Friday, December 31, 2004

Carol Marin's predictions for 2005

Carol Marin has her column in the Sun-Times today on 2005 predictions with one very depressing spin.

She writes:

Forget New Year's resolutions. Let's make some predictions. It's riskier but much more fun to climb out on a great big limb and forecast tomorrow's news today.

Let's start with what will happen on the federal front:

OK, so you figure she'll make some predictins about Wall Street brokers trying to get a cut of Social Security, or whether the military will invade another Syria, or some other federal policy.


The federal front means federal prosecution of allegedly corrupt Illinois officials, public and private.


She also has a pretty stringent definition of how Barack Obama's honeymoon will end:

Because this state's newest senator and national rising star Barack Obama still has occasional mortal moments, sometime this year he will disappoint someone who supported him and they will say so.

I somehow think that has already happened. I'll even be the first -- I'm disappointed that the campaign didn't have a big public send-off rally in Chicago. There. I'm someone who supported him and he disappointed me a little bit. And I'm saying so. Guess the honeymoon is over! (ha ha)

I think the disappointment here in the Capital of Blue America is likely to come from the role that Obama and Durbin and our new 10-9 Illinois Democratic congressional majority will be playing in D.C.: defense. There won't really be many big initiatives that our Democratic electeds will be able to pass into law in the next two years, and that's a downer. Time, once again, to work with our state and local electeds to bring liberty and justice for all in Illinois.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Congressmen to challenge Ohio's certification of presidential vote -- senators shouldn't wuss out

Can you imagine how incompetent an election official must be to set up polling stations that result in eight hour lines?

Eight hours.

That's a full work day.

That's what happened in Ohio.

Where, again, the official in charge of elections (Kenneth Blackwell) is a partisan Bush supporter.

And I understand those eight-hour lines were all in Democratic precincts.

Republican voters didn't have to wait in line for eight hours.

Democratic voters did.

That's bull.

And some Members of Congress, led by John Conyers, ranking Democratic Member of the House Judiciary Committee, are challenging the certification of Ohio's electoral votes.

They need one Senator to join them in order the challenge to heard and debated by the Congress.

This site has the scoop.

Now I can just hear all the liberals rolling their establishment eyeballs and muttering something like "come come, DJW, don't be such a fringe element type of guy. Just let it go. Don't engage in conspiracy theories. If you ask a Senator to challenge the results -- when we know the GOP-majority will reject the challenge -- why, we'd *look bad* and we'd appear to be *sore losers*"

Can't you hear that?

And I say to that: give me a break.

Did the House Republicans in 1998 say "gee, if we impeach President Clinton, we'll look bad, and we know we don't have the votes in the Senate to convict him, so we'd best not raise a fuss." Hell no! They did what they believed in! It's about time we did the same.

We believe there is grounds for debate to challenge the Ohio results.

So let's debate it in Congress!

Object to the certification and start the debate!

Dick Durbin, step it up!

And can Barack Obama bring a challenge? I think he gets inaugurated on the 4th of January. If so, step it up! Let's have a debate!

The House Members need one Senator to bring a challenge.

Remember in Farenheit 9/11 (confession: haven't seen it; this is hearsay) the part when the House Members discussed how they needed one Senator to join them in challenging the certification of the Florida 2000 electoral votes -- you know, the ones where the press recount clearly showed that more people intended to vote for Gore than Bush?

That one?

And no Senator would join in the challenge.

Well, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, step it up!

If the site is correct and Congressman Conyers is going to continue his vigorous and necessary investigation into the Ohio irregularities -- read here to get familiar with them -- by objecting to the Ohio certification, then I expect a Democratic Senator from Blue America not to get scared of a Congressional debate on the Ohio election and how the establishment media might react by joining in the objection.

Joe Trippi on Chicago panel 1/16 on media, democracy with me

This is pretty cool.

A new group called Media Democracy Chicago (their website is here) is hosting a forum on Sunday, January 16th at Columbia College from 3 - 6 pm, where the keynote speaker is Howard Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi. (Chris Rhodes, the info is here).

I'll be on a panel discussing how we can have a greater say in our government and what we can do to ensure that our corporate broadcast media adequately serves the public interest.

A couple of ideas that I like are requiring each station to run a 30 second public service commercial every half hour, even during prime time, instead of repeating the same inane promotion for an upcoming show, where the public service commercial is from the state or local government promoting a particular program; another is requiring stations to devote at least two hours of programming every week to civic affairs to help educate the electorate.

If the federal reps are squeamish about making these improvements a condition of getting their broadcast license from the Federal Communications Commission, then we could say that as a condition of getting our taxpayer dollars to buy commercials for the army or the dumb anti-pot messages or tourism promotions, those stations must abide by the regulations for free public service ads and/or two hours of civic programming.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Debra Pickett gets a great Dan Hynes interview in today's Sun-Times

In today's Sun-Times here Debra Pickett has a Sunday lunch with Dan Hynes. This is a feel-good story, because things worked out better for Dan Hynes in the Senate primary as well (his wife is expecting, and Hynes believes that she wouldn't be if he won the primary).

We should have a lot more of this kind of journalism that delves into the human side of our electeds, as it makes 'understanding politics' such a richer, more interesting thing to do. Politics and government is a drama that never ends, and the more citizens who are engaged with it, the better our public policy will be. This is a lot more interesting to be a part of when you can see the personalities of our electeds.

Also, it's insightful to see how Obama's campaign pulled ahead of Hynes campaign. It wasn't until two and a half or three weeks out that Obama's campaign started to move. Hull's campaign imploded, and the expected movement from Hull supporters would be to Hynes, not Obama. But somehow that didn't happen. Part of that is because Hynes is naturally reserved (a trait he shares with John Kerry, somehow). But part of that is Obama became, surprisingly, a 'political phenomenom' in Hynes' words. Here's a great anecdote from Hynes:

"Three days before the primary, I opened the newspaper and looked at the picture from the St. Patrick's Day parade," he says. "I mean, St. Patrick's Day, that's my day! And there was Barack Obama surrounded by every single Irish politician in town. I'm cropped out of the picture. And I thought to myself, 'That's not good.' "


Maybe Dan Hynes and John Kerry are very similar. They are both uncomfortable about promoting themselves. They are both reserved. Both Irish Catholic. Both from a strong Democratic organization (though Kerry is more of an adopted son). And they are both driven more by public service than a connection to people. Maybe a lesson is that Clinton's genius or magic was his urge and ability to connect with people. I think Blagojevich has some of that too.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Barack makes the cover of Newsweek

Our man Obama is on the cover of Newsweek.

The article is here.

The writer does make a few mistakes. David Axelrod wasn't the campaign manager (that would be Jim Cauley), but he was the media mastermind with fantastic commercials.

He also regurgitates conventional wisdom that it was a mistake to challenge Bobby Rush in 2000. Give me a break -- that was the right thing to do. Congressman Rush is not nearly as effective as the rest of the congressional delegation, and Obama would have been a dramatic improvement. Besides, contested primaries are good for democracy. Our culture gives too much of an entitlement to incumbents, as if they deserve to keep the seat unless they have really failed. I'm glad Barack ran against Congressman Rush, and while it worked out that since Barack lost, he could run for the U.S. Senate, that still doesn't make the campaign a mistake.

Anyway, here's the cover photo from
Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Card, Snow: Flat tax just might work for Social Security after all

Ah, the flat tax.

Everyone pays the same rate on their income.

Those supply siders love it!

Do they love it for Social Security taxes?

Right now, we have a flat tax of 12.5% until 88K of income, and then a flat tax of 0% on income after that.

The AP has this story where White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Treasury Secretary John Snow refused to rule out lifting the 88K cap on Social Security taxes. They did refuse to raise the payroll tax rate of 12.5%.

That's about as good as it gets for Blue America, since the payroll tax hits more people than the federal income tax.

If the White House plan includes a higher cap on payroll taxes so we approach a flat tax, I'll count that as a huge victory for a better America.

And good for them for not ruling out a fix on the most unfair part of Social Security so early in the game.

Go-to person in A-G's office for open government created

Phil Kadner in the Daily Southtown has the story here on Lisa Madigan fulfilling a campaign pledge to make government more transparent.

She has appointed Terry Mutchler as the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney-General's office, who will take requests, complaints and questions from anyone in the State about public access to government documents, open meetings and the like.

Terry Mutchler can be reached at (217) 524-1503 or

Congratulations to Lisa Madigan and to Terry Mutchler. Let's call our new (free) lawyer, Terry Mutchler when we're not getting answers from our government.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Winkel puts forward a plan to get schools out of the red

State Senator Rick Winkel (R-Urbana) has put forward his plan: raise the state's 3% income tax to 4.75% and raise the state's corporate income tax from 4.8 to 7.6%. With that extra five billion dollars, send half to education and half to property taxpayers as a rebate for 20% of their elementary and secondary education bill.

Kate Clements of the News-Gazette has the story here.

Governor Blagojevich is opposed, but so what?

Senator Del Valle's reaction is insightful. Here's a clip from the article:

Senate Education Chairman Miguel del Valle, D-Chicago, admitted that he would need to obtain a veto-proof majority to reform education funding without Blagojevich's backing, but he was willing to work to build that consensus.

"Will we succeed? I don't know," del Valle said. "Do we have to try? Of course we do. If we don't make an honest attempt, not political posturing and political maneuvering, but an honest attempt to change the way we fund education, then we are being totally irresponsible as a General Assembly."

He characterized the governor and others who have ruled out increasing property taxes to fix the school funding crisis as being in "total avoidance" mode.

"We must start out with an acceptance of the fact that change is needed, and some people still don't want to come to grips with that fact," del Valle said. "It is impossible to reduce the reliance on local property taxes without increasing the state income tax; there is no other way to do it."


So every legislator and Governor Blagojevich know this -- schools need more money, the local property tax is too high and the only real revenue source is the state income tax.

What percentage of the electorate knows this? I'd guess somewhere close to a third.

Congratulations to Rick Winkel. Let's get some co-sponsors for his bill when he files it in January. Call your state senator and tell them to get on board.

Illinois should index the minimum wage

Could you imagine trying to make a living on six bucks an hour?

That's 240 dollars a week, before taxes.

That's 12 grand a year, before taxes.

That's impossible.

And the federal government has a minimum wage of $5.15!

When the Democrats took over in 2002, they raised the state minimum wage to $6.50, starting 1/1/2005. The bill, SB 600 (Senator Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester) is here.

Now Illinois should follow the lead of Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Florida, and index the $6.50 minimum wage to inflation, so that it doesn't become less valuable over time.

Representative Toni Berrios has introduced a bill to do that, HB 7358, which is here. (Full disclosure: I had it drafted and asked her to introduce it).

The General Assembly should pass a version of that bill in 2005.

Everyone but the free-market ideologues understands that a higher minimum wage is great for the economy, because it puts money in the pockets of the people who will spend it.

Business Week has a good column on the topic here entitled Minimum Wage: The States Get It.

This is another example of where Blue America must lead when the GOP-led D.C. will not.

Obama gets paid -- almost $2 million to write.

Barack is getting a $1.9 million advance to write three books, one for kids (and that $200,000 is going to charity). So he's really getting $1.7 million to write two books.

That's great.

I remember when there were stacks of Dreams From My Father in the closet of the campaign office, and for $100 a donor would get a signed copy.

It's nice to have a famous black man who is getting serious money for. . . .writing.

Not playing sports or rapping.

That black male role model aspect is part of the fuel of the Ba-Rocket.

Now he's got a real challenge: how to deliver progressive legislation with a 45 seat minority. If we thought Pate was a tough legislative leader, I can't imagine how bad it will be to get bills through White House-staff influenced Frist.

Blago gets bruised with .com, .org mixup

This one kind of hurts.

Governor Blagojevich's initiative to criminalize distribution of video games to kids has a nice website at

Unfortunately, some people use and the governor's people or their PR firm forgot to buy the .com domain name.

The Tribune is reporting here that state employees have directed reporters and others to the .com site, where someone has posted a site that reads:

Governor Rod Blagojevich, who can't budget more than one Illinois State Police Office to patrol the Edens Expressway (in both directions) from the reckless and excessively high-speed drivers (probably because he had 12 ISP guards on his security detail). . . .

and links to Amazon where you can buy all the games listed on


On a policy note, I wonder if Amazon and other etailers would be covered under this law. Probably.

The clout lobbyists already have their contracts from the national groups to kill this one, I'll bet. They are going to make a killing (so to speak).

And my prediction: this won't pass. It will be like the Governor's initiative to get Coke and other junk food out of schools. That state law died on the vine.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Huge D.C. victory against corporate welfare

And I thought only bad news came out of Washington D.C. . . . .

Last night, the District of Columbia City Council (representing about half a million people, with a struggling inner city and lots of underinvested people) decided not to spend half a billion dollars on a new baseball stadium so that the wealthy companies that own baseball franchises (like the Tribune and Jerry Reinsdorf's partners) could sell a franchise to play in Washington. Instead, the council voted to require Major League Baseball to come up with half the money privately, and the taxpayers would come up with the other half.

And this was a major slap in the face to the idea of corporate welfare for Major League Baseball.

Here's the website of an advocacy group, No Taxes for Baseball, that includes a Washington Post article on the City Council deal here.

It's atrocious that these very wealthy corporations extract wealth from taxpayers to build their stadiums.

Think about the corner of 35th Street and the Dan Ryan. On the east side, what is left of the Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens. On the west side, a gleaming new stadium paid for by tax dollars so the owners of the White Sox can make money. We don't have money to build affordable housing for people. We do have money for the owners of the White Sox to make money from selling baseball tickets. That corner is the starkest example of corporate welfare.

Congratulations to D.C. for standing up to baseball. Too bad Illinois caved in to the owners of the White Sox and gave them millions of our precious tax dollars.

Did they steal Ohio? Maybe. Good thing the Cobb campaign is finding out

The Republicans might have stolen the Ohio election in thousands of small ways -- denying ballots to Dem leaners in one precinct, jiggering with an electronic, paper-less voting machine in another county to reject 1 out of every 50 Kerry votes. It's possible.

A rule of thumb is that a good precinct organization on election day is worth 2 or 3 percent of the vote in a given precinct, by saving a vote here, denying a voter there, ensuring a voter fills out the ballot correctly, etc.

If the higher-ups in the Bush campaign had the chance to move a few hundred thousand votes Bush's way, they would take that opportunity in a heartbeat. Maybe some of the big-wigs at these private companies that operate the voting machines are active Republicans. In fact, they are. I don't trust those machines. That's why we should have a hand count in those places where they are actual ballots to count.

David Cobb, the Green Party candidate for President, is leading the charge to organize the recount.

Some of the D.C. Democrats are starting to pay attention to this, led by black Democrats who are less suspectible to this odd Beltway sickness of needing to appear responsible at all times and automatically dismissing voices calling for more transparency and accountability as conspiracy theorists or nutjobs.

Minor parties are good. They raise issues that major parties don't -- like ensuring every vote is counted. We need more than two parties.

Dems do better in state races -- almost perfect 50-50 split

Republicans did a lot better in federal races than Democrats this year, largely because of Republican-friendly voting systems like the U.S. Senate and a new map in Texas.

Democrats did better than Republicans in state races, bringing the totals up to an almost-perfect 50-50 split of 3,658 Dems to 3,656 GOP state legislators (with two still in recounts).

This USA Today article covers the story, and this page for the National Conference of State Legislators does as well.

The following states are under Democratic legislative control, and are therefore, Blue America:

Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia.

The following state legislatures are under Republican control, and are therefore, Red America:

Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

We should be reaching out the state legislators in the first list and giving them bill ideas. That's what the Center for Policy Alternatives is about, and after their conference last weekend, I've got a ton of good bill ideas to promote (many of them from Illinois, which emerged as a sort of star state at the conference).

One other interesting note: there's a disconnect in about half those states between their legislative control and their statewide vote. Some states, like Illinois, California, Texas, Utah, and Virginia match up. But some states like Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin voted for one party statewide and the other party runs both legislative chambers.

That's an indictment of the distorting effects of our winner-take-all voting system. We should use proportional representation so the majority of voters in a state get to pick the majority of state legislators.

Video games? Come on. . . .

The Governor sure is good at PR.

Front page of the Tribune:

Governor targeting
violent video games

It's also front page of the Sun-Times, and probably Downstate press as well.

And for what?

To try to make it illegal to sell some games to kids.

This is like Clinton's strategy of 'taking care of little things' on steroids.

You know, school uniforms, things like that.

I'm sure it will play well with a middle-to-upper income suburban parent that probably voted for Vallas in the primary and would be tempted to vote for a pro-choice Republican candidate for governor in two years.

So in that narrow sense, the initiative already a resounding success. He doesn't need to pass the law to brand himself as 'on the side' of those swing voters.

But come on.

How about getting a renewable portfolio standard through so we get some renewable energy in this state (something at least four other states have moved on)?

How about taking the tax burden off of the poorest working families (we rank 47th in the nation in taking the poorest twenty percent)?

How about standing up to the utilities instead of rolling over for them?

How about getting all our non-violent pot-smokers and pot-dealers out of jail so we can spend that money on colleges instead?

How about more leadership on issues that raise our living standards but don't get colorful pictures in the press?

And besides: these video games are fantastic.

Halo 2 is an amazing game. There's nothing detrimental to shooting up aliens.

I've got another idea -- let's lower the voting age to at least 16, so that when the state looks to restrict those citizens' and taxpayers' freedoms, they have an opportunity to weigh in on the debate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Federal elections are stacked to favor the GOP

There are 55 Republican U.S. Senators out of 100 total (44 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning Independent).

You would think that Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate get more votes, combined, than Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate. About 55% of the total vote.

That would make for a legislature that reflects the voters.

And. . . you would be wrong.

Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate actually earned *more* votes than Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.

And, in total, got far fewer seats in the legislature.

That, to me, is appalling.

A majority of voters in Senate races voted for Democrats. And the Republicans dominate the chamber.

You have to add up the votes from 2004, 2002 and 2000 because Senators get six year terms. And the data is 'skewed' by races like our own in Illinois, where Barack Obama earned more than a million more votes than Alan Keyes.

But that's the point -- even though we sent Obama to D.C. in a landslide with a bigger margin of victory than total votes in other states, we only get one Senator out of all that.

That's not fair.

That is not democratic.

That's political affirmative action for Republicans.

The data is here -- far from official and subject to mistakes, I'm sure, so if anyone else crunches the numbers and comes up with a different figure, please let me know.

And yes, I understand that this unfair, undemocratic way of electing the highest legislative chamber in the world's only superpower was an intentional decision made more than 220 years ago by long dead men. I also think it's a bad decision to continue to make in 2005.

Rumsfeld sued in German court over Abu Ghraib rights violations

I like this.

Lawyers in Berlin and New York that represent some Iraqi detainees who were tortured by people who work for the United States government have sued Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, seeking a criminal investigation into the atrocities.

Germany has 'universal jurisdiction' in their federal laws, which means that for a small group of the worst crimes (genocide, torture, mass rape), anyone -- not just German citizens -- can sue the alleged perpetrator of these horrible crimes.

When some of my employees (as a citizen and a taxpayer, those soliders and mercenaries who allegedly tortured Iraqi detainees are my employees) commit horrible crimes, I want them prosecuted. If some of my executives like Rumsfeld authorized or directed those crimes, I want him prosecuted.

The article from a German paper (translated into English) is here, courtesy of a neat site called

Monday, December 13, 2004

Representative Paul Froehlich on visit to Angola State Prison in Louisiana

I'm quite honored to have a guest poster: State Representative Paul Froehlich. I'll let his post speak for him:

Last week I spent two days in the biggest maximum

security prison in the USA: Angola State Prison in
Louisiana. I went with Sen. Rev. James Meeks, Sen. Peter Roskam,
and former State Rep. Tom Johnson of the Prisoner Review Board.

It was quite an experience to see what was once the
nation's most violent prison now that it's a
faith-based institution. A seminary exists at the
prison and inmates get acredited four-year degrees
at no expense to taxpayers. Several inmate churches have been built by
inmates without state money. Assaults on staff and
inmates are at an all-time low even tho there are
5,100 inmates, most of them lifers.

Illinois suffers from record high recidivism and a growing inmate
population, despite a declining crime rate. The Illinois Department of
Corrections isn't doing enough correcting. Rehabilitation doesn't
occur just because someone is locked in a 12' x 8' cell. We should learn
from the experience in Angola.

Support the troops -- stop the Administration from bullying Guardsmen into very dangerous tours

If you want to support the troops, then the back door draft has to end.

Read this column. I found it linked from This Modern World, and it is originally from Lloyd Omdahl of North Dakota's Grand Forks Herald.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dean on Meet The Press -- he'd be a great Chair

Here is the transcript of Howard Dean's appearance this morning on Meet The Press. He really gets a lot of the forward-thinking strategies for the Democratic Party: populism and reform, framing issues agressively, grassroots organizing, bottom-up instead of top-down decision-making and candor at all times.

I'm going to ask around and see what the Illinois voters are thinking. I'll bet there's something in Speaker Madigan's mind that finds Dean's grassroots, populist, bottom-up message appealing.

Roeser quotes a Downstate Dem legislator, and I think he made it up

Thomas Roeser has another well-written column here where he has a conversation with a "Downstate Democratic legislator" on how Blagojevich will have a primary opponent and this unnamed primary opponent will beat him.

I suspect that Roeser made the whole thing up.

Not maliciously. He just. . .took some liberties.

Read the column and you tell me whether anyone actually speaks that way.

And then listen to the pitch -- someone will beat Blagojevich and "what will emerge in the Democratic Party is a new moderate-to-conservative nominee, with fiscal integrity, respectful of gun-owners rights"

Yeah, I'll bet Roeser would like that. And maybe 1/3 of the Downstate Dem primary vote. But most of the votes in the primary are here, in the Capitol of Blue America, Cook County. And we're more annoyed with Blagojevich for keeping our 3% income tax instead of bumping it up to 4% of 5% and invest in poor kids with better schools. We understand where he's coming from (having run on a platform not to raise the income tax), but are not going to dump him from someone pledging to be *more* of a fiscal tightwad. Maybe someone who will spend some more money.

It's a fun read, but I think this "Downstate Democratic legislator" is a little bit fictional. Get Patrick Fitzgerald back to Chicago and subpoena Roeser to find out his source. . . .

My best guess today is that no one will challenge Blagojevich. Mayor Daley is likely to sit this primary out, and Speaker Madigan (I'm guessing) will do the same. A lot depends on how the 2005 session goes, but if I had to bet now, I'd bet the 2006 Dem primary for the constitutional officers will be a boring status quo election: Blagojevich, Quinn, Lisa Madigan, Jesse White and Dan Hynes all run for re-election, largely unopposed. Filing deadline is about one year from right now. Anyone want to bet? Chris Rhodes, you want to lose another dollar?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Center for Policy Alternatives conference - random musings and nuggets of insight

On the Treo so forgive the typos. A DC conference for progressive state legislators see for details. Several ILL reps here many speaking on their successes. Barack sent a video greeting as a former state legislator. Nice quote: the Republicans do not let common sense get in the way of ideology. Dems took over Montana with populist message. Perhaps we should fund the treatment of addictive disorders with a sin tax on booze and nicotine. Be tough on crime not just tough on criminals. Lots of people with mental health problems are getting incarcerated. Mandatory minimums a bad idea for sentencing. . .I wonder what ho Illinois stacks up. Dukakis spoke and said the following. 1. Reagan's second term had a burst of progressive state initiatives and maybe Bush II will too. 2. Kerry ran a good campaign except on volunteer mobilization. Every single door in the country should be knocked on by a Kerry volunteer. Every single precinct in the country should have a captain. There were 2 million Kerry contributors and they were not asked to be a precinct captain. There are only 160,000 precincts in the country. We have enough people willing to volunteer if they are asked and taught. 3. The present health care system is an anti-business mandate system. If you insure your employees you pay for the health care of your competitor's employees as well because the cost of free or emergency room care gets passed onto those who do buy health insurance. He does not understand why the businesses that buy health insurance do not see this and scream about it. 4. What's the excuse for Wal-Mart not paying for health insurance for their employees? So make them. Retail jobs are not going anywhere. 5. Minimum wage vote in Florida got 73 percent and Nevada vote got 68 percent. Pretty cool guy.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Bush delivers for his base: rich guys still get a lower tax rate for Social Security than everyone else

He is nothing if not consistent.

President George Bush announced that he will continue to support taxing wealthy people at a lower rate for Social Security than everyone else.

Those who earn less than $88,000 a year will pay 12. 4 percent in Social Security tax.

Those who earn more than that will pay a smaller rate, and the more one makes, the smaller the rate.

Those who earn 180K will continue to pay at 6.2% rate.

Those who earn 360K will continue to pay at 3.1% rate.

Those who earn 720K will continue to pay a 1.6% rate.

Those who earn 1.44 million will continue to pay a 0.8% rate.

Those who earn 2.88 million will continue to pay a 0.4% rate.

So while Sammy Sosa with his $10 million salary will pay somewhere around 0.1%, the rest of us will pay 12.4% of our income on Social Security.

Gee, I wonder why Social Security is facing a funding gap?

Republicans favor wealth over work.

This is one of the best examples of Republican policies making the rich richer, the poor poorer and the middle class smaller.

Spread the word.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

We're stuck on oil, and we better start getting out

This long piece by Michael Klare of on how our economy's reliance on oil is only going to increase has this nugget of insight:

With oil demand regularly outpacing supply and disorder spreading in major producing areas, global shortages and resulting high prices are likely to become the norm, not the exception. Ideally, the United States could compensate for any shortfalls in the global availability of petroleum by increasing its reliance on other sources of energy. When producing electricity, for example, it is often possible to switch from coal to natural gas and back again.

But most of our petroleum supplies are used in transportation – mainly to power cars, trucks, buses, and planes – and, for this purpose, oil has no readily available substitutes. Indeed, we have so organized our economy and society around the availability of cheap and abundant petroleum that we are severely ill-equipped to deal with the sort of shortages and supply disruptions that are likely to become the norm in the years ahead.


That means we should really pump up biodiesel and ethanol which come from soy and corn instead of from oil.

Why isn't Metra using biodiesel instead of petroleum?

Howard Dean on the Democratic Party and taking ownership over the Party of the People

Yesterday, Howard Dean gave this speech at George Washington University. (Quick question: why isnt there an Abraham Lincoln University in Chicago?)

