Archive for August 2010

Enough GOP demagoguery on NYC mosque

August 19, 2010

I hope I’m not speaking too soon, but I’m glad Hawai’i Republicans — especially U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona and state chairman Jonah Ka’auwai — haven’t joined in the GOP’s Muslim bashing over plans to build a mosque near the 9/11 ground zero in New York City.

After President Barack Obama supported the right of American Muslims to practice their religion just like anybody else, Republican congressional candidates around the country rolled out what AP called a “boilerplate attack” accusing Obama of being insensitive to the families of the 9/11 victims, who are divided on the issue.

It’s the worst kind of political pandering that refuses to recognize a difference between law-abiding American Muslims and radical terrorists — just as some in our country once refused to differentiate Japanese Americans from those who bombed Pearl Harbor.

Some of the most incendiary rhetoric has come from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has said among other things: ”There should be no mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. … America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.”

Is he seriously suggesting that we should live under the rules of the Saudi constitution rather than the U.S. Constitution and that it’s going to destroy our civilization to practice the religious freedom our country was founded on?

If the Republicans say it’s an issue of sensitivity, why not apply that to what comes out of their mouths?

I certainly don’t expect Hawai’i Republicans to leap to Obama’s defense on the issue — even top Democrats have kept their distance — but I hope they continue to respect our state’s religious diversity and refrain from joining in the demagoguery.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit it right when he said that freedom of religion applies to all: “We would betray our values — and play into our enemies’ hands — if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.”

For a cool-headed look at some of issues in the mosque controversy, see this AP fact check.


Compare and Decide: Did Mufi blunder?

August 18, 2010

A political candidate should be concerned about the effectiveness of his campaign mailers when his opponent is circulating them as heavily as he is.

That’s the case with Mufi Hannemann’s “Compare and Decide” sheet that landed in local mailboxes over the weekend.

I received three in the mail for each of the registered voters in the household — and a half-dozen by e-mail from Neil Abercrombie partisans, with “Can you believe this!” notes attached.

I didn’t find the piece especially offensive as mudslinging goes, just a bit juvenile and cartoonish in its Atomic Monkey approach to belittling Abercrombie as a haole hippie whose greatest accomplishment was winning a beard contest.

I can’t imagine it swinging many votes Hannemann’s way that weren’t his anyway, and it might turn off some undecided voters; hence the Abercrombie campaign’s aggressiveness in helping to circulate it.

Abercrombie got a story in the newspaper and good play on all three TV newscasts lecturing Hannemann that “this is not what a governor does; this is not what people want from a governor.”

He was particularly incensed that the mailer asked voters to compare the candidates’ wives, with no apparent point other than that Abercrombie married a haole and Hannemann didn’t.

Hannemann’s slim 2004 victory for mayor over the late Duke Bainum was due in part to a  late attack by a conservative website on Bainum’s wife. It appears the Abercrombie campaign is guarding against history repeating itself.
I look further at the role of race in Hawai’i politics in my column in today’s  Star-Advertiser, “Politicians need to get over the plantation-era bigotry.”

Look before you LEP

August 17, 2010

Do you know what a “LEP community” is?

I didn’t know either until I received an invitation from the state Office of Language Access (which I didn’t know we had) and State Civil Defense to their 3rd Annual Conference — “Ho’omāukaukau: Emergency Preparedness & Hawai’i’s LEP communities.”

It turns out that LEP stands for “Limited English Proficient,” and after you pick through all the bureaucratese about “language access plans,” you figure out that the conference is about helping folks who don’t speak English very well get through disasters (like editing this press release).

Panels include “The role of Government Agencies during Emergencies” (to miscommunicate?), “Working with LEP Individuals in the Non-Profit Sector” (they don’t have the same protection as civil service LEPs) and “The role of Media in assisting LEP Individuals in Emergencies” (I hope I’m not setting too bad an example here).

I don’t mean to make fun of those in need, but stomping out LEPs in government has been a lifelong passion, and I don’t see how people who talk like they do in this release could possibly provide much clarity to those who are English-challenged.

If my flattering write-up makes you want to go, the conference is free to the first 200 registrants and will be held Aug. 26 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the East-West Center’s Imin International Conference Center.

Call 808-586-8730 or email

Legislators and their greasy palms

August 16, 2010

To see what’s wrong with our campaign finance laws, a recent investigation by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo was instructive.

Reporter Peter Sur found that in the first six months in 2010, the seven Big Island House members up for re-election, all Democrats, raised $112,586.77 from O’ahu donors, political action committees and labor unions based off-island.

