A look ahead: 2015 on the national front

You know, it’s disgusting yet telling that I could use much of what I said last year word for word as my prediction for 2015, like these paragraphs:

We will see absolutely zero effort to reform entitlements, whether Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. This will be another year they hurtle toward insolvency, probably going splat just in time for Generation X to reach retirement age in about 15 years. (That would be me – I’m on the cusp between Gen X and Boomer.)

Nor do I care how many articles of impeachment are drawn up: the House leadership doesn’t have the courage to pursue it, nor would they ever get the votes in the Senate to convict. They could find Barack Obama in bed with a dead girl, live boy, a bloody knife in his right hand and a signed confession in his left and the Democrats would swear the boy set him up and the girl stabbed herself thirteen times – in the back – and not convict him.

It doesn’t matter how poor the economy is, either. The government won’t dare stop priming the pump to the tune of a trillion dollars a year in debt, parceling out $80 billion or so of “quantitative easing” monthly. When the Dow and its record highs are the one factor of success apologists for Obama can point to, anything which maintains that facade will be continued despite the possibility of long-term inflationary catastrophe – again, probably in time for Generation X to retire.

Just as ineffective is our foreign policy, which has been a muddled mess as old friends are ignored and longtime enemies coddled. We may have an idea of what the hotspots may be, but events have a way of occurring at the most inopportune times and places for American interests.

Here’s the problem. We have a Republican Congress once again, for the first time since the 2006 elections. But it’s all but certain to me that they will be the do-nothing Congress, as the lame-duck session showed. Many would want me to have faith in the leadership, and I understand the political reality being what it was led us into the budget deal that enshrined the government spending for the rest of the fiscal year (except for the Department of Homeland Security, funding for which is supposed to expire in February to set up a fight over Obama’s amnesty.) But why do I think Republicans will cite some obscure (and probably push-polled) data which tells it to avoid that messy immigration fight and just fund DHS for the rest of the fiscal year so they can have the fight in September? Then they’ll tell us we’re too close to the 2016 election.

Each time Congress has been begged to act, they have kicked the can down the road.

But that leads me to another point, and it’s been gnawing at me for some time now. Unfortunately I’m not sure just how it gets resolved.

Supposedly we are the United States of America. But are we really…united?

Over the last decade, we have been continually divided – red against blue, religious against agnostic (or religion vs. religion in the case of Christians and Jews vs. Muslims), and now at its most pronounced, black against white. Some consider those who are the enforcers of law to be the criminals, as are those elected officials who create it.

There’s a deep distrust of our fellow man these days, so we all retreat inward and look suspiciously at those who we don’t know. Thousands of people are on high alert with their guns at the ready against someone…they don’t know who that Other is, but many of us are tense and on edge, almost as if we are on a war footing. I imagine my ancestors may have felt the same way about the prospect of Japs or Nazis marching into our neighborhoods during the two world wars.

The person who will have the most impact on 2015 on a national scale is someone whose role we don’t know yet, but he or she will emerge either as the healer we all need or the person who tears the fabric of our society to bits. It may be a little hyperbolic, and I’m not going to go all Book of Revelations on you or assume that Jefferson’s quote about the tree of liberty is our fate, but we are rapidly approaching a point of no return if things continue the way they are. To borrow a term favored by Radical Green, our current path is unsustainable.

Too many people have come to the way of thinking which believes there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicrats and the Demoblicans. The only clear winners seem to be the small elite which runs Washington and Wall Street, leaving the shrinking middle class to fend for itself. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be; certainly that’s not the way I want it to be. But as more and more Americans say about that perception: it is what it is.

Truly I hope I am wrong in my assessment of how things will be on a national scale, particularly when so much good can be done on the local and state levels. But it can all be undone with a single spark that lights our national tinderbox, so it seems to me the thing to do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

A look ahead: 2015 in Maryland

While many of the fiscal issues that dogged the state in 2014 are still around – and have continued to worsen with each revelation of another revenue shortfall – the personnel in place to address the problem has undergone significant changes thanks to a wave election which pulled Maryland into its tide.

At this time in 2013 when I wrote the look at 2014, the election seemed to be the molehill Anthony Brown thought it would be as the Maryland GOP was divided and despondent. But Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland movement was enough to overcome the built-in advantage in Democrat voter registration; meanwhile, Brown ran a highly uninspiring campaign that led to the lowest Democrat turnout on record. The drag from the top of the ticket allowed Republicans to pick up seven House seats and two Senate seats despite the gerrymandered redistricting done by Democrats after the 2010 elections.

