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The winners and the losers

Published: Saturday, Dec. 14 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Winner: Once again, “layaway angels” are making the season bright for many Americans. These are anonymous people who walk into a retailer, pay the balance of layaway bills for complete strangers, then walk out never to be seen again. Because these acts are voluntary and unpredictable, stores don’t keep statistics on how much is paid by strangers, but a Kmart spokesman said the company has seen about $1.5 million from such “angels” over the past several years. If there is true-life story that warms the heart this time of year, this is it.

Loser: Bus passengers ought to be able to expect their drivers to be rested and the vehicles they drive to be safe, every bit as much as airplane passengers should expect not to fall from the skies because of mechanical failures. That’s why the federal government’s decision to shut down 52 bus companies this week for safety violations comes as a shock. At one company, drivers were going more than 800 miles without rest. At another, brake problems were evident but ignored. The good news is that bus safety regulators caught these problems before they caused problems (although one company was shut down after a death). The bad news is that so many companies would respond to competitive pressures by setting profits ahead of safety.

Winner: Kudos to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for starting a campaign to urge adults to keep strong drinks away from their children. More than 25 percent of Utah kids who admitted to drinking alcohol during the past year said they got it at home. Astoundingly, 40.5 percent of those said they got it with the approval of their parents, as reported in the 2013 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey. Given evidence of how alcohol harms developing brains, and given evidence of how young people who do drink tend to do so to get drunk, this is unconscionable. Apparently, some adults don’t understand this, which is why the campaign is needed. It is particularly needed during the holiday season, which lends itself to alcohol consumption among some.

Loser: Inversions have been a part Wasatch Front life since the pioneers first lit a fire to keep warm. That doesn’t make them any more enjoyable. In the early 20th century, most people burned coal in their furnaces, which filled the air with soot and made it impossible to keep curtains clean and building facades looking nice. Today, automobiles fill the air with exhaust. Experts say things are getting better. That doesn’t help much when the Associated Press reports, as it did this week, that northern Utah has the worst air in the nation. “… lung-busting soot counts” is how the AP put it. That’s not exactly the kind of attention that will bring in a flock of tourists. It does, however, put a new spin on the idea that scenery in the state is breathtaking.

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