Monday, March 28, 2005

Is the CTA getting a raw deal or are they shooting themselves in the foot?

The conventional wisdom is that the Chicago Transit Authority leaders are continuing to shoot themselves in the foot in their effort to get a bigger slice of transit funding in the six-county region. First they botch the Brown Line, telling everyone that they can get it done without any station closings, only to reverse course a few years later before construction is set to start, infuriating the electeds along the line. Then they take a hard line with the Illinois General Assembly, telling the world that either the state comes up with $60 or $80 or $100 million or so to plug a structural deficit, or the fare hikes and service cuts will the state's fault. As one senior senator told me "Fuck CTA. You put a gun to my head? Sheeit." Loosely translated, state legislators don't like getting put into a corner and told that it is their responsibility -- and they will be held accountable -- if new money isn't found.

And most people blame the CTA for their current woes.

I think they might be getting a raw deal from conventional wisdom.

First, assume that the CTA is correct on the substance -- they are getting the short end of the transit funding stick in the region. Remember, Cook County taxpayers pay 1% sales tax, while the other counites (Will, DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Lake) all pay only 0.25% sales tax. CTA also runs a 24-hour service while Metra in the burbs need not. And the numbers don't lie. CTA and Pace are broke, while Metra is doing very well financially, thank you very much.

And here we are approaching April and the only legislative solution so far for new money is a propsed software tax to close a big business loophole. That's expected to generate $66 million or so, and in the Governor's proposed budget, all the money goes to the CTA. Is that enough to avoid the upcoming fare hikes and service cuts? Maybe this year.

Ultimately, the remedies are (a) a return to the pre-1993 federal operating subsidies for mass transit -- it was President Clinton who was the first to propose eliminating the federal dollars for mass transit (b) raise the sales tax to 1% in the other counties, and put that extra money into transit in a way that convinces the suburbanites that it benefits the whole region and not just the CTA (c) raise the gasoline tax (my personal favorite) and (d) reallocate the existing funds to put more into CTA and Pace and less into Metra and the RTA bureaucracy.

Those remedies are not so much on the table. Representative Julie Hamos is chairing the Mass Transit Committee to look to hash out a consensus solution, and there's been a lot of good work done already, but a solution has yet to emerge.

So what else is CTA supposed to do but start the process of fare hikes and service cuts without adequate funding? And they get the heat as the bad guys. It doesn't seem quite right to me.

UPDATE: State Representative John Fritchey is one of the North Side electeds who is quite unhappy with the CTA's handling of the Brown Line. This article in the Sun-Times lays out how Fritchey doesn't believe the CTA's line that it is impossible to change the construction schedule to avoid station closings.

I wonder if the ultimate state remedy is some more accountability or transparency. I'm not sure exactly how that might work. Ideas are welcome.

UPDATE TWO: I've got some figures from the RTA. This is the 1983 deal which the CTA contends leaves them on the short end of the stick.

Source of sales tax

Chicago (1%) Cook burbs (1%) Collars (.25%) (Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Will, Kane)
CTA 100% 30% 0%
Metra 0% 55% (!) 70%
Pace 0% 15% 30%

So that's the point that CTA is raising. CTA thinks that 55% in suburban Cook for Metra is way too high, and that the collars ought to pay more than 0.25% sales tax for the service in the collars.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Go Illini Go! And Beyond the Beltway tonight

Fantastic. The Illini are in the Final Four with one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball history.

And I'll be appearing on Beyond the Beltway today, likely talking about the partisan, we-know-better-than-your-marriage federal Republicans trying to fire up their anti-choice base with the Terri Schiavo private legislation.

It's about as hypocritical as can be to propose an anti-life and pro-hunger budget with cuts for the poor, and then act like the saints with this special Schiavo bill. Which is designed to try to beat Florida Senator Ben Nelson, and let the fundamentalists running too much of the GOP trump the rule of law.

I'm with Roger Ebert: keep Marshall Field's

There's a new corporate owner of the Chicago department store Marshall Field's and they are considering wiping out all the regional names of their stores and consolidating the Macy's brand for all the stores they own. I'm not much of a shopper but I do like the rich Chicago history of the guy who was named Marshall Field. He was the one mostly responsible for our gorgeous public lakefront remaining forever free and clear from real estate development. Those public beaches and parks just don't happen. He was a landowner and under tremendous political pressure to permit development along the lakefront. He held out and we enjoy the fruits of his stubbornness. I think that history is worth preserving, so I hope we can continue to have a downtown department store named after one of Chicago's greatest citizens.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good piece on skepticism on government's account of 9/11 attacks

The San Francisco Bay Guardian has a good, fair piece on the 9/11 attacks and the determined group of people that are challenging the official story. It is difficult to believe that the most secretive federal administration in modern memory told us the full, official truth about the 9/11 attacks -- especially given the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If you've harbored doubts that we know the full story about the attacks, but have no idea what actually happened (just criminal neglect from our military and intelligence that they couldn't have stopped this attack -- especially the third or fourth plane?), read this piece.

I have no idea what happened, but I doubt I've been told the full story. Remember, the hawks had been publicly calling for a "new Pearl Harbor" to galvanize public support for an invasion in the Middle East since the mid 1990s.

And on conspiracy theories -- the only way to describe the 9/11 attacks is a conspiracy theory. Steven Jones writes about this well in the Bay Guardian cover story. Here is an excerpt:

The Bush administration offered its conspiracy theory while the buildings were still ablaze, has done little since then to deviate from it – and has done almost nothing to prove its veracity beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It goes like this: Nineteen fanatical Muslims conspired with Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to plan and execute the hijacking of four commercial airplanes using box cutters and the element of surprise, and to fly those planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and probably the White House.

Three of those planes hit their targets with pinpoint accuracy before the U.S. military could react – two of them causing the most catastrophic structural failures of steel skyscrapers in history – while a passenger rebellion in the fourth airplane forced the hijackers to crash it into a Pennsylvania field. All this was unexpected and couldn't have been prevented. The attacks were an act of war launched by a well-organized and well-funded international terrorist operation.

To believe this theory, you must accept that, despite receiving an unprecedented flurry of intelligence warnings about imminent terrorist attacks on the United States, the military was caught so off guard that it couldn't even pull the commander in chief out of his elementary-school photo op or get fighter jets in place during the 34 minutes between when the second tower and the Pentagon were hit – even though everyone knew that the United States was under attack and that Flight 77 was known to have been hijacked and was being tracked on radar the entire time it barreled toward the nation's military headquarters. (Each of these facts is from the official 9/11 Commission Report.)

And you have to believe that the Bush administration cover-ups that came next – from denying information requests from the commission, Congress, and criminal courts to telling lies about its intelligence and actions – were entirely about avoiding political embarrassment or for some undisclosed national security reason, and that nothing more ominous (or related to the geopolitics of oil) was remotely intertwined with any of this.

You have to believe, in other words, that one of the most secretive and manipulative administrations in U.S. history is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth about an event it has aggressively exploited to implement long-standing and far-reaching political plans, from the USA PATRIOT Act to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

---and my favorite part of the piece, that really ought to give everyone pause---

It's absolutely true, for example, that the government's theory has never been subjected to the usual rigors applied to a case of mass murder. The government has never sought to have any of its evidence heard in a court of law. In fact, its refusal to make relevant witnesses and evidence available has caused the only successful 9/11-related prosecution – a German court's conviction of Mounir el-Motassadeq on charges of helping alleged 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta's terrorist cell in Hamburg – to be overturned on appeal last year.

Even Zacarias Moussaoui – an alleged coconspirator who acted suspiciously at flight school and was arrested by Minneapolis FBI agents the month before the attacks (agents who at the time told FBI headquarters they were "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center," according to testimony to the 9/11 Commission) – has been ordered released by a judge because the federal government refuses to allow for his fair trial.

Congressional inquiries were obstructed and denied documents and testimony by the White House, yet even with a cursory review of the intelligence documents they could get, the hearings revealed the fact that the Bush administration had received dozens of urgent, credible warnings that the attacks were coming.


(DJW again). Before you react, read the article. One would have to be remarkably incurious to simply accept the government's explanation -- and there's a slight hint of authoritarian behavior by those who react with righteous disdain to people raising questions about the most significant political event of the last few decades.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

They are the religious fundamentalists, not the religious right

I heard a U.S. Senator speak this afternoon about his 2006 bid, and how the "religious right" is continuing to organize around this absurd Schiavo case to mobilize their base.

We ought to call them "religious fundamentalists" instead of the "religious right."


First because the former is more accurate.

Second because "fundamentalist" sounds scary.

Third because "right" is a synonym for "correct" and that's not something we want to associate with our political opponents.

So don't use the term "religious right" and if you see anyone in print ever using it again, email them the better term.

Frame the debate!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Good article on long-term opportunities for the Dems

Sam Smith of the Progressive Review lays the case here for why the GOP lock is not nearly as bad as it seems. He blames Democratic misfortune largely on what he calls the "Vichy Democrats" of D.C. who try to position themselves as GOP-lite (responsible Republicans) instead of populists. When both parties sound about the same, swing voters don't see a difference -- because the "Vichy Democrats" work hard to erase any significant difference between the parties. That is a poor strategy.

In the base GOP states, income is below-average. That's an opportunity for populists to earn votes. Anyway, check out the article.

Awesome site on the Sun-Times building destruction

Rich Miller found a time-lapse photography site of the Sun-Times building coming down, set to Billy Corgan music. It's here and it is poetic.

UPDATE: The music is by Frou Frou, not Billy Corgan. Sure sounds like Corgan to me. . .

Monday, March 21, 2005

Judy Baar Topinka is aiming for the mansion

Lynn Sweet breaks another big story with her piece here in today's Sun-Times on Judy Baar Topinka's plans to run for governor. (It's not quite a breaking story, but this seems like the first big media piece that says Topinka is definitely planning to run. And Sweet breaks the story by accidentally running into JBT's main staffer Nancy Kimme outside of Speaker Hastert's office. That's good journalism.)

Anyway, I think Judy Baar Topinka is, by far, the most formidable challenge to Rod Blagojevich in the state. Remember, Bobby Rush endorsed her over Tom Dart for State Treasurer in 2002, proving she has a lot of crossover appeal (and yes, I know that Dart backed Obama in 2000 when Obama ran against Rush for Congress, but still, a Dem ward committeeman endorsing a Republican statewide is a big deal, and wouldn't be considered without strong appeal by Topinka).

I think the biggest liability that Blagojevich faces among liberals is the perception that Topinka is more likely to back raising the income tax from 3% to 4% than Blagojevich. A 4% or 5% state income tax is long overdue (the main reason why poor Illinois kids have below-average schools), and most civic people believe that. Governor Blagojevich's 2002 campaign platform centered in part on not raising the 3% income tax. But he does not need to center his 2006 campaign around the same bad policy. Neither does Judy Baar Topinka. I believe that there's a swing voter constituency (maybe 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the electorate) that will back the candidate that is perceived to be more open to a 4 or 5 percent state income tax. So if Blagojevich campaigns on promises not to raise the 3 percent income tax to 4% or 5% in his next term, then I think he is potentially in some trouble.

The truest part of Sweet's article was this nugget:

*Blagojevich is popular with women, especially those who are more than 60 years old.

Older women love this guy! My favorite line from the '02 primary was a heavier woman with a nice Bridgeport accent in her fifties with a Rod button on. I asked her why she supported him and her answer was: "He's young, he's good-looking, he wasn't rich when he started and he's rich now." What are you going to say to that?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Another police over-reaction to a lefty protest

Why do the Chicago Police always freak out and send five times more riot geared up officers than is necessary for every lefty protest against U.S. foreign policy? I just passed by the Federal Plaza and there must have been 400 officers - most of them with riot gear - standing around far fewer protesters. The civic message is clear: the authorities are here to intimidate any citizens whio speak out publicly in a group. What a waste of money. The police should stop treating protesters like an enemy army.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Blagojevich appoints a new (clean) slate for the Gaming Board

The Sun-Times has this article on the new Gaming Board finally back in business after Governor Blagojevich let it sit with only two members (less than a quorom of three) for months. He's got some new picks that are as clean as can be (from what I can see).

Paul Simon's daughter, Sheila Simon, a Carbondale Councilwoman, and probably future state rep or Member of Congrss, got the nod. You know she's clean.

Aaron Jaffe, former Skokie state representative and Cook County judge, is also a clean guy.

I'm not as familiar with the others: Reverend Eugene Winkler, Jr. (who has been civically active), Charles Gardner and Joe Moore, Jr. (could that be alderman Joe Moore's son? No, it's not.). But this looks to be a good move.

There's something sad about casinos in general, especially as they tend to be filled with poorer people who can't afford to enrich the investors of the casino with their meager pension payments one quarter at a time.

Plus, all that government revenue is not subsidized by the feds as an income tax would be, so it's another way we are missing the boat in Illinois to keep more of our wealth.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy St. Patrick's Day. It's time.

I'm plugging a website the Midwest Democracy Center set up a few years ago at that promotes a move to the Irish system where voters get a first choice and a second choice. They also use districts that elect 3 to 5 people instead of just 1 so the politicians elected from an area are diverse and represent the majority as well as the minority. Our government would be better if we used the Irish system.

Fascinating death penalty debate on 'absolute certainty' instead of 'beyond a reasonable doubt'

Yesterday the House held a long, rich debate that split the parties and natural allies in unexpected ways. The proposal came from GOP leader Cross to raise the legal standard for a jury to impose the death penalty in a first degree murder charge from the well-known 'beyond a reasonable doubt' to a new standard 'absolute certainty.' Beyond a reasonable doubt is not exactly self-defining. What exactly does 'beyond' mean? A jurur may have a reasonable doubt in her mind that the defendant committed the crime? Or the evidence must move 'beyond' that point so a juror may have some doubt in her mind, but less than a reasonable doubt? So does that mean an unreasonable doubt is the only type of doubt permitted? The phrase is poetic but not precise. The Cross bill substitutes that standard for 'absolute certainty' which is self-evident (at least more so than beyond a reasonable doubt) and is also a higher standard to meet. So the question then becomes strategic. If you support the death penalty, do you support this bill, which makes it more difficult to impose? And if you oppose the death penalty, do you oppose this bill which may male it easier for a future governor or General Assembly to lift the moratorium? Art Turner, a leading abolitionist, supported the bill while Barbara Flynn Currie, another long-time abolitionist, opposed it. The black caucus largely supported it while the latino caucus voted against it. Most white progressives (with the exception of BFC and Feigenholtz) supported it. On the death penalty side, former FBI agent Jim Sacia spoke against the bill as a de facto abolition of the death penalty prompting former Police Chief John Millner to speak in favor of the bill, sharing his experience working the last death penalty case in the state and assuring House members that the convicted defendant would have been convicted under the new standard as well. The states' attorneys who prosecute criminal cases were uniformly opposed as well. The bill passed with 66 votes, with Republicans supporting it by a 2 to 1 margin and Dems narrowly opposing the bill (further evidence, by the way, that Speaker Madigan is more than fair to House Republicans . . . a stunning contrast to GOP speakers in southern states who ignore Dems in the minority altogether). The bill's prospects in the Senate might be rockier, since Cross doesn't have the same pull over GOP senators than he does over GOP reps (though Cross does not as a rule try to impose direction on caucus members). I'm largely an abolitionist (although the John Wayne Gacy or Osama Bin Laden examples weaken my opposition on principle) and I think I would have voted yes on the bill. The moratorium is on shaky legal grounds (there is no law, just a shared understanding that no state's attorney will seek the death penalty out of deference to the governor who will not sign any death warrants) and I'll take an incremental improvement any day. The bill is HB 2704 and can be found at

Monday, March 14, 2005

Get your free credit report. . .and prepare to get freaked out

Thanks to consumer advocates and good-guy legislators, we can each get a free credit report from the big three credit bureaus.

Go to to do it for free (don't go to the other sites which may try to rip you off) and you can view it online immediately.

They have data from 10 years ago. Everywhere you have ever lived -- and a few places you haven't. Freaky.

These credit bureaus are essentially unregulated, and the credit scores that they assign to us really affect our lives in a big way. I'm glad my buddy John Gaudette of Illinois PIRG is working with progressive state legislators on strengthening consumer protection laws. (For example: next time you buy something with a credit card in Illinois, check out the receipt and note that all the numbers of your account, except for the last four, are x'd out, so it looks like xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-6473. That's because of a state law that Illinois PIRG drafted and worked on. Pretty cool, huh?)

Anyway, exercise your right to check your credit report at right now.

UPDATE: With a little first-hand research, I discovered that Representative John Fritchey worked this bill last session, slogging through endless objections from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. So thanks to Fritchey.

Mayor Garcia of Chicago? Laura Washington is grasping at straws. . .

In today's Sun-Times here, Laura Washington speculates that Jesus "Chuy" (pronounced like Chewbacca's nickname) Garcia might be the logical Latino candidate for mayor in 2007, assuming that progressives want to invest in a challenge to Mayor Daley.

While it's evident that Mayor Daley hasn't seen fit to clean out all the parasites that infect municipal government (and why not? that's an enduring puzzle), it isn't evident to me that there's sufficient juice for a challenge.

I like contested elections, but I don't buy the idea that progressives need a black or brown mayoral candidate in order to 'revive' the progressive movement in Chicago. That's the assumption behind a lot of the column. Here's what I mean:

Activists desperate to revive the Harold Washington-style progressive agenda are talking up a Garcia candidacy.


A Garcia bid could make the case that City Hall is ready for reform, knock off some of those black and Latino placeholders who pass for aldermen, and shake Chicago's progressive movement out of a 20-year funk.


20 year funk?

Did she, or these activists, miss the Barack Obama primary campaign?

The progressive movement is alive and well in Chicago.

So, I'm all for more candidates and a real, contested election for mayor in 2007. But the idea that the progressive movement is defined by the Office of the Mayor is (to my ears) a song from the 80s.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Cook County forum with lots of potential presidential candidates

The last time the Independent Voters of Illinois - Independent Precinct Organization ( had a public discussion with Larry Suffredin a year or so ago, I learned a ton. I blogged about it here.

The next one is in a few weeks, and this time we'll get five commissioners scheduled to speak. Come by if you can.
March 23rd 6:30-8:30pm.
Chicago Temple
77 West Washington @ Clark

Cook County Commissioners Quigley, Claypool, Peraica,
Simms, Suffredin will be there discussing the Cook
County budget process and reforming Cook County

Thursday, March 10, 2005

College voter registration moves forward

Ultimately, whenever you deal with the government (registering for the draft, signing up for classes at a public university or at a public high school, changing your address with the post office, getting a drivers' license), you should get registered to vote at your current address. Mandatory. Today, the Illinois General Assembly took a step in that direction.

Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) has been working on college voter registration since 2003. I drafted up HB 4141 for her last session, which got rolled into an omnibus elections bill SB 955, which (long-time readers might recall) included provisions to put Bush on the ballot, give voters a 14-day grace period to register and lots of other improvements. That omnibus bill wasn't called in the Senate, so those provisions (like college voter registration) which were not also in separate bills died.

This year we have been working on HB 715. Today the bill was voted out of committee, as amended. The amendment is one of those ways that it is clear the Speaker runs the House. I had been working on a compromise amendment with the lobbyists from the colleges to figure out how to make this work. We had reached a tentative agreement, but then the Speaker's staff decided they'd prefer the language from last session in SB 955. So that language was inserted into the bill, and the bill sailed out with Republican votes. It's nice when the Speaker likes your bill. . . not so nice when he doesn't. And here's my minor quibble with the new language that bloggers might enjoy. The amendment reads:

(10 ILCS 5/1A-30 new)
Sec. 1A-30. College voter outreach. Each public
institution of higher learning in Illinois must make available
on its World Wide Web site a downloadable, printable voter
registration form that complies with the requirements in
subsection (d) of Section 1A-16 for the State Board of
Elections' voter registration form.

World Wide Web site?

Who calls it that?

That's so 1995!

Otherwise, it's a solid amendment. I'm going to try to get a technical amendment to change "World Wide Web site" to "internet site." Maybe the Cross bloggers can help me convince Rob Uhe (Speaker Madigan's legal go-to guy, formally the Parliamentarian of the House and the Head, I think, of the Speaker's Technical Review staff) to change it. . . .

Rod is a reformer. A Reagan reformer

The people who pay attention collectively threw up their hands in exasperation when Governor Blagojevich called for campaign reform that will "rock the system" (you could almost hear Queen starting up in the background). How can Rod the Bod position himself as a reformer, and get the headlines for it, when he is the most successful fundraiser from state contractors in state history? Speaker Madigan essentially made that point today (getting some headlines of his own) when he called on Blagojevich to give back any money from contractors.

But on the other hand, Blagojevich does deserve real reform credit for his work in 2003. He campaigned on a clean up government platform ("ending 25 years of Republican corruption") and when the Senate weakened the ethics bill in late May of 2003, the governor vetoed the bill to the surprise of many and after tough negotiations in veto session, a stronger bill (much closer to what the House had originally passed) emerged. That's not fluff.

So now, without an obvious scandal that triggers a clear reform remedy, what's the reform agenda? Senator Miguel Del Valle laid down the obvious first choice -- ban contributions from contractors. Comptroller Dan Hynes, with all the other statewides (except for Rod) agreed, and most passed an executive order banning the practice in their office. (I think A-G Madigan is still working on it). That's a big step. Blagojevich has not yet responded, except for the vague call to come up with something even bigger.

Well, I've got a few suggestions.

Blagojevich is particularly interested in weakening some of the power that Speaker Madigan and President Jones hold over their respective members. Speaker Magidan especially runs the House, with his leadership team, and if there's a bill that he doesn't like, it simply doesn't get called. I think he gives the other 117 members quite a bit of room to advocate for lots of bills (and he is remarkably fair to the House Republicans who get basically the exact same treatment as the House Democrats in terms of their bills getting assigned and called -- which is, come to think of it, quite extraordinary that he doesn't get more credit from Republicans for being a fair guy). But if a bill falls on the wrong side of his calculation, it just doesn' t move. Sometimes that power is used for good (like when he single-handedly saved the state from another billion in long-term unfunded debt from the older-teachers' pork project called the Early Retirement Option), and many times it is used for bad (and these are the bills that never get called or get assigned to the Executive Committee that would improve lives).

This must be frustrating for Governor Blagojevich who would prefer more manuevering room and try to construct a 60-vote majority of his own with some backbencher Dems and some Republicans. That's why he called the very intelligent Representative John Bradley a "wallflower" in 2003. So what can Governor Blagojevich do to encourage a tad more independence among the backbenchers?

Clean Elections, on the Arizona, Maine and Vermont model would help a lot, where if a candidate qualified for the ballot, s/he gets a government check in the neighborhood of 30 grand if they promise not to raise any other money. That's not a lot of money, but with 60 grand, a hard-working candidate with a big volunteer base could compete without relying on Speaker Madigan's staff or money for their election.

I'm sure lots of legislators would prefer to have a way where they could run and win on their own. Any way to encourage that from happening, whether through tax credits for small donations, or free television time, or a voters' guide with information about the candidates or a government check to candidates, would be good for small-d democracy.

It isn't clear what Governor Blagojevich will propose, but it is fair to say that he is a reformer (getting back to the title of the post). He's a Reagan reformer.

I believe that Rod likes small government. Remember, he voted for Ronald Reagan. Twice. Over John B. Anderson! It's inconceivable! So the guy who said "government isn't the solution to the problem; government is the problem" earned the vote of our current Democratic governor.

I think that the governor's budget reflects Democratic values, especially in the investment in Medicaid, but in the context of a shrinking budget, ever-fewer dollars for education and a brick-wall refusal to raise taxes, Blagojevich ends up looking like a Reagan reformer.

The pension problem is another example of Reagan reform from Rod. He's right about that issue, and he's basically taking on a core Democratic interest group. That is reform. It's Reagan reform, but is reform. Why do you think both George Will and Tom Roeser like Rod so much?

So what does a Reagan reformer propose for fundamental campaign reform? Probably not (unfortunately) government checks for candidates. Maybe he proposes limits on contributions. We're already about fully-disclosed in terms of contributions. Maybe a ban on contributions from regulated industries or corporations or lobbyists (which saves me a few hundred bucks every year). We shall see. Anyone remember what Ronald Reagan considered campaign finance reform in the 80s? That's probably as good a guide as any.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

payday loan showdown

bradley burke dunn are presents. lou jones is a present. mautino and mccaulife vote no. mccarthy votes yes. reitz is a present. 16 yes 3 no and 10 present. David Miller's reform bill moves onto the floor. Lots of big time players on the bill. More to come with this incoherent post. For now, looks to me like the good guys have won a round. Congrats to all the advocates.

Economic development and out-of-state ownership

Sorry for the blog delay. Been on the road (speech near Seattle at University of Puget Sound on future of American democracy) and the treo doesn't permit good responses to comments. Thanks for the discussion. If you start from the premise that as a state policy-maker, one only cares about economic activity in the state and the goal of policy is to maximize economic activity and wealth in thestate, I think the ATM or bounced check or other nickle and dime fees will be clearer. Take retail. There is a big difference between Wal-Mart and a locally-owned retailer. The former essentially exports profits to Arkansas and then ultimately to shareholders scattered around the globe. An Illinois retailer keeps profits in state which are then spent or otherwise invested in state. The local retailer is better for the state's economy, all else held equal. If Wal-Mart has cheaper prices or better selection, then there are competing arguments for which is better for the people of the state. But if all else is equal, then the locally-owned business is objectively better for the state economy than Wal-Mart. Same concept with financial institutions. It is better for our state's economy to keep the profits in our state and not as good to export those profits out of state. In banking, almost all the big banks are out-of-state owned. Some credit unions and smaller banks are not and those are better for our state's economy. But since most financial institutions are out of state, the higher the fees on their products, generally speaking, the worse off our state economy is. So what can or should the state government do? We should encourage lower fees. We should encourage in-state ownership. And we should look out for our own economy with the businesses we choose to support. Now, some say that all prices and fees are simply what the market will bear, so they must be 'correct' or at least efficient. I think that is more of an ideological statement than a pragmatic assessment of economic activity. Lots of things distort the 'natural' price including unequal bargaining power, undereducation among consumers and predatory practices (check out the payday loan shark industry for a prime example). So even if there is a market price for bounced checks or ATMs or credit card late fees or - how's this, an hour's worth of unskilled labor - that doesn't mean the market price is the best price for everyone in the state. If we can make more people better off with a different price through government regulation or softer policies, we absolutely should. And even my Marxist friend (though I don't really know what a Marxist is nowadays) will hopefully agree with that.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One step at a time on wealth-exporting ATM fees

The problem with 2 dollar ATM fees is that they nickle and dime our residents for the benefit of the owners of the ATM who are often out of staters. Any publicly-traded bank is owned by all sorts of wealthy people, few of whom are Illinois residents or taxpayers. Since we have lost our status as a banking capital, we have even fewer reasons to favor the banks over residents on the margins of public policy. A bill I drafted for Senator Ira Silverstein is a good example of that thinking - and also an example of the incremental march of progress. (There are no revolutions in the legislature. Everything is incremental).

the bill is SB 156. The original bill is pretty tough: no bank can do business with the state if they charge more than 50 cents for their ATM. Well, the banks didn't like that, and to be fair that might be less than their actual cost. So somewhere between what they can get away with and their actual cost is a better deal for Illinois because lower fees keep that wealth in state for our taxpayers. The amendment basically kicks the policy over to the Treasurer who has the authority and discretion to consider a range of consumer-friendly services a bank offers if the bank wants a state contract. We'll see if the banks oppose even this seemingly innocuous step. Tune in next week for news.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Lindane bill got out unanimously

Rep. Burke's bill came out unanimously. The docs decided not to fight it so without opposition the ban sailed through. Progress is good.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Bono for World Bank President

The Los Angeles Times (owned by a Chicago company-- that's *second* city, California, and don't you forget it) called for Bono, front man for U2, to be considered for the job as President of the World Bank.

Here's the editorial.

Here's an article about it.

I think it's great. I love the egalitarian spirit of the editorial, reminding us that government is of the people (not just for the people), not just of the self-identified experts who all too often ignore the public as something to be managed rather than the best manifestation of the public will. Government is for all of us -- and we should be helping to run things. Progressives especially need to remember that, and not leave leadership for other people.

Bill to ban lindane up against the docs tomorrow

I've been working with Representative Dan Burke (D-Chicago) on a bill to ban the use of lindane (a toxic pesticide that can kill you) for use in lice or scabies treatments. Although a few dozen countries have banned the toxic chemical, we still let people put it on their kids' scalps in this nation. And, by the way, it poisons the water at something like 6 million gallons per regular use flushed down the drain. Drink up! To lindane!

The bill is HB 1362. It's here. I heard today the Medical Society will come out against the bill because a few doctors say that it is the only thing that works for some patients. Well, DDT would probably work as another pesticide to kill lice, but that's not such a smart idea. Neither is lindane (in my view). Check out to see what happens, and check out for details on this nasty little chemical.