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, May 28, 2007

When is opinion actually grounds for a hate crime?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Decades ago, north suburban Skokie, a predominantly Jewish community that included a significant number of Holocaust survivors, banned a hateful bunch of neo-Nazi morons who wanted to march in the village.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the village, and U.S. District Judge Bernard M. Decker, in a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, struck down the ban. "It is better," Decker said, "to allow those who preach racial hatred to expend their venom in rhetoric rather than to be panicked into embarking on the dangerous course of permitting the government to decide what its citizens may say and hear. ... The ability of American society to tolerate the advocacy of even hateful doctrines ... is perhaps the best protection we have against the establishment of any Nazi-type regime in this country."

Apparently, the constabulary in northwest suburban Crystal Lake disagrees, seeing fit to arrest two high school girls for handing out allegedly anti-homosexual literature at their school. We have to say "allegedly" because the specifics of the girls' pamphlets have not been disclosed because they are "evidence," the police said. We are to believe that two girls are such a big threat to the commonweal that they should be arrested on -- get this -- felony hate-crime charges.

As a sideshow to this circus, one of the girls has been locked up until trial because the judge decided the girl's supposed unhealthy home environment and lengthy juvenile record did not allow home detention. Thus, for exercising her right of political speech, she has ended up in the slammer.

Even the most blindly ardent advocate of hate-crime statutes should be able to understand the problem here. The underlying charge against the girls is disorderly conduct; the two girls may or may not have violated that law. But the seriousness of the charge has been jacked up beyond reason to a felony because of a viewpoint that they expressed.

They did not physically endanger or attack anyone, if the news accounts are accurate. They did not incite a riot; they did not cry "fire" in a crowded theater. They expressed an opinion. We are constantly advised by devotees of ever tougher and more expansive hate-crime legislation that it poses no danger to free speech or expression. Such arguments are revealed by the Crystal Lake case to be a load of malarkey. But if you express a concern about the 1st Amendment impacts of hate-crime legislation, you become a prime target for an unconscionable political attack.

For example, Michael C. Dorf, writing in FindLaw.com, just knows that President Bush is anything but pure of heart in opposing a new attempt to expand federal hate-crime legislation. "The true grounds," he said, "for the president's threatened veto appear to be simpler and more odious [than legitimately arguable reasons]: The Bush administration aims to curry favor with voters who oppose any legal recognition for same-sex relationships, even protection against private violence." We all should be blessed with such an ability to peer into people's hearts.

The problems with federal hate-crime laws are many, including using interstate commerce clauses or the 13th Amendment to justify them. Not the least of the problems is how to decide who qualifies for hate-crime protection, without becoming arbitrary. Congress defines a hate crime as one "in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation of any person."

What qualifies these categories of people, we're told, for hate-crime protection is the history of persecution they've suffered. The rest of us don't qualify if hate motivates a crime against us, because we (presumably) are not a part of any group that has been historically persecuted.

How do you know which groups have been persecuted enough to qualify for protections against hate crimes? Why are protections provided for sexual identities, but not for the homeless? How about protections against crimes of hatred based on economic class?

The response is that the protected categories are selected to deliver a message that helps to protect everyone else in a traditionally despised group.

But that response is insufficient: If a crime motivated by hate is bad for one person, under the equal protection of the law concept found in the Constitution, it is bad for everyone. If we're going to have hate-crime laws, they should protect everyone. Not just the groups that cynical politicians want to cultivate for votes.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Chicago Secretly Plans to Sell Assets to Fund 2016 Summer Olympics

By Dennis Byrne
Budget and Tax News

Months after Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley began promising taxpayers they would not foot the bill for the 2016 Olympics, the city secretly drafted a plan to sell public assets to help fund the Games and pledged to cover $500 million in any losses.

City officials revealed the plans and pledge in March, after a visit from Olympics officials. On April 14, the U.S. Olympic Committee selected Chicago, over two-time host city Los Angeles, to represent the U.S. in the bid for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. The final choice of host city will be made by the International Olympic Committee in October 2009.

Covering the losses and selling public air rights over near-downtown property were ideas developed behind the scenes in response to the United States Olympic Committee, which has demanded financial assurances that Chicago can pay for the multibillion-dollar event and any cost overruns if the city wins the bid to host the Games.

“We definitely want the government to have skin in this game,” said a committee spokesman, referring to financial backup from a city legendary for cost overruns on big projects, such as the ongoing expansion of O’Hare International Airport and the glitzy lakefront Millennium Park, which opened four years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget in 2004.

Read more at Budget and Tax News

Monday, May 21, 2007

Saying 'no' in U.S. has political price

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now that we've plunged into a candidate's premartial sexual activity with his wife as a legitimate presidential campaign issue, is there anything left that doesn't require disclosure?

How many times does the candidate and his spouse or "partner" do "it"? Mike Wallace (him again) has brought us to this idiotic state by casually asking Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney whether he and his wife, Ann, engaged in premarital sex. Romney, presented with this question on CBS' "60 Minutes," may have been the first person in the world to provide this bit of information to 14 million people. His answer was no.

Romney was asked this caught-ya-with-your pants-down question because he is a Mormon, a religion that has strictures against sex out of wedlock. As PublicEye, CBS News' watchdog, put it, Romney's answer goes to how serious a Mormon he really is and Mormonism "is an issue for many voters."

Oh, you mean as in: Lots of people have an "issue" with Mormonism because it -- as do many religions, millions of Americans and social commentators -- opposes pre- and extramarital sex.

This is a fight that a conservative candidate can't win. If he says he had premarital sex, he'll be nailed as a hypocrite because he has violated the precepts of his church. (If that reasoning is valid, then only atheists need run for president.) If he says he didn't have premarital sex, he's a hopeless, ancient moralist and, by extension, someone who would impose his religious views on the nation. (His denial also would unleash a pack of reporters trying to prove he did have premarital sex.)

In today's climate, it took guts for Romney to (admit to) (confess to) (make a clean breast of) being chaste. Like in a boys high school locker room, virginity is not a virtue to be disclosed. In fact, the words virginity and virtue are barely mentioned in the same sentence anymore.

As if to prove that virginity and abstinence are on the run, the new Democrat-controlled Congress is expected to kill a $50 million abstinence education program designed to delay sexual initiation, hopefully until marriage.

The programs include instruction on human anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases, building self-esteem and other techniques that will help combat the powerful peer pressure and cultural messages that encourage early sexual activity. This Title V abstinence program shouldn't be confused with "abstinence-plus" programs, whose basic message is, "Yes, well, abstinence is a fine idea in theory, but if you can't control yourself -- and you won't be able to -- here is how to sexually gratify yourself."

You can be sure that under the Democrats, such how-to programs will continue to be funded, but not the abstinence-only programs. Republicans, when they controlled Congress, at least let the two types of programs exist side-by-side. Democrats apparently can't tolerate kids being told both sides.

Rep. John Dingell, Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees Title V funding, said it should be eliminated because it is a "colossal failure." He pointed to a recent congressional study that said so.

But it's not necessarily so. Ten scientific studies, according to the Heritage Foundation, have shown that "real abstinence programs can be highly effective in reducing early sexual activity." You can find studies that support both sides of the issue; but that doesn't mean Dingell should get away with pretending that all the science is on his side.

No, the problem isn't that the abstinence programs have been a colossal failure. If they have managed to hold back even a small part of the tide of the sexualization of children, they would be a colossal success. The colossal failure has come on the part of a culture that has no problem with the sexualization of children, by, for example, flooding entertainment media with messages that not just endorse sexuality but deride abstinence.

No government program by itself can hold back the tide; the reduction in single motherhood, increases in sexually transmitted disease and all the other disastrous effects of today's sexually obsessed society can only be stemmed by a change in culture. It takes, as it were, a village.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Papers were victim, not his lordship

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now, if that don't beat all -- Conrad Black's attorney playing the class-warfare gambit in the former newspaper baron's criminal trial.

The irony is: Who in the world, besides Queen Elizabeth II, lives and breathes class consciousness more than Lord Black of CrossHarbour? Here's someone who so coveted the privileges and recognitions attached to the upper classes and royalty that he renounced his Canadian citizenship in exchange for a lifelong peerage in the British House of Lords. But now that Black finds himself on trial in a backwater known as Chicago for allegedly illegally snatching some $80 million from the shareholders of his media empire, his lawyer, Edward Genson, suddenly wants everyone to believe that his lordship is just one of the boys. When the jurors were about to hear Black's estimate of his elevated self-worth -- in his own words -- Genson futilely protested:

"This ... appeals to class prejudice and I move for a mistrial." This is rich.

In question were Black's written thoughts to other executives about those pesky shareholders who dared question his proprietorship of their money. Their "agitations," as Black called them, should not "force us into a hair shirt." Everyone knew about our taste for the high life, Black wrote (much more elegantly than I have written here), and we need not "revolutionize" our style with a "Damascene conversion to vows of poverty."

A Chicago jury might convict him of being a popinjay, but here jurors -- commoners and vulgar class they might be -- are practiced enough to know that their duty is to weigh the case on its legal merits.

But we can ask if what he did, as described by the evidence and witnesses, was right. Let me explain. When I labored for the liege lord several years ago at the Chicago Sun-Times, Black's leadership talked reverentially about "proprietorship." I gathered it was a British notion, unfamiliar to us colonists, involving the exercise of certain responsibilities that come with ownership. For example, a proprietor is obliged not to turn the institution over to the serfs, err, employees. Turned loose, they, of course, would destroy the institution. Proprietorship requires that workers be underpaid and overworked. For the good of the institution.

For Black, the requirements of proprietorship apparently included selling off parts of the institution's assets -- a collection of smaller newspapers -- and pocketing the money himself. He built the institution with his own hands and he, by God, was not going to allow others, or the institution itself, to benefit from his perspiration. How did he do this? The buyers of the newspaper coughed up millions of dollars, in addition to the purchase price, to pay Black and his minions to stay away. For the millions of dollars, he signed "non-compete" agreements, promising not to return and set up competing newspapers. Never mind that some of the buyers didn't ask for such a guarantee. Black justifies these non-compete agreements with the premise that he was such a splendid newspaper proprietor, the buyers were scared out of their wits to engage in a head-to-head battle with him. This is a thought that some of us who labored for him find to be incredible. But then, we only saw what he was doing to the institution from the inside, and what do we know?

Black would have us believe that his prosecution is an example of how the "corporate governance" fad has run amok. In truth, he has touched on larger issues at the heart of the corporate governance debate:

On one hand is the view that the marketplace, if left alone, would correct the inefficiencies, mistakes or unethical acts committed by whoever is running a company, because a more competent or honest entrepreneur would gobble up the company to reap its unrealized potential. But, according to this view, the market has been stymied by excessive regulation, allowing executives -- freed from marketplace restrictions -- to get away with their excesses.

The other view is there's not enough government regulation.

Then there's the Black model: What works best is a proprietor who grabs as much as he can, and nuts to everyone else. For all his clever moves, the companies under his proprietorship -- as well as their shareholders, employees, suppliers and ultimately their customers -- are not the better for it. This is something that only a person totally consumed by class consciousness would fail to see.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Oath upheld, but at what cost?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Whatever your politics or your views on the Iraq war, the admission by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee he knew that America was duped into a war, but remained silent because he was sworn to secrecy, was a stunner.

"At the time of this debate," he recently said on the Senate floor, "I was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I would read the headlines in the paper in the morning and watch the television newscasts and shake my head. ...

"The information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it. ... So in my frustration, I sat on the floor of the Senate and listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq thinking the American people are being misled, they are not being told the truth."

As many in his home state know, the idea that Durbin could keep his mouth shut about anything is a stunner in itself. He has been known to shoot it off frequently and disastrously. Witness the time he made the inflammatory and false comparison of the U.S. military's treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the millions murdered by the Nazis, Soviet Gulags and Cambodia's Pol Pot.

So, what are we to think now? That Durbin willingly let thousands of Americans and uncounted thousands of Iraqis die when he knew the truth? Is he bringing it up now because he is seeking absolution? Was it just bravado, a childlike "I know what you don't know" moment? Was it a slip of the tongue; did he misspeak? Was it just a routine attempt to again make Bush administration officials look like liars, but he failed to think through the implications and consequences of what he was saying? Did it even occur to him that he was implicating every member of the Intelligence Committee for hiding the truth from the public?

Was Durbin's statement a fabrication? The assumption seems to be that this is a story that concerns only the right wing, because Durbin's statement received prominent play from the conservative Washington Times -- described (by liberals) as an "ultraconservative" publication -- from where it was picked up by conservative bloggers. Durbin's office played on a nasty right-winger theme; the first words of its written response were: "Right-wing publications of dubious integrity -- conservative blogs such as Power Line and the ultraconservative Washington Times ... " In other words, who is saying it is more important than what is being said.

Maybe Durbin's office should have looked harder because some liberal bloggers are even more upset with the idea that Durbin let President Bush get away with what they believe is an unconscionable lie. Was Durbin a part of the cabal? Do he and Vice President Dick Cheney have a secret handshake? They both have the same first names, have you noticed?

Actually, Durbin has stumbled onto a serious and difficult question: What was more important, his oath of silence or stopping a nation from going to a wrong, possibly, immoral war?

The question cannot be easily brushed aside. It is the kind of ethical question that comes up more frequently than we'd like, in both the public and private sectors. Durbin has inadvertently illustrated that such important questions are not always as black and white as antagonists would like to have them. We're all guilty of it, but few of us get to be guilty on such a monumental scale.

What if Durbin had stood up in 2003, before the war, and said: "As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I have access to secret intelligence reports. What you are being told by Bush, the British and most Western intelligence agencies are lies. If you don't believe me, here are the documents. Yes, they're classified, but in a democracy, truth is more important than is whatever justifies keeping these documents secret."

An illegal act? Probably yes. A patriotic act? You might say. Yes, Durbin voiced his concern about the quality of intelligence and going to war, before the war started, as his office reminds us. Yes, he voted against going to war. But could he have changed the course of history? I don't know what Durbin should have done. An oath isn't to be taken lightly; President Bill Clinton found that out when he was impeached, accused of lying under oath. But if the Bush administration's lies were as apparent and real as Durbin now says they were, and so much death and suffering were the knowable outcome of the bad intelligence, doing nothing is not something I'd want on my conscience.