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Archive for May, 2011

Hot rhetoric on debt-limit vote

The House voted today against a bill that would’ve increased the nation’s debt limit; the vote was 97-318, with seven voting “present” and nine not voting.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the vote “shows the House is listening to the American people.”

“The Obama Administration and congressional Democrats have repeatedly asked for a debt limit hike without any spending cuts and budget reforms, and the American people simply will not tolerate it,” said Boehner, who timed the vote so it would come just before tomorrow’s Republican caucus meeting with President Obama. “Raising the debt limit without major spending cuts and meaningful reforms would hurt our economy and destroy more jobs, adding to our debt crisis. Today the House stood with the American people and said very clearly that this course of action is unacceptable. Republicans have passed a budget and outlined a pro-growth job creation plan that pays down our debt over time. We need to create a better environment for private-sector job growth by stopping Washington from spending money it doesn’t have, not by raising taxes and adding more debt onto the backs of our kids and grandkids.”

But not all who voted against this bill actually oppose raising the debt limit without the cuts and reforms the GOP is seeking.

Today’s legislation, HR 1954, contains a congressional finding “that the President’s budget proposal, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012, necessitates an increase in the statutory debt limit of $2,406,000,000,000.” That’s horsepucky, many Democrats say, blaming the nation’s huge debt instead on Bush-era warmaking and tax cuts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, voted against the bill.

“Our country’s debt is a serious issue that must be addressed. Unfortunately, the bill put forward by the Republican Majority today was just a political ploy. Republican House leaders wrote and offered this bill and then urged their own members to vote against it,” McNerney said. “Instead of wasting time on legislation that’s designed to fail, House Republicans should focus on reaching a bipartisan solution that includes reasonable measures to restrain future spending and start paying down the debt.”

Of course, for McNerney – a perennial GOP electoral target – it was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay had issued a statement this morning saying “(i)f McNerney votes today to continue these policies free from any spending cuts, he’ll be requiring more tax dollars from the pockets of California families who all share the increasing government debt burden to foreign countries like China.”

After McNerney voted against the bill, Lindsay put out another release saying McNerney “and the Democrat leaders he blindly followed today are clearly trying to run for cover after realizing the political costs their party is taking for demanding more debt without any real spending cuts to show for it. Instead of dancing around the issue, McNerney and his fellow Democrats need to demonstrate a commitment to fiscal reform that his California constituents overwhelmingly demand.”

Here’s what Pelosi had to say about who’s dancing around what:

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Under: George Miller, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Jerry Brown cuts 400 jobs at state prisons HQ

Gov. Jerry Brown brought the ax down today at the state prison system’s headquarters, eliminating 400 jobs to save $30 million.

The cut at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation‘s head office returns its bureaucratic workforce to 2005 levels, so that it now accounts for less than 5 percent of CDCR’s total workforce; 600 other headquarters positions already had been eliminated in the past 18 months.

“This is a long overdue action to make CDCR more efficient while cutting costs,” Brown said in a news release.

CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said the “new executive structure is designed to create a leaner organization, clarify functions and responsibilities, delegate decision-making authority and eliminate duplicative functions.”

The governor’s office says this restructuring includes cutting 32 executive-level positions including the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and five chief deputy secretaries. More than 100 manager and supervisor positions will be eliminated, increasing responsibilities in many areas for those remaining. This round of cuts affects more than 90 personnel classifications.

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, state budget, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

Garamendi returns from Afghanistan

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove

East Bay Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, has returned from a three-day trip to Afghanistan even more convinced that the U.S. should swiftly withdraw its military troops.

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Under: Congressional District 10, John Garamendi | 6 Comments »

Marin post office renamed for soldier killed in Iraq

Jake VellozaPresident Barack Obama today signed into law a bill renaming the post office in Marin County’s Inverness in memory of U.S. Army Spc. Jake Robert Velloza, who was killed in May 2009 near Mosul, Iraq.

“I am so pleased that the President has chosen to honor the memory of one of the North Bay’s finest by signing my legislation,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said in a news release. “Jake Velloza, like so many brave men and women before him, signed up for some of the most difficult and dangerous work imaginable. He loved his country enough to give his life for it, and his community and the entire nation are grateful. America is strong and great because of selfless patriots like him.

“With his signature today, the President has ensured that Jake Velloza’s name, and a reminder of his service, will be permanently displayed in his hometown. Future generations will now know how Jake Velloza sacrificed for them.”

Velloza grew up in Inverness and attended Tomales High School before joining the Army in 2006; he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. He’s buried at Olema Cemetery.

Woolsey’s H.R. 793, introduced in February, is the first post office naming bill to pass Congress and be signed by the President this year. Information on a public ceremony at the post office will be released soon; in the meantime, Velloza’s parents, Bob and Susan Velloza, and fiancé, Danielle Erwin, are declining to be interviewed.

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Under: Iraq, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

First Lady to speak in Oakland June 14

The White House, which had announced last week that First Lady Michelle Obama would visit the Bay Area on Tuesday, June 14, today specified that she’ll speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraising breakfast in Oakland and then a DNC fundraising luncheon in San Francisco.

The previous morning, she’ll be at the Writers Guild Theater in Los Angeles for an event with a task force consisting of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Directors Guild of America, Producers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America West, focused on portraying the experiences of today’s military families in film, television and digital media. Later Monday, she’ll speak at a DNC luncheon in Pasadena and a DNC dinner in Los Angeles.

Posted on Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

CoCo grand jury speaks on pension reform

A month before labor contracts with the vast majority of Contra Costa County government employees expire, the civil grand jury issued its pension reform package.

The report came out today. The grand jury recommends the county:

  • Seek concessions in upcoming union talks that will offset rising pension costs.
  • Prioritize employee benefit changes that produce immediate cost savings, while pursing legislative relief in other areas.
  • Move immediately in areas where the board of supervisors has legal authority to act without union authority or legislative change, although there aren’t many and they are disputed.
  • Require employees to pay more toward their pension costs.
  • Seek legislation that would permit the placement of pension cap so that no employee receives a pension payment higher than what he or she earned while on the job.

Read the full report below.


Grand_Jury_Pension_Reform_1105

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: pension reform | 7 Comments »

Follow the money in Hercules

The two targets of the city council recall in Hercules are out-raising and out-spending their challengers as the incumbents strive to save their political careers.

Councilwoman Joann Ward topped the list with $8,269 in contributions although $8,000 came from her own bank account, according to the campaign finance reports filed late Thursday.  The bulk of the money was spent on campaign literature and postage.

The reports include expenses and funds collected as of May 21. It is the last report before the June 7 election, although candidates are required to post within 24 hours expenses and contributions of $1,000 or greater.

Councilman Don Kuehne loaned his campaign $3,000 and received $2,000 from IBEW 302 Community Candidates Political Action Committee of Sacramento.

Like Ward, most of his expenses were for literature and postage.

Those numbers will probably rise substantially to reflect the costs of campaign mailers sent out in the past couple of days and after the May 21 cut-off date.

Here is rundown of the dollars for all the candidates. You may also click on the link for each committee and view the report.

RUNNING FOR SEAT VACATED BY ED BALICO

  • Mark Anthony JonesRaised $2,941. Spent $1,732. Reported $1,209 in the bank. No personal loans.
  • Sherry McCoyRaised $4,460. Spent $3,252. Reported $1,207 in the bank. No personal loans.
  • Dan RomeroRaised $2,397. Spent $3,461. Reported $1,334 in the bank. No personal loans.

RECALL TARGET COUNCILMAN DON KUEHNE AND CANDIDATE SEEKING TO REPLACE HIM*

RECALL TARGET COUNCILWOMAN JOANN WARD AND CANDIDATES SEEKING TO REPLACE HER*

INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEES

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa politics | 1 Comment »

Perata moves to Orinda

Don Perata

Don Perata

Former Democratic Senate President Pro Tem and would-be Oakland mayor Don Perata has a new home address: Orinda

He bought a single-family house valued at $998,000 and opened an office of his political consulting firm in the bucolic Orinda a few months ago.

Perata didn’t return my call, so only he and his confidants know why he moved to the sunny side of the Caldecott Tunnel just months after his high-profile loss in Oakland’s first ranked-choice mayoral election last November.

Whatever Perata’s reasons, Orinda Councilwoman Amy Worth says “we are thrilled to have someone of Don’s stature choose to live in Orinda. We welcome him.”

But will local electeds still smile if the savvy former politician gets a bee in his bonnet and runs for the Orinda City Council or perhaps the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors?

I’m just asking.

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 8 Comments »

Chevron loses bid to dump appeals board member

The Contra Costa Assessment Appeals Board has upheld the appointment of attorney Arthur Walenta to the three-member panel that will rule on Chevron’s multi-million-dollar property value appeal. (Read the five-page decision below.)

Chevron sought Walenta’s disqualification, saying that as an ex-county attorney who relies on the public agency for his pension and benefits, he is inherently biased in favor of his former employer.

Fellow Appeals Board member Clark Wallace, who ruled on the request, rejected Chevron’s assertions on all counts.

The oil company failed to prove any real or perceived bias and “Any effect of the Assessment Appeals Board’s decision on Walenta’s pension is too remote, contingent and speculative to be a financial interest that requires his disqualification,” Wallace wrote in the five-page decision.

Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who appointed Walenta to the Appeals Board, concurred.

“Keeping a Harvard-educated lawyer with integrity and assessment appeals experience on the panel will serve the public interest in getting to a fair resolution of this issue,” Gioia said.

A successful appeal of Chevron’s 2007-2009 assessed value could result in the county and other property tax beneficiaries repaying the oil company up to $60 million.

The oil company successfully appealed its 2004-2006 valuation, which triggered a refund of $18 million from the county’s property tax beneficiaries including cities, schools, fire, water and other special districts. Chevron and the county are countersuing the appeals board decision in Superior Court.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 assessed valuation, which won’t be heard until after the resolution of the 2007-2009 dispute. Hearings could start late this summer or early fall.


Chevron decision

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County | 1 Comment »

Congress extends Patriot Act sections for 4 years

Congress voted yesterday to extend several controversial parts of the Patriot Act for four more years.

The Senate approved S.990 on a 72 to 23 vote, with both of California’s senators in support; the House passed it on a 250 to 153 vote, with no support from any Bay Area member. President Obama signed it into law minutes before the provisions would’ve expired.

The votes made strange bedfellows, with libertarian-leaning Republicans standing with some of Congress’ most liberal Democrats in opposition.

Extended were provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

Civil liberties advocates and much of the Bay Area’s House delegation had believed — especially now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead – this was the right time to reassess the nation’s balance of security measures and civil liberties.

But the fix was in a week ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a deal for an amendment-free extension until June 1, 2015.

In February, all Bay Area House members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, had voted against extending these provisions; McNerney had supported extending them until December, but ultimately they were extended for only 90 days and are set to expire at the end of the month. McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh in February had said the congressman “has serious concerns with this legislation and believes that we must make substantial changes to the law in order to better preserve our country’s most fundamental civil liberties. However, in the meantime, allowing the policy to expire without warning and a comprehensive debate on our security policies would not be advisable.”

Earlier this month, Hersh said McNerney “continues to have major concerns about the Patriot Act. He believes there must be substantial changes made to the law in order to better preserve our civil liberties. A bill hasn’t been released yet, so Congressman McNerney wants to see the legislation before reaching a decision.”

On Thursday, McNerney joined the rest of the Bay Area delegation in opposing the extension. He issued a statement afterward reiterating his concern about freedoms and noting this extension continues the policies without reform. “That is simply not in our country’s best interest. Instead, we should pursue balanced policies that keep our country safe and protect our civil liberties.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement saying the law doesn’t properly balance national security with protection of civil liberties.

“I opposed the extension of the PATRIOT Act because we cannot sacrifice fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy, in our effort to manage the threat of terrorism. Our basic civil liberties, which include access to our library records, medical records, and personal information about private residences and businesses, are not safe from the PATRIOT Act,” she said. “I will continue to push for an end to invasive intelligence gathering tactics that come at the expense of vital civil liberties, many of which have been justified by the overly broad executive branch authorization I opposed in the wake of 9/11.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said the extension means “Congress has missed yet another opportunity to make necessary changes to protect our privacy. It means we’re likely to see more abuse of Patriot Act powers by law enforcement. Next time it’s given the opportunity, Congress should consider prioritizing Americans’ civil liberties by passing actual Patriot Act reform.”

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had authored legislation to extend the provisions through the end of 2013. Her office earlier this month referred me to a February floor speech in which she said these provisions are used often and believes “that being able to have good intelligence is what prevents an attack against a New York subway or air cargo plane. It is what keeps this homeland safe, and it is what allows us to get ahead of a terrorist attack. Without them “… we put our nation in jeopardy.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and its reauthorizations in 2006 and in February, saying it gives law enforcement the tools it needs to keep Americans safe. She had expressed concern, however, over provisions such as seizure of library records, and wanted those areas tightened up.

Boxer had supported an amendment authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., which she said would’ve added some checks and balances. She was disappointed that it didn’t get a vote, but voted for the extension anyway because “any delays in providing law enforcement officials the tools they need to disrupt terrorist plots and to find those who would harm our country would be unacceptable.”

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid, Jerry McNerney, Mitch McConnell, national security, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 2 Comments »