We are hearing a fair share of reversals of position lately from federal government officials administering the Bail Out program we now so inelegantly call TARP – Troubled Assets Relief Program, like we could simply throw a big tarpaulin over the whole mess and be done with it.  Among other things, we now have an Op Ed piece by Treasury Secretary Paulsen in the November 18 NYT (‘Fighting the Financial Crisis, One Challenge at a Time’) and various testimony before Congress about what in the world is going on with all that money Congress appropriated during the hair-on-fire emergency mindset of last September.

Government and, indeed, civilization as we know it, are both, first and foremost, about people acting with the ‘consent of the governed’  – people who are presumably selected for their acknowledged expertise rising above the knowledge, experience and expertise of the rest of us.  We justifiably put our faith in those who are truly experts in areas, whether military, economic, legal or many other inscrutable disciplines in our very complex 21st Century world.  But, what happens when the experts go beyond their expertise – when they go out where the buses don’t run and nobody knows what the bus schedule is or whether they even have bus service anymore?

And when does the application of expertise on behalf of the consenting governed become just another exercise in letting the ‘Fox Guard the Henhouse’? I mean no disrespect to the "Fox" of FHD, in appropriating this timeworn expression for this discussion.  Are the people who got us into this mess the best ones to think up ways to get us out?

Secretary Paulsen tells us: "We are going through a financial crisis more severe and unpredictable than any in our lifetimes."  I doubt there is much dissent on that statement.   We seemingly can all agree that something is going on which most of us under the age of 80 have never seen or, indeed, even imagined.  We are living through the Perfect Storm of global economics, appropriating yet another overused title, where it seems like everything has gone wrong all at the same time – except perhaps the price of oil, which, with all the other fuss going on, has nosedived to less than half the price per barrel reached at its dizzying heights just months ago.  Instead of worrying about 5 dollar gallons of gas, we now have much bigger fish to fry now.  As Tom Friedman’s weekend piece said, borrowing from the Jaws movies – we really are going to have to get a bigger boat!

Then we get to the part that is gnawing away at me inside:  Paulsen’s piece continues: "There is no playbook for responding to turmoil we have never faced. We adjusted our strategy to reflect the facts of a severe market crisis, always keeping focused on our goal: to stabilize a financial system that is integral to the everyday lives of all Americans."  Wait a minute; experts with no playbook?  Don’t the economics gurus have an answer and playbook for everything?

So, currently, what exactly IS our strategy with all of this money that Congress appropriated and is now having second thoughts about whether it was hoodwinked in doing so?  We just heard that Somali pirates have hijacked a Saudi supertanker the size of a US aircraft carrier.  Has somebody hijacked our Bail Out?  Who?

What is Mr. Paulsen’s strategy for picking the "winners and losers," as he was asked in hearings this week?  Sometimes it seems like all of American industry, banking and finance are lined up with their hands outstretched, palms up.  But, what about the homeowners facing foreclosure?  We can endlessly debate whether we should let them lose their homes to foreclosure or not, but there now is a great tidal wave of foreclosed property going through the auction cycle and being dumped back out the other end, the spin-dry cycle if you will, at prices which are continually bringing down real estate values nationwide.  As values drop, more and more homeowners find themselves upside down where their mortgages now exceed the market value of their home.  Having so many vacant, foreclosed homes is trashing whole neighborhoods.  Next to go will be shopping centers that depend on those homeowners being in their homes and making regular shopping runs.  Whether the idea of helping these homeowners stay in their homes galls us to no end or appeals to some sense of morality or fairness or whatever the rationale, the fact remains that this tidal wave has no end in sight unless we give serious thought to directing some of this Bail Out TARP dollars, one way or another, towards keeping defaulting homeowners in their homes under some kind of payment plan which balances the needs of the lenders and the plight of the homeowners.

The alternative seems to be a downward spiral to nowhere.