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Locals sound off on strategic oil reserve vote

The House today voted 385-25 to approve H.R. 6022, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Fill Suspension and Consumer Protection Act of 2008, which would temporarily suspend the filling of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve until the end of the year in order to increase consumer supply and bring down gas prices. The U.S. Senate passed an amendment earlier today with this SPR provision; that vote was 97-1.

Here’s what some Bay Area lawmakers had to say about it:

Education & Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez:

“Economists agree that temporarily suspending these deliveries will offer some relief at the pump by freeing up additional oil supplies to the broader market. It is, of course, not the only thing Congress can and should do to help consumers, but it is one concrete step that we have taken to help people now. President Bush is wrong to oppose our bill and I urge him to reconsider his position and approve it. The President should stop saying ‘No’ to every idea that is presented to him to help consumers struggling under exorbitant gas prices.”

[snip]

“Combined with the housing crisis and a struggling economy, skyrocketing gas prices are having a devastating impact on the American people. Our bill is expected to increase supply for oil and lower gas prices anywhere from 5 to 24 cents per gallon without any risk to American security and oil supplies.”

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo:

“We can’t wait around for a silver bullet to bring gas prices back to where they were even just a few years ago, that is not going to happen. Instead we need to adopt incremental adjustments like this that take some of the pressure off American families. If the President is serious about giving American families economic relief then he needs to get on board with the Congress and adopt this bipartisan legislation as well as future measures that will cut the cost of gas; every little bit helps.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:

“With gas prices close to or over $4 a gallon in parts of California, it’s far past time to take a common sense step like this one to provide a bit of relief.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“Today, Congress took action on a real solution to lower the price at the pump. By suspending deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve we can save consumers from 5 to 24 cents per gallon. This is a critical first step for America’s families, businesses and our economy and, as the President said in 2006 when talking about the impact of suspending deliveries to the SPR, ‘every little bit helps.’

“In the past, when the SPR has been tapped or deliveries have been suspended, consumers saw real savings. In 2000, after similar action, the price of oil dropped by one-third. By acting today, the New Direction Congress can reduce prices for Americans who are stretching their budgets to afford the high price at the pump.

“The President and Congressional Republicans maintain that we must act to open up ANWR and large swaths of the outer continental shelf. Even if we started drilling today in ANWR, we wouldn’t see one drop of oil for 10 years, and the price at the pump would only be reduced by a little over one penny per gallon in the year 2030.

“The United States cannot drill its way to energy independence. As a nation, we have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, but use 24 percent of the world’s oil. The President and Congressional Republicans should abandon the ‘drill and veto’ policies of the past and work with Democrats to lower record gas prices at the pump by holding OPEC accountable for its cartel-pricing activities, investigate and punish price gougers and market manipulation and repeal the unnecessary subsidies to Big Oil in a time of record profits to invest in renewables.”

“In both the House and Senate, we have demonstrated strong bipartisan support for temporarily suspending deliveries to the SPR. The House and Senate will work to finalize this legislation and send it to the President’s desk as soon as possible.”

Posted on Tuesday, May 13th, 2008
Under: Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Jerry McNerney, President Bush, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

East Bay lawyer will help vet judicial nominees

An employment, consumer fraud and civil rights lawyer from Piedmont is the latest addition to a bipartisan commission that recommends nominations for federal judgeships.

jack-w-lee.jpgU.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has announced her appointment of Jack Wing Lee, 56, to the Parsky Commission’s Northern District Panel. The Parsky Commission was created in 2001 as senators Boxer and Dianne Feinstein struck a deal with the Bush Administration for input in recommending nominations. It’s comprised of four six-member subcommittees -– one for each of the state’s judicial districts — and each subcommittee has one member selected by Boxer, one by Feinstein and one jointly by both Senators, while the other three members are named by Gerald Parsky, a Los Angeles investor and major GOP mover and shaker who has held appointments in every Republican administration since Nixon’s.

“I am very pleased that Jack has agreed to take on this important responsibility of helping select highly-qualified, moderate judicial candidates for the federal bench,” Boxer said in her news release. “I am confident that Jack will bring the experience of his long and diverse career to the process. I also want to thank Michael Ohleyer for his fine service on the Parsky Commission these past several years.”

Lee replaces Ohleyer, a San Francisco attorney.

Lee is a partner at San Francisco’s Minami Tamaki LLP; earlier, he worked on complex class-action civil rights cases with Saperstein & Seligman in Oakland. Earlier yet, he was an attorney for the nonprofit Asian Law Caucus; the San Francisco Public Defenders Office; and regional attorney for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, where he worked on discrimination and desegregation issues in the school system. He has been active with various legal and Asian community organizations, and chaired the City of Oakland Civil Service Commission from 1992 to 1996; he graduated Phi Betta Kappa from the University of California, Berkeley in 1973 and earned his law degree from the UC Hastings Law School in 1976.

Federal judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime terms on the bench.

Posted on Thursday, May 8th, 2008
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, General, President Bush, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

5th anniversary of “Mission Accomplished”

It was five years ago today that President George W. Bush landed on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and, against the backdrop of an enormous “Mission Accomplished” banner, declared major combat operations in Iraq at an end. Lest there be any confusion about what was and wasn’t said and seen that day, here it is in two parts:

Some critics are particularly irked by what White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said during her briefing yesterday: “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission.’ And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.”

Cue House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller‘s head exploding:

miller.jpg“This latest White House comment is reprehensible and should be repudiated. Yet again, the Bush Administration, faced with its own failures in Iraq, is trying to rewrite history rather than write a new policy to end the war and bring our troops home in a timely and responsible manner.

“The assertion yesterday by the White House that the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner was meant simply to describe the mission of the USS Abraham Lincoln and its sailors in 2003 is clearly not believable and should be publicly repudiated by the President. The unjustified and misleading declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished’ by the President was the entire basis for his speech five years ago today, and it is a deep insult to all Americans and our servicemen and servicewomen that the White House is once again deliberately distorting the truth.

“The White House knowingly hung the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner in a public relations effort to convince the world that military operations in Iraq had been completed quickly just as White House and Pentagon officials had repeatedly said would happen before the war began. Well, we all know what happened after that, because so far over 4,000 military personnel have lost their lives in Iraq and nearly 30,000 have been wounded.

“The President’s reckless and shortsighted decision to send America into an unjustified war in Iraq is one of the most costly and devastating foreign policy decision ever made by an American president. What the White House owes Americans is a new policy in Iraq that will bring our troops home, not a new version of history that only deceives Americans further, just as the Administration knowingly deceived Americans and the Congress in the buildup to this tragic war.”

However, the White House has been backing off on this for quite a long time — this is from more than a year ago:

And, lest we forget, the media had a lot to do with how this was spun in the first place.

More from Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, May 1st, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, General, George Miller, Iraq, Lynn Woolsey, President Bush | No Comments »

House renews world AIDS relief program

The House today voted 308-116 to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) — America’s effort to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide — at $50 billion over five years, considerably more than the $30 billion for which President Bush had asked.

lee3.jpgRep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was among the five original co-authors both of this H.R. 5501, the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act, and the original PEPFAR legislation back in 2003. Of the reauthorization, she said today there’s “perhaps no other piece of legislation that Congress will consider this year that will have greater impact on the lives of people around the world.”

Lee said she’s sad that former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who died Feb. 11, and former chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., who died in November, weren’t here to see this bipartisan compromise.

She noted the bill passed today includes language from her own PATHWAY Act, H.R. 1713 — which strikes the requirement that at least a third of U.S. funds for global HIV/AIDS prevention be earmarked for abstinence-until-marriage programs. Indeed, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement today saying he’s “disappointed the Majority turned back a balanced Republican alternative that would have authorized funding for the PEPFAR program at the level requested by President Bush, while protecting taxpayers from funding programs that support abortions overseas.”

Lee also noted the House version doesn’t include language from her H.R. 3337, the HIV Non-Discrimination in Travel and Immigration Act, which would overturn the current travel and immigration ban on people living with HIV/AIDS wishing to enter the United States. “I’m happy that the Senate version of PEPFAR does adopt the language to eliminate the ban,” she said. “I will work with my colleagues to make sure that when we get to conference, the ban is repealed once and for all.”

Some other quotable quotes about the PEPFAR reauthorization, after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, President Bush, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Locals speak on FISA amendments’ passage

The House voted 213-197 today to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, expanding intelligence agencies’ powers to match new technologies but not granting immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping, as the President demanded. See the full story here.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

And, in news releases…

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo:
“This is a call for us to come together and work in a bipartisan effort in the best interests of our nation’s security without diminishing equally important guarantees of privacy for American citizens. With this legislation, the U.S. intelligence community gets enhanced authorization for a wide range of surveillance methods without the blanket immunity for telecom companies that the President wanted. The balance of security and privacy rights is always hard to achieve, but I believe this bill finds common ground that enhances both.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:
“The FISA Amendments Act protects Americans against terrorists while at the same time safeguarding our liberties by striking a balance between the constitutional rights of American citizens and the needs of the intelligence community. This bill will provide the government the authority it needs to intercept terrorist communications, while safeguarding the phone calls, emails, and other private communications of American citizens.”

Posted on Friday, March 14th, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Ellen Tauscher, Jerry McNerney, Nancy Pelosi, President Bush, U.S. House | No Comments »

Congress votes to ban waterboarding, etc.

This just in from the office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

Congress today approved legislation by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would require the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual’s rules on interrogations.

The legislation, which now goes to the President, will establish uniform standards on interrogation of detainees for all parts of the U.S. government. It prohibits waterboarding and other forms of coercive interrogation techniques.

“Today, the Senate stood tall and declared in a strong voice that the United States will not engage in torture,” Senator Feinstein said. “This is an historic moment, and I strongly urge the President to sign it into law. This legislation will require the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual’s protocols on interrogations. It will help restore America’s credibility abroad by establishing a single, uniform standard for the interrogation of detainees in our custody. No longer will the United States allow actions by its intelligence services which clash so sharply with the very ideals upon which this nation was founded. This legislation ensures that the United States will follow the law – the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions Against Torture, and the Detainee Treatment Act. Only by living up to our principles can we regain credibility in the eyes of the world. The President should sign this bill into law.”

[snip]

The measure was included as an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization bill, which was approved today by the Senate.

The provision reads:

“No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.”

It specifically requires the CIA and all other U.S. intelligence agencies to follow the Army Field Manual’s protocols on interrogations.

The Army Field Manual specifically prohibits eight interrogation techniques:
· Forcing a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, pose in sexual manner;
· Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee, duct tape over the eyes;
· Beatings, electric shock, burns or other forms of physical pain;
· Waterboarding;
· Use of military working dogs;
· Introducing hypothermia or heat injury;
· Conducting mock executions; and
· Depriving detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care.

The Army Field Manual allows 19 interrogation approaches, mainly based on psychological techniques, such as making a detainee believe that cooperation will shorten the length of a war and therefore save his country.

Just yesterday at the Berkeley protests regarding U.S. Marine Corps recruiting in Berkeley, I heard Rabbi Michael Lerner — founder of the Tikkun community and cofounder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives — list Feinstein among lawmakers who enable the war by failing to stand up to the Bush Administration, in her case by voting to confirm Michael Mukasey as Attorney General despite his refusal to explicitly characterize waterboarding as torture. (Go see here how some protestors heckled Feinstein for this back in November.)

But it seems Feinstein found a way to act on the issue, after all.

Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
Under: Dianne Feinstein, Iraq, President Bush, War on Terror | No Comments »

Circuit judge accused of pro-torture bias

I was at Cal’s School of Law this morning to cover arguments to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in the federal civil rights lawsuit brought against San Francisco and its police department in the “fajitagate” case. Sitting on this three-judge panel was Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee, an Oakland native who maintains his chambers in Las Vegas.

bybee.jpgAs John Roemer reported in Monday’s edition of the Daily Journal legal newspaper, attorney Dennis Cunningham, representing plaintiff Jade Santoro, filed a motion last Thursday asking Bybee to recuse himself on the basis of an August 1, 2002 memo he signed while serving as the assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

That memo narrowed the definition of torture, concluding “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” It also concluded that for purely mental pain to constitute torture it “must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”

President Bush announced Bybee’s nomination to the 9th Circuit bench in May 2002 and sent it to the Senate in January 2003; the Senate confirmed him that March. The Washington Post broke the story on the leaked “Bybee memo” — reportedly written in large part by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, now a Cal law professor — more than a year later, in June 2004.

Cunningham’s motion argued Bybee shouldn’t hear Wednesday’s case involving police officers with a history of excessive-force accusations because “unnecessary, and gratuitous, and so often sadistic, uses of force” are among “domestic forms of torture.”

Bybee issued an order last Friday refusing to recuse himself; Cunningham filed another motion Monday asking the court to disqualify Bybee, but Senior Circuit Judge John Noonan and Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas — the other two judges on today’s panel — denied that motion Tuesday.

After hearing the case Wednesday, the panel took questions from the student audience; one young man asked whether it’s possible to predict a judge’s actions by noting the president by whom he or she was appointed. The three judges’ consensus was that it’s not, and Bybee volunteered essentially that having a lifetime appointment means never having to say you’re sorry if your rulings don’t hew to the philosophy of the president who appointed you.

Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, President Bush, War on Terror | 1 Comment »

Bush ignores permanent bases ban

Remember how Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and others fought long and hard to impose a ban on spending any money to establish permanent military bases in Iraq? Well, President Bush doesn’t want to be bound by that, so he’s reserving the right to ignore it.

The White House issued a sigining statement yesterday for H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008.

“Provisions of the Act, including sections 841, 846, 1079, and 1222, purport to impose requirements that could inhibit the President’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as Commander in Chief,” the statement says. “The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President.”

Read as: You can’t make me.

Here’s section 1222, which the president says may cramp his style:

SEC. 1222. LIMITATION ON AVAILABILITY OF FUNDS FOR CERTAIN PURPOSES RELATING TO IRAQ.
No funds appropriated pursuant to an authorization of appropriations in this Act may be obligated or expended for a purpose as follows:
(1) To establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq.
(2) To exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.

Posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 2008
Under: Barbara Lee, Iraq, President Bush | No Comments »

State of the Union reactions

lee3.jpgRep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — who just two weeks ago told community leaders she doesn’t believe “earmark” should be a dirty word and so she’s doing all she can to get her district its fair share of federal dollars — said she was stunned by the President’s call to slash such spending.

“Look at the president’s earmarks he puts forth every year – I’m totally flabbergasted at what he’s talking about,” she said a few minutes ago, noting that Bush himself requested more than $20 billion in earmarks in 2006, and that Democrats already have enacted transparency rules and other reforms that were absent during Republican control of Congress. “Many communities in the country, such as my community, deserve some of their federal dollars back… people pay taxes in these congressional districts and they deserve some of their federal dollars back in the form of earmarks.”

Long a leader in the global battle against HIV/AIDS, Lee said the President’s call for increased spending still falls short. “Given the magnitude of the pandemic, we’re suggesting $50 billion in our reauthorization bill; $30 billion is not enough,” she said, adding she was disappointed Bush failed to address the disease’s impact on America, particularly in communities of color.

She said she fears his demand to keep the economic-stimulus package clear of any add-ons. “You know what that means: don’t add food stamps or extension of unemployment benefits,” she predicted, even as five million more people have fallen below the poverty line during Bush’s tenure. “I would think he’d want to do as much as he could to help poor people in this economic stimulus plan.”

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Lee said she also fears the 150 “bloated” programs he said he’ll try to slash probably include just the sorts of programs for which she and others have fought hard – things such as violence prevention, outreach to at-risk youth and other support structures for low- and middle-income communities. “We’ll be ready for the fight,” she vowed.

And she said she’s “not surprised but disappointed” at his stay-the-course tone for the war in Iraq. “I think we have to mount more aggressive efforts here in the House to end it … to put up no more money except for a fully funded withdrawal of the troops.”

All in all, she said, “I’m very pleased that this was the last State of the Union speech that we’ll have to listen to and respond to by George W. Bush.”

pete-stark.jpgRep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, viewed the speech on television at home, although his grandson – Timothy Wainwright, 16 – was on the House floor as a newly-sworn Congressional page. Stark said he wishes his grandson had been witness to a more inspiring moment.

“I think you just watched what history will determine was the worst president in the history of the United States reviewing all the bad things he has done,” he said. “I think you got more excitement out of the presidential debates on both sides of the aisle over the last few months than you did tonight… It was not a speech with a great deal of charge and change for the American public, it just kind of summarized a lackluster administration.”

Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said he was dismayed by President Bush’s continued call for privatizing Medicare and Social Security, as well as for maintaining the war in Iraq. “I didn’t hear a lot tonight, I literally didn’t hear a new idea or something he didn’t raise the last time.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who in past years has been quick to provide an elegant verbal riposte following President Bush’s State of the Union addresses, wasn’t available for comment Monday night. Let’s hope that this has little to do with his recent announcement that he’s starting treatment for esophageal cancer, and rather that he simply wanted the night off.

Statements issued by Ellen Tauscher, Jerry McNerney and others, after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Lee, Ellen Tauscher, General, Iraq, Jerry McNerney, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Stark, President Bush, Tom Lantos, U.S. House | No Comments »

Cindy Sheehan speaks in Berkeley tomorrow

From Kristin Bender, our eye on Berkeley:

cindy_sheehan.jpgAntiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, now running against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will return to her old stomping grounds Tuesday.

The former Berkeley resident will speak from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at Berkeley City College (formerly Vista Community College) at 2050 Center St., between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street, about half a block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.

Not surprisingly, Sheehan’s talk will focus on how to end the war in Iraq. That’s been her mission since her son, Casey, was killed in April 2004 in Baghdad; her August 2005 vigil outside President George Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch made international headlines. Last July, in the wake of President Bush’s reduction of Scooter Libby’s sentence, Sheehan vowed to challenge Pelosi if the congresswoman failed to introduce articles of impeachment against Bush.

Sheehan will take questions from the audience after her speech Tuesday; the event is free and open to the public but first-priority seating is for Berkeley City College students, as this is being sponsored by the college’s Global Studies Program and the Global Studies Club.

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Cindy Sheehan, Iraq, President Bush | No Comments »