The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

May 27, 2010
President Obama finally gets tough on oil spill

After being pummeled day after day for his administration's response -- or lack thereof -- to the Gulf oil gusher, President Barack Obama is trying to reassert control today.

He showed the door to Elizabeth Birnbaum, chief of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that both collects royalties from oil leases and is supposed to regulate the oil industry.

He announced that he is extending by six months the moratorium on new offshore oil drilling that started after the April 20 explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig.

And he held a rare lengthy news conference to defend and explain his response to the growing disaster. At the close of the press conference, Obama said he accepted the ultimate responsibility for the spill and the cleanup, and even claimed that it is his last thought before going to sleep and his first when he wakes up. He'll face some of his critics up close and personal in a visit to Louisiana on Friday.

The Bee's editorial board has been one of the voices critical of the president's handling of the crisis. His response today is a step in the right direction.

The Obama team is already moving to separate the two functions of MMS, so that one office focuses on regulation while the other issues the leases. And that was before the Interior Department's inspector general reported this week about the cushy, conflict-ridden relationships between some MMS employees and oil industry officials.

For some in Congress, including Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from San Diego County, the leadership change at MMS is overdue, but only a first step.

"This is an agency that has been over-run by corruption and incompetence spanning multiple administrations and multiple personnel," he said in a statement. "While leadership changes are necessary and a good first step, there are much larger issues that cannot be addressed by just re-shuffling the deck. In the past ten years, there have been 20 reports by the GAO, inspectors general and the Congress that have all gone ignored. It wasn't until we were immersed in an unprecedented catastrophe that anyone in government decided to take action.

"As has been exhaustively documented, the problems at MMS aren't just limited to them but also extend to their relationship with the Department of Interior. We are seeing the result of a broken bureaucracy with a dysfunctional culture that is in desperate need of substantial and immediate reform."

UPDATE: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, welcomed Obama's moves today. But she also expressed dismay that the administration had issued environmental waivers for Gulf drilling projects despite the moratorium.

"I will be watching closely for further details and to make sure the Administration holds up its end of the bargain," she said in a statement. "For the past 38 days, the nation has watched in frustration as more than 19 million gallons or more of crude oil have spewed out of a leaking wellhead a mile below the ocean surface, the largest spill in American history."

As chairwoman of the Senate Interior appropriations subcommittee, on June 16 Feinstein plans a hearing on the proposed reorganization of MMS. "It's clear to me that the Administration needs to completely overhaul all operational, environmental and safety policies and procedures for offshore drilling -- particularly in ultra-deep waters, where it is virtually impossible to respond to emergencies and equipment failures," she added.

May 25, 2010
A hit piece on Kevin McCarty, courtesy of faculty association

The weight of the California Faculty Association is showing up in mailboxes across the 9th state Assembly district.

In the June 8 Democratic primary, the association is backing Chris Garland, who is on leave as its political director. Over the weekend, it put another $89,918 behind his candidacy, bringing the total to more than $116,000, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

A hit piece from a political committee affiliated with the association goes after Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento City Council member who is one of Garland's chief rivals. The full-color flyer Photoshops McCarty holding shopping bags full of electronic gadgets.

"Kevin McCarty dipped into a special slush fund to go on a spending spree with your tax dollars," the flyer says. "If this is how Kevin McCarty spends your tax dollars now, what will he do when he gets to the Capitol?"

The flyer cites a story last November in the Sacramento News & Review that chronicled how every member of the City Council spent their $55,000 a year discretionary fund. They have free rein, and they spend it on office expenses or give it to various neighborhood groups, nonprofit and schools in their districts.

The News & Review found that McCarty spent quite a bit of his money on computers, cell phones, cameras and other technological gadgets. But it also found his biggest expense was a $30,000 contribution for the "Operation College" program at Hiram Johnson High School.

That donation probably wouldn't raise the hackles of voters and, tellingly, that wasn't mentioned in the faculty association flyer. The flyer also didn't detail the spending "sprees" of other council members, including Lauren Hammond, who is also running in the primary.

Wonder why?

UPDATE: While the committee (officially called End Business as Usual in Sacramento, Support Chris Garland for Assembly 2010, Faculty for our University's Future) is sponsored by the faculty association, it is also getting financial support from two other groups. According to filings at the Secretary of State's office, the California Builders Association has put in $49,000 and Blue Shield of California has chipped in $21,000 in recent weeks.


May 19, 2010
Have you heard the one about the Greek debt crisis?

Most politicians and everyday folks in California shudder at any comparison with Greece.

Not Congressman Tom McClintock.

He even shot off a one-liner about it today at a forum at the U.S. Capitol on the European Union's bailout of Greece:

"Do you know the difference between Greece and California? About three years."


So California, like Greece, is in financial crisis, and has similar problems with some not paying their taxes and with too-powerful unions in the streets to protest any givebacks.

But even with a $19 billion budget hole, California is not quite bankrupt yet, its bonds are above junk status and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is only seeking $3.4 billion from Uncle Sam, not the $136 billion bailout that Greece received.

But McClintock, a Granite Bay Republican, used the Greece comparison to make his point about what he sees as reckless spending by the Obama White House.

"The first law of holes seems applicable in this case: When you're in one, stop digging. That goes for my home state of California, whose fiscal affairs are just a few years behind Greece; and it goes for America whose fiscal affairs are just a few years behind California.

"America must not become an enabler for the fiscal folly of Europe. Nor should it become an imitator of that folly. Under this administration, it is doing both, and Americans have had enough."

May 18, 2010
Schwarzenegger, Johnson team up to go green

It was a political love fest this afternoon at the kickoff of Mayor Kevin Johnson's initiative to make Sacramento the greenest place in the country.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver brought their star power -- and gave Johnson and his effort their seal of approval.

Introducing Johnson, Shriver said she admired him for bringing people together to change Sacramento.

Introducing Schwarzenegger, Johnson called him a cyborg -- affectionately, of course -- and said the governor had made it "cool" to be green. The mayor teasingly complained that the state tourism ad featuring the first couple somehow left out Sacramento.

The governor returned the favor, joking that if the mayor's political career went south, he could have a future in comedy.

"Leno, watch out!" he teased.

There is a serious side to the camaraderie, of course. As both Schwarzenegger and Johnson pointed out, California can't reach its clean energy and carbon emissions goals without help from cities -- and Sacramento certainly can't become a center for green jobs without the state's enthusiastic assistance.

"I'm with you 100 percent," Schwarzenegger concluded. "We're partners, and we're going to do it together."

May 12, 2010
Reps. McNerney and Stark jump on Braden bandwagon

Barring some kind of scandal, incumbent members of Congress enjoy a lot of built-in advantages when they seek re-election.

They usually have higher name recognition than their challengers, and they almost always have more money. They can brag about bringing home the bacon to their district, though they never call it pork. They can send mailings on the taxpayers' dime that look suspiciously like campaign fliers.

Here's another perk: they can jump on a feel-good bandwagon by sponsoring a resolution lauding a local luminary. So today, Reps. Jerry McNerney and Pete Stark, both California Democrats, introduced one to honor Oakland A's pitcher Dallas Braden, who on Sunday Day pitched the 19th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. It was an accomplishment made more poignant by the fact that it came on Mother's Day, and Braden's mother died of cancer while he was at Stagg High School in Stockton.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to honor Stockton resident and Oakland A's pitcher Dallas Braden," McNerney said in a statement. "Everyone from Stockton can be proud that one of our own made history this past weekend....This is a special reminder of what all young people from Stockton can achieve."

The resolution, in all its congressional-ese glory, is below:


Congratulating Dallas Braden and the Oakland Athletics baseball team for pitching a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Mother's Day, May 9, 2010.

Whereas, on May 9, 2010, Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden pitched a no-hitter without allowing any base runners;

Whereas the Oakland Athletics defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California by a score of 4-0;

Whereas Dallas Braden threw 109 pitches with no walks and six strikeouts;

Whereas players Cliff Pennington and Kevin Kouzmanoff scored one run each, and Daric Barton scored two;

Whereas Dallas Braden was raised in Stockton, California and played high school baseball at Stagg High School in Stockton, California, and played collegiate baseball for American River College and the Texas Tech Red Raiders before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2004 and making his major league debut with the team in 2007;

Whereas Dallas Braden's mother, Jodie Atwood, tragically died of cancer when he was in high school, Braden celebrated Mother's Day with his grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, with a hug on the field after his perfect game when he presented her with the game ball;

Whereas the accomplishment was the result of the hard work of every player and coach on the Oakland Athletics baseball team, including Dallas Braden, Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Eric Chavez, Adam Rosales, Eric Patterson, Landon Powell, Rajai Davis, and Manager Bob Geren;

Whereas this marks the nineteenth perfect game in Major League Baseball history;

Whereas Hall of Famer James "Catfish" Hunter pitched the only other perfect game in Oakland Athletics history against the Minnesota Twins on May 8, 1968;

Whereas the team has played at their current home in Oakland since 1968, winning 4 World Series, 6 American League pennants, and 14 West Division titles: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) congratulates Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics for pitching a perfect game on Mother's Day, May 9, 2010;

(2) recognizes the achievements of the players, coaches and staff of the Oakland Athletics whose hard work helped Dallas Braden to complete the perfect game; and

(3) recognizes the loyalty of Athletics baseball fans in the East Bay and around the United States.

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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