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

Thursday, October 30, 2003

In, Out, and All About

Watchers of close House districts have to be amused by recent events in Kansas’ 3rd. For those new to the area, the 3rd is a mostly suburban district that includes urban areas in Kansas City, KS, the well-to-do suburbs of Johnson County, a small amount of rural Kansas, and Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas. The key thing to know about Kansas is that there are three parties that compete for power: conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, and Democrats. Given the moderate/conservative bent of the state, it won’t surprise you to learn that most of the elected officials are Republicans, and that Democrats generally win the big offices only when Republicans fight amongst themselves. As four of the state’s five Republican Members of Congress were at a fundraiser for Adam Taff, the nominee for the 3rd in 2002, four Members from other states were endorsing one of his opponents, Kris Kobach. And more fun, Kansas’ conservative Sen. Sam Brownback was not only not at the Taff fundraiser, there was talk that he might be leaning toward Kobach.

I have to admit that I don’t read Dick Morris much. His columns in The Hill and elsewhere are all too often empty vitriol or meaningless diatribes. Today’s was a bit of a head scratcher.

Internationally, I was interested to learn that the Tories in Britain kicked out their leader, Iain Duncan Smith. News coming out of Russia suggests that the President’s Chief of Staff, Alexander Voloshin, is actually resigning this time ( http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/international/international-russia-yukos.html? ). To most of us in the U.S., this long-rumored action, would signal a shift from a vacillating policy between those who argue for economic liberalization and those who tend toward a more centrally-controlled vision of Russia’s future (toward the later). We will see.

And finally, The New Republic reports (http://www.tnr.com/etc.mhtml) rumors that the Service Employees International Union might endorse Howard Dean and excoriates Al Sharpton for his recent attack on Dean and any black leaders who might support him as anti-black. Wonder if Sharpton was prompted to do so by Jesse Jackson Jr.’s comments?

Friday, October 24, 2003

Reading all day

The Economist has a good piece on how to kick the oil habit and why we should do it Setting : http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2155717

I found the following from the Center for American Progress to be disturbing: "The 2003 Pew Global Attitudes Projects found that fewer than one-quarter of respondents in Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Jordan said they support the war on terrorism. " I'm not shocked, just nervous.

You know, I read at least three newspapers most days and try to read several news magazines and online sources, but sometimes I feel like I'm just repeating the same stuff over and over. When I was out of the country a decade ago (before the widespread availability and convenience of the internet) I couldn't read an American paper or even an English language paper more than about once per week. Although I did miss being in the loop a bit, I found that I had a lot of time for other things and that when I got back into the news I really had not missed that much. Do you know what I mean?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Money for Nothing?

The big debate today in the House is over the Iraq supplemental spending request of $87 billion. I really don’t get the argument of those who oppose it. Do they really think that we should pull out of Iraq and leave everything that has been accomplished, and the lives and money that have been expended, to fall back into the dust? Surely not. Surely they want a change of policy that places more emphasis on working with our allies and giving authority to the Iraqi’s, and less on unilateralism. Surely they want to protect our soldiers, use those funds for important efforts at home, and force the President to develop a plan that a majority of Americans can rally behind. But cutting off all funding hardly seems the way to go about it. This effort smacks of unhealthy isolationalism.

One cannot help but be morbidly interested to learn that staff for some Members are betting on the vote count on the Iraq supplemental, however.

Political parties are supposed to exist so that politicians of a more or less coherent ideology or program can gather together and work to achieve power, while voters can properly identify leaders with whom they agree and vote accordingly with as little thinking as possible. In some countries, particularly parliamentary democracies with some amount of proportional representation, this does occur. Unfortunately, the American voters are not similarly served by our two lumbering giants of political parties, as so ably illustrated by Sen. Zell Miller (GA) in today’s Roll Call (www.rollcall.com) when he lets loose on Dem presidential candidates for being too liberal. You can agree with Sen. Miller, especially on his point that too many politicos pander to their bases, while still seeing the foolishness of attacks like this.

So let’s trade, sort of a political version of picking teams. The Republicans should clearly get Mr. Miller on their team, and probably Sen. Ben Nelson (NE), Rep. Ralph Hall (TX), and Rep. Ken Lucas (KY). On the other side, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (RI) is already a Democrat in all but name, and Sens Collins and Snowe (ME) should both be, as well. Reps Sherwood Boehlert (NY) and Nancy Johnson (CT) would clearly be more comfortable among other liberals in the Democratic party. One cannot help but wonder about another dozen or so on each side who might want to change teams if we are redoing the lineup. That would help voters to know what the parties (if anything) really stand for, and to vote accordingly.

Of course, the other solution is for the conservatives and moderates to continue beating each other up within the Republican party and thereby electing Democrats in swing districts, and for the liberal Democrats to continue to feel disaffected by most of their leaders and stay home during even important elections (Al Gore and onetime candidate for governor of Maryland Kathleen Kennedy Townsend can speak to that). Maybe Nader's Green Party and Buchanan's conservative legions will continue to gain support...

Friday, October 10, 2003

Friday in the news

Well, Texas redistricting looks to be finally happening. While the strangely shaped districts might well raise some eyebrows, as they are hardly compact communities of interest (http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/research/redist/pdf/map_plan01374c.pdf), one cannot help but admire Tom Delay’s tactical skills and moxie. Really. This is really undemocratic, but if Delay can pick up another 5 seats, who knows how long the Republicans will control the House. After all, one of the jobs of the Majority Leader would seem to be to preserve a Majority for his party.

There is an insightful analysis in the Christian Science Monitor going into some detail about how our perceptions of the situation in Iraq are shaped by where we get our news: http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/sept11/dailyUpdate.html. Not a shock piece, but it offers some food for thought.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

'An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.' -- Victor Hugo, 'Histoire d'un crime,' 1852

So, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be Governor of California. What is there left to say? One can only hope that this leads to increased support for efforts in both houses of Congress and members of both parties (Republican Sen. Hatch, Democratic Rep. Conyers and Snyder, and their cosponsors) to repeal the unnecessary constitutional requirement that the President be born in the United States.

There is a thought provoking article on Slate, regarding the marriage contract, that is worth reading: http://slate.msn.com/id/2440

Monday, October 06, 2003

So far away from me...

It seems like only yesterday that OnBackground was a gleam in my eye and a regular avocation. Ah well, when the spirit moves me, I'll blog.

Restaurant review: Mykonos Grill in Rockville shines sometimes and fails others. The single most delightful part of my trip last spring to Greece was the incredible food. In a number of cities, in expensive and dirt cheap restaurants and cafes, I had some of the freshest, tastiest, and most delightfully served food I have ever tasted. Having grown up on American Greek carryouts with their oily gyros and tasteless tzatziki, I didn't expect much, but was delighted with my first stop at the Mykonos Grill. The second time, however, brought out mediocre food and inattentive service.

Excellent article on Howard Dean in last week’s Washington Post that discusses his “empowering” approach to campaigning. The article said that he is showing average Americans and, particularly, those mad at the status quo, to think that they can change things if they just do something. This is one of the great lessons of grassroots organizing and, the article asserts, the medical profession. Unfortunately, democracy has become a spectator sport here in America, and who knows what might happen if more people believed that they could make a difference.

A few weeks ago, the Post included an article that mentioned a survey that found that 2/3 of Americans cannot name a single Democrat running for President. One realizes how different the world is from inside the beltway when faced with the fact that the editor of OnBackground was able to name all nine of the then candidates for President, and, with a little assistance from colleagues, put them together with photos of their mouths shown in a recent edition of Roll Call. Perhaps that’s too much information.