Category Archives: Politics

Surprised by an SPJ Award

When I saw a Facebook post by another journalist commenting on awards from the Society of Professional Journalists annual contest, I went looking for the results posted on the SPJ Hawaii website. And I was surprised to see this:

2015 Excellence in Journalism Awards
June 24, 2016
Manoa Grand Ballroom


The 2015 Excellence in Journalism contest was judged, for the most part, by the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, with the exception of the Overall Magazine Layout, which was judged by Star-Advertiser managing editors Betty Shimabuuro and Mike Rovner.

All Media A101 Column Writing or Blog/News

First Place: Ian Lind “Ian Lind” Civil Beat Category Comment: “The winning entries all share the commonality of readability, and interesting insights into the history and culture of Hawaii, it’s people and its politics.”

Finalist: Ben Lowenthal “The State of Aloha” Maui News

Finalist: Neal Milner “Neal Milner” Civil Beat

After digesting the news, aided by a glass of wine or two, I checked in with Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler and got a list of my columns that were submitted.

It’s a pretty good selection, I have to say.

So here they are, the winning columns. And remember that the paywall has come down, so they are free for the reading.

Ian Lind: War Crimes on Kauai?
Since when did collecting taxes become pillaging and a war crime?

Ian Lind: Will Ruling In Council Case Derail Honolulu Ethics Enforcement?
The city Ethics Commission has released few details about why it dismissed charges against current and former council members, but the decisions could set dangerous precedents.

Ian Lind: Has UH Adequately Addressed Cancer Center’s Sticky Issues?
Former director Michele Carbone was often an expert defense witness in asbestos cases and sought UH grants from a frequently sued company. Conflict of interest?

Ian Lind: Dear Joe, If You’re Concerned About Ethics Problems Look in the Mirror
The Hawaii House Speaker is off-target in his criticism of the Ethics Commission for doing its job.

Ian Lind: Kahoolawe 40 Years Later
Protests over using the island as a military bombing range galvanized the modern Hawaiian movement.

Facing the rail conundrum

Honolulu’s rail project poses a particularly tricky issue at this point in its life.

We’ve already spent a vast amount on it, but the estimated total still to go keeps growing at an alarming pace.

And there’s no real reason to believe that current estimates are more accurate than those that came before.

So what do we do now?

The mayor now says we should just end at Middle Street and defer the remainder of the project until funds are available.

That’s a political fantasy. I don’t think any elected official is going to touch that political “third rail” once the first segment is capped off and the construction crews demobilized. It is just very, very unlikely to happen. And, of course, the crippled initial segment is just going to be a constant reminder of how badly this idea was executed and the costs, economic and political, of trying and failing.

UH Planning Professor Karl Kim, who has a background in transit issues, published a column in the Star-Advertiser which I hoped would have some sage advice (“Five fixes could help put Honolulu’s rail back on track“). Unfortunately, Kim’s suggestions would have been constructive if we were just starting out in designing a rail system, but not very useful when facing a mid-construction crisis in both finances and confidence.

He suggests simply getting over the blame game, finding a new consensus, coming up with a workable revenue model, developing more appropriate technology, and redesigning to incorporate elements of social justice.

It seems to me that this is all pie in the sky. Not going to happen. And can’t happen in a time frame that would give us any way forward from the current mess.

Then there was a comment on a recent post here expressing the “just do it, get it done” sentiment.

Here’s an excerpt:

Not having enough funds to complete elevated rail to Ala Moana is an entirely self-created dilemma. A funding cap BEFORE bids were opened was dumb. It’s a completely SOLVABLE problem that both HART and city council could be discussing because it’s entirely within their authority to address the funding cap issue.

It’s also within the mayor and council’s authority to discuss using property taxes. There are lots of good reasons why Honolulu taxpayers SHOULD be paying more for our own transportation system but I’ll save that for another discussion.

I have a of sympathy for this point of view, although this rail design was not my preference. I don’t agree with those who argue that if not for rail, these billions could have gone to other public projects. I don’t think that’s true. It took a truly major project like rail to muster the political forces to put an excise tax increase into play to cover the costs. We tried to get an increase for education, and that went nowhere.

And when you look around, it’s hard to say that the rail tax has crippled the economy. We’ve got low unemployment, lots of investment coming in, etc., etc. And although the big numbers are scary, the half cent out of each dollar spent isn’t one of the big factors in everyday finances. Obviously, housing is the biggie. The rail GET really doesn’t compare to those big expense categories at the micro level, only at the macro level. So would we really feel the pinch if it were extended farther into the future to pay for completing the system?

But David Johnson, a UH Sociology prof and a friend, wrote in Civil Beat that we need to challenge the idea that since we’ve gotten this far, there isn’t any alternative to just pushing forward to completion. He refers to this the fallacy of sunk costs.

He explained:

But to view rail in terms of costs already incurred is to commit the fallacy of sunk costs. A sunk cost is a cost that has been paid and cannot be recovered. In many areas of life and policy, decision-makers become preoccupied with sunk costs when they would be better off forgetting them. Couples commit this fallacy when they refuse to leave a lousy film before it ends (“We paid $20 for these tickets!”). And the United States committed a much grander version of it during the Vietnam War (“Giving up would mean our soldiers died in vain.”).

And Johnson concludes:

So I end with three conclusions: 1) Common sense says we do not need a rail project that ends at Middle Street. 2) A decent regard for reality leads to the conclusion that we cannot afford a rail project that goes where it should. 3) And recognition of the sunk cost fallacy counsels that we should walk away from this colossal mistake now.

Here’s a link to his column, “Honolulu’s Runaway Rail Project And The Fallacy of Sunk Costs.”

Perhaps we need a contest to come up with the best idea for alternative uses of the rail segments built to date if we just “walk away”. What other uses could be made of the elevated concrete platform?

It’s all just such a mess that it boggles my mind. None of the solutions really “work.”

Overcharging by cable companies under scrutiny

Have you checked your cable bill recently? There’s lots of buzz in the news today about overcharging by the big cable companies, including Time Warner and Charter.

See the Washington Post, “This cable company is expected to overcharge Americans $2 million this year alone,” and Ars Technica, “Cable company overcharges might be even worse than you realized.”

The articles review a new Senate committee report, as well as a separate report by Sen. Claire McCaskill.

All worth reading, for sure.

Souki backs Caldwell for Honolulu Mayor

Here’s an interesting fundraiser invite. It looks like a fundraiser for House Speak Joe Souki, but it’s really just an attempt to use Souki’s endorsement, and his political clout, to add to Caldwell’s campaign war chest.

Souki was being referred to as the “host” for this event, which was held last night.

Souki-Caldwell

It’s interesting to note that it would be illegal for Souki’s campaign to direct use any of its campaign funds to support Caldwell. But apparently raising funds for another candidate is okay.

Here’s the relevant section of the campaign law:

§11-382 Prohibited uses of campaign funds. Campaign funds shall not be
(1) To support the campaigns of candidates other than the candidate with which they are directly associated;

But an endorsement and hosting arrangement like this appears to be outside of the prohibition.

I did check the fundraiser notices, and it is registered as a Caldwell fundraiser, with a suggested price of $500 to $1,000 per person.

The notice was filed at 10:16 a.m. on the day of the fundraiser, according to the timestamped copy posted online.

Which raises a question–if the intent of the law is to provide a public notice of a fundraising event, its location, person in charge, etc., then why aren’t they required to be posted well in advance of the event itself?

For example, why not require filing within five days of the time the first notices are sent out? The current deadline, which is no later than the start of the event or the closing time of the Campaign Spending Commission office, is for all practical purposes a retroactive disclosure, as it seems that most notices are filed less than 24 hours in advance.

Bus rapid transit surfacing again

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano is using his Facebook posts to tout the use of a Bus Rapid Transit system to move passengers from the Middle Street terminus of a truncated rail system to downtown Honolulu and beyond.

Cayetano has been a fan of BRT for years, and he proposed a flexible bus system as an alternative to rail during his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for Honolulu mayor.

During the campaign, Civil Beat fact checked Cayetano’s claim that that bus rapid transit systems were “sweeping the country.” CB concluded the claim was “Mostly True.”

And its interesting to look at another Civil Beat article from 2012, “Bus Rapid Transit: The Devil’s in the Details, But What Are They?

The regrettable thing is that Honolulu was far down the path to a BRT system under a plan put in place by by the city during the administration of Mayor Jeremy Harris. But it was immediately dismantled by his successor, Mufi Hannemann, who chose instead to bet the house on the elevated rail system the city is currently building.

It’s interesting, in retrospect, to skim the 2006 final evaluation report on the Honolulu Bus Rapid Transit project, in light of the financial meltdown of Hannemann’s rail project.