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Archive for May, 2007

Pelosi feted in Pleasant Hill

All those years of Democratic Rep. George Miller’s devotion to the San Francisco congresswoman who became the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives paid off tonight.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew a record crowd to Miller’s annual birthday political fundraiser at the Pleasant Hill Community Center. It was a who’s who of Contra Costa Democratic politics, with Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, in attendance along with dozens of local elected officials, from Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia to Pinole Mayor Maria Alegria to Richmond Councilman Tony Thurmond.

Click here for the full story in the Contra Costa Times.

Pelosi heaped praise on Miller during her speech but it was Pelosi people came to see.

Young women, in particular, jockeyed to shake her hand and have their pictures taken with her. And as Pelosi proclaimed, “It would take a woman to clean up the House,” women yelled back, “Woman power!”

It was interesting to see Pelosi, known for her warm and maternal nature, naturally gravitate toward the children in the group, including Miller’s three granddaughters. Pelosi was the first speaker to not only surround herself with her own grandchildren but invite all the children up to the dais of the House of Representatives when she was sworn in last January.

It’s one of the characteristics she and Miller share.

Pelosi told the audience she once asked Miller how he wanted to be remembered and he told her he wanted to be known as spokesman for children.

Even I, a reporter for more years than I care to admit, got caught up in the sheer emotion of the evening. I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with Pelosi after the event and found myself inexplicably nervous in the company of the highest-ranking U.S. politician I have ever interviewed one-on-one.

And for my final observation, I must say I really enjoyed watching Danny Weiss, Miller’s exceptionally competent chief of staff, play photographer’s assistant for a nearly endless line of constituents who wanted to have their pictures taken with Pelosi and Miller. Weiss also delivered a quite passable imitation of a town crier to announce that Pelosi wanted to sing “Happy Birthday” to Miller despite the congressman’s protests to the contrary.

Posted on Saturday, May 19th, 2007
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Green governor sighted in Berkeley hills

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Berkeley this morning to keynote the International Low Carbon Fuel Standard Symposium at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He noted already-developing market competition to meet the new standard as the best way to arrest global warming pollution from transportation fuels, reduce oil dependency, boost clean technology and give consumers a weapon against escalating gas prices. He also criticized the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff imposed on sugar-based ethanol from Brazil.

“This is our race to the moon. And like that race, this too would be ‘one giant leap for mankind.’ This is the challenge of our generation, and we will meet it with innovation, technology and with a commitment that matches the greatest pioneers in our history. This is what California is all about,” the governor said.

Here’s the speech in its entirety.

Posted on Friday, May 18th, 2007
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, General, Global warming | No Comments »

Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Dems meet with White House on Iraq: Here’s what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, had to say after she; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wisc., met with Republican leaders and White House officials regarding the Iraq Accountability Act:

pelosi12-14-06.jpg“Let me associate myself with the comments of Senator Reid by saying this: the meeting was disappointing. We had come in hopeful that there could be an opportunity to enlarge the issue of this bill, to how we bring stability to the Middle East, to the region. We wanted to talk about how we help the American people by turning our soldiers back to fighting terrorism, strengthening our military, which this war is weakening. And do that in a way that we can work in a bipartisan way and with the President of the United States.

“The domestic initiatives in the original bill we sent to the President are emergencies — Katrina, hurricane disaster assistance, health care for America’s children. All of those issues are emergencies. But because the President made it an issue that they were not appropriate on the war funding bill, we said, ‘OK, take those off. And then accept the bill that we sent that includes everything you have asked for our troops and more.’

“But it has accountability in it. The President’s representatives said no. Then we said, ‘Okay, you have a problem with timelines, we’ll give you a waiver on that.’ They said no.

“So it is clear that the difference between the Democrats and the President is the issue of accountability. He will not accept any accountability or responsibility for what has happened there.

“Going into the meeting, we had hopes that we could find our common ground, one where the line would be drawn on accountability, without an open-ended war without end, with a blank check. For we are speaking out with the wishes of the American people. To create a new direction in Iraq — that can only happen with accountability.

