Friday, April 29, 2005

Good progressive media conference in Urbana next week

Bob McChesney, a prof at the University of Illinois in communication studies and author of excellent critiques of the corporate media, has pulled together a top-notch conference for May 10-11 in Urbana. Representative Bernie Sanders, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Naomi Klein author of No Logo, Seymour Hersch, breaker of all good stories in the New Yorker about the bad deeds around the Bush invasion, and Phil Donahue, all-around good guy, are among the speakers.

The conference information is here.

I'm glad that the University of Illinois is hosting this innovative conference.

Here is some headline information from the site:

Can Freedom of the Press Survive Media Consolidation?

A Conference featuring Artists, Journalists, Media Executives, Policy Makers, Activists, and Scholars

Free and Open to the Public!

Sponsored by the Illinois Initiative for Media Policy Research
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign May 10-11, 2005

tentative schedule -- subject to change

1. Tuesday, May 10, Foellinger Auditorium. 5-6:30 PM Seymour Hersh, Keynote address.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I like the Sprint Insurance Program

This is a good day.

My Treo 300 broke. I bought the insurance through Sprint. Five bucks a month. Then a 50 dollar deductible. So today they sent me. . . a Treo 600!

Much cooler.

It's like Christmas in April!

For all the gadget geeks, you know what I'm talking about.

A Treo 600! A Treo 600! For basically nothing!

I like Sprint.

Back from an unwired, unphoned trip to the Capitol

The Treo 300 broke. So there was no blogging in the Capitol this week. And there were some fun things going on.

I can't find a link to yesterday's front page Tribune photo of Auditor General William Holland in his first press conference since the George the First Administration, but man did he look *angry*. He was just snarling out of that picture. I ran into him and his team as they were going into their press conference. The dude looked tense.

This will make it more difficult for the Blagojevich re-election campaign to run with a reform message, but far from impossible. As Rich Miller pointed out in today's CapFax (yes, I do read it on session days), the governor's team had some fantastic spin, trying to minimize the audit as a mere accounting spat. And my hunch is that, unless there's something criminal, it sounds like 'he said, she said' stuff. Even if it comes from the universally-respected-in-Springfield (and unknown elsewhere in the state) William Hollard. And, I think, even if it comes from another Democrat elected like Jack Franks. Remember, Paul Vallas had the most damning line possible in the primary: "Rod Blagojevich is what's wrong with Illinois politics" and that didn't really stick in the general against Jim Ryan.

But from what I understand, the Administration really just threw their sharp elbows around like madmen about this CMS audit. Apparently, the Auditor General raised some questions about these CMS contracts. You know, his job. And when the questions about the audit were tough, the response from CMS and the Governor's office was basically: "your audit is worse!" That's right, they challenged the auditing practices of the Auditor General. And that's probably why Holland was so mad and went public.

But you can see the Trib jumping on it already. Today's editorial (here) is a pretty fast turnaround. They made up another nickname for Blagojevich (Governor Pay to Play), crediting "state insiders" with coining it, and avoiding responsibility for just making it up themselves. (It's like when they just made up a nickname for Representative Mike Boland as "Squish" in an endorsement last year and presented it as a fact). So to the extent the Tribune editorial page can set the tone for swing voters (very dubious) or print coverage of the '06 campaign (slightly more possible), headlines like yesterday's will matter.

Also, I went to the Lincoln Museum. Definitely worth seven bucks. This will be a huge attraction. And I learned quite a bit (though nothing is cheesier than a guy putting on a lip-synched show and pretending to speak through a microphone in the Ghosts of the Library exhibit).

Monday, April 25, 2005

The bottle bill: showing Lt. Governor Pat Quinn's strength and weakness simultaneously

Pat Quinn, our reforming Lieutenant Governor, got a lot of press yesterday and today on his call for a bottle bill. (Check out for details). I think it's a great idea (as did the anchors on CBS last night . . .. after the segment on Quinn's initiative, they chatted 'great idea. . .about time we stepped it up'). Check out Quinn's site on the newly-christened I-Can legislation here, and a nice factsheet here.

This is an example of how a crusading elected official can help to set the agenda and move policy without any formal authority to do so. It's not like the Office of the Lt. Governor is in charge of environmental policy. This is one of Pat Quinn's greatest strengths.

His weakness is that there is very little follow-through. There is no bill introduced, just a promise from Quinn to work on it and calling on the General Assembly to make it happen. Well, it is a bit late in the game to push for a new idea. My guess is that no sponsor has agreed to work on this bill. It's still very possible to try to amend a shell, but it is getting tough.

Lots of Quinn's ideas are excellent. But few of them get the sustained attention (at least, publicly) to implement them. He had a great idea last session to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot setting up a 6% income tax for income earned above 100 grand, with the money split between education and property tax relief. Senator Maggie Crotty introduced the amendment (it's here, as SJRCA 21), but no co-sponsors and it hasn't been assigned out of Rules.

I do believe that Quinn has a lot more influence shaping decisions inside the Blagojevich Administration that it appears, but that's just a hunch.

If Quinn focused on a few of his top legislative priorities (like his very good idea to close a landfill gas loophole to fund conservation programs, which did make it into the submitted budget), I think he and his staff would find a receptive audience in the General Assembly. But it isn't enough to pronounce a good idea and expect someone in the General Assembly to do all the hard work at forging a consensus and passing a bill. As I have learned, even little bills take a *ton* of work to get through the legislative process. I tried to follow up on one of Quinn's good ideas on ATM fees (thanks to Senator Ira Silverstein for giving it a shot) and basically got spanked by the banks. The bill was SB 156 (read it here, especially Amendment 1), and it did not get out of committee. With more work, we might have reached a consensus with among the Democratic senators, but it takes a lot of time to find that consensus and figure out what policy improvements make sense. Quinn has a great staff, but I just hope that they can have a focused enough agenda so that someone can do that work on the bottle bill.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Jack Franks for Governor?

I think Russ Stewart went public first in his column linked from the Cross bloggers on the rumor that Jack Franks, a reformer state rep from a very red district, might run for governor in the Democratic primary. I am a big Jack Franks fan, but I am starting to get a little cautious about the electeds I support. I would hate to lose Jack Franks from the House. Check out the bills he filed this year. (when I get to the office, I will make a better link). He has one of the best portfolios of progressive bills of any legislator. (Full disclosure - Jack was the sponsor and driver of the first bill I have ever drafted that got signed into law in 2003 that lets county boards provide cumulative voting rights and I have sent him some very small donations as a token of my appreciation). I can convince myself that Jack would be more open to the swap than Blagojevich, though Jack has always been a reliable no vote on any tax or fee increase. I think he'd run a more transparent, progressive administration than the current one. He's one of the smartest guys in the General Assembly as well. But the Blagojevich political team could find some way to tear into him and Jack is less likely to pull labor away from backing Rod's re-election. I can imagine Rod's team putting a lot of heat on legislators to endorse his re-election campaign early, much like the Hynes for Senate team successfully did, which might hurt Franks' momentum. The lakefront would probably stick with Rod on gay rights (I think the perception is that Rod waited a bit too long to flex some muscle on the gay rights bill, but by late 2004 - I think it was veto session - Rod did come through, especially with Senator Shadid, so his stock is pretty high with gays.) Rod is also doing very well with the pro-choicers, an extremely influential group in the primary, with his innovative rule on pharmacists dispensing emergency contraceptives. Jack's district is pro-life so he has not been anything like a pro-choice leader. Can't you see the mailers on the lakefront now? Guns. Gays. Choice. Jack Franks would turn back the clock. However, the Paul Vallas constituency (defined as mostly independent voters who want an honest, reforming crusader in charge) will like Jack Franks a lot. Jack shares a lot of qualities of Pat Quinn. He is charming, honest, policy-oriented and appeals to independents. One other huge advantage to a Jack Franks campaign for Democrats - and this runs against conventional wisdom, so listen up - if Jack runs and draws 150,000 reformers to the Dem primary, those are 150,000 reformers who will not be voting for a moderate Republican candidate for governor. Just like Corinne Wood's campaign hurt Paul Vallas's campaign, a Jack Franks campaign will hurt a Bill Brady or a Judy Baar Topinka campaign, making a conservative GOP victory in the primary more likely and thus increasing the odds of a Democratic governor winning in November. In that sense, Jack's primary challenge could be the ultimate show of party loyalty.

Michigan 'swapped' state for local education taxes. . .and the followup isn't pretty

John Patterson of the Daily Herald has a good story here on a follow-up on Michigan's education funding plan. In 1994, they did the big swap, switching higher state taxes for local property taxes and putting the money into education.

The upside: poor kids got better schools, since the impossible task of generating money from a property-poor area no longer precluded those kids from getting a decent education. There was state money for schools.

The downside: all the states, including Michigan, are broke. That means money for schools has dried up in Michigan, while in Illinois, the local property tax has kept lots of schools in a better position. The property tax never really changes. People might have to move out because they can't afford it, but it is a stable workhorse of a tax. The sales and income tax revenues fluctuate with the economy -- when things are going well, lots of money comes in. When things are not going well, like now, the money stops.

So tying education money to our income and sales tax revenue has a downside, as Michigan shows.

That's why Ralph Martire and proponents of the swap are also calling for higher and broader taxes: a tax on services, not just goods, because services are growing as a relative share of our economy while goods are shrinking, and it doesn' t make sense to tax the shrinking share of the economy and not the growing share as well. And *that* is why conservatives are against the proposal. They don't want higher or broader taxes. At all.

I think our 3% income tax is too low, and our 6.25% state sales tax is too high -- especially when it tops out at 11% (!!!) in Chicago with the County, City, RTA and McPier local sales taxes added on. But the missing piece in education funding is an accountability measure to ensure the money goes to hiring good teachers and buying needed equipment, and not just fattening the pensions of the past.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Illinois pride in the Lincoln Library

I didn't go to Springfield to lobby this week, deciding to avoid the Lincoln Library mania. Instead, I got to see the show on C-Span last night (Barbara Bush's favorite network). And I felt some pride at seeing Illinois leaders creating a fantastic product for the world to enjoy. Wasn't it cool to see Emil Jones and Pat Quinn sharing a stage with George Bush and Denny Hastert? It was good to see that in a lot of ways, we are running D.C. more than most states -- and certainly more than any other blue state.

I thought George Ryan got the shaft. Sure, he might have allowed one of his hacks to try to get the job running the library, but Ryan financially delivered for the Library. He deserved more credit that he got at the ceremony, and I'm glad he showed up for it, even though he didn't get an invite to sit on the stage. People can be a bad guy on some issues and a good guy on some others. He was a bad guy when it came to personnel but he was a good guy at getting the library funded.

The unmentioned bad guy was Peter Fitzgerald. Every time someone made a joke about how long it took to get the library built, you could sense that Fitzgerald was silently blamed. He was the one who led a filibuster (a filibuster!) on the Senate floor against the project, warning against patronage and contract-kickbacks as a stain against the project. And you know what? Maybe he was right. So maybe he deserves some credit, not scorn, for helping to ensure that the library was built clean, and without kick-backs or patronage. Hey, maybe his delays ran out the clock on George Ryan's attempts to install his own hacks in the job, giving newly-elected Governor Blagojevich a chance in early 2003 to get Richard Norton Smith. So I thought Fitzgerald got a bit of the shaft as well. (Funniest line, I thought, was Blagojevich's when he rattled off Richard Norton Smith's accomplishments at running the Eisehower library, the Reagan library, writing a book on Nelson Rockefeller, maybe the Gerald Ford library as well, and then quipped: Rich, you don't do Democrats, do you?")

It's hard not to like George Bush. I laughed out loud - hard -- when he started his speech with "and it was a long time coming." His delivery is so open and approachable. A lot of my progressive friends tend to demonize Bush (and often demonize Republicans), but that doesn't jobe with the way that most people reach to Bush. He also gave a good speech, making the case that liberty is a birthright of every human, not just Americans. I'd prefer he say that democracy, not just liberty, is a universal human right. The only problem with liberty is that it is too easy to confuse that with low taxes -- as if a lack of government health insurance or public education equates to liberty. So I'm cautious about embracing 'liberty' as the first and highest calling of mankind. And that's why the Republican Party is such a full-throated supporter of liberty. Because it's easier to merge their rich-richer, poor-poorer strategy through an end to public investment with the noble calling of freedom from tyranny.

I also agree with Jim Dey of the News-Gazette here (hat tip to Rich Miller at CapFax) that Blagojevich gave a great speech. I don't know if Bradley Tusk wrote most of it, but whoever did should be proud of their work.

It was kind of neat to see the county-fair, summer-day looking crowd. The people who watched were clearly not 'official' people. They wore shorts and T-shirts. They looked like they were at Great America. And that's who the government is for: regular people. It was a nice change from most DC events where only dressed-up, VIP guests fill most of the aisles.

One added bonus: I got to see my Springfield apartment building in the background.

So, congratulations to everyone, including George Ryan and Peter Fitzgerald, who had a hand in making this museum happen. I'm looking forward to my first visit next week.

UPDATE: Phil Kadner of the Daily Southtown nailed an interview with Fitzgerald here in his column. Phil does a solid job explaining why we ought to credit Fitzgerald as well as everyone else on stage for the library.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thanks goodness the CTA is taking out a few bus stops

I'm on the 36 and learned the Dearborn Street bus stops at Kinzie and Hubbard are both getting eliminated in favor or a new single stop at the street between them: Illinois. This is good. We have way too many bus stops in Chicago. They keep traffic slow, make a bus trip far too long and raise costs since labor is the biggest cost driver (so to speak) for transit agencies. We should get rid of any bus stop that is less than two blocks away from another stop, especially since we're broke.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Illinois' tax system is among the most unfair in the nation, according to Governing Magazine

Governing Magazine (what, you didn't find that at Walgreen's next to the Angelina Jolie cover?) has rated all 50 states' tax systems. It's two years old, but still largely accurate.

We come out with 2 out of 4 stars in "adequacy of revenue", 1 out of 4 stars in "fairness to taxpayers" and 2 out of 4 stars in "management of the system"

The link is here.

The reason why we are rated so poorly for 'fairness to taxpayers' is because we start taxing income earned after $2,000 -- which means we tax poverty wages. And higher income dollars (like those earned after the first $85,000) are taxed at the same 3% rate as the ten thousandth dollar earned. Which is dumb for the state economy for a number of reasons, and also unfair. The other main reason why we are unfair is that all pension income is untaxed. All of it. So the 75-year old Wal-Mart greeter pays the 3% income tax, but the vacationing pensioner does not. That's not cool.

The College of Cardinals. . . . is really cool.

All those blood red robes. A ritual for almost two millenia. The largest organization in the world choosing a leader in absolute secrecy. There's something really cool about that.

For all the downsides of the medieval aspect of most religions ('King of Kings, Lord of Lords' runs counter to the egalitarian, democratic spirit of the modern world), this *conclave* is straight out of the 14th century -- in a good way. What a word: conclave. This is like watching a solar eclipse. It's just really freaking cool.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Ramsin Canon on SEIU Local 880's fantastic victory for child care workers

One of the main purposes of the Democratic Party is to raise wages. That's also the main purpose of organized labor, which is why labor unions often run the Democratic Party. A few of the unions are ossified, corrupt old beasts that leave a horrible image for labor unions. Most are decent. A few are extraordinary. SEIU is one of the extraordinary ones.

Here is Ramsin Canon's account as an SEIU organizer on the organizing victory for child care workers, earned just this spring. Wages will rise. Our economy will improve with more money in the pockets of people who will spend it. And our state will be a little more just, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of hours the organizers, advocates and volunteers invested over the last two years into the campaign. Thanks to them.

And if you're inspired by this struggle, join them. Join and SEIU, the most aggressive labor union in the county, right now.

Everybody wins in 2006 if HB750 (or something like it) passes

Governor Blagojevich won't increase the 3% state income tax to fund education and lower local property taxes, even though most legislative districts would come up a net winner under the plan (at least, conceptually). This general plan, once known as the Netsch-the-candidate-Edgar-the-elected plan, is now known as HB/SB 750. (That was kind of neat of the the House to reserve House Bill 750 to match Senate Bill 750 from last session).

Conventional wisdom, as expressed here by Eric Zorn, is that Governor Blagojevich's firm opposition to the plan essentially vetoes any chance to implement it. (Thanks to the link to my from-the-Rotunda report on John Bradley's boat rollback bil, EZ).

But isn't that what veto session is for?

I remain convinced there are 36 Senators and 72 Representatives that (a) would be re-elected after voting for a 5% income tax if the money improved schools (b) represent people (largely not the most affluent in the state) who would benefit from the 5% income tax and (c) understand that the people of their district would come out a winner under a 5% income tax.

If that's true, then they ought to pass 750 in May of 2006, well after the March primary (when most of them would then be safely ensconced for the 2007-2009 term, having survived their own primary challenge, if any, with only the other-party candidate to contend with -- not a factor in 75% of the districts). Let Governor Blagojevich veto the bill in June or July. Let him get re-elected in November as a friend of the taxpayer and a keeper of promises. And then a week after the General Election, override the veto and pass that puppy into law. Everybody wins.

My assumption is more stretched in the Senate than the House (I'd imagine). But advocates of investment in education don't need a flip-flop from Blagojevich. We just need 60% of the Members of the Illinois General Assembly.

Marla Ruzicka: another innocent victim of the war.

This is so sad. A friend of mine who invested her life into justice for some of the most overlooked in the world -- Iraqi civilians -- died outside of Baghdad from a suicide car bomber.

Her organization's site, The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, is here.

She was one of those people with a beautiful spirit.

Friday, April 15, 2005

High drama with the Nekritz bike bill

A long goal of bicyclists has been to ensure that all roads are intended for bikes and for cars. Share the road and all that. Elaine Nekritz has emerged as the bicyclists' champion and had her bill up today. The Municipal League and the City have been pushing hard to kill the bill and yesterday when the bill earned 60 votes, the oponents called for a verification. That means the clerk reads off the name of every rep who voted yes to see if they are actually in the room. Lots of times a staffer or a friendly rep will vote for a rep who is out in the hall or in a meeting. Well, there were only 59 people that were verified yesterday, so when Representative Parke called for a verification, the drama began. Were there in fact 60 people there? The pressure was on. And slowly, each of 60 names were intoned. There are only a few minutes that a rep is allocated, and in that heavy silence, Representative Parke commented that there's a lot of attendance today. . . . .And was a rep who committed to Nekritz going to take a walk out of the House to kill the bill? It has been done before as a way to avoid saying no to either side. But the time slipped away and the members began a countdown with how many seconds left Rep. Parke had to find a yes vote who was not in his or her seat. 'five, four, three, two, one' the crowfd chanted and with nothing left to do but accept the inevitable, Parke conceded with 'say it.' And the Speaker said 'with 60 voting yes. . .' Fun stuff.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Since Appomattox, that's the rule

Senator Haine had a fine line during Senate debate justifying a state bill to follow a federal law. You might not like the federal law, but we've got to follow it, since Appomattox.

Blame DC GOP for CTA, public school cuts. And welcome to the Capitol Mark Brown!

State and local governments around the nation are in the red and are laying off teachers. The CTA might have to cutservice dramatically which would be really bad for our economy. And what do the federal Republicans do to help out? Cut taxes for the children of the rich. Yesterday the House passed a bill to permanently repeal the estate tax which only affects the children of people who pass on more than a million five. You know, the people who are hurting. Inherited wealth. It's tough out there for those kids, and when it comes time to choosing between everyone in the Chicago region by reinstating federal operating support for mass transit and people like Paris Hilton, the House GOP consistently picks the children of the wealthy. Smart! Remember that idea of equal opportunity so anyone in America has a decent chance at moving up? Ahhh, forget it. That stuff is expensive! Good public schools and modern transit costs so much and we'd have to tax Paris Hilton to pay for it. How could we ever do that? Anyway, check out Mark Brown's column in the Sun-Times today. It's the first time since Carol Marin in February came down that a major columnist had a Springfield dateline, so congratulations to him. Maybe the Chicago papers ought to hire a columnist to work here and help make sense of what's going on to their readers. . . . .you think? And after Zorn just justifiably made fun of the Sun-Times lame attempt to cover blogs, maybe they ought to hire a blogger. . . . . I'm sure about a dozen of us would jump at the chance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The future of transit funding

This post is for all the policy wonks in the house. . . .everybody say yeeah. OK. So why is transit broke? Four reasons why the 1983 deal doesn't work as well in 2005. 1. Federal operating support dried up. Tax cuts for the rich instead. . . or a Clintonian balanced budget. That hurts a lot. 2. Operating dollars now go to capital debt service because there is a lack of other capital dollars like state bonds to finance debt. 3. Paratransit did not exist in 1983. Now the paratransit budget for the CTA is larger than the deficit (70 million versus 55 million, but I need to double check those figures. 4. Security costs, most of which are typical BS overreactions to 9-11. It's like these security guards at the Capitol who usually sit around doing nothing and a few hours a day do crowd control. And they make schoolkids line up outside to go through the metal detector. Anyway, those are the four cost drivers unanticipated in 1983. The other big problem is that we basically run transit off the sales tax, and the internet and the lack of service sales tax means that our revenues from the traditional brick and mortar sales tax are flat. That is not good long term for expansion. There isn't enough money there. So the future means both a new formula so that suburban Cook doesn't get screwed over and new revenues besides the sales tax, if we want expanded service like the Circle Line or suburb to suburb transit on the STAR line. Procedurally, Chairwoman Hamos asked the Speaker to charge the committee with the task of building a regional consensus with summer and fall hearings all over the six county area and look to pass something big at the end of the 2006 session.

