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

Monday, January 31, 2005

Blow to Working People

Governor Ehrlich is closing two offices that protect workers in a move that CASA advocate Kim Propeack called "horrifying."

Government Spending on PR

The Center for American Progress, in recognition of the recent scandals of journalists taking money from the Administration to promote its policies, writes about how much of our tax dollars are being spent on pr.
It takes a whole lot of money to make the Bush administration's policies look good. In 2004, the Bush administration funneled over $88 million in taxpayer money to public relations firms. That represents an increase of 128 percent since 2000. Worse, 40 percent of that money is awarded to firms without competitive bidding. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has spent nearly $100 million over the last four years contracting with public relations firms to sell the administration's policies to the public.

And that doesn't include internal communications/PR!

Nordic Countries Claim Four of Top Five Spots in Environmental Sustainability Survey

The Nordic countries ranked highest in environmental sustainability, a survey released Friday at the World Economic Forum reported.

Finland claimed the top spot among the list of 146 countries surveyed by a team of environmental experts at Yale and Columbia Universities in the United States. Rounding out the top five were Norway, Uruguay, Sweden and Iceland.

Those countries were cited for their ability to combine good management of their natural resources in concert with new development.

The United States was ranked No. 45.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Victory That Means Something

Principled Americans of all stripes can certainly agree with Senator Harry Reid's recent comments, "The way we feel about it is that abortion should be rare, that anything we can do to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it’s a step ahead." Indeed, it sometimes seems like issues like abortion are unnecessarily divisive when many Americans agree on the basic principles. At the same time progressives are concerned that recent efforts by Congressional Democrats including Sen. Clinton to appeal to the so-called values voters will lead to selling-out our principles.
Not everyone loved or cherished this dash toward the middle, even if it only confirmed that the senator (Clinton) is planning a White House 2008 bid. What some regard as inevitable political moderation for Clinton, or even a strategic repositioning for the party, others see as treachery.

While it is both strategic and positive to attempt to share our goals and positions with the broadest possible array of citizens in a way that reaches and appeals to them, we cannot and should not give up our principles. That has to be the bottom line or victory means nothing.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


Not an endorsement, but a few seconds of your time might be well spent reading one person's view of how to build a grassroots party.

Brownback for the Bank?

Speculation is rife on a new World Bank President, but includes a recent mention of Sen. Sam Brownback in the Journal World. His conservative views will lead many to question whether he is someone we want in such a vital position.

The exciting part for political junkies, however, is wondering who might fill his seat if it happened. Rep. Dennis Moore would probably be interested in the appointment, though one can only wonder if he has the fire-in-the-belly to move beyond his northeastern Kansas base. If he did get the nod from Gov. Sebelius, his House seat would be hard to hold without him and he would face a tough battle in 2006.

Of course, since someone actually had the moxie to wonder about Bill Clinton taking the Bank helm, we cannot help but wonder whether all of this is anything but speculation.

Trust Nonprofits

Edelman, the pr firm, put out the results of a survey that indicates that NGOs are among the most trusted spokespeople, while the internet also gained in its trustworthiness index.

“Experts who are seen as having no vested interest in the welfare of a company – “doctors or healthcare specialists” (>56%), “academics” (>49%), “a person like yourself” (>49%), and “representatives of NGOs” (>47%) – are the most trusted spokespersons.
“In the U.S., Europe and Japan, fewer than three in every 10 opinion leaders said that CEOs or CFOs are credible sources of information.
“During the last 12 months, the Internet’s popularity as a “media source to turn to first for trustworthy information/news” has spiked significantly – from 12% to 19% in the U.S.; 9% to 13% in Europe; 10% to 21% in Brazil and 14% to 27% in China. The Web is now the #3 media source turned to first, after television and newspapers.
“The trust void in institutions – business, government, media – is being filled by NGOs, whose trust ratings have trended up in U.S., from 36% in 2001 to 55% in 2005. NGOs are now the most trusted institution in every market except China.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What Do You Really Think?

When Lyndon LaRouche's followers were passing out attack pamphlets and tabloids with titles like "Beast Men: Children of Satan" at the Metro stop on Capitol Hill a while back, someone said that some folks really censor themselves too much. I thought that when I read the following on a Salon.com review of former Bush EPA chief and former NJ Gov. Christie Whitman's book.
"Bush's narrow victory in November completed the Republican Party's transformation from a vehicle for principled conservatives into a debt-fueled pimpmobile for crony capitalists and religious hucksters."

That's followed by quotes like:
"The GOP has become comfortable with its inner troglodyte -- in fact, it embraces the lil' fanged bugger."

You know, writers who say that their work is required to be too formulaic, or gets too watered down by editors or by self-editing so that they can published, are probably not working for Salon or LaRouche.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Waxman: Democrats' Eliot Ness

A profile of CA Rep. Henry Waxman in The Nation details his work on government investigations and illustrates how an active D can still make a difference in Washington, DC.

Leggett to Enter County Executive Race

The Gazette ran a piece announcing the entry of Ike Leggett, former member of the County Council and former state Democratic Party chair. This should mean a competitive race.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ignore the Moving Lips!

The Maryland League of Conservation voters has an interesting piece up today about a state politico who claim to be an environmentalist. The scary thing about the Ehrlich Administration, not unlike Bush and his minions in both the legislative and executive branches, is not that they are anti-environmentalist or completely uninterested in doing anything in the public interest.

It's that they have made a high art out of what the Maryland LCV aptly mentions as saying something, even something outrageous, often enough that it seems true.

Too many politicians in Annapolis, Washington, and elsewhere have learned that they can continue to serve the special interests that fill their campaign coffers and their cocktail parties, and that destroy the land and its peoples health, while still paying lip service to the public interest. We as voters have to learn to look at what they do, not what they say.

Reporters on the Take

Those of you waiting for the other shoe to drop after conservative Armstrong Williams was found to be on the take from the Administration to promote No Child Left Behind need wait no longer. It appears that a couple of years ago another journalist was paid to promote marriage by the administration (link at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36545-2005Jan25.html).

Wonder what the watchdog groups will bring us on other such shenanigans in the near future?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Majority Status Fleeting

In today's CongressDaily AM, Susan Davis has some notes from a speech by Newt Gingrich that included:
"On the one hand, [Senate Majority Leader Frist] has to have a slightly, not dramatically, but slightly greater ability to actually get something decided in the Senate, because the Senate now runs itself largely by exhaustion," he said, adding, "But at the same time the House leadership is making an enormous strategic mistake ... the reason it's a big mistake and not a small mistake is that the great virtue of allowing amendments is that you surface problems early and you begin to notice that the world is different than you think it is."

He argued that the majority in the House needs to lose occasionally on the floor, and that the leaders of Congress shouldn't be afraid to send something up when the President has said that he'd veto it.

Quiet Cycle

In today’s Roll Call the riveting news is of a potential Steny Hoyer candidacy for governor of Maryland, which his office showed no interest in.

Chris Van Hollen’s 2004 Republican opponent is apparently organizing for another impossible mission against him, though given the huge spread in the race one wonders why this is news.

And in what has to be a low point for political, gossip journalism, Roll Call started a front page article about and displayed before and after pictures of a senator’s teeth.

For obvious reasons, links are unnecessary in this post.

Monday, January 24, 2005


So does it matter that the waiter at the restaurant is slow and surly, the stewardess on my flight isn’t helpful, or the person at the register in my local supermarket barely more than grunts at me? Should that matter whether or how much I care about their rights? And does it?

I believe in the rights of workers and have opposed automation of every last job in the world for years. I think that “efficiency” is going too far as it whittles away at our jobs, and takes the human touch out of human interaction in the marketplace and, indeed, most kinds of work.

I have been an active member of unions, and strongly support the rights of working people. I avoided the self checking machines when the first came into my grocery and my library, pressed the button to speak to an operator when I called an airline or an electronic helpline, and was aghast when I found out years ago that (at the time) Japanese automatic teller machines were only generally open when the bank was because people just used them to avoid having to deal with tellers.

But the truth is so many people in customer service are rude, uninterested in service, or at least aloof. Now I know from experience that many of them are probably that way because they have to deal with rude, demanding customers for minimal pay and few benefits, are often forced to work in difficult situations and are treated with little respect by their employers and customers. And the fear that their jobs may be automated or outsourced is surely not doing anything for morale!

But if the staff at a restaurant, clothing store, car dealership, or coffee shop is rude, unhelpful, or just ineffective, I may not come back. The service is part of the package of what I’m buying.

In the same way, if the checker at the market is rude then maybe I tend to opt into the self check line. But should I? After all, when I run my own groceries through the scanner, buy my plane tickets online, or play with the automatic operator help system, I am taking a job away from someone. And while it might be more efficient for the company to build a machine than pay a worker, and it may even speed up my exit and cut through the hassle, isn’t it probable that the market understaffs checkers and operators to encourage me to do it online and to save themselves money?

What do you think?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Convenience v. Value

I had another of those experiences today. You know, when the bright piece of fruit you bought is flavorless or spoiled the day after you bought it. I decided to treat the large supermarket nearby like a convenience store.

You see, for quite a while now the chain supermarkets nearby, particularly regarding produce, have seemed overpriced, with inferior products, and have poor service. I have found that local farmers' markets, smaller groceries, and community supported agriculture programs have better fruit and vegetables, at lower prices, sold with a smile.

So it's true that the Giant and Safeway stores near me have ample parking, regular supplies of everything, long hours, and a range of products not offered everywhere. That's why I'll still go there when I need something quickly or conveniently, but I don't spend much of my time or money there. There is just no need to.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Name Recognition and Ignorance

County Councilman Steve Silverman is taking big money from developers and other fat cats as he builds a war chest for the County Executive race in 2006:
Although Silverman reported a smattering of $25 and $50 checks, most of the money came from large donations, including a hefty take from developers, builders, real estate brokers and related interests.


But council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) said Silverman's donor base "is troubling."

"If someone is raising $600,000 in $100-or-less contributions, that would tell me they have tremendous public support," Andrews said. "If someone is raising $600,000 in $1,000 chunks . . . that raises all kinds of questions for me about whether that person can do what is best for the public."

Andrews said Silverman's ties to builders, as chairman of the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, could have implications in a county struggling to manage growth.

Mike Tabor in the Silver Spring Voice this month reminds us that Terry Lierman worked for the living wage, pokes a needle in the eye of Duncan's pro-development slate that holds firm control in Rockville despite the "Democratic" label, and pushes readers to overcome our laziness and ignorance that keeps bad officials in place and prevents a new generation of more progressive people from getting elected. His riff on the long-time occupant of one Senate seat tells the tale: "The only thing going for her among District 20 residents is name recognition and ignorance."

Mealymouthed and Hypocritical

Students at Catholic University are protesting Newt Gingrich's upcoming speech there, based on the university's decision to prohibit speakers who do not adhere to the church's teachings. The university's defense for allowing a supporter of the death penalty who also cheated on his wife, while previously prohibiting director Stanley Tucci because of his pro-choice beliefs, seems mealy-mouthed.

These students should be applauded for taking an important step to expose the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow the principles of their religion while adhering to only a small subset of it. It seemed wrong of Catholic University to stop Tucci from visiting, but if they want to force all speakers to adhere to their belief system, then they at least need to be consistent!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Corruption of our Moral Sentiments

From Maxspeak:

“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

— Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

And his economic analysis/commentary is often worth taking a look at.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

When Will We Build?

From the Roots has a piece that says that the state Democratic parties are woefully unprepared on their technical campaign tools -- something that shouldn't shock anyone who has even glanced at our state parties. It is disappointing, though.

One cannot but sigh at the squandered potential in so many states. Places like Kansas are barren Republican wastelands, not because conservatives outnumber progressives and swing voters, but because we have conceded to them and do not marshall even a reasonable approximation of the resources and sophistication necessary to win. And supposedly safe states, like Maryland, are really hollow approximations of what they should be with Republicans masquerading as Democrats and a public that is rapidly losing interest in the long-time majority party.

A bit of focus is what is in order. Technically we are behind the Rs and need to improve dramatically, but also in terms of human power.

When will we invest long-term in political operatives that can make a difference, through training and mentoring, rather then just using them in campaigns and then letting them disappear? When will we realize that creating the infrastructure to win takes more than just millions invested for campaigns? When will we build the strenth to really change things?

This leads one to think about the progressive activist forces stack up against the conservatives, but that's probably best left to another time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Turning the Ship Around

Michael Crowley suggests that if we're ever going to turn the ship of state in the direction we think it should be going, we need to learn from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He asserts that House Democrats need to get militant, to expose the hypocrisy and lack of democracy in the House, to fight fire with fire. It makes you think...

Monday, January 17, 2005

Environmental Hypocrisy

Remember how we talked before about how sneaky politicos are when they learn from people like political consultant Frank Luntz to talk like they care about people, the environment, etc. while doing things they hurt them? I know that sounds a bit like old fashioned hypocrisy, but it has been taken to new lows through legislation like Clean Skies, Healthy Forests, and welfare reform (and yes, I know which president signed the last one into law) that hurt us and our world while pretending otherwise.

Today Marylander's got a taste of that when the Secretary of the Department of the Environment told activists at the Maryland Legislative Environmental Summit in Annapolis that the Ehrlich/Steele administration care about the environment and have been working to protect it. I could hardly contain myself. I think that I like the old kind of conservative, the Jesse Helms and James Watt kind better. They may destroy the earth, ignore poverty and hunger, and discriminate against anyone different than they, but at least they admit what they are and what they do.

Progressive Radio in DC

from an email from the Center for American Progress, for folks in the DC metropolitan area:
WWRC (1260-AM) has made the commitment to broadcast liberal talk radio
beginning Monday, January 17, 2005.

The Monday through Friday lineup will be:

Imus in the Morning 6am - 9am
The Stephanie Miller Show 9am - 12 noon
The Al Franken Show 12 noon - 3pm
The Ed Schultz Show 3pm - 6pm

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Odds of death by:

In the wake of the South Asian tsunami, you may wonder what the odds are that mother nature will take you down. Don't be nervous, you are much more likely to do it yourself or lose your life through some human-made calamity.
Here are the lifetime odds of succumbing to various natural calamities:

Exposure to excessive natural cold... 1 in 6,165
Exposure to excessive natural heat... 1 in 12,310
Cataclysmic storm... 1 in 68,388
Lightning... 1 in 83,930
Flood... 1 in 105, 512
Earthquake... 1 in 131,890
Exposure to all other unspecified forces of nature... 1 in 92,323

And here are the lifetime odds of expiring from some specific causes of death, based on official tallies:

Suicide... 1 in 121
Car accident... 1 in 247
Pedestrian accident... 1 in 608
Complications from medical or surgical care...1 in 1,222
Riding a bike... 1 in 4,663
Falling from a ladder or scaffold... 1 in 8,412
Legal execution... 1 in 58,618
Being buried alive in a cave-in or landslide... 1 in 65,945
Dog bite... 1 in 147,717
Fireworks accident... 1 in 615,488

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Hitting the Nail

Bad writers never figure out that real writing is mostly about thinking clearly, fitting the pieces together in a graceful way. Its not about flowery writing or complex words.

Occasionally, a writer puts it all together in a way that works. Whatever you may think of Michael Kinsley or his position on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the following phrase is tight and hits the nail on the head:

The standard for becoming chief justice ought to be a bit higher than the standard for staying out of jail.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Richard Cohen's column entitled Hollow Accountability has a paragraph that, while taken out of the context of Bush's statements regarding CBS, stands on its own:
Bush's observation to the Wall Street Journal is the deepest wisdom of a man who has always been protected from his own mistakes and failures, whether it's the oil business gone bust or a wayward youth rescued by equal measures of religion and family connections. His is the privileged view of privilege itself -- that others should do what he would not. For all his pretense of aw-shucks ordinariness, Bush's inner Yale sometimes oozes out. Some people should pay for their mistakes. Some people never have to.

Torture: Ethics and Efficacy

There is an interesting discussion up at Loyal Opposition on whether we agree with the torture of prisoners in Iraq if it saves lives, which one cannot help but see as a broader test of our ethics

Anne Applebaum's column first asks us whether torture even works. She discusses the reality that torture may not even help to provide useful information, and will probably lead to increased negative consequences.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You Never Will

Mayor Martin O’Malley supported a progressive income tax over fees that disproportionately hit poor Marylanders in a Gazette article today. He also indicated that as a Democrat, he would support the winner of the gubernatorial primary, thus prompting readers to ask themselves the question of whether Doug Duncan would do the same.

The Sun has a good piece on the increasing opportunities for Republicans in Anne Arundel.

And in the most interesting of the three, Dan Rodricks asks us to take a step back on the whole medical malpractice issue to ask whether there is really a crisis at all.

In Montgomery County, Steve Silverman announced his intention to run for County Executive and the Post indicated that Ike Leggett is likely to enter the race for the largest, most Democratic county in the state. Silverman’s bid, while relying on what Duncan has been doing over the past few years, will have to answer questions about what he has done to deal with the many problems facing the county, like the skyrocketing cost of housing. "If you don't already own a house in Montgomery County, you never will," says the Rev. Jeff MacKnight.

Unions Unify

The Steelworkers and PACE have decided to merge into what will be the largest industrial union in the country, dedicating $30 million a year to organizing. This bodes well for working people struggling to get by as corporations increase their power in the market and government.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Poll Positions

Maryland poll results show AG Curran (rumored to be considering retirement) with the best numbers. Look at the numbers carefully, as some come from four counties not statewide.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Covert Propaganda

In case you missed it, the Administration gave a tv commentator $240k to promote the No Child Left Behind Act, drawing the ire of Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, who decried (in a press release from Jan. 7) the use of limited funds for propaganda while human needs go unmet, and indicated that he sees a pattern.
"Sadly, it appears that this is not an isolated incident. Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that video news releases concerning the dangers of marijuana, involving actors pretending to be reporters and distributed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, constitute 'covert propaganda'.

Covert propaganda to influence public opinion is illegal, unethical and dangerous. It violates fundamental principles of open government, it distorts the free press and the public's right to know."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Duncan, Ehrlich Take Hits

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan is probably not thrilled with today’s Maryland Journal headline “ICC could face bumpy road: Majority of citizens voice opposition at hearing”. The piece covers the strong public turnout at a hearing in Prince George’s County about the proposed InterCounty Connector and features a quote by a County Council member opposing the project. It also includes a mention at the top of the page that Duncan champions the building of the massive road—a combination that won’t help him build the support he needs in PG County for his presumed gubernatorial campaign. Has anyone heard of the African American Environmentalist Association, as prominently mentioned in the Post article on the same subject? And is it more than just a conservative front group?

And in a blow to another 2006 gubernatorial candidate, Maryland doctors and hospitals backed away from Gov. Bob Ehrlich to support recent medical malpractice legislation passed by legislature, as detailed in the Washington Post. “It dramatically undercuts the governor’s position…” said Senator Brian Frosh. On such a high profile issue that Ehrlich had been so clear about vetoing, it is not good for your political future when the group you claim to be fighting for publicly rolls you, but this makes it more likely that the governor’s veto will be overridden and decreases the value of his public opposition to the bill.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Full Disclosure

This writer and some posts from this web log are also featured on The Political State Report, The American Street, Blogcritics.org, The Democratic Underground, and other sites.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Playing With Words

The New York Times gives a pretty good summary of Bush II administration encroachments on the rights of workers to unionize while paying lip service.
"Taken one by one, I do not think these are the kinds of decisions that make one sit back and say, 'This is outrageous,' " said Theodore St. Antoine, an emeritus professor of labor law and former dean of the University of Michigan Law School. "At the same time, I have to concede that once more we're in the nibbling process. While none of them consist of a great big bite, the cumulative effect is to decrease the capability of unions to organize."

The language of a Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board in this story parallels the advice given by Republican pollster Frank Luntz to majority members of Congress on environmental issues: talk about balance, helping people, and reform while going about the business of removing important safeguards. The real story is not that the Bush Administration is against worker rights, it's that Bush's people have learned that by not saying so they can keep voters from realizing how far they are in the pockets of corporations.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Dear Axis of Evil nations

The following letter was found on a clever sheep in response to recent missile defense system tests:
We are having some trouble with our missile defense program -- no, its nothing new; its just the same problems we've been having for 20 years now. It seems that we can actually hit our targets 5 times out of 8, but only when the weather is clear over our launch center in Kodiak, Alaska, and only when the attacking missile doesn't shoot decoys and carries a homing device. Y'know: real-world scenarios.

Anyway, until we get this all worked out, we'd appreciate if you would give us some advance notice of an attack. A couple of days would be best, but we could probably make do with as little as 24 hours. It would also help if you give us both the coordinates of the launch pad as well as the coordinates of the target, exact time of launch, projected trajectory, etc. In fact, since we're currently wasting about US$85 million each time we "Cheney" up, we'd certainly be open to some discussion about cash incentives for you to just blow up your own missiles out in space and let us take the credit for it. Think about it, okay? And you can leave any response in the comments to this or any of the big lefty blogs. Big John Ashcroft is still with us for a little while, yet and it really makes his eagle soar when he can spend his time spying on the lefties and avoiding all that embarassing prosecution-type work.

So, thanks from all of us here in the "Red, White and Red" United States of America,