Poinography!

January 10, 2009

Poinography January 2007 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 2:17 pm

Poinography!

1/31/2007

Death with dignity bill gets referred to Health committee

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:40 pm
I don’t expect the idea to pass in the House, much less advance in the Senate, but the House Health Committee will be hearing a “Death with dignity” bill in the near future, according to this SB article. Previously (and in previous legislatures) the measure was referred directly to the Judiciary Committee, but this year the Health Committee chair, Representative Green, will have the first stab at it.

House leaders were criticized then for referring the bill only to the Judiciary Committee. The single referral was seen by opponents of assisted suicide as an end-run around the Health Committee, where members of the medical community traditionally had turned up in force to oppose the bill.

Similar concerns were raised this year, because the proposal was introduced in the House and referred only to the Judiciary Committee.

House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, who supports the assisted-suicide bill, acknowledged that the bill was referred only to Judiciary because it had a better chance of advancing, but he agrees that there are health issues in the bill that need to be vetted by Green’s committee.

“The intent in referring just to Judiciary was to keep the discussion alive and to not put members of that (Health) committee under undue pressure because of the group that they deal with on a day-to-day basis — the health care providers,” said Caldwell (D, Manoa).

“The fair way was to have it referred to Health and Judiciary,” he added. “I think it’s going to be more difficult to get it out of the Health Committee — for valid reasons — but I just would like to have the debate continue.”

Green said he would give the bill a fair hearing, adding, “It’s not a foregone conclusion whether it will pass or fail.”

That’s a surprisingly frank admission by Caldwell! The bill was not referred to Health because it was/is unlikely to find enough support before that Committee. Everyone inutitively knew that, but I certainly did not expect Caldwell to fess up nor did I expect him to remedy the “unfair” referral. Sure, a tyrannical committee chair can exploit the system from time to time, but if a bill has to bypass its subject matter committee in order to survive, then it’s usually fair to say that time is not ripe for that bill to pass.

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Open defiance of smoking ban and a lawsuit citing the “takings” clause

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:40 pm
The SB reports on an interesting legal strategy put forth by a group of bar owners opposed to the public smoking ban. Some of the plaintiffs are openly defying the law, and the State is not yet able to enforce the provisions of the law pending official rulemaking. Meanwhile, a few members of the House have introduced a bill to exempt bars, restaurants and nighclubs form the ban. The bill has almost no chance of passing, in my estimation, because too many of its biggest supporters are now in key leadership posts. It probably won’t even be heard.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in state Circuit Court, seeks an order stopping enforcement of the law, which bans smoking in most public places including bars and nightclubs. It also bans smoking within 20 feet of the entrance or window of an establishment.

“I’m losing my business, that’s why I have to do what I have to do to make my business go back up again,” said Lance Gomes, owner of the Pigskin Sports Bar on Kapiolani Boulevard. He supports the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that since the enactment of the new law, bar owners have seen a dramatic loss in business, which amounts to a taking of private property rights without just compensation.

It also says the law is unconstitutionally vague because it is not clear how it will be enforced. The lawsuit says it appears that a bar can still be fined if someone smokes in the 20-foot no-smoking zone outside the bar, even if the area is not part of the bar’s property. It also questions why there are exceptions to the law for hotels, nursing homes and other facilities.

Clearly, this lawsuit is following the path blazed by Richard Epstein (for a helpful, if dated, history of “takings” jurisprudence, try this).

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S.Constitution requires the government to provide “just compensation” any time regulators or legislators “take” private property for public use. Until recently, individuals would receive payment only for those takings resulting from eminent domain–in other words, when land was condemned so that government could build a highway or some other public-works project.

But the 1985 publication of University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein’s Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain provided intellectual ammunition for the argument that regulations can restrict a land owner’s rights just as much as overtly condemning property. Epstein’s reasoning swept through law schools and into the courts, where Reagan appointees used the new takings rationale to limit the reach of environmental regulators. Such public-interest law firms as the Pacific Legal Foundation [remember them?], the Washington Legal Foundation, the Institute for Justice, and Defenders of Property Rights represented clients who were victims of regulatory takings and filed amicus briefs in federal and state court cases.

In three federal cases, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987), Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992), and Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that land-use planners could no longer expect a free lunch. Regulations meant to serve legitimate public purposes must not place a disproportionate burden on the property owners being regulated.

I am not a lawyer, but reviewing those SCOTUS rulings, especially Nollan, seems to suggest that the regulation of smoking would not, in itself, be seen as a ‘taking” by the Court. The public health benefits of greatly reducing secondhand smoke exposure would seem to easily meet the “legitimate police power” standard described by the Court and clearly “serve a public interest.”

I haven’t read them or done any research, but at first glance the arguments in the lawsuit about the enforcement concerns sound more legit.

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1/30/2007

Beauty queen and the DHS’s favorite propaganda tool

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 7:05 pm
I’ve seen several articles lately about the torture themes in the television program “24? and how the show is seen as a too-tidy apologia advancing the falsehood that torture is an “effective” policy. Thus, I was not too suprised when reflexively pro-Bush Susan Page of Midweek wrote a column in praise of the show. Page concludes:

Sometimes it takes a popular movie or TV show to get us to pay attention.

The majority of Americans don?t vote, read newspapers, watch or listen to news shows, or really involve themselves in much more than their own personal daily survival, which often includes viewing entertainment TV. Just maybe they?re watching 24 and are waking up to the fact that there are actually people who spend every waking moment thinking up ways to kill them.

Boo! Are you afraid yet? I don’t watch television, and I’ve never seen the show, but I have serious problems with where Page is going. One article I found about the show describes it in less glowing terms. Dave Trotter writes:

In general terms, the formula is this: each 24-hour season features a supervillain who?s intent on destroying the world by using various forms of nightmare-inspired WMD. The McGuffin of choice usually bears a remarkable resemblance to whatever happens to garner the direst rhetorical attention by Bush at that time.

To apprehend the supervillain, [the main character] Jack stoically breaks obtrusive, obsolete rules. He has a limited amount of time to advance through the bad guy?s layered defenses ? just like a video game ? and he thinks out of the box as a matter of procedure in each level.

Sometimes Jack breaks rules to avoid bureaucratic nonsense. Most often it?s to circumvent unreasonable hindrances to the good guys getting the bad guys, such as the 4th amendment or other obstructionist constitutional protections.

As you can imagine, these storylines offer repeated opportunities to illustrate timely debate topics from the public consciousness, especially during a never-ending “War on Terror”: the setting for the show is the Los Angeles “Counter Terrorism Unit” (oddly enough, foreshadowing our Department of Homeland Security).

Because they?re working with these ingredients, there naturally will be moments where in the course of telling the story the writers stumble into accidental synchronicity with the administration. It?s almost unavoidable.

But lest any doubt remain, by the fourth season the writers eliminated coincidence as a practical possibility. In one of the principle plotlines, the writers attempt to prop up the notion of the unitary executive incarcerating indefinitely and torturing any citizen whom he labels an enemy combatant (Newspeak for “terrorist”) during times of great exigency.

They contrive a perfectly worst-case scenario to demonstrate Bush administration logic: namely, that because it?s theoretically possible that a single man, woman, or child, if tortured, could reveal information about a terrorist plot which could potentially save innocent lives, then any amount of coercion is therefore justified to compel that individual to surrender whatever useful information that he might be hoarding.

Michael Loceff, one of the writers of the show was interviewed by Slate, and defended the torture:

Slate: One of the places where 24 and the real world have intersected most powerfully is on the question of torture. On 24, torture is regularly used in interrogation. Some critics believe that 24 actually plays to our desire to witness torture, that it is, in some sense, “torture porn.” How do you make sense of and justify the role of torture in the show?

Loceff: I absolutely do not believe that the show is, in any sense, torture porn. This is something we talk about a lot. Torture is of no interest to us as torture, and we’re not anxious to show it, nor do we want to watch it. We don’t want to go to any level of great detail in depicting it, and there are many times when we will pull back from the original idea because it seems too much. I think its real use in the show, aside from its narrative function, is to create dramatic conflict, conflict not just between two people but within characters as well. If you look at any given torture scene in the show, you’ll find that there’s something in it that shows someone’s distaste or disgust. And Jack Bauer’s decision to torture people for information in the past has cost him, because it’s shown other people just exactly what he’s capable of. Jack himself is appalled by what he feels he has to do, but he’s also convinced he has to do it. That is a real dramatic conflict.

Slate: One of the familiar critiques of using torture as an interrogation technique is that it doesn’t work. On 24 it tends to be very effective.

Loceff: I don’t know that torture works, and we don’t write it because we think it works. So, I don’t think any of us are trying to make a statement about the efficacy of it one way or the other.

Well, intentional or not, the “efficacy” statement is coming through loud and clear—and that is why people like Page and the Bush administration are only too happy to spread the word about the show. Another recent article comments:

The show’s connection to the Bush White House and the conservative establishment became explicit last June, when Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff appeared alongside the show’s producers and three cast members at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation to discuss “The public image of US terrorism policy.” The discussion was moderated by Rush Limbaugh. The C-SPAN store sells a DVD of the event–price reduced from $60 to $29.95. [2007’s] two-hour premiere again argued not just that torture is necessary but that it works — and it’s also really exciting to watch. The show as usual made the “ticking time bomb” case for torture: we need to torture a suspect, or else thousands, or millions, will die in the next hour.

It’s almost ironic that a theme of Page’s column is that viewers should “think.” She had better hope that the audience does not think too deeply or do any research about torture, otherwise the show becomes farce. Boo!

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Lingle administration begins to pull rabbit out of HOT

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:03 pm
Sorry for the silly title.

Not much detail yet, but the Advertiser breaks the news that Cliff Slater’s dream of privately operated toll lanes is about to go beyond the rhetoric stage—with the support of the Lingle administration. Such a project has huge political implications for Mayor Hannemann, although he has no comment in this initial story.

One possible version of the state project calls for converting the existing “Zipper” and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the H-1 Freeway to reversible managed lanes with variable tolls for drivers, said Brennon Morioka, state deputy transportation director for highways.

Since those roadways already exist, that portion of the project would be very quick to set up. In fact, the State could probably operate tollways on those lanes without a private contractor. Those lanes are (legally, at least) already set aside for only certain types of traffic, so making that divide more robust (via toll sensors) could actually give the HOV policy some teeth. I have no idea exactly what taking these lanes away will do for the rest of the traffic flow, but if it slows things down then the idea would be politically risky.

All this assumes that the Lege does not lower the boom before the HOT lanes concept even gets past the discussion stage…

Comments (3)
1/29/2007

Apo to propose higher business property tax bite

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:44 pm
[The electricity in my neighborhood just came back on not too long ago, so my whole evening schedule has been juggled and this will be the only post I’m going to write today, sorry.]

As KITV broke a while ago, the Pacific Business News reports that Honolulu Councilmember Apo intends to raise property tax rates for commercial property.

In a city where emotions already are raw over rising property taxes, owners of commercial and industrial property on Oahu may get hit for the second year in a row with a higher tax rate.

Honolulu City Council budget committee chairman Todd Apo is preparing to introduce on Feb. 23 a measure that is expected to shift a larger share of the city’s property tax collections to businesses.

Homeowners now are paying 61 percent of the city’s $718 million in property tax revenue, up from 49 percent in 1999, largely the result of property values that have more than doubled in some neighborhoods.

In contrast, commercial property owners went from paying 13 percent of the total collected in 1999 to 8 percent today.

Apo and others want to give homeowners a break by nudging up the share paid by business.

Rather odd that Apo would announce his intention to introduce a bill on a specific date so far in advance, but whatever. Aside from that, I’m having a lot of trouble following Apo’s reasoning.

The article describes how the net value of Oahu property [and thus anticipated property tax revenue] has increased 28% in one year. Thus, I don’t understand why this article is written with a “homeowner vs. commercial property owner” theme; as if either homeowners or commercial property owners could get tax relief this year. I really don’t understand why PBN implies that if one rate goes down the other rate must go up. It would seem to me that, with 28% more revenue coming in, both rates could be lowered and it would still be possible to achieve Apo’s goal of establishing rates such that there is an increase in the commercial property taxes’ share of the total.

Am I missing something obvious? Taking another look, part of my confusion is no doubt caused by comparing these two segments from the article:

Homeowners now are paying 61 percent of the city’s $718 million in property tax revenue, up from 49 percent in 1999, largely the result of property values that have more than doubled in some neighborhoods.

In contrast, commercial property owners went from paying 13 percent of the total collected in 1999 to 8 percent today.

————

Apo said he was mostly motivated by statistics that show how the portion of property taxes paid by businesses has declined from nearly 50 percent to about 40 percent in recent years.

So, which is it? Do commercial properties pay about 40% of the total [as Apo says], or 8% of the total [as PBN says]? Why they would publish in the same story two figures that differ by so much is a mystery. It would also be interesting [but not necessarily relevant to the taxation rate question] to know how much land area is represented by each type of property.

Comments (1)
1/28/2007

Civil union legislation introduced at Legislature — again

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:47 am
Although this SB article might give the impression that it is unusual for the topic of civil unions to be proposed at the Legislature, there has been legislation introduced on the topic every year since at least 2001. What is different this year is that Debi Hartmann, a former opponent of same-sex marriage, is gearing up to lobby in support of civil unions. The Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Church, groups that worked closely in 1998 with Hartmann, are trying to downplay the issue but clearly they won’t support it.

Only a few legislators signed on as sponsors this year. Thus, even though the bills (here and here) were introduced on behalf of the Democratic Party, I honestly don’t know if there will be enough votes to pass this legislation, but I do know if the bills make it to third reading the political stakes for some legislators will be high.

The one thing missing from Borreca’s article is any comment from the Republican Party, Republican legislators, and/or the Lingle administration. Before wading into another issue that could separate the “base” from centrist supporters, Republicans are probably trying to lay low until it is known how unified Democrats will be on this issue.

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Hawaii County Council Chair pleas with landowners/developers’ group

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 8:47 am
A somewhat cryptic article in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that Council Chair Hoffman gave a speech to the Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference where he asked that they work with the County in developing infrastructure. The media were not allowed to cover the event, and for whatever reason, Hoffman did not release the text of his speech. One last oddity, the online version of the story is repetitious is repetitious [sic].

The chairman of the Hawaii County Council appealed to an organization of Big Island landowners and developers Friday to work with the county in providing roads, water and sewer systems, and other public infrastructure.

“They promised they would get back to me about how we could work in close cooperation,” said Council Chairman Pete Hoffmann after speaking at the Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference’s annual board of directors meeting.

Despite a lack of definite commitment, Hoffmann said he came away from the meeting with the impression that members agreed with his goals and that they wanted to work together. The meeting was closed to the press, despite his request, Hoffmann said.

Without knowing any real details, the concept sounds like something worth pursuing. Later in the article there is a tiny bit more detail:

“We meant that we will respond to (the council) in writing, to come back with a list of specific concerns and projects that we want to start working with (the council) on,” said [HLPC President] Hoover.

She added that the organization, which meets monthly, was immediately ready to begin proposing collaborative projects.

Hoffmann said he was encouraged by the organization’s suggestion that they could work together with the county on building a mid-level road from Palani Road to the Palamanui development. The organization suggested the county pay for the studies, planning and design for the entire road. Hoffmann said the developers would pay for their fair share and impact fees. In addition, Hoover said the organization would work with landowners to make certain the road construction can move forward.

So, what has been keeping this sort of collaboration from happening in the past? Is it really as simple as the County Council ignoring the Kona side, as Aaron Stene frequently laments? Hoffman is quick to point out that the developers “would pay their fair share,” while the developers “suggest” that the County pick up the tab. Call me cynical, but I reckon the “who pays” question is/was the real sticking point.

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1/27/2007

Legislative ethics committees – two ways forward, one gets coverage

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:56 am
Both Honolulu dailies report on a House press conference about a bill to make changes to ethics laws governing the Legislature (the Advertiser piece is here, and the SB story is here).

The bill in the articles was introduced by the Speaker and most Democratic Representatives. It sets up House and Senate committees on ethics, each with two majority party members and one minority party member. That inequity is causing alarm among some Republicans, but I think the bigger partisan problem is that these committees would

review ethics issues as requested by the speaker of the house for the house ethics committee, and the president of the senate for the senate ethics committee.

Which means that legislators of the minority party would have no way to ensure ethics issues they would like to address are dealt with by the committee.

On the other, and neither article mentions this, there is a similar bill that would set up a less partisan system. The alternative bill was introduced by Representative Saiki (one of the three Representatives who voted against re-appointing Speaker Say to his post), joined by a smaller crowd of Democrats and 1 Republican (Meyer). Under Saiki’s bill the committee would be larger (six members) and both parties would have the same strength. In further contrast to Say’s proposal, under this bill each committee could

(1) Initiate, receive, and consider conflict of interest complaints involving legislators; and
(2) Render advisory opinions and recommend disciplinary action.

and

Any action, including but not limited to an action to consider a complaint and convene a hearing, taken by a committee shall require the affirmative vote of no fewer than three members. Complaints and the disposition of complaints shall be a matter of public record.

That’s the way it should be done. I hasten to point out, however, that Congress uses a similar Ethics Committee structure that has not been very inspiring. Essentially both parties maintain an unspoken truce and very few (if any) complaints are actually ever considered.

I’d like to see the committee structure from Representative Saiki’s bill be adopted in Speaker Say’s ethics bill (which itself contains many worthy provisions). But I wouldn’t hold my breath in expectation of such an amendment.

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Transparency is expensive, sez PUC

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:56 am
The Advertiser has an update on the “no money for transparency” struggle that I’ve been following since the gasoline price cap law was suspended. They want $1.2M to hire a consultant and pay for software. They also want to add new staff to assume these duties. The oil companies are still peddling their ridiculous “we want confidential transparency” rhetoric.

In related news, I am exchanging emails with the Consumer Advocate regarding my Sunshine Law request to see what petroleum industry data are being collected. They warn that they will have review the data and segregate out the information that may not be disclosed. These tasks involve fees depending on how long the work takes, but if they agree that mine is a “public interest” request then the first $60 of those fees can be waived. Beyond that, there is a 25 cents/page reproduction fee. If they will waive the fees, then I’ll pay for 100 pages of data to see just how much (or little) transparency the data provide.

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An occasinally effective weapon – in nice weather…

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:56 am
There was a missile defense system test launch on Kauai this week that was a success according to this SB article. However, according to a Garden Island News account the successful test happened after a delay caused by high winds. That’s a little piece of context that might call into question the progress being made on the system. What happens if the system were needed on a windy day?

The reports also cloud the issue of whether this latest test was a “first.”

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense test, which occurred at 7:20 p.m., was the first Army test at the facility since equipment was moved there in October. It is the second overall successful test in three tries, officials said.

vs.

Soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade carried out the test, which the military said appears to be the second successful intercept in the past three tests of the THAAD system.

The last test at White Sands (New Mexico) ended unsuccessfully because of a problem with the target after its launch, according to the [Missile Defense Agency].

It’s an impressive photo anyway…

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1/26/2007

Where is the petition on behalf of Kakesako?

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 8:05 pm
The SB finally mentions that one of their reporters, Gregg Kakesako, is facing a subpoena to testify at Lt. Watada’s upcoming trial.

The Star-Bulletin is consulting with its attorneys about Kakesako’s subpoena, said Editor Frank Bridgewater.

Olson [the other reporter facing a subpoena] has started a petition asking for her subpoena to be dismissed. The petition is posted online at www.defendthepress.org.

Oddly, Olson’s petition does not mention Kakesako. Is it an oversight that Kakesako is not mentioned, or did he request to be omitted? Could it be that Kakesako may actually choose (or has already decided) to comply with the subpoena and to not offer any resistance?

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Plan for sub-committee on affordable housing trips on Sunshine hurdle

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:51 pm
This is a day old now, but the SB had a short story about a failed resolution introduced by Honolulu City Council Chair Barbara Marshall. The resoluton failed on a 4-4 tie vote (with Councilmember Tam absent), after concerns were raised about the sub-committee’s ability to meet in private.

A city attorney told the Council that the committee — made up of less than a majority of the nine-member Council — met the requirements under the state’s open-meeting laws to gather behind closed doors.

That raised eyebrows.

“I don’t want any closed door, back-room deals cut or made in the formation of our affordable-housing policy,” said Councilman Charles Djou, who voted against the measure.

“I think we should attempt and really work hard to include the public and have a discussion in committee first,” said Dela Cruz, former Council chairman, who also objected to the resolution.

But Apo said the discussion internally first among four members is a good start to formulate a framework for the city’s policy.

“We’ve done many of these interaction groups before. They don’t have power. They’re not going to go out and make the final decision,” said Apo, the current Council vice chairman.

Kinda embarrassing for Marshall to have this resolution go down, especially so with Dela Cruz voting against Marshall’s resolution despite him being designated as a member of the group. Marshall only had the support of her Vice Chair (Apo), Floor Leader (Garcia), and another designee (Okino). Also a bit queer that Planning Committee Chair Tam was not designated in the resolution and it just so happened that Tam was absent. I dunno where Tam was, nor do I know how far in advance (if at all) his absence was foretold, but it may be that Tam faced the choice of either missing a pre-planned commitment or missing the vote on the resolution (perhaps scheduled to capitalize on his absence, on the assumption that designating Dela Cruz to the group would provide a fifth vote). That’s a lot of speculation, all of it made moot now.

Anyway, if the Council is unable to generate its own ideas without a group brainstorming session, then maybe they will decide to follow the Mayor’s lead and punt all affordable housing questions to the Governor… Heh.

Coincidentally, today Ian Lind points to his Honolulu Weekly segment about a Sunshine Law study recently concluded after a series of public discussions. I find Appendix III, a laundry list of concerns about the Sunshine Law, to be the most interesting part of the document.

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Landfill weirdness revisited

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:49 pm
Following up on an earlier post, today there is more in the Advertiser about the legal wrangling and public relations battle between operators of the Waimanalo landfill, the City, the State Department of Health, and others. It’s still a weird tale, but it is beginning to get less confusing.

In the earlier post I was under the impression that an employee of the landfill operator and a DOH official were implicated in a bribery-like scheme. Now, according to the comments in this latest article, the two may have been meeting to discuss a response (whistleblowing?) to some ethically sketchy negotiations between the State and the violators. Or something. … Maybe.

The negotiations between the State and the violators (the City and Waste Management) regarding the appeal of the large fine could come out into the open if the federal lawsuit proceeds. That outcome may be the only thing that can clear up this story.

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1/25/2007

Data have no culture and no value system

Filed under: HI State Politics, Science — Doug @ 7:05 pm
Considering that Representative Gene Ward is a PhD (in what field, I don’t know), the op-ed he submitted to the SB indicates an alarming infamiliarity with the concept of correlation. Ward is upset that the DOE presented data to the House Finance Committee to show a positive correlation between socioeconomic status and student test scores. I have not seen the report (if I still worked in the building I would have tracked it down before writing this… sigh), but, even limiting my knowledge of the report to how Ward describes it, I can’t let comments like these go unremarked:

In 2006, 35 percent of students were proficient in reading, while 57 percent of not-poor students were proficient in reading. The math scores for 2006 were 34 percent for the not-poor students and 17 percent for the poor students. What does this mean to parents and lawmakers?

——–

Poverty alone is not a barrier to education and never has been. Parental involvement is a much more powerful predictor of student achievement than poverty.

Using poverty as the explanatory independent variable on test scores suggests that neighborhoods that are well off would produce excellent reading and math scores, which is not the case. Hawaii as a whole, regardless of neighborhood, does not meet national standards for reading and math.

No, that it is not what the correlation suggests. The correlation suggests that neighborhoods with less poverty would have better reading and math scores than neighborhoods with more poverty. Using poverty as an independent variable does not mean that neighborhoods with less poverty would have “excellent” reading and math scores. It’s a relative, not absolute, value that would emerge from the correlation.

As for parental involvement, if Ward has the data to support his claim then I’m totally willing to entertain that theory. However, I would expect parental involvement to correlate negatively with poverty and I’m not sure one factor would be a significantly more powerful predictor than the other.

His next comment is even more outrageous:

Using socioeconomic data to explain test scores also doesn’t hold weight with our culture and values. Education is the great equalizer in our democracy. It is the route people have traditionally used to escape the poverty of their ancestors. If a good education is the passport to upward mobility, we’re looking at the poverty-test scores correlation upside-down.

Wha?! Just because it doesn’t jibe with “our culture and values” does not make the correlation any less real. Ward could be on solid ground to criticize how the data were gathered, how the variables were defined, etc., but to attack the DOE findings because they are not congruent with his values is anti-scientific in the extreme. I don’t know how the DOE operationalized their variables; I don’t know the sample size of the study; basically, I don’t know any details of the research methodology—but I do know that correlations can’t be dismissed simply because one does not agree with them.

As for Ward’s “upside-down” comment, the strength of the correlation would be the same, but I don’t see how he could seriously propose that a student’s test score will have an effect on the socioeconomic status of his or her family. i.e. No matter how well Junior scores on the standardized tests, Junior’s mom and dad don’t get a pay raise and a chance to move to a nicer neighborhood.

I can’t tell if it is intentional or done out of ignorance, but Representative Ward is knocking down a straw man. The DOE is not arguing (or denying) that better students grow up to make more money. The DOE is arguing that better students tend to have parents who already make more money.

UPDATE: February 4, 2007. Superintendent Hamamoto rebuts Ward, saying many of the same things as I.

Comments (6)
1/24/2007

Paid leaves of absence granted even though cheaper options exist

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:01 pm
An interesting Advertiser story about a few City workers who hve been on paid leaves of absence for extended periods. Confidentiality rules preclude a full discussion of why the employees are being investigated, but the article is probably going to cause outrage among readers upset about paying public employees to stay home.

Curious as to what might be going on, I found this website with links to the collective bargaining contracts, and, since two of the employees are from the refuse division (one is a supervisor) I am assuming that they are members of Bargaining Unit 1 (blue collar non-supervisory) and Bargaining Unit 2 (blue collar supervisory). Those agreements are here and here.

In both contracts (pages 10-11 in BU 1, and pages 70-71 in BU 2), you’ll see that the employer (i.e. City) has several other options beyond simply placing the worker on a paid leave of absence while the investigations continue. Why the City does not expedite the investigations and/or choose one of the less-wasteful alternatives provided for in the agreement is the real story here, in my opinion.

It’s not as if the workers are pulling some sort of scam or exploiting an unfair pro-worker contract loophole. The ball is in the employer’s court and the City has decided to play the most expensive option. Why?

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1/23/2007

State of the State 2007

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:06 pm
One disadvantage to my new posting schedule is that by now most people are focused on the State of the Union address, and I’m just getting around to writing about the State of the State address (PDF) . Oh well, my schedule is what it is.

First, I’d sure like to know if the Governor refers to anybody in particular here:

Over the last 15 years, the world has been profoundly changed by the development of the internet and other technologies that make it easier for people to communicate with each other and to shift capital around the world.

People from different countries can work together on the same project in real time?an engineer in India collaborating with a software programmer in California and a banker in China.

A person dressed in shorts and slippers can shake the political world with a blog that he writes from his lanai.

Could it be?.. Nah. I have no lanai.

Before outlining the four principles I believe we must follow in order to achieve success in the global, information-based economy, let me first offer my definition of success.

Simply put, success means producing a constantly rising standard of living for all Hawai?i?s people while using fewer natural resources, including land.

And, to do this while preserving those aspects of life that make our island home so special.

That is a very ambitious definition of success, it’s probably even a contradiction in terms since, for most people, the concept of a higher standard of living is closely (if not entirely) tied to earning more money and consuming more of everything, necessarily including natural resources.

The four principles that should underlie our future efforts and decisions are simple but not easy to achieve. If followed, I believe they will lead to our long-term success.

First, we need to ensure that our workforce has the skills and knowledge required to compete effectively in the 21st century.

Second, we must create an environment in which innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking are encouraged, nurtured, and rewarded.

Third, we need to enable all our citizens…regardless of their economic circumstances…to be fully involved in the digital revolution that is sweeping the world.

Fourth, we must ensure that the basic needs of our citizens…including housing and healthcare…are met, and that our cultural and natural resources are protected and enhanced.

I can get behind all of that wholeheartedly. The Governor’s proposals to address these four principles will not be enough to (by her definition) “succeed,” but at this level of description many of her proposals sound sensible, if inadequte. A few proposals, however, are a bit more dubious. For example, the idea to invest Employee Retirement System money into start-up ventures (even if Speaker Say proposed it in the past) is too risky given the crucial role the ERS money has in providing the financial security of retirees.

I don’t see how Lingle’s proposals could be enough to move the economy very far away from a land-development focus—at least no time soon. In other words, hers is a long-range goal where politicians can deliver (and/or claim) progress without being held to account when they fail to deliver completion. Clever, and a decent strategy to bring Democrats on board.

If you didn’t see or hear the speech already, I hope you all take a look at it. Also have a look at the slick booklet (PDF) that fleshes out the ideas a bit more. Once they have passed first reading, reading the actual legislation that comprises the Governor’s package will be the place to find the most detail.

Comments (4)
1/22/2007

Hanabusa claims to have to reined in Chairs

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:34 pm
Tacked onto the very end of this Pacific Business News article about Senator Hanabusa’s comments on the subject of tax relief, there is this almost random statement:

Hanabusa said the Legislature should be more transparent this year. In the past, Senate committee chairmen have sometimes quashed popular legislative measures, unopposed by committee members who wanted to exercise similar power on other committees chaired by them. Hanabusa said with new committee rules this won’t happen in 2007.

“We will not see one chair simply mandate his or her view on a specific subject,” she said.

I went looking for these “new committee rules,” because this sounds like a rather major change in the power of Committee Chairs. The new rules are here (PDF). Incidentally, during that search I also noticed the new Manual (PDF) for Senate operations (which includes Section 7.1 regarding the restrictions on interns previously discussed).

To my eye, this appears to be the new rule Senator Hanabusa refers to:

Rule 23. Public Hearings on Bills

(1) Subject to this rule, the selection and scheduling of a bill for public hearing shall be at the discretion of the chair of the committee having jurisdiction over the bill.
(2) The chair’s determination that a bill will have a public hearing shall be final notwithstanding the opposition of a majority of the members of the committee.
(3) At the written request of a majority of the members of the committee, the chair shall schedule a bill for public hearing.
(4) If a bill:
(A) Has been referred to more than one standing committee and more than one committee hearing is required for passage of the bill out of the Senate;
(B) Contains any significant or substantial amendment made by a committee other than the last standing committee to which the bill has been referred; and
( C ) The public has not been provided with an opportunity to submit testimony on the significant or substantial amendment; then, prior to reporting the bill out of the last standing committee, the last standing committee to which the bill was been referred shall hold a public hearing to provide the public with the opportunity to testify on the bill.

I like this new rule—at least in theory. Too often the Senate would schedule patently bogus “decisionmakings” where they accept no testimony, even if it meant that previously amendmended bills could be advanced (or even amended further) without the public having any chance to comment on the amendments. However, it remains to be seen if there will be (m)any instance(s) where a majority of the members of any committee choose to make a written demand to have the chair schedule a bill that he or she was not inclined to hear. Depsite what Hanabusa told PBN, I believe that Committee Chairs will probably be reluctant to join such an effort because of the risk that it could encroach on their own power the next time.

Comments (2)
Planner consultants channeling public input to a pre-set direction?

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:33 pm
I really don’t have a lot to add, but I would like to point out this piece submitted to the editors of the Maui News by David Mogilefsky. He asks a lot of very valid questions that I think deserve some official response.

In a nutshell, a consultant whose clients include major developers has the contract to facilitate the revision of the Maui County General Plan. Ideas such as limiting development are pretty much iced out of the scenario presented to the public participants, according to Mogilefsky’s description of the process.

Hmmm.

Comments (0)
1/21/2007

An ‘unusual’ prison deal from the usual suspects

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:45 am
Another important article by Kevin Dayton of the Advertsier about Hawaii inmates on the mainland. At issue is a contract the Hawaii Department of Public Safety signed with political leaders of Eloy, Arizona. The Mayor of Eloy is an employee of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and the non-bid contract signed involves corrections services provided for Eloy by CCA. Hawaii procurement law does not apply to so-called “government to government” contracts, and the Eloy municipal attorney found that the Mayor would not personally benefit from the contract.

Question: does the Mayor of Eloy own any stock in CCA? According to this history of the company, CCA has a employee stock ownership plan to “give employees a vested interest in the success of the venture.” All shareholders would directly benefit from the contract the Mayor signed.

Question: Even though the contract is exempt from Hawaii procurement rules, did Hawaii actually look anywhere else before signing this government-to-government contract with Eloy? At worst, did CCA ever discuss witht Hawaii officials the possibility to provide space for Hawaii inmates in any of CCA’s other non-”government” facilities? Not only is the contract ethically sketchy, it might not even be a good financial deal.

Never heard of Eloy? Me either. According to wikipedia, CCA is the largest employer. The census data for Eloy includes inmates, so it’s hard to read too much into the income and poverty figures unless you subtract the 1,500 inmates from the calculations. With that adjustment, it looks like about 20% of the population is below the poverty line.

In other words, Eloy is like many of the other sites CCA has selected as a prison site. The citizens are desperate for work and it’s easy to see how they would aquiesce to this sort of blatant pass-through contract scheme that will expedite the ability of their local CCA prison to secure contracts in a non-competitve manner.

Comments (3)
Unclear on the propoganda concept…

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 10:45 am
Did you see the latest MidWeek column by (once-U.S. Senate-candidate) Jerry Coffee? This week he chose to write about propaganda. Inspired by a recent PBS program discussing an increase in anti-semitism, Coffee proceeds to crudely imply that anti-semitic violence carried out by muslims is chiefly caused by propaganda and then analogizes rabidly anti-semitic muslim media outlets to communists and, finally, to the “anti-war/anti-Bush” American media. So, for those of you keeping score, Coffee bemoans propaganda—by using many of the classic techniques of propaganda.

Although he may not see the irony, Coffee concludes:

Is it any wonder the president?s and the war?s approval rating is at an all-time low? Propaganda works.

The President himself has acknowledged that the Iraq war is not going well and he has accepted (briefly and grudgingly) that the numerous mistakes made are his responsibility. Why should those approval ratings be higher?

The method of propaganda is essential to the word’s meaning as well. A message does not have to be untrue to qualify as propaganda. The message in modern propaganda is often not blatantly untrue. But even if the message conveys only “true” information, it will generally contain partisan bias and fail to present a complete and balanced consideration of the issue. Another common characteristic of propaganda is volume (in the sense of a large amount). For example, a propagandist may seek to influence opinion by attempting to get a message heard in as many places as possible, and as often as possible. The intention of this approach is to a) reinforce an idea through repetition, and b) exclude or “drown out” any alternative ideas.

In English, the word “propaganda” now carries strong negative (as well as political, mainly) connotations, although it has not always done so. It was formerly common for political organizations, as it had started to be for the advertising and public relations industry, to refer to their own material as propaganda. Because of the negative connotations the word has gained, nowadays nobody admits doing propaganda but, on the other side, everybody accuses the opponent of doing propaganda, whenever there is an opponent in question.

I think it’s more than a little presumptuous for a MidWeek columnist to riff on the theme of media as “elevator music.” But what do I know? I’m just a blogger.

“Going up: second floor, Senate; third floor, House!”

Comments (5)
1/20/2007

Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares, slacker

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:13 am
Here’s something you don’t see very often in politics, a Maui News article has word that Maui Mayor Tavares is basically going to maintain the status quo for the first year of her term.

“I don?t think it?s reasonable to expect there will be something in (fiscal year) 2008,” she said. “The time frame is just too short.”

In fact, Tavares said she?s not planning to offer any major new initiatives for her upcoming budget proposal, but instead expects to request funding only to continue existing county programs and make it through her first year. She said she?ll spend the intervening time working with her Cabinet to flesh out her plans so she could offer a comprehensive package of proposals a year from now.

“The ?09 budget I think is where you?ll see more of my signature,” she said.

So much for “hit the ground running.” Heh.

Tavares comments that she is “thrilled” that the Legislature is focusing on renewable energy this year, but rather than try to ride that wave, she’s going to wait a year? To further abuse that surfing metaphor, “you should have been here yesterday!”

It’s great that she wants to think things through carefully, but (warning: another tired metaphor ahead) if the Lege picks a different focus next year, which is quite likely given the episodic and reactive nature of the beast, the renewable energy train may end up leaving the station without Maui on board.

Comments (5)
Commandant to appease bean couners by deploying Marines currently in support jobs

Filed under: General — Doug @ 10:12 am
This is only loosely-related to Hawaii politics, but the Advertiser runs a story related to a recent message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to all Marines. (Obviously, that would include all Marines in Hawaii.)

There is a saying, “every Marine is a rifleman” that has a long history in the Corps. But for the most part it is not applied that thoroughly to the thousands of Marines who serve in positions such as administrative clerks, fixed-wing aircraft repair technicians, and so on. I maintained F/A-18 aircraft while I was on active duty, and while I was deployed for the first Gulf War, our planes were based in Bahrain—within Scud missile range, but well out of range of direct combat. The idea of asking us to take our rifles (and we all had rifles) and charge across the Iraq border beside the infantry and armor units was never a possibility because, frankly, our mission was to keep our aircraft flying and thereby provide air support to the “ground side” Marines.

The article and CMC message describes an end to that dichotomy. It speaks of spreading the burden of combat across the total Marine force, which is an argument that has a certain “fairness” component that I can respect. However, the article also refers to some comments made by the Commandant last year which I find disturbing:

[General] Conway told Marines in Ramadi in late December that about 37 percent of the corps, or about 66,000 out of about 175,000 permanent troops, had not yet been to Iraq, an issue he said could hurt justification for plans to increase the overall size of the Marine Corps. Another 5,000 troops are being funded temporarily, inflating the current end strength to 180,000 Marines.

The Bush administration has called for increasing the corps strength to 202,000 Marines in five years.

“If we’re going to grow the force on the one hand, we’ve got to be able to justify it to the bean counters … how we have 66,000 Marines that haven’t been to Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.

Is the perception created by the combat participation rate what the politicians and/or Corps leaders really care about as they enter the debate over increasing the size of the Corps? Giving an admin clerk a crash course in infantry tactics and throwing him into the fray should be done for tactical reasons, not for political expediency.

Comments (0)
Anonymous anti-immigrant leaflets surfacing

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:12 am
The Hawaii County newspapers share a story about anonymous messages delivered to areas where suspected illegal immigrants are thought to congregate. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald version is here and West Hawaii Today version is here)

The letter, written in Spanish, demanded the immediate dismissal of all illegal immigrants. It also stated that license plate numbers, residential addresses and other information have been recorded — and it accused said illegals of “stealing” jobs and homes.

“This is your opportunity to prepare yourself, leaving now if your presence here is not legally authorized by the credible government of the USA,” the letter said. “We don’t want you here.”

I agree that these leaflets, which are said to make no particular threat, do not constitute a hate crime, but I can’t help but worry that this bodes ill for race relations. See also my previous posts on immigration sweeps, here and here. I hope the media continue to monitor this topic.

Comments (0)
1/19/2007

“Good cop, bad cop” gets underway

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:41 pm
Both of the Honolulu dailies cover the Governor’s proposals to lower taxes (Advertiser here and SB here), but I am still scratching my head about the wide range of budget figures cited in the coverage. None of them match up with the numbers I wrote about previously, even though my post was based upon allegedly “official” figures. ??

For the first time, estimates surfaced yesterday about the potential costs of the new union contracts that, along with the March economic forecast from the state Council on Revenues, will influence the size of tax relief and other new spending this session.

Contracts with three major public-employee unions expire in less than six months, and talks over new deals could easily last until the session is nearly over. House Democrats expect the unions to seek two-year contracts with raises of at least 7 percent in the first year and 9 percent in the second, at an estimated cost of $500 million.

The estimate is based on similar raises in a 2005 contract for University of Hawai’i professors. State House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), said the Lingle administration set a floor with the generous contract and said “other unions would be foolish not to try to negotiate in that same area.”

This is as good a time as any to reiterate that I think the collective bargaining agreements should be completed before the Executive Budget is submitted to the Legislature…

The Lingle administration has estimated there will be a budget surplus of $466 million when this fiscal year ends in June and another $259 million left over after next fiscal year.

——–

The Lingle administration estimates the state’s budget surplus at $736 million.

——–

Gov. Linda Lingle is proposing tax cuts worth $346 million to Hawaii residents over two years, but Democrats in the state House say it is too much.

I’m really confused now. The council on revenues and BUF documents I referred to previously show the surplus as $732 million. Where the $466 million, $259 million and $736 million figures come from, I have no idea. Furthermore, when I add up the numbers Lingle used to describe each tax cut, they do not equal $346 million. ($20 miillion [2 years @ $10 million] for indexing adjustments, $60 million for standard deduction change, $55 million for GET exemption on foods, $52 million for family deduction changes, $32 million for biofeul exemption, $90.8 million for the rebate, and $4 million for vehicle registration change. Total, by my math = $313.8 million)

UPDATE: The difference is explained by my omission of the second year of the biofeul exemption.

Lingle is not saying how much the state is budgeting for union pay raises, but she insists the state can afford tax cuts.

Some of the tax reductions are spread over two years, so the cost for just the first year would total $228.8 million. If my hypothesis in the earlier post is accurate (i.e. $434.4 million available), that would leave $205.6 million for collective bargaining pay raises. Even if my exact figures are mistaken, I would hope that the media would pursue this line of reasoning. The Governor and the unions don’t want to negotiate in public, but it seems to me that the administration is operating under certain constraints that make it possible to deduce the figures. Right?

Comments (1)
1/18/2007

Open rebellion in the House from the get-go

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:50 pm
The SB and the Garden Island News both have stories that mention three Representatives who voted against the resolution to name Representatives Say and Karamatsu as Speaker and Vice-Speaker. (here and here) However, Ian Lind suggests that there were also kanalua votes, which are those screwy “no until the third time, then yes” votes. See, it’s things like this that make me miss the place already… Who were those kanalua voters?

“I have lost my faith and trust in the speaker,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, a former vice speaker under Say. “The lack of vision, the lack of leadership and the need to hold on to power and the old ways of doing things have been more than just disappointing; it simply breaks my heart.”

Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Punchbowl) was joined by former Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Moiliili-McCully) and freshman Rep. Della Au Belatti. All three apologized for marring the celebratory tone of opening day but said they needed to vote their conscience.

——–

“If the vote was a lot closer, we’d have some real problems,” said incoming Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa). “I think these are just some people who don’t want to give up on their reorganization challenge.”

Opponents contend the divide is actually greater and will show itself as the session progresses.

“It’s the first day of session, and there’s a lot of pressure,” Luke said. “For a freshman like Della, it took a lot of courage for her to stand up and speak against the speaker. It takes a lot for any individual to do that.”

Incoming Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said the public will get to decide the effectiveness of the leadership team when the session is over.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed in how they used the opening session as a soapbox to air their grievances,” Oshiro said. “The proof will be in the pudding — on what kind of measures we come out with and the record of accomplishments.”

Nobody forces the House to make such a dramatic spectacle out of Opening Day, and nobody forced the House leadership to furtively reorganize in such a hasty manner. It certainly is not the dissidents’ fault that the resolution to name the Speaker is always one of the first items of business. Oshiro is off the mark to suggest that they chose a bad time to voice their dissent. He is suggesting that people who do not support the Speaker should have voted for him and adopted a “wait and see” stance. That’s not the way things work in a democracy, of course. In fact, Oshiro’s comment probably adds fuel to dissidents’ fire.

Comments (11)
Opening Day speeches – my drive-by snark

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:49 pm
If you are interested in the full text of the Opening Day speeches, they are available at the Hawaii Reporter website. For whatever reason, the Advertiser only published excerpts of the speeches and the SB didn’t carry them at all.

House Speaker Say’s speech is here, Minority Leader Finnegan’s speech is here. Senate President Hanabusa’s speech is here, Minority Leader Hemmings’ speech is here.

The speeches contain the usual laundry lists of what the leaders would like to accomplish, garnished with sections to polish the “lucky we live Hawaii” apple. I found a piece of each speech that I’d like to point out.

From Speaker Say, some words of advice for his colleagues:

The citizens of this state, and the people of our nation don’t care much anymore about whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. And they won’t remember you if all you do is get a road repaved. They will remember you, and rally behind you, if you can speak to the people’s hopes and then get the job done.

To do that you will need allies within this body – people who want to get something done, too. Seek out the humble, the thoughtful, and above all, the doers. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Your constituents hope you will.

If you listen and watch carefully, your na’au – your gut – will help you find the people here with hope and a willingness to try. This is how people work best together – one on one – not by fighting, but by getting to know each other. Imagine what we could achieve by understanding each other just a little better.

Thank you, and good luck in the new session.

I’m curious to know if he made eye contact with anybody in particular during that conclusion…

Next, from President Hanabusa, word of a change in the Ko Olina tax break:

I have asked Jeff Stone to permit us to redirect and reallocate the Ko Olina Aquarium Tax Credit to this end. What many are not aware of is that not a penny of the Tax Credit has been taken. This is because the true value of the Tax Credit was that when it became law, it made a statement to the world that Hawaii was committed to supporting that region and ensuring its success.

The controversy surrounding the tax credit put Ko Olina on the map. So much so that soon after its passage, Ihilani?its only hotel in Ko Olina at that time, its spa, its lagoons and its sunset were voted the best in Hawaii. Ko Olina became a household word and the rest is history.

Let us not forget what it was for. It was to kick start and sustain the economy for the West side of O?ahu.

This same impact can be made for this new industry or any other industry.

Stop the speech, I want to get off! That’s some dizzying spin, folks. The controversy about the tax credit made Ihilani’s sunset the best in Hawaii?! Hilarious. She even offers (threatens?) that another “lucky” industry could also have a controversial tax break enacted and then withdrawn. Form an orderly queue, please.

Moving on to Representative Finnegan, this passage worthy of Minitrue:

We [House Republicans] want to redefine what we consider bipartisanship. Like in a marriage, conflict can be productive and rewarding. The result of tension can be unity in diversity. We are not only the party of opposition.

…but also the party of opposites. Bipartisanship through conflict. Unity through diversity. [Neo voice] “Whoa.”

From Senator Hemmings, his analysis of the 2006 election returns:

In November of 2006, the people of the State of Hawaii gave Governor Lingle, her cabinet and administration?a historic and unprecedented mandate. This session, we will be performing our constitutional duty of advise and consent concerning her nominees to the cabinet. This honorable body must provide advise and consent based on merit and performance?NOT politics and personalities. With that in mind, I am sure the Governor?s nominees will receive the blessing of this institution.

Strange that the voters who allegedly gave the Governor that mandate somehow failed to provide an equally strong mandate to Senators from the opposition party who also were victorious by large margins. Heh.

Comments (2)
1/17/2007

Intern population at Legislature to be restricted

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:46 pm
Larry Geller’s consistent criticism of Legislative interns hailing from corporations seems to have caused a re-thinking of the internship policies of the House and Senate. The SB reports that the Senate will have only those interns from the University of Hawaii program (where I got my start in 1997). The change in the House is less clear in the article, but Geller infers (from Herke’s comment?) that there will be no interns in the House this year. If that is true, then it probably means that all of the UH interns were assigned to members of the Senate this year instead of splitting the students between the two chambers. If that is what happened, then the House has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Geller writes:

Now that corporations cannot place “interns” at the legislature, look for them to try to find ways around the new rule. We’ll need to be vigilant to uncover employees who take leaves of absence to work at the legislature for a session and then go back to their companies, for example.

Well, for the next nine legislative sessions after my UH internship that is exactly what I did: I would take leave without pay from my job with RCUH to work at the Legislature and then I would return to RCUH. What RCUH would “gain” from it, I don’t know. I can say that nobody from RCUH ever asked me to divulge any inside information or to lobby for or against anything. A prohibition of the nature Geller describes would result in the legislators having even more trouble finding competent (never mind experienced) session employees than they have had in the past (and they still have this trouble in the present). A worker like me, who returned year after year with my institutional knowledge and skills, would be discouraged from doing so if there was a policy that required every session employee to find a brand new interim career after every session ended. Thus, and Geller should see the irony here, having a legislature staffed predominantly with inexperienced session workers could actually benefit all the (experienced) lobbyists who were willing to capitalize on the ignorance/desperation of the session workers.

So, despite his good intentions, unless Geller is willing to support a change to year-round assignments for session workers, I think his proposal needs a lot of work. Disclosure of which employers have authorized leaves of absence for session workers would be a reasonable place to begin, in my opinion.

Comments (6)
Maui Senators all but promise they will bring home the goods

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:46 pm
The Maui News has a story where several Senators from Maui who hold key leadership positions make the case that Maui will do well in the 2007 capital improvement projects budget.

Going into Wednesday?s opening of the 2007 legislative session, Maui senators are in key positions to win funding for projects in their districts, with all three ? Sens. Shan Tsutsui, Roz Baker and J. Kalani English ? in agreement on the priority for funding, the next phases of the Lahaina bypass.

Baker, whose South Maui-West Maui district is the main beneficiary of the bypass funding, is also chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, through which all funding proposals must go.

But with Tsutsui as Ways and Means vice chairman and English also assigned to the 11-member committee, the Maui delegation is in a prime position to set priorities on money bills.

That?s despite the editorial position of The Maui News, English added. He referred to an editorial in The Maui News that downplayed the importance of having three Maui County senators leading the Ways and Means Committee.

“I am frustrated that The Maui News in its editorials questions our ability to follow through with legislation and then you ask us this question of what can we accomplish,” he said.

“If you would ask people who really know, the general rule is when you have people in good positions, you usually get good results. Your editorial page people seem to doubt that, but many of the responsible people in the community seem to feel this is a good situation for Maui County.”

Well, I don’t know if I’m “responsible” or not, but I think the odds are about as good for Maui doing well this year as they could be. However, I do think Senator English needs to reconsider his scolding, since (unless they run a very odd organization) the editorial page of the Maui News is not necessarily working in concert with the news department.

That is not to say that I think all the ideas in the story are going to become law (Highway spending authority handed off to the Counties? No.), but I think this will be a markedly better than average year for Maui.

Comments (0)
1/16/2007

Abercrombie presumes “Prince of Bacon” title

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:02 pm
In an otherwise mediocre SB article about the well-known benefits Hawaii sees from Congressional pork earmarks, there is this concluding passage:

[Representative] Abercrombie said there is a simple political benefit for changing the way earmarks are used. If the appropriation is attached to a specific person and not anonymously buried in a billion-dollar budget, more politicians will get credit.

“I always point out to people that the projects and programs coming into Hawaii have more than doubled since I came into Congress,” Abercrombie said.

“Now unless you want to believe that Sen. Inouye has gotten smarter in the last 15 years than he was in the first 30, it has got to have something to do with the team (of Hawaii congressional representatives) operating,” Abercrombie said.

Oh, really? Well, that dramatic increase could also have more to do with Senator Inouye’s pal, Senator Stevens of Alaska, becoming Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1997.

Do you get the idea that Abercrombie wants to minimize the likelihood of another Ed Case-style attempt to leapfrog over him into one of the two Senate seats? Heh.

Comments (0)
Tax credit privacy armor sees first penetration

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:02 pm
I’m not so much interested in the details of Sean Hao’s latest Advertiser story about those who are seeking film and television production tax credits, but I am pleased with what the story means for the larger issue of learning more about the other forms of tax credits established over the years. Previously Hao was rebuffed by the Film Office when he sought the information, but the OIP ruled that they must turn over at least the identities of the taxpayers seeking the credit. The editors also comment on the Sunshine Law implications today. Unfortunately, the December OIP opinion that led to the release of the information has apparently not been posted online yet.

[State Film Commissioner] Dawson denied an Advertiser request in September to release the names of productions applying for the new credits. At the time, she said disclosing the names and other information might discourage companies from filming in the state or discourage them from sharing accurate information with the state.

The Advertiser appealed that decision, and in December the Office of Information Practices, which administers the state’s open-records law, ruled that the names must be released.

The film office disclosed the identities of 12 productions last week but kept financial data for individual projects confidential.

FIRST DISCLOSURE

This marks the first time the state has been forced to disclose the identities of productions benefiting from state tax breaks. However, the Office of Information Practices’ ruling does not require the disclosure of the identities of companies that claimed production tax credits before July 1 of last year.

Hmmm. Why limit the release to only the latest claims? On July 1, 2006, the credit was increased, but before that date a credit was already in place. [shrug]

Kudos to the HTA for doing the right thing by announcing they intend to forego the tax credit for their commercials. Bigger kudos to Sean Hao for pursuing the story.

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Horse is still dead – [kick]

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:57 pm
Yes, I saw the AP story in the SB today about gasoline price transparency.

No, my Sunshine Law request from the Consumer Advocate has not seen a response yet.

Comments (0)
1/15/2007

Musing about the size of tax refunds and collective bargaining agreements

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:43 am
Spurred on by an exchange with Ted Hong underway in the comments section of David Shapiro’s blog, I am trying to figure out just how much money the Lingle administration has “set aside” for tax breaks and for collective bargaining agreements. Hong reports that he called Budget and Finance and was told, well, something about the collective bargaining figure—maybe an amount, or maybe simply that an amount exists (yawn), he hasn’t clarified that yet.

Well, I got to thinking (uh oh). Since the budget to be submitted by the Governor needs to be based upon the latest Council on Revenues forecast, I had a look at the revenues expected and the overall expenditures and carryover amount in the (broad strokes) plan (PDF) already available online.

The Council on Revenues forecasts $4,700,518,000 in General Fund revenues for 2007.

The Governor’s “Statewide Summary” for 2007 reflects that figure (see page 2). It also shows the $732,300,000 carried forward from 2006, which is the amount that spurs the current debate over tax refunds and/or increased spending, of course. So far, so good.

Next, you can see that the Governor has budgeted for $277,900,000 of expenses in excess of revenues, which indicates she plans to spend that much of the potential tax refund/carryover balance. Accordingly, the bottom line of the column shows an estimated 2007 carryover balance of $454,400,000.

The state is not allowed to carry forward a deficit. Thus, unless the tax refund and/or increased collective bargaining expenses are squirreled away throughout the plan, the collective bargaining agreements and any tax refund will (at most) total $454,400,000. As it happens, that is about equal to the amount mentioned by House Speaker Say when he lobbed out a projected figure for collective bargaining agreements (Say did not explain the basis of that projection, i.e. the sizes of the pay raises in percentages). If, as Shapiro seems convinced, Say is a union stooge and only mentioned that figure because it is the same as what the unions are actually seeking, then it seems as if the Governor has a very similar amount in mind but will, as I expected, play her role in the ‘good cop, bad cop” drama by using the “pay raises vs. tax refund” issue as a wedge.

Comments (2)
Mainland-Hawaii gas price gap widens again – and by more than reapplication of GET would predict

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:43 am
The Pacific Business News has a story about the average gasoline prices in Hawaii in comparison to those of mainland markets. It is based on the AAA Fuel Gauge report, which is updated daily (and could be a much more useful resource if it were possible to search/plot the data in detail by date).

The AAA Fuel Gauge national average price of self-serve regular unleaded gasoline Sunday night was $2.24 a gallon, down about a nickel from a month ago and down about nine cents from a year ago.

——–

The most expensive statewide price averages:

1. Hawaii: $2.91 6/10.
2. Washington state: $2.65 5/10.
3. Oregon: $2.64 7/10.
4. California: $2.62 4/10.
5. Nevada: $2.56 7/10.

As we all know, the GET exemption that expired at the end of 2006 saw about 10 cents/gallon added to the price of gasoline this month. However, if Hawaii gasoline prices more closely tracked the national averages, then we should have expected our average price to increase by about a nickel (-$.05 + $.10). Didn’t happen. According to the page with details about Hawaii, the average price here a month ago was about a dime less than today. The average five cent drop seen across the country? Not seen here.

I admit, this a crude way to get at “transparency,” but’s the best I can do for now. I am still waiting for the Consumer Advocate to respond to my Sunshine Law request to review whatever data were submitted by the petroleum companies. The data probably will not answer the pricing “transparency” question, but I won’t know until I see them.

By the way, there is a ten day time limit for the state to respond to my request. I reckon they will count the days in the way most favorable to them, but, at some point, they need to either provide the data or to tell me why they refuse.

Comments (1)
1/14/2007

2007 version of Akaka Bill is being readied

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:37 am
Senator Akaka is wasting little time in re-introducing a Native Hawaiian recognition bill, according to this SB story.

Cheered by his new Democratic majority, Akaka was rounding up signatures of both new and old supporters last week. As soon as he gets what is a politically viable number, Akaka said, he will introduce the so-called Akaka Bill.

“I wanted to drop (introduce) it this week, but there were some members I wanted for co-sponsor,” Akaka said Friday.

Last year, Akaka had the backing of the Democrats, but was not able to get the 60 votes needed to stop a GOP filibuster of the measure and bring it to the floor for a vote.

Reviewing the records of the cloture roll call vote that failed last June, I find that all the Republican Senators who voted in favor of cloture last year are still in the Senate (Grassley of Iowa, Collins of Maine, Snowe of Maine, Coleman of Minnesota, Cochran of Mississippi, Hagel of Nebraska, Domenici of New Mexico, Smith of Oregon, and Specter of Pennsylvania). Two Democrats who did not cast a cloture vote have also returned (Schumer of New York, and Rockefeller of West Virginia). One Republican who did not vote, Graham of South Carolina, is still there. On the other side of the ledger, six Republicans who voted against cloture have been replaced by Democrats (Talent of Missouri was replaced by McCaskill, Burns of Montana was replaced by Tester, Dewine of Ohio was replaced by Brown, Santorum of Pennsylvania was replaced by Casey, Chafee of Rhode Island was replaced by Whitehouse, and Allen of Virginia was replaced by Webb). One Republican who voted no, Frist of Tennessee, was replaced by another Republican, Corker. Two Democrats who supported the cloture vote lost their seats to new Democrats (Sarbanes of Maryland was replaced by Cardin, and Dayton of Minnesota was replaced by Klobuchar). Vermont Independent (former Republican) Jeffords who voted in favor of cloture was replaced by Sanders, another Independent likely to vote with the Democrats.

So, by my tally a cloture vote right now would (assuming nobody switches their votes and the newcomers vote along party lines) see the 56 ayes increase to 62, which is enough to end debate. At that point a vote on the substance of the bill itself could occur, and I won’t even hazard a guess as to how that vote would turn out. Senator Akaka often implies that 56 (or 62) votes for cloture means he also has a majority of votes to pass the bill, but I think that is a reckless statement.

Opponents have said the Akaka Bill illegally discriminates in favor of one race and would not be constitutional, while supporters say the bill is about the former Hawaiian nation and not an ethnic group.

Akaka said his plan is to introduce a bill that incorporates the amendments, and that should be more convincing to opponents.

“The bill will include the substitute amendments that the Justice Department and the administration had concerns about,” Akaka said in an interview here.

“I think the substitute amendments will show that they had a hand in this and they can’t say it is unconstitutional because this bill indicates they just wanted some clarifications and they are in the bill,” he said.

Ah, the old bugaboo of ambiguous pronouns. What “they” is Senator Akaka speaking of? I am assuming when Akaka says “they,” Akaka means the Bush administration, but “they” are not the branch of government that would decide upon the Constitutionality of whatever law might emerge. Obviously, throughout history many bills that have become law with the support of the Executive Branch have later been found unconstitutional by the Judiciary. Akaka’s argument here seems to be that the bill in its amended form would be defended by the Bush administration should there be any legal challenges, but that argument is speculation and certainly does not guarantee that the law would withstand the challenges.

Comments (1)
1/13/2007

State shamed into taking action against contractors who broke campaign spending laws

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:11 am
Rick Daysog of the Advertiser reports that the State has begun the process to disqualify companies involved in campaign contribution violations from bidding on any further State work. It seems pretty clear that this is the result of Mr. Daysog’s earlier work on this subject, so hats off to him.

Aaron Fujioka, the state’s chief procurement officer, sent out notices earlier this week that could lead to the disqualification of eight local firms that receive city and state consulting contracts.

The notices are the first of many that the state plans to issue over the next several months to engineers and architects who made tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and other local Democrats, Fujioka said.

“We want to make sure that this unfortunate chapter will not repeat itself in the future,” Fujioka said yesterday.

The firms included Geolabs Inc., R.M. Towill Corp., Park Engineering, Wesley R. Segawa & Associates, Engineers Surveyors Hawaii Inc., ECS Inc., Imata & Associates Inc., and Edward K. Noda and Associates Inc.

The firms would be banned from future contracts if they haven’t taken corrective action since they were cited for making illegal donations, Fujioka said in his letters to the companies.

Executives at six of the firms did not return calls for comment yesterday, and an attorney for Park Engineering, Steven Hisaka, had no comment, saying he has not seen the letters from the state.

Kendall Hee, Engineer Surveyors’ president, said company attorneys are still reviewing the notices issued by the state.

But Hee noted that his firm, which specializes in sewer and roadway projects, made no admission of wrongdoing when it agreed to pay a $78,000 fine levied by the state Campaign Spending Commission in February 2004.

Well, I’m having a lot of trouble finding the laws or regulations pertaining to debarring a company from the procurement process, so if anybody knows where to look please let me know.

That said, it could be the case that, as Hee noted, if an alleged violator agrees to pay a fine instead of contesting the violation then there is no legal basis for debarment. If that is true, then it would appear that many of the companies involved could continue to receive State contracts. Much like plea bargaining, the agreements for the companies to pay campaign spending fines are negotiated in private. If the Commission is selling out too cheap there is no recourse for the public. Indeed, because of the confidential nature of the negotiations, there is no way for the public to evaluate if the agreement is fair or just.

Comments (1)
After defeat, Safarik moves to talk radio

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:10 am
If there ever were a Honolulu Councilmember to lose his or her seat, it would be interesting to see if they would become a radio pundit. In Hawaii County, that is the path taken by Gary Safarik, according to this Hawaii Island Journal article.

A week after Safarik left office, he debuted as a radio co-host with Melvin “Mynah Bird” Medeiros on Hilo’s KHBC Radio (1060 AM – no web stream).

Medeiros has worked in local radio for the past half-century and is now on the air every morning but Sunday.

Safarik joins him at 8 a.m. Mondays to offer political commentary on “Insight,” their new 30-minute call-in show.

Safarik made the move after he lost the his November reelection bid to Emily Naeole. He rounded up three local businesses to sponsor the show and convinced Mynah Bird, and station owner Buddy Gordon, to give him a chance.

“We got to find out whether he can morph from the gruff councilman image to a warm and lovable radio personality like Mynah Bird,” Gordon told HIJ shortly after Safarik’s debut show.

Gordon notes how many radio stations are becoming “homogenized” and “out of touch with the community.”

“We care about the community. We see the potential that Gary can bring, giving our listeners new insight, or a different perspective on government,” he says.

“At the same time, we want to allow the listeners an opportunity to ask the questions that are important to them,” Gordon says. “And, hopefully, Gary can help answer those questions.”

“I’ve never done it in the past; it’s another way to serve the community,” Safarik says.

He describes what he believes to be “a void in the real news, real things that are happening. I think Buddy’s word ‘homogenized,’ can also be applied to print media.

“I think print media has been notoriously absent from the real issues people want to know about. They report it on the front page but beyond that, they don’t dissect, they don’t investigate, and people only get half the story. And I think this opportunity that Buddy Gordon and Mynah Bird are affording can provide a balance,” Safarik says.

“Our true goal is to bring the balance… and to get people spurred to call and talk about issues and then spurred to the next level to talk to their legislators and get involved in some way.” he says.

Who are the sponsors of Safarik’s show? Call me cynical, but I suspect that the sponsors (and Gordon, too?) are his political supporters who are hoping for Safarik to maintain his name recognition in the hopes of a political re-birth. I’m hoping that the radio show regularly identifies the three sponsors (and notes any potential conflicts of interest) more clearly than the article. That said, if Safarik’s show actually provides another “half” of the story, it could be useful. It’s a fairly new show, but if any of you readers have listened to it and have an opinion please leave a comment.

Comments (3)
1/12/2007

Trash export resolution introduced by Apo

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:31 pm
Previously there was debate in Hawaii County about exporting rubbish to the mainland instead of sending it to their landfills, and today the Advertiser has a story about a Honolulu City Council resolution that would direct the Hannemann administration to study sending Oahu rubbish to the mainland. I’m confused about a few parts of the idea:

City Environmental Services Director Eric Takamura said he believes shipping garbage off-island could cost the city $34 million a year ? part of the money now collected from tipping fees paid by companies that dispose of garbage in the city-owned landfill.

“We would lose revenue because we would not get tipping fees,” Takamura said, yet the city couldn’t close the landfill entirely. “We don’t think shippers can ship everything that goes to the landfill.”

———-

Takamura said he also would be concerned that reducing the amount of waste going to the garbage-to-energy plant could require more imported oil to fuel the island’s electrical demands. And less waste going into the system could force up the cost for other solutions by making them less cost-effective, he said.

Takamura said the city picks up 44 percent of the waste generated on O’ahu, with private haulers handling the other 56 percent.

City spokesman Bill Brennan said the city has been told that the state Department of Health is considering a private company’s request to ship garbage it collects from Campbell Industrial Park to the Mainland.

“We’re concerned about what impact on city operations that having a private hauler begin shipping garbage out of state might have,” Brennan said.

Since the private haulers may soon be allowed by DOH to ship garbage, it seems that the resolution concerns sending only the waste hauled by the City. If that’s the case, then I don’t see how the City would lose out on tipping fees unless their practice is to charge themselves for the privilege of using their own landfill. If the State allows that private hauler to proceed, then the City would lose tipping fees, obviously, but that effect doesn’t seem likely to be a factor in the State’s decision regarding private haulers.

Next, another part of the article mentions that the waste ash generated by the H-Power plant is currently buried in the landfill. So couldn’t they burn the rubbish for power and then ship the ash to the mainland?

Last, many parts of the Leeward community were “insulted” by the $2M incentive package offered this week as compensation for the numerous infrastructure burdens the area bears for the island. Looking at it from that angle, $34M/year might also actually be cheaper (not to mention politically easier) than choosing and opening another landfill site on Oahu.

The one thing missing from this discussion is how much a comprehensive recycling system could reduce the stream of rubbish headed for the landfill. Is the City stalling to implement curbside recycling due to the same concerns about a potential loss of tipping fees?

Comments (4)
1/11/2007

Web voting for Neighborhood Board races this year

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:16 pm
I noticed an op-ed from Lynne Matusow in the Honolulu Advertiser today about the Oahu Neighborhood Board elections that will be conducted online this year (with an option to vote by mail). The by-line of the piece identifies her as a Downtown Honolulu resident, but does not mention that she is also a member (Chair, if I’m not mistaken) of the Downtown Neighborhood Board #13. Now, perhaps she did not add that detail because she did not want to create the appearance that she was speaking in her capacity as a Board member, but… I think you see my point in bringing it up.

The big unknown this year is how many people will vote. In what the Neighborhood Commission says is an attempt to save money and boost participation, the commission is scrapping the traditional mail ballot. One commission staffer involved with the elections told me each mail ballot costs $1. Instead, O’ahu residents will vote via the Web.

Neither candidates nor the general public are well aware of this. The only indication that something is different appears on the candidacy declaration form [PDF]. In past elections, candidate profiles were limited to 320 characters because of space constraints. In 2007, the profile, with or without a picture, is limited to 200 words. That is a large increase. In addition, while the candidacy declaration form must be delivered by hand or postmarked no later than Jan. 16 (no faxes or electronic submissions), the commission requests that candidate profiles be submitted electronically. When pressed, the commission says the profile can be submitted with the candidacy declaration form instead of electronically.

The plan is to mail all registered voters a personal identification number, which will enable them to access the ballot and candidate profiles on a “secure” Web site and cast their votes from home, work or the library. Those who do not want to vote this way will be able to request a mail ballot. The commission says that candidate profiles will be included with the mail ballot and on the Web site.

These new procedures are a deterrent to public participation.

———

The public grows more cynical about voting fraud and the accuracy of ballot counting. Many do not trust electronic voting.

First of all, I should temper my comments with the disclosure that the NB elections are not events I will lose much sleep over. In my limited experience, the output of the boards tends to swing wildly from overblown delusions to irrelevant provincialism, with very little in between—which is too bad. There are a few boards that are exceptions, but on the whole I’m underwhelmed by the NB system.

The Neighborhood Commission website states that details of the 2007 board election will be released “in the near future.” Hmmm. When it comes right down to it, I don’t actually know much about the mail-in ballot system used in previous NB elections. i.e. I do not know if there were (m)any robust safeguards built into the mail-in voting process to provide confidence in its integrity.

Without knowing the specific details of how the online voting will work, I think Matusow’s skepticism is worthy. Whatever system is eventually announced may not include a paper trail to consult in the case of a contesed election, and the system could either have too little privacy to protect voter identity or, on the opposite extreme, too much anonymity to allow detection of vote fraud. Adopting an online system simply to reduce expenses associated with voting is a dubious decision.

Comments (2)
1/10/2007

Dam failure is a political bullet dodged – so far

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:30 pm
Numerous stories of the Special Deputy Attorney General’s report about the breach of the Ka Loko Dam are available (Advertiser has one, SB has two, Garden Island News, etc.) today, and the various sections of the report itself (PDF) are available here.

While the media accounts clearly imply who the villians are, most of the articles stress that the report itself doesn’t attempt to explicitly assign blame. Further, these articles remind us that the State is immune from lawsuits over a dam failure. That refers to liability in the legal sense, of course. As far as political liability goes, I think Governor Lingle is very lucky that this report was not completed before the November election. (Former Mayor Kusaka of Kauai emerges with some significant political damage, too, but her career is ended already).

The dam safety program that was to be carried out by DLNR is described in the report as chronically underfunded, so it would be useful to compare the amounts of funding requested in the budgets submitted by the Executive Branch over the years to the amounts that were actually appropriated by the Legislature in those years. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to promptly undertake that kind of research. However, within the financial plan submitted by the Governor recently, the section for LNR 810 “Prevention of Natural Disasters” (see page 1075) has this to say:

Operating budget requests include … position counts and related funding (general funds) for a clerk-typist and conversion of exisiting position funding from special to general funds for the dam safety program; …

Another section found on page 1076 contains this comment (that echoes language found in the new report):

The Dam Safety and Flood Control programs have been historically underfunded and understaffed. The Kaloko Dam breach in March 2006 draws attention to the Dam Safety program’s staffing and resource limitations.

Ya think? Sheesh. On page 1074, where performance measures are discussed, the plan calls for no increase in the number of dams (72 of around 140) to be inspected each year.

It seems questionable whether the Governor has really learned much from the disaster.

Comments (0)
1/9/2007

Abercrombie says he will not appropriate funds for surge; takes swipe at Rice

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:44 pm
Another day, and another article appears, this time in the SB, to address one of the questions I raised here. Who knew that this puny blog holds such editorial influence?

“We are not going to fund any surges. We are not going to support expanding this war,” [Congressman] Abercrombie said.

The Hawaii Democrat’s words have added importance because on Thursday, Abercrombie is expected to be named chairman of the Armed Forces subcommittee dealing with the Army and Air Force.

Congress, Abercrombie said, “will continue to support the troops, which our budget already does.”

But Abercrombie warned that “we have no intention of trying to support political policies in the guise of support for the troops.”

Opposition to an increase is different than support of a reduction in troops. The subtext to Abercrombie’s soundbite is his presumption that maintaining the status quo defines “supporting our troops.” So, to the extent he is making that argument, Abercrombie is “supporting a political policy.”

We are not privy to what brought the interview to change to another topic, but Abercrombie proceeded to lash out at Secreatary of State Rice:

Yesterday, Abercrombie was particularly critical of Rice, the former national security adviser, whom Abercrombie described as “the most overrated, underperforming individual in executive authority that I have ever seen.”

“She constantly gets a pass. Who knows if the whole question of race and gender come into it, but … I can’t account for it, except to say she isn’t up to the mark,” Abercrombie said.

Wow. As National Security Advisor she was a key player in the deception to go to war in Iraq, so I’m not a fan of Secretary Rice, but I think Abercrombie is way out of line to be deriding Rice as “overrated and underperforming” without citing any specific evidence—and doing so in the same breath as he uses a sort of jujitsu-style invocation of Rice’s status as an African-American woman. Now, if Abercrombie has a history of substantive criticism of the performance of Rice that I am not aware of, then it would change things a bit. Short of discovering such a history and/or knowing the full context of his remark to Borreca, I find Abercrombie’s comment offensive.

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