Happy Wednesday…

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Finding Your History

I recently started piecing together my family tree on ancestry dot com, and so far I’ve found a lot. There have been frustrations, like knowing nothing at all about my mom’s paternal family or the relative roadblock I’ve run into on my dad’s side when I get a generation or so back into the old country, but that’s relatively minor comparable to what I’ve found. My tree now has 137 people, and ties back to several countries in Europe.

I’ve always known about my father’s maternal family, in part because my off-the-boat great-grandmother was alive until I was nine. Among the things I’ve found out though in the past year or two was that she was on one of the final boats into Ellis Island in 1923, just before the Johnson-Reed Act passed (Immigration Act of 1924), choking off most immigration into the country. It also had never occurred to me that she was naturalized as an American citizen in 1942, at the height of patriotic fever during World War II. It started to make more sense though when I realized that our village of Udol (formerly known as Ujak), in present day Slovakia, was a part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire when she was born in 1903, and my great-grandfather had fought for them in World War I, on the side of the Axis. Between the “communist hysteria” that Eastern Europeans faced at that time, and his having fought on the other side of the First World War, getting naturalized probably felt very important for them to show they were Americans. On the bright side of that, my father could get Italian citizenship because of my great-grandfather.

Despite the road block that sat on my mother’s paternal side, her mother’s side of the family turned up a mountain of information. I was able to turn up deep roots in New York and New Jersey, including really deep family roots in the Woodstock area of Ulster County. I could trace family ties back to Colonial America, including in the Revolution period. What I found on the American side wasn’t the shocking part. I was not surprised by my ties back to “old country” Germany, just that they went back into the 1600’s. I was surprised to learn I have relatives from the Netherlands, specifically from Holland and Amsterdam, although that made sense with my New York City roots. I also seem to have heritage in Switzerland too, which surprised me. I even found one distantly great-grandmother from France.

The part that blew my mind though was my British blood. I seem to have a lot of relatives from the Yorkshire and Derbyshire areas on my mom’s side. I was even more shocked when I was able to tie them as far back as the 1400’s. In digging through, I was able to find my English ancestors petitioning the crown on grievances, both in America and Great Britain. Reading back through the history astounded me. I also came to realize that not all of my ancestors were members of the Church of England- meaning some of them likely came here for the “religious freedom” that is such a part of our American history.

I’ve always known I was a bit of a Euro-mutt, but I still learned a lot in all of this. To my knowledge, my father’s paternal side is still 50% Polish/Lithuanian and 50% Hungarian. My father’s maternal side traces back to present day Slovakia, but that region is Carpathian-Ruthenian, meaning most people there are mixed Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and Hungarian. My mom’s paternal side is mostly a mystery to me, but I’ve always been told it’s German and Italian. I now know my mother’s maternal side is heavily British and German, with a bit of Dutch, Swiss, and French mixed in. I almost can claim enough flags to guarantee myself being happy at the end of the Euro every time.

I guess I’m as old American as it gets.

Wrestling With Thanfulness

This past weekend was the NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh, PA. I suffered some real FOMO watching. I wrestled eleven years and love the sport. This tournament is quite possibly the greatest event in the sport. Here it was, across my state. I’m also quite a fan of Pittsburgh, and it’s rivers and bridges. More importantly though, they have Primanti Brothers. I love me some Primanti Brothers. You can see why in the picture above.

After the tournament was over, I saw a former teammate’s post on Facebook, talking about his trip to the tournament. This guy was a lot more accomplished wrestler than I was, winning a state championship and three conference championships in college. He talked about how hard it was for him to go to nationals in Pittsburgh though- the place his career ended, one match short of being an All-American. He talked about how he spent years thinking his entire career was a failure. Then he talked about getting over all of that, realizing how successful he was, and recognizing all the good he took from his athletic career. It was a really cool, inspiring post to read in the mess of politics and personal drama that usually inhabits Facebook.

Obviously that post made me think a lot about my sports career, and what I took from it into real life. As I said above, I wrestled eleven years, but I also ran indoor and outdoor track, as well as cross-country in high school, winning seven varsity letters along the way. I played baseball for eight years, stopping at the junior legion level to focus on my other sports (we weren’t a very good team, and to be honest, that discouraged me. I dabbled in football in elementary school and soccer in middle school too. I enjoyed playing sports as a kid, and did a lot of it. I’d like to think it had a positive influence on me.

My sports career didn’t really end ideally though. By the time I reached high school, I played sports because it’s what I did. I got more anxiety out of it than enjoyment. This isn’t a story of over-zealous parents here, while they did push me, I probably could have quit if I wanted. It’s mostly a story of me- how I got stuck doing the things I did less out of pleasure, and more because I had wrapped up so much of my identity in being a good athlete. As I became less excited to play, my performance dipped, and frankly I know now that it changed a lot about who I am. Eventually I spent a lot of my senior year fighting injuries, and my running career ended when I was diagnosed with mono my freshman year of college, before I ever ran a race. I not only quit sports, but I basically quit physical activity. I stopped working out altogether for about seven years, gained a solid 100 pounds, and didn’t take care of myself. That finally stopped in 2009, when a 25 year old me realized I was out of breath from walking up the steps to my office. I finally got a gym membership and lost 30 pounds in the first year. I plateaued there until I started eating healthier and cut back my beer and pizza intake back in 2016. I’ve lost 45 pounds since then and feel much better.

We live in a “winners and losers” culture, and that often overshadows the real value in competing in sports. We take our lessons in the form of trophies and medals, and not as much in the form of what we learn. Nobody gives a shit now whether I won or lost that match back when I was in tenth grade- not my family, nor my friends, not my community, and really not me. Sometimes, especially when we’re competing, we don’t take time to realize the actual important lessons we learned along the way.

So what are some of the lessons I learned from sports that have translated into life? Here’s a few of them:

  • As long as you don’t back up, most referees won’t warn you for stalling. In wrestling, when you don’t do very much to try and score, you can be called for stalling. If you get two stallings, you give up a point. Sometimes you could avoid the referees ire by just staying present in the middle of the mat, and not backing up. Life isn’t a whole lot different. If the people around you think you’re backing up, and you’re not presenting a plan to upgrade, they’ll think you’re not going anywhere. Pushing forward just a bit, or even just remaining present and steadfast where you are, goes a long way to keeping the people in your life happy. People will leave you alone to your business if they think you’re not regressing.
  • Always have a plan, stick to it, and execute. My junior year of high school I ran the mile pretty well. Not well enough to be a state champion or anything, but good enough to score points for the team in most races. Why? I just ran my race. I’d get out with the better runners the first lap, hang in right behind them the second and third lap, then pass everyone I could on the last lap. Sometimes some moron would run way out front that wasn’t supposed to, but I never let that bother me. My job was to hang close enough to score points, and make sure I at least got a third. I knew how to do that. Life isn’t a lot different. You make a plan, you execute, you hope you’re good enough at it to succeed. You can’t get caught up in what others are doing, or panicking that you didn’t prepare well enough. When it’s time, you just execute your plans and try to do them well enough.
  • Small things matter, even tenths of a pound. There is nothing more unforgiving than a scale with your weight, or a stop watch with your time, or the inches a baseball lands foul by. Sports are just like that. By the time you reach high school, the difference isn’t so much physical ability, and that’s even more true at higher levels. The differences are minor, and normally seem to favor the better prepared, more motivated athlete. Sometimes you will miss weight very close, or lose a race by a hundredth of a second, or just miss a home run by feet. That’s not accidental. That usually can be traced to the preparation you put in. The extra lifts you got in during the off-season weren’t “no big deal.” That carries over in life. You know the saying “bad things come in groups?” They do- to people not doing the things they need to be doing at that time.
  • You can’t control what the other guy does. This one is major to me. We live in a society where everyone wants to game the system for a small advantage, and disadvantage their competition. My experience is that doesn’t work very often. The other person is going to do what they do. Nothing you do to get a cheap advantage is going to make you better than a superior competitor, other than to make yourself better. Don’t worry so much about them.

I learned a lot of things from sports that didn’t win me trophies. They probably were more valuable.

Thinkin’ About The Future

In August of 2002 I came back to my dorm from cross-country practice and saw a flier on my building door looking for interns for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign. I never expected to still be doing campaigns for the 2020 Presidential campaign. Hell, I’m not sure I expected to be alive in 2019, so there’s that.

I’ve seen quite a bit in my political day. I’ve worked for a President, in fact the first black President, something that was just a line in a rap song when I was a kid. I’ve worked for five U.S. Senators (six if I count internships), a Secretary of State, and the first woman nominated for President, twice. I worked for New Jersey’s first African-American Congresswoman and a Bosnian War refugee. My travels have taken me to Waterloo (Iowa, twice), Charlotte (NC), New Brunswick (NJ), Washington (DC), Harrisburg (PA), Nyack (NY), Columbus (OH), Trenton (NJ), the Outer Banks (NC), Philadelphia (PA), Myrtle Beach (SC), Woodbridge (NJ), Pensacola (FL), Mason City (IA), Elizabeth City (NC), Hazleton (PA), Wilkes-Barre (PA), Queens (NY), Stroudsburg (PA), Grinnell (IA), and of course, right here at home in the Lehigh Valley. From electing women as statewide judges to electing friends as my own County Executive, it’s all been fun.

Campaigns are exhausting though, particularly these days. You’re on the road, a lot. Having a “normal” life is impossible. You deal with a lot of overly self-assured jackasses that know everything, and sometimes you can’t do anything about them. I’ve been blessed with mostly great candidates, but sometimes they’re politically incompetent, but still expect you to answer to them, rather than advise them. Dealing with employees can be exhausting. In recent years I’ve mostly kept to myself socially during campaigns. I’ve had lots of fun, amazing stories, but I’m getting a bit older.

I planned on getting out of campaigns after the 2016 election, but it didn’t quite end according to plan. With 2020 fast approaching, I’m seeing another light at the end of the tunnel. This time is probably win or lose though. Running campaigns full time is simply something that I’m aging out of. I won’t exit politics altogether- I could see myself on Capitol Hill, in an Administration, working in a state capitol or local government, consulting full time, running for local office, or working on a specific issue or cause after 2020. I also could see myself working in some other capacity, as a writer, in real estate, financial advising, as a professor, or something I haven’t thought of yet, and doing politics as a part-time thing. I see a transition ahead though. It’s a bit scary. It’s something I just have to do to avoid burning out, and for financial purposes.

Between now and then though is a full cycle. Another shot at Trump is invigorating enough to wake me up everyday. I won’t be able to get out for 2021, both of my local county executives will be up for re-election (I do work on their races). The light’s still pretty far down the tunnel for me. I’m not even totally sure what’s next yet for me in 2019. I do know though that I’m doing a lot of thinking about where my life is going now.

Remembering my Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 89th birthday. He left us 13 years ago this February 1st, just 100 days before I graduated college. It doesn’t feel that long ago, and yet its approaching the point of literally being a lifetime ago. Every time I think about him, I definitely miss him.

Richard Thomas Wilkins Sr., born and raised in Phillipsburg, NJ, was one of the best influences on my life. I spent a lot of time with him as a child- when my parents worked, some weekend nights, and almost every Sunday. A lot of our time together was doing simple things, like Friday night football games at his beloved Phillipsburg Stateliners, Saturday nights going out to dinner (many times at KFC, where we got hot wings), or listening to Polkas after church Sunday morning. He taught me a lot about serving others too, whether it was his time in Korea with the U.S. Navy, his more than 40 years on the Pohatcong Township Planning Commission, or just his being the usher in church. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was watching him appreciate his 50th wedding anniversary, even as he battled terminal cancer. Or perhaps it was that style with cancer that did the most to change me as a person.

I don’t mean to hold him up as perfect, he wasn’t, but it felt like a good day to remember him today. Even as the years go by, he remains on my mind.

So This is Christmas…

Merry Christmas to you all. As a believer, raised Byzantine Catholic, I am of the belief that a little over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem of the Holy Land, a child was born, sent from God. Maybe you believe he was sent to preach the word of God, and to sacrifice himself to free us from sin. Maybe you don’t, and this is a holiday of nice gifts, good basketball games, and some good Chinese food. To each their own, I love y’all anyway.

Last week was probably the first time in my life that I started to believe that maybe life is just too hard for human kind. With all of the chaos, division, and crisis in our world, maybe we just can’t handle it. It’s not that division is new, for America or the world, but it is pretty crippling right now. We’ve always comforted ourselves with the idea that “we all want the same things,” or “we’re in this together,” or “we’re all Americans,” but none of that stuff is actually true. We don’t want the same things, which is why the government is partially shut down over $5 billion (a decimal point of our budget) for a wall on our Southern border that is at best symbolic. We’re fully freaking out over pulling our troops out of Syria, something the left would normally cheer, because we realize the damage to our credibility when the Kurds are left to die at the hands of our enemies, or our allies in Turkey. The market is tanking, despite the controversial tax cuts for wealthy people last year. Republicans are fleeing the very administration of the man they stood by and vouched for two years ago. There’s so much more going on right now too. Frankly, I think it all gets to be a bit overwhelming for the average person. We spend all day screaming and yelling at each other over each individual controversy. We do this because we’re not in this together, because we want very different things.

All of this division and anger can be pretty jarring, because it literally reminds us that we might not agree with the person next door. It’s important that we remind ourselves this isn’t peculiar, it’s normal. Americans were not a monolith when debating whether we should declare our very independence, or during the Civil War, or whether or not to enter World War II, or on the virtues of Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, or in our present divisions. Israelis and Palestinians live in neighborhoods near each other and disagree over the legitimacy of their government. Koreans don’t all agree on reunifying some day. Almost two in five French people voted for a Neo-Nazi, while the Brits are narrowly divided on whether they should be part of Europe. Puerto Ricans divide closely on statehood, independence, or remaining a territory. Brazil elected a man who wants to destroy their rain forests. It’s only been a few years since Canadians in Quebec almost voted for independence. Division is as human as breathing. It is something we do, uncomfortably, because we all have the sovereign individuality to do so. It is inescapable, even as it cripples our ability to function.

I am worried though. Our problems are fundamental right now. Our world view is in question, and we’re further apart than ever before. Western pluralism, the diversity that we have lived off of, allows us to grow ever more divided, as we welcome more different strains of thought. I’ve always been proud that my great-grandmother came here to Ellis Island from Czechoslovakia, but I’ve often glossed over the fact that we closed off Ellis Island just months after she got here. We did that then largely because of Asian migration to the United States. Today, migration to this country is more global than ever. The diversity of races, religions, languages, and cultures has caused many “traditional” Americans to seek more inward, ignorant solutions. They deny science, diversity, societal change, and basic progress to “maintain” what they think we’ve been. Are they right? I think not. Are they wrong? In the sense that many of their basic experiences have not improved, that they are not feeling the successes of our nation’s prosperity, it’s hard to blame them for feeling forgotten, left behind, and lost in a changing world that they can’t understand.

I know this though- despair brings about hate, and hate makes people do awful things. Surely people who are partaking in the success of humanity don’t join the Ku Klux Klan, Hamas, ISIS, or any other hateful group. Surely people taking part in the prosperity of nations do not vote to “expel the other,” and exasperate division. The failure of the state to both distribute success among both labor and capital, or to show the successes of a global, diverse community have lead the people to accept crackpot regimes, extreme radical parties, and a permanent “war state,” both militarily and in our society.

My only hope this Christmas season is exactly in the thing that I denied exists above- our shared humanity. We are not hard-wired to hate in our every day life, and if we just interact more, we’ll realize it. I had a beer tonight and talked to my Republican bartender friend as a person, not some horrifying other. When we live our every day lives, and talk to each other, we suddenly don’t have the time, desire, or ability to hate each other. While living on social media may make us feel more partisan, more divided, and more distant from each other, it also gives us the opportunity to connect globally, to see things we may not have otherwise, and to access other points of view we may not have otherwise. Connecting with the world has allowed me to discuss politics, theology, popular culture, economics, and war with friends from Tehran to Taiwan, from Moscow to New York, from Berlin to Montreal. Just getting out and talking to my friends here in Easton has allowed me the opportunity to see other perspectives. One of my best friends here is currently in Afghanistan, serving as a U.S. Marine, and our views on the world are very different- but listening to him tell me his experiences has given me a great, different perspective on life and the world.

We do not share the same hopes, dreams, and goals in this world, our ruggedly different outlooks on the world, our individuality, prevents that. It is impossible to have a globally shared vision, and for that reason I am very afraid this Christmas. Our challenges are great, and the pathways to solve them are different. That is inescapable. My hope is simply in the billions of interactions that every day people have every day. Maybe, just maybe, our desire to not live in constant chaos, constant contradiction, and constant conflict with each other will save us. Maybe getting to know people different than us will save us. Maybe the every day compromises we make with each other will win out as the example. Maybe not though. Maybe we’re doomed to argue ourselves to death on Facebook over our differences. Maybe the despair of our own lives will eat us alive. I don’t know right now. I can only hope not. Maybe our divisions do define us, but maybe our desire to live peacefully in our own way define us too. Only time will tell.

The political scientist in me forecasts doom and gloom this Christmas. The faithful believer in me hopes we can find a better way. The world is a contradictory place, and sometimes all we can put our faith in is exactly the things we swear to be impossible. To my family, to the friends I’ve made along the way, Merry Christmas, and I love you all. To those of you reading me, peace be with you, Merry Christmas to you too. May we all leave the world better than we received it.

Thankful

I’d like to think I’m a thankful person, but the truth is that I take a lot of things in my life for granted. I’ve been blessed with many great things in life, whether it be my family, a comfortable middle-class life, intellectual and athletic abilities, decent health, a solid education, friends, second (and third) chances, or even just the chance to be alive. When you live every day in relative peace and tranquility, it becomes your norm, and you take it for granted. It’s not to say I haven’t had trials and tribulations, it’s to say I’ve lived my life free of oppression and despair. I should be thankful for that, every day.

This Christmas though, I am happy for my career in politics. Since I was 19, I’ve lived around political campaigns, and the people in them. Many, many of those people are not like me. I’m not calling them better or worse, but they’re there for very different reasons and motivations, and their different perspectives have enriched my understanding of life. Learning from their experiences, I think I’ve grown to be a better man than I might have grown up to be, as I was as a 19 year old intern on my first campaign.

I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities, and some not wonderful ones, to see the world through different eyes. I’ve worked with people who had undocumented relatives they desperately wanted to save from deportation. I’ve worked with people struggling to speak their own truth, and come out as who they are. I’ve worked with war refugees, who’s entire families were on “kill lists,” forcing them to leave their countries and seek asylum here. I’ve worked with people who grew up in poverty in southeast Washington, New Jersey, Appalachia, and Philadelphia. I’ve worked with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. I’ve worked with a Latin American member of his nation’s Congress who was assassinated when he went home. I’ve worked under some of the most accomplished members of our Congress in my lifetime. I’ve worked for career teachers. I’ve worked for Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and Protestant Christians. I’ve worked for Midwesterners, Northeasterners, and Southerners. I worked for the first African-American Congresswoman in New Jersey history. I’ve worked for prosecutors, and alongside ex-felons. I’ve worked for Latinos, African-Americans, and white people. I’ve worked for winners and losers. I’ve worked for incompetent people, evil people who left their jobs in shame, and some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I’ve worked for Senators, Governors, Congress people, cabinet secretaries, state legislators, local officials, unions, and even a President. I’ve probably worked for or on a lot of cool things I’m forgetting right now.

Politics hasn’t made me rich, God knows that, but I’d like to think it’s enriched me as a person ten fold. I’d like to think the people I’ve met professionally, in addition to the people in my personal and private life, have all left an impression on me in some way. I’d like to believe the pathway I’ve chosen in life has made me better than perhaps I would have been otherwise. Lord knows I’m not a perfect person, that my vices and flaws would leave me unacceptable to some. Nevertheless, I’d like to think those of you who have gifted me with your presence have made me a better person than I would have been, and that this better person has helped make the world a better place than it would have been otherwise. We’ll all die, and we’ll all make mistakes on the way there, I’m not really worried about that. I’m just thankful that my pathway has forced me to take stock of different positions in life than my own, and maybe changed my view of the world for the better.

I think my time out in the field will come to an end soon. Probably after 2020. I’m on the old end of the pool at this point, so I need to be in an office or headquarters, and maybe have a little life stability. At 35, that’s not too much to ask.

Thank you to you all. Merry Christmas.

One Month of Christmas, Day 2

Good day and Happy Monday, November 26th, 2018. Today is 29 days until Christmas. Here’s today’s random thoughts…

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Our Immigration System Has Been Broken for a Century Plus, but Trump is Creating a National Disgrace

What’s happening at our Southern Border Right Now is a disgrace. Trump sent several thousand troops to the border in a basic political stunt, to pretend he’s getting tough on illegal immigration. The reality? It was a publicity stunt. Now he’s violating American and international law by not allowing asylum seekers to enter our country while their claims are investigated and decided. This is not supposed to be something up for discussion- it’s long-standing law. To make matters worse, he’s literally having us tear-gas people on the Mexican side of the border, for some unknown, indefensible reason. In the ultimate sign that their isn’t intelligent decision making going on here, he might just close some border points altogether, making things inconvenient for Americans who cross the border on the regular.

I’m reminded throughout this mess that we are a nation of immigrants, and that my family has immigrant roots too. My great-grandfather Joseph, from my father’s paternal side of the family, came to the United States with his brother from Poland, immigrants who would not become citizens for years after their arrival. My great-grandmother Julia and her husband, from my father’s maternal side of the family, came to Ellis Island from Czechoslovakia, and also took years of working here and raising a family before getting citizenship. None of these relatives were high-skilled “desirable” workers, in fact some of the family members who came here had been gassed in World War I and were what I would call insane. They were all welcomed here to work though, and they built a life a world away from places in Europe where they no longer felt okay with staying. It’s the best side of America that they were allowed in.

In 1892, Ellis Island began processing immigrants as a port of entry. In 1924, just months after my Great-Grandmother Julia Kravchak arrived from her village of Udol, in present day Slovakia, the Immigration Act of 1924 shut down Ellis Island as an immigration entry processing center, and turned it into a detention center for undocumented immigrants in our country. That law created quotas for immigration, largely racist quotas that favored immigrants from white nations over people from non-white nations (at that time, largely aimed at Asian nations). While the law has been amended since then, these same quota systems have largely survived in American law. They have caused much of the backlog of those waiting for entry from Mexico, Central America, and South America, while making it easier to come from “more desirable” places. Our asylum system, our system of refugees, and our educational visa system have all worked fairly decently though, and have been good for our society and economy. Or, at least they were. Now Donald Trump’s border policy has become to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at families trying to flee violence and oppression. There is nothing to be proud of here. This is our Immigration Act of 1924, except that this time we’re actually being violent.

I’m not arguing that we should have an open border, because I don’t think we should. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t deport criminals, because I think we usually should. I’m arguing we should be a humane people, because I think we always should.

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The Eagles Still Suck

Yes, they won a football game yesterday. Yes, they’re 5-6, and one game out of first place. Yes, three of their final five games are against the two teams in front of them, so they just need to win games to win the division. Yes, someone has to win the division, host a playoff game, and then has the same shot as everyone else in the NFC. With all of that said, the Eagles stink. They have guys literally coming in off the street playing in the defensive secondary. They have no deep threat, aren’t committed to the run, and have a quarterback who still seems just a little bit off this year. Oh, and they’re not as good in the trenches on either side of the ball. And the coaching is worse. 

Who are they really going to beat though? New Orleans? The Rams? Kansas City? The Patriots? The Chargers? Please let me know, because I don’t see a contender they can beat, right now. As a result, my enthusiasm is low.

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Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change, and yes, more Climate Change!

I don’t think we can scream loud enough about the U.S. Government’s report on Black Friday the climate change is an imminent problem that will hurt our society across all demographics and income levels. The report, mandated by law across many agencies not only said climate change is real, or that it is man-made, but also that it is dangerous. Of course the Trump Administration tried to release it on Friday of a holiday weekend.

Democrats, but also really any people who care about Earth’s future, need to scream bloody murder about this. I may think less of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Pelosi protest stunt than an outdated can of spam, but she is absolutely right to be calling for a “Green New Deal” right now- Democrats need to latch onto this, party wide. First off, in nakedly politically potent terms, jobs. Second off, we have to move towards a more green economy, now, to avoid disaster. The fact is, there’s no sane argument *not* to move towards a green economy.

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So You Think You’re Smarter Than Your Dog?

This really isn’t a long post here, but let’s dive in here- are you smarter than your dog? Sure, dogs can’t build the intricate society we have, with houses, currency, relationships, and entertainment. On the other hand, who cares? Dogs don’t care about all of that. They like to eat, play a bit, go outside a few times a day, and sleep. In many ways, I envy them.

Today though, I was talking to my dogs and it hit me- when I talk at them, they seem to grasp my language and know what I mean. When they bark at me? I have no idea. So their brains managed to evolve enough to understand another species, but mine didn’t.

Who saved who again?

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Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid are the Best Sports Entertainment in Philly

No, for real, fight me on this. Jimmy Buckets has been here for like two weeks and has two walk-off baskets. Joel Embiid is throwing himself alley-oops off the glass. Embiid is playing like an MVP, leading the league in 30 pt., 10 reb. games so far this year. I realize maybe Ben Simmons isn’t quite leaping forward as hoped, but he’s your third scoring option now- does he need to? Not in November.

And since I know you’ll bring up Markelle Fultz- relax. He’s 20. He should be in college yet. Yes, it’s possible he has a debilitating nerve injury and is shot. Maybe he’s a head case. Or maybe he’s just young, and has been snake-bit by injuries and an impatient fan base. Why trade him now, at pennies on the dollar? Put him on the bench, get him safe minutes, and hope he turns into 70% of what you hoped in a few years.

But for now, just watch The Process and Jimmy Buckets amaze you.

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Run DMC’s “Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens” is a Better Christmas Anthem than Mariah’s Song

Hear me out- I don’t hate Mariah Carey. I don’t even hate her over-played “All I Want For Christmas.”

But the reason for the season is “Christmas Time in Hollis, Queens.” It’s getting overplayed, in NBA and car commercials. But it’s just better, more authentic, and didn’t play to the fantasy land Christmas love story narrative of millions of teens in my generation. They just wanted you to know they loved their mom’s cooking.

And I do too.

Decisions…

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Ain’t that the truth. You know, after the 2012 Election, I turned all of my attention towards electing Hillary Clinton as the 45th, and first female President. I worked for a Clinton White House veteran on a 2013 County Executive race, partially because he’s a great person and ally, and also because it enhanced my brand. I went to Iowa in 2014, partially for a great friend and candidate, and also for a good career move. I raised money for Ready for Hillary, and later HFA. I was a 2008 alum of the first Hillary Presidential run. But my call didn’t come. I got a call or two about jobs I was never going to take, but was mostly left disappointed through the primary process.

But my phone did eventually ring, and my services were needed in North Carolina, the new mother of swing states. I went down there and gave it my all to help pull back together the situation on the ground in my region. I worked with great people, I gave it a great effort, and I thought we would win. I was over confident. I contacted a friend that was going to be in the administration about a week before the election, just to let him know I wanted to go in. He told me he’d get me in touch with the transition right after the election, and that everything would be just fine. Of course, as we all know, it wasn’t.

And so my 2017 happened. Two County Executives in my hometown, and two statewide appellate judges elected later, I was on a professional high, putting together a transition team. When the Congressional race came up, I decided to support and work for my good friend, a 27 year elected District Attorney who was the front-runner. It was admittedly a difficult assignment. My candidate was more moderate than the voters. He strongly preferred not running the standard, modern Congressional campaign. He wanted to be a maverick on some hot-button issues. There are plenty of areas on which he and I didn’t agree. It was a tough assignment, but I don’t regret it a bit. I believe in him, and think he would have generally represented the Lehigh Valley as we actually are. I also had decided that going to Capitol Hill was something that interested me at this point in my career. The outside money came in though, and the baggage came out. Friends and enemies alike in the local political scene took their shots at me, as though I could have possibly done much with all the outside money trashing my candidate. When election night came though, the results weren’t good. We lost the Congressional race, and I was swept off the state committee (the two aren’t really related, that race was geography mostly, but it was simultaneous). I guess we’re going to see how this new group of Democratic “leaders” can do leading the party now. Some are good people, some aren’t. I firmly believe some people are going to fall flat on their faces, and I am going to be amused. Some of these folks, new and old, with their pure ideological politics, are not representative or in touch with the regular voters of the Lehigh Valley, and they will eventually either be pushed aside as irrelevant by the elected officials (already happening at this time) or will simply fail to elect people themselves. Either way, they’ll have their clubhouses and meetings, but they’ll make the party further irrelevant here.

I thought about quitting politics for a bit this Summer. I don’t need it. I’ve long had thoughts of other things. Going back for a grad degree, teaching some college courses, becoming a teacher, coaching, writing professionally, maybe even law school. I pretty much did everything I set out to do in politics when I entered it in 2002. I’m not in love with the current Democratic Party, and it would have been a logical time to walk away. I couldn’t do it though. For one thing, I think the republic is in real danger right now, thanks to the current Republican Party and Donald Trump. Equally as important, while I think some loons have gotten loose in the Democratic Party, we’re also running some outstanding candidates for office. I want to be a part of that. I have 16 years of experience, at every level from intern to manager, and I need to do my part. We all do, if we want to preserve our country. There are fundamental changes in the Democratic Party happening, but they’re changes I always supported. I worked for President Obama, Secretary Clinton, the first African-American Congresswoman in New Jersey history, a Bosnian, Muslim war refugee, Latino and African-American Senators, people of the Jewish faith, and all of the rich diversity of the Democratic Party. I needed to be a part of this election. My adult life’s work is at stake.

As I have in recent election cycles, I do some work for a pair of Pennsylvania State Representative incumbents, so if you live in Northeastern PA and want to get involved, let me know. I’m going to be heading to Charlotte also this week, to help flip North Carolina blue. The unfinished business of 2016, the chance to work with a young, hungry, exciting team, and the chance to work on the cutting edge of the future of progressive politics is too much to pass up. I’m excited about all the work I’m doing this Fall, and looking forward to the future.

I’m done making plans. In a business where incompetence isn’t a vice, where self-promoters do well, where unserious carnival barkers excite the mildly informed, and so much that happens is beyond your control, you can’t make plans. All you can do is put in the work where you want to do it. I had three of the best offers I’ve ever had to work this Fall, in three major swing states. The races I’ve chosen to put my time into things that I think are worth my time. I’ll make the same kinds of choices about who to donate to this Fall too.

Decisions, decisions.

Random Stuff About Me

People seemed to like my last “about me” piece, so I figured I would do another. I’m terrible at humanizing myself in real life, but I’m a little better here.

So here we go:

  • Your “Hall of Fame” of Bars- College Hill Tavern in Easton, Russia House in DC, Jameson’s in Waterloo, OBT in Bethlehem, 1818 in Palmer Township, Crest Tavern in Wildwood Crest.
  • How do you feel about being a Millennial?- Terrible. I’m not a millennial in any way but for when I was born.
  • What do you order at diners?- Salad bar. It’s my go to. I eat two to three salads and two cups of soup. It’s immaculate.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?- Washington, DC or New York City. Maybe a beach, but that’s probably later.
  • Why do you hate suits?- First off, I’m not trying to impress you. Give me jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat. If you’re not impressed by our interactions, I’d rather be forgettable to you. Me wearing a suit requires a high bar. When I met President Bill Clinton last back in 2013, I told him he’s the only person I’d wear a suit for. I try to stick to that rule, but I’d probably violate it for President Obama or Britney Spears now.
  • Favorite Beatle- John Lennon. I appreciate that Kanye made Paul McCartney famous a couple of years ago, but John Lennon best embodies my personal values and beliefs.
  • Why don’t you like Uncle Bernie?- My beef with Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) isn’t so much over beliefs, policies, or values. I didn’t appreciate his lukewarm embrace of Hillary Clinton after the 2016 Primaries, when we were facing a fascist in the general election. I don’t appreciate his career of being a critic of the Democratic Party from the outside. I tactically don’t agree with him on abandoning the Democratic base (to be read “identity politics”). I don’t believe any “political revolution” is coming to a starkly divided America. I view his quarter century in Congress as largely (not to be read as “entirely”) lacking in achievements. I think his proposals, while correct in values, are mostly not thought all the way through or realistic. I think he created a cult of personality in 2016, and has moved the American left into unsustainable territory.
  • It’s 2018 and Cole Hamels is a Cub. What world is this?- Javy Baez wasn’t good enough. Good riddance, hail Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro.
  • Why do you hate guns?- I don’t, I’m just not an ammosexual. Despite being a white guy in Pennsylvania, I’ve never been hunting. It’s cool if you do though. I just think domestic abusers, felons, and the mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. I think you should have to report your lost or stolen hand gun. I think hollow tip bullets shouldn’t be available. I think all guns should have serial numbers and be sold in a traceable way. I think you should be licensed and trained in keeping a gun safely. None of this stuff is extreme, and most gun owners would agree with most of it.
  • Lobster or Steak?- This is like picking between children. My answer is both. If you make me pick one, I’ll take the other off your plate.
  • Counting Crows or Live?- Another impossible answer. The two 90’s bands are doing a 25th anniversary tour right now. I love both, but I’ll pick Live only because they’re from York, PA.
  • The best rapper on Death Row Records was…?- Everybody and their mother says Tupac. The dude is an all-time legend. I get it. I feel like Snoop Dogg doesn’t get enough love though. He came up earlier in their rise, he’s like rap’s Beatles or Stones at this point. His career has lasted forever. He scared the $#*% our of suburbia. I’ll go Snoop.
  • Favorite New York Met?- Tom Glavine. I remember him more as a Braves legend, but he was a Met, too. He signed a ball for me at Veteran’s Stadium as a kid. He also imploded to help the Phillies win the division on the final day of 2007. He seemed like a genuinely good guy though, I like him.
  • Describe you at 15- Fast, tie-dye wearing, thin, bleach-blond, bad, unaware, sheltered, arrogant.
  • Al Gore or Joe Biden?- Everybody likes Joe more, right? He’s more personable. I think Gore is more politically in tune with me though. I loved him in my college years for his opposition to the Iraq War and putting climate change on the national map. He probably wasn’t my cup of tea of opposing explicit rap lyrics, or many other cultural issues in his Senate years, but what he became later was more me.
  • Why do you hate Socialism?- Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, China, the USSR… should I go on? Socialism takes on different forms in different countries, but it either always fails or morphs into capitalism or oligarchy. I recognize the need for socialist ideas and programs, like Medicare or Social Security. We live in a mixed capitalist nation, and removing all the socialism would be really bad. I fundamentally reject the idea of seizing the means of production and going full Karl Marx though too. The accumulation of capital and wealth is not our enemy though, and it’s only bad if our government fails to regulate and enforce rules (which it does fail to do, often).
  • Most amazing thing you heard this week?- My grandmother’s electric bill for last month was $14.40.
  • Favorite ice cream flavor- Vanilla. I’m boring.
  • Tacos?- Beef. Give me like ten. I’ll eat them all day.
  • Something You Like?- Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. It starts tonight. It’s the best ten days in the Valley all year. I walk around with a mug full of beer and listen to free music. And eat.
  • What are you doing this weekend?- Musikfest and Lebanese Heritage Days in Easton. I’m going to eat like a G-d damn king.
  • Celebrity fight you want to see?- Donald Trump Jr. vs. Lavar Ball. Hell-in-a-cell, please.
  • Coolest thing you heard this week?- Dave Grohl hangs out in Rehoboth Beach during the Summer. Can we make Dave our national king?
  • Favorite late night comic?- Recently I’m watching Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert. I liked Letterman the best though.
  • You would rather: a Phillies World Series or another Eagles Super Bowl?- I’m a Phillies-first guy. I want both though.
  • Thing that bothered you this week?- Hey, NFL fans- support the players, not the owners, in contract disputes. The players put their body on the line for your entertainment. The owners and not the players are guaranteed their money each season. The owners are the rich billionaires. Stop complaining about what the players make. It’s a tiny percentage of what wealth they produce for everyone involved in the game. Get your priorities right.
  • That’s it for today.