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In the fast-moving blur that our financial sector has become,  I vaguely recall the argument that taxpayers (or Asian creditors) could someday turn a profit on the “distressed assets” they’ll be purchasing in a few week;

Still, I’m a bit skeptical. I should note that I haven’t heard this claim in the political posturing that has passed for Congressional debate the last few days. (I wonder how many pols are willing to put their principled free-market stands through the risk of a real-world test. Very few, which is why we’re more likely to end up with a package that includes tax rebates for you and me.) But we may hear it again, so it’s worth dissecting, however briefly. If there is a profit to be made from these assets, why don’t the companies keep them or why doesn’t some enterprising private-sector investor snatch them up?

I’ll be waiting for the answer.

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President Bush got the first part right. Our eagerly awaited rebate checks will certainly help me cope with rising gas and food prices. The economy, I’m not so sure about. It’s nice to have extra bread in my wallet, but it won’t make a difference if there’s no bread on the store shelves.

The problems right now are clearly broader than people not having enough money to spend, though that is certainly part of it. The trouble is that economic downturns don’t hit like a tsunami. They seep in, barely making a dent in our strong and understandable hope that things will always get better.

It’s too bad people didn’t have color cameras during the Great Depression. That sort of cataclysm seems impossibly remote to people surrounded by HDTVs, SUVs and 3,000 square feet of luxury housing. But what if it isn’t? I hope we don’t have to find out, But I also fear, given our optimism and complacency, that we won’t find out until it’s too late.

These photos are from the Depression (courtesy the Library of Congress). The people are generally thinner than us, but they had less to eat. Hmm. Maybe times ain’t so different after all…

In 1992, Tom Harkin led Democratic delegates at their convention in a chant of George Herbert “Hoover” Walker Bush. He meant to portray the first President Bush as uncaring and inert in the face of that era’s painful recession.

I think George W. Bush must remember the scene. How else do you explain the rush to send us all checks this spring (as well as the checks we got seven years ago)? The last thing Bush wants to be is insensitive.

Mitt Romney is probably playing the same game. Sure, you can accuse him of pandering when he tells Michigan voters he will help bring their jobs back. But pandering to voters isn’t exactly a damning charge for a politician. Not caring about working people is, especially for a rich businessman like Romney.

At any rate, I’ll bet Lowe’s and Home Depot are salivating over the proposed timing of those checks. Expect lots of ads pitching spring home projects. If you can’t sell it, at least you can spruce it up.

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