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March 13, 2001 PROBE

March 13, 2001

QUESTION: I bought two newspapers at the Niland Food Center. I was astounded to find I had been charged 51 cents for the paper.

When I asked "Why?" the clerk said, "That's what the machine said." What a dumb answer.

The extra penny is not a matter of life and death, but what happens to principle, not to mention honesty?

P.S. We arrived late this year and subscriptions were already stopped. I miss getting the paper every day. I enjoy your paper and hope we luck out next winter! — Winter Visitor, El Centro

You gave us two things to chew on in your letter. We don't know what you mean when you say you arrived too late to buy a subscription. You can't arrive too late to buy daily delivery of our newspaper. We will sell you a subscription any time.

The clerk didn't give you a "dumb" answer. She charged you the price the store machine (scanner) "said."


The machine belongs to the store and the store decides what it will charge for the newspaper, plus the state tax.

Store owner May Fong said customers object to paying 4 cents tax on the newspaper. However, the state said stores must collect the tax or pay it out of their profits.

The store may have levied the extra penny to make the price add up to 55 cents to avoid giving back a penny every time a customer pays with two quarters and a nickel.

At least one convenience store charges only 46 cents for a newspaper. With the 4-cent tax, that brings the charge to 50 cents.

We charge only 50 cents for newspapers in our vending machines. That's easier for us than reprogramming or changing the machines.

Those are decisions merchants have to make when they face profit and tax issues.

SOUTH AFRICAN NEWSPAPERS — We love foreign newspapers because they record the events of that day.

For instance: the Jan. 15 edition of the Johannesburg Star reports Judge William Heath may be excluded from an investigation of alleged corruption in a multi-billion dollar arms deal. His detractors said he was "too political."

We don't know Heath. Is he the Kenneth Star of South Africa or an incorruptible investigator?

His supporters credit him with saving or recovering billions of dollars with his corruption-busting probes of government departments and programs.

— To the right of the "arms probe" story was a chilling five-column photo of the Palestinian firing squad execution of two men for "collaboration" with Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups condemned the executions, saying they were carried out without due process.

In a Bethlehem court, four more men were convicted of collaboration and two were sentenced to death.

— An ongoing soccer match-fixing scandal still managed to get front-page play that day.

A man was arrested for bribing a soccer player in a preliminary match between South Africa and England in Pretoria last year.

The match-fixing probe could touch soccer associations from England to India to Trinidad.

The commander of a police murder and robbery unit said the shutdown of the unit spelled doom for the battle against crime.

The unit was one of 200 special units closed to make crime-fighting more efficient, according to the government.

—The merger of two health club companies will mean higher fees for keeping in shape in South Africa. Monthly fees will go up and about 185,000 long-term or life memberships may be canceled.

And that's the way it was on a balmy January day in 2001 in South Africa.

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