Leave No Ape Behind

Though he spends much of his time on issues related to his chairmanship of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, made time today for members of our wider evolutionary family: gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and other great apes.

The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife held a hearing on Miller’s H.R. 4416, the Great Ape Conservation Reauthorization Amendments Act of 2010, which would reauthorize federal aid to help conserve great ape populations around the world.

“Great apes are our closest non-human relatives on the planet, but the threats they face from people are all too real,” Miller said in a news release. “We have seen the devastation of wild primate populations throughout Africa and Asia. Since the authorization of my great ape bill ten years ago, our relatively small federal investment has been matched by significant local and private funding, boosting efforts to save gorillas and other great apes. We must reauthorize the program to enable these successful programs to flourish.”

Miller authored the original law in 2000 to provide federal funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for international great ape habitat conservation efforts, mostly in Africa and Asia. The FWS awarded more than $4.2 million to 59 projects in 2009, leveraging $4.9 million more from other organizations.

great apesToday’s hearing included testimony supporting the legislation from Obama Administration officials and conservation groups. Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Jane Lyder called Miller’s past and present bills “an excellent example of how to produce focused and efficient means to support the conservation of species that are ecologically important and aesthetically invaluable to the American public and people around the world.”

Miller’s office says he intends to meet next month with world-renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall to discuss the status of great apes around the world.

OK, so, $4.2 million for ape conservation; discuss.


Medical pot advocates blast Obama’s DEA pick

Michele LeonhartMedical marijuana advocates aren’t happy with President Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday that he’s nominating Michelle Leonhart, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s acting administrator since 2007, to keep the job permanently.

“The retention of this Bush-era holdover is a profound disappointment to all of us who hoped that Obama would bring meaningful change to Washington,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said today.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, noted Leonhart “was the deputy administrator under Karen Tandy when Tandy conducted under the bush administration essentially scores of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, probably over 200,” and continued the raids after Tandy left through the end of Bush’s tenure.

“If Obama is trying to signal change on medical marijuana, he’s certainly not engendering a lot of trust with the medical marijuana movement by reappointing someone who has engaged in such aggressive tactics,” Hermes said.

Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Kurt Gardinier agreed that although his group has “been pleased with the change in policy Mr. Holder instituted regarding state medical marijuana laws, we are disappointed that President Obama nominated the person who presided over some of the most egregious DEA activities targeting medical marijuana patients and providers during the Bush administration.”

Hermes and Gieringer both noted Leonhart overruled a DEA administrative law judge’s decision and blocked approval for a University of Massachusetts project to grow research-grade marijuana for use in clinical studies of marijuana’s efficacy as medicine – a major stumbling block on the path toward marijuana’s eventual removal from the Controlled Substances Act’s list of most-restricted drugs.

“If there’s one thing on which supporters and critics of medical marijuana agree, it’s the need for FDA studies,” Gieringer said. “This appointment calls into question whether the administration has any desire to move towards FDA regulation or abandon the bankrupt policies of its predecessors.”

Obama’s nomination of Leonhart is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation. Hermes said “definitely, we are going to urge politicians to scrutinize her history and the appropriateness of her for being in this position.”

I’ve asked for comment from U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and will update if/when I hear from them.


Arnold’s veto-message wordplay lives on

(Note: This post was penned by San Jose Mercury News reporter Denis C. Theriault, in the Sacramento bureau.)

Reports of a certain veto message’s death — as in the one with the hidden, four-letter message apparently sent from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano — have been exaggerated.

Despite a blog post by the Sacramento Bee last week saying the message had gone “poof,” it’s alive and well for all the world to see over on the governor’s Web site.

The message, you might remember, was issued in response to AB 1176 and seemed to follow the governor’s usual form when rejecting bills. But careful readers, eyeballing the first letter of each line, found something else: a familiar curse word, plus the word “you.”

The discovery kicked off a brief national media storm and saw the governor’s office defending the acrostic as mere coincidence — never mind that Ammiano had only weeks before peppered the governor at an appearance with some choice words of his own.

The Bee, in its post, looked only at the Legislature’s bill-tracking site, leginfo.ca.gov, which formatted the message’s text differently and ended up wiping out the acrostic.

So, after bleak budget forecast after bleak budget forecast, long live one of the lighter pieces of writing to come from the governor’s office last year.


Corbett moves to expand gift-card law

Got any money left from those holiday-season gift cards? State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, wants to make it easier still for you to cash them in.

Corbett today unveiled SB 885, which would increase the amount on a gift card that consumers can redeem for cash from up to $10 – the amount set by a Corbett-authored law, SB 250, effective Jan. 1, 2008 – to up to $20; a notice stating the card can be redeemed for cash when its value dips below $20 would have to be printed on the card.

Her new bill also would eliminate dormancy fees; under current law, a gift card valued $5 or less that hasn’t been used for two years can be assessed a $1-per-month fee.

“In these difficult times, consumers must have ready access to all of their assets, including unused gift cards,” Corbett said in her news release. “The remainder on their unused gift cards could make a difference in paying their bills and making ends meet. This bill will enhance consumers’ rights and increase compliance with the law.”

gift cardsNationwide, nearly $5 billion in gift cards go unspent every year. After a few years, the retailer can claim the consumer’s money as profit without supplying a product or even paying sales tax; companies have claimed up to $43 million in profit from unspent gift cards in a single year.

Consumers Union supports this bill, as it and other consumer advocacy groups did Corbett’s earlier gift-card law, saying it gives gift-card holders their due. But opponents of the earlier law including the California Restaurant Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, the Direct Marketing Association and the National Association of Theaters Owners California/Nevada had argued giving dollar-for-dollar cash value to gift cards increases the likelihood of fraud – for example, letting stolen or fraudulently-obtained credit cards be turned into cash through the purchase of low-denomination gift cards, or through manipulation of the gift cards’ magnetic stripes. They also said it sticks retailers and restaurants with fees from the credit- or debit-card transaction in which the gift card was bought, and/or with fees small retailer might’ve paid to third-party vendors to handle gift-card preparation, tracking and redemption. Watch for these and similar groups to lobby hard against this bill, too.


ABAG: Bay Area’s economic recovery will be slow

The Bay Area economy “will recover slowly, a mirror of the rest of the nation, stabilizing in 2010 with some recovery in 2011,” Association of Bay Area Governments Economist and Research Director Paul Fassinger told ABAG’s 22nd annual regional economic outlook conference today.

ABAG’s news release said Fassinger reports the region’s income isn’t expected to grow appreciably – 0.3 percent this year, 2.5 percent in 2011 – and the Bay Area’s inflation rate for 2010 and 2011 will hover at 2.5 percent. He estimates about 20,000 more jobs will be lost in 2010, but 2011 will show a modest gain of 8,000 jobs.

State Department of Finance Chief Economist Howard Roth told the ABAG conference, at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter Auditorium in Oakland, said the recession may be over but the toll has been “horrific,” and recovery will probably be slow as the unemployed seek jobs and people try to get their finances in order. He’s concerned that another wave of less-than-prime adjustable-rate mortgages will reset between 2010 and 2012, perhaps leading to a renewed foreclosure and housing-market crisis.

ABAG Senior Regional Planner Hing Wong reported the region’s consumer spending remains weak; he expects retail sales will grow by only 0.4 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2011. That’ll mean a nominal taxable sales growth of 1 percent in 2010 and 1.9 percent in 2011.

DataQuick Information Systems analyst Andrew LePage reported some indicators suggest the housing downturn has slowed, with potential for a “fledling recovery.” Vallejo and Antioch had the highest number of foreclosures in 2009 – 1529 and 1455 homes, respectively – while Sausalito and Los Altos showed the lowest foreclosure numbers, five and eight homes, respectively.