Saturday, May 21, 2016
A better way to detect Stingray use: crowdsource transient cell tower appearances
Functioning as a so-called “cell-site simulator,” the Stingray is a sophisticated portable surveillance device. The equipment is designed to send out a powerful signal that covertly dupes phones within a specific area into hopping onto a fake network. The feds say they use them to target specific groups or individuals and help track the movements of suspects in real time, not to intercept communications. But by design Stingrays, sometimes called “IMSI catchers,” collaterally gather data from innocent bystanders’ phones and can interrupt phone users’ service—which critics say violates a federal communications law.—Slate Future Tense, 1/10/2013
by Larry Geller
I learned this morning about an app that has the potential to impact the controversial use of cell tower simulation devices used to spy on our communications.
The use of false mobile towers. a surveillance technology also known as “Stingray,” to capture cellphone traffic has become commonplace. If the police (or hackers!) are operating a device that tricks nearby cellphones into sending it their traffic, everyone’s data is swept up. The cellphone user is unaware that everything said or transmitted as data is being captured.
If the user accesses a bank account, for example, the user name, password and the answer to that secret challenge question designed to enhance security, is all captured. If you believe that browser encryption saves you, fine. I’m not confident that it does, and not all access information is encrypted. Phone calls are typically not encrypted. They’ll have that. And the metadata identifies where everyone is and who they are communicating with, encrypted or not.
The use of these devices creates a “man-in-the-middle” attack that the smartphone user can’t defend against, especially since there’s no indication shown that the cell connection has been compromised. The only countermeasure? Leave your cellphone at home, with the battery removed. Of course, that’s not at all practical.So far, the main approach to detecting the use of Stingrays and their ilk by government agencies has been to file Freedom of Information Act requests. For example, here is a snip from an ACLU web page:
Last year, the ACLU sent public records [requests] to three dozen police and sheriffs’ departments in Florida seeking information about their use of Stingrays. Stingrays, also known as “cell site simulators,” or “IMSI catchers,” are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and force phones in the area to broadcast information that can be used to identify and locate them. Even when used to track a particular suspect's cell phone, they also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby. Numerous law enforcement agencies across the country possess Stingrays, but it’s often difficult to tell how much and how often they are used.
[ACLU, Florida Stingray FOIA]
While I’m glad that the ACLU and others are aiming to increase transparency, that alone will not prevent the violation of innocent citizens’ privacy rights. It could be the beginning of something, but I’ve thought that the road is likely to be long, hard and uncertain.
Why not, I thought, crowdsource the detection of these devices? It ought to be simple. Smartphones can tell which towers they are communicating with. New cell towers are seldom erected, so if a new cell tower ID appears, watch out, it might be a Stingray (or a hacker parked outside your house trying to steal your bank account access data).
Apps like Llama use tower ID information to find your location even when the phone GPS is off or the user is indoors. So, for example, I might be reminded of shopping I need to do in the Manoa Longs when the app detects that I’m in Manoa. Back home, there are an entirely different set of towers seen by the app.
So why not create an app to detect a new tower in a place you’ve already been? In other words, the phone keeps a database of cell towers and notes (and reports) the sudden appearance of a new cell tower. Perhaps transmission via a newly-discovered cell tower could even be blocked somehow, or at least, the user could be warned.
I let that thought die and wither away, since I don’t know how to develop the kind of app it would take to detect a new tower.
Fortunately, great minds think alike. An app is under development that does this, and it appears it can upload and download cell tower data to a central database.
So ACLU Florida: please have a look at it.
Check Tower Information Consistency
Check LAC/Cell ID Consistency
Check Neighboring Cell Info
Prevent silent app installations
Monitor Signal Strength
Detect silent SMS
That first part, detecting cell tower consistency, is the bit I mused on. The rest, to be honest, I have no idea what they are talking about. There are links, so I could eventually learn what a FemtoCell is…
So although I’ve just discovered this app, I have a suggestion for the ACLU and other privacy organizations:
Keep up your FOIA efforts, but at the same time, consider working with this or other app developers to create a public database of Stingray use.
I think the transparency question might be resolved more quickly, and a robust, production-quality app could be used to possibly protect also against hackers and this kind of surveillance.
Still not convinced this is needed? If you live in a city where there is a peace demonstration or perhaps even a Bernie Sanders rally, and even if you are not a participant, you could end up in a police database.
Or, if the technology should spread unchecked, a vehicle parked outside your condo or office building could pick up all the access info for everyone inside. Instead of police, the vehicle could belong to a hacker.
So I hope this kind of app—one that crowdsources observed Stingray usage—might be supported and that a national database can be created. It could be the fastest route to transparency, at least as far as knowing where the surveillance is taking place. Then bring on the FOIA to find out who is doing it.
At the very least we’ll learn who is being watched and how many of us are being watched.
Friday, May 20, 2016
Defending the indefensible: Supreme Court hears the Office of Elections try to justify its handling of 2012 election ballot errors
What does it take to affect people? We had people whose votes weren't
counted. And according to you, that doesn't affect people's right to
vote.—Justice Richard Pollack
So the remedy is make people sue and not to create a system that avoids
this?—Justice Richard Pollack
This is the constitutional, fundamental right to vote that is being
denied. This is not the right to paper clips.—Justice Sabrina McKenna
Does the record reflect how much money the state saved by denying these
people the right to vote?— Justice Sabrina McKenna
by Larry Geller
Attorney Lance Collins has been a great champion of the Hawaii Administrative Procedure Act and in particular its application to our wayward Office of Elections. See Disappeared News coverage of the case Babson v. Cronin which related to the use of electronic voting machines in an insecure fashion and in the absence of rules regulating their use.
This case, heard yesterday (Thursday 5/19/2016) by the Supreme Court, was brought by the Green Party of Hawaii, and is based on what appears to be a clear violation of the right to vote not only of the plaintiffs but of at least 57 more people mentioned in the oral arguments and others. First there was a shortage of ballots, then voters were provided with incorrect ballots. Many left without the opportunity to vote.
Shouldn’t there have been rules governing the printing of ballots? As you will hear from the recording, there’s a statute. Now, if only there were rules under the HAPA to effectuate that statute.
What makes this hearing especially interesting to me is how the attorney for the Office of Elections appears to squirm to avoid agreeing that citizens were deprived of their right to vote.
For a description of the exact controversy, see the official summary below.
Look, if I were I newspaper reporter, I’d just be documenting the arguments presented by each side. And you would not be reading even this far.
Instead, I urge you to skip ahead in the recording to 31:30 where the Office of Elections gets their turn. Each side was allotted about 30 minutes, but their attorney got grilled for close to an hour.
I hope Lance won’t mind. His arguments appear to me to be cut and dried, very logical, and so there’s not much drama in them. For example, at about the 27 minute point he explains that the purpose of the HAPA is to reign in an agency’s unbridled discretion. This is important, of course, because it was the exercise of the Office of Elections’ discretion that resulted in the shortage of ballots. You can rewind later to the beginning of the recording if you like. Lance gives clear arguments in his rebuttal at the end, which is good listening.
Instead, make yourself some popcorn or open a beer and skip ahead to that 31:30 point.
I’ve learned long ago that I can’t divine the thought processes of judges by listening to their questions in the oral arguments. If you skip ahead as I suggest, you might think this case is a slam dunk. But we’ll have to wait for the final decision.
