MONDAY, NOV. 17, 2008

A new rescue plan

Treasury secretary seems to be making it up as he goes

Miami Herald , Nov. 13: It is tempting to accuse Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson of pulling a bait-and-switch. Those “troubled assets” held by Wall Street firms that the administration was going to buy with the $700 billion rescue plan approved by Congress? Never mind, Paulson said Wednesday. He has a better idea – use the money to bolster consumer credit and buy stock in banks to improve their balance sheets.

This represents a major shift in administration strategy. Paulson believes Congress gave him the authority to use the $700 billion with maximum flexibility. “I will never apologize for changing an approach or a strategy when the facts change,” the Treasury secretary declared. The problem is that the Treasury secretary seems to be making it up as he goes along, with lawmakers and the public left to stand on the sideline and wonder whether the administration is on the right track.

San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 11: There are many reasons to mark the calendar until George W. Bush officially turns the Oval Office over to Barack Obama.

Among the best is Obama’s opportunity to overturn some of Bush’s worst executive orders. Where to begin: Stem-cell research ban? Gone. Drilling in environmentally sensitive areas of Utah? Not a chance. Guantanamo? Close it as soon as possible.

One reason Bush became so overwhelmingly unpopular in his last term of office was his arrogant assertion of presidential authority through executive orders intended to bypass Congress. To his credit, Obama said in his campaign that if he were elected, he would have his attorney general review all of Bush’s uses of executive powers with a special eye to those that “trample on liberty.”

That review can’t begin soon enough.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 11: For three decades the Federal Communications Commission has maintained a uniform policy regarding the use of isolated expletives on television.

But a case before the Supreme Court threatens to undo the long-standing policy that has served the public and broadcasters well.

In the past, the FCC would overlook when a random expletive was broadcast. But rather than follow the regulations that have been in place for decades, the FCC under Kevin J. Martin, who has been its chairman since 2005, has been arbitrary at best.

The FCC has instead imposed fines based on its own subjective standards, which undercut its decades-long practice.

The FCC fined a public television station in California over a documentary on blues musicians that contained some salty language, but didn’t take action when a vulgar word was uttered by a reality-show contestant on CBS’s “The Early Show.”

During the oral arguments last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the FCC’s policy seems inconsistent. She’s right. That’s why the FCC should revert back to its previous policy, which has worked for decades to provide a fair check and balance.

Chicago Tribune, Nov. 8: Given the alarming deterioration in the American economy, President-elect Barack Obama has reason to think his first priority has to be taking steps to revive growth. In his first news conference, he repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to pass a fiscal stimulus measure. “I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later,” he said. “If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.”

It is hoped it won’t be a replica of the $168 billion effort undertaken by Congress and President Bush last winter, which consisted mostly of providing tax rebates of up to $1,200 per household, in hope of sending Americans out on shopping expeditions that would keep businesses humming. The evidence, however, is that most of the money was put into savings or used to pay down debt – neither of which stimulates the purchase and production of new goods and services.

What might work better? One idea endorsed by Obama is extending unemployment benefits, which would not only help Americans thrown out of work but would probably be spent promptly on the necessities of life. Jobless workers aren’t likely to use a windfall to bolster the college fund.

Another obvious option is putting a large share of the money into infrastructure programs, to build and repair roads, bridges, sewers and mass transit lines. Those would require the hiring of workers while boosting purchases of steel, asphalt and all sorts of other commodities.

Perhaps most important, they would fund projects that will provide economic benefits long after this recession has passed.

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