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

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Working Together Locally

The ongoing discussion about the impact of the split in labor is worth understanding, particularly at the local level. Let me suggest Tasini's Working Life blog as an excellent source, as is the mailing list of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO. We're all hoping that the changes afoot lead to more strength for working people.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Excommunicated as Heretics

Did you see the Post article about nine women who were ordained as priests in defiance of the Catholic hierarchy in Rome because they are dedicated to their religion and equality for women?

If you did you might wonder why anyone would charter a boat in a river to avoid confrontation with a church that forbids them to become clergy. The response was immediate. Various church leaders denounced them and "All were excommunicated as "heretics" by the Vatican."

Monday, July 25, 2005


I was thinking of writing about how last week it was revealed that the president’s aides had been talking up John Roberts for more than a year to build the ground work for his nomination. Or maybe I was going to rant about how the New York Times printed a column using the word “scarily.” And I certainly wanted to mention today’s Post article about William Donald Schaffer again making nice with Ehrlich and remind readers that he endorsed George H.W. Bush for president all those years ago.

But I saw an exhibit at the Sackler Gallery about the caravan civilizations of the Arabian peninsula, their dynasties and kings, cultures and peoples. I had heard few of the names and know almost nothing of substance of the history. Truth be told, few of us can have a substantive discussion about more than a handful of things (if we’re lucky) that happened more than a couple of hundred years ago. And if we want to be really brutal in our honesty, we realize that few know well the greatest leaders of the generation past or know more than vaguely the lessons learned by history in the past few decades. So in a hundred years or in a thousand, what will we remember?

It kind of puts our politics in perspective.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Final

President Bush has been pushing the reauthorization (parts of it were due to expire) of the USA PATRIOT Act, a bill which tramples all over civil liberties in this country, with the support of far too many members of Congress. You should know how the House members from Maryland voted:

Cummings, Van Hollen, even Wynn and Republican Bartlett voted against this bill that goes too far in a misguided weakening of our rights.

Gilchrest, Cardin, Ruppersberger and Hoyer voted to continue these laws. Hmmm.

Mfume Email

The Mfume campaign is putting out an email today under Joe Trippi's name trumpeting the same note we heard from the Dean campaign -- people vs the powerful. Will an underdog campaign against someone not known for his charisma but for his steady, cerebral approach to legislating work?

Together we can launch the summer of hope throughout Maryland -- a campaign based on thousands of Marylanders working together in support of a different kind of candidate. A candidacy born out of the support of the people, and not a candidacy born out of the ability to attract big money. The powerful, the big money, and big business have plenty of voices in Washington that stand for them. Make no mistake about it -- they will not be supporting Kweisi Mfume -- which makes what you do now so important. They know that Kweisi Mfume will be our voice in the US Senate and now it is up to us to make it happen.

This isn't intended as a free ad for Mfume, but a question. Given how long it's been since we had a contested primary race for senate or governor, it's hard to tell whether primary voters will pay enough attention to take this out of the hands of those who always vote. Can Mfume/Trippi energize an activist base?

What do you want?

“If African Americans and labor announced they were open to a third party alternative, the death of the Democratic Party would be in sight and a real party of the people could take their place." (attributed to Kevin Zeese)

Wow. That's something to think about. Marylanders are at least uncomfortable and unhappy with the ever increasing gap between rich and poor, the degradation of our environment and the health of our children, the erosion of our rights, and the the weakening of our international credibility. And we are certainly nervous about the growing strength of multinational corporations in our economies and politics -- politicians of both major parties are taking their money and doing their bidding.

Obviously the independent parties speak to our discontent with how things are. The real question isn't whether they have ideas and energy to make our state and our nation better. The question many of us ask ourselves is whether they can someday win enough power to actually change things. The writer of that phrase asks us to imagine that change could happen.

Would you want it to?

Ivey Coy

The Post reports this morning that Glenn Ivey and Martin O'Malley are saying (in response to another article) that Ivey hasn't (yet) been chosen as O'Malley's LG partner. Not really news, since neither ruled out that it could happen, just that it hadn't happened.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Political Trivia

The son of a Scranton, Pa., automobile dealer, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., was the underdog when, as a 29-year-old county councilman, he challenged Republican Sen. J. Caleb Boggs in a campaign run by his sister Valerie Biden Owens.Running on a dovish Vietnam platform and accusing the incumbent of being a do-nothing, he won by 3,162 votes. Five weeks later, Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their infant daughter, Amy, were killed and their two sons were seriously injured in an automobile accident. Biden at first said he would not take the job he had just won. Persuaded by Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, Biden was sworn in at the bedside of one of his sons. (Source: CQ in America 2006)

Grasmick for LG?

On today's Kojo Nnamdi Show, Paul Schurick, the governor's press secretary, had at least one very positive comment about Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools. Wonder if she's on Ehrlich's short list for LG? After all, Grasmick's got money, picking a woman and a Democrat would be a strategic choice in a climate where he has to expand his base, and it would give Ehrlich's ticket a good angle to attack O'Malley on schools.

The panelists also discussed that the governor invited Doug Duncan for the announcement of the route for the ICC. While they got on the subject of whether Ehrlich's people orchestrate the crowds and suppress dissent, another thing occurred to me. Obviously with the ICC running through Montgomery County, inviting the MoCo executive seems reasonable, but might that not be the only reason? Do you think it was an effort to buoy Duncan so that he would continue to bloody O'Malley?

Scott Arceneaux, Duncan's campaign manager wasn't nearly as successful in speaking for his candidate, as Schurick was in diverting criticism from and playing up the positive work of Ehrlich.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cameras in Mosques?

As anti-terrorism hysteria sweeps the globe, otherwise rational people are agreeing to give up ever more of their liberty and privacy in a vain effort to be safe. One of the more perplexing choices is how far to allow cameras into our lives. The following is one that makes this writer nervous:

"And, Bavarian interior minister Gunther Beckstein has suggested that cameras should be installed in German mosques to enable government agents to monitor and censor inflammatory remarks by Islamic leaders in the fight against terrorism."

Your Money

The big Maryland story of the day is clearly the discovery that we have a $1 billion budget surplus. This will go toward paying back money that was taken from other accounts, toward preventing future deficits, and hopefully toward restoring services the governor has cut.

The York Dispatch some interestinginformation for us: "...in Maryland, there are 188 legislators paid $13,951 per year plus $104 per diem. They meet for three months only. Total salary cost per year: $5.9 million." The article also notes that we have "4.5 staff per legislator."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nominee Tonight

CQ reports that the President will nominate a Supreme Court Justice tonight at 9:00. It was said that they were going to try to lay low until August to give their nominee less exposure to potential attacks and research. Maybe they decided that Karl Rove is the one who really needs the cover.

$2 Billion For Lobbying

Political Moneyline reports that $2 billion dollars was spent to lobby the federal government cost last year.

Poll Shows O'Malley Ahead

An internal O'Malley poll done by GarinHartYang shows O'Malley with 50 percent, with Duncan at 28 (22% undecided) among likely primary voters.

Pollsters conducted additional interviews in Montgomery County, and say they found that Duncan's support in his home territory was weaker than O'Malley's in Baltimore.

"In stark contrast to O'Malley's strong support in the Baltimore region, Duncan has lackluster support, holding a 52% to 31% lead in Montgomery County," the memo said. Because Duncan's name recognition is already near-universal in Montgomery, "the polling shows that Doug Duncan will have a difficult time getting 60% of the vote in his home county, much less achieving even the low end of 70% that most political observers believe he needs to compete statewide," the memo said.

The usual caveats are mentioned by Duncan's aide in the Sun piece on the article, including that it's too early, it only reflects name recognition, etc. But these are interesting numbers, which is probably why the O'Malley team let us see them!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Local Greens

No, this post isn't about how important it is to support farmers in your area by buying their produce so that we can get away from industrial farming.

It's about the efforts of Green Party folks in Frederick to get someone on the ballot for local government, specifically the board of aldermen. Beyond the obvious need to do something about the word "aldermen", this writer applauds the local Greens for starting at the grassroots as a way to push public policy in a progressive direction.

In focusing on trying to get a broad national or statewide message out through candidacies for president or senate (see my recent post about the potential independent effort of Kevin Zeese for Senate in Maryland), activists sometimes miss the opportunity to organize locally. Local organizing, whether on an issue or for an electoral contest, can give smaller parties and grassroots movements an opportunity to build credibility and strength for the future. And since local elections are not so dominated by big donors and wild spending on media, polls, etc. they are a real opportunity for less business-oriented candidates to make a mark and develop their bases. Add that to the complacency and lack of grassroots work by dominant parties, and chances abound locally.

In local municipalities, like Takoma Park, we have a progressive electorate, non-partisan elections, and a great crop of activists. We just have to bring them together.

Rove Gets Bad Poll

Wonkette gets a hat tip for pointing readers in the direction of ABC, which leads with: Poll: Many Doubt White House Cooperation in CIA Leak Probe. Although I have my doubts about whether Bush will divest himself of a key player in his rise (and undoubtedly someone who knows a lot of inside stuff on W and his team), the numbers are prety unambiguous: 75% of respondents think the White House hasn't been cooperating with the probe and 75% think Rove should be fired if he is found to have leaked classified data. Could happen after all.


A young lady was taken to dinner one evening by Gladstone and the following evening by Disraeli. Asked what impressions these two celebrated men had made upon her, she replied, "When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Call to Action

In a day when idealism, at least of the progressive variety, is sorely pressed, John Flynn plays some inspiring folk music with a political bent. The guitar-backed vocal melody is enough to get you into a rhythm, but lyrics that describe corruption and evil as a dragon that "walks with priceless treasure out democracy's front door, It buys and sells the very ones that you and I vote for" and "It prays upon defenceless ones, the poor, the sick and the old," calls listeners to action. Flynn's music tells stories, pokes fun, and reminds each of us that we have a responsibility to make the world a better place. Listen to a few of his songs -- you'll want to hear more.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Plastic for Your Health

What's with umbrellas?

Doesn't it seem strange to you that when there is lightening dancing in the sky we raise a metal pole (with a framework of metal poles) to the sky? Does it just not occur to us that we are asking for a good jolt?

When one hears about someone else's home and property getting a bolt from the blue, plastic sounds like a good idea.

Just a thought.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Foxes, Henhouse

From the folks at The Weekly Spin:

"Consultants paid by the oil and gas industry have been volunteering to work for the Bureau of Land Management's Vernal [Utah] office for the past five months, expediting environmental studies to keep pace with a glut of drilling requests in the region," reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

But the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which received details of the arrangement through a Freedom of Information Act request, compared the industry "volunteers" to "foxes guarding the henhouse."

Cameras in Our Lives

Is there anyone else who isn't quite sure what to think about Mayor Williams' eagerness to use video cameras widely to stop crime, and the growing number of cameras in public places around the country?

"I think they can be used much more widely over more hours and certainly could be used, for example, in many of our neighborhood areas, our parks, our commercial districts [and] our recreation centers," Mr. Williams said during his weekly press briefing.

Stopping crime and catching criminals is good, who would argue with that, but what about basic privacy or anonymity in public places? Do you really want the government watching and tracking you when you are out and about? One cannot help but be more concerned these days, not just because of the proliferation of cameras, but with all of the new technology that makes the cameras useful. These days we have advanced facial pattern recognition software that enables computers to identify you, programs that can monitor you for "suspicious" activities, and an incredibly advanced capacity to analyze, save, and combine all of this data with that in other databases. Where are we going with this?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Misdirection for Fun and Profit

Paul Waldman has a good piece in Tom Paine on the Rove defense as an example key strategy for deflecting attacks. Below I'll take a few lines completely out of context for your reading pleasure:

Every administration has its share of scandals to deal with, and every one handles them in a slightly different way.

Step 1: It’s not really about us, it’s about them.

This is one of the fundamental divides between the two parties today, something Republicans understand and Democrats don’t: If the controversy is about you, you lose; if it’s about your opponent, you win.

Step 2: Lie through your teeth.

Step 3: Argue the semantics, or, it depends on what the meaning of “identify” is.

This is all beginning to sound familiar.

Step 4: It’s all partisan politics.

The press will dutifully play along by reporting the conflict in he said/she said, style, giving all claims—even blatantly false ones—equal weight, lest they be accused of “bias.” The public, seeing yet one more case of partisan bickering, lines up with whichever party they have more sympathy for, and the substance of the wrongdoing begins to fade away. The public may well glaze over—but only if the press plays their part in Republican spin.


Am I the only one who finds it funny that the City of Takoma Park considered (and might have passed) a resolution just a few weeks ago to honor legislators Ruben, Hixson, Franchot and Murray for bringing home the bacon? I mean, is this really what a resolution is supposed to be for?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Slaughter Takes Rove

Following ads on blogs can be fun. Today, for instance, if you follow a Fire Rove ad on the sidebar of the TPM Cafe, you find that Rep. Louise Slaughter of NY is trying to take Karl Rove down (a tiny sliver of a district near Niagara Falls and Buffalo along the Canadian border). She actually has a related action on her campaign site. That's interesting.

Post-Etc. Notes

It was a bit surprising to see the Examiner's front page and an inside Post page about Democrats' attacks on LtG Mike Steele's upcoming fundraiser with Karl Rove, given his implication in the Plame scandal. Not that it isn't a legitimate way to attack, but it hardly seems to be that level of an issue at this point. Interesting, though, that the flaks doing the attacking and defending are both with the national parties.

USA Today has a poll showing Bob Ehrlich's approval rating at 48%, not a good number at all.

Yesterday's Post indicated that the Russian government has opened a criminal investigation against former PM Mikhail Kasyanov, widening President Putin's efforts to intimidate anyone who might interfere with his power and further weakening what was an effort at democracy.

Also in the Post yesterday was a piece concluding that further regulation of bloggers by the Federal Elections Commission was unlikely. Not sure what to think of that -- the lines have been getting blurry for some time. Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


In discussing how the Senate race will fall out, Josh Kurtz of Roll Call today wrote that businessman Joshua Rales is trying to put together a team and psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren is gearing up: "several Democratic insiders believe she is going to run."

"Paula C. Hollinger, is expected to announce tomorrow her run for Congress in the 3rd District." Also from the Sun on the race to replace Ben Cardin in Congress:
Anne Arundel County Councilman Bill D. Burlison, a former five-term congressman from southeast Missouri, announced last week that he would run on a platform of working to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and reducing federal debt by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthy.

Oz Bengur, an investment banker who made a name for himself with a spirited primary fight against Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in 2002, said he was forming an exploratory committee to consider the 3rd District race. He said he would probably be bringing a political adviser on board soon with an eye to making a decision in the coming weeks.

Smiles, but No Van Hollen

Yesterday Chris Van Hollen announced that he would not be a candidate for Senate, leaving Ben Cardin and Kweisi Mfume to duke it out unless AA County Exec Janet Owens or a non-pol jumps into the race. Van Hollen is young, only in his second term in the House, and with a bright future: he might ascend the leadership ladder in the House or be in a great position should Sen. Mikulski retire in four years. We'll see.

And the Post carried an article this morning proclaiming the approval (shock!) by the state of a southern ICC route. The article includes a photo of Bob Ehrlich and Doug Duncan smiling really brightly and shaking hands. Not a pretty sight. Would someone please remind Duncan that he says he's a Democrat? Thanks.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Murray In For Another Round

Del. Gareth Murray emailed tonight to say that he is indeed running for reelection to the House of Delegates for the 20th legislative district. He hasn't been seen around the community a lot since his election (of course, he's not the only one), so there was some doubt which is now put to rest.

That leaves Del. Sheila Hixson as the only incumbent unaccounted for in a race where the challengers are chomping at the bit...

Ruben In

Senator Ida Ruben quieted rumors that she might step down in the face of challenges with an email today: "Yes, I plan to run for reelection to the Maryland General Assembly."

Don't Fall Off the Edge of the World

In the NY Times, a leading Catholic Cardinal, apparently with the encouragement of the Pope, is cited as indicating again the huge gap between people across the planet about evolution. Essentially the priest is saying that while the Catholic church may agree that various animals came from the same beginning, they didn't get to where they are by chance and mutation, but by design.

Yes, that's the so-called hand of god guiding evolution for those of you who haven't been paying attention to the fun and games in Kansas and across the nation. After all these years of believing that pretty much everyone agrees that the world is round, it's a bit shocking to find out that there are still major dissenters.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mess in Montgomery

Diane Cameron writes on the Montgomery County Greens blog about the problems with development in Clarksburg and what it reveals about how local government sometimes fails to serve the people:

Citizen advocates for historic and ecological preservation have struggled for years with the feeling that too often, (with a few notable exceptions), too many Commissioners and staff are not listening to us, don’t care about preserving a “liveable Montgomery,” and essentially see themselves as the developers’ partners and glorified rubber stampers.

In Your Business

from Bartcop:

"Other than telling us how to live, think, marry, pray, vote, invest, educate our children and, now, die, I think the Republicans have done a fine job of getting government out of our personal lives."
-- Sunday Portland Oregonian


"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed
by the things you did not do than by the ones you
did, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from the
safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore"- Mark Twain

Religious Take On Protecting the Environment

Preserving nature is to some a spiritual issue, as illustrated by the below excerpt from an article on preaching the environment: http://www.eco-justice.org/3layers.asp While this isn't for everyone, it's an interesting take on an ongoing discussion.

"On an even deeper layer, there is important preaching where the direct focus is not on "nature" or "the environment," but which is essential for sustaining the environmental struggle in the church. This preaching addresses the profound pastoral issues that trouble, and can even paralyze, those who are in touch with the earth's distress. The church needs to speak to sin, guilt, repentance, forgiveness and grace as we individually and collectively participate in the destruction of the earth. New words need to be spoken about both anger and hope in the face of the enormous powers that are shaping our world. In the face of the rapid extinction of species, the loss of habitat and wild lands, and profound changes to the global environment, pastoral sermons must speak to grief and loss in ways that bring us to active resistance, not to quiet acceptance."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Does Someone Come To Mind?

"As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White Hose will be adorned by a downright moron." - H.L. Mencken (hat tip to Rodney Foxworth)

Friday, July 08, 2005

Maryland Friday

Earlier this week MD Governor Bob Ehrlich said that it was none of his business whether a golf club he had a party at discriminated against African Americans (thanks to the Center for American Progress for reminding me about this).

Locally rumors abound that Mark Woodard, a former supporter of ousted Del. Dana Dembrow, was considering getting into a legislative race. No word yet about whether he is considering taking on veteran Sen. Ida Ruben, or current Delegates led by Sheila Hixson.

Skipping right over the Gazette's attempt to play up national Republican support for a senatorial bid by LtG Steele, the big news of the week was how developers built in violation of height limits in Clarksburg.

Crab Cartoon

An artist with the Baltimore Sun seem's a little cynical about politicians' willingness to follow through on campaign promises, such as protecting the Bay (nod to the Maryland LCV).

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Online Community

Recently in South Korea a woman let her dog do its business in the subway and didn't clean up after it. When confronted by other commuters, she apparently refused to do anything about it and got angry. So, the people around her took pictures and posted them on a popular web site. Details about her soon followed.

While this sort of publicly expressed disapproval will probably encourage others to pick up after their pooches, the Post rightly raises the question of how far this can go.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Buoy Toy

So if you've been reading about the spreading scandal of Rep. Duke Cunningham, you may have hard that the boat he lives on, raided by federal agents last week, is called “Duke-Stir.” According to Roll Call, "the yacht used to be called “Bouy Toy,” so named by its former owners, a gay couple, according to sources at the Capitol Yacht Club."

"Apparently, the fellas down at the marina kind of razzed ol’ Duke, a former “top gun” fighter pilot, about the gay-themed name. And apparently, Cunningham couldn’t take it." So he changed it.

Another In Delegates Race

Mark Woodard, a member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and a leader in a Silver Spring democratic group, is apparently eager to enter the race for D20 delegate. It is not clear yet whether he has enough support to enter the virtual race that has been shaping up between current delegates Gareth Murray and Sheila Hixon (Peter Franchot is expected to run for higher office) and former County Councilmember Blair Ewing, Takoma Park Councilmembers Joy Austin-Lane and Heather Mizeur, and Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board member and Democratic activist Jose Vazquez.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

But you said...

Richard Cohen offers a perspective that makes sense to this blog writer, one of a group who are sometimes told that their anonymous posting is less than positive for society:

I am forever coming across columns I've totally forgotten writing and I now, routinely, have to check to see if I have already staked out a position on some matter of importance -- and what, exactly, it may be.

Obviously, this is a good thing. Less obviously, maybe, this is a bad thing. A man is entitled to his own view of himself. He is entitled to be who he says he is. He is the sum product of a gazillion memories, some of them shaved a bit, some of them totally renovated, some of them discarded and forgotten and replaced by dint of imagination and the urgent need to deny. Anyone who has led a full life needs denial. It is the Novocaine of life.

But now I am denied denial. I have been at this column business since 1976, writing most of the time three times a week, more recently just two. That comes to about 3,500 columns, my opinions on just about everything -- a huge memory dump straight from me to the printed page and thence, alas, to the dour computer that lacks remorse or romance and is nothing but rebuke: But you said in 1980. But you wrote in 1990. But . . . aw, shut up.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Department of Public Information

It is a bit scary, but not surprising, that a spokesman at a recent White House press briefing dodged answering whether the US government has undeclared international prisoners. The whole idea of a press office whose primary goal is to obstruct the media in learning anything but the daily talking points seems so obviously Orwellian as to not merit discussion. How far will they go?

Sunday, July 03, 2005


A map of Maryland's counties:

Bad Welfare

Jim Hightower still has it:
What do you think of bums who come into our towns asking for handouts as though they have some right to expect us to underwrite their existence? I don't mean the poor disheveled souls with street names like "Skeeter" and "Gimpy" standing at busy intersections with handwritten cardboard signs saying: "Anything will help. God Bless." No, I'm talking about the real bums, with names like Wal-Mart, Intel, Tyson, Home Depot, Boeing, Dell, Toyota, and Borders. There are two things that these outfits have in common: They are highly profitable, multibillion-dollar corporations... and they all go town-to-town, state-to-state, with their hands out, bumming subsidies from us taxpayers. It's not spare change, eitherthe pinstriped bums suck up a whopping $50 billion a year in giveaways doled out by our governors, mayors, and other officials.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Legislative Districts Map

Does anyone know where the maps of individual Maryland legislative districts are?