Kurds aweigh

Monday's Union-Tribune carried a story purporting to recount the recruitment of local Kurds as "volunteers" for war against Iraq. It quoted a man identified as the director of the "Kurdish Human Rights Watch's office for the San Diego area" as saying he'd come up with about 22 or so native Kurdish speakers, who were being paid a "modest amount for their services" and sent to a "staging area" in Hungary run by the Pentagon. The man was also quoted as saying he coordinated the recruiting "at the request of Iraqi organizations in the United States that work with the military, including the Free Iraqi Officer and Civilians Movement and the Iraqi National Congress." As is often the case with the U-T version, the full story, reported elsewhere, is a bit more intriguing. Two months ago, the Nashville Tennessean revealed that the U.S. government's Kurdish recruitment effort was being run by none other than La Jolla-based Titan Corp., the big defense contractor headquartered across the road from the Torrey Pines golf course just up the street from General Atomics, one of the CIA's biggest contractors. The paper quoted Cheman Zebari, identified as a Titan program manager, as saying the company was seeking Kurds fluent in English, Arabic, Kurdish, or Farsi. A flyer faxed to Kurdish groups in San Diego, Dallas, and Nashville advertised job openings with a salary of up to $70,000. Applicants had to fill out a 17-page application furnished by Titan and were dispatched to Washington for weeklong interviews with national-security specialists working for the firm, the paper said. A Kurd in Nashville reported that Titan was looking for at least 60 recruits ... The U-T omitted a bit of uncomfortable history from its obituary of ex-San Diego city manager Ray Blair, who died of cancer at age 77 last week. Though the paper mentioned Blair's scandalous mid-1980s affair with his assistant Sue Williams and played up the vote of confidence in him led by then-mayor Roger Hedgecock (subsequently forced from office by his own political and financial shenanigans), the obit was silent on the fate of Blair's then-wife Nancy. After word of the affair and allegations that Blair had used his influence to help Williams's career leaked out of city hall, Nancy went to her La Jolla garage, got into her car, and killed herself with carbon monoxide on January 26, 1986. Blair subsequently wed Williams.

Mother's milk of war Now that Republican congressman Duncan Hunter is chairman of the House Armed Services committee, one of his ex-aides, along with a former assistant to Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, are cashing in on Washington's lucrative defense-contractor lobbying circuit. Roll Call reports that recently departed Cunningham chief of staff Trey Hardin and Patrick McSwain, another ex-Cunningham staffer, have partnered with longtime Hunter lieutenant Frank Collins to form NorthPoint Strategies, LLC. The new lobbying outfit has already signed up San Diego-based Titan Corp. and Qualcomm, along with United Defense International, which had previously employed Collins ... Bankrupt utility Pacific Gas & Electric spent more than $10,000 flying its top honchos and their buddies down from San Francisco to watch the Super Bowl here, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're not ashamed," company spokesman John Nelson told the paper. "This was customer-relationship management. But ratepayers didn't pay for it. Shareholders paid for it." According to a flight plan obtained by the Chronicle, the company plane left at 9:00 a.m. and landed at McClellan-Palomar Airport in time for lunch. It returned that night.

Water for sale County education officials are warning the San Diego Unified School District that its budget deficit is far more dire than it's been letting on. "The district's multi-year projection indicates that the district will have to reduce the budget by approximately $87,000,000 over the next two years," according to a January 17 letter from county office of education staffer Donald Shelton. Meantime, district chief of staff Terry Smith is proposing an exclusive five-year agreement to sell Coke and Pepsi products "to district students and staff." The proposal "would increase revenue for the district," Smith says in a February 12 memo. "Yes, some of our high schools have arranged for individual deals with one of the vendors, but collectively we are not getting the best value," he writes. "With a collective contract, we feel that we can negotiate a rate that will offer an annual donation to the schools at $10K (pro-rated based on sales and student body size) and a percentage of commission rate of 35 percent." To health critics of the sugar-laden deal, the memo answers, "The focus will be on 50 percent-plus fruit drinks, sports drinks, and water. In fact, water will be sold at a rate less than other drinks to promote drinking more of that product."

Contributor: Matt Potter

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