The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

July 26, 2011
Make your voice heard on debt ceiling showdown

President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders say they want to hear from the American people on the debt ceiling crisis. Take them up on their offer. We've made it easy to contact them on The Swarm.

You can reach the White House, Senate and House of Representatives by telephone or by email.* Here's how:

White House
By email, click here.

By phone: White House comment line: 202-456-1111
White House switchboard: 202-456-1414

U.S. Senate

By email, click here.

By phone: Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121

U.S. House of Representatives

By email, click here.

By phone: Capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121

*Be advised that, due to the volume of calls and emails, switchboards and email servers may be overloaded.

Editorial: Boehner, Obama need to end this manufactured debt crisis
July 20, 2011
Letter writing campaign on behalf of CTA backfires
Meyer713.JPGWe knew we'd get some strong reaction to Tom Meyer's recent cartoon slamming the deal that lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown snuck through the end of the session on behalf of the influential California Teachers Association.

Did we expect a letter writing campaign?

No, but it's further proof the cartoons are among the most effective forms of commentary. And another good reason to run the cartoon again.

As you might recall, the CTA managed to get teacher protection provisions included in a last-minute budget trailer bill, as The Bee's Kevin Yamamura reported late last month.

No one blames the CTA for fighting hard for its members. But many (including The Bee's editorial board) have wondered why lawmakers would approve such a measure, given all their rhetoric about "realignment" and letting "locals" handle local decisions.

If school districts face further cuts this year and yet teachers are protected, what will the districts do? Reduce the length of the school year?

Meyer posed that question in his cartoon, and within days, we had received hundreds of letters likely ginned up by the CTA or its supporters. We published a few on our letters pages that, based on our judgment, reflected the writer's own thoughts, as opposed to those on a form letter.

One of the instigators appears to be Dean Ramser, a teacher in Bellflower. He sent this message out and, for some reason, cc'd us:

This offensive cartoon ran today in the Sac Bee and SF Chron. Let's flood them with letters! 

As usual, such campaigns tend to backfire. Today, we ran a letter from a writer who received an email from the CTA saying she express her outrage. Instead of doing so, she wrote this to us:

I am outraged that every time the overpaid, self-serving, self-important CTA union bureaucrats get attacked, they try to turn it into an attack on teachers. CTA does not represent students, period. For that matter, it does not even truly represent teachers.

In my view, CTA does represent teachers. It is unfortunate, however, that so many of them would reflexively engage in a campaign aimed at stifling a particular point of view.
July 8, 2011
Could Sacramento become a 'modern-day Atlantis'?

SNN2005JJatlantisNE_737370a.jpgHaving advanced my career by writing about the perils of floods and other natural disasters, I understand the desire of a journalist to grab readers by the collar and scream at them: Be scared. Be very scared!

Even so, I winced reading Alex Prud'homme's piece Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, with its alarming headline: 'California's Next Nightmare: How a failing levee system could turn Sacramento into a modern-day Atlantis.'

Atlantis? Really?

To begin with, Atlantis was an island, and it sank into the sea - a large body of saltwater - in a single day, according to Plato's account.

Secondly, scholars are unsure if this mythical island ever existed.

So could Sacramento become a modern-day Atlantis? Sure, and we could also become a modern-day Elysian Fields, final resting place of the heroic and virtuous.

Beyond that, there's the problem of how Prud'homme - and whoever edited his piece - handles the science of Sacramento's flood risk. In a paragraph that describes Sacramento as "the most flood-prone city in the nation," we see these sentences: "Experts warn that there are two events that could destroy the levees and set off a megaflood. One is an earthquake; the second is a violent Pacific superstorm."

This is about half right. Sacramento's big threat is a Pineapple Express that dumps massive volumes of precipitation simultaneously into the watersheds of the American and Feather rivers, the latter of which flows into the Sacramento River upstream of the city.

But earthquakes?

That is a serious threat only to levees far downstream of Sacramento, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Quake-punctured levees could inundate hundreds of square miles of Delta farmland and disrupt the water system of much of California. But Sacramento is too far upstream to be affected.

Along those same lines, the article suggests a megaflood in the Delta could shut down water exports. "Saltwater would be sucked from the (San Francisco) Bay (in what is known as a big gulp) and impelled into the delta, contaminating drinking supplies for 25 million people."

Again, the science is a bit off. An earthquake in dry times could indeed destroy Delta levees and flood the land they protect, resulting in saltwater being sucked from the Bay. But a megaflood? It would break levees but also bring behind it a continuous and large flow of freshwater, keeping saltwater at bay.

The basic point of Prud'homme's piece - that a megaflood in Delta may be inevitable - can't be disputed.

But why no mention of the mega-levee being built in Natomas? Or the new spillway on Folsom Dam? Is Sacramento really doing nothing to avoid becoming "a modern-day Atlantis?"

Given that Prud'homme just came out with a highly praised book on water - "The Ripple Effect" - and previously collaborated with Julia Child on her best-selling autobiography, "My Life in France," I had expected more.

But enough of this rant.

Given that the New York Times has now declared that Sacramento has no future, I need to go home and tie my canoe to a second-floor window.

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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