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Archive for May, 2013

George Miller is heading for Bangladesh

A Bay Area congressman is Bangladesh-bound this week, intent on inspecting sometimes-deadly conditions in the world’s second-largest garment industry.

George MillerRep. George Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, will be the first member of Congress to visit Bangladesh since the April 24 building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers and injured more than 2,500. The disaster has brought a worldwide spotlight in working conditions in the South Asian nation, and whether U.S. garment retailers are benefiting from exploitation there.

Miller, who intends to meet with workers, victims, and industry and government officials, has been pressing major U.S. companies whose products are made in Bangladesh to sign onto a new binding and enforceable building and fire safety accord that has been signed by more than 31 companies worldwide. Most large American companies like Wal-Mart and Gap have so far refused to sign on.

“This trip to Bangladesh is an important opportunity to examine the circumstances surrounding the tragic events that have taken so many lives and threaten the lives of so many others,” Miller, D-Martinez, said in a news release.

Bangladesh building collapse (AP)“I hope to learn more about three particular aspects of these tragedies and American involvement in this burgeoning industry – worker safety and health conditions and the impact of the recently inked fire and building safety agreement, garment workers’ rights to form unions without fear of retaliation or persecution, and whether Bangladesh is guaranteeing labor rights and acceptable working conditions that are expected if the United States is to maintain tariff relief provided under the Generalized System of Preferences, a decision on which is expected imminently,” Miller said.

Miller recently penned a front-page editorial for Women’s Wear Daily, urging the fashion industry to come together and improve conditions in Bangladesh. Miller and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat of the Ways and Means Committee, have also urged the Obama administration to coordinate action to improve workers’ rights and working conditions in Bangladesh.

Posted on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Under: George Miller, U.S. House | 12 Comments »

The return of “Queen Meg” Whitman?

Meg Whitman on Forbes cover 6-10-2013The new issue of Forbes magazine features Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman on the cover, but the headline harkens back to a less successful moment in her career.

“Meg Goes to War,” the headline proclaims. “Can the queen of Silicon Valley save its original startup?”

Whitman’s people should put a permanent kibosh on using the word “queen” anywhere near her name. It’s a cringe-worthy reminder of the “Queen Meg” guerrilla campaign tactic that the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United used against her during her 2010 gubernatorial run – a costumed performer impersonating Whitman as someone who thought herself above, and couldn’t be bothered by, the needs of the hoi polloi.

The Forbes story portrays Whitman as a CEO who wants to learn from her company’s mistakes in order to build a leaner, more competitive outfit. “She’s decisive without being abrasive, persuasive without being slick. She’s a team builder who knows that turnarounds call for repairing hundreds of small failings rather than betting everything on a miracle cure that might be a mirage.”

If that’s how she had run her $178.5 million campaign – with $144 million of that coming from her own pocket – we might be calling her Gov. Whitman right now.

Posted on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Under: 2010 governor's race, Meg Whitman | No Comments »

Lee & Hoyer offer ‘Half in 10′ bill to cut poverty

Halving the number of Americans who live in poverty is the goal of a bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Barbara Lee with support from one of the House’s most powerful Democrats.

With 46.2 million Americans living in poverty in 2011, including 16.1 million children in households below the poverty line, “we’re at a critical time in our nation,” Lee, D-Oakland, told reporters on a conference call. “The economy still is not working for anyone.”

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“At every turn, our nation’s most vulnerable cannot find pathways out of poverty that they need to achieve the American dream,” she said. “It’s time that we make a commitment to confront poverty head-on.”

Her Half in Ten Act of 2013 would establish the Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty, which would develop and implement a national strategy to reduce poverty by half in ten years, as well as provide regular reports on their progress.

“It’s morally the right thing to do … but it’s also the economically sound and fiscally prudent thing to do,” Lee said. ”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is an original co-sponsor of Lee’s bill, and recently formed a Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.

“Too often we don’t see the poverty that exists around us,” he said on Thursday’s call, adding that focusing on developing and coordinating a real campaign against poverty is especially “important as the devastating Republican policy of sequester takes a blunt ax” to the nation’s social safety net. “Congress should be taking steps to make it easier, not harder, for lower-income Americans to enter the middle class.”

steny hoyerBudget sequestration – across-the-board cuts in federal programs including those that help support the poor – was the result of a 2011 deal between President Obama and House Republicans that created a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. That “super committee” was tasked with producing legislation that would decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade, but it turned out to be just as deadlocked as the rest of Congress, and so these deep, automatic cuts kicked in earlier this year.

And House Republicans have contended that budget cuts are necessary to reduce the nation’s deficit, stimulate the economy and create jobs that will left workers out of poverty.

Lee said the House Budget Committee had a debate around her amendment that’s similar to this new bill, and she saw some bipartisan agreement on the goals. But the House GOP’s budget ultimately “eviscerated all of the building blocks that lead to pathways out of poverty,” she said. “The rhetoric on the Republican side is not matching what they’re actually doing.”

Hoyer noted the faith community strongly supports poverty-reduction efforts such as this, and so he hopes Republicans – many of whom “are people of strong faith and convictions” – can be won over.

Posted on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Honda & Khanna agree: Super Bowl L is good news

Well, here’s at least one thing that Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and his Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna of Fremont, can agree upon: Hosting Super Bowl L in 2016 at the new Levi’s Stadium – in the heart of the 17th Congressional District they’re vying to represent – is a good thing.

From Honda:

“I am thrilled that the country’s premier sporting event will be coming to Silicon Valley in just a few years’ time. Santa Clara is home to some of the most innovative tech firms in the world, and Levi’s Stadium is a shining example of commerce, entertainment, and sustainable technology coexisting and thriving. As Santa Clara’s representative to Congress, I was proud to advocate for this opportunity with the team’s ownership and local leaders. The only news that could make this event more exciting for South Bay sports fans is if the 49ers make it to the big game.”

From Khanna:

“Today’s announcement that the 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L is great news for the franchise, its relentlessly supportive fans, and the entire Bay Area. This state-of-the-art stadium is already creating thousands of jobs in the 17th district — and I expect the 2016 Super Bowl will be another big shot in the arm for our economy.”

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

Six California rescuers sent to help in Oklahoma

Gov. Jerry Brown has directed the California Emergency Management Agency to deploy members of the state’s Urban Search and Rescue teams to aid response and recovery efforts following the catastrophic tornado that struck an Oklahoma City suburb Monday.

At the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s request, six specialists from five California-based national teams are on their way: two from the Los Angeles County Fire Department and one each from the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Oakland Fire Department, Sacramento City Fire Department and Orange County Fire Authority.

They’ll coordinate and support operations conducted by national task forces from Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas.

Brown said the Golden State’s thoughts are with the stricken communities; CalEMA Secretary Mark Ghilarducci said his agency remains in contact with FEMA and will send more support if necessary.

Eight California-based Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces — each composed of 70 or more members — take part in the National Urban Search and Rescue System managed by FEMA. Members have special training in areas such as search and rescue, first aid, heavy equipment operations, canine search and rescue, hazardous materials, logistics and communications.

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Jerry Brown | No Comments »

‘S— happens’ isn’t all Brown said about Bay Bridge

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office believes articles including mine in today’s editions have created and reinforced the impression that the governor’s May 7 “s— happens” comment regarding the Bay Bridge construction snafu was the total extent of his remarks that day, and that he suddenly got more serious yesterday.

The contention is that Brown has been concerned, engaged and serious about the issue from the get-go, and that the “s— happens” crack – while accurately quoted by my colleague, Steve Harmon, in his May 7 story – when taken alone might create the impression that the governor was being flippant about it.

I believe we’ve presented the governor’s words accurately and appropriately, but in the interest of full disclosure, here are the transcripts from the two interviews at issue.

From May 7:

Reporter: I’m on the Bay Bridge beat today, just wondering if you’re concerned at all if the public is losing confidence in the opening of the new eastern span of the bridge because of the problems of the bolts.

Gov. Brown: Well, not yet and there are very professional engineers that are looking into this thing. When they are ready to give us their report I think the public will be satisfied.

Reporter: Are you still enthusiastic in the possibility of the opening on Labor Day?

Gov. Brown: As far as I know, well I don’t want to say anything because we want to get the reports back. When we do I’ll comment on it.

Reporter: One more, one more question on the bridge. What was your initial reaction to the stories of the bolts being broken? Was it a shock to you? Did it feel like a setback?

Gov. Brown: Don’t know if it’s a setback. I mean look, s— happens. That’s all I can say.

From May 20:

Reporter: What do you have to say about the Bay Bridge?

Gov. Brown: I hadn’t known about this stuff – pickling bolts or some of this other kind of stuff. So I take it very seriously. That thing is not going to open unless it’s ready and the engineers are telling me that they’re doing the kind of work that will be needed for that.

Reporter: Do you think it will open Labor Day?

Gov. Brown: I’m not going to predict. First we want to make it safe.

Reporter: Are you confident with the caltrans from yesteryear providing the information to make that judgment?

Gov. Brown: Well, look, if the bolts fail they’ve got to go look at these records. Some of those records are ten years old. One of the companies was from Texas. Another one from Ohio. This was made actually during the Gray Davis years, fairly low down in the whole operation. So we’ve got to dig through to get the records to know what’s there. And then they have to test all of these bolts and make sure the bridge will be safe.

Reporter: So you’re personally getting involved in this?

Gov. Brown: Well, it’s a pretty big issue. I drive across that bridge too.

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Jerry Brown, Transportation | 3 Comments »

Update on ‘smart guns’ & 3D printing of firearms

A new “smart gun” prototype and a crackdown on sharing of designs for 3D-printable firearm components mean it’s time to update my gun-tech story of several weeks ago.

A Capitola-based company unveiled a new smart-gun prototype today at a trade show in Las Vegas – a firearm that lets owners remotely engage or disengage the trigger safety from anywhere in the world, using a smartphone.

yardarm-solution-final-chartYardarm Technologies says its Safety First system revolves around a sensor that can be installed on any firearm to enable wireless, real-time control of the trigger safety; it also serves as a motion detector and a geo-locating device. Gun owners are alerted via a mobile device applet if their firearm is picked up or handled by an unauthorized person, and the owner, using a mobile app or secure website, can instantly engage or disengage the trigger safety.

“Suppose you and your family are on vacation in Las Vegas, and your firearm is back at home. Wouldn’t you want to know in real time if an intruder, or worse, a child is handling your gun?” company CEO Bob Stewart asked in a news release. “With Yardarm, you could immediately disable the firearm, notify local law enforcement and maintain location awareness. We want the gun owner to stay connected to their firearm, no matter what the circumstance.”

The Yardarm sensor prototype was developed in partnership with New Jersey-based DataOnline, and was unveiled this morning at DataOnline’s booth at the 2013 CTIA Expo.

Meanwhile, the website at which Cody Wilson of Texas has been sharing his designs for gun components that can be made with a 3D printer now carries a message that reads:

DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.

To clarify, that would be the U.S. State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, which controls the export and temporary import of defense articles and defense services covered by the United States Munitions List.

Wilson provided Betabeat.com with a copy of a May 8 letter he received, informing him that he may have released technical data controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations without the required prior authorization from DDTC. The letter asks Wilson to file determination requests for the data files, and until those determinations are made, to “treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled. This means that all such data should be removed from public access immediately.”

Wilson told Betabeat he thinks he’s immune because his company is a nonprofit and the blueprints are in the public domain, but he complied nonetheless. Even so, he said, his designs already have migrated to other places on the internet.

“I still think we win in the end,” he said. “To think this can be stopped in any meaningful way is to misunderstand what the future of distributive technologies is about.”

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: gun control | 1 Comment »

Senators target tobacco crop insurance subsidy

Taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance for tobacco production would be eliminated under a farm-bill amendment introduced Monday by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and John McCain.

Tobacco fieldThe senators say their amendment would save $333 million over the next decade, and direct all savings to be used to reduce the federal budget deficit. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has indicated the amendment will get a vote.

“It’s time for the American taxpayer to get out of the business of subsidizing tobacco—once and for all,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a news release. “Tobacco costs our economy $200 billion in health care costs and lost productivity each year. In this challenging budget environment, we simply can’t afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollar to incentivize farmers to grow this crop.”

The Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act of 2004 ended most direct taxpayer support programs for tobacco production. But despite this $10 billion buyout pact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still offers heavily subsidized crop insurance policies to tobacco farmers. Last year, USDA offered eight separate tobacco insurance products costing $34.7 million in taxpayer subsidies; records show more than $276 million in such subsidies have been spent since 2004.

“It turns out Joe Camel’s nose has been under the tent all this time,” McCain, R-Ariz., said in the news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that cigarette smoking adds $96 billion to domestic healthcare expenses and costs the American economy $97 billion in lost productivity every year; secondhand smoke adds another estimated $10 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Tobacco farmers will still be able to buy policies from existing insurance providers at market rate under the Feinstein-McCain amendment, which is supported by the Environmental Working Group, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the American Cancer Society.

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Agriculture, Dianne Feinstein, John McCain, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

NorCal Tea Party leads federal suit against IRS

The NorCal Tea Party is the lead plaintiff in a class-action federal lawsuit filed today in Cincinnati against the Internal Revenue Service, seeking damages for what they call “illegal and harassing behavior in the handling and processing of their applications for nonprofit status.”

NorCal Tea PartyThe NorCal Tea Party, based in the Placer County city of Colfax, is an umbrella group to local chapters across the Golden State’s northern half. Helping it file this lawsuit is Citizens for Self-Governance, a Texas-based group founded and led by Grass Valley attorney Mark Meckler, a co-founder and former national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots.

Meckler and NorCal Tea Party President Ginny Rapini are scheduled to hold a news conference tomorrow, Tuesday, May 21, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with all those known and unknown who have been abused by a federal government run amok,” Meckler said. “Instead of just playing defense, it is time for the citizens to go on offense. We are, after all, ‘We the People.’ And when the federal government runs amok, it is up to us reign it in. Neither party in Congress can be relied upon to satisfactorily resolve this issue. They created the IRS, fund the IRS, and oversee the IRS. All of this abuse happened on their watch.”

The IRS’ apparent targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny about tax-exempt status is dogging the White House and setting the Capitol’s corridors ablaze with anger.

The lawsuit says the NorCal Tea Party “came together to exercise their right to free expression.”

“However, under pain of denial of tax-exempt status, the IRS and its agents singled out groups like NorCal Tea Party Patriots for intensive and intrusive scrutiny, probing their members’ associates, speech, activities, and beliefs,” the complaint says. “NorCal and its members suffered years of delay and expense while awaiting the exemption and spending valuable time and money answering the IRS’s questions. The result was a muffling and muzzling of free expression.”

The suit seeks damages for violation of the Privacy Act and of the NorCal Tea Party members’ constitutional rights, “including damages for loss of benefit of tax exempt status, cost of complying with burdensome requests, loss of donors and membership fees, damages for impairment of constitutionally protected rights, punitive damages, litigation costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

Posted on Monday, May 20th, 2013
Under: Obama presidency, taxes, tea party | 5 Comments »

Obama returning to Silicon Valley in two weeks

President Barack Obama will return to the Bay Area on Thursday, June 6 for a pair of pricey fundraisers to help U.S. Senate Democrats keep their majority in next year’s midterm elections.

Tickets for a 5 p.m. reception at the Palo Alto home of Mike McCue – who helped found tech companies including Paper Software, Tellme Networks and Flipboard – and his wife, Marci, start at $2,500 and range up to $12,000 per person or $15,000 per couple. But it’ll cost a cool $32,400 per person to get into a 6:30 p.m. dinner and discussion at the Portola Valley home of Sun Microsystems founding CEO and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and his wife, Neeru.

“With key second-term issues ranging from immigration reform to climate change to trying again on gun violence prevention, the stakes for holding the Senate couldn’t be higher,” said Wade Randlett, one of the president’s pre-eminent fundraising bundlers in the Bay Area.

U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., are expected to attend both events. Bennett now chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which these fundraisers will benefit; Schumer chaired the DSCC from 2005 to 2009, during which Democrats made significant gains in the Senate, and he’s currently the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate’s leadership.

A contribution of $32,400 enrolls one as a DSCC “Majority Trust” member and, along with other benefits, allows for attendance at the DSCC’s signature retreats.

These fundraisers will be held just two months after President Obama’s last Bay Area visit, during which he raised money in San Francisco and Atherton for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

Posted on Monday, May 20th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, campaign finance, U.S. Senate | 31 Comments »