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Ian Lind • Now online daily from Old Kahala

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

October 31st, 2010 · 28 Comments

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”.

Tags: Media

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mauimedialab // Oct 31, 2010 at 7:10 am


    How much revenue exempted from the legal procurement process, do you think is awarded to state contractors annualy?

  • 2 Anonymous // Oct 31, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Tourism, the military, and the education system.

  • 3 charles // Oct 31, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Tax credits, abatements and subsidies.

  • 4 cwd // Oct 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

    The topics proposed above are way, way too broad.

    How about looking at how City contracts for studies are given and who sets the criteria for them? The one which I found to be really done badly was the one used by the Hannemann Administration to justify the shipment of solid waste out of state.

    This was a classic case of spending money on a study to justify a decision already made internally.

    Another area to investigate is the relationship between state government and non-profits who receive grants-in aid and purchase-of service contracts. As someone who works in the non-profit world, I believe that the overwhelming majority of these contracts are justified and justifiable – especially in the human services and environmental areas; however, accountability on both sides is a need-2-have.

    A third area would be to look at how furloughs and layoffs other than in the Dept. of Education have impacted certain critical departments who provide direct services to the public?

    How about public safety programs – especially for services both inside prisons and out?

    How about the nipping away of both public support as well as funding resources for reproductive choice?

    How about the under-the radar move by the current and the last two mayors to ge a new state law to establish a jail system to allow counties to set up new facilities to house people convicted of misdemeanors such as homelessness violations and non-lethal driving violations.

    Lots of stuff to investigate – but who has the will, the time, the financial/human resources – and the media access?

  • 5 Gargoyle // Oct 31, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Anything that is deemed “politically correct.”

  • 6 Ulu // Oct 31, 2010 at 9:43 am

    small Native Hawaiian non profits–absolutely sacred cows. Probably most of them are doing good and are clean, but there are at least a few that stink to high heaven.

  • 7 stagnant // Oct 31, 2010 at 9:49 am

    How about entities like Alexander & Baldwin, Bank of Hawaii, Kamehameha Schools?

  • 8 stagnant // Oct 31, 2010 at 9:53 am

    or Outrigger Hotels & Resorts?

  • 9 Take risks sometimes // Oct 31, 2010 at 10:30 am

    City contracts too! The Department of Design and Construction projects and contracts.

    The funding of vacant positions during the Hannemann Administration raise questions. Why were these year-long vacant positions saved when all other workers had furloughs and pay-cuts?

    Mayor’s special positions. They end up being the Mayor’s special peons.

    The community development block grants (CDBG) are worth millions a year. Who gets what? Why?

  • 10 Department of Planning and Permitting // Oct 31, 2010 at 10:33 am

    The Department of Planning and Permitting – —

    where all the wheeling and dealing begins.

  • 11 Leinanij // Oct 31, 2010 at 10:56 am

    I think the Honolulu Weekly published a great article on the connection between the hotel industry, tourism authority, and political donations that greases the DPP. Like the Liquor Commission, I think there is much, much more going on than meets the eye. When I complained about violations that are never enforced to Charles Djou, he said there weren’t enough enforcement officers at the DPP. However, in 2008, Todd Apo emailed me:

    “The fact is that we (the Council) have funded the positions. The problem is that the department has not hired people to fill the positions. We have had numerous hearings where I have asked the Director what his plans are for filling the positions. We still don’t have an answer. I have told him, as your email implies, that the public is likely to be ok with budgeting more money to the department if it means that positions will be filled and the work would get done. I have said that it is unacceptable to continue to come to hearing as say things aren’t done because of “manpower” issues.”

    So I think the DPP purposely doesn’t hire enough officers and/or employees needed to fulfill its duties. That way, developers can get their projects through, B&Bs and TVUs can keep operating, and the public can keep getting screwed.

  • 12 Outsidelookingin // Oct 31, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Take Risks Sometimes lined up some areas that really need investigating. Every time I hear that Mufi added 508 positions while Mayor, I wonder why someone doesn’t ask where they are. He had lots of extra staff serving his needs, not the public’s. Where is the Star-advertiser?

  • 13 Da Menace // Oct 31, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Private non-profits that dominate communities or industries that have anti-competitive or self serving operations, administration and/or governance at the expense of members and community.

  • 14 Larry // Oct 31, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    HMSA’s status as a “mutual benefit society” might be worth looking at. It brings with it a tax exemption. In these difficult times, why not look at what that’s worth.

    Just going from fallible memory, it used to be possible for 100 (?) members to bring a matter to the board, then one day they changed it to something like 10% of the membership. At the time of the change, that would have required 18,000 (?) signatures for the membership to take action, a near impossibility. There are more members now, so it would be even more impossible. The meeting at which the change was pushed through was said to be packed with their own employees, who happen also to be members.

    If members no longer have control, HMSA may no longer be a mutual benefit society, de facto.

  • 15 TRexBean // Oct 31, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    For years, doctors have been telling me that HMSA punishes any medical professional who complains about its reimbursement practices. But not a single doctor has ever been willing to let me use their name. Some of this, no doubt, is sour grapes — doctors want to get paid more and chafe under procedures to limit costs — but then again, there’s so much smoke I wonder if there’s not some fire there too.

  • 16 Top heavy96813 // Oct 31, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    yea, like the fire and police department administrators. Emergency and lifeguards are kinda like step children.

    Go to the Fire Station Main Office at Queens. I always wonder why the fire chief has to have marble floors and granite walls and fancy board rooms. It is taking up premium real estate commercial location. For what?

    Give the firemen the pay raise they deserve.

  • 17 Mike Middlesworth // Oct 31, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Restaurant inspections–Janice Wolf reported on how infrequent and slipshod they were back in the 70s. My guess is they’re no better now. It’s a wonder we don’t have more cases of people getting sick from eating out.

  • 18 Richard Gozinya // Oct 31, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    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.

  • 19 Doug // Oct 31, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    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.

  • 20 Tim // Oct 31, 2010 at 10:10 pm

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

  • 21 Bill // Nov 1, 2010 at 2:06 am

    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

  • 22 rlb_hawaii // Nov 1, 2010 at 5:36 am

    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.

  • 23 Kolea // Nov 1, 2010 at 7:48 am

    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.

  • 24 Ian Lind // Nov 1, 2010 at 8:41 am

    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.

  • 25 Ian Lind // Nov 1, 2010 at 8:42 am

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

  • 26 cwd // Nov 1, 2010 at 9:02 am


    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?

  • 27 Kolea // Nov 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm


    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.

  • 28 damon // Nov 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    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.

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