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March 15, 2003 - Saturday

The Ides of March, and the second anniversary of the end of the Star-Bulletin and the emergence of the "new" Star-Bulletin. The new S-B has survived two years of Gannett's best effort to reclaim a monopoly. Despite its various flaws, they're not dead yet!

The anniversary was noted in yesterday's Star-Bulletin, and assessed in the current Pacific Business News. Interestingly, the Advertiser seems to have ignored it.

I don't know if Star-Bulletin sports editor and Kaaawa resident Paul Arnett reads the Advertiser, but a small story in yesterday's 'Tiser reported that a man arrested for fraud after allegedly rolling back the odomoter on a used car uses the alias "Paul Arnet", among others.

George Steele's "official" obituary appeared yesterday in the Star-Bulletin. And Burl Burlingame's entry for March 13 includes what I would say is the best photo of George among the current crop.

According to George's family, his ashes will be returned to his cousin's family's farm, described as "a sweetly beautiful place on the edge of the ridge and valley section of Virginia."

And I'm not sure about those "signs" that George's Cherokee grandfather taught him about, but we've seen the green flash at sunrise for three days in a row, something of a record in our experience.

March 14, 2003 - Friday

I received the first message at 3:42 p.m. yesterday that my friend George Steele was dead. It came in the form of an email to all Star-Bulletin staff and forwarded over to me from another friend in the newsroom.

It was like a punch. I was scheduled to have lunch with George in the next few days. We had been friends in the old Star-Bulletin newsroom and he was one of the select few who didn't have any problem remaining a good friend after the Star-Bulletin and I parted company.

I sat in silence for several minutes. Then I dug through my addresses and sent off an email to his former wife in West Virginia, who George had remained very close to. Then I sat a while longer.

Last summer, just before his birthday, George shared this thought.

i love my life and i cringe as i see it drawing to an inevitiable close. but i got a nice card from mary in west virginia. it's a quote from the talmud:

"every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'grow, grow.'"

Back on March 7, 2000, George reminisced about his grandfather, Obediah.

I mention this hesitantly.

My grandfather was in great part, Cherokee, strong with the energy of that culture. So much so, that by comparison, I am reluctant to lay claim to the label myself.

He learned the Old Ways.

Made his own medicine from herbs. Had his own view of the cosmos. He carried a gun all of his life, a 45 semiautomatic in the waistband of his trousers. He never left home without it. Didn't believe in banks or other institutions.

Did believe in omens.

He tried to teach me, but I was very young and he was very old, and I missed a lot of what he said. And he was the kind of man you didn't ask second questions of.

But I came away from my experience with him with a definite belief in "signs," as he called them.

Sometimes I am accurate in emulating him.

It's just a feeling, not something that can be put into words.

And once George commented briefly on his hillbilly roots.

my father was never jailed (for long), but he was often on the edge.

when i was a child, my family lived on the edge of poverty. i remember when a constable came to our house and nailed notices on our doors that our family goods would be sold at public auction.

i remember not only the fear of what is going to happen to us, but the shame.

finally, my father left. i loved him, but it was a relief to have him gone.

and then the real hard times set in. my mother's salary from working at penney's was pennies. we ate beans and potatoes every day. we brushed our teeth with salt instead of toothpaste.

But George went on to be a good reporter.

One of the things about growing up in and covering the news in Appalachia is that it's a poor part of the country and things are done poorly. Literally. The Silver Bridge across the Ohio River fell during rush hour. Hundreds died. I covered it. An earthen dam at the head of Buffalo Creek collapsed, sending a wall of water down an 18-mile valley, killing hundreds. I covered it.

George was good with words. He's been working as a copy editor, but he was a writer. I hope that his computer at home is full of his words that will somehow survive.

And George responded to something I wrote with this thought:

"it takes courage to acknowledge that you miss another living being. i admire your courage."

I don't feel courageous now. Just sadder and a bit lonelier.

March 13, 2003 - Thursday

Veteran newsman Sandy Vanocur wowed a crowd of over 100 people gathered yesterday for the annual Freedom of Information Day lunch sponsored by the Honolulu Community-Media Council, East-West Center, Society of Professional Journalists, and Pacific and Asian Affairs Council. He addressed the somewhat sorry state of news reporting today.

Vanocur, who said he made President Nixon's "enemies list" because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam, was scathing in his criticism of current U.S. policy towards Iraq and the news media's failure to ask appropriate questions.

"The media went limp and the Washington Post went star spangled," Vanocur quipped.

When asked about the recent presidential press conference which was totally scripted and controlled, Vanocur expressed amazement that reporters hadn't just stormed out.

I would have walked out. Then I would have written a letter that said, "Fuck you, strong letter follows"....

"It may be george bush is right, but a question should be asked. Questions shoudl be asked about why this is going on .I don't know, There are not enough questions being asked, and if its unpatriotic to ask questions, we're in terrible shape.

And why aren't the questions being asked? Vanocur replied:

You'll be accused of being a liberal. It's as simple as that.
The liberal has become the Anti-Christ.

On the positive side, Vanocur listed his favored range of news sources, which included PBS News Hour, Congressional Quarterly, the National Journal, NY Times, the Wall Street Journal's news pages ("it's two different newspapers"), and then he recommended just browsing other newspapers on the Internet. It was a short list.

March 12, 2003 - Wednesday

Media commentator Norman Solomon's latest Media Beat column questions why news media in the U.S. are avoiding the story of American spying on members of the U.N Security Council. It's a story that has been major news around the world, except in the U.S.

And the British newspaper, The Observer, which broke the spying story, says the leak of the American spying memo reflects a significant rift between political leaders and intelligence professionals, who say their work is being distorted for short-term political gain. And the Observer reports that a 28-year old woman working for a top secret intelligence agency has been arrested, apparently for being involved in the leak.

I ran into this historical gem yesterday while attacking a stack that hadn't experienced human intervention in quite a while.

It's Cub Scout Den something-or-other in Kahala from an unknown date, probably around 1958 or so. That's yours truly at the far right.

click for larger photo

The others, from left to right, as I remember them, are Doug Fisher, Chad Dunstan (who died more than a decade ago and is buried in Kaneohe), Tom Rycroft, Larry Olney, and David Gregg. I've recently been in touch with Larry, who at the time of this photo lived across the street from my family, and now has his own tax accounting firm in Pasadena. The others I've totally lost track of.

March 11, 2003 - Tuesday

The Bush administration, stung by criticism from the nation's governors facing grim financial times, is protecting itself by eliminating a key report on federal spending in the states, according to a story in the Washington Post. Cutbacks? What cutbacks? The Bush motto seems to be, "No data, no problem." Unfortunately, it is just one of many sources of essential federal data which are being eliminated by the Bushites it their quest for secrecy.

The top of the front page headline in yesterday's Star-Bulletin a.m. edition was a stunner: "Iraq wins diplomatic battle". The problem is that it isn't supported by the story, and instead creates its own political spin.

Despite the headline, the story from the New York Times said little about Iraq's diplomacy. Instead, it described the intense politics of the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. is pitted against a larger group of veto-wielding permanent members.

The story is available online at the New York Times, where the headline is much different, and far more accurate: "Urgent Diplomacy Fails to Gain U.S. 9 Votes in the U.N."

There's an interesting session scheduled Thursday by the Hawaii Pro-Democracy Initiative, according to an email from Senator Les Ihara:

"This Thursday (March 13), from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, in State Office Tower conference room 203, campaign spending reports for all legislators will be available for review by interested persons. Find out who the major campaign donors are for key legislators who chair important committees, or for your own legislator. Later that day, all campaign reports will be available on the Internet at "

To RSVP, or for more information, go to, email to, or call 528-6888.

We were treated to a green flash at dawn yesterday, and are looking forward to more if the weather stays clear. Most people associate the green flash with sunsets, despite the fact that it is much more difficult to watch for the flash with the glare of the setting sun burning your eyes. But few people are up and waiting before dawn. Too bad.

March 10, 2003 - Monday

The Los Angeles Times reports that Gannett is lining up in hopes of buying Freedom Communications, parent company of the Orange County Register

According to the story: "Freedom, one of the country's last remaining family-owned media companies, operates 28 daily newspapers, 37 weeklies, eight TV stations and a handful of special-interest magazines. Its flagship newspaper, the Register, is one of California's largest, with a daily circulation of more than 300,000."

A Gannett spokesperson did not say whether the company would be interested in buying all or part of Freedom's portfolio.

I'm puzzled by the Star-Bulletin column yesterday by Rob Perez which used alarmist language to describe a bill that would lift limits on contributions to nonprofit organizations by political candidates. It's always fun to read a column with strong language, but I think Rob missed the mark.

Perez calls the measure "a blatant, unlimited money-for-votes scheme," and "a money-for-votes quid pro quo", but leaves us guessing about just how candidate contributions translate into a quid pro quo.

It is already illegal for nonprofit agencies to push votes towards any candidate whether or not they contribute to the agency. With tight IRS guidelines prohibiting political activity, those situations are relatively rare. Is there evidence of this happening? Rob's column doesn't say. But painting charitable contributions as somehow creating a "quid pro quo" is a mistake, plain and simple.

It seems to me that contributions to a nonprofit group are several very long steps away from the "money for votes" scheme Perez describes. That money goes to an agency, not to individuals, and agencies don't vote. Donations are used more to create a halo effect, where the candidate hopes his or her image will be enhanced by an association with the agency. This can be accomplished in different ways--attending agency events, volunteering as a board member, assisting in fundraising, steering public funds towards the group, as well as making direct contributions from campaign funds. I can't see that the latter is any different in kind from the other means of building links, and certainly no more offensive.

The question a candidate faces when deciding whether to contribute is also more complicated than Perez appears to recognize. After all, each contribution to a nonprofit group means that less money is available to the candidate for traditional campaign activities. Less money for advertising, for mailing brochures, for supporting volunteer campaign workers. And each contribution to one group raises the possibility of unintentionally irritating members and supporters of competing groups.

There is also the matter of free speech. The Supreme Court ruled more than 25 years ago that a candidate's right to spend is a matter of freedom of speech, and can be limited only with great care in order to defend other constitutionally protected rights. The Supreme Court allowed restrictions on spending to avoid corruption, but whether the relation of contributions to corruption is far too nebulous to pass constitutional muster. If we want the campaign law to prohibit money for vote schemes, then the way to proceed is to define and prohibit such schemes, not to limit a candidate's discretion in how to build their campaign image.

March 9, 2003 - Sunday

The Star-Bulletin announced several days ago that it's laying off two newsroom staffers, the recently hired assistant webmaster and columnist Speedy Lopes. Depending on who's talking, the moves were either a necessary bit of cost-cutting, or retaliation against the staff for insisting on getting the 2 percent bonus next week called for in their union contract.

The Newspaper Guild reportedly intends to challenge the layoff of Lopes because it doesn't conform to the seniority provisions of the contract. The union is confident they will win on this issue. So the new publisher who arrives later this month will be stepping into a sticky situation.

It's full circle in our state legislature. As Treena Shapiro reported in yesterday's Honolulu Advertiser:

The Finance Committee yesterday provided only an overview of the budget proposal without providing much detail. Assistant Minority Policy Leader Mark Moses said even some committee members had not seen the new draft of the budget before voting on it yesterday.

It was a similar situation that led to a lawsuit against the Senate's leadership over access to detailed budget information by a group of six dissident senators back in 1983 or so. At the time, I was the newly appointed state director of Common Cause and joined as a plaintiff in that lawsuit, along with senators Ben Cayetano, Neil Abercrombie, Dante Carpenter, Charlie Toguchi, Lehua Fernandes-Salling, and Duke Kawasaki. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, a victim of the constitutional separation of powers and the argument that the issue was already moot, but it led to reforms that opened up the budget process for a number of years. Now, it appears, they're back at least part of the time to blindly voting on budget bills that aren't yet available to all members. So it goes.

We had our first confirmed sighting yesterday of Mr. Toby coming back into the house via the cat door. He learned how to exit the house weeks ago, but we hadn't seen him make the return trip. We worried that he might be trapped outside while we're gone, and he contributed to our paranoia by always being outside when we arrive home in the evening. But he made the full circuit several times yesterday, despite a big puddle of water just outside the cat door. Toby just waded right through and tracked those wet paws across the living room. Bravo!
And don't forget to check out the lastest round of photos from Kaaawa at dawn, which were posted yesterday.

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