The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Third Monday in September

Today might be the last hot day of the year in Chicago. (I hope so, anyway.) While watching the cold front come through out my office window, with the much-needed rain ahead of it, I have lined up some news stories to read later today:

And finally, Metallica has an unexpected show tonight at Metro Chicago, about two kilometers from my house. Tickets are $20. I hope people show up for my board meeting tonight.

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.

I am serious. And don't call me partisan.

Matt Ford points out the surreality of Justice Amy Coney Barrett's appearance at an event with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over the weekend:

If you were a parodist for The Onion, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett Insists Supreme Court Isn’t Partisan at McConnell Center Event” probably wouldn’t even get you a courtesy chuckle from your co-workers at a pitch meeting. Reality, however, clearly has a more surreal sense of humor than any mortal can muster, because this incredible moment of irony is exactly what occurred this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky.

“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” the court’s newest justice reportedly told an audience at an event celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. The center is named for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was present as Barrett spoke, and who has, for these past many years, served as the loyal bagman for the larger conservative judicial project.

conservatives have navigated between the Scylla and Charybdis of judicial politics over the past few decades. They can’t nominate Supreme Court justices whose views are too well known, à la Bork, lest they share his fate. Nor can they throw their support behind nominees whose views on constitutional law are too mysterious, lest they nominate another David Souter, the George H.W. Bush pick who quickly became a reliable liberal justice after his confirmation. One of their solutions to this quandary was social networking: Groups like the Federalist Society function less like the top-down clearinghouse that most liberals imagine it to be and more like a Facebook or LinkedIn for like-minded lawyers.

So, no, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and the rest of the Republican justices don't self-identify as Republicans anymore. But Barrett's claim that they're apolitical is as nonsensical as it seems.

What have we learned?

Elections have consequences. The events of 20 years ago transformed the world in ways I can't imagine happening had the Supreme Court not thrown the 2000 election. Of course, had Al Gore won, the terrorists probably would not have attacked; they wanted the rage and violence that followed as part of their plan to drag the world back to the 12th Century.

But because the president was a draft-dodging chickenhawk, and because his vice-president was a power-hungry paranoid, the terrorists won:

The terms of the debate were set by the Islamic extremists on one side, and Western neoconservatives on the other. People like me found ourselves caught in the middle. Through my entire adolescence and young adulthood, I was forced to distinguish myself from the terrorists, to prove I was one of the “good ones.” George W. Bush had called it a “crusade” against an elusive foe who might be your neighbor. He said that you were either with us or with the terrorists, implying that anyone who did not support the United States was supporting Al Qaeda. Those were the parameters of the post-9/11 era.

Only by getting the West drawn into endless wars abroad, and into plots against enemies at home, could [Osama bin Laden] bankrupt the American behemoth. In the decade since his death, the results have been plain to see: conflict and instability across the greater Middle East; more refugee flows into the West, combined with anti-immigrant violence in response; the rise in America of terrorist attacks carried out by white extremists, goaded on by an authoritarian leader who made a name for himself demonizing Muslims. The surveillance state now has extensive access to every facet of our lives. Trust in political institutions is decaying. Democracy itself is in peril.

[S]omething much worse than terror wounded our society over the last two decades. An essential faith in the future was lost. Perhaps this is true for the end of all empires, and despair always precedes the fall. But if younger generations are to emerge from the darkness of the 9/11 era — and it remains my naïve hope that they will — we must first acknowledge the damage we wrought on ourselves. That was the deepest cut of all.

It helped them that we got everything wrong after 9/11:

The nation’s failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What’s much harder to understand is how—if at all—we can make things right.

The most telling part of September 11, 2001, was the interval between the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m., and the second, at 9:03. In those 17 minutes, the nation’s sheer innocence was on display.

[A]fter that second crash, and then the subsequent ones at the Pentagon and in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, our government panicked. There’s really no other way to say it. Fear spread up the chain of command.

Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.”

[R]emoving the terror cases from traditional federal courts and sending them to military tribunals has still produced no closure for the families of 9/11 victims. So far, none of the alleged 9/11 plotters sitting in Guantánamo have faced trial. Military-commission proceedings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly a mastermind of the attacks, and four co-defendants are still in a pretrial phase.

DHS has the wrong DNA. Unlike the Justice Department, it has no institutional culture rooted in respect for the rule of law. Unsteeped in America’s traditions of freedom and openness, the new department was built to view everything through a lens of “Can it hurt us?” This corrosive mindset became particularly visible on immigration and border-control issues, as a culture of welcoming new citizens and families shifted to one of questioning and suspicion—especially if you happened to have dark skin.

Meanwhile, for all the original talk of banishing evil from the world, the [Global War on Terror's] seemingly exclusive focus on Islamic extremism has led to the neglect of other threats actively killing Americans. In the 20 years since 9/11, thousands of Americans have succumbed to mass killers—just not the ones we went to war against in 2001. The victims have included worshippers in churchessynagogues, and temples; people at shopping mallsmovie theaters, and a Walmart; students and faculty at universities and community colleges; professors at a nursing school; children in elementarymiddle, and high schools; kids at an Amish school and on a Minnesota Native American reservation; nearly 60 concertgoers who were machine-gunned to death from hotel windows in Las Vegas. But none of those massacres were by the Islamic extremists we’d been spending so much time and money to combat.

Looking back after two decades, I can’t escape the conclusion that the enemy we ended up fighting after 9/11 was ourselves.

Other analyses:

And the New York Times has a running blog on the events of today's anniversary.

Lunchtime lineup

It's another beautiful September afternoon, upon which I will capitalize when Cassie and I go to a new stop on the Brews & Choos Project after work. At the moment, however, I am refactoring a large collection of classes that for unfortunate reasons don't support automated testing, and looking forward to a day of debugging my refactoring Monday.

Meanwhile:

And now, more refactoring.

The dignity of the office

Even though no one ever utters the phrase "just when you thought he couldn't stoop lower" about the XPOTUS, this might come close to making you say it:

Former President Donald Trump has signed a contract to provide commentary on a "gamecast" of Saturday's boxing event headlined by Evander Holyfield vs. Vitor Belfort, Triller told ESPN on Tuesday.

His son Donald Trump Jr. will join him at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

Talk about going back to his roots. But after all, who's really signing the contract anyway?

Late birthday present?

If anyone forgot to get me a birthday present last week, Whisky Advocate has a suggestion for you:

Many of us consider an 18 year old scotch a treat, and regard a well-aged 25 or 30 year old expression as an indulgent luxury. These are mere youngsters compared to the new Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80 year old distilled at Glenlivet Distillery. Matured for eight decades, this whisky spans the term of office of 15 U.S. presidents. It was approaching 50 years old when President George H.W. Bush took the oath of office, making him the last sitting president to be older than the whisky, and from Biden back to Clinton, none of the last five presidents were even born when this cask was filled. It’s a Speyside single malt disgorged from a sherry butt filled on February 3, 1940, which extends Gordon & MacPhail’s unbroken run of releasing the world’s oldest whisky, a record the company has held since the launch of the Generations series in 2010.

Gordon & MacPhail will release 250 crystal decanters globally, although the price remains a closely guarded secret ahead of the auction of decanter no. 1 as part of a Generations package going under the hammer at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong on October 7. Proceeds from this single lot will benefit Scottish rewilding charity Trees for Life, whose work involves restoring areas of Caledonian forest habitat to the Scottish Highlands. The winning bidder will receive decanter no. 1 with a set of matching glasses, the framed cask end of the Generations 80 year old Cask no. 340, a signed lithograph of Sir David Adjaye’s original design sketches for Generations, and a whisky tasting with Sir David to celebrate the winner’s new ownership of the whisky. That event will be hosted in London by Stephen Rankin, who is Gordon & MacPhail’s director of prestige and the great-grandson of John Urquhart, who took ownership of the business in 1915.

An example of the previous release, a 75-year-old whisky bottled in 2015, sold at auction last September for a mere £16,000.

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.