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April 25, 2014

panynj/3 wtc vote tabled

Following up on that Port Authority issue, the vote that was scheduled on Wednesday, on whether the PANYNJ would guarantee construction fees for the privately-owned and largely unrented 3 WTC was tabled.  It was not scrapped, however.  Speculation is that they won't bring it to a vote if they know it won't pass.

And while we're here, here is a profile of the Commissioner who's leading the fight against WTC3 inside the PANYNJ, Ken Lipper.  He's the reason we're talking about this at all.  Lipper was Deputy Mayor under Ed Koch, investment banker, adviser to Oliver Stone for "Wall Street," and now cantankerous old guy who believes that the PANYNJ should be servicing its commuting constituents and not engaging in speculative real estate deals.

"I don't have any mortgages, I'm free and clear," Lipper said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I'm insulated from threat. I'm free to do the public's business without ambition."

Interestingly, this internecine conflict is very unusual for the PANYNJ, long known for its lack of opacity as well as its general willingness to engage in speculative real estate deals.  Also, this is not a NY versus NJ issue, either, as tends to happen with the commissioners, half appointed by each governor.  Both the author of the 3 WTC and Lipper are Cuomo appointees.

And finally, the 3 WTC deal has lost the Daily News.  I'm not seeing a lot of support out there at all.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:44 AM

April 23, 2014

schniederman serves uber

You'll hear about NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's op-ed this morning because of his less than friendly remarks on Airbnb.  The AG and Airbnb are squaring off, you see, because Airbnb is one of those Utopian Silicon Valley disruptors, currently valued at ten billion dollars, and the AG contends that is business model is law-breaking.  And the parties have not been cooperating so well to come to some sort of settlement, you see, so the AG took to the NYT to very vocally sabre-rattle.  (For a good examination of opposition to Airbnb, read this interview with NY State Senator Liz Krueger.)

But no, that's not the big news in Schneiderman's piece.  This is:

But Uber may also have run afoul of New York State laws against price gouging, which do serve the public interest. In the last year, in bad weather, Uber charged New Yorkers as much as eight times the company's base price. We are investigating whether this is prohibited by the same laws under which I've sued gas stations that gouged motorists during Hurricane Sandy. Uber makes some persuasive arguments for its pricing model, but the ability to pay truly exorbitant prices shouldn't determine someone's ability to get critical goods and services when they're in short supply in an emergency. I'm hopeful that the company will collaborate with us to address the problem thoughtfully.

Schneiderman just served notice on Uber that its "surge pricing," part and parcel of its Objectivist philsophical underpinnings, may well be against the law.

Now that's some disruption right there.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

April 22, 2014

gettin' wonky on the port authority

I forget how I became enthralled by the arcane doings of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, but here I am, enthralled.  And I'm not even talking about that whole Chris Christie imbroglio, as fascinating as that is, but rather just the day-to-day operations.  It's a curious little beast, with leadership appointed by the governors of NY and NJ, and oversight of things as disparate as tunnels and air ports and that particular chunk of Manhattan real estate that got a couple planes flown into them a couple years back.

And when Christie isn't using the PANYNJ to bully his enemies, it has a pretty crushing responsibility: the oversight of the six bridges and tunnels between NYC and New Jersey.  The PANYNJ controls the means of egress from this God-forsaken island.

But what catches my eye this time is a vote that's to take place tomorrow, which was highlighted by NYT op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, who picked up on the true importance of the vote:

Whether or not building commercial skyscrapers was the right way to rebuild Ground Zero, what can be said for sure is that the Port Authority has shown, yet again, that it doesn't belong in the real estate business. One World Trade Center is the most expensive high-rise building ever built in America, and it is costing the Port Authority a fortune. Only 55 percent of its 2.6 million square feet has been leased, and most of that is at a significant loss. Meanwhile, 4 World Trade Center, which was developed by [developer Larry] Silverstein, has only 60 percent of its space leased. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out recently, between the two buildings, there is more than 2.5 million square feet of unleased space at Ground Zero.

So why in the world would the Port Authority be willing to back another $1.2 billion in loans to help Silverstein build 3 World Trade Center? Yet on Wednesday, that is exactly what the Port Authority board is supposed to vote on.

Basically, the PANYNJ is considering squandering its considerable resources to prop up a private developer leasing one of its properties instead of improvements on its transportation assets, not one of which can be described without the use of the word, "crumbling."

There is talk of possible reforms of the Port Authority, mostly to take the control of back from the governors, who can, as we saw with Christie, use the PANYNJ at their whim.  But part of the reforms suggested would subject the PANYNJ to public meeting laws and other transparency, which would be a pretty important thing, whether or not the PANYNJ is dead set to prop up private development at the expense of its infrastructure responsibilities.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:54 AM

April 21, 2014

poverty now

It's only natural that I would recommend this Trip Gabriel feature on poverty in McDowell County, West Virginia.  McDowell County is not only statistically the poorest county in the nation, but it's also the county that so affected the campaigning John F. Kennedy that he swore that he would do something to combat the conditions.  So basically thank McDowell County for your social safety net.

I'm West Virginian by birth, and both sides of my family go back in WV for centuries, so I feel some affection for the state, that proud little Appalachian island of weird — which makes this a pretty hard read.  Things ain't so hot down there, as the only industry years ago was coal mining, and the coal companies have long since picked up and moved out, without ever investing in any of the communities that housed their miners.  (I'm sure that everyone was shocked to get screwed over by a coal company, sure.)

But if you don't have time to give this a read, do take this away with you:

McDowell County is in some ways a place truly left behind, from which the educated few have fled, leaving almost no shreds of prosperity. But in a nation with more than 46 million people living below the poverty line -- 15 percent of the population -- it is also a sobering reminder of how much remains broken, in drearily familiar ways and utterly unexpected ones, 50 years on.

My fellow Americans, we have 46 million people who are so poor that they are below the poverty line, which is a very dubious measure of poverty indeed.  More than one in ten.  And we somehow find it in ourselves to think of ourselves as the Greatest Country In The World.

And good day to you, sir/madam.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:54 AM