The mid-Atlantic may be getting back into the game

May 31, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on The mid-Atlantic may be getting back into the game 

This is one of those posts it took me a few days to write as life intervened, but it turns out to be a happy accident in this case.

While I’m certainly not been the biggest fan of Donald Trump as President overall, he has had his moments. Today he’s given Radical Green a conniption fit just by announcing he will make a formal declaration on whether we will remain in the Paris Climate Agreement tomorrow afternoon. It’s expected he will decide to withdraw, but there’s also a school of thought that believes it’s just a negotiating ploy to give America a better bargain than Barack Obama negotiated.

In the meantime, it looks like another of those moments may be the rebirth of something that was strangled in the crib during the last administration when they overreacted to the comparatively rare Deepwater Horizon disaster by eliminating the prospect of oil exploration off the mid-Atlantic coast.

In order to get to that point, though, a necessary step is to do seismic surveying. Remember when the environmentalists had a cow awhile back because they were talking about doing this for oil exploration, and it got everyone’s knickers in a wad all up and down the coast? Well, it turns out doing this can serve a lot of other interests as well, at least according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:

“Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people. This will play an important role in the President’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”

The last G&G seismic data for the Mid- and South-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) were gathered more than 30 years ago when technology was not as advanced as today. Aside from providing data on potential offshore oil and gas resources, seismic surveys are also used to site offshore wind structures, locate potential seafloor hazards, locate potential sand and gravel resources for beach replenishment activities, and locate potential archaeological resources. Data from seismic surveys also assists the Department in determining Fair Market Value of offshore resources.

It was also over 30 years ago that a series of exploratory oil wells were drilled and capped off the New Jersey and Delmarva coastline, with the closest to us being about 80 miles ESE of Ocean City. At the time it was determined this was essentially a dry hole, but the exercise was useful as a study of the ocean floor and substrate below. So if the same is true now, I wonder why the environmentalists are so afraid of exploratory drilling and seismic surveying? Maybe because they know as well as I do that there’s a significant amount of oil out there, and it would keep the price of oil affordable enough to undercut the subsidies needed to keep renewables competitive?

And last week’s update from Energy Tomorrow was doubly interesting because not only did it have the release regarding the seismic surveying, it also had a small news item that pointed to a new, soon-to-be-released (and peer-reviewed) three-year study that concluded fracking has no effect on groundwater. (Are you listening, Larry Hogan? There’s still time to reconsider your foolish ban on fracking in this state before your election next year.)

Of course, the study authors did have a caveat to their findings:

In contrast to groundwater samples that showed no evidence of anthropogenic contamination, the chemistry and isotope ratios of surface waters (n = 8) near known spills or leaks occurring at disposal sites mimicked the composition of Marcellus flowback fluids, and show direct evidence for impact on surface water by fluids accidentally released from nearby shale-gas well pads and oil and gas wastewater disposal sites.

Now I know the Radical Green folks will be going “SEE! SEE! I BET YOU CAN LIGHT THAT WATER ON FIRE!!!” However, it seems to me one could easily have the same contaminating type of effect from a sanitary sewer overflow, underground tank leak, or EPA incident. The key words are “accidentally released,” and companies that want to stay in the business have a duty and legal obligation to be as careful as possible.

But this blows away one key argument from fracking opponents, not that they are much for using logic anyway.

With the right mindset and private-sector infrastructure investment, this region of the country could finally be energy self-sufficient on its own. The job created could be yours.

Seeing the other side

I have seen a number of people who I count among my friends fall on the other side of an issue where I’m not certain they’re seeing the proper perspective.

If you look at the situation from the world’s view, Maddi Runkles is being punished because she became pregnant and chose not to abort that pregnancy; yet despite that commendable pro-life stand she is being denied the honor of taking the stage to accept her diploma, among the other discipline handed down by the Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown.

However, I look at it from the standpoint of a Christian, and perhaps more importantly, that of a step-parent who could theoretically very well be in the exact same situation as Kim and I have a daughter in a Christian school. So as I was reading some of the reaction from my friends (and their friends) on social media, I was led to the statement from the school, or as one particular friend put it, the group of “lost souls, despite what they are ‘preaching.'” Since this is probably creating more traffic in a week for the school than their website previously received in the last year, their front page has this statement so I’m choosing to reprint it for posterity when this all eventually dies down and the school returns to normal. (Otherwise, the link will point incorrectly.)

Dearest Heritage Family:

As I begin, please understand that my wife and I have fallen in love with the people of Heritage Academy.  Therefore, it is for Heritage’s protection that I write this.

The main reason I have been silent to this point is because in disciplinary situations, each Heritage family deserves confidentiality. The conduct of your children is not everyone’s business. This perspective would have been the best way to deal with Maddi Runkles’ disciplinary situation. However, her family has chosen to make her behavior a public matter. Before sending this letter, I contacted Scott Runkles who gave me permission to discuss this publicly. In my thinking, these were the two to protect: first Maddi, then Heritage, in that order. Unfortunately, both are now being hurt by those who do not know or understand the situation. For this sole reason, I am now willing to comment publicly.

Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. The Student Pledge which every student from 5th grade through 12th grade signs states that this application of Philippians 4:8 “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs”.  Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation. Secondly, she will receive her diploma that she has earned.

Much has been said about grace. I believe that there are two kinds of grace: saving grace and living grace. One is concerning spiritual birth “once and for all” (Hebrews 9:12, 10:10) which demanded no effort on my part, because my Savior Jesus, finished this on His cross and from His empty tomb. The other kind of grace is spiritual growth that does demand my effort (2 Peter 3:18). It also includes discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11). A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.

As I conclude, I have two concerns. First, I am concerned that my Heritage family feels that the Board and I are harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men. Nothing can be further from the truth. We have spent countless hours in prayer and discussion. The Board has listened to three appeals from the Runkles family and compromised all three times. Secondly, I am concerned about our graduation ceremony on the evening of June 2nd. That night, I want God to be glorified in a dignified manner. Please enable us to do this.

With deepest sincerity,

David R. Hobbs

Administrator

(All emphasis mine.)

Before I go on, I want to add the context of Phillippians 4:8 that their Student Pledge is apparently based upon:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

In so many words, do the things which are good and which are right based on the Biblical values being taught in the school.

But let me step away from the Biblical and moral for a moment and consider the practical. Whether a young lady is taking birth control pills or not, whether the young man is wearing his own protection or not, whenever there is sex there is always the possibility of unplanned pregnancy as has occurred in Maddi Runkles’ case. And bringing a baby into the world as an unwed couple means the child is more likely to grow up in poverty and/or with single parents, neither of which are the more desirable outcomes. That’s not me talking, that’s a statistical fact: the best way for a couple to avoid poverty is to finish their schooling and find work, get married, and then have kids – in that order.

Most of those people who are taking issue with the school are saying they are punishing her for doing the right thing insofar as having the child; but the problem remains that she violated the school code and she faces a punishment for doing so. However, the punishment cannot be given to both participants because the young man does not attend the school, and the truly unfortunate fact of life is that, for boys (even if they attended that school and got a non-student pregnant) they could get away with doing the same thing Maddi did because they’re not going to get pregnant and it’s quite likely they could deny getting the girl pregnant until there’s no need to anymore. (It would be his word against hers.) It’s not fair, but neither is life.

I can’t speak to this for a fact, but as I read this there was the distinct possibility the school could have expelled Runkles immediately without giving her a diploma. We don’t know what other previous transgressions (if any) may have occurred involving her, either, but we do know that she has been made out to be the victim in this case because she lost out on the privilege of receiving her diploma with her classmates. But what she has lost out on are just her privileges. She will still be a graduate of Heritage Academy and can do with that what she will.

To me, the reaction to this story coincides very well with the reaction to the news about the group of graduating students who made the public show of walking out on Vice-President Pence as he delivered commencement remarks at Notre Dame last week. Those who thought the students were justified seem to also believe this school should bend its rules to allow Runkles to receive her diploma because she deserves it, despite one incident of wrongdoing (that we are aware of.) On the other hand, people like me who think the Notre Dame students should have handled the situation differently (perhaps by boycotting the ceremony entirely) are more likely to believe the school should remain firm in enforcing its rules.

One final thought. I’ve seen a number of comments from people, particularly of the Millennial generation, that basically run along the line of “well, no wonder they’re having a hard time getting kids to come to Christian schools when you have such draconian, backward rules.” I agree, to a point: for example, I could understand the girls being pleased about being able to wear pants because they ditched the skirts-only rule a few years ago at our school. Small stuff like that isn’t worth sweating over.

But the larger stuff, such as alcohol, illicit drugs, tobacco, and premarital sex? Such prohibitions are among those I find entirely appropriate for a Christian school. And yes, I think it is appropriate to expect Biblical-style morals from our children. Why should we settle for less when we see the results in the world today?

As parents, our charge is simple, and it’s reflected, among other places, in Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

That’s not to say any parent will do a perfect job, but there’s a reason it works best when a couple gets to know one another well enough to make a commitment to be wed then prayerfully and reverently embarks upon the job of rearing children (and even then it’s not foolproof.)

Apparently the plan was different for Maddi Runkles. I hope and pray when graduation is over she has a healthy baby and she and the father decide to do what’s right. I also hope and pray that the fifteen minutes of fame she receives for this episode, good and bad, will be gentle about chewing her up and spitting her out (as I’m sure it will, because that’s the fate of most “average” people thrust into the limelight so someone can make a point.)

Finally, I pray that the Heritage Academy weathers the storm sure to come from a world that’s sure it’s right but knows nothing of the sort. If I were them, the only people who need to be at their graduation a week from Friday are the graduates, their families, and invited guests. The media wouldn’t care a whit about whatever number of solid Christian graduates the Heritage Academy (and other schools like it) send into the world any other time, so why indulge them now?

monoblogue music: “The Drifter and the Dream (Part One)” by Matt Townsend

May 20, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “The Drifter and the Dream (Part One)” by Matt Townsend 

Matt Townsend - The Drifter and the Dream part 1I’m going back to a monoblogue music alumni on this one.

Back in 2014 I reviewed Matt’s effort, done with a band he called the Wonder of the World. In it, I noted that Townsend had an unmistakable vocal resemblance to Bob Dylan, but added, “fortunately for this listener, it’s really only the voice which is reminiscent of Bob Dylan because Matt forges his own musical direction.” (He also contributed to a more recent album I reviewed from the Asheville Symphony Orchestra.)

In some respects, that musical direction remains true with this release but I also think it’s a far more politically-pointed effort. I normally don’t read other reviews before I do my own, but I couldn’t help noticing on Townsend’s Bandcamp page as I was listening to the five songs that make up part one of what is supposed to be a two-part effort that he’s being compared to Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie – both noted leftist icons. That leaning is unmistakable in the opening song, called The Great American Madness, later on in Freedom Is Calling Again, and it’s also a little bit there in Came Down From The Mountain if you listen between the lines.

And listening between the lines is something you really need to do with this EP. With the exception of the final song, Katie, the other four songs are well-composed, complex arrangements. Townsend obviously spent the 2 1/2 years between “Wonder of the World” and “Drifter and the Dream” honing his musicianship and songwriting ability, as he has learned well how to craft songs in a style that suits his voice and the genre he’s choosing to work within. (I should say, however, that Katie is not a bad song by any stretch – it’s just a far simpler acoustic number with guitar, harmonica, and poignant vocals.) This ability shines the most on Roaming Twilight, a ballad which I think shows Matt at his best.

I wasn’t originally aware that this EP had been out for a few months (it was actually released back in December) so once I noticed that I got to wondering how work on part two was going. To be honest, I couldn’t find out much about that but I did learn that Matt was (obviously) successful in raising the $12,000 he needed to bring this project to life through crowdfunding and maybe had enough initial success with sales (or enough ambition) to do a quick tour around Florida and Georgia earlier this year. (He has only one show on his current docket at the moment, fairly local to his North Carolina home.)

As a bottom line, if you were to look at the evolution and growth as an artist and craftsman of song between his 2014 release and this more recent one, you would see from Matt a serious upgrade and dedication that is reflected in the work. It’s music that is invigorating and refreshing in its honesty. I don’t have to necessarily agree with the lyrical content or the politics of the singer to appreciate the music, so (knowing the political composition of my core audience) baffle the other side and listen for yourself with an open mind, too.

A few thoughts on the prospects to “repeal and replace” Andy Harris (and Obamacare, too)

The other day I noticed on social media that our Congressman, Andy Harris, had put up a post explaining his vote for Trumpcare 2.0, the “repeal and replace” bill for Obamacare. (Most people refer to it as the American Health Care Act, or AHCA.) At the time I saw this there were 1,043 comments on his post and probably 80 to 90 percent of them were negative. I can guarantee you that 80 to 90 percent of his district doesn’t oppose his vote, but thanks to this so-called “Indivisible” movement we are seeing some of the most seriously squeaky wheels get the grease that comes from taking 30 seconds to write the linguistic equivalent of “you suck!” on his wall. So I took about five to ten minutes to write my response, because there was a little research involved.

1,043 comments, mostly from people who probably didn’t vote for Andy in the first place, vowing he’s going to lose in 2018. Y’all need about 139,000 more folks.

In terms of repealing the disaster known as Obamacare, this was the correct vote, We have a long way to go in the process and it’s way too early to say what will happen in the Senate (except that regardless of what it is, Maryland’s Senators will vote no.)

Oh, and by the way, I just checked out that Allison whats-her-name and if she’s praising NARAL she’s not getting too far in this district. Most of us stand for life.

Also, since you are on the subject of town halls up and down the thread, could you get those aforementioned Senators down here to have one? Interesting how I never hear anyone clamoring for that.

I have to admit I was only being semi-flippant when it came to “Allison whats-her-name” because I had closed my window and honestly didn’t feel like looking it up. Her name is actually Allison Galbraith and she makes her living from, of all things, steering companies to government contracts. I kid you not.

But to begin this piece I want to address the two people who replied directly to my comment, whose names are Gail Jankowski and Bill Schwartz. I’m going to quote their opening sentences here, ladies first.

Gail: We will get MORE than enough votes to replace him because more and more constituents are learning just how negatively this AHCA will affect them!

Bill: Maryland is a Blue State and we need to ensure that the first district is fairly represented.

I’m sure Gail and Bill are nice enough people, and in her case she gets bonus points for (at least presumably, judging by the surname) marrying into a Polish family. (By the same token, I won’t take any points from Bill just because his ancestors insisted on unnecessary consonants.) But they seem to have a slim knowledge of political reality.

What the vast majority of people “know” about the AHCA comes from the talking points being fed to them from the media, which isn’t exactly a set of unbiased observers. But the 2018 campaign won’t begin in earnest for another 15 to 16 months, and what I’ve found out over the years, Gail, is that the issue you may think will drive the electorate this far out isn’t always the one that is front and center by the time people really begin to pay attention, let alone when votes are cast. The big difference between the era of the TEA Party eight years ago in the Obama administration and the Indivisible movement now is, while both are having a discussion about health care as a topic in the off-year before the election – although Obamacare was more dominant in the fall and winter of 2009 – the economy was much, much worse back then. If the economy is in good shape come the fall of 2018, the AHCA will be a minor issue by comparison. People generally vote with their pocketbooks, and the reason the 2010 election was such a wave was the pent-up outrage at an administration that addressed health care before job creation and the economy. (The sticker shock effects of Obamacare were the reason for the 2014 wave election, since it took effect in earnest that year.)

So if the economy remains in decent shape, the AHCA will be so minor of a concern by then that Andy Harris will once again get his 60-65% of the vote and cruise to victory. You see, Bill, Maryland is indeed (and unfortunately) such a blue state that our previous governor and the Democrats got greedy – or at least as greedy as their incumbent Democrat Congressmen would allow them to be. I’ve made this point before, but if the composition of the First Congressional District were the same in 2008 as it became in 2012, Andy Harris would be on his fifth term. By erasing the northern half of Carroll County from the previous configuration of the Sixth Congressional District and adding it to the First, it assured whoever the GOP puts up in the First District will win because the plurality of the state’s Republican voters now reside in the First, and it’s by a factor of almost 50% more than any other district. So based on the electorate of the district the First is fairly represented. (The rest of the state? Well, they are just poorly represented, but I’m working on that.)

So now let me turn to another aspect of social media. My friend Sarah Meyers, who describes herself as a proud moderate Democrat (and is a member of our county’s central committee) was distraught about the passage of the American Health Care Act, claiming, “The Republican House just voted to allow insurance companies to deny me healthcare.”

Now I’ll set aside the false conflation of actually having health care provided and paying for it, since there are other methods of doing so out there, but my response essentially noted that she is in the minority of people who are net beneficiaries of the ACA in terms of paying less. Those who get their insurance through their employer are paying far more, a fact that she chalked up to the “greed” of the insurance companies. But the “greed” is tempered by the fact that group insurers have to pay out 80 to 85 percent of their premium income on medical care, leaving the remainder for “administration, marketing, and profit.” Since neither administration nor marketing are free, one can presume these insurers are not rolling in profit. This “medical loss ratio” is part of the ACA and may be one reason why insurers are dropping out of the business.

One of the next arguments I got was that the ACA “saves lives,” presumably because those who could not afford insurance or were no longer being tossed off for the various reasons of pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits, and so forth were being covered. But the evidence of this is anecdotal at best, and rather dubious in the amount of inference that has to be made. It truly depends on the source, but the best scholarly guess is a net wash. Even some of the partisans concede it’s a bogus argument. And while there’s always the emotional appeal of someone who can come out and claim they are a survivor because they had health insurance through Obamacare, it’s pretty difficult to speak with someone who didn’t because Obamacare made their deductible too expensive.

The most radical solution offered up was the old single-payer bromide, from local leftist Chuck Cook:

Single payer is the only solution, and it has been proven to work in every single industrialized first world nation on the planet… except ours. We are the outlier due to conservative ideology that honors the wealth of billionaires over the health of children.

Uh…..no. Honestly, we’re very close to having a single-payer system in place here given the lack of competition in many places and tight regulations on the health insurance industry in terms of how much they can make, what they must cover, and how they conduct their business. Basically it would be a Medicare/Medicaid for All system and you can just ask a doctor (whose Medicare reimbursement increased a whopping 0.24% this year, with Medicaid reimbursement being a fraction thereof) how they like it or check out study outcomes, as the left-leaning Kaiser Family Foundation did recently, noting…

Multiple studies, though not all, have documented improvements in beneficiaries’ self-reported health, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved quality of life following Medicaid expansions. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, which used a research design that is considered the gold standard, compared the experience of adults who gained and adults who did not gain Medicaid coverage through a lottery that allocated a limited number of new Medicaid “slots” for low-income uninsured adults in the state. The study found that Medicaid improved self-reported mental health and reduced clinically observed rates of depression by 30% relative to the uninsured group. The findings related to impacts on physical health were mixed. Medicaid increased the detection of diabetes and use of diabetes medication, but did not have a statistically significant effect on control of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. The researchers note that the study did not have sufficient statistical power to detect changes in these measures, and also that factors including missed diagnosis and inappropriate or ineffective treatments, among others, could mitigate the impact of coverage on clinical outcomes.

…to see if this meets your definition of “proven to work.” For me it’s lacking.

I think both sides agree, though, that the problems with the system are defined simply: access and cost. The government’s solution was twofold: one side was to force everyone into the insurance market whether they wanted to be or not (hence, the “shared responsibility payment”) so that the healthy people would balance out the sick and the other side was to try and make preventative care cost nothing out of pocket, but the problem with that is doctors aren’t going to work for free because they have families to feed, too. And thanks to all of the billing and coding concerns we have with modern government medicine, a good percentage of the staff in any doctor’s office is the overhead required to deal with billing and not there for patient care. (It’s akin to the number of administrators in a school system who don’t educate children.) In other words, “free” is the extra $2,000 on your deductible or $40 a week out of your paycheck.

One analogy often used as a comparison to health insurance is auto insurance, which is also mandatory in most states (New Hampshire is the lone holdout.) However, when you buy auto insurance it does not cover oil changes, new tires, and other mechanical issues. Similarly, the original intent of health insurance was to cover the medical bills in case you were hospitalized, as opposed to supplemental insurance like AFLAC which covers other expenses.

The idea of insurance is that of calculating and sharing risk among as many participants as possible. Let’s say you have a group of 1,000 40-year-olds whose lives are all insured for $100,000 and you know four of them will die on the average in a given year. You then know your premium pool will have to be set to $400,000 plus an amount set aside for the off-chance of a year where more than 4 die, plus administrative expenses, plus a little for shareholders. If you assume those other expenses total $300,000, then each participant would pay $700 a year to be insured for $100,000 if they die, which they may find is a prudent and affordable hedge against that risk as they have families to support. It would be impossible for a group of 2 or 10 to be able to do this, but over a thousand people it’s very attainable.

However, what we now have with health insurance isn’t truly insurance because there is so much mandated coverage and the risks are highly unpredictable. Nor are they being shared among all the participants equally because some are paying themselves through their employer, some are being subsidized for their coverage by the government, and others are completely on the government dime. Because a large amount of the money comes from funds never seen by the buyers (deducted from their checks, or just plain subsidized) they don’t much care what treatment costs, just their premiums and deductibles.

So let me return to the car insurance analogy. You have to have car insurance, and it has to be minimum coverage, but after that the market is relatively free and there are a whole lot of competitors. If you get tired of Allstate because they raised your rates 50% for no good reason, there’s always Progressive. When Flo gets too annoying, Jake from State Farm will be happy to help. If you don’t like them, we have local independent agents. They compete on price, coverage, and service – so why can’t that be the case with true health insurance, too? And what I mean by “true health insurance” is that you select what you want to cover from the options provided by the companies, or you can skip it altogether. (Or, the option for employers to provide group coverage can be left in place as well, as I’ll get to in a moment.)

I can already hear the Sarah Meyerses of the world screaming “but pre-existing conditions!” Yes, there can be high-risk pools created for those at the state level, or even groups of states can create a compact to make the pool even larger and share the cost among more people. If states want to create incentives for employers to provide insurance, that’s fair game as well. I happen to think the Tenth Amendment is the part of the Constitution that’s supposed to be most flexible, allowing states to do a large number of things that should be off-limits to the federal government. I may or may not agree with them, but that is their right to do so. There’s very little need for federal involvement in health care at all – certainly nowhere near the amount we have now.

I’m sorry to break this to Chuck Cook, but the United States isn’t like the rest of the “industrialized first world.” We are a constitutional republic where the federal government is intended to be limited, not maximized and in control of everything. (It’s also worth mentioning that the wealth of our billionaires – and the talent of a lot of other, less well-to-do American people – is quite often freely given to assist in promoting the health of people both here in America and around the world. Here’s a great local example.) So the idea that we don’t have single-payer health care is one of those rare things that’s still a feature of ours and not a bug. That’s not to say it can’t stand some serious improvement, though.

Let’s just see if we can’t make it more in conformance with what our great American experiment in liberty is supposed to be all about, mmmmkay?

About my hiatus

May 5, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on About my hiatus 

I see I have a select few who have stuck around.

In the month of April I put up a whopping two posts. after just eight in March. That point in my life I had long feared would come had arrived, a point where I had a lot on my plate combined with very little desire or passion to comment on the political news. Whether that’s the result of stepping away from the arena as I did last summer or just a realization that a lot of what I have done over the last decade was so much beating my head against the wall on so many levels is something others may speculate upon. All I know is that the spirit to open up the back side of my website and post my thoughts for the world to see wasn’t there enough to convince me to make it a priority.

But I do have the space, and it pays for itself as long as certain posts are placed there, so I may as well use it once in awhile, right?

Truth be told, there are three things that are overwhelming in this world: the amount of information that is at one’s fingertips when they learn to surf the World Wide Web, the amount of influence and power exhibited by government at all levels – which, in part, we can learn about from the internet – and, finally, the number of people who style themselves as political pundits who are trying to grab an audience that’s probably shrinking in terms of readers of the long-form commentary that’s my preferred method of communication. Once upon a time bloggers were the new, hip thing, but now people are looking to Tweets, video, or violence in the street to state their case. Nowadays you can get a lot more attention standing in the street holding a sign and blocking traffic than spending a couple hours researching points, formulating arguments, and making the argument to influence the discourse in 1200 to 1500 words. Donald Trump can dash off a Tweet and reach millions of people, so when was the last time he wrote an opinion piece? (Okay, it wasn’t that long ago. But he still employs Twitter way, way more.)

But I hate Twitter, have no desire to do video or a podcast because I know I’m not an eloquent speaker, and don’t really have any reason to block traffic in the street. So here I sit, writing again.

Yet there is so much going on that I have no idea if I could keep to a particular topic. Those of you who have stuck with me in my post-political phase that began last summer know I did not like Donald Trump, did not vote for him, and did not expect a whole lot to move in my preferred political direction when he shocked the world and won the Electoral College vote. I will give him credit for creating a perception the economy is improving despite glacial growth in terms of GDP. It is interesting to note there, though, that:

The increase in real GDP in the first quarter reflected positive contributions from nonresidential fixed investment, exports, residential fixed investment, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE), that were offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment, state and local government spending, and federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased. (Emphasis mine.)

And this got my interest piqued. So I did a little bit of looking and found this item from my old friends at Americans for Limited Government, which says in part:

(W)hen government spending is included as a component of GDP, and then is held steady or cut…it weighs down the GDP on a nominal basis. And when spending increases…it boosts the GDP nominally speaking. This is an inherent bias of the first order in favor of government expenditures when measuring the health of the economy. (Emphasis in original.)

So perhaps Donald Trump is on to something if government spending is down. Too bad he wants to spend more by not reforming entitlements. Meanwhile, his discretionary budget is pretty much a wash as the $54 billion he would cut from other programs is spent on defense – admittedly, a more Constitutional mandate but one that simply flat-lines the government. And it’s doubtful his budget blueprint will survive unscathed, meaning that spending is bound to increase yet again.

I did some looking on various websites and found that, interestingly enough, as the Y2K scare receded our GDP crossed over the $10 trillion barrier, coming in at $10.031 trillion for Q1 2000. As of Q4 2016 it was calculated at $18.8694 trillion for a 16-year increase of 88.11%. Meanwhile, the federal budget went from $1.863 trillion for FY2001 (the last Bill Clinton budget, which had a modest surplus thanks to the GOP Congress) to $3.854 trillion for FY2016, which was the last full year under Barack Obama and added $587 billion to the deficit. Government spending grew 106.87% during that time, while cumulative inflation was just 39.4% – at least according to the government.

I’m no economic genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I would suspect having GDP growth exceed inflation is good, but having government spending (which is a component of GDP) increase more quickly than either is a bad sign. If you take away the government spending component the question is whether GDP growth is still ahead of inflation. Maybe it’s not.

But who profits from that? I will grant there is certain government spending that adds value: if someone in the federal DOT had the gumption to have an interstate highway built between here and I-95 by Wilmington, not only would the money create local construction jobs on Delmarva but the greater ease in access to and from points north like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia would be good for local tourism and industry by making it easier to get here and transport there.

On the other hand, simple wealth transfers from rich to poor (welfare, Medicaid) and young to old (Social Security, Medicare) don’t add much in the way of value except in the sense that their care and feeding keeps a few thousand paper-pushers employed. But they are not creating value as their wages are extracted from those dollars others earn with work that adds value like mining, manufacturing, services like architecture and construction, and so forth. (Did I mention that I’m once again a registered architect in Maryland?)

So if you know this and I know this, why is the system remaining as is? I believe more and more that there is a group of well-connected people and entities who make their fortunes by gaming the system. Instead of government being a neutral arbitrator, they seem to be putting their thumb on the scale to favor those who now participate in an ever-widening vicious cycle of dependency and rent-seeking. To me, things should be fair for everyone with equal treatment in the eyes of the law but greed and lack of respect for one’s fellow man has changed the Golden Rule to “he who has the gold, rules.”

Surely, then, I’m asked why I don’t like efforts to overturn the Citizens United decision? I look at it this way: money in politics wouldn’t be a problem if there were no money in the honey pot for one’s sticky fingers to clutch on to. If the federal government did just what they were Constitutionally mandated to do, it wouldn’t matter in the least who gave campaign cash to who because the limits of government would mean lobbyists would have to make an honest living.

Consider that I’ve been riffing on this theme for over a decade and you’ll understand why I need a break sometimes. I do have a few tricks up my sleeve though, including the 2017 edition of the monoblogue Accountability Project. I think that’s going to be easier to compile because there are so many veto votes to use. Hopefully that will be done the first week of June, so we’ll see how this year’s General Assembly session stacks up.

And to be honest, it’s work I truly enjoy doing. Maybe that’s what keeps me going despite the lack of progress in changing things, so off to work I go.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2017

May 4, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comments Off on Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2017 

After I decided to retire the Shorebird of the Week feature at the end of last season, I still felt something was in order to express my fandom and admiration. So I decided (after some thought) to do a Shorebird of the Month, then it occurred to me that both position players and pitchers should be so honored as most organizations that give awards such as those tend to do.

This award will be subjective to the point where it won’t just be based on statistics, but also on whether a player exceeded the expectations one could reasonably place on him. A good case in point was my Shorebird of the Year for 2016, Yermin Mercedes. Here was a guy who had been released by one team, went to play in the independent leagues to keep his dream alive and was rewarded by latching on with the Orioles organization. I knew he could hit based on his previous campaigns, but there were reasons to expect a so-so season from him last year: his numbers slipped when repeating a level for the third time in his previous organization, his best hitting season came in a league where hitting an even .300 would put you somewhat below the league average, and he only hit .272 the season before for the Shorebirds – quite solid for a catcher, but could he do that well a second time? He definitely exceeded my expectations by winning the SAL batting title.

I would expect a guy like Manny Machado (or Ryan Mountcastle from last year) to take the South Atlantic League by storm. And having seen enough 20th round or later picks come to this level and have their weaknesses exploited by opposing pitchers or hitters, I have a pretty good idea of what a player’s ceiling is expected to be. Go back seven years to the 2010 draft (which featured Manny Machado as the #1 pick) and you will find the Orioles drafted 49 players that season. Out of those 49 players, five made it to the majors: Machado (1st round), Parker Bridwell (9th round), Chi Chi Gonzalez (11th round), Scott Copeland (21st round), and Tim Adleman (24th round.) While Machado and Bridwell debuted with the Orioles, Gonzalez was not signed and was later a 1st round pick; meanwhile, both Copeland and Adleman were released by the Orioles in 2012 and made The Show with the teams that eventually signed them, Toronto and Cincinnati, respectively. Adleman played for two seasons in independent league baseball before the Reds snapped him up.

Just five other players from that Baltimore draft are still active in lower levels: Matt Bywater (7th round) was in the Braves’ organization and independent baseball last season, but hasn’t yet latched onto a team for 2017. Wynston Sawyer (8th round) was an Orioles’ farmhand until the end of last year, but now the six-year free agent plays in the Dodgers’ chain. Both Bywater and Sawyer have only advanced to AA ball.

The other three were high school players who opted to sign later when drafted by other clubs. Between those three active players, they have played a combined one game beyond the advanced-A level.

That covers just 10 players out of 49. Out of the other 39, seven did not sign with the Orioles, 2 made it to AAA Norfolk (34th rounder Sammie Starr – for one game – and 42nd rounder Jake Pettit), 4 never advanced past AA (rounds 3, 10, 17, and 30), 7 could not get past advanced-A (rounds 4, 5, 13, 14, 15, 18, and 28), 7 were stopped at Delmarva’s level (selections 22, 23, 29, 31, 37, 40, and 48) and a whopping 12 never broke out of rookie league, covering rounds 19, 20, 25, 26, 33, 35, 36, 38. 39. 43, 44, and 47.

To make a long story short, I would be as impressed if a 35th rounder comes in and can be about league average as I would be with a first rounder hitting .380 and home runs by the bushel. There’s also track record to consider as well, since we have had many players who finally “got it” at this level and went on to be successful.

With all that introduction now out of the way, allow me to introduce you to my Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month for April, 2017.

The Player of the Month is outfielder Jake Ring.

After the Shorebirds’ initial road trip, Ring was hitting just .190 (4-for-21.) But he loved home cooking so much that in the seven-game opening homestand the Shorebirds had against Hagerstown and Greensboro Jake went an amazing 12-for-17 against the Suns and 4-for-11 versus Grasshopper pitching. Folks, that’s 16-for-28, or a .571 average with a homer, 12 RBI, and an absolutely mind-boggling OPS of 1.696 – the slugging percentage was also over 1.000 thanks to a total of 10 extra-base hits.

Overall in April Ring played in 20 games, hitting .359/3/19/1.085 OPS. As of this writing (through games of May 3) Ring is still second in the SAL in average, leads in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and the associated slugging percentage (he’s sixth in on-base percentage), third in doubles, tied for the lead in triples, tied for eighth in home runs, second in RBI, and second in total bases.

His season-opening exploits led Jake to be named 2017’s first SAL Player of the Week, covering April 4-14. It’s a far cry from the struggles he had with Delmarva at the tail end of last year, where he began his Shorebird career hitless in his first 10 at-bats before finally breaking through in the eighth inning of the season finale September 5. He would add another hit in the 10th inning of a game the Shorebirds won later that frame, finishing 2-for-12 in the three games. The 31st round selection from last year, out of Ingleside, Illinois by way of the University of Missouri, Jake spent the previous portion of the 2016 season hitting .278/0/21 in 53 games for the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League team – but that would be somewhat expected against a league where many of the players are either fresh from high school, coming from lightly-regarded or smaller college programs, or just arrived from the even more raw talent pools of the foreign summer leagues in various countries. The SAL is probably the appropriate challenge for Ring at this stage in his career.

Looking ahead, Jake could be here for a little while barring any injuries on Frederick’s roster – their outfield complement of Josh Hart, Austin Hays, Randolph Gassaway, and Ademar Rifaela is holding its own so far. Hart, Gassaway, and Rifaela should be familiar to Delmarva fans but Hays is a 3rd rounder from last season who bypassed Delmarva in his advancement. And while Jake has slowed down a little bit, hitting “just” .294 over his last ten games, keeping himself at or above .300 should merit him both a league All-Star bid and a mid-season promotion. Since he’s still only 22, there’s not a great deal of urgency to rush him along.

While Ring was a clear winner in this field, shortstop Chris Clare deserves honorable mention as well for a great month of April.

My Pitcher of the Month was a somewhat closer call, but I felt that putting together four excellent starts and being in the top five in league ERA was enough to give the nod to Alex Wells. Admittedly, I am buying a pig in a poke here because I haven’t seen either of his two home starts but so far Wells has a 2-1 record with a 1.11 ERA and WHIP of 0.945 (less than one baserunner an inning) based on just four walks and 19 hits allowed in 24 1/3 innings – meanwhile, he has struck out 20 in that stint. One thing those who attended either or both of his two home starts haven’t seen is Wells allowing an earned run – Lakewood scratched out an unearned run against him but Hagerstown was shut out.

Unlike Ring, Alex was challenged in his first pro season as he debuted last year with Aberdeen, going just 4-5 but with a 2.15 ERA in 13 starts there. Wells also has a more intriguing backstory as an Australian native whose twin brother Lachlan Wells pitches in the Minnesota Twins organization. (Somehow that fits, I suppose.) With one more season under his belt, Lachlan is pitching one level higher than Alex right now but they have very similar statistical profiles: low ERA, great strikeout/walk ratio, and capable of putting together fine games. In the case of Alex, all of his game scores (a statistic created by sabermetrics guru Bill James) are over 50, and two are over 65, suggesting a high-quality start. (The formula is somewhat cumbersome to explain, but a start that would match the minimum baseball definition of a “quality start” (3 earned runs or fewer in 6 innings or more) would net about 55 to 60 points, or an increase of 5 to 10 points over the 50 given to start. An absolutely perfect nine-inning game with 27 strikeouts would be 114 points, and the record for a nine-inning game is 105. Wells has a high score of 72 for his start at home against Lakewood (6 IP, 1 unearned R on 2 H, 6 K’s, no walks.)

Signed by the Orioles at the very end of the 2015 minor league season (and about 9 1/2 months after Lachlan), Wells was named as both an organizational and NYPL Midseason All-Star last season, all before he reached the age of 20. Baseball America also selected him as the 20th best NYPL prospect and 25th best Orioles prospect. The bespectacled Wells (both brothers wear glasses) has now pitched a total of 18 games for the Orioles’ brass and has started every one, compiling an overall ERA of 1.86.

So Wells has a pretty high ceiling, although one could definitely argue he’s simply meeting expectations. If he tracks as his twin brother did at this level last season, one could expect Alex to finish with a sub-2 ERA and stellar peripheral numbers such as WHIP and strikeout/walk ratio. While he has the potential to be moved up midstream, the Orioles can afford to take the time to develop Wells given their blue-chip young guns already in the rotation (although a left-hander would be a good companion to right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.) If the rotation and weather cooperate, the next time Wells should pitch here would be May 13 against Greenville.

Two pitchers who will get an honorable mention for beating expectations in their second tour of duty with the team are Steven Klimek and Jhon Peluffo. Both – but especially Peluffo – were batted around in their first stint here but have recovered nicely to start 2017.

With that, welcome to this new chapter. It will be more in-depth than a weekly look at one player, and the next one on the schedule would be June 8. The first Thursday in June is the 1st, so I’m creating the rule that these players of the month will be featured the Thursday after the first Monday of the month – it gives me time to digest the previous monthly splits and see who is deserving of the honors.

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