Looking back fondly (and otherwise) on the year that was, 2018

2018 was an odd year for me. I spent most of the year dealing with a seemingly endless series of problems. The kind of problems that takes months to deal with, and you have to jump through 20 hoops before you resolve them.  And as soon as I resolved one problem, two other problems would pop up. It was that kind of year. I don’t know if it’s because the world is getting more complicated. Or I’m getting stupider. . .  Probably both.

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I started the year like I ended it. Toasting in the year.
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Scaredy Cat’s second litter of kittens pops up at my campsite. Hurston, Thurston, and Micro Scaredy.
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In the world of sports, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come up just short in their quest for another Super Bowl trophy.
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In the world of politics, against all odds, Trump manages to get through the second year of his term without getting his ass impeached.
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In the world of wingnuts, the wingnut formerly known as the Polka Dot Man became the XX Man.
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In one of those end-of-an-era moments, we locked up the shed that Hate Man had been occupying for the last 40 years for the last time, and returned the key to the building owner.
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In the world of politics, the thing I most remember about year 2018 was all the endless talk about the immigration issue. With half the country outraged about how Trump was handling it, and the other half wildly supportive.. . . And the other memorable thing was Year Two of the Mueller Investigation. With everyone waiting for the other shoe to drop. And again, half the country avidly hoping he gets nailed to the wall, while the other half hoping he skates.
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On the personal front, after slogging through the winter in cheap sneakers and wet soaks. I finally manage to get a good pair of winter boots, two weeks before the end of winter.
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By March, the three amigos — Hurston, Thurston, and Micro Scaredy — were already starting to grow by leaps and bounds.
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President Trump continued to make history with his historic tweets.
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Senator Elizabeth Warren released her DNA tests proving her Native American Indian heritage and put an end to that controversy once and for all.
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Hurston and Thurston Owl the Third exhibited some of their legendary cuteness. And it slowly dawned on me that the feral cat population at my campsite was on the verge of exploding out of control if I didn’t get off my ass and start dealing with it.
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Ace Backwords, pervert, caught in the act on film and becomes the latest casualty of the #MeToo movement.
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In a statistical oddity, I ended up finding big bags of pot on three different occasions during the year. And I don’t even smoke the shit. Causing me to wonder if they’re making the pot too strong these days, causing all the stoners to get too spaced out and lose their stash.
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On the weather front, it was a fairly mild winter in Berkeley. We only got about 15 inches of rain all year, about 10 below normal.
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In another one of those personal end-of-an-era moments, I moved out all the stuff I had been storing in the closet of this apartment for the last 23 years. And before that I had lived in the apartment for 13 years. So my 36 year connection to that old apartment finally came to an end.
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In 2018, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin announced their joint plan to destroy People’s Park and build student housing on the site. Causing the People’s Park activists to spring into action in their efforts to save the Park.
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The People’s Park activists bring their message directly to the University.
 
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Scaredy Cat pops out her third litter. And I would spend the next three months struggling to trap and fix as many of the feral cats as I could.
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Probably my biggest accomplishment in year 2018 was getting Mini Scaredy fixed. She had already had two miscarriages, and probably would have kept on having multiple miscarriages — which can’t be healthy for a body — if I hadn’t taken care of it.
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After Scaredy Cat left my campsite to make a new nest for her new litter, in a surprise move, Mini Scaredy adopted as her own the three kittens from the previous litter.
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President Trump traveled to England to visit with the Royal Family.
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Over the summer I got the word that my father had cancer and there was nothing the doctors could do about it, and he probably only had about two more years to live. . . A couple weeks later he died.
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Bill and Hillary Clinton embarked on their eagerly-awaited national speaking tour.
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Telegraph Avenue legend, Julia “the Bubble Lady” Vinograd’s bubble finally burst in 2018.
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In September the assholes at the main Berkeley Post Office inexplicably locked me out of my P.O. Box, and for the next 4 months I’d be unable able to receive most of my mail. But finally — after jumping through a seemingly endless series of hoops — I was able to get a new P.O. Box somewhere else. VICTORY!! . . . It was that kind of year.
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In a surprise attack, the University snuck into People’s Park at 4 in the morning, like thieves in the dark of night, packing chainsaws. And destroyed 28 mostly completely healthy trees.
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Meanwhile, the feral cats ended the year pretty much like they started it, mostly slacking off.

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TRUMP/RUSSIA: A DEFINITIVE HISTORY by Seth Hettena

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I thought I’d check out this book to give me a general idea of what the Mueller investigation is focusing on.

The main premise of the author is that when Trump’s financial empire was collapsing in the 1990s, with three multi-million-dollar projects in a row going bankrupt, he was in desperate need for cash. But all of his American bankers had cut him off.  So Trump turned to “dark sources in Russia, a long-time enemy of the United States. And thus commenced decades-long deal-making with a growing cob-web of corrupt, criminal , and powerful Russians.” Leading to a tangled web, which may have put Trump in a comprising position, and caused him to cross all sorts of legal and moral lines that now, as president, may be a direct threat to our national security. Hence, the Mueller investigation.

Trump’s actual financial dealings in Russia seem to be fairly minimal.  He put on the notorious Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.  And made several attempts to build a Trump Tower in Russia, none of which got beyond the drawing board stage. But his main financial dealings seem to involve pulling money out of Russia.

Numerous prominent Russians bought apartments at Trump Tower — including quite a few with direct connections to Russian organized crime. And it’s widely assumed that the Russian Mafia used Trump’s Taj Mahal casino to launder millions of dollars, an offense Trump was repeatedly fined for (apparently casinos are a great place for crooks to launder money —  they walk in with illicit funds, turn the money into a stack of chips, gamble a bit, and then cash our with clean money).

And in fact, it turns out Trump was half-right when he accused the FBI of wire-tapping him at Trump Tower.  The FBI was wire-tapping “one of the world’s biggest illegal high-stakes gambling rings” that was being run in one of the Trump Tower suites a couple floors below Trump’s own penthouse. The guy running the ring — another very shady Russian underworld character — ended up getting arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

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Another thing that becomes clear pretty quickly. Trump’s ruthless lawyer, Michael Cohen — who married a Ukrainian — has all kinds of connections to shady Russian characters, as well as the Russian Mafia. One typically murky deal: This Russian hockey player who was playing for the NHL, signed over a check to Cohen for $350,000 in 1999. Years later, when this transaction came to light in the course of another lawsuit, Cohen claimed he didn’t know the hockey player and had no idea what happened to the money (yeah, sure). The most likely explanation was: the hockey player was being shaken down for money by the Russian Mafia at the time. And the $350,000 was an extortion payoff to get the Mobsters off his back. With Cohen acting as the middle-man for the transaction. To give you an idea of how mobbed up Cohen is.

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The part of the book about Trump’s golf courses in Ireland and Scotland is particularly interesting. They were described as “money pits” that were losing tons of money. And yet mysteriously hundreds of millions of dollars were flowing into the courses. When they asked Donnie Jr. — who was running the courses — for an explanation, he said: “Well we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia. We’ve got some guys who really really love golf and they’re really invested in our programs. We go there all the time.”

Though no “smoking gun” has been produced (yet) the author speculates that its more than likely that its been Russian organized crime which has been dumping the money into the courses. “Which could compromise national security” with Trump’s election.

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Then Trump is introduced to the sleazeball Paul Manafort for the first time in 2016. And the plot, as they say, thickens (Manafort had an apartment at Trump Tower, but before this they had only ocassionally passed each other in the hallway). Roger Stone  — an early Trump supporter — is the guy who recommended Manafort as Trump’s campaign chairman. Roger Stone had previously been one of the main partners in Manafort’s notorious dictator-influencing lobby firm.

Manafort advertised himself to Trump as a “political outsider.” When in fact he was the consummate insider, having been working the backrooms of the Beltway since the Nixon administration. He described himself as an “influence peddler.” And one of his specialties was lining up brutal dictators from around the world as clients. Then hooking them up with influential U.S. politicians and others. With Manafort raking in millions as the middle man in these deals.

One facet of Manafort that is no doubt of keen interest to Mueller’s investigation: When Trump first met Manafort, unbeknownst to Trump, Manafort was in debt to “a powerful Russian oligarch” (according to the book) for millions, who was hounding Manafort for the money. And its quite likely that Manafort was trying to play Trump for a sucker — peddling Trump’s influence as a way to pay back the Russian oligarch. This may turn out to be one of the key linch-pins of Mueller’s investigation. Exactly how things played out at this point.

One of the key aspects of all this, in terms of the “collusion” issue:  Were consummate politicians like Manafort and Stone playing Trump — the political novice — for a sucker? Or was Trump actively interested in their influence with the Russian oligarchs? According to the book, Trump was “furious” when articles in the New York Times started coming out that Manafort had recently been earmarked for a $12 million dollar cash payment from the Ukrainian president for his “influence peddling” in their recent election. (You can just picture Manafort, ever the operator, requesting the money be delivered in big grocery bags full of unmarked 20-dollar bills, ha ha).  “I’ve got a crook running my campaign,” raged Trump. And fired Manafort shortly after.

Trump was certainly a fool (at the very least) to hire a dirtbag like Manafort in the first place. But at least he had the sense to fire Manafort as soon as he found out how dirty Manafort was. Or it could just be that Trump knew that Manafort was a dirtbag all along, and only fired him because he got caught.

Some people were shocked when Mueller and the FBI did an early-morning, break-the-front-door-down raid at Manafort’s home. Highly unusual for white-collar crime. But I think Mueller’s message was: You may have the polished surface facade. But to us you’re nothing but a two-bit crook.

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Then we get to the notorious “Steele Dossier” — with Russian hookers allegedly urinating on Trump and all that.  The book goes into detail about Fusion GPS, the company that hired Christopher Steele to produce the “Steele dossier.” Fusion GPS is sort of a “dirt for hire” outfit. In a previous election they had been hired by the Democrats to dig up any sleaze they could find on Mitt Romney — combing through his divorce records, etc.

Then in 2015, this Republican group — the  Washington Free Beacon  — hired Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. The Beacon was part of the “stop Trump, pro-Mario Rubio” faction.

But when Rubio dropped out of the race, that put a stop to the dirt-digging. Until the Democratic National Committee rehired Fusion GPS and paid them to produce the “Steele Dossier.”

One of the most damaging allegation in the “Steele Dossier,” by the way, is: “In return for the Russian leadership hacking the Democratic National Committee (the Wikileaks stuff), the Trump campaign had agreed to side-line Russian intervention in the Ukraine in the election.” If that’s true, Trump is finished (though its important to note that Steele has never revealed the source of this allegation). Or it could be Steele was just spicing up his report. The more dirt he claimed to have on Trump, the more money the Hillary people were willing to pay Steele. They paid Fusion GPS over a million dollars in 2016.
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In the book, Steele claims that the dossier is “70 to 90-percent accurate.” I don’t think he “made up stuff.” But he also included some stuff that might be described as “unverified allegations” or “rumors.” But he claims that most of it is completely accurate. I have faith Mueller will sort it out.

This is interesting, too. I always thought the notorious “Steele dossier” was nothing but fake dirt dredged up by the Democrats to smear Trump (I still mostly do). But it turns out that blackmailing political enemies with tapes of them with prostitutes is one of Putin’s specialties. In 1999 this guy, the Russian prosecutor general, was doing a big investigation into a kickback scandal involving a bunch of president Yeltsin’s cronies. In order to derail the investigation, a tape turned up of the guy — or someone who resembled him — having sex with prostitutes. There was a huge debate over whether the tape was real or fake. Putin, who was the head of the KGB at the time, led the inquiry and announced that the tape was real. And the guy was forced to resign. Ending the investigation. In gratitude, Yeltsin named Putin as his successor. Which is largely how Putin became president. So who knows. There may yet be further wrinkles to this “Steele dossier” thing.

The Steele Dossier concludes: “A pattern emerged that suggested Trump was deeply tied to Rusian money and the Russian Mafia. It was as if all roads led to Trump Tower.”

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Next the book delves into the Russians attempt to influence the 2016 election through social media. To give you an idea of the scope of the operation, in the months leading to the election the Russians had 80 people working 12-hour shifts, furiously cranking out angry and divisive messages on Facebook and Twitter. With a budget of $1.25 million a month. They had 4,000 accounts and 500,000 automated accounts on Twitter. And at least 3,000 ads were bought on Facebook.

According to an internal memo the staff was instructed to “use every opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except for Sanders and Trump — we support them).” And to generally stir up conflicts and discord among the voters. (According to the author, Putin “loathed” Hillary. He blamed her for inciting mass protests against his regime in 2011 and 2012, and had a grudge against her for “disparaging comments” she made about him.)

Obama was aware of the Russian campaign to disrupt our election. But for a variety of reasons decided to not go public with that information. He did however sidle up to Putin at one point, and told him to “cut it out.” And warned him that there would be serious consequences if they tried to hack into the actual voter ballots and alter the numbers. Which, thankfully, there’s no evidence that they did.

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Then the book that deals with the hacked Democratic emails and the Wikileaks. Trump to his discredit repeatedly denied or downplayed that Russia was the source of the hacks. Even when our own intelligence agencies concluded they almost certainly originated from Russia. And Trump certainly strived to use any of the damaging information on the emails to his advantage during the election. And at one press conference he even went so far as to say: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” To which the author pointed out: “Trump crept dangerously close to treason when he called on America’s adversary to help dig up even more Clinton emails.”

It’s also worth noting, the reason the hacked emails were damaging wasn’t because the Russians fabricated anything. But because it showed what the Democrats were actually saying and doing. You might remember DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman being forced to resign on the opening day of the Democratic convention, precisely because the emails showed the extent that the DNC was trying to sabotague Bernie Sanders and rig the election for Hillary.

(But just to put the “Russia interfering with our election” issue in perspective: According to this book there have been “117 instances where the United States or Russia intervened in foreign elections during the Cold War, through campaign funding, assistance, dirty tricks, promises, and in some cases plain old threats. The United States was the bigger offender, intervening 81 times in foreign elections — more than twice as much as Russia, from 1946 to 2000.”)

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As a side note: The more I read about Robert Mueller, the more respect I have for him. He’s the guy who previously had led the FBI investigation into the U.S. Mafia, which basically completely dismantled the Mafia (La Cosa Nostra is basically no longer an entity in this world). If it comes down to it, Mueller is certainly capable of taking down Trump. And he strikes me as a highly ethical person. Several times during his career he turned down high-paying jobs in the private sector to take much lesser-paying jobs as a public service. He has a deep sense of duty, no doubt instilled in him during his stint as a Marine. And the author wryly points out that Mueller saw some of the worst fighting during the Vietnam war (as well as displaying notable heroism) while Trump was recovering from the “bone spurs” in his heel.

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I recommend this book. I have a much better understanding of who the key players are. And what Mueller will be focusing on. It also gives a really good over-view of the 2016 election. (One of the great things about books. You get the overview of this stuff. Laid out in a nice clean linear narrative. As opposed to when you’re following these stories day by day in the media. And you get the information piece meal. With both sides trying to wildly spin every bit of information.)
For what it’s worth, the author clearly thinks Trump is guilty, and that he will eventually be caught. He concludes the book by saying: “Mueller is erecting a wall around the White House, and it increasingly seems too high for America’s forty-fifth president to escape.”

Myself? I feel the book shows a lot of real smoke but no real fire. It shows a consistent pattern of suspicious behavior between the Trump people and the Russians. But no hard evidence of collusion. We’ll just have to wait and see if Mueller can connect all the dots.

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You ever notice how “homelessness” is a non-issue to the politicians in Washington DC?

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Donald Trump made his first big fortune taking rent-controlled, low-income apartments, throwing out all the tenants, and turning them into luxury condos.

Nancy Pelosi has spent her career representing the city of San Francisco, and watching haplessly as the homeless crisis grew to epidemic proportions during her watch.

In other words: Don’t expect much from DC.

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WHA’ HAPPENED??

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Stranger Together!!

 

 

I get a kick out of Hillary’s shtick while she’s promoting her new book WHA’ HAPPENED??:

“I take full responsibility for my loss in the election.  It was my fault for not realizing the voters were so stupid that they’d reject the substantive policies I was offering in favor of a reality TV show. . .  And I blame myself for not realizing how many of the voters were racists . . . And I take full responsibility for that bastard Bernie Sanders and his constant criticisms of me which ruined my chances of winning over the progressives. . . And it was my fault that that bastard Comey kept falsely investigating me over my alleged wrong-doings. . .  And I blame myself for the Russians colluding with the GOP and throwing the election to Trump . . . And I take full responsibility for the creep Trump who actually campaigned against me instead of just letting me be appointed president which is how it should have been . . .  And it was my fault for being a woman — if I had been a MAN I would have won for sure!!”

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Donald Trump announces his candidacy and the N.Y. Times is there to cover the story!

On this date 2 years ago Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President. Which the New York Times dismissed as “improbable.”  And that his chances of winning was a “remote prospect.” Adding that Trump’s “presidential posturing has seldom been taken seriously, and for good reason.” The Times went on to speculate that Trump was probably just running to get attention and promote his brand.

Meanwhile, Trump took time out from his speech to “ridicule John F. Kerry for having broken his leg in a bicycle accident.” Ha ha.

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