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Lofgren proposes citizen redistricting in all states

A Bay Area congresswoman is helping to lead a charge to require all states to adopt the kind of independent redistricting commission that California has, as a means of halting partisan gerrymandering.

It’s a bold move, consider the U.S. Supreme Court is currently deciding whether or not such commissions are constitutional – an Arizona case that could doom California’s commission too. At the same time, it’s a largely symbolic move, as there’s no way that the Republicans who run Congress will let this happen; it’s an existential threat to their House majority.

But a pack of Democrats led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks; Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; and Donna Edwards, D-Md., say their Redistricting Reform Act of 2015 will reform the nation’s patchwork redistricting system.

The bill would require states to establish independent, multi-party citizen redistricting commissions to draw open, transparent statewide district maps after each U.S. Census. Most states still let state lawmakers draw the lines, as California did until voters approved Prop. 11 of 2008 and Prop. 20 of 2010 to give state and federal redistricting authority to the new, independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

“The issue of redistricting reform is one that is central to our democracy, and now that the matter is before the U.S. Supreme Court, it has never been more important,” Lofgren said in a news release. “What we see now is too often a troubling reality in which politicians choose their voters instead of voters picking their elected officials. The Redistricting Reform Act fixes this by creating a more transparent electoral process to hold politicians accountable to the people they represent.”

The bill’s original cosponsors include Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. Supporters include Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza.

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Speier touts 15 amendments to Pentagon budget

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is touting 15 amendments she successfully attached to the Pentagon’s budget during an Armed Services Committee markup session Wednesday, 11 of which deal with sexual assaults in the military.

Jackie SpeierSpeier’s amendments would make it easier to track military sex offenders after they leave the service; make more records public from courts-martial; require that military sex-offense victims be advised a special counsel is available to them before they’re interviewed by investigators; make those special counsels available to former dependents of current and former servicemembers; and ensure those special counsels can represent the victims if they face retaliation for reporting crimes.

Other amendments would give military sexual assault victims access to hearing officers’ case analyses at the same time they’re delivered to the alleged offenders; require the Defense Department to prepare a complete trial record for all courts-martial, regardless of the verdict or sentence; require retention of investigators’ case notes for at least 50 years; and require the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office‘s annual report to include statistics on sexual harassment, sexual assaults related to domestic violence, and retaliations against those reporting sexual assaults.

Still others would let victims take part in proceedings where their attackers are non-judicial punishment or administrative separation, with access to those proceedings’ records; and would direct the Defense Department Inspector General to review cases in which those who’ve reported sexual assaults leave military service.

“This collection of reforms will make the Uniform Code of Military Justice more fair and responsive to victims of military sexual assault,” Speier said in a news release. “We are nowhere near eliminating this epidemic, but today we have made concrete progress toward adopting a modern military code that treats victims with the respect they deserve.”

Speier also successfully amended the military spending bill to let veterans who change their gender identity after leaving the service update their discharge papers to reflect their new name, so the documents are easier to use for official purposes such as job, college and loan applications. Other amendments would guarantee that servicewomen deployed for long periods of time are dispensed enough of whatever contraception their doctor prescribes to cover their full deployment; and would make reduce the burden of proof for whistleblowers to show that they suffered retaliation for their actions, bringing it in line with civilian court standards.

Speier didn’t win on everything, however. The committee killed her amendment to shift $589 million (out of a proposed $1 billion) away from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and into an equipment account for the National Guard and Reserves.

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Rep. Mike Honda blasts Japanese prime minister

Rep. Mike Honda harshly criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, for not explicitly addressing the “comfort women” who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Army during World War II.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, had invited Yong-Soo Lee, 87 – one of only a few dozen victims of Japanese sexual abuse still surviving in Korea – to be his guest in the House Gallery during Abe’s speech. “My heart breaks for Ms. Lee and her sisters, as she must now return to Korea without having received an apology from Prime Minister Abe,” he said on a conference call with reporters later Wednesday.

“It is utterly shocking and shameful that Prime Minister Abe continues to evade his government’s responsibility for the systematic atrocity that was perpetrated the Japanese Imperial Army against the so-called ‘comfort women’ during World War II,” Honda said. “I heard no apology today.”

Honda called that lack of an apology “an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women” who suffered at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Abe said in his speech that “we must realize the kind of world where finally women are free from human rights abuses,” but Honda said that “without acknowledging the sins of the past, history will repeat itself.”

Asked why Americans should care about something that happened 70 years ago between Japan and other Asian nations, Honda replied that terrible abuses continue unabated around the world today; he cited the radical Islamic group Boko Haram’s abductions of women and girls in Africa. “We call that today human trafficking, we call it sexual slavery, we call it violence against women,” he said.

“Prime Minister Abe wants to be seen as a leader of a democratic country, he also stated he wants to be a leader on women’s issues,” Honda said, but given the opportunity to make a clear statement against such practices Wednesday, Abe “blew it. He could have established a moral platform for himself.”

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Federal Glover undergoing heart/kidney transplant

Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover is undergoing heart and kidney transplant surgery Wednesday, his family announced.

Glover, 58, of Pittsburg, went into surgery at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center at around 2 a.m. The operation, expected to take about 13 hours, is being conducted by Dr. Georg Wieselthaler, who has done more than 350 such surgeries and has trained other cardiac surgeons around the world.

Glover, who has represented District 5 on the Board of Supervisors since 2000, announced in early March that he was on a transplant wait list. He fell gravely ill and was hospitalized for about a month in 2007, receiving treatment for meningitis, pneumonia and kidney problems; after that, he was undergoing dialysis three times per week.

Glover and his family were informed around 10 p.m. Tuesday night that a matching donor had been located. He’s expected to remain at UCSF for several weeks of recovery.

In a news release, Glover’s wife, Janis, expressed her thanks and appreciation to his entire medical team for their support and expertise during this time and for the outstanding care he has received at UCSF. She also thanked the family of the anonymous donor for their generous and life-changing gift during what for them must be a difficult time.

Janis Glover asked that the public keep them all in their thoughts and prayers in the days ahead; anyone wishing to send get-well wishes may direct them in care of his office, 315 E. Leland Rd., Pittsburg, CA 94565.

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Draper: From ‘Six Californias’ to ‘Fix California’

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper has gone from “Six Californias” to “Fix California.”

The man who last year had proposed splitting the Golden State six ways – but failed to get the idea onto 2016’s ballot despite spending $5.2 million from his own pocket – issued a public engagement challenge Wednesday to crowdsource ideas for fixing California’s government.

“California-based businesses are on the cutting edge of technology – constantly pushing the envelope,” Draper said in a news release. “Most good ideas come through Californians innovating and collaborating with each other. We should be able to do the same with government, but unfortunately, our government is still stuck in the 1980’s. They can’t complete a project, like building a bridge or updating a computer system, without it being late, over budget, or even obsolete by the time of completion. That’s why we are launching the ‘Fix California Challenge.’”

Draper, 56, of Atherton, said he realizes “that not everyone was a fan of Six Californias.”

“But most people agreed that something needs to be done to fix the state. That’s why I’m asking Californians if they think they have a better idea,” he said. “If so, I want to hear it. If you have an idea that will transform government, bring it to me and maybe we can get it on the ballot.”

Draper said he’s looking for ideas that address:

    Transformation: Challenge the status quo by fundamentally transforming and modernizing California with a “fresh start” or an “entrepreneurial” mindset.
    Representation: Provide for better representation and engagement of citizens and accountability of leaders to the people they represent.
    Education: Improve incentives in education to achieve long-term economic prosperity and create a more educated workforce that is better prepared for the jobs of the future.
    Accountability: Incentivize governments to be accountable to their citizens and compete for customers.
    Opportunity: Create opportunities to improve the quality of life for hard-working Californians across key sectors such as housing, infrastructure, social safety net programs and the environment.
    Renewal: Clean up the failures and update methods of the last several decades that are preventing further success and progress.

Draper is running this “Fix California Challenge” through Innovate Your State, a nonprofit he founded that’s dedicated to educating and encouraging public participation to fundamentally improve government.

“As a venture capitalist I see innovation everywhere and invest in bold ideas everyday. We need to bridge the gap between innovation and government, and this requires a ‘Venture Governance’ approach where everyone’s ideas have a chance to be heard and backed if they’re good enough,” he said. “Similar to a business plan competition, we’re going to run a ‘government plan competition’ to find the best ideas and implementation strategies out there.”

No word on the status of Draper’s proposed television reality show about Silicon Valley startups.