Thursday, September 30, 2004

Growing income gap is threatening a 'classless' U.S.

Don Wycliff's Tribune column today brings out the income gap that Alan Greenspan testified about this summer. As the gap grows between the wealthy and the poor, and higher education gets more expensive, it is becoming more difficult for the children of the poor to move up into a higher economic class. This is a bad development for the U.S., as one of our greatest attributes has been our lack of strong class system where the working class and the upper class stayed separate over generations.

The main difference between Bush and Kerry on this topic is whether to tax the wealthiest Americans (earning more than $250,000 annually) at 39.6% or at 35%. And also whether to tax America's wealthiest heirs with an estate tax.

Bush doesn't want to, with the consequence of a greater income gap and a stronger class system. Kerry wants to, with the consequence of a smaller income gap and a weaker class system. Not by much, but a little.

(That ought to be our main message to any undecided or "Gee, I like Bush and Kerry seems like such a boring snob" voter -- if you make less than $250K, then a vote for Bush means a poorer four more years for you personally.)

I also think that we Illinoisians (Illini?) should recognize our role in creating an income gap with our state tax. Our 3% income tax is low, and what's worse, we start taxing people at $2,000 of income. That means the minimum wage workers without benefits who can't afford college are paying income tax, which keeps people poorer.

The General Assembly should pass HB 7294, which would raise the income tax rate to 4% but more importantly, raise the standard exemption from $2,000 to $12,000 (no more taxing poverty wages!).

The wealthiest Illinoisians would pay an additional 1% of their income, while most Illinoisians would pay less in the state income tax. It's about a $2.4 billion shift in taxes, which would go a long way towards manufacturing a middle class in our state.

And the kicker: we'd get more money back from the federal government (about an additional $800 million every year), since state income tax paid by higher-income people is deductible off their federal returns, meaning the feds subsidize those state taxes paid. Wealthy people pay about a third of their income in federal taxes, so about a third of the $2.4 billion would be 'picked up' by the federal government, which is the equivalent of an $800 million project in Illinois. Every year.

Let's hope we can convince more representatives than Will Davis and Willie Delgado to co-sponsor the bill. And thanks to those two legislators!

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Paul Begala with a great line on Bush and presidential debates

Paul Begala said something like this:

"George Bush has benefited from the soft bigotry of low expectations about his debating skills for years."

That's a nice riff off the Bush 2000 campaign's best line (really poignant). It's also true as applied to Bush as a debater. He's such a likable guy, and thanks to the Bush camp's ruthless negotiating, Kerry won't have the chance to ask Bush anything directly. (Isn't that amazing? In the most powerful county on earth, the two major candidates for president won't have a chance to have a one-to-one conversation in front of the electorate, because the incumbent won't do it.) I hope Kerry can make a good impression.

Future of the World Bank

I heard a good segment on NPR on the World Bank. Fresh Air interviewed a biographer of James Wolfensohn, current President of the World Bank. The bottom line, as framed by the biographer was this:

Shall the World Bank serve as the Secretariat to the Northern nations' agenda for the developing world (the protection of the environment and indigineous peoples), or shall it be a service organization for the developing world that wants to treat the environment and native people the same way the now-wealthy northern nations did (that is, with total disregard for either)?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Asian ping-pong in the Matrix

Oops. My link disappeared.

I'll try to find this again. It's one of those amazing game shows in Japan or Korea where two people are playing ping-pong as if they are in the Matrix because a bunch of their friends are completely hooded in black clothing lifting them up in front of a black curtain. It looks like a computer trick. Erik: send me the link again!

UPDATE: Here it is. Thanks, Erik.

American Candidate shows need for instant runoff voting with 3-person race

American Candidate is on tonight on Showtime, and anyone in the U.S. is eligibile to vote for either Lisa Witter, a progressive Democrat, Park Gillespie, a conservative Republican, or Malia Lazu, a progressive independent. I'm supporting Malia (on the board of the Center for Voting and Democracy), but this really shows the need for a smarter electoral system.

Lisa is backed by most of the large, national progressive organizations (, Campaign for American's Future and other clients of Fenton Communications that is the largest public interest PR firm in the country.

The fear is that progressives will split the vote between Malia and Lisa, allowing the conservative Park to get a pass into the final round. There are echoes of the presidential campaign, which the Witter allies are bringing up.

If we used instant runoff voting, we wouldn't have this problem.

Although it doesn't really apply in this case, upon further reflection, since the show is essentially holding a runoff between the top two vote getters in the season finale, and only the last place finisher will get eliminated tonight.

If only we held a runoff election for president in any state where no candidate earned a majority of the vote.

Anyway, the episode is on tonight. Check it out if you can.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Help a progressive on reality TV -- vote Malia Lazu on American Candidate

This Sunday on Showtime, you'll apparently have a chance to vote for the winner of American Candidate. Malia Lazu is one of the three candidates, and she's a real progressive. If you can watch the show, vote for her on Sunday.

The show's website is here.

If America were Iraq, what would it be like? By Juan Cole

This piece by Michigan historian Juan Cole is insightful.

Here's how it starts. It's worth reading.

President Bush said Tuesday that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.

What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.


There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha, such that local police and Federal troops could not go into those cities?

Yeah, go and read it. It's here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Safety more than metal detectors -- a review of mental health is in order

I'm not sure if this is relevant to what happened to turn Derek Potts into a murderer, but the role of anti-depressants and other mood-altering medications is the subject of this story in the UK's Guardian.

According to the paper, after a man on Paxil for two days shot his wife, daughter and baby granddaughter before killing himself, a US jury found the maker of Paxil (GlaxoSmithKline) liable for $8 million in damages which the corporation had to pay to the surviving family members.

At the bond hearing, the Sangamon County State's Attorney suggested that he heard from Mr. Potts' mother that Mr. Potts was not taking his medicine that treated his bipolar disorder.

We ought to look at whether these chemicals that are designed to alter our minds might have some bad side effects, such as the charge from the doctor in North Wales who said that antidepressant drugs can make people homicidal in the Guardian article.

On a more mundane matter, maybe we should have better social services so if someone gets depressed, they can receive counseling from the government and then take their medication (assuming there aren't any chilling side effects detailed in the Guardian article). That might make us all safer than metal detectors.

Fines, not prison, for pot possession in Chicago

Drug laws might be getting saner in Chicago. After Sergant Tom Donegan wrote a letter calling for fines instead of a misdemeanor arrest for possession of pot, the media and Mayor Daley picked it up and embraced the issue.

Pot ought to be as legal as liquor or nicotine. (And I'd rather have someone using marijuana than drinking on a regular basis). There's no such thing as 'high-driving' like there is drunk driving. Pot doesn't spark domestic violence or bar fights.

This Sun-Times article has a good run-down on the debate. I'm pleasantly surprised that Mayor Daley is open to the concept. I think he's getting more and more progressive.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Metal detectors or restricted access? How about fewer guns instead

The senseless murder of William Wozniak, an Illinois Capitol guard, should not lead to metal detectors or restricted public access to the Capitol. The alleged murderer, Derek Potts, walked up to the entrance with a shotgun or a rifle and shot Wozniak at point-blank range. From early reports, no change in the public access of the People's House would have prevented Mr. Wozniak's death.

What might have prevented his death would be reasonable restrictions on owning guns. Why we permit anyone to go and buy a shotgun is beyond me. My view of the Second Amendment is that our ability to form militias -- well-armed militias at that -- shall never be restricted by the government.

The more we seal off our own government from the public, the less invested and engaged the public feels. There's something so nice and humbling about a late session day when tons of school children crowd the Capitol and mix with citizens of all stripes looking to improve our laws while the lawmakers navigate their way through the throng. It feels like accessible democracy. We shouldn't sacrifice that spirit.

Armed guards put a palpable chill on our civic culture. They intimidate citizens into feeling like we simply follow the orders of authority. We need more citizens and fewer followers, especially around the Capitol.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Left Capitol 30 mins before shooting

Freaky. I was at the Capitol today about 1 30. On 55 now. Poor guard. I wonder if I knew him. I hope they do not impose stifling security at the People's House.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

John Paul Stevens lunch in Chicago -- smart as a whip and in excellent shape. Bush v. Gore question.

On Wednesday I went to the annual John Paul Stevens lunch that the Chicago Bar Association puts on every year. Stevens is a product of Chicago, as a University of Chicago undergrad, a Northwestern Law grad, a Jenner and Block litigator and an active members of Chicago Bar Assocation committees until he became a judge.

He's in his 80s, and as the most progressive Justice on the Supreme Court, I've been worried about his health.

Good news: he's in excellent shape. His comments were lucid and intelligent and physically he looked great.

Hopefully he won't have to hold on for another four years, but based solely on watching him for an hour or two this week, I'd tentatively say that it would be possible for Stevens to wait out another Bush presidency. Not likely, but also not impossible.

Now here's a fascinating question: given how Bush v. Gore was an atrocious, partisan decision that besmirched the independence of the Supreme Court by stopping officials from counting votes in order to avoid the possibility of negatively affecting the legitimacy of President Bush's election (remember, that's what Scalia wrote in his order), did the old Republican Supreme Court members like Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rehnquist intentionally decide not to retire? In other words, did they decide to make up for their horrible mistake in Bush v. Gore by waiting until someone can win "fair and sqaure" in 2004 to name a replacement?

I can understand why Stevens wouldn't retire. But why not O'Connor or Rehnquist? Those guys were rumored to want to retire. O'Connor reportedly said at an election night party in D.C. when Gore was first called the winner of Florida something like "Damn. . .I wanted to retire."

I think they believe (rightly) that if they gave President Bush the chance to appoint a justice after they gave President Bush the election in Bush v. Gore, then that low moment in Supreme Court history would infect the Court for years. If they wait until someone won in 2004, then they limit the damage from Bush v. Gore and the Court regains some of its lost legitimacy.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Voting with the party. . .the Coulson-Blomberg race

I got an email from a buddy of mine working for the House Dems. He brought up a few good points about the Coulson-Blomberg race up in Skokie-Lincolnwood-Wilmette.

The main one that resonated the most with me (especially now that Bush had a good week) is the partisan argument. Dems got to stick together. And I've never liked the idea of blind party loyalty, but it's growing on me.

Take the California recall election. Arnold Schwarzenegger is certainly a better governor than Gray Davis. But. But. But. He will make it more likely that President Bush will get re-elected, who will certainly be a far worse president than John Kerry. Arnold campaigning with Bush in Nevada is a horrible thing for the Kerry campaign. So party affiliation does matter, not just for the particular office, but perhaps more importantly, for other offices.

Plus, what are all those angry Democratic voters to do in Skokie? They can't really vote against Bush, since Kerry has Illinois locked up. They can't vote against Alan Keyes, since Barack *really* has the race locked up. Sadly, Speaker Madigan refuses to make the 10th congressional district a swing district, so Representative Mark Kirk has the congressional race pretty well locked up. I don't think Jeff Schoenberg (the state senator from the district) is on the ballot.

So that leaves Beth Coulson. Maybe if you stick with Bush, then you deserve the wrath of anti-Bush voters. I'll bet she'd *love* to be able to run as an independent. Because that tsunami of anti-Bush votes in Skokie will be tough to withstand with a "W" button on Beth's lapel.

One nice campaign funding reform: no commissions for consultants placing ad buys

Why does the Kerry campaign seem a little bit out-of-step? One reason may be how consultants are paid. They get a commission based on the ad buy. So if they place a $1,000,000 commercial, the consultant gets a cut of that. (Maybe as much as 20%).

CBS News reports that Republican campaigns don't run that way, but Democratic campaigns do. Or rather, in this article, they quote Tony Coelho, a corporate Dem, this way (the last quote is especially insightful):

CBS NEWS - Longtime Democratic insider Tony Coelho lashed out at the John Kerry presidential campaign, characterizing it as a campaign in chaos. With yet another appointment of a former Clinton administration staffer to Kerry's team on Tuesday, Coelho argues the problem is worsening.

"There is nobody in charge and you have these two teams that are generally not talking to each other," says Coehlo, who ran Al Gore's campaign early in the 2000 presidential race.

As Coelho and other detractors see it, there is a civil war within the Kerry campaign. Sen. Ted Kennedy's former staff members, Mary Beth Cahill, the Kerry campaign manager, and veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum are at odds with recent additions who served under President Clinton.

"Here are two groups that have never gotten along and have fought, and it is a lot over money," says Coehlo. "Because in the Democratic Party the consultants get paid for the creation and the placement of [advertising]. Republicans only pay you for the creation."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Electoral College question: what if we didn't give affirmative action to people in underpopulated states?

OK, political junkies. Here's a fun one.

What if we didn't invest people who choose to live in underpopulated states affirmative action in the Electoral College? Would this oh-so-close presidential race be that close?

(I promise, I have not yet done the math. I just have a suspicion.)

Quick background. The Electoral College (the dumbest college on the planet) allocates one electoral vote to each Member of Congress per state -- not just the per-population House but also the 2-per-state Senate. That's why the fewest electoral votes per state is 3, and not 1. Just like the U.S. Senate gives enormous affirmative action to people in underpopulated states (so *that's* why cities are underfunded. . . .), so too does the Electoral College 'Senate' votes per state. If there's any part of the Electoral College that is the most indefensible, it's that part.

What if we stripped away that affirmative action by simply subtracting the 2 'Senate' electoral votes for each state? What would that mean for the presidential race?

First, instead of 538 electoral votes there would be 436 (don't forget D.C. so we subtract 102 from the current 538). To win, one needs 219.

Let's see what happens to each candidate's base.

The 13 core blue Kerry states are (current electoral college votes - non-affirmative action electoral college votes):

California (53-51)
Connecticut (7-5)
Delaware (3-1)
D.C. (3-1)
Hawai'i (4-2)
Illinois (21-19)
Maryland (10-8)
Massachusetts (12-10)
New Jersey (15-13)
New Mexico (5-3)
New York (31-29)
Rhode Island (4-2)
Vermont (3-1)

If you quibble with my categorization, leave a comment.

So the Kerry base of 13 states shifts from 171/538 (31.8% of the total) to 145/436 (33.3% of the total). About the same relative effect as winning three of the smallest states under the current electoral college (since each tiny state is 3/538 or about .5% of what it takes to win, and the relative increase in the Kerry base is a 1.5% increase in what it takes to win).

Not insignificant.

