Lee urges Boehner to hold floor vote on Libya

Second-guessing on both sides of the aisle of President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force in Libya might be creating some strange bedfellows in Congress.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, last night led four colleagues – Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles; and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. – in sending a letter urging House Speaker John Boehner, D-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to hold a debate and floor vote on the President’s authority to continue using military force in Libya.

The lawmakers noted the Constitution invests Congress with the responsibility to declare war, and that Congress has a responsibility to oversee and provide for such commitments.

“While we firmly believe that a robust debate and up-or-down floor vote should have occurred in advance of U.S. military action in Libya, it is without question that such measures are still urgently required,” they wrote. “Beyond defending Congressional authority in these matters, these deliberations are essential to ensuring that we as a country fully debate and understand the strategic goals, costs, and long-term consequences of military action in Libya.”

They went on to note that the Defense Department estimated the first week’s cost of our military involvement in Libya at $600 million, with ongoing costs of as much as $100 million per week. “At a time of severe economic distress here at home, as well as in recognition of the continued strain on our military service members already engaged in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these concerns are especially worthy of congressional deliberation,” they wrote.


California has a lot of water – for now

California may be dangerously low on money, but at least it has water – for now.

As was expected, Gov. Jerry Brown today proclaimed an end to the state’s drought after big increases in statewide rainfall and mountain snowpack. He urged Californians, however, to keep conserving water.

“While this season’s storms have lifted us out of the drought, it’s critical that Californians continue to watch their water use,” Brown said in a news release. “Drought or no drought, demand for water in California always outstrips supply. Continued conservation is key.”

Brown’s proclamation followed the Department of Water Resources’ fourth snow survey of the season, which found that water content in California’s mountain snowpack is 165 percent of the April 1 full season average.

Most of California’s major reservoirs are also above normal storage levels. Butte County’s Lake Oroville – the State Water Project’s principal reservoir – is at 104 percent of average for the date, or about 80 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity. And Lake Shasta north of Redding – the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir – is at 111 percent of average for the date, or about 91 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity.

DWR estimates it will be able to deliver 70 percent of requested State Water Project water this year, an estimate that probably will be adjusted upward as hydrologists make adjustments later for snowpack and runoff readings.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said that by some measures, California’s drought never really ends.

“Even with all this rain and snow, farmers in parts of the Central Valley still face water shortages because of conflicts over endangered species fish protection and other restrictions,” Wenger said in a news release. “The federal Central Valley Project is offering only two-thirds of contract supplies this year to many of its farm customers, and supplies from the State Water Project will be only slightly better. In Southern California, soaring water prices force farmers to cut down productive avocado trees. Farmers have made significant improvement in water efficiency—producing ‘more crop per drop’—and that will continue. But continued shortages force many farmers into tough decisions about whether they can sustain their crops and their businesses.”

Wenger said much of the water swelling California rivers and streams this spring represents “a lost opportunity.”

“All of us will wish we had that water available when we have our next dry winter. That could be next year, or the year after, but we know drought will come again, probably soon,” he said. “California needs more reservoirs to capture more of these flood flows when they occur, so we can both lessen the chances for catastrophic floods and bank that water for the dry years we know will come.”

To that end, he urged Brown to push for passage of the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012, an $11.14 billion bond ballot measure to bankroll an overhaul of the state’s water system. Big farm groups and some labor unions representing construction workers support the measure, while some lawmakers say its weighted down with pork-barrel spending and many environmentalists object to agricultural water subsidies, water privatization, dam construction and insufficient emphasis on conservation and recycling.

Read Brown’s proclamation, after the jump…
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Everyone’s talking about budget talks gone bust

Budget talks in Sacramento have been declared dead, and the wires are abuzz with posturing for whatever comes next.

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

Jerry Brown“Yesterday, I stopped the discussions that I had been conducting with various members of the Republican party regarding our state’s massive deficit.

“The budget plan that I put forth is balanced between deep cuts and extensions of currently existing taxes and I believe it is in the best interest of California. Under our constitution, however, two Republicans from the Assembly and two from the Senate must agree before this matter can be put to the people.

“Each and every Republican legislator I’ve spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands.

“Let me be clear: I support pension reform, regulatory reform and a spending cap and offered specific and detailed proposals for each of these during our discussions. While we made significant progress on these reform issues, the Republicans continued to insist on including demands that would materially undermine any semblance of a balanced budget. In fact, they sought to worsen the state’s problem by creating a $4 billion hole in the budget.

“One glaring example is the taxation of multinational corporations. My budget plan requires that gigantic corporations be treated the same as individual taxpayers and not be allowed to choose their preferred tax rate.

“This is the so-called single sales factor. The Republicans demand that out-of-state corporations that keep jobs out of California be given a billion dollar tax break that will come from our schoolchildren, public safety and our universities. This I am not willing to do.

“Much is at stake, and in the coming weeks I will focus my efforts on speaking directly to Californians and coming up with honest and real solutions to our budget crisis.

Attached is my letter to Republican Leader Dutton last Friday that outlines in greater detail my position.”

From state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, who was among the five GOP Senators bargaining with Brown:

“I fully recognize that doing what’s right for my constituents and getting California back on track will entail tough decisions to fundamentally change the way our government works for the people it serves. That’s the reason I joined my colleagues in pushing for pension reform, a hard cap on state spending and measures to spur job creation – all of which we believed would help address the ongoing structural problems that contribute to our state’s persistent multibillion-dollar deficit.

“I appreciate Governor Brown’s willingness to engage on these issues and the progress that was made as a result. However, finding agreement required an equal willingness from the public-employee unions, trial attorneys and other stakeholders to join our effort to get California moving again – a willingness that was stunningly absent from our conversations. As a result of these groups’ refusal to challenge the status quo, it has become clear the governor and legislative Democrats are not in a position to work with us to pass the measures necessary to move California forward.

“Thus, I do not foresee a path to compromise.”

From California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski:

“Gov. Brown’s balanced approach to solving our state’s budget crisis offered California a much-needed pathway to stability and an end to our long budget nightmare. It’s truly sad that Republican legislators have put their own narrow interests above the needs of our state by blocking a vote of the people on solving our budget crisis. It appears the Republicans were never negotiating in good faith. Their ever-growing list of inflexible demands – most of which had nothing to do with our current budget crisis — frustrated any hope of compromise.

“By refusing to allow a vote of the people on issues that profoundly impact us all, Republicans have completely abdicated their responsibility to their constituents and our state. Instead of governing responsibly, they continue to take their marching orders from out-of-state ideologues and radio talk show hosts. Republicans have shown they are more willing to protect tax handouts for billion-dollar corporations than protect our kids’ schools. Their failure to make any compromises shows how out of touch they’ve become.

“If the Republicans aren’t willing to govern, Gov. Brown and the Democrats must do so without them. There’s simply too much at stake. We urge Gov. Brown to move forward with a fair budget that saves our schools, public safety and other vital services from even deeper, more devastating cuts.”

From state Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, another of those five GOP senators:

“Recent polling clearly shows Republican reforms have the backing of the majority of Californians. It is a sad commentary that the best interests of California play second fiddle to the self-serving interests of public employee unions. Unfortunately the go-to answer for Democrats always seems to be more taxes. Nothing has changed.”

UPDATE @ 6:02 P.M.: From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“Democrats have made the tough decisions necessary to close an historic budget deficit. While Republican rhetoric suggests they are open to working with us, their actions have not reflected their public statements. In fact, over the past several days, they have shown their true priority is demanding tax cuts for huge, out-of-state corporations, and other costly proposals that would have put a four billion dollar hole in the budget. I am deeply disappointed they have refused to let the people of California have a say in how we close the deficit and put our fiscal house in order.

“Regardless, we must move forward on finding solutions that reflect the spirit of the Governor’s budget proposal. We have approved more than 14 billion dollars in solutions to close a 26 billion dollar deficit, and we will meet our constitutional obligation to approve the budget by June 15. One thing is clear: the people of California would be well served if Republican actions matched their rhetoric, because we need to move forward together, as a state, to close this deficit.”

UPDATE @ 6:07 P.M.: From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“I want to commend the governor for putting out an honest budget and trying to reach across party lines. Unfortunately, the Republican Party as a whole appears to want to be irrelevant when it comes to governing in California and it seems intent on achieving that objective.

“The only responsible way to resolve the state’s structural deficit once and for all is to make deep cuts and extend existing revenue. We stepped up with cuts, passing legislation that erased $14 billion of the deficit. On the revenue question, all we asked was that the minority party give Californians the right to vote on whether to double those cuts or instead extend existing taxes for five years. The Republicans denied the people that opportunity. In doing so, they put corporate tax breaks ahead of our children and students, and put private-sector developer subsidies ahead of public safety. I don’t believe their decision reflects the will and the values of the majority of Californians.

“The deadline to pass a balanced budget is June 15 and we will meet that deadline. We have a job to do and we’ll do it.”


Boxer, Lee differ on Obama’s Libya policy

Even after President Barack Obama laid out his rationale for military intervention in Libya’s civil war yesterday, lawmakers from the Bay Area who are among the most liberal members of their respective chambers remain split on whether it was a wise move.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week said she felt the President had the Senate’s support in launching the air attacks, and had this to say after the President’s speech yesterday:

“President Obama reminded the country tonight of why it was critical for the international community to take action to prevent the mass slaughter of innocent men, women and children by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.

“I am pleased that NATO is now assuming control of the mission, and it is important that partners in the Arab League, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, continue to play an active role in enforcing the no-fly zone and ensuring the protection of the Libyan people.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, an early and ardent supporter of Obama’s candidacy who since has parted ways with him on many military matters, today said:

“The President’s speech yesterday was an important opportunity to address many of the unanswered questions about U.S. military involvement in Libya, and he was able to explain why his Administration felt compelled to intervene in Libya. Like the President, I am deeply concerned with the serious humanitarian crisis in Libya and Gaddafi’s reprehensible treatment of the Libyan people, and I believe that the U.S. should work with the international community to protect the well-established fundamental international recognition of civil and political rights. But I maintain my belief that an increased U.S. military presence in Libya could inflame the situation and, ultimately, prove counterproductive to the end goal of sustainable peace.

“I am pleased with the news that soon NATO will be leading the military effort in Libya, and I share the President’s praise for our courageous troops. But a more thorough discussion about the ramifications of U.S. military engagement in Libya should have occurred before the recent action was taken. Congress must have an opportunity for a robust debate on the risks associated with committing our military resources to Libya, especially with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still being fought.”


Rights groups say local cops should shun FBI

Civil rights watchdog groups say police in Oakland, San Francisco and other cities should stop working with the FBI on terrorism investigations so long as doing so means they can violate local privacy policies.

“Under the state constitution and local policies, Californians are protected against government intelligence gathering unless there is a factual basis to suspect them of wrongdoing,” Alan Schlosser, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s legal director, said in a news release today. “It is now clear that the FBI has been authorized to conduct thousands of investigations that are just fishing expeditions and run contrary to California law. It is an outrage that San Francisco and Oakland police officials are not being forthcoming about whether their JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) officers are complying with state and local law.”

The ACLU’s complaint comes as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., holds a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing today on civil rights violations against American Muslims, coming soon after a New York Times report that the FBI is using intelligence gathering powers expanded significantly during the Bush Administration to investigate thousands of people and groups without any factual evidence that they have done anything wrong. The FBI admits having compiled 70,000 such files on Americans without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.

Local police departments including those in Oakland and San Francisco assign officers to a Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which they cooperate with FBI investigations. They do so under “memorandums of understanding” with the FBI, which in the past included assurances that officers must follow state law and department guidelines.

But when civil rights groups used the Freedom of Information Act to get a look at the standard MOU used in the Bay Area, they found it lets police assigned to the JTTF violate local privacy policies like those in place for years in Oakland and San Francisco, reflecting state constitutional standards.

Neither San Francisco nor Oakland police department has yet to make available its current, specific MOU with the FBI, the ACLU said; in Oakland, police officials say they didn’t keep a copy and the FBI has refused to provide a copy to the department.

So today the ACLU, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on these police agencies to sever those ties with the FBI at least until they make their MOUs public and reassure the public that officers are adhering to the standards of state and local law.

“Unless and until those agreements are made public and assurances are given that local police cannot investigate people without criminal suspicion, San Francisco and Oakland police departments must withdraw from the JTTF,” Asian Law Caucus staff attorney Veena Dubal said.

“Community trust is the most important tool of law enforcement,” said CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. “By infiltrating organizations and interviewing people who they do not suspect of any wrongdoing, the FBI is obfuscating their ability to counter domestic crime. We do not want our local law enforcement in the same predicament.”


Tauscher cancer free, says Post



Former East Bay congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, now under secretary for international security and arms control in the U.S. State Department, is cancer free, according to the Washington Post’s “What Happened To …” segment.

That’s excellent news.

Not long after her 2009 marriage to retired pilot Jim Cieslak, Tauscher  underwent chemotherapy and radiation, and then surgery to remove her esophagus.

These two make a wonderful couple and they deserve many more years together.  My best wishes for a continued clean bill of health!