The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

July 25, 2013
Pelosi to Filner, Weiner: Get a clue, get therapy in private

Nancy Pelosi didn't mince words Thursday when asked about the transgressions of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.

"Let me be very clear," the top House Democrat and first female House speaker told reporters on Capitol Hill. "The conduct of some of these people that we are talking about here is reprehensible. It is so disrespectful of women. And what is really stunning about it is they don't even realize it. You know, they don't have a clue."

"And...if they are clueless, get a clue," she continued. "And if they need therapy, do it in private."

That clear message is similar to what The Bee's editorial board said Thursday about Filner, who is accused of sexual harassment, and Weiner, who has admitted "sexting" more than a year after he left Congress in scandal.

So far, however, neither is heeding calls to exit the stage.

Pelosi wasn't asked directly whether she believes Filner should resign, as some prominent Democrats in San Diego have done. Asked whether Weiner should drop out of the mayoral race, she replied, "That is up to the people of New York."

July 17, 2013
More to new UC student regent than stance on Israel

At Wednesday's meeting of the UC Board of Regents, the most controversial item wasn't the tuition hike approved for a handful of professional programs or the employee contribution increase to the UC Retirement Program.

It was the confirmation of UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin as the board's 2014-15 student regent and next year's student regent designate.

At issue was Saifuddin's support of a bill encouraging the university to boycott and divest from Israel during her tenure as a senator in UCB's undergraduate student government, the Associated Students of the University of California.

It is ludicrous that this single item played such an outsized role in Wednesday's discussion of her suitability for the post.

During the meeting, members of the board zeroed in on the matter of divestment, adding their concerns and qualifying their compliments. In doing so, they failed to make serious note of the Berkeley student's overall track record or even to highlight the qualifications that made her the best candidate for the position.

Four regents spoke before the vote on Saifuddin's nomination, and all expressed concern about the divisiveness of boycott and divestment movements. Only one regent, Richard Blum, abstained from a vote.

By ignoring Saifuddin's stances on other issues, the board played part to an unfortunate narrative -- that her stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict was of more consequence than her familiarity with the board's capabilities, her plans to advocate for an affordable UC degree or her other positions on higher education.

Saifuddin, the first Muslim student to serve on the Regents board, shouldn't be pinned down by one vote or one cause. She has undertaken projects to fight student hunger, helping to establish the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, and has also advocated on behalf of the LGBT community on campus. As the student representative to the board, Saifuddin said she hopes to facilitate cross cultural communication and to represent many campus communities.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is of great importance to many on UC campuses, and divestment is a touchy subject. Serious discussion is needed to improve the manner in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is discussed at our universities.

But it was clear from comments made by members of the board and the public that Saifuddin has widespread support among students of many backgrounds.Now we will see if the unfortunate focus of her confirmation process will compromise her ability to be an effective advocate for UC students on issues such as affordability, institutional accountability and academic diversity.

It shouldn't.

-- Loic Hostetter

Loic Hostetter, a UCLA student, is an intern this summer on The Bee's editorial board. He is live tweeting the Board of Regents meeting this week in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @LoicHostetter.

July 17, 2013
Gadfly publisher Tim Crews wins appellate court ruling

Tim Crews.JPGA state appellate court today struck down a lower court order that threatened to bankrupt Willows newspaper publisher Tim Crews by imposing $56,595 in attorneys' costs and fees after he filed a public records act request.

Writing for the three judge panel, Justice Andrea Hoch concluded that Glenn County Judge Peter Twede improperly imposed the fees on Crews, the owner, publisher and editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror. The decision can be found here and a profile of Crews I wrote can be found here.

Crews had filed a suit to compel the Willows Unified School District to turn over a year's worth of emails from the then superintendent, Steve Olmos. The district turned over nearly 60,000 emails, but withheld about 3,000 emails.

The justices concluded that while Crews was not the prevailing party in the litigation, his California Public Records Act petition was not frivolous, as Twede had ruled.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association and several publishers including McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., filed a brief in defense of Crews.

