Thursday, September 21, 2023
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    A Different Kind of Emergency in Government

    According to Kali Watson, director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), we have a new emergency in Hawaii state government. But it’s probably not the kind you’re used to.

    They need to spend money.  Quickly.

    As you probably remember, in the 2022 legislative session, the legislature threw $600 million at DHHL, hoping that the money would help clear the backlog of Hawaiian beneficiaries waiting for a house on Hawaiian Homestead land.  Some of these beneficiaries have been waiting for decades, and quite a few have died in line.

    And, to emphasize that they were serious, lawmakers said that if the money isn’t spent by June 30, 2025, it expires.  Unspent monies will simply go back to the general fund and be repurposed for other things (such as a first responders’ training center in Central Oahu that the Honolulu Police Department doesn’t want).

    The problem is, however, that raw money doesn’t just magically convert into houses on Homestead land. Agency staff have to plan out developments, work with contractors to put down infrastructure, navigate the state and county permitting processes, and so forth.

    But there is a huge vacancy rate in State government, around 30%. Not just for DHHL, but statewide across all agencies.  DHHL itself has around 60 positions that need to be filled, according to reporting by KITV.  Its operating budget shows 204 permanent and 2 temporary positions.

    So, DHHL is in dire need of warm bodies.  Some of the position openings, Engineer V, for example, do require relevant experience, but many of the others don’t.  DHHL says they can provide lots of on-the-job training.

    And, lest we forget, working at the DHHL, as with other state or county government agencies or nonprofits, can help you if you have a federal student loan.  Specifically, if you are working at a government agency or nonprofit and you make 120 payments toward the loan, the federal government will forgive the rest.  It’s even better: if your payments were paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, payments you didn’t need to make still count toward the 120 (if you were working for an eligible employer during that time and you file a form certifying your employment for the pause period).

    And while these new employees are working on infrastructure for proposed new developments, maybe they can help with existing homestead developments as well.  Some of the homestead lands are hurting for water access, for example, and the water that they do get costs a lot more.  Some of them are being charged more than six times the county rate for water, and not because someone is gouging the homeowners; the water company providing it is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, so presumably the high rates are because the costs of getting that water are much greater. 

    So, our best wishes go out to DHHL.  Hopefully, they will be able to meet the crisis confronting them by staffing up, conducting great training, and then pulling out all the stops trying to help our beleaguered Home Lands beneficiaries.

    Taking No Prisoners in California

    “Lucky you live Hawaii,” goes the famous phrase.  Sometimes it’s really true, as we recently found out from our good friends in the California Taxpayers Association, publishers of the Caltaxletter.

    California has two different tax agencies.  The Franchise Tax Board, sometimes known as FTB, deals primarily with income taxes.  The Department of Tax and Fee Administration, known as CDTFA, handles sales taxes.  (You might remember that California had an elected State Board of Equalization that used to serve this function.  Lawmakers put through a bill in 2017 that basically got rid of the elected Board and split its functions between two new executive branch agencies.)

    CDTFA’s director, according to the Caltaxletter, publicly admitted to ordering his department’s Settlement Section to settle fewer, if any, cases.  His rationale for that directive was that his staff have a very high winning percentage when they take cases to court.  It appears that the guy feels invincible and told his staff to act accordingly.

    The problem, of course, is that not all tax cases are created equal.  The taxpayer’s position is weaker in some, stronger in some.  Cases need to be evaluated on their merits and then both sides can decide if they are worth fighting about or settling.  Yes, the taxing agency does win in many cases that go to trial.  Many factors contribute to this.  The agency litigates before specialty tax courts all the time and develops relationships with the judges and staff.  The agency doesn’t have to pay attorneys by the hour to do the litigating, and thus might not see itself having litigation cost constraints.  But these advantages are no substitutes for judging each case on its own merits and are no justification for telling agency staff to take a hard line everywhere and not settle except in the most extreme cases.

    Does the agency lose?  Sometimes it does, but apparently it can’t be counted on to be a good loser.  The story is told of a taxpayer named Starbuzz International, which sold hookah (16% tobacco) and filed refund claims for tobacco products tax because the tax did not seem to apply to tobacco products with a tobacco content less than 50%.  The taxpayer was subjected to a multi-year audit, after which a hearing was held before a panel of three administrative law judges.  The panel held for the taxpayer and granted its refund claims in full.  The agency filed a petition for rehearing, and after about a year of further litigation the case was heard by another panel of three administrative law judges.  That panel also held for the taxpayer and granted its refund claims in full.  The agency is refusing to pay up, however, claiming a need to re-audit the taxpayer based on newly raised issues.  Come on, guys.  The agency had eight years to make its case, went to the mat, and lost fair and square.  Twice.  It’s hard enough on a taxpayer to go through an audit once, especially when the taxpayer is a smaller business and the audit is a thorn in the side for company management.

    Here in Hawaii, the Department of Taxation’s prior administration had a reputation, told to us by insiders, of not settling cases and taking a hard line in general.  The current administration is led by the gentleman who supervised the Department of Attorney General’s Tax and Charities Division, and thus represented the Department of Taxation in court, during the prior administration.  He has told practitioners that he does not intend to take hard lines and he is more open to settling cases to whittle down the backlog of tax appeals.

    Lucky you live Hawai’i.  I guess.

    Single-stair construction could help Hawaii climb out of its housing crisis

    By Keli‘i Akina

    If we want to find ways to lower the cost of housing in our state, we might have to take the stairs. Or, to be more precise, take away a set of stairs.

    Believe it or not, that small change in construction design could help homebuilders produce more efficient buildings in Hawaii, which would lead to lower costs, better use of land space and more options for people seeking affordable housing.

    At this point, you might be wondering how a staircase could be so significant. That’s where Stephen Smith, my guest on this week’s episode of “Hawaii Together” on ThinkTech Hawaii, comes in.

    Smith is the executive director of the Center for Building in North America, an organization based in Brooklyn, New York, that researches how regulations and building codes in the U.S. have made constructing small apartment buildings more expensive and less efficient.

    One of its areas of focus has been the double-staircase requirement that is found in most municipal building codes for multistory apartment buildings.

    What is a double staircase? In terms of design, it means there are staircases at both ends of apartment building hallways.

    Smith explained to me that this often leads to inefficient building designs, especially when it comes to building on smaller lots, since a significant amount of the building’s area must be used for the second staircase.

    “One thing that architects target when they build,” Smith said, “is they try to get to an efficiency ratio of 80 to 90%. … That means 80 to 90% of the building is going to be apartments and not, you know, stairs, elevators, hallways that can’t be sold. So the savings come from having more efficient layouts within the apartments — more efficient overall floor plans allowing you to build on smaller lots, and then the small cost savings from the lack of a second staircase.”

    But that can’t happen unless we liberalize our building codes to allow for single-staircase buildings. Smith said this is something that has been done effectively in New York and Seattle, and is common internationally.

    “I think it would be great to look to other countries, and especially when it comes to designing apartments,” Smith said. “The United States is a nation of single-family homeowners, and if you’re trying to build anything else, I think sometimes there are better lessons to be learned from, you know, Korea, Japan, China, Switzerland, than [from] within our own country. I would say, expand your mind and look abroad and look at places that have more of a culture of multifamily living, have more of a culture of using land more efficiently. … I think there’s great lessons to be learned from Asia and from Europe.”

    Smith told me the double-stair requirement is a holdover from the early 20th century, when fear of fires led to strict regulations in building construction. However, improvements in building materials, design and fire safety have negated the need for double staircases, and single-stair construction has been proven safe for decades around the world.

    Smith said the other reason the requirement still exists is because America’s building codes are tilted toward large developers of single-family homes and high-rises.

    “Small apartment buildings [get] sort of left behind,” he said. “But when you don’t have a lot of land, like Hawaii, … and you want to build something that’s more affordable than a high-rise, you’re sort of stuck in the middle. And our codes don’t really [address] that very well.”

    Smith said that to change that situation, “small developers need to speak out for themselves. … They need to speak out when they encounter hurdles in regulation. … Talk to your local politicians.”

    As we neared the end of our conversation, it became clear to me that with regard to policy, we too often look at things from a very broad perspective. But in fact, making seemingly minor changes, one after another — such as transitioning to single staircases — can add up to some big savings and possibly result in a significant expansion of our housing supply.

    The key is to be open to new ideas. Then, if they make sense, we need to be flexible enough to adopt them. And the sooner the better.

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

    Free-Fall – Sail On, Sailor

    “I wrest the waters, fight Neptune’s waters

    Sail through the sorrows of life’s marauders
    Unrepenting, often empty
    Sail on, sail on sailor

    I work the seaways, the gale-swept seaways
    Past shipwrecked daughters of wicked waters
    Uninspired, drenched and tired
    Wail on, wail on, sailor

    Sail On, Sailor”Song by The Beach Boys


    Ladies and gentlemen, please return to your seats.
    Intermission is ending and the second feature is
    about to begin.

    The first feature of the program is nearly over and
    they are just displaying the credits now. We can
    clearly see who are involved . . . producers,
    directors, actors, everyone who had a role in this
    blockbuster production of, “Dead End”.

    This epic production tracks, live and in color, the
    birth, life and destabilization of an entire living world.
    We have reached a saturation point and are
    now at the limit of the capacity of the Earth system to
    remain in its stable state. We are approaching true
    Free – Fall of life-support systems at the global

    What a show! What riveting impact! A tour de force!
    Produced by . . . directed by and starring . . . US.
    Yes, we did it!

    That’s right folks. An amazing feat. Let it sink in and
    then, everyone stand and take a bow. (while we still
    can). Okay then, be quick about it. Water level is
    rising real fast.

    Let’s move forward to the second feature:
    “Surf’s Up”, which has already started.

    This epic production documents the chart breaking
    progression of the rise in global sea levels. Wow!
    All of those nifty, hi – tech digital models and
    projections, meticulously prepared by clever
    scientists and academicians were worthless . . . a
    tribute to the absurdity and hubris of trying to map
    elemental forces of nature onto a minuscule

    Facing a future of accelerating climate change while
    blind to worst-case scenarios is naive at best and
    fatally foolish at worst. So, what’s new?
    The alarm was raised recently when climate
    scientists warned:

    “The current trajectory looks like it’s headed off the
    charts, smashing previous records,” Prof Matthew
    England, a climate scientist at the University of New
    South Wales, said at that time. “What we are seeing
    is very unusual,” he said. “This is heading in an
    unprecedented direction, and could be taking us into
    uncharted territory.”

    Even if the world stopped emitting greenhouse
    gases tomorrow, ocean levels would continue to

    Not only is dangerous sea level rise “absolutely
    guaranteed”, but it will keep rising for centuries or

    millennia even if the world stopped emitting
    greenhouse gases tomorrow, experts say.
    Rising seas are one of the most severe
    consequences of a heating climate that are already
    being felt.

