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Lawmakers cheer tougher penalties for pot grows

Northern California House members from both sides of the aisle are cheering new, stiffer federal penalties for illegal marijuana grows on trespassed lands.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced last week it had adopted tougher punishments for high-level offenders who cultivate marijuana grows on public or private lands they don’t own. The amended guidelines will be submitted to Congress and reviewed for six months before officially taking effect Nov. 1.

This had been the aim of a bill introduced last summer and a letter sent to the commission in November by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, as well as by senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“Illegal marijuana grow sites that threaten lives, destroy public lands and devastate wildlife have become far too common,” Thompson said in a news release Monday. “These new sentencing guidelines will serve as a strong deterrent against these illegal grow sites, and they will help make sure criminals who wreck our public and private lands are held fully responsible for the harm they cause.”

Huffman said toxic and illegal chemicals used at such sites, plus the potential for violence, make such grows unsafe on many levels. Also, “California is in the midst of a devastating drought, and many of these grow operations illegally divert streams and tap groundwater with untold impacts on downstream water users and wildlife,” he noted.

Both he and Farr noted the nation seems to be moving toward what they consider to be more reasonable laws on marijuana use, but these illegal grows can’t be tolerated. “With these new guidelines in place, we can make public and private lands safer while protecting the environment for everyone to enjoy,” Farr said.

LaMalfa said property owners and local government often are stuck paying thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. “The Sentencing Commission’s recognition of these impacts will go a long way toward ensuring that those who disregard our nation’s laws are held responsible.”

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Thompson, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

Don’t like the poll results? Too bad.

Whenever we do a poll story, I’m a bit amazed at the vitriol and ignorance in some of the comments.

That holds true for my story in Tuesday’s editions about a Field Poll showing President Obama’s relative popularity in California, and Jessica Calefati’s story in Wednesday’s editions about how Gov. Jerry Brown is trouncing his challengers. Let me clear up a few misconceptions (or intentional misstatements):

1.) IT’S NOT OUR POLL

In the comments on Jessica’s story, RobThom wrote “The lib media loves polls, because you can get a poll to say anything you want.”

Except the “lib media” didn’t conduct the poll. Bay Area News Group doesn’t do its own polls on these issues, and we generally only write stories about California polls conducted by nonpartisan organizations of the highest reputation, such as Field Research, the Public Policy Institute of California and occasionally the University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times. We receive the same poll results as every other media outlet – even Fox News!

Lest you think the poll questions were biased, the Obama question was “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President?” And here’s how the gubernatorial election question was phrased:

The upcoming June statewide election will be an open primary. This means that candidates from all parties – Democrats, Republicans and others – will be listed together on one ballot and voters can chose to vote for a candidate from any party or affiliation. I am going to read the names of some of the likely candidates for Governor in the June open primary election and please tell me who you would be your first choice if the election were being held today. Suppose the candidates were (CANDIDATES READ IN RANDOM ORDER) Who would be your first choice for Governor? (REPEAT IF NECESSARY)

2.) IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THE POLL DIDN’T CALL YOU

In the comments on my story, Tamara Lynn wrote, “They didn’t poll me…. In my generalized poll while speaking with friends, family and social media.. Obummer isn’t favored at all! Once again the merc printing only what it wants.. Stupid is as stupid does.”

Tamara apparently doesn’t know what a poll is – the only poll that surveys every registered voter is called an election. Field surveyed 1,000 Californians randomly selected from the state’s voter rolls. At last count, California had 17,660,257 registered voters, so Tamara had a 1-in-17,660 chance of getting called. Even with Field polling on Obama’s approval rating about four times a year, I’d advise her not to hold her breath. And of course her friends, family and social media say otherwise – that’s a self-selecting community of like-minded individuals, not a random poll.

3.) JUST BECAUSE YOU DISAGREE DOESN’T MAKE IT WRONG

In the comments on my story, Real American Ranger wrote, “Who ever wrote this article is obviously on crack. The experiment with putting a community organizer with zero real world experience in the white house has failed miserably.”

We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. The fact is, Barack Obama and Jerry Brown are riding high in California, borne by a minority-heavy voting population that skews significantly toward Democrats. There certainly are people who dislike Obama and Brown, but they are outnumbered. The polls show it, the elections show it – it walks and talks like a duck, yet a few vocal critics insist it’s a goose.

Try to remember, folks: Neither these nonpartisan polls nor this news organization are here to confirm your personal worldview. If you want that, I’m sure there’s a cable news channel that will make you very happy.

Posted on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
Under: 2014 primary, Barack Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Obama presidency, polls | 4 Comments »

Boxer supports Danville couple’s MICRA measure

A ballot measure to raise California’s decades-old limit on medical-negligence lawsuit awards has gained a high-profile supporter: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Bob and Carmen Pack of Danville, whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003, submitted 840,000 signatures a week ago to qualify their measure for November’s ballot.

Barbara Boxer“I will never forget meeting a child who was severely disfigured and forever confined to a wheelchair because of medical malpractice,” Boxer, D-Calif., said in a news release issued Monday by the campaign supporting the mesaure.

“I was stunned to learn how unfair California law is in terms of compensating these patients and their families, and I committed to helping the victims of these tragedies,” Boxer continued. “That is why I am proud to support the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, which will reform our judicial system to hold accountable those responsible for so much pain and suffering and ensure that patients and their families get the justice they deserve.”

The measure – supported by trial-lawyer groups – would index for inflation the state’s cap on malpractice recovery, now fixed at $250,000, for those without wage loss or medical bills. The Packs were entitled to recover only this $250,000 limit for each of their children’s lives; they note that $250,000 in 1975, when the cap was enacted as part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), would be worth only about $58,000 today. Adjusted for inflation, the cap would now be around $1.1 million.

The measure also would require random drug testing of doctors to prevent physician substance abuse, and require that doctors use the state’s existing prescription drug database to weed out doctor-shopping drug abusers like the one who killed the Packs’ kids.

Medical organizations oppose the measure. “A ballot measure that is certain to generate more medical lawsuits and drive up costs for every health consumer in California is the worst possible idea at the worst possible time,” California Medical Association President Dr. Richard Thorp said last week in a news release. “This initiative is bad for patients, bad for taxpayers and bad for California’s entire system of health care delivery.”

Posted on Monday, March 31st, 2014
Under: ballot measures, Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

Rand Paul in Berkeley & SF next week

Fresh from his second consecutive win in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul will be in the Bay Area next week to raise funds and speak to students about government surveillance’s intrusion on liberty.

Rand PaulThe junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky has fundraising events on the morning of Tuesday, March 18 at the Olympic Club of San Francisco. First comes a roundtable breakfast hosted by cardiologist Dr. Michel Accad, 2012 congressional candidate Dr. Wayne Iverson of San Diego, and John Dennis, a Republican now posing his third consecutive challenge to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; tickets for that cost from $500 to $2,500. Later the same morning, contributors will pay $500 each for a private meet-and-greet with Paul, hosted by Dennis and investor Robert Leppo.

Then, on Wednesday March 19, Paul will address the Berkeley Forum – a nonpartisan, student-run group at UC-Berkeley – about domestic security, the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata, and the public debate regarding privacy and its Constitutional implications. The 3 p.m. event is free for Cal students and faculty, $15 for the general public; tickets are available online.

Paul’s campaign strategy involves mobilizing young libertarian-leaning voters, much as President Obama did for young Democrats in 2008, and believes issues of privacy and civil liberties will help accomplish that.

Posted on Thursday, March 13th, 2014
Under: Rand Paul | 4 Comments »

Video: DiFi rips CIA for violating law, constitution

The CIA violated federal law and the constitution by searching congressional overseers’ computers, U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein said Tuesday morning.

Feinstein, D-Calif., delivered this scathing floor speech:

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The Washington Post puts it in context.

Posted on Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Obama to add Stornetta Lands to monument

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will expand the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a White House official said Saturday.

Stornetta mapCalifornia’s U.S. Senators and two congressmen have been pushing hard for this, and wrote to the president a year ago to urge his action. The White House said Obama will make the move as part of his State of the Union pledge to “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”

President Bill Clinton established the California Coastal National Monument in 2000 to protect the area’s scientifically valuable coastal resources, including geologic formations that offer unique habitats for breeding seabirds, marine mammals, and other native species.

Obama will be adding about 1,665 acres of federal lands located on California’s Mendocino County coast, just north of the Point Arena.

The area is an economic engine for the local community, driving tourism and offering outdoor recreation opportunities; a Bureau of Land Management report estimates that outdoor recreation on public lands in California contributed nearly $900 million to the economy in 2012. But it also will offer scientific opportunities for geologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists, as well as recreational opportunities.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as well as Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Mike Thompson, D-Napa, have championed adding this land to the monument, and offered legislation that would’ve done so.

“I am so pleased that President Obama is taking action to permanently protect this majestic piece of California’s coast for future generations to enjoy,” Boxer said in a statement issued Saturday. “Expanding this monument will not only help preserve this sensitive coastal area and protect marine life along the coast, it will also boost the tourism economy in Mendocino County, which supports 5,000 jobs.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell held a public listening session in November in Point Arena to hear from the community about its vision for conserving the lands; Jewell will return to the area Wednesday to celebrate the president’s action.

Posted on Saturday, March 8th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Environment, Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 9 Comments »

CA15: President Obama endorses Eric Swalwell

Rep. Eric Swalwell announced Monday that he has President Barack Obama’s endorsement for re-election in the 15th Congressional District.

Eric Swalwell“Congressman Eric Swalwell has proved to be a tireless champion for families throughout California’s 15th District, bringing new energy and ideas to Congress,” Obama said in a statement released by Swalwell’s campaign. “Eric is a strong voice for creating good jobs, expanding economic opportunity, and growing the middle class.”

“Since day one, Eric has shown unwavering dedication to the needs of his constituents – helping veterans secure the benefits they’ve earned, protecting seniors, and ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work,” the president added. “I enthusiastically support Eric Swalwell’s reelection to Congress so the East Bay can continue to move forward.”

Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, said he’s honored by the endorsement and has worked with the president to protect the middle class and help workers find jobs. “I look forward to working with President Obama to address the many challenges faced by my constituents, including ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work, taking care of our veterans, and growing our middle class.”

Ellen CorbettSwalwell’s sole challenger is a fellow Democrat, state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro; no other candidates have taken out papers in Alameda or Contra Costa counties so far for this race, and the filing deadline is this Friday, March 7.

“The president tends to endorse incumbents, the president endorsed the incumbent that Congressman Swalwell ran against last time and the incumbent didn’t win,” Corbett said Monday afternoon, referring to former Rep. Pete Stark. “People have an opportunity to take a look at the candidates and choose who they feel is most qualified for the job based on their qualifications and experience.”

Swalwell already has announced endorsements from national Democratic figures such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., as well as from various other members of Congress and all the mayors in his district.

But Corbett has been endorsed by her fellow state Senate Democrats, and drew enough votes at a local caucus last month to deny Swalwell a Democratic Party “pre-endorsement.” Both candidates will make their cases at the California Democratic Party convention this weekend in Los Angeles.

Posted on Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Under: 2014 primary, Barack Obama, Ellen Corbett, Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | 17 Comments »

Obama visit brings flood of drought commentary

With President Obama soon to arrive in California for drought-related visits to Firebaugh and Los Banos, lots of politicos and stakeholders are weighing in about the state’s crisis.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued a statement praising executive-order relief measures that the Obama administration announced today, including $100 million in livestock disaster aid for California ranchers, $60 million for California food banks to help families affected by the drought, and other measures to promote conservation and help rural communities suffering water shortages.

“I applaud the President for coming to California during this very difficult drought, and I thank him for moving so quickly to provide relief for our state,” Boxer said.

But, from House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield:

“As President Obama visits California this afternoon to introduce an initiative to spend millions of dollars as part of his solution to California’s drought that has been exacerbated by federal and state regulations, House Republicans are continuing to work to find a bipartisan, bicameral solution to ensure our communities are not crippled by future droughts. Last week, the House passed H.R. 3964, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, by a bipartisan vote of 229-191. I urge Majority Leader Harry Reid to put this legislation on the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible.

“Earlier this week, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer introduced their own legislation on California water policy. After two House-passed bills and two Congresses, this development is welcomed, but long overdue.

“In the spirit of Californians working together to bring solutions to the President’s desk, I believe that there are components of the Senate bill that can be further discussed and explored. The federal government can do more to deliver water to our southern California communities by keeping the Delta Cross Channel Gates open, increasing pumping at Old and Middle Rivers, setting a 1-to-1 flow in the San Joaquin River for water transfers, and authorizing the drilling of wells in refuges.

“And most importantly, there is growing consensus that direction to federal and state agencies to maximize water supplies is the underlying issue that must be addressed. Unfortunately, without substantive changes to burdensome environmental regulations, the well-being of fish will continue to be placed ahead of the well-being of our central and southern California communities that rely on critical water supplies to survive. And as a result, our farmers will still be left paying for water allocations that they are not receiving.

“Our communities cannot afford rhetorical battles in this time of drought. Already, the actions taken by the House have resulted in the Senate putting forth their plan after years of inaction. When Majority Leader Reid decides to put California water legislation on the Senate floor for a vote and Senators Feinstein and Boxer work to ensure its passage, I look forward to coming together to find areas of common ground and commonsense to finally achieve a solution that our state is so desperately in need of. It remains to be seen if our Senate colleagues are willing to cross the aisle and acknowledge that a their-way-or-the-highway position is not feasible.”

More after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, February 14th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy, Neel Kashkari, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, water | 3 Comments »

Obama to visit Fresno next Friday about drought

This just in from the White House:

“On Friday, February 14, President Obama will travel to the Fresno, California area to discuss ongoing efforts to respond to the severe drought. Further details on the President’s trip to California will be available in the coming days.”

As reported here last week, President Obama promised Gov. Jerry Brown that he’s committed to providing the necessary federal support to state and local drought mitigation efforts. And as I reported Tuesday, the president is no fan of the water bill that Republicans pushed through the House this week as a drought solution.

Posted on Friday, February 7th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency, water | 4 Comments »

Boxer, Ted Cruz agree on military justice bill

Mark the date: This is one of the few times you ever will see U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Ted Cruz supporting the same cause.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, the California liberal, and Cruz, the Tea Party darling from Texas, are among 53 Senators – 44 Democrats and nine Republicans – who have publicly voiced support for a bill to create an independent military justice system. The Senate is expected to vote next week on S.1752, the Military Justice Improvement Act by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as well as on additional sexual assault reforms sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

“It is time to bring an end to the broken promises of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault. Enough already,” Boxer said in a news release. “It is time to fix our military justice system and to give survivors a chance at the justice they deserve by enacting the Military Justice Improvement Act.”

My Approved PortraitsCruz commended Gillibrand for her leadership on the issue, saying the bill “will address the most serious crimes in the military while enabling commanders to focus on their wartime mission and ensure that the rights of both victims and those accused of crimes are protected. Our strongest allies have adopted similar military justice changes and their experience shows us that this can be done without harming the chain of command or military readiness. I look forward to continue working with her on this important issue.”

Victims of military sexual assault often have described feeling fearful when deciding whether to report the crimes, because the military chain of command has an inherent conflict of interest and bias in deciding whether to prosecute.

The bill moves the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors who aren’t beholden to the usual chain of command. Excepted from the bill are 37 serious crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going absent without leave, plus all crimes punishable by less than a year behind bars.

Posted on Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »