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Ammiano bill lets ABC control medical marijuana

Medical marijuana would be regulated by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control under a bill rolled out by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Tom AmmianoAmmiano, D-San Francisco, last year had carried a bill that would have created a nine-member Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement within the Department of Consumer Affairs to regulate the industry. The Assembly passed AB 2312 on a 41-30 vote last May, but Ammiano pulled it from consideration by a state Senate committee.

Now his new bill, AB 473, would instead establish a Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement within the ABC, responsible for monitoring supply and sales of medical cannabis so that the product is kept clean of toxins and criminal involvement is eliminated.

“Where marijuana rules are concerned, California has been in chaos for way too long,” Ammiano said in a news release. “Cities have been looking for state guidance, dispensaries feel at the mercy of changing rules and patients who need medical cannabis are uncertain about how their legitimate medical needs will be filled. This is a concrete plan that will keep medical marijuana safe. We will get it into the right hands and keep it out of the wrong hands.”

Ammiano says the approach is similar to that which has operated successfully in Colorado for three years, because the ABC has the experience in education, compliance and enforcement necessary to regulate successfully, said Matt Cook, a national consultant who was the architect of Colorado’s regulatory plan.

“With this kind of mechanism, you can ensure that only those who are authorized through state law are able to get it,” Cook said. “We’ve had not one federal intervention.”

Ammiano introduced a placeholder version of AB 473 last month, but updated it Tuesday. He’s also introducing an Assembly resolution asking the federal government to give California breathing room to get its medical cannabis house in order without the threat of new widespread prosecutions of medical providers.

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Thoughts on the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary

These two statements cover some of the same points, but seem so very different in tone.

From President Barack Obama:

“As we mark the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war, Michelle and I join our fellow Americans in paying tribute to all who served and sacrificed in one of our nation’s longest wars. We salute the courage and resolve of more than 1.5 million service members and civilians who during multiple tours wrote one of the most extraordinary chapters in military service. We honor the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to give the Iraqi people an opportunity to forge their own future after many years of hardship. And we express our gratitude to our extraordinary military families who sacrificed on the home front, especially our Gold Star families who remain in our prayers.

“The last of our troops left Iraq with their heads held high in 2011, and the United States continues to work with our Iraqi partners to advance our shared interest in security and peace. Here at home, our obligations to those who served endure. We must ensure that the more than 30,000 Americans wounded in Iraq receive the care and benefits they deserve and that we continue to improve treatment for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. With a strong Post 9/11 GI Bill, we must help our newest veterans pursue their education and find jobs worthy of their incredible talents. And all Americans can continue to support and honor our military families who are pillars of so many of our communities. On this solemn anniversary, we draw strength and inspiration from these American patriots who exemplify the values of courage, selflessness and teamwork that define our Armed Forces and keep our nation great.

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, (in remarks delivered on the House floor):

“Today is a solemn anniversary: a tragedy that began ten years ago today when President George W. Bush launched a war of choice in Iraq, dragging our country into a costly, bitter conflict based on falsehoods and hyperbole. It took President Obama fulfilling his campaign promise to end the Iraq war, and we are grateful that he brought the war to an end.

“But we must not forget how we got into the war in the first place.

“We were told we would find weapons of mass destruction. We were warned about mushroom clouds. I offered an amendment at the time that would have taken us down a different path. It would have required the U.S. to work through the United Nations, using inspectors and maximizing diplomacy and mediation to ensure that Iraq was not developing weapons of mass destruction.

“Unfortunately the amendment failed, by a vote 72 – 355.

“What happened from there? We all know the tragic consequences: President Bush dragged the country into an unnecessary war; no weapons of mass destruction were ever found; the costs of the Iraq war soared far beyond what was projected; and we lost 4,486 American troops in Iraq, and over 32,000 were wounded.

“Ten years later, the full consequences and costs of the Iraq war remain to be seen. According to a new study by the Watson Institute at Brown University, the war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion, with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to our war veterans. And the long term costs including caring for our veterans, which we must do, could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades.

“Most importantly, we’ve paid for this war most tragically in loss of life and injury. Fighting the war in Iraq has also undercut nation building here at home. Investments we should have been making in job creation, educating our kids, putting cops on the street, and rebuilding our aging infrastructure. Instead of nation building at home, we poured billions of dollars into nation building in Iraq with little oversight or accountability.

“The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction issued its final report to Congress last month detailing billions of dollars lost to waste, fraud, and abuse. Speaking with an Iraqi official, Special Inspector Stuart Bowen was told, ‘You can fly in a helicopter around Baghdad, but you cannot point a finger to a single project that was built and completed by the United States.’

“Unfortunately, these lost opportunities and tragic mistakes are not behind us.

“As the daughter of a 25-year veteran of the armed forces, I am incredibly thankful for the sacrifices our women and men have made in Iraq, and continue to make in Afghanistan. I am also deeply concerned with the widespread, often undiagnosed, incidents of PTSD and the alarming suicide rates amongst our returning soldiers.

“We need to honor our troops who served and show our support by giving our men and women who served the best health care, the best educational opportunities, and the best job training available. They deserve nothing less.

“It is my hope that this reckless and short-sighted decision will mark a turning point in American history, and that we will never again wage an unnecessary war. We must use all the tools of American power in resolving disputes, including diplomacy. And we must have sufficient congressional debate and oversight before ever putting another U.S. solider in harm’s way.

“Finally, just like in Iraq, there is no military solution in Afghanistan. We need to bring the war in Afghanistan to an accelerated end, and bring our troops home now.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in expressing this sentiment during a different war said, ‘The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities of a decent America.’

“Let us put this decade of perpetual warfare behind us, invest in our veterans, our children, and get about the business of nation building here at home.”