I’m hoping, of course, that voters’ rights will be better protected in the upcoming elections this year. It seems we can’t count on the Office of Elections’ discretion to protect those rights.
The audio is below. Many browsers will just play it if you click, or download the file and listen in your favorite player. I found the official recording to be mostly inaudible, so I improved the sound so you won’t feel you’ve wasted that beer. The case summary from the Supreme Court website follows below the line.
Listen to my edit of the oral arguments here.
Listen (if you can hear it) to the Supreme Court official recording here.
No. SCWC-14-0001313 Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 8:45 a.m.
GREEN PARTY OF HAWAII, KAREN M. HOLT, ELIZABETH M. RUZE, MICHAEL KRATZKE, MOANI KEALA AKAKA, KIM DUFFETT, MARY JO DENNISON and MAKA`ALA KA`AUMOANA, Petitioners/Plaintiffs-Appellants, vs. SCOTT NAGO, Chief Elections Office, State of Hawai`i, and STATE OF HAWAI`I, Respondents/Defendants-Appellees.
The above-captioned case has been set for argument on the merits at:
Supreme Court Courtroom
Ali`iolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Attorney for Petitioners:
Lance D. Collins
Attorney for Respondents:
Kimberly Tsumoto Guidry, First Deputy Solicitor General
NOTE: Order accepting Application for Writ of Certiorari, filed 03/10/16.
COURT: MER, C.J.; PAN, SSM, RWP, and MDW, JJ.
This case involves an action by the Green Party of Hawaii and seven registered voters who voted in the 2012 General Election (Petitioners) seeking a declaratory judgment pursuant to HRS § 91-7 (2012) that certain methodologies and procedures used by Scott Nago, Chief Election Officer, and the State of Hawai`i (collectively “Respondents”) in the 2012 election are invalid under the Hawaiʻi Administrative Procedure Act (HAPA). Specifically, Petitioners contend that Respondents violated rule-making requirements for failing to adopt administrative rules pursuant to HAPA regarding the methodology and procedures used to determine the number of ballots to be delivered to the precincts, request additional ballots when a precinct runs out of paper ballots, and address the situation where a voter votes on a ballot that includes some races in which the voter is not entitled to vote.
The Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court) granted summary judgment in favor of Respondents holding that the challenged methodologies and procedures were regulations concerning only the internal management of the agency. On October 24, 2014, the circuit court entered final judgment, which was timely appealed by Petitioners. In a December 18, 2015 published opinion, the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. The ICA concluded that none of the procedures challenged by Petitioners were rules as defined in HAPA.
Petitioners filed an Application for Writ of Certiorari with this court on January 27, 2016, which was granted on March 10, 2016. Petitioners present five questions in the application: (1) whether the ICA gravely erred by applying a standard in an election contest for overturning an election result based upon Petitioners’ claim of deprivation of voting rights and holding that such claims were immaterial because it would not have affected the outcome of the election in regard to ballot shortage procedures; (2) whether the method used for ordering ballots was a one-time occurrence that would not affect future public rights or procedures; (3) whether the improper handling of ballots is a matter of internal management and thus exempt from rulemaking requirements; (4) whether the ICA misinterpreted Hawai`i appellate precedent; and (5) whether the ICA erred in finding that Petitioners failed to cite to the record showing the circuit court determined the obligation of the agency was mitigated or relieved by failure to apply to the agency to engage in rulemaking procedures pursuant to HRS § 91-6. Petitioners maintain that the challenged procedures and methodologies are rules as defined in HAPA and that the rules are invalid as they were not adopted pursuant to HAPA. Respondents assert that the challenged procedures are not rules as defined by HAPA and, accordingly, the ICA did not err in affirming the circuit court’s judgment.
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
Jeremy Scahill, Glenn Greenwald on presidential candidates, drones, assassination as foreign policy, more…
And what the Obama administration is doing right now is basically trying to rebrand and engage in historical revisionism about what is going to be one of the most deadly legacies of the Obama era, and that is that somehow they came up with a cleaner way of waging war. I would say that the most significant aspect of what President Obama has done, regarding drones and regarding the so-called targeted killing program around the world, is that Obama has codified assassination as a central official component of American foreign policy. And he has implemented policies that a Republican probably would not have been able to implement…—Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now, 5/3/2016
LARRY WILMORE: It looks like you’re really enjoying your last year of the presidency. Saw you hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors. That was cool. That was cool, yeah. You know, it kind of makes sense, too, because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right? Yeah, sure. What? Am I wrong?—at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, quoted on Democracy Now, 5/3/2016
by Larry Geller
Even if you have never watched Democracy Now, consider tuning in to today’s program either tonight on `Olelo or on the web at democracynow.org .
The last segment of the program fills in important background on the Democratic presidential candidates that supporters of either Clinton or Sanders need to know.
Here are the program segments, by way of encouragement:
Whether you’re old enough to remember Father Daniel Berrigan or young enough never to have heard of him, yesterday’s program was a good review of the life of this anti-war priest and his importance in the history of American protest.
Finally, I think we owe thanks to Pierre Omidyar for creating and backing The Intercept (as well as Hawaii’s Civil Beat). And of course to Amy Goodman for Democracy Now. Today’s program illustrates the value of honest, thorough, fearless journalism. Don’t miss the program.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Which presidential candidate will assume the divine right to rule America?
Why should I die for the Water Board, or at the command of an arbitrarily selected group of variously virtuous people, unless I believe that they are owed obedience, as representatives of something more divine?—from The political animal : biology, ethics, and politics, Stephen R. L. Clark, 1999, p. 147
by Larry Geller
We have not given up on the divine right of kings in this country. The ghost of George III still animates our model of national leadership, especially our strong need to deify our elected presidents.
While our military volunteers literally die in obedience to our own “Great Leader,” for the rest of us, it is safe to say that the political and public reaction to Obama, the first black man elected to the White House, has been strongly dependent on whether or not he is recognized as one to whom we “owe obedience,” that is, on whether or not a black man can assume a divine mantle and rule over white people. The prohibition of dark skin is deeply rooted in our religious mythology—was Jesus as light-skinned (and often light-haired) as He is most often depicted?
And so the part of the country that granted Obama near godliness elected him to his office, and then the part of the country that denies him any devine right refuses to cooperate. They feel that they owe no obedience because he could not possibly be closer to their God than they are.
So now come Trump and Clinton. Are either of them fit candidates to rule, which is to say, to don the mantle of the divine right of American presidents in January 2017?
Trump’s behavior so far is far from godly, but he has time to demonstrate some wisdom before election day. He’s a blank slate which he himself can fill in. While Trump is widely despised, he also has a following resembling a widespread religious cult. For sure, many of his followers expect him to not only build walls but to part the waters of government or to turn the thin gruel that the economy provides them with into wine. In fact, no other candidaate holds out those possibilities, though Sanders comes close in some respects (as a Messiah figure perhaps).
Clinton has a track record, and it is full of warmongering. Now, going to war is something kings have always done, but their popularity among the masses depends to a large extent on the outcomes as well as to a lesser extent on their methods. America’s wars have been disasters for so many in Asia and the near-East and so costly to American taxpayers that Clinton is already cut down a few notches on the godliness scale.
Trump is onto something with his emphasis on “winning.” No matter how cruel the dictator, or for that matter how many civilians an elected president or prime minister may dismiss as “collateral damage,” if they can win, we tend to overlook their inhumanity and cruelty.
What of Ted Cruz as a divinely-inspired ruler? I’m not the only one who has latched onto this thesis. John Boener gives him strong negative marks in this regard:
Former House Speaker John Boehner launched a verbal attack against Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, calling him "Lucifer in the flesh" and a "miserable son of a bitch." Boehner was speaking during a forum at Stanford University. The comments were recorded by journalists from the campus paper, The Stanford Daily. This clip begins with Stanford history professor David Kennedy.
John Boehner: "Lucifer in the flesh. In Washington, I have many Democrat friends, and I have Republican friends. I get along with almost everybody. But I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life."
[Democracy Now, Ex-House Speaker Boehner Calls Cruz "Lucifer in the Flesh", 4/29/2016]
A “Lucifer” can lead—one could cite the ascendence of the current leadership of North Korea, of Hitler, or of any of a number of dictators in the past or the present. But we, as Americans, don’t want a Lucifer as our president, hence John Boeher’s warning.
Before I end this rant, let me point out that nothing prevents our national leadership from concluding a “pact with the Devil” provided their divine rights have already been established. For such kings, almost anything is possible. So Bush Jr. can buddy up (or hold hands, even) with the cruel Saudis, yet Obama is condemned for concluding a pact with Iran. Obama’s godliness quotient was too low for him to do get away with that.
Forget Democracy. From the evidence available, George III is our true Founding Father. We are weighing, in this election cycle, which candidate is fit to rule in his line.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Support Democracy in Hawaii—contribute to the fight for good government
by Larry Geller
Your help is needed to support a grassroots effort to solve several abuses that diminish democracy in Hawaii.
Stories break into the news and then mysteriously disappear—for example, does former House Speaker Calvin Say live in the district he represents in the House? The question isn’t settled yet even if there are no reporters covering the ongoing struggle.
Another news story that “disappeared:” Hawaii’s Office of Elections' mishandled the 2012 election (see below). Now we find outselves in another election year.
Should we just brace for more missteps, or how about fighting for improvement?
Several legal actions are gathered together in a crowdfunding page for the Hui for Good Government Hawaii. While legal action is typically costly and out of reach of good government advocacy groups, attorney Lance Collins has agreed to argue several cases pro bono (without charge) for these groups. He has argued and won good government cases including cases that have gone to the Hawaii Supreme Court—for example, he won Kanaehele v. Maui County, a Sunshine Law case, in 2013.
But there are court costs that must be paid, and other expenses related to these suits.
Citizen funding can make a difference
Fixing the 2012 election problems comes down to correcting lax rules governing election procedures. Since the Office of Elections hasn’t done this even as we now approach a new election season, it falls to concerned citizens and the court to make ‘em get their act together.
From the crowdfunding page, here is the brief description of the case filed against the Chief Elections Officer:
The Office of Elections' mishandled the 2012 election. They ran out of ballots, delivered ballots to the wrong place, and had people voting on the wrong ballots. Why? We argue they needed more and better rules to protect our right to vote. The case is before the Supreme Court and oral arguments are set for May 18 at 8:45 am.
Wouldn’t it feel even better if you have chipped in to correct the election errors? Sitting proudly in the front row, you’ll know that you are part of the solution that hopefully will come out of this citizen effort.
This isn’t the first time Collins has tangled with the Office of Elections:
Judge Joseph E. Cardoza granted an injunction today against Hawaii’s illegal use of electronic voting machines and the illegal transmission of vote results over the Internet. A written decision will be issued in the coming weeks, he said.
The suit (Babson v. Cronin, Civ No. 2cc08-1-000378 ) was brought by attorney Lance Collins on behalf of five citizens of Maui against Hawaii’s Chief Elections Officer (see background on Disappeared News in these articles).
[Hawaii’s 2010 elections enjoined by Maui judge, 5/20/2009]
Check out the crowdfunding page, and chip in if you can—small donations can pay the costs of keeping these actions alive.
Monday, April 11, 2016
ACLU of Hawaii posts Rights of Hawaiiʻs Homeless website guide
Check it out here:
From their news release:
Many of the rights outlined in the guide resulted from the U.S. District Court’s order in the Martin v. City and County of Honolulu lawsuit, brought by the ACLU and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing, in response to City sweeps.
The guide is the latest in a collection of Hawai‘i-specific “Know Your Rights” materials that the local ACLU has created, including a “First Amendment Toolkit” and a “Youth Rights Guide.”
These resources, and more, are available at www.acluhawaii.org.
Yet another part of Hawaii’s stalled homelessness program grinds to a halt
by Larry Geller
It’s hard avoid the conclusion that the leaders of our state—including legislative committee chairs, legislative leadership, the Governor and his task force on homelessness—really have no intention of doing anything that has a chance of working to alleviate the crisis.
Yesterday I wrote a kind of open letter query which I did send to each task force member, with little to no expectations of a reply, of course.
Today’s Star-Advertiser story bearing the cryptic headline Shed project encounters more hurdles is just the latest chapter in the ongoing work of fiction that is the state’s program to end homelessness.
The “shed” is a proposed homeless shelter in Kakaako. Even if completed, it won’t make much of a dent in the population of street dwellers. But will it ever be completed? it was proposed to be open in February and to be closed two years later (another reason why it really won’t help much). Don’t get me wrong—more shelter is a good thing, but is no substitute for a correctly implemented Housing First program applied on a scale to match the magnitude of the need.
Gov. David Ige’s office proposed spending $900,000 in annual operating costs for the shelter, which is supposed to operate for only two years.
But a House bill provides no money, and a Senate version includes only half of the requested annual amount, or $450,000.
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said he understands the public’s frustration that the shed remains empty and unrenovated after it was intended to open in February.
[Star-Advertiser p.1, Shed project encounters more hurdles, 4/11/2016]
I’m not sure the public is frustrated that the shed remains empty—just maybe, perhaps, the public is frustrated that we are now on our third (count ‘em) state housing czar and even have a governor’s task force, but all of that is not moving people into permanent housing.
Maybe the public is frustrated because so many cannot afford soaring rents.
Now, is this simply a case of armchair quarterbacking? I don’t think so. The observation that little is moving that might help to end homelessness here is becoming self-evident as time passes and as plans and pronouncements fail to be fulfilled. The “shed,” as just the latest example, will not get started without funding, which (so far) is not forthcoming. Neither the state nor city requests are so far being funded.
About the only thing running “smoothly” is the program of daily raids on street dwellers conducted not only during the daytime but starting often from 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. Those raids do nothing to assist those affected to settle into permanent housing. At least the Mayor can no long destroy personal possessions, but it took a federal court order to stop him. I’ve gone out at night to watch the action on the streets. There’s nothing helpful about the city crews moving people along. If I hung around after a raid I would observe that people simply moved elsewhere, often around the corner, or just came back.
So will there be a renovated “shed?” Let’s see.
Will next year’s count of street dwellers increase yet again? Let’s see.
Will anyone press our state leaders to get busy on the multiple parts of the issue? Let’s see.
Can a czar without an army be effective? Let’s see.
Could a President Trump or President Cruz round up and incarcerate all Muslims?
The Supreme Court never ruled that the laws the White House and the military used to incarcerate these people [Japanese-Americans during World War II]—that’s still on the books. As Justice Jackson, Robert Jackson, said, it’s a loaded gun on the Constitution—Richard Reeves, in Democracy Now interview, 4/11/2016
The question of whether Republican frontrunners Trup and Cruz could actually fulfill their threats to lock up all Muslims came up briefly in a Democracy Now interview in today’s program, which also touched on whether it is fair to use the term “internment camps” instead of “concentration camps.”
Click the image to go to the Democracy Now web page, which includes both a video and a transcript.
Watch the full show here.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Query to Governor Ige’s homelessness task force on their progress so far
It’s frustrating that eight months after Gov. David Ige formed his high-profile task force to solve chronic homelessness in Hawaii, the only sound we hear is spinning wheels.
The governor’s promised legislative initiative to make a big dent in homelessness has sputtered so far.—Volcanic Ash, 4/10/2016
David Shapipro devoted his Vocanic Ash column in today’s Star-Advertiser to detailing the failure that is Hawaii’s response to its growing homelessness crisis. No one else in the commercial media has had the guts to call this non-effort for the failure it is so far.
If you’ve been reading Disappeared News over the past year you’ve seen that I’ve said pretty much the same thing—of course, Shapiro is a much better writer.
So there’s two of us.
Where are the reporters and editors? Where are the social workers at NASW, Catholic Charities, etc? Where are the mental health advocates at Mental Health America of Hawaii and NAMI?
But most of all, where are the members of Governor Ige’s emergency task force?
Shapiro notes that (in my words, not his) the Legislature and City Council have both obstructed progress by denying or drastically reducing funding requests for programs that would move people from the streets into permanent housing.
Evidence has shown that it is cheaper to put people into permanent housing than to pay for ER visits and perpetual social services that maintain them on the streets. So stalling is costing us all money by preventing housing programs from advancing. And so the unhoused homeless count advances each year—per capita it remains the highest in the nation.
Shapiro summed up the funding situation thusly:
[Ige’s] request for $75 million in bonds to develop affordable rentals was cut to $25 million by the House, and a $25 million request to develop affordable homes for purchase was cut in half.
Modest requests of $2 million for homeless outreach, $3 million for Housing First and $2 million for rental subsidies were axed altogether by the House; a Senate measure setting a goal of 22,500 new affordable rental units in 10 years has no funding behind it.
Shapiro holds the City Council and the feds accountable for underfunding programs as well. I can’t quote his whole column here—go buy or borrow a paper please, and turn to p. A2.
It’s not just eight months that have been lost since Ige formed his team. The legislative session is drawing to a close. So more than a year will have been lost. If we need to create 20,000, 21,000, 22,500, 24,000 or 67,000 affordable rentals in the next decade (according to which estimate you read), we’ll need even more relief as time goes on because we’ve also done nothing to alleviate poverty in the state—more people are dropping out of homes into homelessness and the crisis only deepens.
Funding is finalized towards the end of the legislative session—which is about where we are now. So it’s fair to ask each team member what they are doing to assure that needed programs can proceed.
When the gov’s team was formed, the two legislator members made a commitment:
“The legislature understands the gravity of the situation and the need to pull all executive and governmental agencies to the table in an effort to execute and implement solutions that can be replicated in communities across the state,” said Sen. Tokuda, chair, Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“We really need to come together on enforcement, but also in providing alternative sites and coordinated services. This is a monumental step to pull together resources of the federal, state and county governments,” said Rep. Luke, chair, House Finance Committee.
[NEWS RELEASE: Governor Ige announces leadership team on homelessness, way forward, 7/27/2015]
These two legislators effectively control the purse strings. So as the session winds down, it’s fair to ask what they have done or will do to fulfill their earlier committments.
Team member Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s funding requests have been stymied by the City Council, but he has something to answer for himself—his frequent 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. raids on sidewalk dwellers.
Just how do these costly raids contribute to ending homelessness? I have described them as cruel because of the timing: trucks move out in the dead of night. While most sidewalk dwellers raided may be single individuals, there are also children and families caught outdoors and faced with disruption that can’t help the kids do well in the classroom. Yes, these are supposedly “sweeps” and not “raids.” but given the City’s history of institutional violence against the houseless I think the term is fair.
Remember, it took a federal court order to stop Caldwell’s people from unconstitutionally seizing and destroying personal property such as ID, money and medical supplies. Apparently he has yet to discipline the staff responsible for the long-term civil rights infractions.
Who on Governor Ige’s team has stepped up to the plate to state that these raids are counterproductive in terms of solving the homelessness crisis?
Yes, the streets need to be clear of obstruction and debris, but this is clearly not happening as witnessed by the daily scheduling of night and daytime raids. Tents and makeshift structures move from one spot to another.
Moving people into permanent housing, as many other states and municipalities have successfully done, is a much better and more cost-effective way to keep the streets passable.
Handy bill digest for Senate-side bills in Hawaii state legislature
Friday, April 08, 2016
Should rail officials quit? Probably, but City Council is responsible for choosing near impossible Dillingham Blvd. rail route
In an alternate universe (that is, any other universe but ours) either this would have been accounted for or a different route chosen.—(quoting myself, 11/16/2015)
by Larry Geller
Should Honolulu’s rail officials quit, as the City Council chair is reported to be asking in this Star-Advertiser story today?
The story cites a letter from Martin that refers to utility pole clearance issues that were known to rail officials some time ago:
“I find it very disturbing to learn that HECO’s concerns were first raised three years ago and yet the guideway has been built too close to the utility poles on Farrington and Kamehameha Highway for workers to safely maintain and repair them,” Martin wrote.
Such clearance issues now threaten to drive up costs further and could delay the project’s completion by another year, officials say.
[Star-Advertiser p. A19, Martin urges rail officials to quit, 4/8/2016]
Certainly, this neglect should be dealt with. But the City Council itself is responsible for the choice of elevated rail technology and for settling on the route—and includes congested and narrow Dillingham Boulevard. Will they take responsibility for their choice?
I ran this photo in 2008 and again last year (see: Dillingham power lines are and were a known obstacle that Rail would have to deal with, 11/16/2015):
Should the cost of shoehorning an overhead guideway into this morass have been figured into the budget early on? Certainly. From the very beginning, this section of the route should have been scrutinized as a particularly difficult bottleneck in the rail project.
There are other concerns as well, including disruption during construction causing irreparable harm to businesses along the route, and what exactly Dillingham Boulevard will look like after the ugly elevated structure goes up. It’s not exactly pretty now…
Anybody could see this snafu coming, and certainly responsible rail officials should have pulled out their abacuses early on and figured the cost to resolve clearance issues along the route including Farrington Highway, Kam Highway, and soon Dillingham Boulevard.
We should remember that the City Council itself, with admittedly questionable motivation, chose the route.
It’s fair to fault rail officials for their defective budgeting, but they were given the route. The City Council and current and former mayors share also in the responsibility for their support of a questionable decison-making process. Whatever mess we may find ourselves in now or in the future, it was not caused solely by the current managers of the project.
The decision [on a rail route] capped a wild week of political maneuvering as supporters of other paths scrambled for votes, and angry constituents bombarded council members with phone calls and e-mails.
The headline is “Power lines could snarl rail work.” Yes, but that should not have been news in late 2015.
