Parking Meter Hell

PARKING METER HELL....One of the favorite topics of the urbanist bloc in the liberal blogosphere is the bane of cheap parking. Their complaint is that by underpricing the scarce resource of parking, we encourage the overuse of cars and discourage drivers from switching to mass transit. This could be (partially) addressed by charging market rates for parking, but how do we get cities to do this?

Answer: do what Chicago is doing and turn over your parking meters to the rapacious private sector:

At most meters, where a single quarter now buys 60 minutes, the charge will spike to $1 per hour. And by 2013, it will cost $2 an hour to park at those same spaces.

The most expensive spots downtown will increase from $3 an hour to $6.50 the next five years under a lease deal Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday.

Despite the rate hikes, Daley hailed the parking meter plan as an innovative approach to surviving the city's deepening budget woes. A private company has agreed to give City Hall an upfront payment of almost $1.2 billion to run Chicago's parking meter system for the next 75 years.

75 years seems a wee bit excessive to me, and will almost certainly bite Daley in the ass when Morgan Stanley, which put together the winning consortium, packages up the parking meter revenue, securitizes it, rolls it into an asset-backed CPMO (collateralized parking meter obligation), puts the super-senior tranche into an off-balance-sheet vehicle, hedges the rest via a CDS-backed synthetic CDO, and then resells the whole thing within 12 months to a sovereign wealth fund in Dubai for $5 billion.

(I'm joking. I think. But not about the 75-year part, which really is ridiculous. Chicago should do a shorter term deal for less money and then let it out for new bids in a decade or so. They're almost certainly paying a hefty discount to account for the fact that Morgan Stanley has no real idea what this revenue stream will be worth 75 years from now.)

This all comes via Barbara Kiviat, and the urbanist folks should also check out this dude, who is seriously pissed off at Daley's evident hatred for Chicago drivers and provides chapter and verse of Daley's malefactions. He may be incensed, but the urbanists will find plenty to like.

Cap and Trade

CAP AND TRADE....During the campaign, Barack Obama committed himself to supporting a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions. It'll be tough getting that through Congress, though, so how about just ordering the EPA to put together a program on its own under the aegis of the Clean Air Act and skipping legislation entirely? David Roberts runs down the pros and cons over at Gristmill, but I want to skip immediately down to his last point:

Real disadvantage: public deliberation

One doesn't want to be sentimental, but there is something to the argument that shift of this significance should be discussed in public and shaped by the public's elected representatives. It would be nice, in an ideal world, if reasoned debate and discussion and interest-balancing yielded the perfect program.

But in this world, we're perilously late getting underway and Obama must weigh America's procedural ideals against what a wise man once called the "fierce urgency of now." Whatever it's other merits, the Clean Air Act is now.

I think this is more than just sentimental. Cap-and-trade is a very, very big program, and it just flatly shouldn't be implemented via executive fiat. We liberals are already fuming over George Bush's relatively minor last-minute executive orders, after all, and this would be the granddaddy of all executive orders. It deserves public debate, it deserves the permanence of congressional legislation, it deserves to be a genuinely national program (not a kludgy jumble of state initiatives, which is how it would have to work under CAA), and it deserves the chance to get genuine public support in the process. I've long thought that liberals tend to pay too little attention to public opinion, and this is a serious mistake since big, longlasting change never really happens without it. This is no exception. If we really believe in carbon reduction via cap and trade, we need to persuade the American public that it's a good idea. A cap-and-trade bill should be the kind of landmark legislation that our kids talk about, not a furtive agency rule slipped in quietly via the back door.

On a more practical note, I wonder if it would really be any faster doing it via the CAA anyway. Thanks to Bush's stonewalling, the rulemaking process for carbon regulation hasn't really even started yet, and that process doesn't happen overnight. I wouldn't be surprised if congressional legislation could actually happen faster than an EPA initiative.

Note to Fashion World: Michelle Obama Is Black

Womens' Wear Daily commissioned top designers to 'dress' Michelle Obama in her role as First Lady. I'm with Slate's Julia Turner: Why'd so many draw her as a shiksa?

I get that these drawings are stylizations but, to design for someone individually sorta requires you to deal with their skin tone, right? Would they drape a 'winter' in 'summer' colors? A few of the drawings make her downright Nubian, but a suspicious few too many have re-imagined her no darker than a color best described as "geisha".

Why? When they design for white folks, do the skin tones in the drawings vary far from alabaster? One hates to get all psychological on a Thursday, but are these artists 'helping' her by making her whiter (and thus 'capable' of beauty) or are they so squeamish in imagining a sister in couture that they have to whitewash her to make her 'worthy' of high fashion?

Check out the drawings yourself. Maybe I'm overreacting.

Nah. We're looking at some Freudian slips here.

Okay, after that brief foray into serious music (allegedly), we could use a bit of nutty internet video-style distraction. If you've ever wondered what hipster band a Muppet should cover, why strippers weren't more mechanical, how to mix 8,000 songs together with a thimble, or what walruses do in their spare time, click "continues."

Fiddling While Our University System Burns

The conservatives over at The City Journal are mourning the death of the classical university education:

...in recent decades, classical and traditional liberal arts education has begun to erode, and a variety of unexpected consequences have followed. The academic battle has now gone beyond the in-house "culture wars" of the 1980s. Though the argument over politically correct curricula, controversial faculty appointments, and the traditional mission of the university is ongoing, the university now finds itself being bypassed technologically, conceptually, and culturally, in ways both welcome and disturbing.

It's no big deal though. Our kids won't be able to afford to go to college. From NYT:

November Sales

NOVEMBER SALES....Actual retail sales figures for November are in:

Major retailers such as Macy's, Abercrombie & Fitch and GAP reported sales declines of more than 10% in November....Shops hoped that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, would jump-start consumer outlay but industry experts were downbeat.

....ShopperTrak, a retail monitoring firm, said total sales at US retailers rose 1% during the Black Friday weekend but analysts believe much of that gain will have been stoked by deep discounts and will hit profits....The International Council of Shopping Centers, which represents stores including GAP and JCPenney, said sales at 37 major retailers fell 2.7% over November — the worst start to the holiday season in 35 years.

Given this, does anyone even remotely believe the National Retail Federation's annual Black Friday estimate, which suggests that retail sales over the Thanksgiving weekend were up 20% this year? Media outlets, as usual, reported the NRF's numbers as gospel, but I'd suggest that in the future they should simply toss them in the waste bin. As near as I can tell, they have no basis in reality at all.

Grammy Nominees Not Terrible?

mojo-photo-grammys.jpgAs everyone knows, the Grammys are dumb. I've mocked the ceremony (and also an imagined ceremony in my brain) as well as the tendency of the lists of nominees to look like a stoned 80-year-old decided them. So, granted, my expectations are very low, but a quick glance at this year's nods has left me with a distinct lack of disgust, and my eyebrows might have even gone up a bit in appreciation. Just a little!

eliot-spitzer-250x200.jpg

It's easy to snicker at Slate magazine for signing up Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor and onetime john, as a regular columnist. But judging from Spitzer's first outing, it was a master stroke.

The manner in which Spitzer crashed and burned has essentially wiped out the pre-prostitution portion of the Spitzer tale, which included his longtime stint as a critic of corporate excesses. But Spitzer's opening column in Slate is a reminder that in these days of multi-billion-dollar bailouts, there are few powerful and knowledgeable figures in government raising the appropriate questions and challenging the save-the-rich orthodoxy.

From his Slate piece:

Yet More News From Canada

YET MORE NEWS FROM CANADA....Unions support card check legislation because they think it will make it easier to organize new industries. Business leaders dislike card check for the same reason. But what they say is that card check is bad because it allows union organizers to intimidate workers into signing cards. Now, business leaders are well-known for their tender sensibilities toward worker rights, but Jonathan Zasloff decided to check up on the intimidation story anyway:

For 50 years, from the 40's to the 90's. the province of Ontario had a card-check organizing system....So what was the record there?

I used advanced research techniques unknown to many reporters, and called up Harry Arthurs of York University, Canada's pre-eminent labour law scholar. Arthurs literally wrote the book on this stuff. And I asked him: what does the evidence show?

Arthurs answered that in all of his research about labour law complaints under card check, he could not find a single case where the employer complained of a union intimidating workers to unionize when they didn't want to.

That's right: zero. Zilch. Nada. Efes. Rien.

....This isn't some obscure jurisdiction. It's Ontario, the largest and richest province in the country. 50 years. A half a century. Zero.

Look: unions aren't perfect. Nothing is perfect. The financial industry, just to pick an example out of my hat, is obviously wildly imperfect, but that doesn't mean we should get rid of the private financial industry. It just means we should regulate it to avoid some of its worst pathologies.

Ditto for unions. If anyone has a better mechanism for giving workers more bargaining clout and therefore higher wages, I'm all ears. Anyone who thinks collective bargaining is a good idea but believes we ought to reform the Wagner Act, I'll listen to them too. But the evidence of the past 30 years makes it pretty clear that productivity growth and improved education aren't nearly enough on their own to keep median wages growing. Neither is unionization, for that matter. But at least it pushes in the right direction. If card check helps that along, I'm all for it.

Sugar Daddy Redux

Nearly a year ago, Mother Jones covered the employment opportunities available to hot young hookers via websites like SugarDaddy.com. Today a college senior tells the Daily Beast all about her own arrangement with one such sugar daddy, who made her a sexy proposition she couldn't refuse. After all, she had "tried working, but in retail, surrounded by temptation all day, I spent more than I made. Waiting tables was exhausting."

Seriously, you guys, working and spending within your means is HARD. And certainly all of the sex workers I know would disagree with the implication that sex work isn't physically and emotionally demanding, too. Not that this classy college student considers her "relationship" sex work. The most she'll concede is that it's "maybe even the distant cousin of—dare I say it?—prostitution."

No, please, you best not dare say that, since having sex with somebody you wouldn't have sex with if they weren't throwing loads of money at you for it is not so much a faraway relative of prostitution as it is rampant prostitution. Listen. When the great depression of aught eight kicks in to full gear, we may all have to start screwing old rich guys for money. But let's call it what it is. There ain't no shame in the sex-work game, but there is something sad, and alarming, about smart men and women saying that keeping or being a 20-year-old call girl on a personal payroll is simply a natural, apolitical, magnanimous situation all around.