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.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Judging The Judge in the Cop Beating Case

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

For more than 20 years as a columnist, I’ve kept my mouth shut whenever a judge or a jury makes a decision that I don’t believe is right. Even when every opinionizer in the country was fuming over the jury’s acquittal of O.J. Simpson of murder charges, I didn’t write in disagreement, although I was mightily shocked.

The reason is that I wasn’t in the courtroom, hearing all the facts and law. I wasn’t in the jury room, listening to peers shift through the evidence. Second guessing the justice system is a dangerous sport, weakening our respect for the law and criminal proceedings.

This self-imposed silence on my part is now challenged by one Cook County Circuit Judge John J. Fleming, who sentenced a big cop to two years probation for beating up a tiny woman bartender, as shown on a security camera tape that circulated digitally around the world. The 250-pound cop, Anthony Abbate, also was ordered to perform 130 hours of community service at a homeless shelter, attend anger management classes, observe a strict 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew during the probation period and undergo drug and alcohol evaluations.

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

Chicago Olympics bid team to hold secret meetings with aldermen

At every turn, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Pat Ryan and the Chicago Silly Council make themselves look ever more like dunces. Now comes word that Ryan's Chicago 2016 Olympic committee is meeting in secret with aldermen to brief them on a controversial move by Daley to secure the Olympics for Chicago in 2016.

The committee is trying to respond to the spreading public beef that followed Daley giving in to the International Olympic Committee by saying that he would sign a contract that requires the city to make up for any losses suffered by the Games if they are held in Chicago. Daley and Ryan said not to worry; the "private sector" would cover the losses by taking out a big, $500 million insurance policy.

These guys think that a series of secret meetings with aldermen are going to quell the growing public alarm over what Daley is getting us into?

Hal Turner's right to speak ends with death threats

This week's arrest of Hal Turner, a white supremacist, for threatening to murder three federal appeals court judges in Chicago is expected to set off the usual hand wringing among bloggers about threats to free speech.


He used his web site to call for the killing of three federal judges in Chicago. The Chicago Breaking News Center reported that the U.S. Attorney here accused Turner of posting the judge's names, photos and addresses, with such statements as "Let me be the first to say this plainly; These judges deserve to be killed." Their offense? They upheld ordinances banning handguns in Chicago and Oak Park.

Hunter's previous brush with the law over using such language on his site has set him chattering about the need to protect his "right to free speech." He screeched:

How would this affect you? Simple: People you never met, in places you've never been, can take offense to something you write on the Internet and have you jailed in THEIR state for it! Do you see the risk now? Do you understand how important this case is going to be?
The case in question then involved criminal charges against him filed by Connecticut for couple of weeks ago for "incitement to harm persons or property," a felony for which he could get one to ten years in prison. It stemmed from a posting a few weeks ago from his blog in his New Jersey home, in which he called Connecticut officials "tyrannical" and said citizens should "take up arms to put down this tyranny."

Not quite as bad as calling down a death sentence on three federal judges and helping violent nuts locate them; perhaps it might more properly fall under the classification as sedition, a word that hasn't been heard in these parts for years.

Well-established case law holds that the right of free speech, just as every other right such as bearing arms, is not absolute or unlimited. (The right to abortion is just about the only one that some would have us believe doesn't need to be balanced with any other persons' rights, but that's another story.)

Turner's blog proclaims "Free Speech: No Matter who Doesn't Like It!" He and his supporters will break out the heavy rhetoric about some fanciful government conspiracy to yank away our fundamental rights, such as free speech. Internet purists will claim that any restrictions on what is said digitally is entitled to special protections.

Maybe, as the Internet moves out of its adolescence and into adulthood, we'll understand and acknowledge that the Internet is just another form of communication that merits no special exemptions to law and decency.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How many helicopters will $13 BILLION buy you?

What's this, $13 billion to build new helicopters for President Barack Obama? That's $13 billion with a "b," putting the production of a handful of choppers to fly around the president in the same category as the entire expansion of O'Hare International Airport.

Is Obama out of his mind?

He might be, but you can't pin this gawker on him. Obama doesn't want the new helicopters and his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has ordered the purchases terminated.

But Congress, bless its conniving soul, is gearing up to spend the money anyway. Why? The usual reason: pork. It's a case history of just how difficult it is to kill the pig, despite soaring promises of change in the way Washington does business.

In comparison, it makes Illinois' own prime cut of pork, FutureGen -- the $1 billion in federal magnanimity for an experimental Downstate power plant that hopes to burn coal cleanly -- look like pig's knuckles.

The VH-71 presidential helicopter program would buy 23 new Marine One-type helicopters, but it's six years behind schedule and costs are soaring.

But, say its backers, canceling the program now and reactivating it later to replace the aging helicopter fleet could amount to $17 billion. Some suggest that the best alternative is to pare down the order to 13 helicopters, thus saving . . . oh, what does it matter; it'll cost us billions any way you cut it.

So, what is Congress doing in the face of this conundrum? Being two-faced as usual. About a week ago, the House Armed Services Committee approved the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill, tucking away in it a mealy-mouthed VH-71 proviso. It approved the Obama administration's request for $84 million to shut down the program, but directed the start of design work on a new presidential helicopter, to be called VXX. Then it released a report accompanying the bill that "strongly suggests" that the administration buy a few more VH-71s than the five that already have been built. "The committee notes," the report went on, "that this approach will leverage the investment already made by the taxpayer in developing a helicopter that would meet all normal requirements of the president."

Congressional Quarterly reported that the language was inserted into the report at the behest of Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.). High on the list of donors to Bartlett's political campaign is Lockheed Martin Corp., the main contractor for the VH-71. Bartlett told CQ he doesn't know who his donors are, and that he's not acting on behalf of the company. Uh huh.

Also, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue the VH-71 program, citing the money that has already been spent. Lockheed Martin's plant in Owego, N.Y., is the main beneficiary of the contract and if the program is scratched more than 700 jobs could be lost in upstate New York. Only a few months ago, Gillibrand replaced Hillary Clinton as one of New York's U.S. senators and apparently has quickly caught on to how the game is played.

Not that Illinois is pure in that regard. In terms of cash, Illinois' FutureGen project doesn't compare, but in chutzpah, it comes close. The project, located in Downstate Mattoon, had been initiated and then, citing cost overruns, was canceled by President George W. Bush. Perhaps because of the Bush connection, a Democratic House staff committee report took the opportunity to bash the former president, calling the project "nothing more than a public relations ploy." Environmentalists have denounced it, arguing that "dirty coal" is and always will be dirty. Yet, here come Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), reviving the project for their home state, mindful of the jobs and contracts it will bring and the tens of billions of tons of coal buried in Illinois, waiting to be scooped up and burned.

Ah yes, change we can believe in.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Daley’s Costly Genuflection to The Olympic Overseers

By Dennis Byrne

Is the International Olympic Committee so stupid that it is willing to accept the word of a mayor of a near-bankrupt city that it will cover any of the Games’ huge losses if it comes to Chicago?

Is the committee stupid enough to believe that Daley is a king and can commit Chicago to paying hundreds of millions of dollars all by himself?

Of all the stupid things that the committee has done to the Games (such as cheapening them by letting in professional athletes), this has to rank right up there with the worst. Daley, in a reversal, said he now will sign the standard contract that puts Chicago (and, practically speaking) Illinois on the hook for $500 million or more if the 2016 Games here are a bust.

Not to worry, Daley still insists, the private group that is pushing the games will take out extra insurance to cover that half-billion-dollars if something goes wrong. To which I say: then let the local 2016 committee, headed by Patrick Ryan, sign the damn thing....

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Senator questions firing of 3 inspectors general by Obama administration

Barack Obama brings more of the Chicago Way to the White House: Three inspectors general are gone. Why? Don't we deserve an honest answer?

Read about it in the Chicago Tribune

Bush takes swipes at Obama policies

Fair is fair. No president other than Barack Obama in my memory has spent so much time thumping his predecessor. Through it all, George W. Bush kept his peace. But now, he has responded, as he should. He reminds us, for example:
[Bush] said his administration sought to address the "housing bubble" before the system broke down. "We tried to reform" mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, "but couldn't get it through the vested interests on Capitol Hill."
That's restraint. He could have correctly dumped the problem at the feet of Democrats such as Rep. Barney Frank.

The story is here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Our illusions about health care

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If Sen. Edward Kennedy's 651-page bill reconstructing America's health-care system is any indication, the next few weeks will be confusing and exasperating.

Immodestly speaking, the Massachusetts Democrat thinks the government can bestow on Americans long-term care insurance for a far-fetched $65 a month. Right there is a great example of what the approaching weeks will be like as Congress opens debate on every utopian and fly-by-night idea for creating a perfectly healthy society, for a lot less than we're paying now. If there's ever a time for Americans to be skeptical, it's now, because the stakes may never be this high again.

What some are proposing to do with health care is akin to trying to take apart a wheezing old diesel engine and then, by adding a few new parts and a lot of stargazing, turn it into a jet aircraft engine. It has all the earmarks of President Barack Obama's fantasy that everything can be upgraded to excellent, if not perfect, condition in a few weeks by blindly blowing hundreds of billions of dollars out the door.

As a wise professor of mine once said, when you want to create or change public policy, what exactly are you trying to do? You've got to bore through the rhetoric, dogma and politics to find the heart of it. Do you, for example, want to insure every American for the sake of insuring every American, or is the goal to improve every American's health?

We keep hearing that we must provide medical coverage for what the Bureau of the Census says are approximately 47 million uninsured Americans, but there's no discussion of whether that's the goal itself, or a means to the goal.

It's made more difficult because the Census Bureau's survey doesn't delve deeply into why 47 million are uninsured: Because they're young and healthy and don't want to be covered? Because they can't afford it? Because of a disqualifying prior medical condition? No doubt, for all those reasons, but in what proportions? Also ignored is what proportion of the uninsured is nonetheless receiving health care through Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program. (By the way, the same annual survey shows that the number and percentage of uninsured children continues to decline.)

If you can't answer those questions with precision, you can't design a program that will do what the ultimate goal is -- better health care for all Americans, regardless of whether it is through an insurance program or some other way. For example, if 10 percent of the 47 million are young and healthy and don't want to be insured, forcing them all to buy a policy isn't going to do much to finance the new system. If 10 percent of the 47 million are involuntarily uninsured, then the problem isn't as bad as it is described, so we can ask: Why are we rebuilding the whole system?

Gets complicated doesn't it? Perhaps such questions will soon be answered with clarity. But my hopes aren't high because these kinds of questions have been persistently ignored in the health-care debate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A firsit-hand glimpse of the Irianian thirst for freedom

Twitter has become one of the few ways that freedom-seekers are foiling censorship and communicating with each other. Check out here what they're telling each other.

Send Michael Moore contributions for his friends in the UAW

For some reason, Moore forgot to include them in this pitch.

Pro-reform marchers fill Tehran streets - Yahoo! News

Reading about the protests (here) made me think that Ahmadinejad's mistake when stealing the election was winning by too big of a margin, thereby instantly casting doubt on the results of the closely contested election. But then I thought of Mayor Richard M. Daley's Democratic Machine and all the precincts that routinely turn in 100 percent (or close to it) votes for Machine candidates. None of it seems to hurt Daley's credibility, but then again, this is Chicago, not Tehran.

GM's deal erased many average Americans' savings

Maybe the bondholders should have formed a union and contributed heavily to Obama's campaign so they would have extorted better terms from his administration. Story is here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Today is Flag Day

Here's a thought.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

61% of Illinois Voters Say They Would Definitely Vote Against Roland Burris

Lots of interesting information in Rasmussen Reports about the views of Illinois voters, including this:
Governor Pat Quinn, who replaced Blagojevich following his impeachment, does not receive much reelection support from voters. If Quinn decides to run for a full term as governor, only 13% say they would definitely vote for him while 23% say they would definitely vote against him. Most voters (63%) say their decisions would depend on who is running against him.

America to Obama: Stop the spending

Most voters (53%) believe increases in government spending hurt the economy, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

While that result is unchanged from last month, it’s up five points from 48% in January.

Just 27% now say increased government spending helps the economy, and 10% say it has no impact.

Read more in Rasmussen Reports

Friday, June 12, 2009

David Letterman is a jerk

So are his defenders.

I know it's too much to ask we remember something as far back as more than a dozen years, but let's try, anyway. Bill and Hillary Clinton had just moved into the White House along with daughter Chelsie. Some folks, including Saturday Night Live, cruelly made fun of her looks. Everyone quickly agreed that a politician's children are off limits. And that agreement held for eight years.

Now, David Letterman breaks that consensus by making Sara Palin's daughter (or was it daughters?) an object of ridicule, implying sexual misconduct, rape, or whatever it was we are supposed to believe.

Face it, Letterman and his hip persona just aren't funny. For some reason, though, he has accumulated an adoring audience of dolts. Such as this defender, whose comment appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
If the Palin (sic) are going to parade her kids on stage in front of the world, making them public figures, then they need to accept that they'll be subject to jokes, even off-color ones. As far as I'm concerned, they all got what they deserved, and maybe the Palin's (sic) will now buy a clue and realize if THEY want to protect their kids, they will keep them out of site (sic) in Alaska---and leave us alone--EyesWideOpen
Let us hope that no one applies this principle to President Barack Obama's daughters.

The adorable picture above is of David Letterman's son, Harry. Letterman bragged about him on his show, so....Well, you get the idea.

Bush, Obama and Kenneth Lewis

Democrats say the Bush administration pushed Bank of America's Kenneth Lewis too hard to merge with troubled Merrill Lynch. Republicans say the same thing about the Obama administration when it comes to remaking the auto industry.

They're both right. It's what you get when government takes over. The question is whether any of it is legal or even constitutional?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Here's a quote to remember:

"That's why I have already promised the [health care insurance] reform will not add to our deficit over the next 10 years."--President Barack Obama.

Oh, sure. The 10-year cost of the plan is estimated to be $1 trillion. Where will the money come from?

The silliness is here

Barney Frank can't take the heat

He flees the kitchen.

Remember the 21.5 % prime rate?

Well, it's coming back

Arthur Laffer warns in the Wall Street Journal that we need to get ready for inflation and higher interest rates.
To date what's happened is potentially far more inflationary than were the monetary policies of the 1970s, when the prime interest rate peaked at 21.5% and inflation peaked in the low double digits. Gold prices went from $35 per ounce to $850 per ounce, and the dollar collapsed on the foreign exchanges. It wasn't a pretty picture.
Get ready to be frightened, when he points out that:
unfunded liabilities of federal programs -- such as Social Security, civil-service and military pensions, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, Medicare and Medicaid -- are over the $100 trillion mark. With U.S. GDP and federal tax receipts at about $14 trillion and $2.4 trillion respectively, such a debt all but guarantees higher interest rates, massive tax increases, and partial default on government promises.

If Bush had done it...

Or, where is Comedy Central now?

This has been making the rounds on the Internet, and worth repeating:

If George W. Bush had made a joke at the expense of the Special Olympics, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had given Gordon Brown set of inexpensive and useless (to Tony Blair's UK video formatting) DVDs, when Brown had given him a thoughtful and historically significant gift, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had given the Queen of England an iPod containing videos of his speeches, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia , would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had visited Austria and made reference to the non-existent "Austrian language," would you have brushed it off as a minor slip?

If George W. Bush had filled his cabinet and circle of advisers with people who cannot seem to keep current on their income taxes, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had ordered the firing of the CEO of a major corporation, even though he had no constitutional authority to do so, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had proposed to double the national debt, which had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, in one year, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had then proposed to double the debt again within 10 years, would you have approved?

So, tell me again, what is it about Obama that makes him so brilliant and impressive?

Can't think of anything? Don't worry. He's done all this in 10 weeks -- so you'll have three years and nine-and-a-half months to come up with an answer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More hypocrisy in Congress

The Washington Times reports that the House has restricted outside investigations in its members' ethics. Both parties joined in the move, a mere couple of years after Democrats took control because of GOP scandals.

Will it ever end?

In Defense of High Parking Meter Rates

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Hold on a second; where does it say that you’re entitled to park cheaply on a public street?

You’re not, but that’s the assumption behind all the crabbing about the city’s “obscene” increase in parking meter rates. Put aside questions about the competence of the company now running the meters and whether Mayor Richard M. Daley could have squeezed another billion or so out of the company for the 75-year lease. Also, put aside how badly the company has bollixed the job and questions about whether it was a sweetheart deal.

That’s a lot to put aside, but if your gripe is about what it now costs to park on a street in Chicago, then you’ve lost me. I had thought from the decibel level that you were being asked for an arm and a leg, but then I looked at the rates.

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sanetilli puts it to Geithner

Next reforms should take on term limits for legislative leaders

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

All of the suggestions for reforming the contemptible Illinois legislature won't go anywhere unless we strip its two leaders of their iron grip on how their minions vote.

Therefore, as my first suggestions for amendments to the Illinois Constitution, I propose limiting the length that any legislator can serve as House speaker or Senate president to one or two terms. How else to end the lock that House Speaker Michael Madigan (above right) and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats, have on both chambers so that the legislative bodies can function as they should -- true representatives of the people?

The legislature can be called a lot of things (bumbling, cowardly, selfish, sheepish, insane), but it's also a diarchy. Diarchy: (n) a government controlled by two diarchs (bosses). In most diarchies, the diarchs hold their position for life and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their children or other family members when they die.

In the Illinois legislature, the diarchs are Madigan and Cullerton -- two familial names in Chicago politics -- without whose approval nothing will move through the otherwise constipated, ethically challenged legislature. Because they are elected from two safe districts in Chicago and because they rule with papal-like ex cathedra ("from the chair") authority, the rest of us are virtually disenfranchised.

Madigan is the longer-serving, Cullerton having replaced Emil Jones, the former enabler of the disgraced former governor, Rod Blagojevich. Madigan and Cullerton control their chambers by sitting on a pot of campaign funds to be doled out to their ever-grateful toadies. Of course, limiting the speakership or presidency to one or two terms doesn't mean that the campaign contributions from those seeking favor won't stop flowing into the hands of whoever succeeds them.

So, we'll need another amendment: No Illinois legislator may distribute campaign money to any other member of the House or Senate. Sure, there are other ways to distribute campaign money to other servile party members and requiring loyalty in return. But at least it will keep the direct ladling of political funds out of the governmental process.

There are other possible amendments that citizens can initiate. High on my list would be the restoration of the "cumulative voting" system for electing lawmakers. Years ago, as a citizen activist, Gov. Pat Quinn was instrumental in eliminating this system, which turned out to be one of the biggest anti-reform moves in decades.

Under the system, each legislative district sent three representatives to the House. Typically, Democrats and Republicans would each put up two candidates in each district, and voters were given three votes to divide among them. It produced a cohesive minority of some of the most independent, honest and competent legislators in the state's history. Quinn and his fellow utopians accomplished what the most die-hard party regulars couldn't have done on their own. They concentrated political power in the hands of a smaller clique of party regulars, while producing an assembly of conformist lawmakers.

Voters also could initiate an amendment limiting the terms of all lawmakers, not just the leadership. Term limits aren't my favorite cause; I see good reasons for having experienced legislators. Yet, turning over the entire membership regularly isn't a bad idea, considering the manner in which the experienced hands have been conducting themselves.

This shouldn't exhaust the number of ideas for amending the constitution's Article IV, which sets out how the legislature does business. I'm putting these forward because after last week's column suggesting that voters use the citizen initiative process to shake up the legislature, a number of readers asked for specific suggestions. Other folks may have more or better ideas, and I hope to hear from them.

As I said last week, it takes about 270,000 registered voters' signatures to place an amendment on the ballot in the 2010 general election. It's not too soon to begin weighing the ideas and coalescing around the best ones. I can serve as a conduit for the ideas and for those who are interested in getting a movement started.

But I'm not an organizer. It's up to those with the moxie and the money to get this effort under way. I know there is interest out there, and we need to start somewhere. The Madigans, Cullertons and the rest have signaled that we don't matter; they need a reminder that we do.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Obama: We have only begun to spend

Finally, an accounting--grossly inadequate as it is--of stimulus spending:
In the three months after the Democratic-led Congress approved Obama’s stimulus plan, the government doled out about 11 percent of the emergency stimulus funds, according to a progress report released by Biden’s office on May 13.
The administration says it will commit about 70 percent of the money by the end of the next fiscal year, less than the 75 percent that White House officials projected in February.
Now, let's have a more detailed accounting on how well the money is being spent, before pushing ahead with the release of more record amounts of pork.

Springfield Tax Revolt

Wisdom in Springfield; is it possible?

A Wall Street Journal editorial found something praiseworthy to say about our pathetic Illinois legislature:
Taxpayer victories are rare these days, so let's cheer the good news in Illinois, where earlier this week the state House in Springfield voted 74-42 against a plan to raise the income tax rate on individuals and businesses by 50%.
One interesting fact in the piece:
One reason [Gov. Pat] Quinn's tax plan failed is because there was little effort to slow down spending that has increased 45% (to $4,700 from $3,250 per person after inflation) in the past decade.
Republicans, struggling to find a message that resonates with "moderate" voters should note all the Democrats who joined with every House Republican to kill the tax increase. Together, they made an overwhelming majority

Fair is fair

A state legislator is calling for the resignation of the University of Illinois President Joseph White (right) and trustees who participated in clouting politically connected and perhaps unqualified students into the school.

One suspects that it wasn't the school officials' idea, although they helped out or at least gave their implied consent to the practice.

But if it's fair to call for the heads of the school administrators, then why shouldn't the 100 politicians who pushed for the students' admission also resign. Among them, House Speaker Michael Madigan, who to no one's surprise, called this grossly unfair practice a legitimate "constituent service."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Obama gets it right

His speech and his other pronouncements are an important start to achieving a two-state solution and ending the Israeli settlements.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Group Guilt and The Murders of Long and Tiller

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Are pro-lifers any more responsible for the death of late-term abortionist George Tiller than anti-war activists are responsible for the murder of a young soldier outside of a Little Rock army recruiting station?

Of course not, but judging by the coverage of and reaction to the two killings, you would think that you can hang Tiller’s death on the rhetoric and actions of the (as one reporter said on PBS’ evening Newshour) the “anti-abortion crowd.” For days now, we have been deluged with stories about the suspect’s connections to that “crowd,” but nary a word about any influences on the alleged killer, reportedly upset by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by the (if I may) the “anti-war crowd.”

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

GM expected to emerge stronger after bankruptcy

At least that's what they say. But here's a question: We (through the government) are essentially stockholders of GM now. So, do we get to vote our shares?

Get ready for higher taxes at O'Hare

You may not have noticed, but legislation is working its way through Congress that would allow Chicago to raise its ticket tax on airline passengers to $7, from $4.50.

How nice, a higher tax on city, suburban, business and leisure fliers to fund a dangerous redesign of O'Hare Airport, when Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley for years had promised that it wouldn't cost taxpayers anything.

By the way, when you notice the tax applied to tickets at other airports, you should thank of Daley. He conceived it years ago as a way to expand O'Hare, and other airports quickly picked up on the idea.

The story is here.

Here's what the Illinois Legislature deserves: Amend the Constitution now

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

So, do you still think a state constitutional convention was a bad idea?

When voters had a rare opportunity last year to call a constitutional convention to fix the stinkpot that is Illinois government, an array of special interests, scholars, editorial boards and even some reformers insisted it was a bad idea.

The problem wasn't the state constitution, but the people in charge, they said, an odd thing to say because many of those people beating that drum were the very people who were in charge. Whatever their inconsistencies, their elaborate PR campaign worked and Illinois' frequently duped voters overwhelmingly rejected the constitutional convention. And then waited for the reform "movement," spawned by the outrages of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to work its magic.

And waited and waited and waited.

Now the legislature has demonstrated again that it can't or won't rustle up the kind of reform Illinois needs. And all those voices that spoke against a thoroughgoing reorganization of state government appear to have been, at best, suckered, if not complicit with the three-ring circus that has been under way in Springfield.

With a straight face, Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Democrats, patted themselves on their backs for their wunnaful reforms, while failing to do the things that most need to be done, such as stripping the legislative leadership of its iron grip on campaign money and how it's doled out to Senate and House candidates. This is the club they use to bully legislative sheep into doing the leaders' bidding, and helps explain why corruption, "pay to play" and other misdeeds get the wink and nod. Nor did they do anything about the politicized method of redrawing legislative districts every 10 years, a system that is guaranteed to keep the sheep marching to the tune called by the leaders.

There's plenty more that Quinn and the legislature must do. But why bother enumerating them here? They'll be ignored thanks to a system of political inbreeding that has spawned generations of moral idiot savants who have brilliantly manipulated the government as prescribed by the constitution for their own reward. For all the scorn heaped locally and nationally on Blagojevich, he wasn't the problem. He merely was the progeny of a corrupt system.

The constitution won't permit another citizen-initiated constitutional convention for another two decades. But the constitution does give us citizens one opportunity: We can amend the constitution regarding legislative "structural and procedural" matters, without getting legislative approval.

The constitution provides that voters equaling 8 percent of the number that voted in the last gubernatorial election can initiate legislative amendments. In other words, about 270,000 voter signatures could place an amendment on the ballot in the 2010 general election.

What should the amendment or amendments do? There are too many appealing ones to go into here, any one of which would remove the smirk from the faces of the legislative leaders gloating over how they snookered us again. But work has to begin immediately; petitions have to be filed with the secretary of state at least six months before the general election. That might seem to be a long time from now, but reformers must confront these clowns head on now; tell them, "We tried to do it your way. Now it's our turn."

Monday, June 01, 2009

Was Benjamin Cardozo the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee?

Who should care. Read this and lament where identity politics has brought us.

Army Recruiter Is Fatally Shot

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A United States Army soldier was shot to death and a second soldier seriously wounded outside a military recruiting station here by a man who opened fire from a vehicle Monday morning, New York Times reported.

Which says no more about peace activists than the killing of a late-term abortion doctor in Kansas does about pro-life activists.

FAA takes new look at O'Hare noise

The Federal Aviation Administration is launching a review of its longstanding airport noise standard after the new runway at O’Hare International Airport routed more departures north of Chicago, prompting complaints from residents and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) reports Crain's Chicago Business.

Isn't that just wonderful. Schakowky shows her concern after the first runway is built. Can't do anything to upset the boss, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, ya know.

Lawmakers Keep Expenses Off-Line

But we know that Harry Reid, the irrepressible Senate Majority Leader, is spending a lot of dough for staff retreats.

Read about the hypocrisy of Congress in

Friday, May 29, 2009

What's this, politics in Obama's Justice Department?

In the worst kind of political intervention in a case involving voter intimidation, Obama Justice Department political appointees have ordered career lawyer to drop a civil rights case against three men accused of wielding weapons and blocking voters at a polling place.

It's detailed here.

This is after Eric Holder, the Attorney General pledged there would be no political interference in the department's operations. Right. This is the same guy who, in his final days with the Clinton administration, was involved with Clinton's last-minute pardon of fugitive and Democratic contributor Marc Rich and Puerto Rican terrorists.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sotomayor’s Sharp Tongue Raises Issue of Temperament

The New York Times, of all places, raises the issue of Sotomayor's temperment. A portion of the story noted:
Other lawyers, though, are not so enamored [of her]. In the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, which conducts anonymous interviews with lawyers to assess judges, she has gone from generally rave reviews to more tepid endorsements. Among the comments from lawyers was that she is a “terror on the bench” who “behaves in an out-of-control manner” and attacks “lawyers for making an argument she doesn’t like."
It should be noted that lawyers who have such opinions are not identified by name, which makes sense because if you were a lawyer, how would you like to appear before someone you just said was nasty?

GM Bondholder Committee Accepts Revised Deal

Yeah, well the small, individual bondholders still don't think it's a great idea, according to the Wall Street Journal
A separate group representing small individual bondholders who hold about 20% of the company's bond debt said Thursday the new proposal doesn't look much better.

"From what many of our bondholders have heard, it's still a bad offer because it only gives bondholders 10% of the company," said Sarah Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Main Street Bondholders.

Classic bad timing

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that federal charges have been filed today against Ald. Isaac Carothers.

At the same time, Chicago aldermen are crabbing about the cost of a federal court-appointed monitor to investigate corruption, also reports the Sun-Times.

As they say, the key to good comedy is timing.

Sotomayor is Catholic; But It’s OK with Big Media

Hardly any note is taken of Sotomayor's religion (because she's a liberal), unlike the conservative Catholic nominees, whose religion raised all sorts of alarms.

Here is a good piece on the hypocrisy of it all.
When John Roberts was nominated to be on the high court, Senator Dick Durbin told CNN that he considered it fair game to probe Roberts about his Catholicism. Durbin released a glowing statement yesterday on Sotomayor that never mentioned her religion. When Roberts was questioned by Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Dianne Feinstein, they both asked him whether he agreed with President John F. Kennedy about separation of church and state. Neither even mentioned Sotomayor’s religion in their respective statements yesterday."

If this doesn't scare the hell out of you...

nothing will. Or you're a Democrat.

The conclusion: No one at the Federal Reserve or its auditor general is keeping track of the trillions of dollars.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Statehouse Republicans call on Burris to resign

What? Are they crazy? Burris' resignation would do the Democrats a favor. The GOP's best chance is to have Burris on the ticket, or the Dems disintegrate in intra-party bickering in a primary.

The AP report is here.

Sotomayor's role in the controversial New Haven fire fighters case

In Ricci v. DeStefano, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor joined in a highly criticized decision that denied white New Haven fire fighters basic protections against racial discrimination.

Here is a good background article on the controversy and why a closer examination is needed of her competence.

If you think that Roland Burris looks bad in public...

take a look at how bad he sounds in private. Read the transcript of taped phone conversations between Burris and Rob Blagojevich as they discuss what Burris can do to get appointed by Rob's brother, Rod, to the U.S. Senate.

Obama the cynic

Not long after deciding to kill the important Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, President Barack Obama cashes in by heading to Nevada to pick up his check.

Obama caved in to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) by zeroing out funding for the repository, and now guess where the president shows up on a political fund-raising trip?

The Associated Press reports.

Taking down the auto industry

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If you think you're so smart, then you try doing it.

After the private sector screwed up the domestic auto industry, President Barack Obama and his minions will try running it, fully convinced they can do a better job.

So now, Obama will:

-- Tell his car companies how to conform to the unrealistically high auto emissions standards that he has ordered. Good luck.

-- Make his cars simultaneously lighter, but safer.

-- Explain to organized labor why his GM will export production and jobs to low-wage countries like Korea and China.

-- Show everyone how to be tough when negotiating with the United Auto Workers union -- part of his political base -- who as co-owners of GM and Chrysler will be sitting on both sides of the table.

-- Borrow money in the credit markets after he has stiffed the car companies' bondholders. Unless, of course, he plans to finance the companies with more of our money, further increasing our "ownership share" in the turkeys that the president is creating.

No doubt, automakers are privately saying, "If you think you're so good, then you do it," and waiting to laugh at the results.

Obama is rushing in with hands flying and legs akimbo, from firing executives to dictating creditor terms. This isn't shaping up to be a disaster; it already is a disaster, from which we have no way to extract ourselves.

Think not?

What started out last year under President George W. Bush's administration as "loans" to GM and Chrysler of $17.4 billion, now has ballooned, by some estimates, into a commitment of more than $100 billion and climbing. Every day brings another loan, grant, subsidy or whatever they choose to call the cash Obama launches into this festering garbage dump.

As I write this, Obama's Treasury Department is ready to pour $7 billion more into GMAC LLC, GM's financial services arm. That would bring total government aid to GMAC to $14 billion and, perhaps along with it, government ownership.

Changing the General Motors name into Government Motors no longer is a joke. And the folks who won't be laughing at all are organized labor, a key part of Obama's political base. GM reportedly is not only thinking of exporting manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries by making cars in those countries (instead of making them here and exporting them) but also by importing cars made in those cheap labor countries to this country. On this score, the unions might have felt betrayed, but on another front, they come out on top. People who have made secured loans to the companies will come out with less value than the unions and their members will retain. Many bondholders are the ma-and-pa types who thought they were putting their savings into a rock-hard retirement investment, secured by the companies' assets. Instead, they have to stand in line, according to the Obama equation, behind unsecured lenders.

Last year, I suggested that instead of a government bailout with all its troubling implications, the companies should go into bankruptcy with a federal judge and his appointed trustee reorganizing them in a fair way, using established federal bankruptcy laws and case law.

Instead, Obama is virtually making things up as he goes along, basing his decisions on political considerations, as much as anything. Obama has taken the hash he was given and turned it into slime. But, but . . . the country was told then, bankruptcy would be disastrous. So, tell me what's different now. Thousands have been laid off, creditors have been stiffed, suppliers hurt, stockholders and bondholders left with virtually nothing. Everything's the same, as bad as predicted, except that this mess has cost taxpayers and future generations $100 billion and counting. This involves more than just money. What nailed the significance of it all came a few weeks ago when the Tribune published a couple of full page ads from auto dealers, addressed to and pleading with Obama not to shut down so many franchises. They argued that their existence doesn't add to the manufacturers' costs because they were, in effect, the manufacturers' customers. Makes sense.

But whatever the merits of their argument, the unprecedented sight of private sector entrepreneurs pleading to the president of the United States to keep their businesses and jobs was a shocker. Nothing like this is authorized by the Constitution. But it no longer matters. Washington governs, not by the consent of the governed, but by the whim of the autocrat.

Hey, Chicago! Want a free airport? /

Take the "Gary/Chicago Airport," please. Read how to unload this white elephant (which has been subsidized for years by Chicago). Read it at

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama: North Korea disrespects world opinion

North Korea sets off a nuclear test and President Barack Obama's response is to demand that the international community do something.

What, we're not exactly sure. Maybe he'd like to consult our European allies, the ones that we've counted on before, but didn't rise to the occasion. Or maybe the president can sweet talk the North Koreans into giving up their nukes. Or, more likely, he'll blame the Bush administration for not "doing something" earlier.

Not as simple as you made it sound, is it, Mr. President.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Keith Olbermann says the waterboarding debate is over

After Chicago radio talker Mancow gives up after 6 seconds and calls waterboarding "absolute torture" Olbermann--the hard left's version of Rush Limbaugh--proclaims the debate is over.

Perhaps, but perhaps too you should know of a fact that Olbermann has left out when he said a detainee had been waterboard 142 times. According to the torture memos that the Obama administration unwisely released, "a single application of water may not last more than 40 seconds," and the number of individual applications of water lasting 10 seconds or longer may not exceed six."

There are other restrictions that Olbermann failed to mention, but I'd attribute that to ignorance based on the assumption that he did not read the memos. Or, if he had, deceit.

The length of time will not matter to some, arguing that for whatever length of time it takes, it's all waterboarding. That's fine. But Olbermann at least should tell the entire story.

Story in the Chicago Tribune

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Modest (abortion) Proposal

Dear President Obama,

You said at Notre Dame University that you want to find “common ground” in the abortion debate. Fine, so let’s put that commitment to the test and see if you would accept this compromise:

Just as the cessation of brain function is the generally accepted standard for determining when personhood ends, let’s apply the same logic to define when personhood begins.

So, as brain function begins and the fetus crosses the threshold into personhood, it would become endowed with the same legal and moral right to life that any person, at any stage of development or degree of dependence, would have. In other words, once the brain starts working, elective abortions would be barred. In medically necessary abortions, the rights of the mother and child would have to be balanced, meaning that after brain function begins, an abortion would be allowed only to save the mother’s life or protect her from serious harm.

This truly is a middle ground,...

Read full column in The Chiicago Daily Observer

Greenhouse gases drop, lowest in 19 years

You mean that Obama doesn't get credit for this?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Maybe they should have given Maureen Dowd's Pulitzer Prize to Josh Marshall

New York Times hard-left columnist steals words from blogger Josh Marshall. Can't come up with her own barbs to toss at former President George Bush, she admits she plagiarized the words verbatim from a friend who lifted them from Marshall. New York Times calls it an honest mistake.


