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Archive for January, 2010

Munger pours more into redistricting measure

Palo Alto physicist Charles T. Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire investor partner, on Tuesday put another $716,544.99 into his “Voters First Act for Congress” ballot measure, bringing his total since October to $2,729,741.99.

The proposed constitutional amendment would remove authority for setting California’s 53 Congressional district boundaries from the state Legislature, and would give that authority instead to the same Citizens Redistricting Commission that will soon be setting state Legislative boundaries (as required by 2008’s successful Proposition 11).

He’s the only major donor to the campaign; he has until March 22 to gather and submit 694,354 registered voters’ valid signatures in order to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.

Posted on Friday, January 29th, 2010
Under: ballot measures, campaign finance, redistricting | No Comments »

The bigots are back in town

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church – y’know, those “God hates fags” folks – were outside Palo Alto’s Gunn High School this morning, according to my Bay Area News Group colleague, Lisa M. Krieger:

The traveling members of Westboro Baptist Church stood on Arastradero Road to flay the most unlikely victims: school children already traumatized by the five recent suicides of Gunn-associated students.

“You’ll be in front of the train next! God laughs at your calamity!” shouted Margie Phelps, wearing an American flag as a skirt.

The daughter of Westboro Church founder Fred Phelps, she said that the Gunn students died because they failed to obey God, and now live in hell.

Classy!

The protesters, who are loudly anti-Semitic, then went to Stanford University, where several hundred students gathered in front of the school’s Taube Hillel House, holding signs, singing and chanting, despite the fact that 8 a.m. isn’t an hour most college students are used to seeing.

It almost felt more like a party than a protest, as the Stanford band played and the Stanford Tree danced across the lawn, made muddy by thousands of feet. At one point, a bagpipe player performed “Amazing Grace.” The small Westboro group stayed at one corner, and some students posed for pictures with them, holding signs like one that read “Gay for Fred Phelps.”

This is exactly what I’d hoped for when I heard on the radio this morning (h/t to KFOG) about the Westboro people’s visit. Nobody should go argue with them, or worse yet, hurl invective (or objects) at them – to do so only indulges their martyr status, confirming their twisted worldview that they’re persecuted for their views. They have a right to speak, and to be ignored.

But hey, go see ‘em because they’re dinosaurs, doomed to extinction. Go marvel at people who’ve taken a faith based on love and twisted it into an industry of hate in which they crisscross the nation, whoring themselves for publicity by shouting inanities at children, fallen troops’ families and others in hope of raising enough donations to support themselves. And most of all, go have a laugh at people so clownish in their tactics that they’ve become a punchline to a vast majority; to most, their arrival is like having some perverse circus come to town.

I actually find their naked hatred quite comforting; if these stooges are the face of bigotry, what hope could bigotry ultimately have?

(And no, journalistic objectivity doesn’t extend to granting moral equivalence to bigots.)

Posted on Friday, January 29th, 2010
Under: Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Rep. Miller to speak on health-care

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, one of the authors of the health insurance reform legislation stalled in Congress, will speak on the subject at a Feb. 1 breakfast meeting of the Contra Costa Council.

The breakfast will be held 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., at the Hilton Concord Hotel, 1970 Diamond Blvd., in Concord.

Breakfast registrations are due to the Council by noon today 925-246-1880. For more information, visit the Council website at www.contracostacouncil.com and click on the calendar. The price is $35 for members and elected officials, and $45 for nonmembers.

The event is being co-hosted by the Contra Costa Community College District, NECA/IBEW, Kaiser Permanente and Wells Fargo. Sponsors are John Muir Health, Miller Starr Regalia and Archer Norris.

Posted on Friday, January 29th, 2010
Under: healthcare reform, Political calendar, Political events | 2 Comments »

Clash of the ‘citizen journalism’ titans

Fresh from his bail hearing, James O’Keefe – the conservative activist whose surreptitiously recorded videotapes sparked a firestorm of criticism against ACORN, and who was arrested Monday for allegedly trying to tamper with a U.S. Senator’s phones – will address the Commonwealth Club of California at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, in the club’s offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Club members get in free; tickets are available online for nonmembers at $18 and for students with valid ID at $7.

This all assumes that a federal court officer will give O’Keefe permission to come to California for the event, per a U.S. Magistrate Judge’s order issued Tuesday; I’d say it’s a good bet.

The moderator of this discussion of “undercover journalism” will be UC-Berkeley journalism graduate student, blogger and freelance journalist Josh Wolf, himself widely known for being jailed for contempt of court as he refused a federal judge’s order to surrender raw video he’d shot at a 2005 street protest of which he was part.

Meanwhile, the O’Keefe backlash begins. Labor-backed liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change today is taking to task House Republicans – including Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Rep. John Campbell, R-Irvine – who co-sponsored a resolution in November honoring O’Keefe for the ACORN tapes.

“It wasn’t too long ago that Representatives Campbell and Lungren believed that James O’Keefe was deserving of national recognition and praise – that is, before Mr. O’Keefe was arrested by the FBI for allegedly plotting to tamper with the phone lines of a United States Senator,” AUC acting executive director Tom McMahon said in his news release. “The people of California might be interested to know if these Representatives have any regrets for taking up valuable time in Congress to ‘honor’ Mr. O’Keefe’s special brand of ‘investigative journalism’ that apparently devolved into Watergate-style schemes.”

I e-mailed Lungren’s and Campbell’s press people about 90 minutes ago, haven’t heard back from them yet.

UPDATE @ 10:52 A.M. MONDAY 2/1: This event has been postponed until further notice.

Posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Under: Calendar | 7 Comments »

Ethics committee clears Pete Stark

The House Ethics Committee has cleared Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, of any wrongdoing in regards to a tax break related to the home he owns in Maryland. In doing so, the committee’s report issues a smackdown to the independent, nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics (created by the House but run by a board of private citizens), which had pursued the investigation.

From the report’s executive summary:

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has alleged that Representative Fortney “Pete” Stark violated Maryland criminal tax law and ethics rules of the House of Representatives by intentionally filing a false application for a Maryland property tax credit.

The evidence clearly establishes that Representative Stark did not receive a tax credit as a result of filing an application for the credit. The evidence also establishes that he did not file a false application for the Maryland property tax credit.

Representative Stark did not seek out the Maryland property tax credit. The State of Maryland required every homeowner in Maryland to fill out a form to determine their eligibility for the tax credit.

Therefore, Representative Stark did not violate House ethics rules. Nor did he run afoul of Maryland’s criminal or tax laws.

The summary goes on to say that the Ethics Committee concludes “that OCE conducted an inadequate review, the result of which was to subject Representative Stark to unfounded criminal allegations,” and that “(i)t’s apparent from OCE‟s work that they treated Representative Stark inconsistently with the way they treated four other Members of Congress with similar situations whose cases were properly dismissed.”

When I wrote about this issue 10 months ago, Stark explained thus: “I’ve owned this house I believe since 1988 … and I believe I’ve had this exemption all that time. In ‘07, Maryland changed their law and said if people were going to get the principal residence deduction, they had to affirmatively apply and be approved. Prior to that, I had never heard from them.”

“So in January, I got a form and it asked those questions: Do I live in this house more than six months a year and over a period of July 1? The answer is yes. Do I file Maryland and federal income tax from this address? Yes. Do I vote at this address? No. Do I have my driver’s license here? No.”

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says a member of Congress must “when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.” Stark – elected to the House in 1972, and now second-ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee as well as chair of its influential Health Subcommittee – said he rents a townhouse in Fremont fpr when’s back here in his district to satisfy that constitutional requirement; he’s registered to vote at, and uses the mailing address of, his in-laws’ San Lorenzo home so that they can keep track of his mail when he’s out of town and so the occasional “crazy” doesn’t arrive on his doorstep.

“If I owned a house in California, there’s no way I could’ve taken the principal residence deduction here” in Maryland, Stark said last year. “But my guess is we spend two-thirds of the time here, my kids go to school here in Maryland. By any definition of where I spend most of the time, it would be in the Washington, DC area – this is where I work.”

Stark now says the OCE seems to “comb through the press, and I’m pretty sure this came from a Bloomberg guy who was pretty sure he had a Pulitzer Prize, I guess, on putting me away.”

“When the Ethics Committee got the OCE report, I had to hire a lawyer – which is kind of a pain – to deal with it formally,” he added. “But they were just trying to make a case where no case existed, as I think this report will show.”

Lots more on how OCE and Ethics Committee probes work, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Under: Pete Stark, U.S. House | 9 Comments »

Four local House sites felled by hackers

Politico reports that hackers infiltrated the websites of dozens of House members overnight, replacing their usual pages with attacks on President Barack Obama.

The affected sites were taken down and replaced with a general House of Representatives “This site is currently undergoing maintenance. Please check back soon” message. Bay Area lawmakers whose sites are still down at this hour include Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

Posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Under: Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Spinning PPIC’s poll on the U.S. Senate race

The Public Policy Institute of California poll released yesterday shows U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., doesn’t have majority support against any of her Republican challengers but leads them all by varying margins.

Former Congressman, state finance director and Cal business school dean Tom Campbell fares best in a head-to-head match-up, with Boxer at 45 percent and Campbell at 41 percent among November’s likely voters. While 79 percent of Democratic likely voters favor Boxer, 84 percent of Republican likely voters favor Campbell; independents are more divided but favor Boxer over Campbell, 42 percent to 37 percent. Boxer has a 14-point lead among female likely voters (50 percent to 36 percent), and Campbell has a 6-point lead among men (46 percent to 40 percent).

Boxer has an eight-point lead over both former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (48 percent to 40 percent) and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine (47 percent to 39 percent).

Among likely voters in the GOP primary, Campbell leads at 27 percent, with Fiorina at 16 percent and DeVore at 8 percent. Campbell leads among likely voters with household incomes both below and above $80,000, and among both men and women. This survey of likely voters includes the 12 percent of independent voters who say they will choose to vote on a Republican ballot.

The margin of error for the 1,223 November likely voters is three percentage points, and the margin for the 425 Republican primary likely voters is five points.

Campbell’s camp says their man might be doing better than this poll indicates; they think PPIC’s methodology short-sells older voters, who seem to like Campbell more.

Fiorina’s camp said the poll “confirms yet again that Barbara Boxer is a highly vulnerable incumbent.”

“More and more Californians are disenchanted by her lackluster record and, despite having been in office for 18 years, she is still unable to break the 50 percent threshold in this poll against any Republican candidate. Carly will continue to hold Boxer accountable for her disappointing tenure in the U.S. Senate, and as voters get to know Carly better in the coming months, her name identification will rise – as will her poll numbers. Meanwhile, Tom Campbell’s performance in both the primary and the general election matchups shows his electoral weakness, despite the higher name recognition that comes with having run for office nine times before. Once voters learn about his record championing higher taxes and bigger government, his support will erode quickly.”

DeVore’s campaign manager, Leisa Brug Kline, said it’s “an interesting and welcome poll for several reasons.

“Though there’s a long way to go, Chuck DeVore’s support is quietly building on the enthusiasm and support of Republicans and conservatives across California – and across America,” she said. “It’s useful to note that this poll was conducted in the week before Scott Brown’s upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race – an event that has generated tremendous interest in Chuck DeVore and his message of a winning conservatism in California.”

DeVore campaign communications director Joshua Treviño took the fight more directly to Fiorina:

“As Chuck DeVore’s support steadily grows, Carly Fiorina’s is steadily collapsing. The establishment that supported her is defecting to Campbell, and the conservatives who want the real deal are turning to Chuck. With the margin of error on the PPIC poll, and the identical results on the hypothetical general-election matchup, Fiorina and DeVore are in a de facto tie for second place. Even worse for Carly, Chuck DeVore is at dead parity with her in support from women, a demographic she thought was hers.”

“Carly Fiorina’s inevitability narrative died when Tom Campbell entered the race. Now her electability narrative dies as she can’t do better than Chuck DeVore either against Barbara Boxer, or in appeal to the women’s vote. If these trends continue, we’ll see this primary race end as a real choice between a real liberal in Tom Campbell, and a real conservative in Chuck DeVore.”

Posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, Barbara Boxer, Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore, polls, Tom Campbell, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Reactions to the State of the Union address

California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring said that after a year of President Obama trying to jam his agenda down Congressional Republicans’ throats, tonight’s speech sounded more like political positioning and rhetoric than substantive policy. “I saw an attempt to salvage the same health-care package. I saw largely repackaging more than the adoption of a more centrist policy agenda.”

“This unfortunate, constant blaming of his predecessor and his predecessor’s programs – that’s not taking responsibility, that’s not leadership,” Nehring said.

The President also engaged in “a bit of trying to rewrite history” by emphasizing the tax cuts included in the economic-stimulus legislation rather than its wasteful government spending, Nehring said, noting that despite President Obama’s promises to the contrary, the national unemployment rate now hovers around 10 percent and California’s around 12 percent.

And on foreign policy, he said, Obama’s resolute words don’t mask the fact that Iran’s nascent Iranian nuclear program and continued support of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah still destabilizes the Middle East and stands in the way of regional peace efforts including a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said he’s pleased that President Obama named as a stimulus success story the $535 million loan guarantee to Fremont-based Solyndra, which will build a plant to produce state-of-the-art solar panels. Alas, Stark said, he didn’t mention the imminent closure of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant, which will cost the East Bay 4,000 to 5,000 jobs.

“He’s got the broad picture right but he was terribly short on specific programs,” Stark said, adding he wishes he’d heard more about money targeted toward communities for infrastructure improvement. “I’m willing to give him credit for trying … I thought it was inspirational, I thought it was a bit short on detail, that’s all.”

Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, also said the President’s health-care reform comments indicate he “seems to think more optimistically than I do that he can get it past the House and the Senate. I don’t think he can, I don’t think he can get the Senate to make the changes that are necessary.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, embraced President Obama’s optimism and resoluteness on health-care reform.

“We’re going to continue to meet with the Senate to come to an agreement on what we can pass in the senate on a majority vote, which they can do,” Miller said shortly after the speech. “If you do nothing, people continue to lose their insurance, people continue to be devastated by medical bills … The status quo is crushing our companies and its crushing our families.”

Overall, Miller said, PResient Obama “did a hell of a job” with the speech, given declining polls, the GOP victory in the Massachusetts Senate election, and a tough battle behind and ahead on health care. “I thought it was inspirational, I think he was speaking directly to members of Congress and telling us we have an obligation to do the business of this nation.”

In particular, Miller said, “I think he took the senate to the woodshed” by noting the House has passed bills on jobs, financial reform, education and energy and climate change, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. “He was really telling them, you’ve gotta get this done.”

“If they don’t change, we’re not going to meet the needs of the country”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also appreciated that President Obama “put the Senate on the spot,” and also that he did the same to the U.S. Supreme Court over last week’s decision lifting long-standing restrictions on corporate and union spending on federal campaigns. “Very bold of him, but that was the right thing to do.”

Like Stark, Lee said she would’ve liked a few more specifics. “I think he gave us parameters for what he was talking about,” she said, “but I wanted to hear what kind of jobs bill he thinks the Senate should pass” as pertains to targeting the areas of highest need, retraining workers for green industries, creating summer jobs for youth, and so on. “I think we do need a direct government investment in creating jobs, but I think all and all it was a very profound speech, very inspirational, and gave a lot of hope to people.”

Although she said she’s glad he’s “staying the course” on issues such as health-care reform, climate change and issues, there are some things on which Lee flat-out disagreed with President Obama. Her opposition to the 30,000-troop increase for Afghanistan is already on the record, but she said she’s also dead-set against the discretionary spending freeze the President described tonight.

“In a time of despair, during an economic downturn and recession, you don’t freeze discretionary spending. You don’t hurt those who need help the most,” she said, adding she didn’t buy his argument that delaying the freeze until 2011 will alleviate its effect on the struggling economy. “For whatever reason, this is something he thinks has to be part of his economic policy at this time.”

More reactions after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Carly Fiorina, George Miller, John Garamendi, Obama presidency, Pete Stark, Tom Campbell, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 7 Comments »

Excerpts from Obama’s State of the Union

The White House just sent out excerpts from the State of the Union address that President Obama will deliver tonight to a joint session of Congress:

We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds and different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bill. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They are coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote to me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We don’t allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.

By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new. Let’s try common sense. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we cannot stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: Obama presidency | No Comments »

Alioto-Pier quits Insurance Commissioner race

San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier just announced she’s withdrawing as a candidate for state Insurance Commissioner.

“Michela suffered an injury to her leg which required surgery and will entail additional time in the hospital time to heal,” her husband Tom Pier said in an emailed statement. “The necessary recuperation, as well as the demands of her duties as a San Francisco Supervisor and as a mother of three young children, make a statewide run for Insurance Commissioner impractical at this time.”

Alioto-Pier entered the race in August and had won endorsements including those of former Vice President Al Gore, and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid.

Still in the Democratic primary for this race: Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate; Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento; and former Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka. On the GOP side, there’s Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Clovis.

Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Under: 2010 election | No Comments »