Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Zorn picks on electeds who raise the cigarette tax

One line from Eric Zorn's column bothered me all week. He wrote a column that poked fun at state and local electeds, most recently Cook County Board President John Stroger, for pushing to raise the tax on cigarettes. Even though taxes continue to rise dramatically on a pack, and the number of packs purchased falls, revenues continue to dramatically rise.

The column is here and the highlights follow:

Cigarette levies are a regressive and now wildly excessive form of taxation that thrives, I figure, because at some level smokers feel they deserve to be punished for their weakness and so can't complain.

The decrease in local cigarette sales caused by a doubling of the county tax will result in budget shortfalls at the city and state levels (Illinois officials estimate the state lost $40 million in 2004 when Cook County hiked per-pack taxes by 82 cents). And because our elected officials are too cowardly to spread their budget burdens around, you can be sure who they'll turn to with open palms and moist smiles when the time comes to make up the difference and plug the holes.

The cycle will continue until a fair-minded majority says, "Enough already! Pick on some other self-destructive habit for a change."


Here's the part that bothers me: calling our elected officials "cowardly" because they won't "spread their budget burdens around"

What is that about?

Suddenly, an elected is a coward because the tax with the highest degree of support among the electorate is the one they choose to raise? A coward?

Them's fighting words.

And how exactly does Eric suggest budget burdens be spread? An income tax increase for the state? A property tax increase? A sales tax increase?

It's easy to criticize -- and very easy to throw around really inflammatory language like cowardly -- but those sorts of adjectives demean public service and make a usually-insightful columnist look a little mean-spirited.

Am I off base here or is Zorn wrong?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Why doesn't Rod or the Dems get any credit for ethics reforms?

Today Edwin Eisendrath launched his campaign for governor, setting up a Democratic primary. His website here has the theme of Honesty, Independence and Integrity and he has launched into an attack on Blagojevich's alleged corruption in office.

I wonder why no one seems to get any credit for the Ethics Act of 2003.

This was, I think by all accounts, a big deal.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (disclosure: a former employer for a bit) has this factsheet on the many provisions of the legislation. For the first time, a lot of things that were considered business-as-usual were banned with some fairly strong enforcement mechanisms, including:

  • Restricting gifts from lobbyists, state contractors, and others with a special interest in the outcome of government decisions to public officials.
  • Barring inspectors from soliciting campaign contributions from the businesses or individuals they regulate.
  • Creating ethics commissions for the executive and legislative branches of government to adjudicate complaints about unethical behavior.
  • Designating inspectors general to investigate ethics complaints about public employees and officials.
  • Mandating ethics training for all state employees and officials.
(from ICPR's site here)

Speaker Madigan and Governor Blagojevich deserve a lot of credit for this law -- the Governor pushed very hard over the summer and fall of 2003 for a tougher ethics package. No one seems to give him any real credit for that. That really was political reform and ending some shady practices.

I know there are a litany of complaints about Blagojevich (some of them fair, some of them carping) but for a moment, I'd like to ignore all of that and just ask the question why no one -- particularly the governor -- seems to get any credit for cleaning up part of Illinois government with this substantive Ethics Act.

Why does the national Republican Party insist on tax cuts for wealthy people?

I haven't been engaged with just the latest round of putting out country even deeper into debt through ridiculous tax cuts on wealth that the Republican Party is muscling through the Congress. It gets exhausting and monotonous and ultimately depressing.

Plus, I like most of the good news out of Illinois and Cook County and Chicago.

But the latest is roughly $50 billion in tax breaks for wealthy people and corresponding cuts of $50 billion in health care and education.

Way to invest in the future!

Here's a link from the AFL-CIO that calls on Congress to protect working families and reverse thse fiddle-while-Rome-burns tax cuts for millionaires.

And wouldn't it be nice if the Illinois Republicans who are generally more level-headed than southern Republicans could knock some sense into the national GOP party? Remember George Bush's father who helped pave the way for the prosperity of the 1990s by supporting a tax hike on wealthy people to invest that wealth in education and health care? What happened to Republicans like that?

Now they all look like Enron Republicans. Spend it all now. Enrich the rich. Forget the rest.

60,000 visits and 100,000 page views

Thanks for reading this blog, everybody.

I'm trying to update my links, so if you know of a blog that I've missed, please email me at dan@djw.info

Cover story on power plants in Chicago in the Reader

Mick Dumke has a cover story in the Chicago Reader here on the lack of any progress on a Chicago ordinance to force the two coal-burning power plants in Chicago (Fisk and Crawford, both owned by Midwest Generation, itself a subsidiary of Edison International out of California) to install modern pollution control equipment.

The issue is that these two southwest side plants emit a lot of pollution and the federal government is, under the Bush Administration, not moving to cut pollution anywhere. Thus, it is up to the State or the City to figure out how to cut pollution from these power plants. The same issue extends to just about every Illinois town with a coal-burning power plant, but Chicago's plants are the most residential (I believe).

So far, neither government has done much.

The Blagojevich Administration decided about a year ago to punt on this one, choosing not to impose tough pollution control requirements and instead work on a regional plan with other Midwest state legislatures and governors to come up with a Midwest standard. No word on whether there's been any progress on that front.

On the city side, as the article details, the ordinance has been stuck in committee for four years. Some argue that a city can't impose stricter emissions standards than what federal law allows. I confess I haven't studied the extent to which federal law pre-empts states or cities from setting their own standards, but I can't imagine that a city or a state couldn't choose to set tougher standards to protect the public health of their own people.

That leaves us with figuring out what to do about these plants that employ about 200 people, provide power to about a million homes (a good thing in the event of another breakdown in the electric grid) and make hundreds or thousands of people sick every year.

I've wondered why we can't figure out how to tax pollution to give Midwest Generation a financial incentive to invest in pollution control technology. Currently, the incentives are backward. Each generator sells their power on an open market, and there's no price differential based on pollution generated. In fact, if a generator invests in pollution control, that makes the price of the power more expensive, since the generator needs to include the millions that any modern equipment to control pollution costs into the price of the power that they sell. So the less a power plant invests in pollution control, the cheaper they can produce power and the fatter the profit margin.

One way to deal with this problem is to have the government set a standard for how much pollution power plants can generate. That works best if the federal government sets the standard, because then every generator faces the same constraints. It doesn't work so well if only Chicago has the standard, because then Chicago-generated power is more expensive to sell than power generated elsewhere, and the incentive then is to shut the plant down altogether.

It seems to me that a state tax on pollution would make some sense, since it would affect each plant equally and it lines up the incentives to cut pollution in order to make more money.

Of course, there is no correct answer as to how much to tax one ton of NOx or one pound of mercury or how to calculate the tax for a pound of radioactive waste from a nuclear plant, but that shouldn't stop us from coming up with our best guess (or let the ICC come up with a good guess) to keep Illinois plants profitable but give them a strong reason to invest the millions in pollution control equipment.

After all, as ComEd moves ever closer to its long-awaited retail rate hike in 2006, there ought to be a way that the public gets something out of the deal too in terms of fewer cancer deaths.

Government health care spending about as inefficient as possible

Another good article, this one from the NY Times, details again our wasteful government spending on health care by funneling billions through business tax breaks.

The article is here for the next week or so.

A neat graphic is here.

The figures are high: 130 billion or so in federal dollars spent through these tax cuts.

By comparison, Illinois will spend 45 million on the AllKids program to extend health insurance to 250,000 children through a direct program.

If the government simply ran one large health insurance system, like Medicaid, and abandoned the wasteful method of running money through private businesses to buy health insurance for their employees from another private business, we'd get the job done much more efficiently.

I guess a strained analogy would be if we decided to finance our national guard through private businesses instead of just hiring guardsmen and buying equipment -- each business would get a tax break for every guardsman they employed and if we ended up with far fewer guardsmen then we need, well, maybe we'd just have bigger tax breaks to induce more businesses to provide jobs for guardsmen instead of just hiring them directly.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Al Franken shows with Obama, Blagojevich

After reading the Austin Mayor's blog here, continually calling for an Obama '08 campaign (which I still think is unlikely), I found Al Franken's radio show and a couple of Illinois interviews: this one with Barack Obama taped in Chicago on Friday (two blocks from my office -- why didn't Al call me?) and this one from October with Rod Blagojevich on AllKids which really isn't getting the attention it deserves as a monumental move for social justice and a great example of Democratic governments going on the offense in the national public policy debate.

By the way, if you have kids and want to pre-enroll in AllKids, you can do so online here. The program kicks in this summer, so affordable health insurance is only six months away.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Grand trade on education proposed by Hidden Cost of Tenure editorial

What institution is likely to spend months and tens of thousands of dollars poring over court documents, musty personnel records from all 800 school districts, conduct hundreds of interviews and review every single case of a tenured teacher getting fired over the last 18 years? The General Assembly? The business community? The State Board of Education?

How about a tiny newspaper chain?

The Small Newspaper Group that runs papers in the Quad Cities, Kankakee and Ottawa financed this massive investigation. Their bureau chief, Scott Reeder, led the effort.

The results are here: www.TheHiddenCostOfTenure.com

I'll talk about them in a minute (and they are definitely worth a long read), but I wanted to note how appropriate this report is in terms of the debate on this blog on MoveOn.org (and some of MoveOn's 3.3 million members) protesting the Tribune Company's recent decision to cut back staff at its papers around the country.

Because of staff cuts at a profitable enterprise, we will all suffer from fewer reports like the excellent one that the Small Newspaper Group produced on teacher tenure.

The Tribune editorial board weighed in on the subject with their editorial here calling for an abolition of tenure, but it would be nice if a few of the bigwigs at the Trib's corporate office decided to invest more resources into newspaper staff.

By the way, when MoveOn.org people confronted the Trib's CEO at a New York City media conference (press release here, Trib story here), Mr. Fitzsimmons decided not to engage in that discussion.

The Small Newspaper Group had a few little suggestions and one big one.

The small suggestions include:

-- It shouldn’t take a reporter six months to get this kind of information. It should be collected by the state and offered to the public as an accountability report card each year.

-- Illinois should follow Iowa’s lead in outlawing secret deals with bad teachers. Sunlight is a great disinfectant.

-- Long term teachers who are incompetent should receive severance pay reflecting their seniority, along with professional outplacement help. This is better than keeping them in the system, where the damage they cause to students lasts for years after the student has left that classroom.

These all seem exceptionally reasonable to me and my hope is that the General Assembly and local school districts embrace the ideas. If I had to guess, I'd guess the first idea that forces the State Board of Education to do more work at collecting data is the one most likely to pass in 2006.

But the editorial closes with this idea:

-- But the greatest reform would be a grand trade. Financing schools with property taxes, started when only the rich owned real estate, is wrong, resulting in huge disparities among school districts in the state. Illinois should replace the property tax with an equivalent income tax, in return for real accountability for performance. The system we have is a sham and a disgrace..

Now that the costs of tenure are no longer hidden, we can do no less


This is the slowly simmering pot of a big idea that will hopefully be served up in 2007.

Up to now, the debate on education has turned on raising the 3% state income tax to 5% (raising about three billion), putting half the money into poorer schools and the other half into richer property taxpayers in the form of lower property taxes.

I've always found that to be an awkward trade.

Better, in my view, to trade accountability and performance for the extra money. Forget lowering property taxes altogether. Just spend the money on better schools. I believe that we're more likely to convince the reluctant taxpayer to pay an extra two percent of their income for education if s/he believes that the money will actually make a difference in the lives of children, and by extension, the state. That's a more compelling pitch than putting more money into the same school system (with some serious flaws), but with, perhaps, a smaller local property tax bill in exchange for a higher state income tax.

Scott Reeder and the owners of the Small Newspaper Group have done Illinois students a great public service in documenting some of the major flaws of our schools. Now we have the chance to use this knowledge -- produced by a civic-minded for-profit company -- to make life better. I hope this becomes a central part of the education funding debate.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Finally, the cancer clouds are banned. In 30 months.

Congratulations to the advocates of a smoking ban in Chicago. The City Council finally passed a Clean Indoor Act Ordinance that prohibits the cancer clouds in most places, but gives the bars 30 months to comply with the ordinance. That's the compromise that the liquor and restaurant industry was able to extract, and they also managed to get in a provision that if they can prove that the indoor air is of the same quality as the outdoor air based on their air filtration system, they can continue to smoke at the bar.

So all of 2006 and all of 2007 and half of 2008 will be full of carcinogenic smoke in Chicago.

Unless Commissioner Mike Quigley pushes Cook County to move faster than Chicago's July 1, 2008 deadline....(he has proposed a Cook County ordinance to ban smoking in all of Cook County).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Support for con-con 2008 begins to grow with school board members

Illinois voters will decide November, 2008, whether to convene a constitutional convention to consider improving the Illinois Constitution. This question appears on the state ballot every 20 years.

The first organization to endorse a constitutional convention is the Illinois Association of School Boards, according to this article in the Daily Southtown, reprinted on the Students First Illinois site here.

School board members understand that Illinois dramatically underinvests in children from poor areas, because schools rely on a local tax, not a state tax. That means poor areas have poor schools while wealthy areas have wealthy schools. Our 3% income tax, the lowest among the 41 states with an income tax, is the main reason why the state doesn't generate enough money to buy better teachers or build adequate facilities.

As the Southtown article puts it:

The current language on education funding was a result of the 1970 constitutional convention.

Delegates met in Springfield to find a way to get the state to pick up more of the schools' tab.

People were concerned that the state was providing just 31 percent of the money for schools, compared with 64.5 percent from local property taxes.

Districts with corporate headquarters and expensive homes were funding winners. Rural districts and industry-poor suburbs were losers.

Efforts to set a particular percentage for the state to contribute failed, but a line written by delegate Dawn Clark Netsch made it into the document.

The state has the "primary responsibility" for financing the system of public education, it reads.

"It was a club held over the heads of legislators," said Clark Netsch, a former senator and gubernatorial candidate. "The problem is, it hasn't hit hard enough."

I think there is something pathetic about opposition to a constitutional convention -- pathetic in the sense that the opposition to a constitutional convention is really opposition to a public debate about changes to our constitution that must be ratified by the electorate. That's it. It's fear of democracy, ultimately.

We should have a constitutional debate about the state shouldering the primary responsibility for funding schools -- and what efficiency measures the school districts and teachers unions should have to trade as part of better public policy. It's a good debate to have in the General Assembly and a good debate to have at a constitutional convention.

There's actually a yahoogroup for advocates of a constitutional convention here that anyone can join.

I hope Illinois voters (and the powers that be) support a constitutional convention in 2008. There are always improvements that we can make, and a debate on the issues followed by a public vote (and constrained by the protections of the federal Constitution) would be a very healthy thing.

Issues that I'd like addressed would include the constitutional mandate for a flate rate income tax, the odd, mandated 5/8 ratio of individual income tax to corporate income tax and perhaps a strengthened protection of speech rights. And for the tax-cutters, I think we should revisit the issue of whether all public pensions should be constitutionally enshrined where it is unconstitutional to lower any pension payments at all -- even those clear mistakes where some people are getting ridiculously generous pensions that the state, county or city can not afford. Pensions are our biggest fiscal problem, and the constitutional prohibition against fixing any of the worst mistakes in pension increases that the General Assembly has made over the years is a problem. (Yes, I know that pensions are underfunded, but I think it's fair to say that at least sometime over the last ten years the General Assembly has increased some pension payments unreasonably, and it would be best if some of those unreasonable increases could be reversed).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Tribune newspaper staff cuts opposed by MoveOn

Cross-posted at Illinoize

Our local media conglomerate, the Tribune Company, has apparently decided that 10-15% operating profits aren't enough for some of their newspapers, notably the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. They are looking for 25% profit margins.

So, they are cutting newspaper staff which means less coverage of government and politics, which means a less informed electorate.

MoveOn.org is sponsoring a petition drive here (sign it now) to call on the Tribune Company to reverse the cuts and invest in more reporters and editors.

The Tribune (through an LA Times article) was good enough to write about the petition drive here, and essentially argued that economic necessity forced these cuts.

At the Chicago Tribune, which recently reduced its editorial staff of more than 600 by 28, Publisher David Hiller said the reductions were similar to those being made at many other newspapers, including those owned by Knight Ridder Inc. and the New York Times Co.

"The necessity to make these cuts is unfortunate, but it's the reality of the marketplace that we are in," Hiller said.

I wonder if that's true. Isn't that what Conrad Black said about staff cuts at the Sun-Times when he was stealing hundreds of millions from Hollinger International? I'm not suggesting that anyone at the Trib is stealing anything, but I am suggesting that if the Trib is generating 10-15% profit margins now, is it really necessary to cut staff?

Of course not -- it's just a question of corporate greed versus civic values. If the managers can squeeze more money out of the papers for the shareholders, then they'll do it, civic consequences be damned.

It's a problem with corporate governance -- the push for shareholder value (making money) trumping every other value (democracy, education, and other non-money-making things that make our country great).

Here's the MoveOn email that makes the case on the numbers. The best quote is here:

Steve Wasserman, a former deputy opinion editor at the Chicago Tribune's sister paper, the Los Angeles Times, described how the Tribune Company is running journalism into the ground at his former paper:

Tribune Co. insists that the paper deliver annual operating profit margins nearer 25% or 26% than its more customary return of around 15% or 16%. (Last year...the paper reaped an operating profit margin of about 20%, a figure that failed to satisfy the Chicago moneymen.) The paper's top managers and editors are determined to do so or die trying

Maybe a financial guy (Nathan Kaufman?) can dig into the Trib's balance sheet to see whether the Trib is already making a healthy profit on the papers, and now they're just greedily looking to make more at the expense of the rest of us.

I find this frustrating, because I think the Chicago Tribune should be one of the world's best newspapers (that's what Tribune-owned WGN stands for -- World's Greatest Newspaper), and to do that takes bureaus around the globe running original stories, not a collect of AP stories from pages 5 through 12 of the front section. It's frustrating that people who want to read top-notch news can't also read about the Chicago City Council or the Illinois General Assembly, because the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal simply do not have Chicago Metro sections in their papers. If I had my wish, I'd have the Tribune Company decide to make the Chicago Tribune one of the world's premier papers and double the editorial staff. Then maybe they could get away with charging a dollar per print paper instead of 50 cents (as the New York Times does) and they could start charging for some content on their website. Make no little plans, Tribune!

Beyond the Beltway (radio only) Sunday with Chris Varones

This Sunday I'll be on Bruce DuMont's Beyond The Beltway radio show with Ed Burke (the British philosopher, not the alderman) fan and former House GOP staffer Chris Varones on WLS 890 am from 6 to 8 pm.

By the way, if you haven't seen the Museum of Broadcast Communications (www.museum.tv), check it out. It will be a fantastic addition to Chicago.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Judy's Cicero announcement at cool Czech restaurant

Cross-posted on Illinoize:

Judy's announcement today in Cicero took place at Klas Restaurant on Cermak Road. Klas is the largest Czech restaurant in the nation and is one of the most ornate places I've seen in the western burbs.

As you can imagine, Al Capone frequented the place.

If you've never been, it's worth a visit. The website is here. And the mix of Mexican and Eastern European cultures is a nice American story as well.

(It's also an interesting contrast to Governor Blagojevich's announcement at A. Finkl Steel plant on the north side of Chicago where his father worked for years).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

If supply-side economics is dumb, then are we progressives demand-side economists?

It strikes me that since the Reagan-Bush style economic strategy of lowering tax rates on the people with the highest incomes is called supply-side economics (make the rich even richer, so the thinking goes, and there will be a greater supply of money that can be used to invest in new businesses to stimulate employment), we progressives that recognize that strategy as bankrupt might be advocates of demand-side economics.

We don't really have a good name for our economic strategy.

The party of money has a great name in supply-side economics. That sounds so much better than enrich-the-rich economics.

I do think cutting taxes is a good idea if the people who get the tax cuts (and thus have more income) will spend that income in the United States. That will stimulate employment and economic activity, generating the multiplier effect of a dollar spent on tax cuts generating three or four dollars of economic activity.

Cutting taxes on wealthy people by lowering their marginal tax rate to 35% from 37% or cutting capital gains taxes does not have the same effect, since wealthy people don't spend their additional income. They invest it, and that means they buy equities or real estate or some other financial instrument anywhere around the globe. That does not generate economic activity in the United States. That's why enrich-the-rich policies are not as good at stimulating economic activity as demand-side economics.

I think demand-side economics is a better term than 'targeted tax cuts' that Clinton popularized. What's a competing term for the progressive economic agenda?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Steinberg's back ... it's nice to have that jerk back in print

His column is here, and he pulls out another great line:

Having your beloved crutch kicked away before being dragged backward by your heels through hell is not an experience designed to make one giddy at life's rich pageant.

and then he, somewhat senselessly, mocks the concept of organic food.

I think what I like about his columns is the combination of revulsion and admiration they generate -- I'm impressed by his skill and befuddled by the targets of his disdain.

Welcome back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Zorn's Month In Review -- just in time

I'm happy to participate in Eric Zorn's Month In Review feature on his blog where three bloggers pontificate on the events of the month in advance of the same conversation on public radio with three journalists.

I do have a confession to make: I was supposed to participate in October, but I had to beg off in the crush of veto session (and Jeff Berkowitz gallantly filled in at the last minute).

I'm feeling a bit partisan this week, but we'll see if the other pundits agree with me. Without further ado (and in separate posts for your linking leisure).....

Most Significant Story of the Month: The pivot in public opinion against the President's war

The pivot of public opinion against the War in Iraq, symbolized by Representative Murtha’s (D-PA) call for a withdrawal. Now that a majority of Americans have apparently come to the conclusion that the Iraqi invasion, lustily-longed for by the New Imperialists (or neo-conservatives) in the Bush Administration since 1991 and finally launched under clouds of lies when the nation was freaked out by 9/11, has turned into a horrible situation, the political consensus on other issues may shift away from letting the President do essentially whatever he wants. (See Loser of the Month for more)

Winner of the Month (tie): Judy Baar Topinka and All Illinois Kids who will get health insurance

Judy Baar Topinka. The woman has not announced her campaign for Governor, but has already been coronated by much of the corporate media (sorry Eric) and big business in the state. She’s allegedly leveraged $10 million in pledges and she definitely enjoys spontaneous support from surly Democratic committeemen from around the state. With Jim Edgar bowing out, she is the last, best hope of rich people around the nation that can’t stand to see the biggest state in the Union with a Democratic Governor, Democratic Senate and Democratic House.

Middle-class families in Illinois who will have affordable health insurance for their children through the AllKids program starting this summer, regardless of their employment or income. I’ve written about the significance of this program here, and it’s a shame that the Governor’s political problems have overshadowed the innovative move to make government improve the quality of life of all people. In a decade from now, when (if) Congress finally extends the universal health care that old people enjoy through Medicare to all children, Governor Blagojevich and the success of Illinois’ AllKids will be a significant reason why.

Loser of the Month: George W. Bush

His popularity is at an all-time low, his political mastermind Karl Rove took his fourth trip to the grand jury with more to come (after *his* Chief of Staff was indicted for lying about the treasonous action of outing a CIA agent for partisan gain), his invasion of Iraq has lost the support of the median voter, the moderate Republicans are finally pushing back against the reactionary let-them-eat-cake leaders of their party in Congress and he’s essentially without an agenda.

President Bush is politically toxic. People don't trust him anymore. And it's hard to see how things get better for him.

Most over-reported story of the month: Harry Freaking Potter

The Harry Potter actors are now teenagers. They’ve grown up before our very eyes. Lah-dee-dah. That, and anything having to do with Gwyneth Paltrow is, by my definition, an over-reported story.

Under-reported story: the federal budget's assault on the middle class

The slow, steady assault on the middle class by the federal budget – overtaxing working people and undertaxing wealth people, underinvesting in education and overinvesting in overseas military quagmires. Huge deficits and still, the Republicans push for tax cuts for millionaires by abolishing the estate tax, keeping marginal income rates lower than they should be and extending tax breaks on wealth (while keeping the payroll tax on work as high as ever). Meanwhile, there’s no money for education or community development block grants. These budget cuts hurt regular people.

The federal budget slowly burns away at the middle class, month after month. We're like a frog in a pot of water on the stove that gets hotter and hotter, never jumping out until it's too late and we're boiled alive.

Story to Watch for December 2005 -- candidate filings

The period when candidates can file their nominating petitions in the primary elections for statewide and countywide races is from December 12th through December 19th. New countywide and statewide officeholders will emerge next month. Will Edwin Eisendrath file against Rod Blagojevich? Who will file for Cook County Sheriff? How many conservative Republicans will file against Judy Baar Topinka in the Republican race for governor? And for Illinois treasurer, what Chicagoans (perhaps Representative John Fritchey?) will file against Downstater Paul Mangieri? Any dark horse opponents to Pat Quinn, Dan Hynes, Jesse White or Lisa Madigan (and how many people would have predicted in 2003 that none of them would have any opposition in their next primary election?) Will reformers Mike Quigley and Forrest Claypool find a way to avoid splitting the reform vote against John Stroger or will they both file for President? In cold and windy corners around the state, signatures are being gathered and we’ll know who will run for what next month.

Thanks Eric!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sheriff opening ... time for a progressive candidate?

Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan is not running for re-election, and this presents an opportunity for progressives in Cook County.

Currently there are no countywide Latinos (with the exception of Frank Avila, Sr., a Commissioner of the Water Reclamation District). That's ridiculous.

The Sheriff has a chance to be a voice against the drug wars -- the huge waste of our dollars and lives to imprison people for choosing to use drugs and hurting no one but themselves in the process. Our jails are overcrowded with lots of non-violent drug users, and these people should either be in treatment or back home.

There has also been some horrible abuse of prisoners that has gone on (allegedly) over the last few decades in Cook County, and the Sheriff can be a voice for reform.

Tom Dart, a former state rep and the Chief of Staff to Sheriff Sheahan, is (in my view) a reformer. He's also (as far as I understand) well-liked my most regular Democrats who tend not to push so much for an end to the drug war or a ringing voice against the few abusive police officers who stain the profession for everyone else.

I wonder whether Dart's campaign will gather up reformers and progressives without alienating the regulars.

And the dynamics of two white reformers (Mike Quigley and Forrest Claypool) running for County Board President against a black regular (John Stroger) while the office of sheriff is open and, potentially, a black reformer of some type might run against a white regular, with Dart trying to be the candidate of all Democrats will be fascinating.

What will someone like Barack Obama do with a race like this? Could you imagine how much traction Quigley or Claypool might get in their race for President if the Barack Star endorses one of them? Remember, John Stroger endorsed Dan Hynes for U.S. Senate.

(And the really nice part about all this is that in a lot of ways, Cook County politics is not driven exclusively by race. Whites do endorse blacks over whites; blacks do endorse whites over blacks. That's social progress).

Filing deadline is December 19th and the Cook County Democratic Party leaders are meeting this week to make endorsements (or 'slating' candidates for those new to politics).

Open seats are so much more fun than re-election campaigns.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Jim Oberweis is toast. Mark Kirk might be next.

NOTE: New experiment from one of the Kings of Illinois blogs, Rich Miller -- I'm cross-posting some of my posts to Illinoize, a new cross-ideological blog of Illinois bloggers that write about state and local politics and policy. It's here.

I attended the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights convention today at Navy Pier.

This is a well-organized, well-funded, very diverse and very savvy organization.

And they are making Jim Oberweis into a pinata.

They ran his campaign ad during their convention where he demonized the 10,000 job-seeking immigrants who come to Illinois every day, and the bipartisan denunciation of Oberweis was strong and it resonated.

Then, when two immigrants, a man and a woman, told their story about working in an Oberweis dairy for far less than minimum wage....well, there wasn't much steam left in the Oberweis brand for this crowd.

Up next: Mark Kirk.

Representative Kirk comments that discrimination in customs and homeland security intelligence and enforcement against young, Arab men is the next target of the coalition. They are calling quite strongly for an apology. The Sun-Times may have already leapt to Representative Kirk's defense, but I think this is a weak spot for Kirk that the coalition is pressing.

Diverse coalitions coalesce best with an enemy. Oberweis has already backed away from this anti-immigrant positions, and although the damage is done for him on any statewide race, he isn't much of an enemy any more. If Mark Kirk isn't careful, he may be filling that role of the anti-immigrant villain, which is not a good place to be for an elected official in a swing district where lots of Tribune reporters and editors live.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mixing it up with Bruce DuMont and Beyond the Beltway Sunday night

Good news -- I'm the Democratic guest on Beyond the Beltway with Bruce DuMont this Sunday. I understand John McGovern, a Speaker Hastert spokesman, will be on the show as well, and on the second hour, the guy from the Draft Guliani movement.

Tune in on WLS 890 am from 6 pm to 8 pm for the live show, or check out the taped version (if we do a TV version) on WYCC Channel 20 at 10:30 pm.

What do you think we'll talk about? How about a Reverse Robin Hood budget that the DC Republicans insist on pushing? Any other ideas?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

State of Illinois economy shows a need for a type of new deal

Free trade agreements mean lower wages for most and higher wages for the top in First World nations, as the high-wage manufacturing jobs wither away.

That's what I take away from a new report released today (but not yet on the web as of 8:40 am) called The State of Working Illinois, featured in the Tribune today here.

Incomes are flat in Illinois. The anecdote behind the data is the $15-hour job at a manufacturing plant that used to keep puchasing power high for the middle class is now largely gone, replaced (if at all) by $7 an hour service jobs.

That's a major shift and a major problem.

Free trade agreements absolutely accelerate this bad-for-our-economy shift.

Maybe there's a bigger upside in increased exports from Illinois, but the numbers don't look bear that out.

What can the State do?

Since the structure of our economy is shifting to push incomes down on most but skyrocket them for the wealthiest, we should raise taxes on high incomes and cut takes on incomes below the poverty line.

We should make higher education free -- or at least, free to anyone from a working class family through much more generous financial aid.

We can not blame high incomes taxes in Illinois for our flat wages, since our three percent state income tax is the lowest of any state with an income tax.

We should raise that 3% state income tax to 6 or 8 percent and exempt all income below the poverty line from any taxation.

And since our sales tax and our local property tax are each so high (that hits lower income people harder), we should feel even better about raising the state income tax.

That's a tax system that better matches the structure of a free trade economy.

If corporate American and the party of the rich want to push so hard for NAFTA and CAFTA and GATT and strip away every other protectionist tarriff (that ultimately protect higher wages in manufacturing), then their end of the bargain should be to tax the higher incomes that are generated from free trade in order to raise the standard of living of the majority of people that lose income from the deal.

That seems fair to me.

(Of course, congressional Republicans want to cut taxes on wealth even more. But that's another story).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A neat lefty running for President of Mexico

There's a cool three-way race brewing for the next President of Mexico.

I'll just quote from the New York Times piece here on the lefty candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party).

His main pledge has been to expand public works projects and to provide free health care and cash subsidies to the elderly, as he did in the capital. He has painted his opponents as captives of the same network of big business leaders and machine politicians who held power here for most of the 20th century. Rejecting an expensive media campaign, he has promised a grass-roots movement to galvanize voters from the lower and middle classes, from which polls say his supporters come.

Indeed, he has been touring the country by car, giving speeches in every town along the route, like the old whistle-stop campaigns in the United States.

"I think what's needed is a true purification of public life, a sharp renovation, and this has to take place from below toward the top," he said in a recent interview on Televisa. "That's why I do these meetings, these encounters with the people."

I like it.

Phil Gramm is testifying in Ryan trail....that's weird

Things are getting stranger in the federal building.

Former Texas Senator and Presidential candidate from the 'let them eat cake' (or alternatively 'leave no corporation behind' wing of the Republican Party Phil Gramm is scheduled to testify at the George Ryan trial this week according to CBS's fantastic blog on the trail here.

Apparently, when Gramm was running for president in 1996 (the year that Bob Dole eventually won the GOP nomination), then-Secretary of State George Ryan decided to endorse him. In return -- well, that's what the trial is partially about, I guess, so I should say, at the same time, Ryan's daughters and two supporters were put on the campaign payroll. As the CBS blog puts it:

Ryan endorsed Gramm in March 1995 and prosecutors have alleged some $32,000 in consulting fees were funneled to two Ryan staff members and the governor's daughters until the senator dropped out in early 1996. The fees were allegedly laundered through a Republican management consulting company.
So somehow, Phil Gramm is coming to Chicago to talk about George Ryan and the 1996 primary campaign. How bizarre. That this man might have been president. And that he's testifying in our former governor's criminal trial.

Did you see in Crain's, by the way, that Ryan's lawyers at Winston and Strawn are taking the case on pro bono? I hope they don't count that $10 or $15 million in legal fees that they waive for Governor Ryan as one of their good deeds to ramp up the firm on pro bono rankings like this one -- I always thought pro bono cases were supposed to be for poor people or the severely disenfranchised. I don't think white collar criminal defense really counts.

Events! Festivities! Democratic Politics! Policy!

Things are busting out all over in December....

First, on December First, the Latino Caucus Foundation is having a huge public policy conference open to the public. The link is here and the conference is in Rosemont. The Latino Caucus Foundation is the non-profit arm of the members of the Latino Caucus in the Illinois General Assembly, and this is one of the more innovative moves by a group of legislators in the nation (at least, that I am aware of). If you'd like an introduction to policy and politics in Illinois, this conference is a good place to start.

That night, Chicago PAC (a John Fritchey committee) is having an annual party at Cabaret, 15 West Hubbard, from 5:30 to 8:00 pm. It's $40 in advance, $50 at the door, and this one usually sells out. If you'd like tickets, call Fritchey's political line at 773.477.VOTE or just show up. This is a fun party.

Senator Hillary is in town on Saturday, December 3rd and she's speaking at a free event for politically involved young people under the age of 35 from 9 am to 11 am. The host is the American Democracy Institute, a new non-profit. If you'd like to go, email Rebekah (my former partner in crime on the Obama campaign in 42 and 43) at rebekah@jtpr.com and she will hook you up.

Got some other Democratic Party or progressive policy related events? Post them in comments.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Two good Chicago blogs on big picture ideas

The best law school in the world, the University of Chicago Law School, has a faculty blog here. I keep meaning to link to it, and finally, I've done it.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also has a few bloggers, one of the Midwest Economy and one on Economic Education. They are hosted here.

Thanks to Nathan Kaufman and his eclectic blog here for showing me the latter.

What's the best way to leverage our higher education assets in Illinois?

Nate Kaufman's post to this blog from the Federal Reserve got me thinking about the best way to maximize the potential from our higher education system. We've got about a dozen universities and perhaps three dozen community colleges. Unlike other states that integrate their universities into one statewide system (like California, Wisconsin and Minnesota), Illinois essentially has nine or ten separate systems for universities and three dozen or so separately administered community colleges.

That can't be the most efficient way to do things.

There should be easier transferability between colleges, and we should probably be importing thousands of students from around the world to our campuses. I'm sure we get a bigger economic bang from a non-Illinois student choosing to live and learn in our state for four years than from an Illinois student going to one of our colleges.

Seems like we should be increasing the number of non-Illinois students at our schools. And then figuring out a way to develop more businesses from our universities. Urbana is one of the world's leading research universities (Netscape was created there ... I was using Mosaic back in the day before there was a Netscape), but we don't really create a ton of start-up companies with all that brain power. Why not?

It can't just be the weather.

And it can't be our super-low income tax either, as California has higher taxes than we do. So does Massachusetts (two states that do a better job at generating business from universities than we do).

Any ideas?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

See the Wal-Mart documentary in your neighborhood next week

This is pretty cool -- there are 7,000 showings of the new documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" around the nation over the next week.

You can go to a neighborhood premiere and see the movie for free.

Click here to find a premiere or to buy the DVD or even to host your own premiere.

I'm glad that the Illinois General Assembly has again shown leadership on this issue by requiring that employers report to the state how many of their employees are on public assistance. Mary Flowers, with help from Speaker Madigan, got that into law. My archive on the issue is here.

It's good to be in Blue America!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Will W re-elect Blagojevich? And who is running for Treasurer?

It's pretty clear that George W. Bush is politically radioactive and that 2005 has been a very good Democratic Party year.

It's unlikely to get much better for the Republican Party in 2006, as the Iraq occupation isn't getting any better (that's what happens in occupations -- people tend not to like having a foreign army, liberators or not, setting up permanent bases), the economy doesn't seem to be getting any better, the corruption around D.C. isn't getting any better and still, still, still the radical wing of the GOP pushes for even more tax cuts for wealthy people.

So, if the national Republican Party is not much help nowadays, how are they going to be in a position to help Judy Baar Topinka?

I can tell you this: George Bush won't be campaigning with her.

Neither will Dick Cheney.

Those are two unpopular people in Illinois.

The Republicans will likely have a lot of money (because they are the party of money), and I guess they can throw some of it at Topinka for Governor '06.

But I have to think that the downward spiral that the D.C. Republicans are in will be more of a cost to Topinka than the money they can throw at her campaign.

Too bad we don't have gubernatorial elections the same year as presidential elections. We'd never lose the governor's office.

(And Speaker Madigan said a few years ago that he wishes the same thing....he cited that move to create 'off-year' gubernatorial elections as one of the mistakes of our state constitution -- he was a delegate to the 1969-1970 constitutional convention known as con-con).

But back to the fun stuff: who will be our newest statewide Democrat?

The filing deadline is December 19th, and I'm betting that in the next 40 days, there will be at least one other candidate for Treasurer besides Paul Mangieri. And as of right now, Representative John Fritchey is "not out" of the race.

Amtrak's boss fired by Bush board ... not good

David Gunn, universally praised as one of the best CEOs in Amtrak's history, has been sacked by the Board of Directors.

That's not a good sign.

The Bush Administration is pushing hard to break up or bankrupt Amtrak, which would put our economy even deeper into the hands of the oil producers, as we'd have to drive or fly for most intercity transportation.

News reports like this AP story mention that "Amtrak has never made any money" but that's like saying O'Hare has never made any money or that Interstate 94 has never made any money. The point in transportation is to get good public investment. Trains are a good investment, but the cut-taxes-for-the-rich crowd that runs the Bush Administration don't see that.

It's too bad that David Gunn has been fired. He was very good for Amtrak.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Judy's in, so Treasurer looks open for Dems

The most formidable Republican candidate for governor, Judy Baar Topinka, is in the running(without yet a formal announcement). This means that she now faces the prospect of a culturally conservative Republican primary electorate in open revolt (perhaps) in March. Fortunately for her, there are several candidates with the conservative label (two senators and the dairy magnate) who will split the vote. (We don't use Irish-style voting in primary elections yet to ensure the winner has the support of a majority of the electorate by holding an instant runoff if not candidate earns more than 50% of the vote. San Francisco is holding an Irish-style vote today for city assessor).

Today, however, I'm intrigued by the only open statewide seat for Democrats: state treasurer.

The last Democrat to hold the seat was Pat Quinn.

The Democratic Central Committee has slated Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri for the slot, believing that it's time a Downstater had some representation on the statewide ticket.

Latinos were a bit unhappy, as they believe it's time for some Latino representation, whether from Chicago or Cairo.

Representative John Fritchey, a potential statewide candidate, blogs here that the calculation to put a Downstater on the ticket should be reconsidered based on Topinka leaving her seat, and now the best candidate, regardless of region, should be selected.

Fritchey writes:

With the office now way in play, it is hard to believe that Paul Mangieri is going to be the best that the Dems put forward. And I mean that with absolutely nothing against Mr. Mangieri, whom I've never met. It's just that I think that in a blue state, with an open statewide seat up for grabs, the race is now begging for somebody with legislative experience and a broader perspective of state issues than one would get in his present position.

Plus, having successfully navigated the med mal bill through the Legislature, the Speaker is likely not as concerned as he once was about the vulnerability of some of his downstate members. As such, the Dems best bet is to put the most qualified candidate forward regardless of geographic or other considerations. And that means that there are now a lot of people that are going to give this race a fresh look.


I think Fritchey is correct, in that the Office of the Treasurer should be a top-tier target for the Democratic Party of Illinois. If Mangieri is the best candidate, great. But I suspect there are probably better candidates, and we should advance our strongest candidate for the race.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Illinois Sierra Club fundraiser Sunday at Kingston Mines in Chicago

Sunday night the Sierra Club Political Committee for Illinois is having a party ay Kingston Mines at 2548 N. Halsted from 5 to 8 pm, with Charlie Love and the Silky Smooth Blues Band performing.

Tickets are $35 and a few legislators will speak as well, including Kathy Ryg, Sara Feigenholtz, Mattie Hunter and John Cullerton.

The money goes to the state Sierra Club political committee, which is actively involved in electing environmental candidates, so if you are free Sunday night (short notice, I know), come on out.

For more, check out Jack Darin's Sierra Club blog here.

I think we tend to send too many dollars and other resources to D.C. to essentially complain about the Republican extremists running the show and play defense, when we could be supporting the progressives helping to run the Democratic governments in states and cities across the nation (especially in the Capital of Blue America), so this state Sierra Club funder is consistent with that thought.

And please forward this one around.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Data shows Illinois ignored in 2004 presidential election

[Disclosure: I work with these guys and held a press conference today on this topic]

Who thinks our presidential election system is totally broken?

And who thinks that, while there are a few less-than-perfect features, basically our presidential election 'works'?

If you are among the latter, check out this report: www.fairvote.org/whopicks

FairVote (a D.C.-based non-profit) crunched the numbers on the number of campaign visits by the four candidates (Kerry, Edwards, Bush and Cheney) and the numbers of dollars spent on TV advertisements by state for the last six weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign.

How bad would it be if a few states had absolutely nothing in either category? That would be a sure sign of something wrong if people who happen to live in a particular state didn't get a single TV ad or a single visit related to the most important political decision for four years.

Well, it's not just a few states that were completely ignored. More than 30 states were ignored completely, representing almost 60% of the population.

That's screwed up.

Of course, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania sucked up a ton of attention. So if you happen to live in those states, you matter in deciding the fate of the Republic. If you don't, sorry. I guess that democracy concept doesn't really apply to you.

And so much for the Electoral College protecting the voices of small states. Last time I checked, those three states were considered big.

I think the report is excellent (I didn't write it at all, so I can say that) and proves the case that our presidential election is broken.

I'd ask anyone who thinks otherwise to read the report and defend the status quo.

Another idea: why not sell Cellular Field?

I wonder how much money we could get if we sold Comiskey.

And then we'll see if the private landlord wanted to charge the White Sox rent or just give it away.

And it would be nice to collect property tax there as well.

Maybe then we could pay off the bonds for the Chicago Bears' stadium in Soldier Field and not pay interest.

Who else likes that idea?

The White Sox have ruined Journey for me.

I like that Journey song Don't Stop Believin.

That is, I liked that song.

Now, it might as well be Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Good Bye.

The Welfare Sox have ruined a good rock ballad by adopting it as their own.

I heard it at a Hallowe'en party and almost wanted to leave.

And now Ozzie Guillen and Jerry Reinsdorf are coming to Springfield tomorrow to dominate the day.

I know Rich Miller is excited about it, and congratulations to Gabe Lopez and anyone else who worked to make this happen.

But enough already!

Then again, it is entirely appropriate that the Welfare Sox come to the General Assembly, since we state taxpayers are basically part owners of the club.

We built their stadium and we don't charge them rent, unless they sell enough tickets.

Yes, a privately-held partnership (the Chicago White Sox) gets a rent-free stadium. Rent free! Unless they have a good year. Then they are good enough to pay something.

And if the Welfare Sox (owned by a bunch of rich people) won't pay nearly enough rent to cover the cost of constructing the stadium, who pays for it?

We do!

$37 million a year from the state budget goes to the landlord, the Illinois Sports Facility Authority. (According to this site from the Illinois Policy Institute -- those corporate-funded think tanks can do some good research. . . .)

And a 1.97% tax on Chicago hotels, which makes our region less competitive for tourism and for conventions that generates around $23 million a year.

For a good breakdown on the Illinois Sports Facility Authority that hosts the Welfare Sox, check out this brief from the Metro Chicago Information Center.

At least the White Sox' lease is up in 2011. So we can say it's time to charge $10 million a year in rent on a ballclub worth $350 million. And if that's too much, I'm sure some other team would love to play in Chicago for that price.

Will Jerry Reinsdorf thank the taxpayers tomorrow in his General Assembly speech for making he and his partners far wealthier? Don't Stop.....Believing......

Senate Democrats push back in DC

When the Vice-President's Chief of Staff is indicted and then resigns for trading our national security for partisan advantage, it's time to hold power accountable.

Today, the Senate Democrats led by Harry Reid and our own Dick Durbin, pushed back hard, forcing the Senate into a closed session.

That's what an opposition party is for.

Great move. Keep it up.

Bush voters should be especially embarrassed this week for giving these people another term. I can understand not knowing how radical and unethical the Bush team was in the 2000 campaign (I certainly underestimated them). But anyone who voted for Bush/Cheney in 2004 should be embarrassed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Perhaps another great progressive movement is starting in Springfield this week: universal health care for children

I'm fond of identifying Cook County as the Capital of Blue America -- the beating heart of the Democratic Party in the United States.

This week, Governor Blagojevich and the Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly (led by people from Cook County) are showing why that's true.

I'll start with Governor Blagojevich's speech to a joint session of the General Assembly on Tuesday. The House was packed with people -- most senators squeezed in next to one of their two representatives. Even Pate Philip, former Republican Senate President, sat in the gallery, wearing a bright yellow parka that seemed to reinforce his status as a retiree, a symbol of days gone by in the Capitol when Republicans used to run things. Most of the recognizable faces are here, and when Governor Blagojevich enters, along with the pageantry of a reception committee of 5 senators and 5 representatives, everyone stands and applauds. The feeling is a little medieval (the Speaker called on "His Excellency, The Governor" to enter, as per the ritual), but also warm. Judy Baar Topinka shakes his hand, and the chamber seems civil and friendly.

Representative John Fritchey's take on the speech is here, by the way. Video of the address is here.

Governor Blagojevich's political theme was that every child in Illinois should have the same health care that the children of politicians enjoy. It's difficult to defend the proposition that *my* children deserve state financed health insurance, but I won't vote to provide state financed health insurance to *your* children.

The most uplifting part of the speech was his reference to the central role states play in implementing progressive policies that then spread to the rest of the Union. In the 19th century, Horace Mann in Massachusetts initiated the bold idea that education should be for all children, not just the children of the elite and the wealthy. The common school, financed by the government and open to all children, is now the foundation of our economy and democracy. In the early 20th century, Pennsylvania led the way in abolishing child labor (laws later struck down by the conservative judicial activists of the Supreme Court), and later, the federal government followed dozens of states in abolishing the practice. And (in a triangular move), he praised the State of Wisconsin for pioneering welfare reform in the early 1990s which culminated in President Clinton signing federal welfare reform in 1996.

"Great advancements of social progress begins in states."

And then he segued into a stirring line

"We can lead the nation doing for kids what our country did for seniors in 1965" -- and that is providing universal health care. Today, just about every person older than 65 has health care insurance through Medicare. But, that's it. Now we can start from the other end and cover all kids.

Then to the heart of the matter. Blagojevich pointed out that our current health care system is perverse. If you're wealthy, you can afford to buy good health coverage, or your employer buys it for you (with a very generous public subsidy in the form of deducting the cost of the insurance from the employer's tax return and not taxing as income the value of the health insurance received by the employee). If you're poor, the Medicaid program will cover you and your family.

But if you're working with a modest income, you fall through the cracks.

People literally work themselves out of health care coverage in this country.

With a minimum wage job (of $6.50 in Illinois -- another sign of the wisdom of a Democratic state), the working mom qualifies for Medicaid and gets health care for her child. Work hard, get promoted and get paid less than the median income of $36,000, and you lose Medicaid.

The people who work are punished.

"Something is upside down. They are being punished for working." Blagojevich said.

And of course, he's right.

Our current health care system is simply indefensible.

And Illinois is fixing it.

The Senate today passed HB 806 (here), on a party line vote, to authorize the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to administer the AllKids program.

During debate, the Democrats were on both the moral high ground and seemed to connect with the practical, common sense concerns that most people face everyday. Senator Schoenberg (D-Evanston), a wonky legislator from a wealthy district, talked about the people who work 40 hours a week and are paid hourly -- and sounded authentic. Talking about providing health care for all children and not leaving behind the people who work for a living but are too poor for private insurance but make too much money for Medicaid sounded solid and compelling. I could imagine heads nodding in living rooms across the state.

To be fair, the Republicans' main objection that the actual legislation delegates far too much responsibility to an administrative agency is a reasonable one. The bill is rather skimpy. That can be fixed later as rules and regulations can be codified or trumped by new legislation, but it would have been better if the bill had more meat on it.

Tomorrow (or Wednesday of next week) the House of Representatives will likely vote on the bill, and the vote will likely be a party-line vote.

And perhaps this week, Illinois is taking the first real step towards a long-held goal of the Democratic Party to extend health insurance to all people.

It's an exciting initiative and a proud moment for everyone in Illinois who voted for these Democratic candidates.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

How do we know Republicans are for the rich? Ask them.

The base of the Republican Party -- their raison d'etre -- is to make rich people richer.

That's what they are about.

It doesn't matter what the consequences are.

It doesn't matter if as a consequence of making rich people richer, everyone else is poorer.

That doesn't matter.

Check the numbers. According to this article in the Christian Science Monitor,

Income disparities in the United States grew substantially from 2002 to 2003, new Internal Revenue Service statistics indicate. After adjusting for inflation, the after-tax income of the richest 1 percent of households rose by 8.5 percent, or nearly $49,000 apiece - helped by the Bush tax cuts. The bottom 75 percent of filers saw real after-tax incomes fall. The middle fifth of taxpayers, for instance, lost $300.


So just to be clear, Republican policies make the top 1 percent richer by fifty grand each while those of us making less than fifty grand all year had less income.

If you make less than 50 grand, you are poorer now because of Republican policies.

If you are the richest one percent, you are 50 grand richer.

That's what politics is all about. And when you are trying to convince someone to vote for a Democratic candidate, talk about money.

Republicans *hate* it when you do that! They want to talk about abortion or guns or what a horrible person John Kerry's wife is or oral sex.

But when you talk about money, people start nodding their heads.

Here's the latest proof that Republicans are about making the rich richer.

The President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform (pretty good website here). It's set up to give some recommendations to President Bush on how to reform the tax code.

And of course one they will conclude that we need to make rich people richer.

The way to do that is easy: cut taxes on high incomes and on wealth.

So the panel suggested that we should lower the rates that rich people pay on the income earned above $200,000 (because you know those guys are hurting) and that taxes on investments be lowered even more.

The panel wants to cut the highest marginal income tax from 35% to 33%.

That rate was 39.6% during the Clinton years. Remember, peace and prosperity?

Bush and the Republicans made sure to cut that down to 35%.

And now they want to cut it even more.

When we are broke. And college tuition is skyrocketing and financial aid is flatlining. And our infrastructure is not up to snuff (remember New Orleans?). And mass transit fares are going up because the feds don't pay for any operating costs. And they want to cut money for health insurance.

Here's a pretty good article on the panel from the New York Sun. It's all press leaks now as the panel hasn't made an official decision.

This what the Republican Party is all about.

And it is so incredibly frustrating that anyone making less than fifty grand would vote for them for any reason.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I must admit this White Sox move is awesome

Journey. 1981. Don't Stop Believing. Steve Perry.

That is about as awesome as a song gets.

And Terry Armour has the scoop here that the White Sox have adopted it as their anthem for the World Series -- and they are trying to get Steve Perry to sing in for Game 1 of the World Series.

What a great move.

I'm in New York this week for a conference, and walked past Yankee Stadium yesterday (first time in The Bronx). It was nice to think that despite all those World Champion signs on Yankee Stadium, a Chicago team made it to the Series this year.

So while I won't be jumping on the bandwagon, it's hard to be a hater.

I hope the White Sox take it all.

And then we sweep them at Wrigley next year.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

CTA rail trips to cost more than bus trips

Interesting...the CTA's proposed 2006 budget has a higher price for rail than for bus.

Check out page 48 of the CTA's budget here.

The fare for rail will be $2.00 and the fare for bus will be $1.75.

And yet....electricity which powers the rail is generated in Illinois while oil which powers the buses is generated in Saudi Arabia.

I'm sure it's more expensive to run the El than a bus, since the City pays to maintain the streets while the CTA pays for to maintain the rail and the stations and the station attendants. But it would be smart if public policy can reward power that generates wealth in the U.S. instead of power that generates wealth (and power) in other countries -- especially those that have been tight with our enemies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Welfare Sox of Illinois just take your breath away

Cubs fans, unite.

Unite in disgust and horror.

Unite in rooting for Angels.

And stop the Welfare Sox of Illinois from sucking away our spirit.

Eric Zorn had it right in his column (here), when he ruthlessly manipulated our nationalistic sentiments as effectively as Milosevic. He picked out the worst monsters on the South Side -- those that gave out free beers for every Marlins home run during the NLCS -- and made us believe that they personify the White Sox franchise.

Well, Crain's did a better job than Zorn at personifying the Welfare Sox. It is owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who will (along with the rest of the owners) make between $5 and $20 million more for the playoff run.

And how much with the State of Illinois make for each sold-out game at Comiskey Park -- I mean, U.S. Cellular Field (naming rights sold for the pittance of $15,000 per month which is about the cost of an expensive billboard on the Dan Ryan)?


Yes, the people of Illinois not only built a new stadium for the Welfare Sox of Illinois, not only continue to subsidize the White Sox with a $5,000,000 direct appropriation (page 16, as I read the budget of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority here), we've also been a terribly generous landlord.

We've decided not to charge them any rent for the playoffs!

It's free!

Go on, Jerry Reinsdorf! Use our stadium! Have fun! Make millions!

Meanwhile, we'll tear down public housing across the street because 'the state doesn't have any money.' And the Red Line on the El? Well, fares are going up, because 'the state doesn't have any money' for public transit this year. But for you guys? Go on: no charge. We'll just keep the hotel tax high -- among the highest in the country -- and wonder why we lose some convention business. Anything to keep the Welfare Sox happy.

Suck away on the public teat, Jerry Reinsdorf and the Welfare Sox owners. Suck away.

And Cubs fans? Be full of disdain and disgust for culture of dependency that infects the Welfare Sox.

But don't blame the fans. They were born with their attachment to a club with parasitic owners. Don't blame them. Just pity them.

Especially when their team loses.

But actually, I hope the Welfare Sox win. So that we -- their landlord -- can raise their rent.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rove's potential indictment good news for 2006 for a few reasons

First, when it becomes clear the President's right hand man compromised national security for political payback in outing a spy, voters will tend not to trust that party. Second, it is difficult for Karl Rove to plot and plan against the Democratic Party when he is worried about criminal charges. Rove is, by all accounts, a very sharp strategist and I'd rather he be distracted.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Transit is still in the red .. cash fares to rise in 2006?

The CTA proposed raising cash fares, but not fares used on the Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus, by 25 cents to induce more people to buy the cards.

One major problem: you can't buy the cards at the El stations. Why not? We've got people working there. Why can't they sell the cards? It's not like they're really doing anything else.

You can buy the card here.

We should sell Chicago Cards at public libraries and through the city clerk's office. It should not be this difficult to buy a Chicago Card.

But generally speaking, we should tax gasoline and parking more than we do and put that money into transit, because otherwise, we don't have an accurate pricing system. Without taxing parking and gasoline, driving is cheaper than the cost to society, and with rising fares to taking transit, that is more expensive than it's cost to society. These are externalities -- there is a cost to increased congestion and increased air pollution and increase dependence on Saudi oil that we all pay when people drive. And there is a benefit in less congestion and less pollution and less dependence on Saudi oil when people take the bus or the El (especially the El, since that runs on nuclear power, not oil).

The current pricing system is inaccurate, as it does not include those costs in the price to users.

So we should be taxing parking spaces more (perhaps through a higher property tax) and taxing gasoline more and taxing automobile registration, and put that revenue into public transit to get an accurate pricing system for transportation.

That was a great aspect of Illinois FIRST -- we taxed the right thing (license plate registration fees) and used it, in part, for the right things (mass transit). George Ryan may have run a dirty operation (see this post in John Fritchey's blog for a vivid example), but he was a hell of a governor. Death penalty moratorium, visit to Cuba, Illinois FIRST -- that's a trifecta.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Illinois to insure all children -- that's Blue America

Governor Blagojevich, with the support of Speaker Michael Madigan and President Emil Jones, is unveiling a proposal today in Chicago to insure *all* children in the State from medical bankruptcy.

Here's an article in the Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph, and here's one in the Sun-Times. There are lots more. CapFax has an early post.

Essentially, the new program called AllKids (which is cute) will subsume the KidCare program, which is our brand name for Medicaid. The beautiful thing about Medicaid, from Illinois' perspective, is that the federal government matches between 1/3 and 1/2 of the costs of providing medical care, so Medicaid expansion is a way to get more federal dollars spent here.

The problem with Medicaid (and lots of government investment in general) is that middle class people get priced out of eligibility once their income rises about a certain level. That makes the program seem more like a food pantry that only people in real financial trouble use instead of Social Security or the interstate highways that everyone uses at a cheap administrative cost. Medicaid should be open to everyone, and now, Illinois looks to be the leading state at making affordable health insurance accessible to everyone.

Which is amazing.

The state estimates that about 250,000 children do not have health insurance -- and you've got to imagine that hundreds of thousands of parents are paying more than they should to insure their children. The bill is only $45 million to ensure another 50,000 children (which is less than $1,000 per child per year, which is also less than most insurance premiums).

Keep in mind, by the way, that the state is already paying part of the cost of private health insurance -- that is, we're already subsidizing the people who are insured now. That's because health insurance is a pre-tax benefit that employers can provide to employees, so the state essentially grants a full corporate tax credit of 4.8% (the state corporate income tax rate) on the value of the health insurance. If the private health insurance for a child costs $2000 a year, the state kicks in a credit of $96. (And the feds kick in much more, since the federal corporate income tax is so much higher than the state's income tax rate).

All that's to say that this isn't 'government subsidy' where none existed before -- it's just a smarter way of rearranging government subsidies for health insurance to get every child insured.

This is a great example of why Blue America is a better place to live than Red America -- and why electing and re-electing Democrats to run state governments is one of the best uses of our hours and dollars.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Crain's explains power play between ComEd and Illinois

Steve Daniels does the best job I've seen in laying out the conflict between shareholders of ComEd and Illinoisians. The dozen or so nuclear power plants in Illinois produce the cheapest electricity in the country - 1.2 cents per kilowatt. Dirty coal is 1.6 cents. But natural gas, which was supposed to be cheaper, ten times as expensive at 13.3 cents. So the national market price for power is around 5 cents. Who should get the benefit of this cheap nuclear power? ComEd shareholders? (ignoring the subsidiary question, since the nukes are owned by a sister company to ComEd) Or Illinoisians? Illinois is clearly better off if we get the benefit, and that is basically what the public policy dispute is about. The full article is worth a read in the 9.26.05 issue.

Chicago smoking ban looks like it's coming....

This is great news. According to this article in the Sun-Times, the big time lobbying push to get a smoking ban in Chicago might have the votes to pass the City Council.

As is consistent with parliamentary procedure in Chicago, most of the negotiation happened outside of public view. There were few hearings or amendments offered to an ordinance in a committee -- instead, the negotiations occur behind closed doors among competing interest groups. That's not ideal.

But that's a minor quibble. Banning smoking in Chicago bars and restaraunts is about four years overdue, and will make me, for one, go out more, not less.

If you want to kill yourself slowly, do it outside!

I would imagine that calls from Chicagoans to Mayor Daley might help over the next week or so. You can reach the Mayor's Office by calling 311. Just ask to leave a comment with Mayor Daley. And by the way, any time you see anything wrong with the City -- street light out, garbage not picked up, a rat in the alley, a broken sidewalk, call 311. Lots of city services are complaint-driven, and if you call, they will come. No clout needed.

One more thing: there is a smoking ban rally Monday, October 3rd from noon to 1:30 pm at the Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams. If you work in the Loop, check it out.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Edgar: Four More Years!

Essentially, Jim Edgar endorsed Rod's re-election campaign. By dithering for three months, he froze every other GOP campaign and put them all at a disadvantage. Since he isn't willing to run, and he did not endorse anyone, he perpetuated the vacuum, leaving Dems looking better for 06. Good news for Blue America today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My idle speculation on Jim Edgar

Former Governor Jim Edgar said yesterday that he expects to make a decision much sooner rather than later on whether to run for a third term as governor.

I believe that he is being heavily courted by national GOP strategists and, frankly, who wouldn't be flattered by that sort of attention? I'd bet that President Bush put in a call to Edgar. Remember when GOP leaders were courting Edgar to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, and Edgar mentioned that he had not yet received a call from President Bush? I'd bet that if President Bush had *not* called, Edgar would have mentioned that.

And I would imagine it is difficult to say no to the President of the United States.

But my hunch (based on no inside information and every third-hand bit of inside information I've heard indicates that he is likely to run) is that Edgar will not run.

And the mail reason why I think he won't run is because I think the Blagojevich re-election campaign will be one of the best the state has seen, and I suspect that Edgar (a very smart politician) understands that.

So for a bold prediction....sometime next week, Jim Edgar announces......that he is endorsing Steve Rauschenberger!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Macy's instead of Field's....a downer

This is just as much a downer as the main Chicago bank, Bank One, getting bought up by J.P. Morgan Chase, and next year, all the Bank One banks getting rebranded by the New York bank Chase.

I can't say that I'll stop shopping at Marshall Field's because I basically only shop there for Christmas presents, but it is lame that a New York store is buying up the name of a Chicago store.

They should have kept the State Street store named Marshall Field's and got rid of the rest -- or combined the two somehow: Macy's at Marshall Field's or Marshall Field's Macy's or something.

Nathan Kaufman has some thoughts here on his blog.

And Phil Kadner basically says that Marshall Field's is for rich people, which is why the downtown papers were so affected by it. *Regular* people shopped at Goldblatt's. . . . .his column is here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

50 percent of Sears operating costs were-are health care

I just heard on NPR that more than half of all the operating costs for Sears are health care costs. The company cut their subsidy to retirees today. It's more evidence that the government should finance basic health care and take the cost off of the backs of business.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Marty Cohen as ICC Chair? Awesome

Governor Blagojevich hit a home run today in appointing one of the nation's most successful consumer advocates to Chair the ICC that regulates utilities. I would like to think Pat Quinn whispered in Rod's ear for this one. This move ensures that electric and phone rates will be fair in the state. Great move.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Good profile on Steve Schlickman, RTA Director

A regular reader sent me a notice of this Daily Herald article by Jon Davis that is the Chicago print media's first real profile of new RTA Director Steve Schlickman.

One nugget not in the article: his mother is former Democratic state representative Eugenia Schlickman, who was elected from the rock-ribbed Republican northwest suburbs to the House when we used three-member districts and had cumulative voting rights so every district was bipartisan. So I think he understands well the importance of ensuring that political minorities have a voice as well as the political majority.

Here is an interview in Jon Davis' article:

Speaking after Thursday’s vote, Schlickman said the transit agencies need “a unity of focus, a unity of purpose” before asking legislators for more money.

“I expect that they all understand that the way things played out last year is not the way it can play out in the future if we are to be successful,” he said. “When you talk about tensions, I think the issue is one of trust. Do you have the transparency that people desire to believe the numbers that are being put forward?

“That’s our job, to make sure everyone knows where the transit needs lie, and that no one is pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes to get more than is reasonable.”


Which basically means the CTA should have a more collaborative strategy in 2006 than they did in 2005. Whether it is fair or not, the perception that I've picked up among legislators is that the CTA came in hard and basically sought to shift all blame to the Illinois General Assembly in a rather confrontational manner. This year, somehow, with very similar budget pressures, we'll have to find a way to change that perception.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Guest column by Representative Paul Froehlich

Enjoy this guest column by Representative Paul Froehlich, who just had one of his up-and-comers in his Republican organization lured away by Speaker Madigan to run as a Democratic candidate against Republican incumbent Terry Parke, instead of as Froehlich was hoping, keep the guy as the GOP heir apparent to Parke. My partisan side is glad for the ruthless Dem move to help move the northwest suburbs into the Democratic column (which will help flip those congressional seats as well), but I feel for Froehlich. He was betrayed, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Hang in there Paul!

Contrasting the civil rights records of the two parties

by State Representative Paul Froehlich

Cook County Republicans belatedly understand something that hasn’t dawned on their counterparts in red states. The GOP cannot hope to ever win countywide elections until it figures out how to attract a large share of minority voters. The truth is that Republicans can’t win statewide elections either if they keep getting clobbered in the County of Cook.

What Republicans haven’t figured out yet is how to make the GOP more attractive to African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans who currently prefer the Democrats by huge margins. A new documentary DVD called American History in Black & White (2004) by David Barton of Wallbuilders.com reminds Republicans – and African-Americans – of what the party once stood for.

While it’s too long (at 1:45) and would be better with a black co-narrator, American History in Black & White is full of historical facts demonstrating that Republicans were once the champions of civil rights for black Americans while Democrats were fierce opponents. Here are some of the little-known events contrasting the civil rights records of the two parties:

* The Republican Party was founded in 1854 on the principle of preventing the spread of slavery, while the Democrat-controlled Supreme Court handed down the Dred Scott decision (1857) declaring blacks non-persons.

* When the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery passed Congress in 1865, 100 percent of Republican Congressmen voted for it, but only 23 percent of the Democrats.

* When the 14th Amendment passed Congress to protect freedmen from state violations of their rights, 94 percent of Republicans and no Democrats voted for it. Southern Democrats created the KKK, however, which was anti-Republican as well as anti-black.

* Republicans passed the 15th Amendment to guarantee the vote for freedmen, while not a single Democrat in Congress voted for it. Southern Democrats invented methods to disenfranchise blacks: poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, black codes, white-only primaries, and so on.

* Every African-American elected to Congress between Reconstruction and 1934 was Republican.

* Republican Congressmen passed the 1871 Civil Rights Act against Klan violence and the.

1875 Civil Rights Act, while not a single Democrat voted for either. The 1875 law was the last civil rights bill to pass for 90 years due to Democrat opposition.

* Three African-Americans have presided over national Republican conventions: John R. Lynch, 1884, Edward Brook, 1968, and JC Watts in 2000. No African-American has presided over a Democrat convention.

* The U.S. Senate recently apologized for failing to enact laws against lynching until a few decades ago. Republicans and some Northern Democrats tried repeatedly to pass federal anti-lynching legislation well into the 20th century only to see it blocked year after year by Southern Democrats. That's why Herbert Hoover won 3 of 4 black votes in 1932 vs. FDR.

* Senator Dirksen (R, IL) provided the crucial votes to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act over a Democrat filibuster.

This film reminds Republicans that the GOP was once dedicated to freedom for the enslaved and civil rights for the freedmen. It reminds that justice used to be the party’s top priority, and virtually all black voters were once Republicans. The film leaves out the Nixon Southern Stragety, however, that Ken Melman recently apologized for in a speech to the NAACP.

Unfortunately, Republicans no longer talk much about justice unless it’s to advocate the death penalty. Lowering taxes is more important to many Republicans today than correcting injustice.

It is this writer’s opinion that if the GOP is to make significant inroads in winning back black and other minority voters, Republicans will have to restore the pursuit of justice as a top priority. Republicans should take the lead, for example, in reforming the criminal justice system that convicts too many innocent minorities. Republicans should also recognize the injustice in gross school funding disparities and propose ways to reduce it.