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, January 30, 2009

The Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for the U.S. Increased 0.3 Percent

Let's not make big news out of this because it might raise some people's spirits and hopes. Can't have any of that.

Here are the components of the latest index:

Four of the ten indicators that make up the leading economic index increased in December. The positive contributors – beginning with the largest positive contributor – were real money supply, interest rate spread, manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials and manufacturers’ new orders for nondefense capital goods.

The negative contributors – beginning with the largest negative contributor – were building permits, average weekly manufacturing hours, index of supplier deliveries (vendor performance), average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance (inverted), and stock prices. The index of consumer expectations held steady in December.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best Stimulus: Homebuyers' Tax Credit

By Dennis Byrne
RealClearPolitics.com

Last October, I said that the $700 billion bailout package, known as TARP, would become the biggest flimflam ever pulled on the American public.

I was wrong. It will be overshadowed by President Barack Obama's $825 billion stimulus package as the biggest swindle ever--doing nothing more than ladling out uncounted billions to the same old government contractors, political cronies and well-lobbied special interest groups for years to come.

It will prove to be about as effective at reigniting the economy as the TARP program has been, which is to say a criminal waste of taxpayers' money for generations to come

Continue reading in RealClearPolitics

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

While O'Hare declines, Milwaukee's airport rises

While O'Hare and Midway airports are losing business, Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport is enjoying new growth. You can thank Mayor Richard M. Daley for that.

Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport posted record increases in 2008 compared with 2007, for the 17th straight months of record growth. The reason? O'Hare is a mess and for many travelers in northern Illinois, Mitchell has become a viable alternative: lower fares, few of the delays that choke O'Hare.

Daley's obsession with expanding O'Hare with an unworkable plan has led to this bad news for Chicago. Instead of a more reasonable plan, and a state-of-the-art south suburban airport to relieve O'Hare, Daley has pursued an expansion plan whose main objective is not a better, more efficient airport, but more jobs and contracts for loyalists.

Milwaukee should send a big "thank you" to Daley for the business.

Beyond Blagojevich: Illinois is in a state of debt

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

As much as Gov. Rod Blagojevich deserves to go, let's not forget who's sending him on his way—the ever-suspect legislature. For what it's worth, the astute political class is unanimous that the Senate will convict him of whatever it takes, and dismiss him from office, perhaps by the end of the week. But when the legislature acts with such alacrity, it is time to be dubious.

Which is why one should take soberly Blagojevich's warning that once he's gone, the way will be cleared for such chicanery as an increase in the state income tax. For all the celebration over the prospects of Blagojevich's departure—and I'm among those who will light off a skyrocket—we've debated little about what will follow. Even with him gone, we'll still be dealing with the festering mess that he and the legislature together have left behind.

The state's financial condition is wretched, perhaps the worst among the 50 states. With the next election almost two years away, legislators might be tempted to increase the income tax. Liberals have long called for an increase and last year some business interests even joined in, arguing that extraordinary steps must be taken in these tempestuous times, a view I once shared.

Illinois' deficits and debt are sky-high. For several years, state revenues had been increasing at a steady pace, but lately that has diminished in the face of the economic downturn. Even if you count the $1.4 billion from the state's short-term borrowing last month, the money available to pay the state's unpaid bills—totaling a historic $1.8 billion at the end of last month—hasn't kept up. Instead of cutting back, like most households are forced to do in an economic crunch, the state's expenditures keep growing. Even in good times, expenditures outstripped revenues, but the economic downturn now has worsened this trend. Base spending during this fiscal year (we're half way through it) increased 5.8 percent, thanks to a $764 million increase in operating expenses, education grants and retirement contributions. Education accounted for the biggest hunk of the increase—up $511 million, or 17 percent—for State Board of Education grants and $205 million, or 36.7 percent, for teachers retirement grants. It's something to keep in mind the next time we hear the whine that "schools don't get enough."

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, who is turning out to be the state's unheralded Cassandra, sees worse ahead. General funds appropriations are up $916 million, but that doesn't include more hundreds of millions to pay required contributions to five state retirement systems. And don't forget, we have to pay off that $1.4 billion in short-term loans.

At the end of this fiscal year on June 30, the state could be holding more than $3 billion in unpaid bills, money that probably will be hijacked from the following year's budget. At some point, we'll be bankrupt, the first state to join the wave of corporate failures. Hynes calls the situation "dire" and potentially "unmanageable," words not strong enough to accurately describe the coming cataclysm.

Boring stuff, all these numbers. But I guarantee you'll feel something other than boredom when you start paying the increased taxes.

One test of the legislature's good intentions is whether, before passing any tax increase, it starts rolling back of some of Blagojevich's insanity, such as free rides for seniors on mass transit or his unilateral and unconstitutional expansion of the state's FamilyCare program. FamilyCare provides health-care coverage for families that make up to $83,000 annually for a family of four.

Fear of an income tax increase is not reason enough for keeping Blagojevich; his deceptions and cynical use of government programs for political gain by themselves demonstrate his unsuitability for government office, which is the essential charge of his Senate trial. Even if he pulls another surprise and resigns between the time I write this and the time it appears (anything is possible with this guy), his departure will still leave a state in shambles. The mess is so convoluted that it can't simply be cleaned up with a tax increase. If the legislature wants to demonstrate that it can govern any better than Blagojevich, then let it start by first lowering expenditures to match revenues.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Neo-Reagan echoes in Obama's speech

Patrick J. Buchanan, in Human Events, also saw a hint of the conservative brand in President Barack Obama's inauguration speech. In my earlier column, I heard the same thing as the voice of a neocon, which wouldn't make Pat all that happy.

And now here's Newt Gingrich also noting the conservative themes in the speech.

When I first wrote similar observations, my column was turned down by several conservative e-zines. I thought that I may have been way off the wall. At least now I'm not alone in that place.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oh, gee, another $163 million no one noticed

Chicago will pay United Airlines $163 million to move a cargo facility that stands in the way of the next, new runway at O'Hare Airport, according to the Chicago Tribune. In the over-all scam, err, scheme of a $15 billion airport, that's not much. But did anybody bother to ask where the $163 million is coming from?

Who would have thought? By the way, did you notice that there's no mention of where the new facility will go? That's either more piece-meal planning or another attempt to keep the plans secret. Why the latter? Because the new location might have something to do with where the promised by-pass road will go--on or off airport property. Either location has serious problems, which is why everyone still is waiting to see what the answer is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Neocon echoes in Obama’s speech

By Dennis Byrne

Well, doggone, did we elect a neoconservative president?

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech contained, in addition to the usual affirmations of liberal convictions, several eloquent endorsements of certain neoconservative ethics. My observation, of course, will provoke disbelief, if not offense.

But the speech deftly included multiple and reverential references to values, responsibility, sacrifice and duty, essentials that illuminate neoconservative oratory. I got the impression that they were not included as just a sop to the right, but were spoken with deep conviction.

Neoconservatism arose from 1960s liberalism, partially from principles enunciated by Democratic President John F. Kennedy, who spoke two memorable lines in his own inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

And: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Compare them with one of Obama’s lines that got some of the greatest applause: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Of course, this does not mean that Obama is a Paul Wolfowitz in disguise. Of course, Obama could not be properly defined as a neoconservative.

Neoconservatives might be called “fallen-away Democrats,” who abandoned the left after the left abandoned certain principles that Obama praised in his speech whose theme was “A New Era of Responsibility.” We older neocons shared the path of the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King Jr. in our belief in equal rights for all. We also supported the fight for freedom not only here but throughout the world, including nations dominated by dictatorships—whether communist or fascists—and Iraq.

So, neo-cons are entitled to be heartened to hear Obama’s words spoken. These words:

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true.

“They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task….

I saw in Obama’s speech, and in his campaign, a certain thread of social conservatism, a characteristic of many neoconservatives. He has done what no what white commentator could get away with doing a decade ago without getting scorched for “racism”: He appealed for a return to responsibility for black males and a restoration of the African-American family.

Admittedly, there is a danger in going too far with the neoconservative comparison. His pledge in foreign relations to balance negotiations with a strong America did not go as far as Kennedy’s “pay-any-price” commitment, a commitment that, by the way, got America involved in Vietnam. Some of his aggressive government interventions would not inspire neoconservatives to shout hosannas.

But uniting the country means more than getting people of different skin colors, religions and nationalities in the same room. It also means respecting the cherished beliefs of many, which Obama has done.

That was a good speech you gave, Mr. President.

Worst. Inauguration. Ever.

Is this the only person who had a bad experience when almost 2 million people pressed onto the mall to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama? Did the media intentionally ignore reporting such bad experiences because their script said that everyone was in a rapture?

Hat tip to Blithe Spirit

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

This is for those of you who have had it up to here with the inauguration hype. The rest of you who regard Barack Obama's presidential oath-taking today as the arrival of the Ultimate State of Being can go back to your rapture.

Others who have been alternately amused and appalled at the excesses of the precoronation preparations of the past few days should gather around for a little curmudgeonly reflection.

Oprah Winfrey unintentionally caught the unearthly spirit of it all the night Obama was elected when she told the TV show "Access Hollywood": "There are not even words to talk about what this night means. Everybody keeps using the word historic—there's never been a night like this on the planet Earth . . . nothing can compare to this."

The media have almost fatally choked on their endless diet of stories about parties, dress styles, the tears, the attending stars and celebrities, the electricity zapping through the heavens and the rest of the fawning. Please, someone apply the Heimlich maneuver.

PETA will be giving away unwanted fur coats to the homeless, splashed, of course, with paint so they cannot be sold later, not even by the homeless who could use the money. The swells in their evening gowns and tuxedos are being encouraged to ride mass transit to their galas, where they will dine off biodegradable containers. All plastic and Styrofoam have been banned, of course. "We're obviously not going to have paper towels in the bathroom," said one organizer, preferring instead air dryers, making me wonder if they have calculated which leaves the larger carbon footprint.

It's all so precious. Strikes me that if they had truly wanted to leave the smallest carbon footprint possible, they could have done their part by holding the inauguration in a phone booth. Instead, the extravagant affair has the flavor of rubbing the losers' noses in it.

But, that's the winner's job. The presidential inauguration may be our nation's strangest celebration: Half of the 300 million Americans are joyful, exuberant or out of their minds with excitement. The other half are sad, if not angry, or frightened. That's the way it always has been.

So, we might as well sit back and enjoy it. Even take some pride in the peaceful transfer of power. If this were Zimbabwe, the losers would be cranking up their tanks right now, instead of moping in front of their TVs. Obama's supporters sometimes may resemble whirling dervishes, spinning out of control. But, their joy is genuine, their adulation sincere and their optimism authentic. The rest of us shouldn't step on it; we should honor it. After all, it is a historic event—the first black man elected president. We have come far in my lifetime.

Many of us now are sitting on the sidelines, from which the cheering (or booing) emanates. It will be a matter of pride that in our disagreements with the new government, we will never lower ourselves as far as the Bush-haters have done for the past eight years, with their endless stream of scorn and sneering.

Obama's theme for his inauguration is "Renewing America's Promise." In his speech today I hope he will recognize the wellspring from which America's promise flows—a shared disposition to look for better times. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt, who helped to pull us out of our gloom, recognized it. Perhaps Obama will, too, understanding that reigniting our optimism would do our economy more good than any $1 trillion stimulus package. The man came from nowhere (nothing better describes the Illinois legislature) and rose to the nation's most exulted office. He ought to be given a chance and respect. Even though I disagree with so much of what he stands for, I hope he succeeds. Even if it means I'm wrong. For a change.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago-area writer and consultant. He blogs at dennisbyrne.blogspot.com

Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

Monday, January 19, 2009

Daley to nail down stimulus money for O’Hare Airport expansion

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Unless I miss my bet, watch Mayor Richard M. Daley glom on to a big hunk of that $825-billion stimulus package for his loopy O’Hare Airport expansion.

Forget about getting your potholes filled or any of the other critical public works projects that you think should be done. They’ll all have to wait in line behind Daley’s desperate need for money to continue his O’Hare “modernization” boondoggle.

Continue reading in the Chicago Daily Observer

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A heart-rending view of a murdered neighborhood

Here you will find a video of the homes and businesses in the peaceful, well-maintained neighborhood that will be destroyed by Mayor Richard M. Daley's O'Hare Airport expansion. This is highly recommended, if you have any sense of compassion.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Move on, would ya?

By Dennis Byrne
Political Mavens

One would hope that the Bush haters would take this opportunity to take a break, what with the impending inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. But no, their anal obsession with getting the outgoing president to confess to his “mistakes,” again was ignited on Monday by his final press conference.

In it, he admitted mistakes, but apparently not the right ones or enough of them. Said one snide guest on the PBS Newshour, aside from ruining his country and the Republican party, he probably doesn’t have to apologize to the country for much.

Continue reading in Political Mavens

Speaker Madigan to Illinois: It wasn't worth trying

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now that Senate Democratic big wheels Dick Durbin and Harry Reid have decided to seat Roland Burris, Illinois Donkey Party leaders cannot escape blame for failing to call an election to fill President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.

House Speaker Michael Madigan on Sunday finally voiced an excuse why Illinois voters should be stiffed, and he demonstrated anew that however hard Democrats try to climb out of the hole they've dug for themselves with this mess, the deeper they sink.

On WGN radio, Madigan said even if the legislature enacted a law removing Gov. Rod Blagojevich's power to appoint a successor and set a date for a special election, he couldn't trust the governor to sign it. "I think that had a bill gone to the governor's desk providing for a special election, Blagojevich would have vetoed the bill, made his appointment and then there'd be a matter of a motion to override in the legislature. But the appointment would have been made." Realist that he is, Madigan may be right, even though he first said he would call a special session to pass special-election legislation. Blagojevich first said he would sign such legislation, but jumped ahead with the Burris appointment instead.

This is funny: Madigan cringing at the thought that his arch-foe Blagojevich might veto something, and then using it as an excuse to do nothing. Whatever happened to the idea of passing something just to back the governor into a corner, such as a deficit-heavy budget that contains no revenues? That once was standard practice.

More important: Why not pass something because it's the right thing to do, such as giving Illinois voters a chance to elect an Obama replacement? So what if Blagojevich had vetoed a special election? Madigan could have demonstrated that at least someone, anyone, was on our side. That someone in this woebegone state wasn't so frightened out of his wits about losing a slice of power that he would stick up for the voters. In this, Madigan has come off as oily as Durbin and Reid, who, while trying to speak earnestly about what is true, good and real, appear as insufferable fakers.

It's ironic justice that Madigan, by his inaction, could wind up with a ticket in the 2010 general election headed by a loser anyway, Roland Burris.

Now, if you think Democratic pirouettes can't get any funnier (or sadder) than this, then wait until the fight over who fills Rahm Emanuel's 5th Congressional District seat heats up. The Northwest Side and northwest suburban district has produced such luminaries as Blagojevich and convicted former Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and we're breathless to see who is the next to bubble up from this swamp.

The stage is set: Mayor Richard Daley isn't taking sides, having been deprived of a kinky political organization headed by convicted felon Don Tomczak; Democratic state Rep. James DeLeo, who is the big dog in the district, failed to install a candidate at a Saturday slating session of the district's committeemen, and now the race is wide open. This should be a classic bloodletting.

The political family tree in the district is so incestuous that it looks like an inkblot. You've got Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), Daley's City Council voice box, vying for the seat against state Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), a lawyer representing real estate interests in City Hall. Supporting Fritchey are several powerful committeemen, including Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), the guy who gifted us with his son-in-law, Blagojevich, Also supporting Fritchey is another kingpin, Ald. William J.P. Banks (36th), who just happens to be the uncle of Fritchey's wife and related to a few other cloutmeisters.

O'Connor was crowing that he had the committeemen's endorsement nearly sewn up, but he fell far short of Fritchey, who fell short of winning the outright party slating. There's a bunch of other office seekers that'll add to the confusion before the March 3 special primary, prompting Ald. Thomas Tunney (44th) to declare an open primary to be a good thing because "the voters need to be heard."

Now, that's really funny. It's something that his fellow Democrats have strenuously avoided saying about picking Obama's replacement. Meanwhile, the joke these guys are playing is on Daley, who, thanks to the global laughter generated by his party, can kiss his treasured 2016 Olympics goodbye.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hail, Burris

I guess this means that we don’t get to vote.

More and more, it looks like we’ll be stuck with whomever the bumbling state and national Democratic leadership picks for us to take President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

Dick Durbin and his gaunt buddy, Harry Reid, are the nation’s two most powerful U.S. senators. But they’ve come out looking like a couple of Tasmanian Devils from the Looney Tunes cartoons, bouncing all over the landscape while trying to figure out how to keep a loser, Roland Burris, from taking the seat. Letting the voters take a crack at picking the replacement isn’t even a part of their rhetoric.

Continue reading in The Chicago Daily Observer

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sarah Palin: Will Caroline Kennedy get 'kid-glove' treatment from media? -- chicagotribune.com

This paragraph showed up in the middle of a story about Sarah Palin asking whether the media will treat Caroline Kennedy's aspirations for a Senate seat with the same kind of treatment the Alaskan governor received in he quest for the vice presidency:
The media have published numerous reports containing criticism of Kennedy's lack of experience in elective office.
If you read the entire AP Story in which that paragraph appeared, you'll see that the paragraph was inserted by the reporter or the editor, without attribution. In other words, it was the reporter's/editor's own response to Palin's question. Whether or not the media treats the aspirations of the two women the same, the inserted paragraph should be attributed to someone, or it should provide some evidence that the statement is correct.

This is poor journalism, which is evidence of either incompetence or the bias that Palin believes exists. Are they teaching any of this in journalism schools anymore?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Illinois Democrats play a starring role in this mess

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

According to a New York Times editorial, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, by appointing Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate, has reduced the Illinois Statehouse to an opérabouffe.

For us flatlanders who had to look it up, an opĂ©rabouffe is an operetta, performed in an extravagant burlesque style, containing elements of comedy, satire, parody and farce that often ends happily. Except, this bouffe has no happy ending. And, if I may point out to the Times and other keen observers of the Illinois political scene, Blagojevich didn't single-handedly turn Illinois into "La Belle Helene." Blagojevich had a lot of help, and all of it came from Democrats, the Times' favorite political party. The ones who run the state, from whose maw emerged President-elect Barack Obama. The ones who control both houses of the legislature, occupy every statewide elective office and debauch Chicago and Cook County governments—Democrats all.

If any lesson is to be learned from this farce, it's that Democrats here know how to get elected but can't govern. It wasn't just Blagojevich who turned Illinois into the nation's most financially challenged state. Illinois Democrats were co-conspirators in wringing huge deficits, stiffing Medicare and other service providers and stuffing the budget with politically motivated programs. I would remind the Times that the legislature, over Blagojevich's objections, passed a budget that was $2.5 billion in the red in a blockheaded attempt to embarrass the governor.

The Democrats' most recent blunder was their stunning failure to pass legislation that would have stripped the governor of the power to appoint someone to fill Obama's Senate seat. They could have authorized Illinois voters to pick the replacement in an election, but, no, our beloved Democrats could not take the slightest chance that voters, at last fed up with the donkey party, might elect a Republican. Illinois Democrats could have easily spared U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the rest of the party the embarrassment of trying to turn away the Senate's only African-American. Instead, Illinois Democrats can take the blame for putting Reid in the position of having to explain to a guffawing nation why his party could legally slam the door shut on Obama's replacement. If you don't think that Blagojevich managed to plant a sharp stick in Reid's eye, you must have missed the senator's squirming and deplorable performance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" as the program's new host, David Gregory, skillfully grilled him.

And squirm Reid should. His refusal to seat Burris is so arbitrary that it could set a precedent theoretically allowing Republicans, once back in control, to refuse to seat Democrats simply because they're from Chicago—which, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea. The legalities of the Burris affair have become so tangled, I don't see how a replacement—whether named in a special election or by a successor to an impeached and convicted Blagojevich—could legally bump Burris out of his seat.

Truth is, Democrats are stuck with Burris and all that implies about being the party that spawned the allegedly "corrupt" and goofy Blagojevich. That's how it should be. Reid, and all those other Democrats who keep saying Burris would make a "fine" senator, will discover another truth: Burris, spawned by the same party that gave us Blagojevich, is a mediocrity, perhaps even an embarrassment, something they couldn't miss if they saw him stumble through his appointment news conference. Here's a measure of Burris' character: He silently stood by while his staunchest supporter, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), implied that anyone who opposed the appointment would be guilty of lynching a black man. Burris has yet to repudiate that inflammatory racism, something the Democratic Party can't afford if they want to hold together Obama's "inclusive" coalition. Burris would be facing gale-force head winds in either a special or the next general election because even Illinois' remarkably untroubled electorate will remember Burris was crass and stupid enough to accept Blagojevich's appointment. Burris' only chance is for Republicans to pull their usual vanishing act.

"The many problems of Illinois cannot be addressed so long as Mr. Blagojevich remains governor," the Times editorial intoned. Not quite. It should have said: "The many problems of Illinois cannot be addressed so long as Democrats run the state." Someday, Illinois' blind Democratic voters will see it.



Monday, January 05, 2009

The True Cost of Blago's folly

If legal scholars are right that the fight over Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the Senate will be long, possibly ending up before the U.S. Supreme Court, I’ve got a question:

Who pays?

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer