Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)

Hawai‘i’s Scrutiny: Fair or Fickle?

When it comes to how leaders in Hawai‘i are treated, the first rule that one should know is that no two leaders of anything in Hawai‘i are treated the same, no matter what their position.

This blogger came up with this conclusion after witnessing the treatment of three leaders of Hawai‘i over the past couple of years. In two of them, the observations are much more recent – the last two to three months.

Who we are talking about here in this blog post is the leaders of the University of Hawai‘i, David Lassner; the Chief Executive Officer of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART), Lori Kahikina; and General Kenneth Hara, Adjutant General for the State of Hawai‘i.

Each of them holds a high profile, and in at least the case of the Adjutant General, power that could widely transform how Hawai‘i works in the case of an emergency, at the snap of a finger. But when it comes to how the powers that be or the general population looks at them, you will find that each has been given a custom-made treatment.

Here is that observation

The University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner

David Lassner
PC: University of Hawaii Leadership webpage

Since being named the president of the University of Hawai‘i in July 2014, David Lassner has navigated the school through the upsets that the last leadership left, implementing immediate and widespread changes due to COVID in March 2020, the pivot of key sports from state facilities like Aloha Stadium to the T.C. Ching complex, and navigating various internal upheavals throughout all of these events.

One might assume that, based on this list, his upcoming retirement as President would be viewed as a time for positive reflection on his term and the progress he has brought to the school.

Yeah, fat chance.

Instead, in a very public way, Lassner has been criticized by the State Legislature for various “sins” that, in some cases, have a more tangential than direct link. While it is true that no leader is perfect, it seems that even stubbing his toe and yelling “ow” will elicit a letter from State Senators or various pressure groups for him to walk it off and pipe down.

Some of the criticisms, including spending and administrative pay raises and the handling of the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Hawai‘i Island are as much issue drive as they are politics-driven, and if handled differently, would have potentially elicited different reactions from the various groups that make their opinions known on such things.

But because he has chosen not to be combative, to certain groups that seem to needle him in trying to get a rise out of him, his legacy may be initially written by those who have the most to gain by massively dissing him.

It’s not unnoticed by this blogger that those interested in becoming president after Lassner steps down are taking note of the current efforts to oppose him. The expectation is that criticism of the president will continue regardless of who holds the position. This makes the job less peaceful and potentially less appealing to qualified candidates.

Chief Executive Officer of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART), Lori Kahikina

Just like with Lassner, Kahikina stepped into the role of CEO of HART with something of a honeymoon attached to the hire. With upsets with past CEOs and the increasing irritation of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) when it came to leadership, Kahikina was a veteran of the City, but a new face for this high-profile project.

And, it seemed, the honeymoon got extended a few times since her hire in January 2021. With a new Mayor and a new idea of what the rail system would be for the people of Honolulu, she proceeded to fix sticky problems with the project itself, stabilize the budget that seemed to be increasing every few months, and got the project to the point where the first phase of it got running in late June 2023.

And, by the way, she also was able to get monies released from the Federal Government that was on hold due to questions FTA had about its viability, among other things. So you would think that, past the honeymoon, the leaders of Honolulu would look favorably upon Kahikina, and maybe extend her contract beyond the end of 2024.

Well, in shaking a metaphorical Magic 8 Ball, the answer back is “Outlook is not so good”.

Once again, the leaders with power over the project are the reason for the mistreatment of Kahikina. Recently, there was a public disagreement between Kahikina and Colleen Hanabusa, the Rapid Transit Board Chair, and former Congresswoman, regarding the departure of a key project manager.

This public spat has raised the question of whether Kahikina would be kept on as CEO, with speculation focused on whether she should be fired and someone else brought in or kept on and her contract extended.

But unlike Lassner, who has quiet cheerleaders, Kahikina got a very public boost recently from Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who wrote to the HART board of his support of Kahikina, and to direct the board to resolve its differences offline. It would seem that Kahikina, in this case, is getting support against what could be seen as one-way bullying (at least in Kahikina’s view)

And that might be a nice thing considering that, on its face, the way she is being treated as a leader, could be considered miserable.

The Adjutant General of the State of Hawai‘i, Kenneth Hara

While both Lassner and Kahikina are slogging through, the retirement notice of State of Hawai‘i Adjutant General Kenneth Hara is truly the opposite.

Instead of being shown the door and being told “Don’t let the door hit you….” on exit, his retirement notice came with nothing less than praise and an extended interview on Hawai‘i News Now, highlighting his service to Hawai‘i.

And in general, if one looks at the literature out there General Hara is more-or-less seen as someone who has done very little wrong, kept Hawai‘i safe, and was able to handle the storms of COVID and the Lahaina wildfire.

However, looking at the replacement for Hara, one should note how important the Adjutant General is to Hawai‘i becoming more focused. And this is where, while we might praise the man in his departure, should the state be more critical about his replacement – Gen. Stephen Logan.

So far, in the news, the newly named Adjutant General has elicited zero noise. And this is for a person who could if the situation arises, become the military governor of Hawai‘i in the event of martial law.

While it’s not automatic, there’s a strong possibility the Adjutant General would be considered for the role. The final decision would come from the appointing authority, which could be the Governor or a higher military official depending on the situation.

That is pretty hard-core leadership that they may have to wield. However, no word of this seriousness has come out in the announcement that Logan will become the new Adjutant General of the State of Hawai‘i.

Meanwhile, two other people who hold much less serious positions, but are leaders in Hawai‘i nonetheless, are getting their reputations, legacies, and even their jobs, picked on right and left.

So, a question to leave with the reader, should leadership in Hawai’i be a popularity contest, or should it be judged on results and the ability to navigate complex situations? Should leadership in Hawai‘i for one not be the same as for the others? And are we going down a road by which the leader with the stronger “political tribe” survives better than the one with a weaker tribe?

Chirping Off: this blog’s farewell to [X]

On Thursday evening, May 23, 2024, the Politics Hawaii with Stan Fichtman blog formally discontinued any further use of “X” (formerly known as Twitter). As a reader of this blog, and perhaps someone who interacted with it only through X, you are owed a reason why. 

Furthermore, what is the plan for this blog going forward when it comes to social media, find out here too!  

The reasons for this blog, and its writer, to discontinue engaging with X are multi-faceted and it was, looking back a long time in coming. My interaction with then-Twitter began as a new platform to promote my work in the Junior Chamber – encouraged by friends who would serve with me in leadership roles. 

It would end with the realization that the platform, long done with being used for nonprofit work, had become a toxic place where people posting were not doing it for intellectual examination of political activities, but to one-up opposing opinions to the point of breaking friendships. 

But it was even more than that. 

The wish was that Musk would make Social Media a more level playing field for everyone to participate in, to promote better intellectual discourse. That is not how it is turning out.
PC: “2022_11_030100 – Elon Musk and Twitter” by Gwydion M. Williams is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The questioning of X began soon after Elon Musk bought the platform and took it private. At the time, he mentioned that voices that were suppressed by the former owners would be re-allowed onto it. It was hoped the voices of the past that were allowed back in would be more “genteel” in their approaches, knowing full well that once blocked and brought back, you can be blocked again.

What it turned out was that those voices were not only allowed back in, but they were also allowed to pick up in their visceral voice, with aplomb knowing that Musk was not going to block them, no matter what they said. 

At that point, the thought by this blogger was if one set of voices is being allowed in, surely Musk would respect other voices coming in and at least give them a fair playing field to promote intellectual exchange.

Looking back on that, the word “naive” leaps to mind, because that is not what happened. 

Instead, a certain set of voices are being both amplified and allowed to monetize from it, while other voices that may have another point of view that is not in line with a more right-of-center political viewpoint are suppressed. 

This blogger saw that happen as posts made in the past that would have gotten some circulation now would see barely any statistics on who was seeing it. It would further get harder to see how a post’s performance did when X took down its post statistics page, which was a good way to see if a post had life in it in the “Twitterverse”. 

It was noted, further, that posts made got very little circulation, with responses to key people like Republican Congresspeople and X influencers, getting even less action than that. More times than not, a post made would get single-digit engagement, and it was rare if a post was even “liked” or re-Xʻd. This was more true when one observed that those who paid for the “extra features” would get a bigger audience, while those who just used the free version, got no circulation at all.

Then, when those amplified and monetized voices would say something that, to this blogger, felt crossed a line, a report would be submitted, asking X to look at it and determine if it was against platform standards.

Before Musk, reports of offensive posts would prompt action, but after Musk took over, many reports came back with “no violation” determinations. It was no surprise when posters with blue checkmarks and monetized accounts were never penalized by the X police.

In fact, in one response back, X overtly came out to say that posts – in this case here one which had “common sense” defined sensitive content – that “We allow sensitive content — like consensually produced adult content, graphic imagery, and violence — in Tweets as long as it doesn’t break our sensitive media policy.”

The response from [X] said that the poster being reported did not do anything wrong, but that they will allow even content that is defined through common sense and critical thinking, as less than honorable.
PC: PHwSF screenshot of the email

It was at that point the first draft of what you are reading now, was made. Knowing that being involved with a platform that would allow the expression of violence to the public could cause problems for the blog as well as for the writer, personally.

But still, even at that point, there was something that told this blog publisher to wait a bit more to see if there may be changes. Also, the platform still provided the blog some assistance in finding out all the fundraisers’ politicians in Hawaii were holding through a robust posting by the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission. And, there were friends, some of this blog, whose interaction was still valued. 

Then, figuratively, the other shoe dropped. 

It came in the form of an interaction with one of the readers of this blog, who interacted with the blogger on X. Provided they came from another point of view, much more to the right than the political center this blog tries to keep to, interacting with them felt that there was still a space for intellectual conversation on matters and, at times, a meeting of minds on things that we didn’t disagree on.

Our interactions were valued because X could still be used as an area to put out ideas and see how they fared in the market of opinion that was out there. This person would engage, we would debate, and most times we either agree to disagree or at least respect the positions on both sides and disengage. 

This time around, and not to go into much detail due to the sensitive nature of it, an opinion about a word that a presidential candidate used in their advertisement would lead to a realization that the person on the other side was not countering me just to work the algorithm and get better circulation, but that they truly believed that I was both wrong and that my position on the matter was that of a “teenaged girl” and that I was very unmanly in advocating for it.

It got worse in a private message with this person, who was told that it felt their statements were “a bit over the line” even for trying to work the algorithm. It was then, in their response, that it was decided that both contact with this person needed to cease, and a declaration that our friendship – one that has spanned almost 8 years – also needed to end. 

So, contact with the person ceased. I did wish that person well in their future endeavors but noted that the friendship is over. 

At that point, it felt like X had crossed a line in which its radicalizing of people is killing friendships and making interaction on the platform even more miserable. Add to that the suppression of any posts from this blog in the first place led to the decision to finally cut ties with X. 

There are other avenues this blog, or any blog for that matter, can use in the Social Media world that one can use to get their content out. [X] is just one, one which this blog will no longer use.
PC: “Social Media Logos on An Art Background” by mikemacmarketing is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

So the deactivation process started. It will be another month before the account “@politicsHI” is fully deleted, according to X. There is no intention for this blog to re-engage with X or take up the handle again. As far as this blog is concerned, the handle is retired by us. In other actions and directions, this blog has removed all references to X on its contacts and will take the handle off the blog itself.

In the future, this blog will continue to be published on Social Media through its account on Facebook (www.facebook.com/PoliticsHI) and shared with certain other sites including this blogger’s personal Facebook page (www.facebook.com/stan.fichtman). Furthermore, this blog will continue to post on a (relatively new) social media platform called “Nextdoor” at this site (it’s a lot of webby technical items in the address). 

The blog also relishes the relationship it has with Hawaii Free Press (www.hawaiifreepress.com) of which Mr. Andrew Walden, Curator of the site, periodically features articles from this blog on it. 

We may continue to publish on Medium (politicshawaii.medium.com), but as with X, there is not a lot of traffic there. More its a site to use “just in case” there is a glitch in the main website when publishing a piece. 

But of course, the main articles that you will read, about interpreting the social, political, and cultural zeitgeist of Hawaii will always be found, first, on the Politics Hawaii website (www.politicshawaii.com). Articles will still come out about once every 2 weeks for the time being, with more frequent posts as events warrant. 

And of course, if you wish to contact the blog directly, go to our “contact us” page and share your thoughts on this or anything else!

Bragging Rights or Brain Drain? Hawaii’s Employment Conundrum

As Congress finished its work on the federal budget for 2024, nearly six months late, a slew of notifications went out to states on their formula-funded allocations for 2024.

The U.S. Department of Laborʻs Employment Training Administration is the technical entity that overseas the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act that, among other things, run the “Americaʻs Job Centers” across the nation.
PC: “Snowy Labor Department Sign” by Matt Popovich is marked with CC0 1.0.

Some of these notices come through on the Federal Register. In other cases, they come out as grant notifications through the federal grant notification portal “Grants.gov”. In the case of Department of Labor notifications, this is where this intrepid blogger saw the notice.

The funding notification had to do with the allocations the Dept. of Labor sends to every state, every year, for their various “employment and training” programs done through the states’ departments of labor. The overall act that authorizes this funding is called the “Workforce Opportunities and Investment Act”, otherwise known by its acronym, WOIA.

WIOA breaks up the training programs into different categories. They are “youth activities”, “adult activities”, “dislocated workers”, “employment service”, and “workforce information grants”. And each state, based on a formula, receives an allocation from the total amount legislated by Congress, every year, in the budget.

Thus, that is why these funding allocations are called “formula grants”. In a moment, we’ll get back to how this affects the outlays a state sees.

For Hawai‘i, the program year 2024 allocation has awarded the state $12.38 million. This is down from program year 2023’s award to the state of $13.27 million, a 6.7% decrease. Across the board, in all categories, the state saw a decrease in funding ranging from a small 0.26% decrease in the allocation for workforce information to a 9.9% decrease in programs that assist youth and adult activities.

Calculating the dollar decrease just in these two programs – adult and youth – Hawai‘i lost $753,000 and change.

Meanwhile, depending on the program, a few other states saw large increases in their allocations this year. Two states – Nevada and Oregon – saw 30+% increases in their youth and adult state allotments for the program year 2024.

So, this humble blogger wondered “What is going on”, considering that both programs service key populations that need assistance in getting into the workforce. The program helps young people in and out of school who face challenges finding jobs, and preparing for college, trade schools, or other employment opportunities.

Individuals benefit from WIOA adult programs that provide job search assistance and training opportunities, helping them obtain good jobs and enabling employers to meet their workforce needs. Activities in this area are sometimes complemented with employment services that you can see, in Hawai‘i, through the state’s “HireNet” online job board.

As mentioned, the way funds are distributed hinges on a formula. One of the key factors in this formula is the state’s unemployment rate.

For Hawai‘i, the unemployment rate is hovering around 3.1%, for Nevada and Oregon, 5.1% generally. So, more money goes to states that need it more because there are more people to serve.

The durability of the Hawaii job market in both making and keeping residents employed was demonstrated with the recovery of Lahaina, and the drive to “get back to work” for so many whose lives got disrupted.
PC: “Lahaina strong” by State Farm is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

And this brings up an interesting observation about the state of employment in Hawai‘i vis a vie other states. Turns out Hawai‘i is not doing that bad in the area of placing people in employment.

Taking away the factor of whether any one job is a “quality” job or a job that can be held long enough for it to become a career, it would seem that if a person is looking for work in Hawai‘i, they can get it relatively easily.

But, adding back in the quality aspect, there are implications of this, and Hawai‘i should pay attention to it.

Hawaii’s low unemployment rate becomes a double-edged sword under the current funding formula. While it boasts low jobless numbers, this very metric cuts the state short on crucial training funds. The current system prioritizes quantity over quality, leaving residents stuck in low-wage jobs with limited upward mobility.

Imagine a talented young person eager to climb the career ladder – the very formula designed to help them is now hindering their progress. This funding gap creates a vicious cycle: low training dollars translate to fewer opportunities to “level up” skillsets, perpetuating a workforce trapped in dead-end positions.

Providing fewer opportunities for Hawai‘i residents to acquire the necessary skills for better jobs may lead to an increase in younger individuals leaving the state for job prospects on the mainland.

A case in point was the person sitting next to this blogger on the flight home from Los Angeles.

My fellow passenger, a man on his way back to help his family relocate to the mainland, perfectly illustrated the issue. He spoke of better prospects and a higher quality of life elsewhere, even if it meant leaving their Hawai‘i home. This difficult choice, driven by economics, underscores the ongoing challenge of keeping Hawaii residents here: employed, but often in jobs with limited upward mobility.

In total, the current funding formula creates a paradox for Hawaii.

While it boasts low unemployment, it fails to address the critical need for training programs that equip residents with the skills to climb the career ladder. This skills gap, which still exists, threatens to stall economic mobility and fuel an exodus of talent. Although COVID may have changed the mindset as to how to service the currently employed, we are still a long way from addressing the gap, and in turn, making a hard decision to leave the only option for many.

For more information on the WIOA program and the allocations, visit these websites,

Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act state’s allocation

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/advisories/tegl-12-23

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for all states

https://www.bls.gov/eag/

BLS Hawai‘i

https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/hawaii.htm#eag

BLS Nevada

https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/nevada.htm#tab-1

BLS Oregon

https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/oregon.htm


Along with being born and raised in Hawai‘i, and lived in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the author of this piece – Stan Fichtman – has also worked on workforce development programs in Hawai‘i since 2008, when he was hired by the Workforce Development Council at the State of Hawai‘i Dept. Of Labor as an analyst after his stint at the Honolulu City Council. He continues to work on workforce matters in his current position at the University of Hawai‘i, having managed workforce development grants for the school.

What are your thoughts on this? Go to http://politicshawaii.com/contact/ and share your mana‘o (thoughts) with me on this and any other subject. Who knows, I might write about it!

Read past entries of Stan Fichtman and PoliticsHawaii.com!

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What am I listening to?

These are the Podcasters that I am listening to, try them out!

Pod Save America (on YouTube)

Regular Car Reviews 

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I am very choosy as to where I get my news from, here are some dependable sources I refer to when reading up on topics

The Atlantic

CNBC

Civil Beat (Hawaii on-line newspaper)

Honolulu Star Advertiser (mostly paywalled, but you get free headlines)

Beat of Hawaii (Tourism based news source from Kauai)

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By Stan Fichtman

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