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Assembly OKs anti-Citizens United resolution

The state Assembly voted 48-22 today to urge Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution as a means of overturning a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that unleashed a deluge of unlimited political spending by corporations and unions.

If the state Senate passes it as well, Assembly Joint Resolution 22, co-authored by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, will put California amid a national grassroots movement. Hawaii and New Mexico have passed similar resolutions, as have more than 100 cities across the nation including Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and Fairfax.

Today’s vote was along straight party lines, with all the ayes from Democrats and all the nays from Republicans; 10 members were absent or not voting.

Bob Wieckowski“The Citizens United decision is judicial activism run amuck,” Wieckowski said in a news release. “For more than a century, Congress and the Supreme Court have recognized the need to differentiate between people and the vast amount of wealth at the disposal of large corporations. The floodgates were opened by this ruling and now a small number of very wealthy interests are having a greater influence on our national politics than ever before.”

The Supreme Court’s holding that the First Amendment bars the government from restricting political spending by corporations and unions led to the creation of the “Super PACs” – often funded by a just few wealthy donors – that now essentially serve as shadow campaigns for the presidential candidates, but without any fundraising limits.

Groups including Public Citizen, Common Cause, the California Public Interest Research Project (CalPIRG), California Church Impact, California Labor Federation, California Nurses Association, California Professional Firefighters and the California League of Conservation Voters support AJR 22.

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, said this movement has percolated up from the streets. “It is because of the work of dedicated activists throughout the state that California’s elected officials are joining them in taking a stand to say that democracy is for people, not for corporations.”

Public Citizen helped lead the introduction of similar resolutions in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, and has supported activists’ and lawmakers’ efforts to introduce similar resolutions in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and New York.

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Lawmaker touts ‘fracking’ disclosure bill

Oil and gas producers engaged in hydraulic fracturing must be required to disclose the chemicals they’re pumping into the ground, an East Bay lawmaker said today.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, held a news conference at the State Capitol just before his AB 591 was taken up by the state Senate Appropriations Committee, which will decide next week whether to let the bill advance.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” (not to be confused with “frakking”), is a process in which a highly-pressurized mix of water, sand and toxic chemicals is injected underground to crack rock formations and tap into petroleum deposits. Some fear this can contaminate water supplies. Wieckowski’s bill would ensure that the state Conservation Department’s Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources gathers information on the chemicals used, and on the volume and source of water used in this process.

“Roughly 50,000 Californians have signed on-line petitions expressing their support for passing AB 591 and protecting our state’s environment,” hei said today. “They all agree with us that it is time to pull back the curtain and shed more light on fracking.”

With Wieckowski at today’s news conference were Assembly Assistant Majority Leader Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa; Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento; and representatives from the Environmental Working Group, California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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Bay Area gets grants to aid homeless veterans

More than $3.4 million in federal Housing and Urban Development and VA grants are going to several Bay Area public housing authorities to supply permanent housing and case management for homeless veterans, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced today.

Veterans taking part in the Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH) program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services – including physical and mental health, substance abuse recovery and other aid – through its medical centers in San Francisco, Martinez, Palo Alto, Sacramento and Fresno.

The Oakland Housing Authority will get 50 vouchers for $498,696; the San Francisco Housing Authority will get 25 housing vouchers for $349,218; the San Mateo County Housing Authority will get 50 vouchers for $668,580; the Santa Clara County Housing Authority will get 100 vouchers for $1,159,500; the Pittsburg Housing Authority will get 25 vouchers for $238,881; the Santa Cruz County Housing Authority will get 25 vouchers for $280,395; and the Santa Rosa Housing Authority will get 25 vouchers for $206,565. Other grants totaling almost $656,000 went to Fresno, Monterey, Sacramento and Humboldt County.

“This initiative will strengthen our ongoing efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015 and improve quality of life for veterans,” Shinseki said in a news release. “Working with our partners at HUD and in Congress, we continue to make good progress to reduce Veteran homelessness, though much work remains. VA is committed to providing Veterans and their families with access to affordable housing and medical services that will help them get back on their feet.”

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Lynn Woolsey is NOT happy with redistricting map

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, is the first Bay Area House member to come out swinging against the first-draft maps released today by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Woolsey’s 6th Congressional District – which now starts with Marin County and runs up to the Sonoma-Mendocino county line – instead would run all the way up the coast to the Oregon border.

“In manufacturing a new coastal district under this draft map, the Redistricting Commission has dismissed its mandate and violated its own guidelines,” Woolsey said in a statement issued this afternoon. “The whole point is to keep communities of interest together. According to the Commission itself, districts are supposed to ‘be drawn to encourage geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant populations.’

“What could be more distant than the expanse from the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border? It’s a 375-mile trip. You could barely make the drive in a single day,” she said.

She may or may not be concerned for her own career security: Woolsey, 73, has indicated she might not seek another term in 2012. Among Democrats who might vie to replace her if she bows out are Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa; Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams of San Rafael; and progressive activist Normon Solomon of Inverness.

Of those four, only Evans’ home would fall outside the newly drawn district according to this draft – not that living within the district is a constitutional requirement.

Read the rest of Woolsey’s statement verbatim, after the jump…
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Brown-bagging for peace

Progressive Democrats of America is planning another round of brown-bag lunch vigils at House members’ district offices – including four in Northern California – next Wednesday, Feb. 17 to demand commitments to vote against more money for war.

brown-bag lunch The first round, on Jan. 20, targeted 22 House members; this round already has 37 events scheduled. And this time, PDA will be joined by CODEPINK, AfterDowningStreet, Democrats.com, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, and United for Peace and Justice. Poster slogans include “Healthcare not Warfare,” “Corporations out of Politics,” “Bailout Main Street not Wall Street,” and “Brownbaggers not Teabaggers.”

In Northern California, the vigils are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Rep. Dennis Cardoza’s office, 1010 10th St. in Modesto; noon to 1 at Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s office, 1101 College Ave. in Santa Rosa; and noon to 2 p.m. at Rep. Barbara Lee’s office, 1301 Clay St., Suite 1000-N in Oakland, and at Rep. John Garamendi’s office, 1981 N. Broadway, Suite 220 in Walnut Creek.

Can you guess which of these is least likely to invite the brown-baggers in? I knew you could.

The activists want House members to vow to oppose any bills that fund wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen, and to publicly urge their colleagues and the House leadership to do the same. They also want members to cosponsor antiwar legislation including Lee’s HR 3699, which would prohibit any increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That bill’s 28 cosponsors already include Woolsey as well as Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

“We have to choose between jobs and wars,” PDA national director Tim Carpenter said in a news release. “The American people are on one side, but our so-called representatives in Congress are on the other. The Supreme Court is busy increasing corporate control of our elected officials. We need to be busy enforcing the people’s control before it is too late.”

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Woodward and Bernstein visit ‘Deep Throat’ and Walnut Creek

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward

Carl Bernstein

Carl Bernstein

UPDATE 11/20/08: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat published a very nice story today about Woodward and Bernstein’s visit to see Mark Felt that includes a photo. Click here for the story.

UPDATE 11/21/08: Click here for my story today with more details of the visit and the observations of Alicia Shepard, author of “In the Shadow of Watergate.”

Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein visited their famous source — known for 33 years only as “Deep Throat” — in Santa Rosa a few days ago.

William Mark Felt Sr., a former deputy FBI director, is in his 90s now and showed signs of dementia during the visit but had moments of extreme clarity, Bernstein told a Walnut Creek audience Monday night.

The men spoke in a rare joint appearance Monday night at the Lesher Speaker Series in wide ranging discussion on everything from Watergate to media bias to the state of the newspaper industry to the Barack Obama presidency.

Woodward said meeting with Felt was like a family reunion.

But Bernstein had never met Felt before. It was like “coming full circle,” Bernstein said. He also said Deep Throat never really provided new information but confirmed details they received from multiple sources. He would often tell them whether they were on the right or wrong track.

The public learned of Deep Throat’s identity in a 2005 Vanity Fair magazine article.

In an interview with the Contra Costa Times prior to their Monday performance, Woodward and Bernstein described the release of Felt’s name as an anxious time.

They resisted talking about Felt.

They had, after all, protected their source’s name for more than three decades and vowed to keep the secret until Felt’s death or they were sufficiently assured of his desire to come forward.

“It was a very emotional day,” Woodward said.

I was thrilled — and nervous — to serve as the moderator for the Woodward-Bernstein appearance and it was an extraordinary experience. I also had the opportunity to listen to interviews the two men gave prior to their performance and watched them visit with East Bay high school journalism students. I’ve posted below a few short video clips of the interview and the student reception.