Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?

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Here in Hawaii, people like me often complain about lack of transparency, government overreach, and similar issues.  But think about it.  Does our government overreach?  Yes.  Why does it do that?  Because we let them.

Part of our culture here is to do anything we can to get along.  Let things slide.  Let bygones be bygones.  And we get taken advantage of.

Remember back in 2015 when the Foundation filed its “Stop the Skim” lawsuit against the State because the State was scooping 10% of the Honolulu Rail surcharge?  The City & County of Honolulu was being hurt but didn’t take action.  Other private businesses were being hurt but didn’t take action.  When we filed suit, we faced court hearings where the State’s attorneys were sneering, “Judge, obviously there’s nothing here.  This surcharge has been in place for a decade.  Why hasn’t the City challenged it?  Why hasn’t any other taxpayer challenged it?  Why didn’t the Foundation challenge it in the last ten years if it was so bad?”

The Foundation pressed ahead anyway.  We lost the suit in 2019, but in 2017 lawmakers changed the amount of the surcharge skim from 10% to 1%.  Taxpayers emerge victorious!

Now, we are in the age of the pandemic, with the Governor flexing his emergency powers to suspend all kinds of laws on the books.  One thing he did about a year ago, which we wrote about here, is that he completely stopped sharing the Transient Accommodations Tax with the counties even though the Hawaii Constitution and the law provided for the sharing.  With tourist arrivals through the floor, there wasn’t a lot of TAT to go around anyway, but a small trickle is still more than a big fat zero.  We suggested that this was government overreach.  The counties were being hurt, and what did the confiscation of TAT money have to do with our emergency?  I was waiting for one of the counties to sue, and then argue to our Judiciary that the Governor went too far.

I’m still waiting.  It’s been a year.

What happens if the Foundation sues?  Then the State will go to court saying, “Judge, this pipsqueak foundation is just screeching in the wilderness.  This is really a matter between the State and the counties, and if none of the counties are willing to man up then this matter doesn’t belong in court.”  At least when we challenged the rail skim, we were paying some GET so we could show a connection between us and the dispute.  This one does seem to be a dispute only between the State and the counties, and it’s tougher to justify the Foundation’s standing to sue.

Will the counties sue?  Nah!  At the county government level, we all want to get along.  Let bygones be bygones.  Besides, if a particular county makes noise, won’t it be squashed flatter than a pancake the next time the Legislature meets?

What happened to “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”?  Battles are fought all the time to keep freedom alive.  And the battles of today don’t use muskets and sabers.  Some of them are in the courtroom.  Others are in the court of public opinion. 

Although sometimes I groan when I hear of lawsuits or other antics of activist groups, I give them credit for getting off their duffs and doing something to remedy injustice. 

Not all of us were meant to be the gladiators.  For those of us who aren’t, there are other ways to show bravery.  Complain about government oppression or overreach to a legislator.  Tell an organization that does gladiator work that you appreciate their battle.  Maybe send a few dollars their way so they can keep up the good fight. 

But don’t just sit back and let yourself be stomped on.  Our Founding Fathers didn’t.  They endured ridicule and violent opposition.  They shed blood.  And they formed what we sing about as the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Post Covid Chic—Boat Shoes are Back

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According to recent stories in the New York Times and NPR all bets are off when it comes to fashion. In essence, the fashion police have given us license to wear whatever we please. As if we need the Times or NPR to tell us how to dress. Truth is, after a year or so of isolation, people are simply doing their own thing.

The recent gyrations in the fashion industry have been historical.

A recent Fast Company article reported that during the Covid era, industry revenues dropped about one third of 2019 numbers.

There was an exception.

Consumers actually increased spending on “casual” and “active” wear. And why not? People were not attending business meetings in the flesh. They were present at zoom meetings, so they didn’t have to impress the boss or client with their fabulous wardrobe.

Ergo, what folks wanted from clothing was comfort and utility. You didn’t have to go overboard on high end stuff, so long as you looked decent enough on your monthly pilgrimage to Costco.

Do you or don’t you wear socks with boat shoes? In Hawaii no one would even think twice about it…

Now that we are making our way out of confinement, we can start paying more attention to re-creating our own style. In past columns I’ve focused on “Covid Wear” — particularly trousers and crossover gear that works for the outdoors or our self imposed, semi-solitary confinement.

Given that we’re socializing it’s time look at footwear, specifically shoes germane to Hawaii.

This is a place where people wear slippers (or slippahs in local parlance) and being seen with socks and shoes is not particularly cool for your personal brand.

That’s when it dawned on me, boat shoes make a lot of sense. These are the only shoes I’m aware of where it’s definitely not cool to wear socks.

Just ask the epitome of style, John Legend.

This guy, lost in thought, has the right idea.

In addition to being an Emmy-award winning performer and, a social activist, Legend has been a global brand ambassador for the legendary shoe manufacturer, Sperry, since last year. He’s popping everywhere on Sperry’s marketing campaigns and in their social media content. He’s also collaborating on a new fashion line of shoes (including boat shoes) which come out later this year. Yes, my eyes are peeled.

There’s some irony here.

Boat shoes are timeless fashion indeed, but their origins are in the WASPY, 1930s epicenter of yachting—the Cruising Club of America. (We’re not talking gay bars).

There was a need for sturdy shoes with rubber soles that wouldn’t slip “topside”. This was purely pragmatic. No fun breaking your leg or whacking your head on the mast or a stanchion much less, going overboard. That’s why the original boat shoes were so popular.

Boat shoes were designed for a reason by the founder, Paul Sperry. I can tell you from personal experience, slipping on a deck can be treacherous. Mr. Sperry’s boat shoes were the perfect solution.

On a serious note, the “Sperry” soles (used on boots) were even part of the WWII effort to keep sailors safe on deck.

It’s been way over half a century since members of the New York Yacht Club were the only ones that donned boat shoes. Like a lot of practical, durable items—think Ben Davis workpants, bib overalls, etc., boat shoes became a fashion statement among young people.

Of course, they are still are standard wear for serious sailors and (perhaps) preppies (if they still exist.) Notwithstanding their establishment lineage, boat shoes are now unequivocally hip. (Ask John Legend if you have any doubt).

For you anti-establishment types, the Preppy thing might be off-putting but I say be open minded. These shoes transcend space, time and class.

Or as the Sperry folks say, “the brand is now fully rooted in the history of American style”. 

Given our proclivity in Hawaii to shun socks, we don’t need to be reminded that it’s cool to wear boat shoes sockless. However, for folks on the mainland who might be insecure about these things, New York Times bestselling author (of Men and Style), David Coggins, proclaims: 

“We can’t have our feet shackled with grotesque tube socks, corseted and constrained. Go forth with a liberated ankle!… a boat shoe communicates its wearer’s relaxed nature, a personality that does not conform to a rigorous office dress code. In a boat shoe every day feels like Saturday, work far from your mind. Ideally, you’ll be out of reception, unreachable by bosses, in-laws and creditors…”  

Modeling my “Amaretto” Sperry Gold Cup shoes at sunset in Honolulu

Suffice it to say, Mr. Coggins is preaching to the Hawaii Choir.

According to a press release from Sperry, John Legend himself threw down the style gauntlet, stepping out in his cropped trousers and boat shoes, asserting his bare ankles. Said Legend of the age old socks-or-no-socks question, “It depends on the cut and fit of your pants, and how cool you are”.

I think in Hawaii it’s safe to say, we’re pretty darn cool when it comes to fashion.

Sperry Boat Shoes come in a variety of styles and price points ranging from about $95 for the entry level Men’s Boat Essentials to the Gold Cup series which can run up to $374 if you go for their Handcrafted in Main category. I opted for mid-priced Gold Cups (made outside the US) that sport the Anti-Shock and Vibration (ASV) technology soles with enhanced traction and removable molded EVA midsole provide shock absorption. They run $179.

Anti-Shock and Vibration technology soles are the way to go on the Gold Cup series.

They are perfect for my Hawaii lifestyle. They are really soft and comfy to wear. The leather used in the Gold Cup style is a better grade and hence, they feel better. I noted that the sockless break-in time was not long at all. They were flat out comfortable from the get go.

What’s practical for me was how they’ll go with just about everything.

You can wear them with jeans, technical pants, shorts–even with a blazer if you want to get formal. (They are probably not the best for hiking but you could still do it).

I liked the thoughtful video from Parker York Smith (below) who has some good ideas of how these shoes can work for you. (Granted, this guy is from the Mainland and clearly is preppy material but he seems ok and has nice abs).

I plan to wear them at an upcoming birthday BBQ and who knows, maybe at the next Chamber of Commerce meeting.

If you have any personal experiences with boat shoes drop me a line!

Robert F. Kay is a columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser, a health nut, the author of two Lonely Planet guidebooks and Fijiguide.com. (He appreciates a good pair of boat shoes).

Intent to Veto

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On June 21st, Gov. David Ige released a lengthy list of bills he intended to veto.  The Hawaii Constitution requires him to issue that list and provides that any bills not on the list will become law, with the Governor’s signature or otherwise.

The bills on the list included a few we had been discussing in this space.

House Bill 58, what we had been calling the “Enola Gay Frankenbill,” was a mishmash of tax increases and General Excise Tax exemption suspensions.  We wrote articles discussing the exemptions proposed to be shut off; discussing the “Frankenbill” process where the bill, which at that time had nothing to do with tax increases, was stuffed with material from Senate Bill 56, which was all about tax increases; and describing its predecessor Senate Bill 56, an omnibus tax increase bill that we called the “Enola Gay” bill because of the potential for it to carpet-bomb our economy with the tax increases it contained.

In his intent to veto message, the Governor said that our economy was now looking to be in better shape so we no longer need the extreme revenue-raising measures contained in the bill.  It also didn’t help that the bill would have raised conveyance taxes on all residential housing developments, including affordable housing.

Another bill that made the list was House Bill 862, which would shut off the existing sharing with the counties of transient accommodations tax money and force the counties to impose their own TAT surcharge on top of the 10.25% TAT, 4% GET, and 0.5% GET surcharge that is already imposed on a tourist’s hotel bill.  We wrote about that bill back in May

This bill also holds the dubious distinction of being the winner of the League of Women Voters’ and Common Cause/Hawaii’s  “Rusty Scalpel Award” for being the most appalling bill that begins with one topic and drastically changes content in its way through the legislative process.

There, the Governor’s intent to veto message cited concerns about not adequately funding the Hawaii Convention Center, and also voiced concern that an added 3% county TAT “could have a major impact on Hawaiʻi’s nascent economic recovery.”

Also on the intent to veto list is House Bill 613, which among other things appropriated federal American Rescue Plan Act money to the Department of Education in great detail, and provided for a one-time stabilization payment of $2,200 for each full-time and half-time teacher.  We observed that the “me too” syndrome may be in play here because HGEA’s members, including principals, staff, and custodians, were left off that gravy train.

The Governor’s message on this one focused on his concern that the appropriations in the bill didn’t comply with federal guidance for the spending, putting the state at risk for federal recapture of the funding.

Interestingly, several bills on the veto list, including this one, were called out for lack of transparency or lack of public participation in the law-making process.  That struck this author as something unusual, and to some degree hypocritical because the Governor has suspended the State’s open records and open meetings laws for over a year, and that suspension is still in effect per the “Twenty-First Proclamation Related to the COVID‑19 Emergency” issued on June 7, 2021.  If it can be believed, it’s a good development.  It should force legislators to think more carefully about gut-and-replace, wholesale closed-door changes, or other secret maneuvers that change legislation at the last minute so the opportunity for the public to weigh in on it is abbreviated or eliminated.

Shortly, we will find out whether some of these bills will be vetoed, and shortly thereafter we should be hearing whether our legislative leaders will be mustering for possible veto overrides.  Hopefully, the bad stuff will die and remain dead.

Anti-Federalism: The Only Way Everyone Can Get What They Want

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Not since the US Civil War has our nation been so divided. But where slavery and state sovereignty were the issues in 1861, today the divide is much deeper; along ideological and cultural lines. There is no line on a map. The divide is among the people.

Take a moment to talk with the average resident from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, or New York City and you get one picture of what is right and wrong. Talk to someone from Texas, Florida, or fly-over country, and you get a polar-opposite view. The divide is geographically cultural.

States that harbor some of the largest urban populations – California, Illinois, and New York – tend to lean more to the radical Left, whereas a larger propensity toward self-sufficiency and freedom from government exists in states that have more rural and agricultural space.

Let’s get down to specifics.

It would be safe to say that California, Illinois, and New York – as well as a few others, can be considered solidly liberal states. They tend to be deficit-spending states that offer a large number of government-funded (read: taxpayer-funded) services to their residents.

These states also have a heavier hand in private sector oversight via regulations and taxation. After all, someone has to pay for all of the “free stuff” because, as the clear-eyed know, nothing is “free.”

In these states – and especially in their larger urban areas, the government has conditioned the people to expect the government to provide for them, many times beyond the threshold of the “common good” mandate, cultivating not only a public dependency on government but ceding a great bit of liberty to the government in return.

In these locations, the tolerance for bending the knee to regulation and mandate without questioning the government’s authority to impose either is greater. We all witnessed that fact during the recent COVID event.

Almost the exact opposite is true in an overwhelming majority of the Southern, Midwestern, Southwestern, and intercoastal Northwestern states; an overwhelming number of the 50 states.

This isn’t to say that the aforementioned dichotomy doesn’t exist within every state but that sense of dependence and expectation isn’t as prevalent. But the biggest gulf is bi-coastal with a more “government tolerant” ideology prevailing in the aforementioned states.

The thing is, this dichotomy doesn’t have to create an ideological gulf. We, as Americans, whether liberal, libertine, or conservative, don’t have to engage in a caustic cultural divide. In fact, our Founders and Framers addressed this issue in the debate over Federalism as captured in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers.

The cure for our current predicament – the remedy for our current divide, rests in an embrace of anti-Federalism. If we would have had fidelity to anti-Federalism as a balanced part of our government we certainly wouldn’t be experiencing today’s divergence.

If we are freedom-loving people; people who believe in individualism and liberty, then we shouldn’t seek to deny anyone the manner in which they choose to live. That said, we also shouldn’t deny people the right to exclude or include certain socio-political elements into society onto which they have placed importance.

Anti-Federalism – the decentralization of government (to “circle back” to an originalist idea now used by the cryptocurrency world) – allowed each state to embrace certain socio-political elements that enabled them to be unique from one another all while embracing the basic enumerated freedoms made sacrosanct in the Bill of Rights.

Anti-Federalism allowed California to be California and Texas to be Texas. Let me explain in terms of what that would mean today.

California recently budgeted to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants living in that state. In the end, because California’s spending on government services is supplemented by federal dollars, the entirety of the country is affected by California’s decision to do this.

They will make the argument that they are only using Californians’ tax dollars to do it, but when federal dollars free up state tax revenues to execute a plan such as this, federal tax dollars play into the equation. If California had to fully fund every program currently receiving federal tax dollars, it would be unlikely they would be shelling out $1.3 billion annually to provide that healthcare.

If anti-Federalism were embraced, the federal government wouldn’t be involved in supplementing any state-sanctioned program or initiative under state purview. There would be no unfunded federal mandates and the federal government’s role in governing the State of California would be limited to the enumerated powers of the US Constitution pre-bastardization of the Commerce Clause and subsequent federal government usurpation of the 10th Amendment.

The reward for the federal government being limited in state issues is that tax revenue from California that would normally go to the federal government’s General Fund would stay in California for the state legislature to manage, giving the state government broad purview over the overwhelming majority of government actions in California.

Less money to the federal government means more money to the state government without increased taxation on the people. Less money for the federal government to coerce state governments with means more state government autonomy under its unique constitution.

So, anti-Federalism in place in all 50 states, and the federal government starved; neutered in its power to the general provisions originally assessed by the Framers and what do we have? Fifty separate states with 50 separate jurisdictions and 50 separate governmental environments bound together by a limited federal government.

But what does this mean?

It means that where California can vote to give free health insurance to illegal immigrants in its state, that mandate doesn’t affect any other state, giving California the ethical authority to engage in that practice. It doesn’t impose its ethics or legislated morality on any other state.

It means if New York wants to embrace free abortions for pregnant women or mandate gender pronouns in schools, or if Illinois wants to make bathrooms available to all sexes, they can. But it also means that Florida, Nebraska, and all the other states don’t have to recognize those laws, being free to exist as uniquely as California.

But the larger point here is this. If someone identified as a glow-in-the-dark, cobalt blue, Marxist, they would have the freedom to exist in a state that embraces glow-in-the-dark, cobalt blue, Marxism. If someone identified as a Second Amendment supporting, church-going, biological sex-supporting conservative, they would have the freedom to exist in a state that embraced Second Amendment supporting, church-going, biological sex-supporting conservatism.

California would be free to be California. Florida would be free to Florida, and so on and so forth. It embraces the adage that in a free country – a truly free country, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

So, what’s the impediment to anti-Federalism? Why can’t each of the 50 American states exist unique and yet bound by general federalism?

The answer: The power-hungry and greedy political class in association with the national political parties.

Think about it. What entities are constantly attempting to pit one demographic against another? And aren’t these same entities only concerned about far-reaching legislation that would further strangle the states by federal overreach and unconstitutional purview?

Whether special interest groups or political parties, activists or politicians, all of the freedom-killing ideas foisted upon the country as “solutions” to the “problems” come from national entities seeking to create national legislation and national cultural change, robbing the states of their uniqueness and sovereignty; robbing the people of choice.

Employing anti-Federalism as an avenue to returning constitutional sovereignty to the states is imperative if we are to avoid the impending fracture of our nation. This can be done by the states crafting pre-emptive financial legislation that protects them from the punitive damages the federal government would impose to coerce states to its will and then employing the full force of nullification to claw back state sovereignty.

This is the simplest and most purely American way to take back our country from the charlatans, opportunists, and radical activists that have wrestled power away from We the People.

The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
– President George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

Secret Tax Relief on Maui?

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In a recent article, we spoke of a decision by the government of Maui to broaden the class of properties classified as short-term rental (which happens to be the class of properties with the second highest property tax rate, even edging out hotels and resorts, beaten only by timeshares). We noted that the decision happened at light speed, and we wondered why.

An alert reader brought a clue to our attention.

In 2020, the Maui County auditor issued a report on the fiscal sustainability and financial condition of the county. It’s listed on the County’s website as a self-initiated project.

One paragraph, almost at the end of the report, says that “the coronavirus pandemic has challenged the County to make many unprecedented decisions. One such decision was to reduce the Assessed Values of Hotel and Resort properties due to the catastrophic drops in occupancy experienced by that industry.”

What does this mean? Apparently, while the pandemic was still raging some of the hotels came to the Maui administration and said, “We can’t do this! We can’t pay your property taxes because people aren’t coming any more!“ The administration couldn’t change property tax rates, because those are set by ordinance, but they could do something about the assessed valuations of the hotel properties. And they dropped the valuations.

It seems that this step was done very quietly. It didn’t make big news. But it bothered the Auditor enough so that he wrote about it.

To be sure, down valuing the hotels may have been perfectly legitimate because one of the traditional indicators of real property value is the amount of income that it generates.  But the pandemic and the resulting government-mandated closures, which caused hotel occupancy to fall through the floor, are (we hope) temporary conditions and therefore shouldn’t carry much weight in determining the value of a property through consideration of how much income it will generate over a long time span. 

The county auditor was also concerned about a bigger problem.  Was anyone else given the opportunity to come to the Real Property Tax Division and have their property values adjusted immediately because of the pandemic?  Our supreme court in 1996, in Maui County v. KM Hawaii Inc., 81 Haw. 248, 915 P.2d 1349 (1996), faulted Maui County for using assessment methods that were not uniform and equal, thus violating the equal protection clauses of the federal and Hawaii constitutions.  Giving some hotels the chance to revalue their properties on a snap basis might not only be unfair to other hotels or other property taxpayers in general, but also might be unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, with the valuation adjustments that did happen, the property tax collections undoubtedly went down in a big way – and with the Governor shutting off the spigot of Transient Accommodations Tax money that had been shared with the counties, the county needed to raise some cash pronto.  We don’t know for sure, but that fiscal pressure may have motivated the warp-speed property tax ordinance amendments that were enacted at the end of 2020.

In any event, this episode seems to show a government being run on the fly, with lots of back room deals that regular people could not hope to have access to.  The likelihood of arbitrary application of the laws is sky high.  Is that really the government that we want to have?

Music Artist Mike Izon Releases Post Covid Feel Good Song “Summer Days Are Here Again”

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Mike Izon

The very talented Mike Izon (“Purple Haze,” “Brown Sugar Girl”) is back, and this time around his latest release, “Summer Days Are Here Again,” is a song that our world has been waiting for since 2020!

“Summer Days Are Here Again,” is a post covid “Welcome Back World Track,“ full of life, summer and fun. On this Island Pop Radio Mix, Mike Izon delivers on all levels checking the boxes from lead vocals, to serendipitous harmonies, infectious hooks and pure positivity in the message of songwriting . As we finally return to the Summer and partial normalcy in our lives; Mike Izon reminds us on the simplicity and charm of appreciating what we have; time, people, and loving life.

Produced by two-time Grammy Award Winner Dave Tucciarone, and with a “Summer Dream Remix” by Pete “Mixmaster” Hammond, (Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue, Dead Or Alive, Donna Summer) “Summer Days Are Here Again,” is a simple song for everybody and everyone just to make them feel good about life and living again in those Summer Days!

Released on the RSM Record label, you can find “Summer Days Are Here Again,’ by Mike Izon on i-Tunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and wherever find music is sold and distributed!

Keep your eyes out for the music video released on the same day! Aloha

Music and Lyrics by M. Izon and R. Pileggi

Telecommute in Style (and in clarity) with the Jabra Evolve 2 85

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Back in the bad old days of Covid isloation, those of us fortunate enough to work from home found ourselves getting intimately familiar electronic gear. One of the most important components in this assemblage is the headset. In a search for excellence the winner for me was Jabra Evolve 2 85 wireless headset.

Is become my BFF.

Why?

The Jabra Evolve 2 85 ($314 on Amazon) works like a charm for everything from Zoom meetings to client calls to music videos.

MY newest BFF –Jabra Evolve 2 85 which is great for fielding calls or listening to music. Consistent wireless reception around the house.

Let’s call it the Rolls Royce of wireless headsets. Not just because it’s expensive but it’s comfortable, even plush, and will keep you tele-commuting in style. As alluded to above, if you want to listen to music, it’s also first rate.

The headset supports up to two devices simultaneously.

How does that work?

If you’re watching a video on your tablet and a call comes in you can switch. You can pair up to 8 different devices! The batteries are formidable–when fully charged you’ll get 37 hours of time. Just plug in a USB “C” charging cable and you’re good to go. (For a little more, Jabra offers a charging stand for this device).

The best thing, from a practical standpoint, is that it provides supreme mobility around the house. I can place my phone on the kitchen table and walk anywhere in my home without a shift in audio quality/reception. A little fold-out boom mic offers enhanced voice quality or, you can use its other built-in mics in the headset without “deploying” the boom.

