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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Free Speech and the Right to Disagree

By Dennis Byrne

If a high school gives students permission to openly express their support of homosexuality, then why shouldn't other students be allowed to voice their disapproval?

A federal court judge in Chicago might have to answer that question after a high school student in Naperville, IL, a suburb southwest of Chicago, filed suit charging that her civil rights were violated by school officials by not letting her wear a pro-heterosexual T-shirt last year.

Neuqua Valley High School's refusal to let Heidi Zamecnik, 17, wear a T-shirt saying "Be happy, not gay" on the back and "My day of silence, straight alliance" on the front was especially egregious because it came on the same day that the school permitted other students on the national "Day of Silence" to openly express their support of homosexuality.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Games plan tough to follow

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Hey, wait a minute. I thought that Mayor Richard M. Daley said holding the 2016 Olympics in Chicago wouldn't cost taxpayers anything.

Now we discover it could cost hundreds of millions. Of course, some cynics might say, Daley made the promise before the election (BE) and now it is after the election (AE) when everything said earlier is off the table. But I don't think the election had anything to do with it. He could have unveiled the complex financing plan the day before the election and who would have cared or understood?

A broken promise isn't the problem with the plan; it's the financing itself, which might be compared to a house of cards, if I understand it correctly. Which I'm not sure I do, but I guess that's the point. Columnists have more fun writing about outgoing Ald. Arenda Troutman's (20th) outrageous comparison of the 2016 Olympics with Adolf Hitler's 1936 version than trying to fathom the details of the Games' financing. You can skip a couple of paragraphs if you're not interested in details and take it for granted that if it involves local politicians, there's something odorous about it. So here goes:

The Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (McPier), a city-state agency controlled by the city, sells the air rights it owns over land south of McCormick Place to a developer who builds walls of apartment buildings for the Olympians that are converted later to commercial housing, and McPier gives the money to the city, which gives it to Chicago 2016, the local Olympic organizing committee that likes to work out of the public view, which uses the money to help fund a temporary Olympic stadium, which later is converted to public use for concerts and so forth, but McPier retains a part ownership in the property, which it then sells outright or leases to an operations manager.

Now, if this and other aspects of the Olympic financing end up in red ink, Chicago must come up with $500 million in guarantees out of the public purse and who knows where else, but the mayor soothingly assures everyone that he remains committed to his promise not to use public money to support the Olympics. After the City Council was briefed privately about these and presumably the other intricacies--and surely, they understood them all--it later overwhelmingly approved the package like good boys and girls.

The public was kept in the dark until the Tribune sniffed it out. When asked later about his pledge that it wouldn't cost taxpayers anything, Daley responded, "we're not putting any actual money in," meaning, I guess, that selling public assets--the air rights--isn't actually putting any actual money into it. Maybe that's technically right, even though city, suburban and state taxpayers no longer own the assets--whose value may have spiked up to $100 million thanks to the Olympics-generated demand, even if Chicago is not awarded the Olympics. It's sort of like not actually putting actual money into the purchase of a new car when you trade in the old. I guess.

All of Daley's great assurances are not comforting when the cost of the 2012 London Olympics has tripled to $18 billion. In the face of this, we are expected to believe that Chicago can pull off the Games for $5 billion. Daley assures us, again, that 2012 and 2016 are not comparable, because Chicago would not be building a lot of new stuff, like London. We've already got the United Center, U.S. Cellular and Wrigley Fields, O'Hare International Airport and so forth, he said. "They had to build all the parks, all the transit," he said, as if the CTA will really impress the Olympic selection committee.

When Daley first suggested getting the Games here, I said the idea should be given a chance to prove itself. So far, the proof we've been allowed to peek at hasn't been all that convincing. But that apparently doesn't matter to the Olympic planners here; they said some secrecy is necessary because we don't want to give anything away to our competitors in Los Angeles.

But there's also some of the public-be-damned way the public's business is conducted here, based on the belief that the public, even if it could understand what's going on, would screw things up. That's too bad; the skepticism that they've already created with this approach hasn't served their cause well, because the project won't get anywhere without public support. At least that's the theory.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Handgun bans' logic got shot full of holes

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Our good and well-meaning friends in Chicago, Wilmette and other towns that have outlawed the possession of handguns, even in the sanctity and privacy of the home, might want to notice that the nation's second-highest court has tossed out a similar weapons ban.

By overturning a Washington, D.C., handgun ban 10 days ago, the district's federal appeals court affirmed that bearing arms is an individual right, in existence even prior to the writing of the Constitution. The ruling puts the court at odds with 10 of the 11 other federal appeals courts, which have ruled that bearing arms is a just a collective right, meant only to ensure that the civilians who serve in state militias are armed.

This doesn't mean that the D.C. decision applies here, but the conflicting rulings invite the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, where three sitting justices--Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and David H. Souter--said in a 1998 dissent that "bearing arms" goes beyond a collective right in the context of a well-ordered militia. Combined with the votes of recent conservative appointees, the high court could sweep away draconian laws that don't even allow the possession of a handgun to protect yourself and your family in your home.

Self-defense is hardly an esoteric legal question for Hale DeMar, a Wilmette resident who was fined $750 in 2003 after shooting a man who burglarized his home for two consecutive nights. DeMar's fine wasn't for defending himself but for possessing a handgun, meaning that he should have used a baseball bat, I guess. Or called out the militia. (The burglar, Morio Billings, recovered from his wounds and got a 7-year sentence. He got out after serving 2 1/2 years and was promptly arrested for burglary, in Wilmette.)

The idea that you can't use arms to protect yourself in your own home would have stunned James Madison and the other authors of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, if the appeals court's reading of history is correct.

The court's decision came in the case of a federal guard who was permitted to carry a gun at work but, upon application to the District of Columbia, was forbidden to keep one at home. The guard and other plaintiffs sued, claiming they had a right to possess "functional weapons" at home that would be readily accessible for self-defense. They weren't challenging laws against carrying a gun outside the home or other restrictions, such as handgun registration.

The district argued that the wording of the 2nd Amendment ("A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed") does not "bestow any rights on individuals except, perhaps, when an individual serves in an organized militia such as today's National Guard," the court said in summarizing the case. This is called the "collective-right" model, often cited by gun-control advocates, as opposed to the individual-right model, often cited by right-to-arms advocates.

Some collective-rights advocates go as far as arguing that the 2nd Amendment was written for the exclusive purpose of preserving state militias, and therefore individuals have no claim whatsoever on its protections. Some argue that there's no individual right because the "militia" of the late 1700s no longer exists; or that today's analogue, the National Guard, supplies its own weapons, or that today's weapons are different than flintlocks. To carry the logic of that last notion to its extreme, I supposed its proponents would argue that you can keep all the flintlocks you want at home.

The court swept away this logic with a close examination of the history, concluding: "The pre-existing right to keep and bear arms was premised on the commonplace assumption that individuals would use them for these private purposes [hunting, self-defense] in addition to whatever militia service they would be obligated to perform for the state." Self-defense, the court said, meant resistance to either private lawlessness or the "depredations" of a tyrannical government, foreign or domestic.

I'd add this to what the court said: Arguing that you have only a "collective" right to bear arms as part of a militia is as ludicrous as saying that the Bill of Rights protects your free speech rights only as a part of a larger group, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Self-defense is a self-evident human right. Thankfully, a court finally has reaffirmed that the Constitution and common sense are in alignment on your right to defend yourself, using reasonable force (i.e. a handgun, but not a bazooka) within your own home.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Moral musings instead of fiscal management

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

"What I'm proposing is big, and historic. It solves all the problems we've been talking about for 30 years."

--Gov. Rod Blagojevich, describing his budget

Nothing better reveals Blagojevich's delusions than that defense he made of his fantasy budget last week on WGN radio. Here we've been flailing away for 30 years trying to solve the state's health care, education, pension, deficit and other crushing problems. Until now. Fear not; here's Rod.

The sad part is that some people actually believe it. Perhaps even Blagojevich himself. Certainly, the education, health-care and labor union lobbies, among others, believe it, because they, like the governor, are committed to the idea that scattering lots of money their way will solve everything. Already, they're saying that people who love children must support the budget; implying, of course, that if you don't, you don't love children.

The proposals in Blagojevich's State of the State speech rest on his assertion that they are prescribed by "a moral imperative." Good versus bad. Virtue versus evil. I presume that those who indignantly tell me to stop imposing my morality on others now will turn their wrath on the governor.

Actually, the governor and I agree that the public policy is informed by morality. Most laws have some moral component, the most obvious being the one against homicide. But here's where the governor is wrong: Yes, we have a moral imperative to educate our children. But no, that doesn't mean that the means of getting there has equal moral certitude. My saying that Blagojevich's budget isn't the best way to do it doesn't make me evil. If it does, then I'll tell you what is immoral. It is wrong to:

- Promise things you know you can't deliver, as does Blagojevich; to make false promises to those who are desperate for help and to feed their cynicism when your promises are broken.

- Jeopardize the pensions of state employees with "the largest pension obligation bond in history" (this from House Speaker Michael Madigan), as it is stupid for you to pay off massive credit card debt by charging it to another card. Even if it's at a slightly lower rate, it still doesn't solve your problem, as Blagojevich would have us believe.

- Raise taxes so high and inequitably that it'll drive jobs from the state.

- Sustain ever-larger deficits, possibly leading the state into bankruptcy, while pretending that you're not.

- Propose all sorts of extravagant new programs without solving the problems at hand.

- Tell whoppers.

Take how he claims that he balanced the budget by eliminating the $5 billion deficit he inherited. Like statistics, budgets can be made to say anything. The truth is closer to Democratic State Comptroller Dan Hynes' figures, which show a fiscal year 2006 deficit of $2.3 billion.

Or take his claims about the "unfairness" of the state's income tax system. For all of Blagojevich's rhetoric, you might get the impression that individuals ("the people") are paying twice the rate of businesses. In fact, the state income tax rate for individuals is 3 percent of net income; for businesses, it is 4.8 percent.

Logic would dictate that if loopholes in the state tax code allow large businesses to "legally forgo paying billions in state income taxes," as Blagojevich claims, then you should fix the loopholes, not junk the entire system in favor of one that creates new problems.

Blagojevich, for example, insists that his proposal for taxing businesses transactions wouldn't drive away jobs. In other words, he says a new tax that supposedly will extract billions more dollars from businesses that aren't "paying their fair share" won't discourage businesses from staying in or moving to Illinois. Tell me, how does that work?

There's a reason why it's more reasonable to tax a corporation's net profits instead of its gross revenues from sales. A company pulling in a lot of sales revenues may actually be losing money on the bottom line. It's unfair to put an extra burden on firms that are breaking even or losing money, taxing them at the same rate as companies whose margins on sales are much bigger. It's the same reason that you're taxed on your income after deductions, instead of your actual wages.

Well, that's just a few of the many problems with this budget, problems that are causing members of Blagojevich's own party to balk. Even those who believe that government can solve "all the problems we've been talking about for 30 years" aren't biting.


Fix Bad Government with More Government?

By Dennis Byrne

The partisans who are scoring political points by gnashing their teeth over the outpatient failures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are missing the point: The government did it.

It is especially aggravating because many of these same partisans want to turn the nation's health care system over to...the government.

Or have they somehow missed the fact that the care of veterans is the responsibility of the government? Do they somehow believe that a single-payer health care system, or universal health care, or whatever else they want to call it will be immune to the kind of bureaucratic insensitivity, apathy and bungling that is integral to government?

Would the stampeding fault-finders please explain to the world how they would ensure that civilian outpatients, under a bureaucracy rivaling the military's, would not be ignored in the same manner that the military bureaucracy abandoned the wounded veterans in Building 18? With hundreds of millions of civilian patients, instead of thousands of wounded veterans, would someone give us a clue how the government would keep track of them all? With outpatient veterans getting lost under mountains of paperwork and red tape, how would government be more responsive to the needs of hundreds

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Is Obama Black Enough?

By Dennis Byrne
Human Events

For a while there it looked like he wasn’t, at least among African Americans who said that he didn’t share their heritage of American slavery, and therefore couldn’t understand The Experience.

Many of these same African-Americans, however, called a white man -- Bill Clinton -- the “first black President” because he understood The Experience, even though he didn’t actually live it. That sentiment apparently had rubbed off on Hilary Rodham Clinton who, by extension, presumably was the first black First Lady and looked like she would inherit the black vote in her presidential quest.

But wait. Polling last week is showing that Obama is cutting into her popularity among black voters. A Zogby poll last Wednesday showed that Obama actually leads Clinton among black Democratic voters, 44% to 30%, compared with a January poll having her ahead of Obama 60% to 20%. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last Tuesday picked up the same trend, showing Obama closing in on Clinton.

This, of course, confounds certain black elites (activists and commentators) who obliquely questioned Obama’s racial authenticity. They explained that blacks would stay with Clinton because here’s a white person (Clinton) who has a better understanding of The Experience than a black person (Obama) who hasn’t had The Experience. This may be a good thing, because it shows that the race of the person is not as important as how the person votes on race. At least that’s what passes for progress these days.

Not that any of this conforms to reality or the rules of logic.

Read more at Human Events

Monday, March 05, 2007

Transit `reform,' yet again

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Commuters will be happy to know why their CTA train and bus service stinks: It's the organization chart's fault.

And here you thought it was malfeasance, corruption or incompetence.

We have been told by legislators, consultants and assorted observers that the Toonerville Trolley, the Chicago Transit Authority's sorry excuse for "rapid" transit; crummy maintenance; decaying equipment; underserved neighborhoods and communities, and now, the tiresome warnings of fare increases and service reductions can be laid at the feet of how the Regional Transportation Authority is organized.

And therefore, for the third time in more than 30 years, we're about to have another political battle over a major restructuring of the region's mass transit system. And just like before, it eventually might not matter a fig because some politicians will see it as a way to grab extra power over the lode of jobs and contracts.

We're about to relive history, folks, and it ain't pretty.

Back in the early 1970s, when the remnants of a once glorious but bankrupt private transit operation serving the city and suburbs were wheezing their last breath, the government took over responsibility for funding and running it. Thus the RTA's creation.

Mayor Richard J. Daley first opposed its creation, not wanting to hand the suburbs (and Republicans) the slightest control over the CTA (even though it served about 30 suburbs). Eventually Daley saw that what the suburbs might do to him, he could do to them. So he supported its creation and engineered the installation of a public works commission to run it.

Thus began years of ineffectiveness, thanks to infighting over how to divvy up revenue and service between the city and suburbs and their political potentates.

The RTA, as created, was intended to exercise tight professional control over the operations and finances of the CTA and the suburban rail and bus operations. It didn't, and sure enough, a decade later, another financial crisis arrived. So did a major reorganization, which decentralized some of the RTA's powers, and pushed them down into the operating units: the CTA and the newly created Metra rail and Pace suburban bus operations.

Not unexpectedly, the wasteful duplication of service, contracting and administrative functions didn't end, but that wasn't the whole problem. Mass transit was underfunded, thanks in part to the reluctance to charge riders what they should be paying (more than what they are now), generous CTA labor contracts and high CTA absenteeism, among other systemic problems.

Those problems existed--and will continue to exist--because the political powers in this feudal system did not allow the RTA to impose a solution.

The promised benefits of consolidation, cooperation and coordination under the original RTA still echo in my ears from when I covered the agency's creation in the early 1970s. Riders were guaranteed some form of "universal fare card," which would permit easier transfer between bus and train systems, thus attracting more riders. And where does it stand?

Last year--32 years later--a consultant came up with some recommendations for finally getting it done. Last month, the RTA announced that a deal had been worked out--ta-dah--to install some CTA transit-card vending machines in two more downtown train stations, so Metra riders who ride the CTA in the second leg of their commutes don't have to go elsewhere to buy their CTA card.

Should have happened years ago. Pathetic.

This is more than a matter of rivalries between agencies. It is a reflection of the deeper political divisions that drive the agencies' actions and inactions. There is no one willing to crack down on the CTA--the main source of the RTA's problems--because no one dares take on the city's power, meaning Richard M. Daley's power.

And Daley can't reform, even if he wanted to, the CTA, as he claims to have done with the schools and the housing authority, without the legislature's help, meaning our money. But the state isn't in any better shape with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's extravagant and utopian promises for other pet projects. The pressure is on.

There'll be a lot of talk about giving the RTA a stronger hand, to improve coordination and so forth. But will it be all talk? More important, will a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature really be willing to step over the line and crack down on the CTA, especially in light of Daley's landslide re-election?

Or will the legislature again just reshuffle the organization chart to make it look like something has happened, while continuing business as usual?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hollywood in Fantasyland

By Dennis Byrne

Among the environmental slogans sprinting across the big screen during the Oscar's paean to Al Gore was this stumper: We can reduce human greenhouse gas emissions to "zero."

I might have read it wrong; it might have said that we can reduce increases in the emissions to zero, which still is utopian silliness at best, or, if it were remotely possible, a formula for global economic disaster.

In any case, it is true. We can eliminate all human global warming emissions--if all 6.7 billion of us on Earth were dead. That way, there'd be no one around exhaling huge quantities of carbon dioxide, reportedly the most ruinous of the greenhouse gases.

Read more at RealClearPolitics