Citizens, we need better tools!  I’m here to help.

Recently Civil Beat called Honolulu rail a “work in progress.”

What the deuce is a “work in progress?” Is rail, which has been stumbling along way over budget and over time for years, really a work in progress?  Or is it … what?

How about this: A few weeks ago during a terrible cold wave, one-third of Baltimore’s public schools were without heat, forcing the kids to wear their full winter gear in class. The city has had school maintenance plans at least since the early 2000s, but thanks to lack of money, corruption and incompetence, things are worse than ever.

Is that a work in progress?

HART Rail guideway along Kamehameha Hwy near the Aloha Stadium looking towards Aiea Heights.

We can certainly find better ways to refer to the rail project than “work in  progress.”

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Work in progress” can mean anything from the Joe Hill lyric, “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die” to Johnny Mathis’ “Twelth of Never.”

And that’s a long, long time.

The term is a useless earworm — a cliché and part of a politician’s talking point that, like the phrases “spend more time with my family” and “thoughts and prayers,” grabs our attention but dulls our critical senses.

“Work in progress” says little about the primo question people ask about Hawaii government all the time: “Is anything actually getting done here?”

So let’s get real, liberate ourselves from the vacuous phrase “work in progress” and develop more refined and realistic terms to use when we consider how things get done, not done, or undone in Hawaii.

As a replacement for work in progress there should be four categories: work in sloth; work in retrogression; work in the ether; and, to use a Yiddish word, bupkis.

For work in sloth, think of the Geico TV commercial where a sloth is supposed to draw a bicycle in a charades game but works so slowly that when time is up, all the animal has drawn is a small squiggly line.

Let’s face it. Many Hawaii endeavors make that sloth look like a cheetah. The airport r-e-n-o-v-a-t-i-o-n quickly comes to mind, which is the only thing quick about the entire project.

Like, is anything supposed to happen after putting up those orange cones?

Dispensaries started opening in 2017 — just 17 years after medical marijuana was legalized in Hawaii.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

But my particular work-in-sloth choice is medical marijuana. Almost two decades ago, in 2000, when your college-age children were maybe not even born and, you know, that other Clinton was president, our Legislature passed the initial legislation legalizing medical marijuana.

Wow, was that ever considered to be progressive and humane. But … kablooey.  Soon the sloth kicked, or should I say tiptoed, in.

And despite the huffing and puffing about care and need, we are still not quite there, still just slothing along to get those last few dispensaries going and those regulations just right.

We’re almost there — just in time to encounter Jeff Sessions’s “Reefer Madness” campaign.

If Hawaii’s marijuana policymakers were playing the Geico drawing game, they would not even be at the easel yet.

Those responsible for sloth use all kinds of justification for their sluggishness — it’s complicated, unforeseen circumstances, we want to get things just right.

Sure, but at some point sloth is sloth.

• Work in retrogression: Let’s face it. Sometimes government projects go backwards, leaving them in worse shape than before.

Big surprise, the people responsible never admit this. Often they obfuscate by arguing that just the opposite is happening.

Take the plans to bring the Department of Taxation’s IT infrastructure up to date. After at least a couple of governors and many millions of dollars, things are worse than ever. The most up-to-date retrogression report is more millions wasted, staff turmoil and the company hired to evaluate progress is no longer on board after a scathing assessment.

And advancing further in the opposite direction, the tax department’s director recently resigned so fast after a blisteringly critical assessment of the IT project that she didn’t even have time to come up with a reason for quitting except that it, oh, it had nothing to do with the blisteringly critical assessment.

The response to this debacle by our governor, who in his 2014 election campaign sold the public on the idea that he is an expert on fixing things, was this: “Change is hard.”

Um, not quite as inspirational as “we shall overcome.”

• Work in the ether includes policies, or more accurately fantasy policies, that exist vaguely in a Brigadoon-like mist, drifting down to us at unpredictable intervals, than disappearing back into that miasma again.

Here are three works in the ether: replacements for Aloha Stadium and for the prison, plus that recurring wet dream, the Superferry, which made a brief public reappearance just a few days ago.

Cesspool elimination also falls under this category. For years this has been a problem so serious, with solutions so expensive and politically risky, that moving in and out of the ether has ruled the day.

Well, cesspool reform is back — for now, but with great potential for disappearing again. According to Civil Beat, a recent two-hour legislative hearing resulted in no progress. Rep. Chris Lee a called it a “crappy situation for everyone.”

What do you think? Was Lee’s pun intended?

So it’s quite possible that once again the cesspool issue will one again return to that Brigadoonian place “where the mist is in gloamin.’”

• Bupkis: This is my personal favorite category because it adds a certain panache to the nuts and bolts of policy analysis.

In Yiddish, bupkis means “nothing” (literally it means goat doo but never mind.)  But in conversation bupkis takes on a more skeptical, demonstrative coloration, which adds a nice emotional dimension to our categories.

Like in a poker game: “Hey, kid. You think you can fool me with your pair of fours? You’re bluffing. You got bupkis.”

So bupkis applies to policies where there has been an especially heavy amount of progress talk accompanied by — or meant to conceal — very minimal success.

“Hey, Governor, you say you have a successful homeless policy. Baloney!  You got bupkis.”

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