On gas prices, hands-free, illegals, banking at Wal-Mart, etc.

Ross Mackenzie
|
Posted: Apr 27, 2006 12:05 AM

A mix-and-match of issues high and low currently in the news. . .

As in so much, federal regulation has a hand - maybe a big hand - in driving gasoline prices over $3 per gallon at the pump in just a couple of weeks. Blame all the usual suspects - OPEC price-fixers and grabby Pooh-Bahs, Iranians rattling their nukes, taxes and enviros working overtime to limit domestic supply. But don't overlook federal regulation. With already stressed refining capacity, federal regulation is seeking to reduce pollution by mandating boutique blends and requiring the replacement of a key additive (MTBE) with ethanol. The requirement has forced oil companies to retrofit their refineries rather than investing to maximize refined output - another example of your federal government at work. Prudently, President Bush took steps Tuesday to waive federal clean-fuel mandates - at least temporarily.

XXX

And speaking of things environmental, Sen. Teddy Kennedy evidently is a NIMBY kind of guy. He's all for alternative sources of energy such as wind power, as long as they're not in his backyard. Item: Kennedy is blowing hard against the Cape Wind project to provide electricity to Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Cape Cod. Why? Evidently because he believes the project, consisting of 130 windmills in the shallows of Nantucket Sound, might pollute the visual environment - notably the view from the Kennedy compound at Hyannisport.

XXX

Unions tend not to have a whole lot of positive views of Wal-Mart. Now the nation's bankers (the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America) have it in their sights. Seems as though they fear competition from Wal-Mart with its proposal to get into the no-branch, no-loan banking business - principally to handle its own electronic transactions such as credit and debit cards, thereby to cut its costs deriving from fees to third-party processors. Other retailers have gotten into that sort of banking, so why shouldn't Wal-Mart be permitted to follow suit? Bankers, above all, should understand the lower-cost fruits that flow from competition.

XXX

Federal tax simplification may stand as the ultimate forgotten subject. Think about it: (1) When established in 1913, the federal income tax ran to 400 pages of rules in the Federal Tax Reporter; today rules, explanations, exceptions, exemptions, deductions and so's-your-old-man provisions cover 66,498 pages; (2) In 1960 one-fifth of individual taxpayers employed a tax preparer; now so many find the tax form so incomprehensible, more than one-half do.

Here's an idea - again: Why not a flat tax of a stipulated percentage on all income, with just a few deductions and exemptions? Form 1040 could be reduced to a single page - with the EZ form post-card size suitable for filing that way.

XXX

What to do about illegal immigration?

(a) Secure the borders to a degree hardly imagined.

(b) Move to a five-year card for guest workers - including for the 12 million or so illegals now here. Failing to learn English and become citizens during that period, they would be sent home. No foreign national would be legally employable without a bona fide guest-worker card.

Oh, and . . .

(c) When illegals agitate for more sensitive and caring treatment in America, let them do so under the American flag and not under the flags of the countries they have fled.

XXX

D.C. has its priorities right at least in this: No one driving in the District may legally do so while holding a cell phone; all such mobile conversations must be conducted hands-free. Yes - and hello?

XXX

In sanctioning single-gender marriage, no, but in mandating health-insurance coverage for everyone, Massachusetts may be positively visionary. Conceptually, that's what all states do regarding automobile insurance - simultaneously licensing qualified insurers to compete for business in the state; and those who go without automobile coverage suffer strict penalties. If mandated coverage is good for motorists, then why isn't it similarly sound for health-care coverage? State officials could monitor compliance by reviewing the copies of health insurance receipts supplied (or not) with state income-tax filings.

XXX

A year ago Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich echoed snooty sentiment everywhere in declaring John Bolton "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." The Senate lacked the moxie to confirm Bolton as President Bush's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, so Bush gave him a recess appointment in August. How's Bolton doing? A former Swedish deputy prime minister has nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize - citing Bolton's efforts to thwart the proliferation of nuclear (etc.) weapons. Not bad for a "poster child" for disqualification and incompetence.