Friday, January 15, 2010

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

Arctic winds off the Bay. Rain blowing sideways. If this global warming isn't stopped soon, I'll be turned into a giant ice cube just trying to get to the supermarket. The mail carrier is wrapped in so many layers of insulated clothing that he if he slipped and fell on his route, he could just roll to the next stop. How cold is it? It's so cold that they've called off the vote on the sex tents because the proponents were frozen into strange positions.

NOTE: The trial in San Francisco Federal Court attempting to overturn Proposition 8 (the "traditional marriage amendment") on federal grounds continues to drone on. Frankly, the campaign was a lot more interesting. So far, we've had opening statements that allege a violation of due process and equal protection rights under the US Fourteenth Amendment. There has been a small stir among lawyers (and other insufferable academics) that the defense should not only counter those arguments, but somehow argue that the traditional privileges and immunities clause also works in favor of retaining Prop 8.

After making gay marriage sound almost as boring as traditional marriage, lead attorney Ted Olson (former US Solicitor General under George W. Bush) called his first witnesses. Very dramatic sob stories from a lesbian followed by an equally dramatic sob story from a gay man, both of whom "felt" that they were being treated as less than equal to straight people. Sounded a lot more like a soap opera cum therapy session than anything having to do with constitutional rights, but what do I know? Wisely, David Boies representing the pro-Prop 8 defendants chose not to ask any questions of the witnesses. Why bother? One of the witnesses later spoke outside the courtroom to the legions of press reporters, saying "I'm just trying to get the rights the Constitution says I have." Since I missed those words in the Constitution myself, I guess I'll have to wait for the judge to point them out to me at some stage of the trial.

On the second day, Olson called a female Harvard professor and a male Yale professor, neither of whom testified to anything having to do with facts, evidence, law or the Constitution. But they sure know their hearts and flowers sociology. Therefore, they are experts. Feelings, nothing more than feelings. Ah, feelings of love. Oops, back to the trial. I enjoyed this phase of the trial, largely because the Harvard professor looked just like my Uncle John. Sounded a little like him, too.

The US District Court judge, Vaughn Walker, had shown heavy favoritism toward those attempting to overturn the ballot measure at the early stages, but seemed almost neutral during the questioning. Walker had announced that the proceedings would be televised, but the defenders of Prop 8 filed an emergency petition with the US Supreme Court preventing the televising of the trial because of concerns for the safety of pro-Prop 8 witnesses who had been intimidated and threatened during the original campaign. Walker had already been overruled by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when he decided to allow a "fishing expedition" by the plaintiffs attempting to ascertain the names of all persons who had supported the Proposition originally, either as political workers or donors. The Supreme Court issued a stay preventing cameras in the courtroom, and on Wednesday made its decision final by a 5 to 4 vote. The high court said that if televised trials were ever to be allowed, the experiment should start with a more "humdrum" case which would give the courts an opportunity to evaluate the possible changes it would bring to the dynamics of the courtroom. I personally wonder how that would work, since nobody's going to watch a humdrum trial in the first place.

Thursday's testimony came largely from economists who testified that married people make better incomes and therefore pay more taxes. But no testimony about how this will affect the reality that getting more taxes merely encourages governments to spend more money on, well, government. There was also no testimony on how it will affect the divorce courts when the lovers turned married couples decide this wasn't such a hot idea in the first place. And unlike traditional marriages with children, there are the additional problems of the children of gay marriage obviously not being solely the product of the marriage. That fact is a multiplier of the problems of the already overloaded family law courts.

Because this is clearly a high-profile case providing lots of face time for proponents, the Hollywood crowd has shown up in force. Meathead Rob Reiner led the delegation from la la land. Sean Penn was not visible in the movie contingent. Maybe he got side-tracked visiting old friends in the Castro District. On the other hand, maybe Penn was in Sacramento supporting former San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano (a close confidante of Harvey Milk) who is now a state assembly person attempting to get legalization of marijuana passed by the other stoned legislators.

NOTE: Here's a typical story of the squatters who infest buildings throughout large parts of The City. The tenants of a Bush Street apartment building (near downtown and the Van Ness corridor) have despaired of ever getting any help from the police and other public authorities of ridding their building of bums and thugs who have simply taken over some of the empty apartments in the building. This has always been a problem, but it has worsened with middle-class people moving out of The City because of the outrageous rents, and only brand-new apartment buildings and condos in more yuppified parts of The City having full occupancy and internal security.

As the SF Gate writer C. W. Nevius describes it, "First the paying tenants wanted improvements, like new lights in the building's garage. Then they hoped to expel the homeless people who were using the stairwells as a bathroom and a residence. Finally, they decided to settle for enough security that their car windows wouldn't get shattered anymore." They got none of their wishes.

Now understand that these are not tenements, nor is this a cheap part of town. In order to stop the car window breakage, the tenants of the building leave their windows open these days. But these cars are not out on the streets. They are in the building's locked and gated garage, and they pay $250 a month on top of their apartment rent just to have the privilege of having their cars broken into. In October of last year, no less than fifteen cars had their side windows destroyed.

Longtime residents of the building are at a loss as to whom to turn to. The owners of the property are a real estate consortium which has been in constant violation of city codes and which is now skating on the edge of bankruptcy. Well, how about public officials? They come, they investigate, they set hearings, and nothing happens. One city inspector says that "the fire escape and stairwell is filthy and full of feces." That report was also written in October, and the feces and the smell are still there. But the officials are not ignoring the paying residents.

The building is old enough to have fully operational fireplaces. And if a resident makes the mistake of having a nice warm fire in the fireplace during our cold weather on a "spare the air day," there are plenty of city officials to show up and cite them for violating the "no burning" laws. Strange, though. They don't cite the homeless people openly burning fires in trash cans both inside and outside buildings city-wide, from downtown to Ocean Beach. One resident counted fourteen trash can bonfires one night at 10:30 PM alone, and not a city official anywhere in sight. It was a spare the air day. The Park Service officials take over enforcement at Ocean Beach from the local police, and they're equally useful. As one beach resident said, "the guys in the squad cars don't want to get their socks full of sand."

NOTE: The City is run by supervisors who promise to drop the F-Bomb at every public meeting (and like most of the promises, this one hasn't been kept so far). We have homeless people choosing to live like rats on the streets, with the support of the public officials and the cadres of "homeless advocates." The City has one of the worst dangerous crime rates in the nation for large cities. Issues critical to public safety, like gay marriage, bring out large crowds who have to be careful where they step so they don't fall into a sinkhole created by the rain that hastens the collapse of The City's physical infrastructure. The City gives a free ride to illegal immigrants, and taxes the crap out of those who actually work for a living to pay for the city services that nobody seem to actually get.

So naturally, you have figured out that vacancies must be soaring and the housing market must be collapsing here in Calcutta-by-the-Bay. Well, you would be wrong. Forbes Magazine just announced that San Francisco is the number 2 city in the nation for low vacancies and a high sales rate for both old and new houses. New high-tech fancy-schmantzy high-rises like the recently-completed Rincon Tower are in great demand, and at almost any asking price. And in a city loaded with yuppie investment people, most would put their money into real property as the far better choice for return on investment over buying even the most carefully-chosen stocks. And the more cash the real estate purchaser puts down, the better the return on the investment, which can't be said of either stock or bonds. So if you're looking to purchase a home, San Francisco's the place to do it--provided you want to have a high return on your investment, and are ready to invest buckets of cash. Alternatively, you could simply move to The City, become a squatter, and warm yourself by the gentle glow of a trash can bonfire, with no investment at all and no hassles from the public authorities. If you're middle-class, however, try Poughkeepsie or Peoria.

NOTE: Over the past few weeks the police have been called constantly into the Polk Street Corridor. Long known for sleazy prostitutes walking the street after bar closing time, the area had calmed down after major busts following a series of violent episodes, including a murder. But things have livened up again recently. And why? Well, it seems the prostitutes are having a hard time making it in Las Vegas, so there's been a big influx of the girls from the other Sin City. I tried to figure out why the police have been so efficient in picking up the girls for doing what the Board of Supervisors wants to allow in tents on various city streets. Then it hit me. The citizens are mad because the working girls actually charge for the sex. And the city officials are mad because they're not paying their fair share of the city's oppressive taxes.

When the news on local TV featured the story, they showed a picture of the area where the arrests are being made. I involuntarily said to myself "look, I can see my house from here." Well actually, it was the intersection where I had an apartment when I first moved back into The City nearly twenty years ago. I lived on the second floor, and had a great view of the activity at the intersection of Polk and O'Farrell streets. On one corner you had the female prostitute. On another corner, you had the male prostitute. On the third corner, you had the male prostitute who looked like a woman. And on the last corner, you had the female prostitute who looked like a man. If business was slow, a shouting match would start to build, eventually turning physical. At times it looked like an amateur production of West Side Story. Ah, the good old days. I still live near Polk Street, but in a completely different part of town. That late at night I'm most likely to see a well-dressed couple walking home from dinner at Harris's Steak House or an occasional tipsy patron rolling out of Shanghai Kelly's bar at Broadway.

NOTE: In his annual state of the city address Wednesday, lame-duck mayor and former gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newson announced that the city is broke (not news) and that the best way to bring it back is to create jobs (standard verbiage). Then he shocked the crowd by announcing that the new jobs should be in the private sector (now that's news). He announced plans to allow new businesses exemption from payroll taxes for two years, a suspension of those same taxes for current businesses, and the use of millions of dollars in unused federal funds from the prior administration to encourage development and growth of industry and retail enterprise zones. Welcome to the real world, Mr. Mayor.

NOTE: Yesterday we conservatives got hit with another small surprise. Tom Campbell has dropped out of the gubernatorial race and announced that he would be running instead for the Republican nomination to challenge Boffo Barbara Boxer in the senatorial race. Campbell is becoming a perennial candidate, but he is also a serious candidate. Still, this may become his last run before he becomes California's Harold Stassen. He was outspent by a gazillion dollars in the gubernatorial bid by two extremely rich RINO/moderate Silicon Valley types. Nevertheless, if he thinks Boxer's campaign is poverty-stricken, he will be in for a major disappointment. Campbell is a fine candidate, and I'll be voting for him in the primary and hopefully in the general election.

Still, I'm not holding my breath for him to win either. He will have to find ways to raise huge sums of cash, and hope that he can also count on the anti-Democrat sentiment that infests even California. He might also capitalize on Boxer's arrogance by referring to her as "Babs" at every opportunity. That will start her sputtering and looking like a character from the souls in hell portion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It's an interesting development, for sure. For those who are unfamiliar with the candidate, and would like to know a bit more about him, here's my earlier article on him when he was running for governor: Mr. Bland Builds His Dream House.


Unknown said...

Lawhawk. I see that your neighbors across the bay in Berkeley have decided to drop optional science labs from their curriculum at Berkeley High. Budget constraints? No. Poor minority participation? No. Poor performance in the labs from black and Latino participants? Yes. High performance from white and Asian participants? Yes. The high success rate of the good performers at college later is irrelevant. Results-oriented politically-correct standards apparently are the sole determinant of ongoing programs.

AndrewPrice said...

Sounds like there's no relevant evidence being presented in the Prop 8 trial. The issue a legal one, not a question of feeling.

Unknown said...

CalFed: That controversy has been going on for months now. They haven't reached a final decision, but the votes seem to be going for closure of the program. Instead of concentrating on eliminating the deficiences among black and Latinos, they would rather scrap the whole program. Here's a tip on one of those reasons. It's an honors program. The standards for black and Latino standards were "weighted" downward, meaning those less qualified were admitted to the program to start with. They considered eliminating that problem by equalizing the standards. But that would mean fewer black and Latinos in the program, even though it would mean better performance for those who actually were admitted. Either way, it's race-based rather than accomplishment-based. Now remind me who the racists are.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I have no idea where this legal strategy is going. Nobody is disputing the "facts," but either can anybody explain what is has to do with either the legal or constitutional issues. As you and I know, even if the plaintiffs lose because they didn't present a case that proved a damned thing, they still have to appeal on the basis of error of law, not on the facts. If no law is advanced, how do they expect to pursue an appeal?

Moreover, so far the plaintiffs' own case seems to strongly support the California Supreme Court's decision that the matter is already settled on adequate independent state grounds. This is going to drag on for several more weeks, and maybe Olson has some plan to tie the testimony to legal issues. So far he has failed, at least as far as I can see. I keep waiting for him to drag out the hearts, flowers and violins, and perhaps a few citations from Wikipedia. This has been far beneath the sort of lawyering I'm used to seeing from Olson.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--I have a suggestion for Olson (although he may already have planned on it). The Hollywood crowd is already in town. Why doesn't he have the cast of "Milk" testify to how the script from the movie made them feel "unequal" and "oppressed?" At least they'd be better at faking sincerity than the witnesses he's called so far.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: The script from Milk would make as much legal sense as the trial transcript from the trial so far would make. Maybe Olson's saving it to file as his appellate brief.

StanH said...

Damn, Ted Olson and David Boies, that’s some legal fire power, you get an autograph…kidding. I thought these two guys basically argued in front of the Supreme Court, I guess that implies where they think this could go?

We have the same silliness going on with our urban outdoorsmen you can’t be charitable or egalitarian and make a person have some dignity, if dignity is not something they care about.

Go! Tom Campbell great guy. If Brown wins in Mass anything is politically possible, even in CA.

Unknown said...

StanH: You know your lawyers. I'm not quite sure how they convinced Olson to get into this at the trial level (and his trial inexperience seems to be showing), but the defendants were smart enough to figure out that if this is just the groundwork for an appeal to the Supreme Court, then they'd better have someone of equal standing. Hence, Boies for the defense.

If Brown wins in a state that is even more doctrinaire leftist and more heavily Democrat than California, I do indeed believe Campbell has a fighting chance. Boxer is more vulnerable than Feinstein would have been, so he's coming up against the right idiot. Boxer has never once reached out to the middle, and Campbell should be able to take big advantage of that. And against Boxer, Campbell's mild manner could make her look like a rabid dog when she goes on one of her rants or gets nasty when Campbell doesn't give her the proper "respect."

Unknown said...

UNRELATED ITEM: Some months back, I was going to point out the anti-Bush, anti-America marchers and their signs that the MSM didn't show you when editorializing on the news pages about "peaceful, reasonable protestors." The vituperation the MSM and the Democrats are heaping on the "vicious" Tea Party Movement made me wish I had kept the pictures from a San Francisco day of protest. Fortunately, someone else did it for me: Bush Years Antiwar Marchers. I'll take the pointed but civilized signs from the Tea Parties any day in the week.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - as much as I loathe the people who run San Francisco, I do very much appreciate your excellent coverage of that scene and superb writing even if I often end up slightly depressed afterward.

The notion that a beautiful city like San Francisco could be such a nightmare gets me mad. Urination in the stairwells, indeed. Still, that depression serves to remind just how lucky I am to have ended up where I did where most of the drama seems to surround college football coaches going and coming.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I guess I was blessed with Forrest Gump's sunny disposition. Alternatively, maybe I just laugh so I won't cry. This City was amazing when I first moved here in 1964. It was always clean, people were polite and dressed beautifully. The Board and the Mayor's job traded back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. When I came back nearly thirty years later, I expected to find a newer version of what I had left. What a shock that was.

I suppose I should be grateful that we don't have a university with a major football team (or any football team at all). We already have plenty of controversy to deal with.

Unknown said...

Lawhawk. The MSM has been slanting things so long we should have come to expect it. But it doesn't make it any less fair or any less disgusting. They've singled out those rare over-the-top signs at Tea Party gatherings (which have been mostly spontaneous and entirely unregulated) while earlier picking out the most pastoral and inoffensive shots of the radical anti-American "peace" rallies (which were largely staged, and organized from the top down). Those photos you linked to are a perfect example of that. One or two of the vastly overused Hitler analogies at the Tea Party protests, as opposed to every other sign at the "peace" rallies containing some sort of Bushitler or Israel=Nazi Germany parallel. So which ones did we get to see on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC? Thanks for the reminder.

Unknown said...

CalFed: You're welcome. Every movement has its radical elements. The Tea Party movement is no exception. But almost every Tea Party rally was nearly entirely civil, refrained from obscenities, and made strong but valid points on their signs and in their speeches. The "peace" marches were loaded with hate, obscenities and expressions of contempt for everything traditionally American. Nutbags, leftist rabble rousers and communist and jihadist sympathizers comprised the vast majority of the crowds. The MSM are reprehensible distorters of the truth.

Writer X said...

The Boxer race is heating up and even making its way to a few headlines in the Phoenix papers. Will be interesting to watch. Man, I hope she loses. That would be some karma!

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