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Switching over

FEBRUARY 17, 2011 – 4:01 PM
by Dave Maass

Hey folks – We’re going to be moving Last Blog on Earth over to our main website over the next week, so we won’t be blogging much here. Please follow this link to go to our new blog:

The NEW Last Blog on Earth.

A defense-industry crossword puzzle

A former co-worker from New Mexico asked me to fill-in for him for a couple days at WarisBusiness.com, the non-profit news site he set up to cover the defense industry, while he’s on vacation in North Africa, far, far away from the internet.

As CityBeat readers are no doubt aware, I love making crosswords and so, I thought, why not throw together a military-industrial-complex puzzle that covers defense in pop culture, the arms trade, military procurement and Congressional hawks? The great thing is, as the guest contributor, I can license this thing under Creative Commons and share it here in San Diego, where defense contracting is everyday stuff. You’ll notice a few locals in the clues.

Here you go:

DOWNLOAD PDF TO PRINT IN BRILLIANT COLOR!

DOWNLOAD PDF TO PRINT IN NO-FRILLS BLACK & WHITE!

You can also try to print out this entire page. Clues below.

I’ll update with the answers online in a couple of days (it would be a giveaway to link ‘em up front). In the meantime, if you wanted to show me how smart you are, you can email your completed crossword to davemaass [at] gmail [dot] com. I’ll give the first entrant to finish it correctly some kind of official award for excellence in defense-industry intelligence.

Trying to make sense of amended illegal-lodging settlement

On Tuesday, a federal judge signed off on a modification to a settlement that prevents San Diego Police officers from ticketing anyone sleeping on public property between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Under the modified settlement, a police officer can issue a ticket in Downtown San Diego only if someone refuses an available bed. City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer pushed for the amendment and made his support of a supportive housing / one-stop service center contingent on police being able to issue tickets again.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one.

The gist of the original settlement, in place since 2007 and the result of a lawsuit brought by nine homeless plaintiffs, says that if there are no shelter beds available, it’s unconstitutional to ticket (or jail) someone for sleeping on the street. There are only about half as many shelter beds as homeless people citywide.

The new settlement, it seems, merely articulates the intent the 2007 settlement. At least that’s how it seems to me—and I’ve been covering this thing for more than four years. Not so, said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. He referred to the new settlement as a “clear strategic plan” for getting people off the street.

Has San Diego suddenly added more emergency shelter beds that folks can now be directed to? No. At a press conference today, Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long mentioned there were a total of five beds set aside each night at three shelters: Rachel’s Women’s Center, The Rescue Mission and City of Refuge. I spoke with Herb Johnson, CEO of the Rescue Mission, and Martha Ranson, director of services for Rachel’s, about the beds. Johnson said his organization has long worked with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team—which includes police officers and mental-health clinicians—to try to get people in. “We’ll push and squeeze,” he said, “but we’re pretty much at capacity every night.” Ranson said Rachel’s has held a bed open for HOT in the past for emergency situations and has agreed to add another bed.

“The caveat is, it’s a one-night deal,” she said. “The HOT team comes back the next day and works with them to get them to move to something else—whether they need treatment… sometimes there’s board-and-care beds. They’re trying to reach these very resistant people.”

It’s true—that’s what HOT does. They build relationships with people who are mentally ill and chronically homeless and who’ve often had bad experiences at shelters and programs. They try to find the right program for that person without bringing punitive measures into the mix. Trying to use a ticket to get someone into a shelter is “ludicrous,” Ranson said. “Why would you give a homeless person a ticket? It’s not going to make them less homeless.”

The third provider, City of Refuge, isn’t mentioned on any shelter lists, their website is down and their phone line goes to an answering machine.

Goldsmith criticized former City Attorney Mike Aguirre for agreeing to the 2007 settlement. He said that Aguirre “gave away the streets” and described San Diego’s streets as “worse than Manhattan.”

(If Manhattan’s got fewer homeless people, it’s not because police can write illegal-lodging tickets; it’s because of ambitious initiatives like Common Ground’s Street to Home program.)

And, I’d argue, the settlement isn’t what’s caused an increase in the Downtown homeless population, which was just over 1,000 people according to a September count. Even under the 2007 settlement, police could write as many tickets as they wanted between 5:31 a.m. and 9:29 p.m. Instead, blame the loss of residential hotels—the housing of last resort. In the last decade some of Downtown’s most affordable residential-hotel units have been torn down or converted to fancy hotels: the Maryland Hotel, Pickwick, Hotel San Diego, Churchill, Capri and State hotels. That’s at least 1,000 units right there. Blame cuts to to rehabilitation programs for people on parole, the increase in homelessness among Iraq and Afghanistan war vets, the economy.

Davis supports reauthorization of Patriot Act provisions

On Tuesday, Congress voted on an emergency bill to reauthorize three  provisions of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act that are set to expire on Feb. 28. The bill failed by seven votes to achieve the necessary super-majority vote as Republicans tied to the Tea Party movement joined progressive Democrats in opposing the bill.

San Diego’s three Republicans—Reps. Duncan Hunter, Darrell Issa and Brian Bilbray—each voted for the bill. That was about as predictable as proud lefty Rep. Bob Filner’s vote against it. But San Diego’s other Democrat, Rep. Susan Davis, joined the Republican leadership in voting to extend the PATRIOT Act, and, according to a statement provided to CityBeat, she will likely vote for it again on Thursday, when it will again come to the floor. This time it will probably pass, since it will only require a majority vote.

Here’s Davis’ brief statement:

“I have faith that President Obama will responsibly use the tools contained in the legislation needed to help prevent terrorist attacks, and not to spy on average Americans. The law also requires a significant level of court and congressional oversight.”

The bill would extend the provisions of the PATRIOT Act through Dec. 8, 2011. Here’s Wired’s explanation of the three items:

– The “roving wiretap” provision allows the FBI to obtain wiretaps from a secret intelligence court, known as the FISA court, without identifying what method of communication is to be tapped.

– The “lone wolf” measure allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person for whatever reason — even without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist. The government has said it has never invoked that provision, but the Obama administration said it wanted to retain the authority to do so.

– The “business records” provision allows FISA court warrants for any type of record, from banking to library to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

We’re waiting on a statement from Filner’s office, but he states his position rather blatantly on his Congressional website (emphasis is his):

Bob believes that the USA PATRIOT Act was an overly hasty response to the events of September 11, 2001 and dangerously infringes on the civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution–it does not make us safer.  He was one of the few who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act when it was first introduced, and he voted against its reauthorization in 2005.  Bob feels that the USA PATRIOT Act should be repealed!

Zapf and Huesos sitting in a tree

In other interesting campaign-finance news, City Councilmember Lorie Zapf, a Republican, has released the list of donors who helped her retire her campaign debt. Among them—Alfredo and Jose Antonio Hueso, brothers of Democratic Assemblymember (and former Council Prez) Ben Hueso.

Alfredo, a manager with California Paratransit Services, donated $350. Jose Antonio, who runs USA Cab, donated $200.

OK, maybe it’s not that interesting.

Walmart PAC donated to vote-flippers’ favored charities

Walmart’s political action committee, San Diego Consumers for Choice, donated to charities supported by San Diego City Council members Todd Gloria and Tony Young, who on Tuesday changed their vote and repealed an ordinance opposed by the mega-corporation.According to campaign-finance statements filed on Jan. 31, the PAC donated $7,500 to the Jackie Robinson YMCA, where Young participated in a Toys for Tots drive and was a special guest at the annual “Christmas with Character” party on Dec. 18. The Alpha Project, an organization for which Gloria regularly fundraises, picked up $10,000 from the PAC. Gloria volunteered at the city’s winter homeless shelter, which is run by the Alpha Project, on Dec. 15.

The PAC also donated $10,000 to San Diego Earthworks, an environmental organization; Gloria will be hosting Earthworks’ annual awards ceremony in May.

Initially Young and Gloria voted to require that any retailer wishing to build a store 90,000 square feet or larger in San Diego first study the potential economic and environmental impact on the surrounding community. After Walmart produced enough signatures to force an election on the ordinance, Young and Gloria voted with five other councilmembers on Tuesday to repeal it, citing the cost—roughly $2.5 million—of holding the election.

Young and Gloria’s offices say neither had knowledge of Walmart’s contribution. Walmart did not disclose on its paperwork when the donations were made, but the reports indicate most were made between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. The PAC’s treasurer has not yet returned calls.

The PAC also made a $200 civic donation to the Barrio Logan College Institute, where newly elected council member David Alvarez has worked as an after-school teacher and mentor. The lone dissenting vote on the repeal, Marti Emerald, has also been involved in fundraising for the Alpha Project and served as grand marshall of Earthworks’ Earth Day parade in 2007.

To be clear, we are not alleging that Young, Gloria or Alvarez were influenced by these donations—knowing the city council members and their reputations, we doubt they were. However, we cannot help but note that the donations were made with campaign funds, while Walmart has other vehicles for philanthropy. The contributions may have been an attempt by Walmart to improve its public profile in the community or to access or influence the city council members directly or through their supporters and causes. Of course, the PAC could have been giving purely out of the goodness of its heart, but the fact remains the donations went to these groups specifically rather than other worthy non-profit organizations.

All told, the PAC spent $1.2 million in 2010 using contributions exclusively from Walmart Stores, Inc. These expenditures included $25,000 passed to the Republican Party of San Diego County, and civic donations of $22,500 to the San Diego County Taxpayers’ Association, $20,000 to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and $1,500 to the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce—all of which are pro-business and have historically supported Walmart.

No further civic donations were reported.

UPDATE 4:24 PM:

Young just called and unequivocally denied knowing anything about the donation.

“I didn’t talk to them about any specific person or organization that they would ever give money to–not one time,” Young tells Citybeat. “I would never do that. I didn’t want to get caught up in that kind of shit. I definitely did not go there and I have no idea who they gave money to.”

Young was surprised to learn from CityBeat that Walmart’s PAC—as opposed to its foundation—donated the money, but says he wouldn’t put it past Walmart’s lobbyists.

“You saw that they are pretty aggressive when it comes to stuff like that,” he said.

Young says that the YMCA never mentioned the donation to him, but he does feel the organization is worthy of financial support. However, if Walmart really wanted to get his attention, he’s told them all along how.

“They said they want to build in a neighborhood like mine,” Young says. “I’m still waiting for the phone call.”

Sen. Anderson legislates the obvious

Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican representing East County, has introduced SB 157, a bill titled, “Private sector job creation.”

How does the bill create jobs in the private sector? By saying the Legislature really wants to create jobs. Here’s the full text of the legislation:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to promote private sector job creation in the state.

Yeah, that’s it. We’ve left his office a message to call us back and when they do, we’ll ask whether he intends to add anything to it (See: “Spot Bill“). In the meantime, here are a few other pieces of obvious and unnecessary legislation we’d like to propose:

The Legislature Legislates Act of 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. It is the intent of the Legislature to legislate legislatively through legislation voted upon by legislators.

a. For the purposes of this act, “legislatively” is defined as any text beginning with the phrase “THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS” and is followed by legal-sounding language broken up with numbered and lettered points.

The Adorable Animal Acknowledgment Act of 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Is it the intent of the Legislature to acknowledge that the following baby animals are adorable, including, but not limited to:

a. Puppies.

b. Kitties

c. Lambs

d. Pandas

e. Koalas

f. Penguins

g. Orangutans

The Badness Reduction Act of 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Is it the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that reduces badness, including, but not limited to:

a. Cancer

b. Unnecessary amputation

c. Chinese foot binding

d. Plane crashes

e. Freezer burn

f. Stepping on the tails and/or paws of creatures enumerated in the Adorable Animal Acknowledgment Act of 2011

The California Rocks, North Korea Sucks Act of 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Is it the intent of the Legislature to continue to promote the idea that California is superior to North Korea.

a. Creatures listed in Section 1 of the Adorable Animal Acknowledgment Act of 2011 that happen to live in North Korea are exempted from this legislation.

The Tacos are Yummy Act of 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Is it the intent of the Legislature to continue to promote the idea that tacos are delicious.

SECTION 2. Exceptions.

a. Tacos involving meat of baby creatures listed in Section 1 of the Adorable Animal Acknowledgment Act of 2011

b. Tacos subject to Section 1(e) of the Badness Reduction Act of 2011

SECTION 3. In accordance with Section 1 of the California Rocks, North Korea Sucks Act of 2011, tacos from North Korea may be deemed delicious but must be considered inferior to Californian tacos.

Will we see fireworks over coastal fireworks in Sacramento?

Assembly Member Diane Harkey, a Republican whose district covers the coast from Carlsbad to Dana Point, has filed a bill that she says will protect public firework shows from regulation by the California Coastal Commision.

The bill, AB 206, would exempt fireworks from the Coastal Act by declaring that the displays are not “developments” under the definition of the law.

“I think this bill has about as much appeal as America and apple pie,” Harkey tells CityBeat in a phone interview. “Fireworks at the beach for the general public have been a draw for years and right now, when people are trying to find activities that are inexpensive and family oriented, where they can have a great day, why would any government agency want to take that way? I don’t understand it. It befuddles the mind.”

The bill is a direct reaction to a state appellate court decision (pdf) last year over a fireworks display in Gualala. The court determined the fireworks display was, indeed, a “development” and could be controlled by the California Coastal Commission. Critics described the decision as the “death knell for small town fireworks in America.”

Harkey was especially harsh on the Coastal Commission for even arguing that they should regulate fireworks to begin with.

“The agency just needs a job to do,” she said. “To kill people’s fun is not what the state of California should be about.”

Livia Borak, an attorney representing the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF), had equally harsh remarks for Harkey.

“Why don’t Republicans do something truly patriotic and strengthen our environmental laws instead of attempting to weaken them?” Borak said.

CERF is often in the spotlight regarding fireworks; its threat of litigation reportedly stopped San Diego’s New Year’s Eve fireworks over the San Diego Bay in 2009. The group is currently suing the city of San Diego over the 2010 Fourth of July fireworks display in La Jolla  and to halt the upcoming Fourth of July fireworks.  Harkey’s legislation would not have an impact on the La Jolla case, Borak says, but the firm nonetheless opposes the bill.

“It is an insult to anyone who enjoys coastal resources,” Borak writes, via email. “Last year, a First District appellate court upheld the Coastal Commission’s finding that a fireworks show was a development for purposes of the Coastal Act. This does not mean fireworks are prohibited in the coastal zone. It simply means they are subject to regulation under the Coastal Act. It’s troubling that fireworks display proponents consistently try to evade regulation by the state and federal government. These laws don’t ban fireworks, they simply regulate them.”

Perhaps more importantly, Borak says the bill sets a negative precedent by creating a specific exemption for an activity.

“Whenever something new gets defined as development under the Coastal Act, someone will propose legislation to exempt it from the Coastal Act,” Borak says.

***

For the sake of transparency, I have to disclosure that last Fourth of July I wrote a short piece about fireworks displays in science fiction and fantasy films. That piece was then cited by David Porter (head of performing arts at Kirkley High School in Lowestoft, England and an arts writer for the East Anglian Times) in an essay titled, “Fireworks: Cultural, Civic, National Celebrations and Politics.” In fact, my stuff took up the entire conclusion:

National and local pride, history, tradition and culture are things that politicians plug into instinctively. The arguments about cost, pollution and the mess afterwards, usually follow. While it’s hard to predict the future, if the movies are any guide, fireworks are here to stay.

According to Dave Maass on the TV channel Syfy web: ‘If there’s one thing we’ve learned about sci-fi, it’s that no futurist or fantasist can imagine a world where humans don’t blow stuff up for fun. Fireworks are the original eye candy, the special effects that existed before filmmakers knew they even needed regular effects.’

He cited Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, V for Vendetta, Coneheads, The Boy Who Could Fly, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Galaxy Quest, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor; The Fellowship of the Ring and Flight of The Navigator among others to illustrate the point about the longevity of fireworks.

So, I guess that makes me a bit biased, right? I do love fireworks.

Writer’s note: I added that Harkey is a Republican in the first line of this post.

Celebrate Ronald Reagan by looking at crime stats around the Ronald Reagan Community Center

While folks like Vince Vasquez are putting a lot of effort into gathering signatures to rename the Coronado Bridge after President Ronald Reagan and the county board of supervisors are busy declaring Sunday to be “Ronald Reagan Day,” perhaps the rest of us could take a moment to look at the situation around a landmark already named after the conservative hero—the Ronald Reagan Community Center in El Cajon.

These ARJIS crime figures are from the last 90 days and the totals on the right are all within that 1,000-foot circle. Here are the crime stats for the last two years for Beat 8 and Beat 10—the Reagan center sits between the two.

According to the NY Times’ census explorer, that neighborhood is the poorest in El Cajon, with 42 to 57 percent of the households earning under $30,000 per year.  Only 68 percent are high school graduates.

Not making any particular point here other than, hey, instead of working real hard to name stuff after Reagan, why not honor him by making that neighborhood a better place to live?

Wikidemaio: City councilmember spins his Wikipedia page

UPDATED 9:24 p.m. January 31: A local Wikipedia editor (and self-identified conservative) has marked Carl DeMaio’s Wikipedia page as having “multiple issues,” including disputed neutrality. The page now includes a section on this controversy.

***

You can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia, the encyclopedia anyone can edit. That’s a given.

But you should give yourself an extra helping of salt when using Carl DeMaio’s Wikipedia page to research the District 5 San Diego city council member and mayoral candidate.

On Jan. 18, a user going by the handle “San Diego Watchdog” made significant edits to DeMaio’s page, including the insertion of uncited evaluations of the council member’s “government service.” CityBeat has learned that this user worked in DeMaio’s office, which is not a huge surprise since DeMaio openly describes himself as “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog.”

What may be surprising to some is the way DeMaio exalts himself in the page with lines like this:

DeMaio has arguably been the leading voice for fiscal responsibility and reform on the City Council.

“At least he included ‘arguably,’”  Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for District 2 City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, said after CityBeat directed him to the page.

And Manolatos does argue the point.

“My boss is the leading voice on fiscal reform—I would never give that ground,” Manolatos tells CityBeat.  “Carl’s got some good ideas, but we all have some good ideas.”

Faulconer does not have an entry on Wikipedia, nor do first-term councilmembers Lorie Zapf and David Alvarez. Councilmembers Todd Gloria, Tony Young, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner each have entries that are a bit tainted with editorial (Gloria’s is hardly sourced at all), but, unlike DeMaio’s, it’s difficult to tell whether the pages were created or edited by council staff.

DeMaio’s page declares that he “led the campaign against Prop D” sales tax—another point that Faulconer, as well as other local leaders like Richard Rider and T.J. Zane, might contend. In fact, the page promotes a variety of DeMaio’s positions, such as his “Roadmap to Recovery” and opposition to a new City Hall project, without citation or criticism. The entry also claims that the New York Times named DeMaio “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog,” which is not backed up by the original source.

DeMaio’s spokesperson Jeff Powell confirmed that DeMaio’s office created and edited the page—a practice that is “strongly discouraged” by Wikipedia.  The open-source encyclopedia says that its neutral-point-of-view policy is “absolute and non-negotiable” and public figures who want to edit their page should post to the entry’s “talk page.” If they do choose to edit the page, it should be minor corrections and must not to be promotional. Wikipedia adds:

Even if you do manage to pull off a neutral, verifiable autobiography, the very fact that so many autobiographies have not been that way has trained Wikipedians to expect the opposite—and hence one may be wasting their time or effort if they become provoked by the fact it’s still an autobiography, regardless of policy compliance. Furthermore this may also result in a reputation hit not only because you violated the guideline but also because you may have wasted someone’s effort.

This isn’t the first time DeMaio’s page has been the source of controversy. A review of the page history indicates that over the last year and a half, several users have noted that the page had “severe” neutral-point-of-view problems and earlier edits included text copied verbatim from DeMaio’s website. MelanieN,  a regular Wikipedia user who has written pages for everything from Point Loma to Justin Halpern, overhauled DeMaio’s entry on Jan. 1 to make it comply with the site’s standards. The recent edit by DeMaio’s staff significantly altered her work.

“I apologize, I was not aware of Wikipedia’s policy,” Powell says in an emailed response to CityBeat‘s inquiry about the page. “Thank you for drawing its attention to me and I will work on making the proper changes.”

DeMaio might also consider making some amends with his fellow City Council members. Manolatos points out that both Gloria and Young have taken leadership roles on fiscal responsibility as chairmen of the city’s budget committee. But Faulconer really has been “the leader,” he says.

We gave him the opportunity to make his case:

“When Kevin first took office, the city had no audited reports, a suspended credit rate, was frozen out of capital markets and placed under a cease-and-desist order by the Securities and Exchange Committee,” he says. “Beyond that, we had an auditor that answered to the people that set his budget—in other words, no independent city auditor. So, Kevin took over as audit committee chair and he’s been chair of the committee ever since and they ushered in all these changes. The city is back in the bond market, an independent auditor, the credit rating is back. These are measured achievements. Now he’s working with Tony Young and the mayor on next year’s budget to protect core services. To me that’s leading on fiscal issues.”

DeMaio is merely vice chair of the audit committee.

And now that CityBeat has written about it, someone can cite that on Wikipedia. Just not Faulconer’s office.

Silliest thing a San Diego Congress member said this week

According to the Congressional Record, Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Solana Beach, dropped this little nugget of nonsense on the House floor on Monday (emphasis added):

When we talk about budget reduction, rather than denying Americans the right to live in the United States unless they buy certain insurance, why aren’t we talking about doing cost reductions like California has done, not exactly a right-wing legislature?

No one is going to deport you if you don’t buy health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”). This isn’t to argue for or against the mandate, but simply to point out that the penalty is a monetary one. The idea that you no longer have the right to live in the US if you don’t buy insurance is spurious and ridiculous. Yet, Bilbray repeated it three times in his floor speech.*

Some of you may also wonder what kind of Republican in his right (wing) mind would tell Congress to look to the California legislature for answers. To be fair, he’s not talking about the state budget, but California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, which, passed under Gov. Jerry Brown’s reign in 1975, capped medical-malpractice pay-outs at $250,000.

According to Bilbray, the MICRA tort reform has resulted in Los Angeles  OB/GYN doctors paying up to 40 percent less for medical malpractice insurance than their counterparts in New York City. We do wonder where Bilbray got his numbers. According to MyMedicalMalpracticeInsurance.com‘s annual comparisons, medical malpractice insurance is as much as 72 percent cheaper in LA than NYC.

Whether the savings has to do with MICRA is, of course, a matter of debate, with MICRA critics citing statistics that showed malpractice-insurance rates climbed until Proposition 103 passed to further regulate the insurance industry. These critics, many of whom are trial lawyers, also point out that the cap has not been adjusted in 35 years for inflation, something they hope Brown will amend this time around.

* In fact, Bilbray is the one actually advocating for a new law that would allow the government to take away American citizenship.

UPDATE: Lucas O’Connor pointed out that Rep. Duncan D. Hunter recently made a remark in an interview that claimed that the federal mandate to build highways, as opposed to bike paths, is in the Constitution:

StreetsBlog: I was just in an EPW Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?

DH: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the Constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

While that is a pretty silly claim—there is no mentions of highways, cars, airplanes, or bicycles in the Constitution—there is a Constitutional clause that gives Congress the power to establish roads specifically for delivering mail (though, we’re pretty sure that, theoretically, mail can be delivered by bicycle). Plus, Hunter did not say it on the House floor. So, I’m going to stick with the Bilbray determination, while awarding Hunter second place.

