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, February 26, 2007

They would be creamed

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If all goes according to plan, the bulldozers will arrive sometime after midnight to start knocking down thousands of Chicago homes to clear a path for the Crosstown Expressway.

That's an exaggeration, of course: The destruction of entire neighborhoods, with their homes, businesses, schools, churches and parks, won't be as easy as Mayor Richard M. Daley's midnight obliteration of Meigs Field.

Still, the revival of the Crosstown Expressway project--running from the Edens-Kennedy Expressways junction, along Cicero Avenue to Midway Airport then cutting east to the Dan Ryan Expressway along 75th Street--was sprung on the tens of thousands of people who would be creamed by the expressway with all the surprise of a midnight raid. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) was the first to drop the bomb and Daley joined in, saying that the failure to build the expressway 30 years ago was a huge mistake--a proposition needing some proof.

Daley, with his usual aplomb, tried to soften the bombshell, saying it was only an idea and that the Crosstown would only be a two-lane, truck-only freeway. But Chicagoans with any memory will recall that the truck-only idea was considered 30 years ago, and junked. Not just because an accident would create a nightmarish truck jam, but also because it wouldn't be much less expensive or destructive than the full Monty.

And, so it is with all the other cockamamie permutations of the expressway that Daley's father and special interests dreamed up to overcome the strong grass-roots opposition. Someone suggested running the road below grade. Someone else seriously proposed double-decking it, with one level going north and the other south. All options were rejected as politically unfeasible, impossibly expensive and destructive.

Those same overwhelming problems of dislocation, cost and ineffectiveness remain with a project that would cut such a big swath through Northwest, West and South Side neighborhoods.

Take the old debate over where to run the south leg. Aside from causing significant destruction, the idea of dumping Crosstown traffic onto the Ryan at 75th was problematic: Besides creating a traffic bottleneck there, it was too far south to serve as an effective bypass that would connect with the Chicago Skyway. Then it was suggested, with a straight face, to run the leg south instead of east, connecting to Interstate Highway 57, following an even more destructive path that would completely nullify any claims that it is a bypass highway.

Then there's the cost, low-balled at about $1 billion, which today doesn't come close. Few new expressways are slashed through the hearts of cities anymore for good reason; the costs fly beyond anything reasonable or conceivable. Even if it were built as a toll road, how high would other tolls in the region have to be raised to cover the financing?

If not from tolls, then how to finance a mega-billion-dollar project? The Dan Ryan reconstruction, even without its outrageous cost overruns, has gobbled up a good hunk of Illinois' share of federal highway funds for years to come. Would the suburbs and Downstate tolerate another Chicago money grab?

And this: Before a cent in federal aid can be ladled out, the law requires convincing evidence that the highway is cost-effective. In other words, does the value of the highway's benefits outweigh the highway's actual cost, including the dollar value of environmental, social and economic destruction? I don't see how it can be honestly done.

Just about the only thing good to come out of the Crosstown fiasco was the law that now requires federal compensation of anyone, anywhere in the nation, who is uprooted by such a huge federally funded project. Still, as a practical matter, the law falls short of providing true dollar-for-dollar compensation for the loss of habitat or livelihood.

As if Daley doesn't have enough concrete to pour to keep him and his contracting buddies content for the rest of his lifetime reign. Maybe the city should buy up a bunch of vacant lots that he can pave over just to keep him and his pals happy. It certainly would be a better use of the money.

Thirty years ago, when a stake was driven through the heart of this bad idea, everyone thought it was so dead that, to this day, the Crosstown doesn't show up on the region's long-range transportation plans. But that won't stop the city's business and other elites from rushing forward to support this bad idea. If anything, the miraculous resurrection of the Crosstown proves that when it comes to government, no bad idea is truly dead.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mayor-for-life reigns in a faux democracy

Voters seem content to seal Daley's power and ignore challengers

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

And now, a question from the department of metaphysics: Is it really a democracy when nearly everyone votes for the same guy, whether the reason is that he has ...

A. Performed so wunnerfully that no one else in sight could do better. Or,

B. Gathered so much power unto himself that few, if any, challengers have a chance of beating him.

Thus, the Chicago mayoral election, in which Mayor Richard Daley is considered to be a cinch to be recrowned as city sovereign for one, or both, of the above reasons. Serious voters can ponder why they have so little choice, which is the essence of a functioning democracy. True, getting three out of every four votes is not the same thing as the 100 percent that the Kremlin regularly turned out because no one else was on the ballot.

Chicago is not alone in this. In countless suburbs, you literally have no choice, because only one name appears on the ballot for many village, school and other municipal offices. There, few challengers step forward because few are interested in volunteering for a non-paying job that easily can turn into a full-time one. There, candidates are elected by acclamation.

This pretty much describes the Chicago mayoral race, as Daley's competition has been written off by the power elites--business, media and so forth. And by legions of folks who say they don't plan to "waste" their vote by voting for a "loser"--one of the most stupid concepts ever to undermine democratic government. Even organized labor, which is pouring money into anti-Daley challengers in some aldermanic races, dares not make a serious effort to unseat Daley.

Which has to fry the patience of Daley's two major opponents.

In any other city, a candidate who racked up 800,000 votes in a prior election--as Daley challenger Dorothy Brown did in Chicago during her 2004 re-election as Cook County Circuit Court clerk--would be considered a strong opponent. Here, she is casually written off as not having a chance, despite an impressive resume. She is an attorney, a certified public accountant, holds a master's degree in business administration and now manages an office with an annual operating budget of $100 million and a workforce of more than 2,000 employee positions. Daley's other major opponent, William "Dock" Walls, an aide to the late Mayor Harold Washington, is no Spanky the Clown (the perennial local candidate who, indeed, never had a chance).

For a while, it looked like we'd have what many folks considered to be a "real" race, as Democratic congressmen Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson Jr. were stoking up their mayoral campaigns with heavy rhetoric about Daley's failings, principally the administration's dismal history of corruption.

Mocking Daley, Gutierrez said, "The essence of [Daley's] message is, `You know me, trust me, I have a record, but the hiring incident isn't part of my record. Jon Burge [former police commander] isn't part of my record. The scandals of contracting, those aren't part of my record. Every time there's an issue, `that's not part of my record.'"

Good stuff. But then, when Democrats won control of the House, Jackson and Gutierrez opted for the sure thing--more powerful positions in the House. In endorsing Daley, Gutierrez decided Daley wasn't so bad after all, saying Daley has made significant steps to clean up corruption.

Even for a town as cynical as Chicago, this was an act of towering cynicism.

It has been a generation now since Chicago was last bitten by real democracy, and the wounds apparently never have healed. The bitter battles that split aldermen in "council wars" during the Washington administration is the only reference point for many Chicagoans. That democracy can descend into such hostility may have been too much for Chicago voters to handle, because they've settled down to ratifying a mayor-for-life every four years.

Still, this election is a chance for voters to take democracy out for a test drive. For the first time in years, there's real competition in a number of aldermanic races, involving real, qualified candidates. True, it might be a scary thing for some Chicago voters to get back on after getting thrown by council wars. But if democracy can blossom in Eastern European capitals after decades of autocracy, why not Chicago?

Maybe it's time to give it another try.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Health-care check, please

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's nice and compassionate that Cook County is giving away free health care to thousands of people from the collar counties.

But with Cook County looking at a deficit approaching a half billion dollars, it's irresponsible, and the mooching by the collar counties should stop now.

Certainly not in a way that would suddenly throw indigent families from the collar counties who travel to Stroger Hospital and other Cook County health facilities into the cold. But in a way that Lake, DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Will Counties would at least pony up their fair share. Or take care of their own indigent. But in the four weeks since the news broke of the sponging, no one has stepped forward to say they should or would pay.

What can account for such generosity when doctors, nurses and clinics are getting the boot in Cook County because of budget cuts? Why, when tens of thousands of Cook County residents are waiting interminably in long lines for health care and medications, are thousands more non-residents allowed in line?

Are the boards of the collar counties jumping up and saying, let's do an accounting of how many of our residents are using services that we are morally and legally obliged to provide, and at least reimburse Cook County? Are the collar counties so poor that they can't pitch in for their share?

Apparently, the mooching had been going on for a long time, until Dr. Robert Simon, the county's health chief, tried last month to stop it. Patients, he said, would have to prove they are Cook County residents; those who aren't either must be referred to the public health departments of their own counties or pay in full. Elective surgeries or procedures would have to be paid up front.

But just before the policy could be implemented, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger rescinded it. A Stroger spokesman, speaking in the usual language of bureaucratic equivocation, left room for rescinding the rescission, or not. At the risk of appearing hard-hearted, the County Board should take matters into its own hands while it is struggling to find ways to balance its budget and end the practice.

County officials did not respond to requests by the Chicago Tribune for information on how many non-residents are served and at what cost. Whatever it is, it probably wouldn't cut very much into the mountainous deficit, which Stroger initially addressed with a cynical demand that county officers make across-the-board 17 percent cuts in their budgets.

Cynical because Stroger dodges the difficult job of finding and pushing for cuts that are more deserving than others. That would require sniffing out the worthless and undeserving who have infiltrated the ranks of county workers during his father's tenure. Stroger obviously doesn't want to be the one wielding the ax.

Cynical because it puts the onus on county commissioners to make the difficult choices. Cynical because he can veto the board's cuts, blaming the commissioners for supposedly (1) not cutting deep enough or (2) heartlessly cutting essential services--whichever serves his political purposes.

In demanding a sweeping cut of 17 percent, Stroger knew that he would raise a hornet's nest of protest, so, superficially, it appears to be a courageous act. Especially among the people who voted for him. Now, the same folks are calling it obscene and a betrayal.

If it weren't for the essential services being indiscriminately cut by Stroger, it would be hard to work up much sympathy for those voters and critics. They ignored the obvious dangers of voting for a political hack who is putting and keeping relatives and friends in well-paying positions. Some refused to vote against him because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for a Republican, any Republican. Others were so suffused with their pro-choice, anti-gun ideology that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for the reform that was so obviously needed. Many of them were self-styled progressives who, this time, couldn't stomach change or reform.

Time to let Stroger know that we don't like what he's doing, we're told. Call him up, give him a piece of your mind, attend a protest, send an e-mail. Too late. No use. He has almost four years left in his term, and when the next election arrives, he knows that the same people will vote for him again, for the same ridiculous reasons.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Congress to launch a hot air resolution

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

As Congress, supposedly speaking for all Americans, debates resolutions that trash U.S. efforts to secure freedom and security for millions of Middle East peoples, here’s what I, a mere citizen, would like to see in the resolution, but won’t:

Whereas, the people of the United States have endowed its government with the obligation of protecting and promoting certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and

Whereas, the government of the United State affirms that these unalienable rights extend to all human beings, and

Whereas, a democracy is the best political system designed by man for ensuring these rights, while dictatorship, theocracy, monarchy and other forms of autocracy are not, and

Read more at Political Mavens

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bad Research, Worse Reporting on Global Warming

By Dennis Byrne

In trying to prove that the Bush administration is throttling research into global warming, the Union of Concerned Scientists rolled out some breathtakingly bad science.

The group unveiled a supposedly scientific survey of more than 1,600 federal climate scientists as evidence that the administration was engaged in "wide-ranging political interference in research related to global warming."

"The new evidence shows that political interference in climate science is no longer a series of isolated incidents but a system-wide epidemic," Dr. Francesca Grifo, Director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program, said in a press release. "Tailoring scientific fact for political purposes has become a problem across many federal science agencies."

Grifo obviously doesn't' appreciate the irony when he trots out a poll that is so flawed that it is manifest evidence of exaggeration, incompetence or dishonesty on his group's part.

You don't have to be a social scientist to understand that the survey was deceptive, for example, when it lumped into the same category scientists who said they actually experienced the alleged tampering and scientists who simply "perceived" that it happened to someone else. For example, the group's press release said "Forty-three percent of respondents reported they had perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review of their work that changed the meaning of their scientific findings." But turn to the study's appendix, and you'll find that only 15 percent of the respondents said that they had actually experienced such interference.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Monday, February 05, 2007

Obama the Hack

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

Turns out that Barack Obama, the sainted Democratic presidential hopeful, can be every bit the hack as the next run-of-the-mouth politician.

Not long after announcing the creation of a committee to explore his possible presidential run, the Illinois senator high-tailed it to New Orleans to throw some of the mud left behind by Hurricane Katrina on President George W. Bush.

With due solemnity, Obama joined the chorus of political opportunists blaming Bush's incompetence and indifference for New Orleans' sorry state. Talking to a special hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Obama said that in the weeks after the hurricane,"an ashamed nation looked at what had been allowed to happen here and said, 'Never again. Never will we turn our backs on these people. Never will we forget what happened here.'" (One would hope that in the future he would never again resort to the cliché "never again.") Money, he said, is "still not reaching ordinary folks" quickly enough. "Until it does, all the numbers, the meetings and the planning that's being done is inadequate."

Read more at Human Events

Tug o' war and Constitution

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can return fulltime to idolizing Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Just kidding. But now that I have your attention, does anyone think that the Iraq war is pushing us into a constitutional crisis? President Bush, citing his constitutional powers as commander in chief, says he decides whether to increase U.S. troops in Iraq. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and others are holding out the possibility that constitutionally they can force an end to the war by defunding the troops.

True, this isn't as much fun as fulminating about Joe "Mouth-Run-Amuck" Biden's remark that Obama is the first "clean" African-American presidential candidate, or laying into Democratic hypocrisy for giving Biden a pass while skewering former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) for his "macaca" comment.

But it's more important, because America's system of checks and balances could face a tough test. The Constitution's framers separated our government's powers to prevent the abuse of governmental powers exercised by kings and would-be tyrants, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The framers, tutored by such political theorists of their time as Baron de Montesquieu, concluded that the best way to check the abuse of governmental power was to divvy it up among different, sometimes competing, branches of government. Hence, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our federal government.

It has worked well, except when an issue falls into that in-between gray area, when opposing branches stubbornly claim jurisdiction. Such as with war powers. The Constitution explicitly gives the president the exclusive power to command the armed forces, meaning he gets to decide how they are used. The Constitution gives Congress the explicit power to declare war, and to raise and support armies.

But does it give Congress the power to undeclare a war? Can it tell the president to roll it all up and send everyone home? Anti-war lawmakers say it can, because only Congress can appropriate the money that the president spends, whether it is on a war or a memorial to the late bandleader Lawrence Welk. Without money to, say, buy ammo, the Army would have no choice but to pack up and fly home. Or stay with empty rifles and be slaughtered. One might say that no congressman in his right mind would want to leave the president with that sort of choice.

On the other hand, Congress can appropriate money for, say, sending the troops "over the horizon" to Kuwait, but the chief executive can defy Congress (beyond using his veto) by simply refusing to deploy the troops.

This could be a fine mess, precisely the kind of dispute that the Supreme Court often wants to avoid. So what to do? Congress can't raise its own army to "force" the president to do what it wants. The president can't send a tank or two over to Capitol Hill to make Congress do what he wants.

So, it comes back to doing what is reasonable and wise. And if you want a case in which it was unreasonable and unwise for Congress to conduct a war and, in effect, make foreign policy (another of the president's explicit powers), check out how the Vietnam War ended. Officially, the Paris Peace Accords, negotiated by the chief executive, ended it, but the war between the North and the South continued with our chiseled-in-stone promise to reply with "severe retaliatory action" if the North ever violated the treaty.

Which the North did by expanding its military force in the South. President Gerald Ford confessed he could do nothing about it because Congress had passed the Case-Church Amendment that forbade any more U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. All Ford could do was respond with diplomatic protests, which further emboldened the North and demoralized the South. When Congress subsequently withdrew its financial aid for the South, the end came. It was a North Vietnamese tank that broke down the gates to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, not a pajama-clad Viet Cong. Thanks to Congress, we lost an ally and the North imposed a brutal and deadly regime on the South.

Notwithstanding the Constitution, it has been a long-held belief and practice that the conduct of wars and foreign policy belong to the president.

That's for a reason. Because while the president might or might not bungle how he uses those powers, it is nearly certain that Congress will.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune