Former governor says time running out for sovereignty

My Civil Beat column this week, which appears today, is an interview with former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who says the political window of opportunity is closing for the sovereignty movement (“Ian Lind: Time For Native Sovereignty Running Out, Abercrombie Says“).

In his view, certain sovereignty activists are largely to blame for missing, or actively rejecting, repeated opportunities over the years.

“Someone steps forward to throw sand in the gears every time,” Abercrombie said of some of the vocal activists. “The last thing they seem to want is to actually reach a real political solution.”

And as opportunities are lost to the internal disputes within the Hawaiian community, Abercrombie says the general public is starting to just tune out. Hence his view that time is running out to reach an agreement for any kind of practical solution.

I think it’s a perspective worth attending to, whether you end up agreeing or not.

The former governor didn’t spend time dealing with those sovereignty advocates who peddle their own versions of Fantasyland, which has been one of my ongoing interests.

And that prompts me to offer up this column, which appeared on CivilBeat.com back in November. I’m reprinting it here in full.

Ian Lind: War Crimes on Kauai?

Since when did collecting taxes become pillaging and a war crime?
(First published by Civil Beat, November 11, 2015)

It’s quite a story.

A Swiss citizen living with his family in a rural part of a peaceful, far-away island becomes a victim of war crimes perpetrated by an occupying power, his property pillaged and plundered, and his family home lost to a criminal fraud involving a cabal of government and corporate officials, while he lives in fear of retaliation for filing a war crimes complaint with his government.

It sounds like the product of an overly imaginative novelist.

But those alleged war crimes supposedly took place in Kilauea on the north shore of Kauai over the past five years, according to a criminal complaint filed with the Federal Attorney General in Berne, Switzerland, in January 2015.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Yoshito l’Hote, a Kauai resident and Swiss citizen, by David Keanu Sai, a political scientist and lecturer in Hawaiian Studies at Windward Community College in Kaneohe. Sai also claims the titles of Acting Minister of the Interior and chairman of the Council of Regency of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government, one of several private groups vying for public recognition as the true modern representatives of the kingdom.

l’Hote is president of the Kilauea Neighbhood Association, and state business registration records show he is the agent for a new nonprofit organization, `Aina Ho`okupu o Kilauea, formed to manage the Kilauea Community Agricultural Center, a 75-acre agricultural park complex.

The complaint is grounded in Sai’s controversial interpretation of Hawaii’s history, which he says shows Hawaii was never legally made part of the United States, the U.S. has no authority in islands, the state government is a fiction, and the laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom are still in force.

Sai’s version of history has been welcomed by one wing of the movement for Hawaiian sovereignty, who cite it as proof of the illegitimacy of all political authorities and the state and federal courts.

But it has also saddled the broader Hawaiian community with a highly visible advocate who appears to be out of touch with reality and alienates the broader public, at a sensitive time when another part of the Hawaiian community is trying to demonstrate the legitimacy of its election of delegates to a planned political convention.

There’s no doubt that Sai’s provocative theory makes for interesting debates over historical minutia, but it breaks down quickly when, as in this case, it is applied in contemporary circumstances.

Seeking Anonymity

l’Hote, a longtime Kauai resident and well-known member of the Kilauea community, expressed surprise at being questioned about the complaint, which was widely circulated online only after his name was blacked out.

He pleaded to be allowed to retain his anonymity and asked that his name not be published.

“I’m here to be a good part of the community, to make Hawaii a better place,” he said. “I’m not someone who is malignant.”

Civil Beat only uses anonymous sources in cases when that’s the only way we can share important information, and we believe that the public benefit of the information outweighs the problems that come with using unnamed sources. It’s not enough that someone asks for anonymity; we must be able to justify why we granted it.

In this case, there is no valid reason to protect l’Hote’s identity. He is willingly participating in a legal action and identified in a publicly available document filed with a government entity. Representatives of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government, headed by Sai, are distributing the complaint widely. The complaint also makes serious allegations of criminal behavior against people whose names are being broadly distributed as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to get attention to the case.

Copies of the complaint and dismissal documents being circulated by the Hawaiian Kingdom Government on its website and other means redacted l’Hote’s name. Civil Beat identified him through property records cited in the complaint, which identified the home purchased by l’Hote and his wife in 2010.

