Wednesday, August 18, 2010


What you call someone who's been found guilty by a jury of the least serious of a number of charges against them and had the most serious charges end in mistrial after one juror refuses to convict. Blagojevicts and their attorneys often mistakenly and vociferously equate "hung jury" or "mistrial" with "not guilty." In general the more tenuous the jury poll to acquit, for example 11-1 guilty, the louder the Blagojevict and his attorney(s) scream that he was found innocent.

I would like to claim credit for coming up with this term, but a Google search revealed one earlier instance of its usage, in a comment on Huffington Post two years ago.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Iron(y) deficiency

From the Tribune's sports page Thursday afternoon. I'd like to think the headline under the photo of Tiger Woods was intentional, but probably not. At the N.Y. Post, it would have been, but not at the Trib. Tip o' the cap to "Scoop" Davis.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One more thing on CTA parking

This is the sign that greets customers entering the Western Ave. lot on the Orange Line. I guess to the CTA, "All Day" means 12 hours.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CTA Parking – A Missed Opportunity for Change

Today I have been engaged in a fruitless battle to promote logic and transparency in a tiny corner of the universe: Chicago Transit Authority parking lots.

To set the stage, since 2004 I've used park-and-ride lots along the Orange Line as part of my daily commute. It used to be you'd pull into a numbered space and slip your $2, folded neatly, into the corresponding numbered slot in the metal pay boxes located in each lot. In 2009, the fee went up to $4. The parking rates were listed on signs in the lots as being $2 or (later) $4 "Per Day."

One could park in a CTA park-and-ride lot along the Orange Line in the morning, ride the train into downtown, work all day, go to a sporting event or a concert or a movie at night, and return to one's car at 10:30, 11, or later, to find the car still in the lot and ticketless. I can't speak to the odd broken window, because I don't leave anything that even appears to have value in sight in my car. Hence I have never been broken into. Someone did mess with the valve stems in my car once, though, but I digress.

Then in late 2009, the CTA awarded the parking lot management contract to Central Parking Services. CPS eventually installed new electronic pay boxes, making the old metal ones obsolete.

A few weeks ago, shortly after the new electronic pay boxes were installed, new signs were installed above the electronic pay boxes at the Western station indicating the $4 parking rate was for 12 hours. This seemed like a pretty big change, since as I mentioned the old signs indicated the fee was "per day," which to me means 24 hours. A CPS employee checking the boxes one morning said not to worry, that CPS checked the lots after the morning rush hour and later in the afternoon. No one checked them at night.

Then on March 17, as we had many times before, my wife and I parked in the lot at 7:30 a.m., went to work, did an after-work thing and returned to the lot at about 8:20 p.m. Only this time someone named "Fabian" had carefully placed a computer-printed $49 ticket in an envelope under the driver's side windshield wiper. We had overstayed our 12-hour limit, according to the ticket.

I was fuming. I thought the CTA had just doubled the parking rate again after doubling it in 2009 from $2 to $4. I began poking around the Internet and found this story about the new pay boxes, which makes reference to the $4 "per day" rate. I looked around the CTA web site, but somehow missed this item from 2008, which clearly mentions the 12-hour limit at Orange Line and other lots, and this page, which details parking rates. Had I found either, it would have come as a shock, given that I'd never received a ticket for exceeding a 12-hour time limit on parking.

I fired off an angry email to the CTA Tattler's Kevin O'Neil. He asked the CTA about it and was told that Orange Line lots always had 12-hour time limits, and thus there had been no change in rates or policy. Which is technically true, so I really don't have much on which to hang my hat of indignation.

Except for this: As I mentioned, up until a few weeks ago none of the parking signs that I had seen in the CTA Orange Line lots included a reference to a 12-hour limit. They all read "Per Day." Even the CTA's own 2009 announcement of the change in the parking lot servicing vendors makes reference to the $4 figure, but without including a time frame:

"Parking is available for approximately 6,600 cars at facilities adjacent to 17 CTA rail stations throughout the CTA system. Rates are $5 at Rosemont and Forest Park and $4 at all other locations."

Not "$4 per 12 hours," not even "$4 per day." It's as if it was intentionally left vague, but more likely whomever wrote it didn't feel the need to explain further. The rates are what they are, everyone must already know the time frames, or have access to the Internet to look them up.

So I'm going to have to eat it on the 12-hour thing, because even though it was not well-publicized in the lots, to put it mildly (a more jaded person might say "even though the CTA misled people"), there is in fact documentation on the Internet in which the CTA notes the 12-hour limit. So I'm wrong.

But here are a couple of questions I've been thinking about as I have pondered my wrongness:

1. Where is the logic in the 12-hour time limit? A CTA spokesperson told the CTA Tattler's Kevin O'Neil that the CTA wants to discourage overnight parking by airport users, so as to make more spaces available to morning commuters. OK, fine. Good intent. But what difference does a 12-hour time limit make? Just make the cutoff midnight and ticket everyone in the lot at 12:01 a.m. who hasn't yet paid for that day. Problem solved.

2. Once the CTA applies No. 1, it could easily throw out the antiquated notion of only allowing customers to purchase time in 12-hour blocks. This supposes that the only people using mass transit work 9-to-5 jobs downtown and want to get home for dinner. And maybe that was true, but not for at least the last decade or so. Today's mass transit users likely to want to stay downtown after work and enjoy its amenities, or just as likely they may be unable to fit their commute and workday into a 12-hour window. A 12-hour time limit on parking only serves to drive them into their cars and onto the roads.

If we're following the hard midnight cutoff rule, as long as there is more time between when I park and midnight than time I want to buy, I should be able to buy that time. Obviously the technology exists to make that happen. Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the company that won the right to lease the City of Chicago's street parking system, just got through installing machines that allow people to buy time in 15-minute increments. I suspect these new CPS machines in the CTA lots could be programmed to dole out time by the hour. They've somehow figured it out at the Cumberland lot on the Blue Line.

Think, people. Just a little bit. Is there any room left for common sense and logic?

I'm not under any illusion that writing about this will accomplish anything. I don't have that kind of reach or influence. I'm sure I've worn out my welcome with Kevin O'Neil. I sent a note to the Tribune's transportation writer, Jon Hilkevitch, earlier this afternoon hoping he'd write about this parking thing in his "Getting Around" column, but I repeated some of the same misinformation in that note that I sent to O'Neil. I've come across as exactly the kind of ill-informed hothead I used to hate when I was a reporter, and I've fucked myself into irrelevance on this issue in the process.

And so the CTA will continue to charge $4 for 12 hours of parking, thus requiring commuters to plug the meter again after 12 hours. That will force at least this proponent of public transportation into his car on any day he has after-work plans. It's just so stupid and short-sighted. And for what? So that a few people won't park overnight in CTA lots? Jesus Christ, the lots along the Orange Line are more than half-empty these days as it is. Besides, prohibiting people from parking overnight is an easy enforcement issue; it doesn't have to be a rate issue.

But nothing will change. Institutional myopia.

If the CTA doesn't learn anything, though, at least I have. Instead of firing off angry and indignant emails looking to right what to me are obvious wrongs, and making incorrect statements and assertions in the process, I'm going to back off, calm down and come correct. The only real way to fight the avalanche of injustice and stupidity we encounter every day is with facts and reason. Passion is essential, but it must be rooted in truth.

It is from this point that I march forward.

The Indignant Citizen

Monday, March 08, 2010

Secret Senate, Part Deux

"America's politics remain corrupt, populated by nonentities whose main concern once elected is to stay elected...."
- Simon Heffer, writing in the London Telegraph

In this edition, I extend an olive branch to Senator Cullerton, and ask a few more pointed questions.

Dear Senator Cullerton,

It's been more than two weeks since I wrote you about the closed-to-the-public caucus meeting to discuss state and national budgeting issues. I had also written to my state senator, Ed Maloney, asking whether he supported your reasoning behind closing the caucus meeting. I never heard back from either of you.

Admittedly, I didn't really expect to. You're both busy with state business … or maybe in your case with your lobbying business. If I were a cynic, I'd say your failure to respond is tied to the fact that neither you nor Sen. Maloney is up for election this year. In the political calculation it seems constituents are only worth paying attention to when they can offer something to a politician. For those of us constituents without money or connections, that "something" is a vote, and in an off-election year a vote ain't worth much. Certainly not the time to craft a response to a question, much less a complaint.

What am I saying … "if" I were a cynic. I AM a cynic! I used to be just a practiced skeptic. Lately, though, I've fallen off the wall and landed with a thud among the cynics. They are My People. Perhaps that came through in my earlier note to you, and probably this one, too. So maybe we've gotten off on the wrong foot, here.

After all, as someone who doesn't live in your district and doesn't contribute to your political campaign, what right have I to address you and expect a response? None. Sen. Maloney is another matter. I do expect a response from him, and I'm sending him a separate note telling him so. But you, Sen. Cullerton, you've got no reason to reply to one of what I assume had to be hundreds, maybe thousands of emails and letters and phone calls criticizing your decision to call the Illinois State Senate together in a closed session under the guise of calling it a "caucus meeting." No doubt there was a good amount of criticism leveled at your defense of the meeting, as well.

Although frankly I don't understand why you didn't have your staff draft a generic letter reiterating your defense of the meeting and at the same time acknowledging the public outrage and vowing never to do it again. Then I figured you probably plan to do it again, so why bother lying? In political terms, that's pretty stark honesty and in a way I oddly respect it; in the same way that some people come to understand that happiness is merely the remission of pain.

Perhaps that's some ground upon which we can forge a new relationship.

Wow, OK, that feels better. I feel less like a demanding ogre and hopefully you don't feel like I'm unfairly attacking you this time. So with the figurative goodwill hug and mutual back patting out of the way, let me ask you: What did you and your senate colleagues learn from that meeting? In corporate parlance, what was the take-away? And how will whatever you learned affect how you approach the upcoming budget negotiations?

Please don't feel like you have to respond to me directly; lord knows you don't have the time for that. But an op-ed in local newspapers would do, or a position paper distributed via your web site. After I'm just a person, like many others, trying to understand the process, and concerned, as I'm sure you are, about a $13 billion deficit in a $53 billion budget.


The Indignant Citizen

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Secret Senate

In response to this story today in the Tribune - Illinois Senate holds private meeting at statehouse - I drafted this letter to Senate President John Cullerton:

Dear Senator Cullerton,

I read with interest in today's Chicago Tribune news of the Illinois Senate's closed-to-the-media (and by extension the public) caucus meeting to discuss state and national budgeting issues. In particular I noted this quote, attributed to you:

"You're missing the whole point," Cullerton said.

"This is meant to be one where just the senators are there to get information, but where they can also feel they can ask questions and ...have a free exchange of ideas without having to be worried about what the press might report."

With all due respect, sir, it's you who is missing the point; you and any of your senate colleagues who support a closed-door meeting to discuss issues clearly of interest to the public. I'm not sure which made me more angry: the meeting itself or your lazy, stupid and contemptuous justification for it. Ideas are free to be exchanged in any setting, regardless of who's nearby and whether or not they're carrying notepads and recorders. The only thing that prevents the free exchange of ideas in any setting is a lack of courage. The idea that elected officials need to be sheltered from the press to speak freely is laughable. Or maybe just cowardly.

You're not there to sound good; you're there to run the government ... in the open, not in secret. When government operates in secret, the seeds of distrust are sown. It should be evident by now that the long tradition of secrecy in Illinois government hasn't worked, at least not fiscally, and certainly not for the majority of us who aren't politically connected. It's time to try openness for a change. Rest assured I will work with whomever I need to - in the 6th District, the 18th District or anywhere else - to ensure you and any other senator who believes in the justification for this closed-door meeting today are voted out of office. You don't represent me, and for that I am thankful. (I will be contacting Sen. Maloney and asking whether he favored this meeting today and supported your feeble justification.) But as the Senate President, you are responsible to constituents outside your district. In this act today you were irresponsible.


The Indignant Citizen

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The 80-20 rule of Public Service

The Tribune today published a story about a conviction in the case of a plumbing inspector accused of taking bribes to look the other way at a condo construction site. I posted a comment about the story: "This is dog-bites-man stuff. Find me the city inspector that's NOT on the take, and write a feature story about that person. If he or she exists."

Later, "Anon" posted a comment about the same story that partly responded to my comment. "Indignant, there are some great inspectors and honest people at City Hall. And then there's the slime. But don't paint everyone with such a broad brush."

True enough, Anon, and I apologize for using my broad brush. Look, I know 80 percent of the people in the world are either honest and caring or at least benign enough to not be overtly harmful. But the sheer greed, arrogance, stupidity and indifference of the other 20 percent is blinding sometimes.

The bald truth is that corruption is allowed to fester and infect an organization because it's accepted at the top, either openly (Cook County, the State of Illinois) or tacitly (the city of Chicago). From where I sit, at the table with the other everymen forced to watch the accelerating decay of the institutions through which we govern and serve, it's a sickening thing to read about another in a long line of corrupt officials more concerned with lining their own pockets than serving the public. And it's easy to forget the 20 part of the "80-20 rule."

So to all those public servants actually serving the public, and not expecting anything but gratitude and a government paycheck in return, thank you. To the Mario Olivellas of the world, go fuck yourselves.

The Indignant Citizen

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Admittedly, it was an easy call. But still, it feels good to be right. Specifically, this part:

  • At 10:22 p.m., Stroger’s lead has shrunk to nine points, 54% to 45%.

  • Shortly before that, Gov. Rod Blagojevich told his supporters during his victory speech that Illinois residents “ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.” He’s probably right. We haven’t seen a sitting governor indicted in a while, for instance, and we ain’t seen “Gov. Pat Quinn” yet, either.

    The Indignant Citizen