| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:21 AM EST

PARKING....Matt Yglesias suggests that conservatives ought to apply free market thinking to issues of urban development:

To my way of thinking an enormous amount of good could be done if conservatives were more interested in applying really basic free market principles to transportation policy. For example, why not allow developers to build as much or as little parking as they want to build when they launch a new development? Why not charge market rates for curbside parking on public streets? How about fewer restrictions on the permitted density of development? Why not reduce congestion on the most-trafficked roads through market pricing of access?

Well, sure. Actually, though, I think conservatives are generally fairly open to the idea of letting developers do whatever they want just on general pandering-to-business-interests grounds. The problem is that the public tends to be rabidly opposed to this kind of thing, and nobody who proposes it has a chance of getting elected (or reelected). So discretion ends up becoming the better part of valor.

Of course, there's also a chicken and egg problem here. You really can't build enormous apartment complexes with little or no parking if everyone who lives in the area owns a car. Nobody will rent your apartments if they can't park their cars, after all. Mass transit is the obvious answer to this, but it's still the case that no one will rent your apartment unless transit is so good that they can ditch their car entirely and therefore don't need a parking place. But in most places mass transit is nowhere near that good, so parking spaces continue to be needed. But as long parking spaces are freely available, the pressure to improve mass transit remains minimal.

What to do? Cities have some pretty good options for improving transit, along with a populace that's less car crazy than the rest of the country, but they usually have huge budgetary constraints. Suburbs and rural areas, conversely, sometimes have the money but seem hopelessly distant from any kind of reasonable solution in anything but the longest term. Here in Orange County, for example, you'd almost literally have to bulldoze the entire place and build anew to get even close to the density you'd need for a decent mass transit system to work.

Maybe motor scooters are the answer. If we all owned one car and one little Vespa out here in suburbia, instead of two cars, we could start cutting back on parking spaces gradually and save gasoline in the process. An electric Vespa with 30 or 40 miles of range on a charge would be even better. Maybe development of a Volt-based scooter ought to be a condition for a GM bailout.

Might not be very popular outside the warm weather south, though. Any other ideas?

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Waxman Wins

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:19 AM EST

WAXMAN WINS....The news keeps getting better and better. The House Democratic caucus just voted 137-122 to replace John Dingell (D–General Motors) as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The new chair will be Henry Waxman, who cares deeply about global warming and will be a huge ally in the fight to get serious carbon legislation passed next year. This is change we can believe in.

Think You Can Run the Minnesota Recount? Here's a Test

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:17 AM EST

Minnesota Public Radio has been photographing ballots in the Franken/Coleman Senate recount to illustrate just how hard it is to determine voter intent. What do you do, for example, when someone votes for Franken but also writes in "Lizard People"? What do you do when someone votes for Franken, but then draws an arrow to the Coleman circle? What do you do when someone doesn't mark a circle, but puts a scribble next to one of the candidates' names? Take a look for yourself here, and vote on whether each ballot should count here. (You know who could run this recount? David Corn. He has experience from Florida in 2000.)

Gutting the Trout

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:12 AM EST

GUTTING THE TROUT....Ezra informs us today that the healthcare insurance industry has blinked. But it's sort of a Sarah Palin blink:

The big news of the day is that the insurance industry has offered a deal: In return for a mandate in which every American must purchase health care coverage, they will stop refusing to sell insurance to those with preexisting conditions. Some deal. They're basically saying that if we legislate that every American must purchase insurance coverage, they will sell insurance coverage, at some price, to every American.

Needless to say, this is a deal that every industry in America would love. Take GM, for example. Why bother bailing them out with taxpayer cash? Just pass a law instead mandating that every American has to buy a Chevy, let GM set the price, and they'd be back in business!

Of course, it's actually worse than that. At least if you mandated car purchases, the car companies would still compete for business by lowering prices. Healthcare companies, conversely, don't want your business if you have a preexisting condition. Why would they? So they'd actually do just the opposite, jacking up prices steadily to ensure that someone else will end up getting your business if you happen to be a diabetic or have a family history of coronary trouble.

Ezra explains all this in more detail, but for now I'll just observe that a blink is a blink, even if the deal on the table is patently ridiculous. It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

Victory on Capitol Hill: Waxman Takes House Energy Committee

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:53 AM EST

henry-waxman250x200.jpg Huge news. Great news. Michigan Representative John Dingell, who has spent over 50 years in the House of Representatives being the auto industry's babysitter, has lost his position as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to the younger and more liberal Henry Waxman. The House Democratic caucus voted by secret ballot this morning. Members had a choice between voting for seniority or the possibility of bold and necessary action on climate change. They made the right choice, 137-122.

Newt Explains It All For You

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:45 AM EST

NEWT EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU....In the Wall Street Journal today, Newt Gingrich and Peter Ferrara tell us why median wages have sucked so badly during the Bush era:

Marginal tax rates for middle-income families in the 25% tax bracket are too high. Add in effective payroll tax rates of 15% and state income taxes, and these workers are laboring under marginal tax rates of close to 50%. No wonder middle-income wage growth has slowed sharply.

Yep, that explains it: George Bush has kept taxes too damn high and no one wants to work anymore. It's analysis like this that has made Newt the conservative visionary he is.

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Who's Really Calling The Shots on The Economic Bailout?

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:30 AM EST

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a non-partisan watchdog group that advocates transparency and accountability in Washington, today fired off a letter to leaders of a half dozen relevant House and Senate committees, requesting more information on how lawmakers decided to approve the $700-billion economic bailout package. Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director, complained of a "continued lack of openness concerning the government's response" to the financial crisis and urged Congress to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place to prevent fraud and abuse.

From the letter:

We take no position on the merits of the various actions over recent months to address the crisis. However, Congress needs to act now to ensure that the ongoing expenditures of billions—even trillions—of the taxpayers' funds are subjected to extraordinary scrutiny.
Too few questions are being asked about the how, and even the why, behind these enormous undertakings. Even when questions do get raised, as at recent hearings, numerous important questions go unanswered. This issue is so critical we feel compelled to urge you to demand those answers, either directly from policymakers and recipients of these taxpayer funds, or through your own independent investigations.
At this writing, nearly half of the $700 billion appropriated under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) has gone out the Treasury's door with little openness. The public needs to know how the beneficiaries of their tax funds are chosen, how conflicts of interest are guarded against, and whether the integrity of the process has been assured...
Our overriding concern is the utter lack of information about who is making critical decisions involving untold billions of taxpayer dollars. It is not clear how banks or other institutions are chosen to be bailed out or allowed to fail. It is a mystery to us and to the public why one industry is favored and another is left to suffer. We are at a loss to understand how particular companies or institutions within particular industries are blessed and others are not. Irrespective of whether the decisions are made by political appointees, career employees, or Members of Congress, the decision-making process has been a nearly perfect black box.

Right-Wing Paranoia About an Obama Supreme Court

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 10:17 AM EST

The conservative legal powerhouse, the Federalist Society, is holding its annual convention in Washington this week. In past years, the group has had smug gatherings highlighting all of its many members who've been installed in lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary and into other top government jobs. It's crowning moment: the confirmation of longtime member Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

This year, though, the right-wing scholars and judges headlining the events seem a bit more subdued. Barack Obama has put a huge brake on their quest to remake the federal courts into bastions of conservative legal thought (and dashed the career plans of a new generation of conservative lawyers). Among the rank and file this morning, talk revolved around fear of the direction the Supreme Court might take under an Obama administration. There was wild speculation that Obama would be replacing moderate liberals like John Paul Stevens (who was actually appointed by Gerald Ford), with "radical leftists."

Dog Helps Orca

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 9:00 PM EST


Photo copyright Fred Felleman

It's been a bad year for the southern resident population of orcas in Puget Sound. Seven have gone missing and are presumed dead. Including the nearly 100-year-old matriarch of K Pod, along with two reproductive-age females vital to the future of the whales. One female, L-67 showed clear signs of emaciation before she disappeared in September. That leaves only 83 animals in this culturally-unique population of orca.

It's been a bad year for salmon too—the primary prey of southern resident orca. Researchers suspect the missing whales may have starved. Now researchers at the U of Washington Center for Conservation Biology are trying to answer that question using a specially trained dog. The Seattle Times reports how Tucker, a black Lab, has been deployed two of the past three summers to track orca scat from the bow of a research boat.

Analysis of hormone levels in the scat suggest mortality among the orca was highest when their thyroid hormone levels were lowest. This means they're malnourished. Katherine Ayres, a UW graduate student working on the study says: "It is interesting and sad. We have a link to what scientists have been saying for a long time."

New DNA Tech May Allow Cloning, Re-Creating Mammoths

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 8:00 PM EST

600px-Mammoth_mg_2805.jpgHave scientists learned nothing from Jurassic Park? A group of genomicists from Pennsylvania State University published research on their experimental procedure that's decoded "a large fraction of the mammoth genome," reports the New York Times. The procedure uses two $500,000 machines to extract genome information from mammoth hair.