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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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Bay Area House members headed to Armenia

Two Bay Area House members will be part of the presidential delegation that’s leaving Wednesday for Armenia to attend Friday’s centennial memorial of a 1915 ethnic cleansing that claimed more than a million lives.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto – both of whose mothers were of Armenian descent, making them the only House members with such ancestry – are making the trip. Other delegation members include Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew; Richard Mills, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia; Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.; and Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich.

Speier issued a statement saying it’s “thrilling and humbling to represent the United States and the Armenian-American community in remembering the many whose lives were coldly extinguished.

“From an early age, my mother instilled in me the importance of recognizing the genocide and the anguish the Armenian people feel about the need to acknowledge it,” she said. “I intend to speak the truth wherever I go. It is long past time for all nations, including the United States, to recognize the full horror imposed by the Ottoman empire and talk clearly about history.”

Activists are sorely disappointed that President Obama still won’t refer to the 1915 killings as genocide, for fear of souring U.S. relations with Turkey – the founding fathers of which were responsible for the tragedy, as the Ottoman Empire fell apart. Speier and Eshoo are members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, and both have strongly supported an as-yet-unsuccessful resolution recognizing the tragedy as genocide.

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Rep. Eric Swalwell is having a good week

It’s a banner week for the East Bay’s Rep. Eric Swalwell.

On Tuesday, the life sciences and pharmaceutical industry held a fundraising reception for Swalwell, D-Dublin, at Washington, D.C.’s Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar; contributors gave $500, $1,000 or $2,000 each.

On Wednesday, it became apparent that he barely needed Tuesday’s fundraiser. The first-quarter campaign finance report he filed with the Federal Election Commission showed he raised $330,136 from Jan. 1 through March 30, bringing his cash on hand to $534,161.

Mind you, that’s what he has left after giving $50,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and smaller contributions (usually $500 each) to a bunch of California Democrats in tougher districts, including Ami Bera, Julia Brownley, Pete Aguilar and Scott Peters – the kind of party tithing that helps members of Congress build clout for leadership positions.

And speaking of leadership positions, Swalwell – already a regional Democratic whip – on Thursday announced he’ll chair a new “Future Forum” of 14 young Democratic House members focused on issues and opportunities for millennials.

Eric SwalwellAt a kickoff announcement in Washington, Swalwell and Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said forum members are starting a national listening tour with stops in New York, Boston and the Bay Area, with other cities to follow in coming months.

In the Bay Area, those events will include a town hall on rising student debt and college affordability from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. next Monday, April 20 in the event center at Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Blvd. in Hayward. Swalwell and several other forum members also will hold a town hall on millennial entrepreneurship from 6 to 7 p.m. that night at the Impact Hub SF co-working space, 925 Mission St. in San Francisco.

“The issues of rising student loan debt, college affordability and declining millennial entrepreneurship do not just impact young Americans, they affect the health of our overall economy. Congress can’t afford to ignore these pressing challenges,” Swalwell said in a news release. “But we can’t just be talking about millennials; we need to be listening to millennials. To that end, we are crowdsourcing stories and ideas at events around the country and via social media and Medium to hear directly from our generation about how Congress can take action to better our future.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in the release that the forum members “bring the energetic, innovative, forward-looking leadership needed to meet the 21st century challenges we face. This effort is about bringing young people to the table and harnessing their dynamism, optimism, and hope to create a future where equality of opportunity exists for all, not just the ultra-wealthy and well-connected.”

Other Future Forum include Aguilar, D-Redlands; Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.; Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.; Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; Grace Meng, D-N.Y.; Seth Moulton, D-Mass.; Patrick Murphy, D-Fla.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

All this unfolds while there’s not yet anyone clearly preparing to challenge Swalwell in 2016.

At this time two years ago, then-state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett already had announced she would take him on. But her third-place finish in last June’s top-two primary has called into question whether a challenge on Swalwell’s left flank can be effective in a district where 22.7 percent of voters are nonpartisan and 21.5 percent are Republicans.

Now, without a potential rival breathing down his neck, watch for him to spend more of his second term focused not only on serving constituents but also on shoring up his bona fides within the party to assure himself a more prominent future.

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Reactions for and against the Iran nuclear deal

Members of Congress are weighing in for or against the framework for a final agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, reached by a group of world powers including the United States and announced today by the White House.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a Foreign Relations Committee member:

Barbara Boxer“Now that all parties have agreed to a framework, Congress has a choice: support these negotiations or disrupt them and potentially jeopardize this historic opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“We don’t yet know the details of a final deal, but initial reports are promising, and if the U.S. had prematurely ended talks on nuclear issues in the past, we would never have had historic and critical international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the New START Treaty.

“The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to reach this point and I will work to ensure that Congress has the patience to support this diplomatic effort because the risks of walking away from the table are simply too high.”

From U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who led 46 other senators in writing to Iran to undermine the negotiations:

Tom Cotton“There is no nuclear deal or framework with Iran; there is only a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons. Iran will keep a stockpile of enriched uranium and thousands of centrifuges—including centrifuges at a fortified, underground military bunker at Fordow. Iran will also modernize its plutonium reactor at Arak. Iran won’t have to disclose the past military dimensions of its nuclear program, despite longstanding UN demands. In addition, Iran will get massive sanctions relief up front, making potential “snap-back” sanctions for inevitable Iranian violations virtually impossible.

“Contrary to President Obama’s insistence, the former deputy director of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has said terms such as these will allow Iran to achieve nuclear breakout in just a few months, if not weeks. But in any case, even these dangerous terms will expire in just 10-15 years, even though it only took North Korea 12 years to get the bomb after it signed a similar agreement in 1994.

“These concessions also do nothing to stop or challenge Iran’s outlaw behavior. Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian aggression is destabilizing the Middle East. And Iran continues to hold multiple Americans hostage.

“I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal and to stop a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“If fully implemented, today’s framework agreement would prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, enhance our national security and show that diplomacy works.

“This is a major step forward for diplomacy, national security and global peace. This type of smart, strategic diplomacy brings us closer to a more peaceful and secure world while promoting U.S. national security.

“I applaud President Obama, Secretary Kerry and his diplomatic team for negotiating this framework agreement that promotes regional and global security.

“Today’s announcement is an important achievement for diplomacy, non-proliferation and President Obama.”

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“The president says negotiators have cleared the basic threshold needed to continue talks, but the parameters for a final deal represent an alarming departure from the White House’s initial goals. My longtime concerns about the parameters of this potential agreement remain, but my immediate concern is the administration signaling it will provide near-term sanctions relief. Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted.

“After visiting with our partners on the ground in the Middle East this week, my concerns about Iran’s efforts to foment unrest, brutal violence and terror have only grown. It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region.

“In the weeks ahead, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will continue to press this administration on the details of these parameters and the tough questions that remain unanswered. We will stand strong on behalf of the American people and everyone in the Middle East who values freedom, security, and peace.”

More, after the jump…
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Mike Honda introduces the ACRONYM Act

Rep. Mike Honda, annoyed by what he calls “an avalanche of verbiage in the name of every bill,” announced his introduction Wednesday, April 1 of the Accountability and Congressional Responsibility On Naming Your Motions (ACRONYM) Act of 2015.

The bill will prohibit the addition of words to the title of any bill just to create an acronym.

Sing it, Mike!“It’s gotten ridiculous,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a news release. “We’re getting bills that have over 10 words in the title just so they can spell something that’s supposed to be clever. The last straw was The Pension And Social Security Measuring Equivalence Permanent Linking of Everyone’s Actual Savings Environment (PASS ME PLEASE) Act, which only corrected a typo on Page 346 of the tax code.” The bill failed along party lines.

The ACRONYM Act was immediately endorsed by the Association of House Reading Clerks, the House Transcription Guild, the Association of Print Journalists, and the Teachers and Educators Resource Society of Editing (TERSE). The bill was condemned, however, by the Venerable Enclave of Repetitive But Official Stylistic Engineers (VERBOSE).

“My goal is to rid this Congress, and all those after it, of bills with names like the Utility and Nuclear Defensive Energy Rehabilitated Facility Upkeep and Notification Determination for Every Democracy (UNDERFUNDED) Act; the National Environmental Versus Economy, Reflection, and OUTcome OF Congressional Outlays, Minus Military Information Technology Terminology, Electricity Enhancement (NEVER OUT OF COMMITTEE) Act, and the People Are Ready To Inhabit Saturn And Neptune (PARTISAN) Act,” Honda added.

Honda said that as an educator for more than 30 years, it offends him to see the language so brutally abused. “And I was a science teacher! We wrote the book on adding unnecessary words and phrases to make things sound more important. But this has gotten out of hand.”

Honda has high hopes for the bill passing out of the Nation’s Operational and Clerical Habits Application and Notification for Congressional Excellence (NO CHANCE) House subcommittee.

(Yes, we get it. And a very happy April Fool’s Day to you too, congressman.)

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Pete Stark’s son is running for elected office

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: Former Rep. Pete Stark’s college-age son has launched a campaign for elected office.

Fish StarkFortney “Fish” Stark announced Tuesday on Facebook that he’s running for the Ward 1 seat on the Board of Alders in New Haven, Conn., to represent the swath of the city that includes most of Yale’s undergraduate campus. Stark, 19, is in his sophomore year studying political science at Yale.

“I love New Haven, and I love Yale, and I know that these two communities are strongest when we engage meaningfully with one another and work together towards progressive change,” he wrote. “I’m running because I want to work to bridge the divide between Yalies and the city. Yale students should be proud to call themselves New Haveners, and earn that identity through meaningful participation – and New Haveners should feel respected and supported by Yale.”

Stark wrote that he wants to continue the work and experiences he has had in New Haven so far: working over the summer for an afterschool and weekend enrichment program for local youths; serving on the city’s Peace Commission; serving on the Yale College Democrats’ board; and more.

“I hope that we can use this election as a platform to start community-wide conversations about what meaningful, respectful engagement in New Haven looks like, and how we can create a campus climate that supports this positive citizenship,” he wrote.

The elder Fortney “Pete” Stark represented part of the East Bay in Congress for 40 years before losing his seat to fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, in 2012. The Stark family resides in Maryland, where Fish grew up.

It’s no secret that Fish Stark has had his eye on a political career. He helped out on his father’s 2012 campaign, and also that year won election as president of the Princeton Model Congress in Washington D.C.

UPDATE @ 4:15 P.M.: Click here for the story I’ve just filed for the print editions, with a bit more background.