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Editorial Roundup - March 14, 2014

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Compiled by The Associated Press
The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on 100-year checkup (March 9):
Audits are a fundamental tool to hold government and quasi-government entities accountable.
Without thorough examination by independent parties, citizens would have to rely on the agency’s word that its operations and accounting are above-board.
When it comes to the activities of the Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank, verbal assurances just aren’t good enough.
Thankfully, momentum is building for legislation to enable the General Accountability Office to audit the Fed, something that has not happened in the 100 years since it was created to set monetary policy.
The bipartisan Federal Reserve Transparency Act passed the House late last year. A similar bill co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul is making its way through the Senate. The Kentucky Republican’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a longtime Federal Reserve critic, tried unsuccessfully to get similar bills passed.
Though the proposed legislation provides no specifics about the scope of the audit, there already is substantial pushback from former and current Fed officials, who are used to doing most of their work in secret. Officials fear, for example, that their closed-door Federal Open Market Committee will be subject to “second guessing.” Transcripts of deliberations are released five years after the fact to shield members from political blowback arising from policy decisions.
When government is nervous about openness, it should make everybody nervous.
We hardly would advocate micromanaging Fed operations, but there should be significant oversight. Deciding how much money enters the economy, and under what terms, are critical Fed responsibilities that should be better monitored.
We need increased transparency at the Federal Reserve. Considering its massive influence over the U.S. economy, its bureaucratic movements cry out for consistent oversight. That’s something all citizens should approve of, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.
Government simply can’t be trusted to watch itself, and neither should its biggest bank.
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The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald on the need to share data when dealing with animal hoarders (Feb. 26):
The need to be loved and the desire to help others are two of humanity’s most powerful guiding forces.
They are the inspiration of great literature; they help define our lives. Both can be greatly rewarding.
But if you look at your own life, odds are pretty good that the pursuit of one or both of these things has gotten you into a spot of bother.
Taken to the extreme, of course, they can take over your life.
Take the issue of animal hoarding.
It’s easy for most of us to understand how a well-meaning person who sees an animal in distress, perhaps an animal who is likely to face euthanasia, to take the critter in.
Most of us feel we know the limits of our compassion — or at least we know when enough is enough. But for extreme animal hoarders, there is a big disconnect.
Illinois is ranked by the Animal Legal Defense Fund as having the strictest animal control laws. But one thing the organization recommends that Illinois doesn’t already do is establish a database of convicted animal abusers (including hoarders) akin to the sex offender registry.
Animal hoarding doesn’t present the clear and present danger that sex offenders do, so seeking to legislate a formal reporting process would be over the top.
But given the near guarantee that a hoarder will repeat his or her habits, it would be appropriate for law enforcement personnel to voluntarily keep tabs on convicted hoarders — and share that information with other agencies — to ensure the safety of both people and animals.

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The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester (Mass.),  on changes to the SAT (March 7):
It’s hard to define what we want in an incoming college student. There’s more than one answer.
Still, to help colleges select freshmen, tests such as the SAT set out to measure some combination of accomplishment, ability, and potential for success.
It’s a work in progress.
Changes for 2016 aim to reduce stress among test-takers while offering them “worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles,” according to the College Board.
So far, so good. But one anxiety-lessening change is that the penalty for guessing wrongly will be eliminated. The College Board explains the change as encouraging students to give the “best answer they have,” rather than leave a question blank because they’re unsure. But a test on which students are better off taking a chance when they aren’t sure lends a game-like quality, and will provide less accurate measures of students’ true knowledge.
Penalizing incorrect answers gives appropriate toughness to the assessment, and conveys that exactness is expected when moving into college and adulthood.
On the other hand, we approve of the decision to test more real-world vocabulary. The SAT is legendary for presenting obscure words that might measure experience with Latin or French — or flashcards — better than it conveys reading experience or overall verbal facility.
We are sorry to see the writing portion so extensively revamped. Not only will the essay become optional; scoring will focus on the ability to analyze presented source material, rather than on the more telling and challenging — though subjective — qualities of coherence and command under pressure.
The main messages of the SAT’s slate of changes will be lost on future test-takers sitting down with their No. 2 pencils, or at keyboards once computer-based testing becomes available next year. But that message is important: Standardized tests will always be imperfect. They will never earn a perfect score with critics.
All we can ask of these tests is that they set their aim, be up-front about their limitations, and do the best they can — the same qualities we seek in all students and admire in achievers.

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The Detroit News on Obama’s budget (March 4).
President Barack Obama proposed a nearly $4 trillion budget Tuesday that prioritizes ideology and politics instead of tackling the country’s pressing fiscal issues.
This budget won’t stimulate the economy or help create more jobs. Instead, it props up spending already in place and allows the debt to continue to grow. It seems more designed to secure the Democratic base in the fall elections than to embrace financial responsibility.
It’s an election-year budget. Instead of taking on entitlement reform, Obama has proposed a budget that adds billions more in spending for education, infrastructure, job training and environmental research.
This budget would produce a $564 billion deficit for fiscal year 2015 — smaller than the past year, but still too high. And as with other major issues, this budget kicks the deficit can down the road (again) by forecasting the shortfall will only fall by about 1 percent through 2018, one year after Obama’s departure.
The revenue making up that 1 percent would come from some of the proposed $1 trillion in new taxes over 10 years. Most of the tax hikes are on estates and high-income earners, as well as American businesses of all sizes.
With such large tax hikes and no spending reform, this budget has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. But it will give Democrats talking points for their election campaign and another opportunity to paint the GOP as stingy and insensitive.
The budget extends unemployment insurance for almost 2 million Americans. It also increases funding for the U.S. Department of Education, including for a program that would provide universal preschool and day care for 100,000 infants and toddlers. Obama would also like to pay to teach 100,000 teachers how to use the Internet.
As the president promised, he’s also asking to raise to $10.10 an hour the federal minimum wage, which will further shrink the job market.
In all, spending on government projects will rise by $350 billion. That’s the wrong direction.
This is a Halloween bag of goodies that belies not only the current budget shortfall, but the building crisis in Medicare and Social Security, and the uncertainty of how much Obamacare will ultimately cost.
Rather than present Congress with a budget that would be a legitimate starting point for passage of a bipartisan spending plan, the president has chosen to offer up a blueprint designed to heighten the political divisions and spark a battle that can be exploited for votes this fall.