Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Politics of Withholding Information?

This item was released as "BREAKING NEWS" about ten minutes ago (10:24 PM PDT) on the BBC NEWS Web site and, in fairness, should probably be reproduced in its entirety:

US agrees to details of bail-out

Both US parties in Congress have reached agreement on the outline of a $700bn (£380bn) bail-out plan to revive the financial sector.

Leading Democrat Senator Christopher Dodd said they had reached "fundamental agreement" on the package though he did not reveal details.

He said Congress could act in the next few days to pass a bill on the subject.

The plan is aimed at helping finance firms offload their bad debt, which has triggered a global credit crisis.

"We now expect that we will have a plan that can pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president," Senator Robert Bennett of Utah said after meetings with lawmakers on Thursday.

Details of the package were not immediately available but it is expected to include limits on executives' pay as well as oversight requirements.

The news comes as President George W Bush is set to meet both presidential candidates.

The idea that there is a statement of "fundamental agreement" without the slightest trace of substantiation should send chills down all of our spines. If Main Street has been saying that this is a serious problem that requires serious deliberation rather than a knee-jerk reaction, then the reads a lot like Wall Street trumping Main Street. This will probably not surprise anyone, but that does not mean we can be depressed about it.

From my point of view, I have what ought to be a more relevant question: If details have not yet been polished enough to present to the news media, are they at least in a form that can be presented to President Bush's meeting? If not, then there is no way in which that meeting can address the merits of the case, since all parties will be equally in the dark about what that case is. There is then the related question: Are the details in a form in which all Senators can start reading them in preparation for floor debate? If so, then shouldn't both Barack Obama and John McCain be at their offices reviewing those details, rather than consenting to a ceremonial appearance in the Oval Office? My guess is that we are about to get hoodwinked (by hoods of the highest order, I fear); and it may be that the only question that will have a fighting chance of getting answered will be the one concerned with the extent to which either Obama or McCain was complicit in the hoodwinking!

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