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Political transparency protests set for Thursday

Activists are planning 50 events in cities coast to coast – including Berkeley and Walnut Creek – on Thursday urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring contractors that do business with the government to disclose their political spending.

The rallies will include a news conference outside the White House, at which hundreds of thousands of petitions will be delivered.

For now, companies bidding for public contracts need not disclose their campaign spending; activists say this creates a corrupt pay-to-play system in which money from government contracts can secretly be used to re-elect those who award the deals. With an executive order, Obama could force contractors to disclose their spending so citizens can see which elected officials get the most contributions from them.

Thursday was picked for the national event because it’s the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which increased the flow of money from corporations, unions and the wealthy into politics.
Activists will gather at from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at South Main Street and Olympic Blvd. in Walnut Creek with signs, music, petitions and information sheets.

In Berkeley, activists will have a table on the University of California’s Sproul Plaza near Sather Gate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with en masse photos – featuring a large prop flashlight to “shine the light on political corruption – at noon and 2 p.m.

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Police-community relations hearing set for Tuesday

The state Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees will hold a four-and-a-half-hour joint hearing Tuesday on police-community relations issues that have roiled California and the nation in recent months.

It’s been a hot topic since police shootings including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August and Tamir Rice in Cleveland last November, and the tremendous protests that followed in cities across the nation. Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have grappled with tremendous street demonstrations in which most participants were peaceful while a few resorted to property damage and violence.

“Recent tragic events have led to an increased focus on law enforcement practices. The President has put together a task-force to tackle the issue of police practices across the nation, but I am interested in what we can do in California,” said Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “I look forward to hearing about what data is being collected and how our data collection efforts can be improved. I additionally look forward to learning about innovative programs that have improved relations between the community and law enforcement.”

Hancock’s husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, has taken some heat from the community for his police department’s handling of protests late last year.

The hearing’s agenda includes segments on statewide and local law enforcement data collection; “promoting trust and confidence through data;” investigating and prosecuting officer-misconduct allegations; and building trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. The witness list includes law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators and criminologists from around the state.

Bill Quirk“I believe that this hearing will give us an opportunity to ask hard questions, gain new perspective, and guide us in proposing effective solutions to rebuilding trust,” said Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol; it’s expected to be broadcast live on the California Channel and audio of the proceedings will be streamed on the State Senate’s website.

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Citizens United anniversary brings protests

Activists are taking to the streets Wednesday in the Bay Area and across the nation to mark the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has let an unprecedented flood of money wash across the face of American politics.

money in politicsIn Berkeley, the California Public Interest Research Group, local officials, students and residents gathered Wednesday morning on Cal’s Sproul Plaza. “Five years ago today, the Supreme Court went way off track, and gave mega-donors and corporate interests free rein to drown out the voices of the majority,” said Zach Weinstein of CALPIRG. “But we’re here today because the decision also sparked a movement of Americans working to take back our democracy, city-by-city and state-by-state.”

“We must stop the influx of big money in our democracy by passing an amendment to our constitution to stop corporations from being defined as people and money as speech; enacting disclosure laws, campaign finance contribution limits and publicly funded campaigns,” said Helen Grieco of Common Cause.

In San Francisco, activists are organizing a “Mourning in America” march starting at 3:30 p.m. from Market and Montgomery streets to the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Ave. for a 4:30 p.m. rally. The march, to “call for a reversal of corrupt campaign finance system that favors wealthy special interests over the public interest,” will be led by hip-hop artist Khafre Jay, effigies of the five Supreme Court Justices who were in the majority on Citizens United, a live band, and a coffin containing Uncle Sam; marchers are encouraged to wear black, and black armbands will be handed out.

Those scheduled to speak at the rally include former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin; good-government expert and former Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman; and others. Endorsers and organizers include the Money Out! People In! Coalition, 99Rise, CA Nurses Association, Common Cause, Courage Campaign, California Clean Money Campaign, Free Speech for People, Money Out Voters In (MOVI), MoveOn Councils, Move to Amend, Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center, Public Citizen, Represent.us, San Francisco Labor Council AFL-CIO, Solar Justice, and the Sunflower Alliance.

99RiseIn Washington, D.C., seven 99Riseactivists disrupted Wednesday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court session. Each stood up and demanded that the court overturn Citizens United, before raising his or her index finger in the air – a gesture meant to represent the “one person, one vote” principle that they say the ruling undermined.

