Opinion » Editorial





Letter Of the Law

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the Memphis Democrat who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, which has just been exposed to the stonewalling of a congressional investigating committee by miscreant WorldCom executives, has released the text of a letter to President Bush in which he urges stronger correctives for such executives than the president's vague promises yesterday to "vigorously pursue" some unspecified remedies.

What we have learned from the WorldCom affair, and the Enron scandal before it, is that a culture of swindling exists at the highest level of our nation's corporations.

Ford asks for specific measures -- new laws to tighten existing Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, convening of a reform panel composed largely of corporate executives themselves, and a resolve to throw the book at those who are found to have corrupted our justly vaunted free-enterprise system and to have defrauded stockholders on such a massive scale.

But you can't throw the book at malefactors who haven't been found, and you can't find those who haven't even been looked for. Before we get too taken up with this new chapter of corporate evildoing, we might profitably finish up with a previous episode -- that involving high officers of Enron as well as (possibly) officials of our own government. The president might be both more diligent and more candid concerning the relationship between Enron and the administration.

In his letter to Bush, Ford calls for "actions rather than words, reforms rather than rhetoric, and specifics rather than sentiments." That's putting it mildly, charitably even. The least the president can do at this point is to instruct all members of his administration, including Vice President Cheney, to answer in detail the questions about Enron the media and congressional investigators have attempted to put to them.

This is the most immediate and concrete way the president can assuage the sense of "deep concern" to which he has attested -- his own and ours.

The Next Move

The Shelby Park initiative, for better or for worse, is dead. By the time a final vote for reconsideration on Monday confirmed the county commission's previous rejection of the conservancy plan for Shelby Farms, spokesmen for the prevailing majority had managed to sound every bit as populist, even as environmentalist, as the plan's proponents.

We can only hope that they are as determined to provide safeguards against despoiling this priceless 5,000-acre tract by unscrupulous developers as they were vigilant in safeguarding it from the specter of a 100-year lease to good citizens whom they succeeded in caricaturing as elitists.

Joe Cooper, who manages to free-lance as fight entrepreneur and de facto policymaker even as he seeks election to the commission, seems to have prevailed in this instance. So we gather, anyhow, from the presence at a Cooper fund-raising affair Monday of several congratulatory members of the legislature and the commission (along with Mayor Willie Herenton).

At that event, Cooper took credit for stopping the plan and said he would propose several alternatives to it. We can only hope that in doing so he is more forward-looking than when he first suggested turning four-fifths of it over to commercial and residential development.

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