Boxer, DiFi urge Obama to act on Port Chicago 50

California’s U.S. senators asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday to take executive action to exonerate 50 African American sailors wrongly convicted of mutiny after the worst home-front disaster of World War II at the Port Chicago Naval Base in Concord.

“Port Chicago serves as a stark reminder of both the sacrifice of the brave service members who served there and of the painful legacy of a segregated military,” Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein wrote in their letter to the president. “We urge you to take executive action to restore justice to these 50 sailors who signed up to serve our country in World War II but were instead victims of racism and unjust convictions.”

Port Chicago disaster aftermath (NPS photo)On July 17, 1944, a group of young African-American sailors was assigned to load bombs and ammunition onto naval ships at the segregated naval base at Port Chicago. Insufficient training and hectic loading schedules led to an explosion of nearly 5,000 tons of ammunition, killing 320 servicemembers including 202 African-American sailors who were loading the munitions.

After the blast, white officers who ran the base ordered African-American sailors immediately back to work loading munitions, but many refused, citing unsafe conditions. The Navy arrested hundreds on various charges, and 50 – known as the “Port Chicago 50” – were charged with mutiny. All were convicted.

Thurgood Marshall – later a U.S. Supreme Court justice – took up the case and, although Marshall was unable to have the convictions overturned, President Truman gave the 50 clemency after the war ended. A later review of the trial confirmed that race played a significant factor in the harsh sentences handed down, and in 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of the surviving members of the Port Chicago 50. But the records for the 49 other sailors remain unchanged.

That’s a “grave injustice,” the Senators wrote, and exonerating all 50 sailors “would demonstrate our commitment to a just and equal society for all Americans.”

President Obama in 2009 signed into law legislation introduced by Boxer, Feinstein and former Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, to designate the Port Chicago Memorial site as part of the National Park Service.

Read the full text of the senators’ letter, after the jump…
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Congressional reax to Pope Francis’ speech

Here’s how some of the Bay Area’s voices in Congress are responding to Pope Francis’ address today.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a series of tweets:

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“The Holy Father Pope Francis’ address to Congress was extraordinary. With absolute clarity, beauty and moral urgency, Pope Francis called on all of us to be better stewards of Creation and instruments of God’s peace.

“Standing in the very heart of our democracy, Pope Francis spoke to the better angels of our nature and of the American people. He reminded us of our sacred and inescapable responsibility to those struggling to escape poverty, persecution and war. He challenged us to rescue our planet from the climate crisis that threatens the future of our children and the health of God’s creation – and to do so sensitive to the needs of the poor. His Holiness urged us to live our values and reach beyond our divisions.

“On a personal note, my husband Paul, my children and I have more than 100 years of Catholic education among us, and this has been a day of profound joy for my family. It has been an awesome privilege to welcome His Holiness to the Congress. My deepest thanks to the Pope for the honor of his historic visit and the elevating, illuminating leadership he continues to provide Catholics and non-Catholics the world over. May the Holy Father’s message of hope, peace and dialogue echo through the halls of the Capitol and across the country for a long time to come.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“During a joint-session of Congress today, His Holiness Pope Francis reminded us of our sacred duty: to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society and our world.

“His call for peace and justice should inspire Congress and our entire nation. As we work to address the immense challenges facing our nation – climate change, persistent poverty, and global conflicts – the Pope’s call for mutual understanding has never been more timely or necessary.‎ We must strive to end all injustices that devalue human dignity, especially inequality and war.

“During his speech, the Pope called on Congress ‘to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.’

“He is right – we cannot afford to delay cooperation, however difficult it might be, while our planet and our people suffer.”

From Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord:

Mark DeSaulnier“Pope Francis’ unprecedented address to Congress was truly aspirational. His message of shared social responsibility in the face of global challenges comes at an important time for our country. Of particular note, were his comments on President Lincoln ‘the guardian who labored tirelessly that this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a subsidiarity and solidarity.’ Whether addressing climate change, poverty and inequality or the global refugee crisis, it is my hope Members of Congress will embrace Pope Francis’ message of moral responsibility and working together for the common good.”

More, after the jump…
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4th Republican considering U.S. Senate run

Santa Monica businessman Al Ramirez is mulling a run for California’s U.S. Senate seat in 2016, hoping the third time will be the charm.

Al RamirezRamirez placed fourth out of five in 2010’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, taking 1.8 percent of the vote; GOP nominee Carly Fiorina lost to incumbent Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., by 10 percentage points that November.

Ramirez ran again for U.S. Senate in 2012’s top-two primary against incumbent Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. In a field of 24 candidates – including 14 Republicans – Ramirez came in eighth with 2.3 percent of the vote; Feinstein stomped Republican Elizabeth Emken by 25 points that November.

Friday, as the California Republican Party kicked off its fall convention in Anaheim, Ramirez said “he’s in the early stages of forming a new exploratory committee” – read as: lining up contributors – for another run as Boxer prepares to retire.

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside; former state GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette; and former state GOP chairman Duf Sundheim of Los Altos Hills already are in the race, as are two Democrats – state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana.

In a brief telephone interview Friday, Ramirez said he’s not worried that adding another Republican to the field would further split the GOP base to Democrats’ advantage.

“All of them have failed getting out of the gate,” he said of his Republican rivals, adding support for them is “soft,” with many supporters still “willing to jump off that train” in favor of a stronger candidate – which he believes he is.

There’s a “lack of role-model-caliber leadership in the Latino community,” he said, but his business record and staunch conservative principles make him “someone that people can look up to,” he said.

Also, his father – though grappling with Parkinson’s disease – encouraged him to run again. Ramirez said his father watched this week’s Republican presidential debate and said Ramirez could’ve been on that stage too; when Ramirez replied that would’ve requiring winning in 2010 or 2012, his father replied, “That’s not stopping Carly.”

“My dad didn’t raise a quitter,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez, 46, is a senior-ranking executive for a privately held, Los Angeles-based cloud services company, leading its government markets and strategic defense systems efforts.

“You never lose when you serve your country and seeking this office is worth the challenge to insure that the values that make America great are restored and preserved for the next generation.” Ramirez said in his news release, adding he racked up some grassroots endorsements in 2012 as people got to know his stances on the economy, natural resources and national defense.

“Most of all, the reason I am considering running again is because we need leadership to restore law and order to the immigration crisis burdening our taxpayers,” he said. “The lawless tragedies we’ve seen speak for themselves. Ending welfare abuse and sanctuary city policies that jeopardize the public safety of innocent American families is long overdue.”


House OKs John Muir park expansion

The House on Wednesday approved Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s bill to expand the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, sending it on to the U.S. Senate.

H.R. 1289, DeSaulnier’s first stand-alone bill as a House member, would add 44 acres of donated land to the existing 330-acre plot, improving access to the park and its scenic trails. DeSaulnier’s predecessor, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, had introduced the same bill last year; the House approved it but the Senate failed to vote on it before adjourning.

“This historic site is the place where Muir, the father of the National Park system, championed the revolutionary idea that wild spaces should be set aside for all to enjoy,” DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said in his news release. “I look forward to seeing this bill passed by the Senate and signed into law.”

Linus Eukel, executive director of the John Muir Land Trust, said Muir “often walked this land with his two daughters, to admire the coast live oak that grow there, as well as the annual wildflowers that punctuate its grassy hillsides. Expansion of the John Muir Historic Site will forever protect this beautiful property and allow future generations to share in the same delights as Muir’s daughters,”

DeSaulnier’s bill has 31 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced companion legislation.


Where Bay Area lawmakers stand on the Iran deal

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues rolling out Democratic supporters one by one, almost half of the Bay Area’s House delegation has not yet committed to support or oppose the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have said they’ll vote for the agreement, as have Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

Most recently on the bandwagon are Swalwell and Farr, both Wednesday, and then Speier on Friday. Speier said in her statement that this is “one of the most important votes I will ever cast.

Jackie Speier“To come to this decision I attended scores of hearings, classified briefings, and met with U.S. allies, my Republican and Democratic colleagues, foreign policy experts, nongovernmental groups, the military and intelligence communities, and my constituents. I also met with the President for over two hours to discuss this deal,” she said.

“As President Kennedy once urged, we must pursue ‘a more practical, more attainable peace, based… on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned.’ This deal, like those Kennedy pursued with the Soviet Union, is a first step away from catastrophe,” Speier said. “So as he said, ‘Let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable.’ ”

No Bay Area members of Congress have come out against the deal, but five still aren’t ready to say where they stand: Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

“It’s my first big, consequential foreign policy vote, so I wanted to avail myself to learn as much as I could,” DeSaulnier said Friday, adding that while he sees no need to rush the decision during this month-long recess, “I’m leaning very much to support the president’s agreement.”

Mark DeSaulnierHe said has met both with President Obama in Washington, and then with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent trip to Israel with other Democratic House freshmen. “I promised both sides I would listen to them.”

And he said he’s reserving final judgment until after he completes five town-hall meetings he has scheduled for constituents over the next few weeks. In fact, he’s dedicating the second half of his first such meeting – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18 in the community room at Pleasant Hill Middle School, 1 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill – to this issue.

Honda spokeswoman Lauren Smith said Thursday her boss “is continuing to meet with people and get input and feedback, as well as fully considering all of the details of the deal. He will make a decision once he has collected all pertinent information.”

Lofgren’s chief of staff, Stacey Leavandosky, said Thursday her boss “is currently studying the agreement, meeting with constituents about it as well as hearing from Administration officials.”

McNerney spokesman Mike Naple said Thursday his boss “is still reviewing the agreement and hasn’t made a decision yet.”

And Huffman spokesman Paul Arden referred to his boss’s July 15 statement, in which he had said that “while I will vote based on the merits of the agreement, Iran’s credibility and trustworthiness are also considerations.”

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: Mike Honda has just announced that he supports the deal.

UPDATE @ 2:55 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: And now Jerry McNerney is on board, too.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M. FRIDAY 8/21: Lofgren now says she will vote in favor of the deal.


Boxer, Eshoo, Schiff support Iran nuclear deal

Californians are adding their voices to the growing chorus of Democratic support for the P5+1 multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear activity.

Barbara BoxerU.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – long a supporter of strong U.S.-Israel ties – issued a statement Tuesday supporting the deal despite Israel’s opposition.

“I am more convinced than ever that a rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement would be a victory for Iranian hardliners and would accelerate their ability to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Boxer said. “Iran now has enough nuclear material to build ten bombs. In my view, this agreement is the only way to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is used exclusively for civilian purposes, which is in the best interest of the United States, Israel and the world.”

“If we walk away from this deal, Iran would have no constraints on its nuclear program and the international sanctions that helped bring the Iranians to the table would collapse,” she added. The strong support from the international community – including the announcement this week by the Gulf states – underscores how this deal is the only viable alternative to war with Iran.”

Boxer’s statement came one day after Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, voiced her own support in a statement explaining “one of the most consequential foreign policy votes I will cast during my tenure in Congress.”

“In the face of a legitimate threat of immense magnitude from a nuclear-capable Iran, I believe this agreement is the right path forward,” Eshoo said. “My decision is not based on trusting Iran. To the contrary, the regime has a long list of offenses that I deeply object to, but there must be a mechanism in place to keep them from becoming a nuclear power. Nor would I suggest the agreement is perfect. But, in my view, to reject it would be a grave mistake for the United States, a repudiation of our allies in the effort, a danger to Israel, and further deterioration in the Middle East.”

Adam SchiffAlso Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank – the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat – issued a statement of support that said the deal “realistically precludes Iran from developing an atomic bomb for fifteen or more years, and does so while reducing the chances of war.”

“As an American and as a Jew who is deeply concerned about the security of Israel, it is also intensely personal,” Schiff said. “I believe our vital interests have been advanced under the agreement, since it would be extremely difficult for Iran to amass enough fissionable material to make a nuclear weapon without giving the United States ample notice and time to stop it.”