A Deal with Russia

Remember when the previous occupant of the White House tried to pressure the president of Ukraine into a deal? The self-described greatest dealmaker did not succeed in the art of a deal with the former member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, ex-sovereign state and current Russian pawn. All the then-occupant of the White House got out of it was his first impeachment.

Thirty years earlier, another U.S. president—the U.S. president of Pepsi-Cola, that is—did make a deal with Ukraine.

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The Future Has Passed

Mark Wattles began construction of his dream home in 1997. Two years later, he halted work on the 49,240-square-foot structure. The closet in the master suite alone measures twelve-hundred square feet.

The house sits on thirty-two acres in West Linn, south of Portland. The home-to-be overlooks a bend in the Willamette River, with a 270-degree view and 2,700 feet of water frontage. Wattles paid $1.25 million for the property in 1994 and says he spent $12 million on the construction.

Wattles maintained the unfinished dwelling and kept the building permits active for twenty years. He sold the property at auction for $2.27 million in 2018. The buyer envisioned a Tuscan-style villa estate and vineyard and a wine tasting room. After two years with no additional construction the property is for sale again. Asking price is $3,999,999, a bargain.

Wattles was the founder of Hollywood Video, for a time the second-largest chain of video-rental stores, behind Blockbuster. Facing a hostile takeover attempt by Blockbuster in 2005, Hollywood accepted a buyout by Movie Gallery, a smaller competitor. Movie Gallery went bankrupt and was liquidated in 2010.
Wattles meantime, purchased Ultimate Electronics consumer electronics stores, itself in bankruptcy. The Ultimate chain went into its final bankruptcy in 2011 and Wattles faced a $5.1 million judgement for personal guarantees he had made to Sony.

Industry powerhouse Blockbuster at its peak had more than nine-thousand stores. Today there is one. Blockbuster did not keep up with fast-moving technology. It faced competition from Netflix which offered subscriptions for mail-order DVD rentals. Netflix transitioned from rentals to on-line streaming service.

The last Blockbuster store is in Bend Oregon. If you’re not in their neighborhood, you can order merchandise from their web site. (Need a “Be Kind, Rewind” t-shirt?)

And Mark Wattles? His current project is drive-thru coffee shops in the Dallas Texas area.

View from/to Alcatraz

The first operating lighthouse on the U.S. West Coast was on Alcatraz Island. Isolated in San Francisco Bay, the storied Alcatraz is better known as the site of the infamous prison. It was a federal maximum-security facility for only twenty-nine years, from 1934 until 1963. For a century before, it had been various iterations of military fortifications and military prisons.

As a federal prison, Alcatraz was designed to hold troublemakers from other federal prisons. It became home to notorious bank robbers and murderers, including Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. Rafael Cancel Miranda, who led the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party’s armed attack on the United States Capitol building in 1954, also spent time at Alcatraz.

The panoramic view of the close-by city of San Francisco is said to have intensified the misery of being incarcerated in Alcratraz Prison. “Baghdad by the Bay” sits only a mile-and-a-half away but is an unobtainable swim through cold, swirling currents.During its time as a federal prison, Alcatraz claimed there had been no successful escapes. Thirty-six men tried in fourteen escape attempts. Twenty-three were caught; six were shot and killed; two drowned; five were listed as “missing and presumed drowned.”

In normal current times, Alcatraz is a popular tourist site, managed by the National Park Service. In these COVID lockdown days, one can intuit the reverse of a penitentiary inmate. Sheltering in place in San Francisco, you can see Alcatraz, but you can’t get there.

As this is being written, zillow.com lists twenty homes for sale with views of Alcatraz Island. Asking prices range from $1.225 million (839 sq ft condo) to $25 million (7,000 sq ft house).

(Thanks to Mi Ae Lipe for the inspiration.)

Who’s the Criminal?

It’s a mother’s worst nightmare.

Her S.U.V. was only fifteen feet from the entrance to the meat market in Beaverton Oregon. She was going to be in the store for just a few moments, so it was okay to leave the car’s engine running and her four-year-old strapped in a car seat.

When she came out of the store her car and her child were gone.

The thief didn’t go far. He made an abrupt U-turn in an adjacent parking lot and came roaring back to where the frantic mother stood. He demanded she take her kid out of the car. He lambasted her for leaving her child in the vehicle unattended and threatened to call the police on her. He then drove off again in the mother’s car.

The suspect, who as yet has not been found, was also wearing a face mask.

Water Chronicles

Snyder is the first Michigan governor or former governor to be charged for alleged criminal conduct while in office.

Former Michigan governor and GOP golden boy Rick Snyder has pleaded not guilty to charges of willful neglect of duty, stemming from poisoning the city of Flint’s water supply in 2014.

Flint had been declared a state of “financial emergency” near the end of 2011. Michigan’s governor and both legislative houses were staunchly Republican, and strongly believed in local control… except when they don’t. Governor Snyder appointed an emergency manager to take control of the city. To save money, the officials he put in charge of Flint’s finances switched the source of the city’s water from the Detroit River to the polluted Flint River. Two outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease, with twelve fatalities, soon followed. Tests found E. coli and lead in the city’s new water supply. Thousands of Flint residents now suffer long-term damage from lead in their water.

After a two-year investigation, a grand jury recently brought criminal charges against Snyder and eight others. Snyder’s former top aide faces felony charges of obstruction of justice and extortion. Two former state health officials each face nine counts of involuntary manslaughter.

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Laying Siege to the Capitol

Veterans of American Expeditionary Forces in the First World War (known simply as the Great War until we had the Second World War) were promised a bonus. Such bonuses were instituted in the Revolutionary War, when soldiers were given additional compensation of money and land. (The tradition goes at least as far back as Roman times.) Its purpose was to make up some of the difference between a soldier’s military pay and what he may have been earning at a civilian job.

WWI veterans were given a paltry $60. The American Legion, formed in 1919, led the movement for an additional bonus.

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