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

Friday, May 27, 2005

Baker on the Radio

The Bowie Blade has some choice words for Jack Johnson's police department in a column that gives probable County Exec challenger and former Delegate Rushern Baker a lot of ink.

And Baker was on State Circle attacking local leadership.

Another silly name for an association has been discovered: Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a group whose president said this week on WAMU that there shouldn't be a minimum wage. Let's just call them the hard right chamber of commerce and get on with the a discussion of public policy among reasonable people.

Poop from Progress

Factoids from the Center for American Progress from this week:

* A CBS poll reveals, "Six in 10 Americans don't think the President shares their priorities for the country."

* For the first time in 14 years, American workers saw an across the board pay cut that certainly didn't extend to our nation's multi-millionaire CEOs.

* "It doesn't take a medical degree to know that drinking poop is bad for us," writes Jeffrey Griffiths, a member of the EPA's National Drinking Water Advisory Council, in the Boston Globe. That hasn't stopped the Bush administration from proposing a new policy that "would allow sewage treatment plants to discharge inadequately treated human waste into lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal waters," which ends up in our tap water.

* A recently discovered memo for an upcoming Social Security event in New York shows just how far the White House will go to get the "right" mix of people in the audience. Circulated by the group Women Impacting Public Policy, the memo didn't just announce the president's visit but "went on to solicit several types of people 'who he would like to visit with' –including a young worker who 'knows that [Social Security] could run out before they retire,' a young couple with children who like 'the idea of leaving something behind to the family' and a single parent who believes Bush's proposal for individual investment accounts 'would provide more retirement options and security' than the current system." Wait a second; it seems that the people solicited each represent "various arguments that Bush has been making for why Social Security should be overhauled."

* The file (on Abu Ghraib, from the NY Times) "depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse," often "driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both." Detainees are regularly shackled or tied from the ceilings by their wrists and beaten "with virtual impunity." Frequently, harsher methods are used – the report describes how one detainee is forced to "pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning."

* The Wal-mart bill rejected by Governor Ehrlich recently “would have helped nearly 600,000 Maryland residents who lack health care.”

* The New York Times reports that the percentage of the unemployed out of work for six months or more has not been so high for so long after a recession has ended since World War II.

* Yesterday, the White House press corps was given the opportunity to attend a "question-and-answer session in the East Room with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai." However, so few reporters turned up that the overly image conscious White House was forced to pack the room with interns. Well, since the president takes such few questions, one member of the press corps "equated reporters at such staged White House functions with 'props'" and went on to point out, "Since we can't ask questions, why schlep over there?"

and one from a recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:

Asked whether they would like to have Bush run for a third term if that was not prohibited by the Constitution, 27% said yes. By contrast, 43% said they would like Bill Clinton to serve a third term in the White House.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

$6.5 Billion So No One Will Know

The recently received Spring newsletter of the Project on Government Oversight reports that the govt. spends $6.5 billion dollars annually to classify documents. That's outrageous!

Under the Bush Administration record numbers of documents are being classified, probably overclassified, and every man, woman, and child in the country is obliged to pay more than $20 a year for the favor.

Stop the Presses!

In Maryland political news, Rep. Bartlett got a challenger out west in the 6th CD for a race sure to be as riveting as any of last year’s titanic congressional battles.

And the governor hired Harford County Executive Harkins as his new environment honcho. One can only imagine similar things to what we got out of former national EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman or her successor.

The American Street

In support of collaborative blogs, take a look at The American Street.

Unnecessary Deference

A friend calls America the do-it-yourself society. She applauds (with reservations)the willingness of Americans to get things done, to try to do it themselves. But somehow that breaks down sometimes.

Too often people put things on a pedestal, they defer to experts or to the presumed expertise required to do or understand something. This sudden lack of do-it-yourselfness can run the gamut from not putting your music onto your computer because you are sure there is some complex process involved, to assuming that your state legislator is actually taking care of the community and dealing effectively with policy because it is so complex.

One can certainly understand that we are all busy and that the number and variety of things to think about has exploded in recent years, and sympathize with the reasonable urge to draw lines at the borders of our experience or expertise, beyond which we admit our ignorance. Despite that, the willingness to give up, to throw up one's hands in defeat strikes me as a strange turn of events for an otherwise reasonably proactive people. Why assume that you can not or that you need not?

