Governorâ€™s political mileage may vary
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:03 pm
Another round of flogging for the gasoline price cap law topic, this time in a SB article. Iâ€™m really beginning to wonder how many times it is useful to publish stories essentially saying, â€œthe price of gasoline will go upâ€”we think; and the industry could failâ€”maybe.â€ However, the conclusion of this article has a few novel items worth commenting on.
Lingle said she would have to see some tangible negative effect before she uses her authority to suspend the caps; high prices alone will not be enough.
Lingle said she plans to pay special attention to neighbor islands, where some have predicted that the cap could lead to â€œjobbersâ€ leaving the market or cutting back on the areas they service. Jobbers are middlemen who buy gasoline at wholesale and resell it to stations.
â€œIf the law results in decreased margins for suppliers, they will likely seek to take it out of our margins,â€ Brian Barbata, a jobber who serves Maui and Kauai counties, said in an e-mail message. â€œReduced margins for jobbers means reduced ability to supply small, distant stations. â€¦ The unintended consequences of this law are insidious and far-reaching.â€
It will be interesting to see just how far the Governor is willing to go with this â€œyou [the Legislature] made your bed, now lie in itâ€ strategy if the prices are set (and remain) high and yet there were to be no â€œtangible negative effectâ€ on the industry. Her inertia would have to be explained very carefully in order to divert the almost inevitable negative public opinion from herself to the Lege. She could deflect the heat to some small extent, but when she has an immediately available lever to pull to provide relief and chooses not to pull it that could backfire if it is clear that her decision is based on a political calculation. Especially if it turns out that members of her own party donâ€™t approve of the inertia strategy.
[Former UH Law School Dean] Miller doesnâ€™t buy any of the arguments being made against the cap.
â€œThey (opponents) are just trying to scare the hell out of the Legislature right now, and theyâ€™re not going to succeed,â€ he said. â€œThis is one of the most profitable markets in the United States â€“ one of the states where they gouge to the excess.â€
Price-cap supporters argue that oil companies have kept prices artificially high in Hawaii for decades.
They often cite research released by the state attorney generalâ€™s office in the late 1990s that showed Chevron Corp. (now ChevronTexaco Corp.) made about 23 percent of its profits in Hawaii, which accounted for only 3 percent of its market. In legislative hearings, ChevronTexaco had said its Hawaii business provided no more than 5 percent of its profits in recent years.
Industry officials have said some arguments on oil industry profits are misleading and arise from selective legal arguments in a 1998 price-fixing lawsuit against the oil companies. Companies settled the lawsuit by paying the state $20 million in 2002.
Hmmmm. Five percent of industry profits from three percent of the market is still enough of an anomoly to catch my attention. Wouldnâ€™t that mean that profits are 40% higher than what youâ€™d expect? But whatever.
Cap opponents say gasoline prices are higher because of the stateâ€™s high tax structure and the inherent costs of doing business in a market as isolated as Hawaii.
Lingle said she believes a better approach to controlling gasoline prices would be to force oil companies to open their books so consumers could see how much money was being made at every stage of business.
â€œThatâ€™s been an issue of inquiry and lawsuits,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s a feeling people have that theyâ€™re being gouged. I think thatâ€™s what bothers people most, is that they feel theyâ€™re being charged unfairly simply because we have no other choice.â€
This would seem to be more â€œLingle is a RINOâ€ ammuntion.
Those that oppose the gasoline price cap who are not connected to the petroleum industry tend to see this as a simple issue of government interference in the â€œfreeâ€ market. The Governorâ€™s â€œbetter approachâ€ would probably seem just as anathema to them as actually capping the gasoline prices, perhaps worse. If the price cap results in higher fuel prices consumers will likely blame it on the government. If the books are opened up and consumers discover that the high prices are because of high profits, then the industry will have nothing to hide behind. Even if the open books point the finger back at the tax structure, government mandates to require the revelation of the profit data from any industry to the public would certainly give many conservatives fits.
Godwinâ€™s Law; 21st Century update
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:53 pm
Meta comment. A big thanks to Scott Crawford for bringing to my attention via email a Honolulu Weekly column by Ragnar Carlson. Iâ€™d be grateful if any other readers could do article recon for me, too. With this slow connection I can only visit a few sites, click on a story, wait 5 minutes, and hope itâ€™s something worth a blog post. Leave a comment if youâ€™re interested in helping out in this way while Iâ€™m at sea. End of meta comment.
For those of you who remember the days when Usenet was the place to exchange ideas with a wide audience across the internet, you would probably already be familiar with Godwinâ€™s Law. There are various ways of stating it, but basically it says that â€œas any debate proceeds the probability of someone comparing his or her adversary to Hitler approaches 1:1. When that event horizon is crossed, the person who invoked Hitler is declared the defeated party of the debate.â€
Carlsonâ€™s latest piece (with its usual short-lived link that dies next Wednesday) is based upon an August 5, 2005, Olelo broadcast of a talk delivered by Akaka Bill opponent Bruce Fein. In the 21st Century I believe we may now substitute â€œterroristâ€ for â€œHitler.â€ Observe:
According to Fein, the idea that Hawaiian sovereignty is necessary for the preservation of Hawaiian culture is not only â€œcompletely false,â€ but also a â€œcontrivance to justify further privileges.â€ This striking remark implicates both of Hawaiâ€™iâ€™s senators, our House delegation, governor and virtually every member of the political establishment in a scheme to defraud the government out of millions of dollars. Nearing his finale, Fein told the group he was often asked whether there wasnâ€™t some common ground between Akaka bill supporters and opponents, some room for compromise.
â€œThere is no compromise,â€ he said. â€œThere is nothing we could give them that would not be giving up everything. Itâ€™s like asking â€˜can we compromise with the 9/11 terrorists?â€™â€
At least Fein did not stoop to ask, â€œwhy do those who support the Hawaiian culture hate freedom?â€ Heh.
Finally, a wink and a nod to Carlson for using my preferred terminology:
Over the past several months, the Washington, D.C.-based lawyer has become something of a household name in the islands, writing commentaries and lobbying local officials to oppose the Akaka bill. Working as an â€œadviserâ€ to the Grassroots Institute of Hawaiâ€™i, Feinâ€™s primary soapbox is hawaiireporter.com, a blog whose â€œPresident and Editorâ€ is the right-wing gadfly Malia Zimmerman.
Hiraki crosses Richards Street
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:10 am
I might have been sailing in TransPac when it was first announced, but yesterday I managed to download this follow-up story in the SB about the upcoming resignation of Representative Hiraki.
The article discusses the replacement process for his seat (the Governor must pick somebody from his district and of his same (Democratic) party) and lists the four names provided to the Governor by the Democratic Party. Iâ€™ve a dog in the fight, so Iâ€™ll just leave the replacement question at that for now.
Hiraki, a Democrat who served the Kakaako-Downtown district for 19 years, announced last month he would leave office Sept. 1 to become a lobbyist for Hawaiian Telcom.
Again, I didnâ€™t see it (and for now I canâ€™t efficiently search through the back issues), but hopefully when this resignation was announced last month there was some mention of the â€œcooling offâ€ period a former legislator must observe before directly lobbying at the Legislature. If I recall correctly (on land Iâ€™d look it up, sorry) that period is one year long. As Chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee Hiraki had significant influence over telecommunications issues in Hawaii, which is obviously why Hawaii Telcom was interested in acquiring his services. If he has to wait, I suppose that there could be some lobbying work Hiraki could do for Hawaii Telcom at Congress while he â€œcools offâ€ at the state level.
It is also worth noting that Representative Hirakiâ€™s committee had jurisdiction over the gasoline price cap legislation. It just so happens that the cap goes into effect the same day Hiraki leaves the Legislature. In another story yesterday I read a quote from the Speaker of the House to the effect that he hopes the Governor keeps a close eye on the gasoline price cap and that she would step in to suspend the law if necessaryâ€”essentially hedging his bets. Whoever replaces Hiraki as CPC Chair might be willing (or under great pressure) to repeal to the law, although all the public signals suggest that Senator Menor still strongly supports the law and could bottle up any repeal effort unless it is overwhelmingly strong.
Connection is all but gone now
â€” Doug @ 6:18 am
The web is loading painfully slow at this position, and we are still heading North. Iâ€™d say there is not much hope of my web access lasting but another few days, at most.
Check back from time to time, maybe Iâ€™ll get a lucky break.
The â€œother Aionaâ€ speaks about the GOP
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:14 pm
Today I noticed this article in the Haleakala Times based upon an interview by Don Gronning with Sam Aiona, the Chair of the Hawaii Republican Party. Aiona was surprisingly candid; itâ€™s almost as if he didnâ€™t know he was being interviewed for publication.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 51-41 in the House and 20-5 in the state Senate.
?It?s hard to be in the minority,? says Aiona. ?But the beauty is they can?t take anything away from you.?
Since the majority Democrats don?t give Republicans committee chair positions, there is little to be lost by speaking your mind, says Aiona.
Uh, the Democrats canâ€™t take anything away from the Republicans except the power to carry out any of the Republican agenda. Oh wait, they never really had that to begin with. Nevermind. Heh.
Aiona says Republicans in Hawai?i differ from their mainland counterparts.
?Hawai?i in general is more progressive in thinking,? says Aiona. ?The state and national (party) platforms indicate the differences.?
For instance, there is no mention of abortion in the state platform, while it is specifically opposed in the national GOP platform.
Aiona wouldn?t make a prediction on the likelihood passage of the Akaka bill for Native Hawaiian recognition, which has bipartisan support from Hawai?i legislators. He said the GOP has planks in both their national and state party platforms that support native Hawaiians, however.
Iâ€™m sure those comments from Aiona have the more conservative members of the GOP seething. After the GET surcharge, the minimum wage increase, and the conveyance tax increase became laws, I even saw the epithet RINO, or â€œRepublican(s) in Name Only,â€ tossed about several times at a few local blogs. Aiona doesnâ€™t seem too worried about that, though.
Aiona says that he is also working to get Lingle a second term as governor. There has been some speculation that Lingle will run for a U.S. Senate seat. Hawaii?s two senators, Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, both Democrats, are in their 80s and Akaka?s seat is up for election in 2006.
Aiona says it is premature to speculate on either man?s retirement and that he doesn?t know who will oppose Akaka.
?There have been rumors and gossip, but no one has surfaced yet,? he said. Gov. Lingle is running for reelection. She has said she is going to run.?
When pressed about Lingle seeking a seat in the Senate, Aiona repeated she said she is running for governor. ?She didn?t swear on a bible or anything, but she said she is going to run.?
So heâ€™s saying that Lingleâ€™s unsworn word may not be reliable? ha ha. The emergence of (and/or primary fights to determine) candidates for U.S. Senate and Hawaii governor are truly going to be among the most unpredictable stories for the 2006 election cycle. Waitingâ€¦
Think tank roots pulled out into the daylight
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:23 pm
It was easy to choose what article I would write a post about today: Gordon Pangâ€™s outstanding and timely story in the Advertiser about the Grassroot Institue of Hawaii. In the article Pang describes the effort and expenditures of the group as they try to slow down the Akaka Bill in the U.S. Senate. It also mentions the Hawaii Reporter and the connections between the two entities. A bit about the GIH funding, too. Excellent work.
In its effort to reach the public and lawmakers about objections to the bill, the institute in recent months has bought newspaper advertisements, conducted two large-scale opinion polls and hired a Washington-based attorney. Along the way, the group has not only enraged bill supporters such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, but independent nation advocates who also oppose the bill for vastly different reasons than the institute.
Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaiâ€™i-Manoa, believes the institute has played a pivotal role in the debate in recent months by helping to raise the billâ€™s profile.
â€œI always thought the best chance for the Akaka bill passing would be if it stayed pretty well below the radar, that is if our two (Hawaiâ€™i) senators could convince others, particularly Republicans, that it wasnâ€™t such a big deal (and) didnâ€™t involve serious principles,â€ Milner said.
Hmmmm. If the Akaka Bill involves â€œserious principlesâ€ then such an effort to â€œconvinceâ€ the other Senators would seem to be edging quite close to â€œdistractingâ€ or â€œhoodwinkingâ€ them until after a voteâ€¦ Heh.
OHA administrator Clyde Namuâ€™o said he couldnâ€™t be certain how much of a direct influence the instituteâ€™s efforts had on senators. The agency has been among the billâ€™s staunchest supporters.
â€œI just donâ€™t know because I donâ€™t have enough information about their origins and whoâ€™s really funding them,â€ Namuâ€™o said.
Officials with the institute are sure their efforts paid off.
Institute president Richard â€œDickâ€ Rowland said he was told that the Akaka bill took up a large chunk of discussion time at a conservative think-tank meeting in Washington several weeks ago when the bill was expected to be up for a Senate vote. â€œItâ€™s so much more on the radar screen than even a month ago,â€ Rowland said.
Theresa Rudacille, director of planning and performance review for the organization, said the institute and its supporters have persuaded some senators to â€œtake a look at the unintended consequences.â€
While institute officials have resisted being labeled, the group clearly is aligned with other organizations that are rooted in conservative and libertarian values.
As it happens, conservative and libertarian think tanks (shepherded by Grover Norquist) meet weekly in Washington D.C. with each other and with key GOP congressional staff. [I just read an excellent article from The Atlantic or The New Yorker on this very topic, but it was in the paper version of the magazine in the ships library, so I have no link, sorry] In my opinion it is likely, and it would be quite easy, that many (or all) of those at the meetings agreed to get behind the GIH and as a result the lobbying effort took on much more strength than you would expect from a few Honolulu newspaper advertisements and telephone polls. Norquist maintains discipline among these people quite well, and when the meetings adjurn those who were there begin beating the drums to the mass media. Itâ€™s very a effective strategy, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that its existence is not widely known.
The primary local outlet for much of this message is the Hawaii Reporter, although (as Pangâ€™s piece demonstrates) the GIH is slowly becoming a more regularly-quoted source in the mainstream Hawaii media, too. The â€œopinion leadersâ€ of Hawaii read the HR (many of them on the sly, no doubt), and these memes percolate into talk radio, the blogosphere, and [sub rosa] the dailies. It works, like it or not. Recall the Bainum campaign imbroglioâ€¦
Another key ally is Hawaii Reporter, an Internet news site [cough, blog, cough] that publishes articles focused on small business, conservative and libertarian issues. Hawaii Reporter editor and publisher Malia Zimmerman co-founded the Grassroot Institute with Rowland and is listed as its vice president. The two organizations also share office space on South King Street.
Zimmerman and Hawaii Reporter have done some contractual work for the institute, and the institute has a daily column on the Hawaii Reporterâ€™s Web site. Zimmerman said Hawaii Reporter has taken no editorial position on the bill and is primarily interested in proper discourse before it goes to a vote in Congress.
Iâ€™ve previously commented on this connection and the funding for the two entities (here and here), but Pangâ€™s article also provides some new information.
As a 501( c )(3) organization, the nonprofit institute must submit a Form 990 detailing its total revenues and expenses to the Internal Revenue Service, and also make the information public annually. The institute has filed for an extension to submit its 2004 returns, Rowland said, because the staff has been busy with its Akaka bill efforts, the debate over Honoluluâ€™s general excise tax increase for mass transit and other issues.
According to its first three Form 990 reports, the instituteâ€™s revenues and expenses have grown steadily. For 2001, it reported $5,314 in revenues and $2,383 in expenses. In 2002, the group reported $27,280 in revenues and $18,422 in expenses. For 2003, it reported $73,845 in revenues and $57,346 in expenses.
Rowland said whatever the institute and other opponents may have spent on the Akaka bill pales in comparison to the amount and significance of what OHA has spent, expenses that have been paid by taxpayers.
The difference being, of course, that OHA and other supporters of the bill do not have a lobbying message coordinated with any national sympathizers and also (as far as I know) lack any way to penetrate the national media markets. The GIH and its allies have both. A Lexis-Nexis search on the coverage of this bill would probably reveal a much wider reach (in original and syndicated versions) of those pieces in opposition to the Akaka bill than of those in support.
For whatever reason it seems to be enough to carry the debate that one side has a better media strategy. To steal borrow from Oi and apply it to this topic, the â€œjusticeâ€ and â€œrighteousnessâ€ of the question are rendered irrelevant when the media become the arena where the game is played.
Blog will be frozen
â€” Doug @ 6:01 pm
Iâ€™ve just learned that somewhere north of 80 degrees latitude we will lose some of our satellite contact and I wonâ€™t be able to load web pages (email will still work, that uses a different connection). That will mean no blog updates for a week (or three). Sigh.
Who am I kidding? The North Pole is part of that, and I canâ€™t wait!
Presently our latitude is 78 degrees North, and we are only changing latitude very slowly. I donâ€™t exactly know when the web coverage will stop, so this is just fair warning in case it happens earlier than expected.
Poor being left behind
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:37 pm
Two articles today that share as a theme the growing divide between the rich and the poor in Hawaii. First, the Advertiser has this article based upon a new study conducted for the Aloha United Way by the University of Hawaii Center on the Family. The full report is available [after fixing another broken link from the Advertiser!] at the AUW website. Second, the wealth gap is an underlying factor in this Maui News editorial about mass transit.
Upon downloading the AUW report, I find that itâ€™s fairly skimpy. It does contain another link, but with this slow connection I donâ€™t know how much supplemental data you may find there.
On a more meta level, â€œwealth gapâ€ stories like these are fairly regular occurrences in the mainstream media and, going from what Iâ€™ve seen of those stories, I would be very surprised if there is a single place (in a developed or developing country) where the gap betweeen the wealthy and the poor is not growing. I suppose thereâ€™s an economist somewhere just itching to confirm or deny that hunch. Anyway, to the articles:
The poorest 20 percent of the stateâ€™s population lost 7 percent of their income since the 1970s and the richest 20 percent saw a 31 percent increase in theirs, said Sylvia Yuen, director of the Center on the Family, the organization that collected the data for AUWâ€™s study.
The study, called Quality of Life in Hawaiâ€™i, shows that the top-earning fifth of the stateâ€™s population collects 60 percent of the income and that more than 30 percent of the stateâ€™s population remains at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The increasing incomes for the richest 20% of the stateâ€™s population are not so surprising, but, even though every other story always shows the same result, the reduction in income among the poorest 20% of Hawaiiâ€™s population is not what I had expected to see. Because most of the affordable housing reporting is based upon household incomes, Iâ€™m very curious to know if this new study measured household incomes or individual incomes. If the data are indiviudal incomes then the â€œincome gapâ€ may look very different if the total number of incomes in a poor household are more or fewer than the number of incomes in rich households and if (as I would guess) individuals tend to live in households with others near the same income level. â€¦that is, as Eric Cartman from South Park once said, â€œpoor people tend to live in clusters.â€
If the new report is dealing in household income then Iâ€™m also curious what that â€œ200% of the federal poverty levelâ€ means in actual dollars. In particular, how does that figure compare to the â€œmedian household incomeâ€ figure tossed about in affordable housing debates?
Next, this little factoid from the Advertiser serves as a good transition to the Maui News editorial.
In addition to the sections on economic well-being and education, the report has sections dedicated to communities, health, safe neighborhoods and environment.
Posted sewage warnings were more than 8 times more likely to be seen on Honolulu County beaches than elsewhere in the state, according to the report. The state also has more cars and trucks than people to drive them, with an average of 1.2 registered vehicles for every licensed driver.
It would seem intuitive that the County that is about 8 times as populated as any other County would have 8 times as many posted sewage warnings, but I reckon Iâ€™m missing their point. The statistic about registered cars and trucks could prove meaningful as the mass transit debate proceeds and options other than â€œmore carsâ€ are considered. Thus, we arrive at the Maui News editorial:
The time will come when Maui highways will no longer support traffic and the gap between the wealthy and the working poor will widen partly due to the cost of transportation. Both eventualities argue in favor of some form of rapid transit on Maui.
I would agree, but the growing gap between the rich and the poor calls out for a mass transit funding mechanism that is progressive. Any GET surcharge is regressive and will expand the gap. Without using that same reasoning explicitly, the Maui News is akamai to suggest alternatives:
There is no need to raise Maui?s excise tax ? although it could. Private enterprise could build and operate such a system as an adjunct to Maui?s luxury resorts. A nonprofit agency could be incorporated to use federal transportation funds. Or such a venture could be a public corporation that issues stock, allowing Maui residents to own the system.
I am very skeptical that a system operated by a private enterprise or a public corporation would show much concern for providing affordable mass transit solutions to the working poor, but the ideas are still worth exploring.
Thicker and louder
â€” Doug @ 6:31 am
Itâ€™s a little bit colder, and weâ€™re a little further North (77 degrees, +/-). The ice is much more thick here and there is now snow cover, too. Itâ€™s pretty spectacular stuff, with the ship working really hard at time just to keep a speed of 2 knots.
Boat speed is not the only thing that is slow, unfortunately. The internet connection is pretty poor today, too, so reading the Hawaii news may not work out. Iâ€™ll keep trying, but I need to get some rest and this is using up my off-watch â€œsleepâ€ time.
Smooth federal sailing for Superferry â€“ how so?
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:26 pm
There is a new lawsuit against the Superferry project, once again seeking a study of the potential effects of the ferry on the Maui environment. The new lawsuit is interesting by itself, but there is an equally interesting question lurking beneath the lawsuit.
During all of the activity in Hawaii for and against the Superferry project earlier this year there was (as far as I can remember) no mention of any political activity at the federal level on this topic. According to this Advertiser article today, however, it seems that there was some significant action taken in Washington that I had never seen any mention of. If any reader can link me to a report in the Hawaii media closer to the date it happened, please post that link in a comment.
The [environmental] groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last week to fight a categorical exclusion issued March 15 by the federal Maritime Administration that excludes the Hawaiâ€™i Superferry project from federal environmental laws, according to Isaac Hall, the Maui attorney representing the organizations.
How did that categorical exclusion come about and just how broad is it (i.e. does it sweep aside all environmental laws, or is it more narrow in scope)? All the assurances given by the Superferry people about how careful they plan to be to protect the environment take on a much different flavor if there will be no legal way to hold them to their commitments, so these are important questions.
Further, how did this categorical exclusion by the federal Maritime Administration come about? What was the process? Was the process and ultimate decision to grant the exclusion open to meaningful public participation and scrutiny? Was the exclusion process begun at the request of Governor Lingle, the Bush administration, some or all of Hawaiiâ€™s Congressional delegation, officials with the Superfery proposal, or some combination of those parties and/or others?
Whoever it was that proposed and approved this exclusion owes the people of Hawaii (and, especially environmentalists) an explanation. The Hawaii media apparently let this incident slip under the radar in March, but better we are told later than never exactly how and why this categorical exclusion happened.
Property tax relief missing its target
â€” Doug @ 6:11 pm
Another story in the Advertiser today reports on the next step of the legislative process at the Honolulu Council to provide property tax relief to some taxpayers. I had posted about this earlier, and the description in this article of how the bill would work is at least slightly better than the last attempt.
City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said the bill basically will be a cap on property taxes for those on fixed incomes.
â€œMany people, and especially our seniors on fixed incomes, are being taxed out of their homes,â€ Kobayashi said during council discussions yesterday.
Kobayashi said the credit most likely will need to be revisited and tweaked to provide relief to a wider range of homeowners once an assessment of its impact is made.
Councilman Charles Djou applauded the efforts of the council to provide tax relief, but called it too little, too late.
He said he found it to be â€œa little ironicâ€ that the council would approve tax relief soon after having approved an increase in the general excise tax yesterday.
â€œFor me it is troubling that after we take a dollar, or in our case, hundreds of dollars, from people we are now flipping everybody back a nickel,â€ he said.
Kobayashi countered that the main goal was to provide tax relief for families who need it most ? low-income, fixed income, single-parent homes.
As the homeowners quoted in the article suggest, it would seem that the â€œfamilies who need it mostâ€ (i.e. the low-income, the fixed income, the single-parent homes) would more than likely be renters, not homeowners. Therefore, in addition to the proposal now advancing that targets only a small number of taxpayers, why not provide property tax relief to owners of rental property if they rent their property to low-income tenants and if they maintain the rents for those tenants at some â€œaffordableâ€ level? That way the tax relief would indirectly benefit the maximum number of â€œfamilies who need it most,â€ yet also offer relief to the higher-income folks who are helping to resolve the affordable housing crisis. Under this scenario the higher-income people and owners of multiple properties (at all income levels) who do not have â€œaffordableâ€ rental property occupied by low-income tenants would face an increased tax burden, but there is no reason that the rate increase on those taxpayers could not be done progressively based upon assessed property values, the ownersâ€™ incomes and (for non-owner-occupied properties) the tenantsâ€™ incomes.
Justice v. Righteousness
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:42 pm
I highly recommend this well-written column in the SB by Cynthia Oi. Not so much because I fully endorse her thesis, but because it is a well-argued piece that actually takes a strong stance in an very divisive issue while still addressing the â€œother sideâ€ with respect. Thatâ€™s a rare event in the op-ed world. Her piece is about the recent ruling against Kamehameha Schools admissions policy.
The best idea in the article:
Legality often treads a path divergent from righteousness.
Oddly, however, the headline (supplied by an editor?) substitutes â€œjusticeâ€ for â€œrighteousness.â€ Because both terms are so haphazardly tossed off within the domain of persuasive writing, neither concept is sufficiently defined. In my opinion (and I do not think Iâ€™m staking out a novel theory here), legality is certainly more associated with â€œjusticeâ€ than â€œrighteousness.â€ Oiâ€™s piece even takes a few tentative steps in what I consider to be the â€œjustâ€ direction, only to quickly knock it down.
But this is America, where the notion of equality is solidified in law even as it is eroded by the fluidity of power, wealth and human imperfection, where the ideal of a level field slopes in reality toward the strongest.
In my opinion â€œrighteousnessâ€ implies religion and, it follows, is typically much more subjective than â€œjustice.â€ Kamehameha Schools needs to find a way to make a persuasive legal argument before the â€œjusticeâ€ system, because (as Oi laments) the only hope of a â€œrighteousâ€ solution is to convince a skeptical, if not outright hostile, Congress to act. As the Civil Rights movement demonstrated, that type of â€œrighteousnessâ€ change requires widespread civic engagementâ€”and a lot of patience.
Slater in HOT seat
â€” Doug @ 6:39 pm
Here in this SB op-ed we find Cliff Slater targeted by Mayor Hannemannâ€™s press secretary, Bill Brennan, for a final salvo in the Bill 40 debate. It begins with a bit of outright ad hominem attacks based upon arguments very similar to the ones I used recently.
What makes Cliff Slater an expert on transportation? His long-winded and long-standing opposition to rail? His constituency of naysayers, many of whom, like Dave Rolf of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association or Dale Evans of Charleyâ€™s Taxi, have interests clearly vested in continuing Oâ€™ahuâ€™s dependence on automobiles?
But thereâ€™s more to Brennanâ€™s attack:
With his lack of accountability to all but a few like-minded people, it is Slater who is the agent of spin and obfuscation in the current rail debate.
The piece then devolves into a series of â€œappeals to authorityâ€ about who has the facts correct about rail transit and HOT Lanes. Yawn. Finally, it returns to the broader topic:
At this point, we donâ€™t have all the answers and weâ€™re not pretending we do. Some of those will come with the Alternatives Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Statement that would follow enactment of Bill 40.
We do note that dozens of American cities have installed or expanded rail transit systems since 1992, and very few have built HOT lanes. (And theyâ€™re charging up to $8 per trip for every vehicle that wants to use the HOT lane.)
The mayor has said all along that if you donâ€™t like what heâ€™s proposing, come up with something better. Slaterâ€™s HOT lane isnâ€™t it. All that would do is add traffic elsewhere while perhaps moving it more quickly through Pearl City and the airport area. And the HOT lane would only be used by those who can afford to pay up to $16 a day for the luxury of using it.
Traffic is the chief problem affecting quality of life on Oâ€™ahu. We are going to need something beyond more cars and roads to meet our transportation needs of the future.
A while back on Vote Hawaii I had an exchange with Don Newman of GIH, who agrees with Slater, where the concluding exchange was (if I recall correctly) a difference in perception that found us framing the debate as â€œLexus Lanes v. Communist Commute.â€ I think that level of, uh, understanding is where most of the public will arrive. Cost-per-mile and competing claims about congestion reduction are in the end just additional white noise in that person-on-the-street debate, no matter what Brennan and Slater might say, write, or do.
Mammals in the neighborhood
â€” Doug @ 6:38 am
Only a single day away from open water we have already seen a bloody seal carcass on an ice floe. That can mean only one thing, and finally this morning we saw itâ€”a polar bear.
They are BIG! I need to keep my camera closer at hand, darnit.
Weâ€™ve also seen some live seals and, back in the open water, a few whales. For the most part, though, itâ€™s just a mesmerizing carpet of oddly-shaped ice. I could watch us bash through it for hours, if it werenâ€™t 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Heh.
Ice is nice
â€” Doug @ 6:42 am
Oh boy, we are in the ice!
Icebreaking is much louder and more jarring than I had expected. It has an eerie blue tint at times, and it noticeably chills the air. Iâ€™m sure the thrill will wear off, but for now it is very fun to just watch the ship push her way through it all.
After this post weâ€™ll see how well I can sleep to the shudders, thuds, and scraping. For a sailor who dreads the feeling of a boat bumping anything, all this makes for a disconcerting sensation. Heh.
HOT concept trotted out again as GET surcharge vote looms
â€” Doug @ 8:02 pm
Those who support the High Occupancy Tollway alternative transit mode got plenty of exposure today. The Advertiser has a pro-HOT op-ed by David Rolf of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, and the head cheerleader of the concept makes the case in an Advertiser op-ed by Cliff Slater of Honolulu Traffic (or whatever he calls his cult group now).
To be sure, Rolf represents an industry that would obviously profit more from a traffic alternative involving private vehicles than from any system based upon trains. So, to that extent, his opposition to rail transit and support of the HOT is akin to that of Dale Evansâ€™ of Charleyâ€™s Taxiâ€¦
On Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council will hold a final hearing on Bill 40, the transit tax bill. Approval of this bill will, in effect, be a choice for rail â€“ a decision that will bring vertical densities, major limitations on total mobility, and include a heavy new rail tax. A decision to stop the bill and rewrite it to allow bond funding for HOTLanes (High-Occupancy Toll lanes) will allow for creation of a two-lane reversible highway over the current highway system through the Leeward corridor, and will provide dramatic relief of traffic congestion in the corridor without the need for a tax increase, since the bonds would be retired by toll revenues.
I think his is an excellent summary, as far as it goes.
What is left unsaid is that the HOT Lanes would not hasten the vertical densities, and so sprawl would continue (if not accelerate) and soon the adjusted-on-the-fly HOT fares would become very high. In fact, later in his column he refers to HOT Lanes as â€œbypass operation,â€ for relieving traffic congestion. Indeed, HOT Lanes â€œbypassâ€ the entire issue of â€œsmart growth.â€ Heh.
â€œSmart Growthâ€ is the subject of a SB op-ed by Honolulu Council Chair Donovan Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz supports the rail system for the kick-start it will give to building along the rail-corridors (instead of further and further into â€œcountryâ€ lands), and carefully makes no explicit claim that rail would provide relief for traffic congestion on Oahu, only describing it as â€œa viable optionâ€ in the struggle that would provide relief against sprawl.
Encouraging growth around a mass transit line will provide residents with a reliable and efficient alternative to their cars and relieve much of the pressure to expand development throughout the island.
In addition to keeping the â€œcountry, country,â€ [sic] a mass transit system provides rural communities with a viable option to help alleviate traffic congestion.
Finally, there was this SB article about the upcoming vote at the Honolulu Council this Wednesday for Bill 40. Itâ€™s a perplexing piece.
Back in 1992, with a clear transit plan in place, approval seemed like a sure thing. And so it does now, even without a final plan on how the money will be spent.
Back then, it took the vote of one councilmember to kill the project. Today, with a different Council, a new strategy to push for mass transit and a more favorable political climate for such a system, the outcome appears favorable.
But in politics, anything can happen, which is why supporters and opponents of the tax proposal anxiously await Wednesdayâ€™s vote.
Sure, anything can happen, but the article certainly doesnâ€™t follow up with ANY information that points to an outcome other than the bill passing final reading.
Both Councilmembers Charles Djou and Barbara Marshall have not supported the tax increase partly because the scope of the project and the financial figures have not been defined.
â€œIn 1992 at least we had a plan. Here in 2005 there is no plan,â€ Djou said. â€œWe have no concept, and we can give no assurances on what weâ€™re going to do with all this money.â€
Council Transportation Chairman Todd Apo said the City Council has been forced by the Legislature to enact the tax by the end of the year, giving them little time to come up with a final plan on how to spend the money.
â€œWe canâ€™t wait,â€ he said. â€œClearly, Wednesday is the beginning of the process.â€
But he said the Council will have plenty of opportunities to scrutinize the project and could pull back in the future if necessary.
Thatâ€™s as close as you get to any hint in the article of a wavering member among the 7 Councilmembers who support the Bill. If there is still no transportation plan when the 2007 implementation of the GET surcharge is near then this warning about political uncertainty would be more valid. As it stands now, however, I see nothing to indicate that Bill 40 will do anything other than pass with a vote of 7-2 on Wednesday.
Sketchy satellite comms
â€” Doug @ 6:22 pm
Sorry for the disappearance, folks.
The satellite connection to the internet on the ship was buggy all weekend. Barely fast enough to get an email out, loading web pages was out of the question.
They say the problem is resolved now. We shall seeâ€¦
â€œSophisticationâ€ in Kauai courthouse
â€” Doug @ 6:08 pm
Two slightly different spins on the new judiciary facility on Kauai. The Garden Island News article is less flattering than the SB piece. Actually, the GIN piece is borderline insulting:
â€œThe staff is somewhat intimidated,â€ said Ernie Barreira, Kaua?i deputy chief courts administrator.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of anxiety,â€ said Barreira.
The employees, who currently are spread out not just in the historic old courthouse on ?Umi Street but in various rented offices spaces around Lihu?e, are moving from a cramped courthouse into a spacious, designed-for-future-growth, high-tech facility.
It is like moving from a Ford Pinto into a Ford Expedition.
And, while not trying to talk bad about his coworkers, he is faced with the task of facilitating the movement of, basically, â€œunsophisticatedâ€ folks into â€œa sophisticated environment,â€ he explained.
The SB has the quote slightly different:
â€œThe substantial amount of money was spent on technology,â€ said Ernest Barreira, deputy chief administrator for the Circuit Court. â€œWeâ€™re moving a very unsophisticated operation into a very sophisticated building.â€
What a difference the word â€œfolksâ€ makes compared to the word â€œoperation.â€ Heh.
In any case, it sounds like once the staff learn the ropes it should be a great new facility.
Governor waffling on gas cap implementation
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:05 pm
In this SB article we see that the Governor is encouraging the Legislature to stop the gasoline price cap law from taking effect on September 1.
In a meeting with reporters yesterday, Lingle recalled failed attempts by the federal government to regulate gasoline prices in the 1970s as an example of what is likely to happen when Hawaiiâ€™s law begins.
â€œI think it will lead to shortages of gas, it will lead to higher prices, it will lead to a negative business reputation for our state,â€ Lingle said. â€œIâ€™ve been as clear as I could be with the Legislature.
â€œIf they wanted to go into a special session now to delay the gas cap, I could give them my word that I would sign a bill to delay it, but they would have to take that step first.â€
Itâ€™s too bad that the media did not ask the Governor why she is waiting for a bill to be passed in a Special Session of the legislature when the existing law already gives her authority to suspend the law. If memory serves me (Iâ€™m composing this offline, unable to read my archives), during the last regular session there was failed legislation to require the Governor to explicitly begin the price caps. Now it seems that the Governor wants legislators to pass legislation to delay the gas caps.
Nobody knows for sure if (or how well) this law will work. As I posted on August 3, the Governor has the authority to stop the law without any new legislation, but she would rather have the Legislature decide to stop it by means of a new billâ€”with her promised approval. Get a backbone, already! If she wants to stop it, then she should use her existing powers to stop it.
Underway this morning
â€” Doug @ 6:35 am
The crew are scurrying about prepping the ship for departure, while Iâ€™m downloading articles that (hopefully) I can post about later today during our second connection to the internet. Yesterday they never hooked us science nerds up, but so it goesâ€¦
Iâ€™m stoked to get going! North Pole, here I come.
Gasoline price cap to go into effect next monthâ€”last minute scare tactics
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 5:17 pm
The HR has this post about the gasoline price cap law which will take effect on September 1, 2005. Numerous petroleum companies are speaking out against the immplementation of the law and there are calls for the Governor to use her executive powers to stop it.
The Consumer Advocate also filed a â€œStatement of Positionâ€ that contains the following reminder of the legislative intent of the gasoline price cap bill:
The overall approach of the legislation is to impose a price ceiling on wholesale gasoline prices that reflects competitive market conditions. The legislative intent is essentially to establish a regulated process as close to the â€œfree marketâ€ as possible. As noted by the Legislature, it is not the intent of the Gas Cap Law to guarantee lower prices in Hawaii; rather its objective is to enhance consumer welfare by fostering the opportunity for prices to reflect and correlate with competitive market conditions.
To the person on the street this would likely be a surprise since almost all lay discussion of the Bill has rested on the assumption that the intent is to guarantee lower prices.
The HR piece summarizes the debate as follows:
Supporters of the gas cap say it will lower the cost of gasoline and force big oil companies to reduce their profit margin, which they claim is excessive and illegal.
However, opponents of the gas cap plan say the impact on the petroleum industry, on consumers and on the economy in the state will be severe. They predict the cost of gasoline will rise by an estimated 20 cents a gallon, gas stations will close, one of two oil refineries in the state may shut down and the economy will be hurt.
I donâ€™t follow this prediction that the cost of gasoline will increase by 20 cents a gallon. If the local wholesalers could sell their gasoline for LESS than the price established by the cap and still make a profit, then (unless they are only interested in exploiting the retailers and consumers) why wouldnâ€™t the wholesalers choose a lower price? The law sets a maximum wholesale price, not a minimum price, and the PUC â€œin its discretion, may determine a more appropriate baseline or a more appropriate price information reporting service.â€ Furthermore, (j) and (m) of that section of the law give the PUC authority to gather data to determine if the law and administrative rules are being followed. Thus, as I interpret it, if gasoline consumers or retailers get gouged, it seems as if it could only happen if the PUC fails to exercise its powers.
If the cap is set too low and it threatens the viability of refineries, there is another subsection of the law that provides a mechanism for petroleum companies to petition the PUC to adjust any or all of the various price cap calculations. So again, if the refineries are genuinely threatened and can prove it, any of those doomsday scenarios could be averted by the PUC making necessary adjustments.
Back to the HR piece:
â€œI?ve argued against the gas cap, but Democrats have insisted it go forward,â€ Lingle says. â€œI hope the proponents of the gas cap are right ? and it brings down the price of gasoline, but I don?t believe it will.â€
Critics of the legislation say the governor should take a strong role in halting the gas caps from going into effect and lead the state in finding other ways to reduce the price of gasoline in the state, such as reducing taxes, increasing competition and reducing regulations.
That â€œstrong role in halting the gas capsâ€ is described in this subsection of the law, which provides that:
Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the governor may suspend, in whole or in part, section 486H-13 or any rule adopted pursuant to that section whenever the governor issues a written determination that strict compliance with the section or a rule will cause a major adverse impact on the economy, public order, or the health, welfare, or safety of the people of Hawaii. In the written determination, the governor shall state the specific provision of the section or rule that strict compliance with will cause a major adverse impact on the economy, public order, or the health, welfare, or safety of the people of the State, along with specific reasons for that determination.
Hmmm. Thatâ€™s all quite squishy, what defines a â€œmajor adverse impactâ€ anyway? The price caps are not yet in effect, the numerous reports sent to the Governor carefully speak only of â€œrisksâ€ of unintended outcomes, and once in effect the price caps will be adjusted weekly by the PUCâ€”giving little time for an unintended outcome to fester into a â€œmajor adverse impact.â€
The opponents of the price cap law seem to think (or perhaps they only want us to think) that the law is some sort of suicide pact, locking us into economic catastrophe if the calculations are flawed. I donâ€™t see it that way. The whole thing may flop and be repealed as a political catastrophe, but I think there are plenty of safeguards against an economic meltdown.
Kamehameha Schools loses admissions policy lawsuit at 9th Circuit
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 9:04 am
Wow, not a good day to have a primitive internet connectionâ€¦ I downloaded as much as I could grab about the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the admissions policy at Kamehameha Schools, but as I now compose this post offline I donâ€™t have any capability to use the web to find background facts and links. For example, I really could use a refresher on the Rice v. Cayetano decision from a few years ago, but my situation is what it is.
The Advertiser begins with this thorough article about the ruling, and has a follow-up piece that discusses the possible implications of the ruling for OHA and DHHL.
The SB has an unusually blunt editorial and another article with a sampling of reactions from those who support and oppose the 9th Circuit ruling.
From that SB editorial:
Judges Robert R. Beezer and Jay S. Bybee questioned an affirmative-action policy amounting to â€œan absolute bar to admission for non-Hawaiians.â€ The policyâ€™s â€œsubtext,â€ Bybee wrote in the majority opinion, is â€œthat of all those who are found in poverty, homelessness, crime and other socially and economically disadvantaged circumstances, only native Hawaiians count.â€
Without mentioning the Akaka Bill, Bybee cited a 1974 Supreme Court ruling that the Bureau of Indian Affairsâ€™ hiring preference for Native Americans was not directed toward a â€œracialâ€ group but to â€œmembers of â€˜federally recognizedâ€™ tribes.â€ The high court ruled in that case that â€œthe preference is political rather than racial in nature.â€
Bybee wrote that â€œit remains unclearâ€ whether the trust relationship between the government and native Hawaiians is â€œsimilar to that enjoyed with organized tribes.â€ In any case, he added, the Kamehameha Schools â€œdo not argue that the classification in question should be viewed as anything but expressly racial.â€ The Rice decision essentially limited the school to that argument.
Enactment of the Akaka Bill would allow Kamehameha Schools to argue that the admissions policy is political, not racial. Proponents of the Akaka Bill should argue forcefully and forthrightly in Congress that a political entity based on ancestry â€“ yes, race â€“ is justified by the unique hardships that Hawaiians have endured.
As I understand the Akaka Bill (without benefit of a live connection to review itâ€¦), it will take many years and more legislation before the â€œpolitical entityâ€ would be recognized by the federal government. What happens to the Kamehameha Schoolsâ€™ admissions policy (and OHA, and DHHL) in the interim if the legal challenges and appeals are resolved more quickly than the plodding pace of the Akaka Bill and its attendant processes?
Youâ€™re a blogger, get over it
HI State Politics
â€” Doug @ 6:15 am
While Iâ€™m blogging from the ship it will be difficult for me to be as timely as I would like, so bear with me. The content will be less, and it will be delayed as my first connection of the day it is all I can hope for to simply read the news. 12 hours later, on our second connection of the day (which didnâ€™t happen yesterdayâ€¦) I can try to post something in response to what I have read. Here in port, however, the evening connection has not been happening. Anyway, onwardâ€¦
A few days ago the Hawaii Reporter ran this piece as a response to a press release critical of the HR editor, Malia Zimmerman.
First, Zimmerman defends herself against the charge made by former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein that the HR fabricated an account of an NPR interview with OHA chairperson Apoliona. HR has corrected the story and ran Kleinâ€™s letter, so there is not much to comment on there.
Next, Zimmerman takes Klein to task for becoming a lobbyist for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Zimmerman considers this new lobbying career â€œfor a number of controversial issuesâ€ to be beneath the dignity, class, and stature of Klein. Why? Because OHA is in favor of the Akaka Bill and the HR and the Grassroot Institue of Hawaii have frequently spoke out against the Akaka Bill. Never mind the fact that lobbyists, almost by definition, focus on controversial issues. No lobbyist is needed to pass uncontroversial legislationâ€¦
Yawn. Then the piece gets interesting:
Former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Klein then alleged a conspiracy between Hawaii Reporter and the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii [GIH], and makes additional all out personal attacks on me, accusing Hawaii Reporter as reaching a â€œjournalistic low even for this blog.â€
Hawaii Reporter is not a blog. For nearly four years, Hawaii Reporter has published news and opinions daily from top national and local analysts, political leaders and other professional, and has won national and local recognition and awards for journalistic excellence.
Heh. In my opinion, if it posts like a blog, has no dead tree or over-the-airwaves distribution, and is funded by a think tank, then itâ€™s a blogâ€”no matter how much recognition accrues or how long itâ€™s been online. HR is a blog. Zimmerman is apparently one of a rare species, i.e. as far as I can tell, she is a blogger who is paid a salary. There is no shame in that. I wish she would have taken on the â€œbloggerâ€ label with some pride, but whatever.
However, Zimmerman should accept that so long as she sits on the board of the GIH and so long as the HR is funded by and affiliated with the GIH, her integrity (such as it is) will be impugned and readers will continue to have every reason to doubt her objectivity and that of HR. That doesnâ€™t mean HR should fold up the tents and Zimmerman should stop writing, far from it. What it does mean is that her â€œIâ€™m a journalist, not a bloggerâ€ argument is not going to fly. Bloggers canâ€™t simply claim (or demand) credibility, each blogger needs to earn it just as each journalists does and then each blogger needs to constantly work to preserve his or her credibility.
I certainly wonâ€™t claim to be a journalist. Iâ€™m a blogger. If I write well then my readers will find something of value here and will return. Zimmerman is correct when she writes in her piece that HR has run many stories that the â€œmainstream mediaâ€ have downplayed or ignored. She should continue with that and embrace her, uh, blogositude.
Onboard the ship and online at last
â€” Doug @ 6:01 am
Iâ€™ve left the Grand Aleutian hotel (where there was no internet access) and have settled into my room on the icebreaker. We donâ€™t get underway for a few more days, and so far only a few of the other members of the science party have arrived. For now the room is mine, but I have two new roommates on the way. Gear from the last expedition is being offloaded and in the coming days new gear will be loaded for the experiments and data gathering on the next leg of the journey.
Dutch Harbor is very scenic, more so now that it has stopped being rainy and foggy. Compared to Hawaii itâ€™s darn chilly, of course. Not so chilly that I canâ€™t have a workout outside, so Iâ€™m taking advantage of that while I can. On my run Sunday I noticed several bald eaglesâ€”scavenging at a small landfill, ha ha.
The ship is connected to the internet all the time, however for 22 hours of the day the connection is for the crew and for 2 hours each day the connection is for the scientists. This doesnâ€™t give me much time to browse the Hawaii news and compose my posts, but Iâ€™ll still try to get at least something online when I can. Here in port the crew have some well-deserved liberty opportunities, so it seems that those in charge of connecting the net connection for the scientists may be out having fun. At sea the connection may be more reliable.
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