The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Could our 12+-year wait finally end?

On my way downtown to hear Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem with some friends, I saw this notice, hung with a tragicomic level of incompetence, at the Ravenswood Metra station's 12-year-old "temporary" inbound platform:

What? We get our "new" platform that has been almost completed for the past 24 months on August 1st?

There’s only one brief note on the station info page, but otherwise…nothing. No ribbon cutting, no acknowledgement that the platform is opening 6 years late, no recognition that former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) cut funding to the project for four years, no one taking any responsibility for the 10-month delay between finishing almost everything and getting “the tiles” or whatever they were waiting for since last summer.

If they open the thing, I'll post photos on the 2nd. If they don't, I'll post derision.

In any event, the Grant Park Symphony had a wonderful performance of one of my favorite choral works, in perfect weather:

And walking back to the train, I was reminded how cool our architecture was in the 1920s:

A wish list

I'll elaborate on this later, but I just want to list a couple of things I desperately want for my country and city during my lifetime. For comparison, I'm also listing when other places in the world got them first. For context, I expect (hope?) to live another 50 years or so.

Universal health care, whether through extending Medicare to all residents or through some other mechanism. The UK got it in 1948, Canada in 1984, and Germany in 1883. We're the only holdout in the OECD, and it benefits no one except the owners and shareholders of private insurance companies to continue our broken system.

Universal child care, which would enable single parents to work without going broke on daycare. Much of Continental Europe makes this a no-brainer, with free day care for little kids and extended school hours for older ones. In a report covering 41 rich countries, UNICEF puts Luxembourg first, Germany 5th, Canada 22nd...and the US 40th. Only Slovakia treats its kids worse. (The UK is 35th, which is sad.)

Term limits on appellate judges, including an 18-year term for the Supreme Court and a 13-year term for the Circuit Courts. The UK and Canada require judges to retire at 75; Japan at 70; and Mexico after 15 years. Every US State (except Rhode Island) has some limitation on its supreme court, whether through mandatory retirement, term limits, or elections. This doesn't require anything more than an act of Congress, as former Justices and Appellate Judges would still continue to serve in other Federal courts "during good Behaviour." I would also like to see a Governor-appointed, single-term Illinois supreme court.

A functioning opposition party, both at the Federal level (either through the Republicans coming to their senses or a serious third party replacing them in opposition or governance), and here in Illinois. As much as I like the current Democratic trifecta in my state, I don't think single-party governance is healthy, as it tends to become single-party rule, followed shortly by something worse. All of our peer nations (except possibly the Republic of Korea) have had two or more functioning parties since the end of World War II. Only 11 US states currently have divided governments, and in 4 of the 6 most populous (California, New York, Texas, and Illinois), the party out of power has almost no power at all and no hope of getting elected this decade. Illinois farmers need an effective voice in the General Assembly; right now, they have the modern GOP.

A larger House of Representatives. We last expanded our lower house in 1913, when the US population was less than 1/3 what it is today. As of 2020, each congressional district has an average population of 762,000, with Delaware having its entire population of nearly 1 million represented by one person. The average Canadian riding has 108,000, the average UK constituency is between 56,000 (Wales) and 72,000 (England), and the Bundestag elects 598 members on a proportional basis by party and Land population. One plan I like would take the largest state that currently has 1 representative (Delaware), give it and the three smaller states 2, then use that as the size of the other districts. At roughly 500,000 per district, we'd have around 650 representatives, giving us a House the size of the UK House of Commons.

End Gerrymandering. Require that all electoral districts for any office have compact, contiguous outlines drawn by non-partisan commissions at each level of government. I would also allow multi-representative districts chosen by proportional vote (for example, a 2-person district where the first and second vote-getters win). Canada passed legislation making malapportionment much harder in the 1990s, as did the UK in 2015, while Germany has proportional representation which nearly (but not totally) obviates it. This has to be done nationally, because as the Democratic legislatures in California and Illinois would like to remind the Republican legislatures in Texas and Florida, we'll put down our guns when you put down yours.

Realistic gun regulation, including mandatory licensure and registration, limits and painful taxes on ammunition purchases, and allowing local jurisdictions to set their own regulations—up or down, for the sake of rural residents—on who can own what kinds of firearms. The UK and Australia famously enacted tough laws after mass shootings in 1996; Canada in 1977; Germany in 1973. I should also point out that Switzerland—where every adult male must own a gun—has more liberal gun laws than the US in some ways, but still restricted entire classes of weapons in 2019, and has severe penalties for misusing them.

De-militarize local police forces. There's a reason George Washington feared a standing army, and why many Americans fear they live with one today. Everyone who cares about police policy should read Radley Balko's The Rise of the Warrior Cop. All of our peer nations have strict rules against police agencies using military weapons and tactics, and most UK cops still walk around unarmed and unmolested to this day. I've used Germany as a Continental example for many of these points, so let me just say that Germany has a great deal of experience with heavily-armed local paramilitary forces, and they don't ever want to see them again. Why are we building them here? We frogs need to hop out of the pot—and soon.

Fully-electric commuter rail in Chicago. London skipped from coal to electric in the 1950s, and Munich in the 1920s. Toronto, sadly, still uses diesel trains, but they're fixing that. Sure, this would cost about $5 billion, but it would bring more than that in benefits to the whole Chicago area. For example, a side-effect of London electrifying was to drastically increase the value of workingmen's houses along rights-of-way (seriously, £1.2 m for a tiny house!), as they're awfully convenient to Central London without getting flaming cinders dropped on them anymore.

High-speed rail between most US cities less than 500 km apart, like Chicago-Detroit, San Francisco-L.A.-San Diego, and Dallas-Houston-San Antonio. (Not to mention, real high-speed rail throughout the Northeast Corridor, none of this anemic 110 km/h crap.) Most of Europe has had true HSR since the 1990s, starting with the French TGV in the 1980s. The London-Paris Eurostar came in 1994, moving people between the two cities in just over two hours—quicker than you can get from central London to your airplane seat at Heathrow. It's criminal that it takes 4½ hours to travel the 450 km between Chicago and Detroit, while you can get from Paris to Lyon (also about 450 km) in just over 2. And if they can spend £25 billion (in 2023 pounds) to build a 50-kilometer tunnel under the English Channel, we can spend half that to build a 20-kilometer tunnel under Long Island Sound, FFS.

This list isn't exhaustive, by any means. I believe the US has the resources to accomplish all of them in the next 10 years, let alone the next 50. We just lack the political will, especially in the modern Republican Party, which lacks the understanding that American greatness has always depended on collective effort.

The United States is no longer the greatest country in the world...but it could be again.

The *other* Metra station

While we in Ravenswood continue to wait for tile deliveries or whatever so Metra and the UPRR can finish replacing the platform they tore down in 2011, the a priori Peterson/Ridge station that broke ground 18 months ago is almost done:

Work on the station is slated to wrap up this fall, when the long-awaited station will open to the public, project managers said at the community meeting.

Announced in 2012, the Peterson-Ridge station has been the victim of the state’s years-long budget impasse and then permitting issues with the city.

After finally securing funding in 2019, the project’s groundbreaking was pushed back to spring 2021. The project was stalled once again when the Department of Water Management rejected Metra’s plans for environmentally friendly permeable pavers, saying such plans could jeopardize water main pipes below the site.

The groundwater plan was altered and the station project broke ground in November 2021.

So, which station will open first? Given the railroad's track record (ah, ha ha, ha), it's even odds as far as I can see.

New mayor, new city council

Mayor Brandon Johnson (D) took the oath of office this morning, along with the 50-member Chicago City Council:

Thousands of spectators watched as Johnson was sworn in by Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans at the Credit Union 1 Arena at the University of Illinois at Chicago on the city’s Near West Side. He was sworn in alongside the new City Council — which includes 13 freshman members, many of whom campaigned on pushing the body further to the left, and who also will increase the racial and LGBTQ+ diversity of the council.

“People of Chicago are counting on us to work together,” Johnson said, after turning around to applaud the new council. That gesture was in stark contrast to former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who in 2019 sarcastically turned to the council when speaking about her intentions to root out corruption in Chicago politics during her inaugural speech.

Lightfoot welcomed the crowd “to a peaceful transfer of power” as she called the inauguration ceremony, which doubles as a formal City Council meeting, to order. She watched as Johnson took the oath of office, as is customary for inaugural ceremonies. Over the weekend former Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent Johnson well wishes from his outpost in Tokyo, where he serves as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

The Tribune charted his rise to power:

To get here, Johnson took an unconventional route compared with previous mayors. Having cut his teeth politically as a top Chicago Teachers Union organizer a decade ago, Johnson brings with him a labor-friendly resume that has galvanized the city’s political left. That coalition of progressive unions and grassroots organizations propelled Johnson to victory after their chosen candidates suffered mayoral runoff losses in 2015 and 2019.

When Johnson first announced his run, his candidacy was often dismissed. He polled in the single digits while rivals such as the CTU’s former endorsed candidate in the 2015 mayor’s race, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, jockeyed for the progressive vote.

Johnson’s campaign themes of racial justice and taxing the rich ultimately caught fire, however. Buoyed by cash from CTU and like-minded unions, he surged months later to knock out incumbent Lightfoot in the initial round of voting — the first time a sitting Chicago mayor had lost reelection since Harold Washington beat Jane Byrne to become the city’s first Black mayor in 1983. Johnson will be the fourth.

As a CTU organizer, Johnson had been an instrumental force in crafting the union’s reputation as a progressive powerhouse, but election opponents countered that Chicago doesn’t need a mayor beholden to the teachers union. He also faced frequent fire for his past support of the “defund the police” movement, or the activist-backed calls to reallocate law enforcement budgets and send the funds to other social services in the wake of the 2020 Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd.

In his inaugural address, Johnson pledged to reopen Chicago's closed mental-health clinics and to tackle the crisis caused by Southern Republican governors shipping asylum-seekers to the city:

“I want to make sure that no one ever has to suffer because they do not have access to mental health services,” Johnson said in his speech. 

Johnson repeatedly mentioned the migrant crisis unfolding across Chicago. Thousands of people have arrived in the city in recent weeks from the southern border, overwhelming the city’s shelters and forcing hundreds of migrants, including children, to sleep on the floors of police stations. 

“We don’t want the story to be told that we were unable to house the unhoused or provide safe harbor for those who are seeking refuge here, because there is enough room for everyone in the city of Chicago,” Johnson said.

The new mayor also emphasized the need to revitalize neighborhoods that have lost people and resources by “rerouting the rivers of prosperity to the banks of disinvestment.” He rejected the “zero-sum game” of pitting the needs of migrant families against the needs of longtime residents to live in “a fully funded neighborhood.”

Johnson narrowly beat former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas (D?) in the runoff election on April 4th.

What did I do with all my free time before the Internet?

I think I wrote software and read a lot. You know, just what I do today. Stuff like this:

This afternoon we concluded Sprint 84 with a boring deployment, which makes me happy. We've had only one moderately-exciting deployment this year, and even that one didn't take long to fix, so I'm doing something right.

First sunny day since I returned

We had four completely-overcast days in a row, including one with some blowing snow, so I'm happy today has been completely clear. Tomorrow might even get above 10°C—which would at least get into normal March temperatures. This whole winter has been weird, as the next few will likely be until temperature increases start leveling out.

In other news:

Finally, Bruce Schneier and Nathan Sanders explain how AI could write our laws in the future.

National endorsement for Johnson

Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson got a big nod this week:

Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate, is backing Brandon Johnson in the Chicago mayor’s race.

“Commissioner Brandon Johnson and I are both former public school teachers, and I can tell you that he understands what it takes to build a stronger Chicago for everyone. From education to public safety to housing, Brandon has a bold, forward-looking, progressive plan to move Chicago forward, and he has the experience to make those plans real,” Warren said in a statement.

I didn't catch Wednesday's debate, but given how close the race is, I expect they'll have more.

Quiet Saturday morning

The storm predicted to drop 100 mm of snow on Chicago yesterday missed us completely. That made my Brews & Choos research a lot more pleasant, though I did tromp all over the place in heavy boots that I apparently didn't need. Of course, had I not worn them, I would now be writing about my cold, wet socks.

So while I'm getting two reviews together for later this week, go ahead and read this:

Finally, author John Scalzi celebrates the 25th anniversary of his domain name scalzi.com, exactly one month before I registered my own. But as I will point out again in a couple of posts later this spring, The Daily Parker started (as braverman.org) well before his blog. Still, 25 years is a long time for a domain to have a single owner.

More on our election

A couple of updates. First, Paul Vallas picked up a key endorsement, which may bring over some of Lori Lightfoot's voters:

Newly-retired Jesse White, the first African-American elected as Illinois Secretary of State, is endorsing Paul Vallas, giving Vallas a leg up in his quest to claim the 20% share of the Black vote he needs to win the April 4 mayoral runoff against Brandon Johnson.

White, 88, retired in January after a record six terms as secretary of state. In four of those elections, he was the leading vote-getter statewide. He endorsed City Clerk Anna Valencia as his replacement, but she lost handily to former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Vallas can only hope White’s endorsement in the mayoral runoff has more weight — and gives other establishment Black elected officials sanction to join him, starting with White’s political protégé, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Block Club Chicago maps out how that might work:

If you’re a local politics geek like us, you’re probably poring over the data to see who won big where, how Chicagoans voted — and what exactly could happen during that runoff.

We pulled together maps and charts to help you understand this latest election...

And Charles Blow sees Lori Lightfoot's decline and fall as typical of other Black mayors, but concedes that her personality probably had a lot to do with it:

[T]wo things can be true simultaneously: There can be legitimate concerns about rising crime, and crime can be used as a political wedge issue, particularly against elected officials of color, which has happened often.

In this moment, when the country has still not come to grips with the wide-ranging societal trauma that the pandemic exacerbated and unleashed, mayors are being held responsible for that crime. If all politics is local, crime and safety are the most local. And when the perception of crime collides with ingrained societal concepts of race and gender, politicians, particularly Black women, can pay the price.

I disagree with Blow; I know crime in Chicago has fallen by more than half since I lived here in the 1990s, and that Lightfoot doesn't have much responsibility for its uptick in the pandemic. I voted for Brandon Johnson because I thought Lightfoot was a bad administrator and didn't know how to get things done without bullying.

We'll see what happens on April 4th.

Following up on a few things

Perhaps the first day of spring brings encourages some spring cleaning? Or at least, revisiting stories of the recent and more distant past:

  • The Navy has revisited how it names ships, deciding that naming United States vessels after events or people from a failed rebellion doesn't quite work. As a consequence, the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62, named after a Confederate victory) will become the USS Robert Smalls, named after the former slave who stole the CSS Planter right from Charleston Harbor in 1862.
  • Author John Scalzi revisited whether to stay on Twitter, given its "hot racist right-wing trash" owner, and decides why not? It's not like Musk will ever benefit financially from the app.
  • Charles Blow revisited the (long overdue) defenestration of cartoonist Scott Adams, deciding it doesn't matter whether Adams was lazy or stupid, throwing him out the window was appropriate.
  • Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul revisited the Equal Rights Amendment, but the DC Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday not to.
  • WBEZ revisited the only other two Chicago Mayors who lost their re-election bids in the past century, Michael Bilandic and Jane Byrne.
  • A group of US intelligence agencies revisited Havana Syndrome, without finding sufficient evidence to blame either an adversary government or an energy weapon.

Finally, here's a delightful clip of US Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) patiently explaining to Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and her banana-republican party the difference between an adjective and a noun: