Columns » Bob McCord

Why not tax SUVs?


I'm weary of having to pull out of parking places with either a sport utility vehicle or one of those giant pick-up trucks on the sides of my car. It's even more scary trying to enter a busy street with one of those huge things on your right or left blocking your sight. There were 1 million SUVs on the roads ten years ago. Today the number approaches 5 million. Now we even have to deal with the Hummer, a takeoff of the huge vehicle built for the armed forces that, according to some people, gets little more than five miles to a gallon. That kind of gulping is what has made the price of gasoline nearly double in the five years because it is not as available as it used to be. That's partially because so much of the crude oil comes from the warring Middle East, but the main reason is that the gasoline companies in the United States have shut down more than half of the refineries and have not built a new one since 1976, according to USA Today. Meanwhile, the number of all vehicles has increased 20 percent in 10 years, which means more highways are needed. Money for highway building comes from the federal tax of 18.4 cents for every gallon of gas. There's no chance it will be raised even though it hasn't been for 10 years. Big states like Texas are now building their highways as toll roads, and that eventually might be necessary for small states like Arkansas. Raising taxes just for licenses for SUVs and oversized pick-ups would produce some new money and maybe stop people from buying these giants that bully traffic, gulp gas and pollute the air. The Wall Street Journal says that France is about to do that and maybe Great Britain, with a 40 percent increase in the number of SUVs. Why not Arkansas and other states? ***** The first time anyone heard the word "Internet" was in 1982. By 1994, 3 million were using it, mostly Americans. Now the Internet is being used by more than 160 million Americans, 650 million people around the world. But while that method of communicating is easy, it also has problems. This month a U.S. Court of Appeals in Massachusetts ruled that companies like America Online have the right to read the e-mail you and I send to friends, relatives, sweethearts or guys who owe us money. America Online and other Internet service providers have said they have no desire to read such things, but both the trial and appeals court ruled that a bookseller service provider was not violating the federal wiretap law by reading his customers e-mail to find out why his business failed. Someone has to update the wiretap law. Then there's the problem of how to keep sexual words and pictures on the Internet away from people under 18 and at the same time preserve Americans' right of free speech. So far very little has been accomplished by either our politicians or our judges. In election years, lawmakers try to convince voters that they are concerned about what their kids might hear or read, and many of the judges are too old to realize that today's youngsters are more mature than they were when they were 17. In 1996, the Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act. Only one senator voted against it - Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the senator that our vice president insulted on the Senate floor with a sexual expression too nasty for most newspapers to print. The vote was 416-0 in the House of Representatives; one Arkansan, former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson, didn't vote. The law said that any owner of a commercial pornography site that could be seen by youngsters under 17 could be fined $50,000 and sent to prison for six months. Critics said that if the law stood, it would simply move the Internet pornographers out of the country. One company in Niue, an island nation in the Pacific with a population of 2,100, has already put three million pornographic pages on the internet. The law was attacked by believers of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It finally reached the Supreme Court, but instead of ruling that it was unconstitutional it sent it back to a district court in Philadelphia June 29. The 5-4 decision suggested that the law might be approved if it were rewritten to require parents to put filters in their computers since that would pose less risk of muzzling free speech. But how could a filter exclude pornography but also admit the work of artists, photographers, playwrights or serious filmmakers that mention sex? And does anyone really believe that any kind of law will prevent 16-year-olds from watching whatever they want to see on TV? Politicians and judges should forget about Child Online Protection and leave it to mom and dad.

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