A confederacy of Grinches

This was the year when America's heart—and borders—threatened to shrink three sizes too small

Did you ever have a non-voting friend or relative try to justify their lack of civic engagement by saying that it didn’t really matter who ran the country? Allow us to present 2018 as our rebuttal.

“Shithole countries.” Children in cages. Plotting against transgender identity. Standing with Vladimir Putin against America’s intelligence agencies. Choosing Saudi oil over thousands of Yemeni lives and one journalist’s.

Call it trickle-down behavior-nomics, but this was the year the president’s moral rot took hold like herpes. Things just felt meaner this year. Even public figures who front progressive values were hiding some hypocrisy. That election two years ago may have been one small step for a tax-dodging snot who hoarded his dying father’s wealth, but it’s been one giant leap backward for humankind.

Because here’s the thing: Presidents set the tone for the country. They’re like the nation’s dads (so far anyway). And when you have an abusive one, the kids act out.

Here’s the other thing: If these United States are to survive this radioactive period in history, we’re going to have to set the example from here on out. It may be too late for these 25 Grinches (one for each day of Christmas!), but it isn’t too late for the rest of us. See you in 2019. (Raheem F. Hosseini)

Fight for your alt-right

“The time is now. We’re gonna have to get some swollen fists. We’re gonna have to fight.”

That’s what Gabe Silva, Sacramento Proud Boys leader and “America first” bro said after returning from the far-right group’s clash with antifa in Portland this June. All amped up and ready to rumble, Silva immediately took to Facebook and live-streamed a 30-minute rant. Highlighting perceived social ills such as “gender fluidity,” he frequently concluded that violent retaliation is the only way to win back the country from the commies. It wasn’t long before Facebook took down the video. If I were him, I’d be less concerned with gender fluidity and more concerned with the fact that the Proud Boys organization accidentally doxxed their own elders last month after they failed to properly redact the names from their public bylaws. The bylaws also revealed a mandatory “no wanks” rule, which honestly explains a lot. (Rachel Mayfield)

Sacramento's premier school-to-prison pipeline

Still think systemic racism isn’t a thing? Black boys can’t pretend, especially if they’re in a Sacramento City Unified School District classroom, where they’re more likely to be suspended than in any other district in California. A recent study showed that in the 2016 school year, SCUSD suspended around 20 percent of its black male students, hundreds more than even Los Angeles Unified, the second largest district in the country. What about white male students? Guess. Kids who are suspended or expelled from school are more likely to see the inside of a juvenile courtroom. These children deserve teachers, not wardens. (Mozes Zarate)

Nestlé quit

Given that it’s one of the five most profitable brands in the country for bottled water, Nestlé Pure’s water deal with the city of Sacramento makes the corporation, like the mean one himself, “as charming as an eel.” SN&R asked the city’s Department of Utilities in August just how much water Nestlé pulls from Sacramento’s rivers and groundwater wells and was told that the data is “considered confidential.” However much water the company is sucking and selling back to us, it’s worth noting that Nestlé pays the same rate as any other water customer. Ain’t that somethin'? (Steph Rodriguez)

Offseason incumbents

Sheriff Scott Jones banished independent oversight of his department after he won his third term in June. Likewise, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert absolved the deputies who shot Mikel McIntyre in the back across a rush-hour freeway only after her reelection. And yet, Sacramento’s most hard-line politicians aren’t to blame for remaining true to their natures—that’d be like blaming a scorpion for stabbing a frog in the back. It’s our elections, stupid.

The county schedules important local races during primary elections when most voters don’t vote. Worse, runoffs aren’t automatic, and are only triggered if none of the candidates surpasses 50 percent of the vote. The county could shift to a system that automatically advances the top two vote-getters in local races to November runoffs, but that would mess with incumbents’ grip on power. This fakakta system especially benefits countywide electeds (shocker), who eke into office again and again because of their paltry name recognition and low voter turnout. This is how Jones and Schubert prevailed at a time when Stephon Clark’s name became a global cry for law enforcement accountability. Please don’t tell us Clark’s needless death mattered more to the world than to his hometown. (RFH)

Cold heart, colder cases

Speaking of Jones, his sheriff’s department is the largest California law enforcement agency with the worst record at solving rapes, bottoming out at 3 percent in 2016 and never recovering. When we asked why, we got inaccurate information. This department has smart, dedicated investigators. But the sheriff and his leadership team own an assortment of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination allegations. Could the two things be related? (RFH)

Soccer punch

Some days it feels like this city keeps getting headbutted by Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer. We’ve been contenders for a grovel-worthy MLS expansion franchise for years now—but with 26 out of 28 franchises filled and franchise fees rising steadily, we’re dealing with some moving goalposts. Look, in 2015, Garber told The Sacramento Bee that our town was a shoo-in for a spot. In 2016, Garber visited the city and we threw him a damn block party. Now, amid concerns over funding and leadership, who knows when we’ll get our due. We’re a proud people here in the state capital. We think we’re a major league city—so give us a major league franchise, Don! (Maxfield Morris)

The fruit fly epidemic of 2018

Sacramento farmers markets looked like something out of a science fiction movie at the peak of summer harvest with rows of fruits and vegetables hidden beneath protective netting. That, and 123 square miles of land, was quarantined all thanks to the Oriental fruit fly. A real pain in the you-know-what for farmers and consumers alike, the invasive pest forced farmers, who owned land within quarantined areas, to spray vulnerable crops for at least 90 days before they were given the all-clear to sell their produce at markets. More than 230 different “host plants” such as cucumbers, summer and winter squash, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers attract this particular breed of fruit fly. And it really harshed summertime’s bountiful mellow. (S.R.)

Property over people

Look, no one’s saying that property and business owners shouldn’t discuss ways to improve their shared blocks. But then there are property and business improvement districts, or PBIDs, poorly regulated members-only clubs that have run hog wild in Sacramento and other California cities. In September, the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Public Policy Clinic reinforced what many here already suspected: Using taxpayer dollars, local PBIDs work behind the scenes to run homeless people off public corners—and harangue the police into doing their bidding. The Downtown Sacramento Partnership, whose board includes Mayor Darrell Steinberg, City Councilman Steve Hansen and high-ranking members of the Kings organization, even got the police to realign a patrol beat with DSP’s boundaries. Rather than hold secret meetings to conspire against the hardest to help, this dime store illuminati could and should use its resources to create districts for everyone, not just themselves. (RFH)

The Boardwalk (only) rocks

Why did you ruin it for everyone? In this case, we’re not talking about the folks who shot up a Lil Darrion concert at the Boardwalk in Orangevale in June, injuring three people. We really mean Mark Earl, the Boardwalk’s longtime owner, who decided that in response, there’d be no more hip-hop or rap shows booked at the venue. Nothing against the two vastly different styles of music, he told SN&R, it’s just, “the crowd, you can’t anticipate what they may or may not do.” Mark, if you think banning whole genres will keep criminals with guns from attending your shows, you’re missing a lot of genres. Instead, you’ve created a new issue by shutting out artists (and audiences) who already struggle to put on shows in Sacramento due to the same implicit bias. (M.Z.)

The man behind the mailers

It’s an American tradition when members of a community get involved in their hometown politics, especially if they’re trying to protect the future and character of place they love, right? Not in the eyes of Chris Norem, director of government and political affairs for the Northern California Building Industry Association. When 30-year Folsom resident and planning commissioner Aaron Ralls ran for City Council this year on a controlled-growth platform, Norem and the BIA spent $105,000 in attack ads, leveraging everything from rumors and innuendo to blatant stereotypes around the barber’s arm tattoos. Norem also had the BIA spend tens of thousands on supporting Ralls’ pro-development rivals. Money talks and voters who weren’t paying attention (again) handed the city of Folsom’s future over to developers like Norem to do with as they please. You’re a mean one, Mr. Chris. (Scott Thomas Anderson)

Who would Jesus pooh-pooh?

You’ve got to hand it to Courage Worldwide founder Jenny Williamson. She believes her own hype. Once the media and state regulators got wise that her evangelical anti-human trafficking charity was actually a cha-chinging empire that never delivered on its promises and petered out amid scandal, did Williamson do the Christian thing and seek forgiveness? Hell no. Like all charlatans of the modern age, “Mama Jenny” rebranded, twisting her fall from grace into a business opportunity. Now running an unlicensed room-and-board for adults, Williamson tells prospective donors her “Courage House Two” is a sanctuary for her formerly trafficked charges. But her exploited clientele has to pay rent and perform chores for the privilege of shelter. Meanwhile, Williamson, lathering on the Southern schmaltz like Paula Deen at an NAACP mixer, makes no mention in her donate-a-thon social media blitzes that the state practically shut her down for turning survivors into marketing material. Sweet Christmas. (RFH)

DMV for VIPs

News of a “secret” DMV office in the Legislative Office Building made the rounds in August this year—touted by media outlets as a locale for legislators to leave the long lines at the DMV behind. It’s a Grinchy tale: Our own elected officials using their constituents as stepping stones to special privileges, leaving the downtrodden masses to suffer the torture of Saturday morning DMV lines. The Sacramento Bee reported that the office serves the needs of current and retired legislators and other officials. It also serves as a locus for civilian DMV complaints forwarded by legislators—but the special privileges remain. Seven Grinches out of 10. (M.M.)

#MeToo's false allies

The cultural touchstone of a reckoning, unleashed in 2017 with sexual assault allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein, certainly didn’t let up in 2018. Consider Eric Bauman, the former nurse and first openly gay person to lead the California Democratic Party. He resigned November 29 in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct allegations. Yes, that’s the same Eric Bauman who, according to a 2017 Los Angeles Times article, declared that his party exercised a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.

What. The. Actual. Hell.

The once-self righteous Bauman now stands accused of making sexually explicit comments as well as inappropriately touching or intimidating co-workers, party staffers and political activists. We should be surprised. But honestly we’re not—not anymore anyway. Not ever again, probably. Because creepy men gonna creep. Even the ones we trusted. For every ridiculous Brett Kavanaugh frat boy of a cliché, there’s an Eric Bauman who thinks he can hide behind a liberal facade. For every cartoonishly villainous Les Moonves, there’s an Eric Schneiderman who believes progressive goods atone behavioral bads. No, no and hell no. We see you smug, creepy, liberal men. Beware, in 2019 you’re officially canceled. (Rachel Leibrock)

Voting against roofs over our heads

Proposition 10, the ballot measure to repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and put rent stabilization authority back in the hands of local governments, seemed like an obvious way to chip away at California’s growing affordable housing crisis. Nearly 60 percent of the state’s voters disagreed, however, stingily shooting down the proposed law. What’s to blame? An effectively misleading campaign on the part of the real estate and developer lobbyists? Genuine confusion about what Prop. 10 would actually cover (rental homes, and duplexes, for example, would have been exempt)? Or was it Scroogy voter apathy over the state’s prohibitively expensive rents and mortgages? Even Charles Dickens wouldn’t write that unhappy ending. (R.L.)

The old guard

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have both been trailblazers for women in politics and have records of accomplishment that are the envy of many politicians. But isn’t it getting close to the time they make way for new, younger leaders?

By running for a fifth term, Feinstein, 85, scared off potential challengers who could have been stronger candidates than state Sen. Kevin de Leon, whom she defeated handily in November. If she serves out her new six-year term, it’ll be at least 2024 until ambitious pols in California can aim for this Senate seat, creating a logjam of potential new leaders, especially on the Democratic side. As for Pelosi, 78, in Congress since 1987, it appears that she’ll become House speaker again in January. After 32 Democrats voted against her nomination, to seal the deal she announced December 12 that she will serve no more than four years as speaker.

While it’s understandable that our nation’s first female speaker wants the job back, it means the holdover Democratic leadership team is basically the same old, same old—and we do mean old. For a party that needs younger voters, that’s a recipe for political disaster in 2020—and for the unthinkable prospect of four more years of the Grinch-in-chief. (Foon Rhee)

Where there's smoke, there's climate change deniers

The devastating Camp Fire killed at least 86 people, destroyed entire communities and left thousands homeless. The effects of its noxious smoke, which billowed hazardously into the Sacramento Valley, also served as a stark reminder of climate change’s disastrous effects. While a certain chump of a president may naively blame California’s fires on poor forest floor management (!), scientists know otherwise. The recently released National Climate Assessment report, a congressionally mandated document released by the Trump administration, draws a direct line between drought, rising temperatures and decreasing humidity, and deadly wildfires. Climate change, the report says, presents urgent “challenges to human health and quality of life.” Even the thickest of smoke can’t cloud California’s most urgent crisis—climate change deniers be damned. (R.L.)

Too fiery to fail

While it hasn’t been definitively proven that PG&E’s power lines caused the Camp Fire, distressing evidence is pointing in that direction—again! If PG&E ends up being linked to the disaster, that will tie its operations to both the first and second most catastrophic fires in California history, not to mention the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010. More than 130 people have died between those three events, yet California lawmakers seem determined to protect the utility giant at all costs, apparently convinced it’s too big to fail. The Legislature’s latest move was to grant PG&E a bailout for the Tubbs Fire and relax culpability for future fires. In a state ravaged by flames, it’s not just about the message lawmakers are sending PG&E; it’s about the tone deaf and extremely Grinchy message they are sending the rest of us. (STA)

Con despair

Hey, you know how everyone loves firefighters? Well, about that: Around 1,500 prisoners helped contain wildfires such as the Camp Fire this year, for a day’s pay of $2, two days off their sentences per shift and an extra dollar per hour on the fire line. We might decry that as worker exploitation, slave labor maybe, but the state bills it as a major cost savings, so much that when it came time to discuss lowering the state’s bloated prison population in 2014, it was the rebuttal of choice by lawyers at the former attorney general’s office. But we’re actually helping the inmates, Cal Fire says. Except when these firefighters leave prison and reenter society, Cal Fire generally disqualifies ex-cons who apply for the work they’ve heroically done. Thanks for applying (and really, thank you for your service), but no thanks. (M.Z.)

Deceitful leafy greens

As of December 6, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as public health and regulatory officials in several states and in Canada, were still investigating an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to none other than romaine lettuce. At least 52 people in 15 states, including this writer, were affected after eating contaminated romaine. Just when a girl tries to meal prep for the week and be healthy, but no! The CDC continues to advise consumers to avoid the devious tall head, especially if its harvested anywhere near the Central Coast growing regions of California. Because of this, SN&R advises readers to make New Year’s resolutions that include eating more spinach or kale, unless those otherwise innocuous greens are next on E. coli’s hit list. (S.R.)

Raising self-awareness

In an ironic lack of self-awareness, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech commemorating World AIDS Day without once mentioning the 2014 HIV outbreak that happened under his governorship in Scott County, Indiana. Instead, he announced increased federal funding for faith-based organizations, all while deftly skirting around certain high-risk groups, including people who inject drugs, sex workers, trans women and men who have sex with men. Because we all know the best way to prevent HIV is to never talk about needles or condoms. Here in Sac, we’re fortunate to have organizations such as Harm Reduction Services, the Sacramento LGBT Center, the Sex Workers Outreach Program and Golden Rule Services, all dedicated to talking about needles, condoms and other safe practices. Hopefully, they’ll continue to do good work in our community long after Pence is gone. (R.M.)

Drowning in current events

This was the year where: Things. Kept. Happening. If 2018 was a dart board, we could throw blind and still hit an event that made our stomach drop. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting shook the world in February, only to be followed by several other tragic mass shootings. The Mendocino Complex Fire and Carr Fire swept through California in July, leading up to November’s historically bad Butte County fires. Hey look, this was also the year we couldn’t escape our frenzied commander-in-chief. Presidents shouldn’t be able to stress out their citizens this much. Someone give the guy a double dose of Nyquil PM and let reporters all around the world sleep for like a month. (M.M.)

The un-Social Network

Scene: Fall 2016. Office building, St. Petersburg, Russia. Shot of shadowy people tapping at a bank of computers. Cut to Americans wearing MAGA caps and watching video ads on Facebook.

Scene: April 2018, Capitol Hill. Close-up of Mark Zuckerberg testifying to Congress, nervously drinking water. Quick cuts of lawmakers wagging their fingers at him.

Scene: May 2018, San Jose. Wide shot of adoring Facebook developers cheering Zuckerberg. Footage of him showing off new virtual reality technology.

Scene: November 2020, undisclosed location. A darkened airplane hangar with a private jet parked in the background. Zuckerberg studies his Android. His customized Facebook app shows a headline, “Trump wins second term amid concerns of widespread Russian election hacking, disinformation plot.”

It’s been eight years since The Social Network dramatized the litigious rise of one of the most diabolically addictive companies in history. Now that we’re all living through its dystopic aftermath, we’re paging Aaron Sorkin to write Facebook’s darker second act.

Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has long been the boy wonder of Silicon Valley. His No. 2, COO Sheryl Sandberg, authored Lean In, a best-selling guide for women to climb the corporate ladder. As much as they would like us to give them a pass, we can’t let them off the hook for the damage they’ve done to our privacy and democracy. More and more revelations are emerging about how Zuckerberg and Sandberg ignored warnings and then tried to conceal how they let Russian troll farms hijack the 2016 presidential election.

If Facebook doesn’t take these problems more seriously, it could get hit with more privacy regulations, similar to ones in Europe. That’s assuming politicians act before the 2020 election, which the Kremlin is already reportedly gearing up for. Or maybe Facebook would really get the message if more users just deleted their accounts. At this point, that may be the best movie ending to this ripped-from-the-headlines saga. (F.R.)

What a Twit

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is a double-wreath winner this year for being a Grinch with putrified garlic in his soul. Dorsey’s business is based in San Francisco, yet when it came time for his multibillion-dollar operation to help homeless residents, Dorsey quickly ended up on the greedy side of the Twitter-sphere. That’s because he actively campaigned against San Francisco’s Measure C, which put a 0.5-percent tax hike on corporations earning more than $50 million a year, all in an effort to raise $300 million for combating the city’s homeless crisis. Not only did Dorsey bash the measure, he publicly castigated Salesforce CEO and founder Marc Benioff for supporting it—i.e., for being a rich person with a sense of social responsibility. Ironically, Dorsey’s tweets didn’t carry that much weight and Measure C passed with 60 percent of the vote. Dorsey’s antics came on the heels of a banner year for Twitter—allowing white supremacists and neo-Nazis to run riot on its platform, while prominent voices who rose up against them were kicked off. One temporarily silenced progressive was TV writer and former journalist David Simon, who—upon his second Twitter account suspension—penned an elegant meditation on Dorsey’s place in history called, “A Fuckbonnet for Our Time.” (STA)

Crash and burn

Elon Musk is often lionized as a tech genius and visionary. If you’ve seen his SpaceX rockets land back on Earth after launching satellites into orbit, it’s wondrous. Then 2018 happened.

It was bad enough that his electric car company Tesla is struggling to meet production goals, and some pro-union workers are accusing Musk of retaliation. He literally threw gasoline on the fire with his $500 flamethrowers, a publicity stunt for his tunneling company—and a tragedy waiting to happen. Then he got in an ugly Twitter feud with a British diver who dared question Musk’s last-minute offer of a mini-sub to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. Musk apologized for calling the diver a pedophile, and the boys were extricated safe and sound without a submarine.

Maybe Musk should have a lawyer review all his tweets. In a big sin for a corporate leader, he hosed his own shareholders by claiming he had secured financing for a private buyout of Tesla. He settled with federal regulators, paying a $20 million fine and giving up his role as board chairman. In an interview on 60 Minutes on December 9, he was hardly apologetic, saying, “I do not respect the SEC.”

Musk may still amaze us with his next invention, but we’ll never be quite as star-struck. (F.R.)

Hard pill to swallow

You probably, unfortunately, know by now what incels are. A portmanteau for “involuntary celibates,” the word largely refers to an internet culture of heterosexual men who claim they can’t get laid, blame it on immutable traits such as thin wrists, direct their sexual frustration at women and disseminate violently misogynistic rhetoric in online forums. An extension of “red pill” ideology (taken from The Matrix), incels get high off the belief that they know what the world’s really like—a social hierarchy driven by sexual capital, where less-than-average-looking guys are despised and excluded.

While their jargon is absurdly laughable (femoids—really?), the philosophy behind it isn’t. It’s what fueled Elliot Rodger’s killing spree in 2014 when he murdered six students before committing suicide in Isla Vista. Angry that he was a 22-year old virgin, he doled out revenge on those he felt represented everything he was owed. Fast forward to 2018, and we saw Rodger continue to inspire incels, with deadly effect.

In April, Alek Minassian rammed a van into a group of pedestrians in Toronto, killing 10 people. Just before, he praised Rodger on Facebook, referencing an “incel rebellion.”

In February, Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In November, Scott Beierle shot up a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Fla., killing two women and injuring four others before killing himself. Both killers made reference to Rodger in their online activity.

Terrorist acts like these force us to examine the underlying causes that allow incels to flourish, including the harmful myths surrounding male sexuality and the unreasonable expectations patriarchy has placed on masculinity. It’s not an easy conversation, but it’s necessary if we want to prevent future tragedy. (R.M.)