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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 »

Rep. Eric Swalwell is having a good week

It’s a banner week for the East Bay’s Rep. Eric Swalwell.

On Tuesday, the life sciences and pharmaceutical industry held a fundraising reception for Swalwell, D-Dublin, at Washington, D.C.’s Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar; contributors gave $500, $1,000 or $2,000 each.

On Wednesday, it became apparent that he barely needed Tuesday’s fundraiser. The first-quarter campaign finance report he filed with the Federal Election Commission showed he raised $330,136 from Jan. 1 through March 30, bringing his cash on hand to $534,161.

Mind you, that’s what he has left after giving $50,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and smaller contributions (usually $500 each) to a bunch of California Democrats in tougher districts, including Ami Bera, Julia Brownley, Pete Aguilar and Scott Peters – the kind of party tithing that helps members of Congress build clout for leadership positions.

And speaking of leadership positions, Swalwell – already a regional Democratic whip – on Thursday announced he’ll chair a new “Future Forum” of 14 young Democratic House members focused on issues and opportunities for millennials.

Eric SwalwellAt a kickoff announcement in Washington, Swalwell and Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said forum members are starting a national listening tour with stops in New York, Boston and the Bay Area, with other cities to follow in coming months.

In the Bay Area, those events will include a town hall on rising student debt and college affordability from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. next Monday, April 20 in the event center at Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Blvd. in Hayward. Swalwell and several other forum members also will hold a town hall on millennial entrepreneurship from 6 to 7 p.m. that night at the Impact Hub SF co-working space, 925 Mission St. in San Francisco.

“The issues of rising student loan debt, college affordability and declining millennial entrepreneurship do not just impact young Americans, they affect the health of our overall economy. Congress can’t afford to ignore these pressing challenges,” Swalwell said in a news release. “But we can’t just be talking about millennials; we need to be listening to millennials. To that end, we are crowdsourcing stories and ideas at events around the country and via social media and Medium to hear directly from our generation about how Congress can take action to better our future.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in the release that the forum members “bring the energetic, innovative, forward-looking leadership needed to meet the 21st century challenges we face. This effort is about bringing young people to the table and harnessing their dynamism, optimism, and hope to create a future where equality of opportunity exists for all, not just the ultra-wealthy and well-connected.”

Other Future Forum include Aguilar, D-Redlands; Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.; Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.; Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; Grace Meng, D-N.Y.; Seth Moulton, D-Mass.; Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

All this unfolds while there’s not yet anyone clearly preparing to challenge Swalwell in 2016.

At this time two years ago, then-state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett already had announced she would take him on. But her third-place finish in last June’s top-two primary has called into question whether a challenge on Swalwell’s left flank can be effective in a district where 22.7 percent of voters are nonpartisan and 21.5 percent are Republicans.

Now, without a potential rival breathing down his neck, watch for him to spend more of his second term focused not only on serving constituents but also on shoring up his bona fides within the party to assure himself a more prominent future.

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Under: Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Warren & Frank to headline state Dem convention

Once again underscoring deep-blue California’s penchant for pulling the Democratic party leftward, the state party will have progressive favorites U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and retired Rep. Barney Frank headline its convention May 15 through 17 in Anaheim.

My Approved Portraits“Sen. Warren and retired Rep. Frank embody Democrats’ fight for fairness in our economy and financial reforms that reward Americans’ hard work and hope for the future,” California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said in a news release.

“As California Democrats, we’re proud to count so many elected leaders who are in the same tradition and are showing leadership through action,” he said. “Democrats must redouble their efforts to combat growing income inequality so that the American dream is attainable for a new generation of Americans, and California Democrats must lead that charge.”

Barney FrankThe Massachusetts liberals represent much that some Democrats fear presidential candidate Hillary Clinton does not. Warren, who in 2012 became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, has been a leader on protecting workers and consumers. Frank, who served in the House from 1981 to 2013, was its first openly gay member and championed reforms to repair the U.S. economy with 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act.

Others scheduled to speak at the convention include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s running for governor in 2018; Attorney. General Kamala Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2016; Controller Betty Yee; Treasurer John Chiang; Secretary of State Alex Padilla; Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones; state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles; and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Under: Democratic Party, Democratic politics | 3 Comments »

Thompson co-authors ‘Crude-by-Rail Safety Act’

A Bay Area congressman is helping to lead the charge for new safety and security standards for transporting crude oil by rail.

Mike ThompsonRep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, co-authored and helped introduce Wednesday the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act, along with Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Ron Kind, D-Wisc.; and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

“Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said in a news release. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”

The recent, large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the United States and Canada in less than a month earlier this year underscored the need to review and improve safety rules, the lawmakers say.

Their bill sets a maximum volatility standard for crude oil and certain other potentially flammable and explosive substances moved by rail; prohibits use of DOT-111 tank cars, which would involve removing 37,700 from the rail network; sets strong new tank-car standards; requires comprehensive oil-spill response planning and studies; increases fines for violating standards; requires disclosure of train movement through communities; and requires railroads to create confidential close-call reporting systems.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Under: Mike Thompson, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Clinton taps Kamala Harris’ sister as policy advisor

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has named California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ younger sister, civil rights attorney Maya Harris, to help lead her campaign’s policy team.

Maya HarrisMaya Harris – who also is the wife of former Associate Attorney General Tony West, who stepped down last year from his third-in-command post at the U.S. Justice Department – most recently was a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. Before that, she was vice president for democracy, rights and justice at the Ford Foundation; before that, she was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, based in San Francisco.

Harris, 48, is one of three senior policy advisers Clinton named Tuesday to lead the development of her campaign’s agenda, Politico reported. The others are Ann O’Leary, a former legislative director to Clinton when she was in the Senate; and Jake Sullivan, a top aide to Clinton while she was Secretary of State and a former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris | 2 Comments »

Bartender, a round of Cuba Libres for the House.

Bay Area House members are thrilled by President Obama’s decision today to remove Cuba from the government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism; Republicans, predictably less so.

From Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Today, the President has taken an important step forward toward restored relations with Cuba. Taking Cuba off the state sponsors of terror list removes an outdated designation that no longer serves the security interests of the United States, nor the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people.

“This move continues the historic normalization of relations between our countries. It will facilitate the opening of new markets for American banks and businesses, and new opportunities for the people of Cuba.

“I hope we can continue to take our relations in a positive and constructive direction, and build on the historic progress we have made thus far.”

From Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“I am disappointed that the White House seems determined to reward the Castro regime, which has a clear record of repression at home and exporting violence throughout the region. Not even a week has passed since the brutal attacks on Cuban democracy protestors in Panama City during the Summit for the Americas. Those attacks – and the Castros’ long history of human rights violations – demonstrate the folly of revisiting diplomatic relations with this communist dictatorship and removing it from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror.

“Cozying up to the oppressive regime in Cuba is a blow to all who long for liberty and dignity. And it’s just one more example of this administration focusing more on befriending our enemies than helping our allies. The United States has a responsibility to stand strong for all those who struggle for freedom, and the House of Representatives is committed to doing its part.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I am pleased that President Obama will be removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. This action is long overdue and is an important step toward fully normalizing relations with Cuba.

“Along with many of my colleagues, I have long called for Cuba to be removed from this list. In December of 2013, I wrote a letter calling for de-list Cuba. I have reiterated that call in subsequent letters, including a December 2014 letter signed by 37 of my colleagues, which called for moves toward normalization ahead of the Summit of the Americas.

“The letter stated: ‘Over the years, reports by the State Department on the state sponsors of terrorism, have found no evidence or indication that Cuba provides weapons or training to terrorists. In fact, Cuba now meets global standards for fighting money-laundering and preventing terrorist finance, in addition to playing an active role in bringing Colombia’s civil war to an end.’

“By removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, President Obama is signaling his strong commitment to building a more productive relationship with Cuba. As we continue to move forward, renewed ties will bring great benefits to the Cuban and American people. Given Cuba’s close proximity to the U.S., improved relations will open new trade opportunities that will allow U.S. businesses to expand and create jobs here at home. This will also expand existing education and cultural exchanges.

“Congress also has a critical role to play. It’s past time to end the failed embargo, lift the restrictive travel ban and formally normalize relations. I am glad to be co-leading The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (H.R. 664) and Free Trade with Cuba Act (H.R. 403) to forge a new path between our two countries.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

Sam Farr“As Cuba moves to reintegrate itself into the international community, we must be willing to modernize our relations with them. This decision by the President moves us closer to normalized relations between our two countries. Decades of isolation have not worked so I am glad we are finally talking with our neighbor to push for new path forward in Cuba.

“I have been engaged in Latin American affairs since serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia. At the 2012 Summit in Cartagena, it was clear our position towards Cuba alienated us from the rest of the hemisphere. We must join the rest of the world by engaging with the island to help build a more open and democratic Cuba.”

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Rep. Jackie Speier rips federal pipeline watchdog

Rep. Jackie Speier went medieval on the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety during a House hearing Tuesday, calling it “not only a toothless tiger, but one that has overdosed on Quaaludes and is passed out on the job.”

Speier, D-San Mateo, whose district includes the San Bruno neighborhood where eight people died and 38 homes were leveled in a 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric natural-gas pipeline explosion, uncorked her ire at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. She wants more accountability from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

“It is clear to me that PHMSA does not have the teeth—or the will—to enforce pipeline safety in this country,” said Speier. “As we’ve seen in California, it is often powerless over state regulators. Even when it has crystal-clear authority, it still refuses to act.”

The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 eliminated the “grandfather clause” that had given operators a pass on gas transmission pipelines installed before adequate testing was required. This law required PHMSA to close the loophole within 18 months, but instead the agency basically has disregarded the statute, Speier said.

Speier demanded that PHMSA increase its oversight over state pipeline inspection agencies – in our case, the California Public Utilities Commission – and enact the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations to overhaul its policies. She plans to introduce a bill to further tighten pipeline safety requirements and increase PHMSA’s ability to ensure that state pipeline safety agencies are held accountable for enforcing safety rules.

Posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | No Comments »

San Diego’s Faulconer endorses Chávez for Senate

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer endorsed Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, on Friday for California’s 2016 U.S. Senate race.

With state Attorney General Kamala Harris having locked down a lot of prominent Democratic side, Faulconer’s nod marks one of the highest-profile GOP endorsements so far.

Kevin Faulconer“It’s time we united Californians on the issues that matter to them,” Faulconer said in a news release. “Colonel Rocky Chávez is a fiscal conservative who’s bringing people together on issues like national security, education and making government more efficient.”

Faulconer apparently acceded to Chávez’s desire to use the title “colonel” – he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001 after 28 years of service – than his current title of “assemblyman.” That’s probably not surprising, given most Californians’ relatively low opinion of the Legislature.

“San Diego is home to thousands of veterans and active-service military personnel,” Faulconer said. “Colonel Chávez cares about our veterans – and as a Marine colonel, he knows what it takes to have an effective national security strategy, something that’s lacking in Washington.”

Faulconer is that rarest of birds – a California GOP rising star. Though he almost immediately ruled out a run for the Senate seat that Democrat Barbara Boxer will vacate next year, many in the GOP see him as a leading contender for statewide office in 2018. A San Diego city councilman since 2006, he won a special mayoral election in early 2014; his term expires at the end of next year.

Rocky Chávez“Mayor Faulconer has a passion for getting things done in his city,” Chávez said in his news release. “That’s why his support means so much, because as U.S. Senator, I want to create real immigration reform, bring our education system into the 21st century and ensure our men and women in uniform are fighting for just causes – and fighting to win.”

Two little-known Republicans, John Estrada of Fresno and Mark Hardie of Whittier, also have declared their candidacies, though Hardie has yet to form a campaign committee. And former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, of Lafayette, has formed an exploratory committee.

Posted on Friday, April 10th, 2015
Under: U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

And now, a bit of tax-board marijuana humor.

Best headline I’ve seen in a while on a government news release: “Cannabis Learning Tour Provides Tax Policy Insight into Budding Industry.”

Get it? BUDDING.

Hey, I know it’s not subtle, but most of the releases I see are utterly humorless.

Fiona MaThis one came from the Board of Equalization, announcing that members Fiona Ma and Vice Chair George Runner took a listening and learning tour through Humboldt County this week with leaders in the area’s cannabis industry. Up there in the “Emerald Triangle,” it’s a substantial chunk of the local economy. Ma and Runner sought perspective on the product, from seed to sale, to help shape tax policy; the release didn’t mention whether they inhaled.

“I am proud to be a part of these informational meetings as part of a broader effort to engage stakeholders who will play an integral role in the regulation of this industry,” Ma said in the release. “Our goal is to encourage this industry to come out of the shadows, to register, to become legal, and that is where we must find a balance for the future of our state.”

George RunnerRunner said the tour “provided helpful insights into how we can work with the medical marijuana industry to promote compliance with California tax laws. This is a growing industry [ed. note – pun intended?], but we’re currently missing out on a great deal of revenue that is owed to the state.”

State law requires medical marijuana sales be taxed at the local tax rate where the product is sold or will be used, so Runner and Ma want state and local governments get what they’re due.

Posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Under: marijuana, taxes | No Comments »

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 | 1 Comment »