On the occasion of your 2019 graduation

One of my first thoughts is to apologize to graduates everywhere, but sorry really doesn’t cut it.

Though my generation has screwed things up pretty badly, there are also many of us who have learned from our mistakes and are committed to making things better.

The truth is, we really, really, really need your help.

Yes, there have been some huge accomplishments and in some areas we have made great progress toward making the world a better place. Basic living standards and simple longevity for many are higher than they have ever been.

But we have also made tragic errors of judgment, starting and pursuing unnecessary and unending wars.

We marvel at the technological innovations developed in the past 50 years. However during this same time period we have failed to stop the widespread pollution of our environment, the drastic loss of species diversity and the imminent threat of sea level rise and climate change.

While the world of advertising inundates us with the symbols of wealth and prosperity, the reality is much different. In an April 24th interview with billionaire Ray Dalio, The Guardian reported that:

  • We have a global economy where the wealth of the top 1% of the population is more than that of the bottom 90% of the population combined
  • Forty per cent of all Americans would struggle to raise $400 in the event of an emergency.
  • The childhood poverty rate in the US is now 17.5% and has not meaningfully improved for decades.
  • The US scores lower than virtually all developed countries other than Italy and Greece on educational attainment.
  • The US incarceration rate is nearly five times the average of other developed countries and three times that of emerging countries.
  • For those in the bottom 60%, premature deaths are up by about 20% since 2000.

So yes graduates, we kinda need you.  We need you badly actually.

We need your leadership, your energy and your commitment to our shared future.

We need you to be willing to stand up, speak out and resist those forces in the world who pillage the planet and profit off the backs of the 99%. These same entities driven by greed and the desire of ever-increasing profits – fight every attempt to increase environmental protections or to improve the pay and working conditions for those that struggle daily just to make ends meet.

This is not hyperbole.  It is the real world. If you need evidence, just look around. Think about the chemical companies or “big banks” or “big pharma” or “big oil”…the list is long and the story is a sad one.

The struggle is real, both global and local.

Think about how the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce opposes every single attempt to increase the minimum wage for regular working people. Think about how a handful of our major landowners monopolize the land and the water, all the while seeking also to control the political processes that too often are used only to increase their profits.

Be honest with yourselves and look closely at the world we live in. Then choose a career that is grounded on principles of justice. If you go into business, then commit to a business that values economic, environment and social justice.  If you go into law, then do the same and fight hard for these values.  Whatever your path, place the pursuit and support of justice high on your priority list.

My hope is that some of you will consider careers in the world of public policy and government.  And yes, my hope is that those of you who feel truly driven to make our world better, will seek to serve in public office.

There is much to be done and Hawaii can serve as a model for the rest of the world.  I truly believe this.

Via changes in public policy, literally “with the stroke of a pen” – much can be accomplished.

  • * We could require all rental cars meet a minimum energy standard, or be electric.
  • * We could prohibit new public buildings from being built in areas prone to sea level rise.
  • * We could require all airlines landing in Hawaii to be “carbon neutral” via a carbon tax and/or a TAT surcharge, used to manage and restore our watersheds.
  • * We could gradually raise Hawaii’s minimum wage so it eventually reaches a living wage.
  • * We could publicly fund all elections and drastically improve campaign spending laws.
  • We could require all paid lobbyists to state that fact every time they submit testimony.
  • * We could pay our teachers more, decrease class size and increase technology in our schools.
  • * We could fund “Housing First” programs instead of $350,000,000 for a new stadium.
  • We could make a true commitment to ending homelessness and invest not just in new shelters and housing but also in the training and hiring of a new generation of social workers and mental health professionals.

There is so much more we can do…but, we need you.

We really, really need you.

First published on May 22, 2019 in The Garden Island Newspaper

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On the occasion of my 39th wedding anniversary

39 years ago today I fell in love with and married a beautiful young South African girl by the name of Claudette Comrie. We had met just months before in front of the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki as she was literally just getting off the bus coming from the airport on her first ever trip to Hawaii. My occupation at the time was operating a pedicab in Waikiki, peddling tourists around, showing them the various sites and in general acting as a local tour guide. It was early evening and I was waiting in front of the hotel soliciting rides from the arriving travelers when she disembarked from the bus.

While her first response to my pedicab ride solicitation was an emphatic “no”, later in the evening when by chance I ran into her again and asked her a second time, she said “maybe later”.

As the reader of this missive has by now figured out “later” came soon enough, my lovely South African bride-to-be climbed onto my humble pedicab, I took her on a tour of Waikiki, we had a whirlwind romance, and the rest as they say is history.

Neither of us of course knew what the future would hold. We had known each other for less than 6 months when we were married in Durban’s Old Fort Chapel and then returned to Hawaii and Kauai after spending several months backpacking around Southern Europe and Israel.

The past 39 years has been an exhilarating ride. Though there have been ups and downs and occasionally times of great stress, our life journey has truly been extraordinary.

We have two incredible children both of whom have married exceptional partners and two beautiful grandchildren as well!  We have traveled the world and experienced places and events many only read and dream about. My work in public service is incredibly fulfilling and I know Claudette greatly enjoys the career she has chosen with United Airlines.

While 39 years seems like a very long time ago, at this particular moment it seems like it was only yesterday that I was smitten by that beautiful young girl with a funny accent getting off the bus in Waikiki.

*Slightly edited from a post first done upon our 36 anniversary.

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The Days Of Plausible Deniability Are Over

If you are an administrator, public or private, you are liable for the workplace practices that occur under your supervision or authority.  Likewise, if you are an employer, public or private, you are responsible for the actions and inactions of your administrators/managers.

If I am talking like a lawyer, it’s because the lawyers are indeed talking.  If you are an employer, public or private, it’s probably a good idea that you start listening.

There are now 3 separate court decisions against Monsanto/Bayer concluding that “RoundUp” (a glyphosate based product), has caused or significantly contributed to the development of cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) in the plaintiffs who brought suit.

3 separate judges, 3 separate juries, 3 separate sets of circumstances, 4 different plaintiffs – all yielding the same or similar conclusion.  The most recent decision awarded two plaintiffs over $1 billion dollars apiece.  Granted that amount will likely be reduced upon appeal, but even the lowest award in the three cases cited exceeds $78 million dollars.

News reports indicate over 13,000 (and counting) additional plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging their products cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company has hidden the risks.

It’s only a matter of time, until plaintiffs attorneys shift their gaze to large employers that knew or should have known about the danger these chemicals posed to their employees and the public.

One would hope that public/private “risk reduction managers”are taking notice, and taking action.  Even if the Mayor, the Council, legislators and the Governor are still living in the dark ages and believe that “there is nothing wrong with RoundUp” and thus are not concerned about worker safety or the publics health, one would think they would at least worry about the financial exposure.  

Faced with a relentless flow of science (and court cases) pointing to the health risks of various toxic herbicides and pesticides used or regulated by their administration, history will show they were proactive and erred on the side of protecting the health of their workers and the public – or that they put the interests of big business and corporate profits first and foremost. 

The State of Hawaii and the various Counties, use large amounts of RoundUp and related products daily for “weed control” along highways AND in our public schools and parks.

How many gallons or pounds of herbicide is used in Hawaii is anyones guess, because the State does not require the reporting of glyphosate or RoundUp related products.  I repeat, the State has no clue how much is used, purchased or sold in Hawaii.  This fact alone, to me anyway (and possibly to a jury in the future), demonstrates gross negligence on the State’s part. 

The State Attorney General and County legal advisors are also no doubt, aware of the three separate court cases and of the 13,000 (and counting) plaintiffs who are waiting for their turn. 

If they are fulfilling their fiduciary duty, the State and County legal advisors have informed the Governor and the Mayor of the existence of the legal issue and potential liability.  Perhaps a legislator or councilmember has requested a formal legal opinion (or not), asking the Attorney General to opine as to the State or County liability for failure to protect its workers and the public from the widespread use of these products on public lands and around public facilities (thinks schools, parks, walking paths etc).  If such a legal opinion were provided, I suspect it would show that in light of the recent court developments, it is in the best interest of both the state and the counties to eliminate and/or severely reduce the use of these chemicals. 

Action to reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides can be taken by the rank and file managers, their supervisors and department and division heads TODAY without the need for a change in the law.  Labor unions can also demand TODAY greater protections for their workers.  Principals, individual teachers and parents can and should engage this conversation and request an elimination of the use of herbicides on school grounds TODAY. 

Ultimately our political leaders must take action.  But even without their action, the problem can be solved TODAY – but the public must write the letters, make the calls and demand action.

The days of plausible deniability are over.

First published in The Garden Island newspaper, May 15, 2019

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Sine Die – My Take On The 2019 Session

The bill to increase minimum wage died, so there will be no increase.

HB1326 (corporate water theft) also died, so A&B does not get a $62,000,000 benefit (yet).

We should be pleased with the outcome of HB1326 as it is a huge victory on many levels.  But we should be angry, sad, and more determined than ever to reverse the inaction on minimum wage.

A subsistence wage is $17 according to Hawaii’s Department of Business and Economic Development.  Both the House and the Senate and the Governor have stated publicly they supported a $15 per hour increase, phased in over time.  But instead, the minimum wage will remain stuck at $10.10.

It is shameful really.  Though legislators and government administrators will all be getting their raises, regular low income working people will get nothing – zero. 

Our State legislature dominated by lawmakers who were elected under the flag of the Democratic Party of Hawaii (DPH), refused to pass legislation increasing the minimum wage, a top legislative priority of their own Party.

This my friends is the definition of a DINO (Democrat In Name Only).  The vast majority of legislators have all professed to support not only increasing the minimum wage to at least $15, but ultimately to a living wage. But when the crunch comes, the answer is “Shoots, we ran out of time. ” Or, “I’m not sure what happened, we couldn’t get Finance Committee clearance.”  

I respect those who are willing to publicly defend their opposition, but that is the small minority.  The majority, don’t have the courage of their convictions and instead prefer hiding behind the skirts of leadership, who dutifully carry out the will of the majority and kill the bill.

This issue alone should be enough to fuel the coming 2020 revolution.

But it gets worse.

Not one measure of substance dealing with climate change was passed.  Not one.  The defining issue of our generation, an issue upon which the entire planet’s future is based – and there is not a peep out of our state legislature.

Dedicated funding for education – failed.

Banning of single use styrofoam food containers – failed.

Legalization of cannabis for responsible adult use – failed.

Automatic voter registration – failed.

Banning of candy flavored tobacco products – failed.

Regulating “Pay Day Lenders” – failed

The legislature did pass measures to fund the construction of a new sports stadium to the tune of $350,000,000.

They also passed a measure to allow platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway to collect taxes from both legal and illegal transient vacation rental properties.

Or as Josh Frost in his blogRegarding Frost, Sine Die put it:

“The legislature approved a measure, SB1292, which taxes illegal vacation rentals. It doesn’t stop them or in any way regulate them. It simply taxes them. So, in a shameless effort to add $42 million to the state coffers, the legislature ignored pleas from communities infected with short-term rentals and their effect on our affordable housing crisis.”

http://regardingfrost.com/sine-die-2019/

There is some genuine good news, including that the legislature did in fact pass “All Mail-In Voting”, expanded the opportunities for HEMP farming, and made some good initial steps in the direction of criminal justice and bail reform.

But at the end of the day, the 2019 legislative session failed us on far too many levels.

We deserve so much more.  Serving at the legislature is not just bringing home pork to the district, road repaving, lifeguards, and school sidewalks.  It’s also about changing public policy for the greater good.  So when legislators brag about the money they “brought home”, make sure you ask them about what policy changes they championed, and whether or not they stood up for low income working men and women.

We need to look at our own district Representative and our District Senator, and ask the tough questions.  What did they actually do?

Did they dodge the issue of raising the minimum wage or did they speak out and make their position known and public?  Are they a DINO?  Do they sincerely believe in the core principals of economic justice?  Do they believe that climate change is real and that we have a responsibility as individuals and as a State to deal with it?

Full disclaimer: I am the elected Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii (DPH) and a member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  However, my thoughts and writings reflect my personal opinion, and I do not speak here as an official representative of the Party.

For me, this is not about Party, it’s about values.  Candidates should run for office wearing a Party label that reflects their personal values.  Candidates should read the Party platform and understand that when they sign their agreement to that platform, that it is supposed to mean something.

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Some in the Senate seem willing to trade the public trust, for a $62,000,000 corporate benefit

Some in the Senate seem willing to trade outright the integrity of our law making process and the preservation of our natural environment for a $62,000,000 benefit to a private corporation. 

We are again hearing rumblings there is an effort being discussed to bring HB1326 HD2 back to the floor, and to a full vote this Tuesday, April 30th.  

SHARE THIS LINK WITH YOUR NETWORKS!  SPREAD THE MESSAGE FAR AND WIDE!

In my 20 years of experience in government, politics and policy-making, House Bill 1326 is the most egregious example of special-interest legislation I have ever seen.

Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) stands to gain or lose $62 million, depending on the outcome of HB 1326. In essence, it is attempting to sell public trust water rights derived from stream diversions in east Maui. The intended beneficiary of this transaction is Mahi Pono — a California-based LLC, financed by a Canadian pension fund — which recently purchased the majority of A&B lands on Maui.

One fairly significant problem with this proposal is that A&B neither owns, nor has long-term control over this water.

In Hawaii, whether beneath the ground or flowing through our rivers and streams, water is a public trust resource. Businesses may use the resource, but must secure a permit that ensures sufficient water remains in the stream to preserve its natural ecosystem and that down-stream users also have access.

Yet this one company, the last remnant of the “Big 5” plantation era, and arguably the most politically powerful private landowner in Hawaii, is attempting, with the Legislature’s help, to secure those water rights without securing the proper long-term permits, and then transfer those water rights to Mahi Pono — pocketing a cool $62 million in the process.  READ ENTIRE PIECE AS PUBLISHED IN THE HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER ON THE HOOSER BLOG HERE

For some excellent legal analysis on why no one except A&B needs this bill, please see the following statements from some of Hawaii’s pre-eminent water law experts, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation and Earthjustice.

If you for some reason you remain unconvinced that HB1326 is not needed at all, please also READ HERE clear proof that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) did not think HB1326 was necessary and has never supported its passage (until of course the governor decided to interject himself into the discussion on behalf of A&B).

I ask again, one more time and perhaps (but no guarantees) the final ask for the 2019 legislative session.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance and urgency, and ask that you Call AND Email YOUR Senator and let him/her know you are paying attention and do not support the Senate resurrecting HB 1326 HD2. Please ask him/her to stand with the people and not corporate interests.

SHARE THIS EMAIL AND/OR THIS LINK WITH YOUR NETWORKS!  SPREAD THE MESSAGE FAR AND WIDE!

Join us also on Tuesday in the Senate Gallery.  Meet at the Queen Liliuokalani Statue at 9:30am. Senate Floor session starts at 10am.  We will not know whether this attempt by the pro A&B faction will be attempted or not, until the day concludes.  However we are hearing strong rumors and know that $62,000,000 and the public trust are in competition on this day, and every day until the end of the legislative session on May 2.

Image courtesy of Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation

“The late Sammy Akina was a kalo famer from East Maui. He fought and waited for decades for water to be restored to the streams so he could farm kalo to feed his ʻohana. He died without seeing the justice he sacrificed his life for.

Honor him.

Help us carry on his legacy by taking action against A&B’s water theft bill. Stop the harm to East Maui communities and end HB 1326 HD2 now.

 

 

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The DLNR Does Not Even Support HB1326 (corporate water theft)

If for some reason you remain unconvinced that HB1326 is a bad bill and not at all actually needed, please read the below and see clear proof that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) did not think HB1326 was necessary and has never supported its passage (until of course the governor decided to interject himself into the discussion on behalf of A&B).

It is important to note also that on December 31st 2018, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) submitted a report to the legislature entitled Water Rights Disposition report that stated: “In light of the ongoing cooperation among the various agencies involved, DLNR does not have any immediate recommendations for further legislative action or funding at this time…”

(no mention of the supposed hundreds of farms that will be without water unless the bill passes)

Then later on February 8th in testimony before the House Water Land Committee, the DLNR did not even support HB1326 but offered comments stating: “…it appears that Act 126, Session Laws of Hawaii 2016, already provided for continued holdover for the revocable permits beyond the initial three year period.” Actual testimony is HERE

(still no mention of the supposed hundreds of farms that will be without water unless the bill passes)

On February 25th, the DLNR stated in testimony essentially, ‘everything is on track, the various agencies (including the attorney generals office) are all working together with the permittees on this.’ (paraphrased) Actual testimony is HERE

(you guessed it…still no mention of the catastrophic circumstances that will ensue unless HB1326 is passed)

Again on April 2nd, in testimony before the Senate Water Land Committee, the DLNR makes no mention of any pressing or urgent need to pass any legislation at all. Actual testimony is HERE

(by now I hope you are starting to get the picture)

In fact none of the testimony provided by any of the proponents ever even comes close to suggesting the catastrophic circumstances now being run up the flag pole that, “hundreds of farmers will lose their water” if a bill does not pass.

