Nice Guy But Not A Gifted Leader

The good news from Gov. David Ige’s point of view is that he has two years left in his term in which to craft a legacy.

The bad news from the citizens’ point of view is that David Ige will be governor for two more years.

Why is that bad news? He’s a nice man, moral, congenial and wants the best for us. Alas, as a former electrical engineer he’s a plodding technocrat. Not a bold leader with bold ideas and action in difficult times. He’d be fine if Hawaii were just humming along with few headwinds.

We’re not humming along and the headwinds of the pandemic and economic stagnation are growing stronger here, not fading. We lag most states horribly in the percentage of our population that’s been vaccinated. We’re in the BOTTOM 16. [This chart is before our mass inoculation program began at Pier 2 this week]

Here’s who is on top on the vaccination percentages so far:

Ige is no Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsome. His speech pattern and manner is neither Rooseveltian nor Churchillian. He doesn’t command his state. The pandemic revealed that. He let county mayors tug him this way and that with individual Covid responses. It often seemed his lieutenant governor was off and running in a different direction. His low-key, technocrat approach to governance reminds me of former Honolulu mayor Jeremy Harris’s impediment. He thought about things too long. We wanted action on traffic, road repair, water pollution  and an old-fashioned Waikiki.

In a recent, large, national survey, no governor had a lower public approval rating for handling the virus than Ige. The average governor approval rating for handling the pandemic was 66%, compared to Ige’s 39%. Only 55% of people in Hawaii felt that the state has been doing a good job handling the pandemic. That’s the lowest percentage in the nation. And now our Covid numbers are spiking again, threatening either additional shutdowns or at least sticking to Tier 2 while fearing a retreat to Tier 1.

Ige’s off the chart, near the bottom.

Civil Beat columnist Neal Milner summed it up succinctly:

“[We] see the governor’s handling of the virus through the public’s lens of ‘same old, same old.’ That perception looks like this: Of course the coronavirus response has been far from business-as-usual in so many ways. But there also has been a kind of state government-esque, go-by-the book quality to it: we are moving cautiously; sticking to the protocols. The team is in place. The masters of disaster. Sensible leaders doing sensible things.”

While Ige may see himself as that sensible leader with sensible handling, the feeling’s not  mutual.

We were late on the draw in doing a shutdown before Covid got a foothold. We re-opened bars and …whoops!  We closed bars but left restaurants doing 30% of their revenue from food  also be bars. We did not mandate masks in public. We did not demand compliance with no-group-gathering instructions.

Ige was very late at recognizing at the start that people here were not happy with our flood of tourists even before the pandemic. He went along with the argument that tourism is our only game and we have to play it.

So his worst decision was letting tourists and returning residents in with their promise to quarantine themselves somewhere for 14 days. That was stupid and often ignored. He should have requisitioned hotels near the airports and used them for mandatory quarantine, guarded, with the “inmates” limited to their rooms.

But Ige wanted more tourism business to be generated and who would come here under such strict rules? How could we do that to returning residents?

Well, Australia and New Zealand did it. Fiji and Samoa did it. They have Covid under control. We do not, and now we are encouraging visitors under a “bubble” concept in which they do the quarantine time in a resort hotel that has local people as staff that does not stay in the bubble but goes home, shopping, etcetera.

Then Civil Beat reported:

“Five months after a California congresswoman asked Hawaii for answers about its public health response and its spending of federal money, Gov. David Ige hasn’t provided her with any information.

“U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who chairs a House subcommittee on health, expressed concern in August about the state’s worsening COVID-19 outbreak, which was resulting in new cases of over 200 per day. Gov. David Ige told the congresswoman he needed more time to respond. Months later, he hasn’t provided information.”

Early last year, House Speaker Scott Saiki sounded an early alarm, telling Ige that his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic “has been utterly chaotic and there is mass confusion among the public.”

POLITICO’s Bill Scher asked readers of that popular internet site which governors have done a better job at meeting the moment by acting decisively and boosting morale, and which have missed the moment, dragged their feet and succumbed to petty squabbling?

Ige ranked #4 in Scher’s “Gubernatorial Busts” category, state executives which he identifies as among the worst performing during this crisis in the country. Ige is the only Democrat ranked in the bottom six.

State of Reform is an 11 western state, non-partisan think tank that compares state policies on big issues like this pandemic.

It’s report: “Hawaii has an Office of Federal Awards Management but it isn’t apparent that they have been provided the resources or authorities to track opportunities and state agency actions. It should be noted that the state has a bad track record for not seizing and spending federal dollars that would benefit the people of Hawaii.’

My case is hereby submitted for judgment..


Special Thursday Report: Undoing What’s Been Done.

In his first 6 hours in the Oval Office, new President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders. A passel of them reversed the executive orders of former President Donald Trump.

Some dealt with immigration and oil-delivery or drilling programs — DACA, the Mexico border wall,  the Keystone Pipeline, and the Arctic Wilderness Reserve.

You could say most of them are welcomed by immigration reformists and environmentalists. Not so welcomed by Trump’s anti-immigration and pro-oil-and-coal supporters or by the big oil/coal companies.

I’ll leave the worth or unworthiness of the new, more liberal-minded Biden executive orders for others to judge. My aim today is to question the worthiness of the executive order use in general.

I am bothered by the prospect of one president issuing a load of executive orders right up to his/her final day in office — sometimes only for 4 years — and the next president countermanding those with a new set of orders. The people affected by those orders can’t efficiently move forward because the next White House occupant may turn everything upside down.

The term executive order is not defined in the Constitution. It’s open to the interpretation of each president. Executive orders are sometime huge mandates like the ones Trump signed that send objectors screaming. Others have been used for simple changes such as giving federal workers the day off after Christmas. There was absolutely no objection to that one.

Then  President Trump held up a signed executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

A new president apparently can modify, revoke or supersede orders implemented by any previous president. The judicial branch can challenge an order by declaring it unconstitutional or illegal. Some judges did just that with some Trump orders. It’s too early to tell if any Biden orders will run into the judicial wall.

I cannot say with any authority that executive orders are unconstitutional, but I do say it looks like a use of a legislative power that belongs in the Congress. Presidents can propose laws, but only the people can pass them. The way it is now, if a president’s proposal stalls out in Congress, he slips it into effect by declaring an executive order.

This has been hanging around as a danger sign since George Washington first used it in 1789 and the Founding Fathers said nothing, like maybe “Hey, guy, we didn’t authorize that in the Constitution!”

Only president William Harrison did not issue a single executive order. All along the line to today’s #46, presidents claimed that Article 2 gives them broad authority to use their discretion (orders) to determine how to enforce law. There’s never been any movement to clear that up. Presidential executive orders remain in force until they are canceled, revoked, adjudicated to be unlawful, or expire. At any time, the president may revoke, modify, or make exceptions from any executive order that was made by  any predecessor.

Is that good? I say no. I repeat that Congress was meant to manage law. And executive orders being revocable, they cause uncertainly on the part of those who are subject to them.

The most egregious use of the power was when President Harry Truman signed executive order 10340 that placed all of the country’s steel mills under federal control. That one got knocked down by the Supreme Court as unlawful and excessive use of power.

But look at how many far-reaching executive orders Trump promulgated with hardly a peep from the SCOTUS justices.

My personal judgement that it’s a bad habit is not based on my reading of the Constitution. It’s my sense that the executive order power bypasses our “people’s government”, and then with a stroke of a new pen a successor president can change things all around without asking me — the citizen who makes or rejects laws.



“Welcome Back To D.C., Joe.”

Sure there was some fraud and cheating. People cheat. At cards. On college admission applications. For welfare payments. Even 59 West Point cadets cheated on a calculus exam. Voter cheating is done by Democrats and Republicans, so they cancel each other out. You won, Joe, by about 7 million legit votes.

Now comes the hard part. It’s not Obama’s fault. It’s not Trump’s fault. It all rests on your 78-year-old shoulders.

The Iran quandary. North Korea’s Kim and his missiles. The Taliban in Afghanistan. China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

At your age (or mine) most men want less stress, travel (and not on Air Force One), and not being disturbed during naps or long night sleeps.

But your predecessor really mucked things up and a lot needs to be made right. Especially with our offended allies in Germany, France and Great Britain. Then there’s the homegrown grievances. Progressives like Bernie, who hope you’ll be the new FDR with ideas for societal enrichment programs, ending fossil fuels (not likely) and paying everyone in America a subsidy (as in a free wage, and also not likely.) Conservatives and the GOP Senate won’t bless you in your endeavors. Donald Trump got a big chunk of America all riled up about immigrants, loss of religious values and gun ownership. You’ll be expected to be nice to them (not likely.)

A smart move on your part would be to work on equality of economic growth and cultural integration and every so slowly inch in the direction of democratic socialism, an ultimate Democratic Party goal and a good one when it’s palatable.

Be as one Lincoln biographer said of Abe: “Radical, but not sounding too damned radical.”

Your net worth is estimated at $9 million so no need to do any stupid moves to shore up your bank account. You don’t need a hotel or country club you can rent to the Secret Service during your travels.

Too bad you didn’t bring me aboard as your Ivanka or Jared. Senior adviser. I’m full of ideas, some of which are found on this daily column site. Okay, I’ll admit that what I really want is an overnighter in the White House!

But seriously, consider these things:

(1) You can’t give away the candy store. But there’s no call to be in a tariff war with China. It needs to be cajoled into playing by international rules. No technology stealing. Fair pricing. And they must quit claiming ownership of a sea the International Court says they don’t own. Then we can be best friends and we’ll quit putting our ships and planes on their doorstep and let them and Taiwan and Hong Kong work out things without us threatening war. About Mr. Kim: he needs to understand two things. There are benefits for his people to play ball with the South and us, and maybe step down and allow an election. And that the penalty for misuse of a missile would leave him ruling a radioactive desert — if he survived. Harsh? I know. But Mr. Trump’s sweet talk went nowhere.

(2) We got our knickers in a twist in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s not our front yard or our backyard. Not even our neighborhood. Not our culture or our main religion. How did we get in so deep? Now we’ve got longtime NATO ally Turkey pissed at us.Was it all about the Saudi oil we really don’t need any more and will need even less of in 10-20 years time? We’re dumping out on the Afghans. Already dumped out on the Kurds. We let Syria’s Assad cross the “red line.” Libya’s a zoo. Ethiopia is a no place. Why did so many U.S. soldiers die in Somalia? We certainly did not make it a better place. Isn’t it time to stand back and let that pot boil?

Pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Those two countries can’t be saved. Would ISIS or similar move in? Probably. But the terrorism threat to us would likely diminish. ISIS won’t want to tangle with us once we’ve removed our “friendly occupation” forces from the area. Let Saudi Arabia and Israel deal with Iran. We just help keep the Strait open for shipping and international air space open for airplanes.

(4) Please put Cuba back in our good graces. It’s no threat to us. And we can’t tell people what kind of government they should have. Most seem content that it’s at least better than the bad old Batista days. Re-open tourism and trade. It’s the right things to do.

(5) Covid demands a national mask-wearing law with enforcement and penalties. Enough of this “I’m a free person” crap. We’re in an emergency. If we’re at war and government tells us to turn off all lights at night and sign up for the draft, we turn off the lights and sign up. This is no different. A lot of people will die as we await adequate inoculations. We have no idea how long they’ll give us immunity or what the longer-term side effects might be. Masks, social distancing and shutdowns of indoor group activities and our beloved bar hangouts will be around for many more months. It’s ridiculous to have a shutdown violation penalty like ours — you’re closed for just 24 hours! Testing is nice but only good for a moment in time when the test is given. If states are going to allow cross-border traffic (guaranteed by the Constitution) then we must enforce the 14-day quarantine. Is that possible? Yes, if the violation brings something more than a wrist slap. An automatic $5,000 fine gets people’s attention.)

That’s about it for now. Oh, can I have the Lincoln bedroom? And tell your chef I love eggs Benedict with kale pork for breakfast.



“Keep True To The Dreams Of Your Youth”: Friedrich Schiller

I’m okay with turning 85 years old tomorrow. I see all those obituaries of people in their 70s. You know — that Billy Joel song — “Only The Good Die Young.”

True, I no longer jump out of airplanes. No longer fly them, either. Not racing J-Class boats at Keehi Lagoon or diving for black coral off Lahaina. No hikes up to Lanai Hale. I did get a priority Covid vaccination and everybody now calls me Uncle and offers me seating.

From left: Me, K.C. Craver, Donn McLean

Some people get afraid of old age and inevitable death. I celebrate a life well lived. A long marriage to the fabulous Denby Fawcett, a moral child, travel galore, and a writing career in which I was able to infect some minds with curiosity.

Along the way I made mistakes, did some things I’d not repeat with a second chance. And who knows — I could have another 20 years to go like my late friends Sau Chun and Betty Ho. But I’m not counting on that.

Mainly, I got to watch our culture change. I was born just as Hitler was talking up a movement to supplant the Weimar Republic in Germany. My memory of WWII was that chocolate was rationed, and our German landlord was taken to detention at Camp Perry near Clinton, Ohio. My dad fired off his 12-guage shotgun from our Sheffield Lake, Ohio, porch when peace was announced.

My parents were poor. My dad had finished high school. Not sure about my mom, variously known in official documents as Ann or Anne, Zydiac or Saunders. That’s a total mystery to this day. Dad  insisted I should become a carpenter or a plumber at a trade school because people always needed those, even during the Great Depression.

Ann Zydiac Jones, aka Anne Saunders

That became moot because I ran away at 15 and did go to college. I do wish I also had learned carpentry and plumbing so I could have saved myself from the pros who charge me grandly per hour.

Through my late teens in Florida I thought it was perfectly normal to have White Only and Colored Only public bathrooms and drinking fountains and racial sections of towns and cities and schools.  It took reading and travel for me to shake that. I wish I could tell you I was a young progressive, but I wasn’t. Not until I moved to Europe and saw the world as it really is — full of people of many races and religions, cultural and sexual practices.

Jay Rowen and I at a mosque in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia

I’d eventually work at 6 newspapers, KGMB-TV News and NBC News. Cover wars in Nigeria, Vietnam and Iraq. Watch journalism rapidly drain away its vibrancy, get furloughed from my MidWeek column as the pandemic picked up, and move to this blog, where I don’t have to worry about offending an advertiser and am my own editor and publisher. A scribbler’s dream!

Got a George Foster Peabody award for a China documentary in the 80s and a one-man show at the Honolulu Museum of Art of my China photography. Two Emmys for local documentaries. Worked with many talented reporters and videographers.

Our daughter is a State Department foreign service officer, currently based in Canberra for USAID. Makes more money than I ever did, and travels more, too. Didn’t make all the mistakes I did. That pleases me because with children you never know what you’re going to get!

Brett Jones and husband, acting ambassador to Australia Mike Goldman

The best move I ever made was coming to Hawaii. I think I knew it would become my home the moment I stepped off the plane and got a real flower lei from a young woman in a real hula skirt at the bottom of the plane-departure stairs. I shucked my suit and rented a walk-up in the Tatibouet apartments on Kuhio Avenue. Went to work the next day at the Honolulu Advertiser and was surprised to learn that this city is where Pearl Harbor is! Hey, I had been a Europe resident 1956-1962. Who knew Hawaii?

That first night at the newspaper, the photographers Ishii, Umeda and Chong took me to a Dillingham Boulevard bar where the pupu was steak, ribs and chicken and several exotic Japanese delicacies, and I was hooked for life. Later, the steak, ribs and chicken — and even the popcorn — would disappear; so would the AJA waitresses, and it all became Korean “you buy me drink?”.

Most visitors I would take out for drinks came away impressed!

This begins my 58th year in Hawaii. Everything worked out okay. That’s the most anyone can hope for.


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