Friday, January 27, 2006

Rich are getting richer; the rest are getting by

A recent study confims that the wealthiest are getting richer faster than everyone else. Here's the Trib article on the subject.

So if you aren't rich now, you're unlikely to become rich. And if you are rich now, you're likely to get even richer.


Well, largely because we don't spend nearly enough money (wisely) on education. College tuition is ridiculously expensive in the United States and free -- yes, free -- in most of Europe and Japan.

We ought to tax incomes above $100,000 at a higher rate and put that money into education available for everyone.

So instead of the GOP policy of lowering the tax rates on the highest incomes (above $300 grand), which is their basic policy, we should go back to the Clinton rates on the highest incomes.

And in Illinois, we should raise the 3% income tax rate (the lowest income tax rate in the nation) to 6%, and exempt the first $25,000 earned from the state income tax altogether, so that the people who can afford to pay more (the people who are getting richer) do pay more.

Ask around on this one. My sense is that this resonates with people. But ask around. If the money goes to education (with a focus on higher education), ask if people think we should raise the income tax rates on any income above $100,000.

The government -- and basically, tax policy -- creates a middle class. Without a tax policy to invest in education and infrastructure (taxing the people who can most afford to pay), not only does the entire nation suffer from a less vigorous economy, but the middle class in particular shrinks.

Even the right-wingaz agree that we need to invest more money in education. And the people that are getting richer every year should pony it up -- so long as we left-wingaz make sure it is spent well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Campus (and young, however self-defined) Dems: come to Springfield on Wednesday, February 8th!

Are you a young or college/campus Democrat and wondering how to get more involved? Would you like to meet some legislators, staffers and other young Democrats in Illinois? And maybe you'd like an event to kickstart your college Democrats chapter at your school?

How about a road trip to Springfield on Wednesday, February 8th?

That day college Dems from around the state are converging in Springfield to check out the Illinois General Assembly in action (the House and the Senate are in session). And from 6 to 8, the Fund for Campus Democratic Party Organizing (I'm the treasurer, and Rocket Richards is the director/president) is having a party at Floyd's in downtown Springfield. Address is 210 S. 5th Street. It's free, but a cash bar (and sometimes legislators will pick up the tab).

We'll likely try to organize a lunch as well, but since this is all volunteer, a lot of it is do-it-yourself.

However, this is (I hope) a good opportunity to meet other Democrats, including staff and legislators, to see what a Democratic-run government is all about.

Our first event was last week and it was a success. Thanks to our donors, Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, Senator Martin Sandoval, Assistant Majority Leader Lou Land and Representative Naomi Jakobbson for making this possible. And if you'd like to donate to or volunteer for a (very small) PAC designed to help organize campus Democrats in Illinois, email me at . We've also got a new blog here and we are looking for campus bloggers to start filling it up.

Hope to see you in Springfield!

Neat Illinois bill on saving us money (so corporate interests are likely to fight it)

Representative Kathy Ryg (D-Vernon Hills) has a bill backed by Illinois PIRG that implements state energy efficiency standards for appliances. The federal standards (remember those yellow cards on home furnaces) haven't been updated in 20 years or so, so if states want to ensure their citizens save money on energy costs, they've got to implement their own standards. If not, we'll be stuck with energy-guzzling appliances.

As I understand it, more efficient appliances cost more up front (either marginally or significantly, hard to tell) and save a ton of money over the life of the product (either 10 times the marginal cost of the product or, with $1.00/therm natural gas prices, maybe 100 times the cost). So to the extent there is a higher cost with state efficiency standards, that cost is one of the best investments a consumer can make based on saved energy costs.

It's in the state's interest to make Illinois residents richer. These appliance standard will do that, by ensuring that Illinois residents send less money to the for-profit energy companies (which means they are ultimately owned by non-Illinois people -- people that the Illinois General Assembly shouldn't really care about).

I'm sure corporate interests will fight HB 4455. You can track its status here. And you can send a letter to your legislators through Illinois PIRG's website here. (If you aren't a member of Illinois PIRG, they are the group that hires all the summer canvassers to knock on your door and ask for $45. They also consistently lobby for great bills in Illinois, and now the Chicago City Council as well, so I'd recommend that you join them, either in person or online. Strength through numbers....).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wages are flat, and that's why most wage-earners should vote for Democratic candidates

Business publications tend to do the best job at cutting through some of the fog.

The best way to judge the strength of the economy is not the price of U.S. stocks or the general growth of the economy, but the growth in wages.

If wages are going up, then most people are better off because they have more money to raise their quality of life.

If not, then they don't.

And in 2005, wages were basically flat.

This Business Week article by Michael Mandel lays it out well.

And what I take away from this is that we should quit taxing wages so highly and start taxing wealth and pollution more.

The payroll tax (13.6%) on income less than $90 grand that is paid by working people should not be a lower rate than the capital gains tax (10%) that is paid by wealthy people.

That's backwards. Because higher wages generate more wealth.

The Republican Party (especially in D.C.) is designed around the principle of not taxing wealth. The Democratic Party is not, and that's the best reason to vote for Democrats -- especially those willing to talk about wealth.

Here's a good part of the article:

WHY FOLKS ARE SOUR. Most people, however, have been lucky to keep up with inflation. Look at a new set of wage numbers buried deep in the Web site of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These data report fourth-quarter median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers for different occupations (median means that half earn more, and half earn less).

The first thing that jumps out is that both the 3.2% yearly wage gain for managers and the 2.4% gain for professionals fell short of the 3.5% increase in the consumer price index. That goes a long way to explain why people are so sour about the economy. Strong growth and low unemployment don't mean much if your buying power is declining.

Also not keeping pace with inflation were those who work in service occupations (a broad category that includes police and firefighters, cooks, janitors, home health aids, hairdressers, and child-care workers), production occupations, and maintenance and repair occupations.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

CTA has got to start selling Chicago Cards at stations

I'm all for modernization of transit system, and moving people away from cash fares is a great step.

The CTA has introduced a Chicago Card, which is a smarter version of the 'regular' transit card. Only users of the Chicago Card avoided a fare hike this month of about 15% -- everyone else pays $2 per ride, while Chicago Card users pay $1.75.

But the CTA's Chicago Card program has a major flaw: you can't buy them at transit stations.

You can buy them online here.

Or you can buy them at currency exchanges (when they aren't out of stock, as they have been for most of January, triggering a lawsuit against the CTA), for a service fee.

But you can't buy them at CTA stations. Even though there are usually CTA personnel at the stations. And even though there are machines that will take money and spit out a regular card, for whatever reason, you can't buy a Chicago Card.

That's absurd, in my view.

If we want most commuters, not to mention tourists, to use the Chicago Card, then they must be available where most people that want to use public transit will go -- the stations themselves.

I have no idea why CTA personnel who staff stations can't sell the cards. I also have no idea why the machines that dispense the 'regular' cards can't also dispense a Chicago Card.

But these policies ought to be changed.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hope from history on the lack of naturally aggressive nations

The best thing George Bush has ever done is to proclaim that all people -- especially Arabs -- want democracy. That's the noblest sentiment from his Administration.

That idea -- that all men and women are created equal -- contrasts with the notion that some people are just bad. They are war-mongering hateful monsters and always will be.

Some people believe that about some 'races' or nations or religions.

Of course, they are wrong. And the long view of history shows it.

Here's an excerpt from a listserv I'm on ( that captured the hope from history well:

"The first half of the twentieth century was drenched in the blood spilled by German and Japanese aggression, yet only a few decades later it is hard to think of two countries more pacific. Sweden spent the seventeenth century rampaging through Europe, yet it is now an icon of nurturing tranquility."

Robert M. Sapolsky, A Natural History of Peace, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2006, pp. 119-120.

Arabs and Muslims are just like the rest of us, and don't let anyway tell you differently.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Anderson on Illinois ignored by presidential elections

John Anderson had this piece in Sunday's Chicago Tribune explaining how Illinois voters simply are not part of picking the president and calling for a national presidential election.

Here's the link and the full column.

Presidential elections all but ignore Illinois

By John B. Anderson
Published January 1, 2006

Some of you might remember that I served Illinois as a Republican in Congress and then in 1980 I ran for president as an independent. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, traveling around the nation speaking with voters of every stripe and color--from labor unions to business owners, single mothers to local Rotaries.

Today candidates for the presidency may feel that they crisscross the nation, but a careful study of their actual schedules reveals a much smaller itinerary. In the last five weeks of the 2004 election, 33 states were left without a visit from any of the major party presidential and vice presidential candidates. Nor did they run television ads for every voter to see; more was spent on ads in Florida alone than in 45 states and the District of Columbia combined.

A recent study by the organization I chair, FairVote, quantified the presidential campaign. In terms of campaign visits by the candidates on the national ticket and dollars spent in television markets for campaign ads, Illinois tied with Texas for dead last with a zero for both measures.

This means that the 12 million people in Illinois were not important enough to warrant any significant effort from presidential candidates and the votes of Illinois were simply written off.

Safe states like Illinois are literally left off the political map as the candidates battled in only a few lucky states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Hampshire.

The system is so skewed that Matthew Dowd, a campaign strategist for President Bush, admitted they only polled in 18 states for the two years leading up to the 2004 presidential election.

The opinions and concerns of Americans in 32 states simply were not considered by the president's campaign team.

What if the upcoming gubernatorial campaign in Illinois occurred in just 10 counties--if the people in the other 92 counties, including most of the biggest, never saw a candidate, received a single piece of campaign literature in the mail or had a knock on the door from a campaign volunteer?

If the campaign worked that way, I think most of us would agree the system was broken and in need of serious improvement.

So why do we elect the president of the United States this way?

A presidential election should leave every voter with a sense of our nationhood--i.e. we are not voting as states each with its own parochial interest but expressing the fact that in electing a president we are speaking with one voice as a nation.

When I was in Congress, I was proud to be joined by Democrats and Republicans alike, including Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, in calling for presidential elections under the golden principle of one-person, one-vote that dictates every election but one in this country. My Illinois colleagues were particularly strong in making this case for a national presidential election. I trust my home state again can lead the way on this vital reform to our republic.


John B. Anderson was a Republican representative in Congress from Rockford from 1961 to 1981. In 1980 he ran for president as an independent and currently chairs the board of FairVote--a non-partisan, non-profit election reform group based in Takoma Park, Md.

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