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East Bay reservist is Army’s NCO of the Year

An East Bay Army reservist is the Army’s Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year after winning the annual Best Warrior Competition.

Manella (U.S. Army photo)Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella, 27, who recently moved from Fremont to Hayward, competed with 23 other soldiers – representing more than 900,000 troops in 12 Army commands around the globe – in a three-day test of soldiers’ physical and mental toughness in order to win the title. He’s the first reservist ever to win the competition.

Manella is a civil affairs specialist with the Mountain View-based 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, which belongs to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command.

An Army article says Manella began studying for the Best Warrior Competition in Afghanistan as a way of recovering his brain from multiple improvised explosive device blasts. Suffered from memory loss, confusion, headaches, dizziness and disequilibrium, he picked up the Army Study Guide to see if he could heal his mind from the trauma.

“Right now I just want to use this opportunity to represent the Reserve Command and show that Reservists are just as good as active duty, National Guard, and perhaps it’s also an opportunity to represent other (traumatic brain injury Soldiers) and wounded warriors and lead them in their recovery,” said Manella.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, praised Manella today on the House floor:

“I am very thankful for the service of people like Sergeant Manella and those I met with while I was in Afghanistan. And I know that Operation Enduring Freedom has led to thousands of Americans being wounded who served over in Afghanistan and are healing today back home on their own path to recovery. Sergeant Manella’s story is truly one that is uplifting for every soldier, man and woman, who is recovering,” Swalwell said. “Congratulations again to Sergeant Manella. Your strength, your determination, and your character is an inspiration to thousands of other wounded men and women of our armed services.”

Click here for a video of Manella being interviewed during the competition.

Posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Lawmakers urge DOJ to back off pot dispensaries

Four Bay Area House members are urging the area’s top federal prosecutor to halt what they say is ongoing “hostility toward dispensaries” that provide marijuana under the state’s medical marijuana law.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, sent a letter to Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for California’s Northern District. In says, in part:

“It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. Moreover, it appears to directly counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo, and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense. Additionally, the State of California has also received legislative direction and guidelines from California Attorney General Kamala Harris on responsibly delivering medical marijuana.

“It is our view that the intent of the Justice Department is to not enforce its anti-marijuana laws in conflict with the laws of states that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses. California understands the urgency toward putting together a statewide regulatory system, and we can all be helpful in that regard, but some municipalities, including Oakland, have already done an extraordinary job regulating medical marijuana. California is moving in the correct direction in a measured manner, and should be given the opportunity to do so.”

Several Bay Area dispensaries have been targeted by federal prosecutors, and Alameda County supervisors this month adopted a resolution urging the federal government to back off.

In a news release announcing the lawmakers’ letter, Lee said it’s “far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities. This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end.”

Posted on Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Pelosi: ‘Finish the job’ on background checks

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mike Thompson – House Democrats’ point man on gun violence issues – attended a Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence news conference Wednesday marking the 20th anniversary of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and calling on Congress to immediately pass bipartisan legislation on background checks.

Thompson, D-Napa, and Rep. Pete King, D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 1565 in the House in April; it mirrors the bipartisan Manchin-Toomney bill that the Senate rejected that same month. House Republican leaders have not allowed any hearings on the bill.

From Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“At the beginning of every Congress we take an oath of office to protect and defend – that’s our first responsibility. It’s an honor to take that oath, but I’m ashamed to be here to face all of you not having finished the job yet.

“We must be relentless in how we pursue this, how we protect and defend the American people. In the two decades since the Brady Bill was signed into law, over two million gun requests did not get approved. Imagine: it stopped two million illegal gun purchases and helped protect millions of Americans from the incomprehensible tragedy felt by all of you here today.

[snip]

“Nobody’s political career is more important than protecting the American people. Who among us is of such value that we would not say, ‘I’ll take a risk, so that our kids don’t have to take a risk and be in danger?’ So, I think there’s reason to be hopeful, because of Mr. Thompson’s work in the House getting all those co-sponsors. All we need is 20, 30 more, and there are at least 30 more who would vote for it.

“So, what we want is to get people to sign on, or at least say they will support the bill, and to urge the leadership of the House to take up the bill. I believe if the bill were taken up in the House that it would pass, and when it passes the House, some Senators – well-intentioned – would no longer have the excuse: ‘It’s no use my risking my political career because it’s not going any place in the House.’ Let’s prove it. Let’s turn that around. Pass it in the House. Just put the pressure on to take up the bill. Why not? Why not? When 90 percent of the American people want us to finish the job?”

