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

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Riding the Waves

The Washington Post has a front page article discussing whether Dean’s rise and fall are the product of the media, or a result of his own performance. But isn’t the truth a combination of both?

The “wave” analogy so often used in the media seems more than apt. Great surfing is as much about being in excellent shape with skills, timing, balance, and muscles developed through years of practice as it is about catching the perfect wave. Now your average Kansan couldn’t ride like a champion even if the greatest wave ever came and asked him to climb on. And even Bethany Hamilton can’t be very radical on the Chesapeake Bay that graces Maryland. Instead, the ultimate ride requires both an incredible surfer in just the right position and a great wave appearing as anticipated.

The Dean campaign’s success and later weakening would seem to be similar. Joe Trippi, who reportedly resigned after being demoted from campaign manager yesterday, Howard Dean, and the rest of the Dean team put together an incredible campaign that harnessed a lot of energy and technology very effectively. And they caught the fancy of the media and the public for a while, the wave that produced a ride that almost looked set to end the contest. It shouldn’t surprise Kurtz or any other savvy observers that the attention span of both are limited, their affection fickle.

The media boom faded and, indeed, the press wasn’t always kind, other candidates attacked Dean relentlessly, the public noticed other candidates, and the Dean campaign had its share of stumbles. The wave and its rider faltered. We’ll see what happens next.

Children of Satan II: The Beast-Men

That’s the title of the LaRouche pamphlet that's being handed out at the subway stop just outside the House Office Buildings that features VP Cheney on the red and black front page. Wow! Lyndon, tell us what you really feel.

Okay so, maybe his acolytes are haters, but at least they get to say it straight. While its not worth your time to actually read that trash, the hyperbole and incendiary language can be fun. Tom DeLay is described as “a freak salvaged from Washington, D.C.’s political equivalent of “Skid Row”; he is a case of a “zombie-like” synthetic personality taken over by something like the psychopathological equivalent of “the body-snatchers from outer space!”

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Dean's Obit

Doug Ireland writes Howard Dean’s obit on Tom Paine, but goes on to ask even more important questions:

“Given all this, it’s none too soon for progressives to begin asking: what will Dean do with the movement he has crystallized? Does he have the will, desire, and vision to transform his legions of enthusiastic Deaniacs into a permanent, on-the-ground electoral instrument to "take back" the Democratic Party in future contests? If he doesn’’t, can the Dean blogosphere, on its own, consciously coagulate itself into an institutionalized grassroots electoral fighting force capable of contesting future primaries against the moneyed, handpicked candidates of the party’’s establishment?”

CQ’s Midday reports that SC Rep. Jim Clyburn joins his colleague Sen. Ernest Hollings in endorsing John Kerry.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Duncan's Developer Dollars

The Baltimore Sun sheds light on how Doug Duncan is using a loophole in Maryland’s campaign finance laws, much as Bob Ehrlich did in his 2002 campaign, to take far more than the allowed $4,000 from individual developers. It seems that they can funnel the money through their limited liability corporations, so that one developer sent Duncan $75,000.

In answer to all the folks who want predictions on New Hampshire’s primary: Charlie Cook has a good line in his "Off to the Races" column today, below. For more info, take a gander at the PoliticsNH. “While all of us wise guys and gals thought this race would soon come down to Dean vs. the anti-Dean candidate, it's more likely to come down to Kerry vs. the alternative to Kerry candidate -- most likely North Carolina Sen. John Edwards or retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark. “

And in case I have not mentioned it already, check out the online notes about the legislative session for insights onto what the actual players think written by Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D) and Del. Richard B. Weldon, Jr. (R). Information about other blogs or obscure sources of info on Maryland politics would be appreciated--these were brought to my attention by a reader.

Monday, January 26, 2004


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

- Martin Luther King Jr., "Strength to Love", 1963

Saturday, January 24, 2004


Far be it from me to join the legions inflaming Dean's post-Iowa speech into something more than it is, but there is an editorial in the Post today that seems to answer the questions and comments flowing from everyone and my mother.

"Let's get a grip.

Mr. Dean's political tuning fork, which had been so finely adjusted for much of the campaign, went horribly off kilter Monday night. Mr. Dean says he was trying to buck up an audience full of devastated young Deaniacs, but he made a mistake, and a rather rookie one at that, in not understanding how what might have seemed like rational exuberance inside the hall would come off far differently to those who weren't quite so into the moment.

And yet, the speech itself was not as bad as the reaction to it would suggest. One could imagine Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) giving a similar war whoop and not sustaining anything like the damage that has accrued to Mr. Dean. Indeed, Mr. Kerry might well have been congratulated for shedding his aloof image. "

The superficial way most Americans and candidates deal with our elections is disappointing. There is a lot of information out there, and yet too many Americans seem willing to give up the democracy that too many have fought and died for by deciding to vote for Edwards because he's handsome or Kerry because he's tall, against Dean because he yelled or Clark because he's wooden.

If you don't want to waste time on the horse race that our presidential selection process has become, then take some time to at least read about the records of the candidates. In addition to the candidates' own web sites, a number of sites offer commentary and records on the votes in Congress, like Progressive Punch, the League of Conservation Voters, Public Citizen, and so many others. Of course, reading the papers from a candidate's hometown can often be insightful, and many magazines offer in-depth profiles on candidates. In short, if you don't want to deal with the whole thing, just decide what's important to you in a President, Senator, Governor, Representative or other official, and at least read something!

Friday, January 23, 2004


Today’s worth-reading list includes an Atlantic Monthly article on Illinois Senate candidate Blair Hull’s effort to come up with an algorithm to win elections, much like he did blackjack. It’s probably not news to people who’ve been watching him, but it does remind one of how tough it is to buy a U.S. election. Of course, the same is not true all over the world as the New York Times’ article from yesterday on Azerbaijan’s crackdown on opposition protesters who are unhappy with the apparently rigged elections that installed the son of the former President illustrates.

From there we jump to the new DSCC web log www.fromtheroots.com. As you can imagine, it will be interesting to see how they balance the need to promote Democratic Senate candidates while still keeping it more worthwhile than your average fundraising letter. The New Democrat Network is also trying to work it out: http://www.ndnblog.org/

The LA Times reports that former Congressman, Governor, and South Dakota Attorney General Bill Janklow got 100 days in prison and a fine for killing a man while recklessly driving through a stop sign and as part of a pattern of speeding across the state. Ouch! That has probably taught thousands of South Dakotans a lesson about obeying the law. Yeah.

Check out the moveon.org commercials. CBS won’t run the winner, which seemed well made and noncontroversial, during the Superbowl.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The State of the Presidency

The Washington Post’s commentary today on the State of the Union and Maryland’s budget mess are worth a few minutes of your time. Richard Cohen lets President Bush have it on the chin, not necessarily for the contentious 16 words in last year’s speech, but for continuing to mislead America:

“But this year's State of the Union address, while not quite a lie, was clearly deceptive. I didn't feel Bush had an obligation to tick off everything that had gone wrong about Iraq, but I didn't expect him to pretend that somehow the WMD allegations had been substantiated. He cited the report of chief weapons inspector David Kay as if it vindicated the original charges, when in fact it did not. And then, in a rhetorical sleight of hand, he talked as if the aim of the war had been simply to remove a thug from office -- when that was always supposed to be a byproduct. The trouble is that just about everything Bush said a year ago has turned out not to be true.”

An editorial, entitled Mortgaging Maryland, flames the Governor for his lack of honesty and unwillingness to make the leadership decisions really necessary to deal with the state budget

“On Paper, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s budget for the coming fiscal year looks balanced -- if you disregard the gubernatorial thumb on the revenue side of the scale. Again as last year, the Republican governor has tatted up a flimsy doily of a budget, using what must be the last of the fiscal patches left: one-time windfalls, raids on various state accounts -- many of them meant for distribution to local governments for transportation projects and other services -- and a batch of fees that he won't call taxes. The idea is to scrape through one more time without facing up to the inevitability of tax increases to pay the bills and cover the debts that are adding up.”

And if you have a few minutes, check out this piece by Joe Velasquez & Steve Cobble in the Nation from last month that argues that Democrats should abandon the idea of a southern strategy, arguing that:

“Mobilizing the fast-rising Southwestern Latino population around the same progressive economic issues that can also unite poor whites and African-Americans is the ticket to ride in 2004. Even better, given the explosive growth rates for Latinos in the Old South--not just in Texas and Florida but also in states like Georgia and North Carolina--adding these new Latino votes to the strong existing African-American base there will transform American politics.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


"One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship."

- O'Brien from 1984

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Caucusgoers deliver one of the biggest turnabouts in modern electoral history

The Christian Science Monitor had it right. Wow! What a shakeup. In recent weeks it was clear that momentum had shifted, but the extent of the change was a surprise. While there is little point in rehashing what is available elsewhere, the fact that John Kerry even got the largest chunk of union family votes (according to the Washington Post), despite the heavy endorsements by unions of Dean and Gephardt, was a surprise. Suddenly the New Hampshire primary and the Feb. 3 primaries -- Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina -- seem important.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Outside the Beltway

The Post illustrated the leader of Prince George’s high wire act on one of the biggest issues in Maryland today in startling detail with a single quote:

“Caught between the sentiments of his political base and the aspirations of his principal patron, Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson has offered a dizzying array of answers to the question of whether to legalize slot machine gambling.”

The Post is referring to Rep. Al Wynn’s support for legalizing gambling in Maryland in an apparent effort to improve his chances at a rumored Senate bid if Sen. Paul Sarbanes retires, and opposition of many PG residents and community leaders to an increase in what they consider regressive taxation with deleterious effects on the most vulnerable.

And in the internecine warfare that seems to characterize all too much of the politics in the area, Montgomery County Young Democrats’ (MCYD) leader Adam Luecking apparently got burned recently when the MCYD distributed a Progressive Maryland (PM) email call for volunteers (that MCYD put out on its listserv) to canvass state Sen. Rona Kramer’s (D-Montgomery) district on behalf of working families. Luecking apparently got spanked, and issued the following in response:

“The Montgomery County Young Democrats do not intentionally take any public positions in conjunction with any advocacy group which may unduly criticize any of our Democratic elected officials in Montgomery County.”

Luecking’s initial post included PM’s characterization of Kramer’s votes: “Senator Rona Kramer cut funding for our schools, but she refuses to close the tax loopholes by which big corporate campaign donors cheat on their Maryland taxes,” and the encouragement that it (and a labor-related volunteer opportunity), were “great opportunities for you to get involved in the local political process.” Given how quickly and fully they backed down from their earlier support, one wonders how Young Dems feel about getting involved now.

It reminds one of the recent flap when the Maryland Republican Party’s (MRP) top ranking Latino party activist criticized Gov. Ehrlich for not putting enough Latinos in his Administration. Soon thereafter the head of the MRP cut ties with that leader and his group, and started a new, presumably more obedient group in its stead. Dissent is not tolerated in Maryland...

Friday, January 16, 2004

Hypocrisy on Parade

Campaign finance reform is intended to fix one of the great injustices of our time. Simply put, we have legalized bribery.

Now the arguments against limiting money into political campaigns, primarily that it limits our free speech, are reasonable and make sense. And I have the greatest respect for the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and share its dedication to our civil liberties, our rights. I also understand that arguments can be made that donations to political campaigns merely help you get access to policymakers, but anyone who looks closely can see the correlation between giving and getting.

Just for a moment, imagine trying to explain to someone from another planet why it's okay that our politicians take millions of dollars from special interests with business before those politicians in their roles as policymakers. Just try to explain with a straight face what the difference between that and the old-fashioned bribery we think no longer pervades our system. Can you?

In the end, though, the arguments of Common Cause and other campaigners for good government that the vast sums available to large corporations are skewing policy so dramatically against the public interest, that this is one of the times where it makes sense to limit political speech (if you even choose to characterize donations as speech). So the end goal should really be to take that disproportionate power away from those with the cash and to level the playing field, so that you don't have to be rich to run for Congress, or President, or any office.

And incidentally, the incredible powers of incumbency that ensure that Members of Congress and other officeholders are overwhelmingly reelected must be curtailed, their activities policed. That's why it is surprising to hear about congressional aides who campaign while on the government payroll and using public resources. The hypocrisy of some campaign finance reformers who use their staff to ensure their reelections is disappointing.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Duncan's Statewide Numbers Low

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has uninspiring poll numbers in a poll, as noted in today's Post:

"Most of the political insiders who have joined Duncan's pre-campaign for the 2006 governor's race have been well aware of the sizeable obstacles in the county executive's path.

They know that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a likely contender in a Democratic primary, would be a formidable opponent. He has proven fundraising abilities and a high-wattage personality. Then there's Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who some believe could raise as much as $20 million.

Duncan's backers got a reminder this weekend of how much work lies ahead. A Washington Post poll found Duncan trailing far behind both Ehrlich and O'Malley in statewide name recognition. And a Baltimore Sun poll showed that, in a head-to-head contest, O'Malley, not Duncan, could outdraw Ehrlich.

Detailed breakouts of the Post poll provide more evidence of Duncan's challenge. On their respective home turfs, O'Malley has significantly more support than does Duncan. While 60 percent of Montgomery County residents view Duncan favorably, 78 percent of Baltimoreans have warm feelings for O'Malley.

O'Malley outpaces Duncan in every part of the state except the Washington metropolitan area, where his favorable ratings trail Duncan's by 18 points. O'Malley does better than Duncan with Republicans and independents. And Duncan appears to suffer most with the state's youngest voters, those ages 18 to 30. Only 28 percent in that category knew who Duncan was, compared with 64 percent who knew of O'Malley.

A Duncan aide said none of those numbers is a surprise, and said that polls taken when Ehrlich first announced his intention to run for governor showed similar results. But the aide did agree with this: It is hard to paint them as good news."

Also today, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore and colleagues accused the Department of Health and Human Services of whitewashing a report about differences in health and health care between white and minority populations, saying "Disparities do not disappear by concealing information."

And the Maryland Republican Party issued an action alert urging its supporters today to lean on their legislators to sustain Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of energy efficiency legislation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

An article on implantable microchips with which one could pay for things or even be identified from a couple of months ago. Frightening in its potential.

Congressional Quarterly's CQ Today Midday Update for today includes:

The Institute of Medicine called on President Bush and Congress today to
provide health care coverage to all Americans by 2010, while a poll
released by the American Hospital Association found increased support
among voters to help the more than 43 million Americans without health
coverage get it. Coverage should be universal, continuous, affordable to
individuals and families, and affordable and sustainable for society,
institute officials said. The IOM study said taxpayers bear the cost of
caring for the uninsured. In 2001, for example, tax dollars paid for an
estimated 85 percent of the $35 billion in unreimbursed medical care of
the uninsured, the report found. Separately, a poll released by the
American Hospital Association found that 69 percent of those surveyed said
they would be willing to pay more federal taxes to assure that every
American received health care coverage. AHA President Dick Davidson said
that "the window is there for both parties to come together" on helping
the uninsured. "The question is whether there is the political will to do

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Cleaner Politics

In a private step toward making our elections more transparent and officeholders more accountable, Common Cause Maryland is going to put campaign contribution data on the internet.

And Linda Schade's band of Maryland good government activists are working to protect the integrity of our elections in anothe way, as technical innovations threaten.

Optimists and Pessimists

“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true.” -James Branch Cabell

Monday, January 12, 2004

General Assembly to Convene

The General Assembly opens this week, with the budget and slots at the top of the agenda, and starting with potential overrides of the governor's vetos on several bills from last year.

Rep. Al Wynn joined the slots debate as he gathered together a group of PG County lawmakers to make a case for building a casino. An article in the Baltimore Sun article goes into more depth about the agenda for the new session, particularly regarding slots, and shares this insight:

“As lawmakers ready for a return to Annapolis this week, eyes remain fixed on House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the leading critic of slots, who some believe might be surreptitiously scuttling Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s top priority by allowing competing forces to gnaw it to death.”

Although the Sun indicates that issues like abortion do not even make Marylanders’ priority lists that include education and the budget, the Washington Times reports that a group of anti-abortion lawmakers led by Sen. Janet Greenip (R-Anne Arundel) will make an effort to place restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.

An inside scoop on what happens in Annapolis, brought to you by the insiders who know it best is now available online via the journals of Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-Baltimore ) and by Del. Richard B. Weldon, Jr. (R-Frederick). You may not agree with them, but they can be good sources of info. Thanks to a reader of this space for mentioning these. Keep them coming!

Friday, January 09, 2004

Democratic establishment, people on Mars, and Doing Something!

“Anyone who thinks there is an effective Democratic establishment probably also believes there are people on Mars, despite those great pictures we're getting of large amounts of emptiness.”

(E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post, Friday, January 9, 2004)

Too true.

Too many Americans worry or complain about the direction of the country, but do nothing.

Too many people lament the policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress, but largely leave elections to a “Democratic establishment.”

Too many people leave defending the environment or civil liberties, or fighting poverty or injustice to the “environmentalists” or “civil libertarians” or assorted do-gooders.

Too many people do nothing because they believe that someone else will.

With all due respect to those already fighting for what they believe in, no one is going to save us.

We have to do it ourselves.

Seriously, the Democrats, the environmentalists, the civil libertarians, the do-gooders are just you and me. Stand up, do something, make a difference.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Nothing Much

It was disappointing to read in today’s Los Angeles Times that the leader of Hong Kong caved to pressure from the PRC’s communist party boss and backed away from issuing a timetable for political reform.

Here in Maryland, pols are going round and round about slots.

And while the exploration of Mars is interesting, I just couldn’t get worked up about a Slate discussion of whether colonizing other planets is humans’ manifest destiny or potentially an environmental travesty.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Web Debate

Peggy Noonan, whose memoir of the Reagan years is worth selectively reading no matter what your politics, argues in a Wall Street Journal online piece that the Catholic church hierarchy does not pay enough attention to conservatives or advocate for their concerns sufficiently.

“Conservatives in the church often feel that they are regarded, and not completely unkindly, as sort of odd folk, who perhaps tend to have a third hand growing out of their foreheads and tinfoil hats on their heads.”

Progressive Christian groups, like Network, might differ in their assessments. And Josh Marshall’s piece from yesterday about how the rules and etiquette of debate can get awfully skewed is worth a couple of minutes of your time. Here is the key bit, but check out his Talking Points Memo for more.

“One of the greatest rhetorical and moral challenges of opinion writing is how to respond to or critique aggressively dishonest or tendentious arguments. One part of you wants to discuss the underlying issue with its complexities and ambiguities intact --- and every issue has complexities and ambiguities. But, in battles of ideas, decibels and clarity matter. And, to take up a different sort of metaphor, the niceties of conflict resolution are hardly appropriate or sensible if you’re trapped in a dark alley with a couple mafia goons.”

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Maryblog, or News from the Old Line State

I never intended to have my web log be about Maryland so frequently, but there are surprisingly few sources for news and comment about Maryland politics and policymaking that it is becoming natural to try to fill the gap. Today, for instance, there is some trivia about legislators...

In the January edition of the magazine State Legislatures (a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures), Delegate John Hurson, chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee and, perhaps not coincidentally, president-elect of NCSL talked about supporting people who do not have health care, but then backed away from controlling costs of pharmaceuticals in the interests of keeping the companies that make them prosperous. Hurson said “Do we want this industry to be as robust and innovative as it has been?” The article isn’t yet available online, but it’s supposed to be.

As detailed before in this space, some pols are just in the wrong party. Del. Emmett Burns is a perfect example of a D who really oughta be an R, as indicated by his pledge to introduce legislation to make relationships between homosexuals illegal and to stop undocumented immigrants from getting drivers licenses. The other legislators in the area seem to be a decent bunch, from the article.

Thune Rant

Do you wonder why John Thune decided to challenge Tom Daschle for his Senate seat? Since Polstate.com doesn't have a section for South Dakota, this is where you can read about it for today.

Now don’t get me wrong, Thune is ambitious, but he apparently has lined up good jobs that pay well, Daschle is probably a tougher opponent than Johnson was, and Thune would be in great position if a Senate seat opens up later. Also, another big loss won’t be as easy to get over as the squeaker against Johnson last year and at 43, Thune could certainly wait for another opening.

I guess there is only one reason for Thune to stick his neck out (all of the New York Times’ yadda yadda coverage of Thune’s speech aside): W. Yes, that’s right, President George W. Bush wants to give Tom Daschle a headache by getting the best possible Republican candidate to run against him and simultaneously make it hard for Daschle to campaign for other Senate candidates. The only real question is how much Bush and his allies will pony up to make the campaign fly, and what will Thune get from them if he loses.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Monday Again

There’s a fluff piece about how hard Rep. Chris Van Hollen is working to represent constituents and how the Republicans are frustrating his efforts in yesterday’s Washington Post. Seems like a retread of the New Republic article from last year, but with less nitty-gritty.

And for some reason, the Baltimore Sun thinks that Mayor Martin O’Malley's use of a Blackberry is news.

And in actual news from Maryland, the Daily Record reports that Baltimore County legislators are saying that slots probably won’t be legalized this year.

Rollcall (Jan 5) indicates that former Kansas City Mayor Cleaver is leaning toward a run for Congress. We’ll see.

Reports from all around, Texas Rep. Ralph Hall has switched parties to avoid losing his seat. I wonder if Hall had the good sense to negotiate with the GOP before he switched -- his seniority would put him in a position for a committee (or at least subcomm) chair if the Rs would let it fly. A decision is expected soon from the court in Texas on the re-redistricting plan. Rumor has it that the judges are looking for a way to make it unanimous.

On a generally apolitical note, let me suggest you take a few seconds and check out these good photos.

Sunday, January 04, 2004


As if the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) needed anything further to convince the public that they are corrupt, unresponsive, and unsuitable to lead Japan in the 21st century, a Member of Parliament has admitted to buying votes, as reported in the Japan Times. It is surprising how long the LDP has held on -- one cannot help but wonder at why the Japanese people don't demand something better from their elected officials.

Also, Julian Sanchez comparison of how children are taught about santa and god (via a link from lexfiles) makes one think:

Sometime soon after, when I started kindergarten, I first encountered the notion of "God" via another child. Again, I don't remember the specifics. But I remember thinking: "Oh, I know this game." I decided not to spoil the make-believe for the other kid. When he was older, surely his parents would explain that they hadn't been serious.

Sunday Wrestling

I admit to feeling some frustration with guests on the Sunday talk shows who are so incredibly scripted that they just manage to fit in their little soundbites wherever they feel like, and with hosts who don't work to get their guests to answer the questions. All too often the talk shows that feature pols are a waste of time if you want to learn anything or see a real discussion of the issues.

That said, I thought Tim Russert's little performance with Wes Clark this morning was a bit silly. Russert spent a lot of time trying to put Clark into the corner, to get him to swear he wouldn't be interested in the VP slot, that it was almost funny.

Look, it should hardly surprise anyone if any but the most prominent pols out there, including those running for president, would take the VP slot if offered. And yet acknowledging that, or an interest in any other campaign (remember when Sen. Clinton was campaigning in NY) is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot for whatever you want today. So putting them on the spot, repeatedly and tenaciously, while one of the most important skills of any tv interviewer, can be taken too far.

It reminds me of a BBC interview show I used to watch where the host seemed very well informed and, having about an hour with a guest, had plenty of time to be nice and yet really go after answers to tough questions. Once when he interviewed a former dictator accused of human rights abuses I applauded when the interviewer pushed to get real answers to tough questions. Another time when interviewing the representative of an NGO, the same host was the perfect image of a bulldog. I found it to be mean spirited and unnecessary. Hmmmm.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Maryland Off the Beaten Track

The Capital (Annapolis) reports that Mayor Ellen Moyer is going to take the city into the internet age and its sister publication the Maryland Gazette reports that Maryland has been returning more than a million dollars to the federal government that should have gone to helping the neediest.

“Over the past two years, Maryland has returned $1.45 million in federal money meant to feed poor women and children in Anne Arundel County and throughout the state, according to a study by a lawmaker.

Thirty-eight percent of county residents eligible for aid from the Women, Infants and Children program are not enrolled - one of the highest percentages in the state.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, found that over the last 23 years, Maryland returned more than $22 million allocated by Congress for the program.”

The Star-Democrat ran a piece from the Capital News Service that briefly touches on what Governor and the Legislature might do in the upcoming session.

Speaking of candidates against incumbents, Robert Rhudy is challenging Rep. Bartlett in Maryland’s 6th according to the Frederick News Post, in what must surely be an uphill race.

While OnBackground occasionally draws articles from the smaller papers around the state, correspondence with information about news and articles from Maryland publications, organizations, and leaders on politics and policy are welcomed at on_background at yahoo.com, as are the comments and suggestions of readers.

Friday, January 02, 2004


Am I the only one who is concerned about the fact that so-called downer cattle have been used for our food? This means that animals that were sick or injured enough that they could not stand on their own were cut up into our hamburgers until recent rule changes (according to various articles in the Washington Post and elsewhere). The Post goes on to detail how the steps the Bush Administration took in response to the BSE/Mad Cow Disease outbreak were the same measures that Republicans in Washington had stopped in the previous congressional session. It does make one question how safe our food and products are generally, and how often safety standards and the public interest in general are compromised in an effort to help business. It make one appreciate groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Speaking of the public interest and consumer protection, check out the good stuff available from Consumer Reports to have a better idea of what you are buying and what you should be buying. This month's issue of the magazine has helpful stuff on cell phone plans, the new household buying guide is out, and the car (new or used) buying guide is gold for anyone who wants to make decisions based on independent facts. In a caveat emptor world, information is key.

Thursday, January 01, 2004


While not outright dismissing them, one cannot help but wonder at the motivations of the perennial candidates. In Maryland we have a number of challengers willing to pony up their time, money, and reputations in what can only be described as longshot challenges to incumbents.

They have the right to run and, indeed, running is one way to fulfill your duty as a citizen to be part of the solution to the challenges that face society. Some are running to get their messages out and advance their agendas, as presumably are long-time activists Mignon Davis in the 4th congressional district and Deborah Vollmer in the 8th.

They can be applauded for their dedication to their communities and their ideals, but given how secure the incumbents are in terms of community support, financing, organization, and name challengers with little of any of these things are hardly running with a realistic hope of winning. If, then, we accept the notion that most of the challengers (not unlike some in the presidential campaign) are running without illusions that they stand a measurable chance of winning, then we must ask if there is some better way to contribute to the process.

For those who like the local angle, Del. Neil Quinter (D-Howard) seems to feel targeted by the local GOP for the 2006 election. In Montgomery, Del. Peter Franchot, rumored to be planning for a statewide run, apparently hosted a party for Howard Dean in Montgomery County last night (according to an email making the rounds) and the Maryland for Clark campaign is showing off endorsements online that include some big names. Lastly, there is a seminar on the state budget next week as listed in the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel.