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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tens pounds of airplane in a five-pound bag

Here is an actual message sent from Orbitz to airline passengers who were delayed today while transferring flights at O'Hare Airport:

Passengers scheduled to arrive at Chicago O'Hare airport through the late evening may encounter delays averaging 45 minutes. The large number of flights scheduled to arrive at the airport exceeds the number of aircraft that can land hourly. This does not change your scheduled check-in time. Thank you for choosing Orbitz and have a good flight.
The answer, as aviation experts have said for years, isn't building new, inefficient runways at a small, 1950s style airport (O'Hare), but to build a new reliever airport in the south suburbs. If Mayor Richard M. Daley had not so jealously guarded his O'Hare jobs and contracts by using his political power to put a brick on the south suburb airport, it could already have been doing its job, easing traffic congestion at O'Hare.

Also posted on The Reckless Expansion of O'Hare

Why do Chicago newspapers end up with owners like this?

Sam Zell's Deal from Hell

As if Conrad Black's near destruction of the Chicago Sun-Times weren't enough, the Chicago Tribune now has to contend with this guy, who tried to peddle the view that he was doing everyone a favor by saddling the paper with $8 billion in new debt.

And they laughed at Reagan for this

While president, and in a discussion about the urgency of "addressing" the man-made production of greenhouse gases, Ronald Reagan suggested that the cows had something to do with it. For this, Reagan was ridiculed in all the politically correct salons and among "activists" as a fool.

Now comes this well-researched article in the Chicago Tribune: "Raising a global stink: Activists target methane gas from, um, cows." The methane from belching, farting cows, it turns out, is a much bigger source of destructive greenhouse gases than man-made carbon dioxide. Explained the article:

Methane is a big concern because it is so much more potent than carbon dioxide, the chief source of man-made pollution behind rising global temperatures. So is nitrous oxide, another byproduct of manure and fertilizer production. It has a whopping 296 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide.
Expect a new assault on red meat eaters from the ecology police.

So, who's laughing now?

What blockhead is responsible for this?

Steve Schmidt, John McCain's senior adviser, that's who.

Schmidt is turning McCain into a grumpy old man with this latest TV ad for the Republican presidential candidate. It mocks Barack Obama's "world's biggest celebrity" status and fails to tell us a lick about what John McCain would do as president. It makes it appear that Obama's celebrity is getting under McCain's skin, which makes McCain look bad.

Schmidt explained the reasoning: "We will pose the question--stipulating the fact that he is the biggest celebrity in the world--do the American people want to elect the world's biggest celebrity or do they want to elect an American hero?

Where has Schmidt been? Given that choice, the American people will take the celebrity every time.

Still waiting for the recession to begin...

while Democrats say they are waiting for it to end. The Commerce Department today reported that gross domestic product (GDP) rose at a seasonally adjusted 1.9% annual rate April through June, showing that the economy accelerated over the previous quarter. We're still waiting for the first quarterly decline in the GDP, which will be the bellwether for only the beginning of a recession. Then it will take at least two more consecutive quarters of decline before we are even in a recession. What will Barack Obama and the Democrats say now?

Just in case the world tips and...

Ald. Eddie Burke's 14th ward slips into suburban Republican territory, he might need all this money to get re-elected.

The Sun-Times reports that "Ald. Edward M. Burke has more money in his four campaign funds than the combined total of all 49 other Chicago aldermen, more even than Mayor Daley's $2.9 million."

Where does Illinois rank on Traffic Fatalities, Deficient Bridges and Congestion?

Check out Reason Foundation's annual report on the performance of America's highways.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Good luck with that

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the city of Chicago is fighting the Federal Emergency Management Agency over a nearly $6-million tab for snow removal. Said the publication:

In a complaint filed in federal court, the city claims it had a right to use a total of $5.9 million in federal disaster funds to clear snow from O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport in 1999 and 2000. FEMA disagrees, the complaint said, and has tried for the past three years to recover the $4.79 million given to Chicago for a severe storm in January 1999 and another $1 million for a December 2000 snowstorm.

FEMA contends that airlines operating at O’Hare and Midway are responsible for paying for snow removal and that federal disaster funds should not have been spent on it, according to the suit.

FEMA obviously doesn't remember how hard it was for the Federal Aviation Administration to collect several million in fines from Chicago after Mayor Richard M. Daley one midnight bulldozed the federally subsidized, lakefront airport known as Miegs Field.

This all is in character for Daley, who wants taxpayers to cough up millions for costs the airlines at O'Hare rightfully should be covering. Except that the 1999 and 2000 snowjobs amount to but a tiny slice of the billions that the airlines should be paying for the expansion of O'Hare Airport. Instead, Daley is pushing the costs on to the taxpayer, through such things as the passenger seat tax.

Some things never change.

Here is Crain's complete story (subscription required):
FEMA wants blizzard money back | Crain's

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Justice for red-light runners

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

If Chicago can raise $50 million a year using 100 cameras to catch red-light runners, I’m for the city putting in another 100. Or more. Same for the suburbs that are thinking about putting in the cameras.

Yes, we’re supposed to feel sympathy for motorists who race through red rights, as if they’re a picked-on species that is being victimized by the money-hungry Daley administration.

It’s not fair; it’s not constitutional, the ticketed public whimpers. Some lawyer, of course, has filed a class action suit, protesting—what?—a motorist’s right to speed through a red light undetected.

Read more: The Chicago Daily Observer

How many angels can dance on a plastic bag?

Chicago Business News, Analysis & Articles | City trashes plastic bags at farmers markets | Crain's

Has anyone actually calculated precisely how much room plastic bags take up in landfills, or how much it costs to "landfill" them? I doubt it, but what does it matter. Plastic bags now are out and "biodegradable" bags now are in.

But wait, as this Crain's Chicago Business article explains, super environmentalists aren't so sure about the "biodegradable" bags, because they might encourage littering, and are more expensive (thus, of course, "penalizing those least able to afford them").

So, one farmer will begin selling $5 cloth bags, less than it costs to make them. But wait! Has he calculated the environmental cost of cloth bags? The environmental destruction caused raising, harvesting and processing all that cotton--the fertilizers and the run-off, the carbon footprint caused by cotton processing and weaving, and so forth?

Maybe we should go back to paper bags. But wait: How many trees are killed? How many rivers polluted by paper plants?

Maybe we all should just stay in bed.

"Activists" secure a lifetime guarantee of cash

More that's wrong with the the housing "rescue" bill and how the special interests cash in:
President Bush is poised to sign the housing and Fannie Mae bailout bill, after the Senate passed it with 72 votes on the weekend. But an underreported part of this story is that Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow a vote on Republican Jim DeMint's amendment to bar political donations and lobbying by Fannie and its sibling, Freddie Mac.
Read more:
Fannie Mae's Political Immunity - WSJ.com

Monday, July 28, 2008

A standing ovation from the press box

The late and iconic sports writer, Jerome Holzman, wrote a book, "No Cheering in the Press Box," which was a reminder that even sports reporters should remain objective.

Apparently, this admonition does not apply to journalists of color, who met this weekend at a conference for...journalists of color...and gave Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama standing ovations. The Chicago Tribune tells the Chicago Tribune:

At [the conference], organizers reminded conference participants that [Obama's]his appearance was being broadcast nationally and they should maintain 'professional decorum.' Before Obama arrived, a panel discussed the question of journalistic objectivity, including whether journalists should clap for politicians in public.

As it happened, Obama received a standing ovation from much of the audience at the start and end of his appearance.

And more, according to the Sun-Times:

Sporting a beige suit and a U.S. flag lapel pin, Obama found a receptive audience among the minority journalists and students at McCormick Place, who gave him standing ovations, 10 rounds of applause and a rush of cell phone picture-taking.
Let's hear it for what used to be a professional once called journalism. At least they didn't usher him into the conference with palm fronds.


Turning trash into cash...

for insiders.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley would eliminate competition in the city's commercial trash-hauling industry, leaving condominiums, businesses, office buildings and other customers at the mercy a city-designated monopoly.

Instead of shopping around for the best price and service, customers would have to use haulers designated for their neighborhoods by the city. On top of what the customers would pay to the haulers, they'd have to cough up another 5 percent to 6 percent to the city for "administrative fees."

The plan would not effect smaller residential buildings, who already have the pleasure of being under the thumb of the city's own non-competitive public trash pick-up service.

Details are in Crain's Chicago business here.

I want my money back

This is why our taxes were increased?

$24,999 for a taxpayer funded magazine to make Todd Stroger look good

There's gold for Chicago pols in new housing bill

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It shouldn't be hard for Chicago and Illinois pols to turn the humongous housing bill that passed the U.S. House last week into a pot of gold for their cronies and themselves.

Even a naif like me could figure out how to convert to personal use Chicago and Illinois' share—yet to be determined—of the $4 billion expressed from Washington to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed homes. Someone from the Department of Rising Neighborhoods or whatever local agency administers the plan would call his cousin and say, "Hey, Jake, old buddy, I've got a great deal for you. We just bought a foreclosed home for $200,000. I'll make sure we sell it to you for $150,000. You can then turn around and sell it for $200,000, or whatever you can get, and we'll split the difference."

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) outlined this plausible scenario in detailing his opposition to the housing bill that will rescue homeowners, banks, financial institutions, brokers and others troubled by the housing bust.

At first, the bill was an effort to help homeowners in difficulty, but the bill has grown to gargantuan proportions. In addition to the $4 billion, the bill would provide $5.3 billion for more affordable housing, $4.6 billion for first-time home buyers, $729 million for home-loan insurance and $210 million for counseling for homeowners facing foreclosure. It also would provide untold billions to prop up the nation's top mortgage makers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in what is described as the most concerted effort to stabilize the mortgage and financial markets since the Great Depression.

That's according to the summaries handed out to reporters, who, I'm willing to bet, haven't explored every wrinkle of this monster which, by the way, will increase the national debt limit to $10.6 trillion from $9.8 trillion to help pay for all this largesse.

But Roskam has read it, and what jumped out at him was the total lack of protections against fraud and chicanery of the type that characterizes Chicago and Illinois politics. Roskam, in House floor debate, noted how the bill's proponents expressed confidence that cities—"victims" according to the bill's proponents—would spend the money judiciously and wisely. Roskam said "judicious" and "wise" were not terms he would apply to Chicago and Illinois. "Do you want Rod Blagojevich to be your landlord?" Roskam asked in a news statement. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) didn't like what she heard Roskam saying about the—shall we say—opportunities that the bill would open up, and issued a scold. Roskam, she said, obviously hadn't read the bill. Otherwise he would know that all the desired protections are in a plan that housing authorities must submit to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Roskam quickly replied by citing the plan requirements, "on page 3, section 4 of the bill." And, no, he continued, the plan that Waters mentioned indeed has "no prohibition against self-dealing." It only requires such things as setting goals for sales and accessibility by different groups. It is not about "potentially corrupt practices."

Obviously, a plea to the national conscience to stem Chicago corruption won't do much to slow down this juggernaut. And while Roskam might be playing to his west suburban audience by, tsk, picking on Chicago, he can just as easily be painted by political opponents as favoring the throwing of people out onto the streets and the cataclysmic failure of the nation's housing and financial markets. The cost of this bill is just about anyone's guess; Congressional Budget Office estimates run to $41.7 billion. So, when you're talking about money like that, what's a few hundred thousand, or even a couple of million, skimmed off by Chicago and Illinois fixers?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

But what does it mean?

Barack Obama introduced new coinage into the language when he declared in his Berlin speech that "We are a people of improbable hope." The New York Times, among others I'm sure, enshrined it in their headlines, but can someone please explain what the hell it is supposed to mean?

Here's the context, the last paragraph of the speech (available here).

People of Berlin – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.
The word improbable means "not likely to be true or to happen," and "unexpected and apparently inauthentic." It's synonyms include: doubtful, dubious, debatable, ridiculous, absurd and preposterous.

What, one can reasonably ask, what is untrue, unlikely, absurd or ridiculous about our hope? Did Obama say that we're unlikely to have hope? Or is just another nice sounding, but empty phrase that has characterized Obama's pontifications?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Don't let facts stand in the way

Why did no one in the media note the irony that Barack Obama announced his Iraq policy and then went there on a fact-finding tour?

Let him run for president of the European Union

Hundreds of thousands of adoring Europeans turned out to witness Barack Obama's appearance, as if it was some kind of miraculous apparition.

So what?

Obama and the media need to be reminded that the president is elected by American citizens, not Europeans or "citizens of the world." If anything, the European fawning will help McCain by honking off Americans who believe that who we elect president is no one's business but ours.

Obama the Flawless

I'm sitting here watching WTTW-TV's Chicago Week in Review, and the guest reporters all agree that Barack Obama's Middle East and European tour went off without a flaw. None of the guests, at least while I was tuned in, mentioned Obama's cancellation of a visit to wounded GIs in Germany as in any way problematic. I guess that wasn't a flaw.

Obama's campaign staff blames "the Pentagon" for cancellation of the scheduled visit; the Pentagon denies it. The Pentagon said that Obama could visit, but couldn't bring his campaign entourage and the media with him. And so, the wounded GIs were spared being pestered.

Well, there you have it: Obama's tour was flawless.

No Good Reason to Spike McCain's Op-Ed

By Dennis Byrne
RealClearPolitics

As an ink-strained wretch who has labored for decades for three of America's largest newspapers, I truly had hoped that liberal bias did not explain why the New York Times refused to publish an op-ed column from John McCain.

Sadly, though, the accusation is correct. By journalistic standards, the paper should have run the piece, just as Barack Obama's was run earlier. David Shipley, the Times' op-ed editor, his boss (in a later justification of the refusal) and by extension the newspaper blew this one, big, and now deserve the criticism heaped on them.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oh, the shame

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger accused commissioner Tony Peraica of engaging in politics by seeking to have the county's new 1 percentage-point sales tax increase repealed.

So?

Considering the wide-spread opposition to the tax increase, Peraica has it right. He ought to re-introduce the repeal every time the board meets.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fixing Springfield

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If the powers that be in Illinois are so all-fired determined to prevent the electorate from calling a convention to reform the state's constitution, then maybe the special interests should come up with a better way to flush the corrupt, wasteful and incompetent politics out of state government.

But they haven't. Instead, business and labor, the self-righteous and greedy, along with some pure of heart folks are spending a ton of money to get you to vote "no" when you are asked in the November election whether you want to call a state Constitutional Convention.

The response of these folks, calling themselves the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution, is to throw a big wad of money, which the rest of us don't have, to the usual suspects for a public relations campaign to preserve the status quo, which we all know is, oh, so fine. To those who might suggest that some things in the constitution might be changed for the better, the alliance says: "The best way to fix Springfield is to pick new elected officials." Swell, and how? The same wonderful constitution has endowed the rat pack that runs the state with the power to hold onto its power. Personally, I'm not all that hot to open up the entire constitution to revision by whoever clutches the reins of a Con Con, as the convention is informally known. The question is: Is it worth the risk of losing what's good in the constitution to address what's wrong with the state? Well, it's beginning to look like it. Here are just a few items:

Ethics: The ethics "rules" are so laughable that they deserve to be taken out of the hands of the governor and legislature. Even the latest "reform" is so minimal that it is, at best, a cynical charade. The constitution needs a strong ethics article.

Recall: Let voters remove state, local and county officials from office.

Legislative tyranny: One reason the state is in such bad shape is the undemocratic power that Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan have to block votes on bills. End that power.

Public servant reform: Don't just free public employees from doing political work to keep their jobs, bar them from it. It wouldn't exactly be a shot between the eyes of the corrupt Chicago Democratic machine, but it would be more than a flesh wound.

Secession: Allow Cook County taxpayers to throw off the yoke of Board President Todd Stroger by making it easier for them to remove their communities from the county.

Townships: Their duties can be handled elsewhere. Get rid of them.

We're just getting started: In the area of fiscal reform, the constitution badly needs to be amended to cure the staggering sickness of the state's pension funds. The budgeting process stinks, allowing the governor and the legislature to get away with approving huge deficits. How that would be done, I don't know, but finding a way is imperative to limit the deficits and indebtedness that are creating one of the state's worse crises.

Taxes: My brother-in-law, a small businessman recently visiting from Florida, was so astonished to hear that corporations are taxed at a higher rate than individuals that I had to go back and look it up to make sure I was right. Here's what the constitution says: "[For an income] tax imposed upon corporations the rate shall not exceed the rate imposed on individuals by more than a ratio of 8 to 5." This clearly isn't a way to keep the state's economy competitive; the rates should be equal.

And more: Why do we elect comptrollers and treasurers and clerks and the secretary of state; why not professionalize the offices? How about merit selection of judges? How about cleaning up the language of the education article ("The state has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education") to mean that the state has the primary financial responsibility for education, if that's what the people want? How about term limits? How refreshing would it be to put up no longer with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his arrogant, anti-democratic ally, Emil Jones?

There's a lot more, but here's the challenge to the alliance: Your cooperation with the rat pack has nurtured the stink. If you are so convinced that the only way to improve Illinois government is a new cast of characters, then form an alliance to throw the bums out.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Chicago Machine: It never left

By Dennis Byrne
The Chicago Daily Observer

It’s time to bring back the Chicago Machine. Or the Democratic Machine. Or Machine Politics.

For those of you who are thinking, “the Chicago Machine has never left, so what’s to bring back?” you’re quite right. We’ve still got the Chicago Machine. But some time ago, use of the expression “Chicago Machine” fell out of favor.

But the continued omission of references to the Machine insults reality, disserves the reading public and permits the Machine to go its happy way as if it doesn’t exist. Maintaining this pretense has national implications, allowing Democratic presidential candidate and Chicago favorite son Barack Obama to continue the fiction that he ain’t no scion of no stinking Machine.

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Evanston, Precious Evanston

Bags get sacked -- chicagotribune.com

Where else other than politically correct Evanston (well, maybe Wilmette or Oak Park) would an argument erupt over whether customers at a farmer's market (its presence being one more sure sign of correctness) have to pay 25 cents for four plastic bags to haul away their purchases of organic arugula and bok choy?

Farmer Harry Brockman started charging for the bags used at his booth because he thought it would reduce the use of the bags and thereby help improve the environment. But, the charge caused OFFENSE--the greatest of all politically incorrect sins. Said the Tribune story:
Brockman got an e-mail from Chicago attorney and longtime customer Joan Ferraro: "While I admire your dedication to trying to change the environment for the better, I have to tell you I find your plastic bag policy offensive. You are in the business of selling produce. If you don't provide something for the people to take your produce home with, you are not good businesspeople." [Emphasis added]
She later told the reporter:

"I think his true motive is he wants to make it difficult to not bring your own container; he wants to penalize people if they don't," Ferraro said. "I personally don't need him or anyone else to impose penalties on me. He doesn't know that I recycle those bags. He has no idea what I do with those bags."
Others folks protested and nearly half of the respondents to an informal Tribune poll said they would not spent a quarter to buy the bags. Use of the plastic bags plunged 90 percent, demonstrating either the deep environmental sensitivity of Evanstonians, and a really cheap streak. People, it's 25 cents for crying out loud.

Is Obama tripping over his ego?

Read The audacity of ego in, of all places, the Boston Globe.

A hat tip to Newsalert

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We the people of Illinois, in order to form a more perfect state, do gather in this constitutional convention

I don't think a lot of folks were all that serious about an Illinois Constitutional Convention until the established powers gathered to squelch the idea.

Here is the full list of the special interests:

AFL-CIO Illinois
American Insurance Association
Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
Citizen Action Illinois
Illinois Association of Convenience Stores
Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools
Illinois Association of School Administrators
Illinois Association of School Personnel Administrators
Illinois Business RoundTable
Illinois Civil Justice League
Illinois Education Association
Illinois Farm Bureau
Illinois Federation of Teachers
Illinois Manufacturers Association
Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association
Illinois Retail Merchants Association
Illinois Retired Teachers Association
Illinois State Chamber of Commerce
Illinois Teachers Retirement System
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
League of Women Voters of Illinois
National Federation of Independent Businesses/Illinois
Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce
Service Employees International Union Illinois
State University Annuitants Association
Taxpayers? Federation of Illinois
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 881

Organized labor, do-gooders, business, educators...truly an impressive line-up. I assume that more influence-seekers will be jumping on the bandwagon.

As much as they might disagree with each other on other issues, when it comes to maintaining the status quo, they're in accord. The very creation of this alliance suggests that one reason the current state government is in such disarray is structural. If the special interests were not so interested in maintaining the status quo, big money wouldn't be pouring in to pay for a such a big PR campaign.

In one way, the campaign, which kicked off with a big press conference yesterday, has already succeeded. A lot of people now have noticed that they have an opportunity to kick the politicians and special interests in the butt, and a lot of people will be wanting to know more. If you are among them, you can start by reading a fine column by By John Bambenek in today's Chicago Daily Observer. There you'll find some good reasons to think about calling a con-con.

I'm not entirely convinced that a new con-con is a good idea, but those who are marshaling the big bucks to oppose one are lighting a fire under a disgruntled Illinois electorate. Those opposed to folks gathering in a constitutional convention call themselves the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution. Perhaps what the fed-up citizens of Illinois need to do is create an Alliance to Protect Illinois Citizens from the politicians who have been empowered by the current constitution.

Aw, fugetit

The quintessential East Coast liberal establishment magazine, the New Yorker, is taking it on the chin for its cover depicting the Obama couple as...supposedly...the right wing would have everyone believe: Barack as a Muslim quisling and Michelle as, I'm not really sure, an armed terrorist.

So, New Yorker, how does it feel now to be accused of causing offense? Usually, the charges are reserved for anyone who doesn't agree with the handed down wisdom of the politically correct left.

But, wait. It's not the Obama campaign that should be offended by this cover. It is not a representation, I dare say, of what the average voter who doesn't like Obama thinks. Can those of us who disagree with some of his policies not have to suffer being labeled Baracknophobes? Can we be separated from the goofballs who, indeed, think he is a Muslim quisling? This is the real slander behind the cover, but since it's Obama's opponents who are being painted with such a broad brush, who should care?

I don't. It comes with the territory.

Here's a new blog

A new blog devoted exclusively to the problems of Mayor Richard M. Daley's extravagant and dangerous expansion of O'Hare International Airport can be found here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another reason to cut off Jesse Jackson

It turns out that Jackson was even feeding off (extorting?) Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE). The National Legal and Policy Center today issued a press release criticizing the financially endangered institutions for shipping a combined $250,000 to Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Citizenship Education Fund Annual Conference. The Chicago event, June 28 through July 2, is one of Jackson's main fund-raising vehicles.

The policy center noted:
Jesse Jackson's relationship with Freddie Mac began in 1998 when Jackson accused Freddie Mac of racial discrimination and encouraged major shareholders to sell their stock. Freddie Mac began financial support for Jackson's organizations and his criticism of Freddie Mac stopped.
That's an old story in Chicago. But it could well be new, and outrageous, to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders who have seen a huge chunk of their value wiped out in the past several days.

Another hat tip to Newsalert

Public transit riders should pay same fuel-cost increases as motorists

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now would be a good time to raise bus and train fares.

Why not? Everyone else is paying more to get around. Higher gasoline prices are crushing motorists. Airline passengers aren't just paying higher fares; they're also paying for their bags to fly with them. Everyone's getting hurt, except CTA train and bus, Metra commuter rail and Pace suburban bus riders. What makes them so special?

Yes, I know how holy writ dictates that each mass transit rider is one less car on the road, one less motorist adding to the demand for gasoline and making it more expensive for everyone. Or how those selfless, caring transit people, by getting out of their cars, are cutting down on pollution, saving us from global warming, preserving limited resources and providing jobs for Red Line troubadours. We should reward them, not punish them. Asking them to pay for 60 percent or 70 percent of the cost of their rides? The very idea. After all, didn't they "just" have a fare increase?

Indeed, they did, but they're still paying for only a slice of what their rides truly cost; the rest is paid by everyone who, oh yeah, just had a tax increase to give transit riders more subsidies. Chicagoans now pay the highest big-city sales tax in the country, in part for the privilege of helping the good souls who ride trains and buses.

No, I'm not against transit subsidies; public transit couldn't survive without them. And I think mass transit is a swell idea, having spent decades of my life on it, way back to when you could ride streetcars (the red and wood-paneled variety, not just the Green Hornet), catch a North Shore train in the Loop for a ride to the northern suburbs or board an open-ended elevated train car.

See here: The CTA last month said fuel costs could be $25 million more than the amount budgeted this year. That was based on May 26 costs, when the spot price for a barrel of crude was $128. More recently, it has surpassed $140, roughly a 10 percent increase in less than two months. Does anyone really think that it won't go higher?

In that time, gasoline prices, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, rose to about $4.30, from $4.17. Motorists paid all of that increase; transit riders have paid none of it. If the laws of supply and demand applied to transit, fares would be higher because (1) transit is in greater demand thanks to tapped-out motorists and (2) the cost of providing each ride has increased.

But the laws of supply and demand don't apply because politicians—who as a breed are too gutless to tell riders and voters what they need to hear—set fares. So, I'll do it for them, and take the heat.

The heat will come from the squads of urbanologists, progressives and self-ordained civic priests whose belief in the ancient formula for solving metropolitan problems is held with biblical-like certitude. They'll be threatening me with pits and pendulums unless I conform to the standard beliefs, e.g. more mass transit, no more suburban sprawl, controlled growth, comprehensive regional planning and so forth.

C'mon folks, you're talking about the same threadbare dogma that I heard more than 40 years ago when earning my master's degree in urban affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Certainly you can do better than that.

Let's get to the heart of the problem: Many people clogging the highways and transit lines are moving their bodies from place to place because (1) they need to get to work, or (2) they need to acquire stuff. But what if they can do the work and obtain the goods without having to move their bodies around? This is the 21st Century; we can work and shop without our persons having to be transported from place to place by some costly, time-eating, Earth-polluting, resource-consuming mode of transportation. We've got the computer, the Internet, teleconferencing, Webcasting, telecommuting, teleworking, and on and on. If we're really serious about solving our energy and transit-funding problems we'll get really serious about increasing opportunities and incentives for tele- and computer-alternatives. Replace a few of those seminars on how to secure more mass transit funding with seminars on how to get more employers to climb on board.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sen. Schumer single-handedly sinks a bank

When IndyMac Bank became the third-largest bank failure in U.S. history on Friday, blame was placed at the feet of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y).

That assessment came from John Reich, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which will be left holding the bag as the result of the failure, to the tune of $4 billion and $8 billion, potentially wiping out more than 10 percent of the agency's $53 billion deposit-insurance fund.

Reich, quoted in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) noted that Schumer had sent a letter to the regulator raising concerns about the bank's insolvency. Said the Journal: "In the following 11 days, spooked depositors withdrew a total of $1.3 billion. Mr. Reich said Sen. Schumer gave the bank a 'heart attack.' 'Would the institution have failed without the deposit run?' Mr. Reich asked reporters. 'We'll never know the answer to that question.'

Not unexpectedly, Schumer found someone else to blame. His excuse, as repored by the Journal: "If OTS had done its job as regulator and not let IndyMac's poor and loose lending practices continue, we wouldn't be where we are today," Sen. Schumer said. "Instead of pointing false fingers of blame, OTS should start doing its job to prevent future IndyMacs."

There's only one problem with this blowhard's explanation. At one time, he was taking credit for making mortgages available to marginally qualified families. A tip of the hat to Newsalert for reminding us.

United Airlines wants more regulation--for someone else

2 Chicago execs hit D.C. with different views on oil issue | Crain's

Years ago, United Airlines was among the leading voices in favor of airline deregulation. Of course that was before its flawed business plan drove it into bankruptcy. Now, United, once again in financial trouble, wants to impose tougher regulation on someone else: oil speculators, whom United blames for driving up energy costs.

"Believe it or not, these are fake"--Chicago Tribune Headline

Expert: Iran `doctored' photo of missile launches -- chicagotribune.com

It's long been know that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is dangerous. But with these doctored photos, he must also be stupid to think that he could get away with this.

Dangerous and stupid. A deadly combination

Straight talk on gasoline prices

This is one of the most concise, logical and factual pieces I've seen analyzing skyrocketing energy costs. It comes from USAA, a trusted, member-owned company that provides insurance, banking and financial services. I don't claim that it explains everything, but it certainly is helpful.

The self-gelding of Jesse Jackson

By Dennis Byrne
The Chicago Daily Observer

This apology mania is getting out of hand. It’s bad enough to have to beg for forgiveness for every perceived slight or insult. Now, Jesse Jackson has taken it a step further by issuing apologies when most of us didn’t even know what he was sorry for.

Only after Jackson jumped before the cameras to issue his mea culpa did we learn that he had criticized—in front of an open mic—the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama for “talking down to black people” by supporting federally funded faith-based initiatives. For that, Jackson said he would like to cut off Obama’s testicles.

So, when I had turned on the TV, I had no clue about what Jackson was apologizing for. It didn’t help when he tried to explain the meaning of what he said: “It does not reflect any disparagement on my part for the historic event in which we are involved or my pride in Senator Barack Obama who is leading it whom I have supported by crisscrossing this nation in every level of media and audience from the beginning in absolute terms.”

Come again?


Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Huffington poster's ignorant response to my column about Obama contributors

Here is a response from some character on the Huffington Post to my column on Obama's campaign contributors. Obviously, he didn't check out the source of my figures, so I'll have to do it for him. If he has a whine about the figures regarding the "industries" that have donated to Obama, he should take it up with OpenSecrets.org, from the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington-based organization, recognized for its fair-handed treatment of all candidates. Look here for its explanation of the data that I cited.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Obama's cash, spin piling up

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

David Plouffe, manager of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, keeps sending me e-mails asking me to cough up money because the presumptive Democratic nominee's fundraising is, supposedly, as pure as the driven snow. Somehow, my name got on Obama's list of prospective suckers, and for months I've read this song and dance about how he has freed himself from the tentacles of special interests.

This is baloney.

Consider Plouffe's money pitch that followed Obama's recent decision not to accept publicly funded campaign money, which means Obama can spend way more than the $84.1 million campaign spending cap—which, by the way, is something the senator promised never to do.

Said Plouffe: "Opting out of public matching funds was an extremely difficult decision and frankly we are at a disadvantage when it comes to raising money. Unlike [ Sen.] John McCain [the presumptive Republican presidential nominee], this campaign has never accepted donations from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs [political action committees] . . . While McCain has built his fundraising strategy around high-dollar donors giving huge checks to the [Republican National Committee], you are creating a new model for publicly financed campaigns."

First, Plouffe is being—I'll be charitable—disingenuous when he says that "we are at a disadvantage" in the money game. "Strategists for both parties," reports Bloomberg News service, "say Obama probably will outpace McCain by more than $100 million for the presidential campaign." Obama can spend whatever he will raise; he has already raised more than $266 million, most just for the primaries. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics said this is the first time since the Nixon-McGovern race that the two major presidential candidates will compete on an uneven playing field.

Second, the Obama campaign is shading the truth when it implies that all the money comes from small contributions of $5, $10 or $20. The Center estimated that 55 percent of the hundreds of millions raised has come from big donors—those giving more than $200.

Third, Plouffe is flat wrong when he says this campaign has never accepted money from lobbyists or special-interest political action committees. The Center reported that Obama had raised $115,163 from "lobbyists" as of March 20. Obama now says they are "former" lobbyists, so they don't fall under his ban on lobbyist donations.

So, whom do lobbyists represent? Special interests—various industries and associations wanting something from government. Here, from the Center's OpenSecrets.org, are some of the industries that have given Obama money: lawyers, $17.8 million; securities and investments, $7.9 million; education, $7 million; real estate, business services, miscellaneous businesses, health professionals and TV/movies/music, more than $4 million each. Computers/Internet, finance, civil servants and public officials, printing and publishing, commercial banks, hospitals and nursing homes, construction services, all ranging from almost $1 million to more than $3 million.

Biggest donors? Goldman, Sachs & Co., UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, National Amusements, Lehman Brothers, Google, Sidley Austin, Skadden Arps, Time Warner, Morgan Stanley, Exelon, Latham & Watkins, Microsoft and GE are among the biggest corporate contributors.

How can this be? Didn't Obama say he doesn't accept money from lobbyists and PACs? Well, that means he still can accept money from "spouses of lobbyists, non-lobbying partners who work for lobbying firms or for law firms that do lobbying, ex-lobbyists and state lobbyists," said the Center. "Because of contribution limits, organizations that bundle together many individual contributions are often among the top donors to presidential candidates. These contributions can come from the organization's members or employees [and their families]."

Obama said he now eschews public financing because the devil (McCain and the GOP) made him do it; Obama supposedly is at a disadvantage because they are "fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special-interest PACs."

To which FactCheck.org replied: "We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse. In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the [Republican National Committee's] receipts."

Here's a final word from FactCheck: "[T]he Democratic National Committee has historically been far more reliant on PAC and lobbyist money than the RNC. In 2004, PACs provided about 10 percent of the DNC's total fundraising and only about 1 percent of the RNC's total. Obama, after he sewed up enough delegates to win the party's nomination, sent word to the DNC to stop accepting PAC and lobbyist donations."

Tell your donors anything; it's almost like they'll believe it.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Jesse Jackson shoots, misses

Right-wing gun ruling endangers U.S.

Jesse Jackson just can't help himself when he says:
More people will die from gunshots due to the decision of five right-wing Supreme Court justices to overturn the District of Columbia law banning handguns in the district.
Right. Just like the gang shootings in the Loop that killed one and wounded three. Based on Jackson's cause-and-effect assertion the "gang of five" (Jackson's reference to the five Supreme Court justices who ruled that gun ownership was an individual right) have been arrested by Chicago police and charged with the murder.

Jackson is a first class piece of work, as he asserts:

Similarly, Chicago and other cities need limits on the kind of weapons sold. President Bush allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire, at the behest of the NRA. But assault weapons aren't necessary to defend your home. They aren't useful in hunting deer or shooting doves. They are killer guns, putting police at risk. And worse, in an age of terror, they provide the capacity to shoot down airplanes, or shoot up shopping centers.
In fact, the court decision had nothing to do with assault weapons, and, in fact, it explicitly said dangerous and unique weapons could be restricted. The court specifically said its ruling did not grant an absolute right to gun ownership.

Jackson obviously preferred to repeat liberal distortions than to read the opinion.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Citizens of Illinois, let us throw off our chains

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.—From the Declaration of Independence

Sounds like governance as practiced by “progressives,” when, in fact, it was referring to King George III. Eating out our substance was one of only a couple dozen complaints against the British crown that were cause enough for these 13 colonies to declare themselves to be “Free and Independent States.”

A multitude of offices hardly seems to be a fit enough description of what Washington D.C. and Springfield, Illinois have sent our way to eat out our substance. The only break we have received is a temporary reprieve provided by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Dancing Egos inhabiting Springfield because they’d rather suck each other’s blood instead of ours, at least for the time being. When they tire of clubbing each other, they’ll most assured turn to clubbing us.

Every time we turn around, there’s another “desperately needed program” being proposed to drain our creativity, initiative and life-blood, to be enforced bureaucrats and the offices they occupy. At this, the tyrant, In Rod We Trust Blagojevich, is most adept, usurping our own elected legislative body to appropriate to all himself the power of the purse and the creation of ever more “programs.”

So, on this Day of National Indpendence, let us turn to another relevant section of our nation’s birth certificate:

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Can there be any clearer statement of why Illinois citizens ought to convene in a state constitutional convention to inventory and redress the many grievances they have against the established political order and to dissolve the political bands that tethered them to an oppressive and corrupt form of government?

To this purpose, in the face of the united forces of graft and corruption, and with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, let us mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

From the folks who brought you Illinois’ awful government: Millions to stop a constitutional convention

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

What describes the nature of Illinois politics better than the hiring of Democrat strategist David Axelrod’s firm by an establishment Republican to squash any possibility of a state constitutional convention?

Voting to convene a convention to revise the Illinois Constitution—which is required by that very constitution to be on the ballot this November—is hardly a subject on everyone’s (or even anyone’s) lips, but you never know when the natives might act up and demand a change in the nation’s most dysfunctional state government. No telling what it might lead to, something like, oh, government that works.

The Democratic and Republican powers that have run this state (into the ground) can’t have anything like that....

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer