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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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What would be on your list of “sacred cows”?

October 31st, 2010 · 28 Comments · Media

Years ago, after attending an annual conference of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and picking up a number of investigative hints, I returned to Hawaii and made a list of so-called “sacred cows”, institutions that have a big impact but are rarely subject to scrutiny or, worse, are considered off-limits for political or economic reasons.

My short list included health insurer HMSA, and the UH athletics department. The latter led to a 1997 series, “The Money Game,” tracking money that at that time flowed through booster organizations to fuel slush funds for athletics. The HMSA idea led me to look at “mutual benefit societies” established under Hawaii law, and later to reporting on the collapse of one of those organizations, Pacific Group Medical Association. That reporting led to uncovering fraudulent transactions between the insurer and the director of the United Public Workers, who was later convicted on numerous counts related to these insurance contracts.

The experience taught me that this kind of exercise can lead to identifying fertile ground for investigative reporting.

So what would be on a list of local sacred cows today? What would you put on the list and why?

Somewhere on the top of my list would be the timeshare industry. Timeshares now account for a large chunk of both room inventories and visitor stream, yet the structure and practices of the industry are rarely examined. But it doesn’t take much searching online to find lots of angry people complaining about some of those practices. I noticed this report on a case of fraud involving timeshare resales, but I doubt that it’s unique.

Anyway, let us know your selection of “sacred cows”.

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28 Comments so far ↓

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  • Richard Gozinya

    The airport duty free contract. One company holds a monopoly for 40+ years? For that matter, the airport concessions in general. Always the same firms, never split up the contracts, plenty special deals and rent breaks during tough times. After the fact contract changes even though they were public bids. Heavy legislative assistance and special lobbying.

    Oh yeah, this would be a target rich environment.

  • Doug

    Hey Ian, there’s an anti-Hanabusa ad on the RSS feed version of this post. Thought I’d let you know. These guys (Republicorp) are everywhere.

    • Ian Lind

      I’ve actually tried to block all the nasty GOP ads, but they keep appearing with different URLs that bypass the block….

      • damon

        Another reason why I bypass google ads altogether.

        Ian –

        I think you could make some nice coin getting away from Google Ads and just having your own ads.

        That way you control the content at all times.

        I got the opportunity to “Block” money given to me by a political candidate that wanted an “Ad” on my site by simply telling them I didn’t support their platforms and wouldn’t accept money from them to place their ad on my site.

  • Tim

    the outdated, brain-draining concept of “it’s not what you know; it’s who ya know.”

  • Bill

    powerful local unions and the democratic party are clearly scared cows — that is obvious because any reader of this post is already wondering what the agenda of the poster is for even making such a post

    • Ian Lind

      My impression is more that the media considers labor a pariah, and shuns coverage of labor issues. It isn’t that labor is too powerful to pursue, but rather is not considered worthy of regular coverage.

  • rlb_hawaii

    Chilean miners. I suspect they rigged the whole thing just to get a cut of the profits from Halloween costumes. I counted dozens of Chilean miner costumes last night alone.

  • Kolea

    1) Income distribution in Hawaii: Years ago, someone (David Heenan?) warned Hawaii was likely to become a Monaco of the Pacific, with the wealthy of the world having second homes here, with the rest of us in low-wage jobs as their servants. That appears to be becoming true.

    2) Organized Crime: Back in the 70s, there were a lot of stories about organized crime in Hawaii. There was the Doi Commission’s report –still worth reading decades later. And in the 80s, there was some public discusion of yakuza penetration of tourism.

    The recent Pali golf course shootings forced the media to stop ignoring it completely, but those crimes only exposed the struggle over gambling “protection.” Which groups are involved with which vices? Drugs, prostitution, gambling, labor racketeering, etc. Is control fractured, centralized? Are there conflicts between groups? Etc.

    NOTE: I am not urging YOU to take on organized crime–I like you too much. But why is the question totally absent from the official media?

    3) Pet peeve: the LOUSY “service” we get from Oceanic Time-Warner and their lack of incentive to improve due to their monopolistic position. Last night (Sunday) I was trying to program my elderly mother’s DVR for her and could not get program information for Tuesday! For years, TiVo has allowed me to see programming information over a week in advance. Why is T-W’s program information unavailable after a few days? Why can you not search for upcoming programs by name? This is STUPID and would not be the case if there were competition. Who is bought off to allow this to happen?

    OK, the last one might seem kinda silly. But it is symptomatic of broader problems. Competitive capitalism can unleash creativity. Monopolistic capitalism deadens it and must be broken up or effectively regulated. DCCA needs as housecleaning.

  • cwd

    Kolea:

    Check out this website: http://tvlistings.zap2it.com/tvlistings/ZCGrid.do This can provide you with listings up to two weeks in advance. You will have to set the computer to the local cable provider, but that’s very easy to do.

    I never watch tv live and have five recording devices going on any given night – including one for watching. When we canceled our subscription to TV Guide about five years ago, I found this website and have been using it ever since.

    I am curious about your organized crime comments. What do you see as the major sources of income? Drugs? Gambling? Prostitution? Human trafficking? Laundering money earned elsewhere?

    • Kolea

      CWD,

      I am aware of Zap2it, but that does not solve the problem. The Oceanic, Scientific Atlanta DVR cannot be commanded to record programs which do not appear on its own schedule info. Sometimes I can explore upcoming program as far as a week in advance. Other times, like last night, I was unable to access info two days in advance. That is absurd and unacceptable. Unless a consumer has nowhere else to go.

      If the market is going to be non-competitive, the regulatory agendcy, the DCCA, should be pressuring them to upgrade their technology and make it more user-friendly. I was in Oregon a few mot=nths ago and the Scientific Atlanta box there, provided by Comcast, had a much more intelligent interface. My aging TiVo is also much more advanced than what Oceanic is offering.

      Both Democrats and Republicans accept monopolies as a fact of life and innovation, and the consumers, suffer. If Neil is elected, I hope he will appoint someone to head DCCA who has an anti-trust orientation.

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