Archive for April 2011

“Birtherism” = racism

April 29, 2011

I suppose he had to do it, but it was nevertheless sad to see President Barack Obama give in to the malicious fringe of the American body politic and release original copies of his Hawai‘i birth certificate.

Obama proved he was a natural-born American three years ago when he released the computerized birth certificate that the state gives everybody born here, and it was offensive to see him still being hectored.

No other president has faced demands to produce any birth certificate, much less the original documents to back it up.

The only credible explanation for the unprecedented harassment is that Obama is our first black president and the first president born in our nation’s newest state, where the majority of the population is of minority descent.

We’ve tiptoed around the racism inherent in the birther movement for too long, and it’s time to call the practitioners of this low form of politics on it as they move on to picking at the president’s college records, Social Security number and toddler years in Indonesia.

I’ve been disappointed in the media’s reluctance to expose the racism in this non-issue and was pleased to see a new Associated Press story exploring birtherism from the black point of view. I recommend that you read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

Shortly after President Barack Obama declared himself an American-born citizen with papers to prove it, Baratunde Thurston declared himself a disgusted black man.

“I find it hard to summarize in mere words the amount of pain and rage this incident has caused,” Thurston said.

“This” would be the nation’s first black president standing in the White House, blue power suit and all, going on TV to debunk, in more detail than before, the persistent, he-ain’t-really-an-American rumors fanned anew by Donald Trump, the developer and might-be presidential candidate.

Many African-Americans responded to Wednesday’s scene with a large sigh. The rumors and the controversy had a particular, troubling resonance for them: They’ve seen, heard, lived, the legitimacy of black people being called into question so many times before that, they said, they weren’t shocked to see it happen to Obama over something as simple as a birth certificate.

But they were sad about it, too, seeing what they felt was a high-level manifestation of the idea that when a black person accomplishes something great there must be something wrong …

Rings true to me.

Legislative salaries redux

April 28, 2011

House and Senate conferees will continue talks at 8 p.m. today on HB 575 to extend a 5 percent cut on legislative salaries from the current June 30 expiration date until Dec. 31, 2013.

Meantime, our longtime contributor Charles added a comment to my Monday post on the subject criticizing me for not mentioning arguments in defense of the Legislature’s 36 percent pay raise in 2009.

I doubt many were still following the thread by time Charles posted his comment, so to be fair to the other side, I’ll put him in prime time:

David conveniently forgets everytime he mentions the raises that legislators went without any raises for 12 years; a period when I dare say everyone working in Hawaii (including David and me) got raises.

Now if during that time, David wrote a column complimenting legislators for not having a raise when everyone else was, I missed it and maybe he can provide a link to it.

For me, I don’t know what is “fair” in terms of compensation for legislators but I have two observations:

1. Many claim it’s a cruise job getting paid almost five large ones for four months of work. Does anyone truly believe that all legislators simply close their doors at the end of session and then open back up the day session opens the following year?

2. If it’s such a cruise job, it’s puzzling why there are so few takers.

Again, it is true that the salary commission recommended a 36% pay raise for legislators (and it must be noted far bigger raises, dollarwise, for the executive branch and judges). And if David wants to continue to raise this fact ad nauseum, go for it. But to never mention that they went without raises for a long time to put it in context seems that David wants to make a point rather than be accurate.

That said, it’s his blog and his right to be inaccurate by omission.

I’ll give him the last word on the bulk of his argument (for now, anyway), but a couple of points of clarification:

• My problem wasn’t so much with the amount of the 2009 raise, but its timing in the worst recession in state history when lawmakers were demanding sacrifices from everybody else. No matter how entitled they felt, the only true leadership is by example.

• Alas, I wasn’t getting raises as Charles assumes in the years legislators went without. My pay for my newspaper column remains the same as when I first contracted to do it 12 years and three newspapers ago.

Frankly, I’m just grateful to be one of the few of my contemporaries still in print journalism — and still having fun at it.

