Thursday, June 30, 2005

I've got good news and bad news

The good news is I've got a new gig as Chief of Staff for Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero). I've been working for the Senator for two and a half weeks now, and it's an honor to have such an exciting opportunity to work to shape policy and build the Democratic Party with such a progressive, tenacious legislator.

The bad news is that I don't know where I'm going to find the time to blog! I mean, Rich Miller is a pro. He makes a *living* doing this stuff. Same with Zorn. And Jake Parillo (when he isn't muzzled. . .). Guys like Archpundit and AustinMayor and Jeff Berkowitz -- I don't know how they do it. Well, actually, I do have a sense, because I used to have a job where I'd have my own computer and didn't have a boss and could blog about anything I wanted whenever I wanted to. Now I've got all this work!

So, all that's to say, I'll probably be less frequently posting in the future than I have been. I'm still keeping the blog, and any opinions expressed (especially the dumb ones) are my own and not necessarily shared by anyone that I'm working for.

(It's kind of a funny relationship I have with you, the 'readers'. I've been surprised and kind of honored by how many people tell me that they read my blog. There's about 100 readers a day, according to the sitemeter report, which compared to any sort of media is miniscule, but to think of 100 actual people reading what I write every day is rather fulfilling. So thank you for reading.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Contrast: Republicans put drapes over statutes' breasts; Dems part of Pride Parade

Finally, John Ashcroft's curtain over the breast of The Spirit of Justice, a statute in Washington, has been removed. Here's a picture.

Republicans are exceptionally prudish.

Quite a contrast to the Democrats at Pride Parade.

I think this is an angle that helps Dems win over more people. Republicans should be embarrassed that they covered up the breast of a statute.

UPDATE: I have to peel back my statement above: of course, not *all* Republicans, or even most Republicans are exceptionally prudish. Tom Cross' Jake Parillo nailed me on it here, along with commenters. It is true, though that some GOPers do back very prudish policies, and this might be an opportunity for Dems to identify with the larger and growing group of culturally tolerant.

Pride Parade in Chicago and the growth of the Democratic Party

Today was Pride Parade, a third-of-a-million strong Mardi Gras parade in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. I marched with John Fritchey's campaign, and they were smart enough to hand out beads. Lots of beads. Tens of thousands of beads. It was a freakin' madhouse. It was as close to Mardi Gras as Chicago gets: drinking, fun, nudity, ridiculousness and a good feeling. It's essentially a street party about tolerance and acceptance.

Near the end, about six or seven people (protected by just as many Chicago Police Officers) were yelling about how homesexuals were going to hell. I quipped to someone standing next to me "looks like the Republican base has come out." And he replied: "you mean the majority" To which I replied "not in this state"

And that got me thinking quite a bit.

First, it presents the dilemna the Illinois Republican Party is in. Judy Baar Topinka was in the parade, and as the former ILGOP Chair, she helped to define the party as inclusive and tolerant. The base of the GOP (at least, one of the bases), finds Judy Baar Topinka and the Pride Parade morally and politicall repugnant, and blames (in part) that tolerance on the state's Republican Party status as the minority party. The Tribune editorial board best represents the voice of tolerance (as corporate America is largely tolerant of homosexuality), while the Illinois Leader represents those who are intolerant, along with those yelling at the parade.

The intolerant wing of the GOP has essentially won the national debate, while so far, the tolerant wing of the GOP has won the state debate.

But, that's their problem. They can figure that one out.

The interesting thing to me is how this burst of tolerance and, really, happiness about tolerance, strengthens the Democratic Party.

Just about every north side elected had their own contingent in the parade, as did some of the countywides. But interestingly, there was no Democratic Party float. There were the Jan Fans (and it was cool to see Jan Schakowsky dancing in the streets). Sara Feigenholtz had a contingent. So did John Fritchey. And Mike Quigley. And Forrest Claypool. Rod Blagojevich. And Debra Shore (running for Water Rec as the first GLBT Commissioner, by the way). You get the idea. And few of them had "Democrat"by their name.

Since the difference between the two parties are so stark on tolerance issues, that strikes me as sort of a loss opportunity to build up self-identification with the Democratic Party of those third-of-a-million shiny, happy people watching (and really, participating in) the parade.

It's a continuing challenge to build up that self-identification. I remember my days with the Green Party only a few years ago, when it seemed easier to build self-identification with the political party which had a very progressive platform. It was easy for me to react against a particular Democrat (I found President Clinton to be too corporate, especially on trade) and not appreciate the progressives in the Democratic Party and identify with them. It's trickier to build self-identification with a majority party that, by definition, represents a majority of the people who have different points of view.

I mean, the tolerance base of the Democratic Party is only one base. Another base, at least in Cook County, was probably best represented by the ridiculously efficient Streets and Sanitation Department that had the streets cleaned up and back to normal by 5 pm. Government services done well is a hallmark of the Cook County Democratic Party and is perhaps what Mayor Daley symbolizes (ignoring, for a moment, the recent hits on that front).

So one of our jobs as progressives and as Democrats is to ensure that government works well. If voters see that their taxes get them good services, then they'll be happy to buy more of them. Most people are happy to spend money on buying better futures for poor children, if they believe that the government will deliver. It's our job to make government deliver and not tolerate inefficiencies or wasteful spending.

Another one of our jobs is to convince more people who are culturally tolerant (those that might go to the Pride Parade, for example) to self-identify with the Democratic Party. I don't know how many of those third-million are registered, or vote, or send in a small check or wear a button, but I would guess it isn't as high as we would like it to be. Maybe we need to be more proactive about branding the Democratic Party, and not just Rod Blagojevich or Pat Quinn or Jesse White or John Fritchey, to the tolerant. Because (to try to tie it all together), the Democratic Party delivers cultural tolerance.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Illinois, the bluest state, again demonstrates national leadership, this time in divesting from Sudan

Governor Blagojevich signed SB 23, legislation championed by Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) to divest state funds from the Sudanese regime. The Governor's press release is here.

We are the first state in the nation to do so, and we are showing a different way of running things than the corporate rule of Washington, D.C.

The bill did pass unanimously in the Senate, and lost 23 Republican votes in the House (the vote is here), so most Republicans did come on board. But I happen to think Illinois Republicans are a far superior type of Republican than most others in the country, especially those that are running Washington, so let's not read too much into that.

It takes a Democratic - led government to bring justice to those that need it most. Congratulations to Senator Collins, the General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich.

(Come to think of it, we ought to divest all of our local pension funds as well -- counties, municipalities, school districts, etc. We ought to lobby to make that happen. If you know a local elected, see if s/he will divest from Sudan.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Iran is having a presidential runoff election

Wouldn't that be nice?

If the candidate for president doesn't get more than 50% of the vote, then you hold a runoff between the top two.

Let's ask George "48.5%" Bush what he thinks about that.

Why is Iran more modern than the United States when it comes to presidential elections?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Snap! If you think Durbin said American soldiers are like Nazis, you are an idiot.

Zorn's got a great column today on what Durbin should have said.

This is the best part:

The America I believe in is better than the America on display in our overseas prisons. The America I believe in inspires rather than disgusts the international community.

If anything I said caused you to believe that I was equating American soldiers with Nazis or equating American leaders with Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot, then you are an idiot.

I said nothing of the kind.

I said that our mistreatment of wartime prisoners is of the sort you'd expect to see in a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship, not in a nation that has long congratulated itself on its exceptionally high standards of liberty and law.


And yes, that's what commentators and operatives and even our news media blindly parroted: "Durbin compared American soldiers to Nazis"

The Senator didn't say that!

But the right-wing machine rallied around the support the troops mantra, and Durbin apologized.

Well, do you support the troops if they torture?

I don't.

And American troops have tortured.

A few of them are serving time for torturing in Abu Ghraib.

I don't support them.

Do you?

Because if you don't condemn those American soliders who have tortured -- as Senator Durbin wisely did -- you are besmirching the 99.99% of our soldiers who are as digusted as Senator Durbin is by torture.

And if you let the Bush Administration off the hook for their tolerance of torture, then you are also besmirching the good name of this nation.

