The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 26, 2010
Sen. Feinstein wants to know more on torture memo lawyers


The U.S. Justice Department may be punting on the government lawyers who authored the so-called torture memos, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein isn't willing to let go just yet.

In a decision disclosed a week ago, the department overruled its own ethics officials, who said that state disciplinary boards should consider whether John Yoo and Jay Bybee be disbarred for violating their duty.

In a statement issued today in conjunction with a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the matter, Feinstein suggested that there is still something fishy that deserves attention.

"By all accounts, John Yoo and Jay Bybee were not incapable lawyers," she said in a statement. "There were reasons why their OLC memos were so poor. We need to understand these reasons and make sure they have been properly addressed. We need to make sure that the many negative consequences of these opinions are examined and remedied. And we need to ensure that Congress is properly informed of opinions of this nature, so that we can properly exercise our responsibility to provide oversight of the Department of Justice and make whatever changes in the law may be necessary as a result of such opinions."

The two lawyers "significantly misinterpreted U.S. law and international treaty obligations, to reach pre-ordained conclusions, with grave consequences for our national security," the California Democrat added. "The OLC memos reached egregious conclusions that coercive interrogation techniques did not cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that their use did not 'shock the conscience.' They were absolutely wrong."

As a Bee editorial this week pointed out, Feinstein is in an influential position because she is on the Judiciary Committee and is also chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where she is privy to the details of the interrogations. That panel launched an inquiry last March into the CIA's detention and interrogation program and the results are due soon.

Feinstein, due to illness, missed the Judiciary hearing today on Yoo, who is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bybee, now a federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At the hearing itself, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and watchdog groups weren't willing to let bygones be bygones for Yoo and Bybee. According to news reports, they demanded that the Justice Department investigate the disappearance of e-mail messages sent during 2002 as they drafted the memos. Leahy suggested that the missing e-mails cast doubt on the department's report clearing the two men of misconduct.

February 25, 2010
Mayor Johnson says he can take a punch

In his second State of the City address, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson bragged on his accomplishments in his first 15 months and outlined his priorities for the coming year.

But in today's remarks to the Sacramento Metro Chamber, he was also about fence-mending with the City Council.

Johnson admitted that he sometimes was in too much of a hurry and forged ahead on his own. He promised to be more collegial and do better in helping the council reach consensus.

"I got the point," Johnson said to the council members in the audience of about 850 in a Hyatt Regency ballroom.

He ribbed council member Steve Cohn more than once during the speech. Afterwards, a beaming Cohn said Johnson gave "an excellent speech" that "hit all the right points" and said he was "100 percent" behind the mayor's initiatives: strengthening downtown, building a green economy, moving forward on a new arena and reforming City Hall.

But Johnson was also rather pointed in asserting that City Manager Ray Kerridge's resignation last week was more proof of a broken City Hall, and in vowing to keep pushing for his strong-mayor and government reform plan.

"Not all of us want to be reformed," the mayor added, chuckling to himself.

If the council stays as fractious as it has been, what could turn out to be the most telling from Johnson's speech is his use of a boxing theme.

Taking the stage to the Chumbawamba hit from a few years back, "I get knocked down" (But I get up again), he acknowledged he had been hit by some political haymakers, but said he has also learned to dodge the punches and to throw a few jabs himself.

"I've learned the key is not about getting hit, but it's about getting up again," he said of himself and the city he leads. "It's about really answering the bell."

However entertaining it might be, pointless political sparring is one thing the city could easily live without.

February 24, 2010
Schwarzenegger strays off message, again

On his media tour while in the nation's capital, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't exactly stayed on message.

He first said that the "worst is over" for California's economy -- which would be quite a shock to the 2 million-plus residents still officially looking for work.

Then, he raised some hackles among fellow Republicans by saying it was "bogus talk" for GOP leaders to call for starting from scratch on the health care overhaul.

In an interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News Channel aired Tuesday night, he added a couple more eyebrow-raisers.

The governor predicted that the Tea Party movement would end up a flash in the pan that will go away once the recession is over.

"I'm just saying they're not going anywhere with it because nobody is coming up and saying, 'Here's our candidate, here's our solution, here's what we're going to do, and have a whole policy debate over the various different issues," he said.

"So this is why I think, in the end, when the economy comes back, I think that the tea party will disappear again."

In the interview, he also expanded immigration reform to include foreign students studying at California campuses.

"I think it's irresponsible in the way to have, you know, our students from all around the world come to our country, study, get their great education," he said.

"I think they should stay here. They should work here. And they should take that knowledge that they have gained in California and put it to good use for California if they're studying here."

UPDATE: Matt David, the governor's communications director, called in to dispute my characterization of his comments on the Tea Party and immigration.

"This is our message," David said. 

Click here for a full transcript of the Fox interview.

February 18, 2010
Lawmakers get an amen chorus, of one
The 30-odd state lawmakers who gathered this morning to denounce a ghetto-themed party at the University of California, San Diego, wanted public attention.
They probably just didn't want it as loud, and while they were speaking in front of the cameras.
About midway through a 35-minute press conference on the Capitol steps, a woman nestled among the TV cameras. An amen chorus of one, she shouted her approval of each denunciation with "Yea!" or "True!" or "That's right!"
Along the way, she ruined more than a few sound bytes. Her immediate feedback appeared to unsettle some of the lawmakers.
But Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach, who was showing solidarity with black colleagues as chairman of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, took it in stride.
When the woman yelled, "Thank you!" he replied, "Thank you is right, sister."
"Our caucus stands with this sister," he concluded. "You're quite welcome sister."
February 17, 2010
Stimulus anniversary means more partisan bickering

Want more proof of the poisonous political atmosphere on Capitol Hill?

Just take a gander at the food fight over today's one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the $787 billion economic stimulus package. Rather than a reasoned analysis of what's working in the recovery package and what needs to be tweaked, we have yet more verbal warfare.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco did take the high road somewhat with her statement:

"One year ago, President Obama and Congress took tough action to bring America's economy back from the brink by giving most Americans the fastest and largest middle-class tax cuts in history, creating and saving jobs, and laying the building blocks for long-term prosperity," she said. "At a moment of extraordinary crisis, this Congress and President Obama provided leadership for economic recovery. But our work is far from over. Moving forward, we must build on the success of the Recovery Act, stay focused on creating good-paying jobs for our workers and middle class, and open the doors of opportunity to all Americans."

What she left unsaid is that she was unable to persuade a single Republican in the House to vote for the stimulus. Only a handful of GOP senators broke ranks to support it.

And House Republicans are not letting up their assault, pointing to embarrasing examples of waste in the stimulus and questioning its benefits. "In the year since the Democrats' 'stimulus' program was enacted, over 3 million jobs have been lost, billions of dollars have been wasted, and an unprecedented debt has been passed on to our children - these are not the results that America hoped for. Struggling small business owners, families, and young workers see trillions in debt, on their tab, and still no job creation," Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the GOP's No. 2 in the House, said in a statement.

After that shot, Cantor and House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio sent a letter to Pelosi and her No. 2, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, seeking an "open meeting" on jobs and economic growth.

"Though we had different philosophical approaches, it is unfortunate that there was neither a public discussion nor an opportunity for the American people - especially small business owners -- to become more engaged in the discussion. Had there been such a discussion perhaps Congress would have produced a bill that more directly addressed our nation's economic problems," Boehner and Cantor wrote. "Despite our differences, we believe that it is imperative for us to begin discussions and work together toward a shared goal of putting Americans back to work."

But given the slash-and-burn tactics so far, don't hold your breath for that meeting anytime soon.

February 9, 2010
No 'New Deal' for California

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg came calling this morning on the Bee's editorial board to pitch a 27-bill package designed to replenish California's beleaguered economy with 140,000 jobs.

Some of the ideas are intriguing, some are recycled, and some are problematic.

They include accelerating some infrastructure spending, notably the proposed high-speed rail line from Anaheim to San Francisco through the San Joaquin Valley. There's a bill to take $25 million from a rail bond issue and use it for worker training at community colleges, along with other proposals to shift around housing and education money. The plan would clean energy projects for industry and homeowners alike.

The proposals would require only simple majorities to pass, avoiding the two-thirds hurdle that hamstrings more sweeping budget and tax proposals.

But what struck this newcomer to California was his admission of how modest "Agenda 2010" really is. Given the depth of the economic downturn, one might expect a more ambitious plan to get Californians back to work.

Even if all the bills are approved and signed - by no means a sure thing - it would take one to two years in Steinberg's estimation to produce the jobs. And even with a multiplier effect, according to the California Research Bureau's "back of the envelope" analysis, it would still leave nearly 2 million on the unemployment rolls.

The relatively low bar is by design, Steinberg says. "I'm wary of over-promising and under-delivering," the Sacramento Democrat said. That cycle is one reason why people are so frustrated with state government, he argued.

"People want to see something tangible," Steinberg said, adding, "This isn't the end, but it's the beginning."

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco and Steinberg's wingman for the presentation, seconded the argument. Pointing to a portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the opposite wall, he asserted that a "New Deal"-sized economic stimulus is the province of the federal government, and that the state has far fewer tools at its disposal.

"This is doable," Leno said of the plan.

For more details on the proposals, read The Bee's story here, and come back to in the morning to see the editorial board's take on them.

February 4, 2010
Kevin Johnson, Frank Luntz, and Willie Brown, oh my

Leave it to Sacramento's unconventional mayor to put two rather unusual political bedfellows on the same stage in service of his push for more power.

That's what Kevin Johnson did today, calling on Republican political consultant Frank Luntz and former Assembly Speaker and diehard Democrat Willie Brown to back the strong-mayor initiative.

The two headlined a noon, $1,000-a-ticket fund-raiser hosted by Sacramentans for Accountable Government, the vehicle behind the initiative, in a curtained-off back room of the Cosmo Café. Then, the two sauntered across K Street to the Crest Theatre for a forum.

(All the chumminess came before word came that the 3rd District Court of Appeal had rejected a request to delay a judge's decision blocking the strong-mayor initiative from the June 8 ballot, likely meaning the vote won't happen then.)

The mayor said he wanted to bring "a little spectator sport in Sacramento."

The slightly rumpled Luntz and the dapper Brown didn't disappoint. Sitting in facing burgundy armchairs, they traded one-liners and jabs over the 2008 presidential election, the Democratic stranglehold on the Legislature, and the wisdom of writing so many laws through initiative.

But Luntz and Brown agreed that voters want accountability from their elected officials -- and for Sacramento, that means giving the mayor the power to hire and fire lots of employees, to submit a budget, and more.

"Let the voters decide," Luntz exhorted, adding, "What are the opponents afraid of?"

Brown, who was an extremely strong mayor of San Francisco, declared that democracy is "winner-take-all," so elected mayors should get carte blanche and the voters can get rid of them if they don't like what they're doing.

Johnson stayed out of the fray. Instead, in introducing the two men, he explained how they entered his unusually wide political orbit.

The mayor said he idolized Brown since his days playing basketball for Cal. And back in 2007, when Johnson said he was trying to figure out how to get Sacramento to "the next level," he asked Brown whether he would be interested in running for mayor.

"He said, 'What's the salary?'" Johnson recounted.

Brown said he couldn't buy a good tie for that, and when he found out that Sacramento didn't have a strong mayor, that was the end of that conversation.

"It's your fault I'm the mayor of Sacramento," Johnson joked, saying that if Brown had run, he wouldn't have.

As for Luntz, Johnson said he met him at the NBA All-Star weekend last February in Phoenix, where Johnson starred for the Suns and was in town to receive a legends award.

After his speech, Johnson found himself surrounded by autograph seekers, and one particularly hyperactive fan told the mayor he did a great job. The man looked awfully familiar, Johnson said. It dawned on him that he was Luntz, the author of "What Americans Really Want," which Johnson had at his beside to read.

"So when he came up, rather than him getting my autograph, I got his autograph," the mayor said.

Luntz gave another story: "We actually first met at Betty Ford (rehab clinic to the stars), but I'm not allowed to say that," he teased.

"That was when I was dating Betty," Brown joked. (Guffaws from the audience of more than 100.)

Before the rumors start flying, Johnson and Luntz said that the pollster is not working for the mayor in any official capacity.

"We have one thing in common," Luntz said on the way into the fundraiser. "We both like basketball."

Well, make that two: they both like strong mayor.


-- Foon Rhee

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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