Archive for July 2014

A front seat perspective

July 29, 2014

Front Seat Perspective

When I was a kid, my grandfather went to the supermarket once a week, on Fridays. He would buy enough food for the whole week and would plan out each dinner meal. During the summer and school breaks, I went shopping with him. I loved riding in the front seat with him, planning meals and getting blasts of air conditioner on those rare times he thought it was hot enough to turn on the AC (we usually just rolled the windows down).

Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” must have been playing on the radio on a particularly happy beach day, because I associate it with going to the beach. I don’t remember any details; I just remember being able to sit in the front seat with my dad and choose a radio station.

Things are different for kids today. Hawaii children younger than 8 years old can’t ride in the front seat at all. Only at age 8 (second or third grade) can they get out of their booster chairs.

I know that safety organizations claim it is safer for children (and anyone) to ride in the back seat, in case there is an accident. I agree that newborns, infants, and very young children need safety seats when riding in a car. But I think that school-age children don’t need them and shouldn’t be forced to ride in the booster seat or back seat.

Like the increasing use of strollers, car seats and booster seats have the side-effect (if not the intent) of treating children like children longer. More obedient. Less curious.

School-age children should have the freedom and adult perspective of the front seat. It would let them feel like adults, with adult conversation, a better view of the road, access to radio/CD controls, and maybe even some responsibility for navigation. It would give them the opportunity to pay attention to routes and traffic.

I would like to ask seat belt designers and car manufacturers to do two simple things:

1. Install seat belts with adjustable shoulder heights. Many new cars already have this feature, but seatbelt designers could design an adapter to fit over existing seat belts for older cars.

2. Design seats with adjustable seat heights and head rest heights. Car seats could be raised or lowered, and head rests raised or lowered, depending on the passenger’s height. This would also benefit shorter passengers.

But just as importantly, I would like to ask parents, relatives, and chaperones to do one simple thing: Give kids a front seat perspective. Have conversations with kids in the car. Ask them questions. Talk about hobbies, events, and activities. Discuss current events or things that are reported on the news.

When you were a kid, where did you sit on road trips? When did you “graduate” to the front seat? If you’re a parent, how frequently do you talk to your children while you drive?

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No more sad, lonely school libraries

July 22, 2014

School Libraries

During the summer, many school libraries are sad, lonely places. At my son’s school, the doors are closed and there is no librarian to tend to the books. At the elementary school that hosts summer school, the library is used as an office, and the books sit unopened on shelves.

I know that the Hawaii Public Libraries do a wonderful job of hosting special events, summer reading programs, and movie nights. I know that the Hawaii Department of Education never seems to have enough money. I know that some schools don’t even have libraries.

But school libraries have so much potential for encouraging reading! They are in the heart of the community. Kids visit them or walk past them every school day. Parents are just walking distance away whenever they pick up their children from school.

If kids don’t see the value of books… if parents are indifferent to reading… if public libraries are too far away… school libraries are on the front lines, teaching everyone the importance of reading.

Here are 3 low-cost ways that school libraries could reach out to the community:

1. School libraries could host evening classes. In every community, there are people with so much knowledge to share, from their jobs or hobbies! School libraries could survey parents to find out what skills they could share with the rest of the school, from lei-making and scrapbooking to remodeling a home or planting a garden. Parents could even talk about their jobs to students in an informal “Career Night.” If school libraries have computers, they could even host a computer class for adults, taught by a volunteer parent.
The cost: utilities; a school administrator, one night a week. School libraries could ask parent organizations to volunteer, create flyers, and pay for refreshments.

2. School libraries could host community book nights. School libraries could invite parents and the community to monthly Book Nights. Informal readers could talk about their favorite books, make book recommendations, and share book suggestions for their kids. More serious readers could form a Book Club to choose books to read and discuss. To get more kids involved, there could be book cover art contests or “dress as your favorite character” theme nights.
The cost: utilities; a school administrator, one night a month. School libraries could ask parent organizations to volunteer, create flyers, and pay for refreshments.

3. School libraries could open during the summer – even if it’s just one morning each week. It could be staffed by parent volunteers.
The cost: utilities. Since school administration is year-round, they could open and close the library for community volunteers.

Aside from buying more books, here’s the single best way that schools can support school libraries:

* Schools could devote space to the librarian in their newsletters. At one local elementary school, the librarian has a whole page to talk about reading tips and book recommendations! This shows kids that the school values the library and reading books.
The cost: little to nothing. Many school newsletters are now electronic. If newsletters are printed, it would cost less than $25 to print an additional page.

When was the last time you visited a school library? What did your school librarians teach you?

Spotlight on 2014 Hawaii laws

July 15, 2014

Hawaii Legislature 2014 Spotlight

In the 2014 Hawaii State Legislature, 235 bills became Acts (six of them without Governor Abercrombie’s signature). In a news release, Governor Abercrombie called it “a year of progress.” Read through the new laws and decide for yourselves.

Many of the acts seem trivial and routine, such as designating “Gold Star Family Day,” clarifying existing laws, making “technical nonsubstantive amendments,” and correcting mistaken references.

Here are the highlights of the Acts from the 2014 Hawaii Legislative session. If I’ve missed a significant act, please let me know!

Acts that make us safer, reduce fraud, or save us money:

1. Returning housing vouchers: Housing vouchers must be returned to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority if the original household member has died or no longer qualifies for assistance (Act 178, HB1539). Yes. Housing vouchers do not belong to individuals.

2. No malicious sharing of embarrassing images/video: It is a violation of privacy to knowingly disclose an image or video of another identifiable person without their consent, with the intent to harm them (Act 116, HB1750). Yes. “Without consent” and “intent to harm” are the keys.

3. Criminal background checks: The State and counties can perform criminal history record checks on employees, prospective employees, volunteers, and contractors whose positions allow them access to sensitive information, firearms, and secured areas (Act 18, SB2420). Organizations can perform fingerprint-based criminal history record checks on employees and volunteers who work with children, the disabled, or the elderly (Act 196, HB2243). Yes. We need to be able to trust employees and volunteers.

4. Disclosing death notices: The Department of Health can now share death notices with state agencies that maintain official lists of persons (Act 27, SB2262). Yes. A good way to minimize fraud.

5. Reporting lobbyists’ expenses: Lobbyists and individuals who spend over $750 to influence legislation must file a statement of expenditures (Act 224, SB2629). Yes. We can cross-check lobbyist expenses with lawmakers’ donation reports.

6. Saving $250,000: Works of art commemorating Senator Daniel K. Inouye and Patsy T. Mink have been reduced from $500,000 to $250,000 (Act 137, HB2051). Yes. I support modest public memorials, but additional memorials can be funded by private donations.

Acts that attempt to fix something that may be not be broken:

1. Mandatory Kindergarten: Kindergarten is now mandatory for children who are age 5 by July 31 of the school year (Act 76, SB2768). Who benefits from this law? First, 97% of Hawaii’s 5-year olds already attend Kindergarten, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (if you don’t have a subscription, read the article on the Good Beginnings Alliance website). Second, Junior Kindergarten, which accepted children who were age 5 by December 31, was already working – before it was repealed (Act 178).

2. Climate change research: The Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee is established under the Department of Land and Natural Resources, with a public report due by December 2017 (Act 83, HB1714).  What will this committee do that could not be done with the department? In the first year alone, it will cost us $567,748 ($108,874 and $58,874 for staffing plus $400k for research)!

3. Late voter registering – even on Election Day: Eligible voters can register to vote at absentee polling places and on the day of the election, at a cost of up to $100,000 for fiscal year 2014-2015 (Act 166, HB2590). While I encourage all eligible residents to vote, this could enable voter fraud.

4. Higher minimum wage: The minimum wage will increase to $7.75 per hour beginning on 1/1/15, $8.50 per hour beginning on 1/1/16,, $9.25 per hour beginning on 1/1/17, and $10.10 per hour beginning on 1/1/18. The tip credit is also increased to 50¢ per hour beginning on 1/1/15 and 75¢ per hour beginning on 1/1/16, provided that the employee receives at least $7 more than the applicable minimum wage in wages and tips (Act 82, SB2609). There are compelling arguments for and against the minimum wage.

5. Public financial disclosures: This makes public the financial disclosure statements by state boards and commission members (Act 230, SB2682). While this allows for public accountability, it infringes on the privacy of spouses and dependent children.

6. Car-sharing tax: There is a new tax on car-sharing organizations (membership organizations) of 25¢ per half hour car-sharing (Act 110, SB2731). This act discourages people from giving up their cars, penalizes car-sharing organizations, and is redundant–car-sharing organizations already pay taxes.

7. Social determinants and health equity? The Department of Health must consider “social determinants of health” in assessing Hawaii’s health needs. (Act 157, HB2320). I’m not sure exactly what this means in practice, but it sounds like it could be far-reaching.

8. Milk control special fund: Hawaii will establish a minimum $300,000 reserve requirement in the Milk Control Special Fund, which covers the expenses of the Milk Control Act – including salaries (Act 176, HB2009). Are milk control laws still necessary? Could this be handled by the Department of Agriculture?

Acts that made me ask, What about the rest of us?:

1. BOE term limits: Hawaii lawmakers approved term limits for the Board of Education (Act 17, SB2137). What about Hawaii legislators?

2. Unlicensed contractors beware: Unlicensed contractors who commit licensing violations against elders will face a higher fine (Act 32, HB570). What about the rest of us?

3. Clean and private public areas: No public urination and defecation in Downtown Honolulu (Act 50, HB33). What about the rest of Hawaii?

Acts that try to convince us Hawaii lawmakers are vocational licensing experts:

* There are new or revised licensing decisions about dentists (Act 20, SB2033), marriage and family therapists (Act 28, SB2466), advanced practice registered nurses (Act 45, SB2492 and Act 26, SB2491), public accountants (Act 58, HB716), podiatrists (Act 63, HB1882 and Act 69, SB2467), private security guards (Act 94, SB2486), psychologists (Act 187, SB2465), occupational therapists (Act 209, SB2472), and naturopathic physicians (Act 222, SB2577). Maybe we should leave licensing up to the occupational boards, instead of making it law.

How do these new Hawaii laws affect you? Which laws do you support or oppose?

7 principles of the US Constitution

July 8, 2014

US Constitution

The Constitution of the United States of America is an empowering contracts between individuals and government. It affirms that individuals have rights and powers. It declares that governments are only as powerful as its citizens allow it to be. In just 7 Articles and 27 Amendments, it offers guideposts for a representative democracy.

I hope that you will take the time to read the US Constitution. Reflect on how this document changed the way we relate to our government. Compare the government envisioned by the Founders and the government we have today.

For teachers and parents, the Center for Legislative Archives offers a lesson plan that identifies “Six Big Ideas” in the US Constitution. Other lesson plans add a seventh principle, Individual Rights, that is the basis for all of the powers granted in the Constitution.

7 principles of the US Constitution:

1. Popular Sovereignty. Citizens grant government its powers.

2. Limited Government. Government can exercise only those powers that individuals have granted to it through the Constitution.

3. Separation of Powers. Government is divided into three branches: Congress passes laws, Presidents implement laws, and Courts interpret laws.

4. Checks and Balances. Branches of government are limited by and held accountable to each other.

5. Republicanism. Citizens elect their Representatives and Senators, as well as the President and Vice President.

6. Federalism. Government’s powers are clearly divided between the federal government and the states. Amendment X affirms, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

7. Individual Rights. Individuals have basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence calls them “inalienable Rights,” such as the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to personal property.

These same principles about a democratic government can also be applied to classrooms and families, or any organization. Education.com has free activity to “Draft a Family Constitution” – complete with torn edges and tea stains.

What do you admire about the US Constitution? If you could many any changes or add an Amendment, what would it be?

“Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money” by Kevin O’Leary

July 5, 2014

Cold Hard Truth on Men Women and Money

“Don’t spend too much. Mostly save. Always invest.”

That’s the secret to becoming wealthy, according to business entrepreneur, “The Learning Company” founder, and “Shark Tank” co-host Kevin O’Leary.

But if it were easy, we would all be wealthy. So O’Leary wrote “Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money: 50 Common Money Mistakes and How to Fix Them” (2012) to talk about our relationship with money and how we can “save money, invest better, and cut your losses.”

To get people more comfortable thinking about money, O’Leary starts with personal anecdotes and a financial quiz. He offers several tools to help you understand where your money comes from and where it goes, including a “90-day number,” a finance calculator, and how to find “ghost money.”

What is the cold, hard truth? O’Leary warns, “No matter how much money you make, the world is designed to take it away.” To combat this fact, O’Leary offers is the “Cold Hard Truth Card,” a credit-card sized pledge about money that I think we should all carry around in our wallets.

The “Cold Hard Truth Card” says:
I pledge to make no purchases unless I can answer TRUE to the following 5 statements:
1. I have given this purchase sufficient thought.
2. Buying this item will not create debt for me or anyone else.
3. I not only want this item, I need it.
4. This item is more valuable than the interest I’d earn if I saved the money instead.
5. This item will matter to me in a year.

The challenge is to find that set point of “enough” and then rarely exceed it. Once you find your set point, don’t spend more extravagantly even when your income increases. “When you get to a place of ‘enough,’ you will stop having money problems,” he writes.

He emphasizes three guiding principles about money: keep money and emotions separate; eliminate debt; and be grateful for what you have.

