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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dennis Byrne

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dennis Byrne

Last Build Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2009 00:30:58 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Is Obama Reaching Too Far Too Quickly?

Wed, 25 Feb 2009 00:30:58 -0600

Obama's schedule this week includes a White House fiscal policy summit Monday, a speech to Congress on Tuesday and the unveiling of his budget Thursday.

Potomac decipherers describe this as Obama's breakaway week, in which he completes the onerous task of dealing with the mess he inherited and begins his own far-reaching agenda. Of course, the inherited mess includes finishing work on this fiscal year's budget, which--ahem--the Democratic Congress failed to pass even though we're five months into the fiscal year. My question is: When does Obama have the time to go over the budget "line by line" like he promised?

Obviously, he doesn't, but we won't count that as a broken campaign promise because, well, we'd get trashed by the White House for questioning the wisdom of this frenzy. Much as Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs racked Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter in Chicago's futures pits, over the coals for audaciously saying what many Americans are: How fair is it when the irresponsible get rewarded by the government and the 90 percent of us who pay our mortgages on time don't? What kind of example does it set for a nation that has gone from an instant-gratification culture to one that demands instant and foolproof protection from all risk? You'll have to excuse the Chicago commodities and futures traders for raising the question, since they make their living by facing down pure risk. You would have thought the current White House would understand where the traders are coming from since the financial/investment sector was among Obama's biggest campaign contributors, according to

There is something about this manic rush to set straight everything in America that bespeaks an incredible conceit, the same kind of hubris that argues that government policy can stabilize the global climate. While I detect a certain pride in the Obama administration at having "accomplished" more in a single month than Franklin Roosevelt did in an entire term, there's also the possibility that Obama may have done more damage in the opening week of his administration than President George W. Bush allegedly did in two terms.

In this feverish rush to solve everything, wouldn't it be prudent to pause a moment to appreciate the fact that no one, even by the administration's acknowledgment, knows whether the economic upheaval we've set in motion, including a change in the basic relationship between the American citizen and his government, will work? Much of what Obama and the Democrats have done already is irreversible, giving some of us the feeling that we're speeding down a dark highway at midnight with no headlights on.

Again and again, we hear that our only choice is not just to do something, but to do this something--a truly false dichotomy. But the question remains: What if we're wrong? What if we've spawned a monster--the kind of stagflation that gripped us in the early 1980s? What if the unprecedented debt we are creating is so huge that our children will have to spend so much of their wealth servicing it that they'll be denied the indulgences that this generation takes as its right. Or worse, what if the debt servicing consumes so much of the nation's wealth that future generations will be unable to afford the safety nets and government social spending that the left demands? Can't we slow down long enough to just talk about it?

Slow Drip of Financial Ruin

Wed, 18 Feb 2009 00:34:33 -0600

I once had a college sociology professor--Bud Bloomberg, a man as liberal as you could find--who fulminated against slapdash solutions to society's problems. First, define the problem, he lectured, and then craft the most efficient, direct and cost-effective solution, a solution that often turned out to be the simplest. The repeated failure to follow that framework in favor of a vague, hope-inspired panacea was why so many complex societal problems either weren't solved or made worse by heartfelt concoctions.

Hence, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, an unpalatable stew of every imaginable ingredient hatched by every imaginable chef, has come upon us, not targeted to any particular taste or need, but guaranteed to give every American the heaves and heartburn for generations to come. No more reason went into this gelatinous slop than the ridiculous and dishonest assertion that it was either "this or nothing." It's the ultimate whine of the naive do-something crowd that surfaces with every trouble, natural or man-made.

Senator after Democratic senator stood to disgorge this dishonest rhetoric during floor debate, repeatedly proclaiming the lie that Republican opponents had nothing of their own to offer. But you didn't have to search far to find examples of GOP solutions, such as the one on House Minority Leader John Boehner's Web site. You don't have to agree with his more moderate and targeted package of immediate tax relief for working families, more help for the small business sector (the nation's biggest job producer), no tax increases to pay for spending, jobless assistance and home price stabilization.

However, simple honesty should compel the Reids and Pelosis to refrain from saying the opposition has no plan. Democrats, of course, were able to get away with this slander because few in the media challenged it or bothered to report it. The media also have failed to challenge the economic methodologies that are the basis for claims that the stimulus will produce millions of jobs.

Reason is the facility of the mind used to intelligently form judgments, make decisions and solve problems. Emotions are feelings, desires, fears, hates and passionate drives--all of which are the tools that Obama deployed to sell the stimulus package to a gullible public. Endeavor to go through all 1,100 pages of this stuffed piggy and you'll find little rational connection between the nation's problems and its solutions--other than if we throw enough money out there, some of it will stick to the wall.

The lightning-like passage of this colossal spending package (amounting to more than the Iraq war) took just three weeks. Congress is supposed to be a deliberative body, making decisions judiciously, openly and unhurriedly. This was steamrolled.

Worse than the insult to the democratic process, however, is the substance of this lunacy. Our national debt will nudge close to 100 percent of gross domestic product, something that hasn't happened since World War II when the threat to our country was external, mortal and real, and not of our own making. Then, we had to sell war bonds to our own citizens, the only way we could finance the war. Now, with the possible drying up of foreign purchases of American debt, perhaps we'll have to revert to celebrity-studded beg-a-thons of the 1940s to buy our own debt. School kids could again pinch pennies and nickels for the cause. They'll love us for it.

Best Stimulus: Homebuyers' Tax Credit

Wed, 28 Jan 2009 09:30:00 -0600

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. All those repeated, but ignored, warnings that the TARP billions would disappear down a financial black hole have come true. A Wall Street Journal analysis (subscription required) reveals that the lending at the nation's largest banks actually declined after they received $148 billion to help unfreeze the credit market. Only three of the 13 largest banks increased lending after receiving billions of dollars. It turns out that a lot of the money went, as was feared, to bank acquisitions and other financial finagling deals. TARP supporters responded to the misuse of the funds with the usual things-would-have-been-worse-without-it drivel, an assertion that is unprovable but scary enough to make a large majority of politicians and their constituents believe that "somebody has to do something." Those people also react the same way to warnings issued by the White House and Congress: while "doing something" may not bring immediate results, we dare not risk "doing nothing"--as if doing nothing was the only alternative. Now, with the newest stimulus plan, we are being handed the greatest, non-specific and scariest "doing something" in our nation's history. There's nothing that Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have left out of the stimulus stew. Even increased sales of contraceptives are somehow supposed to be stimulative, a double-entendre I suspect was unintended. One could argue, as a blind man might, that throwing everything in all directions will make a lurking threat go away. Perhaps it might, with a lucky hit. A lucky hit is exactly what the Obama stimulus package is counting on. If we scatter enough money across the continent, surely some will land on the snakes that are bedeviling the economy. What to do instead? If government is to help solve the problem, its target must be better defined. Repeatedly, we hear that "housing" is the crux of the problem, and that to solve the economic crisis we must first fix the housing market. This assumes, of course, that the housing market won't and can't fix itself. So far, though, we have all the essential ingredients for a housing recovery--inventories have fallen, interest rates are at historic lows and prices are continuing to decline. Moroever, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales in December showed a month-to-month, seasonally adjusted jump of 6.5 percent, well above what the economic sages predicted.. But let's just say, as do the panic-stricken, that markets no longer work, and that government must intervene. All right, but is building a highway, selling more condoms and financing energy-generating windmills, the quickest, most efficient and most direct way to increase housing sales? No, it's not. What's needed is getting prospective buyers back into the market. A direct subsidy could do that. Those who remember the seemingly forgotten Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 might be saying, "We tried that and it didn't work." The act did sound good--it provided a First-time Homebuyer Tax Credit of up to $7,500. But, according to surveys conducted by NAR, the credit isn't working as well as hoped because homebuyers have to pay the tax credit back within 15 years. When first-time homebuyers hear about the repayment requirement, they lose interest, and don't buy. Now, instead, the association and others are advocating a "non-refundable" credit, as contained in Senate Bill 253, recently introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia). It would expand the tax credit to all homebuyers and the credit would not have to be repaid unless the home is resold in three years. Yes, it would be somewhat more expensive than the current credit, but its backers say the program would pay for itself in terms of a rekindled housing market, higher gross national product and increased gove[...]

Blago Tries to Box In Reid

Wed, 31 Dec 2008 00:45:00 -0600

Although Burris was elected to those offices several times by comfortable majorities, he had failed in recent attempts at higher office, as governor (running unsuccessfully in a three-way primary against Blagojevich) and as mayor of Chicago. (Yes, in Illinois, mayor of Chicago is considered the highest of all offices, save the presidency.)

Burris had been fading into obscurity, running a consultancy that certified minority contractors and handled government bond issues, plums much more cherished and traditional for party loyalists here than the standard gold watch. Burris was no longer considered a player and had not been on the governor's list of possible appointees prior to his arrest.

Only a man with deep personal cravings could have blinded himself to ridiculousness of the course he has chosen. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in an unusual statement issued even before the governor announced the appointment, flatly said the body would not confirm anyone appointed by Blagojevich, and mentioned Burris by name. Also, before the appointment was announced, Illinois Sec. of State Jessie White also issued a statement saying that he would not certify the Burris appointment. A few have questioned whether Reid and White had the legal authority to exclude Burris from the Senate, but the cloud hanging over the entire affair is dark and heavy, whatever the legal implications.

Blagojevich and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who showed up at the announcement press conference, praised Burris' "fine record of public service," although my own view is that just getting through a political career here without the usual political taint qualifies as the finest of records. Burris accepted the accolades without seeming to understand the irony.

But Rush aptly demonstrated the cynicism of Blagojevich's action by brandishing the blunt weapon of racism. Rush, an African American, warned that a senate that refused to seat Burris, an African American, would be engaging in a "hanging" and "lynching." Even by Chicago political standards, the deployment of those inflammatory words was an extraordinarily slimy racist play.

But that's Chicago for you. By appointing a black man, Blagojevich figured that he would put Reid in the hot seat by forcing him to shut out the only African American in the Senate. And it was a challenge to White, also an African American and a quite popular one at that, who would find himself explaining why he was blocking the Senate's only black member.

Blagojevich, as is his habit, might have miscalculated. Reid's letter to the governor was remarkably strong, and all Senate Democrats signed an earlier one warning him not to appoint anyone. Whatever becomes of it, however, Blagojevich's gambit should produce some interesting results, especially if Democrats are willing to stand up to one of their main constituencies by "denying" the seat to Burris. I can just hear Blagojevich telling Reid, "Threaten me, will you? How do you like the box that I'm putting you in."

Now, if you think this whole affair had been scripted for the theater of the absurd, you'd be right. Absurd is how Illinois and Chicago politics works. And we have one of the worst governed, most financially troubled states in the nation to prove it--a state, it should be noted--run entirely by Democrats.

You can be forgiven if you think that what we witnessed with the appointment is the result of one man's pathology, and surely not every pol in the state could be that stupid, insane or destructive. But you'd be wrong. What unfolded on Tuesday is characteristic of how politics here is played. Anyone, including David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, who are among Obama's top advisors, are capable of the same kind of goofiness and hardball.

By now, is there a single Obama supporter anywhere who fails to understand why some of us here were so concerned about him in the White House with his Chicago outfit?

Illinois Has Long Been For Sale

Wed, 10 Dec 2008 06:30:00 -0600

True, the extent and audacity of Blagojevich's alleged illegalities are remarkable even for Illinois. No one has been caught trying to kill an $8 million state grant to the city's leading children's hospital because one of its executives didn't cough up a $50,000 campaign contribution. But it is impossible to convincingly assert that he has taken the art form to an entirely new level because unless U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald uncovers it, we can't claim to know how bad the corruption really is. Blagojevich, if convicted, would be the second Illinois governor in a row to go to federal prison. And he would be the fourth of the last eight Illinois governors to be convicted felons. Is there another state that can match such a proud record? From former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski to Chicago aldermen to city inspectors, the miscreants and malefactors have worn a steady path to prison, in numbers too many to accurately count. Graft and corruption are the city and state's orthodoxy. The last governor, George Ryan, currently resides in federal prison, and you'd think that no self-respecting politician would want to have anything to do with him. But, just in the last week, Blagojevich and Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior Democratic senator and a big cog in the political machinery here, asked President George W. Bush to grant Ryan clemency. Bad timing, I'd say. Consider: If anyone is truly a crook, it's the public official who demands a political contribution from someone who is seeking a contract from the same official. There ought to be a law against it, but not in Illinois. Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) recently noted: "So many big campaign contributors have wound up with state contracts that Illinois has won a reputation as a state where you have to pay a campaign fund to win a government contract. Over time, pay-to-play schemes seemed so numerous that some honest contractors stopped trying to do business with state government, driving up costs to taxpayers and making Illinoisans question the honesty and fairness of their state government." In other words, it was a way of life, not just for Blagojevich, but also for uncounted government officials here. Finally, after years and years of trying, the Illinois Legislature passed legislation banning political contributions by state contractors to the officeholder awarding the contract. Blagojevich vetoed the bill, arguing--obviously disingenuously--that it didn't "go far enough." Undoubtedly, it didn't, but for Illinois, it was a stunning advance. Legislators overrode the veto, probably not so much out of enthusiasm for the new law, but because they had been fighting with the contentious, out-of-control governor. Beginning January 1, those contributions at last will become illegal, which is one reason why Blagojevich may have been working so hard recently to raise the money. Rare, indeed, is the politician who works within this system who isn't dirtied by it. Obama was both a part of it, but not a part of it. He got his start without the critical support of the Chicago Machine, but most recently has endorsed even the most dubious of the state and local Democratic candidates. Obama ran his campaign as the guy who don't know nobody and managed to rise above the city and state's unseemly political reputation. His reaction to the Blagojevich arrest was right in character. Asked about it at a press conference, Obama replied that he is "saddened and sobered" by the arrest, but because it is an "an ongoing investigation" his comment now would be inappropriate. Perhaps so, but those of us in Illinois recognize the statement as a standard dodge. Obama could have done himself and the state a big favor by condemning corruption in all its forms, including in Illinois and Chicago. If he's done it before, I haven't noticed. But he did go to Kenya to denounced corruption in Africa, which struck some commentators here as hypocrisy. Al[...]

Bailout Spending is Out of Control

Sat, 29 Nov 2008 00:30:26 -0600

That's just in one day. Who knows what Wednesday will bring? Consider: President George W. Bush has been passionately faulted for "breaking the bank" by conducting the Iraq War. But the non-partisan Congressional Research Service figures that the total cost of the Iraq War and the rest of the global war on terror, including the war in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001 is $864 billion. Now, we can whistle past that in a single day, and few seem to worry. There are no metaphors for this because there is nothing comparable to the rapidity of our plunge into national hock. I didn't make up that $7 trillion number; it comes from the Associated Press and includes funds to guarantee certain corporate assets and debts, even though--if we're lucky--they won't be spent. The figure, in chronological order, includes: $200 billion in Fed loans to prop up risky mortgage-backed securities as collateral; a $20 billion loan to JP Morgan Chase & Co., and that's just in March. In May, the Fed increased the size of those earlier loans and decided to allow banks to put up less secure collateral. July brought the collapse of IndyMac bank, costing more billions to cover insured deposits, and a $300 billion housing bill for government backing of cheaper mortgages. After a short break, September rolled around with: The Treasury saves Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for $200 billion; another $85 billion goes to save American International Group; yet another $70 billion pumped by the Fed into the financial system to ease the credit crunch; the Treasury temporarily guarantees money market fund losses up to $50 billion, and the Fed makes another $330 billion available to central banks and $225 billion to other financial institutions. October brings $150 billion more in loans to banks, an underdetermined sum to buy commercial paper (as much as $1.3 trillion of the outstanding short-term business loans might qualify); $38 billion more for AIG; $250 billion of TARP funds into banks, etc.; temporary guarantees of inter-bank loans of up to $1.4 trillion, and $540 billion for liquidity for money market mutual funds. Some November's moves may already seem like ancient history, but here's just some of it: $33.6 billion in capital to 21 banks; $20 billion to Citigroup; Fed and FDIC pledges to backstop possible Citigroup losses on $306 billion in real estate assets.... I've run out of space to provide a complete list, but Washington apparently hasn't run out of money. Which is to say, Washington thinks that it hasn't run out of people and countries that will lend it money. At the rate that money is fleeing into Treasury notes, maybe Washington is right, but if we're ever to get the economy to stop sagging, some of that money will have to flow back into equities. "Talk about throwing money at a problem," said Sheila A. Weinberg, founder of the Northbrook (Ill.) based Institute for Truth in Accounting. "The better question is where is all this money coming from? The people I ask either don't know, believe that it's money we have on hand or will come from taxing the wealthy. We're borrowing it. About half of the borrowings are coming from foreign entities." She noted the irony of the Treasury having to borrow money to bail out companies that can't borrow money. "It is very scary to see the rate that our national debt is increasing. On Sep. 30, the official debt reached $10 trillion. Then in less than a month, we had borrowed another half a trillion. Now the official debt is $10.655 trillion." But that's just one way--the easy way--to look at it. The real debt, when you include the more than $47 trillion of commitments for retirement benefits, is a staggering $57 trillion. That amounts to $188,000 for each American. The economic sages advise us that we can't worry about how to repay the debt and how it will affect future generations. We have no choice if, we want to save the economy, but to spend money blindly. As if we w[...]

A Turn in the Housing Market?

Sat, 25 Oct 2008 00:00:00 -0600

Could this be a turnaround? Let's look at another NAR measure: its "pending sales of existing homes" index most forward-looking barometer of residential sales because it records a sale when a contract is signed, rather than at closing, which can be months later. In August, the latest month available, it rose 7.4 percent over July. More significantly, that's 8.8 percent higher over August 2007. These are the kinds of numbers that should be on the front page over every newspaper in the country--but they weren't. The second reason for my optimism is personal experience: My wife, Barbara, sells residential real estate in Chicago's northern suburbs, and she is having the best second half of a year in sales in a long time. That follows a first half of 2008 when there were nearly no sales. The closings are coming as fast as they ever have been, and the number of active buyers and sellers are impressive, even though inventories remain high. She first noticed increased activity this spring when she told me her phone began ringing. How to explain this when other indicators are so gloomy? She isn't sure; I'd say it's her superlative sales skills and networking. Or perhaps it's the peculiarities of market she works in. (Realtors constantly remind everyone that the real estate "market" isn't a single phenomenon, but a combination of regional, demographic and other factors that are masked by average sale figures.) Whatever the explanation, her market is picking up impressively. (Here I'll acknowledge my personal interest in looking on the bright side, but it occurs to me that the bright side could use a few friends.) Third, it only makes sense. This flies in the face of most "experts," whose boots aren't on the ground and who predict no turnaround until possibly late next year. Credit markets won't loosen up until then, they explain; no one can get a loan, even the creditworthy. It's not true. The credit logjam already is easing. True, your credit has to be good, but loans are available. And the loans are cheaper. Freddie Mac says the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 6.04 percent in September from 6.48 percent in August; the rate was 6.38 percent in September 2007. Yes, home prices continue their decline (and you can bet that's what the media will focus on), but that will only fuel a turnaround. Lower prices and lower interest; what more can the prospective homebuyer want? A residential real estate market turn-up has to come some time, and, guardedly I say the signs gradually are starting to look positive. "What we are seeing," said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' association chief economist, "is the momentum of people taking advantage of low home prices, with pending home sales up strongly in California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Rhode Island and the Washington, D.C. region. It's unclear how much contract activity may be impacted by the credit disruptions on Wall Street, but we're hopeful most of the increase will translate into close existing-home sales." "Homebuyers in July were hampered by overly stringent lending criteria in the months before the government takeover of Fannie and Freddie," he said in a statement. "August shows some unleashing of pent-up demand before the credit crisis accelerated in September." Yeah but, the pessimists will say, the increase is probably the result of the higher number of foreclosures, so it's not really good news at all. They point out that while one index shows that California home sales rose 65 percent in September, the biggest year-over-year increase in at least two decades, it's the result of buyers grabbing up foreclosed homes at discounted prices. Yes, and so? This is what has to happen before the housing market can recover substantially. Home prices already have been driven down--bad news for homeowners, but good news for buyers. Just as high quality stocks are a ba[...]

The Aura of Mr. Smooth

Wed, 22 Oct 2008 00:36:31 -0600

Those of us with below-average sensibilities can only ponder how Obama has managed to establish a cult of personality the way no other presidential candidate has, except perhaps John F. Kennedy. Yes, Obama says what many Americans want to hear and how they want to hear it. But something is creepy about how Americans are running to embrace what is essentially a method. As ethereal as Obama's aura might be, nothing in the Republican quiver can fight it. Past or present affiliations--be they with violent radicals, racist ministers, convicted fixers and the corrupt Chicago political machine--can't fight the aura.

Obama's aura overcomes his inexperience, his most liberal voting record and his outright deceptions (e.g. reneging on his pledge to take public campaign financing, and thereby limiting his campaign advertising).

We could have 10 more presidential debates over the differences between Obama and John McCain on foreign policy, Immigration, the economy, government ethics and so on, but it wouldn't matter. Intricate policy differences between the two don't matter, because only aura counts. Because of his aura, Obama can engage in a presidential debate, and his aloofness and one-note message of "change" will be misinterpreted by burbling commentators as thoughtful, calm and intelligent discourse. His aura explains why his handlers can get away with slamming McCain for his allegedly negative campaigning, even at times when he is simply disagreeing with Obama's policies.

We are about to elect a president because of how he makes us feel, not how he makes us think.

That says a bundle about an undemanding electorate. Yes, Obama has policies, and he enunciates them eloquently, and a lot of people support them; but notice is mostly taken of his delivery, not of his substance. Voters, never, ever have elected a president with policies this far to the left; rare, indeed, is the senator or congressman who is further left. (Note to conservatives: Stop calling Obama a socialist. It doesn't do your cause any good, and besides, he isn't, in the strict Marxist definition of the state owning the means of production. Obama is just a Hyde Park liberal, a sui generis kind of extreme leftist who uses words like "sui generis." Talk, instead, about how McCain is mainstream. Although, I also doubt that McCain's more centrist positions can stand up to aura either.)

Having aura is fine, but electing a president based on whether he or she possesses it shows curious understanding of how democracy is supposed to work.

Yes, tens of millions of Americans will feel wonderful when Obama is elected and maybe the stock market, the housing market and the rest of the economy will boom from that good feeling. I hope so, because that's just about what has been guaranteed by a vote for Obama, and I can't wait.

But there's this. After the aura has burned away--like the early-morning summer mist disappears before a rising sun--the president needs to make tough, on-the-run and wise decisions. It is then when a president's basic inclinations surface, about whether to involve the government more in your life, take more of your money or, in the face of our enemies, speak softy and carry a little stick. And then, the pathological definition of aura comes into play: a sensation, as of a cold breeze or a bright light, that precedes the onset of certain disorders, such as an epileptic seizure or an attack of migraine.

Or, more precisely, an attack of a real, actual problem that requires something more than Mr. Smooth.

A Failure to Convince the American People

Tue, 30 Sep 2008 00:45:53 -0600

We who hesitate are lost. On top of that, the public was asked to pick its poison immediately, without congressional hearings, extensive public debate or any other accouterments of a democratic republic. The public was required to accept the edict. No look before you leap.

That an upstart public would flood Congress and the administration with unscripted, immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction was, itself, considered a disaster of unprecedented proportions. You could read in the faces of the Wall Street types on CNBC and elsewhere their astonishment that anyone would dare defy their wisdom. Jim Cramer, the popular stock guru, expressed it best when he stated that the folks who opposed the deal are "not knowledgeable or sophisticated." As if everyone who disagreed with him is stupid.

Rant and rave all they want about how the 95 Democrats and 133 Republicans who voted against the package were cowardly hacks genuflecting to the populist rabble, the truth is their vote was courageous. They are the ones taking the risk in a belief that a more sensible, middle-ground position can be worked out; they are putting their chips on the belief that the nation won't go belly up by stopping for a moment to have more debate.

They aren't the ones who dumped a 110-page bill on top of everyone the night before the vote. After the vote, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of her gang accused the Republicans of being ideologues who couldn't depart from harebrained, free-market notions, while seeming to forget that 95 members of her own caucus would be guilty of the same sin. This is the same Nancy Pelosi who after the vote bizarrely blamed Republicans for a failure of bipartisanship, when, during the debate leading up to the vote, she let loose with a nasty partisan attack totally inappropriate for the quality of the debate. You had to see it to believe it: There was rational debate on the House floor, indeed in a spirit of bipartisanship, and then she comes along blaming President George W. Bush for everything.

It sure put a damper on the debate. But if turned off Republicans were mad enough to switch votes from aye to a nay just for that reason, Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who managed the legislation, was right: Putting personal affront ahead of the national good is ridiculous.

Easy for me to take shots from the sidelines; as much as I dislike the legislation, I might have voted for it, because I'd be scared stiff about the consequences of no bailout. But in the few short days of debate, I also know that other possible routes are available for addressing the "seizing up" of the credit markets. Among them are accounting-rules changes that would allow banks to keep good mortgages on their books at their face value, instead of deeply writing off their value, thereby strangling the ability of banks to make loans.

How about the involvement of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which in the past week managed to salvage the assets of two major financial institutions without endangering a dollar of taxpayers' money?

So, rack up another congressional failure in what seems to me to be the most unproductive legislative session in my memory. Here's a Congress whose public approval ratings are lower even than Bush's. The markets, of course, will spin wildly out of sight, offended by this public uprising. But things will settle down, Congress will work it out. Take the word of someone who don't know nothing.

Obama Sidesteps Reform in Illinois

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 00:40:00 -0600

State Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago) is the Chicago machine politician who might have been most instrumental in jump-starting Obama's political career. Now, as Illinois Senate president, Jones is the one sitting on the reform legislation, refusing to call it for an expected favorable vote before it officially dies of neglect.

Jones is the pal of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, no friend of reform, who used his amendatory veto power to change the legislation after it passed both houses so that Jones would get another chance to kill it.

If all that's confusing, welcome to Illinois politics, where intricacy is the best camouflage for chicanery. Suffice to say, neither Blagojevich nor Jones is working for reform.

So, along comes Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, thinking that now might be a good time for Obama to parlay his friendship with Jones to do a good deed: Won't you intervene with Jones and try to get him to call the Senate back into session to get this law passed? "[T]his is a place [Obama] could come in and quickly clean up some of the damage and serve his state," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. After all, her group and Obama worked together during those halcyon days when he actually supported reform in Illinois, so maybe he'll be receptive to a plea to intervene on behalf of Illinois folks who have been getting gouged for years by the likes of Jones. "A 30-second phone call to the Illinois Senate president could yield huge dividends to this state," she said.

In response, Obama's campaign issued an oozy statement reaffirming Obama's alleged commitment to reform, while getting no more specific than urging everyone to get together and love one another right now. What Canary was asking Obama for wasn't all that much. Maybe a 30-second phone call to back up his usual pap of, "Look, ah, I've, ah, always been for, ah, reform." For most people, the reform that we're talking about is so basic that they might ask, "You mean it's not illegal already?"

The legislation would make illegal the widespread abuse called pay-to-play politics, by which companies doing business with the state contribute to the state official in charge of ladling out contracts. The new law wouldn't let you do it if you have more than $50,000 in state contracts, which, even at that, leaves open a nice loophole. In Illinois, this is a huge leap forward from how things are done. Blagojevich, who has reaped bundles of cash from state contractors, could be one of the pols most jolted by the prohibition. That explains why he rewrote the legislation in a way that would make it ineffective and why the House overwhelmingly rejected his changes.

Jones now is the only one standing in the way of the reform, with Obama abetting.

Here's another example of how Obama has revealed himself to be a creature of the Chicago machine. Who can forget his silence when he could have affirmed his reformer credentials by endorsing Democrat Forrest Claypool over machine creature Todd Stroger as Cook County Board president? When things got too hot, Obama severed his ties from his racially inflammatory pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. That's not too hard; you can always find another pastor.

But betraying your political godfather(s) in Chicago and Illinois is an entirely different matter. Especially if you lose the presidential election and return to being just another senator from Illinois. Cutting his ties with the corrupt Chicago machine is one bridge you will not see Obama burn. Not now, not ever.

Agent of change, my foot.

Voters Should be Troubled by Obama's Abortion Stance

Wed, 27 Aug 2008 00:30:00 -0600

Jill Stanek, a former nurse at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, described in 2001 during congressional testimony how it happens: In a "live-birth abortion," doctors "do not attempt to kill the baby in the uterus. The goal is simply to prematurely deliver a baby who dies during the birth process or soon afterward." Medication stimulates the cervix to open, allowing the baby to emerge, sometimes alive. "It is not uncommon for a live aborted baby to linger for an hour or two or even longer. At Christ Hospital, one . . . lived for almost an entire eight-hour shift." Some actually are born healthy because they are aborted to preserve the "health" of the mother, or because the pregnancy was due to rape or incest. At best, they are left in a "comfort room," complete with a camera (for pictures of the aborted baby) "baptismal supplies, gowns, and certificates, footprinting equipment and baby bracelets for mementos and a rocking chair," where they are rocked to death. "Before the comfort room was established," Stanek said, "babies were taken to the soiled utility room to die."

Yes, there ought to be a law against this, and Congress passed one unanimously. It declares that a person is defined as "every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development." Born alive means any human being that after "expulsion or extraction" from the mother "breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, Caesarean section, or induced abortion."

Pretty simple, right?

Well, not really. Some people fear that this fundamental protection, ensuring to all the first of the rights of "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness," is in reality a sneak attack on a woman's right to choose an abortion. To prevent this "Trojan horse," they insisted, and got, in the federal law a guarantee against construing the law to "affirm, deny or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being 'born alive'. . ." This mumbo jumbo is supposed to mean that abortions can't be restricted.

To mollify pro-choice concerns, including Obama's, this was inserted in several versions of the Illinois legislation. But it didn't matter, because the legislation died anyway, with Obama's help. Whether or not he refused to vote for a version that contained the right-to-an-abortion provision isn't what's important here. What is important is that Obama put the supposed and vague threat to an abortion right ahead of a real and concrete threat to the most innocent of human lives.

Obama's response to all this is to sidestep any discussion about when human personhood begins, the key question in the abortion debate. Some say it begins at the moment of conception; others say it begins at birth. (Still others look for a middle ground, suggesting it begins when brain activity starts.) But by arguing against the born-alive legislation because it might in some distant and ambiguous way obstruct abortion, Obama implies that the right to an abortion trumps an infant's right to life, even after he is born.

Such logic is breathtaking. It says that even after birth, a mother's right to rid herself of the baby supersedes any right that a child, now independent of the mother's body and domain, has a right to live. Where America stands on this issue truly is a measure of its sense of justice and compassion. On this score, Obama fails.

