Scalping offense

The Little Hoover Commission—that scrappy body of legislators and other officials that oversees California government—last week held a public hearing on the hot topic of Indian gambling regulations, but an inflammatory opening left the audience stunned in disbelief.

Anthony Miranda, secretary of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, attended the hearing in hopes of preventing discrimination against tribal casinos, but found himself the target of a bad, off-color joke.

“Before we get started,” said Commissioner Stanley M. Zimmerman, “promise me you won’t scalp me.” Miranda didn’t laugh, and, come to think of it, neither did anyone else.

It took only a second for Zimmerman to apparently realize that he had made a big mistake. The commissioner sank down into his chair and then excused himself from the hearing for about 10 minutes. Maybe he should have tried a “knock-knock” joke.

With tribes trying to build two new casinos in the Sacramento area, this issue carries a special resonance here. So a bad joke wasn’t going to derail this meeting, and pretty soon, it was the committee that seemed to be trying to scalp the Indians of their sovereignty.

After he returned, Zimmerman offered his sentiments on standards. “One thing that concerns me,” he began, “is the lack of standardization of gaming activities.” Maybe he was feeling a bit chastened by that point, because his fellow Commissioner H. Eric Shockman was more blunt: “The citizens of California have been worried about organized crime.”

The real digital divide: The high-tech industry has gotten a free ride in this country, particularly in California. Cyber-merchants avoid the sales taxes charged by their brick-and-mortar counterparts. A bevy of tax breaks has made some of the biggest high-tech companies pay no corporate taxes at all. And then they benefit from public funds expended on getting computers to every school-kid and those on the other side of the “digital divide.”

Yet the industry has done little to clean up the mess leftover from computers and televisions that have a shelf life of just a few years, after which they become the electronic waste (e-waste) that threatens to contaminate our landfills and poison Third World people with lead, cadmium, mercury and other toxic compounds.

It was against this backdrop that Californians Against Waste held a Capitol press conference last week to tout bills by Senator Gloria Romero and Senator Byron Sher that would create an infrastructure for dealing with this waste.

Yet the most interesting moments of the event weren’t the calls to do something with the six million obsolete computers sitting in California closets, which right now their owners must pay to recycle, a job most often done in China without proper safety safeguards.

No, the most telling moments came from Sher’s lukewarm assessment of whether we can indeed get industry to take responsibility for the problem, and fashion a solution that properly disposes of these toxics, and does it at no cost to the consumer, who might not recycle his old computer under the current average cost of $20 a machine.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Sher said. “We fully expect opposition to these bills.”

He should know, because he’s been butting heads with the manufacturers of waste for the last 10 years, beginning with his ill-fated attempt to create an “advanced disposal fee” that would build the cost of disposal into the price of products, which is what his bill would do with computers.

Sacramentans actually have it a little better off than your average Californian, thanks to a new e-waste recovery station that opened at the county landfill last month. It charges standard weighed landfill fees for the first two units, then $20 thereafter, which is cheaper than in most other areas, but that’s still not good enough.

The same people who worship the free market are also generally the ones who harp on "personal responsibility." Well, it’s about time industry took responsibility for its messes, because the market for e-waste is anything but free.