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 26, 2008

Wanted: Fiscally responsible politicians

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) suggests that a massive, costly, long-awaited and controversial statewide public-works program won't be considered by the legislature until after the fall elections.

The idea that politicians can't settle difficult issues before an election has become so widely accepted that it hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. That's the way it is, we're told. But is that the way it should be?

Think about what this practice says: Elected officials are too frightened of voters to do the right thing. They hope that putting a couple of years between what they do and the next election will help voters forget. Beyond what should be an embarrassing display of cowardice, it also reveals a low regard for public opinion and a lack of faith in the democratic process.

What Illinois legislators are putting off is a huge—maybe $35 billion huge—proposal to fix the state's decaying highways, mass transit and other public assets. Hardly anyone argues whether the fix is needed—witness the pathetic CTA—but no one can seem to agree on how to pay for it. Some suggest the state should sell or rent out some assets, such as the state lottery, but no one wants to say that taxes should be raised.

What voters lose is the opportunity to rapidly respond to the politicians' decisions. Voters have to wait two to four years for their chance to punish or reward. If anything, it should be just the opposite. Actions involving revenues, expenses and the budget should only be allowed, say, three months prior to the next general election. If politicians don't pass a balanced budget by those elections, government should shut down and not reopen until the newly elected politicians enter office and pass a balanced budget.

Draconian and pie in the sky? Yes. But how bad is that compared with Illinois' current state of collapse? As it now stands, lawmakers are stumbling around trying to pass an annual budget by the end of this week. Unfortunately, their failure to do so won't bring on a government shutdown; the only consequence is that a budget passed after month's end would require a supermajority, giving Republicans a stronger voice in the process.

One might think that's a good thing, to rein in the Democrats' propensity for big-money programs. But it's not necessarily so; Republicans have displayed fiscal irresponsibility by proposing an Illinois gas-tax holiday, which could put a $200 million hole in the budget, according to some estimates. A gas-tax holiday is a giveaway, pure and simple, one that doesn't do anything to solve the problem of high fuel costs.

But since Illinois Republicans no longer know what they stand for, I'm not surprised that they're acting more like Democrats than Democrats.

If Republicans wanted to be Republicans, they should take the advice of Citizens Against Government Waste and the Illinois Policy Institute. They note that the problem with the state budget and its ballooning deficits isn't the lack of revenues, as so many assume. In fact, revenues are the highest ever, but expenditures are growing faster. In their "2008 Illinois Piglet Book," the organizations identified $686 million in waste. Here's some of what lawmakers believe we can't do without: pheasant and fur-bearing animal conservation; a culinary arts center; petroleum marketing; displaced homemakers counseling and training; salmon stamp design; Chinese erhu music; Polish folk dance; polar bear photo essays; grants, contracts and administrative expenses associated with the development of the Illinois grape and wine industry.

Yes, I'm cherry-picking the obvious, but you also can question the big items. There is the $12 billion and ever-increasing money going for education, even though, as the "Piglet" points out, student performance remains flat.

"Piglet" is fat with such examples, and you don't have to hunt hard to find your own. Despite the billions spent by the state to protect children, the Tribune last week described the horrendous case of the severely disabled Jaylen Brown, 13, who died of abuse so horrible that it's hard to imagine. Jaylen was in the care of a mother and two state-provided nurses, all charged with felony neglect.

Is it fair to suggest that one botched case demonstrates a systemic breakdown? Probably not. But you sure can add Jaylen to the list of people who weren't served by the state's bloated budget.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dan Seals' campaign ploy offering cheap gas snarls traffic

Up in the North Shore's 10th congressional district, Democrat candidate Dan Seals was surprised that his offer of $1.89-a-gallon gas tied up traffic in Lincolnshire for a mile and a half. Only about 50 motorists got to the pump, and the rest sat fruitlessly in line, idling away gasoline and polluting the air. Not exactly the "greenest" political stunt, but it sure shows voters what kind of mind they'd be dealing with if he replaced incumbent Republican Mark Kirk.

Oh, yes, while his campaign workers were handing out bumper stickers to waiting motorists, Seals told a reporter, "We're not asking people to vote for me." A good reason not to.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Newsweek as a mouthpiece for Obama

Even for the usually biased Newsweek, its May 19 cover story ("Sit Back, Relax, Get Reday to Rumble") was an extraordinary paean to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Essentially, it suggested that any criticism that John McCain leveled at Obama's position would be construed as a personal attack. To its credit, Newsweek has published on its web site the response of the McCain campaign. It's worth a read.

Exploring the nature of Illinois voters


That’s what Illinois voters are. We got a healthy reminder of that today when we were treated to the latest outrage about an old, old story—the sweet deal that some insiders wrangled from state government to build a fancy hotel in Springfield. The deal was that if the hotel didn’t make a profit, the insiders wouldn’t have to pay off a state loan they got to help build the palace.

Read more at the Chicago Daily Observer

GOP wants state gas tax holiday(s)

These are fiscally responsible Republicans? A tax holiday that could cost $200 million when the state deficit is one of the nation's worst? Has the state GOP sunk so low that it has joined the "give-it-all-away" Democrats? Does the state GOP stand for anything at all? No wonder that it is virtually as extinct as the Field Museum's Sue.

Chicago Business News, Analysis & Articles | Ill. House wants gas tax holiday | Crain's

Class warfare bites Democrats in the ass

Gee, what a shame. The political party most responsible for fueling class warfare for the past 50 years is itself now torn by class warfare. Can the Democratic nominating process get any more nasty? The pleas for "ending the divisiveness" have reached near-hysteric proportions by those who can't wait to launch class warfare against John McCain and the Republicans.

Here's one analysis of how silly it has become:

The white vs. off-white election -- -- "West Virginia had too few delegates at stake to matter much. Still, it's been easy to get the feeling that some people, particularly those in the Stuff White People Like demographic, have concluded that the place is so backward it doesn't matter at all.

The problem is, voters like those in West Virginia don't see it that way. They may represent a shrinking demographic, but, as all the campaigns know, there are still enough of them that they can't be ignored. The catch is that in an election in which race plays such a prominent role, the greatest tension may not be between black and white but white and off-white."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Those lyin' Democrats

If George W. Bush was lying about the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq had or would soon have, what do you call these Democrats?

Hat tip to Buck Hiles.

Gay marriage decision came from a tyrannical court

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Before everyone drops into a deep swoon over the California Supreme Court's decision "allowing" gay marriages, it might be worthwhile to read the entire 121-page decision to discover that it changes, well, practically nothing.

California already has extensive laws granting same-sex couples virtually the same rights as opposite-sex couples. The 4-3 majority recognized that fact but said the "substance" of the laws didn't really matter. "The question we must address is whether . . . the failure to designate the official relationship of same-sex couples as marriage violates the California Constitution." Our task, the majority said, is "only to determine whether the difference in the official names of the relationships [is unconstitutional]." It is unconstitutional, the majority concluded, because applying the term "marriage" only to the legally sanctioned relationship between opposite-sex couples denies the "dignity and respect" that should be accorded to same-sex couples. The solution, according to the majority, is to strike down a law that says "marriage" certificates can only be given to opposite-sex couples. Whatever the legal relationship is called, the legislature will have to create a name that is the same for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. This fight is about a word. And whether it is "disrespectful" to apply it to one group and not another.

That such a decision came out of California is unsurprising; the only question was just how curious, obtuse or laughable would be the logic in overturning the will of the nearly two-thirds of California voters who passed the law in a referendum.

The majority didn't disappoint. It's difficult to try to reduce its logic to one sentence, but here goes: The legislature provided equivalent rights to same-sex couples by passing strong domestic partnership laws, so the citizen-initiated and approved ban on same-sex marriages had to go.

A dissenting justice, Carol A. Corrigan, said while her sympathies were on the side of gay marriage, she could not "join this exercise in legal jujitsu, by which the legislature's own weight is used against it to create a constitutional right from whole cloth, defeat the people's will, and invalidate a statute otherwise immune from legislative interference."

On second thought, this isn't so funny; it's scary.

The majority declared that people had no say in the matter. It said that, in its supreme wisdom, it could overrule a constitutionally created process for the people of California to directly exercise their will. The court proclaims its view is so fundamentally correct that it cannot be "abrogated by the legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process." In other words, the people of this state are not supreme.

Let's think about that for a minute. The court is saying that some rights are so fundamental that they cannot be voted away by a majority, or even a supermajority, of the citizens or their representatives. That the court in its wisdom knows and can define what these rights are, and order them enshrined into law despite overriding public opposition.

This isn't a new judicial philosophy; its roots go to a fundamental debate over how to protect the minority's rights from the tyranny of the majority. It is why the federal and some state courts are insulated from the popular will by various means; they are appointed, not elected, and serve for life.

It is a proper and well-established role for a supreme court. It is how a U.S. Supreme Court led America into ending legal racial discrimination.

But another essential and fundamental feature of American democracy is the system of checks and balances, to protect against such things as the tyranny of an unaccountable, unresponsive and even rogue branch of government. The founders were determined to avoid any branch of government taking on the mantle of a King George III.

The answer, of course, is that we can overrule any of the three branches of government by amending the Constitution because it is, after all, the people's Constitution, not the court's. It is the people's ultimate check on the imbalance of power.

Thankfully, such a move is under way in California where hundreds of thousands of citizens have petitioned for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, thus putting it out of reach of an autocratic court. Now comes the scariest part: One of the many supporters (I didn't get his name) of the court decision interviewed on television was asked what would happen if the people approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Would the court go so far as to overturn a provision of the Constitution itself? "I don't know. I hope so," he said.

By which we are provided a window into the mind of a tyrant.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A call for change that you won't hear from Obama

...because that would get the Mideast tyrants mad at us, and lower respect for America in the Arab world.

Bush to Call for Change in Mideast -

Obama Says Bush and McCain Are Naive

Wait a minute, Barack Obama is calling someone else "naive?" The guy who said in a presidential debate that he would met, without preconditions, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

I'd say something about the pot and the kettle, but it would be considered offensive and politically incorrect.

Obama Says Bush and McCain Are ‘Fear Mongering’ in Attacks - New York Times: (subscription required)

"Consistently throughout his comments about foreign policy, Mr. Obama yoked Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain as one entity, mentioning their names in the same sentence 10 times in barely 10 minutes. He portrayed them as being not only inflexible, but also “naive and irresponsible,” the characteristics they ascribe to him."

Myanmar cyclone: Burma junta is killing its own people, says West - Telegraph

What would Barack Obama do? Why the silence?

Talk is increasing among responsible Europe nations to provide aid to the dying survivors regardless of what the junta thinks while it carries out genocide of its own people.

Myanmar cyclone: Burma junta is killing its own people, says West - Telegraph

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ayers shudda been on “Laugh-In”

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Bill Ayers is a funny guy.

Well, maybe not so funny when he was saying things like: ’‘Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at.”

But his memoir—Fugitive Days, an accounting of his life on the run in the 1960s and 1970s as a chieftain of the radical and violent Weather Underground—is funny. I know, we’re supposed to be taking Ayers seriously ever since he showed up as a contributor to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) But a read of his 295-page book suggests he is a bit more notorious than he deserves, and a lot more comical.

Considering the controversy that Ayers has stirred up, I thought that his book might provide needed insight. But getting through it was like a slog through a used clothing store crammed with bellbottoms, psychedelic art, tie-died T-shirts, fat ties....

Read more on The Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chicago’s blue bag recycling program: Garbage in, Garbage out

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

A pop quiz: When was Chicago supposed to run out of landfill capacity and we’d all have to start eating our garbage?

Answer? I don’t know exactly, but it was some time past, according to environmentalists who warned that in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s the city—and the rest of the country—would run out of places to dump the garbage. Adding to the crisis mentality were scary claims that leaking toxic substances and methane would poison and asphyxiate the populace. Somebody had to “do something,” and fast.

So, Chicago and other municipalities stampeded into adopting solid waste recycling programs. Americans suddenly were “educated” or forced into massive recycling efforts, separating paper, cans, plastic and other materials from the oozing, dripping, rotting stuff. Recycling became a matter of given truth in the bible of the caring, even though the net benefits were, and in some quarters still are, in doubt.

Among those jumping on the bandwagon was the then-recently elected Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, the first of his many attempts to establish his green credentials. But instead of going for a relatively simpler, less expensive and more effective model deployed by most other jurisdictions, Daley decided he had to do it His Way....

Read more at the Chicago Daily Observer

Troop surge in the 'hood?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The only thing we haven't tried in our desperation to end Chicago's violence is a troop surge.

So then, why not a surge? Give people whose 3-year-olds get shot playing outside what they most want and deserve: security. Call out the National Guard. After all, a surge finally established some degree of security in Baghdad, and if we're to believe what we read, parts of Chicago are no less of a war zone.

How close are we to an insurrection when gangs have usurped legitimate civil authority and pretty much govern how the people in the neighborhoods shall live, i.e., in terror. The shooters are terrorists as much as the Iraqi "insurgents." Flood violence-torn neighborhoods with visible signs of authority. Troops carrying automatic weapons, if need be. Armored Humvees. Martial law. Curfews. Let the punks and gangs know that they're in a war in which they're outmanned and outgunned. Let them wonder whether their drive-bys will be greeted with return fire from locked-and-loaded troops. Let them see the Air National Guard patrolling overhead in helicopters.

Of all the harebrained ideas, this might be the worst, you're probably thinking right now. I can't be serious, right? Treating any Chicago neighborhood as occupied territory?

Well, yes, there are a ton of reasons why a military—or whatever you want to call it—solution is unthinkable. The armed forces are not trained to do police work. It could deprive innocent citizens of their rights. Raging gun battles could break out between troops and gangs, endangering innocent people. And here's probably the most shocking reason: The Illinois Constitution, while permitting the deployment of the Illinois National Guard to "enforce the laws, suppress insurrection or repel invasion," also names the governor as commander in chief. That would be the screw-loose Rod Blagojevich. Yikes.

Then again, why not? We've tried all the "root-cause" solutions, and now Blagojevich is jumping in with more: $150 million the state doesn't have for summer jobs programs, after-school programs and what-not programs. Mayor Richard M. Daley has appointed a study group, whose scholars will come up with "new" solutions, but if they do find just one, something that already hasn't been tried and whose failure can't be explained away by "lack of resources," then surely they'll be in line for the Nobel Peace Prize, and we'll all be grateful.

It's always the same old stuff. In trying to "address underlying and systemic causes of the at-risk population," we've filled the landscape with jobs, education, development, housing, incentives, community involvement and other programs, not that there's anything wrong with that, and, yes, there always can be more, and how unsafe would neighborhoods be without them, but . . .

In a twist on lyrics by the immortal Everly Brothers: "Programs, programs, all day long. Will my programs work out right or wrong?" Truth is, community activists can march until kingdom come, demanding they be "empowered to take back our neighborhoods," and little will happen. The media will dutifully show up to tape, we'll feel deep sympathy for the marchers' frustration and the punks will laugh it up.

If my neighborhood were being torn up the same way, I'd demand full deployment. Check points. IDs. Explanations of intent from assorted roving bands of punks. Stop and frisk to enforce the city's tough gun-control laws. The easily excitable and offended will scream that it amounts to a neighborhood lockdown, even a police state. OK, maybe it shouldn't be the National Guard. Maybe it should be something like the more aggressive policing (including constitutional traffic stops to ask, "What are you doing here?") that has significantly reduced homicides and other crimes in Berwyn.

But, I'll not accept the slander that the people struggling for safety in violent neighborhoods are so much different that they don't yearn for the peace and security that the rest of us enjoy, and which is the first and necessary condition for any of us to realize our potential.

They, like I do, want to be able to walk safely with their grandchildren, to shop, to not worry about a stray bullet ripping through the front window and to be unafraid of the violent consequences of so minor an offense as looking at someone funny. You wouldn't find me rushing to the usual media whiners about how the authorities are unfairly picking on our young men, because our young men—as well as our young women, children and grandparents—now would be safe. Or at least safer. For a change.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Ethanol not a real solution

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

When no one was looking, the "world food crisis" elbowed out "global climate change" as our planet's Numero Uno calamity.

As if that weren't bad enough, we now discover that the two are connected; with this attempt to fix the climate by shifting away from fossil fuels to more "eco-friendly" renewable fuels, we have ended up starving people in Africa and Asia.

Seems like we can hardly settle on one cataclysm before another one demands our attention.

Food riots have broken out around the world; grain-producing countries have banned exports to feed their own people; food prices in the U.S. and around the world have gone through the roof. The UN—its usual bold self—created a task force to study the matter.

What shall we do, what shall we do? We can start by yanking the idiotic and elephantine government aid given to ethanol production, today's biofuel of choice. Farmland previously planted with corn for food and feedstock for cattle now is planted with corn for ethanol. The 15 percent of total corn acreage that in 2005 went into ethanol production has rocketed to an expected 33 percent this year as farmers abandon wheat and other grains to cash in. Naturally, the increasing scarcity of wheat—the staff of life—has driven up its price. And because the U.S. is the world's breadbasket, those higher prices and shortages rebound throughout the world. Just how much ethanol is at fault is an unsettled point of contention, with farmers and ethanol producers whining to Congress, "don't blame us." But a study by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that biofuels—principally ethanol—have accounted for a quarter to a third of the recent food price increases.

Some experts saw this coming several years ago, but their warnings were drowned out by the simple-minded bleating of Greens. Just say "oil alternative" to a Green, and salivating follows, whether it is solar, thermal, wind or biomass power. And because it isn't the hated oil, some Greens blithely toss in other alleged benefits, such as reducing pollution and solving global warming. Jason Hill, a University of Minnesota ecologist, disagrees. "If we convert every corn kernel grown today in the U.S. to ethanol," he said, "we offset just 12 percent of our gasoline use."

Still, the duty, nay the moral obligation, to toss big money into ethanol research and production somehow has fallen to the government (read taxpayers). In subsidies, more than $8 billion annually.

Perhaps more important, the government has created a market—a false market—for ethanol by ordering that huge quantities be produced and added to our gasoline. Pay higher taxes, so that you can pay higher gas prices, chump. Greens have been remarkably quiescent about this debate, finding themselves in a fix. Do they favor costly, renewable energy at the expense of hungry Third World nations? Or do they abandon their knee-jerk advocacy of a popular but jejune energy solution?

The two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, stand on the side of the knee-jerk and big agribusiness solution: continue to pour more subsidies into ethanol production and oppose with high tariffs Brazilian imports of cheaper ethanol made from sugar. President Bush also is sticking by his support of big favors for the ethanol industry.

The pending $286 billion farm bill, which under usual circumstances is an unconscionable giveaway to agribusiness, makes only an infinitesimal, token cut in ethanol subsidies. Only the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, has the guts to stand against the powerful farm and ethanol lobbies.

"I oppose subsidies," he said. "Not just ethanol subsidies. Subsidies."

If only our politicians in Illinois, one of the largest corn-growing and ethanol-producing states, had the same courage to stand up against the big business special interests. Instead of selling us out to them.