Read This Story. Then Get Mad.

Do you want to know how many Hawaii children are homicide victims — that is, killed by their parents, a relative or a friend of one of those?

The National Center for Health Statistics publishes every known cause of child death that’s reported by Hawaii’s child protective agency and Health Department. So you look under child homicide deaths and here’s what you get:

Suppressed data due to confidentiality constraints.

That’s right. We are not told about the child killings unless we track arrest stories in the newspaper, on TV or the internet. Was a child returned to abusive parents and then killed? Not our business.

More troubling: Hawaii’s Child Protective Services generally tries to reunite children from abusive or even lethal families with their parents. You won’t ever hear about those cases because they hide in Family Court in what are called “ghost hearings.” They exist but you and I can’t see them.

It deeply troubles me. It doesn’t deeply trouble our lawmakers because they let “ghost hearings” continue. No publicity. No public input or push back. The mom or the dad promises not to abuse any more kids and they get theirs back. That’s the pending Beyer case in Family Court now. Dad charged. Mom knew but said nothing. Now wants a child back in her custody.

9 day old Aveline Beyer was picked up by the legs and slammed against a wall, shattering her legs, her ribs, her skull and causing massive brain damage.

But to tell you the horrible truth, much child abuse goes unreported here. Families and relatives stick together. Doctors and therapists have been shown case-after-case to have overlooked bruises and other signs of parental abuse.

State law mandates such reporting:

Notwithstanding any other state law concerning confidentiality to the contrary persons who, in their professional or official capacity, have reason to believe that child abuse or neglect has occurred or that there exists a substantial risk that child abuse or neglect may occur in the reasonably foreseeable future, shall immediately report the matter orally to the Department of Human Services or to the police department.

And so, legal guardian Steve Lane comments this whole child-abuse/killing matter:

“In recent years, Peter Kema and Shaelynn Lehano- Stone were horrific victims of the abusive families from which they had been initially removed and then returned in secret. There are others I am sure.  In part I suspect this is a function of the perception of the social worker professional: “I can fix it. I can make this family functional once again” Again sadly, the dead and grievously injured children who we see on the 6 o’clock news too often are graphic testament to this failed vision. 

 “Most recently I have been appointed to represent the interests of a horrifically abused and battered infant. A year before she was nearly beaten to death, someone in her 2 parent household beat her infant brother to death. To date, no one has been convicted of that murder.  “Since that time, the father was convicted at a court martial of assaulting his daughter and given a short prison term of 3 years. The mother was acquitted for murdering her son and inexplicably all charges originally brought against her for trying to murder her daughter were dismissed. The child has been in foster care on the mainland ever since. Child Protective Services in this instance did exactly the right thing — it took immediate custody of the child at the hospital and placed the child in foster care where by all accounts she is doing well.

 “But what terrifies me for this child is that the mother has hired a lawyer, is back in family court, and is seeking custody of this child in a “ghost permanency hearing” where I am not permitted to appear and where all of the proceedings are confidential and invisible to public scrutiny.

 “There has got to be a better way to protect our children while still respecting the need for their privacy as minors.  Otherwise, this is how children will continue to die in our community over and over again.

My own awakening to this “ghost hearing” system came in 2006 when the story surfaced of an abused child returned to an abusive household and was abused again.

The state agreed to pay $2 million to settle the resultant lawsuit filed on behalf of the boy, who was so badly beaten by his mother in 1997 that he was left brain-damaged, blind and in a vegetative state.

The state also was sued in connection with the beating of 4-year-old Reubyne Buentipo Jr. because the boy had been in foster care, but state case workers returned the child to his mother despite earlier injuries to the boy that left him hospitalized in June 1995 and April 1996.

Then in 2016, that Lehano-Stone case that guardian Lane mentioned.

9-year-old Shaelynn, a Hilo girl, died of starvation that year. Her death weight was listed as 45 pounds. She had been repeatedly removed from her home by the State DHS Child Welfare Branch only to be returned despite relatives’ concerns for her safety.

From the time of her birth in September of 2006, the records show, she was taken from her parents — Kevin Lehano and Tiffany Stone — and placed in foster care. But then given back when those parents promised good care.

The latest statistics I can unearth show that 2% of all child deaths in Hawaii are homicides by parents, relatives or caregivers.

Now you might say that figure over a 5-year period is pretty small. Just as you might say 435 Covid deaths in a state population of 1.4 million is pretty small. But the untimely death of every one of our people is a severe loss to some of our people.

We are battling Covid with every good tool available to us.

Can we say the same about child protection against abuse and death?

I think the answer is no. We’ve given too many abusive parents a pass.


Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work

I don’t recall this ever being up for serious discussion in Hawaii, but would it make more sense to let governor candidates choose their own LG running mates rather than having to accept whichever one wins a separate primary race?

Eight states do that, so apparently it’s not a rite of great national popularity. It makes sense to me so that the top two political officers are on the same page.

I always remember my interview with the late Gov. John Burns, who upon discovering that Tom Gill had beaten Kenneth Brown for LG in a primary lamented “Oh, no, not him!” They were not compatible companions and it made for a difficult 4 years.

26 states do it our way. Governor and LG candidates run in party primaries and a winning governor goes into the general election with a winning LG from that separate primary ballot.

But in 18 states, a governor candidate gets to pick whom he or she wants as a running mate in the general election. I like that.

Those combo states (governor candidate either picks an LG in the primary as a co-running mate or the governor candidate picks a mate after the primary) are Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

In Tennessee and West Virginia, the title of lieutenant governor is given to the president of the state senate. I’d not like that.

Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming don’t have a lieutenant governor. But they have a secretary of state who performs the same duties and is first in the line of succession.

Here’s how they break down politically in those states with a lieutenant governor as #2:

The Pennsylvania legislature this year is working on a constitutional amendment to let that state’s governor candidates pick their preferred running mate going into the general election.Right now, they do it like us.

The state went through a sour relationship in 2017 between Gov. Tom Wolf and lieutenant governor Mike Stack. That relationship fractured after allegations of Stack and his wife verbally abusing and mistreating the taxpayer-provided staff.

State Government committee chairman Dave Argall, who sponsored the so-far-popular amendment, says “I think we’ve all seen reports in the press that sometimes the conflicting personalities just don’t mesh to the point where they admitted they didn’t even speak to each other for weeks at a time, which is not a good strategy.”

We sure have to hope we don’t get another Burns-Gill twosome, but then the current Ige-Green one isn’t all sweetness and roses, either.


Nope, We Are Not The Crimson Tide!

It’s a healthy sign that so many are questioning spending so much money ($350 million?) on a new Aloha Stadium.

We don’t draw that many big-name entertainers to make it worthwhile for that reason. High schools can play on their own or another public school’s field. The UH football team? Well, as the John Locke Foundation reported after a national study: “If you build it, they will come” may be an iconic movie line, but it makes for poor public policy.”

This is not big-time college football town! We need to recognize that. We get at best 2nd rate teams for a Hula Bowl. The Pro Bowl has lost interest in Hawaii. We’ll never have an NFL franchise here.

Who would we be building for? Kahuku Red Raiders v. St. Louis Crusaders once a year? A UH v. Watertown Red & Black match?

Our outlook does not include anything like the anonymous donor who made a  $50 million gift to transform Oregon State University’s Reser Stadium into a national best-in-class football facility with year-round programs and facilities for all OSU students, faculty and staff.

OSU’s Reser Stadium cost $153 million to renovate; a donor kicked in $50 million of that.

Quoting that Locke Foundation study again: “The nation is peppered with examples of stadium projects built on empty promises of boosting the local economy, complete with economic impact studies that purport to show how crowds on game days will bring new spending on restaurants, hotels, and shops, and raise the city’s profile. Those studies aren’t geared to reflect reality; they’re built to sway public officials on their best hopes and civic pride. Economic research consistently finds a negative economic impact overall with subsidized sports stadiums.”

And as we learned from the rail affair, projects in Hawaii habitually underestimate construction costs to make themselves seem affordable; actual costs typically run far higher.

Plus the realization that this pandemic might change our football-viewing forever. The affordability of large, high-definition televisions makes home-viewing 0competitive with the stadium experience. You get better views of the field, pause and replay options, comfortable seats, a cadre of friends to share the experience, cheaper food and drink and better bathroom — with shorter lines.

But back to my main reality point. Warrior football just ain’t Crimson Tide football. Or even University of Akron football. It’s just a few steps beyond  intramural football competing (slightly) with the big boys.

Fact: Most public universities lose money on their athletic programs — and then run up state debt to finance stadiums. The trend has occurred even though there is little evidence that football provides major revenue for expanding academic programs or reducing  tuition.

According to a Knight Commission data study, the schools increasing their football spending the fastest  have included Sam Houston State University, South Dakota State University, Savannah State University and Southern University and A&M College. Now, each of those schools’ athletic departments relies primarily on student fees and university general funds — as opposed to what was promised as self-generated ticket sales and TV revenue — to finance their budgets.

Every year, public universities get hit for a half billion dollars to pay down that debt. And if revenues from ticket sales, merchandising and fundraising do not cover the bills — as they typically do not — students and the general public are on the hook, either through fees, higher tuition or taxpayer money for more bonds.

Those of you shouting “whoopee, a new stadium for our UH football team” need to take a time out and study the national debt reports on public universities that went the new stadium route.

If some sponsor or developer wants to do Aloha Stadium at no cost to us, great.

But if they’re saying the UH or the state has to be a cost-sharing partner, beware the penalty flag!

We’re already using UH tuition, student fees and taxpayer money to subsidize the football program, which we carelessly justify by saying football subsidizes other athletic programs.

Whoa! The UH Athletic Department is projecting a $9.3 million deficit this fiscal year!

The only “subsidizer” I see here is the Hawaii taxpayer.


So Wonderful. So Stale. So Yesterday.

This will take you a while to read. But please do take the time. It’s about us and impaired vision.

A friend and I were at Coffee Talk one morning, chewing over the state of the state and the need for some radical change post-pandemic to get us out of our rut of low-paying tourism jobs, over-dependence on union-controlled state worker jobs, an uneven tax structure and insufficient food production.

My friend shook his head and said “that’s not going to happen with this governor.”

I agree. David Ige is a nice guy, an honest guy, an ethical guy and a well-meaning guy. But there’s not a radical-change bone in his body. He’s an electrical-engineer technocrat. He might talk down electricity but not talk up, for instance, solar conversion of CO2 into fuel, either in industrial facilities or with genetically engineered organisms. That’s change beyond his vision.

Gov. David Ige. Honolulu Civil Beat Photo.

But who next? My friend thought LG Josh Green. But Dr. Green has been mainly a self-promoter of ideas, mainly during this pandemic, that others have come up with. A kind of megaphone for what we’ve already heard.

This is not a minor issue. We just went though people’s legitimate complaints about the failure to make our state unemployment system work for those who can’t navigate the obstacles put in their paths toward UI and PUA compensation.

We have been terrible about vaccine distribution because the state is handling that old-school (like we’ve done with flu and hepatitis) rather than daring to be different.

Affordable housing? I’ve beaten that one to death in this column, but you seem content to keep electing those who put private developers and the property tax they create first. Your leaders say there’s no revenue to be had via state subsidized construction, state-loaned money for first-time, low-income homeowners, and state property management. Let them get three jobs rather than just two!

Farm land? That Agribusiness Development Corp. under executive director James Nakatani has been a joke. But he never gets fired. Nobody gets fired. They sometimes get hints to quit or retire with full benefits of state employees. The ones you and I in private employment never get.

We treat acceptable-grade farmland as expendable, developable land. We treat a viable slaughterhouse operator planning meat plants at Kalaeloa and Paauilo as an unacceptable threat to the venerable Parker Ranch monopoly because of its long-time love-in with small, Hawaii Island ranchers. We don’t want to try something new with somebody we don’t know. It’s a Hawaii thing.

We have some excellent job-training programs in our community colleges. Cooking, auto mechanics, aeronautic mechanics. It’s called Workforce Development. That’s aimed at young people who are not going to be lawyers or doctors or accountants. But it lacks great outreach because we don’t make it tuition and otherwise cost free. We need to lure people into those plumbing, cosmetics and medical assistant careers without hitting them with debt.

We need to seriously push back against HGEA when it says we must negotiate electrical bill costs if state employees work from home. We need to seriously push back against the UPW when it says its state workers can’t face furloughs or hours cutbacks in emergencies, just as employees in the private sector face — and have to accept.

David Ige is not the man who will endorse any of that. Sure, he’s on his last two years. But he’s not going to make Democrat voters or unions unhappy. That might give rise to a Republican or Libertarian. Or even a Blue Dog Democrat such as Rep. Ed Case. God forbid! Remember in 1970 when the progressive Tom Gill challenged John Burns in the Democratic primary. Gill ran as a reformer, campaigning against what called an entrenched  political machine. He lost.  Most in the state’s large Japanese-American population remained loyal to Burns, who had spearheaded their rise to political power during the 1950s.

Like Burns and then George Ariyoshi and then John Waihee, Ige will hump along. Then pass off to Green or Kirk Caldwell. Nothing material will change. Neil Abercrombie made waves and was dumped after one term. We don’t like waves. Tom Coffman wrote a book about us called “Catch A Wave”, but that was how the fusion of money and TV can ride you into political office. Not about a wave of change.

As a journalist, I had many reasons to want Frank Fasi gone from the office of mayor. His pay-for-play system and distaste for what the City Council wanted or what a governor wanted. Or anybody but Fasi wanted.

But audacity and accomplishment? Remember this headline: “Faz Declares War on High Prices.”  He offered 1,120-square-foot former military Quonset huts to people for homes priced at $350 delivered. “Solve your housing problems now,” he said. “This is by far the best mass housing value ever offered in Hawaii.”

The Honolulu bus system was on strike and public transit riders were stranded. Cave to the union and then HRT owner Harry Weinberg? Not Fasi. He flew off to Texas, bought buses and started a new, city-run system.

Mayor Frank Fasi returned from Texas with a new hat and new buses.

City Council members were resisting the idea of giving up their prized, paved parking slots for a grassed park around City Hall. Fasi brought in a bulldozer on a weekend morning and began tearing up the pavement and planting the grass we have today.

David Ige would have studied these matters to death. Careful not to offend.

So here we are. No new ideas. Our system old and stale and unproductive except for those guaranteed good state worker salaries, medical and retirement benefits and job security no matter the gloom around us.


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