The 2016 Primaries

This is for my Political Science students, and may represent for the astute political observer a very rudimentary analysis of this month’s primaries.

2016 was not a good year for progressives. On election night, I followed the results with Ikaika Lardizabal Husseyʻs campaign (he ran for State House to represent Kalihi), and some of his supporters were involved in the Kuleana trainings, which prepared progressive candidates for electoral success. Ikaika was one of those progressive candidates who was unsuccessful, even with the active support of the union Local 5, receiving just 28%to John Mizuno’s 68% (some ballots were blank, but far fewer than in previous elections, when voters only had Mizuno to choose from). Progressives’ best hope was Tiare Lawrence from Maui, and even she was unable to unseat the incumbent. In fact, the only successful progressive candidates were those who were already in office, like Della Bellati of Makiki-Tantalus and Kaniela Ing of South Maui. In a year of “throw the bums out” (what, after all do Trump and Bernie Sanders represent?), this was quite strange. It was as if, on the local level, the message was the reverse.

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Ikaika Lardizabal Hussey

As for Honolulu mayoral race, Kirk Caldwell managed to reverse a 9 point deficit, and defeat Charles Djou and all comers (including former Mayor Peter Carlisle), setting up a showdown in November against Djou. The rhetoric on rail, reached the point of absurdity, with Djou campaigning on the idea of changing the type of rail at this late date – to rubber, rather than steel-on-steel. It seems impractical, and more likely impossible that such a change can happen, but Djou is doing what he feels he must to get elected. Sometimes I wonder if most people in town, East Honolulu and Windward donʻt ever go past Salt Lake and thus donʻt realize that the rail is already built – thereʻs no stopping it – and if Djou is capitalizing on that ignorance, or is even that ignorant himself. Overall, thereʻs not much change to the politics of rail that I donʻt comment on below (from previous election cycles).

As for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs: Mililani Trask’s upset of OHA chair Bob Lindsey may have surprised some, but she was, after all, an OHA trustee in the past. What has been more surprising is the growing support for Kealiʻi Akina, whose platform would undermine OHA main purpose of the last 15 years – the drive for Federal recognition (Fed rec). Itʻs unclear how many voters know that this is his agenda. One could take his vote count – about 100,000, or nearly ten percent of the population – as a measure of the opposition to mainstream Hawaiian goals. To be fair, there are a small number supporters of Akina whoʻse support is precisely the reverse of this – they oppose Fed rec in favor of independence – Keliʻi Makekau, himself a candidate, is an example of this group (Makekau was a plaintiff on the lawsuit that prevented Naʻi Aupuni from ratifying their vote – for more on this, click here).

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Streaking – Day 5: Attributes of a State

According to Shawʻs textbook International Law (Cambridge University Press) p. 178: there are 4 criteria for being a state (i.e., a country): 1. permanent population (citizenry) 2. a defined territory 3. a government 4. capacity to enter into agreements with other states (i.e. to make treaties).  Hawaii had all the criteria in 1898,  hence the need for a treaty for annexation, hence the illegality of annexation, hence the kingdom’s continued existence under occupation.

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Streaking – Day 4: Small change, big ramifications

Yesterday, I took my Intro to Political Science students to the Hawaiʻi State Capitol district for a tour of the legislature. A press conference started up while we were there celebrating the falling through of the deal for NextEra to buy HECO. While we were waiting, I finally got a chance to see with my own eyes what Iʻd heard about: the changing of the dates on the statue of Queen Liliʻuokalani. The plaque on the statue reads “Queen of Hawaiʻi” and used to read “1891-1893” but now reads “1891 – 1917!” Letʻs think this through: the new dates are certainly not her birth and death, she was born in 1838, and definitely became Queen in 1891. So the new dates can only signify her reign – after all theyʻre preceded by “Queen of Hawaiʻi…”

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Liliʻuokalani statue, July 19, 2016

This means that while State legislators in the press conference waxed on about the future of energy in “our state”,the statue they were facing clearly implies that no such state exists. There was no overthrow in 1917. The death of a monarch does not signify the death of sovereignty – thatʻs what the phrase “the King is dead, long live the king” is about – the continuation of sovereignty despite the death of “the sovereign.” So the only possible interpretation is that the overthrow was a non-event, and therefore did not legally take place. Hawaiʻi’s recognition of Japan on January 18th, 1893 also suggests this interpretation, as does Liliʻuokalani’s claim in her autobiography that “In December, 1893 the United States still regarded me as the head of state.”

According to a reliable source – I havenʻt verified this yet – Governor Ige Abercrombie presided over the ceremony in 2013 to change the dates on the statue. A strict interpretation of this fact (if, indeed it is a fact) is that the State of Hawaiʻi formally recognizes the overthrow as invalid. Iʻll be back when I get this last bit verified.

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Streaking – Day 3: More on Millenials

A question on Quora asked why millenials were “so left wing?” My observation, after a 20 year career teaching them, is that the older millenials , who are now in their early 30s, are not “left wing” by traditional measures – theyʻre libertarians. This is because they grew up at the tail end, or in the aftermath of the culture wars. Basically, the left won the culture war (no censorship) and the right won the economic war (neoliberalism is now unrivaled) – this is a recipe for libertarians, liberal on social issues and neoliberal on economic issues.

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The Occupy Wall St. movement – itʻs local manifestation shown here – caused a shift in political and economic attitudes among millenials

Itʻs only the younger millenials, now mainly in their 20s, who are traditionally left wing, and thereʻs a very clear reason for it: the 2008 market crash and ensuing “Great recession.” Michael Moore documented this shift in one of his films when he showed that the support for “Socialism” was around 40%, led by millenials. Prior to the floor falling out from under the economy, the idea of socialism was a non-starter. Now, an actual socialist, Bernie Sanders, won 20 states and nearly clinched the Democratic nomination.

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Streaking – Day 2: Confirmation Bias – A Discussion with Biologist and Educator Robert Hutchison

This is part of the Streaking series, in which I write something everyday, and my interview series, including discussions with Ikaika Hussey, Amy Perruso, Marti Townsend and George Cleveland. Thereʻs much more to this interview:

I began to think about possible biases in the conclusions being reached by researchers in Hawaiian Studies (I use this term very broadly and include myself among these) when Dr. Sam Ohu Gon of the Nature Conservancy (recently named a Hawaiʻi Living Treasure) brought up the scientific notion of confirmation bias, and suggested that it may be tainting our findings.

According to Science Daily:

In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.

I thought about my conversations over the past couple of years with the Advanced Placement Biology teacher at Kamehameha, Robert Hutchison – conversations Iʻve found very fruitful in the sense that they represent a kind of “Inside-Outside” view of human behavior. By “inside” I mean oneʻs own personal experience of the world; by “outside” I mean those things that can be measured. Usually this measurement is done by someone else – outside of your own head and experience. My view is that both represent valid, legitimate perspectives on reality, and rather than putting them at odds with one another, they should be constantly compared and contrasted to try to gain a more accurate, and useful, perception of “reality.” Robert is a Kamehameha graduate who has a bachelorʻs degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masterʻs in Biology from UH Mānoa. He teaches at Windward Community College in the Summer.

Hutchison suggested that confirmation bias is about:

RH: your point of view and … how you rationalize it or how do you account for it and does it in any way cause you to rethink and modify your original assumptions? And thatʻs what science is about, science is about the search for truth and just the methodology of finding truth as best as we can possibly understand it. You have to wonder whenever anyone who tells you anything. Go back to the source – this is the importance of Kumulipo and chant because thereʻs an understanding that things will be lost if there isnʻt that rigor behind it.

UP: Iʻve been seeing some studies come out about this with child witness, that they can be persuaded through suggestion to have a certain memory that they can be persuaded to think they really had after a certain amount

RH: Exactly

UP: So what youʻre telling me that every time you recall a memory, itʻs being modified?

RH: The brain can fill in these gaps. Vision works this way. Sometimes what it interprets in not exactly what is in front of you.

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Streaking – Day 1: The Act of Creativity

No, I wonʻt be running through the college cafeteria sans raiment. This is an attempt to write consistently everyday, no matter how short the post. Today, like many days, Iʻm listening to the great improviser on the jazz piano, Keith Jarrett. This may sound sentimental, but my discovery of Keith Jarrett, at age 7 or so, was a complete revelation. My mother had a dubbed cassette of his now-classic Köln Concert. I popped it in the tape recorder and I remember thinking “how modern!” (This was in contrast to my motherʻs mainly classical record collection). I realized recently that he has been so much a part of my life, that I can scarcely imagine it without his music. Jarrettʻs improvised, and often ecstatic, concerts have created a cult following and gotten him ranked as the eight best jazz pianist of all time. Jarrett, if you think about it, composes, arranges, and performs simultaneously, which causes one to ask; how does creativity actually happen?

Iʻve been lax on posting here over the summer, so this question has been on my mind.


Jarrett once (and only once) played in Hawaiʻi – at UH – but for only a few minutes. As he was doing his thing – a meditative thing, one expects – a fan started shouting requests, and Jarrett said “I canʻt do this,” and walked off stage. Above is a video of the encore at a 1984 concert in Tokyo. When Miles Davis asked Jarrett how he did his magic, Jarrett replied “I donʻt know.” At one point, he got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which he interpreted as resulting from being the ventriliquist and dummy at the same time.

Vishen Lakhiani, author of The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, writes that the mind is ideally in an alpha state when accessing its creativity. Lakhiani holds that most of us are trapped in what he calls the culturescape of our society, which contains “brules” – bullshit rules that are outdated and should be dispensed with. Many artists report that their work is “not them” or not from them, but comes through them. This suggests somewhat that all, or at least many, people may be able to access such creativity if their minds can be put in the right state.

The extraordinary abilities of the average mind have become clear to me from Joshua Foerʻs book Moonwalking with Einstein, about developing an extraordinary memory.

220px-moonwalking_with_einsteinFoer went from an ʻaverageʻ memory to winning the US Memory Championship (yes such a thing exists). Beside the fact that I have an extremely good memory and am wondering what kind of potential may yet exist for me, Foer shows that an average mind may indeed have extreme potentialities.

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Who Rules the World?

Who rules the world? Noam Chomsky’s answer in his book of the same title is not surprising: America. Still. Even with its relative decline. The key word here is relative. After WWII, the United States had literally half of the world’s wealth. Policy leaders at the time, such as George Kennan knew that this position would inspire envy in the have-nots, and policies were designed to maintain this global dominance at any cost. By the 1970s this number had declined to 25% – still hegemonic for a country that represents only 5% of the global population, but accounts for 50% of its military spending.

What is surprising are the details. America’s war for control of “its hemisphere,” its “backyard”  – Latin America – was really a war with the Catholic Church. I had not realized how powerful and active liberation theology was prior to reading this book. This is very likely what we’re seeing with the radicalism of Pope Francis today – a carry over from the days when he church practiced what it preached: advocacy for the poor and the disenfranchised, often at the cost of the lives of priests and Bishops.

Another revelation was the army of secret forces controlled by the Obama administration, the size of the Canadian military. Seal Team Six, which killed Osama Bin Laden was part of this private army of the President, which has conducted operations in 145 countries. So while it’s conclusions are unsurprising, his mastery of detail continues to amaze. The depths to which he scour military reports and policy statements give him a grasp of world affairs that eludes even the so-called experts.

Chomsky is the founder of modern linguistics. It’s Einstein. And the linguist uses his field’s most powerful weapon: sarcasm. Politically, Chomsky is an Anarcho-syndicalist, or as he has confusingly put it: a “Libertarian Socialist” (most who know these terms would call that an oxymoron). Over time, I, like many others, have grudgingly come to respect Chomsky as perhaps the legitimate “world’s leading intellectual” – certainly he is the last of a great generation. He also may be the worldʻs most important ignored intellectual. While researching a piece I wrote for Summit magazine on Gore Vidal, I found a clip in which Vidal said that he and Chomsky tried to speak in Harvard Yard, put up flyers, and found them all torn down half an hour later – somehow, 3000 people still showed up. And there is the enigma of his celebrity – the love/hate relationship he has with his supporters and detractors may be precisely the sign of his greatness, or perhaps simply his breadth of thought.

Chomsky shows clearly how the United States controls a “grand area” consisting in part of the entire former British Empire. It does so through proxy leaders, mainly dictators. Ferdinand Marcos’s residence in Hawaiʻi (on Tantalus no less), after his ouster with his wife and her 2000 shoes, is only the most local example of how the United States supports democracy “when, and only when, it is in their strategic interest.”


MIT Professor Noam Chomskyhow the United States supports democracy “when, and only when, it is in their strategic interest.”

So with all this erudition, what are Chomsky’s weaknesses? Some would say he’s not realistic about US hegemony for one thing. It’s simply the reality of global affairs. The New York Review of Books’ Kenneth Roth was less taken by Chomsky than was this blogger:

Chomsky’s book is not an objective account of the past. It is a polemic designed to awaken Americans from complacency. America, in his view, must be reined in, and he makes the case with verve and self-confident assertion, even if factual details are sometimes selective or scarce.

Yet Who Rules the World? is also an infuriating book because it is so partisan that it leaves the reader convinced not of his insights but of the need to hear the other side. It doesn’t help that the book is a collection of previously published essays with no effort to trim the repetitive points that pop up in chapter after chapter. Nor was much attempt made to update earlier chapters in light of later events. The Iranian nuclear accord and the Paris climate deal are mentioned only toward the end of the book, even though the issues of Iran’s nuclear program and climate change appear in earlier chapters.

It continues:

Chomsky’s preoccupation with American power seems out of date because the limits of American power have become so apparent. When we ask “Who rules the world?” and take account of Syrian atrocities, the emergence of the Islamic State, or the mass displacement of refugees, the answer is less likely to be the American superpower than no one.

But in other ways Chomsky is more realistic even than the realists. For example, Chomsky asserts, in contrast to hard power hardliners, that China (and certainly not India) does not pose any threat to US hegemony even in the medium term – they are simply too poor to threaten US dominance.

Roth, in the end, concludes:

Still, it is useful to read Chomsky because he does undermine the facile if comforting myths that are often used to justify US action abroad—the distinction between, as Chomsky puts it, “what we stand for” and “what we do.”

What Chomsky ends up showing is not only that there could be a better world, but that what we have is nearly the worst of all possible worlds and that there are literally layers of improvements that could be made often he argues for the bare minimum as a start.

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