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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 »

    Tauscher named to help lead new international policy think-tank

    Former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher has been named to the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think-tank, as the vice president of its new Scowcroft Center on International Security.

    Tauscher recently announced her resignation as under secretary of arms control and international security under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying she wanted time to pursue other projects including advocacy for cancer patients. The former Alamo resident was named to the high-ranking post in mid-2009 after serving 13 years in Congress. She successfully battled esophageal cancer in 2011.

    Tauscher will continue to consult the State Department on Russian-U.S. negotiations.

    At the Scowcroft Center, Tauscher will join friend and colleague, retired Gen. James Jones, also a former national security advisor to President Barack Obama.

    Here’s what she told for its playbook: TAUSCHER, who won a tough battle with esophageal cancer last year , told us she’ll remain in Washington and continue her cancer advocacy work: “The worst thing anybody can do when you get the tough news that you’ve got cancer is to actually go to the Internet, because it will blow your mind and it will scare you to death … So, for you and your family, it’s important to have a source of good information, serious and sober information … I want to … also advocate for earlier endoscopes … [L]ike Katie Couric talks about colon cancer, this is something not to scare people but to raise awareness … [T]he scary thing isn’t want somebody tells you; it’s what you don’t know. Early treatment is still the best cure for any kind of cancer.”

    Click through to read the Atlantic Council’s press release and Tauscher’s email to family, friends and colleagues.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted on Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
    Under: International politics | 4 Comments »

    House passes Eshoo’s bill on religious minorities

    The House today overwhelmingly approved a bill by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, to create a special State Department envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

    The bill, HR 440, was introduced in January in the wake of increasing violence, targeted attacks and heightened discrimination against Christians in Iraq and Egypt, and persistent concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other nations. The House voted 402-20 today to approve it and send it on to the Senate.

    Wolf co-chairs Congress’ bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, named for the late congressman from San Mateo. Threats against religious minorities have been increasing in recent months, he said, and the United States has an obligation to speak out for the voiceless, to develop policies to protect and preserve these communities, and to prioritize these issues in broader U.S. foreign policy.

    “The U.S. government needs an individual who can respond and focus on the critical situation of religious minorities in these countries whose basic human rights are increasingly under assault,” Wolf said in today’s news release. “If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak.”

    Eshoo, who co-founded and co-chairs the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus with Wolf, has long pressed the State Department to develop a comprehensive policy to address the unique needs of small, indigenous faith communities in Iraq that are being targeted for violence.

    “In a time of partisanship and polarization, it’s gratifying when members from both parties can come together to address the humanitarian crisis that’s been unfolding in the Middle East, and has not been given the attention it deserves,” she said. “As the daughter of Assyrian and Armenian immigrants who fled the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East, it’s terrifying to see history repeating itself in today’s Iraq. I’m hopeful that the special envoy created by this legislation will elevate the crisis of the Middle East’s religious minorities, giving them the diplomatic attention they so badly need and deserve.”

    Reps. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough – Lantos’ successor – are among the bill’s co-sponsors.

    Posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011
    Under: Afghanistan, Anna Eshoo, International politics, Iraq, Jackie Speier, Mike Honda, Tom Lantos, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

    John Yoo defends Obama’s war powers in Libya

    Cal law professor John Yoo – who as a Justice Department attorney helped build a legal framework for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques many consider to be torture and for other perceived Bush Administration transgressions – has found a new way to make Bay Area liberals mad: supporting President Barack Obama’s stance on his power to attack Libya.

    In an op-ed piece that appeared in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Yoo argues House Republicans are sacrificing constitutional principle for partisan advantage in battling the President on Libya.

    John Yoo “By accusing President Barack Obama of violating the War Powers Resolution, House Republicans are abandoning their party’s longstanding position that the Constitution allows the executive to use force abroad, subject to Congress’s control over funding,” Yoo wrote. “Sadly, they’ve fallen victim to the siren song of short-term political gain against a president who continues to stumble in national-security matters.”

    OK, so he’s not an Obama fan by any stretch of the imagination. But Yoo wrote that “Mr. Obama’s constitutional position today on war powers is little different from that of President George W. Bush, whom Democrats portrayed as a warmongering dictator.”

    “If the Constitution gives the president the executive authority to use force abroad, Congress cannot take it away,” Yoo wrote. “Surely Mr. Boehner agreed with this proposition before the current president took office. He, for instance, never claimed that President George W. Bush’s exercise of broad executive powers in the war on terror violated the Constitution. Nor does he appear to have thought that legislative authorization of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was constitutionally necessary in 2001 and 2002.”

    If Republicans want to end U.S. involvement in Libya, Yoo concludes, they should cut the operation’s purse strings; refuse to lift the debt ceiling until they get what they want; or even start impeachment proceedings. “But holding hands with isolationist Democrats out of political convenience is no way to defend the Constitution.”

    So, Yoo’s tally is: House Republicans are wrong; antiwar Democrats are wrong; and the President is wrong but constitutionally protected.

    UPDATE @ 9:50 A.M.: Liz Cheney and Karl Rove agree.

    Posted on Monday, June 20th, 2011
    Under: International politics | 1 Comment »

    Boxer, Lee differ on Obama’s Libya policy

    Even after President Barack Obama laid out his rationale for military intervention in Libya’s civil war yesterday, lawmakers from the Bay Area who are among the most liberal members of their respective chambers remain split on whether it was a wise move.

    U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week said she felt the President had the Senate’s support in launching the air attacks, and had this to say after the President’s speech yesterday:

    “President Obama reminded the country tonight of why it was critical for the international community to take action to prevent the mass slaughter of innocent men, women and children by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.

    “I am pleased that NATO is now assuming control of the mission, and it is important that partners in the Arab League, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, continue to play an active role in enforcing the no-fly zone and ensuring the protection of the Libyan people.”

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, an early and ardent supporter of Obama’s candidacy who since has parted ways with him on many military matters, today said:

    “The President’s speech yesterday was an important opportunity to address many of the unanswered questions about U.S. military involvement in Libya, and he was able to explain why his Administration felt compelled to intervene in Libya. Like the President, I am deeply concerned with the serious humanitarian crisis in Libya and Gaddafi’s reprehensible treatment of the Libyan people, and I believe that the U.S. should work with the international community to protect the well-established fundamental international recognition of civil and political rights. But I maintain my belief that an increased U.S. military presence in Libya could inflame the situation and, ultimately, prove counterproductive to the end goal of sustainable peace.

    “I am pleased with the news that soon NATO will be leading the military effort in Libya, and I share the President’s praise for our courageous troops. But a more thorough discussion about the ramifications of U.S. military engagement in Libya should have occurred before the recent action was taken. Congress must have an opportunity for a robust debate on the risks associated with committing our military resources to Libya, especially with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still being fought.”

    Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
    Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, International politics, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 13 Comments »

    Boxer speaks on Libya & nuclear safety

    U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called her news conference today in San Francisco to blast Republicans’ budget cuts, but she touched on Libya and nuclear safety, too.

    Boxer, D-Calif., praised the Obama Administration for working through the United Nations Security Council – and at the behest of the Arab League – to act to halt Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s promised attacks on his own populace. The international community had an obligation to react to such a crisis, she said, though that reaction “should be limited in scope,” remain an international effort, and retain the Arab League’s support.

    Asked whether the President overstepped his constitutional authority by committing U.S. military forces without Congress’ approval, Boxer replied that the Senate unanimously resolved to urge the U.N. Security Council to act in protection of Libya’s civilians, including establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone. “So I did vote for this, and this is what the President did.”

    Bringing it to Congress might’ve meant people such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio – who said Obama’s action was unconstitutional and has pledged to try to block any funding for military activities in Libya – could’ve debated it for weeks, she said. Kucinich is eloquent and some might agree with him, she said, but “anyone who said he (Obama) should’ve waited don’t feel the sense of urgency that many of us felt” about imminent harm to innocent Libyans.

    Boxer also spoke about the “very worrisome” aftermath of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, particularly new reports that Tokyo’s drinking water might contain enough radioactive iodine to put infants at risk. It’s “a powerful wakeup call for our nation” to review our own nuclear safety, she said: The U.S. has 23 reactors of the same design as the damaged ones at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, as well as 54 plants built before 1980. And she noted the U.S. also has two nuclear power plants sited in areas with the highest degree of seismic risk – both located in California.

    About 7.4 million people live within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear plant in northern San Diego County, she noted, while about 500,000 live within 50 miles of the Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo County. Significant new earthquake risks have been discovered since both plants were built.

    She said she doesn’t believe PG&E, which operates Diablo Canyon, should be granted the permit extension it’s seeking until it has completed new seismic safety studies.

    Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the nation’s nuclear industry through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The committee already has received a briefing from the NRC and other experts, and will hold a full hearing on nuclear safety next month, she said. She said her priorities are immediate reviews of U.S. reactors with the same design as the embattled Japanese reactors; U.S. reactors in seismically active areas; and storage of spent fuel rods. “This is serious business – I’m going to be all over this issue, and Senator (Dianne) Feinstein and I are working together.”

    UPDATE @ 3:25 P.M.: Boxer’s stance on Libya is at odds with at that of least several Bay Area House members. Representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, joined by Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., issued this statement yesterday:

    “The decision for the United States to engage militarily in Libya is one that should have been debated and approved by Congress.

    “We have serious concerns about whether or not an effective and thorough case for military intervention in Libya was made. Too many questions remain. What is our responsibility now? Do we own the situation in Libya and for how long? Where does this dramatic acceleration of military intervention end?

    “There is a serious humanitarian crisis in Libya, and Gaddafi’s reckless, indiscriminate use of force on his own people in response to grassroots calls for change is unacceptable. But there are serious consequences for rushing to war with a limited understanding of the situation on the ground and no exit strategy or plan – we learned this lesson through two ill-advised wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “With the potential for protracted civil war in Libya, and similar circumstances of unrest and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Yemen, and elsewhere, we cannot afford to sidestep critical diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to rely solely upon the deployment of more guns, bombs, and troops. This represents a dangerous path toward perpetual U.S. military engagement around the world.

    “The United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya. Rest assured we will fight in Congress to ensure the United States does not become embroiled in yet another destabilizing military quagmire in Libya with no clear exit plan or diplomatic strategy for peace.”

    Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
    Under: Barbara Boxer, energy, International politics, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

    A former San Franciscan’s trip to Cairo

    Samuel Vengrinovich, a former San Francisco State University student, sent us this video of his experiences visiting Cairo, Egypt, one week after dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign by a popular, peaceful uprising.

    From Vengrinovich, who currently lives in Israel:

    “I get asked all the time why did I want to go to Tahrir Square? And I think, who wouldn’t? I’m sure there are millions of people around the world who would have loved to experience and witness what I saw. I made this documentary video to share that experience, to provide an opportunity for people who were less fortunate like me of being so close to Egypt, or daring enough like me to even go to Egypt, to experience the Egyptian revolution. I wanted to share what I saw, felt, and experienced. I wasn’t scared at all in Cairo. In fact, the minivan ride to Cairo was perhaps the scariest part of my trip. I could have sworn that a few times the driver was going to flip the minivan, as he was driving like a maniac around corners and turns. But I got used to his driving as we got closer to Cairo. In fact, I even edged him on a few times to go faster”

    “Before my trip materialized, the Egyptian protests that were happening in Tahrir Square mesmerized me. I knew this was big. I was watching live footage morning and night, following the ebb and flow of the tug and pull between the regime and the people. I knew what they were going through in some ways. When I was 19 years old, I was at the WTO protests in Seattle dodging rubber bullets, tear gas, and armored carriers. I could relate.”


    “I witnessed the physical and emotional release of decades of pent up emotions by Egyptians under Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, their desire to guard and protect their revolution from being hijacked, and the sensitivity Egyptians displayed about their revolution being positively viewed by the international community.”

    “I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a nation breathe democracy and freedom for the first time in their lives. I was so close, being here in Israel. I knew I had to get there.”

    “I wanted to take the viewers on a journey, unlike the stale and often sometimes cold presentations major news networks display. I think I got some really cool shots. I was jumping into crowds, getting pushed and shoved, going under people, dodging cars and fireworks, to get some of the shots you see in the video. Before I got involved with politics, I was an artist, songwriter and musician. When I was filming and editing the video, I tried to do what I do when writing music—to make people experience through art, sound, and visuals the creative process of my mind. This time, it was experiencing the Egyptian revolution.”

    Posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2011
    Under: International politics | 1 Comment »

    Tom Lantos played key role in U.S.-Libya relations

    As the world watches dictator Moammar Gadhafi fighting to retain control of Libya, it’s time to recall that a late Bay Area House member played a key role in recent U.S.-Libyan relations.

    Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who died in Feburary 2008, was the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee in January 2004 when – with the Bush Administration’s blessing – he became the first U.S. elected official to visit Libya in almost four decades, and the first ever to meet face-to-face with Gadhafi. He and I spoke about that trip soon afterward:

    Upon his return, Lantos met with State Department officials and committee chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, to recommend that the United States lift its ban on travel to Libya and — if Gadhafi’s disarmament cooperation continues — eventually lift sanctions and restore diplomatic relations. It is a stunning recommendation, coming from a lawmaker who helped author the U.S. sanctions against Libya and often has railed on the House floor against the country’s human rights abuses.

    “I am rational enough to recognize that we must accept ‘yes’ for an answer,” Lantos said. “Gadhafi’s record speaks for itself — it’s an abominable record — but the current actions also speak for themselves. He has now made a 180-degree turn.”

    Lantos would return to Libya several times in subsequent years. This week, Reuters reported that diplomatic cables made public through Wikileaks now reveal Gadhafi had urged Lantos to sow division in Saudi Arabia.

    One cable recounts how, in 2006, Gaddafi had urged the United States to call for “self determination” for tribal groups of Saudi Arabia, “who would presumably choose a government other than the present monarchy.”

