Poinography!

January 10, 2009

Poinography April 2007 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 2:20 pm

Poinography!

4/30/2007

More on the Molokai mystery

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:16 pm
Another Molokai Dispatch story provides further speculation about the USDA’s actions that have stalled EC Board meetings regarding development at Laau Point.

This latest Molokai Dispatch story suggests it is “quite likely,” and contrary to my hunch, that the USDA has directed the Board to stand by while federal officials are reviewing a petition that challenges the sketchy election process whereby the losing EC Board candidates were nonetheless seated alongside the winners, and raises concerns about Boardmembers with conflicts of interest. This petition review is one possible scenario that could explain the delay, but there is still no comment from the USDA, and there is still no recent coverage in the Honolulu media of this story that seems to be dividing Molokai.

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4/29/2007

AG to torpedo targeted tax relief? also, chaos of last-minute voting criticized

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:47 am
Both Honolulu dailies have stories about the tax refund legislation poised for a final vote this week. The Advertiser story is here and the SB story is here. The bills are progressive and do not provide any relief to taxpayers with medium (or higher) adjusted gross incomes. The Governor is not especially pleased with this outcome.

This would be the first time that lawmakers attempt to meet the constitutional requirement with targeted tax relief, but [Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair] Baker and [House Finance Committee Chair] Oshiro believe it is both legally permissible and practical. But Linda Smith, the governor’s senior policy adviser, said the administration would likely ask the attorney general for an opinion.

“Certainly, it is a concern to us,” said Smith, who believes every taxpayer is entitled to a rebate under the constitution.

——–

The tax credit is called for in the state Constitution, which says that if the revenues exceed the general fund balance for two years, the “Legislature shall provide for a tax refund or tax credit to the taxpayers of the state, as provide [sic, provided] by law.”

Lowell Kalapa, president of the Hawaii Tax Foundation, said that means that all taxpayers have to get something back.

“I don’t think this meets the constitutional mandate. I can understand a sliding scale, but where is the equity in providing some people with nothing?” Kalapa said.

Kalapa said that in past years when the state provided a refund, it was given out equally.

“I think everyone should get something,” Kalapa said.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, finance chairman, said the Constitution allows the Legislature to write the rebate refund law and can decide how to give out the money.

“If you just say ‘taxpayers’ it could include tourists and nonresident corporations.

Hmmm. Mr. Kalapa must know of some hidden section of the Constitution that proscribes equitable tax refunds. If not, I think Kalapa/Smith are wrong and Oshiro/Baker are correct. Poltically, I really don’t expect the Governor to veto progressive tax relief legislation, no matter what the Attorney General (or the GOP base) thinks of it. With the overall size of the refund limited to about $49 million, any revision of this legislation after a veto would be (fairly) characterized as a zero-sum exercise—pitting the have-mores against the lowest income taxpayers.

The Advertiser piece goes on to quote the Governor’s frustration over the harried scene immediate before deadline. The Advertiser also has a Jerry Burris blog post specifically on that topic.

Lingle, referring to the often frenzied negotiations that culminated with House and Senate leaders crowded into a single hearing room late Friday night, said perhaps they should consider improving the process. “This just simply doesn’t work,” the governor said. “I attended a couple of the conference committee meetings over this past week and it’s unbelievable how business is conducted on serious issues.”

Oshiro said the rush on Friday was symbolic of the collaborative nature of the legislative process. It actually ran better than in some years, when House and Senate leaders would have to extend deadlines ? or even the session itself ? to finish. “It’s an open process that accepts input from the public right up until the very end,” he said.

——–

Gov. Lingle was complaining over the weekend about the “chaotic” process by which state lawmakers finished up key work on tax and spending bills intended for passage this session.

And she is right. Particularly to an outsider, the frenzied scene in a third-floor conference room at the Capitol more that [sic] justified the old saying that laws, like sausages, are something one should not watch being made in person.

Unless you were a lobbyist or other interested person who knew precisely what your bill was and what it meant, it was near-to-impossible to follow the action. House and Senate conferees, who popped in and out of seats in seemingly random order, would mumble the number of a bill and maybe, maybe, give some vague hint of what it was about.

Then the roll was called and almost always it was unanimously in favor, the real debate and give-and-take having taken place earlier out of public view. With only a few exceptions, the bills to be approved where sent on without debate or dissent. House Education Chair Roy Takumi voted no on one education bill he obviously was unhappy about and Maui Rep. Josh Green cast a testy no vote on a measure that impacted management of Maui hospitals.

Burris goes on to (correctly) note that the process is much-improved over the “bad old days” when there was little (or zero) chance for the public to observe the process.

I’m almost past the point of lamenting the deadline frenzy. So many “important” things in life are resolved at the last minute (from something as mundane as getting out of bed every day, to academic work, business deals, important sporting events, etc.) that it may be wishful thinking to think legislators will ever (or could ever) be immune from it. If the legislative deadlines are extended, then the only change would probably be … a frenzy at a later time. Homo erectus procrastinatus.

Comments (3)
4/28/2007

The most powerful entity in Hawaii County

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 6:34 pm
An interesting West Hawaii Today story discusses some proposed legislation at the Hawaii County Council that would strip some of the power of the Planning Director, or at least give the Council an opportunity to get the last bite of the decisionmaking apple.

All of the proposed changes to zoning coming from [Councilmember] Hoffmann are intended to right a wrong that should have been addressed years ago, Linda Copman, a legislative assistant to Hoffmann, said, and they’re being presented as separate items so the council doesn’t have to digest everything in one shot.

“We need to be able to look at development and mitigate the impacts,” she said.

The county [Council?] now reviews rezonings even though rezonings have a low impact, Copman said.

But neither the council nor Planning Commission has any say regarding subdivision and planned unit development, or PUD, applications, she said.

The existing code is written so the planning director makes all decisions on whether to grant subdivision or PUD requests, Copman said.

“It’s an administrative review,” she said. “It’s like a driver’s license. You get your driver’s license if you pass a test.”

Should the council’s Planning Committee approve Hoffmann’s resolution Tuesday, and it’s approved by the full council at a subsequent meeting, [Director of Planning] Yuen and the Planning Commission will review the proposed changes to the zoning and subdivision ordinances, and make recommendations to the council.

The proposed changes to the ordinances would require subdivisions and PUDs consisting of seven or more lots to be reviewed by the Planning Commission and approved by the council, thus giving the public at least three opportunities to comment on the applications, Copman said.

Some council members interviewed Thursday gave their thoughts on the proposed changes.

South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said she’s in full support of them.

“It’s something we need to do,” she said. “Larger subdivisions need to be under the scrutiny of the public and the council.”

Ford said the most powerful entity in the county is not the mayor or the council.

“The most powerful entity is the planning director,” Ford said. “That person can make decisions that are detrimental to the community and there’s no recourse. That position has been made far too powerful. There’s no check and balance in it.”

Between these latest proposals and earlier efforts toward “concurrency” requirements for development on Hawaii island, there could be a major change at hand. Or not. If the Council continues its recent hstory of factionalization, then the outcomes of these changes could be skewed.

I admit that I’m relatively ignorant of County government, and I wonder how the approval processes (existing and proposed) for Hawaii County compare to Honolulu, Kauai, and Maui.

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4/27/2007

Advertiser starts Japanese-language weekly

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 8:08 pm
I don’t have much time or motivation to write today. Mostly because I am lazy, but also because I went to a pau hana gathering and got home only a little while ago. But, I’ll throw out this bone:

The Gannett universe expands another notch in Hawaii, as the Advertiser will begin a weekly newspaper full of feature stories translated from English to Japanese, according to this Pacific Business News article. I can’t tell if this is a freebie, or if it will be in vending machines, or subscription-only. Having a copy of volume 1, number 1 might be worth something in the future, since the article says that this type of newspaper has a checkered recent history in Hawaii.

Furthermore, I am curious what is considered a “story of interest to Japanese nationals.”

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4/26/2007

Veto messages piling up

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:22 pm
The Governor’s veto pen has been getting a workout this year (more or less on pace with previous years), but one particular veto is near and dear to me. The Advertiser reports (and Jerry Burris blogs) about Governor Lingle’s veto (PDF) of SB 1063, which is a bill to strip the Governor of the power to appoint replacement legislators when a seat is left vacant in mid-term.

As you might recall, my friend Karl Rhoads was nominated by the Democratic Party to fill Ken Hiraki’s House seat (when Hiraki left to become a lobbyist). The Governor’s staff interviewed Rhoads and others seeking the appointment, but ultimately the Governor chose Bev Harbin, a lunatic. While her bizarre behavior in office was good for a lot of laughs, it was a huge disservice to that House district. Nevertheless, Lingle’s veto message acts as if that debacle never happened:

This bill places the ability for determing who may be appointed by the Governor with the political party leadership of the vacating officeholder. This is in spite of the fact that these individuals are not elected by the public and, as such, are not accountable to them.

Additionally, the bill, without any stated rationale, narrows the field of qualified candidates that the political party may consider to those that have been registered [sic] members of the party for at least six months prior to the appointment. Such a provision fails to recognize that this may unreasonably restrict the pool of potential candidates as the majority of people who personally and philosophically associate themselves with a political party and vote along party lines may not meet this requirement.

That knife cuts both ways, of course. Anybody that has been a member of a political party for at least six months before a vacancy occurs is much more likely to philosophically associate with that Party.

That said, I’ll also spell out the “missing” rationale, since the Govenor seems to have conveniently forgotten Harbin. As squishy as the Democratic Party label has become, Bev Harbin was not “personally or philosophically associated” with the Hawaii Democratic Party until after the vacancy was announced. This type of a “restriction of the pool of potential candidates” is clearly necessary to, as the vetoed bill puts it, “eliminate skepticism and mistrust and increase public trust and confidence in the appointment process.”

Actually, the preamble of the bill is worth quoting from at length, as it diplomatically but unmistakably alludes to the Harbin debacle:

It is understandable that a governor may reasonably want to appoint an individual whose views on key issues are “in alignment with” the governor’s positions, presumably a more difficult task when the prior incumbent was a member of a different political party than the governor. However, the present appointment process allows the governor to essentially disregard the interests of the prior incumbent’s constituents and appoint an individual whose primary qualification seems to be sharing similar political opinions on key issues with the governor. An appointment based solely upon political considerations is viewed with skepticism, may seriously damage the public’s trust and confidence in the legislative process, and casts an “aura of mistrust” around the appointee. The appointee becomes an ineffective advocate for constituent interests and is likely to be unproductive in the legislature. Skepticism and mistrust are even stronger when a governor is offered and rejects a list of potential appointees deemed qualified by the political party of the prior incumbent.

Yup, yup.

Last, there is this strange concluding sentence in the Advertiser article:

Lawmakers can opt for an override session in the summer.

That’s true, but lawmakers may also override this veto in these last few days of the 2007 Regular Session, too. Does DePledge have some reason to believe the Lege won’t react quickly? I dunno.

Comments (5)
4/25/2007

HSTA members asked to vote away their privacy rights in exchange for a pay raise

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:42 pm
The SB editorial today was hard for me to believe. It begins:

RESPONDING to a flurry of arrests of teachers and custodians accused of illegal drug activity, the Hawaii State Teachers Association leadership has acted responsibly, although reluctantly, in accepting drug tests as part of its tentative labor contract with the state. The proposal appears to be based on programs operated in other states.

The Legislature is considering a bill that essentially would direct the Department of Education to set up a program for testing all of its employees. Achieving such a program by collective bargaining instead of by statute is preferable, insulating the policy from potential court challenges.

The agreement should be ratified tomorrow by the rank and file.

I’m not an HSTA member, so what I think does not really matter, but I expected the editors to advance a much better argument in support of ratification. Leaving aside the other terms of the contract (i.e. terms with which I’m not familiar with and which may or may not be fair), what part of this editorial would persuade an HSTA member to vote in favor of an agreement? I think it is insulting for the editors to so bluntly ask so much of teachers. The editors’ message is “we no longer trust you teachers and we don’t think you should enjoy the same right to privacy as the rest of us; so you teachers should vote in favor of this agreement and surrender your individual rights to privacy which will make it easier for the state to impose the editors’ will on you and your colleagues.” Wow, it takes some moxie to be so bold as to ask that of anybody. I’m not so much surprised that the editors are willing to sell the teachers rights down the river as I am surprised that no attempt was made by the editors to obscure the self- (and collective) sacrifice being asked of teachers. Presenting only the downside to a group you are trying to win support from is bizarre.

Don’t ratify the agreement, would be my advice to HSTA members. If the Lege has the audacity to pass a random drug testing law, then teachers should challenge it in court, where they may even win. Heck, if the Governor wants to go to the arbitrator rather than agree to a contract without random drug testing, then in that case the HSTA would probably win an equal (or bigger) pay raise from the arbitrator anyway. Heh.

Four arrests in a population of 13,000 employees is probably lower than the (detected and actual) rates of drug use among the non-HSTA population. I do not agree that a small cluster of arrests “justify” an agreement that would establish random drug testing outside judicial review.

UPDATE: The breaking news on the Honolulu Advertiser is reporting that the final results of this vote may not be available until Wednesday, which, if I’m not mistaken, would be too late for the Lege to incorporate the money into the budget during the 2007 regular session…

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4/24/2007

Lobbyist, advisory council member; whatever

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:03 pm
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports on an astroturfing effort spearheaded by a Honolulu public relations firm on behalf of the Hawaii Superferry. Those of you with long memories may remember that early in the Superferry process one of the operator’s arguments against subjecting the project to the EIS process was that the company would form community advisory councils on each island the ferry hoped to serve—these councils would, it was implied, provide public input and oversight equivalent to (or better than) the EIS process.

Well, the article reports that a letter has gone out to thousands of Hawaii County residents asking for them to participate in a petition drive in support of the Superferry. (Similar letters were said to have been sent to other islands, too.)

The letter [sent to certain Hawaii County residents] is signed by Mark McGuffie, executive director of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, and Gunner Mench, owner of Harbor Galleries in Kawaihae.

Both serve on the Hawaii Island Superferry Advisory Council, a group of about a dozen volunteers.

“I was just asked, as part of the advisory council, to endorse, if you will, their coming to Hawaii Island,” McGuffie said of his involvement. “They selected the advisory council of each island to do the same.”

McGuffie said he’s not a lobbyist.

“It’s all their campaign, if you will,” he said of Superferry officials. “We’re just helping, as I said, from the advisory council.”

Still, McGuffie said he supports the controversial service “because I believe an alternative form of travel is a good option for Hawaii residents.”

That’s some pretty unbelievable duplicity, “if you will.” Clearly, the advisory council is nothing more than an (unpaid?) arm of the Superferry’s public relations spin. Sheesh. Kudos to the H T-H for uncovering this story.

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Finally, some data on jobs impact of tax credit

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:03 pm
The Advertiser continues to follow the story of the outcomes produced by the Act 221 tax credits. A new state-by-state study says that Hawaii has created 1,328 “technology” jobs. Meanwhile, DOTAX released preliminary data (finally) suggesting that the tax credit has created 4,234 jobs were created by “qualifying firms” (which includes a wider array of industries than the national study).

An estimated $311 million in credits were generated since 2001, though that loss in revenues is spread out over multiple years. Supporters of the incentives point out that in recent years, local companies such as Hawaii Biotech, Hoku Scientific and Hoana Medical have grown with help from the credits. They maintain that the cost of the credits is more than offset by the economic activity they generate.

However, measuring the impact of the credits is difficult because the state doesn’t release the identities of the companies or track the number of jobs they create. It’s impossible to know how many new tech-sector jobs would have been generated without the credits.

Well, giving the companies the maximum benefit of the doubt (i.e. assuming all the jobs were created in the first year of the credit and none would have been generated without the credit), each of those jobs cost over $70,000 in lost revenue spread over the years since 2001. With less favorable data (i.e. more jobs that would have been created anyway), the revenue impact of each job goes even higher. Or at least I think that’s one way to interpret the data…

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4/23/2007

The “political process” of nominating UH Regents

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:30 pm
Not to pick on the Advertiser editorial, since other editors have opined similarly, but now that the Governor has vetoed a bill that would carry out a 2006 Constitutional Amendment to select nominees for UH Regents there has been much made of the issue. Yawn.

The voters decided in November to have an advisory council select nominees to the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents, rather than have the governor simply appoint them herself.

What they wanted was a process less imbued with politics.

But Senate Bill 14 clearly made it more so, instead. Under the proposal ? which was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle ? the council would comprise seven members, appointed by the Senate president, House speaker, governor, UH faculty senate, UH student caucus, an association of former regents and the UH alumni association.

Huh? Who can speak with such surety about “what the voters wanted” when this amendment passed? All that was on the ballot was the question: “Shall the governor be required to select board of regents candidates from a pool of qualified candidates screened and proposed by a candidate advisory council for the board of regents of the University of Hawaii as provided by law?” 56.2% voted, “yes.” Nothing in that ballot question specified (or even implied) a process less (or more) imbued with politics.

However, the makeup of the council is needlessly complicated. Under our state and national constitutions, the executive branch appoints [sic, better to say “nominates”] officials and the legislative branch advises and confirms the selections [sic, let’s say “nominees”]. There seems no rationale, other than a political one, for the Senate president and House speaker to have a role in appointments [sic, rather “in appointing 2 of 7 members of a council to screen and propose nominees”].

Student, faculty and former regents would have something to contribute to the selection process. But rather than override the veto, the Legislature should consider allowing the governor to appoint the council but requiring her to consult with those constituencies.

Reminder, people: There are scores, if not hundreds, of state commissions, councils, task forces, etc., that have memberships derived in the exact same way (i.e. with members named by the Speaker, President, Governor, experts, interest groups, etc.). These appointed bodies have varying amounts of power and influence over the direction taken by the Executive and Legislative branches of government. As for the exemption from the Sunshine Law that the vetoed bill would provide to this newest advisory council; I don’t like it, but the exemption is no worse than the equally secretive nomination process traditionally exercised by the Executive branch without any dissent or outcry. If the council should meet under the open meetings law to choose nominees, then so to should the Governor.

Comments (3)
4/22/2007

USDA indefinitely postpones Laau Point meetings

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 8:49 am
A while ago I noted the controversy on Molokai over the development of Laau Point. The latest twist is described in a Molokai Dispatch story and a Molokai Times article. I still am unsure of exactly what is at stake, but the federal government (the USDA, specifically) apparently has told the community board that it should not take further action until the contents of “a letter” are resolved.

Other than that earlier piece in the Pacific Business News, I don’t recall seeing much mention of the ongoing story in the Honolulu newspapers since a few mentions in January. Do you?

Just as Leila Stone was ramping up to have KAL?s meeting moved to a larger spot to accommodate Molokai?s concerned citizens, board president Stacy Crivello revealed that KAL executive director Abbey Mayer had been contacted by a USDA Rural Development Regent Officer who had informed Mayer that comments regarding KAL conduct were under USDA review and that the Rural Development office recommended they pursue action on no further items.

A motion to adjourn the meeting to the QLCC Halau in the same complex led to the meeting?s adjournment; Crivello informed the re-assembled crowd that KAL did not have permission to be in the Halau, and that she would not re-convent [sic] the meeting. There was some public outcry over this; the community had come for answers, and appeared frustrated when the opportunity for some disclosure evaporated.

Former members of Hui Ho`opakele Aina- now called the Save La`au Ohana- took the opportunity to speak to the assembly and clarify what had happened. ?This is a mixed blessing,? said famed activist Walter Ritte; ?they won?t be making any new laws, but none of their current projects will be put on hold, either. We also won?t have the opportunity to question their actions in public.?

Some in the group, like KAL regular attendees Lawrence Aki and Patricia Chow, were concerned over how the land battles are being perceived on other islands, and encouraged Molokai people to share their mana`o with Akaku community television and other media outfits.

Enough already, the media should actively seek out people like Aki and Chow (and Molokai Ranch officials) instead of waiting for a press release or an Akaku program. The development is a divisive issue on Molokai, and even though Molokai is sparsely populated the story of a large proposed oceanfront development is, in my view, worthy of notice and scrutiny on Oahu.

Thursday, the meeting broke up after Board president Stacy Crivello announced prior to getting down to business that the EC’s executive director Abbey Meyer had received a correspondence from their boss at the USDA’s Southwestern region Office of community development.

The message indicated that the office had received a letter, and that until the issues raised in the letter were resolved, no actions should be taken.

The board then scrapped the agenda, which included opening the floor for nominations of individuals to join the board, the choosing of the executive committee, and the possible reactivation of the water use plan project number seven.

All business for the EC will be tabled until the USDA in Washington DC indicates that the issues raised in the letter they received have been resolved to their satisfaction.

Hmmm. Why all the secrecy over these letters? If, and I am only speculating, there were allegations made to the USDA of wrongdoing by the board, then there should be no need to keep the allegations completely under wraps. Some clarification is especially in order now, because as it stands the mysterious correspondence to and from the USDA also creates the appearance that the DC officials are running interference for the pro-development faction of the island/board because the opponents of the development are gathering momentum. If the USDA does not explain what is going on, then our Congressional delegation from Hawaii should press the Bush administration for answers.

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4/21/2007

Etymologies of “stupid” and “architecture,” rabid amphibians(?), and land development

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 3:04 pm
In a strange Maui News op-ed published earlier this week, (the nearly-seated) Maui County Planning Commissioner Joan Pawsat assays the philosophical underpinnings of her previous letter to the LUC. A letter that, to the casual reader (and to her political critics), appeared to have been an immature toss-off commentary. The op-ed is either a thoughtful exploration of the latent themes that will drive Pawsat’s future actions on the Commission, or her essay could be a frantic and overwrought attempt at damage control since her plain-spoken epistle had the effect of bringing her under scruitny and could silence her contrarian voice on the Commission. You decide.

Whatever the explanation for it, so long as it continues, Pawsat’s high-profile media presence bodes well for continuing and regular coverage of Maui Planning Commission meetings. Usually County planning commissioners are essentially anonymous in the media, perhaps since the commissions so often speak with one voice in making approvals (or, more rarely, denials) of development plans.

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Another dork like me, only better

Filed under: General, Science — Doug @ 3:02 pm
Mad props to Oahu amateur radio operator Alex Benton, who scored some coverage in the Advertiser for his successful EME (earth-moon-earth) radio communication. What he accomplished is not a first, but it has been so long since the last time an Oahu ham undertook this part of the hobby that Benton’s effort is making for a lot of excitement. Congratulations, Alex!

I’m on the air for routine communication several times per week, but the most fun I’ve ever had with amateur radio is trying (with only moderate luck) to complete communications to and from the international space station and the space shuttles as they pass by in orbit. That was neat, but in my opinion moonbounce is much more cool. Well, if you set aside the fact that the hobby itself has long been (and will probably remain) a nearly-exclusive bastion for dorks, haha.

By the way, if you’ve ever thought of becoming licensed but were intimidated by morse code, then you should know that the skill is no longer a part of the license examination.

Comments (1)
4/20/2007

What about Liu?

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:01 pm
The (re-)confirmation hearings for DLNR Director Peter Young and DHS Director Lillian Koller have been the subject of close media coverage, but (unless it slipped under my radar) the media seem to have been spread to thin to cover the hearing for DBEDT Director Ted Liu. (Of course, if any of you readers know of a story that I overlooked, then please leave a comment with a link.)

Since my more loyal readers know that I am interested in Liu’s involvement in the ethically sketchy trade missions to Asia, I have been tipped that Liu was chided by Senator Kim at the Tuesday hearing for his (admitted) use of State time, equipment, computer networks, etc., to solicit a flood of supportive testimony from DBEDT staff. I also heard that Liu and DBEDT’s administrator for strategic marketing (Dennis Ling) faced some tough questioning about DBEDT’s history of reallocating thousands of dollars of money budgeted for other items into a slush fund pot of money that helped to fund the trade delegation missions to China and an array of (allegedly self-serving) off-the-books projects in Asia, too.

Still, the Committee voted to “advise and consent” to the nomination (except for Kim, who voted in support with reservations). Too bad the media failed to cover any of this. I’m really curious to know what’s going on.

Comments (1)
4/19/2007

Venture capitalists suspect the Governor is in league with its opposition

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 9:21 pm
Howard Dicus has an interesting story in Pacific Business News based upon a video (that link looks weird, so I’m not sure if it will load correctly on your browser) from the Hawaii Venture Capital Association website.

The Association’s president claims that the Governor has been orchestrating the legislative “attacks” on Act 221, by which he means the proposals that would require disclosure of the identities of those claiming the credit, the size of the credit, and the number of jobs associated with the credit. So far as I can tell, the evidence supporting this allegation amounts to … the absence of Lingle’s overt support for Act 221. The HVCA allegation may be true, but without some stronger evidence it is certainly not enough to convince me. Nevertheless, it is interesting simply for the fact that the allegation is being made. It also follows that the lack of a response from the Governor could add weight to the allegations…

Thus, why Dicus apparently did not seek any comment from the Lingle administration is hard for me to understand. Even a “no comment” would have been worth including here if that were the administration response.

Comments (1)
4/18/2007

PUC leader innoculating us for muddled gasoline price transparency

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 5:39 pm
Carlito Caliboso, the Chair of the Public Utilities Commission, made an appearance before Senator Menor yesterday where the topic of gasoline price transparency came up. Unlike the media, who are usually shunted to a civil servant, Menor was able to probe the leader somewhat aggressively. The SB report is here, while the Advertiser has a story and and a (somewhat related) wire service article about Chevron having no plans to add refinery capacity. (Instead, a Chevron executive waves his arms about the requirement to blend gasoline with ethanol.)

Caliboso said the law has added requirements that “exponentially increase the quantity of data that must be collected from the petroleum industry.”

Menor said it was the Legislature’s intent to have the process be more manageable, and that the PUC might be making its job “unnecessarily complex.” He said lawmakers were mainly interested in publicizing the average weekly prices at the major sale points in the gasoline supply chain, those being: how much refiners pay for crude oil, how much refiners sell it at wholesale, how much wholesalers sell it to dealers and how much dealers sell it at the pump.

Making that information public would allow consumers to see whether prices are being set abnormally high at different parts of the chain.

Caliboso said it was important to collect accurate information and also maintain confidentiality for the parties providing the information. “We want to take the time to do this right,” he said. “We don’t want to put out information that could be inaccurate, misstated or misleading, because that could do more harm.”

——–

Just how much money oil companies make in Hawai’i remains a mystery. That could change under a law passed last year that promises to make oil and gasoline cost and pricing data available to the state Public Utilities Commission and ultimately the public.

At a Capitol briefing yesterday, PUC Chairman Carlito Caliboso said that program could be up and running by year’s end, if lawmakers follow through with plans to provide the agency with added $1.2 million to run the program. At the same time, the PUC is asking lawmakers to allow the agency to keep confidential details about transactions for individual oil companies.

[blink]

Why is Caliboso seeking confidentiality for the oil companies? What does Caliboso mean when he speaks of inaccurate, misstated or misleading information doing “more harm?” More harm than what? We can infer that Caliboso believes that releasing even accurate information about gasoline pricing would be harmful, but does Caliboso think transparency would be harmful to consumers … or harmful to the oil companies?

Furthermore, when push comes to shove, the PUC does not write the law, nor does the PUC have veto power over the Legislature. If Caliboso wants the law amended to shield the oil companies from scrutiny, then he had better offer a specific suggestion and a much better justification for the change.

My hunch is that the PUC is planning/going to bungle the transparency program. Either through bona fide ineptitude or (more likely) by means of passive aggressive obstructionism. I have no confidence that Caliboso will compy with the transparency requirements in a way that gives consumers the capacity to discern price gouging. Prove me wrong, sir.

Comments (7)
4/17/2007

We’ll hit them with the ukulele and pupus – they’ll be in Waikiki by sundown

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 6:23 pm
I don’t have much today, but what I do have is this Advertiser article about a delegation of Hawaii businesses going to NY and LA to hype the revamped Waikiki. A bunch of entertainers, some local food, a token Hawaiian “cultural” representative, all as a way to talk up the recent facelift.

Who is paying for all of this? Sounds sorta familiar, if you remember the China trade delegation junket… Are there solicitation and procurement issues lurking here, too?

That is all. See you tomorrow.

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4/16/2007

Collapse the big tent, purge the infidels, sez GOP dissident

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 8:12 pm
Round three in the battle of the GOP bloggers was today, with yet another Hawaii Reporter post by Eric Ryan. (See previous salvos here and here). In the process, this blog even gets its first mention (but, come on, why no linkage?!) in the hallowed confines of HR. Uh, hooray, I guess.

After calling out Mr. Freeman as a (potty-mouthed) GOP legislature staff member and begging off on the suggestion that he run for Republican Party Chair, Mr. Ryan’s latest piece goes on to suggest that the GOP label doesn’t mean very much these days (sound familiar?) and, thus, a purge should be made of all the current party leaders, candidates and elected officials unwilling to toe a bold (not “squishy”) new line.

I can hardly wait for the next episode! haha. Which GOP “apologist” will defend the status quo? Stay tuned…

Comments (14)
Blogger poses as speedbump

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 8:12 pm
I was sure surprised to see my fellow blogger, Aaron Stene of the Kona Blog, posed sitting in the middle of his favorite incomplete roadway, but the Advertiser story about the long-running legal dispute over the Hokulia bypass is an interesting summation of the tale so far.

Stene is best known for frequently excoriating Hawaii County officials, various judges, and the Coupe family for their respective roles associated with the delay in the opening of the bypass. I’m not the one sitting in that traffic every day, but the argument I have against Stene’s stance is that for this situation to be resolved quickly in favor of the motorists stuck in traffic, the judiciary would have to cut due process corners. As the article demonstrates, there are a wide array of legitimate concerns raised by the property owner. Those issues each deserve a fair consideration.

While Stene speaks of his/the Kona community “suffering” for a single “selfish landowner,” Stene neglects to acknowledge that the entire state would suffer if the judiciary were allow the County to set a precedent by denying the landowner’s due process rights in the name of expedient traffic relief for Kona residents.

Stene would know better than I, since he follows the litigation so closely, but is it even the Coupe’s fault that the lawsuit is proceeding slowly?

META: Would it have killed the Advertiser to include a url (and, online, an actual link) to Aaron’s blog? Sheesh.

Comments (3)
4/15/2007

Maui Planning Commissioner would not resign – but is not seated yet

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:05 am
A newly-confirmed (but as yet not formally seated) member of the Maui Planning Commission is again the subject of a Maui News article. To refresh your memory, you may read my previous post from a few weeks ago.

Pawsat was not allowed to participate in the first planning commission meeting of her term this week because the paperwork had not been completed and she had not been sworn in.

After a lengthy orientation workshop Tuesday, Pawsat was angered when she was asked to sit in the audience for the business portion of the commission meeting.

?They?re totally playing with me,? she said.

[Mayor Tavares’] Executive Assistant Diane Wakamatsu said her office had not processed the paperwork because the mayor had been waiting to hear back from Pawsat about whether she would resign.

?She indicated to me (Tuesday) that she is not resigning,? Wakamatsu said.

From which a rational person can infer that the default assumption by Tavares/Wakamatsu was that Pawsat would resign, because if the assumption was that Pawsat would not resign then Wakamatsu would have had Pawsat’s paperwork prepared for Commission action. Right? If Pawsat had ultimately tendered her resignation, then Commissioners could have simply torn up the paperwork.

County attorneys said the statement, which Pawsat also sent to The Maui News, may disqualify her from voting on developments on which she commented because they create the appearance that she?s already made up her mind and would not give the projects a fair hearing. The county was sued successfully once before to stop a planning commissioner from voting on a project that he had publicly criticized outside of a commission hearing.

Somebody, please, tell us more about this prior lawsuit. Was it really the same situation, or was the planning commissioner in that case already seated on the commission? How far back would such an exclusionary “bias” policy be applied, if it is said to apply to not-yet-members of the commission?

Tavares said she had wanted a nominee who would ?ask the hard questions,? but that Pawsat?s statements had been inappropriate because they were made outside the commission floor.

?Her point of view is not the question,? she said. ?It?s how she exhibited it that wasn?t the best way to do it.?

Pawsat said Wednesday that Tavares had asked her to resign. But after reading letters to the editor backing her, she decided to hold her ground.

?It seemed the community was supporting me,? she said.

Those letters to the editor about Pawsat are indeed interesting. You may find supportive letters here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. One letter (from an architect) scolding Pawsat for immaturity and unprofessionalism was printed, too.

The crux of the supportive letters is that for an official to have an opinion before formally reviewing the facts is a political fact of life. The fact that Pawsat expressed her anti-development opinion (in contrast to the repressed opinions of the pro-development majority) before the “proper” moment is what may ultimately bar her from participating in those issues.

I’m not familiar with the law in this area*, but it seems odd that elected officials seemingly are allowed to make comments in any medium, and at any time, about any subject and still have the right to vote on the issue, meanwhile the appointed officials are gagged from doing so? Go figure.

* Heck, I’m not even sure which area of the law this falls under. Are you? I skimmed through Chapter 84 but nothing leapt out.

Comments (4)
4/14/2007

Were Hawaii federal prosecutors part of the White House effort to micromanage the DOJ?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 11:44 am
Kudos to the Advertiser for this article about the possibility of another federal death penalty case in Hawaii, and for raising the possibility that the decision to proceed with federal death penalty cases may be subject to political manipulation.

Justice Department officials met in Washington, D.C., this month to determine whether Hawai’i will have a second death penalty case, this time involving three men charged with the brazen double murder shooting at Pali Municipal Golf Course in 2004.

If approved, the prosecution will be the second pending federal death penalty case for Hawai’i, which abolished capital punishment in the 1950s, and could underscore concerns that the Bush administration is trying to spread capital punishment to the 12 non-death penalty states.

——–

Defense attorneys in the Pali Golf Course case urged Justice Department officials not to seek the death penalty for their three clients, while local federal prosecutors gave a confidential recommendation. The defense attorneys were not told what local federal prosecutors recommended to Justice Department officials.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady declined to comment on his recommendation.

Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is expected to issue a decision sometime next month on whether to authorize the death penalty prosecution. Lawyers involved in the case declined to speculate on whether Gonzales’ problems related to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys will affect the decision or when it will be made.

——–

Gonzales last year approved the death penalty prosecution for [a separate murder defendant], even though the U.S. Attorney’s Office here recommended against it. The girl died from “head trauma due to battered child syndrome,” according to the autopsy.

[That defendant’s] trial is scheduled for October.

Death penalty opponents said the [previous] case was an example of the Bush administration trying to “nationalize capital punishment.”

Justice Department officials have said they don’t comment on their death penalty reviews, but the decisionmaking includes a “fair, consistent and even-handed application of the federal capital sentencing laws nationwide to the worst offenders who commit the most egregious offenses.”

Hmmm. I doubt it, but I wonder if any of the communications between Attorney General Gonzales’ staff and the Hawaii federal prosecutors were among the voluminous records dump provided by the Justice Department recently. Or, if not, then Congress should request the documents regarding Justice Department decisions to apply the death penalty to defendants to see if there is improper political pressure [also] being applied to such decisions.

How about some comment from the Hawaii delegation to Congress? As Mr. Gonzales appears before Congress this week regarding the politically-motivated dismissals of 8 US attorneys, it would be an appropriate time for asking questions of him about other forms of political meddling in the work of federal prosecutors.

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Senate secrecy proving to be cumbersome for Young confirmation

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 10:10 am
Both papers have been covering the confirmation hearings for Peter Young closely (me, less so) and today they report (here and here) on the predicament facing the Senate after one committee heard testimony in closed session earlier this week. The question has now become one of sharing the information with the full Senate when it comes time for the final vote.

Kokubun and Senate leaders have stressed that the closed sessions are by request of the attorney general and the Ethics Commission to protect the confidentiality of the criminal investigation and any ethics probe.

“We want to honor that, but we also need to get to the information, in terms of our decisionmaking,” Kokubun said.

But some in the Lingle administration, and Young himself, are concerned about whether Young will be able to hear and respond to what was said in closed session. Young has asked Kokubun if he could attend each time the committee has recessed to go into closed session, but he has been denied.

“It’s not troubling in the big picture because I know that the investigation is not about me. I’m the one who authorized it,” Young said. “I just don’t know what’s being said, so I don’t know what else is out there.”

————–

Young, members of the public and the news media were barred from more than eight hours of testimony in a closed session of the Senate Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett asked that the questioning of four subpoenaed workers for the Bureau of Conveyances be held in private to protect an ongoing criminal investigation in their DLNR division.

That investigation “started as an internal investigation. And it was at my instructions and insistence that it was taken outside (to the attorney general in January), so it was able to have a complete and thorough investigation,” Young told the Star-Bulletin.

The state Ethics Commission also is investigating the Bureau of Conveyances. The commission’s investigator and the attorney general’s investigator both gave testimony to the Senate committee privately yesterday and Thursday.

“I am not the subject of either of the investigations,” Young repeated yesterday.

——–

Committee chairman Russell Kokubun said Bennett may be able to edit transcripts of the closed-door sessions to remove portions that have to do with his investigation and make them available to senators not on the committee and to the general public on Tuesday.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said in a statement: “We are continuing to work with the attorney general to make as much information public as possible. The public has a right to know how these decisions are made, and we in the Senate are going to do everything we can to give them that information.”

I am not a lawyer, but the Senate rules (rules 35 and 36, specifically) appear to be pretty straightforward regarding who may be admitted into executive sessions (anybody the Senate President “deems necessary”) and how the confidential communications received are subsequently released to the public:

All confidential communications made to the Senate, and remarks, votes and proceedings thereon, shall be kept strictly secret by the members, officers and employees, as well as by such other persons as have been detained or permitted to attend upon the consideration of such matters, until the Senate, by resolution, takes off such seal of secrecy, or unless such matter be later considered in open session. [emphases mine]

Interestingly enough, then, it seems to me that unless the attorney general was present during the closed session, then any editing of the transcripts (for subsequent release via resolution before the final nomination vote in open session) would need to be done by somebody who had been authorized to attend the actual session. Right? Heh.

As for Young’s desire to sit in on the closed sessions, the Senate should not be able to have it both ways. If any of the information obtained in the closed sessions is to be used against Young, then Young deserves a chance to review and rebut that portion of the testimony. I don’t think Young had any right to attend, because the allegations discussed were said to not involve Young directly. The Senate’s closed sessions could be analogized to grand jury fishing expeditions proceedings, which are also closed to the public (and to other potential witnesses).

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Survey of technology executives generic in its Act 221 praise

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 10:05 am
Contrary to the promising headline of this PBN story, the results of a survey that queried Hawaii technology firm executives are so poorly described in the story as to be almost worthless. Too bad, because I was hoping this might shed some light into the long-running uncertainty about the impact of the Act 221 tax credits.

The article offers no description of who paid for the survey. There is no mention of how the firms participating in the survey were selected, beyond that the firms “qualify” for the Act 221 tax credit, i.e. there is no mention of how many of the firms actually claim the credit. Last, and most disappointing, there is no specific data from each respondent regarding how many jobs were created and how much tax credit the respondent’s firm was allowed.

80 individuals were asked comparative (not quantitative) questions about the tax credits (although we’re not told the exact phrasing of the questions, either). The only “specifics” in the article are the crude and, I suspect, selective amalgamations of the responses to the vaguely questions.

This just in: beneficiaries of tax credits like the idea. … In other news, a dog bit a man.

Is this a press release (there is no PBN byline this time, after all), or is it a well-(re-)written news story PBN should be proud of?

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4/13/2007

The grants-in-aid rabbithole

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:47 pm
You may remember my Christmas primer on how the Lege spends money, where I noted that the process behind grants in aid is almost a black art. Today the SB runs an article that attempts to explain how the GIA process works.

In 2004 those seeking grants in aid received $27.9 million. The grants jumped to $38.8 million in 2006.

But with an estimated state surplus of $740 million, state Rep. Marcus Oshiro reports that the House budget committee that he heads has received requests for $330 million this session. About two-thirds of that is for construction projects, with the rest of the requests for operations, he said.

Oshiro says he tries to give every applicant 10 minutes but warns them not to expect a big check.

“I say, ‘I don’t know if you will get all of it, I don’t know if you will get half or if you will get a quarter of it,’” said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho).

All of those “10 minute” pleas that Oshiro speaks of, are those appeals made during a public hearing of the Finance Committee? I don’t think so. As far as I can recall, GIAs don’t really break cover until Conference Committee time, where the public isn’t given any opportunity to speak for (or against) the various requests or to comment on how to prioritize them. Heck, I don’t think the public even knows who has applied, much less how much each applicant is seeking. Anybody who can expand on these topics, please leave a comment.

But the grants are supposed to be one-time payments just to help new programs get started, Baker and Oshiro said. They are not looking to encourage years of state support.

Oshiro said that groups asking for money for the first time will be favored.

“I look at first-time applicants. The program should be to help those who need some help to get going. Those that are coming back, maybe they should look at other revenue streams,” Oshiro said.

Although the budget will include the grants in aid, the Legislature will first look at how to divvy up the nearly $10 billion budget among the state’s departments and programs.

Then, Oshiro explained, the House and Senate budget committees will look at what changes to make in tax laws. After the budget and taxes are tallied up, the Legislature will start doling out the grants in aid.

The process is complicated by the lobbying going on by legislators who want to help programs in their districts.

[cough]Understatement![cough]

It could be a worthwhile exercise to generate a district-by-district breakdown of the grants awarded (and denied).

Are grants-in-aid ultimately subjected to the Governor’s caprice, too? i.e. Are these monies “released’ only at her direction, even after being appropriated by the Lege?

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Gratuitous sentence provokes Kauai readers

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:47 pm
Earlier this week the Garden Island News ran a story about a man killed when his ATV fell on him while he tried to load it onto a truck. A sad story, yet for some reason it concluded:

[The deceased] had just finished serving prison time for manslaughter, according to police records.

Well, the readers (rightly) took the editors to task for including that comment. First in the online comments, and now in letters to the editor. It makes me wish that the GIN had a venue similar to the Advertiser’s “After Deadline” items by Mark Platte, where controversial editorial decisions are discussed.

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Footloose 2007 – Maui style

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:47 pm
With apologies to Kevin Bacon.

The Maui News reports on a curious Liquor Commission meeting about the regulation of dancing in bars and nightclubs. A few weeks ago I saw a piece in the Maui Time Weekly “LC Watch” column that previewed this meeting and directed me to a myspace page of the pro-dance agitators that petitioned for the agenda item.

Liquor Control Director Frank Sylva said the liquor department has never filed a formal complaint regarding dancing in the 25 years he?s worked at the agency. He noted he has written ?letters of caution? to individuals dancing outside of a designated dance floor.

After the petition was voted down, Sylva said he planned to survey managers at liquor establishments and get their views on the dancing rules and whether they needed to be amended.

Sylva said he thought the issue over dancing had been resolved when the commission wrote to Maui Dance Advocates regarding the county?s stance on dancing in October of last year.

The Maui Dance Advocates was told there was no definitive definition on dancing, but that one of the possible definitions could be: ?To move the body, especially the feet, in rhythm, ordinarily to music.?

Maui Dance Advocates President Ramoda Anand said he didn?t understand how the commission could regulate dancing if it didn?t have a definitive definition. Anand argued that dancing could be defined as walking, waving hello, ?seizures, talking animatedly, laughing, shaking hands, using sign language and even giving someone a shaka.?

He said people should be allowed to express themselves freely when they hear music and that the Liquor Commission should allow establishments to take responsibility for the actions of their patrons.

?What seems to be a bit of a power trip is for the Liquor Commission to patrol establishments that serve liquor, and threaten people with exorbitant fines if a patron is tapping their feet or swaying back and forth somewhere other than on a dance floor,? Anand said. ?This should no longer be the job of the Liquor Commission.?

Long story short: petition denied. No dancing in Maui bars and nightclubs except on a designated dance floor.

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4/12/2007

Yet another salvo from circular firing squad

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:42 pm
Hey, it’s getting really meta out there in the local GOP blog land… and I’m doing my part to keep it that way!

A few weeks ago there was a Hawaii Reporter post critical of the Governor that I mentioned here. My post led to a spirited little exchange of comments between the author and a GOP employee of the House. Earlier this week there was another Hawaii Reporter post critical of what is described as the Governor’s failure to champion the campaigns of more GOP legislators, and now the same legislature staffer has responded in kind. Oh, and while it’s a bit less combative and not speaking directly to the HR post, there is yet another “maybe even a Republican” legislature employee (on his relatively new blog) who weighs in on the general theme of airing this type of criticism in public.

They write in favor of free speech, but say things like:

However, I wish that such disagreements would not be aired out in public where it could be used as grist for the Democrat’s mill.

[The mill? Moi? Heh. I’m not a member of any party.]

Ain’t it fun? Here I was, wondering what to write about after another great evening of sailing, and these fellas save the day and make my job effortless. You people set ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em down.

Comments (3)
4/11/2007

Aloha Petroleum CEO makes “guarantee” of cheaper gas

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:29 pm
This almost slipped past unnoticed by me on the Advertiser Letters to the Editor for today:

GET EXEMPTION

ALOHA PETROLEUM WILL PASS ON ANY TAX CUT

As you know, the state general excise tax break for ethanol-blended fuel expired at the beginning of the year. At that time, many legislators proposed to roll back the 11-cent-per-gallon gasoline-tax increase that took effect in January.

I was surprised to see that some legislators now say the promised 11-cent-per-gallon gasoline general-excise tax break is unlikely to pass.

I was particularly disappointed to hear some legislators attempt to blame oil companies for the retreat on proposed gas tax relief by suggesting any reduction might not be passed on to consumers.

To support their claims, certain lawmakers and oil company critics argue the price at the pump did not immediately fall last April when the general excise tax exemption took effect. Of course, these same critics conveniently ignore the double-digit increase in the state’s mandated gas cap at about the same time, essentially canceling the tax relief.

Our company, Aloha Petroleum, is not a refiner and markets gasoline only in Hawai’i, so we are closely attuned to local drivers. We strive to offer our product at low prices, but the price our customers pay for a gallon of gasoline includes 61 1/2 cents in state taxes, more than drivers pay in any other state.

There is no question that in a market free from price controls, any tax relief should be directly passed on to consumers. If the Legislature were to follow through with a reduction in the gas tax, I guarantee Aloha Petroleum will pass on this tax relief to its customers.

Bob Maynard
President and CEO, Aloha Petroleum Ltd.

Well, how about somebody (Sean Hao, I suggest) from the business beat approach Chevron and Tesoro for a reaction? Would the refiners be willing to make the same “guarantee” with respect to wholesale and/or retail prices? How about responses to Maynards “guarantee” from Senator Menor and Representative Caldwell?

As I wrote earlier, if the Lege manages to (finally) fund the gathering and analysis of gasoline pricing transparency data, then the public would know just how much taxes impact the price and how much the profit margin varies as compared to the other factors.

Comments (1)
4/10/2007

HMSA’s non-profit status would be removed by House

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:31 pm
I’m late today, but I really don’t understand exactly what is going on between HMSA and Representative Green. The Advertiser has a story about Green’s belief that HMSA should be stripped of its non-profit status, and the SB has related stories, too.

State Rep. Josh Green, D-6th (N. Kona, Keauhou, Kailua, Kona), a doctor, released figures that showed HMSA has collected $13.4 billion in revenue over the past decade. The HMSA Foundation, created to conduct research and support the healthcare needs of the community, has committed $9.3 million to community projects over the same period.

HMSA argues that it is an unfair comparison, since nearly 93 percent of its revenue was paid out to doctors and hospitals, but Green is using the figures to prod lawmakers to restore health insurance rate regulation and to evaluate HMSA’s tax-exempt status next session.

“The bottom line is they’re cheapskates,” Green said. “They’re out there right now trying to kill rate regulation. They are not doing enough on doctor reimbursements or to help with the state’s healthcare problems.

“These numbers are so shocking to me that I think, next session, their tax-exempt status should be revoked.”

——–

HMSA and other insurers are state tax-exempt because they are not-for-profits that provide benefits to the community. J.P. Schmidt, the state’s insurance commissioner, said that except for the HMSA Foundation, the community benefits are primarily through providing health insurance.

HMSA’s financial figures show that it lost money on underwriting in six of the past 10 years but turned a net gain in all but one year ? 2002 ? because of investment income.

——–

[HMSA lobbyist] Diesman said Green was comparing “apples to oranges,” noting that the HMSA Foundation was set up as a separate entity. The foundation distributes about $1 million a year in health care grants, with all money coming from interest generated by an initial endowment of about $20 million.

No money from member premiums are used by the foundation, she said.

“They’re not the same,” Diesman said. “The foundation was set up with a mission to help improve the health care system in the state.”

Green acknowledged that the foundation has a separate mission, but added, “It’s all money.”

“They’re being creeps when they say that,” he added, “because it’s not apples to oranges, it’s health care for the people of Hawaii.”

I am somewhat confused how rate regulation (or stripping HMSA’s non-profit status) will make it any more likely that HMSA would “do more” on doctor reimbursements or “help” with other state healthcare problems. Green (a M.D.) wants doctor reimbursements to increase; which one would expect to result in higher premiums, unless HMSA were regulated. Green seems to think that the regulators would require doctor reimbursements to go up and that the regulators would prevent premium increases—thus, prompting HMSA to pay for the increased reimbursements by drawing on its hundreds of milions in reserves. Is it likely the insurance commissioner would impose those requirements on HMSA? I dunno, but I have my doubts. (Section -106 of the bill speaks of the reserves and reimbursements, but I honestly don’t understand what it means, sorry.)

As for the high salaries paid to the HMSA executives, is there any indication that de-regulation is the cause for that? I have not seen the salary data for the years they were regulated, so, again, I don’t know.

Finally, the Advertiser lobs out this additional nugget:

Among House Democrats, there are different accounts about whether leadership wants rate regulation to survive or whether it is destined for failure in conference with the Senate, as happened last session.

Schmidt, the insurance commissioner, said it does not make sense to exclude Kaiser from regulation. Schmidt and some lawmakers have said that singling out HMSA might be a strategy to kill the bill, since lawmakers could argue it is unfair.

“It makes me wonder if there is an attempt to kill rate regulation but to do it under cover,” Schmidt said.

Hmmm. That sounds about right. Green may have to agree to the Senate Draft (rate regulation without stripping HMSA’s non-profit status), or walk away with the status quo (no rate regulation).

Comments (4)
4/9/2007

Kalama teacher to undertake Arctic mission

Filed under: Science, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:38 pm
It’s been a while since I’ve used the “science” category, hasn’t it? Well, a Maui News story presents the perfect opportunity to dust it off.

An intermediate school teacher in Makawao will be joining an Arctic science expedition for 33 days, and will be keeping in contact with her students (and the rest of us) via the internet.

I was lucky enough to spend a few months in the Arctic in 2005, on the same USCG icebreaker Healy (sorry, those are sad posts) that the Kalama Intermediate teacher will be aboard, so I know that it will be a fascinating opportunity for everyone involved. In case you haven’t noticed, with the NOAA Northwest Hawaiian Islands expeditions taking along media folks and K-12 educators on the Hiialaka, the National Science Foundation is now making a more concerted effort at “outreach” when awarding funding for research. As the scientists and educators become more accustomed to these collaborations, we should expect more and better fruit from this effort.

I will miss my science career from time to time… Sigh.

Comments (1)
4/8/2007

Feds accuse NCL of illegally firing Muslims

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:36 am
Kudos to the Pacific Business News, which seems to be the only Hawaii media outlet to (belatedly) reports on the simultaneous firings of six Muslim employees from Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2004(?). UPDATE: The SB also had a brief piece last year, and the Advertiser did too (although it is now behind the pay-for-read wall). So, that makes it even more odd that the PBN would run the story at this time. Is something “new” about it, i.e. a hearing soon?

The men, who were fired from their jobs on the Pride of Aloha in July 2004 when it was docked at Maui, took their case to the EEOC. The agency investigated and found that NCL had violated their civil rights, as well as the rights of a seventh Muslim crew member who quit. The agency filed suit against the cruise line last Aug. 22.

According to the EEOC, the incident that triggered the firings occurred when one of the Muslim men asked another crew member about the location of the ship’s security office, engine room and bridge.

The crew member notified ship’s security and NCL contacted federal authorities to investigate whether the man, as well as six other crew members who were Muslims, posed a threat.

Members of the local Joint Terrorism Task Force went aboard the ship and after a brief investigation concluded there was no threat and no probable cause to hold the men, the EEOC said.

But six were fired immediately. The seventh quit the next day.

Miami-based NCL America has maintained the terminations were for “lawful, legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons relating to shipboard security” in court filings.

——–

EEOC regional attorney Anna Park, who is based in Los Angeles, said what is most troubling about the case is that six of the men — [Muthana] Shaibi, Abdullah Yahva, Ahmed Al-Mlhany, Ahmed Almraisi, Nagi A. Alziam and Nork Yafaie — were fired en masse with no reason given. The seventh, Samed Kassam, quit the next day because he assumed he would be fired, too.

“Foremost, we don’t want this to ever happen again to anyone else,” Park said. “Our mission is to eradicate discrimination and what we’re asking the jury to do is send a message that this is wrong.”

At least three of the men are U.S. citizens. All were members of the Seafarers International Union and had merchant mariners’ documents allowing them to work aboard any U.S.-flagged ship, said attorney Tom Geisness of Seattle, who is representing the men. In addition, the men had to undergo security and background checks before working aboard ship.

“What we believe is that they went down the list and fired every single person whose name sounded Arab and pretty much dumped them off the ship,” Park said. “Security and the threat of terrorism is very important but to use it as a guise for firing people is not doing a service to our country on any or all levels. This is the worst of what we see as a sort of hysteria and we can’t allow employers to act irrationally.”

I’m not sure what prompted PBN to pick up the story at this late date, but now that they have I tried to do some additional research on the case. The trail seems to have gone cold. However, I found a blog post based on a Yahoo News story that added this comment from NCL:

Susan Robison, a spokeswoman for NCL, said in an e-mailed statement on Friday that the cruise company was proud of its employment practices and record, and that it did not discriminate in hiring.

?Our employees come from a very broad range of ethnic and religious backgrounds, which provides a wonderful diversity among our staff,? Robison said.

She said the firings were probationary period dismissals, and NCL was confident that when the facts and circumstances surrounding them came out at trial, its actions would be judged to have been completely proper.

Probationary period dismissals at NCL handled unfairly in 2004… Hmmm. Does that sound familiar?

Comments (1)
4/7/2007

Server woes

Filed under: General — Doug @ 8:08 pm
I apologize for the downtime, but my webhost suffered server AND router issues for the past 24 hours or so. Hopefully everything is back to normal.

Mahalo to those of you who emailed just to check if I had pulled the plug. Leaving without saying goodbye would not be my style.

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Chad Blair – MIA?

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 8:08 pm
I’ve noticed for several weeks now that my link to Chad Blair’s KHPR segments does not work. Now it leads to a list of the KHPR news staff, and the list does not mention Blair.

Has Chad moved on from KHPR? If so, he will be missed. No other Oahu radio reporter (or, none that I am aware of, anyway) uses actual recordings of legislative meetings and judicial hearings the way Blair’s reports did (do?).

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4/5/2007

A great evening on the water = silence on the blog

Filed under: General, Sailing — Doug @ 8:30 pm
I took the day off from blogging. I went sailing instead, and it was exceptionally good. We even won the race, to boot. We are so lucky to live surrounded by this ocean…

I’ll be back with something tomorrow evening.

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4/4/2007

DOT “spins out” on the road to release of the long-withheld crash data

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:51 pm
Congratulations to the Advertiser for what seems to be a victory in its struggle to obtain information from the Department of Transportation concerning accidents statewide. The story says that the data should be released in a few weeks.

The DOT claims that releasing the data has always been their intent, but the Advertiser thoroughly calls them out for the obvious inconsistencies with prior practice and comments. I expect that we may see an op-ed from Director Fukunaga or spokesman Morioka in the near future to “clarify” this matter…

Despite the Transportation Department’s repeated denials of access to data, DOT interim Director Barry Fukunaga and Deputy Director Brennon Morioka told The Advertiser yesterday the agency’s policy has been mischaracterized and questioned the accuracy of the newspaper series. No one from the state challenged the series after it ran last month.

The agency’s policy, Fukunaga said, is to release data as long as personal information and national security interests are not compromised.

Fukunaka’s position differs considerably from the position the agency took just a few weeks ago in denying The Advertiser access to a report on locations with a high number of accidents. In 2004, the department denied an Advertiser request for two years of crash data and took its arguments to the Office of Information Practices, the state agency that oversees Hawai’i’s open-government laws.

——–

Asked about the liability concerns that the DOT has raised repeatedly in the past in explaining why access to data was being denied, Fukunaga yesterday presented a different take.

“From my standpoint, I don’t think that’s an issue,” he said, adding that if the information is public, it should be released.

Fukunaga and Morioka said the department has not changed its position in the wake of the series. They were unable, however, to reconcile what they said yesterday with the agency’s repeated practices and statements of the past.

Fukunaga did say he recently provided his staff with clarification about the release of data, noting that the department lacked a written policy. He also said that Alvin Takeshita, the DOT official who responded to the newspaper’s questions, worked directly with the Attorney General’s Office in drafting the answers and may have looked at the questions in a “narrow view.”

Fukunaga said he did not review the responses before they were submitted to the newspaper.

Fukunaga is trying to pin all of this on Takeshita?! Sheesh.

Oh, and even as a person only moderately handy with Perl (the programming language, not to be confused with my dog), I had to gag when I read this:

But when OIP ruled that the information was public, the DOT said the newspaper would have to pay the estimated $20,000 for the software needed for the database consultant to delete personal confidential information from the files. The OIP agreed with that position.

Fukunaga yesterday said the department decided to cover the cost ? now pegged at about $16,000 ? for the consultant to redact personal information from cases dating to 1986, representing the entire database, and provide the information in electronic form to The Advertiser. The database has details on nearly 400,000 major accidents through at least 2004.

According to DOT officials, the decision to release information was made because the changes the consultant intends to make will help the department more easily retrieve information from the database for internal purposes and more easily respond to outside requests.

That is seen by the department as an interim measure until it is able to upgrade the entire database system, which is run on antiquated computers.

The department has a request pending before the Legislature for $250,000 to upgrade the system.

[blink] What exactly is DOT seeking to pay a quarter million dollars for? Off-the-shelf hardware and database software should be sufficient, say (on the high end) $20,000 for that. I’m not a l33t perl haxxor by any stretch, but in a 40-hour week I am confident that I could: a) export the legacy data into a format readable on contemporary machines; b) write a perl script to extract the relevant data and exclude the confidential data; and c) have the public data delivered to the media—all for far less than $16,000! (unless DOT were to insist on paying me $400/hr )

There would remain a few hundred thousand dollars, perhaps enough for a media relations campaign? Heh.

Comments (1)
4/3/2007

I hear that Bob Awana may be available now that he’s pau with DOT…

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:51 pm
Both Honolulu dailies report that Iwalani White (no relation) lost her confirmation vote in the Senate. The Advertiser story is here and the SB piece is here.

Nearly 10 hours of committee testimony centered on how White handled a series of personnel decisions and not the general status of the department, which has been the subject of a federal investigation.

White said she didn’t know whether there was anyone in the department who would take the job. “I am hopeful they will find someone with the fortitude and integrity and courage to take on these huge problems,” White said.

Lingle said she could not say what she would do next with the director’s position.

——–

… several Republican senators said White, who earned the nickname “The Hammer,” had the necessary toughness for the job.

“Ms. White has been doing an excellent job in trying to right that ship,” said state Sen. Paul Whalen, R-3rd (Kohala, Kona, Ka’u).

State Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai’i Kai), said someone asked him: “Who the hell would want this job anyway?”

Hemmings said White’s experience during the confirmation process, and the treatment of other Lingle nominees, may discourage people from thinking about public service.

“Maybe good people are not going to step forward because it just ain’t worth it,” Hemmings said.

The repeated mentions of her “Hammer” nickname are frustrating, because I’m not convinced that the problems facing the department are “nails” suitable for pounding. The way I see it (and here I’m speaking as a former committee clerk for the subject matter committee in the House) the institutional culture of the inmates, the wardens, and the correctional officers is unlikely to reform after a simple change of leadership. It’s too late for that to work, in my opinion. The people “inside the walls” have found a system that, in their little-known universe at least, works and maintains a tentative sense of “order.” These people are only human, and like everyone else they (usually) try to make the best of the hand they are dealt. That, in my opinion, explains (but does not excuse) most of the behaviors and policies we see.

Completely ignored in the debate about White is that the legislature and the past two governors have sown the seeds for many of the department’s problems by repeatedly choosing to export inmates rather than choosing to build/improve facilities within Hawaii. Similarly, the tug of war between the Hawaii State Hospital and the department over mentally ill inmates/patients has never been satisfactorily resolved by the legislature or (either) governor.

None of this surprising, however, since other than a tiny minority of the public, the federal Courts, and (occasionally) some editorial boards, the public has grown accustomed to (if they are even aware of) the inmate exportation “cheaper is better” status quo. Our political “leaders” are much more interested in bringing a new school to his or her district than a new prison, and nobody (to use the parlance of today’s articles) has had “the necessary toughness” to do more than timidly offer an in-state site for a prison. It’s hard for politicians to even to suggest (much less for anyone to demand) that improvements to the existing facilities need to be a priority. Political capital is hard to come by, so it’s not a surprise that so little of it is spent on such an unpopular issue.

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4/2/2007

HECO exec gives lip service to Gore’s film

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:39 pm
The Pacific Business News has a story about HECO’s executives gathering to watch “An Inconvenient Truth.” To the unsuspecting reader it may seem that, after watching a DVD and drafting a policy statement about global warming, HECO is now among the hardcore of global warming believers. However, missing from the article is any mention of the new fossil-fuel-burning plant that HECO wants to build on Oahu…

HECO uses oil and coal to generate about 90 percent of its power. By 2020, the state will require at least 20 percent come from renewable energy sources such as biofuels, solar and wind power.

To meet the requirement, the utility has shifted its attention away from simply building more power plants and focusing on renewable energy and conservation.

“The need for increased renewable energy and energy efficiency are crucial parts of our overall company strategic plan,” May said. “So even if some employees may not work directly on such projects daily in their specific jobs, it’s important to continue to emphasize these company priorities with them to keep them updated.”

HECO officials imply that NIMBY-ism, landowners, and governments stand in the way of its (alleged) push for renewable energy. I’m familiar with Leeward Coast residents and the City Council speaking out against HECO’s chosen site for a wind farm, but I have not forgotten that HECO fought tooth and nail at the Legislature against those very 20% renewable energy requirements that the article implies HECO now favors (if I recall correctly, the orignial bill was more aggressive and the conference committee meetings were quite contentious, renewable energy proponents had to compromise at 20% by 2020 or have no bill get through). Furthermore, HECO continues to stymie customers who arrange for their own alternative energy supply by seeking to charge such customers for some portion of the energy they could use if the customer had no renewable alternative.

If HECO really wanted to show some support for the message of AIT, they might try buying enough air time for a commerical-free primetime showing of the movie on statewide television. Heck, HECO could incorporate the expense into its next application for a rate increase, as usual. Heh.

Finally, to carry on my meta conversation with the PBN editor Jim Kelly, many paragraphs of this story read very much like press release copy. But, according to Kelly, the PBN re-writes press releases to some extent before publishing them. Maybe so, but undergraduates “re-write” wikipedia articles into term papers, too.

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Senate testimony on CD?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:38 pm
A Hawaii Reporter post by a resigned [um, don’t get your hopes up] grumpy Hawaii Senator from Hawaii Kai today had my eyes nearly glazed over until the last line:

Kudos to the Senate Clerk and President for making bill status and testimony more easily available on CDs.

Hold the phone! Available to who? How does one obtain CDs full of Senate testimony?! I want this.

Oh, and check out the subtle resume-padding in the byline:

Sam Slom is a state Senator and the executive director and president of Small Business Hawaii, Hawaii’s most active advocacy organization.

“Most active advocacy organization” by what measure?

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4/1/2007

Governor Lingle on liberty, freedom, and pisco-political philosophy

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:46 am
An enlightening [sic] SB story about youth legislators and their talks with the Governor as (competing) exercises in government simulations conclude. As an extension of the world outside the simulations, the two exercises perpetuate a schism between the DOE students and the home-schooled… Why not combine the two groups? It seemed so petty, until I Googled and found that TeenPact, unlike the YMCA program, has an overt Christian focus.

Several of the Governor’s comments to the students are notable for their over-simplification (these are high-school students, after all, not primary school kids):

All the students laughed when a girl from the front row said, “What makes Republicans better than Democrats?”

“Republicans help people who need extra help,” Lingle answered earnestly. “The Democrats want people to be dependent on the government.”

Earnestness in defense of pablum is a vice.

She used the metaphor of giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish as the difference between the political parties. “The Democrats want to spend all the money, instead of giving it back to the people,” she said.

So, if we were to apply her metaphor, giving back the money = teaching someone how to fish. Are you writing this down, children?

The session ended with a note on freedom and liberty.

A Kaneohe boy asked if Americans have too much liberty, to which Lingle said that sometimes people have too much freedom, “but the alternative is not too good.”

There is a line, though, Lingle said. Some religions call for “cutting off the heads of chickens and we may think that’s kooky,” she said, but it is still legal. On the other hand, “to people claiming that ’smoking marijuana is in my religion,’ we have to say no,” Lingle said.

So, freedom (or is it liberty?) provides that it is necessary to make completely arbitrary decisions about which religions are unorthodox but still legal. Praise Bob!

“The alternative is not too good.” Indeed. I wouldn’t go so far as to expect a graduate-level seminar from the Governor, but this is embarrassing. Sheesh.

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