Monday PM March 31st, 2008

Treasury Secretary unveils financial regulation plan…HUD Secretary Alphonso Johnson resigns…Comcast collaborates with BitTorrent to devise better ways to transport large Internet files…

The Bush administration is out with a 218-page plan to overhaul financial regulation. It contains the most far-reaching changes since the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson unveiled the plan. He says a strong financial system is important not just for Wall Street, but also for working Americans. The plan would give the Federal Reserve more power to protect the stability of the entire financial system. It would merge day-to-day bank supervision into one agency, down from five. It would also create one super agency in charge of business conduct and consumer protection. There are recommendations to set licensing standards for mortgage brokers and to establish federal regulation of the insurance industry. The plan needs congressional approval for its biggest changes. It is designed to trim a hodge-podge collection of overlapping jurisdictions that date back to the civil war.

The Bush administration’s top housing official, under criminal investigation and intense pressure from democratic critics, says he will be leaving the post. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson says his resignation will take effect on April 18th. Jackson has faced allegations of cronyism and favoritism involving HUD contractors for the past two years. The FBI has been examining the ties between Jackson and a friend who was paid $392,000 by Jackson’s department as a construction manager in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The HUD chief made no direct mention of that in his resignation statement. He did not take questions or elaborate on the family reasons he cited for the decision. President Bush says he accepts the resignation “with regret.”

Stocks rebounded after a regional manufacturing snapshot was stronger than expected. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index, released a day before the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing survey, rose to 48.2 in March from 44.5 a month earlier.

Comcast has announced an about-face and will treat all types of Internet traffic equally. The Internet service provider has been under investigation for hampering online file-sharing by its subscribers. Comcast says it will collaborate with BitTorrent to come up with better ways to transport large files over the Internet instead of delaying file transfers. User reports of interference with file-sharing traffic were confirmed by an Associated Press investigation in October. Since then, Comcast has been defending its practices—most recently at a February hearing of the Federal Communications Commission. Comcast also is monitoring Time Warner Cable’s experiment in placing explicit caps on the monthly downloads for new customers in Beaumont. Subscribers who go over their allotment will pay extra, much like a cell-phone subscriber who uses too many minutes.

Unions representing film and television actors will negotiate separately with producers in upcoming contract talks after board members of the TV actors union voted this weekend to sever a long-standing agreement between the two guilds. The vote by the board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists came hours before a meeting with the Screen Actors Guild and just three months before the expiration of the contract covering movies and prime-time shows. Despite a sometimes rocky 27-year relationship the unions had shown recent signs of peace as they prepared for the upcoming talks. The two groups had hoped at Saturday’s meeting to set a start date for negotiations. Instead of discussing strategies the sides swapped accusations. The AFTRA board says the vote to terminate the agreement, known as “phase one,” was “overwhelming.” The 120,000-member Screen Actors Guild represents actors in movies, TV and other media. The 70,000-member TV and Radio Federation represents, among others, actors, singers, announcers and journalists.

The struggling economy is dominating the agenda as Congress returns from spring break this week. The Senate will consider a democratic measure designed to tackle the mortgage mess by letting bankruptcy judges reduce loan amounts and interest payments for homeowners facing foreclosure. Meanwhile, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will be on Capitol Hill Tuesday to answer questions about this month’s buyout of Bear Stearns and the overall state of the economy. Also Tuesday, oil company executives will appear before House lawmakers who are expected to ask tough questions about their companies’ profits and renewable fuels amid high oil and gas prices.

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