Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Kerry's labor line "I don't cross picket lines. I never have."

That's a good line. It puts him firmly on the side of labor which has to be totally energized for the Kerry campaign to beat the conservative affirmative action of the Electoral College. And it also conveys likable strength, which is one of Bush's main advantages over anyone else.

(But it also indicates Kerry's resume- and record-oriented attitude, as in: Vote for me, because I've been here in D.C. for 18 years and if you read the paper, you know I'd be a good president. I think that's part of why Iowa voters flocked to him, because they liked matching up his record of military service and foreign affairs to Bush's, but I'm not sure that the swing voters in the swing states care so much about resumes and records. I think that stuff plays better among educated people, and college-educated voters are not the deciding factors this year. I saw more of this orientation after his meeting with Nader, when he said something like 'I know you have your differences with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But I've had a different record in the Senate. I've been with you on these issues.')

Anyway, a nice line.

Why I'm picking Corrine Wood, and why Danny Davis is getting unfairly picked on

I'm behind the times. . . now that Chicago link-master Eric Zorn has blogged about predictions for the GOP substitute here, I should explain my reasoning for picking Team Corrine.

First, after the sex bomb, I think estrogen plays well right now. Judy Baar Topinka is not interested, and I think will probably beat Governor Blagojevich in the November 2006 governor's race (she was at the Pride Parade and he was not, so look for a partial echo of the lakefront voting for George Ryan instead of Glenn Poshard as in 98). That leaves. . . no one else besides Corrine Wood.

Her fast elevation in the GOP ranks abruptly stopped after the 02 cycle. Remember, she was not Jim Ryan's Lt. Gov. candidate in 2002, as she ran against him in the 02 primary (and her campaign helped Rod Blagojevich to squeak by in the 02 primary, since reform-oriented women that would have voted for Paul Vallas crossed over to vote for Corrine Wood in the GOP primary instead). Anyway, that gamble didn't work out. She could have replaced John Porter (Mark Kirk now holds that seat), if she had run in that primary election (at least, she would have had a shot). So where does she go from here? I think the Republicans know that running against Obama is becoming more and more of a longshot, so the goal in this campaign isn't so much to win but to hold the line. And the candidate can get in a better position for a competitive 2006 statewide run.

Corrine is much closer to the future face of the statewide party than some of the other candidates, largely because she's a woman. That's the outreach that growth-oriented Republicans know they need to make. She's clean (no one suggests that she got caught up in any of the George Ryan corruption that I'm aware of), pro-choice and (I hate this phrase) a fiscal conservative.

Plus, her husband is wealthy and she's hooked up with other wealthy folks up there in Lake Forest.

Why not Steve Rauschenberger? Why not a very sharp legislator that's as clean as can be and a principled conservative? Well, he might want the slot more that Corrine Wood, and the person who campaigns the hardest usually wins, but I just have a hunch that the GOP Central Committee will go for a woman and a former statewide office holder.

This assumes, of course, that Corrine Wood wants the slot. I think she does, but hey: what do I know?

On this topic of "what do I know" -- I like how everyone just assumes that the GOP Central Committee has the legal authority to fill the vacancy in nomination, even though it is pretty clear that the state law is very vague on the subject. It's as if there is no problem whatsoever. Maybe they think that even if the state law is very vague (which it is), they think that no one will challenge it. But it would be nice if someone admitted that there's a little ambiguity in state law -- especially in response to a reporter's question. I mean, there's plenty of time to look into this issue. Where are you, Big Print Media?

Finally, on Danny Davis. I think he's getting a bad rap. Why? Because there are a lot of nutjob black nationalists in our country, and the reality is and black Congressman has to deal with them. Those nutjob nationalists are their constituents, and they are very active. There was a lot of talk in the early Obama campaign in the press about how he was merging the black progressives and the black nationalists, which is not an easy thing to do. Well, Danny Davis has to do the same thing, and if some of those nutjob nationalists are members of some crazy group led by Reverend Moon. . . kiss the babies and show up for the parade. That's what elected officials do.

I think the cultural horror most white, educated people feel when looking at Congressman Davis presenting a crown to a self-proclaimed Messiah is somewhat analogous to the cultural horror lots of white, less-educated, pious Christians feel when they see the leader of the Party of Moral Values in Illinois (that's Judy Baar Topinka) actually celebrating the 'decadent and immoral lifestyle choices' of homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered people, in a parade of sexuality! Down the middle of the street! Those culturally conservative people just can't comprehend how an elected official -- a Republican! -- could associate with condemned-to-hell people that flaunt their deviant acts that are going to bring down our Christian nation. You know what I mean? It depends on what cultural lens you view something. And I'm just suggesting that most white people don't ever deal with black nationalists, so have not built up any immunity to some of their weirdness.

I don't know if anyone is a member of the Masons anymore, or of the Elks, but the weird stuff they do is somewhat analogous to the crazy stuff that Reverend Moon was doing. Not the same, but similar.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Bush on the ballot bill passes with no debate

Disappointing action out of the Illinois General Assembly -- Democrats have passed SB 2123 to accommodate the Republicans' September convention in New York City. It passed unanimously without anyone speaking against it a few minutes ago.

The bill is here.

I don't understand why Illinois Democrats are allowing the Bush campaign to take advantage of the 9/11 tragedy with an illegally (at least for now) late convention without even attempting to push back.

I really belive it's a dishonorable move by the Bush campaign, and the Democrats are just letting them get away with it. It's a real missed opportunity.

I understand that the NYC convention isn't the fault of the Illinois Republicans, and that the legislators are finding common ground while they camp out in Springfield after the governor calls a special session every day, but this is ridiculous.

The Jack! attack puts him back in the pack

I tried to rhyme. That didn't work.

Anyway, after a nice weekend off, the only insight about Jack Ryan's withdrawal from the race that I can offer would be future-oriented: primary voters should try to not be seduced by wealthy political virgins, especially those that are attractive (like Jack) and with an interesting story (like Jack).

Although, I did find his primary commercials about his bio some of the most condescending pieces ever aired. They went something like this:

(voice over with white letters on a black background)

After Jack Ryan graduated from Dartmouth College. . .

Got his MBA from Harvard Business School. . .

Made Partner at Goldman Sachs. . .

What's the next step?

(cue folksy music and switch to a picture of Jack)

Why, teach in an inner-city high school of course!

(cut to a picture of Jack surrounded by black boys in a classroom, and someone throws a paper airplane at his head, causing Jack to shrug and smile sheepishly)

As in: how could *ANYONE* ever decide to actually teach black kids after they've grown up in privilige and made a ton of money as an investment banker?! This guy must be some kind of a nutty saint!! To teach black kids!! WOW!!! This guy's so crazy it just might work!!

I mean, give me a break. That's nice that he's a teacher, but you know what, there are lots of teachers, and he doesn't deserve more credit or thanks that he went into teaching for a few years after he made a ton of money than someone who went directly into teaching. That was the implicit message, which I found rather condescending.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Statewide candidates shouldn't be government virgins

Essentially, Jack Ryan is a virgin to government. He's never served in elected or appointed office. That service gives people a real humility as to one person's limitations and also a sense of accountability to higher-ups.

Right now, when almost the entire Republican establishment is calling for Jack Ryan to step down, the candidate seems unmoved. I don't think one can keep that sense of absolute detachment from the urgent needs of other candidates and party leaders if one had any government service at all. It is a little odd, isn't it, that Jack Ryan just doesn't seem to care that the party leaders want him to step down. (Of course, that could be just his public face, but I suspect he believes that it is his decision alone and that calls by other party leaders are sort of meddling in 'his' campaign. I could be wrong.)

I think one lesson is that political virgins make for bad candidates. It's funny, because there's a deep urge for 'independent' candidates and 'independent' officials. But another word for 'independent' in 'unaccountable' and I'm beginning to see how the culture of governing in a democracy, which is always a consensus-seeking culture (either within a caucus or committee or chamber), can conflict with the urge for independence. Jack Ryan's relationship with the Illinois Republican Party right now is an example of that clash of cultures.

It's also odd, isn't it, that Jack Ryan alone has the entire Illinois Republican Party in his palm. He alone -- no committee, no group of elected officials, no electorate -- decides whether he will remain the candidate of the Republican Party. He alone decides whether Republican turnout is depressed or energized, as he alone decides whether to remain in the race. Pressure can be brought to bear on him, of course, but ultimately it is his decision. Even if every elected Republican in the state -- every precinct committeeman, every ward and township committeeman, every state legislator, county board members and Member of Congress -- unanimously decided they wanted a different candidate, there's nothing they can do about it. The decision remains for the government virgin to make (and I don't mean that pejoratively, but a civic-minded investment banker who taught high school for a few years has, in fact, no government experience).

In other nations where political parties are vested with more authority and control over their internal affairs, Jack Ryan would have been pulled off the ticket yesterday, whether he wanted to stay or not.

And for that matter, 100 years ago in the U.S. before the progressives championed the direct primary election, the old party caucuses that used to run the show ("King Caucus" they were called) would have yanked Jack Ryan off the ballot.

Isn't it interesting how election laws change the political culture? Right now we're all waiting for One Man's Decision. And all the Illinois Republican Party can do as an institution is complain.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

If there's a GOP substitution. . .it's Team Corrine. If it's legal, that is.

You heard it here first.

If Jack Ryan steps down, I'm calling the substitute as Corrine Wood. (Lake Forest mother of a few, wealthy husband, state representative for a term, George Ryan's Lt. Governor from 98-2002).

But. . .there's a wrinkle.

Does the Republican State Central Committee have the legal authority to substitute a candidate for the U.S. Senate after a withdrawal?

This was considered a vague area of state law, which is why explicit authority for the State Central Committees to fill vacancies in nomination (the technical term) for U.S. Senate candidates was put into the omnibus election reform bill which would have, among other things, put Bush on the ballot with their September convention and established the 14-day grace period for voter registration.

That omnibus was Senate Bill 955, as amended, but it was not called for a vote in the State Senate in those last crazy hours of May 31st. Here is the bill. So, maybe now that the pressure is on to substitute Jack Ryan, the Senate Republicans will vote for the omnibus bill (they had previously strenuously opposed the bill, objecting to some of the provisions as Dem-friendly while feeling forced to vote for them in order to get Bush on the ballot).

Without this explicit provision, which is on page 92 of House Amendment 4 of the SB 955, and reads:

Vacancies shall be filled by. . .[and this is the new part] State central committee in the case of a candidate for statewide office, including but not limited to the office of United States Senator

amending Section 7-61 of the Illinois Election Code

who currently has the authority to fill the vacancy in nomination?

My reading of the Election Code is: nobody. So the GOP needs this provision in order to replace Jack Ryan, if that's correct.

Which just might tip the balance in passing the whole thing. And so we'd have Jeri Lynn Ryan to thank, in part, for making voter registration easier in Illinois.

For more on the odyssey of this omnibus bill, read my archives. And I just read in Capitol Fax that there's talk of a special session in Springfield tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Jack Ryan: one kinky fellow. So what's the big deal?

Maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe there was some coercion.

But if the whole uproar is over someone taking his wife to some sex clubs and asking her to participate (especially when she was showing less and less interest in the husband, and if you're losing Jeri Lynn as a wife, you've got to try something), I don't see the big deal.

Sure: he lied to the Republican Party electorate and the bigwigs when he said there wasn't anything embarrassing, and as Zorn points on his column today, he apparently tried to use his kid to avoid having to open up the sealed divorce records. That's bad.

But the allegations themselves. . . . my reaction is, so what? The guy is a little kinky. Good for him.

I'm starting to think the frenzied reaction to the sex club stuff is rooted in some cultural prudishness. Lighten up, everybody! It's just sex.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Segal convicted! Ryan's files released! Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

It's too bad we don't have newsboys hawking papers on the streetcorner like in the 40s, because this afternoon would be a huge day for Illinois politics.

The jury convicted Mickey Segal on all counts today. Now. . will he flip and turn on any of the many powerful pols that he played with?

Jack Ryan's having a media availability right now at the Hilton with all his unsealed files available for review. What is in those files? When Rich Miller put up some docs a week or so before the primary (for like 30 minutes) I got a chance to read them. Are they true? Is it possible for any human being to resist the temptation to become an absolute gossip hound and pounce on every juicy detail. So far, I've failed miserably. I can't *wait* to read these things! It's so unfair. . .people who step forward to run for public office should be celebrated and not punished . . . but I can't help it.

And this is my Jack Ryan line:

You have to really question the judgment of anyone who at one time was married to Jeri Ryan, and now, for whatever reason, is not.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Dean, Schakowsky, Jackson, Del Valle rally yesterday in Lincoln Park for health care

My face is in pain. I spent four hours sitting in the sun yesterday, listening to the Bridge the Gap Health Care Rally in Lincoln Park. And quite stupidly, I didn't wear any sunscreen. Red face.

Anyway, it was a good rally. SEIU was fired up, as always. Dean's speech reminded me of why he was so good during the primary campaign -- incredulity at how much public money we spend and how little public service we get. It really is ridiculous -- 60% of our health care dollars are public dollars (directly or indirectly) and we're all getting pushed around by insurance bureaucracies if we have any coverage at all.

(Later at dinner with a conservative friend, he asked if I was for socialized medicine. And my retort was whether he was for the insurance companies. Because it's really one or the other. And I think we should try to put them -- 'them' meaning the status quo apologists -- into the box of defending the insurance companies. Because who, really, is for them?)

Jan Schakowsky's speech was decent (sort of vintage Schakowky -- 'Bush just doesn't get it!' with a few telling anecodtes of how the House Republicans walked all over the Democrats to push through the Medicare prescription drug benefit).

I really enjoy Reverend Jackson's speeches. I'm one of those few people who actually intone after him: I AM. . . .SOMEBODY. . . .WE NEED. . . . A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. . . . .FOR HEALTH CARE. . . . .

Keep hope. . .alive. . .keep hope. . .alive.

I like his cadence. And I like that his son has convinced him to push for a constitutional amendment. He (Junior, that is), wrote a fantastic book called "A More Perfect Union." -- read it. You can buy it here:

Dennis Gannon, head of the Chicago Federation of Labor, spoke about the Wal-Mart fight in the Council (with his South Side Chicago accent -- 'we gaht to work together' -- which I also enjoy.) Cities ought to start requiring companies that get a single dime in public subsidies to buy insurance for all of their employees. Or cities should just buy health insurance for all citizens financed by a local income tax. And Gannon made a good point that we ('we' meaning advocates) need to know the issues in order to influence decision makers. He called out his disappointment wih Mayor Daley and Finance Chairman Ed Burke for voting with Wal-Mart. I'm disappointed the lakefront aldermen all voted for Wal-Mart, except for Joe Moore. I don't know about Helen Shiller. But Tom Tunney, Vi Daley and Burt Natarus all voted for Wal-Mart.

A few people who have been absolutely ripped off from hospitals spoke, including one guy who was arrested for not paying his hospital bill in Champaign County, put in jail with something called a "body attachment" and when he posted bond to get out, part of the money went to the for-profit hospital! That smells like debtors' prison to me, and that ought to be illegal.

The last speaker who came late after most people left because he was at the Puerto Rican Parade was State Senator Miguel Del Valle. And he's great. He started out by saying "I'm going to talk about Democrats." And he RIPPED into the unnamed Democrats that are not investing in health care. One great line: "We must not be diverted from thinking that our problems are the Republicans and only the Republicans." (Which was sort of the message from the previous speakers -- if only we get rid of Bush, all will be well). Del Valle went on "We're in power now, and we're failing! We said we'd change things! For years, we blamed the Republicans and Pate Philip. Who will we blame now!?" and finally, at the emotional peak "I'll be damned if I'm going to allow Democrats once they're elected -- with your hard work, with your contributions, with you working the precincts, with your supporting the campaigns -- to not be held accountable!"

And this is the budget battle for state government now. We progressives wants more spending on health care. And there are only two ways to pay for that. One is to raise taxes. The other is to borrow. The first is responsible and the second is not. Governor Blagojevich wants to increase spending and also borrow (like using a credit card to buy groceries . . .oh wait, I do that. I'll think of a better example.) Senator Del Valle would increase taxes, one presumes. House Democrats do not want to borrow more money to finance current spending. And Republicans certainly don't want to borrow any more.

So if we want more health care spending, that we've got to pay for it. And we've got to demand that our elected Democrats who are running state government raise taxes to pay for it. Because if we don't, then who the hell is going to?

It's too easy to argue that we can increase spending -- as we should -- but not talk about paying for it. If we believe that we're right, and that we should spend more on expanding health insurance through the state to everyone in Illinois, then we must say so clearly. And not just blame the Republicans.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Colorado might start to break the winner-take-all rule in the Electoral College

This is great news.

There might be an initiative on the November ballot to allocate Colorado's 9 electoral votes by proportional representation. That is, for every 11% of the statewide vote a presidential candidate earns, the campaign is assigned 1 elector.

Now, of course, whichever candidate earns the most votes gets all 9 electoral votes. And that's bad for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it distorts the results. 55% of the vote should not mean 100% of the electoral votes. That's just not fair.

Anyway, here are a few links about the proposal: MakesMeRalph and the Denver Post and Outside the Beltway and a columnist in the Rocky Mountain News named Mike Rosen.

There are a few really fascinating wrinkles. One is that the initiative will be on the same ballot as the presidential election itself. So the rules of the Colorado election will not be known until after election day. The incentive with a swing state with a winner-take-all allocation (like Florida or New Hampshire) is to spend a lot of resources, because if just a few people change their mind and vote for your candidate, you get the whole enchilada. In a proportional state (and there aren't any right now -- Maine and Nebraska allocate by district winner for their 'house' electors and by statewide winner for their 'senate' electors), there isn't much incentive to campaign unless you think you can beat 55% (because that would mean you could get 6 electors instead of 5).

Another is that the initiative is funded by some wealthy Democrats who are keeping quiet (no website, no comments in the press). That suggests that they, at least, think that Colorado is likely to vote for Bush again (how could they!), so if they can implement a proportional allocation of electors, then Kerry gets 3 or 4 of those 9 Colorado votes. Which can matter quite a bit.

And you've got to believe that anyone who likes third parties (which is about a third of the electorate, I think) is going to absolutely vote for the initiative. It's not inconceivable that an independent or third party candidate could earn 11% of the statewide vote, and that would be enough to earn 1 of the 9 eletoral votes. Which, again, is only fair.

Of course, if no candidate earns a majority of Electoral votes, Congress decides in a special session. Why can't we just eliminate this ridiculously outdated relic? (And yes, I know. . .underpopulated parts of the country that like their affirmative action won't let go of their clout).

Another example of the downside of bicameralism -- Cuba policy

The federal government bans us from visiting Cuba, which if you haven't seen a map lately, is a huge island off the coast of Florida. I was surprised how big it is.

This travel ban is stupid. And here's the odd thing: a majority of U.S. Senators and a majority of U.S. Representatives have voted to either abolish the ban or not spend any federal money enforcing the ban. Yet somehow, the ban survives and we keep spending money on making sure we don't visit Cuba.

So dumb.

Here's how it happened, and why I'm ever more convinced we should abolish the U.S. Senate and have a unicameral legislature (and, by the way, do the same in every state except for Nebraska which already has a one-house legislature). So in the federal bill that funds the Transportation Deparment and the Treasury Deparment last fiscal year, the Senate voted 59-36 to not spend any money enforcing the Cuban travel ban. The House voted on the exact same amendment 227-188. But because the larger bills were different in each house, a conference committee was held with only a few electeds from each house serving on this committee. And the House leadership just eliminated the travel ban provision from the bill! It just. . .wasn't there any more. There wasn't a vote. It just disappeared.

If there was only one House of Congress, this manipulation couldn't happen. Conference committees are one of the single largest shortcomings of any bicameral legislature.

I learned about this manuever, by the way, when Senator Durbin sent me back a form letter after I emailed his office to eliminate the travel ban to Cuba. It was one of the best form letters I've gotten from a politician.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

European Parliament elections held -- what about North American Congress?

The European Parliament (what a great institution and a triumph of democracy) held elections last week. They used (of course) the only modern form of elections: proportional representation. 10% of the votes earns 10% of the seats and there are no feudal single-member districts.

Here's a factsheet.

My question is: when will we get a North American Congress elected from the people of Canada, the United States and Mexico, to make sure that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is working well and apply contintent-wide regulations and laws when things are breaking down -- like in transportation, drug trafficking and as we know here in Chicago, extradition, not to mention raising wages in Mexico so millions of Mexicans won't have to pay sketchy coyotes to come illegally into the U.S. and live as second-class non-citizens.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Fax Mayor Daley with one click to help get funding for CAN-TV

Thanks to the scrappy, savvy advocates at Chicago Media Action (here is their homepage), you can now fax Mayor Daley a letter asking him to support Alderman Bernie Stone's ordinance to fund CAN-TV from franchise fees paid by cable companies. CAN-TV is our local C-SPAN and a fantastic resource for democracy and transparent government.

Please click here if you live in Chicago to fax Mayor Daley. And if you don't live in Chicago, move here. And then fax Mayor Daley.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Interesting take on the Democratic Party and the bullies of Big Labor

I'm a big fan of labor unions -- especially for people who don't have them.

But some of the unions with the wealthiest members are absolute bullies.

And generally the Democratic Party capitulates to them.

Long term, Democratic electeds need to ensure that they aren't getting pushed around by unions in order to earn the support of younger and independent voters (like me).

This insight lifted entirely from this article from Joan Vennochi in the Boston Globe.

It plays out in Chicago at McCormick Place where the unions charge a ridiculous amount of money and refuse to do basic tasks if union work rules prohibit it (like only an electrician can plug in an extension cord). Of course, that's all hearsay as I've never seen it happen.

And it plays out with the teachers' union as some of the worst teachers who should be fired are protected by the union, when it's clear to everyone that we're all better off to get rid of the bad teachers and pay lots more money to hire great ones.

Fitzgerald is so good. . .that President Bush might hire a private criminal defense lawyer

This is awesome. Just awesome.

Chicago's own Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney from the Northern District of Illinois, has been appointed as a special counsel in the investigation related to the leak of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame (the wife of prominent Bush critic Joe Wilson).

The 'outing' of Valerie Plame to punish Wilson, which put her life and potentially other CIA operatives' lives in danger, is a crass and treasonous political move by someone in the Bush Administration.

But who?

That's what Patrick Fitzgerald is authorized to find out.

And as we know in Illinois, that man doesn't care what title someone has. He has indicted former Governor George Ryan. And now, he wants to question President George W. Bush.

And President Bush is thinking about hiring a private criminal defense lawyer!

MAN ALIVE! This is a ton bigger than whether a President had oral sex with a 22-year-old or made some money on a real estate deal. A President who might have known about a treasonous leak of an undercover intelligence officer is hiring a criminal defense lawyer.

This is HUGE!

This is not been part of the mainstream press (at least, what I've seen). I read about it in this Alternet article .

One thing about the article -- John Dean (the author) says that the Fitzgerald team based in Chicago doesn't know their way around Washington and that they haven't made friends with the Washington press corps.

Yeah. . .so they don't follow 'protocol' by avoiding a real investigation of powerful people, or suck up to journalists (like Bob Novak, an otherwise good columnist) who might be covering up for corrupt Administration officials. These guys know what they're doing. They are pursuing the powerful. They did it in Illinois (and continue to do so).

And my prediction: Fitzgerald won't blink before charging the President, the Vice-President, or any higher-up in the Administration or the establishment press with any crime if he finds they've done something wrong. And the D.C. Establishment has no idea what's coming.

I love it. Now, how about some press! Where are you John Kass (author of fantastic columns on Fitzgerald's independence and an unabashed Bush fan)? Ready to cheer on Fitzgerald's latest independent investigation?

Good news -- federal judge tosses out prohibition on transit agencies accepting ads about drug war

From the Drug Policy Alliance:

Enormous Victory for Alliance as Judge Tosses Rep. Istook's Free-Speech Gag
Thursday, June 3, 2004

Not allowing drug policy reform advertising on subways, trains and buses is blatantly unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled June 2 in a lawsuit filed by the Alliance and our partners against the federal government. The judge's decision effectively strikes down a law passed by Congress this year that prohibited the Drug Policy Alliance and other reform groups from buying ad space on the Washington, DC subway system to attack the unjust imprisonment of marijuana users.


I called up the Drug Policy Alliance last year to ask why more advocacy wasn't happening in Illinois on the budget-busting drug war. And the Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann got on the phone.

I encourage you to join their organization. You can join here. Those $20 contributions do add up.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

848 on WBEZ Thursday morning

Just taped an interview with Steve Edwards, host of 848 on WBEZ.

The interview was about Mayor Daley and Chicago as the Greenest City in America, following up the Conscious Choice story from April. We did it with Lisa Chamberlain from Metropolis magazine, who did the interview with Mayor Daley with me and wrote a good article.

The story should air this Thursday during 848 (starts at 9:35 am) so tune in if you can (online or on air).

Update: you can listen to the story here or stream the RAM file here.

Did Reagan's massive military budget-buster hasten the breakup of the USSR? Naaaah.

That's the standard story: the USSR went broke because they couldn't keep up with the arms race with the US (and we sort of went broke in the 80s to finance that massive military, but that's another story).

Sam Smith at the Progressive Review helps to debunk that myth. Freedom-loving people in the Soviet Empire broke open the USSR -- and the patriots and champions in the Soviet Union who destroyed the empire deserve far more of the credit than the financially-irresponsible policy makers in DC during the 80s.

Here's the link.

Covering birth expenses -- why punish employers of young women?

Thanks to Senator Chris Lauzen's always-thoughtful Voice from the Senate Floor (the current one is here), I had a thought about the way we current cover the medical cost of births.

According to Senator Lauzen, Medicaid (through the State-administered FamilyCare) covers two out of every five births in the state.

What about the other three?

A good chunk come from for-profit insurance companies that make money by charging higher premiums and approving fewer hospital bills. So there are companies making money off of births.

Here's the interesting part. Consider a small business with six or seven employees. They do buy health insurance for workers. Now, the owner is hiring an eigth employee. A man and a woman both apply. Both of them plan to have kids in the next couple of years.

If the company hires the woman, those birth costs will be absorbed by the other seven employees, and all of their premiums will rise.

If the company hires the man, those birth costs will not be absorbed by the other seven employees (assuming the mother has her own insurance, or if not, just change the hypothetical to make the same point to a single man), and premiums will not rise.

So the current way of funding 3 out of 5 Illinois births through for-profit insurance companies is essentially a tax on hiring women.

Right? If that's not right, someone explain it to me.

And if that is right, then it seems to be the best way to promote economic development for small business is to take the burden of covering the cost of births off of the company's balance sheet, and have the state cover every birth.

That takes away the unfair distortions in the hiring market (go ahead and hire young soon-to-be mothers, small business owners, as your premiums will not rise!) and should lower the cost of insurance as the insurance companies will no longer have to pay for births. Of course, government spending will rise, but I'll bet it will either come out in the wash (the amount of government spending on all births will roughly equal the amount of business expenses on births) and potentially the government can do it cheaper because there wouldn't be hundreds of different insurance bureaucracies to navigate through for every birth.

I think I'm going to ask Senator Iris Martinez to put in a bill.

UPDATE (6/11): Senator Martinez is very interested. We're working on researching this issue now to see if there really is a problem of discrimination in the hiring market against women based on the cost of maternity insurance, and also if our proposed remedy makes sense. Any help would be appreciated, both on the research end and with finding more supporters.

This, by the way, would be my dream job. Helping to pass innovative state laws -- models for the nation -- that promote the general welfare and help to form a more perfect union. I'm doing some of that now in my spare time without any financial backers. If I had some backers. . . .

Friday, June 04, 2004

Miami police crackdown on peaceful protesters during FTAA reprimanded

Good news out of Miami. A civilian panel overseeing the actions of Miami police during the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement neogitations in Miami last year came out with a draft report that reads, in part:

''The members of the Independent Review Panel strenuously condemn and deplore the unrestrained and disproportionate use of force,'' reads the panel's draft executive summary, released last week.

``Most importantly, we extend our heartfelt apologies to the visitors who came to our city to peaceably voice their concerns, but who were met with closed fists instead of open arms.''


The Miami Herald article is here.

In too many civic gatherings, the police get freaked out by wild talk of anarchists coming to burn down the city and they take it out on citizens with rough arrests, beatings and pepper spray.

I was in L.A. during the Democratic National Convention in 2000, and the police totally overreacted there. In the middle of a Rage Against the Machine concert outside the Staples Center, while I was handing out instant runoff voting pamphlets to delegates going into the Center (through a massive chain-link fence, mind you), the police came in with a wall of horses, shields and pepper spray and forced everyone out of the way. Then they started shooting bean bags and rubber bullets. I saw an old lady get hit. I saw a young hippie girl get hit in the face. For no reason.

Reporters were scrambling. At one point, I felt compelled to raise my arms! As in: don't shoot me.

Especially with the increased merging of police and the military, we've got to keep our law enforcement sane and civil and not let a few bad apples (who are sometimes in charge) spoil the bunch.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Affordable housing plan killed by Cook County Recorder of Deeds Gene Moore

Mark Brown has a great column here in today's Sun-Times about how Cook County officials killed a smart program to get more affordable housing in Illinois. The culprit? Gene Moore.

I won't paraphrase the column anymore than I already have, but those guys were working on this bill hard all session, and the bill should have passed.

Let's consolidate some of these county offices (recorder of deeds, clerk, clerk of the circuit court, assessor), save some money and have fewer people to monkey around with good state legislation.

The NYC September convention and changing state election law for Bush -- more news

The Chicago Sun-Times in this article and the Illinois Leader in this article cover the election bill manueverings that ended in Senate President Jones not calling the bill in the last late hours of the regular Senate session, so it now must each 36 votes (with three Republican Senators) in order to make it to the Governor.

I think that (a) Democrats have done a pretty bad job of framing this issue, as no part of the story involves placing blame at the Bush campaign's table for trying to exploit the 9/11 tragedy by holding a political rally in New York in September, in clear violation of Illinois state law and (b) Republican Senators are making a mountain out of a molehill in the Democratic-friendly provisions of the election bill, as a grace period for voter registration up to 14 days before the election also helps any Republican campaigns that are actually trying to register new voters (like Judy Baar Topinka is aggressive trying to do) and that the exlcusion of the Department of Natural Resources from the bill's requirement to provide voter registration does not prohibit the Department from going ahead and providing the forms.

I'd like to make a prediction on the passage of this bill, but I thought it would be passed by now. I have to assume that it is now part of the negotiations over the upcoming Big Deal to pass the budget as a chit from the Senate Dems to the Senate GOP. But if the Republicans do go to court and get a federal judge to put Bush on the ballot, then there isn't much reason for three Republican Senators to vote for the thing (if they stick to their apparent perception that Republicans don't need to register new voters!) But, to be fair, I think the other thing driving the Republicans opposition to the bill is a sense that they deserve a vote on just putting Bush on the ballot without any other issues. The only problem with that sense is that the Senate already gave them that clean vote which passed unanimously (much to my chagrin), and Speaker Madigan chose not to call that bill in the House.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Insightful article by Cal Skinner

The Illinois Leader has this article by Cal Skinner that helped me to understand some of the state budget dynamics.

I think we should raise the income tax to 4% or 5% instead of having the lowest income tax rate in the Midwest at 3%. Even Indiana has a higher income tax rate at 3.4%.

Also, Rich Miller has a great tidbit in yesterday's Capitol Fax -- James Meeks, the Independent state senator from the south suburbs, has called himself a free agent. And if you ask me, the fact that his grace period bill didn't get called in SB 955 (or that Speaker Madigan didn't call SB 2133 which still remains in Rules) has something to do with his unhappiness with the Democratic Party leadership this week.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Dateline Springfield: Somebody put a tent over this circus

Maybe someone can explain this logic.

Until midnight, your party is running the show. So you've got the last day (May 31st) to get your bills out before the Republican caucus, with increasing solidarity, gets dealt in since the requirement to pass a bill raises from 50% to 60%.

So on the last day with lots of bills that the Republicans have (wisely or unwisely) chosen to oppose, what do you do?

I know: not pass any of them.

You, instead, putz around all day, and when you get to business at 8 at night, then you debate a budget bill for three hours that -- get this -- can't pass the House since they've adjourned.

Leaving you no time to pass any of the bills, and giving the Republicans a veto over all legislation.

That is what happened tonight.

The grace period legislation might have died. It should have passed the Senate. It didn't. Why not?

You tell me.

They just didn't get around to it.

Sloppy and disorganized.

The problem is that the bill got sucked out of the regular legislative process of getting assigned to a substantive committee, getting a hearing, getting voted onto the floor, etc. Instead, Speaker Madigan decided to put all election-related bills into an omnibus election bill, SB 955.

And that didn't pass the Senate tonight.

The grace period voter registration bill did pass the Senate back in March, but Speaker Madigan decided not to let it follow the regular course. Instead, it stopped in the House Rules Committee. That bill is SB 2133.

So now, June 1st, Senate Republicans have a veto over passing any legislation, and they have shown no interest in the grace period. It's perceived as a Democratic bill. That assumes that Republicans don't work to register voters, but hey, maybe they're right. Democrats sure seem to like the bill more than Republicans, so maybe they're on to something.

I'm just flabbergasted.

This has to be considered a major screw-up. Not just my little bill that I worked on. The fact that Democrats dealt in the GOP into this budget (because they sure didn't pass a budget) is a massive screw-up.

With no good excuse.