Archive for February 2015

Take flight with Read Across America

February 24, 2015

Read Across America

You’re off to great places. Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!
– Dr. Seuss

No matter how old and crafty you are, you can celebrate Read Across America Day on March 2. The theme of this year’s Seussical celebration is the Dr. Seuss classic, “Oh, The Placed You’ll Go!” (which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary). The book is popular for graduations, but the book’s enthusiasm and optimism are encouraging for all ages. Take its message to heart: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”

I encourage you to read every day – and let children see you reading. Whether it’s a novel, newspaper, magazine, or manual, if you set a good example, kids will learn that reading is important. They may even choose a book and read next to you! Here are 3 more things you can do to celebrate Dr. Seuss and Read Across America:

* On Oahu, Kauai, and Maui… Take a child to storytime! On February 25 at 10:30 am, the Storybook Theatre of Hawaii in Hanapepe, Kauai is celebrating their annual Read Across Kauai Literacy Day with storytelling in the Peace Garden Amphitheatre. On February 26 at 3 pm, the Mililani Public Library in Mililani, Oahu is celebrating Dr. Seuss Read Day, when special guest readers will read their favorite Dr. Seuss books. On March 2 at 7 pm, there are free storytimes at Barnes and Noble in Honolulu, Oahu and Lahaina, Maui.

* On the Big Island… Spend an afternoon reading. On March 4 from 1 to 6 pm, children who spend time reading at the Hilo Public Library in Hilo, Hawaii can receive a free gift.

* On Kauai… Sponsor a child or class to promote literacy and reading. The Storybook Theatre of Hawaii in Hanapepe, Kauai is hosting a two-month event that partners schools and classrooms with local authors. This year’s theme is environmental literacy.

* Explore the science of flight with a printable 2015 classroom activity guide from Suessville.com. Younger students could design baskets that float using helium balloons, while older students could build their own hot-air balloons. Students could also design their own mazes or learn how to make simple machines to move objects. You could even plan a field trip to the Pacific Aviation Museum at Ford Island, Oahu – on May 16, they will host Open Cockpit Day when visitors can climb into the cockpit of a historical aircraft and talk story with pilots (kama‘aina admission is $15 for adults, $10 for children).

How will you celebrate Read Across America Day? Will you read a book to a child or with a child or ask a child to read to you?

2015 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Taxes

February 17, 2015

2015 Hawaii Legislature

The 2015 Hawaii Legislative Session started on January 21. Astonishingly, 1,515 bills were introduced in the House of Representatives and 1,379 bills were introduced in the Senate – over 400 more bills than were introduced in 2014. That’s a lot of paperwork, details, debate, compromise, and tax dollars.

This year, I decided to highlight bills that focus on taxes, education, individual rights vs. government powers, and (in my opinion) controversial issues. With over 2,800 bills being proposed and no legislation-reading minions, I’m relying on bill summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions.

Here is an overview of the significant tax bills being proposed in the 2015 Legislative Session. This is a long post, so I’ve grouped the bills into five sections: 4 bills that all taxpayers should be worried about, 5 innovative tax proposals, 5 bills that could help taxpayers and residents, 6 bills that make it more expensive to live in Hawaii, and 4 tax proposals on a slippery slope. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

4 bills that all taxpayers should be worried about

  1. Taxes on Internet purchases: SB259 would implement the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement so that Hawaii could tax Internet sales. I strongly oppose taxes on Internet sales, because it taxes interstate commerce, it is taxation without representation, and it places an unfair burden on businesses.
  2. GET increase to 5.0%. HB330 would increase the GET from 4.0% to 5.0% for two years to fund the acquisition of agricultural lands. I am skeptical about “temporary” taxes; they always seem to get extended.
  3. GET increase to 4.25%. HB1240 would increase the GET from 4.0% to 4.25% to fund the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE). I am skeptical that we need to increase the DOE budget.
  4. County surcharge increase to 1.0%. HB320 and SB426 would increase the allowed county surcharge on the state tax from 0.5% to 1.0%. I don’t think we are taxed enough.

5 innovative tax proposals

  1. General excise tax (GET) vs. sales tax. SB529 and SB1222 would create a tax reform task force to review the general excise tax versus sales tax. The GET taxes every level of production, from wholesale to retail. It taxes the same product multiple times, and artificially inflates Hawaii’s business activity. A fair sales tax would tax only products sold to the end-user, not the distributor or reseller.
  2. No GET on wholesale purchases. SB946 would repeal the GET on all intermediary business transactions. If I understand correctly (please correct me if I misunderstood), there would be no GET on goods for resale or rents from sub-leasing. Currently businesses must pay taxes on the taxes they collect! This bill would correct the pyramid effect of taxing products at every level of production.
  1. No more estate taxes. HB476 and SB959 would repeal inheritance and estate taxes because they are a form of double-taxation. There is no justification for taxing money when it was earned and again if it is given to a beneficiary.
  2. No more corporate income taxes. HB470 and SB958 would repeal the corporate income tax to encourage economic growth. I am ambivalent about repealing the corporate income tax. While I think that corporations should pay taxes because they use government resources and stability, I realize that we need to grow our economy by luring more businesses to Hawaii.
  3. HB1133 would require the DBEDT to conduct a study on the establishment of tax-free zones in Hawaii. This is an interesting idea and I would like to learn more about it. Would wholesale, distribution, AND retail sales be GET-free? This could encourage more businesses to open and more customers to shop.

5 bills that could help residents and taxpayers

There are a lot of tax credits being proposed, from broad tax credits (like a general excise tax exemption on food and medical services) to very targeted tax credits (like developers of a motor sports facility at Kalaeloa, parcel 9). Here are 5 general tax proposals that could help many of us:

  1. GET exemptions on food and medical services. HB419 would establish a GET exemption for food after 12/31/19 and medical services after 12/31/17. HB477, HB984, and SB957 would establish a GET exemption for food. HB1062 would exempt medical services from the GET.
  2. Hawaii needs more doctors. HB1073 would create a temporary tax credit for physicians and osteopathic physicians who relocate to and practice in Hawaii.
  3. Encouraging assisted living and child care providers. HB422 would establish a GET exemption for property owners who lease to assisted living providers and child care providers.
  4. Helping retired persons live in Hawaii. HB245 would exclude retirement income from state income tax for taxpayers 65 years and older. HB1092 would exclude income received from deferred compensation retirement plans.
  5. Tax credits for school teachers: HB13 and SB821 would give school teachers a tax credit of up to $500 per year. SB864 would exempt a portion of the rent paid by a teacher from the GET.

6 bills that make it more expensive to live in Hawaii

Legislators have come up with a lot of ways for government to make more money. Here are a few of the bills you might want to pay attention to:

  1. Tax on sugary drinks. HB1439, SB1256 would impose a fee on sugar-sweetened beverages.
  2. Higher fees for bicycle and moped registrations. HB1425 and SB1371 would increase the bicycle registration fee to $25 and the moped registration fee to $50. I think it’s odd that we try to encourage bicyclists by raising bicycle fees, and encourage fewer cars by raising fees on mopeds.
  3. New tax on cigarettes for beach clean-up. HB749 would impose on wholesalers and dealers a beach cleanup cigarette fee per cigarette sold, used, or possessed.
  4. Higher transient accommodations tax (TAT), fewer visitors. HB169 would increase the TAT from 7.25% to 9.25%.
  5. Higher wholesale taxes. HB1137 would increase the use tax paid by wholesalers from 0.5% to 1.5% to reduce the State’s unfunded liabilities for the EUTF and ERS. SB1317 would increase the excise tax paid by wholesalers from 0.5% to 1.0% in 2016-2017 to fund infrastructure development and the Department of Education.
  6. Higher GET taxes. HB1253 and SB727 would add a surcharge to the GET to pay for long-term care.

4 tax proposals on a slippery slope

  1. Tax credit for home-schooling. HB1301 would create a tax credit for parents or guardians who home school their children. While I support home-schooling, public education is funded by all taxpayers. This could lead to parents with children in private schools seeking a tax credit too.
  2. Tax credits for long-term insurance. HB18 would provide tax credits to resident taxpayers for long-term care insurance premiums. Would you still qualify for public assistance with long-term care? What happens if your premiums don’t cover all of your care?
  3. Tax credit for renovating agricultural buildings. HB533 would give a tax credit for the qualified costs of developing or renovating agricultural buildings or structures that are exempt from building permit or building code requirements. This seems to encourage buildings that don’t adhere to a building code. What about a tax credit if the buildings adhere to the building code?
  4. Tax credit for hiring seniors. HB1276 tax credit for hiring people 65 years or older. Businesses should hire people based on ability, honesty, and responsibility.

One last note: There are two bills that would reduce the amount deducted from the county surcharge on state tax from 10% to 5% (HB1416) or 3% (HB760); and one bill to increase the state assessment to 25% (SB616). We’re still paying the surcharge, but legislators are fighting over how to divide up the money.

The 2015 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 7. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

Surprise people with kindness

February 10, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness - Kindness Pass It On

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”
— Bob Kerrey, American politician

One of the most memorable random acts of kindness happened to my son as we were walking at Ala Moana Center. We paused outside an ice cream store, debating if we should reward ourselves. An elderly man stopped and gave my son a dollar, telling me to buy him an ice cream. I tried to refuse, but he just smiled and walked away.

