Archive for April 2011

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.

Legislature proposes welfare for losing contractors

April 15, 2011

One of the more puzzling bills still alive in this year’s Legislature is HB 985, which allows the state to pay a “conceptual design fee” to some losing bidders on state contracts.

An amended version passed the Senate this week with only Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Sam Slom objecting.

There have always been risks inherent in bidding on public works jobs, and there’s no legitimate public purpose in needlessly running up the cost of state contracts by paying off unsuccessful bidders for the cost of preparing their bids.

Rather, it seems a blatant attempt by lawmakers to give more of their political campaign donors a taste of the action at taxpayer expense — and at a time when the state is strapped for cash and others are in far greater need of a helping hand.

Hopefully this stinker will die in conference committee, where it’s headed after the House disagreed with Senate amendments.


Matt Levi is back on TV with a new series, “Hawaii Investigates.”

The first show, which looks into problems at the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility, made its debut last night on KGMB and repeats at 6:30 tonight on KHNL.

Levi, a private investigator and former investigative reporter, first took cameras into HYCF 26 years ago and returns to talk to staff, young offenders and judges to see if conditions have improved.

The good news, he reports, is that there’s been significant improvement in both philosophy and management — especially since the federal government threatened to shut down the facility in 2005.

The bad news, Levi says, is that the issues with many of those incarcerated aren’t fundamentally criminal in nature, but the kids remain there at a cost of $131,000 per year because the courts have few viable — and cheaper — treatment options available.

“Hawaii Investigates” is produced by Hawaii Reporter.

Didn’t mean to slight Sen. Kim

April 14, 2011

After my column and blog item yesterday on the 2012 U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Daniel Akaka, a couple of people wondered why I didn’t include state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who has announced an exploratory committee, among the major Democrats looking at the race.

No disrespect to Kim was intended, but at this point it’s hard to see her contending against the other interested Democrats with experience in statewide races — Ed Case, Colleen Hanabusa, Mazie Hirono, Mufi Hannemann and Brian Schatz.

The recent SMS poll showed her barely registering a blip with only 3 percent voter support and light name recognition.

Besides, I’m not convinced Kim is seriously interested in running for the U.S. Senate. My guess is that her real interest is one of the U.S. House seats, where Kim would be a serious contender, if Hanabusa and/or Hirono go for the Senate.

With no House seat currently open, the easiest way to form a federal campaign committee and start getting her name out there is to do it for the open Senate seat and switch to the House later if the opportunity arises.

This is only speculation, of course, and I’m open to being corrected if somebody in the know tells me I’m wrong.

Case apology to Inouye pays off

April 13, 2011

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case’s apology to Hawai‘i senior Sen. Daniel Inouye for the bad blood between them didn’t win him an endorsement in his new campaign to succeed the retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, but it did apparently persuade Inouye not to actively oppose him.

In an interview with Politico, Inouye said he won’t take sides in the Democratic primary and will support whichever candidate the party’s voters select to run against the likely Republican nominee, former Gov. Linda Lingle.

“I’m a good Democrat, and I want to see a Democrat win that seat,” Inouye was quoted as saying. “Although some may characterize me as a political boss, I am not a political boss. I will not force anyone to run for this or that, and I will not take sides in the primary.

“This is for the voters to decide,” he said. “If the people of Hawaii decide Ed Case is going to be the nominee, I’ll vote for him. But most importantly, we need a Democrat to replace Dan Akaka.”

Case is the first Democrat to announce for the seat, but he’s likely to end up with a lot of company in the primary; also looking at the race are former U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Inouye has held a serious grudge against Case since he ran against Akaka in 2006 against the wishes of the party’s establishment.

In last year’s special election to replace Neil Abercrombie in Congress, Case was the early Democratic frontrunner, but Inouye propped up Hanabusa to run against him and ultimately knocked Case out of the race.

Case returned the favor by campaigning against Inouye’s favored candidates for governor and Honolulu mayor, Hannemann and Kirk Caldwell.

Before he announced for the Senate over the weekend, Case visited Inouye in his Honolulu office to apologize and attempt to bury the hatchet.

“I came to ask whether we can put the past behind us and have a fresh start,” Case told Politico. “I think he accepted my [apology] graciously.”

I look further into Case’s Senate run in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Tea leaves no easier to read after Case makes early entry.”

Trump plays the chump on Obama’s birth

April 12, 2011

At first, it seemed that GOP presidential wannabe Donald Trump’s embrace of the birther movement might lend new credibility to those who dispute that President Barack Obama was born in Hawai‘i.

But Trump is turning out to be such a numbnut that he may end up discrediting the asinine notion once and for all to all but the most hardcore Obama haters who wouldn’t admit his U.S. birth if the state provided a video of him popping out of the womb with Diamond Head in the background.

Responsible conservatives like House Speaker John Boehner have distanced themselves from Trump and the birthers, saying there is no reason to doubt the validity of of the certification by the State of Hawai‘i — under a Republican governor who campaigned for John McCain — that Obama was born here.

In a new interview with MSNBC, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the former state health director under Linda Lingle, repeated that she personally examined all documents related to Obama’s birth and there is no question they are valid.

Fukino said the certificate of live birth the president received and posted on the Internet in 2007 is the same birth certificate anybody born here gets from the state. She and a spokesman for the attorney general provided the best explanation I’ve seen of the state’s records system.

There are moves in several states attempting to force Obama to produce a “long-form” birth certificate to get on the ballot, but it’s doubtful that federal courts would refuse to recognize the certification already provided by the state, which would be tantamount to cutting Hawai‘i loose from the union.

Trump also drew the ire of Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, who disputes as “a naked lie in the name of the Lord” the mad mogul’s claim that Obama’s grandmother said the president was born in Kenya.

Onyango says when she was a child, she remembers the family in Kenya receiving a letter from Obama’s father announcing his son’s birth in Hawai‘i.

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