The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

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 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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