The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

January 28, 2013
Sacramento may make tiny dent in retiree health debt

Sacramento City Hall could start making a small down payment on a huge debt it owes for retiree health benefits -- if the City Council goes along Tuesday evening.

As the city balances its books, it has found $9.3 million in departmental savings and one-time revenues in its general fund for the budget year that ended June 30, 2012.

Of that relatively paltry windfall, city officials are recommending that $2 million go to establish a trust fund for retiree health care costs. That would be the proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the $440 million liability over the next 30 years.

But it would set an important benchmark that the council is taking the issue seriously, as The Bee's editorial board called for earlier this month.

January 17, 2013
NRA ad attacking Obama unleashes heated war of words

Here is the National Rifle Association's ad mentioned in today's Bee editorial. It attacks President Barack Obama for not supporting armed guards in schools when his daughters have guards at their school.

Critics say the NRA went too far by talking about the safety of Malia and Sasha. White House press secretary Jay Carney called the spot "repugnant and cowardly."

The NRA has not backed away from the ad.

January 17, 2013
State of downtown Sacramento: 'Slummy but sexy?'

Here is the award nomination video mentioned in an editorial notebook today about downtown Sacramento.

Carina Lampkin, owner of Blackbird Kitchen + Bar, describes downtown as "kinda slummy but sexy, all at the same time" when she talks about what drew her from San Francisco. Part of the attraction that downtown isn't fully developed, which creates opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs.

"I want to be a part of the future, and I thought I could add some identity to a growing downtown," she says.

January 10, 2013
Veterans homes in Fresno, Redding could open this fall
The long-delayed new veterans homes in Fresno and Redding could finally be on the verge of opening.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a budget today that includes $27 million to staff the homes. If the Legislature goes along, the first residents could move in this fall.

Assemblyman Henry T. Perea of Fresno said that the state Department of Veterans Affairs plans a job fair on Jan. 23 to hire the first 70 employees at the Fresno home.

"We have all worked very hard to get the veterans home open and these funds are the result of that work," Perea said in a statement. "This facility will serve our local veterans well for years to come."

Sen. Jim Nielsen, who represents Redding, thanked the governor for including the money. "I will work with administration officials and my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure that the proposed funding stays intact," he said in a statement.

Construction has been complete for months and there are waiting lists to get in, but the state hasn't found the money for operations and employees. Federal money helped build the $159 million, 300-bed home in Fresno and the $88 million, 150-bed home in Redding.

I've been following this saga for a while, ever since visiting the nearly finished home in Redding in late 2011. You can argue whether the homes are too costly for the number of veterans they will serve, but it made little sense to spend $280,000 a month to maintain the homes and have them sit empty.
January 3, 2013
Senators call on CIA to come clean about 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Three key U.S. senators went after the studio behind "Zero Dark Thirty," the acclaimed but controversial movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Now, they're aiming at the CIA.

The senators -- Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan and top Armed Services Republican John McCain of Arizona -- disclosed today that they have written letters to Acting CIA Director Michael Morell seeking clarification about the CIA's role in shaping the movie and what they call its misleading impression that torture helped lead to bin Laden.

As I've written previously, the senators say they're convinced by the Intelligence Committee's exhaustive review of still-secret CIA documents that "enhanced interrogation" did not provide the key information that uncovered bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. They have expressed concern about previous statements by CIA officials that suggest the opposite.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Morell, the senators raise concerns that what they call the CIA's "unprecedented cooperation" with the filmmakers misled them on how the information was obtained. The honorables request documents and other information on the CIA's role in the movie.

In a Dec. 31 follow-up, the senators ask Morell for more detail and clarity on his Dec. 21 message to CIA employees about "Zero Dark Thirty." He told CIA colleagues that "strong impression" left by the movie that enhanced interrogation was the key to finding bin Laden is "false."

But Morell also said that some intelligence on bin Laden's location "came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggest, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitely resolved."

As the continuing controversy shows, there can be little debate about that. The movie, by the way, opens nationwide on Jan. 11.

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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