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

Friday, April 23, 2004

Bob's Power Play

Governor Bob Ehrlich pushed business leaders to exclusively back Republicans, thus moving to build his party's long-term strength in Maryland.

Despite the backing of the state's first Republican governor in 36 years, business interests are being out-muscled in the state capital by well-organized ground troops from the Maryland State Teachers Association and trial lawyers, Ehrlich said, singling out two groups for which he has particular disdain.

This is an outgrowth of Washington Republicans' K Street Project, an effort to force business lobbyists and others with issues before Tom DeLay's Congress to play ball only with one team.

And The Capital reports Congressional campaign fundraising numbers (from the March 31st reporting deadline), and an indication that there might be a contest in the 1st CD to select a new Democratic nominee.


Many in Japan have been rather less than supportive of the former hostages in Iraq, according to a New York Times piece today:

The young Japanese civilians taken hostage in Iraq returned home this week, not to the warmth of a yellow-ribbon embrace but to a disapproving nation's cold stare.

Treated like criminals, the three former hostages have gone into hiding, effectively becoming prisoners inside their own homes.

The article goes on a bit, but the basics are that the three hostages defied government authority by going, so are being treated as misbehaving children by some, exacerbating their ordeal.

One of the things I love about alternative media is how much less cookie-cutter it can be. For example:

The only thing is, some "special interests" are more special than others, and they use their bullying pulpits to kneecap the competition rather than simply to bag another set of goodies.

But at their root, it's all with the same goal in mind—to hang on to market share and consumers not by improving products or prices or services, but by using the legal system to stick it to your competitors.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Tech Organizing, More Than Just Email and the Web

Meetup.com has been hailed in the political world as a potentially transformative tool – a method to enable average citizens with an interest in the presidential elections to help get their neighbors organized on behalf of a candidate. In a New Republic article from November: Organization Man: Joe Trippi Reinvents Campaigning, Dean’s campaign manager the difference between the top-down presidential campaigns of at least the last few decades and a more grassroots, bottom-up phenomenon are explored. Meetup.com is, like online chat rooms, suggested as a new source of connectivity between the all-too-disconnected voters in a increasingly mobile world.

Of course, pundits keep announcing how technology is transforming campaigns all the time, and there have been a variety of other good ideas coming out of the IT sector. But what technology like Meetup.com (or friendster.com) does is more compelling, in that it draws upon the initiative of the average site viewer.

While the increasingly effective collection of data by Tony Sanchez’s Texas gubernatorial campaign illustrated in the Slate article, as well as more dynamic web sites and greater use of listservs are all innovations, Meetup.com has the potential to decentralize the organizing, thus using the initiative and power of the individual voter. The power of individual activists to do more than just carry out the orders of central authority is illustrated by recent campaigns by the Metropolitan DC Council, AFL-CIO's Street Heat program. They did a good job last month of providing materials and guidance, and turning people loose to make a difference.

This is something I'll be thinking about more.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Floating Guns and A Suicide Pact

Charlie Cook’s National Journal column for today talks about the rising negatives of both Bush and Kerry, the might-have-beens:

Kerry did not so much "win" the Democratic nomination as survive the murder-suicide pact in Iowa between former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri that effectively removed the number one and two contenders, allowing numbers three (Kerry) and four (North Carolina Sen. John Edwards) to move to the top two positions. An interesting parlor game would be to contemplate who would have won the Democratic nomination had Kerry not mortgaged his Beacon Hill townhouse and been the best funded and organized candidate after Dean and Gephardt savaged each other on the Iowa television airwaves.

Bike-to-Work Day is coming to the Washington, DC-area on May 7.

And the American Prospect has an interesting short piece discussing how the floating (military cargo ships roaming the oceans) and permanent weapons and equipment stores waiting for the U.S. military to need them somewhere around the world have been called on significantly for the effort in Iraq. This leaves the U.S. and Britain (which has also used a great deal of its stored materiel) ill-prepared for significant deployments over the next few years.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Coors in Colorado

Interested in the open Senate seat in Colorado? Check out this on the American Street.

Full Disclosure: Like Polstate.com, Blogcritics.org, etc. I have written for the American Street in the past.

Listening to W

Biting political cartoons are available on the web, if not in every newspaper, highlighted by commentary on Bush's recent press conference, including: "Hell yes they're (words) garbled in his mind! His mind is like one of those spinning cages where you pull out the winning lottery numbers--but there's only four goddamn little balls in his cage: "Freedom," "Democracy," Terror," and "Stay the Course." He opens his mouth, one of the balls drops out. That's not a conversation, that's Keno.

After reading the New Republic's commentary on the press conference, I was reminded of a Post piece from last year when Ari Fleischer left his job as White House press secretary that described the strategic benefits of incoherence. I don't know that the President deliberately utters nonsense just to get out of tough questions, but it does beg the question of what sort of honesty officeholders owe voters.

Maybe that's why the Zogby International poll released today (from 1049 likely voters polled April 15-17) puts Kerry up by three 47 to 44 with 7% undecided. Or it could be the 49% of Americans who said that the U.S. is on the wrong track, versus 44% who said that we are on the right course.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Maryland Swinging?

According to a March poll from Gonzales Research, the presidential race is closer than expected in Maryland. 48% for Kerry and 43% for Bush, less than 1% for Nader, and 9% are undecided.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Quote and Note

The Post quotes Illinois Representative and former Clinton staffer Rahm Emanuel regarding the recent cuts Bush/Cheney are making in their negative ad buys: "In this business, when what you're doing is working, you don't take your foot off the gas."

There was a thought-provoking article last fall, I think, from a non-ideological magazine (Salon or Slate perhaps, but I cannot find it there) on why we should separate the idea of a marriage as a contract from the various religious implications and celebrations. I cannot remember where I read it. Anyone have a lead?

Do you believe that reading a variety of viewpoints broadens the mind, then take a look at the piece by Bradley Smith, FEC Chair, in the first May edition of the National Review on why conservatives should leave 527s alone. The American Spectator (April edition) offers names like those of former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw to the usual mix of Kerry vp possibilities and, later, trots out the specter of Hillary in a second piece. Also, there are some choice comments from R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. in the Washington Times' Commentary section today:

Is there a whiff of schizophrenia to this president? Only his closest advisers would know. The White House keeps others at arms' length. George W. Bush's White House is more insular than any presidency since that of Jimmy Carter. It is surprising the liberals in the press do not complain, but then those liberals are so biased against him they have little grounds for complaint. No sensible president would allow them near him. To them his every move is derisible. Yet no one else sees much of this president either. His father was not like that. Why he is so remote is a mystery, as is the ebb and flow of his energy.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Maryland Challenges

The Post reports that Democratic congressional candidate Ann Tamlyn is dropping out of the race for Maryland's 1st CD after being chosen in a March primary. Citing illness, she is leaving the longshot campaign against Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) to a new nominee to be chosen by the local parties.

And it seems that former state legislator and anti-tax advocate Robin Ficker is organizing a Republican primary challenge to Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2006 and is advertising for a running mate.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


The Maryland General Assembly passed an anti-spam bill similar to recent federal legislation before adjourning.

There are some choice words in a Gazette column today on the interplay between cars and pedestrians that offers some insights, including: “We would see that walking used to be a right and driving a privilege, but that those days are long gone.”

And the Sun includes the comments of energetically antitax legislators who, perhaps, will ride the conservative energy to Congress.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Improve your bottom line?

TomPaine.com draws our attention to an article in Business Week that shows that "Paying your employees well is not only the right thing to do but it makes for good business."

They compare Costco to Wal-Mart's Sam's Club, the unit with which it directly competes. Costco, which has about a 20 percent unionization rate, pays workers 40 percent more than Sam's Club and gives them comparatively superior benefits (for example, health care and profit-sharing plans) to Sam's Club.

Costco, surprise, has a lower turnover rate and a far higher rate of productivity: it almost equaled Sam's Club's annual sales last year with one-third fewer employees. Only six percent of Costco's employees leave each year, compared to 21 percent at Sam's. And, by every financial measurement, the company does better. Its operating income was higher than Sam's Club, as was operating profit per hourly employees, sales per square foot and even its labor and overhead costs. Here's a quote to emblazon for corporate America:

Kind of makes you rethink the silly proposition that squeezing every cent out of your employees is the way to improve profits, doesn't it?

Monday, April 12, 2004

Message Focus

Am I the only one impressed by John Edwards' ability to stay on message? Really. Judy Woodruff's attempt to get him to talk about the vice presidency ran up against an iron wall and he managed to talk the whole time about how John Kerry wouldn't have created the messes that W is getting us into, about how Kerry would help the nation as President. If one of your priorities for a vp is someone who can communicate your message exactly the way you want it and with style, then he's got a lot going for him.

There is an online vp primary that you can enter (caveat: they add you to their listserv), but its not nearly as fun as Roll Call's recent contest to pick a future Speaker where the incredible Rep. Jan Schakowsky destroyed her competition.

A lot of folks are still talking about Bill Richardson, but he and Tom Vilsack both came from states that Gore won in 2000, so who knows.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Lie Detector Glasses

Sick of watching for tells so that you know if people are giving it to you straight, how about a pair of lie detector glasses?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

War President

American Leftist put together a collage of photos of dead service men and women to make a picture of Pres. Bush (April 4 entry) that reminds us that the President's mistakes and hubris are killing people.

In the same category, but a bit more lighthearted, is a picture of John Ashcroft made of porn images, found via Wonkette.com

Friday, April 09, 2004

Investing Abroad

The Economist has an article on why emerging markets are heating up these days, suggesting that just like average investors sick of getting little return on their personal investments, big investors need to gamble to get anything these days.

More important is the fact that investors have more money to play with and nowhere better to place it. With short-term interest rates pinned to the floor by the Federal Reserve, the rich world has grown unprofitable for yield-hungry prospectors.

The caveat is, of course, that the cheap interest rates here at home that help drive the demand for overseas investment "may not last much longer."

*Full Disclosure: the editor of this column is neither an economist nor a serious investor.


"Success isn't never falling, it's rising up after you fall."

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Waning Days of the 04 Session

The saga of whether Maryland’s leaders will bring slot machines to fill the gaping budget hole continued today as the as Delegates from PG County attacked the Governor’s plan based on allegedly biased executive statements.

And the Senate approved a living wage law for state contracts. Only a few days left for the legislature...

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Judge Moore...

In case you're looking for more political speculation or you're either a radical conservative or a die-hard liberal who would love to see President Bush return permanently to Crawford, Texas, take a look at Slate. There is a fun article that paints a pretty picture of why the ultra conservative former Alabama chief justice who lost his job because he wouldn't remove the ten commandments from the courtroom might run for president of the United States.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Republicans in Iraq

Josh Marshall aims us at an AP article illustrating the dominance of Republican Hill staffers and assorted politicos in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Houghton Retires

Moderate Republican Rep. Amo Houghton (NY) is reported to have decided to leave the House, though there is no confirmation on his web site yet.

McCain as Potential Kerry pick

Political junkies continue to speculate about who John Kerry might pick as his running mate, with the Boston Globe reporting talks with Senator John Edwards, Rep. Dick Gephardt, and Governors Bill Richardson and Tom Vilsack. The article centers on speculation as to whether Senator John McCain might be chosen. One thing I think is for sure, former Sen. Bob Kerrey is not likely to get the call -- beyond his problems in Vietnam, a Kerry-Kerrey ticket is just too confusing!

Monday, April 05, 2004


I wrote in this space some time ago about my disdain for the abandonment of Gov. Howard Dean by some who had endorsed him. Without naming any specific organizations again, it seemed a bit opportunistic to jump on the Dean bandwagon when it was heating up and then jump off when things started to look less rosy.

That makes it all the more fun to applaud the International Association of Fire Fighters for sticking with John Kerry even when things were tough.


"The career of a writer is comparable to that of a woman of easy virtue. You write first for pleasure, later for the pleasure of others and finally for money."

--Marcel Achard

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Mortgage Bubble

A frightening piece on the economy and the housing market in the Washington Monthly can best be summarized by:

Greenspan knows, perhaps better than anyone, that this economy is perched nervously on top of a wobbly, Dr. Seuss-like tower. Our recovery is propped up by consumer spending, which is in turn propped up by mortgage refinancing, and if that refinancing dries up before more props can be put in, the whole edifice could fall...

Because if you think Greenspan's being cagey on refinancing, the truth he's really avoiding talking about is that we're in the midst of a huge housing bubble, on a scale only seen once before since the Depression. Worse, the inflated housing market is now in an historically unique position, as the motor of the rest of the economy. Within the next year or two, that bubble is likely to burst, and when it does, it very well may take the American economy down with it.

I'm not usually a big reader of articles on the economy, but this seems like one worth wading through.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Wynn as Kingmaker?

The Gazette has a big piece on U.S. Rep. Al Wynn, who some characterize as the puppetmaster of PG County, including such choice bits as:

When U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn convened a secret meeting at a Bowie restaurant with a small group of elected officials and told them of his plans for their political futures, someone spread word of the meeting.


But it is Wynn's tendency to weigh in on state legislation and politics that has earned him godfather-like status and criticism from some. "When I was the chair of the delegation, [Wynn] would call," said former Prince George's delegate Rushern Baker, who recently recalled Wynn's unsolicited input. "It is unusual for a federal representative to be this active in local issues."

Activist Donna Edwards is among Wynn's critics. She is a member of the Campaign to Re-Invest in the Heart of Oxon Hill, which has been outspoken against slots and casinos at the proposed National Harbor waterfront development. Regarding slots, Edwards said Wynn "has been quite participatory in a negative and unhelpful way. Al Wynn even transformed the context of the debate from slots to a full-blown casino. I don't think that comports with what the citizens of the county want or with the position most of the local officials have taken," she said. "In fact, I think because he's acting outside of the purview of his congressional duties, he's really undermining our county elected officials. It sends a mixed message about who's in charge of the agenda."

What fun!

Big Black Hole

No matter how much of a political junkie you are, the dueling press releases from parties, campaigns, and assorted pols can be tiring and not much fun to read. But occasionally there is a fun one. So, without further comment, I'll share with you one just put out by the Maryland Democratic Party.

(note: big black hole in the middle of the page, followed by text)



ANNAPOLIS—Dear Governor Ehrlich, That was fun yesterday. Democrats held up your budget book with a hole in it. You held up a piece of paper—the size of the hole—and declared slots is the answer for all our problems next year. However, you didn’t answer our question. Maybe you didn’t understand the question, so here it is again: “If slots were passed today, the revenue will not materialize for 2 years. This leaves a $839 million dollar deficit for FY 2006 and a $848 million dollar deficit in FY2007. What do you plan to do, Governor? How will fill the gap? Will you make $900 million in cuts or will you raise additional revenues. Put simply: what next, Governor? What is your plan?” Ask DiPaula, he might know. Please respond at your earliest convenience.


Maryland Democrats