Shorebird Player and Pitcher of the Month: May 2019

If there were ever a month I could have done co-players (and pitchers) of the month, this month would have been the case. The proprietary formula I use to figure it out came out razor-close in both instances. But after a little bit of overtime figuring, two players came out on top and they are being honored this month.

After struggling through a horrific April, you had to figure that Nick Horvath would begin slowly seeking his level in May. But being about 70 points below his overall average, you would further believe he would right the ship by the midseason break – instead, Horvath basically did it in one month. It turned out he was a hit shy of being 100 points above his April average in May, and while a .264/3/13/.841 OPS slash line isn’t the best ever, it was good enough to be among the top Shorebirds in a league where pitching has dominated thus far. (As of last night, Delmarva’s .251 team average was just off the overall lead, and only 4 of 14 teams have an aggregate OPS over .700, a mark which is considered about average. So pitchers are ruling the roost.)

To be sure, Nick did most of his damage in the first half of the month, starting it out 17-for-42 (a .405 clip). Toward the end he was struggling like several other on the Delmarva nine, which has been carried most of the way this season by its pitching. But add in a solid job in center field, and last season’s 25th round pick out of the University of Florida is working on improving his standing in the Orioles organization. Considering he was not a highly regarded prospect out of Palm Beach Gardens High School in the Sunshine State and only attended UF after a season at a local community college, Nick impresses me as an overcomer. As he’ll turn 23 next month, Horvath is a tick about league-average age but has played well enough to keep his job so far. (If it doesn’t work out, Nick can always attempt to resurrect his career as a pitcher: he made 45 relief appearances for the Gators over a three-season span.)

Nick barely edged out Cadyn Grenier for the honor, as Cadyn put together a good month at the plate as well. It could have went either way.

We’ll stay in SEC country for my pitcher of the month. But while Drew Rom is a Kentucky native – attending Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio – he had 650,000 reasons to be pried loose from a commitment to the Big Ten’s University of Michigan to play for the Orioles. Unlike Horvath, who was probably brought on to fill a roster in the hopes that he may blossom into a prospect, Rom was already highly sought after as a fourth-round pick.

Now Rom had a pretty decent April; well, decent in comparison to an average team and not the studs Delmarva has this season – as a staff they allowed just a .204 average in May – but he rose to the challenge in May. Rom didn’t allow an earned run in his four starts until the fourth inning of his fifth and final start for the month, at a point where the Shorebirds were safely up 8-0. That 0.35 ERA was complemented by a 0.78 WHIP, a 32-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 2/3 innings, and three wins – he was one out short of getting a fourth W in a game Delmarva was leading 2-0 and could have gotten a fifth win had Delmarva scored before the tenth inning – Drew left a 0-0 pitcher’s duel in Kannapolis after five shutout frames.

Drew made a significant jump over the winter – he and fellow high-school draftee (and last month’s SOM pitcher) Grayson Rodriguez were two of the few bright spots on a dreadful GCL Oriole team. Like Rodriguez, Rom is having his innings watched fairly carefully and he has often piggybacked with fellow starter Gray Fenter to cover most of the nine innings needed.

Just like Horvath, Drew had spirited competition for the award, and in his case it was reliever Zach Matson who had really good numbers to show for his month as well. Both are being rewarded with a trip to the SAL All-Star Game in West Virginia later this month. Also picked besides Rom and Matson were pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Ofelky Peralta, catcher Daniel Fajardo, shortstop Adam Hall, outfielder Doran Turchin, and designated hitter Seamus Curran. The Shorebirds have a league-leading eight representatives, their best number since at least 2009.

Hogan takes a pass…on 2020

It’s no surprise that Larry Hogan, the now term-limited governor of our fair state of Maryland, decided to disappoint the #NeverTrump whisperers in the moderate wing of the Republican Party and skip his chance at being cannon fodder for Donald Trump on The Donald’s way to the Republican presidential nomination in 2020. As CNN put it:

“I truly appreciate all of the encouragement I received from people around the nation urging me to consider making a run for President in 2020,” Hogan tweeted Saturday. “However, I will not be a candidate.”

Hogan said that he would instead focus on his second term as governor and his upcoming role chairing the National Governors Association.

“That work is important, and I believe both of those roles will give me the opportunity to make an impact on the direction of my party and our nation,” he added.

“Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan says he won’t challenge Trump in 2020,” Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN, June 1, 2019.

I’m sure Larry won’t be voting for Trump next year given our governor’s track record, and truth be told he’ll have the advantage of a fairly dull campaign year in 2020. Barring a heretofore unexpected vacancy in the U.S. Senate, there are no statewide races on the 2020 docket, and aside from the possibility of a spirited race in a redrawn Sixth Congressional District, the House races will likely be decided in their respective primaries. So Larry won’t have to demean himself by campaigning for any of those icky conservatives – not that he has much in the way of practice.

However, Larry has established an eerie parallel to his abortive 2010 campaign for governor; a campaign that barely got out of the starting block before he pulled the plug, deferring to his old boss Bob Ehrlich. Out of that came Hogan’s Change Maryland organization, which served as a foil to the governorship of Martin O’Malley and paved the way to Hogan’s 2014 victory – a victory he gloats about.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is not a career politician. He spent nearly his entire career as a small businessman. Fed up with high taxes, politics as usual, and decades of a one-party monopoly, he started Change Maryland, the largest non-partisan grassroots citizen organization in state history. In 2014, out-numbered in party registration by more than 2-1, and outspent by more than 5-1, Governor Hogan pulled off the biggest upset in America to become only the second Republican Governor elected in Maryland in 50 years.

Governor Hogan quickly got to work and set an example for the nation, accomplishing what many believed was no longer possible: reaching across the aisle, and working together to achieve real bipartisan, common sense solutions.

As Hogan was taking the hard pass on a 2020 run, he traveled a familiar road in setting up an organization primarily dedicated to keeping his name in the limelight. Dubbed An America United, Hogan is obviously setting this group up to prepare for a centrist run for the GOP nod in 2024 – basically the same lane John Kasich had in 2016 and held prior to that by guys like John McCain and Jon Huntsman. When most of the news glowingly featured on the site comes from the Washington Post, New York Times, or CNN – the farthest right source of his front-page news is the now-defunct home of #NeverTrump establishment Republicans The Weekly Standard – it’s a pretty safe bet that the group is not going to venture too far right of center.

Naturally the group has its goals, expressed in the standard bromides about “bipartisan, common-sense solutions to create more and better jobs, cut taxes, protect the environment, build our infrastructure, and improve education.” Unfortunately, based on his record in Maryland, what he considers “common sense” is just slowing the long-standing drift away from the ideals that made the nation great. After all, he turned his back on creating jobs in the energy industry (private-sector jobs), squandered opportunities to cut taxes further by asking for ever-larger budgets, and contracted the Democrat disease of believing that to “improve education” is to spend much more money on it rather than allowing the billions that’s already there to follow the child.

In 2024 the nation will be in a quandary: either facing an uncertain political future after eight years of Donald Trump or dealing with the backsliding which will be occurring should one of those in the Democrat “clown limousine” be running for re-election. I honestly suspect that’s what Larry is hoping for, knowing that only once in the last 90 years has a Republican president been elected to succeed a fellow Republican (Bush 41 after Reagan.) John McCain in 2008, Gerald Ford – who served as President but was never elected in his own right – in 1976, and Richard Nixon in 1960 were the last three to try, but you have to go back to Herbert Hoover winning in 1928 after Calvin Coolidge chose not to run to find the previous example before the late George H.W. Bush.

(However, the string is even longer for Democrats: the last time a Democrat succeeded a Democrat, aside from death in office, was 1856 as James Buchanan served one term after fellow one-termer Franklin Pierce. To tell you how long ago that was, Pierce in 1852 succeeded the last Whig to be President, Millard Fillmore. Your Presidential tidbit.)

So don’t think Larry is uninterested in the 2020 race. He’s just choosing to bide his time, perhaps believing that America electing a far-left President will allow him to escape the crocodile that will call any Republican “extremist.” But I have news for Larry: even if he became a “blue dog” Democrat to run, he would still be on the menu regardless.

monoblogue music: “Story Of My Life” by Kevin West

This album will come out June 15.

To read the actual story of Kevin West’s life – or at least the biography he provides with his upcoming release, slated to drop June 15 – you would see that he’s never really settled into a location, or for that matter a musical genre. (Speaking of changing locations, it’s a shame he stopped updating his travel blog because it was interesting reading.)

Anyway, this is something I may have expected from a musician just starting out, but this upcoming six-song EP will be West’s fifth album spanning eighteen years. So this variety is a little bit perplexing, but I give him credit that he’s all but abandoned hip-hop, a career direction he attempted in the mid-aughts.

His soon-to-be-released compilation begins with a song called Best of Mine, which I thought was kind of a mashup between rock and country. It’s something like Neil Young may have tried, but didn’t come across quite as well to me. (There’s a video out for the song, but it didn’t want to embed into my post. Perhaps that’s a setting on his end; regardless I could only link.) This leads into what I thought was the best song of the six, the bluesy and boozy One Too Many.

After that, it’s a mishmash of styles – sometimes within one song. Those who like traditional country overtones might be into My Only Sunshine but it’s the sudden morphing of the saccharine Sweet Innocence into a jarring hip-hop style toward the end that really bothered me – not that it was playing out as anything overly special but just the placement and juxtaposition was too much.

Kevin then makes another changeover on the final two songs, grabbing a horn section and going to a jazzy feel on the title track Story Of My Life and instrumental Not For Nothin’. One distinction about this EP is that it has well-versed players on it – while Kevin didn’t always have the same personnel on each cut, he employed solid musicians (and Whitney Hanna, who was a good female backup singer) to create the EP, which he co-produced. Aside from the wrong move on Sweet Innocence, I can’t complain about the production aspect within songs. But the variance makes me wonder if Kevin will ever come up with a distinct sound of his own or keep trying on different things to keep up with some unknown set of musical Joneses he believes will be his meal ticket.

Or perhaps Kevin will ever be the traveling musical troubadour, sometimes living out of his van as he tours the country, jamming and playing for awhile in bands along the way. It may be the story of his life, but let’s hope this EP isn’t the final chapter because I think Kevin can find a better direction with his talent. And since I can’t share anything aside from the video, maybe the best place to judge for yourself would be his website or social media. Perhaps that changes two weeks hence.

A return to Troopathon

A Memorial Day weekend tradition of mine that’s sadly missed is the Concert for a Random Soldier, which for many years featured a late, lamented friend of mine and her husband as part of the band Semiblind and oftentimes double duty as they also played as an acoustic duo called Dog and Butterfly.

With that event’s demise due to issues with the venue, I thought this could fill the bill as somewhat appropriate for Memorial Day weekend.

It was back in 2008 that I became aware of an event designed to help the morale of our armed forces fighting overseas. And since the event was patterned after the longtime successful Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethons for muscular dystrophy, it was called Troopathon.

Despite a struggling economy, a presidential election where our foreign policy was a key source of debate, and a general weariness of overseas fighting against the irregular forces of radical Islam, the first Troopathon was a huge success, bringing in well over a million dollars that purchased care packages for these overseas trips. It was such a success that they did it again the next year despite the change in administration and shift to a more inward-looking foreign policy. Once again they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for these care packages.

Over the next few years, they took advantage of coverage from websites like mine to use them as conduits for contributions. For awhile I had a badge on my site telling readers I was a part (small, but nonetheless a part) of a silver-medal winning blog team led by the Hot Air website. I brought it back for a cameo, as you can see below.

Back in the day.

But as the years went by the Troopathon concept became a more modest one. Goals which were once lofty such as $500,000 dissolved to $300,000 and the withdrawal of most of our Iraqi troops allowed people to place this event out of sight and out of mind. Even I pretty much stopped covering this after the 2014 session, as bloggers raised a paltry $600 combined. The last time I mentioned Troopathon was three years ago, when I sheepishly realized I missed the event.

So I was happy to see that Move America Forward (MAF) was still plugging away with trying to support the troops through the one-night telethon, which is scheduled this year for June 28. Instead of having it at a presidential library, as has often been the case over the years, Troopathon 12 will be broadcast from the studios of Newsmax TV, which has partnered with MAF to broadcast their event to cable, making it available in over 60 million households. This year it should eclipse the $6 million mark in total donations.

It’s also interesting to me to ponder if there’s a local angle to this. In the Salisbury area we have an organization called Operation We Care, which also packs troop care packages – about 2,000 a year, according to their website. I suspect these are two separate organizations, but perhaps they could figure out a way to join forces, even if the Operation We Care volunteers do the packaging of the care packages for which Troopathon raised the money.

It turns out that several young men my family knows are in the military now, with at least one or two deployed overseas (although not necessarily in a “hot” theater of operations.) While they (and all other military recruits) are promised long-term benefits for sacrificing their time and efforts in the short-term, it’s good to see people still care enough to back these groups.

While I’d love to see the need for a Troopathon eliminated because our nation has peace through strength, we’re nowhere close to a pax Americana at the moment. Thus, our troops are worth supporting whether it’s through Troopathon or by Operation We Care.

monoblogue music: “Final Notice!” by Lord Sonny The Unifier

Before cable and non-traditional outlets did away with “appointment TV” Memorial Day weekend was traditionally the beginning of summer rerun season. As an homage of sorts to that practice, I’m doing a rerun from an artist I reviewed a couple months ago.

The Starman was the single I reviewed from Lord Sonny The Unifier, the unusually named group that I noted at the time had an upcoming album, one where I noted “you might correctly imagine this album would almost have been more at home dropping in 1979 than 2019.” I was correct in noting a mid-April release date for Final Notice! in that it came out April 12, 2019.

Had this album actually come out in 1979, though, there would have been compromises necessary which aren’t needed with today’s technology and music delivery process. For one thing, given Lord Sonny’s track lengths and vinyl record limitations, the 1979 album would have had a maximum of nine songs meaning two from this release would have been on the cutting room floor or saved for a single’s “B” side. (Yet another obsolete reference for anyone under 30; anyway, my candidates would have been Satellite Eye and Love Is On The Line.) This would have left the five four-minute songs for side 1 and the four longer songs for side 2.

Final Notice! is an interesting album in that there isn’t one great good song that sticks out, particularly when you get past the two opening singles Right In Your I and The Starman. Instead, there is a particular vibe which reminded me of a more upbeat Pink Floyd (such as March Forth) or less glam David Bowie, like The Starman. The songs tend to be keyboard-based, with the usual featured toned-down guitar bridge or two tastier on some tracks more than others.

I suppose the only thing that might really detract from the album is that Greg Jiritano’s vocals can get a little grating at times. But more often than not he saves it with careful usage of harmony and backing vocals, which is unusual for a self-produced album. Lord Sonny’s release may never sell as much as Pink Floyd’s The Wall does in one day (as it came out at the tail end of 1979, making me feel ancient to realize that seminal album is almost 40 years old) but if you would only be interested in a copy for yourself, by all means listen for yourself. I think it may bring back good memories or make you want more classic pre-prog, post-psychedelic rock.

Reviewing the field (part 3)

Today we decide – well, until the next time I do this exercise which will be after the initial two sets of debates. (Not that I plan on watching: I like to keep my dinner down.) At that time the field will probably be sorted back closer to a more manageable 16 as those who don’t make the debates get the hint and money shifts toward those who the media believes has a chance.

Yesterday we brought ourselves to what would normally be called the Elite Eight – but we are talking about the clown limousine here.

So let’s see how this shakes out to find a winner, shall we?

#5 Beto O’Rourke (46, former U.S. Congressman from Texas – no change) vs. #4 Kamala Harris (54, U.S. Senator from California – down from #3)

I noted yesterday that Beto had the advantage of a weak opponent in the last round. Unfortunately for him, Harris is a better player and that needed “reboot” is getting the Texan booted out of this tournament. Besides, Harris at least won her Senate election.

Winner: Harris, 56-44.

#11 Steve Bullock (53, term-limited current governor of Montana – not ranked) vs. #3 Pete Buttigieg (37, mayor of South Bend, Indiana – up from #13)

Bear in mind again that these are head-to-head matchups, and this is one of the most intriguing. As I said before, Bullock can brag about winning a state that also was won by Trump and he comes across as pragmatic. On the other hand, Buttigieg has been pulled into the weeds a lot lately on various issues, such as religion, and then there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room: are Americans ready for a gay president? With this alternative, I think the answer is not quite.

Winner: Bullock, 52-48.

#7 Amy Klobuchar (58 – for a few more days – U.S. Senator, Minnesota – down from #6) vs. #18 Julian Castro (44, former HUD Secretary – down from #12)

This is another tough call. In theory it’s easier for Castro to win this matchup, but Klobuchar has two things going for herself that Bernie Sanders did not: a more moderate world view and a favorable gender in this day and age. In a battle of female vote vs. Latino vote, they will go with the bigger prize against Donald Trump.

Winner: Klobuchar, 55-45.

#9 Kirsten Gillibrand (52, U.S. Senator, New York – down from #8) vs.
#1 Joe Biden (76, most recent previous Vice President and two-time previous candidate – no change)

If “Creepy Joe” can stay out of Kirsten’s hair he wins this one easily because Gillibrand hasn’t ran a stellar campaign. Of the women vying for the Oval Office, she’s one of the more nondescript despite being Hillary Clinton’s successor in the Senate.

Winner: Biden, 60-40.

This sets up a really good pair of semi-final matchups.

#7 Amy Klobuchar vs. #11 Steve Bullock

Klobuchar is the higher seed because she’s been in the race for a longer time. But her appeal is also that of being a woman at a time when Democrats are looking to avenge the loss of Hillary Clinton yet one with a reputation of being pragmatic, perhaps because of her Midwest roots.

But Bullock counters most of these advantages with the elements of executive experience (as the only remaining one in the field) and the fact that he won a state Trump won. And Trump didn’t come close in Minnesota, unlike most other Midwest states. However, Montana is not a state that immediately comes to mind for complexity, making the executive part a little more moot.

This is one that Klobuchar pulls out in the end by four points.

Winner: Klobuchar, 52-48.

#4 Kamala Harris vs. #1 Joe Biden

Harris has really coasted along in this campaign, knowing that she will do well enough in her own state of California (which will be an early player in the process in 2020, unlike most of its history) to be a force for the long haul. But she also provides one of the most difficult contrasts for Biden to face despite his name recognition and experience. Is Harris articulate and clean enough for the voters?

I think when it comes down to it, Democrats want a new face. Biden may be highest in polls right now, but he may be scraping his ceiling in popularity when you begin to consider the Obama effect is wearing off and he’s against a woman of color – instant Anita Hill reminder, anyone?

I believe Democrats are bound and determined to have a woman on the top of their ticket against Donald Trump.

Winner: Harris, 51-49.

The final:

#7 Amy Klobuchar vs. #4 Kamala Harris

In the chill of February, Amy Klobuchar began her campaign in front of hundreds of diehard supporters braving a snowstorm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a visual that compared with thousands in the streets to send Harris off a few days earlier.

The Democrat party is a collection of coalitions, and this is where it gets dicey. The question is which coalitions will go which way, and how strongly will they fight for their candidate? Overall I get the sense that, while the Democrats may be better served with a more centrist, qualified candidate they are going to go with the one who checks off the most boxes and goes the most against the grain. Those who are pining for a second black president who would be the first woman president will probably have enough pull within the party to prevail.

Winner: Harris, 54-46. She succeeds Biden, who I had winning in the initial March Madness post.

I’ll look at this again in July, with new seedings and perhaps a different result based solely on my gut instincts.

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.