Friday, January 8, 2010

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

It's been a fun week in The City. Lots of "community" activity, "spontaneous demonstrations," and City Hall hijinks. The City that used to call itself "The City That Knows How," has become The City That Isn't Even Sure What." Gray skies, windy days, and record low temperatures have matched the mood of the local activists, in content if not in enthusiasm.

NOTE: The City is going bankrupt (along with the rest of the state), business is the worst is recent memory, and people are trying to hold onto as much of their income as possible (assuming they even have an income). So it's time for a union demonstration. Over 1,000 "spontaneous demonstrators" from the Hotel Workers Union (and unsurprisingly, national officials of the union) marched into the Downtown Hilton Hotel. They are demanding more money because the poor dears now have to pay a portion of their health care benefits. The overpaid workers who have no real skills that any teenager with a strict mom doesn't have are making plenty to pay that extra expense. And it's part of the contract they're currently working with. They just want more money, more money, less work, less work. Unskilled union workers who make beds, dust, and carry food trays around are paid what skilled workers outside the industry are paid. No wonder the economy in San Francisco is skewed and screwed. Only unskilled city workers can compete with their salaries and fringe benefits (and like the hotel workers, the city transportation workers are demanding raises for the same reasons).

And they're employed, which is something a lot of skilled workers aren't. So these geniuses are attempting to start a boycott of four major downtown hotels. Very sensible. You're already overpaid, you want more money, so what's the best way to get it? Interfere with the operations of the hotels that pay your wages, and do your best to damage their businesses. That will make it virtually impossible for you to get raises in your next contract. Unlike the federal government, hotels are not allowed to print money. I don't really understand leftist logic. But I do know they all think that money just magically appears from heaven (aka Washington, DC).

It was an unlawful assembly, and by going into the hotel, they violated their own contract and municipal trespass laws. But the demonstrators elected to do so anyway. Still they insisted on being arrested outside the hotel. And why? The press was outside, prevented from entering the hotel while the confusion went on and the police were investigating a possible crime scene. After getting themselves back in front of the cameras, one of the demonstrators explained their position: "We can't afford no health care payments cuz we have to pay rent and buy food, ya know?" Yes, and I suppose the rest of us don't have to pay rent and buy food. Devastating logic, kids.

NOTE: Never get into a hissing contest with a snake. One hissing contest has made it into court, and it's fun watching it. Two free San Francisco news rack publications have gotten into a beaut of a fight, and big bucks and control are the stakes. Both publications are free to the public, and depend entirely on paid advertising for their revenue. The Bay Guardian sued the SF Weekly over illegal price-cutting for advertisements. That all started about two years ago, when The Guardian won a huge judgment allowing it to seize and sell its rival's two delivery trucks and confiscate the rent The Weekly receives through its buildings division (the leased-out office space on Berry Street). Don't feel too sorry for The Weekly though. It's wholly owned by the New York based Weekly and Village Voice Media. The latest round started because The Guardian got tired of waiting for The Weekly to start paying off its legal debt, and proceeded to collections proceedings.

Lawyers are made to upset the apple cart, and The Weekly's lawyers know how to play the game well. They have filed a motion to stay any collections action by its rival, on the basis that the case is presently before the Court of Appeal which might, or might not, reverse the lower court decision which held that the defendant publication had engaged in predatory pricing and ordered The Weekly to stop selling below-cost ads designed to hurt its rival. Naturally, the defendant also raised freedom of the press as an issue (which really has nothing to do with predatory advertising practices). But The Village Voice is clever. In the most recent action in 2008, The Guardian proved to the judge's satisfaction that the holding company which controls The Weekly from Phoenix has been siphoning off profits from the San Francisco operation to New York in order to show losses on which its rival should not be able to levy.

This is the biggest fight over a free newspaper in San Francisco history, and rivals some of those where the big names fought over the profit spoils, and ultimately ended up with The Chronicle as the last newspaper in town that charges customers for its publication. And even that one wasn't as obvious as it sounds. The Chronicle was actually purchased a few years back by its own rival, The Examiner, part of the Hearst empire. Hearst sold the Examiner name to a private investor, and it is now a free publication as are all the others. I suppose I should add that both of the subject free publications have a strong lefty bent on both the editorial and news pages (if you can sort out which is which), so the advertisers are wasting their time and money on me.

NOTE: This is the fortieth anniversary of another famous San Francisco testorone battle. Harvard Professor Timothy Leary had just announced to the love generation that they should "tune in, turn on, drop out." Local beat poet Alan Ginsberg didn't take well to a "suit" stealing his thunder, so he made a rare public appearance for the press, denouncing Leary's pre-emption of what Ginsberg considered to be "his thing." Leary made his announcement in San Francisco, with his supporters Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil in tow. He invited Ginsberg to the announcement, and handed Ginsberg The Chronicle with the headline: "HIPPIES RUN WILD." Ginsberg, the high priest of hippiedom took unabashed umbrage a the whole thing.

"That's ridiculous," Ginsberg complained. "Like it was an esthetically very good scene. They should have sent an art critic." Then Ginsberg made an angry call to the newspaper, berating the night editor with "What is this nonsense about hippies running wild? Your story has the kind of inaccuracy of tone and language that's poisoning the community. Is that what you want to do? I don't know what kind of hippies you have over there at your place. Beside, what is this hippie business? What does 'hippie mean, anyways? These kids aren't hippies. They're seekers. Today was a serious religious occasion (my italics for emphasis)."

The hissing contest went downhill from there. The Chronicle had its "hippiest reporter" meet with Ginsberg at the publication's offices in the paper's "meditation room." Ginsberg's first comment was: "Man, it's bad enough that you have a telephone in your meditation room." He then offered his take on the earlier proceedings. He aimed it a TV reporter in the room who had asked pointed questions about the drugs and unlawful assemblies, and had said: "I don't know why, but this whole day strikes me as absolutely sane and right and beautiful. You guys must have put something in my tea (again, emphasis added)." "What's so insane about a little peace and harmony," replied Ginsberg, not recognizing a friend when he saw one. "Thousand of people came to the park today, just so they could relate to each other, as dharma beings. All sort of people. Poets, children, even Hell's Angels. People are lonely, it's strange to be in a body." Hard to tell if he meant his own body, or a collective body of people.

The reporter replied: "People are groovy." Said Ginsberg, mugging for the cameras: "It was very Eden-like today. Kind of like Blake's vision of Eden. Music. Babies. People just sort of floating around having a good time and everybody happy and smiling and touching and turning each other on and a lot of groovy chicks all dressed up in their best clothes." Ginsberg neglected to mention his own homosexuality, and failed to foresee the Hell's Angels future killings at the Rolling Stones Altamont concert later that decade. The Summer of Love didn't finish up well at all. The reporter seemed a little more grounded. He asked Ginsberg: "How long do you think this will last?" Ginsberg replied: "How do I know? And who cares?" Today, those of us who live under a city government heavily-influenced by the Leary-Ginsberg connection have an answer for that: "We do."

NOTE: Speaking of hippies, Haight Street merchants who are not hippies and who don't think much of the whole Haight-Ashbury love bead thing, enlisted the support of the police in trying to clean up the bums, aggressive and threatening panhandlers, and drug-dealing and other criminal activity occurring in broad daylight and very publicly on their streets. Under the previous police chief, the officers were told "Hey officer, there's no law against sitting on the sidewalk." And the chief seemed to accept that. New police chief George Gascon does not agree in theory or practice. Gascon quickly responded to the merchants' and residents' pleas, and instituted police sweeps of the neighborhood. He quickly advised the Board of Supervisors that The City indeed needs more specific "sit and lie" ordinances to cover the specific situations.

And here come the "homeless advocates" and "do your own thing" types so influential in San Francisco. The leftist Bay Guardian (remember them--above?) immediately published an edition describing "massive sweeps, arresting homeless people." Gascon has a lot more backbone than his predecessor, and came out swinging. "If the city of Berkeley can find a way to implement and enforce such laws, why can't we?" he asked, pointedly picking out the only city in California with more leftist leanings than San Francisco. "Bullying and intimidating, and then attempting to hide behind a non-existent constitutional protection" is how he described the activities in the Haight. The Guardian refused to back off, but did at least have the honesty to print Gascon's official reply on the police department's official Web site, in which he said: "My sense is that the community supports this." "Now all that's needed is a supervisor with the gumption to admit that a sit/lie law can work," said a Chronicle writer.

LATE NOTE: Our local Board of Supervisors member, Chris Daly, who is known for his foul-mouthed outbursts at public meetings has announced that he will drop the F-Bomb at least once at every meeting. I mentioned his multiple obscenities hurled at the new police chief last week (and possibly at one of the other supervisors as well), and the San Francisco Chronicle published both a news piece and an editorial item condemning his lack of civility. Daly's announcement (which included the -ing form of the F-Bomb) was greeted by an equal round of groans and scattered applause.


AndrewPrice said...

Why am I not surprised that San Fran would go broke. No doubt it's all Bush's fault rather than the fault of free spending liberal policies. The good thing is that California doesn't have the money to bail them out. Now just need to keep the Fed's from bailing out California!

StanH said...

Unions are killing the golden goose, and once gone perhaps never to return. Leftist never heard that you, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Amazing!

Whoa…Lawhawk! Leary and Ginsberg …farout man. And we wonder why this country is so screwed up?

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - what happens when the city actually goes bankrupt? I always felt Ginsburg was a particularly ugly person. The thought is that commercial where the guy asks for an extra order of "please keep your shirt on." It wasn't just that he was fat gray and long haired, mind you-- he always seemed to be simultaneously greasy AND dirty. He didn't even have to be "acting up" to make one cry out "get a room!"Oh well, all of god's children, I suppose.

Game Master Rob Adams said...

California, broke. This actually does surprise me since California's GDP is as high as some countries and is the highest in the US (apart if you count the taxes raked in by the Feds in DC). Why then would this state have such problems with money if they are raking in the 'fair' taxes of 50% or higher from the hollywood celebrities? It boggles the mind.

The real question here is though... will real cheese come from happy cows...and if this is true then.. does happy cows still come from California?

Unknown said...

Andrew: And the worst part, it isn't all easy to box up and send away. The feds have "offered" California $47 billion for education, which the governor wants. But (there's always a "but"), the teacher's unions are in full-throated rebellion because the hook on the funds is clear, tight, performance standards. Meanwhile, the governor has stated that no matter what, he will not cut funds to schools as part of the budget-tightening, even though they are failing miserably (and not because of money alone, believe me). This would be great fun if my kids, grandkids and I weren't right in the middle of it.

Unknown said...

StanH: Yep. See my comment about the teacher's unions to Andrew (just above). And don't forget, in San Francisco we just narrowly avoided two separate transit strikes by unions demanding raises, even though they are already among the highest-paid in the nation. We get Ahnuld's speech on the proposed final California budget tonight.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I was a radical at the time, but I never bought into the "cleanliness is next to nothing" philosophy of the hippies and over-the-hill beatniks. My nose is just too sensitive to go a day without a shower. But I did have long hair at the time (in fact, I had hair, period).

Unknown said...

ACG: In fact, the latest figures showed California as the eighth largest economy in the world, so I suppose they'll argue we are "too big to fail." But when Grey Davis came into office, California was the fifth largest economy in the world. Ahnuld stemmed the tide for one year, then decided not to fight anymore, and joined the drunken tax and spend crowd. His "environmentalist" policies are just the frosting on the turdcake he's helped to create.

As for the cows--they're getting nervous. As the breadbasket of the world in the Central Valley dries up while the enviro-freaks protect the Delta smelt, hay is going to be in short supply. Northern California cows are shivering from the record low temperatures resulting from global warming (I have that right, don't I?).

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--Are you saying that The Chronicle actually supported the new police chief about bums laying around in the street?

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: Believe it or not, that's a fact. I'm not sure whether it's the bums or the Haight Street thugs that they're supporting the chief on, but revenues from Haight Street merchant advertising has declined steeply over the past year, so they're probably just looking out for their own bottom line.

Writer X said...

Kind of off-topic, LawHawk, but I had to laugh when I heard Arnold's speech this week demanding that California congressmen either vote no on Healthcare or get their piece of the bribery pie. Hysterical! I guess his offer to join the Obama administration sinking ship has been rescinded?

Wait till those union types have to pay taxes on their "cadillac" health plans! Then they'll really have something to moan about.

Hey, how's Cindy Sheehan doing these days? Will she still run against SanFranNan?

Unknown said...

WriterX: Dual-personality disorder seems to be a disease among California governors and candidates for governor. Brown doesn't know where he's going, and Ahnuld isn't sure where he's been. The Democrat and Republican candidates don't have to argue with each other, they can argue with themselves.

And Sheehan has indeed announced another run against Pelosi, though she hasn't formed a committee or started fund-raising yet.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - at our age, hair is definitely a good thing. In fact, I still keep mine pretty darn long although it is nastily turning from grey to whie.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I knew I was in trouble when I got out of bed one morning without brushing my hair, looked in the mirror in the bathroom, and saw right through the wispy remnants. I suppose I could still make a good living by crossing my arms in an "X" shape and posing for the label on poison bottles. I'm not exactly what you would call "round faced."

While you're at it, take a look at my recent "only in San Francisco" update at the end of my Diary post. I think you'll get a kick out of it.

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