The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What happened to public transit in the US?

In a CityLab article from this summer (which for some reason they put on today's newsletter, and not the one from June 25th), Tony Frangie Mawad examines the decline in American public transit since the late 20th century:

Back in 1970, 77 million Americans commuted to work every day, and 9% of them took a bus or a train. By 2019, the number of U.S. workers had nearly doubled, to more than 150 million. But the vast majority of these new workers chose to drive: The number of public transit riders increased by only around 1 million during those years, and their share of the country’s overall commuters collapsed to 5%.

“In a number of other countries, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are combined in one entity,” [said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute]. “In the United States, we ended up with two different entities.” As a result, housing and mobility needs have been poorly aligned; the landscape is laden with housing that lacks access to public transportation, light rail lines that course through sparsely settled areas, and too many cities whose transit networks can’t connect riders with jobs.

But as Freemark’s new analysis of commuting data shows, based on his database of long-term trends in U.S. metros, regional patterns reveal a more complex story. Some cities have bucked national trends and gained transit commuters over the last 50 years. Coastal cities like New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston saw an increase of hundreds of thousands of transit commuters between 1970 and 2019. Pre-pandemic, 3 million New Yorkers commuted by bus, subway and train daily — 500,000 more than in 1970 — and the region’s share of transit commuters held relatively steady.

Cities where transit use has seen massive reductions tend to be those that have endured deindustrialization and suburbanization during the last 50 years, with a concurrent rise in investments in highways designed to shuttle car-driving commuters in and out of town. “These used to be places that had really successful downtowns, but now most of their workforce has suburbanized,” says Freemark.

Here in Chicago, former Illinois Governors Bruce Rauner (R) and James Thompson (R) starved the Regional Transit Authority of funds—Rauner going so far as to halt almost all infrastructure improvements throughout the Chicago transit area.

Declines in transit use, therefore, come from policy decisions that we can reverse. Let's start by adequately funding the existing transit networks, and de-funding highway expansions, for example.

Total recall failure

As expected (but not as most news organizations made it seem), California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) did not lose his job yesterday:

With 100% of precincts reporting at least some results, Gavin Newsom has avoided being recalled by a 63.9% to 36.1% margin.

The numbers from the California Secretary of State show a clear divide in the state: coastal counties, the Bay Area and nearly all of Southern California voted to keep Newsom. Central California and most of the rural Northern California counties voted to oust him. 

Republican Larry Elder was the top candidate to replace Newsom, but he only received a paltry 2,373,551 votes. That was good for 46% of the votes for a replacement candidate, followed by Democrat YouTuber Kevin Paffrath (9.8%) and former San Diego mayor Kevin L. Faulconer (8.6%).

Author John Scalzi yawns:

California governor Gavin Newsom has defeated the recall initiative against him, and apparently by a margin large enough that even committed conspiracists can’t make a claim that the vote was tainted with a straight face. Oh, some of them will, because they can’t not, but every time they do they weaken the argument for later by showing that there’s no election result they won’t claim “fraud” for, no matter the circumstances. So on second thought, go right ahead, conservatives, whine that this election was tainted.

Back in the real world, however, the result is not entirely surprising in a state where the Democrats have a 2-1 party registration advantage over the GOP, and where the conservative candidate’s pitch was that he planned to make California more like Florida, where the recent infectious peak of COVID (August 16) was almost four times higher than California, despite the latter state having far more people. “Make California More Infected” turns out not to be the winning slogan GOP folks seem to think it is.

The vote to deny his recall had as much to do with Democratic (and Californian) annoyance at the GOP wasting everyone’s time (and Elder being a pro-COIVD dimwit with a shady history) than any referendum on Newsom himself. In my view as a former Californian who spends at least a little time keeping up with my former state’s politics, it was unlikely that Newsom would have been recalled in any circumstance, but if I were Newsom, I wouldn’t be smug about the result. He’s still got fences to mend, and not with the GOP.

Sacramento Republican strategist Rob Stutzman pointed out "when you have the near-perfect caricature of a MAGA candidate, well, you can turn your voters out." But that in itself should give us hope that perhaps voters have gotten tired of Republican whining. When the party in opposition has nothing to say other than they're not the party in government, people start to lose interest.

Another birthday, another long walk

Just as I did a year ago, I'm planning to walk up to Lake Bluff today, and once again the weather has cooperated. I'll take cloudy skies and 25°C for a 43-kilometer hike. (I would prefer 20°C and cloudy, but I'll take 25°C anyway.)

As I enjoy my breakfast in my sunny, airy office right now, mentally preparing for a (literal) marathon hike, life feels good. Well, until I read these things:

And hey, all you other Chicago athletes, good news! The City now has a website where you can find out the likelihood of the Chicago River giving you explosive diarrhea!

Taliban victory

Religious extremists, emboldened by lucky tactical and political successes over the past few years despite declining popular support, today won a major victory in their campaign to return women to a state of subjugation that they had only recently escaped. Supporters and allies of the religious leaders imposing the harsh new laws against women celebrated, driving around in pickup trucks while displaying traditional symbols of oppression.

Afghanistan? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

Nope. Texas:

[T]he Supreme Court on Wednesday confirmed what it had previously only implied through its failure to act the night before: The court rejected a request to block enforcement of the law, which abortion providers say will bar at least 85% of abortions in the state and will likely cause many clinics to close, while a challenge to its constitutionality is litigated in the lower courts. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – in dissent.

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, had come to the court on an emergency basis on Monday, with a group of abortion providers asking the justices to intervene. It was the first major test on abortion rights for the Roberts court since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, and Ginsburg’s replacement by the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was likely decisive in the outcome.

The court’s inaction on Tuesday night that allowed the Texas law to go into effect and its brief order on Wednesday night denying any relief to the abortion providers unquestionably represented a victory for abortion foes, but the five-justice majority emphasized (and Roberts in his dissent reiterated) that the court was not endorsing the constitutionality of the law. The ruling also revealed a court that is deeply divided, not only on the merits of the case but also on the procedures that the court uses to resolve these kinds of emergency appeals.

Justice Sotomayor pulled no punches:

The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents. Today, the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention.

[T]he Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.

The Court's two conservative justices (Roberts and Breyer) joined with the Court's two liberals (Kagan and Sotomayor) but could not overcome the five Republican justices demonstrating their true loyalties.

The immediate effect of the Court's shadow-docket lawmaking is that about half of all abortion services in Texas have closed as of this afternoon.

Lunchtime roundup

Stories from the usual suspects:

Finally, Whisky Advocate calls out a few lesser-known distilleries in Scotland worth visiting—or at least sampling.

Crossing the Rubicon

Eric Schnurer outlines the alarming similarities between our present and Rome's past; specifically, the end of the Republic in 54 BCE:

History isn’t destiny, of course; the demise of the Roman Republic is a point of comparison—not prediction. But the accelerating comparisons nonetheless beg the question: If one were to make a prediction, what comes next? What might signal the end of democracy as we know it?  There is, it turns out, an easy answer at hand.

While there is no precise end date to the Republic, there was a bright-line occurrence generally recognized as the irreversible beginning of the end for participatory government. In fact, it is such a bright line that the event itself has become universally synonymous with “point-of-no-return”: Julius Caesar’s crossing of the river Rubicon.

And there is indeed an event looming—probably before the end of this year— that poses almost precisely the same situation as what provoked Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon: the possible indictment of former president Donald J. Trump.

When Trump’s supporters urge him to cross the Rubicon and cast the die—events that become highly likely if he, like Caesar, faces indictment—that is what they contemplate.

Well, at least the fall of the Republic will probably work out OK for urban areas...maybe...

Sanctions in Big Lie case

United States Magistrate Judge Reid Neureiter has ordered that the attorneys who filed a ridiculous case against (I am not kidding) over 10,000 people allegedly involved in a massive conspiracy to steal the 2020 election, must pay the defendants' legal fees under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11:

Attorneys Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker filed a “frivolous” case and “did not conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether the factual contentions had evidentiary support,” Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter wrote in a sharp 68-page opinion against the pair. 

As several other high-profile pro-Trump attorneys — including Sidney Powell and Lin Wood — face potential sanctions for a separate lawsuit in Michigan, the ruling against Fielder and Walker shows one instance of the courts penalizing lawyers for a “Big Lie” lawsuit. 

Rule 11 exists exactly for this purpose. It makes attorneys who sign representations to a Federal court liable for whatever appears above their signature. Specifically,

(b) By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper—whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it—an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

   (1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;

   (2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law;

   (3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

   (4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information.

Judge Neureiter's order is a joy to read (citations removed):

I use the words “vast conspiracy” purposefully. The Complaint is one enormous conspiracy theory. And a conspiracy is what the original Complaint, all 84 pages and 409-plus paragraphs, alleged: that “the Defendants engaged in concerted action to interfere with the 2020 presidential election through a coordinated effort to, among other things, change voting laws without legislative approval, use unreliable voting machines, alter votes through an illegitimate adjudication process, provide illegal methods of voting, count illegal votes, suppress the speech of opposing voices, disproportionally and privately fund only certain municipalities and counties, and other methods, all prohibited by the Constitution."

So, this was not a normal case in any sense. Plaintiffs purported to represent 160 million American registered voters and came seeking a determination from a federal court in Colorado that the actions of multiple state legislatures, municipalities, and state courts in the conduct of the 2020 election should be declared legal nullities.

In short, this was no slip-and-fall at the local grocery store. Albeit disorganized and fantastical, the Complaint’s allegations are extraordinarily serious and, if accepted as true by large numbers of people, are the stuff of which violent insurrections are made.

The main focus of the suit, at least as emphasized by Plaintiffs’ counsel in argument, was a demand for a massive amount of money, likely greater than any money damage award in American history. Seeking a “nominal amount of $1,000 per registered voter,” Plaintiffs asked for a total $160 billion for the putative 160-million-person Plaintiff class. This figure is greater than the annual GDP of Hungary.

Even better, guess who appointed Judge Neureiter? Hint: Neureiter took office in 2018.

As TPM Media reminds us, Sidney Powell and Lin Wood face a similar Rule 11 motion in Michigan. Can't wait to read that one.

Welcome to August

While I look out my hermetically-sealed office window at some beautiful September weather in Chicago (another argument for working from home), I have a lot of news to digest:

And finally, Jakob Nielsen explains to web designers as patiently as possible why pop-ups piss off users.

We're about done with this crap

As Chicago contemplates returning to a more-restrictive environment because of rising Covid-19 cases, those of us who have gotten vaccinated have had about enough of people who refuse to get the jab. This has led to our more-unhinged party backpedaling like they're about to fall off a cliff:

In late Spring it seemed like COVID was basically about over. Critically, it seemed like the non-vaccinated might be able to hitch a ride on the rest of the country’s vaccinated immunity. Everyone could drop their masks and get back into restaurants and theaters and it would all be fine. Clearly that didn’t pan out. One of the most hopeful signs in the last week is that that fact is leading a lot of people to go get vaccinated. After months of declines, the number of vaccinations is starting to rise again. But among the vaccinated there’s a growing realization that we’re going backwards, seeing rates go up, seeing some mask mandates come back because of the non-vaccinated. And people are getting frustrated. That is a big part of why you’re seeing Republicans not simply encouraging people to get vaccinated but even more trying to ditch the vaccine-resistant brand. They’re feeling exposed to shifting public opinion. In short, they don’t want to be accountable for what they’ve done.

Most elected Republicans haven’t been explicitly anti-vaccination. Indeed, even before the last couple weeks many have made low volume statements saying they’ve been vaccinated and encouraging others to do so. But they’ve almost all participated in the effort to make vaccine resistance into a kind of freedom movement – banning government or private businesses from using vaccine passports, banning mask mandates, politicizing debates over school reopenings. As a party they’ve leaned into valorizing vaccine resistance and banning any private or governmental efforts to place the burden of the consequences of non-vaccination on those who choose not to be vaccinated.

They thought that would supercharge their already happy prospects for 2022 by riding an anti-vax or anti-vax mandate wave. And now they’re thinking they may have miscalculated.

David Frum says that vaccine hesitancy, rather than outright refusal, has played a bigger role in this than those on the rational side may expect, but yeah, we're  still done with that crap:

Part of the trouble is that pro-Trump state legislatures are enacting ever more ambitious protections for people who refuse vaccines. They are forbidding business owners to ask for proof of vaccination from their customers. They are requiring cruise linessports stadiums, and bars to serve the unvaccinated. In Montana, they have even forbidden hospitals to require health-care workers to get vaccinated.

Pro-Trump vaccine resistance exacts a harsh cost from pro-Trump loyalists. We read pitiful story after pitiful story of deluded and deceived people getting sick when they did not have to get sick, infecting their loved ones, being intubated, and dying. And as these loyalists harm themselves and expose all of us to unnecessary and preventable risk, publications—including this one—have run articles sympathetically explaining the recalcitrance of the unvaccinated.

Reading about the fates of people who refused the vaccine is sorrowful. But as summer camp and travel plans are disrupted—as local authorities reimpose mask mandates that could have been laid aside forever—many in the vaccinated majority must be thinking: Yes, I’m very sorry that so many of the unvaccinated are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions. I’m also very sorry that the responsible rest of us are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.

Compassion should always be the first reaction to vaccine hesitation. Maybe some unvaccinated people have trouble getting time off work to deal with side effects, maybe they are disorganized, maybe they are just irrationally anxious. But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians. But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

Oh, yes I bloody well have. And I'm looking at the Right Honourable Gentleman from Uxbridge and South Ruislip for cocking it up in my Ancestral Homeland as well. Politicizing a pandemic isn't the stupidest thing the right have ever done, but it's in the top five.

More stuff to read

I know, two days in a row I can't be arsed to write a real blog post. Sometimes I have actual work to do, y'know?

Finally, as I've gone through my CD collection in the order I bought them, I occasionally encounter something that has not aged well. Today I came across Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun," which...just, no. Not in this century.