    Gaddafi’s comments came on a visit by the late Democrat Congressman Tom Lantos, then a member of the U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee, and were made in Gaddafi’s desert encampment on the outskirts of Sirte, according to the cable from August 2006 headlined “Congressman Lantos stresses bilateral achievements and regional challenges with Libyan officials.”

    In an hour-long meeting, Gaddafi mainly expounded on the rise of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, “which has become one of his standard topics,” said the cable; he also lobbied for support for a plan to create “Isratine” — a secular Jewish-Palestinian state — as the best solution for lasting peace in the Middle East.

    The cable separately recounts how a speech on political and economic reform by another of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi, had earned a rebuke from Egypt’s leader Hosni Mubarak. Lantos had congratulated Seif on his speech, it says. “Seif immediately noted that President Mubarak of Egypt called his father, the leader, to express his displeasure with the speech, saying it called for ‘too much change and too much freedom’ and warning that the country should be more conservative in its approach to change.”

    Seif claimed not to know what his father’s reply to Mubarak was, the cable says, commenting that since the speech was broadcast widely on state-run media, it must have had the tacit blessing of the leader.

    Lantos himself talked about his meetings with Gadhafi during a June 2007 committee hearing – by which time he was the committee’s chairman – about “U.S. Policy Challenges in North Africa.”

    lantos.jpgMuammar Qadhafi of Libya, a leader I have visited half a dozen times in the last three years, wisely turned his country on a more reasonable path in its external relations a few years ago. The Qadhafi of this century is a more sensible reincarnation of the terrorist revolutionary of the past.

    I was the first high-ranking U.S. public official to visit Libya after Qadhafi announced his intention to abandon Libya’s nuclear weapons program. I have also helped foster a student exchange program between our two nations. I am very proud of America’s success in convincing Qadhafi to become a decent citizen of the global community.

    Our relations with Libya today are in a much better place than they were just five years ago. Our engagement with Qadhafi and the prosperity it has brought Libya serves as a model to countries currently sponsoring terror or compiling weapons of mass destruction. They should know that they, too, can come in from the cold.

    Despite the progress, our relationship appears to have come to a standstill. I will be interested to hear from our distinguished witness today what plans the State Department has to address the absence of both a fully-accredited Libyan ambassador here and a fully-accredited American one in Tripoli – one year after the establishment of full diplomatic ties. We need to allow Libyans to get visas to the U.S. without having to travel to Tunisia, and we need to broaden the Libyan study abroad program here beyond the small number of students currently participating.

    There are a few other discordant notes. Libya has moved slowly to resolve the bombing cases of Pan Am Flight 103 and the LaBelle discotheque, even though it has agreed to pay compensation to victims’ families in both cases. The country sentenced to death five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medical intern accused of infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV even after it became clear that such a plot was absurd and the charges were drummed up.

    While our progress with Qadhafi over the past three years has been outstanding, his rhetoric sometimes strikes a shrill note that is reminiscent of the past. So I would only submit that if Qadhafi is going to embrace the West fully – and if we are to accept him fully – both his actions and his words must consistently reflect this new attitude.

    Posted on Thursday, February 24th, 2011
    Under: International politics, Tom Lantos, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

    Bay Area human rights activists are in Cairo

    Human rights activists with CODEPINK – including cofounder Medea Benjamin of San Francisco and San Jose Peace & Justice Center president Sharat Lin of Fremont – are amid the protestors on the streets of Cairo calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Click here to see their photos.

    From CODEPINK’s news release:

    The activists report that Egyptians have been excited to see their message of solidarity from the American people. Many Egyptian protesters are carrying signs that say “My address is Tahrir square until Mubarak leaves” and they are holding firm. The activists also report that many Egyptian youth seem ecstatic that President Obama has acknowledged their voice in Egypt’s political affairs but they want him to put more pressure on Mubarak to step down. Women are in the streets and have played a major role in the grassroots movement for democracy in Egypt. Today, as violence towards peaceful demonstrators escalates, the activists said rumors have circulated that the pro-Mubarak agitators are paid supporters of the dictator.

    CODEPINK is calling on President Barack Obama, the State Department, and Congress to stop funding the Mubarak regime, which now receives over $1.8 billion per year in military assistance from the United States.

    CODEPINK says theirs is “perhaps the only international solidarity delegation on the ground in the country,” and plans to demonstrate at the U.S. Embassy tomorrow.
    The delegation – CODEPINK’s ninth trip to Egypt and Gaza in the past two years, including people from the U.S. Canada, Australia, the U.K., Switzerland and India – had intended to travel through Egypt to Gaza, but was foiled by the closing of the Rafah border crossing; they now plan to stay in Cairo until safe passage to Gaza is possible.

    CODEPINK and other groups plan a protest and march in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5th at 1 pm in UN Plaza at Market and Eighth streets in San Francisco), and then a march across the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday, Feb. 13.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
    Under: International, International politics | 2 Comments »