An online journal of politics, policy, and society with a special focus on Maryland -- Contact: on_background at yahoo.com.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

How do you feel about biotechnology?

Without prejudicing your reactions, OnBackground would be interested to learn how you feel about what proponents call biotechnology and opponents call genetic engineering.

So, if you have strong feelings, any feelings, thoughts, or no feelings/thoughts on these methods of changing foods and animals (again, notice the carefully neutral tone), write to on_background@yahoo.com.

And have a nice day.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Feinstein, Dean, and Bush

Apparently Sen. Dianne Feinstein has decided to help Gov. Davis after all, by saying she wouldn't run to replace him. If you have been ignoring California politics so far, you are missing a potentially interesting race -- if Davis is recalled then the new governor will be chosen by a plurality. Yes, a plurality. http://www.bayarea.com/mld/cctimes/news/6150277.htm

In semi-national news, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's longshot bid to be president is apparently getting a boost from the internet: http://www.sunspot.net/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.witcover23jun23,0,2514831.column?coll=bal-news-columnists

And President Bush is keeping up the world record pace he set to win the Presidency in 2000. Expect the 2004 election cycle to be the most expensive yet.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Critic of Boston Archdiocese Is Found Face Down in River

You've gotta love that headline (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/20/national/20ABUS.html). It, deliberately or not, really calls to mind recent comments of Frank Keating, the chair of the national lay review board investigating the extent of sexual abuse within the church, comparing the secretiveness of Catholic church leaders to ''La Cosa Nostra''

These days, the huge outcry over the continued sexual scandals and church coverups of them, as well as the changes in society that reflect a movement of lay opinion away from the hardline precepts of church leaders, threaten to shake traditional organizations to the ground. Where are we going?

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Safe and Lazy

Working to craft sound public policy that meets the needs of constituents and Americans, in general, and providing strong service to the people of your district or state should be the goal of any good Member of Congress. Most such officials, as well as state and local officials, are only too eager to hear from constituents and generally try to solve the problems, or listen to the opinions, of the people who elect them. This is an important way to participate in our political process and OnBackground strongly encourages active participation in your democracy. For tips on doing so, see: http://capwiz.com/boma/issues/basics/?style=comm

Unfortunately, that doesn't always work because there is a flaw in our system called redistricting. As you probably know, every ten years, based on the results of the national census that counts population, states are apportioned Members of Congress and then legislatures draw lines for congressional districts within states. As featured on June 18 in OnBackground, this frequently leads to game playing, such as when legislatures make incumbents very safe in their reelection bids by packing districts with people of the same party, deliberately excluding challengers, etc. Another flaw in the system is that there is a custom, often enforced by the parties, that frowns on challenges to incumbents by members of their own parties.

Now I agree as much as the next person that our leaders need some time and space to make decisions without constantly looking at polls or fearing for their survival. The founders worked hard to balance the need of leaders to be both representative and yet able to act on their consciences. However, legislators or executives too insulated from the people who elect them are ripe for despotism. More subtly, Senators and Representatives who know that they effectively will not be challenged have no incentive to listen to the people or to provide good constituent service. Both parties have this problem, but for today I'd like to use examples from the Democrats.

First, Rep. Al Wynn, is an African-American incumbent Democrat in a majority African-American Democratic Maryland district to the immediate east of DC. His constituents long ago realized that he does not respond to inquiries or requests, but there is nothing they can do about it. Republicans and Democrats who run against him do not get party, monetary or activist support, so only cranks run, and, more importantly, his constituents have no voice and receive no service. I won't get into a long discussion of how his somewhat moderate policy preferences neither reflect nor serve his district here, because it does not matter since he is safe. A flaw in our system. See: http://www.newsline.umd.edu/politics/specialreports/elections02/photofourth091102.htm

On the other hand, Rep. Dennis Moore (KS) is incredibly focused on serving and responding to the needs of the largely upper middle class, white population in suburban Kansas City and college town Lawrence that reelected him in November with a very narrow margin. While Moore is not the brightest Member of Congress http://www.rollcall.com/pub/48_82/, his moderate views largely reflect those of his district and his staff do yeoman's duty to serve his constituents. I cannot help but think that he and his staff work so hard principally because they know that their jobs hang in the balance.

All too often government seems to arcane and we, in our busy lives, opt out of it because we just don't have the time. The problem is, if we waive our right to elect our leaders, what is democracy? Make them sweat a bit, get involved!

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Government: of the people, by the people, for the GOP

Look, I admire Tom Delay's (R-TX) skill at building and leading the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. His skill at counting and, more importantly, making votes happen the way he wants is to be admired, and his willingness to go whole hog to grow his majority is something any wannabe had best learn from.

As you are probably aware, his recent attempt at redistricting the GOP into about 5 new House seats in Texas, while temporarily stalled by the walkout of Democrats in the legislature, looks like it may still happen.

Today's topic is not this blatant grab at power which seems legal, rational, and even like something one wishes one had thought of.

When some 53 members of the Texas House of Representatives went on the lamb to Oklahoma, the Republican Speaker used law enforcement to try to get them back so that a quorum could be had and redistricting done. Now, while the use of law enforcement might be questionable, the more salient point for civil libertarians and good government types everywhere is that apparently someone called the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to request assistance.

While OnBackground hesitates to ascribe actions or words to people without firm evidence, some have suggested that Delay or other Texas Republicans gave DHS the impression that they needed help searching for a potential accident. Although DHS has now investigated and exonerated itself, questions cannot but remain on how state resources are used for private or political ends.

"It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error."

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954), U.S. judge.
American Communications Association v. Douds, May 1950.


Welcome to OnBackground, the sporadic insights of one individual on the great sausage machine that is US policymaking and the maelstrom of politics, government, interest groups and the media that surround it.

The editor, a DC-based analyst and communications consultant with experience in campaigns, Congress, and interest groups, can be contacted via on_background@yahoo.com.

All correspondence and submissions become the property of OnBackground, and cannot be returned.