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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

This week's edition of the New Republic has a piece at the end that warns readers away from Ari Fleischer's new book, and questions whether the fascinating non-sequitars he delivered to the White House press pool were the clever verbal gymnastics of an adroit spinner or the babblings of a mediocre mind over his head. Check it out.

Handicapping Mfume

Rollcall has some insights on our Senate race (March 28):

And some Democrats believe that Mfume on the November ballot will help produce a record-breaking turnout of minority voters, benefiting Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.


Part of the Democrats’ skepticism about Mfume stems from the fact that he spent the past nine years leading the NAACP, the venerable civil rights organization based in Baltimore. Although it provided a national platform for Mfume, he is several years removed from the nitty gritty of Maryland politics. Mfume left Congress in 1996 after nine years, having previously served on the Baltimore City Council.

Moreover, Mfume started his career as a political insurgent and never ran with the benefit of a political machine. Today, Mfume does not have a political team around him. Minyon Moore, a leading national Democratic strategist who is a partner at the Dewey Square Group in Washington, D.C., is said to be helping him find a campaign manager. And he has never tested his political strength, and his message, beyond the boundaries of inner-city Baltimore.

And a couple of other choice bits:

"His (Mfume's) inspiring transformation is in fact part of his political appeal."

"Even most Republicans privately concede that without Steele in the race, Sarbanes’ Senate seat is likely to remain in Democratic hands."

Friday, March 25, 2005


Does it seem somehow pathetic that progressive activists are cheering the Maryland legislature's increase of the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour? Congress is unlikely to make even that much of a move this year. $6.15 is nothing. It's not a living wage, it's not a sustainable wage, it's just sad.

It's said that Marylanders and Americans and the people of wealthy nations all over the world are willing to allow broad swathes of society to just barely get by, even if you ignore the wrenching poverty in the rest of the world, which we often do. I am appalled by our complacency, our willingness to tolerate hardworking people going hungry and doing without in the richest country in history.

Right Move

While some suggested that the fight to support the parents of Terri Schiavo was a political loser, it has been clear that religious conservatives and those who wanted to be their champions do not see it that way. While many voters find political intervention in end-of-life decisions disgusting and dangerous, others will flock to support politicians who do so.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Turn Me Right Round

Governor Ehrlich has apparently been turned 360 degrees around by Marylanders who care about open space and the environment. Maybe it's just the result of competitive elections next year, but kudos are due those who turned him around.

No news (beyond ruminations) in the US Senate race.

FEC Prposes Blog Regs

From National Journal (subscription only):

The FEC today proposed draft rules to govern online election-related communications that would provide individual Web logs, or blogs, with a substantial exemption from campaign finance disclosure laws. Most of the reporting requirements would instead fall upon campaigns and candidates who pay for Web advertising, National Journal's Technology Daily reported. But commission members sparred over how narrow the rules should be. "We are not the speech police," said Commissioner Ellen Weintraub. "This issue has nothing to do with private citizens on the Internet. We have taken a very restrained approach." The draft rules will be open for public comment for 60 days. The FEC scheduled a hearing on them June 28.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hacking Away

Henry Thoreau said (yes, I know I'm not giving the context):

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root..."

Arctic Ribbon?

What do you think of the effort by environmental groups to get people to show their support for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling by wearing or otherwise displaying a green ribbon?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

New Labor Leadership

The New Republic calls for John Sweeney to step down from the helm of the House of Labor (March issue).

Monday, March 21, 2005

A Town in South Dakota

There is an interesting article about the creation of a town focused on sign language in the NY Times. If you have not had a chance to learn about the language that is, apparently, the fifth most studied language on college campuses, or the culture that the users of sign language have created, take a look on the internet.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hixson's Money Games

The Post has a good piece on how Maryland lawmakers use their campaign funds for purposes that might not meet with your (or Common Cause's) seal of approval. In particular, Silver Spring area (D20) delegate Sheila Hixson is said to have used funds from her supporters to pay for her Michigan alumni association membership and:

During the past six years, Hixson, who works as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill while not busy with her Maryland legislative work, has reported using more than $9,000 in campaign funds to pay dues at the National Democratic Club, an organization that advertises itself as "a great place to meet with [federal] lawmakers and Hill staff, to entertain clients."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Knocking Franchot

It doesn't take much to get Maryland political watchers talking about who might run for big offices in the state. While everyone is talking about which folks, beyond former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, might actually get into the race to replace Sen. Paul Sarbanes, just a couple of weeks ago a column came out with lots of fun speculation.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Mfume In

And they're off!

CQ Today reports: Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., who stepped down in January as president of the NAACP, today formally announced his bid for the Senate seat of retiring five-term incumbent Paul S. Sarbanes, the Associated Press reported. Mfume, who represented Baltimore in the House from 1987 to 1996, made the announcement at a news conference at the Camden Yards baseball stadium.

Al Wynn announced, according to the Sun, that he would defer to Mfume his ambitions for the senate.

Republicans whose names have been added to the mix are former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, governor's wife Kendel Ehrlich and conservative state Sen. Alex X. Mooney.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Governed by Your Inferiors

Taken from the sig line of NastyRiffRaff on drinkliberally.org's forum:

"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." Plato

Sarbanes' Seat Open

Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Maryland's longest serving senator, announced this afternoon that he would retire at the end of the current session, opening up a potentially exciting 2006 race to replace him, for a change. While this is a strongly Democratic state, the primary could be very competitive (with years of bottled-up ambition pouring out) and is surely the best chance Republicans have of picking up a seat in either house of Congress in Maryland in 2006.

