Archive for June 2011

Fading away into the Fourth

June 29, 2011

Like many others, I’m sliding into an early start on the holiday and won’t see you again until next week.

But I wanted to leave something to help you get into the spirit and what better way than “Rave On Buddy Holly,” a new tribute to the late rock legend with 19 tracks by the likes of Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, Cee Lo Green, She & Him, My Morning Jacket, Kid Rock and Graham Nash.

Thanks to NPR, you can listen here to either the entire album or the individual tracks.

My favorite Buddy Holly song is “Not Fade Away,” and I enjoyed Florence and the Machine’s original percussion-driven take on the tribute album.

That got me sifting through other versions on YouTube and I found the epic rendition by the Grateful Dead as well as covers by the young Rolling Stones who made fireworks with their music, the geriatric Rolling Stones who rely on fireworks in lieu of the music, The Byrds and Bruce Springsteen, among many others.

But when it came to picking my favorite, nothing said summer to me more than Patti Smith at the Santa Monica Pier. Enjoy.


The chicken and egg of tourism promotion

June 28, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie raised hackles in the local visitor industry when he proposed to cut $10 million from the Hawai‘i Tourism’s Authority’s $81 million allocation to help balance the state budget, and again when he specifically criticized the $4 million HTA spends to bring the Pro Bowl to Honolulu.

The Legislature got in on the act by claiming a bigger portion of the hotel room tax for the state general fund by capping HTA’s share at $69 million.

Washington state has taken that strategy of budget balancing to the extreme by ending all state funding for tourism promotion by the end of the fiscal year, leaving the function of marketing to visitors entirely to the industry.

According to an AP story, the state’s Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt made some of the same points Abercrombie did in criticizing the Pro Bowl, saying, “When you’re taking kids off health care and raising tuition, you have to make some tough decisions.”

There are limits in comparing the two states, as tourism isn’t as central to Washington’s economy as it is to Hawai‘i’s and that state was spending only $2 million on promotion before funds were cut.

But it points up the fundamental question on tourism promotion in recessionary times: Do you cut marketing along with other state spending to help balance the budget, or are you better off doubling down on promotion to bring in more visitor spending and tax revenues that help dig out of the recession?

According to the AP story, the country is divided between the two approaches, with states such as New York and Arizona cutting back sharply while others like Michigan are stepping up spending on marketing.

In Hawai‘i, there’s little question that the expected devastating blow to local tourism from the Japan earthquake and tsunami has been softened by increasing promotion in other markets.

This isn’t a good argument to keep having every time a recession rolls around.

The smart move would be to have an objective and cool-headed discussion as the economy rebounds so we have a clear strategy in place one way or the other the next time we face a recession.

Superferry still clouds Hawai‘i’s business image

June 27, 2011

I have to admit to a twinge of sadness when I read that the sorry saga of the Hawaii Superferry appears to be in its final act with the announcement by the U.S. Maritime Administration that it’s selling the two Superferry vessels, the Alakai and Huakai.

The federal agency ended up owning the ships when it had to eat $135 million in loan guarantees after the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled that a law exempting the Superferry from an environmental impact statement was unconstitutional.

Personally, I was looking forward to being able to use the Superferry to visit the neighbor islands again. I’ve seldom been able to go since I’ve been in a wheelchair because of a lack of ground transportation options, and being able to take my own van would have opened the state to me.

But beyond my admittedly narrow personal considerations, I felt the demise of the Superferry was a major loss to many local travelers and businesses who would have been at least a little bit out of the grip of the semi-monopoly airlines and shippers.

While there’s been a lot of finger-pointing as to who was to blame, it’s troubling that there’s been little thoughtful and objective consideration of all that went wrong and what changes we need to make to prevent such a debacle from happening again.

As we prepare to sell APEC delegates on the idea that Hawai‘i is a good place to do business, the Superferry is an elephant in the room that we’ve yet to adequately explain.

Abercrombie’s budget strategy is on target

June 24, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is on the right track in ordering state departments to cover the remaining $50 million budget shortfall for 2012 by finding entire programs that can be eliminated instead of making across-the-board cuts.

Slashing across the board is a poor management practice that sidesteps any setting of priorities and bleeds every program equally without regard for its relative value to the state’s health and welfare.

Former Gov. Linda Lingle relied on this approach as state revenues plunged during the recession, and as a result, many of the most important state agencies are left without the resources to adequately fulfill their core functions.

Every program supported by the state has its constituency and terminating them can be painful, as with the administration’s recent decision to end state subsidies for Vanpools Hawai‘i.

This is a good program that gets cars off of our congested roads, but better to eliminate expenses like these that are toward the edges of the of the state’s primary responsibilities than to cut deeper than necessary into core functions such as education, public health and the social safety net.

As always, the devil is in the details and whatever programs state agencies target for elimination are going to make some people angry.

But the governor’s  insistence on setting clear priorities that preserve the most funding where it is most needed is a welcome step.

WTF on sandbar dogs?

June 23, 2011

Apparently there will be no serious sanctions filed against the 130-pound bull mastiff that mauled a woman on the Kaneohe Bay sandbar or the dog’s owner.

The unleashed animal was returned to the owner with a warning from the city under Honolulu’s dangerous dogs law, but no citation was issued or criminal case opened. The state says it’s a gray area whether its leash law applies on the sandbar.

Meantime, the 36-year-old victim of the unprovoked attack remained hospitalized for a second day in serious condition from injuries to her neck and head.

This is insanity. Dog owners who irresponsibly fail to control their animals need to be held accountable, and dogs that prove themselves vicious need to be taken out of circulation before they attack again.

The Legislature passed a slew of bills this session protecting animals from human cruelty, such as the new law Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed yesterday making it a felony to promote or participate in dogfights.

How about some tough and enforceable laws protecting humans from dangerous animals and the idiocy of their owners?

Mayor, council heading to court on rail

June 22, 2011

Mayor Peter Carlisle and the City Council appear headed to court in a battle over fiscal control of O‘ahu’s $5.3 billion rail project.

Carlisle yesterday vetoed the $17.5 budget the council passed for 2012 operations of the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, arguing that the City Charter amendment creating HART gives the semi-autonomous agency the right to set its own budget.

The council, which passed the budget 8-1, is expected to override the veto, leaving the courts to resolve the dispute if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.

Council members have expressed frustration at what they describe as a heavy-handed attempt by the administration to cut them out of rail funding decisions, which they say was never the intent of the charter amendment.

The council may have already misplayed its best leverage to negotiate concessions from the administration on control of rail.

One area where the council clearly holds the power is in the approval of bonds to pay for the project.

Six council votes are needed for bonds to be floated, and when Carlisle last month requested approval for $104 million in rail bonds that won’t actually be needed until September 2012, the council rolled over and gave 6-3 approval despite the fact that at least half of the members voting “aye” had expressed serious concern about the administration’s heavy-handedness on rail.

The better play if they were worried about rail funding would have been to withhold approval of the bonds until the administration gave ground on the project’s financial transparency.

Fix system for appointing UH regents

June 21, 2011

The discussion following yesterday’s post on Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s requests for the resignations of board and commission members took a turn to the selection process for University of Hawai’i regents, so let’s stick with that for another day.

The governor used to appoint regents of his or her choosing, subject to confirmation by the Senate — similar to the process recently enacted for appointing the Board of Education.

But in a move to handcuff former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, the Legislature pushed through a constitutional amendment forcing the governor to pick regents from a list provided by a selection panel that can provide as few as two choices.

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

They were right and the system has been fraught with problems. In one instance, one of the two candidates provided Lingle by the selection panel withdrew and the Supreme Court ruled that she had no right to a replacement, leaving her with a single choice.

More recently, Abercrombie didn’t like the few candidates given him for two Big Island seats, but was turned down by the panel when he asked for more choices. He appointed from what he had and the Senate Education Committee rejected both nominees as ill qualified.

Defenders say the system prevents the concentration of too much power with the governor, but also complain about the sometimes low number and poor quality of applicants who send resumes to the selection panel.

We were far better off when the governor could go out and recruit qualified regents instead of being limited to the sometimes lackluster choices that the selection panel receives over the transom.

Our democratic tradition is an executive branch of government that appoints and a legislative branch that advises and consents, with ample checks and accountability on both sides.

These selection panels impose an advisory branch of government in between the governor and Legislature that only obscures the clean line of accountability that’s our best shot at keeping the system honest. Spreading the power around too thinly only guarantees that little gets done.

Lingle, Abercrombie and Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda all agree that the system for appointing UH regents is flawed and needs to be fixed.

The Legislature should attend to it next session.

Abercrombie stirs the political pot with resignation demands

June 20, 2011

Give Gov. Neil Abercrombie credit for audacity in his attempt to get resignations from former Gov. Linda Lingle’s appointees to the Public Utilities Commission, Land Use Commission, Public Housing Authority, Board of Land and Natural Resources and Stadium Authority.

If they comply and allow Abercrombie to name his own people, it’ll vastly increase his control of state government and virtually wipe out any vestige of the Lingle administration.

While the governor is free to ask for the resignations, the commission members have no legal obligation to honor his wish and it remains to be seen how many will do so.

But he doesn’t really need all of them to resign, just enough to be able to appoint a new majority to the boards — or even get him closer to a majority. Most of the terms at issue will expire by 2014.

Abercrombie’s request is unprecedented — neither Lingle nor Ben Cayetano before him asked for mass resignations — and it seems to fly in the face of longstanding state policy on boards and commissions, which is to stagger terms to encourage stability and orderly succession to prevent exactly the kind of abrubt political shift Abercrombie is seeking.

But the Democrats who made those rules expected endless successions from one Democratic governor to another and didn’t count on a Republican like Lingle getting in the mix.

I have no inside dope on how those asked to resign will respond, but for most I suspect it’ll be along the lines of the two-word letter Abercrombie was noted for sending out as a legislator.

If you don’t remember what those two words were, you can find a clue in the famous cheer by Country Joe at Woodstock: “Gimme an F … “

A Father’s Day tie

June 17, 2011

I’m taking the day off in honor of Father’s Day, and I leave you with a timeless Groucho Marx tribute to the occasion:

Shakeup could toughen up City Council

June 16, 2011

There’s not much to do except shake our heads at the abrupt leadership change at the City Council until what seems best described as a semi-friendly coup fully plays out with the appointment of committee chairs.

Council Chairman Nestor Garcia announced he was stepping down after only six months as the council’s leader and handing over the reins to Budget Chairman Ernie Martin.

Garcia said the shift was voluntary, but he seemed to be keeping one step ahead of the sheriff amid reports that a majority of his colleagues were unhappy with his leadership that has been uninspired and compromised by his nearly six-figure outside income from pro-rail interests.

Garcia and Councilman Breene Harimoto, the other apparent target of the reorganization, were criticized for their handling of the council’s three appointees to the new rail authority, with other members feeling they didn’t get fair input in the selections.

Martin is one of five freshmen members of the council, but he’s a city hall veteran with 20 years of experience in community services — including a stint as acting director of the department. He displayed a steady hand in leading the inexperienced council through this year’s challenging budget process.

He and Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who will replace Harimoto as vice chairman if the council approves the reorganization next month, have favored taking a tougher stance with the Carlisle administration than Garcia and Harimoto have advocated in monitoring the $5.3 rail project.

Fasten your seatbelts.

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