Politicians joined in the nation’s grief over the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams, who was found dead in his Tiburon home Monday at age 63.
From President Barack Obama:
“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”
“Today, the world has lost a great genius and San Francisco has lost a loyal friend. The news of Robin Williams’ passing brought deep sadness to a universe that he had filled with laughter. Robin Williams was a brilliant comedian – one of the funniest of them all because he was one of the most brilliant of them all. The spontaneity of his humor always took us by surprise; the seriousness of his acting did not. I hope it is a comfort to his family that the world mourns their loss and are praying for them at this time.”
“San Francisco mourns the profound loss of Robin Williams who inspired us with his comedy and art. His legacy has had a deep and inspiring impact on our City and on our residents.
“His ties to San Francisco were deep, having found early success in our City’s comedy clubs with his popular stand-up routines and where he was destined to launch a successful career that included starring roles in classic television shows and big screen success including an Academy Award.
“Despite his success, he has never forgotten San Francisco. He was a philanthropist who gave generously, and he was a friend of the City.
“San Francisco is heartbroken by the tragic loss of Robin Williams who forever changed the world with laughter and joy. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time of mourning.”
For my own part, I’ll just offer this clip – one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, “The Fisher King,” for which Williams was nominated for an Oscar. He doesn’t say a word in this scene. He didn’t need to.
Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on Tuesday introduced S.2673, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, an updated version of a bill they first offered in March 2013. It’s co-sponsored by 77 Senators.
The bill would, among other things, spend $200 million more (to a new total of $1.8 billion) to stockpile U.S. weapons in Israel intended for use by U.S. forces in a crisis, but available to Israeli forces in emergencies.
It also requires the administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain U.S. technologies and products; authorizes the president to cooperate with Israel in policy areas including energy, water, homeland security, and alternative fuel technologies; and requires the president to study the feasibility of expanding U.S.-Israel cooperation on cyber security.
The bill encourages the administration to work with Israel to help the country gain entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which would make it easier for Israeli citizens to travel to the United States without first having to obtain a visa. And it requires the administration to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
“While we work toward a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the tragedy of war, it is critical that we reaffirm our enduring commitment to Israel’s security and the historic ties between our two nations,” Boxer said in a news release.“This legislation sends a clear message that America’s bond with Israel remains unbreakable, and I am proud that it has the support of more than three-quarters of the Senate.”
“The president’s plan is nuts, there’s really no more succinct way to describe it. Americans are still asking ‘where are the jobs?’ and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come. Americans are already paying more for everything and here he is condemning them to higher bills and lower incomes long after he leaves office.
“In many ways, this national energy tax is actually worse than the scheme Americans rejected four years ago. While the president may have kept his promise to make prices ‘skyrocket,’ it doesn’t have to be inevitable. The House has already passed legislation to prevent these rules from taking effect without the approval of the people’s representatives. The question now is: will Senate Democrats listen to the American people and stop this disaster or will they back the president all the way?”
“Climate change is one of the most pressing dangers facing us today. This accelerating crisis threatens our coasts, our crops and our communities – and its damaging and destabilizing effects are already being felt across our nation and around the world.
“The destructive effect of unrestrained carbon pollution is felt not only in rising temperatures and increased, more powerful natural disasters, but also in higher asthma rates in our children. We already restrict mercury and arsenic pollution – it’s time we did the same for toxic carbon pollution. These new standards will strengthen public health, create new jobs, spur innovation and lower electricity rates.
“Like the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act, these actions by the Administration send a resounding message to the world that the United States is serious about dealing with climate change. The Clean Air Act is an appropriate, bipartisan approach to protect people from pollution, and today’s standards build on a foundation of decades of bipartisan laws, including the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed by President Bush.
“We have a moral obligation to act to preserve the beauty of God’s creation for future generations. With these flexible plans to cut carbon pollution, our nation is taking a bold and serious step towards securing a sustainable future for all of us.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
California’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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
Boxer, 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.”
Cruz 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.
Boxer, D-Calif., wrote a letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane on Tuesday, urging her to withdraw its new policy that the senator says will inhibit congressional oversight.
“As an ‘independent agency,’ the NRC is independent from the Executive Branch – not from congressional oversight,” Boxer wrote. “It is the NRC’s responsibility to keep Congress apprised of its activities, as well as to follow the law and use its authorities responsibly and in the public’s interest.”
Yet the NRC “unilaterally devised a drastic change of policy behind closed doors” without notifying her committee, and implemented it without consulting Congress or the public, Boxer wrote.
“This policy is a radical departure from previous NRC document policies and creates significant hurdles and delays that can be used to withhold information entirely from the chairs and ranking members of oversight committees,” Boxer wrote. “It also allows the NRC to broadly deny information to individual members of Congress, even when the information is related to matters affecting their home states.”
The NRC’s claims that the new policy is justified by its need to protect against public release of sensitive materials isn’t supported by case law or by Justice Department guidelines, the senator wrote.
“I call on the NRC to cease its efforts to circumvent Congress’ oversight authority and create a policy that is a model of transparency and respects Congress’ responsibility to oversee the NRC,” Boxer wrote.
We’ll be posting a full story about reactions to President Obama’s plan to delay cancellation of some individual health insurance plans that don’t meet standards set by the nation’s new law, but here are a few pols for whom we didn’t have space in that article.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the president’s proposal a “good step” that’s “very helpful in the implementation of the law.” She also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about Republicans’ constant opposition to this law.
“This is typical of Republicans through the generations. Every time we’ve tried to expand health care, they’ve opposed it and opposed it and tried to derail it,” she said, adding that the new insurance law can be fixed “but that’s not good enough for my Republican friends. They just want to tear it down, just like they wanted to tear down Medicare.”
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in an email that he supports the president’s fix, which “continues to provide more choices without undermining the strengths of the new health care law. Implementing any new law creates a few bumps. We should be look for minor tweaks that strengthen the law rather than return to the old system that left millions of Americans without quality coverage.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, issued a statement calling Obama’s proposal “a step in the right direction towards fixing issues with the health care law. This was a promise that was made and it is a promise that should be kept.”
“I’ve said from the beginning that the health care reform law isn’t perfect,” Thompson said. “But instead of engaging in partisan bickering and playing blame games, I want to work to make health care reform better. … If we quit the partisan games, we can build on the reforms made in Obamacare, work out the imperfections, and make sure every American can get quality, affordable health insurance. That is a goal worth fighting for.”