The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 26, 2013
Rise & Opine: Rubio, Rubio, wherefore art thou, Michael Rubio?

romeo_juliet-xgt4hj.jpgRise & Opine offers opinions on opinions, with varying levels of caffeine, three days a week.

Blast off
CEQA reform supporters and Democrats must be feeling a bit like Juliet in a Shakespeare tragedy, ever since Sen. Michael Rubio announced he was leaving the Senate to become a lobbyist at Chevron.

The move leaves Senate Democrats without a supermajority and leaves CEQA reformers without a moderate Democrat capable of bridging both extremes in the debate over modifying (or "updating" or "modernizing" or "gutting") the California Environmental Quality Act.

You can imagine his suitors alone on the balcony, speaking into the night:

O Rubio, Rubio, wherefore art thou, Rubio?
Deny thy father Chevron and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, etc., etc.

Too late. Rubio has made his decision, as mysterious as it may be. Yet the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle can't quite figure out what to make of it in a Monday editorial.

A legislator leaving office certainly has a right to earn a living, though there is something unseemly about a politician instantly joining a company that was so closely affected by his public work.

Unseemly, yes, especially if Chevron uses Rubio to elect a Republican in his old seat. That would make it harder for Democrats to retain the supermajority in the Senate in 2014, depending on what happens in other races. That would give the company a boost in its agenda, which includes changes to the low carbon fuel standard, delay in AB 32 implementation, loose fracking rules, etc.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to pine for Rubio:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Rubio would, were he not Rubio call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Rubio, doff thy name,
and for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Yep. We could sell tickets to this little drama.

This post was updated from the original to clarify that Rubio's departure is unlikely to have a permanent impact on the Democrats' supermajority until 2014.

February 25, 2013
Rise & Opine: Did Michelle Obama flub at the Oscars?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions, with varying levels of caffeine, three times a week.

Blast off

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post questions why Michelle Obama chose to introduce the Best Picture category at last night's Academy Awards, with a certain omission to the military service personnel standing behind her.

Alas, none of the films nor her aides reminded her to mention the military, not those personnel behind her nor those serving overseas, an odd omission for the White House that nevertheless was pleased to have them arrayed behind her like, well, set decoration.

Yes, an omission, but probably not worthy of a court martial.

February 21, 2013
McCarty has lots of questions on new Sacramento arena

As Sacramento city officials work on a possible new arena deal to help keep the Kings in town, City Councilman Kevin McCarty wants answers, lots of answers.

To read his letter to City Manager John Shirey, click here.

As The Bee's editorial board says today, many of McCarty's questions are worth asking and the answers should be used to make any deal as good for city taxpayers as possible.

February 19, 2013
Unsound Bites: Obama, Tiger and Nike ... Oh my!

It was a week of natural and unnatural disasters: the giant metaphor that hit Russia, the latest Nike endorsement deal shot to hell, and President Obama's golf swing. First off...

--Let's Look at the Weekend Forecast in NewsCenter Armageddon.
I don't know about you, but a catastrophic meteor impact wasn't part of my long-term investment strategy; I've got enough to worry about with the Potential Central Valley Megaflood. Cartoonists all over the country were handed a metameteorphor 55 feet across; in fact, in cartooning circles, when the meteor came in, other fellow artists were waving each other off on doing it at all. Fearful of cartooning social approbation, I avoided using it. Of course, I badly wanted to. I'm weak and cartoonists like drawing flaming chunks of anything. I promise that I will do a cartoon the next time we have a 100-year meteor event. And speaking of shooting stars...

February 19, 2013
Big fight begins on plastic bag ban in Sacramento

The battle lines were clearly drawn this afternoon on a possible plastic bag ban in Sacramento.

Environmental advocates told a City Council committee that single-use bags are a scourge. Californians Against Waste estimated that city residents use 180 million a year. The advocates applauded the city for taking a leadership role.

But business groups expressed concerns.

An official from the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce said an ordinance would be "untimely and premature" because the local economy is still fragile and because Sacramento would be the first in the region with one. It urged that no action be taken until 2015.

The California Grocers Association said while it's not encouraging an ordinance, it's willing to talk. It wants to make sure all competitors in a market are treated equally, though the council members pushing the issue are discussing exempting smaller stores.

As The Bee's editorial board pointed out today, there are some thorny issues involved in a ban to avoid hurting businesses or consumers.

The council's Law and Legislation Committee will keep wrestling with this issue and try to come up with a proposed ordinance to go before the full council, probably in a couple of months.