A random act of kindness that happened to me: I was in the Home Depot parking lot and felt faint. A kind man helped me up, and a thoughtful woman even brought me a can of Sprite. Another time, I was standing in a long line at a tire center. I had left my phone at home, but a nice man let me use his phone to call my husband about which tires we should order.

Being kind doesn’t mean giving someone money or buying things. Most of us try to be kind every day, as part of living with aloha. We hug our children, our parents, and our friends. We wave to our neighbors. We smile as we pass people. We wave to drivers who let us into their lane.

During Random Acts of Kindness Week, February 9-15, let’s challenge ourselves to be more kind, more considerate, and more spontaneous. Step out of your normal routine or comfort zone and attempt a new random act of kindness each day. As you celebrate Valentine’s Day, think of ways to make the people in your life feel special.

Here are a few ideas to help you celebrate to Random Acts of Kindness Week:

* Get inspired with kindness ideas on the Random Acts of Kindness website. Search ideas by category (work, family, school, sports), by cost, and by time investment.

* Teachers and parents can print posters based on 12 kindness concepts: assertiveness, compassion, gratitude, caring, fairness, self-care, self-discipline, responsibility, respect, perseverance, integrity, and helpfulness. There are printable bookmarks, free lesson plans, writing prompts, and kindness projects for all grade levels. For younger kids, there’s Operation Kind Kids, put together by the preschool channel Sprout – with ideas, a kindness counter, and activities.

* Individuals who want to challenge themselves can print a kindness calendar with daily suggestions for acts of kindness. Each month features suggestions based on one of the 12 kindness concepts.

* Share acts of kindness, whether you saw a random act of kindness or were the recipient of a kind act. Every Wednesday, KHNL and K5 News at Nine feature a Random Act of Kindness recipient of the week. Oahu residents can nominate someone and share their story. Or tell your story to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which features a “Kokua Line” where you can share your “Mahalo.” Email kokualine@staradvertiser.com.

Have you ever done a random act of kindness, either planned or spur-of-the-moment? Have you benefited from someone’s selfless kindness?

“Captive Paradise” by James L. Haley

February 7, 2015

Captive Paradise

Was a Hawaiʻi a paradise? When we think of a paradise, we imagine a place where there is peace, where people are free to make their own choices, and where there are abundant resources. Historian and author James L. Haley argues that ancient Hawaiʻi was not the paradise we believe it was.

In “Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaiʻi” (2014), Haley presents a narrative history of Hawaiʻi, from Captain James Cook’s first visit in 1778 to annexation by the United States in 1898, with a brief overview of the 1900s. After acknowledging that “History is rooted in the reigning ‘politically correct’ paradigm of race, gender, and exploitation” (page xiii), Haley focuses on Hawai’i political history.

From the start, Haley strips the idealism from Hawaiʻi, presenting a Native Hawaiian culture that was diametrically different from Western culture. Native Hawaiians practiced early sexuality and sexual permissiveness, open marriages, polygamy, infanticide, and human sacrifice, at least among the aliʻi. Because there was no continuity of power – when an aliʻi died, his successors fought for land and power – daily life for kanaka (commoners) was filled with warfare, terror, uncertainty, broken families, and the fear of being sacrificed for breaking kapu.

I was challenged by Haley’s conclusion that Native Hawaiian life was sharply defined by two things: kapu (that which is prohibited) and mana (power). He argues that kapu allowed aliʻi to maintain power and justified going to war to build and maintain mana. It was a society in which loyalty to an individual aliʻi was stronger than loyalty to a royal family or bloodline. However, by focusing on aliʻi power struggles, we see kanaka as victims of warring aliʻi, and learn little about the majority of Native Hawaiians’ daily lives and traditions.

Interestingly, it was two high-ranking aliʻi women, Kaʻahumanu and Keopuolani, who began to destroy the kapu system in 1819 – “The only known time in the history of the world when a people threw over a long-established religious system with nothing to replace it” (page 46). And it was five Native Hawaiians – three war survivors and two sons of aliʻi – who brought a new religion and new morality to Hawaiʻi, spurring the first mission to Hawaiʻi in 1820.

I was engaged by the honest characterizations, anecdotes, and commentary about historical figures:
* Kamehameha is portrayed as a strong and ambitious warrior, who wasn’t afraid of new ideas or challenging tradition, but “who was defeated as often as he was victorious” (page 13).
* Keopuolani, Kamehameha’s royal wife of the sacred niʻaupiʻo rank, is described as a woman who was kind, tolerant, and willing to break traditions to raise her own daughter and support the breaking of kapu – even when it reduced her power and privilege.
* Jonah Kuhio Kalaniʻanaole, is depicted as a world traveler and soldier, a confident and daring prince who volunteered and fought in the Second Boer War in South Africa. It was entertaining to read that “While touring Europe, in one happy aftermath of the Germans’ behavior to his aunt at Queen Victoria’s jubilee, a German duke made an unkind observation about their skin color; Kuhio, drawing upon his superior rank and boxing skill, punched him out” (page 339).

I won’t summarize Hawaiian history, but it was sobering to read about the decline in the Native Hawaiian population, and an equal waning of Native Hawaiian culture. While the change of land ownership from ahupuaʻa to fee simple ownership was meant to empower kanaka, encourage Hawaiian families, and appease foreign citizens, it did have unintended consequences. As Haley observes, “Between the [foreign] marriages and the Mahele, much of the wealth of the islands passed out of purely native control” (page 201). The Hawaiian monarchy lasted just 83 years, and there is one flat note in the account of the overthrow of the monarchy: Haley’s remark that “Once again in Hawaiian history, royal overreach led to mayhem” (page 292).

The very last chapter, “Angry Luaus,” offers an overview of Hawaii in the 1900s, but glosses over the tension between a culture of hospitality, the commercialization of the islands, and a historical loss of self-government. “With annexation in 1898 the capture of paradise was accomplished” (page 337), Haley writes with a flourish at the beginning of the chapter. He ends with a statement that “Hawaiʻi was never a paradise” (page 351) and a call to “put right” the economic and cultural exploitation of Hawaii.

“Captive Paradise” offers a thoughtful and compelling narrative, focusing on 120 years of Hawaiian history. It is rich in detail and political commentary, focusing on ali‘i, the monarchy, foreign religious and cultural influences, and foreign governments. Interestingly, the cover art shows a modern map of Hawaiʻi with Hawaiian place names, instead of a historical map of the Sandwich Islands.

* * * 

Note: I would like to thank the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for sending me an Advance Reading Copy of “Captive Paradise.” No money or other compensation was exchanged for this review; but thanks to their generosity, I was able to read and review “Captive Paradise” sooner than I expected.

Art, community, and keeping a project going

February 3, 2015

Make art happen

Last summer, I volunteered to coordinate a tile project for a local ceramics hui (club). It was a good way to show our artistic skills and do a trial-run for a larger community project. We used artwork designed by one of our members, painstakingly carved the design onto clay tiles, and painted the tiles with glaze. Then the muscle work began with wood framing, mortar, and grout. We presented the finished mural in January.

This art project was a great way for us to gain experience and give something back to the club. I’m inspired and excited to do even more. But first, I thought I’d share a few things I learned about coordinating a community art project:

* Plan ahead. From planning to completion, it took about 10 months for this small project. I made sure we had a lot of time to get the project done, and allowed for holidays, vacations, and do-overs. I diagramed the artwork and text carefully, made templates, set up art days, had all the supplies we needed on hand, and shared tips to help volunteers.

* Get as many people involved as possible, even in small ways. Talk to everyone you can and get people interested, whether or not they actually participate. Keep track of everyone’s ideas and suggestions, but realize that you won’t be able to say “yes” to everyone.

* Expect that not everyone will see the entire project though. People will join in or fall away during different parts of the project, and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection on you or their rejection of the project.

* Remember that art is not perfect. Parts of the project may not turn out exactly as you envisioned it. Tiles may be slightly bigger or smaller. Colors may not be exact. But those small imperfections make your art project unique and remind you of the people who were involved.

* Finish on-time and under-budget. Just don’t sacrifice quality.

If you want to add some ceramic art to your life and do good at the same time, please mark your calendar for Empty Bowl Hawaii on April 10, 2015. You can choose a soup bowl hand-crafted by a local artisan, taste specialty soups created by local restaurants, and help Hawaii Meals on Wheels.

If you want to learn more about public art in Hawaii, here are a few resources:
* The Hawaii State Art Museum showcases public art. Admission is free and there is a free family event on Second Saturdays of each month.
* The Honolulu Museum of Art and Spalding House, sponsored by Bank of Hawaii, host a free Family Sunday every month. In addition to browsing the galleries, there are art activities, entertainment, and film screenings.
* The Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts promotes the arts throughout Honolulu. There is a searchable database of public art.
* The Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts sponsors in the Art in Public Places Collection, with a searchable database of relocatable public art.

How have you added more art to your life? Have you ever volunteered to lead a group project? What surprised you and what did you learn from the experience?