Time for Legislature to undo its mistake on UH regents

April 27, 2011

I hate to say I told you so, but the political chickens of Democratic legislators are coming home to roost on their ill-advised decision to force the governor to appoint University of Hawai’i regents from a list provided by a selection panel.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie yesterday withdrew two of his five regent appointments after they were rejected by the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Jill Tokuda, the committee chairwoman, said questions arose about the qualifications of Big Island nominees Sandra Scarr and Patrick Naughton. Abercrombie’s spokesperson blamed the selection panel, saying the governor requested more candidates to choose from but was denied.

Tokuda said the appointment system needs to be reviewed. Duh.

The selection panel that was pushed through by lawmakers and ratified by voters was a bad idea enacted for the wrong reasons.

The old system in which the governor appointed whomever he or she wished as regents subject to Senate confirmation — similar to the process recently enacted for appointing the Board of Education — worked well enough.

Democratic lawmakers enacted the change solely for the purpose of handcuffing former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and limiting her choices.

Former UH President David McClain derided the selection panel as a “Noah’s Ark” of special interests. The leading national organization for accrediting colleges and universities recommended strongly against the change as bad practice.

But the Democrats were determined to have their pound of political flesh; especially egregious was the Legislature’s decision to allow the panel to give the governor as few as two candidates to choose from, leaving the executive little meaningful role in shaping the state university and providing zero accountability — as seen in the current finger-pointing.

At the very least, legislators need to change the law to require the panel to give the governor four to six candidates to choose from, which is the standard for such selection committees.

Better yet would be for lawmakers to admit their politically motivated mistake and put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot taking us back to the traditional appointment system that served us well for over 40 years.

Sam Slom moves to the fringe

April 26, 2011

Sam Slom, the only remaining Republican in the state Senate, seems to be dipping his toes deeper and deeper into the “birther” conspiracy about President Barack Obama’s Hawai‘i birth.

Slom says he’s not a true “birther” because he personally believes Obama was born here, but increasingly he’s been feeding into the “questions” about Obama’s birth being raised by loose cannons on the GOP fringe such as Donald Trump.

In a radio interview on WABC in New York reported April 24 by WorldNetDaily, Slom said questions about the president’s birth remain “a legitimate issue.”

“My particular point of view – and why I haven’t identified myself as a ‘birther,’ per se – is that [Obama] probably was born [in Hawaii] and that the real issue is not the birth certificate, but what’s on the birth certificate,” Slom told (Aaron) Klein.

Asked what that could be, Slom said, “It could have to do with what his name is on the birth certificate, who is actually listed as his father, the citizenship of the father.”

He continued, “My belief is that there is a birth certificate, he was born here, but that there is information that for reasons known only to him he doesn’t want released. If it were just the birth certificate, that would be one thing, but it’s his school records, it’s employment records. … Why would anybody, let alone the president of the United States, spend millions of dollars in legal fees to keep that hidden?”

People in Hawai‘i — including most Republicans — know this is nonsense, and it’s difficult to imagine that having the highest ranking Republican in the state government spreading it is gaining the sputtering local GOP any credibility.

The state of Hawai‘i has given sworn certification that Obama was born here in the form of the same certificate of live birth that anybody requesting a Hawai‘i birth certificate receives. A Republican state administration and governor who campaigned for John McCain have vouched that there is nothing amiss in the president’s birth records. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has said it’s good enough for him.

It does no credit to Slom or his party to join in harassing a native son and our first black president about the circumstances of his birth in an insulting manner that no other president has ever had to deal with.

***

On a lighter note, thanks to Georgette Deemer for pointing out via Twitter a satirical piece from the Borowitz Report questioning whether Trump is as all-American as he claims:

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – A threat to the fledgling presidential campaign of Donald Trump emerged today, as a group of activists charged that Mr. Trump is not eligible to hold the nation’s highest office because his hair does not originate from the U.S.

The group, who call themselves “Balders,” claim that the hair-like substance that crowns Mr. Trump’s head is from a foreign country, which would mean that the candidate is less than one hundred percent American.

Check it out. I have to admit it may be funnier than my “flASHback” line demanding to see the death certificate for the electrocuted mongoose Trump wears on his head.

Will legislators share in the pay sacrifices?

April 25, 2011

Most unionized state workers are looking at 5 percent pay cuts over the next two years, but it remains to be seen if their leaders in the Legislature will impose the same cuts on themselves.

After being widely criticized in 2009 for taking 36 percent raises for themselves while demanding sacrifices from everybody else in one of the worse years of the recession, lawmakers voted to take a 5 percent cut along with administrators and judges.

But that pay freeze expires June 30 unless legislators extend it before they adjourn May 5.

Measures to extend the legislative freeze until Dec. 1, 2013, have passed both the House and Senate, but language differences must be worked out in conference committee. The Senate has named conferees led by Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee, but the House has not named conferees and no meetings are set with time running out.

If the 2009 pay freeze expires, lawmakers will not only get back the 5 percent cut, but also two frozen 3.5 percent increases granted by the state salary commission that were scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010, and Jan. 1, 2011. The salary commission schedule also calls for 3.5 percent raises in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Under the latest version of the extension bill, HB 575, all of the lost pay — a total of 22.5 percent — would be restored to legislators on Jan. 1, 2014, increasing their current pay of $46,272 to more than $56,600. The president of the Senate and speaker of the House receive an additional $7,500.

Update: The House appointed conferees Monday led by Reps. Karl Rhoads and Marcus Oshiro, but the bill was re-referred to both the Labor and Finance committees and no conference session was scheduled.

Sucking wind

April 22, 2011

I’ve been dragging for the past week from the triple curse of a bad cold, hot humidity and vog, which combine to leave me gasping and glued to my recliner by lethargy and perspiration.

All that gets me through the days is the hope that the weather will change and bring some relief.

Every night since last Friday, the weather guys on the TV newscasts have been promising a return of the tradewinds. But every morning upon waking, I look out the window expecting to see some rustle in the leaves of my stately ti plants — and NO MORE NOTHING!

I fully sympathize with Guy Hagi when he laments about the demands of viewers who expect him to tell him the exact hour it will rain at their house.

I certainly don’t demand that, but when they say the tradewinds are returning to the islands, I do assume that my house falls within the general classification of “the islands.”

The raised expectations are their own fault with all the hype over flashy meteorological graphics that need three weather segments in each half-hour newscast to be properly shown off.

But all those fancy graphics really tell us with any accuracy is what happened today, which we already know if we bothered to look out the window.

The art of predicting what will happen next hasn’t improved all that much and is often little more than a coin flip. We’re a tiny island chain in the middle of the ocean and a shift of just a few degrees can cause a weather system to hit us more full on than expected — or miss us altogether, like the elusive trades.

It’s still hot and humid as I write this late at night, but the few ti leaves I can see in the darkness are showing a hint of rustle.

Maybe tomorrow …

***

There was question in the comments earlier this week about the status of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s campaign promise to move into the First Congressional District she represents. KITV had an update last night.

Legislature should democratize itself before meddling in city elections

April 21, 2011

I’m inclined to agree with the Honolulu City Council’s unanimous resolution that the Legislature should butt out of the city’s electoral business and shelve a bill forcing “instant runoff” voting in municipal special elections.

Sponsoring lawmakers with backing from some civic groups say they’re worried that the winner-take-all elections to fill midterm vacancies usually draw large fields of candidates and produce winners who fall short of a majority.

HB 638 would require voters in city special elections to mark three ranked choices instead of voting for one candidate, and the candidates with the least votes would be eliminated until somebody ended up with a majority.

Council members say it’s a violation of home rule and other critics claim it’s a power play by the Democratic Party to give its candidates more bites at the apple after recent winner-take-all special elections were won by outsiders such as Congressman Charles Djou, Mayor Peter Carlisle and Councilman Tom Berg over the Democratic entries.

Whatever the motives, there’s no evidence of a serious problem that needs to be fixed; two of our last three presidents were elected with less than a majority in three-way races and Ben Cayetano was elected Hawai‘i governor that way.

The proposed Rube Goldberg system would add unnecessary complexities when it’s already difficult to get voters to participate in these elections and mark their ballots correctly.

If the Legislature wants to bring more democracy to replacing elected officials who leave office in midterm, it should worry first about reforming its own system on the state level.

Legislative vacancies aren’t filled by elections at all, but by party bosses putting up three candidates from which the governor must choose with no voter involvement.

A House-Senate conference committee is scheduled to markup the bill at 10:30 a.m. today in room 325.

Update: The conference was continued until Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in room 325.

R.I.P. Harry Blauvelt

April 19, 2011

I’m sorry to report the passing of former Honolulu Star-Bulletin and USA Today sportswriter Harry Blauvelt, who died yesterday in a tragic accident on  Maryland’s treacherous Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Blauvelt, 70, was returning to his home on Kent Island when his car became disabled. He had just stepped out when a truck slammed into his vehicle and pushed him into the water 50 feet below.

He covered a variety of local sports for the Star-Bulletin from 1985 to 1990, when he joined USA Today as its golf writer. He covered the rise of Tiger Woods before retiring to Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2004.

In Hawai‘i, Blauvelt was known for his lively writing, wry sense of humor and love of the North Shore, where he lived.

The Baltimore Sun had details of the accident and a nice account of his achievements here.

All tracks lead to Don Horner

April 18, 2011

I applauded when Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed First Hawaiian Bank chairman and CEO Don Horner to the Board of Education.

He seemed just the kind of guy needed to help shake the school system out of its bureaucratic morass and establish a culture of clear goals and accountability.

I’m less enthusiastic about Mayor Peter Carlisle’s appointment of Horner to the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which will oversee construction and operation of the city’s $5.5 billion rail project.

For one thing, Horner seems to be spreading himself a bit thin. The BOE, where he’s currently chairman, and the transit authority are both big jobs, and presumably, he’s still expected to pull a few shifts at the helm of FHB.

There’s also a concern about undue concentration of power. The public schools and rail are arguably the highest current priorities of the state and city, and it seems inappropriate to have one guy in the middle of both.

There are other banks and other CEO’s in this town if those credentials are deemed essential to these projects.

Carlisle said his three appointees to the transit authority “will keep politics out of the rail project,” but it’s difficult to see how.

In addition to Horner, he named outgoing corporation counsel Carrie Okinaga and William “Buzzy” Hong, retired executive director of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council.

Okinaga has been in the middle of the political fight between the administration and City Council about fiscal oversight of the transit authority, and Hong’s group was a leader in the political battle to win approval of rail.

The City Council has appointed attorney and former city finance director Ivan Lui-Kwan, planner Kelsie Hui and Damien Kim of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The city and state transportation directors are also members, and those eight will choose the ninth member.

Still no answers at Fukushima

April 18, 2011

We all remember the day they finally got the damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico capped and we could start the recovery from one of the world’s most devastating environmental disasters.

We can only wonder when that turning point will come — if ever — in the Japanese nuclear crisis at Fukushima.

More than a month and a half after a calamitous earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the cooling systems for the six reactors, we seem no closer to getting the disaster that supposedly couldn’t happen under control.

The utility that owns the plant yesterday released a plan it claims will get the site cooled and decontaminated by the end of the year, but there seems to be little public confidence it’ll actually happen as radiation levels soar, contaminated material leaks into the ocean and trace amounts of cesium and iodide are detected as far away as Hawai‘i and the West Coast.

It’s been a story of setbacks more than progress, with the tens of thousands of people evacuated from a 12-mile radius left in excruciating limbo. A similar area around the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine remains mostly uninhabited 25 years after the disaster there.

It’s a situation where you cross your fingers and hope for the best, but have a bad feeling that the worst may be yet to come.

And you ponder the folly of trying to harness powerful natural forces that may be inherently beyond the control of man.


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