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Rep. Mike Honda blasts Japanese prime minister

Rep. Mike Honda harshly criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, for not explicitly addressing the “comfort women” who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Army during World War II.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, had invited Yong-Soo Lee, 87 – one of only a few dozen victims of Japanese sexual abuse still surviving in Korea – to be his guest in the House Gallery during Abe’s speech. “My heart breaks for Ms. Lee and her sisters, as she must now return to Korea without having received an apology from Prime Minister Abe,” he said on a conference call with reporters later Wednesday.

“It is utterly shocking and shameful that Prime Minister Abe continues to evade his government’s responsibility for the systematic atrocity that was perpetrated the Japanese Imperial Army against the so-called ‘comfort women’ during World War II,” Honda said. “I heard no apology today.”

Honda called that lack of an apology “an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women” who suffered at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Abe said in his speech that “we must realize the kind of world where finally women are free from human rights abuses,” but Honda said that “without acknowledging the sins of the past, history will repeat itself.”

Asked why Americans should care about something that happened 70 years ago between Japan and other Asian nations, Honda replied that terrible abuses continue unabated around the world today; he cited the radical Islamic group Boko Haram’s abductions of women and girls in Africa. “We call that today human trafficking, we call it sexual slavery, we call it violence against women,” he said.

“Prime Minister Abe wants to be seen as a leader of a democratic country, he also stated he wants to be a leader on women’s issues,” Honda said, but given the opportunity to make a clear statement against such practices Wednesday, Abe “blew it. He could have established a moral platform for himself.”

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California lawmakers globe-trot to Cuba, Japan

With the Legislature in recess next week, California’s top lawmakers – and a few Bay Area members, too – are leaving Sacramento to do some globe-trotting.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Agriculture Committee Chair Henry Perea, D-Fresno, will lead a trade delegation of legislators, academics, and agriculture industry representatives to Cuba from Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3.

They’re aiming to build ties with Cuban policymakers, farmers, and businesses, and to explore options for California and Cuba to collaborate not only in agriculture but also in telecommunications, construction and banking.

Toni Atkins“With the federal government moving forward with efforts to normalize diplomatic, economic, and commercial relations, it is important for California to also engage with Cuba and expand economic relationships that create new opportunities for businesses in our state,” Atkins said in a news release. “The Assembly wants to do everything we can to create more jobs and business in California, and this trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge.”

The partner organization for the trade delegation is Californians Building Bridges, a nonprofit with years of experience leading cultural, humanitarian and entrepreneurial exchanges between California and Cuba. No Assembly funds are being spent.

Also in the delegation are Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond; Luis Alejo, D-Salinas; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; Adam Gray, D-Merced; Jose Medina, D-Riverside; and Rudy Salas Jr., D-Bakersfield – all Agriculture Committee members, or serving districts with agricultural interests. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Republicans on the Agriculture Committee were invited but declined to attend.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will lead a delegation including Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to Japan from Monday, March 30 through Thursday, April 2. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is going, too.

The lawmakers were invited by the Japanese government, and they’ll be discussing issues including transportation, seismic safety, clean energy, environmental protection and climate change.

Kevin de LeonThey’re scheduled to meet Monday in Tokyo with U.S. Embassy officials and Japanese officials including Issei Kitagawa, the state minister of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism to discuss high-speed rail. They’ll also meet that day with people from Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, the main entity responsible for recovery from the March 2011 earthquake that devastated part of the nation.

On Tuesday, they’re scheduled to visit Japan’s National Diet, the legislature, as well as to tour the High Speed Rail Operation Center and to ride in a new fuel-cell car produced by Toyota.

On Wednesday they’ll travel to Kobe to meet with the mayor and tour a facility memorializing the January 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and the recovery efforts that followed. And on Thursday they’ll start in Osaka and then head for Kyoto, to meet the mayor for a briefing on the city’s economy and history.

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Boxer to hold nuclear safety hearing next week

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer will convene a hearing next Thursday on Capitol Hill to discuss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efforts to shore up U.S. reactors’ safety following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis.

This Sunday marks one year since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan’s coast caused a massive tsunami that killed about 20,000 people and precipitated the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – a multiple-meltdown and radiation release that was the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The NRC announced today it’s implementing several recommendations based on lessons learned from Japan. All U.S. commercial nuclear power plants, including those under construction, must better protect post-9/11 safety equipment and get enough such equipment to support all of a site’s reactors simultaneously; they also must install better equipment to monitor water levels in spent-fuel pools. Certain boiling-water reactors also must improve their venting systems. They have until the end of 2016 to comply.

All five commissioners are scheduled to appear at Thursday’s hearing.

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Jerry Brown seeks tsunami disaster declaration

Gov. Jerry Brown today wrote to President Barack Obama to request a Presidential major disaster declaration for California following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan, which generated a water surge that caused over $48 million in damage to California ports, harbors, boats, businesses and infrastructure.

Brown’s letter asks for additional federal resources to supplement state and local repair and recovery efforts. The governor earlier had issued emergency proclamations for Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Mendocino and San Luis Obispo counties, as well as an executive order to waive the waiting period for victims to apply for unemployment insurance, expedite the hiring of emergency and cleanup personnel and request state tax officials to accommodate those affected by the water surge.

Read Brown’s letter to President Obama, after the jump…
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Boxer speaks on Libya & nuclear safety

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer called her news conference today in San Francisco to blast Republicans’ budget cuts, but she touched on Libya and nuclear safety, too.

