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Inside the Bailout: The Public Servants Our Hopes Are Riding On

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 5 2009

With the American economy showing about as much useful forward momentum as as a stripped-down Chevy up on cinder blocks in the front yard, people are naturally starting to get a bit curious as to whether the $700 billion Congress put to bailing out banks' troubled assets was a smart use of the peoples' dollars. Elizabeth Warren is wondering that too. Warren, a professor at Harvard Law, was Harry Reid's appointment to the Congressional Oversight Panel that was created under the same Emergency Economic Stabilization Act that launched the TARP program. "It's tough out there and it's scary, and frankly I'm worried," she admits in a recent YouTube video -- which is either endearingly forthright or downright terrifying, depending on how you look at it:

Forget the flannel-suited Beltway bureaucrat struggling mightily keep themselves wrapped in a thick blanket of self-assuredness. In the four minute clip, Warren comes across as entirely recognizable as a flesh-and-blood human. Her voice is soothing and her manner approachable. But where she differs from me or you is, I'm guessing, that it's been congressionally mandated that she figure out where nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayer money is being used. (Me, I'm entrusted with mere millions.) Like the rest of us in these uncertain times, though, she's making it up as she goes along:

[L]et me say a word about the website. It's pretty plain vanilla right now, because we're just getting started. In the coming weeks, it will become an important part of our goal of bringing the American people into this process. We just didn't want to wait until we could build a fancy website...

"We don't have much yet -- no phones, no fax machine, no coffee maker," she continues. "But we have met with the Treasury Department, with the Federal Reserve, and with the GAO." Err, terrific. They're holding meetings at the highest levels of government, but potentially doing it uncaffeinated. That can't be good. Perhaps we should start up a PayPal account and buy these fine public servants a Mr. Coffee?