The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

December 17, 2010
Kimberly Mueller confirmed as federal district judge, finally

The long wait is over for Kimberly Mueller.

The federal magistrate judge and former Sacramento City Council member was finally confirmed as a federal district judge today by the U.S. Senate after months of inexplicable delay.

Mueller was nominated in March by President Barack Obama, but her nomination had been bottled up by partisan politics.

She will be a welcome addition to the sprawling Eastern District of California, centered in Sacramento. Judges have heavy caseloads and people have to wait inordinately long to get their cases heard.

"I am so pleased that the Senate has finally confirmed Judge Mueller, who will make history as the first female district court judge in the Eastern District of California. Not only is Judge Mueller an outstanding judge, but she will help ease the caseload in the Eastern District, which is one of the nation's busiest federal courts," Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said in a statement.

Boxer noted that other California judicial nominees are still in limbo, including Goodwin Liu for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Edward Chen and Edward Davila for the Northern District of California and Anthony Battaglia for the Southern District of California.

On Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein added her congratulations, saying that Mueller will "be an excellent asset for the court."

She also said more work needs to be done on judicial appointments.

"It is senseless that Judge Mueller, a well-qualified and uncontroversial nominee, had to wait over nine months for the Senate to take action to confirm her," Feinstein said in a statement. "It is time to put an end to the obstruction and delay that have been holding so many qualified judicial candidates hostage."

December 16, 2010
Congress helps veterans with college tuition, job training

The big tax cut deal is stuck in the U.S. House for now, but lawmakers did find the time (and bipartisan consensus) to pass an important bill today to help veterans returning from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

By a 409-3 vote, the House approved the legislation, which passed the Senate earlier this week and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The bill will make it easier for veterans to use the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill's education benefits to pay for college tuition. Significantly, it will also extend the program to cover veterans seeking job training.

That's important, particularly for younger vets and in California.

Last year, the jobless rate for vets ages 18 to 24 in California was 25.9 percent, compared with 19.8 percent for nonveterans in that age group. That gap is bigger than in the nation as a whole - 21.6 percent of young veterans unemployed, compared with 19 percent of young nonveterans.

"Educating our nation's veterans is an investment in our troops, our economy, and our future; it is also a cost of war," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

"We are expanding opportunities for job training and vocational education, arming our troops with the tools to contribute as workers and entrepreneurs, and taking another step to strengthen our economy," the San Francisco Democrat added.

The measure will also make an estimated 130,000 additional service members eligible for education benefits by covering National Guard members who respond to natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

The bill is backed by the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association, National Association of Uniformed Services and Student Veterans of America.

"Today's legislation will strengthen the New GI Bill and ensure that all of the veterans who have fought to protect our nation following 9/11 are given the opportunities they deserve upon their return home," Rep. Doris Matsui, a Sacramento Democrat, said in a statement.

December 15, 2010
Legislator wants to ban "crash tax" in California

Sacramento's "crash tax" could hit a big roadblock if a state lawmaker gets his way.

State Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, introduced a bill today that would prohibit local governments from charging a fee or tax to nonresidents to recover costs for the emergency response.

Several cities in California already have such fees. Sacramento is still mulling one, though it delayed a vote last month to give newly elected City Council members more time to study up on it.

SB 49 would not be retroactive, but would cover Sacramento if it were passed before a city ordinance took effect.

"Hardworking Californians are already struggling to make ends meet and simply cannot afford yet another tax," Strickland said in a statement. "People who work hard and who budget carefully for a family vacation should not have to spend their hard-earned money on even more taxes."

"Californians, regardless of the city in which they live, work, or visit, should be awarded certain public safety protections," Strickland added. "They should be allowed to commute to work or travel on vacation without having to worry about a bill waiting for them when they get home."

The Sacramento proposal is now in its third version. At first, the plan was to bill out-of-town motorists. After protest, the city narrowed it down to only nonresidents who were at fault for a wreck. The latest iteration would dock all drivers who cause wrecks, residents and nonresidents alike.

The city's argument is that a motorist clearly at fault for a wreck is using up a fire crew that could otherwise respond to another emergency.

December 13, 2010
Sacramento parks maintenance proposal put off

Sacramento City Council members will wait until early next year to debate a new assessment to shore up the beleaguered maintenance of city parks.

The council had put off discussion until Tuesday, but interim City Manager Gus Vina decided late Friday to delay the proposal until budget workshops in January or February. "That way all the budget needs and available tools to generate revenue can be viewed as a whole," city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said in an e-mail message.

The agenda item was whether to spend $83,000 for a six-month study to see if a citywide assessment district would be feasible and would raise enough money to make it worthwhile. If the proposal eventually moves forward, it could lead to a vote in 2012 - either a mail ballot among property owners (a majority vote would mean approval) or citywide election among all voters (two-thirds approval would be required).

The city's parks maintenance budget has been slashed in half over the past three years, to $7.3 million. An early estimate is that an assessment of about $26 for a single-family home would raise $6 million a year.

December 10, 2010
To get tax cut deal, Obama brings out big gun on 'triangulation'

President Barack Obama is getting an endorsement for his triangulation on tax cuts from the triangulator-in-chief, Bill Clinton.

Obama, trying to tamp down a revolt from liberal Democrats over his tax cut deal with congressional Republican leaders, called on the former Democratic president to offer his blessing.

"In my opinion, this is a good bill," Clinton said at a unusual White House press conference this afternoon after meeting privately with Obama. As Obama looked, Clinton said the deal will be a "significant net plus" for the still-struggling economy.

As for the criticism, mostly from liberal House Democrats and advocacy groups on the left, he said, "There is never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of the partisan."

Clinton may sway some moderates; whether he'll persuade any liberals is an open question. Many on the left still haven't forgiven Clinton for pushing through sweeping welfare reform, the biggest legislative achievement of his triangulation efforts.

Obama, after Republicans took control of the House in November, now faces a somewhat similar situation to Clinton after the GOP takeover of the House in 1994, also midway through his first term.

With the advice of political guru Dick Morris, Clinton triangulated between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and cast himself as the moderate defender of average American families.

Obama seems to be trying to do the same, and how well he does will help determine whether he wins a second term as Clinton did.

December 9, 2010
A hostage crisis in Washington as GOP holds out for tax cuts

It's like some horrible mash-up of "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Groundhog Day" in our nation's capital.

Senate Republicans, by taking the tax cut for the middle class hostage, were able to extract the ransom they wanted from President Barack Obama.

But House Democrats are balking at the compromise, which they see as a giveaway to the wealthy. Their caucus passed a resolution - a slap in the face to Obama, actually - to reject the current terms of the deal.

"House Democrats share the president's commitment to providing the middle class with a tax cut to grow the economy and create jobs. The House passed a bill last week to provide tax cuts for all Americans but not a bonus tax cut to millionaires and billionaires. The extra tax cut for the top 3 percent does not create jobs and increases the deficit. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans blocked the bill from being approved by the Senate," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said in a statement.

Until the tax deal is signed, sealed and delivered, however, Senate Republicans are holding other Democratic priorities hostage.

They blocked consideration of the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for young people who are raised and educated here after being brought by parents who are illegal immigrants.

And this afternoon, they blocked a vote on repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law that stops openly gay Americans from serving in the military.

That likely kills the repeal for the year, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein urged the Senate to "take whatever time it takes to repeal this policy before the end of the year."

" 'Don't ask, don't tell' is the wrong policy for our military," California's senior U.S. senator said in a statement. "It deprives our military of badly needed talent. It tells our gay soldiers that they will be discharged from the service they love if they are true to who they are. And it flies in the face of some of our most fundamental constitutional guarantees of personal liberty and equal justice under law."

By the way, for those who don't recognize those movie titles, "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975) starred Al Pacino as a good-guy hostage taker, while "Groundhog Day" (1993) featured Bill Murray as weatherman stuck in an endless loop.

December 8, 2010
Burton accuses Republicans of 'political terrorism' on tax cuts

President Barack Obama likened Republicans to "hostage takers" for refusing to give up tax cuts for the wealthy when he wanted to only preserve tax cuts for the middle class.

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton goes even further, accusing Republicans of "political terrorism" in a message to the party faithful.

In the missive today, Burton urges grassroots Democrats to contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to implore them to vote against the bargain between Obama and congressional Republicans. At a cost of about $900 billion over two years, the package would extend all the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, extend aid to the long-term unemployed and also lower Social Security payroll taxes.

Obama says the compromise is the best he can get.

But like many liberal Democrats, Burton says the deal is "a capitulation to the Republicans."

"Just as we do not negotiate with international terrorists, we must stand up to the political terrorism of the Republicans in the United States Senate," Burton says.

In the post-Sept. 11 world, those are fighting words that politicians have generally avoided.  

"At some point, the American people have to know what kind of people these Republicans are. They may never find out if the Republicans can force their view point on the Administration, splitting the Democratic Party," Burton continues.

"The Republicans rant against the deficit, but they give billions, approaching trillions, of tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires."

December 7, 2010
Liberals find Obama's tax cut deal positively revolting

Announcing a tentative tax cut deal late Monday, President Barack Obama declared that there's something in there for everyone to dislike.

He isn't kidding.

Liberal Democrats are up in arms, saying he caved to craven Republicans who just wanted to give huge tax breaks to their rich supporters.

He announced the compromise on national television just after meeting with annoyed Democratic leaders at the White House, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who engineered a vote last week in the House to extend the tax cuts only for those individuals making $200,000 or less a year and married couples earning $250,000 or less.

Even Obama doesn't agree with extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, even for another two years, but he said that was the price for preserving the tax cuts for the middle class and for continuing emergency aid to the unemployed.

He said he wasn't willing to have real Americans be "collateral damage" in trying to make a political point. Any deal probably wasn't going to get any better for the White House in the next Congress.

But with the compromise, he reneged on a campaign promise, and he could be emboldening Republicans, who take control of the House in January.

If this is Obama's first bid at Clinton-esque triangulation (Bill Clinton ducked and weaved between Democrats and Republicans after the GOP took the House in 1994), it's not going over well.

Some on the left even talking about a serious challenge to Obama in the 2012 Democratic presidential primary, pointing to his refusal to go to the mat for including the public option during health care reform and for repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law that prevents openly gay Americans from serving in the military.

"President Obama let down millions of voters who trusted him when he said he would fight for his core campaign promise -- ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich. When faced with Republican politicians whose position was overwhelmingly opposed by Democratic, Independent, and Republican voters alike, President Obama caved in the name of compromise. We hope that Democrats in Congress will not make this same mistake, and will fight against borrowing billions of dollars from the next generation to cut taxes for the rich today," Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor, co-founders of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

Their group began running TV ads last week urging Obama to stand firm on the tax cuts and showing him making the campaign promise while stumping in Iowa.

Obama directly addressed his critics on the left in a rather remarkable press conference today that amounted to a second-day sales pitch for the deal as the best he could get.

He said the criticism from some Democrats was the "public option all over again" during the health care debate. Obama said he accomplished signature legislation that Democratic presidents had sought for decades, but some on the left persisted in holding out for a government-run system that most Americans would not accept.

If that's the standard for success or having core principles, he would never get anything done, Obama said. He said being politically "pure" or "sanctimonious" would mean no progress.

It'll be fascinating to see how many Democratic votes the president can actually secure for the deal.

Senior Democrats, so far, are being noncommital.

"The tax proposal announced by the President clearly presents the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Any provision must be judged by two criteria: does it create jobs to grow our economy and does it add to the deficit?" Pelosi said in a statement today.

"The Democratic provisions will create jobs and help 155 million workers through tax cuts for the middle class, helping working families who are struggling and growing the economy. The Republican demands would provide tax cuts to the millionaires and billionaires, fail to create jobs and increase the deficit. And to add insult to injury, the Republican estate tax proposal would help only 39,000 of America's richest families, while adding about $25 billion more to the deficit.

"Republicans have held the middle class hostage for provisions that benefit only the wealthiest 3 percent, do not create jobs, and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit.

"We will continue discussions with the President and our Caucus in the days ahead. Democratic priorities remain clear: to provide a tax cut for working families, to promote policies that produce jobs and economic growth, and to assist millions of our fellow Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own."

December 6, 2010
On spending, watch what lawmakers do, not what they say

It's worth noting the painful irony today for California taxpayers.

The new Legislature began a special session called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill the $6 billion hole in the current state budget.

At the same time, mail balloting started for the special election Jan. 4 in the 1st Senate District.

Lawmakers flubbed a chance to save cash-strapped counties some real money by not allowing mail-only balloting for the race, which is not likely to be competitive because it is a Republican stronghold.

Instead, election registrars will have to open polling places just like they did Nov. 2, even though a tiny fraction of the electorate will turn out.

On Nov. 2, no candidate won a clear majority in the battle to replace Dave Cox, a Fair Oaks Republican who died last July. Assemblyman Ted Gaines of Roseville was the top vote-getter with 34 percent and finished first among Republican candidates to advance to Jan. 4, when he'll face Democrat Ken Cooley, mayor of Rancho Cordova.

Voters can be forgiven if that election slipped their minds during the holiday rush. It wouldn't be a shocker if many forget about the balloting on Jan. 4, as well, especially if the weather is bad.

Mail-only balloting could have saved Sacramento County about $250,000 and El Dorado County some $55,000. But no one in the Legislature would carry the bill, even though the two counties in the district with the fewest voters already do all their elections by mail and a large proportion of voters in other counties mail in their ballots.

It's ridiculous - and it's a reminder for taxpayers to be very skeptical whenever lawmakers claim they're all about saving money.

December 3, 2010
Democrats, Republicans in alternate realities on jobs numbers

While sadly unsurprising, it's always instructive to see how differently the partisans in Washington can view the exact same facts.

A case in point today: the Labor Department reported that the nation's unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in November from 9.6 percent because of far slower-than-expected job growth. That is the highest joblessness in seven months, and means that the rate has been at least 9 percent for 19 consecutive months, the longest stretch on record (which doesn't, of course, include the Great Depression.)

Democrats see that as a reason to extend emergency unemployment benefits, which would end for 2 million Americans (including 454,000 Californians) by the end of this month without action by Congress, and to extend tax cuts targeted at the middle class, which also expire Dec. 31 without action.

"Today's jobs report is a clear sign that there is more work to do to create jobs, strengthen our middle class, and revitalize our economy," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said in a statement.

"The best way to inject demand into our economy right now is to put money in the pockets of those that need it most and will spend it fastest - America's middle class - and Republicans should join us immediately in that effort. That means keeping in place unemployment insurance for Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, which non-partisan studies have shown return two dollars in economic benefits for every dollar invested. Republicans in the House and Senate must stop holding middle-class tax cuts hostage to a tax giveaway to millionaires and billionaires that adds $700 billion to the deficit while doing little to stimulate economic growth and create jobs."

But Republicans argue that stubborn unemployment shows that the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended for everyone, including the wealthiest Americans. They assert that group - those individuals making more than $200,000 a year or couples earning more than $250,000 - include lots of small businesses, though studies suggest otherwise.

"The economic situation is uncertain at best and steadily evaporating at worst, yet through all of this, there seems to be an alarming lack of urgency by the Democrats as they have refused to take meaningful and definitive action to address the uncertainty created by the expiring tax cuts," Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who will be in the leadership of the GOP-controlled House come January, said in a statement.

"You would think that after the November elections, Democrats would have realized how out-of-touch and misdirected their policies have been, but given the political gamesmanship they engaged in with yesterday's vote that would leave small businesses susceptible to a devastating tax increase, they clearly have not gotten the message. The only question remains how many more Americans will need to lose their jobs until they do?"

It's as if the two parties live in parallel universes, or at least have far different views of the world. And it makes the chances murkier for a bipartisan deal on unemployment benefits and tax cuts.

What is clear is that the economic recovery is not very fast and that 15 million Americans who are looking for work can't find a job.

December 2, 2010
Feinstein calls for spy charges against WikiLeaks founder

Count Sen. Dianne Feinstein among those who believe that the leak of tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables is not only embarrassing and damaging to foreign policy, but illegal.

 

Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today urged Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for espionage, along with "any and all of his possible accomplices."

 

"The unauthorized release of this information, including the recent release of approximately 250,000 State Department documents, is a serious breach of national security and could be used to severely harm the United States and its worldwide interests," the California Democrat wrote to Holder in the letter, which was also signed by the intelligence panel's Republican vice chairman, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri.

 

WikiLeaks posted the cables on its website and provided them to news organizations. Assange is already the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant for questioning on sexual assault allegations in Sweden.

 

Holder said earlier this week that there is an active investigation into Assange.

 

Feinstein and Bond said they believe Assange's actions fall under the federal Espionage Act.

 

"If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to 'close those gaps' in the law, as you also mentioned this week," they wrote.

 

Before the trove of cables from the State Department and U.S. embassies abroad, WikiLeaks published raw files from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, an Army intelligence analyst suspected of giving WikiLeaks the earlier documents and possibly the diplomatic ones as well, has already been charged in military court with eight violations of federal criminal law, including violating the Espionage Act by transmitting classified information to an unauthorized third party.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog item incorrectly stated that Assange faced sexual assault charges in Sweden. Assange has not been charged with a crime.




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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