It’s never a pretty sight when we spend money in a hurry

Published 9:16 am Monday, January 19, 2009

By Staff
House Democrats Jan. 15 gave a glimpse into the shape and substance of the $825 billion stimulus plan President-elect Barack Obama will hit the ground running with on Tuesday. The devil, as always, will be in the details.
Democrats control both the House and Senate, so they hope to pass some form of the plan within two weeks for Obama's signature by mid-February.
If Obamamania could do for the economy in general what it's done for the souvenir industry, we'll have something.
In addition to the typical T-shirts and bumper stickers, there are mugs, jigsaw puzzles, lava lamps, coasters, toy trains, commemorative plates, CDs and DVDS.
Ben and Jerry's is introducing an ice cream flavor, Yes Pecan.
It's like when the Beatles had a whole section of merchandise at Woolworth's.
Obama controls an e-mail list of 13 million names – almost the size of the NRA and AFL-CIO combined.
With billions for auto technology, extended unemployment benefits, health care for people who've lost jobs, tax cuts and money for roads, bridges and schools, it's packed with goodies for Michigan, where slack auto sales and slashed jobs created a one-state recession years ahead of the national curve.
Unemployment hit 9.6 percent in November.
The U.S. lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008 – the highest figure since 1945.
Nationally, the jobless rate stood at 7.2 percent, with 11.1 million Americans without work.
The stimulus – officially, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan – is said to include $5.3 billion for grants and loans to help automakers build electric cars, with most of that targeted at boosting U.S. battery production.
Only one U.S. company builds vehicle batteries.
General Motors relies on a Korean company to produce battery packs for its Chevrolet Volt.
As proposed, the legislation anticipates spending $27 billion to continue the current extended unemployment benefit program, which provides up to 33 weeks of benefits, through the end of 2009 to deal with jobless rates Obama has said could surge to double digits nationwide.
It also provides for a small benefits increase.
The package also addresses COBRA, the program that lets people who lose their jobs continue to receive health insurance if they foot the premium.
That means devoting $30 billion to allow workers 55 and older who are eligible for COBRA to keep coverage until they find new employment or go on Medicare.
Also, the government would subsidize – at 65 percent – the cost of COBRA premiums for anyone losing their job after Sept. 1, 2008.
Food stamp benefits would also be increased, there's $6 billion to extend broadband and wireless services to rural areas, $30 billion for highway and bridge projects, $20 billion to renovate and modernize schools and $15.6 billion to increase Pell Grants to pay rising college tuition.
Billions more are pegged for mass transit and sewage system upgrades.
States will get Uncle Sam's help paying for Medicaid, education and law enforcement.
Tax cuts include $500 for individuals making up to $100,000, $1,000 for couples making up to $200,000 and business incentives, though not a credit for hiring or retaining workers, as Obama previously proposed.
On Jan. 15 Congress cleared the way for release of the other $350 billion from the financial industry bailout.
When you're talking $1 trillion, Treasury could give each man, woman and child in the United States $3,272.57 to get the economy flowing again, but you know that's not going to happen because the government of, by and for the people has made it clear it knows it's smarter than us, even while plunging us into this pickle.
My favorite example of what a trillion dollars is besides a 1 followed by 12 zeros, though, is you could cover every NFL player's salary, all 32 teams, for 313 years.
That puts this spend money we don't have stampede into some perspective.
Let's hope Obama has the fortitude to throw money at things we need to do anyway for a greener, fairer, more competitive and more sustainable vision because when the government makes spending money as fast as possible its goal, disaster ensues, like all those pallets of cash which vanished into Iraq's desert.
Waste is one place we'd like to see the change on which Obama campaigned.
Our government is more adept at spending money quickly than wisely.
You can almost see the lobbyists lining up at the trough for a breathtaking feeding frenzy.
Politicians will want a wide slice of pork pie for all those pet projects which went unfunded in previous sessions and dress them up as shovel-ready infrastructure investments.
Bacon, not reform!
Never mind that we have as a vantage point a record $1.2 trillion deficit and $10.6 trillion in debt and a death spiral whose layoffs drive down consumer spending, which leads to more job-shedding.
Republicans are right when they say let Obama accomplish something first before unleashing all this gushing adulation and when they call for real returns on such a bloated investment, even if they are hypocrites for criticizing Obama for blowing through our children's and grandchildren's money, as if they are blameless for earmarking which helped deliver us here.
Ideally, infrastructure spending should be green projects that reduce our fossil fuels addiction.
But spending $1 trillion is harder than it sounds.
Time magazine interviewed a guy with the Environmental Defense Fund who went down his wish list: $1 billion for homeowners to install energy-efficient windows; $750 million for truckers to use fuel-efficient equipment; $600 million to smart boiler controls.
"Still $998 billion to go. Really, I spent time on this, and it's a reach to get to $100 billion."
A porky, poorly designed stimulus is sure to carry unforeseen side effects worse than the disease it is to cure.
Heaven help us if, in desperation, we start shoveling money into, say, clean coal and ethanol.
Quips, quotes and qulunkers: "What if the New York Times goes out of business – like, this May? It's certainly plausible."
– Michael Hirschorn
in the Atlantic
"(Your article) on whether the New York Times can survive the death of journalism leaves a lot to be desired from the standpoint of … well, journalism."
– Catherine Mathis with the Times response, which ripped the magazine for "uninformed speculation."
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