WATCHING THE SKY FALL....Michael Shnayerson writes in Vanity Fair this month about the nouveau poore on Wall Street:

One former Lehman executive in her 40s stood in her vast clothes closet not long ago, talking to her personal stylist. On shelves around her were at least 10 designer handbags that had cost her anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 each.

"I don't know what to do," she said. "I guess I'll have to get rid of the maid."

Why not sell a few of those bags?, the stylist thought, but didn't say so.

"Well," the executive said after a moment, "I guess I'll cut her from five days a week to four."

There's good entertainment value here if you're looking for a few minutes of escape and fully justified schadenfreude from today's grim news.

On another note, it appears that one piece of fallout from the Wall Street collapse is that there are loads of huge penthouse suites available now at fire sale prices. Sadly, I won't be moving into one of them. Aside from being a wee bit short of the circa $10 million fire sale prices, when I mentioned this to Marian the other day she told me that she wouldn't want to live 50 stories up in the air anyway. What a drag. I think it would be great. But even if I scrape together the scratch, it looks like it will never happen. Another dream shattered.

WHEN HIS LIPS ARE MOVING....In a mere few months, Henry Kissinger has gone from lying about Barack Obama to sucking up to him. Helluva guy. And that's not unreliable lefty blogger me saying that Kissinger was lying, it's sober, mainstream Time reporter Karen Tumulty saying it. So don't fall for it, Mr. President-Elect.

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Matt Yglesias, on the argument that the collapse of Wall Street was a systemic problem, not a personal one:

If nothing the CEOs and top fund managers are doing makes them worthy of taking the blame when the crash hits, then they also don't deserve nearly the share of the credit — and money — that they got while things were going up.

Quite so. Street crime might be a systemic problem caused by drugs or poverty or whatnot, and that means that it makes sense to attack those root causes. But we still put muggers in jail while we're working on the other stuff.

CrossingWallStreet.com has a neat catch.

Total Democratic Presidential Votes Since 1932: 745,407,082
Total Republican Presidential Votes Since 1932: 745,297,123

That difference, 109,959 votes out of 1.5 billion cast, is 0.00733 percent. Next time a conservative tells you we're a center-right country, tell them numbers exist. And they say we're pretty well split.

We point out when Republicans abuse their power in ways that ought to get them kicked out of office, so we have a responsibility to do the same for Democrats. Time to go, Charlie Rangel.

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?

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.