Virginia is still for lovers

What happened last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, is not new or unique to Donald Trump’s America.

What happened last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, is America.

Photo courtesy of telzilla dot com

Above is what a white supremacist rally looks like. It’s basically like what I imagine a KKK meeting is except no one felt pressured to wear the robe and hood. I think the real kicker is all those who raised their right hand in “Hail Hitler” fashion and carried around swastikas and other Nazi paraphernalia. In spite of the “alt-right” or “white nationalist” rebranding over the last 18 months, the reality of these individuals is much simpler and far more sinister.

These are neo-Nazis. These are racists. These are bigots. Describing them as anything else gives them cover.

The reason they marched on Charlottesville, VA, was to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue. Lee was a Southern General, probably the most well-known of the bunch. He fought for the losing side, the side opposite President Abraham Lincoln and the Union. In other words: Robert E. Lee was a traitor to the United States, and this is the hill the neo-Nazis want to die on.

I lived in Blacksburg, Virginia from August, 2008 through May of 2009. The college I went to is the chief rival of the University of Virginia, which is where Charlottesville is located and where this Robert E. Lee statue stands. I’ve never been to the UVa campus, nor that part of the state as a whole. But I do know Virginia, because I know America.

It’s funny. No matter where you are in Virginia — the airport, the mall, a random CVS store — you see one motto more than anything else. It could be on a postcard, a bumper sticker, a T-shirt… anything, really:

Virginia Is For Lovers

I always sort of enjoyed that. People don’t say lover or lovers enough, that’s what I think. For all the shit the state has gone through in the last decade, from the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 to this Nazi parade, Virginia usually stays out of the news. It’s quiet. It’s low-key. And it isn’t that different from most places in the country.

I remember my roommate’s girlfriend, she lived out in Jefferson Forest. One night, during one of those weeks where we all had a three-day weekend, or whatever, my roommate and I went out to her house to eat dinner with her parents. They were good people to me; they were all about southern hospitality (even though I’m not sure if Virginia is technically South); they asked me about myself and what it was like in California.

We were all at the dinner table, and the dad was this very southern guy. He was from Georgia, kind of short and stocky and was balding. He walked around with a goddam gun inside of a holster on his belt. It was normal to everyone else so it quickly became normal to me, too. I didn’t even think about homeboy with the gun.

But he was what you expect of people in the South. He was that cliché middle-aged white guy. He said if Barack Obama ever visited that city he would shoot him. That was something he said at the dinner table.

I probably laughed. I don’t know. All I know is he wouldn’t actually do that. It’s just the way guys like to talk most of the time. There are some guys who say things, and I know they mean it. Like, they don’t talk a big game unless they can prove it. And there are other guys who just talk and it doesn’t really mean anything. When they are 10 they say they are really good at baseball. When they are 16 they say they are really good at skateboarding. When they are adults they say just about anything.

But when it comes to threatening to beat someone up, or in this case threatening to assassinate someone, it’s always hot hair. They aren’t really about it.

Here’s the thing: that dad from Jefferson Forest, whose daughter dated my roommate, is not on an island. I have at least one uncle who would say the same type of thing and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. This is not exclusive to people living in the South or the Extended South. There are people all over the country who casually say things like that.

Anyway, Charlottesville. When it is absolutely in your face, you see it. When three people die from an organized white supremacist rally, you notice. Donald Trump has been in office for eight months, but it’s not like racism began when he started campaigning. This is a sentiment that has existed in the underbelly of America since it dawned.

For better or worse I have a tendency of writing about millennials. Millennials arrived after the Cold War and during the technology boom, so we didn’t have the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation while also having all the world’s information at our fingertips. In most ways millennials get it; most of the time we are on the right side of history, particularly with respect to equality for all and climate change.

But we are only one generation.

In the South, there have been like ten generations of people since the Civil War ended. There are a shit ton of individuals who have grown up in families that sympathize with the Southern cause, who believe they just happened to be part of the losing side. So yeah, this has been bubbling.

I think the key word in this is emboldened. White supremacists and neo-Nazis didn’t spring up out of nowhere, but Donald Trump’s election has emboldened them to come out of the woodwork. It has gotten to the point where they can march out in the open with tiki torches and no hoods to cover themselves. Their president is cool with it, so they have no fear and no shame — which can oftentimes be a dangerous combination.

This is not a Charlottesville problem, nor is it a Virginia problem. This is an American problem.

When Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, 159 people were arrested during the subsequent protests. In Charlottesville over the weekend, there were four arrests. And people tell me it’s a problem when black football players kneel during the National Anthem?

Can you even imagine if Ferguson protesters were armed to the teeth like the white supremacist militia that formed in Charlottesville? I shouldn’t have to explain how that story would have ended. It seems to me like there is one rule book for white people, and another for people of color.

And don’t get me wrong, I am as sick as anyone about having to talk about race in 2017. Most who feel that way do it for a different reason. They like to think the past is the past, and that the best thing for all parties is to just wash their hands and get over it.

That’s not me though. I’m tired of talking about it because it’s 2017. Because we are supposed to be past it, as a country, the same way we are supposed to be past gay people getting married and women having control of their own bodies. America is a big bubble for most people. They have no idea that the rest of the West moved on a long time ago.

The way I have moved on is by saying racist jokes to my black and Mexican and Asian friends, the same way they say racist jokes about white people. The way I have moved on is by saying gay jokes to my gay friends, the same way they give me shit for being with dumb trashy women, or whatever. It’s a circle, and we are all in the same boat.

I am a white guy, but I am not a white supremacist. I care about my black brothers and sisters, but I am not a social justice warrior. It is as simple as that. With any sort of exposure and experience with people of all kinds, the only reasonable way to turn out is the way I am. A majority of millennials — maybe as little as 60 percent or as much as 75 percent — feel the same way I do. That is the future of America.

But there are tons of Americans who believe good fences make good neighbors. They believe what their parents believe, and what their parents believed before them and so on. This is anti-progress, anti-intellectual, and basically goes against everything the idea of America stands for. These are generally the same people who are allergic to facts and base their belief system on feelings that can’t be substantiated.

We shall overcome, but if Charlottesville proved anything it’s that racism never went anywhere. It’s here.

And tragically, we have to own this.

Kamala Harris is not your friend

It’s still too early to be thinking about the general election in 2020. At least it should be too early. I’ve said before and I will say again that the Democrats’ real problem is not in 2020; it will be primary challengers from the Left in 2018. Dems are in for another rude awakening next year when its message of We Are Not Trump fails them again.

The Democratic Party establishment wants Bernie Sanders to go away. He is the most popular politician in America by leaps and bounds, but the policies he stands for — notably overturning Citizens United, Medicare For All, and free college — are not compatible with the current version of the Democratic Party. It seems like every day there is a new hit piece talking about how divisive Sanders is, how out of control his supporters are, and how much he is hurting the Party.

This, even after he campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Even after he went on a “Unity Tour” with DNC chair Tom Perez. Even after he traveled around the country doing outreach for the Democrats. It is now clear that there is nothing he can do to satisfy them, save for falling off the face of the earth.

Like I said before, Bernie’s pro-worker policies are not in line with what the corporatist wing wants. As such, the Democrats are going to do everything they can to make sure he doesn’t get the nomination in 2020. It worked for them in 2016. It probably won’t work the next time around, because the Senator simply got too popular.

Kamala Harris is a new Senator in the state of California, and she has apparently been gaining quite a bit of support from the donor class to run for President in 2020. And why wouldn’t she? The Democrats love to play Identity Politics, and Harris is both (a) black and (b) a woman, which is perfect for them. Because if anyone opposes her, or gives reasonable (and fair) criticism, the Dem establishment can just call them racist or sexist and that will be the end of it. I mean, it worked out so well for them against Donald Trump. Why stop there?

It should be obvious that this is not the way to get voters to come around to your side. We all know that the only surefire way to attract people to your side is to offer them something, give them a reason to vote for you. To this point there has been zero evidence that blaming and shaming the voters who delivered Trump to the White House has been working out effectively for the Dems. In fact, Republican support has remained fairly steady since the election, while the Democratic Party has been bleeding members. Independent voters now make up about 43% of the country, and that number figures to rise since young people don’t see the two parties as all that different from one another.

Bernie Sanders supporters receive about the same amount of shit as Donald Trump supporters, and for similar reasons. It has always seemed sort of strange to me how the media tends to link the two together. But I have a feeling identity politics is all it really comes down to. Since Sanders and Trump both happen to be white, and both happen to be men, the media tries to play it like the only people who support them are white men.

And this, as if I needed to tell you, is completely fucking wrong.

The people who support Senator Sanders aren’t concerned with how old he is or what color his skin happens to be. That’s kind of the whole point to Democratic Socialism in the first place, that it’s not just about Bernie; it’s about everyone coming together to help one another. Bernie’s supporters like him because of his policies, which, ironically, would benefit people of color more than whites. Wanting an increase in minimum wage helps minority groups and women more than white men, as white men already earn the most. Wanting free public college helps minority groups more than white men, because white men already go to college at higher rates. I could go on but you understand what I’m saying.

The Democratic Party, and media outlets like CNN or MSNBC, the New York Times or the Washington Post, don’t want to tell you that. They want to push the narrative that Socialism is bad unrealistic un-American dangerous, and that anyone who does not support female candidates or black candidates only does so because they are either racist, sexist, or both.

This is where Kamala Harris comes in, since she is looking like she may be the establishment choice to run atop the Democratic ticket in 2020. One way or another, whether it’s Sanders vs. Harris, or Sanders vs. Cory Booker, or Elizabeth Warren vs. Harris/Booker, or Nina Turner vs. Harris/Booker, we are going to go through the same Progressive vs. Centrist choice we had in the 2016 primary. And the narratives are already in place for when that happens.

If it’s Booker, then Progressives are going to be called racist. If it’s Harris, they will be called racist and sexist. (Privately I cannot wait for a scenario where Nina Truner runs as the Progressive against Kamala Harris, just to see how hard the establishment will have to break their backs to smear Turner when they can play neither the race card nor the woman card.)

Again, and I’m going to sound like a broken record if I haven’t already, it all comes down to the policies and track record. What we know. Kamala Harris used to be the Attorney General in California, during which time she did not prosecute Donald Trump’s pick for Treasurer, Steve Mnuchin, who committed thousands of violations when he ran One West Bank.

In a plot twist that no one saw coming, the same Mnuchin whom Kamala Harris gave a free pass to ended up contributing to her Senate bid in 2016. She was the only Democrat Mnuchin donated to.

People who are informed do not care that Harris is a black woman. They care that she takes donations from Wall Street, and in return she doesn’t go after the crooks who run the banks and commit fraud. This isn’t a coincidence, or a one-off in Harris’s case. When Barack Obama used taxpayer money to bail out the banks it 2008, it was with the intention that when he was no longer in office they would return the favor.

Once Obama’s second term ended he went ahead — all of a sudden — and signed a $60 million book deal and started making speeches for half a million dollars apiece. He scratched the bankers’ backs, and now the bankers are scratching his. Fraud is the business model of Wall Street, and they get away with it because Citizens United literally allows corporations to donate unlimited sums of money to Super PACs, which is effectively the same as legally bribing politicians.

That isn’t all, though. Kamala Harris, like Hillary Clinton, is also in the pocket of the Private Prison Industry. In 2014 federal judges in California passed a parole program that would release inmates early, due to overcrowding. But according to the LA Times, “Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.”

I have read and re-read that last sentence at least a dozen times, and I can’t shake the sick feeling I get that an AG — a supposed liberal, at that — could be capable of saying something so monstrous out in the open, and without any shame.

Basically, Harris is saying she’s okay with criminal bankers who commit fraud against everyday people, because she needs wealthy individuals like that to help bankroll her campaigns. But she is not okay with releasing common criminals from prisons, because if she did then there would be a smaller pool of free labor to profit off of.

Normal people would never want such a horrible thing. The only way a person feels like that, or argues such a thing, is because they directly benefit. If your goal is to keep the gravy train alive and continue getting donations, that’s how you play it if you’re Kamala Harris. If your goal is to reunite families, and alleviate the overcrowding problem in the American prison system — which incarcerates a gross percentage more than the next several countries combined — then you play it like a normal person. In this sense Bernie Sanders is a normal person.

I try to stay informed as well as I can, but I am not here to try and convince you that I have all the answers — even if I feel like my view is justified and, dare I say, right. But if I had to guess I would say the following statements are both true:

(1) If Bernie Sanders runs for President in 2020, whether it’s as a Democrat or in a three-way race, he will win.

(2) For all the outrage and hysteria of Trump being in office, the Democratic establishment would still rather him win again in 2020 than have Bernie in office.

I could be wrong about that second one, but based on the fact that the Democrats have still yet to have an honest critique of why they lost in 2016, based on the fact that they are still blaming 3rd party voters and people who stayed home, based on the fact that they still have not meaningfully come out in support of Medicare For All or an increase in minimum wage, and based on the fact that they are still trying to turn Kamala Harris, and corporatists of her ilk, into actual things, my opinion is that they are not interested in changing.

And if they are not interested in changing, they don’t deserve our support. As such, they deserve to lose. Again and again.

Yu Darvish is a Dodger

Huge trade deadline move: the Texas Rangers have traded Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three minor leaguers.

For Rangers President and GM, Jon Daniels, this trade needed to happen. Yu Darvish is my favorite baseball player. I wanted him to be a Ranger forever. But in saying so, I also acknowledge that Texas was going nowhere fast; with or without Darvish their odds of making the postseason were only about 20%. And if they held on to Yu, risked him signing somewhere in free agency this winter, then all they would have to show for him would be a second round draft pick.

The Rangers were stuck, essentially.

In going to the best team in baseball, Darvish now has the chance to be the true superstar some of us have always known him as. His numbers in 2017 — his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery — have been underwhelming. But under the bright lights of LA, pitching for a club who currently has the best record in MLB, there is no reason to believe Darvish isn’t up for the challenge.

In five years with Texas, Yu tinkered on the edge of being a number one starter. His lifetime strikeout rate is 29.6% — a few points shy of one out of every three batters — and his career ERA is 3.42. This season he’s taken a dip to around a 26% K rate and an ERA at 4.01, the latter largely due to allowing 10 runs in 3.2 innings in his last start.

Yu Darvish is a champion. He belongs on championship-caliber teams. In almost six years pitching for Texas, the Rangers went a composite 484-432 (.528); throw out the abysmal lost year of 2014, where the club went 67-95 and Darvish missed the second half of the season, and the Rangers record since 2012 is 417-337 (.553).

Of course, in baseball we can’t just erase entire seasons and pretend they didn’t happen (even when sometimes we want to). In the same vein we can’t say Yu Darvish, and only Yu Darvish, was singularly responsible in how the Rangers won so many games. But it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t the best starting pitcher during every season over the duration of his time in Arlington. Below are Darvish’s fWAR figures from the five years he made starts:

2012: +4.6 (best on Texas’s pitching staff)

2013: +4.5 (best)

2014: +3.7 (best)

2016: +2.7 (second-best)

2017: +2.4 (best)

Particularly relevant is how Darvish only threw 144 IP in 2014, and only 100 IP in 2016. Extrapolated over a regular 200-inning workload, he would be looking at 5-win seasons in both of those years. But why am I still wasting space as an apologist for the guy? He isn’t even on my favorite team anymore.

Where I stand on Yu has been clear from the beginning. I think at his best he is one of the three- or five-best starting pitchers on the planet. I always said as long as he was wearing a Rangers uniform they would have aspirations of competing for a World Series. And, well, he’s gone now. He has been traded. And since he has been traded I see no other honest explanation: Texas has given itself a firm look in the mirror, and they no longer see a World Series challenger.

What is it they say about all good things? They must… you know. Texas has been one of the best organizations in baseball in the last decade. Since 2008 they have only ended a season below .500 only twice. They have hauled in four AL West titles (most in the division), two American League Pennants, two World Series appearances, two Wild Cards and played past Game 162 seven times.

Yu Darvish was signed to be the final piece in getting the franchise over the hump, to finally win that elusive World Series. To that end it’s a disappointment, but only since the expectation level has gotten so high. For my whole childhood the Rangers were one of the worst clubs in the sport. For the last ten years they have been one of the best clubs in the sport. I can’t be mad at that.

That physical momentum, which could only be achieved through the proven success of the early-2010’s, led Jon Daniels and Rangers ownership to place a bet. The bet went like this: pay the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese League a lump $51 million sum for exclusive negotiating rights for Yu Darvish, and what came of that was a six-year, $56 million contract. All-in the Rangers paid $107 million and change for (almost) six years of Darvish.

That is a contract they are going to live with every damn day, World Series or not. Because every year for the last six has been World Series or bust with the half-Japanese, half-Iranian right-hander atop Texas’s rotation. Even with a conservative valuation of each WAR (Win Above Replacement) being at $8 million, Yu was worth about $150 million — roughly $40 million in surplus value — to the Rangers over his tenure. And that’s based on performance alone (+18 fWAR). If we count jersey sales, exposure to the Japanese market to make Texas more of a global brand, and overall traffic through the gates of the stadium, Darvish was worth a helluva lot more than that.

Jon Daniels was in a tough spot. As I mentioned earlier, if he pocketed Yu Darvish just to see him sign with the Yankees or Dodgers this winter, then all the Rangers would have gotten in return would’ve been a 2nd round pick. Since Texas was in a hole in the Wild Card standings, and since they had to leapfrog like half the American League to get there, Daniels took the sensible way out and got what he could in return.

Emotionally this is a blow, but only in a child-like way. I love Yu Darvish, and dammit he isn’t supposed to get traded.

Rationally, this was the only way to go. If anything, the only criticism I have of Jon Daniels is that he didn’t go far enough. Trading Darvish was and is all that matters. But if he was willing to trade him, basically signaling to the team and the league that Texas would remove itself from the playoff hunt, then why wouldn’t he trade others — like Mike Napoli, Andrew Cashner, Carlos Gomez, etc. — as well? Why go with a half-measure?

There are a couple silver linings. For one, I grew up in a Dodgers household around the time of Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, Hideo Nomo and Raul Mondesi. My memories of the 1990’s Dodgers are still fond. So to see Yu Darvish pitching in the playoffs behind Clayton Kershaw is going to be fun, even if I prefer seeing him as a Ranger in the same types of games.

Secondly, and more importantly, Darvish is going to be a free agent in a few months. The Rangers will have ever chance to re-sign him to another 6-year contract if that’s what they really fancy. Do I find that to be an especially realistic outcome given that likely bidders will include the Dodgers, Yankees, and Cubs? Definitely not. But it’s nonetheless on the table.

I don’t know how I’ll look back on the Darvish Years, six seasons of the Rangers either underperforming (2012-2014, 2017) or overachieving (2015-2016). What I do know is Yu was both (1) absurdly good and (2) never really got a fair shake from the Dallas/Fort-Worth media. It never really mattered how good Darvish was, because he was never good enough in their eyes.

This, at least partly, I presume, has to do with Nolan Ryan, who was against Jon Daniels and ownership spending all that money in the first place. Regardless of Darvish’s accomplishments some of the media was going to toe the establishment line, stick with the old guard that Nolan represented. (There is still animosity towards Daniels for ultimately winning the power struggle with Ryan.)

If nothing else, I would think Darvish will get covered more fairly in a city like Los Angeles, a place that has largely moved on from many of the institutional prejudices that do not want to see a player of Yu’s background to succeed.

As a fan, this trade hurts. I was 21 when Yu was signed out of Japan. The Rangers were coming off back-to-back World Series losses, and so I staked a lot of Darvish to be the guy that led the franchise to victory. In my head it all seemed so simple at the time.

And now we’re here, almost six years later. I am now a 27 year-old, and the Rangers are still without a World Series trophy. The club has experienced all sorts of fluctuations, from losing when they were expected to win all the way to winning division titles they probably had no business with.

It sucks that, for all the enjoyment I got out of watching Yu Darvish pitch, the dream is finally over. There will be new players I stake the Rangers fortunes on, and there will surely be more anxiety and disappointment and intrigue and excitement.

For Darvish, one of my favorite players in the 20 or so years I have followed the Rangers, I only hope that he can win a World Series — and play some significant role in doing such. If it isn’t going to be with the Dodgers this year, then, hey, what the hell, maybe he can come back to Texas and do it there. Just like I envisioned at the beginning.

Numbers on the board

Over a month ago I opened a Roth IRA account through Merrill Lynch. Partly it was out of boredom and wanting to try something new; the other part was using it as a hedge in the extreme scenario I don’t get-rich-quick at some juncture in the next 20 or 30 years.

I advocate for socialism and very much look forward to accumulating wealth so I can one day be a rich socialist. That way I would have more credibility than I do right now. Let’s face it: anyone making less than $100,000 per year who wants Democratic Socialism to be a thing is expected to want that. Or at least they should want that, since it’s in their best interests. Like anyone else I am on the road to pursuing happiness, and for me happiness is directly proportional to how much money I have.

When I was a little kid I really, badly wanted to go to Duke University. Why? Because I was in love with the basketball team. So for the bulk of my childhood — or at least the relevant age-10 to-17 years — I was bent on going to Duke. I cared about getting good grades, and I cared about doing well on the SAT. My day to day code was a lot less stringent then, but having a set goal vaguely influenced the choices I made. All told I would say it was for the best that my dream was to make it into a great college and not, I dunno, selling crack, or something.

I never enrolled at Duke, and to keep it a hundred I didn’t even apply since I knew my grades and test scores weren’t good enough. I figured I’d save my parents the application fee and save myself the embarrassment of getting rejected.

What spawned from that dream wasn’t a complete loss. I did end up at Virginia Tech — because I was in love with the football team — which as an accomplishment is nothing to sneeze at, and still seems crazy when I look back on it. As an 18 year-old child I seriously lived on the other side of the country and for real went to class to study communication. That really happened.

I reference Virginia Tech the same way I reference a lot of things from that period in my timeline, as it became the critical juncture of my life. All that came before led to it, and all that has happened since is, in some way, because of it. Or in spite of it.

Kids want stupid things, and I was no different. I wanted to go to a well-known, fancy-sounding college mostly for the wrong reasons. But perhaps most of all I wanted to be accepted to prove myself to my own internal critic. He is never satisfied. Duke was my big dream, and I didn’t make it. But since I was shooting for the stars, I ended up at VT. The process I underwent turned out to be a worthwhile use of my effort.

For that same reason, in life I am shooting to be a multi-millionaire, though I will probably settle for a million, or $750K, or $250K, annually. I have to set absurd expectations for myself or else everything — and I do mean every goddamn thing — is pointless. That’s the way I feel.

I am motivated by the dumbest things. There is, as I’ve already mentioned, my internal critic I need to impress. That is and always has been my greatest hurdle. But a bulk of the chip on my shoulder is all the people who ever believed in me and no longer do, who were once cool with me and no longer are, who I already had my time with. To be sure, it took some number of years before I was at peace with my situation. Now that I’m here, it’s not like I’m mad at anyone. It’s not like I hate anyone. I just stay busy minding my own business.

But it would be a lie to say that my past — and past participants — don’t have any impact on me. I’ve always wanted to show everybody that my way is the right way, that I’m right, and to some smaller degree that, once, they were also right (about me). Maybe that’s a needlessly-too-deep way of looking at this, but it highlights just how shallow and petty I can be.

From a selfish point of view, and what am I if not totally selfish, the vision I have of my future is quite grand. It’s pretty dope. The setting is warm and laid back, the background music is subtle, and the finished product is a tale of Local Boy From San Bernardino Does Good — where I pay back my interpersonal debts and cash in all the chips I have spent my life wagering on myself.

This is the long game I play in my mind, but I know that dreaming alone won’t get me there. It’s going to take a plan. As awesome as it may be to hope on winning a massive jackpot at a casino, or becoming a millionaire through the stock market — winning the lottery, basically — it isn’t realistic to bank on those outcomes. In the end it’s a child’s game to wishfully think of the easy way out, even if those thoughts are usually the most fun.

It’s going to be a challenge, and I live for that fight. I live to solve that problem. It just happens that my longterm “problem” is the ground I need to make up between where I am right now and the millions of dollars I expect to have in the bank down the road. In a way I wouldn’t even want the easy way, the timely stroke of good fortune, because that wouldn’t tell me anything about myself. Winning over time is the real proof, not some flash in the pan. I am, after all, the guy who tells you baseball stats over the Small Sample Size are essentially useless. Why would it be any different in life, specifically my own life?

(With that said I would be more than happy to get lucky and make it all at once, worry about the rest later on. I’m farfetched and romantic; not stupid. There is some slight differentiation.)

But what, then, does it say about me that money is my main motivating factor? Does that not make me almost exactly like everyone else? Is it even what I want in the first place, or am I simply pursuing it to prove to everyone how easy it is, or how much better I am at getting it than they are? These are just questions.

I rail against the model of greed that capitalism forces out of society, and in my heart I know it to be true that socialism raises the floor and benefits everyone — which is all I really want. I want everyone to win.

And at the same time I’m almost entirely fixated on my own personal gains. When I first opened my Roth IRA account, the stocks I was quickest to gravitate towards — or at least spend more time researching — were those of the major banks, and the Pharmaceutical industry, and insurance agencies. In other words: I am betting with the institutions I detest and against the workers I so strongly campaign for.

I am betting on the rich to get richer, basically.

Jay Z has this final verse on “Moment of Clarity,” one of his best songs on the Black Album, where he says (emphasis mine):

I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars
They criticize me for it yet they all yell “Holla”
If skills sold truth be told
I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli
Truthfully I want to rhyme like Common Sense (but I did five mil)
I ain’t been rhyming like Common since
When your sense got that much in common
And you been hustling since, your inception, fuck perception
Go with what makes sense
Since I know what I’m up against
We as rappers must decide what’s most important
And I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them
So I got rich and gave back to me that’s the win, win

You don’t have to know who Common or Talib Kweli are to appreciate this. The juice of what he is saying comes at the beginning, where he literally tells you his master plan, and the end where he offers his reasoning. This particular part of this particular song has always stuck with me, because it’s so honest and straightforward. Jay Z tells you exactly what he is doing.

I’m not worth half a billion and I’m not trying to relate, but I respect the play. It is how I aim to execute my own gameplan.

The moral to my story would probably read If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them. I’m struggling with making that okay, convincing myself there is something righteous about profiting off the misery of the working class. Maybe from working in a casino I am just conditioned to believe that the House always wins.

Then I think about my mom, and my dad, and my two brothers. And I think if it’s not me, who else is it gonna be? My dad is living off Social Security. My mom is going paycheck to paycheck. My older brother is 29 and making average money, and my little brother is 21, unemployed, and not going to school. It has to be somebody. Somebody has to do it.

I see myself as nothing but a reaction to such a dynamic. My family is good people. I would wager that I am the worst of the bunch, by default, and yet I can’t picture a future where they aren’t all comfortable and some form of happy. I know money isn’t everything, but it’s a damn good thing to have in the meantime. And if my main contribution to my family is that I can make them stable enough financially where they can focus their attentions to other, real life, problems, and not have to worry about the cost of being alive, then that will make everything worth it to me.

There is nothing wrong with doing bad things for good reasons. If betting alongside the rich and powerful is the worst thing I’m involved in — played with money that I earned — then I would say my character is as good as it’s ever been.

The conflict only exists with me, in my head, since I claim to be on the side of workers. Betting on the rich to keep winning is like a hedge in that way, because if I’m wrong then that will mean my side won. And if my side wins, it means the big banks will be less powerful, the Pharmaceutical industry will not be making as much money on drugs, and the health insurance agencies will go the way of the dodo bird.

Either way, it’s a win for me.

There are all kinds of cute memes talking about how “money can’t buy happiness” or “money isn’t everything.” And they are all bullshit to me, since I have never experienced it to be true and since it gives people the impression that capital isn’t the prime avenue to becoming happier. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness couldn’t have had very much of it.

One of the common misconceptions of socialism is this idea that we hate rich people, like being rich inherently makes one a bad person. I have nothing against them, in all honesty, because (like mostly everyone) I plan to be one someday.

My main contention is that the rich should not be getting fat off the backs of the workers. There is more than enough money to go around to make older people live more comfortably, for workers to make $15 an hour, and for every person in the country to have free healthcare. If that means my taxes have to go up another 20-25 percent, so be it. Because if I’m making enough money to be taxed 50 or 60 percent, that means I will be doing well.

Again, I want everyone to win.

If you are in your 20’s and start saving now, open an IRA or whatever, you will have at least a hundred thousand dollars in the bank when you retire in 30 years. If you are able to put away $300 or $400 a month, you could be closer to $500K or $1 million if you play your stocks right.

Anyway, money is fun.

Horrible outcomes and what is to blame

Here we are more than halfway through 2017, and still much of my blog revolves around 2016 — the factors that led to Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States. This isn’t sour grapes. It’s not some 12 steps of grieving type shit. If you are familiar with my blog then you know I am, if nothing else, a seeker of silver linings. And I have contended that a lot of good will come from Trump’s presidency, even if only it means America is now awake.

In most ways the dialogue hasn’t changed since 2016. One side is screaming about Russia and criticizing Trump’s tweeting, or personality flaws. The other says the mainstream media are lying to the American public. I believe both, by design, are ignoring the problems that existed long before last year’s general election. That last bit is probably the most important.

The leadership of both sides — Republican and Democrat — want above all to defeat the agenda of the working class. The GOP is more obvious about how to go about it, though it’s admirable in a sense. Because to me it almost seems more nefarious how the Democrats campaign about being on the side of the workers, but when it comes down to it they are roughly the same bird as their conservative counterparts. They take money from the same wealthy donors, and the legislation they pass is to favor those wealthy donors. (Hint: rich people don’t want the same things as the working class. In fact, helping the wealthy is almost always at the expense of the working class.)

Oftentimes, at least once every week, I think about what one of my heroes — the late Christopher Hitchens — would have to say about the current political climate. His longtime belief in socialist principles makes me think he would have supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Primary, especially considering his extremely low opinion of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton. Though he was also on record as saying that running a country like a business “has a whiff of fascism,” so I could have seen him ultimately swallowing the pill and supporting Hillary over Trump when all was said and done.

Hitchens was complicated, and his worldview seemed to focus after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. In the last decade of his life, which ended in 2011, most of his public appearances were to promote atheism as a reasonable alternative to suicide bombings and the long and shameful history of the clergy in the Catholic Church. He basically argued that people are inherently good in nature, and that humanity does not require bronze age myths to give them morality.

Because of oppressive theocracies in the Middle East, and the human rights violations they committed and continue to commit on women, gay people and free thinkers, Christopher Hitchens kind of turned into a single-issue guy. He cared a great deal about defeating this backwards way of life, and so he supported George W. Bush’s war in Iraq till the bitter end. Even when seemingly everyone abandoned ship, and for good reason, Hitchens was something of an apologist for President Bush.

Yet when 2008 rolled around, he was right back on the other side in supporting Barack Obama for president. This was, at least in part, I presume, due to the fact Obama ran against Hillary in the Democratic Primary, but also because he characterized John McCain’s campaign as “unserious” since Sarah Palin was on the ticket. Obama was his choice, because Obama was the only choice in his mind.

Hitchens was a contrarian, no doubt. It seems sideways as hell that a socialist would be one of the last public intellectuals supporting President Dubya, particularly after the world found out that the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction thing was a made-up lie.

Yet even though Hitchens was from England, he represented America in so many ways. People have reasons for voting who they vote for. And it doesn’t have to make sense. The same America that made Barack Obama the first black president voted Donald Trump into the White House.

So it rubs me the wrong way when pundits on television, or regular people who just don’t seem to think very hard about it, paint the picture like the only Americans who voted for Trump are racist. Or sexist. Or like they are all a bunch of dumbasses. Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables.” It’s simply not the fact.

I know, I know. Something like 20% of people from South Carolina who voted for Trump during the GOP Primary said they were against the Emancipation Proclamation. These people are really out there. But they represent a tiny fragment of the population. It’s like I said: the same country that made Obama number 44 made Trump number 45. These are real people, and they are not all some form of the worst humanity has to offer.

Do I think they were voting against their best interests? Absolutely. But I’m a 27 year-old white guy from the most liberal part of the most liberal state in the country. I knew Donald Trump was a liar and a conman because, as a human being, he is a liar and a conman. He was never a serious candidate for president, and even he didn’t think he would win. But so it goes.

The election came down to four states, those being Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That area of the country has a unique perspective on the last 25 years, as they have lived through all of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Starting with President Clinton and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), through President Obama and the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), that part of the U.S. — known as the Rust Belt — saw all kinds of their jobs go overseas. Thanks to capitalism, massive corporations were able to outsource manufacturing jobs to other countries where they only had to pay employees a fraction of what they did in the States.

So what happened was factories shut down, millions of workers lost their jobs such that already wealthy business owners could keep more of their profits, and many cities were decimated. It started under Bill Clinton, it continued under George W., and then for good measure Barack Obama went through with the TPP. It certainly wouldn’t have stopped with Hillary Clinton in the White House.

This tragic trend led them to voting for Donald Trump, who actually showed up and campaigned to end the trade deals and bring jobs back. Regular working class people were so fed up with the Democratic Party — who always speak the populist language as if they are on the side of the workers, but pass policy after policy actively benefitting the super-rich — that they rolled the dice on the 1% chance that Trump wasn’t conning them. They would have rather done that than support Hillary, where they knew there was a 100% chance that nothing would change.

I think about this, and I think it’s sad. Like, I think it’s devastating actually. Americans in that area of the country were so desperate, and so down, that they would rather take on the insurmountable odds that Trump was really going to fight for them instead of voting for another corporate Democrat. Another Democrat who campaigned as pro-worker. But who turned out to be another money-hungry Republican in sheep’s clothing.

To this day people go on TV and say that the voters were the problem. Not the candidate who lost, but the actual voters who no longer believed in the lies of the establishment. And those people are still being shamed. As if the country would be all that different right now with Hillary in office.

What I’m saying is those people were wrong, to be sure. I think they made the wrong choice. But fuck what I think because I am just one voter, and they have every right to go out and make the wrong decision. That is America, and I would never want to change that.

But rather than shaming those voters, and blaming those voters, I want to help them. I want them to stumble on the same conclusion I did, which is that a Progressive candidate has their best interests in mind. We want to end the wars, and use that absurd amount of money on this country. Where we could pay for everyone to have healthcare. Where we could pay for everyone to go to college for free. Where the minimum wage would increase to a level commensurate to inflation and the cost of living. Where we would expand Social Security to make sure that old people have enough money to survive.

People laugh and mock when they hear these things, like it’s some sort of fantasyland. I’m the guy who says it can be done, and the only people who say it can’t are those who aren’t familiar with the way the rest of the industrialized world operates. America is the country that’s behind here; capitalism is failing worldwide. If we aren’t spending 60 percent of our taxes to fund the military industrial complex, we can afford to reinvest that money back home.

In my head I think I’m always right. That might be my biggest flaw. But when it comes to the future of the United States, I am still waiting to be proven wrong here. I am still waiting for someone to come up with a better idea.

Revisiting the Rangers

Since MLB’s Opening Day, in April, I have written about the Texas Rangers only twice. The first was on May 4th when I checked in to tell you Cole Hamels was hurt and the season was basically over. The second was exactly a month later to eulogize Sam Dyson’s strange tenure in Arlington.

That has been the extent of my Rangers’ coverage in 2017. Baseball typically serves as my favorite distraction throughout the year, so it’s funny that I haven’t been paying my normal amount of attention to it this season because I’ve… been distracted. There are a bunch of reasons for this, whether it’s because I’m usually at work while they play, or that right now politics are more interesting to me, or the fact that they are like a million games behind the Astros in the American League West.

And I don’t know. It just doesn’t get me excited to be in the hunt with 7 other teams for the 2nd Wild Card spot.

There have been years where I didn’t think the Rangers would be very good and they proved me wrong. There have also been years where I thought the Rangers would be outstanding and they underachieved.

This season I thought the team was going to be about average, and they have played about average. They are currently 43-45 (.488), which is 16.5 games behind Houston in the AL West and tied with the Angels (at 45-47) at 3 games back of the 2nd Wild Card. At the All Star Break, which is right now, there are 9 teams in the American League within 5.0 games of one another fighting for two playoff spots.

If all things were equal and basic probability decided which 2 of those 9 teams ended up as the Wild Cards, it would theoretically give every club a 1-in-4.5 chance. That’s 22.2% or, weak, in other words. You have betters odds of picking up a coin and flipping heads three times in a row than the Rangers do of making the postseason this year.

Still, the signs that point to Texas performing better in the second half than the first are too real to ignore. They are 3rd in the American League in runs scored (5.01 runs/game) and 4th in the AL in run differential (+29). Their ideal rotation — Darvish, Hamels, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross — has a composite 3.90 ERA in 365 innings pitched in 2017. These are all positive things.

The real weakness of the Rangers has been their bullpen, which has 17 blown saves — tied for the most in the AL — in just 30 save opportunities. It has allowed a .344 on base percentage, worst in the league, and a .429 slugging percentage, which is 11th in the league (out of 15 teams). This is less an omen of what to expect moving forward than just your garden variety batch of bad luck. Last season the Rangers were historically good in one run outcomes — an impressive yet unsustainable recipe for success — and this year they are 6-14 in such affairs.

If you normalize the luck factors, then Texas has a puncher’s chance of playing past Game 162 for the 7th time in 8 years. But they are also one of 9 teams that is basically in the same position. The American League is so average in 2017 that it’s probably only going to take 85 or 86 wins to squeeze into the 2nd Wild Card spot, and it’s a fool’s game to try and predict which — of several — mediocre teams will break off runs in the second half to position themselves there.

That is why, if it was up to me, I would punt in the second half. I would look to trade everyone who isn’t tied down for multiple seasons — like Cashner, Ross, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli — and recoup some prospects. The only player I would shy away from trading is free agent to be Yu Darvish, since I think there is potential to re-sign him, and since I think he is the key to obtaining Japanese sensation Shohei Otani. Everyone else is up for grabs.

I’m obviously skeptical as to the Rangers actually doing this, because as I mentioned above there are reasons to expect the club to play better moving forward. The bullpen isn’t going to duplicate its league-worst conversion rate in the saves department, and they probably won’t perform at a 30% clip in one-run games.

But there is some nuance required in this specific Rangers season, since so many players are eligible for free agency after the year and since the farm system is absolutely starving for near-ready MLB talent. If ever there was a time to jumpstart the organization, it would be the year that the Astros are running away with the division and the minor league system was bereft of high-level assets.

I write this in part to say I told you so if Texas doesn’t sell and they don’t end up making the Wild Card Game, and partly in hopes that it will catalyze a brilliant second half run so they can make me eat crow. Either way it’s a win, whether for my ego or the Rangers making the playoffs.

Hindsight is 20/20

There is an article on Vox titled Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ real 2020 frontrunner, so let’s dive into it. From the beginning:

Amid a swirl of speculation about Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and practically everyone else under the sun as potential Democratic presidential contenders, most of the political class is ignoring the elephant in the room. Bernie Sanders is, by some measures the most popular politician in America, by far Democrats’ most in-demand public speaker, and the most prolific grassroots fundraiser in American history.

Finally a writer that is telling the truth. We could certainly clean this up — especially the bit about Bernie being the most popular politician “by some measures”; it’s by literally every measure/poll — but I won’t hold it against him since he’s right about the main point. Sanders is the elephant in the room, and one can only ascend to Elephant In The Room status if they are being ignored.

This is not to say that Bernie is being ignored by the people, but rather who the writer calls “the political class,” which represent current politicians and lobbyists and people who work on camera for MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, et. al. All those who benefit from milking off the corporate tit have a funny way of not liking the candidate who wants to upset the money train. Bernie is that person, which is why the media pumps out names like Booker and Gillibrand, or Harris and Biden: because they all have the same donors in common.

In subtle ways [Sanders] has shifted his policy commitments to the center, making himself a more broadly acceptable figure in the party. At the same time, he’s held on to a couple of signature issues — Medicare-for-all and tuition-free public college — that give him exactly the kind of clear-cut and broadly accessible agenda that mainstream Democrats lack.

Bernie is not perfect. His supporters weren’t happy that he endorsed Hillary Clinton last summer, and most found his recent Unity Tour with Tom Perez and the DNC to be a foolish, hopeless exercise. I believe many feel like the jig is up, that the charade should end, and Bernie Sanders should altogether abandon the Democrats and start his own party.

I lean about as politically far-left as exists in the United States, but I understand what Bernie is doing, and I don’t hate on him for it. He wants to win.

Elected officials were almost uniformly afraid to endorse [Sanders], even if their policy views were closer to his than to Clinton’s, and left-of-center think tanks — including ones that are deliberately positioned to the left of mainstream Democrats ideologically — shied away from working with Sanders on policy development, for fear that Clinton’s wrath would destroy them if they did.

This should come as no real surprise. When Bernie campaigned about a “rigged political system,” he was talking about money in politics. Because of super delegates, that supported Clinton by an overwhelming majority during the primaries, Sanders basically had no chance of winning the Democratic nomination.

The reason these super delegates are put in place is to thwart a populous candidate. Because Clinton in the past fundraised for so many of these delegates, they felt an obligation to support her even when, as the author says, their politics were closer to Sanders’. And if they had flipped and given support to him, rather than her, they would have paid a political price for it when Hillary inevitably became president.

Any mass political movement becomes, to an extent, self-referential. [Elizabeth] Warren, pointedly, did not step up to challenge Clinton even when many party actors wanted her to. And when Sanders did step up, she didn’t back him — opting instead for a studied neutrality. That decision has consequences for how she’s seen by Sanders’s core supporters — they signed up for an idealistic struggle against the party establishment, and she played a cynical game of power politics. And it appears to have influenced Sanders’s personal view of a natural ally. The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer reports that Sanders “peremptorily dismissed me from his office for asking a question about his political relationship with Elizabeth Warren.”

It is only 2017, but I believe the smart money is on a clash between Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker in the 2020 Democratic Primary. It’ll be the same fight we saw in 2016 with Sanders and Clinton. The Progressives will support Warren, the establishment will support Booker, and Warren will probably win.

Still, it should nag at Progressives that Senator Warren did not endorse Bernie last year. It came at a critical time in the primary, at a point Sanders was very much in the mix to win, and could have made a difference. Warren was also late to condemning the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline — and the human rights violations thereof — as well as only recently coming out in support of a Medicare For All, single-payer program.

These flaws in Warren’s political outlook won’t make a huge difference if she’s running against Booker, in particular, because he takes huge sums of money from Big Pharma and insurance companies and is generally a liar. But if Bernie Sanders does not choose to run again, Warren would only be my third or fourth choice (behind Nina Turner and Tulsi Gabbard, to name two) to be the champion of Progressives.

Among the Bernie faithful the most frequently named fallback candidate isn’t the well-known Warren or labor-liberal warhorse Sherrod Brown. It’s Nina Turner, a fairly obscure former Ohio state senator who served as an effective surrogate for Sanders during the primary. Turner is a skilled public speaker, she took tough shots at Clinton during the campaign, and she’s a black woman whose prominence in the movement Sanders fans feel ought to rebut allegations that it’s a white male bro-fest.

Among the many smears against Sanders and his supporters during the 2016 primary — including being violent, sexist, racist — perhaps the most egregious was the Bernie Bro myth. This idea that the only people who supported Sanders were young white men who simply didn’t want a woman to win.

Nina Turner would shatter all the false labels thrown at Bernie supporters because, being not only a woman, but a black woman, she cosmetically represents the opposite of Sanders while still holding the same values. Which is the only thing his supporters care about, anyway: policies. We don’t give a shit about identity politics, whether someone is a man or a woman, or black or white or hispanic. We go with the best ideas, and the best ideas are with the Progressives.

I like Nina a lot. But I would like her even more if she was Our candidate, because it would be a huge Fuck You to the establishment and the media to see Bernie’s wing of the party supporting someone who is all the things they claim his supporters are against. And it would be hilarious to see what tricks the media would use to attack her when they don’t have the woman card or the race card at their disposal.

Sanders became [the Progressive] champion over the course of 2016 and continues to hold that status now. But while in 2016 he faced a unified — and intimidating — opponent and launched with a ramshackle campaign, today he has a strong national political organization, a proven fundraising track record, and is moving decisively to address his weak points on international affairs, policy development, and minority outreach. Everyone agrees that in a perfect world he’d also wave a magic wand and scrape 10 or 15 years off his age, but that’s not possible. The movement he’s created lacks an obviously more compelling successor, and he continues to be broadly popular with the public.

What does it say about the Democratic Party when it was “unified,” had the entire media at its disposal, had the Hillary Clinton juggernaut behind it, and almost lost the Primary to a 75 year-old socialist from Vermont? You would think they could see the writing on the wall.

But that’s not what happened. After scraping by Bernie Sanders in the primary, something like 53%-47% in pledged delegates, Clinton lost to Donald Trump in the general election in what turned out to be a landslide electoral college victory. And all the people in the DNC, and all the people on TV who work in politics for a living, the people who told us that there was no fucking chance Trump could win…

All those people got to keep their jobs. After a monumental failure in the presidential election, as well as losing over a thousand congressional seats over the last decade, the same people who delivered this failure are still in charge. They are still running the party.

Un-shockingly enough, even after these embarrassments I still think the Party has more losing to do before they start taking back the House and Senate. Bernie supporters are going to be steadfast in unless the Party leaders offer single-payer healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, a green new deal, and that means that Republicans will continue to win.

That’s why I’ve been saying that the real struggle for the Democrats in 2018 is not going to be worrying about losing to Republicans some more. It’s about staving off their Progressive challengers from the left. Right this second Hillary Clinton is raising money from her Super PAC’s to support the establishment candidates who are paid to be against all the things that Bernie is for.

As for Sanders, I’m not going to bullshit you: I want to see him run again in 2020. And not totally for selfish reasons.

I’m just not willing to gamble on another establishment candidate. I want to win. Bernie is by far the most popular politician in the United States, and the people are fucking desperate for a populist candidate who stands with the workers.

I don’t know what’s in Bernie’s head, if he just started this movement and will soon pass the torch to the next, but like the writer of this article it does appear like he is positioning himself for another run.

And that is the last thing the Democratic Party wants to see.