The Democratic primary should feature a number of potentially strong candidates. If either Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley or Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan choose to pull out of the gubernatorial, they would have a head start in getting organized and building support/name recognition. There is little doubt that Representatives Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, Ben Cardin, and Al Wynn are interested; former Rep. and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume, and onetime congressional candidate and state Rep. Mark Shriver are other potential contenders. The entry of any of the current crop of leaders would lead to similar competitions for their open seats.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele would probably be the strongest competitor, though it seems like he is waiting for the Governor's seat to open up (presuming Ehrlich/Steele win in 2006). With Representatives Roscoe Bartlett and Wayne Gilchrest unlikely to be willing to give up their safe House seats for a longshot run for Senate, state Senator E.J. Pipkin or any one of a number of ambitious state and local leaders will probably jump into the fray.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Credit is certainly due the intrepid activists at TrueVoteMD: the Campaign for Verifiable Voting, who have not only put on the agenda what many in Maryland thought was a Quixotic attempt to expose the flaws in the new electronic voting system and to fix them before they endangered democratic elections in the state, but may actually have generated the momentum to pass legislation. The Gazette, hardly a paper sympathetic to causes championed by progressive activists like TrueVoteMD co-founder and 2002 Green Party nominee for the House of Delegates in the 20th legislative district Linda Schade, indicates that chances for passage of legislation to improve electronic voting in the state are increasing. "House Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila Ellis Hixson, who killed the paper ballot bill last year, told The Gazette that she expects some form of the legislation to pass this year..."

And Rep. Al Wynn is planning to introduce legislation to roll back part of landmark campaign finance reform law.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Your Money is Not Enough

Your donations alone do not and can not change the direction of the country. It is not the average supporter of $10, $25, or even $50 that enables movements for social change, environmental justice, civil liberties and civil rights to succeed. The startling thing you learn when you really get into the thick of liberal advocacy, is how dependent progress really is on those it claims to be against.

If you take a hard look at the financial disclosure documents of the great nonprofit champions of the causes you support, those who battle racism, sexism, poverty, pollution, infringements on your rights, etc. and you'll find that they alternately suckle at the teat of the same corporate behemoths that they are all too often must battle. The most ardent consumer advocates apply for funds from the mercilessly mercantile, the purest enviros take money from current or former polluters of the highest order, and all but the rarest of groups are forced to follow the dollar trail. And those corporate barons, their descendents and inheritors, dictate how those resources are used.

Of course, the organizations we support try to find funds that enable their missions, look for independent and string-free dollars, and have some discretion to do what they feel is best. But as is true in so many areas of human endeavor, those with the money make the rules. Since you and I do not really give that much or use our time to support the causes we believe in, nonprofit agenda-setting organizations must fund their efforts as they can.

Here in America, at least, that means that all too often the advocates of the causes that we passionately believe in must follow the agendas of those who really do not share our beliefs. That means that change will be at the margins. That means that progress will forever be a distant goal.

So if you really feel that we have fundamental rights that should not be infringed upon, that preserving a healthy environment for our children is the moral course, that everyone should have a chance to succeed and no one should starve in the richest country in history, that people should come before profit, or that real change is needed for our society to be just, then you have to do more. We have to join the movement for change, not just send a few dollars each year and then ignore the problems. We have to give a bit more, yes, but not just of our money.

Vital organizations and movements are built through the efforts of volunteer activists who give money, but who also organize, who learn about and vote conscientiously, who spend their money and their time responsibility, who talk to their friends, neighbors, family members, contacts, and political leaders about how best to create the society that we want to live in and want our children to live in.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Ancient Explanations of W?

"It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences."

-- Aristotle

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Regulating Blogs

Thanks to the observant Hedgehog Report, those of us who missed the NY Times yesterday know that the Federal Election Commission is considering regulating online activities like the writing on the web log you are viewing now.

"Everyone here believes this is one of the most important rule-makings the F.E.C. is going to do this year," Mr. Toner (FEC member) added, "mainly because the Internet got millions of people involved in politics. What we do here is going to have a major consequence of how people are involved."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Where Now Labor?

Lot's of people have been thinking about how to start the union movement growing again after decades of shrinking memberships, but the discussion has picked up steam in the last few months.

A few months ago the Teamsters argued that 50% of dues to the AFL-CIO should be rebated to be used for organizing. While many interested in real reform and growth thought that proposal did not go far enough, it was applauded.

When Sweeney introduced a 17% rebate proposal, most interested in turning the decline of labor's strength around saw it as far too little, far too late. Even that proposal was rejected. What now?

Big Money =

Legislatures are influenced by big money. No doubt about it. That's why so many of our laws are skewed toward the special interests that can support candidates for office.

A couple of states have worked out systems to level the electoral playing field, giving candidates with enough public support a real chance to win. Legislators in Maryland are proposing legislation to see that we get something similar here.

Democracy. What a neat concept.


Has it been obvious to everyone but me that the new DC Examiner daily tabloid is just the newest incarnation of the various and sundry Journal newspapers that have been circulated around the metro area for sometime?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bush Budget in Maryland

A DNC message had interesting tidbits about how President Bush's budget will impact Marylanders:

The Bush budget cuts $45 billion from Medicaid, enough to provide health care to 1.8 million children. Maryland's share of these cuts is $623 million.

Bush underfunds his own No Child Left Behind Act by $13.1 billion in his budget. In Maryland, that means a shortfall of $163.8 million, leaving behind 39,722 Maryland children.

Bush cuts $19.7 million from Maryland job training programs in his 2006 budget.

Bush's 2006 budget also cuts the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program -- which helps low-income families afford heating fuel in the winter -- by $234.4 million, including $3.7 million cut for Maryland residents.

And Bush's irresponsible budget is a record $427 billion in the red, increasing each Maryland family's share of the federal debt by $40,133.

Remember those tax cuts?

Good Image

There's a good editorial image in a Mother Jones article about the hollowing out of the Democratic Party.