When one looks closely, it appears that the opposite is true. We spend our limited funds so that a highly skilled professional can repeat for the umpteenth time the simple prescriptions that we could have learned from the instructions included with the product or from making a basic attempt on our own. When we ignore or trust that our officials are doing what they should, we not only disempower ourselves, we give free reign to the worst impulses of those in power.

In so many cases it seems that refusing to stand up, to think, to do it ourselves leads to the worst possible outcomes in our individual and public affairs: waste, excess, corruption, and sloth, among others.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


In Maryland politics, the Sun has a piece on Howard County Executive Robey's political future.

Of great interest is the continued discussion about the future of the labor movement. If you want a pretty good backgrounder, check out the American Prospect. As is par, there is little that is particularly insightful or new about the piece, but it will catch you up. More interesting to those who want the inside scoop is the web log Working Life.

Would it surprise you to know that some magazines or newspapers have special arrangements with their advertisers to give them advance notice of stories related to their business and a chance to pull their ads? Be surprised.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mizeur Out?

The state Democratic Party State Committee elected Heather Mizeur, a member of the Takoma Park City Council, to be Democratic National Committeewoman from Maryland. This probably takes her out of the race for a D20 delegate spot, as had been rumored.

Yes, But...

Doug Duncan, when asked at a leadership forum at Towson University what he would do about the problems plaguing Baltimore, discussed education as key.

"I don't have a six-point plan for fixing Baltimore's schools or the state's schools," he acknowledged. "But I'm working on it."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Where's the Beef?

From CQ Today's Midday Report (by email):
The Supreme Court today upheld a 1985 federal law requiring beef producers to pay a $1-per-head fee to support a multimillion-dollar “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” marketing program.” The 5-4 decision is a defeat for farmers in several agricultural sectors who oppose paying mandatory fees for generic advertising, the Associated Press noted.

Currently, there are dozens of similar federal and state ad campaigns for products including milk, pork and cotton, many of which are being challenged on free speech grounds. The beef campaign is a form of “government speech” immune to First Amendment challenge, the court said.

Are Blogs Relevant?

The NY Times has a take on whether blogs are relevant.

And on one of the blogs cited in the article, AMERICAblog.com, is a discussion of the hypocrisy of a governor with what the blog says is an openly gay chief of staff attacking gay rights.

Quinter In Race for 3rd

From Roll Call (subscription only):

State Del. Neil Quinter (D) became the first candidate to formally enter the race to replace Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D), who is running for Senate.

Quinter, 43, is in his first term in the Legislature, representing portions of Howard County. He has also worked as a clerk for a federal judge and as an assistant state attorney general, was research director for Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) on his 1994 re-election campaign, and served as Judiciary Committee counsel to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Disappointed by Democrats' behavior as an opposition party? Excited by UK Member of Parliament Galloway's performance last week before a US Senate subcommittee? Eager to read someone really lay it on Ds in Congress? Check out Counterpunch!

Workplace Democracy in Unions

One of the more interesting discussions out there is how progressive organizations live up to their ideals. Questions abound about environmental organizations that waste energy or paper, unions that treat their staff badly, groups dedicated to equality that discriminate in hiring based on ethnic group, and more.

The following is one of the more frightening quotes in a long discussion online: "Unionized staff of the International of SEIU actually have a clause in their contract that permits SEIU to terminate them if they assist staff of SEIU locals in organizing themselves."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Veto Bob

Yesterday Bob Ehrlich decided to shed the façade of good-natured moderation he so assiduously cultivated during the 2002 race for governor, deciding instead to side wholeheartedly with his long-time friends in corporate America and the religious right. In case you missed front page articles in today’s papers, you know that the Governor vetoed laws to raise the Maryland minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour and to give minimal medical, funeral, and property rights to domestic partners, among other important and useful measures.

Democrats across the state received a key tool with which to rally their base and a broad swathe of Maryland for next year’s elections. With the Governor’s rejection of these measures, as well as efforts to reform transportation, juvenile justice, and voting problems, pretty much every group outside of large corporations and religious fundamentalists will be offended and will recognize that it does matter who holds sway in Annapolis.

For all kinds of citizens as well as activists who must decide how to budget time, energies, and alliances, it is no longer a question of being able to work with moderates who say they share our concerns. More than ever voters must understand that their votes matter, that who they elect matters. Just like in 2004, it is crystal clear that we have to be stand up, and more importatly, organize. What makes real substantive change is each of us working for it. Anyway, enough of my ranting about walking the walk.

Who Can We Believe?

Speaking of talking the talk, though, some Dems are certainly winning no accolades from even slightly progressive voters in our state who see them too often act like Republicans, such as (from the Sun):
However, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he sees Ehrlich's veto decisions on gay rights issues as reflecting his views as a social moderate. "I think that's good," Miller said. "What he did was look for a middle ground."

And it seems to have largely passed us by, but did you notice that an awful lot of Democrats in Montgomery County voted for the Inter-County Connector? In particular, MaryPIRG's scorecard indicates that all four of the D20 legislators: Ida Ruben, Sheila Hixson, Peter Franchot, and Gareth Murray voted to run an unnecessary road across the land at fantastic expense to us, the taxpayers.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Government Goes Fishing

Does it worry you that the FBI considers it fair game to go interview and investigate law abiding protesters and activists when no crime has been committed? Or is it just me who finds it worrisome that not only are some lawmakers and Administration officials interested in expanding the USA PATRIOT Act, but that the government is already pushing the envelope?

People, Press, and Politicos

The Pew Center has some interesting data on voter values, thinking, and attitudes...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Outsourcing in MoCo

In the recently revitalizing downtown Silver Spring, talk abounds of a new civic center to be built in the next couple of years. People are eager for a community center, but word has recently spread of an effort to outsource the programming of the building to a nonprofit. This has been talked about before, but apparently it's coming to decision time. Opinions to follow...


Another piece on our privacy, or the lack thereof, in our society is worth a few seconds when it illustrates how deeply into our lives others can penetrate. Of course, video cameras with increasingly sophisticated visual recognition programs add to our rapidly disappearing sense of privacy...

Austin-Lane in

According to the Post's local section, the D20 House of Delegates' race now includes Takoma Park City Council member Joy Austin-Lane. Her announcement of an exploratory committee and a fundraiser puts her into a likely race with former County Council Member Blair Ewing, current Delegates Hixson and Murray and Austin-Lane, Silver Spring Citizens' Advisory Board member Jose Vasquez, and at least two other Democrats for three seats.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Ehrlich to Veto

The Sun reports that Thursday Gov. Ehrlich is planning to veto a bill that would require Wal-mart to pay a little bit more of its' employees' health care insurance costs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Blogging Labor

Recently in Roll Call and the Post it was revealed that the SEIU sent a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus opposing the increasing closeness of the organization with Wal-mart, a company that surely does not have working people at heart.

Ongoing commentary at Unite to Win reminds readers that not all members of the CBC are progressive. Sometimes those of us who watch Congress think that it is always made up of people like Elijah Cummings or Maxine Waters who really care about social justice and about working people struggling to get by. But many CBC members are one-sidedly pro-business, ambitious (so they think they need corporate money) and only nominally interested in those at the tough end of the pay scale, like Al Wynn and Mel Watt.


Andy Stern made it clear today that the SEIU would no longer be willing to talk about ways to make labor strong again, that it would no longer be satisfied with tinkering. What has been talked about for some time has now become clear: SEIU will only stay in an AFL-CIO that is run by a President committed to prompt, dramatic change to turn it around.


Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume supported slots at Pimlico to save racing jobs while potential candidate Mike Steele tours towns. And Roscoe Bartlett announced that he's run for reelection at a fundraiser featuring Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Dan Rodricks of the Sun let loose on Doug Gansler for putting the snipers on trial is MoCo:

Pardon my skepticism about all this, but Gansler has a well-earned reputation for being a publicity hound, never missing an opportunity get in front of a TV camera. He's been chastised by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission for shooting his mouth off - conducting news conferences that violate pretrial publicity standards. In 2002, the commission said comments Gansler made in three Montgomery cases were "inappropriate and inflammatory."

Plus, guy's been wanting to run for attorney general, and he probably will next year in the Democratic primary.

So, while Gansler might be compelled by his office to prosecute Malvo and Muhammad in Montgomery County, and while he might even be sincere about a trial as emotional catharsis, his reputation for grandstanding makes this look suspiciously like a long, drawn-out, publicly financed campaign event for a politically ambitious prosecutor.

Monday, May 16, 2005

TeeVee Will Get You

Thanks to Agitprop for sharing commentary on, and this Ray Bradbury quote about, television as a soulsucking beast:
The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.

Trivia from CQ

From CQ's Midday Report:
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay woman elected to Congress, scored a hit her freshman year when she told the 1999 Congressional Dinner of the Washington Press Club she was “one of the first elected officials who represents a group historically discriminated against. A group that has been kept out of jobs, harassed at the workplace. A group that’s been unfairly stereotyped and made the object of rude and base humor. Of course I’m talking about blondes ... especially blondes named Tammy.” (Source: CQ’s Politics in America 2004)

Weekend Political Site of the Day

Check out the listings of Political Site of the Day where OnBackground was the featured site for the weekend. Thanks for noticing!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Journalist types on blogging and the media, and blogging and pr: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/mediarpt/stories/s1364821.htm

Hat tip to PRWatch.org

Filibuster, what filibuster?

Gansler Gets Free TV

The Gazette opines that MoCo states attorney Doug Gansler, one of at least a handful of young politicos interested in an open AG race (including Tom Perez, Glenn Ivey, and Scott Rolle) will receive a boost in free media when his staff gets a chance to prosecute the snipers who terrorized the Washington area a few years ago.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Sen Ruben -- face and name

Take a look at this photo: http://www.takoma.com/archives/copy/2003/01/lookingback.html

Truly a gem!

And did you know Sen. Ruben has a sandwich named after her (http://www.chickandruths.com/dspecial.htm)? Well, after 30 years in Annapolis, that's one thing she has accomplished.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Japan's High Wage Manufacturing

While I have doubts about the thesis of Eamon Fingleton's piece in the American Prospect, I found the following interesting:
One important fact ignored by the American media is that Japanese industrial wages are now among the world’s highest. Not only are they far higher than in China (between four and 15 times higher, depending on the region of China), they are actually 20 percent to 30 percent higher than in the United States. Yet Japan’s export industries have not only survived but thrived.

The largely untold story of Japan’s extraordinary manufacturing successes in recent years should inspire a radical reappraisal of fundamental American economic assumptions. Certainly Japan’s trade performance stands as a stunning rebuke to those who hold that high-wage nations can no longer compete in manufacturing.

(the full article is available by subscription only)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

the 20th Legislative District

State Senator Jennie Forehand mentioned the 20th Legislative District's Ida Ruben in a debate about how inactivity and lack of grassroots support can impact how a senior Senator serves her district.

And the first public mention of a candidate (fmr Council Member Blair Ewing) for D20's legislative race was made in the same Post article:
As for his own political future, Ewing said he is seriously considering running for the House of Delegates in District 20, which includes the Takoma Park area. With Del. Peter Franchot (D) angling to possibly challenge Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) in next year's Democratic primary, Ewing said he expects a vacancy for one of the three delegate seats from District 20.

Mentions have also been made of late of the entry into D20 legislative races by a member of the Takoma Park City Council or two, at least three members of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, and at least one local community activist. Stay tuned for more.

And in PG, former Delegate Rushern Baker is gearing up to possibly challeng Jack Johnson for County Executive.

Stuffed Turkey in the House

From Green Scissors' latest newsletter:

"It's not a good way to legislate, although I got a lot of stuff in it [the transportation bill]...I mean I stuffed it like a turkey."

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) from a story in the New York Times (Built With Steel, Perhaps, but Greased With Pork, April 10, 2004), citing a story in the Anchorage Daily News.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Van Hollen Running...Around

Roll Call has an article today on how busy Chris Van Hollen is with three House committees, recruiting work for the DCCC, and exploring a Senate run. Most of it isn't that interesting, except for the following, taken ruthlessly out of context for your edification:

But Van Hollen also is aggressively exploring whether to join the race to replace retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). Of the three leading Democrats — Rep. Benjamin Cardin and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume have already declared their candidacies — Van Hollen by far has the most campaign cash.

But that advantage is counter-balanced by the pressure on his time.


Van Hollen is intensely ambitious and has been unafraid to take political risks, even potentially career-ending risks, since first being elected to the Legislature in 1990. Some supporters privately worry that he could be throwing away a promising House career by running for the Senate next year and losing.


Although a poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun last month found Van Hollen running third in a primary behind Mfume and Cardin, he is less well-known statewide than the other two — a name recognition gap he easily could make up with an aggressive, free-spending campaign.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Miller in 3rd CD

While I wasn't thrilled to see a piece in the Sun taking it's lead from my comments last week on delegates (Kagan, Edwards) looking to move up, it was interesting to hear that:
State GOP Chairman John M. Kane is promising a full-scale effort to recruit Ed Miller, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., into the race for Congress from Maryland's 3rd District.

The district is represented by Democrat Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is running for Senate. Cardin has said he believes a Democrat will hold the seat, although observers agree it is the most competitive of the six seats currently held by Democrats.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Insight from the Inside

The following is an excerpt from an article by Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-PG County) about our legislature. While dating from 2001, it offers some insight from the inside.

My Democratic Party colleagues think I'm living in political fantasyland. When I suggest that our legislative ambitions could be broader, "scale back" is their advice. "Don't give corporate Maryland any reason to throw its considerable weight fully behind Republicans." Comforting corporate interests is, of course, the essence of Clintonism, and Maryland is perhaps its perfect laboratory.

In the course of making these important decisions, Maryland lawmakers rarely see average working people. The Statehouse halls belong to the power-suited, always-eager-to-be-helpful lobbyists. Most large companies have full-time lobbyists either on payroll or on retainer. If a legislator is confronted with an issue that poses a stark corporate-consumer contrast, you can be sure that a legislator will have heard the corporate side many times over before any vote is taken.

Legislators do, to be sure, hear from constituents on some issues, most notably the hot "social issues," everything from abortion rights to gun control. But there's little likelihood that lawmakers will receive any appreciable quantities of mail on issues like electricity deregulation. And the constituent mail lawmakers do receive on issues like these will, in all likelihood, be stimulated by the industries most directly involved. On any issue where constituents are silent and industry has made its case-a case that usually boils down to "either go along with the corporate solution or risk losing jobs"-the outcome is assured. In state capitals like Annapolis, the good folks do not beat the bad folks on issues that affect the corporate bottom line. The Statehouse is their turf, not ours.

I am now more convinced that ever that "justice" isn't going to come from inside any legislative chambers. Making fundamental change, even change that falls far short of redistributing wealth and power, will only take place if a broad, active, well-organized people's movement emerges.

There is a Way

As Republicans dream of a sea change that will bring them to power, prompted by the recent visit of Ken Mehlman, one is tempted to point out that the opportunities for change in control in the US generally, and Maryland specifically, are myriad.

While a full switch in power in the legislature in 2006 is so unlikely as to be not worth talking about, there are a lot of weaknesses in local and state parties. Frankly, once you get up close and personal with local and state politics it becomes clear that there is plenty of room for change almost everywhere, if only the will exists.

Grassroots mobilization is weak, many elected office holders are distant from their constituents, and parties seems to be hanging on mostly because of unchallenged inertia. If the parties out of power become really willing to work, outside organizations decide to give real money, an effective organization can be built, and the party in power stumbles even a bit, significant gains are possible.

But the real question is whether any of that will happen.

Push Comes to Shove

In two diverse legislative districts energetic, hungry candidates with experience as delegates are pushing state senators out the door.

In a Gaithersburg/Rockville area district, former Delegate Cheryl Kagan is challenging Sen. Jennie Forehand.
For the first time in her career as a state senator from District 17, Sen. Jennie M. Forehand may face a serious challenger in next year's Democratic primary.

Cheryl Kagan , a longtime Democratic activist who served in the House of Delegates from 1995 to 2003, announced Tuesday that she is forming an exploratory committee to consider whether to challenge Forehand.

"While state Senator Jennie Forehand has served us honorably for 28 years, she has become a predictable vote for the status quo," Kagan said in a statement. "I believe it's time for a tougher, stronger leader to represent mid-Montgomery County in the state Senate."

Kagan retired from the House of Delegates in 2003. Since then, she has been executive director of the Carl. M. Freeman Foundation and served as co-chairman of Sen. John F. Kerry's Montgomery campaign last year.

And in western Maryland, Sen. Hafer says that he is not running for reelection because of pressure from Del. George Edwards, the House Minority Leader.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Political Funnies

In our ongoing pursuit of the lighter side of politics and public policy, OnBackground brings you links to a little animation piece that pokes fun at the needless destruction of the earth and human health for profit, and to the Daily Show -- check out Pray it Forward.

Another Name for 2006

So far most of the Maryland political talk has centered on Senate and Governor, and the House and LG seats that might open up. And while local talk about legislative and County races (and don't forget this week's local elections), the talk is just getting started about other statewide elections. So, mention of candidates for Attorney General (if AG Curran opts not to run again) has included Montgomery County Council Presient Tom Perez, Prince Georges' County States Attorney Glen Ivey, and now a Republican:
State's Attorney Scott Rolle told Frederick Forum on Saturday that Mike Steele is pressing him to run for state attorney general. Haircut Bobby, in an interview on the show, all but endorsed Scott, calling him "a very talented man, a proven winner."

What else have you been hearing?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Free Advertisement in the Post

The press often gets a bum rap when accused of one-sided or biased coverage. That said, sometimes papers really open themselves up for it. Take a look at the first part of a fluff piece in today's Washington Post.
They operate like journalists on the scene, outdoing think tank pundits by delivering crucial analysis in real time from Kabul or Kiev. They are not diplomats, politicians or spies, but they have carved out a position of global authority for themselves.

They are the specialists and advocates of the International Crisis Group, a unique nongovernmental organization. The group, based in Brussels, was founded in part to avert a repeat of the tragic bloodshed that unfolded in the Balkans during international dithering over the conflict in the early 1990s.

Now in its 10th year, the ICG has grown from 20 employees to 110 staff members from 40 countries. The group sends field officers to areas of potential and actual conflict, and it provides officials and opinion-makers with the prognosis for world crises before they erupt, along with precise recommendations for how to avoid them.

Its experts get face time with big players in the White House and the State Department, as well as in other international corridors of power.

The Post better have gotten some primo ad dollars out of running that, because you know that it's going into the next ICG flyer.

J Lo for Pres?

The Post's giveaway publication Express has a paragraph today on Jennifer Lopez indicating her interest in being President of the United States. Apparently her top priority as most powerful person on the planet would be to redecorate the White House.

Of course, it's not surprising that J Lo thinks she can be President. One of the reasons people run for office is because they think they can do a better job than the incumbent!

And if there is anything that George W. Bush has proven to all Americans, it's that brains, real leadership ability, issue knowledge, and critical thinking skills are not that important to being elected President. Some would argue that governing is different...

Attacking Unions Abroad

In the category of one of those things we should have assumed, but generally didn't even think about, the Bush Administration's efforts to crush unions and promote privatization at the expense of workers and, indeed, all citizens here at home, the Matthew Harwood writes about the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority, which did it's darndest to crush a free, democratic labor movement in Iraq. In a piece entitled "Pinkertons at the CPA", a discussion of how the nascent labor movement's potential to help build democracy and lessen ethnic strife as a legacy of its anti-Saddam days was squandered:

"Americans have largely left the Iraqi unions to fend for themselves, and in some cases actively undercut them. As a result, Iraq has been significantly deprived of the movement perhaps most willing and best equipped to nurture along a nascent national democracy in a religiously and ethnically divided country: organized labor."


"But given the history of labor in emerging democracies and the dearth of other nation-building alternatives in Iraq, sheltering and encouraging a union movement ought to have been pretty close to first in the reconstruction playbook. Instead, it seems to have come somewhere near last."

and ends with:

"Years from now, when historians try to figure out what precisely went wrong in the American occupation of Iraq and why, there will be many candidates: the failure to win enough international support; insufficient numbers of ground troops; the decision to ignore plans drawn up by experienced nation-building experts outside the Pentagon. But somewhere on the list will be the administration's indifference, indeed hostility, to Iraqi organized labor. The Iraqi people are paying a price for that attitude."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Where does it stop?

Child molesters are among the most heinous villains in our society. They should be harshly punished and kept from ever having the opportunity to commit their crime again. The punishments they receive these days probably do not go far enough.

A piece about Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida signing legislation that would increase the penalties for molesting children included the note that it would increase penalties as well as "...requiring many of those released from prison to wear satellite tracking devices for the rest of their lives."

This reminds you at all of the article posted here last July about Mexican authorities having microchips put beneath their skin for security clearances and tracking purposes.

Now truth be told, many of us had a slight chill run up our spine when we heard about monitoring bracelets for convicts under house arrest for the first time years ago. And the exponential increase in the data on private citizens held by the government and big corporation makes privacy experts and average citizens alike a bit nervous. A lot of Americans are probably also not thrilled with the proliferation of video cameras in public and private spaces.

Where does this end? Won't some law-and-order politician or interest group feel the need to push broadening the monitoring provisions down the road to other classes of criminals? If we agree that this tracking should be done on child molesters, what about rapists? What about violent criminals of any type? Where does it stop?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Mfume and Cardin

In the Senate race, House Majority Whip, Rep. Steny Hoyer endorsed Rep. Ben Cardin and a Sun columnist has very positive things to say about him.

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume is already talking to voters across Maryland as Cardin gets started and Rep. Chris Van Hollen and others decide whether to enter the race:
Mfume entered the race on the first business day after Sarbanes said he would not run again. "That was a masterstroke of political strategy," said Thomas F. Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who is supporting Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin in the primary, because it froze out other major African-American candidates such as congressmen Albert R. Wynn and Elijah E. Cummings and Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey.

Both Mfume and Cardin now have basic sites up, though they are a bit bare bones.

Linder on Airliner Deaths Not Catastrophe

Rollcall has a humdinger from Rep. John Linder of Georgia on how many dead people it takes to be a catastrophe:
“If an airline is blown up in the air, that is a very bad circumstance for 200 or 300 people. But it is not a catastrophe,” Linder said during a hearing last week in the House Homeland Security Committee.

Newspaper Circulation Still Dropping

Average daily circulation of the nation's 20 biggest newspapers for the six months ended March 31, as reported Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The percentage changes are from the comparable year-ago period.

1. USA Today, 2,281,831, up 0.05 percent
2. The Wall Street Journal, 2,070,498, down 0.8 percent
3. The New York Times, 1,136,433, up 0.24 percent
4. Los Angeles Times, 907,997, down 6.5 percent
5. The Washington Post, 751,871, down 2.7 percent
6. New York Daily News, 735,536, down 1.5 percent
7. New York Post, 678,086, up 0.01 percent
8. Chicago Tribune, 573,744, down 6.6 percent
9. Houston Chronicle, 527,744, down 3.9 percent
10. San Francisco Chronicle, 468,739, down 6.1 percent
11. The Arizona Republic, 452,016, down 3.2 percent
12. The Boston Globe, 434,330, down 3.9 percent
13. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., 394,767, down 1.6 percent
14. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 391,373, down 2.4 percent
15. Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 378,316, up 0.33 percent
16. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 364,974, down 3.0 percent
17. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, 348,416, down 5.2 percent
18. Detroit Free Press, 347,447, down 2.0 percent
19. St. Petersburg Times (Florida), 337,515, down 3.2 percent
20. The Oregonian, Portland, 335,980, down 1.8 percent

Total daily newspaper circulation, 2005: 47,374,033
Total daily newspaper circulation, 2001: 55,578,046
Decrease in daily newspaper circ in four years: 15%

Sunday, May 01, 2005

"At Los Alamos, Blogging Their Discontent"

A little blog is shaking the management of a top government nuclear weapons lab, according to the NY Times:

A blog rebellion among scientists and engineers at Los Alamos, the federal government's premier nuclear weapons laboratory, is threatening to end the tenure of its director, G. Peter Nanos.

Four months of jeers, denunciations and defenses of Dr. Nanos's management recently culminated in dozens of signed and anonymous messages concluding that his days were numbered. The postings to a public Web log conveyed a mood of self-congratulation tempered with sober discussion of what comes next.


The blogging comes at a delicate moment in the 62-year history of Los Alamos. The University of California, which has helped run the laboratory for the government since the days of the Manhattan Project, faces close scrutiny in Washington as to whether its contract should be renewed. And resignations and fears of a mass exodus have recently roiled the waters. Some analysts believe that now, given the public outcry, the university will have to abandon Dr. Nanos in order to make a credible bid to keep its contract.