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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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…
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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.