Tuesday, April 11, 2006

At Greater Length: Gidwitz and Franks Defy Convention and Talk About an Enduring Solution to the State Budget…Breaking News: Greeley Likes the Pope and Even Has a Good Feeling About the Holy Spirit

Gidwitz and Franks.

It was an experiment that worked. “Political Shootout,” my program on WLS-AM Sunday was tailor-made for controversy, with two representatives, one Democratic one Republican—hopefully one liberal and one conservative—tussling it out and taking calls on state and local politics. A test of its effectiveness is whether all 10 phone lines are jammed. When one side or the other isn’t vibrant, usually it trickles down to a few calls. But the experiment Sunday—and was for one day only—went in another direction. With the legislature and the governor at loggerheads, many predictions are that they would paper together a compromise on borrowing and hidden deficits which would leave the next governor with no choice than to raise taxes. Blagojevich say he won’t, but many will say he will have to. Topinka has not taken the no-tax pledge and Meeks has forthrightly said he will raise taxes or arrange a tax swap that will definitely mean higher taxes.

Accordingly, I decided to get two fiscally conservative experts, one Democrat, one Republican, to sit down and craft a solution to the budget mess based on zero-based budgeting. I asked that they forego “gotcha” politics and agree on solutions. My choices were: Ron Gidwitz, with whom I have been very much impressed, the CEO of Helene Curtis who ran as a candidate for governor on the Republican ticket. I endorsed Jim Oberweis but as the campaign unfolded I grew very much impressed with the no-nonsense business-like attitude Gidwitz, a novice campaigner, brought to his task…and State Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, a Democrat and chairman of the House Government Administration committee whom I feel is a real comer in his party and a fiscal conservative. I disagree with both on some aspects of social policy: both are pro-choice, for example. But both are non-demagogues who understand budgeting, finance and have the same ideals on the need to bring the state back to fiscal sanity.

I can only tell you that as they explained zero-based budgeting, all ten lines were burning brightly and the lines were burning up with crackling ideas. That they agreed on so many things is because there is only one answer to cutting excessive spending and that is to command all bureau heads to begin from scratch and justify all appropriations. The way government has been doing it for many years—under Republican and Democratic administrations—is to take ongoing budgets and say, “well how much more can you live with for next year?” I hope you heard the colloquy. If not, I’ll attempt to summarize it soon and I do intend to bring both back on future dates—neither one is running for state office: Gidwitz may not ever run again, Franks is going to have to wait. Neither have an immediate political agenda and both are as smart as heck. Your comments?

Greeley Likes the Pope.

That hardy old perennial liberal, Father Andrew Greeley, has a few nice words to say about Benedict XVI in his Sun-Times column. Earlier he was filled with grave misgiving because he felt that Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would be too conservative. Greeley, a free spirit theologically, doesn’t hold much with traditional religious thought and believed that John Paul II was too strict.

So filled with depressing thoughts was he during the conclave that elected Benedict, that Greeley even had some dissing words to say about the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity who under Church dogma guides the selection. Anticipating the worst, Greeley (who deserves to get his tuition money back from Mundelein seminary because of his topsy-turvy theology) said that, after all, the Holy Spirit has not been perfect in papal selection—witness the number of incumbents who were sinners.

After he wrote that, I got a call from a friend in the Sun-Times sports department who said, “am I wrong? I seem to remember from my catechism learned in fourth grade that the Holy Spirit guards popes from error, not that it serves as a shield to prevent them from sin.” Right he is. How Greeley made ordination without learning that is anybody’s guess but it is heartening that he now believes in Benedict and the choice of the Holy Spirit as well.

However we must not give the famed novelist and self-publicitor too much credit. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Greeley’s favorite reporter from Rome is John Allen of the liberal National Catholic Reporter. Allen started as a fairly way-out liberal and is heading, gently, back to home base. His column last week pre-figured Greeley’s. Allen’s stuff can be found at www.nationalcatholicreporter.com under the heading “The Word from Rome.” Not that Allen is on the reservation entirely, but his latest book on Benedict was right-on. Greeley is obviously benefiting from the very lite spiritual reading he’s getting from Allen. But liberals shouldn’t worry. Soon Benedict will do something scary like try to enforce doctrine and Greeley will be spouting off. But for now Benedict and the Holy Spirit have pleased Greeley which notifies them that they should continue as they have been


  1. Though there's much merit in justifying all expenses, I never appreciated the idea that government should be run as a business. If conservatives and others can't resist embracing the government as business ideal, start with the idea that successful businesses thrive by providing value, not by cutting expenses through elimination of service.

  2. John Allen also wrote an accurate potrayal (to the best of my knowledge) of the Opus Dei movement in "Opus Dei
    An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church".

    Aside to Bob in PF, what makes you think that our government is in the habit of providing service? We certainly pay for service, but does anyone in government routinely provide service?


  3. Perhaps government can't be run exactly a as business, but we can certainly expect and should demand better than how are various governing bodies operate today.

    From an archaic public school system that doesn't educate to a state government that manages its finances like some third-world nation, government today is a pathetic shambles.

    Any business, aside from those that survive on government subsidies, wouldn't be in business for long if it operated in the same manner.

  4. It's fair to question quality and expense and I don't doubt that Tom has readers & listeners that want everything privatized, but here's a just a few: water; garbage pick-up; law enforcement; public universities as well as primary & secondary ed; all kinds of agencies that were meant to protect the public interest; ....plenty more that you could list as easily as I -- assuming you accept the idea that members of our society have common interests that can be expressed and protected through representative government.

    Those compelled to model governments after businesses could begin by identifying the purpose -- not the elimination -- of government.

  5. The problem is government officials serve themselves and not their constituents.

    Democrats worry about "No Teacher Union Demand Left Behind" and other government union workers rather than the taxpayers they are supposed to serve.

    Both parties want "Leave No Illegal Alien Behind" Democrats for voters and Republicans as a sop to their business constituents to hire cheap labor and to lower wages for American labor.

    Both parties have sold out America in the early portion of the 20th century. It is a matter of years before this country is bankrupt and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for electing these crooks and liars. My God have mercy on America.

    Proverbs 22:7 (KJV)
    The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

  6. It is refreshing to see how Jack Franks addresses the needs of his constituents. He doesn't seem to know what a "Party Line" is. He works with his Republican colleagues (Althoff and Tryon) to solve local issues and he has been all over the Blago budgeting shenanigans. Like you Tom, I was also impressed by Ron Gidwitz approach to no nonsense budgeting. He seemed to have the most substantial position paper on this and other issues. He was also going appoint Steve Rauschenberger as the Budget Director, which I felt was a good thing. It's a shame that people didn't get to know him better. But then again, few voters really take the time to study the issues.

  7. So Bob in PF,

    Your list of "public interest" providers reads like a list of indictments over the last 60 years.

    Do you actually think a public school system that spends 3x the cost per student as a private school while graduating less than 50% of its students is in the public interest?

    Even the French have managed to privatize their water industry while we sit here with an archaic metering system and a list of crooks a yard long running the water department.

    It is a waste of time to reform government. It is time to eliminate it (or at least a big portion of it)


  8. ...is a long time. Generally speaking I don't doubt you'd be able to find mismanagement at multiple levels at different times. But considering the the bills I get from industry providers of utilities, I prefer addressing problems with municipal management as they occur.

    Whether you support, abhor, or are somewhere in between regarding public education, even voucher systems require government involvement.

    Paraphrasing RH Tawney, societies aren't economic machines. "So merciless is the tyranny of economic appetites, so prone to self-aggrandizement the empire of economic interests, that a doctrine which confines them to their proper sphere, as the servant, not the master, of civilization, may reasonably be regarded as among the pregnant truisms which are a permanent element in any sane philosophy."

  9. So Bob PF,

    Yes, private business is mismanaged all the time. But if a business isn't to my liking, I don't have to use it. Before you can say ComEd, remember that it is a government granted monopoly, and by no means a private business.

    If you insist on experimenting on public schools, public utilities, public waterworks, can you please do it without using my money. I don't necessarily like your choices and certainly don't want to pay for your speculation, anymore than I want credit for your stock market losses.


  10. JP

    Though you don't seem to like how our representative government works -- or in your view, doesn't work -- you can still use it to pursue your goal of expanded privatization. If it doesn't work out in your current community (It wouldn't surprise me if you do succeed.), try getting some like-minded investors together and start elsewhere with your expanded shareholder model.

    If you succeed -- in your current location or elsewhere -- keep all the credit to yourselves.

    Good luck.

  11. Bob PF,

    Thanks for the cheery salutation, but I do not want credit for good garbage service any more than I want credit for the butcher cutting fine steaks. I want good garbage service to be allowed rather than stopped by government monopolists.

    I have no intentions of petitioning to centralize decision making on water provision, schools, utilities, or universities into public or private hands.

    I want the government out of the way so that service can be provided, not to dictate how that service must be delivered.

    As I walked through my (Evanston) neighborhood this morning a City Backhoe ran through a stopsign and two City workers were smoking fragrant handrolled cigarretes in the park where my daughter plays. I don't want to privatize this behavior. I just don't want to pay for it.


  12. JP "I want the government out of the way so that service can be provided, not to dictate how that service must be delivered."

    John, I'll grant that some regulatory agencies may do too much or too little, but I normally support gov't involvement in public protection and quality standards.

    BTW, are you sure smoking muni-workers weren't on break in areas where smoking is allowed, smoking fragant-yet-legal leaves?