Friday, July 30, 2004

New York Governor Pataki vetoes minimum wage increase. He should live on $5.15 an hour. And you can help override the veto.

From the Working Families Party in New York State comes this word:

after passing state legislation through the New York Senate and House to raise the $5.15/hour mimium wage to $7.10, Governor Pataki vetoed the bill.

One more reason why voting for Democrats matters -- especially when they aren't horrible Democrats.

(Can you believe there's a Republican Governor in New York State? What's the deal with that? Then again, there's a Republican Mayor of New York City, so what are you going to do?)

If you know anyone in New York State, ask them to email Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Albany) and schedule a vote to override the veto.

His email is or you can mail a letter to Sen. Joseph Bruno, 909 LOB, Albany NY12247 or fax: 518-455-2448.

Hey, at least Governor Blagojevich signed (and campaigned on) the minimum wage bill in Illinois in 2003. He might have had a pretty useless 2004 session, but he and the rest of the General Assembly had a pretty great 2003 session. And note that advocates in New York State pointed to Illinois and California as the other two big industrial states that hasn't had any job loss from our state increase in the minimum wage. Progress here helps progress elsewhere.

(Hey, students looking for a paper to write. Write a paper on the effect of the minimum wage increase in Illinois. Any job loss? If you can show that there has not been, that will help. Call some business; do a survey. It will help).

Why do beaches close? Because we don't treat our sewage correctly. And that's unacceptable for Lake Michigan and Chicago.

I found the Lake Michigan Federation looking for more information on the link between untreated sewage, heavy rains and Chicago beach closings. This group (which I joined online here, you should too), has all the information.

Check this fact sheet out.

The kicker:

MWRD opens the Wilmette Locks to release sewage to Lake Michigan when the Channel can no longer handle wastewater overflows.


This must stop. There has got to be a better way than releasing sewage into the Lake. What is this, the 17th century? And we have to close the beaches because of bacteria/sewage in the water? COME ON!

Three good parts of the Kerry speech (too bad he's so rich and stiff)

I liked these lines:

1. The reference to corporate welfare.

2. We should break our dependence on the Saudi royal family.

3. Roll back the tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% (those earning more than $200,000).

If he hadn't explicitly made the case to bring back the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6%, then we'd be stuck.

But man! That guy seems like the Millionaire on Gilligan's Island. So stiff. It seemed like he was the rich uncle trying to play with his kids -- smiling at the concept but not really enjoying the experience. He just doesn't like chanting along with crowds, does he? Remember Clinton? "Give me that power, George Bush. If you won't use it to help people, then give it to me." and you just *wanted* him to get that power. You sure didn't get that sense with John Kerry. "Reporting for duty" was a good tagline, because giving that speech did seem like a duty that he didn't particularly relish. I'm glad he was dabbing off the sweat on his forehead.

Anyway, some great lines. Help is on the way is good. "Stronger at home, respected around the world" seems empty to me. Who cares if we're respected around the world? That seems like we care too much about what other countries think about us. Not so macho. Maybe it polls well with the swing voters in the swing states. Well, I'm quite sure it would poll well with them; otherwise, it wouldn't be the motto of the convention. But it doesn't resonate with me.

What a downer that the networks didn't carry Obama's speech. You know, we should yank their licenses from the FCC. Who they hell are they to get a license -- for free -- and not even devote an *hour* of coverage of the Democratic National Convention a night! A freakin' hour! That should be a requirement of getting their license to broadcast. And maybe Senator Obama will introduce it. . . .

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Some random thoughts from the Boston convention

I'm on the treo so forgive the typos, lack of paragraphs and the lack of any structure to these posts. Instead of any attempt at eloquence I'll aim for sharing some scribbled impressions in an attempt to give you a feel for the DNC. The police have swarmed the city. City police seem nice. Some state police are nice. The state police dressed all in black without visible badge numbers or any identification at all seem mean. A twin row of six of them refused to make eye contact as they passed by. As if following orders, each in turn looked to the ground as we passed each other. With random bag checks on the subway and visible snipers near the convention center it has the smell of a police state. Inside it has the feel of an endless meeting with no real purpose. If it's a show it is a numbingly boring one. I was given credentials tonight (thanks MF) so had access to seats. They are general admission and they did fill up. I left after 30 minutes. 5 hours of speeches to get to John Edwards is just too much for me. The crowds, the heat, the sensory overload is exhausting. I found that I had to go walk around alone. That's when I walked by Sarah Jessica Parker wearing some hip John 04 John black T-shirt. Sightings are a big part of the convention. I feel that if I knew the faces of every mayor and legislator in the nation I'd be able to recognize half the crowd. About 70 percent of the crowd are suits and almost everyone has a bit of that self-important air about them. For some people this is a real trade show and they are doing business this week. That professionalism contrasts with the guys hawking Dem T-shirts and credit cards (free donkey shirt if you apply now). Al Sharpton's entourage includes a kid with an identical perm. Very few Members of Congress have a bodyguard which does contribute to the egalitarian spirit. It's only egalitarian if you're in, outside the free speech zone is a fenced-in cage with netting on the top. It's interesting to see the mix of people. But it's also a boring subject matter and four days to pump up John Kerry feels way too long.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Christina Erickson of JKTees solved the riddle of where those hip John 04 John shirts came from: her company. If you have been looking for the shirts, go to to buy one. And tell them DJW sent you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The nation has 600,000 Illinois Democratic voters to thank for Barack Obama's keynote speech

How did this happen? How did one of our best and brightest rise to prominence? Partly because 600,000 people on a cold March Tuesday in Illinois voted in a primary election for him. Most pundits talk about Barack's traits: his intelligence, charisma and drive. And they ask 'how did *he* do it?' as if he climbed a mountain or ran a marathon. But the truth is that we in Illinois did it. We made Barack Obama powerful with our votes. And we picked an excellent representative. I think that part can get lost. I think that's why old men were crying tonight - cunning, tough, wily, *elected* old men. Because they know that they helped make Barack Obama powerful. And they feel part of something bigger than themselves and something nobler. A thoughtful electorate is the greatest force for justice in the world. Because of our votes a few months ago (and all the work that led up to those votes), the nation will be a more humane and decent country than before. That's the sense of power and promise from Barack Obama that makes old state senators cry.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Obama party . . . fire department shut down

Here in some shopping mall Barack has a party. And the place is so packed the fire department is shutting it down. I'm here with lots of the Obama campaign staff who are also locked out of the upstairs. You've got to take an escalator to get to the 'real' party but down here in the lobby the liquor is free and the music is loud. But Alex, Amelia, another Alex who works for Schakowsky, Madhuri and Josh who works for Axelrod are all with me downstairs. Wait. . .we are going up. bye

Barack is speaking now. . .wild.

What a thrill. I'm in O'Hare watching Barack speak. The whole place is waiting and watching. A buddy of mine is going to Boston as well who works for David Axelrod and he tells me that Barack wroe the whole thing himself. (and now Barack can not afford to give up his precious seconds to let the audience cheer. . .he just talks right over them). The plane is leaving any minute. 'We have got more to do America' is a good line. Eradicate the slander that a black youth with a book is acting white. . .good line. This sounds a lot like his kickoff speech in the primary about a year ago. The candor works. Damn got to get on the plane.

Mix of personalities the best partof a convention

A nice Sun-Times article today mentioned how Governor Blagojevich joked that he was asked to address the delegates in the mens' room at 4 am. And Mayor Daley in his old school way took offense! 'Every delegate is important' he intoned. I love that human element of politics (probably why I like the legislature so much) and I wish I was on the floor to see more of it. Who knew Blagojevich is so funny?

On the way to Boston. . . campaigning for Kerry feels like taking out the garbage

In a cab on the way to the Blue Line (chasing a 7 o'clock flight) for Boston after getting stuck working all day in Chicago. Is it irony that I have been working on the just-filed federal complaint for Ralph Nader's campaign to try to stay on the Illinois ballot? I may be personally supporting Kerry but it feels like taking out the garbage. There is nothing fun or inspiring about it but I don't want to deal with the consequences of not doing it.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Cambridge event Wednesday on the future of American democracy for DNC groupies

I may not get my press credential, but I'm still going to Boston tomorrow.

Mostly because I helped to put together an event with the City of Cambridge and my part-time employer, the Center for Voting and Democracy.

The forum is on the Future of American Democracy.

Why Cambridge? Because it is the future.

Cambridge uses proportional representation to elect its city council. This is how each state should elect its congressional delegation. Council members are elected citywide. No districts. Voters get to rank the candidates (1, 2, 3). If a candidate earns 1/9 of the vote, she is elected to 1 of the 9 seats.

So Republicans elect one or two council members. Every conceivable ethnic and racial minority has a fair shot. And the council represents all of Cambridge, instead of just the majority of voters of Cambridge.

The forum's information is here and here. (Hey look, I'm on Cambridge's website!)

I just found out that California Assembly Member Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) who is supposed to talk about San Francisco's exciting use of instant runoff voting this November just got the call to get on a plane to Sacramento because the Speaker has reconvened. That sucks for all those California state electeds who have to miss out in Boston. Horrible timing. I was worried the Illinois delegation would end up in Springfield.

Anyway, the forum should be really interesting. Congressional elections are largely broken (95% gerrymandered one-party districts makes for no choices on Election Day). The majority of voters can split the vote (just ask Al Gore). There are easy solutions that most of the world's democracies already practice: proportional representation and instant runoff voting.

Even the Democratic National Convention uses proportional representation to allocate delegates. How else could there *be* any Kucinich delegates? (Quick trivia: Keynote speaker Barack Obama was a delegate for one presidential candidate. Which one? Answer later.)

That's the way our Congress should be -- as broadly representative of the country as the DNC is representative of the Democratic Party electorate. And the way we do that is to dump single-member districts and use proportional representation.

So. . .come to the forum Wednesday from 1-3 pm at Cambridge City Hall! And stick around afterwards for the open house for another two hours.


Sunday, July 25, 2004

I hope the keynote isn't all about John Kerry

I've read that Barack Obama's keynote is likely to be mostly about John Kerry's life of public service.


I guess that's what you have to do, but I hope his speech is more uplifting and broader than a biography of John Kerry. When he's off the cuff, Obama is energizing. I hope all his managers and media mavens don't suck the spontaneity out of him during the speech.

Threat of O'Hare flight caps should spur city to back rail

A Sun-Times story describes Mayor Daley lobbying President Bush during his Chicago visit on the subject of a cap on flights to O'Hare. The airport is one of the worst in terms of delays which can clog up the whole country. The City has not really backed one obvious remedy: high speed rail. I am constantly bewildered to see how many flights into O'Hare are from cities less than 200 miles away. Milwaukee, Springfield, Madison, Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Indianapolis. Why are we using precious slots at O'Hare for these dinky puddle jumpers to send 20 people to Bloomington when we could be sending 200 to Tokyo? Just imagine the big planes all in a line waiting to take off and these tiny little planes waiting with them. It's not a good use of O'Hare's resources. And with better rail service that connects to O'Hare people can take a train to Springfield after flying in from LA or DC. I don't really know why we don't have the world's best rail service out of Chicago (a city built on railroads), but I do know we should.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Letter to the editor in Sun-Times; budget is finally moving

I had a letter in Thursday's Sun-Times here, which reads:

Citizen pain

One quibble with Cindy Richards' column trashing the Five Tops negotiating public policy behind closed doors and expecting the other 173 legislators to simply ratify the massive agreement without public debate or scrutiny: She identifies ''us, the taxpayers'' as the big loser. I'd suggest we lose more as citizens than taxpayers. We citizens shape public policy, demand transparency and are now shut out of our own state Legislature. We taxpayers (some of whom, like corporations, aren't citizens) just foot the bill.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger,
Near North Side

(I didn't come up with that cute headline).

I think the budget agreement has been introduced and the General Assembly is in session today and tomorrow and expected to pass the budget by Sunday. Three days isn't enough time to get a good budget. This should have started in January, with single-agency budgets and move through the regular legislative process (committee hearings, committee amendments, etc.).

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Illinois Republicans ought to just hold another election.

Supporting Obama for Senate is starting to feel like supporting Daley for Mayor. Everybody's doing it. It's not even a debate. Mayor Daley is probably the only elected official that *every* other candidate running for a lower office endorses and puts on campaign literature. I mean, every one. In the 2003 aldermanic races, both candidates would make Daley / Stone (or whatever) signs. Both of them!

Can you imagine?

What other city or state has every legislator running on the same self-identified ticket at the mayor or governor?

Every candidate wanted to be associated with Daley. It wasn't even a contest. It was just the consensus.

And the Obama for Senate 'campaign' is starting to feel that way. Still no Republican candidate. Jack Ryan still refuses to withdraw (what game is he playing?). Pity poor Jerry Kohn, Libertarian candidate for the Senate who is insulted every time people say Obama has no opponent. And now it is starting to feel like there is a consensus that Obama not only will be the next U.S. Senator, but that he ought to be. There's a feeling that Illinois is doing the right thing by electing one of the nation's brightest legislators to the Senate. And that's why Republicans are having a hard time finding someone to run. Because suburban women are going to *flock* to the Obama camp. Culturally conservative Downstaters are going to vote for Obama because the Bush/GOP economy with free trade and wealthy-people tax cuts are bringing down their wages, and Obama doesn't scare them. He could get 60% of the vote.

So what should Illinois Republicans do? The State Central Committee is the body that will fill the vacancy, whenever Jack Ryan gets around to officially withdrawing. (Never mind that they don't really have specific statutory authority . . . that will be tactfully ignored). How should these 19 people decide who to pick?

They should sponsor an old-fashioned election where the party pays for it, not the state.

They should pick a day in August (maybe on Republican Day at the State Fair) where anyone who actually voted in the March 2004 primary can show up and write down the name of whoever they want to be the Senate candidate. (This will be like the pre-Australian ballot days circa 1910 or so).

People will have to trek to the county office or the township office to vote. And then whoever gets the most votes wins. (Or better yet they can use instant runoff voting, so the winner earns a majority of the vote, but whatever. My group actually did a project on instant runoff voting in party primaries here at, if you're interested).

I think it would be a blast. Lots of people could run. They could do something positive. It could be one fun thing to come out of the Senate disaster for the Republicans. I'd even be a little jealous.

It sure seems a little more legitimate that 19 people picking somebody behind closed doors.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Cynthia McKinney's coming back to Congress. . .awesome

I sent in my $20 to the Cynthia McKinney campaign, but didn't really think she'd win. Now it looks like one of the Congress' most outspoken progressives is coming back after getting knocked out in 2002 by a big GOP cross-over vote in the primary, and that's great news. She was pegged as anti-Israel, but today, just talking about Israel has become a taboo in the U.S.. Since McKinney has been willing to challenge U.S. policy towards Israel, she got targeted. I think that's wrong, as our foreign policy needs vigorous critics, and I'm glad to see her come back to Congress.

This Reuters story has Cynthia McKinney leading the primary field for a triumphant return to Congress.

I first heard about her race Monday night at the IVI-IPO dinner when emcee Cliff Kelley mentioned that he hoped she would win.

She has been an outspoken advocate for ending single-member districts. She's pushing for instant runoff voting. And she's that rare elected Democrat who reaches out to third party voters instead of demonizing them (she came and spoke to a Campus Greens convention in Austin last year).

I like a heterogeneous legislature and Cynthia McKinney's voice ought to be heard. Good news! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Speaker Madigan, Republicans and progressives. Who's included and who's excluded?

This is a fascinating interview in the State Journal-Register with Speaker Madigan. (Thanks to the Os-blog for the link). Here, Adriana Colindres interviews Speaker Madigan in a question and answer format. After Madigan describes his 'coalition government' between himself and the two Republican caucuses against Senator Jones and the governor, this question:

Q: Do you expect the coalition government - is it a long-term coalition or is it purely for this session?

A: No, my plan is to continue my engagement with the Republicans. And my engagement with the Republicans did not start with the budget. Over the last year and a half, I’ve gone out of my way to engage with the House Republicans, so there have been several issues, one being the proposal for the Board of Education, another being public hearings on prison closings, another being public hearings on debt responsibility and fee-for-service, where I have deliberately engaged with Republicans, asked them to come in and join us in consideration of this issue. Much of this activity has been with House Republicans because that’s simply the nature of the legislature. But going forward, I plan to continue this policy, which is a policy of inclusion, OK, not exclusion. I was the practitioner of exclusion at one time. I was the victim of exclusion in ’95 and ’96, and during those two years, I learned that it’s a mistake, that the right policy for a legislature is inclusion. I’m going to do that with everybody - House Republicans and Senate Republicans, just as I did this year. I think the people want that.
This is fascinating on several levels.
One, I do think Madigan is right on the policy to avoid excessive borrowing.
Two, how many of the 67 House Democrats agree with the Speaker? How many of them would rather implement the GOP agenda (less spending)? My guess is less than half. My guess is more than half of the caucus agrees with the Senate Democrats and the governor: spending this year is better for the economy and the state, even if through somewhat irresponsible borrowing instead of a tax hike. So what gives? If Speaker Madigan doesn't reflect the House Democrats, how can he get away with it? That's why Blagojevich has started his MILF fund (which is the funniest acronym for a PAC I've ever seen -- doesn't anyone on his political staff watch Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and know what MILF stands for?) to support House Dems. That's why Senate President Jones is furious at black House Dems. They sense a disconnect between the House Democratic caucus and the Speaker's position.
Three, which group is more important to the Speaker: progressives or Republicans? Sounds like Republicans. I could be over-emphasizing the interview, but that's what it sounds like.
Four, isn't there something nice about Speaker Madigan admitting that he was too harsh on the Republicans before Daniels took over in 95 and 96, and that he thinks a more inclusive style is a better way to go?
Fifth, and then I'll stop banging this drum: why does Speaker Madigan define 'everybody' as the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans? As in, I'll include everybody in public policy decisions. It will be me, the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans.
I met Garnet Coleman, a Texas Democratic state representative. He was one of the legislators who tried to stop the Tom Delay executed redistricting of the Texas congressional map by denying the legislature a quorom and staying out of state to avoid arrest. Yeah, arrest. He told me that when the Democrats ran the legislature, they would usually try to find common ground with the Republicans, and ultimately the end result would be closer to the GOP. When the Republicans took over, they just ignored the Democrats. Representative Coleman looked over his shoulder, and as if snapping at a dog, yelled "No!" That's how the Democrats were treated. And the end result of budgets and policies was in the heart of the GOP position, nowhere close to the Democrats.
I'm not saying that Speaker Madigan is wrong to deal in Republicans (which means that the state budget moves closer to GOP positions). I am saying that his decision to do that hurts progressives, because progressives might approach a majority of the Democratic caucus, and if Illinois Dems governed like Texas Republicans, we'd have more progressive budgets and policies than we do now. And that would raise living standards for millions of people in our state.

1.2 billion on TV commercials this year for political ads. No wonder we don't tax wealth.

This is really out of control.
This year candidates will spend (and raise) more than a billion dollars on television commercials alone.
Where do you think that billion comes from?
Wealthy people.
No wonder we tax work more than wealth.
This story in Crain's Chicago Business covers the Chicago stations sulking about missing out on the bonanza (instead of $60 million in ads they'll only get $3 million, and that's just for people in Kenosha who watch Chicago TV).

Monday, July 19, 2004

60th anniversary of IVI-IPO and the loneliness of politics

Maybe I'm just a big depressed by getting bonged from the DNC convention, but I can't stop thinking about some of the lonelier parts of politics.
When I was an undergrad at Illinois (Urbana), Dick Durbin came to campus to speak. He was running for the Senate seat (then a Congressman from south of Springfield) in the 96 primary against Pat Quinn. He spoke to a small room of strangers in the Illini Union (and took a question from me about cumulative voting, which he said he liked, fyi), and then went to a small fundraiser at someone's Urbana home. The cost was $53 (or something like that) because he was there on his birthday. What a downer -- to spend your birthday in the company of strangers.
I was at the State of Illinois building the day they renamed it the Thompson Center in honor of former Governor Jim Thompson. There was a reception and a speech. And Governor Thompson talked about the magnifcent building (which is a stunning building -- my favorite interior in Chicago. Check it out here) and the vision of open, transparent government reflected in the glassy, transparent, door-less building. And then he said to the current governor I confess I only vividly recall the word, which chilled me at the time): "there is great responsibility. . .and loneliness. . .at the top."
Tonight I went to the Independent Voters of Illinois - Independent Precinct Organization's 60th anniversary dinner. At the end, five men were to reminisce about their times with the organization. Two of them were ancient (Dan Canter and Marshall Holleb). Abner Mikva, Dick Simpson and Tim Black each said a few words. And Tim Black confessed that he wished he had run for state senate from the south side with a multi-racial coalition backing him including IVI, instead of just running with black support, as he thinks he would have won and also helped Abner Mikva win his first run for Congress, delaying his election to D.C. an additional two years.
I'm not sure why that made me lonely but it did. Maybe because I brought some Obama T-shirts in some luggage and didn't really try to get them to people (and just brought them back home afterwards). Maybe because State Representative Robin Kelly who won an award for her work to try to pass a grace period of an additional 14 days for citizens to register to vote (instead of the current 28 day deadline) didn't come as she was stuck in Springfield in a special session. Maybe because the bill didn't get passed after all, and I thought it would be law now. And all that work hasn't really amounted to anything. (I know, maybe it will pass in 2005. But still.)
The mundane and the depressing can overwhelm the moments of uplifting nobility. John Kass had a column a few days ago in the Tribune that has sunk me into funk.
He wrote paragraphs like these:
In politics, what is brutalized is what is inside your heart. Once that's gone, once there is hardly anything left inside of you to hurt, then you're finally one of them. You've made the team. Congratulations.
Leadership in Illinois politics isn't about excellence. It is a tribal art practiced by men with soft hands. They lead by consensus, and consensus is measured by who gets what and how much.
What kind of a profession is that? Your lose your soul by representating people in a legislature? And what does that second paragraph even mean? I marvel at his poetry, but what does it mean? Consensus-driven politics is a drive to avoid disagreements. That is the culture in the Illinois General Assembly. Why does John Kass make that seem dirty?
I'm not foregoing a higher salary and hanging around decision-makers with my nagging for better politics in order to lose my soul. (One really good progressive lobbyist was called a 'stalker' by a state senator at the end of the regular session. But I think she got her bill through). I'm searching for something more noble. I'm searching for justice. And I think I'm more likely to find it in the House of Representatives than from a black-robed official with a gavel called a judge.  

Friday, July 16, 2004

Federal > $200,000 income tax rate cut to 35% (from 39.6%) = higher tuition for state schools

STATE COLLEGE TUITIONS TO RISE AN AVERAGE OF TEN PERCENT STATELINE - State colleges and universities will raise tuition by an average 10 percent for the coming school year, according to new projections by a higher education organization. A survey of 60 public universities, which enroll more than 900,000 students, found that yearly costs for college classes will increase from $4,900 to $5,375 starting this fall, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges reported July 14.
This is what it means when the GOP tax cuts on income over $200,000 leave the government with much less money to send to state governments: tuition goes up. And building the middle class gets more difficult.
College should be free. And we should go back to the Clinton tax rate of 39.6% of all income over $200,000 in order to pay for free tuition.
Keep in mind that this is what most of the Bush tax cuts are about when we start to roll them back. Whether the people with the highest incomes should pay 39.6% or 35% on the income over $200,000. That's the fight. On the one side, the people making more than $200,000. On the other side, the 900,000 people going to state schools that will be paying more (and taking on more student debt). To quote Tom Geoghegan's book on labor, "Which Side Are You On?" 
(Thanks to the Progressive Review's daily newsletter for the Stateline cite).

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Ditka won't run. But will he coach?

There isn't a potentially better Illinois GOP chair than Mike Ditka. People love that guy. How can you not? And if anyone can warm up those southern oily Republicans running the White House and make those corporate handmaidens seem not like the boss who stole the pension but instead like a nice guy to drink a beer with, it is Mike Ditka. So the Draft Ditka movement of a half-dozen guys and a website has so far been wildly successful. But it isn't enough. They aren't successful until Ditka agrees to chair the party after Judy Baar Topinka steps down in November. If he says yes then somebody better do a magazine article about these guys. If he says no. . . well, they gave it a shot. (And isn't serving as a party chair somewhat analagous to coaching? You don't have to run or legislate, but you have to lead by inspiration and set the tone for the team.) He'd be an amazing chair. I sure hope he says no!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Obama to keynote the DNC. The Ba-rocket is at full speed

(You like that? I just made that term up. Ba-rocket. Better than Obamania.)

Barack Obama is the keynote speaker for the Boston convention. This will make him a national celebrity and leader of the party.

The news couldn't be better.

One anecdote. When Bill Clinton came to Chicago a few weeks ago to promote My Life, he had some reception with Obama. Barack, also the author of an autobiography, mentioned that he was a bit jealous of Clinton's amazingly high first-week numbers of sales of his book. And Clinton quickly said he'd trade it in a second for Barack's age and where he's going.

Barack is going to be a super-star. Even Bill Clinton, one of the smartest analysts I've ever seen, thinks so.

John Kass' nice phrase, Rich Miller's nice word

John Kass can really turn a phrase. He leads his column today with this gem:

Those panic-stricken Illinois Republican Party bosses are fascinated by Mike Ditka as a candidate for the U.S. Senate the way drowning men are fascinated by things that float.

I'd just amend that a bit. The 'bosses' sure do not seem to be in charge anymore. Dave Syverson and Judy Baar Topinka aren't 'bosses.'

Rich Miller has coined a new term: the pentarchy. That refers to the five men who sit behind closed doors and legislate for the State. Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President Emil Jones, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson and Governor Blagojevich sit around a table, where no press or public may watch or listen, and debate proposals around the state's $54 billion budget. When they finally agree, the other 173 legislators are expected to endorse the agreement.

It's a horrible way to legislate and I wish that enough legislators would follow the lead of those like Sara Feigenholtz who (with about a dozen other mostly women legislators, according to Rich Miller's Capitol Fax) publicly called for access. Imagine if more of the backbenchers refused to vote for any negotiated budget agreement until it went through a proper committee hearing in both chambers with agency-specific budget bills (no massive take-it-or-leave-it bills with 8 agencies stuffed together).

The pentarchy has got to stop supplanting the General Assembly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

More funny Ditka stuff

It's a few days old, but I liked this part of Rick Morrisey's column in the Trib here.

But only a debate with Obama, the Democratic candidate, will really let us know what Candidate Ditka is all about.

Let's listen in:

Obama: "I'm particularly concerned about the economy. We have thousands of people in the state of Illinois who are unemployed. Too many good, hard-working citizens are having a difficult time making ends meet."

Ditka: "It's nothing that a good steak at Mike Ditka's Restaurant, 100 E. Chestnut St., wouldn't solve."

(Audience cheers.)

Obama: "I'm not sure what that has to do with the issues, Mr. Ditka. We've got a real problem out there."

Ditka: "Well, it's a lot like the 1985 Bears …"

(Audience cheers louder.)

Obama: "If we could get back to what's important to the voters of Illinois. Now, my idea of leadership … "

Ditka: "Tell me again how many Super Bowls you've won, pal."

(Audience members carry Da Coach out of the room on their shoulders.)


Mike Ditka is just so damn funny. How could you not like this guy? DIT-KA. It's so funny.

Tom Cross blog a symbol of the most loosey-goosey caucus in Illinois history

Chris Rhodes runs a blog. He's got a breezy style, shoots from the hip, makes fun of some of the GOP trainwrecks, is a partisan White Sox fan and has some interesting things to say. He linked over to my site today. It's here.

The bizarre part is that he is the official blogger for Tom Cross, the Illinois House Republican Leader.

Has anyone else seen a political figure that hands over the keys to the website like that? I mean, can you imagine a John Kerry or George Bush website where the blogger has a little fun at their own party's expense? (His little riff on Terry Parke and ABBA is awesome).

I think it's great. And it's a symbol of the new style for House Republicans in Illinois. The House Republican caucus had a little revolution in December of 2002. With a new map and the Dems sweeping state government, Lee Daniels decided to step down as House GOP Leader.

Most of the suburbanites (especially the women) decided they wanted to end the top-down, initimidation and discipline style that Lee Daniels had shown through the 90s. They backed Tom Cross, and the leadership team for the House Republicans is about the opposite of a parliamentary whip.

On just about every single vote, House Republicans vote whatever way they want. There is rarely, if ever, a caucus position that is binding on the members.

It sure isn't like that in the other three caucuses, where the leadership runs things.

And no other caucus even has a decent website. Go check out the site. Just look at the name: *join* Cross. Not Come, reader and *join* Tom Cross. Get involved. It's the same spirit as the Howard Dean campaign, only for the House Republicans.

They're doing everything right. Raising money from small donors. Sending a message out about the big bad villain (usually Mike Madigan, but sometimes Governor Blagojevich). Making people feel that their small efforts matter in a bigger picture.

I wish the Democrats had half as good a web strategy. I can hear most of the old school captains now, even as I type this. They'd say: "Computers don't vote." But somebody who is plugged into the net has got to get Madigan's ear on this stuff. I don't know who. Because Tom Cross might not have a shot to become Speaker this decade (because of the Democratic map), but if he keeps his media guys working this well, there will likely be some more statewide GOP victories in 06 than just Judy Baar. We Dems can't keep depending on the base every election, and getting swing voters by demonizing the Republicans. That worked in 02 for Rod ("20 years of Republican corruption"), but it won't in 06. Now we Dems have to earn those swing voters. Aping Tom Cross' site would help.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Draft Ditka: Brilliant move by GOP operatives. And a ridiculously bad legislator.

My hat is off to the Illinois GOP media operatives who have launched the Draft Ditka campaign. My guess is it's out of 1871 Media, the smart guys running Illinois Leader and running Tom Cross' online media work.

It's a brilliant tactical move. Of course Mike Ditka would be the nation's absolute worst Senator. Could you imagine him throwing his gum at a Committee Chair if his bill didn't get out of committee? But that's all irrelevant. He's getting media play and everytime they say "Mike Ditka" and "Republican" that's a win for the Republican Party. The Republicans have to appeal to white ethnics / Reagan Democrats / middle-income, culturally conservative guys in some way that muddies their allegiance to the super-wealthy and Wall Street. Mike Ditka is a great way to do it.