Most telling were the donations to Rep. Robert Herkes, who represents the sprawling rural district that encompasses Ka’u and parts of Puna and Kona and had $50,604.28 cash on hand at the end of the reporting period.

The 45 donors giving more than $100 to Herkes during the period included 37 individuals from O’ahu, one from Kauai and three corporations. The four Big Island donors were all from Hilo, which isn’t in Herkes’ district.

He got $1,600 from HMSA Employees PAC; as House consumer affairs chairman, he’s sponsored legislation benefiting the medical insurer and at one time took sharp criticism for having an HMSA executive embedded as an intern on his staff.

You don’t need $50,000 to run a House race in Ka’u, and the economically struggling district derives no benefit from having its representative so deep in the pocket of off-island interests.

That kind of money serves one purpose — scaring off potential opponents who can’t compete financially, thus preserving the seats for incumbent legislators who are reliable votes for the special interests.

It certainly worked in this case. Herkes is one of the few Democratic representatives who have no Republican opposition and faces only little known and under-financed  Libertarian Fred Fogel and nonpartisan Johnathan Able.

Legislators have consistently refused to reform this corrupt system that props them up so nicely; if anything they’ve moved in the opposite direction.

Until constituents demand changes with their votes, we’ll have a bought-and-paid-for Legislature that serves special interests — including their own — ahead of the public interest.

flASHback alert

August 14, 2010

Today’s “flASHback” column in the Star-Advertiser: “Gubernatorial candidates twisting up campaign trail.”

Hannemann still dogged by Pittsburgh

August 13, 2010

Now that the Campaign Spending Commission has ruled on the infractions involved in Mufi Hannemann’s Pittsburgh fundraiser, fining the campaign $225 and a campaign worker $100, I’m still having trouble getting too bothered by what the commission said were relatively minor paperwork violations.

While traveling to Washington on city business, the former mayor took a side trip to Pittsburgh for a campaign fundraiser sponsored by a rail consultant, with donations of $500 to $5,000 suggested.

His public schedule was unclear, campaign officials seemed confused and required notifications weren’t filed with the Campaign Spending Commission. Hannemann tried to end the controversy by saying he wouldn’t take the money raised.

It’s of some concern that the Hannemann signature on the notice of intent to hold the event wasn’t actually Hannemann’s and that the campaign worker involved was Hannemann’s former Police Commission chair, Christine Camp, but filing paperwork incorrectly or late is hardly a major transgression; the rival Neil Abercrombie campaign was recently fined $50 for reporting a fundraiser incorrectly.

Suggestions that Hannemann had no real city business in Washington seemed answered when he brought home federal approval of the city’s rail environmental impact statement.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it corrupts our democracy when those who have or seek government contracts provide major funding for political campaigns. But as long as the law apparently allows it, I don’t see the difference if the cash changes hands in Honolulu or Pittsburgh. The other candidates have held their own mainland fundraisers.

In one potentially interesting aside, Honolulu attorney John McLaren, who has targeted Hannemann with other complaints, is asking U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni, state Attorney General Mark Bennett and acting City Prosecutor Douglas Chin to investigate the legality of Hannemann’s Pittsburgh fundraiser hosted by Paul Overby, a former executive of Bombardier, a potential bidder for the $230 million contract to provide the rail cars for the city’s transit system.

If any of the the law enforcers take up the investigation my interest level will rise considerably, but the complaint appears scattershot and speculative at this point.

Lingle: “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”

August 12, 2010

Gov. Linda Lingle appears to be campaigning for a job with the Republican National Committee with her comments denouncing legislation passed by Congress that could result in Hawai’i getting up to $86 million for extra Medicaid funding and $39 million for education.

Following the line of Hawai’i U.S. Rep. Charles Djou and other Republicans in Congress who opposed the bill, Lingle said, “This federal bailout, like those that preceded it, is intended to be a one-time shot in the arm that must be paid for in the future. It merely defers the day of reckoning that will require a reprioritization of state services and a reduction of spending.”

Lingle’s out-of-the-blue statement hewing so closely to the party line feeds speculation that she sees her future in national GOP politics and is working to shed her reputation among some in the party as a RINO — Republican in name only.

The governor took immediate criticism for her statement from those pointing out that she had joined 41 other governors from both parties in February in asking Congress for extra Medicaid money.

Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office chastized, “It’s too bad Gov. Lingle would rather play politics than attend to the critical needs of our education and health care systems.”

Lillian Koller, Lingle’s director of human services, said the state won’t turn down the Medicaid money, but argued that it does little to alleviate the long-term problem as governors asked.

It’s uncertain what will happen to the education money; it’s intended mainly to stop teacher layoffs, of which there are none planned in Hawai’i. Lingle has considerable discretion in distributing funds to the Department of Education.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, the likely Republican candidate for governor, didn’ respond directly to Lingle’s statement, but offered his own views.

He said it “would be very difficult to say no to this money,” and that’s not what the administration is doing, but “this is not something I would go out and ask for.”

Drawing on his experience as a drug court judge, Aiona said the states’ dependency on federal money “is sort of like an addiction right now. We’ve got to find a way to break the addiction. It’s hard for an addict to say no. The more money you give them, the worse you’re going to make it.”

Alienation or ainokea?

August 11, 2010

After reading in the news about all the unhappy campers out there, I assumed that alienation among the national populace was greater than ever.

Not so, according to the Harris Alienation Index, which has been measuring the mood of Americans since 1966.

The current Alienation Index stands at 52 under the Obama administration, down from 58 at the end of the George W. Bush administration. People register as less alienated than in all the years of the Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan presidencies.

The index started out at 29 the first year the nation’s temperature was taken in 1966 under the Johnson administration, and shot up into the high 50’s during the Watergate years under Richard Nixon. The highest ever recorded was 67 in 1995 under Clinton, who had t down to 55 when he left office.

The index is built around agreement or disagreement with statements such as “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,”  ” the people running the country don’t really care what happens to you,” and “what you think doesn’t count very much anymore.”

Harris says the index doesn’t seem driven by the economy or political mood as much as how people feel about those in power separate from their policies.

The least educated are among the most alienated and the most educated among the least alienated. Men are slightly less alienated than women and alienation among African Americans is down to 49 under our first black president compared to 71 at the end of the Bush administration.

It’s too bad there aren’t state-by-state breakdowns; it would be interesting to compare alienation in Hawai’i to the rest of the country. I’ve always wondered of our national low voter turnout, for instance, represents alienation or just plain old apathy.

I look at alienation of a different kind in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Religious intolerance is still strongly expressed in U.S.”

Dare we see hope in Hawai’i schools?

August 10, 2010

The Hawai’i team that’s in Washington, D.C., today pitching for up to $75 million in Race to the Top funds represents a promising commitment to improving our struggling public schools.

The group includes top Department of Education officials and representatives of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association, Kamehameha Schools, and through the Hawai’i P-20 initiative, the University of Hawai’i and state preschools.

They’re pledging a top-to-bottom reshaping of our schools to overcome decades of frustration in bringing student achievement up to the highest national standards. One key is better tracking of student progress.

“This reform is going to touch every classroom and every student in the entire state,” said Tammi Chun of the P-20 initiative.

Chun said Race to the Top, incentives structured by the Obama administration  to turn around poor-performing schools and better prepare the nation’s children for successful lives, provided what has long been needed in Hawai’i — “an opportunity to look at all of it (the schools system) at once and do a major transformation.”

Hawai’i is one of 19 finalists, with up to 12 states expected to get grants.

Whether we win funding or not, getting stakeholders on the same page has been an achievement in itself. The challenge will be keeping everybody on board — especially the unions — as the plan is executed and tougher standards are put in place.

Djou a true test for GOP

August 9, 2010

Republicans have had little success in Hawai’i’s big political races in the last 50 years and the few who have succeeded, such as Pat Saiki and Linda Lingle, did it by downplaying party affiliation and stressing moderation.

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is trying a different way by wearing his conservatism on his sleeve in his run for re-election to a full term against Democratic state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa.

It’ll be an interesting test of whether the mainland-style Republican brand can sell in Hawai’i even under the most favorable conditions.

Djou won the special election to fill the last few months of Neil Abercrombie’s term against a Democratic vote that was split between Hanabusa and Ed Case.

Still, the 40 percent of the vote he pulled was impressive and if he holds that in the general election, he doesn’t need that many disgruntled Case voters to get over the top.

The customary political move in this heavily Democratic state would be to moderate himself to win over Case’s constituency of moderate Democrats and independents.

But he’s done the opposite, seeking out opportunities to be visible in promoting the Tea Party line on economic stimulus, financial reform, tax breaks for the wealthy and extension of unemployment benefits — giving Democrats a clear record to shoot at.

Whether you agree with him or not, you’ve got to give Djou some credit for having the courage of his convictions.

Lingle broke new ground by winning as a Republican. If Djou pulls it off, his new ground would be winning as a Republican who unabashedly acts like one.

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