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    A Letter to my Grandchildren–Part 1

    by Lou Darnell

    Editor’s Note: This letter (the first of a two part series) was written by my friend, Lou Darnell. He founded an IT company called Comtel in Honolulu and later joined ranks with Vistage, a worldwide executive coaching company. Tall, with an understated but commanding presence, Lou has been a fixture in our community for many years.

    I met him at a local business event a few decades ago and spoke to him recently after a long hiatus. Unbeknownst to me, he was in hospice care. Still sharp and articulate as ever, we spoke at length. He mentioned that he had written a letter to his grandchildren in an effort to pass on the legacy of his life lessons. I was moved by this letter and thought it deserved a larger audience. I worked with him to modify the piece.

    In his own words, Lou’s introduction goes like this:

    I was born in Italy during WWII, out of wedlock, and adopted by an American soldier, most of my childhood was traveling with him to places like Berlin, Okinawa and California. I was drafted in the U.S. Army during Vietnam War. I served in the military for over 27 years, posted in Germany, Japan, Korea and at least eight states.

    I raised three children and after 53 years am still happily married to their mother.

    My skills include understanding people and gaining their trust; planning at operational and strategic levels; managing complexity and uncertainty and coaching through life’s challenges. My passions include achieving goals; being a good husband and father; helping others be who they want to be and maintaining strong mental and physical fitness. I am an illuminator for people to see with renewed energy and determination.

    The purpose of my letter is to describe principles that have served me well in achieving a life of meaning.  You will be challenged many times by events you can’t foresee or imagine.  When those tough events happen, thoroughly understand the facts; develop alternative courses of action and devise a plan most consistent with your values and beliefs.  Keep your goals and priorities in mind and don’t give up. You may often not be confident but believe in yourself. Knowing yourself and your situation and available resources is key.

    The Letter

    (From left) Linda Giles, Matthew Darnell, Louis Jr, Dolei (Peni) Darnell

    Upon High School Graduation

    High school graduation is an important milestone in your life’s journey.  Applying the following ideas will result in a life of meaning—if you’re lucky.

    Why luck? You have to recognize the opportunities when and if they come your way. Then you must seize them.

    To date, many of your decisions have been guided by your parents for good reasons.  Soon, your freedom to choose will test your values, purpose and self-discipline. Regardless of temptations, living a life that honors your purpose and values will enable success, fulfilment and a positive self-image.

    Only you know if you have any self-doubt masked by your confident and positive presence.  I clearly remember my unfounded confidence at your age.  I was happy, strong, optimistic, and excited about the future.  I had little appreciation of the challenges I would face over the next 40 years.

    After my high school graduation, I remember an old family friend giving me some unsolicited advice.  I acted interested but didn’t feel I needed his outdated advice.  I was strong, happy and could do anything.  I just wanted to fly from the nest with no particular objective in mind. My guess is you are in a similar frame of mind.

    I remember!  I also want you to have the benefit of the important things I have learned in my life.  My hope is you avoid my mistakes and take advantage of my beliefs and methods.  I know much of what I write won’t resonate because experience is often a precursor for understanding new ways of thinking.

    After leaving college and joining the Army, I quickly realized my athletic and social skills didn’t make up for my shortage of professional skills.  Skills like writing, speaking and leadership.  I studied my competitors who were outperforming me. I realized they had the advantage of strong families who mentored and supported them, and that they had successfully completed college. 

    Their success didn’t come because they were athletic, popular or nice.  Those traits are strong assets, but success doesn’t necessarily accompany them.  Your success will always be based on how well you perform on the job in comparison to your peers.  Your job performance will be dependent on your attitude, knowledge, skills when under pressure.  Getting good college grades will be a good predictor of your readiness to compete successfully in the workplace.

    Captain Darnell in Vietnam, 1968

    Taking the Next Steps

    In the competitive race for professional success, I have seen three types of “pre-race” situations. Which do you want to adopt?

    1. Successful college graduates are usually the fast starters.  In college, they managed their time; earned high grades through study and developed their communication skills.

    Those with strong potential but underperformed in their class work.  These people usually practiced the same habits on the job and went on to have average careers.  I fell into this category but was lucky to have a great mentor who lit a fire in me.  Without his encouragement and belief in me, I could have easily ended up with a blue-collar career.

    What race position do you want to be in upon graduation from college?  This is a decision only you can make, and you should make it now because, as you know, it is hard to catch up.

    Journey into Self

    I have presented the following principles and skills but as the saying goes, “talk is cheap”. These need to be understood and applied to have any impact. Please read them carefully.  You have defined your purpose, which will prove to be a valuable decision-making guide but remember, purpose can change with time. Redefining purpose and gaining more knowledge and honing skills will be a lifelong pursuit.  The journey into self is the longest of all.

    Developing yourself in each area listed below will provide a foundation for living a satisfying life filled with meaning. 

    1. Character – traits, qualities, values you honor by your behavior and actions.
    2. Physical health – eat healthy and stay strong.
    3. Cognitive – conscious intellectual activities such as thinking, reasoning, and remembering.
    4. Knowledge – what is learned and understood.
    5. Skills – the how, why and when to apply knowledge.
    6. Intrapersonal – you talk to yourself more than anyone else. What do your “voices” tell you?
    7. Interpersonal – your quality of life is largely dependent on the quality of your personal relationships. Leadership is a major aspect of this domain.
    8. Mindset – mental attitude or inclination. For example, learn and practice Emotional and Positive Intelligence concepts.
    9. Leadership – This is an art with an infinite set of variables that requires understanding people well enough to be persuasive.
    10. Listen to understand, not to just respond.
    One of Lou’s duties in Vietnam was to work in Civil Affairs–dealing directly with the Vietnamese civilians. It was a position he very much enjoyed and felt was an important contribution. He’s pictured here with a priest.

    You have considerable influence over all the above. 

    Continue developing your character, cognitive abilities and your mindset and mastering your self-limiting beliefs.  New skills and attitudes always feel awkward and artificial.  Don’t let those feelings stop you.  If you are comfortable, you aren’t growing. 

    Thinking Independently

    Your transition to college reminds me of my transitions from elementary school to college.

    a. In my first days of school, I was excited but worried about whether the others would accept me since I was an immigrant. That insecurity and need for acceptance followed me for most of my life. I was determined to learn English, so I taught myself how to read with comic books. How I did it, I have no idea, but the point here is if you want something, do your best to get it despite obstacles. Few things in your life will be impossible even though they may appear so. Know what you want and take the first step and the next, and the next….

    b. In my first day of seventh grade, I kept waiting for recess and was shocked when I learned we didn’t do recess anymore. I had to accept realities and adjust my expectations.

    c. High School required changes like walking all over campus to get to my next class. I was introduced to challenging team sports requiring strength, discipline, and teamwork. I became part of a team and not just an individual.

    d. In college, kids were as smart or in many cases, smarter than me. For the first time, I doubted my ability to compete. what it took academically. I wondered if I was good enough. Also, for the first time, I became solely responsible for learning. It was not the teacher’s job to emphasize what they wanted me to learn. I had to find the discipline to study and learn. With that responsibility came the freedom to consider and evaluate new ideas. Unfortunately, the freedom to manage my time failed me as I struggled to maintain minimum academic requirements.

    e. After leaving WSU and getting married, I was drafted into the Army due to the Vietnam War. After a couple of years, I was lucky my superiors saw potential in me and had a minimum of two years of college credits. After applying, the Army paid for me to return to college to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Without much effort, I achieved a 3.95 GPA and wondered why college was so hard the first time. I wasn’t smarter but I was wiser.

    f. The difference was I knew why college was important and I was motivated to excel. I paid attention in lectures; established relationships with professors and teaching assistants; learned the professor’s reputation before registering for a course and figured out what a professor wanted me to write on an exam.

    g. In addition to learning theory and concepts in college, good grades indicate your ability to learn how to take advantage of the “system.” I don’t mean to cheat but to understand what you need to do for good grades and then to execute. Your future superiors will look for the same skills and dedication in your work.

    Loui was born in Italy, March 5, 1944

    Rules for College

    1. Your college success will be largely dependent on your ability to prioritize and balance your time.  Always remember the more you demonstrate having been a good student, the more post college options will be offered.     
    2. Expand your world of knowledge and beliefs; never forget what your parents and Boy Scouts have instilled in you; have fun and stay physically fit.  Remember there is a “ditch on both sides of the road.”  You can go too far in either direction.  Determine the optimum balance of study and fun.
    3. Designate recurring times for study.
    4. Find places where you can concentrate on reading assignments without distractions.
    5. Getting good grades is a measure of your discipline, aptitude and ability to learn professors’ teaching objectives. 
    6. Exercise your ability to think critically and articulate your thoughts during philosophical “talk story” sessions.
    7. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get enough sleep.
    8. Manage your course selections to satisfy degree requirements within four years. Don’t rely totally on your counselor’s guidance.  Be sure you understand graduation requirements.  Even if a class is full, see the professor and ask for an exception to admit you to the course.  Know what you want/need and use your thinking and communication skills to make things happen!
    9. Listen to Understand and Not to Respond.
    10. Take advantage of professors’ and teaching assistants’ office hours. See them early in a course and ask what their teaching objectives are and what they would like you to get out of their course.  Before going, read the course syllabus and relevant handout material to be best prepared for the discussion.  Few students will go to their professors but don’t follow their lead.  On your first job, do you want to be seen as average or do you want to stand out from the crowd?  Professors are there for you and they will love having an interested student.  Don’t hold back.  This is a good practice for later in life as well.
    11. Have fun but have courage to not follow the “herd” when you know doing so would be wrong.
    12. Be assertive in seeking what you want and need in college and life. Note the difference between being assertive and aggressive. I want to encourage you to be assertive. Being assertive can be defined as working to achieve something in all parties’ best interest. You need to know what you want and know how to ask for it firmly and politely. Being aggressive, on the other hand, can lead to a “winner and loser” scenario. Think of someone being aggressive when they pursue something only in their best interest.

    a. You have a sensitive and caring nature which makes it hard to risk offending someone. During your college and work years, no one is going to approach you to ask what you want. You will continue competing with your fellow students and peers for the rest of your life. For example, you could have been more assertive in getting your high school to validate to Microsoft that you were a student or getting a teacher to write an Eagle Scout recommendation.

    b. Your goals for going to college is not only to please those you love. You will be building the second major, educational foundation for the rest of your life.

    c. Skills that will set you apart when applying for a job after graduation include:
    i. Communication in all forms – writing, speaking and listening.
    ii. Analytic – understanding the challenge or problem
    iii. Planning and scheduling
    iv. Interpersonal skills that include leadership

    Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series

    Save the Planet

    Anthems of progress and hope: “save the planet” . . . “save the earth”. Well meaning sentiments issuing from frightened people who see where it is going and want to make it right again . . . so that their children and grandchildren can enjoy and bask in the lush carpet of life that once covered the planet we call “ours”. Nice, poignant, redeeming . . . ridiculous.

    A good opportunity for happy talk about how, now that we know what is happening, we can turn things around and fix it. If we were able to destabilize the core patterns of an entire planet, surely we are capable of finding that elusive re – set button and returning to happier times.

    Fact Check:

    1- It isn’t “our” world.

    2 – There is no re-set or resurrection button for “saving” an annihilated global ecosphere that took millions of years to evolve.

    3 – When destabilized, any system in nature will seek a new balance. Here, we are dealing with a planet, a complex, living world that is part of an infinitely extended universe. The process is light years beyond our ability to control, predict or model.

    4 – There is no “going back” to anything.
    “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” (Heraclitus)

    5 – Even if, by some miracle, the global community were to fully cooperate in retooling for sustainability, mitigation is, most likely, the only possibility left.

    However, there is no sign of that cooperation. Instead, all of the primary toxic activity that has brought us to this crisis point has increased rather than decreased. Fossil fuel consumption, war, unbridled industrial pollution of the earth, atmosphere and oceans have not paused or skipped a beat.

    6 – It would be difficult not to notice the stunning hypocrisy in the charade of “world leaders” pretending to solve the problem.

    • Speakers at UN’s COP28 climate summit this year in the United Arab Emirates were told not to protest or “criticize corporations” in a warning that cited the Gulf state’s laws.
      The host nation has appointed Sultan al-Jaber, (head of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned oil company Adnoc), to the presidency of COP28. Guess where his interests lie?
    • An enormous portion of the Gulf of Mexico, spanning an area the size of Italy, was recently put up for auction for oil and gas drilling, in the latest blow to Joe Biden’s reputation on dealing with the climate crisis.
    • Fox News: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently called on wealthy nations to move up its net-zero emissions goal from 2050 to 2040. A recent memo was sent to every Republican member of Congress urging lawmakers to dismiss the United Nations’ “alarmist report” on climate change.
    • *According to an annual Banking on Climate Chaos report released April 12, 2023, the world’s 60 largest banks have spent $5.5 trillion on financing fossil fuel projects since 2016, when the Paris Agreement climate pact came into effect. Banks in six countries dominate global financial spending on the fossil fuel sector : United States, Canada, China, Japan, France and Great Britain. US banks provided 28 per cent of the total financing in 2022.
    • Exception: The only world leader not leading a war or weapons based economy and who is not owned by industrial lobbyists, Pope Francis, reminds us : “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.”

    Life on planet earth is diminishing. The rate at which this is happening is not slowing down. It is increasing. This is not speculation. It is a fact. It is not debatable. It is real.

    Studies, reports, simulations, models, special panels, etc. . . . “trim” . . . sincere and honest busywork meant for consumer consumption . . . but too limited in scope to encompass the enormity of rapid, dynamic, global, environmental free – fall.
    The only possible way to slow down or mitigate the ongoing destabilization of the environment is by international cooperation in stopping the activities fueling the meltdown (we all know what these are) and sucking up the economic costs and hardships of massive retooling for sustainability. Difficult, but it’s the only choice.

    People are extraordinary engineers and have the capability to achieve this. The key is not debate or talking or compiling reports. The key is simply doing it.

    Save the Planet

    “It’s a deal. All you people hear that ?”
    from Factotum
    by Charles Bukowski

    Preview attachment Apollos Realm.jpg

    Apollo’s Realm (Joe Carlisi)


    Joseph Carlisi – Biography     

    Born and raised in New York City, he earned BA and MA degrees in Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York and then continued his graduate studies in Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology working under the mentorship of Marvin Minsky. Joseph worked as a part time content and copy editor for Harvard University Press (science and medicine) while attending M.I.T.     

    After ten years as a university lecturer, researcher and administrator, he started and managed an advertising / public relations firm in San Diego, CA that handled a wide range of commercial accounts. On the academic side, he published a series of seven articles on animal behavior for Harvard Magazine and two books: “A Guide to Personal Power” and most recently “Playing God on the Eve of Extinction”.

    Joseph Carlisi creates oil on canvas paintings that can be described as vivid, surreal and unexpected. His paintings have been exhibited and sold in: Honolulu, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, Miami, Tokyo, Yokohama, Amsterdam, Berlin and Salvador Brazil.

    Joe’s art is available for purchase.

    Contact him at


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    Tax Relief, RIP

    “Alas, poor Yorick!  I knew him [well].”

    In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Yorick was the court jester who had become a skull by the time Ophelia’s burial takes place and Hamlet talks about him.  This legislative session, the same fate has befallen the broad-based tax reform proposal that would have widened our income tax brackets, increased the standard deduction, and hoisted the personal exemption amount.  The proposal was initially made by the Governor as a key piece of the “Green Affordability Plan,” and then was shuffled between bills by the House and Senate money chairs, winding up in House Bill 954 before a House-Senate conference committee got rid of it.

    The conference draft doesn’t leave Hawaii taxpayers with nothing.  It more than doubles the amount of expenses that can be taken into account for the credit for child and dependent care expenses.  It doubles the state Earned Income Tax Credit, from 20% of the federal amount to 40%.  It doubles many of the amounts in the food/excise tax credit and makes it available to single filers making up to $40,000 per year and other individual taxpayers making up to $60,000 per year.

    But every one of the above credit enhancements has been given only a five-year life.  All of them go away on January 1, 2028.

    Certainly, having an enhanced credit on the books, even with a limited life, is better than nothing at all.  Future legislatures can, and often do, tinker with the sunset date of temporary tax legislation.  On occasion, they get rid of the sunset date entirely (which we have seen all too often in “temporary” tax increases).

    Hawaii taxpayers, as we have argued before, are already heading for the exits as shown by census numbers.  The State has some leftover cash this year between a faster than expected economic recovery and federal pandemic relief funds.  We were hoping that the legislature would consider Governor Green’s initiative and give Hawaii taxpayers some permanent tax relief.

    When Civil Beat asked House Speaker Saiki, he replied that the proposed changes to the income tax structure were too complicated.  “Bracket changes are complicated, so they have to be really thought out,” Saiki reportedly said.

    What’s so difficult about bracket changes?  The IRS and many States change their income tax brackets every year because of inflation adjustments.  I’ve never heard anyone say Hawaii’s tax code is easier or simpler because the bracket amounts don’t change.  Instead, as we argued nine years ago, keeping the brackets the same while inflation takes hold and the cost of living rises results in the higher tax rates biting more and more people at the lower end of the income spectrum.  In other words, we are taxing the poor deeper into poverty as time goes on.

    If the real problem is that lawmakers can’t stomach tax cuts for “the wealthy,” however that term is defined, and therefore will automatically reject any proposal that gives tax relief across the board (because it includes cuts for the so-called wealthy), then these lawmakers should be prepared for the one-way flights out of here that these alleged wealthy folks will be taking when they find that it gets tougher and tougher to make ends meet.

    Tax relief to be, or not to be?  That is the question.  For now, it is not to be.

    General excise tax exemptions flatline for groceries and medical services

    By Keli‘i Akina

    As Shakespeare might have put it: “Friends, neighbors, taxpayers, lend me your ears. I have come to bury the Hawaii Legislature, not to praise it. The bad laws our legislators enact live after them, while the good are oft interred in committees.”

    Keli’i Akina

    That is certainly what happened to the many good proposals to exempt basic necessities such as groceries and doctor visits from the state general excise tax. The measures were among the most promising reforms introduced in the 2023 legislative session. Yet, they all died while many bad bills moved forward.

    It was an opportunity for the Legislature to pass transformative legislation that would help bring down the cost of living and counter Hawaii’s critical, sometimes heartbreaking shortage of doctors. The GET proposals were simple and clear — and they even had the support of the governor.

    Which made their demise even more frustrating to witness.

    Several bills, including HB1050 and SB1348, focused on groceries and over-the-counter medicines, including feminine hygiene products. Eliminating the GET on groceries was a popular part of Gov. Josh Green’s election campaign, as it represented an easy way to lower the cost of living for so many Hawaii families

    A tax cut for groceries would have made a difference for Hawaii residents at every level, not just one economic segment. It also would have helped people immediately, not next year when filing their income taxes.

    As for the failed proposals that exempt medical services from the GET, a recent report from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii showed that adopting such a policy wouldn’t just help make healthcare more affordable, it would also make the state more attractive to doctors.

    Hawaii is one of only two states to tax medical services and the only state to tax services rendered through Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE. Local doctors have testified that the GET on medical services makes it difficult for private practices to survive in Hawaii, thereby contributing to the state’s doctor shortage.

    But even with strong support from the medical community, none of the bills that addressed the GET on medical services made it through both chambers of the Legislature. Those include SB102HB240SB1128HB662, and SB1035.

    And it’s not like any of these GET proposals were radical or even unusual. In fact, most Americans don’t have to pay a sales tax on their groceries or medical services.

    Moreover, Hawaii could easily afford these tax cuts, considering that the state is projected to have billions of dollars in surplus over the next few years.

    It’s even possible that some, if not all, of the revenues lost due to the grocery and medical services exemptions would be offset by revenues generated from increased economic activity resulting from the tax cuts.

    Nevertheless, during this past legislative session we heard all the excuses for the demise of the GET exemption bills — budget concerns, we might be heading into a recession, not enough data about the cost of the tax cut, more pressing issues to be addressed, etc., etc.

    But that’s all they were … excuses. There is a strong case to be made for these exemptions, and they deserved a full and thoughtful hearing.

    In fairness, there were several legislators who tried very hard to get these tax cuts passed, who clearly understood how important they are to Hawaii residents. To them, I say: “Thank you.”

    Looking ahead, I’m hopeful more legislators will be on board with these proposals next year, with even more public support to drive them forward.

    If you would like to learn more about what transpired during the latest legislative session, please attend one of our “legislative wrap-up” events this coming week.

    Our policy and advocacy teams will be sharing their frontline insights at luncheons on MauiHawaii Island and Oahu — on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively — and we’d love to see you there.


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

    My Medicare Nightmare


    Author’s Note: It’s been a pretty rough couple of years for me health-wise, but thankfully I am still here, having survived the latest close scrapes with death. Indeed, I am wondering when I may eventually run out of ‘cat lives’!  After going off my bike and breaking my hip in March 2021, then surviving a blood clot in my lung (pulmonary embolism) that nearly killed me, and this past year 2022, dealing with an evolving kaleidoscope of strange and troubling systemic symptoms (suspiciously coinciding with my mRNA shots, which at the time I was grateful to get as my lung was still recovering from the embolism.)  And just when I thought I could finally get national healthcare coverage in the USA (I turned 65 in January) the system was confusing and international mail was an issue, so my government health insurance was cancelled. But not before I ran up some horrendous medical bills while in the USA – all the time, being told I was covered, which, thanks to failed communication in a very complex bureaucratic system, turned out to be false! And yet, somehow, I survived – again!

    As a retired American living in Asia for over 30 years, I routinely enjoy affordable state-of-the-art healthcare in Thailand, which has included life-saving procedures in some instances. Whenever I travel to the USA, I purchase medicine and medical supplies in Thailand, where the identical products are a fraction of the costs in the USA. Indeed, most travel insurance policies offer health care coverage globally, ‘except in the USA.’ So, when I turned 65 in January 2022, which is the eligible age for US government health insurance Medicare, I was excited to finally have guaranteed healthcare coverage in the USA, like my friends from countries all over the world take for granted.

