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October 26 - October 30, 1998

Wednesday, October 28, 1998

Calling home

A couple of weeks ago, in one of those haughty screeds bearing the full blush of my political affliction, I offered an example --- and, naturally, a seminal one --- of an enterprise which might meet the prerequisites of Mayor Brown's ideas for "revitalization" of the city. I further suggested that my proposal would be a commendable step in the nation's response to the global economic crisis, and that this city, as it is wont to do, could thus continue to view itself as in the forefront of a correct national agenda.

You can imagine my surprise when neither Brown nor any of his people were among those who later contacted me. And in his State of the City speech Monday, Brown neglected to make mention of my input.

I tendered a plan for job creation for the homeless which bypassed the customary job-training bric-a-brac which neoliberalism utilizes to funnel the handfuls of freshly-scrubbed and redeemed prodigals into service sector work. With my habitual arrogance I argued that the demise of the U.S.' Asian-export market and the endangerment of our domestic industries from bargain basement imports pointed toward an inevitable renewal of domestic manufacturing supplying domestic markets. I proposed something called the San Francisco Umbrella Company, a collaboration between the city and its top corporations, and whose task it would be to produce the finest umbrella in the world. It would, I  suspect, easily create 200--300 labor-intensive and well-paying jobs for the formerly homeless.

Since each of our city's 700,000 inhabitants go through two or three umbrellas each winter, I concluded that the masterful Hal Riney ad campaign encouraging us to buy SFUC brollies would guarantee a rather large market right out of the box. And incorrigible socialist that I am, I used the phrase built-in subsidy to entice the participation of the corporate types, since they have long been accustomed, for instance, to the brokerage house welfare plans the feds regularly provide in the pursuit of free markets.

I ventured that many of these people huddled in doorways and on the food lines at Glide are able-bodied and skilled, and that they could quickly step into assembly line work. And I'm pleased to hear Mayor Brown's statement Monday that Human Services Director Will Lightbourne has identified virtually every homeless or near-homeless person in San Francisco. In Lightbourne's data, no doubt, are the very marketable former occupations of these folk, alphabetized by category surely, as in "Automotive," "Boilermaking," "Carpentry," etc.

So I guess that in my initial attempt at agenda-making, I was envisioning a closed circle locally, one which reflected a prospective closed circle nationally, given the indices of the global economic situation (submerging markets). Certainly, that could be attributed to the wishful idealism of those of my political ilk, unless of course you open the morning paper and begin to translate into plain speech a bandied-about term like fiscal incentive and read the paeans to Alan Greenspan's mad dash to jiggle interest rates.

Oh, I bet I know. The reason city hall and the Chamber of Commerce (2,000 jobs by the year 2000) haven't called is the way I said it. That's it, isn't it?

* * *

Okay, so we have a mayor now seriously embarked upon re-election; a man whose vision is little more than endless improvisation, and who has as much as admitted that he is deficient in understanding the real nature of this city, the leadership it craves, and what the city represents both nationally and internationally. He's smarting from continuously having to buck his many opponents, and as for the "advocates" who realize that homelessness and its cousins, unemployment and gentrification, are the consequence of neoliberal capital's march across the planet, Brown seems surprised that they are acting as if "out of their gourds."

There's a new economy in embryo; or rather, an older one about to be regenerated. But don't take this old lefty's word for it; soon enough you'll see Alice Rivlin and other administration economists scrambling around C-SPAN laying the groundwork, even as they dissemble about the failure of globalization. Try not to retch at the bathos of it.

Willie, as a consequence, needs our help. As things now stand, anyone who runs against him takes him to the cleaners, but in the meantime let's give him a few more ideas to chew on. The hope is he'll attempt to reach out and touch someone; that surely won't be me, but damn well ought to be the power brokers and other monied hotshots with whom he shuffles.

For now, a few more ideas off the top of my head, should suffice; and I assume it is understood that I'm not talking about a years-away chimera like Mission Bay. Again, the beneficiaries are the victims of that oh-so rational (you'll allow me one more, won't you?) global capitalism --- the homeless. And if you bothered to take the time to sit down and talk to them, the following are business plans these capable individuals could expound and amplify in a face-to-face with the investment crowd:

* Pan Am's China Clipper flew out of Treasure Island. Use the island again as a base for seaplanes. Make the city a hub for eco-tourism to Sierra- and Northern California lakes and rivers. Begin creating a seaplane shuttle service linking the city with Sacramento, Los Angeles and South Lake Tahoe. Study the shuttle airline that ran between New York's East River and the Potomac in D.C. during the 1980s. Invite a company from Seattle's seaplane fleet to open an office here to get things started. Stop the goddam keening about the loss of maritime usage of the waterfront. And if you really want to see the port working again, have the city repair some old freighters from the Suisun Bay fleet and have them operate on the lucrative break-bulk cargo route to Latin America. U.S. exports to Mexico and Central America are up 22 percent since the Asian market failed.

* This is a city nutzo over Italian scooters. Italy has banned the use of scooters in five major cities. Finance local shops and dealerships to enable them to go over and buy every last used Vespa and Lambretta Italy has. These are classics, the equivalent of Harley Davidsons and VW Beetles. Make the city a Mecca for the notion of sane and cheap alternative transportation, and the country's main resale outlet for these vintage scooters. Then take the basic Vespa prototype and build an American variant of it, manufactured here. If you really want to get ambitious, use the scooter operation as a springboard for a "habitat" industry, and pull together all the people throughout the state who are working on electric cars, along with those involved in urban agriculture, "green" environmentalism, and city planning. Welcome home.

--- Copyright John Hutchison 1998

Friday, October 30, 1998

Signs and wonders

You surely recall the spirited discussions in recent years over the wisdom of San Francisco formally instituting a foreign policy.

The business community sneered that such resolutions were beyond the city's mandate, and our good burghers found sympathetic allies on the valiant editorial boards of the local dailies and in a few vociferous Supervisorial chairs. This ire, born of the having-it-all uber-commerce of the 1980s, was of course directed at the usual suspects, that stalwart gang of advocates who have traditionally questioned the concept that growth-at-any-price is synonymous with progress --- not for us, such an assumption, and not for others throughout the world who retained any instinct for democracy. Thus did our municipal expressions of distaste for the policies of South Africa and Burma come about.

This past April the Board of Supervisors continued in that vein, voting unanimously (Gavin included) to approve a resolution opposing the Multilateral Agreement on Investments and "similar international agreements that would restrict San Francisco's ability to regulate within its jurisdiction, decide how to use its procurement dollars, and extend benefits to encourage local development in a manner consistent with the U.S. Constitution."

Now, you're certainly aware that John Glenn's trajectory yesterday was another reprise of the Space Age which began with Sputnik in 1957. And that momentous event was an outgrowth of the impetus provided by the Atomic Age 12 years earlier. Leave it to San Francisco's coterie of world-renowned fanatics to have anticipated the advent of post-WWII's third epochal manifestation, the Logo Age. We seem to do some things here very, very well.

The Multilateral Agreement on Investments, you ask? I understand. The Clinton administration has been negotiating this agreement --- designed to give companies and multinational conglomerates the right to override the domestic laws of nation-state governments at the behest of international trade --- in strict secrecy. Congressional hearings on the treaty have been sparse, to be charitable, which is rather interesting since the agreement was expected to be finally completed six months ago. Indeed, this cross-border supra-national authoritarian bonanza which commenced in mid-1995 courtesy of the auspices of the Organization For Economic Development was considered a done deal as early as the fall of 1996, and was to be signed the following May. Wild-eyed and woolly international apostasy, of the sort to be found right 'chere in our fair village, has caused two one-year extensions of the treaty negotiations, and effected another temporary suspension during the OECD's Paris meeting in April. These discussions on the splendors of deregulated global prosperity, so much in evidence of late, resumed in Paris last week.

Hereabouts, the Chronicle and Examiner haven't thought it noteworthy enough to apprise you of that, nor have they reported on past MAI negotiations while taking to task Supervisor Ammiano for Burma-bashing (the treaty, if I may be parenthetical, states that a country's refusal to do business with a Pinochet amounts to "unfair trade"). One might also have expected to hear the dailies' crack staffs pose at least one MAI question during this local electoral campaign, particularly Phil Bronstein's crew, given the legendary international outlook of the boss. Barb, Matt, Gray, Dolph, Willie --- what do you think of all this? How do you think it affects us? The rabid want to know.

The following is a bit of what you may have missed along the way:

Had not the the current economic crisis and our scraggly vexatiousness intervened, this agreement might already have codified the world as eternally safe for the Nike swoosh and the Microsoft billy. It will still require a fight, however, and at some point in the near future it will go to the streets, as the demonstrations in Paris in April prefigured. This is for all the marbles. John Diaz over at the morning paper ain't going to explain the world to us anytime soon, but  you can expect he'll continue to chide us for doing what we do best. Keep on resolving.

--- Copyright John Hutchison 1998

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