Balance Sheet

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Assets
Fax or Fiction? Don't sweat the 29-, er, 30-cent stamp. Technology Futures, an Austin, Texas-based management-consulting firm, predicts that 60 million homes will have fax machines by the year 2000. By then, the firm says, reliable fax machines will sell for $200 and it'll cost 30 cents to send a one-page letter by fax. With cheap faxes and private magazine delivery (see "The Superior Mail," May), who needs Uncle Snail?

Daddy Tracked. Deadbeat parents evade nearly $15 billion in child-support payments—one third of the total owed—each year. Financially strapped welfare offices, The Wall Street Journal reports, now have private collection agencies find these ne'er-do-wells. One agency in the Southeast locates deadbeats 75 days faster than the government. Mom and the kids get checks a couple of months sooner, too.

Smooth Ride. Engineers at Northwestern University design a pothole-fixing machine that (with a two-person crew) can repair 50 potholes a day for $30 each; standard paving teams fix seven or eight holes daily at $190 a shot. It also works in freezing weather and at night, so officials can schedule repairs when traffic is light. This machine could end holy rolling down the highways.

Light-en Up. A Canadian judge overturns that country's three-year-old ban on tobacco advertising because it violates free speech. The ruling may stifle a similar ban proposed by the European Community. In his 148-page opinion, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Jude Chabot writes, "There isn't any proof that advertising itself is a danger to public health. As Aristotle said, the word 'dog' never bit anyone."

Liabilities
All Wet. Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel, supported by L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, backs a $150-billion pipeline to send water from his state to California. Local regulators snicker: Pipeline water would cost twice as much as desalinated ocean water. L.A. Metropolitan Water District board member Christine Reed says, "We have enough water in the state. It's just priced inequitably and used inefficiently."

Red Rain. Fasten your seat belts. The budget deficit for fiscal 1993 will push $400 billion, twice as big as it was under the fiscally unconscionable Ronald Reagan. Had Congress and the Bush administration simply abided by Gramm-Rudman, we'd be in balance by now.

Traffic Jam. A 14.5-mile private toll road scheduled for construction in Orange County, California, faces environmental speed bumps. The EPA fears wetlands losses and the demise of the California gnatcatcher, a threatened bird subspecies. State and local air-quality boards could force the construction firm to add carpool lanes, making the highway too expensive to build. Regulatory gridlock may keep this road closed.

Nolo Contendere. Left-wing Democrats get really desperate. Matthew Rothschild, publisher of The Progressive, starts a "draft Ralph Nader" campaign for the presidential nomination. The Los Angeles Times reports Nader has his own pick for the job—former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. Just what the Democrats need: candidates who give Mike Dukakis stature.  

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