MEA CULPA BLUES: Every now and then, I screw up some basic fact and get it flat out wrong. Like last week, for example, when I took the Santa Barbara City Council to task for being a day late and dollar short in finally enacting a lawn watering ban. My report was accurate as far it went, but I opted to take it further, erroneously writing that the ban also included any non-hand-held watering of all outdoor landscaping, such as trees, bushes, and assorted shrubbery. Unlike lawns, trees cannot really be replaced, which is why city arborists are performing mouth-to-mouth on anything with roots in the ground and crackly branches bigger than a five-gallon specimen. I also stated that the city had increased its conservation target from 25 to 40 percent. The actual increase will be from 35 percent to 40 percent. For all six people who rely upon on information derived from a column written under a transgender, trans-species pseudonym to guide their irrigation habits, I heartily apologize. Accuracy matters. Even if the column’s persona is utterly concocted, the facts contained herein are absolutely real, or they absolutely try to be.
Oh, and I seem to have gotten it wrong about there being no way Donald Trump could ever get elected president. Sorry about that one. Hope none of you set the timers of your drip irrigation system based on my assurances to the contrary.
I have to hedge this apology with the qualifier “seem” because the Electoral College has until Monday to proclaim Trump emperor even though he still trails Hillary Clinton by about 2.8 million votes. Only in America would this not matter, but if it were dollars instead of votes, we’d be talking real money. Admittedly, the chances of an Electoral College revolt is less likely than the Virgin of Guadalupe making a repeat appearance just for me, but at last count, 40 electors have demanded access to intelligence reports on how the Russian government hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign guru John Podesta, thus precipitating the tsunami of timed releases by Wikileaks. While there was no smoking gun, per se, there was plenty to frazzle and distract the Clinton campaign. But that’s not really the point; the point is that Trump’s global man crush Vlad “The Impaler” Putin sought to exert a little double-triple-reverse body-English mojo on our sacrosanct election results. In an allegedly unipolar world, only the United States is allowed to do such things. Once Trump ascends the throne of the Oval Office, we will all be living in a bipolar world and no amount of Abilify can take the edge off that fact.
Another error for which acknowledgement and atonement is required was my assertion back in April that then Montecito resident Andy Puzder—CEO of CKE (parent company to Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s)—was swinging on the “Anybody but Trump” vine. At the time, Puzder was hosting a meet and greet at his home for Republican presidential aspirant Ted Cruz. This was after Puzder had played political footsies with Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, and pretty much any stiff with a 98.6°F body temperature and the letter ) next to his—or her—name. Puzder was gracious enough to send a long missive detailing many points where my facts and his truth parted company, which we printed. But now that Trump appointed Andy—who reportedly has recently pulled up stakes and moved out of town—as secretary of labor, we can know with some certainty that the “Anybody but Trump” tarpaper don’t stick.
For those Santa Barbarans straining to find three degrees of separation, Puzder—who owned a home here since the late ’90s and sent his kids to Laguna Blanca—qualifies. And for those recoiling in horror at the nominees Trump is making to cabinet positions—a collection of vulture capitalists, crony capitalists, and lemon socialists all genetically endowed with hyperactive “eat it, beat it, or shoot it” impulses—Puzder embodies all your worst fears. In Puzder, Trump appointed as secretary of labor a man who has denounced most (not all) minimum-wage increases as outrageous and unreasonable and who has fought much-needed reforms in overtime laws so that mid-level managers cannot be so ruthlessly exploited. As CEO of a chain with 3,700 outlets, Puzder helped create a fast-food empire based on minimum-wage workers and soft-core-porn TV commercials featuring skanky supermodels performing unnatural acts upon triple-decker meat patties. Puzder, who briefly played bass with the James Gang, a proto-dude-bra, party-hearty band, famously said the ads accurately reflected his “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis” personality. It is, he said, “very American.”
Puzder and his empire got crosswise with California labor laws over the years, for which CKE had to pay $20 million dealing with class-action lawsuits for various overtime excesses. Overtime violations are endemic to the fast-food industry, and a recent inspection by the Department of Labor found violations in 60 percent of the CKE chains the inspectors visited. Many of the links are franchises, however, making violations the responsibility of the franchisee. The Obama administration has pushed legislation that would make such practices the joint responsibility of the franchisee and the parent company. Puzder has opposed this vigorously. When the CKE empire was sold to Thomas H. Lee investors a few years back, Santa Barbara courts found themselves choked with a class-action lawsuit filed by disgruntled CKE investors—upset that the per-share payout price was too low—alleging self-dealing, insider trading, and things that sound dastardly and duplicitous.
Puzder’s nomination has generated some backlash within the Trump camp itself, given CKE’s reliance on immigrant workers, who, Puzder has noted in interviews, tend to be far more grateful to have any job than their native-born counterparts who complain about having to show up. Little wonder Puzder has extolled the virtues of automation. Machines, he noted, are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, race, or sex discrimination case.” Puzder’s nomination is to be credited with unifying two warring camps whose interests would appear to be irreconcilable: Latino activist labor organizers seeking to bump the minimum wage and build-the-wall alt-righters intent on making the swastika respectable again.
Puzder v. Roe v. Wade
As secretary of labor, Puzder presumably will have no say over matters of reproductive choice, but it’s worth noting that his absolutist positions on abortion are in keeping with Trump’s pledge to repeal Roe v. Wade. Back in the 1980s, Puzder was a legal hot shot in Missouri, working closely with an anti-abortion crusader named Samuel Lee—yes, that’s two “Lees” that just happen to show up prominently on Puzder’s résumé. Together, they concocted what was then known as a “kitchen sink” attack on abortion rights in Missouri, crafting legislation that imposed every imaginable restriction on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Key to the bill was the declaration right at the beginning imbuing all the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the just-fertilized ovum. Missouri’s governor at the time was John Ashcroft, who would later serve as attorney general under the most recent George Bush. Puzder and Lee knew that Ashcroft, so religiously conservative that he believed dancing was sinful, would sign anything they came up with. They were proved correct. The bill was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court by abortion rights supporters, where the justices, by a 5-to-4 vote, upheld the constitutionality of Puzder’s bill. The court sidestepped the part about life beginning at conception, arguing the bill’s numerous abortion restrictions and prohibitions did not legally rely upon the preamble to hold together.
It was about this time spousal abuse accusations first surfaced against Puzder by his first wife, who made them in divorce papers filed in 1989. Cops were called to the Puzder house on two occasions. Puzder has steadfastly denied the allegations. And in papers just released by the Trump campaign, his ex-wife has done the same, explaining the charges were just something she had been advised to say at the time. Given that far worse allegations were leveled against Trump himself by his ex-wife Ivana with little effect, it’s doubtful this will matter for Puzder. At the time, howgever, it was enough of an issue that he withdrew from a committee convened by Ashcroft to study the implications of the Supreme Court decision.
On the subject of Ryan Zinke, Trump’s appointee as secretary of the interior, I managed to quasi-erroneously describe him as sometimes “resident” of Santa Barbara. Campaign workers for Zinke, a certified bad-ass former Navy SEAL then running to retain his seat as the sole congressmember representing the great state of Montana, were agitated by this description, as it played into the negative narrative of his opponent, who claimed that Zinke, a third-generation Montanan, was spending too much time out of state, where—it turns out—about 80 percent of his campaign dough was coming from. For the record, Zinke is a frequent visitor to Santa Barbara, having married Lolita Hand, who grew up in Santa Barbara, her father being Fred Hand, once a prominent figure in Santa Barbara business circles. Lolita still has family property in Santa Barbara, and that’s where Zinke held a fundraising campaign bash on behalf of Republican congressional candidate Justin Fareed, who just got shellacked by 20,000 votes by Democrat Salud Carbajal. In the campaign invite to the Zinke event, the location was described “the home of Lolita and Ryan Zinke.” Who Zinke is and what he actually thinks will matter a great deal to Santa Barbara, as the Department of the Interior calls the shots when it comes to offshore oil production and endangered-species-act enforcement and owns the reservoir upon which most of us depend, Lake Cachuma. Throw in the Channel Islands and all the national parks, and you get the picture.
In person, Zinke is said to be intense and unassuming simultaneously, able to waltz into a room of big shots while wearing flip-flops and dazzle all in attendance with down-home laser-eye-lock charm. I have no firsthand knowledge. I have read how he called Hillary Clinton “the Antichrist” earlier in this year’s presidential election. Even by Trumpian standards, that seems a little extreme. Shortly upon being sworn in for his first congressional term, Zinke quickly let it be known he’d like to be speaker of the house when then-speaker and Republican John Boehner experienced his take-this-job-and-shove-it meltdown. Later, when Trump was casting about for a vice presidential running mate, Zinke was loud in expressing interesting for the post.
On issues such as climate change, Zinke has been all over the map. It’s clearly “a thing,” but it’s not so clear how big a thing it is in Zinke’s world view. In one interview, he said, “It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.” In another interview, he explained how he calibrated the risks associated with climate change and other threats. Even if there was a one-sixth chance that climate change would be a bona fide catastrophe, he said, “I think you need to be prudent.” But when weighing that prudence against energy independence, he said, “I think you go for energy independence for North America.”
Although conservationists gave him only a 3 percent approval rating, Zinke has broken with the GOP when it came to turning over federal lands to the states, presumably so they could maximize oil, gas, and coal production. Zinke has attacked efforts by the Obama administration to curtail methane emissions and has been an ardent supporter of the Keystone Pipeline project. Zinke gets high marks from the hunting/fishing/great-outdoors wing of the environmental camp, but there’s little in his portfolio to re-assure the tree hugger camp. The best one can say is that he is not Rex Tillerson, the Exxon executive Trump wants to appoint secretary of state, or former Texas governor Rick Perry, whom Trump appointed to run the Energy Department, which Perry famously vowed to eliminate if only he could remember its name. Trump also named Zinke’s wife, Lolita Zinke (née Hand), to an interim post in the Veterans Administration.
Inauguration Sugar Daddy
Last but not least, there is, of course, Thomas Barrack Jr., CEO of Colony Capital and owner of Happy Canyon Vineyards here in Santa Barbara, who is running Trump’s whole inaugural production. Barrack has the gift of sounding irresistibly reasonable no matter how crazy the words might actually be and, as such, was a great asset to Trump during the campaign. Assuming the Electoral College doesn’t save us from Trump with a last-minute shoe-lace tackle next Monday—Trump, I hear, wears loafers—anyone seeking tickets for inauguration can contact Tom for tickets. If that doesn’t work—Tom has yet to call us back, though we have a lot of emails thanking us for our interest—you can always call Salud Carbajal, soon to be our next congressmember. Carbajal sent out a press release announcing that he was holding a lottery for inaugural tickets. Based on that, my hunch is they’re not moving like hot cakes.
In the meantime, don’t forget not to water your lawns.