The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

May 2, 2013
2013 State Fair concert lineup is an encouraging sign

The new boss at the California State Fair promised free concerts every night and a modern mix of acts.

Looking at the lineup announced today for the 2013 fair, he seems to be following through. There are acts booked for all but the last night, on July 28. And while they include some tribute bands and groups way past their prime, there are some that people would recognize: En Vogue, Hoostabank, Lonestar and LeeAnn Rimes.

The Bee's editorial board is guardedly optimistic about new Cal Expo Rick Pickering's capacity to turn around a fair that had become rather tired and predictable.

On the concert score, at least, so far, so good.

May 1, 2013
Ami Bera dings Obama administration for rollout of Affordable Care Act

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might want to carve out a few minutes to chat with Rep. Ami Bera, one of two Democratic members of Congress who happens to be a physician.

They probably could find more to discuss than the weather, like maybe President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act which is supposed to take full effect at the start of 2014.

"We have one chance to get this right," Bera told The Bee's editorial board. "If this fails and blows up, it is probably another decade if not longer before health care and we don't have another decade."

As a former chief medical officer for Sacramento County and an assistant dean at UC Davis medical school, Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, might have a few suggestions about Obamacare's impending roll-out.

"I'm moderately to very concerned," Bera said. "I have been consistently concerned about the cost of care going up."

He added: "I worry that when the Affordable Care Act was originally passed, they did a very poor job of explaining it. ... I don't know that they're doing a much better job telling people about what the roll-out is going to look like."

Bera said he and his fellow freshman-physician, Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from the Palm Springs area, have not yet gotten on Sebelius' calendar, although they've "asked a couple of times for a meeting."

Why not, we asked?

"I don't know. I'd like to have that meeting."

Perhaps a formal letter is in order.

Bera addressed the related matter of granting non-physicians more authority to treat patients, suggesting physicians might need to agree cede turf to others such as nurse practitioners or optometrists.

"Reimbursement is going to change dramatically or your scope of practice is going to change," Bera said he tells physicians. "Which do you want to fight for?"

April 23, 2013
Female veterans have a new number to call for help

Female veterans have a new hotline to call to make sure they're getting the benefits they've earned.

The Department of Veterans Affairs today announced the launch of the toll-free line at 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636).

"Some women Veterans may not know about high-quality VA care and services available to them," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "The hotline will allow us to field their questions and provide critical information about the latest enhancements in VA services."

As I've written, the VA has been trying to ramp up to deal with the unprecedented number of women serving in the military and now becoming veterans.

Women make up nearly 15 percent of the active-duty military and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves. The VA says the number of women using VA health care has more than doubled from nearly 160,000 in 2000 to more than 354,000 in 2012 and is expected to continue rising.

April 19, 2013
Signs of progress on VA disability claims, care for female vets

There are noteworthy developments on a couple of veterans issues I have been writing about.

One is the disgraceful record of the Department of Veterans Affairs in handling disability claims. The VA announced today that to cut the backlog, it will make provisional rulings on the oldest claims, many more than a year old.

"Too many veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. "That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. This initiative is the right thing to do now for veterans who have waited the longest."

Under the plan, eligible veterans will receive benefits sooner. They can also submit additional evidence for one year that could increase their benefits.

The delays are partly due to the increased number being filed by those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wait times have been particularly long at the VA office in Oakland, which handles claims from the Sacramento region.

The VA has promised to make improvements before, so we'll have to wait and see how much difference this change makes.

The other issue is how the VA is adapting to the rising number of female veterans.

On Monday, the VA Northern California Health Care System plans to open a new flagship women's health clinic in Mather.

The clinic will serve women from throughout the Sacramento region, where the use of VA medical services by female veterans is rising by 8.5 percent a year. It will offer primary care, mental health, social programs and more. It will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays at the Sacramento VA Medical Center.

April 11, 2013
Finally, a move on citizen panel on Sacramento sales tax

In the category of better late than never, the Sacramento City Council will finally get around next week to starting a citizen committee to oversee how a sales tax windfall is spent.

The Thursday agenda for the council's Personnel & Public Employees Committee, posted today on the city's website, includes an item to start the recruitment process for the Measure U oversight panel.

As The Bee's editorial board pointed out, shoppers started paying the half-cent increase in the local sales tax on April 1, but the citizen committee was missing in action.

Before voters approved Measure U last November, council members promised that a citizen oversight committee would make sure the sales tax proceeds were spent properly, for public safety, parks and other basic services.

The current plan is for the committee to start work July 1. But that's after the budget process, when council members will decide how to spend $27 million in 2013-14 from the sales tax hike. It would be far better if the committee helped advise the council before those decisions are made.

April 9, 2013
Jerry Brown: 'Closing a $27 billion budget gap ain't bupkis'

Gov. Jerry Brown apparently wasn't so busy packing for China on Saturday that he couldn't fire off a response to a Washington Post column he found annoying.

The column, by Matt Miller, argued that Brown was getting too much credit for shoring up the state's finances. Wrote Miller:

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but all the talk that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has basically "fixed" California by balancing the budget through a tax hike on high earners seems laughably off-base, at least to this Los Angeles native.

In a letter published today in the Post, Brown says Miller knocked down a straw man argument but missed the point about Proposition 30, the tax measure voters approved last November.

After years of massive budget instability, Prop 30 -- when added to $20 billion in new budget cuts -- restored fiscal balance to California. Closing a $27 billion budget gap ain't bupkis, Mr. Miller.

According to the Wiktionary, the word "bupkis" is yiddish, deriving from bobkes, which means "large beans" and kozebopkes, which means "goat droppings."

So there, Mr. Miller. How do you like those beans?

April 5, 2013
Why should Obama apologize for telling the truth?

By Ginger Rutland

We suck all the marrow out of our politicians and then wonder why they come off so universally wooden and timid and scripted.

The most recent case on point - an off-hand remark by President Barack Obama at a private fundraiser in San Francisco that Kamala Harris "also happens to be the best-looking attorney general in the country" has created a stir among the chattering classes - mostly newspaper reporters and TV pundits. Regular Americans, I suspect, could care less.

Under the headline "Flirter in chief," Fox News reports that the president, a friend and long time political ally of Harris, called her to apologize for the remark. Please! Where else in the world do men have to apologize for calling a good looking women good looking?

California happens to be home to two exceptionally beautiful women in high office - Harris, who undoubtedly is, as the president said, "the best looking attorney general in the country," and Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

Some may recall the hubbub that Assemblyman Chuck Calderon created a year or so ago when he alluded to Cantil-Sakauye's appearance in an Assembly floor speech. "It isn' she attractive" the clueless Calderon sputtered, "Cause she is."

Unlike Harris, the chief justice did take offense. That may have been because at the moment he uttered his fateful words regarding Cantil-Sakauye's appearance, Calderon was pushing legislation that would have stripped the chief justice of her power.

There seems to be a double standard. Endless stories have been written and reams of newsprint consumed on the subject of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom's handsome profile. One news article called him "blindingly handsome." But I don't recall any one getting huffy about it or being accused of sexism or even asking him if he were offended.

And it goes beyond politicians. Ordinary men I talk to about this tell me they feel constrained at the office, afraid of offering even the most common place compliments to their female co-workers.

This, I think, is one of those instances when the "media" really is to blame. We tend to highlight the "oops" moments, blowing them way out of proportion. "Flirter in chief?" - give me a break.

President Barack Obama walks with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, center, and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, after arriving at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

April 3, 2013
Rise & Opine: Will they serve green beer at Sonics Arena?

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has been playing the P.R. card hot and heavy in the walk up to Wednesday's meeting with NBA owners in New York. But Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, leaders of the Seattle investment team attempting to purchase the Kings from the Maloof family, haven't just been sitting on their emerald seat cushions.

Over the weekend, they produced drawings of their new arena. A very green arena!


If the NBA owners like green -- and they do, in the financial sense -- maybe they will be attracted to what Seattle is offering. But at least one survey shows that green is not a popular color, seen as unsafe, at least by purchasers of new cars.

The survey, conducted by Cheskin, MSI-ITM, and CMCD/Visual Symbols Library, found that the most popular color was blue, followed by purple. That's right, purple. Kings colors.

We will soon find out if the NBA owners feel safe in a green car. To drive it, they will need to junk a purple one -- a model that has proven dependable over the long haul.

Renderings courtesy of

March 26, 2013
Sacramento supervisors go on record against 4 a.m. last call

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors today strongly opposed a bill that could lead to a later last call for serving alcohol at bars and restaurants.

Senate Bill 635 would allow cities and counties to petition the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to extend hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. in designated nightlife districts.

Supervisors voted after hearing from the Sheriff's Department that it worries about more drunken driving and its ability to patrol more crowded roads at 4 a.m., when the commute to the Bay area is starting for some local residents.

That backed up a staff recommendation that also warned about the impact on public safety.

Supervisor Phil Serna said it was a "no brainer" for him to oppose the extended hours.

He and other supervisors also didn't think much of supporters' arguments that a later last call could actually reduce DUIs by limiting binge drinking by patrons slamming down drinks at 2 a.m. Backers also describe the measure as local economic development tool.

March 25, 2013
Here comes U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley, finally

Better late than never for Troy L. Nunley, who has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become a judge on the federal district court centered in Sacramento.

Nunley was initially nominated by President Barack Obama last June, but was left hanging in December when the Senate adjourned without voting on his nomination and 10 other judicial nominees. The Bee's editorial board called them casualties of the partisan rancor in Washington.

Obama renominated Nunley in January the very day the new Senate was sworn into office. He was finally confirmed Saturday morning.

Nunley, a former prosecutor, is a judge on the Sacramento Superior Court. He will help ease a backlog in the Eastern District of California that is one of the worst in the country. According to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office, it takes a criminal case 30 percent longer to be completed than it did in 2009, and a civil case takes nearly four years to get to trial, 50 percent longer than two years ago."

"Judge Nunley's confirmation is a small step to help relieve the pressure in the Eastern District, but there is more to do," Feinstein said in a statement. "I will continue the fight to add more judgeships to the California's Eastern District, which has suffered from unsustainable caseloads for years."

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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