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

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Bits and Pieces

Air America, an alternative to mindless, usually conservative talk radio that is planning to offer more substance and some progressive voices, is just getting started. We'll see if it offers something worth hearing, but I'm listening to give it a shot.

"At 72, I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in Washington with a bunch of pompous old farts, listening to people read statements they didn't even write and probably don't believe, " said former UN Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young on why he decided not to run for the Senate from Georgia.

We now break from our regularly scheduled program to draw your attention to questions about the safety of so-called hot yoga (also known as Bikram Yoga), as raised by the New York Times.

The hot new think/action tank the Center for American Progress has come out with some tremendous, sharp facts and commentary lately, and is offering up the tale of a Defense aide who apparently left some papers at a Starbucks...

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Speaker Busch

Regardless of how you think lawmakers should balance doing the will of their constituents and using their judgement to make decisions on legislation, it's often interesting to see how politicians deal with the occasional disagreements between constituents and conscience.

One such case is Maryland's debate about how to raise the money to pay for services that so many rely on. The breakdown between slot machines and other taxes or fees is not partisan, and regional differences also seem poor predicters. The Baltimore Sun analyzes the winds blowing in Ann Arundel County, where House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch lives. It indicates that in governing our fairly liberal state, leaders like the Speaker might face challenges in their increasingly conservative districts.

Workers at Giant and Safeway approved a deal today that marked a compromise between the 30,000 workers in the Baltimore and DC areas represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers and the two large supermarket chains.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

At Work?

We all know that the presidents have to do a lot of travelling, both at home and internationally, but sometimes it seems that leaders of nations end up being just communicators rather than decisionmakers.

This is nowhere better illustrated than by a recent Post piece on just how much our presidents travel:

In his first three years in office, Bush took 416 trips to 46 states, compared with Clinton's 302 trips to 40 states during a similar period. More notable, the scholars found, was the heavy proportion of Bush travel to "swing states" -- those where the vote margin in the 2000 election was within 6 percentage points.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Leaving Office

Recent revelations by Richard Clarke, the former anti-terrorism official, that the Administration was fixated on Iraq while not paying enough attention to terrorism and by Richard Foster, the former government actuary, that the Administration tried to keep estimates of the cost of the Republican changes to Medicare from Congress are adding to increased skepticism of President Bush's credibility. It's not possible to realistically predict what will happen in November, but the chances that Kerry could actually win seem to be on the upswing.

Wonkette has the Friday funny:

Condi Rice is leaving her job at the end of the year. Talk about being out of the loop! We had no idea. But it does explain this posting we saw on Craigslist the other day:

Will Erect Unilateral Foreign Policy for Food
Do you need someone to lend someone to lend credibility to your plans to invade another country? Is there an administration turncoat you need attacked on nationwide television? Serious inquiries only (sorry, Mr. Scaife).

Thursday, March 25, 2004


In case you have way too much free time on your hands sashay across the pond to find out how high heels can get.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Unions Merge

Union City, the e-newsletter of the Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO (signup at dclabor.org) is letting those who missed it know that "Two of the most aggressively organizing unions, HERE and UNITE! announced last week that the two unions will merge. That is big news for those watching for rebirth and innovation in the labor movement.

Paying for Tax Cuts

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer is reminding us of last week's budget debate through this great quote:

"We don't believe you should have to pay for tax cuts." - Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, CQ Midday, 3/17/04

Economic Data Continued

And if you need some good economic data with progressive insights, look into the resources of the Economic Policy Institute. This piece talks about the value of the dollar.

Monday, March 22, 2004

People-centered Development

A Maryland/DC local of the Service Employees Union International has an interesting critique of development in Baltimore as being investor-centered and providing little economic benefit and few good jobs to the people of the city. Although not a new theory, it delves into some of the reasons that not all development necessarily helps those who should be helped.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Blog Survey

While not usually prone to significant navel-gazing about the practice of writing a web log, I think that the results of a survey of bloggers are interesting.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Ehrlich Politics

The Maryland Democratic Party is putting out the word in its email Majority Report that Governor Bob Ehrlich recently tried to get County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder to switch parties and challenge Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. in 2006 as a Republican. Bartenfelder’s response in the Sun was nonresponsive, but the Dems used the incident to claim that “Ehrlich leads a talentless Republican Party.” The Maryland Republican Party’s most recent release, however, includes the headline “Governor Ehrlich Needs Your Help!” and encourages people to call in to the interview show he was on last night with easy questions and compliments.

And there is a good piece on Commonwealth Commonsense regarding the Virginia budget and how easily numbers can be skewed by assumptions.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The New Republic

Last week’s (March 22) edition of the New Republic offers some food for thought. First, a fact that can stand on its own:

This chart shows that the actual U.S. record price for gasoline occurred in 1981, when regular unleaded cost $2.80 in today's money. (The chart is in 2002 dollars; add 2 percent for current dollars.) The current gas-price level that Spencer Abraham, Dan Rather, and others are hyping as close to "the record" is actually 39 percent lower than the true price peak.

Janine Zacharia’s piece “Oppo Research” indicates that the International Republican Institute (an international Democracy-building organization with ties to the Republican party) while generally doing programs including party building, fundraising, and organizing training for both ruling and opposition parties around the world, instead generally only supported the opposition in Haiti and Venezuela. She goes on to indicate how the Administration has not supported democratically elected governments that lean left.

And is it just me, or has Eliot Spitzer pulled off a real coup by having a cover article in the New Republic shortly after the Nation listed him near the top of their list of potential VP nominees?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Duncan Running for Governor

Does anyone else find it amusing that in an older press release on Doug Duncan's campaign site, the first bold paragraph is a quote suggesting that he might run for governor? Guess his heavy fundraising means he might not be running for County Executive, huh. No such hint readily available on Martin O'Malley's web site.

And, speaking of a potential opening for a new County Executive, do you think it's just a coincidence that Montgomery County Council President Steve Silverman just sent out an email announcing events with both local Members of Congress (Van Hollen and Wynn)?

Money in Politics

The Maryland House Ways and Means Committee is considering two bills that would attempt to tighten the rules regarding money in politics.

Charging the Hill

Word from aides on Capitol Hill is that Moveon.org is letting loose a barrage of email, fax, and telephone calls aimed at defeating a resolution congratulating President Bush on the war in Iraq. The activists are also calling for a censure for the President.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Costs, the Costs

The Bush Administration not only knew that some of its internal experts disagreed with cost projections for its changes to Medicare, but attempted to stop those professionals from communicating with the Congress, according to the New York Times.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Research Tip

If you want to get some good, particularly progressive insights on federal policy, check out this resource from The American Prospect's Moving Ideas Network.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Cover Story

Our friends at Wonkette.com have drawn our attention to the arrest of a former Congressional staffer in Maryland for alleged spying for Iraq.

Laura Flanders goes into some detail about how women leaders are being used by the Administration to provide "superficial cover while the Administration pursues policies that take a disproportionate toll on the lives of women and people of color."

The Bushwomen are the Administration's way of sending two contradictory messages at once. Even as her husband courts social conservatives, Laura Bush lulls moderate voters into believing that the White House is not really in the clutches of the extreme right.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


The Baltimore Chronicle highlights the problem with judging how Americans feel about one of the most discussed topics of the day:

The Linguistics of Politics: How the Right Frames the Issues

"...While a lot of Americans don't approve of gay sex, that doesn't mean they want to discriminate against gay people....What if you make the issue "freedom to marry," or even better, "the right to marry"? That's a whole different story. Very few people would say they did not support the right to marry who you choose. But the polls don't ask that question, because the right wing has framed that issue."

—George Lakoff, professor of linguistics, University of California at Berkeley and a founder of the Rockridge Institute, one of the few progressive think tanks in the U.S.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Equal Rights

The Maryland House of Delegates backed away from steps to prohibit homosexual couples from enjoying some of the same rights as heterosexual couples last week with one Montgomery County Delegate telling her colleagues and the public that she is a lesbian.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg describes last week’s hearing on why gays and lesbians should be able to be with their partners in hospitals.

It's a challenging time for those who believe in equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Right's VP Picks

As the speculation over VP picks heats up, we must ask what it means when the Washington Times reacts to a potential choice. When Wesley Pruden attacks John Edwards at length (today's column), then disses Bob Graham and Evan Bayh, does that mean they could be good possibilities?

Wonkette reported yesterday an AP poll showing Bush 46%, Kerry 45%, and Nader 6%. Who would have thought?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Decentralizing for Victory

As I talk to people in my own community about getting more involved in improving the way our country is run I hear a lot of frustration, a bit of hopelessness, and a fair amount of anger. So let me tell you that I think that we can make a difference if enough of us are willing to work for it. The way change happens is through citizens like you and me standing up.

One of the best ways is to empower individual voters to become activists to organize their communities, their friends and families, those they associate with online and off. From the Simon Rosenberg's team blog:

The decentralized, bottom-up approach of the Dean campaign allows many more people to have a meaningful and productive relationship with our politics. Why not allow/encourage 2 million people to become essential partners in changing the country? Why not give them specific details on what we need to do to win – as Dean did – and encourage them to do much more then just give money? If millions are raising their hand and asking how they can help we better have something for them to do in addition to giving money.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Campbell Not Running

Now this is probably jumping the gun, but Roll Call is reporting that Sen. Ben Campbell is not going to run for reelection in Colorado. While Democrats had a chance with a fresh face before, an open-seat race opens up all new possibilities for realistically winning that seat as well as putting the state in play for the Presidential. Rep. Mark Udall and others will probably consider entering the field currently occupied only by entrepreneur Rutt Birdges.

Primary Postmortem

John Kerry swept Maryland’s primary Tuesday with 59% to John Edwards’ 28% in a race that was not nearly as close as some had predicted. The Congressional primaries went much as expected: all incumbents easily won their primaries, setting up general election contests that suggest little excitement.

In the U.S. Senate primary, state Senator E.J. Pipkin won 51% of Republican votes to give him the right to face Senator Barbara Mikulski, who finished with 89%, in November. All other candidates had low single digit results. While the two most talked-about Maryland primary contests turned out to be easy walks for the incumbents. In the 6th CD, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett beat his Republican primary opponent by more than 2 to 1, setting up a fall campaign against Kenneth Bosley. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest won the Republican primary in the 1st with 62%, while Ann Tamlyn won a rematch with 36% in the primary in what Charlie Cook calls a R + 9 district.

In the suburbs and exurbs extending from the DC border:

Brad Jewitt narrowly won the 5th CD Republican primary, giving him the unenviable task of facing Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (unchallenged in the primary) in the general. Al Wynn only took 75% against a little-known challenger in the 4th district primary, but should still not face much opposition in the fall from John McKinnis. Freshman Rep. Chris Van Hollen rolled through the primary to face Republican Chuck Floyd in a contest that should be little challenge for this heavily Democratic seat.

In Baltimore and its surroundings:

Jane Brooks took a majority in the Republican primary for the 2nd, and will face Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was unopposed in his primary, in this heavily Democratic district. Little challenge awaits Rep. Ben Cardin in his reelection campaign after an easy Democratic primary, though he’ll face Robert Duckworth in November. Rep. Elijah Cummings, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, won the primary easily, and, given the more than 3:1 Democratic registration of the district, faces little competition from Republican Tony Salazar.

Veepstakes Begins

Now that it looks like we've got our presidential matchup, The Nation has kicked off a renewed discussion about who Kerry might pick to run as his vice-president, suggesting:

But, if Kerry is as smart as he has proven to be so far in this campaign, he won't play the old game of picking a running mate who might – emphasis on "might" -- help him carry a particular battleground state. Rather, he will follow the lead of Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and pick a vice presidential prospect who helps to energize the party's base voters nationally, and who add ideas and energy to a ticket that will be needing more of both those commodities.

Among the people Kerry might consider are:

* New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the single most effective battler against corporate abuses in either political party. Spitzer has been a watchdog on Wall Street and a fearless advocate for consumers. He's also got a great track record as a defender of women's rights. Spitzer's smart, he's quick on his feet and he already has achieveda stature that extends well beyond New York's borders.

* Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the sole opponent in the Senate to the Patriot Act and the most prominent Democratic advocate for campaign finance reform. Feingold's got a far better record than Kerry on issues of concern to working Americans and farmers, meaning that he could be a particularly effective advocate for the ticket in the swing states of theGreat Lakes and the upper Midwest.

* Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett, one of the savviest and most effective members of the current Congress. He's a former state Supreme Court Justice with a great legal mind. And wouldn't it be interesting to hear a Texas-accented voice explaining the folly of the war with Iraq, the Patriot Act and other Bush initiatives?

Let the veepstakes begin (again)!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Time to Rally Together

Early returns on Slate show a not unexpected Kerry strength, including strong leads in states where Edwards was fighting hard:

Kerry 50
Edwards 39
Sharpton 7

Kerry 59
Edwards 28
Sharpton 4

Kerry 58
Edwards 30
Kucinich 10

If this keeps up, it'll finally be time for all Americans who think it's time for a change to rally around the Nominee and kick some elephant butt!

This comment was first posted on the DNC web log. Actually, now is probably a good time to mention that posts here are also crossposted on a number of web sites, including: polstate.com, fromtheroots.org, and blogcritics.org.

Mikulski Wants to Fly!

The Montgomery Sentinel had Maryland candidates for the House and Senate answer questions about their policy priorities, their parties, and finally, what superpower they'd like to have. Senator Barbara Mikulski decided she'd like to fly. Do you think her staff had fun with this questionnaire?

I would choose flight, and the first thing I would try to do is help people get out of traffic! If I could fly, I would try to do a lot of things to help people just as I do in my real, non-flying job as a U.S. Senator. I would help fight crime by working to break up drug dealing, fight terrorism, and stop those who were trying to oppress others. While I try to help in each of those areas now, it would certainly be more fun to zip around like a super-hero. And to complete the fantasy, I would make doing good deeds the ultimate aerobic exercise, and then I would be able to fit into a real cool super-hero outfit too!

In other news, tax dodging Maryland businesses generally decided not to come forward with their fair share. And Marylanders think that health care is the most pressing issue facing the state.

Potential Side Effects

An article in today's Washington Post discusses a recent study suggesting that antibacterial soaps and other products my lack efficacy. An interesting comment by Stuart Levy, a professor of molecular biology, microbiology and medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, suggests the potential negative side effects of our extensive use of antibacterials.

"I have been concerned for a long time about changing the microbiology of the home," said Levy, who was not involved in the new study. "Infants growing up in the home need to be exposed to certain types of bacteria to get their immune systems to mature properly. Too hygienic means that you are more likely to come down with allergies and asthma."

More information is available everywhere, but I found the CHEC useful.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Congressional Races in Maryland

Tomorrow's Maryland primary while featuring a fairly competitive Presidential race, but Congressional races look set to be incumbent cake walks this fall, Mayor Martin O'Malley should glide to reelection, and other races are generally small local races that we won't cover here. Thus little attention is being paid to primary races to nowhere.

At the top of the ticket, Sen. Barbara Mikulski faces two Democratic challengers trying to run to her left. The Republican primary is dominated by first term state Senator E.J. Pipkin who already has unofficial party backing in his primary against eight other Republicans. A January poll showed Mikulski ahead of Pipkin by a 3:1 margin. Any talk about a Republican realignment in the state seems unlikely to impact her reelection, given Mikulski's overwhelming victories in primaries and general elections in 1998 and 1992. Word is that Pipkin is hoping for an open seat Senate election in 2006 and using this as a chance to build his name recognition, lists, and donor/activist base.

In Maryland's 1st Congressional District, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate Republican is facing an energetic challenge from the right in state Senator Richard Colburn, who has deep roots in the region. Four Democrats are vying for the chance to take the winner on in what Charlie Cook calls a R + 9 district, but surely hoping for a conservative upset on the Republican side.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger has no opposition in the Democratic primary and little in the general:

"You'd need something almost as dramatic as an earthquake to get that race to show up on the radar screen," said Amy Walter, who handicaps House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Little challenge awaits Rep. Ben Cardin in his reelection campaign, though one Democrat and three Republicans are giving it a shot. The 3rd CD seems safe for as long as he wants it.

Al Wynn shouldn’t have any problem with his little known challenger in the 4th district primary, or with whichever Republican wins the all-but-invisible race on that side. That might be why he is already looking ahead to a potential 2006 Senate campaign.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer is unchallenged in the Democratic primary in the 5th. Three Republicans including the young former Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Brad Jewitt, are interested in taking his place in a district he has repeatedly held by wide margins.

In the 6th CD, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle has waged an energetic but uphill battle against Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in the Republican primary. The winner will have a huge advantage in this heavily Republican district against whichever of seven Democrats emerges from the primary. VP Cheney was at a fundraiser for Bartlett recently.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is in little danger in the primary and, given the more than 3:1 Democratic registration of the district, in the general either. That might be why he now has time to campaign for Kerry.

Freshman Rep. Chris Van Hollen has little risk of losing his primary to either of his two Democratic challengers. And, although Robin Ficker and Chuck Floyd are giving voters in the eighth district a surprisingly energetic show, neither of the Republicans is likely to give Van Hollen much of a run for his money for this heavily Democratic seat.

Hart Comeback Model

Yesterday's Face the Nation featured a flashback to the 1984 Democratic primary offering John Edwards hope for the nomination. Because of expectations, Walter Mondale's victory in just two of nine states on Super Tuesday the press led with Mondale comback stories instead of the overwhelming coverage Gary Hart had expected for winning the remaining contests. Edwards' shot Tuesday lies not in a resounding victory in many states, as that seems unlikely, but in winning just enough to beat expectations and reenergize his campaign. We'll see.