That's the real deal.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

When the government gets thuggish -- one story from this month

This is a post worth reading.

I assume it's true. Why would someone make it all up?

This guy, Jeremy Lassen, heard about a visit to an art gallery by Secret Service agents. The art gallery had some anti-Bush pieces showing, so government agents showed up and intimidated the art gallery owners.

That's un-American.

Then, this guy makes up some pictures of Bush and guns to show how thuggish the government is becoming, posts them onto his website and sends them around to other websites, and two months later, *he* gets a visit from Secret Service agents at his job!

After 45 minutes of an interview where they start out nicely but then say they want to interview his wife and his boss and they want to get a medical release form to see what medications he might be taking, and does he belong to any organizations, and how can he be an artist and suggest that he retract the pictures by taking them offline, they guy is so freaked out he takes down his websites.

Can you believe that?

Read the thing here.

Because if this is true (and why would someone just make the whole thing up?), then things are getting far too Big Brother around here.

This is a story that should get picked up by the corporate media. It is un-American.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

5 big unions form Change To Win coalition to shake up the AFL-CIO

Looks like great news to me. Five big unions with some of the most aggressive organizing drives in the last decade -- UNITED HERE, SEIU, the Teamsters, the Laborers and the United Food and Commercial Workers -- have teamed up to form a new coalition, Change To Win, to get the AFL-CIO (which is kind of like the United Nations of labor unions in the United States) to spend a lot less money on bureaucracy and a lot more money on organizing new unions.

Their website is here.

The main objections seem to be based on union democracy or a sense of bottom-up investment in the internal functions of the labor union. Those arguments don't have a lot of resonance to me -- they seem a tad indulgent. Wages are falling. The middle class is shrinking. We need more unions so we can raise wages, as that will be great for our entire economy. And if we can more unions faster with a less 'democratic' structure for labor unions, I'll take that deal in a heartbeat.

Beyond the Beltway, Batman Begins

A little alliteration. . .

I'll be the Democratic guest on Bruce DuMont's nationally-synidicated radio show, Beyond The Beltway, this Sunday from 6 pm to 8 pm on WLS, 890 am. Check out other stations around the country here.

I'll predict that the Big Brother indefinite-detention-with-no-oversight policy of the Bush Administration that puts all of us in greter danger and the gratitude that Senator Durbin deserves for reading an FBI memo on the Senate floor on this atrocity in America's name will be the topic of discussion, but we shall see.

On an unrelated matter, Batman Begins is an awesome movie. As a friend of mine (and former frequent poster) put it: Batman Begins make the other Batmans look like the Police Academy franchise. Plus, Gotham is in Chicago, and it's very cool to see Arkham Asylum on the Chicago River. The El is transformed into a Wayne Enterprises futuristic monorail. Great movie.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Made the fax version of CapFax today for election law discussion

If you're a subscriber to CapFax, you saw that I made the discussion about Vallas' case. If you're not a subscriber and you work for someone with any sort of deep pockets, sign up.

One other interesting part of Count II (the constitutional challenge): the Vallas camp is arguing that one provision of the state constitution (elections shall be free and equal) is inconsistent with another provision (governors shall be a resident of Illinois for three years). There is something to their argument, but who is to say that the first provision trumps the second provision? Why wouldn't it be the reverse, where the second provision trumps the first? They were both written at the same time (in the 1969 constitutional convention), so it is unlike an amendment to the federal constitution which should trump the original part of the constitution as it was written and ratified later.

And on a related point, plaintiffs often say the federal constitution trumps state statute or the state constitution, which is true. Here, however, the Vallas plaintiffs did not sue in federal court and do not argue that the federal constitution's First Amendment requires that the state constitutional provision of a three-year residency requirement be struck down. It's all state law.

Finally, has anyone else noticed how firmly in the Republican Party the Tribune editorial board seems to be? Their reaction to Durbin's apt comparison of torture techniques still being used by American soldiers to horrible regimes looks like it comes from the mouth of Ken Mehlman, the GOP Chair.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Torture at Guantanamo Bay is reprehensible

Dick Durbin on the Senate floor tells it like it is.

The Bush Administration tortured people in Guantanamo Bay -- more precisely, under the Bush Administration's direction, U.S. servicemen and women tortured the enemy.

That's what bad countries do.

And Bush is a bad President.

And he has authorized some bad things.

So when Dick Durbin calls this out, what does the White House do?



They call for Durbin to apologize!

For telling the truth!

And call him "reprehensible!"

The people who won't permit photographs of American coffins coming back from the war, and the same Administration whose spokesman said shortly after 9/11 "people need to watch what they say" is now calling a United States Senator reprehensible for telling the truth!

They hide behind our troops. They hide their mistakes behind our troops.

These guys running the White House are appalling. They lie.

They lie about the war. They lie about the budget (remember, they threatened to fire a bureaurcrat for telling the truth about how much the Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost). They lie!

Here, as a reminder, are some of the lies about Iraq they told.

Push back, Dick Durbin. And Democrats ought to praise him and defend him for telling the truth and not let these liars try to bully him into silence.

Paul Vallas goes to court in case he wants a rematch

Maybe it's time to turn back on the Draft Vallas blog.

Today, Paul Vallas sued for his right to run for Governor. The state Constitution imposes a three year residency requirement, and Vallas is the CEO of the Philadelphia School system, which is not in Illinois.

Thanks to Rich Miller, you can read the complaint here.

Essentially, Vallas is making two points.

The first is that he is and has always been a resident of Illinios, even though he's got a job in Pennsylvania. State law on defining residency focuses on the intent of the individual, and the complaint argues that Vallas' intent has been to remain an Illinois resident. On the one hand, he moved to take a job in Philadelphia. On the other hand, his doctor, dentist, lawyer, advisor remain in Illinois, he comes back to Illinois frequently for family visits, his wife's cell phone is still a 773 phone and he pays dues not to a Philadelphia Greek Orthodox Church but to a Chicago Greek Orthodox Church.

If the judge buys that, then the judge will declare that Paul Vallas is a legal resident of the State of Illinois and has been for the last three years, permitting him to run for Governor. That decision would be appealable, but that's a different story.

If the judge does not buy the argument that because Paul Vallas intended to remain an Illinois resident, notwithstanding his job in Philadelphia, then he's got a second argument.

The state Constitution also says that all elections "shall be free and equal." Not all offices have a constitutional residency requirement -- the state's attorneys, for instance. So it isn't 'free and equal' to have one office have a residency requirement and not them all.

There isn't a lot of state court litigation on the 'free and equal' provision of the state Constitution, so this decision will be interesting.

I hope he wins the second prong of his case to beef up the case law on the 'free and equal' provision of the state Constitution.

Plus, contested primaries are good.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Austin Mayor finds another Obama speech worth reading

Here, in the 'memory attic' of the still-anonymous Austin Mayor, sits a full copy of an article from the June edition of the Washington Spectator.

This article contains the full text of a speech by Senator Barack Obama on social insurance and Social Darwinism, explaining that the Bush proposal to privatize Social Security is the ideological crusade of FDR's opponents who consider government checks a mild form of communism.

Remember that line in As Good As It Gets when Jack Nicholson, the bipolar diner, told Helen Hunt, the heart-of-gold waitress "you make me want to be a better man"?

Obama's speeches make me want to be a better writer.

Read it. It's just as good as his Knox College speech.

Quigley announces for County Board President

Mike Quigley is announcing his campaign for President in the Hotel Allegro right now. He is first out of the gate and campaigning on a message of real change and against a tired, insiders-only way of governing. The challenge will be convincing the base that efficiency and no new taxes means the mission of the county is enhanced not hurt. It is clearly true, but some voters need to be convinced. This is an exciting campaign. Full disclosure: I'm on the Board of Young Chicago Lakefront which is supporting the Quigley campaign.

Miller's column in Rep. John Fritchey a must read

It's hard to pack this much illumination into what the Illinois General Assembly is like. Rich Miller writes, in my book, one of his best in this column on Representative John Fritchey, in terms of illuminating the dynamics of the General Assemnly.

