The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

About Pia Lopez

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Pia Lopez was born in Washington, D.C., where her parents, one Democrat and one Republican, were Capitol Hill staffers. She grew up with no TV and lots of politics. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, teaching math, setting up a chicken co-op, hitchhiking all over southern Africa and learning not to take home for granted. She found her calling after serving as a citizen representative on the editorial board of a small paper in Minnesota. When the editorial page editor resigned, Pia switched careers and has been writing on editorial pages ever since. She has an A.B. in political science from the University of Chicago and a M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

July 26, 2012
Hetch Hetchy wars heat up...

Steven Greenhut, based in Sacramento, has written a piece on Hetch Hetchy for Bloomberg.com. He is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. His theme is that a San Francisco ballot initiative to study the city's water use and possible restoration of the currently dammed Hetch Hetchy Valley is an issue that can unite free-market folks and environmentalists.

"The best reason for the plan is that it would remind Californians that the biggest assault on the environment has come from government, not the private sector. Maybe a serious look at the history of the O'Shaughnessy Dam will spark a needed discussion on how a more competitive system can better meet the state's water needs and protect the environment in the future. Why should San Franciscans be exempt from learning the true value of a precious limited resource?"

Another piece comes from John Upton, a free-lance journalist based in Oakland. He is a frequent contributor to Grist and has written for the New York Times, Reuters, Bay Citizen, San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly, 7x7 San Francisco and others. He notes the sterility of the "drowned wild land" that was a valley teeming with life and is now a reservoir lapping sheer cliff walls -- with life thriving just a mile beyond the reservoir. Voters will get to weigh in: 

San Francisco voters will decide in November whether the city's water agency will overhaul its water management practices, expand some reservoirs and draw on new sources of recycled water and local groundwater and rainwater. All with the goal of eventually draining and restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley without jeopardizing Bay Area water supplies.

Both writers note the irony of San Francisco Chronicle opposition to the proposal -- and Sacramento Bee support for it. Upton concludes that the dueling editorials "illustrate how dramatically things can change as you get farther from a reservoir."

March 28, 2012
Feinstein sees Hetch Hetchy in its natural state - in a painting

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Hope springs eternal. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, it appears, deeply appreciates Hetch Hetchy Valley in its natural state -- at least in a painting.

Behind the senator's desk is a painting of Hetch Hetchy Valley -- with beautiful trees and the Tuolumne River meandering through. No dam or reservoir. Communications Director Brian Weiss writes that, "Senator Feinstein is a fan of 19th century art, particularly paintings that depict California landscapes. She has also hung scenic paintings of Yosemite and San Francisco in the Washington office."

The painting is "The Hetch Hetchy Valley On The Tuolumne River, California" (1878) by Frank Henry Shapleigh, a Boston artist who was the first to paint the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Shapleigh had spent six weeks in Yosemite and met John Muir, who wrote about a July 1870 visit: "Oh, what a world is there! I passed, no, I lived another night there two weeks ago, entering as far within the veil amid equal glory, together with Mr. Frank Shapleigh of Boston. Mr. Shapleigh is an artist and I like him. He has been here six weeks, and has just left for home."

This is the same Sen. Feinstein who has written, "There is simply no feasible way to replace the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, return the valley to its original condition and still provide water to the Bay Area."

The Hetch Hetchy Valley, however, does not have to be a "lost" landscape, appreciated as one might appreciate a painting of the extinct Labrador Duck. Seven major studies since the 1980s have said Hetch Hetchy Valley could be restored without adversely impacting San Francisco's water supply.

It may be wishful thinking, but perhaps the painting behind the senator's desk might inspire a new Feinstein vision of what Hetch Hetchy Valley could be in the future -- with the reservoir drained and the river allowed to take up its winding path again.

February 7, 2012
No, pizza is not a vegetable, says USDA undersecretary

Pizz.jpgIs pizza a vegetable? Do American kids really need more potatoes? Should kids have access to high-sugar, high-salt foods in vending machines during the school day? Can teachers serve cupcakes for special school celebrations?

USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon addressed those thorny issues and more in a visit with The Bee's editorial board this morning.

He called the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed by Congress in December 2010, the "first major changes in decades" to the school lunch program and "one of the few constructive bills to 'Get out of Dodge'" after the November 2010 election. The national school lunch program serves 32 million children at 101,000 schools. Concannon sees the controversies, and concessions, in Congress -- over potatoes, pizza, sodium content -- as just a "small portion" of the overall program. He said the new guidelines "will succeed in spite of that." He saw those fights as showing that "moneyed interests can trump science and the interests of children."

The final rules for school lunches were unveiled on Jan. 25. For the first time, these rules affect not only foods in the lunch line, but all foods served during the school day -- vending machines and a la carte foods. Yes, parents can still bring in cupcakes for a special school-day celebration. No, parents and booster groups cannot sell hot dogs, potato chips and soda during the school day, but can hold sales after school. Yes, vending machines will either have to change what they sell or be unplugged during the school day if they serve high-sugar soda or high-salt, high-fat potato chips.

During the school day, all food on school grounds has to meet the new dietary guidelines -- fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk, reduced saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

But Concannon emphasized that schools will have to do things gradually so that kids actually eat the meals. Provide choices -- a pear or an apple, not just a whole apple. Start with whole-grain bread sticks before switching to whole-grain pizza crusts, etc.

Traditional food companies also will have to make adjustments -- for example, reformulating foods to reduce sodium content. And schools can get technical assistance to figure out how to do local purchasing of fresh, locally grown foods.

The changes will be phased-in over a three-year period, starting in fall 2012.

August 10, 2011
Reading Rack: John Muir's complexity

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir. By Donald Worster, Oxford University Press, 535 pages.
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John Muir, who is pictured on the California quarter along with Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, is well-known as an explorer and for his writings on and advocacy for national parks and wilderness. The cover of this book shows Muir as we imagine him - with long, flowing beard and walking stick in a wild place - but Worster quickly shows us that Muir was much more.

Worster places Muir in the important time period from just after the Civil War to the early twentieth century. He shows Muir as part of a generation that was exploring new ideas about the individual, nature, technology and economics.

Muir, a Scottish immigrant to the United States, was steeped in the poetry of Scottish poet Robert Burns ("indeed he was always with me," wrote Muir, "for I had him by heart...Wherever a Scotsman goes, there goes Burns") and the exploration narratives of Scottish explorer Mungo Park into the interior of Africa. From early in Muir's life, nature and exploration went together.

Muir also was an inventor of labor-saving machines from a self-setting sawmill that automated the sawing of logs into lumber to clocks to water wheels to automatic feeders for horses to an alarm-clock bed that dumped him upright on the ground. He was a botanist, who collected plants and sent them on to scientists; he has at least one plant named after him. Muir also was a largely self-taught scientist, who pioneered new understanding of mountain geology and glaciers. He was criticized at the time as "wrong" and an "ambitious amateur." But the amateur, it turns out, was right.

Muir's love of nature was scientific, artistic and spiritual. And that took him into politics - finding new ways for individuals to press their government into setting aside wild places for all citizens to enjoy. We take that for granted today, but Worster shows just how unique and hard-fought it all was and how one individual made his mark.

December 9, 2010
Another boost for California's high-speed rail project

Good news for California high-speed rail advocates.

crop[1].gifcrop[1].gifU.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that $1.195 billion in high-speed rail funds originally designated for Wisconsin and Ohio will be redirected to other states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors across the United States.

Wisconsin had stopped work on its high-speed rail project and newly elected governors in Wisconsin and Ohio have said they will reject federal high-speed rail money. Their deliberate misfortune is California's gain.

So, the $1.195 billion originally designated for Wisconsin and Ohio will now go to 14 other states. California gets the bulk, up to $624 million. California already had received more than $3 billion in money from the federal government for high-speed rail.

California voters in November 2008 approved a $10 billion bond for high-speed rail, a big reason why California has received more federal high-speed rail money than any other state.

October 29, 2010
Another school candidate goes partisan in nonpartisan race

A reader has pointed to yet another candidate who is making an explicit partisan appeal as the focus of an ad in a nonpartisan school board race: Teri Burns, a long-time incumbent on the Natomas Unified school board.

One side the mailer reads: DEMOCRAT in large letters that spread across the whole front. Then, "IT'S OFFICIAL: Teri Burns is the Democratic Party's Candidate."

The reverse side reads:

CALL TO ACTION

REPUBLICANS ARE TRYING

TO TAKE OVER THE SCHOOL

BOARD. Their agenda could

devastate essential programs.

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

knows a vote for Teri Burns

ensures our students and

teachers will be supported.

Burns, who was first elected to the board in 1986 and who has served as a former state deputy superintendent of public instruction should know that the California Constitution states that, "All judicial, school, county and city offices shall be nonpartisan" (California Constitution, Article II, Section 6a).

While political parties often send out ads touting their endorsements (and candidates post lists with all their endorsements, party and non-party, and identify their party registration discreetly), it is unusual for a candidate to make an explicitly partisan appeal the focus of an ad in a nonpartisan race.

Do voters really want their school board elections turning into partisan races -or should candidates at least attempt to abide by the spirit of nonpartisanship in the California Constitution?

The Bee's editorial board endorsed Burns for this race.  We are deeply disappointed that she has decided to rely on partisanship, rather than her record, to win a new term of office.

October 29, 2010
Woo's latest mailer makes nonpartisan race explicitly partisan

California's Constitution states that, ""All judicial, school, county and city offices shall be nonpartisan" (California Constitution, Article II, Section 6a).

Most candidates attempt to abide by this spirit of nonpartisanship even if they are registered and active in a particular party - and even if they are endorsed by a political party.

It is highly unusual for a candidate in a nonpartisan race to make a crass partisan pitch on his own behalf - turning a nonpartisan campaign into an explicitly partisan one.

Darrel Woo, running in the Pocket/Greenhaven area for the Sacramento City Unified school board has done just that. He sent out a mailer highlighting his affiliation as a "Registered Democrat" who is "Endorsed by the local Democratic Party." He lambasts one of his opponents as a "Registered Republican" who is "Endorsed by the local Republican Party."

Nonpartisan local elections were a legacy of California's progressives who didn't want party bosses dominating local offices. With his mailer, Woo has signaled that his party affiliation matters more than the nonpartisanship of the school board office, a bad sign.

***

Woo's latest mailer also uses this line to attack his opponent: "Has no children in our public schools." Neither does Woo. So what is this about? His opponent attended Joan Didion Elementary, Sam Brannan Middle and Kennedy High School (Class of 1992), so it's not about his knowledge of local public schools. His opponent also has been active for eight years in the Greenhaven Soccer Club, with 120 teams serving 1,400 kids. So it's not about his opponent's understanding of or working with kids. What point is Woo trying to make here?

***

This latest mailer reinforces earlier concerns The Bee's editorial board has expressed about Woo. See "Missing: Candidate sense of decency" (Oct. 22) and "For Sacramento schools -- Bell, Corso, Singh" (Oct. 13).

October 28, 2010
Inflated claim by Paul Smith, running for Congress vs Matsui

Challenger Paul Smith, running against incumbent Doris Matsui in the Congressional District 5 race, has sent out this message, titled "Bee Endorsement":

 

"Not only has my opponent not shown up in this election, the Sacramento Bee has refused to endorse her too! You'd expect the hometown incumbent to get the nod from the hometown newspaper!"

 

The reality: The Bee editorial board does not endorse in non-competitive races.

 

The Bee endorsed Matsui in the 2005 Special Election and the 2006 Election.

August 3, 2010
Grimes bows out; Woo enters race with Grimes' endorsement

Just days before candidate filings close, things have gotten interesting in the Sacramento City Unified Area 6 school board race (covering the Greenhaven/Pocket area, and including Kennedy High School, Sam Brannan Middle School and six elementary schools).

It's now a vacant seat. The district sent out a news release this afternoon, headlined: "SCUSD Board of Education Vice President Roy Grimes will not seek re-election." He is leaving to "pursue other interests including teaching graduate-level business courses and the ministry."

Less than an hour earlier, Darrel Woo, a former City of Sacramento planning commissioner, announced that he would run for the seat with Grimes' endorsement.

Woo is a Class of 1970 graduate of Kennedy High School and earned a law degree from Lincoln Law School in 1993. His daughter graduated from Kennedy High School in 2002.

He writes:

As the district heads in a new direction, I want to make sure the decisions being made are in the best interest of our children. I have "in the classroom" teaching experience and want to apply that knowledge when making decisions on the board. Teachers must have the resources they need to provide the best education for our children. At the same time, administrators must be held accountable for ensuring our teachers are prepared to provide a quality education.

In this now-vacant seat, two candidates have jumped in: Woo and Robert Bartron. (See the July 27 blog entry on him.)

Any other takers? Candidate filings close Friday.

July 30, 2010
Math Council supports Common Core; will State Board?

The California State Board of Education prepares to vote on replacing the state's existing academic standards for reading and math with the Common Core State Standards, organized by 48 governors and chief state school officers.

In a strong statement Friday, the California Mathematics Council (representing 10,000 teachers and parents) is supporting the Common Core math standards.

CMC president Sheri Willebrand writes that the current system, aimed toward building toward algebra for all in 8th grade, has "too many standards, lack of focus and coherence, and the lack of 8th grade standards for students not prepared to take algebra."

She continues:

Our standards may have been considered world class 15 years ago, however knowledge about mathematics instruction and how children learn has grown dramatically.

In a devastating critique of the current math standards, she notes that,

The longer students take math, the worse they do regardless of ethnicity.

In 2008-2009, 54 percent of all 8th graders took the Algebra California Standards Test (CST); only 44 percent of these students scored proficient or above.

Concurrently, 13 percent of 11th graders and 26 percent of 10th graders took the Algebra CST with only 8 percent and 11 percent of those students scoring proficient or above respectively.

The real issue is that you have to prepare students for Algebra I; you can't just dump them there and expect them to succeed - or have them repeat the course over and over, as Willebrand notes:

The current options do not address the fact that it is children of color, children of low income and children who do not speak English who experience limited access to or success in the gateway course for college and career success. Algebra 1 ad nauseam is not an option...Genuine equity unites words and actions in the development of a plan that assures our students emerge from the algebra class successful and ready to learn more mathematics.

Willebrand concludes:

The State Board of Education adoption of the Common Core State Standards is the next logical step towards improvement in mathematics education for our children. The California Mathematics Council stands ready to support all aspects of the implementation of the Common Core Standards.

On Monday, we'll find out whether the naysayers or those favoring the Common Core prevail with the State Board of Education.

July 27, 2010
A challenger steps up in Sac City Unified versus Roy Grimes

For a while it looked like no candidate would step forward to challenge Roy Grimes in the Area 6 seat (covering the Pocket area, and including Kennedy High School, Sam Brannan Middle School and six elementary schools) for the Sacramento City Unified school board. We took note of this in a June 25 editorial.

But a few days before the Aug. 6 filing deadline, one candidate has stepped forward to challenge incumbent Roy Grimes.

Robert Bartron describes himself as a non-politician who is putting his name on the ballot. He doesn't yet have a campaign organization behind him.

He retired on June 30 as recruitment manager for the California Troops to Teachers Program. He also served as director of recruitment for SEARCH California, helping engineers, scientists and technicians who are leaving industry to enter the classroom as math and science teachers.

He attended John Sloat and Freeport Elementary schools and then Goethe Junior High (now Rosa Parks Middle School.) He graduated from Kennedy High School, Class of 1969, and from the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1973.

A Navy pilot and director of Navy officer recruiting, he served in the military for 25 years, retiring as a U.S. Navy Commander in 1995. He turned to higher education, serving as director of corporate relations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, the nation's oldest technological university. He was Director of the Albany, New York, branch of the ITT Technical Institute, a two-year proprietary school.

He returned to Sacramento in 2002, where he took up recruiting for the Troops to Teachers program.

His wife, the former Mary Renfree, also is a Kennedy High School grad. She's been a teacher for more than 25 years, currently working as the head of tutoring programs and a reading specialist for Mercy Education Resource Center.

In his blog, Bartron states why he is running:

I am running because I feel we should have a choice when selecting our representative from the Pocket area. The incumbent has been on school boards for 28 years (20 years on the Sacramento County school board and the past 8 years on the Sacramento City Unified school board.) During this time our schools and students have declined in performance. I feel we must make a change if we do not want to continue this decline.

Bartron says he's focused on issues of teacher performance, but believes test scores should not be the measure of accountability.

Nine more days to go before candidate filings close...The more school board candidates, the merrier.

July 19, 2010
UC Davis Chancellor cautious regarding online degrees

The editorial board met with University of California, Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi this afternoon in a wide-ranging recap of her first year on campus.

Last year, she spoke to the board about the challenges of fulfilling the public mission of the university in an era of reduced state funding. "That mission," she said, "has been compromised by the inability to fund it. ... The struggle is to keep quality in place and to keep it affordable."

That challenge remains.

Katehi.jpgOn Monday, she handed out a pie chart showing that only 21 percent of UC Davis operating funds came from the state in 2008-09. Public universities that once were publicly funded and free to students, she said, now "are only partially supported by the state...but the mission remains the same: access to excellence."

The more the state cuts, she acknowledged, the more pressure there is to raise funds from other sources. She, herself, spends at least one day a week fundraising out of the office.

She responded to a question on action last week by the University of California Board of Regents and UC President Mark Yudof endorsing the idea of developing a fully online undergraduate degree, which UC Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley had said would make a UC degree "available to people in Kentucky and Kuala Lumpur."

Chancellor Katehi made it clear she does not support the idea of "an education without placing a foot on campus." But she could support a "hybrid model" with parts of a course online and part in the classroom, which she believes allows more students to have access to courses.

She thought there may be some areas where students could do a full degree online, "but not a bachelor's degree." She said that UC Davis "will be cautious" and "will not be the first" in pursing online degrees. She said UC Davis would look at a hybrid model.

The editorial board will explore some of the chancellor's other ideas in future editorials. Stay tuned.

June 30, 2010
Stealth cuts in war bill would gut education innovation reforms

Pelosi.jpgThe chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, (Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis.) wants to prevent massive teacher layoffs across the country.

The goal is fine. The means stink.

He has attached a $10 billion "education jobs fund" -- to help local school districts avoid teacher layoffs when schools reopen -- to a funding bill for the troop surge in Afghanistan.

But that's not the worst part. In his effort to find the money to save teaching jobs, Congressman Obey has proposed gutting the "Race to the Top" fund and other education innovation programs that are top priorities for the Obama administration.

Buried in a 110-page amendment that is mostly about oil and energy, are three "rescissions" on pages 64-65:

 -- $500 million from the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund;

-- $100 million from innovation and improvement grants that aim to replicate or expand high-quality charter schools with demonstrated records of success

-- $200 million from the teacher incentive fund, which encourages performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools.

In doing this, Obey has pitted jobs against reform in education, a wrong approach. This country needs both.

As Education Department spokesman Peter Cunningham told Education Week today, "If Congress is determined to find offsets, we will help them do that, but these are not the right ones."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to act directly to get these stealth cuts out of Obey's amendment.

June 30, 2010
Who's running against Ellyne Bell? Meet Paige Helen Powell

A June 25 editorial encouraged candidates to step forward to run in the so-far uncontested Area 6 race (covering the Pocket area, and including Kennedy High School, Sam Brannan Middle School and six elementary schools) in the Sacramento City Unified school district.

Since then, people have asked who is running in Area 1, the downtown district, against incumbent Ellyne Bell.

The candidate is Paige Helen Powell, who has lived in Land Park for seven years. Her husband is a McClatchy High graduate. Her sons went to McClatchy High and New Tech High. She's a graduate of Sacramento State University.

For the past 12 years, she has been an English teacher at Roseville High, where she's been recognized as a Placer County "Teacher Who Makes a Difference," received a commendation from the City of Roseville and received a district Award of Excellence.

She says she's running for the school board to:

Put the focus back where it belongs, the kids and education. An observer of board meetings will hear a lot of discussion about adults but very little about students. Too many of our students are failing to achieve at the level necessary to be productive, happy, functioning members of society, and I don't see the necessary alarm that this failure should generate from the current board. This board has spent a lot of time in workshops and meetings talking about how they should govern themselves. We need board members who care more about our kids."

She continues:

"I'm running for the board because we need board members who are deeply alarmed by the precarious financial situation of this district. My opponent has been on this board for almost four years, and it has taken recent grand jury reports and a media spotlight to get a hint of action."

She observes that she has "experience from two different sides of education, a parent and a teacher...The board needs this unique perspective."

This should be an interesting contest.

May 27, 2010
With no Palin CSU contract to view, guesswork continues

We're no closer today in knowing what's in Sarah Palin's contract to speak June 25 at California State University, Stanislaus than when students reported finding pages in a campus Dumpster in mid-April.

Thumbnail image for Palin Tea Party.jpgA SacBee headline of May 25 reads, "Blogger says Palin will get $75,000 for Turlock speech" (Page A4).

It's all speculation, however, without official university release of the contract.

That makes ideas in "The Onion," the satirical newspaper that bills itself as "America's Finest News Source," as good as any. Here are a few from the list:

hotel room must have a "moose couture" styling to it;

extra red clothing just in case something happens to her other red clothing;

one baby delivered to her dressing area no less than two hours prior to her speech.

Hey, what do you expect when California's public colleges and universities allow speakers to get away with confidential contracts?

May 26, 2010
Here comes Sacramento's boycott of Arizona

At Tuesday's Sacramento City Council meeting, six members voiced strong support for a boycott of Arizona (Mayor Kevin Johnson, Rob Fong, Sandy Sheedy, Lauren Hammond, Bonnie Pannell and Kevin McCarty).  Two opposed the Arizona law, but have some doubts about a boycott (Ray Trethaway and Steve Cohn). Robbie Waters was not present. Staff will bring back a resolution within a week or two for a vote.

Here's what they said:

 

JV MAYOR JOHNSON 03.JPGMayor Kevin Johnson:

I believe that this is a human rights issue and civil rights are at stake here. This is very personal to me. I was lucky enough to live in Arizona for 12 years. I have a lot of friends who still live there and are being impacted by this...In 1988, I was part of a very unique circumstance when a governor ran to repeal the Martin Luther King Day holiday. Ran to take it back. Frankly, I thought it was un-American. And I think this law in Arizona now is un-American. I oppose this law. ...I personally support a boycott.

Council member Rob Fong:

This country, as great as it is, isn't perfect. Sometimes under color of law we have done wrong things. When I am asked, or hear the criticism, why would you agendize this or, given the city's budget deficit, spend any time weighing in on this issue, I say, I am not willing to wait decades for wrongs to be addressed in the court system... If enough voices are heard, we can get the law repealed in Arizona.

May 26, 2010
You bet, lots of Sacramento folks support a boycott of Arizona

Of the hundreds who turned out to Tuesday's Sacramento City Council meeting, most spoke up against Arizona's SB1070 and in favor of a boycott.  In a previous post, I sampled comments supporting Arizona's law and opposing a boycott. Here are four supporters urging the city council to boycott Arizona.

Lucy Garcia Robles:

I was a year old when my parents left, and three-years-old when they brought me to the United States. I was crossed over the border, without my consent, to come back with my parents. My father worked in Woodland picking food to put on our table and my mother mopping the floors of a hospital. Until age 16, I was not aware what the word "undocumented" meant. It wasn't until 1988, after the United States granted amnesty, that I traveled to Mexico for the first time in my life. I had never been to that country where I was born.

I went to the U.S. Embassy. The immigration officer asked me: "Lucy, why is important that you become a U.S. citizen?"

My teen mind answered: "It is so important to me that I missed my prom to be here." Not only did I want to be a citizen to be an American teen, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities this country offers and to become the best I can be.

I am a mother of three, wife to a deputy sheriff, an entrepreneur who pays taxes. I'm an active member of the community. Most importantly, I am the daughter of a farmworker and a woman who once mopped floors. They now own their own facility caring for the elderly of this country. I ask you to condemn the Arizona law and boycott Arizona now.

Melinda Guzman:

I'm an American citizen. I have rights in every state of the United States. Opposition to the Arizona law is not about protecting illegal immigrants. It's about protecting every member, every citizen, every person within our boundaries. When I go to the state of Arizona in 2010 in July, I must carry my passport. I'm blond; I have blue eyes (green eyes, some days of the week). My sister who's darker than I am, if we both run a red light, she's more likely to be asked for her passport than I am. We urge this council: We do not want our taxpayer dollars to be used in any way, shape or form to defend, uphold or implement that law...As a resident of California, I would have to show my passport not only at the international border, but in the state of Arizona. Please do the right thing and boycott Arizona.

Linda Ng:

As a community of immigrants, we have historically suffered from harsh discriminatory policies based on perceived ethnic heritage. Implementation of the Arizona law will have a negative impact on all communities of color and immigrants, including those who are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents by fueling discrimination and undermining trust between immigrants and law enforcement. Capital and OCA, organizations representing Asian Pacific Americans, stand in solidarity not only with our Sacramento community colleagues but also our colleagues across the nation to support a boycott of the state of Arizona.

Julius Cherry (former Sacramento Metro fire chief):

I support the boycott...What if Dr. King had said, "This job is too hard." What if the people boycotting in Birmingham or Montgomery would have said, "You know, African-Americans are going to be hurt by this boycott; they won't be able to get to work." Instead, they pulled together. They car-pooled, walked and biked. And many well-thinking white people picked them up and gave them rides...The way you kill the throat of the tiger is economically.

May 26, 2010
Hell, yes, to Arizona's SB1070; hell, no, to a Sacramento boycott

Hundreds of people turned out in force at Tuesday's Sacramento City Council meeting to weigh in on Arizona's new law requiring police to check the immigration status of people if they have "reasonable suspicion" that they may be in the country illegally.  They also weighed in on whether the city should boycott Arizona until the law is repealed. Both sides were well-represented, though the pro-boycott side had many more supporters and speakers.

Here is a flavor of the comments for the law, against a boycott:

Dan Stark:

We would feel a lot different if we saw signs in English. These signs are in Spanish. That means they don't really want to speak English...One lady in here is wearing a Che Guevara shirt. That is a communist gentleman. That's an anti-American shirt. If you want to be an American, you shouldn't want to wear those shirts. I just wish everyone came here legally. By opposing the Arizona law, really, what you're doing is opposing legal immigration.

Jim Ricketts:

If you're here legally or if you're a law-abiding American citizen, you should have no problem. If you're here illegally - goodby, so long, "hasta la vista, baby." We don't need you here because you don't respect our laws. What this city council is seeking to do is economic damage to people who are just trying to save their own city, their own state.

The next post will sample the pro-boycott side.

May 21, 2010
Steinberg's call to action

 

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has come to leadership in the largest state in the union during a time that, as he told McGeorge law graduates on May 15, challenges representative democracy, our ability to protect the vulnerable, beliefs in the efficacy of government itself.

He believes we have careened into a period of "false theology" of absolutely certainty that changes public debate to, "I am good and you are bad." Yet he remains an idealist at heart:

"Despite all the difficulties, divisions, and distrust, I decided to embrace our collective human frailty, our flawed system, and our unrelenting desire to be better" -- and he urged the law graduates to do the same.

Difficult times tend to bring out the worst in people, and the best. It is heartening to see a political leader who in his public rhetoric appeals to progress over stalemate and larger public goods over narrow self-interest.

But, as Steinberg well knows, appeals to timeless ideals only get you so far. In paradigm-shifting times, hard-headed realism and a willingness to challenge the orthodoxies of one's own soulmates are key challenges of leadership, too -- and will be the test of his leadership in the California Senate.

January 6, 2010
Lynch mob or seekers of school equity?

Lawmakers at 3:30 p.m. took the final steps to pass and send to the governor two education bills to make California competitive for President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" funds.

One bill has a revolutionary new provision allowing parents to petition school boards to turn around a failing school. These boards then would have to implement one of four aggressive strategies by the next school year -- including closing the school, turning it into a charter school or reconstituting the school.

Unfortunately, the California Federation of Teachers has chosen to label this parent trigger as the "lynch mob provision."

This led one observer in the Capitol to wonder, "Is it racist or just flat out ignorance that the CFT thinks of parents, largely Latino and African-American parents, as a lynch mob?"

And now, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network founded in New York City in 1991 by Rev. Al Sharpton, has called for an "immediate and public apology":

For teachers to refer to parents' desire to assist in the education reform process as a "Lynch Mob provision" is extremely divisive, repulsive, and horrifying, said Pastor K.W. Tulloss, president of Los Angeles National Action Network. Teachers using belittling language when referencing African-American and Latino parents is not accepted from people that teach our children. This debate must be about ideas, not twisting and abusing racially charged language. We're saddened that an organization that represents so many teachers of higher learning would use such an inappropriate name when referring to parents. This is an historic day for parents in California. We demand a public apology from CFT.

The letter is signed by nine religious and civic leaders: Rev. K.W. Tulloss, National Action Network Los Angeles; Pastor Max Rodriguez, Weller Street MBC; Pastor Bill Hemphill, Concord Community Church; Pastor Torrey Collins, St. Rest Baptist Church; Pastor Al Johnson, True Samaritan Church; Pastor Fredrick Howard, South Side Bethel Family of Purpose Church; Melvin Snell, Los Angeles Humanity Foundation; Pastor Nathaniel Haley, United Christian Baptist Church; Pastor John Navarro, Praise Chapel, Boyle Heights.

Parents are tired of having their kids stuck in failing neighborhood schools and they deserve to have real recourse, as the newly passed bill gives them. These long-suffering parents certainly do not deserve the abuse that has just been heaped upon them (we can all hope in error) by the CFT.

January 5, 2010
Legislators head toward finish line in Race to the Top bills

After months of haggling, the Assembly finally has gotten to the final stages in moving "Race to the Top" education legislation.

The Democrats took out two parts that were controversial for some members, and placed them in a separate bill, SB X5 4: 1. allowing students in low-performing schools to "open enroll" in higher performing schools; and, 2. allowing parents to petition to require school boards to implement an aggressive turnaround strategy for a failing school. Both are essential to put real pressure on underperforming schools and give students real options for a better education.

In the Assembly Education Committee, this separate bill passed 11-4 with Assembly members Julia Brownley, D-Woodland Hills; Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Wesley Chesbro, D-Santa Rosa; and Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez, voting no. Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, abstained, continuing a disturbing pattern of abdication of her duty as a legislator. Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, didn't vote.

The main bill, SB X5 1, on turning around the lowest performing schools; using data to evaluate teachers and principals; and linking preschool to K-12 to college to work force data passed 11-2. Ammiano and Torlakson voted no. Buchanan and Jeff Miller, D-Mission Viejo, abstained. Chesbro and Dan Logue, D-Chico, didn't vote.

Significantly, Speaker-elect John Perez voted yes on both bills.

The bills are being heard right now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Then it's on to Assembly floor.

Wednesday is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's State of the State address at 10 a.m.

Assuming the Assembly passes the bills today, the Senate Education Committee will meet at 9 a.m. to deal with them. Then the Senate Appropriations Committee will meet. Then the bills go to the Senate floor. Can all this happen before the governor's 10 a.m. speech? Senators are supposed to meet at 9:45 a.m. in the Senate Chamber to proceed over to the Assembly for the 10 a.m. speech, so we'll see. It would be a nice gift to get this done.

It has been a long haul on this since July.

January 4, 2010
Will decline of Thomas empire affect Sacramento Railyards?

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a fascinating news feature on the man behind Thomas Enterprises, the current developer in Sacramento's Railyards project: "Stan Thomas: An Atlanta developer with outsized dreams faces outsized debts" (Dec. 18). As the story recounts, his projects are in bankruptcy, he hasn't paid partners and vendors.

Last month, the wave crashed over Thomas. On Nov. 2, Thomas -- a longtime shopping center developer whose success led him into ever-larger ventures -- put three major projects into bankruptcy protection. He also narrowly averted foreclosure on The Forum Peachtree Parkway in Norcross, one of his signature retail developments.

A stake in the London property is up for sale, and about a dozen other projects, including those in Sarasota and Orlando, are virtually dead, he said Friday, until he can find new financing. Former business partners and vendors have sued Thomas for nonpayment and filed dozens of liens against him.

...

While Americans loaded up on easy mortgage and credit card debt earlier this decade, Thomas and developers like him took on debt of astounding proportions.

Wachovia Bank, his main lender and now a primary creditor in the bankruptcy cases, treated him as a "tier one" customer, Thomas said.

One jumbo loan Thomas personally guaranteed was for $125 million on The Rim, a 2 million square foot destination shopping center in San Antonio. He owes $63 million on Prospect Park, a speculative retail development that was supposed to attract luxury retailers to Alpharetta. Today it consists of a half-built parking deck.

Both of those projects, along with another in Smyrna, are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

...

In recent years, Thomas had graduated to mega-developments. The Rim, in San Antonio, was envisioned as a destination retail-residential center with a Bass Pro Shops and a future phase bringing several hotels and luxury condos.

Long used to spending his days arranging financing, flying lawyers and brokers to his properties in his private planes and schmoozing tenants, Thomas now deals with bankruptcy lawyers and tries to hold together what remains of his empire.

What does all this mean for Sacramento? Work on the Sacramento Railyards project has begun largely because of large injections of public money for basic infrastructure - such as building roads. A key railroad track relocation agreement has been signed. But Thomas continues to delay in signing key agreements that are needed before any work can begin on the seven historic Central Shops buildings as a public marketplace, a new Railroad Technology Museum and other cultural/entertainment venues. Thomas still has not signed on to a key land swap involving 25 acres in the northern part of the 244- acre site (where Thomas originally planned to place a Bass Pro shop).

Who truly is calling the shots? The developer?  Or the developer's lenders? Sacramento probably will find out soon enough whether Thomas can still deliver.

April 29, 2009
Moving up? Roy Grimes looks to higher office

Roy Grimes, currently president of the Sacramento City Unified school board, has political ambitions.

Capitol Morning Report today reports that Grimes has formed a committee to explore a run for an important statewide office -- Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Jack O'Connell is termed out and Grimes, apparently, wants to replace him.

Doesn't Grimes have his hands full with still-unresolved local school issues that require a full measure of concentration and effort?

What in Grimes' record indicates that he's material for statewide office?  Send along your thoughts.

March 24, 2009
CA congressional delegation sizzles even as state Leg fizzles

California's economy may be down and out and state legislators may struggle to pass a budget, but the state is still tops in political power in the nation's capitol.

 

No other state comes close to California in congressional power, according to Roll Call newspaper's latest rankings: "Hill Clout: California is Still Golden"

 

California ranks No. 1 by far:

 

The Golden State boasts the Speaker and two Senate committee chairmen (and they're all women), as well as the chairmen of the House Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, Foreign Affairs and Veterans' Affairs committees. Lots and lots of people in the state. And lots and lots of Democrats in the House delegation -- more Democrats, in fact, than any other state has Members. The Big Enchilada. 'Nuff said.

 

Roll Call gives points to each state based on several factors, including: size of the delegation; number of full committee chairmen and ranking members; number of Members on the most influential committees; top leadership posts; number of Members in the majority party; per capita federal spending received; seniority; and, power rating of the opponents.

 

California received 1,343 points; the next state received only 775.
March 24, 2009
What to do with two Sac City Unified middle schools?

From my emails, phone calls and the crowds that show up at Sacramento City Unified school district board meetings, I can see that one proposal is causing the most conversation:

Interim Superintendent Susan Miller's idea for two Grade 7-8 schools that are 27 blocks apart (2 miles).  She wants the school board to "consider alternative program delivery model" for Kit Carson Middle and Sutter Middle: "one school program, 1 leadership focus, blending of staff."

Much of the consternation has been because of the utter lack of detail.  What, exactly, does Miller mean by this proposal?  The Editorial Board of the Sacramento Bee does yet not have a position on this proposal, nor do I as an individual.  We need much more detail -- and so does the public.

But I'd like to raise some issues.

The main problem to be addressed seems to be Kit Carson.  The building has a capacity for 1,256 students.  It peaked out at 728 students in 2003-04 and has been declining precipitously since then.  This year it has enrollment of 478 -- and that is expected to drop again next year.  It had been in Year 4 of Program Improvement (one year away from drastic action) in 2005, but exited in 2006; unfortunately, this year, it's back in Program Improvement status, not a good place to be.

If you close that school, then you have to figure out what to do with 400 to 450 students.

   

If you keep it open, you have to find new ways to attract students -- i.e., you have to put a successful program in there.

 

Interim Superintendent Miller believes, apparently, that the Sutter program can be replicated -- not by creating a whole new program from scratch, but by utilizing the leadership and staff that have made that program successful.  Why do Sutter parents think that's not possible? 

 

Could the existing Sutter campus do more with students if it had two smaller campuses of 800 students?  Why is working with 1,200 students in one building better than working with 800 students in two buildings?  Recall that Sutter had 800 students only a decade ago.  It is only since the 2001 school year that the school has had 1,200 or more students.  Is 1,200-plus really the right size for that school?  Why wouldn't you want to go smaller? 

 

Expanding Sutter's program to include Kit Carson (even if in 2 separate buildings that are 2 miles apart, 27 blocks) could benefit Sutter -- because it would create smaller class sizes.

   

For example, Sutter has 61 teachers for 1,294 students (an average of 21 students per teacher).  Kit Carson has 28 teachers for 478 students (an average of 17 students per teacher, and is expected to decline again next year).

 

If you do as Miller suggests, limiting enrollment at the two schools combined at 1,600, then you could have smaller classes. You could have, say, 42 teachers at each school working with 800 students (an average of 19 students per teacher).  Why wouldn't that be a good thing?

 

Anyway, it seems that between declining enrollments and budget difficulties, this is a time to get creative. If not Miller's solution for Kit Carson and Sutter, then what other solutions? Send in your ideas.     
March 19, 2009
Private emails or public records in Mayor Kevin Johnson's office?

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday celebrated California's "Sunshine Week: Your Week to Know."

But they didn't just celebrate.  They took an important action.  In setting a new policy to handle private-sector volunteer/consultants acting as de facto employees in the mayor's office, the council established a new public records policy.

Here's an example: A volunteer/consultant acting as Mayor Kevin Johnson's public information officer, Steven Maviglio, used to send out emails regarding city business on a private yahoo.com account.

The new policy requires professional volunteer/consultants such as Maviglio "to have and always use City email addresses when communicating about City business."  That policy took effect immediately, on Tuesday, so we look forward to communicating with Maviglio on his new city email account.

Further, the California Public Records Act is unclear about whether the emails, text messages, voicemails and other writings produced on non-City equipment and property are public records.  Well, Sacramento's new policy explicitly states that any writings that would be city public records if produced by city employees or consultants would be public records if produced by the new professional volunteer/consultants.  Amen to that.

So the sun shines a little brighter in Sacramento.

Update:  Steven Maviglio has requested that the private yahoo.com email account that he had been using to conduct city business (and that I had included in an earlier version of this posting) not be made public, so I've taken it down.  However, Maviglio writes (from his private account) that, "I dont have an official city account yet."  So how should members of the public who want to contact the mayor's public information officer by email do so?  What email address should they use? 

Update2: As a test of his commitment to transparency during this Sunshine Week, Mayor Johnson should come out and say whether the public should be able to communicate by email with his public information officer. It is odd, to say the least, that the public currently cannot contact by email the "public" information officer who does most of his communications by email.  

March 3, 2009
New study: California has out of whack home price/income ratio

The foreclosure crisis is a California crisis -- along with a few other states. A new study out of the University of Virginia, "Foreclosures in States and Metropolitan areas: Patterns, Forecasts, and Pricing Toxic Assets," shows that clearly:

 

In 2008, California had only 10 percent of the nation's housing units, but it had 34 percent of foreclosures.

California was vulnerable to foreclosures because it had, by far, the highest ratio of housing value to median income in the country.  The median value of owner-occupied housing in 2007 was 8.3 times the median family income ($535,700/$64,563).  The next highest was Nevada at 5.1. 

 

In 2000, the median housing value in California was 4 times the median family income.  That's still high (the ratio should be about 3).

 

The worst is still to come: The study estimates that "66 percent of potential housing value losses in 2008 and subsequent years may be in California, with another 21 percent in Florida, Nevada and Arizona, for a total of 87 percent of national declines."

 

The big question:  As the economy recovers, will developers build and price houses for the income profile of the state?  Or will they continue to build houses that require people to spend more than a third of their monthly income on housing? 
February 25, 2009
Inspiring kids the Obama way

Here's an idea for a three-and-a-half minute video to show in U.S. classrooms.

 

Combine three segments of President Obama's 54-minute Address to Congress.

 

1. Where he explained why Americans need more than a high school diploma (30:46 to 31:50):

 

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a prerequisite.  Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.  And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education.  We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation.  And half of the students who begin college never finish.  This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know that countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.  That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

 

2. Where he made a ringing call to every kid in the nation to stay in school as a matter of self-respect and patriotic duty (33:25 to 33:44):

 

Every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.  And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American.

 

  1. Where he highlighted the can-do spirit of a young student from South Carolina (49:41 to 51:56):

 

And I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

This president can do much to use the bully pulpit to reach kids and inspire them to achieve their potential for themselves and for their country. And schools can take advantage of it when he does.
February 24, 2009
Gov. Schwarzenegger rakes in DC money

At the National Governor's Association meeting over the weekend, it did not go unnoticed that Gov. Schwarzenegger skipped the Republican Governors Association dinner on Saturday and did no fundraising for the RGA's annual fundraising gala on Monday.

But, according to Al Kamen's "In the Loop" column in the Washington Post, Schwarzenegger was active in fundraising for upcoming California ballot measures at a K St luncheon:

For a mere $25,000, you and a guest can join Schwarzenegger at the head table and take photographs with the governor. For $10,000, you'll get "preferred seating" and photos. For bargain hunters, a single luncheon ticket and photo opportunity is only $2,500. The funds go toward Schwarzenegger's California Dream Team, his political action committee that supports state ballot initiatives.

Schwarzenegger also made the rounds of TV talk shows, weighing in on whether states should take money from the just-passed stimulus package (some Republican governors are threatening to reject the money). On ABC's "This Week," Schwarzenegger said: "Well, Governor Sanford (of South Carolina) says that he does not want to take the money, the federal stimulus package money. And I want to say to him: I'll take it. I'm more than happy to take his money, or any other governor in this country that doesn't want to take this money, I'll take it, because we in California need it."

February 17, 2009
A Republican legislative hero

I live in Capitol Villas downtown and heard a huge crash Monday night.  It sounded like a truck hitting a concrete wall at full speed. A little later, I heard two explosions. Then I heard a woman screaming, "My truck. My truck's been hit."

My husband and I came out and saw a smashed car that had hit a pickup truck parked on N Street, between 5th and 7th. The car must have been traveling at some incredible speed. It turns out that freshman Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, pulled two people from the car. As reported in Capitol Weekly, Hagman lives nearby, heard the crash and went down:

"Hagman helped the male driver and his female passenger from the car. The driver immediately ran off, and the woman was found later to have a blood-alcohol level of .33, Hagman said, about four times the legal limit for a driver in California. The car exploded after the occupants made it to safety. The parked pickup also blew up." 

All in a day's legislative work.  Hagman showed Monday night that he's not inclined to be a bystander. Now he just needs to help pull the state from its current wreckage -- and do the hard task of voting for a package with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

February 12, 2009
A smaller Sacramento Planning Commission with fewer duties?

At its 5:30 p.m. meeting today, the Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the following proposal presented to Mayor Kevin Johnson by the Development Oversight Commission and "customers" of the city's development hearing process:

--Reduce the existing Planning Commission from nine members to seven members.

--As part of this, the 7-member Design Commission would be eliminated and merged into the new 7-member Planning Commission.

--Move the majority of project decisions to the staff level. Use the planning commission only for "complex projects" (undefined) and appeals.

Key questions:

1. Have planning commissions in other large urban areas moved in this direction?

2. How would this change impact the role of the planning commission as a watchdog on the planning process and on the city planning department?

3. How would this change impact the role of the planning commission in considering public viewpoints on planning proposals?

See the Planning Commission agenda, including the proposal letter, here.

February 11, 2009
What to do about California's overcrowded prisons?

Update:  Click here to listen to the Insight segment on prison overcrowding.

I'll be appearing at 2 p.m. today on Capitol Public Radio's "Insight" show (90.9 FM) with host Jeffrey Callison and other guests to talk about the Monday federal court tentative court ruling that would limit California's prison population to 120 percent to 145 percent of capacity.  Today, the prisons are near 200 percent of capacity.

See photos of overcrowding from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation here

If the ruling becomes final, California would have to reduce its prison population from 158,000 today to something between 101,000 and 122,000.

That means that over the next three to four years, the state would have to find alternatives for 35,000 to 56,000 prisoners.

The judges did not propose a one-time release of prisoners.  But they did propose several options to reduce prison population that would also save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. 

This seems like a win-win situation for the state:  reduce prison population and save a ton of money during a dire budget crisis.

What do you think?

You can read the view of The Bee's editorial board on the issue here.

 

January 28, 2009
Jerry Brown: More delay on dealing with aging, sick prisoners

In a Sunday editorial, "Brown blocks the way on prison health," the SacBee editorial board posed a question to Attorney General Jerry Brown and other California officials: "If you don't like [Federal Prison Health Receiver J. Clark] Kelso's plan or don't want a federal court-imposed solution, where's your plan?

Well, now Brown has a plan.  Sort of.

He has filed a motion in federal district court in San Francisco to end the federal takeover of California's prison health system. He wants the court to return the prison health care system to the state and simply appoint a Special Master to evaluate the state's compliance with federal constitutional standards. Blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that. 

Brown also wants the court to terminate the receiver's proposed plan to construct facilities to house 10,000 chronically ill, physically impaired, feeble prisoners.

Surely, Brown must know that U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson only took the drastic step of putting the federal receivership in place precisely because the state was making no progress on its own.

Does Brown really believe that Judge Henderson would clip the wings of the only entity that has a 3-4 year plan -- and deadlines for a return to the state -- only to replace it  with a Special Master with little authority to achieve results? This would drag things out for another 10, 15 or 20 more years. 

 The fact is, neither the Attorney General nor the Governor's Office has been willing to sit down with J. Clark Kelso, the federally appointed receiver, to figure out ways to reduce prison medical care construction costs or provide an alternative that reduces the population of older, chronically ill, physically impaired, feeble prisoners.

 

 Now that might get us somewhere, unlike this latest delaying tactic.
January 28, 2009
A new tune on taxes for Republicans

Bruce Bartlett, a well known advocate of "supply-side economics" and domestic policy adviser to President Reagan, has some trenchant advice for Republicans on taxes.  Though his remarks are addressed to Republicans in Congress, what he says is even more appropriate to Republican lawmakers in the California Legislature.

 

Bartlett's whole piece, written for Politico, is worth reading.  But here's a snippet:

 

There is simply no appetite for big spending cuts or the radical restructuring of programs that benefit a huge percentage of Americans, especially when there has been a severe downturn in the stock market that has wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement savings. 

Historically, Republicans have come back from electoral losses by accepting the fact that Americans mostly like government spending. Rather than make a futile effort to take away something most voters want, Republicans have instead worked to make the welfare state function efficiently, target benefits to those that play by society's rules and finance those benefits without additional debt. ...

 

I think conservatives would better spend their diminished political capital figuring out how to finance the welfare state at the least cost to the economy and individual liberty, rather than fighting a losing battle to slash popular spending programs. But this will require them to accept the necessity of higher revenues. ...

If conservatives refuse to participate in the debate over how revenues will be raised, then liberals will do it on their own, which will likely give us much higher tax rates and a tax system that is more harmful to growth than necessary to fund the government. Instead of opposing any tax hike, I think it makes more sense for conservatives to figure out how best to raise the additional revenue that will be raised in any event. ...

 Are California Republicans listening?

January 23, 2009
What you don't know about Obama

The guy can speak Bahasa Indonesian.

 

This came out during his appearance Thursday at the State Department.  After giving a speech on the Middle East and challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he worked the assembled crowd of diplomats.  Charles Silver, who had served in Indonesia, shouted "Good afternoon" in Bahasa Indonesian. Obama, not skipping a beat, responded in Bahasa Indonesian. The two then had a short conversation in English about the neigborhood where Obama lived in Jakarta.

 

Obama, you'll recall, lived in Indonesia from 1967 to 1971 (until the age of 10).

 

These language skills surely are a plus.

 

Indonesia, little known or understood in the United States, is the world's 4th most populous nation, with the world's largest Muslim population (more than all the Middle East Arab nations combined). It is strategically located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  It is a front-line nation in confronting terrorism.

                       

Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia. Perhaps Californians, sharing a Pacific Ocean link, can capitalize on the new attention to Obama to drum up business with this pivotal nation. Hey, use every advantage you've got.

Watch the exchange here.

January 20, 2009
Di Fi sets tone for Obama inauguration festivities

Californians can be proud. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who led the inaugural committee, opened Tuesday's ceremonies with a wonderful two-and-a-half-minute speech (Watch it below):

Welcome to the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America. (applause)  The world is watching today as our great democracy engages in this peaceful transition of power.  Here on the National Mall, where we remember the Founders of our nation and those who fought to make it free, we gather to etch another line in the solid stone of history. The freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty. In a world where political strife is too often settled with violence, we come here every four years to bestow the power of the presidency upon our democratically elected leader. Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and equality, like the one that made this day possible. No triumph tainted by brutality could ever match the sweet victory of this hour and what it means to those who marched and died to make it a reality. Our work is not yet finished, but future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation. (applause) They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House. (applause) In that spirit, we today not only inaugurate a new administration, we pledge ourselves to the hope, the vision, the unity and the renewed call to greatness inspired by the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. (applause) Thank you and God bless America.

 

 

January 15, 2009
Mayor Kevin Johnson after 44 days...

Sacramento's new mayor met with the editorial board Thursday afternoon.  His impatience with business as usual stands out.

  Thumbnail image for JV JOHNSON TEAM 02.JPGPrime example: With the city experiencing declining revenues in the current budget year (requiring mid-year cuts) and looking at a deficit of $45 million to $50 million in 2009-2010, Johnson proposed bringing in a national firm to do an independent review immediately. "This was a no-brainer in my mind," he said.  "We are in desperate times here."  An outside audit would have provided "extra eyes and ears" to look for savings.

The council defeated it on Tuesday, Johnson's first major defeat. He explained why he chose not to pursue a bid process - the need was urgent to garner any savings during the mid-year cutting process and the 2009-2010 budget process (with March 15 decisions). A bid process of six to eight weeks would be too late - helping only for future years. City staff, he noted, recommended the proposal.   The defeat, he said, means that Sacramento won't have an audit to help with mid-year cuts or the 2009-2010 budget.

He minced no words, believing that Tuesday's council vote signals that "The Old Guard is still in charge" and that it is yet another example of Sacramento being "against everything and for nothing."

He has no regrets. He expects to "ruffle feathers" and he insists, "I do not want to scale back on my vision."

Other items on his agenda:
A crime summit on February 28, bringing together law enforcement and prevention/intervention folks across the region.  He has a staff person, Chris Young (who was Barack Obama's Deputy Finance Director for Northern California), devoting time to public safety and finding ("leveraging") resources to reduce violent crime.

An education summit at the California Museum March 9.  He wants to elevate the profile of the city as a place of innovation.  He'll have local folks and a few national speakers to address the following issues: how to attract high quality teachers and principals (including alternative credentialing); school choice (including attracting providers to Sacramento); accountability and data (the state's API, he believes, is "not transparent" and is "convoluted" as a way of identifying good schools); performance pay; and how to bring additional resources to Sacramento. Hear any feathers ruffling? 

On the strong mayor initiative:
He wants "responsive, nimble government."
He's building relationships with mayors, current and former, in Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland, Anaheim and Long Beach.

He says he still likes the job...

January 5, 2009
Kick-off for strong-mayor campaign

Newly elected Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has made a proposed change from a weak-mayor to strong-mayor system in Sacramento his first priority.  Organizers have a kick-off meeting today (6 p.m. at The Grand, 1215 J Street).

Here's the list of organizers for the campaign:

Detective Mark Tyndale, Vice President, Sacramento Police Officers Association
Randy Paragary, Owner, Paragary Restaurant Group
Jeannine English, Former Executive Director, Little Hoover Commission
Lina Fat, Small Business Owner, Sacramento
Mark T. Harris, President and Managing Partner, Pineapple Group LLC
Amador S. Bustos, President & CEO, Bustos Media LLC
Maeley Tom, CEO Tom & Associates
Kim Mack, Community Organizer
Georgette Imura, Sacramento API Community Activist

They also have a Web site: http://www.reformsacramento.com/

December 18, 2008
What to do about prison overcrowding?

Prison overcrowding.  How did California get to historic highs in incarceration rates in the 1990s and 2000s? How did the state get numbers of prisoners way beyond current prison capacity?  What role does California's Three Strikes law play? What can the state do to reduce overcrowding?  The courts are about to hand down decisions. Capitol Public Radio's Jeffrey Callison interviewed several guests on today's Insight program:  Scott Kernan, Undersecretary of the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ; Michael Vitiello, Professor, McGeorge School of Law; Mike Jimenez, President, CA Correctional Peace Officers Association; Mike Reynolds, "Three Strikes" advocate; and  Rose Braz, Campaign Director, Critical Resistance.  I was also part of the discussion.  Click here to listen to the program.

December 11, 2008
A visit from UC President Mark Yudof

NM_27YudofMarkMug_43727.jpgUniversity of California President Mark Yudof met with The Bee's editorial board for the first time since taking office in June.

 

Here are some tidbits:

 

On accountability:  He notes that some things you can't measure, like the kid who's turned on to Shakespeare, but "the fact that you can't measure everything doesn't mean you measure nothing." 

 

On UC's management style:  He sees the system as akin to "a museum without a deacquisition policy" - it has kept adding, but never subtracts anything.  He's changing that - sending some functions out to the campuses - such as the continuing legal education program that makes more sense at a campus with a law school than at the central office in Oakland.  He's also eliminated functions.  He notes: "I've cut out $60 million in a year.  What other state agency has done that?"

 

On budget cuts:  He sees it as his job to ensure that Californians understand that these cuts are like "a fire station closing."  He believes California is living off the 1950s and 1960s legacy of Gov. Pat Brown and UC President Clark Kerr, who championed the notion that every student should be entitled to a college education regardless of ability to pay. "I'm worried about it," Yudof said.

 

On how to find more money for universities: Yudof said a "high-fee, high-financial-aid" model is "not the preferred course." He noted that he'd press for the usual sources of funding: the Legislature; exposure, telling people what the UC does to improve life in California; philanthropy, federal research grants; fees; efficiencies and business savings.  Beyond that, "If we don't get some relief within five years...we'll have to reexamine the educational delivery model."  The  university may have to consider more use of technology for intro classes, not just the traditional model of a teacher in front of a classroom of students.

 

He's smoked cigars with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "a hoot," he said, and finds him supportive of higher education.

 

We'll have more to say as an editorial board on Yudof's larger vision for higher education and the UC mission in California. Watch for an editorial on Monday.
December 3, 2008
Mr. McClintock goes to Washington

In the close race in the open seat to replace Congressman John Doolittle in the 4th Congressional District, Democrat Charlie Brown has conceded:

Thanks to the extraordinary work of our local elections officials, I am pleased to report that the high standards of fairness, accuracy, and transparency have been met.  And with the counts and recounts across district four complete, and more than 370,000 votes tallied, the outcome of this election is no longer in question.  Unfortunately, we've come up less than one half of one percent---just under 1,800 votes---short of victory  So a short time ago, I called Senator Tom McClintock to congratulate him on a hard fought victory, and to wish him well in Congress.

 

Republican Tom McClintock goes to Washington as one of 176 Republicans in the 435-member House (down from 199 currently). He'll be operating in a caucus that comprises 40 percent of the membership.  But he's used to that, coming from the California Legislature.  Here's hoping he's able to balance working with the majority while achieving his stated goal of offering an alternative vision of governance. Washington certainly doesn't need the obstruction and gridlock that characterizes the California Legislature..

November 25, 2008
Why we're in this economic mess ... and how to get out of it

If you want to make sense of the roots of the economic crisis and the giant, still unaddressed issue of housing, see the Nov. 13 testimony of Susan Wachter of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (she's at 65:47 minutes into the hearing). You can also read her testimony:

 

Early in the 1990 decade, nonprime lending was insignificant; by 2006 nonprime lending constituted 47 percent of mortgage originations.  The unprecedented expansion of poorly underwritten credit induced and supported a U.S. housing asset bubble beginning in 2003...

 

And, she continues,

 

This weakening of lending standards, coupled with increased production, resulted in mortgages which were structured to fail, even in the absence of intent or fraud.  However, fraudulent lending also did increase.  Eventually, this process became unsustainable, price increases halted, and the poorly underwritten loans could not be rescued by high and ever-increasing prices.  This led to today's system breakdown.

 

The roots of the economic downturn are in housing, so solutions need to be focused there:

 

Even with the efforts to solve our banking liquidity problems, we will not solve the prevailing problem if the housing downturn continues and the house market decline shows no sign of abating.  Moreover, despite bank recapitalization and rescue efforts, economically rational loan modifications that would help stabilize the market are not occurring.

 

So while housing prices need to fall to some real value level, the danger now is price declines that are too big:

 

Since their peak in 2006, housing values have fallen over 20 percent so far.  While another 10 percent fall brings the index to 2003 levels, price declines may far exceed this decline...

 

The solution is loan modifications.  Yet they are not happening

 

...at the scale necessary in order to assure a market turnaround at fundamental levels instead of a severe overcorrection.

 

She concludes that:

 

Voluntary efforts are not working.  The rules of the game need to change.

Are members of Congress and members of the California Legislature listening?

November 21, 2008
Automaker woes and retiree health care

If you want to see why the Big Three face such a daunting financial picture, consider the following:

 

According to the United Auto Workers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in 2007 had 180,681 active workers that received salaries and benefits.  Yet the Big Three also paid health benefits for 640,344 retirees and surviving spouses.

 

Put another way, 75 percent of the people receiving health benefits are not active workers who are on the payroll producing cars. Ouch.

 

Continue reading to see the distribution of wages and benefits.

 

November 20, 2008
You make the call on challenged ballots
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Here's a great exercise.  In the Minnesota U.S. Senate race, the two candidates came out of the election separated only by 215 votes out of more than 3 million cast. The state is now doing a required recount.


Minnesota Public Radio has a great exercise up on its Web site, showing 11 challenged ballots and asking readers to make their call if they were the election judge on how each ballot should go.


November 20, 2008
Another perspective on race and same-sex marriage

Speaker Karen Bass has weighed in on the Proposition 8 controversy regarding the CNN exit poll showing that 70 percent of African-Americans voted "yes." (See the article in The Bee: Assembly Speaker Bass assails anger directed at blacks after Prop. 8 vote David Mixner, a gay political strategist who writes from upstate New York, has an interesting perspective questioning the exit poll and the potential to build a coalition:

 

Dr. Fernando Guerra of Loyola's Levy Center for the Study of Los Angeles did a far more extensive poll than CNN and found that the 70 percent figure was way too high. The figure is closer to 57 percent (still not acceptable) but a long way from the 70 percent. Other models that I have been running in an attempt to get the facts and not the emotions show the latter a more likely figure.

 

The other data that appears to be emerging (BUT yet to be totally verified) is that African-Americans who early voted (which was a huge number) voted YES while those on election day voted NO. Remember we did not do extensive campaigning in many of the African-American precincts until the final week or so which was long after tens of thousands had already voted. Our campaign was slow to use Obama's opposition to Proposition 8 which he gave the day after the initiative qualified five months before the election.

 

Now historically, the African-American community has been our strongest ally. I have been working in LGBT rights since 1976 and no other community has consistently supported us like the African-American community. In two huge past initiative battles that we won statewide in California, No on 6 and No on 64, the African-American community gave us some of our largest margins. Leaders like Mayor Willie Brown, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, deceased Congressman Julian Dixon and others too numerous to mention often were the first to speak up if our oppressors were coming after us. We have a long valuable historical and powerful coalition with the African-American community and I would hate to see us do damage to it in our passion.

 

Hat tip to Calitics.com.

November 18, 2008
It's not dead yet, but state water board is set to kill Auburn Dam

The State Water Resources Control Board will decide at its Dec. 2 meeting whether to revoke state water permits for the languishing Auburn Dam Project. The public has until noon on Thursday, Nov. 20 to make comments (commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov).


Here's how the Water Resources Control Board in an Oct. 21 draft order justified revoking the permits:

 

It has been more than 30 years since the Board issued the Auburn Dam Project permits to (the U.S. Bureau of) Reclamation, but the project has not been constructed, no water has been applied to beneficial use, and Reclamation has no plans to move forward with project development...It would be contrary to long-standing precedent and against the public interest to allow Reclamation to continue to reserve water under its permits without the ability to apply the water to beneficial use or any plan to do so in the immediate future.  Accordingly, the permits should be revoked.

 

In a Sunday story, the Los Angeles Times quotes retiring Congressman John Doolittle as saying, "You'll never get the water rights back" once they are revoked.

 

What do you think?  Is the Auburn Dam dead? Should it be?

November 18, 2008
Lungren weighs in on auto industry bailout and leadership fight

Newly re-elected Congressman Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, was on MSNBC today talking about his challenge to unseat Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as House Minority Leader.  The vote in the Republican caucus takes place tomorrow. 

 

The clip begins with an exchange on Republican opposition to a bailout of the auto industry.


I would describe it as a situation that is made for the laws that already exist. The bankruptcy laws in the United States, some of which I helped write over the years, provide exactly for this type of situation where reorganization is in the offing and where you attempt to try and reorganize so the company has the best chance of surviving in the new environment. That means that everything's on the table. Including the collective bargaining agreements that would not be on the table if Congress came in with a taxpayer bailout. That is a prescription for disaster. It will leave us with more jobs lost in the long run and frankly, will make us less competitive. 

Then moves on to the race for House Minority Leader:

November 14, 2008
Lungren to challenge Boehner for top House GOP leadership job

Update: House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sends along the following message on Lungren, signalling that this will be a battle among gentlemen: "Dan Lungren is a respected member of our conference and a man deeply committed to the principles that have defined our party since the beginning."

Re-elected U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, has officially announced that he will mount a challenge to displace Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the aftermath of two straight election losses for Republicans.  The Republicans lost 28 seats last Tuesday and no incumbent Democratic House member was defeated anywhere.


November 14, 2008
Prison health care: Have questions for Clark Kelso?

            J. Clark Kelso, the California Prison Health Care Receiver appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, will be visiting with The Bee's editorial board on Monday.

 

            What questions do you think we should ask him?

 

Some background: With increasingly long prison sentences, California prisons are overcrowded and housing more and more prisoners who are old, sick or dying.

 

Yet the California prison system has no long-term care beds for prisoners with chronic medical conditions or ongoing physical needs. These inmates (visualize a 63-year-old with a walker or wheelchair taking Alzheimer's medication) are taking up scarce prison beds needed for other prisoners. Currently the prison system has only 800 short-term care medical beds.

 

The state has known for some time that it needs to build 5,000 prison medical beds and 5,000 prison mental health beds within 10 years for chronically ill, physically impaired, feeble prisoners.

 

Kelso proposed building seven freestanding, independently managed facilities of roughly 1,500 beds each at existing prisons or on state-owned land. To build these, the Legislature considered a $6.9 billion bond package, but it was killed by Senate Republicans.

 

The federal courts have been waiting 13 years for California to bring its prison health-care system up to constitutional standards. So when the bond package failed, Kelso asked Judge Henderson to force the state to turn over the money to carry out his duties. The amount is $8 billion from 2008 to 2013.

 

 

November 13, 2008
Where the bailout money goes

For those following the $700 billion rescue package and disbursements of the first $350 billion, ProPublica.org has a preliminary tally of the U.S. Treasury's purchases of bank stocks.

 

The bulk of the cash has gone to nine of the largest U.S. financial institutions that account for about 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets:

Citigroup, JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo each get $25 billion.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman get $10 billion.

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. gets about $3 billion.

State Street Corp. gets about $2 billion.

The U.S. Treasury itself has not released a bank-by-bank tally, only total numbers, something that has to change.  Congress should insist on a public tally by individual bank.

November 12, 2008
California power

John Bresnahan at Politico.com has a nice profile on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

 

As Pelosi enters her third year as speaker, by any measure, she has become the most powerful woman in U.S. political history and is now preparing to wield her gavel in a way that few, if any, recent speakers could match. Even former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution, pales in comparison. Pelosi is being mentioned by observers in the same breath as the legendary Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill, although she has yet to assemble a legislative record to match theirs.

 

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), no fan of Pelosi, said during a recent MSNBC appearance that she is "the most powerful speaker in a generation -- she will be able to do anything she wants."

 

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee and Pelosi's closest friend in the House, likens her to a top athlete, one who has "downfield vision, who can see everything on the field at once."

Coming out of the gate with a new Democratic president and a larger Democratic majority in the Senate, she's been around long enough and is savvy enough to avoid small issues and narrow partisan agendas.  She's seen the pitfalls of overweaning majorities and been in the political wilderness. She's got to quickly tackle big issues that will build a sense of common purpose among Americans across partisan lines.

November 12, 2008
Cut spending or increase taxes?

Here's something everybody should be able to agree on regarding California's current budget crisis in the midst of a major economic downturn:  Any option will hurt.

 

State spending reductions will hurt.

 

Tax increases will hurt.

 

Everybody also ought to be able to agree that the need right now is for spending in the economy. 

 

For lawmakers during the special session, decisions must boil down to: Which of the two options - spending cuts or tax increases - does the least to curtail spending by families?

 

Put another way, the question is: How to balance the state budget with the least possible harm to the already weakened economy?

 

Read on for possible solutions...

 

November 11, 2008
Cheaper cars and auto industry woes

Comerica Bank's Auto Affordability Index shows the cost of a car in terms of how many weeks of income it takes to pay for it:

 

The purchase of an average-priced new vehicle took 24.1 weeks of median family income in the third quarter, according to the Auto Affordability Index compiled by Comerica Bank.

However, Mark J. Perry of the University of Michigan points out in his Carpe Diem: Economics and Finance blog:

 

Compared to the 1980s and 1990s, new vehicles are about 17% more affordable today and can be purchased with about 5 fewer weeks of income; and compared to the peak in 1995, new cars are almost 26% more affordable and can be purchased with almost 8 fewer weeks of income.

Perry suggests that this may be part of the current problem of the auto industry. As cars have become more affordable relative to income, "In an increasingly competitive industry, the inefficiencies of the Big Three and the UAW have become increasingly exposed, and the inefficiencies have become greater and greater liabilities."

Plausible?  What do you think?

November 11, 2008
If you thought California's finances couldn't get worse...

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the editorial board of The Bee on Monday that California is set to run out of cash as early as February, and is having difficulty selling bonds to raise cash.  He told us that the state has only sold part of the bonds needed and has $2 billion to go.

 

So now we learn from ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times that "Goldman Sachs Urged Bets Against California Bonds It Helped Sell," which could cost California taxpayers.

 

The investment firm collected millions of dollars in fees for bringing California bonds to market and finding buyers. At the same time it was marketing a financial instrument known as a "credit default swap," where investors bet on a price decline for California bonds.



November 11, 2008
State legislatures make history, too

Stateline.org has a roundup of interesting landmarks in the states.  Here are two:

 

New Hampshire became the first state in U.S. history to give women the majority in a legislative chamber.

 

Colorado is poised to become the first state to have black lawmakers leading both legislative chambers.

 

This country continues to make progress on the self-evident truth stated in the Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal."

 

November 10, 2008
The pressure of profits

It wasn't borrowers or government that were pushing lenders into making higher-cost, exotic, risky mortgages.  It was the lure of profit.

Anyone who doubts that should read a recent column by Gretchen Morgenson in the New York Times.

She tells the tale of a senior mortgage underwriter at Washington Mutual (WaMu) who, like many others at WaMu, was put under tremendous pressure to approve higher-cost, exotic loans because brokers and the lender would make more money that way. Questionable loans were pushed through because they were more profitable to the company:

"At WaMu it wasn't about the quality of the loans; it was about the numbers," Ms. Cooper says. "They didn't care if we were giving loans to people that didn't qualify.  Instead, it was how many loans did you guys close and fund?"

How much would they get?

Hidden fees meant brokers could easily make between $20,000 and $40,000 on a $500,000 loan.

This is what happens when neither brokers nor lenders have an incentive to see that a borrower can actually afford a loan.  In the current Wild West climate, brokers get their fee no matter what -- and a higher fee if they steer borrowers to a higher-cost loan.  Lenders sold their loans to Wall Street firms, who then packaged them to sell to investors. 

WaMu, of course, is one the banks that failed and was seized by federal regulators.  It was sold to JPMorgan Chase, which is now trying to clean up the mess by modifying many adjustable rate loans to more stable fixed rate loans -- instead of incurring the cost of foreclosure.

November 10, 2008
2010 race begins in CD3

Bill Durston a Democrat who has now run twice against Republican Dan Lungren for the seat in Congressional District 3, has announced he's running again in 2010.

After losing by 5 percentage points last Tuesday, writes Durston, "We have decided, though, that with your support, I will run for Congress again in 2010.  I will update you on plans for the 2010 campaign in the near future." 

Durston's early move could prevent other Democrats from jumping into the race in a district where the Republican incumbent would be vulnerable with a strong challenge.

November 7, 2008
A Brit's take on Prop 9: Victim's rights and parole

With all the attention on Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, it's refreshing to see that someone has noticed the passage of Proposition 9.

 

Leave it to a Brit to clearly express its insidious effect.

 

Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University and classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement writes:

 

Even worse in my view, was the passing of Proposition 9, a Victims Rights Initiative (paradoxically bank-rolled by a rich Californian currently indicted on fraud and drugs charges).  It reduces the possibilities for prisoners' parole, adds to the vast Californian prison population and gives victims of a crime a greater voice in the judicial and punitive process.  There's something truly dreadful about this.  Sure, we should support the victims.  But one of the whole purposes of a state legal system is to break the link beween culprit and victim -- to stop punishment from being vendetta.

 

And a reader responded to her in the comment section:

 

Couldn't agree more about Prop 9.  People seem increasingly to believe that the civil and criminal court system has some role to play in their individual emotional sense of grievance.  It doesn't.  Which is not to imply that victims don't deserve sympathy, or that criminals do.  But it's precisely NOT what courts are for.  One of the great projects of civilization is, as you suggest, containing revenge.

 

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

November 7, 2008
Interesting tidbit from CD4: McClintock v Brown

This race remains undecided as county registrars are still processing vote-by-mail ballots that came in on election day and provisional ballots.

But here's an interesting fact: In every county in this race, Tom McClintock (R) got fewer votes than Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Charlie Brown (D) got more votes than Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. That's why this race remains too close to call in this normally heavily Republican district.

Examples, based on latest counts from Secretary of State's office: 

In El Dorado County, McClintock got 36,693 votes; McCain got 40,512.  In Nevada County, McClintock got 18,589 votes; McCain got 20,899.  In Placer County, McClintock got 72,365 votes; McCain got 80,209.

In El Dorado County, Brown got 36,192 votes; Obama got 33,010.  In Nevada County, Brown got 25,125; Obama got 23,035.  In Placer County, Brown got 70,322; Obama got 64,460.

 

November 5, 2008
Brown versus McClintock: Much too close to call

As of 10:45 a.m., this race remains virtually tied (451 votes separate the candidates). And at least 30,000 absentee ballots that were dropped off at polling places on election day remain to be counted. The margin has been shrinking as the count continues.  It may come down to which candidate had the better get-out-the-vote operation in the waning hours of voting.  In any case, we may not know the final outcome of this race for some time.

Here's the count so far:

Charlie Brown (D): 155,320 (49.9 percent)

Tom McClintock (R): 155,771 (50.1 percent)

November 4, 2008
Sierra Community College District

9:20 p.m.

Area 4: Elaine Rowen v Dennis Cota

Placer County (mail ballots only): Rowen 34,886; Cota 25,719

El Dorado County (mail ballots only): Rowen 619; Cota 517

Sacramento County (57 percent of precincts in): Rowen 1,185; Cota 744

Area 7: Aaron Klein v John Vodonick

Placer County (mail ballots only): Klein 32,259; Vodonick 28,493

El Dorado County (mail ballots only): Klein 553; Vodonick 563

Sacramento County (57 percent of precincts in): Klein 1,068; Vodonick 771

November 4, 2008
CD4: McClintock v Brown

9:09 p.m. Nothing yet from Butte, Lassen, Modoc and Nevada counties. 

El Dorado County (mail ballots only): Brown 18,892; McClintock 19,656

Placer County (mail ballots only): Brown 39,519; McClintock 40,166

Plumas County (mail ballots only): Brown 3,333; McClintock 3,161

Sacramento County (57 percent of precincts in): Brown 1,479; McClintock 1,748

Sierra County (100 percent in): Brown 884; McClintock 849

Total at this hour: Brown 64,107; McClintock 65,580

November 4, 2008
McCain's speech

John McCain gave a statesmanlike, gracious concession speech, one of the best speeches he's ever delivered.

"I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it.  Sen. Obama believes that, too.  But we both recognize that, though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.  A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.  America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time.  There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States."

"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to fine ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences..."

But the crowd did not like it, booing during spots.

It's clear that the Republican Party can go in two directions -- continue to fight tooth and nail or, as McCain urged, to try and work together with the new president to meet the nation's great challenges.

November 4, 2008
For those watching the U.S. Senate...

5:45 p.m. Democrats need nine pick ups in the U.S. Senate to have a filibuster-proof majority. The networks so far have called three Dem pick ups: Mark Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

6:05 p.m. Another Dem pick up: Mark Udall of New Mexico.

9:30 p.m. Another Dem pick up: Tom Udall of Colorado.

Still waiting to hear on Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon and Georgia.

November 4, 2008
Reminder: California polls stay open till 8 p.m.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is worried that the TV networks may call the presidential race before polls close in California. "This would be a disservice to the tens of millions of voters in the West," she said in a statement, "and I strongly urge the networks to delay any precipitous announcements until voters have had their full opportunity to vote."

She's worried that many Californians might not vote if the presidential race is called, which could affect important measures such as Proposition 8 (which would change the California Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage), plus local and congressional races. "It's critical that all California voters have a say in all of these contests, including the ballot measures and contests for down-ballot offices," she said.

Californians can't do anything about the voting trend line in the eastern and Midwestern states or the TV networks, but they can make the commitment to stay in line and vote until 8 p.m.
November 4, 2008
The difference that face-to-face politics makes

Here's the story of a banker who's never done door-to-door politics who found himself knocking on doors in a North Carolina housing project -- and the difference it has made in his life and on his political outlook.

November 3, 2008
Looking ahead to governing

David Gergen, who advised Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, isn't just looking for which candidate gets to the magic 270 electoral votes for a win on Tuesday.  He's looking beyond the campaign to governing.

So, in a column for CNN, he says what he's looking for:


November 3, 2008
Lesson: Make voter registration easier

With all the hassles we've seen in trying to get new voters registered properly, it's time (again) to consider a better system: automatic voter registration.  Other countries do it.  We can, too.

This would fix all kinds of problems: having third party non-profits or others out there collecting registration forms, incomplete voter rolls, inaccurate voter rolls or county offices being overwhelmed during election years.

The virtue of automatic voter registration is, as the New America Foundation has written:

"It's the best way to bring together conservatives concerned about fraud in elections and liberals concerned about low voter registration. We need a coherent system that ensures all of us can vote, but none of us can vote more than once."

Some have suggested automatic registration for anybody with a driver's license or tax record, but that still leaves some folks out.  Others have suggested automatic registration of all high school students, but that, too, leaves some people out.

A better solution is creating a unique number for each voter and maintaining a national database so each voter only has to be registered once in their lifetime, and can move from state-to-state or county-to-county without having to re-register.


November 3, 2008
Unique perspective on ACORN and vote suppression

Julian Bond, currently chairman of the NAACP and the first African-American to be nominated by a major party as a candidate for vice president, has a long history with voting rights.

He dismisses the recent attack on ACORN for its voter registration efforts and supposed vote fraud as an "enormous myth."  Here's why:

"Well, of course ACORN doesn't register anybody; the election officials register people.  If I go through this crowd and pick up forms, I haven't registered anybody here.  It's not until that form gets in the hands of the registration officials that it's registered.  And if they can't tell the difference between Mickey Mouse and John Smith, then you need new election officials."

He explained that what happens is that folks go into a neighborhood to register people and collect voter registration forms.  They see that Mickey Mouse has signed a form.  But the law requires that they turn the form in.  They can't just throw it away.  But ACORN does flag the form for registration officials.  For that, they get accused of turning in fraudulent forms.

 You can hear Bond's full remarks on Minnesota Public Radio.  He was speaking on the topic, "Reflections on the Lessons of 1968" at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University in Minnesota. At the end of the talk he took questions and was asked to comment on "vote suppression in its current form." That section begins 39 minutes into the audio and goes for nearly four minutes.

Bond noted that vote suppression used to be the province of Democrats, but is now almost exclusively the province of Republicans. 

October 31, 2008
Bzzzz: More foreclosure woes

To add to all the misfortunes stemming from foreclosures in California, now we've got another: mosquito invasions and the risk of urban epidemics of West Nile disease. Great.

An entomology professor at UC Davis, William K. Reisen, and his colleagues did a study, "Delinquent Mortgages, Neglected Swimming Pools, and West Nile Virus, California. They conclude in the November edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases:

The recent widespread downturn in the housing market and increase in adjustable rate mortgages have combined to force a dramatic increase in home foreclosures and abandoned homes and produced urban landscapes dotted with an expanded number of new mosquito habitats.

Empty swimming pools, hot tubs and ornamental ponds turning green and producing mosquitos.  Jeez.  What's next?

October 30, 2008
Parents to Prop 8's Frank Schubert: Don't use our kids

Update: An attorney from the Yes on 8 campaign responded with a letter to the parents, dated Oct. 30.  It dismisses their concerns, takes no responsibility for the Yes on 8 use of footage of the children in its ads, places the blame on the parents for allowing their children to go on the field trip.  The letter refers to the field trip as a "staged publicity stunt...in support of gay marriage."  It concludes that "you as parents made the deliberate choice to use your own children as stage props in this debate" and, thus, it seems, anything goes.  Anybody can use your children for any purpose without your knowledge or permission.  End of story. Incredible.

Here's a follow up to my posting of Oct. 29: Proposition 8 is about rights, not field trips

The parents of two children featured most prominently in video footage in a Yes on 8 ad have repeatedly asked the campaign to stop using images of their children to promote changing the California Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage. They've written letters.  They've made phone calls. The Yes on 8 campaign has refused to pull the footage.

The parents are at their wits' end.  So two of them came to Sacramento on Thursday to appeal to legislators and to Yes on 8 campaign manager Frank Schubert in person. I followed them on their journey. 

To legislators, their message was: "I don't want to see another parent have to go through this."   Assemblyman Mark Leno told the parents that under current law if the ads were for a commercial purpose, consent to use the images would be required.  But ads for a political purpose don't require consent.  Leno continued that the Yes on 8 use of children's images, however, reveals a tension between First Amendment rights to free speech and the right to privacy. This is a particularly sensitive issue because the campaign did not use images of adults, but of young children -- without the knowledge or consent of the parents. He made a commitment to explore solutions in the upcoming legislative session.  But that doesn't do anything now.

Then the parents went to Schubert's office at Schubert Flint Public Affairs at 14th and L. "I've heard he's a father," said one parent. "I want to ask him how he would feel if his children were manipulated like this."  She wanted to appeal to him as a moral human being.  "This is our last hope," she said.

Neither Schubert nor others in his office would speak to the two parents. Schubert's office called security and a guard escorted them out of the building. The parents left a letter saying, "We appeal to your sense of decency as a parent to take those ads off the air and off your website."


October 29, 2008
Aaron Klein pulls another stunt in a Sierra College race
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The Save Sierra College Committee, which opposes incumbent Aaron Klein and supports his opponent John Vodonick, has run into what it calls "Klein's latest dirty trick." 

After the committee had sent out an email message to registered voters, Klein's attorney contacted the email service provider and demanded that it prevent the committee "from transmitting any additional messages, and confirm to us in writing that their account has either been terminated or suspended."  The letter alleged that the email message was illegal spam and not legitimate political communication.  Specifically, the letter charged that sending email messages to a "database of registered voters who did not opt-in to receive his spam broadcast" was a potential violation of "laws prohibiting electronic mail spam" -- without citing a single statute or the offending email.

Kent Pollock, whose firm handled the message for the Save Sierra College Committee, says the e-mail  service provider shut off service for 24 hours (from about 1 p.m. Tuesday until 1 p.m. Wednesday).

This is outrageous. This was not an unsolicited commercial email, otherwise known as spam.  This was pure political speech protected by the First Amendment. The names of registered voters came from publicly available rolls and were used for a non-economic, political purpose, as specifically allowed under state law. And it happened one week before the election, a sensitive time. 


October 29, 2008
Late development in Sierra College race

UPDATE:  Since this entry was posted 21 hours ago, Elaine Rowen's campaign has changed her website to accurately reflect what The Bee editorial said.

In the race for an open seat for the Sierra Community College District board, The Bee's editorial board endorsed Dennis Cota over Elaine Rowen.  Our editorial noted that the race had drawn "two appealing candidates" and said nice things about both. 

But now Rowen has sent out an email to voters and posted on her website a version that changes our words and misrepresents our view. 

Our endorsement concluded: "Both candidates would bring fresh perspective, but Cota gets the edge. He has the energy and temperament to be a strong voice for the college in the community."  Rowen's campaign changed that to say: "She would bring fresh perspective (to the board)." (Emphasis added.)

It's not uncommon for candidates to extract a brief passage from an editorial and use it in campaign communications. That's what happens when you say something nice about a politician!

But here the candidate's campaign is attributing to the editorial board words we did not use and doing so in a way that implies we endorsed her when we actually endorsed her opponent.

I called Rowen to ask her about the changes and she said she would make sure that the quote gets corrected.  We'll be checking her website to see how quickly that happens.

 

October 29, 2008
Proposition 8 is about rights, not field trips

In the waning days of the campaign, Proponents of Proposition 8 -- which would change California's Constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage -- have seized on an incident from a public charter school in San Francisco.  Parents of 18 first-graders organized a 90-minute field trip to City Hall to surprise their children's teacher, a lesbian who was getting married that day.  As is the case for all field trips, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, parents had to sign permission slips and could opt out of the trip.  Two did and those children spent the 90 minutes with another first-grade class back at school.

So now Prop 8 advocates have produced an ad, using video footage of the children from that event.  The parents are outraged, saying that no one asked their permission to flash images of their children in a statewide advertising campaign.  They are most bothered that Prop 8 advocates are using the images to turn what was a joyful event into what they see as propaganda for a hateful purpose.

The fact is, Prop 8 will not make gay people disappear. Kids will continue to have gay teachers.  Nor will Prop 8 render gay couples invisible.  They'll still be part of our communities.  Finally, Prop 8 will not change the fact that local school districts decide how to teach about marriage -- or not to teach about marriage at all.

But Prop 8, if it passes, would for the first time introduce language into the California Constitution making gay people second-class citizens.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein understands that and has cut an ad that makes that purpose clear.  She urges Californians to vote "No", saying that Prop 8 "eliminates fundamental rights" and "treats people differently under the law." Watch her very effective ad here.   

October 28, 2008
Teen bluster or more?

Some days on Sacramento's light rail system, I see interactions that restore my faith in human nature.  Other days, I see incidents that make me wonder about the fate of civilization.  On Monday, just before dusk at a light rail station near my office, it was the latter.

Some teenagers had found a six-pack of empty beer bottles.  One of the young women proceeded to lob three of the bottles at another young woman nearby.  These landed in bushes, so they didn't break.  Okay, nothing major.  Another teen crossed the tracks, and not speaking a word, took a bottle and returned to his side of the platform.  What was he up to?  He put the bottle in the pocket of his baggy pants and sat.  A few minutes later, he walked to the center of the tracks and tossed the bottle high in the air.  It shattered about 50 feet away.  

Two bottles were still left in the six-pack. Three more teens arrived at the station, and as they passed the young woman flung a bottle at their feet.  It shattered; nobody reacted.  One bottle left.  The young woman rolled it under her foot until it broke.

The train came, we all got on and the broken glass was left behind. 

What's this about?  It's not about littering.  It's not about being playful or funny.  It's about showing in a very public way that you don't care, that you want to leave people guessing about whether they should feel threatened.  It's about swagger.

I can just see people shaking their heads and saying, "See, this is why people won't ride light rail."  But it's more than that.  Something's wrong when young people show such little respect for their surroundings and each other.  How do you turn that around? 

October 28, 2008
Investigating Hood Corps

At Monday's mayoral debate, incumbent Heather Fargo charged challenger Kevin Johnson with three items related to an ongoing federal investigation of Hood Corps, which received national AmeriCorps funding for tutoring and improvements in Oak Park.  She accused Johnson of improperly requiring Hood Corps volunteers to go to church, run marathons and campaign for a slate of Sacramento City Unified school board candidates.  Yet the Inspector General's report dropped the allegations about church and marathons.  Fargo should, too.

The political activities allegation remains under investigation. And legitimate questions on that still remain: Did Hood Corps volunteers engage in political activities during regular work hours (funded by federal AmeriCorps grant money) or on their own time?  Were the volunteers required or pressured to participate in political activities or did they voluntarily offer their services?  If they were required to participate, who ordered that?

It would have been better all around if the feds cleared this up long before the election.  As things stand, it's all speculation.  It seems that voters will have to make their judgments based on other things. 

October 28, 2008
A preview sneak peek?

What was the security guard thinking who gave Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson an after-hours "tour" of City Hall on Saturday, including city council offices that normally require a sign-in and security badge?  And what was Johnson himself thinking? 

At Monday night's debate he brushed off incident as similar to an after-hours tour he did of the Vatican.  Why not do a tour during public hours like any other resident of Sacramento?

What do you think?  Is the mayor "making a mountain out of a molehill," as Johnson claims?  Or is Johnson showing, yet again, that he thinks rules don't apply to him, as his critics charge?  My view: He had no business being there. No excuses.   

October 17, 2008
Update: McClintock to meet with board
State Sen. Tom McClintock, running for the open Congressional District 4 seat, will meet with The Bee's editorial board early next week.
October 16, 2008
Desperately seeking Tom McClintock -- where is he?
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The Editorial Board of The Bee opines on issues every day and, during the election season, we endorse candidates for office. Meeting with candidates face-to-face is an integral part of the process. 

Well, for two hotly contested congressional races in our region, we've met with the candidates -- or at least most of them. In Congressional District 3, we met incumbent Dan Lungren, a Republican, and challenger Bill Durston, a Democrat, in one-hour interviews. Our endorsement runs tomorrow.

Congressional District 4, an open seat with the retirement of incumbent John Doolittle, is another story. That race features Republican Tom McClintock and Democrat Charlie Brown. 

We met with Brown today. But for weeks, we've made phone calls and sent e-mails trying to schedule Republican Tom McClintock for a one-hour interview. We originally scheduled an endorsement for Congressional District 4 to run this Saturday, but told McClintock's campaign that we'd move it to accommodate his schedule. Today, his campaign told us that he was "not going to participate."

McClintock met with the Editorial Board for the primary election.  We endorsed his opponent in that race, but we start with a clean slate for the general election. 

Speaking with his campaign spokesman, I explained that the purpose of the interview is not just to win endorsement from the Editorial Board.  Some candidates get our endorsement, others don't.  Regardless, the interview gives a candidate a chance to explain himself or herself and to make arguments for his or her views.  It's part of building respectful relationships.  And if a candidate wins, it's part of establishing a long-term dialogue. 

Moreover, if a candidate wins, he or she doesn't just represent the like-minded people in his or her district. He or she has obligations to the larger public. An important part of running for and serving in office is putting one's record and persuasive skills under scrutiny. That's been a role of the press since before the Founding.  

We'd still like to meet with McClintock for the general election. And there's still time. The question is: If McClintock won't meet with editorial boards, does that bode ill if he's elected? Does it indicate a lack of willingness to engage with the larger public? What do you think?

October 13, 2008
Prison guards should drop bungled recall of Schwarzenegger

The era of an overweening, overbearing prison guards union in California may be coming to an end. They've become the Keystone Cops.

Nothing symbolizes this more than the union's bumbling Sept. 29 recall petition of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a stunt to begin with and they botched it.

Last Tuesday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen rejected the petition saying it failed to meet requirements. It listed signers' addresses incorrectly. It failed to include Schwarzenegger's response -- a deliberate move, apparently, because the union didn't like the governor's response (saying it was "extremely misleading").

The union can submit a corrected petition within 10 days. Better just to hang it up.

October 9, 2008
Should Obama and McCain go negative or positive in closing weeks?

That's the question in any campaign.  And the answer is in for the presidential race: McCain, negative; Obama, positive.  The latest tracking by the Wisconsin Advertising Project shows that of the $28 million the two candidates spent on TV ads from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4, nearly 100 percent of McCain's ads were negative. In contrast, 34 percent of Obama's were negative.

In the past, negative advertising worked.  We'll see what happens in this cycle.  Are people tired of that stuff?

October 7, 2008
How the meltdown affects you
If you're confused about the financial mess, here's a handy, easy-to-read, 8-page report from Congress, "From Wall Street to Main Street: Understanding How the Credit Crisis Affects You,"  by the Joint Economic Committee. 
October 7, 2008
Financial crisis hits your retirement

Poof! If you've looked at your 401(k) retirement account lately, you know how the financial crisis has directly hit your pocketbook.  In the last year, 401(k) plans have lost half a trillion dollars.

To explain what's happening and explore long-term strategies, California Congressman George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, held a hearing today "The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers' Retirement Security."  As people testified, with a 401(k), compared to a defined-benefit pension plan, participants "bear all the investment risk."

And what have the presidential candidates said so far about retirement security? Very little.

October 6, 2008
Getting a little testy...

In the beginning, the mayoral candidates stuck to the script.  They were positive. They showed in style and substance how they'd be different as mayors. 

But by the end of the hour-and-a-half forum at the Sacramento State campus, both were a tad irritable and ill-humored.  Challenger Kevin Johnson spit out the phrase "status quo" as if it were an offensive state of being.  Incumbent Heather Fargo treated Johnson's efforts in the Oak Park neighborhood and at the charter school at Sacramento High as if they were a blight on the community. She threw in her lot with the "Where's My High School?" anti-Sac High crowd. 

 This is a sign that this is where the campaign may be headed in the last month. All the worse for Sacramento.  When these candidates are good, they're very good.  When they're bad, they're horrid.    

October 6, 2008
City's top priority? Public safety? Really?

Both incumbent Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson say public safety is the No. 1 issue for the city.  And both agree that the city needs to devote more resources to public safety.

That's where the agreement ends. 

Fargo supports getting more resources by putting a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot.  That originally was a county proposal, but was rejected by the county board of supervisors. So Fargo supported a city go-it-alone tax.

Johnson notes that the city currently spends 53 percent of its General Fund on public safety where comparable cities spend 60 percent.  He rejects the quarter-cent tax idea and would get the resources, he says, by auditing every department and "reprioritizing."  He expects to get $21 million from that for public safety.  Believable?

So voters face a tax-only or cuts-only approach to getting more resources for public safety. Voters need better answers from the candidates on what cuts they'd make to get more resources.  They need better answers from the candidates on how the city can increase revenues by improving the economy, not just increasing tax rates.

October 6, 2008
What students want to hear from mayor candidates

Questions by Sacramento State students to the Sacramento mayoral candidates clearly reflect anxiety about jobs and their future in the community.  They want to know specifically what the city can do to help college students get jobs.  They also want to know what would make the city a "destination" city, not a "halfway point" between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe.

Mayor Heather Fargo believes Sacramento has done a good job of diversifying its economy.  She points to Sacramento as a regional health care hub and education hub.  She sees Sacramento as having a more stable economy in a downturn than most cities because of state government employment. She sees the issue for students as letting them know their options.

Challenger Kevin Johnson isn't buying.  He sees missed opportunities on J and K Streets.  He thinks the Railyard and Cal Expo projects have moved too slowly.  He believes the city hasn't taken advantage of its two rivers as a destination. He wants to do a whole lot more to attract jobs.

The choice, it seems, is keep doing what we're doing (it's working) or do something different (it's not working as well as it should). More of the same or change.

October 6, 2008
Monday Morning Memo

The editorial board this morning is moving ahead with candidate meetings leading up to our endorsements, which begin Wednesday.  At 11 a.m. we met with Sacramento Mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson.  We met with incumbent Mayor Heather Fargo last week.  We're looking forward to tonight's debate -- and we'll be blogging.

For tomorrow, we're working on the roots of the mortgage housing mess and looking at California's settlement with mortgage giant Countrywide.  We're also looking at renewable energy tax credits at the federal level.  Let us know what you think on those issues.

October 3, 2008
Homeless Good Samaritan

When a homeless woman, apparently mentally ill, shot a disabled man and seriously wounded him at a Sacramento bus stop on Sept. 22, it sparked new discussions about the homeless and public safety. She had been panhandling and he had refused to give her money.

So as all the problems of homelessness come to the fore with that incident -- panhandling, loitering, inappropriate behavior -- I'd like to relate a heartwarming incident. Stereotyping of the homeless doesn't pay. 

 

October 2, 2008
Where are the Palestinians?

In the vice presidential debate, did you notice that neither Sen. Biden nor Gov. Palin mentioned the Palestinians as part of a Mideast solution?

Moderator Gwen Ifill asked: "What has this administration done right or wrong -- this is the great, lingering, unresolved issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- what have they done?  And is a two-state solution the solution?"

Both candidates talked a lot about Israel.

Palin: "A two-state solution is the solution...Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East. We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust...We will support Israel...And I can promise you, in a McCain-Palin administration, that commitment is there to work with our friends in Israel."

Biden: "Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden."  He talked about the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Hamas, Hezbollah.

But no Palestinians.  How do you get a two state solution without acknowledging the existence of the Palestinian people?  Something is terribly wrong with this picture, a major failure of both candidates.

October 2, 2008
What's with the Reaction Meter?

If you watched the vice presidential debate on CNN, you got exposed to the "CNN Reaction Meter."  A focus group of undecided Ohio voters at every single moment of the debate had their fingers on a slide to register their positive and negative reactions to what the candidates were saying. The lines of male and female visceral reactions scrolled across the bottom of the screen during the whole debate.  Does anyone find this worthwhile?  Why not just hook people up to electrodes and eliminate the middleman?  And what does this do besides distract the viewer?  I'd like to know what our readers think.



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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