Some Friday Thoughts

A bunch of random stuff.

  1. #LABron? LOL. LeBron James will be a free agent in under 48 hours. Many people seem to think he’s going to the Lakers. He may want to live there more, in which case he’s probably going. If it’s a basketball decision though, he’d be foolish to go there. Right now, they have very little of value. If they trade for Kawhi Leonard, they’ll trade it all. Even if Kawhi and LeBron both get there, Golden State will beat them. I know the media wants the Lakers to matter again, but LeBron should let that mess of a team just die.
  2. Putin is going to play Donald Trump. If you’re not terrified of their impending summit, you should be. Trump is almost certainly going to end up giving the far more cerebral Putin something of value. Like Crimea.
  3. Anthony Kennedy was a rotten SCOTUS Justice. I know it’s sad he retired, and his replacement will probably be worse, but Kennedy was an awful judge. He just upheld the Trump travel ban, gutted union rights, and hurt women’s health care in the span of a week by voting just like Gorsuch and Thomas. He voted for Citizens United. He voted to make George W. Bush the President. Cry me a river, I have little good to say. Besides, he’s retiring to let Trump pick his replacement- because that’s what he wanted.
  4. Wtf World Cup?!? Germany, out. Italy, not there. USA, not there. Why would I care? Worse yet, Senegal got eliminated because of yellow cards. Go Mexico, I guess, but I’m struggling.
  5. The Phillies and Rangers should work out a blockbuster trade. As I stated before, the Rangers have some players who make sense in Philadelphia. Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Adrian Beltre would make the Phillies serious contenders- together. Matt Klentak can make it happen- and he should.
  6. The Democrats are probably going to lose Senate seats in 2018. The U.S. Senate race in Florida is polling all over the place, with both Senator Nelson and Governor Scott leading different polls. Democrats are in very difficult defense races in West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri. There are several other races, namely Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Jersey, that could go south on them. Meanwhile, they have a shot to pick up Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas. The odds aren’t great of Democrats picking up two Senate seats, and the majority. They may be as unlikely to hold all 49 they have now, too.
  7. Roe v. Wade is probably dead, but that’s not all. So the bad news is that Roe v. Wade will probably die at the hands of Donald Trump’s next SCOTUS pick over the coming few years. The awful news is that this will probably motivate Republicans to come out and vote this year to support their President. The worst news? Roe v. Wade may look like the top of the iceberg as issues of executive power, LGBT rights, election law, and issues Kennedy gave us the fifth vote over reach the court.
  8. Rising interest rates and cost-of-living issues are the top political issues no one is talking about right now. The cost of living has been rising faster than wages for decades, but that’s not news. The news is we’re in one of those periods right now. The cost of borrowing money is starting to rise. The cost of essential goods like gas is rising. The trade wars we are launching against Europe, China, Canada, Mexico, and others will raise prices. Their retaliatory tariffs will spike the cost of some of our key products, causing layoffs and outsourcing of jobs. Prices are going up, and that’s bad for middle America.
  9. Steven Tyler was in Bethlehem and I’m mad I missed it. I’ve been on an Aerosmith kick lately, particularly their 90’s era records “Get A Grip” and “Nine Lives.” The bluesy feel they took on during that period fits life right now. So naturally I missed Steven Tyler coming through Bethlehem for a solo show. Oh, and I missed Joe Perry and his band coming through, a month or two back. Bad timing never fails!
  10. I’m really angry at Joe Crowley. The reports are that he didn’t run much of a race to keep himself in. Now we’re being forced to listen on how “the future” is Dem Socialist. He probably would have lost on demographics, but at least he’d have tried. I will not support a Democratic Socialist party. We really didn’t need to give them there one good primary night of this season, just so they could sing the virtues of embracing a 28 year old, ex-Sanders organizer as our future.

You Don’t Have to Like Every Democratic Primary Winner

Let me start with a disclaimer- if you’re a decent person, you should vote for Democrats this year. Full stop. Democrats for Congress. Democrats for Senate. Democrats for Governor. Democrats for the State Legislature. Liberals. Moderates. Conservatives. Democrats. All of them. Because Donald Trump is an awful human being who hates women, asylum seekers, the first amendment, Latino kids, football players, and anything else decent you can think of. You should vote against him. You should vote against his racism. You should vote Democrat.