When contacted by phone, he acknowledged that the complaint was filed on his behalf.

l’Hote explained that although he has never been aligned with any specific sovereignty group, he has become concerned about injustices to the Hawaiian people stemming from the overthrow. He saw the complaint as a way to get the Swiss government “to look into it, sift through all the mud and tell me if there’s anything there.”

“I did not have any intention to incriminate any one criminally,” he said, despite the complaint’s direct request for Swiss prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against a list of officials.

When asked about some of the more outlandish allegations in his complaint, he stopped and referred further questions to Sai, who he described as his “attorney.”

He acknowledged that Sai, a political scientist and community college lecturer, is not a lawyer, but said “he has a different standing in international law.”

“I can only rely on what Mr. Sai is saying,” he told me.

Sai could not be reached on Tuesday for comment on the case.

What Mr. Sai Says

Sai has long argued that all property deeds issued since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 are defective and invalid because they were not done under the law of the Kingdom, which he insists still exists. It’s an argument that has been used in futile attempts to block foreclosure actions by lenders against homeowners who fall behind on their payments, and by scammers who have defrauded homeowners with debt relief schemes. Relying on the same theory resulted in Sai’s conviction for attempted theft in what has become known as the Perfect Title case back in the 1990s.

The l’Hote family bought a home in Kilauea for $430,000 in August 2010. However, the complaint argues, their title is defective because the State of Hawaii is a pretend government, and “all value and equity they may have had in the property is gone, and the $430,000 the (deleted)’s paid for the property in August 2010 is lost.”

The complaint asks for criminal prosecution of those responsible for “the pillaging of his personal property through unlawful appropriation and criminal fraud that has rendered his home worthless.”

But real estate records show not only that the Kauai family still owns the home, but it has increased in value from the purchase price to $787,200, according to the county’s most recent appraisal for tax purposes.

Far from being rendered worthless, the estimated value of the property rose by 83 percent in just five years.

The complaint also accuses state and federal tax authorities of “the war crime of pillaging under the guise of taxation.”

Sai’s complaint argues that taxation falls under the war crime of “appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

While everyone grumbles about taxes at some point, few would characterize collection of taxes as a war crime.

And this turns out to be a delicate argument to make in light of the l’Hote’s personal and professional position. The Kilauea ag project has drawn on state and county support, and has benefited from at least one legislative grant, according to published accounts.

And his wife, Jennifer Waipa, identifies herself on her Facebook page as an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System. Both appear to be active and productive members of the community, and there’s nothing in his or his family’s everyday life to indicate they have been victims of war crimes.

Case Dismissed

The Swiss government took little time in dismissing the case.

The attorney general took less than two weeks to decline to pursue the matter. That dismissal was upheld on appeal, and Sai and those he represented were assessed about $500 in court costs, according to a summary of that decision (translated from the original German).

Even after the case was dismissed, the Hawaiian Kingdom website falsely claimed the court’s decision recognized that an 1864 treaty between Switzerland and the Hawaiian Kingdom “was never canceled—and is still in effect.”

But while the summary contains that language, it was merely paraphrasing from Sai’s own letter putting the complaint forward, and not in any way stating the court’s own conclusion.

This isn’t the first time that Sai and his supporters have falsely characterized the outcome of one of his long series of similar complaints in order to inflate the value of his theories and boost his perceived importance in sovereignty circles. But such intellectual dishonesty will eventually become obvious to all but the most casual observers.

Good Samaritan in downtown crash is running for State House

If you read or watch the news, you probably saw the report about the man who ran to assist a family whose car had overturned in downtown Honolulu last week.

KHON reported:

Randy Gonce, 27, was one of several Good Samaritans who rushed to help a family of four out of their SUV after the terrifying experience.

“It was my worst fear. The first thing I heard out of the vehicle was a mother screaming, ‘My babies are in the car!’” the Ewa Beach resident told KHON2.

Gonce says he dropped his bag on the sidewalk and sprinted toward the car to help pull them out.

In the chaos, he realized, his bag was gone. Someone had stolen his things.

The incident, and a subsequent arrest in the case, got a lot of mainstream news coverage.

What I didn’t notice in the mainstream coverage is that Gonce, a Democrat, is an active Bernie Sanders supporter who had already formed a campaign committee to support his run for the State House of Representatives from the 40th District in Ewa/Ewa Beach. The seat is currently held by Republican Bob McDermott.

McDermott previously served three terms in the house (1997-2003), and is finishing his second term after being elected again in 2012.

Gonce registered his campaign committee, “Friends of Randy Gonce,” on April 18, 2016, and amended it six days later.

According to records of the Office of Elections, Gonce picked up nomination papers to run for the 40th District seat on April 16. Once is one of two Democrats to take out papers to challenge McDermott. No one has formally filed their nomination papers to date.

Clearing the day to deal with cat health issues

Sometimes life comes along and just knocks your plans for the day totally off course.

Today’s it’s a cat medical crisis, maybe an emergency. I’m trying hard not to be alarmist.

It’s our oldest cat, Ms. Kili. She got a pretty good report card after a recent check-up, all systems fairly normal for her age. But now she’s suddenly developed a lot of congestion. She already had a weird growth on her nose which we’ve been watching for a few years. The combination is suddenly making it hard for her to breath, or to eat. There’s lots of snorting and sneezing when she addresses a bowl of food or water. And at her age, this isn’t good.

This became noticeable yesterday morning, when we were out on the windward side after spending the night in Kaaawa. Our cat sitter was alarmed and contacted us, and we’ve been carefully monitoring her since. Yes, I’m feeling a bit of guilt, and worry that I wasn’t watching her carefully enough to notice warning signs on Saturday afternoon, before we left for the evening in Kaaawa.

I was on the phone with the vet as soon as we got back from the early morning walk, and have a late morning appointment. Since Meda and I only have one car, I’ve had to clear my calendar in order to get Meda to the UH campus, then get back and pick up Ms. Kili for the run out to Hawaii Kai.

And that doesn’t allow me time to do a proper blog post this morning. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back and do a substantive post later in the day. Stay tuned, and cross your fingers for Ms. Kili.

Sunlight Foundation looks at unregistered lobbyists

If you’re at all concerned about the regulation of lobbyists and lobbying, you will want to check out this article from the Sunlight Foundation, “What is shadow lobbying? How influence peddlers shape policy in the dark“).

The basic premise, backed up by some data and anecdotal evidence, is that lobbyist registration and disclosure requirements have loopholes that are being exploited by many to avoid disclosure. The article is focused on the national level, but I’m sure if we dig down a bit, we’ll find applies to state and local lobbying in Hawaii as well.

Both the article and its rich set of references are worth careful reading.

Shadow lobbying refers to someone who performs advocacy to influence public policy, like meeting legislators or their staff, without registering as a lobbyist — and it’s a big problem for anyone who cares about transparency in Washington. (For further reading on this topic, you can’t do better than to read Lee Fang’s 2014 investigation of shadow lobbying at The Nation.)

At the Congressional level, lobbyists are supposed to register if they spend 20% of their time lobbying for a client, or make two or more contacts with legislators, their staff, or certain executive agency officials.

The article refers to this 20% criteria as “reasonably easy to get around.”

The same seems to be true of Hawaii’s lobbying law, which defines a lobbyist as someone who is paid and spends at least a certain amount of time and/or money lobbying.

It’s widely recognized that Hawaii’s lobbyist law is a mess. The State Ethics Commission has publicly discussed the problems of enforcing the law’s requirements on several occasions. Unfortunately, SB3024, which would have provided funding for a task force to review the lobbyist provisions, appears to have died in conference.

In any case, thanks to the Sunlight Foundation for their excellent review of the issues.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Duke!

One of the newborns in the small pile of kittens in this photo taken on the morning of April 30, 2002, grew up to be Duke. He’s now officially 14 years old in human years, whatever that works out to be in cat years.

April 30, 2002

His mother decided to ignore all the neat nests I had created and instead chose to give birth on the couch in the small studio apartment on the edge of Waikiki where I had an office at the time. The photo was taken just a few hours after they were born.

One of the kittens died a few weeks later. Duke’s sister was adopted by friends and named Maka.

Today, Duke is the only survivor of the litter, and doing pretty well, thank you.

You can read the whole story (and it really is quite a story), or if you prefer, watch the 8-minute video (which desperately needs an edit!).