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Holder praises ex-Oaklander leaving Justice Dept.

Here’s what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said today about Tony West, the former Oakland attorney who’ll step down next week as the Justice Department’s third-in-command (to take a job at Pepsico, Bloomberg reports):

Eric HolderAlthough this is an occasion I’ve been dreading for quite some time, I must say it’s a privilege to join so many friends, colleagues, and distinguished guests in publicly thanking Associate Attorney General Tony West for his dedicated service to this Department, and to our nation, over the last five years; in celebrating the many invaluable contributions that Tony has made during that time; and in wishing him well as he opens an exciting new chapter in his extraordinary career.

I’d like to extend a special welcome to Tony’s wonderful wife, Maya Harris, and their remarkable daughter, Meena – who, as an associate at my old firm, Covington and Burling, is already following in the footsteps of her highly-accomplished parents. It’s great to have you with us today.

I understand the rigorous toll that jobs like Tony’s can exact – and the sacrifices that his high-profile roles have demanded – from the entire family. I know the many significant achievements that have characterized his tenure would simply not have been possible without your patience, your love, and your constant support.

I also know that it hasn’t always been easy. But I want to thank each of you for your service during Tony’s time in the Civil Division and the Associate’s Office. His hard work, his passion – and his steadfast commitment to our shared mission – have meant a great deal to this Department, to the American people, to the President of the United States, and to me. And your love and support have meant the world to him.

Now, we’ve still got Tony for a few more days – and we intend to make the most of that time. But I’m glad we could take this opportunity, while he’s still officially in office, to give him the sendoff that he richly deserves.

When Tony returned to the Department of Justice as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, in 2009, I was immediately struck not only by his skill and intelligence as a lawyer, his inclusive manner as a leader, and his capacity to motivate his team – but also by the empathy, the excellent judgment, and the seemingly boundless energy that he brought to every challenge that was laid before him.

Over the past five years, these characteristics have been clearly evident in the sense of direction he has provided, and the work he has inspired, in his colleagues and counterparts – but perhaps never more so than during the discussions leading up to the Administration’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

I’m sure neither of us will ever forget those meetings, the careful analysis and reflection that went into that decision – or the historic steps forward we have seen since then, thanks to the courage of citizens like Edith Windsor. And I will always be grateful for the sound advice and wise counsel that Tony provided at every step along the way – and that he has brought to countless other pressing issues, both before and since.

Whether shaping national policies, standing up for consumers – or helping to lead the national fight for equal rights, equal dignity, and equal justice – the impact of Tony’s work over the years has been clear. And it has been powerful.

More, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
Under: Obama presidency | 10 Comments »

Former Oaklander to step down as Justice’s No.3

A former Oakland attorney who rose to be the U.S. Justice Department’s third-in-command will step down and return to the private sector.

Tony West 8-21-2014 (AP photo)U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West – brother-in-law of California Attorney General Kamala Harris – will leave his post Sept. 15, the Justice Department announced; the release didn’t specify where he’s going.

West, 49, has been the department’s No. 3 since early 2012 but was there from the administration’s start, nominated to head the Justice Department’s Civil Division just two days after President Obama took the oath of office in January 2009. Before that, he’d been a prolific supporter of and fundraiser for Obama’s presidential campaign while working as a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday said West “has been an indispensable member of the Department’s senior leadership team, an exemplary and dedicated public servant, and a close advisor and good friend.”

Holder praised West for working on issues such as the Obama Administration’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act’s constitutionality; securing re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act; advocacy for American Indian and Alaska Native rights; and combating financial fraud, holding corporations accountable, and fighting for consumers. His work has “made a tremendous and lasting difference in the lives of millions of people across the country,” the attorney general said.

“I have been honored to count him as a colleague – and privileged to work alongside him. I thank him for his service, and his friendship, over the past five years,” Holder said. “And although I wish him the best as he opens an exciting new chapter in his career, I will miss his leadership, his many contributions, and his steadfast commitment to the cause of justice.”

A candidate in the 23rd Assembly District’s 2000 Democratic primary, he later served as a delegate for John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 — meeting Obama there, soon after the speech that put the future president on many Americans’ radar for the first time — and then for Obama in Denver in 2008. He served as a California finance co-chairman for Obama’s first campaign, raising at least $500,000 and often speaking on Obama’s behalf at campaign events.

West holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard College, where he was the Harvard Political Review’s publisher, and a law degree from Stanford University, where he was the Stanford Law Review’s president.

In 1993 and 1994, he was a special assistant in the Clinton administration’s Justice Department, working on national crime policy including the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill. From 1994 to 1999, he was an assistant U.S. attorney here in Northern California, prosecuting a wide range of criminal cases; his highest-profile case there might have been that of the “Orchid Club,” an international online child pornography and molestation ring involving 16 defendants in four countries — all convicted.

From 1999 to 2001, West was a California Special Assistant Attorney General appointed by then Attorney General Bill Lockyer to advise on high-tech crime, identity theft, the Microsoft antitrust litigation, police officer training, civil rights and police misconduct; in 1999, he helped lead a review of the shooting death of an unarmed woman by four Riverside police officers, which led to that department being forced to adopt new policies.

Posted on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
Under: Obama presidency | No Comments »

Brown, lawmakers seek disaster declaration

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday requested a presidential major disaster declaration for California, as communities in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties continue trying to recover from the South Napa earthquake on Aug. 24.

“Economic impacts of this event will be extensive. The earthquake caused significant damage throughout the region,” Brown wrote in a letter sent to the White House on Tuesday. “This incident is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and supplemental federal assistance is necessary.”

Such a declaration from the president would trigger the release of federal funds to help communities recover, and an executive order Brown signed Tuesday provides additional financial aid to local agencies and nonprofits so residents can replace important documents and access key services without footing added costs or other burdens.

The region’s voices in Congress, led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, echoed Brown’s call with their own letter to President Obama. “It is clear to us and local authorities that a major disaster declaration is critical to helping our state recover and rebuild,” Thompson’s letter reads.

Also signing Thompson’s letter were senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield.

Federal relief funding might include Federal Emergency Management Agency money to help people to rebuild and repair housing, and for local communities to repair public infrastructure; and Small Business Administration loans for businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory, and supplies. Homeowners and renters may also be eligible for SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-related damages to homes or personal property.

FEMA does not provide for assistance if there is another option in place, like insurance. Those affected by the quake should contact their insurance companies first to see what benefits, if any, their plan provides.

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jared Huffman, Jerry Brown, John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Field Poll: Obama’s approval rating sinks lower

Californians’ regard for President Obama’s job performance has continued to decline, a new Field Poll finds.

ObamaThe survey, completed last week, found almost as many Californans now disapprove of Obama’s job performance, 43 percent, as approve, 45 percent.

That’s the president’s poorest rating so far from the Golden State, and a far cry from the 62 percent approval rating he had at the start of his second term. And most of the recent decline has been among groups of voters who used to be among his strongest supporters, including a nine-point drop among Democrats, an 11-point drop in Los Angeles County, a 10-point drop among Asian Americans, and seven-point drops in the Bay Area and among strongly liberal voters.

The state generally has a negative view of the nation’s overall direction – 51 percent of voters think it’s seriously off on the wrong track, while 36 percent feel it’s headed in the right direction.

The poll of 1,280 registered voters was conducted Aug. 14 through 28, and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
Under: Obama presidency, polls | No Comments »

Two from Bay Area picked as White House fellows

Five Californians, including two from the Bay Area, are among the 15 people who were announced Monday as the 2014-2015 class of White House Fellows.

The White House Fellows program – now in its 50th year – was created by President Lyndon Johnson to give promising leaders “first-hand, high-level experience with the workings of the federal government, and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs.”

Fellows take part in an education program designed to broaden their knowledge of leadership, policy formulation, and current affairs, and also participate in service projects throughout their year in Washington, D.C. The selection process is highly competitive, based on “a record of professional achievement, evidence of leadership potential, and a proven commitment to public service,” the White House said. “Each Fellow must possess the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute meaningfully at senior levels in the federal government.”

Here are the selectees’ bios, as presented by the White House:

Jacob DonnellyJacob E. Donnelly, San Francisco, CA, was a Senior Vice President at New Island Capital. He was responsible for private equity investments in companies that generate meaningful social, environmental, and community benefits alongside financial returns. Previously, Jacob was the Co-Founder of Farm Builders, a mission-driven company helping farmers replant tree crops in Liberia. He helped raise the seed capital, including fellowships from Echoing Green and the Rainer Arnhold Foundations, and launched Farm Builders following an internship in the Office of the President, H.E. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. From 2005-2007, Jacob was the Co-Founder and Director of The Freedom Campaign, a non-profit grassroots effort to raise awareness of human rights abuses in Burma. He began his career as a management consultant and served on the Board of Directors of IDinsight, a non-profit organization that helps leaders in developing countries use evidence to improve their social impact. Jacob received his undergraduate degree from Babson College, where he earned the Roger Babson Award. He holds a Master in Public Administration/International Development from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School.

