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Honda, Lee, Farr vote against Visa Waiver reform

The House voted 407-19 Tuesday to tighten the Visa Waiver Program that lets people from certain countries travel to the United States without first obtaining a visa – a reaction to fear of terrorism, particularly given the roles of French and Belgian nationals in last month’s Paris attacks.

But three Northern California members – Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel – were among the few who voted against HR 158.

The bill would require visas for anyone who’s been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years; exceptions are made for official government visits and military service. Countries in the visa waiver program would also be required to share counterterror information with the U.S. or face expulsion from the program. All travelers would be checked against Interpol databases, and visa waiver countries would be required to issue “e-passports” with biometric information.

Sam FarrFarr this evening said the bill “casts too wide a net to be effective. Throwing anyone who travels to Syria or Iraq into the same category as suspected terrorists won’t help us catch the bad guys but it will harm humanitarian efforts there. Investing in better human intel is how we will stop them, not by disrupting tourist travel to the United States.”

Honda went into more detail, noting that although he strongly supports the need for increased security in the Visa Waiver Program, he voted against this bill “because it unjustly targets individuals based on their nationality.”

He said the program, used by 20 million people per year from 38 countries, is far less secure than the two-year screening process to which refugees are subjected, and needs to be improved. He said he supports some parts of this bill, including requiring all travelers to be checked against INTERPOL databases, using fraud-resistant e-passports with biometric information to protect against false identities, and strengthening background check procedures and information-sharing.

honda.jpg“I cannot, however, vote for a bill that categorically bars access to the Visa Waiver Program for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Iran and people who have traveled in the last 5 years to Iraq and Syria, including humanitarian workers,” Honda said. “Under this bill, a French citizen of Syrian descent who has never been to Syria would still fall into this blanket category. Since the Visa Waiver Program functions on reciprocity, I am also concerned that this bill will trigger restrictions from other countries on travel for Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese, and Iranian Americans.”

“I reject the stereotype that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists and I strongly oppose the targeting of people from these specific countries,” he continued. “I know what it is be singled out as a threat and potential enemy due to nationality, despite a lack of evidence and despite being an American citizen. We can and must protect Americans without compromising American values. It is time to refuse wartime hysteria and prejudice based on nationality, and instead show true political leadership.”

UPDATE @ 12:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Lee said she shares “the concerns of the ACLU, AILA, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and others that this bill would allow for the discrimination of individuals based on their nationality. We cannot let fear drive us to create bad policies. Congress can and should carefully examine the visa waiver program and I will work to support changes which do not open the door for blanket discrimination.”

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California Endowment grants will help refugees

The California Endowment will make emergency relief grants available to several organizations helping Syrian refugees arriving in the Golden State, it announced Tuesday.

CalEndowWith more than $3 billion in assets, the foundation is one of the nation’s largest private healthcare foundations, created in 1996 when Blue Cross of California acquired the for-profit subsidiary WellPoint Health Networks.

“This is a moment to stand up for our values as Americans,” Dr. Robert Ross, the California Endowment’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “Inclusion and compassion are at the core of The Endowment’s mission to create healthier communities across our great state. We are committed to do our part and support Governor Brown’s decision to welcome refugees to California.”

More than half the nation’s governors, mostly Republicans, have spoken out against accepting refugees from the civil war that has wracked Syria for years. But Gov. Jerry Brown said last week he’ll work closely with President Barack Obama to ensure any Syrian refugees coming to California are “fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way.”

The endowment will make small, one-time-only emergency grants available to several community-based organizations support Syrian refugees, designed to increase those organizations’ capacity in select California communities where refugees will be arriving.

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Five California mayors urge welcome of refugees

The mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, West Hollywood and West Sacramento are among 62 mayors from 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico who wrote to Congress on Friday urging it not to prevent screened Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ letter to the House and Senate notes the conference adopted a resolution in June 2014 that “recognizes this nation’s leadership in protecting refugees and celebrates the contributions refugees make to their communities.”

That policy describes the U.S. refugee resettlement program, administered by the Departments of State and Health and Human Services, “as a unique and robust public-private partnership of the federal government, state and local governments, non-profit agencies, and individuals” which subjects people to “the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States,” the letter said.

“Our nation has always been a beacon of hope for those seeking peace and protection from persecution,” the letter said. “We urge you to take no action that will jeopardize this rich and proud heritage.”

Among the signers were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath, and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

Besides those from California, mayors from Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puero Rico, South Caroline, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington signed the letter.

Though not a signer of this letter, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf – in whose city at least 16 Syrian refugees have re-settled since 2011 – said Monday that “now is a time for us, as Americans, as Oaklanders to turn toward each other – not on each other. We should not let fear and anger lull us into accepting the false choice between safety and compassion. We can keep our communities safe at the same time that we show compassion for those in need.”

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Mike Honda blasts calls to lock up Syrian refugees

Rep. Mike Honda, who spent part of his childhood in a World War II-era internment camp for Japanese-Americans, opened a six-pack of verbal whup-ass Wednesday all over state and local politicians who have suggested not only barring Syrian refugees from entering the country, but perhaps locking up those already here.

Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat, issued a statement Wednesday hailing his city as “welcoming” and America as “the melting pot of the world,” but saying that “it is presently imprudent to assist in the relocation of Syrian refugees to our part of Virginia.”

“Thus, today, I’m requesting that all Roanoke Valley governments and non-governmental agencies suspend and delay any further Syrian refugee assistance until these serious hostilities and atrocities end, or at the very least until regarded as under control by U.S. authorities, and normalcy is restored,” Bowers wrote. “I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis [sic] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada told the Tennessean that said his state should “activate the Tennessee National Guard and stop them from coming in to the state by whatever means we can.”

“I’m not worried about what a bureaucrat in D.C. or an unelected judge thinks,” he said. “We need to gather (Syrian refugees) up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, ‘They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours.’ ”

And Rhode Island state Sen. Elaine Morgan, a Republican, sent an email Tuesday saying her state should reject Syrian refugees in part because “the Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape, and decapitate anyone who is a non Muslim.”

“If we need to take these people in we should set up [a] refugee camp to keep them segregated from our populous,” she wrote. “I think the protection of our US citizens and the United States of America should be the most important issue here.”

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, issued a statement Wednesday noting he knows “firsthand how that dark moment in our nation’s history led to repercussions that have resonated over the years.

“I am outraged by reports of elected officials calling for Syrian Americans to be rounded up and interned,” he said. “We simply cannot let the extremist perpetrators of these hateful acts of violence drive us into such a misguided action. For it is when we allow these criminals to lead us down a dark path, away from our principles and ideals, that we as a country suffer.”

“The Japanese and Japanese Americans interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an outrage, as was turning away Jews at our borders who were fleeing German persecution. We cannot allow this to happen again and reverse the progress we have made in the last several decades,” Honda said. “We look back, as a nation, and we know this was wrong. We look back and know, as defined by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that the internment was a result of ‘race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.’ We look back and know that an entire ethnicity was said to be, and ultimately considered, the enemy. We know that internment happened because few in Washington were brave enough to say ‘no.’”

Now it’s time to say no to the likes of Bowers, Casada and Morgan, he said, “who would make such ill-advised and backwards-thinking recommendations. They are perpetuating the messages of hate and fear that fly in the fact of what America stands for in the world.”

“As we learn more about the complexity and the extent of the attacks on Paris, this tragedy continues to send shockwaves through the world community,” Honda said. “I am hopeful we will not allow our anger and outrage towards these terrorists and their cowardly attacks on civilians to turn us away from compassion and generosity. We need to find ways to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are entering through our thorough screening and resettlement process now to find safe haven in the United States. As a world leader, we need to help these people escape from the brutal ISIL regime – they are fleeing the very perpetrators of these senseless acts of violence.”

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Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender

6

Reactions to the CIA torture report

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Tuesday released the executive summary of the committee’s five-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The study’s 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four central themes, each of which is supported extensively in the executive summary:

  • The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not effective.
  • The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
  • The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
  • The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.
  • From President Barack Obama:

    “Throughout our history, the United States of America has done more than any other nation to stand up for freedom, democracy, and the inherent dignity and human rights of people around the world. As Americans, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens who serve to keep us safe, among them the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the horrific attacks of 9/11, these public servants have worked tirelessly to devastate core al Qaeda, deliver justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupt terrorist operations and thwart terrorist attacks. Solemn rows of stars on the Memorial Wall at the CIA honor those who have given their lives to protect ours. Our intelligence professionals are patriots, and we are safer because of their heroic service and sacrifices.

    “In the years after 9/11, with legitimate fears of further attacks and with the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life, the previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country. As I have said before, our nation did many things right in those difficult years. At the same time, some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values. That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.

    “Today’s report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence details one element of our nation’s response to 9/11—the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which I formally ended on one of my first days in office. The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests. Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners. That is why I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.

    “As Commander in Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the safety and security of the American people. We will therefore continue to be relentless in our fight against al Qaeda, its affiliates and other violent extremists. We will rely on all elements of our national power, including the power and example of our founding ideals. That is why I have consistently supported the declassification of today’s report. No nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better. Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past. Today is also a reminder that upholding the values we profess doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger and that the United States of America will remain the greatest force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.”

    From U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:

    http://youtu.be/wR7qsQDWVPU

    “We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

    “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed.”

    From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

    “The report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released this morning confirms what I’ve long believed: the CIA not only embraced the widespread use of enhanced interrogation techniques, but also repeatedly misled Congress and the American people about their activities. Furthermore, the report found that the CIA exaggerated the usefulness of these methods in gaining reliable intelligence.

    “The use of torture is unacceptable and morally wrong. These practices undermine our values, endanger our national security interests and exacerbate anti-American sentiment abroad.

    “The release of this report is an important step towards providing the American people with the transparency they deserve. These atrocities are a national disgrace and Congress must work to ensure this never happens again.”

    More, after the jump…
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