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.