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Archive for December, 2007

Lumps of coal for Ellen Tauscher

This is a few weeks old, but interesting nonetheless: members of conservative grassroots group Move America Forward went to the Walnut Creek district office of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, on Nov. 26 to bring her lumps of coal for Christmas because they believe she’s not done enough to support the troops. District director Jennifer Barton takes the brunt of it. Watch closely, and judge for yourself who’s willing to listen to whom.

For someone who just a year ago was incurring some liberals’ wrath, Tauscher sure seems to have gotten on the conservatives’ bad side.

Posted on Monday, December 17th, 2007
Under: Ellen Tauscher, Iraq, U.S. House | No Comments »

Hearings set on death penalty’s fairness

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice — created by the state Senate to probe causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations and proposals to ensure fair and accurate administration of criminal justice — announced today it will hold three public hearings in January, February, and March to address issues surrounding the death penalty.

The first hearing is scheduled for 9:30a.m. to 12:30pm and 1:30pm to 3:00pm Thursday, Jan. 10 in Hearing Room 4203 at the State Capitol in Sacramento. Scheduled to testify that day are:

  • California Chief Justice Ron George
  • 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Senior Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon
  • former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan
  • Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Marshall, co-founder of Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions
  • University of Colorado Sociology Chairman Michael Radelet
  • University of San Francisco Law Professor Steven Shatz; and
  • Santa Clara University Law Professor and Death Penalty College director Ellen Kreitzberg
  • About an hour will be reserved for public comment at the hearing’s end, with each public participant limited to three minutes; the commission will accept internet sign-ups at 10 a.m. Jan. 8, and on a first-come, first-served basis the day of the hearing.

    This will be the commission’s seventh public hearing; earlier ones addressed the problems surrounding eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, testimony by in-custody informants, forensic evidence, professional responsibility of prosecutors and defense lawyers, and remedies for wrongful conviction.

    But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in October vetoed three bills based on the commission’s recommendations — SB 756, appointing a task force to develop guidelines for police line-ups and photo arrays to increase accuracy of eyewitness identification; SB 511, requiring electronic recording of police interrogations in police stations, jails, or other holding facilities for homicides and other violent felonies; and SB 609, requiring corroboration of testimony by jailhouse informants. It makes one wonder what he would do with a bill requiring death-penalty reforms.

    Anyway, the commission’s other death-penalty hearings will be held Wednesday, Feb. 20 in Los Angeles — featuring representatives of offices and organizations directly involved in the prosecution and defense of death penalty cases in California — and Friday, March 28 at Santa Clara University — featuring representatives of victims’ organizations and advocacy groups concerned with the fairness of California’s death penalty law. More information on those hearings will come soon.

    Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2007
    Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, California State Senate, General | No Comments »

    Common Cause chief visits CCT

    Bob EdgarFormer U.S. Congressman Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania, the national president and CEO of Common Cause, an open government advocacy group, stopped by the offices of the Contra Costa Times this afternoon to promote his group’s involvement in yet another California redistricting initiative.

    The “Voters First Act” would strip state legislators of their power to draw political boundaries for the California Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization. (It does not include the boundaries for California congressional district.) It would turn the job of drawing the lines over to a 14-member commission selected, in part, by the top four leaders in the California Legislature and a random pool administered by the California State Auditor and drawn from volunteer applicants. (Click here for a link to California Common Cause and all the details of the proposal.)

    Common Cause has joined with the League of Women Voters, American Association of Retired People and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to advance the initiative, which they hope to gather an adequate number of signatures and place on the November 2008 ballot.

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also endorsed this measure, a high-profile name that proponents hope will finally push this reform effort into the victory column.

    There have been many prior attempts to revise the redistricting process, none of which have prevailed.

    Redistricting reform has a couple of inherent problems at the ballot box.

    One, it’s complicated and complex stuff rarely translates into an easily digested ballot initiative for voters.

    Two, there’s nothing in it for the Democrats who control the California Legislature. Top Democrats had promised to package redistricting and term limit reforms but when the dust settled, only term limits made it onto the February ballot. (Proposition 93 would alter the way the state factors term limits.)

    Why the foot-dragging? In part, several academic studies of redistricting reform suggested that a handful of Assembly and Senate seats would potentially become competitive for Republicans if the boundaries were drawn with something other than partisan political advantage in mind. Democrats had hoped to trade support for redistricting reform with a change in term limit law, a deal that was never quite struck.

    But Edgar said this afternoon that he hopes the new four-member coalition, coupled with the governor’s support and Common Cause’s new national election and campaign reform effort, will finally reach voters. It may seem like a long shot but Edgar described himself as optimistic.

    “There is a lot to be done to restore the public’s confidence in their public officials, that elected leaders are responding to the voters and not special interests,” Edgar said.

    UPDATE: We had a question at the Times about the political independence of the California State Auditor, whose office is proposed under the initiative as the administrator of the application process for appointment to the 14-member redistricting commission.

    As it turns out, the auditor is not entirely free of political involvement but the selection and management of the office is bipartisan. Here’s a brief explanation of how it works as explained by a spokeswoman at the auditor’s office:

    A joint legislative audit committee comprised of seven state senators and seven assemblymembers interviews and selects three candidates for state auditor. The governor makes the four-year appointment from among the three names and only these three names. The auditor can only be removed prior to the end of his or her term by the Legislature, and the office receives its assignments only from the joint panel or by law. (For a link to State Auditor Elaine Howle’s web site and a full explanation, click here.)

    Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2007
    Under: Election reform, State politics | No Comments »

    Mitt Romney is NOT here today, after all

    I’d reported here last week on a pair of Mitt Romney fundraisers — also posted here and here — scheduled for today in Oakville and Napa, but it turns out he’s in Iowa today instead.

    Campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said the Bay Area events were cancelled, though she knows not why. “The governor will definitely look forward to coming back to California sometime soon, hopefully,” she said.

    If I had to guess, I’d say Romney’s in Iowa instead of California today because of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s rocket-like rise in the Iowa polls, which has deposed Romney as the longtime Republican frontrunner there. If he gets his butt kicked in Iowa, there may not be any California for him.

    Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2007
    Under: Elections, General, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney | No Comments »

    Hundreds send cards to injured soldiers

    More than 800 people — mostly children in East Bay and San Joaquin Valley schools — sent Christmas cards to injured U.S. military servicemen and women as part of a “Holiday Cards for the Troops” program sponsored by Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

    The congressman delivered the cards and letters to the Army’s Walter Reed hospital today and will visit on Friday the Naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He will also deliver cards next week to reservists stationed at Camp Parks in Dublin.

    The cards ranged from homemade drawings to store-bought sentiments to simple letters of thanks and gratitude, said Andy Stone, the congressman’s communications director.

    Nothing warms the heart on a winter’s day quite like a child’s artwork. Please enjoy the samples I’ve posted below.


    Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2007
    Under: Congress | 2 Comments »

    Ron Dellums is in NYC for Hillary Clinton

    dellums.jpgOakland Mayor Ron Dellums is in New York City for Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s two-day Winter Summit fundraiser today and tomorrow, a $1,000- or $2,300-a-head event billed as her last national fundraising event of 2007. California Clinton spokesman Luis Vizcaino tells me Dellums — who endorsed Clinton on Oct. 1 during her visit to Laney College, and whom Clinton named her campaign’s urban-policy chairman — is running a breakout session on the campaign’s urban agenda.

    Dellums can cite some Oakland examples to illustrate what’s wrong with America’s urban policy: Tuesday night’s drive-by shooting of three teens outside McClymonds High School; the nation’s 10th-highest home mortgage foreclosure rate; civil-service hiring snafus; a municipal payroll system in need of continuing reform; and so on. Let’s hope he and Clinton have clear ideas about how to make these and other wrongs right.

    Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2007
    Under: Elections, Hillary Clinton, Oakland, Ron Dellums | 3 Comments »

    Kucinich to launch whistlestop tour in Bay Area

    kucinich.jpgDemocratic presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, will be in the Bay Area late next week to launch a whistlestop railroad tour taking him from Oakland to San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and Oceanside.

    First, he’ll hold a kickoff rally from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21 in the First Unitarian Universalist Church, at 1187 Franklin St. in San Francisco, for a free evening of commentary by noted progressive activists, authors, scholars and artists including John Nichols of The Nation; author Michael Parenti; human-rights activist Medea Benjamin; antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan; and musical guests Zoe Keating and Paul Kamm & Eleanore MacDonald.

    Then, the public can join Kucinich and other activists as they board an Amtrak train departing Oakland’s Jack London Square station at 8:50am Saturday, Dec. 22.

    Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2007
    Under: Cindy Sheehan, Dennis Kucinich, Elections, Oakland | No Comments »

    Lee, Stark, Woolsey oppose pro-Christian bill

    woolsey.jpgRepresentatives Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey were among nine House members — all Democrats — who voted yesterday against a Republican-sponsored resolution “recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.”

    Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had introduced H.Res.847 just last week; the bill’s text states that the House recognizes “the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world…expresses continued support for Christians… acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith… acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization… rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians… and expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.” Another 10 House members — including one Republican — voted “present” on the bill rather than choosing a yea or nay.

    pete-stark.jpgThis seems to be a direct reaction to the House’s 376-0 vote in October for H.Res.635, recognizing the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and stating that the House “recognizes the Islamic faith as one of the great religions of the world… expresses friendship and support for Muslims… acknowledges the onset of Ramadan… and conveys its respect to Muslims… rejects hatred, bigotry, and violence directed against Muslims… commends Muslims… who have privately and publicly rejected interpretations and movements of Islam that justify and encourage hatred, violence, and terror.” Woolsey and Stark had voted in favor of that resolution; King, incidentally, was among 41 Republicans and one Democrat who had voted “present” on that resolution.

    lee3.jpg“It is disturbing that a small number of representatives support Ramadan and Islam but not Christmas and Christianity,” Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel — a Florida-based nonprofit conservative litigation, education and policy group now waging a “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign” — said in a news release.

    Lee, D-Oakland, said Wednesday that “As a person of faith, I take the values and spirit of Christmas very seriously. But this resolution is an affront to the fundamental belief in the separation of church and state. To use Christmas to advance a political point, as this resolution does, is extremely cynical and contrary to the spirit of Christmas.”

    Said Stark, chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee: “I thought it was inappropriate to celebrate Christmas the day before President Bush was going to behave like the Grinch by vetoing legislation that would have provided health care to 10 million children. The veto just didn’t put me in the Christmas spirit.”

    So the House moved to reaffirm the faith already practiced and a holiday already observed by about 84 percent of Americans; Muslims, in contrast, represent about 1.6 percent of the U.S. population and are often taking heat — almost always without merit — for endorsement of terrorism. Who needs a show of support from the House? And is this what the House should be doing while there’s a war on, the economy seems precarious, millions remain uninsured and other pressing issues remain unaddressed?

    Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2007
    Under: Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Pete Stark, U.S. House | No Comments »

    DEA eyes Oakland medical marijuana club

    The federal Drug Enforcement Administration may be moving toward action against one or more of the four medical marijuana clubs permitted by the city of Oakland.

    “Oaksterdam” pioneer Richard Lee got a letter from the DEA recently (read it here, page 1 and page 2) warning him that his ownership of the SR-71 Coffeeshop at 377 17th St. may subject him to federal prosecution that could land him in stir for up to 20 years and lead to the forfeiture of his property, regardless of whatever protection he claims under California’s medical marijuana law or Oakland’s ordinances. (The DEA appears to be a little behind the times in at least one regard; SR-71 renamed itself “Coffeeshop Blue Sky” several months ago.)

    The DEA has been sending these threatening letters to landlords of San Francisco dispensaries, and now Oakland City Hall is abuzz — officials had hoped the city’s small number of dispensaries and tight regulations would make Oakland less of a target, but apparently that’s not going to be the case.

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., earlier this year voiced concern and promised oversight hearings on the DEA’s practice of threatening private landlords with asset forfeiture and possible imprisonment if they refuse to evict organizations dispensing medical marijuana to patients under state laws. “The Committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts,” Conyers said in May — but no such hearings have occurred.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
    Under: General, John Conyers, marijuana, Oakland, U.S. House | No Comments »

    Thanks to the oil-spill cleanup volunteers

    The House today passed H.Res.853 on a voice vote, honoring those who volunteered to assist in the cleanup of the Nov. 7 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, introduced the resolution; most of the Bay Area delegation co-sponsored it; and the time for debate was managed on the House floor by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo. Here’s what Tauscher had to say about it:

    I rise in strong support of H.R. 853, introduced by my good friend, the Speaker of the House.

    This resolution honors the thousands of volunteers who helped clean the Bay Area’s beaches and wildlife after the harmful oil spill of November 7th. The public’s response to 58,000 gallons of fuel polluting the Bay typified how our community comes together during a crisis.

    Our constituents were eager to volunteer their time and help minimize the negative effects to the Bay’s fragile ecosystem. For days after the spill, they cleaned birds and combed the shoreline for oil residue. In some cases, they put their own health at risk in order to protect our Bay.

    In order to coordinate the volunteer efforts, numerous organizations mobilized their members in support of the cleanup, including Save the Bay, the Fisherman’s Association, and the Crab Boat Owners.

    I am proud that our constituents showed such dedication for the Bay during this environmental disaster. These volunteers deserve recognition from the House of Representatives, and I strongly support H.R. 853.

    Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
    Under: Ellen Tauscher, General, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | No Comments »