Patron saint of whistleblowers to talk in Berkeley

Perhaps the most famed whistleblower in U.S. history will take part in a panel discussion tonight in Berkeley about new revelations of government surveillance.

Daniel EllsbergDaniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the “Pentagon Papers” exposing U.S. policy on the Vietnam war, will participate in the panel at 7:30 p.m. tonight in St. John’s Church, 2727 College Ave. in Berkeley. The event is free and open to the public.

Other panelists include Nadia Kayyali, is a legal fellow and organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Norman Solomon, an activist and media critic who ran in the 2nd Congressional District last year; and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland’s parliament and director of the International Modern Media Institute.

The panelists posit that Americans’ civil liberties are vanishing at an alarming rate, jeopardizing democracy and the rule of law. They’ll discuss dragnet warrantless spying and domestic surveillance, indefinite detention without trial, and secrecy and the war on whistleblowers.

“In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago,” Ellsberg wrote for the Guardian yesterday. “Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup’ against the U.S. constitution.”


Tauscher to chair new Governor’s Military Council

Gov. Jerry Brown probably believes it’s fine for the nation to speak softly, but he’s enlisting a former East Bay Congresswoman to ensure California remains part of its big stick.

Ellen TauscherBrown today appointed former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher to chair a new Governor’s Military Council, tasked with protecting California’s military installations against the deep budget cuts being made by the Pentagon under the sequestration approved by Congress and President Obama.

“California plays a crucial role in our nation’s defense, and military bases and activities are vital to our state’s economy,” Brown said in a news release. “As federal priorities shift to cyber security and new military technology, this Council will work to expand defense-industry jobs and investment in California.”

California is home to 29 federal military installations, and the Defense Department directly employs more than 236,000 people in California. This new council will work to protect those installations and operations amid ongoing Defense Department budget cuts, and to push for changes in federal military strategy that will keep California at the front of defense innovation.

“California’s military infrastructure is critically important to national security,” Tauscher said. “The Council will send a unified message to Washington, D.C., that highlights the value of our military bases.”

Tauscher, 61, represented her East Bay congressional district from 1997 until 2009, when she resigned to take a post as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs; she left that post in February 2012. More recently, she served as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense and Vice Chair-Designate of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. She is now a strategic advisor to the Baker Donelson law firm in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted defense is key sector of the state’s economy.

“With federal budgets continuing to be cut — including many defense programs — it is my hope that the Governor’s Military Council will help protect jobs and investments and attract new missions associated with California’s military presence,” she said. “I also believe that Ellen Tauscher is an excellent choice to chair this council, as she brings a wealth of experience at the State Department and as a member of the House of Representatives.”

The council will convene for one year and draft specific recommendations to the governor and Legislature. It includes retired admirals and generals from all military branches, the Adjutant General of the California National Guard and lawmakers selected by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez. The appointments don’t require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

See the full roster of council members as described by the governor’s office, after the jump…
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Tauscher stepping down from federal post

Ellen TauscherFormer East Bay congresswoman Ellen Tauscher is stepping down as under secretary for arms control and international security at the U.S. State Department, according to The Cable, a Washington D.C.-based foreign policy news site.

Tauscher will remain at the State Department part-time as a special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense while pursuing her work as a cancer patient advocate. She successfully fought esophageal cancer last year and began sharing her inspirational story.

The former Alamo resident represented the 10th Congressional District for seven terms. She resigned in mid-2009 and took the high-level federal post, where she reported to friend and ally, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Here’s what The Cable reporter Josh Rogin posted a few minutes ago:

Following her successful battle with esophageal cancer, Ellen Tauscher is taking a step back and handing over several of her responsibilities as the State Department’s top arms control official, State Department officials told The Cable today.

 In early February, Tauscher will formally resign as undersecretary of State for arms control and international security and be appointed to a newly created position called the “special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense.” She will be working part-time, using her new flexibility to work on cancer patient advocacy and pursuing projects outside of government. Officials told The Cable that after 13 years in Congress and 3 years in the administration, she decided that the time had come for her to take a breather and focus on other interests.

 “Ellen has been campaigning, legislating, and working at a breakneck pace for nearly 16 years and, now with a new lease on life, she wants to focus on some new opportunities while still working on critically important national security issues,” a State Department official told The Cable today.

Click here for the full story.


Tauscher declares victory over cancer

U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher (Photo by Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher

I had breakfast with U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher earlier this week and the former East Bay congresswoman shared the compelling and inspiring story of her remarkable triumph over esophageal cancer.

Read the full story here.

I didn’t have space in the piece but I shared with Ellen that morning about how her experience had already helped me in a very personal way.

Last March, the Washington Post wrote a lovely story about her recovery and as I read through the text, I keyed in on Ellen’s description of the early symptoms: Trouble swallowing bulky foods, a sensation of something blocking her esophagus.

My husband had been experiencing the very same symptoms for months. He had recently suffered a painful episode while eating a salad at a restaurant.

I showed him the news story and he made an appointment.

The initial examination revealed a potential problem and his doctor scheduled an endoscopy. Fortunately, the scope found a highly treatable inflammation and not cancer.

