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Barbara Lee meets with Raul Castro at U.N.

Rep. Barbara Lee met with Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

President Obama earlier this month nominated Lee, D-Oakland, as a Representative of the United States to the 70th U.N. General Assembly. She’s been a longtime supporter of normalized relations with Cuba.

“I was particularly pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the renewed diplomatic relations between our two countries and to personally congratulate him on the historic steps taken toward normalizing relations with the United States,” Lee said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing to work in Congress to lifting the travel ban and ending the failed trade embargo. President Obama has shown bold leadership by opening up relations with Cuba – it’s past time for Congress to act as well.”

Posted on Friday, September 25th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, International, International politics, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Lifting our lamp beside the golden door

Here’s why America must welcome Syrian refugees with open arms: Because it’s who we are and how we win.

As I strolled, ate, drank and danced my way through New Orleans while on vacation last week, I thought often of people far less fortunate – both in that beautiful but still-troubled city scarred by storm and neglect, and on the other side of the world fleeing a war of great cruelty and horror.

I thought of Hungary, where refugees have been herded into pens at gunpoint – a particularly European deja vu that should make the world shudder.

I thought of Germany, where residents flocked to Munich’s train station to donate food and water and to applaud weary travelers as they disembarked – a scene allowing some small hope that we’re not doomed as a species.

I thought of our nation, where the Obama administration recently announced we’ll take 10,000 refugees next year – a promise that set the professional critic class and the anti-Muslim bigots howling, even though it’s the tiniest fraction of those who’ve been displaced.

The refugees now swamping Europe had no choice but to run away with little more than their babes in arms and the clothes on their backs, leaving homes pocked with bullet holes if not reduced to rubble. They come not with some devious intention of undermining us, or some haughty intention of converting us, but with the simple intention of continuing to draw breath. They come because they have nowhere else to go.

They’re Muslims, but they’re not our enemies. The “godly” agents of chaos they’re fleeing from are our enemies. And we can kill our enemies with kindness.

The refugees are desperate, and we are rich. For a relative pittance, we can welcome them with open arms and restore to them some degree of stability and hope. Even if it costs more than a pittance, it’s both a sacred gift and a sound investment. In giving this gift, we demonstrate that we are not the devils that the wild-eyed gun-toting mullahs say we are. We show that our way – compassion, mercy, friendship, tolerance – is the right way.

They will remember this kindness all their lives, they will teach it to their children. In that way, no matter what tongue they speak in praising God, they will become us.

If you’re Christian, this is the moment to be Christ-like by doing unto others. If you’re Jewish, this is what the Eternal did for you when you went forth from Egypt, and the very essence of tikkun ha-olam. If you’re an atheist, this is how you prove morality can exist without religion. If you’re human, this is what it means to be human.

Some say recent decades have been a clash of cultures, a war of ideas, as fundamentalist Islam wrote its complaint in blood around the world. Surely we’ve learned by now that you can’t shoot your way out of a war of ideas – you must have the better idea, and you must live it. Fortunately, we lucky Americans had that idea a long time ago.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s time to live it.

Posted on Monday, September 14th, 2015
Under: International politics | 6 Comments »

Jerry Brown will lead trade mission to Mexico

Gov. Jerry Brown will lead a trade and investment mission to Mexico – California’s largest export market – in the last week of July, he announced Tuesday.

California’s neighbor has a role to play in the Golden State’s push to address its energy and environmental needs, Brown had said in his State of the State address in January.

“Reducing our oil consumption, two-thirds of which is imported by ships and tank cars, will take time, breakthrough technologies and steadfast commitment. It will also require that the countries which burn the most fossil fuel join with us,” he said at the time. “We’ve started building those partnerships with other states and countries like China. We will go to Mexico next. California can’t do this alone.”

A delegation of California government, business, economic development, investment and policy leaders will join Brown on this mission, which is being organized by the California Chamber of Commerce. The focus will be on boosting direct investment in the state, expanding bilateral economic and environmental cooperation, and connecting California businesses with new opportunities and partnerships.

Brown met last month with Mexican consuls general from cities across California.

The governor one year ago led a similar mission to China, during which he met with government leaders including China Premier Li Keqiang, opened the California-China Office of Trade and Investment in Shanghai and signed the first economic and environmental agreements ever between a subnational entity and Chinese Ministries. Brown later last year met with China’s President Xi Jinping in California to sign a climate-change pact; he also has signed pacts in the past year with leaders from Canada, Israel and Peru to combat climate change, strengthen economic ties and cooperate on research.

Posted on Tuesday, April 29th, 2014
Under: economy, energy, Environment, Gov. Jerry Brown, International politics, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

Tauscher to speak at Cal on U.S.-Russia relations

Ellen Tauscher started the summer optimistic that the improving U.S.-Russia relationship would provide fertile ground for new arms-control agreements – but it’s been a tough couple of months since then.

“This is like batting-cage practice when the machine goes wild and is throwing balls at you left and right,” she said in a telephone interview Monday. “Events can overtake you.”

negotiating aloneTauscher, a former East Bay congresswoman who served for three years as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, will be back in the Bay Area on Oct. 30 to deliver a speech entitled “Negotiating Alone? The United States, Russia and the Prospect of Arms Control.”

Sponsored by the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Tauscher’s address will assess the prospects for future arms control agreements between two nations that still retain vast nuclear arsenals.

Tauscher in June had co-authored an article in Foreign Policy magazine with Igor Ivanov – a president of the Russian International Affairs Council and former Russian Federation foreign minister – in which they wrote the U.S.-Russian political dialogue was finally gaining momentum toward mutually assured stability.

But things turned sour this summer. Russia in June enacted new laws limiting civil liberties for gays and lesbians; in August gave asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden; and throughout maintained its support for its longtime ally Syrian President Bashar Assad during that nation’s brutal civil war. President Obama cancelled a September summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Can this marriage be saved?” Tauscher quipped Monday, before adding that it must be.

“It is a fundamentally important relationship for many, many reasons, and we are not at our best right now – that is for sure – but I think that everybody who has been part of this for a long time knows that relationships ebb and wane,” she said, adding efforts are afoot to “try to get back to a better footing” and “find a way to remember that we do some of the best works in the world together.”

Ellen TauscherThe Syria situation – in which Russia for years has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s government, and then last month brokered a deal for destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons – has been particularly trying, Tauscher said.

“This is when it’s very difficult to keep a sense of equilibrium in the relationship because it’s not just the obvious bilateral and international roles that we play,” she said. “It’s very complicated when third, fourth and fifth parties are involved, and that’s part of the situation we find ourselves in now.”

She said she hopes the “Track II” nonofficial talks that she’s a part of will be fruitful as a “back channel way for conversations to keep going when the public face of the relationship is not the prettiest.”

Tauscher is now senior public policy adviser to the Baker Donelson law firm in Washington, D.C. Registration for her Matsui Lecture is available online.

Posted on Monday, October 21st, 2013
Under: Ellen Tauscher, International politics | 2 Comments »

Israel re-opens probe of Oakland activist’s injury

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Israel Defense Forces to reopen an investigation into the grievous head injury suffered by an Oakland activist during a West Bank protest in March 2009, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

Tristan AndersonTristan Anderson, then 39, was at a protest of Israel’s security fence in the West Bank city of Na’alin when a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier struck him in the head, causing severe brain damage.

The Israel Defense Force investigated whether the Border Police were at fault following the incident, but a petition to the court – filed by attorneys for Anderson’s family and by Yesh Din, an Israeli human-rights group – claimed the probe was inadequate. The petition said the army did not visit Na’alin and questioned only a few soldiers who were on the scene; it’s not clear whether the army questioned the soldier who fired the canister. No criminal charges have been brought against any police or military personnel involved in the case.

“It is the obligation of the State of Israel to investigate suspicions of unwarranted injury of protesters, which occur time after time,” Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said in a news release issued by Anderson’s supporters Wednesday. “It is a shame that it took three-and-a-half years for the High Court to intervene in order to force the investigators to implement basic investigative procedures.”

Anderson’s mother, Nancy Anderson, said in the release that her son “will live the rest of his life with serious mental and physical limitations and chronic pain. This has devastated his life and profoundly affected our family forever.” The family’s civil lawsuit against the Israeli military and government is scheduled to go to trial in November.

Gabrielle Silverman of Oakland – Anderson’s girlfriend, who was with him when he was injured – said Wednesday that Anderson was released from an Israeli hospital in June 2010 and now lives with his parents in Grass Valley. He remains hemiplegic – paralyzed on his left side – and suffers permanent cognitive and emotional impairments from his injury; he requires around-the-clock care, Silverman said.

Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Under: International politics, Israel, Oakland | 35 Comments »

Romney, Obama spar over U.S.-Israel relations

Mitt Romney’s stumbles over the nation’s “special relationship” with Great Britain aside, it’s the American relationship with Israel that’s fueling a lot of the fire this week between the presidential campaigns.

Romney will be in Israel on Sunday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz, and Labor Party Leaders Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog. The Republican candidate, speaking this past Tuesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, had trashed President Obama’s treatment of Israel.

Romney at VFW (James Glover-Reuters)“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem,” Romney said. “The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.”

Romney’s campaign also Tuesday issued a policy paper saying he would make Israel the destination of his first foreign trip as president; within 100 days of taking office, reaffirm as a vital U.S. national interest the existence of Israel as a Jewish state; work closely with Israel to maintain its strategic military edge and increase military assistance; reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, while making clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations is unacceptable; and reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas.

Vice President Joe Biden shot back that same day.

“Governor Romney continues his long litany of untruths about our administration’s policies toward Israel. We’ve provided record levels of security assistance, funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that intercepted nearly 80 percent of the rockets recently fired from Gaza, close collaboration on longer range missile defense systems, the largest joint military exercises in history, the most consistent and comprehensive exchanges ever between our top political, defense, security and intelligence officials,” Biden said. “And, contrary to Governor Romney’s outrageous accusation that the President joined in the chorus of insults levied against Israel at the United Nations, President Obama has stood up repeatedly, publicly and often alone against efforts to delegitimize Israel at the U.N. and around the world.”

Lots more, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, July 27th, 2012
Under: 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama, International politics, Mitt Romney, Obama presidency | 3 Comments »

Barbara Lee becomes Sudan Caucus co-chair

Rep. Barbara Lee is the newest of four co-chairs of the Congressional Sudan Caucus, which is still trying to draw more attention to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in that African nation.

Lee, D-Oakland, succeeds the late Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., as a co-chair; the other three co-chairs are Michael Capuano, D-Mass., Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Michael McCaul, R-Tex. The caucus was founded in 2005.

In her news release Tuesday, Lee noted ongoing strife in the Sudanese border areas of South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei, and Darfur, and in Yida and other refugee camps in South Sudan. Civilians are subject to the Sudanese government’s indiscriminate bombing and denial of humanitarian aid, leaving nearly half a million at risk of starvation.

Lee said she’ll work with the other co-chairs “to bring Khartoum, Juba, and all stakeholders together to ensure that peace prevails in the region. At this critical time with Sudan and South Sudan on the brink of war, it is critical that Congress and the United States use all tools at its disposal to bring the two sides to the negotiating table for peace talks.”

Lee will take part in a subcommittee hearing on Sudan this Thursday and will host U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for a special briefing with members of Congress on international efforts to reach a peaceful resolution.

Lee has been active on the issue for some time, sponsoring legislation recognizing acts of genocide in the region and urging China as well as the Arab League to step up efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur. Her bill to allow divestment from companies doing business in the region was enacted into law in 2007.

Posted on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012
Under: Barbara Lee, International politics, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

Nancy Pelosi and George Miller are in Egypt

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, are part of a Congressional delegation to Egypt that arrived in Cairo yesterday.

Pelosi & Tantawi 3-15-2012 (AP Photo)The delegation met today with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – commander in chief of Egypt’s armed forces, and the nation’s de factor head of state since February 2011 – and will be seeing other high-ranking Egyptian government officials, as well as civil society and religious minority leaders.

After meeting yesterday with Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Wafaa Bassim, Pelosi said the U.S.-Egypt relationship “is an important one I believe to both our countries, I know to the U.S. We have always had a relationship with the people of Egypt and we hope to continue that in a very important way. The strength of Egypt, its stability, is important to the region and to world, and we want to be helpful in that regard.”

Other delegation members include Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Under: George Miller, International politics, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Several Bay Area guests at tonight’s State Dinner

Several Bay Area residents will be on the White House’s South Lawn for tonight’s State Dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron:

  • SPO Parnters & Co. private investment firm managing director John Scully, chairman of Advent Software, and his wife Regina, of San Francisco;
  • former Symantec CEO John Thompson and his wife, Sandi, of Woodside, who hosted a big-ticket fundraiser for the president at their home last September; and
  • California Attorney General Kamala Harris of San Francisco, and her sister, Maya Harris, who is the Ford Foundation’s Vice President for Peace & Social Justice.
  • Others on the long list of guests include various administration officials, diplomats and lawmakers; Virgin group founder Sir Richard Branson; Vogue magazine editor-in-chief Anna Wintour; movie mogul Harvey Weinstein; American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; and actors George Clooney and Idris Elba. The British folk-rock group Mumford & Sons and Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter John Legend will perform.

    They’ll be chowing down on a first course of crisped halibut with potato crust, shaved Brussels sprouts and applewood-smoked bacon; a second course of spring garden lettuces with shallot dressing, shaved breakfast radish, cucumbers and avocados; a main course of bison Wellington with red wine reduction, French beans and Cipollini onions; and a dessert of warm Meyer lemon steamed pudding with Idaho huckleberry sauce and Newtown Pippin apples.

    Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
    Under: International politics, Obama presidency | 5 Comments »

    South Bay prof takes State Dept. war-crimes job

    A Santa Clara University law professor is going to work for the U.S. State Department, helping to shape the nation’s responses to war crimes committed around the world.

    Beth Van Schaack, an expert in international law, will serve as deputy to Stephen Rapp, the U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for War Crimes Issues, in the state department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice. She’ll take a leave of absence from her teaching duties in order to take this appointment, which will last up to two years starting next Friday, March 23.

    Van Schaack will work closely with international tribunals, non-governmental organizations and foreign governments to ensure accountability for international crimes according to international human rights principles. She’ll also help the office in its role advising governments on implementing other forms of transitional justice, such as truth commissions and commissions of inquiry.

    Santa Clara University School of Law Dean Donald Polden said Van Schaack’s “considerable skills as a lawyer, her knowledge and expertise in the areas of human rights and international criminal law, and her judgment and professionalism make her an ideal candidate” for this job.

    Van Schaack has prosecutors of international crimes committed in Uganda and Cambodia, and formerly was executive director and staff attorney at the Center for Justice & Accountability, an international human-rights law group. She has served as an observer or NGO delegate at sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as meetings of other United Nations bodies. In 2002, she was on the defense team for John Walker Lindh, the American citizen with Marin County roots who was convicted of joining the Taliban.

    She holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a law degree from Yale Law School.

    Rapp is the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he initiated the prosecution of former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor. Earlier, he prosecuted cases arising out of the Rwandan genocide as a senior trial counsel for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

    The Office of Global Criminal Justice, formerly known as the Office of War Crimes Issues, advises Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the under secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights.

    Posted on Monday, March 12th, 2012
    Under: International, International politics | 2 Comments »