“So it was disappointing, and we will now proceed with a bill to fund the troops before we leave here for Memorial Day weekend, to pay tribute to those that have fallen on behalf of our country. Our troops will be funded. That’s the work we have between now and then.”

george-miller.jpgMiller to co-chair national summit on kids: House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, will co-chair the National Summit on America’s Children next Tuesday in Washington, a day-long session bringing together national experts on the latest scientific findings about early childhood development and its impact on children’s health and their ability to succeed in school.
“Upon becoming Speaker this January, Rep. Pelosi said that her top priorities for the country included ending the war in Iraq, attacking the causes of global warming, and restoring America’s attention and commitment to the needs of our children,” Miller said in a news release today. “This summit is an important step in that direction, by highlighting the sound science that that makes clear that we can successfully invest in services for our children that will dramatically improve their ability to lead healthy and productive lives, and that without those investments millions of children will suffer the neglect that ultimately becomes a national catastrophe. This summit provides an excellent opportunity to restore America’s efforts to help children thrive.”
Among the summit’s 21 panelists are two from the Bay Area: Dr. Paul H. Wise, a professor of child health at the Stanford School of Medicine; and Rucker C. Johnson, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. And at Miller’s invitation, several child advocates and local officials from Contra Costa and Solano counties will travel to Washington to attend, too. It’ll be Webcast live at www.speaker.gov/.

mcnerneyportrait.jpgMcNerney pushes for Livermore VA: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, has written to Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson asking for a meeting to discuss the future of the Livermore Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the French Camp Outpatient Clinic, following up on their talk when Nicholson testified to the Veterans Affairs Committee last week. “Recent conversations with my constituents have led me to believe that closure of the Livermore hospital is imminent. This move would severely limit veterans’ services in the area and would be detrimental to the care of our veterans in the region,” the letter says. “With the creation of a new generation of veterans, increasingly afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I believe we must not only maintain services at the Livermore VAMC and French Camp Outpatient Clinic, but also expand the services offered to meet the need for PTSD-specific treatment.”

Posted on Friday, May 18th, 2007
Under: General, George Miller, Jerry McNerney, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Houston still interested in CD11

The official entry Wednesday of the first Republican candidate in the congressional District 11 contest — former state legislator Dean Andal of Stockton — has not deterred Assemblyman Guy Houston, R San Ramon. (Click here for full story on Andal.)

But despite Andal’s early announcement, Houston says he cannot make a final decision about his own candidacy until late summer.

“I want to do it,” Houston said, “but I want to do it right and that means we have to have the resources. I haven’t had the time to contact my major supporters and donors because I’ve had a job to do in Sacramento.”

Houston estimates he will need $3 million for the general election plus cash to fund a primary.

If he decides to run, Houston says he would be far more competitive than Andal in the East Bay, particularly in the general against Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, who beat Tracy Republican Richard Pombo in a big upset.

“Pombo was swamped in the San Ramon corridor and (Republicans) can’t lose by that many votes again and still win,” Houston said. “I’m better positioned to take on McNerney in his own backyard than Dean or any other candidate.”

McNerney beat Pombo by more than 12,000 votes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Pombo lost by less than 1,300 votes in San Joaquin County, where 55 percent of the district’s voters live. (Click here for CD11 map.)

Houston also says that he is less conservative than Andal, a trait that might not appeal to the more moderate East Bay voters.

Just how conservative do you need to be — or not be — to win a Republican primary in District 11?

In the wake of Pombo’s unexpected loss in November to the liberal McNerney, no one is quite sure what type of candidate the voters in this Republican-leaning district will favor next time.

But conservative credentials may not be a problem. According to California Target Book co-author Allan Hoffenblum, ultra-conservative Republican Tom McClintock carried this district by 6 percentage points in November’s lieutenant governor race. (Democrat John Garamendi won statewide.)

On the other hand, the candidate’s conservative score may not matter as much as what happens in the presidential race.

“In my opinion, if that district votes Republican for president, it will choose a Republican for Congress,” Hoffenblum said. “If the district votes for a Democrat, then McNerney has a good chance.”

McNerney hopes his focus on constituent services in the district will persuade voters of all political stripes that he deserves to return to Washington, D.C.

Either way, expect the GOP to pour an obscene amount of moola into this campaign in an effort to revive the interest of the Republican voters who failed to support Pombo during last year’s seismic political shift to the left.

Posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Under: congressional district 11, Election 2008 | No Comments »

DiFi wants no-confidence vote on Gonzales

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said today that she and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., intend to introduce a nonbinding “no-confidence” resolution regarding U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as more evidence piles up every day that he politicized the Justice Department in ways undreamt of by previous administrations.

Here’s what Feinstein had to say at her news conference:

feinstein.jpg“The way I look at this is this way: One of the most critical and key departments the federal government has, is the Department of Justice. It is a huge department. It houses all of federal law enforcement, as well as the federal court process.

“United States attorneys are prosecutors with enormous powers. Federal sentences are generally substantial. And I believe that the concept of a dual-hatted Attorney General is not a positive concept for the American people.

“Whoever is Attorney General of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer for all of the people of the United States. He is not part of the President’s staff. He is not an arm to the President. He has to call the shots on the law, as the law requires.

“I have significantly lost confidence in the independence of Attorney General Gonzales from the White House.

“The United States Attorney incident, for me, has been an eye-opener. Because of the power of these prosecutors and because of the fact that all fired on one day, December 7, had excellent, excellent performance records. All were involved in substantial cases one way or another. And yet, all were terminated without cause.

“And no one in the Department of Justice owns up to putting anyone one of them on that list. And the Attorney General said, first of all, that he knew nothing about it, or he didn’t recall or he didn’t know. This is unacceptable. Because all of this has a ripple affect all the way through the United States.

“So, I join with Senator Schumer in saying that I think the time has come for the Senate to express its will. And that is will is to simply to say that we lack confidence in this Attorney General.

“I don’t like saying this. I very much regret saying this. I want to say exactly the opposite. But in view of what I know, I can’t. Whether it was the torture memo, whether it’s Guantanamo, whether it’s Geneva Convention, whether it’s US attorneys, whether it’s: ‘I don’t know, I don’t recall’ – over a department as major as this, I don’t think the American people are well-served. I hope.

“I’m hopeful this can be worked out. But, there comes a time when you say to say what you think, and this is what I think.”

Posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Rep. George Miller to lead summit on children

At the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. George Miller of Martinez will help lead a day-long, Capitol Hill summit on children next week.

The National Summit on America’s Children will focus on matching federal policies to the latest scientific developments and feature national experts on early childhood learning, health care and other related issues. James Heckman, economics professor and director of the Center for Social Program Evaluation at the University of Chicago, will deliver the keynote address.

“Research over the past decade in the fields of neuroscience and child development shows that during the first five years of life, children’s brains develop dramatically and the path of this development has a lasting impact on children’s future health, learning and success,” said Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and co-chairman of the House Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee. “It is critical that we re-examine our public policies to determine if they are adequately helping young children to develop into productive members of our society.”

Watch the summit live via webcast at www.Speaker.gov and send your questions to the panelists. The summit will run from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. EST.

Miller has also invited several East Bay childhood experts to attend the conference, including:

Pat Stroh, deputy director of Contra Costa Community Service Department’s Head Start program
Sandra Nathan, president and CEO of the Richmond Children’s Foundation
Catherine Ertz-Berger, executive director of the Contra Costa Child Care Council
Kathi McLaughlin, co-chairwoman of Contra Costa Mental Health Commission
Taalia Hasan, executive director, West Contra Costa Youth Service Bureau
Kim Thomas, executive director, Children’s Network of Solano County
Sean Casey, executive director, First Five of Contra Costa
Christina Arrostuto, executive director, First Five Solano

Posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Under: Congress | No Comments »

House Dems to abstain from abstinence-only ed

House Democratic leaders are saying federal funding for abstinence-only sex education will likely fall considerably this year as they let a $50 million grant program expire on June 30. Per the Associated Press:

The program, known as Title V, has not proven to be effective, said Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell’s committee has jurisdiction over Title V funding. With a budget deficit and a war, he said the decision to eliminate funding was not a difficult one.

“Abstinence-only seems to be a colossal failure,” Dingell said.

To back that viewpoint, he cited a recent report to Congress that showed students in four abstinence-until-marriage programs were just as likely to have sex as those who were not in the abstinence programs. They also had sex at about the same age as students who did not take part in the four programs — 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Common topics in abstinence-until-marriage programs include human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also, classes often focus on helping students set personal goals and build self-esteem. Youth are also taught to improve communication skills and manage peer pressure.

Here in the Bay Area, Planned Parenthood Golden Gate President and CEO Dian Harrison today applauded the funding’s lapse:

dian_harrison.jpg“Currently, there is no federal funding for comprehensive sex education in public schools. However, three separate federal programs, totaling $176 million this year alone, support unproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. A change in this harmful funding policy is long overdue, and we’re calling on all members of Congress who value prevention to stop funding dangerous and ineffective abstinence only programs.

“Study after study has shown that teens who receive abstinence-only sex ed are just as likely to engage in sexual activity as their peers, but they are less likely to use protection when they do. This should come as no surprise. After all, if you don’t know about safe sex, how can you practice it?

“Even so, the current administration has thrown good money after bad, spending over a billion dollars on these dangerous and ineffective programs in the past decade.

“This is true despite the fact that the majority of Americans (parents, teachers, medical health professionals, and registered voters) overwhelmingly support sex education that will help protect teens from unintended pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.”

Posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Under: General, U.S. House | No Comments »

Still watching for habeas corpus

The National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, H.R. 1585 — approving Pentagon spending for the next year — passed the House this morning on a 397-27 vote. Among those opposed were Education & Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

When this bill was in markup last week, bloggers had circulated the rumor of a habeas-corpus rider and called on readers to urge Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, to use her Armed Services Committee seat to support it.

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.

Tasucher’s office last week deferred to Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., whose staffers said there would be no rider — Skelton cares so much about restoring habeas corpus rights that he intended to introduce a stand-alone bill to that end, they said.

I checked in with Skelton’s office again yesterday. “I don’t actually know when it’s going to be dropped,” spokeswoman Loren Dealy said of the habeas bill. “I would expect that once 1585 passes, we will have a better sense.”

So start your clocks, everyone.

Posted on Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Under: Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Ellen Tauscher, General, George Miller, Pete Stark, U.S. House | No Comments »

State Supremes won’t review stem-cell case

The Supreme Court of California today declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling from February that upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 71, the 2004 ballot measure approved by 58 percent of voters that launched the state’s ambitious stem-cell research program. That means this litigation — which has kept the state from issuing $3 billion in bonds to fund research, though not from approving its first $158 million in grants — is done, done and done.

Said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who last year loaned the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine $150 million from the state’s general fund to pay for research while the bonds were in legal limbo: “Today’s action by the California Supreme Court is a victory for our state because potentially life-saving science can continue without a shadow of legal doubt. This decision reaffirms voters’ will to keep California on the forefront of embryonic stem cell research. California’s leadership gives the best promise of finding a cure for deadly and debilitating diseases.”

Said Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who chairs the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Finance Committee created by Proposition 71 to manage the bond sales: “The Supreme Court’s action gives complete legal vindication to Proposition 71 and long-overdue legal finality to California voters. It’s been two-and-a-half years since voters resoundingly expressed their belief in the promise of stem cell therapies to prevent and cure diseases that ravage lives and families. After losing at the polls, the opponents tried to thwart the people’s will in the courts. Fortunately, they have failed. Now that the legal battle is over, we can at long last move forward to solidify California’s place in the vanguard of this crucial scientific and public health movement.”

Said state Controller John Chiang, who chairs the Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee that watchdogs how the CIRM spends its money: “I am pleased the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the voters’ will and ended the litigation that tied up the funding for California’s investment in stem cell research. California can now issue the $3 billion in bonds to fund and accelerate stem cell research, offering hope of potential life-saving medical discoveries. Today’s ruling will also help the state move quickly to foster opportunities in medical science and new technologies.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 16th, 2007
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Lockyer, General, John Chiang, Sacramento | No Comments »

Lee pressures China to act on Darfur

lee2.jpgRep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is co-sponsoring a resolution officially calling on China to use its “unique influence and economic leverage” with Sudan’s government to stop the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region.

“China’s support for the status quo in Sudan and their apparent reluctance to join the international community in condemning the atrocities being committed in Darfur have become critical factors in prolonging the ongoing genocide,” she said in a news release. “This resolution sends a clear message that China needs to join the international community in working to end this genocide.”

The resolution notes China “has long-standing economic and military ties with Sudan and continues to strengthen these ties in spite of the ongoing genocide in Darfur.” For example, China purchases at least 70 percent of Sudan’s oil and has reportedly cancelled about $100 million in debt owed by the Sudanese government. China also recently provided funds for a presidential palace in Sudan at a reported cost of approximately $20 million. And international human rights watchdog Amnesty International recently accused China and Russia of selling weapons to Sudan that are used in violence in Darfur.

The measure calls on China to urge Sudan to allow a United Nations-sanctioned peacekeeping force into the region, and to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding disarmament of militias operating in Darfur. It also calls on China to join the international community in threatening sanctions on the Sudanese government if it continues to carry out or support attacks on innocent civilians or to frustrate diplomatic efforts to end the violence.

This comes as Chinese preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are heavily under way. The resolution recognizes that the spirit of the Olympics is “incompatible with any actions supporting acts of genocide.”

“By hosting the Olympics, China puts itself in the international spotlight and invites questions about their commitment to human rights, particularly with their ongoing support for the government of Sudan, despite its campaign of genocide in Darfur,” Lee said. “To suggest that somehow it is unfair to ask those questions is ridiculous. If China doesn’t like the scrutiny, they can stop tacitly supporting genocide.”

The House resolution is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.; a Senate version has been introduced by Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

Posted on Wednesday, May 16th, 2007
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »