San Francisco was ready to fix its main problem – not for Americans, but for Xi Jinping

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Homeless people suddenly disappeared from the Golden City’s streets ahead of a major international summit

This week, the residents of California’s fourth largest metropolis were surprised to find their streets free of homeless encampments, drug addicts, pimps, and dealers. Did a political revolution happen while they slept, or is something else at play?   

Just as the denizens of San Fransisco were finally getting used to the stench of human urine in the morning, along comes the street cleaners to flip the status quo on its head. Is this a sign that the voters' extravagant tax dollars are finally being put to good use? Well, we can dream. The fact is, this Democratic city, which is playing host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit (November 14-16), has taken great strides to hide its seedier side from the world’s gaze. This old trick has been tried before.

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 A homeless man outside the San Francisco City Hall. Xi credited with San Francisco homeless cleanup

In 1787, with Russia on the brink of war with the Ottoman Empire, Russian Empress Catherine II and various foreign ambassadors made a lengthy excursion to Novorossiya. One of the main objectives of the journey was to impress Russia's allies before hostilities kicked off. To this end, as the historic tale goes, Russian military leader and statesman Grigory Potemkin constructed ‘mobile villages’ along the banks of the Dnieper River. Once the ship carrying the Empress and her court appeared, Potemkin's men, impersonating happy and well-fed peasants, populated the improvised village. After the ship had passed, the entire set was quickly disassembled and rebuilt further downstream, thus the term ‘Potemkin village.’

It has to be said that this story is largely regarded as fictional nowadays. Potemkin apparently did try to make the devastated countryside look more presentable, but how far he went remains disputed. The claims that he was actually trying to deceive the Empress and the ambassadors, rather than simply make things look prettier or advertise the ongoing post-war reconstruction, are attributed to his many detractors at court.

The task facing San Francisco is a bit more challenging than what faced imperial Russia. While many of the city’s marginalized inhabitants were sent packing to remote regions of the empire lest anyone suspect what a wreck the ship of state has become, that leaves Uncle Sam with the problem of all those empty storefront properties. Imagine the embarrassment if Chinese President Xi Jinping, the top guest at the summit, ordered his motorcade to pull over for some American fast food in Union Square, a major commercial hub in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown. Xi would soon discover, if he hadn’t heard the news already, that many famous retail chains had simply vanished.

The prospects for businesses in the once-fabled City by the Bay do not look rosy, and much of the reason boils down to rampant crime, an urban phenomenon that Democratic city leaders seem content to live with. In August, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) advised its hundreds of federal employees in San Francisco to work from home “for the foreseeable future” due to safety concerns.

“In light of the conditions at the Federal Building we recommend employees maximize the use of telework for the foreseeable future,” the memo stated.

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What is doubly embarrassing for the Democratic Party, which largely controls San Francisco, as well as the majority of prime California real estate, is that the office complex in question is officially entitled the ‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building.’

All of this translates into a massive exodus from the once-fabled City on the Bay, which lost 65,000 people, or almost 7% of its population, from July 2020 to July 2022.

The same could be said about the thousands of homeless people – many of whom are hooked on a variety of highly addictive drugs, like meth or heroin or other opioids – who have been temporarily exiled from San Fran’s streets. Heaven forbid if some world leader (Joe Biden?) would accidentally stumble into a zombie apocalypse. Which begs the question: Why should average Americans have to tolerate such deplorable conditions daily, while a fake façade is created once every few years when an international event comes to town?   

Amid the desolation of San Francisco, what will US President Joe Biden and Xi talk about during their planned tête-à-tête on the sidelines of the APEC summit? While it can expected that the Democratic US leader will want to chat about the usual talking points, like climate change, eternal war and promoting 'democracy' half the world away, maybe Xi will play the rude guest and put Biden in the hot seat by asking whatever happened to the once beautiful City by the Bay. Yes, we can dream.

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