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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tough Calls

Once you start to fear your own government, or the corporations it serves, you begin to see the need to protect privacy--to fight against attempts at national ID cards, retinal scans and such. If they can track you, they can round you up whenever they want. On the other hand, you can still recognize the benefits of having license plates, driver's licenses, credit cards and such. If your car is stolen, the license plate or the vehicle identification number may be your best chances of ever getting it back.

That's one tough call. Another is the issue of paying for roads. I have long been an advocate for substantially raising gasoline taxes or having more toll roads, requiring those who are using precious resources to pollute our air and warm our planet to pay a more substantial price for doing so. However, I recognize that the open road, unfortunately, is a critical element of freedom in America. "Socialized" "free"ways cost the same for the rich guy in the Escalade or the poor guy in the '88 Escort--nothing, a small degree of balance to the overwhelming advantages that the rich have in most areas. (High-quality mass transit would be a better leveler, but many of the places where it is available in this country, like New York, Boston and San Francisco, are very expensive places to live.) Still, gas prices are rising and will continue to do so, eventually making driving like flying private aircraft is now--a luxury only the wealthy can afford. So, in balance, I still think that making driving more expensive now would be a good thing, even for the poor, by helping to direct more interest and money into mass transit and more compact communities.

These two issues, privacy and paying for roads, come together in two recent articles. The San Antonio Express-News reports that there's a bill in the Texas legislature to require RFID tags on all cars in Texas. The given reason of making sure that every car has insurance is onerous enough, but these tags could clearly be used for nefarious purposes--id'ing everyone who drove to a Kucinich rally, for example. On the other hand, it would become very easy to track your stolen car. It would also greatly facilitate converting roads to toll roads, which is the subject of a NY Times article today.
The freeway in places is no longer free. From the backed-up pools of frustration in Chicago's adjacent counties, to the farthest Virginia fringes of the commute to Washington, to Texas, where plans are under way to build a 4,000-mile network of toll roads, the United States has outgrown its highway system.

But state and federal governments, beset by deficits, say they have barely enough money to service the existing system, let alone build new roads. As a result, nearly two dozen states have passed legislation allowing their transportation systems to operate pay-as-you-go roads, and in many cases, letting the private sector build and run these roads.
And that, of course, is the key element to the Bushies, who strongly support this trend, according to the article. The worst of possible outcomes, as far as I'm concerned--private roads everywhere.