Here are some of the highlights:

The destination of the Democratic Party means making it a party that can communicate with its supporters and with all Americans. Politics is at its best when we create and inspire a sense of community. The tools that were pioneered in my campaign -- like blogs, and meetups, and streaming video -- are just a start. We must use all of the power and potential of technology as part of an aggressive outreach to meet and include voters, to work with the state parties, and to influence media coverage.

People will vote for Democratic candidates in Texas, and Alabama, and Utah if we knock on their door, introduce ourselves, and tell them what we believe.

What I want to know is at what point did it become a radical notion to stand up for what we believe?

Over fifty years ago, Harry Truman said, "We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don't need to try it."

Yet here we are still making the same mistakes.

Let me tell you something: there's only one thing Republican power brokers want more than for us to lurch to the left -- and that's for us to lurch to the right.

We need to embrace real political reform -- because only real reform will pry government from the grasp of the special interests who have made a mockery of reform and progress for far too long.

The pundits have said that this election was decided on the issue of moral values. I don't believe that. It is a moral value to provide health care. It is a moral value to educate our young people. The sense of community that comes from full participation in our Democracy is a moral value. Honesty is a moral value.

If this election had been decided on moral values, Democrats would have won.

It is time for the Democratic Party to start framing the debate.

We have to learn to punch our way off the ropes.

We should not hesitate to call for reform -- reform in elections, reform in health care and education, reforms that promote ethical business practices. And, yes, we need to talk about some internal reform in the Democratic Party as well, and I'll be discussing that more specifically in the days ahead.

Reform is the hallmark of a strong Democratic Party.

Those who stand in the way of reform cannot be the focus of our attention for only four months out of every four years.

Reform is a daily battle.

And we must pursue those reforms with conviction -- every day, at all levels, in 50 states.


His main pitch is that Democrats should compete in Red States. I'll buy that. It also means we should compete for every race that's up for election in Illinois (and with more local elected officials in this state than any other state besides Texas, there are a ton of opportunities). Somehow, we Democrats need to convince people to run for office. Right now. The filing deadline for some municipal offices is this Monday. Most municipal offices have a filing deadline of January 13th.

Chicago isn't holding an election in 2005, but lots of the burbs and lots of Downstate communities are. And if you are one of those people who think the Democratic Party needs to grow stronger and larger and be built with more conviction -- like Barack Obama who at his official kick-off speech in Chicago for his primary campaign almost two years ago said that we need to stop sending Democrats to D.C. who lose their backbone -- then you personally should either run for office or recruit someone to run for office.

This month.

It doesn't matter if they win. It matters that they take ownership over the direction of their government. Running for school board or village trustee or city council or library board makes that nebulous conviction real. We need to be the people who run government -- and reform government to ensure that it serves all the people and not just the insiders. I'm trying to convince people to run, and Dean's speech has inspired me to put some more thought into figuring out who I know that lives in a place with elections coming up in early 2005 that should run for office.

The other thing he hit on was the need to develop a sense of community among Democrats. If you have some ideas for that, comment away. One group is Drinking Liberally which meets every Wednesday at the Red Lion in Lincoln Park at 8 pm or so upstairs. Another is the Young Chicago Lakefront (disclosure: I'm on the board), an offshoot of the 44th Ward Democratic Organization that puts together events for younger people.

And the final thing we should do is get comfortable with the Regular Democratic Party so that we are a part of it. It took me awhile to get to this place, but it's overdue. I didn't think reform and the Democratic Party really went together. I was a Nader 2000 campaign organizer! But, after the 2002 election, I finally saw that the Democratic Party has been the party of reform and raising living standards for people -- but not exclusively. There are people in the Party who are not reformers. There are people in the party who reward insiders over the electorate. And instead of taking that revulsion from the corruption within the party and trying to replace it, I decided to, in the words of one state representative, "move in, and redecorate".

The more I stopped looking at D.C. and some of the corporate Democrats there and started looking at the state and local Democrats here in the Capitol of Blue America, the more comfortable I became with enthusiastically joining the Regular Democratic Organization and working for the political reform that makes everybody better.

So if you live in Illinois (not in Cook County) and you largely agree with Howard Dean, then you should serve as a Democratic precinct committeeman. And you should recruit someone (perhaps yourself) to run for office. Or you should really get involved in someone else's campaign.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Rod not sharing the budget numbers on our broke schools

This is a lame move by our Governor: according to this article in the Sun-Times, he isn't filling the vacancies on the Education Funding Advisory Board. Basically, the Advisory Board looks like it is in stasis. The last time their website was updated, Lisa Madigan was a state senator. Looks like the idea of an Educationg Funding Board that would tell the state in an official way what everyone has been saying for decades -- raise the 3% income tax to 4% and cut local property taxes -- is not quite what the Blagojevich Administration wants. That's off-message. Instead, put out the public perception that by cutting waste, fraud and Soviet-style regulations, we'll save our way to solvent schools. Whatever.

Unfortunately, the Advisory Board is the group that is supposed to come with the foundation level which is how much a decent education per child should cost. In 2003, the figure is $5665 per child per year to buy a decent education. In 2004? Who knows? The Advisory Board hasn't been able to come up with a figure, because the appointments haven't been made.

Senator Miguel Del Valle (D-Chicago), the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, calls this "strictly a political move" in Cindy Richards' article. And if he thinks it's a political move by the Governor, I believe him.

Intriguingly, Senator Rick Winkel (R-Urbana) is floating a new plan. Most civic types have gotten behind HB 750, which is mostly the product of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Instead of trying to solve the structural deficit in state government by raising the income tax to 5%, hitting pension income above 75K, taxing services as well as good with the 6% sales tax, and then rebating 25% of all local property taxes paid, funding schools adequately and then balancing the rest of the state budget, Winkel is apparently trying a different approach. He dumps the sales tax extension to services and the pension income tax. He raises the personal income tax to 5% (I think) and the corporate tax to 8%. Then half that money goes back to rebate property taxes, and the rest is divided among schools -- including higher education.

It's the last part that might get more GOP support. Higher education ends up in lots of Republican districts, because our 12 or so campuses are spread around the state in rural areas. Higher education in Illinois has gotten totally hammered in the last two years, which is why tuition is going up so fast. (Thank you for that richest 1% tax cut, President Bush! Now the federal governments doesn't have any money left to support state governments, so they have to cut the budgets to state colleges, so they have to raise tuition on students, so on the margins, would-be students from struggling families can't afford to go. Ahh, the American Dream -- take from the working people to give to the rich. But I digress. . .)

Since higher ed is taking such a hit, if they get dealt into the education funding deal, maybe there are 72 Representatives and 66 Senators willing to support a 5% income tax if it means (a) lower property taxes and (b) both K-12 and higher ed get healthier budgets.

I've known Rick Winkel since he first ran for state representative in 1996, and he is one shrewd guy. He was one of the few Senate Republicans to vote for Blagojevich's big bond issue in 2003. My guess is he's got a better handle on what package could earn those 66 votes in the Senate than some of the non-elected civic types.

I'm looking forward to seeing how many co-sponsors jump onto his bill and if Senate President Jones signs on to it as well. The new session starts January 12th.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Pony up, high-income voters, if you want to give Wall Street a cut of Social Security

Bob Novak's Sun-Times column here lays out Senator Lindsey Graham's plan (the only 'real' plan out there) for Wall Street to get their commission-greedy hands on Social Security: raise the cap of $87,900 on taxable income for Social Security.

Now, everyone pays 12.4% of the income to Social Security until one is paid $87,900. (So we all pay up to $10,900 to Social Security -- no more than that). If you're making more than 88 large, congratulations. You don't pay tax on that income. So if you make 200 grand or 100 grand or Blair Hull-like income of 10 million, you pay $10,900 in Social Security taxes.

No wonder there are long-term deficits in our public pension.

The Bushies and some GOP leaders want to make private accounts the centerpiece of the 2005-6 federal legislative session. where workers can take 3 or 4 or 5 percent of their income and pay Wall Street money managers to speculate or invest in different equities, with presumably a higher rate of return. Unless the stock market crashes, and then you're like an Enron shareholder. Broke. Anyway, the problem is the transition cost, because that 3 or 4 or 5 percent of income is not going to fund the benefits of Grandma and Grandpa, so how do benefits get paid if a third of all the income is diverted? Those transaction costs are probably a TRILLION dollars. Truh - hill - yun. Needless to say, if I were spending a trillion (three times the whole freakin' military), I could probably get us world peace. For real. Maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But we could largely eliminate poverty. I digress.

To raise the trillion, Senator Graham suggests taxing the same 12.4 percent on income earned by wealthier people above the $87.900 cap. Which is fair, since they should have been paying into Social Security this whole time.

Otherwise, the money would be raised by. . . borrowing it. Yes, that's right. Although we borrowed more than a trillion so that Bush and the GOP could lower the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, we're going to borrow even more. That is a recipe for financial disaster.

I like this Senator Graham guy.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

21st Century fuel -- since W won't lead, Blue America must

Oil is behind much of our foreign policy mess.

High oil prices are bad for the world, because the oil-producing nations stay bad. Low oil prices are good for the world, because the oil-producing nations get better.

Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times today lays out the case here.

This is the best part:

When did the Soviet Union collapse? When did reform take off in Iran? When did the Oslo peace process begin? When did economic reform become a hot topic in the Arab world? In the late 1980's and early 1990's. And what was also happening then? Oil prices were collapsing.

In November 1985, oil was $30 a barrel, recalled the noted oil economist Philip Verleger. By July of 1986, oil had fallen to $10 a barrel, and it did not climb back to $20 until April 1989. "Everyone thinks Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviets," said Mr. Verleger. "That is wrong. It was the collapse of their oil rents." It's no accident that the 1990's was the decade of falling oil prices and falling walls.

If President Bush made energy independence his moon shot, he would dry up revenue for terrorism; force Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to take the path of reform - which they will never do with $45-a-barrel oil - strengthen the dollar; and improve his own standing in Europe, by doing something huge to reduce global warming.


Or, Mr. Bush can ignore this challenge and spend the next four years in an utterly futile effort to persuade Russia to be restrained, Saudi Arabia to be moderate, Iran to be cautious and Europe to be nice.


He's right on the effect of oil, but when Friedman moves from policy to politics, he misses the boat again.

He's asking W to launch an alternative energy program. That's delusional. If we're going to bring down the price of oil, Red America isn't going to do it -- Blue America is going to have to lead. And that means state and local gas taxes to finance alternative energy, like ethanol or biodiesel.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Illinois is a low tax state, despite what the corporate think tanks tell you

Illinois has a 3% state income tax. That's the lowest rate of any of the 41 states that levy an income tax. This is the main reason why the state budget is perpetually in the red and why we are a low tax state.

This simple concept is christened "the big lie" by the Illinois Policy Institute. In this policy brief, Policy Director Mike Van Winkle argues that even though it is true that taxes levied by the State of Illinois are below the national average (see this chart from the Tax Foundation to compare all 50 states, and this fact sheet on Illinois), we should consider Illinois a higher-tax state because of federal taxes paid.

In other words, even though Illinois taxes are lower than most states, we should consider Illinois a 'high tax' state because the federal government's relatively high income tax hits Illinois residents. And we have more wealthy residents, proportionately, than most other states. Therefore, the State of Illinois ought not raise taxes to fund investments in our economy like public schools or health care.

It's important to call this out now, because we are under-investing in Illinois due to our low tax status. Too many Illinois children never develop their full potential because they don't have good teachers. Too many Illinois residents never get back to work when the get sick because they don't have good doctors and nurses and hospitals to take care of them early. Too many hours are spent stuck in traffic because we don't invest in our transportation infrastructure.

The State of Illinois is the organization that can boost our economy with these investments, and the way those investments are financed is through general taxes.

Illinois *is* a low-tax state, no matter what the Illinois Policy Institute would have you believe.

Voter registration needs to be the government's job, not the citizen's.

Most people are surprised to discover that voter registration rolls are run exclusively by local election authorities, who are usually somewhat obscure elected officials, instead of by a statewide or national organization.

There is no national database of voters.

So when people register to vote in two states, there is simply no way to catch that.


Similarly, the statewide databases where at least the government can discover whether someone is registered in two different places in the same state are slow in coming, even though there's a 1/1/2006 deadline under federal law to have them up and running, and most election authorities fight hard to keep them locally-controlled instead of state-controlled.

This Tribune article details how tens of thousands of bad names (dead people, etc.) routinely stay on voter registration rolls.

What should happen is that the government, and not the citizen, should have the responsibility to create an accurate voter registration roll. Now, the citizen must affirmatively contact the government and ask to be registered. Most democracies don't do it that way -- the government has the responsibility to ensure that all citizens are on the rolls. Because the government is essentially passive in the creation of voter registration rolls (that is, waiting for citizens to contact them), lots of omissions happen.

Add on to that the 2-week or 4-week period before elections when it is illegal to register to vote, and we have an institutional bias against participation, especially for first-time voters.

Think of all the government databases on citizens -- post office change of address forms, tax records, employment records, drivers license records, public assistance, etc. Only a few of those are somewhat coordinated with local election officials voter registration databases -- and that happens only if the citizen requests that the information be shared. It doesn't happen automatically.

When you change your mailing address with the Post Office, your voter registration should also be changed automatically.

When young men register for the draft (and they still have to do that), they should be automatically registered to vote.

When a student enrolls in a public high school or public college (or private college, for that matter), the student should be automatically registered to vote.

That's the direction we should move, and again, Blue America states and localities will show the way, since our Red Congress is unlikely to care much about increasing voter registration.

The limits of open dialogue -- new comments policy

Sadly, I've had to change my comments section so that I can delete anonymous postings.

At the same time, I'm refreshing the blog to give it a new, cleaner look. Hope you like it. I'd like to integreate it more with in the future.

I'm really honored that so many of you improve this blog with civil, intelligent debate, and I regret that all that great conversation is not archived.

I hope you continue to invest your time, insight and intelligence into elevating this small public dialogue so we can continue to discover the public will.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Another take on why we lost: Kerry had no "economy" message

Harold Myerson writes that the big problem for Kerry was not that he was tolerant of homosexuals, but rather that he offered no way to improve the economy.

In other words, the Democratic presidential candidates have triangulated themselves out of having a message to non-college-educated lower-to-middle-income voters.

Democrats will raise your wages. If voters don't believe that (or if Democrats don't tell us that), then it's hard to earn that majority.

The article is here on the LA Weekly website and it is definitely worth a read.

Here are the best parts (but click over there anyway since I'm stretching fair use here):

The group which saw the biggest shift in sentiment during the campaign, says Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, was white women over 50 with no college education. They supported Kerry last spring, particularly favoring his position on health insurance over Bush’s. But as Kerry came under attack in August and September, his support melted away, and these voters ended up backing Bush by 18 percent.

These were just some of the voters who were still in play this fall — the majority of them white, downscale, worried about the economy, worried about terrorism, and worried about the condition of the cultural climate. Kerry was still an option for them in October, but then came the October surprise.

No, not the Osama tape. It was the failure of Kerry to wrap up his campaign with a strong Democratic populist message. Perhaps the most astonishing nugget in the exit polling and the hardest to find, since the most commonly available version of the poll, on the CNN Web site, doesn’t contain this information, is that when asked which candidates voters trusted more to handle the economy, they preferred Bush to Kerry by a 40 percent to 37 percent margin.


Time was when the Democrats had no trouble devising and conveying an economic security agenda. In a national economy, the institutions of the New Deal and the unions that arose during that time turned a low-wage working class into the most highly paid working class in human history. Today, though, the Democrats have lost most of the levers with which they used to raise living standards. The destruction of unions, the openness of the U.S. economy to a global labor market, the ideological de-legitimation of government — all these have made it much harder for the Democrats to present a plausible solution to voters. Addressing the destruction of decent-paying manufacturing jobs by ending the tax deductibility of outsourcing, as Kerry proposed, is the kind of policy you put forth when you don’t really have a policy at all.

Economists: tax gasoline now as insurance against global warming

Tax gasoline about a nickel more per gallon and spend that revenue on renewable energy development -- smart policy from National Science Foundation-funded scientists and economists at the University of Illinois (go Alma Mater).

Here's the article.

Since the oil-soaked White House won't touch this one, and the GOP-led Congress won't either, looks like it is States To The Rescue again.

Illinois should raise the gax tax and fund Illinois-based research on renewable energy. Sort of like Dan Hynes' proposal to tax plastic survery and fund Illinois-based research on stem cells to cure diseases. Tax present consumption to pay for a better future.

Gary Becker - Richard Posner blog coming soon.

This is going to be a good blog.

Becker-Posner is here (coming soon).

It's like a Workshop on Law and Economics online.

And progressives ought to pay attention. Most of the economic analysis of law is perfect for our issues. The declining marginal utility of wealth is the best economic justification for taxing it to finance equal opportunity.

Concerts at Wrigley are long overdue

The Cubs are floating the idea of holding rock concerts at Wrigley. Well, since Jimmy Buffet is the first performer mentioned, maybe 'rock concert' isn't quite the right phrase. This Trib article spells it out.

It's a great idea.

I'm sick of having to go to Rosemont and park in the middle of a vast concrete wasteland in order to see a show. Wrigley is right on the Red Line, and a few blocks away from the Metra station. We should have concerts there all the freakin' time. And the Cubs could always use some more money, but this winter with Steve Stone gone and Sammy Sosa still around, I'm not feeling the same Cubs juice.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ukraine opposition protests are inspiring -- It's Time

When the front-running candidate tries to steal the election, reverting back to anti-democratic ways, the people of the Ukraine didn't just take that lying down.

They took over the damn country.

They set up tent cities in Kiev.

They flood their public spaces with orange, the color of opposition, and demand democracy.

Young people are leading the opposition in a group called Pora (translated as "It's Time"), as described in this New York Times article.

This is a wonderful thing to behold.


Howard Dean for DNC Chair

I'm a fan of Howard Dean's inclusive, speak-truth-to-power style. He's apparently aiming to serve as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, which I think would be a great idea. is the best looking site that is trying to build up support for Dean to serve as the Chair.

The best thing about Dean is that he calls out GOP excesses in plain language. Tom Delay is the most corrupt House Majority Leader in a generation, and Dean would not fear to call a spade a spade. That bold, clear language plays well, as it both inspires the base and earns respect if not agreement from swing voters.

One of John Kerry's biggest weaknesses was the sense that he wasn't resolute enough. There's a reason for that perception. Dean as DNC Chair can help to turn around that perception for the Democratic Party.

There are the Illinois Democrats who will vote on the next Chair. Any ideas how any of them might vote? (And just the fact that this Dean campaign for Chair is opening up the party process to understand how the Chair gets picked is a symbol of the transparency and empowerment that Dean's style represents).

* Hon. Michael Madigan

Hon. Constance Howard

Margaret Blackshere

Hon. Thomas C. Hynes

Hon. Emil Jones Jr.

Thomas Lakin

Hon. Iris Y. Martinez

Hon. John Rednour

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Pentagon: They don't hate our freedoms. They hate our policies.

That's what the Pentagon believes. This article in the Christian Science Monitor lays out the details, but the big picture is easy to grasp. It's dumb to say that Al Queda and Muslim terrorists attack the U.S. because of our freedoms. They attack the U.S. because of what our government does to Muslim people.

I think it was Osama Bin Laden in his latest videotape that said something like "you might notice that we haven't been attacking Sweden." Sweden has just as many (if not more) freedoms than we do, but they aren't engaged in what many Muslims consider to be another Great Crusade against them.

So, whether our foreign policy is wise and humane or arrogant, oil-fueled, stupid and harmful is up for debate. But we should recognize that the foreign policy, and not 'our way of life' is what motivates those who try to attack and kill us every single day.

Framing progressive issues -- it takes a lot of work

The Austin Mayor has a good post here on how much work we need to invest in framing our issues in ways that resonate.

He's responding to a whiny critique of George Lakoff's book Don't Think Like An Elephant, by Kevin Drum here.

The basic idea is that instead of looking for answers from the book about how to resonate with people, we need to work on it. As Barack said in some interview, there's a lot of intellectual work to be done by Democrats. My personal addition to this discussion is that lots of the work ought to get done in blue states and blue localities, where we have the opportunity to talk about the investments we make, instead of in D.C. where we talk about the investments we would like to make but are not. So funders: quit throwing money at D.C.!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Chicago cops falling down on smart pot policy

Bad news from Chicago sergeants in today's Sun-Times here -- they are largely rejecting the move to fine possession of pot instead of the current system of arresting those who possess pot.

It is dumb to arrest someone for possession of marijuana.

Especially after another weekend of cancer-causing cigarette-smoke-filled bars in Chicago, I'd rather smell the pungent, non-cancer-causing aroma of weed than those nasty cigarettes.

Call your alderman and tell them to ticket possession of pot. Let's not let the police dominate this policy-making process.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Roeser: Wealth tolerates Chicago corruption because they fear the next mayor

Tom Roeser is a good columnist. His latest here is another 'tell it like it is' from the perspective of rich white men in the Chicago suburbs.

Roeser asks these men why they tolerate City Hall corruption which Mayor Daley certainly could stamp out if he wanted to. The only way that corruption exists is if the establishment permits it to exist, and in Chicago, the establishment shows very little concern about it.

In the column, the titans of wealth explain that they tolerate the corruption because they fear Mayor Luis Gutierrez or Mayor Jesse Jackson, Jr. would be unable to run the city nearly as well as Mayor Daley has (ignoring the wasted dollars burned up from corruption).

One major problem with the column: I doubt Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. is interested in running for Mayor of Chicago. His book, A More Perfect Union, lays out his political philosophy very well, and it is centered on amending the U.S. Constitution for all American people. I suspect Congressman Jackson, Jr. will want to remain in the House of Representatives for a very long time. The 'sources' that tell Roeser's unnamed lunch companions that Congressman Jackson, Jr. tells everyone in D.C. that he is interested in running are likely wrong (if not fictional).

But the basic premise of fear from the 'deluge' that would inevitably engulf the City if anyone new were to sit in the 5th floor office of City Hall apparently inculcates loyalty to Mayor Daley, no matter how negligent the management of corruption-stained city workers and contractors. That's a shame. And I hope the establishment will expect more from our Mayor, and finally put an end to the puzzle over why one of the nation's best mayors in so many ways still permits such intolerable embezzlement to occur on his watch.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Chicago-area transit policy laid out well by Julie Hamos

On her campaign website here, Representative Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) lays out the Metra/CTA/Pace debate very well. She is the Chair of the Special Committee on Mass Transit for Northeastern Illinois that will likely come up with a consensus solution on funding transit. My prediction: raising the 1/4% sales tax in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Will and Kane counties to something approaching the 1% levied on Cook County taxpayers will be part of the mix.

Jesse Ventura endorsed John Kerry -- maybe that helped turn Minnesota blue

In an un-advertised coup for the Kerry campaign, former Independent Governor Jesse Ventura endorsed Kerry in late October.

I'll bet that helped tilt Minnesota for Kerry.

Here's a clip from a TV station in Minnesota with a must-view shot of Ventura's new look.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Hynes pitches a great '06 strategy: stem cell research

The Illinois Leader broke this story: Comptroller Dan Hynes is pitching a 2006 referendum to fund stem cell research from a tax on elective surgeries.

At first, this looks like a great strategy for Democrats in the 2006 election (which is going to be a challenging year for Ds, due to alienation with Governor Blagojevich among lots of the base). If the stem cell referendum in California (Proposition 71) is any indication (which passed 59% to 41% two weeks ago), this one will pass big. And since it will be associated with the Democratic Party, it will help Democratic candidates who endorse it and hurt Republican candidates who oppose it.

This might not be true in the eight or nine counties far Downstate south of Springfield that supported Keyes over Obama, but in most of Illinois, I think that stem cell research is a winner.

It looks like Comptroller Hynes is working closely with the California people: if approved, an Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute will be formed (just like the California Regenerative Medicine Institute now formed from the passage of Proposition 71).

Of course, this would be great for our economy as well. And I'm just not convinced that life begins as an embryo. I think the culture of life means that we make life better. Curing diseases makes life better.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Don't move to Canada -- move to Iowa!

I love this column by David Swanson, a former staffer for the Dennis Kucinich campaign. He argues that we lost the election largely because John Kerry was a boring, uninspiring candidate (which, frankly, he was). He grew on me in the last month of two, but that's because I'm a zealot. His initial impression is fairly aloof and a touch too shrewd.

Who to blame for John Kerry? Iowa!

And how to ensure we don't nominate another Beltway-blessed 'electable' and 'respectable' candidate? Move to Iowa!

It's a good read.

Sales tax or property tax -- which is worse?

I'd say the sales tax is worse than the property tax.

And both are worse than having public employees foot some more of their health care costs.

The City of Chicago and the County of Cook are both facing deficit budgets.

Leaders are floating tax increases and avoiding layoffs.

The main source of tax revenue seems to be the sales tax -- already the highest in the nation (at least among the top three).

We have a 6.25% state sales tax (although 1% of that 6.25% gets kicked back to cities).
A 0.75% RTA (mass transit sales tax) in Cook County.
A 0.75% County of Cook sales tax.
A 1% City of Chicago sales tax.

Not to mention the 1% McPier (Navy Pier and McCormick Place convention center) sales tax on food in, basically, the 312 area code portion of Chicago.

That's a lot.

And all that money -- approaching 10% -- is not deductible from our federal returns (unless there was a recent change to the federal tax code).

The property tax is deductible.

I know that we rely too heavily on the property tax now to fund our governments in Illinois. We rely on the sales tax too heavily as well.

And we don't rely on the income tax enough. That rate is 3%.

The best answer, as well as ensuring that we fire the unneeded workers (and there are always some workers who should be fired), is to raise the state income tax and distribute that money to local governments.

And get out of these huge pension costs. New employees should be paid more in salary but be responsible for their own pension.

Feeling down? Get to work. Help elect a Dem in Louisiana before December 3rd

There are two elections in the House of Representatives that have not yet been decided, because Louisiana holds a runoff election. There were two open seats in Louisiana, and in neither case did a candidate earn a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Billy Tauzin's kid is trying to take over his father's seat, running against Democratic candidate Charlie Melancon, for the Third District in southeastern Louisiana.

In the southwestern Louisiana Seventh District, Republican Charles Boustany, a retired heart surgeon, is running against Democratic state Senator Willie Mount.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is paying for food and lodging for anyone who would like to work on the Mount or Melancon campaign. Check out their website at

If you can take a few days off to work in Louisiana, please do. And if you want to help kick in to the DCCC to pay for the food and lodging of someone, donate to them. Or, just sponsor someone you know who can take a long weekend and work in Louisiana.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

First negative editorial against voters in Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph

This editorial from the Pantagraph calls on Governor Blagojevich to veto SB 2133, because:

We have little sympathy for those who, according to supporters of the bill, don't get motivated and truly interested in voting until Election Day draws nearer.


The editorial also gets the facts wrong. Under the bill, citizens who register during the grace period will have to vote absentee, either in-person when the register or by mail, depending on how the local election authority wants to process those ballots. They will not have to vote at a special location (as the editorial writes), unless by 'special location' the paper means the downtown office of the election authority.

If you haven't written Governor Blagojevich and asked him to sign SB 2133, please do so here.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Bush plans for taxes: eliminate the middle class

This is some bad news, according to this Michelle Goldberg artilce in Salon.

What to do when the tax cuts for the wealthy have put the country in deep, deep debt?

More tax cuts for the wealthy!

And how to pay for them?

Tax work more!

Two big, bad ideas.

The first is to eliminate the federal deductibility of state and local income taxes from federal returns. That's bad news for Illinois, as it will suck more money from this state to send to D.C. Our palty 3% state income tax which generates about $9 billion ($8.1 billion in 2000, according to page 9 of this report) is deducted from the 5 or 6 million individual federal returns of Illinois taxpayers. And with an average federal tax rate of around 25%, that means the Bush proposal would suck more than $2 billion from Illinois into D.C.

Hey, Speaker Hastert. Remember how I thought it was a good thing that you're from Illinois. Prove it. Kill this idea.

The other bad idea is to eliminate the deductibility of the cost of health insurance. Now that group plan most people are on is tax-free: you don't pay taxes on the value of the health insurance and the company deducts the cost of the insurance from their taxable income. Under this floated Bush plan, that would end. And lots of companies would drop their insurance.

Ever try to buy individual health insurance? I have. It's expensive and a waste of administrative effort. Welcome to the future, if the Bush plan is implemented. Of course, more money for health insurance companies, even as the rest of us pay more for health care. Go parasitic middle-men!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Hastert, Durbin good combination for Illinois

I think we're the best-represented state among leadership in Congress.

The Speaker of the House and the Senate Minority Whip (Hastert and Durbin) are both clearly from Illinois. With the transportation bill stalled, maybe we can get some real money sent to Illinois to fund lots of good projects (like modern rail, for example?).

That's a good thing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It passed!

Hey, good news! The bill passed!

The vote was 33-24-2. Every Democratic Senator except for Gary Forby and Bill Haine voted yes, while the two Republican Senators to break party ranks and vote yes were Dave Sullivan and Dan Cronin, earning our gratitude.

Senator James Meeks did an excellent job during the debate, and almost won over Senator Wendell Jones (a nice bulldog of an old-school Palatine Republican) by arguing that "if some voter catches a Wendell Jones commercial on television 14 days before the election, and is touched by the commercial, and says to himself 'that guy makes sense' he should be able to run down to the county clerks office and register to vote." I thought he had Jones with that one, but he voted no.

Senator Susan Garrett spoke eloquently on the bill as well, speaking as a former League of Women Voters leaders and a deputy registrar, and calling for making voter registration as convenient as possible.

Lots of Republican Senators spoke against the bill, and though I found the substance of their critique of the grace period lacking, they were all in good faith. Senator Wendell Jones was a little bit over the top, yelling that "we all know cemeteries vote in Chicago!"

Then Senator Rickey "Hollywood" Hendon spoke up and launched into a tirade, lambasting the Republicans for fighting a move to make it easier to vote, a precious freedom that we are in Afghanistan and Iraq to implement for their people. He called on the Republican Senators to stop attacking the premise and vote for the bill.

Then Senator Peter Roskam stood up and critiqued Senator Hendon for ironically trying to intimidate senators into submission in the name of better democracy. This provoked Senator Hendon to seek recognition, and Senator Miguel Del Valle, in the President's Chair, was very reluctant to recognize Hendon, because everyone know Senator Hendon would launch into another attack back at the Republicans.

"Since your name was not mentioned during debate. . ." Senator Del Valle began (because if your name was mentioned in debate, you have the privilege of speaking and the President has the duty to recognize you), which sparked applause from the Republicans. But then Del Valle chose to recognize Hendon who stood up and said "Sorry, Peter."

It was funny. Maybe because I was so ridiculously tense up in the galleries, but I thought it was hysterical.

And then we won the vote! Robin Kelly made it onto the floor to see the bill pass as well. It was a great night for democracy.

Now Governor Blagojevich needs to sign the bill. So please, email him and ask him to sign SB 2133. Click here on the state's website to submit your letter right now. Even better: send a letter. Mail it here: Office of the Governor, 207 State House, Springfield, IL 62706.

I'm telling you, I've never been more convinced that we progressives need to help our elected officials pass good policy to raise living standards. All that money spent on the presidential campaign -- we should spend some of it on helping Blue State leaders pass good policy.

I'm pumped.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Grace period voter registration passed the House! Senate vote Wed or Thurs

Good news from the state capitol. SB 2133 passed out of the House of Representatives on a mostly party-line vote. Thanks to Republicans Beth Coulson, Paul Froehlich, Rosemary Kurtz and Carolyn Krause for voting yes as well as every House Democrat except for Kevin Joyce and Kevin McCarthy. Feel free to call those four Republicans in Springfield and thank them for voting yes on SB 2133 (they would appreciate a couple of messages).

Now, Senator Meeks has filed a Motion to Concur with the House Amendment which has been referred to the Rules Committee. If we can get the Rules Committee to discharge the Motion straight to the floor instead of assigning it to a committee, then we could have a vote on this in the Senate tomorrow. Which would be vastly preferable to waiting until Thursday, when casino-mania and CTA funding might muddy the waters. (But I am hearing that the casino is not going to happen this week).

Here again is the status of the bill. Let's push this one to victory! Call your state senator (find the list here) tomorrow and ask them to co-sponsor SB 2133. Isn't lobbying fun? We've got to work with our electeds to make Illinois law the best in the nation. They need our help. Voting for good people is not enough.

More inclusive voter registration in Illinois this week -- we might pass a bill

Keep an eye on SB 2133 (the bill status is here), in the second week of veto session. Instead of making it illegal to register to vote for a full month before any election, this bill would replicate Washington State's 14-day grace period where voter registration is permitted for an extra two weeks (until 14-days before the election), if the citizen registers in-person at the office of the election authority and votes absentee.

I've been working on this bill for more than two years, and Representative Robin Kelly's tenacity might get this bill through both chambers in the next three days.

Rice as Secretary of State looks like social progress

A black woman as the nation's Secretary of State looks like social progress, so credit to President Bush. I sure hope it represents social progress, since the Supreme Court around 2007 if Sandra Day O'Connor or John Paul Stevens retires will likely outlaw affirmative action. (Remember Sandra Day O'Connor's 5-4 decision in 2003 narrowly upholding the University of Michigan's affirmative action program, saying that hopefully in 25 years the nation will have moved beyond race? If the Bush backers have their way, that estimate might be downgraded to four years when there is a new majority on the Court instead of 25 years. . . .

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Candor beats pander; Dean and Democratic candidates

Shortly after the 1998 election, I went to a conference in Minneapolis organized by the Center for Voting and Democracy and FairVote Minnesota on electoral reform. This was the year that Jesse Ventura won the gubernatorial election on the Reform Party ticket with 38% of the vote, and lots of people were wondering how it happened.

Former Congressman Tim Penny was a major adviser to Ventura, and he said that Ventura connected with people and earned their votes because he told the truth. He didn't try to sugar coat or avoid offense. He told the truth. His phrase was a memorable one: 'candor instead of pander'

Lots of people I spoke with in Eau Claire, Wisconsin who were going to vote for Bush said they were going to do so because Kerry was a little wishy-washy while Bush was straight. They would not have had that critique of Governor Dean. (They might have had some other critique, but who knows). I think our candidates should be straight-talking, here's-how-it-is types. I think we do better that way.

This article on Howard Dean's recent visit to Northwestern was really refreshing. I like that Dean says the truth about Justice Scalia: He is a rude, pompous person who shouldn't be a Justice of the Supreme Court. I like how he calls out the Bush campaign on their use of homophobia to energize voters with 11 gay marriage referenda. Independent voters especially value candor.

Clarence Page on Canadian health insurance

Clarence Page's latest column in the Tribune here riffs off of the United States of Canada - Jesusland picture below to remark how our balkanized, for-profit health insurance system is getting worse. Higher costs, less care, more uninsured -- a big mess. The best part:

Want to see President Bush's plan for insuring the uninsured? Hold up a blank sheet of paper.