Of course the real pudding…as in the “proof is in the pudding”- is the fact that Senator Kahele proposed passing an amended SD1 that took out A&B but left in the so-called small farmers.  But of course this proposal was rejected by the pro A&B Senate faction led by Senator Dela Cruz.  This is more proof that the small farmers and ranchers are only being used to provide cover for A&B, and all the faux outrage “to protect small farmers” is posturing rhetorical bs.

In any case, the $62,000,000 benefit to A&B will fund a lot of this type of disingenuous hype and you can be sure they will push to the end, and beyond on this.

We must remain vigilant and fully engaged on this.  We are hearing strong rumors again that the pro A&B Senate faction will be trying a last ditch effort to again pull HB1326 HD2 to the floor for a vote, this Tuesday April 30th at 10am.  A few of us will be gathering at the Queens statute at 9:30am and then sitting in the gallery to witness whatever, may or may not happen.

Please join us if you can.  Plus…pass the word.  We need everyones help to once again…!

1) Call AND Email your Senator: Let him/her know you are paying attention and do not support the Senate resurrecting HB 1326 HD2. Please ask him/her to stand with the people and not corporate interests.

Thank you!

Note: To be receive my semi regular email missives/newsletter (not really a newsletter but not sure what to call it) – Please subscribe to my mailing list here:

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Lessons from the ledge: The end of session (or not)

The 2019 legislative session ends, sine die on May 2, and any bills that have not been passed by both the House and the Senate by this date will be dead (for real this time but not really).

Like most of the rules and statements made about the legislative process, this of course is not entirely true.

First of all, 2019 is only the first year of a two-year “biennial” session. This means that ALL bills, unless explicitly voted down (which almost never happens), are technically alive through and until the end of the 2020 session.

All of the 2019 bills remain frozen at whatever place in the process they ended up on May 2, and in theory can be revived during the 2020 session and begin again at that point in the process.

Typically however, legislators prefer to start with a clean slate and will reintroduce bills the following year rather than use old measures that stalled in the first year of the biennium. But this is not required and if they so choose, bills that are in conference or in their final committee, may be revived and passed without enduring the entire House/Senate journey again.

It is also not entirely true that the deadline to pass bills is May 2. The reality is that most or all bills must clear the Conference Committee process by this Friday. This is necessary so that they can then proceed to their final floor votes, with the required 48-hour notice.

For those following HB1326 HD2 (corporate water theft), April 30 appears to be the very last possible day it could be “pulled out of committee” and put to a floor vote in the Senate. If that should happen, the Senate would then have to vote again on the same bill on May 2. I believe it is unlikely that this will occur and numerous senators have stated publicly that there is no interest or intent to revive this bill.

If the Senate backtracks, and decides behind closed doors to pull a last-minute surprise maneuver such as this, you can be sure fireworks will ensue on both dates.

For now, this time is mostly a wait and see game as the Conference Committee process plays out.

For the serious advocate however, this is not a time for complacency but rather a time to pour it on. You can assume “the other side” is doing the same — walking the halls, sending the email and making those all important phone calls.

As to who to call and email, it is always YOUR district senator and YOUR district representative — first!

Then, locate and contact the members of the Conference Committee as well by plugging in the bill number at capitol.hawaii.gov

As I have said repeatedly, your voice matters especially to the senator and representative who is elected to serve you and your district.

Please get involved and take ownership of your government.

And stay tuned. Next week’s column will include a summary report of bills passed and not — as by Tuesday afternoon, April 30, it should all be over (unless of course the Senate goes crazy and decides to try to pass HB1326).

Oh, I almost got to mention one final “wild card”.

The governor could, if he thought the issue important enough — call the Legislature back immediately into a special session and ask them to deal with any issue he might believe rises to a high level of importance.

First published on April 24, 2019 in The Garden Island Newspaper “Policy and Politics” column.

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