The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It's over; Coleman can go back to Long Island now

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled (just like every other court before it) that Al Franken won election to the U.S. Senate back in November:

"Affirmed," wrote the Supreme Court, unanimously rejecting Republican Norm Coleman's claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and wrong decisions by a lower court had denied him victory.

"Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled [under Minnesota law] to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota," the court wrote.

But the court did not grant Franken's bid to make its ruling effective immediately, possibly leaving a window for an appeal by Coleman before Gov. Tim Pawlenty is required to issue an election certificate.

Yeah, so, it's not over yet. As Eric Kleefeld points out:

Will Coleman concede, or will he take another path -- as national GOP leaders like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) have urged -- and take this to federal courts, where he might try to get an injunction against Franken receiving a certificate of election? And if Franken does get his certificate, will the Senate GOP attempt to filibuster its acceptance?

Regardless, Coleman has exhausted his appeals under Minnesota law, so I think it's fair to call Franken "Senator-Elect" at this point.

Denying climate change treason to planet: Krugman

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman on climate-change deniers:

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

The science may be uncertain about how much climate change we're causing, but when you're driving a car into a brick wall, an extra meter or two per second hardly matters.

On modern (!) rail travel in the U.S.

I love trains. I always have. All things equal (or nearly so), I'll take a train.

As a frequent visitor to Europe and the Northeastern U.S., not to mention living in Chicago, I have plenty of opportunities to ride efficient, clean, fast, punctual trains. (Take out "clean" and the El still qualifies. Return "clean" and take out "fast," "efficient," and "punctual" and the London Underground qualifies.)

Take the Acela: for about the same cost as an airline ticket, you can go from the U.S. Capitol building to the Empire State building in just under three hours, door to door. To do the same on an airplane would take significantly longer and cost more. Figure the time and expense of getting to National Airport and from LaGuardia or Newark, plus security lines, baggage checking if applicable, and traffic delays into the LGA-JFK-EWR nightmare, and now you're at 5 hours and significantly more money.

I'm writing this on the Amtrak Wolverine from Chicago to Detroit. Just a few minutes ago I read a recent article in the New York Times (Jon Gertner, "Getting Up to Speed," 14 June 2009) that discusses the planned high-speed rail connector between San Francisco and Los Angeles (and, ultimately, San Diego and Sacramento). It mentions, implicitly, the train I'm sitting on, as this route is one planned to get high-speed rail sometime in the 21st Century.

Right now the scheduled trip from Chicago to Detroit (383 km) takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes. Add in getting to Union Station (20 minutes, $2.00) and a cab to Comerica Park (15 minutes, $10), and the trip takes almost, but not quite, as long as traveling by plane. Of course, it's far cheaper; even in Business Class my round-trip is $74, compared with $179.20 for the lowest airfare I found in Coach (21-day advance purchase on both Expedia and Southwest).

Only, as of 2:45 pm we're only about 16 km past Battle Creek, Mich., 177 km from Detroit and two hours later than scheduled.

So far, the trip has entailed:

  • A 30-minute delay at Union Station for an (ultimately unsuccessful) air-conditioning repair;
  • A 15-minute delay just 1 km outside Union Station to let another train pass;
  • 10 more minutes in Indiana, waiting for an oncoming train that would not have delayed us had we left on time;Half an hour in Battle Creek for the same reason;
  • When we are moving, track so old and rickety that it feels like...well, not to put too fine a point on it, but: the El; and
  • Do you remember how the air-conditioning repair did not succeed entirely?

About that last point: My G1 and Weather Bug tell me it's 36°C at my present location (Marshall, Mich.). So if the air-conditioning fails completely—it already has in one of the four cars on this train—we're going to melt.

In sum: while we wait until the launch of new high-speed rail service between Chicago and Detroit (2020? 2025?), the existing rail service between the two cities, like much of Amtrak's network, bears entirely too much resemblance to the rail service in the 1870s.

Matt, my cousin, with whom I'm seeing tonight's Cubs game (the reason we're going to Detroit), took Megabus. He has texted me at several interviews to mention how comfortable and on-time his bus is. Sure, I've got more room to walk around, but who wants to do that in a car with a failing air conditioner? Oh, and he has WiFi. Somehow. On a bus.

At least the power outlet works...

Explanation of previous post; Why you need to read Sullivan

Two unrelated topics in one post? Preposterous. Unacceptable.

And yet.

First: my previous post reflected the difficulties in typing on a tiny G1 keyboard, which magnified the annoyances in maintaining a blog in the first place. Two entries disappeared after unintentional finger sweeps, and don't even get me started on the difficulties of adding an actual hyperlink from my phone. On the other hand, I can post from my phone, which I find so cool it makes me giddy. I do feel like someone living 80 years ago complaining about air travel: yes, ocean liners are more comfortable, and yes, the thing makes a lot of noise, but wake up: you can get from New York to London in one night. At some point the coolness overcomes the annoyance, and a new technology goes critical.

Second, if you're either (a) unaware of the unfolding news from Iran, or (b) not following it on Sullivan, you need to do both. This is what Democracy looks like. I'm more and more hopeful that Iran will prevail, and its unelected dictatorship will fall. It won't look like the U.S., the U.K., or any other European-style democracy, but possibly before the end of this summer, Iran will have an elected leader, and a legitimate government, for the first time in 30 years. There will be a terrific cost, but again: the Iranian people will, ultimately, win this.

I think Thomas Jefferson put it better than I ever could:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Wear green this week if you agree.

When $1 billion changes hands, someone gets rich off crumbs

The Chicago Reader has another article on the Chicago Parking Meter Debacle, this time examining who got rich off it:

Not only did William Blair advise the city on the deal—it came up with the idea in the first place. Then it provided the city with the only estimate it ever received of what the system was worth and coordinated the bidding process.

Two other financial services firms and three law firms were brought in to assist. All were given no-bid contracts for the work, and all appear to have political or personal ties to the Daley administration (which is not unusual for the way the city of Chicago does business).

The financial advisers were each paid a share of what the city made in cash on the lease deal. William Blair received 0.375 percent of the payout, or about $4.3 million, according to records obtained from the city through a FOIA request. The others, Gardner Rich and Ramirez & Company, each received 0.0625 percent, or $722,813. The attorneys’ fees added up to another $1.3 million. All told, the city paid its legal and financial advisers more than $7 million for their work on the deal.

Yeah? So where's mine?

I've got a bad feeling about this...

Chicago mayor Richard Daley has possibly committed the city to an enormous public expense for the 2016 Olympic Games:

Faced with losing the 2016 Summer Games to competing cities offering full government guarantees, Mayor Richard Daley made an about-face Wednesday and said the City of Chicago would sign a contract agreeing to take full financial responsibility for the Games.

In a worst-case situation, such as severe cost-overruns or a catastrophic event, the agreement could leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars or even more, a scenario Chicago's bid team acknowledges but insists is far-fetched.

Um...in what universe are cost overruns on a Chicago public works project "far-fetched?" The Tribune's editorial board wonders who's really on the hook:

The mayor's spokeswoman, Jacquelyn Heard, says...[t]he financial commitment...will fall on the Chicago 2016 committee, the group that's organizing the city's bid.

Well, hold on a minute. If the Olympics lose money, the IOC wants somebody to pick up the cost. So if the Games are a bust and the losses blow through the public and private guarantees, the Chicago 2016 committee will pay the rest of the tab?

How? By taking up a collection among its members?

I'm beginning to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis...

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

The Guardian is reporting riots in Tehran following reports that the Iranian election monitors have declared yesterday's election fraudulent:

Iran is facing political turmoil after hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was confirmed today as the winner of the presidential election and outraged supporters of his chief rival took to the streets to protest against a "dangerous charade" after a record 85% turnout.

Tonight riot police in Tehran faced thousands of angry demonstrators shouting "death to dictatorship" amid shock and confusion after the official result backed Ahmadinejad's claim to have won, made barely an hour after the polls closed on Friday night.

...Ahmadinejad's crushing and contested victory by 63% to 34% is a grave setback for hopes for a solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions and for detente with the US now that Barack Obama is seeking dialogue with Tehran. Israel immediately reacted to the news by demanding intensified efforts to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Is Iran heading for civil war? And what's Israel's reaction going to be?