Monday, June 17, 2024
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    Fear of the Unknown

    Usually, it’s possible to tell which bills in the legislative hopper provide tax breaks as opposed to tax hikes.  The bill replaces a current tax rate with another one, and if the new tax rate is higher it’s a tax hike; if it’s lower, a tax break.

    But what about the bills that are “none of the above”?

    By that I mean that some bills replace a current tax rate with a blank.  Or several blanks.  Those are scary because you don’t know what our lawmakers are thinking of putting in there.

    Let’s take an example.  House Bill 2686, which as of this writing has moved from the House to the Senate and is being considered by Senate committees, is called, “Relating to the Stabilization of Property Insurance.”  The bill recites that the market for property insurance covering condominiums (not the individual unit policies, but the policies covering the common areas of the whole building) is already shrinking, and the Lahaina fires didn’t help the cause.  Now it’s difficult or impossible to get property insurance for condominiums, and that’s why the bill is setting up a fund, similar to the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund that we established in the wake of Hurricane Iniki.  (That fund, by the way, still has a bunch of money in it, as we wrote about last year.)

    The new fund will need to be capitalized somehow.  Thus, the bill sets up a different transient accommodations tax for transient vacation rentals, it establishes a surcharge on the conveyance tax, and it reactivates the mortgage recording fee that was last imposed in 2001 to capitalize the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund.

    Section 3 of the bill imposes the different transient accommodations tax, and it shall be “___ “ per cent for the period beginning on July 1, 2024.

    Sections 18 and 19 of the bill resurrect the special mortgage recording fee.  That part of the bill proposes to charge 0.2% of the principal amount of the debt for new mortgages, and “an adequate percentage recommended by the board and approved by the commissioner” for mortgage amendments or refinancing.  Well, at least there is one number there.

    Section 4 of the bill imposes a property insurance surcharge on the conveyance tax.  The bill provides for seven brackets of conveyance tax surcharge for residential properties for which the purchaser is ineligible for a county homeowner’s exemption.  Five of the seven tax rates are blank.  The bill provides for seven brackets of conveyance tax surcharge for properties not covered by the seven brackets previously mentioned.  Seven of the seven tax rates are blank.

    So, what is going on here?  How much of a hit is this bill asking taxpayers to take?  How much additional money (remember, the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund isn’t broke) is our state going to need to stabilize the property insurance market, whatever that means?  Are we going to find out any of these critical numbers before the bill hits conference committee (at which time no public input is allowed)?

    This is a problem.  The Hawaii Constitution, according to our supreme court, requires that each bill be read three times in each house.  This requirement:

    “serves three important purposes: it (1) provides the opportunity for full debate on proposed legislation; (2) ensures that members of each legislative house are familiar with a bill’s contents and have time to give sufficient consideration to its effects; and (3) provides the public with notice and an opportunity to comment on proposed legislation.”

    But is it even possible for lawmakers to have a full debate on or otherwise seriously consider legislation, or for the public to meaningfully comment on it, when so many pieces of key information are blank?  We don’t think so.

    Advancing this kind of bill makes us as taxpayers afraid.  Very afraid.

    Oral Health and my Heart

    The Link between Oral Health and Cardiovascular Disease

    There is a growing body of research suggesting a link between oral health, specifically mouth cavities (also known as dental caries or tooth decay), and cardiovascular disease.

    Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the mouth

    One theory suggests that the harmful bacteria involved in tooth decay and gum disease can enter the bloodstream through the mouth and spread to other parts of the body, including the arteries. These bacteria may trigger inflammation and immune responses, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

    Chronic Inflammation of the Gums
    Additionally, chronic inflammation associated with gum disease may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. The bacteria in dental plaque irritate the gums, leading to inflammation and swelling. If left untreated, gum disease can cause tooth loss and other serious health complications. Inflammation in the gums can release inflammatory markers into the bloodstream, which can promote the formation of blood clots, damage blood vessels, and contribute to the progression of atherosclerosis.

    Poor hygiene increases the risk
    Poor oral health habits, such as inadequate brushing and flossing, can lead to an increased risk of both tooth decay and cardiovascular disease. Factors common to both conditions, such as a high-sugar diet and tobacco use, may also play a role in the development of both oral health issues and cardiovascular problems.

    e-cigarettes (photo courtesy of Reason)

    Prevention is the Key
    Research on the direct causal relationship between mouth cavities and cardiovascular disease is ongoing. Maintaining good oral hygiene and seeking regular dental care are important for overall health. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Floss daily and visit your dentist at least twice a year. These actions can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, which may indirectly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

    It’s not Just Heart Disease

    That’s not all.   The connections between oral health and overall health are not just heart disease. Visit tclevelanddds.com for a deeper look at preventing heart disease.

