Cheap Parking

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 12:28 PM EST

CHEAP PARKING....One of Matt Yglesias's hobbyhorses is the scourge of cheap parking, and today he explains how mispriced parking can hurt downtown businesses:

On the one hand, meters might be so expensive that there are just tons and tons of vacant parking spaces haunting downtown. In this case, the high price of parking is keeping customers away from stores and the meter rates are [too] high. On the other hand, meters might be so cheap that convenient street parking is rarely available and drivers leave their cars parked for long stretches of time. In this case, the low price of parking is creating parking shortages and low turnover, keeping customers away from stores.

As a born and bred suburbanite, my reaction naturally is, "What are these parking meters you speak of?" Here in The OC, when you want to park your V-8 Cadillac Escalade, you just cruise through a vast expanse of asphalt until you find a suitable spot. What's to meter?

But I guess you city slickers do things differently, don't you? So here's my question: what's the best way to figure out a market price for parking? Surely someone has done this, haven't they? Electronic meters that adjust pricing to different times of day? Experiments with different prices? Studies of how many open spaces there are at different times and places? What? There must be some clever answer.

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Wall Street Blues

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 12:09 PM EST

WALL STREET BLUES....Given the increasingly grim economic news, Felix Salmon wonders why the stock market is up 20% over the past couple of months:

My feeling, mainstream as it may be, is that stocks are drifting upwards in blissful ignorance of reality, much as they did for nearly all of 2007, even after the credit crisis first hit. The panic sellers and the people desperately needing liquidity have left, volumes have fallen (as they always do around the holidays, no news there), and volatility has decreased. And so both value and momentum players are feeling increasingly comfortable rotating back in to the market.

But if the recession gets to be as bad as people are increasingly expecting, fundamentals will eventually start asserting themselves — and if we're unlucky, they'll do so in a violent downward manner, much as they did last fall.

Somebody yesterday was asking the same question — when will stocks start heading down again? — and the answer is pretty obvious: when earnings season rolls around and we learn just how bad corporate profits are these days. Time Warner and Intel issued profit warnings yesterday and the market dropped 3%. Today Walmart downgraded its profit projection for the fourth quarter and major retailers all reported that December was as dismal a month as they've ever had. In a few weeks, when earnings start getting reported more widely, there's going to be blood on the streets.

White House Replica in Foreclosure

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 11:59 AM EST


It's not the real thing, but it's about as close as most of us will ever get. Iranian-American developer Fred Milani, citing the dismal state of the housing market, is putting his 16,500 square-foot replica of the White House in Atlanta up for sale. "I don't want to sell, but I will," he told UPI. The house is apparently in foreclosure. No word on whether the faux-White House comes with a staff of butlers and chefs. But hey, you'll just have to make do.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from wharman.

Video: Explaining NY's "Obesity Tax" on Non-Diet Sodas

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 11:54 AM EST

The New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Richard Daines, is going to break it down for you. Yes, that tax on non-diet soda that New York Governor David Paterson is proposing feels a bit heavy-handed in these difficult economic times. Yes, it seems silly (and statist!) to try and direct people's consumption habits. But listen up: Americans drink roughly six cans of soda more per week than they did in 1970. That translates to 13 pounds of straight sugar and 21,000 additional calories per year! I learned that and more from Dr. Daines and his awesome visual aides in the video below. (Courtesy of the U.S. Food Policy blog.) I encourage you to take a look.

The Fairness Doctrine

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 11:24 AM EST

THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE....Steve Benen passes along the news that a small gaggle of Republican congressmen are continuing to obsess over the possibility that the Fairness Doctrine might make a comeback. I assume Rush Limbaugh is bloviating daily about this too. I'm torn on what to do.

Option A: Let 'em rant. These guys need something to harangue their base about, and this is fairly harmless. It keeps them off the street and away from the matches.

Option B: Let 'em have their way. Stick in a Fairness Doctrine ban as an amendment to some random bill and pass it. I'm opposed to the Fairness Doctrine, so I wouldn't mind, and nearly all Democrats are opposed to it too. It's a freebie that will make David Broder happy, soothe the bipartisan waters, and shut up the conspiracy theorists.

I guess I Iean toward Option B. It was entertaining for a while, but I'm bored hearing about this nonsense. Go ahead and throw the whack jobs a bone.

Updated Senate Phone List Erases Norm Coleman

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 11:09 AM EST

The Democratic Senate leadership is doing everything it can to pretend that Norm Coleman doesn't exist. It shut down his Capitol Hill office earlier this week, and a Senate source provides Mother Jones with a copy of an updated phone list (pdf) sent out Thursday by the Sargeant-at-Arms that makes no mention of the mostly-defeated Coleman.

Coleman's term officially expired over the weekend, and Al Franken hasn't been sworn in, meaning that Minnesota has only one senator on the list.


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Corn on Will Congress Treat Panetta Like a Pinata?

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 10:44 AM EST

On this episode of, David Corn and James Pinkerton discuss why the Panetta pick could set up a nasty confirmation fight. Watch:

Why CIA chief is a lousy job:

Invade the Caymans!

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 12:44 AM EST

INVADE THE CAYMANS!....In our current issue David Cay Johnston has a great piece about all the tax loopholes we ought to close as we tackle the long-term reengineering of our fiscal system. Here's my favorite:

The Obama administration could tell the Caymans — now fifth in the world in bank deposits — to repeal its bank secrecy laws or be invaded; since the island nation's total armed forces consists of about 300 police officers, it shouldn't be hard for technicians and auditors, accompanied by a few Marines, to fly in and seize all the records. Bermuda, which relies on the Royal Navy for its military, could be next, and so on. Long before we get to Switzerland and Luxembourg, their governments should have gotten the message.

Barring gunboat diplomacy (tempting as it is), there is no reason we cannot pass laws to block financial transactions with tax havens or even, Cuba-style, make it a crime for Americans to visit or do business with them without special permission. Congress could declare the hiding of funds a threat to national security and require that anyone with offshore assets disclose them to the IRS within 30 days and pay taxes, interest, and penalties within 180 days. For the holdouts, temporary special teams in the IRS and Justice Department could speedily pursue civil or criminal charges.

Boo yah! Other (slightly less bloodthirsty) suggestions include rules preventing companies from keeping two sets of books; increasing top marginal rates on the super-rich; reining in abuse of tax deferrals; ending utility scams (a new one to me); ditching the home mortgage deduction (good luck with that); bringing back usury laws; ending the burglar alarm subsidy (seriously); and a whole slew of others. A great read.

The Housing Market

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 11:55 PM EST

THE HOUSING MARKET.....Barack Obama talks to the New York Times:

He said that he intended to propose a broad overhaul of financial regulation by April, and that he was working with Congressional leaders on his promised plan to limit foreclosures in the wake of the mortgage crisis.

"We've got to prevent the continuing deterioration of the housing market," he said.

But that's not true. Housing prices are still well above where they ought to be. Unfortunately, they need to deteriorate some more.

This is the big problem with efforts to rescue homeowners rather than banks. It makes sense that if banks have lots of assets that are toxic because they're based on uncertain house values, then rather than bailing out the banks directly we should just do something to make house prices more certain. Mortgage-backed assets would become easier to value, bank balance sheets would firm up, credit markets would start to ease, and distressed homeowners would get relief in the process. It's a win-win.

Except for one thing: we don't want to prop up housing prices at their current unsustainable levels, and we probably couldn't do it even if we wanted to. Rather, we need to find ways to help out homeowners even though prices are going to continue to deteriorate for a while. That's pretty tricky, though, since anything you do to rescue homeowners also has a tendency to keep house prices propped up.

Still, some things are better than others. Programs that motivate lenders to reach workout agreements with owners who are underwater probably have the biggest bang for the buck, and hopefully that's the kind of thing Obama has in mind. But whatever it is, it better not be something that tries to hold back the tide of falling house prices. It didn't work for King Canute and it won't work for President Obama either.

Attention Spans

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 5:50 PM EST

ATTENTION SPANS....Mike O'Hare is unhappy about decreasing attention spans and what that means for the news business. I couldn't quite make it through his entire post1, but here's his conclusion:

Maybe a workable business/technology model can be created for digital newspapers, but the newspaper itself cannot be the same as the once-a-day package of lots of long stories and a 'readership' of googlers and texters may just not support the journalism on which a democracy depends.

....I am quite down about all this. It drives me nuts that my students have almost never engaged with a work of art or explication for more than the length of a music video; I assign them one of Wagner's longer operas and their mental state becomes a little labile, understandably, but even a ninety-minute class discussion often pushes the new limits of attention. I don't know how to get our arms around the facts of declining-marginal-cost goods in three-minute blips.

My mother was a fourth-grade teacher, and she told me once that when she started teaching (circa 1970) she could schedule activities for a maximum of 30 minutes before the kids got too antsy to control. By the time she retired (circa 2000), that was down to 15 minutes. I've long been of the opinion that there's an upside to this (primarily a better ability to multitask), but I confess that I'm less and less sure of that these days.

1Just a wee joke.