Balance Sheet

Assets

Feeling Chipper. Sematech, the government-industry computer-chip consortium, wants to stop feeding at the federal trough. It asks Congress to end its $90-million annual subsidy by 1997. Why wait to let Sematech declare independence? Cut off the funds now.

Latin Lion. Brazil's newly elected inflation-fighting President Fernando Henrique Cardoso promises to open the mining, telecommunications, and oil industries to foreign investment. His government will transfer health, education, and welfare programs to the states. Renault, Volkswagen, and Ford plan to open factories. Just after his October 2 election, Cardoso said, "Whoever tries to make decisions against the market will fail."

Crash Test. Transportation Secretary Federico Peña accuses GM of intentionally making unsafe trucks, even though 1973-87 General Motors pickups meet federal safety standards. GM tells Peña to put up or shut up. Sue us!, says the automaker. That beats interminable public hearings about alleged design flaws. Charles Gauthier, the former head of Transportation's defects-investigation office, predicts Peña will lose in court.

Trimming Sails. Escalating tolls and poor management have cut commercial traffic along the St. Lawrence Seaway by 40 percent since the late 1970s. For the first time, reports The Journal of Commerce, large business users push to partially privatize the seaway. The Canadian Ministry of Transport, which wants to turn three-fourths of its operations over to the private sector, may gladly go along.

Liabilities

Mitchell's Revenge. Talk about your sore losers. Congressional Democrats promise to consider more than GATT (health care? taxes? Superfund?) during the lame-duck session. Yo, Republicans: Remember gridlock?

Ruled Out. Gridlock may not be sufficient; regulators can bankrupt us as quickly as the revenuers. Proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations on indoor-air quality will cost businesses $8.1 billion a year. And the impact of expected OSHA rules to deter carpal-tunnel syndrome and other repetitive-motion injuries, says Forbes, "will go far beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Trade War. Top federal antitrust enforcer Anne Bingaman declares war on commerce. Bingaman investigates "no-haggle" car sales, part of the secret of Saturn's success. (Great. Force us to negotiate with car salesmen.) She also suspects NASDAQ, the over-the-counter stock market, of price fixing. And she refuses to overturn a 1921 agreement prohibiting Eastman Kodak from selling its own film.

Freeze! U.S. companies must stop making alleged ozone-killing chlorofluorocarbons at the end of 1995. Substitutes for CFC-12, used in most air conditioners, don't exist. The feds have slapped a $4.35 per pound excise tax on CFCs, encouraging people to smuggle them into the country from China and Eastern Europe. Industry spokesman Kevin Fay tells the Associated Press, "The excise tax combined with [CFC-12's] rapid phaseout has resulted in black market activity reminiscent of the Prohibition era in the 1920s."

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