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Hawaii needs to avoid massive unemployment tax increase

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Empty wallet in the hands of an elderly man. Poverty in retirement concept

By Keli’i Akina

For Hawaii employers, it’s deja vu all over again.

Just like they were a year ago at this time, the businesses that provide jobs to the state’s civilian workforce are in danger of having their annual unemployment taxes skyrocket, which, in turn, could cripple Hawaii’s economy just when it is starting to get back on its feet.

Last year, the tax was supposed to more than triple, until the Legislature finally stepped in to ease the pain. This year it could increase by more than double, from an average of $825 per employee to $1,768.

The tax is legally required to increase because of all the demands on the unemployment system caused by the coronavirus lockdowns, which at one point saw more than 200,000 Hawaii employees out of work.

Many of those employees are still out of work, still drawing unemployment wages and still depleting the state’s unemployment fund reserve, as the state’s emergency restrictions on businesses approach possibly their third year.

When the reserve drops, Hawaii employers are expected to make up the difference.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law that froze the unemployment tax rate for employers at the Schedule D rate — a slight increase from the pre-lockdowns rate, but far less than the catastrophic Schedule H hike that would have otherwise automatically gone into effect.

Unfortunately, the bill was little more than a stop-gap, addressing only 2021 and 2022. Now, as 2023 approaches, Hawaii businesses are once again in a pickle.

Since the lockdowns began, the state has paid out $6.5 billion in jobless claims, leaving the unemployment fund with only $123 million.

In order to keep the fund up last year, the state funneled $800 million from the federal government into it, then cleared that debt with an equivalent amount of federal relief funds. Still, the fund is still far from the $1.3 billion reserve that is deemed adequate for a year’s unemployment claims.

Thus, if the Legislature doesn’t intervene again, the state unemployment tax will soar up to Schedule H — the highest rate — for 2023. That’s an increase of 114%, more than enough to affect hiring decisions or prevent struggling businesses from surviving the lockdowns.

Hawaii was one of the states hit hardest by the coronavirus lockdowns, especially given their effect on tourism. Yet, we’ve seen some positive trends, with the economy growing faster than some predicted, leading to higher state revenues. In fact, the state budget currently has a $3 billion surplus, at least a portion of which could be used to shore up the unemployment fund.

In a recovering economy, the last thing you want to do is introduce a massive tax hike. Instead, you want to embrace policies that grow the economy. That’s because the state can gain far more in revenues from an economic bump than from trying to wring more tax dollars out of already-strapped Hawaii businesses.

The Aloha State’s private sector has had to overcome so much in the past two years. Many businesses have had to close their doors forever. Others are barely holding on, hoping that the worst is behind us.

There are many ways that the Legislature can address this problem. One could be to introduce another rate freeze, to give officials time to reexamine the law and its automatic tax increases.

What we should not do is levy yet another heavy burden on Hawaii’s businesses and disrupt our state’s economic recovery.
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Keli’i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Grief as deep as you Love

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Grief is a complex human emotion. It can produce love, anger, confusion, depression, anxiety, regret—well you get what I am saying.

Humans seem never prepared and not in the least taught how to cope and resolve grief. Like anger, another confusing human emotion, there are few common sense coping strategies or tactics to deal with the cascade of emotion.

Grief is as ignored as peace-making—we devalue and sabotage peace-making in our lives.

Grief, Anger, Jealousy act on humans like a water/mudslide. It seems we can only guess at the onset, where it will go, or how to cope with the sheer force of these emotions. Mostly, we lash out and hurt others in our expression of a fundamental human emotion.

If I take the meta-view, to look at my life as an observer would, at the thousands of cascading emotional episodes, contemplating the trauma creating the triggers, in the light of the deaths of so many friends, it is clear, what we take for real is not permanent.

From the perspective of our own death, and the wisdom of our meta-view, our existence is unreal, just as our solid material world is not real, at least in the light of timelessness and eternity.

Rainbow bridge over Hawaii

A wonderful poet, Hafiz once spake so, “To take for real that which is ephemeral, is like the ravings of a madman.”

Yet as I watch those I’ve walked beside, friends, colleagues, citizens, frenemies, who have been around me, pass across the rainbow bridge, I see it as a promise and a warning to be in alignment with your highest purpose, or be in fear and regret.

Choices are our greatest power

The warning: Those who seek to “rule” their worlds are distracting you from creating your world through your choices, narrowing your sense-of-power to better manipulate you by their words and decisions.

The promise: When what you think, say and do are in alignment, there you will find happiness. Happiness and a collaborative co-creative world that benefits the many not the few is a choice. Choose carefully, think focused, visualize the thought forms of what you prefer, and then act to choose it in the material world.

Align>Ask>Accept>Act>Receive is the promise

It’s not the journey that crowns you but the end.

As day turns to night, like flowers, we are here, then gone, so are also our lives in the broad span of time. We are soon forgotten, even if we are famous.

So, make the most of your one wild and crazy life.

Robert Kinslow is a coach, consultant, change agent and sustainability expert. Connect with him here or LinkedIn

SureFire Powerpak

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Mobile video light review

When it comes to a video light, I used to lug heavy camera gear around to capture the funny, meaningful or downright awesome moments that can spontaneously arise during the days of our lives. Since the cellphone revolution, my camera has become my choice mostly for it’s light weight, flexibility of use and features, and reasonably fast time of operation.

Let’s say an important moment is emerging, I reach for my cell and in a second or two am ready for the moment to present. Or, perhaps a moment is in full swing, in a few seconds, I’m recording without having lost much of the meaningful moments.

A serious impediment to night-time photography, recording those “dark moments,” is the cellphone camera itself. Cell cameras are notorious for their poor low-light performance, making low light spontaneity unable to be visually recorded. Also, cell flashlights have limited range and focus. External video lights can be cumbersome and lack flexibility. So, if I’m holding a light and trying to focus/exposure, AND point-n-shoot, frame the image, I’m not going to get optimum results.

SureFire video light and mobile case
The video light mounted on a iph6

FirePak video light

Along comes the FirePak video light, charger and flashlight. SureFire’s design strategy is simple enough, integrate a phone case with rechargeable storage and 2 high-performance mobile LED lights with enough lumens designed for video for 16:9 video frames in a form factor compatible with multiple sizes of phone cameras. USB and micro-USB ports allow charging your cell phone from the charger, or an included cable can be used to recharge the FirePak video light. SureFire says it has an effective range of up to 50 feet and while the light does travel that far, usable lumens land in the mid-range.

When I picked up the FirePak for the first time, I was struck by the wedge shape that fit comfortably in my hand. At first, the squished wedge shape looks cumbersome. Pick it up and it feels completely different. If you can imagine a drip coffee cone with the tip cut off and both sides squished flatter into an oval shape, you can imagine the shape of this flashlight. The FirePak slides smoothly under the molded rails of the phone case snapping securely onto a stop that positions the LED lights in two positions with respect to the iPhone camera.

SureFire video light and mounting case
Features of the video light and mobile case

The durable case is built for rugged use (not moisture or water) with a 4-level light switch and distinct illumination levels. Design-wise the features are functional while dramatically expanding your performance—as a video light or a back-up battery.

LED lights create enough lumens for 16:9 video frames

When I switched it on, the double LED “eyes”  emitted two blinding rays of light, even at the lowest setting. I wondered when I might use that much light? However, once you turn it on at night, you discover the benefit of blinding light.

At the highest setting the bulbs create significant heat, so don’t be surprised when you touch it. As an illumination device, there is enough light to do fine work, like reading or repairing, too. A distinct setting for faces for interviews would be a good user feature, just in case you are listening, SureFire?

It’s kinda tough to steady the cell when the light is installed on the case because of the extra weight and thickness requires your normal hand position to block the LEDs. Your hand size and strength will discover what position is best for you. I had to adjust as shown in the pictures below. It’s quite difficult to switch on/off the light without shaking the image. Shooting vertically is difficult for the same reasons, so you’ll have to learn how to control the frame with two hands.

SureFire video light
Normal hand position for mobile recording

SureFire video light
You may have to modify your hand position for this video light

If I were a DP on a film using cell-phone video, and this light, I would make sure there were several on charge at all times. No one wants to wait for your only battery to charge. A question a newbie DP might ask is: How long will one last? So, test your equipment before shoot day, OK?

Charging the unit

Charging the unit was problematic, as my first attempts failed, due I believe to a mismatched charger plug. Initially, I began charging the Firepak using a USB port built into a small power strip. After two days, the blinking red light indicated it was not fully charged, though I thought it might be close to fully charged, so I began to charge my cellphone at 5%. I recorded the time and charging rate at 10% intervals but at 57% the FirePak fully discharged and stopped charging the cell battery. I reached out to Rob Kay of Guns and Tech, he suggested using a direct charging plug and trying again. Once I plugged it into a 2A charger direct to the plug, it charged up overnight.

All in all, this unit is a good buy for those who want to expand their video capabilities to low-night-time conditions. It is small and powerful enough to have in your toolbox, just in case. It is durable and useful for most cellphone recording situations. And, it serves well as a flashlight illuminator during emergencies and when you might need a torch to light your path.

Whether you already have a youtube channel, are a budding professional videographer, or just want the firepower to be able to record life’s dark moments, FirePak is an excellent choice for all. You can see the FirePak in action at the manufacturer’s website: surefire.com/firepak

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GoalZero & Sunjack reviews

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Portable Powerpack Solar panel reviews

As everyone who lives here knows, Hawaii is no stranger to power outrages. The last big storm that came through knocked power out on the North Shore for half a day, yet that of course would be child’s play, if we got hit by something the magnitude of Iniki or Irma. As we all know, it’s just a matter of time.

So, how to charge our devices, in this event? Not everyone can afford a gas-powered generator (at least $1000) much less deal with the hassle of storing fuel. There are a few fixes that will at least keep small devices like your phone, pad, flashlight or radio powered up.

The first option, and the least expensive, is to stock up on batteries. The industry standard for modern flashlights, radios, lanterns, etc is the 18650 Li-Ion battery. Get yourself a battery charger to keep them topped off.

If you want to charge devices such as tablets, cell phones, etc., you’ll need to get some type of powerbank, essentially a battery with ports that allow you to charge any USB-based device. I’d suggest, opting for a portable solar panel which can assist in charging small devices, and keeping powerbanks topped off. There are a number of them available for backpackers or home users.

Input: Solar panels with charging cable arrangement. Output: Panel—>Powerpak—>Phone is the correct order

Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit

With a little research, I soon came upon the weatherproof GoalZero Zero Venture 30 portable power-bank phone, tablet & solar panel combo. It is a compact kit that includes storage and recharger. The kit is designed for the backpacker or traveler but anyone with charging needs in an emergency can benefit from this system.

Designed to charge point-of-view cameras, tablets, phones and other USB compatible devices, it’s 28 Wh (3.6V 7800 mAh) rechargeable battery can be coupled with a Nomad 7, 13 or 20-watt solar panel. Together they weigh a little more than 1-½ pounds. Built for travel or backpacking, for home use, it’s a bit under-powered.

Output kit showing cable types and solar panel chaining feature

The battery unit has been designed to be weatherproof (light rain not submersion) and shock-proof (moderate impact resistance) and can remember charging profiles of the devices you connect. The battery can be placed into a protective shipping mode designed to avoid self-discharge during periods of storage. For natural disasters, fully charging the battery and then placing it in storage mode for future use, is recommended prior to the event. Such a practice extends battery life significantly. The manufacturer claims “hundreds of life charging cycles” for the battery. The battery has two USB ports each capable of dishing out 2.4A each just like a plug version would. Apple, Android and Windows devices compatible with the output cables above.

This system included a 7-watt panel. While a standard 2A USB plug-in source can charge the battery in as little as 5 hours, charging times will vary from 16-hours with the 7-watt panel to 6-hours with the 20 watt panel. Priced accordingly, an innovative aspect of this kit is up to 4 solar panels can be chained together via the chaining input port.  Remember, battery and device charging times will depend on both the panels capacity, the angle of the sun to the panels, and the amount of sunlight available in your geographic location.

Test setup: Input (solar panels) and Output (cable types): Panel—>Powerpak—>Phone is the correct order

During periods of use, charge the battery fully first, then connect to the battery and charge your devices is the recommended use cycle. And, don’t forget to place the recharger in storage mode before you put it away for future use. Prior to an emergency, I suggest a dry run with the devices you plan to use before the emergency occurs so you understand the limits and capabilities of your Venture 30 Solar panel recharger kit.

SunJack 14W solar charger with 1o000mAh battery pack retails for $169 and is a good bet for camping or home use.

Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger + Powerbank

Another solar panel/powerbank combo we tested was the Sunjack 14W Portable Solar Charger + Powerbank.

The solar charger has four panels and when folded is about the size of an Apple iPad. It folds into a rugged nylon case, which can be quickly unfolded and hung up to face the sun. A mesh pouch on the rear holds the charging port and cables, the devices to be charged, and the battery pack. It has a series of grommets along the edges of the panel so that you can easily attach it to your backpack.

The panels provide up to 14W of 5 volt USB power under a bright sun ideally producing 2,000mAh every hour. That means you can recharge the powerbank that comes with it in about 4 hours (under a bright Hawaii sun).

Sunjack’s powerbank includes Qualcomm’s “Quick Charge 3.0” technology, which speeds up charging appreciably if the device on the other end (in this case my phone) also has “Quick Charge” capabilities.

The panels provide up to 14W of 5 volt USB power under a bright sun ideally producing 2,000mAh every hour. That means you can recharge the powerbank that comes with it in about 4 hours (under a bright Hawaii sun).

According to the experts I spoke to at Illuminationgear.com 1.5-2Ah is the minimum acceptable usable panel output.

Otherwise, charging your powerbank, or anything else, will take a full day. The Sunjack 14 W system, which retails for $149 (with the power bank) is a good place to start. You could also consider their 20W kit with 2 lithium battery packs, for $169.

The Sunjack’s 10,000mAh Advanced Powerbank, which comes with the solar kit (or sells separately for $29) has three ports, the standard USB, the micro USB and the new USB-C. What I really like is that it comes with Qualcomm’s “Quick Charge 3.0” technology. This means if you have a phone or other device that is “quick charge” compatible (such as my Samsung 7) this little unit will charge your device (according to the manufacturer) up to 80% faster.

A mesh pouch on the rear holds the charging port and cables, the devices to be charged, and the battery pack. (Courtesy Tim Yan photo)

Whether it’s 80% or 59% faster is anyone’s guess but it’s fast. My cell phone was charged in about 20 minutes. In an emergency situation this could be crucial.

I’d certainly recommend this nifty little combo from SunJack.

The takeaway on this piece is the larger solar charging unit you can afford, the better. What’s more, if you can get a combo that comes with a fast-charging powerbank, assuming your devices also have this capability, get one.

Editor’s Note: Rob Kay contributed to this article

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Earth Day 2017

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Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 11.10.37 AMHow many of you remember the first time you saw our Earth? This view of ourselves embedded in a living planet, wrapped in oneness, exploded into our collective consciousness.

Did you know soon after this view of our whole planet was available to us, the modern global environmental movement was birthed?

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” – Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948

For many Americans, perhaps the entire human population, this picture has sparked a collective shift about our planet. For the first time in history, we saw that we are all on a canoe—one race of islanders afloat in a sea of space.

This photo was taken from Apollo 8 on Christmas eve 1968 while scouting for a moon landing site. The crew lost radio contact with NASA going around the back of the moon and took this photo when they re-emerged from the dark side of the moon.

Imagine… as they rounded the moon’s edge, they saw our Earth some 240,000 miles away—glowing in deep blue framed by white clouds—embedded in seemingly empty space. The surface features in the foreground are on the eastern limb of the moon as viewed from our planet.

Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders had become the first humans to leave Earth orbit, entering lunar orbit on Christmas Eve 1968. In a historic live broadcast that night, the crew took turns reading from the Book of Genesis, closing with a holiday wish from Commander Borman: “We close Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 11.07.03 AMwith good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.” — Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell

As a species we had ventured beyond our Earth’s atmosphere into the sea of emptiness around our planet home. It was the first mission to leave Earth orbit and these were the first astronauts to see the Earth as a whole. Now we have the meta-view, a view of ourselves as one system, held together in space with no one to save us and no one more responsible than us for our shared destiny.

Within 2 years of publication of this perspective, 1970, the modern environmental movement was birthed, the first Earth Day was held, and the Federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were passed by a Republican, Richard Nixon, who clearly recognized the values of conservation, of clean air and water to all our people.

In 1970, with nine staff members and a $125,000 budget, a Washington, D.C.-based group organized the Environmental Teach-in, which would become became the first Earth Day.

 With then senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as their champion, the staffers brought together volunteers in dozens of cities and college campuses around the country.

04221970
Judy Moody and Denis Hayes on April 22, 1970 with the first Earthday teach-in banner in the background

Hayes, who had dropped out of Harvard Law School the year before to join Senator Nelson’s project, also chaired the Earth Day anniversary celebrations in 1990 and 2000. 
”[Hayes was] the one who did the unglamorous, wearisome job of starting it up,” Ralph Nader told the New York Times in 1990. “[Hayes] is an orchestrator of environmental events which were national … and now are global.”

Like Earth, Hawaiian islands are remote and surrounded by a sea that restricts passage, yet, unlike Hawaii, humans do not have ships bringing food or water to Earth. There is no Planet B. We have no other home nor do we have alternative sources of food and water.

BruceJustinAlGore1999LtrEarth day 1970 celebrations in Hawaii were led by Bruce Justin Miller and his team at University of Hawaii. The events of the first Earth Day, were called the First National Environmental Teach-In. While I do not have any pictures from that day, I ran across this letter written from Al Gore to Bruce and his team in 1999.
[Click on the pictures to expand them into larger sizes for reading or to download.]

And, these micro-fiche snippets from Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser, are illustrative of the energy and interest of folks then. Thanks to Dave Atcheson.

HonoluluAdvertiser_EarthDay1970In the Honolulu-Advertiser article was an a column advocating green practices. Notice it mentions the UH Earth Day event, and proposes ways for islanders to reduce waste by using reusable bags, making laundry soap, reducing car miles, and eliminating toxic cleaning products, and pesticides, such as DDT, etc.

Yet, here we are almost 50-years later debating those same ideas, because fossil fuel businesses have such a stranglehold on politics and people, we still cannot believe we can change our behaviors, it seems.StarBulletin04221970

 In the second article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, dated April 22, 1970, a prophetic quote from scientist, Dr. J. Murray Mitchell Jr. who said, “…The release of increasing quantities of carbon dioxide and thermal pollution into the atmosphere threatens to change global weather and melt the polar ice, flooding wide areas. Man may begin to notice the change by the end of this century.”

For many GenX’ers, perhaps even Boomers—ahead of our time—that our society is still _talking_ about changing our behavior, almost 50-years later, reducing our waste and footprint on our only planet—still talking and not doing—induces major depression and climate angst. Yet, it is also the driving force for social improvement of our continued advocacy. As the 50th anniversary approaches of that moment when a picture of our Earth shimmering in space changed us forever, why not get involved with the Earth Day Network?

Riseup folks, we are much better than we have been programmed to believe! Stand up for the Earth on which you stand.


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Preparing for the Future of Work

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Future of Work is Here

Each generation’s ability to advance their own destinies and contribute positively to subsequent generations is dependent on their awareness of how important it is to be future focused. The hourglass of time does not stop running, and it will take all of us, starting now, to imagine and work our way beyond the past we and our ancestors have created, yet where many surprisingly find ourselves stuck.

Look… the future is coming for you. Can you imagine a future-focused—worst and best-case scenario—a scenario largely dependent upon what we do now?

Starting with a pragmatic understanding of reality, as it is today—this moment—is crucial to effectively create our dreams in the future. It has been said, if you are anxious, you are focused too much on the future. If you are, regretful or depressed, too much on the past. If you are content, then you are present focused. Too much of one and you are stuck!

Near Future Scenario
Anyone Born after 2000 and Today’s High School Students

man-76196_1920Scenario…The year is 2025. Hawaii, like most of the U.S., has accelerated their shift to a model relying upon extended family groups. College debt has continued to rise and further compromised meager savings; increased long-term debt has become an unsustainable challenge for many parents and students, alike. Little attention has been focused on what courses and degrees will result in work (or jobs) for these youngsters who have grown up in an age of uncertainty. The poor have grown poorer, educational systems have not kept up with emerging market-driven needs and the middle-class, especially has continued to erode. The U.S. world educational ranking grade remains at a “C” – i.e., the bottom of the middle of the pack.

A different scenario…The year is still 2025.

Ostock-exchange-911608_1920ur educational institutions have responded to the revolutionary needs of students and provided them with expert guidance as to the set of courses that will ensure their best options in the future. Likewise, college costs have been eased by the inclusion of more virtual courses taught by world-renowned educators who inspire as well as instruct. Targeted technical knowledge, specific skills, flexibility and lifetime learning are now embraced by highly diverse mainstream workers. U.S. world educational rankings have risen to a “B” and we are on our way to an “A” ranking.

Now, today, ask yourself:

Playbook4Teens
The Playbook for Teens is co-authored by Hawaii Wingman, Carleen MacKay, who is the originator of a series of work-focused playbooks for several generations.
  • Are your children’s schools teaching robotics and new technologies at every age and level – from kindergarten on? Do you know?
  • Are you involved with your children’s teachers – challenging them to advocate for continuous improvement in teaching methodologies?
  • Have you read Playbook for Teens on Amazon? Might you inspire high-schoolers with the real-life stories of people, just a few years older than they are; people who can demonstrate winning game plans that will matter to their own futures.
  • Are you building blocks for future-focused viable careers by helping your children to find opportunities to learn well beyond the classroom walls?

The future will be determined by what we teach our children today


Pivot to the Pacific, into YOUR future.

workforcewingmentaglogoWe are your Wingmen

Reach out to your favorite wingman—we are multi-generational coaches. You will benefit from our proven 8-Step process. Let us guide you to what you need to know and do in order to advance your career in a time of hyper-shift. We can help you implement a plan that will work for you the day after the day after tomorrow.

Look us up on LinkedIn:  Carleen MacKay :: Rob Kinslow
Authors, Speakers, Emergent Workforce Experts


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Riseup

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What’s your calling?

What motivates you to get out into the urban world to stand and speak for positive vision of the future?

timrobiblogpic
My inspiring brother, Blue eyes Tim Kinslow

In 2007, as he lay in the hospital, his body succumbing to the ravages of chemo and cancer, my younger brother called me out. I was there with about 30 of his family and friends. Tim had been sitting quietly in his bed, propped up, yet with his head lowered, listening to the muffled banter from everyone. I was over at the door, opening and closing it softly so that the sudden sounds would not jar him, as he loved quiet stillness.

Suddenly, he raised his head, looked me in the eyes from across the room, and asked, “What are you doing over there, Robbie?”

Continue reading the rest of the story…


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Future of Work Trends

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Think about five short years from now, UNLESS something radical changes…

By 2021…

  1. The old will be older and broker and millions, in this fastest aging of U.S. States, will increase dependence upon younger generations amid overburdened social and healthcare systems that are ready to plunge our economy into a state-of-disaster.
  1. Gen “Z” will be out in full force – half won’t be ready and many more will be denied access to specific skills and competencies the future demands. Increased negative economic and societal challenges will increase major differences. In Hawaii, for example, college costs will continue to rise much faster than subsequent wage growth.

    wakeupwithpurpose

  2. Hawaii’s workers will not be in the full-time, “job” workforce. In the private sector, needed skills, competencies and talent will be used when needed, if needed and as often as needed. The race to a safe haven in the public sector will be overtaken by underfunded pensions. Our ability to pay for the last of the “lifetime” jobs, already standing on shaky ground, will be vulnerable to changes you might not want to experience.

Yet, IF we straighten up and fly right… support our people,

By 2021…

  1. Old age will be re-defined and Kupuna will be encouraged to continue to contribute to the world of work – well into their 70’s, perhaps 80’s. Likewise, a shift to emerging active aging programs, such as health-focused Blue Zones project, will prove beneficial to all.generation-z_infographic
  1. Gen “Z” will have many more opportunities to learn at modest costs. Much of this learning will be online and will be augmented with the dedicated help of pensioned, older folks who will have the time and interest to actively mentor the most challenged of Gen Z’ers. And, by the way, the youngest among us will also mentor up to help Gen Y, X generations learn what they have to teach.
  1. We will all learn to manage our work lives as our businesses – not as simply jobs! We will embrace lifetime learning, a term that, once-upon-a-time, was simply granted lip service. We will grow our careers, re-align our lives in line with our own changing interests and changing technologies, re-boot old interests and help others to succeed.

We are your Wingmen

Look us up on LinkedIn:  Carleen MacKay ::  Rob Kinslow

The Science of Consciousness & Healing

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I want to share a little-known secret for improving your quality of life, achieving deep healing and radiant health… even living longer… and better.

stream-1106336_1920(1)It’s not a new super-food.

It’s not a new yoga practice.

And, it’s certainly not a new pill…

It’s your own consciousness.   

Consciousness is the “x-factor” behind deep healing, radiant health and living a long, productive life — even as you advance into your 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond!

Yes, health and longevity originate in human consciousness and finds expression in body, mind, heart and soul.

If you’re curious about WHY this is so and, more importantly, want to discover tools you can use to shape your health and happiness, connect with Dr. Marilyn Schlitz. Marilyn has been at the forefront of fascinating and game-changing work in consciousness research, integrative medicine, longevity and healing. She brings more than 30 years experience and study with leading-edge scientists, healers and shamans.ConsciousnessHealing_intro_skyscraper

On Saturday, July 23, she will present a fascinating FREE online event: Using the Power of Your Consciousness for Healing: Discover the X-Factor in Creating Radiant Health.

During this exciting event, you’ll…

  • Receive a more complete picture of how healing really happens through consciousness
  • Discover the power of expectancy in creating pain and discomfort (and what you can do to shift it)
  • Recognize the importance of loving relationships in any healing process
  • Receive insights into the remarkable new findings that show you can consciously influence your genetics, as well as your endocrine and immune system

I invite you to join me for a mind-expanding hour on how to use the power of your consciousness for health and healing. 

True holistic health is so much more than managing your weight and cholesterol and hoping for the best… Marilyn will show you how you can work with your consciousness to achieve a quality life. Register here

be-1358282_1920Using the Power of Your Consciousness for Healing you’ll receive the latest scientific insights that demonstrate the power of your thoughts, emotions and relationships in shaping your health and happiness.

You’ll also be given simple practices to apply in your daily life.

If you can’t listen live, you’ll receive a downloadable replay of the event.

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Disclosure: The link in this post is an affiliate, which means I receive a small commission if you clicknpick. Affiliate link or not, my promise is to only recommend and link to resources I believe will add value to your life and/or work.

 

Let’s talk about the Future of Work

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Enough about the past; let’s talk about the future of work.

How, when and where will we work? 21stCenturywork

We are already working full-time, part-time, on-demand, temporarily, once-in-awhile… from home, from our car, a train, plane or automobile and from across town or across the world. We work for free, for a fee, for ourselves, for the good of others, for learning and/or for the fun of it! We gain-share, bargain or are paid an hourly rate.

The speed of change is accelerating. Within a year or two, few people will ask the question we are asking.

The more you have to offer the changed market, the more choices you’ll have to work in any – or all – ways we have just highlighted.

The more you prepare to meet the demands of change, the more adaptable you’ll be. The more you will be able to accommodate swiftly moving life circumstances and interests.

What are a few of the most recent changes that have affected how, who and where some of us will work in Hawaii in the near future?

hand-1112469_1920First, take a look at the on-demand world and you’ll soon have help with everything from Spring Cleaning to furniture packing. Haven’t heard about the hundreds of on-demand companies in Hawaii? Take a look at how many home food delivery options are a short 808 call away. Want a glass of wine with your dinner? Google “home wine delivery – Honolulu.” Prepare to see well over 150 home delivery options. Your favorite food and wine will be on your table within 24 to 48 hours.

These, and many other firms are delivering services and goods in new ways that will affect you—including, how you work, where you might work, or… how you shop!

The tip of an iceberg of change is floating your way. Keep looking. A new option will emerge tomorrow or the very next day. We’ll keep you posted to many of the changes.

Speaking of changes… here’s one to watch: reasonably long-term jobs with a good company began to change in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Such jobs are now only one way of working and if trends are to be believed, also diminishing in numbers.

The On-Demand, Hyper-Shift, Work from Anywhere Economy is here. Everyone is now a business – including you!

It’s time to learn how to run You, Inc.
But, it’s a bad idea to solo,
at least until you are ready to fly without a wing-man.

Ask us how we can help you to prepare for a future that matters. Let’s #makeworkbetter, ok?

Look us up on LinkedIn:  Carleen MacKay :: Rob Kinslow :: Fabian Lewis

Story of a Freelancer

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Story of a Freelancer
by Carleen MacKay
:: Rob Kinslow

In our April 5th post, we introduced you to the new world of work, to “Freelancers,” or people who work on behalf of organizations when and wherever needed.

pexels-photoBy 2020, according to a raft of experts, 40%+ of American workers will be “freelancers” in all sectors of the economy. Other experts predict the number may be as high as 50% by 2020.

Situation: This is the story of a real-life person. Our freelancer is someone who migrated from a dozen years of full-time work where he had been designated the “Employee of the Year” to being laid-off and forced to taste the painful and “Unexpected Freedom” of freelancing.outsource-1345109_1280

Goal: Although he submitted resumes for numerous full-time editorial and corporate communications positions, the response rate was low to non-existent. He was further encouraged to pursue freelancing by the lack of interest among prospective new employers, who tended to view his extensive experience and knowledge, not as an asset but as a negative option. Especially, when considered against hiring recent college graduates for a fraction of the salary, our story-teller felt he wanted or his experience deserved. He discovered the world of hiring in the new decade is not about experience and capabilities, but about casting ones portfolio within the needs of prospective clients. He learned to explore and market for this new business of freelancing.

Actions: He undertook face-to-face networking activities, while simultaneously expanding his LinkedIn profile and building a network of 500+ contacts. He accepted freelance opportunities that did not pay well, simply in order to gain experience. He began building a portfolio of work samples.

As time went by, he became adept at turning in quality work on tight deadlines, which drew the attention of new clients. Soon he landed two or three “anchor clients,” giving him a solid foundation of steady work at a respectable wage which, in turn, led to several large-scale web content projects.

By the end of his first year as a freelancer, entrepreneur-696966_1920he began to reap the benefit of client recommendations and word-of-mouth referrals.

Consequences: Our freelancer is now established in a successful freelance business. Not only does he have the comfort of working from home, his daily schedule allows time to play tennis and swim laps at his neighborhood club. He is no longer dependent upon a single company for his earnings, but instead works regularly for a wide range of clients – most of whom he has never met in person and with whom he stays in contact via various online modes of communications.

Lesson: Our freelancer learned the value of persistence by making strong use of online platforms and staying in touch with prospective clients. She has become adept at establishing his brand, at creating sales documents, at maximizing his profile on LinkedIn as well as at leveraging various social connections online as well as in person. He learned to set boundaries to client requests for uncompensated hours in order to prove his worth. Eagerness to work should not be over-used to extract uncompensated commitments or outcomes.

Credible experts predict that the workplace may be dominated by Freelancers in the next decade. Here’s a snippet, summarizing these predictions, from Thomas Frey (futuristspeaker.com).

“Virtually any company that cannot find ways to do things more efficiently and reduce costs will not survive. Business colonies are an organic process of matching labor to projects for the exact duration of the contract.  No more, no less.”                                                                                                                        

Do you want to learn how to Freelance? Ask us for help!

Look us up on LinkedIn:  Carleen MacKay :: Rob Kinslow

Would you like to learn about another way to work in the 21st century?

Look for our next post…


Questions? Answers? More posts by the author.
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Future of Work

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Did you know? The Future of Work is HERE and NOW…

Jobs are disappearing from the future of work

The world is saying no to many traditional jobs these days.  Take a look at the truth of Work. Ensure you have a Future of Work

  • No political party can promise you a job. At best, they attempt to create platforms that will encourage business success, thus (presumably) encouraging hiring.

  • No private sector organization will hire you full-time, if you’re not needed full-time.

  • No public sector organization or institution can afford to ignore their enormous pension debts by continuing to hire as they have in the past.

Layoffs are the future of work

  • No large company is any safer, than any smaller company in terms of providing job security. The Fortune’s 100 companies (the largest employers) have had more than double the number of layoffs than non-Fortune’s 100 companies.

  • No, invention is not a birthright. New technologies have created thousands of new jobs, while causing the loss of thousands.

Future of Work is YOU

  • No end is in sight for the economic unrest that the world is facing. Economic unrest works for and against “jobs” in this country as elsewhere.

  • If pension-less workers do not continue to work, in some capacity, later in life, our economic system will be challenged to cope.

  • No, we cannot afford to overlook the aging of America. There are millions of Americans age 65 and older. Put this in perspective, in the United States there are more people 65 and older than in each of the entire Canadian and Australian populations. This demographic will double by 2030. More than 30% of the US workforce is 50+ years young.

  • No, the U.S. workforce is no longer competitive in the high-demand areas of mathematics and the sciences. Our children are fragmented into the haves and have-nots; our boomers are under-prepared for new massively disruptive challenges, retirement requirements and longer work lifetimes.

What are you willing to do to win your battle for the Future of Work? Will you find new ways to work? Can you see opportunities embedded within the many threats? Will you dare to do something different than experience dictates?

Join us now, fasten your space-suits, summon your reserve of courage for there are many, and often better, ways to work beyond the old world of the familiar. Let us tell you the stories of the pioneers of the future who have turned tomorrow’s threats into today’s opportunities!

Visit us at NewWorkForceHawaii and explore stories of inspiration written just for YOU.

Or, contact us via our LinkedIn Profiles:

Carleen MacKay ::  Angelica Lewis :: Fabian Lewis :: Rob Kinslow

Leadership Learning from the Wheel

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Movement Model of Behavior

Learning from the Wheel of Life
Figure 1: Movement Model of Behavior

Leadership Learning:

According to my Native heritage, teachings and wisdom, recognition of Our ancestors, who’ve prepared the path of life for us, must be acknowledged. My teachers and mentors inspired me to leadership. Our relationships can include those with those who have gone before and those yet to come. Honoring and acknowledging those on whose shoulders we stand, connecting and communicating with our past and future, are fundamental practices of sustainable development. Me, you, we are all a bridge between the ancestors and those yet to come. Leadership from Learning is key.

Figure 1 shows how you may exemplify leadership learning. Read more here, or connect with me on LinkedIn


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Minimum-wage bill is wrong tool for the job

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Wrong tool for this job. Screw and open end wrench on old wooden background. Recruitment, HR human resources management in business company, put the right man on the right job concept.

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii on Jan. 26, 2022, to the Hawaii Senate Committee on Ways and Means, which was to meet Jan. 27, 2022, to consider increasing Hawaii’s mandatory minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2026.
______________

Dear Chair and Committee members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on the portion of SB2018, which proposes increasing Hawaii’s mandatory minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2026.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is concerned about the possible effect of this legislation on Hawaii’s economy, especially as local businesses struggle to recover from the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The proposed wage increase represents a 78% increase in the minimum wage in less than four years. For many local businesses — especially smaller businesses and those with thin margins — nearly doubling personnel costs would be a recipe for disaster and nearly guarantee their closure.

There is no real mystery to what will happen if this increase is passed. We urge the committee to listen to the testimony of the many businesses who have made it clear that this bill would mean closing their doors or raising their prices. In one stroke, this legislation would contribute to raising the cost of living in Hawaii, destroying local businesses and putting more people out of work.

There is ample research data to indicate that this bill, if enacted, would fail in its intent to help lift the state’s working families out of poverty. Recent years have seen a glut of research demonstrating that far from helping low-wage employees, minimum-wage hikes are more likely to increase their economic burden as businesses cut hours, turn to technology or even cut jobs in order to mitigate the higher costs.

A 2021 analysis of minimum-wage research from the National Bureau of Economic Research debunks the claim that minimum-wage hikes do not reduce employment. On the contrary, the NBER meta-analysis found that, regardless of how researchers interpreted data to support a particular position in the minimum-wage debate, there is a clearly negative effect on employment associated with minimum-wage increases: Across all studies, 78.9% of estimated employment elasticities were negative.

The impact of wage increases was especially hard on the teens, young adults and the less educated. And in studies of directly affected workers, the negative employment effects were even more obvious.[1]

For example, in August 2018, a University of Washington study found that increasing Seattle’s minimum wage from $11 to $13 an hour resulted in both the loss of about 5,000 jobs and an average cut in pay for the remaining employees of about $125 a month, thanks to a cut in their job hours of more than 9%.[2]

Proponents of a minimum-wage hike often point to a few highly limited surveys that suggest raising the minimum wage can be economically neutral, but as the newest research from NBER demonstrates, the data demonstrates that the opposite is true. Study after study shows that when a municipality drastically raises its legal minimum wage, low-wage employees suffer.

In 2010, researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Federal Reserve Board compiled the results of 53 scholarly studies into a book, “Minimum Wages,” and concluded there is “no compelling evidence that minimum wages on net help poor or low-income families, and some evidence that minimum wages adversely affect these families, and increase poverty.”[3]

Examining the idea that higher minimum wages will reduce poverty, those same researchers found that the opposite was true. While some low-wage workers do make more money, the gains are offset by loss of employment or hours for other workers. The researchers found that a minimum-wage hike increases the proportion of poor families by simply redistributing wealth among low-income earners.[4]

Because the number of families that fall into poverty from a minimum-wage increase slightly outstrips the number of families that escape poverty from the minimum-wage increase, the state is likely to see a slight increase in the number of families living in poverty following a minimum-wage hike.  This is a further demonstration of why minimum-wage hikes are the wrong tool to address poverty.

The minimum-wage debate is often framed as a fight between businesses and employees. In truth, raising the legal minimum wage can hurt both. Employment declines as businesses find ways to cope with the increased cost. Some stop hiring, some turn to automation and some demand more work from the employees that stay.

For businesses that already have to contend with low margins and high risks, even a moderate increase in the minimum wage can be sufficient to drive them out of business.

In 2017, Dara Lee Luca of Mathematica Policy Research and Michael Luca of Harvard Business School looked at restaurant closings in San Francisco after the minimum wage was raised to $13 an hour. The pair found that the higher minimum wage led to the death of many mid-range restaurants, as well as fewer new restaurant openings. For every dollar that the San Francisco minimum wage went up, there was a 4% to 10% increase in the likelihood of restaurant closings.[5]

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii prefers policies that would strengthen our state’s economy and benefit both businesses and employees. This bill, however, may have a negative effect on employment in general. Not only would companies in Hawaii likely be forced to lay off workers or cut hours or benefits in order to afford increased wages, they also likely would slow or even stop new hiring.

If we want to establish our state as a desirable place to do business, we cannot continue to treat company profits as an endless funding source for the state’s social initiatives.

It is not fair to assume that Hawaii’s employers are intentionally underpaying their employees or to assume that the government is more capable of addressing the payroll limitations of a business than the business owner is.

Policymakers are focusing on raising the minimum wage in the effort to make the state more affordable, but the minimum wage is a poor tool for that purpose. They should focus instead on policies that increase our purchasing power — that is, lower the cost of living — and make our state more prosperous as a whole.

A combination of tax relief and a reduction in the obstacles that the state places in the way of business and entrepreneurship would be the best way to move forward, to improve both our economy and the plight of low-wage workers.

In contrast, this proposed minimum-wage bill, SB2018, would more likely hurt than help Hawaii’s businesses and low-income working families.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our testimony.

Sincerely,

Joe Kent
Executive vice president
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
______________

[1] David Neumark and Peter Shirley, “Myth or Measurement: What Does the New Minimum Wage Research Say About Minimum Wages and Job Loss in the United States?” NBER Working Paper 28388, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., May 2021.

[2] Ekaterina Jardim, et al., “Minimum Wage Increases, Wages, and Low-Wage Employment: Evidence from Seattle,” NBER Working Paper 23532, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., May 2018, https://www.nber.org/papers/w23532.

[3] David Neumark and William L. Wascher, “Minimum Wages,” The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., August 2010.

[4] David Neumark and Wiliam Wascher, “Do Minimum Wages Fight Poverty?” NBER Working Paper Series, Working Paper 6217, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., August 1997.

[5] Dara Lee Luca and Michael Luca, “Survival of the Fittest: The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Firm Exit,” Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 17-088, April 2017 (revised August 2018).

Fee-Only Consulting on Long Term Care Insurance: What if the company that issued my policy fails?

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by John H. Robinson

The LTC insurance market has been in turmoil for more than a decade as insurance companies have come to the grim realization that the policies they issued in the 1990s and early 2000s were badly mispriced and that the proclivity of policyholders to make claims was grossly underestimated.

The resulting charges to the insurance companies have run into the billions of dollars and have caused many of the largest LTCI carriers to either exit the business or stop issuing new contracts. To stem the financial hemorrhaging, most of these companies have lobbied/begged state insurance regulators to allow premium increases ranging from 50%-400%(!) of the initial premium in order to stay solvent.

Such increases are a bitter pill for policyholders because many purchased the policies based upon the insurance salesman’s representation that their premiums would be fixed as long as the policy remained in force. As they have discovered, the contracts have a clause that permits the insurance companies to apply for premium hikes if they mispriced their products.

Long Term Care Insurance Consulting as My Fee-Only Side-Hustle

I have been providing fee-only consulting guidance to clients regarding the dreaded premium increase notifications for years.It has almost become a cottage industry for me since an article I wrote in 2020 went viral.   In most cases, the most palatable option is to accept no increase or a small increase in return for a reduction in benefits – most commonly by negotiating  a reduction/elimination of the inflation rider, reducing the daily benefit amount, or shortening the benefit period. 

These concessions are often a better option than terminating the policies and writing off the years of premiums paid. Typically, the contracts are still far less expensive than if they were to apply for coverage with a different carrier today, and, in many instances, the policyholders were originally sold more LTC coverage than was necessary for their objectives.

Most recently, however, I have received calls expressing concern not just about premium increases, but also about the possibility of the insurance carriers failing.  Most of these calls are arising from news pertaining to GE spinoff, Genworth, which, for many years, was the largest issuer of long term care insurance in the U.S. Genworth’s financial woes are well documented, and there is some anxiety among policyholders about the company’s future, particularly in the wake of the collapse of the company’s proposed $2.7 billion acquisition by China Oceanwide.  In September 2021, leading insurance company rating company A.M. Best lowered the its  financial strength rating for Genworth to C++ “Marginal.” Analytical website Macroaxis.com assigns a 51% probability of failure for the company in 2022.  That is obviously a bit unsettling for policy holders.

Consumer Protection Against Insurance Company Bankruptcy

So what happens if Genworth (or any other long term care insurance company) fails?  Long term care insurance, like life insurance (and other forms of consumer insurance), is regulated at the state level and is overseen by each state’s Insurance Commissioner. Each state has its own Guaranty Associations that are designed to support policyholders in the event of carrier failure.

Although the limits of coverage may vary from state to state, most states have adopted limits that are consistent with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) model. For long term care insurance, the NAIC limit is $300,000 in LTC policy benefits. Policyholders may check their own state’s guaranty association laws at the following link>

State Insurance Guaranty Associations Laws and Limits

Hawaii Life & Disability Insurance Guranty Association  – Frequently Asked Questions

Too Big to Fail?

As a practical matter, Long Term Care insurance company failures have been rare. In 2017, Penn Treaty, an smaller LTC player with 76,000 policyholders, fell into receivership and liquidation with assets of $468 million against liabilities of $4.6 billion!

In 2009, Conseco, a carrier with 140,000 policyholders, met a similar fate. At the end of the day, policyholders can take some modicum of comfort in knowing the limits of their state’s guaranty association benefits. The decision to terminate a policy into which thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars of premium have been paid is never an easy one.

The potential failure of Genworth, however, presents a very different challenge for the the state guaranty funds.  Genworth dominated the long term care insurance space and there is good reason for consumers (and state insurance commissioners) to worry about the solvency of the insurance guaranty funds. 

If you are looking for a reason as to why the state insurance commissioners seem to rubber stamp massive premium increase requests from Genworth, the potential financial ramifications of the company’s failure are likely the answer.  Although, in theory, one would think that the insurance commissioners should be protecting the interest of policy holders who paid premiums for many years, apparently the financial consequence of allowing Genworth to fail outweigh the interests of individual consumers.

Fortunately, there is some small solace for some Genworth policy holders.  A class action lawsuit – Skochin v. Genworth – offers policy holders two fully-paid up options that exempt them from future premium increases and still provide a (very) modest amount of ongoing coverage.

RELATED READING

What Happens When an Insurance Company Fails? (National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Associations (NOLHGA))

Your Future Aches and Pains Are Killing GE (Bloomberg)

Options for Dealing with Rising Long-Term Care Insurance Premiums (Kiplinger)

Long-term care insurance safety net has huge holes (Benefits Pro)

John H. Robinson is the owner/founder of Financial Planning Hawaii and a co-founder of software-maker Nest Egg Guru. For more information visit Fee-OnlyPlanningHawaii.com.

Spotlight on Retirement Income

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This week we continue our series on the recommendations made by the Hawaii Tax Review Commission.

“Hawai‘i taxation of retirement income is neither fair nor equitable,” they say.  “The exemption of large portions of retirement income impairs tax adequacy.”  Their recommendations:  “Tax pension and other retirement income uniformly. Exempt a base amount of pension income initially. Continue to exempt Social Security benefits from income tax.”

Hawaii taxation of pension income is somewhat of a mixed bag.  Our income tax law has an exemption for “compensation received in the form of a pension for past services” that has been on our books since Act 169 of 1953.  When individual retirement accounts and self-employed retirement plans gained popularity in the 1970s, our Department of Taxation issued Tax Information Release 53-77 (1977), saying that it was limiting the pension exclusion to “plans fully funded by the employer,” on the theory that if the employee contributed to the retirement plan, the employee was in effect buying an annuity for himself or herself, and taxation would then follow the rules for annuities.  Thus our tax laws allow employer-funded pensions to escape tax, while fully taxing 401(k) plans, IRAs, and other retirement vehicles that are funded through the employees’ choices.

The Tax Review Commission slammed this distinction, saying that there is no economic justification for this.  It was also clearly troubled by the sheer amount of pension benefits escaping the state income tax every year, which topped $4 billion in 2019:

(Tax Review Commission Report, p. 20.)  The Commission pointed out that Tax Review Commissions from prior years also struggled with this issue and recommended change.

Implementing the recommendation, however, has been a heavy lift politically.  In 2014, then-Governor Neil Abercrombie became the first elected Democratic governor in Hawaii to be defeated in his bid for re-election.  Honolulu Magazine cited his proposal to tax pensions as one of the nine reasons for his defeat.  The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported broad-based public opposition to the idea, even though it had been recommended by the Tax Review Commissions in 2003 and 2007.  As the director of AARP Hawaii said at the time:  “I think there is really deep concern, right across the board. … And it’s not that they’re just saying, ‘I don’t think this is a good idea.’ They are saying, ‘I think this is a terrible idea.’”  Many seniors at the time expressed the view that they spent many years planning for their retirement and saw their pensions as a contract that the state wanted to disturb at a time when they were on fixed incomes and facing increased costs for health care or long-term care.  The proposal to tax pensions did not pass, but voters still sent Gov. Abercrombie to the exit.

Current politicians, fearing a similar fate at the ballot box, are expected to be wary when confronting this issue.  In that respect it might not matter that our current treatment of pensions might be illogical, inconsistent, or uneconomic.  Many voters have seen it as a sacred cow, and it is going to be very difficult to change.

Persecution of short-term rentals is shortsighted

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By Keli’i Akina

Based on how short-term vacation rentals are so often portrayed, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought their owners were all terrible people, with no aloha for their neighbors or Hawaii.

Mostly they are just local folks who are renting out a room to make some extra money. But more likely you have heard they are heartless rich people living on the mainland, turning away local renters in favor of tourist dollars.

They are blamed for Hawaii’s lack of affordable housing and high rents, and for hosting unruly visitors who take up all the street parking, party late into the night and generally are callous about community norms.

No wonder they are the target of so much acrimony. Despite the fact that short-term rentals have become an important part of our tourist economy, local officials continue to try to regulate them out of existence, as if that would solve all the problems they are being blamed for.

On Oahu, for example, the Honolulu City Council is considering Bill 41, which initially sought to limit “short term” rentals to no less than 180 days — almost half a year — as well as increase fees and fines, and compel some condo owners to operate their units as hotel rooms, among other changes.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi, whose administration introduced the bill, has said he wants to shut down short-term rentals altogether.

To the point of 180 days, after significant pushback from rental owners, the Council on Thursday amended the bill to make it 90 days, but that is still unreasonably stretching the definition of “short term.”

In any case, what the mayor and most of the City Council do not seem to realize is that shutting down short-term rentals means hurting ordinary people who are just trying to make a living in a state that is increasingly expensive and unfriendly to small-business owners.

If enacted, Bill 41 will hurt people like Ed Jones and Peggy Aurand, my guests this week on my “Hawaii Together”program on ThinkTech Hawaii.

Ed and Peggy are not profiteers or faceless corporate managers. They are people who have lived in Hawaii for years and depend on their short-term rentals to make ends meet.

Peggy has a four-bedroom home that has been in her family for 50 years. Now that she is retired, she counts on the income from renting out rooms to supplement her Social Security checks.

“I figure if I went with the long-term rental thing, long-term rental rates are a lot lower than short-term rental rates. Usually, I can get people here for a week. If I followed Bill 41, I could make $7,000 in a year. I can’t do that. I wouldn’t be able to pay my taxes. I wouldn’t be able to pay the expenses of running this house and I’d have to sell it,” Peggy told me.

Ed is in a similar situation. His two rental rooms help pay his bills, but they won’t if Bill 41 becomes law.

“If I’m forced to do the two six-month leases, I might as well just say, ‘I’m just going to rent it long-term,’ and that would bring me probably $7,000 to $8,000 a month for that particular house because it sleeps a lot of people. But that’s still barely enough to pay the taxes and keep the place running and keep it well-repaired and looking good from the street,” Ed explained.

Ed and Peggy are just doing what they have to do to afford to live in Hawaii. In this case, that means renting out space in their homes to tourists or people making short visits.

Moreover, their business helps the local economy. Peggy said that between the money she spends to keep her rental maintained, the amount her renters spend at local businesses and the $55,000 a year she pays in taxes, the impact on Hawaii’s economy “for one little old lady’s house” adds up to about $625,000.

“Multiply me times 4,000, and you’ve got in excess of $2 billion a year,” she added.

Both Ed and Peggy said they pay all their taxes and make every effort to comply with local nuisance laws — which, they hastened to emphasize, are supposed to apply to everyone, not just short-term rentals.

But, they said, instead of being welcomed as a valuable component of the local tourism industry and Hawaii’s economy overall, short-term rentals are used by politicians as a convenient scapegoat.

“If there’s a problem with affordable housing,” said Peggy, “they blame the vacation rentals. If there’s a problem with noise in the neighborhood, they blame the vacation rentals.”

She continued: “I have a situation in my neighborhood where I have noise from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. I have drunks in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night, throwing trash in my yard. We have naked trespassers invading people’s houses. The parking is so bad that rescue vehicles can’t get down the street. Nine people died at this place in 2021. And no, … it isn’t a vacation rental. It’s a beach park, and guess who put it in place? The City and County of Honolulu.”

As for their impact on the local housing market, Ed said he has yet to see any evidence that banning short-term rentals would make any difference.

“I think most affordable rental projects are feel-good, look-good things that politicians put on the table to get elected, and once they get elected, they face reality and it gets too expensive,” he said. “I think there have been more cancellations of affordable rentals in that department than there have been people buying houses that are otherwise vacation rentals. Mine is not an affordable rental house anyway.”

Ed said he is hoping that “folks in the City Council, in DPP [the Department of Planning and Permitting] and in the proponent groups will gather around the table and talk about what we do and the benefit that it has for the community as a whole.

“We believe that we’re part of the solution when it comes to affordable housing, not the problem. I’m at a loss because no one has provided me with any kind of evidence at all that renting rooms has a negative impact on the community.”

The good news is that the Honolulu City Council did scale back the prohibitive reach of Bill 41, which will now be given a public hearing.

For people like Ed and Peggy, what happens next may determine whether they will be able to continue living in Hawaii or become another story about locals who were forced to leave because of Hawaii’s bad economic policies.

Isn’t it time we stopped pursuing policies that chase people out of our state and start embracing policies that make it possible for them to stay?
___________

Keli’i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

B.J. Reyes dies at 50: Remembered for his journalistic skills and courage

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Editor’s Note: This piece was re-published with permission of Paul Stevens, the author of this story and EditorConnecting Newsletter, a publication for former and retired AP people as well as industry friends. We thank him for allowing us to honor the life of B.J. Reyes. It was first published on Jan. 19, 2022.


Cancer came knocking at his door when he was just 13, but B.J. Reyes was able to prevail and go on to graduate from journalism school, join the world’s largest news organization, cover perhaps the most significant presidential inauguration in the nation’s history for Hawaii’s largest newspaper and impact hundreds of lives with his bravery and never-give-up attitude toward life. 

He worked as a newsman for The Associated Press for just 10 years – and left the AP for a job in newspapering back in 2005 – 17 years ago. 

Yet memories of this brave man who faced a multitude of health issues, starting at the age of 13 and continuing through the remainder of his life, remain vivid among those who worked with him in four AP bureaus. And they are shared in the wake of his death last Saturday morning at the age of 50. 

“We’re dealing with his physical absence as best we can,” said his sister, Michelle Hillmeyer. “Sometimes smiling, sometimes crying, but always grateful for the time we had with him. He faced down five forms of cancer (bone, thyroid, skin, colon, lung) AND HE WAS WINNING, plus diabetes, kidney failure, and finally heart failure. He celebrated his 50th birthday last November, then his and Lisa’s 10th wedding anniversary in December. BJ knew every day was a gift. I know he wants all of us to remember that as well, and to make sure the important people in our lives know they are important.”


B.J. Reyes on Inauguration Day 2009 when Barack Obama became president. Photo by his Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporting colleague Rosemarie Bernardo.
Reyes, who died on Saturday (Jan. 15) at the Cleveland Clinic, was working as associate editor of The Penn Stater magazine at his alma mater, Penn State University, at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife of 10 years, Lisa. 

“B.J. was dealt more health challenges than anyone deserves,” said his sister Michelle Hillmeyer in a Facebook post. “It started when he was 13 years old and diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg. The first of countless leg surgeries replaced the bones of his hip socket, femur, entire knee joint with metal and plastic, which was followed by chemo. In college he was diagnosed with type II diabetes. As a young adult he had numerous surgeries to both legs to repair or upgrade the embedded hardware, or tighten up the joints. But one of those past surgeries apparently introduced a staph infection into his body, which a major leg repair surgery in late 2013 seemed to kick into high gear, going after his heart.


In 2014, B.J. Reyes – then with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser – was interviewed about the Hawaii U.S. Senate race by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. That interview took place not quite five months after he had open heart surgery. His sister Michelle Hillmeyer noted, “He looks so handsome and healthy on TV, was so poised and intelligent answering Rachel’s questions, very natural.”
“His kidneys failed a few years ago, putting him on dialysis. He was hoping to be a candidate for a kidney transplant, but another cancer reared its ugly head putting him back on chemo and radiation treatment. But the infections unfortunately weren’t done with his heart…just after this new year, he was in the ER at home in State College then transferred to the Cleveland Clinic for further tests and diagnosis. Just after arriving he had a setback during a procedure – he recovered, but not enough. When it was determined there was nothing more that could be done, he started saying his goodbyes.” 

Reyes joined the AP in Charleston, W. Va., in 1995 and transferred to Detroit a year later. He worked as a newsman there before being promoted to the General Desk in New York where he worked from 1998-2000. He was a newsman in the AP’s Honolulu bureau from 2001 to 2005 before joining the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and then the Star-Advertiser, where he worked for the next 10 years, reporting on Hawaii state politics and government, and covering the inauguration of Hawaii-born Barack Obama. 

Reyes was born in Baltimore on Nov. 30, 1971, and graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1995. BJ is survived by his wife Lisa; sister Michelle Hillmeyer and her spouse Pat Hillmeyer and their sons Patrick, Aidan and Ryan Hillmeyer; brother Emil Reyes; and his mother and father, Melanie and Eriberto Reyes. Plans for a memorial will be announced at a later date.  

Here are thoughts about BJ shared by former AP (and a Star Bulletin) colleagues: 

Pete Mattiace  – B.J. had so much promise when he came to Charleston as a minority intern. He handled West Virginia news with ease. He worked all the desks and had earned his way to bigger places. Honolulu was his choice. When I tried to talk him out of it (!), he said, ‘Com’on, Pete, I’m not like the people around here.” Maybe, but his ability to so quickly to adapt and to master West Virginia news made him special. 

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Jim Suhr – Being at a loss for words definitely doesn’t happen often with me, but that’s the case tonight with news of the passing of one of the most genuine people I was blessed to know. During our shared time in the Associated Press bureau in Detroit in the late 1990s,
B.J. Reyes was a gift to us journos at a time we were chasing Kevorkian, the Red Wings were winning titles, the nation’s biggest news stories came at us hard, fast and often, and our posse salved our post-shift stresses with refuge, cold Foster’s and free pretzels at Honest John’s with our newspaper cohorts. I still consider it my most-cherished time in my three decades of journalism because our office was family, and B.J. was our sweet brother. He was a guy who just made it all fun, never mind his health challenges. He joked about his steel hip and leg and, in ensuing years, confronted what would be his five cancer diagnoses with remarkable courage and grace to the end. Rest In peace, buddy. The world is a lesser place without you, but we’re all better having shared it with you for the time we did. 

Charles Hill
 – B.J. Reyes was an excellent journalist for the AP in the Detroit, still early in his career but a fast learner who quickly earned increasing responsibilities, becoming a trusted and strong desk supervisor in a very busy news environment. Before long, New York was calling and he was promoted to the General Desk. He contributed way more than his very good journalistic talents and work ethic, though. B.J. was a wonderful person to have in the bureau, someone who very much added to the excellent chemistry and camaraderie of the team, with everyone pulling in the same direction, working hard but also having a sense of humor and perspective. He was quick to help others and make them better, and others very much wanted him to succeed. B.J was a serious journalist, but knew how to enjoy life. He made the Michigan AP a better place because of his journalism and because of the kind of person he was.
 
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Paula Froke – The Detroit bureau in the 1990s was a pressure cooker of big, breaking stories challenging a group of journalists who excelled individually, but really stood out with their teamwork and camaraderie. The staff was like a family. B.J. was the sibling whose smile, calmness and grace was ever-present no matter what crisis was breaking out. He was an incredibly hard worker and a terrific reporter and editor. But it was his strength in the face of adversity – always with good humor – that made the biggest difference. That seems to be the hallmark of his entire life. He was one of those shining spirits who stays with you, all these years later. That smile! A true gem of a person.
 
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Randi Goldberg Berris – I moved to Michigan sight unseen in 1997 for a job at the AP Detroit bureau. One of the first people I met was B.J. Reyes. We had a tightknit group of up-and-comers in that bureau, and we spent many hours together both working and playing. We spent many a night at Honest John’s or Soup Kitchen … Dee-Ann Durbin – I’m thinking of how we dragged B.J. with us to opening night of “The Titanic” and how we all cried together. The late 90s was a time well before cell phone photos became a thing, and I wish I had more memories captured on film. Maybe Burt Herman can dig up more from that fancy camera he’s holding? I am so saddened to hear of B.J.’s passing. He fought like hell through more cancer diagnoses than any one person should ever have to bear. I last saw B.J. when he came through town for the 2006 Super Bowl. He was such a special person, and I feel blessed to have known him.
 
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Marty Steinberg – I’m so saddened about B.J.’s death on Saturday. I found out via Facebook posts of former colleagues. I was moved to tears by reading his sister Michelle’s post. Given his health problems, which afflicted him for 37 of his 50 years — countless surgeries since he was diagnosed with bone cancer in a leg, according to Michelle’s post — it’s not surprising that he’s gone. But his passing cuts across the heart and leaves a huge void. When I worked with him on the General Desk, he never once complained about his health or his pain. In fact, he joked about his limp. He was the epitome of grace, dignity and courage. His passing is a huge loss for all of us. I wish his family strength and inspiration in their memories of BJ.
 
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Richard Borreca – retired Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist and state Capitol bureau chief: I worked with B.J. while he was at the state Capitol. He was just what you wanted on a story, in-depth, breaking or new trend pieces. He was the complete journalist and a good friend. His courage was unmatched and he preferred that it be mostly unsaid.
 
During one of his operations he had his old artificial knee removed and in typical BJ style he insisted on keeping the pieces to show off.
 
B.J. worked for the now defunct Honolulu Star-Bulletin starting in March 2006.
 
After working with the AP, B.J. joined the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and then the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, helping to cover the state Capitol.
 
B.J. covered the 2008 GOP National convention in St. Paul, Minn. The next year BJ and fellow Star-Advertiser reporter Rosemarie Bernardo traveled to Washington, D.C., to cover the inauguration of Hawaii-born president Barack Obama.
 
B.J.’s many ailments never stopped him from being the dependable and courageous newsman who ignored his own pain to complete the assignment.
 
While covering the presidential inauguration, B.J., who bought a tux for the event, started to develop stomach pains, which he just put aside.
 
On the 10-hour flight home from Washington, BJ’s “stomachache” turned out to be a seriously ruptured appendix requiring emergency surgery upon landing.
 
Along the way B.J. also dealt with serious diabetes, a condition that BJ all but dismissed because he loved to bake and was top notch. Staff parties were not complete without custom B.J. creations. And he never spared the frosting!
 
I have to believe that when journalism’s roll call is called, B.J. would be the one saying “Who me? Don’t bother me, I’m on deadline.”

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Michael Giarrusso – AP global sports editor – I met B.J. Reyes when he was still a Penn State student and I was AP correspondent in State College. He became our best freelancer and then applied for the AP internship program. His application never mentioned his disability or cancer survival. His work stood on its own. We stayed in touch and ended up working together on the AP General Desk in New York. Over the years, I marveled as he battled cancer and its aftereffects with mental and physical toughness. He never complained, even when we walked long icy blocks between Manhattan dive bars, usually walking faster than any of us. He showed me around Oahu when I visited Hawaii and always seemed happy exactly where he was. I loved talking to him about sports, Penn State, Filipino food and journalism. He will be missed by those he touched around the world. Sumalangit nawa my friend. 

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Tom Coyne – I was saddened to learn of the death of B.J. Reyes. I agree 100 percent with others who worked with B.J. who wrote about what a great co-worker and person he was. When I looked on the schedule and saw that I would be working with B.J. I knew that we were ready for any news that would be breaking that night. B.J. always was eager to jump into a news story. There were a lot of people like that in the Detroit bureau, but B.J. was special. He was never overwhelmed by the moment and always eager to do whatever was needed to get the job done and usually with a smile. He will be missed.

Under the Big Top

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“Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to the greatest show on earth!  What you are going to see today is stupendous!  It’s astounding!  It’s historic!  The circus is about to begin!”

Something like that is what you could expect to hear from a ringmaster at the circus, where various and sundry acts from jugglers and high-wire acrobats to trained elephants would perform for your entertainment.

Here in Hawaii, “astounding” is something our Governor said about the way our tax collections have been rebounding.  And he’s not alone.  Our Council on Revenues, the panel tasked with projecting tax collections so our lawmakers can budget accordingly, is saying that our tax revenue will swell to about $8.3 billion in the fiscal year that ends on June 30, 2022, and jump to $8.6 billion in the fiscal year after that.  These are revenue levels we have never seen before.

With this kind of money projected to come in the door, politicians of all stripes are staying up nights plotting and planning how to spend it.  Hopefully, they can perform in the legislative session beginning later this month with a flair that will have enough impact with their constituents so that they can confidently cruise to a re-election victory at the end of this year.

Gov. Ige, however, seems to be an exception.  His pitch is to squirrel away a cool billion dollars (yes, billion with a “B”) into our state rainy day fund that has, by the way, shrunk to a mere $300 million.

The public worker unions, understandably, are licking their chops and are quivering at the chance to pounce on some of that moola.  Their members have been forced to scrimp for the past several years while our economy was getting clobbered, by the national recession and then by COVID, and it’s now time to make things right.  They have a point.

Some legislators cite maintenance backlogs that have been around for years and hope that additional funding can be directed to those departments and agencies with problems so they can finally be addressed.  They certainly have a point.

Some legislators want to give their newfound wealth away to those less fortunate, and are eyeing such things as a hoist to the minimum wage, tax relief for working families such as making the state earned income tax credit refundable, and expansion of early education and affordable housing programs.  They have a point too.

We’re hoping that amidst all of the hoopla, constructive change can be made to our agencies that allegedly are either sitting on tons of money, too lazy to reach for millions of available federal dollars, too lazy to do something about bad actors picking their (and our) pockets, or are mismanaging income-producing assets.

We can look forward to all kinds of bill acrobatics, magical disappearing and appearing provisions, bills rising from the dead (yes, our supreme court made it harder to “gut and replace,” but we think some of that stuff will still be happening), and other unimaginable spectacles!

But we are going to have to patiently wait in the bleachers while all of this is going on.  Our leaders in the House and Senate, professing to be worried about rising case counts due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, have told us that the Hawaii State Capitol will remain closed to the public.  Only members, staff, and “a selected few,” we think, will be allowed in the Big Top – I mean, the big square building.  That’s how it has been for almost two years running.  In a way, it’s like entertainment where we’re allowed to see the performances but, for the most part, not participate in the action.

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, the circus is about to begin!

Coffman shines a light on the aftermath of December 7, 1942 for Hawaii’s AJA community

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I can’t think of another writer who has covered contemporary Hawai`i history as thoroughly and prolifically as Kailua-based, Tom Coffman. Don’t let the “prolific” part mislead you. Tom is every bit as thoughtful and assiduous in his research in every project he takes on.

Being in front of his keyboard is part of his makeup and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

His most recent book, INCLUSION: How Hawai`i Protected Japanese Americans from Mass Internment, Transformed Itself, and Changed America focuses on the post December 7, 1942 period.

Tom Coffman, a political journalist and leading historian of modern Hawaii

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States government interned the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry evicted from scattered settlements throughout the West Coast. Why was a much larger number concentrated in the Hawaiian Islands war zone not interned?

As the author explains, at the root of the story is an inclusive community that worked from the ground up to protect an embattled segment of its population. Where the onset of World War II surprised the American public, war with Japan arrived in Hawaii in slow motion. Responding to numerous signs of impending conflict, a Council for Interracial Unity mapped two goals:  Minimize internment and maximize inclusion in the war effort. The Council’s aspirational work was expressed in a widely-repeated saying: How we get along during the war will determine how we get along when the war is over. The Army Command of Hawai`i, reassured by first-hand acquaintances, came to believe Trust breeds trust.

Where most histories have shielded President Franklin D. Roosevelt from direct responsibility for the U.S. mainland internment, his relentless demands for a mass removal from Hawai`i—ultimately thwarted—reveal him as author and actor. In making sense of the disparity between Island and mainland, Inclusion unravels the deep history of the U.S. “sabotage psychosis,” dissecting why many continental Americans still believe Japan succeeded at Pearl Harbor because of the unseen hand of Japanese saboteurs. Contrary to the explanation of hysteria as the cause of the internment, Inclusion documents how a high-level plan of mass removal actually was pitched to the U.S. Army command in Hawaii well before December 7, only to be rejected.

A Japanese American shop, Asahi Dye Works, closing. The notice on the front is a reference to Owens Valley being the first and one of the largest Japanese American detention centers

Inclusivity developed in strategic steps, from prewar community-building to the shock of threatened invasion, to demoralization, to morale-building, and ultimately to the performance of Japanese American troops in the U.S. military. The last step was formation of the State of Hawaii.

The inclusivity of Hawai`i did not just happen. It has history. So far as this history resulted from conscious intention, it poses the issue of what sort of conscious intention would be required to create a more inclusive America today.

What Scholars Are Saying

Inclusion is of singular worldwide public and academic importance. It lifts up Hawai‘i’s interethnic history to show how small groups with a common goal and working cooperatively can result in wondrous social change.” —Tetsuden Kashima, author of Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II

“Brilliant and meticulous, Tom Coffman reveals the people and forces that spared territorial Hawai‘i’s Japanese populace from mass removal after Pearl Harbor…the heroes of this  story were inspired by an idealism and aloha that the world can learn from today.”— Mark Matsunaga, journalist and World War II historian

A child is “Tagged for evacuation”, Salinas, California, May 1942. Photo by Russell Lee.

“Tom Coffman has broken new ground on the tragic history of the Japanese American internment. Now we know the Hawai‘i chapter is a crucial part of the story—and Coffman tells it with authority and verve. —Kai Bird, Leon Levy Center for Biography, CUNY Graduate Center; author of John J. McCloy & the Making of the American Establishment

“Tom Coffman has produced a definitive account of Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Hawai‘i during World War II. Packed with fascinating details, Tom Coffman’s work enlarges our understanding of this key era in American history.”—Greg Robinson, Université du Québec à Montréal, author of By Order of the President and A Tragedy of Democracy

“It is unlikely that a work of this breadth and magnitude will come around again anytime soon, especially as many of the historical actors interviewed by the author have passed away. I know of no account that attempts to treat as many separate threads of historiography in a single account.”— Corey M. Johnson, Stanford University and University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

Tom Coffman is a political reporter and author of six books, including Nation Within and Catch A Wave. First Battle and Ninoy Aquino are among his widely broadcast documentaries. He is a three-time recipient of the Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association’s award for nonfiction writing, and for his cumulative work he received the Hawai‘i Award for Literature.

University of Hawai‘i Press; 359 pages, publication date October 2021; paperback $24.95; hardcover $80

The Euro Dream House: Part 2

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Examining the house with the realtor

Editor’s Note:  The dream of buying an old house in the countryside for cheap and then remodeling it captured our man in Europe, Kurt Stewart, in 2020. This is Part 2 of his two-part story about what happened when he realized that dream.

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Part 2Running out of fantasy

“It has great potential” – that’s what Herzog must have thought too.

The story behind the making of Fitzcarraldo is legendary. Documentary filmmaker Les Blank was on set with Herzog to capture the sheer madness of attempting a film of this order. There are scenes in the documentary that show Herzog on the verge of losing his mind. At one point, an exasperated Herzog declares, “I’m running out of fantasy. I don’t know what else can happen now”.

And it’s no wonder. The production was beset by a string of other-worldly catastrophes: attacks from hostile Indians, diseases, plane crashes, venomous snake bites, violent tropical rainstorms, mental breakdowns of cast and crew and a two-year stoppage when they were forced to find another location some 1,500 miles away.

The actor Jason Robards was originally cast as Fitzgerald but had to quit the production when he was stricken with amoebic dysentery. Mick Jagger was also cast in the film but dropped out too. He left for commitments for a new album and concert tour after nearly 40 % of the film had been shot. The film had to be scrapped and started from scratch again with new actors to fill the roles.

Herzog’s investors in Germany were ready to pull the plug on the film. When they asked him if he had the strength and will to finish the film, Herzog responded, “How can you ask me this question? If I abandoned this project, I would be a man without dreams”.

Imagine this dream then: you are in a jungle, but it’s not the Amazon rainforest – it’s your new house. You arrive, like Herzog, with the idea of making it your masterpiece. It has the raw materials to be something special – an old stone house in the countryside, the way you always dreamed.

It’s almost romantic – it would be, if only the nagging question of limited financial resources (money?) wasn’t hiding in the underbrush like a python ready to swallow you whole.

Contractors on the job

That day when you signed the contract, your realtor pulled you aside and said, “There will be some remodeling to do but it shouldn’t cost you more than __________”.

You’ve already forgotten what that dollar amount was. Trauma has erased it from your memory. It was low, that number. Much, much lower than what you later discovered would be the true cost of renovating this very old, very stone house.

 Slowly, surprises crop up that you hadn’t expected. At all.

Like a septic tank on the brink of exploding. The realtor forgot to mention that. It turns out that the tank itself is way too small for a house of this size anyway. So now you have to pay a visit to the local town hall. Eventually they’ll send an inspector over to determine how they can connect your house to the local sewage system. Costs to be determined.  

Stairway to heaven?

 Like the windows. You knew they were old, but that they ALL had to be replaced? Double-glazing those more than 20 windows? Your heart stops beating. And throw in all the doors for that matter. The wind and rain are pouring through them now. Costs: about the same amount as what the realtor had estimated for the renovation of the entire house!

Like… you can imagine. The expenses are piling up. As for finding contractors, good luck. Their services are in high demand and they are hopping between a half dozen different job sites. They are so over-committed that they frequently leave you in the middle of the job to complete another one somewhere else.

It has happened on four different occasions where the work is suspended for months at a time. The house is left looking like a construction site halted for the holidays. They couldn’t give a definitive date for when they’d be back: maybe a month, maybe three or four – who knew?

And now throw Covid into the mix, and you have a recipe for a steamship-sized disaster.

The “adega” before renovation

Picture large holes in the walls waiting to be filled, tubing and wiring hanging from the rafters, blocks of granite in piles of rubble, half installed bathrooms, floorboards with large gaps giving view to the basement, and kitchens left unfitted.

The surprises keep coming. All the electrical wiring has to be pulled out and re-installed. The plumbing is more of the same. The costs are piling up, but this is your dream home. You are far too deep in the jungle now to think of abandoning the project.

Like Herzog going mad in the Amazon, you too are losing it. The only option is to keep moving forward.

The words “It has great potential” come floating back to you every day.

“Potential! Potential! Potential!” – the potential to rain financial ruin down upon you, your children and their children’s children.

The “adega” after renovation

But this is much bigger than a simple story about caveat emptor, of cost overruns, of a money pit or of just plain ignorance. It’s not even a cautionary tale. Yes, it’s costing us more than we bargained for. And yes, there are headaches galore trying to put it all together.

But if you asked me if I’ve ever wanted to abandon it all, if I in fact have the will to finish it, I’d say “How can you ask me this question? If I abandoned this project, I would be a man without dreams”. Yeah, it boils down to a simple, sleep-depriving dream.

 The dream is to make a place that we can share with others who are looking for something different in the way of rural tourism, what is known in Portugal as “Alojamento Local”. So when all is finally completed, we will have a separate studio in what used to be the “adega” (wine cellar), where we can receive guests. We are listed on AirBnB and the entire house will eventually be open for vacation rentals.

Interior, dining area

This is part of a bigger project involving European funding to help create employment possibilities in and around the center of Portugal. Our business offers a combination of rural and urban stays in three different locations in Portugal: Porto, in the city center, Tras-os-Montes, in the rural north-east of the country, and now here, in the center near the city of Viseu.

At the end of Fitzcarraldo, Fitzgerald and his crew have managed to salvage some of the tattered steamship after its trip down the rapids. And improbably, Enrico Caruso does come to the Amazon. In the conclusion of the film, we see him singing on the Molly Aida in a makeshift performance of Bellini’s I Puritani, with full symphony backing. Fitzgerald watches from the deck of the ship, smoking a cigar in triumph.

What is the lesson in all of this? There is none – buy a very old stone house for a euro or a million euros, or don’t. Take a chance on flubbing it all, making all the classic newbie mistakes. Whatever happens, have faith that Caruso will show up, eventually.

And even if you happen to run out of money, don’t run out of fantasy.

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Kurt Stewart is a writer, educator and entrepreneur who has been telling stories about the places he has lived and worked for more than 35 years.  

After leaving his native San Francisco in 1981, he began his writing career in Paris where he wrote feature articles for Paris Passion magazine and USA Today. He later moved to Portugal where he taught in the School of Film and Television at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Porto. He spent several years in Malaysia working with the Ministry of Education training teachers in the public schools. While there, he wrote travel stories for the Hawaii Reporter. His latest venture involves country living in the heart of Portugal’s still undiscovered central region.

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TANF Hoarding

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One of the ways our government provides a safety net for those less fortunate is through a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.  TANF was enacted in 1996 as a program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which used to provide cash assistance to families with children experiencing poverty.  Under TANF, the federal government provides a block grant to the states, which then use these funds to run their own programs.  To receive federal funds, states must also spend some of their own dollars on those programs and face severe fiscal penalties if they fail to do so.  This state-spending requirement, known as the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) requirement, replaced the state match that AFDC required.

States can use federal TANF and state MOE dollars to meet any of the four goals set out in the 1996 law: (1) assisting needy families so children can be cared for in their own homes or the homes of relatives; (2) reducing the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) preventing pregnancies among unmarried persons; and (4) encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

These goals are broad, giving states lots of freedom to use these federal dollars in a way that they think brings about positive outcomes.

So what have we done with the federal TANF money?

We’ve let it pile up unused.

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, recently published an unflattering article that calls out several states for doing nothing at all with large sums of money.  It reports:  “According to recently released federal data, states are sitting on $5.2 billion in unspent funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. Nearly $700 million was added to the total during the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, with Hawaii, Tennessee and Maine hoarding the most cash per person living at or below the federal poverty line.”

Source:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

As this graph shows, the “unobligated balance” of the federal block grants, meaning federally authorized money that we haven’t spent, has been rising steadily over the last five fiscal years.  In federal fiscal year 2020 (the year starting Oct. 1, 2019, and ending Sept. 30, 2020), our unobligated balance was $364 million, equivalent to almost $3,000 per person living in poverty.

Certainly, we have been using part of the TANF money.  But we have been spending quite a bit of our own funds:

According to ProPublica, a Hawaii state spokesperson said that our state government plans to use its surplus to extend employment services like job coaching and placement for noncustodial parents who have children receiving TANF and to provide diaper assistance to families that are eligible for the program.  The state is also considering increasing benefits and offering monthly housing assistance.

The question, however, is why has it taken so long for our bureaucrats to come up with ways to put that money to good use?  It certainly won’t help alleviate poverty if it’s sitting in some bank somewhere.

Legislators and other interested people:  Here’s your chance.  The Legislature is now grilling each of the Executive Branch departments for answers on how they plan to spend your hard-earned dollars.  It’s a great time to ask the Department of Human Services what the heck is going on with their steadily growing wad of unused TANF cash.