Archive for the ‘Government’ category

Avoiding another federal government shutdown

January 29, 2019

To our federal employees and families, thank you for your public service. Thank you for going to work every day, when you weren’t getting paid. Thank you for going to work every day, when you were anxious about how you would pay your bills. Thank you for keeping us safe.

We were all relieved to hear that the federal government shutdown came to an end. We are all worried that there may be more shutdowns to come.

Though I’m not a lawyer or a politician, I’ve been thinking about how we can avoid shutdowns in the future. I’ve come up with a few thoughts and ideas I’d like to share.

* Require an annual balanced federal budget. Without a budget to manage the government’s income (aka taxes), the government won’t be able to uphold our rights, ensure our freedoms, and keep us safe. There should be consequences for legislators if they cannot or will not do their jobs.

On a related note, we could consider that the federal government…

* Build a zero-based annual federal budget every 10 years. This means starting a federal budget from $0 and justifying expenses for each department. Alternately, we could require zero-based annual budgets by department, on a rotating basis, so that the entire budget is not up for review at one time.

If legislators can’t agree and cause a federal government shutdown…

* Suspend US Congress salaries and benefits. If federal employees do not get paid because a federal budget is not approved, then federal lawmakers should not get paid either. Elected government officials seem to be using federal employees to make statements about their political policies. But while Congress and the White House stick to their principles, employees, families, and communities bear the burden of those principles. As we all know, the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except as punishment for a crime).

At the state level, this means that we may need to…

* Reduce our reliance on the federal government. One way we can do this is to minimize the role of federal government and return more authority to state governments. It doesn’t make sense for the federal government to duplicate many of the services that the state government provides. Many federal agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Health, could collect, report, and audit data from the states, and make policy recommendations – not set national policies. State governments would have more responsibility for government programs and would need to hire more employees.

But returning more authority to state governments would also require that we…

* Completely revise the federal tax system. State governments should not rely on the federal government for funding. It doesn’t make sense for large amounts of taxes to go to the federal government and then be redistributed to the states. The federal government, which has national responsibilities and a larger tax base, should have lower tax rates. The states, which directly care for citizens but have smaller tax bases, should have higher tax rates to pay for local programs and services.

How were you impacted by the federal shutdown? What do you think we can do to avoid future shutdowns?

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A confession about the national news

January 22, 2019

I have a confession to make. Over the past few months, I’ve been avoiding the national news. I keep up with the local news, but I only read the headlines of the national news.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. A couple of years ago, I agreed completely.

But there were a few things Jefferson didn’t foresee, like 24/7 news; the ease with which truth and lies can spread; the knowledge that even when news is disproven, people still believe it is true; and the sometimes callousness of anonymous political discourse.

I needed to take a break from national politics and political debate for my own mental health. The frustration, anger, helplessness, and even scorn I felt were not healthy, and I couldn’t turn it into something productive.

So I will indulge in sticking to the headlines a little longer. When I’m ready to read beyond the headlines again, I’ll remind myself of two things:

* I choose to be kind and positive. I can’t control the news, the reporters, the bloggers, or the commentators, but I can control myself.

* I choose to believe that most people do what they think is right, even when I disagree with them (maybe especially when I disagree with them). And I hope they will think the same of me in return.

How closely do you follow national politics? How can we improve the way we discuss government policies and laws?

Suburbs, sustainability, and selfishness

November 27, 2018

Is an urban lifestyle better, or more environmentally sustainable, than the suburban lifestyle? Are people who live in the suburbs selfish?

We have a stereotype of the suburban lifestyle: more single-family homes, larger living spaces, more green spaces, and larger shopping malls surrounded by parking lots. And in exchange for living with more, further away from the urban center, there is a heavy reliance on automobiles, more traffic, and fewer transportation options.

It’s a sharp contract with the urban lifestyle: more people, more high-rises, smaller living spaces, shared green spaces, smaller retail stories, and more transportation options.

In “Enduring Features of the North American Suburb: Built Form, Automobile Orientation, Suburban Culture and Political Motivation” (2018), Pierre Filion of the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo makes two broad claims about sustainability and political expression that made me think about urban planning in a different way.

The article is based on two Toronto, Ontario, Canada metropolitan region case studies involving attempts at creating more urban growth centers (“recentralization”) and a 2010 mayoral election campaign. It’s especially interesting in light of Hawaii’s efforts at creating a “second city” and the challenges we face with population growth and limited resources.

Sustainable communities? Filion writes that modern planning “promotes suburban transformations intended to enhance environmental sustainability, largely by reducing suburban land consumption and reliance on the automobile.” However, suburban lifestyle and culture “impede planning attempts to transform suburbs in ways that make them more environmentally sustainable.” In other words, he assumes that the urban lifestyle and “collective forms of consumption” are more environmentally sustainable than the suburban lifestyle. I don’t know if this is true, and Filion does not explain how he arrives at this conclusion.

In Hawaii, the line between urban and suburban is blurred, and the distance between communities is relatively small. In a sense, “suburban” can encompass most communities outside of urban Honolulu or rural communities (including agricultural, preservation, conservation, and resort lands). I can agree that suburban communities consume more electricity for lighting along roadways, more electricity to power larger homes, and more gas for transportation than comparable-sized urban communities. How much of this environmental impact is balanced by more parks and land devoted to recreation and greenery, less concentrated air pollution, and fewer overhead highways?

As a society, how do urban and suburban lifestyles impact the environment, as well as our physical and mental health?

Selfish communities? Filion concludes that the suburban culture influences the way that residents view environmental sustainability and the way that residents vote in elections. He mentions “mobilizations to preserve features of suburbs perceived to be under threat,” such as “NIMBY movements” and densification initiatives. In effect, he suggests that suburban communities are selfish for wanting to consume more land and resources, and then take political action by voting to protect the lifestyle. Note: he doesn’t actually use the word “selfish,” but it’s implied.

In Hawaii and in every community, political activism is not limited to suburban communities. Filion could as easily state that the urban lifestyle “can transmute into political expression.” More interesting to me is the idea of “the conservatism of the suburbs,” the suggestion that suburban communities tend to become more conservative in voting patterns. I wish that Filion would clarify what he means by “conservatism” – whether it is a commitment to traditional values and lifestyle, an opposition to change, land conservation, or a political ideology (and how this differs in Canada and the United States).

Does living in suburban communities make us more selfish by encouraging consumption of land and resources? Does urban living make us less selfish?

This is a big topic for a short post, and I don’t have any answers – only more questions. But it made me think about where we live and how we plan our communities, and I hope it gives you something to think about too.

Do you live in an urban, suburban, or rural community? What factors influenced your decision to live there? How are your voting habits influenced by where you live?

How would you plan for climate change?

October 30, 2018

If you have the chance, attend one of the Climate Action Plan public meetings that are happening across Oahu. Sponsored by the City and County of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, the community events focus on the impact of climate change and how we can become more resilient.

 

Hawaii will always face disasters. The neighborhoods that bounce back from disasters are the neighborhoods that know each other, chief resiliency officer Josh Stanbro said. It starts with us.

 

Most of the meeting is spent playing the Emissions Reduction Game.

 

The game is a way for community members to think about how we should build a clean economy. It asks us to think about the long-term – what needs to happen in 2025 and 2035 to reach our goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. Where should Honolulu focus its resources? And just as important, what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint in Hawaii?

 

We gathered around tables set up with large “game boards” and placed strategy tiles on the board. For each of the target years, we had a limited number of projects that we could choose. The projects are all pre-selected, in five sectors: electricity, on-site energy, on-road, marine/off-road/waste, and aviation. The projects include Walk/Bike/Transit, Renewable Fuels, Building Energy Efficiency, Solar Farms, and Carbon Offsets. They are achievable and can successfully lower emissions.

 

The game encourages us to think strategically – the big picture, not the details. But it doesn’t take into account the City’s finances. So we didn’t consider project costs, either in direct costs (fees and taxes) or opportunity costs (projects that may not be funded).

 

We were supposed to think of our end goals, but I found myself wondering if we can afford to reach our goal by 2045. Are there cost-savings or crucial health and safety benefits from moving aggressively? Could a slightly longer time frame save us money and allow for new technologies to be tested that could help us reach our goal, making up for the time delay? I have to believe that the Resilience Office considered this, and felt that the 2045 target date is the most effective, efficient, and affordable choice.

 

One draw-back is that the projects were all pre-determined. There were no “write-in” tiles. We couldn’t suggest our own strategies or “jump ahead” to strategies that are only available in later years. For example, one strategy that was missing is limiting the number of people who can live in or visit Hawaii. This goes against the aloha spirit, could spell economic disaster, and may even be unconstitutional. But just as there are occupancy limits set by the Fire Code and a maximum capacity at Disneyland, limiting the number of people is an option.

 

In the end, what really struck me was realizing that we have the power to influence government. We can help government set priorities and policies, instead of waiting for government to tell us what to do. Whether it’s at a community meeting, public hearing, or our polling place, we just have to show up.

 

For more information about public meetings, community events, and resources, including a meeting about the City’s Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan on November 3, 2018, visit Resilient Oahu at http://www.resilientoahu.org.

Seniors and the next 20 years

October 2, 2018

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a telephone survey about the needs of seniors, conducted by Honolulu’s Elderly Affairs Division.

My responses were spontaneous, and after thinking about it a little more, I wouldn’t respond any differently. But I did think of more things I wish I could have said, so I decided to share my thoughts with you.

Here are the top three challenges that I think seniors face today:

Affordable housing. Oahu is addressing the lack of affordable housing, but we need even more affordable housing units that are built with seniors in mind – such as wider elevators, hallways, and doorways; walk-in showers; and clear signage in buildings.

I also think we need to change our expectations for senior living. One idea is to create ohana apartments, modeled on university dormitories. Two or three seniors or senior couples could live together in multi-bedroom units with a shared kitchen and living room. This could strengthen friendships, reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, and foster relationships where seniors give and receive care.

Affordable healthcare. In the two years I’ve worked in healthcare administration, I’ve seen big increases in co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles. Some clients have a co-pay of $40 or $45 per office visit (my own copayment is $50). We need more resources in place to help make healthcare affordable. I am strongly opposed to making our tax code more complicated; but, working with the tax system we have today, we could create a tax credit for healthcare providers who waive copayments for low-income seniors.

At some point, we simply need more reasonable limits on annual healthcare premium and copayment increases. The limits could be tied to the rate of inflation or Medicare benefits. In 2018, Affordable Care Act (ACA) rates increased by 19.8% for HMSA members and 24.1% for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii members, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. In comparison, consumer prices rose 2.7% over the twelve months from August 2017 to August 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mobility and transportation issues. Hawaii has a variety of services to help seniors with mobility and transportation issues, from TheHandi-Van and Uber rides, to Meals on Wheels and Project DANA, which provide services to the homebound.

I think we can do more a little more. We can encourage more healthcare providers to offer home visits for seniors. We can create a “technology in the home” program to help seniors set up computers, tablets, or phones for web conferencing.

And in the next 20 years? I think the biggest challenge will be keeping physically and mentally active. We need to keep fit, work longer, and volunteer more. There are so many ways to be active in the community, and we need better ways to share those opportunities with people of all ages.

For example, I recently learned about Senior Corps RSVP, a network for seniors who want to volunteer in the community. At the Hawaii Seniors’ Fair, I learned about a foster grandparents program to mentor children with special needs in schools. Volunteerism and maintaining strong connections to the community can help keep us healthy – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

What challenges do you or the seniors in your life face today? How do you envision your life in 20 years?

