Poinography!

January 10, 2009

Poinography August 2007 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 2:24 pm

Poinography!

8/31/2007

Make up your mind, please. Are tolls good or bad?

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 6:56 pm
This is gonna be a quick one, since I fear I am coming down with a sore throat. I want to get some rest ASAP so as not to spend an entire 3-day weekend feeling crappy…

A brief post at Hawaii Reporter from Dale Evans of Charley’s Taxi, where she finds herself in a bit of a pickle since Councilmember Djou is floating the idea of congestion pricing (i.e. tolls to use certain streets during rush hour). Evans et al are big supporters of the High Occupancy Toll lane, which would feature tolls that change on-the-fly to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

There is a vast difference between charging tolls to finance new, increased capacity, in contrast to raking in more taxes for using existing road lanes. A debate on road user charges will emphasize the negative arguments against the merit of variable tolls on highways to finance a HOTway between Kapolei and downtown.

The citizens of Honolulu are severely road-deprived, having only 1.5 miles per capita, the lowest in all of the states and territories. Rationing roads through tolls will add immensely to our traffic problems.

Yes, a debate on road user charges will do just that, Dale, and there isn’t a heck of a lot you can do about it. Heh. The “vast difference” you see is going to seem pretty darn subtle to most folks.

Comments (3)
8/30/2007

Reminder: civil disobedience is not terrorism

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:28 pm
Lots of chatter today about the seeming capitulation of the Coast Guard with respect to the Hawaii Superferry being turned away from Kauai by protestors blocking the harbor entrance. An Advertiser story puts it like this:

Hawaii Superferry President and CEO John Garibaldi said yesterday there are no immediate plans to attempt another Kaua’i voyage, although he hopes it can happen soon to avoid further disappointing travelers.

Garibaldi expressed frustration that authorities have not been able to make security arrangements that would allow the ferry to use Nawiliwili Harbor, where several hundred protesters in the water and on land delayed Sunday’s ferry arrival and thwarted the vessel’s attempt to dock Monday.

The company agreed to suspend future voyages indefinitely due to concerns about the safety of the protesters.

Garibaldi said he found it “alarming” that law enforcement agencies have been unable to make the Kaua’i harbor safe for the ferry to lawfully berth and to enforce laws establishing a 100-yard security zone around the 350-foot vessel.

Hmmm. As far as I can tell, the USCG can’t enforce the rule requiring a 100-yard security perimeter around the Superferry—because it does not take effect until September 10, 2007. Which makes the rush to begin Superferry service seem even more short-sighted, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, state Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai’i Kai), yesterday urged Gov. Linda Lingle to defend Superferry’s right to do business, including mobilizing the Hawai’i National Guard if necessary to clear the harbor on Kaua’i.

“Actions such as these are reminiscent of a Third World country where extremists rule the day and the law is not respected,” Hemmings said of the state Supreme Court’s ruling requiring an environmental review and the fallout that has followed.

Those who want the Superferry to conduct an environmental review would probably agree with Hemmings that there are some similarites. The Hawaii DOT, they would argue, has shown a comparable respect for the law as is typical in some Third World countries. Heh.

Meanwhile, there is a growing chorus of people who, with varying amounts of sincerity, refer to the protestors on Kauai as “terrorists.” Oooga boogah! But, the Coast Guard is not among them.

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. John Titchen called the Kaua’i protests a “challenging” situation that officials are taking “very seriously.” He noted that state and county authorities also are involved in the response.

“These people were not terrorists. They did not pose a threat to the safety of the Superferry. This is not a security issue, it’s a safety issue. There’s a fine line between balancing safety and security,” Titchen said.

“Escalating the situation is not worth risking injuries or worse, death.”

Let’s see, a boatload of cheapskate bargain-hunting looky-loos (who probably experienced a bit more particapatory drama than what they had expected) vs. a group of surfers exercising their First Amendment right to hold a protest against an action of their government? Well, it’s obvious that you call out the National Guard and remove the surfers by whatever means necessary, of course… Not.

Those involved in the civil disobedience undoubtedly knew that they would face arrest if they violated any laws, and, indeed, over a dozen were rounded up and now face various charges. Those are the eggs that are broken to make the civil disobedience omelet. However, the day civil disobedience is properly considered terrorism is not (yet) arrived.

Comments (7)
A dala for an explanation, please.

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:27 pm
I’m still scratching my head about this Star-Bulletin story about [Senator] Sam Slom’s Small Business Hawaii organization and its ties to the so-called Hawaii Dala. I am not an economist, but after reading two websites on the topic (Hawaii Dala and Liberty Dollar) and a slightly-less-confusing wikipedia entry, I am still confused . I’m not familiar with the monetary policy jargon, is probably the biggest hurdle I face.

Nonetheless, [mastermind of the scheme] von NotHaus says that 150,000 people on the mainland are using more than $20 million in Liberty Dollars as barter for services and goods at thousands of participating businesses.

von NotHaus, who has been marketing the Liberty Dollar on the mainland for the past nine years, carefully describes his latest local venture as a voluntary barter currency — not legal tender — that is 100 percent backed and redeemable in gold and silver and a solution to government spending.

“It’s a lot different from somebody counterfeiting currency or making currency to supplant the existing currency,” Slom said, describing the Hawaii Dala as a warehouse receipt bartering tool that would stand or fall on its own depending on whether people choose to accept it in exchange for goods or services. “We don’t look at it as a final answer or panacea, but to the extent people have choices, I think it’s a good thing.”

A warehouse recepit bartering tool? Huh?! [scratching my head]

Apparently, it costs $107 to buy $100 worth of Liberty Dollars. So, right out of the gate, it sounds pretty foolish. I have a hunch that the “solution to government spending” angle is what motivates Slom, but who knows. Then there was the section of the website about a recent revaluation of the Liberty Dollar. What goes up, may come down, right? I dunno.

If using this currency is considered barter, does that somehow exempt one from all/some forms of taxation (or perhaps make it easier to evade taxation)? Oh, and there are discounts available by becoming a Liberty Associate and bonuses offered for recruiting additional Associates. Multi-level marketing, much?

Maybe I am simply much less akamai than the average reader, but I think the SB should have done a bit more checking into this. Instead, the article reads like a slightly-reworked press release.

Comments (2)
8/29/2007

They gambled. They lost.

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:27 pm
I don’t have much novel or significant to add about the flavor-of-the-week, but I will say that the Superferry management and investors, the legislature that funded the harbor improvements, and the Hawaii DOT were collectively and separately acting rashly in going forward with the project while a timely appeal (regarding its exemption from environmental review) was still pending. The flood of “aww, no fair, we did everything the law requires” arguments ring hollow, because until all the timely appeals are resolved what is required is not known.

Now, we know. The pro-Superferry parties underestimated (or ignored) the stakes, overplayed their hand, and lost. Yawn.

Comments (0)
8/28/2007

Rep. Blake Oshiro comments on his proposed shield law – at a blog

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:52 pm
From the Hawaii House Majority blog, a post with this explanation from Representative Blake Oshiro regarding why his proposed shield law does not include bloggers:

The distinction was based on laws from a majority of other states. The issue is about providing additional 1st amendment protections for freedom of press. Thus, there must be some measure of “press.” Bloggers, without any prior journalism or media experience, still enjoy first amendment free speech rights, just not the same legal protections as a “journalist.” Also, there are established standards for journalism ethics, but to my knowledge, none exist for blogging, so those conducting themselves within those ethical standards, should enjoy their full freedom of press rights.

Interesting. I’ll address it line-by-line:

“The distinction was based on laws from a majority of other states.” Is there any reason why Hawaii should conform to what other states have done? Clearly, on some laws interstate uniformity is critical, but I can see little harm if Hawaii were to amend the boilerplate language on this topic. What, Hawaii would become scorned as the “t00-free press” state?

“The issue is about providing additional 1st amendment protections for freedom of press. Thus, there must be some measure of ‘press.’” What is the rationale to provide this additional protection to freedom of the press, but to deny the additional protection to freedom of speech? What public good is served by providing the additional protection? Couldn’t the public good be served by non-journalists exhibiting the same behavior?

“Bloggers, without any prior journalism or media experience, still enjoy first amendment free speech rights, just not the same legal protections as a ‘journalist.’” True… but the legislature is empowered to change the amount of legal protections enjoyed by bloggers to be on par with journalists. The First Amendment (US and Hawaii) sets a lower limit, not an upper limit on the protection that may be afforded. Oshiro’s argument is akin to the ill-informed member of the public complaining that a piece of legislation is “illegal.” If the Legislature passes it and the Constitution does not forbid it, then it’s legal.

“Also, there are established standards for journalism ethics, but to my knowledge, none exist for blogging, so those conducting themselves within those ethical standards, should enjoy their full freedom of press rights.” So, his proposed legislation is going to condition the provision of the additional protection to only apply to journalists upholding “established standards for journalism ethics?” Maybe so, but that’s not how the draft was described to me. Furthermore, what are those established standards, and if bloggers were found to comply with those same ethical standards then why should bloggers be denied the additional protection?

To summarize, then, what harm would be done by granting the same additional protection proposed for journalists using confidential sources to bloggers using confidential sources?

Comments (4)
8/27/2007

It must be true…

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:23 pm
…because I read it in an editorial in todays Advertiser:

Hawai’i is considering its own shield law, prompted in part by the subpoena of Web site reporter Malia Zimmerman over a story on the fatal Kaloko dam breach. This case is particularly complicated because Zimmerman is a blogger. On the Internet, where blogs are seemingly everywhere, the definition of a “journalist” has definitely blurred.

Oooh, Zimmerman isn’t going to like that. Heh.

Seriously, though, I have a beef with the editorial:

State Reps. Blake Oshiro and Gene Ward have written separate drafts of a state shield law, but there is little difference between them. Similar to other state laws, they protect journalists from disclosing sources and in state courts, but would not cover citizen bloggers. The drafts identify journalists and former journalists “of newspapers, wire services, magazines and radio and television stations.”

Both Oshiro and Ward argue that in protecting journalists, they must show some degree of credibility. Bloggers, they agree, are still protected by their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

This is a fair argument and a practical place to start. Until a federal shield law is passed, that’s really all the state can, and should, do.

Huh? I don’t have the legislation in front of me, but, based on what DePledge described to me, the drafts by Oshiro and Ward do not require journalists to demonstrate “credibility” before being provided protection. Rather, to be deemed a journalist and granted protection, one needs only to produce a media paystub. If I write a single story for publication or broadcast, then automatically I am “credible” and worthy of protection forever, and until then I am not? That’s absurd.

The editors then follow up with a toss-off non sequitor about bloggers having First Amendment rights—sort of like a consolation prize, it would seem. If the First Amendment were providing sufficient protection, then there would be no need for a shield law, not even for journalists. Clearly, as Zimmerman’s situation shows, that’s not the case. So, why should bloggers settle for less protection? The clear implication is that, according to the Advertiser editors, bloggers are not credible.

So, again, if the public interest is served by having a shield law, and I think it is, then providing protection to a media employee (or former employee? what’s the logic in that?!) using a confidential source but not providing protection to a blogger using a confidential source makes no sense.

Draft a bill to provide shield law protection based upon behavior, not on association.

Comments (3)
8/26/2007

Senator Gabbard speaks — about parking enforcement?!

Filed under: HI State Politics, Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 9:33 am
I had a chuckle after I followed the link from the SB homepage to an op-ed piece by Senator Mike Gabbard. Surely, I thought, this would be where Gabbard would announce and explain his decision to change his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat (or, less likely, a decision to remain a Republican).

Nope. Gabbard is writing about a program to empower citizen volunteers to cite improperly parked vehicles and expired registration/safety check.

Truly, Gabbard is a canny legislator with his finger directly on the political pulse of the community!

Comments (2)
8/25/2007

Woman rowing to Hawaii is picked up by USCG; but she is not done yet

Filed under: Sailing — Doug @ 9:14 am
Well, it’s not sailing, but close enough.

I had been following the progress of Roz Savage the past several weeks as she prepared to set off from California on the first leg of an attempt to row across the Pacific Ocean. My friend Rick Shema (with whom I’ve twice sailed to Hawaii from California) is a professional meteorologist who also happens to be Roz’s weatherman for the adventure. Initially I took interest in an “any friend of Rick’s is a friend of mine” vein, but Savage is an inspirational woman in her own right, too.

Anyway, just a few days after (long-delayed) departure and an encounter with a Navy ship, Savage took a few capsizes in heavy wind and seas and was ultimately plucked out of her boat by the Coast Guard. Her high-tech rowboat, the Brocade, is still at sea and she intends to return and continue the effort. Somehow.

The Advertiser has a wire story about her today. Her blog is amazing. Check it out. She makes singlehand ocean sailors look like wimps!

Comments (1)
Hawaii Superferry uses hurry-up offense, catches plaintiffs on heels

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:14 am
Both Honolulu dailies report (Advertiser and Star-Bulletin) on the rather cheeky, some might say defiant, behavior of the Hawaii Superferry operators. After the Hawaii Supreme Court quickly ruled this week that they must complete an environmental assessment, the ferry quickly announced that they will push forward the first day of voyages … to tomorrow. And, to draw more customers, the fares will be $5 for each passenger and vehicle. That’s cheap!

However, it is not hard to see the public relations value in starting operations at a deep discount and then expecting/urging customers to loudly protest if the courts eventually order them to suspend operations until they comply with the HSC ruling.

The issue has been simmering for a long time, but the SB editorial seems to provide a condensed version of what has happened. I am not a lawyer, but looking back on the early Superferry posts I wrote (from older to newer: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) you can see that I have never fully understood how the State (and the feds) could waive the EIS/EA requirements for this project.

Comments (8)
8/24/2007

Letters to the Maui News merged with advertising? Auwe.

Filed under: HI Media, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:32 pm
Anyone browsing the internet long enough has come across websites that have been paid to allow advertisers to place links with a contextual connection to the content of the page being viewed. It’s annoying, but apparently the operator of the website thinks the intrusiveness is a fair tradeoff to pay the bills or support the upkeep of the site. I’d never agree to it, but whatever.

Today, however, I see that not only have the links arrived at the Maui News, but even a letter to the editors has fallen prey to this scheme. That is pretty lame! I rather doubt that when Mr. Vermey was writing he intended for his epistle to serve as part of an advertising scheme for apartment rentals. If the Maui News truly must exploit every last source of revenue, then they least they could do is spare the content provided by the readers and limit the appearance of contextual advertising to the work of actual MN employees.

Oh, and Vermey’s letter is an interesting follow-up to an earlier post, by the way.

Comments (1)
Shield should protect reporting behavior, not quibble over who is a reporter

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:32 pm
Derrick DePledge of the Advertsier called me on Wednesday as he was preparing to file this story about preliminary drafts of legislation that would protect the right of “reporters” to use confidential sources. I am quoted in the article (Albeit without a url provided or mentioned. Sheesh, welcome to the 21st Century, webmaster!!):

Doug White, a former state House staffer who writes a blog on politics and government, said he is disappointed with the drafts.

“I’m a blogger who does not consider myself a journalist, but every so often I write original posts and I think that if in the process of gathering and disseminating a story in the public interest I were to use information from a source unwilling or unable to speak on the record then I should be able to offer anonymity to the source which would be respected by the courts,” White said. “When it comes to the use of confidential sources, the public good served by protecting journalists is the same public good that would be served by protecting bloggers.

“Any shield law should keep that in mind.”

According to DePledge’s transcription, both pieces of draft legislation (one from Representative Gene Ward and the other from Representative Blake Oshiro) define a “journalist” by way of his or her past or present association with print and/or broadcast media. That’s pretty arbitrary, and I told DePledge that I would prefer to see a definition of what behavior is shielded instead of what type of associations are required to be protected by the shield.

Hunter Bishop’s hypothetical scenario involving witnesses starting blogs to withhold information from the legal system is theoretically possible, but I think the impact of such a “blogger of convenience” would be akin to a tree falling in the woods with nobody around. Brand new blogs are not simply not widely read, if they are even known of. Perhaps closer scrutiny could be applied to blogs only coming online after the confidential source was allegedly contacted. I’d have to think about it more, but I don’t see it as an insurmountable problem…

State Sen. Les Ihara, Jr., D-9th (Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Palolo), said he would show Oshiro’s draft to the Society of Professional Journalists Hawai’i chapter and the Honolulu Community Media Council.

I’d love to hear what they think! Hopefully in future stories we’ll hear from the j-school faculty, prosecutors, the defense bar, and other litigators, too. Professional print and broadcast reporters are scorned (sometimes more informally than formally) for actively participating in political debate, but I am very interested to know what the actual reporters on the beat think of includng or excluding bloggers from the shield protection. If the SPJ or HCMC polls those folks to reach an official position or if those organizations are closer to groups of editors speaking (at least somewhat paternalistically, I would hope) on behalf of the reporters in the field, I don’t know.

Again, any reporter (or blogger) who wants to comment on this topic, either anonymously or for attribution, is invited to sound off on my blog in the comments.

Comments (1)
8/23/2007

Tam scolds the editors; but fails to make the best argument

Filed under: Honolulu Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 6:12 pm
A rather salty letter to the editors from Councilmember Tam is in the Star-Bulletin today. Tam takes issue with the editorial silence regarding the effect a breach of confidentiality (via a media interview) could have on City efforts to reach legal settlements on the best possible terms.

I and seven other responsible Council members chose to put the city’s taxpayers’ interests ahead of our own personal or political agendas by keeping the information confidential until a formal vote could be taken and a final settlement amount could be agreed upon by all parties of the suit.

You find it easy to fix blame to politicians for any shortcomings you find in the political process, always citing freedom of the press and the “public’s right to know.” The bottom line is that your paper couldn’t care less if the taxpayers’ money is put at risk if it means you get a better story that will sell more newspapers.

Okay, Tam’s conclusion is a bit over the top, but the editors did more than simply neglect to mention the rationale in support of maintaining confidentiality of pending legal matters. The editors flat-out cooked the books to make it seem as if the law supports their “Djou has done nothing wrong” viewpoint!

Comments (0)
8/22/2007

Checkered history of party-switching candidates

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:55 pm
Kudos to Richard Borreca for this cogent observation in his latest column about Senator Mike Gabbard’s expected defection from the Hawaii GOP.

Past political switches have not always worked in Hawaii.

The most disastrous political switch was in 1985 when City Council Chairman George Akahane and cohorts Rudy Pacarro and Toraki Matsumoto switched to the GOP, giving it control of the Council.

The trio faced the first recall in city history and lost, despite a radio and television campaign featuring President Ronald Reagan.

The switch was the scheme of former Mayor Frank Fasi, who was then a Republican. Fasi had been a Democrat and later became an Independent after joining the GOP.

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party in 1988 along with former Sen. Donna Ikeda. Both felt the GOP was becoming too conservative. Kobayashi noted yesterday that she did it as an election was coming up so constituents would have the chance to chose her and her new political party.

If Gabbard leaves the GOP, it will be in mid-term.

On Kauai in 1994, lifelong Democrat Maryanne Kusaka switched to the GOP and served two terms as mayor.

Sen. Will Espero, now a Democrat, ran for office in 1992 as a Republican. In 1998, GOP Rep. Bob Herkes switched to the Democratic party and won re-election. The reverse wasn’t as successful for former state Rep. Harvey Tajiri, who switched to the GOP in 2000 to run for Big Island mayor and lost.

Most recently, state school board member Lei Ahu Isa, who had been a Democrat, switched to the GOP to run for the Senate in 2002 and lost.

Hey, depending upon the exact location of the district boundaries, this development may present a perfect opportunity for Eric Ryan to run as a “real” Republican against the perfidious Gabbard. Heck, it could even a instigate a heated GOP primary pitting Mr. Ryan against Garry Smith, since both gentlemen appear to be GOP true believers. I can hardly wait. Heh.

Comments (6)
The green ship Alakai

Filed under: HI State Politics, Sailing — Doug @ 7:54 pm
A somewhat foreboding story in the Advertiser, and a less-gloomy report in the SB describe reaction to a series of short Hawaii Superferry shakedown cruises with passengers and vehicles.

Some motion sickness was reported (even what sounds like a sick dog, poor thing!), as well as shifting of unsecured vehicles, less-than-appealing fares, vehicles subjected to salt spray, and slightly overwhelmed onboard concessions. Nothing that seems to be a back-breaker for the operation, but if it turns out that the ship rides (more) poorly in the much rougher waters of the Kaiwi and Kauai channels then I suspect motion sickness would eventually overshadow all the benefits for most passengers. Few people are going to take an expensive round-trip that entails a double dose of discomfort for several hours.

I’m lucky in that I don’t get motion sickness while at sea, but I’ve been around plenty of people that suffer from it—and it isn’t pretty.

Comments (1)
8/21/2007

Information is trickling in

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:32 pm
Well, the PUC is beginning to come through on my Sunshine Law request. Today I received a list of the registered petroleum distributors in addition to the forms and directions to be submitted by the distributors to comply with the transparency law. The questions I had asked regarding which distributors have and have not reported on time are moot, since the first [arbitrarily reset?] deadline is not yet past.

The only information still to come is the PUC correspondence regarding the enactment and implementation of the latest version of the transparency law. Then we wait to see what the PUC will publicly release…

Comments (1)
Gabbard would like a whiff of power, please

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:30 pm
The Advertiser reports that Senator Mike Gabbard is considering a switch from the Republican to Democratic Party. Whatever that label change means.

Gabbard, R-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), is expected to meet with Democratic activists this weekend and could make a decision shortly after. Democrats have a 20-to-5 advantage over Republicans in the Senate, and two Republican senators are facing significant re-election challenges next year.

“Tulsi has been twisting my arm,” Gabbard said of his daughter, former Democratic state Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, who now works for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai’i, in Washington, D.C. “But I haven’t made a decision yet.”

Gabbard, a former Honolulu city councilman elected to the Senate last year, was more likely than other Senate Republicans to cross over and vote with Democrats last session. He also disappointed Republicans when he was the deciding vote to override Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto of a bill that created an advisory council to help select appointments to the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents.

Huh. Tulsi Gabbard is working for Senator Akaka? In what capacity, I wonder. Senator Akaka’s website doesn’t have a staff roster. Last I had heard, she was working for the Bush administration. Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

As the Bev Harbin incident made all too clear, there is no mechanism to stop (or remove) anybody who wants to join the Democratic Party simply on account of political beliefs. If he were to join, then so long as Mike Gabbard does not join another party, support a candidate of another party, or run as a candidate for another party, he may not be expelled from the Democratic Party. Simply by submitting an enrollment card and having proof of being an eligible voter, Gabbard is in.

Comments (6)
8/20/2007

This squeaky wheel gets some media grease, but still waiting for fuller picture

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:18 pm
Both Honolulu dailies report (Advertiser and Star-Bulletin) on the belated, but forthcoming, release of gasoline price “transparency” data.

Implementation of the monitoring program has been delayed by a lack of expertise and money. Lawmakers initially only appropriated $1 for the program. An additional $1.2 million was budgeted for the program this year. The PUC then drafted reporting forms in consultation with local oil companies.

The deadline for the first monthly filing is today. That form, which covers July, will be followed by a Wednesday deadline for companies to file a weekly report for the seven days ended July 1.

By the end of August oil companies will have to file forms with data that retroactively date back to the beginning of the year. Deadlines for additional semiannual and annual filings have not been set yet.

———

Exactly what information will be released has not yet been determined.

“We first must review the reports that are filed starting Aug. 22 and look for consistency and completeness, among other things,” Lisa Kikuta, the PUC’s chief researcher, said in an e-mail. “As we analyze the reports, we will determine what can and should be published on the commission’s Web site.”

The reporting requirements were passed in 2006 — as part of the law that rescinded the state’s one-of-a-kind wholesale price caps — and lawmakers provided full funding for the Petroleum Industry Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting program this past session.

Oil industry participants are required to report on a variety of operational factors, such as the volume of fuel imported and exported, the costs of the fuel at various points in the supply chain and their weekly gross margins.

Members also must report the data for as many as 18 different types of products, ranging from conventional gasoline and diesel to jet fuel, kerosene and propane.

The 15-page reporting form, a copy of which was obtained by the Star-Bulletin, comes with 26 pages of instructions. Actual submissions are likely to include dozens more pages of documentation.

——–

Oil companies say taxes, Hawaii’s isolation, limited competition and other factors contribute to the isles’ high prices.

The reports will speak for themselves, [Maui Oil Company president] McBarnet said.

“We’ve supported transparency because I think it’s one way to show there’s nothing out there to be embarrassed about.”

Hawaii’s two oil refiners, Chevron and Tesoro, say they will be in compliance with the reporting requirements, and hope that whatever is released publicly paints a complete picture of the industry.

“We believe the PUC is doing a really good job of working with the situation under very complicated circumstances,” said Chevron spokesman Albert Chee.

McBarnet said he worries that some might “cherry-pick” certain data and use it to point fingers and place blame.

Nathan Hokama, a spokesman for Tesoro in Hawaii, agreed.

“Certainly someone could take a look at a particular figure or piece of data and come to a certain conclusion when they may not be taking into account the entire business in terms of all the different products and all the different aspects of running the company,” Hokama said. “Even if they had all the data that they needed, who would be the arbiter of what is acceptable profitability for the company, whether it’s the oil industry or any other industry?”

Hokama misses the point, in my opinion. It is not so much the “acceptable” amount of profitability that is under scrutiny as it is the seeming disconnect between the changing costs of doing business and the price of gasoline. As for the data being “cherry picked,” that is one reason why I am asking for, among other things, a blank copy of the reporting form. With that it will be possible to tell what data are being collected but not released by the PUC. If people draw erroneous conclusions because the PUC does not release the exculpatory data, then it would be in the industry’s interest to publicize (or authorize the PUC to publicize) that information. Alternatively, if the PUC reveals everything and the industry still argues that the public doesn’t have the whole picture, well, then the industry players should step up and provide whatever data will clarify the situation. We should not settle for this “you don’t have all the necessary facts claim,” because, according to Advertiser story, the industry was consulted during the design of the data collection form! Thinking ahead, I also asked for copies of the correspondence relating to the enactment and implementation of the law, in order to see how that conversation may have flowed.

Alas, I’m still waiting for my Sunshine Law request to be fulfilled. It would sure be nice if the S-B would put up a link to whatever forms and instructions they were provided, because those 41 pages will cost me about $10. Or, better yet, the PUC should put that form and instructional material on its website.

Comments (2)
8/19/2007

Civil rights panel’s politics

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 2:18 pm
The Advertisr editorializes today about the abrupt scheduling of meetings about the Akaka Bill, and the SB has an article on the topic, too.

Despite that longstanding position of its advisory panel, the national Commission on Civil Rights last year took a stand against the Akaka bill, one that was timed strategically to deter what was then a Republican majority from allowing the bill to progress.

That strategy continues.

Under the Bush administration, the commission has opted to reorganize the state advisory committees resulting in term limits for committee members, a maneuver that turned over many positions. The Western region of state committees had about 130 members, and under the new plan 78 of them termed out.

Hawai’i saw 14 new members appointed to its 17-member panel, including several members who have a clear agenda and are almost certain to tilt future votes against the Akaka bill.

But wait, there’s more. Looking through the archive of documents at the USCCR website yields a letter (PDF) to Congress asking that the terms for State Advisory Committee members be extended to four years (now that the ideological shift is taking hold … and the Bush administration is on the wane.).

On the national level, other state committees are being stacked with members who vocally oppose affirmative action. It’s expected to see the political bent of government agencies change to mesh politically with the sitting administration. What’s disturbing about the revolution at Civil Rights is that the state committees are meant to be formed closer to the grass-roots level. Increasingly, these state panels have been directed from Washington, said a former official.

John Dulles, a former regional director and a civil rights analyst who recently retired from the agency, said many of the nominees to the committees have originated with the commission’s administration, rather than from the grass roots as had been the case in previous administrations.

“I do not think the beltway in D.C. should be driving the agenda in civil rights,” Dulles said. “This was driven by a very narrow specific objective and that was to abort the Akaka bill.”

A fascinating, albeit lengthy, discussion of the top-down vs. grass-roots issue is in the minutes of the October 2006 meeting (beginning on page 44 of the PDF). There is discussion of SAC nominees hailing from rightwing think tanks (sound familiar?), others from a group actively opposed to same-sex marriage, all in the name of providing “diversity of opinion.” Taken to it’s extreme, then, the argument moves to including segregationists to the civil rights panel in 1957. Pretty lively stuff, even if the Commission is stacked with partisans so the votes are predictably lopsided.

Oh, and from a recent Yankee Institute newsletter:

?We use research methods that have been tested nationally by free-market think tanks to generate pressure for lean and effective government.?
Lewis M. Andrews, Ph.D., Executive Director

Well, I would not call what those folks are doing “research,” but there is no denying that the “free-market think tanks” have moved the debate to the right—even if the policy is sometimes slow to follow.

Comments (0)
8/18/2007

Hawaii’s palace marks 125th anniversary … and Statehood’s 48th?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:31 pm
The Advertiser has a brief piece about a celebration at Iolani Palace yesterday in observance of the building’s 125th anniversary. However, I have yet to see or hear any coverage of the Statehood Day rally that was announced by an anonymous commenter a few days ago. It was to occur on the sidewalk of the palace, in front of the gate across from the Kamehameha statue.

Did the Statehood event actually happen? Was there any confrontation between Slom et al and those people inside the gate for the Palace’s 125th? I reckon that if there had been any bullhorns and chest-thumping and scattering marching bands then it would have been all over the Hawaii Reporter by now, but so far, nothing.

Reminds me of the t-shirt slogan: “what if they threw a war and nobody came?”

Comments (1)
8/17/2007

Important meeting on Monday – so tell the public at close of business Friday?

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 8:04 pm
The newly-reconstituted Hawaii State Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights will be meeting this coming Monday, August 20, 2007, according to this post by William Burgess at the Hawaii Reporter blog.

The committee on that day is expected to hear first from state Attorney General Mark Bennett, who supports the bill, and Roger Clegg, president and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes the bill.

Then public testimony will be begin. To permit all present to be heard, it may be necessary to limit oral testimony to 3 to 5 minutes per person.

Anyone wishing to send email comments or testify in person at the meeting should contact Barbara de La Viez, USCCR civil rights analyst, at (202) 376-7533 [TDY 2023768116], or by email. This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Written comments must be received in the commission’s western regional office by Sept. 1, 2007. The address is 300 North Los Angeles Street, Suite 2010, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

The committee is also scheduled for meetings on Maui on Aug. 22, Kauai on Sept. 7 and Hawaii island on Sept. 10. The advisory committee and some commissioners will also meet Sept. 5 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, but no public testimony will be taken.

By “some commissioners” in that last paragraph I am assuming that USCCR members are coming to Waikiki. Which ones? For whatever reason, the USCCR calendar for state advisory committtee meetings does not mention the event on Monday, nor any of the neighbor island events, nor the September 5 meeting with the Commissioners.

Now, maybe I’ve been asleep at the switch again, but I had not heard a peep about this meeting until today—and I have noticed nothing in the Honolulu print or broadcast media. Have you?

Comments (2)
8/16/2007

Pawsat opposes employee “gerbitrail” housing

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 6:26 pm
It took a while to bear fruit, but, as I expected, the Maui Planning Commission is going to be an interesting scene with Joan Pawsat around. The Maui News has a story about Pawsat’s lone vote in opposition to a permit sought by Maui Land and Pineapple to build “affordable” rentals for its employees. An employee who came to the meeting explained the difficulty he has in keeping pace with his increasing rent in West Maui (I’m assuming at a market rate non-ML&P unit).

Pawsat suggested that rather than build affordable rentals, ML&P should simply pay the employees enough to afford market-rate rentals.

When it came time to vote, Pawsat said, ?I?m on the fence about this project. I can?t understand why anyone would want his employer to also be his landlord.?

Citing a book, ?Workers? Paradise,? which she said demonstrated the ?manipulative history? of company housing, she called employee housing ?a noose around people?s neck? that restricts their ?rights to freedom of speech.?

?If somebody wants to be a hamster in a Maui Land and Pineapple Gerbitrail, that?s their right. I don?t think the island should make it a habit or should be dependent on supposedly benevolent entities to provide housing for people.?

She voted against the permit.

Okay, I am familiar with the history of plantation employees (and other workers) being exploited by employers who provided them below market rate housing. The practice is mostly an historical anachronism by now, but it’s not unheard of. It’s the first I’ve heard of it being offered to private sector white-collar employees in a while, though…

With no author cited, I have been unable to find the “Workers’ Paradise” booke that Pawsat mentioned, but Pawsat’s behavior is a non sequitor when compared with her comments. First she says it “their right” if employees decide to dwell in company housing, but then Pawsat votes against the permit so that type of behavior doesn’t become a habit. ??

Truly odd stuff.

Comments (2)
8/15/2007

PUC responds: We’ll share with you what we have, but it will cost ya

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:08 pm
A week after asking for it, the Public Utilities Commission has replied that they will gather the specific petroleum industry monitoring information I seek and that they will send it to me if I agree to pay for postage and duplication/search fees of 25 cents per page of information.

I agreed to pay for up to 200 pages. Now, I wait again…

Reminder: the PUC is supposed to be already making this information public. Nobody should have to pay to compel the PUC to carry out the law…

Comments (7)
8/14/2007

Blair at PBN; Local 5 “masters” face challenge

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:26 pm
I am not going to have much today, because with a hurricane threatening the state blogging seems rather frivolous, but I did notice a Pacific Business News story by former HPR reporter Chad Blair. I reckon it’s not Blair’s first story for PBN, but it’s the first I’ve taken note of Blair’s name on the byline.

Anyway, the article describes the media-savvy way that recent and ongoing contract negotiations with hotel management have been conducted by Local 5 of UNITE/HERE. A fairly interesting piece, but it just so happens to be juxtaposed against this Advertiser story regarding a vote underway to determine if Local 5 will continue to represent the employees at the Hale Koa hotel.

If Blair’s assessment of Local 5 is correct, and I think it is, then Local 5 should withstand the challenge without much trouble.

All for now. Batten down the hatches!

Comments (1)
8/13/2007

A homeless shelter that seems a lot like … a jail

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 6:36 pm
While plodding through a very disheartening story about the vacancies available at the Waianae homeless shelter, I was stunned to see this segment:

“We have some pretty strong programs here,” said shelter director Cathie Alana, who added that new families are scheduled to move in soon. “And the message that we do put out is that we are zero tolerant ? for drugs, or for any kind of violence. And not everybody is willing to comply. Sometimes it takes awhile for people to actually get from Point A to Point B.”

‘TOO MUCH RULES’

More than 24 people ? nearly 8 percent of the 343 served in the first five months ? decided they liked the beach or other places better and moved out.

Twice, Kristy Kalani, a single mother of three, has entered the Wai’anae emergency shelter in the past five months. Both times she has walked away, most recently about two weeks ago.

Kalani and her three toddlers are once again living in the tent city at Kea’au Beach Park in Makua.

“Too much rules,” said Kalani, 24. “They’re just too strict. It’s a good place. I kind of liked it there, you know ? a roof over your head, and meals. And they’re all good people there. It’s just that when I would get in trouble they would keep me locked down. And their rules apply to our kids, too. If our kids mess up, they write us up.”

Kalani said her problems related to her children, ages 1 to 4. She said she did the best she could with them, but she was continually being written up for not supervising her children. Once she was given a 30-day “lockdown”: confined to the facility.

Wha!?

I can understand the need for rules to be strictly enforced, even if that means eviction for noncompliant residents, but on what authority may U.S. Vets Hawaii (a non-governmental organization operating the homeless shelter) imprison a resident?! That’s completely crazy, unless there is a lot more to it than what we are told here.

Comments (8)
8/12/2007

Tesoro earnings way up — still no PUC data

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 9:57 am
I overlooked a blurb in the SB business section a few days ago:

Tesoro earnings rise 36 percent

SAN ANTONIO ? Tesoro Corp., which operates the largest refinery in Hawaii, said second-quarter net income rose 36 percent as gasoline prices and profit margins on oil processing climbed to all-time highs.
Profit increased to a record $443 million, or $3.17 a share, from $326 million, or $2.33, a year earlier. Revenue climbed 14 percent to $5.6 billion.

The total number of barrels of refined products of gas, jet fuel, diesel fuel and heavy oils at the Hawaii facility rose 1.2 percent to 87,000 daily barrels from 86,000 daily barrels while the refining margin decreased to $6.74 a barrel from $7.32 a barrel.

The complete press release is here.

Jolly good for Tesoro shareholders, but it would sure be great to know what drives the week-to-week price changes increases we see in the Hawaii gasoline market. Instead, we wait for the PUC to implement and enforce the petroleum industry reporting law that has been in effect since July 1, 2007.

Comments (0)
Mysterious Molokai

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 9:57 am
Okay, I admit that I’m picking on the neighbor islands again, but this story from the Molokai Times made me smirk.

Imagine if the Honolulu media ran stories about every erroneous handbill tacked up around Oahu. haha!

Okay, in defense of the Friendly Isle, I’ll note this:

The flyer continues ? “This important meeting will discuss FINALLY fixing the Kawela Bridge ? Please come to share how you have been affected by the old bridge and how Molokai deserves having the bridge replaced NOW!”

Below that is a box showing the time and location of the meeting.

Yet, in spite of this plea, only six people attended the meeting.

On a per-capita basis, that’s not too shabby. According to 2000 data (PDF), a public meeting on Oahu would need over 700 people to have a comparable response. That level of public attendance is extremely rare on Oahu — for any issue.

Comments (3)
8/11/2007

News travels slowly to Hawaii County, it would seem

Filed under: HI State Politics, Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 10:32 am
I was amused to see this article in the West Hawaii Today about the Hawaii County Council gearing up to hire its own legislative liason to represent them at the Capitol (a job that Andy Levin handles for Mayor Kim). Honolulu City Council Chair Barbara Marshall recently hired former State representative Alex Santiago in that capacity, although he is already contemplating resignation due to misgivings about his “dysfunctional” employer…

Maui council members at the [Hawaii State Association of Counties] conference were ecstatic about having a legislative liaison on board in their county and discussed how their decision to hire one was starting pay off.

Maui officials talked about the benefits of “hiring a person who pushed for bills or lobbied for bills” that had impacts on their county, [Hawaii County Council Chair] Hoffmann said.

The purpose of having a legislative liaison is to “keep the council abreast of different issues that are coming forward” from the state Legislature and to have a voice in the state Legislature that speaks on issues in which the council has an interest, he said.

The council’s Finance Committee is slated to discuss a proposed resolution on the issue on Tuesday.

——–

Hoffmann said the Oahu council, upon hearing from Maui officials in June, is also interested in hiring its own legislative liaison.

Uh, Honolulu is well past the “interested” stage, sir. Heh.

Seriously, though, I have a few questions about this article. First, who is the Maui legislative liason causing all this ecstasy? Second, what legislative success does the Maui County Council attributes to its legislative liason (rather than to the Maui delegation in the House and Senate, that is)? Third, assuming the Maui County Council is as divided as the Honolulu City Council, who gives the liason his or her marching orders?

Comments (0)
8/10/2007

Exclusion by whom?

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:46 pm
Nancy Cook Lauer follows up in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today on a story previously noted about the exclusion of Green Party candidate for Governor Jim Brewer from the 2006 gubernatorial debates. The Commission denied Brewer’s complaint that the free airtime for Lingle and Iwase constituted a campaign contribution—or at least that’s how I understand it for now, since there are is no ruling, opinion, or minutes of the August 8, 2007, meeting on the CSC website yet.

The story tends to blur the issues of “airtime as campaign contributions” and “the fairness doctrine” (that would obligate broadcasters to treat candidates equally). So far as I can tell, the contribution side of the equation was never directly addressed; after deeming the debate to be allowable by the FCC, the Commission seems to proceed directly to not considering the coverage to be a contribution. From what I can tell, the broadcasters (all the Honolulu TV networks) and the Society of Professional Journalists (”co-sponsor” and provider of the moderator) were operating within the bounds of what the FCC would seem to allow:

There are certain, narrow exceptions to the Equal Time rule that have evolved over the years, however. The most important exception concerns national televised debates involving the major presidential candidates. Not long after debates among the leading candidates for president became a standard component of campaigns in 1976, the FCC moved to exempt them from the Equal Time rule.

Since November 1983, the FCC has allowed the debates to be considered “bona fide news events,” thus triggering the exemption. Under the old rule, even minor candidates could have requested equal time during the presidential debates, a problem that led organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, to cover the debates, which the networks then covered as news events. Baker explained that although there is now no requirement that all candidates be included in the presidential debates, the FCC has urged broadcasters not to “favor or disfavor” any particular candidate.

——–

Live coverage of political debates is exempt from the equal-opportunity requirement as on-the-spot coverage of a bona fide news event. The exemption includes both debates between opposing candidates covered by a station but arranged by another party (a local civic association, for example), and debates arranged and broadcast by the station itself. In the latter example, broadcasters have the discretion to select as participants those candidates who, in the exercise of the broadcaster?s good faith news judgment, they deem most significant.

However, it is never really made clear who made the decision to exclude Brewer. In the previous post I wrote, there is a quote from the Society of Professional Journalists to the effect that the participant selection was presented to them as a fait accompli. Of course, the SPJ could have begged off from the co-sponsorship role if the Society thought that more candidates deserved to be included; i.e. their passivity shoud be subject to review, too. (Internally, that is, not by the Commission.)

Also, the H T-H piece concludes with this disclosure (strangely, it is missing from the WHT version):

Nancy Cook Lauer [author of the story] is a dues-paying member of SPJ but was not a member last year and is not involved in the association’s political activities.

Hmmm. This may be something we see more of next year…

Comments (0)
8/9/2007

Kauai wins, natch!

Filed under: Neighbor Islands — Doug @ 7:20 pm
Lots of interesting coverage of the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ballot initiative to amend the Kauai County Charter by limiting property taxes. The first place I saw the story was in a post a few days ago at the unofficial Hawaii Supreme Court blog. Since then it has been in the Honolulu dailies, the Garden Island News, the Pacific Business News, and in posts with commentary at Charley Foster’s Planet Kauai blog and Malia Zimmerman’s Hawaii Reporter.

Sorry, but I haven’t taken the time to plow through 101 pages of legalese (70 in the ruling and 31 in the dissent). But, as my confusion in writing about this many times in the past reflects, (here, here, here, here, and here) it’s a really strange case that is now pau.

Predictably, much ado is made, especially in the dissent (PDF), about the County playing both sides of the case and the resulting lack of “actual controversy.” Not a proud moment for the Court, even though this decision comes as no surprise.

Comments (1)
8/8/2007

Lawsuit challenges the scope of OHA spending

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:18 pm
Both Honolulu dailies report on a decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that sens a case back for review at the Hawaii District federal court. The five plaintiffs in the lawsuit are challenging programs of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs that benefit Native Hawaiians with less than 50% blood quantum. This is a mirror image of the lawsuits that challenge OHA programs as being too narrowly focused; this lawsuit argues that OHA programs are not narrowly focoused enough—making essentially a zero-sum argument that a finite amount of money is being spread too thin. The AP story that ran in the SB is here and the Advertiser has an article here.

From the SB version:

U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway threw out the legal challenge last August, saying recent Supreme Court cases had undermined prior case law and the suit wouldn’t be supported.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Mollway’s decision, saying there is well-established precedent supporting the basis for the suit.

What exactly are the precedents that support this lawsuit? Stepping one step back, which SCOTUS case had Mollway cited as undermining the legal challenge? I don’t know these answers.

There is this interesting quote in the Advertiser piece:

“When you look at OHA’s mandate … it’s a very broad mandate,” said OHA administrator Clyde Namu’o. “It simply talks about bettering the conditions of Hawaiians and native Hawaiians.

“So we believe in order to satisfy our mandate, we can’t simply isolate that one group and say ‘Well, if we better the condition of 50 percent Hawaiians, we will have bettered the conditions of everyone else.’ The reverse is actually true. If you better the condition of all Hawaiians, regardless of blood quantum, then you are in fact raising the standard of living for the 50 percent Hawaiians as well. That’s our position.”

I realize it is not his intent, but Namu’o is making the same “blood quantum should not matter” argument as the people that lack any indigenous Native Hawaiian ancestry and signed the Kau Inoa registry …

Comments (2)
8/7/2007

Out of patience

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:04 pm
I have decided not to wait. I have sent the Public Utilities Commission a Sunshine Law request to learn what petroleum industry monitoring information they have been collecting, what information they will make public, when the information will be made public, and which distributors are in compliance with the reporting requirements.

Now, I wait for a response.

[whistling]

Comments (2)
8/6/2007

Killers among us

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:15 pm
The Advertiser reports that Senator Espero intends to introduce legislation to create a registry of names and addresses of convicted murderers who have been released from prison in the State of Hawaii. Talk about a solution in search of a problem…

If the intent is to protect the public from the most numerous, dangerous and likely to re-offend criminals, then the data would show that a list of DUI offenders (and of the vehicles they operate) would go much further.

Still, I expect this idea will have some traction at the Lege next year, even if it ultimately fails the first time out. It wil be a campaign year, and candidates love to trip over themselves trying to appear toughest on crime.

Comments (1)
8/5/2007

Give Richard and/or B.J. a blog, already!

Filed under: HI Media — Doug @ 10:27 am
The Star-Bulletin expands their blog offerings from one to three. They now offer blogs covering nightlife, UH football, and photography.

That’s all well and good, but I’m sure hoping for a blog or three with a political focus to rival the blogs of David Shapiro and Jerry Burris (and, during session, Derrick DePledge et al) at the Advertiser. Maybe Reyes, Borreca and their colleagues don’t want the additional work and the (hopefully) increased editorial freedom that a blog entails?

Comments (0)
8/4/2007

Yet another front in the battle over Native Hawaiian governance

Filed under: HI State Politics — Doug @ 7:00 pm
The Honolulu dailies (Advertiser and Star-Bulletin) both carry stories about a small group of people without indigenous Hawaiian ancestry who have registered with OHA’s Kau Inoa program. So far, these people have only been denied t-shirts, but they intend to sue if they are denied participation in the formation of a Native Hawaiian government. Should that likely denial occur, they are expected to sue, using arguments similar to those that opened the elections for OHA trustees to all Hawaii voters.

I’d have to revisit that SCOTUS ruling, but I think this situation is substantially different. However, I don’t see this coming to a head in the near future anyway. Kau Inoa still needs thousands of more registrants before they intend to even consider how to include or exclude the applicants without indigenous Hawaiian ancestry.

Comments (7)
8/3/2007

Wherein I receive stern scoldings from my elders

Filed under: Honolulu Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:12 pm
Thanks for the link, Ian, although a link directlly to the specific post(s) would have been better, and been more fair to me, as I’ll show below.

I was mentioned in the iLind.net post today, where I am scolded for comments I have made about Councilmember Djou’s disclosure of executive session happenings. Lind writes:

I have to say that I disagree pretty strongly with Doug?s ?chaos is coming? approach to this issue. Put simply, it is clear that not everything discussed in an executive session needs to be confidential or should be confidential.

I agree that not everything discussed in an executive session needs to be confidential. I agree that not everthing discussed in executive session should be confidential.

However, as the law stands now, everything discussed in executive session is confidential until it is officially made public. That’s not a good thing, but there it is. Either ethics laws have meaning or they don’t. Squishy terms like “should be” and “need to be” don’t fly in this situation, barring an amendment of the law.

Perhaps Lind did not follow the link provided yesterday to read my earlier post and the comments I exchanged with a reader. There I tried to make clear that I am not convinced the information Djou disclosed really needed to be secret. Again, though, what I think (and/or what Lind thinks) does not change the fact that the matter was discussed in executive session and the law says such information shall not be disclosed. Lind continues:

I dislike Djou?s tax phobia as a public policy matter, but in this instance I support his willingness to answer questions of the press and the public. While it creates an internal political problem that he?ll have to deal with within the council, it?s hard to see that the public interest could have been harmed by the kinds of information he provided at the time.

Well, here again, I am not “hot and bothered” about the outcome of the instant case per se, but, for the sake of discussion, I can easily see how the public interest could have been harmed. One example: the feds are negotiating a settlement with the City to avoid/reduce a costly fine regarding wastewater treatment violations. The City council meets in executive session to discuss the settlement. After the executive session, a councilmember discloses the general terms of the settlement to the media. Upon reading the story the public pressure formed by a perception of too-favorable (or too-harsh) terms, or, more simply, the breach of the agreed-upon norms of the confidential negotiations itself, could have caused the feds to withdraw the offer and pursue the matter more agressively. Result: the City faces a big(ger) fine. I freely admit that’s a hypothetical, and as I wrote originally, we can’t un-ring the bell to know exactly what effect any disclosure may or may not have. However, it is fair to say that my scenario is not outside the realm of the possible.

Anyway, this is not really inteded as a tit-for-tat with Lind. In fact, I agree with him about the over-reliance on secrecy. My point is that, for better or for worse, Djou clearly broke the law and, if the ethics rules are to have any meaning, such an obvious breach needs to have consequences.

After that, let’s have a discussion about amending the law, by all means. As much as I treasure a free press, I value the rule of law even more. It’s not as if Djou is facing jail time for an ethics violation, after all…

I only wish that Lind would also have commented about my other, exponentially larger, concern: i.e. the editorial chicanery that was attempted by the SB editors. I’m still hot and bothered about that, actually.

Comments (3)
8/2/2007

Council de-fangs confidentiality resolution

Filed under: Honolulu Politics — Doug @ 7:44 pm
Both Honolulu dailies (Advertiser and Star-Bulletin) report on the Wednesday meeting of the Honolulu City Council Executive Matters Committee where a resolution to penalize anyone who discloses information from executive session was amended to remove any penalty provisions. For whatever reason, however, the latest version of the resolution is not yet updated on Docushare. My latest post about this is here (there has yet to be any correction of the S-B editorial, by the way).

The current controversy erupted in April after a committee voted in executive session to allow a federal court agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the sewer repairs.

Councilman Charles Djou outlined the deal in an on-the-record interview in response to an Advertiser reporter’s inquiry. The talk provided much of the basis for a front-page article that appeared the next day.

Djou later said he had no regrets about making the disclosure, because the deal involved so much public money and was being worked out between the city and EPA before a lawsuit was filed.

Several council members, including chairwoman Barbara Marshall, argued yesterday that one member should not be allowed to decide whether to release information that had been provided confidentially to a group of members.

Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, who joined Djou in voting against the resolution, said barring members from releasing information could prompt some to surreptitiously leak it instead.

Councilman Rod Tam, who has asked the city’s Ethics Commission to determine whether Djou violated the City Charter, said part of the problem is that the news media try to “create controversy to make money.”

But Djou noted that Ethics Commission reviews are conducted confidentially, and that Tam not only announced his inquiry yesterday in a press release (PDF), but also cited in it a city attorney’s analysis that remains confidential.

Well, the legal “analysis” that is in the press release may in fact be “confidential” but it is also, uh, obvious. Tam’s release reads, in part:

Councilmember Djou, an attorney himself, cited that the “client” holds the attorney-client privilege and that allowed him to release the information since the Council was the client. This statement is only partially true as the Council is the client but acts as a body and not individual councilmembers. In order for any councilmember to release any confidential information presented in Executive Session it must be approved by a majority of the members in the Executive Session. This has been confirmed in an opinion rendered by the City’s Corporation Counsel.

Eight Councilmembers chose to protect the confidential and sensitive information presented to them in Executive Session in order for the City to attain the best possible settlement with the EPA at the least amount of cost to the City. One member decided to put his self-interests above the interests of the City and his fellow colleagues and could have possibly jeopardized the City’s settlement discussions resulting in added costs to the City.

Then there’s this in the SB story:

Djou said he did not contact the media, but simply responded to questions posed by a reporter inquiring about the lawsuit.

“I answered the questions,” Djou said. “We’re talking about $300 million of taxpayers’ dollars, and they have a right to know how their money is being spent.”

Discussion focused on taxpayers’ right to know versus the confidentiality and trust in an executive session to protect the city.

“It’s a redundant and unnecessary bill,” said Djou. “All of us who are members of the Honolulu City Council are adults, and we can make our own decisions. Our employers are each and every one of our voters. I don’t need Barbara Marshall telling me what I can and cannot do as a city councilman.”

Redundant and unnecessary? Maybe that’s intended as a subtle joke… Heh.

Anyway, that last paragraph confirms my earlier comment that Djou believes that he (and, indeed, every other councilmember) may personally and unilaterally decide if confidential information from executive session may be disclosed. His non sequitur about Barbara Marshall obscures the point; Marshall may not unilaterally disclose executive session information either, unless a majority of councilmembers present agree to disclose the information. A legislative body lacking rules that are observed by all the members, or where the existing rules are enforced inconsistently, will only descend into chaos.

Comments (1)
8/1/2007

Got transparency data? Not yet, we don’t.

Filed under: HI State Politics, HI Media — Doug @ 7:29 pm
Not that I am an impatient man or anything…

As of July 1st, the Public Utilities Commission has been collecting data (or, at the very least, has been obligated to collect data) from the gasoline refiners doing business in Hawaii. Then, within two weeks after the Commission receives the data, they should be publicizing the data. So, where are they? The PUC website has data from the short-lived gasoline price cap law, but I find no data from the new “transparency” law even though the Commission has been directed to use “the best readily available technology” to make the data public.

I can hardly wait to hear the latest lame excuse from the Lingle administration and the PUC as to why the data are still unavailable. Perhaps the Governor is not releasing the $1.2M appropriated by the legislature to carry out this data collection and dissemination?

Get on it, local media. Rattle those cages!

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