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Activists seek ‘Robin Hood tax’ upon Wall Street

Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.

The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.

Supporters of HR 1579 – authored by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and cosponsored by local lawmakers including Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield – sometimes call it the “Robin Hood tax.”

The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.

Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.

There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.

Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”

The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014
Under: Ami Bera, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jared Huffman, Jeff Denham, John Garamendi, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, Sam Farr, taxes, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers seek update on power station attack

Silicon Valley’s House members want an update on the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation of the sniper attack on PG&E’s Metcalf power substation last April.

METCALF plant 020614Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose; wrote a letter Thursday to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

“Although the damage from the Metcalf incident was largely contained, the potential for a catastrophic attack impacting both our electric grid and communications infrastructure is evident,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we understand it, rolling blackouts throughout our region were narrowly averted. The Metcalf attack, while sophisticated, was relatively small. A larger attack is not difficult to imagine and the effects could be crippling.”

Somebody fired rifle rounds last April to take out 17 transformers and 6 circuit breakers, causing $15.4 million in damage at the facility near Coyote Ranch Road in South San Jose. Nobody was hurt and nobody lost power, but circumstances suggest it was a planned attack.

Given the Bay Area’s high concentration of Fortune 500 companies, patent generation and economic productivity, a successful attack on the area’s power grid “would impact not only our region but our country as a whole,” they wrote.

The lawmakers asked Johnson to respond by March 14 with a summary of his department’s work on the incident, including the initial emergency response; work since the incident on improving protection of critical infrastructure, emergency mitigation and coordination with other agencies; recommendations for more improvements; and guidance on whether any congressional action is needed.

Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Homeland security, Mike Honda, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers urge Obama to reclassify marijuana

Eighteen House members, including six from the Bay Area, wrote to President Obama today urging him to use his authority to move marijuana off the federal government’s list of most-restricted drugs.

Marijuana currently is listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a list for drugs deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States and a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision. The lawmakers’ letter says this “makes no sense” for marijuana, and calls on the president to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to reclassify the drug.

“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” the letter says. “Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

The letter comes days after Obama told the New Yorker magazine that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that has brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Among those signing the letter were Reps. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton. The only Republican among the 18 signers was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach.

The Controlled Substances Act gives authority for rescheduling controlled substances to Congress, but it also grants executive branch authority to the U.S. Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Several rescheduling bills have gone nowhere in recent years.

“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

House members battle over high-speed rail

California House members battled over the future of the state’s high-speed rail project at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Here’s what Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, chair of the state’s democratic House delegation, had to say in favor of the project:

And here’s what House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in opposition:

My colleague, Jessica Calefati, wrote a great story last week about how this battle is playing out on the ground in the Central Valley – check it out.

Posted on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Under: Transportation, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Eshoo & Lofgren offer bill to curb TV blackouts

Two Bay Area House members introduced a bill Thursday to eliminate broadcast television blackouts and give consumers more flexibility to choose the channels they receive each month from their cable, satellite or other pay-TV provider.

The Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act was offered by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

“During the three months since I released draft legislation – the message from individuals, communications companies and consumer groups has been abundantly clear: our video laws are in need of reform,” said Rep. Eshoo. “My bill would put an end to broadcast television blackouts and ensure consumers aren’t held hostage by a dispute they have no control over. Recurring TV blackouts coupled with the rising cost of broadcast television programming has left consumers frustrated and looking to Congress and the FCC for answers.”

Eshoo said she looks forward to working with Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. – who like Eshoo serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – and committee leadership “to advance meaningful bipartisan reform that promotes healthy competition, consumer choice and continued innovation across the video marketplace.”

The issue came to the fore late last summer during a showdown between CBS Corp. and Time Warner Cable which left millions of Time Warner customers in major cities including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas without access to CBS’ broadcast stations and cable networks.

The bill has five key provisions. It would prevent broadcast television blackouts by giving the Federal Communications Commission explicit authority to grant interim carriage of a television broadcast station during a retransmission consent negotiation impasse. It would ensure that a consumer can purchase cable television service without subscribing to the broadcast stations electing retransmission consent.

It would prohibit a television broadcast station engaged in a retransmission consent negotiation from making their owned or affiliated cable programming a condition for receiving broadcast programming. It would instruct the FCC to examine whether the blocking of a television broadcast station’s owned or affiliated online content during a retransmission consent negotiation constitutes a failure to negotiate in “good faith.” And it calls for an FCC study of programming costs for regional and national sports networks in the top 20 regional sports markets.

Lofrgren said “internet users and television customers should not be held hostage when business negotiation disputes arise between cable and content providers. It’s unfair to subject consumers to service blackouts or blocked online content. This bill offers the basic consumer protections and choices they should receive in television and online services.”

Posted on Thursday, December 12th, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Zoe Lofgren goes hungry for immigration reform

Rep. Zoe Lofgren started fasting Wednesday for one day in sympathy with the “Fast 4 Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship.”

Lofgren, D-San Jose, cast her lot with a group of immigration reform advocates who’ve been fasting for more than 30 days on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol in order to urge House Republicans to act. It’s part of a relay of sorts: Lofgren took up the fast from Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, and it’s unclear who’ll pick it up from Lofgren on Thursday.

“I’m humbled to join in fasting with these courageous people to demonstrate my shared commitment for comprehensive reform,” Lofgren said. “From left to right, a majority of Americans want to fix our broken immigration system because it does not reflect our values, it tears families apart and forces people to live in the shadows, and it holds our economy and country back. The American people are tired of excuses about why Congress cannot pass reform and I challenge my Republican friends in the House to set aside politics and join us in passing meaningful immigration reform.”

Lofgren is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, and for the past four years has worked with seven other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to craft an immigration reform bill. Republicans pulled out of those talks in September, scuttling the effort.

UPDATE @ 11:20 A.M. THURSDAY: Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, started his 24-hour fast yesterday too, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, starts his today. “My colleagues and I are joining this fast because we all know the system can – and must – be fixed,” Miller said. “Americans want and deserve an improved immigration system that reflects our values and Congress needs to deliver on that promise now.”

Posted on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Under: Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Immigration, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers: Let Filipinos stay in U.S. beyond visas

Filipinos currently in the United States should be allowed to remain temporarily after their visas expire due to Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation of the Philippines, say members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, led 28 other members in calling upon the Obama Administration to grant visiting Filipinos “temporary protected status” given the extraordinary circumstances.

Their letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers cites a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the administration “to designate a foreign state for special protection if a natural disaster prevents the state from being able to adequately handle the return of its nationals.”

“Considering the daunting rescue and restoration efforts before it, the country is not in a position to adequately handle returning nationals, many of whom will be unable to return to their homes,” they wrote. “Additionally, given the extraordinary and life-threatening conditions currently present in the Philippines, it cannot be said that Filipinos are able to return to the state in anything approaching safe conditions.”

The United States has granted TPS status during other major humanitarian disasters, most recently including those in Syria, Haiti and Sudan.

Besides Lofgren, D-San Jose, other Bay Area House members signing the letter included Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose. In all, 21 Democrats and eight Republicans signed the letter.

Posted on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Under: U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Inertia on immigration reform riles Dems

Democrats are hitting back at Speaker John Boehner’s statement today that the House won’t take up a comprehensive immigration reform bill before this year’s end.

NBC Latino reports Boehner, R-Ohio, was eating breakfast at a Washington diner this morning when he was approached by two children of immigrants who urged House action.

“I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done,” he reportedly told them. “It’s as you know, not easy, not going to be an easy path forward but I made it clear since the day after the election, it’s time to get this done.”

Later this morning, Boehner wouldn’t set a timeline, but rather said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is working with Democrats to develop a set of principles “for us to deal with this issue.” He also said the House has “no intention of ever going to conference” on S.744, the bipartisan bill that the Senate passed in June on a 68-32 vote.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, replied to Boehner with a tweet this morning:

Pelosi tweet

H.R. 15 is the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” introduced last month by Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla. It mostly mirrors the Senate bill, but replaces the Senate’s border-security plan with a different one authored by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and approved unanimously by the Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, the senior Democrat on Judiciary’s Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, spoke about Boehner’s comments during today’s committee hearing on an automated, biometrics-based entry-exit system to track the entry and exit of all travelers to and from the United States.

“Before I close, let me just say, how disappointed I was to hear the news that the House is not intending to consider immigration bills before the end of the year. I think we have a historic opportunity before us to work together to improve our immigration laws. I thank the Chairman of the [Immigration] Subcommittee [Rep. Trey Gowdy] for his kind comments about myself and Mr. [Luis] Gutierrez. I am mindful that we did not do immigration reform in a comprehensive way when we had the majority as Democrats. We were actually, in the House, deferring to the Senate hoping that they could have bipartisan agreement. They ultimately failed. The gentleman was not a Member of that Congress, but we did pass the DREAM Act when Democrats were in the majority, and it fell short in the Senate.

“I just believe that we can put our hands across the aisle and work together to improve our laws. I would hope the spirit and intent to do that has not faded on the part of the majority [Republicans]. Certainly I would hope to continue to work with the majority to solve this problem for our country.”

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and senior administration officials met this morning at the White House with faith leaders to discuss the importance of passing immigration reform.

“The leaders expressed their concerns over the impact the broken immigration system is having on families throughout their congregations,” according to the White House’s readout of the meeting. “The President and the leaders discussed their shared commitment to raise the moral imperative for immigration reform and said they will continue keeping the pressure on Congress so they can swiftly pass commonsense reform.”

Obama commended the faith leaders for their efforts, and “noted there is no reason for House Republicans to continue to delay action on this issue that has garnered bipartisan support,” the readout said. “It would show the American people that Washington can still work together to solve our nation’s challenges.”

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, last month was the first House Republican to sign onto H.R. 15; others who’ve done so since then include Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford. They and certain other California Republicans might face tougher re-election fights next year if no action is taken on immigration reform.

Posted on Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, Immigration, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 16 Comments »

Q3 fundraising reports: CA15, CA7 and many more

As third-quarter Federal Election Commission reports trickle in on today’s deadline, it looks as if freshman Rep. Eric Swalwell still doesn’t have much to worry about money-wise from his Democratic challenger.

Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, raised $277,928 and spent $69,599 in the third quarter, leaving him with $614,262 cash on hand and $7,639 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30. State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, raised $36,502 and spent $9,269 in the third quarter, leaving her with $143,417 cash on hand and no outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

The 15th Congressional District – about 90 percent in Alameda County, and the rest in Contra Costa County – is registered 48.4 percent Democrat, 22.2 percent Republican and 20.7 percent no-party-preference.

I reported last week on what’s expected to be a fiercer Democrat-on-Democrat House showdown between Rep. Mike Honda and challenger Ro Khanna, where Khanna continues to outstrip the incumbent in fundraising.

Elsewhere, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton – often a target of the National Republican Congressional Committee – raised $140,310 and spent $66,407, leaving him with $243,445 cash on hand and $3,704 in outstanding debts. He’ll be challenged next year by Republican Steve Anthony Colangelo of Stockton, a prominent member of the local business community who owns “the leading event supply company in the Central Valley for weddings, graduation parties and other important community and family events.” Colangelo’s third-quarter report is not yet available as of now.

In a more distant but potentially tighter race, two Republicans vying to take a crack at freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, are putting a lot of their own money into their campaigns.

Former Rep. Doug Ose, a Republican from Sacramento, announced early last month that he’ll challenge Bera. Ose reported Tuesday that he raised $238,150 and lent his campaign $250,000 from his own pocket while spending $15,681 in the third quarter, leaving him with $256,243 cash on hand and $61,839 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

(UPDATE @ 8:45 P.M.: Nick Mirman, a spokesman for Ose’s campaign, e-mailed me this evening to say that the $250,000 that appeared in Ose’s latest report as a loan from the candidate “reflects forgiving campaign debt from the 2008 race … Again, he has not contributed $250,000 to his 2014 race.”)

Elizabeth Emken – U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Republican challenger in 2012, who since has moved from Danville to Fair Oaks for this race – reported raising $63,395 and loaning her campaign another $35,000 (for a total of $285,000 in personal loans so far this year) while spending $49,855 in the third quarter. That left her with $336,895 cash on hand but a whopping $293,255 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

Bera raised $456,396 and spent $68,268 in the third quarter, leaving him with $898,748 cash on hand but $345,490 in outstanding debts as of Sept. 30.

Among the Bay-Area-House-Democrats-with-little-to-worry-about, third-quarter reports show:

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, raised $111,505 and spent $104,658, leaving her with $51,582 cash on hand and no outstanding debts
    Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, raised $65,421 and spent $34,519, leaving him with $349,073 cash on hand and $930 in outstanding debts
    Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, raised $196,000 and spent $77,595, leaving her with $477,678 cash on hand and no outstanding debts
    Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, raised $224,310 and spent $58,431, leaving her with $795,550 cash on hand and no outstanding debts
    Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, raised $127,190 and spent $71,987, leaving her with $1,103,324 cash on hand and $2,774 in outstanding debts.
    Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, raised $88,536 and spent $42,056, leaving him with $150,851 cash on hand and no outstanding debts.
    Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, raised $165,713 and spent $135,266, leaving him with $1,466,930 cash on hand and $6,172 in outstanding debts.

Posted on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Under: Ami Bera, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, campaign finance, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 8 Comments »

Shutdown: Glimmer of hope, calls to ease harm

Thursday afternoon brought some glimmer of progress toward ending the federal government shutdown, as well as California House members’ renewed calls to mitigate the shutdown’s harms.

From the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“This evening in the Roosevelt Room, the leaders laid out the House proposal to temporarily extend the debt limit, formally appoint budget negotiators, and begin immediate discussions over how to re-open the government. No final decisions were made; however, it was a useful and productive conversation. The President and leaders agreed that communication should continue throughout the night. House Republicans remain committed to good faith negotiations with the president, and we are pleased there was an opportunity to sit down and begin a constructive dialogue tonight.”

Meanwhile, 10 California Democrats took to the House floor today to complain of the damage that the shutdown is doing to the Golden State’s economy, even while there are enough House votes to reopen the government immediately.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said the North Coast’s tourism economy is taking a beating as visitors are turned away from federal lands including Point Reyes National Seashore, Redwood National Park, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, causing local businesses to lose money.

“Visitors from all over America, and in fact all over the world, come to the North Coast’s public lands. Thanks to the Republican shutdown much of that economic activity is grinding to a halt,” Huffman said. “Let’s stop posturing, let’s stop the PR stunts, let’s stop the ‘Hollywood storefronts,’ stop deflecting, and stop insulting the intelligence of the American people. Let’s have an up or down vote to reopen our public lands and, indeed, to reopen our government.”

Elsewhere, Rep. Eric Swalwell announced he and other Bay Area lawmakers are urging U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to ensure that employees at national laboratories –contract workers who facing furlough if the shutdown goes on much longer – will get back pay once the federal government reopens, just as the House already has approved for federal workers.

Swalwell, D-Pleasanton represents Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories in Livermore, where 7,500 government contractors will be furloughed without pay starting Oct. 18 if the shutdown doesn’t end first.

“National lab employees in Livermore should not have to suffer because of a shutdown caused by the Tea Party,” Swalwell said in a news release. “Lab employees are dedicated public servants who are supporting our country’s national and energy security, and just because their paychecks stop doesn’t mean their bills won’t keep coming.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, represents the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, where 1,500 employees are at risk of being furloughed. “They are our nation’s premier scientists and engineers who daily are engaged in cutting-edge research that is changing the world,” Eshoo said.

And Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is in the district of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

“Congress has moved to provide back pay to hundreds of thousands of federal employees across the country who continue to suffer furloughs due to the unnecessary Republican shutdown of the government,” Lee said. “The scientists, technicians, and workers at our national labs make enormous contributions to this nation, and they deserve to be paid for their work..”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, is signing the letter too, as a longtime supporter of national lab and the fusion research conducted by the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore.

“We take pride in the cutting-edge advancements in our scientific research, but budget cuts and now a government shutdown are threatening these important undertakings,” Lofgren said. “It’s irresponsible political gamesmanship for Republicans to continue to refuse to put a clean funding bill before the House for a vote. If they did, it would pass, ending the harm that is being done to furloughed workers like these scientists and the vital research they are engaged in.”

Posted on Thursday, October 10th, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, John Boehner, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 3 Comments »