Part of the Bay Area News Group

Archive for August, 2013

Lawmakers to probe state prison conditions

The Bay Area lawmakers who chair the Legislature’s public safety committees announced Friday that they’ll hold public hearings on state prison conditions that have lead to a months-long inmate hunger strike.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said the hearings might begin this fall and continue into 2014, focused upon confinement conditions in maximum-security prisons and long-term solitary confinement as both a prison-management strategy and a human-rights issue.

Tom Ammiano“The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed,” Ammiano said in a joint news release. “The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.

“California continues to be an outlier in its use of solitary confinement, which has been recognized internationally and by other states to be an extreme form of punishment that leads to mental illness if used for prolonged periods of time,” Hancock said in the release. “Since many of these inmates will eventually have served their sentences and will be released, it is in all our best interest to offer hope of rehabilitation while they are incarcerated – not further deterioration.”

Hancock and Ammiano urged an immediate end to the hunger strike so that energy and attention can be focused on the issues that have been raised. The inmates have succeeded in bringing the issues to the public eye, they said, and there’s no need for further sacrifice or risk.

Dolores Canales, a member of the inmate strikers’ mediation team and mother of a convicted murderer in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State, said the prison activists appreciate the lawmakers’ action.

“Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest,” she said. “But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments.”

Posted on Friday, August 30th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Loni Hancock, State Prisons, Tom Ammiano | 15 Comments »

Skinner, Ammiano undecided on prison plans

Don’t mistake the Assembly Budget Committee’s unanimous passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison plan Thursday for a clear sail through that chamber.

Committee chairwoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said Friday that the committee acted largely in order to beat the deadline for fiscal committees to move bills to the floor – not because every member agrees completely with the plan put forth by Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway.

She demurred when asked whether she prefers this plan to the alternative put forth by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “All of this stuff is still being discussed and negotiated,” she said.

She’s not the only Bay Area liberal lawmaker who’s undecided on which plan to side with.

Aug. 16 was the last day for policy committees to meet and report bills, so the Brown/Perez/Huff/Conway plan doesn’t have to go through the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

I asked whether Ammiano would care to discuss the competing prison plans as chairman of the committee that would’ve had to hear them had they come earlier. “I think he’d rather stay away from the hypotheticals, and has yet to make a decision on how to vote when the Brown/Perez bill gets to the floor,” spokesman Carlos Alcala replied late Thursday afternoon.

Posted on Friday, August 30th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Jerry Brown, Nancy Skinner, State Prisons, Tom Ammiano | 1 Comment »

Local lawmakers stand with fast-food workers

Several East Bay lawmakers have expressed solidarity with fast-food workers in the Bay Area and across the nation who walked picket lines Thursday to demand a $15-per-hour wage and the right to unionize without management interference.

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee:

“Today, I stand with workers across the country who are striving to build a better life for themselves and their families by fighting for a living wage. Those who work hard and play by the rules shouldn’t have to struggle to keep a roof over their head or put food on the table.

“Low pay not only harms the families forced to subsist on it, but it also holds back our recovery from the Great Recession. Better pay will put more money into local businesses and spur economic growth. That’s why a living wage is not about asking for a handout. Rather, it’s about valuing work. And it’s about growing the economy from the bottom up by increasing working families’ purchasing power. Americans on today’s picket lines aren’t just standing up for themselves – they are standing up for a stronger America.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“I applaud the courageous action taken by thousands of workers around the country today by participating in the walkout for job protection and fair wages.

“To re-build our economy and expand the middle class we need to put more money into the pockets of workers in fast-growing, low-wage jobs by creating a living wage. Our goal cannot simply be to increase the minimum wage, but rather, establish a living wage, with the dignity of benefits to achieve a good standard of living to afford the basics while working one full time job.

“A living wage will increase the quality of life for low wage earning families and will lift our entire economy.

“I am proud to support the workers striking today for a living wage, and I will continue to fight to make sure families receive the fair wages they deserve.”

From Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley:

“Fast food CEOs have super-sized salaries, while their workers earn unlivable wages, wages that can’t support their own families. A single mom in Oakland with two school-age children needs to earn more than $50,000 to make ends meet, while the average fast food worker only earns between $10,000 and $18,000 a year. Families deserve a living wage. It’s just wrong for McDonald’s and others to ignore this inequity.”

