Part of the Bay Area News Group

Obama cites Fremont firm at trade roundtable

President Obama singled out the CEO of a Fremont company during a trade roundtable Wednesday at the White House.

The meeting – with seven small-business executives from around the nation plus the mayors of Philadelphia and Tampa – was to discuss “the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face,” the White House said.

U.S. businesses are selling more made-in-America goods and services around the world than ever before, which builds job growth. But the President wants Congress to give him trade promotion authority to finalize new trade deals that will build on the momentum, while progressives argue U.S. workers will get a raw deal under these expanded trade agreements.

Barack Obama“The perception sometimes is … that the trade agenda is only important for big companies, big corporations, big Fortune 500 or 100 companies,” Obama said at the meeting. “Well, the group that’s sitting around here is made up of small business people or medium-sized business people who are seeing their businesses directly benefit from exports — as well as a couple mayors … who can account for hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of sales coming out of their region as a consequence of exports.”

Among the executives at the table was Steve Basta, CEO of Fremont-based AlterG, which makes “anti-gravity” treadmills and a bionic leg – products aimed at shortening recovery times, reducing injury, and improving mobility for patients.

“Steve Basta with AlterG has created — or has a company that’s created, new technologies for medical rehabilitation,” Obama said. “He’s able to sell his products overseas, but what he’s finding is in some countries you’ve got tariffs that make his products more expensive and that means fewer sales.”

“And so this is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics that benefit” from trade promotion authority, Obama said “It’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefit.”

AlterG is in Rep. Mike Honda’s 17th Congressional District. Honda, D-San Jose, in 2013 joined most House Democrats in signing a letter opposing fast-track trade promotion authority – which they said usurps Congress’ authority over trade matters – both for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact Obama is trying to seal and for any future trade agreements.

“Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better,” that letter said. “We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Lofgren, Eshoo offer bill to unlock all smart devices

Two Silicon Valley congresswomen are offering a bipartisan bill to let consumers permanently unlock their cellphones, tablets and other devices in order to switch carriers freely.

The Unlocking Technology Act of 2015, introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Thomas Massie, R-Kent.; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Jared Polis, D-Colo., expands and improves on cell-phone unlocking legislation signed into law last year by letting consumers permanently unlock all their mobile devices and media – not just phones – in ways that do not infringe on existing copyrights.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenThe Digital Millennium Copyright Act bars consumers from sidestepping technical measures that prevent modifying copyrighted works — such as jailbreaking a tablet to run 3rd-party apps, bypassing digital rights management for archiving or disability access purposes, or unlocking a cell phone — whether or not there’s any actual copyright infringement.

“This bill reflects how the American public views ownership of their electronic devices,” Lofgren said in a news release. “It’s simple – you should be free to unlock the mobile devices and media you legally purchase. If consumers are not violating copyright or other law, there’s little reason to hold back the many benefits of unlocking. It’s time we allow people to permanently use their devices without interference.”

Eshoo, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said unlocking a phone or smart device “gives consumers the freedom to choose the mobile technology and service that best suits them.”

“It also unlocks potential and puts competition and consumer choice on equal footing in the vibrant mobile marketplace,” she said. “This bipartisan legislation ensures consumers have this option—permanently. It’s a win for consumers, it’s a win for competition, and it’s a win for our mobile economy.”

S.517, the cell-phone unlocking legislation signed into law last year, merely reinstated a temporary exemption and still relies on the Library of Congress to renew it every three years, which it may choose not to do. The new bill would make this cell phone exemption permanent and extend unlocking protections to all mobile devices.

Lofgren recently was appointed to the Joint Committee on the Library, which has direct jurisdictional oversight over the Library of Congress – which is where this whole unlocking debacle unfolded in the first place.

The new bill would also permit use and sale of tools — like software apps — that enable unlocking for uses that do not infringe on copyright, and consumers wouldn’t have to get permission from their carrier before switching to a new carrier. The legislation further requires these changes be included in any international trade agreements.

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Bay Area House members out and about Friday

Bay Area House members have a bunch of events planned for Friday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will take part in a discussion with employers of the benefits of hiring trained ex-convicts at 9 a.m. Friday in the student lounge in Building R of Merritt College, 12500 Campus Dr. in Oakland. Others expected to take part include California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard; California Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo; Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle; Alameda County Assistant Sheriff Brett Keteles; and PWC Development President Prophet Walker, himself a former offender.

Mark DeSaulnierReps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Sarbanes, D-Md., will take part in a roundtable discussion on the problem of big money in politics, at 11 a.m. Friday in Blum Hall B100 at UC-Berkeley. The event, hosted by the California Public Interest Research Group, will address local and federal efforts to curb big money’s influence by amplifying small donors’ voices, as well as the recent push for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter, the Berkeley Forum and others also will take part.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, will hold a forum to update the community about President Obama’s executive actions on immigration at 4 p.m. Friday at the School of Arts and Culture in Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. in San Jose. The event also offers eligibility workshops to prepare families to apply for relief from deportation pending availability of applications this year. Lofgren, Lofgren, the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will be joined by Rep. Luiz Gutiérrez, D-Ill.; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose; San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo; Santa Clara County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez; and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.

Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, California State Senate, campaign finance, Immigration, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Loni Hancock, Mark DeSaulnier, Nora Campos, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

Speier proposes redefining ‘armor piercing’ ammo

A Bay Area congresswoman has introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Attorney General to update – and tighten – the definition of “armor piercing” ammunition.

Rep. Jackie Speier said H.R. 1454, the Modernized Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 2015, is a much-needed update to the 1986 law that banned “cop-killer” bullets.

Jackie Speier“America’s men and women in law enforcement must be safer and have better technology than the criminals who want to kill them,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “It is unacceptable for them to be outgunned. The ATF has decided not to use its authority and take this common-sense step updating the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986, so it’s up to Congress to act. My legislation will make sure our first responders are as well protected from ‘cop-killer’ ammunition as they were when the law was passed.”

The law that President Ronald Reagan signed in 1986 banned the civilian sale and transfer of armor-piercing ammunition, defined as bullets or bullet cores that can used in handguns which are made from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.

Since then, advances in bullet propellants, coatings, and materials have rendered the 1986 ban dangerously ineffective and outdated, Speier contends, and the market is now flooded with ammunition that can pierce body armor but skirts the 1986 ban.

green tipsThe Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) this year proposed new regulations to restrict sale of M855 “green tip” ammunition that’s commonly used in AR-15-type semi-automatic rifles – perhaps the most popular style of rifle in the United States. After fierce opposition from the gun industry and gun-rights advocates, the ATF this month withdrew its plan.

Now the battle has shifted to Congress, though Democrats know perfectly well that the Republican leadership will never give these bills so much as a glance.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., last week introduced H.R. 1358, the “Armor Piercing Bullets Act,” to restrict sales of this ammunition, which he said can penetrate the soft body armor often worn by police.

“Armor piercing rounds like green tips should only be in the hands of military personnel or police officers, period. There is absolutely no compelling argument to be made for anyone else to have access to them,” Engel said. “But the out of touch gun industry lobby is fighting tooth and nail to keep cop-killing ammunition on the streets. We need to speak up on behalf of our police officers and say ‘stop the madness.’”

Speier’s bill would require the attorney general to modify the definition of armor-piercing ammunition to conform to the bullet’s performance, not just its content. It also would require the attorney general to establish testing criteria to assess a bullet’s lethality against the minimum standards of body armor worn by law enforcement personnel.

It’s potentially much farther-reaching than Engel’s bill. To understand why “armor piercing” is a hard definition to pin down, I recommend this VICE News article – it’s an opinion piece, but the analysis is interesting.

Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2015
Under: gun control, Jackie Speier, Public safety, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

Shocker: Ernie Konnyu won’t run for U.S. Senate

Attention, all 13 of you who knew that former congressman Ernie Konnyu was considering a U.S. Senate run in 2016: He’s out.

Ernie KonnyuKonnyu, 77, of San Jose, wrote an open letter to California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte on Wednesday saying the past week had been “brutal” to his hopes of running against Democrat Kamala Harris for the senate seat that Barbara Boxer will vacate next year.

Konnyu wrote that his longtime strategist, Tea Party Express mastermind Sal Russo, told him over “a great steak dinner smothered with onions at Frank Fats in Sac” that a run was inadvisable. Though he’s a longtime California Republican Assembly member, nobody deigned to introduce him at the group’s banquet Saturday. On Sunday, the president of the Bay Area Hungarian Freedom Fighters Association “pulled me aside and in a loving way chewed me out for even thinking about making ‘an unwinnable Senate run’.” And on Tuesday, his dinner conversation with his own wife and daughter “turned bitter as they could not see a chance to win the fight.”

“I know that I do have a responsibility to the Republican party in this Senate race which I take very seriously,” Konnyu wrote, outlining a long-shot scenario pipe dream in which enough Democrats would split that party’s vote to let him and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez – who declared candidacy March 5 – finish first and second in the top-two primary.

Riiight. Konnyu’s tenure in Congress might be remembered mostly for the sexual harassment claims he faced, which were part of the reason members of his own party ensured he served only one term. His letter Tuesday would be sort of funny, if not for the fact that Konnyu actually did slightly better than Chavez in a January-February Field Poll measuring the popularity (read as: “name recognition”) of 18 possible senate contenders.

“So Chairman Brulte, since I am now OUT, you would do well to find another strong Ernie Konnyu for the Senate race to increase the R win chances,” Konnyu wrote. “I state that as it would be a crying shame to simply waste Assemblyman Chavez on just improving future Republican support among Hispanics, as good as that is.”

Dry your tears. Konnyu promised he’ll “still still write a few checks to the G.O.P. and I’ll still help make the good fight on behalf of worthy Republican candidates.” He also promised to help “a brilliant Demo, Ro Khanna, who is willing to work with the Republican congressional majority, finally oust another Demo, the atrocious and uncooperative liberal, Congressman Mike Honda in the 17th C.D. (I hope the GOP will stay out this time in that unwinnable for a Republican district.)”

Yikes. With friends like these…

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

House members reintroduce background-check bill

A bipiartisan group of House members led by the Bay Area’s Mike Thompson and Pete King, R-N.Y., has re-introduced a bill that would require background checks for all firearm purchases, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads.

But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the bill seems doomed from the get-go – especially given that it went nowhere in the last Congress.

H.R. 1217, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015, would provide exceptions for family and friend transfers. Its original co-authors are Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.

Mike Thompson“This anti-criminal, pro-Second Amendment bill will help keep spouses, kids and communities safe by preventing dangerous people from getting guns,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a news release. “Background checks are the first line of defense in our efforts to keep guns from criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill, and Congress should fortify that first line of defense by passing our bipartisan bill to close the system’s loopholes.”

King noted the bill also would improve state and federal record-keeping to strengthen the background-check database, and would create a commission to examine mass-violence incidents.

“When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have guns,” he said. “It is estimated that four out of 10 gun buyers do not go through a background check when purchasing a firearm – meaning those with criminal records can easily bypass the system. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence we must do more.”

The bill’s authors say studies show that every day where background checks are used, the system stops more than 170 felons, some 50 domestic abusers, and nearly 20 fugitives from buying a gun. But in much of the nation, no system is in place to prevent these same prohibited purchasers from buying identical guns at a gun show, over the internet, or through a newspaper ad with no questions asked.

But the bill also bans the government from creating a federal registry and makes the misuse of records a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It also provides exceptions for firearms transfers between family members, friends and hunting buddies; lets active military personnel buy guns in the state in which they are stationed; and allows interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the bill Thompson and King authored introduced in 2013 – but though it had 188 co-sponsors, H.R. 1565 was never even heard in committee. It’s also the same as the Manchin-Toomey amendment that failed in the Senate in April 2013.

The National Rifle Association opposes expanding background checks, claiming they won’t stop criminals from getting firearms by theft or via the black market.

But Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said this should be “a no-brainer.”

Ninety-two percent of the American public supports this measure to keep guns out of the hands of people like domestic abusers, rapists, and fugitives,” Gross said. “More importantly, it will save lives. We need to let our representatives know that we will not tolerate them putting the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the lives and safety of the citizens they have been elected to represent.”

This new bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees; don’t hold your breath waiting for a hearing date

Posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Under: gun control, Mike Thompson, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Today’s congressional odds and ends

Sacramento_San_Joaquin_Delta_NHA Oct 2012-page-001DELTA NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would become a National Hertiage Area, to be managed by the Delta Protection Commission, under companion bills introduced Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. The lawmakers say the goal is to protect and promote the vast history, resources, and economy of the Delta community. Property owners and tribes are explicitly protected in the bill and capable of opting out of any recommendations, and the bill will have no effect on water rights or water contracts and creates no new regulatory authority or burden on local government or citizens. The bill’s original cosponsors are Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. “Covering more than 700 square miles and nearly 60 islands and boasting more than 400,000 people, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest delta in the world and a critical resource for California,” Feinstein said. “With a National Heritage Area designation, we can support a future for the Delta that is sustainable and bright.”

FAMILY ENGAGEMENT IN EDUCATION: Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, joined with Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., to introduce H.R. 1194, the Family Engagement in Education Act, to provide money for schools to promote effective strategies to get parents involved. “Education doesn’t stop at the end of the school day,” DeSaulnier said. “Research shows that family engagement in a child’s learning experience increases student achievement, improves attendance, and reduces dropout rates.” The bill is supported by the National PTA.

e-verifyE-VERIFY FOR ALL EMPLOYERS: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, blasted a proposal to mandate use of E-Verify – an online government system for determining people’s eligibility to work in this country – for all employers. The House Judiciary Committee advanced the Legal Workforce Act on Tuesday on a 20-13 vote. But Lofgren, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, noted the bill is opposed by the agricultural sector, unions, civil liberties groups and many others. Without comprehensive immigration reform, “expanding E-Verify would devastate the agricultural economy, resulting in closed farms, a less-secure America, and the mass off-shoring of millions and millions of U.S. jobs, including all of the upstream and downstream jobs created and supported by agriculture,” Lofgren said. Expanding E-Verify alone would also increase the deficit and decrease tax revenues. Last Congress, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that the Legal Workforce Act would have resulted in a net revenue loss of $39 billion over ten years.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
Under: Dianne Feinstein, education, Immigration, John Garamendi, Mark DeSaulnier, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Uncategorized, Zoe Lofgren | 4 Comments »

House passes ‘clean’ homeland security funding

About a third House Republicans joined with Democrats on Tuesday to pass legislation fully funding the Department of Homeland Security through this year’s end.

Some more conservative Republicans opposed the move, refusing to vote for a bill that doesn’t defund or otherwise roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But the GOP leadership – speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Bakersfield; and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. – all voted for it. The vote was 257-167.

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin:

“For the past three months, House Republicans have been playing a dangerous game in which the American people are on the losing end. Today, reason prevailed and the games are finally over. The people charged with protecting our national security deserve more than uncertainty. It is outrageous that Homeland Security funding was held hostage to a partisan debate. This is not how we should govern.

“Americans are rightly sick of the politically manufactured crises they’ve come to expect from this Tea-Party-led Congress. I am grateful to finally move past this brinkmanship and address real challenges. It’s time to get to work doing what the American people sent us here to do, creating economy-boosting jobs that pay enough for hard-working families to get ahead.”

From Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock:

“The top priority of Congress is to ensure the safety of the American people. Today’s vote ensures that our homeland security agents and personnel have the certainty and long term funding necessary to do their critical work of keeping us all safe. I do not support the President’s unilateral executive action on immigration as it flies in the face of the United States Constitution and ignores the will of the people. However, we cannot hold hostage funding for our national security and I will continue to push for a full debate on every aspect of immigration reform.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“Once again, Leader Pelosi has led the House out of a dire situation by providing the Democratic votes necessary to avert a dangerous partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency will be fully funded through the remainder of the fiscal year, and the American people can be assured that key national security operations will not be interrupted.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

“Our national security will not be shut down. Thankfully enough Republicans put their country before their party and joined with the Democrats to pass a clean DHS bill. Funding for our national security should never be held hostage in a political debate. Those upset by the President’s immigration plan should instead work with us to fix our broken system.”

Posted on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Eric Swalwell, Homeland security, Immigration, Jeff Denham, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

Could-be 2016 U.S. Senate candidates keep circling

After former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday that he won’t run for U.S. Senate in 2016, a couple of southern California politicos are making sure their names continue to circulate among those still possibly interested in the contest.

Xavier BecerraRep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, issued a statement Wednesday morning noting a lot can happen in the next 16 months before the primary election, and he respects Villaraisgosa’s decision.

“As for me, I take seriously my recent election to Congress in November and the responsibility it brings to address matters ranging from war against our enemies to economic security for our families,” Becerra said. “I will weigh just as seriously whether to run for the Senate, where I would continue my more than 20 years of work on behalf of my state and my country. There’s a lot of work and a lot of listening to do until I make that decision.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying he thinks “there’s a real opportunity for a strong Southern California candidate to get into this wide open race. I’m continuing to have conversations with constituents and supporters, and hope to make a decision in the near future.”

The only well-known declared candidate so far is state Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat; two little-known Republicans, John Estrada of Fresno and Mark Hardie of Whittier, are running too though Hardie has yet to form a campaign committee. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, opened an exploratory committee for this race last week, and former state GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette opened one this week.

A Field Poll released last week found 30 percent would be inclined to support Schiff, and 28 percent would be inclined to support Becerra. (This wasn’t a head-to-head choice and those surveyed could say they were inclined to support more than one of 18 names offered). By comparison, 49 percent said they would be inclined to support U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Republican who has said she has no plans to run; 46 percent said they would be inclined to support Harris; and 35 percent said they would be inclined to support Villaraigosa.

Posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
Under: U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Rep. Barbara Lee’s mother has passed away

Rep. Barbara Lee‘s mother, Mildred Parish Massey, has passed away at age 90.

Lee’s office said Massey died in Oakland, surrounded by family, after having “worked tirelessly for her family” and breaking many racial barriers throughout her life.

Massey was born June 6, 1924 in El Paso, Texas. Her father, William Calhoun Parish, was El Paso’s first African-American letter carrier; her mother, Willie Pointer Parish, was a homemaker. Massey had two sisters: Lois Murell of Windsor, and Juanita Franklin, who predeceased her. Lee, D-Oakland, is one of her three daughters, along with Mildred Whitfield and Beverly Hardy.

Massey in 1955 was one of the original 12 students to integrate Texas Western College, now known as the University of Texas at El Paso. She loved travel, music, basketball, butterflies, her Allen Temple Baptist Church family, and her friends at her Grand Lake Gardens home. Her loving family includes three daughters, seven grandchildren, sixteen great grandchildren, one great-great grandchild and countless friends.

Posted on Thursday, February 19th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, U.S. House | 3 Comments »