On growth in a post-growth small town

Like a lot of small towns, the town whose zip code I reside in is looking to expand. Recently a developer came to the town with a proposal to add several hundred dwelling units behind a group of retail shops fronting along the major highway that runs on the eastern outskirts of town.

Come to think of it, this could apply to any of the four communities in Sussex County along the U.S. 13 corridor. In each case, Bridgeville, Seaford, Laurel, and Delmar have an older downtown area which was bypassed when U.S. 13 was rerouted around those towns decades ago. Now all of them have development along the new highway to some extent, with grocery stores, restaurants, shops, and convenience stores clustered in varying degrees along that major north-south route. (Despite the traffic lights, it’s generally considered a lower-hassle alternative to taking I-95 through Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)

Now I’m not sure just when the current four-lane U.S. 13 was constructed, although I know its predecessor route is still extant from Delmar, Maryland up through a point north of Seaford, and again through Bridgeville where it met up with SR404. But with the exception of Delmar, which centered its downtown around the railroad track that runs just west of 13, all these towns once had the highway serve their central business district. There is still quite a bit of commerce in these areas, but (with the exception of Seaford) nowhere near as much as there is along the newer highway.

Anyway, back to my point about Laurel, which is the subject of this essay. Here’s what I wrote about this development to a local message board:

Interesting that some of the other Laurel message boards seem to be filled out with the NIMBY crowd. But let me add a couple pennies here.

One thing I haven’t seen (it may be in subsequent news coverage, though) is what the buildout schedule is. People think “omigosh, we’re getting all these housing units” but not all of them are built at once. If it’s a popular development then buildout is still probably 3-4 years, and if it’s like Heron Ponds in Delmar they may take 20 years. So the new population will come in gradually.

And to speak to (a local citizen’s) concern, there was a random Friday a few months back when I drove through North Towns End and I counted 15 houses in various stages of construction. In just the couple years since we moved out here we’ve seen several houses put up on Mt. Pleasant (we looked at one of the new ones before we bought ours) so someone must like our end of town.

Maybe it’s a function of what I do for a living, but I’ve always said that if an area doesn’t grow it dies. East side of Laurel could use some construction, too.

Message on a local social media group board.

Yet a lot of the messages have a different but legitimate complaint: Laurel needs better jobs, more retail options and things to do, and less crime. The fear seems to be that the new development will bring less of what’s already lacking and more of what we don’t want, so I want to use my forum to revise and extend my previous remarks.

First off, I’m an outsider looking in. I really never dealt much with Laurel before I moved here except for driving through it, either on the main highway or occasionally the alternate through town. I actually still don’t do a lot of business there because I work in Salisbury and my wife works in Seaford, so any quick shopping is more likely to be done in those two towns or in Delmar since that’s on my way from work. But we often have occasion to eat out in Laurel and when we are home it has the closest grocery store.

By geography, we live closer to Sharptown, Maryland, but there’s nothing much there that I’m aware of except a convenience store and a Dollar General. That’s a town which is really off the beaten path, so very little commerce occurs there and the population has remained remarkably steady over the decades at around 650 people. (The same goes for Bethel, Delaware, which is also pretty close to us but even smaller.) So Laurel or Seaford it generally is, despite the extra distance.

In the case of many rural communities, their approach to job growth is as follows: set aside a plot of land with improvements and parcels of several acres and call it an industrial park. Promise some sort of tax abatement and then apply the Field of Dreams mantra: if you build it, they will come. I’m not saying that idea doesn’t work, since there are several industrial parks around and some are rather full, but a town can’t put all its eggs in just that basket.

So here is Laurel, with an investor who wants to put his money into the town but is getting grief from the NIMBY crowd. Ignore them. Presuming the developer will pay for the improvements required on the side road (up to and including the traffic signal that may be necessary at 13) this is a pretty good idea, at least in concept. I may be inclined for a smaller mix of townhouses to single-family, though, because one thing the area needs is property owners who will presumably take pride in their surroundings.

Once this development is underway, what the town needs to do in my opinion is create a way to make investment in its older areas just as worthwhile. Let’s look at one pivotal block of downtown Laurel as an example, the block on the southeast corner of old 13 and SR24. (Central Avenue and Market Street.)

From what I can gather, if you look at the block from the park across the street, there is a Chinese restaurant, a storefront church, a thrift store, and a building whose storefront I think is vacant but used to be a Mexican grocery. Thanks to the magic of Google Maps images, I found out that block was amputated sometime around the beginning of the last decade to accommodate extra parking for the Laurel Public Library. (At least now it owns the parcels.) The other two sets of parcels are owned by private individuals, one living in Laurel and another living in another town in Sussex County. But if you go back into the state archives, you’ll find that these two streets were completely built up in the early 20th century. Now the only corner left relatively the same is the one with the bank – the other three corners are either parking or the small downtown park.

Of course, I don’t know the back story of how all that came to pass, but it just seems from my perspective that, in the most recent case, the library could have worked out a deal with the bank on parking and left the buildings there, unless they had fallen that far into disrepair. (I’ve seen some references to a fire so I’m wondering if that had anything to do with this puzzle, too.)

But don’t you think it would make efforts to revitalize Laurel’s downtown better if that little bit of parking were moved across the street and someone invested in that corner with a mixed-use project of a storefront and apartments above? Build something new and fresh, but with the look of a historic structure, and maybe that encourages the neighbors to spruce up their buildings. Now perhaps that may not happen, but just like those who are down on the proposed development, if you do zero to improve things there’s a zero percent chance of improvement. I realize it’s nowhere near all that we need, but someone has to take the leap and I’m glad there’s a person out there who does.

Make yourself available and receptive to people who want to invest in good ideas and you just may find prosperity in something that benefits all parties involved.

Pumping for dumping

To be clear up front: I’m no expert on the stock market. Once upon a time I used to buy stock shares (directly where possible) with the investment strategy of buying shares of companies with low P/E ratios that sold high-dividend stocks. So I owned quite a few different utility stocks, since they often fit that description, and would take the dividends as additional shares. I still own a very modest portfolio in the successor company to that which I used to accomplish these trades, although it’s locked away in a money market fund that I haven’t touched in probably a decade. While I doubt I could buy dinner for my wife and I with the total, I keep the accounts grandfathered there in the hope that someday I may invest in these again.

But the whole Gamestop debacle got me to thinking about a long-ago series of posts (this being the first) that I did when capitalism fascinated me enough to do the series of posts.

In brief, the backstory behind the occasional “pumpin and dumpin” series was the junk faxes my onetime and present employer would get – somehow we got onto a list where, a few times a week, we would be regaled by news of the next big stock they claimed was about to break. So I got curious and collected a sampling just to see how they really did and, in most of the cases, the only break they made was downward. (It really got bad four years later when I last revisited the subject.) I got a lot of great comments out of the series, which occurred back about this time the website was at its peak readership as a non-lucrative side hustle of mine.

Since then, however, the office fax machine has been retired and I really don’t get that sort of e-mail anymore. People have moved on to another grift, I suppose, and in the case of Gamestop it was interesting because the tables were turned on the relatives of these companies that used to make their money speculating on those folks P.T. Barnum claimed were born every minute.

Some hedge fund (or group of hedge funds) is apparently out billions of dollars, or will be as long as they can’t stave off their margin call. Betting that Gamestop stock may further plummet to a buck or two a share, they are now desperately hurting because a group of allied renegade traders have instead pumped that baby up to $300 or more a share. That may be an awesome windfall for the investor who got it for 11 bucks a share two years ago (and watched it eventually slide to under $3) but it’s now becoming a parlor game that has nothing to do with the long-term prospects of the company, which (as the name suggests) makes its money by selling video games and consoles, mostly in brick-and-mortar locations. (In a previous life I serviced several of their stores on a regular basis, so I have something of a familiarity with their business.) I couldn’t even fathom what the P/E ratio is for them right now, but if I were a Gamestop employee I would be frightened out of my wits because they are playing with my livelihood.

Certainly the company has a tremendous market capitalization at the moment, but it’s a mirage that they will have to deal with long-term. It’s also concerning when you consider that these hedge funds were essentially betting on the company drifting into insolvency – in case you haven’t heard, the retail sector isn’t doing so hot right now.

I suppose what bothers me most about this whole situation is the rooting for failure aspect – moreso for the hedge funds that were betting on Gamestop’s demise. (After all, isn’t this shorting approach similar to how George Soros became a billionaire?) And while the Reddit group orchestrating the surge in Gamestop stock has the noble idea of punishing the hedge fund, they’re not going to stop the game from going on – in fact, they may eventually find they’ve infringed more on the free market thanks to Uncle Sam covering the big boys’ bets by being restrictive on the ability of like-minded groups to manipulate share prices. (It’s okay when their chosen ones do it, though. For them, the stock market is an investment where they will capitalize on their profits and socialize their losses, while for the rest of us it’s more of a gamble like buying a Mega Millions ticket.)

Finally, it brings me to troubling questions: is the Dow really worth 30,000? How much of that is real value and how much is rampant speculation?

I recall back a half-dozen years ago, when I was barely getting back on my feet after a long interregnum of non-career jobs, that the relative success of the stock market was hailed as the sign the overall economy was strong. (Never mind millions of people were still out of work and had given up looking.) The ones who were prospering, though, were the shysters who arranged for some people to get “disability” because they couldn’t find a job at their advanced age. In other words, the perceived value of the Dow Jones and NASDAQ was a mirage that was covered by increasing debt and someone was going to be left holding the bag.

In that respect, I can see the point of view of the hedge funds because they also see the same thing I do. But I hate rooting against the success of businesses built upon the sweat and toil of someone who worked long hours to make their dream a reality. It was their quest to succeed and draw investors which led them to sell shares in their companies. Granted, for every Tesla or Apple there are thousands of companies who were the (witting or unwitting) subjects of being pumped and dumped like the beneficiaries of those long-ago junk faxes. Alas, dreams, sweat, and toil don’t always lead to success if the product doesn’t sell. (As an author, I know how that goes all too well.)

It’s highly likely for the best that I never became a day trader like a former co-worker of mine was. (I suspect that’s why he was a relatively brief co-worker, since the firm wasn’t paying him to watch a stock ticker.) The whole Gamestop affair has convinced me even more that the system has become perverted and rigged in favor of those who have friends in the right places. Yet, without a good alternative method of saving for retirement besides the old 401.k (since few have pensions anymore and we all know Social Security is a Ponzi scheme) I guess we are forced to grin and bear it.

I’m so ready for real financial reform, but I suppose that has to get in line behind rightsizing government and we all know where that lies on the list of priorities. Maybe these Gamestop traders can work on that next?

Update: Thomas Gallatin, my cohort at The Patriot Post, weighs in with a similar take to mine. Great minds?

Becoming the loyal opposition

As the days of the Trump administration dwindle down to a precious few and the world is attempting to hoist him up on the petard of (so-called) insurrection, it’s clear that there are over 70 million Americans who are angry with the situation.

But let’s dispense with a few things first: the claims that Trump will return for another term after he declares martial law then drains the Swamp with thousands of arrests – ain’t gonna happen. Even if he uses the military, the size and scope of the necessary operation is such that SOMEONE would have leaked it out by now.

And it’s not just that: Trump doesn’t figure in the line of succession, even if you arrested Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi. It’s the same logic that said Hillary would be president if Trump was impeached and convicted. There’s just no Constitutional precedent for this – even in the midst of a civil war we held a Presidential election in 1864. We’ll never know, but would Abraham Lincoln have ceded power in March of 1865 had he lost?

There were originally going to be three main points to this post, but two of them have been taken care of in a different fashion. I liked Erick Erickson’s take on all the fake news that I alluded to above, so I encourage you to read it via The Patriot Post. My other writing home is also where the second part of this discourse ended up, regarding the fate of the Republican Party going forward. One key point:

Donald Trump was the candidate whose boldness on hot-button issues such as immigration and tax reform brought back those who became disillusioned when the Tea Party devolved to just another group of inside-the-Beltway grifters, and the Republican establishment cooled the fiery spirits of those the Tea Party helped to place in Congress.

“The Road Ahead for the GOP,” The Patriot Post, January 15, 2021

This was one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written for them because it’s a subject I am passionate about.

But in the wake of the purloined Presidential election and the catastrophe at the Capitol, people are probably shrugging their shoulders and resigning themselves to the end of our Republic, keeping their anger and passion inside to eat at them. Now I don’t have the overall surefire way to make you feel better, but perhaps it’s time to revisit what happened the last time we were in this situation.

Granted, the political landscape in 2021 is not really the same chessboard we were looking at in the dark winter of 2009. Back then we didn’t have the pervasiveness of social media to squelch the voices of conservatives nor did we have the upstream economic swimming made necessary by the ongoing CCP virus. (Of course, that will improve soon as Democrat governors finally decide that maybe, just maybe, they need to open up their state economies.) And that’s okay because perhaps this time we need to shift the focus to a smaller stage rather than try and play in a arena we’re not as familiar with. Complaining about federal spending and what would become Obamacare only delayed the inevitable twelve years ago because Tip O’Neill was right: all politics is local.

To that end, there is a trinity of issues which can be positively influenced at the local level in the near term, and in my opinion these are places the passion for Donald Trump can be well applied (or at least I think he would approve.) In at least one respect – the one I’m going to begin with – it’s not even necessarily political.

Support local small businesses.

This can be a lot easier said than done, particularly if you live in a rural area like I do. I have to admit we get a LOT of Amazon and Walmart boxes delivered to us, and the UPS truck is a regular sight around this area. On the flip side, though, we have a lot of small businesses that we can support in our town, particularly the restaurants. (I have my local favorite, and you should too. Patronize them often and leave good tips.)

The thing that is holding back businesses the most are the pandemic-inspired restrictions. I’m sure my local pizzeria would love to be able to open up all their seating despite their solid carry-out business. Initial mandates that favored big-box retailers as “essential” when their smaller counterparts – which often sold the same merchandise – were shut down led to the loss of millions of jobs and the perceived need to send out stimulus checks that are simply the gateway drug to the cherished regressive dream of a universal basic income. (Or, as Dire Straits once sang, Money for Nothing. I suppose it’s good the government hasn’t tried the chicks for free yet, because I could only imagine that disaster.)

I think if you asked the business owner who had to shut down whether they’d prefer the check or the business, 99% would be back in business. Seeing that the ice is beginning to break with some of these Democrats, perhaps it’s time to apply more pressure to Governor Carnage to end this so-called emergency and let businesses try to pick up the pieces.

Action items:

  • Patronize local, small businesses wherever possible.
  • Pressure local legislators and officials to advocate for the opening up of your state’s businesses as applicable. (Obviously people reading this from certain states can skip this part.)
  • If a business decides to go against a state’s forced closing mandate – don’t be a Karen, be a customer.
  • And it’s not just businesses: having open schools and resuming their activities would be a great help to employment as well. It brings me to my next part.

Reforming our schools.

One thing I loved about the Trump administration was the fresh perspective he brought to the Department of Education with Betsy DeVos. Unfortunately, her tenure was cut a bit short because she bought the media narrative about the January 6 protest, but her time at the DoE was the next best thing to it not being there.

Sadly, under Harris/Biden there will likely be some other NEA-approved hack running that show and undoing all the good DeVos did, so we need to do what we can to re-establish local control of our public schools as much as possible and push the envelope where required. If that can’t be done, then it’s time to support the alternatives such as homeschooling or non-public schools.

Of course, the best way to guide public schools is to become a member of their school board, but not everyone has that sort of time commitment nor do they want to go through the anal exam known as an election. (Furthermore, in the case of my local school district, reform would be slow: they elect one member of the five-member body every year, meaning it would take at least three years to install a like-thinking majority.) But it is a good idea to know about your local school board and see who the friendlies to the cause are. (If they have a BLM banner, it’s not too likely they’re conservative.) The ideal here is to revamp curriculum to bring it back to classical education as opposed to indoctrination, encouraging a variety of viewpoints and critical thinking. Public school students don’t have to be mindless robots; after all, I’m a case in point since I went to public school and a public university. I think I turned out okay.

On a state level, there are two priorities and this means you have to make some enemies in the teachers’ union: school choice and (corollary to that) money following the child. It’s your child and the state should be doing its level best to assist you in training up the child in the way he should go.

Action items:

  • Demand schools open up fully. The lack of in-person learning and activities has cost students a year of development.
  • Research your local school board and its candidates, even if you don’t have kids there. They are taking a lot of your tax money so you should be aware how it’s spent.
  • Advocate with your state legislators for school choice and money following the child.

And now for the biggie, the one which should be job one among all right-thinking Americans:

Restoring free and fair elections.

I’m going to begin with a quote. You may be surprised at the source.

Voting by mail is now common enough and problematic enough that election experts say there have been multiple elections in which no one can say with confidence which candidate was the deserved winner. The list includes the 2000 presidential election, in which problems with absentee ballots in Florida were a little-noticed footnote to other issues.

In the last presidential election, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted, according to a study by Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He calculated that 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them; that another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials; and that election officials rejected 800,000 ballots. That suggests an overall failure rate of as much as 21 percent.

“Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Balloting Rises,” Adam Liptak, New York Times, October 6, 2012.

It’s funny because that story concludes, “You could steal some absentee ballots or stuff a ballot box or bribe an election administrator or fiddle with an electronic voting machine,” (Yale law professor Heather Gerken) said. That explains, she said, “why all the evidence of stolen elections involves absentee ballots and the like.”

It didn’t get any better in 2020, as hastily-passed (or decreed) election law led to the chaotic scenes we saw played out in several big-city vote counting venues. Combine that with the molasses-like pace of mail sent through the USPS – I received a Christmas card sent by a friend in Kansas December 18 on January 4 – and we got an election result that millions are skeptical about.

I know there are some who swear these practices are on the up and up, but this is the question we should be asking these officials: If you support election practices we can’t trust, how can you be a public servant we can trust?

At a minimum, we should be demanding that changes made for the 2020 election should be scrapped entirely. This was no way to run an election, and it will always be fishy how Donald Trump (and a host of other Republicans) led in their election in certain states until the wee hours of Wednesday morning before suddenly being overtaken in a barrage of votes for Democrats. I will give kudos to the election officials here in Delaware who demanded all mail-in ballots be delivered by 8 p.m. on election night because the counting was pretty much done by the late local news.

I don’t care if you call it the TEA Party again – with the acronym now standing for Trump’s Election Avengers – but here are the action items, as the beginning of a list of demands for real election reform:

  1. The voter rolls should be purged of inactive voters (no voting in the last four years) and those who use fake addresses such as P.O. boxes. Big-city election boards should be made to use some of their ill-gotten largess to investigate these places.
  2. Absentee balloting should no longer be shall-issue. There has to be a legitimate excuse, although advanced age should remain a legitimate excuse. Deadline for absentee ballot return is Election Day, no postmark exceptions.
  3. Ballot-harvesting should be outlawed or curtailed to leave only family members allowed to return a limited number of ballots.
  4. Early voting should be eliminated, or at the very least cut back to the weekend just prior to the election.
  5. There should be more election observers, and not just Democrat and Republican. We should add two independent or minor party voters who are also allowed to observe and object.

This isn’t to say that we should ignore the excesses of the Harris/Biden administration and speak out when necessary. But in making these more easily attainable changes at the local level, we make it more difficult to enact change on a national scale.

If we want to make the necessary changes, we have to borrow the “think globally, act locally” mantra from the environmentalist wackos for a bit and ride out the next four years as the real shadow government. It’s only through us that a government for and by the people not perish from the earth.

Odds and ends number 100

Hey, a milestone!

The “odds and ends” concept is almost as old as monoblogue itself – my first one, actually called “Odds and year ends,” came back on December 26, 2005. monoblogue was all of 25 days old then, a babe in the woods of the World Wide Web. (It was post #20 on this website; this one will be #5,137.) In re-reading that one after all these years, I found it was a very Maryland-centric post. And what makes it perfectly fitting is that my plan was to make this a Delaware-centric post since I had used most of my other stuff pre-election and held the items for the First State back.

So as has always been the rule, we have things I handle in a couple sentences to a few paragraphs – a series of mini-posts, if you will.

A taxpayer money waste

Did you know the state of Delaware is suing energy companies claiming “Defendants, major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have
known for nearly half a century that unrestricted production and use of fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes our climate.”

(…)

“Defendants have known for decades that climate change impacts could be catastrophic, and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would be irreversible.”

If you really want to bother reading all 218 pages of the lawsuit be my guest, but the upshot is best described by the Caesar Rodney Institute’s David T. Stevenson, who wrote, “The suit is likely to meet the same fate as a similar lawsuit in New York that simply wasted taxpayer money.” CRI’s Stevenson instead compares the supposed future effects of so-called manmade climate change to the tangible effects of fossil fuels on societal development.

It’s true Delaware is a low-lying state, but it’s also true that sea levels have been rising for several decades, long before the first SUV was sold or widget factory was built. But to demand both compensatory and punitive damages from a host of energy companies – which would cut into their R & D budget and increase consumer costs – is in and of itself a waste of valuable energy and time. If it ever comes to the jury trial they demand, I pray that we get 12 sober-minded people who laugh this suit right out of court.

Robbing the livelihood

It’s been a bone of contention for many: what was originally billed as a state of emergency to “flatten the curve” has now almost become a way of life as our ongoing state of emergency in Delaware was quietly extended yet again on the Friday before Halloween (and the election.)

I did a little bit of traveling around the bottom part of the state this weekend and noticed some of the missing businesses. After a summer tourist season ruined by our reaction to the CCP virus, it may indeed be the winter of our discontent and there’s no better place to spend it than Delaware, right Governor Carney?

Since the Delaware General Assembly will be returning with an even stronger Democrat majority in the Senate, it’s to be expected that employer mandates will be among the items discussed. But as A Better Delaware observes, that can be very counterproductive to businesses already struggling to survive:

The cost of the health care provided to the employee does not result in more productivity or value of that employee at their firm. By adding this cost, it is more likely that incomes will be lowered in order for the total value of the employee to remain the same, even with additional costly mandates. Sometimes, the cost of these mandates results in layoffs so that the company can afford to provide them to the remaining employees.

“Employer mandates: mandating job and income loss,” A Better Delaware, October 2, 2020.

Instead, what they suggest is a private-sector solution: “either establish insurance plans that would cover short-term disability or paid family leave plans or allowing lower-income hourly workers to choose if they would want to convert overtime pay to paid leave.” The flexibility allowed by this would be beneficial, particularly as some may wish to enhance their allotted vacation time in this manner. I made an agreement like that last year with my employer to trade overtime for vacation hours I used later on to extend my year-end holiday by a couple days.

Time for public input

As I noted above, the state’s state of emergency was extended yet again by Governor Carney. But the folks at CRI believe this shouldn’t just be his call.

Instead, they believe what’s necessary is a three-day emergency session of the General Assembly, focused on the following:

  • Debate and negotiate a time limit for Executive Emergency Power, such as two or three months after which Legislative approval is needed for any extension.
  • Debate and negotiate specific metrics for re-opening the economy and return to in-person school classes based upon hospitalizations, not cases.

A state of emergency is not meant to be a perpetual grant of power, although politicians of all stripes have been known to abuse the declaration for things that aren’t immediate impediments to public safety, such as the opioid crisis. It’s important, but not to the level of a state of emergency. We flattened the curve and have learned a lot about the CCP virus, and in a cynical way it did its job because otherwise Donald Trump cruises to re-election and China continues to have a worthy adversary instead of a pocketed leader.

(ahem) It’s time for economy to get back to work so we can deal with all the abuse it might be about to take from the incoming Harris/Biden regime.

One last tax question

Should Delaware relent and adopt a sales tax?

This was another item considered by the CRI folks over the last few weeks, and their data bears out my armchair observations as someone who’s lived close by the border for 16 years. Since we don’t collect sales tax, strictly speaking this puts Delaware’s border-area retailers at an advantage. (Technically, residents of Maryland, Pennsylvania, et. al. are supposed to remit the sales tax they would have paid in-state after buying in Delaware but I’ve yet to meet one who does.)

But if you assume that Delaware takes in $2.89 billion from the retail industry, a 3% sales tax would give the state $86.7 million. However, when you compare that to the possible retail jobs and revenue lost by eliminating the state’s “tax-free” status, the net would be much smaller and could become a negative – a negative that increases the closer the state comes to matching its neighbors’ sales tax rates, which range from 6% in Maryland to 6.6% in New Jersey. (By comparison, these rates are among the lowest in the nation, so perhaps Delaware is a tempering factor for those states, too.)

Retail is a tough enough business, though. Why make it harder for those in the First State?

And last…it’s that time of year

Every year it seems I have a post about items made in the USA. Our fine friends at the Alliance for American Manufacturing continue to chug along with their list, and they’ve been looking for suggestions over the last month or so. The list usually comes out just in time for Black Friday, although this year may be different. (There’s still time to squeeze in a last-minute idea, I’ll bet.)

Admittedly, sometimes it’s a bit of a reach as last year‘s Delaware item was RAPA scrapple, but previous years they’ve featured Delaware self-employed crafters for baby-related items and unglazed clay bakeware, giving those small businesses a hand. I’d be very curious to see what they come up with this year.

And I’ll be very curious to see what I come up with for items for the next odds and ends, which begins the second hundred if the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

Delaware, the Charlie Brown of states

John Carney is stunning in that blue dress, is he not?

Originally, the current state of emergency the First State is laboring under was supposed to expire on April 15, but days before that deadline was to occur Delaware Governor John Carney extended its provisions to May 15.

Yet despite the fact our state is “flattening the curve” and exhibits a trend of declining cases, this state of emergency and its onerous job-killing restrictions have yet again been extended through May 31. Lucy is yet again pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, meaning businesses that depend on a Memorial Day weekend surge to kick off their profitable summer season are now being starved yet again of their revenue source; meanwhile neighboring Maryland is cautiously reopening its beach areas. (This despite unseasonably cool weather in the region this weekend; something for which the extended forecast promises a makeup next weekend with highs here on the interior of slower lower Delaware passing the 80 degree mark.)

One extreme example of short-sightedness comes from the idea that farmer’s markets are “non-essential” in Delaware, so they can’t open until the state of emergency is lifted. Unfortunately, farmers need an outlet for some of their crops – perennials like asparagus and strawberries are early-season staples but they will rot in the field without outlets to sell them. Since the restaurant business is way down, farmers now face the question of whether to plant at all. If they don’t, then expect shortages and higher prices later this fall.

And while it’s more of a formality since the presumptive nominees have already been decided, the second postponement of the Delaware presidential primary until July 7 was completely unnecessary. Because the results are a fait accompli, voting could have been done safely with the addition of social distancing and personal protection on their initially rescheduled June 2 date. Instead, this push toward mail-in balloting seems to be the excuse to try to adopt it for November when much more is at stake: while Delaware is most likely a shoo-in for Joe Biden thanks to his longtime connection to the state, the governor’s chair, office of lieutenant governor, and control of the state legislature still hang in the balance. (The delay also affects a slew of local elections, including school boards which were pushed back to July 21.)

The next month or two is going to tell a tale in this country. We have states where personal responsibility is paramount, such as the otherwise generally ignored state of South Dakota where restrictions were very light, and we have states like Michigan and New York where governors seem to be drunk with power and, in the case of Michigan, ignore their legislative branch. Sadly, here in Delaware we have a governor run amok but no real opposition party to call him out on it. In fact, at this point in time there is no announced Republican candidate to oppose John Carney this November. (At the moment, the only contender is Libertarian John Machurek.)

That might be fine with the sheeple and Karens who continually complain about the out-of-state license plates on cars heading to the beach and want to keep the state closed, but there are those of us who echo Samuel Adams: “It does not take a majority to prevail . . . but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” We are definitely irate given the current state of affairs, but my question is just how tired the TEA Party movement has become. Maybe it needs a second wind.

So I’m going to close with a throwback Sunday. For the course of a few years I did a series of posts called Friday Night Videos. It began as a way of sharing political videos but eventually evolved into an outlet for local music, including some of the video I took for doing photos and posts for another longstanding series of mine called Weekend of Local Rock. (I still have a Youtube channel.)

But aside from the items I uploaded, one of my all-time favorite Friday Night videos on the music side came from a talented and patriotic New York-based singer named Ava Aston. If you have read this blog for awhile, you’ve seen this video before but I thought over the last week or so it was time to bring it back.

It was time to bring this song back…for the people.

(This is the original 2009 version – a few years later Ava did a remix but I like the original a little better.)

I realize we are in a pandemic, but shutting down should have been the last resort, not the first option. Let’s get things back to normal prudently, but quickly. And don’t believe Lucy when she puts down that football.

Putting the world on hold

They tell us it’s “flattening the curve.”

However, there are a huge number of economic impacts we will need to go through now that the Wuhan coronavirus escaped its Chinese captivity and has gone global. Let’s just look at one arena of economics for example. (And yes, the pun was intended.)

On Wednesday, just after I put up my previous post, it was announced that the NBA season was “suspended” until further notice. This quickly extended to the NHL and MLB, with the NCAA topping all of them and completely cancelling ALL winter and spring championship events. (In other words, it’s not just March Madness: the College World Series, normally held in late May into June, is off, too.)

I already feel horrible for those seniors who may have been going to The Dance for the first and only time in their college careers, but one also has to consider those people whose livelihood depends in part on these events. It’s two dates that the workers at the Mercedes-Benz arena in Atlanta will now be off, not to mention the host facilities of the other regionals that are held over two nights at various venues. (In the early rounds, this can be a full shift from noon to 9 or 10 at night.) Even worse is the fate of those who work at NBA or NHL host arenas, as their facilities are often used 5 nights a week or more thanks to sports, concerts, and other large gatherings. The same goes for spring training venues, which are used nearly every day during this time of year thanks to teams sharing fields and split-squad games. Now these facilities are closed to the public and these employees are out of work.

Generally these workers are the folks who were barely scraping by, so this pandemic is going to make it more difficult for them to pay their bills. (One exception: those who work for Ilitch Holdings, which owns Little Caesars along with the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, among other entertainment properties. They are going to compensate part-timers for games and events they miss thanks to the cancellations, which included the NCAA hockey Frozen Four.)

So there are a number of events which will be lost and never made up; lost opportunities for commerce. Granted, public health is important but my gut feeling is that we’ve overreacted to this epidemic insofar as governmental entities are concerned. It’s one thing for a privately-run league to suspend operations for several weeks, but government declaring a state of emergency and forcing the cancellation of events slated to hold more than a few dozen people may be a little beyond the pale. These things should be decided by organizers, not dictated. Believe it or not – and despite the hoarders who think they need two cases of toilet paper – we have a little common sense left in this world.

I also believe we needed an end date to this state of emergency, or at least a date certain to re-evaluate the situation. Declare a state of emergency through March 31, with an interim deadline of perhaps March 28 to determine further course of action. (The professional baseball world at least knows two weeks’ worth of games will be cancelled, so that alternate planning can take place.) Much of the reason the stock market and oil futures have tanked over the last month is the uncertainty of the situation. Now we can’t predict a virus, but I think we can at least give a firm date for attempting to return to normal.

As I see it, leaving stuff open-ended gives potential for additional mischief from the “never let a crisis go to waste” crowd. We’re already staring a recession dead in the face (unless pent-up demand rescues us in 2020 Q2) and, being an election year, we know what that means. As always, the government has to do something to insure its re-election as opposed to following the Constitution or adhering to limited-government principles that would suggest a more hands-off approach.

We’ve already seen what a media-enhanced panic looks like by checking out the store shelves, so it’s time for vigilance and, once this is over, preparation for the next time. Trust me, it WILL happen again.

Time to indulge our ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ consumerism

This is the sixth annual edition put out by the folks at the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

This is always a good post for Black Friday.

It’s been several years now since I scratched an itch to promote our American manufacturing by joining a (sadly ill-fated) venture called American Certified. One thing that short foray gave me, though, was a place on the mailing list of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a union-backed promoter of (you guessed it) American manufacturing. Its president Scott Paul is perhaps among those I’ve most quoted on this site, and arguably first among non-Maryland non-politicians.

The AAM has, over the last several years, created what they call their “Made in America Gift Guide.” It actually worked well hand-in-hand with an effort by the Patriot Voices group (the people who keep two-time Presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in the news on occasion) called the Made in the U.S.A. Christmas Challenge, but that challenge has seemed to go by the wayside, leaving AAM as the sole purveyor and promoter of American-made Christmas gifts.

This is year 6 for AAM and they picked at least one item from each state – 83 overall by my count. I thought Delaware’s selected entry this year was a little bit off the wall, but then again RAPA ships its scrapple around the country during holiday time (November to February.) It may not be the gift for everyone on your list, but I’m sure there are some who now live in other regions of the country who wouldn’t mind a taste of home.

But in a neat piece of irony (and no pun intended) the selected Maryland gift comes from an Eastern Shore company called Butter Pat Industries. Their claim to fame? Hand-crafted cast iron skillets, which have drawn the attention and raves from cooking aficionados. (That’s why I’ve never heard of them, since I burn water.)

Since I quote him so often, here’s what AAM’s Scott Paul had to say:

Everything on this year’s list is new, and many of the ideas came from readers like you.

We think there’s something for everyone on your gift list. Our team made sure to include a mix of items at a variety of price points.

If everyone in the United States spent $64 of their holiday budget on American-made products, it would support 200,000 new factory jobs! But we know it can be hard to find Made in America goods in big box stores or at the local mall.

By putting together this list, we hope to shine a spotlight on some great companies who support local jobs and their communities — and make it easier for folks like you to find great American-made gifts during the busy holiday season.

Scott Paul, Alliance for American Manufacturing press release, November 26, 2019.

Of course, they also strive to not repeat gifts from year to year so Delaware’s list has varied nicely over the years: baby accessories, unglazed cookware, handcrafted gifts and furnishings, Jell-O mix (!), and – of course – Dogfish Head ales. (Too bad they didn’t give the late lamented 16 Mile brewery the same love.) The Eastern Shore has also been represented in Maryland’s selection on a couple previous occasions, including Paul Reed Smith guitars.

So if one of your Christmas goals is to shop local, this guide is a pretty good place to begin. And the job you save may be that of someone you know.

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.

A better minor-league town

This definitely goes in a unique “stack of stuff” but to me it’s also a springboard to a relevant point. Plus it’s a dead week between Christmas and New Year’s so it’s not a political week.

If you go back to post number 2 – number one being the “soft opening” URL placeholder – in this long-running saga of my political thoughts and life in general, you will find it’s related to my hometown baseball team. So it is with this post, as Toledo was named the nation’s top minor league town.

The hometown rag had a good time with this, but if you read the piece you’ll see why Toledo was selected. And it’s worth mentioning something the writer of the original assessment said in the Blade story:

“They took a big risk coming back to downtown when they did, and deserve a lot of credit for the excitement in downtown revitalization,” said Birdwell-Branson, who recently moved to Toledo. “Essentially, it came down to this: Toledo is not Toledo without its Mud Hens or its Walleye.”

“Toledo ranked No. 1 among minor league sports towns”, Mark Monroe, Toledo Blade, December 12, 2018.

Just for context’s sake, Toledo, with its metro area of about 600,000 hardy folk, has two major professional sports teams. Most not under a rock have heard of the Mud Hens baseball team, in large part thanks to a guy best known as Max Klinger, the dress-wearing corporal in the TV series M*A*S*H. (Far fewer know him as Jamie Farr and only real trivia buffs – or Toledo natives – know him as Jameel Farrah, but that’s his real name.) While 507,965 made it out this season, it was a down year for attendance: the Mud Hens’ worst since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002 and despite winning their first IL West title since 2007. (Perhaps eight losing seasons in a row prior to 2018 dampened enthusiasm.)

It could also be that some of their thunder was stolen by the Walleye, as the hockey team set new attendance records in the 2017-18 season and finished second in attendance in the 27-team ECHL, a league analogous to the AA level in baseball. Had their Huntington Center been larger, it’s likely they would have led the league in attendance as the Walleye averaged 102% of capacity. In 2018 the Walleye season didn’t end until early May when they lost in their division finals – they have won their ECHL division in the regular season four straight seasons – so there was an overlap between the two teams that may have cut the Mud Hens’ attendance.

In the minds of ownership, however, it doesn’t matter if the fans flock to Fifth Third Field or the Huntington Center because both are owned by the same entity: Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc. (The Walleye are owned by the subsidiary Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. They purchased the former Toledo Storm ECHL hockey franchise in 2007 and put the team on ice, as it were, until the Huntington Center was finished in 2009.) It’s a business entity with an interesting background:

The unusual ownership structure was inaugurated in 1965 when Lucas County formed a nonprofit corporation to buy and manage a team. A volunteer board of directors appointed by the county board of commissioners owns and operates the team, with the county as the ultimate financial benefactor.

“Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye reorganize top management”, Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2015.

In Toledo, then, Lucas County (Toledo is county seat) owns both the teams and the venues, which are conveniently within blocks of one another in downtown Toledo. Spurred on by government money, the county has also invested in Hensville, a renovation project taking existing adjacent building stock and creating an entertainment center with the ready-made prospect of 7,000 or more fans at an adjacent venue on about 100 nights a year, mainly on weekends in the winter and spring and any night during the summer. (Note this doesn’t count concerts and shows held several nights a year at Huntington.)

Now let’s compare our scenario: the recent (2015) addition of Sussex County, Delaware and Worcester County, Maryland to the existing Salisbury metro area gives it a population of about 390,000, about 2/3 of Toledo’s but spread over a much wider geographic area. This difference, as well as the disparity in levels as the Delmarva Shorebirds are three steps below the Mud Hens, more than likely explains why attendance for the Shorebirds is less than half that of the Mud Hens, barely eclipsing the 200,000 mark in 2018 as an all-time low. Moreover, even if Salisbury had a hockey team, as has been rumored for the past few years, it would probably be at the commensurate level to the Shorebirds, and at least one step below the ECHL.

On that note, the two most likely possibilities for pro hockey in Salisbury are the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a 10-team league as currently comprised, and the Federal Hockey League (FHL), which has six teams at present. The SPHL is the more stable of the two, and has better-attended games: league average attendance for the SPHL is 2,870 so far this season compared to a puny 1,409 between the six FHL squads – but only two Federal League teams are solidly in a four-figure average; a third is at 1,010 per game.

Unfortunately, the travel scenario for a Salisbury-based SPHL team would be dicey: the league’s closest franchises are in Roanoke, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and both are just under six-hour trips; moreover, six of the ten teams lie in the Central Time Zone. The most likely way Salisbury could be added to the SPHL would be in a pairing with another expansion team along the East Coast and a switch to a format with two six-team (or three four-team) divisions. On the other hand, while the FHL is somewhat spread out over a geographic area ranging from upstate New York to North Carolina to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Salisbury is within the footprint and the league only schedules games on weekends, with one team generally playing two consecutive nights against the same opponent. Placing an eighth team in the Midwest would allow the league to have two four-team divisions (and possibly even adding a weeknight game within the four-team blocks, expanding the FHL’s current 56-game schedule. The schedule is similar in the SPHL; by comparison the ECHL plays a 72-game season.)

While the lack of a hockey team is a major stumbling block, the bigger issue is a lack of synergy between the two venues because they are several miles apart. And since a downtown location is out of the question for these facilities, the next best scenario to me would be to eventually replace one of the two facilities and move it adjacent to the other. Of course, having just spent millions of dollars of state and county money to repair both facilities as part of renovations requested in part by the Orioles (for Perdue) and a county study (for the WYCC), that’s not happening anytime soon, either.

So we have to make do with what we have. While it won’t necessarily be pedestrian-friendly, there is available land adjacent to both venues that could be developed into further entertainment options. In all honesty, there are pros and cons to development at both locations: the Hobbs Road site has great highway access and open land with infrastructure in place as it’s already annexed to the city. Would it be out of character with the area to have an urban-style development close by Perdue Stadium? Perhaps, plus there’s also the aspect of certain city leaders who seem to want all the entertainment options to be downtown and not develop the outskirts as a competitor.

On the other hand, redevelopment of the Old Mall site would be a welcome lift to that part of Salisbury but it’s not going to happen without a steady stream of events at the Civic Center, and minor league hockey seems to have the same level of fickleness as independent league baseball.

Every town is different, but I think Salisbury is missing out on some opportunities. I’m truly hoping that renovations in progress at Perdue Stadium bring out some of that entertainment district element and the WYCC gets that hockey team tenant to help fill the venue another 30 or so nights a year. It’s probably the best we can do for the immediate future.

Just in time for Cyber Monday…

I received this e-mail a couple weeks ago but decided to hang onto it until the time was right. So guess what? It’s right.

Over the last few years I’ve been familiar with the “buy American” group promoting our manufacturing base known as the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Since 2014 (which is about the time I became more acquainted with them – perhaps an odd coincidence) they have put out a Made in America Holiday Gift Guide, for which the latest rendition is here. (As they note: if you can’t find what you’re looking for, they link to the previous four editions at the end of this year’s list.)

While Delaware and Maryland are represented on the 2018 list, they opted to go across the C&D Canal and Bay Bridge for their featured products this year. Still, if you peruse the Guide you’ll notice a couple things: many of these entrepreneurs have unique niches for which they target their products, and while all of them are internet-based (obviously, as they are linked from a webpage) not many have a “brick and mortar” location. It’s a testament to the American entrepreneur that we have combined the vast selection and ease of package shipping into something where we need not even participate in Black Friday anymore – yet all will arrive at our doorstep before Christmas.

Meanwhile, despite the fact the Patriot Voices group has curtailed its activities over the last couple years (insofar as it began as a vehicle to keep former Senator and two-time presidential candidate Rick Santorum in the stream of social conservative consciousness) they are still promoting their annual Made in the USA Christmas Challenge. As they argue:

Did you know that a large percentage of our Christmas gift dollars go overseas? For every $1 we spend in the USA on manufacturing, $1.81 will be added to the economy. That is a great deal!

Sometimes it is simply difficult to find products made in the USA. The next best thing would be to buy local. Support the small businesses and workers in your own community.

As yesterday was Small Business Saturday, it’s not too fine a point to note that, while large mega-retailers make headlines as teetering on the brink of insolvency if their Christmas season isn’t completely boffo, the same holds true for locally-owned shops but they fly under the radar. You don’t know they’re gone until you show up there one day and the store is dark.

Several years ago I began this little side hustle of talking about manufacturing because I was working for a now-defunct enterprise called American Certified, which perhaps was an idea before its time since the AAM also has a page for products made in America which are submitted by members of the public. There’s just not a cut of the action for AAM (insofar as I know, anyway) and I don’t write for their website. But it also points out the long-standing desire to support American-made products, which used to be the norm before industry cut and ran for far-flung points around the globe in the last half-century. A new generation of entrepreneurs might be turning back the clock, though, and that’s a move we can all support.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday we have what’s become known as Giving Tuesday. To delve slightly into the political, the Joe Biden-backed American Possibilities group has called on its supporters to instead take some time to give to the firefighters in California through the International Association of Fire Fighters Disaster Relief Fund.

Today, as we enjoy the warmth of our homes and the presence of our loved ones, we have the opportunity to help these heroes get back on their feet.

The union-based charity “Provides financial assistance to members living in disaster areas who have also experienced losses of their own and has provided more than $5 million dollars in assistance since its inception.”

For a more religious perspective, my friends at iVoterGuide have turned their attention from preparing for the next election cycle to helping out their favored charity.

As shoppers prepare for hitting the malls on Friday and grabbing online savings on “Cyber Monday,” a shift is being consciously made by many to turn the Tuesday after Thanksgiving into a national day of giving known as #GivingTuesday. We embrace this idea at iVoterGuide, and our staff is taking part in Operation Christmas Child — a project of Samaritan’s Purse. It’s an easy way to share the Gospel and help the needy.

They also had a little word for themselves:

Finally, if you would like to give back to iVoterGuide, we would appreciate you praying about any organizations or people with whom you might be able to connect us as we prepare for the 2020 elections. Might you know of an organization who would like to join our coalition of partners so that we can cover more down ballot races in more states? Do you know of someone who would like to help sponsor coverage of their state legislative races or support the work of iVoterGuide?

I was one of those who helped cover the Maryland races, and it was a neat experience. The good thing about Maryland is that they only have federal elections in 2020 (meaning the same amount of coverage for iVoterGuide that they had this time) which hopefully will lead to enhanced coverage of state races in 2022. It’s a long way from Cyber Monday, but sometimes the things we do today are only realized months or years later.

Hopefully any stuff you acquire won’t already be ignored in someone’s closet by then.

2018 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

Just like the Good Beer Festival last week, my photographic series on the Autumn Wine Festival returns after a three-year hiatus. And like the GBF, a lot has changed over the last three years, but not necessarily for the better. The best thing is that it gives me a break from political posts.

Once again, I can allow the captions to help tell the story.

As we arrived about 1:30, the party was already underway despite a blustery, chilly Sunday.

I’m not going to have a ton of photos this year. Unlike other years when I was somewhat of a captive to the event as the guy who coordinated the GOP tent for almost a decade and hence was there almost the entire time, this time I was a “civilian” who was simply serving as DD for my wife and generally just tagged along for about 2 1/2 hours Sunday – enough to get a flavor of the place. So a lot of my photos were taken of the two bands I saw as part of an upcoming WLR segment.

