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Padilla launches program to honor vets by voting

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla offered yet another solid reason Monday why you should vote – because someone you love fought or is fighting for your right to do so.

Padilla rolled out his new “Honor Veterans. Vote” program by holding a news conference with veterans and state military leaders at his office in Sacramento. The program will let Californians dedicate their vote in honor of a family member or friend who has served or is actively serving in the military.

“Throughout our nation’s history, brave service men and women have dutifully served and sacrificed to secure our most basic rights — including the right to cast a ballot during elections,” Padilla said in a news release. “The right to vote is more than an opportunity — it is a duty. We should honor our veterans and active duty service members by participating in the democracy that so many have fought to preserve.”

California citizens can visit honorveterans.sos.ca.gov to submit information about the veteran or active duty service member they wish to honor, including branch of service, rank, and years of service, and to give a brief dedication that may be included on the Secretary of State’s website. Those who participate can choose to receive a certificate or a lapel pin to proudly display appreciation for their honored veteran or active duty service member. Participants also can choose to have an email notification sent to the veteran/service member they’re honoring, notifying them of the tribute.

Although 16 other states operate similar programs, California could become the largest by far – nearly 2 million Californians are veterans, about 10 percent of all veterans living in the United States.

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Speier touts 15 amendments to Pentagon budget

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is touting 15 amendments she successfully attached to the Pentagon’s budget during an Armed Services Committee markup session Wednesday, 11 of which deal with sexual assaults in the military.

Jackie SpeierSpeier’s amendments would make it easier to track military sex offenders after they leave the service; make more records public from courts-martial; require that military sex-offense victims be advised a special counsel is available to them before they’re interviewed by investigators; make those special counsels available to former dependents of current and former servicemembers; and ensure those special counsels can represent the victims if they face retaliation for reporting crimes.

Other amendments would give military sexual assault victims access to hearing officers’ case analyses at the same time they’re delivered to the alleged offenders; require the Defense Department to prepare a complete trial record for all courts-martial, regardless of the verdict or sentence; require retention of investigators’ case notes for at least 50 years; and require the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office‘s annual report to include statistics on sexual harassment, sexual assaults related to domestic violence, and retaliations against those reporting sexual assaults.

Still others would let victims take part in proceedings where their attackers are non-judicial punishment or administrative separation, with access to those proceedings’ records; and would direct the Defense Department Inspector General to review cases in which those who’ve reported sexual assaults leave military service.

“This collection of reforms will make the Uniform Code of Military Justice more fair and responsive to victims of military sexual assault,” Speier said in a news release. “We are nowhere near eliminating this epidemic, but today we have made concrete progress toward adopting a modern military code that treats victims with the respect they deserve.”

Speier also successfully amended the military spending bill to let veterans who change their gender identity after leaving the service update their discharge papers to reflect their new name, so the documents are easier to use for official purposes such as job, college and loan applications. Other amendments would guarantee that servicewomen deployed for long periods of time are dispensed enough of whatever contraception their doctor prescribes to cover their full deployment; and would make reduce the burden of proof for whistleblowers to show that they suffered retaliation for their actions, bringing it in line with civilian court standards.

Speier didn’t win on everything, however. The committee killed her amendment to shift $589 million (out of a proposed $1 billion) away from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and into an equipment account for the National Guard and Reserves.

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Lee & Honda demand non-military plan vs. ISIL

Two Bay Area House members introduced a bill Tuesday that would require the president to give Congress within 90 days a “comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic and regionally-led strategy to degrade and dismantle” the so-called Islamic State.

Not the omission of the word “military,” as authors Barbara Lee and Mike Honda are noted anti-war lawmakers, and among the House’s most liberal members.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“We can all agree that ISIL and their actions are horrific and barbaric,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “As we work to degrade and dismantle ISIL, we must be comprehensive in our strategy. National security experts have clearly stated that there is no military solution to ISIL. In order to ultimately degrade and dismantle ISIL, we must craft a robust regionally-led, political, economic and diplomatic strategy.”

That means considering the sectarian and ethnic tensions that gives rise to militant groups like this, as well as the group’s oil-based financial structure and revenue stream, she said.

“While this legislation prevents the deployment of U.S. ground troops, it does not close the door for military action,” she added. “Congress will have to debate and vote on any authorization for the use of force. Any comprehensive strategy must address the underlying political, economic and diplomatic elements that have contributed to ISIL.”

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Hose, said that despite the enemy’s undeniable brutality and formidable threat, “military strength alone will not defeat extremism. The only lasting solution is a comprehensive solution that addresses the political and economic concerns of the region – one in which the rights of all religious and cultural groups are respected.

“The U.S. must focus on building partnerships in the region, and around the world, to emphasize diplomatic, political, and economic solutions to work towards a lasting, inclusive future away from violent extremism,” he said.

Organizations supporting the bill include Win Without War, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Just Foreign Policy.

Diane Randall, the Friends Committee’s executive secretary, noted Lee was the lone vote opposing the authorization for use of military force immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Lee now is “proposing a repeal of that blank check for war,” Randall said, by urging “political and diplomatic solutions to the crises our failed policies helped create.”

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Jackie Speier gets new military oversight role

Rep. Jackie Speier, an outspoken critic of how the military handles sexual assaults, has been chosen as ranking member of the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Jackie Speier“The Department of Defense keeps us safe every day, but there has been a litany of projects exposing weaknesses in acquisition and procurement. I will use this position to root out waste, fraud, and inefficiency at the Pentagon, so that taxpayers can be sure they are getting the value they deserve for their money,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release.

“From the ill-conceived Littoral Combat Ship, to excessive prices for spare parts, to wasteful practices with ammunition, I have worked eliminate unnecessary military programs,” she added. “We have to make smart investments to keep our nation and our troops safe, not race to spend the most and get the least in return. We also need to be sure our military secrets, like plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cannot be stolen by hackers and foreign governments.”

And last but most certainly not least, the appointment “will also be a powerful tool in our ongoing fight to protect whistleblowers and prevent sexual assault in the military,” she said. “I am eager to work with Chairman Thornberry and Chairwoman Hartzler on all of these issues.”

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AG Eric Holder tells Missouri cops to back off a bit

This just in from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who met earlier today with President Obama to discuss the latest developments in Ferguson, Missouri:

Eric Holder“This morning, I met with President Obama to discuss the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Like the President, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Michael Brown. While his death has understandably caused heartache within the community, it is clear that the scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue.

“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.

“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also at my direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.

“Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.

“All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”

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Mike Honda introduces body-armor restriction bill

Only law enforcement, active-duty troops or other authorized users would be able to buy, sell, own or use military-grade body armor, under a bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Mike Honda.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, issued a statement saying his Responsible Body Armor Possession Act of 2014 would let police respond to active shooters more safely and effectively.

“There is no reason this type of armor, which is designed for warfare, should be available in our communities except for those who need it, like law enforcement,” he said. “There’s nothing more dangerous than what a well-armored, unstoppable active shooter can do. This bill is common-sense and long overdue.”

The bill is supported by Santa Clara and Alameda counties’ district attorneys and sheriffs, as well as by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Violence Policy Center, the Coalition for Peace Action and Stop Handgun violence.

“There is an ongoing arms race between violent criminals and police officers,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in Honda’s news release. “Let’s make sure that the men and women who stand bravely between us and the gunfire win that high-stakes race. Let’s make sure criminals and gang-bangers never walk our streets shielded with military-grade body armor and the arrogance of someone who cannot be stopped.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said the bill “will serve to combat our nation’s epidemic of gun violence and protect communities and law enforcement from mass shootings.”