Archive for March 2011

Politics and judges; Hanabusa’s housing

March 22, 2011

When I did a Google search to find out more about Joseph L. Wildman, appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to be a Maui Circuit Court judge, the first two items of interest were that Wildman came out of the law firm of Rep. Gil-Keith Agaran, the House Judiciary chairman, and donated $1,610 to Abercrombie’s campaign for governor.

Does anybody detect the scent of politics?

That’s the problem with Abercrombie’s decision to keep secret the names of candidates provided him by the Judicial Selection Commission, abandoning the transparency practiced by the two previous governors from different parties and the last two chief justices, who all made the lists public when appointing judges.

It naturally breeds suspicion when the governor appoints a campaign donor or somebody with other obvious political connections and the public can’t see how the candidate’s legal credentials compare with those passed over.

Hopefully, the legal qualifications of Wildman and other appointees will be fully vetted by the Senate in the confirmation process, but without the lists of finalists, we still won’t be able to judge either the quality of the candidates put forth by the selection commission or the credibility of the governor’s choices.

Abercrombie contends that throwing out transparency to give lawyers who apply a level of privacy that even the Hawai‘i Supreme Court said wasn’t necessary will result in higher quality applicants.

But we’ll never be able to tell whether the applicants are better, of course, because the selection commission’s lists of top applicants that we were previously able to see and evaluate are now secret.

***

Several people have asked recently whether U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa kept her promise to move into the 1st Congressional District she represents after the November election.

I put the question to the congresswoman’s spokesperson, Ashley Nagaoka, and got this response:

She has found several places in downtown Honolulu and will be deciding on one very soon. Her current home (a Ko Olina condo) will also be going on the market soon.

Sounds like reasonable progress, given the state of the local housing market and that Hanabusa has been in Washington most of the time since the election.

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A sinking feeling about Libya

March 21, 2011

Who would have guessed that at the mid-term of an Obama administration that was elected partly out of public frustration with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States would be embroiled in a third war in the Middle East?

Like the still smoldering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-led attack on Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi appears to have no clear goals, exit strategy or link to our country’s national interests.

The administration says the primary objective is to protect civilians caught up in a civil conflict, but after President Barack Obama earlier expressed a desire for Gadhafi to leave, anything short of that could look like a failure.

Critics make a solid case that if we were going in, we should have done it a couple of weeks ago before Gadhafi reclaimed the upper hand from the rebels.

Now that we’re in, how long are we willing to stay if Gadhafi proves resilient? If the dictator falls, what role are we willing to play in Libya’s rebuilding? How do we justify squandering more of our national wealth blowing up and then reconstructing another Middle Eastern country while our own economy crumbles?

It’s difficult to detect enthusiasm for this new misadventure from any segment of the U.S. body politic; just disappointment that we can’t ever seem to learn from past mistakes.

Knowing Jack

March 17, 2011

This has been an emotional week in which I came out of retirement as a basic news reporter to write an obituary in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser on Jack Bryan, my friend, colleague and mentor who died Saturday in Thailand at 91.

Jack gave me my first journalism job in the Star-Bulletin Hilo bureau 43 years ago. I showed up for the interview as a college student only slightly better groomed than the young Neil Abercrombie, but Jack let me have a shot after nobody else applied for the 15-hour-a-week intern position. Ironically, one of the main responsibilities was writing obituaries.

It’s a cliché to say somebody taught you everything you know, but that’s pretty much what Jack did for me; I’d taken no journalism courses and had zero news experience when he took me on.

When I moved to Honolulu a year later and applied for a job at the newspaper, that time working part-time with Jack — studying his stories as I punched them into the teletype, watching how he worked news sources and carried himself in the community, listening to him talk about the job — left me well-prepared to compete for work against bright UH journalism students.

More than that, the quiet class Jack projected gave me a deep respect for the news profession and a desire to make it my own calling.

Jack was an old-school newsman whose kind pretty much disappeared in the corporate and Internet ages. He worked copy desk jobs at a half-dozen newspapers across the U.S. and in Australia before settling in Hawai‘i with his wife and three kids.

“He was among the last of a dwindling group of itinerant newspaper veterans, journeymen in every sense of the word,” said our colleague John Simonds.

The World War II generation that Jack belonged to was America’s greatest, in the estimation of Tom Brokaw, and certainly spawned one of our greatest generations of American journalists.

My week of remembering Jack leaves me a little embarrassed by the mess my generation has made of the rich journalistic legacy they left us.

Obama needs to get real on nuclear crisis

March 16, 2011

It’s highly disappointing that the best leadership President Barack Obama can display on the nuclear catastrophe in Japan is to offer boilerplate assurances about the safety of nuclear power when what we see on TV doesn’t look very safe at all.

The president said in TV interviews yesterday that U.S. nuclear facilities are safe and designed to withstand earthquakes.

Sometimes, I wish we could just pause and try to understand these disasters that befall us and what lessons we can learn from them without politicians trying to cut off meaningful discussion by running around making mindless defenses of their pet special interests before all the facts are even known.

In this case, it seems insanity not to take a moment to question whether we’re trying to harness a deadly power that simply cannot be safely harnessed for the long term. Systems are going to fail. People are going to screw up. Great earthquakes and other natural disasters are going to happen.

The scary thing is that Japan is one of the most technologically adept nations. There are countries building nuclear facilities for power and weapons that barely have the expertise to tie their technological shoelaces.

Obama blithely argued that all energy technologies have their dangers, pointing to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

With all due respect to the long-suffering Gulf Coast residents, if the worst happens at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex — full meltdown of the six reactors — it could cause a worldwide health, environmental and economic disaster that dwarfs the gulf oil spill.

The unprecedented catastrophe in Japan is providing valuable new information about the risk side of the nuclear power equation. To respond with political babble instead of thoughtful analysis is  irresponsible.

Stakes going up in legal fight over O’ahu rail

March 15, 2011

The continuing fight over the $5.5 billion O’ahu rail project may soon be headed to federal court.

A group that includes former Gov. Ben Cayetano has retained nationally prominent environmental attorney Nicholas Yost for a possible lawsuit to halt the proposed 20-mile commuter line between Kapolei and Ala Moana.

Cayetano didn’t disclose the others in the coalition, but said they include “liberals, conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, environmentalists, businessmen and libertarians.”

The lawsuit is expected to challenge the findings of the rail environmental impact statement, its methodology, the project’s finances and the city’s projections on population and ridership, among other issues.

The city anticipated a lawsuit to delay the train and included funds in the rail budget for a legal defense.

Yost, based in San Francisco, is a heavy-hitter on environmental law who received the American Bar Association’s 2010 award for distinguished achievement in environmental law and policy.

He was general counsel for the Council on Environmental Quality in the Carter administration, playing a lead role in drafting regulations to implement the National Environmental Policy Act, which governs environmental impact statements for projects involving federal funds. He was also senior attorney for the Center for Law in the Public Interest.

In private practice, he has represented numerous clients on issues related to NEPA compliance.

Let’s stop whining about evacuations

March 14, 2011

For the second time in two years, officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Hawai‘i Civil Defense have had to defend themselves against public grumbles that they were too quick to order disruptive coastal evacuations after major earthquakes.

The most complaints came after last year’s Chile earthquake caused only minor roiling of the water here, but there were still gripes last week after a tsunami from the 9.0 Japan quake caused considerably more damage on several islands but no fatalities, leaving officials somewhat on the defensive.

Dr. Gerald Fryer of the tsunami warning center said the coastal evacuations were exactly why there were no fatalities last week. “This evacuation was necessary,” he said. “This was the right thing to do.”

Said John Cummings of O‘ahu Civil Defense, “If we chose not to evacuate and we take damage and injuries and casualties, we are in for a lot of trouble. If we order an evacuation and we have a nondestructive tsunami and we sounded the sirens, we will still have people who are upset. But we have to err on the side of public safety.”

There is simply no disputing what they say, and it’s unbelievable that our threshold for inconvenience has become so low that they even have to defend their judgment.

Looking at the Napoopoo houses knocked off their foundations and in one case into Kealakekua Bay, the flooded businesses in Kailua-Kona, the significant damage to boats and harbors on O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island, there’s no questions that we would have seen deaths if there was no evacuation.

The surge at Napoopoo was at least 11 feet high and reached more than 100 feet inland. Lucky the residents were out of there. A wave like that in a more densely populated coastal area could be catastrophic.

There’s no way to predict all the variables with 100-percent accuracy, but we’re blessed to have the technologically advanced warning system that we do.

When I was a teen in Hilo in the mid-1960s, we had no sophisticated forecasting, but evacuated with little complaint every time there was a major earthquake in the Pacific Rim. Of course, we had the 61 dead in the 1960 Hilo tsunami fresh in our memories.

Let’s not grumble our way to another grim reminder of the cost of being caught unprepared.

CJ won’t follow governor’s lead on judicial secrecy

March 10, 2011

There’s still a glimmer of sunshine in Hawai‘i’s judicial selection despite Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s effort to shut down public access to the process.

Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, who appoints District Court judges while the governor appoints judges for the Circuit Court and appeals courts, released for public comment the names of 22 nominees provided by the Judicial Selection Commission for three O’ahu District Court openings and one on Kaua’i.

Abercrombie discontinued the practice of former Govs. Linda Lingle and Ben Cayetano of making public the JDC’s nominees for the Supreme Court, Intermediate Court of Appeals and Circuit Court, claiming that publicizing the names would discourage qualified attorneys from applying.

Abercrombie ignored an opinion by the Office of Information Practices that the lists of nominees are public records and dismissed the acting OIP director who issued the opinion.

Rectenwald obviously disagrees with the governor that it will produce inferior judges if the public participates in the vetting process and has the information needed to fairly evaluate the performance of those appointing judges.

Former Chief Justice Ronald Moon also released the names of District Court candidates and invited public comment before making his appointments, which are subject to Senate confirmation.

The Supreme Court under Moon discounted Abercrombie’s rationale for keeping the names secret, opining that “no stigma would attach to any judicial nominee not eventually appointed to office inasmuch as all nominees are by definition deemed by the JSC to be qualified for appointment.”

The three O’ahu District Court openings are to replace judges Colette Y. Garibaldi and Faʻauuga L. To‘oto‘o, who were elevated to the Circuit Court, and Michael F. Broderick, who became president of the YMCA of Honolulu.

The JDC nominees released by Rectenwald are: Paula Devens; Shirley M. Kawamura; Lanson K. Kupau; Linda S. Martell; Melanie Mito May; Trish K. Morikawa; Karen T. Nakasone; Dean E. Ochiai; Maura M. Okamoto; David A. Pendleton; Catherine H. Remigio; G. Gary Singh; Renee Sonobe Hong; Kevin A. Souza; Paul B.K. Wong; Wayson W.S. Wong.

The Kaua’i vacancy occurred when Judge Calvin K. Murashige retired. The nominees are Edmund D. Acoba, Russell K.M.K. Goo, Daniel G. Hempey, Joseph N. Kobayashi, Alvin K. Nishimura and Sara L. Silverman.

Those wishing to weigh in on any of the candidates should send their comments to Recktenwald by March 18 via one of the following:

Mail: 417 S. King Street, Honolulu, HI 96813
Fax: 539-4703
Email: chiefjustice@courts.state.hi.us


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