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McNerney defends FISA vote to constituents

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, just wrapped up an hour-long telephone town hall meeting with a few hundred constituents in which he took questions on issues from gas prices to veterans’ benefits to transportation planning and beyond.

And yes, he even took a question (hooray for “Neil from Tracy”) about his controversial vote last week in favor of a bill amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – a bill that critics said effectively grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

“The FISA bill is a good bill,” McNerney told the few hundred constituents on the call, because it helps the intelligence community “track down terrorists who are trying to hurt us, and we’ve learned we can’t be lax about that,” while also strengthening civil-liberties protections by reiterating and reinforcing the need for court-issued warrants for all domestic surveillance. As for immunity, he said, the bill gives authority for investigating violations to the courts “where it should be, I think that’s the proper venue for investigating when laws have been broken.”

Critics say the bill does nothing more than instruct federal courts to grant immunity to any telecom company that received a written directive from the Attorney General, regardless of whether the company believed its actions to be lawful.

Anyway, McNerney’s first town-hall-by-phone (Pete Stark did one a few weeks ago) seemed to go swimmingly. Andy Stone, McNerney’s communications director, said these teleconferences are “certainly not a replacement” for his many face-to-face events in the district (the next of which is scheduled for this Saturday) but rather “just another way for him to stay in touch with you, his constituents.”

McNerney made only very brief remarks at the top of the hour, choosing to go straight to constituents’ questions. More on a few of those, after the jump… Continue Reading

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Activists step up efforts to oust John Yoo

Activists are stepping up their grassroots effort to get John Yoo — the former Justice Department attorney not only wrote memos advocating the possible legality of torture and denying enemy combatants protection under the Geneva Conventions, but also rode the Fourth Amendment hard and put it away wet — fired from his job as a UC-Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law professor.

Yoo will testify tomorrow, Thursday, June 26, before the House Judiciary Committee as part of its ongoing investigation of the Bush Administration’s interrogation rules.

A day after that, the National Lawyers Guild and The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! will convene a new coalition with a town-hall meeting at 7 p.m. Friday, June 27, entitled “No To Torture! John Yoo Must Go!” (They! Sure! Do! Like! Their! Exclamation! Points! Don’t! They!?!) It’ll be in the Berkeley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar St. in Berkeley, with admission costing $5 to $20 on a sliding scale; nobody will be turned away for lack of funds. The event will feature Stephen Rohde, past president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and audience members will be invited to comment and debate.

Don’t expect anyone at this event to take Yoo’s side, however. The coalition says it has been founded “to demand that John Yoo be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes;” it aims to rally the campus community, the legal community and the East Bay at large to demand Yoo’s ousting. It’s planning a “war crimes tribunal” for this fall and a public advertising campaign, among other things.

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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Stark says Medicare Advantage worse than we knew: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, today released a Government Accountability Office report showing that private Medicare Advantage plans spent less than they projected in their 2005 bids on medical care for beneficiaries, which in turn earned them $1.14 billion in additional profits over what was expected. “This report confirms that the ‘deal’ offered to Medicare beneficiaries and American taxpayers by these private plans is even worse than we thought,” Stark said in his news release. “Private plans in Medicare spend even less on medical care than they report to CMS — to the tune of over a billion dollars in one year alone. These funds go directly into the pockets of big insurance companies — not toward medical care for beneficiaries.”

McNerney urges gas-pump checks, meets the masses: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, sent a letter yesterday to California Attorney General Jerry Brown urging him to probe whether the state’s gas pumps are accurate, lest consumers get shortchanged; a similar probe in New Jersey, the results of which were announced last week, turned up massive discrepencies. Meanwhile, McNerney will be holding an hourlong teleconference town hall meeting — like that which Stark held a few weeks ago — tonight, inviting a few hundred constituents to listen in and ask questions. And he’ll have another “Congress at Your Corner” meet-and-greet from 11 a.m. to noon this Saturday, June 28, at the Lucky supermarket at 21001 San Ramon Valley Blvd. in San Ramon.

Lee nominates local programs for national awards: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, today announced she has nominated the Berkeley Unified School District’s Network for a Healthy California Garden and Cooking Program, and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), for the national Victory Against Hunger Awards, presented by the bipartisan Congressional Hunger Center. The annual awards — $1,000 grants which will be given this summer — go to programs that battle hunger and work to improve a community’s health through education and hands on experiences. “I am particularly happy to nominate these two groups for their fine work in addressing hunger in our communities,” Lee said in her news release.

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Will the ‘Predator’ political charm hold?

First Jesse Ventura got himself elected governor of Minnesota. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger swept into power in California. Now Sonny Landham is trying to make it a trifecta.

Sonny who?

Sonny Landham, who played the fierce, brooding American Indian commando “Billy” beside Schwarzenegger’s and Ventura’s characters in 1987’s “Predator.” Landham, 67, is running on the Libertarian ticket against U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., according to the Associated Press:

Landham refers to McConnell, a four-term Republican, as “Boss Hogg” after the corrupt politician from “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show. He bluntly called Democratic candidate and millionaire businessman Bruce Lunsford an “elitist.”

Even President Bush is a target: “He took us into a war on lies,” Landham said, claiming the actual intent was “to put ‘Big Oil’ back into Iraq.”

To qualify for the November ballot, Landham must collect at least 5,000 valid petition signatures by Aug. 12. State Libertarian Party Chairman Ken Moellman said the petition drive began recently and he believes Landham will make it.

But the bid includes some campaign baggage that seems scripted for Hollywood, instead of socially conservative Kentucky. Early in his acting career in the 1970s, Landham bared it all in adult films.

I’ve sought a comment but received no response from Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office as of this hour.

((UPDATE @ 11:30 A.M. WEDNESDAY: “He has no position on this race. He’s focused on governing California,” says Aaron McLear, the governor’s press secretary. And that, we can safely say, is that.))

Let’s see, a Libertarian actor who once did porn and is still embroiled in a legal battle in which he did federal prison time for allegedly threatening his wife (his conviction later was overturned), taking on the Senate’s most powerful Republican. Think he’ll do much better against McConnell than Billy did against the Predator?

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Follow the money on the FISA vote

Berkeley-based MAPLight.org — a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks relationships between campaign contributions and Congressional votes — found some interesting figures related to last week’s vote on H.R. 6304, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008, which makes changes to the 1978 law dealing with wiretapping of the sort in which the Bush Administration secretly engaged for several years. Despite criticisms that the bill gave telecommunications companies a free pass for having cooperated with the National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance, it passed on a vote of 293-129.

And although the House in March had passed an amendment that rejected retroactive immunity for these companies, 94 House Democrats who’d rejected immunity back then decided to vote for last week’s bill.

Lo and behold, MAPLight.org finds that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint gave about twice as much money — $9,659 on average — to House members (105 Democrats and 188 Republicans) who voted for last week’s bill as the amount — $4,810 on average — that went to those who voted against it (128 Democrats and 1 Republican) from January 2005 through March 2008.

In the greater Bay Area, those three telecom companies gave $24,500 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; $11,000 to Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater; $9,000 to Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; and $2,000 to Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton — all of whom were among the 94 Democrats who voted against immunity in March but voted for last week’s bill.

Did anyone base their votes purely on campaign contributions? Almost certainly not, given those amounts; see my earlier post for Tauscher’s and McNerney’s rationales for supporting the bill. But the moniey couldn’t have hurt either, and when you look at the aggregate and see the “yes” voters got twice the telecom contributions as the “no” voters, you can see which way the wind blows.

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Schwarzenegger video of the week

As Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger stumps today with presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, let’s take a look at an alternate 21st Century in which “the finest men in America don’t run for President — they run for their lives.” It’s 1987’s “The Running Man,” loosely based on the Stephen King/Richard Bachmann novella of the same name:

It’s almost worth watching this generally awful movie just to see Schwarzenegger, as protagonist Ben Richards, utter the line, “I’m not into politics — I’m into survival.” Ironic? Prophetic?

Previous SVOTWs: June 17, June 10, June 3, May 27, May 20, May 13, May 6, April 29, April 22, April 15, April 8, April 1, March 25, March 18, March 11, March 4, February 26, February 19, February 12, February 5, January 29, January 22, January 15, January 8, January 1, December 25, December 18, December 11, December 4, November 27, November 20, November 13, November 6, October 30, October 23, October 16, October 9, October 2, September 25, September 18, September 11, September 4, August 28, August 21, August 7, July 31, July 24, July 17, July 10, July 3, June 26, June 19, June 12, June 5, May 29, 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.