A long-awaited return

July 8, 2017 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

Oh my gosh, have I been pining to write this.

You are probably wondering why it’s been so damn long since I wrote a post, so let me tell you: we moved. This was actually a planned thing, but I wasn’t planning on doing it quite so soon. And part of that move was having to re-establish internet service and that took until today – until now I had to use my phone’s mobile hotspot to get on the internet and I wasn’t going to chew up gobs of data just to write and research blog posts. (I did it for writing Patriot Post, though, such as yesterday’s piece that led off their “Weekend Snapshot.” That was plenty enough.)

Now I have service re-established, though, I can get back to writing stuff every once in awhile. In fact, one thing I owe you is a Shorebird of the Month for June as it was a casualty of my wait for internet. I’ll pick that up next Thursday at the appointed time.

But wait: there’s more. I got some news yesterday that I’m keeping under my hat for a few days, but in time this will be the opportunity to end my hiatus from serious writing. Let me assure you that prayers are answered.

I may have a post tomorrow for you as well because I started one before we moved, hoping to get it done (obviously not.) I’ll have to look it over and see if it’s still relevant but I think it will be. In the meantime, I’m pleased to be back online with good internet.

And boy do I have a lot to say!

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?

The receding safe harbor

March 31, 2017 · Posted in Culture and Politics, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

Over the last few weeks I have noticed a trend, and I’m all but certain it’s because we have a Republican president and Congress once again. (At least in a nominal sense.)

It’s worth recalling the last time this situation was in force was the six years prior to the 2006 election. We spent the two years from 2007-2009 watching our economy go into the tank with a lame-duck GOP president and Democrats in charge of Congress, then eight years with a Democrat as president, although he only had his party in control of Congress for two years before people were fed up with his efforts.

But we are back to the theme – now expressed by many on social media as well as the prevailing mainstream media – regarding how heartless the government is, how people are suffering, and so forth. (It’s funny how a lot of us suffered for the last eight years but no one really noticed or cared.) They shriek that the government could throw people off their health insurance, or give tax cuts to the rich and their corporations, or allow polluters free reign over the countryside, and so forth. People who were complacent because their needs and desires were catered to in the last administration are bitching and complaining now, but their reasons have the depth of a cookie sheet.

It seems that more and more people have what could be called Linus syndrome, with the government acting as their security blanket. Apparently the blanket covers their eyes and ears because they’re not seeing nor hearing what has really been going on for the last many years. (Often you have a quote here, purportedly from Thomas Jefferson, that a government big enough to supply your needs is big enough to take it away. He never actually said that.) Thomas Jefferson did write that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” And it’s gained a heckuva lot of ground in my lifetime.

I think, though, that one casualty of that concession is the substitution of government for charity. In days long ago, there were provisions made in the community for widows and orphans who were left without their breadwinner through whatever tragic means. Now we have the situation where to live on the various forms of government assistance works out to the equivalent of wages from a working-class job in many states. Human nature is such that most will take the easy way out, live for today, and never have a second thought about it until the goose that laid the golden eggs keels over from exhaustion from keeping up with everyone’s needs.

On the other hand, my faith tells me that the Lord will provide. It may not be in the manner I would prefer or up to the standard where most in the world would equate with a comfortable living, but the needs are met and we find out that other needs were simply wants in disguise. To borrow an expression from Jesus, we have rendered far too much to Caesar and people grew accustomed to it. Luckily for them, there’s little danger of the system collapsing totally for the moment – but that peril is lurking in the distance.

Those who have put their faith in government seem to have the loudest voices now, and if you aren’t strong in faith in God you may believe they are the ones in the right.

It seems to me that rightsizing the federal government would have some significant benefits that far outweigh the costs. Yes, there would be a painful transition for many who are let go from their jobs and the state of Maryland would be hit hard because of it. Yet I believe charity giving would surge and perhaps people may begin to pay more attention to their own communities. Imagine having the freedom of more money in your paycheck, more choice on how to educate and raise your children, more input as more easily accessible local and state officials decide what government services are worth providing and what is kept in the private sector, and so forth.

Maybe it’s quaint, but I have a preference for faith and resourcefulness over dependence and lack of ambition.

A week ago I did a Patriot Post piece on happiness, whether measured by the government or expressed in a different survey. It was interesting that the government measured happiness by metrics while the other survey was more on emotional happiness. It turned out that the places which were most happy on an emotional level weren’t blessed with a lot of material wealth but were pleased with their lot in life nonetheless. (The happiest nation in terms of the survey was Paraguay, which isn’t known as an economic power.) It could be inferred that the Lord was providing their needs and their wants were minimized.

I know that I want to be free from worry in both an economic and lifestyle sense, and to me one key in getting to that direction is helping my fellow man understand that faith in government is faith misplaced. We have a safe harbor available to us but our national ship is steaming full speed in the wrong direction. A course correction is urgently required.

A Van Hollen rant

March 22, 2017 · Posted in Culture and Politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

On social media I have somehow found myself receiving a number of missives from our recently-elected (but not by me) Senator Chris Van Hollen. The other day he posted a link to a New York Times story about Trump budget cuts, and frankly I had to let him and his mindless minions have it, both barrels.

I notice not one of them has responded! Since I don’t think all that many people I know see Van Hollen’s leftist propaganda, these thoughts must have stunned those minions into silence.

**********

It’s interesting to me that the media didn’t go out and find “struggling Americans” during the last administration. (They could have interviewed me, since I was in the building industry and was laid off from it for several years – so I found my own work.)

But here’s my real point: these people who are whining about the Trump budget – which is still going to be deficit spending, although maybe not as much as we would have had – need to look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are so worried about government cuts. How did you manage to put yourselves in a position of dependence?

The way I look at it, the federal government has a limited number of core functions that are spelled out in the Constitution. That is what they are supposed to do, and nothing more. (The rest goes to the states, or the people – refer to the Tenth Amendment.) But over the years our nation has found that it’s good to be on the gravy train and politicians like Chris Van Hollen will pander to them over and over with posts like this. As long as they can buy votes with federal largesse, who cares whether our grandkids will have to pay the bill?

Well, I do. Let’s make a deal, Senator: you figure out a way to allow me to get back everything I put into the Ponzi scheme of Social Security and black hole of Medicaid over the last thirty years I’ve worked and I will figure out how to get through my golden years using that little nest egg without you parceling it out monthly. I can figure out a budget, unlike you guys and your continuing resolutions.

And if you say that the money I put into Social Security and Medicare is being set aside so I can use it later, well, perhaps my late brother could have used some of what he put in before he passed away with no wife or kids at the age of 47. Just give me a lump sum and let me walk away. Even President Trump isn’t saying that – in fact, he campaigned saying neither needed to be touched – but I think it’s necessary to deal with the bill we’re giving our kids.

Trump’s cuts are pocket change to where the federal government needs to be. And, just so you all know, I didn’t vote for him and I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Hillary even if you put a gun to my head. I chose a far better candidate, one who had he somehow won would have caught a tremendous amount of flack for doing what he said he would from everyone who has figured out a way to become dependent on Uncle Sugar.

So, Senator, if you and your supporters were looking for an “attaboy” for finding a story about Americans struggling under Trump, the only one I would have is for the young Tracy Spaulding:

“People get laid off every day. I’ll make it one way or another.”

I have been laid off four times in my life, and guess what? I made it one way or another. You all can survive a few government cuts, and you might just find it liberating. And to ask the government workers whose jobs are on the chopping block who read this: didn’t they say just a few years ago that unemployment was a great thing because there was all that extra free time you could enjoy?

Why yes they did.

Lucky for you people in the private sector are hiring.

**********

Callous? Perhaps. A little over the top? I don’t think so. And by the way, the Medicaid was a typo since I think it was mentioned in the story. Later I correctly stated Medicare.

I have grown weary of all the strife over the last 4 1/2 months since Donald Trump was elected, even though I wasn’t one who voted for him. Certainly I have my policy differences with him, although to be honest these are far fewer than the number I had with our last President. But I have to give Trump credit for following through on some of those things he promised, even as the Republican Congress goes seriously wobbly regarding all they pledged. (Case in point: I don’t recall anyone really talking about the “replace” with the “repeal” until Donald Trump came along. Just repeal it with an effective date of this time next year and states will have time to do what they wish to do in the interim.)

Once upon a time I used to put some of my best comments elsewhere into posts, as I believe in not letting good writing go to waste. This may be a feature to resurrect in the near future, but this one wasn’t going to wait for an editorial decision.

You know, I think I was blessed with a decent amount of intelligence – maybe not Mensa-grade, but I did all right in public school. I don’t think I’m that much smarter than the average bear, though, and maybe that’s why I can’t figure out how everyone can’t see what has been going on for the last thirty years – although I know some who would argue the timespan is far longer. We have put ourselves at the mercy of a lot of people and entities that, when push comes to shove, are going to think about themselves first and the rest of us not at all. Perhaps it’s always been like this, with some people destined to be the lords and kings and most destined to be the vassals and serfs. But as long as their chains rest lightly I suppose most of these people who wish for more and more government aren’t going to mind a little less freedom.

It wasn’t much more than a century ago that there were still places in continental America where you could live in an informally organized territory, and maybe there is still a real-life Galt’s Gulch here in America. But our people now seem to want America to be the land of the free stuff, and we need to remind them often that things don’t work that way.

With that my work is done here, at least for tonight.

At throats

February 27, 2017 · Posted in Culture and Politics, Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

Some thoughts at large:

Is it just my imagination, or have the last 20 years simply escalated the tension in this country between political factions?

Once we were told that politics and religion were two subjects that really weren’t suited for dinner table conversation. In days of old, I’m sure the women who used to trade gossip over the back fence as they hung the laundry out to dry and the guys who bowled together on Tuesday nights couldn’t care less about who their neighbors and teammates voted for because they had so much more in common than they did differences. Conversations were more about how to best ward off the Fuller Brush man coming to the door or needing to throw two strikes and count on the fill shot in the tenth frame to win the series and avoid having to buy the final round, not whether the President needs to be impeached for some real or imagined slight.

Fast forward a few decades and now people are selective with their friends and associates, preferring to be in their own information silo. Needless to say, that information silo exists because we’ve come to a point where people consume their news and information almost exclusively from sources they believe are true, and that element of truth comes from being aligned with their worldview. If you had one belief style, you would believe that Ronald Reagan was a dunce whose best acting job was becoming President, the Bushes came from a crooked, out-of-touch family dynasty, Bill Clinton was hounded by overzealous prosecutors and everything against him was just about sex, and Barack Obama was the best thing since sliced bread because he gave us health care. On the other hand, you could also be convinced that Reagan was worthy of sainthood, the Bushes were a true American family dedicated to public service, Bill Clinton was a crook who got away with murder, and Barack Obama was a communist plant who was really born in Kenya. There doesn’t seem to be much of an in-between, and people were made even more passionate by the Trump-Clinton election of 2016.

So now everyone has to be on a side, or you will be assigned to one. If you were #NeverTrump, you had to be a Hillary Clinton supporter. If you think climate change is real but mankind has nothing to do with it, you are still a “denier.” And so on and so forth through a host of political topics and issues – it’s my red team or blue team, wrong or right.

If you have been here since the beginning or known me for any length of time, you know that I’m not a completely neutral observer, although I try hard to be objective as a reporter. I have a set of beliefs and I defend them; however, I’ve been working more on stepping out of the information silo because the research will make for a more interesting book when I finally finish it. When discussing the TEA Party, there is the perspective from conservative media (it was a grassroots movement), the liberal spin (Astroturf set up because a bunch of racists hated a black President), and the truth (they were mainly people who were truly scared about their future and didn’t want the government taking so much money, power, and control.) Such a movement will attract a handful of true racists but really attracts the charlatans trying to make a score via the political topic of the day. I say this about just one subject, but there are myriad others with the same sort of arguments on both sides.

Perhaps a reason I needed a break from politics and its associated idea that you have to be either on the red team or the blue team is the realization that the game is on a completely different field. We argue about how much influence Uncle Sam should have on paying for our health care when the argument should be regarding their involvement in general, for example. To speak to anything else is to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

That being said, I’m glad that some people I know had a good time at CPAC this year, but I had no desire to go. They told me that getting out of politics would be liberating, but they didn’t say how much. It’s more fun to discuss issues and try to break through the silos on social media than to go cheer for one candidate or another.

I think it was said that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Politics will make you a lot of friends, although when you leave you notice there are fewer. But taking a stand in this day and age will get you a lot of enemies, and I don’t think they ever forgive or forget. There are lots of reasons friendships break up, but isn’t being for a presidential candidate other than your own a pretty stupid one?

The uprising

Saturday could be an interesting day in Salisbury.

I’m sure you know I am writing a book on the TEA Party (more on that in a bit) so one restore point I like to return to in my political memory was the first Tax Day TEA Party we had out in front of the Government Office Building. On a rainy Wednesday afternoon there were probably 400 to 500 people in attendance. Three months later we celebrated Independence Day with a gathering of perhaps 200 to 300. (Sadly, I wrote great pieces on both events but the demise of my photo repository means the photos are dead links. Someday I will rectify that – but I have to find the photos on my old external hard drive, which I also have to find! *sigh*)

Anyway, Saturday could be the flip side of the TEA Party since there’s a completely different protest planned, called the “No Ban No Wall No Registry” Salisbury rally. And unlike the TEA Party of yore, this one will have a counter-protest called the “Resist the Resistance” rally. I’m guessing that the opposition to Trump will have the larger numbers, if only because they’ve secured a little bit of publicity for their event and it’s something that indeed unites certain segments of the community.

Yet I have to question their sincerity, since they haven’t batted an eyelash when the last six presidents have put up a similar ban of some type against particular countries, not to mention the recent change in policy toward Cuban refugees. (However, I may give them the benefit of the doubt if they chastise Trump’s predecessor for that change.) I also have to question their reasoning as to why we should not secure our borders, which is our right as a sovereign nation. Once upon a time we were more secure in the fact that two oceans and inhospitable terrain shielded us from the world, but no more. By the same token, is it not our right to know who is visiting the nation and for what purpose? If only they were against a registry for firearm owners, we may be on to something.

While I agree that Donald Trump is a lowering of the standard one should expect from the President, so was Hillary Clinton. (Thus, I voted for the Constitution Party nominee.) I can’t promise anything because I also have a family commitment that day, but if I have the chance I may wander down there to see what’s going on and maybe play reporter once again. Lord knows I haven’t been much of a blogger lately because I’ve spent a lot of time working on The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party.

So it’s on that front I’m going to make my final point of the night. I had envisioned the book being done by this fall, but recently I have had a different opportunity placed before me that I think is worth pursuing for some other personal and professional goals I have. At this time, it will take a significant portion of my already limited free time so in order to give this a fair shake I think a more realistic timetable for the book is now the first half of 2018. I’m going to put it on pause for a few months, with the hope that this opportunity may morph into something else that would give me the time back.

One other benefit: it can give me a chance to see how this resistance movement pans out and how it compares to the grassroots TEA Party. So there is that, and Saturday will be the first chapter of that story.

Prayer requests?

February 8, 2017 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

This will be more of a faith exercise than anything political.

As I get deeper and deeper into my faith, I find that a lot of people request prayers for things, which I think is perfectly fine. I believe that God answers all prayers; however, this comes with the caveat that you may not necessarily like the answer. Setbacks will occur in life in order to test our faith.

But something we stress at our church and in our small group study* (which is actually where I’m at as this posts) is that prayers need to be made with authority. I can’t pray for something and believe it will occur on my own, but with God all things are possible. (Not just a reference to Matthew 19:26, but the motto of my home state.) So we end our prayers with an invocation of Jesus’s name. The phrase I would use in writing this out (since I text out the prayer request reminders for small group) goes something like “this I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

You may also know I am writing a book on the TEA Party, which has nothing to do with prayer or faith except that I pray it sells well and have faith it will then spread the message I’m writing on to a wider audience. But one facet of the TEA Party’s rise was the introduction of the Twitter hashtag #TCOT (for Top Conservatives on Twitter), which made it easy to find relevant information for those who were conservatives looking for worthy reading or messages to pass along. Since then, we’ve often heard about hashtags as shorthand for movements, like #MAGA for Donald Trump supporters. (It stands for “Make America Great Again,” Trump’s slogan.)

So it dawned on me: if we want to share our prayers and give them authority, perhaps a hashtag of our own would be good for collecting and sharing. It’s a little clunky, but if you take the first letters in my phrase you have #TIPIJNA. I think it’s a good idea if we can somehow make it viral, so you would write something like this on social media.

I give thanks to You, Lord, that we have a small group for prayer and fellowship each week, and pray that more parents come to our small group to learn for themselves about raising Godly children in a lost and dying world. #TIPIJNA

I think I went over 140 characters there, but you get the idea. Give it a try. It may be our little secret for awhile, but it can’t hurt and may help.

__________

* Instead of doing the usual Bible study as the rest of our church is doing on the Book of Colossians, as parents of teens in our church youth group our small group (led by our youth pastor) is studying and discussing the parenting book Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. I’m sure we will return to the next small group study, whatever it is, since over the spring and fall we tackled the Books of James and Philippians. (In summer we do “Picnic on the Go,” which features more fellowship and testimony, instead of a formal study.)

If you live in the Salisbury area, let me know and I can give you the information.

Thoughts fit for a Prince

January 28, 2017 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

Like many on my social media feed, I was stunned to learn of Friday’s sudden passing of Maryland political figure Joe Steffen, who reportedly died from a stroke and cardiac arrest at the age of 57. As a regular follower of his writings, I seem to recall this wasn’t the first stroke or heart issue Joe had endured, but this was one he did not survive.

While a lot of people are relating their experiences with Joe, including accounts of lengthy late-night chats and other time spent together, my time with Joe in person was relatively fleeting. I think the last time I ran into him was at last spring’s Maryland GOP convention in Annapolis, and I seem to recall as part of the general chit-chat I asked him how his books were coming. But the fact he could set aside his political career and write something that was totally 180 degrees out of phase with that part of his life – as opposed to books in the political realm - was admirable. Yet Joe had finished two novels in what he called the Death, Wish trilogy and was working on the “prequel” third part at times over the last few months. (Death, Wish debuted in 2013 and Dead, End came out last summer.) So I guess we’ll never know how Charlotte got to be the main character in Joe’s work.

But one thing that has inspired me to this day is that he would occasionally update his word count as he progressed with his novels, and that’s where I got the idea with my social media for updating with the running total of the word count on my forthcoming book to keep people in the loop on my progress. Perhaps it was also a tangible reminder to him as well, but I liked the idea so I’ve taken it on.

Since Joe was such a fixture on social media, though, I did engage with him quite a bit on some of the most unlikely subjects. One subject in my wheelhouse was baseball, as Steffen was a fan of the Oakland A’s and I like to follow my Detroit Tigers as well, so I would chime in at times during baseball season. And while his musical tastes weren’t exactly like mine, he often selected what he called “Get Your Ass In Gear” songs that I enjoyed hearing, too.

The one thing that seemed to endear Joe to many of the same people I engage with in the political realm, though, was his rebellious attitude toward party politics in Maryland. I don’t know about you, but at a wake of a Maryland GOP Fall Convention back in the bleak post-election landscape of 2010 – an election where the TEA Party wave that swept the nation somehow missed our state – this was my one cherished memory: the Renegade Room.

Somewhere on that document is my signature, too. Yet Joe insisted to the end that he didn’t dislike defeated 2010 candidate Bob Ehrlich – he just lost all respect for him. Obviously this and a lot of other statements from Steffen led to a lot of friction with certain quarters of the Maryland Republican Party, including areas where little guys seem to congregate.

Anyway, I went to his blog site and it turns out his last post is only about a week old. And it was interesting that the seminal event he picked out insofar as defying the conventional wisdom that there was no way a Trump election victory would occur is the day Donald Trump hired David Bossie, our National Committeeman. With that move, Steffen believed Trump had just won the election – turns out he may have been correct.

So if there’s one good thing we can look back on and smile about regarding Joe’s life, it’s knowing that he managed to live until “Borat” was safely out of office.

Now I’m sure there will be a formal service and whatnot for Joseph Steffen, but in reality he will be remembered by most in an informal manner for years to come when people continue to toast his memory with the adult beverage of choice. Yet there will be a few special people, including the princess of his world, who will remember him fondly for a lot of other things after the weeping of the immediate present is finished. It’s those people who deserve our thoughts and prayers upon Steffen’s sudden passing.

All this serves as a reminder that we all have our time in this world (after all, Joe was only about a half-decade older than I am now) but those who make the most of it are the ones long remembered. I don’t often write pieces like this – in fact, the last time I did was for my late brother almost seven years ago – but seeing the outpouring of shock and grief on my social media page, and having the respect for him that I did, even if from afar, I felt it was something we all needed. And in Joe’s memory, I did it in 851 words.

The third administration

I observed on Facebook earlier today that eight years may seem like a long time, but on the other hand my wife and I have only known one administration as a couple: we met just two weeks after Barack Obama took office.

By that same token, today monoblogue moved into its third administration, as I began this enterprise in George W. Bush’s second term and somehow made it through eight years of Barack Obama. Obviously one may conclude that, being a conservative, I would have a lot less to complain about in a Republican administration – but something tells me this will be a Republican administration like no other.

In a lot of the analysis I’ve read about why and how Donald Trump came to the place of being sworn in today as our 45th president, the quick take is that he did it much like Ronald Reagan did: he appealed directly to the people and was effective enough at working around the filter of the media that he succeeded where Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, and the two Bushes had failed – and yes, I am aware that George W. Bush was president for eight years (and his dad for four.) But would you consider them successful presidents? I’m not sure that I would. On the other hand, Reagan is fondly remembered by most of America except the hardcore Left.

It’s no secret that I didn’t vote for Trump in either the primary or general elections, and my approach to him at this point is one of a fairly wary optimism. In all honesty, that’s based more on the public perception that things are turning around for the better than any evidence I have that his policies will show us the way to make America great again. (I will say, though, that what I wrote about in today’s Patriot Post did tug the rope slightly more in his favor. But I have to see follow-through.) Yet one thing Reagan had in his favor was his sunny optimism that it was morning again in America, and many of my more conservative friends invoked that sentiment in discussing today’s events. (Of course, those few left-leaning friends of mine will likely feel like the old Li’l Abner character Joe Btfsplk with the black cloud perpetually over his head for the next four to eight years.)

Yet I share in the optimism, if only because my circumstances are improved from the last time around. When 43 became 44, I was out of work – however, I was warned that if Obama was elected our business may be in for a rough ride. He was elected and I was let go a month later. Needless to say, it wasn’t really my mood to give him a chance because I could sense Obama was bad news for America based on the policies he wished to put in place. And I believe I was correct in that assessment because I’m not better off than I was eight years ago, at least in an economic sense. If Obama was a progressive, we desperately need a regressive as far back as the Constitution will let us go. Unfortunately, Trump’s not that guy and the one I thought would be got 200,000 votes nationwide.

In that time, though, I’ve become more convinced that we are under the control of a higher power anyway. If it is His will that America survives, it will indeed do so – if not, I leave my fate up to Him. I’ve been blessed to spend 52 years here in this God-blessed nation, which is something that few who walked on this planet ever got and likely much more than I as a sinner who falls short of the glory of God deserves. So I sort of get this sneaking hunch that the reason I was given the talent I have and placed where I was is to try and preserve the blessing – thus, I will remain on that side of the equation regardless of who is president.

So good luck to President Trump and Vice-President Pence, and best retirement wishes for the Obamas and Bidens. Enjoy being private citizens again. As for me, it doesn’t matter who is president because I am writing for a different reason.

monoblogue music: following up in 2017

January 7, 2017 · Posted in Music Reviews, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

A few weeks back I resolved to follow up on the acts which have made my top 5 review lists from 2014, 2015, and 2016. I was curious to see if they were still making music and whether it was still good stuff. So over the last couple weeks or so I have been checking things out with these 15 acts and this is what I found, beginning with the 2014 crop.

Billy Roberts And The Rough Riders were my #5 pick in 2014. At the time I noted the Australian native was not a big fan of social media, but he has been prolific musically: in 2015 he did a follow-up called “Go By Myself” and this year I was alerted to another new release via e-mail – somehow I have managed to get on the e-mail list. Back in the summer Roberts released a rather haunting single called Little Johnny, which is purportedly off an upcoming album called “Greenbah.”

In this case, the song seems to fit the voice much better. With this single I think Roberts drifted away from country into a harder blues sound, but he came back just before Christmas (and actually after my initial draft of this piece) with a new single called Blood and Bones.

This one is more pop-flavored with the inclusion of some tasty organ. Again, for the most part Roberts is taking advantage of his raspy voice to good effect, and we now can see that “Greenbah” will continue Billy’s tradition of stylized animation for his album and single covers.

For awhile in the first couple years of monoblogue music, Tomas Doncker was a staple feature with his True Groove record label and musical performances, including the Tomas Doncker Band that had the #4 record from 2014, a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf. They actually had two albums reviewed in the space of a few months, with “Big Apple Blues” reviewed in October of 2014. Doncker also helped out on releases from TG members Lael Summer, Marla Mase, and Kevin Jenkins – all within the first 18 months or so of this feature’s existence.

In more recent times, Doncker’s band has subsequently sent out another soulful but politically-charged release called “The Mess We Made.” While several of the songs set an angry tone, it also has an interesting redo of U2′s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, too. The band also continues to play the occasional show in the New York region, but I suspect most of his energy is working toward the True Groove Records corporate goals.

Hailing from Sweden, The Lost Poets did an EP called “Insubordia” that landed in my #3 spot in 2014. I noted in my year-end review that they had put out a subsequent single called Mouth that I wasn’t sure would be part of a larger project or a bridge to the next thing. Well, I found out my answer: earlier this year The Lost Poets put out a full-length album called (not exactly original here) “Insubordia Pt. II.” It’s an album that remains true to the band’s grungy, heavy-laden style of grinding guitar and occasionally plodding rhythms – had I reviewed it, though, they would have had another top 5 contender. Meanwhile, Mouth was not only included in Pt. II but also added to a motion picture soundtrack for a movie called “Don’t Kill It,” a Dolph Lundgren flick coming out this spring.

But what’s even cooler, and speaking of movies, apparently this is the band’s next move.

It’s a short film under consideration for the next Sundance film festival. So the band may move out of the standard tour/album mindset into a different corner of the music world, but in the meantime they recently released In A Wasteland from Pt. II as a single that’s getting a little bit of internet radio airplay and promise another one later this month. Should be interesting.

Two years ago, my #2 album was the very first album I reviewed, “Turn the People” from Australia’s Monks of Mellonwah. They were definitely a band on the upswing, with some dates in the U.S. that summer and fall, with the summer dates backing Scott Stapp and that fall opening for Sevendust. Late in 2015 they did an EP called “Disconnect.”

But that EP seemed to have more of a pop sound rather than alternative rock. (I couldn’t see Sevendust fans being into it, that’s for sure.) And it seemed to be the end of the road – no social media updates, no new music, nothing. Their website – suspended. So I have no idea what happened to these guys, whether they went their separate ways or just put the Monks on a deep hiatus. Sort of a shame.

As for Paul Maged, whose 2014 effort “Diamonds & Demons” was my #1 selection, it appears he’s busy working on the follow-up while doing an occasional show with his “new and improved” backup band, the Strangers. Back in the spring I reviewed a one-off single he did called The Wild, which I was mostly pleased with. If I considered singles for my top 5, it would have been on the short list for inclusion but maybe more of an honorable mention.

But as I checked into his doings it was funny in checking out his Twitter feed that he was #NeverTrump too; however, I truly suspect his reasons were a lot different than mine – particularly as he was working on a gun control song and I’m definitely pro-2A in my viewpoint! But I’ll bet the music is good nonetheless. As he was recently in the process of mixing a song called The Glass River, I’m hoping that I get a chance to check a new album out in the early stages of 2017.

Now I’ll look at my 2015 winners, beginning with the #5 album from Idiot Grins. “Big Man” is still getting airplay around the world, but as of this past September the group was in the studio working on its follow-up. So I would imagine they will be debuting something new in 2017 – but it would be nice if they updated social media more than once in awhile.

On the other hand, The Liquorsmiths, who had the #4 album, are both proficient in social media and have followed up on “This Book Belongs To…” with a album that came out in August called “All My Friends Are Fighters.” I gave it a listen, and to me it took the band in a good direction but the execution was uneven. This may have been the unusual production strategy or just my general mood, so you may disagree. While they did a mini-tour from Georgia back to home awhile back, more recently they’ve been sticking around their own San Diego area playing the occasional show. They still do well marketing, though, with the most recent release being a full compilation called “The Complete Works.”

One thing unique about Tumbler, which came in with my #3 pick in 2015, is that after I reviewed it I received a nice note from and struck up a brief e-mail conversation with Richard Grace, who is the musical veteran of the group shepherding his son Harry into the music business. He said a year or so ago that they would follow up in 2016, and indeed they have with an album called “Come to the Edge.” The younger Grace penned four of the twelve tracks in the sophomore effort, and this could be a trend: as Richard said on the new album’s release, “Our kitchen concerts don’t happen so much these days. Endings though bring new beginnings. I don’t know where or whether Tumbler goes next. Whatever the future holds I’m grateful.”

But I’ll be damned if I’m not grateful for this release, because I thought it even better than the first – just like The Lost Poets above, this would have been a definite top 5 contender. The mix of songs would probably give some A & R guy a heart attack, but to me that’s part of the charm as old-school, traditionalist dad has several of the more retro, Beatlesque songs on the record while son has his more modern pop-rock tracks. “Come to the Edge” is a fun listen from great alternative to start to very upbeat, inspiring sort of prog-rocker to finish. I’m rooting for just a few more kitchen concerts.

Now I’m not quite sure what is up with the Space Apaches. Perhaps they’ve veered off to another galaxy, leaving just the traces of their second-place album from 2015 behind. Seriously, they haven’t done much in the way of social media or updating their website so they must be all doing their own thing as session musicians can tend to do, I suppose.

Speaking of doing his own thing, Jas Patrick is putting music on the back burner for a time and making some money in a slightly different arena. But he promises to get back to it and I’m holding him to that because the last thing he did was my #1 album of 2015.

Admittedly, this year’s crop really hasn’t had much time to do other things since putting out their music, but I still wanted to see if they were touring or following up at all.

Since I just reviewed the #5 album from Michael Van and the Movers last month, I wasn’t expecting a lot and so far not much has progressed except for a few more good reviews. We’ll see what they’re up to in the months ahead, but for now there’s inertia as far as they are concerned.

The social media is beginning to pick up on Midwest Soul Xchange, who kicked off 2016 with what turned out to be my 4th-ranked CD. Shortly thereafter, they announced they had enlisted a bassist and drummer to flesh out their band for a brief Midwest tour slated for last fall, and we’ve also been promised they are working on the follow-up album. They’re worth watching in 2017 to see how this goes, because I suspect the tour didn’t pan out – however, I just saw (again, since my initial draft of this before Christmas) where they have an April Fool’s Day show in Wisconsin where they pledge to “give a sneak preview of their upcoming material.”

I am truly convinced that as easily as some of us breathe, Jim Peterik writes songs. It’s like he must roll out of bed with riffs and lyrics on his brain, far better than I can write prose on a good day of blogging. Just recently he and friends Tom Yankton and Steve Salzman put together and debuted this country song.

And then you have the recent annual Christmas show he did with Ides of March in Chicago, not to mention that his band Pride of Lions will drop a new album in January. So I would venture to say that, even at the age of 66, he’s putting out more music than guys in the business half his age. (And dropping a lot of names on social media, where I found out he plays weddings. Of course, I suppose if you can pay for a wedding at Disney World, you can hire a well-known band, too.) It gives us whippersnappers hope, although I hope to be a successful writer a little bit before I’m 66. After all, #3 out of many isn’t a bad position to be in: I’d take the #3 spot on a best-sellers list any time - as long as there are more than three contenders, of course.

Having just put out their second-place album in November, Steve Hussey and Jake Eddy are seeing some success in Europe and hope to get a push stateside on the Americana charts as the year dawns. I haven’t seen a tour put together yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out they’re at least hitting the prime regional spots in the Ohio Valley. That may sound strange to us on the East Coast, but in their genre it’s a little like the Silicon Valley is to high-tech.

As they keep on supporting my top album pick of 2016, the Magic Lightnin’ Boys play shows around their home area of Cincinnati, but they also use their talents to bring awareness of a number of causes. In the first case, they take the song Fear & Freedom from their “Stealin’ Thunder” album I reviewed and use it to capture their take on the Standing Rock standoff that’s come to a temporary truce.

A little more recently, they did a touching version of an old country classic to honor those who perished and lost their property in the Gatlinburg fire.

Obviously there is no moss growing under their feet. They use their social media for a lot of live peeks at their rehearsals and such, so it’s entertaining to follow them. Hopefully we will see the next album from the group in the coming months (perhaps it will be an acoustic one?) because the world needs more southern rock with a heaping helping of blues and just a bit of old-school country.

So that’s where my top picks from the last three years of monoblogue music are as 2017 dawns. As long as I keep doing the music reviews I think I’m going to make this an annual feature, although I’m sure over time some of these artists and groups will no longer be actively making music. Yet if they keep it up - and based on what I’ve heard from a lot of them lately - it should be good stuff.

Update 1-14-17: I happened to see this in my social media message box, but here’s a follow-up from Ryan Summers of Midwest Soul Xchange:

I saw your (social media) note about talking about updates from the winners. Just thought I’d fill you in on what’s happening with us. There should be a steady stream of shows coming up from here on out. Being an independent act living in two parts of the country, it’s taken us awhile to get the infrastructure set up to put on a good live show. More to come there… The next album is already in the works. It’s going to be a concept album and should be due out late this year or early next. There might be a couple singles we’ll release prior to that as well. Feel free to send me any other questions too. Thanks again! Ryan – MSX

Ringing in 2017: a treatise on “stuff”

January 1, 2017 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

I had a vacation day left over from work last week, so I did what a lot of people do and took it in the dead period between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

So as I sat in my chair as I often do when writing, I took a look around. We still had all the Christmas decorations up and many of the presents we received remained under the tree in the gift bags we got them in. Obviously we appreciated the sentiments and the thought, but there was also a part of me that saw it as just so much clutter that we had to find a place for, either cramming it in with all the other things we already have or getting rid of the old. That weeding-out process seems an appropriate way to close out one calendar year and begin another: the thing I think people like about New Year’s Day is the clean slate and fresh start – never mind you will likely fall back into your old habits before the first robin of spring shows up.

And the same may be true for me, but then I wondered about all the other people out there whose mindset anymore is that “he who dies with the most toys, wins.” I don’t have the retail sales numbers handy, but I’m sure most of them had plenty of floor traffic and online sales to make their Christmas season brighter. As far as that goes for keeping people gainfully employed and shareholders happy, that’s a good thing. But what does the newest electronic gadget really add to one’s life, especially if it replaces one that’s still functional but perhaps slightly outdated as far as technology goes? (As an analogy, it’s like replacing a 2016 model automobile with a 2017 model because it was “redesigned” – the old one still achieves its purpose just fine.) I asked for and received stuff I found useful: sweaters for a chilly office at work, gift cards to Wawa for the days I don’t pack a lunch, and things like that. But I still need more hangers in my closet thanks to the sweaters.

On the other hand, the things I gave to family were at least no more than a couple degrees of separation from experiences: our daughter likes hunting so I got her a gift card she can use to further that which she enjoys, while Kim got a place to store all the photos she takes when we go away or have memorable events. I also gave her something where she can have her own rather unique experience with people of her choosing. Those are the kinds of gifts I like to give when I can.

It may be a facet of my personality but I do not like clutter and prefer order; on the other hand, I also have the tendencies of a pack rat when it comes to certain mementos. But I had a time in my life when I needed to purge a lot of “stuff” and it was among the most liberating things I did. And, if you are on social media, have you ever considered the meme that shows some desolate one-room cabin in the woods and asks something along the line of “would you stay in this place with no internet for a month for $100,000?” More often than not, people say yes. But you better believe they would want some of their stuff to take along. I’d rather have the internet and live with just the basics.

Unfortunately, over the last several years we have seen what conspicuous consumerism has wrought for some people. Certainly there were those who, a dozen years ago, used the equity on their home to buy a boat, a motorhome, and the latest in electronic equipment – only to have to dispose of these things at fire sale prices (or less, such as losing all they had paid on the big-ticket items) when everything about the economy went to hell in a handbasket. Even a lot of people who otherwise did things the “right” way (as they were told) fell victim to overextending beyond their means when the rungs on their economic ladder were sawn off by a job furlough. And they were layoffs caused in no small part by people who wanted all the “stuff” they could get and borrowed the money to acquire it. In one perspective that boom period of a decade ago had a great system: letting people have everything their hearts desired, making profits for bankers, and goosing up production at thousands of factories around the globe, enabling them to hire more people or invest in devices that increased production – but it only lasted until the fiscal house of cards we had built on derivatives collapsed under its own sheer weight.

So imagine what it would be like to have less “stuff” by your own choice and not the force of external events. Would it have an effect on the overall economy? To hear the corporate shills tell it, they would be mortified at the prospect and would sell you on the siren song that gloom and doom awaited as thousands would be laid off and we would have a depression, not a recession. But, once we divested ourselves of the excess and that which was salvageable found its way to those who could better use it, I think we would see our standard of living improve from a spiritual and societal standpoint. Perhaps we would treasure fellowship over frivolity, enjoy the slower pace of life, and turn our backs to the world to some necessary degree. It doesn’t take retreating to a Spartan cabin in the woods to get closer to your true self. But ponder as I have during the time that I wrote this piece whether you are living to acquire things or to enjoy life’s rich palette of experiences, and plan your 2017 accordingly.

As this is posted our family will be in church and will soon enjoy the fellowship of a pork and sauerkraut New Year’s lunch afterward. Perhaps a good resolution for readers who haven’t made that decision would be that of setting yourself right with our Creator?

Just remember: you can’t take “stuff” with you.

But if you insist on the political, I went back and looked up my thoughts as the economy bottomed out after the 2008 financial crisis. While I still agree with what I wrote in a political sense, this eight-year period sure has seen a lot of change in my life otherwise!

A look ahead: 2017

Last year I did this in three parts, but to me that may be overkill this time around. Consider that 2017 is not an election year, so if anything we will not see much on that front until the latter stages of the year as the campaigns for 2018′s state elections ramp up. And because all but one of our local officials are first-term representatives in their respective offices, it’s likely they will wish to continue in office. Bear in mind, though, on the Senate side longtime House member Addie Eckardt will be 75 and Jim Mathias (who is in his second term as Senator after one-plus in the House) will be 67 by the time the next election comes around, so they are likely closer to the end of their lengthy political careers than to the beginning. And thanks to Wicomico County voters who passed the referendum this past November, 2017 will be the year we formally set up the elections which will net the county its first fully-elected Board of Education in late 2018.

Speaking of the local BOE, we still have an appointed board until that election and the two members whose terms expire this year are both Democrats who are term-limited. I suspect the local Democrats will try and send up names of people who will run for seats in 2018 to gain that incumbency advantage – as envisioned, though, these will be non-partisan elections. And the final say goes to the state Secretary of Appointments, who over the years hasn’t always been kind to those we preferred, either. Or, conversely, since the incumbents serve until their successors are appointed, we may see a long stalling technique, too. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I’ll bet those who are appointed will use that tenure as a springboard for eventual election.

Elsewhere in Wicomico County as 2016 comes to an end, it appears the city of Salisbury and Wicomico County are working out their issues rather well. The biggest sticking point remains fire service, and it’s relatively likely the city is going to see more of a reimbursement from the county when it comes to that – perhaps to the tune of up to $2 million a year. It’s possible there may be something to cut to make up for this, but as the county has increased its debt in the last few years to build several schools it leaves less room for spending cuts to make up the difference. If the city receives $2 million annually that would equate to about a 3 or 4 cent property tax increase for county residents. There’s also the chance that a tax differential or rebate may be on the table in order to reimburse city residents, as they pay the same tax rate as county residents. Wicomico is one of only three counties in the state that choose not to provide a tax differential to their municipalities.

But there is another factor to consider. Back in June the number of people working in Wicomico County set an all-time high of 52,010, eclipsing a mark that had stood for nearly a decade (July 2006.) That record lasted a month, as July came in at 53,668. While the number of jobs has finally reached where we were a decade ago, bear in mind the labor force is about 1,000 larger – so unemployment is in the 5.5% range rather than 4%. Even so, that extra number of people working – a number which year-over-year between 2015 and 2016 has fluctuated quite a bit but usually comes in at 1,000 or more additional workers in 2016 – means there’s more revenue to the county from income taxes so paying the city of Salisbury may not be such a heavy lift. The question for 2017 will be whether these economic conditions continue and whether Wicomico County will want to spend every “extra” dime on items which are unsustainable in rougher economic times.

That same question goes for the state, but the trend there has been for more spending. Democrats in the General Assembly added millions in mandated spending to the state budget and it’s a sure bet they will try again this year. Add to that the general belief that year 3 of a Maryland political cycle sees the most ambitious agenda put forth – it’s time for those incumbents to bring home the bacon and burnish their re-election chances the next year – and you can bet that paid sick leave will pass, Radical Green will have its day (perhaps with a fracking ban, which would devastate Western Maryland), and any Hogan veto will be promptly overridden. It’s certain that they will leave enough time in passing these controversial bills to do so. We’ve already seen battle lines drawn with the counter-proposal from Governor Hogan on paid sick leave and the social media-fueled drive to repeal the “Road Kill Bill” that Democrats passed over Governor Hogan’s veto in the spring of this year.

The wild card in state politics, though, comes from national politics. It’s not because we had the well-publicized answer to an extremely nosy press – if only they paid as much attention to some of Martin O’Malley’s foibles and scandals! – that Larry Hogan wasn’t going to support his (nominally at best) fellow Republican Donald Trump, but the idea that Donald Trump may actually do something to cut the size and scope of government. (Military contractors, particularly, have reason to worry.) And because Maryland’s economy is so dependent on the federal government, to a shocking and sickening degree, we know that if Trump begins to make cuts it will hurt Maryland the most. Given the typical bureaucrat CYA perspective, it explains perfectly why four of the five jurisdictions Trump did worst in - the only five which came in below his 35% statewide total – were the four counties closest to the District of Columbia (MoCo, PG, Charles, and Howard. Baltimore City was the fifth.) While I am entirely a skeptic on this, there seems to be the belief that Trump will take a meat cleaver to the budget and thousands of federal and contract workers will be cast aside because of it.

And in a situation where revenues are already coming up short of forecast, a recession in the state’s biggest jurisdictions, coupled with the mandated spending Democrats keep pushing through, will make it really, really difficult on Larry Hogan going into 2018. You will be able to judge who has the most ambition to be Governor by who carps the longest about these cuts.

While the Dow Jones stalled this week in an effort to breach the 20,000 mark by year’s end, the rise in the markets echoes consumer optimism - even as fourth quarter GDP forecasts turned a little bearish, consumers still feel a little better about the state of our economy. If we can get the 4% GDP growth Donald Trump promised we may see some of these fiscal crises take care of themselves.

Yet there was also a sentiment in 2016 that the world was going mad: consider all the terror attacks, the seemingly unusual number of and extended shock over high-profile celebrity deaths, and a general turning away from that which was considered moral and proper to that which fell under the realm of political correctness, wasn’t a “trigger” and didn’t violate the “safe spaces” of the Millennial “snowflakes.” (I can’t resist linking to this one I wrote for The Patriot Post.) At some point the pendulum swings back the other way, but in most cases that takes a life-changing event like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. I’d prefer a much softer transition but a transition nonetheless.

As I see it, the key word for 2017 will be leadership: if the current elected officials and new President have it and use it wisely to the benefit of our county, state, and nation “so help me God” things will be okay. If not, well, we’ve seen that movie for about eight or ten years already and we will continue to slouch toward Gomorrah.

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