The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

October 31, 2008
Democrat registration still soaring

Debra Bowen has just published the latest voter registration numbers for California, and they continue to reflect the Demcratic Party surge that has been ongoing for most of this year. As of Oct. 20, the Democrats are now back up to 44.4 percent of the electorate, and the Republicans have sunk to just 31.4 percent. Decline to states now make up 19.9 percent of the voters.

Since 2004, California has added a net of about 750,000 voters. During that time Democrats have added 563,000, or 8 percent, and decline to states have grown by 519,000, or 18 percent. Republican registration has declined by 317,000, or 5.5 percent.

October 31, 2008
California's budget crisis at a whole new level

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance is planning to explain its latest, dire forecast at some point this afternoon. But if there is really a shortfall of $8 billion to $10 billion in this fiscal year alone, I don't think people are grasping yet what that means.

We're not talking here about a shortfall in a hypothetical, projected budget. This is a shortfall in the budget that is already approved and nearly half spent.So if, by the time any cuts could take effect, $50 billion of the $100 billion general fund is already out the door, that would amount to a 20 percent shortfall over the remaining six months of the fiscal year.

We have been using the phrase "budget crisis" for so long in California that the words no longer have much meaning. But this takes the situation to an entirely new level that will require cuts, and presumably revenue, at a level far beyond what voters and interest groups can probably imagine....Stay tuned. We will monitor this afternoon's briefing and offer an update here.

UPDATE: The Department of Finance has scrubbed plans for a briefing. Word is that they will detail the problem and potential solutions next week.


October 28, 2008
Advice for next mayor?

Would you like to tell the next Sacramento mayor where to go, and what to do? I am planning a Sunday Conversation for the Bee's Forum section for the weekend after the election. The theme will be advice for the next mayor, whether that's Heather Fargo or Kevin Johnson.

I'd like to hear from you with your suggestions for the winner on everything from crime to economic development, the K-Street Mall to auto malls, transportation, education, the homeless and anything else that's on your mind.

Please email me at and, if you are willing to have your thoughts published, include your real name and the town or neighborhood in which you live.


Daniel Weintraub

October 18, 2008
The myth of media intimidation
Ever since the United States came up empty-handed in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the American media have been beating themselves up for their failure to more aggressively challenge President Bush on that issue and others in the run-up to the war in early 2003. That's fine, but this self-flagellation has now also taken to including the idea that the media stood down because Bush was a very popular war president and the hyper-patriotic American public was jonesing to invade Iraq. That was apparently the conclusion at this recent media confab on "The lessons of our failure."

The media may well have failed, but it is a stretch to say that fear of reprisals was behind that performance. As these polls in the LA Times archive show, Bush's national approval rating in February 2003 (57 percent) was declining, and was the lowest it had been since he took office. Here is what the Times Poll said about Bush and Iraq after the president tried to rally the nation behind his policies in his State of the Union address:

Iraq and Saddam Hussein: Nearly three out of five Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, while 38% disapprove. Virtually all Republicans are solidly behind Bush on this (74% approve strongly), while 59% of Democrats and 63% of self-described liberals disapprove. More men than women also approve (65%, 50% respectively). A majority of Americans (55%) trust that George W. Bush will make the right decision about Iraq. Women are not entirely convinced of that--49% trust him to do the right thing, while 43% don't.
That's support, but not overwhelming, certainly not enough to justify a media clampdown out of fear of retribution from the government or the public.

And while those numbers went up, at least briefly, once the war began, that was after the media had supposedly been cowed into submission. So if reporters missed the story, they are going to have to come up with another reason.

The Times Poll from that era, by the way, has some other interesting numbers. After the war began, four out of five respondents said they would consider the invasion a success even if WMD were never found, and 85 percent said the war would be worth it as long as Saddam Hussein were killed or captured.
October 16, 2008
Sam's Club CEO: With sustainability, `You sell more'

Sam's Club CEO Doug McMillon talks to Fortune Magazine about how the company benefits from its sustainability push:

Your boss, Lee Scott, has made sustainability a big theme for Wal-Mart. Is it actually helping your business?

Yes. It's been an interesting journey. I remember the first conversation that Lee had with a group of us, and I didn't really understand what he was talking about. "Sustainability" was defined in a financial sense for me. As he started to broaden the conversation into the environment and then social issues, it sounded like potentially a big distraction. But in fact it fits within our overall mission - to save people money so that they can live better.

We underestimated how much financial benefit we could get from it. We found items that if you simply reduce the amount of packaging involved, save cost, and pass that on to the customer, you sell more. You're just eliminating waste. We thought we were efficient before, but we really weren't. It was as if somebody handed us a different pair of glasses, and the whole world looked different.

Any benefits beyond cost?

Yes, we got a secondary benefit that I also don't think we understood. Many of our associates have an emotional connection to this subject. When we started declaring goals, some of them very aggressive, the path to achieving them not clear, they responded in a way that was surprising. They said, Count me in, let me have a piece of that responsibility, and I'll help figure it out. Now it's moving with two million associates behind it, not just a small group of leaders.



October 15, 2008
Finance: Revenues down in September
The Department of Finance just posted its latest revenues numbers, for September, and they are bleak. Revenues were down about $900 million below the forecast for the month, and more than $1 billion for the first quarter of the fiscal year. Finance says that's consistent with its projection that revenues could be short $3 billion for the full fiscal year. At this point, though, even that admission looks optimistic. I would think it could still get worse than that...Not going too far out on a limb here, but I think 2009 might go down as the ugliest on record for California finances, including local government. It's going to be a real bloodbath. Here is the link.
October 14, 2008
Johnson on his pledge: 'irrelevant'

 Following up on Ginger's post below, here is an edited transcript from the Bee editorial board's most recent meeting with Kevin Johnson, when the mayoral candidate discussed the pledge he signed to support a firefighters' union inititiative to lock current contract terms into the city charter. In the conversation, Johnson says he saw signing the pledge as only "agreeing in concept" to support the firefighters' campaign, even though, if you look at the document, it clearly goes further than that. Also of note, Johnson, when pressed, said the pledge was "irrelevant," in part because the firefighters had already agreed to endorse him.

October 13, 2008
SoCal wildfires
I am in Burbank in route to Malibu to talk to students about California government and the Schwarzenegger years. As we landed, we flew through thick smoke from nearby fires. It looks as if hundreds of people are being evacuated from neighborhoods north of here, near Sylmar. Two major freeways are closed. The winds are howling. Hope they can get the flames under control
October 13, 2008
Levy on the California economy
Economist Stephen Levy offered this summary of his views on the condition of the economy over the weekend. A Democrat, Levy has steadfastly maintained that the state's economy remains fundamentally sound and should experience a relatively brief recession, not one as bad as the early 1990s. He continues to hold that view.

October 9, 2008
Why bail out people who paid nothing down?
The Bee's Jim Wasserman reports some grumbling from the local real estate community that McCain's mortgage relief proposal wouldn't help people who put no money down to "buy" their houses and now find themselves underwater on the mortgage. But why should the taxpayers help such people, anyway? If they borrowed 100 percent of the home's purchase price, they are essentially the same as renters, except that they get a tax deduction on the interest they pay, unlike tenants who get nothing back from the government for their rent. These buyers had nothing to lose and everything to gain from the transaction. If they lose their home now, they go back to renting. Which is really what they were doing all along. It would be crazy to force people who stayed in a rental and didn't take out a risky loan to bail out people who borrowed 100 percent.
October 3, 2008
Some loose ends from the debate
Here is a good round up of Biden's errors last night from the conservative National Review Online. He mangled what the Constitution says about the VP, and where it says it, misstated how much we're spending in Afghanistan, and wrongly claimed that the US had kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, among other goofs. And for good measure, we could take him up on that offer to test his middle-class cred by walking with him to Katie's restaurant on Union Street in Wilmington, if the place had ever been on Union Street, and if it hadn't closed 20 years ago...
October 3, 2008
Cash crunch

Gov. Schwarzenegger is saying that, because of the credit crunch, the state is having trouble borrowing $7 billion it needs to smooth out its cash flow. Unless the bailout bill passes, he says, California is going to have to go begging at the Federal Reserve window. Not sure whether this helps or hurts the chances for the bill. A lot of folks in Congress probably wouldn't mind seeing California finally declared insolvent.

See the governor's letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson here.

October 2, 2008
Biden wins the debate even if Palin exceeded low expectations

I  listened to the entire debate on the radio in my car, so I don't know if I have a different impression than those who watched it on television. My sense is that from a debate scorekeeper's point of view, Biden definitely won it. He took the offensive, stated his points clearly, offered evidence for his claims and used language and repetition effectively to drive home his arguments. I say this even though on many points I disagreed with him, and on a few I think he was exaggerating or even misleading. But he did communicate effectively what he was trying to say.

Palin might have lost the debate, but she did more than just survive, and she definitely did not embarrass herself. She was not as smooth as Biden. But Palin did offer some cogent, clear answers (though too many times those answers were to questions that hadn't been asked) and she did not sound nearly as nervous as she has in her television interviews. She played defense all night, but she played it well enough. Probably too well for some Republicans, with her frequent attacks on Wall Street and her calls for more regulation.

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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