Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why is Senator Dillard getting criticized for helping Barack in a primary?

I don't get it.

Now, I'm certainly not qualified to advise the Republican Party on anything related to 'how to be a good Republican' but I really don't understand the blowback against Senator Dillard appearing in a Barack Obama television commercial for a primary election.

First, I think Senator Dillard has made it clear that he prefers a Republican candidate to Barack Obama in November.

Second, wouldn't we all benefit in Illinois if an Illinois resident were the President of the United States? Doesn't it make sense -- from the perspective of helping out the people of Illinois -- to prefer that the only Illinois candidate in either party primary get a nomination?

Third, if there's a Democratic candidate who has made a habit of reaching out to Republican colleagues and forging good, bipartisan solutions, wouldn't Republicans prefer that type of a Democratic President instead of one who governs like George W. Bush and essentially steamrolls the other side?

All of those good reasons for a former Republican colleague of one of the leading presidential candidates to appear in a primary campaign ad are apparently outweighed because, perhaps, in October or November (16 long months from now), if Barack is the Democratic nominee, then perhaps Senator Dillard's comments could be used to undercut the Republican nominee's chances, particularly if that Republican nominee doesn't have a history of forging bipartisan solutions.

Except, Senator Dillard's preferred nominee, Senator John McCain, does have such a history.

And to a certain extent, so do the other leading GOP candidates (Rommey who worked in an overwhelmingly Democratic state and Giuliani who worked in an overwhelmingly Democratic city).

If some New York City Democratic politician appeared in a Giuliani ad in Iowa or New Hampshire congratulating him for working well with the Democratic City Council (assuming that he did), who cares? Or if Senator Feingold appeared in an ad for McCain congratulating him for trying to lessen the clout of big business in political campaigns, so what? People deserve to get credit for their good work and if it means the politicians who work to reach consensus end up winning primary elections, that's a good thing.

I can understand why Republicans would be upset if Senator Dillard supported Obama's presidential campaign in the November general election. But to support the best candidate with a record of building consensus who is from Illinois and understands state legislatures in a primary election seems like smart politics rather than a partisan betrayal to me.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Paul Froehlich joins the Democratic Party

Good news: State Representative Paul Froehlich (R-Schaumburg) will join the Democratic Party on Wednesday.

Paul is an excellent legislator: an institutionalist who cares about policy and pays attention to the details. He is an electoral reformer, consistently standing up for more transparency and accountability in government. He's unafraid to take on unpopular issues that advance justice but won't win many votes, and he's probably the most aggressive white legislator of either party that reaches out to issues that matter to the Black and Latino Caucuses.

When Washington Republicans get crazy, I always looked to legislators like Paul as evidence that Illinois Republicans kept a level head. Unfortunately (for them) a few of their influential leaders decided to wage angry crusades against independent legislators like Paul, preferring a purged party to a heterogeneous caucus. Well, they've got it now.

The Democratic Party is fortunate to have an advocate for justice and reformer like Paul Froehlich among our ranks.

I'm glad our party leaders all recognize the value of a diverse caucus.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why do we keep for-profit health insurance companies again?

Michael Moore raises the question in Sicko: why exactly are we tolerating for-profit health insurance companies that make money by denying us the health care that we've paid for?

What sense does that make?

I recall Luis Gutierrez (who, here's my prediction, will run again in 2008 for Congress) at a town hall meeting in 1993 or 1994 on public television called for abolishing the insurance companies and the crowd, previously passive and polite in that public television way, erupted in applause. The host (probably John Callaway) asked for calm and then asked the insurance company spokesperson to justify the industry's existence. "What do you do?" he asked.

"Spread risk" was the answer.

That's it.

The health insurance guy could have said "suck resources out of health care like a parasitic middleman to build skyscrapers, run commercials and make our investors rich" which would have been more honest, but the economic basis for the health insurance industry's existence is "to spread risk."

Well, you spread risk by getting a bunch of people in the same big pool. So if there are 5 people in a small business who are paying for their own health care and one of them gets cancer or gets hit by a bus, then those 5 people have a lot of money to pay. The goal is to get 10,000 people in a big pool so when someone gets cancer, the cost is absorbed and spread out among everyone.

I've got a big pool we should all get into: Americans.

The whole country should be one big pool. That's what we do with Americans over the age of 65. It's called Medicare. And there isn't any role for private health insurance companies to make money. That's why it's so cheap to administer.

I wish I had access to Medicare.

I pay Medicare taxes. Why can't I have Medicare coverage?

Because for people under 65, we have to make health insurance companies rich to get access to the doctors and hospitals.

The best thing we could do for our economy is expand Medicare for everybody to end medical bankruptcies and encourage small businesses to grow (who now have to make insurance companies rich).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Funders, events, parties and more

You've got an extra 50 bucks in your pocket and you're looking for a good time to meet some other civic people in Chicago.

Well, that's what summer funders are for.

Here are a bunch of them. Come to some or all.

Representative Sara Feigenholtz
Monday, July 9
6 - 8 pm
Wishbone Restaurant
3300 North Lincoln


Museum of Broadcast Communications
75th Anniversary Salute to FDR
5:30 pm cocktail reception
7:00 pm program
Auditorium Theatre
Michigan and Congress

On July 2, 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt accepted his first nomination for President of the United States -- in Chicago. It was the night most Americans heard FDR on the radio for the first time.

The Auditorium Theatre will be transformed into the convention floor of 1932 with bunting draped boxes, state delegate signs and "Happy Days Are Here Again" will welcome guests as the clock is turned back 75 years.

For history and political buffs, this will be a really cool night.

$25 tickets general admission; $500 VIP (for the cocktail reception)


Mikva Challenge
Developing the Next Generation of Civic Leaders
June 28
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum

The Mikva Challenge, named after Illinois great Abner Mikva, effectively engages high school students into politics and government. They are relentlessly bi- (and multi-) partisan and provide a great after-school program for students.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Always look at the bright side of life...."

The post title is the title of the closing song (and my favorite part) of the Monty Python musical Spamalot. I catch myself whistling that tune quite a bit.

So, to apply that piece of wisdom to the overtime session in the Illinois General Assembly, I'd like to point out the good things about an overtime session.

Because a budget requires a 60% vote, the General Assembly has more institutional power. Once 71 Representatives and 36 Senators agree on an agenda (and the Speaker and the President sign off), lots of good things can happen that are normally taken off the table when only a 50% vote is required.

Good things like putting constitutional amendments on the ballot.

If we want a modern, progressive income tax to match the new structure of our economy (where the middle-class is under pressure and most of the new income is flowing to high income people), we need to amend our constitution.

(Note we can make our flat rate income tax more progressive as Voices for Illinois Children explains in this policy brief by raising the personal exemption and the state's earned income tax credit, but if we really want a modern income tax, we should get rid of that constitutional provision prohibited a non-graduated rate.)

It takes a 60% vote of each chamber to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Well, since it takes a 60% vote of each chamber to pass a budget, it's just as easy to pass a budget as it is to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. And since most of our budget troubles are based on an out-of-date tax system (too heavy on low incomes and it doesn't tax enough of the modern economy -- services and high incomes), it would be prudent for those who care about the FY10 and FY12 budgets just as much as the FY08 and FY09 budgets to ask the electorate for the ability to implement a progressive income tax in 2009.

Note that a constitutional amendment does not require gubernatorial action.

Speaking of gubernatorial action, another nice thing about overtime is that the threat of a veto doesn't matter so much, since it takes 60% of each chamber to override a veto. So, since it takes 60% to pass a budget, and 60% to override a veto....whomever votes for a budget and sticks to their guns will be able to override a veto.

That means when the Governor makes a mistake and threatens to veto good public policy, it doesn't matter. Once 60% of each legislative chamber agree to implement good policy, a veto is irrelevant.

That dynamic opens up the possibility of a legislative consensus, since this year, the Governor's bold vision was unfortunately matched by hostility to alternatives. That hostility is less important in June.

If ever there was a time to have a big picture conversation with your legislator, this is it.

I hope 60% of the General Assembly match the Governor's attractive tendency for game-changing proposals with constitutional amendments and progressive taxes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Great Chicago company has a neat blog

Inspired by Google buying Feedburner (congratulations to fellow progressive blogger Rick Klau! -- and I think former CrossBlogger Jake Parillo was working there too, congratulations), I thought I'd note another cool Chicago-based software company with products I use, 37 signals.

I use one of their products called Basecamp for project management. If you are part of projects (especially if you are in charge of them), check it out. But more interesting to everyone, perhaps, is their blog about:

entrepreneurship, design, experience, simplicity, constraints, pop culture, our products, products we like, and more. Established 1999 in Chicago.

It's called Signal vs. Noise and it's an interesting read.

California federal legislators seek $50M state ask for high speed rail

Sometimes having a state authority of high speed rail makes sense. In California, it might pay off. They've got an authority (website here) and this year they are making a move to avoid Governor Schwarzenegger's short-sighted cuts.

The Fresno Bee has the report here:

Two-thirds of California's congressional delegation has signed a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger supporting much more funding for the state's proposed high-speed rail system than the governor's budget proposed.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said the 36 signatures include four other San Joaquin Valley representatives -- Reps. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced; Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield; Devin Nunes, R-Visalia; and George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

He called the letter "a strong signal from Washington that California is serious about high-speed rail" and said the goal is to get $50 million in funding, about 10 times what the governor proposed.

This is great news. It's good to get federal legislators involved in the state budget process. Senator Dick Durbin was helpful in Illinois last year during the successful campaign to double the state appropriation for Amtrak to double service.

The Authority is clearly defining the ask. That's helpful to have an independent verification -- a professional agency and not just advocates -- of the ask and the benefits that flow from the ask.

In the Midwest, we have largely not advocated for the creation of a separate Authority for either improved Amtrak service or laying separated track for high speed rail, instead we've been working with state DOTs (who largely operate Amtrak service) for additional frequencies and capital investments to improve average speeds and reliability.

I suspect that if we ever want to make a multi-billion investment in laying new tracks, we'll need to create an Authority with separate bonding and taxing authority. That isn't in the cards for the forseeable future, at least as I see it.

Very good to see progress in California.

Cross-posted at Improving Amtrak Incrementally

DailyKos post on farm policy and the $20B connection to immigration

Inspired by David Moberg's article in In These Times on American agricultural policy ($20 billion in subsidies that flow mostly to the agribusiness that dominate the food supply chain, as I understand the industry), I posted in my new diary on DailyKos a question on how we can figure out a compelling message and a progressive policy to sell in Congress and to potentially progressive rural voters.

I've been a long-time reader of DailyKos and it's kind of fun to join in as a poster (or diarist, I guess).

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Book review: Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen

Notes on The Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen

The thesis of Buzz is that buzz about a product or service isn't just organic but can and should be built, maintained and expanded by the leaders of the company. Buzz, defined as positive comments, is among the most powerful marketing weapons on the planet. A comment from a trusted messenger, like a friend or colleague, cuts through the noise of television, internet, radio and print advertising and commands attention and respect. Therefore, one must build and cultivate buzz (including making the product or service extraordinary) as part of any marketing campaign.

Rosen describes a method for building buzz. First, ask your customers, especially your best customers, to buzz. They are the believers in your product (or else they wouldn't have associated with you). Give them the chance to impress their networks with their savvy by sharing their association with your extraordinary product. Ask them to spread the word with a personal letter or email to potential clients they know that explains the value of the product or service and some of them will.

Second, focus on people at the center of a social network. Rosen call them hubs. A mega-hub is Oprah Winfrey or David Broder or Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people trusting their recommendations. A regular hub is the popular kid in high school or the county chair of the Democratic Party or the local bookseller with dozens of people trusting their recommendations.

Hubs are more likely to recommend your product, candidate, issue or service if their heart feels they are a part of something and their head knows that the quality is high. Thus, create a community of believers (Deadheads or Rangers and Pioneers or Jeep Jamboree) who can evangelize about you and your company and give them complete transparency and candor. If there's a problem, share it and solve it with the people who care most about you and your campaign. Don't spin your base.

Finally, use scarcity and mystery to get hubs talking. Sneak previews or special invitation-only events create excitement and buzz. Dampening supply early on to create unmet demand also fuels buzz (only permitting the candidate to personally appear at certain events or only offering a few potential customers access to the product or service at first).

Rosen's insights into buzz are particularly relevant for a class of service providers that are not known for their innovative marketing: public transportation agencies like Amtrak or the Chicago Transit Authority. For them, a key insight is to ask your best customers (like monthly pass holders) to spread the word. Existing riders are in a better position than anyone else to pitch the service to their networks and recruit new riders. They should be asked to do so on a regular basis.

Leaders of agencies should explain to riders how public transportation is a network and therefore grows more valuable as more people use it. Routes with few riders ultimately get eliminated. With more riders comes more revenue for reliability and expansion as well as more political support for public investment. Every rider has an interest in recruiting new riders to keep the service they use and to build support for more.

Network hubs who could come to understand the value of transit to their community should be recruited to spread the word as well. Local elected officials, not only those who influence transit budgets but those who control unrelated agencies like school boards or park districts should be asked to tell their constituents about the service in their area. Give them tools like neighborhood or route-specific maps that are relevant to their local network they can distribute locally. In return, the agency must solicit and respect their input.

Create events for riders and hubs to build excitement and community. Take riders to see the bus barn or the maintenance facility. Bring your best customers to your planning department to review potential designs for signs or maps. Share all ridership data by route and ask for advice on how to recruit new riders. This is particularly important with any new routes where new riders need to be quickly identified and recruited to fill empty buses.

The Anatomy of Buzz is published by Currency Books and is available in paperback.