Archive for August 2011

Offering solutions, not just complaints

August 30, 2011

“Better Hawaii” has been going strong for over a year, and I’m pleased that I’ve been able to keep my commitments to you: a weekly blog about ways that I think we can make Hawaii better and monthly book reviews. Each post is short, and I try to avoid pointing fingers or casting blame.

You’re probably reading the newspapers and online news sites, learning about important issues facing Hawaii, like the growing number of homeless, the Aloun Farms court case, State-HSTA contract negotiations. You may be wondering why I’ve chosen not to address some of those issues.

So I wanted to take a moment to remind myself and you, my silent readers, that when I first started the “Better Hawaii” blog, I promised not to make complaints without also offering solutions. I’m trying to start conversations, not shouting matches.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”

“Better Hawaii” is not only about a better Hawaii, it’s a challenge to better Hawaii. I firmly believe that we have the solutions to many of our problems. I hope you will take a moment to contribute your own ideas and make small changes in your own life. Every small act of optimism and thoughtfulness can take us a little further along the way to making Hawaii exceptional.

A civil debate about Honolulu Rail

August 16, 2011

For the most part, I have stayed away from the debate about Honolulu Rail. I have a strong opinion about it, of course, but I don’t have any real solutions. Nothing will satisfy both pro-rail and anti-rail supporters.

But along with heated arguments about federal funding, changing rail routes, fluctuating costs, contract awards, and budget oversight controversies, legal action is being taken and threatened. These lawsuits rely on Hawaii taxpayers on both sides of the argument.

There is no compromise. Honolulu Rail will be built or not, and probably half of the public will be unhappy, no matter the outcome. So I wanted to take a moment to highlight four points that I think we can all agree upon.

#1 There is a lot of traffic on Oahu. But West Oahu especially needs traffic solutions today. We’ve tried staggered work/school hours, improved on-ramps/off-ramps, improved bus service, a second city with its own university, contra-flows, and zipper lanes. The only thing we haven’t tried is limiting the number of cars on the road – but we’re getting there with big increases in vehicle registration fees.

#2 A majority of Honolulu voters approved rail. People may complain about the wording of the bill (sometimes lawyers need English professors), but everyone knows what was being voted on. In the end, it’s not whether you’re pro-rail – it’s whether you will ride it. Which leads to my next point…

#3 It will cost more than we expect. True, the rail budget includes a contingency “cushion” that seems adequate, but every transportation public works project has gone over-budget. H-3 was budgeted at $250 million and ended up costing $1.3 billion (approximately $80 million per mile). The facts are: rail construction has not begun; materials and probably a lot of specialized labor will come from outside of Hawaii; we don’t know and can’t know whether ‘iwi (Hawaiian remains) will be found; there are current legal challenges; and we don’t know how much federal funding the project will receive.

#4 Rail will change Honolulu. It will affect our skyline, which is relatively low outside of downtown Honolulu and Waikiki. It will shift residential communities into urban clusters around rail stations (transit-oriented development), creating pedestrian neighborhoods and reducing the need for cars within the community. It will impact any homes or offices at train level, in terms of noise, privacy, view, pedestrian traffic, and available street parking. It will require higher taxes to maintain (the 0.5% surcharge is set to expire in 2022). Are these changes that you are comfortable with?

If we can agree on these points, can we have a civil debate about Honolulu Rail? Where do we go from here? What new information or compromises could change your mind about rail?

5 things we can learn from youth baseball

August 9, 2011

My 4-year old son just finished his first season playing baseball in the Shetland Pony Division. It was a grueling eight-week summer season, filled with weekly baseball practices and eleven practice baseball games.

There were times when he didn’t want to practice, when he lost interest in the game, and when he complained about the summer heat. Then there were moments when he hit a pitched ball solidly, when he scooped up a ball and threw it quickly to first base, and when he ran triumphantly over home plate.

Looking back on the season, I thought about the things that we are teaching these young baseball players. Have fun. Follow the rules. Focus.

Here are just five things we can learn from youth baseball, and apply it to government and business:

1. It’s run by volunteers. No one gets paid to coach or practice or cheer. We should welcome volunteers, helpers, community input, and even (or especially) dissatisfied customers.

2. There are coaches, not bosses. Youth baseball is about teamwork, and the coaches want everyone to thrive. In business, we should encourage employees to learn, to excel, and to mentor others.

3. Pitch softly. We want our batters to hit the ball and our catchers to catch the ball, so we throw carefully. In government, we don’t need a dictator; we need a leader who can pitch softly and achieve a consensus.

4. Cheer for the other team. We praise everyone when they do a good job, not just our own players. And we should congratulate our co-workers and our business competitors when they are successful.

5. No one keeps score. We teach the youngest players about following the rules and teamwork, not about winning. And we don’t constantly remind them of past games. While legislative scorecards have their place, past decisions shouldn’t prevent us from working together.

We teach our children many things that we sometimes don’t practice in government and business – saving money and spending money carefully comes to mind. What else can we learn from teaching our children?

“Local Traffic Only” by Martin Charlot

August 6, 2011

In 1985, McDonald’s commissioned Martin Charlot to paint a mural for their Kaneoherestaurant on Oahu. The result was the 5’ x 24’ mural “Hawaiian Folkways,” depicting daily life in Waiahole Valley. There are over 100 scenes, each illustrating a Bible proverb, Hawaiian saying, or quotations. When the Kaneohe McDonald’s was remodeled in 2010, the mural was carefully preserved.

Artist Martin Charlot offers a keepsake edition of “Hawaiian Folkways” and a glimpse into the creation of the mural in his book “Local Traffic Only: Proverbs Hawaiian-Style” (2007). The title of the book comes from a small sign hanging on a telephone pole in the mural. Charlot reveals that the mural was inspired by letters he wrote to his children, containing sketched vignettes of “proverbs with the hope of amusing and teaching my precious audience of four” (page 6).

“An interesting benefit to using local models is that everyone is sure that it is their aunty or their cousin in the mural, Charlot muses. “The archetypes of some of the characters are so familiar that many people are sure they know them personally” (page 8).

My favorite scenes are of the man sitting reading a book, with the maxim “A wise man is mightier than a strong man, wisdom is mightier than strength and a man of knowledge increases power” (actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger posed for it); the mischievous smile on the face of a girl who is just about to trip her older, stuck-up sister and the warning that “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”; and a laughing upside-down boy with the reminder, “Hang loose!”

There is always something new to discover. There are humorous illustrations, like a hand emerging from waves to toss a coin, two girls pinching each other’s noses, and a banana man in a banana stand. There are strange illustrations, like a giant bug looming over a sleeping woman, a two-faced man, and a swine-headed woman tempting a swine-headed man. There are thoughtful illustrations, like an angel shyly holding a cup out to a man, a man floating in the ocean with a golden heart and golden breath, and a woman uncovering a pearl in her vegetable garden.

If you can’t make it to the Kaneohe McDonald’s to see the mural for yourself, or if you need more time to let it all soak in, I highly recommend that you read “Local Traffic Only” or visit Charlot’s website at

Three more ways to encourage healthy living

August 2, 2011

The single most important thing we can do to encourage healthy living is change the health care insurance model. We need to take personal responsibility for our health, and we need health insurance that allows us, not our employers, to choose and purchase our health care plans.

Yes, I think we should have to pay for our own health insurance, hopefully with rebates or credits from our employer. But we would be covered when we are between jobs, and it would reduce or even eliminate the need for the government-sponsored COBRA.

Since I can’t change the health care industry, let’s talk about the things we can change, as employers and as individuals.

Health insurance companies already offer classes and seminars about healthy living. Some companies subsidize gym memberships, install exercise rooms, create wellness programs, and offer health care flexible spending accounts. There are numerous government programs to help you quit smoking, get free prenatal care, and lose weight.

Here are a few more ideas to encourage healthy living:

* Focus on winning health, not losing weight. In his book “A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don’t!)” (2011), TV host and former governor Mike Huckabee believes that we need to change the way we talk about health. Americans don’t like to lose and aren’t motivated by getting less of something. So instead of losing weight, reducing fat, and lowering our blood pressure, we need to win health, add muscle, and gain a healthy blood pressure.

* Offer premium rebates for healthy living. For example, Safeway’s voluntary Healthy Measures program (launched in 2008) offers health insurance premium rebates for no tobacco use, a healthy weight range, and normal blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels. Guess what – it’s working! Safeway reports that 43% of participants who did not qualify for a 2009 blood pressure discount improved and received a rebate in 2010; and 17% of participants who did not qualify for a 2009 BMI (Body Mass Index) discount improved by at least 10% and received a rebate in 2010.

Offer lower co-pays and deductibles for healthy living. Nationwide Insurance offers drivers a “Vanishing Deductible” that lowers your deductible for each year of safe driving. Similarly, health insurance companies could offer lower co-pays for doctor visits and lower deductibles for out-of-pocket expenses, if people maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight.

I think that individual ownership of health care is the answer, not government-run health care. What do you think?