Fuzzy on the Details

The market frowns on a bailout short on specifics, but the stimulus bill throws science a bone.

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The bailout plan and the stimulus package continue to dominate the news. Sketchy details about the bailout frustrate Wall Street while House and Senate leaders work to reach a compromise on the stimulus. And as troubles at home plague the Obama team, a Taliban attack in Kabul and new Israeli election results could mean difficulties for the new administration abroad. Obama scores a 20 on the Change-o-Meter today.

The administration’s $2.5 trillion bailout plan, which Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled Tuesday, incited a major nosedive on Wall Street. The Dow fell nearly 400 points, the Nasdaq fell 67, and the S&P fell 43 points. Geithner was heavy on rhetoric, lambasting the Bush administration’s actions, but he didn’t do much to distinguish the new plan from the old. The key elements of the bailout include providing funds to some major financial institutions, creating a public-private partnership to buy up bad assets, and helping banks provide more loans to both consumers and businesses, Bloomberg reports. The plan includes a $50 billion home foreclosure program, lacking in previous bailout plans, which is a step in the right direction for struggling homeowners. That’s good for 20 points on the ‘Meter, but 10 are immediately revoked for lack of details.

The House and Senate furiously hammered out a compromise on the stimulus package today, which is expected to arrive on Obama’s desk soon. One source of a few ‘Meter points: The package includes significant funding for scientific research. Though scientists were disappointed that most of the funding was for biomedical research rather than basic science, it’s still more money than the Bush administration provided for the industry over the last couple of years. That earns Obama 10 points.

Beyond U.S. borders, things are just as turbulent. In Afghanistan, Taliban suicide bombers and attackers killed more than 20 people and injured 57 others, sending a message to Obama that his dedication to the region will be strongly tested. The attacks come just as special envoy Richard Holbrooke was planning a visit to Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan. Meanwhile, Israeli election results show a shift toward the right, which may mean less openness to negotiation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though Obama acted quickly in appointing a special envoy to the region and had hoped to broker peace rapidly, the centrist Kadima Party’s apparent win may mean little if it’s forced to work in coalition with the right-wing and ultranationalist parties.

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