Speaking of political hostages…

Notice anything missing? The Democrats didn’t have a tent – however, they were not the only ones baring it in the sunshine.

This was the Democrats’ space. In looking at it in the photo, I’m wondering how much extra property they took outside the 10′ x 15′ square you’re usually assigned to get all those signs up – including perhaps the only two Ben Jealous signs in Wicomico County. (Okay, I’m kidding on Jealous – but I don’t think I’m kidding by much.) But seriously – it looks like they are way outside their boundaries.

Shawn Jester (behind table), Woody Willing, and a little of my finger were representing for the GOP.

By comparison, the GOP wasn’t overstepping by too much. They had a reasonable business going, but not spectacular. Nor did I see a whole bunch of folks at the competing spaces for Bo McAllister and Chris Welch. I got Welch’s space in the photo below.

On the left is the tentless space of Chris Welch, whose crew abandoned the tent on Sunday morning thanks to the high winds.

I thought I caught McAllister’s tent in a shot but it turns out I did not. It was just to the right of this photo, and you can see the dearth of people on this side.

Just off the right side of the photo would have been Bo McAllister’s tent. By the time 3:30 rolled around this end was about dead.

I’m looking up toward the food court here. The arrangement was somewhat similar to the GBF as far as the food and stage were concerned.

I will say the food selection was excellent. I tried a place called The Street Kitchen, which is the white truck way off in the background of the shot – good pulled pork and outstanding slaw some may kill for. Come on back to the next festival!

Unlike last week, those who wanted to sit and watch the game on a comfy couch were indulged. Or maybe they had the Hallmark Channel on, I dunno.

One thing I did before piecing this post together was read my previous posts (2007-15) from the AWF. (2007 was the first year I worked it, so the cool thing is the institutional knowledge – which will get even better when I dig up the photos missing from a couple of those years.) Once upon a time they had a VIP area, so I wonder why they did away with it?

The real VIP area on this day would have been smack dab in front of this fireplace. If you could see the stage from this spot I think there would have been a whole cast of people camped out there – including me!

Here is another vendor who can come back. I walked by there coming in and felt the heat.

I noted the stage in my last caption. These are views looking toward the front of the stage at 3:00 and 3:30.

They were already beginning to camp out in front of the stage by 3.

I’m looking down from the south end of the winery tents toward the stage. People had pretty much vanished from the end tents by 3:30-4:00.

Even the lines to the porta-potties were practically non-existent by the time we left, right around 4:00. To be perfectly honest, the vendors could have packed it in about 3:30 and Kim said a couple were.

So I took some shots of signs and wine bottles I liked.

Love the play on a phrase.

New variations on the old Gollywobbler theme. It’s a popular drink.

The old sun + wine bottles shot, in this case courtesy of il Dolce Winery.

Olney Winery had the neatest bottles, though.

In speaking to a vendor (in this case, the wife of a candidate) I was told they had 2,400 people there Saturday – in that case it seems like a down crowd. Granted, it was cloudy but it was also about 10 degrees warmer and about 1/4 as windy. According to the vendor application, though, the county expects an attendance of 3,500 for the weekend.

So I think they were probably about there, and even though I’m not a great judge of crowds it’s sort of sad to see the lowered expectations. In doing some digging I found out the event eight years ago drew 4,651 (and the first-ever GBF had 2,378.) But the problem for the vendors is that they need to sell probably a net $500 worth of merchandise just to cover all the fees associated with the event, let alone make up for the time. My older pictures of the event show long rows of vendor tents, but this year’s had some large gaps in them.

And when you think about it, what is the county providing? It’s their property, but it’s paid for. You have to pay for two nights of security and rent of generators for a couple days as well as pay the talent and for the printing of the tickets, I know this (as well as the GBF) is supposed to be a fundraiser, so then the question becomes how cheap is too cheap?

I’m a guy and I don’t drink wine, so right there I seem to be eliminated from their target audience as Women Supporting Women is a lead sponsor. But I am also the DD for someone who is in their target audience, so you may want to rethink a couple things next year.

In the more immediate future I’m thinking you’ll see two WLR posts over the weekend as I clear out that docket.

How much will it cost? (Part four of a multi-part series)

Since I was talking about the minimum wage in part three and the focus on the Ben Jealous “Make It In Maryland” plan was getting long in the tooth, I decided to split the piece in two and focus on the remaining items as a series of bullet points in this portion. While I wasn’t truly intending to space it that far, it does make for a good Labor Day post.

So these are the remaining topics in his MIIM plan, listed as a series of points I’ll respond to one at a time.

  • Creating a Governor’s Office of Tech Transfer
  • Better Retaining and Supporting Maryland’s Entrepreneurs
  • Reclaiming Maryland’s Position in Biotech and Life Sciences
  • Ensuring Prosperity Reaches Everyone By Tackling Chronic Unemployment
  • A Job Boosting Program For Every Marylander Who Wants To Work
  • Ending Youth Unemployment And Underemployment
  • Boosting Employment For The Formerly Incarcerated
  • Reviving Maryland’s Rural Communities
  • Making Maryland A Center Of Global Commerce
  • Connecting Workers To Jobs With A 21st Century Transportation Plan

Office of Tech Transfer: Jealous begins this section by citing a number of vague, subjective statistics, including this howler straight from the Joe Biden School of Spelling:

The top five states for cybersecurity deals in quarter 1 of 2018 were California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.

These states are also bigger than Maryland, and have various industries and factors which may give them a natural advantage. Regardless, while it’s unknown just how large this OTT will be or where it’s placed on the pecking order, the biggest cost might be the freedom to elude red tape, to wit:

Help to coordinate infrastructure and development policy, including multimodal and active transportation infrastructure, smart growth land use planning, mixed-use development, and gigabit internet to create the urban fabric and connections that give rise to an innovation ecosystem.

I truly have issues with that sort of mission creep and interference with both local government and the private sector. As envisioned it seems to be more than just a clearinghouse that could be useful in coordinating a limited area of policy.

Maryland’s entrepreneurs:

While Jealous paints a picture of a state that’s not inclusive enough…

Ben Jealous will create the innovation environment that will enable more locally grown companies to grow and stay in Maryland. Ben Jealous will also consider whether rules related to bonding for contractors can be eased to enable more entrepreneurs to access contract work and remove  unnecessary barriers. He will also work to make entrepreneurship more inclusive in Maryland. For example, black women are the most likely of any population group to become entrepreneurs, but they are the least likely to receive funding.

Ben Jealous will create a more level playing field to ensure this changes. As governor, Ben Jealous has also committed to raising women and minority business targets in the state to levels that better reflect equal representation. 29% is just far too low when 50% of our population are women and nearly 50% identify as minority. In order to support creation of these businesses, Ben Jealous has pledged to work with lenders who have a history of inclusive lending to support their models, identify additional strategies to capitalize businesses, and review bonding requirements for contractors that may pose unnecessary barriers.

…if you ask actual entrepreneurs they may say the problem is a little different.

For several years I was the recipient of a steady diet of updates from a company called Thumbtack.com – it’s actually a listing of entrepreneurs who provide various services. Over that period they have done a survey of business friendliness, which – even though I haven’t noticed the updates – has continued to this day and shows Maryland has been on an upward trajectory. But while Maryland has rebounded from failing grades to a B+ in Thumbtack’s 2018 survey, the one category they still receive a big fat F in is the tax code. That’s not on the Jealous agenda.

I don’t look at who owns a business, I look at the job they do – and so do most others. All affirmative action does is plant a seed in the mind of people who ask: did they get the job on their merits or because they checked a box of government approval someplace?

Oh, and one more thing:

Another critical part of changing our business culture in Maryland also is support new and emerging types of business ownership, including employee-owned businesses, worker co-ops, and other democratically-owned and operated businesses. These organization types are critical for challenging the notion that ownership of a business must concentrate profits in the hands of a few, and these organization types can open up the benefits of business ownership to many more individuals.

Whether a business is employee-owned or not – one good reasonably local example of employee ownership is the Redner’s grocery chain, which has very nice stores based on my experiences working in them a few years back in a previous career – doesn’t matter to me. But the fact Jealous opposes the “notion that ownership of a business must concentrate profits in the hands of a few” when it’s truly none of the state’s damn business is troubling.

Biotech and Life Sciences: This is mostly a series of platitudes whining about how Maryland has fallen from the top position, particularly behind Massachusetts which “made large investments in biotechnology through tax breaks, grants, and funding infrastructure.” That’s their taxpayers on the hook, so whatever.

If I were to make a suggestion for state encouragement, why not promote the area of biotech that deals with the agriculture industry? People tend to think of this as an urban phenomenon, including those at the state Department of Commerce as agribusiness is last among its “key industries.”

But maybe Jealous should read the state’s website because there’s already a program in place.

Chronic Unemployment: Aside from a vague pledge to “engage stakeholders” and conduct yet another useless study, Ben wants to throw more money at EARN Maryland (reversed as “Maryland EARN” in the Jealous plan), Operation HIRE (aimed at veterans), and the Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program. While none would be large expenses, one has to wonder if having these disparate programs is very efficient and effective.

Job Boosting Program: To make a long story short, it’s a hiring program to create more state and state-dependent workers. Jealous cites a study done by the Department of Legislative Services that cites a chronic shortage of workers necessitated by budgetary reality. But the source material for the study makes me question its sincerity:

Research for the study consisted of data gathered from various documents; workload trend data; agency site visits; and meetings with the representatives of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and AFSCME employees. (My emphasis.)

It’s also worth noting that the number of employees the executive branch has been “shorted” is nearly matched by the number of additional positions at higher education, where staffing has increased 23% from 2002-18 (Executive Branch staffing is down 9.6% in that period.) Honestly, I don’t think we have a neutral referee doing this study. Needless to say, many of these new workers will be quickly absorbed into the public-sector union, which is, I’m sure, their quid pro quo for AFSCME support.

Youth Unemployment: Jealous would expand the YouthWorks program in Baltimore City to a statewide program and make internships or part-time jobs part of the public school curriculum. It seems to me the YouthWorks would be better tailored to a county or city level (one reason being: the city of Salisbury has a similar program in conjunction with the local Junior Achievement branch.) So the opportunities are already there.

As for the school curriculum, this is a matter where public schools could compete when it comes to school choice.

Formerly incarcerated: I believe Jealous is going to work along these lines by “banning the box” in private-sector employment (meaning applications cannot inquire about criminal record) and adding incentives to hire formerly incarcerated – however, there are private-sector employers already doing so. I believe this should be on a case-by-case basis and not a mandate.

Rural communities: The message from Ben Jealous: you can grow, but only a little bit and only on our terms. Developed areas can retain their advantage because we won’t let you compete.

Smart growth and conservation policies that Ben Jealous will promote will help Maryland to restore its reputation as a one that protects its most valuable natural resources, from farmland, to the Chesapeake Bay, to mountains, forests, and beaches. When our natural resources in land, water, and air are cared for, rural places are able to thrive as producers of agricultural products, thriving tourism centers, and choice places to live. In a 21st century economy, rural economies are also transitioning into being producers of clean energy, like solar and wind farms. Land in rural areas near existing development and infrastructure can be repurposed or ethically developed to host clean tech manufacturing, data centers, and other 21st century economic engines. Finally, rural economies are powered by small businesses, and, with proper support for early stage businesses throughout rural Maryland, these small businesses will continue to multiply and grow.

Basically, this is an extension of the MOM era where most agricultural land would be placed off-limits to development (except for solar panels and wind turbines, which are neither reliable nor desirable sources of energy). And say what you will about “low-impact tourism” – I will show you the difference between the economic base that is Ocean City in the summer season against whatever is drawn by Blackwater being a wildlife refuge. That’s not to say that I’m not glad we have the industry we do here, but we shouldn’t say no to more traditional development even if it’s placed in a more rural area.

This also ignores the transportation needs of this region, such as a second (southern) Chesapeake Bay crossing and, in cooperation with Delaware, an interstate-grade highway connection north to I-95.

As governor, Ben Jealous would provide additional funding to the state’s cooperative extension programs to develop technical assistance programs providing support to farmers transitioning into the 21st century marketplace. This would include linking urban agriculture and food production businesses with rural agricultural businesses, so Maryland families, restaurants, and commercial producers can conveniently access an abundance fresh agricultural products grown right here in Maryland.

If you were a savvy farmer, wouldn’t you already be doing this? Why is it a state concern?

We also have the talk of expanding broadband, the means of which is already in place here in Maryland as a non-profit cooperative. It will be interesting to compare their process and progress with Delaware, which is using more of a PPP approach for rural portions of Kent and Sussex counties.

Global commerce: Mainly deals with expanding Foreign Trade Zones around the Port of Baltimore. As the center of the local poultry industry that sends chicken products around the globe, I wonder why Salisbury couldn’t have one? Perhaps because it’s a federal designation. Jealous exhibits his Baltimore-centric view (and a little bit of ignorance) with this one.

A 21st Century transportation plan: The first page of this is devoted to Jealous whining about the cancellation of Baltimore’s Red Line boondoggle and Larry Hogan’s changes to Baltimore’s bus service. I think it’s hilarious how a 21st century transport plan uses the strategy and limitations of 19th century technology by advocating for more usage of the light rail service money pit.

And then we get to this:

Complete streets policies build thriving and prosperous communities by ensuring that the design of roads and other facilities is safe and convenient for pedestrians, business patrons, cyclists, and all other road users. As governor, Ben Jealous will make Maryland a complete streets leader by ensuring that ample funding is directed to local communities through the complete streets and other programs like Maryland Bikeways, and by ensuring that the Maryland adopts the most progressive complete streets policy possible.

So we cater to the 2% of travelers who use alternate means of transportation – ones that aren’t nearly as convenient and useful at a time such as this moment with a thunderstorm overhead – at the expense of the 98% who would like to get where they wish to go as quickly and conveniently as possible. This also works hand-in-hand with the effort to pack people into the urban areas, leaving vast wildlife corridors for critters to traverse.

Aside from a means of taxation in some states, those who crave control hate cars because they equate to freedom of movement and less restriction on behavior. If it’s 6:30 and I want to be at a 7:05 ballgame, I’m not going to ride my bike or walk – and sure as heck ain’t going to consult the Shore Transit routes to see if any run and stop close by. I have a car and I’m going to drive it.

Most of us do not want to be at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, which is why driving is the predominant means of personal transport in the nation. People like Jealous don’t like that, so rather than make driving easier they would rather discourage it.

If you really want a 21st century transportation plan, make it easier to use that freedom of movement by improving the roads. Promote entrepreneurship by giving less of a hassle to services like Lyft, Uber, or whatever competes with them rather than try and regulate them like taxicabs, making an artificial market the locality can use to create revenue. And rather than create the incentives for employers to encourage their employees to commute, perhaps they should instead encourage the use of remote work where possible. Given the proper broadband connection to my work server and to my boss, I could reasonably do much of my job at home.

So for this segment I can’t tell you just what the Jealous agenda will cost in monetary terms, but it’s going to cost the taxpayer a lot to wander down some pathways better trod by private initiative.

I think I’m going to put this series on hiatus for a little while, since I have a couple other projects I’d like to concentrate on. Thus, I may not get to everything on the Jealous agenda but I think you probably get the picture anyway. So I’ll see if I’m ready to resume by month’s end or not.