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June 7 - 11, 1999

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Signage of the times

Recently, I decided to abandon my cloistered Berkeley home and join the prospectors panning for fool's gold on the shores of San Francisco. In preparation for the big move, I jettisoned all my formless natural fiber sack-dresses, meticulously sewn by impoverished peasants in politically correct Third World factories, and laid in a supply of black acetate bodysuits. I traded my tie-dyed harem pants for skin-tight pedal pushers. The response to these changes has been extraordinary. Perhaps in honor of the foolhardy courage propelling me into San Francisco's frenetic game of residential "Mother-May-I," the entire city turned out on Saturday for a series of celebratory bashes.

First there was the Fleadh, the annual sequel to Saint Paddy's Day where some 25,000 revelers watched performers like John Lee Hooker and Elvis Costello become leapin' leprechauns. The weather may have abetted the unlikely transformation: as the velvet fog flowed through Golden Gate Park, all singers sounded as Irish as Van Morrison. Downtown, less melodious but equally energetic voices lifted in protest against NATO's determination to reduce Yugoslavia to rubble. Ex post demo assessments of the attendance varied widely, with the number of people marching from U.N. Plaza to Dolores Park falling somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000. Not a bad turnout in light of the competition. And a few blocks to the north, a smaller but happier crowd assembled in the Tenderloin, where Wise Fool's In The Street Festival closed off Ellis between Hyde and Leavenworth for yet another incarnation of the city's most innovative street fair.

But the event most suited to my prospective urban persona took place Saturday evening in the gilt-edged Civic Center compound. Don't laugh. It's true --- my favorite dancing partner and I put on our swellest duds and joined the 13,000-odd revelers at the biennial Black & White Ball. The color scheme, which must have been sophisticated at the inauguration of the fund-raiser in 1956, felt rather ordinary in an era when the downtown daytime population, male and female, is as black-clad as a convention of Sicilian grandmothers. The few ladies and gentlemen in white caught every eye.

But it was indeed a bash, even though the fine hand coordinating the decorations slipped at times. Over City Hall, klieg lights swept the overcast sky like air-raid wardens watching for the Luftwaffe. Along Van Ness, a sea-green filigree of light sketches eerily turned the Opera House and the Veterans Building into underwater castles. At several corners, gigantic fugitives from Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade stood sentinel --- a plump panda, a Holstein cow dangling a bright pink udder, a penguin in a red scarf --- all biologically programmed to display the requisite black and white.

As befitted the festivities, musical sounds filled every auricular crevice. Each of the eight participating venues hosted a theme-coordinated roster of performers --- the Symphony, recipient of the gate from this gig, played Strauss waltzes in City Hall; groups such as Eric Burdon and The New Animals bathed Bill Graham Auditorium in nostalgia rock. Lest the silence outside prove too deafening, strategically positioned DJs scraped and shuffled rap rhythms through people-sized amps.

But you can relax, Trish Donnally. The society page is safe. My take on the party, pleasant as it was, lies more in the realm of anthropological observation. In a place that touts tourists, I wondered, what rituals do the natives observe when they're entertaining themselves? How do they define their little space in the universe?

The answer arrived wrapped in déjà vu. Do you remember your junior prom? There was always a table in the corner occupied by teenaged Willie Browns and Charlotte Maillards, self-appointed trendsetters who managed to corral all the balloons or sneak in French champagne instead of ginger ale. And then there was the rest-of-us, the good-enough guests, who wandered around tasting the hors d'oeuvres and enjoying the music, thinking all the while that the occasion wasn't quite as magical as they'd hoped. The equivalent of Stanlee Gatti sprinkled his witty touches on a select few. For most attendees, the basketball markings on the gymnasium floor --- or the security guards in their Elite-lettered yellow jackets --- provided constant reminders that the another world lurked nearby.

Like your junior prom, the Black & White Ball printed up souvenir programs for its guests, detailing the evening's entertainment and gratefully listing its sponsors. In high school, it was establishments such as Ray's Auto Shop and the Happy Hamburger. Now it's the big guys --- corporate sponsors such as Banana Republic and Crystal Geyser, who came up with big bucks to underwrite expenses in exchange for publicity. Like the Giants' new ballpark, the ball even boasted "official" sponsors --- Starbucks provided the "official coffee"; Yamaha, the "official piano"; and so on.

As the Grand Pooh-Bah of Sponsors, Mercedes-Benz received the privilege of being listed on every program and every poster. And it obtained the right to park its floor models right in the middle of the plaza, complete with sticker price and list of options, so that roving dancers could plan their next day's purchase. Somebody missed a trick here. If Finley's Ford had managed to get one of its late models into the high school parking lot, you know it would have been raffled off, raising more money for the school and ensuring more publicity for the dealership. Mercedes didn't even have a bikini-clad sex symbol pointing out the carsí newest features.

As your high school memories attest, business funding for social events is a longstanding American tradition. But somehow, when we weren't looking, the custom underwent a sea change, from a generous donation by a community-minded neighbor to a deliberate investment in the service of increased sales. The practice achieved rarefied refinement at the Black & White Ball in the case of Harry Denton's, which distributed four-color brochures with its canapés in the Veteran's Building. The brasserie, which had engaged in some fund-raising of its own, invited guests to pay a visit to a place where "the American Express Card is warmly welcomed, as you would expect."

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

Wednesday, June 9, 1999

Look alert!

A BILL OF RIGHTS, A BILL OF GOODS: With just two days' notice, the House Ways & Means Committee tomorrow will be marking up two key pieces of trade legislation before reporting them out to the full House for a vote: the Africa Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Both bills receded from view in recent months as a result of the outpouring of support for H.R. 772, The HOPE for Africa Act, introduced by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Public response to the alternative HOPE bill had convinced sufficient numbers in the House that the prospect of passing more free trade swill in the NAFTA/GATT mold would necessitate awaiting a more opportune hour of stealth.

The Africa Growth & Opportunity Act requires that, as a condition for trading with the U.S., African countries undergo the kinds of structural adjustment programs mandated by the IMF and the World Bank. Well, now, where we have we heard this before? Trade with the U.S. is contingent upon African countries' willingness to reallocate government resources away from basic human services such as health and education, and on writing off taxes for foreign corporations.

The Caribbean Basin Initiative, of course, paves the way for more of the sort of investment which destroys local businesses, and tenders fine careers for the displaced in the sweatshops which are a consequence of such visionary legislation. Since we're obviously talking about Haiti here, further encouraging U.S. corporations to seek the lure of the lowest wages in the hemisphere puts great pressure on the Haitian government to deregulate or forego new regulations on manufacturing facilities, and puts more pressure on wages. But you know, the way McGwire and Sosa go through those lively baseballs the Haitians stitch, the latter had better work cheap.

Jackson's HOPE for Africa Act actually ensures that ordinary Africans would benefit from the bill. It provides, for instance, for internationally recognized labor standards, such as the right to organize a labor union. Imagine that. But the centerpiece of the bill calls for the cancellation of sub-Saharan Africa's onerous $230 billion debt burden, a rather crucial matter for the countries in the region which spend four times more on debt service than they do on health care.

California members of the Ways & Means Committee are: W. Thomas, Stark, Matsui, Herger, and Becerra. Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121. Ask for the "Heartline" operator.


* * *

FOOL'S GOLD FOR SALE: The U.S. Department of the Treasury soon plans to ask Congress for authorization to sell part of the IMF's stock of gold. Although Treasury and the IMF state that the proceeds would be used for debt relief, in fact most of the money would end up going to the IMF's Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF).

ESAF is the program which inflicts severe structural adjustment measures on countries whose governments can't get credit or capital from other sources. Those measures, renowned for leaving countries more devastated and impoverished in their wake, require governments to emphasize export production over food security, lay off public sector employees, slash public spending and subsidies, raise taxes and interest rates, and open up economies to foreign corporations at the expense of local manufacturers.

According to the IMF's own staff analyses, annual real per capita GDP growth averaged 0.0 percent for countries with ESAF programs over the period 1991--1995, whereas non-ESAF developing countries averaged 1.0 percent annual real per capita growth. African countries with ESAF programs fared even worse, with an average annual 0.3 percent decline in real per capita incomes over the period of IMF structural adjustment from 1991 to 1995. At the same time, the external debt burden of ESAF countries has grown larger as a share of their economies.

The IMF claims that ESAF is an integral component of its approach to debt relief, because it is designed specifically for severely indebted low-income countries. The IMF refuses to participate in the World Bank's new debt relief program --- the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) --- until it gets all the funds it wants for ESAF. Should it acquire enough ESAF funding over the next year, it will be able to rely on repayments on loans to fund the facility indefinitely. It would thus be able to continue imposing structural adjustment perpetually, with no oversight from Congress.

For more information, call 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice. (202)IMF-BANK.


* * *

HE WHO STEALS MY PURSE, STEALS TRASH: A protest/rally will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at the San Francisco State University Recycling Resource Center in an effort to save the center, win back the jobs of student employees, and win recognition of the union organized by the student workers. The rally will blockade the entrance and engage in civil disobedience to protest the university's union-busting activity.

On June 3, student employees of the facility, most of whom had been involved in union organizing activity, were informed by management that they were to clear out their belongings by the next day. They were informed that at the conclusion of three weeks of planned building renovations, they could reapply for work-study positions.

The students had unionized with the Industrial Workers of the World in the fall of 1998 after being placed under the school's custodial services department. They were told that student collection of recycling would be phased out and janitors would assume recycling duties. The administration and the center's recycling coordinator have refused to recognize the union.

The Recycling Resource Center was founded by students and has remained a student-run collective since 1987. Its award-winning programs include Surplus With A Purpose, and the Geography of Garbage course, and have achieved national recognition.

The student employees believe that although they have been told they can reapply for new positions, all workers involved in union organizing and union activity have in fact been terminated.

--- Copyright John Hutchison 1999

Friday, June 11, 1999

Act up, Dr. Seuss

In the course of its untiring search for breaking news, the Flier has turned up an astonishing document, which was buried deep in the archives of the Family Research Council. It appears to be the transcript of a conversation between Oklahoma senator James Inhofe and an unidentified interlocutor.

I am Gay. Gay I am.
This Gay-I-am! This Gay-I-am! I do not like this Gay-I-am!

Do you like that Hormel ham?
I do not like him, Gay-I-am. I do not like that Hormel ham.

Would you like him here or there?
I would not like him here or there, in Luxembourg or anywhere.
I do not like that Hormel ham. I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

Do you like him with a nun? A parade down Market in the sun?
I do not like him with a nun. I do not like him in the sun.
I do not like him here or there, in Luxembourg or anywhere.
I do not like that Hormel ham. I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

Would you meet him in a school? Or in a chair beside a pool?
Not in a school. Not near a pool. Not with a nun. Not in the sun.
I would not meet him here or there, in Luxembourg or anywhere.
I would not meet that Hormel ham. I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

But what about the library?
How books can harm, I fail to see.
No, never in a library.

You may like him. You will see. You may like his honesty.
I'll never like his honesty. I'll never like his library!
I do not like him in a school. I do not like him near a pool.
I do not like him with a nun. I do not like him in the sun.
I do not like him here or there, in Luxembourg or anywhere.
I do not like that Hormel ham. I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

A sin! A sin! A sin! A sin!
You seem to think that sex is sin.
Of course, it's sin when he and he
Do it together. Let me be!

I would not, could not, in a school. I could not, would not, near a pool.
I will not meet him in the sun. I will not meet him with a nun.
I will not meet him here or there, in Luxembourg or anywhere.
I will not meet that Hormel ham. I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

Would you, could you, let him in?
I would not, could not, let him in.
He has an agenda. His sex is sin.
I do not like his library.
I do not like his honesty.
I like him not at all, you see.
Not with a nun. Not in a school. Not in the sun. Not near a pool.
I will not meet him here or there, in Luxembourg or anywhere!

You do not like that Hormel ham?
I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

Could you, would you, call a halt?
No, I won't. To call a halt
Would turn Lott's wife to a pillar of salt.
Yes, she'd turn into a big pile of salt!
I do not want a pillar of salt.
I will not ever let him in.
I won't, because his sex is sin.
His agenda's alarming! His honesty!
And especially his library!
You let me be!

I do not like him in a school. I do not like him near a pool.
I will not meet him with a nun. I do not like him in the sun.
I do not like him here or there, in Luxembourg or ANYWHERE!
I do not like that Hormel ham! I do not like him, Gay-I-am.

You do not like him. So you say.
Meet him! Meet him! And you may.
Meet him and you may, I say.
Enough! If you will let me be,
I will meet him. You will see.

Say! I like that Hormel ham!
I do! I like him, Gay-I-am!
I'd be glad to call a halt. I doubt Lott's wife will turn to salt.
I'd be glad to let him in. He has no agenda. He's committed no sin.
I even like his library. And now I respect his honesty.
They are quite good, quite good, you see!
So I will meet him in a school. And I will meet him near a pool.
And I will meet him with a nun. And I will meet him in the sun.
And I will meet him here and there.
I'll send him to Luxembourg, or ANYWHERE!
I do so like that Hormel ham!
Thank you! Thank you, Gay-I-am!

--- Copyright Betsey Culp 1999

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