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, 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