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

Monday, February 28, 2005


Conservationist and political consultant Andy Kerr has a choice comment on his work and why his rates are so low that nonprofit activists might appreciate:

It's not really sacrifice. I could make more working in the private sector, but I'd just spend most of the difference on alcohol, cocaine and/or Prozac, because I'd hate what I was doing.

Maryland Political Space

Coming Soon: an online journal and forum on Maryland politics, policy, and society aimed at becoming the central online destination for anyone interested in elections, policymaking, and public affairs, and how these impact our communities.

The new site will:
• provide insightful commentary and information not available anywhere else,
• act as an information clearinghouse,
• empower Marylanders to get involved with politics, policy, and society.

Interested in contributing? Have a link to a relevant (Maryland) site? Email on_background at yahoo.com.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hixson Votes For Slots

Marc Fisher's column in today's Post is one of the many pieces dissecting the recent passage in the House of Delegates of slots. Some suggest that this is a victory for Busch, who may have limited gambling or given the Governor and the President of the Senate an unpalatable bill they won't go along with.

While Fisher's take that this is a victory for Ehrlich is interesting, a particular note, well into the column, is worth seeing. He mentions that (according to Del. Peter Franchot), Montgomery County legislators who voted for slots, Jean Cryor, Sheila Hixson, and Henry Heller, might be forced to retire. See which way your delegates voted.


James Wolcott's blog is worth a couple of minutes a day. Thanks to Kevin at The American Street for pointing out a source of insights wrapped up in biting humor and irony, like a discussion of discrimination in the press that ends with "Conservatism and sadism have become indivisible." Ouch.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Bethlehem Steel

There is an interesting column in the Baltimore Sun about the fall of industrial Baltimore, the loss of jobs, and the inaction of politicians. Mostly, the article is about the workers of Bethlehem steel who worked in difficult, often unhealthy conditions, only to lose their jobs and eventually lose the health care they thought they could rely on.

Where were the politicians while so many Sparrows Point workers were getting hurt? Reutter, a former Sun investigative reporter who is now business and law editor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, bitingly calls it "a bipartisan show of silence," citing U.S. Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski for allowing workers to be hurt so badly and saving harsher words for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Global Unions

While the arguments about how to regain lost ground for working people and their families domestically are and should be at the center of the discussion about improving the structure of the labor movement, it's also healthy that the SEIU and others are working toward global unions. There will undoubtedly be complications, but if unions are to engage global corporations to win workers rights and good pay/benefits, the argument for global unions makes sense.

A recent article in the American Prospect (titled The Other Forum, March issue)indicates that our unions around the world agree that working more closely together is vital.

Privacy Concerns

Can you say ‘chilling effect’?

The energetically anti-abortion Attorney General of Kansas is demanding private medical records from family planning clinics. While AG Kline (a conservative, former state legislator and candidate for Congress in the 3rd CD) argues that this is necessary to enforce laws, lawyers for the subpoenaed clinics call it a “‘secret inquisition’ and ‘fishing expedition’ that threatened the doctor-patient privilege and women's constitutional rights.”

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Did you know that jousting is the state sport of Maryland? No kidding.

Politics of Privatization

Whenever really skilled political operatives take on issues that seem like sure fire losers, smart analysts take a second look and wonder what the operative might know or hypothesize that the rest of us don’t.

Social Security privatization is one of those beasts. Based on an admittedly limited knowledge of how folks feel about this issue and how they’re likely to react to any changes, it seems unlikely that this will be a plus for Republicans politically, except perhaps in terms of fundraising from the business community (leaving aside for a minute the arguments we could get into about whether privatization is a good idea). But they are still charging ahead. Does Karl Rove know something we don’t?

Maybe this really is a potentially huge hit for the Republicans, as Noam Scheiber suggests: "Social Security privatization is a bigger political loser for Republicans than even Democrats think." It would be nice to be right on this one. Josh Marshall is tracking individual Members pretty closely on how they feel about this issue and the responses they are getting from constituents.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Slots Money

The Maryland Gazette shows that politicians who are spearheading the drive for slots (Gov. Ehrlich, LG Steele, Senate Pres. Miller) are the biggest recipients of support from the pro slots folks.

Another View

Okay, I admit it. I read the Hedgehog Report occasionally. Dave’s right-wing vitriol and eagerness to clip articles in a way that perfectly illustrates his conservative points while avoiding inconvenient facts do tend to annoy me. That said, he sometimes provides good analyses and brings up interesting facts.

Today, for instance, he points out that a politician who tries to be something to everyone can end up being nothing to anyone. And a few days ago he pointed out an alternative viewpoint on one radio talk show host friendly to Gov. Ehrlich who also does paid commercials for the state.


Crablaw suggests we peruse the Maryland Declaration of Rights if we want to see a really radical manifesto on the power of the people.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Upside down

The Royal Navy is starting a campaign to recruit gays.

And President Bush's former tightfist is now raising taxes as Governor of Indiana.

Both things seem to make sense, but just like all of the pro-term limits candidates for Congress who later decided to stay in Washington indefinitely, it just seems like public policy is a strange creature.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Policy Preferences

A survey by the University of Baltimore public policy center indicates Marylanders policy preferences:
The survey also found there was little sentiment for cutting government spending, and many residents believe the state should spend substantially more on the elderly, public schools and public safety.

The survey also suggested that Marylanders lack confidence in the state government's ability solve problems. Go figure.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Numbers Speak

As talk begins amongst political junkies on who might run for the legislature next year, it's probably prudent to go back and look at the numbers from 2002 -- the last year we had legislative seats open. What's surprising is how few people voted in some of the legislative districts and how small the margins were between the current lawmakers and those who almost got in.

Del. Brown

Anthony Brown is probably pretty happy about the extensive piece on his service in Iraq in the Post. While it did not suggest that he is working miracles there, it’s a huge boost:

“A Democratic delegate from Prince George's County and majority whip in the House of Delegates, he is seen as a potential candidate for state attorney general or lieutenant governor next year. He says he can marshal the votes to be the next speaker of the House.”

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Political Junkie

Be sure to check out Ken Rudin's political trivia column now hosted by NPR: Political Junkie.

Acronyms SOL

Acronyms: Bane of Our Existence

You’ve no doubt heard the jokes about how engineers, government contractors, bureaucrats, and assorted consultants confuse themselves and burrow into their increasingly narrow subfields by using acronyms in place of real language. It’s true and an annoying part of working in Washington, DC.

One of the more absurd examples of this is when legislative staffers give bills long, awkward names in an effort to get neat acronyms. For instance, did you know that the well-known PATRIOT Act, which expanded the powers of law enforcement after 9/11 is actually entitled the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001?”

While confusion is a problem, sometimes it can be hard to concentrate on a serious matter when an acronym repeatedly used in a document means something different to you. For instance, a recent investigation into a federal agency’s actions repeatedly referred to the Office of the Solicitor (the top lawyer in the agency) as SOL which, for most of us, has an entirely different meaning. Now that’s just silly.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Judicial Process

A piece from CQ Today mentioning that Chief Justice William Rehnquist would not join his Supreme Court colleagues hearing arguments when the session starts next week asks again the question of how the highest court in the land functions when one of its members is unable to fully contribute to the work of the court but does not resign or pass away. One wonders about how this will be dealt with in light of commentary in the Post that suggested that Rehnquist was only partially active last fall, and reminded readers of a similar circumstance not too long ago.

Justice William O. Douglas, however, insisted on staying in office for months after suffering a devastating stroke on Dec. 31, 1974. His mental and physical deterioration was such that the eight other justices at the time -- including Rehnquist -- voted not to count Douglas's vote if it would decide a case.

Questions anyone?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Writing for the Web

Thoughts on how to write for the web.

New Alliances

The ability of big corporations, religious fundamentalists, and others on the conservative side of the aisle to work together on a range of issues, raises the question of how those on the progressive side might do so more effectively.

So it is positive to hear about a solid alliance between unions and environmental groups in Minnesota (an editorial in the Star Tribune 2-17):

"...investments in mass transit, renewable energy, conservation-oriented construction and sustainable technologies are becoming an important engine of economic growth, as well as delivering environmental benefits."


"The primary message is that environmental stewardship and restoration create new jobs, and new wealth, in the construction, manufacturing, service and agricultural sectors. Another is that the public-health benefits of cleaning up energy production and other industrial processes, while shared by everyone, are of special importance to the people who earn their livelihoods from them. A third is that the business savings achievable in greener buildings and leaner resource appetites will be shared by customers and taxpayers, too."


"But the truth is that tomorrow's industries will be looking for greener techniques as a matter of economic preference. This is the dollars-and-cents message within the abstract notions of "natural capitalism" or the "restoration economy." New models, new methods and new businesses are on the way; the states and localities that nurture them will reap the rewards of foresight in a world where, more than ever, what's better for the environment is also what's best for the economy."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Sen. Thomas Middleton is sponsoring a bill in the Maryland legislature to stop the diversion of funds intended to protect open space.

And Del. Bill Bronrott is putting forward legislation to force the biggest polluters on our roads to pay their fair share.

Paper from Kangaroo Poo

An AP piece on ABC, offered without comment:
An environmentally friendly paper manufacturer has stumbled upon an unlikely way to put an unwanted natural resource to good use. The company has created its first batch of paper from marsupial manure.
The sand-colored sheets will be embossed with the words "Genuine Kangaroo Poo," she said. Roughly 400 sheets can be made from 55 pounds of the fibrous droppings.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Focus Groups

One of the ways that the Montgomery County Executive has to coopt citizens who might otherwise organize outside the system for change is through its advisory boards and committees.

These groups have no actual power to set policy, regulations, or laws, they can only ask questions and pass along their opinions to those who can. Richard Jaeggi (in the February Silver Spring Voice) calls them focus groups, a characterization that seems largely on point. While noone is suggesting that unelected volunteers be given the keys to this large county, one has to wonder how much impact they actually have.

To some extent they are worse than toothless, though. These voluntary bodies are steered by County employees to come to pre-ordained conclusions, and often suffer from one-sided and incomplete information. This means that the County Executive gets the cover of presumed "public support" for its policies while not necessarily considering the ideas of its advisory boards.

In a county of around 900,000 people it seems strange that citizens have such a tenuous link to their few elected officeholders.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Union Numbers Decline

Number of Union Workers in Maryland Plummeted in 2004

Union membership in Maryland dropped by 82,000 people from 2003 to 2004, a reflection of the continuing "demise of the industrial base" in the state, said labor and business officials.

The U.S. Department of Labor said in late January that union membership in Maryland fell from an estimated 354,000 to 272,000, while the share of state workers who were union members fell from 14.3 percent of the work force to 10.9 percent.

Attention Span

There is an interesting thread at Loyal Opposition on journalism in light of a recent story on Ehrlich and Bush's style versus substance approach to politics.

One of the arguments that the newspapers make these days is that few people read in depth and that papers are thereby justified in moving toward a USA Today-style format that emphasizes pretty pictures, bright graphics, and easy-to-read, short articles. If you read most daily papers in mid-sized cities you'll find that many editors agree that we are just not reading. As businesses, one can hardly blame them for catering to their customers.

Solid journalism and in particular, strong investigative reporting, does exist, though. In particular, a set of investigative pieces last year in the LA Times went into detail on influence and opportunities available to the children of Members of Congress, focusing on Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).

These, and pieces like them in publications like the Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, and the NY Times, among others, are hard-hitting and in-depth. The question is, do we read them?

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Friedman’s Sunday column in the NY Times included an interesting point; it’s been said before, but this is a very clear rendition of how we can protect our security by doing right by the environment.

By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit's automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is – as others have noted - financing both sides of the war on terrorism. We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing
madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?


Imagine if President Bush used his bully pulpit and political capital to focus the nation on sharply lowering energy consumption and embracing a gasoline tax.

What would that buy? It would buy reform in some of the worst regimes in the world, from Tehran to Moscow. It would reduce the chances that the U.S. and China are going to have a global struggle over oil - which is where we are heading. It would help us to strengthen the dollar and reduce the current account deficit by importing less crude. It would reduce climate change more than anything in Kyoto. It would significantly improve America's standing in the world by making us good global citizens. It would shrink the budget deficit. It would reduce our dependence on the Saudis so we could tell them the truth. (Addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.) And it would pull China away from its drift into supporting some of the worst governments in the world, like Sudan's, because it needs their oil. Most important, making energy independence our generation's moon shot could help inspire more young people to go into science and engineering, which we desperately need.

Sadly, the Bush team won't even consider this.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Citizens or Customers

In Richard Jaeggi’s column in the February Silver Spring Voice we are asked: "Are we citizens or customers of the county?"

After indicating the problems with despotic government, elections, and money in politics, Jaeggi suggests:

"The real danger to self-government, however, is not an American Caeser, or corporate conspiracy or even money politics. The mortal danger to American democracy is indifference."

Jaeggi’s reading of Tocqueville suggests that what we most should fear is something "...beneficent yet more degrading: a centralized government that serves its citizens so completely that their self-determination becomes redundant."

And he quotes Tocqueville for effect:

"The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constatly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents its existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguises, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is shepherd."

The key to the column is that Jaeggi considers Montgomery County to be a perfect example of the impact of this kind of government. While much of the rest of the column goes on to discuss a particular issue on which he wants citizens to become active, the piece is important because it reminds us that democracy is surely a use it or lose it proposition. Are you merely a consumer of government services, or are you contributing to a vital representative government?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Rights at Work?

Item 1: Did you read recently of the Michigan company that has decided to only allow nonsmokers to be employees? The company will not just prohibit smoking on the job, but will fire employees who smoke at all, even during their free time and at home. Apparently employees will be tested to see if they smoke.

Item 2: We all know that blogging at work can be a problem, but what about anonymous blogging about work? The Post as an anecdote filled piece.

Usually the blogger has little protection. "In most states," said Gregg M. Lemley, a St. Louis labor lawyer, "if an employer doesn't like what you're talking about, they can simply terminate you."


E-mail and Internet policies that have been developed were created to deal with improper employee usage during work hours. Very few companies have rules governing employee computer habits outside work.

Is it just me or does it seem like employers are really getting into our privacy?

MD Collaboration

Interested in getting a collaborative Maryland political web log started?

It seems like a lot of writers, activists, and those involved in the policymaking or political processes have information and insights to share, we just need a way to do something.

If you take just a second to look at http://www.burntorangereport.com/ and and http://www.politicsks.net/, you'll get an idea of what I'm thinking.

If you're interested, let me know what you would like to do, re: setup, admin, and writing. Email: on_background at yahoo.com

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Foxes Destroying the Henworld

The Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility did a survey of science professionals at the US Fish and Wildlife Service that shows that there is rampant political interference with science, extensive negative impacts on wildlife protection, and a destruction of scientific candor and morale at the agency.

The top outrages (according to your editor) are:

More than half of all respondents (56%) reported cases where “commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention;”

A significant minority (19 percent) reported having "been directed by USFWS decision makers to provide incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public, media or elected officials;"

More than nine out of ten (92 percent) did not feel that the agency "has sufficient resources to adequately perform its environmental mission"

And while the survey was confined to this agency, the results are almost certainly indicative of problems at many agencies within the government.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Dayton to Retire

U.S. Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota announced today that he would not run for reelection, throwing open the race to succeed him.

Rep. Mark Kennedy had been considered the leading Republican candidate to challenge Dayton, while GOP Rep. Gil Gutknecht said last month he is considering a Senate run. Grams previously said he would consider a Senate run, while other Republican names include state Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and state Rep. Phil Krinkie. Although there was speculation Dayton would face a primary challenge, no Democrat had taken active steps toward a run. Former Rep. William Luther and lawyer Mike Ciresi, who challenged Dayton for the nomination in 2000, are among those mentioned as possible candidates. Other possible Democrats include Rep. Betty McCollum, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, and state House Minority Leader Matt Entenza. State Attorney General Mike Hatch is viewed as a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate next year. (from CongressDaily)


Ike Leggett apparently said yesterday that he supports the building of the ICC, a controversial highway that is being planned to run east-west across Montgomery County. As he works to build a campaign for County Executive in the most populous and wealthiest jurisdiction in the state, some had hoped that Leggett would be the progressive alternative to Steve Silverman.

Since there have so far been no mentions of Leggett's position on the ICC on his web site, or in the Post or the Gazette, and since the report is from the new tabloid Examiner that has yet to prove itself (as illustrated by the weak observer piece on the Middle East by Yehuda Lukacs, an offical at George Mason University), we should probably wait for confirmation on this.

Former County Councilman Blair Ewing, Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo, state Republican Party Chair John Kane, and perennial candidate and former Delegate Robin Ficker are also mentioned as potential candidates.

And an aide to Governor Bob Ehrlich was ousted for spreading rumors about Baltimore Mayor and probable gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Living Wage

WTOP carried an AP piece on the ongoing fight in Maryland for decent wages that people can really live on.

Advocates for immigrants say many domestic workers in Montgomery County are little more than modern-day slaves.

The group, Casa de Maryland, is asking the Montgomery County Council to enact legislation that would establish a living wage of at least $10.50 an hour for domestic workers, as well as paid holidays, vacation time, sick leave and family and medical leave time.

Not only are Marylanders who make six, seven, eight, or even nine dollars an hour struggling to get by, struggling to feed their families. They are forced to rely on public support to survive. So beyond the human tragedy of hard working people without enough to support their families, corporations are being artificially subsidized so that they do not have to pay decent wages, as Maryland and local governments are forced to make up the difference.

In Montana, State Senator Ken Toole is trying to do something about corporations that pay so little that they force their employees onto welfare and other forms of public support. If they don't pay living wages, then they should have to pay for the support the government gives to their employees. He writes:

That giant sucking sound you hear coming from the edge of town is the sound of money being taken out of your community by big box stores. They pay low wages, have a lot of part-time workers, don’t pay benefits and don’t use local businesses for services. They drive sprawl development and increase the cost of local infrastructure from streets to sewers. They corner the local retail market in everything from moth balls to Milk Duds, bundle up the money and send it back to their corporate office in some distant skyscraper. Your local furniture store, appliance dealer, pharmacy and even the smaller grocery chains cannot compete against the big box and its ability to squeeze a nickel from workers, contractors and suppliers.

Box storeowners are quick to point out that retailing is a low-margin business and stores live close to the edge in the competitive market. While this is true, the low-margin, high-volume approach to retailing generates huge profits for only a very few people sitting at the top. Five of the richest people in the world are members of the founding family of Wal-Mart. In 2004 Fortune Magazine listed the Walton family fortune at $100 billion. The Walton family can afford to pay a living wage – they choose not to.

It’s bad enough that workers in these stores are struggling to make ends meet but that’s only part of the story. You and I pick up the tab when a box store doesn’t pay its workers a living wage. Congressman George Miller recently released a detailed study of the cost of Wal-Mart to communities in California. That study estimated that a Wal-Mart store with 200 employees cost federal taxpayers $420,000 per year or about $2,000 per employee in public services ranging from healthcare to housing. Box stores shift their labor costs onto the rest of us.

So, why not ask these big box stores to put money into the community and help out local small business at the same time?


If Wal-Mart and other big box stores don’t want to pay the tax, all they have to do is pay their workers a little more. They can afford it and we should demand it.

Monday, February 07, 2005


The President, today rolled out "the most austere budget of his presidency, challenging congressional Republicans to cut domestic discretionary spending and politically sensitive entitlement programs such as Medicaid..."(from CQ's Midday Update)

This brings fruition the grand plan of conservatives to starve the federal government by cutting taxes, then pushing to cut spending dramatically to keep from going too deeply into debt. The proposed cuts to important social, economic, and environmnetal programs are deep, painful, and unbalanced.

At one of the briefings to announce the different pieces of the budget, private citizens (including nonprofit groups) were not given a copy of the budget briefing book like members of the press and government officials were. After the presentation, and the question and answer session ended, outside groups had to ask again for extra copies to be found. Does that sound like an open and balanced approach to dealing with the public?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bug Me Not

Don't want to register to get access to a free site? Check out BugMeNot.com to bypass mandatory registrations and the junkmail/privacy concerns that come with them.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Maryland Happenings

This morning's CongressDailyAM includes a writeup on Ben Cardin's recent Social Security speech and Kweisi Mfume's interest in returning to Maryland politics.
Cardin Takes Dems' Case To Seniors
ODENTON, Md. -- Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., stood before a crowd of concerned seniors Thursday and came very close to calling the president of the United States a liar.
"The president said he's not going to do anything until people are 55 and older," Cardin said, regarding President Bush's Social Security overhaul proposals, the topic of his remarks at the O'Malley Senior Center here.
"But changing the cost of living adjustment affects you, it affects people getting disability checks, it affects everyone," Cardin continued. "It's going to affect your benefit and it will certainly affect younger workers."
Only about 12 hours earlier, Bush in his State of the Union speech had declared to millions of Americans: "I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way."
Cardin touched on potent themes congressional Democrats hope will be sufficient to waylay the president's plans: The Social Security system is healthy and it is able to pay benefits far into the future, while the president's plan is risky and will result in deep benefit cuts.


Mfume Returns To The Hill, And Apparently Wants To Stay
Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., wants to return to Congress, a quest that might have begun with his glad-handing appearance at Wednesday night's State of the Union address.
As the House chamber filled in preparation for President Bush's speech, the center of activity on the Democratic side appeared to be Mfume's seat, the same seat he has occupied for 17 of the last 18 State of the Union addresses.
Mfume -- who said he was too sick to attend last year's speech -- represented a Baltimore district in the House from 1986-1996, when he resigned to take over the presidency of the NAACP.
Having resigned from that post in January, Mfume said Thursday, "I think it's clear to most people that I have for some time expressed a desire to return to the Congress if I'm fortunate enough to ever get re-elected."

Maryland Political Blog?

Someone recently suggested putting together a progressive Maryland political blog, because I sometimes write about Maryland politics and policy here. There is a variety of stuff out there (see my links), but nowhere that it really comes together.

I think this is a great idea -- is anyone interested? If others started one, I'd be happy to contribute.

A good model to start with might be www.politicsks.net/, done by a young guy in the area. I'm sure if there were many folks we could get something going...

contact me via on_background at yahoo.com

Enviros in Politics

National Journal's Environment column includes the following little-known fact on environmental groups' work in the 2004 election cycle.
The political arms of the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club spent upwards of $18 million to try to defeat Bush and to elect environmentally friendly candidates to Congress. Some of those groups coordinated their efforts with left-leaning "527" groups, including America Coming Together and America Votes.

While obviously that didn't pan out nationally, they did have some success in electing members of Congress.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Restructuring Labor

The long piece on the restructuring of the American labor movement in the New York Times Magazine has a couple of ideas, beyond the important discussion of where the unions are going organizationally, that really make me think.
The idea of a global union isn't entirely new. But the concept has never been translated into a formal alliance, and experts who study labor think Stern may be onto something important. I realized during our brief time in Birmingham why Stern seemed ambivalent about whether the A.F.L.-C.I.O. approved his reform plan, or whether his union even stayed in the federation. In a sense, no matter how the conversation is resolved, it is bound to lag a full generation behind the reality of the problem; it is as if the unions are arguing against upgrading from LP's to compact discs while the rest of the world has moved on to digital downloads. Even if the leaders of big labor do kill off half their unions and reorganize the rest, all they will have done, at long last, is create a truly national labor movement -- at exactly the moment that capital has become a more sprawling and more obstinate force than any one nation could hope to contain.

We realize how awful labor conditions are in other countries, and how competition from people in other nations forced to work for low-wages hurts American workers. Beyond adding protective stipulations in trade agreements, don't we need to do something about it?

Stern told me he had been partly inspired, oddly enough, by the example of Stephen Moore, the arch-conservative ideologue who, until recently, ran the Club for Growth. The club, which is anathema to both Democrats and moderate Republicans in Washington, raises millions from corporate anti-tax crusaders, then spends it not only against Democrats (Tom Daschle was a prime target) but also against Republican incumbents who aren't deemed sufficiently conservative. Moore has infuriated some Republican leaders, who say he divides the party, but the Club for Growth has helped push the party to the right, putting moderates on the defensive and making Republicans think twice before they cast a vote against a tax cut.
Now Stern has begun to emulate the club's model; last year, the S.E.I.U. ran its own candidate, a union ally, against the Democratic House speaker in Washington State, because the speaker voted against a health-benefits package for home health care workers. The union's challenger lost -- but only by about 500 votes. ''I think we need to spend more time running candidates against Democrats,'' Stern says matter-of-factly.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


An article in the Washington Post on Sunday details how a tribe of Native Americans in far northern California are leveraging evidence that their health is being damaged to try to get dams removed. The Karuks are arguing that dams, by destroying their traditional source of nutrition--salmon, are responsible for the "tribe's epidemic of obesity-related illness."

While this seems like a long-shot in the current political climate, it would be interesting if these health impacts gave a community leverage to protect their environment. One cannot help but be surprised that the argument that a private concern is hurting public health would be considered a "novel" approach to regulation.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Jockeying for DNC Chair

from today's Roll Call:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has repeatedly rebuffed former Rep. Martin Frost’s (Texas) attempts to secure her support in his race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, stunting his hopes of emerging as the alternative candidate to frontrunning former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.


Though Pelosi assured Frost that she had no problem with him as head of the party, her daughter Christine, who is chief of staff to Rep. John Tierney (Mass.), circulated a proposal via e-mail last week that would install Dean as chairman with former Rep. Tim Roemer (Ind.) handling the day-to-day activities of the committee.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has been sounding out labor leaders about the possibility of unifying behind either Frost or political operative Donnie Fowler.