Barney’s On the Beat

Ballot Bamboozling: While watching those oh-so-sincere “experts” on TV slamming California ballot initiatives, keep in mind that Big Oil and Big Tobacco are paying some of them to sing their tune.

If Alice Huffman, who heads the California NAACP, hadn’t been paid $160,000 by the tobacco lobby would she be all over TV blowing smoke about Prop. 86, which would raise the cigarette tax an additional $2.60 a pack?

The NAACP calls the tax “unfair” because it would be “especially burdensome on low-income smokers.” Well, I’d say lung cancer is even more burdensome and the tax might reduce the number of smokers. Prop. 86 backers say it would raise millions for health services, including efforts to keep kids from becoming nicotine addicts and save nearly $16.5 billion in healthcare costs because more than half a million smokers would quit blowing their dough on coffin nails.

Big Oil, fighting Prop. 87, has shelled out major money to police and firefighting groups, which, not surprisingly, are filling the airways with horror stories warning about the proposed $4 billion California oil tax. I seriously doubt that the oil companies are in danger of going broke from paying this tax. The Rev. Amos Brown, a prominent San Francisco preacher, has in the past been critical of Governor Schwarzenegger. But now, after being paid $16,000 by the governor, he’s changed his position and is promoting the gov’s re-election by cutting radio commercials.

Police and firefighter groups received more than $220,000 from the No on 86 and 87 groups; the unions have responded by giving them top spots on their mailers.

So far, the cost of statewide campaigns has hit nearly $450 million, an obscene amount, all in the name of good government, of course. The issue here isn’t whether these ballot measures are good or bad public policy but whether you should be taken in by these well-paid pitchmen hiding who signs their paychecks. My advice: Take a bathroom break when any of these high-powered commercials flash onto your tube. You won’t be missing anything but misinformation from paid mouthpieces who aren’t telling you what you really need to know: how much they’re being paid and by whom.

Missing FBI Files: Thirty years ago, 73 people were killed in the bombing of a Cuban passenger plane shortly after its takeoff from Barbados. According to South Coast journalist Ann Louise Bardach’s piece in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, American, Venezuelan, Trinidadian, and Cuban intelligence all concluded that the masterminds of the bombing were anti-Castro militants Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, who were granted residency by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, at the behest of his son Jeb Bush.

But agents in the Miami bureau of the FBI were told to drop the investigation, Bardach said. “Lots of people around here think Posada is a freedom fighter,” the FBI chief told agents in the bureau, according to Bardach, who also authored the book Cuba Confidential. Not long after, agents learned that all the evidence against Posada had been destroyed, wrote Bardach.

When Posada showed up in Miami last year, the FBI suddenly got interested and reopened the old case. But with its files — including records of cables and money transfers between Posada and alleged co-conspirators — gone from the FBI’s South Florida evidence room, the feds tried to subpoena Bardach’s files from her 1998 series on Posada in the New York Times. “Do us a favor,” one FBI investigator told Bardach, she wrote. “We can’t find ours.”

Last year, attorneys for the Times successfully quashed the subpoena. Then, on September 11, the Justice Department threatened another subpoena if the Times and Bardach didn’t turn over her materials. On October 6, 30 years to the day of the Cuban plane bombing, the feds laid another subpoena on the Times, Bardach told me this week. “You can’t say they don’t have a sense of humor about their timing and dates. But you have got to wonder: Is this a war on terrorism or a war on reporters?” she asked. “And you’ve got to wonder if my materials will wind up in the shredder, as well.”

Wild and Wacky: The Foreigner, the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group’s new production (yes, good old live theater!) is a throwback to those daffy 1930s comedies. It’s full of quirky characters, explosions, and silliness. Kudos to director Rick Mokler.

Halloween at the Boneyard: There are more than 44,000 stories at the Santa Barbara Cemetery (that’s how many people are buried there), but historian David Petry only has time for the choice stories about the famous and infamous during his tours. The next ones will take place on Sunday, October 29 at 3:30 p.m. and on October 31 at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Info at 569-3300. (For more on Petry’s cemetery tour, see page 39.)

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