3

Safeway exec’s joke falls flat for House members

Much of the Bay Area’s House delegation has asked top officials at Pleasanton-based supermarket giant Safeway for an apology after one of those officials told what the lawmakers say was a sexist joke about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The letters the lawmakers sent today to Safeway CEO Steve Burd and General Counsel Robert Gordon takes issue with something Gordon, 60, of Orinda, said at the company’s shareholder meeting Tuesday in Pleasanton:

“You know, this is the season when companies and other institutions are interested in enhancing their reputation and their image for the general public, and one of the institutions that’s doing this is the Secret Service, particularly after the calamity in Colombia. And among the instructions given to the Secret Service agents was to try to agree with the president more and support his decisions. And that led to this exchange that took place last week, when the president flew into the White House lawn and an agent greeted him at the helicopter. The president was carrying two pigs under his arms and the Secret Service agents said, ‘Nice pigs, sir.’ And the president said, “These are not ordinary pigs, these are genuine Arkansas razorback hogs. I got one for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and one for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” And the Secret Service agent said, ‘Excellent trade, sir.’”

(Thanks very much, he’ll be here all week, try the veal and don’t forget to tip your waiters.)

SO not funny, say the lawmakers.

“Poking fun at politicians is part of our culture, and TV comedians carry this out nightly. But sexist jokes told by a top executive of a Fortune 500 company to an international audience are completely inappropriate and demonstrate a shocking lack of respect, not only for two of the most important and respected people in our country but for all women,” they wrote to Burd. “Safeway owes an apology to Secretary Clinton, Leader Pelosi, and the country. It is up to the Safeway board to decide what action to take against its general counsel for his comments but let there be no doubt as to our strong disapproval and deep disappointment in your company for what he said.”

The letters were signed by George Miller, D-Martinez; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

I’m awaiting a response from Safeway, and will update this when it’s received.

UPDATE @ 4:30 P.M.: “Both letters will be responded to shortly,” Brian Dowling, Safeway’s Vice President of Public Affairs, e-mailed me about an hour ago; he did not clarify whether this will be the extent of the company’s comment today, so I must assume that it will be.

UPDATE @ 4:48 P.M.: Dowling clarifies that the company will respond directly to the lawmakers, and Gordon also will write directly to Pelosi and Clinton.

1

Lawmakers urge faster Afghanistan withdrawal

Most of the Bay Area’s House delegation was among 101 members who signed a letter, co-authored by Rep. Barbara Lee, urging President Obama to announce an accelerated transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan government and security forces.

The lawmakers want the president to announce this at the upcoming NATO summit meeting in Chicago, in order to effect a speedier withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“Earlier this month you visited Afghanistan to sign a Strategic Partnership Agreement. As you stated at Bagram Air Base, ‘this time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end,’” the lawmakers wrote. “The core of al Qaeda has been greatly reduced in size and ability to attack Americans. Our brave men and women in uniform have done everything that we have asked of them. With over 17,000 dead and wounded U.S. servicemen and women, and long term costs estimated at $4 trillion for the past decade of unfunded wars, the overwhelming majority of American people want to bring the war in Afghanistan to an expedited end.”

The lawmakers wrote that while many of them would prefer an immediate full withdrawal, there’s broad bipartisan consensus that the process at least should be speeded up. “We also remind you that any agreement committing U.S. troops to Afghanistan must have congressional approval to be binding.”

The only Bay Area members who didn’t sign the letter – which Lee, D-Oakland, coauthored with Walter Jones, R-N.C. – were Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Lee also this afternoon offered an amendment to H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act, which would’ve limited further funding for the Afghanistan war to only what’s required for the safe and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops and contractors.

Lee’s amendment failed on a 113-303 vote. “My amendment provided members of the House the opportunity to stand squarely with the war-weary American people,” she said in a statement issued afterward. “I am disappointed that a majority of House members did not stand with seven out of ten Americans who oppose the war in Afghanistan.”

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Reactions to Obama’s same-sex marriage stance

Here’s what some of California’s state and federal elected officials are saying about President Obama’s statement today affirming support for same-sex marriage rights:

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Barbara Boxer “This is a historic day and another step in our country’s long march toward equal rights and justice for all. The President’s statement is a milestone and so important for the millions of American families who deserve full equality. None of us can rest until marriage equality is a reality for all Americans.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi “Today marks progress for the civil rights of LGBT Americans and all Americans. With President Obama’s support, we look forward to the day when all American families are treated equally in the eyes of the law.

“Republicans are standing on the wrong side of history. Just yesterday, a Republican-backed amendment to ban same-sex marriage passed in North Carolina. Here in the House, Republican leaders refuse to bring up a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that includes critical domestic violence protections for the LGBT community, and they are using taxpayer funds to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act in court. These actions only serve to advance fundamental unfairness in our society.

“Throughout American history, we have worked to live up to our values of liberty and freedom, and to end discrimination in all of its forms. Today, we took another step forward in our march toward equality.”

From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“I have never been more proud of our President than I am today. His journey to acceptance is an example of the one value we honor most in America, freedom; freedom to choose who we love, freedom to choose who we marry, freedom to choose who we partner with to raise a family. Denying the right for any two people to marry is discrimination. I can only hope the President’s personal position will swell the tide of public opinion to end prejudice against the LGBT community.”

From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

John Perez “I am very proud of the President for today’s eloquent and bold announcement that he supports marriage equality for every person in this country. As with many Americans, his views on this issue have evolved towards an embrace of dignity, respect and justice for every American. Like the President’s successful effort to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I believe today will be remembered as a major milestone in the LGBT movement, and one that gives credence to Dr. Martin Luther King’s observation that ‘the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I am deeply grateful for the President’s leadership on this fundamental issue of civil rights.”

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“Equality before the law is a pillar of American democracy. I applaud President Obama’s support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.”

For counterpoint, here’s Alliance Defense Fund litigation staff counsel Jim Campbell:

“This shows that the Obama administration doesn’t understand the public purpose of marriage. Marriage – the lifelong, faithful union of one man and one woman – is the building block of a thriving society. It’s not something that politicians should attempt to redefine for political purposes. The president has spoken eloquently about how fatherless homes often hurt children and society. Today’s statement is a tragic contradiction that promotes the creation of even more fatherless and motherless homes.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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How tight-fisted was your House member?

As various national media reported over the weekend, House members are under pressure to ratchet down their office budgets – and one Northern California lawmaker is touting his frugality as a result.

USA Today presented the data on members’ 2011 budget allocations so that it could be arranged in order of the percentage spent – thereby telling us who’s been most tight-fisted with his or her office budget.

Nationally, the biggest spender was Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who overshot his budget by about $8,500; his office told USA Today he will be under budget once all books for the year are reconciled. (The data was as of Dec. 31.) And the nation’s most frugal House member appears to have been Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who spent only 60 percent of the $1,453,472 he was allotted for 2011.

The average House office budget for 2011 was $1.45 million, USA Today reported, with different members allotted different amounts based on factors including a district’s geographical size, its distance from Washington, D.C., local office rental costs and so on. Also, lawmakers who’ve been in Congress for longer tend to have more experienced staffers who draw higher salaries.

Lawmakers must cut their budgets by 6.4 percent this year after a 5 percent cut in 2011.

Here’s how the Bay Area’s members stacked up with their 2011 budget allotments and the percentages they actually spent:

  • Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma – $1,520,019 – 97.8 percent
  • Mike Thompson, D-Napa – $1,488,110 – 97.1 percent
  • Mike Honda, D-Campbell – $1,513,347 – 95.6 percent
  • Pete Stark, D-Fremont – $1,493,927 – 94.9 percent
  • Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto – $1,563,124 – 94.1 percent
  • George Miller, D-Martinez – $1,452,987 – 93.9 percent
  • Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose – $1,480,567 – 92.0 percent
  • Barbara Lee, D-Oakland – $1,518,030 – 91.6 percent
  • Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco – $1,671,596 – 91.4 percent
  • Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough – $1,640,268 – 87.1 percent
  • Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – $1,473,929 – 85.3 percent
  • John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove – $1,467,605 – 77.8 percent
  • Garamendi issued a news release today crowing that he was more frugal than 395 of his House colleagues.

    “I want to see less money spent on Congress and more resources paying down our deficit and investing in our schools, roads, health coverage, and veteran’s services,” he said in the release. “I’ve balanced the checkbook for the family ranch. I know how to make more with less. I’m proud that we managed to stay so under budget while still maintaining robust communications with and support for 10th Congressional District residents.”

    But Garamendi – who’s running for re-election this year in the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District – was quick to note his frugality doesn’t mean he’s out of touch. He said he hosted more than a dozen in-person and telephone town halls last year or early this year, plus resource fairs for job seekers, veterans, seniors, social services and small businesses and other events.

    24

    Calif. House Dems urge probe of Trayvon’s death

    Two dozen California House Democrats wrote to express support for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s investigation of whether the Feb. 26 slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a self-styled neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla., “was motivated by racial bias and therefore a hate crime.”

    “The family of Trayvon Martin deserves to know the truth and the American people expect justice to be served,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter, which was sent to Holder yesterday.

    The letter cites unresolved questions about what led to Martin’s slaying by George Zimmerman, 28, and the Sanford Police Department’s failure to make an arrest.

    “It is in the best interest of our constituents and the country that you conduct a thorough investigation that also determines whether this was motivated by racial bias and therefore a hate crime,” the lawmakers wrote. “History has shown that investigating these crimes and enforcing our laws against them bring the issue to light and help our society progress.”

    Among those who signed the letter are Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; George Miller, D-Martinez; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

    President Barack Obama said Friday it’s “imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” and noted the case makes him think of his own kids. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

    10

    Local House members pose for NOH8 Campaign

    As the federal court drama over Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage continues, three Bay Area members of Congress have loaned their likenesses to a national campaign for same-sex marriage rights.

    The NOH8 Campaign, now in its fourth year, is “a photographic silent protest created by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and partner Jeff Parshley in direct response to the passage of Proposition 8,” according to its website. “Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with ‘NOH8’ painted on one cheek in protest.”

    The campaign went to Capitol Hill last week to ask members of Congress to pose; 10 members, all Democrats, did so.

    Jackie Speier

    Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough: “NOH8 because we are a country of equality and inclusion, not hate and segregation. NOH8 because the state should not dictate love or marriage. I proudly join with the NOH8 campaign to stand up for marriage equality and oppose laws that suppress it.”

    Lynn Woolsey

    Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma: “I’m proud to participate in this extraordinary campaign, to make this statement of protest against the treatment of LGBT Americans as second-class citizens. I believe this is the defining civil rights struggle of our time — where you stand today on marriage equality will determine how you are judged by history. What’s at stake is the human dignity of LGBT people. To deny equal rights and freedoms based on sexual orientation does violence to American values.”

    Barbara Lee

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: “Hate does not belong in our communities, families, schools, or the workplace, and certainly not in our government.”