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Politics as Usual

2023: A remarkable year

A review of highlights and lowerlights

As we race toward the open maw that is 2024, let’s take a moment to remember what was a truly remarkable year. I am talking about 2023, of course; and I also acknowledge that “remarkable” is a word that could mean “surprisingly good” or “surprisingly awful.” It was a year of dodging self-driving taxis, bridge-closing protesters, big international happenings, and Taylor Swift, who officially took over the worlds of stage and screen and then the world itself.

Let’s start with the fun people.

ARTS AND CULTURE

The Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to Jon Fosse, which set off a short-lived celebration of the long-overdue recognition of choreography. Once people realized it was Jon Fosse, not Bob, and he is just some writer from Norway, things returned to normal. Taylor Swift won 10 Billboard Music Awards and another Grammy, and conducted a worldwide tour that set records while also starring in a concert film that at press time has raked in between 10 and 20 times its production budget. 

BUSINESS

X, bought by Elon Musk for $44 billion and now worth 44 billion yen, became a favorite platform for extremists, resulting in a mass exodus of advertisers such as Apple, IBM, Lionsgate, and Disney, which said it would rather advertise on Ron DeSantis’s campaign bus. This resulted in X’s boss suing the people who pointed out the racist content on the platform. Considering Musk also challenged Facebook’s CEO to a cage fight, this was only the second most bizarre thing Musk did in 2023.

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift officially became a billionaire, buoyed by her mega-successful Eras tour. For her summer 2023 appearance in the Bay Area, Swift brought about a major social justice victory when Levi’s Stadium dropped its ban on friendship bracelets at her concert.

REALLY NOT GOOD

The world stage was a mess. The war in Ukraine continued, where nearly 11,000 civilians and about 200,000 of soldiers have died. Russia pulled out of a major nuclear arms reduction treaty and more than 20 European agreements on human rights and democracy, given it wasn’t using them anyway. Hamas attacked Israel, which responded by trying to destroy Hamas. Meanwhile, there were coups in Niger and Gabon and Kevin McCarthy’s office. 

In the never-ending battle between the forces of democracy and autocracy, it was win one, lose one. Poland’s voters gave the boot to the grumpy right-wing government that has been, shall we say, Orbán-curious; but Argentina elected a right-wing presidential candidate who — and it’s important you know that I’m not making this up — gets advice from his dogs.

POLITICS

Former San Francisco mayor and longtime U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein passed away at the end of September. Governor Gavin Newsom managed to MacGyver his way out of his rash promise to appoint a Black woman while not appointing Barbara Lee by choosing Laphonza Butler. Butler stated she did not plan to seek actual election to the seat, though talk quickly began that she would seek to replace Newsom in the governor’s office.

In San Francisco, the beautiful city by the bay confronted with a drug crisis and a sad downtown, incumbent Mayor London Breed cut her last ties to the progressives and started talking tough. On crime. On drugs. On soccer stadiums. Her move to the moderate zone drew squawks from Daniel Lurie and Ahsha Safaí, who had forgotten that Breed knows how to play politics San Francisco style — that is, elbows-out. The race is over.

On the insane side, two darlings of the progressive wing of the left, the Democratic Socialists of America and some in Black Lives Matter, drew squawks from erstwhile allies among normal liberals when they were tied to demonstrations and online postings seemingly in support of Hamas terrorists. Who knew they actually meant what they’ve been saying repeatedly?

Also on the national scene, former president Donald Trump was indicted by federal prosecutors in Florida and Washington, D.C.; state prosecutors in New York and Georgia; and probably Taylor Swift.

APEC

San Francisco showed it does know how to clean up, as long as it’s for the benefit of foreign delegations in town for the huge Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings. The city managed not to embarrass itself, while actual things got actually done. One of the biggest “dones” was a high-stakes meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s leader  Xi Jinping in nearby Woodside, where they rebooted a troubled relationship, offering the one recent example of lowered international tensions in a year of wars and massacres.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCES

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman appeared at The Commonwealth Club with AI expert Dr. Joy Buolamwini, and days later he was booted from OpenAI by its board. The board then tried to hire him back, saw him jump to Microsoft, faced a revolt by almost all of its employees, including one who was literally on the board and had voted to boot Sam Altman, who then returned to run OpenAI with a new board. This drama at one of the vanguards of the AI revolution surprisingly did not instill confidence in people worried about the stability and reliability of humans to control AI.

WHATEVER

The San Francisco Giants ended in fourth place in their division, with a winning percentage of .488 — which is a great batting average. But at least the pitchers were forced to pitch more quickly.

2024 PREDICTIONS

Taylor Swift will lead a special commando force that will bring peace to the Middle East. She will stop in Ukraine long enough to hold a concert that ends the war. Nominated for president by acclamation by the Democratic, Republican, and the Legal Marijuana Now Party (a real thing), she will turn it down, refusing to give up her power, especially since the College of Cardinals has her shortlisted to succeed Pope Francis.

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