Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Shogun of the House to hold out-of-district fundraiser today during legislative session

by Larry Geller

Who is the “shogun of the House?” in this old diagram, the face is still Calvin Say’s, but the current shogun is Speaker of the House Joe Souki. Yeah, I’m still pushing my analogy of the Hawaii state legislature as the Japanese government during the feudal era.


The legislative calendar is at a crucial phase in which bills are assigned to conference committees which meet behind closed doors, out of public view, to impose the intentions of the powerful leadership on each bill.

The shogun (Speaker) appoints the House members of the conference committees. Clearly, the fate of any bill depends on who he appoints and what is whispered to them before they enter those rooms where sunshine never penetrates.

Tonight the shogun is holding a fund raiser out of his district (Hawaii District 8, Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu). He is suggesting a donation of $1,000, more than his average constituent is likely to be able to afford, not to mention the air fare and hotel cost to fly to Oahu to attend his fundraiser.

Simply and particularly because of Souki’s position of power, holding a posh fundraiser on Oahu is likely to attract mainly lobbyists and special interests. This raises ethical questions for me, in the common usage of the term. The Legislature has been unwilling to impose a ban on in-session fundraisers and so they are legal. I am not claiming otherwise. And sure, he has a Constitutional right to hold a fundraiser anywhere he pleases, in the absence of restrictions. I’m sure it falls under free speech rights, the same as are enjoyed by a panhandler standing outside the Royal Hawaiian Center tonight. Inside or outside, same rights.

Still… I wonder if the contributions will be suitably wrapped.

In feudal Japan, and often pictured in period television dramas, a merchant would always make sure that the bribe he was passing to the corrupt official was impeccably presented (see image at right snipped from an episode of the long-running period drama Mito Komon).

happy birthdayBribe


In the Mito Komon dramas justice was always done just before the commercials at the 49 minute mark. It alway looked something like this:

Mito Komon

Mito Komon traveled incognito with his two samurai sidekicks Sukesan and Kakusan, fighting crime and corruption. Somehow just moments before the episode ended the three appeared on the scene in a pose something like this. The “mon”, or family crest, would be instantly recognized and everyone would hit the ground with lowered heads.

Then the evildooers would decide to rebel and a sword fight would ensue.

There was never blood nor a costume ripped to shreds, which is how the same actors managed to do the same thing in different roles the following weeks. In Hawaii, also, the same scenes are played out during each annual legislative session. What we are missing, though, is our own Mito Komon.

This year Souki is asking for a suggested donation of $1,000. That’s a step up from much earlier, when $25 would do.

Souki 20150311_thumb[4]

Another difference is that this year’s invitation makes it clear that donations go to “Speaker of the House” Rep. Joseph Souki. Truth in advertising.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Ground Zero, my apartment!

The tubby tyrant has threatened to use his ICBM to reduce the US to ash as the two countries stand on the edge of nuclear war.

US president Donald Trump has vowed to deal with Kim Jong-un and could launch military strikes over his nuclear weapon programme.

One of his nukes, the long-range ICBM, will be capable of reaching the US once it is fully operational, with Hawaii believed to be in his targets due to it being the closest state.—article in UK Daily Star

by Larry Geller

One of several articles in the sensationalist UK paper Daily Star notes that

Downtown Honolulu would also be turned into a crater with buildings in a mile radius of the blast being wiped out.

I was a bit tense last week, but not now. Why? If a North Korean nuke should hit Honolulu, I wouldn’t have anything further to worry about, would I? The Daily Star article gives me reassurance of that.

Unless it misses its target, the “tubby tyrant’s” bomb is headed, according to their map, directly for the rooftop where I live:

Ground Zero

The presence of Kourtney Kardashian’s butt next to the map didn’t distract me from noticing exactly where the paper placed that pin on the map.

Our condo has underground parking that could possibly be a suitable fallout shelter if stocked with food, etc., but if Kim’s nuke comes down our chimney, no further worries about that, of course.

The Daily Star ran at least three articles on the subject, here, here and here. The story has legs, though, which might possibly impact tourism if potential visitors take it to heart. From one of several dozen Vietnamese newspapers that picked it up:

Bang Hawaii là mục tiêu dễ bị tấn công vì nằm gần Triều Tiên nhất.

Khu phố sầm uất ở Honolulu sẽ biến thành đống gạch vụn trong khi các tòa nhà cao tầng đổ sụp trước tác động của sóng xung kích.

[Google translate]

Hawaii is the most vulnerable target because it is located near the North.

The busy streets in Honolulu will turn into rubble while high-rise buildings collapse before the impact of shock waves.

Another here. No Kardashian pics, though.


Recap: Judge agreed that Gov. Ige’s appointment of Tom Gorak to the PUC was proper, so Senate should confirm him

Judge Edwin C. Nacino, Minute order, 8/26/2016

by Larry Geller

[See also: Petty politics should not prevent the Senate from approving a fully qualified PUC appointee, 4/23/2017]

Well, the judge said it in all caps, you’d think that the matter is pretty much done with. The pull quote is from the minute order issued on August 26, 2016 by Judge Edwin C. Nacino in the case Morita v. Gorak. Morita did not appeal. It’s over. Done.

Apparently, Sen. Roz Baker disagrees with the judge:

The committee voted 4-3 to not recommend confirmation of Gorak. The decision is now up to the full Senate, which can confirm Gorak if 13 of the 25 senators vote in favor before May 4.

[Committee chair] Baker said the issue with Gorak is not about his qualifications, but how the governor made the appointment without consulting the Senate.

[Star-Advertiser, Senate committee votes against Ige’s choice for PUC, 4/21/2017]

As to the timing of the appointment before the NextEra vote, the company’s proposed aquisition of Hawaii Electric Industries was widely opposed. Nor was Hawaii alone in rejecting this suitor. See: The Public Utility Commission of Texas unanimously agreed Thursday that NextEra Energy’s proposed $18.7 billion acquisition of Texas utility Oncor is not “at this point” in the public interest, RTO Insider, 3/30/2017. Perhaps NextEra needs to read their copy of The Art of the Deal once more.

To turn down a fully qualified appointee is an affront to the public interest.

The Senate should approve Gorak to continue on the PUC.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Petty politics should not prevent the Senate from approving a fully qualified PUC appointee

“It is the chair’s belief that Mr. Gorak’s qualifications are not the truly important issue before this committee,” Baker said, reading a prepared statement before the vote. 
Civil Beat, 4/21/2017

by Larry Geller

Don’t we need qualified people in government? We ought to be constantly striving for the best public servants. Tom Gorak appears to be very well qualified to serve on Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission. Unfortunately, the politics of Hawaii’s feudal system of government is complicating his confirmation by the Senate.

