples again, those in Maryland are fortunate to have a hospital on the scale of Johns Hopkins in their state while some in Mississippi may be 20 miles from a rudimentary clinic. But would those in Maryland be willing to give up their access to help the poor people of Mississippi? Probably not. And just as in the argument about income inequality, given the finite resources the improvement, if done by force, will be minimal.

A capitalist system isn’t perfect for allocating resources, but what it does best is enlarge the available pool. People on the left often deride this as a “trickle-down” theory but in reality it’s a “rising tide” theory that lifts all the boats. Simply compare the situation in Venezuela to our system and you’ll see the result of the foolhardy vision of Democrats.

Maybe our national emergency is that we have lost our common sense?

I suppose this is proof of his statement…

Those who have followed me for many years know that I’ve put up an election widget to link to campaign sites, and now their social media pages. Since the 2020 campaign is underway I did the same for the Presidential race – it’s just not very prominent quite yet. (I’ll move it up as the year progresses and we get closer to the debates and Iowa caucus this time next year.)

So today I was reading a USA Today story on the candidates who are in and out, noting that Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was entering the race today in an outdoor rally in the Minnesota snow. But it also noted that one of those candidates on my original widget, West Virginia’s Richard Ojeda, had already withdrawn, which I was unaware of.

Granted, out of those who were on my widget I would have rated him as the longest shot, down there with Pete Buttigieg (the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana) and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney as a second tier of candidates behind the more nationally prominent Senators and others pursuing the chance to oppose President Trump. But it could have been argued that Barack Obama and Donald Trump were longshots in their respective races – Obama because he had been in the Senate for just 25 months when he announced in February, 2007, despite the conventional wisdom that the 2008 race was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s to win, and Trump because no one took a businessman running for President seriously when the field was deep, talented, and brimming with a number of politically experienced candidates. Maybe they weren’t the longshots like a state senator who lost his only federal election (a 2018 run for Congress) would be, but he was still in the race and stating his case.

So when Richard Ojeda withdrew from the race, it wasn’t much noticed – hence his parting shot.

Today I want to thank from the bottom of my heart all the people who have supported and believed in this campaign. The indications were very positive from an overwhelming response to our videos, to thousands of volunteers, and a level of grassroots fundraising support that grew every day. However, the last thing I want to do is accept money from people who are struggling for a campaign that does not have the ability to compete.  So today I am announcing that I am suspending this campaign.

When I was a child my grade school teachers told us all that anyone in America could grow up and become President.  I now realize that this is not the case.  Unless someone has extreme wealth or holds influence and power it just isn’t true.  Especially if you dare to step out of line and challenge the powers that be. The big donors won’t take your calls, the media won’t say your name, and the establishment will do everything they can to crush you.

I want you to know though that my fight does not end!   I may not have the money to make the media pay attention but I will continue raising my voice and highlighting the issues the working class, the sick and the elderly face in this nation. I expect to have an announcement very soon about what my next steps will be. But know this, this campaign was never about me but about the issues we care about, checking big pharma, ending corruption and elevating the working class citizen. Nothing and no one can stop me from fighting for what’s right.

Sappers clear the way. Airborne all the way.

Richard Ojeda withdrawal announcement, January 25, 2019. (Emphasis mine.)

Setting aside the desire of his supporters for Ojeda to run for either Governor or U.S. Senate from West Virginia, both of which have elections in 2020 and are held by Republicans, let’s take what Ojeda had to say about running for President and break it down.

Until President Trump came along and bolstered the “extreme wealth” argument, all of the Presidents who have served us in my lifetime (I was born in 1964) were products of one (or more) of three separate offices: Vice President (Johnson, Nixon, Ford – under the special circumstance of being appointed under the 25th Amendment – and Bush 41), governor of a state (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43), or Senator (Obama, but previous to being vice president also Johnson – who succeeded a former Senator in John F. Kennedy – and Nixon.) Gerald Ford was previously a member of Congress, but only represented a Michigan district in the House before being appointed to succeed former Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew after Agnew resigned in 1973.

Yet think of the money it takes now to win a Senate seat or run for governor, particularly from a major state. Obviously it takes a type of talent and attitude to be able to “smile and dial” in order to raise the money and the charisma to charm people into voting for you, knowing that the higher up in the food chain one goes, the fewer people can grab the brass ring. (A case in point: Klobuchar is the fourth sitting U.S. Senator to seek the Democratic nomination so far but only one – or none – will succeed.)

By that same token, the nation’s capital is ruled by political conventional wisdom that states either someone with a connection to Washington or with a statewide base that’s significant (i.e. a state with large population like California, Florida, or Texas) will succeed in running for President. That was the case with most of the Presidents in my lifetime, although one can argue that perhaps Jimmy Carter and certainly Bill Clinton did not come from high-profile states. In the 1970’s Georgia was still considered a sleepy, backwater state as Arkansas is to this day. Donald Trump turned that conventional wisdom on its ear to some extent; however, it can be theorized that his “significant base” were the millions who bought his books, watched The Apprentice, and so forth, and that they were a proxy for a medium-sized state.

[This phenomenon is similar to the fact that no one from the Eastern Shore has been elected to statewide office here in Maryland since the days of J. Millard Tawes. (I left out Harry Hughes, as I was reminded on his passing.) Those who have a base in populated areas have a definite leg up in gathering financing and supporters.]

So it’s sad but true: not that I would have been an Ojeda backer, but the media and establishment basically dictated his campaign would be short-lived. Ojeda wasn’t part of the “in” crowd and he didn’t have a name that attracted eyeballs based on previous reputation, so he would have never made the debate stage – perhaps not even the so-called “kiddie table debate” purgatory before campaign suspension.

Maybe this is why the Swamp can’t seem to be drained.

monoblogue music: “Elise” by Damon Mitchell

This one is so new they haven’t even finished the cover art for it. I’m told this is the cover photo for (presumably) a debut EP by a 22-year-old artist from my old neck of the woods, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Damon Mitchell has a 6-song EP ready for release on March 2, so I’ve listened to the tracks but they’re still under wraps except for the title track, which is the lead single and video I’ll feature in a short bit below. Perhaps it’s a good thing Elise is the last in line but the first song out of the chute because it’s the best and most accessible tune on the album. (Saving the best for last?) I’m not so sure about the video, though, although we also learn that Mitchell is a southpaw when it comes to playing.

The lead single and title track to Damon Mitchell’s forthcoming EP, coming out March 2.

As Damon is a rather young musician, it helps to explain why his style is all over the place on this one. As presented in my preview, the leadoff song Heist is a Beatle-influenced ode to a pop era gone by, although he freshens up the genre and makes it a rather enjoyable song.

Damon slows things down with the ballad Just A Face, which begins to expose a few of the cracks in the facade. Some of the vocals on this one aren’t quite up to snuff, particularly when Damon tries to hit the higher notes. Shaping songs to his voice is something he’ll surely learn as time goes on.

License Plate is more of a country or bluegrass turn, with the addition of fiddle and harmonica. (In the credits there are a total of 12 musicians listed for the six-song EP, so Mitchell had plenty of help.) The problem with this song to me was the way the lyrical runs played out – again, practice and experience will help the cause here.

If you’re waiting on an adult contemporary song, you’ll find the music on the song Salo but the lyrics don’t really evoke romance. Aside from a clever reference to The Weight by The Band, I really didn’t care for the lyrics on Salo at all. They seemed stilted and forced. Maybe this is a song he revisits later on, using the riff to write something better.

Damon turns even more to the jazzy side of things with World In Her Eyes. But again the weakness in the song comes from the lyrics and singing. Completing the circle back to the vibe of Heist but going a couple notches heavier is the title track, which has as its coda some solid guitar work.

So while there are obvious flaws in this six-song EP, they are definitely fixable for the next time, and it’s likely a little bit of experience will help Mitchell work some of these issues out. I don’t mind complex or unconventional lyrics at all, but they need a special amount of talent to be done just right. Once Damon figures out his strengths and writes music in such a way to maximize them, he could do all right for himself. He’s just not quite there yet.

Since he has several shows lined up in the Indiana region (coming as close as Pittsburgh for a gig this spring) I think Damon will get some practice in. On March 2 you’ll see what I mean.

More oh-so-expert advice on how to run a blog.

After doing this for almost 14 years, you would think people would figure out I have a way of doing things and a comfort zone I’m not apt to stray from. But they keep trying and as I described last night this comes from the lighthearted stack of stuff.

These are two recent appeals that I’m going to write verbatim. I decided not to use blockquote for this one, so trust me that I didn’t make these up. But I am going to print my ongoing responses in italics.

**********

Hope you are doing good.

I think I do a lot of good every time I write. To borrow a phrase from Walter E. Williams, I try to push back the frontiers of ignorance.

I checked your website monoblogue.us and wanted to shoot you a quick note. If you want we can make few changes to make your site convert more visitors into leads and to place it higher in the organic search for some selected terms.

Leads to what? I don’t sell anything here except maybe my first book and overall philosophy, the latter of which I give freely as a mission of sorts.

If you are not on Google’s first page, your website is a waste. If you want to know the major issues of your website, I am sending few points below.

Telling me my website is a waste? Yeah, that’s a good way to drum up sales.

  • Due to poor and unauthorized link sites.
  • Relevant keyword phrases are not visible on first page listing.
  • Your website is not search engine friendly.
  • Website content quality is not high standard.
  • Website is having on-page and on-site issues.

On point one, I link to those things I think are useful to the story. Since a lot of them are news, does that mean the media is poor and unauthorized?

Points two and three are irrelevant to me since I don’t write content for SEO, but to tell me my content quality is not high standard – well, up yours, buddy. And talk to my server about point number five, since they are the ones who generally cause the issues. For some reason, WordPress seems to want to add a point six on this, too.

Area of Improvement:

  • Get quality content and theme based back links.
  • We will give you 1st page ranking on Google, Yahoo and Bing.
  • Improve your organic traffic and sales.
  • Secure your website from Google penguin updates 4.0
  • Target your local market to increase business.

The fact that I don’t know what the heck this guy is talking about for the most part tells me his quality is not high standard – although maybe you figured it out from the grammar before this point.

Note*: We give guarantee to improve your keyword ranking from the first month itself, if we fail to achieve then we will refund your money.

Is that before or after you sell my e-mail address and skim my credit card?

Our main objective is to increase your website’s online visibility which results in improvement in traffic, link popularity, goal conversion and ROI.

Then you are a poor business. Your main objective should be to make money legitimately. My online visibility is just fine.

For more details please reply. We have your WEBSITE ANALYSIS REPORT ready with us.

Let me guess – it’s the same report as the other 600 website owners you sent this e-mail blast to would get. But I figure it must be enough that if only a couple fools take up their offer, then ROI is positive.

**********

So that was batch number one of supremely helpful advice. (Update: going through my spam folder I found another but with a different “sender.” You know it’s fake when it’s a name followed by a number on Gmail.) By the way, that went to my old e-mail address I really don’t use anymore, as did the second one a day or two later.

You know, everyone thinks they can give me good content. But there’s a reason I call it monoblogue, and this leads me to e-mail number two, which came all the way from Germany. It was like pulling teeth to read this – imagine each line double-spaced.

**********

My name is Rik, I have two clients that want to publish content on your website.

Congratulations! Is it really that hard to start a blog in Germany, though? I’d rather do the work myself, thanks.

Do you allow paid content on your website?

Actually, I do. Most (but not all) of my record reviews are paid content, but the writing is mine. I would love to have a sponsor for Shorebird of the Month, though.

If yes how much does is it cost to publish an article on your website?

You know, I’m half-tempted to write back and tell him (in my best Dr. Evil voice) “one meeeellion dollars.” He’s from Germany, think he would understand?

Our budget is not limited. The better the websites metrics are the more we are willing to pay. An upfront payment is not a problem!

So where’s my check? I figured it would come in the mail if you’re this confident.

We would prefer to write the article ourselves but you can write the content also.

If it’s some boring subject where I have to insert fourteen keywords in the first 200 words I’ll take a pass. I like my own subjects and words, thanks.

We as an agency are looking for a long term cooperation since we have many different clients.

Clients as in people who are paying you to advertise or clients like the best of ESL writers from India who can subsist on a quarter-penny per word? Or maybe you suckered them into doing it for the “exposure” like I was once upon a time when I was young and naive.

Can you tell I’m a bit jaded? Does it show?

Ps. I take my job really serious please check out below my social profiles and read more about my clients testimonials.

Actually I did. I think he had two testimonials and I’ll bet he made them up.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

This is as close as you will get.

**********

As I said, each line was double-spaced when these sentences could have been combined. If that’s the writing I get then I think it’s worth what I would probably make off the deal.

Maybe someday people will get the hint that I like my sandbox the way it is and there are few invited guests for a reason. Of course, then how would I write my occasional snarky replies?

Have I told you writing is just a struggle? I know it was a struggle to keep a straight face with these two. Tomorrow you get some of my paid content as I wrote a record review last night.