Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., a smart man, must have known all along that little would come of his plans to streamline and modernize oversight of the U.S. financial system during the 10 months remaining in President Bush's term in office. Regulatory bodies that potentially would be "reformed" out of business, including state insurance regulators, are already fighting the proposal. Lobbyists for the banking and insurance industries, largely left out of the planning process, are too.

The proposal is also encountering pushback on Capitol Hill, where Congress, understandably, would prefer to focus on the subprime mortgage crisis -- a pressing problem -- than to engage in theoretical debates about long-term governance. A period of debilitating financial crisis, verging on recession, indeed seems like a crazy time to start talking about dismantling and reconstituting regulatory agencies (especially when those agencies' hands-off approach arguably caused the crisis).

But reforming federal financial regulation, a 1930s-era patchwork of agencies with overlapping jurisdictions, is a good idea. And for Paulson to have waited until times were flush and no one was paying attention to bring up the subject would have been a surefire recipe for failure. ...

As the subprime meltdown has demonstrated so painfully, Wall Street's interests often don't align with Main Street's. But legislators needn't dismiss all of the secretary's ideas outright. To the extent that Congress can use Paulson's plan as a springboard to improving oversight, it -- and the lame-duck Treasury secretary -- will have done good work.


A new Castro, a new day?

Cuba's handover of power already has led to some remarkable liberalization. For example: Comrade Fidel's brother, Raul, recently revoked the ban on cell phones in the island paradise. ...

Opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba sometimes paint it as the principal cause of the country's deprivation. The American embargo plays a role, but the chief cause of misery in Cuba is communism. Communism is not, as many still believe, a noble ideal that failed. Rather, its interpretation of equality amounts to a dictate that everyone be held underwater roughly twice as long as it takes for the bubbles to stop. Cuba will recover when its leaders let its people up for air.


Basra confirms worst fears

The battle of Basra did not change who controls the second-largest city in Iraq. The U.S.-backed government tried to dislodge the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, and it failed.

But the battle did settle one thing. It should cement in the minds of the American people that U.S. forces are hopelessly trapped in a multi-faceted civil war that is nowhere close to an end. Not only are the Shiites fighting al-Qaida and the Sunni insurgency, but the Shiites are fighting each other, as they did in Basra. ...

Five-plus years into this war, despite the propaganda from the White House about the success of the U.S. surge, there is no end to the chaos in sight. Nor is there any real prospect on the horizon that anything the United States can do will stanch the killing. It is past time for the United States to face up to that reality and get out. ...