The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The value of cities

CNBC released a 35-minute documentary earlier this month that fairly discusses the value of cities relative to suburbs and exurbs:

A lot of this is old hat to people who follow Strong Towns or other urbanist sources. It's a good backgrounder for people though.

In related news, California just passed legislation mandating an end to local parking requirements within walking distance of transit stations. It's a start.

Anthony's Song

I'm movin' out. A lovely young couple have offered to buy Inner Drive World Headquarters v5.0, and the rest of the place along with it. I've already gotten through the attorney-review period for IDTWHQ v6.0, so this means I'm now more likely than not to move house next month.

Which means I have even less time to read stuff like this:

Finally, American Airlines plans to get rid of its First Class offerings, replacing them with high-tech Business Class and more premium coach seats. I'd better use my miles soon.

How is it 5:30?

I've had two parallel tasks today, one of them involving feeding 72 people on Saturday. The other one involved finishing a major feature for work. Both seem successful right now but need testing with real users.

Meanwhile, outside my little world:

  • The XPOTUS seems to have backed himself into a corner by lying about "declassifying" things psychically, after the Special Master that he asked for called bullshit. Greg Sargent has thoughts.
  • Pro Publica reported on Colorado's halfway-house system that sends more people back to prison than it rehabilitates.
  • The Navy has begun its court-martial of Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays, accused of lighting the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020.

Finally, Ian Bogost (and I) laments the disappearance of the manual transmission.

Strike averted

The President announced this morning that negotiators have reached a tentative deal between the railroads and their engineers and conductors, averting tonight's planned strike:

Freight rail companies and unions representing tens of thousands of workers reached a tentative agreement to avoid what would have been an economically damaging strike, after all-night talks brokered by Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, President Biden said early Thursday morning.

The agreement now heads to union members for a ratification vote, which is a standard procedure in labor talks. While the vote is tallied, workers have agreed not to strike.

The talks brokered by Mr. Walsh began Wednesday morning and lasted 20 hours. Mr. Biden called in around 9 p.m. Wednesday, a person familiar with the talks said, and he hailed the deal on Thursday in a long statement.

“Most importantly, for the first time ever, the agreement provides our members with the ability to take time away from work to attend routine and preventative medical, as well as exemptions from attendance policies for hospitalizations and surgical procedures,” the presidents of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers said in a news release.

Excellent news for the unions! And for us travelers, and for us consumers. Whew.

Rail strike more likely

Chicago's heavy-rail commuter district, Metra, started cancelling train service that would extend past the midnight-Friday start time of the planned nationwide rail strike. Well, taking the El to work instead of Metra adds about 9 minutes to my commute, so I'll have to deal with that on Friday, I suppose. Except that commuter rail shutdowns don't even start to illustrate how bad this strike could turn out for the US economy:

[A strike] would cause immediate problems for manufacturers, says Lee Sanders with the American Bakers Association. This is nationwide. And a broad range of manufacturers who get parts, packaging and raw material delivered by rail would be effected.

"If we don't get the ingredients that we need to our plants, we won't be able to make the products that we need to get our wholesome products to the consumers," Sanders says.

So, empty shelves are a possibility. Farmers are worried too about shipping grain. Dangerous chemicals have already stopped moving. Especially valuable goods are next, and passengers are getting stranded too.

Don't forget about coal, either. About 22% of US electricity comes from coal-fired plants, including 30% of Illinois' power. (As it turns out, Illinois has a higher proportion of nuclear power—about 54% of output—than any other state, which gives us a bit more reliability.)

I have a lot of sympathy for the engineers and conductors, whose schedules seem even less predictable than even fast-food workers. I hope the railroads agree to better scheduling and time-off provisions before Friday, or we're going to have a major economic disruption while we already have high inflation. Not a good combination.

Process crimes vs intentional crimes

Writing as a guest of James Fallows, former defense official Jan Lodal outlines how subparagraph (d) of the Espionage Act should be a slam-dunk in prosecuting the XPOTUS:

This paragraph makes a straightforward action a crime: namely, failing to return classified documents if properly directed to give them back. No proof of the level of classification, or the intentions of the document holder, or the content of the documents, is required. Just a simple question, did he or she give them back or not.

This section of the Espionage Act does not require that prosecutors access or cite individual documents to prove the crime. It requires only that there were any classified documents in the boxes that Trump did not return. On that there is no doubt. It was settled by the release of the Department of Justice (DoJ) Affidavit authorizing the Mar-A-Lago document seizure.

Trump’s violation of this Subparagraph (d) of the Espionage Act could not be clearer. Unlike all other crimes being considered for prosecution, Subsection (d) requires no probing of intent or consequence. It defines as criminal a clear process violation—“failing to return” classified documents when properly asked to do so.

Given our politics and our jury system, keeping the legal actions against Trump simple is better for now. Prosecution for other offenses after getting an initial conviction will then be more likely to succeed. DOJ should take this path to reduce the risk that obfuscation and assertions of inapplicable rights and privileges by a former president could override the fragile rule of law in our constitutional democracy.

Having watched the DOJ build its case, and knowing that Attorney General Merrick Garland takes things slowly and deliberately, I expect to see this charge sooner rather than later. But I also suspect that the DOJ wants to build the most comprehensive case it can. We'll see.

Notable Friday afternoon stories

Just a few before I take a brick to my laptop for taking a damned half-hour to reformat a JSON file:

Oh, good. My laptop has finished parsing the file. (In fairness it's 400,000 lines of JSON, but still, that's only 22 megabytes uncompressed.) I will now continue with my coding.

But her emails!

The Washington Post Fact Checker digs deep into the allegations of mishandling classified material against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and finds, nah, she good:

The Justice Department investigation of classified documents found at former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club has brought inevitable comparisons to the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s private email server that she used while secretary of state. The FBI investigation into her emails arguably tipped the close 2016 presidential election to Trump.

During the contest between Trump and Clinton, we wrote 16 fact checks on the email issue, frequently awarding Pinocchios to Clinton for legalistic parsing. But in light of the Trump investigation, Clinton is trying to draw a distinction between Trump’s current travails and the probe that targeted her.

As shown in an FBI photo of some of the documents seized from Trump, many have clear markings indicating they contained highly sensitive classified information. Clinton, in her tweet, suggests none of her emails were marked classified. That’s technically correct. Whether those emails contained classified information was a major focus of the investigation, but a review of the recent investigations, including new information obtained by the Fact Checker, shows Clinton has good reason for making a distinction with Trump.

In other words, [two] State Department probes under Trump knocked Clinton for maintaining a private server for State Department communications — but did not hold her responsible for mishandling classified information.

Of course, all the Benghazi and email server hearings that Clinton had to endure had nothing at all to do with their subject matters, because the current Republican Party doesn't care at all about substance. Everything they do is performance, for political points. And they've been at that so long, in fact, that many Republicans can't fathom that the probe of the XPOTUS's mishandling of classified material has nothing to do with political points and everything to do with the damage that he did to national security.

Writing to alderman and newspaper gets results

Every time I commute to work from the Ravenswood Metra station, I get annoyed. Metra has yet to finish the inbound platform after almost 10 years of delays. So I emailed the alderman to ask why, and CC:d Block Club Chicago, the local news outlet. Reporter Alex Hernandez called me the next morning, and ran this story today:

The Ravenswood Metra station overhaul that began more than a decade ago is hitting yet another bump. 

The $30 million project to renovate 11 bridges along Metra’s Union Pacific North line was announced in 2010. Construction of the western side of the Ravenswood station, 4800 N. Ravenswood Ave., was completed in 2015 — but the rest of the project is ongoing.

Previous delays to the project were caused in part by a polar vortex in 2014 and cuts in funding to Metra in 2010. The work was fully funded in 2020, and officials planned to begin the final phase of the eastern portion of the station in the spring.

But now it’s supply chain issues that are delaying work, Metra spokesperson Meg Reile said. 

“It’s still up in the air because of supply chain issues,” Reile said. “That’s what’s holding up the end of this project.” 

Reile did not provide specifics about what items crews are waiting for, but she said the goal is to complete the eastern side of the Ravenswood station by the end of the year.

Good to know. My conversations with Hernandez Wednesday and yesterday were enlightening to both of us. And today, I actually saw someone in a hard hat and vest working on the platform, though I have no idea what he was doing.

Will the platform open by year's end? Will the Cubs lose 95 games this season? Will any former presidents get indicted this fall? No one can yet know the answer to any of those questions.