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Lee Cataluna

Obama not immune from state’s twisted bureaucracy

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We can talk all night about President Barack Obama releasing his "long-form" birth certificate and what it means in terms of national politics, race relations and the lunatic fringe. But here in Hawaii, we should also take a moment to reflect on why it took a presidential signature, a round-trip plane ticket for a D.C. attorney, and an executive decision by the newly appointed director of the Department of Health — which had to be backed up by the new state attorney general — for a guy to get his hands on a copy of his own birth record.

Wow laulau, Barry O got the full-on DMV treatment, yeah? It’s like one of those "you know you’re from Hawaii if …" lists: You know you’re from Hawaii if you have to stand in line in a government office to get a number to stand in another line to request the document that can only be requested online but the computer is down so please try again tomorrow but your signature in person is required so you’ll be back again next week, only even more frustrated.

This was Hawaii’s legendarily tangled bureaucracy playing out for the world to see.

There are a number of factors that play into the birthers’ hysteria, and one of them is the Hawaii element. If Obama had been born in a state that seemed more like a state to the folks "back in the states," some of the insidious conspiracy theories may not have taken root. Hawaii has a reputation of being remote, exotic and insular.

And then we go and act remote, exotic and insular by making it nearly impossible for someone born here to get a piece of paper saying they were born here.

The concerns about identity theft at the heart of the Department of Health’s current policy have merit; however, if a person can prove his identity, why can’t he have a copy of his own longform birth certificate, complete with the doctor’s name and his parents’ signature?

You can go online and get the hand-scrawled immigration records showing when your great-great-grandparents crossed the sea and entered America, but you can only get a cold computer-generated sheet that looks about as impressive as a receipt from Jiffy Lube to note the day you were born.

This frustration plays out again and again, from building permits and car registrations to having to wait in line to return your cable box at Sears Ala Moana.

We have become so accustomed to entangled bureaucracy that those of us who don’t have a private attorney to fly in from D.C. will use vacation time to take off from work to stand in line to get a copy of a facsimile of the form rather than what we really want. Been there? Done that? That’s how you know you’re in Hawaii.


Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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