Keep your eye on John Bradley and HB 1920 to roll back the casinos

The anti-casino forces are rallying right now in the Rotunda. John Bradley just gave a stemwinder speech on rolling back the boats and he had an admittedly sympathetic crowd in a very distracting environment in the palm of his hand. Lots of these Rotunda speeches get lost in the acoustics, but Bradley's was a killer. I've also heard some thirdhand buzz that HB 1920 might pass on third reading. I've got to say, I'm getting convinced that the boats are a loser for our economy. One lobbyist asked if I was ready to drink the kool-aid. . . .And by the way, look for Bradley to move up the ranks. As they say in Boston, he's wicked smart and clearly willing to file bold bills which is the unheralded and underused tool for populist legislators. Oh, and big ups to Rich Miller for acting like my virtual wingman. Read capfax every day.

Bottom line: Cook burbs get worst deal, no formula change this year, expansion needs new revenue and new formula

Fascinating report from the Mass Transit Chair Rep. Hamos. She quantified for the first time how suburban Cook gets the worst deal in the region by about $100 million. They pay about $100 million more with their one percent sales tax than they receive in transit services. The City and the collar counties each get more transit service than the sales tax they pay. The collars only pay .25 percent sales tax which is why they get a better deal than Cook burbs. And the CTA runs a 24 hour service which is why they spend a lot of money. But as Hamos said, this data should puncture the myth that the collars are subsidizing the City. Instead the Cook burbs are subsidizing everyone. Speaker Madigan sat in on the committee, indicating how important this committee is. And the short-term solution to the CTA crisis looks to be based on paratransit, both with some state support and by getting some federal Medicaid dollars for some rides. There was no talk of the software tax that the governor proposed.

High noon in transitland Wednesday at 10: Hamos may release her recommendation

Tomorrow (today) at 10 am the Mass Transit Committee is having a subject matter only hearing on the 1983 funding formula for how the saes tax is allocated to RTA, Pace, Metra and the CTA. It is possible and not unlikely that Chairwoman Julie Hamos will begin the 'solution' phase of the proceedings by releasing what she thinks a 2005 funding formula ought to look like. This has been the main beef of the CTA for at least two years so tomorrow could be a good day for the CTA. What I have heard buzzed around is that Pace would get all of paratransit which is basically door-to-door service for the disabled. We provide that service which is nice but very expensive. It is often essentially buying cab service for disabled people since they can not really work to pay for their own cab. Pace does a great job at paratransit and the CTA does a pretty crappy job so presumable that would be a win-win solution. Representative Kathy Ryg has done a ton of unheralded work on that paratransit issue as the subcommittee chair so if this goes through, she deserves some credit. However, that would end the Lipinski-Metra thought floated lasy year that Metra would simply absorb Pace and with it Pace's share of the sales tax funds. So to the extent Metra might prefer to absorb Pace, Metra might not like Pace becoming permanently relevant with all paratransit. Is it possible to revise the funding formula which is essentially a zero-sum game in a way that makes everybody better off? Let's hope so. We'll find out more in 8 hours or so (assuming I don't sleep through the committee hearing). And by the way, too bad poster Cal Skinner is no longer in the House. He would have added an intellectual and policy-oriented libertarian voice to the debate because I am sure he would have gotten on the committee.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

payday loan reform passed out unanimously

pretty cool. hb 1100 just sailed out of the House unanimously. This is still a solid bill and things could not look better for the senate. This agreed bill dynamic is part of the culture here. Legislators expect advocates to fight it out and negotiate hard and after enough time, they will ratify the agreement. The hard part is getting to the table. Big victory for the Illinois economy today with HB 1100.

Friday, April 08, 2005

If you do not like riverboat casinos, John Bradley has a bill for you.

What if someone was so fed up with gambling in riverboat casinos in Illinois that they tried to get rid of all of them. Would you call that person crazy? No. You would call that person State Representative John Bradley who has moved House Bill 1920 onto the House floor after earning an 8 to 1 vote in the State Government committee. The bill would simply revoke the 10 licenses to operate riverboat casinos in the state, currently held by different coalitions of now-wealthier political insiders. Bradley's point is that the 600-some million that the state collects in taxes from the boats is not worth it because Illinois residents pay a billion and a half every year to the boat owners. That money could generate sales and ultimately more income tax from the state if it were not sent to the boat owners, one quarter at a time. Then if you consider the other costs of bankruptcies, lost jobs, addictions and the rest, there is a suspicion that the money for the state is not worth it. So, commenters and readers, if you jumped down my virtual throat for not thinking the Governor's plan really constitutes an expansion of gambling, then start pushing HB 1970. For more background, google it because I can not link from my phone.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Maybe Rockford voters just like maverick independents with Morrisey, Hull and Anderson

Yesterday Rockford Mayor Doug Scott, a good guy Democrat, lost his re-election bid not to a Republican but to an Independent, Lawrence Morrisey. Few cities with more than 100,000 residents elect independents in partisan races. This is a big deal. But I think it is consistent with Rockford voters' history. In the 2004 primary, Winnebago County (where Rockford is located) chose Blair Hull over Dan Hynes, Barack Obama and everyone else. Winnebago was the only county that Blair Hull won, and Hull was certainly the most independent or maverick of the major Dem contenders for the Senate seat. And John B. Anderson, my political role model, launched his independent campaign for President from Rockford as well. I think they just like independents more than most, and that is one factor in the mayoral election. Speaking of independents and upsets in mayoral elections, Big Ups to Berwyn! The independent reformers routed the machine candidates in a near-sweep of city races, ending almost overnight decades of corruption in the near West suburb.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Perhaps the greatest short film of all time

It is an ode to motherhood. The rap artist is Mr. T. And the decade is the 1980s.

The film is here. Thanks to EF for the link.

This is a gorgeous election day. We should hold elections in June.

Every election day should have 70 degree weather. Our spring elections should be moved to early June.

The power of a citizen. . . . don't underestimate it.

Here's a nugget from this recent article on Barack Obama's speech in Kewanee, Illinois in the Star Courier:

Obama urged the people in the audience to get involved, and said 10 letters from constituents can have more influence on a politician than a $1,000 contribution.

"If bad legislation is being passed, a lot of times it's because nobody's paying attention," he said.


Write your Member of Congress (especially if you live in a Red district), and ask them to vote against the Bankruptcy bill.

What a class act -- Weber and the Illini

This quote says it all for me (found here in the Sun-Times):

"Tremendous,'' Weber said of the season as a whole. "What else can you say? It goes down in history. If you're not happy with this, I feel sorry for you because life ain't getting any better.''


That's great. There's no moping. There's joy. Getting to the national championship game and battling it out to the end is fantastic. Go Illini.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Tom DeLay getting hammered. Join in and help

So Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, U.S. House Majority Leader and a real a-hole (according to the people who work around him. . .I've never met the guy) is perhaps the most unethical Member of Congress currently serving. He's the guy that might get indicted for campaign finance violations, and the reason why the Ethics Committee changed their rules to let him continue to serve in leadership *even if* he gets indicted. Dirty deeds. He's also the guy behind the Texas remap that flipped four D Members of Congress to the Rs.

So it's a good thing that some progressives are taking him on.

Check out for more on this.

The Illini are all class - and they kept the Chief at home

Add one more reason why the Illini are a classy team: Chief Illiniwek stayed in Champaign. Thanks to MDS at CerebralFan for the tip. Remember all those stories about how this magical season is distracted by the protests from Chief Illiniwek? Oh that's right: there aren't any. Someone in Urbana had the good sense to leave the white dude jumping around in a fake Indian costume at halftime back where he belongs - back home with the rest of the stuff we have outgrown. We might smile at how people actually believed it was OK to dance around in an Indian suit back then and hold no ill will towards those days, but when the country pays attention, we drop that headdress like a hot potato and compete with more dignity. And somehow, that leaves the symbol of the state's flagship public University just right. We pay our respects to the tribe that gave our state our name without any clownish antics, just a nod to our origins. We ought to let the halftime dance at home fade into memory as well.

UPDATE: Chris Rhodes of the joincrossblog calls into question my alumni status (97 LAS, by the way) because he correctly notes here that Chief Illiniwek does not appear at *any* away games. That's in part because some campuses won't permit him (the University of Minnesota comes to mind). If Cheif Illiniwek isn't welcome elsewhere as a relic of 1950s-era thinking, perhaps we should let our home games catch up to the rest of the world. Elite programs don't have controversial mascots.

One other interesting wrinkle: the House Republicans have been using the "Keep the Chief" issue very well in Champaign County for years -- well done, Chapin Rose -- but I wonder how well it plays in the rest of the state.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Gov gets credit for stopping some rogue pharmacists

I give Governor Blagojevich credit for his emergency rules on Friday requiring pharmacists to dispense all drugs, including morning after pills and birth control pills, that a doctor prescribes, regardless of the pharmacist's beliefs. I also give credit to the pro-choice advocates that pushed this issue over the last few weeks. I'm sure Blagojevich is earning some points with the influential pro-choice crowd around the country. You sure can't imagine any Republican issuing these rules. One sort of funny thing . . . he attended a service in Logan Square tonight according to CLTV and the presiding Bishop directly called out Rod to rescind the rules according to Church teaching. Afterwards Rod was giving a quick press conference and seemed to be straining to avoid the word dialogue. He said 'the bishop expressed his views. That is great. And I am looking forward to. . . uhm. . . listening to them. It was a special night.' Wouldn't it be nice if the next Pope came to see birth control as promoting a culture of life? The anti-birth control pill plank is really the weakest link in the pro-life / anti-choice argument. It is hard not to come off as an ideologue uninterested in reducing abortions if one opposes birth control.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Federal budget hurts CTA more than Kruesi

CTA Director Frank Kuresi is getting pounded for being less than transparent with the possibility that there would not be enough money to keep all the Brown Line stations open during reconstruction. But let's not lose sight of the bigger picture. An extra $22 million would keep those stations open. And in a $530 million project, the feds are only kicking in $246 million. That's less than half. If this were a highway project, the feds would kick in 80 percent of the cost. That's why we keep building highways and then more housing out on farmland which requires more oil to drive ever-farther and that keeps the terrorists well-funded. The Brown Line runs on electricity, not oil. Our federal transportation budget should line up with our foreign policy goals to defund the terrorists by using less oil. So don't just blame the CTA for our current woes. Blame people who vote Republican! And for those federal Dems who favor highways over transit. By the way, this means we in the city should be zoning and building high-density, moderate-income housing to take full advantage of our transit instead of more big luxury homes with garages in very dense neighborhoods (thanks to a commenter for that reminder).

Friday, April 01, 2005

Pope John Paul was a world shaper

There are few men living who shaped the world more than Pope John Paul. And his relentless work to open up Communist nations to democracy should be remembered and thanked. I've read that the Polish Solidarity movement would have died stillborn were it not for Pope John Paul. That's amazing. He had more influence in shaping nations and empires than those Popes of the first millenium that would ride out in person to battle the armies of rival kingdoms.And he did it with his words, not with force.

Let's hope the next Pope devotes as much energy to freedom and democracy around the world as Pope John Paul has done.

And my prediction: an African Pope is next.

Same boats, shorter lines, more tax money. And no horses!

Facing a billion and change structural deficit in our state's 50-some billion dollar budget, Governor Blagojevich called for shorter lines and more places to gamble in our 10 licensed riverboat casinos. Nine are operating. Rosemont is fighting for the 10th license.

We're the only state with casinos that limit the number of slots and tables ('gaming positions' according to the Sun-Times account and the Governor's press release here). The proposal would be to double those positions. Apparently, there are lots of would-be gamblers waiting in line for the $5 blackjack table, and if there were more seats in the boats, then more suckers would hand their money over to the boat owners. At least there's a 70% marginal tax rate so the State gets a good chunk of the money -- but I'm sure those salaries and management expenses in the boats are fairly ridiculous, to show a smaller profit margin.

It's hard to get agitated over more seats in the same casino as an expansion of gambling. What's the difference if some senior citizen gets to throw their money away at a faster rate in the same casino instead of waiting in line to methodically drop one quarter at a time into a spinning, beeping machine? I guess there will be more money lost to the casino owners (and thus, more tax money for the schools), but it doesn't seem like a real expansion of gambling. A really crappy economic development strategy and a pretty solid way of impoverishing people who are bad at math, but not really an expansion of gambling. It's different than a new casino.

The accountablity and standards piece of the Gov's plan also sounds fairly solid (if not that big a deal -- see Rich Miller's piece on it here), but if he really wanted to 'rock the system', he'd try to challenge seniority-based teachers' contracts. Now *that* could help shake out some deadwood and get the burned out bureaucrats who are wasting our schoolkids' time out of the classrooms.

And one other *fantastic* part of the proposal: no new money for the horse racing industry. Those guys are unbelievably greedy. They currently get a direct grant from the state of something like $17 million every year -- just because the casinos create some competition for their tracks for gambling dollars. Well, boo hoo. Maybe we should start sending some money to every freaking restaurant in the State because casinos create competition for dining dollars as well. And maybe we should send money to every theatre company in the state because casinos create competition for entertainment dollars. If the horse racing guys get a dime out of this proposal, the Governor should veto it. (But knowing the Speaker, he's unlikely to call a gambling bill until the Governor makes a public commitment to accept the whole deal). So the game is on to ensure the horse racing guys, led by the Duchossois (Doo-sha-SCHAW . . . so very French) family, don't skim off any new school money.