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Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Cloudy Wednesday

Singing the Post-Election Blues

By Gino Rembetes

When the Nazis took over Greece, the composer-musician Vasilis Tsitanis wrote a song about it, “Cloudy Sunday.” I’m reminded of it this post-election morning as I look out at a gray San Francisco sky.

Have the Nazis gained control here? One could make a case for it.

Locally, statewide, and nationally, the results reflect a meanness among the electorate - from Supervisor/would-be Mayor Gavin Newsom’s no-cash, no-care initiative (Prop. N) that San Francisco voters passed overwhelmingly to the Republican sweep in Congress that promises to enable the Cheney-Bush administration to move its anti-civil rights, pro-corporate agenda ever so swiftly and broadly forward.

Nor should the Democrats take comfort in their candidates’ success in California; Gov. Gray Davis is no friend of civil rights, especially the First Amendment, or of the public’s right to know, and he’s never seen an execution he didn’t like. Small wonder that several thousand of the party “faithful” weren’t, opting instead to leave that part of their ballots blank or vote for (dare we say it?) the Greens’ Peter Camejo.

Here’s what San Franciscans can expect: Even in this “liberal” city, the rich will get richer and more oppressive, thanks to low voter turnout in predominantly progressive neighborhoods and assists from PG&E surrogates such as Mayor Willie Brown and the company’s favorite U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein.

With PG&E having again defeated a public-power measure (Prop. D) and being apparently close to escaping the jurisdiction of state regulators, don’t be surprised if your electricity bill starts a rapid, steep climb within a year.

The victory of Prop. N, coupled with the defeat of an initiative (Prop. O) that would have mandated some assistance programs for the homeless, will deteriorate public safety. Illness and premature death among the homeless will rise, while “respectable” folk will increasingly become prey to robbers, pick-pockets, purse-snatchers, burglars, thieves, etc. - people forced to turn to crime to feed their children or buy life-saving medicine.

Sure, City Hall could put more police officers on the streets - except that it can’t afford them because voters turned down a measure (Prop. L) that would have made downtown businesses pay their fair share of taxes.

In a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, Paul Krugman examines the phenomenon and the consequences of the disappearance of the nation’s middle class. One upshot, he says, is that the wealthy are able to manipulate the communications media and, thus, the public discourse.

(Ben Bagdikian, a nationally renowned professor emeritus of UC Berkeley, has warned for decades about the consolidation of media ownership, pointing out that it eliminates the competition incentive to buoy the quality of news coverage, and it robs us of the diversity of viewpoints and the vigorous debate that are essential to democracy.)

The outcomes of local public-power measures this year and last underscore Krugman’s point: PG&E won because it could buy lots of television and radio time, and produce reams of material to distribute to the voters. The company outspent public-power proponents by about 24-1 last year, and the ratio this year is likely to approach 40-1.

Air-time buying power isn’t the only form of manipulation. Davis refused to include “minor” party challengers, particularly Camejo, in a debate sponsored by the Los Angeles Times; in fact, he even insisted that Camejo not be allowed to join the audience as a guest of Republican Bill Simon. Worse, the Times bowed to Davis on the matter. Similarly, at Feinstein’s insistence, the Greens’ Medea Benjamin was barred from participating in a senatorial-race debate at KRON-TV in 2000.

It’s bad enough that the mainstream media choose to ignore the diminution of the voice of the economically and politically dispossessed; it’s worse - in fact, unpardonable - that they help effect it.

And the skies grow ever cloudier.

Gino Rembetes is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and progressive activist.