The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

April 27, 2010
Steinberg tells Schwarzenegger to boycott Arizona

Can a state really divorce itself from its neighbor?

If state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg gets his way, we could soon find out.

Jumping on the boycott bandwagon over Arizona's new law on illegal immigrants, the Sacramento Democrat urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today to do everything legally possible to sever economic ties with Arizona until it repeals the law.

He and others threatening boycotts say the law, signed last week by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, will inevitably lead to racial profiling. The law -- which would take effect in about three months barring a successful court challenge -- would require immigrants to carry proof of their status and require police to determine whether someone is in the country illegally if they have a "reasonable suspicion" about someone.

"As a border state, the impact of the Arizona law will surely have reverberations in California. And given the threat the Arizona law poses to public safety and individual freedoms, I believe we can't afford to wait for the courts to resolve the legal questions it presents. I think we have a moral obligation to deliver an unequivocal message to lawmakers in Arizona that California does not condone its conduct," Steinberg wrote Schwarzenegger.

"The Arizona law is as unconscionable as it is unconstitutional, and the state of California should not be using taxpayer dollars to support such a policy. For that reason, I respectfully request that you provide me with information about all existing and proposed contracts between the state of California and any businesses or governments in Arizona. I would like for our respective legal staffs to work together to determine whether we can legally break any of our existing contracts, and also ensure that no new contracts are negotiated until Arizona's law is effectively repealed."

The wave of opposition is similar to what happened after then-Arizona Gov. Evan Meacham repealed civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday in 1987 and voters supported that decision in 1990. That time, boycotts worked. After tourism plummeted and the NFL moved a Super Bowl from Tempe to Pasadena, Arizona voters reversed course in 1992 and made the holiday official.

But taken to an extreme, Steinberg's solution could threaten the whole idea of the United States of America. Would Utah boycott California because it allowed same-sex marriages? Would Phoenix shun San Francisco because it's a sanctuary city? Would state after state show its displeasure with a controversial law in another by cutting off ties?

April 23, 2010
Will Arizona law boost immigration overhaul effort?

Leading Democrats, civil rights groups and advocacy groups quickly assailed a new Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigration.

But the question is: Will all that outrage strengthen the political will to tackle comprehensive reform of America's broken immigration system?

President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi certainly talked like it today.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed the bill, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires police officers to question people about their immigration status if they suspect they are undocumented. She stared down critics and hundreds of protestors, who said that innocent persons' civil rights would be trampled. She vowed not to tolerate racial profiling and announced an executive order to increase training of law officers to prevent it. But she also blamed Washington for not acting and allowing an "unacceptable" situation to fester.

But before Brewer's event, Obama called the bill "misguided" and said he was instructing the Justice Department to look at whether it is legal.

He has been under fire from some Latino advocacy groups and others for not pushing immigration reform more aggressively. He supports a reform that includes a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants if they pay fines, learn English and pass a criminal background check -- a proposal similar to the bill that then-President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts failed to get through Congress in 2006.

Since, the issue has become untouchable for many Republicans and Democrats, who say that until the U.S.-Mexico border is fully secured, there can be no reform.

Obama said today that the Arizona law shows the need for national reform.

"The new law in Arizona is a reminder of the need for urgent, bipartisan action at the federal level to enact comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, keep our nation safe, uphold the rule of law, protect our workers and our economy, unite families, and provide a pathway to legalization," agreed Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat.

"Our nation has been sustained and strengthened by immigrants from generation to generation and that is why today's action in Arizona is misguided and irresponsible," she said in a statement. "Families have come to the United States hoping for a better life and striving for a brighter future. We must do everything in our power to build on that tradition by passing comprehensive immigration reform and ensuring our nation's cherished civil rights."

April 23, 2010
Sacramento City Council candidates on the hot seat

This year's Sacramento City Council election appears to the most competitive in quite a while. There are 16 candidates running in the four district races, the most since 1992.

Incumbents Steve Cohn in District 3, Ray Tretheway in District 1 and Robbie Waters in District 7 all have serious challengers. The District 5 seat is open since incumbent Lauren Hammond is running for state Assembly instead.

For voters, that means more choice -- but also more work to vet candidates before mailing in ballots starting May 10 or going to the polls June 8. And there are a host of significant issues that will face the new council.

So to help voters sort through the candidates, The Bee Editorial Board sent out a questionnaire that all 16 candidates returned. The questions and answers are online; you can search by candidate, by district and by issue.

Still to come, the editorial board will offer its evaluation of the candidates.

April 22, 2010
Gloria Negrete McLeod's effort to protect patients fails

Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod's legislation to rid the nurses' ranks of drug users, predators and other miscreants failed today. It received one yes-vote, Negrete McLeod's.

The bill is the focus of today's editorial and aggressive reporting by the nonprofit investigative journalism project, ProPublica.

Influential unions representing nurses and powerful lobby groups representing dentists and other health care providers opposed the measure, prompting Democratic and Republican lawmakers to wilt.

The measure, SB 1111, sought to require that employers report nurses who are guilty of malfeasance to the state board responsible for licensing them.

As it is, the board commonly takes three years to discipline bad nurses. SB 1111 also would have extended similar patient protections to dentists and others in the health care industry.

Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) was the only member of the Business and Professions Committee who actually cast a no vote. Wyland said after the hearing that despite his opposition to SB 1111, he intended to work on the issue.

While Wyland cast a no-vote, others senators on the committee ducked when their names were called, a time-honored if craven method of killing bills without leaving fingerprints.

Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was in Room 113 of the Capitol, as were Ron Calderon of Montebello, Dean Florez of Shafter and Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach. They remained silent when the clerk asked them to vote.

Two other members apparently had more important places to be: Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) and Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Tustin). Each is running for higher office, Walters for state Treasurer, and Aanestad, an oral surgeon, for lieutenant governor.

The Republican opposition was a slap at Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger who said he was making the issue a major priority after the ProPublica articles began appearing last year.

Also missing from the room was Bill Leonard, who is Schwarzenegger's secretary of consumer affairs and is responsible for the health care boards.

Negrete McLeod said she was abandoning the bill but would continue working on the issue.

"We need to do something to protect the consumers," Negrete McCleod said.

April 22, 2010
Just in time for Earth Day - endangered species condoms
BiolDiv_CB_Rock-Frog.jpgThe Center for Biological Diversity is a controversial and litigious bunch, but they deserve a tip of the act for the most inventive Earth Day souvenirs -- endangered species condoms.

The environmental group is distributing 250,000 of these free condoms at Earth Day events today to highlight the threat overpopulation poses to flora and fauna.

To help people understand the impact of overpopulation on other species, and to give them a chance to take action in their own lives, the Center is distributing free packets of Endangered Species Condoms depicting six separate species: the polar bear, snail darter, spotted owl, American burying beetle, jaguar, and coquí guajón rock frog.

It should be noted that not all analysts see overpopulation as a leading environmental threat. Author Fred Pearce, for instance, notes in this essay that overconsumption by the developed world, not growing population in the Third World,  "has been driving humanity's impacts on the planet's vital life-support systems during at least the past century."

Even so, we imagine that Pearce would get a chuckle out of Endangered Species Condoms. They won't put a stopper on the population debate, but they will certainly give it more attention.
April 14, 2010
Meg Whitman opens the political season with a goose egg

Meg Whitman stumbled in an initial attempt to build allies in the legislature.

Whitman tried playing in the Republican fight in Tuesday's Riverside County special election that was a focus of today's column, and did not come close to winning.

On April 5, the same day Whitman dumped another $20 million into her gubernatorial campaign account, the billionaire former boss of eBay sent the maximum $3,900 to former Assemblyman Russ Bogh in his failed comeback attempt against Assemblyman Bill Emmerson.

One of her top aides, Jeff Randle, sent Bogh $2,500, and another aide, Mitch Zak, sent Bogh $1,500.

Emmerson trounced Bogh, capturing 41% of the GOP vote to Bogh's 22%.

The donations were especially ill-timed, arriving at the beginning of the month when virtually everyone who knows much about the district had concluded that Emmerson would bury Bogh.

Of course, $3,900 is mere checkbook dust for a candidate who has dumped $59 million into her own campaign. If she becomes the next governor, Emmerson no doubt will forget that she sided with his opponent. Won't he?

April 13, 2010
Toon Tease
Here's a preview scribble for tomorrow's editorial cartoon.  Any guesses? 
Be sure to check out the opinion pages tomorrow to see the finished version.power.jpg
April 11, 2010
PG&E is paying good money for its endorsements

PG&E has sent the first mailers for its Proposition 16 initiative on the June 8 ballot this week, and many more are sure to follow, as California Forum makes clear today.

PG&E has bought space on roughly 20 slate cards targeting the left and the right, environmentalists and business interests and anti-tax voters, according to its latest campaign filing.

Slate cards occupy a sketchy niche in the business of politics. Read them with skepticism.

Slates have names suggesting they are actual organizations. In fact, virtually all of them are run by political operatives who have built mailing lists over the years and appear able to deliver votes.

One is called the Democratic Voters Choice card, which is aimed at Democratic voters. Another is called Citizens for Good Government. It is tailored for Republicans.

Each shares the same consultant, Thomas Kaptain of Burbank. PG&E is paying a combined $200,000 to appear on the two cards.

Another is COPS Voter Guide. Its name suggests it represents of police and sheriffs. Some cops are involved, but not many. PG&E paid COPS $100,000.

Several are put together by Orange County attorney James Lacy, and his firm, Landslide Communications. All of Lacy's cards are aimed at conservatives, particularly those who focus on taxation. Lacy said he intends to mail more than six million pieces in the June election.

PG&E is paying $19,600 to appear on the Small Business Action Committee Newsletter, according to its campaign finance state.

Small Business Action Committee was established to "battle for small business on important political issues." It's run by Joel Fox, former head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and editor of the on-line Fox & Hounds Daily political blog.

PG&E is paying $42,000 to appear on the National Tax Limitation Committee's card, also put out by Lacy's Landslide Communications. National Tax Limitation is run by Lewis K. Uhler, a long-time Republican activist and veteran of Gov. Ronald Reagan's administration.

Like many slate card operators, Uhler said he only takes money from causes he believes in. While he said he has "no love for PG&E," he believes in the initiative to block the expansion of public power.

"Government should not be in business," Uhler declared.

That's open for debate, although so far, there isn't much argument from the No-on-16 side. As we note on the front of Forum today, PG&E has spent $28.52 million to boost Proposition 16. Foes have raised virtually nothing. In the business of politics, the side with the most money usually wins, or at least, delivers the most mail.

April 9, 2010
Stupak decision shows the politics of compromise and abortion

If you're looking for a textbook example of the practical politics of compromise versus issue-driven advocacy, you need look no further than the responses to U.S. Representative Bart Stupak's announcement today that he will not seek a 10th term in November.

The Michigan Democrat turned out be perhaps the key vote leading up to the historic passage of the health care overhaul last month. Stupak led a group of anti-abortion Democrats who wrote strict language against federal funding of any abortions into the bill the House originally passed. Those provisions were not in the Senate version before the House last month. In their place, Stupak eventually agreed to accept an accompanying executive order from President Barack Obama.

That drew ire from anti-abortion activists who say the order isn't enough -- and also led to some death threats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had to win hard-fought compromises with various elements of the Democratic coalition to get health care reform through, was urging Stupak to stay in the fight and seek re-election. She called him "a stalwart advocate for the interests, hopes, and aspirations of his constituents."

"Nowhere did First District voters or the entire nation witness his tenacity and steadfast commitment more than in the successful effort to provide quality, affordable health care to all Americans. Throughout the battle for reform - from his crucial role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to his leadership on the floor of the House - Bart Stupak was a forceful advocate for providing health care to all Americans," she said in a statement.

But abortion rights groups were already organizing to defeat Stupak and they greeted his announcement with a "good riddance."

"Rep. Stupak needlessly jeopardized the historic health care reform law through his single-minded attempt to take away private insurance coverage for abortion that millions of women have today," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.

"Fortunately, Planned Parenthood and its supporters and congressional allies worked tirelessly to keep the Stupak abortion coverage ban out of the final health care reform bill. Voters in Michigan deserve a representative who will put their interests and needs ahead of narrow ideological aims. That's why the Planned Parenthood Action Fund has endorsed Connie Saltonstall for U.S. Representative and will be working hard to elect her to Congress."

Three Republicans are jockeying for the nomination, and the Tea Party Express is involved in the race. So it's entirely possible that Democrats could lose that seat, making Pelosi's job that much tougher next year.

 

April 8, 2010
Will attack ad - and its demise - help or hurt Allan Zaremberg?
bio_azaremberg.jpgThe California Chamber of Commerce pulled its attack ad on Jerry Brown today, giving new meaning to the cliche about a celebrity's 15 minutes of fame.

The television ad had barely aired before it came under criticism from several quarters, ranging from Jerry Brown's campaign to this editorial page to Mark Yudof, the UC President who serves on the Chamber's board.

Frankly, I am disappointed that Cal-Chamber President Allan Zaremberg pulled it so quickly, since it was highly entertaining and we had barely gotten started dissecting its distortions and political miscalculations.

 But it's likely that Joel Fox is more disappointed. He mounted a spirited defense of the ad minutes before Zaremberg pulled it. Oh well.

None of this will likely matter next week, much less in November, but one has to wonder: Will it help or hurt Zaremberg?

On one hand, he angered part of his board and wasted his members' money on ads that now will be a collector's item on YouTube. Yet he also fired a shot across the brow of the quixotic Brown campaign, which is already facing a expensive runoff with presumptive nominee Meg Whitman and her bottomless pit of wealth.

Following June, can Jerry fight a war on two fronts? Meg and the Chamber, kissing in a tree? 

Stay tuned. Small is beautiful, except when you are trying to run for California governor.
 
April 8, 2010
Don Mette, Sac Metro's ex-chief, is among top ten pensioners
Thumbnail image for PK RANCHO METTE.JPGNewly retired Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Chief Don Mette just made the list of top ten public employee pensioners in California, a dubious distinction, one that ought to alarm taxpayers. 

Number 8 on the list compiled by a a group of pension reformers, Mette collects $240,999 a year in retirement. For a look at all the top ten pensioners, please go here

Mette's pension shouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention. Bloated salaries and benefits have been the long established practice at Sac Metro for some time. A Sacramento Bee investigation last year documented that four of every five five employees at Sac Metro earns more than $100,000 a year.

Teachers are being laid off, libraries closed, and mental health clinics disbanded so that politically powerful fire union members can take home lavish pay and pensions. It's a scandal.

April 7, 2010
Will Republicans finally admit fault in health care threats?

Those threats against Democrats over the health care overhaul that some Republicans pooh-poohed as so much paranoia?

Well, they're real enough that authorities have arrested a San Francisco man today for vowing harm against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after taking another man into custody Tuesday for threatening to kill Senator Patty Murray of Washington state.

The FBI apprehended Gregory Lee Giusti, 48, at his San Francisco home shortly after noon. The Associated Press quotes several federal officials who said the man made dozens of calls to Pelosi's homes in California and Washington, D.C., as well as to her husband's business office. They said he recited her home address and said if she wanted to see it again, she would not support the health care bill.

"After an investigation into threats made against Speaker Pelosi, an arrest has been made in San Francisco. The Speaker thanks the FBI, the Capitol Hill Police, House Sergeant at Arms, and other law enforcement officials for their professionalism in this matter," Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said in a statement. "She will have no further comment at this time."

As we said in an editorial, Republicans bear at least some of the responsibility for the threats with the volume and vitriol of their attacks on Democrats during the debate.

Now that people are actually being charged with the threats, we're still waiting for any senior Republican to accept that responsibility and issue any kind of apology.

April 7, 2010
John Eastman uses The Bee for his latest fund-raising pitch

John C. Eastman, Republican candidate for California attorney general, is using this column in his new fund-raising pitch, complaining that The Bee "joined the attacks" on his candidacy.Benjamin Franklin[3].JPG1.JPG

This is a minor point, but The Bee itself did not "attack" him, merely one of its humble columnists, me. This is another minor point, but since when is quoting someone accurately an "attack?"

I confess that I did pick through this web site, saw a few items that were of interest to me, and figured The Bee's readers also might find them of interest, too.

Eastman has never run for office, so he might not know that newspapers tend to write about candidates. Then again, he professes to be a scholar of the Founders, and might recall that they thought a newspaper's most fundamental job was to write about politics and politicians, not always favorably, and bring issues to the attention of the electorate.

Back to the question of fund-raising, Eastman clearly could use a little help. He had $148,272 in the bank as of the latest filing on March 17, and has reported raising $18,652 since them. That might be enough to buy a few radio ads in Bakersfield.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, another Republican candidate for attorney general, has raised more in the past three weeks, $184,000, than Eastman's total. Cooley had $338,000 in the bank back on March 17.

April 5, 2010
Should California open its waters to further oil extraction?
oil_rig_california_offshore_calm_sea1.jpgIn yesterday's New York Times, energy consultant Michael Lynch argues that Obama's oil drilling plan is a "bold political move" but won't do much to reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil, unless...

We go for oil off the California coast...