So perhaps rail officials should resign. That won’t, however, solve the problem, unless the route is cut short or re-routed. And who knows how much an unplanned re-route would cost. Whoever might replace current rail officials will be stuck in the exact same mess as current leadership.
Read Dillingham power lines are and were a known obstacle that Rail would have to deal with for a recap of earlier City Council discussions on the rail route and keep in mind that then, as now, our elected leaders were bankrolled by those who profit from rail and development (see: Op-Ed: Honolulu City Council Revote on Rail a Mockery, 10/14/2015).
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Video: “Why too many beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act spend their lives waiting in vain for a homestead” at Kokua Council
by Larry Geller
History tells me that the Hawaii state government has no intention of fulfilling its federal obligation, which came with statehood, to uphold the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. The act was passed by Congress in 1921. Native Hawaiian beneficiaries are still dying while on the waiting list.
It’s not that the state is falling short—the state is not even making an effort to comply.
To start a conversation, Kokua Council invited Moses Haia, the executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, to speak on “A lifetime spent waiting—why too many beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act spend their lives waiting in vain for a homestead.”
Click the image below to watch the video of his presentation on March 28 to the regular meeting of Kokua Council.
Moses Kalei Nahonoapi`ilani Haia III is the executive director of Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. As a staff attorney at NHLC he obtaining landmark victories in native rights cases seeking to protect ancient Hawaiian burials and Native Hawaiian water rights.
Honolulu plans to do nothing much to solve its homelessness and housing crises
Plans by Mayor Kirk Caldwell to create a housing development division appear doomed, and the future of the Hale Mauliola homeless center at Sand Island and related programs could be as well, under the latest draft of the $2.3 billion operating budget that moved out of the City Council Budget Committee on Wednesday.—Star-Advertiser, 4/7/2016
by Larry Geller
The only meaningful thing that Honolulu is doing about its homelessness crisis appears to be to conduct almost nightly raids that antagonize street dwellers but do nothing at all to reduce the annual increase in the number of those living on the streets (see below). Meanwhile the City Council and the Mayor feud and obstruct anything that could even be confused as progress on the issue.
Football season not over in Honolulu
Football season may be officially over, but in Honolulu, children, families and individuals who are homeless are still being treated like footballs in some kind of competiton between Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the City Council. See: City budget panel thwarts mayor’s proposal to open housing division (Star-Advertiser p.1, 4/7/2016).
Yes, while this game goes on, nothing meaningful results that will make even a small dent in the growing homelessness count that demonstrates Honolulu’s inability to even locate the goal posts.
From as far back as 2003, the lack of truly affordable housing has been an identified issue and remains the main barrier to reducing or ending homelessness in Honolulu and in Hawaii. It’s not the only thing that needs a concerted effort to resolve—for example, the lack of a meaningful minimum wage means that individuals and families would not be able to pay the rent even if it were affordable.
How will any of these issues achieve progress when politicians spar for elected office instead of serving the people they supposedly represent (that’s a joke, get it?).
The crisis we find ourselves in will continue to grow until realistic plans, including dedicated resources, specific personnel assignments, an adequate budget and agreed timelines are in place. How will 20,000, 24,000 or 67,000 low-rent homes—whatever the number du jure is—ever be built if the City Council and city administration won’t spend a dime to get off the dime on this?
Meanwhile, the Star-Advertiser editors have correctly challenged the current system of shelters we do have—a system that has flaws that result in large numbers of vacancies going unfilled night after night. See: Ensure that shelters fill beds, 4/6/2016.
There are also time limits that have been set for length of stay at the Sand Island shelter, which, if enforced, would seem to dump residents back onto the streets again after their stay.
Why individuals and families might prefer to live on the streets has been noted in testimony and at various conferences and meetings but does not seem to merit either government action or media attention until now. In other words, we know the system is broken but we leave it at that while the newspaper reports primarily on establishing “sweeps” if it reports anything at all.
Who is ths “we?” in truth, it is all of us, but in particular, it our wayward Honolulu city government.
The editorial refers to legislative action focused on the shelter issue. But the devil is in the details. Shelters won’t be a preferred choice if complaints persist about fleas, even bedbugs, noise, lack of privacy, robberies, refusals to admit, etc.
Homelessness is complex. The city appears to want the houseless out of sight of tourists and businesses in Waikiki, and having basically achieved that, is not going anyplace fast enough to beat the numbers. People are dropping out of housing and into homelessness. We are getting deeper into the problem, not solving it. Nothing is in place to deal with each part of a complex problem on a scale necessary to achieve meaningful results. That’s what the annual increase in the homeless count reveals.
Mayor’s Cruelty continues
The City is required by a federal court order to notify the ACLU of Hawaii of its plans for street raids (“sweeps”) the next day. Here are two recent tweets which are typical—that is, these two examples are not cherry-picked:
Note the times—1 a.m. today and 3 a.m. yesterday.
While the majority of those raided will be individual men, they also include families with children.
And we know that the next day they are back, or they simply relocate and set up nearby.
In other words, the raids don’t work. Yes, they may be necessary to keep the streets clean and passable, but why are they scheduled for 1 a.m. or 3 a.m.?
That’s cruelty. Let’s call it for what it is.
To rouse children at 1 a.m. simply disrupts their lives and probably makes it difficult for them to benefit from their education.
US troops were hated in Afghanistan for their night raids. So should the City of Honolulu be condemned, IMHO, for this practice.
At least, the City is no longer able to seize and destroy personal property including schoolbooks, toys, ID, money, medicine, etc. That was the purpose of the ACLU/Alston Hunt lawsuit in the first place—to stop that aspect of cruelty and unconstituional conduct on the part of the City. Interestingly enough, a City official who denied that the City was destroying these items has not yet, to my knowledged, been discplined either by the court or anyone else and remains on his job. See: ACLU files new motion to stop Honolulu’s illegal destruction of property during sweeps of homeless camps (11/4/2015).
If you doubt that the City would act cruelly towards its citizens living on the streets, here’s a snip from that article, from the deposition of a former worker who was forced to destroy personal property at the order of her supervisors:
Q. To this day does this enforcement action make you sad?
A. There were quite a bit of children, their toys and stuff, and it just wasn't a good day.
Q. Did you throw kids' toys away?
A. Well, if the supervisor said so, yes.
Q. So do you remember, did you throw kids' toys away?
A. I remember some, yeah.
Q. And what did you think about that?
A. I didn't like it.
Q. Why not?
A. They're children.
Q. You felt like they should be allowed to keep their toys?
Q. What did you want to do instead?
A. Wanted to give it to them.
Q. But your supervisor said no?
A. It's his decision, so…
A. They could have gave it to the kids, they could have allowed them to take it.
Q. Were the kids asking to take their toys?
A. They were crying
So now the Mayor can’t destroy kid’s toys, but he can still disrupt their lives in the dead of the night as many times each week as he likes.
And his cruel actions solve nothing.
Courthouse News Service reports on 9th Circuit arguments in Maui hospital privatization case
(CN) - A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit lobbied hard Wednesday for Hawaii to pause its plan to privatize money-pit hospitals on Maui and Lanai that would lead to 500 unionized workers losing their jobs.—Courthouse News Service, 4/6/2016
Those who live on Maui or who have been following the state’s plan to privatize Maui hospitals may want to read the excellent summary of arguments befoe the Ninth Circuit in this Courthouse News Service article: Judges Lobby to Pause Hospital Privatization. Click to go to the article, which contains links for further reading.
The case is United Public Workers, America v. David Ige, Case Number 16-15219. The oral arguments are posted as an mp3 file here (32 minutes of easy listening).
Breaking: House Finance chair breaks the rule barrier by giving only 20 minutes notice before a public hearing
by Larry Geller
I find this wanton disregard for House rules on public notice to be particularly disturbing when it is perpetrated repeatedly by chosen House leadership.
Just minutes ago, at about 1:46, House Judiciary Committee chair Karl Rhoads requested and obtained waivers from the Speaker of the required 48-hour notice—to hold hearings at 2 p.m. today! That’s 14 minutes notice, if you were there any paying attention.
If you want to be there, hurry up. You get no waiver. By the time I post this, you will have about 1 minute and 30 seconds before the first hearing.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke gave only a wee bit more notice, but not much: 1:38 p.m. for a 2:01 p.m. schedule, or 23 minutes notice.
As usual, I want to spotlight the perpetrators, in case you spot them in your neighborhood:
The bill scheduled for a 2:00 p.m. hearing (request time-stamped 1:46 p.m.) is SB2103. Bills scheduled for a 2:01 p.m. hearing (request time-stamped at 1:38 p.m.) are SB2849, SB2645, SB2076, SB2476. SB2071, SB1374, SB2301, SB3102, SB2131, SB2604, SB2535, SB3034, SB837, SB194 and SB3099.
If these chairs were at all concerned with public notice, couldn’t they at least have requested the waivers at the beginning of the floor session??
Sylvia Luke is a repeat offender. Of course, she could not cut the public out without the connivance of the Speaker.
Ok, hurry up. You have about a minute before the first hearing and two minutes to get ready for the second. Speed legislation. Speeding by public accountability as fast as they can manage.
Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly identified one waiver from the Judiciary Committee as from Finance. This is now corrected.
Friday, March 25, 2016
Monocle video showcases a Japanese department store Isetan
One of the many routines pleasures of living in Japan was to shop at any of the many department stores. The video linked below is from the latest podcast posted by Monocle magazine. It only shows the fancy bits of the Isetan department store in Shinjuku in the short time they gave it, but it is a good snapshot of the store and its attitude towards its customers.
There's much more to that store or others—for example the food floors in the basement. They often connect with nearby subway concourses. And for a small fee department stores will send your puchases to your home the next day, making subway shopping possible.
This is from the Monocle's RSS feed. On most browsers the video will play if you just click the link.
One of Japan's most venerable department stores, Isetan stocks everything you'll ever need. We hit the shop floor to find out the secret of its success.
* Duration: 2:36*
Published: 3/22/16 5:00:00 AM *
Episode Download Link (14 MB): http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/monocle_podcast/~5/7CmaMNCAL-Q/160323_Isetan_iTunes.mp4
* Episode Feed: All Films - http://feeds.feedburner.com/monocle_podcast
Safeway continues to misrepresent imported produce as “local”
by Larry Geller
Ian Lind has chronicled pricing issues at Safeway over the years (see these articles) and I’ve noted that imported produce seems to be routinely sold as “local.”
Actually, we don’t usually buy produce at Safeway—everything is so much fresher and often cheaper at the Honolulu Farmers Market or the KCC Farmers Market where we regularly shop. Since vendors at these markets are required to only offer local products, that’s never an issue. So I rarely visit Safeway’s produce section.
Today was one of those rare occasions. We needed a little Italian parsley. So off I went, anxious to complete my errand before the predicted thunderstorms hit. And I was pleased to see parsley in the Local section on a shelf marked Local.
Except it isn’t local, according to the tag attached to the parsley.
Nearby veggies are labeled as Product of Mexico or Product of USA.
The type on the shelf tag is tiny and would be easily missed, while the Local designation is large. So the store is misrepresenting its products to the customer.
Here are two snapshots taken this morning at the Pali Safeway, in the section identified as Local and on shelves marked Local:
This next picture is from an earlier article, demonstrating how blatant the misrepresentation is. The very large sign plainly reads “Locally Grown”:
I suppose if everyone read the fine print they’d see that these items came from Mexico, but other shelf tags don’t identify the point of origin. On the parsley I bought I had to inspect the twist-tie tag holding the bunch together in order to see that the item was not local.
Caveat emptor, or should something be done about this?
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Public notice cut short on hearing for controversial tax increase bill
by Larry Geller
Do you remember that bill that would increase motor vehicle registration fees and add even more to the gasoline tax? The House tried to sneak a hearing in with inadequate public notice. The bill was heard this morning at 10:30 and ended up killed.
SB2938 – Relating to Transportation which Increases the state fuel tax to generate additional revenues for the state highway fund by amending section 243-4, Hawaii Revised Statutes. Allows for an increase in the state motor vehicle registration fee and increases the amount of the fee to be deposited into the state highway fund by amending section 249-31, Hawaii Revised Statutes. Increases the state motor vehicle weight tax by amending section 249-33, Hawaii Revised Statutes.
This controversial bill was granted a waiver at the request of the Chair of the Transportation Committee, Rep. Henry Aquino. Instead of 48 hours notice as required by House rules, the public was short-changed.
As usual, I try to include the photo and contact information of the
perpetrator committee chair who cares so little for public notice. But keep in mind that waivers are routinely approved (if not actually requested, who knows) by the Speaker of the House.
This bill had little public support. Perhaps that is the reason the notice period was cut short. (??)
I discovered that I didn’t post the article below when I should have – I just forgot to push that “send” button. Sorry about that. So as not to waste an opportunity to rant and call out our errant House members for breaking the rules, here it is anyway…
Hawaii House Finance committee holds another “public input not wanted” hearing
Life teaches us that some people believe the rules don’t apply to them. Whether it’s parking in stalls reserved for handicapped drivers, or taking pets into stores that don’t permit them, plenty of people think they are more important that the rules.
I suspect something like that is going on at our state House.
Hearings are, according to long-standing rules, to be given at least 48-hour notice. At least one reason for this is crystal clear—so that the people may attend a hearing or possibly write and submit testimony, whether they attend or not.
It’s particularly frustrating (frustrating to both ethics and democratic principles as well) when one side, perhaps the industry affected (and which may also have written the bill!) somehow knows about the flash hearing and gives testimony while the general public is blindsided.
The crime often leaves no tracks in the public record
I don’t know if it’s a record, but it appears that the public had about three (count ‘em, three) minutes notice of a hearing called by House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke. Here’s an email report from Hawaii Thousand Friends:
HTF received notice of a 2:00 Thursday 3/3 FIN hearing TODAY 3/3 at 1:57. The notice lists 24 bills to be added to the 3/3 FIN hearing agenda. Interestingly the only bills on the agenda were the listed 24 bills.
This out-of-public-sight move is possible because FIN chair Rep. Sylvia Luke asked for and received a waiver from the required 48-hour public notice of a public hearing on the floor today 3/3.
Today’s rush rescheduling actually did leave a trace on the status pages of the bills because they were scheduled on the same day. So if one has sharp eyes, there is an entry dated 3/3 that says there will be a hearing on 3/3. Easy to miss. Had the bill not been scheduled on the same day it was heard, the date could give no indication.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Tonight: Interfaith Open Table meeting: Marriage Equality: What is Next?
