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 Politico.com 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.
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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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”