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Ian Lind • Now online daily from Old Kahala

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“Ring of Steel”: Understanding Hawaii’s militarized past and its impact on the present

October 6th, 2015 · 1 Comment

The trial in a lawsuit against the State of Hawaii over its stewardship of nearly 23,000 acres of land leased to the Department of Defense as part of the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island wrapped up at the end of last week. The case, which proceeded without a jury, took only four days. Attorneys for both sides were given until October 16 to file their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and a decision by Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang will follow.

At issue is a lease of the area by the state for use for military training, and whether the state has done enough to enforce provisions requiring the clean-up of unexploded bullets and bombs following training exercises. The lawsuit seeks to block the state from extending the lease beyond its 2029 expiration.

The Hawaii Independent published a good review of the issues prior to the trial (“Ching v. Ail?: protecting public trust lands at P?hakuloa“).

Of course, this wasn’t a garden variety lease. It was a gun-to-your-head lease signed by the state government not long after Hawaii became a state. In the decades before statehood, land was often taken for military purposes through executive orders signed by the president or the territorial governor. These post-statehood leases were, in part, an effort by the state to retain at least theoretical control of the land, and preserve the future potential to return the area to civilian use.

Here’s part of what I wrote after the lawsuit was filed last year.

There’s a long history here. Leading up to WWII, and during the years Hawaii was under martial law, the military basically took control of any lands that it might be able to use. Sometimes the land was “set aside” for military use by presidential or gubernatorial executive orders. In the post WWII years, there was pushback from the territorial government which wanted to reclaim control of public lands. During that period and up through statehood, many federally controlled lands were converted to leases of fixed duration that required the military to clean up and return the lands in their original condition.

Of course, that’s been routinely violated over the years in many places, Waikane Valley, Kahoolawe, and Pohakuloa among them. The additional issue of the presence of depleted uranium at Pohakuloa and its potential affects on health have become public issues in the past several years as well.

During that post-WWII period, it’s my impression that local Republican leaders took stronger action to reassert local control over military-held land than the emerging Democratic Party. Why? Because Democrats saw the development of the defense industry as a way to break the political control of the plantation elite, an alternative to the plantation economy.

If you’re interested in how Hawaii’s history has shaped these contemporary issues, you might be interested in this article I wrote back in the mid-1980s (“Ring of Steel: Notes on the militarization of Hawaii“). It appeared in the 1984-85 issue of the journal, Social Process in Hawaii (the complete issue can be viewed here).

→ 1 CommentTags: Court · History · Politics

Critics hit mainstream reporting of Afghanistan hospital bombing

October 5th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Mainstream reporting on the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan by U.S. warplanes is being soundly attacked for obscuring our responsibility for the deaths of patients and doctors.

CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack,” is the way Glenn Greenwald framed the issues today at The Intercept. He accuses both news outlets of using passive phrasing and open avoidance to obfuscate the fact that the hospital was hit in a series of U.S. bombing runs.

Greenwald cites a featured CNN story which reported the incident this way:

Aerial bombardments blew apart a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the battleground Afghan city of Kunduz about the time of a U.S. airstrike early Saturday, killing at least 19 people, officials said.

“The United States said it was investigating what struck the hospital during the night,” CNN said.

Here’s Greenwald’s take on it.

We’re bravely here to report that these two incidents perhaps coincidentally occurred at “about” the same time: There was a hospital that blew up, and then there was this other event where the U.S. carried out an airstrike. As the blogger Billmon wrote: “London 1940: Civilians throughout the city were killed at about the same time as a German air strike, CNN reports.”

The entire article is designed to obfuscate who carried out this atrocity. The headline states: “Air attacks kill at least 19 at Afghanistan hospital; U.S. investigating.” What’s the U.S. role in this incident? They’re the investigators: like Sherlock Holmes after an unsolved crime.

The Intercept ran a second piece by Greenwald, “The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification.”

This is a must read, as it lays out the view that the attack on the hospital may have resulted from the medical organization’s policy of treating all patients without regard for their politics. It’s their humanitarian mission, one that has apparently irked U.S. and Afghan military officials for years. Greenwald quotes a news report of a 2009 raid on the same hospital by U.S troops, driving a conclusion that this latest deadly attack on the hospital was likely intentional.

And the watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), has a similar story (“Media Are Blamed as US Bombing of Afghan Hospital Is Covered Up“).

FAIR uses the website, newsdiffs.org, to trace the changes in the NY Times story and headline about the hospital bombing. Interesting reporting and a potentially very useful website.

→ 1 CommentTags: Media · War & Peace

A brief return to Kaaawa

October 4th, 2015 · 2 Comments

We spent Friday night with friends in Kaaawa. After wine o’clock and dinner, we stayed the night in a spare room downstairs in their house, a wonderful space, and I especially enjoyed this little salt & pepper pair displayed on a shelf (photos below). Okay, the cat got my attention, but the whole concept, and the colors, are wonderful! A great find, for sure.



And, by the way, our early morning walk down to the beach in Kaaawa didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped. When we reached our first two regular morning dogs, one greeted us enthusiastically after our month-long absence, while the other barked once and ran away, retreating into the garage with her tail between her legs and then emerging a few times just to cast worried glances our way and let out a sharp bark or two.

Farther down the beach, the tide and waves were too high to reach another couple of our favorite dogs, Bella and Murphy.

We had better luck on the back roads walking back, where we were able to meet and greet a string of our regular hounds without further issues.

It was fun to be back, and we hope to make these overnight site visits regularly.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Dogs · General · Kaaawa

Check out the Ohio Coalition for Open Government

October 3rd, 2015 · 1 Comment

Advocates of transparency and openness in government might want to check out the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, which provides an example how to press for more sunshine.

The group’s website provides this description:

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government (OCOG) is a tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) corporation established by the Ohio Newspapers Foundation in June 1992. The Coalition is operated for charitable and educational purposes by conducting and supporting activities to benefit those who seek compliance with public access laws. It is also affiliated with a national network of similar state coalitions.

The Coalition serves as a clearinghouse for media and citizen grievances that involve open meetings and open records, and offers guidance to reporters in local government situations. The activities of the Coalition include monitoring government officials for compliance, filing “amicus” briefs in lawsuits, litigation and public education.

The OCOG board includes media representatives, attorneys, and a representative from Common Cause.

The group recently analyzed decisions by the Ohio Supreme Court in open government cases over the past five years. In 32 cases analyzed, after excluding routine prisoner appeals and eight cases that had mixed results, the justice sided with restricting or denying access in 62.5% of the cases, and in favor of open government in 37.5%.

The spreadsheet summarizing each of the cases makes for interesting reading, as does the organization’s newsletter, the “Open Government Report,” which is published twice a year (the most recent issue ran 20 pages).

It obviously takes a lot of work to keep this kind of coalition going. Honolulu once supported an active Sunshine Law Coalition, but I’m afraid it faded away decades ago.

According to the League of Women Voters of Honolulu, in 1980 the coalition included the Media Council, Honolulu Journalists Assn., The Hawaii Press Club, Common Cause, Kokua Council for Senior Citizens, Prof. John Luter of UH Journalism Dept., Marilyn Bornhorst, the Hawaii Ctte for Freedom of the Press, and the League of Women Voters.

→ 1 CommentTags: Media · Politics · Sunshine

Is Hawaii helped or hindered by overlapping Congressional committee assignments?

October 2nd, 2015 · 5 Comments

An email from a reader this week raised a question about Hawaii’s Congressional delegation.

In talking with some friends last night, we got to talking about the dynamics of Hawaii’s congressional delegation…

Someone brought up the point that BOTH Gabbard and Takai serve on the Armed Services committee. I don’t think 2 members have ever served on the same committee in the same chamber.

I understand having counterparts in the other House to make sure the look out for Hawaii’s interest no matter which side legislation may be working its way through the process. But with House members limited to the number of committees they serve on, do we really need both our members serving on one committee? Couldn’t they spread their assignments to cover more area and kuleana to issues that affect Hawaii? Why would we waste a key committee assignment when we already have one member from our state serving on armed services.

It’s an interesting question. To be honest, I had never really thought about the overlapping committee assignments until this question was raised here.

Just eyeballing past committee assignments, it looks like the state’s two House members did traditionally tackle different committees, giving the state a broader legislative reach.

Neil Abercrombie was a longtime member of the Armed Services Committee, as were the 1st District representatives who followed, including Charles Djou, Colleen Hanabusa, and now Mark Takai.

But when Gabbard was first elected in 2012, she apparently sought and was given a seat on Armed Services, although Colleen Hanabusa already served on the committee. And when Takai was elected, he also took a seat on the committee, although Gabbard was already there.

Of course, they are also assigned to subcommittees, where the two do not overlap. How much difference does that make? I don’t know.

Any thoughts on this? Is this arrangement best for the voters Gabbard and Takai represent? Share your thoughts.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Politics