In the wake of USA Today’s revelation that the National Security Agency has been building a massive database of every telephone call made in the U.S., state Representative Brian Schatz (D, 25th District) wants to know whether local phone companies were “forced by the federal government to divulge the phone records of Hawai’i residents.” For some reason, the idea of the federal government wading barefoot through our private phone records—who called whom and when—has Schatz perturbed. But why should it? Didn’t President George W. Bush just say that we had nothing to worry about where this phone record/wiretapping American citizens stuff was concerned? When has he steered us wrong? Okay, there’s been the whole high gas prices crisis, lackluster economy, rising inflation, ballooning national debt, exploding trade deficit, flaccid Hurricane Katrina response, and that whole invasion of Iraq thing, but when has he crossed us lately? Anyway, Schatz has asked state Attorney General Mark Bennett and Public Utilities Commissioner Carlito Caliboso to get to the bottom of it. “If the Bush Administration is culling through call records of Hawai’i’s citizens, we need to know,” Schatz said in a release sent out last night. “Right now, we are all operating in the dark, and the public deserves to be informed about what’s going on.”
THURSDAY, May 18
Hey everybody, we’ve got your official Congressional Power Rankings! They come courtesy of Congress.org, and boy, are they fascinating. Now we all know that Time Magazine recently named our own U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka one of the worst Senators around. Now that’s quite a distinction—especially considering Akaka is in a primary election battle against U.S. Representative Ed Case (D, 2nd District)—but it’s not really born out in the Congress.org rankings. There, Akaka is listed as the Senate’s 71st most powerful member. Okay, I’ll give you this: that’s pretty poor. On a Bell Curve, that’s a failing grade. Guy couldn’t even get his own Native Hawaiian Recognition Act to a floor debate without constant bitching and moaning. But here’s where the Power Rankings get really fun. You see, over in the House, Case barely registers at all with his 410 ranking. Considering there are 435 House members, that ranking means 94 percent of the entire House is more powerful than our own Ed Case. And why did Case register so abysmally low? “Too few terms or years in office,” was one reason cited by Congress.org. (Case has only been a congressman since 2003). He also lost points because he’s “running for higher office, which usually translates into reduced resources and ability to exercise power in the legislative process.” Ouch!
FRIDAY, May 19
Despite bringing in $422.5 million in the first three months of this year—a 21 percent increase over last year—Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) somehow managed to lose $28.1 million, according to today’s Pacific Business News. This, at a time when cruise vacations have never been more popular. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s been nearly four years since that awful, awful Cuba Gooding, Jr. “comedy” Boat Trip played in theaters. Wall St. analysts warned the industry would take a generation to recover, but cooler heads clearly saw through the film’s embarassing homophobia and gratuitious use of Roger Moore and moved on. But I digress. According to the story, the company blames high fuel prices (I hear you, brother) and “significant startup costs.” Yeah… that’s corporate-speak for “payroll.” Specifically, the payroll associated with hiring lots of Americans for its NCL American operations. Like the sea, I suppose the labor market is also a harsh mistress.
SATURDAY, May 20
Looks like state Representative Schatz is pretty much out of luck in his quest to find out if the NSA has been pouring through our phone records—at least as far as Attorney General Bennett is concerned. “The precise nature of what the NSA is actually doing, along with any rationale and justification for its actions, has not yet been determined, and obtaining the necessary information may face security clearance or other restrictions on classified information,” is Deputy Attorney General Girard D. Lau’s somewhat obvious response to Schatz’s inquiry. But he did leave some wiggle room for some potential gumshoe work: “As a result,” Lau wrote, “it is difficult for our office to take any action at this time, except to monitor congressional investigations or inquiries into the matter.” Woohoo! Schatz got the AG’s office to agree to “monitor congressional investigations.” That’s huge! That’s fantastic! That’s—wait a second, who said Congress is going to investigate anything? They practically high-fived General Michael Hayden when he trudged up the Hill for his Central Intelligence Agency Director hearings, and he’s the guy who put all this NSA stuff into action in the first place. Oh well, it was a worth a shot.
SUNDAY, May 21
Hey, did you see that Associated Press story on the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources in today’s Maui News? The embattled agency scored a perfect 54 out of a possible 54 on the latest Kauai dam inspection report. That’s right, kids: every single one of that island’s 54 dams has at least one “detrimental condition” that could lead to its collapse. For those who’ve forgotten: seven people died during those horrible rains a few months ago because one of the Kauai dams, which dated back to the plantation era, fell apart. The water was still receding when it emerged that state DLRN officials had basically decided some time ago to ignore the ancient, earthen dams that dotted the Kauai landscape. Though I’m sure, like all government decisions, it seemed like a good idea at the time… Speaking of bad news, in that same paper Andy Kluger, chairman of Hawai’i Air Ambulance, said he’s opting for a management shakeup to try to stem his company’s troubles. And believe me, he’s got troubles. In the corporate world, there’s no better solution than shaking things up at the top, even if the guy right at the top (that would be Kluger)stays exactly where he is. Anyway, Kluger hired three former Eagle Air Med executives who will bring cash and new aircraft to the company. This is good news, but considering two fatal HAA crashes since 2004 have killed six people, it’s just a first step. And a small first step at that. But don’t try telling that to Kluger. “[This] will not only strengthen our company,” Kluger told The Maui News, “but continue to provide the highest level of quality care to Hawai’i’s people.”
MONDAY, May 22
In other news, the state’s public housing office is in chaos. According to today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the Housing and Community Development Corporation (HCDCH) will soon split into two separate agencies. One will focus on getting poor people into local public housing units and the other will concentrate on getting affordable housing projects built. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is how it used to be before 1997, when the Legislature merged the two agencies into the HCDCH for “efficiency” reasons that obviously didn’t pan out. According to the article, no one is sure who will end up running either agency. And why should they be? They’ve only been planning this for the last year. Oh, and there are currently 621 empty housing units that no one seems able to fill. Other than that, things are fine. So fine that Governor Linda Lingle hasn’t felt the need to get involved in any of this. Guess her big reelection campaign against that one Democrat guy who mumbled something about running against her is just too taxing right now.
TUESDAY, May 23
You know, there are those who say that poor people don’t vote Republican because they think Republicans don’t care about poor people. I have no idea where they get ideas like that. Or why a guy like Cuba Gooding, Jr. made a movie like Boat Trip. That mystifies me more than anything.
Anthony Pignataro is very happy that no one compiles power rankings of newspaper editors. MTW