Other Big Issues Besides Rail

The question of whether to build rail transit or not has sucked the air out of Honolulu politics this primary season.

Don’t get me wrong, folks express at least passing interest in the Case-Hirono contest for the Democrats’ nomination for the United States Senate.

Windward and Waianae Coast residents may give those vying for the Democrats’ 2nd District Congressional attention as well.

Occasionally you’ll even find a voter who’s interested in a candidate running for the state house – but not often. No, this year it’s all about rail.

That’s a shame, for as important as rail is, there’s a long list of issues of equal or greater importance to Oahu, the state, and the nation.

Starting with our country’s on-going wars.

Last year the United States spent somewhere between $9 and $10 billion a month on maintenance of our military personnel, training of Afghan and Iraq security forces, and operation of intelligence drones in the region. According to a Brown University study, the total cost of military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has been somewhere between $3.7 and $4.4 trillion since the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.

Forget the money – 6,440 American service men and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, 37 of whom came from Hawaii. Add more than 47,000 wounded American military personnel to the carnage.

Many wounds heal. Many don’t.

Besides those who have been physically maimed, veterans of the two conflicts and active military are committing suicide at the rate of one a day.

Yet the cost in blood and money of Afghanistan and Iraq have faded from our consciousness.

But hasn’t President Obama taken us out of a combat role in Iraq? you may protest. Aren’t we drawing down in Afghanistan? The President says we’ll be out of there by 2014.

Tell that to the parents and wives and children of the 20-year-old Americans who die between now and, perhaps, 2014.

Then there’s housing. We don’t have any, none that’s affordable anyway. The median price of a home sold on Oahu in June was $664,000, a 12-percent increase from May. A two-bedroom condominium went for $300,000.

Prices like that make Honolulu one of the three least-affordable cities in the U.S. In only New York and San Francisco does it cost more to keep a roof over your head. Affordable rents are virtually non-existent as well.

The high cost of housing has consequences. A couple may work two, three or more jobs to qualify for a mortgage, leaving them with frayed nerves and their children with minimal supervision. Young people move in with their parents or depart for more affordable cities. Others join the ranks of the homeless, living in cars, parks or shelters.

Homelessness creates yet another problem. Hawaii makes its living off tourism, off of its climate and the beauty it sells the world. The homeless in our parks, on our sidewalks, on our median strips begging a handout don’t sell beauty. Nor do they speak well of the aloha of which we as a community so often brag.

The list of issues that deserve our attention this primary election season, as citizens of Honolulu, of Hawaii, and of the United States, goes on and on.

But it appears that in our fair city, we will limit our discussion to rail.