If you want to learn what it is like in the state legislature, or learn what a state representative does, read this column. He explains how good legislators like John Fritchey take opportunities where they arrive -- first, to bring together opponents and allies in an agreed bill to avoid a disaster, second, to assist a legislative ally over a few months in passing significant legislation, and third, to attack a bill in committee with relentless arguments until support for it withers away. I was at that Judiciary committee meeting, as it happens, and heard Fritchey and Lou Lang pound away (on the merits) against the bill. Convincing colleagues to go against a Speaker-supported bill based on the strength of policy arguments does not happen very often.

And the white knuckle pressure on big bills from one's closest allies and legislative leaders is also not often understood, but explained well in Miller's column.

If the Daily Southtown archive isn't working, google this first paragraph:

Rep. John Fritchey's spring legislative session was going extraordinarily well ... until he smacked into the past 10 days.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Wrapup: Jackson calls for a new southern strategy

I decided not to blog about every speaker so here are some highlights. The head of UNITE HERE: God didn't make manufacturing jobs good jobs, the CIO unions did! Antonio Gonzalez calling for a 30 year progressive plan to match the 3-prong plan the conservatives hatched a long time ago based on their 3 perceived problems: the world is getting too uppitty, Americans have too many rights and the wealthy aren't getting enough of the pie. At the end, Reverend Jackson called for taking the civil rights labor coalition to the South where most states' populations are relatively poorer, relatively less educated and have a higher percentage of minorities. In other words, the Democratic base of people that stand to benefit from more public investment. One last statistic from the Reverend about the state of the South: 23 state prisons. . . .and one state university. Chilling.

Andy Stern at Rainbow PUSH

Andy Stern of SEIU (wearing a purple button down) spoke next. He said the following. Leadership is easy to figure out. It's going first. It's getting off the road that everybody is on and making anew road by walking it. Making change is like a sailboat. In DC people try to get their hands on the till of the sailboat and steer progress. But the till doesn't move the boat -- the wind does. In the 60s, the civil rights movement was the wind and Lyndon Johnson held on to that till as hard as he could. We need to be the wind of change. And labor needs to be the wind of change, so that labor grows stronger, not smaller. And if SEIU must walk alone off the same failed path that labor has been walking for years, then Goddamnit, we're walking! And the crowd roared.

More Rainbow PUSH discussion on progressive agenda

Leslie Keegan (sp?), a peace organizer, spoke next. We need to support the growing number of young people who are not enlisting in an unjust war. The only way to end this war is to end it and send the troops home. And the Congress must say not one more dollar for this war. It reminds me that Abner Mikva said the Vietnam War only ended when Congress decided not to fund it anymore. Finally, we should cancel all contracts with Friends of Diick Cheney. Cliff Kelley said that we don't pressure our electeds enough between elections, but that ACORN knows how to do that. Margaret Hurd (sp?) of ACORN reminded that grass-roots organizing can win some real, significant victories. (Obama spoke about the nameless, faceless folks who jammed the churches during the civil rights movement and secured justice, and how today, in the same way, if we want schools that create futures for poor children, regular people must join the movement, devote themselves to justice and improve the unacceptable status quo). ACORN is a good group to support as well. She said we can't just criticize we must participate in politics. And always, always grow.

Panel discussion moderated by Cliff Kelley

Cliff Kelley echoes Dean's sentiments about standing up for what we believe in. He cites Karl Rove as commenting that John Kerry's biggest weakness was that he voted for the war. Maxine Waters, California Congresswoman, said she gets frustrated that Americans aren't angry enough about Bush. She defended Howard Dean for 'telling some truths' about Republicans and criticized those Dems who tried to distance themselves from Dean. And then she said Howard Dean didn't say enough. So let me. George Bush is a liar. He lied about the war. He lied about the budget. He forgot to tell you that Dick Cheney is a thief. The crowd roared. Because we need Democrats to tell it like it is, she said. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for us to get angry. Take cack this country from the thieves and the liars and the robbers. And we are not going to be intimidated by anyone telling us that we are unpatriotic.

Governor Dean's speech

It's a new Democratic Party. And we are going to be a national party. We went to Mississippi two weeks after taking control of the party. Haley Barbour is the new governor and the GOP took the senate for the first time since Reconstruction. And 8 people in the House of Representatives stand between Haley Barbour and cutting 50000 people off Medicaid and impoverishing the poorest. We have an obligation to support those 8 state reps in Mississippi because those 50000 people who need health insurance are our people, and even if everything is fine in our state or in our family, we need to work hard and make sure that thsoe in Mississippi don't lose their health insurance because the Democratic Party wasn't strong enough to protect them.

Obama's speech at PUSH

He begins with 'it is good to be home' and the crowd feels good. 'We're not moving to Washington - we live here. And my job isn't to represent Washington to you, it's to represent you to Washington.' It's good to see a national star with a Chicago address who is proud to be in Chicago. He reminds us that Reverend Jackson made it easier -- made it possible -- for people like Barack to get elected to the U.S. Senate. And he's right. It's funny how this beautiful building on the south side isn't filled to capacity with people - more of us should support this organization.

Obama touched on the need for the Voting Rights Act reauthorization and then talked about a south suburban school that lets out their students at 1:30 pm. There is no money for any afterschool programs: no band, no sports, no music, no plays, nothing. And the children know that they are left behind and not really the object of anyone caring about their well-being. There's a state law that only requires five hours of school a day. And that is unacceptable, because the Chinese are going to school a lot more than five hours a day, and the Indians are going to school a lot more than five hours a day, and it's no surprise that they are graduating four times more Ph.D.'s in every field than we are in the U.S., and we simply can not sustain our standard of living without more education for our workers. The status quo is unacceptable. And he promised the students that that school would stay open until 3:30 pm the next time he saw them.

(Which means that the state law that only requires five hours of schooling a day ought to be a part of the coming Big Improvement in public education, in whatever form SB 750 emerges. It's not just more money. We need more hours of school)

Rainbow Push forum happening now on Democratic progressive agenda

I'm at 950 East 50th Street on a humid Sunday morning at Rainbow Push's headquarters and am reminded how lucky we are in Blue America's capital to have Reverend Jesse Jackson based here. Say what you will about his shortcomings - the man speaks truth to power and here sits Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Barack Obama and a very diverse crowd. Short posts to follow.

The people, not the utility investors, are better off thanks to Illinois Democrats running the General Assembly

Although this likely qualifies as 'old news' I think it's important to remember that, thanks largely to Speaker Madigan, neither SBC nor ComEd got their requested rate hike this year from the Illinois General Assembly.

Current rates will remain in place for another two years, pending any action by the ICC to approve a reverse auction of rates. For details, check out (and join) the Citizens Utility Board. Ten bucks a year matters -- join them here.

This means that because Democrats are running the state government, the people will not have to pay more money for electricity and telephone service to enrich the owners of utility company stock.

Instead, thanks to Democrats in charge, the people will have more money to spend. This is wealth creation and economic development manifested through utility policy.

Speaker Michael Madigan, the state's most effective consumer advocate on utility issues, deserves thanks and the Democratic Party deserves bottom-line voter loyalty from those of us who do not own stock in the utility companies but do buy electricity or telephone service.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I like this group: ONE

I joined the group ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.

Check it out. No cost. Sign up.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

DNC funder with Governor Dean on Sunday with cheap tix

People often complain that politicians are only accountable to the fat cats who can go to $1000 a plate dinners for their fundraisers.

Well, Governor Dean is having a funder for the Democratic Party on Sunday in Chicago, and student tickets are $35. Regular tickets are $50.

That's cool. That's how the party of the people should be funded. Lots of people making contributions.

It's from 4 to 6 at the Hilton on Sunday.

If you want to come, click here.

And if you vote Democratic, you should come, especially since the corporate media are hammering Dean for speaking candidly about the base of the GOP.

If you're a little more policy-oriented, check out Rainbow/PUSH's annual convention which draws every heavy hitter in the Democratic Party to town. It's here, and some of the days are open to the public.

Mary Flowers, with the Speaker's help, gets a great insurance bill to the Governor

The health insurance system is broken. GM announced plans to lay off 25,000 workers in part because of health care costs (about $1500 per car is health care costs, I read). That puts American manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis Japanese and European manufacturing, where the companies don't have to pay for health care costs. Imagine if GM had to pay for the cost of street lights or libraries in Flint, Michigan. Those cars would be more expensive and people would buy less of them. Similarly, imagine if Toyota or Daimler/Chrysler had to buy health insurance for workers in Osaka or Frankfurt. They don't now, since the government covers health care costs for everyone in Japan and Germany. If the companies had to pay, then their cars would be more expensive and people would buy less of them.

So another example of a broker system where employers are supposed to pay for health insurance is the big retailer, like Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the nation, in terms of market capitalization. And among the most profitable. It's the largest retailer on Earth.
And they don't buy health insurance for all their workers.

Asshole move.

Even worse, people who work for Wal-Mart 30 or 35 or 40 hours a week, can qualify for Medicaid insurance (FamilyCare in Illinois), which the government picks up.

So we taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart's bottom line.

We ought to do something about it.

Mary Flowers had a bill, HB 1044, which would have set up a list of the companies with employees that are on Medicaid. A little sunshine, you might say. Jack Franks jumped on it, and he's got a great populist sense on the insurance industry. So did Patrick Verschoore, Jack McGuire and Milton Patterson. Good combo: black and white, rural, city and suburban.

The bill lost on tax day (ironically enough -- the day when we all pay more so Wal-Mart can make more money), 41-62-1. Here's the vote.

But that didn't stop the indefatigable Mary Flowers. In the last few weeks of session (hat tip to Rich Miller here), she asked the Speaker to insert the provision into a larger bill. And Speaker Madigan did. The larger bill passed, it's now on Governor Blagojevich's desk, and his spokeswoman said he'll sign it.

Well, the Chamber doesn't like the bill. They say it's just a list of shame, in this well-written Sun-Times article by Ben Fischer. And let me just let Mary Flowers, as accurately quoted by Ben Fischer, respond to that. (You can hear her tone in these comments)

Shaming businesses isn't what the list is meant for, said Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), but she doesn't particularly care if that's an offshoot.

"If they don't want to be embarrassed, they can do something about it," she said. "But you tell me, why is it that the taxpayers of the state of Illinois are funding the richest company in the nation?"

and then later

"It appears to me there's a new system that the taxpayers are not aware of . . . where businesses are passing their responsibilities on to us." she said.

Congratulations Representative Flowers!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Labor did very well this session -- which means, we all did well

Illinois is now the most innovative state for labor law in the nation, according to labor blogger Nathan Newman. That's great news for our economy and wealth creation, because when labor does better, more people have more money to spend, and we all are better off.

Here is the link to his blog that lays out an article on the four or five important labor laws that passed the General Assembly, led by the workers comp reform that passed without much fanfare (thanks, in part, to Senator Terry Link (D-Highwood) who spent a lot of time forging an agreement).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Obama the Orator -- his graduation speech at Knox College

The man can speak.

Here is the full text of his graduation address at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois over the weekend.

Read it and remember how we are manufacturing a middle class through government policy -- or letting Social Darwinism (now called 'the Ownership Society') make the rich and lucky richer and luckier and the rest of us worse off.

The choice is ours.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

David Orr and Chicago's Election Board picks a good company for new voting machines

Cook County is getting new voting equipment, and the two election authorities (Cook County Clerk David Orr for the suburbs and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners for the city) made a good choice this week in picking Sequoia's opitcal scanners with one electronic machine per precinct.

They've had a very open process over the last two years, including two separate two-day open-to-the-public demonstrations with all the possible vendors.

My past gig with the Center for Voting and Democracy ( led me to learn more about equipment vendors than I ever thought I'd care to know, and I think Sequoia has the best reputation.

Plus, they are one of the vendors that are open to actually conducting Irish-style ranked voting (where you enjoy a first-choice and a second-choice on the ballot), so that's a bonus.

Congrats to Daley's new Environment Commissioner Sadhu Johnston

Maybe if I had a breezy gossip column, I'd call him the city's new eco commish. Thankfully, I don't. Sadhu is a good guy and another talent that the Mayor actively recruited from out of state. The news today about Daley's openness to a revamp of city recycling to stay innovative is very welcome. I hope we move to separated recycling containers like the burbs in order to make recycling work better.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

56,000 parents get health insurance for $7 million?

Press accounts here and here peg the cost at getting health insurance to 56,000 more people in Illinois at between $6 million and $7 million. The extra people get insurance by raising the income limits of Illinois' Medicaid program, FamilyCare. This has been one of Governor Blagojevich's main priorities, to his credit, and the Democratic legislature is delivering.

I'm surprised by how cheap it is to buy health insurance for working families, if these numbers are accurate. $7 million divided by 56,000 people is $125 per person. That's per year of health insurance.


If the cost of health insurance through FamilyCare is really $125 per person, then we should just expand Medicaid to everyone in the state in the name of economic development. Move your business to Illinois and your employees have health insurance!

UPDATE: Just got an email from a policy wonk lobster who shall remain nameless. The money (only $5.75 million out of GRF) doesn't kick in until 1/1/06, halfway through the fiscal year, so we're really only buying 6 months of coverage. And the federal match is actually 66-33, so the almost $6 million in state money buys $12 million in federal money.

So it's really a total of about $35 million to buy insurance for 56,000 people for a year. That's $625 per head. Still very cheap.

UPDATE AGAIN: A federal friend of mine reminded me that there's a drop-off rate, based on the percentage of eligible people who actually enroll. While the income eligibility will increase to 185 percent of the poverty line, lots of people who are eligible for the program just don't sign up. Who knows why. Figures are hard to come by, but perhaps 50% of people who could get it, don't. So the actual cost is doubled (if everyone signed up, costs would go up too). $70 million to buy insurance for 56,000 people is $1250. Still, much cheaper than private insurance.

Medicaid for all! How much would that cost?

Sudan disinvestment bill another important Illinois victory

The Governor's end-of-session press release here reminded me that Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) had a huge victory for international justice: SB 23 (read it here) that pulls all the state's pension dollars out of Sudan, a tragic place where a genocide is occuring right now.

The state's pension dollars are also pulled out of any terrorist-harboring nation identified by the feds (so Saudi Arabia gets a pass).

I think it's great when state leaders also take on global issues. Our lives are affected by events around the globe, and our local and state representatives are completely justified in working in their state-and-local-electedcapacities to solve problems in distant lands.

Budget bills submitted before the last day would be a good thing

The state budget of 57 or 58 or 59 billion -- tough to tell right now -- is the best way to lay out priorities. With such an important bill (because the budget is a bill just like any other piece of legislation, it just has a lot of numbers and dollar signs in it), there should be a lot of time for Members and the public to look it over, suggest amendments and develop a better product.

That's not how it works.

The budget didn't appear to the public until sometime this afternoon. Less than six hours later after first getting filed, the budget had passed both chambers.

That's a bad process.

That's not the way it works in Congress. In D.C., the budget bill moves slowly (sometimes far too slowly) through committees where members 'mark-up' the bill and change the budget in a fairly transparent, public setting. This takes about all year.

There should be some middle ground in Illinois government. There should be a submitted budget bill that is assigned to committee, debated and voted out in March or April. Negotiations between the Governor and the legislative leaders should occur in the public, not behind closed doors.

This isn't anything new in Illinois, but I hope the Democratic leaders might bring the budget process out into the open in 2006.

I really came to understand how closed-off the budget process is this year, as I attempted (quite unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to increase a line-item. Here's what the process seemed like. Imagine two people are playing chess and you're trying to give advice to one of them. They are on the other side of a high brick wall. So you write a note on a piece of paper, crumple it up and toss it over the wall. That's it. You don't know if they read it. You don't know if they are still playing chess. You don't know much of anything. That's the budget process -- for most legislators as well. It ought to be more open.

I don't think there's any policy justification for the mostly secret-negotiation process we use for state budgeting. And I think Governor Blagojevich was right to call for a change on that front. Didn't happen this year, but who knows? Maybe next year. I'm sure that if a majority of members of either caucus decided they wanted a transparent process, they would get one.