Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pollution tax has passed a Cook County Board Committee

Good news: the pollution tax has passed out of Cook County's Finance Committee by a vote of 10-6. It now, apparently heads to the full Board (even though it looks like all Commissioners are a member of the Finance Committee, or at least, have a vote in the Finance Committee).

the public notice of the meeting. I don't think Cook County has any online legislative database to see vote results.

I heard from a friend working this ordinance that the vote was:

Voting YES: Sims, Quigley, Beavers, Maldonado, Butler, Murphy, Steele, Collins, Suffredin, and Daley.

Voting NO: Claypool, Peraica, Silvestri, Goslin, Gorman, Schneider

This seems like a smart way to pay for the health costs for people who get sick from pollution.

I also heard that some environmental groups are getting a little wishy-washy on this county tax, because it might (might) mess up the state deal to cut mercury emissions. If that's true, that seems like a very strange reason to oppose a progressive policy. The sooner we can start taxing things we don't like so as to discourage its production, particularly when it comes to air pollution, the better.

I hope Cook County keeps the pollution tax in the mix to finance our public health system.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The University of Illinois will be Chief free! I'm joining the Alumni Association.

Fantastic news. Finally, finally, finally, the University of Illinois is shedding an embarrassing vestige of a racist time and retiring the white dude who jumps around in a Native American costume. Thank goodness someone had the testicular virility to cut off the endless non-debate and modernize our image with one executive decision. I love it.

Progressive alumni of the University, now is the time to reward bold initiative. Send them money. The Alumni Association is here and the University Foundation that will take your gifts is here.

My guess is that the bogeyman of petulant alumni who will withhold their millions from the University are likely to be the people who send the money exclusively to the Athletics Department. And if Athletics takes a hit for a few years, I really don't care. The University's culture and priorities are already too skewed towards the sports teams anyway. Higher education is likely our best economic engine for the next few decades, and we should be pouring resources into higher education to generate economic returns. The dancing Chief was a distraction and worse, a symbol of a less-innovative, less-modern and less-progressive state -- particularly in East Central Illinois where we have the opportunity, still far from fully realized, to attract global talent and capital for technology-driven businesses -- than Illinois actually is.

Congratulations to Chairman Eppley (assuming he goes through with it). Today is a good day for the future of Illinois.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

ACLU growth shows how the most invested board members can forget the purpose of an advocacy organization

The ACLU is the world's largest public interest law firm.

It has a budget of $28 million with 573,000 members. Join them here.

The Bush Administration's toxic combination of incompetence, arrogance and secrecy has sparked Americans to push back by supporting the ACLU. The organization has roughly doubled in size since 2001.

With that stupendous growth came an old-fashioned board fight, as many 501(c)(3) organizations face when they grow. The Director is Anthony Romero who is credited with much of the organization's growth and muscular focus on attacking the Administration's many over-reaches. Calling for his resignation is the former Director, Ira Glasser, and some of the Board members who have been involved with the ACLU for decades.

This, by the way, is courtesy of a fantastic article in New York Magazine by David France here. For anyone working in advocacy, I recommend reading it for the insight into board-staff dynamics. Some of the dysfunctional attitudes of board members jumped out at me as they are all too common in advocacy organizations.

Some board members, labeled dissidents by Mr. France with their positions laid out on their Save the ACLU website, argue that the organization is crushing internal dissent and railroading policies or decisions through in secret without consultation with the Board. They blame Director Romero for lying and steamrolling over Board members and call for his replacement.

The majority of Board members disagree (else Mr. Romero would be out of a job) and they have their website called Voices for the ACLU to make their case.

It's a very instructive debate, because it shows how people can lose sight of the purpose of an advocacy organization. The purpose of any advocacy organization is to advance the mission. It is not to create an internal decision-making process that represents an example for the government to follow. It is a tool, not a microcosm.

The dissident board members look to be making that crucial mistake. They are holding dear to the principles of the ACLU, writing that "believe strongly in the ACLU" and condemn the "failure to practice what we preach" -- meaning, a lack of internal transparency and an aggressive attempt to crush dissent within the organization.

No advocacy organization should be a home for an activist. No advocacy organization should be a place where people feel comfortable to express themselves in internal debate over the direction of the organization. That's a waste of time and a cancer to the energy and momentum of an advocacy organization. It's internally-focused when any advocacy group needs to be relentlessly outwardly-oriented to advance the mission.

This happens a lot. Sometimes the people who are the most dedicated to an organization (defined as spending the most volunteer hours in a position of leadership) inflate the value of internal debate and thus incorrectly calculate that the resources of the organization are better spent in internal activities than in external work. Often the person's personal identity is closely connected with their role in the organization and they invest their emotional energy in their internal role, clouding their judgment.

Those people should, as a general rule, step aside or be forced out without delay. And whatever grievance they have with the new direction or new leadership of the organization should be remedied by starting their own organization.

That's the beauty of the freedom of association. Everyone has the freedom to disassociate -- including the majority of the organization with the minority of the organization.

Whenever someone talks about process or principles to justify their activities within an advocacy organization, they are usually wrong. Leaders of advocacy organizations should ruthlessly focus on advancing the mission, and when board members, donors or long-time activists get in the way of staff's conception or direction to implement the mission, staff should isolate and remove them as soon as possible. If the staff is really doing a poor job, then the board should fire the staff. If the board wants to keep the staff, then get out of the way.

Organizations that are structured differently -- those that force staff to attend countless board meetings and build internal consensus -- are wasting resources that should be spent on advancing the mission. The job of a board member is to raise resources and hire the staff leadership. That's it. Anything else is self-indulgent.

Donors to advocacy groups ought to insist on that board structure to ensure that staff time -- 80% of the expense of any decent organization -- is spent on advancing the mission. That's a good lesson to learn from the ACLU's board current public 'debate'.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Al Franken's running for the Senate. Good for him.

Today, the flagship talk radio host for progressives announced he is running for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota.

The stuffed shirts are rolling their eyes.

Well, I say, good for Al Franken.

I'm not sure he'd be the best U.S. Senator, but I know he's among the best communicators we've got. He's very good at articulating progressive policies well, and we need more of that. Listen to him tell his story and hear how he defends the value of government: keeping the vulnerable alive, paying for most of college and making life better for all of us. That's common-sense storytelling that connects with people and exposes the libertarians for what they are: salesmen with a bad product.

One thing I learned from his website is that he wrote the screenplay for "When A Man Loves A Woman." That movie is fantastic. And, it's set in one of best cities in North America: Zihuatanejo. Anyway, good for Al Franken. I hope he has a big event in Chicago this summer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Very interesting proposal for Cook County: tax pollution

We should tax things we don't like as much as we can.

We don't like pollution. It kills people.

So I was glad to hear the some members of the Cook County Board, while trying to figure out how to balance the budget without raising the property tax, have come up with a neat idea: tax pollution.

They would focus on the two power plants in Cook County that, under current plans, will continue to spew out pollution for another decade or so.

And they would tax each ton of pollution emitted.

Here is a Chicago Public Radio report on the proposal, introduced by Commissioner Roberto Maldonado. The Commissioner's website has a Daily Southtown article that includes reference to a $400 per ton of sulfur dioxide tax.

This would be a good thing. Cook County residents largely pay the cost from air pollution generated in Cook County, especially when poor people go to Cook County hospital for their asthma treatment, or when they die from cancer caused by air pollution (and we pay the cost of the coroner), so it seems right to tax the pollution that imposes these costs on us.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Quick reflections from Obama's Chicago rally at the Pavilion

I went to the Obama rally at the Pavilion tonight with around 7000 other people. There were a lot of legislators and electeds in the crowd.

Instead of a rally, Barack had more of a wonky discussion as is his style.

There were two important themes that came out from his discussion and one tactical shift.

The first political tactic: he's getting tougher on Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. The phrase about the Iraq War is now "a war that should never have been authorized." That's a clear dig at the U.S. Senators who did not share his foresight about the predictable results of invading Iraq and that's a challenge that Senator Clinton has not responded to well. I don't think she ever will. Senator Edwards, to his credit, has come clean by admitting he was wrong to vote to authorize the invasion.

One of the themes of his conversation was a point Senator Paul Simon was fond of making: the policy solutions to our big problems (a dumb health care financing system, a dumb reliance on foreign oil that funds the bad guys and a dumb public education system that still runs on the agricultural calendar) are (a) not particularly technical, (b) fairly well-known and (c) generally opposed by special interests. They are nuts-and-bolts solutions.

That's important to recall, because otherwise it's easy to think that the problems are intractable and investing in solutions is not only pointless but dangerously naive. That's certainly what the special interests like the peddle.

The other theme of his conversation was that he is an imperfect vessel for a movement to ensure that the solutions discussed earlier are put at the heart of the D.C. agenda. Because today, it isn't our agenda that's discussed. For health care, it's the agenda of the drug companies, the insurance companies and, to a lesser extent, the hospitals at the center of the discussion. For that to change, we'll have to have millions of people become better citizens to force the non-special interest agenda on to D.C. That's how we'll win that next battle. And that's one of the core purposes of the Obama presidential campaign.

The inexperienced candidate has the foresight few others exhibited

A progressive Nashville blog cut to the heart of the matter on the debate between D.C. experience (defined by conventional wisdom, apparently, as having been around the capital during the disasters of the last half-decade or so).

The blog post from Nashville for the 21st Century is here.

Check it out.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Final live reactions to Barack Obama's announcement: active citizenship means lobbying for better government

"Let's allow our unions and their organizers to lift up the middle class of this country. We can do that!"

Only a former organizer would say that.

"Let's be the generation that.... We can do that."

And he's right. It's just a question of will. Well, that and getting even tougher on those will fight a working consensus under any circumstances. But he understands that. He knows you sometimes need to roll the bad guys to get them to the table.

"No amount of American lives can solve the political disagreement at the heart of someone else's civil war."

Absolutely. So unfortunate that the invasion imperialists keep parroting that we need more and more troops to force the world to be different.

"And the lobbyists and special interests move in and the people turn away."

"That's why this campaign must be about us."

"This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship."

Well, he ought to say that every citizen should become a lobbyist. Engage in governing. Don't just expect it to happen without actively asking our legislators to do the right thing.

"I want to win that next battle! And if you will join with me on this improbable quest, if you hear destiny calling, if you see as I do endless possibilities, work with me to ... usher in a new burst of freedom on this earth! Let's get to work!"

I'd suggest he start calling on people to join battles in the U.S. Senate this week.

Campaigning only makes sense in the context of influencing government. And he can draw a stronger connection between the two to explain the higher purpose of the campaign. Right now, the anti-lobbyist theme was a bit off (in my view, as a progressive lobbyist). Organizers are ultimately lobbyists too, but they represent the public interest instead of a special interest.

This is going to be an exciting year. Invest your dollars and your hours in the campaign -- and if you'd like to do it directly through my page on the campaign website, you can do so here.

More live blogging on Barack Obama's presidential announcement speech

Some of the problem we face:

"The smallness of our politics. Our chronic avoidance of tough decision."

And we are not "building a working consensus to tackle the big problems of America."

That's right. The people in charge for the last six years have not been interested in that. But we have been doing that in Illinois and Barack was a big part of that working consensus.

Ouch -- a knock on lobbyists. We need to take that word back from "the special interests". Because what's an active citizen engaged in government but a lobbyist? Paid or unpaid, that's what we need more of us -- hundreds of thousands of lobbyists.

"They get the access while you get to write a letter."

"We're here to take back our government. It's time to turn the page, right here and right now."

Barack Obama's speech begins -- live blogging

And they play U2 to start. That's a nice touch.

Man, it must be freezing.

"I know it's chilly. But I'm fired up!"

That's a nice nod to SEIU.

"Building that more perfect union"

A nice nod to Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr.

I've written about this before, but just imagine the pastor or priest on the Southeast Side 20 years ago who received a letter from a Columbia University senior with a funny name asking for a job as a community organizer. And could that person, in a devastated neighborhood, ever imagine that by choosing that person, and not someone else, he set a course of history in motion that led to a presidential campaign.

"Our cherished rights of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate."

Right on.

"It was here in Springfield that I saw all that is America converge."

This is so Barack! After his applause line kicking off his campaign, he says "wait a minute, I know there's an audacity to this" to settle people down! Always thoughtful.

Springfield is packed, Obama's running; his campaign website is live

This is a very exciting day.

Just as the Texas Republicans put together the movement and momentum to run the country for half a decade, Illinois Democrats are putting it together to do the same.

It's fantastic.

Obama's website is up: www.BarackObama.com and I've set up a blog there as well here.

Sign up with his campaign today.

This is a fantastic opportunity to engage more of us in governing and campaigning -- and that's the best way we get better public policies that make life better for all of us.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Barack Obama is the most successful draft campaign in recent memory

There have been a lot of campaigns to draft a candidate to run for the presidency. Colin Powell is the most vivid example. These are efforts that are driven by anyone else besides the candidate. Almost all of them are unsuccessful.

The hundreds of thousands of people who convinced Barack Obama to run for the presidency over the last year or so have pulled off the most successful draft campaign in recent memory.

What other presidential candidate includes the statement "I didn't expect to be here one year ago" as Barack did when he released his exploratory statement a month ago? No one! Who else wonders what role a presidential campaign might play in changing our political culture? Only a candidate who was drafted.

Usually it's the candidate's ambition and drive that is at the center of a presidential campaign -- or any other big campaign. But not this time.

I think it's extraordinary. I've never seen anyone else get drafted to run.

Don't get me wrong: at this point, I'm sure Senator Obama is fully invested in the campaign. And he was certainly the driving force behind all of his previous runs for office (as he disarmingly writes in his book). But a year ago -- and certainly two years ago when most candidates were already working on their campaigns (see Hillary or John Edwards or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani or just about every other candidate), I am absolutely convinced that Barack never seriously entertained the thought of running for president. And other people drafted him to do it.

Very, very cool. It means that he resonates with people. And when people look at him and see a President -- a level-headed, honest, progressive, pragmatic, candid, consensus-building President who appeals to our higher instincts -- it's something unique. That's more important to voters than having been working in Washington, D.C. for years and years. The skills he learned in the Illinois General Assembly to build a consensus for progressive public policies are among the most important any leader can employ. Especially after two terms of the rash, stubborn and arrogant approach from the Bush Administration, I sense voters are hungry for the type of consensus-building leadership that Barack brings. And that's the experience -- forged in Springfield -- that is far more important than having spent years hanging around in D.C.

This is going to be a great year.