Fashions change! Can you imagine anyone...

HOW POLITICAL

December 09, 1991

HOW POLITICAL fashions change! Can you imagine anyone runningfor office as a self-proclaimed polluter?

Yet in the 1896 campaign, future President William McKinley published a poster depicting a factory smokestack belching black smoke into a blue Republican sky on one side and a smokeless Democratic chimney towering over a shuttered factory on the other.

The campaign poster contained the following doggerel:

4$ O Chimney Top! Good Chimney Top! Put on thy Crown of Black, Let life and hope and goodly cheer Spout from thy lofty stack!

All this was in defense of "PROTECTIONISM" (proclaimed in red, white and blue) "vs FREE TRADE" (in subversive red). Of course today the Democrats are the protectionists and the Republicans the free traders. So the wheel turns. But neither party, so far as we know, proclaims the glories of sending more black smoke into polluted skies.

* * *

SOME TRAFFIC tickets in America may be high. But consider the penalties meted out in Finland.

A pig farmer we know in that corner of Northern Europe wanted to pick up a new sofa recently and, to get in the store before closing time, did some heavy-duty speeding. His ticket: $670.

We called the Finnish embassy in Washington to find out how this kind of legal extortion is possible. This is what they told us: Anyone exceeding a speed limit by 10 miles in Finland is issued a $70 "warning" ticket. The balance of excess speed carries a penalty prorated according to the offender's income and can be appealed within seven days.

Few Finns file successful appeals, the embassy said. As to the reported income, police usually take it at face value.

It's so reassuring to hear that in at least one country police officers still trust offenders.

* * *

HERE'S ONE WAY to gauge the impact of the recession. During the months of July, August and September, the state's "sin tax" distributions to subdivisions dropped 13 percent. Everyone is cutting back. Beer sales are off 3 percent and hard liquor sales are off 4 percent, judging from the state's tax collections.

The hardest-hit liquid sector -- wine -- was down a stunning 40 percent. Apparently the state's yuppies are opting for tap water instead of coolers these days.

Even smokers are inhaling less. While cigarette tax collections were up 21 percent, actual consumption is down. The higher revenue was generated by a 23 percent hike in the tobacco tax imposed by the legislature earlier this year. Excluding the impact of the new tax, cigarette revenues were down, too.

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