Part of the Bay Area News Group

Of Cuba, embassies and Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee was among those quick to praise President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba will be opening reciprocal embassies soon – but she renewed her insistence that she’s not angling to be ambassador.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement calling the opening of embassies “another important step forward as we work to normalize relations after more than 50 years of failed policy. She urged Congress to follow the president’s lead by supporting H.R. 664, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, and H.R. 403, the Free Trade With Cuba Act. “It’s past time to end the failed embargo, lift the travel ban and fully normalize relations between our two countries.”

Lee has been a longtime advocate of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, and the Chronicle’s political gossip column alleged in January that Lee had a “gentlewoman’s agreement” with President Obama to name her as the U.S. ambassador to Cuba. She promptly replied with a statement saying she wouldn’t seek such a nomination, but rather would “continue the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and the fight for our shared progressive values in Congress.”

Of course, “seeking” a nomination and being willing to accept one aren’t necessarily the same thing, so I asked her office Wednesday if she would accept it if it’s offered.

Her response, delivered by email through a spokesman: “I appreciate the faith that my constituents have invested in me, as their Member of Congress. I plan to continue working, in Congress, to lift the travel ban, end the embargo and advance the many important issues that affect my constituents’ daily lives.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Pool report from Obama’s DCCC fundraiser

Here’s the White House pool report I just filed from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser that President Obama headlined, hosted by Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood.

But first, the view from outside:

The view from Sea Cliff (photo by Josh Richman)

Between 50 and 100 of the Bay Area’s well-heeled mixed and mingled with drinks and snacks in a bright, skylit room while awaiting POTUS’ remarks. Spotted in the crowd: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. (wearing a blue pantsuit and gold blouse with a Golden State Warriors button on her jacket lapel); Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.; and DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., opened the program, citing the Golden State Warriors’ championship win so soon after the championship San Francisco Giants were honored at the White House. She repeated the sentiments she had spoken to the U.S. Conference of Mayors a few hours earlier, noting that during Obama’s presidency, job growth has boomed, the deficit has shrunk, the stock market has soared, and 17 million previously uninsured Americans now have health coverage.

“You’ve come to a state that is in the lead on climate change,” she said, noting Steyer and Taylor have invested much to protect California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law.

Steyer thanked Pelosi for her service and leadership. Climate and energy is “part of the progressive agenda,” and many in the room care deeply about higher education, immigration reform, LGBT rights and more. But with climate change, Obama “hasn’t gotten nearly the support he deserves” given what the president has accomplished with regulations and international agreements. “It’s been under the most difficult political circumstances I’ve ever witnessed,” Steyer said, and perhaps the most difficult since 1860. Yet with all due respect to Warriors star Steph Curry, Obama is “still our go-to guy in a clutch,” Steyer said.

POTUS began speaking at 5:40 p.m.

“I think the Bay Area has been a little bit greedy with championships,” he said, noting at least the Blackhawks just had their victory parade, too.

But “it is actually really impressive to see what both organizations have done, and they do it the right way,” he said, offering his congratulations to Giants and Warriors alike. Obama noted Curry donates anti-malaria mosquito nets for each 3-point shot he makes.

POTUS thanked Steyer and Taylor on their civic engagement, as well as on good parenting; he’d just met their kids backstage. “I can’t thank them enough not just for supporting me but for supporting the issues that matter to everyone in this room.”

POTUS also thanked Pelosi for being “an extraordinary partner in Congress” who has made most of his administration’s accomplishments possible. And he thanked the members of Congress present at Friday’s event individually.

POTUS’ tone turned sober in addressing the Charleston massacre. “In addition to heartbreak and wanting to extend love and prayer and support to the families that have been affected” and amazement at their forgiving statements Friday to the shooter, “in addition to all those things I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that this stuff happens way too often. These mass shootings do not happen in other advanced countries around the world – they are unique in their frequency to America.”

And that’s due to this nation’s easily availability of guns, too often without background checks, he said. “It’s not enough for us to express sympathy. We have to take action.”

His partners in Congress have helped him reduce unemployment, buoy the economy, stabilize the housing market, reduce the deficit, insure the uninsured, increase high school graduation and college attendance rates, doubled production of clean energy (and increased solar tenfold), improved fuel efficiency standards, and more.

“We’ve ended two wars,” he said, while protecting the American homeland and conduct operations against enemies while staying true to the Constitution and the law. LGBT rights have leapt forward. “I’m really proud of this record.”

“But the amount of work left undone is remarkable,” POTUS said, citing both challenges and opportunities to better the nation for future generation.

“First is the changing nature of the economy,” he said.

We’ve overperformed the world economically, yet haven’t addressed growing income inequality. “Until we tackle that, people aren’t going to feel better.”

That means investing in early-childhood education, investing in science and research, and adopting new trade policies that don’t shy away from the new world economy but “lean into it,” he said.

“The second thing I spend time thinking about is climate change,” he said, and if we don’t get that right, it barely matters what else we do.

Reading the latest climate science reports scare him, he said; by 2050, “well within our current children’s lifetime,” sea levels rise by two to four feet. Within the lifetimes of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, “it could be 10 feet, 16 feet. The magnitude of the changes that could be taking place if we don’t get a handle on this are irreversible.”

“This is a matter of us taking some basic steps to increase efficiency and expand clean energy production and change our grid and develop new technologies, and it’s well within our reach,” he said. “There is something we can do.”

“If Japan is 20 percent more efficient in terms of its energy use… that’s existing technology and we can adapt it here,” he said.

“If we know how we produce power is unsustainable, we have the tools or we will develop the tools” to replace that, he said.

“Imagine what we could do if Congress actually starting moving with us instead of moving against us,” he said, drawing murmurs of assent from the audience.

China was compelled to negotiate on climate change because we’re setting the example, he said.

POTUS says he tells his White House interns that we live in the most technologically advanced time in history, with lifestyles our predecessors couldn’t have imagined, he said. “What you can’t do is give into this notion that things can’t change, because they change all the time and they change remarkably.”

“We never make as much progress as we should… we’re always a little bit battered and bruised, we’re always a little frustrated, but we make it a little better,” he said. “And by making it better, we add our little bit to this journey towards progress and more justice and more equality and more empathy and more compassion. And then we leave some work for our amazing kids to do, because we wouldn’t want to solve all their problems.”

But we must tackle income inequality and climate change now, before they become insurmountable in the future, he said.

“If we’re going to make things better, you have to have a Congress that cares and is willing to do tough stuff,” he said, adding he and his allies in Congress don’t agree on everything – a jibe that drew laughter from the audience.

“Ultimately, the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen,” he said. “I need you to feel the same sense of urgency.”

POTUS finished at 6:05 p.m.; press was ushered out as crowd applauded.

Motorcade departed site at 6:11 p.m. en route to Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco’s South of Market area.

Posted on Friday, June 19th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

Obama honors San Francisco Giants at White House

Sure, everyone’s in a tizzy about Thursday night’s NBA Finals Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, but another Bay Area champion team was lauded in our nation’s capital earlier in the day.

President Barack Obama hosted and honored the World Champion San Francisco Giants at the White House on Thursday.

Read the president’s remarks, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Obama honors Cal labor scholar at White House

A Berkeley labor scholar and consultant was among those honored by President Obama at the White House on Thursday as “Champions of Change” for working families.

Netsy FiresteinNetsy Firestein, 62, is a senior fellow at UC-Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and a consultant on work and family, child care, women and labor issues.

As founder and director of the Labor Project for Working Families, Firestein led a coalition that passed paid family leave in California, which covers almost every worker in the state. She also co-founded Family Values @ Work, a network of 21 states working to build a movement for family-friendly workplace policies such as family leave insurance and paid sick days.

Obama’s Champions of Change program lets the White House honor people who do extraordinary things to empower and inspire their communities. Thursday’s batch of 11 honorees were selected for having worked within their companies, communities or organizations for commonsense paid sick and paid leave policies, equal pay and an end to pregnancy discrimination to support families, businesses, and the economy.

The president singled out Firestein’s case as an example, citing her lead role in enacting California’s first-in-the-nation paid family leave law in 2002.

“People said it was a long shot,” Obama said. “And 13 years later, only two other states have done the same. But Netsy has proved that it’s possible – California is growing, businesses are being created. Not only is it possible, it’s the right thing to do. It’s patriotic. We should learn from her example and get those numbers up. We need more states to join in.”

Also speaking at Thursday’s ceremony were senior advisor Valerie Jarrett – chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls – and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez. The honorees took part in two panel discussions on working families moderated by Tina Tchen, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Roy Austin, deputy assistant to the president for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity.

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Labor politics, Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Speier to offer ‘gay conversion therapy’ ban effort

A Bay Area congresswoman will introduce a resolution next week urging states to ban “gay conversion therapy,” as President Obama called for in recent days.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier plans to introduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) resolution next Tuesday morning. The resolution calls on states to ban licensed mental health professionals from engaging in therapy to try to change minors’ sexual orientations.

“Conversion therapy is quackery — you can’t ‘cure’ or ‘treat’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “I applaud the president for his strong stance against it. I look forward to working with the White House when I reintroduce the Stop Harming Our Kids (SHOK) Resolution. What LGBT youth need is love and support, not discredited pseudoscience.”

Speier first introduced the SHOK resolution in late 2012, soon after California enacted such a ban. California’s law took effect in 2014 after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear challenges to it.

Reacting to a public petition, the White House this week announced the Obama administration’s support of efforts to ban the practice.

The American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association have rejected gay conversion therapy as a scientifically invalid practice, finding it can cause serious harm.

Posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Oakland, SF education officials meet with Obama

Three California education officials – including two from the Bay Area – met Monday morning with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to highlight the need for funding as Congress mulls a new budget and a revamp of the No Child Left Behind law.

Jumoke Hinton HodgeOakland Unified School District board member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza and Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Mike Hanson were among the dozen officials from across the nation who met with Obama and Duncan at the White House.

All were from districts that are part of the Council of the Great City Schools; Hodge chairs the board of that national organization, which represents the needs of urban public schools. School districts eligible for membership must be located in cities with populations over 250,000 and student enrollment over 35,000.

Obama said in the meeting that he’s ready to fight with Republicans for school funding and his education priorities, the Associated Press reported. He hopes that Republican lawmakers focus on educating every child and not shifting money away from needy districts, he said; he’s also calling for a focus on low-performing schools, annual assessments and investments in special education and English-language learners.

If the Republican budget doesn’t reflect those priorities, he said, they will have “a major debate.”

“My hope is that their budget reflects the priorities of educating every child,” he said, according to a pool report from the New York Post’s Geoff Earle. “We are making too much progress here … for us to be going backwards now.”

Obama and Duncan are touting improved high-school graduation rates as evidence that the administration’s policies are working. In California, the high school graduation rates from 2012 to 2013 increased by 2.4 percent overall, including a 2.7 percent increase for Hispanic students and a 2.1 percent increase for African-American students.

Richard CarranzaHinton Hodge is co-founder of the Parent Leadership and Engagement Academy Initiative (PLEA), a community-building project dedicated to the education and support of West Oakland parents and families. She collaborated with California Tomorrow to develop programs aimed at increasing parents’ ability to navigate the public school system; has worked extensively with low-income youth and students identified as severely emotionally disturbed; and she has provided gender-specific services to urban girls.

Carranza has been San Francisco’s schools superintendent since June 2012; earlier, he had been the district’s deputy superintendent of instruction, innovation and social justice at the district since 2009.

Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, education, Oakland, Obama presidency, San Francisco politics | 12 Comments »

Zach Galifianakis spotted at POTUS’ hotel in LA

This just in from Evan McMorris-Santoro of Buzzfeed News, the pool reporter for President Barack Obama’s movements in Los Angeles this morning:

At 9:50 PT, motorcade is rolling from the Intercontinental to the helos for the trip back to AF1.

No word from WH on POTUS’ morning. Your pooler spotted Zach Galifianakis in the Intercontinental lobby this morning. He was wearing a suit and eating a banana.

Did Zach Galifianakis meet with the President, and if so, why? I’d like to think they were conferring on a Tom Cotton comedy bit of some sort; I will not ruin this hypothesis with any investigation. After all, the two have worked together before.

Posted on Friday, March 13th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

President Obama on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’

President Obama flew to Los Angeles yesterday to appear on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and to attend a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Santa Monica.

Part of Obama’s TV appearance included him reading and responding to “Mean Tweets:”

“Those weren’t that mean,” Obama told Kimmel later in the show. “You should see what the Senate says about me.”

On more serious matters, Obama also spoke extensively about Ferguson, Mo., per the pool report from Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times:

“Obviously,” Obama said, “we don’t yet know what happened. Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers and their families, and thankfully, as you said, they’re going to be OK. What was beautiful about Selma was reminding ourselves that real social change in this country so often has happened because ordinary people are willing in a nonviolent fashion to make their voices heard.

“And I think that what had been happening in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest, but there was no excuse for criminal acts. And whoever fired those shots shouldn’t detract from the issue. They’re criminals. They need to be arrested. And then, what we need to do is to make sure that like-minded good spirited people on both sides – law enforcement who have a terrifically tough job and people who understandably don’t want to be stopped and harassed just because of their race — that we’re able to work together to try to come up with some good answers…”

Obama said the task force he assembled including police and protest organizers “came up with some terrific recommendations and found that there’s a lot of common ground.”

“What we have to make sure of is that the folks who disregard and disrespect the other side, people who resort to violence, that they’re marginalized,” he said.

“They set us all back,” Kimmel said. “They do.”

“But they’re not the majority,” Obama said. “And in the same way that you can’t generalize about police officers who do an extraordinarily tough job, overwhelmingly, they do it professionally, you can’t generalize about protesters who it turns out had some very legitimate grievances. The Justice Department report showed that they were being stopped, African Americans were being stopped disproportionately, mainly so the city could raise money, even though these were unjust.”

Kimmel said parking tickets that he feels are unjust drive him crazy. “My wheels are not turned properly, and I feel like they’re just trying to make money off of me.”

“What was happening in Ferguson,” Obama said, “was you had city government telling the Police Department that – stop more people. We need to raise more money. Folks would get stopped. They’d get tickets. Then, they’d have to wait in line to pay it, take a day off work. Folks would lose their jobs. In some cases, they were thrown in jail because they didn’t have enough money for the fines. And then, they’d get fined for that. So there was a whole structure there, according to the Justice Department report, that indicated both racism and just a disregard for what law enforcement’s supposed to do.”

“I said this at Selma: It is not unique, but it’s also not the norm. And we’ve got to constantly, when we’re thinking about issues of racial progress, or any kind of issue, recognize that things can get better, but there’s still more work to do. And we shouldn’t be complacent about the very real existence of problems out there. But we shouldn’t despair and think nothing’s changed. If people of good will, which is the overwhelming majority of Americans, are working together, these are problems we can solve.”

ABC has the entirety of last night’s episode available online, if you can sign in with your TV provider ID; otherwise, it’ll be free and open for viewing by anyone next week. For now, click here for the Associated Press readout on the show, via CBS News.

Posted on Friday, March 13th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

Pool report from President Obama at Stanford

Here are the pool reports I’ve filed today from President Obama’s visit to Stanford University for the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Click here for our main story on the overall summit.

Stanford University President John L. Hennessy began speaking at11:31 a.m. to introduce the President. Hennessy said Obama understands the challenges of cybersecurity, as “an avid Blackberry user” and the first president to be electronically connected, he had to give that up upon taking office.

President Obama came to the podium at 11:33 a.m. to a standing ovation, with students in the balcony roaring.

“Yes we can,” he echoed a particularly enthusiastic audience member’s call.

The President praised the Stanford campus’ beauty. “I’ve got to admit, I kind of want to go here – I was trying to figure out why a really nice place like this is wasted on young people who don’t fully appreciate what you’ve got.” He also thanked the university for hosting this summit, and noted that members of his administration including Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Penny Pritzker and others are Stanford alumni who “bleed Cardinal red.”

“This is the place that made nerd cool,” he said. “I was thinking of wearing some black-rimmed glasses with some tape in the middle, but I guess that’s not what you do anymore.”

“But, I’m not just here to enjoy myself.”

The President said the economy continues to recover, with an unprecedented streak of job creation and middle-class earnings starting to rise. “More than any other nation on earth, the United States is positioned to lead in the 21st century,” he said, and that means leading in technological innovation.

The President noted Stanford and its environs were the birthplace of Hewlett-Packard, the mouse, and the internet itself, “innovations for cloud computing, student projects here became Yahoo! and Google. Those were pretty good student projects.”
He said if all companies traceable back to Stanford formed their own nation, “you’d have one of the largest economies in the world, and a pretty good football team as well.”

“Just as we’re all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities and to meet the challenges of this information age,” he said.

LOTS more, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Homeland security, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

Obama to speak next Friday at Stanford, in SF

President Barack Obama will be in the Bay Area next week to speak at a Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University – an event that was scheduled a month ago but seems particularly timely given this week’s news of a massive hacking fiasco that compromised the personal data of up to 80 million Anthem insurance customers.

The president will arrive in San Francisco on Thursday night, a White House official said on background. He’ll speak Friday at the summit, which aims “to help shape public and private sector efforts to protect American consumers and companies from growing threats to consumers and commercial networks.”

“The summit will bring together major stakeholders on cybersecurity and consumer financial protection issues – including senior leaders from the White House and across the federal government; CEOs from a wide range of industries including the financial services industry, technology and communications companies; computer security companies and the retail industry; as well as law enforcement officials, consumer advocates, technical experts, and students,” the White House official said.

President Obama after his remarks will host a roundtable discussion with business leaders. On Friday evening, he’ll speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the San Francisco home of venture capitalist Sandy Robertson; tickets cost $10,000 for dinner and a photo, $32,400 to co-chair the event. On Saturday, Obama will head for Palm Springs.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 5 Comments »