Now for the Bush base of 20 red states:

Alabama (9-7)
Alaska (3-1)
Georgia (15-13)
Idaho (4-2)
Indiana (11-9)
Kansas (6-4)
Kentucky (8-6)
Mississippi (6-4)
Montana (3-1)
Nebraska (5-3)
North Carolina (15-13)
North Dakota (3-1)
Oklahoma (7-5)
South Carolina (8-6)
South Dakota (3-1)
Tennessee (11-9)
Texas (34-32)
Utah (5-3)
Virginia (13-11)
Wyoming (3-1)

Bush shifts from 172/538 (32.0% of what it takes to win) to 132/436 (30.3% of what it takes to win). Basically, Bush loses two small states.

So the affirmative action for underpopulated states is worth the equivalent of flipping one or two of the tiny states the size of DuPage County from Bush to Kerry.

For a more sophisticated mathematical analysis, or a prettier website, you go make one. Or get the guys that make sites like to do it.

It's so overdue to get rid of this feature of the Electoral College.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Remember when we were worried that Obama rhymes with Osama?

Silly us.

At the time (basically, all of 2003 and 2004 until the day before the primary election), my standard response to people suggesting that voters wouldn't go for a candidate with a name so similar to Osama was something along the lines that voters elected a guy named Blagojevich, so funny names are OK in Illinois.

What we should have said is that it will make it easier for hip hop stars to throw a shout-out to Barack.

As "Chris Rhodes" in the joincross blog found in today's Sun-Times, rapper Common has this line in a recent hit:

"Why is Bush acting like he trying to get Osama? Why don't we impeach him and elect Obama?"

Thanks Common. How could we have not realized the benefit of his name during the primary?

(But by the way. . .it would probably be a good thing if more people than Common and Ralph Nader were calling for President Bush' impeachment for lying about the reasons for invading Iraq. Those hardball GOPers know that pushing impeachment on Clinton helped to make some people feel like there was something wrong about him. I think the Dems should play some more hardball and call for impeachment proceedings).

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Sun-Times: Chicago casino would be 2/3 State, 1/3 City owned

A Sun-Times correction here has the proposed Chicago casino owned more by the State than the City. But why just the City? Why not the Chicago School Board, or the Chicago Transit Authority or the Chicago Park District? Why not all those agencies together splitting up their one-third take from the casino?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Casino for Peotone? Kadner wants a deal. Me? I'll take a casino

The big downtown dogs are lining up for a Chicago-State of Illinois jointly owned casino somewhere near the Loop. Cities are turning into tourist destinations instead of manufacturing districts, and Chicago's losing convention business to places where it doesn't get cold, so a big time casino downtown might lure people here to spend their money.

The unions, the chamber, the tourism people are backing the mayor, and they want the General Assembly to permit another license for Chicago and Illinois.

I think it's a good idea. I'd rather have the city and the state get the profits (that means you and me) instead of some randomly-connected insiders making money. I actually like casinos, but Hammond is just a bit too far for me. And as for poor people making stupid decisions and spending their money at the casinos. . . .that's true. And it is a bad thing. But I don't think that's enough of a reason to kill a casino.

A better reason to kill the plan is that it will be lame. This is a real potential problem. The Rosemont casino was going to be "Isle of Capri" with a Carribean theme. I guess then 1950s never ended in Rosemont. What a lame idea. The style of these people who still wish Frank Sinatra were around shouldn't direct the casino, or the thing will tank. Plus, there will only be one casino. There won't be a strip, which is the fun part of Vegas.

All that being said, the city could use some more pizazz. A fun casino can help to bring that.

Phil Kadner in the Daily Southtown has a good idea for south suburbanites: trade their votes for a Chicago casino for Peotone airport. The column is here. O'Hare's expansion is looking like a monster, massive project with not so much bang for the buck, at least according to the Peotone backers. So in exchange for letting private developers try to build the airport without interference from Mayor Daley, the south suburbanites could vote for the casino.

I wonder how much the state legislators are preparing -- together -- for the wild veto session to come the Monday after the election in November. They all have their own elections to work on, and it's hard to develop that solidarity in a particular region when they're busy running against each other (the south suburbs have a mix of Ds and Rs). State legislators have other jobs, too. So somehow they are supposed to get together in six days after the election and come up with a huge, region-shaping public policy plan. You have to think that Mayor Daley, with a sophisticated staff and tons of allied organizations working feverishly full-time on this proposal, has the upper hand in any negotiations in the veto session.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Why did Building 7 collapse in New York?

In the spirit of "In America, we can talk about *anything* we want to," I've always wondered why Building 7 collapsed on 9/11. Remember that 45-story building next to the Twin Towers that collapsed in the afternoon? That wasn't hit by a plane. It is the only steel skyscraper to collapse from a fire in history. Why did that collapse? The Federal Emergency Management Agency surmised that diesel fuel in the basement might have melted the bottom of the building. But with the secrecy of the Bush Administration, I'm not 100% comfortable that they are telling us the complete truth.

Here's a listing of 9/11 anamolies. I'd like to think there's a logical answer to all of these anamolies, but I'm a little uncomfortable with some of them. And I would not put anything past some of those neo-imperialists around Dick Cheney who sincerely believed that America needed "another Pearl Harbor" to get public supoprt for building up military might in the Middle East. These guys are absolutely ruthless.

Canadian's health care needs major overhaul as well

This New York Times article (why can't the Chicago dailies beef up their staff to match the New York paper?) lays out the strain on Canada's publicly-funded, universal health insurance system. There aren't enough family doctors, especially in small towns.

Interestingly, the Canadian Prime Minister is meeting with the provincial premiers (like the President meeting with all 50 governors) in a televised three-day meeting on reducing waiting time for family doctors.

Somehow, I can't imagine the U.S networks broadcasting three days of meetings on improving access to health care between our governors and the president. Maybe those Canadians are just more civic than we are.

City cabbies need a fare increase. They ought to get city health insurance too.

Chicago cab drivers need more income. The amount they charge all of us is relatively low and hasn't been raised in a few years. This Sun-Times article lays out the details. Some of the aldermen understand how hard it is to make a living as a taxi driver. Many of them are remarkably intelligent people who happened not to be lucky enough to be born in the United States and so are first-generation immigrants that would be doctors or lawyers if they were citizens.

Here's one part of the article that caught my attention:

Driver Gregory McGee said a "comprehensive reform package" is needed to address everything from the size of vehicles, lack of insurance and length of the driver work day to cabbie training and performance, and passenger behavior. Fares are only a part of the equation, he said.
"Is this a real occupation or not? If you don't take care of the driver, the driver's not gonna take care of the 2.9 million people in Chicago," McGee said.

One smart thing the City can do is to offer every driver health insurance through a large pool. As an independent contractor, each driver faces the hardship of trying to purchase individual health insurance from a corporation. It's expensive, confusing and bureaucratic. Lots of drivers are uninsured.

But with thousands of drivers of varying levels of health (and different family structures), there's a pool of insurable lives that ought to be formed. Our corporate health care system works best with large pools of people. The City should form one for all drivers, to provide them a reasonable cost for health insurance.

Coulson - Bromberg race is likely Jack Ryan's collateral damage

Russ Stewart writes another excellent column here, this one on the race between Beth Coulson and Michele Bromberg in the Skokie-Glenwood-bit of Wilmette and Evanston 17th state rep district. He gives the edge to Bromberg, who is running against the GOP incument Coulson on a campaign platform of (in Stewart's words): "I Am Not A Republican."

You can judge the two campaign websites for yourself (probably a tie for pretty lame): Michele Bromberg's is here and Beth Coulson's is here. (I hate to be superficial, but I can't believe Beth Coulson is 50. She looks like she's 40.).

If Coulson loses, I guess you can blame Jack Ryan. Because if Jack Ryan were still running for U.S. Senate (and thus leading the GOP ticket in Illinois, 'cause you know W won't be around these parts), he's have Wilmette on fire for him. He lives there. Russ Stewart said that the battleground in this state rep race will be heavily-Jewish West Wilmette. There won't be a whole lot of precinct walking going on for the GOP, but there might have been a lot if Jack Ryan were in the race. (There were a ton of signs up in Wilmette during the primary). Alan Keyes just doesn't inspire the same excitement in Wilmette as Jack Ryan. I haven't been up there in the last month, but I'll bet there's not a single Keyes sign up in the suburb. So Beth Coulson might be collateral damage from the Jack Ryan implosion.

Which is a shame, because she's one of those clean-government, policy-oriented, accessible legislators. Maybe I'm betraying some incumbent-bias as a lobbyist since I get to know the legislators. And I'd be far more partisan and itching for a Blomberg victory if the state House were evenly divided or if there was even a threat of the House GOP taking control. But since the Dems have a fat margin in the House, a 67th House Democrat doesn't seem like that much of a partisan priority to me. I'm sure Michele Bromberg would be (or will be) an honest, hard-working legislator. I just hate to lose an effective one like Beth Coulson.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Small donor democracy needs tax credits or government refunds to avoid legalized bribery

It's a bad thing when the wealthy people who write $2,000 checks (and the wealthy associations who can write $15,000 checks) to political candidates end up with the most access to those candidates. That means they get to shape public policy more than lots of voters who can't afford to write big checks to candidates. And that's the way it is now.

Hence, the horrifically named "campaign finance reform."

One area of improvement in funding political campaigns to avoid undue influence by wealthy people and industries that has gotten short shrift is beefing up the amount of people who give small checks to candidates. If every single voter gave $10 every week to a political candidate or organization that they agreed with, there would be no need for any candidate to chase after the big checks. More givers -- who aren't parasites looking for special laws to enrich themselves -- would be a great thing for our democracy.

How to get more givers?

One important way is cultural. Do *you*, Mr. or Miss Reader, give money to political candidates? Why the hell not? Where do you think those candidates get the money to buy websites and letters and staffers? They don't sell anything. So *you* have to send over 10 or 20 or event 100 bucks. Go on. Send someone some money online right now. Anyone you admire. If, somehow, we can get more people to give money by changing the culture, things would be better.

Another important way is to have the government pay the cost of a small donation (up to $100), through a tax credit or a voucher. The United States Public Interest Research Group has just released a well-researched report on the five state programs that refund or credit small donations, as well as a history of the federal tax credit that existed from the mid-70s through the 1986 Tax Reform Act (which we should always thank Dan Rostenkowski for, this provision notwithstanding). The report is here and it's called Toward a Small Donor Democracy: The Past and Future of Incentives for Small Political Contributions.

We already have incentives for large political contributions. The parasites who make most of these large contributions get plenty of government incentives in special tax breaks or particular programs designed to enrich the donor. That's something we all pay for.

Small donors aren't looking for anything special. That's why it's a judicious use of precious taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of these small donations, since they are corruption-free dollars. And the more we can permit honest candidates to run campaigns without taking corruption-tainted money, the better off we're all going to be. It's hard not to be influenced by some group that gives a candidate $5,000. But from the candidate's perspective, if they aren't getting enough small donations from regular people like you and me (have you gone online and given yet?), and they need some funds to wage a campaign, what are they going to do? So most of the honest folks with steely determination resolve not to let the large contribution affect their votes or their allocation of attention. But it's hard.

How else can we explain how the rich guys who own horse race tracks get a state grant of millions of dollars (I think about 28 million) every year? And don't get me started on Halliburton and the oil companies and the drug companies.

Illinois should follow Minnesota's lead on this. When any resident gives a candidate or party money, they get a receipt back from the campaign. The resident then mails that receipt to the State, and the State send them back a check equal to the amount of the contribution, up to $50. You can't get more than $50 back per year. So basically, any candidate that wants to run without any corruption-tainted dollars can do so and the parasites don't have a stranglehold over candidates getting elected. We're all liberated to elect candidates without the parasites' money.

I know I could talk lots more people into giving to candidates and parties if they'd get their contribution back from the State. And that would engage more people into our democracy, which is a very good thing.

Wouldn't Jesus vote against the money-changers in the temple?

Just asking. But remember the only time when Jesus got angry in the New Testament? When all the money-changers ripping off the working poor had taken over the temple? And he screamed and flipped out and told them all to leave?

Wouldn't that mean that Jesus would vote against anyone who supported the money-changers? And that would be the payday loan industry and the big-time blue chip banks that own them?

I think Obama was a leader in the Senate on trying to regulate the payday loan industry, but I can't recall. He was certainly a supporter if not the prime mover. And I'd guess Jesus would probably like that in a public official.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

A columnist wrongly calls politics evil. My response to the defamation.

I submitted this Letter to the Editor to the Chicago Tribune today. I hope they publish it. The original column is here.

In David Martin's column about two old men who end their friendship over the 1960 presidential election, Martin's conclusion is that "politics is a necessary evil, but it's an evil nonetheless."

Politics, more precisely defined as 'democracy,' is far from evil. It is one of the noblest pursuits of mankind. What else asks us all -- from the wealthiest to the most humble -- to set the direction of human history? Here and now, in the midst of the political season, the most powerful leaders in the world are asking our permission to continue to serve in office. We're asked to publicly grapple with the biggest questions: how best to secure peace, prosperity and liberty and justice for all? The fate of the world rests on each of our shoulders.

I'm sorry that Mr. Martin's neighbors weren't able to accept their awesome responsibility as citizens and politely share their reasons for supporting different candidates. But the blame for their lost friendship should fall on the personal shortcomings of those two men, and not on 'politics' which remains one of the greatest triumphs in human history.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Labor Day: Howard Dean's message, new LaborBlog, my column coming

Happy Labor Day!

Howard Dean has a good message here (courtesy of TruthOut).

And courtesy of Nathan Newman, a new LaborBlog that will help the discussion and planning on how to ramp up labor to raise all of our living standards.

I'm not a member of a labor union. But I have come to believe that organized labor makes my life better, because they are the strongest progressive political force in the country and they spend an awful lot of their energy and resources on battles that help everyone, like raising the minimum wage and expanding health insurance for everyone and keeping Social Security out of the hands of Wall Street.

So I'll be watching the coming battle to modernize the AFL-CIO, led by people like Andy Stern of SEIU ("I'm fired up!"). And maybe then the AFL-CIO will start endorsing more candidates like Barack Obama in primaries instead of Dan Hynes.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Dean's good phrase to echo: "fiscally responsible" instead of conservative/liberal

We should avoid the conservative/liberal label as much as possible, since it favors the corporate wing of the GOP. More people think of themselves as 'fiscally conservative' then 'fiscally liberal' because 'fiscally conservative' seems prudent and thrifty while 'fiscally liberal' seems wasteful. However, the rich guy tax cuts (both the estate tax repeal and the 39.6% to 35% top tax rate shift) of the Bush years don't fit into either category well. They are reckless and irresponsible, but not 'liberal' and certainly not 'conservative.'

So Dr. Dean calls his platform 'fiscally responsible' and calls the Bush Administration the most fiscally irresponsible Administration in American history. Those are great lines and we should echo them constantly.

Progressives are socially liberal (or tolerant, if you will) and (say it together now. . . .) fiscally responsible.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Want to protect democracy? Work the election. Be an election judge.

Elections are little messy. We do them on the cheap in the United States, depending on volunteer labor (not government employees) to conduct them. That means. . .you. So please consider taking Election Day off and running the election. Each precinct has five election judges (that's just the Illinois term for election worker). Lots of precincts do not have five judges, so the election authorities are looking for volunteers. You do get paid $150 (a token).

I've got forms in my office for judges to work in Chicago. Call my office at 312.867.5377 if you'd like one. Or call the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners at 312.269.7900. Otherwise you can contact your local election authority, and you can find the list in Illinois here at the State Board of Election's site.

3% state income tax; Contract With Illinois; Dem majority

Russ Stewart's column here helps to clarify the debate over the state's 3 percent income tax. Stewart argues that the only way the GOP could hope to win a majority in the state House is if the hopes of the ridiculously funny bloggers at come to pass: it is a statewide campaign to kick out Speaker Madigan, just as the '94 federal sweep was helped by the Contract With America. Without a statewide message and movement, there's no way to beat a Democratic map. The only possible message that Stewart thinks could possible fuel a GOP rise in House seats is opposition to a raise in the state's 3% income tax.

That's the heart of the debate. Just about every Member of the General Assembly recognizes our 3% income tax is too low. And that our state spending on education is too low. And that our reliance on local property taxes is too high. Everybody gets that. (Right, GOPers? You can be anonymous in the comments section. But I think that's an 80% consensus as the correct public policy among people who pay attention, privately if not publicly).

But, if the electorate will punish you for doing the right thing, then what's the point?

So the question is: will the electorate rise up against an increase in the state's 3% income tax?

I've long believed that the perception of a voter backlash is far stronger than the reality of a voter backlash.

But let's say that it's true -- that the reason why poor kids are stuck with sub-par schools and teachers is because our electeds believe the voters will vote against anyone who raises the 3% income tax to 5%.

What can we do to lessen the number of people who will respond to an attack mailer (he voted to raise the income tax by 66%!)?

One thing is to make sure more people know that the state income tax is only 3%. You'd be surprised how few intelligent, read-the-paper, vote-in-primaries people in Illinois have no clue that the state income tax is so low. Ask someone today and see for yourself.

If people knew the state's income tax was only 3%, they'd be less likely to oppose raising it to a reasonable level -- especially if they believed the extra money went to education (and not to teacher pensions or 'bureaucracy').

That's something we advocates can do -- we should never, ever, ever refer to the "income tax." That phrase should be abolished from our vocabularies. Instead, we should refer to the "3% income tax." Always.

We should have the discipline of the federal GOP on this one (who never call it the "estate tax" or the "$87 billion for Halliburton appropriation" but instead the "death tax" or the "$87 billion for bullets and body armor appropriation").

Plus the state's tax forms should do a much better job at repeating (ad naseum) that the state income tax is only 3%. Almost every state mailing should have a little fact sheet on it: 3% state income tax; 6% state sales tax; local property tax. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

If we can help to build a consensus through our language that a 5% income tax is a reasonable thing -- if the money goes to education -- then we've opened up the path for our electeds to do the right thing.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Keyes' spot atop the GOP ticket is shaky today [update: not really]

We might have a third and final Illinois Republican nominee. And after Alan Keyes called Dick Cheney's daughter a "selfish hedonist" because she has sex with her partner just for the fun of it (those lesbians can't breed, you know), maybe that's a good thing. I think I overestimated the value to the state and the nation from a Keyes-Obama debate. Keyes may have a top-tier vocabulary, but that's about it. He'd be a better preacher than a candidate, as people in a church want to hear about morality all the time. Not so much the electorate.

And by the way, I guess we are *all* selfish hedonists in Mr. Keyes' eyes. At least those of us who have had any sexual experience that wasn't exclusively about making a baby. That man needs to loosen up. Get a massage or something.

So, back to the pending legal challenge. The State Board of Elections is scheduled to start to deal with this on Friday (see their agenda and notice). Usually, the Board appoints a hearing examiner to deal with the objection, set up a briefing schedule if there are legal arguments, and schedule any inspections of the voter registration rolls. Here, since time is a bit short, they might try to deal with the objection immediately and dismiss it at Friday's meeting.

Jeff Trigg has been all over this story, along with uber-commenter Vasyl Markus, Zorn, Eric Krol and others I'm forgetting.

It still isn't clear to me what the substance of the objection to the Resolution to Fill a Vacancy in Nomination is. Krol reports that it's based on what Jeff pointed out early on -- the resolution was notarized on the 4th but clearly not filled in completely until the 9th. Jeff has copies of the relevant documents on his blog here. We don't have a copy of the objection -- now there's a good reform: posting objections online as soon as they are submitted -- so we don't really know what the objection is based on. It could be whether Alan Keyes satisfies the residency/domicile requirements of a candidate. You need an intent to establish a permanent residence (not a 60 day residence, as far as I know). Alan Keyes doesn't have that.

