Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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    Zephyr GTX from LOWA–Light, breathable and robust


    Spoiler alert:  This will not be an objective review.

    I have dual American and German citizenship, so my impartiality regarding LOWA, may be skewed. 

    Of course, there are a few other well-known German brands such as BMW or Siemens, but LOWA (pronounced Low-va) isn’t (yet) a household name in America. However, you don’t have to be as famous as Mercedes Benz to make world class products.

    Founded in 1923 by Lorenz Wagner in the Bavarian town of Jetzendorf (just north of Munich, where my family is from) the company began quite modestly, selling traditional mountain boots to local farmers and hunters. In the 1970s, LOWA began to focus more intensely on producing hiking and trekking boots, capitalizing on the growing popularity of outdoor recreation.

    Lorenz Wagner, the son of the shoemaker Johann Wagner, estab­lished the LOWA company in 1923 in placid Jetzendorf, a town north of Munich. The company’s name comes from the first two letters of the owner’s given name and surname, LOrenz WAgner. 

    Fast forward to the present day and the company has established itself as a prominent player in the outdoor footwear market not only in Germany but also internationally. Nowadays, the company is the market leader in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, producing close to three million pairs of shoes a year.

    LOWA’s boots became synonymous with durability, comfort, and performance, attracting outdoor enthusiasts and professionals alike. Its boots have accompanied adventurers on challenging expeditions to some of the world’s highest peaks and most rugged landscapes. I’m certainly not an internationally known adventurer but LOWA boots have accompanied me to Fiji, French Polynesia, Portugal, Italy, France and Spain, where I hiked in the Pyrenees.

    Not only does LOWA provide craftsmanship and innovation, but they are stylish and comfortable. Given their European origin (most are manufactured in Slovakia) they are more expensive than the products from elsewhere. As the dictim goes, you get what you pay for.

    And what exactly do you get?

    Breaking in my boots in at the local Thai Restaurant. The finishing on the upper–split leather and fabric, is flawless. They work great on the trail but you can wear them anywhere.

    Durability & Customer Care

    LOWA’s quality is first rate. I’ve had about 5 pair of Lowa products over the years. They have all been extremely sturdy.  

    There was one disappointment. One of my LOWA boots had a sole issue. The midsole started separating from the outsole. Yikes. Mind you it was stored in my closet for a year while I was overseas. I contacted their customer service folks who sent me a UPS sticker with no questions asked. I boxed the boots and sent them to the East Coast. The repair guy (his name was Caleb) re-soled the boot and sent it back to me good as new.

    They stand behind their products.


    In case you were wondering, the “GTX” on this boot (as in other Lowa models) represents Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex uses a 100% waterproof membrane that is also breathable. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it works. The breathability factor is particularly important in hotter, tropical or subtropical climates such as Hawaii.

    LOWA has been at this for over 100 years. They have developed the technology that translates into durability and comfort.

    Here on the leeward side of Oahu we don’t get as much rain as the windward side but it does get wet and muddy. (It usually rains every evening). My property has a creek bed that is full during a rain and I’ll have to cross it on occasion so having that waterproof component comes in very handy. And of course when I’m hiking I’ll inevitably put my foot in the deepest puddle on the trail.

    Gore-Tex takes the worry out of these scenarious.

    Comfortable Fit—Balancing flex and rigidity:

    The LOWA Zephyr GTX Mid is a flat-out, comfortable boot.

    Whether you wear your boots on daily basis (as I do) or on a weekend hike you need to be comfortable and confident. (Again, this is a good reason to pay a bit more).

    Keep in mind that designing boots is a kind of balancing act. You’re going to need a good amount of flex but still retain enough rigidity to withstand the rigors of a serious hike over challenging terrain. With flex Lowa says the feet can roll more easily if a hiking boot is easy to bend. In a pragmatic sense, this saves energy when climbing hills and offers real comfort in the process. (Note that this pair is a “Mid” model–some where in between low and full size).

    My backyard test bed has all kinds of terrain–razor sharp lava rock, slippery clay-like mud, gravel and thick jungle growth so dense sometimes you can’t even see where your feet are going to be planted.

    Road testing this boot

    Another well worn phrase to describe this part of the story—it’s where the rubber meets the road. To conduct a “real” review entails wearing this boot day in and day out.

    That’s precisely what I did.

    I live on the lip of a valley—Palolo Valley. It’s quite steep and rocky but I’ve hacjked out a trail on several acres of hillside just downslope of my home. I work this land on a daily basis. I’m literally climbing up and down the hill to tend to my bee hives, whacking underbrush, chasing wild pigs off the property, inspecting irrigation lines or simply taking a break from my computer and do a little forest bathing.

    In addition to apiaries, I tend to a variety of trees along the slope – lime, avocado, banana, mango, ulu (breadfruit), longan, moringa, star apple, starfruit and other items.

    There’s lots to do and there’s every imaginable type of terrain—razor sharp lava rock, slippery clay-like mud, gravel and thick jungle growth so dense sometimes you can’t even see where your feet are going to be planted. The ground can be soaked or dry as desert.

    So whether I’m chasing pigs off my property (which unfortunately I have to do occasionally) or I’m out on the The Mau’umae Trail, about a 10-minute walk from my home, these boots are on my feet.

    In short it’s a perfect test bed.

    It’s been wet but the soles on the Zepher GTX are incredibly “grippy” on my home terrain.

    The upshot: The soles on the Zepher GTX were incredibly “grippy” on my home terrain. LOWA features a lugged outsole which is perfect for my little piece of paradise. They are also very lightweight and as alluded to above, very comfortable.

    The finishing on the upper–split leather and fabric, is flawless. The European sense of craftsmanship is apparent. There is a marked difference between products manufactured in LOWA’s “alte Schule” (old school) manner vs. what comes out from mass production lines in other parts of the world.

    It’s been said a few times but the German’s are incredibly thorough in their design and manufacturing processes. Call it OCD but take it from me, an over-engineered, durable boot is exactly what you want.

    Price for the Zephyr GTX Mid is $235 at REI.

    Ease up on Hawaii’s zealous enforcement of jaywalking rules

    By Keli‘i Akina

    Have you ever stood on a street corner waiting impatiently for the crossing signal — with not a car in sight?

    Here in Hawaii, crossing the street before the signal gives you the go-ahead could easily earn you a jaywalking ticket.

    But, I’m happy to report, that might soon change.

    A growing number of local organizations have come out in support of a bill moving through the Legislature that would let pedestrians cross the street carefully and responsibly, regardless of whether they are in a crosswalk or what the walk signal says.

    Called the Freedom to Walk bill, SB2630 would simply require that pedestrians use good judgment and not risk any accidents.

    That seems reasonable to me. Most of us learned to look both ways and be careful crossing the street before we could even read.

    And yet, the law currently assumes we are incapable of exercising this most basic survival practice, which has left us subject to overzealous enforcement of the state’s jaywalking laws.

    And “overzealous” is not an exaggeration. The Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice recently released a report that found Hawaii issues significantly more jaywalking-related citations than any other U.S. locality where similar studies have been conducted.

    Violations in Hawaii include “crossing outside of crosswalks,” “crossing on the ‘Do not walk’ sign or timer,” “suddenly leaving the curb,” and “other.”

    According to the report, Hawaii pedestrians receive about 5,000 jaywalking-related tickets a year, which equates to a staggering 349 citations per 100,000 people, versus only about six per 100,000 in both Washington state and New York City.

    Lest we jump to blaming tourists for most of those Hawaii citations, our state actually hosted 9.2 million visitors in 2022 compared to 102.2 million in Washington state and
    56.7 million in New York City.

    Defenders of jaywalking laws claim they protect the public, but states that have already enacted Freedom to Walk legislation have proven otherwise. For example, Virginia decriminalized jaywalking in 2020, yet the state has seen no increase in pedestrian injuries or deaths.

    Ironically, Hawaii ranks as the second-most dangerous state for pedestrians. So all the jaywalking tickets issued here have not necessarily been making our streets safer.

    But perhaps more shocking, jaywalking tickets issued in Hawaii don’t even serve as a revenue source. According to the Hawai‘i Appleseed report, it cost nearly $1 million between 2018 and 2023 to issue all those tickets — mainly because about 78% of the $3.8 million in fines went uncollected, while the cost of enforcement totaled about $1.8 million.

    So not only are we failing to treat our residents and visitors with decency and aloha, we are losing precious tax revenues in the process.

    I say we give the “freedom to walk” idea a chance. We can always go back to the current hyper-enforcement of jaywalking laws, but for now, I think it’s a safe bet that we can trust people to cross the street carefully.

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

    The Hawaii Estate Tax

    In this year’s legislative session, there are bills advancing that would, if enacted, fundamentally change how Hawaii’s estate tax works.  Those bills include House Bills 2652 and 2653, and Senate Bill 3289.

    What is an estate tax?  It’s a tax that is imposed when an individual dies.  It is imposed on the net value of the individual’s estate, meaning all of the wealth he or she owned at death, less certain deductions and credits.  The federal government has had an estate tax since 1916.  Beginning in 1924, the federal code allowed a credit for estate taxes paid to states.  The estate would pay the same amount whether or not the state in which the decedent died imposed an estate tax, so by the end of the 20th century all 50 states and the District of Columbia had enacted an estate tax.  In 2001, however, the federal code was changed; the credit was no longer allowed.  Many states eliminated their estate tax; we didn’t and now we are one of 12 states that still impose an estate tax.  (Four states impose an inheritance tax, which is also triggered by a death but works differently, and one state has both an estate and inheritance tax.)

    Our estate tax has no effect on people having less than $5 million in assets at death, meaning most people.  We have an exemption amount of $5.49 million, which is what the federal estate tax exempted back in 2017 before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled it.  When an individual’s taxable estate exceeds the exemption amount, our estate tax kicks in at a 10% rate and gradually rises to a maximum of 20% for estates that are at least $10 million over the exemption amount.  Our estate tax rate is tied with the State of Washington’s for the highest in the nation.

    Proponents of the estate tax say that it’s an essential tool for making sure that the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.  Another objective of the tax is the social policy goal of deconcentrating wealth, namely putting it in the hands of more people.  Against this, the national Tax Foundation observed that:

    very often, most of the wealth held in large estates is the life work of successful entrepreneurs and farmers, what might safely be termed “first generation wealth.” These estates pay the highest tax rates and most tax per estate.  Because many of the largest estates primarily comprise first generation wealth, and these estates pay the highest estate tax rates, it appears that it is here that the transfer tax system has its most deleterious effect on the economy by falling most heavily on the estates of successful entrepreneurs, some of the nation’s most economically productive citizens.

    This observation raises the question of whether the estate tax, as applied to family-owned businesses especially, is doing more harm than good.  The testifiers supporting or commenting on the estate tax bills, a virtual Who’s Who of family-owned businesses here (including L&L Hawaiian Barbecue; Foodland Supermarket, Ltd.; Servco Pacific Inc.; Island Insurance; Loyalty Enterprises, Ltd.; Big Island Motors; Big Island Toyota; De Luz Chevrolet; Finance Enterprises, Ltd; Tradewind Group Foundation; FCH Enterprises, Inc.  [Zippy’s]; ALTRES, Inc.; KTA Super Stores; and Business Strategies) seem to think so.  One of the estate tax bills (HB 2652 / SB 3289) would allow wealth to pass tax-free between family members; that would basically wipe out the estate tax.  The second bill (HB 2653) would allow interests in family-owned businesses to pass tax-free.  It is interesting because it is loosely based on section 6166 of the Internal Revenue Code, which we haven’t incorporated into our law, allowing relief to certain family-owned businesses.  The federal law doesn’t exempt those businesses from the tax but allows the tax to be spread out across up to 14 years, with interest at no more than 2%, allowing the business to pay off the tax over time.  Without relief, such businesses probably would have to be sold off to generate the cash necessary to pay the tax.  Hawaii law currently gives no relief at all to such businesses; maybe it should.  Deferral like the federal government does might not be appropriate for us here; maybe it is quicker and easier for the state to leave such businesses alone, as the bill proposes.

    It’s Time for the Endangered Species Act to Become Extinct

    As homelessness sweeps across the country and people struggle to survive, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is setting aside 120,000 acres in Hawaii for 12 endangered species, including 11 plants and one fruit fly. 

    It pays to be rare and endangered, if you are not a human. 

    Non-human species are protected by the Endangered Species Act.  According to the US Department of the Interior, “The ESA was enacted in 1973 as a response to the declining populations of many species of animals and plants. The Act was designed to protect and recover species at risk of extinction and to promote the conservation of ecosystems and habitats necessary for the survival of those species….By conserving them, guided by the best-available science, we help protect healthy air, land, and water for everyone.” (Bold added.)

    Habitat is set aside for these species, called critical habitat. That living space must be made safe for the species being protected, which means all potential predators or threats/competitors of this species must be eliminated.

    This has been going on for decades, although some organizations believe it is not happening fast enough. Currently, the USFWS, after being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity, has  been forced to set aside 120,000 acres in Hawaii for 12 endangered species. 

    According to the Hawaii Tribune Herald,“The nearly 120,000 acres of designated habitat stretch across six ecosystems on Hawaii island — from the coast to dry and mesic forests and grasslands, rainforests and the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.”

    You probably have not heard of these Hawaiian plants, since they are so rare. And few people care about saving one of over 1500 fruit fly species. 

    Why are these species being protected with 120,000 acres of managed habitat? According to the ESA, it’s to preserve biodiversity. It is believed that species loss will destroy the natural world, ignoring the fact that 1000s of new species are formed daily. 

    The extremist view that any and all endangered species must be protected by setting aside habitat is the goal of the ESA. In practice, this means lots of killing of innocent animals and poisoning of lots of plants and insects to save one species. This is endless, like trying to keep a garden, which requires you kill the weeds, and keep out, or kill, all the snails, slugs, bugs, rabbits, rats, mice, pigs, deer, goats, sheep, and any other critter unfortunate enough to be in, or get into, the garden.  

    The newly created critical habitat in Hawaii for these 11 plants will require getting rid of any animals that can eat or trample these plants, which means clearing large swaths of land to erect fencing to keep out pigs, sheep, goats, and people. It also requires pulling or poisoning trees and other plants that might compete or interfere with the protected plant’s growth. And the fruit fly needs to be protected from predators, such as birds, lizards, tree frogs, and any other insectivores, as well as any species that might eat the fruit used by these flies. Hopefully, there would not be pesticide drift from any agricultural areas being sprayed to kill fruit flies. 

    The ESA and this method of preserving species was created in 1973, with the best available science back then. It was a type of quarantine for the endangered species, keeping it safe in its artificially-recreated, high-maintenance, “restored”, “native” world. 

    It’s now 50 years later, and science has evolved better methods to create biodiversity, making the ESA approach to diversity obsolete. That science is bioengineering. 

    Biotechnology has evolved into a powerful new force that can preserve endangered species and create new ones, too.  It’s done all the time. Genetically engineered organisms are new species, and can be designed to have certain characteristics. 

    Bioengineering can also clone endangered species. There is no need for extinction of any species if it can be cloned. 

    Biotech is also trying to resurrect extinct species, like efforts to bring back the woolly mammoth. 

    This means critical habitat is no longer needed. We can clone endangered species and move them where they are safe, and avoid endless ecosystem management to preserve that species. 

    Of course, this raises the question of whether naturally-derived biodiversity is better than human-engineered biodiversity.  However, if the goal is biodiversity, it should not matter whether that diversity is the result of mutations resulting from nature, or from a lab. 

    Admittedly, the technology is still developing, but much of this is already happening. We now have new and better ways to ensure biodiversity with biotechnology, avoiding the need to set aside valuable land and pay forever to try keeping it as “native” as possible. 

    This means the ESA should be replaced by the BSA, or Bioengineered Species Act. The BSA would provide the needed funding and new direction for creating diversity without killing and quarantining species. This new technology can help find peaceful ways to create and maintain biodiversity in our climate-changing, war torn, plastics polluted, deforested world.  

    Of course, we must also be selective. There are limited resources, and we need to question our commitment to protecting every endangered species. Just because something is rare does not mean it is worthy of saving. Instead of just valuing a species for being rare, let’s value them for being beneficial. 

    We need a policy of environmental meritocracy that guides species preservation. Why should we spend the money and effort to save just any species? We need criteria to choose which species to save, which to let become extinct, and which new species to create. 

    Currently, the criteria for designating endangered species is solely reliant on species numbers. It is purely a quantitative assessment. It does not matter what qualities those species possess. They could be plants nobody would pay attention to, or they could even be noxious to humans. Or they could be insects which, under other circumstances, would be considered pests. Many times, the endangered species was hunted, or collected, to near extinction by humans, who only seem to care about what they kill when it becomes endangered. 

    Obviously, we can’t save every species. Extinction is a natural process, as is new species creation. We need to use a merit-based system to assess species for saving, and leave the rest for nature to manage. 

    Once we decide on which species to save, biotechnology may be the newest and best scientific solution. 

    Unfortunately, our culture seems to trust nature to do the genetic manipulation more than we trust scientists. Look at the concern over genetically modified foods. But you don’t have to eat the newly created or cloned species. 

    The answer to biodiversity when facing species extinctions is to create new species. But we also have to be willing to move them around to new places on the planet. This is because sometimes the climate has changed so much in its “native” area that an endangered species may need to be relocated to a more suitable place. 

    This makes logical sense, but goes against another environmental dogma, associated with invasion biology, which assumes that species “belong” to a particular geolocation on the planet. The story goes that species have evolved over many years to be where they are, or at least where they were when discovered by Western colonial powers about 500 years ago. This so-called “pre-contact” environment is called “native”. Any species introduced by humans since that time are considered non-native, and do not “belong”. 

    This politically-defined environmental philosophy is the basis of the ESA and the Invasive Species Act. The notion of moving species to places where they can thrive was once how things were done. Some bad species introductions that caused environmental problems have led to the current paradigm that sees humans as the scourge of the planet, spreading invasive species and endangering native species. 

    It’s time to accept that humans will change the world, as we are doing. But we can do it better. And that may include saving and adding species with biotech, as well as moving species around the planet. And given the changing climate, which threatens to evict species, moving them seems essential. 

    The ESA is supposed to use “the best available science” to save biodiversity. Bioengineering is now the best available science. 

    Let’s better define which species to save, better develop this technology to save them, and let’s stop treating the world like it should never change. 

    Preserving the Integrity and Future of Hawaii-Grown Coffee

    A bill advancing through the legislature establishes a timeline by which coffee sold as ‘Hawaii-grown’ must contain at least 50% of actual Hawaii-grown coffee. Coffee growers throughout the state overwhelmingly support this measure. A recent state-funded study showed this change would increase income to nearly 1,500 small farms that are only marginally profitable under the current law.

    Currently, farmers who built and preserve the reputation of Hawaii-grown coffee are unfairly forced to compete with fake products, often priced below their own cost of production. 

    A few members of Hawaii’s coffee industry import foreign-grown coffee and mix it with Hawaii-grown coffee at a ratio of 9 to 1, so it may be sold as a Hawaii origin product. The raw coffee they import commonly sells for less than $2/lb., is not subject to the strict grade standards applied to Hawaii-grown coffee, and can contain invasive pests and disease. These foreign-grown blends are then priced many times higher than the commodity coffee that comprises 90% of the blend; often selling for more than $20/lb. solely because of the Hawaii origin name. Blenders are reaping huge profits while farmers get squeezed.

    When substandard fakes are profiteered in the market, Hawaii’s reputation is undermined because the consumer can’t taste one bean in 10 – they’re tasting the $2 commodity coffee and paying a premium for it. 

    This is important because the practice creates downward price pressure. It’s more expensive in Hawaii to produce coffee than any other growing region. The high cost of land, labor, farm inputs, transportation and regulatory compliance have all risen sharply. Hawaii’s growers are known for producing exceptionally high-quality coffee which allows them to earn prices that enable them to meet these elevated costs.

    After years of debate over this inequity, Hawaii’s legislature directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to conduct a market study to examine the impacts of increasing the minimum blend ratio of Hawaii coffee products. The study found increasing the blend ratio to 51 or even 100% will shift revenue away from the blenders and back to the growers. The study also indicated that consumers would be able to better identify and understand the authenticity of the product on the shelf.

    Farming is hard work. That’s why the USDA has seen the average age of a farmer increase to nearly 60 years old. Shouldn’t we be supporting our local farmers? Shouldn’t we be encouraging young people to take up agriculture by rewarding them with a livelihood? Tell your legislature to preserve the integrity of Hawaii-grown coffee by supporting HB2298.

    Christopher A. Manfred

    Government Affairs Coordinator

    Hawaii Coffee Association

    The Worst States to be Rich, Poor, or In Between

    A new study has come out from the financial site WalletHub.  It rates each of the 50 states in terms of the tax burden that it places on its wealthiest residents, and it rates the 50 states again in terms of the tax burden that it places on its poorest. Only one state made the top five on both lists.

    First, let’s look at the states that impose the most tax burden on the wealthiest. Here they are:

    47. District of Columbia; 48. New Jersey; 49. Connecticut; 50. Mystery; 51. New York.  (There are 51 jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia; number 1, Alaska, is the state that burdens its residents the least as a percentage of the resident’s income.  This is true in this and the next two categories.)

    By and large, these states have progressive tax systems, meaning a structure that places more of the burden on people who have the means to pay for it. Typically, these states get more of their revenue from income taxes that are applied at graduated colleges and rates.

    From the same report, here are the five states that impose the largest tax burden on their poorest citizens:

    47. Louisiana; 48. Pennsylvania; 49. Mystery; 50. Washington; 51. Illinois.

    The tax systems in these states tend to be regressive, which means that tax is placed upon people without regard to whether they can pay it. Generally, states in this group rely heavily on sales taxes, gross receipts taxes, or other broad-based transaction taxes for their tax revenue.

    As you can see, one state, labeled the mystery state in the two lists above, manages to somehow combine the worst of both worlds—it hammers the rich and also bludgeons the poor.

    But wait!  As an added bonus, the study also rated the states for the most and least burden on its citizens in the middle of the income spectrum.  And the winners are:  47. Washington, 48. Louisiana ,49. Illinois, 50. New York, 51. Mystery.

    So, not only is the Mystery State a significant finisher in this third heat, it is The Worst in the Nation by that measure.

    So, what does it take for a state tax system to wind up on all three lists at the same time? You may think that the Mystery State has a pretty screwed up tax system.  If you do, I wouldn’t argue with you.  Here are some details from the study for that state:

    Income LevelSales & Excise Tax as % of IncomeProperty Tax as % of IncomeIncome Tax as % of IncomeTotal Tax as % of Income

    For followers of this column, the identity of the Mystery State should be no surprise. Indeed, if you’re reading this column, you’re probably living in it!  Aloha, and welcome to tax hell.

    Fortunately, there is a ray of hope.  Our legislature is in session right now. There are proposals on the table to make our tax climate better, and there are other proposals that would make it worse.  We are about 1/3 of the way through the session, and proposals of both kinds have advanced, shortly to be considered by the chamber other than the one in which the proposal was introduced.

    If you haven’t considered making your views known to your legislator, maybe now is a good time to start.  If more of us are telling our legislators to do the right thing, maybe they will listen to us.

    Get rid of zoning rules that created ‘monster homes’ in first place

    By Keli‘i Akina

    I’ve been listening to naysayers in the housing debate and many of them seem to think monsters lurk behind every corner — monster homesmonster condos, even monster housing developments.

    Yet, it turns out that much like the mythical monster under the bed and the monster in the closet, once you turn on the lights and take a good look, you find there’s nothing there.

    Back when we could all agree on what a monster was, the term “monster home” generally referred to a large, often unsightly structure that violated county laws about setbacks, height restrictions and so on to seemingly use every possible inch of a standard residential lot.

    Keli’i Akina

    After Hawaii’s counties started cracking down on these illegal dwellings, some people began using “monster home” to describe any house that pushes the limits of what is allowed.

    Now we even are being warned about “monster lots,” which presumably are what we would see if Hawaii homeowners were allowed to build at least two “ohana” or accessory dwelling units on their properties — one more than is permitted by each county already — as proposed by two bills that are making their way through this year’s Legislature.

    Those bills, SB3202 and HB1630, would not make any changes to county building standards, and they would not promote Frankenstein-like home construction. They would simply make it possible to build smaller, less expensive units on smaller lots.

    Small homes on small lots are not monsters. More and more, it looks like the word “monster” is being used just to scare people or express the idea that “I don’t like this thing.”

    If you think about it, SB3202 and HB1630 really are anti-“monster home” bills. After all, monster homes appeared in the first place because Hawaii’s zoning and building regulations prevent or make it very difficult for people to pursue reasonable expansion opportunities such as ohana units, duplexes, triplexes and smaller homes.

    Facing such limited options, some property owners found out where they could blur the lines to build bigger instead.

    At their core, these “ohana homes” bills would actually neutralize the threat of true monster homes by providing more homebuilding options.

    They also would strengthen property rights by allowing existing homeowners owners to more freely adapt to the changing needs of Hawaii residents, many of whom desperately need affordable places to live.

    If we really want to address Hawaii’s housing crisis, we have to explore options that could provide some relief — and we have to do it fearlessly, without regard to made-up monsters. Because the only real monster is the housing crisis itself.

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

    Opening Doors


    Author’s Note: An ileostomy is a surgically created opening in the abdominal wall for the ‘stoma’ which is constructed by bringing the end of the small intestine out onto the surface of the skin, and with an external abdominal pouch fitted to collect intestinal (fecal) output).

    Originally published in The Phoenix ostomy magazine – www.phoenixuoaa.org 

    By Jim Mielke

    Soon after receiving my first ileostomy (at age 19), I tore out a peri-stomal hernia while working in a physically demanding parks maintenance job. After years of poor health struggling with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, I loved the feeling of renewed strength and a toned, tanned physique from the heavy outdoor work as my muscles swelled from tossing 55-gallon steel drums filled with trash into the garbage truck. Until then, I hadn’t considered safer alternatives to building and maintaining my physical fitness. But after getting the hernia repaired, my surgeon lowered the boom: No more heavy lifting – EVER!  I was devastated.

    Tough Limitations

    Coming to grips with post-operative limitations on activities we are passionate about can be tough – especially when it’s clear there is no going back to the way things were before surgery. You may have been a runner all your life, or a top tennis player – it was your very identity! How can you just let it go?

    Fortunately, many people not only bounce back from these challenges, but experience personal growth. Psychologists call this “post-traumatic growth” – referring to the positive psychological changes that result from adversity or other challenges that can lead to a new and more meaningful life. Trying to hang on to the way things were before will only aggravate the situation and make it worse. But with acceptance and a touch of optimism, you can become more resilient and open to new ways of living.

    Parks maintenance, Colorado, USA (1978)

    The hernia and weakened abdominal muscles eventually forced me to give up tennis and ice hockey, which were my top competitive sports during high school and college, and I was also an accomplished trumpet player, headed for a possible career in performing arts. But that all ended abruptly as my weakened and herniated abs made it hard to blow my nose, let alone a brass horn. Soon after graduation I moved to the tropics, and with no ice in sight I hung up my ice skates anyway, and took up scuba diving! I had also given up wilderness backpacking trips – until recently, when I completed a four-day, 50-mile trek through the mountains of Patagonia in southern Chile with a small day-pack and a roller suitcase for my heavier items, and divided the overall trek into four separate day hikes. 

    A particularly interesting and humorous transition occurred when I was suffering with rectal abscesses during the final months leading up to receiving my first ileostomy. It was my sophomore year in college. I was living in a student dormitory and taking only predigested liquids – no solid foods. The university health services surgeon had made 10 incisions in my rectum and buttocks to drain the abscesses, and I had to soak in hot ‘sitz baths’ three times a day while these wounds were healing.

    My sitz bath consisted of a portable plastic tub that I filled each time with warm water and Epsom salts and placed over a toilet bowl in the men’s washroom. It was pretty dark in the toilet stalls, so instead of trying to read during these lengthy sitz baths, I used the time to teach myself the banjo – much to the amusement and curiosity of men’s room patrons and passers-by, as Foggy Mountain Breakdown emanated from my toilet stall – with great acoustics as well! As it turned out, we had another trumpet player in our dorm’s band, so when I could no longer play trumpet, I became the group’s banjo player!

    Entertaining guests from church at our home in Buffalo, New York (1976)

    Sixteen Major Surgeries

    Another set-back came several years ago while packing for a trip to visit friends and family in the USA. I noticed a slight bulge in my abdominal incision and headed instead to Bangkok for surgery. It was my 16th major ostomy related surgery since receiving my first ileostomy at the Cleveland Clinic in 1977. Emerging from the unexpected surgery, I was almost relieved to have to cancel my visit to the USA, as if some underlying intuitive awareness was trying to alert me to avoid this potentially disastrous trip. Apparently, I was literally coming apart at the seams. The longitudinal incision that runs along my abdomen from stem to sternum (and had been opened on multiple previous surgeries) was ripping apart and the muscles were separating, which meant that I was a walking time bomb. It would not have been pleasant if my guts had spilled out while on the plane or somewhere away from home.

    With practiced precision, the nurse located one of my elusive veins to start the IV, the anesthesiologist wished me a pleasant snooze, and after 90 minutes on the table my surgeon had successfully inserted a large mesh across my entire abdomen. It was like getting a new set of surgically implanted ‘six-pack’ abs! And my cost-conscious Thai surgeon gave me (for free) the remaining portion of the high-tech mesh that another patient had purchased but didn’t use. Once again, I could not believe my good fortune, having avoided another possible disaster, but also to be given what now seems like a gift – such a wonderful gift of enhanced quality of health and blessed freedom to continue enjoying my life!

    There was a down side however, as my surgeon imposed further restrictions on my most cherished activities. It was a tough blow, and extremely hard to take. I broke down in tears in the hospital lobby. 

    Peak Health

    Since receiving my ileostomy 30 years earlier, I had been enjoying peak health, and placed a high value on maintaining my fitness. I was also hooked on the endorphin highs from physical exercise. But once again, I was forced to modify my activities – in particular, some of my favorite yoga postures (e.g. headstands and pelvic stretches) were now relegated to the past. But fortunately, yoga offers plenty of postures to choose from, many of which can be modified for any physical condition or level of fitness. And now, as a yoga teacher, instead of feeling regret for this loss to my own practice, I take pleasure observing someone in a perfect headstand, and enjoy sharing in that person’s sense of achievement.  I also continue to draw on my skills and experience to help others learn the art and science of yoga.

    By accepting each new situation, I have been able to adjust to new, and even more fulfilling activities – and in the process discovered something that has radically changed my life: I abandoned the high pressure of competitive sports – which was tearing me up inside, and instead took up non-competitive swimming, cycling, hiking and yoga – all of which promote the fitness, toned physique, and overall sense of well-being that I crave, and with no need to compete against anyone – not even myself. Yoga and swimming also gently and safely tone the abdominal area, while the non-competitive nature of yoga acts as a powerful liberating counterbalance to the pressures of our highly competitive society.

    It’s Not Over

    A post-surgery restriction or just symptoms of normal aging, it’s not easy to give up a life-long passion, especially when it has become a symbol of self-identity – one’s pride and joy. Indeed, many of us are so attached to the past, to the familiar, we tend to miss the opportunities that are right in front of us.

    Teaching classical yoga and meditation at Silver Bay YMCA of the Adirondacks, Lake George, New York (2011)

    So, when the time comes to hang up your beloved tennis racquet (and finally ditch the knee brace!) consider tapering off to golf. Or how about replacing your running shoes with a pair of swim trunks? Just stop for a moment and take a breath. Recognize and accept what your body is trying to tell you. Re-evaluate your priorities and allow yourself to become open to the unexpected. Discover the new possibilities that were not there before – and before long, the next amazing thing will be waiting for you behind the next door! As the popular song goes: “You’re a fool if you think it’s over, it’s just begun.” 

    For over four decades, Jim Mielke, who has a doctorate in Public Health, has had the privilege of living and working in some of the poorest, most remote and under-served countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, where he has assisted governments, international aid agencies and communities to strengthen local and national health systems. Since receiving his ileostomy when he was 19, life after recovery felt as thrilling as being shot from a cannon.  Following years of depression, pain and suffering with IBD, Jim is still flying high with renewed health and freedom.

    You can read more about Jim’s overseas experiences here or connect with Jim on his Facebook page. Jim has been living a full and active life with an ileostomy for over 45 years. Jim lives in a quiet seaside island setting in southern Thailand.

    Labor-related mandate adds to our already highest cost of living

    By Keli‘i Akina

    A couple of weeks ago, while most people were paying attention to tax and budget discussions at the Legislature, Hawaii became a little more expensive.

    That’s because on Feb. 16, the governor’s office issued a new “administrative directive” that requires all state construction projects worth more than $1.5 million to be performed under so-called project labor agreements, or PLAs, which generally favor unionized contractors.

    Keli’i Akina

    PLAs haven’t been much of a concern until now, because the project threshold had been set at $25 million since 2012.

    As one local independent contractor explained to me in 2019 on my regular ThinkTech Hawaii program “Hawaii Together,” smaller companies are unlikely to bid on expensive projects like those anyway.

    But the new threshold is well within the scope of work that could be completed by non-union contractors, who now will be less likely to be bidding on those government projects.

    PLAs do not technically bar non-union labor, but they require all the bidding contractors to pay so-called prevailing wages, which basically are the wages set by unions. They also require that the contractors maintain good relationships with unions, agree to abide by union terms, and use union halls for hiring referrals.

    PLA proponents claim the agreements help ensure jobs for locals, but that’s not even half true because more than 60% of Hawaii’s construction workers do not belong to unions. So PLAs are really designed to protect some local jobs, while leaving many local workers out in the cold.

    The other excuse for PLAs is that they help prevent “labor disruptions” such as strikes. But such disruptions are rare these days — and when they do occur, some of them have been on PLA projects.

    Overall, the effect of this new directive will be to shut out non-union contractors, increase the cost of government projects, leave it to taxpayers to make up the difference, and push up Hawaii’s cost of living — which already is the highest in the nation.

    A 2019 study from the Beacon Hill Institute looked at 107 New Jersey schools constructed under PLA mandates and found that PLAs raised construction costs by 16.25%, costing taxpayers an extra $565.1 million.

    A 2021 study from the RAND Corporation looked at the cost of PLAs in the construction of affordable housing in California and found they increased costs by 14.5% — and contributed to the contractors building 800 fewer homes than originally planned.

    On average, according to a wide variety of studies, PLAs increase construction costs between 12% and 20%.

    There’s also evidence that PLAs result in more delays. A report from the New Jersey Department of Labor and workforce development found that PLA projects had an average duration of 100 weeks compared to 78 weeks for non-PLA projects.

    So are PLAs really worth the cost?

    In response to the data, many states have decided they aren’t, and have been limiting PLAs or getting rid of them entirely. Twenty-five states have enacted legislation or executive orders prohibiting PLA mandates on state construction projects.

    Hawaii, on the other hand, has moved in the opposite direction — as so often is the case — with the recent decision to increase the number of projects that fall under PLA requirements.

    Given our current budget woes, we should be looking for ways to increase competition and reduce government spending — not add to building costs and further burden Hawaii taxpayers.

    I suggest we start by bumping Hawaii’s PLA threshold back up to $25 million to increase competition, lower costs and help small local businesses.

    But in the long run, we should follow in the footsteps of other states that are getting rid of PLAs completely — because there really is no good reason to keep them.

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

    Local Hawai’i Organizations get a Boost!

    Seven of Hawai’i’s local non-profit and governmental organizations got a boost from 26 college students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) – Worcester, Massachusetts.   Over 7 weeks in Honolulu, these students experienced our culture, our people, and lent their science and technology skills to address real world problems/challenges that these organizations face.

    How it works:

    WPI develops collaborative relationships with local organizations who sponsor student projects. The most important contribution sponsors make is to provide student teams with a real problem of interest and chosen by the organization. Students thrive when tasked with a problem that is meaningful to them and that matters to someone else. Especially significant is that the students, very technically proficient apply their skills to real problems and situations. The university does not ask for project fees from sponsors, instead students receive academic credit for their project work.  The Hawaii organizations get a boost in the form of student work product.    It’s a win-win. 

    This year’s projects and recipients were:  

    Genki Ala Wai:  

    The Genki Ala Wai Project’s mission is to transform one of Hawaii’s most polluted waterways into a “swimmable and fishable” water body in a few short years. By engaging the K-12 schools and the broader community, including visitors.   WPI Project:  Developed a Website That Fosters Enhanced Interaction Among Teachers, Students, and the Community. Website: Genki Ala Wai Project

    Genki Balls
    Genki Balls for Genki Ala Wai project

    Maka’ alamihi Gardens:  

    Hawaii imports approximately 80-85% of its food from the mainland and relies heavily on cargo ships to deliver the goods. As the most isolated land mass in the world, reliant on imported food, Hawaii is a long way from being food secure. There is merit to tapping into home grown produce to augment food availability in our community. WPI students designed a collaborative and presented it at the Capitol.       Project:  Designed a Model Community Food Security Collaborative       Sponsors: Stacy and Carl Evensen

    Conservation International Hawaii:   

    Conservation International (CI) is a global conservation organization working collaboratively with local communities, governments, and other organizations in over 30 countries towards a healthier and more sustainable future. WPI students studied market feasibility of fish leather and fish broth. Project: Feasibility of value added products to reduce seafood waste in Hawaii. Website: Hawai’i (conservation.org)

    Lyon Arboretum:

    The Arboretum spans nearly 200 acres and is open to the public Monday through Friday. It offers 7 miles of hiking trails, and visitors can observe over 5000 taxa of plants from tropical and subtropical regions. The Arboretum’s mission is to “inspire and cultivate the conservation of tropical plant biodiversity and connect it to the culture of Hawai’i through education and research.” Project:  Designed interpretive and wayfinding signage. Website:  Lyon Arboretum | A University of Hawaii Research Unit

    Honolulu Botanical Gardens- Ho’omaluhia:

    An average of 1600 visitors come to explore the garden daily. That’s 600,000 visitors annually! As a result, stressors on visitor experience rose dramatically: over-using easily accessible areas while underutilizing others, self-limiting visits for lack of directions and guidance, and hesitations to explore trails for fear of being lost. Project: Wayfinding Enhancement Study  Website: HBG Ho`omaluhia (honolulu.gov)

    Surfrider Foundation:

    The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people. The protection and restoration of the Wāwāmalu coastline has been a focus of the community however, restoration efforts are challenged by the lack of available fresh water. Project:  Wāwāmalu Dune Restoration-water tank solution.  Website:  Hawai’i Region | Surfrider Foundation

    Amazing Care Network (ACN):   

    ACN is an organization dedicated to the notion that it takes a village to age well. Its programs are designed to educate adults- including those in or entering their senior years, and their families, about the issues that confront us as we age.  Project: Identified support needs of our aging community members and their caregivers. Website: Amazing Care Network | It Takes a Village To Age Well.

    Award Winning Worcester Polytechnic Institute – Global Program in Hawaii

    Worcester?  How do you pronounce that?  Worchestershire? No.  “Wister”, like in twister!  Hawaii folks, know Boston, Harvard, Yale, Boston College.   Add Worcester Polytechnic Institute to that list. WPI is quite impressive.   The Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is a private research university in Worcester, Massachusetts, its’ curriculum is focused on project-based learning, US News and World Reports 2024 college rankings has WPI solidly in the top 20% of National Universities, and Best Value Schools.  Founded in 1865, WPI was one of the United States’ first engineering and technology universities and now has 14 academic departments with over 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. WPI awards bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

    As a signature element of WPI’s project-based learning, the Global Projects Program gives students the opportunity to complete required research projects off-campus.  WPI has over 50 global project centers, spanning 6 continents.       The directory reads exotic places like Ghana, Uruguay, Thailand, China, Romania, Costa Rica, Panama… and lucky us, HAWAII!  

    Dr. Lauren Mathews, WPI’s Global Project Director: 

    “This year we had a total of 24 students that worked on their “junior year” Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP).   The IQP is a “project which relates technology and science to society or human needs.” Generally, IQPs solve a societal problem using technology. The IQP serves to emphasize team-based work and introduces a real-world responsibility absent from courses.   

    We also had 2 students who worked on their “senior year” Major Qualifying Project (MQP)  The MQP assesses knowledge in a student’s field of study. This project is similar to a senior thesis, with students doing independent research or design. Hawaii Center students worked with the Surfrider Foundation to design irrigation solutions for the Kaiwi Coast restoration.  

    We are excited about our Hawaii Project Center, students become well-rounded and globally aware by working as part of a team to apply classroom knowledge and analytical thinking skills to real-world challenges. Hawaii is a very unique place, culturally rich and diverse.”

    We are currently selecting organizations for 10 projects that will run in the Fall 2024, and Spring 2025.  For more information about getting involved or applying for a project for an organization, contact pamela.hinsdale@gmail.com