According to the Civil Beat story (which includes a link to his resume),

He has devoted almost 40 years to public utility regulation at the state and federal levels, authored dozens of papers, spoken at national and international conferences and served as the PUC’s chief counsel from 2013 until Ige appointed him in June to replace outgoing Commissioner Mike Champley.

There was plenty of support for Gorak, with almost all the written testimony in favor, including from the Sierra Club; former Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono; the former head of the state energy office, Mark Glick; well-known Hawaii energy expert John Cole and others.

[Civil Beat, Committee Rejects Governor’s Choice For Utilities Commission, 4/21/2017]

Sen. Baker’s objections appear based on the manner in which Gov. David Ige appointed Gorak on an interim basis. Yes, this bypassed the Senate confirmation process temporarily. Gorak’s appointment was made just before the PUC was set to decide on a $4.3 billion proposal for Florida’s NextEra Energy to acquire Hawaiian Electric Industries.

Baker perhaps feels that her own power has been challenged by the interim appointment. This is feudal politics at work.

Further into the article we read of Sen. Baker’s own shenanigans:

The morning hearing went smoothly, save for a few snips from Baker. She interrupted Gorak a couple times, including once right in the beginning when he asked to make an “opening statement” to the committee. She told him this was not court, but that he could make a statement.

For a bit more on Sen. Baker’s conduct of her committee hearings, see yesterday’s article on censorship of testimony. Scroll way down to just below the horzontal line. There’s a video to watch as well.

The current controversy over Gorak’s nomination is temporary. The need for qualified appointees to the PUC and elsewhere in government should be a stronger consideration.

It does not punish the Governor nor change his politics to reject Gorak. But it hurts the people of the state to reject him if he is best qualified to serve.


Cayetano’s message to Trump is well timed, but perhaps misplaced in the Washington Post

You and I met in 1998 when your Miss Universe
Pageant was held in Honolulu. I recall you
commented on the beauty of Honolulu and how
you felt it was the perfect venue for the pageant.
The rail project plans include seven massive elevated
rail stations 50-60 feet high and the 35 foot high
elevated rail line through the heart of downtown
Honolulu. If built, this will change the beauty and
ambience of the city forever.—
former governor Ben Cayetano’s ad in the 4/21/17 Washington Post

by Larry Geller

Former Hawaii governor Cayetano’s message in his Friday full-page ad in the Washington Post is clear, and he may have the right psychological approach for President Trump. He’s asking Trump to cut off federal funding for the Honolulu rail project (see ad, below).

But his expensive ad is in the Washington Post. Does Trump even read the Washington Post? If he does, would he ever get to page 15, which is where the ad ended up? Was Trump even in Washington when the paper was published? Maybe it needs to be re-run in the Palm Beach Daily News.

Maybe someone will actually show it to Trump.

Not only is the psychology tuned to Trump’s thinking, the timing could not be better. No doubt Trump is pissed at Hawaii for fouling up his Muslim Ban executive order. Cayetano offers him a way to apply the screws.

It would perhaps be more effective, though, if instead of the Washington Post, the venue were a commercial on Fox and Friends. That’s what HBO’s John Oliver did.

Oliver ran a series of commercials on a program that Trump is known to watch.



Of course, this is not a serious suggestion. It would be not only Trump who views the commercial but a sizeable chunk of the TV audience that Hawaii needs to attract as tourists.

It’s much less likely that potential tourists will be reading the Washington Post ad.

Here’s the ad. Click for larger.


Friday, April 21, 2017


AG opinion on Hawaii Senate “censorship” of testimony is not the last word

by Larry Geller


A Hawaii Attorney General opinion posted along with an article on April 11 by Civil Beat should not be the last word on this issue. In fact, there is good reason to question the opinion based on its omission of critical case law on the subject.

Chad Blair reported:

Hawaii’s Department of the Attorney General says the state Senate improperly denied a person’s constitutional protected right to submit testimony for legislative hearings.

Such protections are covered by the petition clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. and Hawaii constitutions, Deputy Attorney General Robyn Chun wrote to state Sen. Breene Harimoto on March 29.

Harimoto requested the opinion after learning that the written testimony of a woman working for A Place for Women in Waipio was withheld from lawmakers and the public. The testimony contained personal information about another testifier who was critical of the organization.

[Civil Beat, AG: Hawaii Senate Improperly Withheld Testimony From Public, 4/11/2017]

This would not be the first time testimony has “disappeared” after submission to the Legislature. See below for more on this.

Isn’t an AG opinion the last word on a subject?

Definitely not. The AG (or his deputies) regularly lose in court. It is reasonable to question opinions and even to question whether there might be some bias. We all have biases. This opinion may also—it may have a bias based on religious beliefs, given the particular subject matter.

One never knows, but when an opinion omits pertinent case law, it seems reasonable to question why.

One more snip from the Civil Beat story provides background for this line if inquiry:

At issue is Senate Bill 501, which would require all “limited service” pregnancy centers like the one in Waipio to disclose “the availability of and enrollment information for” reproductive health services.

An earlier version of the bill identified as part of that information abortion services, but the latest version uses the words “pregnancy-related services.”

SB 501 is supported by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii and the local chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It is opposed by religious organizations such as the Hawaii Family Forum, the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Hawaii and Mauka Makai Ministries.

Let’s dive into the legal issues first.

I was pointed to Schwab v. Ariyoshi,  58 Haw. 25, 564 P.2d 135 (1977) by someone who cares about this issue. This is the key case omitted from AG Doug Chin’s opinion (posted by Civil Beat at the end of the above article or click here).

Google reveals that Schwab is a frequently cited case when legislative procedures are challenged, so its omission is curious.

From The Hawaii State Constitution (Oxford Commentaries on the State Constitutions of the United States), Apr 15, 2011, by Anne Lee, p.99, on Article III Section 12 of our state constitution: 

Because the legislature is empowered by Section 12 to determine the rules of its proceedings, the court has declined to investigate possible violations of legislative rules. In general, the judiciary's role in supervising legislative activity is limited to seeing that such activity does not violate any constitutional provisions. Therefore, it will not "interfere with the conduct of legislative affairs in absence of a constitutional mandate to do so, or unless the procedure or result constitutes a deprivation of constitutionally guaranteed rights" (Schwab v. Ariyoshi, 1977).

At issue here, then, is whether there is a constitutionally guaranteed right that testimony submitted to a committee chair or a Senator must be distributed to other members or all members. It’s just not there.

Nor is there anything prohibiting the Legislature from changing, failing to follow, or even violating its own rules. They do so fairly regularly, in each and every session. Advocates may grouse about it, but it’s not illegal.

We need to look at one more case that was recommended to me, though:

Minn. Bd. Commun. for Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271, 281 (1984). In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the implication by the AG's recent opinion that the "right to petition" the government under the First Amendment can control legislative procedure.

The Constitution does not grant to members of the public generally a right to be heard by public bodies making decisions of policy... To recognize a constitutional right to participate directly in government policymaking would work a revolution in existing government practices.

There’s nothing to prevent any citizen (or anyone else, for that matter) from emailing all the Senators on a committee in order to be heard, as an example. The person whose testimony was “censored” could do that, and perhaps did. So there would be no infringement, as the AG suggests, of a person’s "right to petition" the government under the First Amendment. Email, fax, hand over a letter, whatever—petition away.

So what “bias” may be at play?

It wouldn’t be unusual for a person’s personal or religious beliefs to influence professional views on a subject intentionally or unintentionally. I can only speculate that perhaps this could be why the opinion fell as it did.

SB100 has been strongly opposed by the religious right. It seems that the Senate intends to withhold the personal information revealed in that testimony in order to shield a survivor from further victimization. Others appear to want the opposite.


And here is a photo, posted in a tweet by prolific tweeter Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran dated April 13 (two days after the Civil Beat article) of AG Doug Chin welcoming people to the Hawaii Prayer Breakfast.

There’s no implication of wrongdoing in suggesting that a person’s possible beliefs may influence the thoroughness of a professional work product. It happens.

Did it happen here?

Other instances of “censorship” of testimony

At one time I was a frequent testifier at the Legislature, spending far too many days waiting my turn to weigh in on controversial bills. It did happen that my testimony, submitted well before the committee meeting, didn’t make it into the committee’s paper packet that preceded computerization. It also happened rarely that my testimony did not make it into the compiled on-line pdf file after computerization.

Since I always came with a couple of copies of my written testimony I simply gave it to the chair and went over it orally for the rest of the committee.

Sh*t happens. But mostly, the process worked quite well.

A better example of “censorship” was on public display at a Senate hearing conducted in March, 2012, at which Senator Roz Baker, chair of Senate hearingCommerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, refused to hear oral testimony in opposition to the appointment of HMSA’s chief lobbyist to a position on the board of the Hawaii Health Connector. The entire incident was caught on video and led to a complaint by two organizations (one of which was Kokua Council, of which I was president at the time) about the chair’s conduct.

I wrote at the time (see first link):

On Friday, March 23, Senator Rosalyn Baker strong-armed approval of the nominees through her committee. She didn’t allow testimony from the public waiting in the room to speak until confronted by a member of the audience. And even then, she interrupted those who did come forward to testify against the nominees. Example: she would not let me refer to information in a Star-Advertiser article I brought with me.

The complaint, of course, went nowhere because the Senate can realistically do almost whatever it wants.

Recently I was asked in an email about apparent censorship of testimony submitted properly via the Capitol website. It took me a while to get to the issue, but when I did, I learned that the Capitol website simply forwards testimony to the committee, where presumably a staff member assembles the testimony as in days of yore. The emails to me included the receipts received from the system.

I did not look at the testimony in question—it doesn’t matter whether I would agree with it or not. In my view, the Legislature should, in general, assure that all testimony is properly compiled. I could not learn from the committee staff if testimony was ever deliberately withheld, and one person’s response wouldn’t necessarily be definitive anyway. Perhaps I could have more aggressively pursued the question, but there was no assurance that I could accurately learn the reason for the disappearance of this particular testimony.

That is not to say that “disappeared” testimony isn’t of interest—it is, just that in this single instance I could not form a conclusion. If there is a pattern and practice of omitting testimony, that alone should be of public interest.

Anyone who is concerned about this, please comment below if you also have had testimony “disappear” that you think was unfairly treated.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Did you know that Blaisdell is a war memorial? Do you care that big bucks may be spent to unnecessarily “improve” it?

The Blaisdell is a “living” or functional war memorial, a common type of memorial from the mid-20th century. Living memorials follow a dual purpose of honoring veterans while also serving the community.—
Civil Beat article 

by Larry Geller

Thanks to Tanya Harrison (follow her on Twitter as @BlaisdellMemorl), the city’s plans to reconstruct this facility have now been exposed to a larger audience.

Among the several questions Tanya asks is the economic one:

With the problems of rail, homelessness, and infrastructure, why is this a priority? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to simply renovate? The initial estimate of $400 million could easily balloon to more than $ 1 billion. While the powers-that-be wrangle over revenue increases to balance the budget, discussion of Blaisdell redevelopment, budgeted for $12 million next year, is not on the public’s radar.

[Civil Beat, Is Anyone Paying Attention To The Blaisdell Center Makeover?, 4/13/2017]

The planned redevelopment likely links with the theft of Thomas Square as a public park. Taken together, renovation of Blaisdell would whet the city’s appetite for commercial development. But is this in the public interest?

Why has the Arena’s status as a war memorial been shrouded from public awareness as these plans continue?

Read the article at the Civil Beat website. If you enjoy concertgoing or even shopping at the Wednesday farmers’ market, you might also be concerned about this plan, apparently developed with as little public participation as possible.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Petition filed by Native Hawaiian fisherman against Hawaii’s illegal licensing of foreign longline fishermen

75% of workers in Hawaii’s long lines industry are said to be foreign fisherman who are not allowed to even set foot in Hawaii because they are in a technical state of deportation as they fish (see: Three months after the AP revealed slave-like conditions aboard boats in the Hawaii fishing fleet, no fix is in sight, 12/7/2016).

State law is pretty clear but is not enforced: HRS §189-5, titled "Aliens not admitted to United States," states that: “It is unlawful for any person who has not been lawfully admitted to the United States toengage in taking marine life for commercial purposes in the waters of the State.”

The press release explains this new action, which is a petition that the Board of Land and Natural Resources is required to hear. An OCR copy of the petition is attached below.

Wailuku, Maui — Malama Chun, a Native Hawaiian waterman, who fishes, has filed a petition with the state Board of Land and Natural Resources challenging DLNR's Division of Aquatic Resources practice of issuing licenses to foreign fisherman who have been refused permission to land in Hawai'i by U.S. authorities and have been ordered deported.

State law restricts the issuance of commercial fishing licenses to persons "lawfully admitted to the United States" Foreign fishermen working in the longline fishing industry are refused permission to land in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are also ordered deported. However, using a loophole, they authorize the fisherman's boat captain to hold the fisherman's passport and the deportation order and allow the boat captain to determine when the deportation is to occur. To enforce the deportation order, the piers at which the fishing boats dock are heavily militarized and access is restricted.

Malama Chun said, "Fishermen are the state's first line of defense in observing and reporting harmful activities that threaten our public marine resources. These individuals are prohibited from freely moving in Hawai'i and are subject to the total control of their employer. They are simply unable to report violations to authorities."

Chun's attorney, Lance D. Collins, added: "The statute is clear when it limits commercial fishing licenses to persons "lawfully admitted" to the United States. Previous to 1949 when "lawfully admitted" was added to the statute, any person could obtain a fishing license."

Under Board of Land and Natural Resources rules, the Board will now consider the petition and either grant a declaratory order confirming the practice as illegal or deny the petition.

Download 20170412 Mchun Petition for Dec Order to Blnr - OCR from Disappeared News

Monday, April 10, 2017


It will be Hawaii, not Mar-a-Lago, that is at risk if Trump provokes North Korea

Counterpoint podcast: Hyun Lee on North Korea

Hyun Lee

Update: The transcript of the Counterspin interview with Hyun Lee on North Korea is now posted. Read it here.

For an expert analysis including the “disappeared” history that never makes it into the mainstream news, tune in to this week’s episode of Counterpoint. Download the mp3 file linked from this page and skip ahead to about the 4:30 point for the interview. At this writing, no transcript has yet been posted on the fair.org transcript page, but there should be one in a few days.

Understanding of the US relationship with North Korea will not come from Trump, our own dear leader. To understand the tense and perhaps fragile situation will take research beyond his tweets and press statements. Nor has the mainstream press been at all reliable, most habitually dismissing N. Korean leadership as bumbling clowns with nuclear weapons.


by Larry Geller

The mainstream media seems to love Trump’s “presidential” act of bombing that Syrian air field. They love it. As a distraction from the ongoing investigations into Russian involvement in the election, it’s been a winner.

For the moment, anyway, the tide of media approval has swamped the Russian thing totally, as may have been intended.

tweet 6 poliical theater

The investigations haven’t halted, of course, and could bob to the surface any time soon. In that case, since Trump enjoys “winning,” there has been speculation in the Twitterverse that he could try for an encore performance by provoking North Korea militarily.

If he does that, as I tweeted on Thursday, Hawaii better watch out:

tweet 0 mine

The path of an ICBM would be shorter to Hawaii and opportunities to intercept it fewer. Plus, the islands are home to a vast military presence, including the Pacific Command.

Of course, the United States could then blow N. Korea off the map.

Kim Jong Un would have to be crazy to attack Hawaii. Right?  Right??

Well, John McCain recently called Kim Jong Un a "crazy fat kid" on MSNBC. Here’s a report of the reaction:

The state-run Korean Central News Agency accused McCain, and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, of attacking North Korea's "dignity," calling their comments a "grave provocation, little short of declaration of war.​"

[USA Today, Kim Jong Un, North Korea blast McCain for 'crazy fat kid' remark, 3/30/2017]

And now this:

tweet1 cnn

That Trump may have N. Korea in his crosshairs is a hot topic on Twitter. He seems to be preparing. Preparing something, we don’t know what, since his actions appear to be based more on whim than on policy.

tweet 4 nukes

None of this is secret. The tweets have thousands of re-tweets.

Also, and this is a new twist I think in American politics, Trump stands to profit from the military adventures he instigates. The bombing of the Syrian airfield was ineffective—planes took off from it the very next day. But the 60 or so missiles fired drove up Raytheon stock, and Trump invests in Raytheon stock.

tweet2 n korea 2

There’s nothing funny about this, but there was an article in The Onion that rang too true to be amusing:

tweet 3 onion

…President Donald Trump held a press conference Friday to express his full confidence that the airstrike had completely wiped out the lingering Russian scandal. “Based on intelligence we have received over the past several hours, the attack on the al-Shayrat air base in Homs has successfully eliminated all discussions and allegations about my administration’s ties to the Russian government,” said Trump.”

[The Onion, Trump Confident U.S. Military Strike On Syria Wiped Out Russian Scandal, 4/7/2017]


tweet 5 distraction of syria wears off

2017-04-10 S-A
Today the threat went mainstream, at least in the Honolulu newspaper. The Star-Advertiser gave almost its entire front page to a story about the threat.

In Hawaii a profusion of four-star military commands — including U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees U.S. military activity over half the globe — makes Oahu a strategic and symbolic target. The threat from an unpredictable North Korea, in turn, is prompting a revisitation of some old Cold War practices that until recently seemed laughable.

[Star-Advertiser p.1, Specialists think North Korea poses nuclear threat to Hawaii, 4/10/2017]

The well-researched story by reporter William Cole notes that once we were prepared (as best as one could be, I suppose), but no more:

Nuclear fallout shelters? In 1981 Oahu had hundreds of them. The Prince Kuhio Building could hold 14,375 people — not because it has a secret underground bunker, but because its concrete parking structure could be used as shelter.

“Each one of those facilities had to be surveyed for how much concrete density (was present),” said Toby Clairmont, executive officer of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the successor to Civil Defense. “And they had to be equipped, so they put medical kits in them, food, sanitary kits, all that kind of stuff.”

As time went on, funding for those provisions stopped, and the stocks were disposed of because they became too old, Clairmont said. In the majority of cases, existing fallout shelter markings are out of date and no longer applicable.

It’s scary for many people to realize that Donald Trump really is president.” Some wake up in very real fear of deportation or of losing their health insurance and then their health. For us in Hawaii, we have Trump’s intentions toward North Korea to worry about as well. What he does may well have consequences for us.

What to do about it? That discussion should start immediately at all levels of our government.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Honolulu 2140 ?

by Larry Geller

Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann tried a commuter ferry called TheBoat as a way to ease traffic congestion coming into cental Honolulu. It never worked, and cost taxpayers an estimated $120 per roundtrip rider to operate. Commuters preferred their cars or TheBus.

But suppose neither of those were an option one day as sea levels rise, turning streets and highways into canals. If the tall condos and downtown office buildings are not abandoned entirely, the only way to get to them will be by boat.

The cover of a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (author of the Mars trilogy) released just this month, New York 2140, is a great illustration of what Honolulu also might become. Here’s the cover that you’ll see on Amazon:

ny 2140

Assuming that buildings made of steel and concrete can remain standing with their feet perpetually immersed in salty sea water, they’ll no doubt have to arrange for some kind of access by watercraft. For this cover illustration the artist has chosen to show individual moorings around each building. Here’s a magnified section of the cover:

ny 2140 enlarged

New York 2140 is science fiction. Global Warming is not, and Honolulu will be facing the consequences one day.

At least Honolulu’s rail line is being built with elevated platforms. Here’s a vision, this time a New Yorker cover, of the great beach access that we’ll enjoy some time in the next few decades:

New Yorker climate change cover 20150706[8]

Monday, March 20, 2017


Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: World Politics-Economics Right Now

World Politics-Economics Right Now

20 March 2017

galtung_side#473 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Cold War ended by an agreement that the USSR leaves Eastern Europe and the USA does not enter the area. What the USA did is treason, like Sykes-Picot. NATO expanded from 16 to 28: Bill Clinton added Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary; George W. Bush the Baltics, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria; Obama attached Croatia and Albania. In 1999, 2004 and 2009, respectively.  However, did those countries want it? They could have made their own pacts with neither USSR nor USA. The Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself, had collapsed.

With NATO at the border, Russia took back its 1954 Crimea gift to Ukraine within the Soviet Union.  Kiev with US help fought in Eastern Ukraine to make ethnic Russians escape to Russia.  Maybe 60% did.

Enters world history: The Pope and the Patriarch declare their Christianities one and the same (Havana Airport, VIP Lounge, 14 Feb 2016).  EU will no longer fight US wars (Bratislava, 6 Nov 2016). Protestant-Evangelical Christianity is marginalized. So is the USA.

Denmark and Norway were with Anglo-America fighting US wars in Libya; and with prime ministers as NATO’s secretary general. “Cold War jitters arise in Norway–arrival of US Marines stoke fears of being in cross hairs of Russia–a more likely bomb target” (NYT 18 Jan 2017).  But they are low on the US “Ranking American Allies” (NYT 7 Feb 2017); the top three are Canada, Britain and Australia (top three enemies: North Korea, Iran, Russia). And “US Threatens to Penalize Allies on UN Voting (IPS 7 Feb 2017). Given that and US marginalization, how long will they remain “allies”?

Charles Glass, “How Assad Is Winning” (NYRB 23 Feb 2017): solving national conflict is a sum of local solutions, using local superiority to offer security for local opponents laying down arms; government and opponents both benefiting from fees from road controls.  Israel will not get Syria cut into small pieces; USA will not get Sunni rule; Turkey will not control the Kurds; Russia keeps its air-navy base. Colombia, watch out; this may also be your alternative to US bombing. Politically the world is multi-polar, not run by superpowers. The West wants power-over-others and loses power-over-self; others have more Self-control, not Other-control. How does that work economically?

As debt. The debt/GDP ratio is: USA 98.3%, China 8.2%, India 23.0%, Russia 29.2%, and above 100% for many (Wikipedia “World Debt Clock”). The US 2016 trade balance was -$0.7 trillion, with China -$349 billion, with Mexico -$64 billion (Fortune, 1 Mar 2017).  The 2016 US annual interest was $241 billion; the 2027 projection is $768 billion. Will Trump cancel the debt unilaterally? Or bomb creditors to cancel?

Another key factor is finance economy speculation–as opposed to real economy investment–in derivative chains with super-commissions. If drug chains are illegal and boycotted, why not also derivatives?

China’s 8.2% debt/GDP ratio is the lowest of the 30 states listed. How does Chinese economic policy differ from the West? A first simple formulation: qualitative, focused on “revolutions”, not quantitative focused on “growth”.  The Economist Intelligence Unit, The World in 2017 fails to capture new qualities, too obsessed with quantitative growth.

Less simplistic: this difference follows from basics. The West has a creation myth, setting things right, with quantitative change, China has a never ceasing dialectics, new holons, with new realities. The two ways of thinking become self-fulfilling prophecies.

This author had a theory of China changing from distribution to growth and back every nine years from 1949 till 1989; with a 1976-1980 break after Mao’s death and before Deng launched the capitalist revolution.

That theory no longer holds.  From 1989 the ethos has been distribution oriented: lifting a sector up–now under Xi Jinping the lagging countryside–or a part, the West; or simply more consumption.  6% growth does not even put China among the ten “Top growers”.

China Daily (27 Feb 2017): President Xi Jinping uses his village level experience for policies lifting them up, “stunned that there was still a place with such poor and difficult conditions after so many years of reform and opening up”. Problems: health, education.  The typical reporting on Xi in the West, however, is on power struggle in the Communist Party, failing to catch processes involving millions.

USA: The Economist (p. 99) reports that “Americans–including those at the very bottom–have enjoyed surprisingly robust income gains of late.”  Better distribution, great; but “8 richest men match wealth of half the world” (NYT 18 Jan 2017), 6 of them are Americans (one is Spanish, Ortega; one is Mexican, Slim); 3 of the 6 are the founders of Microsoft-Amazon-Facebook, like Internet changing the world we live in.

But USA has economic power-over-others: Lex americana extracted 40 billion dollars from European companies as fines to US authorities (Le Monde Diplomatique Jan 2017). The 1977 US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was extended to foreign companies in 1998; laws forbidding trade with states under US embargo likewise.  US law is extra-territorial, so are US judges-courts, CIA-FBI-NSA at US embassies are the police. States that deviate from US norms when using boycott and trade for foreign policy risk their interests in the USA and prefer not to challenge it.

The net conclusion?  The enormous US imbalance: no longer winning wars, less political clout, economically bankrupt but still powerful, shaping the world culturally.  Wise US policy would celebrate the last two; unwise policy would Make America Great Again-military-political, as Trump wants.  Drop “Again” Mr. Trump, Make America Great! Will do.

And wise world policy? Celebrate the military-political decline of the last superpower, fight lex americana, treat US$ like any other currency–in baskets with others or not–and the US federal reserve bank like other central banks.  Normalize the USA from the outside.

And create world, UN, equivalents of Internet etc. as parts of the common human heritage, like oceans and space–beyond state ownership. In deep gratitude to the US–all immigrants–creative, innovative talent.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published 1670 articles and book chapters, over 470 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.


Let’s declare April 1 to be the official Fake News Day

by Larry Geller

Suitable for high school: Trump’s tweets vs. real events


Today’s Congressional hearings present a great opportunity to apply critical thinking skills.

Our 45th president, whom we should normally be able to trust in view of the integrity that accompanies his office, emitted a series of tweets as the hearings progressed.

James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017

As the Washington Post clarified,

But in his opening testimony, FBI Director James Comey announced that a criminal investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign was indeed active and ongoing.

One more tweet:

The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process. pic.twitter.com/d9HqkxYBt5

— President Trump (@POTUS) March 20, 2017

The Post:

This was a strange claim, especially because if you watch the video, [NSA Director Michael S.] Rogers makes clear that, when asked about whether Russian cyber-actors changed vote tallies in Michigan and other states, he replied: “I would highlight we are a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization. So it would be fair to say, we are probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer.”

Indeed, when later asked about the presidential tweet, Comey said it did not reflect what he and Rogers had said: “It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today.”

This is a teaching moment.


For middle school: Trump’s wiretap tweets are a great lesson

For younger students one might discuss the difference between an assertion and a fact.

In these tweets from earlier this month, should we ask whether it is legal to tap Trump’s phone prior to the election or must we first question the assertion that the tapping took place?

Heck, a president said it, so it must be true, right?

Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

Young students might be surprised that a president says one thing and is contradicted by others, for example, the FBI director (again, in the Washington Post article):

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said. “The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.”

After all, young children are taught to believe authority, especially if their parents say something.

I don’t really know what a teacher might do if a kid says “But my dad said that Obama tapped Trump’s telephone.”

I’m glad I won’t have to face that response.

Good luck, teachers.

Let’s choose April 1 each year as a day to teach critical thinking in our schools at every grade level [actually, darn, it falls on a Saturday this year, so let’s use the day before].

April 1 or April Fools Day is a day to pull pranks but also a day to publish fake news stories in newspapers and on the web.

Some appear very real but most are fun and easy to spot.

These days we may be fed fake news most any day of the year. The trick is to be able to recognize it. It seems that many people can’t do that.

What about the steady diet of #FakeNews that the public has been exposed to at least since the election campaigns began last year? Many people seemed to glom onto it. Perhaps they could not tell the fake from the real. Perhaps they wanted the fake news to be real.

Of course there has always been fake news, but it was never popular enough to have its own hashtag. #FakeNews is now “trending” as they say. We even have fake news about “alternative facts.” Sheesh.

Such is the sad state of reason in an age when it is not ok to challenge someone’s “belief system.”

Our schools can teach students to think critically, a skill that would serve them well throughout life. So let’s do that, at least this one day of the year.

Yes, I know, encouraging critical thinking is blasphemy in a culture so dependent on selling things to each of us. If we teach critical thinking, who will buy all that crap sold on TV, who would vote for deceiving politicians, who would pop those supplements we are told we should eat?

Our 45th president in particular seems to be very invested in the fake news genre. In fact (if the word still has any meaning) he has popularized fake news not only in his campaign but as he attempts to carry out his official duties.

Declaring as fact that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower is only the latest installment. Tomorrow there will be something new. Believe me.

So why not take the opportunity to declare April 1 as the day to teach young people better thinking skills?

It’s too late for the older folks who have made it through our educational system only learning reading and math. Of course, that kind of schooling is what advertisers and politicians want for us.

We’re supposed to be uncritical consumers in order to keep the economy going and elect charlatans to political office.


No. Stop. Let’s make America think again.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


#BoycottHawaii hashtag backfires wonderfully

by Larry Geller

Hawaii filed a lawsuit against Trump’s first Muslim Ban and was the first state to file against Trump’s latest attempt. A judge in Federal District Court in Honolulu put a TRO on the ban nationwide.

In reaction, the hashtag #BoycottHawaii began trending on Twitter, but it almost immediately backfired.

It seems that both Hawaii residents and visitors wouldn’t mind at all if Trump supporters decided not to come here.

Here are some tweets I spotted just now:










Monday, March 13, 2017


Johan Galtung’s view from Europe: A Structural Theory of Aging


A Structural Theory of Aging

13 March 2017

galtung_side#472 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

Wikipedia has much to offer under “aging”. Highly recommended are the 10 points by the world’s oldest living man, 114, Walter Breuning.    However, older persons, like me at 86, know their own aging best.  Less trouble with “oxidant stress” as a major cause, having used anti-oxidants based on blueberry skin–no chemicals–for decades. 20,000 blood stem cells renew my blood, but they are dying.  Problematic.

Rule no. 1: Keep mind and body active; maintain a good nutrition.

Obvious to counteract aging.  However, equally important:

Rule no. 2: Be open to the positive sides and advantages of aging.

Bertrand Russell’s “On Being 90” in the Observer dispenses with the disadvantages as obvious, in favor of his advantage: the overview.  At the age of 5 he sat on the knee of a man who had fought Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815-=-. The longer the lives we have lived, the more events have impinged upon us. An “overview” identifies some link, a narrative, a common factor.  That identification is often referred to as “wisdom”.

However: thigh muscles weaken, walking falters, fatigue, seeing and hearing impaired. Exercise helps, but aging is unavoidable.

Rule no. 3: At least do not fall; not breaking fragile bones, no ending up bedridden in a hospital, contracting new diseases.  Equip the room, the home, the context with handles and handrails.

Then the mental aspects of aging: memories failing, not only of recent events, less ability to handle many and simultaneous stimuli. As a result, many and more mistakes reinforcing the sense of aging.

Rule no. 4: Simplify the context, contract the circle of living.  Be realistic, change the structure of daily life, narrow the circle to what can be handled easily: the ward, the village, the context, the home, the room–but then equipped with a maximum of music, books, social media, as enriching as possible.  If driving, then on known roads with little traffic, in small towns, villages.

Rule no. 5: Togetherness.  A society with much loneliness for young or old is a bad society.  Get old together, with a spouse, a cooperating partner.  Much conversation will be about pains suffered.  But cut it short. Focus on positives, beautiful landscapes, gardens, music, literature.  Enjoyment together is more than double enjoyment.

Make shared meals as much of a feast as possible.  The ability to enjoy good food lasts; our senses of smell and taste are more solid. No smoking of course and moderation with alcohol, sugar and cereals. Let good food and drinks stay a while in the mouth where the taste buds are, tied to the smell; do not just swallow and “wash it down”.

Rule no. 6: Live both real and virtual lives. Postmodern life has two realities; not only what we sense but also a virtual, IT, reality with friendship and enriching exchanges activating the mind. IT offers all of that–with no risks of falling!–in the simple context of a computer.  Particularly when adding Skype, and even free!

Rule no. 7: no retirement. Go for a job where the older can share experiences with the younger, even if no longer showing up at work. A work place closed to the older is a bad work place. In post-modernity this is possible in ways unthought-of, for mutual benefit. How much, paid or unpaid, can be negotiated. Being productive is what matters.

Negate this. Retire, cut all links, live only one reality, alone/lonely, in a complex world with physical and mental risks, nothing positive, passively, no exercise, bad nutrition.  Brutish, nasty, and short.

Better contract from the macro-society of country-region-world to a rich micro-society of a circle around oneself and the partner(s), relating to other circles.  But it does not have to be that micro.

We can argue: high time.  To be born into micro-society, then the macro-society of education and work, and then a poor micro-society of retirement is not good enough.  Traditionally, women continue working longer than men, living more human lives. Is this why women live longer?

Due to better health, and family planning favoring 2 children, we now have aging populations and even more return into micro-society in old age homes. Some time ago, huge macro-society growth swallowed such micro-societies as villages; now there is a return to villages and a return to childhood at old age. And macro becomes even more macro, regional, global, marginalizing the old even more. Inhuman; a far cry from retired farmers still living on the farm for care and experience.

Major structural changes, hence this structural theory of aging.

In those micro-societies of the aged, with nurses and others for “assisted living”, all know that the purpose of still living is dying. And before that there may be physical and mental suffering.  Inhuman!

Fight it; practice Rules 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.  Aging is nothing to be afraid of, but foresight and planning are indispensable. Some macro can be created. A married couple here and an unmarried there, each managing in their ways, can relate, exchange experiences, also to old-age homes that may be the longer term answer to the aging. Virtually this micro to micro can even cross borders. Reconquering macro life.

Let me end on a subjective note.  Having lived an eventful rich life, including meeting many people “high up”, I remember thinking “how can I live without this when I get older”? I find myself, older, thinking “how could I live without the wonderful life I now have”?  Deluding myself, in both cases, closing the eye to all the negatives?  Maybe.  But then, maybe some selection is part of a good life.

I find myself floating, navigating through time and life, trying, not always successfully, to do more good and less harm. Not concluding that the present is the best period although it often feels like that.  It is different, and very good. One positive aspect is obvious: with less work in the sense of a job there is more time for work in the sense of being creative.  With hands and the mind. On the computer.

Thanks, Life, the best of all gifts.  For every day.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published 1670 articles and book chapters, over 450 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.


In Hawaii's state legislature, ninja assassins are used to kill bills in conference committees

[Ethics] bills to close loopholes and tighten restrictions died mysteriously at the end of the legislative session….[Rep. Matt] LoPresti also didn’t offer any particular insight into why his bill died, or into why the other measures related to ethics and lobbying were deep-sixed. “I don’t know why half the things here die,” he said. “It’s a mystery.”—
Civil Beat: Hawaii Lawmakers Again Balk At Ethics, Lobbying Reform (5/23/2016)

by Larry Geller

Earlier articles in this  series (start reading at the bottom of the list):

I'm sticking with my model of the Hawaii state legislature as a feudal system, with the shogun at the top and each committee chair as a Senate as a feudal systemfeudal lord (daimyo) assigned a particular fief.

This is not the model that is taught in classes or seminars that purport to explain how the legislative process works, but without this understanding, true reform and democratization of the system isn’t possible.

The figure (“Emperor”) at the upper right is the governor, who is powerful but not directly involved in the legislative process.

Conference committees are the Shoguns’ secret weapons

An explanation of the legislative process provided by the Public Access room includes a little box at the upper right with this information:


Often the House Rules, Senate Rules or Joint conference procedures specify that a legislator who has voted against the measure will not be appointed to the conference committee. This is one of the reasons that a legislator in opposition to a measure may choose to vote 'aye with reservations' rather than against the measure. In this way, that person can still be eligible to serve on the conference committee, and can then attempt to have input on the bill's final form, or work to prevent a final compromise from being reached.

Cheating democracy through secret conference committees

Although Rep. LoPresti, in the pull-quote above “didn’t offer any particular insight ” into why ethics bills died last session, the cause is easy to discern. And he knows it, too.

Legislative leadership did not want the ethics bills to pass but didn’t want to appear opposed to them publicly.

So allowing the bills to progress through the session, supported by testimony offered by good government advocates and organizations. So far so good. It makes it appear that the legislature backs ethics reform. Of course, this is a sham. Legislators know that the bills will never become law.

Leadership (House and/or Senate shoguns) knew they could “disappear” each bill in the black hole that is a conference committee.

The purpose of a conference committee is supposed to be to iron out differences in order to pass the bill

When a bill has made it through each house of the legislature it is likely to have some differences, large or small. One house may simply say (as directed by its leadership (shogun) that it accepts the wording of the other, and the bill will be sent off to the governor.

If that doesn’t happen, then a conference committee is appointed, ostensibly to iron out differences and produce a compromise version of the bill.

So a bill that has made it successfully through many arduous committee hearings and floor debates should ultimately be sent to the governor, right? Wrong. Not when the shoguns decide otherwise.

This is an example of the dictatorial power the shoguns wield. Democracy dies behind the closed doors of the secret conference committees.

The Legislative Reference Bureau was completely honest in its explanation of the conference committee process in the box at the upper right, which is snipped from one of their publications. Note the last sentence admits that conferees may not actually be working to reach a compromise at all. Instead they may “work to prevent a final compromise from being reached.”

The box describes a process that is often used to kill a bill, and one that the public doesn’t understand. In fact, all those hours waiting to testify at one committee after another, the time lost from work to be at the State Capitol, all that airfare to come from a Neighbor Island to Oahu to give testimony, it all is wasted on a sham process if the shoguns plan to kill a bill in conference anyway.

The use of conference committees in this way cheats the public of its time, money and energy and ultimately robs us of the representative government ninjapromised by the state constitution.

Since the shoguns appoint committee members, they can appoint “ninja assassins” whose purpose is not to reach a compromise, but instead are assigned to simply make sure the bill doesn’t get out of the conference committee alive.

The conference committee allows special interest campaign contributions to influence legislators

We’ve seen in an earlier article how committee chairs can simply kill (“defer”) a bill or refuse to hear it at all, for no good democratic reason. Imagine, if you will, that a committee chair (daimyo) has accepted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions over the years from special interests (ag chemicals, medical insurance, etc.). How better to serve those interests than to manipulate the process so that a bill that threatens them will never move forward in the session?

Another way, if a bill is very popular for example, is to let it move along knowing that it will never make it out of a rigged conference committee hearing. That was the fate of the ethics bills in the 2016 session.

The box above describes a subterfuge, a deceit, a deception. It also reveals that decisionmaking is carried out by legislative leaders quite independent of the public process. In other words, testimony and the will of constituents can be safely ignored because killing a bill in conference is easy and no individual legislator will be blamed.

The opportunity for special interest influence blossoms here. Lobbyists know that if the shoguns assure them a bill will not pass, it will be killed by the ninjas in the end.

Democracy is not possible in Hawaii’s state legislature without reform of the conference committee process

Other reforms (for example, curtailing a committee chair (daimyo) ‘s power to kill or not hear bills) are ineffective if the shoguns can simply send their ninja assassins to kill or perhaps neuter a bill in conference at the end of the session.

The use of conference committees in this way is shameful and should be a priority for reform. Good government groups, where are you on this?

Sunday, March 12, 2017


European tests show smart meters may overbill electricity by up to 582%

by Larry Geller

smart metersBefore critics of smart meters in this country get overexcited, it must be noted that these tests were conducted in Europe. They should raise concerns, but tests would have to be done on this side of the pond to see if equipment used in the USA is subject to the same or similar errors.

Dutch scientists at the University of Twente conducted tests on nine different brands of  smart meters. They found variations of from -32% to +582% of actual power consumption.

Another concern that I would like to throw into this (not mentioned in the articles making their way around the Web) is the calibration (or lack thereof) of equipment used for submetering in condos and other settings (universities, etc.).

Submetering is a method of allocating costs—in a condo, measuring equipment is installed at each apartment and used to subdivide the building’s electric bill so as to allocate it to the individual apartment owners. Some states have laws specifying the calibration standards necessary for this equipment—Hawaii does not. Clearly, equipment that does not meet calibration standards could be under- or over-billing owners.


Reform of Hawaii’s legislative system is possible, if we work at it

[Former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei] Tanaka's discerning eye saw through the fictions of democracy. He focused on the clear and simple fact that basic decisions involving the law are made outside the legislature
quoted in paper by Chalmers Johnson

by Larry Geller

Earlier articles in what is becoming a series:

How can I say we have a more advanced system of government and at the same time describe it as a feudal system? My thinking is this:

Two examples from this past week’s news illustrate the nature of our current system and can serve to illustrate a way out of it.

Example 1: popular environmental protection bill assassinated by committee chair

A bill seeking to ban foam containers was shelved this session, despite sizable public support.

Most of the 615 submitted testimonies supported Senate Bill 1109, which would have prohibited the use of polystyrene foam products by food vendors starting in January 2020. The material is commonly used for coffee cups and takeout containers.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment, said the foam ban received the second highest number of public testimony submissions out of the 91 bills that came before his committee. The first was a pesticide buffer bill (SB 29) with roughly 700 testimonies.

Both failed to cross over to the House, despite their popularity with the public.

[Star-Advertiser p. B1, Senators shelve foam ban proposal, 3/12/2017]

What happened to this bill?

It was up to Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chair of the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, to schedule a joint committee hearing for the bill, SB 1109, before Friday’s deadline.

Baker did not respond to requests for comments Thursday about why she failed to do so.

[CivilBeat, Committee Chairs Halt Bills To Ban Foam Food Containers, 3/3/2017]

Further from the Civil Beat story:

“Bills are being decided behind closed doors without the opportunity for public discourse,” [Surfrider Foundation’s, Rafael] Bergstrom said.

This is nothing new. It is standard operating procedure for Hawaii’s state legislature to decide bills behind closed doors. I wrote in the first article linked above:

I attended a long hearing of the House Finance committee one day and wondered why it was being run by the co-chair instead of the chair. So I asked a representative during a break. He told me that the chair was in the back room working with then-speaker Calvin Say on decisionmaking.

In fact, they had already decided on many bills even before the bills came up on the agenda to be heard.

So much for that carefully written testimony that took you hours to write. So much for your waiting half a day to present it. So much for the expense of flying to Oahu from a Neighbor Island to give your testimony in person. You did what those classes on how bills become law say you must do. Then the system ignores you.

Example 2: Pesticide bill killed by House leadership

House Bill 790 would have required agricultural companies and others who spray large quantities of pesticides outdoors to provide extensive disclosure about usage and alert facilities that serve children and seniors before spraying chemicals in their vicinity, among other requirements, or face potential fines.

The bill had a Thursday deadline to cross over to the Senate and was one of three bills placed on the day’s agenda for a full House vote. But House members didn’t take a vote on the bill and instead quietly recommitted it to the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee, effectively killing the measure for the year.

[Star-Advertiser p. B3, Fear of flak from public dooms bill on pesticides, 3/10/2017]

The Hawaii House of Representatives on Thursday quashed a bill that would have required large-scale agricultural operations to publicly disclose when and where they spray pesticides and insecticides.

Even though House Bill 790 had passed three House committees — a high hurdle — Majority Leader Scott Saiki called for the bill to be recommitted to one of those committees during a Thursday floor session.

[Civil Beat, House Uses Sleight Of Hand To Kill Pesticide Disclosure Bill, 3/9/2017]

Another example, though there are potentially dozens or more each session, was the untimely death of a bill I personally hoped would pass, SB1137. We have a chronic shortage of physicians in Hawaii. That bill could have begun work to remedy the problem. It was killed by Sen. Baker without a committee vote (and three sponsors of the bill were on her committee).

A possible fix? One idea

Senate as a feudal systemIn Hawaii’s feudal system, the daimyos (feudal lords) are the powerful committee chairs. I would like to suggest that a fix to create a democratic system out of what we have could start with two changes to the rules:

  1. Require that a committee vote be taken on all bills that have significant public testimony. Clearly, this needs to be refined, but that’s the idea.
  2. Require that amendments be drawn up and voted on only when presented in finished form to the committee.
  3. Clearly, “dirty tricks” need to be eliminated. A bill that has passed through its committee hearings should be given the reading on the chamber floor that the state constitution requires and then allowed its vote. The issue of skipping floor readings is also a topic that needs work.

The styrofoam bill, for example, had overwhelming public support. So it should have been voted on by each committee. Period. No “deferral” by committee chairs to kill the bill allowed.

As to the second part, another power that the daimyo committee chairs currently abuse is to recommend passage of a bill “with amendments.” But those amendments haven’t been written yet and could be anything. They could effectively neuter a bill or even replace its entire contents in a move called “gut and replace.” So the solution is to write the amendment, circulate it among all members of the committee in advance so that it can be read by each of them, and then come back for a vote another day.

There should be discussion on these and other measures to move our present system of state government on up to the next level, democracy.

Ending the influence of special interests is likely to be more difficult

As noted in my earlier article, bribery was a feature of Japan’s feudal system. Many TV period drama series featured bribes openly passed to officials in the feudal government.

At the time we lived in Japan, starting in 1972, bribery of public officials was still a feature of regular news coverage (see: Shameless shogun, The Economist, 6/9/2016). I recall that even after ex-prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, the subject of that article and called the “Shadow Shogun” in the Japanese media, was removed from office, news articles reported a steady parade of visitors bearing monetary gifts to his home.

Chalmers Johnson described “what the Japanese call kozo oshoku, or ‘structural corruption.’" in Japanese government which I think probably continues even today. This is hard to reform as it is tolerated by society in Japan. In Hawaii (as elsewhere in the US), this “structural corruption (構造 汚職)” is endemic in our system of political contributions and now exacerbated by permitting “superPACs”.

It appears that the influence of the ag-chemical industry played a role in Hawaii lawmakers’ decisions to kill that popular bill. This type of corruption may also yield to reform via legislative rules.

How to work on it:

UH could play a role in legislative reform if they would come out of their silo

We have a Political Science department in the University of Hawaii.

Let’s put them to work. For us, I mean.


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