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State Disaster Response Needs Overhaul, Clear Chain of Command

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Oversight Hearings Urge OES, OHS Merger, Creation of Dept. of Public Health

For many of us in the legislature, not a day passes when we don’t think about the safety and security of the nation and this state. As elected and appointed officials, it’s our highest calling. But there are some things we can’t control, such as most natural disasters and, God forbid, acts of terrorism.

However, there are many things we can control. This includes everything from emergency planning and protecting critical assets, to ensuring that all necessary emergency resources and equipment such as medical supplies and emergency communication systems are available and functional. After more than a dozen policy hearings the Assembly has either convened alone or participated in with the Senate, we are now, finally at the point, where I believe a consensus has been arrived at, that will allow this State to take the next step in protecting its citizens.

The time has come to rethink the current state organizational structure for matters of emergency preparedness and homeland security. We now have two separate state entities responsible for different, and sometimes overlapping, responsibilities in the areas of emergency preparedness and response and homeland security: the Office of Emergency Services (OES), with almost 500 employees and a budget of $1 billion dollars, and the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), with 32 staff and a budget of $367 million.

The Governor’s proposed budget contemplates establishing OHS as an independent entity, effective 1/1/2007. Instead, I would suggest, that they need to operate as one cabinet-level agency. A new Office of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security would provide the clear chain of command that is needed during emergencies. It would also allow for the specific responsibilities of the two offices to be better defined. This would be good for both management and for accountability reasons, which have suffered under the current structure.

I am calling for the merger of the Office of Emergency Services and the Office of Homeland Security to create a cabinet-level post for these vital offices, an increased effort to make communications interoperability a reality, and the creation a of State Department of Public Health.

It is only a matter of time before California is rocked with a natural or man-made disaster. The State of California must be prepared to plan and respond to earthquakes, fires, floods, disease or terrorist attacks. Right now, there is a good chance we would fall flat on our faces in major crisis. The changes we are recommending would go far in improving this system.

Currently, the State of California’s disaster and emergency response agencies are spread through mid-level bureaucracies. Many have to go up a chain of command to be able to coordinate with another department. During a crisis, valuable time would be lost in navigating these channels.

This same discussion is still occurring at the federal level, where they still haven’t got it right either, which is disappointing given the governmental blundering that surfaced before, during, and after Katrina. On this point, just last week, a bipartisan US Senate Report was issued calling for yet another reorganization of FEMA, which would effectively be dismantled and replaced with a new National Preparedness and Response Authority.

California needs to heed the lessons learned from other natural disasters in terms of how government prepared for and responded to these situations so that our citizens are better protected. We need to take note of the significant number of recommendations that have been proposed by Congress and the Administration on this subject. We need to get it right.

All of us will all be partners in this effort: the Administration, the Legislature, the public, and the private sectors. Today’s hearing focused on three key subjects: the governance structure of OES and OHS; the proposed establishment of the Department of Public Health and other public health issues; and emergency communication system interoperability.

At the hearing, Stanley Zax, the Vice-Chairman of the state Little Hoover Commission, testified eloquently regarding the subcommittee he led for the Commission and the Commission’s adoption of a major report that calls for more leadership on this issue and a reorganization of OES and OHS. I should also note that Mr. Zax led the Little Hoover effort 3-years ago that also called for the establishment of a state Department of Public Health.

Along with the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office and Little Hoover Commission, all have concluded that the states’ offices and departments that deal directly with emergencies and disasters need a clear chain of command. Leadership is needed to ensure that the state establishes a radio interoperability plan to make certain that public safety departments at the local, state and federal levels can communicate in a disaster. Leadership is needed to address our lack of readiness regarding evacuation and mass shelter plans in the event of a catastrophic disaster. Lives depend upon it.

We in the Assembly hope to address those issues and more in the coming months. In the meantime, our hope is that the Governor will take a cue from the failures of those he has criticized in the federal government and take real action on California’s emergency preparedness.

It is firmly established that without a clear line of communication, a crisis can quickly devolve into a full-blown catastrophe that could threaten the lives of thousands of people. The mistakes made by the federal government in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cannot be repeated here in California.

Immigrants Are Not “Taking Jobs Away” From Americans

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Let’s get this straight: immigrants are not “taking jobs away” from Americans. Let us consider this language for a moment. What would this mean? Do these immigrants confront the job-holding Americans and wrest their tools from them? No. Do they drive them out of their jobsites? No. How then do they get these jobs? Employers hire them. Why? Because employers can get away with paying them less, or as studies have shown recently, with not paying them at all. See e.g. “On The Corner: Day Labor in the United States,” by Abel Valenzuela, Jr., Nik Theodore, Edwin Meléndez, and Ana Luz Gonzalez. January 23, 2006. Often these workers have no other choice than to work for less than legal workers earn. Is this “taking jobs away from” anyone?

It’s time to address the roles driving this issue, employers and consumers. It is employers seeking lower-cost labor that are outsourcing jobs at an enormous rate. It is employers trying to drive down their costs that are decreasing benefits, reducing health care coverage, abolishing pension plans. And it is employers that take advantage of immigrants to shave pennies off every bushel of tomatoes. Let us remember to place the blame where it belongs in this case.

Look at the incredible market heft wielded by Wal-Mart, which commands the economies of whole towns, and even counties. It is these employers who are undermining our common livelihood. And yet we rarely hold them responsible for their incursions into our hard-won labor protections. We treat employers as though they were at the mercy of the fickle weather of labor costs, without any choice over who to hire and how much to pay. We blame these powerless job-seekers and absolve the employers, who make or break the lives of all workers.

Employers will of course retort that the pressures of competition “force” them to lower their costs by whatever means they can. Causes are indeed complex in this situation. Americans as workers say they want pensions and health care and a fair wage. If these are eroding, it is not because of undocumented workers who have little choice but to work incredibly difficult jobs over long hours for barely sustaining pay. It is because of the intense demand for lower costs. But Americans as consumers want the lowest prices they can get, and rarely stop to think of what labor brings them their lettuce at such a bargain.

Employers should be providing living wages and decent benefits. Consumers have a responsibility to be more aware of the lives they are shaping with their dollars. Our labor laws brought us the weekend, the 40-hour work week, and the pensions and health coverage that are now being eroded. Efforts to protect labor and return our focus to real problems will get us past this destructive pattern of pitting some job-seekers against others, feeding American xenophobia and fearful finger-pointing. We are almost all immigrants here, after all. Let us not blame these people, working hard to escape poverty, who were drawn here by America’s brightest image of hope and opportunity.

Nancy Urban
nurban@berkeley.edu
© 2006

Nancy Urban is a cognitive linguist, focusing on the analysis of social and political affairs. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1999, with a dissertation on the influence of business models on higher education in the United States. She studied with Dr. George Lakoff, and has worked as a Senior Researcher at the Rockridge Institute. She currently resides in Berkeley, California.

Democrats Need a Strategic Message

[Editor’s note: Phil Trounstine was part of a panel yesterday at the California Democratic Convention: “Can Democrats Win the Message Game?” All three speakers, including Steve Maviglio and David Sirota, gave thoughtful presentations which varied in their recommendations. At my request, Trounstine edited his notes and sent the following. It is well worth a read.]

I’m not here tonight as a partisan either in the Democratic primary contest or even the November election. I was a journalist most of my career, I was communications director for Gray Davis for two and a half years and I’ve been a non-partisan pollster since then.

I’m going to talk a bit about public opinion in California, how we got to where we are today and I’m going to suggest some reasons why I believe Democrats have been unable to capture the public’s loyalty despite broad dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, the state and the George Bush wing of the Republican Party.

[Review of polling data from 2005-2006]

… The fundamental problem for Democrats is this: Voters don’t know what they stand for or where they would lead.

Note: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (March 2006): Asked to identify the two negative traits that best describe the Democrats in Washington, voters selected “no leadership” (34 percent) and “don’t know what they stand for” (24 percent)

Note: The Pew Research Center: From September 2000 to the end of 2004, Pew reports a 26-point increase in the percentage of Democrats saying their party does only a fair or poor job in standing up for core Democratic positions such as “protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working-class people.”

64 percent of Democrats at the end of 2004 believed their party was doing a poor job on acting on its historical values compared to 63 percent of Democrats who thought the party was doing a good job on these core positions at the end of Clinton’s second term.

Over the same period, about 50% of Republicans maintained the belief that their party was doing a good or excellent job of standing up for traditional Republican values like “reducing the size of government, cutting taxes and promoting conservative social values.”

In short, the Democrats have no strategic message. What is a strategic message?

A clear statement that illuminates values, purpose and direction.

As John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira write in the American Prospect: The starting point for all political organizing and campaigns should be: “What are my core beliefs and principles and how do I best explain them to supporters and skeptics alike?”

(By the way, Halpin and Teixeira argue that the Democrats’ new strategic message should be centered on the concept of the “common good” in contrast to what they see as “rampant individualism” underlying the Republican message.)

Anyway – a strategic message is what John Kerry never had. And why no one could tell you what he stood for. The last Democrat with a clear strategic message was Bill Clinton in 1992. He called for a New Covenant: a commitment to opportunity, responsibility and community.

The Clinton message stands up well to other great strategic messages, to name a few:

A New Deal
Peace, land and bread
Compassionate conservatism
Great society
Liberty, equality and fraternity
Leaders, for a change
Morning in America

These are more than slogans – but slogans are important too. A slogan is a memorable phrase used in a political or commercial context as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose. The word “slogan” comes from sluagh-ghairm (pronounced slogorm), which is Scottish Gaelic for “battle-cry”.

Just to demonstrate how powerful and lasting a slogan can be, let’s play a little slogan trivia. I’ll read the slogan and you shout what it’s for:

Tippecanoe and Tyler too (1840)
All the news that’s fit to print. (1896)
Speak softly and carry a big stick (1904)
When it rains, it pours (1911)
Mmm mmm good (1935)
A little dab’ll do you. (1949)
Finger lickin’ good. (1952)
I like Ike (1952)
It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ (1956)
We try harder. (1962)
All power to the people (1967)
The Uncola (1973)
Don’t leave home without it. (1975)
Just do it. (1988)

BTW: I might mention one I came up with — Flex your power (2000) [A slogan and a strategic message]

I submit that neither Steve Westly nor Phil Angelides has yet to craft a slogan as good as the last Democrat to carry California in an open election – Gray Davis in 1998, “Experience money can’t buy.” Which was followed by a strategic message for his administration, which was “Lasting values, new direction.”

But for Enron and Darryl Issa’s money, that would still be the message of the California governor’s office, I believe.

Westly appears to be running as “A different kind of governor” which, I assume, is an attempt to borrow from Clinton’s “A different kind of Democrat” without restricting his appeal to the independents who can vote in a Democratic primary. It’s a tactical slogan with a specific purpose.

Angelides argues that he is the only Democrat for governor who had the courage to stand up to Schwarzenegger. But that is not the central theme of his television advertising. In fact, I wasn’t sure what Phil’s strategic message is so I asked Bob Mulholland, who told me it is that “Angelides will fully fund education.”

Neither of these, I’d suggest, is a strategic message. They do not, as Halpin and Teixeira advocate, encapsulate the candidates’ core beliefs and principles. This is the challenge for Democrats, including those running for governor.

Phil Trounstine is the founder and director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University. He was the Communications Director for Gray Davis.

For Californians Who Want to Read and Reflect on Earth Day

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A Reading Selection for Thoughtful Californians on Earth Day–From Articles to the Original Sources:

Here are a few items you might not otherwise see today. This is not an exhaustive list, but are some recent items I have found that relate to California and the environment.

States are, fortunately, acting in absence of Bush leadership By Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. (April 21, 2006)

It’s Earth Day—Great overview and talking points. American Progress Action Fund (April 21, 2006)

States are using a variety of innovative approaches to support the market for solar energy in new homes To date, the greatest number of PV installations on new homes are in California. The study also finds that solar deployment may be most successful if builders commit to installing PV as a standard feature throughout new subdivisions. Supporting Photovoltaics in Market-Rate Residential New Construction: A Summary of Programmatic Experience to Date and Lessons Learned By Galen Barbose, and others, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (March 1, 2006)

San Joaquin Valley residents effectively are paying an average of $1,000 a year just to breathe. That’s the cost of shortened life spans, hospitalizations, job absences and other economic and health effects of the region’s chronically poor air quality, according to study. The agricultural valley hosts some of the most persistently dirty air in the country, rivaling Los Angeles and Houston. Dairies, cattle ranches and farms rank as major polluters. The Health and Related Economic Benefits of Attaining Healthful Air in the San Joaquin Valley. By Jane V. Hall, Institute for Economic and Environmental Studies, California State University, Fullerton, and others.(March 2006)

In a report on how to combat global warming, Governor Schwarzenegger’s top environmental advisors recommend that the state require power plant operators and other heavy industries to report the amount of greenhouse gas they emit.
Report. 107 p.
Executive Summary. 16 p.

A federal advisory panel recommended a dramatic cutback in the West Coast’s commercial salmon season, stopping just short of an unprecedented ban that threatened to swamp the beleaguered fishing industry. Under the restrictions, commercial fleets would be forced to limp along with far fewer days than last year, which fishermen considered among the most restrictive in memory. Press Release 3 p.
Klamath Salmon Issues. 5 p.

Flash: Perata Supports AB 583, Clean Money Campaign Finance Reform Measure

Just received from Senator Perata’s District Office: The following letter is being mailed to constituents who have called to urge his suppport of this landmark bill. (More later)

RE: Campaign Finance Reform

Thank you for contacting my office to express your support for Assembly Bill 583, which would create a voluntary system of publicly-funded campaigns for elected statewide and legislative offices. The California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act is based upon legislation enacted in Arizona and Maine.

I support AB 583. I look forward to seeing our democratic system become more accessible to candidates. The Senate Rules Committee, on which I serve as Chair, recently referred AB 583 to the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee for consideration. The bill will be heard in the Elections Committee on April 19th.

For updates on AB 583 or my other legislative activities, please visit my website at www.sen.ca.gov/perata.

Thank you for taking the time to share your views. As always, I value your input.

Sincerely,

DON PERATA