Category Archives: Politics

Highlights from Nixon’s Watergate tapes

“Believe it or not, listening to the Nixon tapes is fun.”

Okay, I admit it. That first sentence had me hooked.

It’s the lead to a story from the Center for Investigative Reporting, “Caught on tape – the presidential edition.”

The article offers a quick tour of selected highlights from the Watergate tapes, with brief descriptions and links to the chosen audio files.

There’s also a link provided to full transcripts of these and other conversations.

Have fun!

Washington Post highlights Navy corruption case

The Washington Post today features an incredible tale of corruption in the U.S. Navy (“The man who seduced the 7th Fleet“).

Leonard Glenn Francis, whose nickname was “Fat Leonard, “was legendary on the high seas for his charm and his appetite for excess. For years, the Singapore-based businessman had showered Navy officers with gifts, epicurean dinners, prostitutes and, if necessary, cash bribes so they would look the other way while he swindled the Navy to refuel and resupply its ships.”

It’s the tale behind an ongoing investigation that has already netted a number of convictions, with more likely on the way.

According to the Post, the Chief of Naval Operations told a small gathering of top Navy officers in December that 30 admirals are under investigation for their roles in the corruption scandal.

According to the article, one of the defendants has already been convicted of accepting “Meals, alcohol, gifts and stays at luxury hotels, including one night with his family at the Marriott Waikiki in Hawaii.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune published their own take on the scandal in November 2015 (“How ‘Fat Leonard’ fleeced the fleet“). There’s even a Wikipedia entry with an overview of the Fat Leonard case.

In any case, the Post story should be on your definite reading list today.

New analysis looks at San Francisco housing costs

Here’s a great article about a very innovative bit of digging into the causes of high housing prices in San Francisco (“A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices“).

The article, by Michael Andersen, tries to summarize a detailed analysis in a blog post published over the weekend by Eric Fischer.

Read through Andersen’s summary, then wade through some or all of Fischer’s original.

It’s really very interesting to see the data for housing and rents charted over a long period of time. These data allowed Fischer to calculate how changes in employment or rates of new construction would impact rents in the city.

Here’s Fischer’s own conclusion:

San Francisco is an expensive city because it is an affluent city with a growing population and no easily available land for development. Sonja Trauss is right that building more housing would reduce rents of both high- and low-end apartments. Tim Redmond is right that building enough housing to make much of a dent in prices would change the visual character of most streets, although the result could be more like Barcelona than like the Hong Kong that he fears. The unsettled question is which of these is the higher priority.

Building enough housing to roll back prices to the “good old days” is probably not realistic, because the necessary construction rates were never achieved even when planning and zoning were considerably less restrictive than they are now. Building enough to compensate for the growing economy is a somewhat more realistic goal and would keep things from getting worse.

In the long run, San Francisco’s CPI-adjusted average income is growing by 1.72% per year, and the number of employed people is growing by 0.326% per year, which together (if you believe the first model) will raise CPI-adjusted housing costs by 3.8% per year. Therefore, if price stability is the goal, the city and its citizens should try to increase the housing supply by an average of 1.5% per year (which is about 3.75 times the general rate since 1975, and with the current inventory would mean 5700 units per year). If visual stability is the goal instead, prices will probably continue to rise uncontrollably.

Andersen boils it down to a couple of simple sentences:

For the love of god, keep adding homes. Keep adding homes so things don’t get any worse and you’re not trapped in a lose-lose-lose shitstorm like San Francisco.

You can download Fischer’s data if you want to mess with the numbers yourself.

In defense of legislative decorum

In my Civil Beat column last week, I took a slightly different position than usual, speaking out in support of the members of our legislature (“Ian Lind: Legislators, And The Political Process, Deserve More Respect“).

I was reacting to C-B columnist and retired UH Political Science professor, Neal Milner, who had criticized legislators for declining to speak “on the record” about internal legislative factions and political dynamics.

Milner accused legislators of “hiding out in the dark,” and said they were “too frightened to explain publicly to the voters how the Legislature really works.”

I took issue with that characterization, pointing out that there are many good reasons for not going public with all the inside gossip.

I would encourage you to read the whole column, and if you’re not a Civil Beat subscriber, find a friend who will share the column with you. Better yet, consider subscribing to Civil Beat. It’s no longer as expensive as it used to be.

Here’s one section of the column.

Simple good manners are one good reason that legislators might not want to offer up blunt and candid assessments of their colleagues for public consumption.

Working together in a setting as complex as a legislative body requires overcoming personal differences in order to build and maintain working relationships. People work together by finding areas of agreement and, for the sake of getting things done, overlooking their differences, at least temporarily.

In other areas of everyday life, we have things that we might say privately, among family or trusted friends, that we would never share publicly. This puts a limit on transparency that isn’t based on fear. It’s based on our common sense approach to getting along with others in the world.

The Legislature isn’t any different, just more complicated.

Eagle was spot-on when he described the Legislature as “organized chaos.”

I’ve often commented on the amazing complexity of the Legislature and what it takes to get things done. There are 76 legislators elected from their own single-member districts.

Back in their home districts, each is on his or her own. They seek office for different reasons, with different goals. Some believe in causes, some just in themselves. Some squeak in by a few votes, others are elected by broad margins.

They come from diverse backgrounds, and vary greatly in education, experience and innate abilities. All are almost by definition ambitious.

They’re divided by political party, by age, gender, ethnicity, state of origin, by the special interests of their districts and their islands, by ideology and by profession. Somehow they get themselves organized and select leaders through a baroque process of political barter and negotiation.

And only then do they start on the policymaking process of sorting through thousands of ideas, reducing them to bills and, somewhat miraculously, finding ways to reach agreement on at least some of them while in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a 60-working day session.

The legislative process depends on harnessing all those competing egos and interests so that they can work together toward at least some minimal version of a common interest. Throw in the pressures introduced by lobbyists, constituents and community groups, special interests, and those pesky reporters, not to mention personal or family demands, and it’s amazing that the process works at all.

Acknowledgement of expected indictment doesn’t make the morning newspaper

Well, the Kealoha saga at the Honolulu Police Department appears to be heading for the next, and more serious, phase.

Hawaii News Now reported yesterday that Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a top city prosecutor, now expect to be indicted by a federal grand jury and have retained defense attorney Myles Breiner (“Police chief’s newly-hired defense attorney: ‘We expect indictment’“).

It’s a dramatic turnaround for the high-profile couple, who previously had publicly maintained that they knew nothing about any grand jury proceedings.

The dramatic news doesn’t appear to be mentioned by the Star-Advertiser this morning, either in the print edition or the online edition, at least as of 8:40 a.m.

That’s something that likely wouldn’t have happened back in the days when we had two daily newspapers and a competitive news environment.