Today's Papers

Beyond Subprime

The New York Timesleads with a look at how troubles in subprime mortgages could be just the beginning of a much wider crisis. Even as there are signs that the increase in defaults among those with weak credit is slowing down, there are hints that homeowners with good credit are now increasingly in trouble. The Washington Postleads with a look at how insurance companies are beginning to use electronic data that contain details on the prescription drug records of millions of Americans to build a “health ‘credit report.’ ”  The use of these databases is only expected to increase as the country begins its transition toward electronic medical records.

The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with news that the FBI used new genetic tests to link Bruce Ivins with the anthrax strain that was sent to victims of the 2001 mailings. USAT focuses on how the complete answers about the evidence against Ivins won’t be known until the Justice Department unseals its records. Yesterday, former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, whose office was targeted in the attacks, said Ivins’ suicide “doesn’t bring anything to a closure.”

In the mortgage market, analysts are now particularly concerned about so-called alternative-A loans, which were often given to those with a good credit score but without requiring as much documentary proof of income or assets as prime loans. The number of “alt-A” mortgage-holders that are behind on their payments quadrupled in April from a year earlier, while the number doubled among prime loans. Analysts were once concerned about what would happen when the rates on adjustable mortgages would reset to higher values, but that has turned out to be less of a problem because of low interest rates. Now the big concern is concentrated on those who have grown used to paying only the interest for several years. Those with mortgages at levels above subprime were usually allowed to continue paying only the interest for longer, which is why some expect delinquencies in those loans will only keep increasing in the near future. “Subprime was the tip of the iceberg,” one expert said. “Prime will be far bigger in its impact.”

Those in the insurance industry say that using prescription drug records allows them to get a picture of a person’s health much more quickly and cheaply than the traditional method of collecting records from physicians’ offices. But privacy and consumer advocates say it amounts to an intrusion that the regular public isn’t even aware of. The companies that favor the use of these data contend that consumers have to give permission for the data to be released. But some say consumers are left with little choice since they have to sign the consent forms if they hope to get health or life insurance. There are also those who are concerned that insurance companies may make rash decisions based on the records without having all the facts about why someone was taking a particular medication.

The LAT talks to one person familiar with the evidence against Ivins who says the scientist “provided what became a signature” by his mixture of spores from different institutions. But the NYT talks to one “person who has been briefed on the investigation” who says the evidence against Ivins is largely circumstantial and that at least 10 people had access to the anthrax mix that was used in the letters. The NYT’s source admits there might be evidence he’s unfamiliar with, but also said there’s no proof that Ivins was in New Jersey on the dates when the letters were sent from a mailbox in Princeton. The WP notes that some are wondering how Ivins could have kept his security clearance even after the FBI had focused on him as the prime suspect. Ivins was barred from Fort Detrick only on July 10, after a counselor expressed concern about his mental health.

The WP fronts a poll of low-wage workers that shows Barack Obama has a wide advantage over John McCain among members of that group. Although part of this edge is certainly due to overwhelming support for Obama from African Americans and Hispanics, the Democrat also holds a 47-37 percent lead among white low-wage workers. Although the lead goes against the impression built in the primaries that Obama can’t win over white working-class voters, one in six white voters remains uncommitted. In addition, a majority of all low-wage workers say the election results are unlikely to affect them personally. Unfortunately, the Post doesn’t specify whether this attitude is normal among these workers, so it’s far from clear whether the ambivalence should be seen as significant. Many expressed no opinion when asked which candidate would do more to improve the economy or health care, which means McCain’s support could grow, but the Post notes that Obama “has the clear edge among those who picked a favorite on these core issues.”

Nobody fronts the death of almost 150 Hindu pilgrims in India after rumors of a landslide set off a stampede at a remote temple. The NYT notes that as more people in India begin to have more disposable income domestic travel has increased, and overcrowding during religious festivals has become more common. Many of India’s temples can only be reached through narrow paths and don’t have the necessary infrastructure to support such large numbers of visitors.

Most of the papers front the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer who gained worldwide acclaim by chronicling how the Soviet Communist government repressed its own people. He wrote more than two dozen books but will probably be most remembered for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, which is often described as his masterpiece for the way in which he described the network of brutal labor camps that were set up in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, which he wasn’t allowed to formally receive until he was exiled in 1974. He returned to Russia in 1994 but quickly declared he was disappointed to find a country that was “tortured, stunned, altered beyond recognition.” Still, he stayed and settled down at a rural estate outside Moscow, where he spent his final years in relative obscurity. He was 89.