“We have seen the consequences of the free flow of private money rushing into our public political system,” activist Curt Ries said. “Nearly $4 billion was spent in the 2014 midterm elections, and almost all of it came from a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations. The kind of influence that money buys fundamentally corrupts our electoral process by giving undue representation to wealthy donors and corporations. That’s not a democracy, it’s a plutocracy.”

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Barbara Lee blasts ‘demagoguing’ on NYPD slayings

Those blaming President Obama, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or protesters for the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers Saturday are “demagoguing the issues” and doing the nation a disservice, Rep. Barbara Lee said Tuesday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“As someone who supports nonviolence and gun safety and gun control and peaceful resolutions in Congress, I don’t think there’s any way any of us in the protest movement, in the progressive movement, would condone that” kind of violence, said Lee, D-Oakland, whose own East Bay district has seen clashes between protesters and police in recent weeks.

Everyone should mourn for victims of violence including the slain officers, she said, but protesters should continue calling attention to instances of misconduct.

As with changes that followed the civil rights movement, she said, “it’s not going to come from within, it’s not going to come from (former New York Mayor Rudy) Giuliani and all the powers that be that believe all is well in America. It’s going to come from the people who see the injustice.”

Lee made the comments during a telephone interview in which she laid out her legislative priorities for 2015, which might be summed up as “Back to the Future.”

First and foremost Lee hopes to get Congress to “do our job” and vote on setting parameters for U.S. military involvement in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The old, post- 9/11 authorization to use military force – which she famously was the only House member to oppose – should be repealed and replaced with something more focused and timely, she said.

“We all know that ISIS poses a threat and we must address it, but we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t create more danger, hostility and anger,” she said.

Asked about a German human-rights group filing war-crime complaints last week against former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and others based on recent reports about the CIA torture program, Lee replied, “I think the international community should deal with it in the way they see fit. … I’m sure people abroad are saying, ‘Wait a minute, the United States must comply with international law.’”

Lee said she’ll redouble her efforts next year to create “pathways out of poverty” and reduce income inequality, reintroducing bills she has carried in past sessions including a plan to halve U.S. poverty in a decade. She authored similar bills in 2011 and 2013.

“We’ve got to help people into the middle class,” she said. “We’ve got to eliminate poverty in the richest country in the world.”

She said she’ll also work to maintain funding for the nation’s HIV/AIDS programs – “We can’t forget that the global and domestic pandemic is still upon us” – and reintroduce her bill from July to create a tax credit for people who are in-home caregivers for their own family members. “I think I’ll get bipartisan support for that.”

She also expects some help from across the aisle in trying to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba, now that the Obama administration has announced plans to start normalizing relations. She was returning home from her 21st trip to Cuba when that announcement came last week, part of a group of House members and other delegates who went to study that nation’s public-health system.

“I take people down there, particularly members of Congress, so they can make their own decisions … They should be able to see the realities of Cuba,” Lee said, adding she knows many Republicans will see the wisdom in lifting the 50-year old embargo. “I’ve been working on this since ’77 and never gave up home, so I’m not going to give up hope now.”

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Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender

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Brown signs bill inspired by BART phone shutdown

A bill inspired by BART’s shutdown of cell-phone service during public protests in 2011 has been signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 380 by state Sen. Alex Padilla prevents arbitrary shutdown or interruption of cell phone service without a court order; it takes effect Jan. 1.

“Open communication networks are critical to public safety and a key element of a free society,” Padilla, D-Van Nuys, said in a news release. “This new law will require a court order to interrupt modern mobile communication networks. For decades this requirement has been in place to protect traditional landline telephone service from arbitrary shutdown, now it will be in place for modern wireless communications as well. We need to make sure our laws keep up with changes in technology.”

BART turned off electricity to cellular towers in four San Francisco stations for three hours during an August 2011 protest about a BART Police officer’s fatal shooting of a knife-wielding homeless man.

The incident led the Federal Communications Commission to probe wireless service shutdowns, bringing public comments that indicated such shutdowns create more problems then they solve because they impede emergency communications. BART later in 2011 adopted a new standard for when it could interrupt phone service; this new law pre-empts that policy.

Brown had vetoed a similar bill last year, saying that giving law enforcement agencies only six hours to make findings about service shutdowns “could divert attention away from resolving the conflict without further threat to public safety.” SB 380 differed from last year’s bill by making carve-outs for hostage and barricade situations, and by adding process for a shutdown in certain emergencies so long as it’s followed by court review to determine whether free speech and public safety standards were met.

SB 380 was approved by the state Senate 35-3 in May; was approved by the Assembly 77-0 on Sept. 4; and was concurred upon by the state Senate 37-0 on Sept. 6.