YOU CAN’T SPELL ‘MOLASSES’ WITHOUT ‘ASSES’
The Associated Press reported on Saturday, Sept. 21 that 233,000 gallons of molasses–“equivalent to what would fill about seven rail cars”–spilled into Honolulu Harbor from a Matson Navigation Co. pipe earlier this month. So far, 26,000 fish have died as a result of that molasses, which, of course, came from Maui.
By itself, the spill is a disaster. But now, according to the AP, it seems to be yet another example of the corporate and bureaucratic fumbling that too often passes for how things get done in Hawaii.
Turns out that back in July 2012, a state Department of Transportation official sent Matson a letter saying that an inspector had noticed a leak in the same problematic pipe, reported the AP. In response, Matson officials said they looked at the pipe, saw no leak or any molasses in the water, and moved on with their lives. Then in May of this year, another Transportation Department crew noticed more molasses dripping out that pipe, but the department didn’t tell Matson. And, of course, it almost goes without saying that “The company and state officials were unprepared, with no contingency plans for what to do in case of a molasses spill,” reported the AP.
Bravo, Department of Transportation. And bravo, Matson. That kind of Can’t Do spirit takes years–decades, even–of laziness and ignorance to hone to the art that we all enjoy today.
* * *
DANIEL INOUYE-FBI FILES EXEMPLIFY HOOVER-ERA PARANOIA
It was fascinating last week watching how big news organizations (like the Associated Press, Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Honolulu Civil Beat) treated the bonanza that was the Sept. 16 release of the files on the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). For the most part, those organizations led their coverage of the files by outlining the various anonymous death threats sent to Inouye through the years (which didn’t seem to lead to any arrests).
These threats actually struck me as some of the more banal parts of the FBI files. Powerful, famous people often get death threats for whatever reason, and Inouye–who was outspoken during the Senate hearings on Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal and the invasion of Iraq–more than fit the bill as someone who’d attract the attention of wingnuts who get off by sending anonymous racist death threats to well-known senators.
But the vast majority of the documents in Inouye’s file date to the Bureau’s so-called Hoover era, when J. Edgar Hoover served as FBI Director (1935 to 1972). The way in which FBI agents during those years scrutinized the actions and words of celebrities and congressional representatives–as well as each and every public mention of the initials “FBI”–has been well documented, and the Inouye files only provide further proof.
More than a hundred pages of the files consist of nothing other than photocopies of newspaper articles that concerned Inouye. Every rumor, tip, lead and threat that involved Inouye–regardless of whether it proved to be baseless–found a permanent home in the files.
Though memo after memo in the files makes reference to the “good” relations that existed between Inouye and the FBI through the years, one throw-away remark made by the senator in 1971–and the local news article that reported it–got the FBI up on its hind legs. It’s a fascinating local story that resonates eerily with current national security issues, but as far as I could tell, hasn’t made it to the big news organizations’ reporting on the FBI-Inouye files.
New revelations about U.S. Government espionage directed against the American people (as well as pretty much every other government on earth) regularly appear in the news on a nearly daily basis. But back in 1971, when most people thought the FBI didn’t do anything other than bring down bank robbers in hails of gunfire, news of such abuses was very disheartening.
In March of that year, the American people learned of COINTELPRO, a massive FBI program that secretly (and often illegally) bugged, infiltrated and otherwise subverted domestic organizations, many of which were part of the civil rights and anti-war movements. It was a serious scandal, though the Watergate revelations (which were just a year away) would eclipse it.
In any case, on April 20, 1971, the Hilo-based Hawaii Tribune-Herald published a column by Hugh Clark, the T-H news editor, on the subject of illegal domestic surveillance. Part of the column read as follows:
“Suddenly, last week, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye gave us a new perspective on the entire matter. He admitted matter-of-factly that he has had his home and office telephones checked for ‘bugs’ by the Senate’s top electronics man who works under the sergeant-at-arms.”
Clark drew from this revelation an entirely rational conclusion: “If a respected member of the nation’s most important and powerful body–the U.S. Senate–cannot feel secure in using his own telephone for fear it might be bugged by a government agency, we are much closer to George Orwell’s 1984 than we dare to be.”
Almost immediately, the FBI howled in protest. Just a few days after the article appeared, Honolulu Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Rogge forwarded an extremely defensive letter to the editor to FBI Headquarters for approval. Rogge’s letter included the following unintentionally hilarious paragraph:
“The FBI does not and has never initiated the interception of conversations on its own initiative for any imaginary purpose or reason. In fact, Mr. Hoover over the years has proven to be one of the staunchest defenders of individual liberties. He has successfully resisted efforts by well meaning citizens to enlarge our organization into a national police force, insisting that law enforcement belongs in the local community.”
Milton A. Jones, who was head of the FBI’s crime records section and supervised the bureau’s public relations, loved Rogge’s letter. “This is an excellent letter,” he wrote in a May 6, 1971 memo, which is included in the Inouye files. Jones added that the letter was a “good refutation” of Clark’s story. His only concern was that Rogge himself should mail it from Honolulu, rather than have it look like it came from Washington.
You can check out the entire cache of FBI files on Inouye at Vault.fbi.gov/daniel-inouye.