Archive for June 2014

Opening shared banking centers

June 24, 2014

Shared Banking Centers

Last month, there were armed robberies at three Oahu banks. On May 1, a Central Pacific Bank in Wahiawa was robbed by a man with a handgun. On May 13, an American Savings Bank in Salt Lake was robbed by two men armed with a rifle and pistol. On May 30, an American Savings Bank at Pearlridge Center was robbed by two men with handguns. In response, American Savings Bank hired special duty police officers for their Oahu branches.

This post is not about gun control or gun rights. It’s about trying to make banks and customers safer, and save money too.

In shopping malls and strip malls, restaurants band together in food courts, giving consumers more choice and sharing the costs of table space and cleaning services. At large airports like Las Vegas, car rental companies join together in rental car centers. McCarran Rent-a-Car Center hosts 12 car rental companies, who share the costs of office space, utilities, shuttle bus services, parking, and even cars.

While banks are opening ATMs and branches in more convenient and economical places, like grocery stores and mass merchandise stores, they have continued to open and operate large, single-bank branches. Recently, Central Pacific Bank opened a new branch in Manoa (May 2014), First Hawaiian Bank built a new branch in Aina Haina (December 2013), and American Savings Bank opened in a new branch in Kailua-Kona (June 2013).

Banks may not want to give up their imposing presence or formal, elegant buildings, but maybe it’s time for banks to band together in shared banking centers.

Banks could benefit from shared banking centers because they could share the costs for offices, lobby space, conference rooms, utilities, and parking. They could hire more security guards and install better security cameras. With lower operating costs, they could extend their banking hours, making it more convenient for bank customers to stop by after work. Previously empty floor space could be set up with tables and chairs for people to read over bank paperwork or talk informally with bank representatives. They could even coordinate employee appreciation days and customer loyalty events.

Consumers could benefit from shared banking centers because we would have one-stop shopping for banking, credit and loan accounts. There might be more competitive rates, since banks know that customers could walk across the lobby to another bank. Bank fees might remain the same or even decrease, since operating costs would be lower. Walking into a bank might feel a little safer, because a shared banking center could afford to hire more security and better security cameras; and maybe a little less stressful, because banks might feel less intimidating.

Bank employees could benefit from shared banking centers because outstanding employees would be appreciated, if managers know that another bank easily could lure them away. They might feel safer, knowing that there is increased security and more staff during opening and closing hours. They could learn from other banks’ best business practices and share ideas.

Do you prefer to bank online, by phone, by ATM, or in person? How often do you visit your local bank? What do you think of a shared banking center?

Smarter Hawaii landscaping

June 17, 2014

Koko Head District Park Rain Garden

Now that summer is here, with some of the hottest and driest days of the year in Hawaii, it’s a good time to take a second look at our lawns and gardens. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply estimates that 50% of our water consumption is used outdoors, sometimes wastefully. Adding a rain garden, changing our irrigation schedule, or choosing lower-maintenance “unthirsty” plants could help conserve water.

Xeriscaping – conserving water through efficient landscaping – is one way that we can save water, as well as save money on our water bills, and keep our yards, sidewalks, and public spaces beautiful.

Here are 7 principles of xeriscaping, according to the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii:

1. Make a landscaping plan. Good planning and design allows you to install your landscape in phases, which minimizes initial expenses.

2. Limit and separate turf areas. Grassed areas frequently require the greatest amount of watering. Consider replacing or reducing grassed areas with ground covers or mulches. Separate turf grass from trees, shrubs, ground covers, and flowering plants, so that they can be irrigated separately.

3. Have a well-planned sprinkler system.For efficient water use, group garden plants according to similar water needs. Turf areas are best watered with sprinklers. Trees, shrubs, garden flowers and ground covers can be watered efficiently with low volume drip, spray or bubbler emitters. To reduce water waste, water lawns and gardens before 9 am and after 5 pm; and use moisture sensors (devices that shut down the sprinklers when the ground is wet or on rainy days).

4. Make soil improvementsSoil improvements and efficient grading can better absorb and retain water. But do them before installing your irrigation systems!

5. Create mulched planting bedsMulches cover and cool soil, minimize evaporation, reduce weed growth, and slow erosion. They also create landscape interest, while using less water than turf grass. Organic mulches (such as bark chips, wood grindings or bagasse) and inorganic mulches (such as rock and gravel) should be placed directly on the soil or on breathable fabric.

6. Choose “less thirsty” plants. There are many flowering trees, shrubs, vines, and turf grasses that are both beautiful and require less water. Native Hawaiian plants especially thrive on natural rainfall.

7. Do regular maintenance. Pruning, weeding, proper fertilization, pest control, and adjustments to your irrigation system can further your water savings.

If you need inspiration for your garden, stop by the Healthy Watershed Demonstration site at the entrance to Koko Head District Park in East Honolulu (pictured above). The sloping, sunken garden, which filters rainwater and lets it soak into the ground, is surrounded by rocks and native Hawaiian plants. It’s installed and maintained by Mālama Maunalua, a community non-profit organization.

Looking for Native Hawaiian plants? Read the “How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden” handbook from the Office of Environmental Quality Control. Or check out the Annual Halawa Xeriscape Garden Open House on August 2, 2014 and their Unthirsty Plant Sale.

Interested in taking a xeriscaping class? Visit the Honolulu Board of Water Supply for a list of and workshops on Oahu.

How do you conserve water? What are the easiest and cheapest ways to cut down on your water bill?

2014 Hawaii elections: May campaign ads roundup

June 10, 2014

Hawaii Campaign Ads 2014

In these early days of political campaigning for the 2014 Hawaii elections, I was curious to see which issues our Hawaii candidates chose to focus on – while they can take their time with their message, without the distraction of debates.

I decided to take note of the radio and television ads produced by Hawaii candidates running for US Congress and Governor, and write down my first responses to their messages. Note: I’m a nonpartisan voter and I’m not affiliated with any political party.

These are the Hawaii TV and radio political ads that broadcast in May 2014, alphabetized by candidate; and my responses to the ads. For those of you who are interested, I’ve included transcripts of the TV and radio ads at the end of the post. Please let me know if I’ve missed a major ad campaign.

* Governor Neil Abercrombie, who is running for governor, started his campaign in April with “Values,” a political ad focusing on early education. In May, his second political ad, “Priorities,” focused on senior services. There is a TV ad that spotlights Mr. Saito and a narrated radio ad. In the TV ad, Abercrombie claims, “During the past three years, we’ve been able to get more assistance for in-home care. Because all our Mr. Saito’s deserve to be stay at home dads, if they want to be.”

My response to Abercrombie’s ads: I think there’s nothing wrong with assisted living or down-sizing to a home you can afford and maintain. People belong in their own homes as long as they can take care of themselves; but if they need care, they belong where someone can help care for them. The male narrator’s voice in the radio ad was slightly ominous. Significantly, Abercrombie doesn’t talk about how we’re going to pay for this (and early education too).

* Duke Aiona, who is running for governor, got a late start and ran his first TV ad campaign in late May. In it, he focuses on his leadership philosophy and his experience as a family judge. He tells us about his background and prominently features his grandchild and children. Aiona declares, “Watching my family together puts life into perspective. They’re one of the reasons I want to be governor. When I was a judge in family court, I saw first-hand how hardship affects families, how circumstances could tear lives apart.”

My response to Aiona’s ad: While the ad tells me about Aiona’s experience as a family judge and establishes him as a family man, it doesn’t tell me what his priorities are or where he stands on important issues. I’d rather know what Aiona accomplished as lieutenant governor and what he wants to accomplish as governor. I also found the music and Aiona’s narration too slow and measured. It felt more like a tribute than a call to support him.

* Honolulu City Councilmember Stanley Chang, who is running for US Representative, ran his first TV ad in May, focusing on Hawaii’s firsts and his priorities. Chang concludes, “Today, I want to represent Hawaii in that same bold tradition, with universal preschool for our keiki, labeling GMOs, making Hawaii energy-independent, and never, ever cutting Social Security for our kupuna.”

My response to Chang’s ad: It’s generic. There’s nothing about his background, accomplishments on the City Council, or qualifications for Congress. Chang seems ambitious and seems to want to please everyone, but all of those all of those projects will cost a lot of money – and except for Social Security, they are state issues.

* US Representative Colleen Hanabusa, who is running for US Senate, ran two TV ads in May, “Obligation,” focusing on her obligation to help others, and “Stand Up for our Kupuna,” focusing on Social Security and Medicare. In “Obligation,” she states, “With every opportunity, comes obligation, to help others, to give back.” In “Stand Up for our Kupuna,” she proclaims, “There are no issues closer to my heart than Social Security and Medicare.” She also ran her first radio ad, “Waianae to Washington,” focusing on her Waianae roots. She reflects, “It was a good way to grow up. It was the best way to grow up, around people and traditions and cultures.”

My response to Hanabusa’s ads: Other candidates may have started earlier, but Hanabusa started May off on a strong note. I thought the ads were professional and well-done. But aside from her working-class roots, Social Security is the only accomplishment and priority that she focuses on. I want to know her other accomplishments and priorities in Congress – and why she is giving up her job as US Representative to run for US Senator.

* Hawaii Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who is running for US Senate, started May with a TV ad called “Happy Mother’s Day” that focused on her mother, her humble beginnings, and Social Security. “We have an obligation to all seniors in Hawaii. You have my pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare,” she promises.

My response to Kim’s ad: I learned that Kim overcame the challenge of being poor to become successful and civic-minded. But I think that she piggy-backed on Mother’s Day to send her message. Her commitment to protecting Social Security makes me ask: do families have an obligation to seniors, or is it government’s responsibility?

* US Senator Brian Schatz, who is running for US Senate, started his campaign in March with a political ad about Social Security that featured his father-in-law. In May, his second political ad, “Two Reasons,” focused on gun safety laws and his children. He states, “In the Senate, I voted to require background checks for gun purchases, close the gun show loophole, and ban assault weapons.”

My response to Schatz’s ad: I’m puzzled; I thought that gun ownership is a states’ rights issue. I like the fact that Schatz tells us his voting record, but I don’t see this as a hot-button issue for Hawaii. The ad seems more like a way to align himself with President Obama (there’s a photo of them together) and introduce his children, than tell us about himself and his priorities.

There are five months until the November election. What issues to you think are important? Is there a candidate who has already earned your vote?

# # #

Here are transcripts of the TV and radio ads. If I’ve made a mistake in any of the transcripts, please let me know.

Abercrombie “Priorities” TV ad: “[Woman:] My father was worried he’d have to leave his home and move into some facility. [Narrator:] Mr. Saito loves being home and taking care of things, but he also needs help. And it’s more than his family was equipped to give. [Abercrombie:] During the past three years, we’ve been able to get more assistance for in-home care. Because all our Mr. Saito’s deserve to be stay at home dads, if they want to be. [Narrator:] The right priorities, the right families, the right governor.”

Abercrombie “Priorities” radio ad: “[Narrator:] For many of our older friends and neighbors, the golden years present some real challenges. Sometimes they need physical therapy or help with chores around the home, or maybe just somebody to help them to take their pills at the right time. The children can give them the love and the concern they need, but you know they’re at work or busy looking after their own kids in their own home. And that’s when our kupuna begin to worry that they’ll have to give up their independence, leave their home, or maybe move to a facility of some kind. Neil Abercrombie saw both his mother and mother-in-law go through all those same worries and that’s why even as he was struggling to get the state’s budget back into the black, Neil found additional resources to expand care for our kupuna and bring essential services to seniors in their own homes. Because that’s where they want to be and that’s where they belong.”

Aiona “Leadership” TV ad: “[Aiona:] There is a great quote: ‘Leadership is not about the next election. It’s about the next generation.’ For me, the next generation is Riley, my granddaughter; my children, Makana, Ohulani, Kulia, Kaimilani. I grew up in Pearl City, but now we live in Kapolei. My house can get crazy, but we love having everyone over. Watching my family together puts life into perspective. They’re one of the reasons I want to be governor. When I was a judge in family court, I saw first-hand how hardship affects families, how circumstances could tear lives apart. What if it were my family? My time as a judge was very humbling. I learned early on that decisions I made had a profound impact on people’s lives, that every decision required balance, respect, and honesty. I learned my responsibility as a leader was never about my position or my beliefs alone, or that [of] my family, or every family. Good leadership is about the next generation.”

Chang “Firsts” TV ad: “[Chang:] Here in Hawaii, we were the first state to legalize a woman’s right to choose. The first in comprehensive health care coverage. Our Supreme Court was the first to recognize marriage equality. Today, I want to represent Hawaii in that same bold tradition, with universal preschool for our keiki, labeling GMOs, making Hawaii energy-independent, and never, ever cutting Social Security for our kupuna. I’m Stanley Chang and I approve this message.”

Hanabusa “Obligation” TV ad: “[Hanabusa:] I was very fortunate to be born and raised in Waianae. We didn’t have many privileges, but I learned from my parents, family, and neighbors the values of Hawaii: how to work hard and do your best with every opportunity you have. And I know with every opportunity, comes obligation, to help others, to give back, to represent Hawaii well. I’m Colleen Hanabusa, I approve this message, and I’m proud to work for you.”

Hanabusa “From Waianae to Washington” radio ad: “[Narrator:] From the Waianae Coast to Washington, DC Colleen Hanabusa’s life has been a journey. Growing up behind her family’s gas station on the Leeward side of Oahu, Colleen learned first-hand the value of hard work and service from her parents, and the spirit of Hawaii from her neighbors and community. [Hanabusa:] It was a good way to grow up. It was the best way to grow up, around people and traditions and cultures. It was good then too that if you had a full-time job and you worked hard, you could raise a family, buy a house, and help the next generation succeed. [Narrator:] Now completing her second elected term in Congress, Colleen wants to represent us in the US Senate. [Hanabusa:] You know, a good living, a good education, a good job, a good home. Those aren’t things that should belong only to the privileged and the fortunate. That’s what I’m fighting for in Washington. [Narrator:] From Waianae to Washington, Colleen works for us. [Hanabusa:] I’m Colleen Hanabusa, and I approve this message. Mahalo.”

Hanabusa “Stand Up for our Kupuna” TV ad: “There are no issues closer to my heart than Social Security and Medicare. In my two terms in Congress, I have voted again and again and again to protect Social Security and Medicare and prevent changes that would reduce benefits. I’m proud of my record and I will continue to stand up for our kupuna. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Protecting our seniors isn’t something you play politics with ever. I’m Colleen Hanabusa and I approve this message.”

Kim “Mother’s Day” TV ad: “[Kim:] Growing up in Kalihi, we didn’t have much. Mom had to work nights waitressing. [Kim’s mother:] No – nobody had hot water. Hot water was a luxury. And if you had hot water, oh, you was more little high-class. [Kim:] My parents worked hard and like so many they deserve our care. We have an obligation to all seniors in Hawaii. You have my pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers! I’m Donna Mercado Kim, and I approve this message.”

Schatz “Gun Safety” TV ad: “Over 300 million guns in America. Yet as President Obama said, as many as 40% of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check. But the two most important reasons I’m fighting for sensible gun safety laws… our kids, Tyler and Mia. In the Senate, I voted to require background checks for gun purchases, close the gun show loophole, and ban assault weapons. I’m Senator Brian Schatz. Linda and I approve this message for our family’s safety and for yours.”

“Being Menehune” by J. Arthur Rath III

June 7, 2014

Being Menehune

Written in the first person, “Being Menehune: My Journal” (2011) by Arthur J. Rath III is part fantasy and part historical dramatization, blurring the lines between fiction and biography. It’s about being seen, learning that every person has a purpose, learning who you are, connections between people, and the power of books and imagination.

In 1942, Arthur, a sickly former foster child who is an avid reader, meets Kahu, his Menehune mentor, and begins writing a journal about his life, his travels into Hawaii’s past, and what he learns. On Menehune Plain, he meets Miki, a leprechaun who speaks in Shakespearian rhyme; Per’fessor, an artist and teacher, and his beautiful wife Aiko; Queen Esther, who tells him about ancient Persia and the power of women; Ah Soong, who cooks and is a caretaker; and Rising Sun, who believes in Japanese superiority.

“During the past seven years I’ve learned to associate with those whom others don’t see” (page 12), Arthur writes at the grown-up age of 10.

With the help of time travel, magical mango (that help him read people’s thoughts), and invisibility spells, Arthur goes back in time to learn about old Hawaiian warfare, the Polynesian migration, the Menehune retreat from the human world, Hawaiian government and family life, Makahiki, Kamehameha I’s rise to power, and the destruction of the ‘iliahi (sandlewood) forests.

“Ah Soong, Miki, Rising Sun, other Menehune, and I are unnoticed in the human world. We watch and hear what goes on,” Kahu says. “Being invisible, Big Persons don’t know we’re present and, of course, don’t realize what we know” (page 43).

In his “real” life, Arthur writes about the effects of the Pearl Harbor attack on Japanese Americans, Confirmation, living as a foster child and being exposed to different cultures on the West Coast, interracial families, reading and imaginative play, interacting with solders based at Hospital Hill, being left on his own, and his grandfather’s quiet shame at being Native Hawaiian.

The narrative is whimsical, cerebral, and makes Hawaiian history and culture more relevant. Arthur’s adventures bring new life to Hawaiian history and historical figures. The ending feels abrupt and a little sad, with the realization that just as Arthur’s journey was starting, his grandfather’s dreams were ending.

Arthur is curious and inventive, absorbs everything, and is surprisingly self-aware and intelligent. Some of his vocabulary and observations are very mature for a 10-year old, and his sophistication sometimes pulled me from the narrative. The book is illustrated with detailed and intricate drawings by Paul Forney.

Read Rath’s blog, read more stories about Menehune, and find out more about his books at menehuneRATH.com.