    President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Medicare amendment, July 30, 1965. Former President Harry S. Truman (seated) and his wife, Bess, are on the far right. (Wikimedia Commons)

    The USA is the only industrialized country in the world that does not have some form of government-guaranteed or ‘universal’ healthcare coverage for all of its citizens. More than 30 million Americans don’t have health insurance and millions more are underinsured. 68,000 Americans die every year because they are uninsured or under-insured. Furthermore, even with insurance, medical costs are so high that medical bills cause bankruptcy for half a million people each year in the USA, the number one cause of bankruptcy [1].  Even in Thailand, the government provides universal healthcare through the public health system to all of the country’s citizens. And healthcare costs in Thailand’s private hospitals, which are more like 5-star hotels than hospitals, are significantly less than the costs in the USA [2].

    In early February 2022, shortly after I applied for Medicare coverage, I was contacted by the Federal Benefits Unit (FBU) at the American Embassy in Manila, Philippines, which provides services for the SSA and other benefit agencies to customers in over 40 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. They wanted to confirm my mailing address in Thailand, and informed me that all documentation had to be sent by postal mail from SSA headquarters in Maryland, USA. In the past, I have received an annual statement by postal mail from SSA headquarters in Maryland, so clearly, they had my correct mailing address.

    Front entrance to Bumrungrad International Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand

    By July, I was preparing to travel to the USA for seven months of seasonal work, and I still had not received any information from SSA to explain how my new Medicare coverage worked. I was, however, able to access my online SSA ‘Benefit Verification Letter’ which stated clearly that I was covered under both Part A (hospitalization) and Part B (medical). But even this online ‘verification’ letter made no mention of the required monthly premiums for Part B coverage, nor was there any mention of the 20% ‘co-pay’ responsibility for both Part A and Part B healthcare bills. Only Americans know what a co-pay is. In other developed countries where universal access to healthcare is the norm, this is unheard of! Given the extremely high healthcare costs in the USA, a 20% coinsurance expense can be a substantial out-of-pocket cost. The shocking racist origins of the 20% ‘co-pay’ requirements for Medicare are explained in “The Racist History of American Healthcare” [3] whereby the co-pay was intended to deny access to African Americans, who were deemed unlikely to be able to afford it.

    Soon after arriving in the US, I contacted SSA to request information and documentation explaining about my new Medicare coverage, a Medicare card, anything – at which point they told me that my Part B coverage had been cancelled due to non-payment of the monthly premiums. I knew nothing of this – having received no invoices, nor the amount due, how and where to pay, etc. I wondered if this was because of my Thailand address, which was confirmed numerous times by email and telephone with the FBU field office at the US Embassy in Manila. I still, sixteen months later, have not received any documentation from SSA.

    But the SSA representative told me not to worry and that Part A would cover any hospitalization, including ER visits (as this would be ‘technically entering the hospital’). Crucially, this advice turned out to be incorrect, and I found out only after I had run up thousands of dollars in ER bills at hospitals in New York and Colorado that this was covered only under Part B.

    However, SSA informed me I could back-pay the Part B premiums for all of 2022 which would reinstate my coverage retroactively for the entire year.  SSA cashed my check for $2,000 in October and my Part B coverage was finally reinstated (5 months later!) in March 2023. During this time, I needed some costly diagnostic tests (which I was told only a medical specialist could order – which, of course, added another layer of cost in the ‘for-profit’ American Healthcare System strategy). So, after three months waiting to see a medical specialist, I was told by that office that since my Part B was still not reinstated, I would have to pay the consultation fee of $472 (no testing included) cash up front. I was given the option to reschedule a later appointment when my Part B might be reinstated. But the next available appointment was another three months wait!! Thankfully, I was not dealing with an aggressive cancer – I would be dead, just waiting to get some medical attention!!!

    So, after seven rather sickly months in otherwise enjoyable seasonal jobs at YMCAs in upstate New York and the Colorado Rockies, teaching yoga and meditation and supporting the international seasonal staff program as before, I was looking forward to ‘escaping’ from the USA – thanks to my nightmare dealings with the severely under-funded Social Security services [4], the ‘for-profit’ American Healthcare System and the terrifying and outrageously high costs of healthcare there.

    The front lobby of Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of the many international private hospitals in Bangkok, with a relaxing ambiance more like that of a five-star hotel!

    Thank goodness I live in Thailand, where I have easy access to efficient and affordable, state-of-the-art healthcare (not to mention no mass shootings, natural, unprocessed foods, low cost of living, a respectful, non-confrontational culture, etc.) So, I left my job in Colorado sooner in order to return to Thailand to get the necessary (and affordable!) health care I needed. I contacted my personal physician in Bangkok who, within a single week or so, had arranged appointments with three top medical specialists, who scheduled the diagnostic tests, follow-up appointments, and treatment. All of this cost far less than the US coinsurance payments I would be responsible for, even after my Medicare coverage was reinstated. Seven months in the USA was more than enough for me. It was time to leave, and indeed a relief to return to Thailand. 

    Though I am still waiting for all of it to be resolved, the SSA employees I have contacted multiple times over these many months have been helpful, given the volume of enrollees. While I was fortunate enough to have had somewhere else to go for healthcare, I can’t help but wonder about the millions of Americans who don’t have any other options.



    Please feel free to contact Jim on Facebook or by email at 

    You can read more about Jim’s backstory,  here and here. 