More Trouble in Obama's Backyard

Sat, 16 Aug 2008 00:20:00 -0600

His stunt is to bus as many Chicago public school students as possible on the first day of school to New Trier High School, which serves Chicago's wealthy North Shore suburbs. There, he'll try to enroll them, which Meeks knows won't happen because New Trier, like every other school in the state, serves students and taxpayers in its own district. But Meeks will get what he wants: TV cameras capturing the image of a New Trier official turning away black students, evoking memories of old time Southern segregationists, like George Wallace or Orville Faubus, standing in the school house door. Meeks promotes this despicable image by saying: "I want to keep kids out of the 'colored' schools. I don't want kids to have to go and drink from the 'colored' water fountain. I don't want them to use the 'colored' toilet or to have to sit at the 'colored' desk." This is nasty business, suggesting that anyone who opposes his political agenda is a racist. Meeks, a state senator in addition to being a pastor of a large church on Chicago's predominantly black South Side, would have people believe that his school boycott--which will run for several days and also target downtown business--would resolve the school funding debate, which has been underway without surcease for decades. The question is whether the state's funding formula, which ensures a basic level of support for every student in every school and which takes into account such factors as school population, poverty level and (ironically, for Meeks) average daily school attendance, is fair. The so-called inequities arise because nothing prevents individual school districts, such as New Trier, from imposing higher property taxes to generate additional education revenues. Thus, New Trier spends about $17,000 on each student, while Chicago spends about $10,000, which, not incidentally, is about 11 percent higher than the statewide average. Al Sharpton and 50 other Chicago pastors have joined Meeks in the call for a boycott, which is opposed by the historically black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, and organizers of the 5th annual Million Father March, which is asking fathers to escort children to class on the first day of school, Sept. 2. Public opinion, judged by letters to the editor, seems to be overwhelmingly opposed to the boycott and even reformers who agree that the funding formula should be changed fear a public backlash. Meeks isn't Obama's pastor, as was the race-baiting Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Meeks' relationship with Obama is more like the almost as notorious one with the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a white firebrand pastor of a predominantly African-American Catholic church. Obama, Meeks and Pfleger know one another, and Obama welcomes their support for his presidential candidacy. Meeks is a player in the political organization of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his congressman son, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., which strongly supports Obama. As a state senator, Meeks has an overt political agenda, which includes changing the funding formula. The pastor Meeks and the senator Meeks are virtually inseparable and indistinguishable, a fact that troubles not the atheist/agnostic left that rails against faith-based initiatives and any hint of the blending of church and state. In pursuit of that political agenda, Meeks uses his pulpit to call certain public officials "white slave masters" that control the lives of African American and Hispanic people. He shares a mindset that sees a white man behind every tree and bush, plotting how to keep black people down. I don't believe--or at least I hope not--that Obama shares that mindset. But if a white candidate hung around people of equally racist views, you know that his protestations that he doesn't "really share their views" would be met with s[...]

No Good Reason to Spike McCain's Op-Ed

Fri, 25 Jul 2008 00:16:15 -0600

Although I have never worked for the Times, I hope that I'm still entitled to some thoughts about its conduct. My labors at three Chicago papers have included membership on an editorial board (Chicago Sun-Times), op-ed columnist (Sun-Times) and op-ed contributing columnist (Chicago Tribune), and sometimes included the selection of op-eds, letters-to-the-editor and forum pieces. At the iconic Chicago Daily News, I filled in on the editorial page under the wise tutelage of Pulitzer Prize-winning Lois Wille, who also later directed the editorial pages of the Sun-Times and Tribune. So, let's take a look: Shipley, the op-ed editor, in his response to McCain's submission said: "...I'm not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written. I'd be pleased, though, to look at another draft." It's true that op-eds sometimes are turned down because they need to be rewritten for reasons such as improved clarity, organization or style. This, however, is rarely the case when they are ghostwritten by professional writers, as Obama's and McCain's certainly were. The fact is that the piece was asked to be rewritten because Shipley didn't like its content. Wrote Shipley: "The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans." New information? Here's what Obama said in his piece: "But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true." And this: "As I've said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in." Even Obama says what he is offering isn't new. It is formerly articulated rhetoric--the very reason why McCain's piece was rejected. The only thing I can find that is remotely new in the piece is this snippet: "As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan." I'm not sure what Shipley was referencing when he said he wanted new stuff from McCain, and he may have honestly thought that Obama's piece articulated a new, detailed plan. It did not. Here's what Obama said last year in a campaign piece, "Turning the page in Iraq:" "...we need to begin to end the [Iraq] war in order to finish the fight in Afghanistan. [Obama] would redeploy at least two combat brigades (7,000 personnel) of rested, trained American troops to Afghanistan to reinforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts to fight the Taliban." Further, while the New York Times' policy may be to demand "news" in its op-eds, it's not a standard that I've seen applied elsewhere, including at the papers where I've worked. Op-eds are opinion, commentary or analysis. "News" customarily goes in the "run of the paper," outside of the editorial page. But now, Shipley goes off the deep end: "It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the senator's Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan." Incredible. McCain has repeatedly said he is opposed to timetables, and whether or not you agree with him, I fail to understand how Shipley can demand that, as a condition for publication, McCain provide a timetable. Does Shipley insist that McCain betray his own beliefs for the sake of appearing in the New York Times? It is nonsense, dare I say unheard of, to send an op-ed back to the au[...]