Lynch, the former director of the Asian energy and security working group at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes:

We know from earlier operations that it (California) has significantly more resources than the all the newly opened areas combined. Yet most extraction there came to an abrupt halt in January 1969, after a Union Oil platform off Santa Barbara spilled more than 80,000 barrels into the ocean. There are still 40 or so active leases there that now produce some 40 million barrels a year safely. They have given us a good understanding of the geology, thus exploration would be quicker and less costly than in unknown areas, and the return more certain.

This area, especially off Southern California, has an estimated 7.5 billion to 14 billion barrels of oil and 13 trillion to 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It could probably generate as much revenue as the other newly released areas combined; the oil, not having to be piped from northern Alaska, would be cheaper to harvest. While California drilling is one of the third rails of American politics, the federal government forgoing at least $20 billion a year in taxes seems unwise.

What do you think? While I'm no fan of increased consumption of fossil fuels, California's imports of oil have increased 25 percent since 1995, with much of that oil coming from far-flung places such as Ecuador. Is it time to at least consider additional oil extraction off the state's coast? If it were coupled with retiring old oil platforms and pumping tax revenues into California's depleted coffers, would you support it? Where do you stand?


April 5, 2010
UPDATED: Mickey Kaus runs against 'state-of-the-art' Democrat Boxer

Mickey Kaus is living proof of how far a Democrat can get by criticizing teachers unions, questioning amnesty for illegal immigrants and opposing labor's goal of winning card check legislation that would make it easier to organize workers.

Kaus is the journalist who has been blogging since the dawn of blogging and decided to run in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer, explaining why in this posting. He's not delusional. He doesn't think he has a chance of winning. Nor does he have a beef with Boxer.

He calls her a "state of the art Democrat." But he does have problems with the state of the Democratic art.

Prolific writer on public policy issues that he is, Kaus figured he'd have a shot at gaining a way-off prime time speaking slot at the California Democratic Party's coming convention.

Shawnda Westly, the party's executive director, put the kabosh on that idea:

"We're sorry but we just can't accommodate your request to speak during the general session. We will return your check to you via mail tomorrow."

Westly explained that party leaders including Chairman John Burton concluded that Kaus' candidacy is not viable.

When The Swarm talked with Kaus, the blogger-candidate readily acknowledged that he is not likely to follow in the footsteps of Al Franken, the upstart politician who won the U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota. Kaus was still working on getting his web site up, a basic step in this age of Internet politics, especially for a blogger like Kaus.

UPDATE: Kaus' web site is up and, as you might guess, provocative.

Viable or not, Kaus is not without a following. How many long shots get real estate in both the New York Times Magazine and CalBuzz?

Kaus certainly has a perspective on governance and the Democratic Party.

He agrees with the Democratic overhaul of health care but worries about the next big thing, immigration and amnesty for illegal immigrants. Party elite believe their stand on illegal immigration is "the way to win the Latino vote."

Kaus also takes issue with the Democratic Party's embrace of all things labor, and of what he sees at the teachers' union hold on and mishandling of public schools. "Unions run the show in Sacramento," Kaus said.

Not viable, you say? In a Democratic primary?

April 2, 2010
Republicans party but aren't raising much money

 Rex's take on Mike Duvall.jpg

The Republican Party hit a few bumps this week, what with l'affaire d Erik Brown.

Brown, in case you missed it, is (or was) the Republican consultant who billed the Republican National Committee $1,946 for "meals" at a Hollywood nightclub that is said to have a bondage theme.

Embarrassing though that was, the GOP in California has far bigger problems. In its latest campaign finance filing, the California Republican Party disclosed that it has $1.4 million in the bank, and $324,000 in unpaid bills.

The California Democratic Party, by contrast, reported this week that it has $9.132 million in the bank, and a mere $3,073 in debt.

The GOP would have been in far worse shape, but for $250,000 from Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, and $510,000 from A. Jerrold Perenchio, the wealthy former chairman of Univision.

As several others have reported, Brown and his firm, Dynamic Marketing, Inc., had numerous California clients. But little noticed was that his clients included Mike Duvall, the former assemblyman who resigned after he was caught talking on a hot microphone in a Capitol hearing room about a lobbyist he claimed wore "eye patch" underwear.

Duvall paid Brown $40,522 between 2006 and 2008. Duvall reported that some of the money was for campaign literature. But for $33,104, Duvall offered no description.



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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