Monday, February 09, 2009

BILL TO NOWHERE?

Sam Smith

One can say with confidence that the failure to pass the second bailout will substantially hastened the collapse of the economy.

But having said that doesn't mean it's a good bill, or even close. It's not unlike our healthcare system, legislated by a series of compromises, payoffs, ideological idiocies and unsupportable assumptions, resulting in something nobody really wants.

It is a classic example of Washington's political Asperger's Syndrome, with the best and the brightest producing the worst and the most opaque; abstract intelligence unable to deal with the practicalities of every day life.

Which is why, for example, the bill is so deficient in dealing with what we were told was the major problem: housing foreclosures. Why not, asked one of our readers, funnel the necessary money through the troubled homeowners rather than giving it directly to the banks? That way you help both, whereas with the chosen route, only the banks win.

Why not set up public banks to make the loans the private banks won't? Why not let the government become an equity partner with troubled homeowners?

A small businessman, writing in the Washington Post, offered another suggestion:

"What small businesses need, immediately, is healthy demand for their goods and services. The rebate checks of last year aimed to provide just that, but most Americans saved the money or used it to pay down debt. Less than 20 percent went to bolster consumer spending. There's little reason to expect more from the proposed $1,000-per-household tax cut in the current stimulus bill. . .

"A better choice would be something Americans are likely to spend, and without huge logistical headaches: a gift card. By sending every taxpayer a $2,000 debit card, the government stimulates spending directly. The card doesn't get deposited with a bank, a step that greatly reduced the use of last year's rebate checks for new spending, and with a defined expiration time, perhaps a year, the program could help precisely while other programs get underway. . .

"Gift cards have a nationwide redemption rate of 80 percent. If such debit cards were used at the same rate, the cost of the program would be $270 billion, for a greater effect at less cost than the proposed tax breaks."

Like it not, that's an example of the way a small business owner thinks and it's the sort of thinking that is sorely absent in the capital. You start with the ordinary people in trouble and try to help them.

The worst culprits, of course, are the Republicans who managed to get an extraordinary number of tax breaks of the sort that have been found useless in previous fiscal downturns. They were aided by Obama, who has become so bipartisized that he initially gave away a huge chunk of the deal, thereby making any compromise far larger than it needed to be.

The Democrats did their part, dumping pet projects into the bill of the sort that were heavenly gifts to GOP critics and rightwing talk shows. Further, they gave excessively to the highway lobby and badly shortchanged rail construction.

Then the Democratic leadership gave the extremist center its chance and sure enough it aimed at some of the best provisions of the bill including cutting funds for school construction, Head Start, food stamps, public transit and firefighting.

Because of its sheer size, it may help or it may only slow the disaster. What we can say, however, is that with a bit more integrity, smarts and concern for the fate of the ordinary American, it could have been a dramatically better measure.

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal