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And the military bands played on.

Military bands can once again perform at community events, thanks to an Bay Area congressman’s amendment that was signed into law last month.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, wrote a National Defense Authorization Act amendment to fix a bureaucratic problem at the Defense Department which had been preventing events from hosting military bands even when their sponsor agrees to pay the cost.

Marine Corps Band“The provision represents a common-sense solution to a needless, bureaucratic problem,” Swalwell said in a news release Monday. “My job as a legislator is to identify problems and find a solution – and we did so in this case without costing the taxpayer a dime. Residents in my congressional district will once again be able to enjoy the patriotic music of the military bands at the Pleasanton Scottish Games.”

Swalwell introduced his amendment after a Marine Corps veteran in his 15th Congressional District informed him that the Marine Band San Diego was prohibited from playing at the Scottish Games held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton over Labor Day weekend. The Caledonian Club would have fully funded the band’s costs as it had in years past.

The Defense Department earlier last year had changed its prior policy and stopped allowing military bands to perform at community events, claiming that reimbursements from sponsoring organizations were not going to its correct account.

Some critics might accuse Swalwell of letting the bands fiddle while Rome burns – the NDAA also continues the controversial policy enacted in 2012 that allows indefinite military detentions without charge or trial. Some opponents also said the bill authorizes too much military spending, particularly at a time when other government programs are being slashed.

Swalwell actually voted against the House version of the NDAA last June, as did every other Bay Area House member except for Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; he also voted against a compromise version of the bill on Dec. 12. President Obama signed it into law Dec. 27.

Spokeswoman Alison Bormel later Monday said Swalwell was “disappointed with the bills as a whole.”

“The Congressman thought the bills authorize more money than necessary for the Department of Defense, fail to adequately address the problem of sexual assault in the military, and inadvisably keep the Guantanamo Bay prison open,” she said. “He voted against the bills as he thought they were not in line with his constituents’ priorities.”

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Tauscher to chair new Governor’s Military Council

Gov. Jerry Brown probably believes it’s fine for the nation to speak softly, but he’s enlisting a former East Bay Congresswoman to ensure California remains part of its big stick.

Ellen TauscherBrown today appointed former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher to chair a new Governor’s Military Council, tasked with protecting California’s military installations against the deep budget cuts being made by the Pentagon under the sequestration approved by Congress and President Obama.

“California plays a crucial role in our nation’s defense, and military bases and activities are vital to our state’s economy,” Brown said in a news release. “As federal priorities shift to cyber security and new military technology, this Council will work to expand defense-industry jobs and investment in California.”

California is home to 29 federal military installations, and the Defense Department directly employs more than 236,000 people in California. This new council will work to protect those installations and operations amid ongoing Defense Department budget cuts, and to push for changes in federal military strategy that will keep California at the front of defense innovation.

“California’s military infrastructure is critically important to national security,” Tauscher said. “The Council will send a unified message to Washington, D.C., that highlights the value of our military bases.”

Tauscher, 61, represented her East Bay congressional district from 1997 until 2009, when she resigned to take a post as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs; she left that post in February 2012. More recently, she served as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense and Vice Chair-Designate of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. She is now a strategic advisor to the Baker Donelson law firm in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted defense is key sector of the state’s economy.

“With federal budgets continuing to be cut — including many defense programs — it is my hope that the Governor’s Military Council will help protect jobs and investments and attract new missions associated with California’s military presence,” she said. “I also believe that Ellen Tauscher is an excellent choice to chair this council, as she brings a wealth of experience at the State Department and as a member of the House of Representatives.”

The council will convene for one year and draft specific recommendations to the governor and Legislature. It includes retired admirals and generals from all military branches, the Adjutant General of the California National Guard and lawmakers selected by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez. The appointments don’t require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

See the full roster of council members as described by the governor’s office, after the jump…
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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Jerry McNerneyMcNerney seeks jobs for vets: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, today announced he’s among the co-authors of the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, aimed at helping reduce unemployment among veterans. Among other provisions, H.R. 1941 aims to ensure every veteran takes part in the Transition Assistance Program – which provides information about transitioning from military service to civilian life to armed forces members within 180 days of their separation or retirement – and that the program delivers individualized assistance to each returning veteran. The bill also encourages federal agencies to hire veterans; provides additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits to qualifying veterans with service-connected disabilities; creates a competitive grant program for nonprofits that help veterans find employment through job training and mentorship initiatives; and requires the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, and the VA to work to reduce and eliminate barriers between military training and civilian licensing requirements for specialized work. “Taking aggressive steps to help returning veterans find good jobs is the right thing to do and will benefit the economy,” McNerney said in a news release. “Employers and veterans alike will benefit from the Hiring Heroes Act, and I look forward to working with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to move this bill forward.” The bill was introduced yesterday by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and the other co-sponsors are Bob Filner, D-San Diego; C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.; and Norm Dicks, D-Wash. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this year.

John GaramendiGaramendi again urges Afghanistan withdrawal: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, brought his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, calling for a substantial drawdown in U.S. forces in Afghanistan by 2013, to the House Rules Committee today. He’d brought a similar amendment last week to the Armed Services Committee, of which he’s a member; the bill without his amendment was approved in a 60-1 vote with Garamendi the sole dissenter, saying he couldn’t in good conscience vote for a bill that extends the counterinsurgency strategy and needlessly puts servicemembers’ lives at risk. He instead advocates pulling most troops out and shifting the remaining ones away from nation building and toward tightly focused counterterrorism efforts.

Pete StarkStark pushes missing-kids bill: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will host a news conference tomorrow – which is National Missing Children’s Day – to introduce the Recovering Missing Children Act. His office says the bill would ensure that state and local law enforcement have access to the resources they need to bring missing children home safely. The U.S. Treasury Department studied 1,700 parental abductions and found that in over one third of the cases, tax returns were filed using the missing child’s Social Security number; hundreds of those tax returns had a new address for the child and the abductor, but law enforcement officers weren’t allowed access to this information. The Recovering Missing Children Act would allow such access. Expected to join Stark for the bill’s introduction are U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn.; Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.; Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President Ernie Allen; and Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations National Coordinator Wendy Jolley-Kabi.

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HP pays $55 mil but gets up to $800 mil from feds

The U.S. Department of Justice today announced that Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard Co. has agreed to pay the United States $55 million to settle claims that the company defrauded the General Services Administration and other federal agencies. The settlement resolves allegations under the False Claims Act that HP knowingly paid kickbacks, or “influencer fees,” to systems integrator companies in return for recommendations that federal agencies purchase HP’s products. The settlement also resolves claims that HP’s 2002 contract with the GSA was defectively priced because HP provided incomplete information to GSA contracting officers during contract negotiations.

In other news, HP today announced it has been selected as a preferred technology provider by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for a new five-year enterprise computing Blanket Purchase Agreement, cumulatively worth up to $800 million.

Under the agreement’s terms, HP products may be selected through the quantum enterprise buy procurement system; in support of Air Force QEB programs over the last five years, HP has delivered more than $450 million worth of computing products including more than 720,000 desktop PCs and 40,000 notebook PCs.

“The agency BPA represents the exceptional relationship with the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense that HP has built over several decades,” Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president and general manager of HP’s Personal Systems Group, said in a news release. “We look forward to continuing to deliver the highest quality products and technology innovations for the Air Force’s worldwide enterprise computing needs.”

Report: Vets need consideration in drug cases

California is doing more than many states, yet perhaps not yet enough, to deal with veterans returning from war with disorders and injuries that lead to drug abuse, according to a national organization’s new policy brief.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s brief says as thousands of troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries and other maladies, many could end up in trouble with the law, especially for nonviolent drug offenses. The brief says that in 2004, about 140,000 veterans were in state and federal prisons with tens of thousands more in county jails, many for crimes related to substance abuse.

The brief recommends that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense adopt overdose prevention programs and policies targeting veterans and service members who misuse alcohol and other drugs, or who take prescription medications, especially certain narcotic painkillers.

It also calls for veteran treatment programs to expand access to medication-assisted therapies like methadone and buprenorphine, which it says are the most effective means of treating opioid dependence. And state and federal governments should modify sentencing laws and improve court-ordered drug diversion programs in order to better treat — rather than lock up — veterans who commit nonviolent drug-related crimes, the brief says.

On that latter suggestion, California is making some headway, the report says:

A California law provides that veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance abuse or psychological problems as a result of their service in combat and who commit certain nonviolent offenses may be ordered into a local, state, federal or private nonprofit treatment program instead of jail or prison. The law, however, is not widely used; many defense attorneys are not even aware of its impact for their clients, and it does not automatically apply to veteran defendants. Furthermore, the law only applies to lesser, probation-eligible offenses, so many veterans do not make use of it, choosing standard probation instead.

And…

Legislation now in the California Assembly, Assembly Bill 674, would provide for diversion of psychologically wounded veterans to therapy instead of jail or prison, and would drop charges upon completion of therapy, for probation-eligible offenses. Drug testing results could only be used for treatment purposes, not as the basis of a new criminal charge. The defendant would not have to plead guilty and would emerge with no criminal record.

Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman Mary Salas, D-Chula Vista, introduced AB 674 in February but asked in April that its Public Safety Committee hearing be cancelled. Salas will chair a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing this Thursday morning, Nov. 5, in San Diego on veterans’ courts and alternative sentencing.

“Increasing numbers of Iraq and Afghan War veterans are returning home with psychological injuries. Many of them are going untreated and, some are encountering problems with the law,” she said in her news release announcing the hearing. “Our country has a duty to our most troubled veterans. We must recognize that these veterans’ psychological injuries were sustained on our society’s behalf. We need to consider if their injuries should be taken into account in the administration of justice. Ensuring these young men and women receive the care they need will also enhance public safety in the long run.”

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CIA, other agencies sued for misconduct records

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group, today sued the Central Intelligence Agnecy and half a dozen other federal intelligence-gathering agencies, demanding the release of reports on potential misconduct since 2001 that might’ve been unlawful or contrary to presidential order.

“By executive order, federal intelligence agencies must submit concerns about potentially illegal activity to the Intelligence Oversight Board and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” EFF Open Government Legal Fellow Nate Cardozo said in a news release. “Intelligence agencies are given a wide berth for national security reasons, but at a minimum they’re required to act within the limits of the law. These records hold important details about how well the Executive Branch’s internal checks operate.”

Members of the Intelligence Oversight Board are appointed by the president to advise on intelligence matters. Until last year, all intelligence agencies had to report to the board “any intelligence activities of their organizations that they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive.” The board was tasked with reviewing and summarizing those reports, and forwarding to the president those that it believed described legal violations. Last year, however, President Bush reassigned many of these responsibilities, including reviewing agency reports, to the Director of National Intelligence.

Now, with media reporting that the CIA didn’t tell Congress about a plan to train anti-terrorist assassin teams, transparency is key, EFF claims. Lawmakers are accusing the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress and demanding an investigation; reports the agencies sent to the Intelligence Oversight Board could shed light on what really happened.

Besides the CIA, EFF’s lawsuit names as defendants the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the FBI), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Energy, and the Department of State – none of which responded to EFF’s requests for the information under the Freedom of Information Act.