Jeff is wondering who is behind the mysterious Leonard De Clue's objection. (Is this turning into a mystery novel? The dude's name is *clue*.) He has Oak Lawn ties to the Lipinksi organization, and the Lip has shown himself to be quite agile with the Illinois Election Code. What's in it for Lipinski, the most Republican-friendly Democrat in the state congressional delegation? Maybe a favor to all those non-fundamentalist Republicans who are humiliated by Keyes. Who knows what Lipinksi is going to do after he retires? If he'd like to run the RTA, he could use some Republican support. Maybe by sending Alan back to Maryland, he provides a courtesy to the Republicans that he's friendly with. And sometimes these Southwest Side Dems are big on courtesy to the GOP -- remember it was Speaker Madigan that muscled through the original exemption in state law that allowed the Republicans to hold their convention about 9/11 in New York City in September. It's increasingly evident that Alan Keyes is a fundamentalist anchor pulling down the state ticket, and single-handedly helping suburban women everywhere self-identify as a Democrat. (Notice the Trib article that reported the highest percentage ever of Illinois voters self-identifying as Dem?) Getting rid of him helps the Republican Party.

Jeff speculates that Obama's campaign is involved. That makes no sense. First, Lipinski was an early and enthusiastic backer of Dan Hynes. Second, as nutty as Keyes is, there's no reason for the risk-averse Obama campaign to open up the contest to someone new. The election isn't over until November 3rd, and it is possible for someone else to win. That window is really closing fast, but if Jim Edgar ran, then it could be close. Then again, maybe it's too late for anyone to beat Barack this year. (I sure hope so). In any event, Obama's campaign would prefer Keyes to an unknown candidate.

I hope I can make the Friday meeting. As Vasyl said, it will be very interesting to see who DeClue's attorney is. And if anyone has a copy of the objection, please post it somewhere!

[Update: It's a nothing objection. You can see it at . Oh well. So much less interesting!]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Osama would vote for Bush over Kerry, since Bush is very, very good for Al Qaeda

Because invading and occupying Iraq is the best recruiting tool Osama could ask for.

John Kerry and Al Gore both would have invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks to take on Al Qaeda. But neither would have wasted such time and energy on the Iraqi invasion and divert it from the pursuit of Al Qaeda.

And now that our government is reshaping the center of the entire Muslim world, there are lots of mini-Osamas slowly and stealthily preparing to attack us.

Invading and occupying Iraq makes us less safe from an Al Qaeda attack.

Invading and occupying Afghanistan (where the Taliban had allowed Al Qaeda to establish a bsae) made us more safe from an Al Qaeda attack.

But there's a huge difference between the two.

Maybe in the long run, if the dreamers that thought we could transform Iraq into a democratic nation through an invasion turn out to be right, then in 20 years we'll be safer.

But there's no question that in the next few years, we're much more at risk from a terrorist attack, since we've fueled hundreds of thousands of people to try to get back at the U.S. for the death and destruction that our government has caused in Iraq -- much of it senseless.

Vallas will stay in Philly, says the Speaker

I heard that Paul Vallas told Speaker Madigan that he won't be running for governor in 2006 because (a) he's got a sweet contract with the Philadelphia School making some bank (b) he's got three or four kids to put through college and (c) there's no salary as a gubernatorial candidate, much less a losing gubernatorial candidate.

So wealth wins again. That's somehow really depressing -- that if he was rich, then he'd be in a position to run.

And no, Madigan didn't tell me. I don't get to speak with the Speaker.

So who does that leave? The top tier candidates in terms of beating Blagojevich would be Jesse White and Lisa Madigan. Maybe Dick Durbin. None of them have any inclination to run.

Then we're down to second tier candidates. They would need 8 to 10 million to be competitive. They'd need the triple endorsement of Mayor Daley, Speaker Madigan and President Jones. Maybe two of the three would be enough. That's a tall order.

And though I've maintained the Judy Baar Topinka could beat Rod in '06, I forgot the fatal flaw in the argument: the conservatives would sit out her November election. I think she could win a primary, especially if Syverson, Rauschenburger, Watson and most of the other conservatives were somehow OK with her running for governor. And I can imagine that happening. She'd appeal to independents more than Rod, and could cut into progressive voters as well, especially if she can suggest that it's about 10 years late for a 4% income tax rate. But, I forgot that the pro-life, pro-gun and anti-tax crowd would not work so hard for her in November. And that's a killer.

Maybe we're stuck with Governor Blagojevich for a long time. Unless Kerry wins and appoints Blagojevich to the Cabinet. Now *there's* an idea. . . .

Chicago progressives can party tonight and watch the convention at Duffy's

If you're looking for company to watch the Republican convention in Chicago, the Young Chicago Lakefront (a 44th ward Democratic Organization offshoot, of which I'm a board member, check it out at is holding a party from 6:30 to 8:30 at Duffy's, which is 420 West Diversey. Come on by.