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Reading the Fed 

How long a recession, if the Federal Reserve adopts "Positively Outrageous Service" as an official slogan?

Wednesday, Aug 8 2001
Forget last week's Commerce Department figures announcing declining U.S. income and economic output. Brush aside June's dramatic drop in factory orders. Never mind the tens of thousands of Bay Area layoffs announced last month. The most alarming harbinger of economic apocalypse is to be found inside the walls of 101 Market St.:

Our local branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve is holding a customer-care slogan competition.

The Federal Reserve regulates banks, provides banking services to government agencies, and, most important, attempts to maintain the stability of the U.S. financial system, and by extension, the health of the U.S. economy. Somebody at the bank seems to think its image will need bolstering during the coming months. According to an internal bank memo obtained by SF Weekly, the S.F. Fed has asked employees to "choose a slogan that best promotes a customer service culture."

The resulting submissions offer a rare glimpse into the minds of the worker bees who run America's economy.

- "The best customer service for the best customers," one Fed employee wrote in the apparent belief that the bust end of the recent boom-and-bust cycle has left the rich largely unscathed. Under this Fed policy slogan, those who aren't the economy's best customers -- McDonald's wage-slaves, for instance -- would presumably be screwed. But maybe that's just a statement of the obvious ....

- For market-watching types angered that the Fed erred by lowering interest rates too late to avert a recession, there's this slogan: "Positively outrageous service."

- For people who believe the downturn could be much, much, much worse than it's been, one employee suggested "Exceeding expectations -- the Fed's way."

- For the rest of us, who've always harbored the subtle fear that the people running our economy are either deranged or semiliterate, the following suggested slogans will come as no surprise:

"Everybody's success rely in good customer service."

"Knock your socks off service."

"Strive for excellence to maintain good customer relationship."

"Excellent customer services are our financial pillars."

"Great service; an affair of the heart."

- And finally, for those who fear the worries of the current economic meltdown may send them and their families to the great hereafter, there's this bit of prose perfection: "Reaching above and beyond for our customers."

While we're on the subject of bad customer service, I'm told the Chronicle has been deluged with letters from citizens angered by that paper's criticism of Supervisor Chris Daly's "where is the love" outburst at the Board of Supervisors' budget meeting a couple of weeks ago. Sources in Daly's office, meanwhile, say their phone lines burned up with supportive calls after the Chronicle editorial page called Daly a "civic embarrassment."

To reprise: At a July 23 budget meeting of the board, Daly suffered an odd outburst after the supervisors voted against granting Daly's proposal to increase the salary of a city clocker who Daly believes is underpaid. He then made an odd speech in which he said, "I'm not feeling the love," and is reported to have banged his head against the wall outside the board's chambers.

A smarter man would have spoken to colleagues to make absolutely sure he had the necessary votes before taking the potentially embarrassing step of putting an employee's proposed raise on the board's agenda. A calmer, worldlier man wouldn't have become unsettled by the unromantic nature of public deliberative bodies.

But before the reasonable people of this city breathe a collective sigh of relief, gladdened that San Francisco's most backward-thinking politician has irreversibly damaged himself, I think it's important to ponder those letters and phone calls I referenced. Early setbacks have become an almost intractable part of American political mythology -- think Willie Stark's initial disappointments in the Robert Penn Warren novel All the King's Men. I know what you're thinking: Willie Stark? Chris Daly? Gedaddaheah! But this is not as great a stretch as it seems.

The ignorance, arrogance, and emotional instability that Daly demonstrated at the budget meeting were astonishing, perhaps. But Daly's term runs until January 2003. Even a witless person learns to count votes over the course of a year; even the most arrogant advocate realizes it's necessary to get at least six of 11 votes to win a Board of Supervisors victory; even the most deluded romantic learns policy-making isn't usually an act of love.

By year's end, I suspect even Chris Daly will be consulting with his colleagues before putting items the board's agenda. And I imagine he'll go home and kick his cat, rather than freak out in public, when things don't go his way.

This prospect is horrifying, and I urge forward-thinking San Franciscans to consider facing it now, when it might be forestalled: Chris Daly could eventually become an effective legislator. He and low-lumen cohorts such as Jake McGoldrick may learn the basics of policy, and, if their statements regarding housing construction, commercial development, tenancies in common, and other policy areas are any indication, they will accomplish horrid, destructive things.

Which raises an important point. As valuable as the ad hominem attack may be as a tool for the columnist with a deadline to meet, it makes for a blunt instrument indeed when it comes to political analysis or effect. George W. Bush may be an inarticulate cokehead alcoholic with lush-trollop kids, but he's running roughshod over America just the same. Bill Clinton may have dorked floozies with pathological verve as he smilingly lied about it -- but he also successfully kicked serious Republican butt. And Willie Brown -- sure, he's now assumed to look like a walrus, but this does not limit him politically.

So although it's gratifying for those among us who care about the poor, the environment, and everything we value in San Francisco to rejoice in Daly's blunders, there is actually scant reason to celebrate.

Peering into the future, it's possible to see him sitting in the back seat of a whale-sized Cadillac moving up Highway 101 at 98 miles per hour. His driver is a simple man with road skills so acute he can wipe the snot off a donkey's nose with his mirror. The Cadillac is followed by a car full of press men and photographers, overseen by Daly's press secretary. Her name is Sadie Burke, and it's summer 2006, and scorching outside.

And Chris Daly's running for governor.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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