The CEOs and their companies don’t own all of the fast-food outlets; many are owned by franchisees. From International Franchise Association President and CEO Steve Caldeira:

“Mandating increased wages would lead to higher prices for consumers, lower foot traffic and sales for franchise owners, and ultimately, lost jobs and opportunities for employees to become managers or franchise owners. The franchise industry is a proven job-creator and career-builder, yet efforts to double the minimum wage to $15 would clearly jeopardize opportunities for existing and prospective employees.

“Many franchises have developed successful programs designed to help employees rise from entry level to management and ultimately, ownership. Arbitrarily mandating a higher minimum wage will only reduce the amount of entry-level jobs that workers need to gain the skills to move up the employment ladder.”

“This campaign is also designed to pressure employees into organizing, generating much-needed headlines and revenue for labor unions who have faced a sharp decline in private-sector membership for years.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, U.S. House | 26 Comments »

Obama issues new gun-control executive actions

The Obama administration announced two more gun-control executive actions Thursday that it says will help keep some of the most dangerous firearms out of the wrong hands.

Current law puts heavy restrictions on certain weapons such as machine guns and short-barreled shotguns including registration and a fingerprint-based background check, but some have sought to evade these requirements by registering such weapons to a trust or corporation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports it received more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations in 2012 alone.

The administration announced Thursday that ATF is issuing a new proposed regulation requiring that individuals associated with trusts or corporations acquiring such weapons must undergo background checks.

The other action deals with surplus military weapons. When the United States provides military firearms to its allies, either as direct commercial sales or through the foreign military sales or military assistance programs, those weapons can’t be imported back into the United States without federal approval. Since 2005, the government has authorized requests to re-import more than 250,000 of these firearms.

The administration said it will start denying all such requests by private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums.

Thursday’s actions follow almost two dozen other gun-control actions the Obama administration implemented in January.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who is House Democrats’ gun-policy point man and co-author of a bipartisan background-check bill that’s still pending in the House, issued a statement saying the White House “has once again taken important steps that will help reduce and prevent gun violence. Now, Congress needs to act.

“Congress cannot continue standing by and doing nothing when more than 30 people are killed every day by someone using a gun,” Thompson said. “The most important thing we can do is pass my bipartisan bill requiring that anyone who buys a gun at a gun show or over the Internet get a background check. This is a commonsense step that will help keep guns from criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally. The American people deserve for Congress to step up and vote on this bill.”

Thompson’s bill has 184 co-sponsors, including every member of the Bay Area’s House delegation.

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: gun control, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Feds to let WA, CO implement marijuana laws

In what could be a sea change for federal marijuana policy, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has told the governors of Washington and Colorado – which recently legalized recreational use, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws.

In addition to Holder’s joint phone call with the two governors Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole has issued a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws – including those in the 20 states including California that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

The memo says federal law enforcement will still prioritize targeting distribution of marijuana to minors; revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; use of state-authorized activity as a smokescreen for other illegal activity; violence and use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; drugged driving and other adverse public health consequences; growing marijuana on public lands; and preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

But “in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above,” Cole wrote in the memo.

The memo also says federal prosecutors “should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department’s enforcement priorities listed above.” Instead, it says, prosecutors should make case-by-case judgments as to whether operations are complying with a state’s regulations.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said in a news release. “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, issued a statement saying his group is encouraged by the memo.

“At the heart of the guidance is a willingness to respect the voters who have decided a regulated marijuana market is preferable to a criminal market in their states. Cannabis-related businesses in these states are creating thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. These are clear public benefits,” Smith said. “Now is not the time to push marijuana sales back under ground. The new voter-approved, regulated systems in Colorado and Washington should be allowed to proceed. We have full confidence the businesses in these states will comply with any requirements put forth by the Department of Justice.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency | No Comments »

More calls for Obama to consult Congress on Syria

Rep. Barbara Lee has gotten 53 other lawmakers to sign her letter urging President Barack Obama to consult Congress before taking any military action against Syria.

Much like the bipartisan letter by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., on which I reported yesterday, Lee’s letter notes Congress bears the constitutional obligation and power to approve or reject military force.

“As such, we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis,” the letter says, also calling for allowing United Nations inspectors to complete their and denouncing human-rights violations.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)In a news release, Lee, D-Oakland, said the nation must learn from its experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.

“We must recognize that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria; the implications for the region are dire,” she said. “This letter is calling for a specific action: debate. Congress has a vital role this in this process and constitutional power that must be respected. The American people are demanding this debate before we commit our military, our money, or our forces to Syria.”

Among those who’ve signed Lee’s letter are Reps. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and George Miller, D-Martinez.

I’ve not seen the signatures of Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; or Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, on any of the letters so far.

But Thompson spokesman Austin Vevurka said Thursday that his boss “believes the use of chemical weapons is appalling and he believes Congress should reconvene so there can be a full and vigorous debate on the use of military force. He also believes any military action must involve an international collation and is continuing to closely monitor the evolving situation.”

UPDATE @ 12:14 P.M.: McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith said her boss believes “we need to find a balanced policy that is based on sound and thorough intelligence, and he believes the president should be consulting leaders from both parties in the House and Senate.” Note: McNerney’s call to consult leadership stops short of Lee’s letter, which urges Obama “to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”

UPDATE @ 1:33 P.M.: “Right now the President is still reviewing his options as Commander in Chief,” Swalwell spokeswoman Allison Bormel says. “Should he choose to take action that requires congressional approval, Rep. Swalwell believes the Administration should consult Congress.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 6 Comments »

Rep. Eric Swalwell visited Afghanistan, UAE

It’s been a travel-heavy recess for freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton.

Just weeks after his trip with a congressional delegation to Israel and the West Bank, Swalwell returned Thursday from another co-del to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Swalwell with 1st Lt Chris Mitchell of Fremont

Swalwell with 1st Lt. Chris Mitchell of Fremont

Led by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the House Armed Service Committee’s ranking Democrat, the delegation met with top U.S. military officials including Marine Four-Star General Joe Dunford, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. They were briefed on the drawdown of American troops, the transition of responsibility to the Afghanistan National Security Force and the supporting role our troops are now playing. Swalwell’s office reports he also met with troops from his own 15th Congressional District, as well as local Afghan leaders and military officers.

In the UAE, the lawmakers were briefed by military and intelligence officials on the developing situation in Syria as well as the strategic partnership between the UAE and the United States.

“I was encouraged to see that the efforts of our Armed Forces have better prepared Afghan troops to play a primary security role in the region as we significantly reduce our troop levels in Afghanistan,” Swalwell said in a news release issued Thursday. “I especially appreciated the opportunity to visit with our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan, including several of my constituents.

“Since being sworn-in back in January, I’ve been able to celebrate many troop homecomings from Afghanistan in the East Bay and also sadly have eulogized at a funeral of local hero who gave his life serving in Operation Enduring Freedom,” he added. “It was an honor to visit our troops in Afghanistan to express my appreciation for their service to our country and dedication to a smooth transition of power as we step back to play a supporting role. Our troops’ preparation of the Afghan Forces will help ensure that the country is never again a safe harbor and training ground for terrorists who wish to plan attacks against Americans.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: Afghanistan, Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | No Comments »

Brown’s judicial shuffle might enable House run

In a somewhat unusual move, Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a Bay Area judge – who has a familiar name – to another county’s bench, perhaps in order to help facilitate her husband’s planned run for Congress.

Carrie McIntyre PanettaCarrie McIntyre Panetta, appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court bench in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was named to the Monterey County Superior Court bench Thursday by Brown.

Panetta, 46, is the daughter-in-law of former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director Leon Panetta; her husband, James Panetta, is a deputy district attorney who moved from Alameda County to Monterey County in 2010.

James Panetta – a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer who was awarded the Bronze Star for his 2007-08 deployment to Afghanistan – earlier this year said he’s interested in succeeding Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, in representing California’s 20th Congressional District.

Carrie Panetta was an Alameda County deputy district attorney from 1999 to 2007 and an associate at Brobeck Phleger and Harrison LLP from 1992 to 1999. A Democrat, she holds a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law and a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota. She fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Monterey County Superior Court Judge Terrance Duncan. A superior court judge’s annual salary is $178,789.

UPDATE @ 3:02 P.M.: Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said he would leave it to Judget Panetta to explain the move, and acknowledged it’s not common for a judge to be re-appointed from one county’s superior court to another’s. A voice-mail message left at Panetta’s courtroom in Oakland has not yet been returned.

UPDATE @ 10:35 A.M. FRIDAY: “We’re excited, very excited about the appointment and the move,” Judge Panetta said Friday morning, noting her husband has been working in the Monterey County District Attorney’s office since 2010. “It was really to get the family back together full-time … we had decided we want to make the Monterey peninsula our home, raise our girls there.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: Jerry Brown, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

CA17 poll: Honda holds solid lead over Khanna

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, holds a commanding lead over fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, though he falls short of a majority of voters, according to a new poll commissioned and released by Honda’s political allies.

honda.jpgThe poll, conducted Aug. 2-4 among 806 likely voters in the 17th Congressional District, found 49 percent support Honda, 15 percent support Khanna and 36 percent remain undecided. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, and has a 3.5-point margin of error.

This isn’t so surprising, considering Honda’s name recognition after almost six and a half terms in office, and how early in the 2014 electoral cycle we are; a lot of people simply aren’t tuned in yet. Leah Cowan, Khanna’s campaign manager, said he’s undaunted.

“Since we launched our grassroots campaign in April, Ro has been working tirelessly to engage thousands of voters across the district by knocking on doors, hosting meet-and-greets, and participating in community events,” Cowan said. “What we’re seeing on the ground is strong support for Ro’s positive message of working to create good paying jobs, build a 21st-century education, and make government more responsive to people, not special interests. As more people continue to hear his ideas, we’re confident they’ll move our way.”

The poll also found that about 46 percent of voters would be more supportive of Honda’s campaign if he runs on the idea of increasing Social Security benefits – a plan he touted at a news conference earlier this month in Fremont, days after this poll was conducted – while 13 percent said they’d be less supportive, 35 percent said it would make no difference and 6 percent said they wouldn’t be sure. This question was asked of only 416 voters, and has a 4.8-point margin of error.

I’ve heard that the voters surveyed with this poll were front-loaded with information about the candidates’ positions on Social Security before they were asked whom they would vote for. (SEE UPDATE BELOW.)

Ro KhannaKhanna earlier this month had said he favors immediate action to ensure Social Security’s solvency at current benefit levels “without making empty promises that could ultimately threaten the system overall.” He said he’s “in principle open to expanding benefits after the solvency is ensured.”

That’s not good enough, according to the liberal groups that commissioned this poll.

“Voters in California’s 17th District strongly support expanding Social Security, so it should be no surprise that they also strongly support Mike Honda, the only candidate in the race who unequivocally backs the idea,” Democracy for America Chairman Jim Dean said in a news release. “At the end of the day, Californians expect their representatives to be the progressive leaders in Congress and, on the issue of Social Security expansion, Honda is once again answering that call.”

UPDATE @ 10:20 A.M.: PCCC spokeswoman Laura Friedenbach says the question about which candidate the voter supports came early in the poll questionnaire, and was not preceded by any information about the candidates’ stances on Social Security.

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: 2014 primary, Mike Honda, U.S. House | 16 Comments »

Lawmakers demand Obama consult them on Syria

Three Northern California House Democrats have signed onto a bipartisan letter urging President Obama to seek Congressional authorization for any military strike against Syria.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, are among 18 Democrats and 98 Republicans who’ve signed onto the letter drafted and circulated by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.

“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets,” the letter says. “Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”

Other California members who’ve signed Rigell’s letter include Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville; and John Campbell, R-Irvine.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., sent their own letter to the president today urging that he consult Congress.

And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Obama today urging the president to “personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy.”

UPDATE @ 11:54 A.M. THURSDAY: More Bay Area House members have signed onto Rep. Barbara Lee’s similar letter.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, John Boehner, John Garamendi, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 17 Comments »