Wikileaks publishes cable on Rep. Darrell Issa’s meeting with Lebanese in Brazil

Rep. Darrell Issa has promised to hold hearings (or at least a hearing) on Wikileaks in his first year as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

But here’s a twist: As Issa prepares to investigate Wikileaks, Wikileaks is in turn likely sitting on documents that reveal a few things about Issa.

Ever since the Cablegate dump began (Wikileaks’ slow release of internal State Department memos), we’ve been anxiously awaiting confidential narratives about Issa. The North County Republican and consumer-electronics tycoon spends plenty of time abroad, from Taiwan to Iraq. He is a director of the American Task force for Lebanon and sits on the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (a.k.a. the Helsinki Commission).  With more than a quarter-million documents set to be released, surely he’s in there somewhere. Of particular interest to the press will be anything related to the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli War and Issa’s 2007 meeting with President Bashar Assad of Syria, a country often deemed a state sponsor of terror.

Sure enough, today Wikileaks published a “sensitive but unclassified” cable titled, “REP. ISSA’S MEETING WITH LEADERS OF LEBANESE COMMUNITY IN SAO PAULO.”

In 2006, Issa  toured parts of Brazil with a Congressional delegation headed up by Sen .Chuck Grassley. That trip—a visit to a sugar mill, an ethanol plant and a General Motors Flex-fuel vehicle factory—was covered in another memo, but staff at Consulate Sao Paolo felt Issa’s meeting with  Brazilian-Lebanese representatives over drinks deserved its own report.

It’s only natural that Issa would meet with Brazilian-Lebanese community; he’s of Lebanese descent himself, and his grandfather lived in Rio de Janeiro before emigrating to the US. According to the World Lebanese Cultural Union, there are 7 million people of Lebanese descent in Brazil, including Brazil’s current Vice President Michel Temer.

According to the memo, the meeting included Issa and his staff, state department officials and “Joseph Sayah, Lebanese Consul General in Sao Paulo; Souheil Yamount, a long-time investment and government relations advisor to the Hariri Family Group; Alfredo Cotait Neto, President of the Brazil-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce; and Guilherme Mattar, a Director and Secretary-General of the Brazil-Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.”

The discussion focused most on the situation in Lebanon following the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the influence Iran may have on Lebanon through the militant organization Hezbollah. Here are some excerpts:

Rep. Issa and the group discussed a range of issues facing Lebanon today, the most pressing being Iran’s new influence in the country after the power vacuum left by Syria’s pullout. Sayah repeatedly linked Hezbollah to Iran, and warned that in upcoming presidential elections in Lebanon, any candidate who does not specifically denounce Hezbollah is implicitly supporting Iran as Hezbollah’s current benefactor and puppet-master. Closer to home, the group candidly acknowledged that Hezbollah supporters operate in Parana State and the tri-border region where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet.

and

Issa wondered aloud if large Lebanese expatriate communities such as Sao Paulo’s might be tapped to support the democratic process in Lebanon.  Sayah pointed out that currently Lebanon does not have an absentee voter process, and the country’s parliamentary system would not provide the opportunity to affect presidential elections, which is critical to advancing Lebanon’s fragile democracy.

and

Rep. Issa said it will be important to garner international support for a new U.N. resolution following Resolution 1559, and for smart investments in Lebanon, avoiding the corruption that has been seen in past programs…Issa wrapped up the evening by declaring that if the Lebanese expatriate communities of Brazil and the Unites States can stand together to press their respective governments to cooperate on promoting democracy and strengthening institutions in Lebanon, the day may come soon when Lebanon will finally be free of all foreign influence.

There’s nothing particularly scandalous about the cable, though it does provide some insight into Issa’s interests and advocacy on behalf of Lebanon. But, the cable’s existence–and the likelihood of other cables emerging–means that things could get interesting if Issa proceeds with hearings on Wikileaks. Could it represent a conflict of interest for Issa? Maybe. Could the Issa cables become a leverage tool for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange? Maybe.

Will I be checking the Cablegate website every day? Definitely.

Full text of the cable below.





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