Ex-White House Cabinet Secretary visits Bay Area

Chris Lu this week might face a task more daunting than his four years as President Obama’s Cabinet Secretary: convincing college students of the value of public service, even as a federal shutdown sends public distrust of government skyrocketing.

Chris LuLu, 47, from January 2009 through this past February was the main liaison between the president and his executive departments and agencies; Obama called him “one of my longest-serving and closest advisors.”
He’s speaking Tuesday evening at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, and then again at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in at San Jose State University’s Morris Dailey Auditorium.

And with Obama and House Republicans in stalemate, large swaths of the federal government shut down, and an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the nation’s debt limit and staving off economic chaos, Lu might be glad he’s 2,400 miles away from Washington.

“I’m optimistic that cooler heads will prevail… but candidly I can’t see the path forward at this point,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It is hard for me to see what the exit strategy is, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

He said House Republicans first wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act, then to delay it, and now might be making demands about other spending instead, he said.

“It’s hard to negotiate when the other side’s demands keep changing,” he said, noting the shutdown in 1995-96 was over budget issues on which it was easier to settle by splitting the difference. “Here there is obviously some money involved, but the president has made clear he’s not negotiating over defunding Obamacare … or on the debt limit, either.”

Lu defended the glitchy rollout of enrollment in health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. It’s an extremely complex system in which more than half the states have refused to cooperate, leaving the federal government to do it for them, he said.

“This was always going to be challenging, but what I am optimistic about is – to the extent that there were glitches in the first week – the glitches were a result of too many people going online,” he said, which is a far better problem than having too few people interested. “The president made clear this was not going to be a smooth rollout, that there would be glitches along the way, but we’ve got multiple months to work it out.”

“Even in the best of times, encouraging people to go into public service and work in the government is a tall order,” he said, but it’s moreso when a shutdown situation like this breeds rampant distrust of government. People outside of Washington aren’t immersed in partisan bickering and “they don’t understand why the government isn’t running, why people can’t sit down and talk these things out and reach some kind of compromise.”

But college campuses still offer some hope, he said. “I still think young people get the value of service… of thinking beyond themselves and looking to help others.”

Lu and Obama attended Harvard Law School at the same time and became good friends when Lu joined Obama’s U.S. Senate staff. He was Obama’s legislative director in the Senate, and was named executive director of Obama’s transition team after his election in 2008. As Cabinet Secretary, he was one of the administration’s highest-ranking Asian-Americans and also co-chaired the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since leaving the White House, Lu has been a fellow at the University of Chicago and at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.


Three locals to advise Obama on manufacturing

Several Bay Area people will serve on the new steering committee for President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, the White House announced Thursday.

The president created the partnership in 2011 to bring industry, academia and government together to revitalize the manufacturing sector and boost the nation’s global competitiveness.

Among those on the new committee are University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks; Ajit Manocha, CEO of Milpitas-based semiconductor manufacturer GLOBALFOUNDRIES; and Mike Splinter, executive board chairman of Santa Clara-based Applied Materials Inc.

The original steering committee issued a report last year, “Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing,” that called for sustaining U.S. investments in science, technology, and innovation; establishing a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, a set of public-private partnerships to build shared high-tech facilities and advance U.S. leadership in emerging technologies; upgrading community-college workforce training programs and deploying the talent of returning veterans to meet critical manufacturing skills needs; and improving the business climate for manufacturing investment through tax, regulatory, energy, and trade reform.

The new steering committee will build on that work, functioning as a working group of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and in partnership with the National Economic Council, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Commerce Department. It’s also going to hold regional working sessions and forums designed to find examples of innovative strategies to build manufacturing competitiveness.


Obama issues new gun-control executive actions

The Obama administration announced two more gun-control executive actions Thursday that it says will help keep some of the most dangerous firearms out of the wrong hands.

Current law puts heavy restrictions on certain weapons such as machine guns and short-barreled shotguns including registration and a fingerprint-based background check, but some have sought to evade these requirements by registering such weapons to a trust or corporation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports it received more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations in 2012 alone.

The administration announced Thursday that ATF is issuing a new proposed regulation requiring that individuals associated with trusts or corporations acquiring such weapons must undergo background checks.

The other action deals with surplus military weapons. When the United States provides military firearms to its allies, either as direct commercial sales or through the foreign military sales or military assistance programs, those weapons can’t be imported back into the United States without federal approval. Since 2005, the government has authorized requests to re-import more than 250,000 of these firearms.

The administration said it will start denying all such requests by private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums.

Thursday’s actions follow almost two dozen other gun-control actions the Obama administration implemented in January.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who is House Democrats’ gun-policy point man and co-author of a bipartisan background-check bill that’s still pending in the House, issued a statement saying the White House “has once again taken important steps that will help reduce and prevent gun violence. Now, Congress needs to act.

“Congress cannot continue standing by and doing nothing when more than 30 people are killed every day by someone using a gun,” Thompson said. “The most important thing we can do is pass my bipartisan bill requiring that anyone who buys a gun at a gun show or over the Internet get a background check. This is a commonsense step that will help keep guns from criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally. The American people deserve for Congress to step up and vote on this bill.”

Thompson’s bill has 184 co-sponsors, including every member of the Bay Area’s House delegation.


Senate to probe state-federal marijuana conflicts

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Monday he’ll hold a hearing Sept. 10 on the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws.

That’s big news for 20 states including California that have legalized medical marijuana, as well as for Colorado and Washington, which have legalized it for recreational use.

Leahy, D-Vt., has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify. Perhaps someone will ask them why President Obama’s rhetoric and action haven’t matched up on this issue: Though he has said that federal law enforcement resources are better targeted toward violent elements of the drug trade, federal agents and prosecutors have continued to pursue dispensaries that are in compliance with California law.

Leahy wrote to White House “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske last December, asking how the federal government intended to deal with states like Colorado and Washington. In that letter, Leahy also suggested that federal legislation could be introduced to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana, at least in states that have legalized it; he also sought assurances that state employees would not be prosecuted for implementing state laws.

Congress’ efforts to address this haven’t advanced. H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, would protect those operating under medical-marijuana laws in 18 states including California plus the District of Columbia, or under the recreational legalization laws enacted last year in Colorado and Washington state. Introduced in April, the bill has 18 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle yet has never had a hearing.

“Ending marijuana prohibition not just in the states but also nationally is going to require the sort of leadership that Senator Leahy is now providing,” Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann said Monday. “Now is the time for his colleagues to stand up as well in defense of responsible state regulation of marijuana.”


Lee, progressives hold hearing on drone policy

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including the caucus’ Peace and Security Task Force Chair Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, held a hearing Wednesday on U.S. drone policy.

Predator droneAt issue were lethal drones operations abroad, questions of due process, implications for executive and congressional war-making authority, and the precedent being set as other nations rapidly adopt drone technology.

“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus on this issue, and am especially grateful for their efforts in calling this hearing,” Lee said in a news release. “We need to ensure that both chambers publically debate the implications of drones and drone warfare. We cannot retreat from our Congressional duties of oversight and accountability, especially on issues like this where the stakes are so high.”

Caucus members heard testimony from former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ron Dellums, D-Oakland; Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Campaign; international human rights lawyer and New York University Professor Sarah Knuckey; Chris Rogers, program officer of the Regional Policy Initiative at the Open Society Foundation; counterterrorism and human rights lawyer Professor Naureen Shah; and journalist Adam Baron. The hearing also includied video testimony from Baraa Shiban, a youth representative in Yemen’s National Dialogue and Reprieve Project.

Caucus co-chairs Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking the administration to explain the legal basis for drone strikes. “It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones program,” the letter said. “The President has full reign to protect the United States as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities.”


Silicon Valley lawyer getting White House post?

CNET is reporting that prominent Silicon Valley attorney Nicole Wong, 44, of Berkeley, will join the Obama administration as the White House’s first chief privacy officer.

Nicole WongWong since November has been San Francisco-based Twitter’s legal director; earlier, she was deputy general counsel at Mountain View-based Google for almost eight years, where she was responsible for the company’s product and regulatory matters. As the New York Times noted in 2008, her colleagues there called her “the Decider” for her role in dealing with international online censorship.

Earlier still, Wong was a partner at Perkins Coie LLP; co-edited the Electronic Media and Privacy Law Handbook; and taught media and Internet law courses as an adjunct professor at UC-Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of San Francisco. She earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Georgetown University, and a law degree and a master’s degree in journalism from UC-Berkeley.