Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Howard Dean's online fundraising -- so good, it inspired me to give again

The Dean campaign is really good at inspiring me. And they've also inspired more than 130.000 other small contributors to band together to try to stop the Bush corporate money juggernaut. I sent over another $10 yesterday, after I had decided that I was going to take a pass on December contributions to any campaign. First a message from Joe Trippi, the campaign manager. Then one from Governor Dean (which I believe was written by Governor Dean). Then one from Al Gore. That's the one that got me to give. Here's an exercpt from Joe Trippi's email from this morning. If the campaign is this good at insipiring the most small donors to ever give to a campaign, they are probably going to be as good at inspiring swing voters to take back the White House from the corporate insiders that are ripping off taxpayers and vote to clean house in November.

Here's the pitch-perfect email from Joe Trippi, campaign manager (which makes me feel like I am part of a movement, and you can't ask for anything more from a campaign email than that):

Dear Dan,

Today you have made history. Together, because of your action, we will exceed $15 million by midnight tonight-- the most any Democratic campaign has ever raised in a single quarter.

But that's not the history you've made.

The history is that hundreds of thousands of Americans are coming together in common purpose to reclaim our values and our principles -- to remove an administration that misled us about the reasons we went to war -- and to defeat a President who is mortgaging our future with tax cuts for his biggest contributors. The history is that thousands are taking part to change the established way of doing things in politics. And you have made history with a single click of the mouse.

What's the definition of the establishment? They're people who've come to do things in the established way. Too many Democrats have lost the spirit to fight what's wrong. They voted for the war, and too many voted to give the President a second blank check in Iraq. They voted for his reckless tax cuts. And they've hidden behind faceless committees that use images of Osama bin Laden to attack our campaign.

But you have sent them a message that their vacant attacks are just that -- vacant attacks. Those who rely on special interests to fund their campaigns or on committees to launch their attacks are doing things the old establishment way. But we are going to shatter that forever. What your contribution represents is a new and different way of doing things -- a way to strengthen the Democratic Party by being the party of people.

Today, because of your contribution, you have shown the way to all the cynics and doubters who don't believe that millions of Americans can raise $200 million to match George Bush's special interest money. You have shown that it can be done by raising more than $40 million this year alone. You did that -- through hundreds of thousands of small donations.

Thank you for being part of the most determined Democratic campaign in history -- the only campaign that has the strength to defeat George W. Bush. Together we are going to win the White House in 2004.

Joe Trippi
Campaign Manager
Dean for America

Monday, December 29, 2003

Oral arguments in the Supreme Court case that can bring back competitive elections

Pennsylvania Democrats, represented by Jenner and Block, have brought a constitutional challenge to naked partisan gerrymandering -- that is, when the dominant political party manipulates political district lines to ensure the perpetual re-election of their candidates, even if a majority of voters support the other party.

The oral argument is here and it is a good read (it's fun to see the lawyers and Supreme Court Justices stammer so much).

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Low-wage workers, Wal-Mart, China and the progressive agenda

I went shopping at Target yesterday and was amazed at how cheap these China-made products are. Nice looking shoes for ten bucks! A wooden bookshelf for fifteen! If I were paid just to put the bookshelf together the price would be more than fifteen dollars. How can we ever compete with the Chinese labor market when they are capable of producing products for such an incredibly cheap price?

Well, we can't. So what are we going to do about it?

First, I think we should look on the bright side. For the people buying the products (like me), it's great that they can get decent things for such a cheap price. I'm glad that people can get a decent pair of shoes for ten bucks. I'm glad that I can buy a decent bookshelf for fifteen. (I'll never forget this heartbreaking anecdote: I was shopping for a dresser at a 24-hour store in L.A., and asked the clerk who was working the midnight shift where there were good deals to get one, as they run about $100 for the low-end dressers. She told me that I could take some of the cardboard boxes that the store had in the back, and with duct tape, put together a dresser at home for next to nothing. That's what she did, and she was kind enough to show me how to get into the back of the store to get whatever boxes I needed).

It's a good thing that decent products are available to low-income Americans for very low prices. That increases purchasing power and raises our standard of living.

It also eliminates manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and there isn't a good answer to that problem.

One new part of the progressive agenda which ought to get implemented, because of the shift toward low-wage workers and low-price products, is to stop taxing low-wage workers.

Progressives tend not to focus on tax cuts as a core part of our agenda. But we should. A tax cut for working people and low-income people is basic social justice. And it's good for the economy, as low-income people spend the money they earn. (Wealthier people tend to invest some of their rmoney, which might ultimately finance investments in other countries, which isn't particularly helpful to the U.S. economy).

I'm trying to build the consensus in Illinois to end the taxation of any income earned below $12,000. Currently we tax income earned over $2,000. So minimum wage workers pay state income tax -- which should not happen. To raise the level of income that triggers taxation from $2,000 to $12,000, and to have the state break even, we'd need to raise the state income tax from 3% to 4%. That's an increase of 20 hours of work per year. But because the level is raised, anyone earning $40,000 or less gets a tax cut. Everyone else gets a tax hike. However, the state income tax hike of 20 hours per year is subsidized by the federal government, as state income tax is deductible from federal income tax. Anyone earning more than $40,000 is paying at least 25% in federal income taxes, so that state income tax increase of 20 hours is really only a 15 hour increase, as 5 of those hours are deducted from federal income tax paid. And those numbers turn out to be about $200 million for the entire state (if we did this smart switch). I think that's a good trade-off: we help to ensure equal opportunity by cutting taxes on anyone earning less than $40,000 and we bring in $200 million to the state from the feds every year.

Any other project that brought in to Illinois a billion dollars every five years in federal spending -- forever -- would be embraced by any civic group worth its salt. I hope this one will be too.

Email me at if you want to help. I'm going to put this on the primary ballot in the 17th precinct in the 43rd ward (an affluent part of Lincoln Park) to see if wealthy people will support the policy. And I hope we can win this advisory referendum to prove support to legislators. Maybe we can get some press out of it and build the consensus. I need some help so email me to get involved.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Ralph Nader, the Green Party and an independent presidential campaign in 2004

Ralph Nader has decided he will not compete for the Green Party's presidential nomination in 2004. He still may launch an independent campaign for the presidency in 2004, and will make up his mind on that question by January.

One, there isn't much demand for a non-Democratic progressive presidential campaign. I was an enthusiastic nader 2000 supporter, and I'm backing whatever Democrat gets the nomination. I underestimated the relentless drive of the Bush Administration to eliminate the middle-class (by cutting taxes on the most well-off and cutting spending on investments that manufacture a middle-class, like higher education). I also think the Bush Administration is rather incompetent regarding homeland defense, given their invasion and occupation of Iraq instead of focusing on Al-Queda. So, I'd like to knock out Bush, and I suspect about half the 2.7 million people who voted for Nader (and virtually all of the 3 million or so who switched to Gore in the last 48 hours of the campaign) think the same way.

I predict that Nader will not run an independent presidential campaign, even though I think he really, really wants to. I think he won't do it because there isn't much support for it, and he is nothing if not an analyst. (That's the way I like to think about Nader and his motivation: an analyst who is so frustrated with public policy that he thinks he needs to be a candidate to get any attention for his research and findings.) It's really difficult to get on the ballot as an independent presidential candidate (25,000 signatures in Illinois alone). I'm not sure where the bodies will come from to get those signatures. I didn't think he'd be able to get on the ballot in Illinois with the Green Party's help. We just barely (and I mean barely) got Nader on the ballot in 2000 when there was a ton of interest and support for an alternative to the increasingly corporate, big-business Democratic presidential candidate (from Clinton to Gore to the most corporate Democratic Senator, Joe Lieberman). That interest is largely gone, from what I can see. Lots of progressives have decided for 2004 to buck up and join the majority coalition (the Democratic Party), at least for the presidential race.

What's interesting is where this leaves the Green Party. This shifts the likely presidential candidate into the status of Libertarians: no-name, no-backing people that are intelligent, motivated and give a great speech. David Cobb, a friend of mine, is probably the guy most responsible for pushing Nader out of the race, and he's running for the nomination. David is trying to be a presidential canddiate that does the following (potentially mutually exclusive things): (a) help to elect the Democratic nominee, or at least, not help re-elect Bush, (b) find and inspire new people to build the Green Party, (c) help elect other Green Party candidates in races where there is no risk of playing a spoiler. I don't know how you run for an office with the goal of not getting votes, but what the heck -- it will be interesting to see it play out.

Another interesting aspect is that the group of people that will pick the Green presidential candidate is a convention that will meet in Milwaukee in June. It is almost certain that not enough people will show up to fill all the delegate slots. It is also true that by the time June rolls around, it will be too late for many states to put a candidate on the ballot (like Illinois -- our deadline for third party candidates to turn in 25,000 signatures to get on the ballot is late June). So in many states, the national party convention process for picking a presidential candidate is largely irrelevant to whomever appears as the "Green Party" presidential candidate on that ballot. Whoever has the ability to collect the signatures and declare themselves a Green Party presidential candidate gets on the ballot in Illinois -- Ralph Nader or Ralph Reed. And if two people do it? Who is the 'real' Green Party candidate for purposes of the Illinois ballot? Who knows? It will make for a great legal argument if two candidates actually do it (but probably, zero candidates will do it in Illinois).

I'd like to believe that we can figure out how to harness the unmatched vote-getting advantages of a progressive third party (inspiring new and younger people) to strengthen the progressive wing of the majority coalition (the Democratic Party). It's not an easy thing to figure out, but we're getting there. Instant runoff voting clearly helps. Proportional representation is even better.

One final thought. Jason Farbman, a nice, dedicated 25-year-old, ran for state representative as a Green Party candidate against Harry Osterman, the Democratic incumbent, in the Uptown-Rogers Park neighborhood on the Far North Side of Chicago, a traditionally progressive part of the lakefront. He ended up tying the Republican candidate, in an 80-10-10 race, earning 2000 votes in November of 2002.

I'm convinced that at least 1000 of those 2000 Farbman voters only showed up because Jason was running. I'm also convinced that at least half of them (and probably almost all of them) voted for the statewide Democratic candidates (Rod Blagojevich for governor, Lisa Madigan for attorney-general, etc.) that won for the first time in 25 years. Any Democratic statewide campaigner would be delighted with 800 or so new voters.

It would be great for progressive areas to have a two-party system of Democrats and Greens, where the Green candidates bring out new people an dteach them about our governments, so that many of them who would otherwise have not been engaged vote for Democrats in close races against Republicans (and presumably, vote for progressive Democrats in primary electionsagainst corporate or machine Democrats).

It takes a far-sighted incumbent to welcome a Green Party candidate running against him or her as a good thing for building and maintaing the progressive majority. It also takes a Green Party candidate who can communicate those intentions to the incumbent Democrat and campaign in a purely policy-oriented way to bring out more voters and keep them engaged with government. After all, that's what we progressives do is to run governments in smart ways that invest in people. Corporate candidates and reactionary voters just want to stop us from doing that, so we have a greater challenge to keep our voters educated about government. We need educated voters, and no institution educates voters about government more than campaigns.

Julie Samuels, a Green Party state representative candidate in Oak Park with the Oak Park Greens,
, might be finding a better balance to use the advantages of the Green Party as an institution to strengthen, not divide, the progressive majority. Maybe we in Cook County can figure out this out and be a model for the rest of the country.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Bush and the ballot -- Madigan is relentless for Bush

Chad Anderson's report in the Rockford Register-Star includes this update on the Bush ballot situation:

Meanwhile, Republicans are still scrambling to make sure President Bush appears on the general election ballot in November. Topinka has said her top priority as state GOP chairman is putting Illinois in Bush's corner in November.

Further action is required to get Bush on the ballot because the General Assembly failed last month during veto session to waive a state election rule that requires presidential nominees be certified by Aug. 27. The GOP national convention in New York will be held after that deadline.

The Senate couldn't muster enough votes for passage after Democrats included a provision to allow the state Board of Elections to dismiss fines against political campaign committees for improperly filing financial statements. Though the GOP sought the Bush language, Senate Republicans refused to support the bill in light of the campaign fine provision.

The election board has levied $305,900 in fines against the campaigns of legislators and constitutional officers, according to the board. Of those, 94 percent were levied against Democrats, 6 percent against Republicans.

Cross, who is leading the effort to get Bush on the ballot, said he is confident the president's name will appear. He said House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, assured him this would occur early in the spring session.

“The speaker said to me the last day of veto session, ‘Tom it will get done. I will make sure it happens,’” Cross said. “And I take him at his word. I said, Will there be anything attached to it? He goes, There might be but it won't be the campaign fine issue.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown noted the House passed the bill with support from Madigan and Cross. Brown said its now up to the Senate to move the bill.

Brown noted the Legislature previously approved similar campaign fine language as part of an ethics bill. That language gives the Board of Elections the option of not fining a campaign for certain disclosure violations. The language at issue last month is much broader: It would grant the board discretion to forgive fines already on the books.

“The vote was final,” said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago. “It’s in the Republicans court as to what theyre going to do. It’s their issue.”

But Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Watson, the Republican leader, maintained the proposed campaign fine language is unacceptable to Watsons caucus.

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said Republicans in the spring would ask Democrats to move a bill to waive the election rule, sans the campaign fine provision. If the Democrats don’t cooperate, he said, Republicans will take the matter to federal court.

“We’re not going to play games,” said Syverson, who also is treasurer of the Illinois Republican Party. “Either the Democratic Party is going to allow Bush to come on, no questions asked, early in January when we go into session, or we go to court and just get it done.”

---comment time---

So why is Speaker Madigan so adamant to make it easy on Republicans who are in this pickle because of their September New York City convention?

What Michael Madigan should do is make the Republicans pay for their sins of the DC-based operatives who scheduled the political rally in September in New York City in order to get a 'bounce' off of the 9/11 anniversary. And the way they can pay for that is to admit that they are the ones who caused this problem because of their September convention (and why is there a September convention? It's not the Olympics. . .it's 9/11).

I sympathize with Illinois Republicans, because it isn't their fault, but if they are so intent on going to federal court already, then just let them do it.

As Speaker Madigan seems hell-bent on making it easier for Bush to win his re-election, it falls to the Democratic Senate caucus to hold this up. Just don't call it for a vote! Come on, Senate Dems!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Ryan's indictment built on one honest whistle-blower who made 19K annually

Another great column by Phil Kadner of the Daily Southtown on how one Will County employee of the Secretary of State's office, making $19,000 a year, blew the whistle on widespread corruption that eventually led to yesterday's indictment of former Governor George Ryan.

The column is here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Every election builds on the previous one

Jan Schakowsky endorsed my favorite candidate for the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama.

I worked on her primary campaign in 1998 against Howard Carroll and J.B. Pritzker when she ran for Congress. I worked a precinct in the 44th ward. (And when I say 'worked' I mean I was a volunteer).

Had she lost that election and Carroll or Pritzker sent to Congress in 1998, then that would have hurt the Obama campaign of 2004. Because Carroll probably would have endorsed Hynes while Pritzker probably would have endorsed Hull.

Similarly, I worked on Rey Colon's campaign for 35th ward alderman in 2003. And he is the first Latino elected to endorse Barack Obama. If Vilma Colom had stayed in office, she would have endorsed whomever Dick Mell endorsed (which is, I think, Blair Hull).

Every election matters. It's really interesting to see it all play out.

Friday, December 12, 2003

The best reason to support Dean: he didn't back Newsom in San Francisco

When the Democratic machine in San Francisco pulled in every big gun they had to try to stop the election of uber-progressive Matt Gonzalez this week (flying in Bill Clinton and Al Gore!), they couldn't get Howard Dean to endorse Gavin Newsom for Mayor of San Francisco.

This is the report.

And that's about as cool as a leading Democratic presidential candidate can get.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Reformers win in Cook County!

It couldn't get any better for Cook County Board reformers.

We won!

Today's Sun-Times has this report on yesterday's non-vote on Stroger's tax-hiking budget.

47% for Matt Gonzalez -- amazing progressive force in SF

The Matt Gonzalez for Mayor of San Francisco campaign -- as progressive a big-city mayoral candidate as the county has seen -- earned more than 100,000 votes and 47% of the total votes cast.

This blog from the San Francisco Bay Guardian summed up the power of progressive campaigns and the only way we build power: one precinct at a time.

The link is here, the poster is "capt matt" and I'll let the post speak for itself (although I prefer the term 'precinct organizer' to 'precinct captain')

suddenly i get it.

i have protested oil wars. i have signed petitions. written letters. made phone calls. posted signs.

but i have never been as involved in an electoral campaign as this one. i wrote campaign materials, gave money, and -- here's the key thing -- was a precinct captain.

in the course of doing that, a very hard 24 hour slog of knocking on doors, making calls, visiting the polling station, and doing it all over again, i saw probably thirty people vote for matt who either wouldn't have voted for him, or wouldn't have voted at all.

i saw results for the work I did, and all of a sudden i GET thinking globally and acting locally. i GET the power of neighborhoods. i GET "you can make a difference" platitudes. because i did, and i can.

and next time i'll be better at it. and inevitably, our time will come. harnessing the energy for positive social change we have here in the engine of local politics will bring about great things. it already has, and we're just beginning.

stay involved, and stay watching...

Posted by: capt matt at December 10, 2003 02:08 AM
...and my precinct came in at over 85% for matt.

together we can, indeed.

Posted by: capt matt at December 10, 2003 02:09 AM

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Stroger tax-hiking budget might not pass. Fantastic.

In this report from the Sun-Times comes word that there may not be nine votes to pass the tax-hiking budget on Tuesday. Which is great news.

Raising the sales tax and setting up a lease tax is the last thing we should do for this bloated county government. Instead we should be cutting patronage jobs and directing more of these precious public resources into services that help everyone.

Not coincidentally, the Sun-Times had a great report on how the forest preserve is turning into a patronage preserve. This kind of stuff is toxic to earning the support of swing voters for increased investment in the commonwealth (that is, higher taxes to fund smart infrastructure). I'm so glad the reform commissioners are crusading against it.

(I wonder why this isn't happening as visibly on the Chicago City Council, or for that matter, in the Illinois General Assembly.)

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Nice tax justice report for Illinois

Voices for Illinois Children put out a nice report here on the basics of our state tax system.

We have a flat 3 percent income tax rate (which is about a week and a half of work), which kicks in after one makes only $2000.

We should not let the tax kick in until one makes $12,000, and then raise the rate to 4%. Everyone making less than $40,000 gets a tax cut.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Cook County budget -- showdown coming Tuesday

Looks like the vote on the new Cook County budget (with, potentially, an inexcusable raise in the regressive sales tax) might be next week.

I admit, I read it in Sneed. Yes, I read that column. Go ahead. Make fun. I'm thisclose to reading it tomorrow!

And President John Storger is apparently getting a little bit weirder. This Tribune news article, which Zorn pointed out on his blog, has Stroger preparing for the showdown vote by suggesting the reform commissioners are pulling a Council Wars. There's some odd part of the political culture in Chicago and Illinois that is based around absolute deference to political leadership (see the way the House members followed Speaker Madigan's deal regarding the Bush on the ballot bill), and Stroger seems like he is put out that the commissioners are not just following his lead and passing the budget he crafted. I really hope we can find nine votes to block the sales tax increase. Man, we're really under-organized in this town. I'm not aware of any real grass-roots movement to block the tax hike. Just imagine if Stroger proposed an income tax for Cook County! The place would be PACKED with people.

Back to Sneed, she suggests that Earlean Collins is the swing vote. Well, if that's true, then call her office at 312.603.4566 and ask her to vote against the sales tax increase.

Commissioner Carl Hansen says that the county is stuffed with patronage. He says in this article that there are 100 extra doctors at County Hospital, that Provident Hospital should be closed and that 85% of the county's costs are personnel. I wonder: is 85% ridiculously high?

And I further wonder: doesn't it make one a good, solid progressive Democrat to RAIL against patronage and wasteful spending, so that we can spend more of our money on services that benefit everyone?

In this article, five of the reform commissioners (Claypool, Suffredin, Quigley, Goslin and Peraica) have a budget that cuts costs by 6 percent or so, shaving off the $100 million deficit that the Stroger tax hikes would pay for.

If you add Hansen, that's six. We need three more commissioners to block the Stroger tax hikes.

Who will it be? Bobbie Steele? Collins? Iceman?

Well, the Daily Southtown has a good editorial that lays out the political situation, calling on the Board to reject Stroger's tax hikes. Now, why is it that South Side Democrats are supporting Stroger's budget? I wonder what Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. thinks about this -- maybe he can help influence the two Southland regular Dems to vote no.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

GOP's national redistricting power grab might come to a halt.

But we're relying on the Supreme Court (and the five partisan Bush v. Gore justices) to do it. That's the bad news.

The good news is that there's the first major effort in 20 years to rein in ultra-partisan redistricting that makes almost every general election a foregone conclusion. In Illinois, not one congressional seat is competitive. Not one. Out of 435 congressional districts, more than 400 are locked up for one party. That means almost all of us get NO SAY in which party is running the House of Representatives. No wonder turnout plummets.

Anyway, the Supreme Court on December 10th is hearing oral argument on a fantastic case challenging the GOP's gerrymander of Pennsylvania. The information the partisan gerrymandering case (courtesy of Jenner and Block) is here.

And Jeffrey Toobin, author of Too Close To Call (a really great read), has a fantastic article in The New Yorker here called The Great Eleciton Grab. Also worth a read.

The Illinois angle is, as I see it, a chance for Democrats to reject the incumbent protection plan that the congressional delegation created in 2001 (and left David Phelps with nothing) and push through a non-partisan redistricting regime. The Peoria Journal-Star is editorializing on this issue here (and is unfair to Senator Cullerton). Perhaps other papers will too.

Zorn nails it!

Right on Eric!

He nails the 9/11 Bush on the ballot angle in his column today.

It's here.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Senate floor debate -- a bit too long to transcribe

I received a CD today from the state senate on the floor debate on SB 82 (the Bush on the ballot bill). That's quite a nice service the Senate staff provides (only 6 bucks for the debate on CD).

However, the debate is more than 30 minutes long, so I don't think I'll transcribe it.

Here are the highlights:

The Republicans had a field day on this bill, with Senators Lauzen, Roskam, Petka, Geo-Karis and Watson speaking against the unethical nature of letting the Board of Elections waive fees assessed against campaign committees in exchange for changing state law to accommodate the NYC September convention.

Democratic Senators Hendon, Welch and Jones defended the bill and attacked the Republicans. Senator Welch did the best job of nailing the Bush campaign for taking advantage of the 9/11 attacks. I hope more Democratic Senators follow Senator Welch's lead next time the bill is debated.

The GOP's explanation for the September New York City convention.

From Paul Froehlich, Republican state representative and Schaumburg township committeeman, a request to consider the other argument from Republicans about how the convention got scheduled in New York City in early September.

According to this explanation, the Bush campaign didn't really want to hold their convention in September. But they were forced to by. . .. the Democrats!

According to this post on the Illinois Leader, when the Democrats picked the last weekend of July to schedule the Dem convention, it left the Republicans with no choice but to pick September in New York City for their convention. Otherwise, they'd have to go before the Democrats in July, or hold their convention in early- to mid-August before the Olympics are held from August 13th through the 29th. (Then again, who watches the Olympics anymore?)

So that's the story. It was . . . just a coincidence that a partisan political rally for a campaign that is centered around the "War on Terrorism" will be held a few miles from Ground Zero a week before the third anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history. Whatever.

This was a ruthless, calculated plan by the Bush bigwigs to put the convention in New York City in September. I can't imagine that the most partisan Administration and campaign in my memory didn't plan to take maximum advantage of the tragedy. They will do anything to win.

Tom Roeser calls Dems "arrogant" for not caving to GOP exploitation

I like to read Tom Roeser's columns in the Sun-Times. He's a red meat Republican partisan and a good writer.

His take on the Bush ballot battle is fairly skewed, blaming the "unsurpassed arrogance of power" of Illinois Democrats not rolling over for Bush by -- heaven forfend! -- cutting some deal in exchange for changing state law to benefit the Bush campaign.

Roeser's suggestion is to "Let the heat go to those who seek to deprive Illinoisans of their right to vote for president", counseling the Republicans to abstain from any deal with the Dems.

I would suggest that the those who seek to deprive Illinoisans of their right to vote for president are those people who knowingly scheduled a political convention in New York City in September in order to milk the tragedy of 9/11 for Bush's partisan gain. And I hope the Dems message on this point will get sharper over the winter and spring as this battle heats up.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Keep your cell phone number. Thank you, Big Government

The Federal Communication Commission's new rule on number portability went into effect this week, so that we can keep the same telephone number when we switch cell phone carriers or move from a cell phone to a landline. This has sparked a huge price war as the main reason why people didn't shop around for a better plan -- not wanting to get a new phone number -- is gone.

And this boom for the economy and for consumers is thanks to Big Government. A new rule -- and yes, a Federal Regulation! -- making things better.

Next time you hear an anti-government ideologue ranting against the evils of Big Government, think about your cell phone. Because a lot of time, Big Government works for us.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Press on Bush ballot bill skewed for GOP

(Sorry for the delay -- I was in DC at the Claim Democracy conference where Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. made a fantastic speech calling for a federal constitutional amendment giving us the right to vote (currently, we have no right to vote for president, and if a state legislature wants to give the state's electoral votes to the candidate who came in second or third in the state's popular vote, the legislature may do so. Which is absolute B.S. but that's why we need a right to vote).

Anyway, there was some press about the Bush ballot deal and whether the Dems were to accommodate the NYC 9/11 political convention. But only one paper reported on the exploitation angle -- every other paper only mentioned the 'technical flaw' and 'quirk in the election code' that kept Bush on the ballot, totally ignoring the reason why the debate surfaced in the first place (the Bush campaign's relentless drive to milk the tragedy of 9/11 for political gain).

Guess which paper earns top honors?

The Daily Herald.

In John Patterson's article, the Daily Herald has this important paragraph:

"Democrats fired back. State Sen. Patrick Welch, a Peru Democrat, said the reason this problem exists is the Republican Party moved its convention to try to take advantage of the Sept. 11 tragedy for political gain. The convention is scheduled for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2."

So the Democrats did bring up the 9/11 exploitation issue on the floor! I'm very pleased, and am getting a CD of the debate sent to me. I'll transcribe it as soon as I get it.

But all the other papers failed in covering this part of the story.

The Sun-Times has never mentioned this part of the story. One story focused mainly on Senator Watson not helping out the City of Chicago's plan for early retirement in this article; this Sun-Times article only mentioned the fines levied against Democrats and didn't mention the 9/11 exploitation angle at all; while Lynn Sweet's article on IL GOP Chair Judy Baar Topinka's reaction here also failed to mention the New York City 9/11 story.

The Chicago Tribune also ignored that part of the story in Ray Long and John Chase's account of the wild finish of the legislature here. But the Tribune's blogger Eriz Zorn covered this story in his Notebook, so we can only fault the print edition.

The Peoria Journal-Star's report here made no mention of the 9/11 story.

Kevin McDermott's St. Louis Post-Dispatch story here also didn't mention the Democrats' objection to the 9/11 convention, and even had the GOP skewed headline of "Illinois GOP Senators accuse Democrats of extortion" What liberal media?

So, even though ELEVEN Democratic Senators voted no on the bill, almost every single print story of this battle framed it as a "Reasonable Republican Request to fix a quick in election law to put the president on theballot versus Dirty hypocritical Democrats extorting honest politicians to waive financial penalties for breaking campaign finance laws"

That is shoddy reporting and editing.

And feel free to call/email the editors of those papers and ask them why they didn't cover the 9/11 exploitation angle -- after all, a full third of the Democratic Senate caucus voted no on the bill and at least one of them (Senator Welch) cited the scheduling of the New York City convention in September as a reason to vote no.

For more on the conservative side, the Illinois Leader is running a bunch of stuff on this on their site. Jeff Trigg also is covering this well.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Kovoselic -- Nirvana bassist -- for Washington Lt. Gov. Oh yes.

This is awesome.

Krist Novoselic, a long-time advocate of instant runoff voting and proportional representaiton (great website at and Seattle resident, is considering a run for Lt. Governor on the Democratic ticket.

This is one of the things that really helps bring people into the Democratic Party (which to me is the same thing as progressive governing). And that is great.

Here's the news article about the potential run.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Senate shoots down the bill! Maybe a new map is in the offing. . . .

I *wish* I had been in Springfield to see this!

The Senate shot down the "Accommodate Bush exploitation of 9/11 bill" by a vote of 23-27 (9 not voting).

The Republicans all voted no or didn't vote.

The following Democrats voted no or didn't vote (the equivalent of a no vote): Burzynski, Clayborne, Forby, Garrett, Haine, Obama, Ronen, Schoenberg, Silverstein, Sullivan, Welch. Right on, you guys.

The vote total is here (you can check if I missed anyone).

(And I should say the following House Dems voted no or present on the House side: Bradley, Chapa LaVia, Franks, Fritchey, Jakobsson, Jefferson, Joyce, May, Miller, Nekritz, Phelps, Ryg, Turner). That vote is here (I probably missed a few). Nice vote, House Dems.

So, the conservatives are saying that they shot down the deal -- permit the 9/11 accommodation in exchange for giving the State Board of Elections the discretion to waive or reduce fees, primarily assessed against Dems.

The Illinois Leader is (again) the first news outlet to publish the story in their (as always) well-written article here. (And no, I'm not saying nice things about the Leader just because they printed my letter to the editor this week -- which Rep. Ed Sullivan told me he read, which goes to show how smart it is to get a real state-based political online publication and why we progressives are again behind the conservatives when it comes to communication).

That's undoubtedly why the bill died, since it took 40 votes to pass in the Senate (they needed a 3/5 vote in veto session).

But why did the Senate Dems mentioned above shoot it down? That's why I wish I had seen the debate.

I hope it is because they decided that if the Bush campaign wants to intentionally break state law in order to exploit the 9/11 convention, then the Bush campaign is going to have to go to federal court to get on the ballot. And this gives the Dems a public opportunity to frame the 9/11 convention as a dishonorable attempt at exploitation.

This issue is, of course, going to be kicking over the next two months, and could end up being one of the first bills to fly though in the first few days of the regular session in January.

But. . . if there's a revolt among Democratic members of the House and Senate caucuses that demand a much better trade than giving the Board of Elections (a 3-Dem, 3-GOP board) the discretion to come up with a reasonable fee to assess against Jesse White and other Democrats who didn't comply with some disclosure laws in a timely fashion, maybe this bill will take longer to get worked out.

And maybe, just maybe, the Democratic members can push Madigan to accept a new congressional map (which is currently a 10-9 GOP delegation). Not an excessively partisan gerrymander that might result in a 13-6 Dem map (and yes, it is possible to draw such a map), even though that would be justified in light of the GOP redistricting in Colorado and Texas, and now perhaps in Ohio as well. But a fair, more neutral map which creates competitive districts instead of the incumbent-protection plan that currently creates 19 safe seats (so voters really have no say over the congressional delegation in Illinois) -- that should be something that Mike Madigan might support if his members and the Dem Senators demand it.

Hey, that's good government. Competitive congressional districts. Who could be against that?

Trib calls it "a technical problem with Illinois election law" Yeah.

Ray Long and John Chase in their Chicago Tribune article here call the issue "a technical problem with Illinois election law" in their otherwise great run-down of the ethics reform triumph.

There's nothing technical about a deadline that is knowingly violated a year and a half ahead of time in order to exploit the 9/11 tragedy. This wasn't a mistake. This was an arrogant decision by the Bush campaign to go ahead and break a dozen or so state laws and assume that the states would roll over -- that's how hungry they are to use the anniversary of the attacks to help the Bush campaign. It's dishonorable. It's worse than the fighter pilot costume with the military-as-prop stunt. This convention will be the mass-grave-as-prop stunt.

9/11 convention, Chicago pensions, no fees for lawbreaking pols

Dave McKinney has a good article in the Sun-Times on this behind-the-scenes game here.

What I find objectionable is that the members did not know about this deal when they voted on it. The Speaker did, and some of the leadership did, but most of the members of the House did not. That's not right. These trades should be out in the open.

Full House rolls over -- what is Madigan trying to get?

So the full House of Representatives passed the "let Bush exploit 9/11" bill, 84-21-4. The roll call is here.

The dirty part of the bill (yes, even dirtier than having Dems working for the Bush campaign by allowing them to get away with their September NYC political rally without any negative fallout whatsoever) is an apparent provision that lets the State Board of Elections waive as much as $700,000 in fees assessed against political committees that failed to file their campaign finance reports in a timely matter (or at all). Most of those fines -- still out there -- are against Democrats. A few are against Republican committees. A good chunk of them area apparently levied against Secretary of State Jesse White's committees.

So, the deal might have been, Mike Madigan gives the Bush campaign a free pass on their 9/11 convention in exchange for GOP support for getting rid of these fines against primarily Dem committees.

No one really knows, because the Speaker doesn't tell most of his caucus members the rationale behind legislation like this one. He just tells the members how to vote, and many of them do what he says. That's unhealthy, if you ask me. It's taking the concept of leadership and pushing it into obedience.

Anyway, the Chicago pension deal is in the mix as well. The legislation to let Chicago employees take early retirement is not something Republicans are too enthusiastic about, so there's some talk that the Bush bill is a trade for GOP support for the Chicago bill.

I heard (didn't see, so it's hearsay) that it all fell apart this afternoon in the Senate. Frank Watson, GOP leader in the Senate, objected to the repeal of fines for the Dem political committees (especially since that money would go to the state, which is broke). He apparently said that he'd pull the GOP caucus off of the Chicago pension bill unless the repeal of fines was stripped off the Bush bill. Senate President Jones apparently called his threat, and the pension bill died in the Senate (it needs a 3/5 vote because the effective date is immediate).

Now what I did see tonight was GOP suspicion about the repeal of the political fines. During debate on the ethics legislation (which is something that the General Assembly really did very well on, including and perhaps especially Speaker Mike Madigan) which passed tonight, one of the GOP senators (I think it was Kirk Dillard) asked if the repeal of the political fines was in the ethics bill. (It wasn't). And Senator Syverson from Rockford mentioned the irony of voting in the solid ethics legislation while they were about to vote on the unsavory repeal of the elections fines.

Now, if that is the deal that Madigan cut (Bush on the ballot for repeal of the fines), then that's a pretty dumb deal. $500,000? For political committees that admittedly broke the law? Come on. Madigan could have gotten so much more. The Republican National Committee is apparently breathing down Judy Baar Topinka's neck (the state treasurer and the state GOP chairwoman) to get this legislation. Madigan should be pushing for a new congressional map, as President Jones and Senator Cullerton introduced this week. Or something big. But to cut a deal to repeal fines for some committees? Small change.

Now, in Madigan's defense, the GOP could just sue to put Bush on the ballot, and they'd win since there are lots of Republican federal judges (and as Bush v. Gore proved, these Republicans are relentless, especially in the judiciary). And that would leave Madigan without anything to negotiate with to pass the legislation. Plus, he's saving the state the litigation costs.

However, the state GOPers seem convinced they need to pass the legislation, so even if they could successfully sue, they don't believe it. So Madigan could extract a whole lot more.

And more importantly, he and the Dems can help to show how ruthless the Bush campaign has been -- they intentionally violate state law just to exploit 9/11 in New York City. Let Bush sue. Make him look bad. Get a national platform to say that it is inappropriate to hold a political rally in New York City in September. Help to reframe the GOP convention as a too-slick-by-half, win-at-all-costs dishonorable thing.

I'm hopeful the Senate Dems, who will apparently convene tomorrow (Friday) to decide what to do with the bill, will extract much, much more from the GOPers or even better, won't pass this bill. I hope they won't give the Bush campaign an easy time of it.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

IL House rolling over for Karl Rove

Speaker Madigan has decided to assist the Bush campaign's exploitation of the 9/11 national tragedy.

Ruthless hardball Republican operatives scheduled their massive political rally a week and a half before September 11th a few miles from a mass grave in order to help re-elect George Bush.

It's appalling. They are exploiting a national tragedy and the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

And now Speaker Madigan is accommodating them.

The trouble with scheduling a national convention in September is that about a dozen states require the presidential candidate of a party to be certified (formally nominated by the party) in August. Illinois is one of them.

The Bush campaign still scheduled their New York City convention in September -- knowing it violates state laws -- because they expected the states to change their laws for the Bush campaign's benefit.

Today in Springfield, the Illinois House Elections and Campaign Reform did just that.

Lou Lang (D-Skokie) introduced the amendment. All the Democrats voted for it. So did the Republicans (which is to be expected). It was by a voice vote, because no one cared enough to vote against it.

I testified against the bill.

The bill is here.

The bill is likely going to the House floor any minute.

It's unreal.

Democrats got a few rinky-dink concessions, but mostly the election administrators got some clean-up language that they wanted.

All the Democrats on the committee voted for the bill because Speaker Madigan wants this to happen.

That's the only reason. And in my opinion, that's not a very good reason.

And at the same time, Speaker Madigan wants to keep the state's congressional map which is a 10-9 Republican delegation!

Senate President Jones with Senator John Cullerton introduced a shell bill to redraw the map. That bill is here.

Speaker Madigan should be pushing for a better Democratic map instead of helping the Bush campaign.

The only good news is that the bill is actually an amendment to a Senate bill (SB 82), so if it passes the House floor tonight, it has to go to the Senate. And I don't think the Senate will accept the House amendment's so this bill will likely die. The Senate is likely to adjourn for good tonight, and there isn't time to go through the Senate committee process to accept any House amendments to a Senate bill.

But you never know.

And Speaker Madigan should get his prioirities straight. For someone so politically savvy, it absolutely befuddles me why Madigan refuses to advance the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Junior on Dean's Southern Strategy

I think that the eight Dem candidates who jumped on Dean's pledge to try to earn the votes of white Southerners with confederate flag decals on their trucks lost more credibility than Dean did.

Dean is right: Dems need lower-income whites with a cultural attachment to Dixie. Not because we need to win the South (winning Ohio and the Southwest will make up for it), but because these folks should be voting for Democrats.

Congressman Jackson, Jr. makes the point very well in a Nation article published on his own website here.

It's a good read.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Forget the South -- Dems can win without it

This is a great article.

Democrats should forget about the South.

We should stop saying we need to win the South in order to win the presidency (which is the only reason Senator John Edwards is running for president).

We should write off the South.

And go get the Southwest instead.

Let's get Arizona, Nevada and Ohio.

If we can win those three states, with the Gore states, we win.

We'll never win many of those southern states -- there is too much racial polarization.

It's a great article, called "A Route for 2004 That Doesn't Go Through Dixie" by Thomas Schaller originally published in the Washington Post and republished by

Dem U.S. Senate musings -- good Senators and one great one.

Mike Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House, Chair of the Illinois Democratic Party and astute student of Illinois politics, endorsed Dan Hynes today. I guess that's expected (they are both Catholic southwest siders with a similar ideology and style), but it's a blow to my favorite candidate, Barack Obama.

There are a lot of people who would make for a good U.S. Senator in the Dem primary. Dan Hynes would be a cautious but fairly solid Senator. He'd be one of those Senators that doesn't have a national reputation, votes the right way on labor issues, and probably rolls over on war and civil liberties votes when the Bush/GOP machine gets in gear. Still, pretty good. Gery Chico would probably be an innovative Senator on federal funding for education (his T.I. idea is great), and I like his Infrastructure Bonds. He's a little more of an executive than a legislator, though, and like most of the candidates, would spend years trying to master the art of legislating. As the only Latino Senator, he would instantly have a national reputation, and I think he'd do fairly well. Blair Hull could be like Jon Corzine of New Jersey (who he apparently worked with): a super-rich liberal who knows financial markets and votes extremely well on most issues. And he'd probably get involved big-time with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and raise money for other Dem Senate candidates around the country. However, as he's never been a legislator, he'd have a really hard time with parliamentary procedure, especially if the Dems are in the minority. On Maria Pappas, I don't really understand her strategy. She's got a great-looking (but fairly content-free) website, though. I guess her Greek name, her gender, her good record as a reformer in Cook County all help, but why did she start so late? I don't understand that strategy at all. It's like she guarantees that she loses out on any significant institutional endorsements, and doesn't earn many endorsements from elected officials. (I keep a list of elected official endorsements here). If anyone has an idea why it is a good strategy to wait until four months before the primary to launch a campaign, please email me at

Which is why I'm supporting Barack Obama. He has mastered the art of legislation (not at all an easy thing to do). He'll be ready to pass legislation, even with a Republican Majority Leader. He'll be an excellent Senator on defense (something that the rules of the U.S. Senate disproportionately permit), putting holds on horrible federal judges and appointments, enthusiastically promoting the filibuster to roll back Republican momentum and taking every opportunity to slow down right-wing policies. He'll probably end up on the Judiciary Committee, and be a real player in shaping the U.S. Supreme Court (especially if Bush wins again -- oh, I hope that doesn't happen). He's great on protecting civil liberties, and he'll join Russ Feingold in fighting that battle (shaping up to be an ever-larger policy argument). And as the only black Senator, he'll have an instant national reputation.

In short, I think Barack Obama will be a great U.S. Senator. I think his opponents will largely be good U.S. Senators.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Nice rundown of progressive victories in November election

I'm not sure what it says about the state of progressive politics when the best compilation of progressive victories around the nation in the November elections comes from the Communist Party USA's website, but hey, it's a great article.

Here is the article.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Clinton: "It's your money. And it's your country."

Bill Clinton has a great line in an interview in the November issue of the American Prospect with Michael Tomasky. Tomasky asks how to respond when Republicans crow about taxes that "It's your money. It's not the government's money. And we just want you to have more of your own money." Tomasky calls it so emotionally compelling when Bush says "It's your money -- you deserve it back" and Clinton comes up with:

"It's your money, and it's your *country*. So what kind of country do you want?"

Bill Clinton was one talented guy. That's an awesome line.

Because that shifts the question into the results that we want from government investment (good schools, a better economy, less sickness from pollution) and avoids the simplistic appeal of "It's your money"

I hope that line "It's your money. And it's your country." gets picked up by Dems around the country. It's a great counter-attack to a great GOP line.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Wasting money and history -- tearing down old County Hospital

There's a beautiful old building on the West Side of Chicago that used to house Cook County Hospital. It's vacant now, and needs a lot of work.

The smart thing to do would be to let a developer that specializes in rehabbing big old institutional buildings get into the place, make it into something nice and collect property taxes from it for the next 100 years.

The dumb thing to do would be to knock it down and spend $15 million in demolition costs in the process.

For some reason, Cook County Board President John Stroger wants to do the dumb thing.

And hopefully, at least 9 of the 17 Commissioners want to do the smart thing.

The Near West/South Gazette reports that President Stroger is pushing ahead with demolition, and Commissioner Suffredin continues to lead the charge to save the hospital, as he looks for nine commissioners to hold together and refuse to grant a demolition contract.

Commissioner Quigley said that Stroger and his people always wanted to demolish the old hospital and that the attempts to get developers to submit bids to rehab the hospital was a shell game.

This issue is still very much alive and the Cook County Board should save the hospital and save taxpayer dollars.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Democrats and Greens: a great two-party system (in San Francisco)

This is awesome news.

Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez is in a runoff with Democrat Gavin Newsom for Mayor of San Francisco.

There is a two-party system in San Francisco: the Democratic Party and the Green Party.

That's the perfect relationship between the two parties.

The Greens are the minority party while the Democrats are the majority party. But still, the Greens elect people and they help push policy in an ever-more progressive direction.

It's hard to do. That's what I had tried to do with my involvement with the Green Party: build up a minority voice to articulate the progressive message in November elections.

But I've essentially left the Green Party over the last year to join the Democrats.

In Chicago, I've wanted the Green Party to eclipse the Republican Party (at least in the liberal areas) to continue to push policy left-ward, to bring out new voters and to energize people into participating in policy-making.

That didn't happen very well, and I've found much more traction advancing progressive issues within the Democratic majority (at least in Chicago and, more broadly, Illinois).

I'm still a big believer of a multi-party system. I still want the Green Party to be the 'second' party in liberal areas in the state.

But not with my direct involvement anymore in Illinois.

(Although I must say there's something wrong about defining political party affiliation in such personal terms: "I am a Green; I am a Democrat" as if it an ethnic background instead of an association. Many people are uncomfortable elevating a political association into a characteristic of self-identity. Any association with a political party is an imperfect fit as no one thinks exactly the way you do, much less tens of thousands of other people. Plus, lots of people like the flexibility of voting for the best candidates regardless of their partisan affiliation. So I think we should move away from the self-identity aspect of party affiliation as it makes it more difficult for people to feel totally comfortable about 'joining' a party and it tends to cultivate outright hostility towards other parties.

But back to San Francisco. What a victory for Matt Gonzalez and the San Francisco Green Party. I'll be sending him another small check. And San Francisco voters also approved an increase in the minimum wage to $8.50. That's smart economic development -- putting money in the local economy to be spent in the local economy. High wages is good for the economy and good for creating and maintaining high-wage jobs.

What a great city.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Going to Springfield to lobby

Hate to delve into the 'diary' aspect of the blog, but I'm going to Springfield tomorrow to lobby the Illinois General Assembly.

And the odd part is that I don't have any specific bill I'm working on.

One bill I really worked on is now law (county boards may now give cumulative voting rights to voters in multi-seat districts). The other bills are all dead.

So I'm going to set up some bills for the 2004 session. And because I really like the legislature.

I confess.

I find the legislature endlessly fascinating.

It is the most diverse group of people in the state.

Can you think of a more diverse bunch?

And they have to somehow figure out how to advance justice, form a more perfect union, grow the economy and make sure the vulnerable are protected.

It's a wonderful thing to watch. And it's even more fun to participate.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

No income tax below poverty line

Full-time workers earning anything less than 8 bucks an hour are not making it.

Anyone can do the math. 320 bucks a week barely covers rent, food and transportation -- especially with any debt whatsoever.

What to do about it?

I think 80 - 90% of people (rich or poor, GOP, Dem or third-party) want public policies that raise the living standards of the working poor. They aren't sure if lots of government programs really help and don't want to pay taxes on a feel-good program that doesn't really do anything but pad a patronage machine.

We have the most effective, efficient government program imaginable to help the working poor:

Don't tax them.

The government should only tax people once they pass the poverty line (about $10,000 for a single person, $18,000 for a family of four with two kids).

Let me repeat that.

The government should not tax working people below the poverty line.

I believe that 80% of people would agree with that.

Do you? Email me at if you do, please. I'd really like feedback.

If the government stopped taxing working people below the poverty line, there would be less tax money coming in. In order to keep the budget balanced, we'd have to bring in new money.

Here's where the rubber meets the road.

Would you be willing to pay higher taxes on any income earned over $30,000 or so in order to cover the cost of not taxing anyone's income below the poverty line?

Let's make this concrete.

In Illinois, we have a 3% income tax. That represents about a week and a half of wages. (50 weeks in a year, 2% of annual income equals one week).

The state government taxes people after they earn $2,000. There is a $2,000 personal exemption from the income tax. Once someone earns $2,001, the state government starts applying the 3% tax.

So the state government taxes the person living in poverty with a full-time job the equivalent of a week and a half's worth of wages.

Which is a fortune to someone barely making it.

If we raised the state income tax from 3% to 4% -- representing about 20 additional hours of wages -- that would bring in about $2.7 billion (according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability).

There are almost 12 million people in the state. And each one of us is entitled to a $2,000 personal exemption from state income tax.

So, dividing $2.7 billion dollars into 12 million people gets us $225 in relief for each person in the state.

Which is enough to cover the cost of not taxing anyone below the poverty line, because that's about how much in the state income tax is collected now from the money earned below the poverty line.

Now, someone who earns $10,000 is taxed at 3% on $8,000 worth on income (because the first $2,000 is exempted from tax). That's $240.

$225 per tax return will cover that cost.

These are rough numbers, and I'd want the professionals to crunch them.

But the principle remains the same: the government should not tax working people below the poverty line.

Illinois should raise the personal exemption to $10,000 (or whatever figure works out) to ensure that no one working and still not making it past the poverty line is taxed.

What do you think?

Because I'd like to borrow a page from Lt. Governor Pat Quinn's handbook and put an advisory question on the ballot and see if some of the state's most affluent voters who would pay more tax think this is the right thing to do.

(Mr. Quinn would rather spend that extra money on Illinois schools and on tax relief for homeowners -- consistent with a long-time push for more state money for education and less reliance on the property tax. He's pushing forward with advisory referenda this March. I think that's great).

But this is a different issue.

The government should not tax working people below the poverty line.

Do you agree? And do you want to help make this happen? Email me:

Thursday, October 30, 2003

30% of health care dollars wasted -- we need to see the data

I went to the Campaign for Better Health Care's annual meeting today and I joined up as a member (you might consider that too -- OK, that's my plug for them).

The most interesting part was Michael Millenson, a Kellogg prof, health care consultant and former Tribune health care reporter, talking about medical errors and the waste that flows from them. According to Mr. Milleson, doctors get it right about 58% of the time. The other 40-some percent of the time, they are wrong.

And then people get hurt.

The bad part is that Illinois state law isn't very good about public disclosing error rates. Other states are way better than we are.

So if you want to know whether Northwestern or University of Chicago or Advocate of Cook County has the lowest error rate for some surgery you are about to get, you can't find that out.

The hospitals know. The Illinois Hospital Association apparently has that data. But the public does not.

So, we need a state law to make that data publicly available.

Anyone want to help get that passed? Email me at (my new email address).

And another interesting part is when another doctor said that when people are unhealthy because they smoke or are obese, that costs us all. We all have to pay for them when they get cancer or get diabetes or whatever because they made the choice to live in an unhealthy way. And he called on people to really consider whether they ought to be obese (even saying "I see a little obesity in this room.")

So, maybe we ought to generate some stigma towards unhealthy lifestyles (like the way there is now a stigma towards smokers), because that drives up health care costs, and damnit, I don't want to pay higher health insurance premiums because you want to get fat and you won't take a walk every now and again.

There's something to it. If you don't think so, email me and I'll put that on my regular site at Boy, I'm just plugging everything in this post.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Universal health insurance -- by county

Check out what Santa Clara (CA) is doing for universal health insurance here

They've made a public policy goal to get insurance for every child in the county.

One way is through aggressive enlistments in state and county low-income health insurance programs.

And they are funded with tobacco settlement money as well as private/foundation funds.

We should copy this in every county in Illinois. And, for that matter, the country.

Of course, maybe we should just buy basic health insurance for every child in the county. But the Santa Clara program is worth emulating.

I mean, we've got more health care professionals in Cook County than you can count. Major hospitals, major univesities, major think tanks. We're spending enough money now to cover everyone. We just need to get people together and spend this money right.

(Every time I see a commercial for an insurance company, it makes me mad. It's just wasted money.)

Monday, October 27, 2003

Progressives in Illinios should stop ComEd from ripping us off

A money-hungry private company looking to increase profits by raising the price of their product -- that's pretty standard and not really a bad thing.

But when that money-hungry company is the electic company and the users don't have a choice but to pay the price -- well, that's a bad thing.

That's what happening in Illinois. ComEd, the electric company, is looking to change state law so it can charge higher prices to all of us and increase profits to the shareholders (who live all over the country, and probably all over the world).

This should be easy -- do you help Illinois consumers of ComEd shareholders?

The Citizens Utility Board is leading a coalition to make sure that ComEd doesn't convince the Illinois General Assembly to pick ComEd shareholders over the rest of us.

Here is their press release from today.

Call your state legislators and tell them to vote for Illinois consumers instead of ComEd shareholders.

(Hopefully this vote will be better than the vote in April or May that favored SBC/Ameritech over Illinois consumers where 73 or so representatives and 31 or so senators voted with SBC. And by the way, the legislators that voted against SBC and for Illinois consumers really ought to be congratulated. I should list them somewhere on my main site,

Dem primary campaigns should register voters

I just read that Blair Hull is likely to spend $40 million of his own money on his campaign for the Illinois Senate nomination. All federal Democratic primary candidates combined (especially the prez hopefuls) will probably spend more than $200 million between now and summer 2004.

How much of that money will help elect Democrats -- progressive or otherwise -- in November of 2004?

Not much of it. TV ads and mailers and phone messages are all worthless for electing Dems in November.

The investment that will help is registering new voters. Any work on reaching out, organizing and registering to new voters by Dem candidates in the primary election will carry over to the general. So primary campaigns should show their devotion to the larger cause of electing good Democrats by investing a certain percentage of their primary election campaign budgets to registering new voters.

If anyone knows of a campaign that is doing this, please let me know.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Modernize Cook County government

I have a letter in today's Sun-Times here.

It reads:

Modernize government

Thanks to Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley for putting forward an agenda that will help to modernize Cook County government (Editorial, "County consolidation plan deserves a close look," Wednesday). Consolidating agencies and reducing bureaucracy while cutting patronage jobs will leave more money for county government to serve us all instead of political machines. I hope the other commissioners embrace the spirit of Quigley's proposals.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger

Near North Side

And basically, if we liberals want to make the case that government can improve all of our living standards, we've got to get rid of patronage and inefficiency. There's lots of that in Cook County, and we should me maniacal about stamping that out.

How else are we getting the resources and credibility to buy health insurance for everybody?

I hope to lobby some on these Quigley proposals (I've called my Commissioner, Bobby Steele) and if you'd like to help, please contact me at and let's get to work.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Cubs had a fantastic season.

At first, I was unable to process the unexpected loss to the Marlins. Cubs collapse and all that.

But then I looked on the bright side.

The Cubs were on the way to the World Series. They made it to the pennant series. They beat the Braves (oh, how sweet). They clinched the division. And they fought hard in the championship series.

And the core of the team is almost certain to come back healthy in 2004.

For the first back-to-back winning seasons in 30 years.

And that's a winning season.

Some people have this ridiculous negative attitude. "The Cubs were doomed to lose." "What did you expect?" "We are horrible." blah blah blah

I've never been so disgusted by a loser attitude.

It's like a disease. Infects the spirit.

I have no tolerance for these peddlers of loser-dom.

Dennis Byrne has a good column about this in the Tribune today here.

I'll quote Queen on my feelings toward Chicagoans who like to be negative:

"No time for losers. . .cause we are the champions"

So quit being such losers, negative people! We did very well, and can do better next year.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Democratic think tank suffers from elitism

The Democrats are hoping to use their time in the D.C. wilderness to put together a think tank opposition, like the reactionaries did through the 60s and 70s. From the power of these ideas will come the progressive/liberal resurgence in the next decade, when everyone will get health insurance, wages will rise and justice will replace chaos in much of the world.

There's an article in the New York Times Magazine by Matt Bai (a great writer who follows insurgent politics) about this in today's issue.

The problem is here (as Bai aptly describes): Podesta and the other Beltway Democrats leading this charge are sticking to self-identified 'elite' Democrats instead of going to the people. Focus groups. Big-donor Dems. blah blah blah. It's the liberal "we know better" establishment trying to get a sense of how to beat the reactionaries who are lowering our wages and sinking us into debt.

They should get angrier. Not at Bush personally. But at the results. Lower wages. Higher debt. A rip-off tax system. A blank check to corporate America. The rich getting richer and the rest of us getting poorer.

What's the liberal bumper sticker message? Here's mine: RAISE WAGES


I'm glad to see the investment in new Democratic think tanks, but they ought to keep an angry tone, and they ought to invest in policy and politics for the many governments that Democrats run around the country, instead of pining for the federal government.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Chicago culture is changing thanks to Dusty Baker

The Cubs are almost certainly going to the World Series.

This changes the culture of Chicago.

There has always been a little inferiority complex, especially among Cub fans. We're kind of losers, goes the thinking. Nice people. Livable city. But not champions. Not top dogs.

And that is ending forever.

I'm in New York this weekend because my sister's film The Toll Collector is in the New York Film Festival. I bought a pizza in Queens before the Cubs game, and the guy behind the counter saw my Cubs hat and after asking if I was a fan, said with that Yankee fan confidence that we don't have a chance. Like a little symbol of our Second City status.

But that is changing.

It's funny how a sports team can help define the culture of a city. But they can.

And this lovable loser B.S. has been infecting Chicago culture for too long. It infects the way we think about our team and our city.

(You can hear some people complaining that they want the Cubs and Red Sox to lose, so we keep our 'mythic losers'. What a bunch of bull.)

We're going to the World Series. The Cubs are one of the best teams in baseball. And Dusty Baker's attitude is burying the last renmants of Chicago as a town of lovable losers.


Friday, October 10, 2003

Win the precinct, win the primary

Yesterday I finally walked the 2nd precinct in the 32nd ward for John Fritchey, a state rep who is running for ward committeeman against Terry Gabinski and the old Rostenkowski organization (Congressman Luis Gutierrez has recently taken over the slot).

I encourage every progressive to work their precinct. There is no better way to flex progressive power.

The weather was spectacular, the Cubs had a day off so the timing was perfect.

My precinct is in Wicker Park, between Hoyne (2100 W) and Leavitt (2200 W), Wabansia (1800N) to Schiller (1300 N).

We're collecting signatures for candidates, so this was an easy ask. I also collected signatures for the Obama for U.S. Senate campaign.

It's basic door-to-door work. You ring the bell and ask the person if they are willing to sign a petition to put a candidate on the ballot. You can tell if they know what's going on when you explain who the candidate is and what they are running for, but no one (and I do mean absolutely no one) knew what a ward committeeman is. (It's a surprisingly important office that defines the character of the political party. It's a non-paid position and they don't make laws. What they do is run the party, so if you elect the 'wrong' ward committeemen, you get an old school patronage organization where voters matter less. If you elect good ward committeemen, you get a policy-driven progressive political party that people feel good about supporting and participating in (with?)). See for a list of ward committeemen.

Some highlights of the 2 and a half hour walk around a *gorgeous* neighborhood. One house had an Obama sign in the window (the only Senate candidate sign up) and I hope the woman will work the precinct with me. Most people who signed seemed like Fritchey / potentially Obama voters. And everyone I spoke with needed a little education about how politics works, which I provided in 30 or 45 seconds. And that means votes in March for progressive candidates if I keep in touch with them over the next few months. And that means implementing progressive policies.

There simply is no better way to build power than to work your precinct.

I ended up collecting 25 signatures for Fritchey, a little less for Obama. I met some good people and have a sense that the precinct is potentially winnable for the Fritchey campaign.

If you'd like to be a precinct captain, but are just not sure what to do, email me and I'll walk you through it. But here's a hint: go talk to your neighbors. Practice makes perfect. (Example: I began the night with this pitch: "Would you be willing to sign a petition to put a candidate on the ballot?" and lots of people would say "Thanks, but no." That's not good. After a few of those rejections, when I gave the people an easy out, I switched to "We're collecting signatures to put a candidate on the ballot. It doesn't mean you support him, but we need the signatures just to get on the ballot." which doesn't leave the person with an easy or natural way to say no. Some did "This is a bda time for me, sorry" but most then signed the petition, and then wanted to hear a bit about Fritchey and Obama. One guy said "yeah, I'll sign. This is America." Which was awesome.

My line about Obama to people turned out to be something like this: "His name is Barack Obama. He's a state senator from Hyde Park, so he knows how to be a good senator already. He's a law professor at the University of Chicago, and I think he's the most intelligent and progressive of all the candidates running. Plus, if he wins, he'll be the only black U.S. Senator in the country."

Fritchey's website is here; Obama's website is here.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Tax gasoline, not jobs

Tom Friedman's column in the New York Times on a Patriot Tax of $1 on gallon of gasoline to fund the reconstruction of Iraq and wean the U.S. off of Mideast oil seems like a great idea to me.

I like John Anderson's idea more (as articulated in his 1980 independent campaign for president): a 50 cent tax on gasoline (probably $1 in 2003 cents) with a corresponding decrease in the payroll tax.

Because first, we should tax gasoline more than we do.

And second, we should tax jobs less than we do.

These totally reasonable proposals only seem to get batted around by newspaper columnists and third party candidates. Even more evidence for a more open election system with instant runoff voting and/or proportional representation.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Passed the Illinois bar and progressive/liberal

I found out this afternoon I passed the Illinois bar so November 6th I should receive my law license. Now if I can just figure out a way to practice part-time, represent clients I respect, advance legal principles I belive in and make a decent living. . . .

I read a piece in Mother Jones (not on the web for non-subscribers) on how the word 'progressive' is not nearly as meaningful as 'liberal' to most voters. Describing ourselves and our candidates as progressive just alienates our natural allies that benefit from wage-raising policies, as they know what 'liberal' and 'conservative' mean but not 'progressive' or 'reactionary.'

There's something to that. When I walk a precinct or pitch a candidate to a stranger, I usually switch to 'liberal' instead of 'progressive.' So maybe I need to chance the name of my website from progressive politics to liberal politics. . . . Your thoughts are appreciated.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Winnetka speaking gig Thursday

I'm speaking at my alma mater, New Trier High School, tomorrow at 7 pm at a League of Women Voters presentation on Making Democracy Work. I'm filling the role of the lobbyist.

Which, in my opinion, is a great job.

We all should be lobbyists (at least for five minutes a day).

How else will our legislators know about some important improvements we can make? Read our minds?

They have a tough enough job. We should help them by communicating with them about progressive ways to raise wages and raise living standards on a regular basis.

Now is a great time to start.


I should have gone.

I could have driven. But I wussed out.

What a game.

I think we're going to the World Series.

And I am somehow going to get into Wrigley on Friday.

I'm not sure how.

But I'm getting in.

I'm reading the Two Percent Solution right now and will have a book review on my site soon (maybe tomorrow).

And since Arianna Huffington dropped out of the recall replacement race, I'm hoping the recognition of the problems of plurality elections increases. I helped to set up a website that promotes Irish-style instant runoff voting in California: it is so check it out.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Cubs win in Cincinnati. Awesome game.

I just got back from Cincinnati. The Cubs won. Shawn Estes pitched a complete game shutout -- best outing of the season for the fifth starter on the team. My brother Jake, my buddy Mike Smith and I drove from Chicago at 11 am this morning to arrive at the Great American Ballpark around 6 pm eastern, bought 5 dollar tickets in the upper deck, took amazing seats behind home plate for batting practice, and stayed there all game. The Cubs, playing championship ball, treated the AAA Reds they way they should: 8 runs scored, 0 runs allowed. The crowd was a Cub-crowd (lots more blue than red in the stands). Afterwards, a bunch of fans stayed to cheer for Estes as he did some media interviews. And he was pumped as well, pumping his fist for the after-game fans still screaming in the stands after the game lights went out. Great game. Cubs still in first place. This could be the year.

Otherwise, I owe some updates on, especially on the Senate endorsement side, and will do that by Friday.

Monday, September 22, 2003

IL Bush ballot status in trouble?

There's some question as to whether the Bush campaign has shot itself in the foot by scheduling the GOP political convention in September to exploit the horror of the Word Trade Center attacks -- the late convention date likely conflicts with Illinois state law on the deadline to certify established party candidates on the ballot. Eric Zorn wrote about this issue here, Jeff Trigg of Random Act of Kindness wrote about it here, and I wrote about it here.

Jeff wrote that if Bush needs to run as an independent in Illinois (because state law won't be changed to accommodate the exploitation of the September convention), then he'd better start petitioning now because the period for independents to appear on the November ballot of 2004 is from now (!) until December 15th -- the same time as candidates petitioning to appear on the March primary ballot. This is a ridiculous state law, as independents should petition after the March primary when they know who the major party candidates and then, presumably, have a reason to run as an independent. Thoughtful supporters of the existing law argue that because major party candidates need to be vetted through the March primary, it is appropriate for independents to shoulder the same early petitioning burden as major party candidates, since independents need not win a primary election. Senator Ira Silverstein (D- Far North Side of Chicago) is the most thoughtful legislator on that side of the argument that I've come across.

However, Jeff is incorrect when it comes to presidential candidates. Partially because of the national political impact of state ballot access laws for presidential campaigns, federal courts have pushed the deadline back for independent presidential candidates to the same time period as the deadline for new party candidates -- June 21, in Illinois. (One of my political heroes, John Anderson of Illinois and 1980 independent presidential candidate, successfully litigated this issue of early petition deadlines for independent presidential candidates to the Supreme Court in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 US 780 (1983)).

Bottom line: if Illinois Democrats stand firm and do not assist the Bush campaign by changing state law, and if the courts find that current state law does not permit candidate certification so late in the season, Bush can still run as an independent in Illinois until June 21. And with the corporate-lobbyist money machine the Bush partisans have built in DC, they can collect 25,000 signatures in a weekend by paying people to circulate.

(My source: the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners 2004 Election Calendar, page 10. The State Board of Elections' calendar doesn't include this, largely because they focus on the difficult process of delegate selection for the primary candidates, and, after all, the deadline isn't until the summer for independent candidates.)
Beyond the Beltway was a good show last night. My favorite moment was when Dan Proft, conservative advocate and strategist, was continually called "war hero" by a caller when Dan was on a rant about why the war on terrorism is essentially a blank check for the president to do whatever he thinks is a good idea with our military. Dan and I had a few tussles; he's a good guy and it was fun. I like Bruce DuMont's stubborn insistence that every caller acknowledge some small validity in the other side (wouldn't you acknowledge that the lack of any attack on U.S. soil might have some little thing to do with what the Bush Administration has been doing -- that thye might have been doing something right?). And Jim Wall is a good, southern Democrat from Elmhurst, counting delegates for the Dean campaign. I told him about cumulative voting rights for the DuPage County Board to get the 40% of Democrats in DuPage County some representation on the board (currently 18-0 GOP), and I should follow up with him. If you are in Chicago and you've never checked out the Museum of Broadcast Communications, you should. That's where Beyond the Beltway is broadcast from, and it is worth a trip.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

This article in the Chicago Tribune about Venezuela and President Chavez' policies actually working to lift up people from poverty is a good reminder that it matters what foreign policy we have in the U.S. -- we should stop supporting dictators. The Bush Empire Builders were all too happy to try to assist the potential coup of Chavez. One more reason to get rid of those people. Here's the article (centered on the first woman who was granted legal title to the land she had been illegally occupying for a long, long time, giving her access to capital and a sense of ownership).
Bruce DuMont called -- I'm going to be on Beyond the Beltway tonight! You can listen to the radio show from 6-8 pm on WLS 890 AM or see it on television later tonight in the city or Monday night in the suburbs.

I assume we'll be talking Iraq and the lies that Bush and the rest of his crew have been spouting to justify the invasion. But wity Bruce, you never know.

Call in tonight -- it's a live show!

Friday, September 19, 2003

What does $87 billion buy?

There's been a lot of discussion about what else we could buy with $87 billion besides the deaths of American soldiers and recruiting millions of Al-Queda terrorists.

In Chicago, we can break that down by how much each ward is contributing.

Each ward has about 60,000 people. That's about 1/4000 of the country.

And 1/4000 of $87 billion is about $21 million.

Which is about the cost of a new high school.

So we could build a new high school in every one of Chicago's 50 wards.

Or we can occupy Iraq.

Thanks, President Bush!

And Congress: don't appropriate any of that money.

Cut off the funding and you'll end the war.

Spend that money on new high schools instead.

(Even though Mayor Daley says that high schools are boring. . . .)
This isn't fair, because I read a fantastic phrase and I don't know where it came from. So to whoever coined this phrase: thanks.

Bush is waging a war. And he has a war on wages.

I think 'wages' is the rallying cry of progressives. When people talk about the economy, reactionaries would like to talk about taxes and growth. We progressives would like to talk about wages. Because the higher they are, the better off we are.

And progressive policies deliver higher wages.

Conservative/reactionary policies don't.

That's our bottom line, and we ought to stick to it.

Stop the war on wages! Waging war is a war on wages! (or something like that. . . .)
I've decided that my regular website,, just isn't enough. I need a blog! The website will be for columns (hopefully weekly). The blog: for blogging. Without further ado. . ..