Here are 3 common money mistakes everyone makes:
* You’re in the dark about your finances. The fix: correct that by figuring out your 90-day number (all your earnings over 3 months, minus all your expenses over 3 months).
* Money (buying stuff) makes you happy. The fix: if you’re bored, lonely frustrated or sad, go for a walk, cook, read – but don’t shop! Avoid advertising by cutting down on magazines, TV, and the internet.
* You don’t know what to invest in. The fix: the 3 basic rules of investing are 1) invest in stocks and securities that pay dividends/interest; 2) save a consistent portion of your income; and 3) spend the interest, not the principle.

And here are 3 more money mistakes about things you think you need:
* You think you need a car. The fix: car ownership is not for everyone. If you can, move closer to work town. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. If you need a car, lease your vehicle or buy used.
* You think you need a college degree. The fix: Think outside the cubicle! Not everyone should go to college. Skilled trades don’t require years of expensive schooling.
* You think you need to buy a home. The fix: rent, don’t buy. If you have debt (like student loans), you should rent until you are debt-free.

“Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money” lays out our money problems in simple terms. O’Leary offers practical and helpful tools to save money and to think about money in a new way: as creative energy, not as a way to get “stuff.” Some of his suggestions may seem unemotional and unromantic (he strongly recommends pre-nuptial agreements before getting married) and may not work for everyone. One mistake that is missing: “You think that newer means better.” This is not necessarily true; newer is different, not necessarily better.

For more money ideas, visit Kevin O’Leary’s website.

Small steps to turn government workers into stakeholders

July 1, 2014

Employees into Stakeholders

There is an on-going tension between government and taxpayers. Government workers often feel over-worked and under-appreciated. The public constantly asks them to do more with less. Taxpayers often feel over-taxed and under-appreciated. The government constantly asks them to pay more for sometimes reduced services or programs that don’t affect them directly.

How can we motivate government workers? How can we make government workers and taxpayers feel like part of the same team? Recently, I read two management books that made me ponder this question. It made me realize that we need to…

Make government workers feel like stakeholders. In “Lead Your Staff to Think Like Einstein, Create Like Da Vinci, and Invent Like Edison” (1995), marketing executive Don Blohowiak asks: “If employees have no stake in the company’s relative success – their pay remains essentially constant no matter how the company performs – why should they invest themselves beyond a minimum level?” (page 11).

But take small steps. In “The Spirit of Kaizen” (2013), business consultant Robert Maurer warns that “When people feel that a cash reward is their only reason to work hard, their minds go to sleep…. The key is to make the rewards small… Small rewards speak directly to the employee’s internal motivation. Small rewards say, ‘Management sees that you have a desire to improve and contribute, and we appreciate it'” (page 47-48).

The ideas in these two books coalesced into three small steps for making government workers feel more like stakeholders, empowered and accountable to the public. These ideas are not new programs or flashy initiatives. Instead, they build on existing payroll services, performance bonuses, and press schedules.

1. Reveal “hidden” compensation: As every business owner knows, it costs much more to hire an employee than just the hourly wage. Every payroll includes “hidden” costs paid for by the employer (the government), funded by taxpayers. We should add dollar amounts for government’s contribution to Social Security and Medicare (currently, most paycheck stubs only list the employee’s contribution). We should add line items and dollar amounts for government’s contributions to continuing education and professional development; disability and temporary disability insurance; health insurance; retirement and pension; unemployment insurance; and worker’s compensation, as well as sick and vacation days and other benefits. This reveals the true value of government employment. We already know how much we spend on employees; we just need to assemble the information.

2. Offer small rewards: Whenever an employee negotiates a better rate with a supplier, takes an extra step to verify that someone qualifies for government programs, or finds an equally effective product that costs less, we should thank them and offer a small reward. The reward should be small – whether with sincere thanks, personal notes, personal visits by department leaders, or in a small amount of cash – and could be awarded across the entire department to make everyone feel like part of the team. The small rewards mean that employees feel free to offer small suggestions to save money.

3. Publicize our appreciation for cost-savings: Every quarter, the governor should issue a press release stating how much money government employees and departments have saved by cutting costs, preventing fraud, or eliminating wasteful expenditures. No amount would be too small; even saving 1¢ on photocopies or 5¢ on a ream of paper can add up to big savings. This would let the public know that government workers are working hard for us, and being good stewards of taxpayer money. After all, it’s their money too!

If you are an employee or contractor, how has your company shown that it appreciates you? If you are a business owner, what are the most effective ways to motivate your employees?