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Archive for December, 2010

Group knocks Lofgren, seeks ethics panel shakeup

The current lineup of the House Ethics Committee – chaired by a South Bay lawmaker – should be disbanded and the panel entirely repopulated in the next Congress, a progressive-leaning anti-corruption watchdog group said in a letter today to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Speaker-Designate John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“The American people demand that members of Congress act with honesty and integrity,” wrote Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “It is unfortunate that some of those charged with investigating unethical conduct may themselves have handled those responsibilities in a manner allowing charges of misconduct, unfairness and partisanship to be leveled. As the likely leaders of the 112th Congress, it is imperative that you step in and take firm action to get the situation under control and instill confidence in the ethics process.”

CREW cited in its letter an alleged breakdown of relations between Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and committee staff; complaints and cross-complaints by Lofgren and Ranking Republican Jo Bonner of Alabama; Bonner’s ordering the Capitol Police to block the doors of the committee offices for a week; reports that committee members and staff argued about what documents should be subpoenaed; the suspensions of two staff investigators; intimations that Lofgren undermined staff efforts to prepare a fair and thorough case; and what it called the committee’s failure to obtain and review clearly relevant documents from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and the House Financial Services Committee’s staff.

CREW also suggested the House leaders authorize an investigation into exactly what has happened during the inquiry into Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, including whether members or staff deliberately declined to obtain or produce either incriminating or exculpatory evidence.

“Confidence in the House ethics process already is historically low and the information slowly leaking out showing a dysfunctional committee in turmoil and disarray is sure to further diminish any remaining respect,” Sloan wrote.

Posted on Friday, December 17th, 2010
Under: U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Pair of Contra Costa electeds say ‘No thanks’

The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors this week delivered official farewells and fancy framed proclamations to retiring Sheriff Warren Rupf, District Attorney Robert Kochly, Treasurer-Tax Collector Bill Pollacek and Auditor Steve Ybarra.

Well, sort of.

Only Rupf and Kochly showed up. (See video of Tuesday’s presentations below.)

Pollacek and Ybarra declined to participate. Supervisor John Gioia told the audience that both men had opted to receive their proclamations at another time. That isn’t entirely true.

Word is the two men told the board to take their plaques and put them where the sun don’t shine. Well, perhaps they didn’t use those exact words. But don’t expect either Pollacek or Ybarra to make room on their living room walls for them.

There’s no love between Ybarra and several members of the board. Several  members publicly accused Ybarra of exacting political revenge when he released an unprecedented and highly critical audit of how Supervisor Federal Glover was spending the proceeds of the Keller Canyon mitigation fund.

And Ybarra says Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho has treated him and his staff with disdain ever since he endorsed her opponent, Guy Houston, in 2008.

As countywide, independent elected officials, Pollacek and Ybarra have often said they answered to the voters, not the Board of Supervisors, despite the board’s control over their budgets. They didn’t like what they viewed as arrogant attempts to relegate them to the status of a mere department head by people who were elected by a smaller district rather than countywide.

The incoming Treasurer Russ Watts and Auditor Bob Campbell are proteges of their predecessors. It will be interesting to see how the men navigate the political scene, particularly if they are asked to endorse candidates. Supervisors Gayle Uilkema, Piepho and Glover are up for re-election in 2012.

Here are the videos of the Kockly and Rupf presentations.

Posted on Friday, December 17th, 2010
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | No Comments »

Senate OKs water safety bill with East Bay roots

The U.S. Senate yesterday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill that strengthens and clarifies standards to protect people from toxic lead in drinking water by reducing the allowable lead content in drinking water pipes, pipe fittings and plumbing fixtures.

Though authored in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and in the House by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, these new national standards arguably got their start right here in the East Bay. The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) sponsored identical legislation for California, enacted in 2006, and was among the many sponsors of this federal legislation as well.

EBMUD Governmental Affairs Manager and Special Assistant to the General Manager Randy Kanouse sent a memo to agency staffers yesterday congratulating them on the bill’s passage. “Generations of future children will lead healthier lives because of the foresight and the leadership of the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board of Directors,” he wrote.

“I am so pleased that the Senate has acted to pass this important piece of bipartisan legislation today that will help protect our children and families from dangerous lead,” Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a news release.

The Senate bill was cosponsored by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican on Boxer’s committee.

“It isn’t often that Senator Boxer and I agree on legislation,” said Inhofe, a renowned global warming skeptic who once said it’s “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” while Boxer has toiled constantly to curb it. “Yet in this case, we did. Here is an opportunity to pass a bill that will help further decrease the amount of lead in water without imposing a burden on America’s manufacturers.”

Lead can harm the nervous system and brain development, and is especially dangerous for pregnant women, infants and children. Current federal law allows plumbing fixtures that carry drinking water to have as much as 8 percent lead; this new bill says the wetted surface of such plumbing can’t contain more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead.

S. 3874 now goes to the House for consideration.

“In 21st century America, we have a responsibility to do more to protect our children and families against the lead exposure acquired through plumbing systems. Lead-free plumbing is an existing alternative, it’s affordable, and it’s time we adopt it across the nation,” Eshoo said yesterday. “California recognized the hazard lead poses and in 2006 enacted the toughest lead content standard for drinking water faucets, fittings, and plumbing systems anywhere in the world. This bill will eliminate the threat of lead in faucets and fixtures across the country.”

UPDATE @ 2:12 P.M.: The House has passed the bill on a 226-109 vote, sending it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Posted on Friday, December 17th, 2010
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, water | No Comments »

Reapportionment data comes out Tuesday

California will learn Tuesday morning whether it gains, loses or keeps the same number of congressional seats in the next decade. Click here to watch the U.S. Census Bureau’s Tuesday reapportionment press conference online. It starts at 8 a.m. PST.

Reapportionment is the process under which the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are divided among the 50 states based on population figures gathered in the decennial census. Every state is initially assigned one seat, and a calculation called the Method of Equal Proportions is applied to the remaining 385 seats.  Watch a Census Bureau video on how the formula works here. Or view an interactive nationwide map here.

California has gained at least one seat every decade since 1930, but the leading reapportionment analysts at Virgina-based Election Data Services predict the Golden State will remain at 53 seats. Here’s a look at California history:

  • 1910, gains 3 seats
  • 1920, gains 0 seats
  • 1930, gains 9 seats
  • 1940, gains 3 seats
  • 1950, gains 7 seats
  • 1960, gains 8 seats
  • 1970, gains 5 seats
  • 1980, gains 2 seats
  • 1990, gains 7 seats
  • 2000, gains 1 seat

Reapportionment is different than redistricting, the process by which political boundaries are redrawn within a state after the census.

Californians are unusually well informed about redistricting these days, thanks to a series of successful ballot measures that  stripped the Legislature of the job of drawing its own boundary maps and turned it over to an independent redistricting commission. The commission settled on its final, 14-member roster on Wednesday. Click here for information about the new panel.

On Tuesday, the Census Bureau will announce total state populations in 2010 and run the national reapportionment formula.

The detailed numbers the Redistricting Commission needs to redraw California’s congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization boundaries will not emerge from the Census Bureau until probably the end of March. The bureau will start rolling out the detailed tables in February but California is usually at the tail-end of the schedule.

In the meantime, if you are a redistricting junkie and you are dying to look at some maps or look at analysis of where districts might have to move, check out the Claremont McKenna College Rose Institute redistricting site.  Its scholars have posted a great deal of analysis, including a Dec. 8 report called ‘The 2010 Census and California’s 2011 Redistricting.” UC-Berkeley has a fabulous site, too, called the Statewide Database.

Rose Institute experts say California’s population center continues to shift away from its traditional coastal metropolitan regions toward inland communities. For example, the Bay Area has grown at a rate less than 1 percent in the past decade, significantly lower than the statewide rate of 10.4 percent.

The introduction of the citizen’s redistricting commission could result in very different political maps, the institute’s report concluded.

“With California’s new Citizens Redistricting Commission now in charge of the state’s redistricting process, incumbent legislators will no longer be able to control the effects of regional changes in California’s population,” the study said.

Posted on Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Under: redistricting, U.S. Census | No Comments »

Tauscher to sit on cyber security board

Tauscher

Tauscher

Former East Bay Rep. Ellen Tauscher, now the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security in the State Department, will serve on a board charged with addressing cyber security such as the disclosure of thousands of U.S. secret documents on Wikileaks, according to a national security blog.

State Department Creates Cyber Coordinator Post

Plan for New Position in Works Year Before WikiLeaks Breach

December 16, 2010 – Eric Chabrow, Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity.com

A newly created State Department Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, unveiled in a 242-page report issued Wednesday, is charged with uniting different parts of the department working on cyber matters to more effectively advance America’s cybersecurity interests …

The coordinator will be in the Office of the Secretary, will report to Clinton, and will be guided by a cyber advisory council, chaired by Deputy Secretary James Steinberg and including Robert D. Hormats, undersecretary for economic growth, energy and the environment; Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary for arms control and international security; and Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary for management. Other senior department officials will be consulted as appropriate.

Tauscher’s name has come up in a few stories overseas and in the U.S. about the contents of secret diplomatic documents posted by Wikileaks, including these entries at the The Guardian, Salon.com, the Jerusalem Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Posted on Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Under: Ellen Tauscher | 14 Comments »

Rep. Miller retains Dem leadership post

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

As expected, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, was re-elected as the top Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee today.

But after four years of Democratic control, Miller will have to relinquish his cherished chairmanship to the new majority.

Life in the minority is familiar territory for Miller, though. A 36-year veteran of Congress, Miller has experienced political life from both sides.

Here is what Miller had to say today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the current chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, issued the following statement after the House Democratic caucus voted today to make him the senior Democrat on the Education and Labor Committee in the 112th Congress.

“I am truly privileged to have the confidence of the House Democratic caucus to continue to be the top Democrat on the Education and Labor Committee. It has been an honor to serve as chairman during the committee’s most productive years on behalf of America’s working families and students. While the next Congress will bring new challenges, I will not lose sight of the committee’s responsibly to ensure that workers are treated fairly on the job and students can be successful in the classroom. I fully intend to work with Chairman-elect John Kline to forge consensus on important issues where we can, but I will not hesitate to stand up when special interests are put ahead of workers and students.”

Posted on Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Under: Congress, George Miller | No Comments »

Man repays 1964 jobless benefits to state, plus

The state’s budget gap has narrowed by $10,000 thanks to a debt repaid by someone California did right by almost half a century ago.

Dennis FergusonDennis Ferguson, 74, of South Carolina, recently sent the state a check for $10,000 to pay back with interest the unemployment benefits he received for about four months in 1964, after he’d been laid off as an engineer at Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s office reports.

Ferguson’s benefits for the roughly 20-week period he received aid would have totaled about $1,100, according to information provided by the State Employment Development Department. Ferguson told Lockyer’s office he wanted to show his appreciation for the help he’d received by adding “interest,” and he figured $10,000 was a “nice round figure.” On the Nov. 23 check, Ferguson wrote, “REPAYMENT FOR WHAT CALIF. DID FOR ME!”

“Anyone who is helped out when they are down ought to give something back, especially now that California has budget problems,” Ferguson told Lockyer’s office.

Because the check didn’t designate a specific recipient, state law requires that it go to public schools.

“It’s appropriate this money will go to educate our kids, because there’s a lesson to be learned here about what it means to have a sense of shared sacrifice and commitment to the common good,” Lockyer said in a news release. “On behalf of Californians, I want to express our deepest appreciation to Mr. Ferguson. I hope that as we work together to meet our budget challenges, we keep in mind his act of generosity, and the spirit it embodies.”

In a note Ferguson sent to the State Treasurer’s Office along with the check, the retire wrote, “In 1964, the State of California allowed me to collect unemployment while I attended a storefront school to learn how to program a computer. This allowed me to have a great career and I’ve been ever thankful. Please find enclosed a check for $10,000 as a repayment. Happy Thanksgiving!”

And a very Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to you, too, Mr. Ferguson.

Posted on Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Under: Bill Lockyer, state budget | 2 Comments »

East Bay prosecutor mulls bid for SF D.A.

Add Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Eshraghi Bock to the list of people considering throwing their hats in to the ring to succeed state Attorney General-elect Kamala Harris as San Francisco District Attorney.

“A lot of people from the community are encouraging me to run and I’m seriously considering it,” she told me late yesterday, confirming a rumor I’d heard.

Sharmin BockBock, 48, has been a prosecutor for 21 years and is a nationally-recognized expert in human trafficking who created and leads the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit in Alameda County, prosecuting complex human trafficking cases with a focus on sexually exploited minors. She is also directs a H.E.A.T. Watch program, providing communities, prosecutors, and police departments with the blueprint that has made Alameda County a role model in combating these crimes.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, earlier this year named Bock the 16th Assembly District’s Woman of the Year; she and others from districts around the state were honored at a March 8 ceremony at the State Capitol.

“Sharmin has been an invaluable asset to my district, the state, and nation in bringing domestic commercial sexual exploitation of minors to a level of national discussion,” Swanson said at the time, noting he’d worked closely with Bock on his legislation to increase penalties for human traffickers and put money toward aiding child victims. “Ms. Bock’s outspoken advocacy on behalf of child victims has taken the discussion to an unprecedented intellectual level, bringing state and federal law enforcement, lawyers, policymakers, and the public to the table to discuss the underground crime and its severe impact on our communities.”

California Women Lawyers last year bestowed upon Bock its top honor, the annual Fay Stender Award, given to a woman attorney who has demonstrated her commitment to under represented or disadvantaged people

Bock, an equestrian, also cofounded Paddock Cakes, a business that makes and sells horse treats; a portion of the business’ proceeds goes toward funding a safe house she hopes to establish with a therapeutic riding program for young human trafficking victims.

Bock earned an undergraduate degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1984 and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. in 1988.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom or his successor will appoint someone to fill Harris’ post as district attorney. Newsom has said that if she resigns before him, he’ll heed her recommendation for her successor.

The Chronicle has reported that others who’ve expressed interest in the appointment include attorney Bill Fazio, San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Paul Henderson, Police Commissioner and former prosecutor Jim Hammer, and David Onek, a senior fellow at the U.C. Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice. Other possibilities included Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein, daughter of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

UPDATE @ 11:38 A.M. FRIDAY: The Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos reports Katherine Feinstein might not be eligible for appointment to this job.

Posted on Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Under: Kamala Harris, San Francisco politics | 3 Comments »

Eshoo’s TV ad volume bill is signed into law

The next time you need not reach for the remote during a commercial break, thank Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.

President Barack Obama today signed into law S.2847, the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which forbids television ads from playing at a volume noticeably louder than the programs during which they air. Eshoo’s House version of the bill passed the House a year ago but wasn’t taken up in the Senate; S. 2847, introduced by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., contained Eshoo’s language and advanced this year. The Senate passed it unanimously on Sept. 29 and the House passed it on a voice vote Dec. 2.

“With the signing of the CALM Act, the top consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission for over a half century is now addressed,” Eshoo said in a statement issued this afternoon.

“Households across the country will now get the relief they deserve from the annoyance of blaringly loud television commercials. Consumers will no longer need to dive for the ‘mute’ button during commercial breaks,” she said. “My simple, two-page bill reduces the volume of television commercials, allowing them to be no louder than regular programming. It gives the control of sound back to the consumer, where it belongs. While this small bill doesn’t solve the many challenges facing our country, it is a commonsense solution for a national nuisance.”

Posted on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
Under: Anna Eshoo, U.S. House | 9 Comments »

Financial probe panel’s GOP members go rogue

Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission – a supposedly bipartisan panel that’s been probing the causes of the financial crisis that precipitated our recession – went rogue today and issued their own report (now posted at House Minority Leader John Boehner’s website), well before the entire commission is expected to issue its official report next month.

The commission, chaired by former California Treasurer and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides, has spent this past year holding hearings at sites across the country, subpoenaing documents and otherwise gathering evidence. It voted last month to delay its report from Dec. 15 until January.

The Republican commissioners – former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Atascadero; Bush economic advisor Keith Hennessey; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the top economic adviser to 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain; and Reagan White House Counsel Peter Wallison – decided not to wait, and Boehner immediately trumpeted the result.

“This eye-opening report details how government mortgage companies played a pivotal role in the financial meltdown by handing out high-risk loans to families who couldn’t afford them,” Boehner said in a statement issued this morning. “After years of being coddled and enabled by Washington politicians, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now on life support, kept afloat by taxpayers fed up with unending bailouts.”

Boehner said Congressional Republicans’ “Pledge to America” proposes “saving billions for taxpayers by ending government control of Fannie and Freddie, shrinking their portfolios, and establishing minimum capital standards. I appreciate the Republican commissioners’ efforts to get to the bottom of what happened and ensure the American people have the full story about the financial crisis. This is a report every taxpayer should read.”

But Tom McMahon, executive director of the union-backed liberal group Americans United for Change, issued a scathing reply saying the Republican commissioners’ report whitewashes Wall Street’s role in the financial collapse.

“I know the Republicans are just trying to protect their big banker buddies, but let’s give a little credit where credit is due. It was Wall Street that made bad bets with our money in the shadow banking system, which led to the lost of 8 million jobs and billions in retirement savings. No amount of revisionist history can change the enormous roll Wall Street played in this crisis,” McMahon said.

“Once again, it’s good to see these poor, helpless big banks have friends like Thomas and Holtz-Eakin on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and in Congress like Boehner and incoming House Financial Services chair Spencer Bachus,” he added. “The notion that these Republicans are still blinded by the sheen of Wall Street proves how little interest they have in getting to the real source of the economic meltdown, preferring instead to rewrite history.”

FCIC spokesman Tucker Warren e-mailed out a statement later today saying the commission’s real report will be delivered next month to the President, Congress and public, as had been announced in November.

“The report will contain facts and evidence from the Commission’s more than year-long investigation – including 19 days of public hearings, an analysis of hundreds of thousands of documents and interviews with more than 700 witnesses. The report will also include the Commission’s findings and conclusions as to the causes of the financial crisis based on this inquiry,” the statement said.

“Today some members of the Commission made public their personal views on the financial crisis. The Commission had not previously seen or had an opportunity to review what was released today. But, as it does with the views of any of its members, the Commission will review and take them into consideration.”

Posted on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
Under: economy, John Boehner, U.S. House | No Comments »