Archive for August 2010

Nine small kindnesses

August 31, 2010

“Kindness is free,” Tom Peters tells us in his book, “The Little BIG Things.” It’s also unlimited. So let’s spend some kindness!

Here are some small kindnesses that are free and easy to do. And if we do them often enough, we won’t even have to think about them.

Anywhere, anytime:
* Make eye-contact and smile.
* Remember people’s names… and their spouse’s and children’s names too.
* Say “thank you.”

At work:
* Let a car enter the lane in front of you. Wave if someone let’s you into the lane.
* If you’re sitting at your desk, stand up when someone greets you.
* Call a customer – even if there isn’t a problem – and especially if there is a problem.

At home:
* Praise everyone at least once a day.
* Ask your family questions – and listen.
* Swallow a criticism or complaint.

Has an everyday kindness made your life a little brighter? How do everyday kindnesses affect you?

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Calling for a Constitutional Convention

August 24, 2010

After celebrating Hawaii’s statehood on August 21, now is an appropriate time to think about our state constitution. The last Hawaii Constitutional Convention was held in 1978, over 30 years ago. It resulted in a required annual balanced budget, term limits for governor and lieutenant governor, and the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, among other achievements.

Yes, a Constitutional Convention is expensive. The 2008 Constitutional Convention Cost Task Force estimated that it would cost under $10 million for a 90-day constitutional convention. But let’s put it in perspective: the 2007 Legislative Session cost $38 million.

Why not forgo one legislative session to hold a Constitutional Convention? Five state legislatures – Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas – hold sessions every other year. I can think of a few benefits for Hawaii – not only could we save money, we could reduce the number of new laws and provide more time for discussion and public input.

Here are six ideas for discussion:

* Elections: Give registered voters the power to call for initiatives and referendums. New legislation and the repeal of existing legislation would empower Hawaii voters and could be placed on the next State election ballot.

* Elections: Add term limits for State legislators. We already have term limits for the city council, mayor, governor, and lieutenant governor. Legislatures should be limited to three consecutive four-year terms.

* Elections: Require that an elected official pay for a special election, if one is necessary, if they resign mid-term to run for another elected office.

* The Legislature: Create a unicameral State legislature. There would be a single nonpartisan primary election, with the top two candidates competing in the general election. Each senator would have a four-year term, with half the seats up for election every two years. We would have smaller legislative staffs and budgets, less duplication of proposed bills, and more time for actual debate.

* The Legislature: Limit lobbyist activities. Prevent elected officials from registering as a lobbyist or consulting for a lobbyist or organization for at least 4 years after their term has expired.

* Taxes: Repeal the general excise tax (GET) and replace with a reasonable state sales tax. The GE taxes every level of production – it’s unfair and makes everything more expensive.

What else can we achieve with a Constitutional Convention? How else can we make our State Constitution better?

A self-sufficient Summer Fun

August 17, 2010

Summer is coming to an end, and I started thinking about Honolulu’s Summer Fun program.

In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, Summer Fun collected $146,595 in revenues, but cost $892,319 to run (2008-2009 Department of Parks and Recreation Annual Report, DPR-202-203). I couldn’t find a specific budget report for the program, but if these numbers are correct, we subsidize $740,000 for Summer Fun each year.

Let’s face it: Summer Fun needs to be self-sufficient.

How can we do this? I’ve come up with two suggestions:

* The parents who sign up for Summer Fun could pay for Summer Fun. In 2008, Summer Fun enrolled 11,609 children. If each child paid $125 for five weeks of Summer Fun (that’s just $25 a week), Summer Fun would pay for itself and possibly build up a small reserve for improved facilities.

Right now, parents pay a $25 registration fee per child (waived for eligible families) and an optional $40 activity fee. That’s just a fraction of the costs for facilities, staff, supplies, and student aides who make $9 or $10.50 an hour and gain work experience (and hopefully have fun too). 

Meanwhile, private summer school programs can cost anywhere from $600 (half-day, five-week program) to $1,100 (full-day, eight-week YMCA), and more. Even summer school charges $160 for 120-hour sessions.

We could turn the Summer Fun into a co-op. It could be similar to the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Tiny Tots program, requiring parent participation.

For example, each parent could sign up for specific days to “supervise” Summer Fun. Two parents would be assigned for each day, with the help of “student aides” (high school and college volunteers), and would be responsible for supervising all activities.

A Summer Fun Co-op does have some difficulties: what happens if parents don’t show up? Are there insurance or liability issues? Do we need background checks for parents? But despite the drawbacks, I think a co-op is a great way to get to know the parents and kids in your community.

Two Summer Fun ideas, one that costs money and one that costs time. What do you think? How else can we pay for Summer Fun and ensure that it continues?

Everyday recycling

August 10, 2010

Today, people are focused on being green, eating (or wearing) organic, and recycling. I thought I’d remind everyone that recycling is more than dropping cans, bottles, and paper into the recycling bin.

We can re-use or re-purpose everyday household items. Here are some of my favorite ideas, ones that I really use (or know someone who does):

Bottle caps: Make children’s crafts (7 caps for a flower; various caps for animals and buildings).

Egg cartons (Styrofoam or paper): Make children’s crafts (1×1 for a spider; 3×1 for a caterpillar; 2×4 for a dragon, with 1×2 for the dragon’s eyes). Use them to dry Easter eggs after dyeing.

Gift bags and wrapping paper: Re-gift your gift wrap. Make book covers. Cut out pictures for collages.

Junk mail: Re-use plain return envelopes. Take notes on the back side of letters with printing on only one side. Use “free” address labels from charities on your letters (I don’t like this “free gift” tactic, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away).

Magazines: Make children’s crafts (collages and stories). Decoupage a cardboard tissue box. Use them as gift wrap.

