The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Union Pacific gets court permission to stop operating Metra trains

The Union Pacific Railroad, which currently operates about 35% of all Chicago commuter trains, has won a major ruling from a Federal judge that clears the way for it to stop operating those trains:

UP wants out of the commuter business, saying it wants to focus on its its freight service. It has noted that almost all other Metra service now is operated by the commuter rail agency itself, sometimes on tracks it owns itself and at other times on track leased from freight railroads. 

Metra’s position is that in the absence of a discontinuance agreement, UP had to continue to run the trains and ancillary services, such as ticket collection, under “common carrier” provisions that governed railroads nationally for more than a century.

Both sides asked Judge Jorge Alonso for summary judgement. Last week he ruled against Metra.

Effectively, Alonso held, common-carrier rules were substantially eased after the creation of Amtrak, the national passenger carrier, and other deregulation actions by Congress in recent decades. Any remaining common-carrier question that requires federal approval would under the law cover only freight, not passenger, service, he added, but UP is moving to stop only commuter service, not freight.

In a statement, Metra said only that “We are reviewing the ruling and our options.”

UP in its own statement promised not to do anything abrupt that would interfere with service.

Well, that's fun. In 2019, the three Metra lines UP operates had about 27 million of the entire network's 74 million passenger trips, including (I estimate) about 300 of mine, so there is no way the lines will simply shut down. Metra will almost certainly take over operations and pay UP for track and signal use, just like they do on other lines. We'll see how this plays out.

It's only a threat if we're afraid of it

Jonathan Chait points out that the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions might want to reconsider their threats to resign en masse if the cities enforce mask and vaccine mandates on them:

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has mandated vaccination for all city employees, and Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara is not taking it well. “This has literally lit a bomb underneath the membership,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re in America, goddamn it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi fucking Germany.”

Making vaccination a condition of municipal employment was not in fact one of the tenets of National Socialism. (Nor, for that matter, is it “literally” a bomb.) What is at least slightly reminiscent of Nazi Germany, however, is detaining people at an off-the-books warehouse and denying them legal counsel, which was both a real practice of Chicago police and one of the first steps taken by the Nazis after Adolf Hitler took power.

It’s usually easy for police to scare a mayor by threatening to leave the streets undefended. But in this instance, vaccine mandates present a rare opportunity for a double win. Cities can simultaneously defend an important anti-pandemic measure, and induce at least some of the most dangerous police officers to leave their jobs.

The public-health benefits of a vaccine mandate are obvious enough. The subtler, but longer-lasting, effect of the mandate would be to push out police officers who refuse vaccines.

I'm all for it. Most Chicago police officers are decent, hard-working people who really want to keep the people of the city safe. Yet they elected this guy their union chief—though I should point out, in Chicago, retired (i.e., older, whiter, more conservative) police officers can vote on union matters.

Catanarza, I should point out, got suspended for misconduct after he supported the January 6th insurrection. His supporters are welcome to leave the police force any time they wish.

Summertime daftness everywhere

A few examples of idiocy, bad intent, or general ineptness crossed my desk this morning:

Finally, in an effort not to complain about politics or the Olympics, Gail Collins takes on robocalls.

How much Bruce Rauner cost Illinois

In another implicit rebuke to the lump of clay that occupied the Governor's Mansion for four years, Illinois finally got a bump in its credit rating after Governor Pritzker started paying our bills again:

In upgrading Illinois’ credit by one step — to two notches above junk bond status instead of one — Wall Street ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service noted that the $42 billion spending plan for the year starting July 1 “increases pension contributions, repays emergency Federal Reserve borrowings and keeps a backlog of bills in check with only constrained use of federal aid” from President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan.

Even after the upgrade, Illinois remains the lowest-rated state on Moody’s scale, two notches below the next-lowest: New Jersey. Generally, states with higher credit ratings are able to borrow money at lower interest rates, ultimately saving taxpayers money.

While the upgrade from Moody’s is welcome news, it only returns the state’s rating to where it was before the last of three downgrades during the tumultuous tenure of Pritzker’s predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It still baffles me why Rauner screwed Illinois so hard and without lube. He may have qualified as a "moderate" Republican by today's standards, but he still moved to kill unions, kill the state budget, and kill working people in Illinois.

Rauner now lives in exile in—where else?—Florida.

So, nu, how's by you?

After taking Cassie on a 45-minute walk before the heat hits us, I've spent the morning debugging, watching these news stories pile up for lunchtime reading:

Finally, Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has revealed conceptual drawings for a moon base.

Wednesday afternoon

I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to get a .NET 5 Blazor WebAssembly app to behave with an Azure App Registration, and part of the afternoon doing a friend's taxes. Yes, I preferred doing the taxes, because I got my friend a pile of good news without having to read sixty contradictory pages of documentation.

I also became aware of the following:

Tomorrow morning, I promise to make my WebAssembly app talk to our Azure Active Directory. Right now, I think someone needs a walk.

The world still spins

As much fun as Cassie and I have had over the last few days, the news around the world didn't stop:

Finally, journalist Jack Lieb filmed D-Day using a 16mm home movie camera, which you can see on the National Archives blog. It's really cool.

Welcome to Summer 2021

The northern hemisphere started meteorological summer at midnight local time today. Chicago's weather today couldn't have turned out better. Unfortunately, I go into the office on the first and last days of each week, so I only know about this from reading weather reports.

At my real job, we have a release tomorrow onto a completely new Azure subscription, so for only the second time in 37 sprints (I hope) I don't expect a boring deployment. Which kind of fits with all the decidedly-not-boring news that cropped up today:

  • The XPOTUS and his wackier supporters have a new conspiracy theory about him retaking office in a coup d'état this August. No, really.
  • In what could only 100% certainly no doubt how could you even imagine a coincidence, former White House counsel Don McGahn will testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning.
  • Also uncoincidentally, a group of 100 historians and political scientists who study this sort of thing have put out a statement warning of imminent democratic collapse in the US. “The playbook that the Republican Party is executing at the state and national levels is very much consistent with actions taken by illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-pluralist parties in other democracies that have slipped away from free and fair elections,” according to the Post.
  • Speaking of democratic backsliding, Josh Marshall takes the Israeli cognoscenti to task for still not getting how much the Israeli government aligning with an American political party has hurt them.
  • Here in Illinois, the state legislature adjourned after completing a number of tasks, including passing a $46 billion budget that no one got to read before they voted on it. (I'm doubly incensed about this because my own party did it. We really need to be better than the other guys. Seriously.)
  • For the first time since March 2020, Illinois has no states on its mandatory quarantine list. And we reported the fewest new Covid-19 cases (401) since we started reporting them.
  • The Northalsted Business Alliance wants to change the name of Chicago's Boystown neighborhood to...Northalsted. Residents across the LGBTQ spectrum say "just, no."

Finally, a Texas A&M business professor expects a "wave of resignations" as people go back to their offices.

Chicago's LSD

We have an odd debate in Chicago about the name of our most iconic road. A group of aldermen want to change the name of Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Drive, in honor of the first non-native permanent settler, who was also Black. The (Black) mayor and a contingent of other aldermen of varying races disagree:

The proposal’s sponsors faced opposition from some colleagues and the mayor’s office over fears that renaming the iconic road would lead to a nightmare at the post office and for residents with thousands of address changes.

Ald. David Moore, 17th Ward, attempted to quell some of those concerns at a contentious committee meeting in late April, saying his proposal would only change the outer drive — not the inner, residential portion of the road. That meeting saw a shouting match between aldermen when the Chicago Department of Transportation tried to substitute Moore’s ordinance for one they said served the same purpose but cleared up confusing language.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the move to delay the vote Wednesday, saying she has concerns over changing the name of Chicago’s most well-known roadway.

“It’s one of the most iconic assets the city has. When you say Lake Shore Drive, people know you’re talking about Chicago. And I think that that’s very important,” Lightfoot said.

The effort to get DuSable recognized on a grand scale in Chicago is not new. In the 1990s, then-Ald. Toni Preckwinkle introduced her own ordinance to rename Lake Shore to DuSable Drive, the Chicago Tribune reported.

His name is already affixed to several existing institutions, including the DuSable Museum of African American History, a high school and a monument on Michigan Avenue. But proponents have argued the man deemed the city’s “founding father” deserves more.

I find the whole thing odd. I have no idea which side to support, if either. We should have a DuSable drive. But we should also have Lake Shore Drive.

The decision won't come around again until late June. I'll keep my eyes peeled for follow-up stories on the subject.

Flyover territory

The four-year, $40m Navy Pier flyover finally opened this week after 7 years and $64m:

The $64 million flyover, started in 2014, was originally planned for a ribbon-cutting in 2018 but it was repeatedly delayed. The 1,750-foot-long, 16-foot-wide steel and concrete flyover goes from Ohio Street Beach to the south side of the Chicago River.

City officials have blamed prior delays both on issues with the Lake Shore Drive bridge and a delay in getting funding from the state during the budget crisis under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

With the substantial completion of the Flyover, built to keep pedestrians and bicyclists from being in conflict with auto traffic, the Lakefront Trail now runs, uninterrupted, from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street, according to the city.

Block Club Chicago has photos.

The biggest budget increase came when engineers discovered that the original plan to tunnel through the southeast Lake Shore Drive bridge tower would have cut a load-bearing column. But like so much in Chicago, the biggest delay came from our incompetent and ideologically-blinkered former governor refusing to fund the state government for two years.

But hey, it's open now, so bikes and runners no longer take their lives into their hands crossing the off-ramp from Lake Shore Drive to Grand Avenue.