As we wind down one year and prepare for the next, it’s worth a look at the incredibly strange year that we just experienced.
“Fake news” has been much in discussion of late, and media organizations across the country are coming up with new initiatives to help reporters and the public discern the level of truth in news reports. The Marina Times is doing its part, too, so in each section of this article, there is one item of fake news. We will reveal the fake bit at the end of each item, thereby rendering snopes.com useless.
First, to understand much about American politics this past year, it helps to look at the German empire — the second reich, to be exact. Historians refer to 1888 as the Year of the Three Kaisers, because Kaiser Wilhelm I died and was succeeded by Kaiser Frederick III, who passed away after only 99 days and was succeeded by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who reigned long enough to run his country into the ground and abdicate. Here in San Francisco, we experienced the Year of the Three Mayors, when acting mayor London Breed was replaced by Mark Farrell in January, who served until Breed reclaimed the office in the June election.
Still with us? Then let’s continue.
The president of the United States began the year by referring to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole countries” and lamenting the dearth of immigrants from Norway. Not surprisingly, in a fall interview with Fox News, President Donald Trump graded his performance so far and gave himself an A+. Voters disagreed, turning the U.S. House of Representatives over to the opposition Democrats for the first time in eight years, capturing numerous state houses and state legislative seats, and nearly flipping some GOP seats in the deep South. In California, blue became the new Orange, as famously conservative Orange County flipped, with all seven of its congressional seats now in the hands of Democrats.
One result is that San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi found herself in a position to be the first and the second female speaker of the House. At press time, she was fighting off a rebellion of a handful of moderates who opposed her, but indications are that she is likely to win.
We go back to a different German reich to rediscover the word Lügenpresse — “lying press,” a favorite accusation of the extreme Right about the media when the media has the temerity to report what’s happening. President Trump got back at one of his chief antagonists when the White House banned CNN’s Jim Acosta because of his aggressive behavior at a press conference. This behavior included hogging the limelight and continuing to ask questions. This behavior did not include placing his hands on an intern who was trying to control the microphone, but that didn’t stop Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from releasing a doctored video that made it look as if Acosta had done just that. After a lawsuit, a judge’s ruling, and support for CNN even from Fox News, the Trump administration backed down and restored Acosta’s press pass. This led to the satirical Onion headline “Jim Acosta Immediately Decks White House Intern After Being Let Back Into Press Pool.” It is not yet known if Sanders will release that Onion article to back up her anti-Acosta crusade.
In other political news, President Trump finally fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, declared himself a nationalist, supported Saudi Arabia despite evidence its crown prince ordered the brutal murder of a journalist, and fired white nationalist aide Stephen Miller.
On the local level, London Breed might have been the sole survivor of the Year of the Three Mayors, but voters gave the progressive bloc a majority on the Board of Supervisors and rejected her opposition to a tax-the-rich proposition.
What was fake? Trump did not fire Stephen Miller. Now, that would have been an A+ move.
In the fall of 2017, the Wine Country fires devastated many lives and businesses and sent a suffocating cloud of smoke over the bay. Last month, the Butte County fire killed dozens of people, flattened the town of Paradise and blanketed the Bay Area with more heavy pollution. President Trump visited the devastation and warmly comforted locals who had lost everything in the disaster.
What was fake? What Trump actually did when he visited was serve up this word salad: “You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know, the floors of the forests; it’s very important. . . . I was with the president of Finland, and he said, ‘We have much different — we’re a forest nation,’ he called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem, and when it is, it’s a very small problem” and “What we saw at Pleasure — what a name, right now — but what we just saw, we just left Pleasure — or, Paradise — and what we just saw at Paradise is just, uh, just not acceptable.”
BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS
With all of the political shenanigans taking place, the business world decided it needed to be more interesting, so this year Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk smoked pot during an interview and got sued by the SEC over a bizarre yes-I-am-no-I’m-not series of comments about taking Tesla private. Facebook chiefs Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg saw that and said, “Hold my beer; watch this” and were outed by The New York Times for incompetent and dishonest handling of Russian use of Facebook’s platform to interfere with U.S. elections. Google employees staged a walkout over the company’s incompetent and dishonest handling of sexual harassment, and Apple CEO Tim Cook alleged that a British cave diver who helped save some trapped soccer kids was a molester.
On the macroeconomic side, employment is very low and the stock market had a banner run until it dropped late in the year due to the self-inflicted wounds of the president’s trade wars.
What was fake? Cook didn’t make (and later retract) the baseless claim against the British diver — that was also Musk.
BECAUSE IT’S SCIENCE
The worlds of science had all sorts of news for us this year, some of it bad. For example, in January the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2017 had been the costliest year on record for climate and weather-related disasters in the United States. In March, a woman in Arizona was killed by an Uber self-driving car. And even though Donna Strickland became the first woman in 55 years to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, she was still not allowed to have a Twitter account.
But scientists also blew our minds and expanded our horizons this year. Astronomers took what they say is the first confirmed image of a newborn planet (it’s called PDS 70b, if you’re keeping track at home). Also in space but getting closer to us every minute is an interstellar object called Oumuamua, which is believed to have traveled for 600,000 years before reaching our star system. There was some speculation — including from actual real, accredited scientists — that the object could have been created by actual real, nonaccredited space aliens from the star Vega, but that idea was shot down by other killjoy scientists.
What was fake? Strickland wasn’t forbidden to use Twitter, but she was deemed unworthy of having a Wikipedia page about her. That has since been rectified.
In October 2017, the term #MeToo spread like magic on social media as women — and some men — shared stories of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace. In 2018, the movement truly went international, from China to Afghanistan and beyond. In the United States, the most significant #MeToo moment came when accusers succeeded in stopping the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court because of sexual assault allegations.
What was fake? Brett “Bart O’Kavanaugh” Kavanaugh was successfully appointed to the Supreme Court.
Here at the Marina Times, we lost two legendary names: columnists Ernest Beyl and Bruce Bellingham. We still greatly miss them and their wit, erudition, and storytelling.
Bruce and Ernie joined a long list of notables who passed away in 2018, including country superstar Roy Clark, the queen of soul Aretha Franklin, Marvel Comics hero Stan Lee, Jefferson Airplane co-founder Marty Barlin (known as Martyn Jerel Buchwald when he attended high school in San Francisco), actor Burt Reynolds, Senator John McCain, playwright Neil Simon, writer Charles Krauthammer, chef Anthony Bourdain, designer Kate Spade, actor Margot Kidder, former First Lady Barbara Bush, physicist Stephen Hawking, evangelist Billy Graham, Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, San Francisco’s “Tamale Lady” Virginia Ramos, Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, Dwight “The Catch” Clark, novelist Tom Wolfe, and Tony Award-winner Barbara Harris.
What was fake? Only our belief that these people would never die.
This year, the Giants played baseball, perhaps because they had no choice. They finished their 60th year in San Francisco with a dismal 73–89 record, fourth place in the division. But the Golden State Warriors are following up their second championship season in first place in their division. And the San Francisco 49ers have so far lost eight games, which would be awesome if they were a basketball team. Alas, they keep playing football, perhaps because they have no choice.
What was fake? At press time, the 49ers have lost nine games.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
As we prepare for a fresh start in 2019, we are comforted by the knowledge that it could have been worse. After all, in the year A.D. 193, Rome had what was called The Year of the Five Emperors, due to a series of perfectly innocent deaths that saw the imperial title run through the improbably named Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus, and Septimius Severus. (True fact: “Kaiser” is the German word for “Caesar.”)