- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Federal banking regulators will have a crack this week at tightening rules that should have been cinched long ago, and that could have curtailed - if not prevented - the current housing crisis and credit crunch.

The changes are mostly common sense: They would force lenders to make less-credit-worthy borrowers put aside money to pay for taxes and insurance and prevent lenders from penalizing those who pay loans off early. Lenders would also be barred from making loans without having proof of a borrower’s income and assets.

It’s an attempt to end the shady practices that created the subprime loan epidemic and the ripple effects of devastation that have caused so much damage here and elsewhere.

The rules, assuming they are approved, won’t help with the mess we’re in right now.

But better tools for regulators and wiser rules for lenders certainly could help the nation avoid a “next time.”

Americans who pin their hopes on universal health care should reflect on the recent Medicare debate in Washington, and ask themselves, “Is this how I want my health care decisions made?”

The Senate recently passed a bill, previously approved by the House, that would pay for cancelling previously enacted cuts in compensation for physicians. It will do so by reducing payments to insurance companies offering medical services under a program known as Medicare Advantage. Though the White House, and both of our state’s senators, opposed the measure, the large margins in both chambers appear to make it veto proof. …

The nation’s health care system is only as good as its doctors. But doctors are leaving Medicare practice in droves. A study at Harvard Medical School says the nation’s shortage of primary care physicians is being made worse by a Medicare fee schedule that overcompensates specialists and underpays primary care doctors. …

If the current dispute can tie the nation’s most popular federal health care program in knots and bring the lobbyists out of the woodwork, think what would happen when hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake, as they would be under a single-payer system. This instructive episode doesn’t strengthen the case for expanding government’s role in health care.

Walt Disney World probably put itself in the legal cross hairs of America’s gun lobby this week when theme park officials fired a security guard who sought the law’s protection but violated company policy in doing so.

Bringing a gun to work is perfectly legal, thanks to the pliant Florida Legislature that approved a law allowing concealed weapons permit holders to pack heat as long as they leave their guns locked in their vehicles. In dismissing the employee, Disney reads the law differently. The theme park claims it is exempt from the law, which has some seeing red.

Disney officials terminated the guard’s employment after he refused to allow them to search his car. It didn’t help that the erstwhile employee told local media he had decided to challenge the theme park’s no-gun policy beforehand, but why should anyone be shocked that this new law has become a circus? …

Critics may cry foul but park officials can’t be faulted for following a time-honored tradition in Tallahassee: Crafting a loophole that, in this case, is big enough to drive a Monorail through. That’s one clever mouse.

The start of the once-a-decade count of the nation’s population is still 21 months away, and already there are rumblings about the accuracy of the results. The bottom-line worry is that Congress won’t appropriate enough money to get the job done properly.

This is a recurring concern that intensifies over the decade as the census approaches. But this time around the matter is compounded by a technology glitch that has forced a last-minute adjustment that will add considerably - about $2 billion - to the $11.5 billion cost of the census. All this comes as Washington politicians are having a tough time making ends meet. …

The 435 House seats will be apportioned based on what the population figures show. …

But the numbers are important beyond that. About $300 billion in federal aid will be doled out each year based on those numbers. … A miscalculation in the count in 2010 would cause problems for the rest of the decade, possibly costing New Jersey billions. …

Congress already has approved an extra $200 million for the effort, and the Bush administration is asking for another $550 million in the budget that begins Oct. 1. That means another $1 billion or more must be found the following year.

Coming up with that kind of money won’t be easy, but Congress has no choice. Too much depends on an accurate count.

It’s not hard not to be put off by the way so many trivialities are given prominence during an election year. Taken to extremes, such focus is harmful, because it elevates those trivialities to major issues at the expense of real ones.

The most recent example hitting the airwaves? The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s comments about presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Jackson shot his mouth off - shocking, we know - about Obama recently, after first accusing him of “talking down to black people.” Jackson made a crude statement about what he’d like to do with the senator’s privates and later apologized, saying he didn’t know the mic was still on.

Here’s all the analysis this merits: Jackson said something not appropriate in polite conversation, let alone for a public figure. …

Here’s the analysis it’s getting: Has Obama changed since cinching the Democratic nomination? Is he just a politician? What about race in this campaign?

The answer to the first two questions is a resounding “Duh.” The other one has been asked since Day 1 of his candidacy, and it’s been constant, so other assertions that Jackson’s slip-up has “revived” the issue don’t really hold water.

Also irritating are questions about whether Jackson is somehow “just jealous” about Obama’s rise to national prominence, which has eclipsed his. This type of questioning serves no practical purpose.

Does Jackson’s gaffe merit some coverage? Sure. Exhaustive analysis? Hardly…

After watching wholesale lots of the Bush administration’s most important emails go mysteriously missing, Congress is trying to legislate against any further damage to history. The secrecy-obsessed White House is, of course, threatening a veto - one more effort to deny Americans their rightful access to the truth about how their leaders govern or misgovern.

The House approved a measure last week that would require the National Archives to issue stronger standards for preserving e-mails and to aggressively inspect whether an administration is in compliance. The Archives needs spine stiffening. Congressional investigators found that its staff backed off from inspections of e-mail storage after the Bush administration took office.

We fear we may never find out all that has gone missing in this administration, although we urge Congressional investigators to keep trying. What we do know is that the Bush gaps of missing e-mails run into the hundreds of thousands during some of the most sensitive political moments. …

An administration with nothing to fear from the truth would be in the forefront of protecting the historical record. The Senate must stand with the House and ensure that at least future administrations are stopped from doing wholesale damage to history.

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