A friend of mine has just returned from a trip to California with friends. They toured from Los Angeles to San Francisco. She told me how she’d heard how beautiful San Francisco is, and had been looking forward to the trip. But she was disappointed, she said when she finally arrived.

She had been terribly surprised by the homeless she saw.

American social problems, other than racial--and even that--are so rarely seen in Canada. American media just don’t seem to find them photogenic. Many, maybe, don’t even think there are any social problems.

Recently, however, I did see an item on how San Francisco is probably the most ‘wired’ city in the world--billboards, car placards are ‘dot com’ this, and ‘dot com’ that everywhere. High tech millionaires come there to spend and be seen. The place everyone with any interest in ‘making it’ in the new world wants to go.

The city of the future.

Over thirty years ago I went to high school in San Francisco. There were no concerns about me travelling the “Muni”--the public transit system, its old green, Mack Truck busses, falling apart; BART just being excavated--during the day. I had absolutely no problems.

A city of music, San Francisco was a city of social experimentation--it always has been.

The city I knew, was the city of hippies, LOVE, flower power, Haight-Ashbury, not all that long after the beat generation, and all the stories of Jack Kerouac. My memories are of a city not too terribly divided along lines of affluence. And while I am sure there were homeless then, I am also sure that I never saw them--as my friend recently did; or as I now see them on the streets of Ottawa and Toronto.

It was a really nice place to live.

San Francisco has been an exceptional city since its founding so very many years ago. It has drawn upon many founding races and cultures, and has always had residents of wealth--one could even say fabulously wealthy, who outdid themselves in trying to do things for the city. They even endowed excellent, tuition-free schools. But I know the extremes have never been so wide, nor have there ever been so many at the bottom end, as now.

San Franciscans always felt themselves a separate state from southern California; I remember when Pat Brown, Sr., went down to electoral defeat to Ronald Reagan, refusing to campaign against what he felt was not a serious political threat.

He was wrong. The iceberg Reagan was the tip of, raised Proposition 13, and similar measures to limit and prevent local and state government from funding services to at least ameliorate the misery created by Hyper Capitalism.

San Francisco is a case study for the American model: the ‘social safety net’, as we call it in Canada, rent asunder to ecstatic crys of Free Capitalism, its dialectic no longer anchored, spins out great wealth for a very few at one end, and a very great misery for a very many at the other.

Cry for San Franscisco.

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