November was the easy part, though – now Hogan has to govern. Job one will be finding $420 million to squeeze from this year’s budget, while the gap for next year is an estimated $750 million. While that number is daunting, it should be pointed out that the FY2015 state budget was $1.886 billion higher than the FY2014 version. That’s a 5.1% increase, so being $420 million short equates to a 1.07% cut. Simply holding the line on the budget for FY2016 and keeping it under $40 billion (in essence, level funding) should cover a lot of the problem. In fact, holding the budget to $40 billion rather than another 5.1% increase to match last year’s would net a difference of $1.224 billion – more than enough to cover the shortfall.

I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but the budget is in Larry Hogan’s hands. The other key is a bill normally introduced immediately after the operating and capital budgets each year called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. This is where the mandated spending that makes up over 80 percent of the budget is tweaked, and this is the bill for which Larry Hogan will have to sharpen his pencil and will want to keep a close eye on. Generally it is introduced by the administration’s request in the body which considers the other budget items. Although a version goes to both the House and Senate, by tradition budget consideration alternates yearly and 2015 will be the House’s turn.

And starting it in the House is important because a significant number of members are freshman legislators, many of whom were elected by receiving the message that voters were looking for change and fiscal responsibility. Over half of the Republicans in the House are newly-elected, with at least one appointee as well to replace Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped to lead the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. This process will be a sidebar story as two current members of the General Assembly have already been chosen for positions in the new administration (Schulz and Senator Joe Getty.)

On a local level, the entirety of Wicomico County will be, for the first time in memory, represented in the House by a delegation entirely made up by freshmen. A combined 83 years of experience among six members was wiped out by a combination of redistricting, retirements, promotions, and electoral losses, leaving the county with five freshman representatives – Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes all begin their tenures next week. It’s perhaps a situation unique to the state; fortunately, the combined legislative experience of the county’s Senators is 28 years (20 for Addie Eckardt in the House and 4 years apiece for Jim Mathias in the House and Senate.)

Yet the change in leadership in the state could make things easier on the counties as well, provided Hogan makes the right departmental selections. As I pointed out yesterday regarding Wicomico County, a change at the Department of Planning could make county-level tier maps become more suited for local needs rather than state mandates. (Certainly counties with approved maps should consider tweaking them to address perceived inequities.) Hogan has also promised steps to allow fracking in western Maryland, to consider a plan to clean the Bay by addressing the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam, and will maintain strident opposition to phosphorus regulations which would affect poultry production on the Eastern Shore. All these endeavors can be assisted with prudent selections at the departments of Environment and Agriculture.

All through the state government there’s an exciting potential for reform – if the right choices are made. Hogan’s early picks have been of a bipartisan nature, which may frustrate GOP activists who saw the same practice help to undermine the Ehrlich administration, but could be argued to be necessary with the political reality that a lot of Democrat votes went to electing Hogan. (Statewide Democrats down the ticket, on the other hand, were selected by comfortable margins.) That also becomes the price to pay for having a majority-Democrat General Assembly.

Something else to watch in Maryland will be how much more Second Amendment erosion takes place under newly-elected Attorney General Brian Frosh. A gun grabber in the Maryland Senate, Frosh now takes a bigger role and it will be up to Hogan to prove his Second Amendment bona fides by championing the eventual repeal or overturn in court of the ill-considered Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – although the law may see its day in federal court first.

Another probable line of demarcation will be how to deal with the certainty of more illegal aliens thanks to Barack Obama’s policies of amnesty. With Maryland’s reputation as a sanctuary state, anything short of a localized get-tough approach will be a further drain on the budget and another headache for Hogan.

All this and I haven’t even touched on economic development or educational reform, which will also be items to watch in 2015 but currently have far too many known and unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase. On the latter, Hogan has made it known he’ll work to strengthen charter schools but true reform is probably some years away.

The story of 2015 in Maryland will be the story of how Larry Hogan leads after he takes the oath of office January 21. By then we’ll have some idea of what the priorities of the General Assembly will be as they’ll have already put a week of session under their belts and the hearing process should be underway on the highest-priority items. Success may be as simple as plugging the financial hole by tightening the state’s fiscal belt and the faster that happens, the more of the conservative agenda could be debated.

A look ahead: 2015 in Wicomico County

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s telling that most of the issues I wrote about last year at this time are still with us.

And as I suspected when the pixels were placed in late 2013, we have a majority of “new” Council members and, as it turns out, a new County Executive in Bob Culver. That new broom is already in the process of sweeping clean as the county’s former public information officer was relieved of her duties and the longtime Parks and Recreation director suddenly opted for retirement.

Yet almost all of the issues I alluded to last year are still with us. One thing which may assist the county in moving forward, though, is that the County Executive and County Council will be working from the same political playbook, with elections now a relatively safe four years away. Maintaining the 6-1 Republican majority on County Council will mean that there should be few issues, although one might argue that the support certain GOP members gave to the former Democratic County Executive Rick Pollitt could make some votes interesting.

The three main issues of 2013 could be resolved at the state level, though, with a little help from a Republican governor. For example, a more farmer-friendly tier map which places less land off-limits to development may be doable with a less stringent Maryland Department of Planning, one which grants more leeway to county desires and less emphasis on the despised PlanMaryland guidelines. As a corollary to that, the “rain tax” may not get to Wicomico County, although the city of Salisbury approved its version late last month. This could provide some tension between city and county as those who would want access to city water and sewer may balk at the additional fees.

On the other hand, the quest for an elected school board will certainly get a boost since the three largest obstacles are all out of the way: Rick Pollitt, Norm Conway, and Rudy Cane all have left (or will leave) office. With the resident delegation now boasting two Republicans to one Democrat – all of whom are freshmen – electing a school board may occur as soon as 2016.

In short, the biggest issue facing Wicomico County in 2015 will be what it does (or can do) to arrest a lengthy slide in employment. Year-over-year employment in Wicomico County has declined all 11 months this year and in 18 of the previous 22 months, with the most recent peak in employment being 50,369 in July 2012. (As a rule employment in this county fluctuates by a few thousand each year, peaking in July.) And while the unemployment rate is down for 2014, the number is somewhat deceptive because a lot of that positive change came as a result of a labor force that averages 847 fewer workers while average employment is down 380. Job one of the Culver administration is to make Wicomico County a more business-friendly environment, although having a governor who also wants to decrease red tape at the state level will help. Still, the solution for our needs may be as simple as attracting business out of high-overhead urban areas across the bridge to relocate here.

There is also the prospect of a revitalized downtown Salisbury to help attract new residents. Salisbury will one of six county municipalities to hold elections for municipal office in 2015, with Salisbury’s situation this year being rather unique: a charter change put in place a few years back will allow all municipal offices to be contested in one election this year, rather than the staggered terms common to most towns and cities. They are also adopting a five-district system, the boundaries of which leave three current City Council members in one district. According to the Maryland Manual, the other municipalities holding elections next year are Delmar (3 seats in November), Hebron (3 seats in April), Mardela Springs (2 seats in August), Pittsville (2 seats in November), and Willards (2 seats in May.) Fruitland and Sharptown will have their next elections in 2016.

With the new administration coming in, along with a revamped County Council, it won’t take long to find out whether the management style of Bob Culver will feature the leadership our county needs to recover and compete. Tomorrow I will turn my attention to the state of Maryland, including what role a bevy of new local elected officials might play.

2014: a monoblogue year in review

December 28, 2014 · Posted in Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

I did this last year for the first time and decided it was so fun that I’d do it again. Just like last year, the plan is to then look ahead at the possible developments for 2015 (and, as an added bonus, evaluate what kind of prognosticator I was.)

So here are some of the highlights for monoblogue in 2014.

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In January, my year began on the Salisbury Plaza as the city tried something new and found success with it.

But as the holiday lull returned to normal, it was made known that Andy Harris angered some in the district as they panned his vote on the omnibus budget bill. Even I got a little criticism from those who thought I was defending Andy.

On the Maryland campaign front, we all waited with bated breath for the official Larry Hogan announcement – even as he had to postpone it for a snowstorm. Otherwise, the gubernatorial campaigns revealed their 2013 fundraising prowess and as is usually the case Democrats had the upper hand.

Meanwhile, the other statewide GOP hopeful was our guest at the Wicomico County Republican Club meeting. It was also a month where I explained the real unemployment number with a little help, and learned a little about the extra time politicians put in.

Most of the February action was on the campaign front, where Larry Hogan continued making news by opting for public financing and avoiding questions, while fellow hopeful Charles Lollar found an intriguing running mate (as did Ron George), and surprisingly won a straw poll. Hogan led in the first real poll, but the margin was a little smaller in poll number two.

I also finished my first look at campaign finance for local contenders in two districts, but a lot changed at the filing deadline as familiar names switched races or withdrew.

On the first of March I talked about a long form letter I received from the Hogan campaign, while later I noted he also had some interesting backing for his public financing matching funds. Like the campaigns, I also talked about that three-letter word, J-O-B-S, a subject which came back later in the month.

News was made when a local group began demanding more local control by leaving the state association while another venerable local organization heard from county candidates.

I also looked forward to another November election (which actually happened earlier this month) and took a stab at who would be on the Shorebirds roster for the 2014 season. But my big step away from politics occurred when I announced and debuted a new, fun feature.

Spring arrived in April, while the end of the “90 days of terror” allowed campaign season to blossom. All four GOP gubernatorial hopefuls were represented at our Lincoln Day Dinner. I also updated their financial picture and checked out where some stood on restoring our manufacturing and on taxation.

Meanwhile, I attended my last state Republican convention for the 2010-14 term in Bethesda, writing about it in two parts with some leftovers.

In not-so-political news, I followed up on the local story about our teachers’ union which I again updated with some not-so-shocking developments as May began. The state version of the teachers’ union also staked its support of two local candidates.

The manufacturing thread I had began in previous months took my site in a new direction with an exciting new opportunity for me – and the grand opening party was fun, too.

I looked at a day in the life of a couple campaigns and speculated on some polling data I was given, while making my first endorsement of the primary season. But my real emphasis was on voting records.

It’s also fun to look back at someone who tripped over a molehill. That post may have my sentences of the year:

I’d like to come out of the ground a couple years early and see that shovel shoved right back into Mike Miller’s face. Let’s show the arrogant bastards that we can win this state, and leave that little molehill as the pile of dirt we displaced in our resurrection.

In other news, I talked about a Memorial Day tradition of mine and some non-political pork. When it comes to ribs, I am generally there whether in Salisbury or Snow Hill, which helped to lead off my June coverage.

That month actually began early on the 1st as I wrapped up my post on our Republican gubernatorial debate at Salisbury University. Days later we learned two gubernatorial candidates would not receive public financing, which all but doomed their campaigns. Lost in that was a good commercial and even better platform summary, even if it wasn’t from the candidate I eventually endorsed.

The primary also marked the end of my own campaign, and although it wasn’t successful I had no regrets. And once Larry Hogan won, I trained my fire on the prospect of a free-spending Anthony Brown.

I also did my part to support the troops, and did a final update on Troopathon in July. That sort of went with my Independence Day message.

The party message for Maryland Republicans was unity, despite depressing poll numbers. And even though there was a diversion into race-based politics, the campaigns marshaled their supporters to a surprisingly pleasant summer tradition in Crisfield.

While the diversion into race-based politics was real, immigration in a fictional sense was the subject of one of my book reviews for the year.

With the primary over I finally got a chance to delve more deeply into subjects like energy security, ethanol, and so-called “dark money.” The latter two featured an otherwise obscure politician I’ve taken in as a poster child for the loony left.

August reminded me of the spineless Republican establishment and a press with a lack of curiosity, one which keeps falling for diversions. Despite all that, the polls were beginning to look better and one Democrat crossed the aisle to endorse Larry Hogan.

Our Congressman had a townhall meeting here that I covered, and a local Delegate who could eventually desire that seat has at least a few fans.

Personally I would like to see an August event made year-round, at least here on the Eastern Shore. I also made the case about needing to bolster our lagging employment, and recounted an annual Wicomico County event.

The campaigns became more serious after Labor Day and September began, but first I had to select my Shorebird of the Year and rate my fan experience. It really kicked off the following weekend as we held an annual Republican Club tradition and opened a headquarters. Three weeks later we increased the intensity with a special Patriot’s Dinner featuring a nationally-known speaker. So while there was one deposed Delegate who felt the MDGOP wasn’t helping a candidate enough, I figured that as long as we didn’t have a sudden exodus things would be fine.

In fact, some were even looking ahead to 2016, with one potential candidate trying to rally people in the pulpit.

On a more personal level, I looked at 9/11 with a different perspective, one perhaps foreshadowed by my reaching the half-century mark.

October always brings two of my favorite events, as the Autumn Wine Festival and Good Beer Festival both take over Pemberton Park on consecutive weekends. While we didn’t attract a statewide candidate, the reaction at our booth mirrored the polls that improved during the month.

One local race I focused on was the District 38 race, as I (and others) questioned the rhetoric and record of Senator Jim Mathias, who hasn’t always been an ally in the “War on Rural Maryland.” Meanwhile, another race brought statewide firepower, but a number of candidates were featured in a forum sponsored by our newest newspaper. All this for my impassioned plea to local voters.

But the most uplifting event may have been one I attended for the first time, a dinner and fundraiser for a good cause – that of life.

Without a doubt, the highlight of November was the election, where we found out a lot of hard work paid off. Beforehand, though, I wrote my political will and in the aftermath, I opined that early voting isn’t worth the expense.

The glow of victory, though, gave me the opportunity to wax eloquent on an ambitious manufacturing goal and putting the right people in charge of both the levers of the state government and state Republican Party. I also highlighted just how loony my left-wing poster child can get.

Even in the days after the election – before any winners were even sworn in – we had candidates lining up for the next one.

After the election I also hit a milestone, which came less than a month before the December anniversary of this site. The early part of the month also yielded one of my favorite annual posts as I added another member to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame.

But as a county we made a transition for the first time, an event which featured a special guest. No such transition was made by the state GOP, though, which re-elected a Chairman for the first time in a long time. One reason the election went so well was money from a Congressional benefactor, one who ran into much criticism in the last few days.

Policy was back on the front burner, from phosphorus regulations in our state to a renewed push for populism from my favorite quotable leftist. Their month was made by a Presidential entrant, although a former candidate was vindicated thanks to market events.

