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Archive for November, 2010

Dems tout health insurance premium rebates

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a final regulation today that it estimates will save insured Americans up to $4.9 billion in cash rebates, lower premiums or increase benefits over the next three years, and Democrats are crowing.

The new regulation is part of the so-called ‘medical-loss ratio’ provisions contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the healthcare reform bill – that President Barack Obama signed into law in March. Those provisions demand that most insurers spend at least 80 to 85 percent of consumers’ premiums on health care, instead of on advertising, CEO bonuses, and other administrative costs not related to health care’s quality.

To Democrats, this looks like ammunition for the coming Congress, in which a Republican House majority hopes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“Repeal this?” House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, asked in his news release. “Republicans in Washington have pledged to repeal the health care law. If they succeed, they will be taking money right out of the pocket of millions of average Americans. They might think that’s a good idea but I certainly don’t. So let’s just be very clear about what’s at stake when Republicans call for the repeal of the new health care law.

Miller said the new regulation is good news for Americans who are paying too much in health insurance premiums – some of which have been raised by double digits even while insurers report billions in profits.

“But make no mistake about it — repealing the health reform law will take money directly out of consumers’ pockets,” he said.

House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, issued a news release that said more than 20 percent of consumers are now in plans that spend more than 30 cents of every premium dollar on administrative costs, while 25 percent more are in plans that spent 25 to 30 cents on such costs.

Pete StarkOnce this new regulation takes effect, he said, up to 74.8 million insured Americans will be protected from excessive insurer spending, and up to 9 million may be eligible for rebates starting in 2012, worth up to $1.4 billion and possibly averaging as much as $164 per person in the individual market.

“By pledging to repeal health reform, House Republicans would eliminate this important protection and allow insurance companies to continue unlimited spending on CEO bonuses, profits and lobbying – and less on patients’ health care,” Stark said. “The Republican response to today’s announcement will be telling. Will they stand with working families or the health insurance industry?”

Posted on Monday, November 22nd, 2010
Under: George Miller, healthcare reform, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 8 Comments »

State buildings, UC costs, Jean Quan on ‘TWINC’

I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” last night to discuss the plan to sell and then lease back state buildings in order to raise quick cash to help close our budget gap. Other topics included UC tuition hikes and San Francisco’s governmental tumult, and Belva Davis interviewed Oakland Mayor-Elect Jean Quan.

Posted on Saturday, November 20th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, education, Jean Quan, Oakland, state budget, TWINC | No Comments »

DiFi moves to block SF student’s deportation

My colleague, Matt O’Brien, has written a great story about how a private relief bill introduced today by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., effectively halted the pending deportation of City College of San Francisco student Steve Li.

Li, 20, has been held at a detention center in Arizona awaiting deportation to Peru. He was born there but came to the U.S. as a child with his parents, who stayed on after their tourist visas expired. Li said he didn’t know his family’s legal situation while he was growing up, and knows no one in Peru.

Bills such as the one Feinstein introduced are extremely rare, Li’s attorney said today. Read Feinstein’s full statement, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, November 19th, 2010
Under: Dianne Feinstein, Immigration, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

Conspiracy buzz flies around redistricting panel

The absence of a single individual from the City of Los Angeles in the 36-member pool of potential panelists on the California Redistricting Commission is fueling considerable speculation.

Los Angeles is California’s largest city. How could a panel charged with drawing political boundaries fail to include a single person from the state’s biggest city?

The theory, first mentioned by blogger Greg Lucas and repeated up and down the state today, is that the California legislative leaders intentionally struck all Los Angeles residents from the list of 60 eligible panelists in order to form the basis of future lawsuit in which the claim would be made that California’s largest city had been disenfranchised.

Wow, that’s pretty Machiavellian for a group of people whose budget was a record 100 days late.

By way of background, the State Auditor’s Office whittled down the initial 30,000 applicants to 60. (Click here to read the full FAQ’s on the commission.) The four legislative leaders could strike 24 names from the pool. That would leave 36 people from which the final 14-member board would be comprised: Eight through a lottery style drawing held this morning and the final six would be selected by those who won the random draw.

Sources in the Democratic and Republican parties tell me it’s nonsense.

For one, the GOP has publicly endorsed the creation of the independent redistricting commission, which will draw new political boundaries for state, board of equalization and congressional districts. (That does not mean some of its members are happy about it, though. Previous redistricting plans were adopted for the benefit of incumbents in both parties.)

And second, Nathan Barankin with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s says the legal case for “disenfranchisement” exists with or without Los Angeles residents.

“The bottom line, this commission will be comprised of 14 people,” he said. “Throughout history, the lines have been drawn by 120 people elected to the Legislature. There is no way, mathematically, that a group of 14 people can provide the same level of representation to the public as the 120-member state Legislature.”

The 36-member pool does include 10 people from Los Angeles County but no one from the city proper.

As specified in the voter-approved ballot measure, the top leader from each of hte two major parties in the Legislature were permitted a total 0f 24 strikes without cause. They made their decisons behind closed doors but Barankin said Steinberg selected people he consiered as the “best of the best,” rather than choosing people to eliminate.

And who are these people eliminated by legislative strike?

Only two were from Los Angeles: Leland T. Saito and Josefa Salinas.

Interestingly, one of the East Bay applicants still in the pool is Maria Blanco of El Cerrito. She told one of my colleagues that she is moving — guess where? — to Los Angeles later this year.

Problem solved.

Posted on Thursday, November 18th, 2010
Under: redistricting | 3 Comments »

Redistricting panel members selected

Three Bay Area residents are among the eight people randomly selected this morning to serve on California’s new Redistricting Commission, a voter-created panel that will eventually consist of 14 individuals responsible for drawing the political boundaries of congressional, board of equalization and state legislative districts.

State Auditor Elaine Howle drew the names bingo style a few minutes ago from a pool of 36 that included 12 Democrats, 12 Republicans and 12 people non-affiliated with a political party or members of the third parties. The first eight members must select the remaining six members of their panel before Dec. 31. The first eight are:

  • Connie Galambos Malloy, Oakland, non-partisan
  • Stanley Forbes, Esparto, non-partisan
  • Cynthia Dai, San Francisco, Democrat
  • Elaine Kuo, Mountain View, Democrat
  • Jeanne Raya, San Gabriel, Democrat
  • Vincent Barabba, Capitola, Republican
  • Jodie Filkins Webber, Norco, Republican
  • Peter Yao, Claremont, Republican

East Bay residents who remain in the pool and eligible for selection include Maria Blanco, of El Cerrito; Tangerine Mignon Brigham, of Oakland; Sherman Gee, of Castro Valley; William Giles Hamm, of Lafayette; Paul McKaskle, of Berkeley; and Brightstar Ohlson, of Oakland.

Voters created the panel in 2008, stripping the Legislature of the job, and expanded the commission’s role earlier this month to include congressional districts.

For a full set of FAQ’s on the commission, click here.

Posted on Thursday, November 18th, 2010
Under: redistricting | 6 Comments »

Lee replaced as Congressional Black Caucus chair

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will relinquish her post as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in January, the caucus announced today.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., emerged as the chairman-elect after the caucus elected officers for the 112th Congress today.

“As First Vice Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Cleaver oversaw our Jobs Taskforce and played an integral role in crafting and implementing our legislative and messaging strategy on a host of issues from health care reform and the economic recovery to climate change and Wall Street reform,” Lee said in the caucus’ statement.

She said she was honored to have chaired the caucus for the past two years. “While we have had many successes on a host of issues, there remains much more important work to do in the upcoming Congress and I am confident that the incoming CBC executive officers are more than up to the challenge.”

“When I became chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, we drafted an Opportunities for All—Pathways Out of Poverty agenda consistent with our role as the ‘conscience of the Congress’ to make sure that all Americans are protected and empowered by the government,” Lee said. “Regardless of which party controls the House of Representatives, the Congressional Black Caucus will never retreat from our commitment to create Opportunities for All—Pathways Out of Poverty.”

Cleaver said he’s “humbled and honored” by his colleagues’ support. “I owe a deep debt to our current Chair, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, for her steadfast leadership. I have learned much from her estimable example. I look forward to working with all my colleagues, of all creeds, colors, parties, and ideologies, as we begin the 112th Congress in 2011.”

The CBC’s chair typically only serves for two years, so this passing of the gavel was expected. Lee, however, shows no sign of slowing down in pursuit of her agenda: She issued a statement earlier today blasting a possible extension of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and will co-host a press teleconference tomorrow with Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to discuss their plan to prevent any cuts to Social Security.

Posted on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Maybe she should have bought them polo shirts

Former Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman reported yesterday that she had put another $2.6 million into her campaign on Election Day, Nov. 2, bringing her total personal investment to $144,175,806.11.

The latest, not-yet-finalized ballot tally (updated last night) shows she got 3,930,138 votes. So, Whitman spent about $36.68 out of her own pocket, not counting other contributions to her campaign, for each general-election vote she ultimately received.

FYI, if you Google $36.68, you find it’s the price for:

  • a book on wine-cellar design;
  • a pair of Lacoste shoes;
  • a Ralph Lauren polo shirt; or
  • a place in the history books as the woman who spent more out-of-pocket on her own political campaign than anyone else in American history, yet still lost even while her party did exceptionally well all across the rest of the nation.
  • Well, the last one’s not exactly on Google, but you get the picture.

    Posted on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
    Under: 2010 governor's race, campaign finance, Meg Whitman | 7 Comments »

    Goodwin Liu: To filibuster or not to filibuster

    With Republicans about to occupy more seats in the U.S. Senate, the rhetorical battle over President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees – including one from here in the East Bay – has re-ignited.

    Goodwin LiuThe President in February nominated Goodwin Liu, professor and associate dean at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School, to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate Judiciary Committee in May voted 12-7 along party lines to send Liu to the full Senate for confirmation, but amid threats of a filibuster, the Senate sent the nomination back to the President in August, refusing to debate and vote before adjourning for its month-long recess. The president resubmitted his nomination in September, and the Judiciary Committee once again voted 12-7 that month to send the nomination to a floor vote.

    Now Senate Democrats might try to bring Liu’s nomination and several others to a vote as early as tomorrow. Some conservative leaders sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Monday urging him not to force any votes on judicial nominees during this lame-duck session, and Americans for Limited Government issued a statement today urging Senate Republicans to filibuster any such effort.

    “Senate Republicans are under no obligation to support nominees or provide political cover for the other side of the aisle,” ALG President Bill Wilson said. “Goodwin Liu is an extra-constitutional thinker who believes that the eligibility requirements for ObamaCare and other ‘welfare rights’ are perfectly within the scope of courts to interpret. With him on the bench, a single-payer system could be just one court decision away. The American people cannot take that chance.”

    “Liu also has an expansive view of the Commerce Clause, and does not even hold as an ‘absolute requirement’ that an activity even be economic in order for it to be regulated. Guess what? That encapsulates all activity,” Wilson continued. “These radical judicial picks, re-nominated by Obama, remind the American people of why judges matter. It is up to the Senate Republicans to put the brakes on nominees whose extralegal views warp and distort the Constitution and thus undermine the rule of law. America does not need more ideologues on the bench.”

    But even as the Senate might take up Liu’s nomination tomorrow, the American Constitution Society will be hosting a panel discussion at the National Press Club “to discuss Senate obstruction and the nominee pipeline, and provide an insiders’ perspective on nomination hearings and the political struggles behind them.”

    UPDATE @ 11:55 A.M.: I see now that Richard Painter – formerly President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, now a law professor supporting Liu’s confirmation – blogged today that some conservatives aren’t listening to their own words from a few years ago regarding up-or-down votes for judicial nominees:

    Public opinion of Members of Congress (both parties) these days is lower, far lower, than it was in the days when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge used just the right term to describe what he saw going on when Senators filibustered legislation. Those of us who care about the future of the judiciary should make it clear that the delay must stop.

    This does not mean the Senators should vote “yes”. They can vote “no”. But they should vote.

    Posted on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
    Under: Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

    Jewish groups clash in South Berkeley

    Two people were pepper-sprayed and police were summoned when pro-Israel activists crashed the meeting of a Jewish peace organization last night in Berkeley.

    Jewish Voice for Peace says several dozen of its members were meeting in the South Berkeley Senior Center when up to a dozen members of StandWithUs/San Francisco Voice For Israel arrived to disrupt and videotape the gathering.

    But, predictably, this is quickly becoming a they-said, she-said. Lots more after the jump…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010
    Under: Berkeley, Israel | 21 Comments »

    CD11: Harmer attends freshman orientation



    Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney may have declared victory last week but that hasn’t stopped challenger and GOP nominee David Harmer from attending his party’s freshman orientation session in Washington, D.C.

    “Since we don’t yet know whether I’ll become a new member of Congress, I’m participating with a unique blend of apprehension and hope,” Harmer wrote in a fund-raising appeal email late this afternoon.

    As of today, McNerney holds a slim 1,751-vote lead over Harmer, or 0.76 percent of the total vote.  McNerney declared himself the victor last week, calling it statistically unlikely that Harmer could close the gap with the remaining uncounted votes. Harmer has refused to concede.

    Alameda County has finished its count, while Santa Clara County had fewer than 500 ballots left to process in the 11th District.

    San Joaquin County, where 55 percent of the 11th District’s voter live, had processed 3,500 of its approximately 9,000 uncounted provisional ballots as of this afternoon but not all of those ballots are in the 11th District.  (About half the county is in the 11th District.)

    Harmer held a 4 percentage point lead in San Joaquin County. Unlike his counterparts in other 11th District counties, Registrar Austin Erdman said he has not segregated the congressional ballots due to close races in other parts of the county. Erdman said earlier today that he expects to post an updated countywide tally on Tuesday. (Update: Erdman said that figure will not include provisionals. He said he will post the provisional results when his office has finished processing all the provisional ballots. He hopes to finish before the Thanksgiving holiday next week.)

    Contra Costa County will begin processing the 1,830 uncounted provisional ballots from the 11th District on Tuesday, said Registrar Steve Weir.  Harmer was holding a 0.2 percentage point lead in Contra Costa, or 118 votes.  In response to a lawsuit filed by the California Republican Party, Weir will set up observation stations for both sides to observe the provisional ballot processing for the remaining 11th District votes.

    Here is Harmer’s full email, which serves as a plea for cash, too:

    I’m writing from the Capitol in Washington, D.C., where I’m attending the orientation for new members of Congress. Since we don’t yet know whether I’ll become a new member of Congress, I’m participating with a unique blend of apprehension and hope.

    Last night, at a dinner for the Republican freshmen in the Capitol’s magnificent Statuary Hall, I sat just a few feet from the site of John Quincy Adams’s old desk as Republican Leader and soon-to-be Speaker of the House John Boehner spoke of our charge from the American people. His watchword was humility; his counsel, servant leadership. He is determined to restore representation as the founders intended — a House that does the people’s business through the cumbersome, unpredictable, messy, but democratic means of legislation. He envisions a House where Representatives are actual legislators — not merely voters on proposals negotiated behind closed doors, but daily participants in the process of investigation, persuasion, negotiation, and debate.

    For California to fail to contribute to this historic change in leadership, mission, and tone would be tragic, but it’s a very real risk. The wave that swept the rest of the nation, resulting in well over 60 net new Republican seats, seems to have washed up against the eastern flank of the Sierras without crossing their crest. So far Republicans haven’t picked up a single one of California’s 53 seats in the U.S. House. But the 11th District is still in play.

    To ensure an accurate count of the remaining ballots, to prepare for a possible recount, and to do our best to complete the campaign successfully, we need to raise much more money. If you haven’t already done so, please consider contributing to our recount fund. Contributions of any amount are welcome, appreciated, and needed.

    Yours truly,

    David Harmer

    P.S. Several of the freshmen here were already my friends. This wonderful week is giving me the opportunity to strengthen my relationships with them and to become acquainted with the others. They are tremendously supportive. They know how hard you’ve worked, how generously you’ve contributed, and how earnestly you’re praying for our campaign’s eventual success. Many of them are joining you in contributing to the recount fund — so you’re in very good company.

    Posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010
    Under: 2010 election, congressional district 11 | 19 Comments »