As the abortion debate turns

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

After electing the most extreme pro-choice president in history, more Americans now, for the first time, define themselves as pro-life.

How can that be?

Beats me. The easy explanation is that Americans are wising up to the pro-choice deceits. Gallup suggests that Americans may have come to realize just how extreme President Barack Obama is on matters of "reproductive rights." For example, as an Illinois state senator, Obama voted against protections for abortion victims born alive.

Let's just say that if I could explain why voters do what they do, I could tell you why Chicago and Illinois voters keep electing so many crooks and schlemiels. Returning to the poll, it finds that 51 percent of Americans consider themselves pro-life, compared with 42 percent pro-choice. That's a significant shift from a year ago, when half called themselves pro-choice and 44 percent pro-life. The shift is magnified by the fact that this is the first time since Gallup started asking the question in 1995 that a majority of Americans identify themselves as pro-life.

Dig deeper into the data, and it gets more interesting. In 1993, 34 percent agreed with pro-choice activists that abortion should be legal under all circumstances; only 12 percent took the opposite view, that abortion should never be legal. Now it's a virtual tie between the two "extreme" views, with 23 percent believing that abortion always should be legal and 22 percent that it never should be legal. Most Americans still say abortion should be legal "only under certain circumstances" (53 percent now, compared with the 61 percent high in 1996). The "circumstances" are not delineated, but this has to be a blow to pro-choice die-hards whose bizarre view is that any restrictions on abortion are "anti-choice" devices to "deny women the right to choose."

How else to explain their opposition to a partial-birth abortion ban, or requiring parental permission before an abortion can be performed on a minor of any age?

I guess what the poll shows is that pro-lifers aren't the oddballs that we're cracked up to be. It also is a pleasure to see pro-choicers squirm, after they have spent years in the comfort of their perceived majority. One commentator counseled that the poll, combined with the objections to the University of Notre Dame honoring Obama, constitutes some sort of incomprehensible "frenzy" against sexuality. Wow.

But could the political Obama White House be responding to this brand of "change"? The president already has reneged on a campaign promise to enact the Freedom of Choice Act, which would "guarantee the right to choose" if Roe vs. Wade and its companion Doe vs. Bolton U.S. Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing the right to abortion for virtually any reason were overturned.

Another test will come when Obama faces hard-left demands that Justice David Souter's replacement on the Supreme Court must be a pro-choice absolutist. Obama already has gone beyond the usual selection guidelines, creating an "empathy" litmus test.

But Americans don't agree. The prevailing (45 percent) view, according to Rasmussen Reports, is that legal background and competence come first. It will be fun to watch whether Democrats, who insisted there should be no litmus test on issues such as abortion when a Republican was doing the appointing, now will demand that the appointment be pro-choice.

Abortion and its related issues aren't the only matters that will be occupying the political side of Obama's brain. According to Rasmussen, Republicans and Democrats now are in a virtual tie when it comes to whom Americans trust more to handle the economy, only a rock-bottom 13 percent trust the Democratic Congress, few Americans are willing to pay higher taxes for health-care "reform" and the percentage of Americans who believe that human activity is driving global warming has "fallen dramatically.

Meanwhile, Democratic diversionary tactics to label the obnoxious radio host Rush Limbaugh or the sneering former Vice President Dick Cheney aren't working. Only 6 percent of GOP voters pick Limbaugh as their leader, and 4 percent name Cheney, according to Rasmussen.

Meanwhile, the hard left is sensing betrayal by Obama, who, among other things, adopted a GOP position by refusing to release the "torture" photos, as the American Civil Liberties Union demands. Maybe Obama's nascent shifts have nothing to do with "change" in public opinion. Maybe Obama now understands that the realities of governing aren't as simple as he told everyone. Let us hope so.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dishonesty or ignorance from the Talker in Chief

During his Notre Dame commencement speech, President Barack Obama said this:
Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved. [Emphasis added.]
I find it incredible and terribly frustrating that after all this debate over embryonic stem cell research that folks like Obama still paint its opponents as opposing stem cell research in general. I see it couched this way by journalists who should know better, on TV, in print and on the Web. They should know better.

Those of us who oppose embryonic stem cell research are, in fact, some of the most vocal supporters of stem cell research--the adult and umbilical cord blood kind. While embryonic stem cell research is still called the "gold standard" for all stem cell research, the fact is that it still remains promise, while adult and cord blood stem cells already are beyond the promise stage, but already producing cures.

This is the same kind of crap that people who oppose illegal immigration must put up with: politicians, journalists and commentators who paint its opponents as "anti-immigration." Have they totally eliminated logic from college and high school curricula? Do they not teach accuracy anymore in Journalism schools?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Keep Yucca Mountain project alive; stop screwing with Illinois

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

While President Barack Obama's newly proposed budget would finally allow Nevada to rid itself of a nuclear waste dump planned to be buried in tunnels deep under Yucca Mountain, it would leave Illinois with the shaft.

Obama's decision to zero out the Nevada nuclear waste repository is a betrayal of his Illinois constituents, forcing nuclear power plants here to continue to "temporarily" store more than 7,000 tons of dangerous, radioactive waste -- more than any other state -- in cooling ponds near rivers and Lake Michigan. It would mean that the $10 billion that Commonwealth Edison and other utility customers already have sunk into the repository have disappeared down a dark hole.

His decision also defies decades of scientific and engineering studies demonstrating that the Nevada site is the safest and best location to store the spent fuel. Now Illinois faces the prospect that the "temporary" storage of the dangerous materials here could turn into something a lot more permanent. There's no other way to put it: Obama caved in to Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, who for years has been trying to kill the project in his home state for purely political reasons. Reid, representing the worst of "not in my backyard" irrationality, last week crowed, "It's over with; Yucca Mountain is gone."

Now, the question becomes whether Illinois' Democratic senators -- Dick Durbin and Roland Burris -- will adequately represent the state's and nation's interests by fighting to keep the Yucca Mountain project alive. Ah, but you know they won't. There is a lesson in this for the gullible who thought that having a president and the Senate's second most powerful leader -- Durbin, the majority whip -- would shower their home state with copious benefits. Durbin, who loves to crow about the earmarks he brings back to Illinois, has badly failed the state in this most crucial test of his worth. The blindly partisan will argue that Obama has demonstrated courage by bucking the pressures from the provincials back home (i.e. Chicago), who simply are trying to avoid their responsibility by unloading on another state the waste they generated. After all, we'll be told, the Chicago area is among the most heavily dependent regions on nuclear power.

That would be a good argument if all the years of scientific study had concluded that the best alternative is to dispose of radioactive waste where it's generated. The evidence, however, suggests no such thing. The billions of dollars and years of study into the alternatives -- which included rocketing the waste into the sun or dumping it into the bottom of the ocean -- settled on Yucca Mountain in the desolate and lightly populated state of Nevada (about 18 people per square mile) as the most geologically and geographically secure prospect. Most of the nation's 131 temporary storage sites in 39 states are near large population centers; 161 million Americans live within 75 miles of a temporary site. Because nuclear power plants use large quantities of water, temporary storage often is near rivers, lakes and seacoasts, posing a threat of groundwater contamination. They also are more exposed to terrorist attacks. No site other than Yucca presented such promising natural and man-made barriers for isolating the waste for "tens of thousands of years."

The president, of course, was not simply responding to the parochial demands of Reid; Obama also is genuflecting to self-proclaimed protectors of the environment who wish to scare Americans into believing that their energy problems can be solved by windmills and such. In fact, nuclear power is an energy source of huge potential, one that generates no climate-changing carbon dioxide. Opposition to a permanent repository is an arrow in their quiver, allowing them to argue disingenuously that nuclear power is dangerous because there is no place to put the waste.

After taxpayers and electric utility customers have paid billions to study the matter, the president's $3.6 trillion 2010 fiscal year budget proposes to set aside $197 million for something called the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to study "alternatives" to Yucca Mountain, including "regional" solutions. Billions wasted and almost $200 million conjured up from somewhere to reinvent the wheel. Pathetically, that draws barely a whimper from our Illinois elected officials.

This article has stirred some strong opinion on the Chicago Tribune website. If you want to read, or participate in the debate, go to the comment section at the bottom of the post (here).

Here are some informative links:
Reid’s victory on Yucca Mountain is nation’s loss

Is Yucca Mountain dead?

Notre Dame Students Do Themselves Proud

View their professional video of their objections to the Notre Dame administration deciding to confer an honorary degree on radically pro-choice President Barack Obama.

55% Say Media Try to Make Economy Seem Worse Than It Is

Here are some more poll results that may or may not explain why newspapers are in trouble:
The majority perception that the media isn't painting a straight picture of the economy matches similar Rasmussen Reports findings about global warming and political coverage. Earlier this month, 54% of voters said the news media makes global warming appear worse than it really is.

Just before last November's election, 68% of voters said most reporters try to help the candidate they want to win, and 51% believed they were trying to help Democrat Barack Obama.

Just seven percent (7%) thought they were trying to help his Republican opponent, John McCain. The number of those suspecting a tilt toward Obama had grown since June.

But while some liberal congressional Democrats would like to restore the so-called Fairness Doctrine because of their concern about the conservative tilt of talk radio, just 38% of voters think the government should require all radio stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary. President Obama signaled several days ago that he opposes bringing back the Fairness Doctrine.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

We paid for them, but we can't see them

The pictures of Air Force One taken on a photo op that scared the bejeebers out of New Yorkers cost taxpayers more than $300,000. Now Glib Gibbs, President Obama's spokesman, says we can't see them because he "doesn't know where they are."

Well, find them Gibbs; that's your job. And so many thought that Obama being from Chicago didn't much matter. Here's news: stiffing the public is standard operating procedure in the land of Daley.

Some details are here: The Swamp

Here's how they might look:

The Labor Cartel Vs. The Rest of The Country

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

For all the great good that organized labor has done for America and Americans, it now has become one of Chicago’s and the nation’s great handicaps.

The unions are snuffing out jobs, denying children a decent education and bludgeoning taxpayers for more than their labors are worth, among other things, all the while justifying their selfishness in obsolete 19th century rhetoric.

In Chicago, their mercenary practices are again denying poverty stricken communities and low-income families of a chance for hundreds of jobs, a decent place to shop and neighborhood revitalization. Chicago’s organized labor cartel, repeating a scenario from a few years back, is gearing up to block a Wal-Mart “superstore” at an abandoned Ryerson Steel plant site in Chatham.

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

L.A. Unified pays teachers not to teach - Los Angeles Times

The paycheck arrives regularly, as his contract requires. Read it in the Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The fantasy of high-speed rail

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

How much would you pay to get to Milwaukee 10 minutes faster?

Not a cent, you say? Nothing against Milwaukee; it's a lovely town. But, if President Barack Obama gets his way, the Milwaukee-in-a-flash dream could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions. His vision of a network of high-speed trains -- many fanning out from Chicago to Milwaukee and elsewhere -- would cost $8 billion. Actually, that's just the start. The eventual cost to taxpayers of creating a network of trains zipping across America at rocket-train speeds would be way, way more.

Some visionaries (and government contractors) would argue that realizing the promise of high-speed rail travel is worth the cost. Ray LaHood, U.S. transportation secretary and former Illinois Republican congressmen, said in a new report, "A Vision for High- Speed Rail in America," that they included "building a robust, green economy, gaining energy independence, reversing global climate change and fostering more livable, connected communities."

That's quite a promise. But before building the gravy train to nirvana, some questions are in order, starting with, is it worth it? Federal regulations require that projects meet a cost-benefit test.

The costs? Well, we're talking about "high-speed" trains that would go up to 110 m.p.h, instead of the standard 79 m.p.h. speed limit on most passenger train service. That's far short of the 200-m.p.h-plus that most people think of when they're talking about bullet trains. Achieving the higher speeds would require the construction of entirely separate rights-of-way to avoid conflicts with Metra commuter trains. Every place the high-speed line would cross a street or highway, an expensive viaduct or underpass would have to be built. Less expensive street-level grade crossings would be unthinkable. Costs would skyrocket way beyond $8 billion.

Then there's the cost of separating the high-speed trains from the area's crisscrossing and clogged freight lines. In Chicago, that's been an eternal conflict, only now being addressed with a joint public and private improvement program costing in excess of $1 billion. And that's not even figuring in the new high-speed service.

In addition, expect intense local opposition from people who don't want 110-m.p.h. trains roaring through their communities. Think about the 1995 accident when a Metra commuter train going 70 m.p.h. rammed a school bus at a Fox River Grove grade crossing, killing seven children. The environment and social impact on communities bisected by any new high-speed lines would be substantial and controversial.

The benefits? Will the time saved in travel be sufficient to lure enough travelers out of their cars in trips between Chicago; Milwaukee; Madison, Wis.; St. Louis; Indianapolis; and Detroit? Proving that and other benefits requires rigid, independent analysis, and certainly more than the rosy projections of rail fans, greenies and romantics. Already, I've run across two student studies that challenge the cost and benefit assumptions of a couple of high-speed segments. If students can find the problem, I can hardly wait to see what independent professionals say.

I've enjoyed high-speed rail in France, and I believe it would be a joy here too. But France isn't the Midwest, where distances between major cities are greater and population densities lower. High-speed rail for years has been stuck at the awe-gee, wouldn't-it-be-great stage. Based on little more than that, columnists are rhapsodizing over the idea and public officials in the proposed high-speed corridors are dreaming of train loads of federal largesse. High-speed rail is one of those popular notions that's hard to oppose, positioning anyone who questions the practicality of it as an old buzzard who recoils from all the possibilities that life has to offer.

Well, here's a possibility, and I think a better one for the money. The Federal Transit Administration recently released a study estimating that bringing the CTA and major rail transit systems in six cities into good repair would cost $50 billion, and another $5.9 billion year to maintain them. Between spending more money for faster, safer and better rides for the many more who ride CTA trains, or cutting 10 or even 30 minutes off a trip between Chicago and Milwaukee, I don't think there should be any debate about where the money goes. Unless, of course, you think -- as many do these days -- that those cherry blossoms along the Washington tidal basin will ripen into endless harvests of money.

More comments can be seen and posted at the Chicago Tribune

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why shouldn't congressmen be subject to the same laws as we are?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thinks congressmen are special. Read here to find out why.

A jury can acquit you, but...

a judge still can send you to jail. Read here about the "acquitted conduct" debate.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Congress knew.

This exclusive story confirms that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders knew about waterboarding, but didn't speak up.

This fact suggests that the leaders (including those on the intelligence committees) knew what the results of interrogations achieved, if anything. Is former Vice President Dick Cheney right when he claims that other memos show they were productive? Pelosi et al, if they're honest, can help clear this up.

But they won't, because it won't serve their partisan needs.

And why won't Pelosi tell her colleagues in the House? (See the video.)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Mistakes were made."

It has become a cliche, but whenever politicians are caught in a blunder, they can be counted on to revert to the passive voice. That's to avoid saying, "So, I made the mistake." Or: "The mistake was mine." Or to suggest that someone else made the mistake.

So how did Obama's Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano respond when she was asked about the goofy Air Force One flyover of Ground Zero? Here is the text:

NAPOLITANO: My understanding is the FAA sanctioned that, but I share that concern. I don't know how that happened and we want to get to the bottom of that. You know, mistakes were made. Mistakes shouldn't be repeated.

Cost of the Air Force One fiasco: $325,000

According to the Associate Press. View here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Government, organized labor to run the Auto Industry

How scary is that?

By Dennis Byrne
Real Clear Politics

As the future of the domestic auto industry became clearer Tuesday, it appears that an unprecedented government and organized labor partnership would end up running the companies, and if that doesn't give you pause, nothing will.

Under proposed and tentative agreements, the government (meaning us taxpayers) would own half of General Motors and an undetermined slice of a 10 percent stake in Chrysler. In addition, the United Auto Workers Union would own 55 percent of Chrysler and 39 percent of GM.

There's some poetic justice in the possibility that organized labor, which had so much to do with the failure of the domestic auto industry, could end up holding so much of the bag for the mess it helped create. But how is it that we taxpayers now would have a share of two worthless companies that months ago should have gone into bankruptcy? The not-so-funny irony....

Read the rest in RealClearPolitics.

Bush didn't do it.

The East Coast, media and political classes are in the habit of blaming President George W. Bush for everything bad. But if something good has happened, Bush can't be in any way credited for it.

The latest example comes from Tom Friedman, a New York Times columnist who perfectly mirrors this sanctimonious know-it-all attitude.

Here he explains why we've had no more 9-11s during the Bush administration:
I believe that the most important reason there has not been another 9/11, besides the improved security and intelligence, is that Al Qaeda is primarily focused on defeating America in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — particularly in Iraq. Al Qaeda knows that if it can destroy the U.S. effort (still a long shot) to build a decent, modernizing society in Iraq, it will undermine every U.S. ally in the region.
Sigh. Don't they ever get tired of writing the same thing, over and over again?

And speaking of trying to destroy "the U.S. [longshot] effort to build a decent, moderning society in Iraq," no one has tried harder than the East Coast, media and political classes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's 10 a.m. Do you know where your Air Force One is?

When asked by reporters about the startling fly-over of New York City by a plane that serves as Air Force One, glib Robert Gibbs, President Obama's spokesman, said errr, I, I, uhh, I, hmmm and huh.

“I was working on other things," he finally said. "You might be surprised to know that I don’t know every movement of Air Force One."

Yes, well someone did at the White House. It was Louis E. Caldera, director of the White House Military Office and former secretary of the army in the Clinton administration. So, you can't blame the Pentagon or the Air Force. Now, we are supposed to buy the act that Caldera was working entirely on his own, as if he reported to no one in the White House, such as the acting communications director. After the furor dies down, Caldera undoubtedly will be gone. And if the media have their way, so will any remembrance of this major gaffe.

Torturous definitions of detainee "torture"

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

While reading those controversial, recently declassified memos that provide the Bush administration's legal justification for "torturing" terrorist detainees, I wondered why they had left out one called "On the Rocks."

My high school Spanish teacher imposed that particular type of torture on miscreants who failed to accurately conjugate estar or who were languidly gazing out the classroom window, picturing the beauties over at St. Scholastica. Rare was the student who at least once a semester didn't spend at least five minutes kneeling on his knuckles (the "rocks").

Ha, you say, that doesn't sound so bad, and certainly not as bad as the horrors the evil Bush administration inflicted on terrorists. To which I'd ask: Which horrors? Judging by the condemnations issuing forth from the American Civil Liberties Union and other professional rebukers, you'd think that our government had been jamming bamboo sticks under fingernails.

Too bad few of those who have railed against America's "crimes against humanity" have actually read the memos. What they would have found are variations of "On the Rocks." Here are some:

* A one-time face slap, but only with spread fingers and an open palm, being careful not to hurt the poor dear.

* Nudity, with "ambient temperature" at least 68 degrees, but not before fellow detainees, because that might embarrass him.

* Something called "flicking," which means dipping your hand in water and "propelling droplets" at the detainee's face.

* An "abdominal slap" that the interrogators carefully deliver above the navel and below the sternum from no more than 18 inches away. (No fists or rings on fingers allowed.)

* Of course, there's the infamous "water boarding," in which the detainee is made to feel like he is drowning, but he knows better (thanks to the disclosure of the technique). "A single application of water may not last more than 40 seconds" and the number of individual applications of water lasting 10 seconds or longer may not exceed six."

And so forth. You get the idea.

Only lawyers could have written all this and if you got through only one of the memos, you'd quickly realize that they bulged with caveats, qualifications, exceptions and conditions, all designed for one purpose: to protect the detainee from injury and even, in some cases, pain. If this is the kind of torture that we're wringing our hands over, then the memos reveal to the world that when it comes to interrogating captured enemy combatants, we're pussycats. It also reveals to our enemies that they really don't need to worry about real, honest-to-God torture at American hands.

Is another country as finicky as America when it comes to protecting the "rights" of its sworn and unrepentant enemies? Is any country as masochistic as America when it comes to flogging itself for its perceived flaws. Does any other county have as many loudmouths who would exploit such critical questions for their cheap political value?

So, where to from here? Prosecute Bush administration lawyers for providing requested legal opinions? If so, how many lawyers will sign up to give President Barack Obama their honest opinions about controversial policies? I'd love to see their memos redefining the limits of "enhanced interrogation" as envisioned by Obama and his brain, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: "Interrogations can only be conducted over three cups of tea in the presidential suite at the Drake Hotel. Care must be taken that the tea is not too tepid or too hot to cause discomfort to the detainee's lips. Interrogators who fall short of this standard will be shot."

For comments posted on the Tribune web site, go here. You are invited to join the discussion.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Glendon declines commencement honor from Notre Dame

Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard University professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican declines to accept the school's highest honor because it also is honoring the anti-life President Barack Obama.

Details are here.

Air Force One photo op panics NYC - finger-pointing begins

What nitwit came up with this idea?

The Obama White House says knows n-o-t-h-i-n-g about why Air Force One is flying low over New York City, panicking thousands. Bunk. Who would be more interested in this than the Obama White House.

In addition to all the other questions raised by this incident, the one I find most intriguing is why public money is being used for a "photo op." What possibly could be the reason for this, other than The One's hubris?

Here's a good report in the Christian Science Monitor

Support for Free Market Economy Up Seven Points Since December

Americans have had a taste of Obama's economic recipe and they don't like it.

Seventy-seven percent of U.S. voters say that they prefer a free market economy over a government-managed economy. That’s up seven points since December.

The latest Rasmussen national telephone survey also found that just 11 percent now prefer a government-run economy, down from 15 percent four months ago.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No democracy among Democrats

Here Judd Gregg (the guy who jumped shipped after he found out what he was expected to do as the Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration) explains how the Democrats are trying to ram through a total makeover of health care. There are other insights as well that he gleaned from his short time on the inside.