he Federal Trade Commission doesn't believe consumers would be harmed if P&O Princess completed its proposed merger with Royal Caribbean. Nor does it believe consumers would be harmed if Carnival succeeded in putting together a better, or different, deal. For the antitrust analysis, that was the single overriding question: "Will consumers be harmed?"

At times like these, we sometimes wish our government decision-makers were asking different questions. Not to sound like we have a knee-jerk resistance to change, but one question that comes to mind is: "Are either of these alternatives any better than the status quo?"

Sometimes an industry gets so messed up and sickly that you need a few good mergers to get things back on track, but that's not the case with today's cruise market. The industry is looking pretty good.

The merger of P&O with one of its Big Two rivals may pass the legal test and may pass muster with the investment community, but it just doesn't seem to score too high on the "this has to happen to make the world a better place" test.

Of course, this isn't about making the world a better place. It's now about P&O shareholders deciding what's in their best interests. The rest of us are bystanders.

• • •

'Give it to the travel agents'

year ago in this space we thought we uttered our last words about the class-action lawsuit over the 1995 commission caps. As we all know, the case was settled, and thousands of travel agents got a check.

Nothing remained to be done except figure out what to do with about $600,000 in leftover funds that went unclaimed.

ASTA thought it should go to agents in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who were left out of the original settlement, but the trial court decided to give the money to charities in Minnesota, where the case was tried. A year ago we applauded an appeals court for agreeing with ASTA that the unclaimed funds should be distributed in a matter more in keeping with the topic of the lawsuit.

The trial court in Minnesota didn't get the message, however, and blithely decided to give the money to the National Association for Public Interest Law, which intervened in the case for the sole purpose of grabbing the money.

Back to the appeals court went ASTA, complaining that the district court just didn't get it. The appeals court has now ruled against the district court for the second time, and this time it left no room for error. It said, essentially, "give the money to the travel agents."

We just wanted to draw this to our readers' attention, because it's not often you get to hear a U.S. Court of Appeals say stuff like that.

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