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

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Arlen Specter in the News

Sen. Specter's recent problems with the right wing of his party after signalling that the President might want to be careful about his judicial appointees have produced an amusing title via a fellow blogger: Arlen Specter, Neutered Pup. The title and the commentary for a photo on the site indicate, perhaps, the independence the Senator had to give up to get to be Chair.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

How Far Right?

Beyond their ability to drive otherwise middle- and working-class people in middle America to vote against their interests (a la What's the Matter With Kansas), do you ever wonder what the real point of right-wing crusades against homosexuals, abortion, etc. are really all about?

Take a second to look over at Wampum for documentation on just how far the right wants to go--a stripping down of our government, and a regressive social agenda determined to take us back centuries. It seems the right's
real goal is rolling back the last 40 years of the Women's Right movement, ending no-fault divorce, and defunding international family planning. (All of it, not just anything abortion related, but preventative population control as well.) They also believe that generous pension benefits, Social Security and daycare facilities have led to the breakdown of the intergenerational family, as seniors are no longer dependent on the goodwill of their grown children, and can't be exploited as child caregivers.

The real question this raises, then, is if the obvious things like so-called gay marriage and partial birth abortions can be used as wedge issues, might this deeper agenda of the right be practical down the road?

Sunday, November 21, 2004


The new film Kinsey is the story of Indiana University Professor Alfred Kinsey who, after exhausting research on the gall wasp, turned his attention to the scientific study of human sexuality. The results of that research, which included extensive interviews with thousands of subjects and apparently even recording on film, led Kinsey, his associates, and eventually society as a whole to new understandings of sexuality. It helped foment the urge to question convention and to experiment to the extent that some have called him the father of the sexual revolution.

Kinsey reminds us of the boundaries society draws for us, and how we internalize them deeply without even really questioning. It asks us to both remember a time not so long ago when we were even more ignorant than today about our nature, and pushes us to wonder at the inhibitions and societal controls that keep us from exploring who we are today.

Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and the rest of the cast generally turn in strong, convincing performances that are human and yet more willing to question and explore than many of us are. Timothy Hutton is hard to buy as a young researcher, but he and Chris O'Donnell play only minor roles, leaving plenty of time for Peter Sarsgaard's excellent work as Kinsey's assistant who helps him see where the research leads.

The folks who cast this movie have a real eye for irony. Anyone who remembers Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture show will find it more than a bit amusing to see him playing the prude professor admonishing his students and anyone else who will listen to abstain from sex and to avoid sex for anything other than procreation in marriage. I know he's done a lot over the years, but I still have a certain image of him!

Well done; entertaining; thought provoking; and worth seeing.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Building a Movement

In the midst of post-election commentary and long-term discussion on how labor builds the strength it needs to build a more just society, a new site www.unitetowin.org offers some interesting ideas. While there is already a fight about suggest to build stronger structures in international unions, locally there is a similar effort.

Many of local unions are weak and disorganized, and they refuse to work together effectively.
While there are some great unions doing inspiring organizing and other work in Maryland and elsewhere, others have weak or lazy leaders, poor organization, passive memberships, and a clear lack of focus on building strength or winning victories. The most important first step in creating a movement that can change our society is building locals that have strength. This means not only merging together to build coherence and size, but pushing real democracy and internal activism while removing barriers to new leadership, so that those who are not willing to lead will get out of the way of those who are.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Good for Whom?

Today's New York Times indicates that the House Republican Caucus is revising its "Contract With America" so that if Majority Leader Tom DeLay is indicted in Texas, he will not have to resign his leadership position. They initially made that Caucus rule to demonstrate that they were above politics of usual, corruption, and the inside game. I wonder what it means when they rescind it?

Last night's Frontline "Is Wal-Mart Good for America" on PBS was a pretty good dissection of the way the retail and jobs are going. The case against is best summed up by:
If people were only consumers, buying things at lower prices would be just
good. But people also are workers who need to earn a decent standard of living,"
says economist Larry Michel of the Economic Policy Institute. "The dynamics that
create lower prices at Wal-Mart and other places are also undercutting the
ability of many, many workers to earn decent wages and benefits and have a
stable life."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Where are you going to?

Sen. Brian Frosh, the dynamic chair of Judicial Proceedings, received some unexpected touting for Attorney General from the Gazette last week.
Having Frosh in the race for attorney general raises a lot of political
intrigue. He is a noted environmentalist who would be portrayed as a consumer
advocate, differing from law-and-order candidates like Ivey and Gansler.

There are certainly rumblings for change in the legislature in Maryland, no more so than in southern Montgomery County. While the Post predicts new efforts at diversifying the legislature, challenges for longterm incumbents seem likely from a variety of quarters.

Predictions for who will take Ike Leggett's place at the helm of the Maryland Democratic Party in its important effort to unseat Gov. Ehrlich abound. Today even Roll Call has its share of predictions, but with no attribution. This writer cannot help but hope that the lessons of 2000--that trying to be all things to all Marylanders means that the party will be nothing to many--have been learned. And what about Leggett for Montgomery County Executive?

In Maryland, Democratic Chairman Isiah Leggett has resigned. Four
Montgomery County businessmen have been mentioned as his possible replacement:
Gary Gensler, a former Treasury Department official during the Clinton
administration and treasurer of the state party; Nathan Landow, a developer who
is a former state party chairman and a major national Democratic donor; Terry
Lierman, a former lobbyist and 2000 Congressional candidate who was finance
chairman of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign; and R. Scott Pastrick,
president and CEO of BKSH & Associates, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm,
and former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.