There’s more, after the jump…
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Speier launches Congressional Watchdog Caucus

Rep. Jackie Speier has founded a Congressional Watchdog Caucus to oversee federal programs so that they’re run properly, taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and employees are treated fairly.

Um, isn’t that one of Congress’ main functions anyway? So true, says Speier, D-San Mateo – but the usual channels are getting clogged with politics.

“Oversight is all about responsible governance, not about scoring political points or shaming public officials. Taxpayers rely on us to be good stewards of public funds. They can’t afford wasteful expenditures and neither can the government,” Speier said in a news release. “As Members of Congress, we are the watchdogs entrusted to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse, and we have the authority to hold leaders accountable for misconduct. The Congressional Watchdog Caucus will support Members and staff in oversight actions and work together to develop strategies for effective investigations.”

Speier is the caucus’ founder and chair, but lest you think this is just more partisan rhetoric, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., will be its co-chair.

“There are many people and organizations interested in good government; this caucus will allow us to coordinate and leverage efforts, across the country, to monitor, report on, and conduct oversight of federal spending and federal activities,” Coffman said. “It’s our responsibility to watch over the federal government and make sure the money our citizens send to Washington isn’t wasted. Our families need to know their taxes are being wisely spent.”

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Dianne Feinstein & Bill Nelson get tough on Big Oil

Federal subsidies would be reduced for oil companies that conduct spill-prone, deep-water drilling under a pair of bills introduced Monday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Feinstein’s Deepwater Drilling Royalty Relief Prohibition Act ends federal incentives for deep-sea oil and natural gas drilling, barring the Interior Department from waiving royalty payments that oil companies would otherwise pay when drilling in waters deeper than 400 meters.

“The BP spill illustrated just how devastating oil spills in deep water can be. But even though we understand the great risks and lack the technology to drill safely, unwise incentives that push oil companies to drill deeper and deeper remain in place,” Feinstein said in a news release.

“While oil companies continue to collect record profits, the government should not lose out on royalties that could fund clean energy deployment,” she said. “This is especially egregious at a time when federal budgets continue to contract — it’s time to end this practice and collect reasonable royalty payments from large oil companies for exploitation of public resources.”

Feinstein noted five of the largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell — made a combined $118 billion in profits in 2012, but the big three American oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) paid effective federal tax rates in 2011 of only 13 percent, 19 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Nelson’s Oil Spill Tax Fairness Act changes the tax code to deny tax deductions for oil spill-related expenses including legal, clean-up and other costs. Current law lets a company responsible for causing an oil spill is also responsible for the cost associated with cleaning that spill up, and Nelson’s bill would keep such a company from them turning around and writing those costs off as a tax deduction.

This bill was spurred by BP’s efforts to write off its clean-up expenses after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico created one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history. The legislation would apply to those responsible for an oil spill in U.S. territorial waters, but not to expenses caused by a natural disaster or an act of war.

“Given the record profits of the big oil companies, I don’t think they need any more help from taxpayers,” Nelson said in a news release.

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New details on President Obama’s Bay Area visit

More details are now available on President Obama’s first visit to the Bay Area since he won his second term – a fundraising junket to benefit Democratic campaigns in next year’s midterm elections.

The president will arrive in the Bay Area on Wednesday, April 3 for two events that evening in San Francisco to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

First will be a cocktail reception at the Pacific Heights home of Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer – the billionaire former asset manager who bankrolled last year’s successful Proposition 39 – for which tickets cost $5,000 per person. After that, there’ll be a $32,500-per-person dinner hosted by billionaire heirs/philanthropists Ann and Gordon Getty. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is expected to attend both.

The president will remain in the Bay Area overnight and then attend two fundraisers on Thursday, April 4, to benefit the Democratic National Committee.

First comes a brunch at the Atherton home of Liz Simons and Medley Partners managing director Mark Heising, for which tickets cost $32,400 each. Then the president will attend a luncheon at the Atherton home of former insurance mogul and Levi-Strauss heir John Goldman and his wife Marcia, for which a $1,000 buys a basic ticket, $5,000 buys access to a photo reception as well, $7,500 buys lunch and photo reception tickets for two, and $20,000 buys access to a special co-sponsor reception.

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Swalwell gathers foes of TSA’s new knife policy

Almost 60 House members so far from both sides of the aisle have signed a letter co-authored by an East Bay lawmaker expressing concern about the new Transportation Security Administration policy allowing knives on planes.

TSA revised their prohibited items policy to allow certain knives and sports equipment in airplane cabins; the new policy is set to take effect on April 25. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. – ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee – are circulating the letter.

At a hearing yesterday, TSA Administrator John Pistole acknowledged his agency hadn’t properly engaged stakeholders like flight attendants before reaching its decision. The letter calls on TSA to withdraw the new policy until it has consulted adequately with flight attendants, pilots and transportation security officers.

“The support for our letter objecting to TSA’s decision by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle validates the general consensus that this is a foolish policy that could, in a worst-case scenario, seriously harm Americans,” Swalwell, a freshman member of the Homeland Security Transportation Security Subcommittee, said in a news release. “Based on my conversation with Administrator Pistole yesterday at the Homeland Security Committee hearing, I am more convinced that TSA should not implement this policy.”

The letter is supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, the Coalition of Flight Attendant Unions, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, the Federal Flight Deck Officer Association and the National Association of Police Organizations. The letter will keep circulating through Tuesday; the only Bay Area member besides Swalwell to have signed it so far is Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa.

Here’s Swalwell questioning Pistole at yesterday’s hearing:

UPDATE @ 4:04 P.M. THURSDAY 3/21: 133 House members ended up signing this letter, including greater Bay Area Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.