A look ahead: 2016 on the national front

December 31, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A look ahead: 2016 on the national front 

Well, kids, how shall I say this?

Rather than type out my grievances about what we won’t see that I’ve had over the last two years, suffice to say that we have an election coming up where everyone will promise to do something about it. The sad thing is that, with a few exceptions, they’ve been in a position to do something and failed to act – so why should we believe them now?

Granted, I think there would be a far better chance at resolution with a Rand Paul or Ted Cruz in charge than a Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, but at this early date we have no idea who will win. I don’t either, but it is fair to say that, for an open election, the people who lead in December rarely are the ones taking office thirteen months later.

With that said, I’m not going to take up a lot of time or effort. Have a Happy New Year, don’t wipe out our company on their way to/from our house, and I’ll see you on the other side.

There you have it – short, sweet, and to the point in 200 words or less.

A look ahead: 2016 in Maryland

Now that I made my thoughts on the fate of Wicomico County next year known, it’s time to expand the focus to the state as a whole. After the runup to the 2014 campaign and the transition of last year occupied the state over the last two years, it seems that the political class has settled in as we enter the second year of Larry Hogan’s term. His honeymoon was extended to some degree by his cancer diagnosis, but with a clean bill of health I suspect the gloves will be coming off as far as statewide Democrats are concerned. They need to position themselves for both the 2018 state election and, in some cases, the 2016 election as well. The surprise retirement announcement from Senator Barb Mikulski placed several Congressional Democrats into the race to succeed her, with House members Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen leading the charge. Elijah Cummings is also considering the race as well.

Of course, having these vacancies means ambitious state politicians are eyeing a move from Annapolis to Washington. So far five Democrats are considering the move, which in turn could create some vacancies by year’s end as it’s likely some of them emerge victorious. But on a policy note, these Democrats aren’t going to run from the political center so look for a serious turn to the left from the General Assembly this year – particularly if they succeed at overturning some of Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes in the opening days of this year’s session.

One place where Hogan can make a difference, though, is on the regulatory front. He doesn’t always need the General Assembly to make progress toward his goal of a more business-competitive Maryland, so look for him to try and do some pruning through his department heads.

With the economy recovering ever-so-slightly and the state addressing the structural deficit to the degree that it ran a small surplus this fiscal year, another bone of contention will be how the state’s budget is set up when it comes out next month. Having reached $40 billion last year, even the $500 million reportedly in surplus only allows the state to increase spending by a little over 1 percent – of course, the Democrats have a wish list twice that large and then some. Being used to the 4 to 5 percent annual budget increases common during the O’Malley era, Democrats consider Hogan’s smaller increases as cuts and that attitude is already in effect as we get ready to see the FY2017 budget.

Conservatives, though, probably aren’t going to see a lot of progress toward cutting the O’Malley excess on other issues. Short of a rejection to Maryland’s 2013 gun law in federal court (not likely), Hogan isn’t going to push very hard to restore Second Amendment rights or bring more school choice to the state. In year one, Hogan hasn’t really used his bully pulpit very much – granted, he was ill and undergoing cancer treatment for a large portion of the year but if you’re expecting Hogan to be another Ronald Reagan you may be disappointed. Besides the toll and fee decreases we were given last year, there’s not been much of a push for overall tax relief either thanks to the continuing structural deficit that Hogan’s predecessors have granted to him.

To the extent that Maryland has a large majority of Democratic voters, perhaps the best a conservative can expect is to slow down the leftward slide into the abyss. Bringing real change to the state is perhaps a multiple-term effort – not just the two Hogan may be fortunate enough to receive, but also with the hope that he paves the way for a more conservative successor. With the exception of one Bob Ehrlich term, the state has shifted leftward more or less continuously for decades so it will take time to undo the damage.

With the national election and the real prospect of conservative change in mind, the Maryland Republican agenda should be one of working the state away from its reliability on Uncle Sam as both employer and provider of funding. Since the Democrats are going to make 2016 about laying some ticking time bombs to go off just in time for them to come save the day in 2018, the GOP needs a plan to defuse them.

Maryland probably won’t make the same kind of news in 2016 as it did in 2015 – given the Baltimore riots and tremendous murder rate, we sure hope not. But the year has a lot of potential for this state, in my opinion more so than we’ve had in a decade. Leadership will be the key: if Larry Hogan emerges as the leader, we should be all right. But Heaven help us if it’s one of those on the loony left.

A look ahead: 2016 in Wicomico County

After doing this the last two years one would think I would be an expert at dissecting what will go on over the course of a year, but in this case my crystal ball is a little bit cloudy. Perhaps that’s because things are looking up for a change.

I went to the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation website and downloaded some figures which reflect great job creation news – particularly in the latter half of this year. Since June, Wicomico County employment figures are running between 1,300 and 1,800 jobs higher than the corresponding month of 2014. Conversely, in 2014 we never ran more than 753 jobs ahead of 2013 and by the end of last year we actually had fewer employed than the year prior. That downturn carried into this calendar year but by March we had turned the corner.

The growth in the latter half of the year was reminiscent of the boom period of 2004-06, when Wicomico County routinely gained 1,000 or more jobs in every month year-over-year.

So the question will be whether county revenues begin to increase. Unlike the boom of a decade ago, which was fueled by a rapid increase in property values that later translated into increased tax collections, this upturn doesn’t come with rapidly appreciating property values. And there are plenty of bills for the county to pay – two new schools with a third one now placed into the pipeline as well as new facilities for the Board of Elections, increased mandates for education spending and environmental cleanup from the state and federal governments, respectively, and a call from the city of Salisbury to assist them more with fire protection expenses through a more equitable revenue sharing. Certainly it appears that any new money has a number of hands reaching out for it.

Another question regards how well two relatively new leaders will work with each other. It’s fortunate that both County Executive Bob Culver and Salisbury Mayor Jake Day spent a little bit of time on the legislative side of things because it will help them understand the process the other has to go through to get things done. If there’s one thing we have learned from Culver, though, it’s that he’s a man of action who always seems to have a to-do list of improvements he’d like to see. It’s more autocratic than bureaucratic on the county side of the Government Office Building these days. Initial impressions of Day seem to be similar, although he’s made much less of an impact on taking office than Culver did insofar as personnel decisions are concerned.

But there are two key issues regarding education that will be out of Culver’s hands. One is the fate of the elected school board, which is now up to the Maryland General Assembly. The other is the new superintendent that will take over the county schools sometime in 2016. The Board of Education begins the selection process after the holidays – by the way, the county Republican Central Committee will be called upon to retain or replace two GOP members of that body this summer.

Getting around may become a little more difficult next fall as well, as the state will begin replacing 11 bridge decks on the U.S. 13 bypass. It’s a project that’s not supposed to impact summer traffic in 2017 but won’t be complete until 2018.

In comparison to previous years there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly contentious on the horizon – with the possible exception of the proposed large-scale chicken farms Radical Green is already up in arms against – which probably means we’re going to have an interesting year. If we can keep up the pace of job creation, though, eventually the local economy will get back to where it was a decade ago and prosperity takes care of a lot of problems.

Tomorrow I shift my focus to the state as a whole.

2015: a monoblogue year in review

December 28, 2015 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off on 2015: a monoblogue year in review 

I think this is the third time I’m going to try this, and I found out the last two times it’s fun to take a look back. Read on and see if you agree.

Even though Republicans were set to take over Congress, political infighting at both the state and national levels kicked January off, with the expected results of a power struggle. Andy Harris, just into his third term, had to explain an unpopular vote. Yet while there was agreement in the state that the city of Baltimore needed to be revitalized for Maryland to succeed, it seemed like the Maryland General Assembly had different priorities in its pre-filed bills. We would eventually get a bill to give Wicomico County an elected school board as well – even though it wasn’t what I wanted – but I made my plea for accountability before its filing by our five freshman representatives working as the Wicomico County delegation.

Local agricultural interests cheered when newly-inaugurated Governor Hogan pulled strict regulations with hours to spare, giving Radical Green plenty to whine about. With that in mind, on the energy front I questioned the role wind power could play, even during a chilly winter.

But in the end we found out what the Koch brothers don’t have, and that kept me laughing into February. We began the month with the first of many “it” candidates for 2016 forming the dreaded exploratory committee. Closer to home, though, our new governor laid out an ambitious agenda while the opposition whined about its negativity. Speaking of Democratic pet projects, I also made it a series of sorts on wind power in noting they weren’t getting their subsidy anymore but were trying hard to convince Congress to renew it.

February was the month I decided I didn’t need to be “mono” anymore, bringing contributor Cathy Keim on board with this post on Common Core. Adding her was perhaps the best blogging decision I ever made. On a completely different level I also noted former candidate Dan Bongino was branching out with his message.

Advancing the story on our elected school board, the month brought the scheduling of the hearing for it. The General Assembly also took up a “death with dignity” bill that Cathy opposed and increased the speed limit on certain highways. Yet with the prospect of the O’Malley PMT regulations clearing the General Assembly, Governor Hogan reached a compromise that would adversely affect local farmers anyway – despite what state groups may have claimed.

Another carryover from the previous month was the saga of replacing General Assembly members, which brought legislation seeking special elections. The fate of many legislative items took up my March; although the appointment question was settled in court I had a better suggestion and one ill effect of Obamacare was addressed. We were still stuck with the rain tax mandate, though. I challenged elected school board opponents after the hearing but the noisy, tiny minority won nonetheless.

There was no surprise, though, that Radical Green hated the phosphorus regulations. I knew that was coming, and they tried to convince legislators to pass the O’Malley version. Cathy also knew another disaster was coming with funding the federal Department of Homeland Security as the GOP folded like a cheap tent. On the other hand, Democrats were scared of Scott Walker nationally and made big claims locally.

In other 2016 news, we were shocked by a political lifer’s retirement announcement but began to formally fill out the GOP presidential field.

The local pro-life community had a gala fundraiser, but religious freedom was a subject both Cathy and I tackled at months’ end.

Once in awhile I get it wrong, but in this case I was happy to report my error about an event that would eventually occur in April. And that’s not the only reason it’s one of my favorite months, as the crack of hardwood against horsehide heralds a new baseball season where I guessed the Shorebirds’ roster.

Back in the political world, Cathy and I teamed up to discuss the redefinition of birth. I also was puzzled by a logo and, as the “90 days of terror” that is the General Assembly session wore down, I opined about Governor Hogan’s first veto but also took a look at what we avoided thanks to a local Delegate. After the session, our governor made a stop at Salisbury’s 3rd Friday event while I stopped over in Ocean City to see some old friends at the state GOP convention. Later that month, we got a full report from our GOP delegation at the Wicomico County Republican Club meeting while I suggested some ideas for 2016.

The month ended with our state suffering a black eye. Many of the policies at the root of the problem came out in May when the Democratic presidential race moved farther left. But I don’t think his entry was radical enough for this activist and her wild claims about the energy industry. On the GOP side, the list of contenders expanded rapidly. With so many contenders I thought it would be a good idea to organize debates in a fair manner.

Summer driving season became a little more bearable as Governor Hogan announced toll reductions, but I gave him a list of bills to veto while he was at it.

I kicked off summer with a Memorial Day weekend to remember, including the music. But June brought the usual idiocy from our former governor and his party allies; a lack of intelligence was also exhibited by the current occupant who failed to use his veto pen in a more appropriate manner as well as a Supreme Court majority that blew it twice in a week. The courts had another opportunity to set something right, though.

Distrust of government was everywhere: trade agreements (times two), rail boondogglesteaching history. Even the speaker for the Maryland GOP’s annual dinner was an outsider candidate. Cathy added a book review about Common Core to the mix, too.

On the other hand, we took the process the state gave to us and picked two new Wicomico County Board of Education members – much to the chagrin of local liberals.

I also opined on the next possible development hotspot, even if it’s a decade later than planned. Something else that was later than planned was my monoblogue Accountability Project that came out a month behind schedule.

July kicked off the process by which I determined who I would back in the 2016 presidential election. I looked at education, Second Amendment, and energy to begin the selection. Meanwhile, statewide politicians descended on Crisfield for an annual event.

I also cast a skeptical eye at Maryland business climate improvement based on a nationwide survey of small businesses, but this came before a regulatory reform effort. However, Cathy pointed out one legacy Larry Hogan kept. Nationally, we got the first rumblings about dissatisfaction with Speaker of the House John Boehner. Maybe it’s that squeezing of the middle class thanks to Obamacare.

And while I kept the site dark on Independence Day, I wanted to make sure I expressed my pride in America.

August began with a report that hit me where I live – building permits have ceased as part of the War on Rural Maryland. Speaking of rural Maryland, I also spent a day at our rebadged county fair. Here in Salisbury, we found out who filed for the 2015 election. Two candidates started their efforts with a community barbecue.

I also continued my series on the 2016 Presidential election with posts on social issuestrade and job creation, and taxation, while I handicapped the first GOP debate. After that, the talk was about Donald Trump and how much interest he was receiving. Later in the month, Cathy wrote about what was said by John Boehner regarding a different candidate.

Planned Parenthood was big news, and a rally in Easton brought over 100 who wanted them to lose their federal funding. (That may have been my headline of the year, too.) While my coverage may have had some bias, Cathy thought the local TV station really showed its true colors. But Planned Parenthood even affected the national political races.

As September began, we found out Larry Hogan has work to do to gain the confidence of small businesses, but with the occasion of Labor Day it was time to see how worker freedom was progressing.

I had my thoughts on the Kim Davis situation, while Cathy weighed in on the Iranian deal and the very soul of the GOP. It was time to get serious as summer was coming to a close, which also meant it was time to pick a Shorebird of the Year and relate things from a fan’s perspective.

Also that month, my presidential series came to an end with an endorsement after a look at immigration, foreign policy, entitlements, and the role of government.  On a local political note, we all survived the monsoon that was the WCRC Crab Feast and began a series of hearings prescribed to determine the shape of our local board of education, to which I added history and context. Those hearings were dull, however, compared to the one involving Radical Green.

And of course, those seeking election were there at 3rd Friday, as was I. The campaign moved into October with one pet project shot down in flames and aspirants revealing their financial positions as the day of voting drew near.

Nationally, we learned that John Boehner finally resigned, which prompted Cathy to thinking about the truth and the spin. She also covered the second Easton Planned Parenthood protest since I was away. I did make it to a local pro-life fundraiser, but I was more concerned about the state of making things in the country. We also got some tough love and a tax plan from my endorsed presidential candidate.

The fall is also festival time around these parts, so I wrote and photographed the Good Beer and Autumn Wine festivals.

The Salisbury city election came in November, and although only one of my two endorsed candidates won, I was encouraged by the new composition. After four tries, my friend Muir Boda finally won an election so his swearing-in was emotional. However, it also created a headache for our local Republican club.

The county GOP, though, had a successful Lincoln Day Dinner and hosted the kickoff for a U.S. Senate candidate that Cathy covered. But an event in another state made me ask: what about non-partisan elections and redistricting? I also had to say goodbye to electing my endorsed presidential candidate, but renewed my acquaintance with the state GOP convention after a yearlong hiatus.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Cathy related a class she attended that could make a difference and made a modest immigration proposal. I also related how our state tax policies were scraping the bottom.

After I closed the month before by supplementing my posts with a celebratory “10 from 10″ series, December opened with my tenth anniversary. Just as a reminder:

I still think I can utilize these writing talents that God gave me for the common good of enhancing peoples’ awareness of the benefits and advantages that freedom and liberty, firmly based on a moral, Judeo-Christian foundation, can bring. It’s not a fight I’ll win in ten years or perhaps even whatever time I have left in this world, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and do so anyway.

Politics slowed down a bit for the holiday, but I did have to ask Radical Green what they would do for business around here if the chicken farms went away? (No answer yet.) Cathy began what should be an ambitious series on immigration, which I look forward to reading more from. And not everyone likes Donald Trump – or the GOP, for that matter. I also wrapped up the city elections by seeing who gave to what (or to themselves.)

I also let you know that high wages may not be the problem with American manufacturing, and that the government shouldn’t always be our answer. Sadly, we just keep doing the same old thing – it’s always about more revenue.

For those non-political things, I returned to baseball for a day with my newest Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame class, gave you the top 5 records I reviewed this year, and said goodbye to a friend with my Christmas message.

That’s where I’m going to leave it because this is always a long post to compile. I counted 157 links, so you have a lot of reading to do – it may take you until 2016 to do so. In the next few days I will pull out my crystal ball and see if I can look forward to events locally, statewide, and nationally.

Odds and ends number 77

December 27, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Odds and ends number 77 

It will be on the light side this time, but this is probably the lightest news week on the calendar as many of the productive people in the country take an extended vacation. Having Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on a Friday really assists in that effort because the average worker only has to take 3 or 4 vacation days rather than a full week – as an example I had both Thursday and Friday off this past weekend and will be off Friday, too. Long story short, the government and newsmakers are pretty much off for several days with the minimum of paid time off insuring a long 11-day break.

So I’m going to begin with news that came out recently from the Center for Immigration Studies that confirmed what millions of observers have long suspected: we aren’t ejecting illegal immigrants from the country like we used to. No one is talking about all 11, 13, 20, 30, or whatever million there are, but just over 235,000 – not even half of the number just four years ago. Jessica Vaughan of CIS noted in testimony before the Senate that:

This willful neglect (regarding deportation) has imposed enormous costs on American communities. In addition to the distorted labor markets and higher tax bills for social welfare benefits that result from uncontrolled illegal immigration, the Obama administration’s anti-enforcement policies represent a threat to public safety from criminal aliens that ICE officers are told to release instead of detain and remove. The administration’s mandate that ICE focus only on the ‘worst of the worst’ convicted criminal aliens means that too many of ‘the worst’ deportable criminal aliens are still at large in our communities.

Even if Donald Trump personally supervised a border wall and made Mexico pay for it, deportations continuing at that rate would take decades to clear out those here illegally, giving those at the bottom of the list for removal time to have anchor babies and otherwise game the system to stay put. It’s a waiting game that Americans and those law-abiding immigrants wishing to enter are losing quickly.

Obviously the first steps any new administration would need to take not only involve revoking all the pro-illegal alien policies of the Obama administration but putting an end to birthright citizenship for non-citizens and cracking down on employers who knowingly employ illegals. In one stroke I’m for pissing off both the Democrats and the pro-amnesty Chamber of Commerce types.

Immigration – and its potential for bringing in a new generation of government-dependent first-generation voting residents (I hesitate to call them Americans as they are slow to assimilate) isn’t as much of a cause for concern for Robert Romano of Americans for Limited Government as is the death of the Republican voter.

I’ve brought up this question in a different form before, as I have pointed out the Reagan Democrats of 1980 were comprised of a large number of blue-collar lunchbucket types who were probably approaching middle age at the time. Brought up as Democrats with the idealism of John F. Kennedy and the union worker political pedigree, they nonetheless were believers in American exceptionalism – for them, the American malaise was a result of Jimmy Carter capping off a decade or more of failed liberal policies both here and abroad.

As Romano points out, many in the Silent Generation (which was the base of the Reagan Democrats as they reached middle age in the 1970s) are now gone. At around 29 million, it is well less than half of the Baby Boomers or Millennials. (I notice that Generation X isn’t mentioned, but they are certainly larger than the Silent Generation as well. At 51, I could be considered a tail-end Baby Boomer but I identify more with Generation X.)

Yet the question to me isn’t so much Republican vs. Democrat as it is “regressive” statist vs. conservative/libertarian. I worry more about the number of producers (i.e. those who work in the private sector) vs. the number of takers (public sector workers + benefit beneficiaries). The number of takers is growing by leaps and bounds – chronic underemployment to the point people still qualify for food stamps or housing assistance plays a part, as does people getting older and retiring to get their Medicare and Social Security. I’ll grant it is possible (and very likely) some straddle both categories, particularly older workers who qualify for Medicare, but as a whole we have a bleak future as an entitlement state without some sort of drastic reform. This example probably oversimplifies it, but you get the picture.

At least I’m trying to be honest about it instead of using the faulty reasoning of the Left, as Dan Bongino sees it. Sometimes I wonder if its a game the liberals play in the hopes that we waste and exhaust ourselves trying to refute all the bulls**t they spew rather than come up with new, good ideas.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Bongino in a later article makes the case that government surveillance is not the terrorism panacea people make it out to be.

I’m not willing to sacrifice my liberty, or yours, for a false sense of security, Ironically, those defending this egregious, government-enforced evaporation of the line between the private and public self cannot provide any evidence of this metadata collection process intercepting even one terror plot.

After 9/11, Congress adopted the PATRIOT Act, which was supposed to be temporary. Given that we are in the midst of a Long War against Islamic-based terrorism, there is some need for scrutiny but Bongino has a point – are we trying to get someone inside these terror cells?

Finally, I want to pass along some good news. If your house is like mine and uses heating oil, you can expect to save $459 this winter compared to last. (Having well above-average temperatures in December meant I made up for the “extra” 100 gallons I had to get to make it through a chilly spring.) But as American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard also points out, investing in energy infrastructure is a key to maintaining these savings in the long run – and has the added benefits of an economic boost.

We often talk about infrastructure in terms of transportation, where public money is used on projects generally used by the public for enhanced commerce. As I was told, traffic bottlenecks were common in Vienna before they finished the bridge over the Nanticoke River in 1990 as well as in Salisbury until the completion of the U.S. 50 portion of the bypass a decade or so ago. Now traffic flows more freely, time and fuel are no longer wasted, and people are just that much more likely to visit our beach resorts. (The same process is occurring on Maryland Route 404 and U.S. 113 as widening makes that traffic more bearable.)

But this can also occur in the private sector as a future investment, and this is what Gerard is referring to. Most are familiar with the story regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, but the same sort of opposition rose up to the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway, a transmission line once slated to run through Wicomico and Dorchester counties on its way to the Indian River generating plant in Delaware. Slack demand and other infrastructure improvements were cited as factors in killing MAPP, but the process of dealing with environmental issues likely played a larger role.

Regardless, you can bet your bottom dollar that any sort of fossil-fuel based infrastructure would be opposed tooth and nail by a certain class of people who believe all of our electricity can come from so-called “renewable” sources, and that power will magically run directly from the wind turbine to the outlet in your living room. I see nothing wrong with private investment trying to make lives better, so if another natural gas pipeline is what Delmarva needs to succeed and some private entity is willing to pay for it, well, let’s start building.

Just as I built this post from the debris of my e-mail box, we can make our lives better with our natural resources if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.

monoblogue music: 2015’s top 5

December 26, 2015 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: 2015’s top 5 

After last year’s successful run of music reviews that culminated in a top 5 list at the end of last year, I have a full year’s worth of material to sift through. I decided to stay with a top 5 list as I did in 2014, but there will be a couple honorable mentions this year. It was tough to determine the best five out of a core group of seven so I added that extra little feature.

While my roots are in hard rock and metal, I’ve found that good music comes in a lot of different genres. It’s a diversity reflected in my list.

I want to begin with my two honorable mentions, which were both intriguing efforts from musical veterans: the self-titled “Delta Deep” that I reviewed June 27 and the final release I reviewed this year back on November 21, “Family Matters” by Billy Crain. I liked them both a lot because they proved older rockers can still put out good music while straying a little bit out of their comfort zone.

Both were good, and it was tough to exclude them from this group. Yet after going back through all the reviews and reminding myself why I liked these albums, here is your top 5 for this year.

5. “Big Man” by Idiot Grins

Original review: October 31.

This album presented something very unique as it combined the classic soul and rhythm and blues sound of the 1960s paired up with classic country. Neither are generally my cup of tea, but this was presented in such a way that I appreciated the musicianship and songwriting ability of this Oakland-based group. There are so many directions they can go with this sound, but here’s hoping the hipsters get to appreciate music as it used to be written and performed.

They enlisted the help of several big-name Bay Area players on the album, and with their assistance they put out a record that sets the bar high for future releases.

4. “This Book Belongs To” by The Liquorsmiths

Original review: August 8.

Staying out in California, this album by an already-signed group seemed to me something that would translate well to a live show. Since I did the review in August, The Liquorsmiths did a short fall tour stretching from Oklahoma to the length of the West Coast so they’re beginning to see some success based on this album, which highlighted their intersection of folk and country music. There’s also the inevitable Dylan comparisons based on the vocals.

It wouldn’t shock me to see a full-length release from the band in 2016 as they begin to work their way up the alternative music ladder. As I noted in the review, the singer did five other songs as part of the deluxe edition so they have that base to begin from.

3. “You Said” by Tumbler

Original review: September 19.

This album had one of the best backstories attached, as it was the outgrowth of family time spent by a middle-aged onetime touring musician who settled down, started a family, and turned his talents to playing in the family kitchen. Years later, with the assistance of one of his sons, we got this album.

The tales told in these songs range from the sweetly sentimental to the humorous, but it’s an album that appeals more to the adults among us who know what it’s like to raise kids and hope they maintain the values they were taught at home. Among those graces was a nice thank-you note from Richard Grace (the father) himself. (No pun intended.) I already knew the album had a shot at my top five but it was nice to let you readers know that, at least in this case, the artists read the reviews as carefully as I write them.

2. “Smokin’ Voyages” by Space Apaches

Original review: September 5.

This is what happens when session musicians decide to have some fun. This album has a combination of crankable rockers and covers of songs you may have heard once upon a time but aren’t foremost in mind.

From start to finish, there were enough twists and turns that the album kept my interest. It was described to me as a psychedelic version of the Eagles but there was so much more to enjoy.

After all, with a cover like this the guys don’t take themselves too seriously. They don’t tour all that often but if you’re in that area and they have a show it is likely worth the time.

1. “Inky Ovine” by Jas Patrick

Original review: October 24.

At the time I reviewed this, my computer situation was such that I had to put the tracks on my Dropbox to review this. They are still there, so if you couldn’t tell I’m still digging on this two months later.

Since I wrote the original review, and knowing how much I liked this album, I took some time to listen to his two earlier releases. Let me tell you that Patrick has hit his stride on this album. While his second release was a little better than the first, “Inky Ovine” was leaps and bounds better so I hope Jas can make the next one something that is a commercial success. And I hope his touring schedule brings him to Salisbury, Maryland sometime in the next year. (That’s my lobbying. Headquarters Live, make it happen.)

That, folks, is what I called the cream of the crop when I did this last year. I think that, for various reasons, I’ll end up with about the same number of reviews next year so hopefully good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise I’ll have a new top 5 next year and a tough time making those decisions.

Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2015

December 24, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2015 

This year I write this message with a heavy heart.

It’s not because the world seems to have gone more haywire or the political world is its normal maddening self. Instead, it’s because a member of the extended monoblogue family is no longer with us.

Traditionally I have left the site dark on Christmas Day and I take the time a day or two before to write a Christmas message to put up on the morning of Christmas Eve. I’m not going to depart from that tradition, but the voice that made this Christmas post special for many years has been stilled.

In the video below, which I used last year for the first time, you would never know that Michele Hogsett (the woman singing) was at the time waging a vigorous fight against breast cancer. Alas, she ran the last of her seven-year race back on December 8 and the celebration of her life (which featured this song) was last Sunday.

I call Michele part of the extended monoblogue family because she graced these pages a fair number of times for my long-running Weekend of Local Rock segment. Over the last few years it’s dwindled to an extent but two of the staple events I’ve used to keep it going were the Concert for a Random Soldier where Michele and her husband Jim regularly played and the (Save the…) BreastFest which had a six-year run from 2009 to last year as a part of Delmarva Bike Week. Sadly, Michele was simply too ill to make a go of it this year.

I also called Michele and Jim my friends. They were the ones who invited me (and later Kim and I) to share Thanksgiving with them for several years as part of their extended family. At her service, I heard from those affiliated with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition (the beneficiary of BreastFest) about how Michele was the first to interact with newly-diagnosed women and let them know what to expect, giving them pointers on how to best wage their own personal fight. In short, she was an asset to the community, and she is survived by her husband, the host of cats and dogs they kept, and the music she helped to create which brought joy to this listener. Someday we will see each other where the ocean meets the sky.

But even with this personal loss, the other sad part about this Christmas is that I can, almost word for word, rewrite what I wrote last year:

In the runup from Thanksgiving to Christmas… 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.

Fortunately, I can also conclude with:

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.

Let’s all take stock of what we received in the city of David, and let’s take some time to be grateful for the gift of the company that family and friends can provide.

So from my rocking chair and laptop in Salisbury, Maryland, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas. I’ll be back on Saturday.

In the giving spirit

December 23, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on In the giving spirit 

One nice thing about Salisbury elections is that money unspent in the campaigns is not carried over to the next election but is required to either be returned to contributors or given to another entity, normally a charity. (There are exceptions, though – stick with me, it’s called foreshadowing.) With the release of the final financial statements earlier this week, I was curious to see where all the money went.

I’ll begin with the City Council races and District 1, where defeated incumbent Shanie Shields distributed $959.48 to a number of organizations around her neighborhood. $500 went to the Chipman Foundation while smaller amounts were received by the Wesley Temple, Operation We Care, and two local elementary schools, West Salisbury and Pemberton. Meanwhile, the winner April Jackson donated her modest leftover sum of $26.82 to the Salisbury Advisory Council while Sarah Halcott closed out her books by donating $96.13 to the Art Institute and Gallery. That made sense given Halcott’s line of business as an artisan.

There wasn’t a lot of money left in District 2, as the only candidate to file a final statement was victor Muir Boda. Boda gave $39.61 to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services.

District 3 winner Jack Heath had much more unspent, as he distributed $1,495.80 among four recipients: Lower Shore Enterprises, Operation We Care, the Salisbury Zoo, and the Joseph House. Amounts ranged from $325 to $500 for each. Neither of the other candidates had leftover funds at the end of the campaign.

Lots of money flowed into District 4, but not all of it was spent campaigning. Jim Ireton split the $399.96 remaining balance equally between the Wicomico High softball team, Tri-Community Mediation, and the Wicomico Public Library Homework Help Center. On the other hand, Roger Mazzullo had no money remaining.

Finally among the Council members, Laura Mitchell did not need to file a report. She was the lone unopposed Council candidate, as was Mayor Jake Day for his post. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

First of all, Day was two days late in filing his report because he has a discrepancy between his records and accounts of $764.85. I make no accusations as to funny business; most likely someone put a number in the wrong column or the bank messed up. There are any number of logical reasons for the error.

More importantly, though, Day had over $10,000 to distribute – getting contributions when running unopposed will tend to do that – and he chose to make two disbursements. Instead of charitable contributions, though, as of this week we have two brand new state political entities:

  • Jake Day for Maryland had an initial contribution of $6,000. Day serves as the chairman and his campaign treasurer Jordan Gilmore retains that role for the new entity.
  • The New Day for Maryland PAC got the remaining $4,075.89, with Day’s campaign manager Alison Pulcher serving as chair and Gilmore as treasurer.

Note that the PAC is not to be confused with the New Day MD PAC that former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar began in 2009. Lollar’s PAC, as of its 2015 report filed in January, has less than $250 to its name.

Naturally these new campaign finance entities make me wonder if Day is going to serve a full term unhindered by political aspirations or perhaps challenge Bob Culver in 2018. Heck, even Jim Ireton – who has strongly hinted about a Congressional run – didn’t move his city money to create a federal account. (Ireton’s had a state account for a few years, with just over $1,000 in it at last report back in January.) But the campaign entity can also serve as a warchest to stave off challengers in the next city election, too.

In the meantime, we should be proud that much of the leftover campaign cash will be doing good in the community. With the elections now set for November, the contributions came as a nice Christmas gift to several local entities. It will have to tide them over through 2019, though.

Update: Day responds:

An aggressive beginning

Several months ago I told you about the “travel tax,” which has come up in the news again because Mike Miller believes he has the Senate votes to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Indeed, there’s a post on what’s billed as Maryland’s premier conservative website regarding this but I was stymied in reading it by some scam invitation to get a free iPhone 6 – and probably all the malware I can unknowingly download. I’ll come back to that in due course; in the meantime I will fill you in on what is really happening.

My local Delegates are telling me they predict a bumper crop of legislation, and they may be correct – as of this afternoon, 180 bills had already been pre-filed, with 114 Senate bills complementing 66 in the House. (My, my, those Senators are busy beavers.) One bill I did not see among them was the Wicomico elected school board bill, which I would have liked to see pre-filed. Unfortunately, I think that time has passed.

Even with all that work stacking up it’s likely the first things the body will take up are overriding vetoes, with my interest coming from two bills I used for the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project: SB340 (voting rights for felons) and SB190, the travel tax. Both passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate but neither had a comfortable enough House win – for an override the felon bill would need to pick up three votes and the travel tax one.

That one vote for the travel tax may come down to newly-minted Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, whose late husband James died in office earlier this year. James Proctor was the lone absent Delegate when the travel tax passed 84-56. Another new Delegate, Carlo Sanchez, replaced former Delegate Will Campos, who resigned after being a “yes” vote on both bills in question. As for felon voting, Proctor was absent while Delegates Michael Jackson and C.T. Wilson ducked the vote. In both cases, should opponents hold all their votes and pick up one the vetoes will stand. (Out of our local delegation it was the only Democrat delegate, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who predictably voted in favor of both.)

You’ll notice I basically ignored the Senate in both cases because all they need is the same vote they had the first time to override both vetoes – for the record, both our local Senators voted against felon voting but both favored the travel tax. So it wasn’t really news that Miller had his votes, nor was it groundbreaking to see the state Chamber of Commerce side with big business over entrepreneurs. It’s akin to the struggle between Uber and local taxi companies; oftentimes the Chamber backs the rent-seekers.

Now about that other website: it’s so funny because I used them as an example the other day. Apparently they have chosen to cast their lot with the clickbaiters of the world in the quest for advertising dollars. Self-promotion is one thing – and Lord knows all of us would like advertisers – but the ad was such that I literally could not close it, for a site which had all the red flags of being a virus-laden website. I have to question the integrity and wisdom of a site which uses those techniques.

Perhaps I’m not the biggest or best site around, nor is it lucrative for me in a monetary sense. But just remember – I’m not the one knocking you over the head with the annoying pop-up ads. All I have is a little tip jar and an Amazon affiliation, so if you get an Amazon gift card Friday hook yourself up through me.

More importantly, after the holidays it may be a good idea to ask your legislators where they stand on the travel tax (as well as felon voting.) Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been all fee and toll decreases since Hogan took office – if he were a purist he would have vetoed two other House bills which increased certain court fees. But encouraging entrepreneurship and making sure felons pay their entire debt to society before regaining their franchise should be no-brainers, shouldn’t they? There’s a reason a governor has a veto pen, so let him be the check and balance to an overreaching General Assembly.

The end of Graham’s road

December 21, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The end of Graham’s road 

It was a campaign that experts didn’t give much of a chance and in the end they were proven correct. But on the last day he could withdraw from his home state Presidential ballot, Lindsey Graham decided to throw in the towel on his Presidential bid. Graham could never get over 2% in the polls or off the 6:00 debate, so the impact on the race won’t be much for the remaining candidates.

But out of a group that occupied the middle of my personal pack, Graham was actually on top for a couple reasons: a well-thought out foreign policy and some good ideas when it came to trade and job creation. Yet the fact he would probably be embarrassed with his showing in his home state, coupled with the likelihood his money was running out, probably were the factors that led Graham to withdraw.

Granted, 1% (if that) isn’t much in the race. But the question still remains about where Graham’s supporters may turn and I suspect the answer is Marco Rubio – a guy who could use a little shot in the arm. Rubio seems to be fading to the back of the top four contenders – a group that includes Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson with Rubio. Rubio seems to be holding his position on the ladder as Ben Carson slides down the polling chute, but support isn’t growing at the pace that Cruz and Trump are enjoying. Nor can Rubio get out of third in any state except New Hampshire, and there his hold on his distant second behind Trump is more and more tenuous.

So Graham can go back to being a full-time Senator, while the other two who are under 1 percent in the polls – Rick Santorum and George Pataki – will be on the South Carolina ballot. Each of them, though, really has a one-state strategy, with Santorum trying to reclaim his magic in Iowa and Pataki circling New Hampshire. They probably don’t have the money to compete for another month, though.

Counting Jim Gilmore, we are now down to 13 contenders from the original 17, although Graham is the first of the four sitting United States Senators to bow out. Among that quartet, decision time looms for Rand Paul, who is up for re-election to his Senate seat, while Marco Rubio has already announced he will not return and Ted Cruz isn’t up until 2018. (The same goes for Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side.)

I suspect by the time the next debate occurs we may only have nine or ten remaining on the GOP side. There’s just not enough money to support more candidates.

Threats and rumors of threats

December 20, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Threats and rumors of threats 

There’s been something going around the country recently, and it’s a disturbing trend.

I brought up my news feed to get a little bit caught up after an emotional and draining day, and what do I see? Another school district cancelling classes for a day because of a threat against one or more district facilities.

Obviously in the wake of San Bernardino people take this stuff seriously, never mind the recent third anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. It was that incident which led to the most recent restrictions on gun ownership here in Maryland. Of course, I know of a handful of people who are convinced Sandy Hook never happened except as a “false flag” incident designed to be the pretext for confiscating our weapons, but I’m not into that sort of conspiracy theory. If the government has it in mind to do something, it’s eventually going to happen whether they get the excuse or not.

(The same mindset wonders about the third shooter in San Bernardino, since I recall the initial reports were that of three shooters, too. Maybe that neighbor did more than purchase the guns. But I digress.)

To me, this may not be a bad time to review policies and procedures for our local school district. It so happens that Friday was their last day before going on an extended winter break which runs until January 4, so there’s a chance over the holidays to look at the prospects for mischief and plan a course of action. While we’re not a large community, we are certainly no more immune from trouble than any other school district serving a county of 100,000 people. Nor do I think a limited concealed carry regimen within the school, through teachers who already have or wish to obtain the proper permits, is a bad idea. It’s certainly better than declaring schools a gun-free zone and watching kids be helplessly slaughtered by the first person who ignores that designation.

Fortunately, the schools which have closed have done so without incident. And while no amount of preparation can assure our schools will be completely incident-free, perhaps now is the time to deal with the likelihood something could happen. I wish I’d thought of this before I sat down since I was in the same room as two of our school board members this evening, but I think they’re smart enough to read here. If we put them on the board they must have some intelligence, right?

A different approach to revenue

While this may sound like it’s tied in to yesterday’s post, I’m actually veering off in a different direction with this one.

Each day I receive Erick Erickson’s e-mail missive, probably because I’ve been on the RedState list for many years. Since Erick was the biggest part of RedState it made logical sense and his new endeavor has kept a lot of the same look, feel, and message. On Thursday, though, he had a post that looked at blogging and the entrepreneurship aspect of it, and he put out a proposal I found quite interesting.

I may be doomed to failure on this new radio website endeavor, but I am going to try something new in terms of ad revenue.

Over the past two years with my radio show, I’ve been growing an email list of radio listeners. That list has crossed 200,000 people. At the same time, this site, to which I have not dedicated a lot of time, is averaging about 75,000 page views a day. Again, it is not even my day job yet.

So when I kick things off again with the new design on January 4th, I’ve going to try a sponsor model instead of an ad model. In other words, I am going to strip away all the advertising and just do a sponsor a week.

What the Sponsor Gets:

They will get a graphic on the front page and a graphic on each post. It will be a static image so ad blockers cannot block it. They will not be in competition with any other advertiser.

They will also get a thank you mention on Monday and Friday that will make it in the emails of those days. So in the worst case scenario they’ll be getting 75,000 page views a day, plus 400,000 eyeballs in email over the course of a week.

What the starting price is going to be: $5000.00 for the week.

I do not need to make a huge profit off the radio website. I do need to cover costs, pay for the redesign, pay a staffer, etc.

We will see if it works. Hopefully, over time, I can raise the price.

I do not want Taboola throwing up on my redesign. I do not want pop up ads and auto play videos and semi-porn to draw in eyeballs.

I may fail. I may not be able to get the advertisers. But I am going to try.

So let’s look at this as a business model. Those of us who have revenue-producing websites don’t seem to have a lot of options on ways to make money.

First, there is always the old rumor that goes around about some billionaire benefactor like George Soros going around and propping up particular bloggers. That may well exist but I can assure you the Koch brothers have never stroked a check to me. (Maybe I’m just doing it all wrong?)

The second approach is to bleg, as several bloggers I know have to various amounts of success. Once in a great while I have passed on their tales of woe. Many of these bleggars’ sites also have static ads, the combination of which keeps bloggers like Peter Ingemi going. (You may know him better as DaTechGuy – have fedora, will travel.)

And then you have what many of the big guys and commercial media sites have: the ad-laden mess that Erickson is referring to. On a couple occasions I was an Examiner for that website, and the sad thing about it was that for all the advertisements cluttering up my posts and occasional slideshows I don’t think I ever got more than $50 a month. I pick on Examiner but the same is true for the Washington Times or rare.us websites as well as more local and regional sites like Red Maryland. This also encompasses the pure clickbait of the TEA Party News Network and groups like that. I don’t like going to those sites because they bombard me with ads and auto-play videos I don’t want to watch – generally I’m there to read and get out.

Erickson’s site as it exists today is actually very unobtrusive as it just has a handful of static ads on the header, sidebar, and footer. (It’s set up a lot like this one.) So there’s probably a small amount of revenue coming in but nowhere near the $5,000 a week he’s going to request.

There aren’t many who do sponsorship posts, or posts like my record reviews for which I am compensated regardless of whether I like the music or not. (The sponsor encourages the honest criticism.) So I am interested to see how a large-scale operation like Erickson’s fares under this model. $5,000 a week is $260,000 a year – I think he can afford a staffer, IT person, and still make a go of it with that sort of revenue.

Yet it’s also instructive of the power of marketing. Somehow Erickson has built up the mailing list past 200,000 even though I’ve never listened to his local radio show. (I’m sure familiarity through RedState has put many thousands on that list.) 200,000 e-mails has beget the 75,000 page views a day – over 500,000 weekly. It doesn’t work out to an economy of scale – a blog like mine that has 1,000 views a week at slow times like this can’t subsist on one $5 a week sponsorship. Needless to say, I can’t come up with $5,000 for a week although I’m sure my readership would increase.

Of course, there is the interesting question of what sponsors will come forth. Left unanswered is what criteria Erickson will have for advertisers, but the obvious advantage with his venture is that he gets to choose who benefits, unlike some other methods where someone else controls content and delivery. (They can make for interesting bedfellows because if I go to look at certain sites the cookies track with me. For example, I see Kathy Szeliga for Senate ads on a lot of places I go, even if they’re not Maryland-based.)

To me, though, the control of content is almost as important as the revenue. If you listen to talk radio regularly you’re probably aware that they host a much different variety of advertisers than, say, the NFL game of the week. I hear more ads for get-rich-quick, be-your-own-boss hucksters who have to invest in gold there than I do anything else. To me, that affects the credibility of the shows they sponsor – although, to be fair, this may be the local station selling the spots, too.

So I’m going to be interested to see how Erickson does with this idea. I suspect he will do well the first six to eight weeks, but the test will come by spring. If he’s able to do well and even raise the price it may be something to explore for the rest of the blogging world.

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