And to get Mike Ditka in the converation about the Senate race? Brilliant! They've got *nothing* right now. They don't even have a candidate! And somehow just talking about Mike Ditka as a potential candidate gets more attention than Barack Obama. It's great, great media work by the GOP operatives. Notice the conversation isn't about the almost unprecedented train wreck where there isn't a candidate in mid-July and the potential replacements keep saying no (Rauschenburger pulled out a few days ago). Instead the converation about the IL GOP is about a fresh, fun story involving a Chicago icon. Just great work.

I think that the goal of these savvy GOP operatives is to get Ditka to take the chairmanship of the IL GOP Party after Judy Baar Topinka steps down. Because although Mike Ditka would make a truly awful U.S. Senator, he has the potential to be an amazingly good party chair. He'd raise money. He'd raise excitement. He'd raise spirits. And through the force of his celebrity, he'd soften the moderate/conservative split that haunts the state party. If these guys get Ditka to serve as party chair, then we progressives better start studying them --- and copying their every move.

Where's the Draft Chris Zorich for Party Chair movement? I guess I just started it. . . .

Friday, July 09, 2004

"9/11 Convention OK by Illinois" bill signed into law

In other depressing news, the bill that lets the Republicans hold their convention in New York City in September and *still* put their nominee on the Illinois ballot was signed into law yesterday by Governor Blagojevich.

The bill is SB 2123 and it is now Public Act 93-0686. Check it out here.

I've got to get to Springfield. What a great time to work on bills for 2005. Everyone's just waiting around!

Dean v. Nader debate and how much I despise plurality elections

This is a neat thing and congratulations to whatever far-sighted producer for National Public Radio pulled this together: Ralph Nader and Howard Dean will debate Nader's campaign today at 12:30 Central time. It should be on C-Span and on NPR.

What a weird way to pick a president. We have to debate whether someone should even run for the office or not.

That's because we don't hold a runoff election, so the majority of voters can split their votes among somewhat similar candidates, allowing the minority of voters to pick the one winner.

And that's so stupid.

I should disclose here that I'm representing the Nader campaign in Illinois in the challenge to his nomination papers in the state. I'm not a supporter of the Nader 2004 campaign, but I do believe that everyone deserves representation, and more to the point, I do believe that people should have the right to vote for anyone they want.

After all, Senator Kerry basically agrees with the Washington Consensus (empire-sized military, corporate trade agreements). While he'll be a better president than George Bush (and I'm convinced he will be the next president), his Administration will largely follow the basic parameters of the establishment. And that's even more money for the Pentagon, even more troops overseas (we're in 40 nations now) and a push for more corporate trade agreements (and not a push for European Union-style agreements).

Voters and citizens who are against that basic agreement -- not to mention the ridiculous amount of clout that moneyed corporate interests wield in D.C. -- should have a candidate that they agree with.

That shouldn't be a controversial statement, but I can already anticipate the party-line reaction of incredulous dismay to permit this *indulgence* of additional candidates that can split the vote.

Nader's point is a civil rights type of point -- people should always have the right to speak up, run for office and support candidates that advance the progressive agenda. It's hard not to feel like a bully when saying that no one should run for office and attempt to influence policy.

But these stupid, outdated, RIDICULOUS plurality elections! Apparently some state Republican parties are working hard to support the Nader campaign. It's so INFURIATING to me. Only because of a defect in the way we elect presidents (no runoff election, and certainly no instant runoff voting) are we saddled with the Orwellian reality of a Vote for Nader is a Vote for Bush.

It drives me crazy.

Which is why my part-time gig is lobbying to implement electoral reforms, among them instant runoff voting. So, while we're on the topic, consider joining the Midwest Democracy Center. You can paypal right now, and if we're successful we can avoid these horrible debates of democratic people that want more voters to turnout saying to candidates "Shut the hell up and don't try to inspire people to vote."

At least Howard Dean is 100% behind instant runoff voting. He worked fairly hard to try to implement instant runoff voting in Vermont when he was the governor there. It almost happened, too.

I'm politically supporting the Kerry campaign this year, because I'm part of the Oust Bush movement. (But we should admit that Get Rid of Bush is not quite advancing the progressive agenda. It's defensive. Necessary, but not quite what you'd call inspiring.) So we should have several candidates running, and one of them should articulate the progressive agenda (and call for Bush's impeachment, by the way). We just have to get rid of these plurality elections by holding a runoff election, instant or otherwise, so these third party and independent campaigns are unabashedly constructive.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Beach closings. . .might have something to do with sewage in the river

So the beaches remain closed in Chicago as we approach the hottest weekend of the last two years.

Gee, you think the fact that we still use the Chicago River as an industrial channel with sewage that doesn't get disinfected might have *something* to do with the bacteria (read: crap) in the Lake?

It is long past time that the Greater Metropolitan Water Reclamation District disinfected all wastewater (read: sewage) before releasing it into the Chicago River.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Chicago beaches are closed again. You think the sewage in the river has something to do with that?

In today's Tribune here, the Chicago Park District has closed down almost all the city beachers due to high bacteria count. That means too much crap in the water.

The Park District spokesperson said that animal waste is to blame after a heavy rain.

Well, if animal waste is the problem, how come every beach in the damn world doesn't get closed when there's a heavy rain? Because there are animals (like sea gulls) around every beach.

You think the fact that the Chicago River is essentially an open sewer for the area's wastewater might have something to do with it? This government, the Greater Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, is the elected government responsible for our sewage. And last I heard, they are not disinfecting the wastewater before pouring it into the Chicago River. So when it rains, the sewage pours out of the river and into Lake Michigan. And then the beaches close, because there's too much sewage at the beach.

It is long past time to require the MWRD to disinfect all wastewater.

Rejected by the Dems. . . boo. . . .

Well, I've been rejected by the DNC. They sent me an email today, saying that the letter was not properly authorized, or some such BS. Anyway, I'm out.

Here's the email.

Dear Dan Johnson-Weinberger:

Last week you were sent a credential allocation letter not properly authorized by the DNCC for press coverage of the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Upon further review of the overall site capacity at the FleetCenter, we are no longer able to issue your organization a DNCC Press Gallery Credential. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Again, we thank you for your interest in covering the 2004 Democratic National Convention and wish you well in your endeavors.


Francesca Gage and Michael Hurlbut
Directors of the DNCC Press Gallery

UPDATE: Here's a CNN story (thanks to my friend Billy for finding this link) that details how 20 bloggers are, like me, the victims of a computer gaffe to get disinvited. Whatever. I guess I'll blog from around Boston, because I'm still going. Maybe somebody else can get me in somehow.

Test from treo

This is just a test to see if I can blog from my phone in anticipation of the DNC. I've got to practice. So check out the USA Today cover story on how Tennessee is looking to cut costs on their Medicaid program (called Tenncare) in order to keep 20% of the population enrolled. Caps on doctor visits and eliminating some brand name drugs. Seems smart to me. I am a big fan of universal or at least widespread government programs (I hate that phrase. . .we need a better one) that serve lots of people. If the price of widespread participation in the program is fewer benefits than if only a few participate, no problem. Serve a little to a lot instead of a lot to a little.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I'm in! Dems got me a press credential!

This is great news. I've got a press credential for the Democratic National Convention! I'm going to Boston!

This is pretty damn cool. I don't want to get all Internet-gushy, but can you imagine this happening twelve years ago? Some dude getting a press credential because he writes about politics and people read him, without any printing press or money behind him. Thanks for reading, everybody.

Anyway, you will hear from me LIVE from the floor of the Democratic National Convention! I'm really psyched up about this.

Actually, if I figure out how to get my treo 300 to access correctly, maybe I'll type in stuff as it happens. I don't know if I'm going to lug my laptop over there.

And if anyone wants to kick in for my expenses, you can paypal me at

Thanks, DNC! And thanks to The Truth Laid Bare for the original tip that bloggers are welcome in Boston.

John picks John: Kerry-Edwards ticket. Good call.

John Edwards was probably the best decision John Kerry could make for his vice-president. If Edwards can keep the subject on manufacturing a middle class and the Two Americas -- because that stuff resonates and hits Bush in the soft under-belly of his rich-guy tax-cut policies -- the Kerry campaign can win over those under 35K, high school educated voters that often vote for pro-life Republicans in Bible Belt states. And that ought to win the election.

This is about as unified a Democratic presidential campaign has been that I can remember, in terms of unifying the other presidential campaign. Kerry's campaign rhetoric is straight out of Howard Dean's campaign ("You are the heart and soul of our campaign. You've shattered records and expectations every step of the way. Every time someone said you couldn't do it, you proved them wrong. Because of your incredible grassroots energy and commitment, I wanted to make the first official announcement of my decision to you -- more than one million online supporters at") and with Edwards on the ticket and Clark endorsing Kerry early, that puts most of the big guys directly on the same page.

It's like the opposite of the Bill Clinton - Al Gore dynamic where Al Gore's studious, serious, hard-working demeanor helped to temper Clinton's folksy, charming, flesh-pressing style. Here, John Edwards' folksy, charming, flesh-pressing style helps to liven up John Kerry's studious, serious, hard-working demeanor.

Friday, July 02, 2004

One good thing the Gov did: no special sessions over the weekend

I just found out Governor Blagojevich called in the next special session for Tuesday, instead of tomorrow (and then Sunday, then Monday, then Tuesday).

That's the first class move he's made since he started the special session mess at the end of June. There's no reason to force legislators to sit around over the 4th of July weekend.

Just raise the 3% income tax to 4% and cut corporate welfare and be done with this budget mess!

(Though I guess the burden is on me: what precise corporate welfare programs do I think we ought to cut? Maybe the state funds that support the bonds that built up McCaskey Family Stadium -- I mean, Soldier Field. Or the state funds that built up Enrich Reinsdorf and Company Park. . .I mean, Comiskey. . .I mean U.S. Cellular Field.)

I'm looking for specific line-items. I need some ideas. What should we cut? Comment away, everybody (especially Jeff Trigg). The budget, on Comptroller Dan Hynes' really good (almost overwhelmingly good) website is here.

And by the way. . .GO CUBS!! They just took at 3-2 lead over the Welfare (waah, waah, build me a stadium taxpayers, or I'll move to Florida) Sox.