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There Might Possibly Be a Probability…Maybe

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I get it. No government or law enforcement agency, especially ones engaged in gathering and providing intelligence, wants to get caught flatfooted. To that extent, caution is the prescription for the ailment. But seeing symptoms where there are none isn’t caution, its hypochondria.

The latest Joint Intelligence Bulletin from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security reveals one of two things, and maybe both. Regardless of what the catalyst is, their “assessment” gave cover for Democrats and Progressives to once again advance the false narrative that the Capitol – and for that matter, the US federal government – is under siege.

Based on the JIB, Congress abandoned the Capitol under the guise of safety, has scurrying off to their dark, smoky rooms to continue their assault on the Bill of Rights.

I say one of two things because the wording is so incredibly vague, so “plausible deniability” that it is hard not to question the motivation behind the bulletin. The overabundant use of non-committal words and phrases leads any thinking person to questions. A forensic analysis of the bulletin is called for:

“(U//FOUO) We assess that symbols of government, law enforcement, and ideologically opposed individuals in the NCR continue to be possible targets for violence by some DVEs, who likely are emboldened by the 6 January breach of the US Capitol Building. DVEs probably perceive the NCR as an attractive target and may seek to exploit public gatherings, either formally organized or spontaneous, to engage in violence. Our insight into specific threats is increasingly constrained by the expanding use of secure communications by DVEs following the arrest of individuals involved in the Capitol breach.

“» (U//LES) Continued DVE perceptions of election fraud and other conspiracy theories associated with the presidential transition may contribute to DVEs mobilizing to violence with little or no warning. Some DVEs motivated by the QAnon conspiracy theory believe that the previous president will be inaugurated on 4 March or will return to power on 20 May with the help of the US military.

“» (U//LES) As of late February, an unidentified group of MVEs discussed plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about 4 March and discussed aspirational plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC, to participate, according to FBI reporting. MVEs also have allegedly threatened an attack against the US Capitol using explosives to kill as many members of Congress as possible during the upcoming State of the Union address, according (sic) the US Capitol Police Chief.

“» (U//FOUO) Popular social media companies removed accounts for inciting and organizing violence or otherwise violating their terms of service following the breach of the US Capitol, causing an influx of downloads of encrypted communications applications. In 2020, DVEs discussed operational aspects of attack planning on encrypted applications, probably to avoid law enforcement detection.

“(U) Outlook

“(U//FOUO) The FBI and DHS remain concerned that DVEs could continue to mobilize to violence due to a unique confluence of ideological, personal, and sociopolitical factors. The FBI and DHS continue to assess that violence is most likely to be committed by lone offenders or small cells using simple tactics and easy-to-acquire weapons. The FBI and DHS note that, due to the highly personal nature of radicalization to violence, it is difficult to assess specific indicators that are indicative of US-based violent extremists attempting to support violence at home or abroad. The FBI and DHS urge state and local authorities to promptly report suspicious activities related to potential domestic violent extremism.”

The emphasis was added to spotlight the plausible deniability wording.

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the statement, “DVEs discussed operational aspects of attack planning on encrypted applications…” Unless there was a FISA warrant applied for and issued against specific individuals and based on credible information, this notion is ridiculous. The painfully vague information throughout the bulletin is more than enough to deduce that there is no credible information that would have satisfied a request for a legitimate FISA warrant.

So, the credibility of the threat that was the cause for Congress to flee is already called into question, as is the courage of the taxpayer dollar trough feeders elected to Congress.

But we must also note the 14 words of phrases that render the information throughout the bulletin as benign. There is no specific information: “…possible targets…,” “…likely are emboldened…,” “…have allegedly threatened…,” “…potential domestic violent extremism.”

There is no “there” there. The entire bulletin is based on one of two things: 1) bureaucratic paranoia; or 2) political pressure to maintain the false narrative that Capitol and the federal government are targets of some nefarious and violent plot. If I had to hypothesize, I would say it is a combination of both with an onus on the latter.

Recent disclosures from governmental authorities revealed that not one weapon was found on anyone detained by law enforcement on January 6, 2021. Not one. Further, there is insurmountable proof that the unrest at the Capitol Building that day was the work of far-Left and anarchist instigators and not those who attended the Trump rally earlier in the day.

The American people are being fed a line of fiction by political forces that want to divert our attention from what’s really taking place at the hands of the federal government now that Progressives have two years of one-party rule. Keeping fear of impending attacks at a fever pitch helps the new world oligarchs deflect from what they are doing.

Each of us must pay attention to what Congress is enacting and what the Biden administration is advancing through unilateral action. The course they are charting is one that neuters the Bill of Rights and that means you are about to be ruled by elitist oligarchs who routinely whore themselves out to BigTech and BigFinance.

America, we are in trouble.

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More Taxes for Movies and TV

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We have been railing for some weeks now about the goings-on at our Legislature.  This week we spotlight the Department of Taxation.

On February 16th, the Department published a Tax Information Release, a public statement of interpretation of the law, relating to the TV and movie production industry.  To understand that release, we need to go into a little background first.

When we see Hawaii’s General Excise Tax or GET, it is usually on a sales receipt and the tax shown is 4.712% or 4.166%, depending on the island you are on.  That rate is driven by what we call the retail tax rate, which is applied to sales from a seller to an end user.

The GET also is applied to intermediate stage products and services, namely those that are sold not to an end user but to a retailer, or someone further up the production chain.  For example, consider a farmer selling vegetables to a market, or a fashion designer selling artwork to a manufacturer who will be making aloha shirts with that artwork.  There, the GET is imposed at the “wholesale rate” of 0.5% instead.

When movie and TV productions are made, not all of the people participating in the production are on the payroll.  A few, such as principal cast, the director, and others in key roles like the director of photography, are independent contractors to the production.  Many of them have entities they own, known as “loan-out entities,” which then contract out to the production. 

What, then, is the GET rate that applies when a loan-out entity is paid by the production company?

In 2008, the Department of Taxation published proposed rules containing several key GET interpretations.  In Proposed Admin. Rule sections 18-237-13-01.01(b) and 18-237-13(6)-10(b), which appeared in Tax Information Release 2008-02, the Department said that a production company is in the business of manufacturing, and a loan-out entity providing services to the production company qualified for the 0.5% wholesale rate.  The proposed rules were reproposed in modified form in Tax Information Release 2009-05, but in the same proposed rule sections the Department reaffirmed that the GET interpretations above were still good and could be relied upon by taxpayers.

During the next ten years, the Department decided not to finalize these proposed rules, instead publishing revised temporary rules that only addressed the income tax credit for productions and did not include any GET rules.  After finalizing the rules, the Department published an Announcement in November 2019 ostensibly to summarize the rules that were adopted, but it added a note, seemingly out of right field, saying that a “production company is not considered to be in the business of ‘manufacturing’ [for GET purposes].”

Tax Information Release 2021-01, the interpretation published on February 16, explains that “the Department reviewed its position on deeming a motion picture or television film production company to be engaged in the business of manufacturing.  Through this review, the Department determined that this prior position was inappropriate.”  In other words, the Department changed its mind, and loan-out entities are now taxable at the full retail GET rate.  Neither the Release nor the prior announcement showed any reasoning from the applicable law (which did not change in the meantime) even attempting to justify the Department’s about-face.

“I am altering the deal,” the Department is effectively saying.  “Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

Folks, this is Hawaii, not “The Empire Strikes Back.”  The Department is given authority to make published pronouncements and adopt rules so people know and can plan business activities that follow the law. If the law changes because of legislative action or a court decision, that’s one thing.   Or if the Department made a mistake in coming to its earlier ruling and can explain what the mistake was and why it was wrong, maybe that is okay as well.  But changing the rules in midstream just because someone feels like it sends the message that the Department can act arbitrarily.  We need our government to keep its word, give adequate notice of any material changes, and rein in any Vaderesque action.

Maintenance of Effort

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At the top of my list of pending legislation this week is the “maintenance of effort” bill, House Bill 611 and Senate Bill 815.  What it says is if the appropriated budget of the Department of Education (DOE) drops from one year to the next, the difference in the appropriations is immediately scooped out of general excise tax collections and plopped into a “public education stabilization trust fund” that the Department of Education can then use “to fund any program in the state budget.” 

And that’s not all.  Another provision of the bill directs that if the state reduces the amount appropriated to DOE, then the amount appropriated will automatically change to “the aggregate proportion of the department’s annual appropriations from the state general funds over the preceding ten years.”

So how would that work?  Let’s say the DOE is budgeted $2 billion this year, fiscal 2022, which constitutes 13.5% of a total state budget of $15.4 billion.  In general funds, it gets $1.7 billion, which is 21% of $8 billion of the total general funds spent.  Let’s suppose that the bill passes and that in fiscal 2023, the DOE is budgeted $1.9 billion, 12.3% of a total budget of $15.5 billion.  Of general funds, DOE gets $1.5 billion, 19.7% of $7.8 billion total.  The provisions in the bill would sequester $100 million from general excise tax collections and put it into the stabilization fund, and it would unbalance the budget by changing the $1.5 billion general fund appropriation to the 10-year average proportion of the total general fund, perhaps 21% of the $7.8 billion or $1.63 billion.  So, DOE would get $130 million more in general funds than budgeted, and another $100 million would be clawed out of the general excise tax collections.  That $230 million would need to come at the expense of something else.  Or a whole bunch of something elses.

Bills like this one illustrate the creativity and the lengths to which proponents of a particular activity are willing to go to avoid the annual appropriation process.

Appropriation is not supposed to be difficult.  Lawmakers, with the help of our Council on Revenues, figure out how much money we’re expected to collect. They listen as the various executive agencies and departments show them what their respective programs have achieved for the people of Hawaii.  Lawmakers then decide which programs and services are worthy of how much of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and off we go for another fiscal year.

This, however, isn’t enough for some people, who are absolutely fixated on securing a “dedicated funding source” for their favorite program or department.  A dedicated funding source usually means setting up a special fund, which is tougher to police using the appropriation process, and a grab on tax revenues before they can be counted with the rest of state realizations during the budgeting processes.  Dedicated funding sources can and do protect inefficient or questionable programs and expenditures.

Legislators argue that the Legislature exercises more than adequate oversight over these special funds even though they aren’t covered in the normal appropriation process.  But how does that explain findings like the State Auditor’s Report No. 20-06, which found more than $75 million in accounts associated with inactive special or revolving funds?  Or Report No. 20-07, which found tens of millions of dollars in special funds that swelled in size over the years, indicating an imbalance between the so-called dedicated funding source and the programs and services it was supposed to fund?  Or Report No. 20-08, which built on Report No. 20-06 and made the bold statement, “More than $483 million in excess moneys may be available to be transferred from 57 special and revolving fund accounts to the General Fund without adversely affecting programs”?

Maintenance of effort is supposed to be earned.  If a program or service efficiently delivers value to the people of Hawaii, then it is worthy of our continued support.   It’s not supposed to be forced by tax grabs, special funds, and other gimmicks.  We need to start recognizing that this “dedicated funding source” rhetoric is taking us down the wrong path. 

Using Farts to Communicate

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Preliminary Results of the U.S. Flatulence Study

Most people know about beans and their production of flatulence, or farts, which is referred to as “toot” in the old familiar poem:

Beans, beans, the magical fruit,

The more you eat the more you toot; 

The more you toot the better you feel,

So eat your beans with every meal.

What most people don’t realize is that this poem sparked a discovery that will revolutionize the communication field, according to Dr. Stanley O’Toole, director of the typically tight-lipped National Flatus Research Institute (NFRI).  

“I was eating some franks and beans with the kids one Saturday night. I know it was Saturday because that’s the only day I have the kids. Mikey, my youngest one, always says the “beans, beans, the magical fruit” poem before eating beans, and this time it hit me as more than just a poem,” O’Toole recalls during a press conference held over Zoom to announce the preliminary results of their groundbreaking U.S. Flatulence Study.

The NFRI was awarded a $10 million contract from the Department of Defense (DoD) to study the use of flatulence in military applications. Scientists already know that farting is a form of communication used since cave-people days, along with oral speech. Communication is not limited to voice and body language, but also includes sounds and smells from “colonic wind”. 

The question researched by the NFRI was whether this “wind” can be harnessed and used in communication, to what extend people use farting to communicate in normal life, and whether this form of communication can be better accessed and employed in various settings, including military applications.

However, according to flatus researchers, while much can be communicated through the anus, the art and science of interpreting flatulence signaling is still in its infancy. There is urgent need to further explore anal flatus management, flatus smell as it relates to signaling, and the ability to consciously use flatus signaling to secretly tell someone, for example, that you are ready to leave the party.

“People can lie with their words all day long, but farts don’t lie”, O’Toole explained. “The trick is to uncover the secret of this “Down Under” language, as we like to call it. And the good news is that we have found something very important, which is why we are releasing these preliminary findings.”

The military has been focused on exploring the use of farts as a code. For example, spies can use fart signals if under audio and/or video surveillance. Through a pre-determined code, spies can send olfactory and audio fart messages. And according to the study’s explosive preliminary results, farts do, indeed, work as an effective communication channel.

“When you really think about it, each fart has a pitch, duration, and intensity, as well as an olfactory signal. You can actually say quite a bit with a fart, if you know how,” O’Toole explained. “Farts can vary from silent to high-frequency squeaks, to my personal favorite, a baritone, tuba-like explosion. And when you put a series of farts together temporally, you create a musical message, of sorts, with overlaying olfactory notes.”

Dr. Karl Shtinker, Chief Investigator of the Fecal Study Center of the W.H.O., who was not involved in the study, sounded a cautious note. “I think they’re talking out of their asses,” he ejaculated. “Sometimes a fart is just a fart. I see no reason to look deeper into the subject.”

However, Dr. Rita Pew, fecal archeologist and founder of the Rita Pew Centre for Bottom Research, who was also not involved in this study, was more supportive. “Some archeologists and linguists have theorized for decades that the first form of interpersonal communication was through flatulence signaling. How a fart sounded and smelled would often make a pungent point about something. A picture may tell a thousand words, but a solid fart makes a lasting impression. Both are superior to speech. I hope this research continues to explore this important form of communication, which is blowing a hole in current academic thinking about farts.”

Meanwhile, the DoD is smiling about the early results from the study. Commander Uri Dabangowitz, director of Operation Fart, said that it’s time the U.S. military use this emerging, low-tech communication method, especially given the ease with which computer systems can be hacked. “We’ve become too reliant on computers. An EMP can knock out the entire electronic world. We’d lose the Internet. We may be unable to speak, or afraid to speak. But we’d still have the ability to fart. A simple “S.O.S.” farted in morse code could save lives.”

But Dr. O’Toole is cautious. “We still have some challenges ahead, especially the pressure we are feeling from up top. At first, we were blown off. But now that we’ve released our early flatus findings, the naysayers are stunned. Here is a basic form of interpersonal communication that has been right under scientists’ noses all the time, but ignored. Some in the Pentagon and Congress want to steam ahead with more flatus studies, but you really can’t rush this type of thing.”

(Author’s note: This is satire. I hope I didn’t need to tell you. We all need to laugh more.)

The Passing of the Gatekeeper: Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021)

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Rush Limbaugh

It is with sincere condolences that I extend my thoughts and prayers to the Limbaugh Family on the passing of Rush Limbaugh early morning on February 17, 2021. As they are family it almost seems intrusive to say that we all feel a stinging loss, but the fact is this. We do.

If you are a conservative, a Republican, and even a Libertarian, you recognized Rush as someone who spoke truth to power even as he exposed the power to the everyman in an attempt to sound the alarm. If you are a Democrat or a Progressive, you recognized Rush as a potent foe whom you were inclined to treat with respect and, at the very least, caution.

If you are a conservative or a constitutionalist pundit or analyst – and especially if you are in the new or independent media, you recognize (as I do) that we owe a great debt to Rush because he blazed a trail in a usually closed door “boy’s club.” In the end, ironically, the “boy’s club” needed him…as they say, “the mountain came to Moses.”

Then there are the political talk show hosts, both on-air and podcasters – and not just conservative, constitutionalist and Libertarian podcasters either. Every political podcaster out there owes a debt of gratitude for what Rush accomplished over the years. He created the rubric for the genre; the intellectual “clock” for the show.

But the communications aspect of his life was only one facet. In the end, Rush was a confidant and kitchen cabinet advisor to presidents and high-level political leaders in the conservative movement. He reached this plateau because he wasn’t an “ass kisser.” He spoke his mind and his opinions, his analysis of the situations, were thought out to the end game, a rare ability inside The Beltway.

I admit, I have a unique perspective being someone who has a finger in all of the pies above. But what makes my perspective on Rush one of great respect and admiration is the fact that I am good friends with his first cousin, Andy. In fact, he is my partner on a podcast.

Through him I have been afforded a fleeting glimpse of the integrity that runs throughout the Limbaugh Family; the love of country, the respect for truth and honor, the duty to responsibility and obligation. It is an aspect of a very close and private family that Rush shared with his listeners and the country. And we are all better for it.

Today, on the day of Rush’s passing, my heartfelt and sincere condolences are with the Limbaugh Family, both immediate and extended. I can say with certainty that his listeners – his on-air family – are suffering a great loss; a void.

And while the malcontents and disrespectful ideologues of the Progressive and radical Left spew their animosity during a time when they should be silent, what their hatred really acknowledges is their anxious exhale at the gatekeeper leaving the gate.

Rush is leaving incredibly large shoes to fill, and those shoes come with an obligation to truth, to introspect, to communication, and to selflessness in the pursuit of freedom and the guarding of liberty. The task is weighty and not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, devotion, and dignity.

If we are to pick up the colors, we must understand the need to humble ourselves to a higher principle and the purity of the cause.

The gatekeep has left the watchtower. It is our turn at the watch.

More Creative Thought at Our Legislature

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This week, we continue coverage of our legislature by highlighting some of the more unusual or remarkable tax bills being considered.  We focus on bills that not only have been introduced, but that have gotten a hearing before a legislative committee and are actively moving toward enactment.

House Bill 65, for example, requires a tax clearance before any professional or vocational license may be issued or renewed.  Some regulatory bodies, such as the contractors’ licensing board, do require tax clearances already.  But should the same requirement apply to realtors, doctors, cosmetologists, and physical therapists?  We’re concerned that there are 160,000 licenses out there.  If each of them needs to be cleared every year by a system that now issues about 10,000 clearances a year, for example, it’s easy to see how the Department of Taxation might not be able to keep up with demand.  Maybe they’ll have to rent some space in the convention center, bring in a bunch of workstations, and ask for a bunch of volunteers to help get the work out, just like how the Labor Department has been getting help pumping out unemployment claim determinations.  The House Consumer Protection Committee heard this bill and is advancing it with some amendments.

Senate Bill 775 tries to deal with the concern that we have too many tourists on our shores (which certainly isn’t the case now).  As introduced, the bill looks at visitor arrivals every year, and for every year that visitor arrivals equal or top 9 million, the transient accommodations tax (TAT) rate is automatically hiked by 2 percentage points.  If our visitor arrivals drop below 8 million, the TAT drops by 2 percentage points the following year (but not below the 10.25% rate where it is now).  The Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism heard the bill and is passing it out with amendments.

Senate Bill 202 tries to stick it to the rich by eliminating the state income tax deduction for mortgage interest on a second home.  It also specifies that the amount of state revenue saved be deposited into the rental housing revolving fund.  The Department of Taxation pointed out in testimony on a similar bill last year that implementing a deduction disallowance is doable but figuring out how much was saved might not be.  Hawaii net income tax phases out itemized deductions for higher-income filers, so they might not get any appreciable benefit from a second home mortgage deduction.  The Senate Committee on Housing heard the bill and passed it out with no changes.

Senate Bill 497 would award a nonrefundable income tax credit to incentivize the food manufacturing industry in the state.  The income tax credit would be, up to an unspecified dollar ceiling, 100% of the expenses a taxpayer incurs for buying food manufacturing equipment, training employees on its use, improving energy efficiency in the manufacturing process, or studying or planning the implementation of a new food manufacturing facility.  Now, a 100% credit means that up to the dollar ceiling, the food manufacturer pays nothing and the taxpayers of Hawaii pay everything.  I would have thought that lawmakers learned about 100% credits through their experiences with the qualified high technology business credit in the early 2000’s – yes, the credit that was widely regarded as a fiscal disaster.  That bill was heard by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environment, and will move forward in an amended form.

Hold on to your wallets, folks, because this year’s great legislative adventure has just begun!

It’s Time for Mitch McConnell To Go

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Mitch McConnell

We on the conservative Right are quick to castigate “The Swamp” and the “Deep State” in Washington, DC, and rightly so. Neither serve the American people, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, whatever denomination. But just under the indignation is a reluctant acceptance. We love to complain but when the rubber hits the road, we never really do anything about it.

How many times have you complained about Congress only to defend your own Congress creature? I know I have done it. And how many times has your party begged for money from you so they can “target” so-and-so on the other side in the next election?

Today, I am taking square aim at one of our own, not to remove him from office – no I will not acquiesce to the “cancel culture” lunacy, but to demote him from leadership. I am doing so because he does not serve the people, he does not serve the party, he just serves himself and his lust for power and control.

Consider this statement, made by a Republican in leadership in the US Senate just moments after former-President Trump was acquitted for a second time at an impeachment trail, an impeachment that again was based on nothing:

“There’s no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of [January 6th]. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president…The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.”

These are the words of the highest-ranking Republican in Washington, DC, currently, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). And more inaccurate and unproductive they could not be.

First and foremost, I reject that there was no chicanery in the 2020 General Election.

We had a cowardly US Supreme Court that refused to hear a seminal case in whether states whose executive branches formulated election law in fat violated the US Constitution, as the Constitution vests that power solely with the state legislatures.

We had routine violations of election law in several key states – and within those states critical urban areas – that saw poll watchers and credentialed Republican election officials tantamount to being forcefully excluded from the ballot counting process.

And in those same battleground states, we saw ballot counting stop, poll workers released from duty, and then counting begin again with anointed skeleton crews.

All of these instances, all of these points, are valid complaints that McConnell should have been screaming about in real time. But what did we hear? A low-toned reluctant complaint that was drown out by just about any other audible sound on the planet.

The man who should have been leading the charge for the Republican rank-and-file was sitting on his hands, too concerned with retaining his own seat and, in fact, riding on President Trump’s accomplishment coattails to do so.

McConnell failed to hold the majority in the US Senate during the 2020 General Election.

McConnell single-handedly lost the two run-off races in Georgia with his blunder about not wanting to pass a $2,000 COVID relief package. That blunder – and make no mistake, it was a colossal blunder – cost the Republicans control of the Senate and sentenced the American people to two years of one-party rule at the hand of the most totalitarian, fascist administration ever to sit in the Oval Office.

And how doe Republicans in Washington, DC, punish McConnell for his failures, for his disloyalty, for his selfish exploitation of his elected position? They re-elect him t o leadership, this time as Senate Minority Leader.

How stupid are the Senate Republicans to do this? I have to say abundantly so.

McConnell wasn’t done with his caustic, unproductive screed – a screed that, mind you, offended 75 million voters (how stupid is McConnell?):

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office…He didn’t get away with anything yet.”

Sounds as though he wants an investigation, a prosecution. It certainly sounds like he will join with Democrats should they try to invoke the 14th Amendment against the former-President.

A person who holds these positions and who has presided over the litany of failures, such as McConnell has, who has effectively forced the Republican Party to be subservient to a group of people who actually hate the United States, well, that person – Mitch McConnell – should not be in a position of leadership, and most definitely not the Senate Minority Leader.

It is time for Senate Republicans to call an emergency meeting and remove McConnell from leadership. It is time for the “go along to get along”, “it’s my turn” Republican apparatus to be destroyed and for a new era of constitutionally minded, limited government Republicans to talk the helm.

McConnell’s day has long passed. His devotion to the swamp is proof of that.

LOWA’s Gorgon GTX–a hiking-walking crossover shoe to get you through the Covid blues

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According to Greek mythology the Gorgons were three monstrous sisters, the most famous being Medusa. They had snakes for hair, and anyone who looked at them directly was turned to stone. Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who observed her in the reflection of his mirrorlike shield, thus avoiding the instant stone treatment.

You won’t turn into stone by wearing Gorgon shoes from LOWA, Germany’s foremost manufacturer of hiking boots. However, I like the idea of the mythopoetic moniker. It’s a bit prescient.

A Gorgon is a novel way to segue into the present world, beset with a biblical plague. Plagues are part of humanity and are present in mythology and the collective unconscious.

Gorgon Medusa, dating from c. 130 AD, found in Rome. (Courtesy Wikimedia and the Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne)

With mythos in the air, I find myself walking more than ever, generally close to my home.

Walking Therapy

Walking is also great way to fight the Covid blues. To quote CG Jung, the best way to get through tumultuous times is by putting one foot in front of the other.

I would add, while this is great therapy it certainly helps to have good quality (no less Gorgon) shoes on your feet.

My exercise is generally confined to my neighborhood or the nearby trails here in East Honolulu.

Whether it’s walking the dog on the street, or hitting the Mau’umae Trail atop Wilhelmina Rise I need a “crossover” shoe robust enough to deal with lava rock and mud yet civilized enough for a foray into Costco.

That’s where these sturdy shoes come in. LOWA makes some of the best “multifunction” athletic shoes in the business. LOWA, which became famous making boots, produces products that can be worn in the wilderness, at work or on social occasions.

Full disclosure, I do have a bias when it comes to German products. I have dual German/American citizenship, so made-in-Germany is a good thing. More often than not, it’s synonymous with quality (even if these particular shoes are manufactured in Slovakia).

The Gorgons are stable, flexible and light. If anything they are overengineered.

So let’s delve into the design of the Gorgan.

Hybrid design/Stable Frame

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that LOWA’s boot making DNA (they’ve been making boots since 1923) shows up in every product they make. Their shoes, even if they aren’t boots, are over engineered and as solid as Krupp Stahl.

The Gorgon GTX, resembles a typical “athletic shoe” but it melds a hiking boot and an everyday walking shoe.

You get the best of all possible worlds. 

The Gorgon GTX is light (380 grams or roughly .80 lb) and are designed with a synthetic, mesh fabric upper and a “PU” or polyurethane frame for durability, shock-absorption and stability.

The uppers are made with GORE-TEX which will keep you dry.

LOWA says that they are one of the few outdoor footwear companies that manufacture 90% of their line using polyurethane (PU) midsoles.

PU absorbs shock, supports and rebounds well and, is durable. LOWA claims a PU midsole also offers excellent support, lasts 2-5 times longer than a comparable EVA midsole and, is much less toxic to manufacture.

GORE-TEX Upper construction

GORE-TEX is designed to be efficient on variable types of terrain. For my purposes, specifically for Hawaii I wanted something that was both breathable and waterproof.

Sounds antithetical but when you combine a GORE-TEX upper construction, which is completely waterproof, with judicious use of textile material in the other areas, you get both water resistance and breathability. (It’s a great winter hiking shoe in Hawaii because the Gorgon will keep your feet dry when it starts pouring).

Road-testing the Gorgon GTX

When I first tried on the Gorgon, I was surprised how stiff it was.

The Gorgon is handsome and very robust. They will last you a long time.

My only other experience with a Lowa crossover shoe was the Innox Pro Lo–a trail running and hiking hybrid which has a more flexible sole that the Gorgon. With the Gorgon it was if (surprise, surprise) I was trying on a boot. The Gorgon is a bit heavier than the Innox which presumably means there’s more material that goes into the construction.

Of course the boot-like demeaner morphed into a walking shoe the more I broke it in. It will take you a week or so of trail or street work before it becomes truly comfortable.

The Lowa website describes Gorgon GTX as ideal for fitness walking and birding as well as everyday urban wear.

I used them in the hills, in town and in the neighborhood. And yes, even on a visit to Costco and the rifle range. The acid test was on the above mentioned Mau’umae trail on a day that was quite wet. The volcanic rock is not only sharp but can be quite slick. It’s easy to get hurt if you’re not careful. The ‘Gorgons’ performed marvelously by being exceptionally grippy and the GORE-TEX kept the moisture out.

Suffice to say they are just fine for the street and provided the kind of stability I needed at the range.

The soles are grippy and a bit boot-like. They will take a while longer to break in than the average athletic shoe but are quite comfortable.

I’m not quite sure where the birding fits in or that there were even shoes designed for this avocation, but why not? Birders need to wend their way through just about every terrain, even swampy areas and that’s where this GORE-TEX enabled shoe makes a whole lot of sense.

One last thing. The LOWAs are going to outlast just about any other shoe in this category. At $210 retail it’s not inexpensive but in the long run you’ll both save money and have an incredible comfortable experience.

Note that if you poke around the internet you may find these shoes on sale. The newer models have different color schemes and the retailers are selling the older ones for up to 50% off. My shoes were Black/Anthracite but you can also get them in Steel/Blue and Ranger Green.

One more thing. To conquer the Covid-19 blues just remember Dr. Jung’s words, “put one foot in front of the other.

Robert F. Kay is a columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser, a health nut, the author of two Lonely Planet guidebooks and Fijiguide.com.

What Are They Thinking?

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In the beginning of February each year, the Japanese celebrate the Setsubun festival. The festivities typically include roasted beans.  Family members throw them out the door, or start pelting one of their own members who is dressed up like a demon, to represent driving out the bad luck and welcoming in the good luck.

At the Legislature, we’re not throwing the beans, we’re counting them. And there’s a lot of counting to do because there is so much less money available this year to fund the things that government is used to doing.  (I didn’t say that government “needs to be doing” or “must do” them.  That remains to be seen.)

At the Legislature, committee hearings have begun in earnest and it doesn’t seem at all like we are in an economic crisis.  Committee after committee is hearing all manner of bills expanding or extending tax exemptions, credits, and other incentives. These revenue cuts, sometimes known as tax expenditures, will need to be paid for somehow, but perhaps the legislators on those committees are leaving that decision to the money committees, the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate and the Finance Committee in the House, to make those tough calls.

Perhaps the goal for the legislators in the non-money committees is to mollify their respective constituencies, thinking that the overall effect of their little bills will be minimal compared with the huge problem that we’re all facing. In other words, creating little islands of happiness adrift in the sea of pain.

Some of the bills getting current hearings include HB 359 / SB 1321, which would grant a casino license to one lucky party who will be able to run their casino on Hawaiian home lands.  It won’t be cheap, however.  Just applying for the license will cost at least $1 million.  Getting the license will set the winner back another $5 million.  There will be a 45 percent tax on gross gaming revenues.  And lease rent to be paid to DHHL is extra.

HB 433 would create a “Climate Change Mitigation Surcharge” of an unspecified amount on the rental of a motor vehicle.  But, although this surcharge looks suspiciously like the rental motor vehicle tax we already have, the bill drafters carefully put the surcharge provisions in a statutory chapter that the Department of Land and Natural Resources administers.  So, does that mean DLNR is going to need to start hiring and training tax collectors.  Why don’t we just come out and say it’s a hike in the rental motor vehicle tax?

HB 1174 / SB 921 require our tax folks to get greedier.  It changes the motion picture and TV production credit so that if a single production wants tax credits aggregating more than $15 million in two taxable years, it needs to give the State a quarter percent of worldwide gross revenues of the production.  Forever.

And meow!  There’s a turf war heating up over the motion picture and TV production credit.  SB 932 would boot DBEDT’s Creative Industries Division out of its role administering the production credit, and it would substitute the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority.  Why?  According to the bill, HGIA “has better financial expertise than the Hawaii film office to evaluate the paperwork submitted for the motion picture, digital media, and film production income tax credit.”  We hope their expertise with feature films and TV productions doesn’t just come from watching them.

And our legislative session has just begun!  More interesting and creative ideas are bound to come up, and we will be here to share them with you!

Grim Reality of Unemployment Taxes

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In this space, we have been doing a lot of guessing on possible legislative proposals.  We will find out for sure what they are on or before January 25, the date of Governor Ige’s State of the State address.

In the meantime, there are realities we will have to deal with, such as paying for unemployment benefits.  Our unemployment system, as of January 8, 2021, has paid out $3.4 billion in unemployment benefits.  About half of it was funded by the federal government through various programs such as the $300 “plus-up,” but Hawaii employers and/or taxpayers are on the hook for the other half. 

At the end of 2019, the unemployment taxes that Hawaii employers had paid were sitting in a trust fund of about $600 million.  It’s now gone, and the State took out a $700 million loan from the federal government to keep the unemployment trust fund afloat.  There are several immediate consequences.

First, as we have written about before, our unemployment tax laws are designed to be self-sufficient:  if our unemployment trust fund is running dry, the tax rate ramps up to make employers refill the pot more quickly.  Because our fund hit the “empty” mark at the end of last year, the unemployment tax on businesses is supposed to go up to the highest statutory rate.  The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has calculated that unemployment tax will triple in 2021 unless lawmakers change the system.  We hear that the Administration will propose legislative action to limit this impact, and the legislation, if proposed, may be considered and amended in the current legislative session.

There are other consequences under federal law that our legislature will not be able to fix.

First, if our State is borrowing money from Uncle Sam, interest may be charged.  The interest rate for “Title XII advances,” which is what these borrowings are called, is expected to be 2.2777% in 2021.  If we are unable to repay the $700 million, then, we as Hawaii taxpayers may be on the hook for around $16 million in annual interest.  Our State’s Director of Finance testified that this debt is “not legally an obligation of the state,” but the law does not seem to support that conclusion.  Federal law prohibits passing the interest cost to employers through the state unemployment tax system, which means it will need to be paid for by other funds such as collections of tax revenue.  Of course, there is a possibility that Congress could forgo interest because of the pandemic.  The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 did just that, waiving interest for all of last year, so Hawaii didn’t owe any interest to Uncle Sam on the $700 million as of the end of 2020.  Relief under that act ended, and the interest clock started ticking again, on New Year’s Day, at the rate of about $43,700 per day.

Second, federal unemployment tax will increase for those employers in a State that hasn’t fully repaid its loan by November 10 of the second year in which the loan was outstanding at the beginning of the year.  That is, if we can’t repay the $700 million federal loan by November 10, 2022, federal tax increases will kick in beginning January 1, 2023.  The additional tax is 30 basis points on the first $7,000 of wages to an employee, or roughly $21 per employee in 2023.  The tax ramps up in subsequent years.  It would be $42 per employee in 2024 and gets progressively worse in later years until the debt is repaid.  None of these dollars go to or are set aside for the State.  Again, Congress could change these consequences if it wants to, but it’s not something over which any one State has control.

Absent a spectacular miracle, like the federal government forgiving Title XII advances (our Congressional delegation has told us not to hold our breath for something like this to happen), the grim reality of our unemployment taxes is something we can’t avoid.  We paid a staggering amount of money in unemployment benefits in 2020, borrowing funds in the process.  Our state government will need to be accountable for that money somehow, and the 2021 Legislature will be debating whose backs will bear that burden.