Archive for January 2011

Abercrombie thinks outside the collar

January 21, 2011

We always knew that Gov. Neil Abercrombie would likely be full of more surprises than previous Hawai‘i governors, and he demonstrated it with his appointment of the Rev. Marc Alexander as his homelessness coordinator.

Alexander, who is stepping down from the No. 2 position in the local Catholic church to take the job, has been a prominent voice in the church’s fervent opposition to gay unions, the issue where the sun rises and sets for many of Abercrombie’s core supporters in the Democratic Party.

It’ll be interesting to see if they’re willing to look past single-issue passions and see what Abercrombie does — that Alexander’s background and skill set, especially in strategic planning, may make him uniquely qualified to tackle one of Hawai‘i’s most painful and stubborn problems.

Who knows what to read into the rather ungracious reaction from Hawai‘i Catholic Bishop Larry Silva that he “was shocked and extremely disappointed by (Alexander’s) decision to withdraw from priestly ministry.”

Helping the homeless seems a noble enough calling.

For Abercrombie, it shows not only that he’s willing to bring diverse talent into his administration, but that he’s succeeding in attracting some unlikely allies to help implement his vision for Hawai‘i.

Update: An initial reaction from the Democrats’ LGBT wing in today’s Star-Advertiser:

“One has to question whether he will be effective in counseling runaway gay youth,” said Jo-Ann Adams, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus. “Many of the (homeless) people here are thrown out of their homes when their parents find out that they are gay.”

Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as where the heart of the homelessness problem lies.

If you’re not ending the week brain dead enough, I leave you to wrap your mind around this posting I found from Keith Haugen on Facebook:

This year we will experience 4 unusual dates…. 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11 …. NOW go figure this out…. take the last 2 digits of the year you were born plus the age you will be this year and it WILL EQUAL TO 111… It works for everyone…

Prisoners jump the line

January 20, 2011

I don’t know what it is with Hawai‘i Democrats and their prisoners.

In 2006, Randall Iwase tried to wrest the governorship from Linda Lingle on a promise to create a “prison industry” — an issue that landed with one of the all-time great thuds.

Now comes Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who before he has done a thing to keep his campaign promises to straighten out the deficit-ridden state budget and stimulate the economy, is making a priority of bringing home the 1,900 Hawai‘i felons serving their time in mainland prisons.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve conditions for prisoners, but in what sane universe do they jump to the front of the line in a crushing recession — ahead of law-abiding working families and needy children, seniors and sick people who have lost their safety net?

The prisoners were first sent to the mainland by the last Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, because local prisons were overcrowded and no Hawai‘i community would host new facilities.

It was no small side benefit in Cayetano’s recession and the current one that it costs half as much to house a prisoner on the mainland as in Hawai‘i.

The latest call to bring the prisoners home was spurred by a lawsuit alleging inmate abuse in an Arizona facility. Ironically, it came out around the same time as news footage broke showing Hawai‘i prison guards giving a prisoner an extended beating and kicking him in the head while he was on the ground.

The Abercrombie administration proposes to get around the overcrowding problem in local prisons by turning up to 1,000 inmates loose into community-based reentry programs. The problem is that few such programs exist and would have to be funded and built out.

Many Hawai‘i inmates are doing fine in mainland prisons — some have said they prefer it because of better rehabilitation opportunities — and it’s the wrong time to be devoting more state resources to their incarceration when there are far more pressing needs.

The new administration needs to learn that having too many priorities is the same as having no priorities at all.

All trains not created equal

January 19, 2011

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa used her freshman essay in Politico to praise Washington’s Metro system and compare it to the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project, which yesterday received the green light from the Federal Transit Administration to begin construction — possibly as soon as March.

Hanabusa wrote:

Anyone who argues against the virtues of public rail should come to D.C. and experience a well-planned mass transit system. It makes my commute to Capitol Hill easy — as I reflect on the thousands of Oahu drivers stuck in daily gridlock. Honolulu has its own rail project planned, and we are about to break ground in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration. It is a system sorely needed — and long overdue.

After riding the Washington Metro for eight years, I totally agree with her assessment of its merit. But it’s an apples and oranges comparison; the D.C. Metro is a far different system from what is proposed for Honolulu.

The Metro serves nearly all of the major suburbs in the district, Maryland and Virginia and delivers you to within a couple of blocks of anywhere you might work in the city’s business and government districts. The subway is also convenient for most trips around the city during the work day.

When I lived in Arlington, VA, for instance, I caught a city bus across the street from my townhouse that took me to the Pentagon in 10 minutes via an HOV lane. From there, it was a 10 minute Metro ride that dropped me a block from my office near the White House. Day trips to the Capitol were a snap. I wouldn’t have thought of driving.

But after our family moved out near Dulles Airport and my office moved further from the subway line, it became a different story. I had to either take the bus on a circuitous ride to the nearest Metro station or drive there and look for parking. Either way, it could take a half hour if traffic was bad. The train ride to the city took another half hour.

When my company offered parking in our building for $80 a month, I was back in the car in a flash.

The 20-mile O‘ahu line from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center will be more like my second experience for most commuters, who won’t live within walking distance of a train station and will have to either take the bus, drive or catch a ride to the train.

Once they arrive in town, if they work in Waikiki, at UH or somewhere else outside the downtown-Ala Moana corridor, they’ll have to find transportation from the train station to their final destination, making for a total of three separate car, bus or train rides that will take well over an hour. The system won’t be nearly as convenient as the D.C. Metro for day trips around the city.