Well, OK, it's not quite that bad, but it's close. He has offered tax-free health savings accounts for those who can afford to put money aside for their health-care costs. The business-oriented Bush seems never to have witnessed a social problem that cannot be solved with a tax break.

But what if you're a minimum-wage waitress with kids, and you can't afford to put money aside for health-care costs? Well, I guess there's always prayer.

Of course, no country's health-care system is perfect, and America does offer the best health care that money can buy, if you can afford it. The problems come when you can't afford it.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

WHAT?! 45% of the property tax goes to pensions!!

This is unbelievable.

Mark Brown's column in the Sun-Times yesterday details that almost all the property tax money that the city collects -- $713 million -- goes to pensions and repaying debt.

45 percent of the property taxes go to city employee pensions.

That's more than $300 million.

To pensions.

That's all.

Not services. Not things that benefit all of us. Pensions.

I'm stunned.

We could probably buy health insurance for everyone under the age of 30 in the City of Chicago for $300 million (which would bring in tons of jobs and entrepreneurs who could move to Chicago, start a business, and still be insured against medical bankruptcy).

We could fund after-school programs for every child in the CPS.

Instead, pensions.

And this pension income, by the way, is totally tax free from the state income tax.

Meanwhile, senior citizens who have to work after age 65 still pay the 3% state income tax after earning $2000.

And apparently, the Illinois Constitution forbids a city from cutting pension benefits retroactively.

This is such an incredible financial albatross on the city. We have got to do something about this cost.

Departures in legislatures quite poignant

Most of the time legislatures seem quite permanent. But the week after an election, it's clear just how transient they are.

Barack Obama came back to Springfield for a farewell tour on Monday, the first day of veto session. I've been unable to blog about it (Daddy needs a new wireless laptop. . .so get me that Chicago casino so I can win some money!) until I'm back in Chicago. It was a poignant day.

On Monday, he addresses the state senate where he spent six years working (as recently as late three and a half months ago). The General Assembly is a really human place, because there aren't that many people who engage in state government and everyone spends a lot of time together. It's like a small college in many ways. Anyway, Barack gave a speech and the thrust of it went something like this:

People are cynical about politics. And "Springfield" is often used as a synonym for something dirty or wrong. But I know how hard eacn and every one of you work, and that you are all here to try to make the State a better place for the next generation. And that's real public service, and I'm grateful for it. And that I've learned something from each of you, and that in a legislature, we all come with a narrow, parochial view of the world and by working together in civil discussion, we gain a broader understanding. And we take a piece of each other with us. I'll be taking a piece of each of you with me to Washington, and I hope to represent you well. And don't worry: I'll be back here in the state senate to hear from all of you.

Well, I'm not doing it justice, but it was a nice speech. Then Frank Watson, the GOP leader stood up and said a few things, along these lines:

You know, we had heard you were going to give the keynote in Boston to the Democrats, but at the time, we had heard there would be several keynotes, and didn't have any idea what it would become. And then you gave that speech. And I tell you what: you made us all proud. Because you weren't just representing Democrats up there, you were representing Illinois. And you made all of us proud, just by the manner in which you conducted yourself. And though we disagree on a lot of things, I appreciate how you reach out to us. Hell, I've got an appointment with you at 2:30! You just walked in my office and asked for an appointment. So while we'll continue to disagree on a wide range of issues, I just want to say that we are all proud of you.

And it was another nice moment. You could just feel the galleries and the press and the senators and the staff all sort of come together. Maybe that's some of the unity that the D.C. pundits are talking about. Because I could feel it on Monday in the Illinois Senate.

That night, President Jones had a farewell reception for Barack. This one was basically for Democrats. And it was a blast. But also sad. Terry Link, who is sort of an old, tough bull, gave one of the first speeches, and said something like "I knew this was going to hurt, because I will miss my friend who sat next to me on the floor. And it does hurt. But I will sleep better at night knowing that Barack is representing me in Washington."

Barack spoke about Senator Terry Link and Larry Walsh and Denny Jacobs who endorsed Barack early in the campaign, and he said that those endorsements really meant a lot, because it presented him as a broader candidate. And of course what it meant was that having white elected officials endorse a black candidate helped to ensure that he wouldn't defined as 'the black candidate' Which is really nice. But the opposite also holds true: lots of black electeds were early endorsers of Dan Hynes (obviously a white candidate). And I think that means that for whatever reason, the Illinois Democratic Party and it's 1.2 million or so primary voters are moving beyond race as a primary factor in voting decisions. And that's a very healthy thing.

And the next day on Tuesday, when Barack's office is already filled by the new senator, and it sunk in that one of the good guys won't be there anymore, it was sad.

And imagine those who were supporters of Pat Welch or Ricca Slone or Bill Grunloh or Frank Aguilar. Those four have to work in veto session with everyone else, and then they just go home.

Government is such an odd combination of ruthless, tough decisions with emotional, human drama. That's one reason it's so fun.

Texas Hold-Em in Springfield

Phil Kadner has this column in the casino battle in Springfield.

But there is another force that Senator John Cullerton represents in this article -- the revulsion towards the payoffs to private gambling interests that want a piece of the action, like the horse racing industry.

These parasites want even MORE state money, just because they offer gambling now, and if there's a casino in Chicago, then they would presumably get less. So they want 15% of the proceeds sent to their private pockets, instead of to schools or hospitals or highways that benefit all of us.


Call your state senator and tell him/her that all the money from the casinos should stay with the public. Not one dime to private companies and wealthy gambling gurus. to find your senator. Call today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Almost "Dewey Beats Truman" in today's Trib

So, now that I've calmed down, I'm calling out the Tribune Tempo section as a bunch of wussies.

They had a contest on "The World's Toughest Voting Day Quiz" on Election Day. Here are the results. 10 questions. And one of them is dead wrong.

Here's the question in question.

9. What states proportionally allocate electoral votes rather than using the winner-take-all method?

Answer: Maine and Nebraska. Colorado residents voted against switching to a proportional system in last week's election.

Yeah. That's totally wrong.

Maine and Nebraska do not proportionally allocate electoral votes. If they did, then Kerry would have won at least one of Nebraska's four electoral votes, since he earned more than 25% of the Nebraska vote, and Bush would have won at least one of Maine's four electoral votes, since he earned more than 25% of the vote in Maine.

That's what Colorado voters rejected on Election Day. For every 11% of the vote, a candidate earns 1 of 9 electoral votes. That's proportional.

Maine and Nebraska have a different winner-take-all system. The Maine State government site has a page here "Questions Students Frequently Ask" (in kid-friendly font) that should explain the difference to the Tempo editors who botched this one so badly.

There are three winner-take-all contests in Maine and Nebraska. One for two electoral college votes that the winner of the statewide vote gets. A second contest for one electoral college vote that the winner of the first congressional districts gets. And a final contest for one electoral college vote that the winner of the second congressional district gets.

So it is possible that the second-place candidate will win one of those contests and thus earn one electoral college vote, but unlikely. It hasn't happened in a long time.

And that is not proportional allocation. It is, instead, three winner-take-all allocations of the states' electoral college votes.

I'm waiting for a correction.

UPDATE AND DISCLOSURE: Oh yeah, I am bitter that I didn't win, since I did enter the contest and explained in my answer how the correct answer to the question is 'None' and did not get any response. Well, only a little bitter.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Relying on unsubsidized local taxes to run our governments is a bad idea

Our local governments run on subsidized and unsubsidized taxes and fees. Subsidized taxes and fees are those that the federal government pays a portion of -- unsubsidized taxes and fees are those that our region pays the full cost of. (Apologies for the split prepositions).

The property tax is partially subsidized. The sales tax is totally unsubsidized.

You can tell the difference by checking to see if the tax is deductible off of federal tax returns. If the tax is deductible, then for every dollar of the tax for our local government that a resident spends, the resident sends a few dimes less to D.C. (the same financial impact as if D.C. sent a check for a few dimes for every dollar spent to the city government).

The sales tax is very high in Chicago. 8 3/4 percent, counting the downtown tax for McPier. Mayor Daley has floated a sales tax increase of 1/4 percent -- unsubsidized -- to 9 percent, among the very highest in the nation.

That's bad policy, because the tax is unsubsidized.

Better would be a local income tax, as that would be subsidized by the federal government. Philadelphia and New York City both levy a local income tax of about 3% on incomes over (about) $90,000. That cost of local government is picked up by the federal government. So if the New York City local income tax raises $900 million from residents, the federal government kicks in $300 million in the form of federal taxes unpaid, leaving the city residents to pay only $600 million. That's a smart way to bring in federal dollars.

The challenge is making sure you don't set the income tax too high to cause the wealthiest residents to leave the city entirely, as well as ensuring that the money is wisely spent so residents feel OK about being taxed. That's one reason why progressives need to constantly push for more efficiency in government and not tolerate lazy public employees.