Plastic bags: Pick up after the dog. Use it as packing material when you mail boxes.

Tissue boxes: Make children’s crafts (2 for “animal” shoes or monster hands). Use them as containers for small parts, batteries, odds-and-ends.

Toilet paper rolls: Make children’s crafts (people and animals).

What are your favorite household recycling ideas?

“Ha‘ena” by Carlos Andrade

August 7, 2010

“So, for all of you who embark upon this odyssey through the land of Ha‘ena, land of the fire goddess Pele, land of the leaping fire, land standing under the wind watching the sun go to rest in the west, let us venture there and discover what the land itself has to tell us” (page xviii).

Written by Carlos Andrade, “Ha‘ena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors” (2008) is a personal, eloquent, and poignant account of land tenure in Hawai‘i. Based on oral stories, newspapers, and archives, it was written to preserve the heritage of kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians), record the history and stories of Ha‘ena, and address misconceptions about Hawai‘i’s land privatization.

“Ha‘ena” begins with the intimate, constant connection between Native Hawaiians and the ‘aina (the land, that which feeds), “the foundation for their physical, mental, and spiritual relationships with the world” (page 3). In old Hawai‘i, mokupuni (islands) were divided into moku o kolo (districts) and ahupua‘a (land divisions usually extending from the uplands to the sea). The people followed sustainable practices – only enough to eat, only what you need.

The Mahele of 1848 and the Kuleana Act of 1850, signed into law by Kamehameha III at the urging of haole (foreigners), changed everything. It was meant to divide the land into thirds: one-third each to the Hawaiian government, the ali‘i, and the maka‘ainana. In fact, less than 1% of the land went to the maka‘ainana. Land privatization severed the traditional kinship ties between mo‘i, ali‘i, and maka‘ainana; constrained their freedom of movement and access to natural resources; and forced Native Hawaiians to enter the cash economy to pay taxes.

Ha‘ena, on the northern coast of Kaua‘i, was an ‘aina momona (a fertile land of abundant waters) and said to be the last gathering place of the Menehune. It was small ahupua‘a with many natural resources, dominated by a peak called Makana (gift), once famous for the hala groves of Naue (now part of Wainiha) and favored with a bay and fishery at Makua. It contained extensive lo‘i (irrigated terraces for growing taro) and an intricate network of ‘auwai (waterways) in Manoa and Limahuli valleys; and a strong connection to the hula at the heiau at Ke‘e.

After the Mahele, Ha‘ena was awarded to Abner Paki, father of Bernice Pauahi Bishop. In 1875, Hui Ku‘ai ‘Aina o Ha‘ena (a cooperative to buy land in Ha‘ena), composed of 38 members, purchased about 2,500 acres of Ha‘ena and was owned in common until 1955, when two wealthy foreigners filed a suit to partition the hui.

Today, Ha‘ena is a site of vacation rentals and wealthy residences, but kupuna (elders) like George Ka‘eo, Samson Kapae Mahuiki, Kaipo Chandler, John Hanohano Pa, Barlow Chu, and Thomas Hashimoto keep the memories of Ha‘ena alive.

Andrade concludes by encouraging us to remember the Native Hawaiian place names and their accompanying stories, resist renaming places, seek out our own storied places, and cherish the wisdom of our kupuna.

Carlos Andrade is an inspiring man, the descendants of Hawaii, the Madeira Islands, and Portugal. He has lived as a subsistence farmer and fisherman; and worked as a musician, boat captain, and construction worker. Today he composes songs, writes stories, builds and sails canoes, teaches traditional navigation and astronomy, and works with Native Hawaiian elders to preserve Hawai‘i’s history.

Sensible property taxes

August 3, 2010

When I was young, I thought that once you own your land and your mortgage is paid in full, it is yours forever. I didn’t understand property taxes.

My first reaction is, Why should we pay taxes on something we already own?

I don’t have an answer to this one. If you do, I’d like to hear it.

My second question is, Why do we need property taxes at all?

In Hawaii, property taxes pay for city and county programs. Unlike other states, public education is funded by the state, not property taxes. That’s why Hawaii has a relatively low property tax burden compared to other states, ranking 37th in the nation in 2007, according to the Tax Foundation.

In 2009, Hawaii raised $1,384,029,000 in real property taxes, (Real Property Assessment Division, FY2009-2010). Property tax rates ranged from $2 for homeowners in Maui and $3.42 for residences in Honolulu, to $12.40 for commercial/industrial/hotel/resort property in Honolulu and $14 for time-shares in Maui (per $1,000 net taxable property).

We already pay for water and sewer services; maintenance and upgrades should already be factored into our monthly bill. Our roads and street lights should be funded by vehicle registration fees and licenses. But what about public parks and services? Maybe there are city services that we need to pay for.

So the next question becomes, How can we make property taxes more fair and reasonable?

* Create a flat property tax fee based on lot type, lot size, and building square footage. I don’t know exactly how the formula would work, but we shouldn’t base home valuations on neighborhood sales or the “real estate market.” That’s unfair to homeowners who have no intention to sell their home, and it’s based on speculation.

* Limit property taxes to a 2% annual increase (or decrease). We shouldn’t have to pay soaring property taxes because the “real estate market” is booming; and the city shouldn’t suffer if there is a dramatic drop in home valuations.

* Charge a separate fee for residential trash pickup. It’s unfair to offer curbside trash pickup for residences, but not condominium or apartment buildings. I hate to advocate another tax, but maybe we should consider adding a residential trash pickup fee in order to be fair to all homeowners – and keep property taxes low for everyone.

I don’t know where we got the idea for property taxes. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t think they are going away. So we need to ensure that they are reasonable and fair to all homeowners. What do you think?