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Obama honors local author, singer at White House

By Josh Richman
Monday, July 28th, 2014 at 4:26 pm in Barack Obama, Obama presidency

A famed author from Oakland and a famed singer from San Francisco were among those honored with the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama on Monday at the White House.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston, 73, of Oakland, was honored “for her contributions as a writer,” according to a statement read at the ceremony by a military aide. “Her novels and non-fiction have examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender and race.”

And singer Linda Ronstadt, 68, of San Francisco, was honored “for her one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music. Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists.”

The president told these and other honorees:

“Like most creative and brainy people, you did not cultivate your song for accolades or applause. If there were no medal for your work, I expect you’d still be out there designing buildings and making movies and digging through archives and asking tough questions in interviews.

“But we do honor you today — because your accomplishments have enriched our lives and reveal something about ourselves and about our country. And we can never take for granted the flash of insight that comes from watching a great documentary or reading a great memoir or novel, or seeing an extraordinary piece of architecture. We can’t forget the wonder we feel when we stand before an incredible work of art, or the world of memories we find unlocked with a simple movement or a single note.

“The moments you help create -– moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow -– they add texture to our lives. They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it — they are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement.”

Both the Bay Area honorees also got special shout-outs from the president. “I was mentioning to Maxine that when I was first writing my first book and trying to teach myself how to write, “The Woman Warrior” was one of the books I read. … I told Linda Ronstadt I had a little crush on her back in the day.”

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Paying to work on a political campaign? Sort of.

By Josh Richman
Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 4:50 pm in Uncategorized

The Obama campaign veterans now consulting with Democratic House candidate Ro Khanna have created a stir by charging young campaign newbies $5,000 each for a chance to learn at their knee and then get a five-week, unpaid campaign job somewhere, Buzzfeed reports.

Run by (Jeremy) Bird and (Mitch) Stewart’s consulting company, 270 Strategies, the new program’s emphasis on placing paying customers in essentially volunteer roles on Democratic campaigns is atypical in the campaign training industry, and some Democrats say it sets a dangerous precedent. The firm’s first-ever “270/360 Training Intensive” program is scheduled to begin in September.

The program’s website describes a six-week program, consisting of five days of “intensive” campaign training at 270’s Chicago HQ featuring Stewart and Bird and other “architects of the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns,” followed by five weeks of volunteer work on an “an important Democratic campaign in the United States.”

Participants must pay $3,500 for the five days of training, and another $1,500 to be placed in the volunteer campaign job, though 270 Strategies said it will offer scholarships and discounts on a case-by-case basis. Applications are due next Thursday, July 31.

Asked Friday whether any of these trainees might wind up working for Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, 270 Strategies replied it has “not yet made decisions about campaign assignments.”

Khanna campaign spokesman Tyler Law said “I don’t know what their plans are, but we’re definitely excited about having 170 active fellows” working unpaid campaign jobs, drawn mostly from local high schools and colleges. “Every fellow that we have has been recruited by our campaign, or has shown up at one of our campaign offices because they are ready to work for someone who will provide forward-looking leadership for the 17th District.”

Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan declined to comment Friday.

Lots more on this, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

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(Jerry) ‘Brown is the new green?’

By Josh Richman
Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 2:44 pm in Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, water

California’s anti-drought slogan is “Brown is the new green,” even as Gov. Jerry Brown’s environmental bona fides are at issue during his re-election campaign.

Coincidence? Absolutely… but let’s exploit it anyway!

Brown is the new green lawn signThe slogan aims to make property owners feel better about letting their lawns shrivel. A state water agency last week approved unprecedented penalties for those who waste water, and Brown signed a bill into law Monday prohibiting homeowners associations from fining residents who don’t water their lawns.

Already the signs are proliferating. An Antioch golf course adopted the slogan a few weeks ago, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District on Friday announced a $500,000 summer ad campaign using the slogan. District spokesman Marty Grimes said the district is merely following in the state’s footsteps and it’s strictly non-political: “I think the message is pretty clear that it has nothing to do with the governor.”

But could it hurt the governor for his name to be deemed “the new green” as he seeks re-election against Republican challenger Neel Kashkari? Actually, there are more than a few environmentalists – especially opponents of fracking – who would say Jerry Brown is certainly not “the new green.”

Dan Newman, a consultant to Brown’s re-election campaign, said Friday this slogan is a zero-sum equation with an earlier, unofficial drought slogan. “Isn’t that cancelled out by the classic ‘If it’s brown flush, it down – if it’s yellow, let it mellow’?”

Likewise, Kashkari spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner’s response to the slogan Friday was “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

Great minds think alike, no matter what side of the aisle.

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Ron Nehring on ‘solidarity mission’ to Israel

By Josh Richman
Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 9:16 am in Lt. Governor

Republican candidate for Lt. Governor Ron Nehring left on a four-day “solidarity mission” to Israel on Friday morning.

“Californians are watching with great concern the challenges Israel faces to its very existence,” Nehring, a former state GOP chairman from San Diego, said in a news release. “As Israelis continue to endure daily rocket fire from Hamas terrorists, now is the time for leaders in the United States to demonstrate that we stand with Israel, we stand against terror, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Nehring is joining trip organized by the Jewish National Fund. The mission will include meetings with Israeli government officials, visits with Israeli citizens in towns next to the Gaza Strip, and briefings on current conditions.

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Congressional Soccer Caucus turns eyes to Qatar

By Josh Richman
Thursday, July 24th, 2014 at 2:27 pm in Eric Swalwell, George Miller, U.S. House

Rep. George Miller helped introduce a resolution Thursday calling for better protection for migrant workers in Qatar who are building that tiny Middle Eastern emirate’s facilities for the 2022 World Cup.

Miller, D-Martinez, who co-chairs the Congressional Soccer Caucus…

Wait, what?

Yes, there is a Congressional Soccer Caucus. It has three other co-chairs plus 23 members.

“The mission of the Congressional Soccer Caucus is to encourage legislation, activities and events that promote soccer and issues affecting the greater soccer community, toward encouraging healthy and active lifestyles among America’s youth,” according to the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s website. The foundation “serves as the public advocacy arm for the game and provides information and support for the Caucus.”

Who knew? I did not. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

qatar2022Lawmakers contend Qatar’s migrant workforce faces horrible conditions, including 12-to-16 hour working days in triple-digit heat, indentured servitude by unscrupulous labor contractors, and squalid, overcrowded labor camps. More than 500,000 additional immigrant workers, primarily from Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, are expected to arrive in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Recent reports warn that as many as 4,000 migrant construction workers could die from the unsafe living and working conditions by the time that tournament kicks off.

“After America’s exciting showing in the 2014 World Cup and as soccer fans around the world look forward to future world cups, we must ensure that the workers who make these events possible have safe working conditions,” Miller said in a news release. “The current conditions Qatar’s migrant workforce face are simply unacceptable. The Qatari government, FIFA, the United Nations, and the International Labour Organization have all recognized that conditions need to improve but have taken no meaningful action. We’ve introduced this resolution in hopes of ending the abuse of migrant labor in Qatar.”

H.Res. 862, of which Miller is lead sponsor, resolution calls on the Qatari government to make changes to their legal system to better protect migrant workers; urges the United States to prioritize the rights of migrant workers in their relations with Qatar; encourages American businesses to honor international human rights standards by holding their contractors and subcontractors accountable for labor violations; and asks FIFA to continue to advocate for fair labor practices in Qatar. The European Parliament already has passed a similar resolution.

Among the resolution’s 17 cosponsors (all Democrats) is fellow Soccer Caucus member Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, who attended the University of Maryland initially on – you guessed it – a soccer scholarship.

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Conservative groups fell Swalwell’s bipartisan bill

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 at 4:24 pm in Eric Swalwell, U.S. House

A Bay Area House member’s bill to step up the nation’s exploration of critical elements – used in tech products, aircraft and renewable energy projects – failed this week after two conservative groups urged its defeat.

Eric SwalwellRep. Eric Swalwell’s H.R. 1022, the Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act, needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but fell short Tuesday with a 260-143 vote.

“Under the threat of punishment from Heritage Action and Club for Growth, a majority of House Republicans voted against America’s manufacturing and national security interests,” Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in a news release.

“Thanks to their obstruction, American job-creators and the Department of Defense will continue to be at the mercy of China to acquire these critical elements that help power our homes and protect our troops,” he said. “Rather than support research and development that will help create jobs here at home, 142 House Republicans just voted to send good-paying American jobs overseas.”

The Club for Growth had issued an advisory earlier Tuesday urging lawmakers to oppose the bill, and noting it would be included in the club’s 2014 legislative scorecard.

“With very little debate and no ability to amend, this bill creates a whole new $125 million program within the Department of Energy to monitor and research ‘critical minerals’ that are often used in the manufacturing industry. Through this bill, government intervention in the private sector will only increase,” the club’s advisory said.

The advisory also noted an earlier version of the bill, along with a similar bill in 2010, had included giving the Energy Department authority to hand out loan guarantees for commercial projects that develop rare-earth technologies. “We can only assume that supporters of this bill will seek to implement these guarantees after this program has firmly found its place in the federal government after a few years.

“So rather than add another layer of bureaucracy and another layer of crony capitalism onto the federal government, we should be cutting wasteful programs and reducing government intervention in the private sector,” the club advised.

Swalwell’s office said the United States relies on other countries for more than 90 percent of many energy critical elements, and China is the world’s largest producer of rare earth elements – an important subset of ECEs.

Swalwell’s bill would have authorized in law and strengthened the Energy Department’s Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub, which was created last year and is making important advances in understanding how to extract, recycle, and produce substitutes for energy critical elements. The hub is a collaboration among national laboratories, universities, research institutes, and private companies.

The bill did not authorize any new spending and reflected a compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the House Science Committee. Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, supported the bill, as did Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

“This bill was the product of a year’s worth of cooperation between me and Republican leadership,” Swalwell said. “Unfortunately, this hard work was derailed by puppeteering from right-wing groups.”

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CA17: Khanna knocks Honda on attendance record

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 at 2:44 pm in Mike Honda, U.S. House

Democratic challenger Ro Khanna took Rep. Mike Honda to task Wednesday for missing floor votes on four bills the day before, including two of which he’s a co-sponsor and a third by a fellow Bay Area member.

“The bare minimum that’s expected of anyone is showing up – but Congressman Honda isn’t even doing that,” Khanna campaign spokesman Tyler Law said in a news release. “On a Tuesday of all days and with only 19 work days left, it’s shocking that he would blow off four important votes, including consideration of bills that he put his name on. People across the Bay Area are working hard every day to support their families and make ends meet – they have every right to expect their Congressman to do the same. That’s why Rep. Honda should immediately disclose to his constituents where he was yesterday and what prevented him from casting votes on their behalf.”

Honda, D-San Jose, was at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills on Wednesday to greet President Barack Obama’s helicopter; the president was on his way to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at the home of real estate mogul George Marcus.

Asked about Khanna’s criticism, Honda explained he’s in the Bay Area because his daughter is scheduled to undergo back surgery Thursday; he intends to return to Washington, D.C., on Monday.

Khanna’s campaign says Honda has missed 447 votes during his seven terms in Congress – the worst attendance record of any California Democrat, and second-worst among all House Democrats, who’ve been serving as long as him who came to Congress when he did. In 2013, he missed 59 votes, including those on restoring the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the poor as well as the farm bill; he was in San Jose for a campaign fundraiser at the time.

“With a dismal attendance record, it’s no surprise that he’s been unable to deliver for his constituents,” said the release from Khanna’s campaign. “After 14 years in Congress, he has passed only one bill into law – to name a post office.”

UPDATE @ 5:32 P.M.: This just in from Honda’s campaign…

Ro,

Congressman Mike Honda has dedicated his life to his community: after serving in the Peace Corps, he worked as a high school science teacher, principal, Santa Clara County Supervisor, State Assemblyman, and now Member of Congress. Over his career, he has mentored and developed countless others with a similar desire for service. You have rightly praised his leadership on issues affecting Asian-Americans, and said that he is “an outstanding Representative for our area.”

All of this work has required personal sacrifices: time spent serving the community has often meant time away from his family. Many excellent public servants make these sacrifices, though it’s a part of the job that isn’t mentioned much. But as anyone with a family can tell you, there are times when your family must come first. Some of these moments for Congressman Honda have come during the past fourteen years: the loss of his wife of 37 years, the passing of his mother, the birth of his first grandchild, and, this week, a major surgery his daughter is undergoing. During those times, he made the decision to miss votes so he could be there for his family.

You’ve made it abundantly clear that you will do anything to get into Congress. But I hope that you will at least refrain from attacking Congressman Honda for being with his family during their time of need.

Sincerely,

Vivek Kembaiyan
Communications Director
Mike Honda for Congress

UPDATE @ 8 P.M.: Aaaaannd… this just in from Khanna’s campaign!

Dear Vivek,

Thank you for your letter.

We all honor Congressman Honda’s many years of service, and the sacrifices he’s made along the way. We also respect Congressman Honda’s family responsibilities, and wish his daughter a speedy recovery.

Nonetheless, Congressman Honda’s record of missing 447 votes is the second worst attendance record of any Democrat who came to Congress when he did. Surely all of Rep. Honda’s Democratic colleagues take their family responsibilities seriously as well.

In addition, it is clear that many of the missed votes took place while Congressman Honda was focusing on politics, not delivering for his constituents. One example was skipping last year’s crucial vote to restore SNAP funding because the Congressman was at a fundraiser.

All of this would be easier if Congressman Honda showed his constituents the respect of transparency and publicly released his schedule – something that we have asked for repeatedly.

While we respect Congressman Honda’s family responsibilities, we simply cannot accept your incomplete explanation of the Congressman’s lackluster attendance record at a time when Silicon Valley needs representatives who are up to the task of leading us into a new economic future.

Sincerely,

Tyler Law
Press Secretary
Ro Khanna for Congress

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Report from Obama’s Los Altos Hills fundraiser

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 at 12:52 pm in Barack Obama, Obama presidency

My story will be posted soon to mercurynews.com, but here’s the entire pool report I just filed from President Obama’s remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate mogul George Marcus:

Press was shown into backyard of real estate mogul George Marcus’s sumptuous back yard at 11:53 a.m., where guests were gathered at tables under a tent next to the tennis court. Tickets for this event cost $10,000 per person, or $32,400 per couple with a VIP photo opportunity.

The president strode into the tent at 11:59 a.m. and was briefly introduced by Marcus. Remarks began at noon.

Obama said there are two reasons he’s here: the fine weather, and the connection he made with George and Judy Marcus’ infant granddaughter. “I may take her with me.” He lauded Marcus as someone who has lived the American dream, remembers it and wants to give back. He praised House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who was seated in the middle of the crowd, saying he needs her back as Speaker. He also recognized Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, as well as Democratic House candidates Michael Eggman (CA10) and Amanda Renteria (CA21).

Also spotted in the audience: Pelosi’s daughters Christina and Alexandra, and her son Paul Jr.

“One of my main functions here is to just say thank you” for all the support in years past, the president said.

“When we came into office, we were going through the worst economy since the Great Depression,” he said, but the record of the past five years is “some pretty remarkable progress” with the economy improved by almost every measure. Also, millions more Americans have health care, he noted, while high school dropouts have decreased and college enrollments have increased.

Silicon Valley represents the spirit of dynamism that typifies the American economy, he said, yet there’s still a lot of anxiety as profits have accrued almost only to those at the very top while the middle class “is stuck, they feel like they’re treading water.”

“It feels as if Washington doesn’t work” and ignores those in need, he said.

Investing in things like early childhood education will bring massive returns, Obama said, and 28 million would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage. Helping working families with child care would relieve a great burden, and ensuring equal pay for women who do equal work would help support families, he said.

“We have some big technical issues – what’s the next big energy breakthrough that’s going to help us fully contain the impacts of climate change,” he said, and economic issues, too.

“But if we just took some commonsense steps, this country would grow faster… and families would be better off,” he said.

The reason things aren’t working is that one party is interested only in proving that government doesn’t work, and saying no to these commonsense steps, Obama said.

“I hope that the reason you’re here today is that you want to get something done… We have to break this cycle of gridlock and cynicism,” he said – and both parties can and should work to advance the common good. “I’d love nothing more than a loyal and rational opposition, but that’s not what we have right now.”

Democrats must overcome their “congenital defect” of not voting in midterm elections, he said, and get as fired up about November as they did about his own campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “I need partners, I need help.”

POTUS concluded his remarks at 12:13 and the press was ushered out before he began taking questions. He did acknowledge his admiration of one reporter’s fedora as the press departed; sadly, the aforementioned headgear was not worn by your pooler.

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Miller, Dems offer ‘Schedules That Work Act’

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 at 2:11 pm in George Miller, U.S. House, U.S. Senate

Rep. George Miller helped introduce a bill Tuesday that supporters say would give hourly workers greater scheduling flexibility and certainty, and stem some employers’ abusive scheduling practices.

George MillerMiller, D-Martinez, the ranking Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, said H.R. 5159, the Schedules That Work Act, “is about protecting basic dignity: the dignity of work and the dignity of the individual.”

“Workers need scheduling predictability so they can arrange for child care, pick up kids from school, or take an elderly parent to the doctor,” he said. “The Schedules That Work Act ensures that employers and employees have mutual respect for time dedicated to the workplace.”

Miller introduced the bill with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; they were joined at a Capitol Hill news conference by representatives from the National Women’s Law Center and two hourly workers. The bill already has 27 co-sponsors, and U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are introducing a companion bill.

The lawmakers say workers in some of the economy’s fastest-growing but lowest-paying industries — including the retail, food service, and janitorial work — face erratic and irregular work schedules, making it hard to earn a decent living while meeting family responsibilities.

This bill, they say, would protect all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule, and would create a balanced process for employers to consider requests. Workers making such requests due to caregiving duties, a health condition, education or training courses or a second job would have to be granted the schedule change unless the employer has a bona fide business reason for denying it.

The bill would require paying retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early. It also would provide that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance; though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than 24 hours’ notice.

And the bill would require an extra hour of pay for workers who are scheduled to work split shifts, or non-consecutive shifts within a single day.

“Low-wage workers in America are too often being jerked around,” DeLauro said. “These women — and they are usually women — cannot plan ahead, or make arrangements to see that theirs kids and family are being taken care of. This bill would protect low-wage workers from abuse and help ensure they can look after their families. Congress needs to ensure that people putting in a hard day’s work get a fair day’s pay and the ability to care for their loved ones.”

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Net neutrality activists will target Obama event

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 at 10:07 am in Barack Obama, Obama presidency

Activists from more than a dozen liberal grassroots groups are planning a “Don’t Kill the Internet” protest in favor of net neutrality outside President Obama’s Democratic fundraiser Wednesday in Los Altos Hills.

US-IT-INTERNET-FCCThe rally, organized by MoveOn.org Political Action and Free Press, will urge Obama to defend the open internet from a proposal by his Federal Communications Commission appointee that activists say would divide the Internet into fast lanes for wealthy businesses and slow lanes for most everyone else.

They note that Obama since his first campaign “has promised to preserve the open internet that helped him get elected and that every American relies on to access information, start a new business, and compete on a level playing field.”

Obama arrives in the Bay Area on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday will attend a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising luncheon at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate mogul George Marcus. Tickets cost $10,000 per person, or $32,000 per couple with a VIP photo opportunity.

Groups taking part in the net-neutrality rally – scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. at South San Antonio Road and West Edith Street in Los Altos – include MoveOn.org Political Action, Free Press, Common Cause, CREDO Action, Presente.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, the Media Alliance, Code Pink, Daily Kos, SumOfUs, Progressives United, ACLU, and the Greenlining Institute. A similar rally is planned for another Democratic fundraiser Obama will attend later Wednesday in Los Angeles.

More than 1 million Americans have already submitted comments to the FCC on the need to preserve the open Internet, recently causing the FCC’s comment website to crash.

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