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, June 30, 2008

Moderation supreme in gun decision

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision that gun ownership is an individual right turned Mayor Richard Daley into a fiery pillar, visible to the naked eye as far away as Rockford.

Daley declared the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision to be "frightening," "outrageous" and a "return to the days of the Wild West." You would have thought the court had ruled that free bazookas were to be handed out to gang members..

If this is the level of reflection with which he approached other major issues—such as the construction of the Chicago Children's Museum in Grant Park—then it is our turn to be frightened and outraged. Despite Daley's hysterics, Chicago, Wilmette, Morton Grove and other towns with handgun bans aren't being told they can no longer regulate the weapons. They just have to come up with regulations that make sense and pass constitutional scrutiny.

So, calm down and read the opinion, starting with 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." That means, gun-control proponents argue, that you have a "right" to have or carry guns only if you are a member of a militia. The court said, no, it also means that individuals have gun rights for other reasons, including the protection of yourself and your family in your home. The right of self-protection is the essence of the 2nd Amendment, and you've got to have a good reason for restricting that right. By the court's standards for judging what is and isn't constitutional, no such reason exists, the majority said. "Few laws in the history of our nation," the court said, "have come close to the severe restriction of the District's handgun ban."

Read the 157-page opinion, and you'll see that there are good arguments for and against the ban—if you can get through the jargon about "prefatory clauses" and "operative clauses." But the most important part of the decision is the majority's statement that the right to bear arms, while an individual right, is not an absolute right. It's a truth that absolutists on both sides of the issue seem to forget. It's worth quoting at length: "It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed-weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the [2nd] Amendment or state analogues. The court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. [A previous court decision] that the sorts of weapons protected are those 'in common use at the time' finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons . . . Thus, we do not read the 2nd Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the 1st Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose."

In this, the court's decision is entirely moderate. You have a right to a handgun, but that right is limited. Just as the right to speak freely is limited. Just as every right listed in the 1st Amendment is limited. Thus, the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous dictum against falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

If there is one thing I think that we should all be able to agree on it is that no right is unlimited. On second thought, there is a group of folks who still cling to the dangerous credo that rights—or at least one right—is unlimited: the absolutists who support the court decisions 35 years ago—Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton—that proclaimed that the right to an abortion shall not be limited by anything.

Maybe D.C. vs. Heller will help open their eyes and minds to some degree of moderation. And perhaps Heller foreshadows the court acting to correct its earlier grievous error.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Words You Cannot Say About George Carlin

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

It boggles the mind how a culture can lionize the recently departed comedian George Carlin while simultaneously consigning radio guy Don Imus to the lowest precincts of hell.

They both have made a raunchy career out of “offending,” yet one—Carlin—was revered and eulogized while the other—Imus—is despised. After Carlin, 71, died of heart failure last Sunday, the praise rolled in, about his genius and brilliance, his ground-breaking comedy and social commentary, his willingness to challenge the powerful, and his advocacy for free speech. He, indeed, was all of that.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Friday, June 27, 2008

Scalia loves gang-bangers

"The ruling puts [Justice Antonin] Scalia and the four other conservative justices squarely on the side of the gang-bangers who terrorize far too many of urban American neighborhoods today."--Oak Park Village President David Pope.

I was wondering who would be the first jerk to say this. I don't know that Pope was the first, but he was the first to make it into print in these precincts. Fair-minded people can disagree on the merits of the Supreme Court decision confirming an individual's qualified right to own guns, and we all could do everyone else a service by reading the opinion before issuing absurdities like Pope's. It's as stupid as saying that if you're pro-choice, you are in favor of murdering children.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yes, do it, Guv

Blagojevich vows $2B in cuts unless Madigan caves

And be sure, while you're at it, to cut some of your own wasteful programs.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Great Lakes oil drilling an idea to be delved

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's easy enough for us flatlanders to favor offshore drilling to increase oil supplies and bring down gasoline prices. But what if the "offshore" we're talking about is drilling in Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes?

Picture drilling rigs in the lake within sight of Chicago and North Shore towns. Imagine oil spills and near-dead, crude-oil-soaked birds flopping about on Oak Street Beach. Imagine the disappearance of smelt and salmon. Imagine poisoned water supplies. Imagine the end of the world.

Well, at least that's the kind of exaggerated rhetoric we'll hear from the East, West and Gulf Coasts in response to proposals by President Bush and the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee, John McCain, to lift the federal ban on drilling on America's outer continental shelf. Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama wants to keep the ban.

Neither proposal explicitly calls for drilling in the Great Lakes, and I'm not for raising alarms. But Congress imposed a ban on it a few years ago, and Congress can remove it. Don't think there's no interest in drilling in the Great Lakes. Michigan draws the greatest interest because it (and parts of other Midwest states) is sitting on top of the Niagaran coral reef, believed to be loaded with oil and natural gas reserves. Just under Lake Erie is a trillion cubic feet of natural gas, waiting to be tapped. Politically, the idea might seem dead right off the bat. After all, who would dare violate the health and sanctity of the world's largest body of fresh water?

Canada would. And does. Yes, politically correct Canada, that one. In addition to the Great Lakes, Canada allows offshore drilling in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. (The People's Paradise of Cuba also is eyeing offshore drilling, some of it as close as 45 miles to the Florida coast, using techniques much less environmentally sound than American companies.)

Maybe Obama, in the interests of clean water, thinks he could jawbone Canada and Cuba into giving up those oil and natural gas resources. Michigan has several active wells tapping into the reserves under the lake using "directional drilling," allowing drilling on the diagonal, as it were, reducing chances of an in-water oil spill. (Environmentalists also oppose this technique.) Those wells were grandfathered in before the Great Lakes ban was imposed.

America's outer continental shelf holds some 14 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which according to Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is more than 25 years of Saudi Arabian imports. That's in addition to the uncounted billions of barrels in North American oil shale, which, of course, is being extracted by Canada, but not by the United States.

Is Great Lakes drilling safe? Has it brought alarming and wholesale environmental destruction? A 2002 report by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan asserted that drilling in Lake Erie has caused 51 natural gas leaks from 1997 to 2001 and 83 oil spills from 1990 to 1995. The group's report, called "Dirty Drilling," called the leaks significant and a threat to wildlife. Canadian authorities dispute the report and call the drilling safe.

Well, not to worry. Nothing will happen. Nothing ever does.

Just a few days ago, a Republican effort to open more costal waters to exploration was defeated on a party-line vote. "We are kidding ourselves if we think we can drill our way out of these problems," pronounced House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

Good thinking. With it, Democrats will get creamed in the fall elections.

The American people are smart enough to know that opening up more domestic exploration and production won't bring down prices today or tomorrow. Just as they're smart enough to know that solar and wind power won't do it either. The American people know that the Democratic "Why bother?" reasoning eventually will leave this country in desperate shape.

These environmental die-hards are the same folks who opposed a $3.6-billion expansion of BP's northwestern Indiana oil refinery because it would add capfuls of pollutants to Lake Michigan. Called on their exaggerated claims, they reverted to the petulant argument: It doesn't matter that nothing bad will happen.

No, I'm not advocating drilling in the Great Lakes, at least not yet. There are better offshore coastal alternatives. But on our present course, what will happen is that supply won't keep up with demand, prices will continue to rise to—what?—$5, $6 or more a gallon. The American public will know where to look when figuring out who is to blame.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Sun-Times turns Mariotti into the Teflon columnist

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Jay Mariotti, the Sun-Times sport oracle, had left a message on my voice mail, and, ooh, was he mad.

It was, maybe, a dozen years ago when I was an editorial board member and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. As a White Sox fan, I had written something (I presume it must have been nice) about the team and its owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Mariotti disagreed. Furiously.

Don’t you know, Mariotti raged, that “they” are talking about “it.” By “it,” it turned out that Mariotti had written a contrary column on the same subject (I hadn’t seen or heard about it before I wrote mine) and “they” were, presumably, his sports writing colleagues who were having a chuckle that someone from the same paper would disagree with His Majesty.

Most of the rest of the irate message is lost in the fog of my memory, except for this ending: “The next time you write about it, check with me first.”

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More Problems at O'Hare Airport

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

If Mayor Richard M. Daley can’t get his phantasmagoric O’Hare Airport expansion plan completed in time for the 2016 Olympics, maybe he can get the Games postponed.

That’s because he has a better chance of getting the Olympics delayed than he has of realizing his airport expansion hallucination by then.

Doubt that? Then consider the Daley airport record so far: False starts, delays, broken promises, excuses. After huge cost overruns and missed timetables for just the first, northern runway (still not open) of the expansion plan’s Phase 1, the news out of City Hall is that Daley has ordered that $200 million more be spent on what only can be called the premature planning and engineering of the even more difficult Phase 2. That’s even though the financially troubled airlines that are supposed to pay for much of the entire expansion have said they are not in for phase 2.

Read more at the Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is the war over yet?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Before Barack Obama can get his presidential hands on the Iraq War, it might end, not in disaster as he figures, but in an American victory.

He, his fans and much of the media haven't noticed in the heat of the presidential campaign, but the war is winding down, if not nearing its end. Fewer military and civilians killed or wounded; fewer insurgent attacks; more order and security, especially in such troubled areas as Basra and Sadr City; more reconciliation; improved quality of life, and—not the least—greater liberties.

Still, Obama's perspective remains unchanged. There's no accommodation to changed circumstances, only his iron-willed pandering to anti-war voters. As of this writing, his campaign's Web site proclaims: "Obama would immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year." Who knows, at the pace of progress in Iraq, maybe the troops could come home even quicker. But for Obama to withdraw troops faster than his stone-set timetable, he would have to acknowledge the progress Iraq has made. And explain how he would continue that progress. He would have to be as responsible as The Washington Post, which in a June 1 editorial noted: "Don't look now, but the U.S.-backed [Iraqi] government and army may be winning the war." The Post, ever critical of the policies of President Bush, could never be confused with drooling neocons.

No one should be uncorking the champagne and breaking out the ticker tape, and it is convenient for me—a war supporter—to quote the Post when it supports my position. So, let's turn to the Brookings Institution's "Iraq Index," which from the start has tried and succeeded to be the war's most objective observer.

It shows that civilian deaths, which a year ago numbered in the thousands a month, are down dramatically, although the hundreds still dying are way too many. Also dropping remarkably is the number of U.S.troops killed and wounded.

The number of Iraqi forces deployed is steadily increasing while the number of attacks against U.S. and other coalition forces is down dramatically. So is the number of Iraqi police and military personnel killed each month. The number of joint security stations and combat outposts, which are security checkpoints in strategic areas throughout Baghdad and manned 24 hours a day by U.S. and Iraqi security forces, has more than doubled. The number of multiple fatality bombings has dropped considerably, testimony to the greater security brought by the surge.

There have been no kidnappings of foreign nationals—once a standard tactic for insurgents—for the last year. Attacks on Iraqi oil and gas personnel and installations (e.g. pipelines) have nearly disappeared. Measures of political and press freedoms have improved appreciably, more children are attending school, more judges are being trained. Quality-of-life indicators have improved. Gross domestic product is more than twice what it was before the war. There has been an explosion of telephone and Internet use, of independent media and car ownership.

Since the surge has succeeded, war opponents have redirected their criticism: The Iraqis, critics say, have made no progress on the political front, which was supposed to be the point of the surge. The Iraq Index authors, Michael O'Hanlon and Jason Campbell, don't agree; they see a glass half full. On a scale of 0-to-1, the authors give a score of 0.5 to six benchmark categories dealing with de-Baathification, amnesty, purging extremists from government, security-force hiring, distribution of federal funding to provinces and allocation of provincial powers. Progress on issues dealing with Kirkuk, a permanent hydrocarbons law and provincial elections scored zero. In other words, progress on political benchmarks totaled five out of a possible 11. Not bad when you consider it took America 11 years after its independence to set up a workable form of government in the Constitution.

This is not to say that Iraq isn't a violent, dangerous place. And, of course, serious problems remain, such as inflation and unemployment. But Iraq isn't the same place that it was a year ago, which is one change that Obama needs to recognize.

Instead of just talking about change, Obama should start showing how he will adapt to change and continue the progress that the Bush administration achieved in Iraq.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Technology can't improve a stupid idea

Mayor says CTA 'super station' plan lacks punch of technology --

Block 37 has been from the start a couple of decades ago one of the most ill-conceived urban renewal projects in this city's history. It's the only major undeveloped Loop block because the government decided it could do better than the private developers that have developed the other downtown sites.

The worst part of Block 37 was the idea of running "express" trains from a superstation in the basement to O'Hare Airport, on a CTA that clearly couldn't handle anything but local trains. Daley apparently thinks that it still can be done, even though the answer is obvious: Run express trains on existing Metra or other rail rights-of-way from existing downtown terminals.

Such trains could run to O'Hare much faster and at a fraction of the capital costs. Daley would never go along with it because it has to be "his" express trains, running on "his" decrepit CTA system, provided by "his" contractors and manned by "his" workers. And to hell with what makes sense for the metropolitan community.

And so it goes for America's most stubborn and short-sighted mayor.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Should you be able to impeach someone just because he is a blockhead?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

You should if he’s Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

And surprisingly, under the Illinois Constitution, you can.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which requires “high crimes and misdemeanors” as justification for impeachment and removal from office, the state Constitution is purposely vague on the subject. So being the blockhead he is, the General Assembly can grant his most cherished desire: to become a permanent resident of Ravenswood who never, ever needs to go to Springfield again.

To that I’d say hurrah and alleluia. And three cheers for the Democratic staff, which works under the direction of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, for getting the ball rolling for laying out one of the best indictments I’ve seen yet for kicking In-Rod-We-Trust out of office.

Read more at the Chicago Daily Observer

They must have been taking smartin' pills

The national media (at least the New York Post) are finally catching on:


Read "Caution: Offense Ahead" in the box to the right...

Then check out this article in the New York Times:

American Exception - Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech - Series -

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In memory of Gilda Radner

McCain's citizenship called into question

"Candidate may not qualify as 'natural born'"

NBC (who else?) reports that the liberal blog world is abuzz with speculation that McCain might not meet the constitutional requirement that only a "natural born" citizen can be president. If he was born in a hospital with with anesthetics, how can he be considered "natural born?" He should drop out of the election now, and save everyone the trouble of fighting over it.

What's that? "Natural born" means that he has to have born a U.S. citizen?

Never mind.

One down, one to go.

Obama's VP search leader quits

And Jim Johnson should, considering the background, as described by the Washington Post: He received more than $2 million in home loans that might have been below average market rates from the troubled Countrywide Financial, a partner of Fannie Mae and a leading purveyor of the kind of subprime mortgages that spawned a national housing crisis. For Obama-type agents-of-change, Johnson is exactly the kind of character they are supposed to despise.

But then there's a second member of the committee, Eric Holder, a Justice Department official involved in the disgraceful and yet-to-be-justified pardons and commutations granted by Bill Clinton on his way of the White House. Two of those pardoned were hippie-era radicals Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, persons that Obama had tried to distance himself from. If Obama didn't know that Holder spelled trouble, then Obama don't know nothing.

Already, Republicans criticism of Obama's "judgment" has become a campaign cliche, but the more that Obama reveals about himself and his friends, the more we have to wonder whether the change agent is a complete dolt.

The hunt is on for something else to rip up in Grant Park

No surprise here; the Chicago City Council today approved a new home for the Children's Museum in Grant Park.

Now that we've got it straight that Grant Park can be torn up on the whim of Mayor Richard M. Daley, as if it were another Meigs Field, maybe we should look around Grant Park for what's next to go. You've got all that empty space in the south end of the park, by Buckingham Fountain and the rose gardens that's just going to waste when it could be home to a horse farm and polo fields for Cindy Prizker's pals.

Or replace the puzzling Magdalena Abakanowicz's permanent statuary park, Agora, and its 106 9-foot-tall, headless cast-iron figures. Named for the marketplaces often used for political and public assembly in ancient Greece, its symbolism is no longer necessary. We don't need no more symbols in praise of of public discourse.

Energy Watchdog Sees Demand for Crude Slowing -

Energy Watchdog Sees Demand for Crude Slowing - "The lower demand outlook is beginning to jibe with anecdotal evidence in key consuming nations. In the U.S., Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles in March compared with a year earlier -- the sharpest monthly drop since the government began collecting such data in 1942 and the first contraction in that month since the 1979 Iranian revolution."

I bring you this good news (it reduces demand for gasoline, exerting down pressure on prices, and reduces gases blamed for causing global warming) because NBC's news anchor Brian Williams failed to mention it in tonight's newscast. But he did mention another part of the report--that spare OPEC pumping capacity is now lower than it has been since late 2006, which can lead to higher prices.

Here's yet another example of how the astonishingly biased Williams reports the bad news, but not the good, especially if it casts a shadow over the Bush administration.

One more thing:

Williams and NBC, reporting directly from Afghanistan, did a piece on how, since the defeat of the Taliban, girls now are allowed to go to school. No mention, of course, by Williams that it was the lying and hated George W. Bush made all that possible.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An item from the sound-the-alarm-department

This New York Times article frets that this will be an average harvest, which in the face of the global food shortage (a recent addition to the sound-the-alarm-department) will spell catastrophe. The story is illustrated with a picture that shows a sparse Indiana cornfield, with corn that is now supposed to be "knee high."


Anyone from the Midwest knows that it's supposed to be "knee high by the Fourth of July." But, what the heck, why let that stand in the way of a good alarm.

The Food Chain - Worries Mount as Farmers Push for Big Harvest - Series -

Monday, June 09, 2008

Do you think this news will reach the Democrats?

Home Gauge Climbs Amid Bargains
By Jeff Bater
The Wall Street Journal
June 9, 2008 10:13 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- A forecasting gauge of home sales climbed to its highest level in six months during April, given a lift by bargain hunters.

The National Association of Realtors' index for pending sales of previously owned homes rose 6.3% to 88.2 from March, the industry group said Monday.

Private analysts projected pending sales would be unchanged during April. The rate was the highest since 89.8 last October.

Illinois politics in D.C.

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

More than his racist minister chums, his starkly liberal voting record, his pandering to the get-out-of-Iraq-right-now zealots, what really bothers me about Barack Obama is his association with politics as practiced in Chicago and Illinois.

This is not a crime, of course, but the fact that he is someone who got his start and was propelled to stardom after an internship in the incubator of perhaps the nation's most corrupt state gives me, at least, pause. It seems that everywhere you turn here, especially if it is toward the federal courthouse, some politician or political insider is being found guilty of some or another form of corruption. Antoin "Tony" Rezko's conviction last week, the George Ryan conviction last year, the federal indictments that make references to questionable conduct by alphabetized state officials, the reported investigation that is dogging Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the conviction of a City of Chicago patronage boss and others on the periphery of Mayor Richard M. Daley's inner circle . . .

Well, need I go on? That Obama can brush against the climate of corruption enveloping Chicago and Illinois like heat and humidity saturate rain forests and come out unblemished is remarkable indeed. It's possible; Chicago and Illinois have generated a number of clean and honest politicians. Like a pearl found amid the swine, perhaps Obama can be counted among them.

But if Obama's affiliations with the likes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., Rev. Michael Pfleger and ex-revolutionary Bill Ayers are legitimate issues, so is his political apprenticeship in the bowels of a political process that has sent governors, aldermen and countless other public officials to the pen. Has Obama picked up any bad habits by hanging around with these gents? Is he susceptible to the pressures that the "guys back home" will undoubtedly bring? The conventional wisdom among the Chicago punditry is that Chicago and Illinois pols are smacking their lips at the thought of installing an associate in the Executive Mansion.

I think that the conventional wisdom is right.And we're not just talking about Democrats. Many state and local Republicans are as pregnant with the audacity of swag as Democrats. My guess is that Illinois GOP big shots and moneybags will sit on their hands in the presidential election, to show how accommodating they are, so that they won't be forgotten when the food line opens.

So, will Obama successfully insulate himself from the influence peddlers, political insiders and maneuvers that have cemented our reputation? The Rezko case is troubling. As Obama was declaring himself the Democratic presidential nominee last week, a Chicago jury was declaring Rezko guilty of corruption, demonstrating the Fates' ironic sense of humor. Rezko and Obama knew each other as far back as 1990, when Rezko offered the young Harvard law student a job, which Obama declined. And Rezko was among Obama's early contributors in his first run for the state legislature. More campaigns and more contributions flowed in from Rezko, including a $10,000 donation that Obama later had to give to charity because it was allegedly tainted by kickbacks.

Just about every president has had questionable characters in or about his administration, such as Jimmy Carter's Bert Lance and Dwight Eisenhower's Sherman Adams. If similar characters slip through the back door into the Obama White House, please let them be from some other state.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Illinois' fake budget

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Proposed expenditures shall not exceed funds estimated to be available for the fiscal year as shown in the Budget
—Sec. 2(a), Illinois Constitution

The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.--Sec. 2(b) Illinois Constitution

Considering the constitution’s unequivocal command that the expenses can’t outstrip revenues, it’s hard to give any credibility to the Legislature’s assertion that it can go home after passing a budget that is, oh, just a couple of billions short of being balanced.

Yet, incredibly, that’s the claim being made by the Democrats....

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Monday, June 02, 2008

The scariest part is the Trinity congregation

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Barack Obama’s pastor buddies don’t frighten me as much as his church-going brethren.

You have to expect that the bizarre likes of Michael Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright would ooze to the surface in any number of organizations or institutions—right or left, Republican or Democratic. But the multitude gathered in what is supposed to be a temple of God, cheering on the racist slobbering of the two “reverends’” is scary.

Cheering is too mild a word. Look at the video of Pfleger’s rant against Hilary Clinton; notice the guys in the background. They’re on their feet, clapping, laughing and cheering. One is nearly doubled over in laughter. Broader shots of the crowds show that while some people are sitting quietly—in disapproval, I hope—there also was widespread affirmation of both Pfleger’s and Wright’s “sermons.”

They were eating it up.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

The UN is failing Myanmar

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

As the clock ticks, uncounted Myanmar survivors of Cyclone Nargis are dying of starvation or disease while the world stands by, its helping hands supposedly tied by the country's Stone Age tyrants.

A month ago, the cyclone killed 78,000, left 56,000 missing and another 2.5 million facing hunger, homelessness and disease, and it will only get worse because the rulers of this impoverished nation have been systematically barring foreign aid workers and supplies. Some guess that the number of dead could double while help is stalled at the borders, but who really knows how many are imperiled by the hidden and grotesque eradication under way there? Yet, the world stands idly by.

This is, if anything ever was, a job for the United Nations. And what is the UN doing to move perhaps the only government in modern times to ban massive aid being offered by the international community? Talking. Conducting diplomacy. Seeking permission. Consultation. Exchanging views. The kind of blah-blahing that Barack Obama says will be the touchstone of his Democratic administration if he becomes president.

Here's a measure of the UN's futility: While hundreds of thousands are suffering and dying, a UN agency is asking permission to import six emergency vehicles. Six. The response as of this writing, from Hakan Tongul, a UN deputy director of some sort: "We haven't heard anything from the [Myanmar] government."

Sure, the UN is trying to do much more. It reports that about 160 aid flights—some 10 to 15 daily—have arrived. Last week's headlines said: "Myanmar approves all pending visas for UN aid workers." OK, that sounds like the devastated country soon will be crawling with hundreds, even thousands, of competent, compassionate and fully equipped aid workers. Well, no. Actually, it's more like 45—the number of pending visas. And there's more good news: Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and the UN Children's Fund have sent in more than 14 aid workers. Wow.

I dare say that Rotary International and its ShelterBox program may have accomplished more on its own. ShelterBoxes are staged, ready-to-deploy containers that provide a tent, stove, water-purification kit, blankets, tools and other necessities that enable families to survive for six months. Rotary said it had landed more than 1,000 containers in Myanmar, but many more are needed.

Still, in the face of the piddling amount of aid that the Myanmar government is allowing in, these heartless tyrants incredibly insist that the "Myanmar people are self-reliant and can stand on their own without foreign assistance." The government would have the international community believe that the relief phase of the disaster has ended and the economic recovery phase has begun.

The UN apparently accepts such nonsense at face value. John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for this and that, told the media after a visit to Myanmar that no cyclone-caused diseases have been reported. Yeah, sure—this after international aid agencies were unanimous in their warnings that disease and infections from the stacks of unburied bodies and widespread malnutrition were now the most serious problems.

Nor will it get any better. The cyclone devastated the fertile Irrawaddy River delta region, the country's rice basket. Farmers are missing the rice-planting season.

The UN says Myanmar has expressed "great sensitivity" about allowing in outside aid, especially from western nations, and most especially from the American relief vessels, waiting patiently just over the horizon. The UN, as always, is sensitive about everyone's "great sensitivity," so it does little more than dither. Clearly, dealing with the Myanmar bullies requires aggressive policies.

The UN was created for such circumstances, and it is failing its charter miserably. Does the UN even dare think about violating Myanmar's sovereignty by barging in uninvited? Does it have the moral and political mettle to gather a coalition of willing nations to save the lives of hundreds of thousands? Or will the UN continue its high regard for brutish sensitivities while tens of thousands are without food, water, shelter or even the means to bury its dead, and while, incredibly, the government reportedly is forcing survivors to return "home" when there is no home to return to? While the Myanmar government attempts to shoot down rescue helicopters, would the rest of the world idly stand by? It would.