New Palin Expenses Are... Curious

Politico reports that the RNC spent an additional $30,000 on clothes and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family late in the campaign, in addition to the $150,000 previously reported. Take a look at where the money was spent:

The RNC's post-Election Day report documented another $30,000 at outlets that read like a suburban shopping directory.
Dick's Sporting Goods, The Limited, Foot Locker, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Victoria's Secret are all listed in between the expected payments for media buys, direct mail and polling.

Sporting goods? Toys? Lingerie? In what conceivable way could these expenses be related to the campaign? I think it's a bit excessive that Palin's traveling makeup artist got paid $68,400 for roughly three months of work, and that her hair stylist got paid more than $42,000 for about two, but at least those expenses have a bearing on how Palin looked in rallies, interviews, and other campaign-related activities. What does Victoria's Secret sell that was relevant to the campaign?

Why Tina Fey Had to Get All Tarted Up

Like most of America, I've got a ginormous girl crush on Tina Fey. 30 Rock is among the best, smartest, bravest, and most honest shows on TV, not to mention snort-Coke-thru-your-schnoz funny. I really didn't think Fey would pull it off, and was surprised by how much the show hooked me. It's the only one I ever rewind to experience the whipsmart repartee twice. (The episode that changed me from time-killer to stalker-fan contained this piece from Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, Fey's bizarre TV boss: "I don't know what happened in your life that caused you to develop a sense of humor as a coping mechanism. Maybe it was some sort of brace or corrective boot you wore during childhood, but in any case I'm glad you're on my team." I was in love. The New Yorker isn't though.)

And, of course, then came Fey's Palin impression and now she's a bona fide superstar, the proof of which is her Vanity Fair cover and her $5M book deal.

The chick-o-sphere is all over it. Check out Slate's XX here and here for links to the piece and all the great commentary surrounding it.

The nub of the discussion is the profile's near-relentless focus on Fey's 30-pound weight loss and beauty makeover. Would she be a superstar now had she remained merely insanely talented and ruthlessly hardworking ? Apparently not, if the piece—and Fey's pragmatic self—are to be believed.

I always found her low cut blouses and super tight cocktail dresses...distressing.

In an 11th hour move, the Bush Administration today reversed an old federal rule that would have allowed Congress to take action to protect the Grand Canyon from a rash of new uranium mining claims. Driven by renewed national interest in nuclear power, the number of uranium claims staked within five miles of the Grand Canyon has increased from 10 in 2003 to 1,181 as of this October. Rampant mining near the Canyon would threaten the water quality of the Colorado River, potentially jeopardizing the drinking water supply of millions of residents in Las Vegas and Southern California. Prompted in part by the concerns of local water agencies, in June the House Committee on Natural Resources invoked its right under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act to withdraw the mining claims. But the Bureau of Land Management refused to implement the order, and the Bush Administration's rule change today gives it official authority to thumb its nose at Congress.

Ultimately, Bush's move will probably do more to increase his radioactivity with voters than it will to heat up the tap water in Las Vegas; the Obama Administration will certainly reverse Bush's reversal. But more important, the Grand Canyon flap underscores the hopeless antiquity of the nation's mining laws. The General Mining Law of 1872, which was written by Nevada's first senator and signed into law by President Grant, enshrines mining as the "highest and best use" on 350 million acres of federal land. It also allows mining companies to cart off public minerals without paying a cent of royalties. Efforts to reform the law began almost as soon as it passed and have failed at ever turn, including this year, when a reform bill was to have been introduced in the Senate but wasn't. But with Bush-era environmental horrors fresh on the mind, and public coffers emptied, expect that to change in the coming session.

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!