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The [Tuesday] Papers

Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior United States senator - you know, the one who isn't Barack Obama - took to the well of the Senate recently and gave what some, including myself, considered an astounding speech about how the information he was given before the Iraq War as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee differed from what the administration was telling the public. Durbin appeared to be saying members of the Intelligence Committee knew the administration was lying but remained duty-bound by their committee vows of secrecy to not inform the country that we were being led to war on false premises.

Durbin's dilemma has since been discussed in a variety of forums, including the Tribune's Washington, D.C., blog, in radio interviews featuring Durbin himself, in the conservative press, and the liberal blogosphere.

Today, the Tribune publishes Durbin's response to a Dennis Byrne column last week as a letter to the editor in which Durbin says that, contrary to Byrne's claim, this is the ninth time he has spoken about this issue on the Senate floor - that he's not just springing this on us right now.

I haven't had time to research this further, but it's certainly ripe for further exploration by our hometown press, not only because of its inherent relevance to (amazingly) still unanswered questions about how we ended up in this war, but because, well, you know, Durbin is an Illinois senator who is only the No. 2 Democratic in that august chamber. He is of national import. (Some might argue that in a different political culture, he would have much more claim based on experience, knowledge, and leadership ability to be a presidential candidate than his junior partner.)

"What the public was told and what the Intelligence Committee was told in closed session were not inconsistent. The difference is that the committee was told both sides of the story and the Bush administration was giving intelligence information to the American people selectively," Durbin says in his letter to the Tribune, which isn't quite as fiery as his Senate oration.

"As to the allegation that I didn't do enough to stop this war, I was one of 23 senators who voted no and offered an amendment in the Senate that would have limited military action unless the administration could show that Iraq was an imminent threat to our nation," he also wrote.

"But my amendment was defeated, derided as unpatriotic and dangerous by conservative commentators and talking heads - some of the same people who today are saying those of us who opposed this war should have done more."

Liberal commentators and talking heads too.

Hull House
"Axelrod is known for operating in this gray area, part idealist, part hired muscle," The New York Times reportedly recently, in a magazine story explored today in Obamathon.

"It is difficult to discuss Axelrod in certain circles in Chicago without the matter of the Blair Hull divorce papers coming up. As the 2004 Senate primary neared, it was clear that it was a contrast between two people: the millionaire liberal, Hull, who was leading in the polls, and Obama, who had built an impressive grass-roots campaign. About a month before the vote, the Chicago Tribune revealed, near the bottom of a long profile of Hull, that during a divorce proceeding, Hull's second wife filed for an order of protection. In the following few days, the matter erupted into a full-fledged scandal that ended up destroying the Hull campaign and handing Obama an easy primary victory.

"The Tribune reporter who wrote the original piece later acknowledged in print that the Obama camp has 'worked aggressively behind the scenes' to push the story.

"But there are those in Chicago who believe that Axelrod had an even more significant role - that he leaked the initial story. They note that before signing with Obama, Axelrod interviewed with Hull. Axelrod swears up and down that 'we had nothing to do with it' and that the campaign's televison ad schedule was long planned."

So is Axelrod calling the Tribune reporter a liar?

Being Obama
From ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Valerie Jarrett, a good friend of the family, says you told her in your Senate race, "I just think I have some special qualities and wouldn't it be a shame to waste them?"

OBAMA: That - I think I probably did say that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they?

OBAMA: I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves in each other.

Shark Jumping
Me yesterday: "Heard Joe Scarborough say the other night that American Idol has jumped the shark. Got me wondering: When did the phrase 'jump the shark' jump the shark?"

Commenter Don on the Trib's The Watcher blog, Feb. 20: "The phrase ('jump the shark') is so tedious and ubiquitous that even the joke that claiming that the phrase 'jump the shark' has jumped the shark has, in itself, jumped the shark (and the thing I just said is darn close to doing the same thing)."


Radio Notes
I was sorry to see Rosenbloom and Salisbury get the boot at WMVP. I've long been a Rosenbloom fan, and I think Salisbury brings rare insight and broadast talent to the table for an ex-jock.

I also caught Laurence Holmes filling in last week for Terry Boers on Boers and Bernstein over at The Score and I have to say Holmes brought a new and welcome energy to the proceedings.

Tax Genius
Is Rod Blagojevich actually a master strategist? Or just screwing up in reverse?

"[W]ittingly or not, Blagojevich has given great cover to backers of alternative plans including income tax hikes: Next to him, they now look like cautious, reasonable, flexible, job-friendly, fair-minded and brave Solons who know a good tax from a bad tax," Eric Zorn writes this morning.

"Blago the fox? Maybe so.

"But if he ends up botching this opportunity to reform our broken system, it won't matter either way. Playing the fool or not, he'll still be a fool."

Affording Daley
The mayor's new affordable housing ordinance provides for set-asides aimed at homebuyers who make no more than $75,000, the annual median income in the Chicago metro area for a family of four. (Does that mean that figure includes the suburbs, and not just the city? Why?)

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) wanted to set it at $60,000; Billy Ocasio (26th) wanted to set it at $49,848, which is the median income in his ward.

Get the background here from the Reader's Mick Dumke, who ended his piece last Friday on the issue this way:

"In a Q & A with reporters afterward, Mayor Daley dodged questions about whether his affordable-housing amendment went far enough to address the city's shortage. 'This is a very good ordinance,' he insisted. Asked if its introduction had been timed to avoid debate in the new council, he snapped, 'No,' then moved on to a question about how much he'd miss Dorothy Tillman's hats."

Fast Feddie
On Week in Review on Friday, Mike Flannery said the media consensus over the years was that Eddie Vrdolyak was a confidential informant for the feds - and for reporters.

Sugar Baby
"Splenda Settles With Equal At 11th Hour."

A) New product to be called Splequal.
B) Would've turned to salt at midnight.
C) 12th Hour To Be Spent On The Can.

Foxy News
New CTA chief Ron Huberman appeared on Fox Chicago Sunday and there is no doubt that he is a very smart guy who has already absorbed the details of the agency's operations, as well as being a guy with the commanding presence of an up-and-coming junior officer slated for bigger things. He was also separted-at-birth from former Cubs catcher and now-broadcaster Joe Girardi.

But running the CTA more efficiently isn't the answer and we all know it. What isn't clear is if Huberman is an innovator. As co-host Dane Placko said to Huberman after an impressive riff about the importance of mass transit as a subsidized entity: "That argument has been heard time and again."

(Placko, by the way, related that his 20-minute ride to work downtown on the Blue Line now takes 40 minutes.)

Just like we've known for years that the state is going to have raise income taxes to solve its budget problems and help fund education, we know that transit in Chicago requires regional cooperation and a long-term funding commitment. There are just certain things we know that the political system will eventually have to accommodate - gay marriage may also be one - but seems designed to screw up for a designated period of time until persistence and necessity pay off.

Anyway, on those rare mornings when I tune in to Fox Sunday Chicago, I always regret not doing so more often. Placko and co-host Jack Conaty are informative and aggressive interviewers certainly not cowed or wowed by the public officials they bring on. And they get quite a few.

Aside from Huberman, Placko and Conaty cross-examined Ald. Tom Allen (38th) on property taxes, and interviewed former teachers union president and now-again candidate Deborah Lynch.

And, oh yeah, the governor. I almost forgot. Rod Blagojevich himself went on live and tried to portray himself as the bravest and loneliest man in the state taking on powerful lobbyists who want to defeat all the programs he wants to bring to us.

Blagojevich can be impressive in these forums; he is a lousy governor but usually slick as all get out in front of the cameras. Still, Conaty pressed the governor on his relationship with state senate president Emil Jones (D-ComEd), the man standing at the legislative gate in Springfield (along with House leader Mike Madigan), and particularly zeroed in on the electricity rate increase which Jones favors and the governor says he's against.

I'd like to see the mayor appear every week, but I know that's too much democracy to ask for. Maybe someday. After all, Eddie Vrdolyak has been indicted and Splenda has settled with Equal. Dreams can come true.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Dream. Plan. Track.

1. From Tim Howe:
Re your last item today, two observations.

The state tax issue is part of the larger picture that always seems to get glossed over. Quite simply, we need to repeat, over and over and over again: taxing is a zero sum activity. When the federal government announces a tax cut, you can be damn sure that down the line, state and local bodies will have to raise taxes. The things that taxes provide: roads, schools, police & fire protection, water treatment, public transportation, health services, etc. & ad nauseum, do not cease to be needed simply because the feds stop paying for them. Ultimately, the people have to keep paying for this stuff somehow because we need it. Of course you can have the discussion over which entity is better able to provide these things, and to raise & distribute the money needed to provide them, but we need to be continually reminded that - overall - total taxes as a percentage of GNP will never - can never - truly go down.

Second: [ComEd chief] Frank Clark was on WBBM-AM's At Issue on Sunday. Unfortunately, the interviewer never did call "bullshit" on his many outlandish claims. The best that I heard (paraphrasing) was: "I have no idea who Exelon sells energy to besides ComEd, and I have no idea where our suppliers other than Exelon get their power from." If you believe that a CEO doesn't know who else his suppliers sell to, and where his suppliers get their product - in any business - you also have to believe that CEO is a bumbling fool of the highest order. That point, sadly, was never made in response.

2. From Kent Green:
I used to enjoy reading The Beachwood Reporter for what appeared to be reasonable criticism and praise for Chicago media. You've started to go around the bend, though, and frankly, it's sad and frustrating. I now skim the items because I know what I'm going to get: often grumpy diatribes about how you would do things better, how the mainstream media sucks, how you dump all over Obama coverage (which, in effect, serves to extend that coverage - I don't even read any item in which you mention him any more because I'm sick of the double-teaming) coupled with the occaisonal gem. One of your items finally broke my frustration to the point where I had to write. You said Ben Joravsky couldn't find anyone in Washington Park who wants the Olympics to come. Oppositional reporting just for the purpose of being oppositional is as wrong as biased reporting in order to promote something. There's no excuse for lauding this report as the gold standard while trashing the mainstream. You can't be a critic of the media if you don't critique it all equally.

3. From Margaret Burke:
I have to disagree with Mr. Green. Ben Joravsky's Reader story on how no one in Washington Park wants the Olympics is not opposition for the sake of opposition. He's giving voice to people who clearly don't count in Chicago, people who, for whatever reason, probably don't have the money to have many options. Chicago has a pretty nasty history of this; bulldozing the CHA without having places for the residents to go, and bulldozing a chunk of Pilsen for "affordable" housing (not too many reporters were asking for whom those condos would be affordable; Joravsky was one of the few) are just a couple recent examples.

I think it's important, no, critical, for guys like Ben Joravsky to point these things out to people like Mr. Green who probably wouldn't notice them otherwise. I say, keep up the good work.


Posted on May 15, 2007

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