But for all we knew at the time, the symptoms could have been associated with a far more serious health problem. And early detection is a good thing when it comes to the successful treatment of cancer.

So, take Ellen’s advice: Even if you think all you need is another roll of Tums, go see your doctor.  Do it for the people who love you.


Congress extends Patriot Act sections for 4 years

Congress voted yesterday to extend several controversial parts of the Patriot Act for four more years.

The Senate approved S.990 on a 72 to 23 vote, with both of California’s senators in support; the House passed it on a 250 to 153 vote, with no support from any Bay Area member. President Obama signed it into law minutes before the provisions would’ve expired.

The votes made strange bedfellows, with libertarian-leaning Republicans standing with some of Congress’ most liberal Democrats in opposition.

Extended were provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

Civil liberties advocates and much of the Bay Area’s House delegation had believed — especially now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead – this was the right time to reassess the nation’s balance of security measures and civil liberties.

But the fix was in a week ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a deal for an amendment-free extension until June 1, 2015.

In February, all Bay Area House members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, had voted against extending these provisions; McNerney had supported extending them until December, but ultimately they were extended for only 90 days and are set to expire at the end of the month. McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh in February had said the congressman “has serious concerns with this legislation and believes that we must make substantial changes to the law in order to better preserve our country’s most fundamental civil liberties. However, in the meantime, allowing the policy to expire without warning and a comprehensive debate on our security policies would not be advisable.”

Earlier this month, Hersh said McNerney “continues to have major concerns about the Patriot Act. He believes there must be substantial changes made to the law in order to better preserve our civil liberties. A bill hasn’t been released yet, so Congressman McNerney wants to see the legislation before reaching a decision.”

On Thursday, McNerney joined the rest of the Bay Area delegation in opposing the extension. He issued a statement afterward reiterating his concern about freedoms and noting this extension continues the policies without reform. “That is simply not in our country’s best interest. Instead, we should pursue balanced policies that keep our country safe and protect our civil liberties.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement saying the law doesn’t properly balance national security with protection of civil liberties.

“I opposed the extension of the PATRIOT Act because we cannot sacrifice fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy, in our effort to manage the threat of terrorism. Our basic civil liberties, which include access to our library records, medical records, and personal information about private residences and businesses, are not safe from the PATRIOT Act,” she said. “I will continue to push for an end to invasive intelligence gathering tactics that come at the expense of vital civil liberties, many of which have been justified by the overly broad executive branch authorization I opposed in the wake of 9/11.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said the extension means “Congress has missed yet another opportunity to make necessary changes to protect our privacy. It means we’re likely to see more abuse of Patriot Act powers by law enforcement. Next time it’s given the opportunity, Congress should consider prioritizing Americans’ civil liberties by passing actual Patriot Act reform.”

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had authored legislation to extend the provisions through the end of 2013. Her office earlier this month referred me to a February floor speech in which she said these provisions are used often and believes “that being able to have good intelligence is what prevents an attack against a New York subway or air cargo plane. It is what keeps this homeland safe, and it is what allows us to get ahead of a terrorist attack. Without them “… we put our nation in jeopardy.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and its reauthorizations in 2006 and in February, saying it gives law enforcement the tools it needs to keep Americans safe. She had expressed concern, however, over provisions such as seizure of library records, and wanted those areas tightened up.

Boxer had supported an amendment authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., which she said would’ve added some checks and balances. She was disappointed that it didn’t get a vote, but voted for the extension anyway because “any delays in providing law enforcement officials the tools they need to disrupt terrorist plots and to find those who would harm our country would be unacceptable.”

Ex state ed official to run U.S. border security

Alan Bersin – the former federal prosecutor turned education administrator who did a stint as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Secretary of Education – will be nominated to serve as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today.

Bersin, 63, already has been serving in the Obama Administration as Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs — what some have called the “Border Czar.”

“Under Alan’s leadership over the past several months, we have forged new international and domestic partnerships along our borders to strengthen security,” Napolitano said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing to work with Alan in his new position, where he will lead the Department’s efforts to implement practical, innovative solutions to protect our country from threats to our national and economic security and facilitate legitimate travel and trade.”

As CBP Commissioner, Bersin will lead the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure America’s borders while overseeing enforcement of immigration, customs and drug laws. CBP has more than 57,000 employees working to secure U.S. land and maritime borders.

Before joining the Obama Administration in April, Bersin — a Democrat and a Brooklyn native — was chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, appointed in December 2006. Earlier, he was Schwarzenegger’s Secretary of Education in 2005-06; superintendent of the nation’s eighth largest urban school district, in San Diego, from 1998 through 2005; and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California from 1993 to 1998. While U.S. Attorney, he was appointed as Special Representative for the Southwest Border in 1995 by former Attorney General Janet Reno, overseeing coordination of border law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border for three years.

Schwarzenegger back in April said President Obama “could not have selected a more qualified, more experienced person to join his administration – especially when it comes to issues along our southwest border. Alan was a tremendous asset to my Administration, I’m grateful for his service to California, and I look forward to working with him on border issues that, as he knows well, significantly affect California.”