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Ralph Nader, Corporate patriotism


call_eaerthquake.jpg (40062 bytes)

Call Building, 1906 (Library of Congress)

Out of the ruins

As the dust settles and we begin to take stock, one thing is clear: the United States in general and the City and County of San Francisco in particular have some major repair work to do.

The economy, which was stumbling before September 11, has fallen flat on its face, leaving thousands of people newly unemployed. This bellyflop presents problems of its own, but it also makes our other tasks much, much more difficult.

What other tasks? Everywhere you turn, a new one pops out at you. On the national level, not only is the airline industry floundering; the security system that we depend on turns out to be haphazard — to put it mildly. The American Airlines plane crash last week also raised questions about delayed maintenance and aging equipment. And a major alternative means of transportation — Amtrak — has announced that it may not have long to live.

Here at home, we have begun to doubt the security of the bridges that connect us to the rest of the Bay Area. Our already ailing public health system seems hardly fit to tackle a full-blown epidemic and, Laura Wellman points out in the Chronicle, our lack of an air ambulance landing site near SF General makes it difficult for us to extend our expert emergency care to the hinterlands.

The city’s schools are in shambles. The recent election was fraught with suspicion. Understaffed, underfunded police departments allow homicides to go unsolved, as Carol Dimmick ably details in Getting Away with Murder in the City of St. Francis. The list goes on.

We’re talking about infrastructure. While the happy grasshoppers of the 1990s played, the networks that hold our society together frayed. And now, when they urgently need infusions of cash, the coffers haven’t got much to contribute.

Perhaps more distressing that the lack of funds, however, is the lack of concern that the public has expressed over the state of its health. Somebody — the government? the media? — hasn’t been doing a very good job of keeping people informed. And other somebodies have been willing to take advantage of the lack of oversight.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Probably a lot of small steps to reverse a lot of other, misdirected ones. But I do know that we’ve got to learn — maybe relearn — to ask probing questions, to realize that official actions affect private lives, and above all that silence doesn’t mean everything is A-OK.

Betsey Culp