Ross Mackenzie

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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