Archive for the ‘human trafficking’ Category

New Trafficking Signs

April 3rd, 2014

HT Notice

Since my Career Changers TV show is part of the project to combat human trafficking in Hawaii, I've been tracking related State laws that were passed last year. One piece of legislation that received little attention concerns posting trafficking hotline signs in establishments that hold liquor licenses, employ nude dancers or massage therapists -- places that could be fronts for sex trafficking operations. While we fully endorsed making this info available to possible victims who are recruited to work in hostess bars, strip joints and spurious "spas" that offer more than massages, we wondered how and when the law would be implemented.

As it happens, our 808HALT meetings include people from the FBI, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and community organizations that represent immigrant populations from countries where much of the trafficking originates. So we hear a lot of things through the coconut wireless. One tip we received was that the above "NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES" sign is starting to appear in Honolulu establishments with somewhat shady reputations. It's possible those businesses aren't doing anything illegal, but at least the women who work there now have a contact number to call if they feel they are being exploited.

However, one of the challenges our coalition has faced in getting this kind of info out to trafficking victims is many of them do not speak or read English very well. We've translated many of the 808HALT videos into different languages and have printed materials in multiple languages as well, but getting that info to the people who really need it is difficult. Law enforcement and groups like ours still largely rely on word-of-mouth -- which nowadays includes texting, cell phones and emails. So if you know of anything that seems fishy and could be human trafficking -- laborers, domestic servants, farm workers, exploited children -- please contact us through the website.

There is supposedly a $100 per day fine for employers in the establishments targeted by the new law who fail to post the trafficking hotline signs. But it's not clear to me who is actually responsible for putting up the posters, and who will be enforcing the rule. The signs list the Hawaii Department of Labor offices and phone numbers, so maybe it's their jurisdiction. Anyone out there know if police can cite business owners for failure to comply with this new law?


The new April episode of Career Changers TV begins airing Thurs., April 3 at 7:30 PM on OC16 (channel 12/high def 1012). For more details on that, please see my last post by clicking here. You can also view video segments from past and current shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

Save this date: Sunday, Nov. 24

November 6th, 2013

The Pacific Gateway Center is having their 4oth Birthday Celebration on Sun., Nov. 24 from 5 to 9 PM at Keehi Lagoon Memorial Hall. There will be Asian Pacific cuisine, entertainment and a who's who list of movers and shakers that have helped PGC in their mission to assist thousands of immigrants, refugees and low income residents find work or start new businesses over the years. As part of the 808HALT coalition on human trafficking, I've had the privilege of working closely with the PGC staff and can tell you they truly make Hawaii a better place for all of us.

The cost is $45 per person, but if you can't attend, please visit their website (click here) or call them at 851-7010 to make a donation. In light of recent cutbacks due to sequestration and the government shutdown, like many non-profits, PGC has had to tighten their belts and make changes in their operations. Part of that was moving their offices from the N. King street location to their Kalihi kitchen incubator site. They turned over their Lemongrass Cafe restaurant to Andrew Le, who is transforming the space into his first brick and mortar version of The Pig & The Lady, which has been a hugely popular food stand at the KCC, Blaisdell and Kailua farmer's markets.

Not coincidentally, my new November episode of Career Changers TV features a segment about Andrew and how he went from an interest in art to formal culinary training -- after working for free at restaurants just to get some hands-on experience before he committed to making a career out of his passion for food. For him, it really is art on a plate. You can watch the small screen YouTube version by clicking here.

In the same show, we also have a great piece on maestro Matt Catingub and the Hawaii Pops (here's that link). We included some brief musical interludes from their "Songs of Bond... James Bond" concert, but I wish we had more time to include performances by Cathy Foy-Mahi, Kristina Souza, Nathan Awaeau, and Sheena Easton. They actually had to add extra seats for late-comers who bought tickets at the door. I suggest you check out their site, and order tickets for the remaining concerts before those sell out too!

BTW, due to some technical problems, the Career Changers TV site still hasn't been updated for the November show. In the meantime, you can see segments from the current episode on the CCTV YouTube Channel (daily OC16 times listed on the website are still the same).

Music Links to Career Success

October 17th, 2013

While I was prepping for my weekend shoots at the Hawaii Youth Symphony fundraiser and Hawaii Pops concert on Sun., Oct. 20, I came across a New York Times article with the headline, "Is Music the Key to Success?" The Facebook page of the Hawaii Youth Symphony posted their own answer: "Absolutely! No matter how you decide to pursue or include music in your lives beyond HYS, you can always be sure that you'll have your musical background as a firm foundation for where life takes you next!"

They may be a tad biased, but you won't get any argument from me. I've seen many examples, ranging from my nieces whose mom plays classical music in the Boulder Symphony, to documentaries about children from low income areas, who made significant improvement in all aspects of their lives after being exposed to music programs. Yet thanks to austerity measures and budget cuts, along with more emphasis on testing instead of actual learning, music is getting the axe in many public schools. If you cannot see the connection between the arts, fostering creativity, and achieving success in later life, I guess stuff like offering music programs in schools seems like a waste of money.

However, as the NYT article notes, there's ample evidence that getting children involved in music is worth the investment. Since you might not be able to view the link because of their paywall, I'm going to copy excerpts at the end of this post.

You can find out more about the Hawaii Youth Symphony benefit concert at the Hilton Hawaiian Village by clicking here. Among the guest performers will be Jimmy Borges and the Waitiki 7, which performs jazzy exotica in the vein of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Randy Wong, the director of the HYS will be playing some of his own compositions as part of the Waitiki 7 group. He's also the son of Terrina Wong, who I know through the great work she does at Pacific Gateway Center. Here's a piece we did about her ESL classes for the families of farm trafficking victims.

As for the Hawaii Pops concert at the Convention Center, we'll be doing a feature on Matt Catingub in our November episode. Tickets have been going fast, so click here for details. Sheena Easton will be making a special appearance on Sunday as they perform "The Songs of Bond... James Bond." Should be a lot of fun.

Getting back to the NYT article, here's some excerpts if the link to their site doesn't work:

Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously...

Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall...

Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder) offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”

Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”

Mr. Todd, now 41, recounted in detail the solo audition at age 17 when he got the second-highest mark rather than the highest mark — though he still was principal horn in Florida’s All-State Orchestra. “I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.”

That’s an observation worth remembering at a time when music as a serious pursuit — and music education — is in decline in this country.

Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.


If you haven't seen the Halloween episode of this month's Career Changers TV, click here for daily viewing times. BTW, there still seems to be some confusion. Yes, it's on OC16. No, it's not channel 16 anymore, which is now reserved for local sports. OC16 is actually channel 12 or 1012 for high definition. People have told me they tuned to OC16, but all they saw were sports. The programming people at OC16 say they think everyone knows by now that OC16 is actually OC12. I dunno about that.

Trafficking Signs

June 10th, 2013

In the past two years that I've been part of the 808HALT project to educate the public about human trafficking in Hawaii, we've seen real signs of progress. Thanks to the efforts of individuals, community groups and different coalitions, people are more aware of the pervasiveness of the problem. We've also seen State legislators take action on bills to impose stronger penalties related to the sex trade -- especially crimes involving minors and children. Also, very quietly the federal government has passed new laws to make it illegal for employers or labor recruiters to withhold identification documents from immigrant workers. That's important because one of the first things traffickers do is confiscate the passports or visas of foreign laborers as a means of control over them.

But I believe the biggest impact we can have locally is by being proactive, and taking preemptive steps to stop traffickers BEFORE they can entrap victims. The latest 808HALT video is about signs of human trafficking to watch out for, including places you might not think of as being prime spots for recruiters: shopping malls. If you're a parent, you might want to watch this segment we produced. What is particularly disturbing is how these men -- pimps, really -- prey on the insecurities and vanity of young girls. One scheme starts out with a guy suggesting the naive teenager should be a model... and BTW, he happens to know a photographer. He gets her to pose for some innocent head shots, then says she really needs a better portfolio. That will cost a few bucks though. Money she doesn't have and he can't front... except, there is a way she can make some good money fast. She just needs to spend some time with a "friend" and be his "date" or hang out with him. In reality, it's the first stage of grooming the girl to be a prostitute. The threats and beatings come later.

I'm hoping parents will talk to their daughters about this kind of scenario, and have frank discussions with sons about their attitudes towards sex. I'm no prude, but we live in a culture that increasingly sexualizes every aspect of waking life from fashion to sports to music and TV or movies. It seems like a paradox at times. There is more public attention to things like a nipple slip/wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl halftime show than gang rapes at a military academy. Our 808HALT coalition has reached out to educators in the public school system and military representatives, and offered to do presentations on human trafficking. In both cases, we haven't been able to make any inroads. The military says it is addressing sex abuse on their own terms. The schools don't want to get embroiled in more controversy over sex ed, it seems.

808 Banner med

One of the other things we realized is many trafficking victims don't watch TV or have access to computers, in which case our videos and education efforts aren't reaching the people who need this information the most. So we're going low tech too with an 808HALT bus sign campaign on routes that service rural parts of West Oahu, where we're told many immigrant laborers are living. Getting them to come forward is difficult though because they fear being deported or arrested for not having proper documentation. If you know someone who may need help, please visit for more information. We can put them in touch with translators and immigration attorneys.

Unfortunately, due to sequestration and mandatory federal budget cuts, we're not sure how much longer projects like this or others that assist victims of human trafficking will survive. The sad truth is political bickering is going to result in more criminal activity going unpunished, more human suffering, and more deaths among the most vulnerable segments of the world's population. But hey, we're decreasing the federal deficit, right?


Sorry to end on such a downer. There is some positive news about local efforts to help farm trafficking victims, and I'll be writing about that sometime soon. In the meantime, for lighter fare, check out the current Career Changers TV on OC16. Click here for daily viewing times, or visit the CCTV YouTube Channel to watch segments from the show.

Aliens Among Us

April 12th, 2013

Henk hat

Above: Henk Rogers, founder of The Tetris Company, Blue Planet Foundation, and the new Blue Startups accelerator project.

I wear a lot of hats between my roles as Career Changers TV producer, writer, and member of the 808HALT coalition to put a stop to human trafficking in Hawaii. But one common theme keeps coming up during my interviews and meetings: the need for immigration reform. Earlier this week we filmed a segment with Henk Rogers, the man who turned Tetris into a multifaceted business/social change empire based in Downtown Honolulu. He didn't invent the addictive puzzle game, but after he got the licensing rights and established a relationship with the Russian creator of Tetris, Henk was able to grow it exponentially as handheld game players and mobile wireless platforms came into being. One article I read describes him as a self-made billionaire.

He's also an alien of sorts: Dutch-Indonesian, born in Holland, moved to New York with his family when he was 11, studied computer science at the University of Hawaii in the 1970s (funny stories about his jobs back then, including driving for Charley's Taxi) and moved to Japan because that's where the action was in the early days of video games. Suffice it to say, he could live and work anywhere he wants. So why Hawaii? In part, it's because of our diversity and location as a crossroads of the Pacific. He's a global kind of guy. Actually, he thinks much bigger than that. One of his major missions in life is to promote space exploration -- and settlement of Mars as a starting point for transforming other worlds into places where humans can live. In effect, we'd become the aliens.

You may not be aware of HI-SEAS, which stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation, but he told me that on April 15 they will be launching a 4-month long project on the Big Island to test foods that could be consumed in space. Awhile back they advertised for qualified volunteers, who were willing to simulate living on Mars during that period. I'm not fully up to speed on the details, but from what Henk explained, they will be living in close quarters (a faux space capsule) and have to wear space suits if they venture out. Mauna Loa was chosen because the terrain is similar to Mars. Beginning Monday, you can follow the project on Twitter.

There's so much more I could tell you about how that project fits into Henk's other missions -- like Tetris blocks, in a way -- and how a heart attack in 2005 was the impetus for him to start the Blue Planet Foundation here in Hawaii. Coincidentally, I recently blogged that many successful entrepreneurs I know of have had near-death experiences that caused them to reassess their "purpose" in life. As it happens, his goal of reducing our dependence on oil and eliminating carbon emissions, also aligns with segments we just produced about Pacific Biodiesel (currently airing on the April episode of Career Changers TV -- click here for viewing times).

One of the tangents we went off on involved immigration policies. Since he's in the high tech field, it's no surprise he -- along with scores of business leaders/job creators -- sees a need to allow more high-skilled foreign workers to come and stay in the U.S. because there is a shortage of Americans with those kind of math and science skills. Seems hard to believe, huh? Yet I've heard that same complaint from other CEOs on "60 Minutes" and read it in a few business mags.

However, Henk was also referring to the need for low-skilled immigrant workers because he's a proponent of sustainable agriculture. And he recognizes the fact that for all the talk about supporting local farms, the reality is we need to import laborers from other countries since there aren't a lot of Americans who are willing to do back-breaking work for the kind of wages that are currently being paid. He mentioned that as a result of his heart attack, he bought a ranch on the Big Island where he could get away and relax. He's also trying to do sustainable farming on the property, so he's witnessed first hand the difficulty of finding local labor for ag work.

Tetris lobby

In future posts, I'll tell you more about the interview with Henk and the new Blue Startups accelerator program he's backing for a mix of homegrown and imported entrepreneurs, who are now working out of his Harbor Court offices. Very cool stuff going on up there!

Tetris blocksIt's not your typical business environment. There's art work by Roger Dean, the guy who did the Yes album covers and original Virgin Records Twins logo -- which ties into Henk's story about a gift he recently gave to Richard Branson (just noticed in the lower left corner of the photo at top, you can see Branson posing with him). Of course there's a Tetris motif running throughout the entire place, including stuff like these stackable seat cushions. We'll begin airing the Henk Rogers and Blue Startups segments in May, so stay tuned for details.


Regarding the 808HALT human trafficking project (here's that link), one of the coalition partners is inviting the public to attend the Burmese Water Festival this Sun., April 14 from 9 AM until 2 PM at Wilson Elementary School, 4945 Kilauea Avenue. It's sponsored by the Myanmar Association of Hawaii and Pacific Gateway Center. There will be authentic Burmese food, "Water Throwing," and other treats for you to experience and enjoy.

It's just another reminder of how our wonderful mix of cultures and people makes Hawaii such a special place... even if many of us might be considered "aliens" by others. When you look at it from Henk's universal perspective, we're all just citizens of one Blue Planet. BTW, there's an interesting story behind the Burning Man Festival hat he's wearing in the picture that I'll share some other time!