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.

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