Sunday, December 28, 2008

My discussion of Professor Barack Obama as part of Time's Person of the Year coverage

Barack Obama was my law professor in 1998. I was fortunate to be interviewed by Time Magazine (along with Illinois State Board of Education Chair Jesse Ruiz) in Classroom 5 of the University of Chicago Law School where we shared our thoughts and experience with Professor Obama's inclusive and real-world-oriented pedagogical style.

The video is available on Time's website here.

Jesse and I start at the 1:10 mark. Here's a partial transcript.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger: My first opportunity to take a class with him came my
second year which was 1998. He taught a class called Voting Rghts.

Narrator: Obama continued to teach, even as he became a state senator,
challenging students to use his political office as an example in class

Dan: He was exceptionally generous with allowing his
political career to sort of be autopsied as an academic exercise.

Narrator: Dan Johnson-Weinberger went on to a career in politics after
finishing his law degree.

Dan: The tough questions that you're kind of not supposed to ask about -- he wanted us to really dig deeply into the intellectual challenge of reconciling competing demands in a campaign finance regime, so he allowed himself to be used as part of the classroom.

Narrator: And, these former students say, the intellectual inquiry they
saw in Professor Obama is what they expect from a President Obama.

Jesse Ruiz: Sometimes you can get lost in the law and the loftiness of what we're
studying and we forget this involves the lives of people. He wouldn't let us
forget that.

Dan: One of the skills he developed at the University of
Chicago Law School was a real hunger for lots of people presenting new and
innovative and sometimes untested ideas to solve problems. I think the times are
calling for and his campaign was calling for bold change. And I don't think
Washington is a bold place. My hope is that that broken political culture in
Washington really does change.

Jesse: I think the greater gains will be seen long after he leaves office in eight years and that will be a change in the attitude of Americans

The people at Time did an excellent job with the video (and they were kind enough to include a screen shot of my company, Progressive Public Affairs) so please do check out the full video. Apparently CNN ran a story about this video as well.

On related broadcast media news, Beyond the Beltway will be airing their taped year-end program where I represented the Democratic point of view tonight on WLS radio from 6 to 8 pm and on WYCC at 10:30 tonight (as well as on the Comcast cable network over the next few days). I'll also be on a BBC Five Live radio show at 6 pm (Chicago time) Tuesday night with my frequent other-side-of-the-aisle pundit friend Dan Proft discussing how Barack will live up to the lofty expectations an anxious world has put upon his shoulders.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stockholm traffic management lessons from Randy Blankenhorn

Today at the Metropolitan Planning Council's "Around the World in 90 Minutes in Global Infrastructure Best Practices" Randy Blankenhorn of CMAP shared some insight into how we can reduce traffic congestion through better management, Stockholm-style.

We don't really do much to manage traffic flow in Northeastern Illinois. There's an Illinois Department of Transportation website on real-time highway congestion, but nothing on arterial streets. Drivers should be getting information about what routes are congested (so they can avoid them), but that information isn't widely disseminated. As an example Randy brought up, there are big signs on the highways that tell drivers how much time it takes to get downtown, but those signs should be before the entrance ramp so drivers can decide whether or not to take the expressway or stick with arterial streets. And we don't really manage traffic signals at all, particularly in the suburbs.

Part of the problem is that the municipalities own and set the traffic lights. There is no regional body to run traffic signals on a real-time basis to adjust traffic signals to changing conditions (like an accident). Airports have the federal air traffic control to manage the traffic. There is no Illinois road traffic control to open express lanes or change traffic signals or (ideally) adjust prices on tollroads to keep roads at a free-flow level). And there should be.

Stockholm has a Trafik Stockholm Joint Traffic Management Centre that takes information in from thousands of cameras and sensors and immediately dispatches roadside assistance, shifts or closes lanes and (I think) adjusts traffic signals. That's something we should emulate as we learn how to manage our transportation infrastructure more efficiently.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Senator Jeff Schoenberg hits the blogosphere

Joining Representative John Fritchey in Blogistan, Senator Jeff Schoenberg launched Deep Blue Illinois, a policy-oriented blog with some good political insight as well (at least based on his first three posts....).

Senator Schoenberg was one of the first blog readers, even telling me on the record when I came to testify before his Senate Appropriations Committee a few years ago "you can submit your testimony on your blog if you'd like."

Senator Schoenberg has one of the best financial minds in the General Assembly, so his discussion about Treasurer Giannoulias' proposal to merge the state's five pension funds into one is definitely worth a read.

Federal stimulus an opportunity for passenger trains and transit

Change is coming to Washington, and that change could mean a new investment in transit and passenger trains.

Today, President-Elect Barack Obama is in Philadelphia meeting with almost all of the nation's governors who are pushing for a major federal investment in infrastructure and Medicaid spending. The governors are looking for a stimulus package to pass in less than eight weeks (!) to reverse the economic contraction that is throwing people out of work.

This is happening so fast that it can be hard to see the fundamental change in the federal government's philosophy towards the economy. For most of the last 25 years, the ideas has been that the best government is an anti-government - cut spending, cut taxes, cut regulation of business and prosperity will follow. Well, that failed miserably. Now the philosophy is to increase spending, increase regulation (and maybe increase taxes on high incomes) to generate prosperity. This is good news for transit and passenger trains.

Advocates need to have their projects "shovel-ready" in order to overcome objections from Republicans that the additional spending won't create additional jobs in the short term. So now is the time to ensure that every one of your potential projects are ready to go in order to get in line for a bigger share of federal stimulus funding.

And now is *definitely* the time to tell your Members of Congress than the nation needs a major investment in infrastructure. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is calling for a $5 billion investment in high speed rail (and you can participate in that action alert as well). Speaker Nancy Pelosi's team said they are looking for a total package of around $400 to $500 billion. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thought the package would come in around $500 billion. It is not clear how much of that could go to transit and passenger trains, so call your Members of Congress and ask them to push that figure as high as possible to get people working again and expand transit and trains!