Friday, March 10, 2017

Who I'm backing in the Oak Park local elections (April 4, 2017)

We're very lucky in Oak Park to have a deep bench. Our community is involved, smart, and progressive. In many instances, with multiple candidates vying for a handful of seats, you can't go wrong in who you select in the voting booth.

These are simply my selections and a few were difficult choices. I've even been swapping a few names in my last edit as I have one-on-one conversations and rethink some candidate positions. Consider these suggestions. But they've risen to the top in my mind for their views on everything from Oak Park transportation issues to their vision for keeping student needs first in long-term school planning. I hope they reflect our diversity and commitment to good governance.

(Candidates, if you feel like you'd like a chance to make me reconsider I'm happy to have a conversation about why I'm voting the way I am for a given position. Feel free to reach out.) 

Oak Park Village Board:

Peter Barber (incumbent)
Glenn Brewer (incumbent)
Deno Andrews

Oak Park Village Clerk:

Elia Gallegos

District 97:

Rob Breymaier
Katherine Murray-Liebl
Charity Anne Caldwell

District 200:

Jeff Weissglass (incumbent)
Tom Cofsky (incumbent)
Craig Iseli
Douglas Springer  Jackie Moore
*I just saw the endorsements from the D200 Vote Yes campaign and take careful note that they list Mr. Springer as an active member of the anti-referendum committee from last fall. 

Oak Park Public Library 

As of the publication date of this post, I haven't had a chance to attend a forum with any library board candidates and have requested but not received platform material.

School District 97

Increase Limiting Rate: 

Yes 

Issue Bonds:

Yes

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Saving Oak Park schools

I understand the frustration of Oak Park taxpayers who are being asked to again raise their own taxes for the benefit of our schools. We have to do something about Oak Park's affordability. But there are right and wrong ways to tackle our high taxes. I wanted to share our family's story of why you should vote Yes on April 4 for District 97's referenda.

I moved to Oak Park 10 years ago for the exact same reasons everyone else does. The values, the diversity, the quality of life were all desirable. I've gotten involved and am a volunteer member of the Transportation Commission. We regularly socialize with neighbors. When my son was born in 2010, the excellent schools looked appealing as well. We wanted to stay here to raise a family. When he was younger and had a speech delay, he aged into the school district's Early Childhood program (at the time it was at Holmes) and we started meeting some of the families and teachers we're friends with to this day. He also spent a year at Longfellow in the late Dee Dee Farmer's PKP program where his sister has now spent 2 years and is fully ready to join her brother at Lincoln next year. My son will be a 2nd grader next year who is doing well academically and socially and looks forward to his well-rounded weekly routine.

But all of that success is in the hands of Oak Park voters on April 4. Whether we're able to stay in Oak Park very much depends upon the quality of the schools. If the referenda fail, reductions for the 2017-2018 school year include: 

  • Eliminate 12 teaching positions     
  • Eliminate 20 teaching assistant positions      
  • Eliminate 13 administrative assistant positions  
  • Eliminate eight administrative positions  
  • Eliminate three teaching positions and three teaching assistant positions in early childhood (dependent on the availability of state funding)  
  • Eliminate six custodial and maintenance positions 
  • Eliminate two additional non-instructional positions
  • Eliminate 10 media aides  
That's only the beginning, however, and our family would very likely have to give up Oak Park if the hammer really falls during the 2018-19 school year. Those cuts would be devastating and drastically lower the quality of education in the district. The $7.4 million in reductions include:


  • Eliminate all 15 positions in the general music program for the elementary schools 
  • Eliminate all nine positions in the elementary art program    
  • Eliminate all 11 positions in the elementary school foreign language program (FLES) 
  • Eliminate all 10 teacher librarian positions      
  • Eliminate all eight language arts specialist positions in the elementary schools   
  • Eliminate all three positions in the elementary band program 
  • Eliminate all four positions in the elementary instrumental music program
  • Eliminate the two positions in the elementary orchestra program
  • Eliminate all five student support specialist positions  
  • Eliminate two additional non-instructional positions    
  • Eliminate the two International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator positions     

In short, District 97 would become an unbalanced school system where students have inadequate access to the arts, music, librarians, Spanish, and more. Our family is lucky though and has the mobility to leave Oak Park if we have to. Not every family can do that and there is a real danger of children being caught in an underfunded elementary/middle school district without a full range of classes and 30 children per teacher.

Voting YES in April protects our children, your home value, and the educational system in Oak Park. 

Above is a chart that depicts the various referenda failure scenarios - i.e., operating question passes, but capital question fails; capital question passes, but operating questions fails; or both questions fail.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The fight over the Democratic Party explained

For those who kept close eyes on the insides of the Democratic Party since a year ago, the battles over the weekend are familiar. A far left, populist wing of liberals tries to subvert the mainstream of the party in a hostile takeover attempt. Last year it was Bernie Sanders allies. Right up into the convention they made noise about the direction of things. Many consider this weekend's leadership struggle to be a proxy-war rematch of the two sides. Again, the Bernie wing lost and now many on the far left are complaining...even threatening to leave the party.

In my opinion, it was never really about "how Democrats will win." In 2018 or 2020 or at the local level. Though that's what the battle for party leadership is supposed to be about. No, the question is really about how we govern when we get our turn again. I'm not going to return to the arguments here about the need to embrace a more radical, hard left agenda. There are plenty of true believers who think Bernie Sanders could have beaten Trump in those Rust Belt states like PA, OH, MI, and WI. I don't think so, but nevertheless the issue is now that there are people who prefer Democrats move farther left.

"Progressives," and I put that in quotation marks because there are plenty of progressives in the Democratic Party who don't subscribe to Bernie-wing style politics or policies, seem to be hellbent on issues like corporate money in politics, With a side of conspiracy theory about party structure and members being biased against "real people" in favor of special interest groups and lobbyists. Even if you assume it's true, it masks the same problems of Trump's administration--mainly, that their "populism" isn't that popular and they fail to win majorities of Americans. If you ask me whether I'd like to get big money out of politics I'd answer yes. But the problem is in elevating that to a core issue that people want to see pushed ahead. Ironically, Bernie Sanders himself post-Trump has been hitting a variety of issues hard which I think opens him up to more mainstream support all while his supporters look less and less like Democrats. (If Bernie-wing fanatics really wanted to harp on a single procedural issue in politics that matters more they should hit gerrymandering hard.)

Which brings us to the real core of the battle for the future of the Democratic Party. It's not a matter of how we win again. We will. The unpopularity of Trump and the nature of election cycle swings almost assures us we're headed back to power. No, the real question isn't what voters are courted but instead what policies are enacted once we get there.

I get the frustration of my friends who dislike Democratic Party politics. Just last week I had conversations about both the holdovers from the old machine days and how the Greens are supposedly the better party for "progressives." The obvious counter-argument is that the de facto party for liberals in the US is the Democratics. Sorry if that rubs you the wrong way. Feel free to back the Greens or another group. But most voters in the liberal mainstream understand that we're stronger together (hmm, where have I heard that before?) as unified Democrats.

Anyway, what I've really been contemplating for the past couple of days after the Perez-Ellison fight is this...Trump has two problems. He's both incompetent and has bad policy proposals. And the issue for Democrats going forward is the same one that, in hindsight, actually plagued us during the Obama years. Obama was too good as a manager! Unless you're extremely partisan, most of the love thrown Obama's way came from him running an efficient, scandal-free administration that had smallscale problems but mostly ran the multiple layers of agencies well. Complaints about Obama almost universally came from policy disagreement, not the effectiveness of his supervisory style.

In some ways--though I know most Americans would have a problem seeing on this "bright side"--it's maybe better that Hillary lost. Hear me out! If she'd won, we'd be facing the same levels of unhappiness that we're now seeing under Trump. Imagine trying to find proposals, especially after running a fairly progressive campaign, that would pass Congress and have broad approval from Americans. That's tough in this climate given that 50% hate anything the other 50% proposes anyway. Even in the word where I imagined a Hillary win (a very popular post still), we imagined the world would look pretty much like opposition to Obama.

No, what I've been pondering about the future of the party is that we have to fix all of the Republican incompetencies in both the White House and Congress, but also find a way to muster widespread support for a few core policies. That's the real reason this ongoing war is being waged within the party. Democrats believe a million different things. We need to pick...3?...5?...and not ignore the rest but agree together that those (hopefully economic) issues are the way forward to uniting the nation. Because, frankly, I don't think it's anything Republicans are going to put forward.

It's not going to be the Green Party who leads us. It's not going to be Republicans who come up with fabulous new ideas about living in the 21st century. The reason we're Democrats has to be that we're the party of the future with the basic ideas about progress. Bernie wing, you're not going to reach that by squabbling with your own party about what fringe ideas to put forward. We need to unite and put our heads together about what Big Ideas will sell best to the American people when our turn comes again. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oak Park transportation geekery

A couple of transportation-related pieces in the Wednesday Journal this week that I wanted to highlight because I enjoyed them overall. But I have responses and minor corrections to each of them.

First, there was this piece by trustee candidate James Taglia:
Oak Park's review of parking is much needed

Then there's also this "One View" by Jack Crowe:
Bike-friendly? Try Chicago, not Oak Park

Candidate Taglia's letter focuses on the financial side of parking. I want to just clarify somewhat that, while the Transportation Commission has been working hard and I love seeing us get well-deserved credit for that hard work, it's actually the Village Board itself who is undertaking a year-long study of the overall parking situation in the village. We're happy to take any assignments, of course, and my understanding is that the Board may lean on us for public hearings, etc.. But much of the impetus driving this forward is them, not us. We certainly have asked some pointed questions about competing parking interests during our multi-year research on the Y2, Y3, Y4 overnight zones. I'd like to hope that stirred the pot! I actually think the trustees themselves, however, deserve the real pat on the back for doing this. It's overdue and conversations at the Board table have hopefully shown a willingness to make some big shifts that are needed--even if they aren't necessarily popular. Let's see what is needed first.

One final comment I'd make about Mr. Taglia's letter is that he left out something we frequently talk about with the community in Transportation Commission meetings: enforcement. It is one of the most common pieces of public comment we hear. Not only do we have burdensome rules about where and when you may park, but the coverage of whether motorists are following those regulations is spotty. It's the same with no parking signs that allow for street maintenance...if the sign says every week there is no parking between 8am-10am, Oak Parkers expect a street sweeper to come by. Or else why have the rule?

Enforcement costs money. New signs cost money. Neither of those is reason alone to not overhaul the parking situation. But we need to consider the enforcement picture and the number of new signs we'll need if we're giving an honest accounting of the financial impact.

(Insert here another discussion that is ongoing within the Transportation Commission about the desire for engineering solutions for traffic calming and whether cheaper solutions wins over "better" solutions. That involves issues of data collection, best practices, fun stuff.)

***

Mr. Crowe's letter is in the right spirit. Most Oak Parkers want easier bicycling. But I'd offer a few points...

--Oak Park was awarded Bronze status as a Bicycle Friendly Community so it's not all bad.

--Re: bike lanes on Jackson the driving factors for continuing to have the bump outs and spottiness of the lane was 1) cost because the bumpouts had only recently been installed and removing them was seen as a waste of taxpayer money 2) the neighborhood, specifically a church and the curves, made a continuous bike lane not feasible. That said, my family uses the bike lane on Jackson all the time and it is a major reason why I changed my tune on the upcoming Madison road diet. Since the Madison road diet was first proposed, we've gotten the Jackson bike lane, a flashing pedestrian light on Jackson, and the engineer has some great ideas about slip lane installation on Washington, plus we're getting a new traffic light at Washington/Wisconsin...all these factors make me less cautious about traffic being on Jackson or Washington.

--Given that Madison is due to become a route with a bike lane, I'm not sure the concern over Lake Street is warranted. Any new street project will be looked at in terms of Complete Streets so that bicycle use will be considered. But the 2008 Oak Park Bicycle Plan has Lake St down for Shared Lane markings. With the transition to Oak Park's Neighborhood Greenway Plan for biking in 2014, I'm not sure Lake St is such a huge concern. Riders who get to the eastern edge of Oak Park from Chicago have multiple east-west opportunities on quieter streets and several options for dedicated bike lanes a few blocks north or south.

The official VOP page on biking: http://www.oak-park.us/our-community/bicycling-oak-park


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Rise of Ethno-nationalism Around the World

Pretend you're a Trump supporter for a second. Which of these scenarios is more comforting?

--Since the last time a Republican was President, the United States has been living under a popular black, Democratic leader. The nation has shifted ever more liberal in just a decade with men now marrying men, women fighting in battle, Christianity declining as the default assumption, and your neighbor is now possibly a foreigner with a very different culture. Despite your inability to put the social genie back in the bottle, your candidate in the election managed to squeak out a few thousand votes in key states to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by over 3 million. He does not have a mandate for change and your party's backward attitudes are leading the public to think that you're painfully, perhaps antagonistically out of touch with the majority of Americans. The country has, perhaps, been lost forever as a white, conservative Christian nation.

--After living under a black Democratic President who was not even born here, millions of illegal votes were cast to undermine a sweeping vote for conservative change. An authoritarian figure seems best able to get the momentum up to slow or stop the leftward tilt in American ideals. We must do everything possible to try to reverse the decline of white, Protestant America that has been thrown away in favor of chaos and disturbing new roles, beliefs, and values. The instinct of self-preservation is key.

Trump's America is scared. In just a few short years America has changed under their feet into something they do not understand, recognize, or want. They're now a minority and feel like visitors. They want it back to how it used to be. I'm not saying this to excuse it, simply understand it.

There is a movement rising around the world (a reactionary one and it's actually several different movements who share attitudes) that sees the progress of globalism, multiculturalism, internationalism, pluralism--basically, the hallmarks of modernity--and wants to turn back the clock. If you're an academic follower of religion around the world, this shift towards fundamentalism in many religions shouldn't be unfamiliar. Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims alike have been trying to fight off modernity for decades. Much of it is leftovers from colonialism and the Euro-centric days of empire and imperialism. Muslims seem to be much more willing to engage in violence over holding on to traditional beliefs.

What's surprising, perhaps, about this latest incarnation is that the backlash has taken on a decidedly less religious tone in the US. Outright appeals to Christianity haven't worked. But Christian-backed appeals to white-centric nationhood are doing a bit better. That goes for here in the United States and in Germany, France, England. Engagement with the outside world in terms of free trade, free movement of people, and secularism correlates to these ethno-nationalists as a way to congeal around ideas of the nation-state as a cultural and political body that can better maintain safety and identity as the world becomes more homogeneous.

In other words, people in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles probably have more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, or Tokyo than they have in common with some of their own citizens. Cosmopolitan values in Boston look a lot like cosmopolitan values in Berlin. The white supremacist in Germany looks a lot like the white supremacist in Missouri.

The most powerful motivation behind the white supremacy of England and the white supremacy of Indiana is protection. The same attitudes criticizing migration of Muslims into Europe is the same attitude criticizing the migration of Muslims and Mexicans in the US. Immigrants are not seen as bonus resources to help move the American or European project forward, they're seen as undermining jobs, the economy, security, and even the traditional white historical culture itself. Forget that both Europe and the US have birthrate problems already leading to a decline in whites. Outside peoples are easily blamed rather than recognized.

Yes, the cosmopolitan cities are more liberal and tolerant. And, yes, the cosmopolitan cities are more likely to live side-by-side with migrants and other cultures. But the nature of cosmopolitan living itself forces globalists to see immigration and pluralism for what it truly is--a powerful addition. Which is not to claim that there is no friction between cultures in cities. And I'm certainly not saying that cities are safer because of their cosmopolitanism. To the contrary, we make a shared sacrifice of living in greater danger because of the economic and social gains that happen under multiculturalism/pluralism, etc..

Cities are vibrant money hubs because of globalist attitudes towards both trade and religion. The reason people live in the city is that's where the jobs are and the opportunities are. That was true of historical Venice. That was true of industrialization 100 years ago. Money drives the mixing of culture. There is a reason you can get Thai food at midnight in a city and not in rural Alabama. And too many less educated white people fail to understand this complicated interplay of how economics drive culture. And, in turn, how the situation of white rural resentment cannot be reversed by a leader who appeals to them--authoritarian or otherwise. The very success that ethno-nationalists want to wall off and "protect" is driven by the multiculturalism and globalization they hate.

Our politics right now is failing to contend with this. While it may be true that non-urban and non-educated voters haven't shared in the riches of cosmopolitanism (inequality actually drives pretty deep into urban areas as well), the answer is not to attack multicultural pluralism to elevate the hinterlands. At the same time, urban globalists need to come to terms with this resentment over jobs and opportunities staying in cities and try to leverage a more equitable sharing of wealth with farms and small towns. The real question: are small towns willing to pay the "price" of admission to gain that benefit? That remains to be seen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Democrats need a relocation strategy

One thing I've been pondering since the election in November is an offshoot of the "rural-urban divide" debates that have been happening. Democrats may have won the popular vote, but we lost key regional areas dominated by white, rural, less educated demographics. The loss of historically blue states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan allowed the election to tip--just barely--to Republicans. Democrats are growing in areas of the Sun Belt like Texas and Georgia, but we're not quite to the tipping point of controlling state politics there. Our numbers are concentrated in other places that put us at a disadvantage.

Perhaps my mind was already headed that direction because our family has previously considered farming--a move that would require us to move to a rural, probably conservative-dominated area--but why not sort Democrats into needed areas rather than focus on winning over rural conservative voters? We're maybe looking at the problem all wrong in thinking we need to win people over with an agenda. Just move the people.

Michigan is a great example. On the Presidential level, Trump won by just 10,704 votes. Now consider California where Hillary Clinton won by 4,269,978 votes. Surely, some patriotic Californians would be willing to move to Michigan under the right circumstances? Say 10,705 of them? You get the picture. In Pennsylvania, Trump's margin was .72%. In Wisconsin, Trump's margin was .76%. We need to better distribute the Democratic majority away from cities.

Obviously, people are not going to just pickup and move for love of country. It would help to build a network of established progressives in the destination states to guide newcomers. They need jobs. They need homes. They need to register and vote. And there are inherent risks to the system...people who wrongly claim to be progressives but not vote that way once they move. People who like living in a dominant liberal culture getting a shock moving to, perhaps, a small town. There's a little bit of the heroic personality needed like the Civil Rights era in the South. But even just a network of jobs in swing districts that are offered to left-leaning voters as a priority would be a help. We've clustered in big cities and it's hurting our political power.

My larger point is that we, as Democrats, could more efficiently place ourselves around the nation to use our greater numbers and avoid situations like 2016 where regional weakness lets a political minority achieve power. It's not just President, but Congressional districts, too. To my knowledge, nobody has talked about this kind of relocation strategy. If they have, I'd love to hear about it. Please link in the comments!


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Farewell to the glorious Obama years

Obama family 2011

It's hard to not view the Presidency of Barack Obama through the lens of parenting.

For many Americans, President Obama has been like a father to us. Offering an example, encouraging us to better ourselves and our world, staying cool and calm when the weight of the world has been on his shoulders. For others, he was what inspired us to have children ourselves. 9 months after the celebration and joy of Grant Park in 2008 there was talk of the "Obama babies" who were being born as symbols of the new hope for the nation. Diverse couples, immigrant stories, and embracing America's future majority-minority demographics. 

My own two children have never known a time when there was not a black President. While not themselves Obama babies, they certainly were born into and are products of the optimism of the Obama years. On Election Night in 2008, the economy was in turmoil and possibly headed for another Great Depression. The housing market collapsed. The stock market fell. The jobs market left millions out of work. And President Obama and Congress turned it all around to produce the longest period of consecutive job growth in US history. 

Millions didn't have health care and now they do. You could be kicked out of the armed services for being gay and now you can't. LGBT Americans can now marry thanks to the Obama years. The crime rate hit its lowest level ever during the administration. We've largely not been at war. We've been free from terrorism--including the killing of Osama bin Laden. We've seen peaceful relations restored to old enemies like Iran and Cuba. We're more energy independent and have seen the growth of renewable energy. We've expanded our national parks. We've expanded the role of science. We've decided to go to Mars. 

It's been 8 years of steady progress forward not only for the United States but for civilization, generally. Not everyone has seen prosperity and peace, for sure. But global violence and poverty is down. And, of course, all this is under threat. Let's not sugar coat that. Perhaps the greatest success of the Obama years are that they existed at all. They've been unprecedented moments in American history where we've come closer than ever before to living the full set of ideals we have as a people. 

Through it all, President Obama has been a true leader. A statesman. One of the greatest figures of the last 100 years rivaling few other world figures in his impact. There have been no major scandals. An intelligent, composed, role model family living in the White House. A humble, educated man who always keeps a positive vision no matter the mud thrown at him or the lowest instincts of the very people he's trying to bring tooth and nail into the 21st century. 

More than anything, I want my kids to remember what their childhood was like under these best conditions. I have no clue what the next administration may bring, but I do know that I'm proud to have had a President they could look to as an example of the highest, best version of humanity. If they are half as smart, half as dedicated to others, half as patient, half as enlightened I will consider myself successful as a parent. 

Nobody else is going to be Barack Obama. Let's remember these good times in our minds and maybe one day we can replicate them again.