BROWER PASSES ON EMPATHY. Our heartburn is beginning to die down from the media event staged in Kakaako last Thursday by state Rep. Tom Brower, but that doesn’t mean the whole affair is any more palatable than it has been from the beginning.

Best known for absurdly taking a sledgehammer to shopping carts used by homeless people in 2013, the legislator visited a teeming homeless encampment in Kakaako in late June on a misguided photography gambit, purportedly to document the camp’s squalor. What happened after he encountered two boys (ages 14 and 17) who wanted him to stop shooting is in some dispute: He contends they beat him, unprovoked, while they say he refused their requests to halt the photography and laughed at them.

Whatever the context, one thorough beating later, the 50-year-old was on his way to Queen’s Medical Center with a cut above his eye, bruised ribs and a head injury.

Right, Rose Puu questions Representative Tom Brower on the corner of Ohe and Olomehani Street.  Rose raised a point that according to witnesses she spoke to, there were two people on skateboards. According to Rep Brower, a person on a skateboard was the first person who assaulted him.  23 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rose Puu, right, mother of one of Rep. Tom Brower’s accused assailants, questions the lawmaker on the corner of Ohe and Olomehani streets in Kakaako.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Since then, he has milked the situation for every drop of media exposure it might deliver, offering on-camera interviews with his facial cut on full display and for weeks refusing to say whether he’d support pressing charges against the boys. Last Thursday, he melodramatically ended the suspense, returning to the scene of the incident to announce he’ll move forward with charges against at least one of the boys. The 14-year-old. Perhaps others, too.

He may not have expected, however, to have to face the tearful mother of the boy, who apologized and begged for mercy, while Brower claimed he felt he had to move forward with charges, all as news crews documented the awkward 15-minute exchange. (The boy himself had offered an apology weeks ago.)

It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be homeless as a young teen, already dealing with what is one of life’s most vulnerable passages, where insecurities and status among peers hold such high value. And then to become an on-camera spectacle for media and their consumers at perhaps the most humiliating point imaginable — destitute and living on a sidewalk.

The words of the alleged 17-year-old assailant the day after the attack bear repeating.

“How would you feel if I just walked in your house and just started recording you,” Isaiah Totoa told Hawaii News Now. “Right? We live here, this is our house, respect it. We don’t choose to live like this. If I had a choice to go to a house right now and live in that house, and I could pay for it, aww, trust and believe, I’d be in my house. I wouldn’t be living underneath one tent.”

It’s harder still to discern what could be going through the mind of Brower, who as an elected state official could have used his position and status to show empathy and compassion to the young man rather than further contributing to his misery. He might have connected the boy and his family to support services or even offered to mentor him — possibilities that in addition to their basic decency might have modeled for the teen an unforgettable lesson in forgiveness.

With the novelist Harper Lee’s new book so much in the news, the Brower affair recalls for us how Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” protagonist, Atticus Finch, responds when a drunken racist spits in his face, as Finch’s son — near the same age as Brower’s younger assailant — watches. In the Oscar-winning depiction of the encounter, Finch silently pulls his handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his face, glares defiantly at his assailant, joins his son in the car and drives away. Confronted with crude backwoods violence, Finch sets an example of dignity, restraint and mercy.

No one is condoning the clearly unacceptable actions of the teens. But as is often the case in crises, real leaders are defined less by the incidents themselves and much more by their responses. Given weeks to consider his, Brower sadly came up well short of what we might hope for from a lawmaker in the Aloha State.

University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Pharmacy.  11 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Grants to faculty at the University of Hawaii College of Pharmacy helped drive a solid year in research funding for UH.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

RESEARCH FUNDING SPIKE AT UH. The University of Hawaii’s remarkable year in sponsored research announced last week — 8.5 percent growth for 2014-15, representing an additional $33 million in grants and contracts — ought to be a great confidence builder.

The more than 1,800 individual awards amounted to a little over $425 million, reversing a three-year trend of declines. Those are dollars that will not only fund research into critical questions facing Hawaii, the nation and, in many instances, the world beyond, but that will flow throughout our islands.

A study published last year in Science magazine found that nearly one-third of federal research grants, which comprise the super-majority of UH’s awards, go to purchase goods and services in the home state of the university, while about 20 percent is spent on faculty. That means about $200 million in the last fiscal year likely would have been spent in Hawaii.

While losing football seasons and musical chairs in the chancellor and campus president offices might make for interesting water cooler conversation, it’s important to remember that scientific inquiry lies at the heart of any research university. UH’s research awards for last year show that by at least one critical measure, it’s doing just fine.


A Chevrolet from the 1950s is typical of many cars on Cuban streets, with U.S.-Cuba trade having been banned 54 years ago

Jaume Escofet via Flickr

CUBA COMES IN FROM THE COLD. To say last week’s reopening of mutual embassies in Washington and Havana represented a historic moment doesn’t do justice to the seismic shift behind the highly visible thaw in diplomatic relations.

The last time the United States had a formal presence in Cuba outside Guantanamo Bay, a Kennedy was in the White House and most of today’s American voters weren’t yet born. The outrage over Fidel Castro’s theft of Cuba-based American businesses and the beginnings of his iron grip on the Caribbean nation were fresh and the fears over the communist threat in our backyard very real.

Fifty-four years later, Cuba is no more a threat than the long-gone Soviet Union, and the stalemate between it and the United States has grown stale. If the economic sanctions against Cuba and lack of diplomatic ties were accomplishing anything other than forcing poverty on the Cuban people, it wasn’t apparent.

We sympathize with those Cuban-Americans who feel the Castro regime (now led by Raul, Fidel’s brother) is being rewarded without having made sufficient concessions in how it is running the country and without having addressed its awful record on human rights and political prisoners. But we also feel that after five decades of freezing out Cuba to no discernible positive effect, it’s past time to give democracy’s warm embrace a chance.  Already, we see differences taking root that, even on their own, will undoubtedly reshape Cuba over time.

From one island to another, we wish Cuba and its people buena suerte (good luck) as they embark on a promising new day.

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