February 14, 2013
California judicial nominees move a step closer to federal bench

Troy L. Nunley is back to waiting for the full U.S. Senate to finally vote on his nomination as a badly needed reinforcement for the federal district centered in Sacramento.

The Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded his name on a voice vote today. It signed off on his nomination in December, but the Senate adjourned before voting. That forced Nunley and 10 other judicial nominees awaiting floor votes to start over. As The Bee's editorial board noted, they are casualties of the partisan wars in Congress.

President Barack Obama renominated Nunley on the same day the new Senate took office last month. Nunley has been waiting since last June, when Obama first nominated him. He is a former prosecutor who is now a judge on the Sacramento Superior Court. He would fill a vacancy in the Eastern District of California, which is in an official judicial emergency because of case backlogs.

The Judiciary Committee also acted today on Beverly Reid O'Connell, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge nominated for a seat in the Central District. William H. Orrick III, a nominee for the Northern District, wasn't as fortunate. His nomination was held over.

UPDATE: Sen. Barbara Boxer of California applauded the committee action. She recommended O'Connell, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein suggested Nunley.

"These are both outstanding judges who would serve in judicial emergency districts with some of the heaviest caseloads in the nation," Boxer said in a statement. "We owe it to the millions of Californians who live in these areas to confirm these talented nominees without delay."

February 13, 2013
Tea Party Express lauds Rand Paul's Tea Party Express speech

Sacramento strategist Sal Russo's Tea Party Express today declared Sen. Rand Paul's Tea Party Express answer to President Obama's State of the Union Speech to be a raging success.

"Paul gave an amazing speech last night and clearly articulated the Tea Party's conservative message," the Tea Party Express said in a fund-raising email sent on he morning-after the amazing evening.

Other reviews were mixed.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post reported: "At its best it reflected real movement on the right in favor of immigration reform; at its worst it was just plain weird."

On MSNBC, the Rachel Maddow blog said: "Paul's entire pitch was just tired, more likely to generate eye-rolling than outrage."

For a down-the-middle assessment, Reuters news service said the Kentucky Republican echoed themes in the GOP's official response by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Here's our own McClatchy report, which noted that Paul advocated letting the sequester, an $85 billion round of automatic cuts, happen.

Paul stuck to the small-government, low-tax, tight-fisted themes that Russo's Tea Party Express political action committee extols. Paul didn't interrupt himself by taking a swig of water, but did slip into a sing-song, high-pitched style of speaking, not presidential.

The son of a physician-congressman said that in this country, success is "not based on who your parents were but on your own initiative and desire to work." He also took a back-hand slap at Obama for sending his children to private schools, saying life will improve "when every child can, like the president's kids, go to the school of their choice."

Back to Tea Party Express's view: "If the President instead continues down a polarizing big-government path, the electorate will mimic the 2010 sentiment in 2014 and 2016." By the way, the email concluded, "Please support the Tea Party by donating today!"

February 12, 2013
Want to view Sacramento council retreat? You're out of luck

Now, I'm really glad I went to the Sacramento City Council's retreat last week.

It was fascinating to see the interaction among the new and old council members.

It also turns out that the column I wrote will likely be the only public record of the gathering, other than the notes and recollections of the participants and city officials in attendance.

The retreat was held outside City Hall, at the Sierra Health Foundation. I was the only member of the public who was there. And the audio-video equipment that was supposed to record the meeting for posterity malfunctioned.

That word came via an exchange of emails between the City Clerk's office and Craig Powell, the head of Eye on Sacramento, a watchdog group that had raised concerns about whether open meeting laws and council rules had been followed. (They had.)

The city posts videos of all council meetings, so those who don't attend or see them live on public access cable can see their elected representatives in action. That won't happen in this case, but the lesson has been learned going forward, the clerk's office said today.

I would offer to donate my notes, but my handwriting is horrible. I doubt many people could make heads or tails out of them.

February 12, 2013
Rise & Opine: Pope resigns, Flash Report, Dr. Oz, poop, etc.

In the New York Times, Rev. James Martin says that "Benedict XVI's resignation might be the most unexpected papal decision since the convening of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s." He seems excited. Others less so.

John Patrick Shanley says good riddance. Of Benedict XVI, he says: "He was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children. He'd been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful résumé, he had no use for women."


February 11, 2013
Rise & Opine: Rogue cop, bag ban scares, Texas poker, etc.

Rise & Opine offers opinions on California opinions, three days a week.

Rogue Cop
The fugative hunt for Christopher Dorner is far from over, as I write this. But pundits are getting impatient. Here is what some are saying:

-- Timothy Rutten, writing in the L.A. Daily News, argues for an assault weapons ban, quoting from one of Dorner's online rants: "All the firearms utilized in my activities are registered to me and were legally purchased at gun stores and private party transfers..."

-- George Skelton, writing in the L.A. Times, also questions why someone like Dorner could so easily arm himself. Writes Skelton: "Some law-abiders do become violent criminals. And their kill rate too often increases with their firepower."

-- Hector Villagra, meanwhile, addresses what I see as the more immediate and pressing question -- why L.A. police mistakenly shot Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez in Torrance. "The public has yet to be told, more fundamentally, how officers could open fire on a vehicle that didn't match the make, color or license plate of the vehicle driven by Christopher Dorner," he writes.

February 9, 2013
Ohman's Unsound Bites: Bush hacking and Brown humor

--Mission Accomplished, Now Get Off Of My Cloud. The Bush family's personal email accounts have been hacked, according to the Secret Service, whose expertise does not extend to protecting their former presidents from invasion of privacy. I can assure you that if my e-mails were hacked, I would probably jump off a fiscal cliff or engage in ritual sequestration, but the Bushes seemed to handle it with equanimity. After all, who knew that President 43 was a sensitive painter of dogs and landscapes? That 411 probably doesn't hurt him at all with the Socialist Humanist Liberal Media, whose main job it is to make sure W. remains the 22nd letter of the alphabet and not a Greatest President Who Was So Very Misjudged by History. Now that I know that W. knows how to do the Google AND paint, I feel a lot better about him already, since I now know he's a fellow artist. I doubt Cheney helps him paint, either.

February 8, 2013
'Toxic' flame retardants begin to flicker and dim

A California state department you've never heard of took an action today that probably will have far-reaching consequences for the chemical industry and perhaps your health.

Yes, California has a Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. That bureau has significant clout over whether your couch and other home furnishings contain what Gov. Jerry Brown calls "toxic flame retardants."

Acting at the governor's request, the bureau issued a new rule today to overturn obscure regulation adopted when Brown was governor the first time. Brett Israel of Environmental Health News has the scoop.

If the new rule withstands almost certain challenges, California no longer will require that furniture makers add flame retardants to cushions. Expect flame retardant manufacturers and the chemical industry to protest bitterly.

February 7, 2013
Bloom Energy paid workers in pesos, SJ Merc says

An old friend Bloom Energy is making news, and not in a good way.

The San Jose Mercury News reported today that Bloom Energy, a political heavyweight, paid workers brought in from Mexico in pesos:

"Authorities said Bloom Energy paid the Mexican workers in pesos by wiring funds back to bank accounts in Chihuahua. Bloom also paid for the men to stay in a Sunnyvale motel and provided each with a meal stipend of $50 a day."

If true, that's stunning for a company with a board of directors that includes former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr.

We have written about Bloom before, detailing how it gobbled up more than $200 million in subsidies in 2010, thanks to the California Public Utilities Commission.

And after receiving California gold, Bloom expanded operations in Delaware. It also makes its Bloom Boxes in Mexico, the Merc notes.

Bloom, meanwhile, maintains an active Sacramento lobby operation and in Washington.

February 6, 2013
Rick Perry is getting quite a return on his 'emission'

Texas Gov. Rick Perry certainly is getting his $24,000 worth.

As any Californian knows, a $24,000 ad buy gets nothing in California. But Perry's ad seeking to lure California businesses has been getting quite a run in California papers and television stations, and on NPR, which airs in Texas.

As the Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater writes today: "Looks like the Texas-California, I'm-rubber-you're-glue schoolyard brawl is percolating at a fine boil."

Walt's governor, who has great hair, has been trying to go toe to toe with California's governor, who once had a fine head of hair but now doesn't have much other than his eyebrows. Jerry Brown has better things to do, like riding around in his John Deere with Sutter.

But then Perry has plenty to do, too, as he prepares to run for reelection and beyond. Good luck with that.

February 6, 2013
Dickinson says he'll push bill on online purchase privacy

That didn't take long.

The Bee's editorial board called today for the Legislature to clarify whether a consumer privacy law covers online purchases after a California Supreme Court ruling on Monday said it didn't.

This morning, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Banking and Finance, said he plans to introduce such a measure this month.

"In today's high-tech world, the privacy of online consumers is continually susceptible to being violated," Dickinson, a Sacramento Democrat, said in a statement. "The court's decision will further impair the privacy of online consumers. I plan to introduce legislation this month that would increase consumer privacy while also ensuring appropriate fraud and identity theft protection. We must better protect consumers' privacy by safeguarding against the exploitation of personal information."

The consumer protection law, passed in 1990, says that retailers can't require personal information such as home address and phone number from customers using credit cards. In the split decision, the high court said the law applied to only "brick-and-mortar" stores and didn't extend to credit card purchases on the Internet, in part because online retailers can't check photo IDs.

February 6, 2013
Rise & Opine: Investors BD says Cali should frak, frak, frak!

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions about California at least three days a week.

Investors Business Daily, one of many publications who championed the shady mortgage practices that led to the bursting of the real estate bubble in California, now is chastizing us for not embracing fracking!

Says IBD,

Extracting oil from the Monterey Shale will require companies to engage in more intensive fracking and deeper, horizontal drilling, which has caused groups in environmentally sensitive California to warn of poisoned groundwater and the latest fantasy, the spawning of earthquakes.

Yes, the extreme earthquake threat that California faces is unlikely to be significantly increased by fracking, but the groundwater threat is real, and IBD just brushes it off. That is just what you would expect from a media outift headed by William O'Neil, an Oklahoma City native raised in Texas.

The San Jose Mercury News all but endorses a challenger to Mike Honda for Congress, although that editorial board says lots of nice stuff about Honda.

The San Francisco Chronicle reaffirms its endorsement of the Klamath Pact, even though some enviros and at least one tribe says it doesn't go far enough in restoring salmon runs and ensurig quick dam removal.

February 5, 2013
Unsound Bites: McCain, Obama the hunter, 49ers, etc.

Compared to ObamaFest 2: The Score Settling Begins the week before, it was a quiet week in Lake Washingone, with lots of mean-spirited backbiting and angry, senseless recriminations. In other words, absolutely normal. Oh, and in Our NorCal World, the Sixpeat Niners Team O' Destiny lost power in the stadium, too. So let's get right to it...

--The Hagel-McCain Feud. Off his meds again, Sen. John McCain decided he'd had enough of all the career success from someone other than John McCain, so he ripped former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel a new one on national television. Demanding yes or no answers in a committee hearing is a time-honored get-me-ninety-seconds-of-network-face-time strategy for politicians, so McCain demanded to know whether Hagel thought he voted correctly on the Iraq surge. Since it is now fashionable to be for things before you were against them (The Sentence That Cost John Kerry The Presidency), one could have voted against the first Iraq War (It's About Oil), for the second Iraq War (WTFWMDWWJD?), and then made up for all your previous meanderings by supporting the surge. Other than the surge in McCain's blood pressure, what he's really angry about with Hagel is that he supported Obama in 2008, and that's he's BFFs with Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry (they survived a chopper crash landing together and dubbed themselves the Three Amigos). No room for a Fourth Amigo here, so McCain blew.


February 4, 2013
Rise & Opine: Lance Armstrong lied - should readers sue?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions about California three times a week.

Sacramento political consultant Rob Stutzman has received lots of attention for his class-action lawsuit against Lance Armstrong, alleging the disgraced cyclist and his publishers knew or should have known his inspiration books "were works of fiction."

Stutzman has received a healthy amount of ribbing from his cohorts in town, with one Democratic consultant tweeting that he plans to file suit against Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman (former clients of Stutzman) because their books were less than truthful. More recently, with the blackout at the Super Bowl last night, some are asking on Twitter if Stutzman plans to file a class action lawsuit against the Superdome.

Yet beyond the jokes are serious questions about how far readers should go in attempting to hold authors accountable for mistruths, especially when lots of money was made from alleged lies.

February 1, 2013
Legislature gets another chance to make military service count

A California legislator is giving it the old college try a second time on a bill designed to make it much easier for medics and others with medical training in the military to get health care jobs in civilian life.

This week, Assemblyman Dan Logue introduced Assembly Bill 213, which would require state health licensing boards to create policies recognizing the education, training and practical experience of veterans. The measure would also require the boards to work with colleges to make sure vets don't have to retake classes they took in the military and can quickly complete course requirements.

I wrote about this issue last year, about all the hurdles that veterans have to jump through to become nurses and other health care providers.

Logue and other supporters say smoothing the transition would be a two-fer: Unemployed veterans would find jobs, and rural counties that need more primary care, especially with health reform, would get more bodies.

"Many rural areas of California have a large population of veterans, and the object of this bill is to fast track those who already have medical training from the military into civilian health care jobs," Logue, a Marysville Republican, said in a statement.

Assemblyman Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, is the bill's principal co-author.

A very similar measure stalled in the Legislature last session. Legislators approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed other laws designed to help veterans, but not this one.

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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