The appellate court found:

"Here, the record shows Crews's PRA request was based on his decision to engage in a journalistic investigation of whether Olmos or the District misused public property. The record does not indicate any intent to harass Olmos or the District.

"In sum, Crews's PRA petition was not utterly devoid of merit or taken for an improper motive. Consequently, his action was not frivolous and he should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees and costs."

Tim Crews, 69, editor of The Sacramento Valley Observer, sits at his desk at his newspaper office in downtown Willows in May. Bee photo by Randy Pench.

July 12, 2013
Video on frying an egg in Death Valley goes viral

Here's the egg-frying video I wrote about today that was posted by a staffer at Death Valley National Park. Some visitors are ignoring her admonition to use a pan and not leave a mess, and that's annoying park officials.

July 10, 2013
Sen. Steinberg looks into crystal ball on his political future

So many possibilities, it's enough to make a politician's head spin.

Still, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg did clear up a few things about his potential political future in a meeting Wednesday morning with The Bee's editorial board.

Yes, he plans to serve out the remaining 16 months in his leadership post in the Legislature.

No, he would not run for Sacramento mayor in 2016 if Kevin Johnson seeks reelection.

Yes, he's interested in Attorney General in 2014, but only if Kamala Harris doesn't run again.

No, he's not inclined to run for Sacramento District Attorney in 2014 because it just doesn't appeal to him.

He's also not that interested in Congress, even if Rep. Doris Matsui stepped aside, because it would require a bicoastal life. A judicial appointment doesn't float his boat because it is "too sedentary."

To run for any office after he is termed out in 2014, it would have to be one that he would be "excited" about, Steinberg said.

If the stars don't align, he said he's prepared to wait as late as 2018 to seek elected office again. He already has some $800,000 in a campaign account designated to run for lieutenant governor in 2018. In the meantime, he would consider working with a foundation, perhaps on mental health, an issue he is passionate about.

July 10, 2013
Darrell Steinberg sees 'nub' in Schnur's idea to limit fundraising

photo (8).JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, whose job requires that he raise millions for Senate Democratic campaigns, said today that Republican operative-turned academic Dan Schnur has the "nub of a good idea" for limiting fundraising.

Schnur is urging lawmakers to restrict fundraising when the Legislature is in session, which in California translates to roughly nine months each year.

Schnur, who teaches at USC and worked for Sen. John McCain during his 2000 presidential campaign, has said he might seek to place an initiative on the ballot to restrict fundraising if legislators balk, which they almost surely will do.

But in a visit to The Bee's editorial board, Steinberg said he had met with Schnur and found his idea appealing.

The senate leader noted that he liked a city ordinance when he was on the Sacramento City Council that restricted the money members could raise during off-election years. That forced council members to focus on policy, not politics, during off years.

"There is a nub of a good idea there," Steinberg said. "I think it would be hard to get it through [the Legislature]. But I support the idea of limiting off-year fund-raising."

There is, however, "a catch." In the Senate, he noted, there are no "off years," at least not for the leader. Steinberg is raising money for the third special election campaign to fill senate seats this year. The current fight is for a Kern-Kings-Tulare county seat vacated by Michael Rubio, who quit the senate to take a job at Chevron.

On a related matter, Steinberg said the FBI investigation into Sen. Ron Calderon, a San Gabriel Valley Democrat, is not changing the way he operates the upper house.

"I lead the senate in a very ethical way," Steinberg said. He added that he has not urged Calderon to alter how he goes about his business. "I have not talked to Sen. Calderon about anything related to these matters."

On another matter, Steinberg said he was "open" to revising the Legislative Open Records Act, which exempts lawmakers from complying with the public records act laws that apply to other public officials. He said there are security concerns with opening up legislative calendars. Of course, calendars could be released after the fact.

On the topic of openness, Steinberg said lawmakers should "strive" to have budget bills in print for three days before they're voted upon, and that the Legislature is more transparent now than it was in past years.

Responding to a question from our own Pia Lopez, Steinberg said others who criticize the three-day rule have a point when they contend that lobbyists would use the waiting period to mobilize and cause the Legislature to grind to a halt.

"I know it doesn't read well. But there is some truth to that," Steinberg said.

Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg takes a question from political cartoonist Jack Ohman, possibly the only member of the The Bee's editorial board to own a nice suit. Photo by Stuart Leavenworth.

July 2, 2013
Send us a Fourth of July letter!

benfrank2.JPGOn Thursday, we'll publish a selection of letters honoring our nation's freedoms. Would you like to be part of that?

If so, let us know what July 4 means to you, or which part of the Declaration of Independence resonates with your life, in a 150-word letter.

For your letter to be considered, we would need to receive it by noon Wednesday at this address.

Or, send it by email to Be sure to include your name, city of residence, which will be published, and daytime phone number, which will not be published.

July 2, 2013
California agrees to expand toxic waste landfill, reduce waste

Kettleman.JPGCalifornia's Department of Toxic Substances Control announced today a draft decision to let Chemical Waste Management Inc. expand its Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill in Kings County. At the same time, DTSC unveiled an effort to reduce the amounts of hazardous waste that California generates each year and sends to landfills in California and other states.

"We must start the discussion on how we can end or significantly reduce our dependence on landfills and develop sustainable solutions that protect this generation and generations to come," said DTSC Director Debbie Raphael in a statement.

Chemical Waste Management applied to DTSC for a permit to expand its landfill five years ago, and has curtailed truck shipments to the site because of lack of capacity. All the time, exports of hazardous wastes to other states have increased.

Some Kettleman City residents blame the landfill -- the largest of its kind in the West -- for tainting their drinking water and causing birth defects, claims the company disputes. A study by two state agencies was unable to document a link, saying that researchers could "not find a specific cause or environmental exposure among the mothers that would explain the increase in the number of children born with birth defects in Kettleman City."

Bradley Angel of the group Greenaction told the Associated Press that the expansion permit was based on "bogus studies" and "hiding the number of birth defects and infant deaths."

The Bee's Dan Morain's profiled the situation in Kettleman City in March. A Fresno Bee story on DTSC's draft decision can be found here.

Photo of the Kettleman Hills landfill by the Fresno Bee's John Walker.

June 27, 2013
Change in UCLA M.B.A. program prompts privatization concerns

RP YUDOF DOORWAY.JPGConcerns over privatization regularly flare up as the University of California system attempts to grow with limited state support. It is happening again, as UCLA's nationally-recognized M.B.A. program moves to a self-supported funding model.

Outgoing University of California President Mark Yudof recently approved a proposal that would cut UCLA's prestigious Anderson School of Management full-time M.B.A program loose of state funds, UCLA announced Wednesday.

The University believes the newly-granted financial model would allow the school's M.B.A program to gain greater control over its funding and tuition levels, rather than relying on traditionally unstable state support.

June 26, 2013
Gay veterans will benefit from Supreme Court rulings

Gay military veterans are clear winners from Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage.

With the federal Defense of Marriage Act declared unconstitutional and California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage soon to go away, those who live in California will be eligible for benefits that other veterans get, including being buried next to their spouses in national cemeteries.

As I wrote about in April, gay veterans in California are plaintiffs in two federal lawsuits on the issue. The two couples were among the estimated 18,000 who married in California between the time the state Supreme Court recognized gay marriage and Prop. 8 passed.

Like DOMA, federal law and Department of Veterans Affairs policy define a spouse as being of the opposite gender, restricting the benefits available to same-sex couples. Gay vets who return to active duty can't transfer their GI Bill educational benefits to their spouse. If a gay veteran dies, their spouse isn't eligible for survivor benefits.

Also like DOMA, the Obama administration said it would no longer defend the law on veterans benefits, but House Republicans took up the cause.

The lawsuits had been put on hold until the Supreme Court ruled; now the federal judges will presumably follow the high court's lead.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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