The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

July 26, 2011
Make your voice heard on debt ceiling showdown

President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders say they want to hear from the American people on the debt ceiling crisis. Take them up on their offer. We've made it easy to contact them on The Swarm.

You can reach the White House, Senate and House of Representatives by telephone or by email.* Here's how:

White House
By email, click here.

By phone: White House comment line: 202-456-1111
White House switchboard: 202-456-1414

U.S. Senate

By email, click here.

By phone: Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121

U.S. House of Representatives

By email, click here.

By phone: Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121

*Be advised that, due to the volume of calls and emails, switchboards and email servers may be overloaded.

Editorial: Boehner, Obama need to end this manufactured debt crisis
July 22, 2011
"Got milk?" group's apology insincere

California Milk PMS Campaig.jpgThe California group behind the inimitable "got milk?" campaign may be running out of good ideas.

It might also just be especially adept at creating and exploiting controversy.

The California Milk Processor Board yesterday shut down a Web site purporting that drinking milk can reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

The site featured men looking apologetic and frightened with subtitles such as "I'm sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant" and "Let's agree to disagree with me." Critics called the campaign chauvinistic.

The site now redirects visitors and offers an apology that, like the original tag lines, drips with condescending humor.

"It has opened up a topic that affects women, of course, but also relationships," the site reads.

The tongue-in-cheek tone suggests that anyone who's still angry about the whole thing just needs to drink a tall glass of milk.

Somehow the extremely large amounts of calcium contained in the wonder-beverage work their way into the central nervous system, producing an immediate calming effect.

Or something like that.

Dubious scientific claims aren't new for the group, though. A recent campaign has touted low-fat chocolate milk as an ideal way to recover after exercising.

"Low-fat chocolate milk has been scientifically shown to refuel and rebuild muscles effectively to help athletes recover after exercise," stated a press release.

It's not clear, however, why other flavors of milk aren't equally beneficial.

And Sacramento-area residents are also familiar with marketing agencies capitalizing on public controversies, after a billboard advertising California Sun tanning salons in Auburn was removed and then replaced this summer.

I have nothing against milk. I drink it every day.

But I am opposed to offensive marketing campaigns that also make misleading scientific claims, especially when, like the California Milk Processor Board's most recent effort, they're not even all that funny.

This blog post has been updated to remove incorrect references to the "Happy Cows" advertising campaign, which is the work of the California Milk Advisory Board, not the California Milk Processor Board.

Max Ehrenfreund is an intern with The Bee's opinion pages.

July 22, 2011
Johnson says Sac deserves better on city manager search

To say that Mayor Kevin Johnson is underwhelmed by the self-declared front-runner for Sacramento's next city manager would be an understatement.

While making clear that he will support the City Council's eventual decision, Johnson is also making it clear that he's disappointed by the crop of applicants. The council could officially pick John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, in the next few weeks, if negotiations pan out.

"It's imperative that our next city manager have the managerial competence to ensure a steady hand at the wheel," the mayor said in a lengthy post on his blog this afternoon. "But we need so much more from our chief executive.

"The right up-and-coming city manager, one with fresh ideas and both public and private sector experience, could build a national reputation by taking Sacramento to the next level," Johnson continued. "From all accounts, that's not going to happen....Multiple candidates lacked even the minimum levels of experience established by the council."

Johnson supported keeping interim City Manager Gus Vina, but a majority of the council voted to do a national search, prompting Vina to leave.

The mayor also noted that the selection process has been conducted entirely behind closed doors.

The Bee editorial board also called on council members to involve the public far more in the process - to no avail.

Shirey may indeed be the best of the 30 applicants. But we'll apparently have to take the council's word for it.

July 20, 2011
Letter writing campaign on behalf of CTA backfires
Meyer713.JPGWe knew we'd get some strong reaction to Tom Meyer's recent cartoon slamming the deal that lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown snuck through the end of the session on behalf of the influential California Teachers Association.

Did we expect a letter writing campaign?

No, but it's further proof the cartoons are among the most effective forms of commentary. And another good reason to run the cartoon again.

As you might recall, the CTA managed to get teacher protection provisions included in a last-minute budget trailer bill, as The Bee's Kevin Yamamura reported late last month.

No one blames the CTA for fighting hard for its members. But many (including The Bee's editorial board) have wondered why lawmakers would approve such a measure, given all their rhetoric about "realignment" and letting "locals" handle local decisions.

If school districts face further cuts this year and yet teachers are protected, what will the districts do? Reduce the length of the school year?

Meyer posed that question in his cartoon, and within days, we had received hundreds of letters likely ginned up by the CTA or its supporters. We published a few on our letters pages that, based on our judgment, reflected the writer's own thoughts, as opposed to those on a form letter.

One of the instigators appears to be Dean Ramser, a teacher in Bellflower. He sent this message out and, for some reason, cc'd us:

This offensive cartoon ran today in the Sac Bee and SF Chron. Let's flood them with letters! 

As usual, such campaigns tend to backfire. Today, we ran a letter from a writer who received an email from the CTA saying she express her outrage. Instead of doing so, she wrote this to us:

I am outraged that every time the overpaid, self-serving, self-important CTA union bureaucrats get attacked, they try to turn it into an attack on teachers. CTA does not represent students, period. For that matter, it does not even truly represent teachers.

In my view, CTA does represent teachers. It is unfortunate, however, that so many of them would reflexively engage in a campaign aimed at stifling a particular point of view.
July 20, 2011
Airport, downtown Sacramento back together in district

True to its word, California's Citizens Redistricting Commission has fixed an obvious flaw in its proposed congressional maps and put Sacramento International Airport in the same district as downtown and most of Sacramento.

An earlier plan had the airport in a separate district that included Glenn, Sutter and Yuba counties, among others. Sacramento County supervisors and others lodged a complaint, arguing that the airport's economic ties were to Sacramento, not to far-flung counties. They also made the point that it would make it much more difficult to secure federal funding that is the airport's lifeblood.

The Bee editorial board agreed with those arguments, saying it was a no-brainer.

The latest "visualizations" from the commission put the airport and downtown in the same congressional district. They also put the airport in state Assembly and Senate districts that include the city.

The commission is working feverishly toward an Aug. 15 deadline to finish and approve maps for congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization seats.

July 8, 2011
Could Sacramento become a 'modern-day Atlantis'?

SNN2005JJatlantisNE_737370a.jpgHaving advanced my career by writing about the perils of floods and other natural disasters, I understand the desire of a journalist to grab readers by the collar and scream at them: Be scared. Be very scared!

Even so, I winced reading Alex Prud'homme's piece Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, with its alarming headline: 'California's Next Nightmare: How a failing levee system could turn Sacramento into a modern-day Atlantis.'

Atlantis? Really?

To begin with, Atlantis was an island, and it sank into the sea - a large body of saltwater - in a single day, according to Plato's account.

Secondly, scholars are unsure if this mythical island ever existed.

So could Sacramento become a modern-day Atlantis? Sure, and we could also become a modern-day Elysian Fields, final resting place of the heroic and virtuous.

Beyond that, there's the problem of how Prud'homme - and whoever edited his piece - handles the science of Sacramento's flood risk. In a paragraph that describes Sacramento as "the most flood-prone city in the nation," we see these sentences: "Experts warn that there are two events that could destroy the levees and set off a megaflood. One is an earthquake; the second is a violent Pacific superstorm."

This is about half right. Sacramento's big threat is a Pineapple Express that dumps massive volumes of precipitation simultaneously into the watersheds of the American and Feather rivers, the latter of which flows into the Sacramento River upstream of the city.

But earthquakes?

That is a serious threat only to levees far downstream of Sacramento, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Quake-punctured levees could inundate hundreds of square miles of Delta farmland and disrupt the water system of much of California. But Sacramento is too far upstream to be affected.

Along those same lines, the article suggests a megaflood in the Delta could shut down water exports. "Saltwater would be sucked from the (San Francisco) Bay (in what is known as a big gulp) and impelled into the delta, contaminating drinking supplies for 25 million people."

Again, the science is a bit off. An earthquake in dry times could indeed destroy Delta levees and flood the land they protect, resulting in saltwater being sucked from the Bay. But a megaflood? It would break levees but also bring behind it a continuous and large flow of freshwater, keeping saltwater at bay.

The basic point of Prud'homme's piece - that a megaflood in Delta may be inevitable - can't be disputed.

But why no mention of the mega-levee being built in Natomas? Or the new spillway on Folsom Dam? Is Sacramento really doing nothing to avoid becoming "a modern-day Atlantis?"

Given that Prud'homme just came out with a highly praised book on water - "The Ripple Effect" - and previously collaborated with Julia Child on her best-selling autobiography, "My Life in France," I had expected more.

But enough of this rant.

Given that the New York Times has now declared that Sacramento has no future, I need to go home and tie my canoe to a second-floor window.

July 6, 2011
Did the media go overboard in the Casey Anthony case?

In all the blather following Tuesday's verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, two core truths emerged.

One is that the jury system worked, yet again. We certainly don't know if Anthony killed her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, or if it was a tragic accident. But jurors listened to six weeks of testimony, examined hundreds of exhibits and concluded that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Anthony was guilty of anything other than lying to investigators.

The other truth is that some elements of the media behaved despicably. It was far less about justice for Caylee -- and far more about ratings and advertising dollars.

There's no denying that cable TV in particular focused on the salacious and elevated this case way beyond what it deserved. Nancy Grace convicted Anthony - or as she called her, "tot mom" -- over and over again on her HLN show. So it was little surprise that she showed an absolute lack of grace in response to the acquittal, claiming that "the devil is dancing tonight."

Do you think the media acted responsibly in the Casey Anthony case?

To read the full editorial, pick up The Bee or log on to on Thursday.

July 6, 2011
The Casey Anthony trial: Did the media act responsibly?

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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