We are fortunate in Hawaii to have a strong interfaith community that can come together to discuss issues that both unify and divide opinion and belief. Tonight the Interfaith Open Table has scheduled a meeting, open to all, that hopes to look forward on the issues still facing acceptance of LGBT rights.
The venue is the hall at Harris United Methodist Church (see below). There’s plenty of parking and it’s near town and public transit.
From the emailed announcement:
Interfaith Open Table
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Harris United Methodist Church
Corner of Vineyard and Nu‘uanu
Marriage Equality: What is Next?
Br. Jack Isbell, Discussion Leader
Gene Corpuz, President/Dignity Honolulu
Rev. Laura Starre Emerson, Pastor, Orthodox Catholic Church of America
Margaret Mann, Counselor/Author
Kathryn Xian, Executive Director, The Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery
The LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, and Questioning Persons) have come a long way in working for equality and social acceptance. This evening's panel discussion, followed by conversation with the assembly present, will help us understand the continuing social needs, civil rights, and acceptance of LGBTQ persons.
Learning to listen and ponder, helps us understand the needs of the LGBTQ community.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
We need Jung to analyze the ascendency of Trump
by Larry Geller
Why is Trump advancing steadily in America’s presidential race despite his racism, misogyny and other rather obvious disqualifiers? You’d think this guy doesn’t stand a chance. His own party, the same Republican party that wields almost absolute power over our political system at present, is so far unable to halt his advance.
How can Trump continue to accumulate delegates in his inexorable march toward the Oval Office despite all indications that he should be rejected as a viable candidate?
I suggest that politics and punditry will not give us a workable theory. We must turn to psychology.
If C. G. Jung were alive today he’d be popular on the network talk show circuit explaining how Trump appeals to universal psychological processes.
Trump triggers the collective unconsciousness into an awareness of what is wrong with our government and how it can be changed. Trump unleashes hope that has been repressed and yearning to be set free. He gives us the possibility of individual agency, the promise that our vote can actually make a difference and end our oppression. Note that this transcends views on abortion, human rights, social security, or whatever has dominated the discourse of discontent up to now.
The possibility of electing Trump brings with it the possibility of ending whatever particular oppression is bugging each of us.
If the goal of individual psychology according to Jung is to integrate opposites and advance human development, we can see that the disfunctional processes of American government must also yield ultimately to a process of transformation. We are confronted, at an individual and societal level, by the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of reforming a system of government that is not working for us. We don’t want this dysfunction to simply go on year to year without relief.
How to remove the influence of big money and special interests? It looks to be hopeless. How to regain not only women’s rights, but voter’s rights and racial equality in the current political enviornment? Once again, it appears to be hopeless.
Opposition to the neoliberal leadership that is inflicting damage on the lives of millions of Americans appears weak in comparison to the forces that prop up the status quo.
The apocalypse and the rebirth of power
A Trump (and to a lesser extent, a Sanders) presidency presents the possibility that there is a time ahead when the powerful will be brought down and the commons can be restored.
Perhaps this is the archtype of the Apocalypse, of collapse and rebirth.
So far nothing short of that holds a promise to reform our system of government.
Trump could indeed be the “nuclear option” that brings about the end of the current system, leaving open the possibility to create a true representative democracy in his wake.
Trump needn’t explain in detail how he intends to “make America great again.” It is sufficient that he appears intent on replacing the current political regime.
Trump needn’t explain his failings or defend himself against Romney’s multiple criticisms because it is sufficient that he is intent on replacing the current political regime.
Trump needn’t understand foreign policy as well as Clinton does because it is sufficient that he is intent on replacing the current political regime.
I would love to hear a Jungian analyst’s view of the current political race.
Monday, March 07, 2016
Must read: Glenn Greenwald on Trump’s policies as a reflection of US mainstream
Here we see the elite class agreeing to pretend that Trump is advocating views that are inherently disqualifying when — thanks to those doing the denouncing — those views are actually quite mainstream, even popular, among both the American political class and its population. Torture was the official American policy for years. It went way beyond waterboarding. One Republican president ordered it and his Democratic successor immunized it from all forms of accountability, ensuring that not a single official would be prosecuted for authorizing even the most extreme techniques, ones that killed people — or even allowed to be sued by their victims.
Many of the high officials most responsible for that torture regime and who defended it — from Condoleezza Rice and John Brennan — remain not just acceptable in mainstream circles but hold high office and are virtually revered. And, just by the way, both of Trump’s main rivals — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — refuse to rule out classic torture techniques as part of their campaign. In light of all that, who takes seriously the notion that Trump’s advocacy of torture — including techniques beyond waterboarding — places him beyond the American pale? To the contrary, it places him within its establishment mainstream.—Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, 3/4/2016
The article is Donald Trump’s Policies Are Not Anathema to U.S. Mainstream, but an Uncomfortable Reflection of It. Read it here.
In a nutshell, Trump is being criticized from all quarters for his “outrageous” statements, but as Greenwald explains, he’s just saying he’ll do pretty much the same as we are already doing.
One more quote, then you can go read the entire article (which includes links I’ve omitted here, and much more):
Then there’s the feigned horror over Trump’s proposal to kill the family members of terrorists. Though they claim they don’t do it deliberately, the fact is that this is something both the U.S. and Israel, among others, have routinely done for years: They repeatedly bomb people’s homes or work places, killing innocent people including family members, and then justify it on the ground that a terrorist was among them. While they claim they don’t target terrorists’ family members, they certainly target their homes and other places family members are certain to be found.
When a U.S. drone strike in 2011 killed the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, and then another drone strike two weeks later killed his 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman (who nobody claimed was involved with terrorism), former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs justified it this way: (omitted here)
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Why is it not ok for Hawaii to raid GEMS funds but ok to raid Medicaid funds for school air conditioning "plan"
Today's Star-Advertiser reports that the state Senate is challenging Governor David Ige's proposal to borrow $100 million from the Green Energy Securitization Fund to install air conditioning in some school classrooms by the end of the year.
Indeed, that is not what the fund was created for. GEMS is intended to loan money for nonprofit organizations to assist homeowners and renters to install solar energy systems, the paper correctly notes.
Oddly, the article does not question at all the proposal furthered by Senator Jill Tokuda to use federal money coming to the state for Medicaid instead.
The Medicaid program provides health care and services for those with disabilities and for low-income residents of the state, and would seem to have nothing to do with the Department of Education's need to pay construction costs for cooling classrooms.
Why has the paper simply reported this and not questioned it?
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Yet another House attack on ethics—exempting state employees from the Ethics Code—your testimony needed
by Larry Geller
The Hawaii House got all upset when the Ethics Commission suggested a way to hold school excursions in conformance with the Ethics Code so that teachers would not be privately benefitting.
The Board of Education even created a policy for these excursions that would not violate Hawaii's ethics laws.
Result: the kids can have their trips without any hindrance. It’s just a question of doing things right.
Well, the House still doesn’t get it. HB1713 HD1 would take the matter away from the Board of Education and take it a giant (but questionable) step further, by granting all state employees an exemption from the gift laws. Read the text at the link for details.
The bill would create a loophole in the law the size of a barn door by allowing any state employee to receive “detached remuneration.” In other words, it’s party time!
