The Barbershop has re-located

The proprietor has moved the shop to ChicagoNow, a Chicago Tribune site that showcases some of the best bloggers in the Chicago area. You can logo on to the Barbershop home page here. The ChicagoNow home page is here.

You'll still be able to post comments with the same ease as in this location. The proprietor also will keep this web site alive if you wish to review old posts.

Monday, December 25, 2006

`Childize' a merry Christmas

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's Christmas morning and time to hit the pause button, thank God.

Why does a holiday celebrated for peace and goodwill to all mankind create such anxiety, exhaustion, discord and anger?

Some secularists despise how it constantly creeps back into the public view, as if it were a bug that couldn't be stomped. Some Christians loathe what they believe it has become today in America, a profane bacchanal of greed and avarice. Some parents wear themselves down to a nub, trying to make things perfect for their children. Some children think they don't--a smaller number of whom actually don't--get their share. Some folks are offended that the Christians usurped a pagan holiday dedicated to the return of the sun for a celebration of the appearance of the Son.

Peace? Don't count on it. This afternoon, you have to clean up the dinner plates and a few days later take down the tree. Goodwill? Well, at least for the lawyers who make a mint, serving opposing sides of the Christmas wars who regard their antagonists with anything but goodwill.

Every year we bemoan Christmas. Every year we say it gets worse. Every year we try to remind ourselves what it's all about.

So, let's do it again. Do not read this standing up. Sit. Let normal respiration reassert itself, tight muscles unknot and the heart rate descend.

Now what?

Jeez, I don't know; whaddya expect? It's hard enough for me to relax without doing it for you too. But, here's what I do:

Childize (pronounced child eyes). Ize is a suffix, meaning to make or become. For children, Christmas is the whole package. At once, without contradiction, it is a religious holiday and a secular holiday. Days to flood the senses with things new, mystifying, warm, compassionate, hopeful and fun. Children don't segment Christmas into secular and religious, giving and receiving.

It's all one vast, amazing, deeply remembered sequence of events that fills heads with special memories, very private memories.

I've been blessed with three generations to childize Christmas: mine, my children's and now my granddaughters'. When I childize, I'm back on North Maplewood Avenue , trying to figure out how Santa Claus on Christmas Eve could make it down a fake, chimney-less fireplace in our two-flat with a big load of toys, while my brother and sister were holed up in the kitchen, speculating about wonders to come. And I'm wondering later why Santa would give me a tricycle whose front wheel would fall off. (I eventually learned about World War II shortages and grew to appreciate how my folks must have looked high and low to find a second-hand trike in any kind of shape). Or years later, in Northfield, walking home after serving midnight mass, through a foot of fluffy, unplowed snow, the night so quiet you could almost hear the snow falling, so snug and comforting it almost felt warm. As I turned into our driveway, I felt a tug of regret, as if I could keep walking forever, but knowing that it would become one of the most peaceful and enduring memories of my life. One that, until now, I've shared with no one.

At my brother Bill's annual Rotary children's Christmas party, it was Leia, 4 and the second oldest, who ratted out Santa. "Grandpa, that's not really Santa," she whispered after the party. How do you know? She looked at me as if no one could believe that beard. I pulled out that old fallback about Santa's helpers. Lisa, 5, knew better: "It was too Santa." I can imagine their later conversations on the matter.

Ava, dealing with a bout of the terrible twos, fussed her way through lunch until the wonderful Glenbrook North High School Express choir caught her eyes and ears. Moving closer to Uncle Bill, she soon was placidly resting her head on and then climbing onto his lap, a spontaneous and tranquil moment that touched us all, one that she was too young to remember. Sadly, we won't be out east this year to see our newest granddaughter, Julia, but when we were there on Thanksgiving, we saw her excitement at new sights.

Now we'll be picturing her bolting and bobbing in surprise at every new color and shape she sees. She's too young to remember; too bad none of us does, either.

And so, why are you sitting there reading a newspaper on Christmas?

Go find someone to childize; go see someone creating life's most precious memories. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cents or sensibility on detector law?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

You've only got a couple of weeks left before you must--by order of the state of Illinois--install a carbon monoxide detector within 15 feet of every bedroom in your home.

You have a right to ask why, when your chance of dying of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is about as slim as getting struck by lightning.

Especially when no one can tell you with certainty exactly how many people die from the poisoning in Illinois, or nationally, for that matter. The Illinois Department of Public Health includes the accidental monoxide deaths with other poison fatalities, such as sulfur dioxide inhalation. In 2004, the latest year that figures were available, there were 21 such deaths. The Illinois Poison Center, whose figures are admittedly incomplete, has recorded only two carbon monoxide deaths since 2003.

Let's do the math: There are about 4.5 million households in Illinois; we can safely estimate that there are at least that many bedrooms in the state that require a detector. Figuring a detector costs anywhere from $20 to $60, that means that Illinois residents have to lay out $90 million to $270 million by Jan. 1 for the detectors. Assuming that Illinois has four accidental carbon monoxide deaths annually (which probably errs on the high side), the residents of Illinois are spending somewhere between $22.5million and $67.5 million for each life saved. No one wants to place a price on the value of a life, but that goes way beyond what is reasonable in the public or private sector at any level.

Some experts will concede that it's not a cost-effective way to prevent deaths, but they argue that the detectors have other important benefits. Dr. Michael Wahl, medical director of the Illinois Poison Center, said the health effects of carbon monoxide poisoning could be serious over the long run. He pointed to a study that found that exposure can increase the risk of a heart attack later in life. Dr. Jerrold B. Leikin, medical toxicologist with Evanston Northwestern Healthcare-Omega, said focusing only on fatalities overlooks the magnitude of serious illnesses associated with carbon monoxide poisoning, many of them indistinguishable from flu, food poisoning and neurological damage.

Others point out that the alarms will sound before anyone shows symptoms of poisoning, which could prevent serious harm. A study based on media accounts shows that cities, like Chicago, with mandatory detectors tend to have fewer carbon monoxide deaths.

Then there's the anecdotal evidence. "Oftentimes, when I diagnose a patient with accidental CO poisoning, the patient expresses how lucky he or she is," Leikin said in testimony to the Illinois House several years ago. "With general usage of these electronic detectors, luck can be taken out of the equation."

All right, all right already.

Here's where the libertarian rant is supposed to come about government not only prescribing what you can't do (eating trans fat), but also what you must do (wear a seat belt, buy carbon monoxide detectors). About the legislature, with hardly any notice, finally passing such a law after failing for years to do so. About doing the detector industry a big favor by passing the mandate. About actually making it a criminal violation, with time in jail, for ignoring the law.

But I can't rant. I'm worn out. It has just become too much. Who can be against a device that could save some lives and secure health?

Besides, how bad would I feel about my family--anyone's family--getting harmed or even dying, because I refused to shell out $20? Especially if the reason I refuse to buy one is because I don't want government telling me what to do.

After all is said and done, a carbon monoxide detector now adorns my bedroom.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq report beyond naive; it's dangerous

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

For as smart and high-powered as it is, the Iraq Study Group's hope, if not confidence, that the U.S. can successfully negotiate with Iran is stunningly naive. Despite all the hype, it doesn't bring us one inch closer to ending the Iraq war.

The group's suggestion that our national interest can be served by trying to bargain our way out of Iraq with Iran has no basis in history, fact or reason. It's more than stupid; it's also dangerous, for the U.S., Iraq, the Middle East, Europe and anyone else within flying distance of Tehran.

Just read the complete report and you can't avoid asking yourself: What in the world can we offer Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he would want in exchange for bargaining with us? What can we give Ahmadinejad, other than our utter betrayal of our commitment to Iraq, and to freedom and democracy in the Middle East? What can Iran possibly gain by pulling our chestnuts out of the fire?

The answer is, nothing. But the group doesn't bother answering such questions. Not rationally, anyway. The one answer we get is that Iran is so anxious for "stability" in the region that it would be glad to help us calm things down in Iraq. And the reason Iran wants stability? The group's answer is breathtakingly simple-minded and wrongheaded: to avoid its own internal turmoil if Iraq collapses into chaos.

"Iran's interests would not be served by a failure of U.S. policy in Iraq that led to chaos and the territorial disintegration of the Iraqi state," the group's report said. "Worst-case scenarios in Iraq could inflame sectarian tensions with Iran, with serious consequences of Iranian national security interests." Why? Because, the report reasons, Iran has minorities of Shiites, Christians and Jews.

I had to read this several times, because I didn't believe what I was reading. Did I somehow miss that Ahmadinejad's highest (or even lowest) goal in the current Middle Eastern turmoil is to create stability in Iraq and Iran? Is there even a hint in anything that Ahmadinejad has said about his intention to wipe Israel off the face of the world and so forth that signals that he'd give up his bloodlust if, well, Iraq would just settle down? Would Ahmadinejad stop helping terrorists kill infidels if ... what?

Fundamentally, the report asserts that Ahmadinejad can and would use his influence to help get Sunni insurgents, rogue Shiite militias and Al Qaeda in Iraq to cool it, because he doesn't want minority Sunnis, Christians and Jews in Iran to upset his government. As if he's had any trouble keeping the lid on the Sunnis, Christians and Jews, not to mention the majority Shiites, in the first place.

And what if Iran decides not to participate in diplomacy and negotiations? What if Ahmadinejad decides Iran has more to gain by letting the U.S. suffer a humiliating defeat, and that an Iraq in turmoil (which is partially his doing in the first place) ultimately serves his greater purpose: making Iran the Middle East's top dog?

The study group never really gets into that possibility.

It's as if the purity of the process is an end in itself (as it is with a number of American critics of the war). There is no thought about what the negotiations should achieve in our national interest, or what should happen if diplomacy fails. It's nearly impossible to carry the group's arguments to their logical conclusion, because they are devoid of logic. I think the group implicitly realized that itself when it fell back on the following as the ultimate reason why Iran should (would?) participate in the "Support Group" of Iraqi neighbors:

"An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran's rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation. Further, Iran's refusal to cooperate on this matter would diminish its prospects of engaging with the United States in the broader dialogue it seeks." As if the "world" isn't already aware of Ahmadinejad's "rejectionist," as well as his belligerent and bloodthirsty, policies. Jeez.

You'd expect more from former secretaries of state and defense, top White House aides and a Supreme Court justice. Maybe we flatlanders are such simpletons that we don't understand (Washington cliche warning) the "nuances" of foreign policy.

But we know idiotic when we see it.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, December 09, 2006

ISG Prescribes Vietnam All Over Again

By Dennis Byrne
RealClearPolitics

"...[Y]ou have my assurance of continued assistance in the post-settlement period and that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam."

That was a pledge by President Richard M. Nixon to Republic of South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu that the United States would not abandon his nation, if he would only cooperate in negotiations with North Vietnam to end the war.

Nixon's word wasn't worth crap.

Nor, obviously, is our word to the Iraqi people, if the Iraqi Study Group has its way. We betrayed millions of people by abandoning our principles and trashing our promises when we stood by--willingly and intentionally--as South Vietnam fell to the tyranny of North Vietnam. Now, as the ISG provides us with intellectual cover for weaseling our way out of Iraq, we're about to do the same to the Iraqi people.

Let us review history, which we appear condemned to repeat:

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics

Monday, December 04, 2006

City saves us from ... ?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Good thing that they're keeping a film about Christmas out of a Christmas festival on Daley Plaza.

Christians, Jews and Muslims already have elbowed their way onto the plaza with a creche, menorah and crescent and, worst of all, a huge Christmas tree, symbols of their religions. Shouldn't that be enough? If Chicago were to allow showings of "The Nativity Story" film clips during Christkindlmarket, what would be next?

Nature-worshiping Druids? Allow them onto the plaza and they might want to poison us with the sight of an oak tree, one of nature's creations that they venerate. The Falun Gong also might show up, with their offensive meditating. Who knows, they might even try to cash in by selling books on the benefits of reflection. As we all know, no one should be able to use the government or its property to profit personally. In Chicago, we have strictly enforced rules against that kind of behavior.

Covens of Wicca also might invade the plaza, wanting to practice their magical powers by stirring boiling pots of eels and frogs. Or we might have to step around unsightly piles of dead chickens left scattered about by careless adherents of the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye.

If we're not careful, the Inquisition might demand use of the plaza for a few autos-da-fe, to weed out the heretics. The plaza could become another Piazza della Signoria, always available for hanging and burning a Savonarola or two.

Chicago Bulls center Ben Wallace might show up in a headband.

You might think that this is an exaggeration, but if the city gave an inch now, all sorts of oddballs, cranks, crackpots and fanatics soon would be invading the plaza. Oh sure, for standing up to the horror of a Christmas scene on the plaza, the city got scalded by those right-wing religious zealots for its so-called attack on Christmas. Under this unfair onslaught, no wonder the city said it had been misunderstood. As it said later, its intent was only to keep "blatant commercial messages" off the plaza.

Well, that's as good as any excuse, and if you want to believe it, that's fine by me, because the effect was the same: shielding the public from the vulgar scenes of a mother and child.

Actually, I think that the city might be on to something. Christmas has become so commercialized with its retail sales frenzies that any Christmas message is, indeed, a commercial message. So maybe it all should be banned from the plaza--Christmas trees, creches, the "festive" trappings. Even Macy's Christmas lights that are visible from the plaza should be extinguished. It's all designed to make someone a buck anyway.

Of course, the summer farmers market also would have to be banned from the plaza, because folks are making money off that too. While we're at it, we might as well take away the flowers, benches and the Picasso Thing. Make the plaza the lifeless, sterile place that it was intended to be in the first place. Suitable only for celebratory gatherings of all the payrollers, insiders, grafters and other serpents who feed off the taxpayers. If the plaza can hold them all.

I'm just grateful--I won't offend you by saying to Whom--that the city's exclusionary actions on the plaza have provided more evidence that we've all come to appreciate the true meaning of diversity. To foster our diverse society, we must not allow anything that reminds us of our differences, especially if that reminder comes in a public place, and most especially if it is about religion. Exposing people to different religions, let alone religion in general, will give them the wrong idea; they might end up thinking that we're different. How can we be a diverse society with folks walking around thinking they're different?

Let us pause for a moment, in the silent night of a new winter, as we are comforted by a blanket of new-fallen snow, to use this joyous and hopeful season to renew our commitment to diversity. And what better way to do it than by stomping out any public recognition of our differences?

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More Harrumphing From Jesse Jackson

By Dennis Byrne

The opportunistic Rev. Jesse Jackson is at it again, using comedian Michael Richard's use of the "n-word" to flog white Americans for a supposed streak of racism that we stubbornly refuse to recognize or let go of.

Speaking in Little Rock on Thursday, Jackson said Richard's outburst directed at comedy club hecklers was not an aberration, but symptomatic of a deep racism throughout the land, of an "anti-black mania," as he put it. "Don't just stop with the comedian," he said, pointing to other incidents that he would have us believe indict the entire country.

Aw jeez, not again.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Friday, December 01, 2006

Apologies Don't Mean Anything Anymore

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

Enough already with the apologies.

We’ve turned ourselves into a nation of apologizers. Or, more precisely, a nation of people demanding apologies.

We’re up to our eyeballs in apology ultimatums. Actor Michael Richards was barraged with demands to apologize for hurling racial slurs at hecklers during a comedy club appearance, but when he did, it wasn’t enough. His career is ruined, supposedly. Likewise, a professional basketball player, Damon Jones of Cleveland, called a press conference to apologize for getting booted out of a game, but for some it was “too late.” In a recent call for public groveling, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) needed to apologize to soldiers in Iraq for implying that they’re dropouts and losers.

Rush Limbaugh had to apologize to Michael J. Fox for doubting his afflictions. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D.-N.Y.) for calling Vice President Dick Cheney a "son of a bitch."
Ted Haggard, an evangelical Christian leader, for paying for gay sex and hypocritically violating his preachments. Republicans for having anything to do with evangelicals. Idaho Gov. Jim Risch for ordering an emergency hunt of 160 elk that had escaped from a hunting preserve. The sponsors of a TV ad about a Florida constitutional amendment for demeaning Italian-Americans. President Bush for … well, everything.

Continue reading at Human Events

Thursday, November 30, 2006

No Room for Nativity Story in Chicago Plaza

By Dennis Byrne

Right on schedule, just before Christmas, a new movie about Christ--the Nativity Story--already has offended, before it's shown.

And for the offense it is expected to cause non-Christians to suffer, the city of Chicago has driven it out of a public plaza in the heart of downtown.

Actually, it's not even the film itself; it's just some video clips promoting the movie, being played during Christkindlmarket, a festival celebrating the birth of the Christ Child that's been held on the Daley Plaza in the city-county government plaza for 10 years.

At first, a city official explained it didn't want the clips shown because it would be "insensitive to the many people of different faiths" who attend the festival or walk through the popular plaza, which is known for its enigmatic Picasso sculpture.

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics

Monday, November 27, 2006

Living high on the D.C. hog

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

While perusing my latest colorful and delightful mailing from the Chicago Botanic Garden, I noticed a message from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), prominently displayed.

He said some nice things about all the unseen volunteers, and then got to the heart of the matter: congratulating himself for lagging some federal funding the garden's way. "I am proud that I was able to assist in securing funding to support the Joseph Regenstein Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden."

Even at the Chicago Botanic Garden, congressional earmarks blossom.

The garden's $1.5 million federal harvest was tucked away in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, which provides billions for highways, bridges and so forth. At the garden, it goes for "infrastructure additions, with repairs and upgrades to sidewalks, bridges and parking lots," as well as upgraded accessibility for the disabled.

Great for the garden, one of my favorite places. No so great if you're from New York or Wyoming. Taxpayers there can reasonably ask why they should have to pay for parking improvements in Glencoe.

Welcome to the wonderful world of earmarks, the secretive process lawmakers use to plant pet vote-producing projects in the federal budget. The most notorious example was a couple of $450 million bridges in Alaska that the state's two senators unsuccessfully tried to corral. A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll last spring found that 39 percent of voters thought earmark reform was the single most important thing for Congress to do, which it didn't, which is one reason that Republicans lost control of both houses.

Now voters have called the Democrats to show their cards, and several proposals are knocking around. Generally, the proposals are designed to require more transparency, but each contains some flaws, such as the House proposal that would apply only to "district-oriented earmarks" that directly benefit constituents, thus leaving out contractors and campaign contributors outside of the district.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring a bill designed to block a lawmaker from requesting an earmark that would benefit a company, group or lobbying firm that employed a member of the lawmaker's family or a former member of the lawmaker's staff.

It's an obvious, although limited, start, but I'm wondering whether the problem lies in Congress, or with us. In strictly economic terms, the lawmakers are doing a service for their clients--the Chicago Botanic Gardens and other worthies of the kind that Durbin proudly announces in his press releases. Who, for example, could argue against $300,000 for a library and technology center at Cristo Rey High School, a model preparatory school serving Pilsen and Little Village?

Durbin credits himself for securing $84 million worth of military projects (some call it pork) for Illinois, including: $12 million for lightweight armor production and other programs at the Rock Island Arsenal; $4.45 million for a titanium processing project in Lockport; $3.25 million for acoustic ballistic detection technology in Barrington; $1.8 million to help small businesses develop high-performance infrared detection materials in Bolingbrook; $1.3 million for airburst ammunition research in Marion; $3 million for a program to help small businesses supply goods and services to the Defense Department in DeKalb; $1.3 million for fuel cell development in Des Plaines; $2 million for improvements to maintenance data systems in Peoria; $1 million for accelerated research into nanotechnology to better detect chemical and biological weapons, Evanston; $2 million for improvements in the Navy supply chain system, Vernon Hills; $2.5 million for an infrared targeting and surveillance system for the Navy, Barrington ... you get the idea.

Can you argue with the need for any of these programs? Even when the specifications for each project may have been written so that only one or a limited number of companies or institutions--which just happen to be in Illinois--can meet them?

Earmarks create jobs and profits, and in the case of universities and military installations, expand empires. Can we expect the beneficiaries to join the outcry against earmarks?

One solution is to give the president line-item veto power, allowing him to kill earmarked projects that he believes don't belong in the budget. But even that has its limitations. Would he risk losing support of a lawmaker in an important vote by striking his pet project?

We like to think that we can solve such problems by passing another law or tightening another regulation. But none of that will work as long as some of us just love that Washington money.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, November 20, 2006

Flee Iraq, relive shame of Vietnam

Hasty exit would stir chaos, not freedom

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The folks who believe the Iraq war looks increasingly like the Vietnam War are right.

At least the part where the United States pulls out and leaves millions of people hanging out to dry. That part where the war comes to a dishonorable, murderous end. Like on the day, April 30, 1975, that America broke its promises to millions of South Vietnamese and jumped ship. The day on which hysterical Vietnamese civilians and officials were crowding a ladder to the top of the U.S. Embassy, pleading for a seat on the last American helicopter out. The day that crowds of Vietnamese swarmed the embassy gate, crying for escape or protection, as North Vietnamese tanks approached. The day that uncounted thousands turned into freedom-seeking boat people.

We abandoned millions of people to be stripped of their freedoms, imprisoned for their beliefs or slaughtered by a monstrous, tyrannical regime. It was one of the most shameful days in American history. It was our own day of infamy.

Blame public opinion for bringing shame on ourselves. Public opinion demanded a Congress that simply decided to choke the life out of the South Vietnamese. Yes, the Iraq war is beginning to look a whole lot like the Vietnam War.

Only this time, we're supposed to quit after sacrificing a lot less. House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and others recently had the gall to equate the Iraq war with World War II because it had surpassed the length of European combat. Tragic, indeed, but comparable, no.

This is not to minimize the sacrifice of those who have fought or died in Iraq, but in World War II, almost 300,000 American military personnel died in combat, as compared to nearly 3,000 in the Iraq war. (More than 47,000 died in Vietnam and nearly 34,000 in the Korean War.) Civilian deaths in World War II amounted to at least 38 million, compared with the 30,000 to 60,000 by UN and other reliable estimates in Iraq. (The recent, ridiculous 600,000 estimate by researchers from John Hopkins is not included among the reliable.)

This is not to diminish the importance of any life; its value is not set by the number of people who die with you.

But it is to make the point that the cost of defending the freedom of millions in the Middle East has been somewhat less than Pelosi and crew would have it.

Of course, no one would admit to abandoning the Iraqis. So, the critics take a different, more fashionable tact: argue for the partition of Iraq along religious and ethnic lines. One of its leading exponents is Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who will be committee chairman next year. So, we'll hear a lot more about how Iraq should be divided into "autonomous" Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions.

But it is just another, perhaps worse, form of abandonment.

First, the Iraqis don't want it. A recent survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found wide support among Iraqis for a strong central government. "Majorities of all groups do not favor a movement toward a looser confederation and believe that five years from now Iraq will still be a single state. A large majority sees the current government as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people," the survey concluded.

Second, as Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN envoy to Iraq, told the Financial Times, the alternative to a united Iraq is "not three independent entities, but chaos that will expand to all the region." For one, it will increase Shiite Iran's influence in Iraq, further destabilizing the region. "No one is talking about Iraq anymore, but about how the British and the U.S. will get out," he warned.

Polls consistently show that the American public is unhappy with the way things are going in Iraq and wants us to depart. And Democrats, lead by the likes of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) who wants an "immediate redeployment," claim they represent American public opinion demanding a speedy withdrawal.

But here's a word of encouragement as we slide toward a Vietnam-style ending: A Newsweek poll finds 51 percent of respondents are very worried and 27 percent somewhat worried that a Democratic Congress would push for a too-hasty withdrawal.

With 78 percent worried about what a Democratic Congress might do, perhaps the American public learned something from Vietnam after all. Will the Democratic Congress?

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The New York Times, again

How it gives only one side of the story, again.

When U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, appeared as the star witness in the first congressional hearings on the war in Iraq since the Democrats won control of both houses, he was asked how the U.S. could get the Iraqis to take on more responsibility in the fight against the insurgents, the New York Times reported this:

Mrs. Clinton pressed the Democrats’ case that a change in military strategy was necessary to prod the Iraqis into taking responsibility for their own country. “Hope is not a strategy,” she told the generals. “Hortatory talk about what the Iraqi government must do is getting old. I have heard over and over again, ‘The government must do this, the Iraqi Army must do that.’ Nobody disagrees with that. The brutal fact is, it’s not happening.”


But it left out Abizaid’s superb reply. I had to read one of those mid-country newspapers—the Chicago Tribune—to find it.

Abizaid replied that, "I would also say that despair is not a method. And when I come to Washington, I feel despair. When I'm in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to our soldiers, when I talk to the Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing. They believe that they can move the country toward stability with our help. And I believe that

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

We're just wild about the ethically challenged Nancy Pelosi

Why didn't we hear much about this before election

Follow the links to some remarkable stuff that makes interesting reading about the woman who is going to make this the "most ethical" Congress ever.

Nancy Pelosi: One of Mikhail Gorbachev’s most useful idiots


Will Nancy Pelosi, riding a wave of voter anger about insider dealing and political corruption to the position of Speaker of the House, turn herself in? When the House kicks off its expected wave of hearings into corruption, which committee will take its whacks at Nancy? We anxiously await to see if this is true.

And another

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stroger victory proves it: Weak voters elect weak leaders

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

What if U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald had run for Cook County Board president against Todd Stroger? My money says that Fitzgerald, the most successful reformer to hit town since Ft. Dearborn was erected, would have lost. Just like Tony Peraica lost to Stroger. Maybe even worse.

Last week, Cook County voters demonstrated that they would tolerate anything short of a sharp stick in the eye. Some of us had hoped that voters this time, at last, for once in our lives, would opt for honest, efficient, clean and open government. That was in the mistaken belief that voters would not put up with Stroger's stunning lack of qualifications and the secretive and presumptuous way he was selected to run by party bosses. We were wrong.

In the commenting business, it is bad form to question voters' judgments. Post-election is the time to be gracious, to wish the winner luck, to issue calls for cooperation, to nod affirmatively that the "people have spoken" and that we should give the winner, no matter how much of a mope, a "chance." To do otherwise is considered sour grapes, the sign of an arrogant, poor loser.

But sometimes voters need to be told when they screwed up. Such as when they selected two disciples of quackmeister Lyndon LaRouche in the 1986 Illinois Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

In a way, Stroger's election is worse. Unlike the ignorant voters who marked their ballots for the two LaRouchies without having the slightest idea who they were, Stroger voters knew exactly what they were getting: a county government so poorly run and moth-eaten by political opportunists that its two-year budget deficit approaches a staggering $600 million.

And they knew exactly what they were voting against: honest, efficient government.

The bulk of those self-interested voters was obviously committed to the old way. They ask "not what you can do for your county, but what your county can do for you."

They were joined by single-issue social liberals who could not put aside their blinders, even once, to vote for the better candidate. Add to that African-American voters who, as stubbornly as the Deep South racists of Jim Crow, refuse to put aside racial identities.

Nowhere does it say that democracy is infallible; that voters don't make mistakes. We've been constantly reminded of that by Democrats who say that President Bush was the biggest mistake voters ever made.

"OK, OK," you say. "You've made your point. Why not just let it rest?" Because the values, standards and mind-set of the electorate are important. An electorate that tolerates corruption will get corruption. One that puts up with incompetence, in pursuit of narrow self-interest, will get government that swims in muck. To bash public officials without criticizing the people who installed them is hypocrisy.

Next up is the Chicago mayoral campaign. I use the word "campaign" lightly.

Now with U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez overnight deciding not to run against Mayor Richard Daley, the heat is off. Apparently they figured they could do more about Chicago's waste, fraud and abuse from the heights of Capitol Hill. Two lesser-known candidates remain, but one can only assume they'll carve up what little opposition will remain against the mayor.

Some independents may have taken hope that organized labor was stepping up to support anti-Daley aldermen, but they're going to need a lot of extra help, now that the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce brazenly has decided to take the side of waste, fraud and abuse by assembling big bucks to defeat anyone who strays from the drove.

After countless indictments and convictions by Fitzgerald, a majority of the electorate appears, with the election of Todd Stroger (and the re-election of Gov. Rod Blagojevich), ready to countenance more of the same.

One would have hoped that Fitzgerald's exposure of the depth of the graft would have convinced more voters of the need for change.

With a majority of voters not persuaded, Fitzgerald's value narrows but remains no less important: taking on the organization, one grafter at a time, putting away or scaring enough of them to at least reduce their inventory.

Without Fitzgerald, absolutely nothing would stand in the way of waste, fraud and abuse. Certainly not the electorate.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

For Obama, Problems at Home?

By Dennis Byrne

Chicago--By popular acclaim, the winner of the mid-term elections is Barack Obama. If the number of studio appearances he made election night means anything, the Illinois Democratic Senator is a shoo-in for President, commissioner of baseball and the papacy.

Funny thing, though, in Illinois, where he was a minor player in the state Senate before national media adulation propelled him into the presidential spotlight, his glow might have begun to dim.

At question is a newly disclosed suspicious deal he made with an indicted political fundraiser to improve their adjoining properties in a pricey neighborhood on Chicago' South Side. The "neighbor" in the deal is Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who indicted for plotting to squeeze millions of dollars in kickbacks out of firms seeking state business. He has pleaded not guilty, but allegations muddied the campaign of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who nonetheless was re-elected Tuesday by ever-forgiving Illinois voters.

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics

Monday, November 06, 2006

Candidates, stop hiding behind push-poll curtain

By Dennis Byrne

Happily, Election Day will end not just those maddening campaign commercials but also a more intrusive annoyance: the push poll.

It starts out as a typical poll. "Would you care to answer a few questions about the elections," the voice on your phone asks. "Whom do you plan to vote for?"

Then it gets weird. As in: "Candidate A beats his wife; does that make you think of him more or less favorably?" Or as my daughter Kati heard when she was called: "Does the fact that Congressman Mark Kirk accepts special-interest money make you think of him more favorably or less favorably?"

So, if you are a supporter of Kirk--the Republican from the north suburban 10th Congressional District who is seeking re-election against Democrat Dan Seals--how are you supposed to answer? Oh, sure, I want my congressman to take special-interest money, so it makes me think more favorably of him.

Which is exactly how Kati, being Kati, answered. Then came four more questions of the same nature, each trying to make Kirk look like he was doing something wrong. And each time, Kati answered that she thinks more favorably of him. She even had the interviewer chuckling. But actually, it wasn't so funny.

"It's like Mark Kirk went out and shot 100 people," she said. "What kind of poll is this anyway?"

The answer is: dirty, low-down and negative.

Kati later told me the caller ID number was 509-765-4321, which turned out to be "disconnected." But she did get the company's name, Communications Center Inc. in Spokane, Wash., which had a real number and a real person answering. She was Judy Goodrich, director of operations, who explained that they don't make up the questions, they just make the calls. She said she could only identify the client if the person agreed, which the person apparently didn't because Goodrich didn't call me back as I asked.

Considering the nastiness of the questions, slinking around is to be expected. I couldn't find anyone who filed a report indicating that the push poll about Kirk was a campaign expense, which probably means that no one is fessing up. The Mellman Group, a well-known Democratic polling firm representing such political clients as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently completed a poll showing Kirk's "favorability and job performance rating have [sic] deteriorated significantly," but that was taken before Kati's phone call. Besides, who would be stupid enough to actually use those fabricated push-poll "results," especially since push polls are condemned by the American Association of Political Consultants.

Still, it would be nice if the origins of these scummy attacks were as "transparent" as, say, sponsors of those repulsive televised campaign ads. Take Communications Center, which often is mentioned by visitors to the whocalled.us Web site, which accepts complaints about perceived violations of the National Do Not Call Registry. One from Illinois described how "the questions turned to negative statements about a Republican senator in our state up for re-election. After the third negative statement ... I finally asked why the questions seemed more like Democratic talking points and the caller confirmed that the Democrats had sanctioned the survey. I then hung up as this was just a cheap ploy to get their agenda out."

(Here, I'll stipulate that both parties probably use such polls.)

Said another: "I received a call from this [number] asking for my 92-year-old mother by first name only. They would not say who they were! ... I tried the number back also and got the same message that it had been disconnected." Some reported receiving calls at 2 a.m., or "up to 20 a day." Almost all said they were on the "do-not-call" list prohibiting solicitations by telemarketers.

Goodrich said Communications Center is acting legally because "market research" is exempt from the list. She referred me to donotcall.gov, which backed her up. The Web site also explains that calls "on behalf of political organizations" are permitted.

As always, politicians have themselves covered. The laws don't apply equally to them, or to their friends in the survey business. Ask the politicians why, and they'll say political speech can't be constitutionally prohibited, even when it's an intrusive call into your home.

Blah, blah. At least they should have the courage to require that when they commission a push poll, they must crawl out from under their rocks so we can see their disgusting selves in the full light of day.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, October 30, 2006

Suburbs to Chicago: Butt out of our congressional elections

By Dennis Byrne

If you're a suburban voter and someone knocks on your door asking you how you plan to vote in the congressional election, you might want to ask for some ID.

Chances are the ID would have a Chicago address. That's because Chicago Democrats are being recruited to work against Republican candidates throughout Cook County and collar counties.

The Illinois Democratic Network, or IllinoisDemNet as it calls itself on its Web site, is proud to be transporting campaigners from Chicago (and Evanston) to work for Democrats in congressional races from the Wisconsin line to as far south as Joliet.

There, they are knocking on doors and making calls for Democratic candidates Dan Seals (against incumbent Republican Mark Kirk in the north suburban 10th District), incumbent Melissa Bean (against Republican challenger David McSweeney in the northwest suburban 8th District), Democrat Tammy Duckworth (against Republican Peter Roskam for Henry Hyde's seat in the west suburban 6th District) and John Laesch (against House Speaker Dennis Hastert in the west and southwest suburban 14th District).

This may not sound like much of a deal to some Chicagoans who have no use for the suburbs to start with, but suburbanites, such as myself, might not like it because we, after all, live out here in part to be away from the city's lousy schools, higher crime rates and politics as it is practiced in Chicago. Suburbs to Chicago: Butt out. Do we send in squads of suburban Republicans to work Democratic precincts? Haven't you screwed up Chicago and Cook County governments enough already? Do we need lakefront and limousine liberals to tell us how to vote?

IllinoisDemNet asserts that it has no connection with the Chicago organization or any other Democratic organization, that it's just a bunch of progressives, liberals and moderates who are passionate about their cause. Except that the volunteers are picked up at the 44th Ward Democratic Organization, in the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (the guy who parachuted outsider Duckworth into the 6th District race) and the Democratic Party headquarters in Evanston, in Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky's district. After I inquired, the Web site deleted the fact that pick-up sites were connected to party offices. Not deleted were some destinations, such as the Duckworth and Bean field offices.

As of my deadline, IllinoisDemNet had ignored my e-mail asking such questions as the group's party affiliation and funding.

Such secrecy tells Ryan McLaughlin, Roskam's campaign manager, that the group has something to hide.

"The Chicago political machine's reputation for corruption goes back decades, and it's not surprising that in their efforts to expand their fiefdom, they are trying to implant their proxy in a suburban congressional seat," he said in an e-mail. "Duckworth has embraced the city's agenda, ahead of suburban families, and would merely be an extension of the Daley-Blagojevich-Emanuel machine with a different address."

McSweeney isn't so sure. In an interview, he said that his opponent, Bean, has virtually no organizational support, mainly because her support of the Central America Free Trade Agreement lost her the backing of large organized labor. McSweeney figures that liberal organizing support instead is going to the third candidate on the ballot, Bill Scheurer. The absence of a Bean organization shows she is "out of touch" with the district and her natural Democratic constituency, McSweeney said.

As suburban voting demographics trend in favor of Democrats, it only makes sense for the party to increase its organizing there, relying on the main source of party volunteers and patronage workers: Chicago. Importing outside help is not unprecedented or confined to Democrats. In this country, everyone has a right to speak for or against a candidate, no matter where.

Then why is IllinoisDemNet so chary of saying who it is?

There's good reason to ask about political groups that say they're independent. Consider: Last year, the Friends of Lane Evans (a congressman from western Illinois) paid a $185,000 civil penalty under a federal consent decree. The committee ran afoul of federal election law by creating an organization, the 17th District Victory Fund, that spent $330,000 on, among other things, a turn-out-the-vote campaign for Evans.

The Federal Elections Commission said it "found that these campaign-focused activities were so closely coordinated with the campaign that they represented contributions from the Victory Fund to Evans. The contributions exceeded federal limits and included funds from prohibited sources, in violation of [federal election law]."

IllinoisDemNet won't answer my questions. I wonder why.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Friday, October 27, 2006

Don't Withdraw, It's Time to Take Out Sadr

By Dennis Byrne

With Democrats prematurely "dancing in the end zone" in the conviction that the mid-term elections will endorse whatever it is that their party wants to do about the Iraq War, the time indeed has come for a "different approach."

It's time to take out anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

And whatever equally murderous fanatics are on the Sunni side.

But, wait. Wouldn't that propel Iraq into the "civil war" that Democrats have been saying that Iraq has been engaged in since the first day of the U.S. invasion? Wouldn't that upset the delicate balance among the three ethnic/sectarian groups that the U.S. and democratic-minded Iraqis are trying to sustain?

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The real extremist? You be the judge

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The problem with trying to paint a political opponent as an extremist and yourself as a moderate is that you create possibilities that the labeling could snap back and bite you in the gluts.

Especially if you have already established a voting record in the office you're seeking.

That brings us to Melissa Bean, a first-term incumbent Democrat seeking re-election in the northwest suburban 8th Congressional District. Bean brought this up herself because, running in a traditionally conservative district, she needs to portray herself as "in the mainstream."

Thus, her TV ad proclaims that she's the moderate and her Republican opponent, David McSweeney, is the extremist. To prove it, she unleashed that lame old hunting dog, "choice." There's some disagreement about whether she quoted McSweeney accurately to prove her point, but that's not the point here. McSweeney is undoubtedly conservative, perhaps even very conservative (although I don't know where one crosses the line between conservative and very conservative), in the mode of former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.

But what about Bean? True, she has supported small business and the Central America Free Trade Agreement, winning her some business support. Indeed, on some issues the two aren't that far apart.

But come to the hot-button issue of abortion, which she raised and ... wow. She voted against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which prohibits taking a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion without the consent of a parent or legal guardian. It protects children from exploitation by boyfriends and others who would pressure girls into having an abortion. It protects the right of parents to guide, protect and safeguard their children. It supports the time-honored concept, which left-wing extremists would unravel, of family cohesion and support.

Yes, yes, I know the tiresome response: You can't legislate love or good parenting. You can't bring back Ozzie and Harriet. You can't leave the decision in the hands of an abusive parent. You can't criminalize doctors who perform abortions.

Except: Doctors who treat your children without your knowledge or consent deserve to be treated like criminals. Even so, the legislation provides exceptions and judicial bypass for abused children. That's because we must prevent abusive parents from using this law against the best interests of their child. But most children's best interests are served when their parents are loving, informed and involved. What are such parents to do when their pregnant girl is further victimized by getting pressured to travel elsewhere in secret for an abortion she may not want? By male predators hoping that they can eliminate obvious evidence of their crimes? Who does Melissa Bean think is protecting them? Maybe that's why she doesn't mention abortion on her Web site.

You can't get more "extreme" than this. There is no political position to the left of it. Polls typically show that 70 or so percent of Americans surveyed support some form of parental notification. That's roughly the same percentage that wants at least some restrictions on abortion on demand, positions held by extreme pro-choice groups, such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Maybe this is why NARAL endorsed Bean, or she voted the way Planned Parenthood wanted 100 percent of the time, according to Project Vote Smart. Bean's not just a one-issue liberal. She supported the National Education Association on 100 percent of its issues, the liberal Americans for Democratic Action 80 percent, liberal American Association of University Women 100 percent, the liberal National Committee for an Effective Congress 80 percent and the Secular Coalition for America 90 percent, according to Vote Smart. On the other end of the spectrum, she voted with Citizens Against Government Waste only 29 percent of the time, the American Conservative Union 12 percent and Gun Owners of America never.

Of course, as a snapshot of who she is, that leaves an incomplete picture. But when you present a picture of yourself to the electorate, at least it should be in focus.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On the road to MAD with the North Korean madman

By Dennis Byrne

Welcome back to the 1950s.

With the United Nations, specifically its Security Council, demonstrating anew that it won't or can't do much about the North Korean nuclear threat, it's back to when deterrence was the only weapon left to us:

Mutually assured destruction. Or Mini-MAD, if you prefer.

That's where we are, thanks to the Security Council, which bypassed a meaningful arms embargo proposal from the Bush administration in favor of toothless resolution 1718, which tries to gum North Korean madman Kim Jong-il into submission.

Among it serious loopholes is a provision that "asks" nations to cooperate in the inspection of North Korean vessels for illicit arms, based, I suppose, on the premise that it never hurts to ask. The U.S. had proposed a tougher provision, but China, asserting that such inspections would violate international law, successfully stymied the American proposal.

Then, after the resolution passed, China said it would not inspect cargo entering or leaving North Korea, for fear of raising tensions in the region. Given the Chinese mindset, the bigger problem is its own 880-mile border with North Korea, which we can't guarantee will be any less as porous than our own border with Mexico.

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics.com

Monday, October 16, 2006

`Throwing away your vote' is a trashy notion

By Dennis Byrne

Election Day cometh ...

Asked by a talk-show host if she would be willing to vote for Tony Peraica, the Republican candidate for Cook County Board president, a newspaper reporter suggested that she'd be throwing away her vote.

Her presumption is one shared by many voters--a vote for a potential loser is a wasted vote. I guess people who believe this think a vote is like money: If you spend your dollar, you should get something in return. Otherwise, you're just giving it away.

Of course, it's nonsense. But how sad to find that kind of thinking by a journalist who is supposed to know something about public affairs. Thankfully, the reporter was quickly challenged by the host of WTTW-Ch. 11's "Chicago Tonight: Week in Review," Joel Weisman, who pointedly asked, "Why would you be throwing away your vote?" By then, the conversation had moved on, and an answer never came.

"Throwing away your vote" ranks right up there in the stupid department with another Election Day cliche: "I'd love to vote for someone for a change, instead of having to vote against someone." Considering the two major candidates running for Illinois governor, I can understand the sentiment. But let me ask:

What's wrong with voting against someone?

Where is it written that you must vote for someone? Why is it wrong, when so many candidates are unsuited for office, and prove it after they are elected? Why does voting against a blockhead somehow demean democratic ideals?

I've voted against people for decades, because they're the worse of two. It's not my fault that political parties stock the ballot with fish. Our job is to cull the real stinkers.

Speaking of voting against someone, I hope voters inclined to vote for Todd Stroger for Cook County Board president realize something. The Democratic Party selected Stroger in a most undemocratic way. Actually, it wasn't even the party, but a crew of ... ? Come to think of it, we don't even know what or who. As if the Kremlinlike secrecy surrounding the health of Stroger's father, John, wasn't enough, Cook County will be run by a camarilla. We won't really know who's in it until the contracts and jobs start getting handed out.

Speaking of undemocrats, some believe that we shouldn't be able to vote at all, especially when there's a chance they might lose. Thus, the misnamed Fair Illinois coalition fought against an advisory referendum on the November ballot asking if the Illinois General Assembly should consider a state constitutional amendment saying that a marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in Illinois.

Never mind that approval wouldn't create the amendment; the referendum only asked if the General Assembly should submit the amendment to the voters in a referendum. In other words, it was a referendum suggesting that the legislature think about conducting another referendum.

More than 400,000 citizens petitioned to have the advisory (first) referendum placed on the ballot, but the undemocrats, including the American Civil Liberties Union, found enough flaws in a small sample of the signatures to meet a legal requirement to have the referendum thrown off the ballot.

Fair Illinois' justification for challenging the advisory referendum in the first place ultimately comes down to this: Citizens don't have the right to vote away the "rights" of gays. Point taken.

But I guess that means citizens can't even express their views on the matter.

Jesse Smart, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Elections, was mystified when the technical question came before the body: "Personally, I can't understand why anyone would object to allowing the people to give their opinions. ... People in America have the right to make some choices."

Wrong, this is Illinois.



Trouble ahead

A return to last week's topic, as required by the soaring irresponsibility that Rep. George Scully (D-Flossmoor), House Utility Oversight Committee chairman, revealed in his reaction to ComEd's warnings that it might go bankrupt if the General Assembly extended a rate freeze for three years. He said he wouldn't mind a judge overseeing the utility.

Two words for Scully: Chicago Skyway. For years, the highway linking Chicago and northwest Indiana kept tolls artificially low, in response to political pressure. The skyway came under the oversight of a federal judge, who approved a 15 percent toll increase.

If you think ComEd's rates are high now, wait until a federal bankruptcy judge, who answers to no one but the law, gets his hands on them.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hastert's Illinois Approach to Politics

By Dennis Byrne

Pundits glued to their Potomac seats, applying their usual Beltway explanations for everything that happens in America, would have it that House Speaker Dennis Hastert bollixed up the House page scandal because he is an unredeemed Republican partisan. Or that he doesn't care enough about congressmen hounding boys. Or that his conservatism made him do it.

Blind partisanship, moral failings, hypocrisy, gay bashing or any of those other explanations that don't come close to the reality that Hastert was simply doing politics as it is practiced here, in Illinois.

Hastert knows no other way, having been bred, born and raised in the tradition. Even finding himself elevated to the nation's third highest office hasn't cleansed him. His handling of the Mark Foley transgressions is how he and pols in Illinois handle everything.

How to explain to Time, NPR, Washington Post, New York Times, network news, the McLaughlin Group and others whose elucidations have missed the mark?

First, in Illinois...

Continue reading at RealClearPolitics



Monday, October 09, 2006

Playing politics with electricity rates

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Nothing says more about the pandering, spineless nature of our current knot of politicians than their call for a special session of the Illinois General Assembly to zap one of the best deals that electricity consumers in Illinois have ever had.

The deal was made 10 years ago when ComEd, consumer groups, businesses and the politicians agreed to roll back electric rates more than 20 percent and freeze them there. ComEd customers have saved billions.

Now, those artificially low rates are scheduled to thaw, to reflect electricity's real price. Even so, those unfrozen rates--although they will be 20 percent higher--still will be lower than 1997's. Can you name anything else that's cheaper now, especially anything related to energy?

But Illinois politicians are banking on voters seeing only the 20 percent increase, not the bigger picture. Now the politicians are calling for a special session--right before the Nov. 7 elections and billable to taxpayers, of course--to continue the freeze for another three years, during which time they'll concoct a supposedly better way to set electrical rates.

What better way? Return to the former system of a ComEd monopoly? No one is really saying, but the pols want us to trust them.

Oh, sure.

Let's review: For years and years, ComEd was bashed for its "among-the-highest-in-the nation" rates, rates that nonetheless had been set by the state's utility regulator, the Illinois Commerce Commission. Few were satisfied with the regulated system, so the hunt for a better way began.

After some years of trying, everyone, including the consumer watchdog Citizens Utility Board, at last came up with a solution--the present system. Former Gov. Jim Edgar said when he signed the bill that it was one of the most complicated pieces of legislation he had ever seen. But compli-cated is what you get in a democracy, when you balance all interests.

The new law's central idea was the deregulation of the electric companies, much the way that the phone and airline industries have been deregulated. For you, that means more choices of service and prices.

Those now seeking another three-year rate freeze argue that those choices haven't materialized for residential customers. Another three years, they insist, would allow "real competition" to develop or give lawmakers time to find a different solution.

True, I can find more selection and competition when shopping for, say, cell-phone service. But the reason I can't find similar competition for electrical service is precisely because the rates were so artificially low for the past decade. What businessperson in his right mind wants to compete by providing service that has rates lower than rates that already were artificially low?

Naively, some consumer "advocates" who want the three-year extension argue that if competition hasn't developed in the last 10 years, it won't develop now. But if these folks thought it would have been such a swell idea to compete against such artificially low rates, perhaps they should have done it themselves.

Now that rates are floating to their natural, competitive level, more companies will be willing to set up shop in Illinois and beat the unregulated price that ComEd will be charging. If they don't go into business, it'll be a sign that they can't beat the rates already offered. But if the freeze is extended, the rates will continue to be artificially low and the competition will continue to be frozen out of the market. The cycle would go on forever if it were left to the politicians.

In the meantime, ComEd's ability to deliver reliable service would be imperiled. Its business plans, based on the 1997 agreement, would be for naught, investors would be scared away by the new uncertainty and funds for capital improvements and maintenance would be unavailable.

What Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka, House Speaker Michael Madigan and the other opportunists who are seeking the three-year extension into the unknown want is not lower rates and a system that works. What they want is political cover. What they'd give us is uncertainty, more conflict and a bankrupt utility with 5 million customers.

If this system is so bad, they had 10 years to change it. They didn't. They waited until just before the election to raise their alarms. What better time to create fear, to strike a populist pose because doing the right thing is too dangerous politically? To ignore facts they surely know for their own political gain?

Even for Illinois, where political pandering is a high art, this tops all.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Thursday, October 05, 2006

There's No Defending GOP in Foley Crisis

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events contributing columnist

As often as Rush Limbaugh gets it right, he is breathtakingly wrong on the House page scandal.

Of course, Limbaugh doesn’t defend Mark Foley, the Republican congressman who resigned last week for being, shall we say, overly friendly with minor male pages. But Limbaugh’s part in turning it into another partisan war reveals what’s wrong with too many Republicans today. Limbaugh focuses on how the Foley story became so big, blaming Democrats for planting and hyping the story for their own advantage in the mid-term elections.

No dittos on this one, Rush.

Most people don’t give a damn about how the story got out. Correctly, they’re outraged that here’s another attack on children, providing yet more evidence of how our culture has become soft on improper, even destructive, behavior.

Continue reading at Human Events

Monday, October 02, 2006

Terror-report fight misses big picture

National Intelligence Estimate also hints at ways to beat jihadists, promote democracy

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

So, just how do they know how many jihadists are out there?

Are they asked to raise their hands? Do they go somewhere to register? Are they listed in the Yellow Pages? Can you Google them?

I'm just asking, because another ugly, "divisive" fight has broken out, now over how the war on terror is going, as measured by the number of terrorists. The estimate was made in a National Intelligence Estimate, "Trends in Global Terrorism," which claimed to know that the number of terrorists worldwide has increased, in good part because of the Iraq war.

The three-page "key judgments" summary of the estimate admits that "we cannot measure the extent of the spread [of the jihadist movement] with precision," but adds that, based on reporting from all intelligence sources, the movement is increasing "both in number and geographic dispersion."

I'm not saying that's right or mistaken. I just have a question: Are "all the intelligence sources" as certain of that as they were in 2002 when, in another national intelligence estimate, they said Saddam Hussein was arming Iraq with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons?

Both political sides have cherry-picked the key judgments to find assertions that support their respective sides--that we've made progress on the war on terror, or that we've seriously blundered by creating more terrorists. One wonders if they're reading the same document. Frankly, there are as many possible readings of the document as there are of the Bible and, I dare say, the Koran. Intellectual honesty requires a more modest conclusion; as in any war, things are going both well and badly.

But if for a moment we can leave the bickering over who is to blame for what happened in the past, we'll find that the document does provide sound perspective on the most important question: Where do we go from here?

It says: "Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit. Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programs targeting the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movements and continued pressure on Al Qaeda could erode support for the jihadists."

What jihadist vulnerabilities? The assessment names some, starting with the greatest: The ultraconservative interpretation of Sharia-based government, which would impose a "religious and political straitjacket" that is "unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims." Another jihadist vulnerability is the recent increase of condemnations by important Muslim clerics of violence and extremist religious interpretations, thereby offering a constructive alternative: peaceful political activism. "In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror," the assessment said.

"If democratic reform efforts in Muslim-majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives," the assessment said.

Sure, the report suggested, such change would provoke jihadists in the short run, but the most important question is: Over the long run, what strategy would create the conditions for democratic reform?

Perhaps Muslim-majority nations will discover and implement democratic principles on their own, even though it took the Western democracies a millennium to do so. Can we afford to wait that long, while our ships, embassies, infrastructure and people are attacked? Will those nations get there by themselves, or do they need assistance to overthrow centuries of despotic rule?

Washing our hands of the entire mess certainly is politically expedient, but I don't think it's the moral choice, especially when the assessment says the "slow pace of real and sustained economic, social and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations" feeds the jihadist movement.

But, the report says, our continued involvement in Muslim-majority nations is a double-edged sword: It also feeds fears of "Western domination" and anti-Americanism, which give the jihadists easily exploitable issues. So, do we keep our presence there and work toward the long-term reforms that are the clear path to victory, or do we flee, denying opponents of political and social reform the ammunition they want while leaving those opponents in charge?

I say the moral, just and right decision is to stay, to take this opportunity to bring reason, justice and freedom to a part of the world that's truly in need of it, not just because it's good for that part of the world, but ours too. But that's just the neocon in me talking.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, September 25, 2006

County needs fixing, not another Stroger

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Concerned about the impoverished, alienated and Godforsaken among the 5 million residents of Cook County? Then pay particular attention to who gets elected in November to be president of the Cook County Board.

That's because perhaps no single person or institution directly touches so many of the dispossessed, especially when it comes to health care. Too poor to afford even the most basic medical services, they rely on the county's three hospitals and its 25 outpatient ambulatory and community health network facilities for emergency, primary, acute, outpatient, rehabilitative, long-term and preventive care.

Coordinated care for expectant mothers, clinics and health education in elementary and high schools, family-planning services, CT scans and other diagnostic services, lead-poisoning prevention, treatment of childhood diseases, the nation's first free-standing, specialized outpatient health-care facility serving the needs of people with HIV/AIDS, more than 150,000 health service visits in suburban Cook County ... the list goes on and on.

The county also touches those caught up in the criminal justice system by providing legal counsel for the indigent. The county's public guardian protects abused children, and its court system is in the front lines defending those held captive in dangerous neighborhoods. It is a conservator of open space and the environment.

This is the progressive agenda, one deserving of support. The best way to do so is to make sure the apparatus that delivers these services is efficient and productive. It isn't.

A felon was hired to oversee finances. Too many lazy, incompetent and no-show employees staff the health-care and other facilities. Workers are hired for their political connections, not for their competence. Just last week, the feds raided the offices of the Cook County Human Resources Department and carried away boxes of personnel records. It's the county version of Chicago's political spoils system. Progressives now face a choice for Cook County Board president. They can ill serve the poor by fundamentally continuing the system under the direction of Democrat Todd Stroger, the Chicago alderman who is himself a progeny of the system. Or they can better serve the most needy by supporting suburban Republican Tony Peraica.

If you don't believe these are the choices, go to the Chicago Tribune's videotaped endorsement interview with the two candidates at chicagotribune.com/county.

In this valuable, unvarnished setting, if you can't tell which candidate has the moxie, creativity, experience and leadership to pull off reform, then you're hopeless. What's clear is that Stroger is caught in the bind of having to defend or reject the work of his own father, former President John Stroger. Not to his credit, Todd Stroger wants it both ways: He insisted that he understands county government, having been immersed in it since his father was elected Cook County commissioner in 1970.

Yet he strains credibility by trying to act as the reformer who would undo the very political system his father built.

Peraica called such a system "criminal" when it makes emergency room patients wait up to two days to see a doctor, two weeks to get a prescription filled and six months to get an MRI. Stroger did not dispute those figures.

Here it is, just over two months before the election, and all that Stroger could offer were platitudes and promise more studies. Peraica, who demonstrated substantially greater understanding of county government, offered specifics. Stroger made a lame--to the point of embarrassment--attempt to appeal to his base by bringing up such hot social issues as abortion and gun control. Peraica successfully parried by pointing out that the County Board could do little on either score and clarifying his own position as a sensible moderate.

Stroger's political strategy is to take progressives for granted, to assume that, witless and sheeplike, they'll fall in line with the party bosses who crowned him the candidate. Stroger's strategy leaves voters with no answer to the question of how the 5 million county residents best fulfill their moral obligation to assist the most needy. Stroger's strategy is to assume that progressives will find voting for a Republican too distasteful to contemplate. That progressives will buy the stereotype that Republicans are coldhearted ogres who don't care about the poor.

Perhaps few progressives will have read this far, but in their hearts, they know what is best for the disadvantaged. A government run efficiently to serve its people, not a clanking, obsolete machine dedicated to serving its builders.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, September 18, 2006

Rosie's rant won't work in Wheaton

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Don't search for entertainer Rosie O'Donnell on the faculty of Wheaton College, a distinctively Christian school in the western suburbs. Especially after O'Donnell made headlines last week by asserting that "radical Christianity" is "just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have separation of church and state."

Hey, Rosie, let me introduce you to the Taliban, who don't much appreciate women. Unlike these radical Muslims, I don't see any Christians, radical or otherwise, burying you up to your neck in the middle of a stadium full of religious fanatics cheering in anticipation of your stoning. Especially when Christ, Himself, turned back a mob that was about to stone a sinful woman.

A stoning is a bit different than getting 10 "Our Fathers" and five "Hail Marys" for your penance. It's a difference that O'Donnell missed last week when she made her controversial comparison as the new co-host of the TV show "The View." Maybe in future shows she'll begin listing those Christian denominations that threaten "infidels" with violence or death.

Or maybe she'll explain how a country, founded mostly by Christians, crafted a Constitution that prohibits the kind of theocratic tyranny that's a model for radical Islam.

O'Donnell already has been worked over nationally for her recklessness, but the folks in Illinois' 6th Congressional District--home to Wheaton College--might not be so quick to forget. Turns out that O'Donnell is one of the Hollywood types that is heartily meddling in the race, contributing the maximum to Tammy Duckworth, the carpetbagging Democratic candidate for Congress.

According to a couple of campaign contribution databases, O'Donnell has given the legal maximum, $2,100, to Duckworth. O'Donnell also has contributed the maximum to Melissa Bean, the so-called moderate Democrat running against Republican David McSweeney in the north and northwest suburban 8th Congressional District.

Considering O'Donnell's beneficiaries, one might conclude that she's hardly interested in backing "moderate" candidates.

According to newsmeat.com, which closely monitors federally reported campaign contributions, O'Donnell has contributed $74,000 to Democrats, $1,000 to Republicans and $27,800 to assorted left-leaning special interests, such as the Human Rights Campaign political action committee. Among the candidates she is supporting is Ned Lamont, the far-left, anti-war candidate who beat incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary.

Peter Roskam, Duckworth's GOP opponent, notes (based on Federal Election Commission reports) that a breathtaking 97 percent, or about $1 million, of Duckworth's individual campaign contributions are raised outside of the district. Only 34 of her more than 1,000 individual donors can even vote for her. Emily's List, a radical pro-choice political action committee, has given her $161,000. Let's not leave out the most liberal of libs, Barbra Streisand, who gave Duckworth $1,000 for the primary and $1,000 for the general election. Streisand also gave $1,000 to Bean for her primary, in which she had no opposition. Christie Hefner, Playboy chairman and feminist (I still don't get why the two aren't contradictory) also chimed in with a grand for each candidate. Nor should we leave off Al Franken hosting a fundraiser for Duckworth.

Roskam suggested Duckworth return O'Donnell's campaign contribution to repudiate such anti-Christian remarks. "Rosie O'Donnell's intolerance equating Christianity to Islamic terrorism is as far out of touch with the values and beliefs of voters of the 6th District as it gets, and these are the types of supporters that Duckworth's campaign attracts," Roskam's campaign manager Ryan McLaughlin said.

Duckworth and Bean are running in traditionally Republican and conservative districts, Bean having won two years ago by having the good fortune of opposing indolent incumbent Phil Crane. But this time she's facing McSweeney, a candidate who is no slouch. Despite voters' aggravating habit of re-electing incumbents, Bean is in a real fight.

Duckworth is a project of Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic congressman from the neighboring Chicago-based 5th District and the chief honcho of campaign funds for Democratic congressional candidates. Duckworth has no political experience, was handpicked by Emanuel, doesn't live in the district and has adopted the Democratic party line wholesale. Independent she'll not be.

With Emanuel's money and political minions, Duckworth beat a more deserving opponent in the Democratic primary. Her defeat would be a huge setback to Emanuel's prestige among his congressional colleagues, fellow Democrats and, mostly, political contributors. If Emanuel has to round up and put the squeeze on every B-movie actor and extra, he'll do it.

Not because it's good for the 6th District, but for himself.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Monday, September 11, 2006

Saying goodbye to home--the place of our lives

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The girls made me put the hammock back up.

After all, swinging in the hammock was one of their most favorite things to do at grandma's and grandpa's house, and they didn't really understand that I had taken it down to pack for the move.

"Hammock, Grandpa," Lisa, 5, and Leia, 3-going-on-4, said, simultaneously pointing to where it was drying on the patio table after I had absentmindedly left it out in the rain. "I think it's still wet," I said, hoping that I wouldn't have to put it back up and go through the painful process of later taking it back down.

Taking it down was one of the harder things I've faced in the weeks before our move today from the house that my wife, Barb, and I had occupied--lived in--for the last 22 years. Like leaving my garden, where I work on my laptop on beautiful summer days, as I am now. From this shady spot I can admire my roses, phlox and lilies, tired from their summer-long combat with beetles and powdery mildew, but still bravely blooming.

I figured that I'd garden right up to the end, but a couple of weeks ago, I was out in the heat, pruning some bushes, and I thought, "Why?" Still, I couldn't resist; until the last, I'd pluck an infringing weed, prune a rogue crabapple sucker and give it all a final renewing fertilizing.

"What are you doing?" Barb would ask.

"Saying goodbye to my plants," I'd say. On my evening rounds, I'd think: This is the last time I'll see this hydrangea, or check the undersides of the burning bush leaves for aphids, or examine the progress of a seemingly suicidal hosta. At least I was around for the first yucca blossoms and the long-delayed coming of age of that red- and green-leafed ground cover of the forgotten name that's finally covering some ground. Each plant, shrub and tree is a friend who gets a final goodbye.

So does every ding, drip and blemish that I'll leave unrepaired inside the house. Maybe if I had just a few more days ...

The memories, though, I can take with. The holidays, the every days. The quarrels and making-ups. The happy surprises and disappointing discoveries. The joyful arrivals and sad departures. The prayers of thanks and seekings of forgiveness. The presence of kids' things; the absence of kids' things.

Here Kati and Don navigated the storms of adolescence, then left us empty when they set off for college--then returned, then left again. Here we celebrated two marriages and four granddaughters' births. Here Barb anguished that I--in the hospital's hands--wouldn't make it through the night. And I obsessed on how much I would hate this place without Barb, if she had lost her own fight.

This house, any house, is more than a physical presence where things happen. A life has to happen somewhere, and you might think that this anyplace would do just as well as any other place. But this is the place of our lives. That makes this a sanctified place, because some of what has happened here becomes, in some way, a part of this place. Something of it was left behind by the family that was here before us, and something will be left by the young family that follows. Different lives, same walls; new hopes, same windows through which young eyes will peer.

For now, for Lisa, Leia and Ava, their 2-year-old cousin, this house is grandma and grandpa. For them, it will always be a bridge to the past and loved ones gone. We've told them we're moving and showed them the new place. They can feed the ducks right outside the back door; there's a swimming pool nearby. There they'll create new memories, with their new 5-month-old cousin, Julia. Still, they seemed a little sad.

There are no trees at our new place spaced just right, like the two silver maples at the old place, for that handmade Guatemalan hammock, a loving gift to grandpa from their Uncle Don. So, after the girls asked, I put the hammock back up here for a final time, and I know that I'll have to take it down, again, for one last tearful time.

Leia's playing in it now, within my reach, and here comes Ava, just up from her nap, happily padding toward the hammock. "Grandpa!" squeals Leia. "Higher, Grandpa, higher!"

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Friday, September 08, 2006

Clinton's Artless Equivocation on 'The Path to 9/11'

By Dennis Byrne

If the worst criticism of President Bush is that he lied to us about Iraq, then we just got a whopping reminder of Bill Clinton's extraordinary talents for deception.

In a letter to ABC's chief Bob Iger, Clinton's attorney, Bruce Lindsey, alleges that the network's program, The Path to 9/11 is "factually and incontrovertibly" inaccurate in suggesting that the Clinton administration let Osama Bin Laden slip through its fingers. Clinton's defenders, from their high horses, arrogantly have demand that the program be edited to their satisfaction, or be pulled entirely.

Bristling at evidence that Clinton and his administration were wavering and indecisive, the letter asserted that the president aggressively tried to "take a shot at Bin Laden." It cites the 9/11 Commission Report for supposedly giving credit to Clinton for approving "every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

This is close enough to the truth to make the "I-didn't-inhale" and "I-didn't-have-sex-with-that-woman" Clinton think he can get away with it. But it is far enough away from the truth to be classified as, if not a bold lie, an artless equivocation.

As usual, Clinton figures that the rest of us are too stupid or lazy to look it up for ourselves. And having read the complete report when it came out more than two years ago, I think it is an inescapable fact that a vacillating, equivocating administration had more than one opportunity to take out terrorist mastermind Bin Laden, but blew it.

A good place to look is the report's "Chapter 4: Responses to Al Qaeda's initial assaults," Section 4.5, "Searching for Fresh Options." There you have details of how Bin Laden was ready to be plucked, but someone in the administration either ignored or nixed it. Or put it on an endless "you-decide, not-me" merry-go-round.

Read more at RealClear Politics

Monday, September 04, 2006

He can run but can't hide

Daley's record needs airing out for voters

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Quote of the day: "They thought I've lost my mind." --Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

Having brought it up himself, does the mayor wish to make his mental health an issue if he decides to seek re-election? The debate should be vigorous.

Daley obviously doesn't think (nor do I) that he has lost his mind. He was only raising the issue last week as another part of his tiresome cat-and-mouse game of pretending he hasn't decided to seek re-election. He was explaining how his political advisers told him that he was bonkers if he tried to reform the abysmal Chicago public school system and the Chicago Housing Authority.

At least, that's what Daley said they told him. Attempts to reform the awful schools and projects were certain political losers. So, Daley would have us believe, it was an act of political valor of the first order, a leadership challenge that he had to accept, damn the political consequences, and so forth. Obviously, his "profile in courage" will be the centerpiece of his campaign.

Frankly, I think it all was a calculated act of political genius. Consider the political consequences if he had said those problems weren't his job. Technically, he might have been right, just as running the Chicago Park District and the CTA theoretically is not his job. But nobody falls for the charade that they're not. It would have been a political disaster if he had let the high-profile problems of the schools and public housing projects fester, costing Daley corporate, civic and plenty of other support. So give him credit for taking it on himself, instead of appointing a "blue ribbon" committee, as his father, Mayor Richard J., would have done.

But, has Daley actually solved the problems? When it came to actual school governance, his masterstroke was putting Paul Vallas in charge of the schools. Vallas re-energized the system, but then Daley dumped him because--why? Vallas was getting too big for his britches? All we know is that Daley now claims the glory as his.

Despite Daley's self-acclamation and the "evidence" of student test scores (the abomination of today's education system), I don't know that anyone can really say just how much better or worse the schools are under Daley. But here's one reliable test: How many suburban parents say, "Oh, gee, Chicago's schools are so great, I'm going to move back into the city because I want my kids to get a good education"? If Chicago parents had real choices, such as school vouchers, tens of thousands would abandon the city's public schools. Here's a second test: How many businesses are fighting each other to hire the products of the city's school system?

As for public housing problems? He made them disappear, literally. The miles of high-rise projects by consensus had become so cancerous, and the need to tear them down became so obvious, that to pretend that they could be made safe and livable would have been politically disastrous. Presto, away they went, leaving behind the lingering questions: Where did everyone go, and are the lives of the former residents any better?

So, despite what Daley would have everyone believe, he has not taken the schools and public housing out of play in the upcoming mayoral campaign. He has made them a legitimate campaign issue, and one that might not rebound to his benefit.

But these are only two issues that can challenge Daley. Population and jobs still flow to the suburbs, a larger social trend that can't be blamed on any one big-city mayor. At least not entirely. Here, you have to wonder just how many people want to have nothing to do with Chicago because they understand that the Daley administration begets corruption, and corruption begets higher taxes and higher taxes beget people and businesses getting fed up with it all and moving out? Just how much better could Chicago be without all the corruption?

The challenge is to find legitimate candidates who can credibly challenge Daley on these and other significant issues. Dorothy Brown, Cook County Circuit Court clerk, missed a chance to establish her own credibility when she announced her candidacy last week. Asked if she supported the controversial "big box" minimum wage ordinance, she bobbed and weaved. To be credible, you first must have a position. Not a good start.

© 2006, Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More Language Glop From the Left

By Dennis Byrne

Spitting in reality’s eye, some journalists still are referring to Elvira Arellano and other illegal aliens as an “undocumented worker.”


Arellano, who has become the darling of the abolish-all-immigration-laws crowd, is holed up in a Chicago storefront church, claiming a non-existent sanctuary right against being deported for crossing the Mexican border, for the third time, illegally.

Of course, we’re no longer allowed to call her an alien because to do so hurts feelings. Even though the dictionary simply defines alien as a foreigner, especially someone who isn’t a naturalized citizen. I suppose we could call her an illegal foreigner, but foreigner, too, soon may be the next standard English word to be deposited in the trash by the political correctors.

Despite the precise meaning of illegal alien, we instead get language glop.

Continue Reading at Human Events

Monday, August 28, 2006

Plan B's Junk Science

By Dennis Byrne

Repeatedly we are told that "science" has concluded that the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception pills is safe for 15-year-old and younger girls because it does not increase their risky sexual behavior.

This is bunk. This assertion is based on research that says no such thing. Not even close.

Yet, the public is remorselessly fed this line, especially after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided last week to allow pharmacies to sell Plan B tablets without prescriptions to women 18 and over. The FDA sensibly declined to allow their sale without a prescription to young adolescents because the manufacturer had not provided enough evidence that they would use the drug safely and effectively without supervision.

Will the drug lead to more risky sexual behavior, such as increased unprotected intercourse and sex with multiple partners? Will it allow older men to pressure 14-year-olds into sex--protected or unprotected--because this magical pill will "take care of everything"? Common sense alone suggestions these are among the risks.

But Plan B advocates, reproductive rights ideologues, manufacturers and marketers firmly deny the existence of any such risks, because "science" tells us so, as if that shuts the door on any further discussion. But, in fact, "science" tell us nothing; the "telling" is done by people who do science.

And the "scientific claims" about the impact of Plan B on the sexual behavior of younger teens are dubious at best or, worse, outright distortions--distortions that have been picked up and endlessly repeated by the media. Without examining the "science" of the claims.

So, let's do so.

Read more at RealClearPolitics.



9/11 conspiracies are a crying shame

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, is two weeks away, but the screeching from the conspiracy monkey house already is upon us.

The "9-11 truth squads" are planning a three-day gala in New York City to inform the world that Sept. 11 was a "catalyst" designed to set in motion a "global domination project" by overthrowing the American government, says NY911Truth.org. Which would be true, if you were talking about a plot by Islamic fascists. But they say it was by President Bush himself, "as a pretext for the current Middle East aggression."

The organizers of the conspiracy jamboree urge "all movements for transformational progress" to converge on Gotham thusly: "If we want to put an end to war, use our treasury for productive purposes domestically, restore our Constitution, have a law-abiding government, create cooperative rather than antagonistic relationships with the rest of the world, heal our environment and be the creators of our own destiny, understanding 9/11 is required," say these "truth" activists.

The blogosphere is buzzing with the things they want us to understand.

Start at 911research.wtc7.net and follow the links into paranoia hell.

Among other things, airliners didn't crash into the Pentagon (it was an American missile) or the World Trade Center, and even if they did, they didn't cause the towers to collapse--it was the result of "controlled demolition charges" placed by Bush agents in the buildings before they were struck. That the named hijackers were not the hijackers, if, that is, the planes actually were hijacked or even existed.

Most incredibly, this intricate plot was pulled off by the world's most stupid head of state, George W. Bush.

Such theories require extensive fabrications to back them up, such as the assertion that the towers collapsed at free-fall speed (false), and that one floor falling on top of another couldn't possibly "pancake" the buildings (actually it was scores of floors collapsing on each floor).

The conspiracy nimrods, of course, won't be there alone. Mainstream media nimrods also will attend in great numbers. TV anchors will solemnly speak of "disturbing new questions" about Sept. 11 and break to interviews with charla-tans, incompetents, nut cases and the gullible, all united as fools.

And they'll all be playing to the many Americans who take it seriously. More than a third suspect that federal officials either took part in or knowingly took no action to stop the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll. The poll also found that 16 percent of Americans believe the bit about how secretly planted explosives collapsed the twin towers.

Conspiracy documents are a hot read on college campuses and in Europe.

Loonies come in all shapes, from the conservative Paul Craig Roberts (Ronald Reagan's supply-side guy) to, well, so many on the left. That's because the conspiracy theory resonates with their psychotic hatred of Bush, whom they can easily believe would engineer a deadly attack on Americans.

Of course, by this theory, W. also engineered the attacks on the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the U.S. Embassies in Africa and the Navy warship, the USS Cole. All while he was a slobbering drunk.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also is alleged to be a part of the plot against America, just as he, the U.S., Israel and Rupert Murdoch's media empire have now supposedly cooked up the plot to blow up American-bound airliners.

The self-described "9-11 truth community" will try to appear reasonable by calling for an "independent" investigation"--which means that the committees still sniffing out the conspirators in the JFK assassination will have to clear out of the hearing room for the next four decades.

No expert investigation, such as one by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will be "independent" enough to suit them. Not that the professional engineering groups shouldn't be more forceful in rebuttal. I suppose they fear that speaking out would give the wackos credibility.

But it is silence that gives them credibility.

Failing a unified debunking by professionals, Popular Mechanics magazine took up the challenge. Popular Mechanics doesn't have the proper cache, so the theorists will ridicule or ignore its work, even though it's the most extensive rebuttal I've yet seen. Judge for yourself at popularmechanics.com/science/defense/1227842.html.

Unless you believe that the magazine, too, is in cahoots with Bush.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune