Part of the Bay Area News Group

California politicos praise Harry Reid

By Josh Richman
Friday, March 27th, 2015 at 4:13 pm in Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Friday he won’t seek re-election in 2016.

As jockeying begins to see who’ll replace him as Senate Democrats’ leader (Chuck Schumer? Dick Durbin? Elizabeth Warren?) and as Nevada’s senator (Brian Sandoval? Joe Heck? Ross Miller?), California Democrats were effusive in their praise of Reid.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“There’s no one I’d rather have on my side in a legislative battle than Harry Reid. His leadership, friendship and passion will be missed when he leaves the Senate.

“I’ve known Harry and Landra for more than 20 years and have enjoyed their friendship. Together, Harry and I have taken on a host of issues on behalf of our neighboring states. It’s especially been a pleasure working with Harry on the preservation of Lake Tahoe and other issues that bring out the best in us.

“I’m particularly thankful for Harry’s support during the process of releasing the CIA torture report. Harry knows what it’s like to be in a dogfight. He knows what it’s like to be attacked from all sides. I always knew that after a particularly bad week I’d get a call from Harry offering his support, telling me he was behind me all the way.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together, and I look forward to two more years of working side-by-side to do even more. The nation is better off because of Harry Reid.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Barbara Boxer“I have known Harry Reid for more than thirty years and since the day I met him, Harry has given every bit of his energy and every bit of his devotion to his job and his loving family. Harry is a fearless leader who listens to all sides before taking a stand. He has known heartache in many forms, but he never let it get in the way of his hopes and dreams and dedication to every family in America. Harry is one of a kind and I am grateful that we worked together for so many years for the good of Nevada, California and the country we love.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“With Harry Reid’s decision to retire, Congress and our country will lose a patriot, pioneer, and one of the greatest leaders the Senate has ever known. Senator Reid is a master of the Senate, a reliable fighter for America’s hard-working families, a legislator whose leadership stretches back more than three decades.

“From his earliest days in the House to his tenure as Democratic Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid never forgot the hard-working families of Nevada he is so proud to represent. He has brought their values, their pioneer spirit and their determination to the Congress, and he has been an unsurpassed champion for the rights and opportunities of every American.

“It has been my great honor to call Senator Reid a dear and trusted friend for so many years. More so, I have been privileged to work with him in enacting historic and consequential legislation for our country.

“In the darkest days of the financial calamity, we worked together to pass the legislation that rescued our economy. We worked to pass the landmark Dodd-Frank consumer Wall Street reform bill, the most significant consumer financial reforms in a generation. We passed the Affordable Care Act and ensured that, in the United States of America, affordable, quality health care is the right of every American, not the privilege of the few.

“Senator Reid leaves a historic legacy of strength and achievement on behalf of the American people. He has helped to dramatically expand American investments in clean energy, passed bold and comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, championed the Violence Against Women Act, and welcomed a record-breaking generation of new women Senators.

“His leadership and ability command respect on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress. Without question, Senator Reid’s departure is an irreplaceable loss for our entire country. But as he announces his hard-earned, well-deserved retirement, I wish him, his wife Landra, and the entire Reid family all the best in happy years ahead.”

Leave a comment

Muslim group plans Sacramento lobbying blitz

By Josh Richman
Friday, March 27th, 2015 at 1:59 pm in Assembly, California State Senate

A Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group will focus its California lobbying blitz next month on bills dealing with police surveillance, equal pay for women, and a freeze on tuition at state colleges and universities.

CAIRCalifornialogoThe California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is planning its 4th annual California Muslim Day at the State Capitol for Monday, April 27. They’ll be reaching out to legislators about issues that impact the Muslim community broadly, and to push for three bills in particular.

SB 178, the California Electronic Communication Privacy Act by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would provide protection against warrantless government access private electronic communications such as emails, text messages and GPS data that are held on smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices. Police would have to go to a judge and get a warrant before accessing such information.

SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would will help to ensure that women are paid equally when they do the same work as men, and protect workers from retaliation when they inquire or speak out about wage differences at work. CAIR notes that in 2013, a California woman working full-time earned 84 cents to every dollar earned by a man doing the same job; the gap is considerably wider for women of color.

AB 42 by Assemblywoman Young Kim, D-Fullerton, would require the California Community Colleges and California State University – and ask the University of California – to freeze tuition and fees at their 2014-15 levels while the tax hikes enacted by voters as Proposition 30 of 2012 remain in effect.

Leave a comment

California lawmakers globe-trot to Cuba, Japan

By Josh Richman
Friday, March 27th, 2015 at 11:37 am in Assembly, Bill Quirk, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Kevin de Leon, Toni Atkins, Tony Thurmond

With the Legislature in recess next week, California’s top lawmakers – and a few Bay Area members, too – are leaving Sacramento to do some globe-trotting.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Agriculture Committee Chair Henry Perea, D-Fresno, will lead a trade delegation of legislators, academics, and agriculture industry representatives to Cuba from Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3.

They’re aiming to build ties with Cuban policymakers, farmers, and businesses, and to explore options for California and Cuba to collaborate not only in agriculture but also in telecommunications, construction and banking.

Toni Atkins“With the federal government moving forward with efforts to normalize diplomatic, economic, and commercial relations, it is important for California to also engage with Cuba and expand economic relationships that create new opportunities for businesses in our state,” Atkins said in a news release. “The Assembly wants to do everything we can to create more jobs and business in California, and this trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge.”

The partner organization for the trade delegation is Californians Building Bridges, a nonprofit with years of experience leading cultural, humanitarian and entrepreneurial exchanges between California and Cuba. No Assembly funds are being spent.

Also in the delegation are Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond; Luis Alejo, D-Salinas; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; Adam Gray, D-Merced; Jose Medina, D-Riverside; and Rudy Salas Jr., D-Bakersfield – all Agriculture Committee members, or serving districts with agricultural interests. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Republicans on the Agriculture Committee were invited but declined to attend.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will lead a delegation including Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to Japan from Monday, March 30 through Thursday, April 2. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is going, too.

The lawmakers were invited by the Japanese government, and they’ll be discussing issues including transportation, seismic safety, clean energy, environmental protection and climate change.

Kevin de LeonThey’re scheduled to meet Monday in Tokyo with U.S. Embassy officials and Japanese officials including Issei Kitagawa, the state minister of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism to discuss high-speed rail. They’ll also meet that day with people from Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, the main entity responsible for recovery from the March 2011 earthquake that devastated part of the nation.

On Tuesday, they’re scheduled to visit Japan’s National Diet, the legislature, as well as to tour the High Speed Rail Operation Center and to ride in a new fuel-cell car produced by Toyota.

On Wednesday they’ll travel to Kobe to meet with the mayor and tour a facility memorializing the January 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and the recovery efforts that followed. And on Thursday they’ll start in Osaka and then head for Kyoto, to meet the mayor for a briefing on the city’s economy and history.

Leave a comment

Obama cites Fremont firm at trade roundtable

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 at 5:25 pm in Mike Honda, Obama presidency, U.S. House

President Obama singled out the CEO of a Fremont company during a trade roundtable Wednesday at the White House.

The meeting – with seven small-business executives from around the nation plus the mayors of Philadelphia and Tampa – was to discuss “the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face,” the White House said.

U.S. businesses are selling more made-in-America goods and services around the world than ever before, which builds job growth. But the President wants Congress to give him trade promotion authority to finalize new trade deals that will build on the momentum, while progressives argue U.S. workers will get a raw deal under these expanded trade agreements.

Barack Obama“The perception sometimes is … that the trade agenda is only important for big companies, big corporations, big Fortune 500 or 100 companies,” Obama said at the meeting. “Well, the group that’s sitting around here is made up of small business people or medium-sized business people who are seeing their businesses directly benefit from exports — as well as a couple mayors … who can account for hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of sales coming out of their region as a consequence of exports.”

Among the executives at the table was Steve Basta, CEO of Fremont-based AlterG, which makes “anti-gravity” treadmills and a bionic leg – products aimed at shortening recovery times, reducing injury, and improving mobility for patients.

“Steve Basta with AlterG has created — or has a company that’s created, new technologies for medical rehabilitation,” Obama said. “He’s able to sell his products overseas, but what he’s finding is in some countries you’ve got tariffs that make his products more expensive and that means fewer sales.”

“And so this is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics that benefit” from trade promotion authority, Obama said “It’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefit.”

AlterG is in Rep. Mike Honda’s 17th Congressional District. Honda, D-San Jose, in 2013 joined most House Democrats in signing a letter opposing fast-track trade promotion authority – which they said usurps Congress’ authority over trade matters – both for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact Obama is trying to seal and for any future trade agreements.

“Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better,” that letter said. “We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.”

Leave a comment

AG seeks court’s OK to nix gay execution measure

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 at 3:28 pm in Attorney General, ballot measures, Kamala Harris

Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that she’s seeking the California Supreme Court’s permission to refuse to prepare an official title and summary for a proposed ballot measure called the “Sodomite Suppression Act,” which would require the state to execute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate next year, said it’s her “sworn duty to uphold the California and United States Constitutions and to protect the rights of all Californians.

Kamala Harris“This proposal not only threatens public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible, and has no place in a civil society,” she said. “Today, I am filing an action for declaratory relief with the court seeking judicial authorization for relief from the duty to prepare and issue the title and summary for the ‘Sodomite Suppression Act.’ If the Court does not grant this relief, my office will be forced to issue a title and summary for a proposal that seeks to legalize discrimination and vigilantism.”

Alas, unlike those in many other states, California’s ballot initiative process doesn’t provide for pre-enactment constitutional review. But Harris is getting praise for trying to avoid enabling this odious idea – pitched by Huntington Beach attorney Matthew Gregory McLaughlin – from even being circulated as a petition for placement on next year’s ballot.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins – who one assumes would be on McLaughlin’s “hit list” – said Harris is right to ask the court to let the state turn away “an obviously unconstitutional and dangerous initiative proposal that actually promotes murder.

“The proposal represents either the depth of bigotry and hatred or the height of sick publicity stunts — either way it should not be dignified by becoming an official part of the process Californians have to amend the state Constitution,” said Atkins, D-San Diego. “Having discussed options with Attorney General Harris, I know how seriously she takes her responsibility to the law and how seriously she takes her responsibility to protect the public’s safety. I urge the court to grant the Attorney General’s request and prevent the state’s initiative process from being abused in this egregious manner.”

The Human Rights Campaign hailed the legal action, too.

“This disgusting, barbaric measure should be stopped in its tracks, and once again Attorney General Harris has demonstrated leadership in standing up for the rights and dignity of LGBT Californians,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “It is our sincere hope that the Supreme Court of California gives her the authority to prevent it from advancing.”

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, earlier Wednesday said McLaughlin’s proposed measure has inspired him to develop legislation to make signatures on ballot-measure petitions into public records.

“Voters must be informed when a petition they sign violates the United States Constitution,” said Rendon. “My proposal is simple: initiative signatures – particularly those that give permission to violate constitutional rights – shall be subject to the California Public Records Act.”

Even one of California’s most virulent anti-gay activists has shunned the proposed measure.

“This terrible ballot initiative doesn’t deserve any reporting, because advocating the killing of people who are not guilty of a contemporary capital crime, not guilty of threatening you with death yourself, and not pointing a rifle at you in war, is wrong in both the eyes of conservatives and liberals,” Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said Saturday.

Leave a comment

Lofgren, Eshoo offer bill to unlock all smart devices

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 at 10:46 am in Anna Eshoo, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren

Two Silicon Valley congresswomen are offering a bipartisan bill to let consumers permanently unlock their cellphones, tablets and other devices in order to switch carriers freely.

The Unlocking Technology Act of 2015, introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Thomas Massie, R-Kent.; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Jared Polis, D-Colo., expands and improves on cell-phone unlocking legislation signed into law last year by letting consumers permanently unlock all their mobile devices and media – not just phones – in ways that do not infringe on existing copyrights.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenThe Digital Millennium Copyright Act bars consumers from sidestepping technical measures that prevent modifying copyrighted works — such as jailbreaking a tablet to run 3rd-party apps, bypassing digital rights management for archiving or disability access purposes, or unlocking a cell phone — whether or not there’s any actual copyright infringement.

“This bill reflects how the American public views ownership of their electronic devices,” Lofgren said in a news release. “It’s simple – you should be free to unlock the mobile devices and media you legally purchase. If consumers are not violating copyright or other law, there’s little reason to hold back the many benefits of unlocking. It’s time we allow people to permanently use their devices without interference.”

Eshoo, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said unlocking a phone or smart device “gives consumers the freedom to choose the mobile technology and service that best suits them.”

“It also unlocks potential and puts competition and consumer choice on equal footing in the vibrant mobile marketplace,” she said. “This bipartisan legislation ensures consumers have this option—permanently. It’s a win for consumers, it’s a win for competition, and it’s a win for our mobile economy.”

S.517, the cell-phone unlocking legislation signed into law last year, merely reinstated a temporary exemption and still relies on the Library of Congress to renew it every three years, which it may choose not to do. The new bill would make this cell phone exemption permanent and extend unlocking protections to all mobile devices.

Lofgren recently was appointed to the Joint Committee on the Library, which has direct jurisdictional oversight over the Library of Congress – which is where this whole unlocking debacle unfolded in the first place.

The new bill would also permit use and sale of tools — like software apps — that enable unlocking for uses that do not infringe on copyright, and consumers wouldn’t have to get permission from their carrier before switching to a new carrier. The legislation further requires these changes be included in any international trade agreements.

Leave a comment

Ted Cruz declares; Jerry Brown is unimpressed

By Josh Richman
Monday, March 23rd, 2015 at 8:55 am in 2016 presidential election, Global warming, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is the first major Republican candidate to declare his candidacy for president in 2016 – and California Gov. Jerry Brown says he’s “absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Cruz, R-Texas, launched a 30-second spot Sunday:

And a longer one Monday:

And he formally announced his run with a speech Monday morning at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

“I believe in you,” he told the crowd at the evangelical Christian university. “I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for President of the United States.”

But on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Brown was shown a clip of Cruz claiming that science doesn’t support the predictions of climate change “alarmists.” His Jerry-ness was NOT amused.

“What he said is absolutely false. Over 90 percent of the scientists who deal with climate are absolutely convinced that the human activity, industrial activity, generation of CO2, methane, oxides and nitrogen, and all the rest of those greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere. They are heat trapping. And they are causing not just warm, drought in California, but severe storms and cold in the East Coast. So it’s climate disruption of many different kinds. And that man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of existing scientific data. It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Cruz later told Breitbart News Sunday that if Brown wanted to hurt him politically, Brown would appear on television and praise him; Cruz insisted data doesn’t support climate change.

Leave a comment

Bill would provide funds for ‘mystery goo’ cleanups

By Josh Richman
Monday, March 23rd, 2015 at 12:03 am in California State Senate, Environment, Loni Hancock, Mark Leno

A new bill would provide state funding to clean up incidents like the “mystery goo” in the San Francisco Bay that recently killed more than 200 birds.

EAST BAY BIRD RESCUEState Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said SB 718 – jointly authored by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley – fixes a gap in existing law by creating a funding mechanism for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation during such rare events.

“California has a sophisticated oil spill response system, but in the unique event when a pollutant is unidentified, there is no clear funding mechanism for the cleanup,” Leno said in a news release. “This legislation clarifies that the state’s top priority during a spill of any kind is to immediately protect waterways and wildlife, regardless of what type of substance caused the problem.”

The bill authorizes the Office of Spill Prevention and Response to borrow up to $500,000 from the state’s oil spill prevention fund for the rehabilitation and rescue of wildlife in spill events where the substance is non-petroleum based. The bill gives the state clear authority to quickly respond to these events; once the responsible parties for the spills are found, they would be required to reimburse the state for the costs of cleanup, including accrued interest.

The bill is co-sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California.

“When a spill happens, it is essential that first responders can act quickly to protect sensitive shorelines and species,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, San Francisco Baykeeper’s interim executive director. “This bill will help ensure that state, local and nonprofit responders are working in concert — and with adequate resources — to prevent harm to San Francisco Bay and all of California’s waters.”

An unidentified sticky synthetic goo first appeared in the Bay in mid-January and coated hundreds of birds, many of which died because they could not maintain their body heat. Others were rehabilitated and released back into the wild by volunteers from local non-profit organizations. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife investigated the incident, but no significant state resources were available to support non-governmental agencies in their cleanup, rescue and rehabilitation efforts. The International Bird Rescue center, a publicly supported non-profit group, spent about $150,000 on animal care.

No word on whether future mystery-goo cleanups would involve the Ghostbusters:

Leave a comment

Bay Area students at White House Science Fair

By Josh Richman
Thursday, March 19th, 2015 at 4:33 pm in education, Obama presidency

Three Bay Area students’ projects will be among those featured in the White House Science Fair on Monday in Washington, D.C.

Holly JacksonHolly Jackson, 14, of San Jose, investigated the art of sewing from a unique, architectural point of view. After learning to sew in the 4th grade from her grandmother, Holly’s scientific curiosity led her to explore the relative strength and compatibility of threads and fabrics, important information to better understand innovative sewn materials for the 21st century. She engineered a device to measure the capacity and strength of stitched fabric, and designed experiments and procedures to yield precise measurements. Her research has potential applications in the design of high-performance protective gear, hazmat and space suits, parachutes, and more. Her work won the top award of $25,000 at the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS competition.

Natalie NgNatalie Ng, 19, of Cupertino, developed two micro-RNA-based prognostic models that can predict metastasis in breast cancer, and identified two micro-RNAs that independently impact the ability of breast cancer cells to metastasize. Ng’s project has important implications for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer diagnosed in women worldwide, according to the latest WHO report. A frustrating reality about cancer is that even when initial hormonal treatment seems to work, metastatic cancer cells can survive and spread to distant sites in the body. So, accurate prediction of metastatic outcome, such as with the aid of genetic signatures, can significantly improve the ability to predict the recurrence risk and to devise appropriate treatment strategies for individual cancer patients. Ng won First Place at the 2013 International BioGENEius Challenge.

Ruchi PandyaRuchi Pandya, 18, of San Jose, combining nanotechnology, biology and electrochemistry to use small biological samples – only a single drop of blood – to test for specific cardiac biomarkers. She developed a one-square centimeter carbon nanofiber electrode-based biosensor that has the potential to improve cardiac health diagnostics for patients around the world. Ruchi takes her passion for STEM education beyond the lab by mentoring 9th and 10th grade students on research and engineering as a teaching assistant for her school’s STEM-research class. She has competed at the California State Science Fair every year, and has won 18 category and special awards for scientific research. After graduation, Ruchi intends to major in materials science and engineering, and hopes to pursue a career as a technology entrepreneur.

Leave a comment

Bay Area House members out and about Friday

By Josh Richman
Thursday, March 19th, 2015 at 2:10 pm in Assembly, Barbara Lee, California State Senate, campaign finance, Immigration, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Loni Hancock, Mark DeSaulnier, Nora Campos, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren

Bay Area House members have a bunch of events planned for Friday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will take part in a discussion with employers of the benefits of hiring trained ex-convicts at 9 a.m. Friday in the student lounge in Building R of Merritt College, 12500 Campus Dr. in Oakland. Others expected to take part include California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard; California Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo; Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle; Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles; and PWC Development President Prophet Walker, himself a former offender.

Mark DeSaulnierReps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Sarbanes, D-Md., will take part in a roundtable discussion on the problem of big money in politics, at 11 a.m. Friday in Blum Hall B100 at UC-Berkeley. The event, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, will address local and federal efforts to curb big money’s influence by amplifying small donors’ voices, as well as the recent push for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, the Berkeley Forum and others also will take part.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a forum to update the community about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at 4 p.m. Friday at the School of Arts and Culture in Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose. The event also offers eligibility workshops to prepare families to apply for relief from deportation pending availability of applications this year. Lofgren, Lofgren, the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will be joined by Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Santa Clara County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez; and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

Leave a comment