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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Science and public policy

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

The flourishing liberal dictum that the public should keep its paws off the funding and practice of science is a serious and dangerous fabrication.

Among liberal rhetoricians, this erroneous diktat blossomed when then-President George W. Bush limited federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. They said Bush and others with moral qualms about destroying human life to advance scientific knowledge were "anti-science." So, when the political left found they could advance their own scientific agenda by painting conservatives as anti-science, the slander became an embedded component of liberal group think. Anyone who opposed the politicalization of climate science or contemplated the nexus of science and theology in theories about evolution were dragged to the guillotine of political correctness. Even those holding secular or humanistic objections were unfairly labeled right-wing religious fanatics, hellbent on imposing their moral paradigm on an unwilling public.

This has to stop if America is to return to a thoughtful, intelligent discussion of scientific issues that are germane to the public interest. The setting of government-funded research priorities and the relationship between the public good and science are very much legitimate grounds for reasonable debate. Liberals once fought government funding for nuclear power research and nuclear weapons testing. They evoked moral, ethical and political considerations in the debate. Did that make them anti-science?

Liberals historically have opposed expenditures on space science, including missions to the moon, based on the non-scientific argument that the money would better be spent on helping people "here on Earth." Did that make liberals anti-science?

Liberals argued that the first claim on the federal health-science dollar should be HIV-related research, when cancer and heart diseases were clearly bigger killers. Did that make liberals anti-science? Then there's human cloning. Is opposing it anti-science?

Of course not. That made them citizens engaged in a proper democratic dialogue. And so are conservatives who disagree with some of the liberal science agenda. Disagreement over the funding of embryonic stem cells is not fundamentally a debate over science. Conservatives who caution against sliding into the easy fabrication and use of human life for research are not challenging the scientific potential of pluripotent embryonic stem cells. But I give an F for scientific literacy to many proponents of embryonic stem-cell funding because they have chosen, for political reasons, to ignore the science that has generated more immediate and promising results from embryonic cord blood and adult stem cells. Worse, instead of engaging in respectful scientific disputation, they disparage those who disagree with them as religious block-heads.

The same sorry spectacle has unfolded in the debate over global warming. Despite scientific evidence that challenges the "conclusion" that the "debate is closed" over climate change, the liberal default position is to label dissidents as anti-science. The science of how to make a nuclear bomb is closed; the intrinsically complicated understanding of the zillion variables in predicting global climate change remains incomplete. Nazis regarded eugenics and exploring the "beneficial" uses of human skin peeled from Holocaust victims as science. They dipped living people into salt water the temperature of the frigid North Atlantic Ocean to find better ways to save the lives of downed Nazi fighter pilots. Would opposing those horrors be considered anti-science?

As a former science and technology writer, I soon concluded that if science can be done, it likely will be done by someone, somewhere, whether it is beneficial to or destructive of individual and societal good. Efforts in a democratic society to encourage, guide, direct or regulate that science is not just a legitimate endeavor, but also a necessary one. If science was conducted in a vacuum, then who should care?

So, now we enter a debate about whether the University of Notre Dame should have scheduled a commencement speech by President Barack Obama because he is an advocate of using public money to fund the destruction of human life for the benefit of "more deserving individuals." Some will bewail the protests, claiming they are anti-science.

From this, we desperately need respite.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kansas governor signs abortion law on fetal sonograms

Under it, abortion clinics will have to offer women the option of viewing a sonogram of the living fetus or listening to its heart beat. (Story here)

Of course, the abortion industry lobbied against the law, the story said, "arguing it was an attempt to erode abortion rights by placing new restrictions on clinics."

Restrictions? Offering more information for more fully informed consent to help women "choose" is an intrusion on abortion rights? Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of Planned Parenthood would such a requirement be viewed as an infringement on "choice."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rahm Emanuel's profitable stint at mortgage giant

This is a must read. More revelations on the slimy character of Obama's trusted adviser.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tollway officials OK breaks for violators

Why?

Tollway officials try to explain why here. It comes down to: We're supposed to feel sorry for the road runners.

Pelosi Vetoes Obama. Media Ignore It.

Obama was preparing a shock for military veterans

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

All too little attention has been paid to President Barack Obama’s shocking plan to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries.

For most of the media—and, consequently, the public—the plan briefly flashed like heat lightning in the summer sky and soundlessly disappeared. But the very existence of the plan, and the story of how it bit the dust, raises serious questions about the Obama administration’s political wisdom, its ability to govern and whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is running things.

The astonishing proposal raised an uproar among veterans’ groups...

Read more in the Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Haven't we had enough under Blago?

Now Quinn wants to hit us with a 50 percent income tax increase.

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If you're not for Gov. Pat Quinn's 50 percent income tax increase and a raft of other new levies in his proposed budget then you're against the poor, elderly, veterans and children.

I'm doing it for the poor, elderly, veterans and children, Quinn repeatedly says to justify the boatload of new taxes in his proposed budget. Not helping them, he said, would be "mean-spirited."

Cork it, can't you?

It's the same old crippled logic that has been deployed against any member of the body politic that demurs from whatever big, new tax or spend number that shows up in a budget. After all these years, can't the people pushing ever-bigger government do better than suggest that their opponents are indifferent or cruel?

After all, suggests John Tillman, chief executive officer of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, can't being "mean-spirited" also mean dipping into people's wallets? Isn't it just as harsh (to paraphrase the left) as making people choose between paying their taxes and buying medicine or food?

Quinn, as Democrats often do, is arguing from the heart rather than the mind, which is why it sells politically.

But as a reasonable argument, it fails. The choice isn't just between a massive tax increase and doing nothing. A multitude of other possibilities present themselves, like not increasing revenues until demonstrating that current revenues—which have grown by $7 billion over the past decade—are well spent.

What Quinn is proposing is like pulling a wrecked car out of the ditch and deciding, while we're at it, to repave the road.

Give credit to Quinn for honestly facing Illinois' horrible financial condition head on; how refreshing not to hear ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich shucking about how he fixed the budget when he only made it worse.

But Quinn's budget also would make matters worse. Illinois is losing jobs and businesses. More people leave than settle here. An arguably low income tax is offset by higher-than-average property taxes, the nation's highest sales tax (in Chicago), a high inheritance tax and a multitude of other, less obvious taxes that Quinn would increase.

Illinois is becoming a tax sinkhole. If government workers in Illinois were paid what comparable workers were paid in the private sector, we could save $3 billion, argues Tillman.

Don't hold your breath. Even gradually narrowing that gap over time by limiting the exorbitant wage, pension and contractual benefits granted to organized labor is unthinkable in a state throttled by union power. Consider the additional money that Quinn wants for "the children"—meaning public education. Average per-pupil spending in Chicago now is about $13,000, prima facia evidence that taxpayers are getting rooked. Obvious alternatives (school choice) exist, but the teachers unions continue to resist freeing the children from their public school bondage. Incredibly, the Illinois Education Association thinks even Quinn's increases aren't enough. It criticized Quinn's budget for "balancing the state budget on the backs of public education employees and state government workers." The only satisfaction to be derived from such an absurd statement is that some of Quinn's rhetoric (he's doing it for "the kids") is getting tossed back at him.

On top of all this, the special interests (including the teachers union) that demand so much bloat from the Illinois budget managed to kill a proposed constitutional convention that could have addressed some of the structural problems that have led to our financial crisis. No matter how much we do for the poor, elderly, veterans and children, we always can do more.

But we're already doing plenty, so much so that the state's financial health is greatly endangered. Continue on this route and we'll for sure end up doing less, not more, for the poor, elderly, veterans and children.

With Blagojevich gone, legislative leaders now have an opportunity to demonstrate their reasonableness.

We have a right to expect better governance. Illinois' reputation already is bad enough, and deservedly so. An astonishing 50 percent income tax increase will only convince the rest of America that we are, indeed, nuts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Sanchez Trial Isn’t The End

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

Denise Alcantar had never driven anything bigger than a rented moving truck and her only previous work experience was as an office assistant. Yet, the Daley administration figured she was skilled enough to drive one of those big, lumbering garbage trucks for the city. A few months later, she c crushed a fellow city worker between her truck and a post as she tried to maneuver the truck around a turn.

How can this happen?

The same way that the Daley Democratic Political Machine hires incompetents—based solely on their political connections—to inspect porches that later fall down and kill people. The same way that years, ago the Chicago Sun-Times could open an undercover bar and get overrun with city inspectors on the take.

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

Special Olympics chief responds to Obama gaffe

In comparing his dismal bowling game to the Special Olympics, President Barack Obama's crew immediately realized that he had stepped in it. An apology rang out from the White House even before the tape of the remark aired on the Jay Leno show.

Which offered Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics chairman, an opportunity to suggest that partial atonement might be achieved by hiring a Special Olympian for the White House.

If George W. Bush had made the same gaffe when he was president, and Shriver had made the same suggestion, looney left blogs would be buzzing with the rejoinder that the White House already has a Special Olympian working there--in the Oval Office.

Cable comic show clowns, of course, would never let us forget that Bush had made the gaffe, but with Obama in the Oval Office, look for this gnat to leave our attention before the next sunrise.

Dodd Draws Voters’ Ire Over Wall Street Pay

Oh, and did the New York Times reporters happen to mention that Dodd is a Democrat?

Check it out here.

Apparently, we're supposed to conclude that he is, because he comes from a heavily Democratic state and has a Republican opponent.

What would it have hurt to have inserted his party identification somewhere, anywhere in the story, if not at the top, where it belongs? It is "small" things that are trashing what used to be an honorable profession, my profession.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bankruptcy=No Bonuses

If AIG had been left to fail--as it, GM and a raft of other "troubled" institutions should have been--there would have been no bonuses paid to its executives. Those receiving the bonuses would have had to line up for their money just like everyone else that was owed money--bondholders, suppliers, consultants and the rest. That's why we have bankruptcy, but no, the politicians had to fiddle with it all, arrogant in their thinking that they could foresee all and run the business.

And, so, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama, Sen. Chris Dodd, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the clowns who insisited on the bailouts, stimuli, TARPs and all the other give-aways are sinking into an ever-deeper political quagmire today for abetting the bonuses.

Poetic justice, indeed.

City repaves park roads first

Here's how Mayor Richard M. Daley corrupts city priorities with his fixation on snagging the 2016 Olympics. While his administration asserts that the city doesn't have enough money to fix major streets, it's repaving the streets on the Olympic site first.

It's what you get when dolts repeatedly elect a dictator to run things.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rational thinking about corporate bonuses

Let us pause for a moment from all the hysteria, get a glass of water, have a seat and take a deep breath to reflect upon the AIG bonuses. Here is some rational thinking from William Byrne, a retired corporate executive and a very smart fellow who happens to be my brother (don't hold that against him):

Regarding bonuses. In most companies bonuses are paid on the basis of performance: corporate, division, individual. The parameters for an individual’s bonus depend on the employee’s job description, and are generally weighted according to the priorities assigned to the elements of the job description. Examples might be: generate new business, submit winning proposals, complete a project within budget, etc. And in my company, if the business unit did not make a profit, no one in that unit got a bonus – so there could be overriding corporate goals as well as individual goals.

So to make a blanket demand that all AIG bonuses are bogus might make the public feel better, but might in fact be detrimental to future performance. But this will never sell in the public place so long as large amounts of public money are going to AIG. So a compromise is needed that permits legitimate bonuses be awarded (but maybe not paid right away, or paid in relationship to a formula based on the return of the bailout money to the government), but prohibits bonuses for the unperforming (whatever that means) units of the company. A very sticky problem. Ed Liddy (current AIG CEO) is a pretty sharp guy with a very good management track record. He needs to show his leadership skills in this situation.

Hedge Funds May Get AIG Cash

Here is another example of the folly of rushing ahead with simple-minded legislation that no one understood to solve a complex problem for which no one has a solution. I'll say it again, as I did before the TARP legislation passed: This will be the biggest flim-flam in American history.

Fed Data Show Banks Are Lending

So, what are we to make of this new report?

One of the underlying premises of the various bailouts and stimuli is the claim that banks aren't lending. This is report is dangerous to the Obama administration's plans, and thus, I suspect won't get much attention.

G.W. Bush: Obama 'deserves my silence'

In this former President George W. Bush is showing a lot more grace and style than the new president's administration. At every turn, Obama and his folks continue the thread-bare blame-Bush strategy.

Here's David Axelrod defending Obama's Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner against charges that he screwed up by allowing AIG pay bonuses:
David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, dismissed such talk, citing the financial mess that Mr. Geithner had inherited. “He has been confronted with a situation and challenges that are unparalleled in modern history, and to put it all on his shoulders is not fair and not right,” Mr. Axelrod said. “He’s a brilliant and committed guy with a great deal of experience in this area, and we’re standing with him.”
Sooner or later, the Obama administration will have to start taking responsibility for what it's doing to this country.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's not all gloom and doom

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Life is good.

Yeah, I know. That's not the most popular view right now and, and it probably is offensive, insensitive and in violation of all the other 'ives that define today's ethics. But because I'm paid to be unpopular, and if we all could start conducting our lives by practicing the good, true and beautiful instead of merely trying to float through life without displeasing anyone, I'll say it anyway.

Being wretched is the cause de jour. Even if we, ourselves, aren't miserable, we're supposed to act as if we were, because if we don't, how can we be considered simpatico with the suffering multitudes? If we don't walk around with long faces, we'll be indicted for not caring about the many who are losing their jobs, homes, savings and their futures. For me, that'll mean I'll probably have to work until the day I die—not a happy prospect for some of my most critical readers, but that'll be my silver lining to that particular cloud.

Financial problems, health problems; we've all had them. Some worse than others, and every night my last waking thoughts often are about how blessed and/or lucky we are to have survived the awful and avoided the worst. How wonderful is that gift that we have received; how immense are its possibilities. Now, our collective despond has overwhelmed it all. So much so that a national malaise poses a fundamental threat to the American economy.

We always believed that we were part of a great movement called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past, a past founded on the conviction that we are the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy.

The crisis we face today isn't so much one of credit, excessive borrowing or a housing meltdown. It is a crisis of confidence. Confidence isn't just some romantic notion; it is a fact that has driven the American experience. From confidence flows private enterprise and self-government. Confidence links generations and fuels progress. All the legislation in the world can't fix what's wrong with America. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.

By now, the more historically astute have recognized that I've cribbed these words, some of them verbatim, from former President Jimmy Carter. On July 15, 1979, Carter delivered his televised "malaise" speech to a nation sinking into an economic quagmire, one that was actually worse than today's. That, of course, offends the current incantation that today's economy is "the worst since the Great Depression," a trope that has been repeated so often that it has been emptied of meaning. Truly, today's economy isn't as bad as the one that Carter faced; the unemployment rate was higher, credit had been severely crimped by incredibly high interest rates, the country still was in a post-Vietnam War and post-Watergate funk. Carter correctly diagnosed the cause: the loss of faith. Former President Ronald Reagan, for whatever his faults, helped restore it.

That history, however, hasn't mattered much to a political and media establishment enthralled with our depression. At every turn, they have been moved to forecast even worse times. For whatever political reason or personal gain, they continued to pile it on, deepening the gloom until its prospect became reality. Bad news has weighed down bad news; dire warnings are issued that as bad as things are, they'll only get worse.

In some quarters, it is a partisan exercise, meant to deepen our gloom, gain political advantage and either scare the populace into ever-grosser levels of debt or to discredit efforts to ease the gloom. President Barack Obama blames, with increasing acidity, the Bush administration and "those who would have us do nothing" (who, pray tell, are they?). We could argue the point all day about whether the "failure of regulation" was Barney Frank's or George Bush's fault.

But it's about time to acknowledge that we, with our constant harping, have created the monster that we lay at the feet of speculators, bankers, financial finaglers, irresponsible borrowers and all the rest. And that we are responsible for re-igniting the innate American confidence that will restore our health.

Another Obama appointee gone, at least for now

Vivek Kundra, President Barack Obama's just-appointed chief information technology officer, was placed on administrative leave before he could even organize his pencils.

That's because as the D.C. government's chief technology officer he oversaw a contracting process that now is being investigated for massive fraud. He hasn't been identified as a suspect, but....

The story is here

Monday, March 16, 2009

Obama Orders Treasury Chief to Try to Block A.I.G. Bonuses

An item from the I-got-frigged-so-you-should-get-frigged-too department:

Obama Orders Treasury Chief to Try to Block A.I.G. Bonuses Why wait for information about the contracts and individual details of the bonuses? We assume that each and every one of them are the "people who caused the problem?" More demagoguery fed by sophomoric stereotyping.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who can explain it?

Chicago will get at least $1 billion in stimulus funds, according to reports.

But can anyone--anyone at all--explain how it was decided that Chicago would get $1 billion and not, say $800 million, or 1.2 billion? How why it will "preserve 1,000 CTA posts" or "750 teaching positions?" And not 1,000 community service jobs, instead of 650?

The most basic explanation of how these decisions were made is totally missing. It's as if the public had no say in these matters, which, of course, it hasn't.

This is the biggest single distribution of public money in our history, but we are supposed to sit by like a bunch of serfs, waiting for Czar Daley II to make these decisions. Nothing, nothing at all, seems to be able to stop this and restore our basic rights as a self-governing people.

Who caused the housing meltdown?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Have voters had enough to push reform?

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now if voters would only stay angry. They were cross enough last week to select a reformer, Mike Quigley, as the Democratic candidate to run for Rahm Emanuel's open seat in the 5th Congressional District. Quigley's victory in the Democratic primary in a field of 12 candidates came as something of a surprise. Chicago voters have a well-honed tradition of sheepish acceptance of whatever bozo is offered up to them for their rubber-stamping.

Quigley's reform credentials were soundly established as a Cook County Board commissioner in his sometimes quixotic but always energetic campaign against the odious practices of Board President Todd Stroger and his cronies. It's possible that the party's dark forces divided and weakened themselves by fighting each other in the primary, leaving only Quigley standing, but there's also the possibility that voters in even this highly organized and heavily Democratic district had enough of the usual thieves and rascals. What's interesting is how the thieves and rascals are so arrogant that they cavalierly keep piling on reasons, at an unbelievable rate, for voters to be enraged.

The incumbent bosses have:

• Gone to extraordinary lengths to tell voters that governance is none of their business. Brazenly, the bosses have killed a special election to fill President Barack Obama's empty Senate seat, scotched voter recall of unworthy officeholders and combined with powerful interests, including Republican power brokers, to block the calling of a constitutional convention to impose reform on dug-in insiders who have too long resided safely in their taxpayer-funded sinecures.

• Worked all kinds of dodges to keep secret information that citizens have a right to possess if they are to fully participate in a democracy. Tribune reporters on Sunday documented how difficult it is for citizens to crack that wall of official and bureaucratic resistance, often to the detriment of the public good. It's such an ingrained part of the status quo that Mayor Richard Daley openly flouts his ability to withhold from public scrutiny critically important details about how he plans to spend taxpayers' stimulus funds.

• Bungled every phase of governance, as demonstrated by the horrid financial shape of Chicago and the state, conditions easily camouflaged in a flood of meaningless or dishonest rhetoric. How many times can Gov. Pat Quinn change his mind about electing Obama's replacement before he becomes as discredited as the governor who preceded him?

• Stood by quietly as members of their own party engage in gross racial politics. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), in particular, unconscionably leveled imputations of racism against those who engaged in a legitimate debate over the suitability and propriety of Roland Burris serving as Obama's replacement in the Senate.

• Engaged in an endless, costly, dishonest and sometimes deadly fight to preserve political patronage. Just two recent examples: A fed-up Julia Nowicki recently resigned as the federally appointed monitor of hiring abuses in Cook County. Details of Chicago political corruption are unfolding in the federal trial of Al Sanchez, the former Streets and Sanitation commissioner and Daley aide.

• Thrived on a system of corruption that enriches the powerful; rewards the dishonest, incompetent and lazy; stacks the deck against ordinary citizens; robs taxpayers of a fair return on their public investments; and burps out the likes of Rod Blagojevich. And so on.

But despite all these reasons for throwing the bums out and the momentary hope that Quigley's election might signal reform, the corrupt political organization that has a grip on this town will need more than that to feel threatened. They'll figure that the reliable return of apathy and self-interest as the dominant factors in state and local politics will keep everyone in line. In fact, some machine pols might even consider Quigley's victory a godsend. Traditionally, the easiest way to dispose of pesky reformers here is to send them to Washington. Which gives party bosses a chance to appoint a compliant hack to replace Quigley on the County Board.

Maybe the voters now should demand an election to replace Quigley.

Reid: Paying income tax is voluntary

Monday, March 09, 2009

Journalism students outclass the pros

Here is an informative article on a promising and at-hand alternative to using embryonic stem cells to advance the science. The use of stem cells from umbilical cords holds the promise of more than 70 diseases, yet lacks sufficient funding.

If President Barack Obama is so interested in advancing science, maybe he should look to this noncontroversial alternative.

Congratulations and thanks are owed to Medill Reports, a news service available here, written and produced by graduate journalism students at Northwestern Univerity's Medill School.

CTA's pension fund fiasco

Here is an eye-opening, must-read story about the unnerving state of underfunded public pensions, including the Chicago Transit Authority's. A must read for people who aren't scared enough yet.

Now they're getting it

The Government Accountability Office will closely watch how Illinois spends its stimulus money, according to reports.

Seeing as how Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley won't tell the public where its stimulus money is going, maybe the GAO can start by smoking out the list.

"Experience tells us that the risk for fraud and abuse grows when billions of dollars are going out quickly, eligibility requirements are being established or changed and new programs are being created," said Gene L. Dodaro, acting U.S. comptroller generator.

Especially when one of the old requirements is that the money has to go to one of the mayor's friends.

And the Obama campaign propaganda machine said that it didn't matter that he was hatched in the cesspool of corrupt politics. Think aain.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Glib Gibbs

Asked if President Obama would accept Rush Limbaugh's invitation for a head-to-head debate, press secretary Robert Gibbs said something about shutting off his television and not having a radio. Clever.

As Obama sinks the nation into a deeper and deeper mess, he and his White House are increasingly less willing to engage in a substantive debate, instead attempting to make witicisms about "who is the Republican spokesman?" and engaging in personal attacks.

Obama, who hasn't missed a single opportunity to make himself public (before friendly crowds), will use the excuse that a president debate critics, which historically is true (except during re-election campaigns). But it sure would be nice if the White House responded with substantive arguments, for a change.

A $30-million Obama earmark for the CTA | Chicago Daily Observer

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Daily Observer

President Barack Obama, who has assured us that he’s the St. George in the crusade to slay the evil dragon Earmark, slipped a $30 million boon into the federal budget for the CTA’s Brown Line.

Which I guess proves that all earmarks are bad…unless they are our earmarks.

Obama, while he was still our junior senator connived with Illinois’ senior senator, Dick Durbin, to insert the $30 million give-away into the fiscal year 2009 omnibus budget just passed by House. Taxpayers for Common Sense, in its search for earmarks in the massive budget bill, discovered the $30 million lurking in federal transportation expenditures.

Read more in The Chicago Daily Observer

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mayor Daley's great big hush-hush

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Mayor Richard Daley has given the lie to one of President Barack Obama's key promises: transparency.

While Obama promises that everything about his stimulus spending and, indeed, his entire administration will be open to inspection, Daley has steadfastly refused to reveal to the public or his City Council how he plans to spend Chicago's share of the $9 billion in stimulus cash programmed to come to Illinois.

That Daley would stiff several freedom of information requests from the media for a glimpse of his wish list is standard operating procedure in Chicago. But he's also ignoring 46 of the 50 aldermen on the City Council who asked all city departments and outside agencies controlled by Daley, such as the CTA and the Chicago Public Schools, to reveal their spending plans. That kind of high-handed autocracy might surprise observers in other cities, but in Chicago, any alderman putting his signature on a petition to implore Daley to even pretty-please do something is considered traitorous.

Daley's explanation? "Yes, we do, we have our list, we've been talking to people," he said. "We did not put that out publicly because once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart."

So might the voters be ripping it apart, if this was a normal city. But this is Chicago, which re-enthrones Daley every four years, and whatever paltry gratuity His Lordship decides to bestow, Chicagoans gratefully receive. In a normal city, such wish lists would be transparent and the public would have a chance to comment, and if it chooses, to rip it apart. That's how a democracy is supposed to work, but not in Daley's Democratic realm.

People wonder how Chicago can be so corrupt, and here's one reason. When Daley says "we've been talking to people" about the list, who do you suppose he means? Technicians who are using cost-benefit formulas to calculate where best to spend the money? Daley Cabinet members in all-night sessions debating where the money would most benefit Chicago? Spare us. The money gets carved up in the back room, by friends, benefactees and finaglers who intimately understand the opportunities arising from the arrival of the biggest pile of taxpayer cash, ever. Outside, we can smell the stink, but we won't know what's rotting until Daley, in his wisdom, decides to give us a peek.

But even if Daley's wish list was perfectly legit, it still ought to be disclosed because it presents legitimate issues for public discussion. Suppose Illinois is in line for $500 million for transportation projects. Should it go for Chicago pothole repairs or suburban intersection improvements? CTA track repairs or more rolling stock for Metra? New CTA buses or for the completion of the long-delayed Elgin-O'Hare Expressway? Should taxpayers look to the Obama administration to correct Daley's imperious, if not illegal, secrecy? After all, Obama has repeatedly promised "transparency" in government and a new way of doing business. Again, spare us. Obama's assistant for intergovernmental affairs is Valerie Jarrett, who herself rose through Daley's political apparatus to eventually head the CTA. Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House senior adviser David Axelrod (Obama's Karl Rove) also are Chicago products. For them to defy Daley's craving for distributing the loot as he sees fit is laughable.

Nor should we expect much from Obama himself, who will be engaging in blinding hypocrisy if he continues to allow Daley to get away with the in-your-face politics he practices in Chicago. Maybe Obama will cross me up and figure out a way to force Daley's list out into public view without humbling the mayor. My bet, though, is that Obama will keep his silence, because that will keep Daley happy. And the rest of the nation will continue its swoon, believing that "real change" has arrived.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

President Barack Obama's budget plan taxes wealthy to aid middle and lower classes

This story says:
WASHINGTON — From front to back and on nearly every page, President Barack Obama's new budget plan delivers a message that's seldom been heard in American politics for more than three decades: It's time for the rich to pay their fair share and lighten the load on the middle class. [Emphasis added]
Wait, a progressive income tax, which requires those in upper income brackets pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, isn't a fair share? If not, then what is a fair share?

Barney, is there an answer in there?

MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews asked the right question of Rep. Barney Frank:
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the numbers. Do you think there‘s enough money in the added income—the re-added income taxes of those above $250,000 a year—is there enough income up there to tax, enough taxable income to bring into the federal Treasury over time to pay for the cost of a real national health care system?
Here is Frank's non-answer, which you can see in context here:
FRANK: Well, thanks to the incompetence of the—where the financial system has worked the deregulation, there aren‘t as many rich people as there used to be and they‘re not as rich as they used to be. But over time, it will be there. But you do have to do more.

And one of the things that I most liked about the president‘s state of the nation speech—which I thought was a very good speech, very well delivered, even better than very good—he talked about ending the spending on cold war weapons. One of the great things of inconsistency that I think, Chris, of people who worry about spending—they brought us the Iraq war, the single biggest addition to the deficit, and unlike some other things, it‘s all money that we lose. We don‘t get any of it money back.

They have projected—you know, we are now—according to the Bush budget, we‘re going to spend billions of dollars to protect the Czech Republic from being attacked by Iran. Now, I‘m not a regular reader of the fatwas...

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK: Well, that‘s true. I don‘t regularly read all the fatwas that come out of Teheran, but I am not aware that they are about to declare war on the Czech Republic, and I don‘t see why I should spend billions of dollars to stop it.

Somehow, we got from asking a real question about how to finance TARP, stimulus, the 2009 and 2010 budgets and whatever comes next into fatwas. Too bad that Matthews inexcusably let Frank get away with it.

Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party

Once more it's not what is being said that's important for so many of my simpleminded colleagues, but who is saying it and how it is being said. What not engage in a debate over ideas rather than focusing, like this sorry article, on putting down the speaker and his adherents?