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, January 28, 2008

McCain most capable of this batch of hopefuls

Politics is the art of the possible

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Nothing seems to anger die-hard Republicans more than Cafeteria Conservatives -- folks who pick and choose which right-wing diktat they will believe or reject.

Chief among the die-hards is Rush Limbaugh, the conservative equivalent of the Roman Catholic Church's Curia, who deigns to define what constitutes conservative purity. No one better in the church wields the nihil obstat (nothing hinders) stamp better than his lugness. Not even medieval church censors were better at defining what is free or not free of doctrinal error.

The case in point is presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). For Limbaugh, McCain's apostasies on global warming, campaign-finance reform and who knows what else (listening to Limbaugh for more than five minute is a danger to one's mental health, so I don't) draw almost as much passionate wrath as do his twangings on Hillary Clinton.

I disagree somewhat with McCain on such topics, but he doesn't deserve such hostility. Neither do other Republican candidates for their sundry and alleged conservative shortcomings. Limbaugh-minded commentators would explain that so many Republicans are wandering about undecided with eyes vacant because none of the candidates is without doctrinal sin.

Myself being something of a conservative (usually pronounced through pursed lips as if the speaker has tasted something vile), I wish they'd all stop "waiting for Reagan," as William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, put it. Republicans have canonized President Ronald Reagan -- they shouldn't -- and anyone who doesn't fit his mold is labeled a "defective product." This nonsense is guaranteed to increase the number and severity of party inquisitions. And it threatens to hand the White House to the Democrats.

For all of McCain's alleged faults, he holds an American Conservative Union lifetime rating of 82.3. True, that's the lowest among the leading GOP candidates. But,'s consolidated polls of various head-to-head races show that McCain is the only Republican candidate who is, at this moment, ahead of the Democratic front-runners, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. Are die-hard conservatives so dead set against a slightly less than pure conservative president that they would prefer either Clinton or Obama (with American Conservative Union ratings of 9 and 8, respectively) in the White House?

McCain's conservative credentials can be verified by a close examination of Project Vote Smart's Web site (, where the voting records, issue positions and interest group ratings of the candidates are detailed. Spend time there, and you'll find that McCain isn't the ogre that custodians of the conservative flame would have us believe.

For me, the two most important issues in the election are national security (i.e. the war on terror, the war in Iraq and the nuclear threat posed by lunatic tyrants) and the quality and philosophical grounding of the new president's appointments to the Supreme Court and other federal courts. (The latter should be most critical to pro-lifers. Whether the high court will return the question of abortion to voters depends on the quality of those appointments.) McCain is on the right side of both issues, and that's what counts for me. Everything else -- the economy, free trade, balanced budget and so forth -- comes in second. McCain's remarkable comeback in the polls means something. Perhaps its significance coincides with the success of the Iraq "surge" -- something he courageously had urged for years while former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was still carrying out his lame war strategy.

Or perhaps voters are getting tired of the mind-clanging, headache-inducing demands for "outsiders" who are the "agents of change." Right. Tossing a puppy into a ring of snarling pit bulls also will bring about change. Reformers often fail because they don't know the territory. For all the glory heaped on Obama, I'd put my money on the less illustrious and consummate insider Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to be an effective agent of change. Not that he is, or that his change is the kind I'd like.

This election, any election, comes down to a single question: Who can govern the best? Not who can orate the best. Or which candidate is the correct race or color. Who can govern the best ... it's not a conversation you often, if ever, hear in the endless jabber about the presidential elections. I suspect voters are getting tired of all the strategizing by creepy political advisers and just want someone to govern, someone who, as one shoe commercial says, can "just do it." If so, that's why McCain will get the Republican nomination.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kerry Goes Down with His Swift Boat, Again

By Dennis Byrne

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) now has accused Hillary Clinton's campaign of the worst possible--in his mind--evil: "Swiftboating" his choice for president, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).

Kerry, demonstrating a child-like inability to let go, on Tuesday dragged out the swiftboating analogy in an e-mail responding to what he called "disgusting lies" that "they" are floating that Obama is a secret Muslim and refuses to observe the Pledge of Alliance.

Kerry doesn't say who "they" are, but it's clear, considering the deteriorating civility of the two campaigns that he was referring to the Clinton camp. Kerry equates the "disgusting lies" told about Obama with what happened to him when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth challenged Kerry's claims, made during his presidential campaign, of bravery and heroism in the Vietnam War.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Chances for old-time convention look good

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Wanna have some fun? Let's speculate that none of the presidential candidates in either party wins enough primaries to wrap up the nomination before the conventions in August and September.

Those too young to remember the last time the conventions were wide open would be entertained, enlightened and appalled at the sight of party leaders and state delegations horse-trading behind closed doors to select their candidates. As scandalous as this might be for some, I don't think it's necessarily cataclysmic because the smoke-filled rooms have produced some good candidates and presidents.

So how likely is a wide-open convention? Far from a certainty, but it's possible, which in itself is startling.

This isn't well understood because the media focus on the primaries has been entirely misdirected. Like the presidential election, it's not the popular vote that counts. All that counts is the number of delegates each candidate corrals. Too many stories simply ignore the delegate count.

To illustrate: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in New Hampshire. But it appears Barack Obama walks away with more delegates. That's because you need to include the preferences of superdelegates -- party bigwigs who vote at the convention for the candidates of their choice. More of those delegates are committed to Obama than Clinton, so the delegate totals from New Hampshire show Obama with 12, Clinton 11 and John Edwards 4, according to It gets even more confusing because every party in every state has its own way of naming delegates, some so arcane it's hard to capture the big picture. Some states give all their delegates to the winning candidate, others portion out delegates among the candidates to reflect the vote. Some states caucus, some name superdelegates and some states send some uncommitted delegates. Winning the Democratic nomination requires 50 percent, or 2,025, of the convention's 4,049 delegates. Looking at the delegate tally as of this writing (after the Nevada caucus and before the South Carolina primary), Clinton has captured 210 delegates, or 54 percent of 386 delegates selected, according to CNN. If she continues to gather delegates at the same ratio, she will be the party's nominee, but not by much. Obviously, there's no way to predict if she can maintain that pace.

On the GOP side, Mitt Romney is leading with 72 delegates, or 46 percent of the 156 delegates selected, according to In other words, none of the Republicans, including Romney, is gathering delegates at the ratio necessary to win the nomination before the convention.

Still, you ask, couldn't it be over after Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when more than 20 states, including Illinois, pick their delegates? Maybe not. If, say, Clinton held at 54 percent after Super Tuesday, she still would be more than 900 delegates short of winning the nomination, according to my estimates. The same holds true on the Republican side. Which means that the selection of the candidates could fall to the later primary states. How refreshing. That's far from the usual practice and not how all those states that moved their primaries up to ridiculously early dates planned it. So, sorry, Illinois and the rest of y'all; you were much too clever for your own good.

One other thing to keep in mind: With the field so wide open, Super Tuesday voters will have to make up their own minds, without worrying about "throwing away their votes" on an obvious "loser." Here's a juicy scenario. Imagine the nomination coming down to the last of the primaries, in June, in states like Montana, New Mexico or South Dakota. The sight of candidates furiously scraping for those few delegates would make Iowa and New Hampshire look like muted afterthoughts. So, we could end up with one or two "wide-open" conventions. If you think the primaries have been divisive so far, wait until you see how Clinton, Obama and the others go after each other if it all comes down to August. Welcome to the politics of mutually assured destruction.

Look on the bright side. Both parties could end up with their strongest candidates, or perhaps a surprise, compromise candidate who isn't even in the race now. Someone who didn't collect all that special-interest money. Someone like Harry Truman, a great president, who no one thought would ever occupy the White House. Or Dwight Eisenhower, who was selected by the GOP convention. Or Abraham Lincoln, who won the nomination in the old "Wigwam" on the banks of the Chicago River. We can only hope.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Saying "No" to Abortion

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

There's good news to celebrate on the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton U.S. Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortions for any reason: The U.S. abortion rate has dropped to its lowest level since 1974, the year after abortion's legalization.

But judging from the news accounts, you might get the idea that this is bad not good news. We're told about the difficulty that abortion clinics have in staying open, "restrictive" abortion laws being passed in many states (such as, oh dear, stopping a child's friend from taking her across state lines for a secret abortions without the knowledge of their parents), intimidation by "anti-choice zealots" and so forth. In other words, reason for the decline is that women are being denied their "reproductive rights."

No mention was made of another, perhaps more obvious contributing factor. Maybe increasing numbers of women are deciding that having an abortion is not a good idea.

This, after all, is the most effective way of reducing abortions, better than all the laws that might be passed. And it is an effect rejoinder to an appalling statement made by "anti-lifer," Beth Jordan, of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Delighted about the increasing use of the abortion pill, RU-486, she said, "It's going a long way toward normalizing abortion."

Thanks for the honesty, Ms. Jordan. The real goal is to "normalize" the termination of human life.

Leave Iraq? We already are

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

While a number of presidential candidate continue to blather about "getting out of Iraq," the truth is that the United States already has begun the process.

In his recent visit to the Middle East, President George W. Bush announced that an Army brigade and a Marine Expeditionary Unit have already returned home, not to be replaced. "In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit," he said.

In another little noticed development, Bush said that Iraqi forces have "conducted a surge of their own, generating well over 100,000 more Iraqi police and soldiers to sustain the security gains. Tens of thousands of concerned local citizens are protecting their communities, and working with coalition and Iraqi forces to ensure al Qaeda cannot return."

While the president's critics grudgingly acknowledge that although the surge has dampened violence, it hasn't worked because it hasn't brought forth some undefined kind of parliamentary flowering. Yet, one underlying divisive issue--the distribution of oil revenues--has generated enough agreement among the contending Sunni, Shia and Kurd factions--the money now is being parceled out throughout the country. That, in turn, allows Iraqis to address one of the remaining major hurdles: reconstruction. Perhaps most important, the three factions increasingly are working together at the local level.

Contrary to his critics, Bush hasn't buried his head in the sand. Items that he listed on the Iraqis' to-do list were the continued improvement of conditions from "bottom up," passage of a revised de-Baathification law and a national budget, continued growth of Iraqi security forces and their efforts to take the fight to al Qaeda and other extremist groups, the defeat of criminals that are victimizing neighborhoods, the further reduction of the flow of terrorists through Syria and blocking Iran's support of terrorists.

That's quite a load, but it at least is more detailed than the vague demands to "get the troops out of Iraq."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Keeping the Lights on at The Bright One

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Someone has to save the Sun-Times.

Someone who cares about Chicago and journalism and integrity. Not like the recent set of incompetents and crooks that have sent the newspaper into what increasingly looks like a death spiral.

Chicago must not only keep two newspapers, but two good newspapers. Chicago cannot pretend to be a world-class city without two—no more than it can expect to capture the Olympics with a creaking, busted CTA.

The Sun-Times and its sister newspapers are cutting $50 million, about 11 percent of its expenses, in the coming half year. The Sun-Times itself last week started to ax about 20 percent of its newsroom staff. Business editor Dan Miller, seeing the darkness approaching, resigned—an ominous portent for sure. Having worked with Miller at the old Chicago Daily News, I know that he should be running the entire paper, not leaving it. With all this, putting out a quality newspaper will be impossible; surviving difficult.

Continue reading in the Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gangbangers as Terrorists

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

The shooting of a 41-year-old Chicago mother on the South Side evoked a creative idea: Treat gang members as domestic terrorists.

Said Chicago Tribune reader “Welcome to Chicago”:

Laws should be adjusted to limit the rights of gang members. Gang members are domestic terrorists and should be handled using a higher level of force as well as vigilant strategic planning….Of course we care about everyone’s civil rights and rights as a citizen in this country. [But] as soon as an individual or group has proved that after several documentations by police that he is a gang member, then his or her rights should be similar to a terrorist.

Interesting. If we treated gang members as terrorists, perhaps we should send them, without trial, to detention (preferably on a boiling hot Caribbean island) as “enemy combatants.”

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Let the Red States Drown

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

The “silver lining” of global warming is that it will destroy the “red states,” the bastions of rightwing “troglodytes.”

No kidding. Left-winger Dave Lindorff is gleeful that millions of Americans will be driven from their land or worse by the “deluge” caused global warming. He says this in something called the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel:

Say what you will about the looming catastrophe facing the world as the pace of global heating and polar melting accelerates. There is a silver lining.

Look at a map of the US.

The area that will by [sic] completely inundated by the rising ocean—and not in a century but in the lifetime of my two cats—are the American southeast, including the most populated area of Texas, almost all of Florida, most of Louisiana, and half of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as goodly portions of eastern Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

The Midwest, he says, faces a “permanent condition of unprecedented drought, making the place largely unlivable, and certainly unfarmable….[W]e will see the decline and depopulation of the nation’s vast midsection—noted for its consistent conservatism. Only in the northernmost area, around the Great Lakes (which will be not so great anymore), and along the Canadian border, will there still be enough rain for farming and continued large population concentrations, but those regions, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, are also more liberal in their politics.”

Finally, in the Southwest, already parched and stiflingly hot, the rise in energy costs and the soaring temperatures will put an end to right-wing retirement communities like Phoenix, Tucson and Palm Springs. Already the Salton Sea is fading away and putting Palm Springs on notice that the good times are coming to an end. Another right-wing haven soon to be gone.

Most of the blue states—the Northeast and West coasts, specifically—are high enough to escape dire consequences of global warming, he says happily.

So the future political map of America is likely to look as different as the much shrunken geographical map, with much of the so-called “red” state region either gone or depopulated.

And when all these conservatives, running from the flood, seek to find a new life in the blue states, Lindorff would yank away the welcome mat.

The important thing is that we, on the higher ground both actually and figurative, need to remember that, when they begin their historic migration from their doomed regions, we not give them the keys to the city. They certainly should be offered assistance in their time of need, but we need to keep a firm grip on our political systems, making sure these guilty throngs who allowed the world to go to hell are gerrymandered into political impotence in their new homes.

By this, I gather that Lindorff means to chuck the “guilty throngs” into reservations or concentration camps, and repeal the constitutional concept of “one-man, one-vote.”

At first I thought this might be parody, written by some conservative trying to make the left look as ridiculous as possible. But apparently, this weird, paranoid publication is legit, at least in the minds of its editors. They needed no help to look like fools.

There’s not much point trying to explain to this crowd what’s wrong about finding joy (or even “poetic justice”) in the destruction of a large hunk of America and the dislocation or destruction of the homes, businesses and lives of a huge number of its citizens. Lindorff might get this point if he thought about the fact that the victims of Hurricane Katrina would be doubly ruined.

Oh, wait a minute, I get it; it’s only people whose political views are different than Lindorff’s who don’t deserve his compassion. He’d allow residents of New Orleans Ninth Ward into his Blue Heaven, because, well, they’re not from the Right Wing.

How very fascist.

This also is posted on Political Mavens

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bipartisan Forces Gather in Court Against Blagojevich

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

For those who already are convinced that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is nuts, here's something to add to the growing pile of evidence: He's now insisting that legislation he once signed into law is unconstitutional. You can reasonably ask why he enacted the law in the first place, and the obvious answer is that the law no longer serves his cynical political purposes, so he pretends that the law, and the Illinois Constitution, doesn't apply to him.

Blagojevich figures that voters are too stupid or uninterested to appreciate what he's up to. But check it out; you might be amazed as I am at his audacity. You'll recall that the governor had proposed a huge increase in the state health-care program, substantially increasing the number of beneficiaries and proposing a gigantic tax increase to cover the costs. You'll also recall that his idea died when he failed to get even a single legislator to vote for it. No matter; he started the program on his own, without legislative approval. When a legislative committee -- the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules -- that oversees administrative actions then blocked his move, he said, in effect, kiss my burro, and went ahead with the program anyway. You don't need a lawyer to understand that his defiance of the legislature was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of legislative and executive powers.

The state, the constitution says, can spend money only from "public funds" authorized by law, and that only the legislature can authorize the expenditure of public funds. Even a moron should understand the constitution's clarity.

But Blagojevich pushed ahead anyway, saying, "Because we didn't get some legislators to support this, I'm acting unilaterally to expand health care." Under the law, the joint committee on rules has the authority to review directives, such as the one establishing the health-care expansion, for conformance with laws passed by the legislature. Since there is no law that authorizes the program, the committee's decision to block it seems fairly hands-down.

But always there's a loophole, and Blagojevich is trying to drive a truck through it.

The law allows the governor to create some programs on an "emergency" basis. So, the governor declared an emergency, even though no one in the administration adequately explained to the joint committee what the emergency was.

Now comes the twist.

The law that Blagojevich himself signed earlier (the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act), gives the joint committee on rules the authority to suspend the governor's "emergency" action, and after due consideration, it did. Blagojevich's office now argues that the joint committee's action is unconstitutional.

The guy thinks he's Napoleon. All that's left is for him to declare himself emperor, suspend the constitution and crown his wife empress.

The first to file suit against this coup d'etat wasn't an affronted legislator, but a civic-minded individual, Riverside attorney Richard Caro. It's the second go-around for Caro, who last year unsuccessfully sued to stop Blagojevich's unilateral and witless decision to cast $10 million into stem-cell research. Caro's suit has been consolidated with another one filed by Republican Ron Gidwitz, a former Illinois gubernatorial candidate, and Gregory Baise, president of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

Blagojevich retaliated by calling the legal challenge "Scrooge-like," suggesting it was a product of Republican malevolence toward the poor.

Now, however, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, has intervened to defend the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules' powers, while the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has asked to intervene on Blagojevich's side. Cook County Judge James Epstein will hear the case.

This is shaping up to be a first-class constitutional crisis, the kind that the courts are reluctant to enter. Bringing it on apparently doesn't bother Blagojevich, whose Napoleon complex is far advanced. If he loses this fight, he can always whine about how those meanies are endangering people's health care.

Politically, he wins either way. Does it matter that the governor is trashing the constitution? Most people probably consider the fight to be a boring "process" issue, too arcane to bother with. But the answer does matter, to the people who sign up for his plan, only to have it yanked away from them because of its obvious illegality.

In this, Blagojevich doesn't really care about the people he claims to be championing. But there's a bigger issue: To ask if this really matters is to ask if the rule of law and democracy matter.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Enough already with the political change

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

The results of the Iowa caucuses, we’re told, prove that Americans are demanding change.

But if you ask me, we’ve got enough change. Every drawer in my house is brimming with loose change. I’ve got cans loaded with change. Nickels, dimes quarters and pennies; they’re clogging up the works and weighing us down.

Read more at Political Mavens

Speak for yourself, Ellen

Following today’s “disappointing” job numbers, in which the economy increased the number of new jobs it has created for, gee, I don’t know, 48 straight months, Ellen Zentner, United States macroeconomist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York, said this:

“The economy tanked in December.”

The verb tank is defined as “failed completely.”

I expect to see Ellen soon selling apples on the street, along with everyone else who has failed completely.

This post also appeared on Political Mavens.

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