Notably, it has excellent passive noise cancelling capabilities. It will diminish the honk of a car or if you happen to be washing dishes while talking to a friend, it’s going to make your activities less obvious. (Of course, you’d never do anything like that, would you?).

I tested it on calls with the radio blaring, the faucet running, even (accidentally) dropping a baking pan and the “noise cancelling” was first rate.

Super light, comfortable (note foam ear muffs) and great battery life.

You’ll also appreciate this product’s comfort–you can wear it all day.

It has large cups, reminiscent of earmuffs you’d see on a rifle range but the device is surprisingly light. Sure, it ain’t cheap but as my colleague, Cindy Ramirez, a local voiceover artist noted, you’re paying for consistent audio quality which is challenging to find in wireless headsets. Of course, you could invest in a really good wired headset and you’d also have great, consistent quality but the caveat is that you’d be tethered to your desk. (No washing dishes or feeding the cat!)

On a personal note this headset is light years better (for me) than earbuds which seem to tumble out of my ears at the worst possible moment.

Finally, when I review products, I always make a habit out of checking in with their tech support. Jabra’s is first rate.

If you’re interested in a Rolls Royce for your office, this is the ticket

Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based writer, writes about technology and sustainability for the Honolulu Star Advertiser and is the creator of fijiguide. com. He can be reached at Robertfredkay@gmail.com.

Add a first class webcam, mouse and wireless keyboard to your home office

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Covid-19 has changed the way we work. First and foremost, even with the plague diminishing (at least in the US) telecommuting is going to be with us for a long time. It’s a no brainer solution for management and the rest of us. (And it’s about time!)

When Zoom became ubiquitous, we all became cognizant of production values. Crappy “optics” and audio quality do not score points in a meeting–whether it’s a job interview or a family powwow. You may save a few bucks but using a mediocre webcam is not going to be in your self interest.

The solution?

The Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam (under $100). It’s high-end features– autofocus, light correction and full HD video make a huge, positive impact. If you’re serious about looking professional and acing that job interview, this is the ticket. I tested it in poorly backlit settings, and it the image was crystal clear.

Self portrait of a thinker with a 922c webcam. Decent quality camera which will up your production value. (No photoshopping or enhancement of the pic).

It couldn’t be easier to set up—just plug and play. You can clamp it on your desktop monitor or use a tiny tripod (included in the package). Audio (there are two mics) is decent for everyday use but for optimal quality, you’ll want a headset or an external mic. Zoom fatigue is usually the consequence of straining to hear someone’s garbled voice so crisp audio is very important.

Great quality of audio for such an inexpensive headset. Good option for the kids and if you need to borrow it once in a while, so much the better.

Logitech’s H390 USB wired headset is an inexpensive option ($24) to pair with the webcam. I was skeptical, because of the price, but came away impressed with its audio. My voiceover artist friend who helped me test this set, Cindy Ramirez, was also pleasantly surprised with the audio. However, she noted that for long periods of use, it’s going to feel like a $24 headset.

The humble mouse is an item we take for granted. A good one makes me more productive. I suspect it has the same impact for other folks.

I liked Logitech’s compact MX Anywhere 3 (under $79) the full sized Ergo M575 ($49.99) the MX Vertical ($69.99) and the MX Triathalon 720 ($39.99). (All Amazon prices).

The MX Anywhere 3 is my go-to mouse for presentations

Of all the “mice” reviewed in this article, the MX Anywhere 3 is the most technically advanced, with more features that the others. If you need one mouse to do everything, this is it. It’s also the smallest in size, thus making it ideal if you’re on the go. It’s comfortable, sturdy and the “Magspeed” scroll wheel is infinitely adjustable to your needs. This is done by clicking the button at the center of the mouse, just rear of the scroll wheel. By pressing the button you can go from indexing (clicking at discrete intervals) to “free-wheeling”. Unlike an inexpensive mouse, it operates flawlessly on any surface—even glass. The software on this device will also lend itself to innumerable programs–you can customize it for any number of applications.

You can charge it with a USB cable or use the mouse “hard wired” with the cable. A full charge will last 70 days. The only caveat is that it might be a bit too small to use as an everyday tool for someone who has medium to large hands. (You can check out the photo near the bottom of the article to compare it to a standard size mouse, in this case the MX Triathalon 720).

This mouse is designed to sit in one spot. Takes some getting used to but it works great, especially for those who might have a disability.

The Ergo M575 is designed with a sculpted ergonomic shape and differs from a conventional mouse because it remains stationary. You just move the trackball, which is quite precise. You can either use it with Bluetooth (with an AA battery) or with a USB cable. If you have a disability that inhibits use of a conventional mouse, this is a good solution. To be frank, this will take you a few outings to get used to. If you’re conditioned to move a mouse around, just using the trackball will feel a bit weird. That said, it will grow on you. A lot of folks I know, swear by it. It’s especially handy if you have very little real estate on your desk.

This is one ergonomically designed mouse. It’s a workhorse you can use all day.

The MX Vertical is a full-on workhorse capable of connecting up to 3 devices. Designed with a 57° vertical angle, it reduces the strain on the wrist and comfortably positions the thumb. It’s incredibly precise and buttery smooth. If you have any wrist or arthritic issues, this mouse is also a good option. In a short period of time, this has become one of my favorites. It’s also easy to use in a limited amount of space and works on just about any surface. The ergonomics of it provide a sort of reassuring feeling. It’s also rechargeable, there’s a USB port on the back or, you have the option of using it hardwired.

The MX Triathlon 720 feels good, looks good and does the job exquisitely. Works great on my placemat, even with an occasional parmesan cheese remnants on the surface. In the background is the K780 keyboard, another winner.

The MX Triathlon 720 (so named I assume because it can handle up to three devices) has become my go-to mouse on my desktop system. There are so many ways to love this device. First off, it feels good. Ergonomics are great and the sort of rubberized finish is tactile without being “tacky”. The size is perfect for a guy who has medium sized hands (like me!). The center wheel has some heft so when you spin it freely it rotates on its own, making scrolling for long pages easy without too much finger or wrist action.

There is a button (at the center) that switches the scroll wheel from indexing (clicking at discrete intervals) to “free-wheeling” which comes in handy depending on the application. It pairs easily (I tested it on two machines at home) and has software that allows you to configure the buttons for your own programs/applications. Unlike some of the other Logitech units I tested for this article, this mouse comes with a rechargeable Lithium AA battery. There’s no USB port so you’ll have to charge it externally. This one is a keeper.

The MX 720 side by side with the MX Anywhere 3. I use the 720 at home and the Anywhere 3 on the road. The button at the center of both “mice” switches the scroll wheel from indexing (clicking at discrete intervals) to “free-wheeling”.

Of the units I tested, both the MX Vertical and the MX Anywhere 3 utilize USB “C” charging so you don’t have to hassle with throw away batteries.

FWIW the Ergo M575, the MX Triathlon 720 and the MX Vertical have earned the “Amazon Choice” moniker. Evidently a lot of people like these particular products. I would have to agree.

All four paired seamlessly with Bluetooth. 

Finally, an item that I’ve found indispensable for the home office is Logitech’s K780 Multi-Device Wireless Keyboard ($53.00). It works with all my mobile devices and is fully compatible with Windows, Mac OS, Chrome OS, Android, and iOS. I can also use it with my smart TV to browse the Net on the big screen.

I’m a stickler for the old IBM style “touch” keyboards and the K780 is no slouch in this department. It has a full-size, six row keyboard that will automatically change functions depending on the OS you’re working in. It’s built off of a rubberized tray that can hold your mobile devices at the ergonomic viewing angle.

You’ll find a multitude of uses for the Logitech’s K780. The Bluetooth easy synchs with up to 2 devices.

You can use it with up to three devices at once via Bluetooth. (Without Bluetooth can connect via Logitech’s Unifying USB dongle). The keyboard are three white buttons on the upper left hand side of the keyboard are used to pair your devices. Switching between paired gadgets amounts to just tapping the right button.

The best application that I found for this keyboard (which is powered by AA batteries) was to use it in concert with my laptop in a “tent” mode on my kitchen table. I just put the K780 on my lap and it was much more comfortable than using the laptop’s native keyboard. Thus it allowed me to create new office space!

If you are a roving kind of home office worker, this is a must-have.

Rob Kay, a Honolulu-based writer, writes about technology and sustainability for the Honolulu Star Advertiser and is the creator of fijiguide. com. He can be reached at Robertfredkay@gmail.com.

Showdown of the Juggernauts

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Photo Courtesy of George Beppu http://www.50thstatebigtimewrestling.com/1966-12-25.html

There is a huge fight looming on the horizon. I’m not just talking about Curtis “The Bull” Iaukea and Lord “Tally Ho” Blears versus Handsome Johnny Barend and the unforgettable Ripper Collins in “50th State Big Time Wresting” at the Civic Auditorium.  I’m talking about something much, much more epic. In one corner you have the State of Massachusetts and in the other corner its neighbor the State of New Hampshire.  Their arena:  the Supreme Court of the United States.

How did this fight come about?  The traditional rule, which is followed by 41 states and the District of Columbia (the remaining 9 states, such as Alaska, Florida, and Nevada, don’t have income tax), is that income that has its source in a state other than where you live (the “non-residence state”) has the right to tax only that income.  Your residence state has the right to tax you on that and any other income wherever you earn it, but it must give you a credit for tax legitimately paid to a non-residence state on income earned in that state.  Before COVID-19, folks who lived in New Hampshire were commuting to work in Massachusetts. Massachusetts applied its income tax to them as non-residents. New Hampshire is one of the 9 states without an income tax.  So, the only state income tax these folks paid was to Massachusetts.

Then, along came COVID-19. A number of these employees, perhaps as many as 100,000, started to work from home. They found, to their delight, that Massachusetts tax didn’t seem to apply anymore because they weren’t commuting to Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, however, didn’t really like the idea of its tax revenue being squeezed just because people stopped commuting. So, it adopted an emergency tax rule saying that the salary of any nonresident who worked for a Massachusetts company and was teleworking because of the pandemic would still be subject to Massachusetts nonresident income tax.

“You can’t do that, it’s unconstitutional!”, New Hampshire roared, and marched to the Supreme Court to begin the epic fight.  “Yes, we can!” bellowed Massachusetts.  (If you’re interested in the details of their arguments, you can read them here.)  Most recently, the Biden administration filed its brief, arguing that it’s inappropriate for the Court to stick its nose in now.  It said that individual taxpayers who were hurt could file their own appeals and thus give the States’ courts a chance to weigh in before the Supreme Court would need to act.

The outcome of that dispute may affect us here at home. Recently, some local folks established a “Movers and Shakas” program where they gave selected Mainlanders a free trip here in return for a commitment to stay on Oahu for 30 days and try being part of the Hawaii Ohana. The program drew 90,000 applicants for 50 spots in the first cohort, and the program is preparing for a second cohort.  One thing that Movers and Shakas might not have told the winners is that their income might be considered Hawaii source, and taxable in Hawaii, because they are physically in Hawaii when they are working.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) put together a brief on this issue, calling it “Taxing Income in the New World of Teleworking.”  It observed that some have called the traditional residence state and non-residence state rules archaic and ill-equipped to deal with what our economy has become over the years.  UHERO considers this COVID-19 wrinkle a great opportunity to rethink the rules that apply to individuals who live in one state but work for an employer in another. 

Telework is here to stay.  So are taxes.  Now is a very good time for states and businesses to start thinking and talking about how the two mix.

Taxing Government Largesse

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We’ve recently found out that the City & County of Honolulu is going to take 10,000 applications from vulnerable people and families who need help paying rent or utility bills.  So, it’s a good time to review the tax rules applicable to payments like these so recipients don’t get nasty surprises from the tax agencies.

Usually, when people receive money or something else of value and don’t have to pay it back, it’s considered “income.”  Taxes are imposed against income.  In Hawaii, we have the net income tax and general excise tax among others.  But there is an exception, not written into the statute books, for “general welfare” payments.  To qualify, a payment must (1) be made pursuant to a governmental program, (2) be for the promotion of the general welfare (that is, based on need), and (3) not represent compensation for services.

In Tax Information Release 2020-06, our Department of Taxation says that it will generally respect the federal tax treatment for purposes of our income tax.  For GET, it says that although GET normally applies to amounts received by a business that replace income, it will not enforce GET against PUA payments, forgiven loans under PPP, and EIDL grants.

Under this definition, individual applicants who receive aid from the City & County of Honolulu shouldn’t be taxable on the aid received even though those applicants’ bills are being paid for them.  But what about the landlords and utility companies, since the payments are being made from the City & County directly to them?  General welfare treatment doesn’t extend to the landlords and utility companies because they are still providing the use of realty, goods, or services and are getting paid for it.  As the Department explains: “Landlords are subject to GET on these amounts whether the payments are received from the tenants or directly from the agency that administers the relief program on behalf of the tenant.”  The same reasoning applies to income tax, federal and state.

In the legislative session that just ended, there was much debate about unemployment compensation.  The federal government, in the American Rescue Plan Act, decided to exempt up to $10,200 of unemployment compensation received in 2020. Hawaii decided not to use that exclusion, making unemployment compensation taxable.  (Actually, because the American Rescue Plan Act is a 2021 law, the Legislature wouldn’t normally even consider conforming to that provision until the 2022 legislative session, but was debating it this time because it applied to 2020 income.)

But what about the general welfare exclusion for such payments? They seem to satisfy all three criteria, namely that the payments are not for actual work, are based on need, and come from a government agency.  The problem is that there is a federal law, Internal Revenue Code section 85, that specifically says that unemployment compensation is taxable gross income.  Hawaii’s income tax law conforms to the federal law in that respect.  Laws that are black and white supersede tax agency practices and positions, or at least are supposed to.  Thus, people who received unemployment compensation will have to pay income tax on it even though the federal government will exclude some of it.

In times of need, the government gives, and sometimes it takes back as well.  We hope that this summary will be helpful for the people and companies involved.