And besides the upcoming look at 2015, my last link comes from the music I liked from 2014.

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I had a very hard time culling all 400+ posts I did in 2014 to a highlight reel of about 120 – at one point I was on a pace to place over 200 links before I did some editing of some things I liked but didn’t make the cut. As I noted in my anniversary post, this year was my best ever in readership so I must have done something right.

As I noted a long way above, I will now provide a look forward to 2015 at the county, state, and national levels. It should be fun.

monoblogue music: 2014’s top 5

December 27, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: 2014’s top 5 

From March to November I had a regular feature where I reviewed new and recently-released music by request. (Right now this feature is on a hiatus, but I’m thinking it comes back in 2015.) Most lists at this time of year are a top 10, but since I only reviewed about 20 releases the cream of the crop would seem to me to be the top five.

So without further ado, what did I like best in 2014?

5. “The Last of the Originals” by Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders

Original review: August 30.

While the album veers into country territory because it’s Roberts’ ambition to make it big in that genre, there’s enough other influence shown to please fans of country-tinged rockers like the Eagles or Neil Young. That willingness not to sound just like everyone else on the country Top 40 chart sets Billy apart from the rest, even moreso than his lack of a Southern twang. This is despite the fact he’s far more southern than most as Billy is an Australian native.

It will be interesting to see what Billy does to follow this release up. Unlike a lot of other musicians, he seems to be social media-shy so I’m not sure just what is on tap for him in 2015. Perhaps he’s one of those who will remain true to his craft and do the music he likes.

4. “Moanin’ at Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project” by Tomas Doncker Band

Original review: May 24.

One of two releases I reviewed from this band, which seems to spend all its time playing, recording, and helping out other regional artists, the tribute to bluesman Howlin’ Wolf scored with both the remakes of classic blues tracks and the couple originals added in the same vein. Most of the songs are familiar, but this new spin paid a good tribute.

The band continues to thrive in their native New York City area, which was the subject of their other release I reviewed later called “Big Apple Blues.” Their frenetic pace looks to continue in 2015 as the True Groove family of bands has a lot up their sleeve, according to the band’s Facebook page.

3. “Insubordia” by The Lost Poets

Original review: July 19.

This is an album I actually took time to listen to a few times after I reviewed it because I enjoyed it so much, probably because it fit closest to my favorite genres. So the only reason it fell to number 3 on my list was the fact it only had four real songs. It would have been interesting to have a few more songs to see where they could take their sound.

As it turns out, there is a little bit more from them as we enter 2015. A few days ago The Lost Poets put out a single called Mouth that stays true to their slow grunge roots. I took a listen (it’s on their Soundcloud page) and was relatively impressed – whether this is a one-off or intended to be the bridge to a larger project will be something to watch as the new year develops.

As for the top two, I could almost flip a coin. Both are good in their own right, and I’ve gone back and forth on the order. But I decided to go this way after hearing both again.

2. “Turn the People” by Monks of Mellonwah

Original review: March 15.

This was the very first release I reviewed, and marks the second appearance of an Australian artist in my top 5. Monks of Mellonwah did a nice job of seamlessly shifting musical gears on this release, which was a compilation of three previous EPs into one full-length model. It led to a brief U.S. tour over the summer.

The band has ambitious plans for 2015, though, with a new release in the works and plans for another U.S. tour which could bring them a little closer to this area. The Monks appear to be on the cusp of commercial success which could vault it into the big leagues of household names in pop music.

1. “Diamonds & Demons” by Paul Maged

Original review: November 1.

Oddly enough, it’s my first and last reviews of the year that make up the top two, like bookends. But the deciding factor in picking Paul Maged as number one was, as I said in my initial take, “this is perhaps the best example of straight-ahead rock and roll I’ve come across.” Technical wizardry can make up for a lot of faults, but talent has its way of shining through in the end and I enjoyed listening to the album again.

Considering how many fires Paul has had his irons in over the years, it’s hard telling what direction he will take in 2015. I think he’s ready to take the next step musically, but the market and his hard work will do a lot to determine that as well.

As for this tiny little division of monoblogue, I’m hoping that it continues in 2015. I suspect that things will pick up again after the holidays and ideally I’ll have enough to do a full top 10 next year. Then again, though, five is definitely the cream of the crop so maybe I’ll stick with it.

Anyway, as I always say, go listen for yourself. The links are generally in the original reviews.

Looking backward and forward

December 26, 2014 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Looking backward and forward 

Let’s face it: the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the forgotten time in the news cycle. So little of import happens that the news becomes retrospectives of the prior year and predictions of what may happen in the next. I’ve found the reason this works so well is that many of the newsmakers go on their own extended holiday, so no one is really in a position to create hard news.

So over the next few days between now and the New Year I’ve lined up reprisals of some of the features I enjoyed putting together at the end of last year, with one new addition. Tomorrow I will debut my top 5 list for monoblogue music, and Sunday I’ll put up the year in review for my site.

Turning to 2015, Monday through Wednesday will be a look forward at what I think will be some of the things to watch for in 2015, as well as thoughts on how some of what I foresaw in 2014 actually came out.

Believe it or not, though, these are some of the more time-consuming posts I do over the course of a year – I spent parts of several days putting together my year in review piece, for example. You now have a glimpse of the subject matter, so what will draw you in is what I have to say about it.

Stay tuned.

Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2014

December 24, 2014 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off on Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2014 

As I have traditionally done, for Christmas Day tomorrow my site will be dark in order to leave this post atop the queue. Besides, if you are reading my site on Christmas Day your time is better spent paying attention to your family and friends, for those are the lasting things.

While I wouldn’t consider myself a regular and devout churchgoer, last Sunday evening I was in attendance as our humble little church did its Christmas Cantata. Of course it spelled out the story of Christ’s birth in words and music, and as the pastor noted afterward good Christian music provides its own sermon and message. Sometimes that’s lost when I hear “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Sleigh Bells” for the thousandth time in one of the stores in which I do my outside job. Rarely does the rotation include “Silent Night” or this tune as done by my friends Jim and Michele Hogsett, “O Holy Night.”

Straight from their dining room, that was. It’s one small celebration of the real reason for the season.

In the runup from Thanksgiving to Christmas 2014, we’ve seen a lot of senseless tragedy. Unfortunately, much of it was brought about by hatred and evil – hatred over that last few layers of skin which determines its shade or of the belief system one follows, and the evil which justifies taking another’s life because of their chosen religion or profession. It’s very sad that in the time of season we celebrate life we should be advocating death. Once we stopped a world war to celebrate Christmas, but now…well, peace on earth seems but a quaint saying, and too many consider a successful Christmas as one where they got the biggest presents or threw the best party ever.

In my case, this Christmas will probably provide neither of those worldly goals, but as I grow older I feel that I understand more about what Christmas is supposed to be. I’m not one to be prodded by the force-fed commercialism we now endure into what most consider “Christmas spirit” – in fact, when I was living on my own before I met Kim I didn’t even put up a Christmas tree – but in these final days before the holiday I can pause and take stock of the miracle and blessing of Christ’s birth and the Earth receiving its King.

So from my rocking chair and laptop in Salisbury, Maryland, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas. Let’s all take stock of what we received in the city of David.

Passing on prosperity

December 23, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Passing on prosperity 

Since both have been mentioned in the news as potential Presidential candidates, governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York have been natural rivals for the attention of the various interest groups that make up the constituency of the Democratic Party. It seems that they are always trying to one-up the other in enacting off-the-charts liberal legislation – when one allowed gay marriage, passed draconian gun laws, or pandered to illegal immigrants, the other tried to follow in rapid succession.

Martin O’Malley and Andrew Cuomo also both cast their lot with the radical environmentalists who claimed (falsely) that hydraulic fracturing for energy extraction would ruin their state’s environment. Yet while O’Malley relented ever-so-slightly in recent weeks, allowing the practice but with regulations one energy expert called “onerous and time-consuming,” Cuomo stopped the practice cold in his state by decreeing in an announcement last week that fracking would be banned, timed nicely after his re-election. Observers of both states are scratching their heads about these decisions, both in the media and in the energy industry. In New York, local media bemoaned the lost opportunity while landowners in the affected area called Cuomo’s ban a “worst-case scenario.”

Yet in the middle of all this sits the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a state which has embraced the economic benefits of the practice to such a degree that Tom Wolf, the incoming Democratic governor of the state won’t ban it. (However, he may stiffen regulations and increase taxes on energy producers, which will be something to watch in the coming months.)

Granted, their good fortune of geography means Pennsylvania has the largest share of the Marcellus Shale which yielded all that natural gas, while Maryland only has a small slice and New York has a small but significant portion.  For their part, Ohio and West Virginia also have sizable portions of the formation, while Virginia’s share is similar to Maryland’s. Ohio has been nearly as aggressive as Pennsylvania in taking advantage of the shale – although recently re-elected Republican Governor John Kasich is also trying to increase taxes on producers – while West Virginia is lagging behind their neighbors and just beginning the process of allowing extraction.

It’s a given that fracking isn’t without risk, but neither are installing large solar farms or erecting 400-foot high wind turbines. Yet the natural gas and oil provided from fracking make for a much more reliable energy source than the intermittent electricity provided by the latter pair, sources which ironically need a natural gas backup to be consistent.

As time goes on we will see just what economic effects a fracking ban will have on the affected areas of New York. But as we have seen in states which have already began the extraction, the Empire State is missing out on the potential for investment and return that having the Marcellus Shale provides for those lucky enough to live over it. Hopefully our neighbors in western Maryland will see some benefits in the next couple years as Governor-elect Hogan puts “sensible” regulations in place to benefit all concerned parties.

A pair of projects, from opposite sides

December 22, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

There are always those who use film as the best means to illustrate an issue. I’m not one of those, but I admire those who make the attempt and a couple projects in need of funding piqued my interest as they deal with problems on opposite sides of the country.

Given the distance from their Indiegogo goal, Chris and Lisa Burgard need more help in following up on a project they did several years ago called “Border.” As they note:

Back then, we filmed and documented armed narcotics traffickers breaking into the country, women being abused and tortured under rape trees, children being used by drug cartels to move product and people across the border, American ranchers routinely finding dead bodies, sometimes murdered women.  Lawlessness and violence were so bad that ranchers and their wives had to carry semiautomatic weapons in order to safely feed livestock on their own property.

The new film, tentatively titled “Beyond the Border,” promises “to expose the truth about this new wave of illegal immigration and the danger that has spread far beyond our southern border and into the American heartland.” This “movie Barack Obama doesn’t want you to see” goes against the politically correct narrative promoted by the amnesty lobby and Chamber of Commerce types that all our immigrants just want to improve their economic lot (conveniently, at a lower labor cost than they might pay comparable American workers.) Instead, the most recent influx of border-crossers is blamed for overwhelming the legal system and spreading the deadly EV-D68 enterovirus to American children.

I have my Facebook friend John LaRosa to thank for bringing my attention to “Beyond the Border” above, but the below had a little more advertising firepower than a Facebook post, so they are somewhat closer to their goal. It’s also a subject a little closer to my heart since I grew up 90 minutes (and within the reach of their sports teams and radio stations) south of Detroit. Yes, this Maryland transplant still roots for his Tigers and Lions.

I watched the original film and one thing which leaped out at me was the role of government in the demise of the city through bad planning, bad choices, and bad apples in charge. But we’re told Detroit is a city on the rebound.

As Executive Producer Ben Howe describes it, though:

Detroit is often framed as a lost cause but we never hear the whole story. What brought the city to this point? Not chance, but incompetence, corporate cronyism, greed, and above all, corruption.

To the people of Detroit, this is a personal reality – a reality about the homes and lives they built, and some have lost, and that all want back and improved. They want to see their city thrive again. They will not concede to defeat and despair. The Detroit Project will spotlight the people experiencing the bankruptcy first-hand, and most importantly, the people who are doing something about it.

We intend to fearlessly engage with those in power that claim to be working on behalf of the people. We will investigate how city planners are spending public money, what projects are in the works, and what they believe the focus of city efforts should be.

Is Detroit headed for a future of prosperity that harkens back to her earlier years? Or are they going down the same troubled path that brought them to the brink? Who do you trust to answer those questions? Someone has to hold the policy makers accountable. Together with your help, that is precisely what we intend to do.

Over the last half-century the region that we consider Detroit has spread out over countless suburbs in surrounding counties, with bedroom communities spreading out from Oakland and Macomb counties on the north to Ann Arbor on the west to Monroe toward the south. It’s created somewhat of a donut effect as entire blocks of inner-city Detroit were abandoned to the elements and certain remaining homes in the city proper can literally be purchased for less than $100. Indeed, it’s a tale of people who once drove from the suburbs downtown to work now mainly commuting from one suburb to another – only returning downtown to catch the aforementioned Tigers or Lions before retreating back out I-75, I-94, or I-96 – and the reasons deserve a thorough investigation.

These are just two examples which piqued my interest. But elements of both could actually be applied locally as illegal immigrants have made their way to our area, settling in a city which has seen its own share of tough economic times but whose downtown is enjoying a little bit of a renaissance which is hoped will continue with the opening of new entertainment venues and plans for more residential development. I don’t think we quite need a film in these veins about Salisbury but the lessons learned could be illustrative.

The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.'”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

Newt Gingrich was right after all

I wrote a little bit about the 2012 contenders yesterday in a piece about 2016, but I’ve been seeing the evidence that Newt Gingrich’s thought and 2012 campaign plank that we could once again see gasoline at $2.50 a gallon (or less, as the recent photo above from my Missouri-based writer friend Melinda Musil demonstrates) has come true despite naysayers from just a short year or so ago. Yet despite experts who called the idea “absurd” and noted “the price of oil is set on a global market” and decreed “in the immediate term there is almost nothing you can do,” well, here we are. Musil reported yesterday her prices are now under $2 a gallon.

The reason prices are so much lower is pretty much what Gingrich proposed to do in the 2012 campaign: increased production. With fracking and other enhancements in technology allowing domestic output to increase, the benefits have been enormous. Considering that average prices going into the July 4 holiday hovered over $3.60 a gallon, the relief expressed by drivers may begin spilling over into the economy at-large. Now the average is about $2.54 a gallon, with this area’s prices relatively close to that point.