It remains to be seen how many commuters will find this to be less of a hassle-factor than simply braving the traffic and driving.

The new WASPs? Oy vey

January 18, 2011

Who would have guessed, but it seems Judaism is becoming the “in” religion among progressives and conservatives alike — not the message I’ve been used to getting all of my life.

One pundit even declared that “Jews are the new WASPs,” with three justices on the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time and some polls showing Judaism to be the best regarded among major religions in America.

You saw in our spirited discussion here last week how some on the left are speaking well of us because we don’t proselytize like the fundamentalist Christians they’re battling on a wide range of issues.

Then I came across a piece in Politics Daily about the Sarah Palin “blood libel” controversy in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy suggesting Judaism is a hot commodity on the right, as well.

The article by David Gibson explained why some conservatives are so taken with Jewish symbolism:

The “blood libel” phrase arose in the Middle Ages when European anti-Semitism was on the rise. It refers to rumors circulated among Christians that Jews were sacrificing Christian babies and children to use their blood to make matzo bread at Passover. The charges were patently absurd but they grew out of the longstanding charge of “deicide” against the Jews, that is, that the Jews were responsible for killing Christ. And they were enough to spark brutal pogroms and create policies targeting Jews.

That model of persecution is appealing for many contemporary conservatives in that it reinforces their self-image as the underdog in America’s political wars and as the victims of an overbearing secular and liberal culture. In fact, the popular conservative blogger and professor Glenn Reynolds used the “blood libel” analogy in a Wall Street Journal article on Monday from which Palin may have drawn inspiration.

Much the same dynamic has also been at work with the rising use of Nazi metaphors by the right, notably since the 2008 campaign and the election of Barack Obama. In that view, Obama is Hitler, Democrats and liberals are “fascists,” and any disagreeable new policy or op-ed column augurs a coming “Holocaust” or pogrom.

But wait, there’s more — it’s a cultural trend as well as a political tool:

A more ambiguous trend is the enthusiastic new strain of “philo-Semitism” that many American Christians are displaying.

Conservative believers in particular have gone from rejecting all things Jewish to celebrating “Christianized” Passover seder meals or wearing tallit, the traditional Jewish prayer shawl. There are Christian bar mitzvahs, and there is even a growing trend toward appropriating Yom Kippur, the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar, for a Christian day of atonement. And Sarah Palin and other evangelical women increasingly like to compare themselves to Queen Esther, the Jewish beauty from the Book of Esther who saves her people from destruction.

It goes to show that if you live long enough, you’ll see everything.

Of course, as in much of our history, there may not be a happy ending. According to Gibson, the new conservative affinity for Judaism “is often born out of a belief that Israel’s refounding is a sign of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in an apocalypse that will center on Jerusalem and will convert some Jews to Christianity while eliminating the rest.”

Happy MLK Jr. Day

January 17, 2011

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

— Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

City and state clam up on rail

January 14, 2011

It seems that the city and state administrations are hunkering down to push the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project to construction without the inconvenience of further public discussion.

Councilman Breene Harimoto thought the five new council members, including himself, should do their own due diligence on rail financing, so he scheduled a hearing to give a fair listen to a study commissioned by former Gov. Linda Lingle suggesting that funding might be $1.7 billion short.

Infrastructure Management Group Inc., which did the study, was willing to brief the council, but didn’t get permission from the new state administration to do so, leaving the council to listen to the old city spin for the umpteenth time.

Harimoto expressed frustration with the state’s decision to blow off his hearing, saying, “I believe it’s not only common courtesy, but professionalism.”

Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration, meantime, is declining to participate in a panel discussion on rail financing being sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon in the Washington Middle School auditorium.

The league said the city administration was invited to send a representative, but declined the invitation citing a time factor.

“We are sorry that the city administration has declined our invitation,” said Pearl Johnson, the league’s planning chair who organized this event.

She said the public still has many questions about the project, and the league doesn’t feel the media has adequately informed the public about the content of the IMG study.

In a meeting with reporters yesterday, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye predicted resistance in Washington to providing the full $1.5 billion federal share and said he could only try his best to secure the money.

Given these credible concerns about funding, it would seem imprudent for the city to start construction without a viable and publicly vetted Plan B for paying for rail if the money supporting the current plan doesn’t come through.

It’s worrisome that the state and city don’t even want to talk about it.

With God on our side (or not)

January 13, 2011

I didn’t intend my post the other day about the Big Island Senate appointment to focus on religion.

I truly thought the county Democrats did a good job of making their nominations in an open and accessible manner and wanted to draw attention to it. That’s why I put the rather mild comment about the interviews being held at a hongwanji at the end.

That said, I thought some of the responses proved my point, which was that many church-and-state concerns expressed lately in Hawai‘i seem targeted specifically at Christianity rather than generally at religion in public life.

Several who commented on my post tried to justify this bias by drawing distinctions between the practices of Christianity and Buddhism. I don’t recall any fine print in the Constitution to the effect that religions can be treated differently under the law according to what faiths the cool kids favor.

Religion is an intensely personal and sensitive issue to people of all faiths (or lack thereof) and we need to be rigorously even-handed in addressing it.

In the wake of the Arizona tragedy, many of us have asked those who engage in inflammatory talk about guns and violence to please think about the consequences.

Insulting a person’s religion has the same potential to inflame, and we must be equally careful to choose our words with the consequences in mind.

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