Thompson issued a statement after the news conference. “If this bill is passed, criminals, terrorists, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers wouldn’t be able to bypass a background check by simply buying a gun online, through a classified ad or at a gun show,” he said. “This bill will save lives and respects the Second Amendment. It deserves a vote. And, it deserves to be signed into law.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Under: gun control, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Sewer director’s racist talk draws election rival

(Ed.’s note: This post is by my colleague Thomas Peele, who has been on this story’s trail from the start. -J)

Besieged West County Wastewater District Director Leonard Battaglia isn’t up for re-election for another year, but he already has an opponent.

Leonard McNeilFormer San Pablo City Council member Leonard McNeil wrote in an email Thursday that he intends to run for a sewer board seat next year.

Battaglia set off a tempest last month when he said in an interview about his high compensation that African Americans “think slower” than other races “because God made them that way.” He also repeatedly used a common slur to describe Asians.

Other West County board members voted 4-0 to ask Battaglia to resign. He has refused to do so.

McNeil, who is African American, was among several speakers who ripped Battaglia at a Wastewater board meeting Tuesday, saying “I think I’m very quick when I see prejudice and someone who is a bigot a racist.”

McNeil wrote Thursday, “I have not yet developed a cogent platform. I am merely announcing my intention to run for a seat on the board of directors.” McNeil served 12 years on the San Pablo council, losing a re-election bid last year.

Also, San Pablo City Manager Matt Rodriguez announced that city council will vote next month on a resolution also asking Battaglia to resign. Council members voted 5-0 on Tuesday night to schedule the vote for Dec. 2, he said.

Posted on Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Two rather unusual political campaign ads

Sometimes a campaign ad is just so out of the ordinary that it bears repeating far beyond the candidate’s would-be constituency.

These might not be of “demon sheep” or even Mike Gravel magnitude, but they’re making some waves in the social media seas – and many political operatives would contend that any ad that people talk about is a good ad.

This one is for Carl Sciortino, a Massachusetts state representative who’s running for Congress:

(Yes, the younger Sciortino is gay.)

And this one is for Minneapolis mayoral candidate Jeff Wagner:

Do you have a favorite quirky political ad from a current campaign? Drop a link in the comments and perhaps I’ll bump it up into an update.

Posted on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Good news and bad news on commenting

Good news: We’ve upgraded to a new commenting system called Disqus, which I think will be a vast improvement. You’ll find it easier to leave comments, vote other people’s comments’ up or down, and interface either with your own login or via an existing social media account.

Bad news: My tech people tell me that implementing the new system essentially has rendered all previous comments invisible; although I can still see them in our “heritage” commenting system, they’ll not appear on the public’s view of the blog. So, go ahead and start making your own “new history,” but be warned – Disqus will also make it easier for me to administrate the comments and control bad behavior.

Carry on!

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Berkeley-born policy simulator rebrands, expands

Politify, a Berkeley startup that created a public-policy simulator to tell people which presidential candidate’s tax and budget plan would be better for their households’ and neighborhoods’ financial bottom line, is back with a new name, a new round of funding and a contract with the state of Massachusetts.

What used to be Politify is now Outline. “Think of it as SimCity but for real life,” cofounder and CEO Nikita Bier said in a news release.

Outline’s budget simulator lets anyone to perform what-if analyses, such as manipulating tax rates or health care spending, and then see the projected impact to themselves and their communities. To construct the model, a team of data scientists and economists from MIT, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois spent the last year merging millions of anonymized federal tax returns and public Census records.

When an Outline user “endorses” a policy, that endorsement can be viewed by public officials who can then shape policy proposals according to citizen interest. Bier describes this as part of a broader vision called aided representation, where the software determines users’ interests and helps them advocate for those interests. “We wanted representation to be simple enough so that it’s part of your daily internet experience.”

They’ve just landed an $850,000 round of financing with participation from the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund, Esther Dyson, and the Dorm Room Fund. And it appears to have been the successful bidder for a contract with Massachusetts to license the budget simulator.

More than 4 million people used Politify in 90 days last year to help them gauge President Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s fiscal platforms.

“Politify was a litmus test that showed us Americans wanted to look at government empirically,” Bier said. “The difference is that Politify was about showing what government does — Outline is about showing what government can do.”

Posted on Monday, September 9th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Join me at Commonwealth Club’s ‘Week to Week’

Please join me tomorrow evening, Tuesday, Sept. 10, as I participate in the Commonwealth Club of California’s “Week to Week” political news discussion roundtable in Silicon Valley.

I’ll be joining Hoover Institution research fellow, California political expert and longtime GOP wordsmith Bill Whalen; club Vice President John Zipperer; and perhaps other panelists for the event. A wine-and-snacks social starts at 6 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m., in the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way in Palo Alto.

Tickets cost $10 for club members, $20 for non-members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online. I hope to see you there.

Posted on Monday, September 9th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Gun-control bills tailored for SF, Oakland advance

The Legislature on Friday sent two city-specific gun control measures – both for the Bay Area – to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The state Senate passed AB 180 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, which would give Oakland special permission to pass and enforce gun registration and licensing ordinances that are stricter than state law.

Bonta on Friday noted FBI statistics show Oakland last year had California’s highest violent-crime level, and the nation’s third highest. The city had more than 4,000 firearm-related crimes and 131 homicides in 2012; it has had 65 deaths by firearm so far in 2013.

“No one can deny that Oakland is suffering,” he said in a news release, adding his bill “is a smart and sensible bill that empowers Oakland and provides local control in addressing gun violence—where it is needed most.”

Bonta was appointed chair of the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay this year, and he and fellow committee member Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, will hold a news conference Monday morning in Oakland to urge Brown to sign this and other bills.

Meanwhile, the Assembly on Friday passed SB 475 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, which would require permission from the San Francisco and San Mateo County boards of supervisors in order for gun shows to be held at the Cow Palace – in effect, banning any future gun shows there.

“For years, residents, community organizations and elected leaders from the neighborhoods surrounding the Cow Palace have asked to have a voice in the decision to hold gun shows in their backyards, but they have been ignored,” Leno said in a news release Friday. “Meanwhile, firearms related crimes persist in these communities, tearing apart the lives of innocent families who reside in the surrounding area. This proposal gives local communities a say in determining whether they want gun shows in their neighborhoods, especially when they live in daily fear of gun violence.”

The Cow Palace straddles the county line, and is operated by the state Department of Agriculture’s Division of Fairs and Expositions. Leno twice before has authored bills to impose flat-out bans on gun and ammunition sales at the Cow Palace: AB 2948 of 2008 failed on the Senate floor, and SB 585 of 2009 was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Posted on Friday, September 6th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Mark Leno, Oakland, Rob Bonta, Uncategorized | 53 Comments »

Senate OKs bill inspired by BART phone shutdown

A bill inspired by BART’s shutdown of cell-phone service during public protests in 2011 has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The state Senate on Friday concurred in amendments to SB 380 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, which says agencies could only interrupt cell service when directed by a court order based on probable cause.

no signalBART turned off electricity to cellular towers in four San Francisco stations for three hours during an August 2011 protest about a BART Police officer’s fatal shooting of a knife-wielding homeless man.

The incident led the Federal Communications Commission to probe wireless service shutdowns, bringing public comments that indicated such shutdowns create more problems then they solve because they impede emergency communications. BART later in 2011 adopted a new standard for when it could interrupt phone service; Padilla’s bill, if it becomes law, would pre-empt that policy.

“The tragic events in Boston earlier this year remind us of the vital importance of wireless service to first responders, victims, and families during emergencies,” Padilla said in a news release Friday.

“For decades, California law has required a court order to interrupt or shutdown traditional telephone service,” he said. “SB 380 would extend these protections to the modern mobile communications network which is critical to public safety and a key element of a free and open society.”

Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, saying that giving law enforcement agencies only six hours to make findings about service shutdowns “could divert attention away from resolving the conflict without further threat to public safety.”

Padilla’s current bill differs from last year’s by making carve-outs for hostage and barricade situations, and by adding process for a shutdown in certain emergencies so long as it’s followed by court review to determine whether free speech and public safety standards were met.

The state Senate passed this bill 35-3 in May; the Assembly passed it 77-0 on Wednesday; and a roll call is not yet available for Friday’s Senate concurrence vote.

Posted on Friday, September 6th, 2013
Under: California State Senate, Jerry Brown, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »