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The OC Register Responds to Calitics...by Reasserting Failed Conservative Ideology

by: Robert Cruickshank

Thu Nov 01, 2007 at 10:40:57 AM PDT


UPDATE by Brian: Robert is too modest to pimp his dKos diary on the FP, so I'll do it for him. Please give it a rec, as the story is certainly worthy of additional eyeballs.

Sunday's article, "How Anti-Union, Anti-Tax OC Conservatives Defeated Adequate Fire Protection in 2005," seems to have struck a nerve among Orange County conservatives. Yesterday the Orange County Register, whose editorials against Measure D in 2005 were a prime target of my article, devoted their lead editorial to the charges I laid out here on Sunday.

It's understandable that conservatives bristle at being called to account for the catastrophic outcomes of their ideological agenda. The devastation wreaked on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina irreparably damaged the Bush Administration and set the Republicans on the long road to losing the Congress. Millions of Americans saw the effects of Grover Norquist's "drown government in a bathtub" strategy. The Register's editorial pages, long devoted to a similar anti-government, anti-tax, anti-union agenda, have a clear interest in distancing themselves from last week's disaster.

But their editorial defense does not quite achieve its objectives. The Register does not rebut the fact that OC firefighters lacked necessary equipment that Measure D would have funded. More importantly, the editorial actually reinforces my core argument - that the conservative agenda the Register and others in OC promoted is intended to leave Californians lacking adequate fire protection and placing their safety in the hands of a private market.

Robert Cruickshank :: The OC Register Responds to Calitics...by Reasserting Failed Conservative Ideology
First, it's worth reviewing the basic charges. Last weekend the Register's own reporters explained that Orange County Fire Authority lacked basic resources needed to battle back the fast-moving and unpredictable Santiago Fire in its crucial first hours:

Two of the Orange County politicians now complaining about the lack of air support for the Santiago Fire opposed firefighters' effort to purchase new helicopters and trucks two years ago.

In fact, county officials today are sitting on more than $80 million in excess revenue from a statewide public safety sales tax adopted 13 years ago.

That surplus has been a longstanding sore spot for OC firefighters, who at times this week were so overwhelmed they had to seek refuge inside fire retardant tents.

The firefighter's 2005 ballot initiative would have redirected a small portion of the ½ cent sales tax, providing $8 million for new helicopters and $33 million for new fire trucks.

The LA Times also reported about the shortages:

[OCFA] fire engines were staffed below national standards, it had fewer firefighters per capita than neighboring counties, and its army of men and women ready to fight the blaze may have been weakened by changes in the county's volunteer firefighter program....

"We're out there with a handful of crews trying to stop this big fire, and all we could do was just put out spot fires," said Chip Prather, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority. "It would have been great to have the cavalry come in, but there were several fires burning, and it was taking time for the resources to get here."...

The size of those crews was one way that Orange County fell below the national standard. Most of the county's engines were staffed with three people. Four per engine is the voluntary minimum standard from the National Fire Protection Assn., a private organization that writes fire safety guidelines.

Crews with three firefighters work more slowly than larger crews, according to a study by the Insurance Services Organization, a national group that evaluates fire departments.

Todd Spitzer, a Republican Assemblymember from Orange, was another target of today's editorial for his criticisms of equipment shortages. On Tuesday he explained the lack of resources left parts of central Orange County vulnerable on the fire's critical first night:

The evening the Santiago fire began, Chief Prather and I stood at the Foothill (241) Toll Road and Santiago Canyon Road, watching firefighters set backfires to consume fuel that would have sent the fire into East Orange. Homes in north Tustin were threatened when the fire jumped the 261 Toll Road, potentially burning into Lower Peters Canyon. Homes in Irvine, at Jamboree and Portola Parkway, were nearly lost.

We had no relief for the "left flank" of the fire. That portion of the fire was slipping toward Foothill Ranch and northeast Irvine. But structure protection was the focus, so all our ground resources were in Irvine. I was on the phone repeatedly with the Office of Emergency Services regional command based in Riverside, which was charged with prioritizing all the requests for assistance based on need. Orange County kept getting told that the Santa Ana winds would keep the fire burning toward Irvine. We warned, however, that the fire was slipping south and if it crossed Santiago Canyon Road because of a wind shift, it would burn out of control. Our concerns were dismissed as not consistent with weather predictions.

(North Tustin, where I was born and raised, is where most of my family still resides.)

The situation Spitzer describes is fundamentally one of a shortage of resources. With more trucks, helicopters, and firefighters, Spitzer and Chief Prather's concerns might not have been dismissed.

Yesterday's editorial, however, addresses neither of these concers about equipment shortages. Instead they try to claim that the Proposition 172 system of allocating public safety funds worked - despite the fact that, in 2005, Steven Greenhut, the senior editorial writer for the Register, denounced California taxpayers as "weak" for having approved Prop 172 in November 1993, in the aftermath of the 1993 firestorms.

For instance, the Measure D battle two years ago was over the disbursement of Proposition 172 sales-tax funds that voters had already approved for public safety. Conservatives were on both sides of the issue as the firefighters sought to take a share of tax dollars that mostly had gone to fund the Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney's Office. This wasn't about "stingy" taxpayers unwilling to pay for public safety, as the liberals allege, but about divvying up the taxpayers' money among agencies.

But the Register's own reporting contradicts this. To revisit the Register article discussed above:

In fact, county officials today are sitting on more than $80 million in excess revenue from a statewide public safety sales tax adopted 13 years ago.

The firefighter's 2005 ballot initiative would have redirected a small portion of the ½ cent sales tax, providing $8 million for new helicopters and $33 million for new fire trucks.

Redirection of some Prop 172 monies toward fire protection was one of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Blue Ribbon Fire Commission recommendations - along with replacing outdated helicopters - which Measure D would have accomplished. Nor is it clear that Measure D would have negatively impacted the OC Sheriff's Department or the District Attorney's office as claimed. The Yes on D campaign explained - as illustrated by their mailers, which anti-Measure D blogger Matt "Jubal" Cunningham thankfully preserved for posterity - that even with this redirection of part of OC's Prop 172 allocation, the OCSD and DA would both continue to see increased budgets from Prop 172.

The editorial points out that Orange County and San Diego County are not the only California jurisdictions with underfunded fire protection. But they neglect to explain the source of that problem - in SD, OC, and statewide, it has been 30 years of conservative anti-tax policies, from Proposition 13 to the opposition to Measure D, that has left public services destitute.

However, neither the technical details of Prop 172 allocation nor Orange County's fire protection needs were at the heart of the conservative anti-Measure D campaign that the Register championed two years ago. As I explained on Sunday, the attack was really on unions and public employees. Greenhut compared the fight between the Sheriff's union and the firefighters' union to the fight between Hitler and Stalin. Cunningham believed that beating back the power of government employee unions was the main reason to oppose Measure D, even going so far as to say the firefighters threatened basic rights.

Sadly, yesterday's editorial repeats these arguments:

We pointed out at the time that the average salary and benefit package for firefighters in all categories was about $175,000 a year.

In other words, public fire protection should come at the cost of public employees. They should have to give up health care, pensions, and pay before taxpayers are asked to reallocate already-collected monies to better tackle OC's perennial firestorms. Apparently, the Register does not believe that firefighters should be able to afford to meet OC's sky-high cost of living.

Finally, the editorial goes on to validate my conclusions that stinginess with public tax money would lead conservatives to suggest turning everything over to the market. As I wrote on Sunday:

It seems unlikely that Orange County conservatives will be giving up their virulent anti-tax, anti-firefighter crusade even in the aftermath of October's firestorm. Instead we should expect them to ramp up their argument that private enterprise and the market will do a better job of fighting fires than "greedy" public sector employees.

That is precisely what the Register did in its editorial:

A broader goal would be more privatization efforts and more private ownership of land. Private firefighting firms would have a financial interest to promote prevention, and more private ownership of land would mean better-maintained property. Private owners are far better at protecting their property than public owners, who follow an entirely different set of objectives.

This is already happening here in California, as Bloomberg News reported last week:

"What we're trying to do here is provide our policyholders an additional level of protection," said Stan Rivera, director of wildfire protection for AIG Private Client Group. The average home insured by the unit is valued at $1.7 million....

The Wildfire Protection Unit has six trucks outfitted to spray Phos-Chek, the fire retardant used by the U.S. Forest Service. Customers can have Phos-Chek sprayed on brush surrounding their homes before each fire season. During a wildfire, the trucks are sent out whenever a fire comes within three miles of a home and spray all combustible areas.

Such protection doesn't come cheap. It's available only to customers of AIG Private Client Group, which serves affluent individuals and their families. The average customer spends $19,000 a year on the insurance, which may also cover yachts, art collections and ransom demands, Rivera said.

AIG Private Client Group has about 55,000 customers throughout the U.S., Rivera said. California is "one of the biggest" markets for the group, he said.

If you can't afford this coverage, though, you're screwed:

Some victims of the California fires may wish they had their own firemarks. During this week's wildfires, "there were a few instances where we were spraying and the neighbor's house went up like a candle," Crays said.

This is the future the Register happily embraces - public fire protection should be underfunded; any attempt to rectify this is an illegitimate grab by overzealous, anti-liberty public unions and their overpaid, greedy workers; and members of the public should be on their own when it comes to fire protection, regardless of ability to pay.

For the thousands of Orange County residents who could not possibly afford this kind of fire protection, the Register's far right ideology leaves them with nothing. Here's to hoping that my beloved home of Orange County will finally wake up to the agenda that their conservative elite is promoting.

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Partly true (0.00 / 0)
"Private owners are far better at protecting their property than public owners, who follow an entirely different set of objectives."

Absolutely true. A good case in point is Kenya vs. Zimbabwe and the sale of elephant products: Kenya prohibited the sale, and after the prohibition the elephant population decreased from 65,000 in 1979 to 19,000 in 1989. However, in Zimbabwe, where elephants could be owned and elephant products could be sold, the elephant population increased from 30,000 to 43,000 during the same time.

They make a good point here:

One of the best arguments against Measure D, signed by prominent Orange County opponents, argued: "The Fire Authority has a substantial budget surplus. If their fire stations are truly understaffed, then why did the Fire Authority recently spend $50 million to build a new luxury Administration Building that even their own ballot signer, Joe Kerr, called a 'multimillion-dollar Taj Mahal'? The Fire Authority needs more financial accountability, NOT more of our tax dollars!"

We pointed out at the time that the average salary and benefit package for firefighters in all categories was about $175,000 a year. Certainly, the authority could argue that it had insufficient equipment, but our argument - and the argument from Measure D opponents - was that this was a budgeting and management problem not a lack-of-resources problem. Had the authority had better priorities, it would have had plenty of money for capital investments.

Improve use of what you have before asking for more. I don't know why people have trouble digesting that concept

The Silent Consensus


HTML didn't work (0.00 / 0)
One of the best arguments against Measure D, signed by prominent Orange County opponents, argued: "The Fire Authority has a substantial budget surplus. If their fire stations are truly understaffed, then why did the Fire Authority recently spend $50 million to build a new luxury Administration Building that even their own ballot signer, Joe Kerr, called a 'multimillion-dollar Taj Mahal'? The Fire Authority needs more financial accountability, NOT more of our tax dollars!"

We pointed out at the time that the average salary and benefit package for firefighters in all categories was about $175,000 a year. Certainly, the authority could argue that it had insufficient equipment, but our argument - and the argument from Measure D opponents - was that this was a budgeting and management problem not a lack-of-resources problem. Had the authority had better priorities, it would have had plenty of money for capital investments.

The Silent Consensus


[ Parent ]
One possible reason (8.00 / 2)
Is that given recent history, they have no reason to think they'll get money again for 50 years, so this had better last a while.

[ Parent ]
To both you and the Register (6.33 / 6)
Any use of government funds to provide anything halfway decent is considered either wasteful or extravagant. I wonder if the new HQ is really "luxurious" - I am doubting it has marbled floors and gilded fixtures, for example. How many private, corporate headquarters have you been to? Do you think the Blackwater HQ, or CCA/Wackenhut, or AIG's headquarters are anything less than luxurious? Even if OCFA's HQ is "luxurious" they are merely competing with the private sector, which is what you always preach, right?

In any case, you're repeating the Register's claim - that to protect the public, we must take away wages and benefits from public workers, worsen their working conditions, and maybe then address equipment needs - needs which the Governor's own blue ribbon commission acknowledged were needed.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave


[ Parent ]
Only *downward* wage competition is permitted (8.00 / 2)


[ Parent ]
Exactly. (6.00 / 3)
"Competition" is never intended to improve workers' lot - it is always meant to worsen it.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

[ Parent ]
Stereotype (0.00 / 0)
Not all private companies are what you make Wal-Mart out to be. Sorry but they're not

The Silent Consensus

[ Parent ]
Fair enough... (0.00 / 0)
there are companies like Costco... who don't operate on the ethic of what's paid to employees is lost profits.

But making the point that not all corporations are functionally evil doesn't prove that many aren't, or that most aren't.  It simply proves that it's not an absolute black and white picture. (As my son would say, duh!.)

Is it sane to encourage gutting shared services that protect us all so that for-profit companies can provide a higher level  of service--sometimes--to the wealthy, while everyone else suffers? 


[ Parent ]
I don't get how it relates (0.00 / 0)
"Is it sane to encourage gutting shared services that protect us all so that for-profit companies can provide a higher level  of service--sometimes--to the wealthy, while everyone else suffers?"

That assumes we're gutting shared services by contracting out, and that everyone except the wealthy suffers from it

The Silent Consensus


[ Parent ]
Bullcrap (0.00 / 0)
don't try representing me, or misrepresenting me for that matter. I can rebut for myself without your bullshit exaggerations and straw man

The Silent Consensus

[ Parent ]
I am not leaving (0.00 / 0)
that on the table. That was straw man to the nth degree.

"Any use of government funds to provide anything halfway decent is considered either wasteful or extravagant."

Not the case at all

"Do you think the Blackwater HQ, or CCA/Wackenhut, or AIG's headquarters are anything less than luxurious? Even if OCFA's HQ is "luxurious" they are merely competing with the private sector, which is what you always preach, right?"

What private companies purchase with their own money is their business, unless that money comes from the government (which shouldn't, corporate welfare should be abolished). Taxpayers money is a different story, because it's taken by force. Apples and oranges

"that to protect the public, we must take away wages and benefits from public workers, worsen their working conditions, and maybe then address equipment needs"

Again, blatant straw man. I have never argued for privatizing our public safety jobs.

Just as I say, I'll call you out on it, then I'm done responding to the issue in this subset. You wanna refute my accusations, then fine, and I'll listen and respond

The Silent Consensus


[ Parent ]
Do you actually read your own stuff? (6.00 / 4)
What private companies purchase with their own money is their business, unless that money comes from the government (which shouldn't, corporate welfare should be abolished). Taxpayers money is a different story, because it's taken by force. Apples and oranges

Blackwater money IS TAXPAYER MONEY.  So is a lot of Wackenhut money. Also Triple Canopy, Boeing, GE, Raytheon, Rockwell, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and a host of other defense contractors.  Now tell me how much the Blackwater CEO should make with the money that's "taken by force".  Or the Wackenhut CEO?

The only difference is that the Blackwater taxpayer funds are "laundered" through a corporation, so you think it's all hunky-dory, whereas you don't think that the same laundering through public employee salaries is OK, because... because... apparently governments should not pay rank and file workers well, but should instead pay CEOs of government contractors well. 

Really, your incoherence on this point is astonishing, but it's of a piece with your half-formed schmibertarian instincts and lack of sophistication on other points, so I shouldn't be surprised.  We don't make your points into straw men -- you present straw men as if they're actual arguments.


[ Parent ]
I'm calling you out again (0.00 / 0)
you could have explained your point that they are funded by taxpayers nicely and resort to ad hominem.

"apparently governments should not pay rank and file workers well, but should instead pay CEOs of government contractors well."

I have never said that, you are assuming. That is straw man. You are making a big jump in saying that because I believe in competitive bidding, I believe rank and file workers should not be paid well and CEOs should.

Not the case at all. I wouldn't mind if we had a living wage requirement for contractors who do business with government

The Silent Consensus


[ Parent ]
Sadly (8.00 / 1)
Your righteous indignation doesn't actually qualify as a response to the point made.

[ Parent ]
The troll-rating is a nice little temper-tantrum as well. (5.67 / 3)
Although it's also not responsive.

[ Parent ]
What's the definition of "is" (8.00 / 2)
"Insults, personal  attacks, rudeness, and blanket unsupported statements reduce the level of discourse, interfere with our basic objective, and are not permitted."

[ Parent ]
You need to go look up ad hominem. (8.00 / 1)
Really, go look it up.  It doesn't mean what you think it means.  I don't think your arguments suck because you're somehow a bad person (though you've often demonstrated a profound lack of empathy for people less fortunate than yourself).

I think your pseudo-libertarian arguments suck because they suck. They're unsophisticated literalist regurgitations of slightly more sophisticated theories that first assume as "facts" highly contentious opinions, and then abstract away or ignore all sorts of actual (historical, economic, political, psychological) realities in order to get to a predefined outcome. 

That's a consistent behavior on your part, and it's tiresome dealing with the same bad arguments over and over again.  I feel no qualms about saying that.


[ Parent ]
You constantly (0.00 / 0)
make me out to be a bad person, and automatically assume how I'm going to respond in a negative way.

Lack of empathy my ass. I want to enable them to get a job, you want them to become dependent on welfare. I disagree with conservatives who want no welfare at all, and with liberals who think welfare should continue forever to able-bodied people who can work.

I don't ignore reality. You saying I do doesn't make it so. Everytime I make a point that points to reality, you either disregard it and continue on your attack, or don't respnd at all

The Silent Consensus


[ Parent ]
Responding to you is generally a waste of time. (8.00 / 2)
You never stop.  Unlike you, I have to work for a living, and have other commitments.  You're aware of course, that there are many times when almost every comment down the left hand side is you because you've simply refused to stop commenting over and over and over.

And I've seen you, when someone points out an actual fact that you're wrong on, concede the fact, and then demand in trade that they concede your opinion.  Those two things are not the same. 

As far as not responding to you, I try to ignore the vast majority of what you write here, because it's always the same stuff, always regurgitations of the same arguments assuming as facts statements which are actually opinions.  You seem entirely disinterested in actually absorbing anything which conflicts with those assumptions, so I've stopped bothering to take you seriously as an interlocutor.

Incidentally, this:

I want to enable them to get a job, you want them to become dependent on welfare.

is actually false, at least as it applies to my  views, about which you actually know very little, though you assume a great deal.  It would be great if everyone had productive and remunerative work, but I know that (for example) the labor participation rate in the US is (IIRC) < 65% of the population.  So expecting everyone to get a job or starve, especially the less skilled, means that you're willing to let them starve, or at least depend on whatever invasive private charity might be willing to feed them. This is, incidentally, the preferred historical solution. (Are there no workhouses?)

It's simply not my preferred solution, especially because last time I checked, their children didn't ask to be in that situation. Providing the underclass with a meaningful level of support is, writ stingy and at its most instrumentalist, a cheap insurance policy for civil peace. While desperation may be a sharp goad, it is not enough to create jobs sufficient to lift people out of poverty or create the ability to get to the jobs.  There are lots of stories about exceptional people who manage it, sure.  But one might ask oneself why the US now has less income mobility than most Western European countries (with more robust welfare states) does, and one might want to genuinely investigate the median poor person vs. the median middle class person vs. the median rich person.  What is available to each of them, and why are those things so different?

But I don't expect that of you -- you show no inclination in that direction.  You have a facile mind, and you're able to debate fairly well, having mastered a lot of the sleights-of-hand that internet forums breed.  But you don't really seem interested in learning.


[ Parent ]
I'm done playing tag (0.00 / 0)
Enough of this, "you're it" "no you're it."

With regards to, "Unlike you, I have to work for a living, and have other commitments."

I didn't know being in college was such a crime (figuratively)

If your accusations are true, then please call me out on it if I do it in the future, right when it happens. If these are true then yes, I need improvement

I could say some negative things about you right now, but I don't want to do that. It's not getting anywhere. Though I will ask that you don't make assumptions about my life. I'm not going to bother with examples, because that's not getting anywhere

Although seriously, when have I ever done this: "And I've seen you, when someone points out an actual fact that you're wrong on, concede the fact, and then demand in trade that they concede your opinion.  Those two things are not the same."

I have conceded on a fact and then said, "regardless, it's still wrong" or something of that nature, but that's not asking for a concession on an opinion.

On welfare, I couldn't agree more that the kids didn't ask to be in that situation. Having said that, the welfare lifestyle is taught just as the hardworking lifestyle is taught. Kids learn more from what they see their parents do than anything their parents say to them. In other words, "do as I say, not as I do" is a huge parental mistake. It causes a spiral

Therefore, any able-bodied parent who banks on welfare and doesn't work shouldn't have kids. 2 years is plenty of time to find a new job, and if they don't, yes, they should have their kids placed somewhere else until they clean up their act. Welfare is not an entitlement, and it's not a right, it's a temporary safety net

Some kids have the attitude of, "My great grandpa went to Harvard. My grandpa went to Harvard. My dad went to Harvard, and therefore, I'm entitled to go to Harvard." Why wouldn't that attitude apply to welfare?

And absolutely, I support San Diego's Project 100 Percent. The only people who wouldn't get welfare from it would be people pretending they're poor but they're not, or that they have kids that they don't have. Use the savings of Project 100 Percent to increase welfare for those who actually need it

The Silent Consensus


[ Parent ]
And I'm not pure (0.00 / 0)
I'll admit that. But unlike some, I won't claim to be

The Silent Consensus

[ Parent ]
Straw Man (8.00 / 1)
So, I'm planning a little Straw Man party.  It'll be a little like Burning Man (but, of course the straw will burn much quicker.)

I figure, with Halloween over and all, we probably can get a good deal on Straw Men. 

You're all invited.  Whaddaya say?


[ Parent ]
Taken by force? (0.00 / 0)
Oh. My. God.

(Shaking head)


[ Parent ]
Yes absolutely (0.00 / 0)
Try not paying your taxes, and then tell me they're not taken by force

The Silent Consensus

[ Parent ]
Now available (8.00 / 1)
in orange

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

Pete Wilson, Arsonist? (0.00 / 0)
So says Mike Davis, who shows how Wilson's development policies while SD mayor in the '70s set the stage for the overdevelopment of the region's burn zones.

Anyone interested in the politics of fire needs to read Mike Davis' 1998 book Ecology of Fear. Anyone interested in SoCal politics more broadly needs to read his 1990 classic, City of Quartz.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave


He's fantastic (0.00 / 0)
Must read book.

[ Parent ]
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