The sumptuous chambers in City Hall where the Board of Supervisors hold their meetings has one huge drawback. Even though everyone is talking into microphones, the sound goes straight up into the high-ceilinged chamber and the audience can't hear a darn thing that isn't mush.
So if you actually want to hear the details of a meeting, it's best to go home and turn the dial to Channel 26, the home of San Francisco Government TV. It's the municipal version of C-Span, offering live meetings without any commentary.
At first glance, the meetings are numbingly boring and painful to watch, but once you get to know the players and fall into the jerky, slow rhythm of a legislative session, it becomes truly fascinating.
The Budget and Finance Committee hearings over the last couple of weeks, where each city department tries to justify their expenses, and then usually pleads for more money, has been a real primer in how government actually works. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the gay, leftist supervisor who is chair of the committee, has been really impressive keeping the three-ring circus in motion, and he's been around long enough not to put up with a lot of the usual mendacity. He's joined on the committee by the great leftist Ross Mirkarimi, the seemingly senile Jake McGoldrick whose voting patterns are getting more reactionary every day, and the two Gavin Newsom allies, Sean Elsbernd and Fiona Ma who can be counted on to be as politically self-serving as possible.
Having all this on television is actually quite revolutionary, since it becomes so obvious who the old-fashioned sleaze characters are and who are the people trying to actually change things for the better.
In the category of incompetent, nepotistic, old-fashioned San Franciscans, there's probably no better example than Annemarie Conroy, who was appointed years ago to be a truly terrible Supervisor, then put in charge of Treasure Island scams during Willie Brown's corrupt reign as mayor, and is now in charge of "Emergency Services," the group who couldn't even get out a tsunami warning a couple of weeks ago though they have many millions of dollars in their budget.
Speaking of sleaze, there is some breaking news on the internet about the identity of the White House officials who outed the CIA agent, Valerie Plame, during the runup to war in Iraq. It seems that it was none other than Prince of Darkness Karl Rove, who is about to go down hard. Click here for a link to the news.
And by the way, this latest unraveling of the thread of Bushco corruption was predicted by the great Gore Vidal back in 2003 in an interview with Marc Cooper of the LA Weekly.
Cooper: Yet you saw in the '60s how the Johnson administration collapsed under the weight of its own hubris. Likewise with Nixon. And now with the discontent over how the war in Iraq is playing out, don't you get the impression that Bush is headed for the same fate?
Vidal: I actually see something smaller tripping him up: this business over outing the wife of Ambassador Wilson as a CIA agent. It's often these small things that get you. Something small enough for a court to get its teeth into. Putting this woman at risk because of anger over what her husband has done is bitchy, dangerous to the nation, dangerous to other CIA agents. This resonates more than Iraq. I'm afraid that 90 percent of Americans don't know where Iraq is and never will know, and they don't care.
To read the whole interview, which is prescient in all kinds of ways, click here.