Jonathan DorseyJonathan M. Dorsey, Woodside, CA, is a social entrepreneur and recently served as Co-Founder and Director of the Impact Careers Initiative, an Aspen Institute program researching how to recruit talent to public-impact work. He also worked as an advisor to the Franklin Project, a bipartisan campaign for national service. Previously, Jonny co-founded and served as Executive Director of Global Health Corps, which places emerging global leaders with high-impact non-profits to build health systems around the world. Jonny was inspired to launch Global Health Corps by his experience co-founding and leading FACE AIDS, a nonprofit that mobilized students in the fight against AIDS. Jonny was named an Echoing Green Fellow, a Draper Richards Social Entrepreneur, and received the Next Generation Award from the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Jonny also served on the Harvard College National Advisory Board for Public Service, the Riekes Center Board of Directors, and as a Trustee of Partners in Health. He is a graduate of Stanford University, where he received the Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement and was President of the student body. He received his M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business and M.P.A. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Read about the other Californians selected as White House fellows, after the jump…
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Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2014
Under: Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

AG Eric Holder tells Missouri cops to back off a bit

This just in from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who met earlier today with President Obama to discuss the latest developments in Ferguson, Missouri:

Eric Holder“This morning, I met with President Obama to discuss the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Like the President, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Michael Brown. While his death has understandably caused heartache within the community, it is clear that the scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue.

“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.

“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also at my direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.

“Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.

“All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”

Posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014
Under: Civil liberties, Obama presidency | 34 Comments »

Obama honors local author, singer at White House

A famed author from Oakland and a famed singer from San Francisco were among those honored with the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama on Monday at the White House.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston, 73, of Oakland, was honored “for her contributions as a writer,” according to a statement read at the ceremony by a military aide. “Her novels and non-fiction have examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender and race.”

And singer Linda Ronstadt, 68, of San Francisco, was honored “for her one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music. Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists.”

The president told these and other honorees:

“Like most creative and brainy people, you did not cultivate your song for accolades or applause. If there were no medal for your work, I expect you’d still be out there designing buildings and making movies and digging through archives and asking tough questions in interviews.

“But we do honor you today — because your accomplishments have enriched our lives and reveal something about ourselves and about our country. And we can never take for granted the flash of insight that comes from watching a great documentary or reading a great memoir or novel, or seeing an extraordinary piece of architecture. We can’t forget the wonder we feel when we stand before an incredible work of art, or the world of memories we find unlocked with a simple movement or a single note.

“The moments you help create -– moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow -– they add texture to our lives. They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it — they are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement.”

Both the Bay Area honorees also got special shout-outs from the president. “I was mentioning to Maxine that when I was first writing my first book and trying to teach myself how to write, “The Woman Warrior” was one of the books I read. … I told Linda Ronstadt I had a little crush on her back in the day.”

http://youtu.be/vs2l5GY_k4E?t=14m

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 22 Comments »

Report from Obama’s Los Altos Hills fundraiser

My story will be posted soon to mercurynews.com, but here’s the entire pool report I just filed from President Obama’s remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate mogul George Marcus:

Press was shown into backyard of real estate mogul George Marcus’s sumptuous back yard at 11:53 a.m., where guests were gathered at tables under a tent next to the tennis court. Tickets for this event cost $10,000 per person, or $32,400 per couple with a VIP photo opportunity.

The president strode into the tent at 11:59 a.m. and was briefly introduced by Marcus. Remarks began at noon.

Obama said there are two reasons he’s here: the fine weather, and the connection he made with George and Judy Marcus’ infant granddaughter. “I may take her with me.” He lauded Marcus as someone who has lived the American dream, remembers it and wants to give back. He praised House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who was seated in the middle of the crowd, saying he needs her back as Speaker. He also recognized Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, as well as Democratic House candidates Michael Eggman (CA10) and Amanda Renteria (CA21).

Also spotted in the audience: Pelosi’s daughters Christina and Alexandra, and her son Paul Jr.

“One of my main functions here is to just say thank you” for all the support in years past, the president said.

“When we came into office, we were going through the worst economy since the Great Depression,” he said, but the record of the past five years is “some pretty remarkable progress” with the economy improved by almost every measure. Also, millions more Americans have health care, he noted, while high school dropouts have decreased and college enrollments have increased.

Silicon Valley represents the spirit of dynamism that typifies the American economy, he said, yet there’s still a lot of anxiety as profits have accrued almost only to those at the very top while the middle class “is stuck, they feel like they’re treading water.”

“It feels as if Washington doesn’t work” and ignores those in need, he said.

Investing in things like early childhood education will bring massive returns, Obama said, and 28 million would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage. Helping working families with child care would relieve a great burden, and ensuring equal pay for women who do equal work would help support families, he said.

“We have some big technical issues – what’s the next big energy breakthrough that’s going to help us fully contain the impacts of climate change,” he said, and economic issues, too.

“But if we just took some commonsense steps, this country would grow faster… and families would be better off,” he said.

The reason things aren’t working is that one party is interested only in proving that government doesn’t work, and saying no to these commonsense steps, Obama said.

“I hope that the reason you’re here today is that you want to get something done… We have to break this cycle of gridlock and cynicism,” he said – and both parties can and should work to advance the common good. “I’d love nothing more than a loyal and rational opposition, but that’s not what we have right now.”

Democrats must overcome their “congenital defect” of not voting in midterm elections, he said, and get as fired up about November as they did about his own campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “I need partners, I need help.”

POTUS concluded his remarks at 12:13 and the press was ushered out before he began taking questions. He did acknowledge his admiration of one reporter’s fedora as the press departed; sadly, the aforementioned headgear was not worn by your pooler.

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 11 Comments »

Net neutrality activists will target Obama event

Activists from more than a dozen liberal grassroots groups are planning a “Don’t Kill the Internet” protest in favor of net neutrality outside President Obama’s Democratic fundraiser Wednesday in Los Altos Hills.

US-IT-INTERNET-FCCThe rally, organized by MoveOn.org Political Action and Free Press, will urge Obama to defend the open internet from a proposal by his Federal Communications Commission appointee that activists say would divide the Internet into fast lanes for wealthy businesses and slow lanes for most everyone else.

They note that Obama since his first campaign “has promised to preserve the open internet that helped him get elected and that every American relies on to access information, start a new business, and compete on a level playing field.”

Obama arrives in the Bay Area on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday will attend a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising luncheon at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate mogul George Marcus. Tickets cost $10,000 per person, or $32,000 per couple with a VIP photo opportunity.

Groups taking part in the net-neutrality rally – scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. at South San Antonio Road and West Edith Street in Los Altos – include MoveOn.org Political Action, Free Press, Common Cause, CREDO Action, Presente.org, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, the Media Alliance, Code Pink, Daily Kos, SumOfUs, Progressives United, ACLU, and the Greenlining Institute. A similar rally is planned for another Democratic fundraiser Obama will attend later Wednesday in Los Angeles.

More than 1 million Americans have already submitted comments to the FCC on the need to preserve the open Internet, recently causing the FCC’s comment website to crash.

Posted on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 7 Comments »

Boehner prepares resolution to sue Obama

House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday released a draft of a resolution he’ll introduce authorizing the House to sue President Obama over his 2013 decision to unilaterally delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate.

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement issued with the draft. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

The resolution reads as follows:

Providing for authority to initiate litigation for actions by the President inconsistent with his duties under the Constitution of the United States.

Resolved, that the Speaker may initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives in a Federal court of competent jurisdiction to seek relief pursuant to sections 2201 and 2202 of title 28, United States Code, and to seek appropriate ancillary relief, including injunctive relief, regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the United States, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of (including a failure to implement) any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including any amendment made by such provision.

SEC. 2. The Speaker shall notify the House of Representatives of a decision to initiate or intervene in any civil action pursuant to this resolution.

SEC. 3. The Office of the General Counsel of the House of Representatives, at the direction of the Speaker shall represent the House in any civil action initiated, or in which the House intervenes, pursuant to this resolution and may employ the services of outside counsel and other experts for this purpose.

The House Rules Committee will consider the draft resolution next Wednesday, July 16.

Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement later Thursday:

“Instead of working to create jobs, instead of working to strengthen the middle class or addressing any of the urgent issues facing our nation, Republicans are wasting taxpayer dollars on another toxic partisan stunt.

“Time and again, House Republicans’ total abdication of responsibility has forced the President to act. They’ve wasted billions of taxpayer dollars forcing a downgrade of the U.S. economy and a shutdown of the federal government, and now, after wasting millions defending discrimination in the federal courts, the resolution unveiled tonight would authorize hiring more partisan lawyers for yet another legal boondoggle doomed to fail.

“This lawsuit is just another distraction from House Republicans desperate to distract the American people from their own spectacular obstruction and dysfunction. Congress should be creating jobs, raising new ladders of opportunity, and focusing on the challenges facing hard working American families.”

Posted on Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, healthcare reform, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 8 Comments »