Alcohol fee = 'cause for harm' money: A funding idea whose time has come

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Image by Bright Meadow via Flickr

Booze, it seems, causes some people to do drunken things, get in trouble (i.e., do harm, at times), go off to the E.R., occasionally in an ambulance. So why not tax the booze to pay for the E.R. and ambulances? This is being proposed by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos in one of a bunch of efforts to fill the gaping budget hole that this city, like virtually every city in the nation, is facing.

It is called a “cause for harm” fee. A fee, explains San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, differs from a tax because it can only be spent for the specified purpose for which it was collected. We don’t like the word Tax these days.

No fair! say the bar and restaurant owners; five cents more per martini will kill the business! I doubt that. Having put in my time as a martini (among other things) drinker, I can absolutely certify that if you want a$6 cocktail you’re not going to pass it up at $6.05.

“Cause for harm” fees, in fact, seem like a pretty good idea:

  • Oil company digging fees (say, five cents a quart) for spills, etc.
  • Leaf-blower fees to mitigate noise, air and clogging-the-storm-drain pollution
  • A dead cell phone fee to ship dead cell phones to another planet if there’s one that wouldn’t really mind
  • Pigeon fees… well, just because

You can create your own list. Fees of this “cause for harm” type are collected in other states, though more often used to pay for things like treatment and education rather than transportation to the ER. In any event, they clearly make sense. And somehow the cause/effect principle seems like one that should pick up wider support.

Maybe Mr. Karzai could impose a few fees of his own, and use them to send all those troops back home.

Supervisor’s fee on alcohol a terrific idea.

Cell phone radiation danger: true or false?

from Grandview Park in San Francisco
Image via Wikipedia

Head-zaps, otherwise known as cell phone radiation levels, messing with your brain? Nobody knows. What we do know is that cell phones emit radiation, just as radio and TV stations do at somewhat higher levels. What we also know is that nobody cares much. The back-and-forth going on between legislators and cell phone industry lobbyists suggests that a few people do care… but it’s a long road from caring to understanding to any kind of meaningful action.

In California, where local and state efforts to increase information made available to consumers have met with mixed results, an explanation in the Letters section of today’s San Francisco Chronicle offers some interesting perspectives. To understand them, it helps to know about the city’s Sutro Tower (above), a looming structure completed in 1973 and now furnishing transmissions for 11 TV stations, 4 FM radio stations and about 20 wireless communication services.

Local electrical engineer Bill Choisser has this to say:

The power of radio waves falls off as the square of the distance. This means one watt an inch from your head (typical for a cell phone) has the same effect as 1 million watts 1,000 inches from your head. The strongest TV signals on Sutro Tower run i million watts. A thousand inches is about 83 feet. Whether putting your head 83 feet from Sutro Tower every time you talk on the phone bothers you, is up to you.

San Francisco’s board of supervisor’s voted last week to require disclosure of the measure of cell phone radiation next to sales displays, something unlikely to make the tiniest bit of difference to sellers, buyers or anyone else. The FCC has a similar requirement likely to make even less difference.

CNET’s Christina Jewett, on her California Watch blog, summed up some of the action at the state level, where Sen. Mark Leno‘s bill to make radiation level information more accessible recently died. Leno emphasizes, in a statement on his website that there’s no definitive evidence that cell phone radiation causes cancer or other illnesses. Supporters argue that there are potential health effects dangerous enough to warrant making more information available, Jewett explains, while opponents termed the whole business expensive and unnecessary.

When the bill was a going concern, it did little to slow the never-ending party that lobbyists for AT&T Inc., one of its chief opponents, tend to host at Arco Arena. The firm spent about $535,000 on lobbying during the first quarter of this year. From Kings games to Disney Stars on Ice to a Valentine’s Super Love Jam, legislative staffers continued to enjoy the hospitality. (Details below).

Whether the lobbying effort led to the bill’s demise may never be known. But the debate at least is bringing out more information on the issue, one that regulators and scientists pledge to keep watching.

Given the number of Americans walking around (or sitting, or standing in place) with cell phones plastered to their ears, I for one am happy that somebody is watching… and that Bill Choisser is explaining.

State hangs up on expansion of San Francisco phone law | California Watch.

Jail time for texting drivers

The life you save may be your own… or possibly mine. Right now, to be honest about it, I am more interested in mine. And mine is regularly at risk from texting drivers.

Today’s front page story by Matt Richtel in the New York Times, with accompanying photo of large driver of large vehicle, small dog in his lap and intricate computer screen to the right of his steering wheel, raises more fear in me than local jihadidsts and prospective death panels. The latter are abstract &/or untrue, the former is real. And preventable. “We are supposed to pull over,” trucker Kurt Long says blithely, “but nobody does.” Richtel also quotes American Trucking Association spokesman Clayton Boyce as saying that truckers “… are not reading the screen every second.” Why is this somehow not comforting?

I concede that time is critical to drivers of large vehicles. But at some point the public good ought to prevail. Those of us over 60 are admittedly better able to remember when it was possible to live without texting (or even cell-phoning) while driving and thus better able to think it could be possible again, at least on a limited basis. We are also able to remember when it was convenient for some people to drive around very drunk and occasionally kill people, before laws were passed to limit that activity. Driving a big rig while texting may seem more important than driving blotto after a party, but the dead are just as dead. Somebody has got to get the attention of our legislators — somebody not indebted to the very powerful trucking industry lobby — so that new laws are enacted.

Walking, whenever time and public transportation permit, is my mobility of choice. On foot, I regularly notice the drivers who don’t notice me because they are too busy texting or talking on cell phones. Pedestrians learn to do this. But if you’re driving down the highway and a large vehicle is barreling toward you or near you, propelled by a minimally-attentive driver, you don’t stand a chance. And I say, send them to jail.

Beloved members of my immediate circle of family and friends have been known to text while driving. I still say, send them to jail. I’ll come visit.