    Burn Easily in the Sun? It Could be your Diet and Medications

    Consumers these days are being warned about the health hazards of highly processed foods. The message is that the health-conscious consumer should buy more whole foods and process them minimally. However, not all whole foods are safe, either, and some should come with a warning label. 

    One of the most common problems caused by some fresh, natural foods are skin issues. Dermatitis can result from sensitivity and allergy to any food, or it can result from a food containing a chemical that makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.

    Citrus fruits are notorious for causing dermatitis when exposing skin to fruit juice and peel. This includes oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and especially limes and bergamot. In fact, there is a disease called Lime Disease, (which is not the same as Lyme disease), which is caused by the blistering effect of lime juice on the skin when exposing the skin to the sun. It’s also called Margarita Disease, named after the drink that includes lime.

    If you don’t want your skin to peel, then you don’t want to peel the skin of a citrus fruit when you are in the sun. 

    What does sunshine have to do with it? 

    The sun emits powerful ultraviolet light, which causes chemical reactions to occur. Ultraviolet light is a small part of the light spectrum coming from the sun, but when these wavelengths of light hit certain chemicals, the light energy is absorbed and a chemical bond is broken. This starts a cascade of reactions among unstable chemicals, ultimately result in skin damage. 

    This is why you don’t want to leave out in the sun any fabric or plastic or other materials that can decompose under UV radiation. UV breaks down materials. This is also why you don’t want your skin to have too much sun. 

    Keep in mind that all terrestrial life on Earth has evolved to live with solar radiation, and can heal from the damaging effects of UV.  In fact, plants and animals have evolved to use UV light for many necessary functions. In humans, for example, we need UV irradiating our skin to make Vitamin D. 

    It is as though sunshine is an essential nutrient. But like all nutrients, there can be too much of a good thing.  

    Plants, of course, have lots of chemicals, called phytochemicals, with the prefix phyto- meaning plant. Some of these phytochemicals are beneficial, such as vitamins, and are extracted from plants for their uses in medicine, perfumes, foods, cosmetics, and other products. But some of these plant chemicals are toxic, and these toxic chemicals can be in the same plant as the beneficial chemicals. 

    In this case, the dangerous chemical is a furanocoumarin, which is a class of chemical compounds that are activated by UV light. Psoralen is the parent of this class of chemicals. 

    Psoralen makes sunburn much more severe. If psoralen is on, or in, the skin, UV light from the sun activates the psoralen, making it highly reactive. This causes the psoralen molecule to bond with DNA in skin cells, which causes these cells to die. Symptoms of psoralen burning the skin include redness of the skin, edema, and blisters. 

    UV rays can penetrate deep into the epidermis, into the dermis, so any psoralen on the skin, or in the skin, can be activated by the sun to make blister-forming eruptions. For some people, this also causes the skin to change color when healing, and can cause allergic or hypersensitivity reactions in other parts of the body with repeated exposure. 

    The medical term for this problem is phytophotodermatitis, a word that literally means plant-sun-skin inflammation. It is not an allergic condition, since it does not require prior exposure. The blistering develops after about 24 hours of exposure, and peaks at 48-72 hours. It can take weeks to heal.

    Skin reactions like this are a problem in farmers, grocers, and people who work with psoralen-containing foods. Of course, homemakers who cook for their families handle these daily. 

    Unfortunately, lots of common, otherwise healthy foods have psoralen. This includes parsley, parsnips, carrots, and celery. Figs are also a problem, which can even cause skin blistering from simply touching the leaves or sap. Cloves are also high in psoralen. And all citrus fruit is high in psoralen, especially limes and bergamot. Bergamot oil is added to lots of drinks and other foods for flavoring, making these other foods also high in psoralen.

    To give you an idea of what psoralen can do, consider its use in medicine to treat psoriasis eczema, and some other skin lesions, in a process called PUVA. This type of therapy is called photochemotherapy. Patients are given a psoralen drug, called methoxsalen, which within a short time is circulated throughout the body and into the skin. This gets the skin highly sensitive to UV rays, especially UVA, which is one of the UV wavelengths that goes deeply into the skin when you are in the sun. The patient is irradiated for up to 10 minutes over a series of treatments, essentially burning away the bad skin.

    PUVA has been used for decades, and herbal remedies for skin ailments have included psoralen-containing plants being applied to the skin. However, there are side effects of this therapy. 

    According to WebMD, “Psoralens can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. They can raise your risk of sunburn, cataracts, and skin cancer. And your skin might age faster…Don’t eat limes, carrots, celery, figs, parsley, or parsnips while you take oral psoralens. It could boost the amount of natural psoralen in your system and make your skin even more sensitive to the sun.

    This means you are at risk of photosensitivity from eating foods containing psoralen, or applying those foods to your skin. This can lead to burns, skin cancer, and eye damage. 

    Unfortunately, avoiding these foods will not make you safe from photosensitizers that you are consuming in medications. Some medications can directly be activated by UV to attack your skin when in the sun, as with psoralen. But other medications can cause damage to the skin by impairing the healing process. 

    According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “Certain food/drugs do not mix with ultraviolet light. Anyone taking any medication should consult with a

    Physician PRIOR to tanning. Note: This is not a complete list of drugs or foods.” It then lists a frightening amount of drugs, including the most commonly used, which all make people more sensitive to sunlight and causing burns. 

    This long list includes: 

    Antihistamines

    Anticonvulsants

    Antifungals

    Anti-inflammatory

    drugs (Ibuprofen, Ketoprofen, Naproxen, etc.)

    Antiseptics

    Anitbiotics

    Anticholesterol Medications

    Antidepressants

    Antipsychotic Medications

    Artificial Sweeteners

    Blood Pressure Medications

    Coal Tar Productions (Tegrin, Denorex)

    Oral Contraceptives & estrogen

    Major Tranquilizers

    Oral Diabetes meds

    Sulphur based meds

    Diuretics (fluid Pills)

    Some Antimalarials –

    Fansidar (a sulfa drug)

    Chloroquine

    Some deodorants

    (perfumes colognes)

    Cosmetics

    Some herbal Products

    Some Sunscreens

    Tattoos

    And the list goes on…

    It also includes some foods:

    Carrots

    Celery

    Citrus Fruits

    Clover

    Coumarin

    Dill

    Eggs

    Figs

    Garlic

    Ginko Biloba

    Grass (wheat, barley)

    Lady’s Thumb (tea)

    Lime oil

    Mustards

    Onions

    Parsley

    Parsnips (vegetables)

    Saint John’s Wort

    Smartweed (tea)

    Vanilla oil

    It is interesting that skin cancer is the leading type of cancer, and so many of these chemicals affect the skin and can cause cancer when in the sun. It’s not just the sun that harms the skin; it’s medications people take that increase the harm to the skin from the sun. 

    Medications causing photosensitivity may be a reason why the medical industry has been encouraging people to wear sunscreen when in the sun, to minimize UV exposure. However, the sunscreen must be able to block UVA, which many do not unless they say “full spectrum”. However, even sunscreen lotions contain skin sensitizers, as the list above mentions. Ironically, this means sunscreen can possibly cause sunburns and skin cancer. 

    According to a recent academic review, Drug‐induced photosensitivity: culprit drugs, potential mechanisms and clinical consequences

    “Drug‐induced photosensitivity, the development of phototoxic or photoallergic reactions due to pharmaceuticals and subsequent exposure to ultraviolet or visible light, is an adverse effect of growing interest. This is illustrated by the broad spectrum of recent investigations on the topic, ranging from molecular mechanisms and culprit drugs through epidemiological as well as public health related issues to long‐term photoaging and potential photocarcinogenic consequences…In total, 393 different drugs or drug compounds are reported to have a photosensitizing potential, although the level of evidence regarding their ability to induce photosensitive reactions varies markedly among these agents. The pharmaceuticals of interest belong to a wide variety of drug classes. The epidemiological risk associated with the use of photosensitizers is difficult to assess due to under‐reporting and geographical differences. However, the widespread use of photosensitizing drugs combined with the potential photocarcinogenic effects reported for several agents has major implications for health and safety and suggests a need for further research on the long‐term effects.”

    These drugs and foods are common. If you are taking NSAIDS, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, you can more easily burn in the sun. The same goes for taking antibiotics, or antihistamines, or high blood pressure medication. Add to that having citrus or figs or a healthy salad or juice made of celery, parsley, and carrots, and you will be even more sensitive to the sun. Peel an orange at the beach or in the sunny park, and let the sunshine activate all the psoralen, and get ready for a few days of burned, blistered, red, hot, and damaged skin. 

    This may also be why tanning is such a significant cause of skin cancer. The UV from these tanning treatments will be more damaging if you are priming your skin with psoralen from your diet or medications.  

    If you want to keep the sunshine in your life, but want to minimize the risk of phytophotodermatitis from food, and chemophotodermatitis from medication, keep in mind the following:

    1. Limit sun exposure to avoid peak sun intensity from 10am to 2 pm. But don’t avoid the sun altogether. A little sun is necessary for health, including mental health. (Season Affect Disorder is from lack of sun.)

    2. Wear loose-fitting, natural-fiber clothing when you want to block the sun from your skin. 

    3. If you use sunscreen, make sure all the ingredients are safe. Look each ingredient up to see if it increases photosensitivity. Amazingly, many sunscreens contain chemicals that make your skin sensitive to the sun. 

    4. Keep in mind that all chemicals on your skin will be irradiated with UV from the sun. This includes all lotions, creams, perfumes, and cleansers. Nobody is studying the many UV by-products from solar radiation of these chemicals, which then can get absorbed into your skin. 

    5. When going out in the sun, remember the photosensitizing medications you are taking, and take precautions. 

    6. Avoid foods that contain psoralen if you have any skin issues. 

    7. Be cautious of foods that contain “natural flavors” or other unnamed natural ingredient, which could contain bergamot oil, or some other photosensitizing agent. 

    8. Avoid tanning in a salon if you are on medications or eat foods that contain psoralen. 

    9. Wash your hands well with soap and warm, not hot, water after handling any foods that contain psoralen. 

    10. When preparing a picnic for a nice, sunny day at the park or beach, avoid UV-activated foods. 

    11. Avoid tight clothing. This interferes with lymphatic circulation in the skin, which is essential for healing. After time in the sun, make sure your skin has proper circulation to allow the drainage of toxic, UV-irradiation chemical products. 

    HAWAI‘I TO HOST FESTIVAL OF PACIFIC ARTS & CULTURE FROM JUNE 6-16, 2024

    The Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FestPAC) is the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders. The South Pacific Commission (now The Pacific Community – SPC) launched this dynamic showcase of arts and culture in 1972 to halt the erosion of traditional practices through ongoing cultural exchange. It is a vibrant and culturally enriching event celebrating the unique traditions, artistry, and diverse cultures of the Pacific region. FestPAC serves as a platform for Pacific Island nations to showcase their rich heritage and artistic talents.

    The roots of FestPAC trace back to the 1970s when Pacific Island nations commenced discussion on the need to preserve and promote their unique cultural identities. The hope was to create a space where Pacific Islanders could convene to share their traditional arts, crafts, music, dance, and oral traditions with the world. This initiative was driven by the desire to strengthen cultural bonds among Pacific Island communities and foster a greater understanding of their cultures.

    After many years of anticipation and planning, Hawai‘i is excited to serve as host of the prestigious 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC), the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders, from June 6 – 16, 2024. More than 2,500 delegates, including artists, cultural practitioners, scholars, and officials from 28 nations will gather on O’ahu for 10-days of cultural exchange, appreciation, and celebration at various venues across the island. The festival’s overarching vision is to bring together our Pacific brethren who are guided by their ancestral values to connect, innovate, and rise to the challenges of an everchanging world.

    “Hawai‘i is honored to host the 13th FestPAC and I look forward to welcoming our friends from across the Pacific to celebrate the many cultures that make up this important region,” said Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green. “FestPAC is so much more than a celebration of arts and culture, it is also a venue for leaders from across the Pacific to meet and discuss important issues impacting our region that will have a lasting impact for future generations.”


    The theme selected for the 13th FestPAC is Hoʻoulu Lāhui: Regenerating Oceania – hoʻoulu lāhui meaning to grow the nation. The upcoming festival will help bring to light many of the urgent issues facing the Pacific region – from rising sea levels, climate change, sustainability, and the death of coral reefs, to widening social inequality – to illuminate our path toward the future.

    Kalani L. Ka‘anā‘anā, chair of the FestPAC Hawai‘i Commission and chief brand officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, shared that: “It has been eight long years since the 12th FestPAC was held in Guam back in 2016 and now we look forward to receiving our Pacific sisters and brothers, to celebrate and showcase Pacific arts while also discussing critical issues that we all face.”

    For more information about the 13th FestPAC, including festival delegations, event program, and venue informa7on, please visit www.festpachawaii.org

    About the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture
    The Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture (FestPAC) is the largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders, bringing together artists, cultural practitioners, scholars, officials, and the general public from across the Pacific Islands and beyond. The 13th FestPAC is scheduled to take place in Hawai’i from June 6-16, 2024, showcasing the rich diversity of Pacific arts and culture.

    All photos courtesy of Nicholas Tomasello

    Zephyr GTX from LOWA–Light, breathable and robust

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    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.

    GTX (GORE-TEX)

    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
    Low8.59%3.29%1.86%13.74%
    Middle7.55%2.36%3.71%13.62%
    High4.27%2.48%5.33%12.08%

    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.