Thursday, January 3, 2019
In the great scheme of things, Santa Barbara is actually almost as blue as it likes to think it is. That means that in the political color wheel, we lie somewhere between such scientifically named hues as “Space Cadet” — an actual shade — and “Delft.” That being said, it’s critical to acknowledge key connections between our backwater paradise and the multitudinous transgressions undertaken by people in the Trump regime. Over the past 16 months, I have repeatedly sought to belabor this. In hindsight, I didn’t go far enough. Santa Barbara’s connection to the Fall of Western Civilization truly is represented from A to the proverbial Z. Or more precisely, from the Ag Department (our former assemblymember and state senator Abel Maldonado was a serious close-call contender for the cabinet-level post before discovering his new life as gentleman cannabis cultivator) to Zinke — as in Ryan — the occasional Mesa rat who just resigned in the face of multiple conflict-of-interest allegations so outrageous they might have made Ivanka Trump blush.
Let’s start at the top with Thomas Barrack Jr. of Colony Capital. Like every billionaire and part-time county resident, Barrack owns his own winery, in this case the Happy Canyon Winery. He also owns Neverland, Michael Jackson’s old stomping grounds. Barrack helped start a political-action committee that raised $23 million for Trump. But what has alarmed federal investigators was Barrack’s role as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee, which raised a record-shattering $107 million for what by any reckoning was a sublimely underwhelming event. Federal investigators are now probing Barrack to determine whether he helped funnel “straw men” political donations by foreign governments — such as Saudi Arabia — to influence our political process. Barrack, for the record, adamantly denies such suggestions.
It was Barrack, an old business buddy of Trump’s, who suggested that Paul Manafort — since convicted on multiple federal charges this year, including lying about secret meetings with Russian agents — serve as Trump’s campaign consultant, which he did for about five months. Barrack also gave us Richard Gates — also convicted this year for lying to federal investigators — who managed the inauguration event. In fact, Barrack hired Gates to work for Colony Capital — paying him $20,000 a month — until he was indicted. Not a savory résumé.
Less savory still has been the fawning bromance Barrack has waged with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose bad-boy rap-star initials — MBS — not coincidentally stand for “More Bone Saws.” This refers to the gruesome death visited upon Washington Post columnist and Saudi regime critic Jamal Khashoggi by the aforementioned acronym. The much-dismembered Khashoggi — sliced and diced by Saudi hitmen in the Saudi Embassy in Turkey — it should be noted, was the nephew of Essam and Laylah Khashoggi, longtime Hope Ranch residents (until recently) and major benefactors of the Laguna Blanca private school. Federal investigators have made several passes now at Barrack, in whose mouth butter would not melt, the most recent being on December 13. With Democrats now in charge of Congress, that should increase.
Coincidentally, December 13 happens to be the same date investigators with the Department of Justice served search warrants on the Santa Maria offices of Greka Energy, truly the poster child for predator oil and gas operations. This past year, Greka was fined $2 million by the EPA for violations stemming from its Santa Maria operations, and an obscure state agency fined the company $12 million for repeatedly lying on environmental compliance reports for activities in Orange County. We don’t know what the search warrants were for — “sealed” being the official term of nondisclosure art — but we do know that Santa Barbara County is also a party to this action.
Greka is of interest because that’s the oil company that former county supervisor Mike Stoker used to represent back when the county of Santa Barbara was hitting Greka with $2 million in fines for flagrant and chronic violations of the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, not to mention health and safety issues. This year, Stoker was appointed to function as West Coast Regional Director of the EPA by the Trump administration. Stoker — who claims to have initiated the “Lock Her Up” chant that swept the Republican Presidential Convention in 2016 — has insisted his only intention with Greka was to inculcate a culture of environmental compliance within the company’s operational DNA. If this past year’s record-setting fines offer any indication, we can safely surmise Stoker’s efforts — if actually undertaken — did not pay off.
When Trump announced sweeping changes to the Clean Water Act this year, one of the major reversals involved intermittent streams. Simply put, no longer would intermittent streams be afforded any federal protection under the Clean Water Act — an argument Stoker used to make when he represented Greka. Given that a huge number of waterways west of the Mississippi River run only part of the year, that’s massive. For polluters — like Greka — this qualifies as a blank check with an infinite number of zeros located west of the decimal point.