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Archive for May, 2007

John Russo’s YouTube contrition

Last week, Oakland City Attorney John Russo got nailed for driving without a seat belt during the national “Click it or Ticket” crackdown.

Today, Russo advised me to search for his name on YouTube, and here’s what I found:

Per the blurb written by Oaklandishgirl, who posted the video: “John Russo, Oakland City Attorney, caught in the national police campaign to catch seat belt scofflaws, was ticketed for failing to wear his seat belt, as he was driving away with his two sons from Fenton’s Ice Cream Parlor in Oakland. Both the Oakland Tribune and the SF Chronicle ran feature stories, see ‘Oakland City Attorney Nabbed in Seat Belt Sting’ (Oak Tribune 5/24/07). Here Mr. Russo provides a public service announcement to remind the public to buckle up … it not only saves lives … it’s the LAW.”

Incidentally, the conversation in which Russo told me about this was conducted while he was on his cell phone … and in his car. But that’s not illegal; I trust he was using a hands-free apparatus.

Posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2007
Under: John Russo, Oakland | No Comments »

DON’T flush those old pills!

SB 966, which would require large retail pharmacies to enact a system by July 1, 2008, to collect and dispose of unused prescription drugs dropped off by consumers, passed the state Senate today on a 21-13 vote, squeaking by and headed to an Assembly hearing in June or July.

simitian.jpgState Senate Environmental Quality Committee Chairman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced the bill after the idea was among winning entries in his annual “There Oughta Be A Law” contest; Rebecca Kassel, a 17-year-old Aptos High School senior, and Mountain View resident Abe Binder thought it up, and Kassel testified before the Senate Business and Professions Committee last month.

“Few consumers have the time or the inclination to carry through with American Pharmacists Association’s current guidelines for the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals, which involves crushing or dissolving the medication, mixing with kitty litter, sealing in a plastic bag then setting out with the trash,” Simitian said in a news release today, noting drugs usually are either flushed down the toilet or thrown in the garbage where they threaten the environment and contaminate waterways.

A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study of 139 streams across 30 states found that 80 percent had measurable concentrations of prescription and nonprescription drugs, steroids, and reproductive hormones. Exposure even to low levels of pharmaceuticals, has been shown to harm fish and other aquatic species and may threaten human health.

But leaving unused pills in the medicine cabinet indefinitely isn’t good either, what with the growing problem of teenage pharmaceutical abuse.

This isn’t Simitian’s first swipe at the issue. Two years ago, his SB 798 — another of his contest’s winners — created a program letting counties recover unused prescription drugs from skilled nursing facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and wholesalers and re-distribute them for free to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. So far, however, San Mateo County is the only California county to have implemented such a program.

Posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2007
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, General, Joe Simitian | 1 Comment »

Romney campaign adds Calif. staffers

romney.jpgRepublican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced some new Golden State campaign staffers today, picking a pair of senior advisers with decidedly different views of the state’s most popular Republican.

Coronado Communications, led by Duane Dichiara, will head up his campaign’s daily operations in California, with Rob Stutzman and Mike Schroeder named senior advisers; they join previously announced state chairmen Tony Strickland and Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine.

“California will play an important role in the upcoming primary elections, and this team will be critical in making sure every voter knows about my message of change in Washington,” Romney said in a news release. “I look forward to working with them so we can bring conservative leadership back to our government.”

Stutzman, you may recall, is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former deputy chief of staff for communications, and co-directed communications for the governor’s 2003 campaign; he’s now a principal at Navigators, a national lobbying and political PR firm. Earlier, he co-founded CommandFocus, a Sacramento-based political communications firm; earlier yet he was a GOP campaign communications and Internet consultant; and he was communications director for former state Attorney General Dan Lungren, now a Congressman from Gold River.

Schroeder has been the California Republican Party‘s treasurer, vice-chairman and chairman, as well as national vice chairman of the New Majority Council for the Republican National Committee. He was the state co-chair for President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 campaign; Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign; and President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. Most recently, he was political director of State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner’s campaign last year. Also, he’s an outspoken critic of Schwarzenegger, so it should be fun watching him and Stutzman work together.

And Coronado’s hundreds of clients have included Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego; state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach; and Assemblywoman Shirley Horton, R-Chula Vista.

Posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2007
Under: Elections, General, Mitt Romney, Republican Party | No Comments »

Today’s Congressional odds and ends

lantos.jpgLantos and Lee tout AIDS funding boost: Note the date and time, folks — House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, had something nice to say about President Bush today, as he requested a broadening of the U.S. fight against global HIV/AIDS. Lantos and Lee in 2003 were among co-authors of legislation that led to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which the president now wants to renew and expand. Lantos called Bush’s call to double the budget “music to my ears, and I will do all I can to ensure harmonious support for it.” Lee called PEPFAR “one of the few foreign policy initiatives where the President has broad bipartisan support among the Congress.” But both called for removing the requirement that a third of the program’s funds be spent solely on abstinence-only-until-marriage education. “The Institute of Medicine and the Government Accountability Office have reported that this requirement has been a hindrance to the effectiveness of prevention efforts across the board. Mandating the preaching of abstinence may not be the best use of one-third of the funds in this fight,” Lantos noted. And Lee said added investment in our global AIDS programs must be “coupled with increases in funding for other core development and humanitarian programs, including for programs to address basic education, nutrition, the health worker shortages, water and food security and other diseases like malaria and TB.”

lee3.jpg No fuzzy math for Lee: Lee is in Berkeley tonight speaking at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute’s 4th annual Critical Issues in Education conference, updating educators on K-12 legislation in Congress and in particular the debate over renewing — and perhaps, fully funding for the first time? — the “No Child Left Behind” law implemented five years ago. The conference, focusing on “Teaching Teachers Mathematics,” has gathered more than 200 prominent educators and mathematicians from across the nation to improve teachers’ training for certification and beyond.

mcnerneyportrait.jpgMcNerney’s next meet-and-greet: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, will hold his next “Congress at Your Corner” session with constituents from noon to 1 p.m. this Friday, June 1 at Vic’s All Star Kitchen, 201A Main St. in Pleasanton. Wanna know the latest about what’s happening in them marbled halls on ethics, the war, gas prices, anything at all? Bring yer questions, grab a cuppa joe with your voice in Congress — he’s all ears.

Posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2007
Under: Barbara Lee, Jerry McNerney, President Bush, Tom Lantos, U.S. House | No Comments »

Benicia-Martinez bridge to open soon

The best part about being a reporter is having the opportunity to explore new bridges before they open to the public.

This morning, I toured the new Benicia-Martinez bridge, scheduled to open in late August or early September, with Caltrans engineer Mo Pazooki and public information officer Keith Wayne. (See tomorrow’s Contra Costa Times for the full story and photos by Karl Mondon.)

We drove from one end of the bridge to the other, a feat possible only in the past few months since the contractors finished the concrete segments and installed the hinges in the deck that allow the bridge to move up to 3 feet in an earthquake.

We walked down the middle of the span, which won’t be possible as soon as the five-lane bridge opens to traffic.

And we roamed through the tunnel beneath the toll-taker booths, a place that will be strictly off-limits to the general public after opening day. The toll may only be $4 but multiply that amount by the thousands of vehicles that travel this bridge every day and you are talking about some serious money.

I’ll be working on a full-length retrospective about the construction of the Benicia-Martinez bridge to publish in late summer before it opens. If you worked on this bridge, I’d love to hear from you. Call me at 925-945-4773 or email me at

Posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2007
Under: Transportation | No Comments »

Swanson is busy as a bee this week

swanson.jpgAssemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Oakland, on Friday will host the Assembly Select Committee on Youth Violent Prevention‘s third and final hearing in a series held across the state. Previous hearing were held in Salinas and Los Angeles; this one — from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the boardroom on the second floor of the Port of Oakland Building, at 530 Water St. in Jack London Square — will focus on “Preventing Youth Violence in Urban Communities: Strategies that Work.”

Joining Swanson will be committee chairwoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas; fellow committee member Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; and representatives from community groups, youth and youth-service organizations, public health agencies, social services, the education community and concerned citizens. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and other Bay Area Assembly members have been invited as well.

((UPDATE @ 4:22 P.M. WEDNESDAY:Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will testify at this hearing on to how federal and state resources can be leveraged to address youth violence prevention, and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson will discuss youth violence prevention initiatives now under way here.))

Then, on Saturday, Swanson will host a town hall meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. in Oakland City Hall, presenting to the community the findings of a report commissioned by the Legislative Black Caucus“The State of Black California Report” — showing disparities in economic opportunities, healthcare, housing, and civic participation among African-Americans and other minorities in California. The meeting will include discussion of current legislation aimed at resolving these inequalities, and community members are invited to give input about how the Legislative Black Caucus can further that goal.

Joining Swanson there will be Dellums, Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, and experts on health, economics, housing and education. Other Assembly Legislative Black Caucus members have been invited. Other State of Black California Town Halls have been held in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, San Diego and other sites; it’s sponsored in part by Kaiser Permanente.

This Saturday event will be held at the same time as — and directly across Frank Ogawa Plaza from — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama‘s $1,000-a-head fundraising luncheon.

Posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2007
Under: Assembly, Barack Obama, Barbara Lee, Elections, General, Loni Hancock, Oakland, Ron Dellums, Sandre Swanson, U.S. House | No Comments »

Isn’t May is a lovely time of year in California?

The presidential hopefuls headed for California this week probably won’t be talking about the weather although their visitation schedule takes advantage of all the green in the Golden State, i.e., the money.

Check out the California candidate appearances set for the next few days:

Democrat John Edwards will visit Google on Wednesday.
Republican Rudy Giuliani will be in Burlingame on Wednesday.
Democrat Hillary Clinton will be in Las Vegas on Wednesday and in the Silicon Valley on Thursday.
Democrat Barack Obama will be in Piedmont on Saturday

Posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2007
Under: 2008 presidential primary | No Comments »

What’s happenin’ on habeas

Kevin Lawlor, spokesman for Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, told me today that he’s heard House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., will introduce a bill next week to restore habeas corpus rights to all within U.S. jurisdiction.

Habeas corpus, for the Latin-challenged, essentially is the right to be brought to the court for a determination of whether one is imprisoned lawfully and whether one should be released. It dates back to the 12th Century, preceding its 1215 codification in the Magna Carta‘s section 39; our Constitution‘s Article I, Section 9, says it “shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” Yet under last year’s Military Commissions Act of 2006, non-citizens whom the government deems “unlawful enemy combatants” no longer have this right.

There had been rumors that the Armed Services Committee, on which Tauscher serves, would attach a rider restoring habeas corpus to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, H.R. 1585, which approves Pentagon spending for the next year. But no such rider materialized; Skelton’s staff said he felt so strongly about the issue that it deserved a bill of its very own.

So people have been waiting eagerly since HR 1585 passed last week to see when the habeas bill might drop. Lawlor said today the delay has been because Skelton was waiting for the Senate Judiciary Committee to assemble an equivalent bill of its own.

“We’re going to go at the same time as they do it so it’s easy to reconcile the two bills in conference,” he said. “It’s going to be when we come back from this recess. … We’ll look at it next week.”

And when Skelton’s bill does drop, Lawlor said, Tauscher will be among the original co-sponsors.

Posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2007
Under: Civil liberties, Ellen Tauscher, General, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

Schwarzenegger video of the week

This week, in another selection a long series of commercials cut for Japanese television, the man who is now California’s governor demonstrates a signficant talent for interpretative dance and an insatiable appetite for noodles:

UPDATE @ 3:35 P.M. FRIDAY: It has just come to my attention that this one I posted Tuesday no longer works — a darned shame, because it’s a hoot — so here’s another in its place (because apparently Schwarzenegger filmed an endless supply of Japanese commercials):

Previous SVOTWs: May 22, May 15, May 8, May 1, April 24, April 17, April 10, April 3, March 27, March 20, March 13, March 6, February 27, February 20, February 13, February 6, January 30.

Posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2007
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, General | No Comments »

McCloskey and life as a Democrat

Former congressman and ex-Republican Pete McCloskey says he’s feeling a “lot cleaner” since he registered as a Democrat.

But the iconic man who ran for president and co-authored the national Endangered Species Act is not optimistic that Democrats will keep their sheen.

“(The Democrats) will be corrupted by power eventually,” McCloskey says, reached by phone at his Rumsey farm and ranch. “I just hope it doesn’t happen quick.”

McCloskey recalled the dozens of Democrat elected leaders who were indicted while he served as a member of the minority party in Congress.

“No one would bother bribing a Republican,” he says. “We didn’t have any power.”

In the meantime, McCloskey intends to throw his support behind Democratic presidential candidate and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

He will also keep up the work of The Revolt of the Elders, a political group he founded 2 1/2 years ago with Lew Butler, friend and an assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Nixon administration, to fight ethical lapses in Congress. The organization will lobby to abolish term limits, establish public financing of campaigns and put an end to the production of nuclear weapons.

But don’t expect him to go easy on his new friends in the Democratic Party.

“I’m going to be just as hard on Democrats as I was the Republicans,” McCloskey says.

How many of us can point to a big agendas such as this? And McCloskey turns 80 years old on Sept. 29.

Posted on Tuesday, May 29th, 2007
Under: Democratic politics | No Comments »