    The rapid surge in global ocean temperatures seen
    in recent months indicates a climate pattern shift that
    could accelerate planetary warming and
    supercharge trends that are already driving extreme
    storms, deadly heat waves, and weather related

    Since April, the warming appears to have entered a
    new trajectory. Meanwhile the area of global sea ice
    has dropped by more than 1 million sq km below the
    previous low.

    “If a few decades ago, some people might have
    thought climate change was a relatively slow-moving
    phenomenon, we are now witnessing our climate
    changing at a terrifying rate,” said Prof Peter Stott,
    who leads the UK Met Office’s climate monitoring
    and attribution team. “As the El Niño builds through
    the rest of this year, adding an extra oomph to the
    damaging effects of human-induced global heating,
    many millions of people across the planet and many
    diverse ecosystems are going to face extraordinary
    challenges and unfortunately suffer great damage.”
    Climate change models and projections fail in their
    inability to capture the infinite number of dynamically

    linked variables involved. What seem like singular
    tipping points often trigger a “cascading” sequence
    of related events in the ongoing free – fall; multiple,
    collateral events (e.g. infrastructure damage, loss of
    land, water and food sources) that coalesce into
    system-wide breakdown.

    Free – fall . . . meltdown.

    A changing climate is current reality. Land and
    marine heatwaves, forest fires, atmospheric rivers
    and floods have become the backdrop to day-to-day
    life. Watch it live on TV.

    It should be understood that the events in the global
    destabilization that we are experiencing are primarily
    consequent to the main act which is taking place
    in the oceans, which soak up more than 90% of
    excess heat energy.

    Rising sea levels are perhaps the most severe
    consequence emerging from the ongoing climate

    Scientists are not used to thinking in terms of rapid
    change, but the trajectory of the global average
    temperature on the surface of the ocean has now
    entered uncharted territory – quickly and

    CNN  — 
    Temperatures in parts of the North Atlantic Ocean
    are soaring off the charts, with an “exceptional”
    marine heat wave happening off the coasts of the

    United Kingdom and Ireland, sparking concerns
    about impacts on marine life.

    There are many scientific indicators pointing to the
    imminent collapse of the Thwaites Glacier (AKA the
    “Doomsday Glacier”). Once this glacier collapses,
    scientists expect sea levels to rise 10 feet or more in
    a fairly rapid progression. At that point, everything
    near the coasts will be underwater and destroyed.

    Manfredo — 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

    Digital Nomad travel gear review – Part 2

    Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series on traveling light and right. In this piece our travel editor, Rob Kay, looks at more digital nomad essentials. This includes clothing, battery chargers, rain jacket and phone services.

    Merino Fever

    Bringing the “right clothing” to Europe is crucial for a digital nomad. However, it’s not just a matter of what to wear. How much you bring is also an important and practical matter.

    A digital nomad’s guiding principle should be: travel light.

    That’s where clothing made from merino wool fits in. While wearing the same underwear several days in a row may not serve you well, the same does not apply to merino wool socks or T-shirts. Thus you don’t need to have to bring as much clothing as you thought was necessary.

    Magically, merino wool products absorb your sweat and perspiration without radiating unpleasant odors. This amazing material regulates heat, is durable and can be worn multiple times before needing washing.

    Americans obsessed by changing their clothing daily can relax a bit with merino wool products in their roll-on.

    Merino socks from Darn Tough Vermont should be in your pack
    Merino socks from Darn Tough Vermont are a no brainer. Wear them a couple of days in a row and when it’s time to wash, they dry more quickly that other fabrics.

    But wait, there’s more.

    After washing, merino wool dries quickly. The nomad can wash his or her socks in the evening and rest assured they will be dry the next morning. This was the case with my socks (about $18 a pair) from Darn Tough Vermont, which are guaranteed for life. (You can see their superb ratings on Amazon).

    Of course, the same principle applies to merino T-shirts. They dry overnight and don’t have to be washed as frequently as cotton or other material. And as alluded to above, wearing them several days in a row won’t result in your emitting an offensive odor.  (Note also in Europe I found people don’t seem to care if you wear the same shirt or pants two days in a row!)

    A merino t-shirt for a digital nomad is pro forma
    If you want to blend in, basic black t-shirts, like this merino Travel T from Aviator, are standard issue in southern Europe.

    Merino wool T-shirts from Aviator (the same folks that make the travel pants) worked very well on my European excursion. They were dressy enough to wear at lunch with the town Sindaco (mayor in Italian) and fine for everyday activities as well.

    The wool was not overly warm to wear even on hot days. And yes, it got hot in Spain and Italy over the summer. The Aviator T-shirt also came in handy in the Pyrenees, which can get chilly, even in the summer. (Figure on paying around $75 for an Aviator “Travel-T”).

    This form fitting merino t-shirt from outdoor vitals is part of my collection
    This form fitting merino t-shirt from Outdoor Vitals is also excellent. The material is a bit thinner and lighter than the Aviator offering.

    I also picked up a “Tern Ultralight” merino wool T-shirt from a company called Outdoor Vitals which offers a variety of serious outdoor gear. (More on that below). I liked their T-shirt because it is more form fitting on my torso. The material is a bit thinner than the Aviator so it’s ideal in warmer weather too.

    A Digital Nomad needs more than Trendy Rain Gear

    What happens when it rains? You can buy up a cheap umbrella on the road or better yet, take along a lightweight rain jacket before you leave town. I picked a dandy one from Outdoor Vitals, which manufactures serious trekking/mountaineering gear. They make a super lightweight “Tushar” nylon rain jacket which is sturdy and stylish. I found it to be an item I used nearly every day as a light jacket that I stashed in my day pack.

    Rain coat from outdoor vitals should be in your digital nomad pack
    I used the Tushar raincoat was used more like a jacket when it got a chilly–whether in the Pyrenees or on the airplane. (No, that’s not me).

    The Tushar is much more than a rain jacket.

    It’s EDC wear that you could comfortably wear at an outdoor café, in an airplane (where it can get cold) or anywhere. A lot of thought has gone into the design. It has stretchy cuffs that cover your wrist but don’t cling and will leave your hands free to do whatever. It has a hood, of course, that will keep you dry and a mesh pocket on the left lapel that comes in very handy for reading glasses, keys, etc.

    Rain coat from outdoor vitals has a very handy zipper and should be in your pack
    The pocket on the Tushar was used daily. (Rob Kay photo)

    The only downside is that at ($229.97) it’s expensive. Then again, you get what you pay for. Wear it on the plane or on your next hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro.


    Your chargers are akin to a digital nomad’s life force.

    When I got to my hotel or B&B my first act was to scout out an outlet near the bed to plug in my itty-bitty Anker 511 (Nano 3, 30W) charger dedicated for my Google Pixel 6 phone. The size of a big sugar cube, it doesn’t take up much space by the bed or in your tech pouch. Connected to Anker’s nifty (six foot long) USB C to C cable Lightning cable (which comes with the device) there’s plenty of room to place the phone in a convenient spot. Priced at $22.99, it’s not going to break the bank.

      Anker 511 (Nano 3, 30W) charger is in my digital nomad tech pouch
    This itty-bitty charger comes in very handy in combination with the C to C cable that comes with it. (Rob Kay photo)

    For charging bigger items I used Anker’s 737 Charger (GaNPrime 120W). With 2 USB-C ports and one USB-A port, you can charge your phone, tablet, and notebook all at once from a single charger. It’s also very fast. Using a C to C cable (which comes included) you get high-speed charging to a wide range of devices. Price is $75.

     Anker 737 charger is also part of my digital nomad charger collection
    The 737 charger can handle up to three items at once. I would take one along. (Rob Kay photo)

    Rounding off my charging tools portfolio was the Anker 737 Power Bank (PowerCore 24K). Weighing in at 1.6 lbs. and priced at $127, the Anker 737 Power Bank was well worth lugging around. I liken it to an insurance policy. It packs a punch and boy does it come in handy. It’s powerful enough to charge your laptop in one fell swoop and your cell phone 5x over. It also has a digital display which shows the output and input power and estimated time to fully recharge.

    The 737 Power Bank from Anker will keep you ready for action
    The 737 Power Bank is a monster to lug around but it saved my bacon on a couple of occasions. (Rob Kay photo)

    I used it on the plane coming home to Hawaii when I had to finish an article and realized I hadn’t charged up my laptop. It also was essential when EasyJet (I’d avoid them if you’re in Europe) cancelled my flight and left me high and dry at Malpensa Airport (outside of Milano) with no place to stay and of course, no place to charge my cellphone.

    Thank goodness I had this with me. You can get lighter power banks of course, but are they going to be able to charge your laptop? Think about it.

    The 737 Power Bank from Anker is in digital nomad action on an airplane
    The Powercore charger (foreground) kept me in business on the airplane. (Rob Kay photo)

    So where do you stash all that digital nomad tech gear?

    Peak Design (more on them in a future post) has a cool little item called the Tech Pouch ($59) which is designed specifically to store and organize your cables, charging devices, adapters, plugs, dongles, etc. It happens to be Amazon’s choice and it’s also mine. It’s durable and sturdy, the same nylon type material that Peak Design uses for their backpacks. Not only did it stow all my gear, but it helped keep me organized, which not a quality I always have.

    The Tech Pouch from Peak Design keeps this digital nomad organized
    The Tech Pouch from Peak Design is a great way to stay organized. It’s another item I wouldn’t leave home without.


    Obviously, your phone is of existential importance to your digitally nomadic lifestyle.

    I brought an extra phone with me as a backup. I figured I could add a local SIM card (if needed) but it was not necessary. If you do plan to make a lot of local calls, you’ll want a dedicated local phone. Otherwise, you’ll be just fine with a decent international phone plan.

    The International program I have (with T-Mobile) is the “Magenta 55+” which provides unlimited data and texting. If you need to call locally or back to the US, it’s 25 cents per minute on their network. I found I usually didn’t make local or internationals with T-Mobile so that was inconsequential.

    The real workhorse was WhatsApp which I used quite a bit for messaging and phone calls–both locally and internationally. It is of course, free of charge.

    (Note that Wi-Fi is available just about everywhere so you can avail yourself of that when needed).

    WhatsApp is the killer app when it comes to free long distance calls and messaging. Everyone in Europe it seems has it on their phone.

    The Magenta 55+ program worked out well but has some limitations.

    The data speed with the T-Mobile network was fine for voice, texting and Google Maps but not for apps the require more bandwidth. For example, if you need to get into Dropbox, play a video or use any app that requires more data such as a hotspot for your laptop, you’ll need to upgrade to a program that offers more data. (In my case it was a T-Mobile international pass). It offers:

    • International 1 Day Pass: 512MB of high-speed data and unlimited calling, to be used up to 24 hours, for $5/day.
    • 5GB International Pass: 5GB of high-speed data and unlimited calling, to be used up to 10 days, for $35.
    • 15GB International Pass: 15GB of high-speed data and unlimited calling, to be used up to 30 days, for $50.

    That said, for vacationers it will be fine.

    Stay tuned for more travel gear for the Digital Nomad in Part 3.

    On the Level? Not quite…


    As travel editor of Hawaii Reporter I’m very lucky. Free travel? Not quite, but I get around. This summer I was in Europe doing research for a book. I took a couple of “local” (European-based) carriers, Level Airlines and EasyJet.

    Time to review Level Airlines and EasyJet

    Level, which took me from San Francisco to Barcelona seemed attractive. The San Francisco to Barcelona route was handy. Non stop to Europe and a reasonable price. So I decided to the book several months before the planned journey.

    The first experience was ominous. I went to the website, filled out the form and clicked to purchase the first segment. It seemed too good to be true–$500. The website for some reason hung up. I refreshed it and lo and behold, the price went up $400.

    Just like that.

    How about an online chat, to discuss the price hike. Maybe, but not on US Time. It’s a European carrier. There was a phone number and in fits and starts, I did reach them. The guy was pleasant enough and informed me that “there were problems” with the website.

    So I bought the ticket. Great, that part was out of the way. But not quite…

    Need a seat? Gotta pay extra? (Isn’t that what the ticket is for? I guess not.) Need food? Extra. Want the possibility to change your ticket in the future? More extra. Need a seat with more seat room? More extra. Check Bags?  Again, extra…

    You get the idea. By the time I was through, the cost had doubled, and I hadn’t even purchased the return ticket… 

    But let’s continue with the “booking”…

    Well of course, I did need a seat. I waited a day or two to actually choose the seat and Level, concerned about my well being, kept on sending emails to remind me. Fair enough.

    So I purchased the seat and they kept on sending more emails, asking if I wanted to choose my seat.

    Huh? Didn’t I just book my seat? Did I do something wrong? Why are they asking me to choose a seat again? Are they crying wolf, or are they trying to upsell me? (It was the latter).

    So the reminder emails continued, this time asking if I wanted to change my seat? 

    Why would I do that? They suggested I get something “roomier”.

    I stuck with what I had.

    On the way back (yes I did buy a return ticket), I realized I needed to change it. They allowed me to do so but charged me another $500.  Them’s the breaks.

    Ready to return and on the tarmac at BCN. They greeted us with piped in Latin bubble gum music in the cabin like it was some Vegas hotel. It was loud and irritating. How about silence? Yeah, an old fart complaint but I didn’t want to hear the music. OK?

    Flight service was reasonable. FA’s were friendly and decent. Very little water was offered over the 12-hour flight. They might improve on that. It’s important to hydrate. Right?

    I did entertain myself with the movies but the sound emanating from my headset was distorted and fuzzy. No it wasn’t my headset. I used the same gear on the way back (on my HAL flight from SFO) and it worked perfectly.

    That wasn’t the only thing busted. So was my tray which slumped, so using my laptop was bit challenging. At least the Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines worked fine. As one pilot friend once told me, it’s always good if you can walk away from your flight.

    Will I use this carrier again?

    I’ll have to think about it…

    EasyJet. Really?

    Then there was EasyJet, a UK airline that’s ubiquitous in Europe. I booked a flight from Milano to Porto but it was cancelled due to foul weather. Of course this was after we spent a few hours in the cabin on the tarmac.

    As we deplaned the pilot assured us the airline would handle hotel accommodation.

    Well that’s nice, I figured.

    Guess what? There wasn’t going to be an accommodation that night.

    It was midnight in Malpensa and there were no hotels, no agent and the train to Milano (it’s an hour ride) was finito for the evening. No place to sleep and no assistance. Spending the night at the airport was not something I want to repeat anytime soon.

    An email said they would reimburse us for a hotel so long as it wasn’t too expensive. Never mind that there were no hotels nearby unless of course you grab a 400-Euro taxi to Milan and see what you can find at 2 am.

    The carrier later inform me via email that they’d scheduled a flight for us the next day at 2 pm and the agent gave me a 20 Euro voucher for airport food. He didn’t know anything about the hotel they were going to provide for us. If we wanted some redress, we’d have to go on the website. I’m not holding my breath…

    Rob Kay is the author of Lonely Planet guidebooks to Tahiti and Fiji. He’s also the creator of

    Getting Kids to School in Kihei

    Let’s start with a simple proposition.  Taxpayers pay our government to get things done.  Taxpayers don’t pay our government agencies to fight each other so that nothing gets done.

    We focus this week on Kihei, Maui, where our Department of Education (DOE) has been trying to open a new, $245 million, high school primarily for Kihei.  It’s called Kulanihakoi High School.  It’s built, and has been built for some time, but it can’t open.

    Why?  Lots of families live makai of Piilani Highway (which is a busy, four lane highway) around Kulanihakoi Street.  The school was built mauka of Piilani Highway.  To get to the school, kids now have to cross the highway.  Concerns about the safety of having kids compete with cars here prompted the State Land Use Commission to conclude, ten years ago, that a “grade-separated crossing,” like an overpass or an underpass, needed to be built.

    Over the years, DOE appeared to go along with the requirement.  In early 2020, when it approached Maui County for permits, it said that the design of the pedestrian overpass was already started and projected for it to be built in 2022 and 2023. 

    But in 2021, DOE did an about-face.  Instead, it went back to the Land Use Commission to ask it to change its previous order to allow it to open the school without a pedestrian crossing, citing studies (paid for by guess who) presumably showing that the pedestrian crossing was not needed.  This attracted objections and demonstrations from the public, and the Commission denied the DOE’s request.

    At the same time, the DOE and the Department of Transportation spent $16 million on a four-lane roundabout with flashing lights in front of the school to slow traffic down and thereby eliminate (in DOE’s mind, perhaps) the need for an overpass.  County officials were skeptical and arranged a meeting in late August 2022 with council members and other community members.  No one from the DOE showed up to the meeting, however.

    In February 2023, DOE seemed to accede to the overpass, presenting some rough sketches to the community.  The agency said it would ask the Legislature for emergency funding to build the overpass.  Sen. Angus McKelvey, who represents the area, said that he added $15 million for the project in the Senate’s draft of the plan, but that funding didn’t make it into the state budget.  It isn’t clear why the funding request was deleted; perhaps it was because that wouldn’t be enough.  The Governor’s Office issued a release saying that its construction would cost more than $25 million.

    In March, Gov. Green announced that the state and county governments had reached a deal allowing the school to open in exchange for requiring the DOE to implement a temporary pedestrian safety plan, including shuttles for students walking to and from school, until the new pedestrian overpass is completed.  The school is now slated to open in August.

    Let me now ask this question:  If the DOE had listened to the Land Use Commission ten years ago and had not put tons of resources into studies and legal briefs trying to get the Commission to change its mind, how many millions of taxpayer dollars could have been saved – by the DOE, the Department Transportation, Maui County government, and even the Governor’s Office?

    Kudos to Council for addressing Honolulu permitting delays

    By Keli‘i Akina

    How long should Oahu residents have to wait for a permit to repair or renovate their homes? A few days? Weeks? Months?

    As recently as 2017, it took about three months. That might seem short compared to the average wait now of about six months, but it’s still too long. For commercial projects, the average wait can be more than a year.

    On a recent episode of “Hawaii Together” on ThinkTech Hawaii, Honolulu City Councilmember Andria Tupola recalled being greeted by a mountain of constituent complaints about permit delays upon taking office in 2021. In response, she hosted a town hall with Dean Uchida, then director of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting, and learned that the city had a backlog of about 8,000 permit applications.

    Not only is that a huge number, Tupola said, “but if you quantify that into dollars, into projects, into homes, I mean, we’re talking billions of dollars that are just stuck in the economy because they can’t get a permit to proceed.”

    So Tupola began working with DPP and her fellow Council members to figure out where they could achieve meaningful change. And, amazingly, they really have been able to make a dent in the permitting backlog.

    Bill 51 (2022), introduced by Councilmember Brandon Elefante and now a city ordinance, removed the requirement that permit seekers submit a notarized statement affirming there are no fines or liens on their properties. This makes it easier for contractors representing homeowners to get started on their jobs. 

    Tupola, meanwhile, had the brilliant idea that maybe too many permits are being required in the first place.

    “If we have a huge permitting line of 8,000 people, we may be micromanaging things that we shouldn’t be doing, right? Because perhaps some of these outdated laws needed to be updated,” she explained.

    This led to the Council and mayor approving Bill 56, which eliminated permits for some projects completely, such as fences 6 feet high or less, and increased the value threshold for other projects. 

    For example, it used to be that you needed a permit if the “valuation in the aggregate in any 12-month period” of home repairs or replacements of existing parts — not including electrical, plumbing or mechanical installations — was $5,000 or more. Now it’s $10,000 or more.

    For electrical work, the valuation threshold used to be $500 or more; for plumbing, it was $1,000. Now both are $2,500.

    These and other measures have helped ease some of the pressure on DPP. But we still need substantial reforms if we want to reduce the backlog and keep wait times low. 

    One possibility being considered is professional self-certification. In particular, Bill 6 (2023) would allow experts to attest that their plans comply with the county’s building code and any applicable regulations, then receive a permit without having to go through the lengthy DPP review process.

    Some people have expressed concerns about this proposal, but the practice has been successful in other cities, including New York and Chicago. In Chicago, an architect can self-certify a plan and receive a permit within 10 days

    Ultimately, I am encouraged that Tupola, Elefante and all our elected officials on the Honolulu City Council have recognized the expense and aggravation caused by permitting delays, and with the mayor’s support are willing to explore new avenues to address the backlog and speed up the process.

    Let’s hope these small wins start a trend in Hawaii of streamlining the permitting process and reducing bureaucratic delays. Before you know it, we might even be able to produce more housing across the board and lower construction costs to make homes more affordable for all.

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

    Emergency order for housing welcome, but also worrisome

    By Keli‘i Akina

    Gov. Josh Green issued an emergency proclamation this week aimed at easing Hawaii’s housing crisis, and from its very first words, it was impressive.

    Much of the proclamation I could have written myself — especially the many “whereas” justifications for why the emergency order was issued — which states many of the points I’ve been making for years regarding the bad policy and inaction that have characterized Hawaii’s approach to homebuilding.

    The proclamation emphasizes that housing growth in Hawaii has been constrained by overregulation, and it connects the dots between the state’s permitting policies and Hawaii’s high home prices. 

    And in a wholly unexpected move, it waives regulations, streamlines approvals and creates a task force that has the explicit duty to increase Hawaii’s housing supply. 

    Housing advocates from all parts of the political spectrum have been united in telling lawmakers we must clear away these regulations and excessive permitting requirements to spur growth and lower the cost of housing in our state.

    So while I am troubled that the governor has resorted to issuing an emergency order to address a decades-long issue, I am impressed by his willingness to listen to diverse voices and act on what he has learned. His eagerness to make a difference is refreshing and has the potential to be game-changing for our state.

    The problem until now — for the most part — has been the Legislature. Despite having data and policy remedies immediately available to them, our legislators have been slow to act. Even small reform proposals end up drowning in legislative debate.

    Under these circumstances, I understand why the governor looked at this political and bureaucratic morass and decided to take drastic action. With one stroke of the pen, the governor did what many of us have been asking policymakers to do for years.

    In effect, Gov. Green has created a housing “sandbox” that will give us a good opportunity to identify what works, what can be improved and what permanent changes can be made to encourage long-term housing growth in our state.

    The bad news — and there is bad news — is that the very nature of the governor’s action could limit its effectiveness. By their nature, emergency orders are temporary measures. So the clock is already ticking on Hawaii’s new, streamlined approach to affordable housing.

    Moreover, the constitutional issues inherent in using emergency powers in this way leave the much-needed reforms open to legal challenge. Eventually, these issues must be dealt with to ensure the stability of our democratic process. As representatives of the people, this is the Legislature’s responsibility.

    But again, looking at this from the bright side, the Legislature should consider the governor’s proclamation as a catalyst to change Hawaii’s housing laws and reduce overregulation permanently. It can even be viewed as an experiment that might finally show that regulations are indeed the cause of our housing problems.

    Gov. Green has initiated a bold effort to end the housing shortage. Now the ball is in the Legislature’s court.

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

    Digital Nomad travel gear review – Part 1

    Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three part series by Hawaii Reporter Travel Editor and creator of, Rob Kay. In this article we’ll look at a travel wallet, trousers, and shoes.

    Ever consider being a digital nomad? This is a trend that became increasingly popular during the COVID era. If you’re going to be stuck somewhere, it may as well be someplace with great beaches, good beer, and a culture you’ll want to explore. And yes, decent bandwidth so you can do your job, is also a must.

    Many countries, who understood this trend, realized that attracting hi-tech workers in a plague-induced downturn could be a boon to their economies. They responded by offering special visas that allow new economy workers to avoid tax hassles. The rationale was, so long as you’re working for people outside of the host country, you don’t have to pay taxes.

    If you’re mobile and fancy-free, what’s not to like about this arrangement?

    So I thought I’d try the digital nomad life for a few months in Europe while both researching a book.

    I don’t know if there’s an official digital nomad instruction manual, but I would think rule #1 would be “travel light”. Rule #2 would be, bring the right gear.

    What exactly was I going to need?

    Here are the lessons I learned…

    Card wallet plus from Nomad
    Nomad’s full grain leather Card Wallet Plus worked well for me in Europe because of the size. (photo Rob Kay)

    Organized and Safe

    The first thing I did was acquire the Card Wallet Plus ($80) a decidedly non-high tech item from a company called appropriately enough, Nomad. A Santa Barbara-based operation, Nomad manufactures an array of high-tech products ranging from smart phone cases to wallet tracking cards and yes, even leather wallets.  

    The Card Wallet Plus is minuscule but has 5 card slots and an external “quick access” slot.

    How does this fit into the digital nomad’s world?

    Start with the premise that when you travel, you don’t need a big fat American wallet. There are several good reasons for this.

    First off, Rome and Barcelona are not just centers of great cuisine. Both are also the pickpocket capitals of Europe. This slim little billfold will readily slip into your front pocket without screaming “steal me”.  

    comparison of Nomad Card Wallet Plus and big fat American wallet
    Leave those big fat American wallets back home (photo Rob Kay)

    The Card Wallet Plus is much thinner than my old-fashioned, “traditional” wallet, and could handle my Honolulu driver’s license and about four credit card sized items with plenty of room left over for folded cash and a few business cards. Nomad says it will fit up to twelve cards (which it will) but at that point it’s bit bulky for me. (I mean do you really need to carry around 12 cards?)


    All I wanted was room for a credit card or two, a couple of debit cards, a driver’s license, and room for Euros. It’s a good idea to carry a couple of credit cards with you because for inexplicable reasons one may not work. For example, Trenitalia, the Italian rail company, “liked” one of my credit cards but not the other. Or you may be in a situation where you need cash so a debit card will come in very handy.

    The Nomad wallet became my “EDC” for use in cafes, restaurants, etc. No real need to carry anything else which would be fodder for the bad guys (and girls).

    What about carrying a passport? 

    Aviator travel jeans will keep your valuables safe
    With Aviator Jeans you’ve got several secret pockets to discourage the pickpockets. I wore their new khaki jeans on this recent trip.

    I didn’t find I needed a bigger billfold to carry around my passport in an EDC context. If you need to carry a passport (which you do at times) that can be transported in a money belt or you can zip it up in your front pants pocket. Generally I’d leave the passport back in the hotel room.

    For me, a carry-all with passport(s), cash, cards, and everything else is just too big to stuff in your pants. It doesn’t mean that having a larger wallet might be a better solution for you but carrying something less detectable worked better for me.

    Secure Clothing

    Another way to protect your valuables on your person is to purchase a pair or two of “travel” jeans with hidden pockets protected by a zipper. I like products from Aviator, a company that has built its entire business model on travel clothing. Among other items, they offer a variety of jeans – classic faded, jet black, khaki, camo, steel grey, etc. I’m partial to their traditional denim jeans. 

    Aviator offers a quintessential five pocket and five belt loop classic jean design. You could easily mistake it for a Levi or Wrangler.

    Be a smart digital nomad and Keep your valuables out of harm's way with Aviator travel jeans
    Yet another zippered pocket to stash your goodies in an Aviator travel jean (photo Rob Kay)

    That’s just the surface resemblance. Aviator’s secret sauce is their three “secret” zipper pockets, hidden from view so that you can stash your passport, credit cards, cash, etc. Inside the right front pocket is a pouch where you can easily tuck your Nomad wallet, or your smart phone. (So long as your phone isn’t too big). Two of the hidden pockets are back pockets and third is in the left front. The back pockets could work for a passport or even cash because these items would be very hard to spot.

    The Aviator jeans come in slim and straight fits. If you’re not the sleek type, the regular fit will be fine but if you have an athletic frame, the slims will be more flattering. On the other hand, the regular cut, which is more forgiving is probably not going to reveal what’s in your pockets as readily as the slim version.

    I have Aviator jeans both in traditional denim and khaki, a newer version with a fabric that is clearly more durable and feels akin to my Levis than their stretchy denim.

    The upshot? If you’re going to be in a town full of pickpockets, you don’t want to make their job too easy.

    the Abisko Midsummer Trousers is must for the digital nomad
    The tailoring on the Abisko Midsummer Trousers has a very appealing European look. It also has secure pockets for your wallet and passport.

    I also like Fjallraven’s Abisko Midsummer Trousers ($140) which I also wore extensively on this last trip. Although they are “serious” hiking pants, these are stylish enough to wear anywhere. I wore them in restaurants and on a hiking trail high in the Pyrenees. They are comfortable, flattering and very practical.

    They don’t have the hidden “anti-pickpocket pocket” but they do have zippered and button-down pockets that come in very handy on the road (and on airplanes for that matter). All the pockets are on the front, so no one is going to grab anything out of the rear pocket.

    Let’s hear it for the Swedes.

    Finally, I’m also a fan of Western Rise. Every version of their trousers (someone correct me if I’m wrong) has a hidden zipper pocket behind the right rear pocket which makes them great travel candidates. I own both their Evolution and Diversion lines. The former has lighter fabric and thus probably better suited for travel purposes. They have recently introduced a new (Evolution 2.0) pant which has had good reviews I have yet to “experience” it. V.1 suited me just fine.

    Western Rise trousers also have a back right hidden pocket.

    The Right Shoes

    When you go to Europe, be prepared to walk–a lot.

    Shoes, of course are a very personal choice but #1 is comfort and fit. The last thing you need is blisters. On my recent trip I took along two pair of “walking” shoes from Lowa, a German manufacturer that I’ve used for years. (Full disclosure, I have dual American-German citizenship so I’m a bit biased about German products). I swapped out shoes every other day and walked all around towns such as Florence, Mantova, Figueres, Merano–you name it. Here’s what I took…

    Innox Pro GTX Lo

    The Innox Pro GTX Lo (priced at $215) is a cross between a running shoe, a trail running shoe and a hiking boot. Thus, in theory, you get the best of all worlds with this product. It’s both stable and flexible on all types of terrain. It’s also light (360 grams or .78 lb).

    The shoes are constructed with a synthetic, mesh fabric upper that entails a “PU” or polyurethane frame for durability, shock-absorption and stability. PU absorbs shock, supports, and rebounds well and is more durable. LOWA claims a PU midsole also offers excellent support, lasts 2-5 times longer than a comparable EVA midsole and is less toxic to manufacture.

    I’ve had this pair for nine months now and wore it extensively in Europe. (Rob Kay photo)

    Another excellent quality is the sole, which seems to be “grippy” in a variety of terrain. Whether you’re in a mall parking lot in Aprilia lot or on the cobblestone streets of Puigcerda, in the Pyrenees, this shoe can handle it. After two months of use the shoe’s sole had little wear.

    Walker GTX

    This shoe is slightly more formal than the Pro GTX. You probably wouldn’t wear at a performance at La Scala but it rounded out my portfolio. It’s also very practical. They don’t call it the “Walker” for nothing.

    The manufacturer describes the Walker GTX as a lightweight, ‘sneaker-inspired walking shoe’ but I would say it’s a lot more robust than your everyday ‘sneaker’.  The sole provides ample traction so that you can go from sidewalk to trail without breaking stride. At under 2 lbs. It’s both light and extremely comfortable but until you break it in, you’ll feel the sole has more of a stiff, almost boot-like quality.

    Lowa’s Walker (like many of their shoes) uses nubuck leather. Nubuck is top-grain, extremely durable, cattle leather that’s been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibers. The result is a near velvet-like surface that is quite comfortable to wear.

    I’ve owned six pairs of Lowa shoes/boots and have only had a problem with one pair–a boot where the midsole separated from the plate. The manufacturer repaired it for me at no charge. They stand behind their products. Let’s hear it for the Germans…

    Stay tuned for more travel gear for the Digital Nomad