Boxer, D-Calif., praised the Obama Administration for working through the United Nations Security Council – and at the behest of the Arab League – to act to halt Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s promised attacks on his own populace. The international community had an obligation to react to such a crisis, she said, though that reaction “should be limited in scope,” remain an international effort, and retain the Arab League’s support.

Asked whether the President overstepped his constitutional authority by committing U.S. military forces without Congress’ approval, Boxer replied that the Senate unanimously resolved to urge the U.N. Security Council to act in protection of Libya’s civilians, including establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone. “So I did vote for this, and this is what the President did.”

Bringing it to Congress might’ve meant people such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio – who said Obama’s action was unconstitutional and has pledged to try to block any funding for military activities in Libya – could’ve debated it for weeks, she said. Kucinich is eloquent and some might agree with him, she said, but “anyone who said he (Obama) should’ve waited don’t feel the sense of urgency that many of us felt” about imminent harm to innocent Libyans.

Boxer also spoke about the “very worrisome” aftermath of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, particularly new reports that Tokyo’s drinking water might contain enough radioactive iodine to put infants at risk. It’s “a powerful wakeup call for our nation” to review our own nuclear safety, she said: The U.S. has 23 reactors of the same design as the damaged ones at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, as well as 54 plants built before 1980. And she noted the U.S. also has two nuclear power plants sited in areas with the highest degree of seismic risk – both located in California.

About 7.4 million people live within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear plant in northern San Diego County, she noted, while about 500,000 live within 50 miles of the Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo County. Significant new earthquake risks have been discovered since both plants were built.

She said she doesn’t believe PG&E, which operates Diablo Canyon, should be granted the permit extension it’s seeking until it has completed new seismic safety studies.

Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the nation’s nuclear industry through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The committee already has received a briefing from the NRC and other experts, and will hold a full hearing on nuclear safety next month, she said. She said her priorities are immediate reviews of U.S. reactors with the same design as the embattled Japanese reactors; U.S. reactors in seismically active areas; and storage of spent fuel rods. “This is serious business – I’m going to be all over this issue, and Senator (Dianne) Feinstein and I are working together.”

UPDATE @ 3:25 P.M.: Boxer’s stance on Libya is at odds with at that of least several Bay Area House members. Representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, joined by Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., issued this statement yesterday:

“The decision for the United States to engage militarily in Libya is one that should have been debated and approved by Congress.

“We have serious concerns about whether or not an effective and thorough case for military intervention in Libya was made. Too many questions remain. What is our responsibility now? Do we own the situation in Libya and for how long? Where does this dramatic acceleration of military intervention end?

“There is a serious humanitarian crisis in Libya, and Gaddafi’s reckless, indiscriminate use of force on his own people in response to grassroots calls for change is unacceptable. But there are serious consequences for rushing to war with a limited understanding of the situation on the ground and no exit strategy or plan – we learned this lesson through two ill-advised wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With the potential for protracted civil war in Libya, and similar circumstances of unrest and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Yemen, and elsewhere, we cannot afford to sidestep critical diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to rely solely upon the deployment of more guns, bombs, and troops. This represents a dangerous path toward perpetual U.S. military engagement around the world.

“The United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya. Rest assured we will fight in Congress to ensure the United States does not become embroiled in yet another destabilizing military quagmire in Libya with no clear exit plan or diplomatic strategy for peace.”

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Boxer, Harris want donors’ money to reach Japan

Japan is suffering in the wake of the greatest natural disaster it has ever faced, and the need for charitable donations to support its recovery remains huge, but here are a few things to consider as you whip out your credit card.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote today to the CEOs of the nation’s four biggest wireless companies, urging them to accelerate the delivery of mobile charitable donations for Japanese relief efforts. Mobile donations, which have grown more popular in recent years, can take 30 to 90 days to be sent to a relief organization while being collected through the wireless company’s billing process.

In past humanitarian crises, such as the earthquake in Haiti last year, mobile companies expedited donations to ensure that relief groups could start using the money immediately to help disaster victims. Concerns about the delay in remitting text donations to Japan were raised recently by Masaya Uchino, a third-year law student at University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; Uchino created an online petition at Change.org to draw attention to the issue.

And California Attorney General Kamala Harris encouraged Californians to donate but warned them to beware of scams posing as charities to prey on the goodwill in times of tragedy. Harris advises everyone to:

    1. Carefully review disaster-relief appeals before giving. In times of disaster, many “sound-alike” organizations and sham operations solicit donations.
    2. Make sure the charity is registered in the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts. Registration does not guarantee that a charity is effective, but it is an important indicator.
    3. Ask what percentage of your donation will be used for charitable activities that directly help victims.
    4. Avoid donating through e-mail solicitations. Clicking on an e-mail may lead you to a website that looks authentic but is established by identity thieves seeking to obtain money or personal information.
    5. Only provide your credit card information once you have reviewed all information from a charity and verified its credibility. Ask the organization not to store your credit card information.
    6. Do not give cash. Write checks payable to the charitable organization, not a solicitor.
    7. Take action on your own rather than responding to solicitations. Seek out known organizations and give directly, either by calling the organization, using the organization’s official website, or mailing a check to the address listed on the organization’s website.

Californians who believe they or others have been victimized by fraudulent charitable solicitation can contact the Attorney General’s Registrar of Charitable Trusts.

Scams also can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, the Disaster Fraud Fax at 225-334-4707 or the Disaster Fraud e-mail at disaster@leo.gov. The NCDF was created in 2005 in response to a lot of fraud associated with federal disaster relief programs after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma; its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud related to any natural or man-made disaster. To date, the U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 1,300 defendants across the nation for disaster fraud related to the three hurricanes, the Gulf Coast oil spill and other disasters.