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, 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