Reviewing the field (part 2)

When I left you last, we had eliminated the first eight Democrats in the current field of 24 running for President. Today there are a number of good matchups in this round so let’s get cracking!

#9 Kirsten Gillibrand (52, U.S. Senator, New York – down from #8) vs. #8 Cory Booker (50, U.S. Senator, New Jersey – down from #7)

This is a battle of two Senators who have had some difficulty standing out in a crowded field. I alluded to Gillibrand’s lackluster campaign in part one; fortunately, she’s up against a Senator who’s been more of a laughingstock to some and who hasn’t been the successor to Barack Obama he was perhaps shooting to be. It’s a battle of attrition here and a mild upset.

Winner: Gillibrand, 51-49.

#10 John Hickenlooper (67, most recent past governor of Colorado – down from #9) vs. #7 Amy Klobuchar (58 – for a few more days – U.S. Senator, Minnesota – down from #6)

Even though Hickenlooper is well known for opening a brewpub after being laid off as a geologist, his lack of buzz nationally wouldn’t be enough to overcome the fellow moderate, who has the advantage of the more national Senate stage.

Winner: Klobuchar, 59-41.

#11 Steve Bullock (53, term-limited current governor of Montana – not ranked) vs. #6 Elizabeth Warren (69, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts – down from #4)

Because Bullock is shiny and new, and Warren seems to have taken courses from Hillary Clinton on how to alienate broad swaths of the populace by trying to appear like a normal person, I smell an upset here. Warren’s campaign hasn’t been the juggernaut some may have hoped for when she jumped in the race so early.

Winner: Bullock, 52-48.

#12 Michael Bennet (54, U.S. Senator from Colorado – not ranked) vs. #5 Beto O’Rourke (46, former U.S. Congressman from Texas – no change)

Given the fact Beto is trying to “reboot” his campaign, the fact he drew the nondescript Bennet is a definite godsend for him. Out of the eight lower seeds that advanced, Bennet might be one of the just two or three O’Rourke could beat right now.

Winner: O’Rourke, 55-45.

#13 Andrew Yang (44, entrepreneur – up from #15) vs. #4 Kamala Harris (54, U.S. Senator from California – down from #3)

This is the opposite of the previous race, as Yang could beat some of the lower echelon players on a head-to-head basis. While Harris hasn’t run the most inspiring campaign, she would have enough name recognition over Yang – who may become the next Pete Buttigieg surging up through the field with good debate performances – to win this round. That may not be the case in a couple months.

Winner: Harris, 54-46.

#19 Tim Ryan (45, U.S. representative from Ohio – not ranked) vs. #3 Pete Buttigieg (37, mayor of South Bend, Indiana – up from #13)

Over the past two month, Pete has become the flavor of the day but he may be closing in on his expiration date as he receives more press scrutiny from opponents on both sides. In this case, though, he will have no trouble with the little-known lower seed Ryan whose Midwest roots are negated by Buttigieg’s similar background.

Winner: Buttigieg, 61-39.

#18 Julian Castro (44, former HUD Secretary – down from #12) vs. #2 Bernie Sanders (77, U. S. Senator from Vermont – no change)

While this has the same disparity of seeding as the previous contest, here’s another case where the expiration date may be on the milk carton. Remember, these are head-to-head battles and something tells me that feeling the Bern is so 2016 – meanwhile, Castro seems to be slowly building momentum. Bernie was never going to win this anyway, and I think his support isn’t as widespread as believed – witness how quickly he’s lost frontrunner status.

Winner: Castro, 51-49.

#16 Jay Inslee (68, current governor of Washington state – down from #11) vs. #1 Joe Biden (76, most recent previous Vice President and two-time previous candidate – no change)

There’s a reason Joe is the frontrunner, and Inslee isn’t the candidate who can beat him. Running on climate change is thin enough gruel, and it really serves well to alienate Joe’s Big Labor base.

Winner: Biden, 73-27.

So we are set up for part 3, which will wrap things up tomorrow. Here are the matchups, which go pretty much according to seeding except for my two huge upsets.

  • #5 Beto O’Rourke vs. #4 Kamala Harris
  • #11 Steve Bullock vs. #3 Pete Buttigieg
  • #7 Amy Klobuchar vs. #18 Julian Castro
  • #9 Kirsten Gillibrand vs. #1 Joe Biden

The semi-finals would pit the O’Rourke-Harris winner against the survivor of Gillibrand-Biden and place the Bullock-Buttigieg victor opposing the Klobuchar-Castro winner. Oddly enough, three of the four quarter-final pairings have a male against a female. Think that’s interesting? #Metoo.

See you tomorrow.

Reviewing the field (part 1)

Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s hard to believe that two months ago Sunday I did a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on March Madness, applying it to the Democratic presidential field that (at the time) had fifteen aspirants. To make it a regional I added Joe Biden to the mix, and sure enough he entered the race a few weeks later.

And so did a bunch of other folks – enough, in fact, to allow me a set of eight “play-in” contests before I set the field of 16. (Once upon a time, in the early 1950’s, that was the size of the NCAA basketball tournament. Now it’s the size of Division 1 men’s hockey, leading up to the Frozen Four. In that case, Amy Klobuchar should be an automatic.)

So, since I think politics should be fun and we make it a horse race anyway, here is how my updated tournament would play out. First of all, let’s go though the opening round byes – the top 8. But I’m going to be coy and present them in alphabetical order and not as seeded quite yet.

  • Joe Biden
  • Cory Booker
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Kamala Harris
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Elizabeth Warren

Now to those who have to endure a first round matchup: all these contenders would move on to face one of the top eight in the next round. The “score” is how I would imagine a balloting between the two candidates would go.

#24 Wayne Messam (44, mayor, Miramar, Florida – not ranked) vs. #9 Kirsten Gillibrand (52, U.S. Senator, New York – down from #8)

Honestly, I don’t think Messam has any chance to make the debates and his campaign will fade away to obscurity well before fall. He was already dishonest enough to announce for President the day after winning another term as mayor. It’s fortunate Gillibrand’s lackluster campaign drew this first round opponent.

Winner: Gillibrand, 73-27.

#23 Mike Gravel (89, former U.S. Senator from Alaska and 2008 Presidential candidate – not ranked) vs. #10 John Hickenlooper (67, most recent past governor of Colorado – down from #9)

Gravel isn’t running for president so much as he’s running for a debate slot. He has a similar attraction to Democrats as Ron Paul did for Republicans – way out of the mainstream but a principled elder statesman. Hickenlooper hasn’t made a big splash despite his experience as a two-term governor and previous mayor of Denver. That’s why this round is a lot closer than one might expect.

Winner: Hickenlooper, 57-43.

#22 Marianne Williamson (66, author and motivational speaker – down from #16) vs. #11 Steve Bullock (53, term-limited current governor of Montana – not ranked)

It’s a bit of a surprise to me that Williamson qualifies for the debates (or at least claims to based on number of donations) as a political neophyte, and she may have an appeal to a certain segment of Democrat voter. But Bullock, who is one of the two most recent entries, is hanging his hat on one fact: he won re-election in 2016 in a state Trump carried handily.

Winner: Bullock, 71-29.

#21 Tulsi Gabbard (38, U.S. representative from Hawaii – down from #14) vs. #12 Michael Bennet (54, U.S. Senator from Colorado – not ranked)

Gabbard has had a passionate following for several years, but her early entry didn’t scare a number of more well-known candidates out of her lane. However, she has as her opponent a technocrat Senator that hasn’t won with a majority in his own state and will bring up a few questions as he was born outside the U.S. – his father was an assistant to the ambassador to India. This one could have been an upset, but not quite.

Winner: Bennet, 53-47.

#20 Seth Moulton (40, U.S. representative from Massachusetts – not ranked) vs. #13 Andrew Yang (44, entrepreneur – up from #15)

It’s arguable whether Moulton should be this high, but his more recent entry gives him the slight advantage over fellow member of Congress Gabbard. His campaign has gone nowhere, though, and he may not make the debates. On the other hand, Yang has a certain amount of buzz and passion behind him as a non-traditional aspirant. This one is easy.

Winner: Yang, 77-23.

#19 Tim Ryan (45, U.S. representative from Ohio – not ranked) vs. #14 Bill de Blasio (58, mayor of New York City – not ranked)

Ohio is a good state for a Democrat to be from, as politicians from those states in the so-called “Clinton firewall” from 2016 are thought to be the best hope for knocking Donald Trump from his perch among working-class Americans. Meanwhile, while former New York mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani have made themselves household names, Bill de Blasio (who just entered the race last week in an epic fail of an announcement) just doesn’t have that cachet.

It’s a matchup perfectly suited for a Midwest guy, and the first upset.

Winner: Ryan, 56-44.

#18 Julian Castro (44, former HUD Secretary – down from #12) vs. #15 Eric Swalwell (38, U.S. representative from California – not ranked)

While Castro’s campaign isn’t off to the start I’m sure he hoped for, he has a couple advantages in this field: he’s the only Cabinet officer and – more importantly for those Democrats checking off the boxes – the only Hispanic. Swalwell is a one-note samba regarding gun control, which is an important enough emphasis in the full field for his ranking but won’t be enough to advance him. This is another upset based on seeding.

Winner: Castro, 59-41.

#17 John Delaney (55, former U.S. representative from Maryland – down from #10) vs. #16 Jay Inslee (68, current governor of Washington state – down from #11)

Both of these gentlemen were in my original March Madness as lower-ranked contenders and both remain there today. But Inslee has leaped ahead of Delaney because of the latter’s difficulty in getting people interested enough in his campaign – which is closing in on the two-year mark this summer – to put him over the donor number threshold.

Winner: Inslee, 57-43.

Six of the eight of my non-listed candidates from March were in the bottom half of the field and none ranked higher than eleventh. Just three of them (Bullock, Bennet, and Ryan) advanced and here’s who these winners will face in round 2, which will be part 2 of this brief series.

  • #8 Cory Booker vs. #9 Kirsten Gillibrand
  • #7 Amy Klobuchar vs. #10 John Hickenlooper
  • #6 Elizabeth Warren vs. #11 Steve Bullock
  • #5 Beto O’Rourke vs. #12 Michael Bennet
  • #4 Kamala Harris vs. #13 Andrew Yang
  • #3 Pete Buttigieg vs. #19 Tim Ryan
  • #2 Bernie Sanders vs. #18 Julian Castro
  • #1 Joe Biden vs. #16 Jay Inslee

There are some really interesting matchups in play for round 2, so look for that tomorrow as I carry on this tournament.

monoblogue music: “Legends In Their Own Minds” by Sundogs

You almost get two albums for the price of one with this new collection from the Seattle-based duo and friends known as Sundogs: out of twelve songs, about half would feel at home in the jazz-rock fusion landscape most famously populated by Steely Dan and the other half would lie squarely in the somewhat Southern, somewhat country, somewhat guitar-driven frontier of music bordered by the Eagles and Tom Petty. (In fact, to me the opening song Fallen Hero sounded like a Petty outtake except the Heartbreakers didn’t use electric piano like this song does.)

If they had been smart (or if it ever comes out in vinyl or cassette) they’d have done this sort of like G N’ R Lies but instead of live vs. acoustic it would be jazz fusion vs. classic rock. On the jazz side you’d have Snowman, which has a Santana-style opening, Did It Really Happen – sort of the title track as it has the lyrical reference – Castle, and End Of The World to close the side. I would be inclined to slide the instrumental Intro and Sahara as the fourth and fifth songs on that side to even up the sides. Not a perfect fit, but it would work.

I found that lyrically Snowman and Did It Really Happen were a little bit flawed and that Castle and End Of The World seemed quite alike. (In reality they are almost opposite on the album as tracks 2 and 12.) Intro/Sahara is a quite pleasant acoustic track.

And then you have side B, which is the rocker side. We could take that opener Fallen Hero and back it up with the potential singles Alive Tonight and Already Gone. (Yes, the title is the same but it’s not a remake.) Smart people might put those on the chart. Then could come the serious country rock of Hope and ballad Land Of Broken Dreams.

That leaves Johnny, which is an interesting song both lyrically and in its setup – it’s almost like two songs because the story is over about 2/3 of the way through a five-minute flat song, and a sort of funkified country lick shifts into a keyboard bridge. (They repeat the chorus on the outro but most of the last 90 seconds is instrumental.)

It also makes for an interesting video. Can you tell they had fun with green screens?

Someday I’m going to figure out what small town played host to the long motion shot. It’s like Google Maps street view without moving the mouse.

As far as the Sundogs band is concerned, it’s really two guys – guitarist Stan Snow and keyboard player Jed Moffitt. They play on all the tracks, but studio musicians from around the Seattle region fill in the other parts. If I hadn’t read it, though, I wouldn’t have known it by how the album was produced.

It’s a rule of mine, though, that you shouldn’t take my word for it. On this one you can check out their website and listen for yourself. You may find something you like in the vast variety.

A delusion of support?

It’s probably as close as the 2020 Presidential campaign will get to Delmarva – although with over 20 Democrats currently in the race, you never know what rocks they’ll crawl under to get the buzz needed to qualify for the first round of debates.

But Joe Biden has chosen Pennsylvania to be the home of “the official beginning of our campaign, held in the birthplace of democracy .” More specifically, it’s going to be held in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, presumably in front of the steps made famous by the movie Rocky.

I’m guessing it’s the compromise choice between beginning it in Scranton where he was born and Delaware, where he spent most of his adult life. (That is, if you don’t count the 44 years he was in some sort of federal elected office in DC: 36 in the Senate representing Delaware and 8 as vice president.) Never mind that Philadelphia is a much larger media market that Scranton or Wilmington and the symbolism of those steps too much to resist for a man who deems himself a champion of the working class.

As an aside, if that is the “official beginning” of the campaign what does that say about the union gathering in Pittsburgh when Biden announced? I suppose he believes they are already in his pocket, like the firefighters union that passed on 2016 but quickly endorsed “Creepy Joe.” It’s interesting that he would allow his campaign staff to organize but “believes the work environment he’s offering is good enough to prevent any push for a union.” I’m sure thousands of others thought the same way.

But one thing I noticed in the announcement of his Philadelphia rally is the prohibition on homemade signs. Obviously that’s an effort to control the message, but it is an open-air rally. And there you run the risk of not being able to fill the space – although I’m betting some compliant local unions will be bussing people in to make the crowd look larger.

That sign prohibition is really a shame, though, because I’d love to see a replica sign like this one:

This was the souvenir I recovered from a trash pile at the 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington. Too bad I don’t have it anymore to lend out for Joe’s rally.

But we have a lot of J-O-B-S now; in fact, unemployment is at 50 year lows – or should I say back to a time when Joe Biden hadn’t yet been elected to office.

So it will be interesting to see how Joe will argue against more of the same for the economy. I’ll bet he tries, though.

monoblogue music: Versal (self-titled EP)

Sometimes in life things occur in an order for a reason. A couple weeks back I had a free Saturday so I decided to address the backlog I had of records to review. And after going through two records which were outside my genre and very complex to the point of being a little bit overbearing, I sat down and listened to this six-song instrumental EP and really appreciated its simplicity.

That’s not to say the EP is one-dimensional at all. In fact, the six songs are all done via the efforts of Houston-based and Puerto Rican native musician Javier Velez, who uses Versal as a professional name, but they are layered in such a way that makes this collection an enjoyable listen and a respite – even if it, too, is outside my preferred genre. Some of the tracks, especially the opener Eternal, made me wish a Christian artist would write devotional lyrics to Versal’s music. I bet it would work.

If I really wanted to be nit-picky I would say that the second track, Flamenco en Culebra, is a touch too long – otherwise the songs fit rather neatly into the four-minute timeframe that works well for most music. But overall this is a very fine collection of songs that may appeal to a wide range of discerning listeners.

In reading a little bit on Velez, he claims to be something of a child prodigy who mastered five instruments by the age of 17 and picked up three more since. But his day job led him to the film making and visual world, making this EP something which was on his bucket list until he finally found time to complete it over the last couple years. There are actually two more songs he’s envisioning, but he wanted to get these out for some unknown reason.

Anyway, if the other two come out soon it will be a blessing – in the meantime I encourage you to enjoy the original six and listen for yourself. It would soothe the savage beast.

Losing the middle class

Most of my readers know that, after months of speculation as to his fate, former Delaware Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden entered the 2020 tournament for the Democratic presidential nomination a couple weeks back.

I had the opportunity to find this out a little in advance as I’ve been on his American Possibilities e-mail list for awhile. Of course, that’s morphed into the Biden 2020 mailing list so now I get regular missives from him on a variety of topics. Most of them I ignore, but this one begged for a counterpoint. I’ll pick it up after the formalities and omit the appeals for money as I go point-by-point. He’ll be in italics and I’ll be in regular font since it works better than a blockquote.

Michael, this country wasn’t built by bankers, CEOs, or hedge fund managers. This country was built by the American middle class.

It’s nice that you know my name, Joe, and in many respects you are correct. But most “bankers, CEOs, or hedge fund managers” were once members of the middle class – they just used hard work, talent, and aptitude to rise above the rabble that may not have had those same priorities, abilities, or desire to succeed. And the country needs ditch-diggers, too: there’s no shame in hard work. America was built by this team effort.

But today, the middle class is under attack, and too many families are being left out. They are working longer hours for less pay.

That’s why I’m calling for a $15 minimum wage — so we can build an economy where everyone has a chance to get ahead. (Emphasis in original.)

An hour is really still 60 minutes, but I get the point. But it seemed to me that median wages were increasing faster than inflation was since your successor took office, and government figures bear me out. They also prove that the Trump administration is succeeding much better than your old boss in addressing the situation.

I’ll grant the numbers come in at the tail end of the Great Recession (on the cited chart they begin in 2010) but in constant dollars the time period from 2010-2016 saw a net increase of just $5 a week during that six-year period. Moreover, while women’s earnings increased $10, men’s earnings actually declined $2 a week in constant dollars (based on 1982-84.)

Conversely, under Trump men have increased by a full $10 in nine quarters and women are up $2. Overall, the numbers are up $6 despite a hiccup at the end of 2017 that saw a sharp decrease in all categories. In 2018-19 men are up $11 a week, women $4 a week, and overall we have gained $10 a week. (Remember, that’s in 1980’s-vintage constant dollars. In actual 2018-19 terms the numbers since the end of 2017 are $51 a week for men, $29 for women, and $44 overall. A full $20 of that overall figure came upon the enactment of the Trump tax cuts between 2017Q4 and 2018Q1.)

Given that the average wage is now $23.31 an hour (and has risen about $1.50 since Trump came into office): I think the middle class is doing pretty well in this economy. But let’s soldier on:

And Michael, I’m asking you to stand with me on this, Sign your name to call for an increase of the national minimum wage to $15:

No, you’re standing by yourself on this one, Joe. Aren’t I already on your mailing list anyway? (By the way, that was originally a link to the money page.)

The middle class isn’t a number — it’s a set of values. Owning your own home. Sending your kids to college. Taking care of your geriatric parents.

The cost of all of these things is rising. And wages? Those aren’t.

We need to fix that. (Emphasis in original.)

Didn’t I just prove that wages were rising? Surely not everyone has an equal bump in pay, but as a whole they are.

And let’s talk about these milestones, shall we? One huge issue for the Millennials is the student loan debt they carry thanks to a society (aided by government regulatory policies at all levels) which requires a college degree for most of the desirable jobs. But not every degree is created equal; hence you get the proverbial womyn’s history majors working part-time as a barista at Starbucks while many engineering majors make serious coin. (Moreover, a large percentage of STEM majors are foreign students – look at a list of graduates from any engineering program and you won’t see a lot of common American names.)

And why is college so expensive in the first place? Conveniently, this chart happens to go back to my senior year of college and is in constant 2015-16 dollars – so you can see how the cost has grown so much faster than inflation. It’s been almost twenty years since I set foot on the campus of my alma mater but even in that fifteen years between graduation and my last visit there was a LOT of building on that campus – mainly in the category of student amenities such as a recreation center and complete renovation of the student center. Yeah, there were a couple new academic buildings (and they were gutting and expanding the architecture department building at the time) as well but that’s not what really attracts the kids.

Add to that the multitude (as in growing at a rate twice as fast as student enrollment) of new administrators – who surely receive an upper-middle-class salary and benefit package – and you have the beginning of a rampant increase in costs.

But the kicker was finalized by your old boss. Once the government shifted from guaranteeing loans – a practice for which the modern incarnation began in the early 1990s as a pilot program under Bush 41 – to becoming the sole provider in 2010 as a codicil to the Obamacare act, schools had no incentive to keep costs in line – why not dip your greedy mitts into that sweet manna of taxpayer dollars and keep everyone working on campus fat and happy? They had their money, so who cared if the government didn’t get theirs? That was on the student!

So the graduates (if they finished at all) have no money for a house, which is why many millions still live at home. And since their Boomer parents seldom put enough away (perhaps because they’re still supporting Johnny and Sally) for retirement and old age – believing Social Security and Medicare would somehow be enough to cushion their lavish lifestyles – those Boomers and their kids got a rude awakening when it was time for long-term care: Medicare doesn’t cover it and Medicaid will help itself to your estate for reimbursement.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider how much the government has already “fixed” for the middle class here? And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about ol’ “Creepy Joe.” Here he is again:

We need to restore the basic bargain for Americans so that if you work hard, you are able to share in the prosperity your work helped create.

To do this, we need to start with paying fair wages from the beginning.

Joe, did you forget that the true minimum wage is zero? Chances are, if you work hard and learn the skills needed to succeed in the workplace, you won’t be a minimum-wage worker for long. Yes, you may have to relocate or do tasks you might think are “beneath” you, but there are still paths to success in America – even in states where the minimum wage is set to the federal minimum.

Honestly, if we wanted “fair” wages we would have no minimum wage. That would be the ultimate in fairness as you are paid what you are worth to the employer. Don’t forget: employers aren’t there to give you a job, they are working to make a profit for themselves. If that doesn’t suit you, there are many opportunities to be your own boss – be cautioned, though, that there’s a much smaller safety net underneath you. But you would definitely “share in the prosperity your work helped create.”

I’m asking you to speak up, with me, and call for a raise of the national minimum wage, as the first step of many to have the back of American workers.

I told you no once, Joe. Get the government off the back of American workers.

This is just the first step. I look forward to sharing more about my plan for America in the future. Stay tuned.

Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. When your plan consists of rightsizing government to conform to the Constitution – that would be a good first step. Until then, you’re just a guy who’s lived on the taxpayer dime for way too long.

You know, Joe, I was only six years old when you were first elected, and in that interim time I’ve worked in the private sector for thirty years or so. (For about fifteen of those I was paying off student loans – and that was only for about $10,000, plus scads of interest.) You made it all the way to vice-president, and I’ll give you props for dealing with the tragedies in your life. But arguably you have less in common with a working man than Donald Trump does, even though you talk a good game and he’s a billionaire or whatever. Trump took risks and had spectacular failures but he’s signed the front of checks for thousands of employees, too.

And comparing his economic record to that of your former boss – well, I don’t think there are too many who want to go back to that malaise. I know I don’t.

I don’t know what your domestic situation is, but I would be curious: what do you pay your hired help? Hopefully it was more than your charity giving once was.

Anyway, it was nice talking to you, Joe. Good luck in the debates – you’ll need it.

Destroying a national party, too

The moment Martin O’Malley ducked the TEA Party wave in 2010 and won re-election – in no small part thanks to a rematch of the 2006 race for Maryland governor against the moderate Bob Ehrlich – the conventional wisdom knew MOM was pointing toward a 2016 race for the White House. So in term number two O’Malley worked on burnishing his far-left credentials for a national run, getting gay marriage and in-state tuition for illegal aliens passed in the General Assembly and leading enough to see repeal efforts for both fail at the ballot box. The state was also on the receiving end of an offshore wind boondoggle O’Malley pushed through the Maryland General Assembly, making it certain he was checking all the progressive boxes for a 2016 Presidential bid. Even the prospect of an all but gift-wrapped U.S. Senate seat thanks to the impending retirement of longtime Senator Barb Mikulski couldn’t deter O’Malley from his goal.

But a funny thing happened to Martin in 2014: the conventional wisdom that he would be a witness to Maryland history by being the first governor to have his lieutenant governor succeed him – as a bonus, checking off another Democrat box by making Anthony Brown Maryland’s first black governor – was tossed out the window when Republican Larry Hogan took three years of constant criticism of MOM’s tax-and-spend record via the Change Maryland organization and parlayed it into his election as Maryland’s 62nd governor. Granted, Anthony Brown ran a campaign as uninspiring as his name, but the criticism of O’Malley’s record was so fierce – and the national Democrat skids so greased for Hillary Clinton – that O’Malley was barely a cipher in the 2016 race for the White House. And even with every Democrat and his or her brother or sister jumping into the 2020 race for the Oval Office, MOM has already taken a pass on it.

On the other hand, Larry Hogan came into office with a broad fiscally conservative agenda. To the extent he could lower tolls and redirect transportation money away from the black hole of Baltimore’s Red Line and toward actual fixing of highways, Hogan was a hero to Republicans. But over time he lost conservative support by compromising too much on items like the hated Phosphorus Management Tool, being squishy at best on the Second Amendment (a sore issue for 2A backers thanks to another MOM initiative, the so-called Firearm Safety Act), reneging on a pledge to overturn an O’Malley fracking ban, and flip-flopping on retaining the Roger Taney statue that once stood at the State House until being removed in the dead of night, among many other reasons.

Yet despite the loss of conservative support, Hogan was all but assured re-election when a plurality of Democrats chose onetime NAACP head Ben Jealous from a crowded primary field to oppose him in 2018. Hogan had already dodged his first bullet when Congressman John Delaney declined a bid for governor (or a surefire re-election to Congress) for a quixotic Presidential run – announcing his intentions in mid-2017 when absolutely no one save hardcore political junkies was paying attention – so the far-left loonies sticking together and selecting Jealous for 2018 was the break Hogan needed to secure perhaps even 1/3 of the Democrat vote to go with his 90-plus percent of Republicans and well over half of independents.

But you would think that, with a comfortable 11-point victory, the Hogan coattails would be quite long. Instead, his were tucked in because Republicans lost a net of seven seats in the General Assembly. While their ranks in the Senate swelled a slight bit from 14 to 15, it was far short of the ballyhooed “drive for five” the Maryland GOP sought to give Hogan veto protection. Meanwhile, the House elections were a disaster as the GOP ranks plunged from 50 to 42, with the carnage particularly severe in suburban areas around Annapolis and Baltimore. Several good Delegates were shown the door thanks to the additional Democrat turnout, as those voters only circled one GOP oval for Hogan. This trend also doomed the already uphill battles of good Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and Attorney General (Tony Campbell and Craig Wolf, respectively) who Hogan rarely failed to ignore on his campaign trail.

This was nothing new for Hogan, though. A vocal critic and opponent of the Trump administration, Larry famously admitted writing in his dad’s name for President in 2016 instead of voting for the GOP nominee. But even as Trump has proven to be something of a miracle worker on the economy and not been the disaster feared by many on other fronts, Hogan hasn’t been a cheerleader. While the signs of a 2020 Presidential run weren’t as blatantly obvious, certainly there are some out there who knew Hogan either already had a bigger position in mind or could be swayed into making a bid based on the theory that he’s a compromising, work-across-the-aisle-for-the-common-good governor in a blue state. After all, he already had the SuperPAC.

It’s been a couple weeks now, but as a headliner for a New Hampshire event considered a ritual for presidential wannabes, Hogan said the following.

“Here in New Hampshire, for example, they like to be independent, they like to look at the candidates and kick the tires and meet people one-on-one. I’m pretty good at retail politics. That’s how I won my state with no money,” Hogan said during a subsequent news conference with reporters, prior to heading to the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper for an editorial board interview and meeting with the publisher.

“There are, I think, 23 states that have open primaries of one sort or another, so independents and Democrats can cross over and vote,” he said.

“Larry Hogan edges toward 2020 challenge to Trump: ‘I’m taking it more seriously'”, David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, April 23, 2019.

To win the Republican nomination it appears Hogan is counting on non-Republican votes. Sound familiar? It should, since in early 2016 there was always the question of how many Democrats were trying for their own “Operation Chaos” by voting for Trump in open-primary states, knowing that they would vote in November for Hillary Clinton.

Hogan’s New Hampshire appearance drew scads of local interest in both Maryland and the Granite State, as one may expect. But did it bear fruit?

Last week we found out a little bit. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll drew the most attention for placing Joe Biden atop the Democrat field in one of the first major polls since he declared (more on Biden in an upcoming post), but it also surveyed the GOP race as a somewhat hypothetical one between President Trump and three governors (two former, one current): Hogan, 2016 GOP also-ran John Kasich of Ohio, and 2016 Libertarian VP candidate William Weld, a long-ago governor of Massachusetts.

In the poll, which sampled nearly 400 New Hampshire Republicans, Hogan was dead last in the GOP field with exactly 1 vote, which translated to 0.2%. The good news is that he beat two Democrats: another current governor, Jay Inslee, and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel since both had zero. The bad news: two guys who aren’t even in the race yet (Montana governor Steve Bullock and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio) are either tied (de Blasio) or ahead of Hogan. Then again, Larry hasn’t formally declared either and may not until later this year when it’s time to get on primary ballots.

Speaking before that New Hampshire audience, Hogan “called for the Republican Party to appeal to a broader base, operate with civility and govern by consensus.” As the WaPo noted, “The audience included some activists who are thirsting for an intraparty fight.” In and of itself, I really don’t mind a primary fight that much – Trump can take care of himself. But if those were my four choices – well, that primary ballot would be left blank.

And if Hogan is, by some reverse miracle, the Republican nominee that becomes President, it may be the best thing ever for the third-party movement because the Republican Party would be no more. Conservatives would revolt, especially if the Democrats captured the Senate and kept the House, because Larry would be rolled on a national stage even worse than he is in Maryland. Of course, that would be huge for Democrats as their opposition is splintered and they would take the opportunity to consolidate power even further, using the fig leaf of bipartisanship at the times when they needed it.

Granted, the odds of an insurgent campaign defeating an incumbent from a party are quite small: it was last tried on the GOP side by Pat Buchanan in 1992 and Democrat Ted Kennedy made a bid in 1980. While neither came close to succeeding, it can be argued they weakened the incumbent enough to ensure his defeat later on in the general election.

If that’s Larry Hogan’s aim in running for President in 2020, he may as well go ahead and change his affiliation to unaffiliated. (He could still run as a Republican just like Bernie Sanders runs as a Democrat.) As I’m a principle over party guy, I think Larry’s lack of principles and unwillingness to stand up to the far-left opposition in Maryland place him squarely in the unaffiliated camp anyway.

monoblogue music: “Ten Years of Solitude” by Alya

There are some things in life I just don’t get. This is an album that is nominated for an award (the Independent Music Awards, which is a thing since this year’s is the 17th annual) and, on top of that, it has a video for Heart Shaped Hole that has been played over 3 million times on Youtube. (Once I get past the break for the photo I’ll embed the video, which is rather well-done to be honest.)

So why didn’t I like it, feeling that it was way too oversampled, overdramatic, and just plain fussy? (That and I really hate album covers that deface a face, so to speak.)

Maybe it goes with an artistic vision that I, a simple guy who spent his formative years watching corn grow in rural northwest Ohio, can’t figure out for the life of me. But it has pretty pictures and colors.

When I listened to it on Bandcamp, one of the sub-genres listed for it was “experimental pop” and maybe that’s the best description. Heart Shaped Hole is one of those experiments which succeeds, as well as Puppet Strings and Angel. Romano is an interesting song but I don’t know Japanese to understand the lyrics – ironically, it’s a song performed the least in Alya’s breathy singing style. That way of singing – admittedly, it’s been pulled off on a regular basis in the music industry – is what makes songs like Animals and Seven miss the mark.

The amount of experimentation in the songs seems to dictate how well they work. If the song is simple, like the ballad Hachiko, it comes off all right. But placing the vocals too far under the music as is done on Half of the Sun, or making Twenty Six a the song that made me think of the “fussy and overdramatic” description – well, that doesn’t work. Truly, I was relieved when the “let’s throw a lot of stuff at the wall and see what sticks” closing song Colorful Dreams came to an end because I was finished sitting through this.

Done with her vocals and a single producer, who presumably did all of the instrumentation, I think Alya’s vision for what was apparently a project long in the works just doesn’t match up with mine. It may match up with yours, though, so if you don’t mind Spotify you can judge for yourself.

There are fewer pretty colors there, though.

Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: April 2019

For the third year, the Shorebird Position Player and Pitcher of the Month returns to my website. Overall, this will the the fourteenth season during which I honor particular Shorebird players, having done so on a weekly basis for the first eleven. 41 of those so honored have made it to the major leagues, either with the parent Orioles or one of the other 29 teams. Only a handful of teams (nine, to be exact) remain territory a Hall of Famer hasn’t played at the big league level.

There won’t be photos to start because I haven’t seen the pitcher being honored quite yet. But, as usual, I’ll begin with the position player who shined the brightest among a constellation of stars you would normally find on a team which got off to a franchise-best 18-4 start.

A product of the University of Iowa and Hawkeye born-and-bred, outfielder Robert Neustrom parlayed three straight seasons of hitting over .300 and improving in the vital OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage, a good barometer of a batter’s ability) each year into a fifth-round selection by the Orioles last season (not to mention a $300k signing bonus to forgo his senior campaign.)

Assigned to Aberdeen last season, Robert slashed a solid .272/4/29/.716 OPS for the Ironbirds last season in 61 games. Neustrom wasn’t the top performer in any particular major category (although he led the team in doubles) but was generally in the top three to five of most line items. It was obvious he would be coming to Delmarva this season as the next step in his development.

And what a step it was. In just 19 games, Robert had a slash line of .329/3/14/.957 OPS, numbers that were either first or second for the Shorebirds in April. In just one month – and barely a third of the plate appearances he had for Aberdeen – Neustrom racked up nearly half the RBIs and fell one short of matching his total in home runs.

The only downer to Robert’s month was that of being placed on the 7-day injured list on the first of May due to an injury reported during Tuesday’s game, where he exited “grasping at his calf.” That may slow down the 22-year-old, who was regarded as the 29th-best prospect in the Orioles system to begin this year – although he’s the 18th-best among players the team actually signed or drafted – but hopefully will not become a lingering problem.

It was a close battle between Neustrom and infielder Adam Hall for the top position player spot in April, but I had an even more difficult choice among the pitching ranks as three topped the field.

Tipping the scale toward Grayson Rodriguez: a microscopic 0.54 ERA and a SAL Pitcher of the Week designation for the first week of the season, which was actually a week and a half and allowed him to make two starts – a pair of games against defending league champ Lexington and 2018 SAL North pacesetter Lakewood. In 11 innings between the two starts, Grayson allowed three harmless singles and struck out 20 batters. The only area of concern may have been the five walks.

Grayson ran his scoreless streak to 15-plus innings before allowing his first and only run of the month on a home run by Greensboro’s Rodolfo Castro. The slash line against Rodriguez in April: .123/1/1/.399 OPS.

While success has come early to Rodriguez, it wasn’t entirely unexpected: the 11th overall selection in the 2018 draft, the 19-year-old out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas had 4.3 million reasons to take a pass on college ball. Instead, Grayson went to the Gulf Coast League and got his initial education as a bright light on a miserable team that won just 13 games out of 55 played – a real school of hard knocks. However, with just 19 1/3 decent but unspectacular innings spaced out among nine appearances in 2018, this is really the first time the training wheels are off. (To an extent, that is: the Orioles brass had Rodriguez skip his last scheduled turn to keep his innings total down.)

So he did not pitch during the last long homestand – his only home appearance was the first Friday night game of the season. Thanks to inclement weather and schedule vagaries, Grayson’s turn won’t come up again until tomorrow night at Augusta – a layoff that went over two weeks.

Already regarded as the #5 prospect in the Baltimore system, Grayson had strong competition for the April honors: a case could have easily been made to instead select Blaine Knight, Delmarva’s opening day starter and owner of seriously good numbers himself. Also in the running was Ofelky Peralta, who began the season on a strikeout tear by recording 12 of his first 14 outs via the punchout and still leads the team with 31.

Odds and ends number 93

There’s been a lot piling up in my e-mail box as I prepared The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party, so now that I have that wrapped up I can move on to a few long-overdue things, like this one. As always, it’s things I can speak to in a couple sentences to a few paragraphs, wrapped up in a rhetorical bow.

On the Maryland front

I’ve received a number of items from my old friends at the Maryland Public Policy Institute but these few stuck out at me. First was Marta Mossburg’s assessment of our governor’s Presidential election chances:

If Gov. Larry Hogan decides to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency, he will lose before stepping into the ring.

A man who in the State of the State and at his second inauguration tried to out Roger Mr. Rogers with calls for bipartisanship has no chance outside the small neighborhood of Maryland. Anyone with an R beside their name is evil to those on the progressive left throughout the nation even if they never don a MAGA hat. And what in his record will speak to the national Republican base so loudly they would be willing to dump Mr. Trump for him?

“I lowered tolls!” isn’t a rallying cry to stir the masses. Neither is “I stopped Democrat overreach!” And “I supported the most expensive public transportation project in the world” won’t win him an invitation to break bread with wealthy Republican donors who want to shrink government.

“Maryland needs to win for Gov. Hogan to win higher office”, MPPI blog, February 5, 2019.

Not to mention we already have a socially-liberal #NeverTrump in the running for losing the GOP nomination. But the point remains: Donald Trump, for all his faults, is probably more conservative than Larry Hogan is. A conservative Larry Hogan would veto practically everything the Maryland General Assembly passes (instead of caving in to some of their worst proposals) because how often do they even consider his sponsored bills? Add to that the fact that Trump will actually campaign for conservatives (unlike what happened to a certain Maryland U.S. Senate candidate last time around) and the thought that Hogan would be wise to concentrate on Maryland makes more sense.

And if that wasn’t enough, MPPI scored big with their assessment of Maryland’s spending problem and long-standing alternatives to a job-killing $15 per hour minimum wage.

A fast-growing industry

Speaking of Governor Hogan and caving in: despite Maryland’s foolish refusal to get in on the game, extraction is the nation’s fastest-growing industry. But even Andy Harris has been reluctant to advocate for offshore drilling despite its potential benefits, as this op-ed suggests. As I often say, the reason environmentalists oppose seismic testing isn’t the harm to creatures but is truly that of what we may find is out there now that testing methods have improved over those of 30 years ago.

On the other hand, those trying to kill industry in the country are hard at work trying to fool people. Two cases in point come from the Capital Research Center, which posted a couple good pieces on union influence in politics these days in left-leaning states as well as the federal government. But if you really want to take the cake, just listen to what Slow Joe Biden said a few days ago:

It’s time we told the truth about what unions have really done for America.

With the dues they paid, the picket lines they walked, the negotiations they sweated through, those union workers weren’t just standing up for other union workers.

The rights they fought for benefited every American worker.

Minimum wage. Overtime pay. The 40-hour workweek. Safer working conditions. The elimination of child labor, for crying out loud. The list goes on and on.

This country wasn’t built by a few Wall Street bankers, CEOs, or hedge fund managers. It was built by the American middle class.

“It’s Time To Tell The Truth About Unions.” e-mail from American Possibilities.

Here’s a little more truth: I was often told by a relative – who was a union steward, for crying out loud – that “unions are for the lazy man.” When the incentives become perverse, like intentionally slow-walking a task so the productivity expectation remains artificially low, it’s apparent that unions provide a floor level of benefits but also create a ne plus ultra of accomplishment. The most productive and innovative have no place in a union.

Good news for the Constitution (party)

Did you know the Constitution Party has 110,000 registered voters around the country? It doesn’t seem like much but worth remembering is that not all states specifically allow registration to any party but the big two.

But I love the contributions being made by an unknown person who goes by the nom de plume “Digital Paul Revere.” In one statement, DPR said a lot about the type of person the Constitution Party should attract:

I am writing to you because I have witnessed firsthand the absolute horror of socialism. These essays are not newsletters. They aren’t meant to bring you recent Party news. They are long-form commentaries on current events happening in our country. They are viewpoints, seen through the lens of a Millennial American who has lived for a significant length of time under a true socialist dictatorship: China. These essays are meant as an olive branch to young Americans, frustrated by the perversion of the political process today, alienated by the major political parties, crushed under unimaginable debt with little hope of ever having the means to repay it, and “politically homeless”. They are also meant to give older generations of Americans a glimpse into the future that awaits your children and grandchildren, should you fail to act now.

In these essays, I hope to provide a point of view that will help fellow American patriots see the danger that our nation is in and call to action all who wish to see the situation improve. I can tell you with absolute conviction that many Americans do not know the extent to which socialism has corrupted our systems and institutions. I didn’t know either. It is only after having lived under true socialism that I can see the telltale signs of its growing influence on our country.

“Introduction to a Reformed Millennial,” DPR.

In a similar vein, DPR writes that it’s better to be an American. I like that.

The Constitution Party also gained a couple more officeholders thanks to partisan switches – one from Republican and another from a conservative Democrat who was elected based on their votes in a North Carolina race. In looking up the results, though, I found this gentleman was an incumbent county commissioner who turned out to be a primary election loser that took advantage of the CP’s newly-won ballot access to avenge his primary loss. In most cases, “sore loser” laws would prevent this, so his victory comes with an asterisk, too. It’s tough to compete with the duopoly, though.

The Kochs of the Left

The penultimate piece before I go is a groundbreaking report from the Capital Research Center on a left-wing dark money entity called Arabella Advisors. If you ever wonder how these left-leaning “grassroots” groups suddenly pop up out of nowhere, this piece may help you to understand that it’s some serious Astroturf. And they had the nerve to call the TEA Party “Astroturf?” Sorry, I know some of the TEA Party founders and believe me, they are legit. If you’re still not convinced, read this.

Flogging the scamPAC horse

That’s not to say that the TEA Party didn’t eventually sell out, though. Call it flogging a dead horse, but the TEA Party Express is coming off like a scam PAC with an appeal that claims:

The recent polls coming out are showing President Trump behind many of the Democratic candidates.  Now, as financial disclosures are due for the first quarter of the year, we see that these Democrats are raising unheard of millions of dollars – over $70 million and counting.  So Trump is behind in both the polls and in the critical fight for financial resources to communicate with the American people.

We launched the “Tea Party for Trump” to get conservatives off the sidelines and back in the field to preserve the tremendous gains we have made over the last two years and achieve even more victories ahead in a second term of Trump-Pence.

“Fight back for Trump” e-mail from Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express.

There are no less than seven different linked appeals for donations.

Now I’m not sure if the TPX (as I called it for shorthand in my book) ever ran a bus tour for the 2018 midterms – if they did it was nowhere near my radar and I think I have a decently attuned one. But if Lloyd Marcus is to be believed they may get the band back together for Trump 2020. We will see.

Still. it’s a shame how far the TPX has fallen. Luckily my friend Mark Williams isn’t dead or he may be rolling in his grave about this one.

Now that I have pretty much cleaned out my e-mail, I think we can put odds and ends to bed for a few weeks.

monoblogue music: “It’s Time” by Rose Ann Dimalanta Trio

I suppose It’s Time for me to do another music review. (See what I did there?)

However, I really shouldn’t make light of this serious effort by a musical veteran who spent nearly two decades in the business, building her brand to the point of having her very own fan club. And I can see why she had one, given a fairly sultry and smoky voice that goes well with some of the selections she wrote and placed on this album. It was an album which came about as those I review often do: songwriting ideas bounced off a friend who liked them and enlisted help in making them a reality.

Since I don’t consider myself to be either a fan or maven of the jazz genre she’s staked her position in, I have to grade Rose Ann’s trio on some of the things I found memorable in the album. Sometimes they aren’t so good, such as the bass line on the lead song Forever Day By Day that sounded just a little off somehow, the odd percussion runs on Latin Soul, or the cloying string session on Miles, the second single from an album that is actually nearly six months old as I review it.

But “It’s Time” has some good points going for it: the imaginative improvisation of 10 Miles To Empty, the intriguing lyrical turn in Happily’s Never After, or the dash of funk that made Mad Run an enjoyable tune, to name a few. Truly Love Someone counts in that regard as a duet, although I wasn’t quite sure if it were a statement in featuring another female singer.

Another interesting facet I’d not heard or thought of before was that of using voice as instrument: a unique and nonsensical chorus briefly comes into play on the otherwise instrumental (and aforementioned) Latin Soul as well as on Seven Days. Since these come into play toward the middle of the song and aren’t part of a lyric line, I count it as adding another instrument to the mix to go with the basic bass, drums, and keyboards on the album. (The rather unique cover features the names of the trio: Raymond McKinley is the bassist and Massimo Buonanno is the drummer as Dimalanta plays keyboards.)

If I were to categorize this one, though, it would be somewhere between the hard jazz of Dinner For One (at over seven minutes, it’s the longest track on the album) and the old “middle of the road” radio format that Measure Of A Man and That’s All could easily fit into. It’s not something I would listen to every day – I’m definitely a fish out of water when it comes to that style – but it’s well-done enough to be enjoyable to a certain segment of the population that’s simply not into current popular music and likes something with gravitas.

As I generally do, though, I’ll let you be the judge (via Spotify.) If you like it, then it’s time to add Rose Ann Dimalanta to your collection.

Radio days volume 21

Think of it as the first stop of a radio book tour. (Well, let’s hope anyway.)

It’s been a long, long time since I did a radio show (March of 2016 to be exact, thanks to my erstwhile cohort Marita Tedder) and even longer since it was live – for that I have to go back to 2013. That was a less-than-desirable experience because I was the lone conservative on a panel of four left-of-center guests.

In this case, though, I got a nice 20-minute segment that was only interrupted once by traffic and weather. And I got to hear how Mike Bradley did a great job of setting up the segment: since I called in a few minutes beforehand I got to hear the intro. It was also nice to hear that I was a wanted commodity – I guess I had to do something more or less newsworthy and releasing a book was just the thing. I certainly have no objection to being an occasional recurring guest.

Initially I thought it would be a little disarming to begin off topic given that Mike wanted my opinion on Joe Biden’s entry into the race, but it turned out to be pretty good – not just because I could break out the line, “if it weren’t for double standards, the Democrats would have no standards at all,” but because it established some of my bonafides to an audience that probably isn’t familiar with my generally Maryland-centric website. I’m sure it also worked with the station’s morning theme of following Fox and Friends as they broadcast from Rehoboth.

But I really liked getting to explain some of my thinking behind the book. I thought I did reasonably well with that, considering how my morning went.

If I can let you in on a secret: last night I sat down and wrote out a list of talking points about my book that I would use for these occasions. I printed it up, set it on the table with a quote I wanted to use if I got time – and realized halfway to work (since that’s where I called from) that I left it sitting on my table. So I was a little freaked out, but realized the act of writing it was enough to jog my memory in most of the cases. So I didn’t give perfect explanations, but I think I got the point across.

However, the one point I wish I had brought up and had more time for was soliciting and getting the input from the early TEA Party leaders like Mark Williams, Joan Fabiano, and others to use in Rise and Fall. I sort of missed my chance when I talked about the corporate TEA Party and the difference from the early days. If this becomes recurring I may bring it up, although I suspect Mike would be more interested in more topical input.

As a whole, though, I think I would give it a solid B. I was told Mike was a great interviewer (not that I hadn’t heard him do a fair number in the past when I commuted to Delaware for work) and they were right. Considering I was doing this off the cuff and was way out of practice it went really well and hopefully will pique the interest of people in Rise and Fall.

So I appreciate Mike Bradley and WGMD giving me the chance to speak and look forward to doing it some more. Maybe I can get back to the same routine I had with Bill Reddish a decade ago.