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California

Under siege well beyond our backyards

Today, a blended cocktail to celebrate the start of summer.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Frank and Jamie McCourt. More fireworks in Costa Mesa. And mounting evidence that Southern California is under attack.

As for the latter, I’m still sorting through a bulging sack of mail. It’s from readers under siege from the spread of eastern fox squirrels, who arrived decades ago in California and are now gluttonously wiping out backyard crops. That’s what happened to the exasperated subject of my Sunday column — a battle-weary Beverlee Nelson ofNorth Hollywood.

I’ve received cries for help from as far east as Riverside in what must be one of the most underreported stories in Southern California. Please check this space for future updates, remedies and tales from the trenches.

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But meanwhile, let’s go to Baltimore, where Villaraigosa, the new chief of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, sounded off last week about how building bridges “in Baghdad and Kandahar and not Baltimore and Kansas City absolutely boggles the mind.” He and other mayors supported a resolution to end the wars and begin reinvesting in towns and cities that are going broke.

OK, so it’s a meaningless gesture by an organization the Beltway crowd finds easy to ignore. But the U.S. is spending roughly $126 billion a year on the two wars. And with Osama bin Laden now sleeping with the fishes, a new Pew poll says a record number of Americans want out of Afghanistan.

President Obama’s response? The man who campaigned as a dove but commands like a hawk is expected to announce Wednesday that he wants to pull just a small fraction of our 100,000 troops out of Afghanistan. But he can’t tell you what, if anything, can be accomplished by maintaining a large force there, or whether either bloody war has accomplished much at all.

But I can tell you this:

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Go to costofwar.com, and you’ll find that, by the website’s calculations,Los Angeles city taxpayers have put up $12.9 billion of the $1.2 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Residents of L.A. County have coughed up $38 billion, and inOrange County, the meter is running at $15.9 billion.

Is there anyone out there who CAN’T think of better uses for all that dough?

Taxpayers in California, the state that can’t close a $10-billion budget deficit, have kicked in $153 billion for the war in the last 10 years.

Budget deficits? What an excellent segue to Costa Mesa, where the police chief resigned this week and accused City Council members of lying about a fiscal crisis in order to dump half the city’s work force.

Nonsense, said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who insists the city has to rein in spending, particularly on pensions, or it’s in trouble.

I asked Righeimer whether he supports the call for Washington to spend less in the Middle East and more in Costa Mesa. Righeimer is the guy, after all, who led the charge to ground the police helicopter patrol unit in Costa Mesa. Wouldn’t he rather pay for those than pay for helicopters in Kabul?

He declined the chance to jump through that hoop.

At costofwar.com, there’s no breakdown for Costa Mesa, but there is one for the congressional district that includes Costa Mesa and is represented by Righeimer’s buddy, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach).

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Taxpayers in the 46th Congressional District have spent $3.6 billion on the two wars. Rohrabacher voted for the resolution that led to the Iraq war, but recently said Iraq should pay back the U.S. for our costs since the 2003 invasion that has killed tens of thousands of civilians there. OK, Dana. The congressman and I do agree, however, that it’s time to pull troops out of Afghanistan.

And speaking of pullouts — abrupt transition ahead — it seems that nearly everyone supports an immediate withdrawal from Los Angeles of Frank and Jamie McCourt, who together have destroyed a beloved Los Angeles institution: theDodgers.

Photos: The Dodgers and the McCourts

They can’t stay together. They can’t figure out how to divorce. They can’t figure out who owns the team. And despite going five years without paying income taxes, they can’t figure out how to pay their bills now that Major League Baseball has rejected a TV deal that might have kept the McCourts living the high life awhile longer.

If they don’t catch a break, and I mean soon, they could lose one of their many mansions, perhaps one of the houses they own next door to each other in both Malibu and Holmby Hills. God forbid they should lose the house with Jamie’s favorite lap pool, or the house where the laundry is done, though certainly not by Frank or Jamie.

And how are they going to pay Manny Ramirez more than $20 million over the next three years in foolishly guaranteed salary, even though he left the team a year ago and has retired in shame after failing two drug tests in three years?

I went to Dodger Stadium on Monday night and even a ticket scalper, Rick Green, was praying for the McCourts to sell. “Nobody will even pull over” to see what he’s offering, Green complained.

“They took so much money out of the team,” said die-hard fan Doug Goetz.

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“It’s sad because you come here and it’s half-empty,” said Linda Graves.

That’s because Frank McCourt is a minor-league businessman who has no idea how to manage a Major League team. And he’s the kind of guy who hears you say that and only digs himself in deeper trying to prove you wrong.

The McCourts aren’t from here, you know. They came from back East.

Just like the squirrels.

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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