Archive for January 2014

Celebrating champions of civil liberties

January 28, 2014

Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day

My grandparents lived through World War II in Hawaii. They didn’t go to a Japanese internment camp, but they never talked about those years. My parents were just kids in Honolulu and Keaau, and they don’t talk about the war either.  It makes me sad that so many stories and experiences may be lost – both the painful acts and the people who stood up against injustice.

So I am grateful that on January 30, Hawaii will celebrate Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day. It is both Fred Korematsu’s birthday and a day to honor people who helped preserve our civil liberties.

Act 94 is a well-written and inspiring bill because it includes short biographies of people who had an impact on Japanese-American civil liberties after World War II. Several Americans of Japanese ancestry challenged the validity and constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and Public Law 77-503, protecting all of us.

Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American, was living on the west coast of the United States during World War II, when he was arrested and convicted of defying government orders to report to an internment camp. He appealed and lost his case at the United States Supreme Court, which ruled his incarceration was warranted. Forty-one years later, on November 10, 1983, United States District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel vacated Korematsu’s conviction, an action considered pivotal in civil-rights history.

Gordon Hirabayashi, born in 1918 in Washington state to Japanese parents who had immigrated to the United States, was charged by a federal grand jury in Seattle with violation of Public Law 77-503. He appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court in the first challenge to Executive Order 9066 but lost his appeal when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold Mr. Hirabayashi’s conviction for violating the Executive Order. Forty-four years later, in September 1987, his conviction was vacated.

Min Yasui was born in October 1916 in Oregon to Japanese parents and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserve. Although receiving orders to report to Fort Vancouver in Portland, Mr. Yasui was told that he was unacceptable for service and was immediately ordered off the base. Mr. Yasui was turned away eight more times after offering to fulfill his service to his country. On March 28, 1942, Mr. Yasui directly challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and was arrested. Although his case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Mr. Yasui for violating Executive Order 9066.  Forty-two years later, in 1984, the courts vacated Mr. Yasui’s conviction.

Mitsuye Endo, a native of Sacramento, California, was the only female resister of Executive Order 9066. Ms. Endo’s case reached the United States Supreme Court and was the only internment case in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiff. Ms. Endo’s petition before the Supreme Court forced federal authorities to re-examine the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and ultimately resulted in a decision by the Supreme Court that officially re-opened the west coast of the United States for resettlement by Americans of Japanese ancestry.

If you are interested in learning more about Fred Korematsu, Patsy Mink, and children and immigration law, you may want to make time for the “Undaunted Courage and Civil Liberties” lecture on Thursday, January 30 at 5:30 pm at Aliiolani Hale, Judiciary History Center in Honolulu. Eric Yamamoto, the Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice, will speak about Fred Korematsu; Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna (’82) will provide insight into the life of Patsy T. Mink; and Honolulu Attorney John Egan will discuss the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

For teachers and students of all grade levels, the Korematsu Institute offers a downloadable “Fred T. Korematsu: Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up” lesson plan. For middle school and high school students, the Annenberg Classroom offers a downloadable “When National Security Trumps Individual Rights” lesson plan by Linda Weber; and a 27-minute documentary, “Korematsu and Civil Liberties.”

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What happened in the 2013 Hawaii legislature, part 2

January 21, 2014

2013 Hawaii Legislature

In 2013, 276 bills became law in Hawaii, and an additional 12 bills became law without Governor Neil Abercrombie’s signature.

I skimmed through the legislation summaries and highlighted the laws that I think are important and will impact us all. If I’ve missed any significant or costly laws (in terms of spending or freedoms), please let me know!

Last week, I highlighted two of the best bills of the session, and covered bills that I think are trade-offs between public safety and person freedom, bills that make our government bigger, and bills that spend more taxpayer money.

This week, I’m looking bills that lower taxes (though not for everyone), bills that affect education, and bills that affect Native Hawaiians.

Lower taxes and tax credits:
* Credits for filming in Hawaii: We have extended the motion picture, digital media, and film production income tax credit to 2019 and increased the credit ceiling to $15 million (Act 89). Noteworthy productions: Hawaii Five-O” (2010-current), “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013), and “Godzilla” (2014).
* Lowering the already high Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT): The additional tax has been repealed, and the tax rate has returned to 9.25%. With funds from the TAT, we’ll create Hawaiian center and the Museum of Hawaiian Music and Dance; excess revenues will go to the general fund (Act 161). I think we should make it even less expensive for visitors to come to Hawaii, because there are closer and cheaper vacation destinations. I understand that making Hawaii expensive to visit is a marketing strategy, but we have to live here. The provision about excess tax revenues seems unrealistic (or a way to grab tax money).
* Exemptions for condo associations and hotel operators: Condominium and hotel common expenses will be exempt from the general excise tax (Act 163). This exemption makes sense; the condo associations and hotels are not making a profit on those expenses. It would be like taxing yourself for buying a hammer to make home repairs.
* No limits on charitable giving: We now exempt charitable income tax deductions from the itemized deduction caps (Act 256). Hopefully this will encourage charitable giving among the people who can give the most. But how many people will be affected by this and how much of an impact will it really have?

Education:
* Educating future farmers: The Department of Education must operate and implement the Future Farmers of America program, at a cost of $75,000 for fiscal year 2013-2014 (Act 204). Why is this program implemented through the DOE? Shouldn’t it be headed by the Department of Agriculture, which has the knowledge and expertise about agriculture?
* Making preschool more accessible: We established the voluntary Preschool Open Doors Program, which will cost $6 million in preschool subsidies for fiscal year 2014-2015, as well as $1.16 million over two years for three temporary positions and to contract services (Act 169). Kindergarten was originally “preschool” and was meant to get children ready for school. In my opinion, preschool is not the right solution for everyone; most children would benefit from being close to family and home in the early years.  It is also important to note that the Hawaii legislature created a preschool “crisis” by repealing the junior kindergarten program with Act 178 in 2012.
* Audits and disclosures for charter schools: There are now provisions for charter schools relating to annual independent financial audits, criminal history record checks, enrollment, conflicts of interest and disclosure, facilities funding, and hiring (Act 159). This is long over-due and is just basic business sense. Any organization, especially one that receives public funds and works with children, should operate with basic safety and financial disclosures – and should be accountable to the public.

 Native Hawaiian Affairs:
* Who is “Native Hawaiian”? The definition of “qualified Native Hawaiian” now includes individuals who meet certain expanded ancestry requirements, as certified by the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission  (Act 77). This seems to automatically enroll people in the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission who may have confirmed their ancestry for non-political reasons (such as education). Are there provisions to let people know they have been automatically enrolled, and to allow them to opt-out?
* Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) elections: Board members for OHA will now be elected through nonpartisan primary and general elections (Act 287). This sounds reasonable: instead of being overwhelmed by candidates, voters can focus on fewer candidates in a general election, and candidates who are elected in primary elections can focus on their campaigns.
* Making room for canoes: The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) must accommodate mooring of native Hawaiian canoes owned or leased by nonprofit entities and used for educational purposes in small boat harbors (Act 243). This sounds reasonable: canoes and other watercraft should have fair and equal access to public facilities.

How would you rate our Hawaii legislature? What do you think are their best accomplishments and most misguided undertakings in 2013? What do you expect from our Hawaii legislature now that the 2014 session is underway?

What happened in the 2013 Hawaii legislature, part 1

January 14, 2014

2013 Hawaii Legislature

In 2013, 276 bills became law in Hawaii, and an additional 12 bills became law without Governor Neil Abercrombie’s signature.

I skimmed through the 2013 legislation summaries and highlighted the laws that I think are important and will impact us all. If I’ve missed any significant or costly laws (in terms of spending or freedoms), please let me know!

Best 2013 Hawaii bill for government innovation: In my opinion, the best bill of 2013 is Act 155, which establishes a pilot program to generate revenue through the lease of public school lands for public purposes. Instead of raising taxes or cutting services, this bill looks for ways to earn revenue from existing government resources. Not only could leasing public school lands generate revenue, it could ensure better maintenance of school grounds and could discourage vandalism and graffiti during school breaks.

Best 2013 Hawaii bill for public safety: A close runner-up would be Act 213, which requires the Department of Health to post on its website reports of all inspections at state-licensed care facilities occurring on or after January 1, 2015. With our aging population, it is important to find out which health care facilities meet safety and care standards.

Trade-offs between public safety and personal freedom:
* Seatbelts required: All front and back seat passengers must wear a seatbelt (Act 73). Adults should be responsible for their own safety.
* Hawaii driver’s licenses scanning: Businesses may scan your driver’s license or Hawaii ID to verify your age when providing age-restricted goods or services (Act 195). Will our personal information (name, address, date of birth, and license or ID number) be secure?
* Hawaii Homeland Security established: Hawaii now has a State Office of Homeland Security within the State Department of Defense (Act 175). How much effort are we duplicating with our Civil Defense department? Why do their responsibilities include “foster coordination on security matters with all nations of the Pacific region”?

Bigger government:
* More task forces and advisory boards: We have the newly-created Hawaii Refinery Task Force (Act 78), the Hawaii Agriculture Workforce Advisory Board (Act 99), and the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund (EUTF) Task Force (Act 268). I’m sure many more task forces and advisory boards were created. Do we need them? How much will they cost?
* More government oversight over occupational licensing: Advanced practice registered nurses must now have a graduate degree in nursing (Act 19). Licensed social workers must now complete minimum credit hours of continuing education courses for upcoming licensing renewal periods (Act 183). Does government have the authority and expertise to set occupational licensing requirements? Shouldn’t they be set by state or national occupational boards?
* More regulations on honey: Regulates the amount of honey that can be sold without a Department of Health permit, specifies honey labeling, and requires honey producers to take food safety classes (Act 131). Shouldn’t this be covered by food safety laws? It seems like micro-management or targeting of small honey producers.
* More power over conservation land under harbors: The Department of Transportation, Harbors Division, is now exempt from the permit and site plan approval requirements established for (submerged) lands within the conservation district (Act 86). The bill did not contain enough information to evaluate this exemption, but shouldn’t construction on public lands be permitted and open to public input?

More government spending:
* Higher spending for State retiree health plans: We increased the State’s base monthly contributions for retired Hawaii state and county employee health care plans, in some cases 33% to over 100% (Act 282). For example, the contribution for each employee-beneficiary enrolled in supplemental Medicare self plans increases from $254 to $524.73; the contribution for each employee-beneficiary enrolled in supplemental Medicare two-party plans increases from $787 to $1,051.71; and the contribution for each employee-beneficiary enrolled in supplemental Medicare family plans increases from $412 to $1,531.78. Have we budged for the increase? How has the Affordable Care Act affected these contribution rates?
* $500,000 for commemorative art: We will spend $250,000 over two years to commission permanent works of art to honor the late US Senator Daniel K. Inouye and the late US Representative Patsy T. Mink (Act 281). Could this be done through a non-profit foundation instead?
* More public assistance: We have eliminated the asset limit for households with children (previously, $5,000 and one motor vehicle) for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (Act 18). There is not enough information in this bill for me to comment. Asset limits may encourage people to spend money (instead of save it), but removing the asset limit entirely may not encourage people to save money and may make fraud easier.

How would you rate our Hawaii legislature? What do you think are their best accomplishments and most misguided undertakings in 2013? What do you expect from our Hawaii legislature when the 2014 session begins tomorrow on January 15?

9 things on my new year’s checklist

January 7, 2014

New Year's Checklist

There’s nothing scary or imposing about a checklist. Checklists are short, easy to follow, and you get immediate feedback (checkmarks! crossed out tasks!) when you finish something on your list.

Instead of writing idealistic new year’s resolutions, and then feeling guilty because you start to break them far too quickly, let’s make new year’s checklists instead.

Here’s a list of 9 easy things we can do to start off the new year right. Most of them are quick, practical, and easy to finish, and I’ve divided them into home, work, and money reminders.

Home
* Update your first aid kit. The American Red Cross offers a checklist for your first aid kit. Just remember to replace expired contents and flashlight batteries.
* Clean out your medicine cabinet. Throw out expired medicine. Do not give them to anyone else! In Hawaii, wait for a Prescription Drug Take-Back event or check your local CVS/pharmacy. If there are no medicine take-back programs in your area, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests mixing expired medicine with unpalatable trash like used coffee grinds, scraping the prescription label off the bottle, and throwing it in the household trash.
* Purge your pantry. Group similar items together (canned meats, fruits and vegetables, baking supplies, paper goods). Throw out damaged or expired food. If there are unexpired foods that you know you won’t eat, donate them to the Hawaii Food Bank.

Work
* Unclutter your inbox. Unsubscribe from unnecessary email newsletters, alerts, and news feeds.
* Make sure that you receive a W-2 from your employer or a 1099-MISC if you are an independent contractor by January 1, 2014. It’s also a good idea to review your tax withholding if there has been a change in your family situation.
* Do your own job performance review, especially if your boss doesn’t give you one – or if you are your boss. What do you like about your job? If you like your job, what can you do to challenge yourself? If you don’t like your job, what can you do to make your job more enjoyable? Do you have ideas to save time or money for your company?

Money
* Create a bill-paying calendar to remind you when utility bills, loan payments, taxes, estimated taxes, and tax forms are due. If you have them, don’t forget to add homeowners fees, semi-annual property taxes, car and home insurance, auto loan, student loan, and mortgage payments. If you’re ambitious, you can budget birthday, special occasion, and holiday gifts too.
* Fund your retirement. If your company offers a 401k plan, make adjust your contributions to maximize the company matching, if available. If you have an IRA, you can make 2013 contributions through April 15, 2014.
* Check your credit report.  You can get a free annual credit report from each of the major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.

For more checklists to help you simplify your life, Real Simple Magazine offers checklists for everything from food and beauty to household, and holidays. The Simplify 101 blog offers a year of organizing checklists. For photography enthusiasts, the Simple as That blog even offers inspiring photo checklists to help you capture amazing pictures.

What is on your checklist for January? How do you set the tone for the whole year?

“Decisive” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

January 4, 2014

Decisive

The “Magic 8-ball” on the cover says it all: “Signs Suggest Yes” and “Maybe Not.” Sometimes we don’t know how to make decisions, or we look for a sign that we are making the right decision.

“Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better. Bolder. Wiser. The right process can steer us toward the right choice,” encourage Chip and Dan Heath in their book, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work” (2013). The business professor and social entrepreneur have teamed up to write a book about a 4-step process for making better choices and inspiring more confidence in our choices.

“Decisive” is practical, helpful, and easy to understand. There are real-world situations and some good ideas for responding to “dilemmas.” Each chapter ends with a helpful summary of ideas. There is recommended reading real-world situations and obstacles, and thorough end notes.

The book warns about the “spotlight” effect that makes it easy for us to jump to conclusions and make quick decisions based on the information we have, without considering alternative perspectives and other information. It points out the 4 villains of decision-making: narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence, and discusses ways to make better decisions.

To me, the most insightful research was that corporate executives favor prediction and planning, while entrepreneurs favor testing and experimentation. The most scary revelation: we prefer familiar things, and will have more positive opinions of people and things just from “mere exposure.”

To help us make better decisions, the Heath brothers have come up with a 4-step process called WRAP. It stands for Widen Your Options, Reality-Check, Attain Distance, and Prepare to be Wrong.

1. You encounter a choice. The challenge: narrow framing makes you miss options.
A better response: WIDEN YOUR OPTIONS. Instead of asking, “Should I go to the party?” ask “What could I do instead?” Instead of asking, “Which stereo should I buy?” ask “What else could I buy with this money?
Frame your choices as “AND” instead of “OR.” Ask “What else can I do?” instead of “Whether or not?” Other questions to ask yourself: What will you give up (money, time) when you make a decision? Imagine that your current options disappeared – what could you do? Multitrack – consider multiple options simultaneously (but not too many!) that are meaningfully distinct. Find someone who’s solved your problem. If it’s a decision that you make over and over again, create a playlist to discover new options each time a similar question arises.

2. You analyze your options. The challenge: the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information.
A better response: REALITY-CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS. Instead of assuming the worst about people, assume they meant well and even keep a diary of positive actions. Instead of replying on reports and statistics, talk to the people directly involved or use the products yourself. Instead of relying only on job interviews, give candidates a trial run.
Make it easier for people to disagree with you. Ask questions that could reveal contrary information. Consider the opposite of your initial instincts, by playing devil’s advocate or asking “What would have to be true?” Identify your assumptions in relationships and business, and test 1 of them to see if it is true. Look at both the big picture and the close up view.

3. You make a choice. The challenge: short-term emotion tempts you to make the wrong choice.
A better response: ATTAIN DISTANCE BEFORE DECIDING. Instead of making quick decisions, ask yourself, “What would I tell my best friend to do?” or “What would my successor do?”  Instead of deciding whether or not to quit a stressful job, speak with trusted friends and advisers, and ask for other options, like finding ways to limit stress and boost happiness.
Think about your decisions on 3 different time frames, such as 10/10/10 (10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years). Be careful of our fear of loss and comfort with the familiar – it will tempt us to keep the status quo.

4. You live with your decision. The challenge: you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold.
A better response: PREPARE TO BE WRONG. Instead of waiting until a project has failed, imagine yourself in the future and ask “Why did this happen?” Then build in a safety factor, such as extra time, extra money, or extra features. Instead of waiting for employees to become unhappy, set realistic expectations from the start, including all the “negative” aspects of the job.
“Bookend” the future by considering the extremes – a dire scenario and a rosy (unexpected success) scenario. Set tripwires (deadlines, partition/portion actions, or budget limits) so that periodically you remember that you need to make another decision (even if it is to continue on your course).

Visit their website for a one-page summary of the WRAP decision-making process (registration may be required). And if you try the WRAP decision-making process, post a comment on this page and let us know whether you made better decisions.