Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for March, 2013

Zoe Lofgren to present award to Aaron Swartz

Rep. Zoe Lofgren announced today that she’ll present the 2013 James Madison Award to the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz “in honor of his dedication to expanding access to public information in the digital age.”

Aaron SwartzSwartz’s family will accept the award, named in honor of President James Madison and administered by the American Library Association, which recognizes those who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know. Lofgren, D-San Jose, will present the award at a ceremony Friday night at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington, D.C.

Lofgren received this award last year for her congressional work in protecting and advancing the freedom of information, and is now drafting “Aaron’s Law” legislation to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the wire fraud statute to protect other Internet users from outsized liability for everyday activity.

Swartz – a longtime crusader against Internet censorship – was charged with two counts of wire fraud and 11 CFAA violations, carrying combined penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines plus restitution, for downloading millions of academic journal articles from a subscription-only service without authorization. He hanged himself in January in his Brooklyn apartment at age 26.

UPDATE @ 5:05 P.M. THURSDAY: Lofgren regrets she won’t be able to attend after all “because of a personal matter,” her office announced a short while ago.

Posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Under: Internet and politics, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Contra Costa gets federal domestic violence grant

Contra Costa County is among 12 U.S. counties and cities chosen to receive a new federal grant aimed at reducing domestic violence homicides by focusing on victims most at risk and abusers most likely to be lethal.

The money – $2.3 million in total, ranging from $101,658 to $200,000 per site – is part of the Justice Department’s new Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative, administered by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. After a one-year assessment phase, up to six of these 12 sites will be chosen to continue a three-year implementation phase.

Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the grants Wednesday in Rockville, Md.

“Every single day in America, three women die at the hands of their boyfriend, or their husband, or their ex-husband,” Biden said in a news release. “Many of these women have been threatened or severely abused in the past. We know what risk factors put someone in greater danger of being killed by the person they love – and that also means we have the opportunity to step in and try to prevent these murders. That’s why these grants are so important. They’ll help stop violence before it turns deadly.”

The grant program, which aims to help state and local jurisdictions reduce domestic violence homicides by identifying potential victims and monitoring high-risk offenders, is modeled after programs in Massachusetts and Maryland where coordinated teams of law enforcement, prosecutors, health professionals and victims’ services significantly reduced the domestic violence homicide rate.

The new program is based on an assessment tool that researchers have identified that can be used to reliably recognize women who may be in fatally abusive relationships. Attempted strangulation, threats with weapons, sexual assault and obsessively jealous and controlling behavior are among the markers of particularly lethal abusers. Once at-risk victims are identified, law enforcement, prosecutors, courts and service providers can take action to protect them and their families.

The other 11 demonstration sites are Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Rockdale County, Ga.; Winnebago County, Ill.; Boston; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Westchester County, N.Y.; Pitt County, N.C.; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; North Charleston, S.C.; and Rutland, Vt.

Posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Joe Biden, Public safety | 1 Comment »

Gun controllers push their message, momentum

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 today to pass a bill that would require all gun sales be subject to background checks, and congressional Democrats and their allies are looking to maximize their gun-control momentum and messaging.

Today, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a new advertisement featuring religious leaders demanding that Congress act to pass gun law reforms.

The ad concides with the start of the Papal Conclave in Vatican City, and comes just ahead of this weekend’s Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend – organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Cathedral and PICO – in which congregations across the nation will gather to reflect and act on preventing gun violence including requiring background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francsico; U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and other women in Congress will join Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, for a Capitol Hill news conference “to highlight the urgency for common-sense gun violence prevention legislation to protect our communities, families, and schools.”

On Thursday – the three-month anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. – members of MomsRising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Million Mom March (part of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence), Reston-Herndon Alliance to End Gun Violence, and other concerned citizens will deliver a petition with more than 150,000 signatures on it to National Rifle Association President David Keene at his Fairfax, Va. office. The petition urges the NRA to support common-sense gun safety laws.

On Friday, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, will chair the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force’s hearing on “The Need for Background Checks: Preventing Criminals and the Dangerously Mentally Ill from Getting Guns” at the Capitol. Panelists are expected to include Carol Gaxiola of Arizona, the mother of gun violence victim; Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Joseph Bielevicz, a detective with the Pittsburgh Police Firearms Tracking Unit; Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo; Joe Deaser, owner of the Capital Gun Club in Roseville, Calif.; and Jesse Ogas of Colorado, a hunter, sportsman, gun owner and former NRA Member.

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, gun control, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

A few upcoming Bay Area political events

Julian Castro at DNCThis Saturday, March 16, the Peralta Community College District presents the second installment of the 2012/2013 Barbara Lee-Elihu Harris Lecture Series with a speech from Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Tex., and a featured speaker at last year’s Democratic National Convention. Castro’s address on “Moving Forward… Together” is co-produced by the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center and Merritt College. The 7 p.m. event at the Oakland Marriott City Center, 1001 Broadway, is free of charge but space is limited and so reservations are encouraged; call 510-434-3988.

Carly FiorinaOn Thursday, March 21, former HP CEO and 2010 Republican U.S. Senate nominee Carly Fiorina will speak to the Commonwealth Club of California on “our financial future and the next tech revolution.” The club says Fiorina, now chairwoman of Good360.com and a CNBC contributor, “will share her thoughts on how the U.S. and California are performing in terms of innovation, job creation and economic growth.” Tickets to the 7 p.m. event at the Schutlz Cultural Hall in the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way in Palo Alto, cost $20 for the public, $12 for club members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online.

George MillerAnd way out on May 4, donors are invited to help Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, celebrate his 68th birthday (which actually is May 17) at a fundraiser with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, at the Shadelands Ranch, 2660 Ygnacio Valley Road in Walnut Creek. The event aims “to support George’s re-election campaign and George and Nancy’s efforts to win back the House of Representatives,” the invitation says. Tickets start at $125 each.

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Calendar, Carly Fiorina, George Miller, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Kamala Harris names Oakland attorney to FPPC

An Oakland attorney has been named to California’s political watchdog agency by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Eric Casher, 34, will serve a four-year term on the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Casher practices law at Meyers Nave in Oakland; he serves on the boards of the California Bar Foundation and the Charles Houston Bar Association, and in 2011 was recognized by the National Bar Association as one of the “Nation’s Best Advocates, 40 Under 40.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC-Berkeley and a law degree from the UC Hastings College of the Law.

Also, Casher chaired a Young Professionals Finance Committee for Harris’ 2010 campaign for attorney general and, like Harris, was an active supporter of and fundraiser for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

“Eric’s commitment to justice, fairness and the rule of law will make him a strong asset on the Fair Political Practices Commission,” Harris said in a news release. “The people of California will be well-served by his diligence and his judgment.”

The five-member FPPC adopts and amends political and campaign-finance regulations, helps agencies and officials with record-keeping and reporting, maintains economic-interest records and investigates and punishes violations of the Political Reform Act. The governor appoints two commissioners, and the remaining three appointments are made by the state attorney general, the secretary of state and the state controller.

Posted on Monday, March 11th, 2013
Under: campaign finance, Kamala Harris | 1 Comment »

Speier readies bill to reform military justice

Hot on the heels of stinging comments about military sex crimes made by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at two Santa Cruz police officers’ funeral Thursday, a Bay Area congresswoman will introduce a bill she says would help reform the system.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, will introduce her Military Judicial Reform Act to strip military commanders of their power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial. It’s inspired by the recent case of a lieutenant general at Aviano Air Base overturning the sexual-assault conviction of an officer who had been sentenced by a jury of his peers to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.

Speier’s office says a written statement from the Aviano victim will be read at her Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday by Nancy Parrish, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. Also scheduled to speak are Susan Burke, an attorney who has filed lawsuits on behalf of dozens of victims of military rape or sexual assault, and Kirby Dick, the director of the Academy-Award-nominated documentary “The Invisible War.”

Speier last year carried a bill to create a Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Council, composed mainly of civilians, as an independent entity outside the Defense Department’s chain of command. This council would appoint and advise an office responsible for investigating, preventing and reducing sexual assaults, and a director responsible for overseeing prosecution of all sex offenses in the military. Though it had 133 cosponsors, the bill never made it out of committee.

Posted on Friday, March 8th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

Mark Leno touts bill to end Cow Palace gun shows

The San Mateo and San Francisco boards of supervisors would have to pass resolutions supporting a gun show at the Cow Palace before any such events could be held there in the future, under a bill by state Sen. Mark Leno.

Those boards in the past have unanimously adopted resolutions urging the Legislature to end gun shows at the Cow Palace, an indoor arena on the Daly City-San Francisco border that’s owned and operated by the state Department of Agriculture’s Division of Fairs and Expositions.

So, Leno’s SB 475 would almost surely be the death knell for gun shows at what may be their most popular Northern California venue.

The Crossroads of the West Gun Show attracted thousands of people to the Cow Palace in January, less than a month after the shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school brought calls for new gun-control laws – calls which fueled a firearms feeding frenzy. People lined up hours in advance to get in.

That same Utah-based gun-show operator is scheduled to return to the Cow Palace for shows on April 13-14, June 29-30, Sept. 14-15 and Nov. 2-3.

Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill Feb. 21 but held a news conference with local officials Friday outside the Cow Palace.

“For years, residents, community organizations and elected leaders from the neighborhoods surrounding Cow Palace have asked to have a voice in the decision to hold gun shows in their backyards, but they have been ignored,” Leno said in a news release. “Meanwhile, firearms related crimes persist in these communities, tearing apart the lives of innocent families who reside in the surrounding area. We must give local communities a say in determining whether they want gun shows in their neighborhoods, especially when they live in daily fear of gun violence.”

Leno noted the Cow Palace lies directly across from the Sunnydale public housing project and close to Visitacion Valley, Bayview-Hunters Point and the Mission District – a where many of San Francisco’s homicides and gun seizures occur.

San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen said gun violence has devastating impact on the community. “We have been working for years on the local level to do everything possible to limit unlicensed access to firearms and ammunition in an effort to address this violence. This proposed legislation will give San Francisco residents a needed voice in deciding the activities that go on in our own backyard.”

Leno authored two previous bills that would have banned gun shows at Cow Palace. The most recent bill, SB 585, was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.

The state Senate yesterday voted 31-0 to pass Leno’s SB 140, which would let the state Justice Department use surplus money from firearm background check fees to beef up the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) program, which identifies and confiscates handguns and assault weapons from those no longer legally allowed to own them due to criminal convictions, mental illness or protective orders. Justice Department officials told the state Senate in January that they had a backlog of almost 20,000 names APPS had identified as no longer eligible to own firearms, without enough time, money and manpower to pursue those leads.

Hector Barajas, communications director for the California Senate Republican Caucus, sent an e-mail this morning questioning whether Leno is being “a bit hypocritical.”

“Yesterday Leno wanted to use money from individuals that legally purchase firearms to confiscate guns from people prohibited from owning them – using the money from the background checks to hire law enforcement personnel,” Barajas wrote. “And the very next day, Leno wants to prevent the legal sale of guns at the Cow Palace – if he does reduce the sale of guns or makes it more difficult, where is the state going to pay for the newly hired personnel?”

As a practical matter, it’s probably not a concern – California’s Dealer Record of Sale fee for background checks has been running a substantial surplus for years, so nixing gun shows at one venue almost surely won’t affect available funding. As a matter of principle – what do you think, readers?

Posted on Friday, March 8th, 2013
Under: California State Senate, gun control, Mark Leno | 1 Comment »

Video: SF Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s jailhouse dance

Remember our story last month about San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who was nearly booted out of office last year after a misdemeanor false imprisonment conviction for an incident with his wife, helping to arrange a choreographed dance for inmates and staff at county jails on Valentine’s Day?

He had invited Dancing Without Borders – a group dedicated to “the healing and unifying power of dance and music as a ritual, community building and empowerment vehicle,” according to the group’s website – to coordinate the event in the men’s and women’s jails in conjunction with One Billion Rising, an international effort to call attention Thursday to violence against women and girls. Female inmates in the Sisters in Sober Treatment Empowered in Recovery program took part, as did male inmates in the Resolve to Stop the Violence Program.

And is there video? Yes, there is video.

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013
Under: San Francisco politics | 2 Comments »

$1 million to fund gun-storage PSA campaign

Get ready for a barrage of public service announcements on safe gun storage.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance announced today that it has awarded $1 million to the National Crime Prevention Council – yes, the folks who brought you McGruff the Crime Dog and his “Take a Bite Out of Crime” campaign – to support the development of a national public education campaign on the subject of responsible gun ownership and safe gun storage.

The council will create, produce, and distribute television, radio, and outdoor PSAs that encourage gun owners to safely store their firearms so that they do not fall into the wrong hands. The campaign will also emphasize the importance of immediately reporting lost or stolen guns to local law enforcement to ensure public safety.

“As part of President Obama’s comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence, the Administration is committed to working with firearm owners and enthusiasts to prevent tragic accidents and keep guns from falling into the wrong hands,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news release. “We are determined to implement the kinds of common-sense solutions that our citizens – and especially our young people – deserve.”

PSAs created through this award are expected to be distributed to more than 1,700 television stations, nearly 15,000 radio stations and more than 500 cable networks in 210 markets this summer. There’s no word yet on whether this campaign will feature the canine king of crime prevention.

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013
Under: gun control | 10 Comments »

Study: More state gun laws, fewer gun deaths

Having a higher number of firearm laws in a state may be associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities from suicides and homicides, according to a new study.

The study across all 50 states is published online by JAMA Internal Medicine, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association. More than 30,000 people die each year in the United States from injuries caused by firearms, and this study comes even as Congress and state legislatures consider a new slew of gun-control and gun-rights measures.

Dr. Eric Fleegler of Boston Children’s Hospital and colleagues analyzed firearm-related deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System from 2007 through 2010. They also examined state-level firearm legislation across five categories of laws to create a “legislative strength score.” The authors then used statistical analysis to measure the association of that score with mortality rates.

“In an analysis of all states using data from 2007 through 2010, we found that a higher number of firearm laws in a state was associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities in the state,” the authors said in a news release. “It is important to note that our study was ecological and cross-sectional and could not determine cause-and-effect relationship.”

Over the four-year period of the study, the authors note there were 121,084 firearm fatalities and the average state-based firearm fatality rates varied from a high of 17.9 (Louisiana) to a low of 2.9 (Hawaii) per 100,000 individuals per year. Annual firearm legislative strength scores ranged from 0 (Utah) to 24 (Massachusetts) of 28 possible points, according to the results.

“We found an association between the legislative strength of a state’s firearm laws – as measured by a higher number of laws – and a lower rate of firearm fatalities. The association was significant for firearm fatalities overall and for firearm suicide and firearm homicide deaths, individually,” the study concludes. “As our study could not determine a cause-and-effect relationship, further studies are necessary to define the nature of this association.”

In a related commentary, Dr. Garen Wintemute, a renowned gun-violence research at the University of California, Davis, said this would be an important finding “if it were robust and if its meaning were clear. … Ecological studies of association are inherently weak, however; correlation does not imply causation.”

In the end, he wrote, these researchers “provide no firm guidance. Do the laws work, or not? If so, which ones? Should policymakers enact the entire package? Some part? Which part?”

“To prevent firearm violence, our research efforts must be substantial and sustained. Physician engagement in developing that effort is particularly important. Some projects must have direct relevance to policy-based and other potential interventions. Others need to deepen our basic understanding of the problem,” Wintemute wrote, adding we need better data and direct evaluation of specific laws’ impacts. “Until we revitalize firearm violence research, studies using available data will be the best we have. They are not good enough.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
Under: gun control | 23 Comments »