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

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Maryland Primary

Maryland joins the fray on Super Tuesday after state Democratic party leaders including Chair Ike Leggett moved the primary up in an attempt to gain more attention from presidential candidates. Will Tuesday be the last gasp for candidates like Sen. John Edwards trailing Sen. John Kerry or a reversal of fortunes that reinvigorates a race that otherwise might be all but over?

The American Research Group, in a poll done Feb. 27 – 28 shows Kerry leading Edwards 46% to 35%, a slight widening of the gap indicated on their Feb. 23 - 25 poll showing Kerry ahead of Edwards 42% to 35% with 15% undecided and everything else in small single digits among registered Democrats likely to vote. Democrats on the ground seem to feel that, while many want this race to be over so that the focus can be on beating President Bush, Edwards remains competitive.

A Mason-Dixon poll, on the other hand, shows Kerry with a dramatic 3 to 1 lead over Edwards in polling done Feb. 23 to 25. Those results would seem to be supported by a Survey USA Poll from Feb. 3-5, while presumably out-of-date, which calls Maryland a formality and gives Kerry an overwhelming lead of 47% and Edwards 15%. This suggests that even Dean's dedicated followers who still talk about organizing for him, and the supporters of Clark are among those probably making Edwards more competitive. Repeated poll results and conversations with Democrats around the state indicate that none of the other candidates are moving at all, despite grassroots efforts.

The Mason-Dixon poll offers regional breakdowns which, along with a Post article, give a feel for how the race is developing across the state:

Bethesda pollster Keith Haller defined the groups in broad terms: well-educated, progressive Democrats, mostly populating Montgomery and Howard counties; African American voters, registered in large numbers in Baltimore and Prince George's County; and moderate conservatives in traditional Democratic areas, such as the blue-collar suburbs in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, who have gravitated to Republican presidential candidates since Ronald Reagan.

In other primary states, Haller said, the so-called Reagan Democrats "were moving toward Edwards." But it is not clear, he said, whether Edwards has enough time to cause those people to turn out for him.

Things have heated up here as pundits suggest Maryland might be one of Edwards’ best shots to turn the tide. No matter which polls are closest to the truth, both campaigns are kicking into high gear with GOTV efforts, Maryland visits by Elizabeth Edwards and John Kerry, and last-minute endorsements.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore joined a slew of Maryland Democratic leaders
in backing John Kerry just this month, while Rep. Al Wynn of Prince George's remains Edwards' most prominent backer in Maryland.

The Leftcoaster offered the following historical review in October:
5/8/1984: Mondale 42.5%, Jackson 25.5%, Hart 24.3%, Glenn 1.2%, McGovern 1.1%
3/8/1988: Dukakis 45.6%, Jackson 28.7%, Gore 8.7%, Gephardt 7.9%, Simon 3.1%, Hart 1.8%, Babbitt 0.9%
3/3/1992: Tsongas 40.6%, Clinton 33.5%, Brown 8.2%, Uncommitted 6.4%, Harkin 5.8%, Kerrey 4.8%

Tuesday's results are eagerly awaited as Marylanders prepare to turn their attentions to the fall campaign. Stay tuned for a preview of other Maryland races tomorrow.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Scary Stuff

For some hard-hitting commentary and easy-to-read economic analysis on the Bush Administration’s spin, check out Wampum. The signoff line was funny, but all too indicative of the games the Administration plays with the press and the public: “If you will it, it will come.”

And in the scarier news of the last few weeks, Attorney General John Ashcroft is attempting to force hospitals and clinics to give up the records of women who had abortions. Apparently the Administration wants to verify whether the procedures were "medically necessary." I agree with NY Rep. Eliot Engel who said: "People's medical records should not be the tools of political operatives. All Americans should have the right to visit their doctor and receive sound medical attention without the fear of Big Brother looking into those records."

Finally, I leave you with a quote I found on the American Street:

"Elected in 1994 as the party of limited government, Republicans seem to have abandoned any effort to limit spending. Worse, the current Republican President has shown no inclination to control it either." ( Wall St Journal, 11/25/03 )

Political Posturing

You gotta love the gall Rod Paige displays in his Post op-ed today, that starts off with the great lines:

“Education should be about children, not partisan politics. Yet, sadly, there has been a lot of political posturing on this issue lately.”

The rest is not really worth reading, but that started my day with a laugh. Paige is, after all, the same guy who called teachers and their biggest union terrorists just a few days back.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Base politics

I am reminded about why Ds should not ignore the more progressive elements, by someone on the other side. I wonder if we could get him to talk to some of our people.

"You can spend a lot of time and money trying to appeal to that 10 percent of voters who are in the middle, or you can spend it on that 45 percent who are for my team, half of whom don't remember to vote. The gay marriage issue doesn't really switch votes. It reminds his voters why they should remember to vote. This speaks to 'the base,'" says Grover Norquist.

(Thanks to Wonkette.com)

Bloggers of the world!

I understand why Atrios finds it stressful to be anonymous, but the pressure you might be under if everyone you knew, and lots you didn't, could read all of your thoughts.

It reminds me of a recent post from last week of a young lesbian blogger whose father is not very open minded. Letting it all hang out can be tough!

Edwards: going?

So after super tuesday, if Edwards continues to get mediocre second place finishes, can we count on him to drop out? I mean, whether or not you approve of a frontloaded primary, this is getting silly. Sharpton and Kucinich staying in forever surprises noone, but Edwards? Maybe he shouldn't have given up on his Senate seat...

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Who Wants To Be President?

Even The Nation is joining the effort to keep Ralph Nader from running for President. In the same pages, Bob Borosage savages Joe Lieberman, who obviously sunk his own presidential campaign by repeating the silly word Joe-mentum.


Josh Marshall hits the nail on the head when examining Bush's decisionmaking:

"Indeed, I'm really not sure you can say the president is a waffler at all. His policy positions remain fairly consistent over time. It's not his positions that change, but his facts.

I'd almost say that the president -- or the White House, more broadly -- is something like the inverse of a waffler. He continues with policies even after the factual arguments upon which he initially justified them collapse entirely."

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Open Government

David Keene illustrates the difficulty constituents have in reaching their Members of Congress. Remember as you read this that we're not talking about well-connected lobbyists, wealthy donors, or powerful corporations. We're also not talking about how hard it is to convince someone, just to get the elusive "access" that is the coin of the realm in DC. If you really care about an issue and want to make a difference, he asks, what can you do?

You might send an e-mail message, but congressional management experts have been putting software in place to screen out much of what arrives that way so you don’t really know if yours will get through. Many offices, like that of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), will simply bounce your message back with the warning that “due to the high volume of e-mail traffic our office receives, we no longer accept incoming e-mail.” Nice.

So you call and get a very pleasant receptionist who assures you that she wants to help but that the issue you are concerned about is one being handled by a legislative staffer currently unavailable, in a meeting or out of the office. She puts you through to the staffer’s voice mail. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to leave a message, but in many instances, a mechanical voice will inform you that the staffer’s voice mailbox is full and that you ought to try again some time.

You can, of course, keep calling, but after the third or fourth call you will probably be dismissed as a crank and future calls will get you nowhere.

You could fax your letter, but the fax numbers likely to get your message to the staffer or staffers whom you need to contact are usually unavailable to outsiders and much of what comes in on the general number is, in all too many offices, treated like spam and trashed.

So, let’s assume that you are in Washington. You can hop in a cab and head for the Hill. But when you get there you will discover, again, that the person you need to see is busy and that waiting won’t help. You may have prepared for this eventuality by bringing a copy of the letter you hoped you could get through via the mails, but security measures prohibit your dropping it off.

Does this sound like a healthy democracy, by, for, and of the people?

Monday, February 23, 2004

Golf Games With the Governor

Last week the Maryland Democratic Party fanned the flames of scandal in its Majority Report by invoking a recent Washington Post article that further details questionable financial activities by nonprofit groups connected to Gov. Bob Ehrlich. It seems that golf games with the Governor are available for a not-so-small donation to his allies.

This is not the first article, nor the last, questioning fundraising and advocacy practices on the Governor’s team.

And the Maryland primary is getting more attention now that the presidential is still on, and Harry Sampson is one of several Democrats who’d like to make the 1st CD general into a competitive race.

Cybersquatting is Political Fun, Too

Roll Call let's us know about a new gay porn site that uses conservative Rep. John Boozman's name (R-Ark.): boozmanforcongress.com

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Spin Me Right Round, Baby

The Wyeth Wire has a funny for the 18th:

Journalists are too cynical for their own good. They cynically dismiss spin and focus on the reality. I think this is a mistake. Sometimes the best way to ridicule spin is to take it seriously.

Consider the spin from the Lieberman campaign after New Hampshire, touting a "three-way tie for third place." Most reporters brushed off this spin as a delusional rant by a dying candidate.

But what if a reporter had taken his premise seriously, and followed it to its logical conclusion?

Senator Lieberman, I agree with you that your third-place showing in New Hampshire promises to propel your campaign the way similar Granite State third place finishes have in the past. How does your third-place finish compare with that of:

Steve Forbes in 2000?
Lamar Alexander in 1996?
Bob Kerrey in 1992?
Jack Kemp in 1988?
John Glenn in 1984?
Howard Baker in 1980?

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Growing A Majority

One of the frustrating things about creating change in this country is the chasm between the hard pushes toward high priority short-term victories, and the long-term education and building necessary for long-term change. In addition to policy work, I've done my share of both field work for electoral campaigns and grassroots organizing for social change. Now while those two things might sound similar, they are worlds apart, and the difference between the two is indicative of what we need to change our politics by growing a majority.

Both field and organizing efforts involve generally young activists who, for little money or as volunteers, visit, call, and email people in their community to get them interested in an effort. They try to persuade, cajole, and educate busy people to get more involved in their communities. But that is where the similarity ends.

Grassroots organizing for social change is about teaching people that their interests lie in shared action, educating them about how public policy issues impact their daily lives, and showing them how they can change the system by becoming active. All too often, campaign field work on the other hand is focused solely on election day. It is not generally about getting new voters registered or any of the elements of organizing. It is about turning out the most people to vote for a candidate at the lowest cost. These days, this generally means working to turn out already reliable voters.

Now I see the logic of both of these strategies. I also understand why we target a few races to get our intense ground effort, fundraising support, etc. But the pool of voters is shrinking and the people who do vote are not going to magically turn our way long-term. To be frank, all too much of what we do in our campaigns is about getting the vote out in November, not about building for a long-term majority.

We've got to look at the numbers across the country and see that we have to grow a majority. Rather than accept that only a third or less of voters are going to turn out in non-presidential years to vote for our candidates for national, state and local office, we've got to be out organizing, educating, mobilizing, and registering people year round.

Look at the numbers in Kansas. I know that it swings all too often for Republicans, but look how few people vote. Look how the economy there is being hit hard and how Bush and the Republican Congress have failed to really help them and have even made the situation worse. Many Republican policies hurt Kansans; we only have to show that.

We should not have to concede states like Kansas in the presidential election and our Senate candidates in states like Kansas should not be all-but-ignored. Year round organizing is necessary to create a real possibility of change long-term. So let me applaud the work of campaigners across the nation who are working to elect a Democratic president, and build a progressive majority in Congress and in legislatures across the country.

At the same time, let me say that I am dedicated to a long-term majority capable of real change based on a more progressive consensus and a more solid base.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Never Regret

"Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can't
build on it, it's only good for wallowing in."


Influence and $

The LA Times had a good investigative piece today detailing the connections between Rep. Curt Weldon's advocacy on behalf of Russian and Serb nationals who also have lucrative contracts with his 29 year old daughter's firm.

Call me naive, but I thought we had gotten past the point where anyone thought they could make hundreds of thousands off of their power. Sure we have campaign contributions which, though somewhat regulated, are a means of helping your friends and rewarding them for their assistance, but that money is supposed to be used only for campaigning. This went to Weldon's daughter's bank account directly. The piece is even more damaging than the previous piece on Sen. Harry Reid's family.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

My Blog

Blogs are facts mixed with our opinions. I write what I think on this blog and try to share facts I find salient or relevant.

If you don’t like what I write, that’s your opinion and you are welcome to write it elsewhere. If you have something constructive to say, email me.

Until someone starts paying me for my opinions or consensus is created on a code of blogging conduct, let’s agree that the blogosphere is amazingly varied in content, tone, and style.

I maintain the right to my opinions without consulting with anyone. And, I maintain the right to express those opinions as I see fit.

Thanks. And have a nice day.


A Blogger’s Disclaimer and A Bloggers Code are both good references for blogging and, whether you agree with them or not, give us a way to start a discussion about the role of blogging.


“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

--James Madison, 4th President

from the Publius blog

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Doing It

Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Rapid Disassembly

Check out the sweet euphemism offered up by Kyocera: "rapid disassembly" as a pleasant substitute for explosion.

Mistakes were made even provides examples of how to use this phrase in headlines:

At Least One Iraqi Child Is Killed in a Rapid Disassembly in a Schoolyard

Moscow Blames 'Terrorists' for Feb. 6 Metro Rapid Disassembly

And, as is often the case, Wonkette.com has a funny about the Kerry-intern non-scandal:

Associated Press reports:

Breaking her silence four days after the allegations surfaced on the Internet, [No handbag line, no name. We don't want CJR to get mad at us.] issued a statement to The Associated Press, saying, "I have never had a relationship with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely false."

Ew. Don't you feel dirty? Used?

Wouldn't you like to do it again?

Mfume for Senate?

Roll Call reports that former Baltimore Congressman Kweisi Mfume, now the head of the NAACP, "has kept his old Congressional campaign fund alive since he left Congress in 1996 and is using it to support a host of national and local Democrats." It speculated that Mfume might "become a candidate for Senate in 2006 if Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) chooses not to seek a sixth term," noted that he had $112,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2003, and gave $4,000 to the DSCC.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.

Horace Mann (1796–1859), baccalaureate address, Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1859

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Maryland News

In case you don’t follow Baltimore politics, take a gander back at the Sun from last fall to realize how crazy things can be. Namely, the primary was last September (for mayor, too) but the general isn’t until late this year.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg Wednesday wrote yesterday that “the sponsor of the bill extending Maryland’s hate crimes law to include crimes committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation told me there were no opponents - in person or in writing, at the hearing today. They must be holding their fire for the gay marriage bills, she said. Or they’re waiting for the Senate, I replied, where they killed the bill last year, after it had passed the House.”

Republican primary challengers in Maryland races are having trouble keeping up with incumbent Members of Congress.

And Rep. Bartlett announced his intention to try to further roll back campaign finance reform.

Rumors of Infidelity

Washington is so bored with the rapidly disappearing presidential nomination battle that new subjects are being scared up. Right or wrong, online sources get the jump on other media because they are willing to run with conjecture while newspapers and tv/radio news generally want more evidence before putting out a story.

Such is the case this morning, as the Drudge Report (not necessarily the most reliable or unbiased of sources), brings us breaking rumors of infidelity by Sen. John Kerry.

If this doesn't pan out, the political class will have to go back to discussing whether Gov. Bill Richardson or Sen. Edwards will make it into the vp slot.

more than just a pretty book

Earth from Above, a photo book with fantastic shots of manmade and natural phenomena by Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a tour-de-force of images of how we live and how our lives impact the world around us. With informed commentary that explains the photos in environmental and social terms, this tome is more than just a pretty book. The challenges facing our world are "translated from arid fact to alarming image, giving immediate meaning to the statistics that underlie today's environmental headlines; his photographs of the ruins of rural Madagascar, where forests are being cleared at a rate of 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) annually, are a sad case in point."

One cannot help but be awed by the beauty of the world and its inhabitants, and alarmed by some of our actions. Some will hopefully be moved to action by the striking images "of stalagmite-like fans of algae spreading into the Mediterranean Sea, farmers working their fields in northern India, or destroyed Iraqi tanks littering the deserts of Kuwait." Others will just enjoy, and perhaps learn from it.

Having this fantastic book at home to pore over is the way to go, but if you need a taste before buying, check out the photographer's web pages.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Navel Gazing

While perhaps not having done enough navel gazing about the role of blogs in socity/politics, an exchange on Dailykos.com might make those of us who write and read here to do so. Whatever you decide, blogs like all sources of information should always be read with a critical mind fully engaged.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

TN and VA Exit Polls

National Review has exit polls for Tennessee and Virginia from around noon:


Kerry 46
Edwards 28
Clark . 15
Dean 7


Kerry 48
Edwards 25
Clark 1 1
Dean 8


What does an endorsement really mean these days?

I mean, come on, no one really thinks that Gov. Mark Warner's endorsement just before the primary (today) is going to make or break John Kerry in Virginia. Whatever strength he has to turn out votes is limited, given that his team would only start to help at this date. Face it, Warner is just climbing on the bandwagon, hoping it'll help him down the line.

And there are myriad examples of supposedly powerful endorsers who didn't make a difference, like Gov. John Engler whose mighty machine somehow failed to swing Michigan for his favored candidate (W. in 2000), or Sen. Tom Harkin the kingmaker in Iowa whose support meant little when his state voted to make Dean go away. Maybe some votes are swayed when ideological leaders like Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) or Jack Kemp make an endorsement, but just because Steve Forbes supports Rep. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) for Senate, doesn't mean that I'm going to.

I'm certainly not going to say anything about endorsements by Al Gore or Madonna, whose impact is so diaphanous as to be unverifiable, or even is potentially counterproductive.

Revoking your endorsement, however, is something that should be done in only the most important of cases. I agree with a principled resignation from a job or effort when you disagree with something on high ethical grounds or somesuch, but the decision by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to withdraw its support from Howard Dean smacks of cowardice. Yes, the incredible locomotive that is the Dean campaign is hardly charging down the rails like it was when AFSCME endorsed, but what else has changed?

Did the AFSCME endorsement mean anything or was it just me-tooism? We all want to win, but at what price?

Monday, February 09, 2004

Fair and Balanced In General

Today’s Washington Post reviews a report comparing the coverage of presidential candidates on the CBS, ABC and NBC nightly news:

“From Jan. 1 through the New Hampshire primary, says the Center for Media and Public Affairs, 96 percent of the comments about John Edwards were positive. Next in line were John Kerry (79 percent positive), Wesley Clark (68 percent positive) and Howard Dean (52 percent positive).”


“The horse race still reigned supreme: Only 17 percent of stories focused on issues or proposals, while 71 percent examined polls or strategy."

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Fun in the Free State

Delegate Franchot and others circulated a letter (on Friday) arguing that Dick Hug’s effort to support slots in Maryland through raising funds for an independent expenditure campaign is a “clear and distinct conflict of interest and an abuse of Mr. Hug’s prestigious position” as a member of the University of Maryland system, the Board of Regents. We’ll see if the revitalized efforts will stop slots again, or if they will help Franchot or Duncan to statewide election in 2006.

Also, former legislator Tim Maloney assails the congressionalization of Annapolis on the back of today’s Post opinion page. Solutions anyone?

The Maryland Democratic Party is now publishing an email “Majority Report,” but when reading it you should try not to think about the Tom Cruise movie – this past week it is far less gripping. The Maryland Republican Party was, if anything, even more vitriolic with its attack on Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley’s annual State of the City address, sending out a press release calling it ‘full of smoke and mirrors.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Chasing the Wind in Maryland

In recent Maryland news, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett enlisted in the morality corps, decrying rude, crude, and lewd broadcasting. And Rep. Al Wynn, despite largely ignoring the needs of his constituents, announced that he managed a good score with the NAACP. Glad to see pols standing up for what they believe in even when it is unpopular!

And its kind of sad when the Republican candidate is the grassroots campaigner who claims he is looking out for the little guy and the environment. While the Senate race between state Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Senator Barbara Mikulski is unlikely to be even moderately competitive, it might suggest whether Republicans have a shot at statewide office down the line when Mikulski and Sarbanes move on, or whether Ehrlich is an aberration.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Wonkette's Dish

Wonkette’s excoriating piece on NE Rep. Tom Osbourne’s hypocrisy about sexuality is entertaining. If you need dish, the Wonkette has it for you.

And in Missouri, CQ reports that former Mayor Emanuel Cleaver will run for the 5th Congressional District seat, becoming the front runner over night. The only question now is whether anyone will pay attention now that he is in.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Going through some files I found an article from last July in the Post about Ari Fleischer's exit from the White House. It included the following evasive maneuvers that seem worth remembering when one needs to spin:

Refer the questioner elsewhere

State a generic policy of responding

The non-sequiter

Reverse the burden of proof

The platitude

Which all just reminds me of a Doonesbury cartoon from last year in which Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld takes a question about looting and rephrases it in such a bizarre way that he can laugh it off and then completely defang the questioners. It went like this (use your imagination):

Secretary Rumsfeld, do you feel you finally have a handle on looting in Iraq?

You mena, is there still some guy out there stealing ashtrays? Probably.

Do we live in a perfect world where such things don't happen? Not likely.

Do I prefer asking my own question and then anser it? Gosh, yes!

Can I make you look foolish by implying its your question?" Absolutely!

Talk about fun with reporters. That's why so many of us ignore Sunday morning talk shows, interviews, or other chances to hear pols blather.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Work Worth Doing

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, February 01, 2004

A Democratic Establishment?

Nicolas Confessore's lengthy article in the Jan/Feb Washington Monthly "The Myth of the Democratic Establishment" points to a couple of salient points that one cannot ignore if any sort of progressive movement is to be successful in gaining some measure of influence over our national policies. Namely, the Dems lack a real infrastructure and an organized team at the grassroots and inside-the-beltway levels, to sustain them when they are out of power. The complete lack of interest by most players in new blood, or of creating a vibrant team that can succeed in any but the most positive of circumstances, seems to be lacking.


In a further example of the mixing of reality and television, the nonprofit advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums leads the front of its web site with a piece about how its issue (and name) made it into the tv series West Wing. Now don't get me wrong, the tv show was good exposure, it just seems a bit strange.