The Economy Today: Flying Projectiles

News from Bend, Boulder, Redding, Dallas, and elsewhere

National headlines focus on President Obama’s proposal to reform financial regulation, which he laid out yesterday afternoon. The plan would give the Federal Reserve broader responsibility to oversee not only big banks, but also other large financial firms, such as insurance companies and investment banks. And it would create a new consumer protection agency—as Obama said yesterday, “a new and powerful agency charged with just one job: looking out for ordinary consumers.” The Los Angeles Times calls the latter one of the “most controversial provisions” of the president’s plan, and USA Today reports it would “enforce laws that protect consumers from unfair practices…laws that are now enforced by different agencies.” The Consumer Financial Protection Agency, it continues, would “set a floor for minimum consumer protection” (though not for consumer-protection laws related to securities, which the SEC would continue to regulate), and that states could set a higher bar.

The LAT also reports on two new public opinion polls that suggest Americans are increasingly concerned about government spending and that the mounting federal deficit is taking a toll on the president’s “still-strong” public approval. In the two polls, 63 percent and 56 percent of those surveyed said Obama is doing a good job, but nearly 70 percent in one of the surveys were concerned about government intervention in the auto industry.

The New York Times takes a look at “self-made exiles” from California who left the overpriced Golden State’s real estate market and moved to Oregon a few years back, including to the Bend area, where unemployment is now almost 16 percent—one of the highest of any metropolitan area in the nation. “While some other states with high unemployment, including Michigan, have seen their labor forces shrink, Oregon’s labor force has grown,” an increase that economists say appears in part to be driven “by people who moved here with money they made in California, whether from real estate or stock market investments, and expected to get by but now must look for work.”

At the nexus of stimulus money and academic grant applications: the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus has so far received a dozen awards for economic stimulus projects, which will bring in nearly $6.7 million in research money to the campus, according to the Daily Camera. The money will allow researchers to conduct studies “ranging from the diagnosis of learning disabilities to climate change in the tropics.” The university has applied for more than 176 research grants from the various agencies looking to unload their federal stimulus dollars, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

According to an editorial in the Redding Record Searchlight, one sliver of the stimulus pie could be especially useful to areas of northern California—money to be spent “expanding broadband Internet access in unserved or underserved rural areas.” The money ($1 billion for California alone) will filter down from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service and also from the Commerce Department’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. “The expenses of wiring far-flung rural areas has left them with second-rate connections, fickle satellite access or even, still, vintage mid-90s dial-up,” the editorial states, and communities north of the Redding area, farther up the Interstate 5 corridor, could well use the investment—“the rural broadband money is a fat pitch across home plate for our region.”

The Dallas Morning News, meanwhile, notes that more Dallas home sale prices are being kept secret, leading to a slanted picture of the local housing market. (Texas is one of five states that don’t require the disclosure of home sale prices.) The lack of transparency, which skews the widely reported, monthly median home price data, is occurring in part because sellers don’t want anyone to know how little they got for their houses; agents, too, want overall prices to appear higher.

And over in Florida, the Tampa Bay Tribune looks into one of the projects Sen. Tom Coburn singled out earlier this week in his “second opinion” list of questionable stimulus spending: the $3.4 million Florida Department of Transportation plan to build an underground “eco-passage” for turtles and other wildlife just north of Tallahassee. According to the natural resources manager at the state transportation department, turtles and other wildlife are killed in large numbers in that area. Turtles hit by vehicles can, additionally, become flying projectiles.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.