Now that I said that, let’s have an honest conversation. You don’t have to love all of the Democratic candidates we nominate. In fact, you shouldn’t love them all. In fact, I’d hope that if you’re reading me, you are a free thinking and decent person and find some of them offensive- because I f***ing hate some of the wackos we are nominating and don’t really like that they could be in Congress. I just think you should step on the egomaniac in the White House and send him a Congress that will stop him- because I think he’s the worst human and Republican we’ve ever elected to office. I think it’s important to say that, because I am friends with some Republicans who hold or have held elected office, and I don’t hate them at all- but I despise Donald Trump.

All of this leads me to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat Congressman Joe Crowley, the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus in Washington. She won the race fair and square, and I hope residents in her district elect her to Congress. With that said, I absolutely hate that she won and will probably be a member of Congress. I wanted Crowley to beat her. I despise that she supports Cynthia Nixon for Governor of New York. She worked as an organizer for Bernie Sanders, who I don’t like. She’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who I generally don’t like, and whom I haven’t joined because I find their positions to be more liberal than I am willing to support at this time. She’s 28, and while I worked for a very young Congressional candidate once (she was a Bosnian war refugee), I don’t find her to have the life experiences I want in a Congressional candidate. I’ll be honest- I don’t like her, and really don’t like that she won. So I’m not celebrating her victory as some sort of progress- I think her politics are crazy. I find myself to have no obligation to defend her. Her ideology is not something I signed up for.

With all of that said, we face a dead serious moment in our country, and no one should mistake internal divisions with external ones. Any candidate in 2018 running as a Democrat should get your vote, at least if you believe in a clean environment, fair tax code, sane foreign policy, women’s rights, gun safety laws, a functioning immigration system, Civil Rights, or any of the things I fought for while working for President Obama or Secretary Clinton. Donald Trump needs to be stopped now. Perhaps someday my Republican friends will drive out their crazy and bigoted elements, and I will encourage you to vote for them against the Democrats I don’t approve of. For now though, I’m telling you that we have to stick together- even behind Democrats I think are terrible.

Bridges, Smith, the Sixers, and the Sports Business

I decided to wait until after all the hot takes were done to write about the Sixers draft night- why compete with emotions and half baked responses? Here’s the honest truth- I really like Mikal Bridges and wanted him to be on the Sixers, but I love the trade for Zhaire Smith. I’m both disappointed and really happy my team did that. And I’m comfortable with both.

Let’s start from the beginning- it’s clear that Bridges and Smith were two of the top players on the Sixers board. The Sixers ended up with one of them, an unprotected first round pick, and a cheaper player against the cap. If you believe both Bridges and Smith are both going to be decent to good players, as I do, you can’t be mad with that haul out of number ten. If you believe neither will win an MVP, as I do, you can’t be too mad about either player being here or not. If you believe either may have been trade bait for a major star player, as I do, which one you keep is irrelevant.

I loved watching Bridges play at Villanova and appreciate his contributions to bringing two titles to the Philly area. I think he’s a little better than Zhaire Smith right now. He’s also older. I have no idea who ends up having a better career in the long run. Both are basically back-end lottery picks on paper, and could end up being All-Stars or busts. Smith has great length, and could be a plus defender and starter in the league. I’m absolutely fine with the Sixers keeping him. Frankly, both are fine by me.

The Sixers are not in the development stage anymore. They won a playoff series this season, and need to be looking for stars that can help them win a title. This trade helped them do that. They have plenty of cap space, and probably save a bit here. They drafted a player they can develop or use in a major trade. They acquired an asset in the deal too, which they will almost certainly trade for a star later. If they had turned down a trade that gave them this opportunity, all because they felt sentimental about Bridges’ local ties, I’d tell you to turn the television off. Basketball is an incredibly player friendly sport (compared to day football), and has a very progressive culture and CBA, but it is still a business. The Sixers job is to put the best product on the court that they can, and to try to win a championship. If sending Mikal Bridges to Phoenix achieves that, you have to do that. All signs say that will help them here. Don’t cry for Bridges- he’s still a Villanova legend, Phoenix is a cool city with a good young nucleus, and he’s getting paid as a number ten pick.

Sports are a business. You don’t want to end like the Phillies of five years ago- with a bunch of sentimental heroes from the 2008 championship run, who can’t play now. When you have a chance to improve your team, you do it. Winning teams sell tickets, sold tickets make money, and money helps players and owners in the NBA. It might have been cold, but the Sixers handled the Mikal Bridges pick perfectly- even if I hated watching it.

The Demographics We Missed in the Obama Years

During the Obama Presidency, a lot of people liked to talk about “Demographics are Destiny” in talking about our political future. The idea was that the rising non-white population, especially of Latinos, would lead the country left for decades to come. Republicans May never win a popular vote again, they said. That prediction may just be right.

Donald Trump did end up getting elected though, as Republicans point out. A whopping 70% of voters were white, and projections show that number only marginally moving in 2020. Even more perplexing though is how Trump, a pretty open racist, neither did worse among minority voters or ignited their turnout to higher numbers. Trump won without bringing back any of Colorado, New Mexico, or Nevada. It all seemed so horribly backward.

Perhaps though, we weren’t wrong in the Obama era. Maybe the demographic shifts were telling us our destiny, but maybe we were watching the wrong ones. It’s tempting to entirely credit President Obama with African-Americans becoming a 90% Democratic voting block, but that was part of a long-term trend, one that began in 1964, and reached these levels basically in the 2000’s. Barack Obama certainly increased turnout among voters who are increasingly Democratic, but the percentages were only marginally different. There wasn’t a “change” going on, just more people entering that shared his view. We did miss a different change going on though, one that I think explains the Trump era more clearly.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush won a landslide, and got roughly 60% of the white vote, which was 90% of the total electorate. In 2008, John McCain was down to 55%. In 2012, Mitt Romney virtually matched Bush 41’s share of the white vote, grabbing 59%, but lost with only 206 electoral votes, a whopping 126 less than Barack Obama. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 58% to 37% among white voters. The tick back upward for Republicans among white voters is not enormous, but 3-4% in the last two Presidential elections is significant, particularly when even seemingly any nominee has 46% to start in a one-on-one race. A tick up of 3-4% can explain every election from 2010 forward.

Even more so though, the shift of white voters, especially white men, out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party explains the two parties culture shifts. White suburban and exurban Democratic primaries are picking women over men, when all things are nearly equal. White guys are losing their long held Congressional seats, or nearly doing so, in America’s big cities. Republicans are embracing Trump and some of his worst policies on immigration, because their voters are increasingly down-scale and just generally white than they used to be. There’s no cost to them for campaigning to blue collar whites.

My guess is that this trend basically explains the last 25 years of increased polarization, and probably serves to predict the future of our politics. If the elections of Obama and Trump locked in a bump back to Reagan levels of white support for Republicans, and the Democrats are now left with a further left and smaller slice of white voters to coalition with minority voters, it stands to reason that both parties will embrace the identity of their coalitions, and those numbers will continue to expand. More white voters will move right, more Latinos in particular will move left. It seems demographics will be our destiny, but maybe the reason why isn’t exactly what we thought.

This Isn’t How You Blue Wave…

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent days about civility in our politics, and I think the conversation has run off the tracks. I don’t think we’re getting at the point arguing over whether Rep. Maxine Waters should have encouraged the public “shunning” of Trump Administration officials or not, or whether Leaders Pelosi and Schumer should have responded or not (they should have). I’m certain the discussion of Red Hen kicking Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of their restaurant misses the point. I definitely don’t think we have time to debate a State Representative in Philadelphia giving Vice-President Pence the finger either. All of this is a distraction.

To be clear, I don’t particularly like or approve of any of this increasingly intense and confrontational “resistance” at all, and I don’t think it’s helpful or good. Holding that position is particularly uncomfortable though- because I do think Mike Pence and Sarah Huckabee Sanders deserve it. Even more so, I don’t want to tell African-Americans, Latinos, women, and LGBTQ people they shouldn’t express their rage at an Administration that is directly targeting them with their hateful policies. I can’t tell them how to react to being directly attacked by their President, because I can’t relate. Since I realize all that, I’m going to refrain from saying what people should or shouldn’t do. Basically, do you.

I’m going to make a different case though, basically one that is analytical- debating civility in politics, and engaging the Trump Administration this way, will lose us the 2018 Election. Rather than debating this in “right and wrong” terms, or the morality or decency of it, I want to discuss it in terms of campaign analytics, and basic marketing terms. Does any of this stuff win us converts at the ballot box? Does it win us converts in the right places? Are we marketing a message that is speaking to the audience we need? We should be asking ourselves these three questions in everything we do until November.

Let me start by laying out a few basic facts about races for Congress in the United States in 2018. The first, and most important thing to know is that Republicans have won ten of the last twelve elections for the United States House. Congressional elections, because of both our system of district level races and the demographic and economic distribution of our population, currently have a systemic bias towards electing a Republican House– because Democratic voters are heavily concentrated together. The districts that Democrats have to win in November to win back the House of Representatives are comprised of a majority of voters that voted for their current Republican Congressman in 2016, and some of them for much longer. Almost all of these districts lie outside of major cities, though there are a few exceptions. While voter registration and turning out likely Democrats who are new voters will have value to us (particularly in Senate and Governor races), this mid-term election is more about persuading people who are uncomfortable with or don’t like Donald Trump to vote Democratic, which is something we failed to do in 2016. In short, this election is not about self-described liberal and progressive voters.

A few years back, I was field director for Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman in NJ-12. She was elected in 2014, a bad year for Democrats. She was elected in the “whitest” district of any member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a district that was over 70% Caucasian. Her district’s “Democratic Performance Index” was 62%, which nobody thought we could actually hit in that environment, and she got 61% that year, a virtual match. The reason we got there was the way we matched our messaging to the multiple audiences in our district, using voter scoring and analytics. We didn’t moderate or contradict ourselves. We talked about relevant issues to the right audience. To be fair, that district is more Democratic than America, so we can’t exactly replicate what was done there. We can apply the theory in practice to the electorate we’re facing in 2018.

The average voter in the districts we need to win in 2018 is or has been represented by Republicans like Leonard Lance, Darrell Issa, Charlie Dent, Rod Blum, and Ryan Costello. They have not been represented by Joe Crowley, Bernie Sanders, or Albio Sires. What motivates voters in Philadelphia won’t win us votes in the Lehigh Valley. There aren’t enough new voters on our side to turn out and win us 23 more seats. We’ll have to get people who split their votes between Hillary Clinton and a Republican Congressman in 2016. We’ll have to convert the small portion of the Trump vote that regrets their 2016 vote, or are embarrassed by it. We’ll have to convert people who “picked the lesser of two evils” in 2016. That’s who lives in these suburban swing districts that are in play in 2018.

Here’s the good news- I actually think Democrats can and should succeed in 2018. I think a small majority of them are with us. I think we can win by attacking Trump and Congress for trying to take away our health care. I think we can win by attacking the Republican tax scam, and the ballooning deficits it created. I think we can win by pointing out the moral failing of placing the children of asylum seekers in cages like criminals, and separating them from their mothers. I think we can win talking about rebuilding our infrastructure and funding our schools. I think we can win calling for a clean DACA bill, now. I think we can win on the content and substance of the issues this year. I think we can win on pointing out the incompetency and failings of this President and Congress. I think the tide is with us, and the public wants us to win. I just also caution you that this doesn’t make it a sure thing.

I think we have to remember that the audience we need to market our party to doesn’t quite share our passion and anger. Debating the civility, or lack thereof in our politics allows for too much “both sides”-isms. Matching the ugly tone of the Trump Administration, the demonization of our opponents, gives the target voter a way out considering us the adults in the room, and they showed us in 2016 they will take it. Unfortunately, we’re being held to a higher standard, even as much of the public is deciding they aren’t happy with the status quo. You play the game on the field you’re assigned though, not the one you hope for.

I’m not saying anyone needs to be nice to Mike Pence or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I’d like to flip them off too. I’m just saying we should all consider whether or not feeling good will really make us better off in the long term. Is this really converting someone into a new voter, or a convert from the other side? If not, I’d humbly say maybe it’s not worth the trouble.

Several Ideas for Matt Klentak to Make the Phillies Great Again

The Phillies are 41-34 and in second place in the NL East. They lead the Wild Card race on June 25th. In their last four series, they’ve won two of three from Colorado, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Washington, all teams considered to have playoff aspirations. The Yankees come in next for three games in a good measuring stick series. Phillies fans should be getting excited.

If you listen to some though, the team still isn’t very good. What about the batting averages? Do we trust the pitching? The bullpen stinks! Why does the batting order keep changing? Gabe Kapler over-manages and doesn’t know what to do with the bullpen!

There’s some truth to all of that. It’s all overkill couch-quarterbacking on talk radio too. The Phillies basically are what they are, a good team with flaws, a playoff contender who could make noise, if they can overcome their flaws. If General Manager Matt Klentak can make some moves to improve them, he should do so. He also shouldn’t blow up his minor league system, or young team, unless he can make some high impact moves. Klentak could make this a great team, but he should be cautious about doing too much- this team may organically grow into what we hope anyway.

If I was the GM, here’s what I’d do before the deadline, in order:

  • Get the bullpen some (left-handed) help. This is the biggest need this team faces. Sure, Kapler refuses to manage like a human being and assign roles in his bullpen, but the truth is that he also doesn’t have a great bullpen. Some of his best guys- Dominguez, Ramos, and Arano, in particular- are super young and learning on the job. He’s trotted out Adam Morgan, Hoby Milner, Zac Curtis, and Austin Davis as his lefty specialists to get out Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman, just in our division. In terms of just in-game impact for this season, someone of the caliber of Jake Diekman to be the go-to left-handed reliever in this bullpen would really stabilize things. I’d even argue the Phillies should go for two relievers if the outlook on Pat Neshek isn’t good. Placing all of the leverage situations on a couple of young, talented arms could overwork them, and encourages the mismanagement of the bullpen that Kapler has shown this year.
  • Get the rotation a (left-handed) high end starter, if affordable. You never have enough pitching. I think the Phillies need more relief pitching, but another high end of the rotation starter, preferably a lefty, wouldn’t hurt. Cole Hamels name will get tossed around a lot, and I’d definitely consider him. I don’t think the prospect package will be anything near what we got trading him away, that contract is almost over, and you know he’s comfortable here. He’s not the only guy I’d look at though. J.A. Happ is a less flashy version of the Hamels option, and is pretty effective at what he does. Madison Bumgarner, if everything’s working, is money for a stretch run. There are plenty of options, and that’s even assuming there’s no way we could land one of the Mets couple of aces.
  • Get another power bat, if affordable. I’d obviously like to get Manny Machado, and sign him long term. I don’t consider this to be our top need though, at least not this Summer. I also realize it could be hard to trade for him and get an extension done, as he seems to want to test the market. Even so, if the price/long-term impact/need for a deal match up, he would wildly improve this line-up, and I’d want him. Or someone like him. Preferably we’re looking for a shortstop or third basemen here.

I wouldn’t go crazy and sell off the farm for anything less than a star that I can either immediately extend, or control beyond this year. This team’s development is far from complete, and they’re only going to get better. While many fans are down on JP Crawford’s bat this season, I wouldn’t rush to trade him- he’s actually considerably younger than the rest of this young line-up. I still think he’ll end up fine. I’m also seemingly higher on Nick Williams and Nick Pivetta than some of the other young guys on this team and would like to keep them.

We’re at the end of June and these Phillies look like the real deal. Matt Klentak could go put them over the top, in the post-season with baseball’s elite, this year. While he should be thoughtful about how, I don’t think he can afford to be timid. C’mon Matt: Make the Phillies Great Again.

Nothing Beats the Ocean

So I took a few days away and went down to Dewey Beach last week. While I typically can’t stand heat, two of my favorite places are the beach and the ballpark, both Summer staples. The time by the ocean refreshed me.

I felt pretty burned out after the primary in May and just needed a breather. It felt like I went from Hillary in North Carolina right into working in New Jersey, then into running last year’s elections in the Lehigh Valley, and then onto the Congressional races, with absolutely no break. That’s not entirely true, but it’s pretty close. I’m trying to make sure I recover now, because another long run lies ahead.

A few days of laying in the sun, eating raw bar and crab soup, and watching the dolphins swim real close to the shore helped all that. It was my first time visiting Dewey Beach, Delaware, and it seemed nice. The small beach town is a getaway for Philadelphia, Baltimore, and DC, which makes it a bit unique. The beach was nice and clean, the food good, and the liquor was cold. I definitely will be back.

The Schizophrenic American Soul

I’ve always tended to view America as an exceptional place. We’re a great nation. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have inspired nations around the world. We put the first man on the moon. Our great cities lead the world in commerce, and in awe-inspiring skylines. We defeated The Nazis and communism in our world. Our national parks are beautiful. Our streets are safe, our economy booming, and our people are living in relative peace. We created suburbia and the Middle Class. The Interstate Highway system that President Eisenhower created was visionary. America is an incredible place. Millions of people want to come here. My ancestors picked up their lives and came here. I’m thankful every day that they did.

Every once in a while though, we’re reminded that there’s more to America, sadly. We enshrined slavery in that great Constitution. The brutality of the “Trail of Tears” is one of our worst offenses. While Ellis Island is a beautiful part of my American story, the racial quotas and crackdown on immigration that was enforced after Ellis Island closed is a black mark on our history. Jim Crow existed here, and with it segregation, for a century. The Japanese internment camps of World War II were real. Bull Connor and George Wallace are a part of our DNA.

The same country that elected JFK, also elected Richard Nixon. The same country that elected Barack Obama, then elected Donald Trump- in fact some of the same people actually voted for both. The same country that welcomed my Slovak great-grandmother and her family at Ellis Island would close their borders and enact racist immigration rules just months later. We can be great, and terrible, almost in the same breath. Our friends, our families, our neighbors can be the nicest people today, and rationalize unspeakable atrocities tomorrow.

I have tried to remind myself of this throughout the national debate over taking children from their parents at our border, but it’s not quite working. We are taking babies away from their mothers as a “bargaining chip” for the President to get his border wall. We are arresting people in violation of international treaties when they seek asylum at our border. What we are doing to these people, people who are not violating our laws by simply asking for asylum, is barbaric, inhuman, and unjust, even if they were violating our laws (to be clear, any asylum seeker is not). I’m struggling to remember the good things about our country right now, because we elected this barbaric regime.

I got into politics during the time of George W. Bush, and I thought the Iraq War was the atrocity of my time. That war pales as a wrong next to what we are doing right now. We are destroying the lives of children, damning refugees coming here seeking our mercy, and once and for all proving that our supposedly religious nation is very good at being soulless and heartless.

I think back on my great-grandmother often. She died when I was nine, and we were very close. Her English was broken until the day she died, she had no higher skill to offer her labor, and she certainly didn’t come here rich. How would Donald Trump’s America have treated her? Would my friends who voted for Trump have wanted to “send her back” in 1925? It took her almost 20 years to become a citizen then, but would she have ever now? I’m very afraid of these answers, and if these hypothetical questions bother me, surely the pictures of actual babies taken from their moms must bother me now.

In a strange twist of fate, I find myself in support of the voice of former First Lady Laura W. Bush right now. She is standing up as a moral leader in our time, challenging the Trump Administration on this moral question. If only more Republicans would follow her lead, and show as much fortitude in this moment of moral reckoning, maybe America could stand up and be a moral leader again.