The bill is to be heard by the Judiciary committee tomorrow at 3 p.m. Please consider going to the status page for this bill and clicking the link to Submit Testimony. It’s easy to do and would help support ethics in government. Don’t delay, the hearing is tomorrow.
Group of Hawaii House legislators band together to grab lobbyist donations during session
by Larry Geller
Each session it happens. Certain legislators hold fundraisers outside of their districts but close to town, so that they can rake in lobbyist and special interest campaign contributions—while the legislature is still in session and matters may come before them that the lobbyists are paid to advance.
This year a group of House members have jointly sponsored a fundraiser during the session, and the majority represent out-of-town districts (see list, below).
This one fundraiser presents both issues, which are separate but each troubling on its own. I treat both issues together because they so commonly occur together.
Since special interests are not philanthropies—they expect a return on their investments—we have the ethically dubious situation wherein constituents are sidelined and deprived of their representation while doors and campaign coffers are opened wide for lobbyist access.
Since Neighbor Island constituents are unlikely to attend this fundraiser, the motivation of these legislators is clear. Lawmakers who hold fundraisers out of shouting range of their constituents are clearly listening to other voices.
Here’s a list of legislators who will be holding a joint fundraiser across the street from the State Capitol on February 23, along with the districts they represent. Is your “representative” among them? Do you plan to attend?
Here’s a group
mug shot selfie from their announcement mailer:
There oughta be a law—a rant
Legislators, like the rest of us, are not bound by either ethics or morality, in the common usage of those terms. The state has an “ethics code” that is written in statute and interpreted and sometimes enforced by the Ethics Commission. As we have noted from time to time, budget and personnel constraints (ultimately imposed on the Commission by the same legislators they are supposed to watchdog) make it impossible to keep up.
On top of squeezing the Ethics Commission, the House in particular has taken direct aim at their ability to reign in violations. In recent memory the Speaker of the House has directly sought removal of the Executive Director when the Commission has simply acted to fulfill its mandated function with a couple of high-profile opinions.
So it’s no surprise that we find House committee chairs demanding (and getting) approvals to scrap the 48-hour notice rules for hearings or that House legislators don’t mind holding these fundraisers out-of-district, which is not in violation of any statute.
The Force (of ethics) is simply not strong with these folks.
What is needed, under the circumstances, is the passage of a law that would prohibit these fundraisers during session. That would move the question of ethics-with-a-small “e” to Ethics with a large and enforceable “E.”
As to asking for contributions outside of a district, that’s likely not conduct that state law can deal with, given the US Supreme Court’s recognition of money as a form of free speech.
What is ethical in politics?
Do politicians have special license to discard aspects of ethics or even morality that may be valued by ordinary citizens?
Machiavelli says, 'a man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not so good. Hence it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain his position to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge or not to use it according to necessity'—from The Prince, quoted in The Ethics Challenge in Public Service, 2nd Ed., Carol W. Lewis, Stuart C. Gilman, Jossey-Bass, 2005
That was a 16th-century view that accurately describes the situation our modern-day politicians may face in deciding whether to “not be good” and hold fundraisers out of their district and during the legislative session. They feel, with some justification, that if they don’t do this, their opponents now or in the future could dethrone them.
Harsh words? It is a question of our time at all levels of government whether pandering to corporations or special interests can co-exist with the fundamental responsibility of an officeholder to represent the electorate.
A Disappeared News op-ed by Dr. Kioni Dudley focused sharply on exactly this issue. His research revealed that certain Honolulu City Council members are so indebted to construction and Rail interests that up to 91% (in one case) of the lawmaker’s campaign contributions during a certain period came from those interests.
Ethics in politics is a complex issue, especially in a world where “keeping us safe” motivates national leaders to violate even basic human rights in the name of Machiavelli’s “necessity.” At a local level the challenges are simpler, and the public’s ability to influence the conduct of its representatives is perhaps greater.
So it is up to us to one day put an end to conduct we object to. If we tolerate it, we are condoning it.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Definitive paper on free speech in state campaign spending law cases
by Larry Geller
Jamestown, NY attorney Randy Elf has written what promises to be the definitive paper addressing how federal and state courts have interpreted the First Amendment to regulate free speech in political-committee or similar situations. His article, The Constitutionality of State Law Triggering Political Committee(-Like) Burdens and the Current Circuit Splits, has just been accepted for publication in the Regent University Law Review, Volume 29, 2016-17.
We “lay readers” (that is, those of us who disobeyed our mother’s admonition to become lawyers) have been given a gift: all the citations are in footnotes, and the text of the paper is easily readable by anyone who wants to come up to speed on this complex issue.
It turns out, as the abstract describes, that the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh circuits have addressed state law differently. Attorney Elf has had the rare opportunity to brief judges convincingly in related cases. While most of us might follow a case by attending hearings in federal court, the cases are won (or lost) by what we don’t see or hear in the courtoom—the briefs prepared by both sides that educate the judge on even the most difficult of cases. If expertly prepared, the briefs carry the weight of the argument.
Hawaii’s cases are cited in the paper. The case that was originally heard by Judge J. Michael Seabright in Hawaii District Court was Yamada Et Al. v. Kuramoto Et Al, also referred to as the A-1 A-Electrician case (1:10-cv-00497-JMS-LEK).
I was able to attend hearings at the District Court level and then at the 9th Circuit hearing held at the UH law school.
The value of sound briefing was evident from the beginning. From an earlier Disappeared News article:
The heart of the hearing took place at about 11:00 a.m. in a spirited back-and-forth between Judge Seabright and [plaintiff] attorney [Randy] Elf. It was clear that Seabright had studied related cases from other circuits as well as Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that blew the lid off of corporate campaign contributions. During the discussion Elf demonstrated a command of the core issues that was impressive, and which helped Seabright to clarify his own understanding.
You can be the judge
Essentially, Elf and Judge Seabright worked out the details of the eventual order in a rapid-fire discussion that left the state attorney (and the rest of us) on the sidelines. I wished I had paid more attention to the filed briefings.
Now anyone interested in these cases can be “briefed” as though they were a judge deciding one of these state cases. Elf’s exemplary scholarship should satisfy those attorneys and students who need to come up to speed on these cases, and his structuring of the text makes it accessible to journalists and to the rest of us who skipped law school (sorry, mom).
It is difficult to snip from this paper, but to encourage non-attorneys to have a look, I’d like to quote a short passage (from p. 3) that takes the reader back before there was even a First Amendment. I’ve had to leave off the bulk of that discussion, but I do want to show how accessible the paper is. Footnotes have been skipped.
Political‐speech laws regulate speech at the heart
of republican – i.e., a democratically elected representative
– government. Thus, it is useful to back up and recall the
underlying principles. First principles do not begin with the First Amendment. Even before the First Amendment come the separation of powers, and the limited and enumerated powers of government. Even before these principles comes “the struggle of … people to (a) establish themselves as sovereign and (b) curb the power of government officials to prevent the people from criticizing official actions.” Centuries of history, including Western history, are replete with ill‐begotten efforts to ban, otherwise limit, or regulate political speech. This is not a new problem: Moses confronted it when he said, “Let my people go,” and Pharaoh was none too pleased.
Yet unlike in America’s mother country, where government power flows from the Crown, the framers established government with the consent of the governed, and government has only those powers that the governed surrendered to it in the first place.