    Hobie, legendary board maker, segues into eyewear


    The name Hobie has been associated with Hawaii for a long, long time. Time to get acquainted with the Hobie sunglasses or, in industry terms, “eyewear”. Enter Hobie Eyewear.

    But let’s digress. Decades before the board maker expanded into bikinis and shorts, a guy named Hobie Alter was shaping boards in his family’s Laguna Beach summer home for friends. Mr. Alter later went into business and set up shop at Dana Point on the Pacific Coast Highway–two blocks from where the current Hobie Surf Shop stands.

    According to his bio on the Hobie website, Mr. Alter did more than just shape boards–he ended up “shaping a culture”.

    Hobie Monarch sunglasses protect against UV
    Yeah, they look pretty cool…and the gray polarized lens works quite well.

    Perhaps…but let’s not forget the Beach Boys!

    All kidding aside, Hobie Surfboards did have an all-star following including Phil Edwards, Joey Cabell, Corky Carroll, Mickey Munoz, Mike Hynson, Dick Brewer, Terry Martin, Herbie Fletcher, and World Champion, Joyce Hoffman, among others.

    In the early sixties, Hobie Alter partnered with fellow surfing buddy, Dick Metz, and they hung up a shingle in Honolulu. The “Honolulu Store”, as it was called, became a well known watering hole for visiting surfers. (Today I note that Hobie Sports has a surf shop in Lahaina, but none in Oahu).

    Fast forward to 2023

    Hobie is now sells eyewear and being in the eyewear testing business I wanted to see what they had to offer. Heretofore all of the eyewear I’ve tested in the past was “firearms compliant” but the Hobie models are not.

    Hobie Eyewear's Monarch
    Aesthetically the Monarch looks pretty cool. I didn’t care for the “side shields” (at left) which can be removed.

    Probably not a good idea to take them to the range but if you live in the Aloha State, you absolutely need reliable UV protection. Given the tropical sun, you’ll need decent polarization as well.  The Monarch has 100% UV Protection and that’s obligatory around here.

    The Hobie Monarch (retailing at $71 on Amazon) model I have has worked out well. They’re very comfortable seated on my nose and my ears. They wrap comfortably along my temples and come with a strap, which I love. Otherwise, I will lose them!

    As a “road-tester”, I keep them in my Subaru so I wear them all the time.

    One other cool attribute…they float “like a butterfly” according to Hobie. A butterfly? Maybe but it does give me a bit more peace of mind when I’m on my friend Rafi’s sailboat. If the glasses make their way into the drink on a weekend adventure…no problem.  

    Hobie Monarch Sunglasses  comes with a strap
    Folks, I love the strap on the Hobie Monarch

    If you’re into more of a classic, streamlined look, consider the Cabo. Just let the good looks fool you. It also has all of the Hobie lens technology. For example, it provides color balance which according to Hobie “allows eyes to transmit clear ‘color messages’ to the brain providing the ability to see all colors vividly.”

    The Hydroclean Plus lens coatings provide vision on and off of the water with polarized film technology, while reducing distracting reflections and glare.

    Among its features:

    • Polarized Polycarbonate Lenses
    • TR-90 Frame
    • HydroClean™ 360° coated
    • 100% UV Protection
    • Precision Flex Hinges
    • Rx Ready
    I’m partial to the Cabo too. It’s got a bit more an urbane style but is still Hobie-rugged. I will add my own strap. Otherwise, it may disappear in my upcoming Europe trip.

    Battle Tested

    According to Hobie “enhanced hydrophobic and anti-reflective coatings” are applied to each lens under carefully controlled conditions which allows them to sheds water, resist dust and grime.

    Hobie states that their Grilamid TR-90 Frames are a “battle tested nylon-polymer blend that can withstand the rigors of the avid water athlete. These frames are tough and crack resistant, hypo-allergenic and resilient.”

    Whether they are “battle tested” in Afghanistan or Ukraine, I don’t know, but so far the frames have held up even when I accidently sat on them in my car.

    Fortunately I don’t weigh that much.

    Lens coating on Hobie Monarch Sunglasses %%sitename%% is tough
    Hobie lauds their durable, lens coatings. I’ll let you know if they hold up.

    I do like the classic style of the glasses. The only thing I didn’t care for was the “side shields” which seemed to restrict peripheral vision. Fortunately, they are removable so no big deal.

    In checking out reviews from customers on Amazon, the company reportedly has exceptional customer service. One customer said he admittedly scratched the lenses on his glasses and Hobie sent him a code for 50% off to purchase a new pair. Pretty nice of them.


    Would I recommend these?

    So far so good. Whether the hydrophobic and anti-reflective coatings hold up to saltwater, etc. in the long run, I’ll find out. With other brands I’ve noted the coating on the lenses begins to peel.

    Both the Monarch and Cabo models comes with their own little ‘luggage’. Perfect for travel. (photo by Rob Kay)

    Will my apprise my faithful readers, in six months. I plan to take a pair or two on assignment in the Mediterranean, and see how they hold up on the ferry between Gibraltar and North Africa.

    In the meantime, I’m looking good and I’m confident they will protect my aging eyes. And of course if I drop them in the drink, they will float like a butterfly or maybe a duck.


    A shout out to the Hobie Memorial Foundation which is raising funds to construct a memorial honoring Hobie Alter’s life and his contributions to the surfing, boating, and skateboarding industries. The Hobie Memorial Foundation Newsletter publishes fascinating historical accounts in every issue.


    by Yurika Matsumori

    Wave808, Hawaii’s largest karaoke lounge, officially opened its doors to the public on Thursday, April 27th, at 808 Sheridan Street.

    It features 15 karaoke rooms, each uniquely decorated with various themes and equipped with Healsonic karaoke machines, offering over 200,000 karaoke songs in 14 different languages including Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, French, German, Russian, Italian, and Portuguese.

    “We’re thrilled to open Hawaii’s largest karaoke lounge, offering an unparalleled experience for our guests,” said the owners of Wave808, Shinji and Hanako Wabiko. “We have created a unique and fun atmosphere that celebrates the joy of singing and brings local people together. Music is an international language that unites people. We also wanted to bring the kind of entertainment unique to big cities to Honolulu’s night life.”

    I had the opportunity to trial Japanese songs (they have selections going back to the early 1970’s.) The staff was helpful in assisting me using the device. I liked that my voice sounded more refined and well projected in their room even without the use of a microphone.

    Wave808 is more than just a karaoke lounge. It’s a hub for local talent and a venue for live performances. The lounge hosts events featuring local musicians and performers, providing a platform for them to showcase their talent. Additionally, Wave808 has partnerships with local businesses and organizations, supporting the local community in many ways.

    About Wave808:

    Wave808 in Honolulu, Hawaii, is the ultimate destination for karaoke enthusiasts. With 15 spacious rooms and over 200,000 karaoke songs in 14 different languages, it’s the largest karaoke lounge in the city. Wave808 also supports local talent by regularly hosting events featuring local musicians and performers and has partnerships with local businesses and organizations to support the community.  For more information about Wave808, please visit their website at or check out their Yelp page at

    Production Credit Hijinx

    For a long time, Hawaii has had income tax incentives to encourage television, movies, and other productions to work their magic here in Hawaii.  The production credit was enacted in 1988, at which time it was 4% of regular production costs plus 6% of transient accommodations, mirroring the GET and TAT rates at the time.  The credit was gradually sweetened over the years and was boosted to 22% in Honolulu and 27% in any other county just last year (Act 217, SLH 2022).

    This session, there is a bill threatening to make major changes to the tax credit scheme, House Bill 1373.  By the time this article goes to press, the Legislature will have finally decided what to do about this bill.  But before then, we can describe what is happening with this bill, hopefully to prevent the same kind of hijinks from happening again.

    HB 1373, as introduced, proposed a workforce development incentive as an alternative to the production credit because the latter is complicated, expensive, and time-consuming.  As a practical matter it is tough to deal with unless your production is backed by a major studio.  Thus, the incentive was proposed primarily for smaller, independent film and TV productions.  That bill sailed through the House with minor amendments and crossed over to the Senate.

    In the meantime, Senate Bill 1237, as introduced, proposed establishing a Hawaii film commission that would replace the current Hawaii film office.  That measure passed the Senate economic development committee (EET) with no changes and headed to Ways & Means (WAM).  After deferring the measure multiple times, WAM amended the bill to add two new provisions:  a section allowing tax credits for building a film studio, and a section making extensive amendments to the administration of the existing production credit.  This was done without the benefit of a public hearing, ostensibly because the bill was already heard in one previous committee.  It crossed over to the House in that form, where the House economic development committee refused to hear the bill.

    The Senate, apparently incensed over the roadblock in the House, took up HB 1373.  It was not heard by its first assigned committees, EET and Labor, and was technically dead after the Second Crossover deadline.  But the Senate revived it by re-referring it to joint consideration by WAM and EET.  Those committees then shoved the studio credit and the production credit amendments into it.  The bill did have a hearing, but on the version containing the workforce development incentive only.  No proposed draft of the amended bill was released before the hearing.  The new parts of the bill had not been heard at all.

    Some further amendments were made on the Senate floor, and the bill went back to the House.  Both chambers now need to appoint conference committee members to hash out the differences between versions, and that is where the bill stood as of the story deadline.

    This bill now has problems.  One of them is the lack of opportunity for public participation in two of the key parts of the bill as it exists now.

    The second issue is the bill’s title, “Relating to Workforce Development.”  The workforce development incentive clearly fits the bill’s title.  The other two parts, not so much. 

    Next, there are federal constitutional issues with the production credit amendments.  The production credit as amended would give a 20% credit on out-of-state payroll and a 25% credit on in-state payroll, for example.  That would be a problem under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which basically says we’re all Americans and States shouldn’t be discriminating against each other.  It’s like telling Hawaiians from Papakolea that they’re going to be taxed more heavily than Hawaiians from Waimanalo.

    Note to lawmakers:  There are reasons why our Constitution has public hearing requirements.  Our supreme court banned gut-and-replacing for these reasons.  Do you need more convincing?

    Winds of change at Capitol blow favorably for Hawaii residents

    By Keli‘i Akina

    Yesterday was an amazing day at the state Capitol. 

    After four months of hashing out the fate of more than 4,000 bills that were introduced in the 2023 Legislature, it finally became clear which big-ticket items were going to make it to the governor’s desk for signing — or hit the cutting room floor. 

    And the amazing part? Our legislators approved significant reforms that could lower the cost of living, increase housing availability, improve the business climate, enhance healthcare services, reduce unnecessary expenses and allow us to keep more of our own money.

    And all at the last minute too!

    According to my colleague Ted Kefalas, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii director of strategic campaigns, many of the bills were passed in less than two hours in a standing-room-only conference room. He said some legislators had to scurry around the building to find voting colleagues before the 6 p.m. “decking” deadline. 

    Keli’i Akina

    Often, the conference committees are where many excellent bills go to die, due to the lack of transparency that surrounds these proceedings. But this year, the winds of change blew favorably for Hawaii residents, especially regarding the following bills:

    >> SB674, which if signed by the governor will authorize the state to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact and make it easier for doctors from other states to practice here. There are no guarantees, but judging by the experiences of other states that belong to the compact, this measure will likely go a long way toward alleviating the state’s acute doctor shortage, currently estimated at almost 800 doctors.

    >> HB676, which if enacted will allow government housing projects under 100 acres to skip the state Land Use Commission process and be approved instead at the county level. This bill would have been better if lawmakers had not removed private-sector housing projects from its provisions at the last second, but it’s still a step forward. Looking ahead, I urge lawmakers to view this as a pilot program and consider expanding it to private-sector housing.

    >> SB1437, which if signed by the governor could save Hawaii businesses millions of dollars in federal taxes by allowing pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and LLCs to pay Hawaii income tax at the entity level. This has the potential to improve Hawaii’s business climate at no cost to the state.

    >> HB954, which is part of Gov. Josh Green’s much-touted three-part “Green Affordability Plan.” If enacted — and I’m pretty sure the governor is going to sign it — the bill will provide tax credits of about $125 million annually, mainly by increasing the earned income tax credit, a tax credit for low-income renters, the food excise tax credit and a child and dependent care credit.

    Unfortunately, the bill no longer indexes the state’s income tax to inflation or increases its standard deduction and personal exemption. Those measures combined would have saved Hawaii taxpayers an additional $194 million a year and protected them from tax increases far into the future. But it will nonetheless put more tax dollars back in the pockets of Hawaii residents.

    So those are some of the bills that I am happy to see were approved. On the flip side, it’s also wonderful that certain bills died. Among them:

    >> SB304, which would’ve created a $50 visitor impact or “green” fee to be paid by all tourists 15 years or older wishing to visit a state park, forest, hiking trail or other state natural area. As the Grassroot Institute repeatedly pointed out, this proposal was impractical and probably unconstitutional, and it’s a victory for Hawaii that it was ultimately jettisoned.

    >> HB1375, which would have effectively funded the Hawaii Tourism Authority for another year. Pending creation of a possible “Frankenbill” — in which HTA’s funding is somehow restored — the bill’s death leaves the HTA with no funding either in the already-passed state budget bill or in a separate bill that some lawmakers had been pinning their hopes on.

    This astounding development doesn’t quite mark the end of the HTA, which still has some funds in its reserves to limp along until the next legislative session. But it’s about time lawmakers cut government involvement in tourism marketing, especially since the private sector already spends millions of dollars marketing Hawaii to the world — and probably more efficiently than the HTA.

    But what about the lowlights? Those include the approvals of:

    >> SB1057, which if signed into law will require certain businesses with 50 or more employees to disclose their hourly rates or salary ranges on job postings. This meddlesome measure could have many negative consequences, as I mentioned in my email to you last week.

    >> SB945 and HB525, both of which, if enacted, will grant the state broad powers to restrict the cryptocurrency market, to the detriment of individual liberty and entrepreneurship.

    Another lowlight concerns bills that were rejected, including several that would have exempted groceries, over-the-counter medicine and medical services from the state general excise tax. My colleagues and I at the Grassroot Institute campaigned vigorously for all of these, but not enough legislators were convinced of their merits — yet. 

    We plan to campaign for these ideas again next year. But for now, I would like to express my gratitude to the lawmakers, experts and advocates who contributed to the positive developments that have taken place at the Capitol so far this year.

    I am also thankful to you, the readers of my weekly columns, who weighed in on many of the bills mentioned above. Your involvement is helping Hawaii become a better place to live.


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

    TANF Hoarding, Continued

    About a year ago, we tried to shine the spotlight on a federal program for families and children called TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  That program provides assistance for struggling families and children – but not directly.  The federal government does not write checks to recipients directly.  Rather, it provides block grants to the states, who then set up their own programs following federal guidelines and tend to their own.

    Hawaii, Tennessee, and Maine were called out by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica in 2022 for letting TANF money gather dust in some dark corner instead of putting it to use helping families and children.  We followed up to see if anything significant has changed since then.

    According to 2021 TANF financial data, which wasn’t available at the time of our previous article, not a lot changed.  The amount of “unobligated balance” of the federal block grants for Hawaii, which was $364 million at the end of the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, crept upward to $378 million at the end of fiscal 2021.  To illustrate, here are the top ten states with the most in unobligated balance in 2021 as a percentage of the grant made available to that state in 2021:

     2021 AwardUnobligated BalanceRatio
    NEW HAMPSHIRE$38,394,141$52,563,544137%
    SOUTH DAKOTA$21,207,402$23,311,045110%

    Source:  U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance.

    In the table, Tennessee and Hawaii take the two top spots.  Maine appears to have cleaned up its act, falling to 20th in the list.  In theory, the Aloha State should be on its way to improving its ranking, as we enacted a law last session (Act 237, Session Laws of Hawaii 2022) that permitted TANF funds to be used for more things such as providing additional housing assistance subsidies.

    We have all of this free money.  Why aren’t we using it to do some good?

    And if that isn’t enough of a reason to spend the money the Feds have given us, consider this.  When we were going through the pandemic, our good representatives in Washington allotted close to a billion dollars to the states in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.  Hawaii pulled down $4.2 million.  The formula that Congress enacted for distributing the money gave more to states that spent their TANF money on benefits to low-income families with children.  This is just another example of our government saying, “If you don’t spend the money we give you, then don’t expect us to give you more.”

    Lawmakers, do you need more money to do what needs to be done?  Of course you do.  Well, here is a way to get some without breaking even more Hawaii taxpayers’ backs.