Over time, the benefits will be accruing to consumers – if an Eastern Shore driver goes 20,000 miles a year in a truck that gets 20 miles per gallon, spending $1 less a gallon for a year is equivalent to a $1,000 annual raise that’s tax free. On the other hand, this decline in prices is thwarting the state of Maryland’s scheme to take more out of our pockets by increasing the sales tax on gas, because as I noted a few days back their 8 cents per gallon projected revenue is sinking closer to a nickel. Luckily, the state government over the next four years will desperately try not to confiscate any more revenue from working folks like us thanks to the recent election, and this tailwind could help Governor-elect Hogan address the state’s structural deficit through a modest increase in economic activity.

It’s doubtful that our prices will stay quite this low, for oil at $60 a barrel means our extraction with its price point that’s a little bit higher isn’t sustainable in the long term. But there is the chance that more practice with these unconventional techniques could drive down production costs to a point where our producers could prosper at that price or even below – if we could match the Saudis’ lower extraction cost we could wipe out the OPEC cartel once and for all.

So enjoy these low prices while they last. Hopefully, this modest economic bump will kickstart other sectors and bring us prosperity despite the best efforts of some in Washington – you know, the ones who try to take credit for this energy boom despite having little to do with it.

Who’s out may be as important as who’s in

Recently I’ve posted about three likely entrants into the 2016 Presidential race – Jeb Bush and Dr. Ben Carson on the Republican side and Jim Webb representing the Democrats. Naturally with an open seat the interest in the job increases, since there’s no incumbent with his built-in advantages to contend with. This opens the field to a lot of potential contenders who passed on the 2012 race for various reasons. Recall that many of those who ran in 2012 on the GOP side are still active in the political arena – Newt Gingrich with his production group, Rick Santorum with Patriot Voices, Mitt Romney with endorsements and help with financial support, and Rick Perry with his RickPAC, among others.

Obviously Democrats were silent in 2012, but it’s been known that grassroots movements have sprung up for Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (who’s trying to tell her supporters “no”) while Martin O’Malley began his own PAC for 2014. Joe Biden claims he “honest to God hasn’t made up my mind” about running.

On the GOP side, these aforementioned contenders have one thing in common: except for Perry, who did not seek another term and leaves next month, they are not currently serving in office. (On the other hand, among the Democrats only Webb and Clinton are out of office, although O’Malley joins that group January 21.) Yet the GOP has an extremely deep bench of current governors, many of which are in their second term and have national name recognition: in alphabetical order, the group includes Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, John Kasich in Ohio, Mike Pence of Indiana, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

In recent years, our presidents have tended to be former governors: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter all came from that background. Obviously their tenures in the Oval Office were a mixed bag of success, but Americans tend to be more confident that those who ran a state can run a federal government. (The only recent exceptions to this were 2012 with Mitt Romney and 1988, where Vice-President Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Maybe being governor of Massachusetts works as a disqualifier.)

With the large potential field of governors, it may be just as important to know who’s out. When you have a state to run for another four years, the excuses for trips to Iowa and New Hampshire are fewer. It’s not to say that governors who want the brass ring won’t try and make that effort, but as we’ve seen with Martin O’Malley and his frequent journeys to New Hampshire and Iowa in his second term, there is the potential for losing focus on your real job. It was enough to cost his anointed successor his election, for the dubious gain of polling at 1 percent or less in most 2016 Presidential polls.

There are perhaps 15 to 20 figures in national politics who could potentially run for President on the Republican side – far more than the Democrats boast. Of course, only one can win a party’s nomination, but beyond that there are only three or four who can be in the top tier and raise the money necessary to wage a national campaign. (It’s something that Martin O’Malley is finding out firsthand on the Democrat side, since he’s not one of those.) It’s been claimed on a grassroots level that the last two Republican campaigns were decided when the “establishment” settled on one candidate before the activists did – that group split their allegiances and votes several ways until it was too late. By the time Rick Santorum outlasted Gingrich, Perry, et. al. he was no more than the highest loser because at that point the nomination was just about sealed for Mitt Romney. Romney may have been the best candidate for 2012, but he wasn’t good enough to get the nearly 3.6 million who passed on voting for Barack Obama a second time to come on board.

People like to keep their options open, but since the announcements of who’s in seem to be receding farther and farther from the actual election, it may help those of us on the Right who would like to select a candidate to know who won’t be running. Obviously there will be a few ardent supporters who will pine for that candidate to reconsider – as far-left populist Democrats are finding with Elizabeth Warren – but we could save a lot of wasted money and effort by finding out who won’t make a half-hearted attempt at an early date.

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