 

Artwork courtesy of All-Free-Download.com.

Envisioning the future of Honolulu’s Primary Urban Center

August 21, 2018

What will Honolulu look like in 20 years? We have an exciting opportunity to be part of the conversation for Honolulu’s future!

The Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting is updating Oahu’s Primary Urban Center Development Plan, which covers the geographic area from Kāhala to Pearl City. Last adopted in 2004, the Development Plan is one of eight community oriented plans “intended to help guide public policy, investment and decision-making through the 2025-planning horizon.”

My first reaction to the Development Plan is that we should expand the geographic area. The current Primary Urban Center stretches from Kāhala to Pearl City. To would ensure better coordination and consistency of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) planning, we could consider including part or all of Central O‘ahu into the Primary Urban Center.

Beyond just improving existing infrastructure and buildings, I tried to think about the challenges and opportunities in the next 20 years. Here are my three favorite suggestions for Honolulu’s future:

1. Beautify roadways and concrete structures. Our first and last look at Honolulu is usually from the H-1 freeway and airport. To beautify the transportation corridors, we could incorporate design elements into the concrete structures along the roads and highways, with appropriate art and color. Designs could inspire (artistry), inform (cultural and historical themes), and/or provide directions (color-coded or patterned themes). For example, different colors or motifs could be planned for each ahupua‘a or geographic region. Design elements could be added to existing roadways, concrete walls, and barriers, and become a planning requirement for future roadway projects.

2. Plan for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Flying vehicles may be in use (or at least in street testing) sooner than we think. This could entirely change Honolulu’s urban skyscape. It could reduce traffic congestion, decrease road maintenance, and create a new set of concerns about licensing, privacy, air traffic, and air rights, and revising building codes to include landing pads. VTOL aircraft use could start with police and emergency personnel, enabling them to reach people in high-rise buildings and Hawaii’s mountain trails.

3. Study the feasibility of pedestrian walkways. To connect dense urban neighborhoods with commercial plazas, recreation facilities, and retail centers, we could begin planning for pedestrian walkways above ground-level. By building walkways at the third floor or upper levels, we could improve pedestrian safety and create more store-front opportunities for small businesses. It could also address concerns about flooding and provide alternatives for building evacuation during emergencies. This would be especially useful in dense neighborhoods like Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu.

If you’re interested in getting involved and sharing your ideas, the next pop-up events are scheduled for August 22 at Pearl City Library and August 23 at da Shop Books & Curiosities in Kaimuki. You can also join the conversation online and share your thoughts in the online community forum.

How do you think Honolulu will change in the next 20 years? What do you envision for Honolulu’s urban center?

13 candidates, 3 hours, 1 night

July 10, 2018

Election signs are popping up along sidewalks, sign wavers are standing along the road during the morning commute, and political debates are underway.

On July 2, 2018 Hawaii News Now broadcast a “Super Debate” with the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, senator, and governor. It was sponsored by Kamehameha Schools and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

I thought the Super Debate was a good idea at first – I could listen to candidates from the three major races. But I didn’t factor in fatigue; my attention span was around 120 minutes. By the time the gubernatorial debate was up, I was ready for a break.

That’s why I’m writing this post a week after the Super Debate – I needed some time to think about what the candidates said, and what I heard.

Notes about the lieutenant governor debate:

* What they said: Former state Senator Will Espero emphasized affordable housing and corrections reform (prisons). State Senator and Doctor Josh Green emphasized homelessness and the opioid epidemic (healthcare). Former school board member Kim Coco Iwamoto stressed government accountability. State Senator Jill Tokuda emphasized education. Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho was charming.

* What I heard is that all of the issues will require more spending and higher taxes. Only Iwamoto admitted that she supports higher taxes on corporations and nonresident homeowners.

* In the open forum, it was interesting to see which candidates jumped up to answer first.

* It was surprisingly civil, though candidates sometimes side-stepped the questions or spoke longer than their allotted time in the open forum.

Notes about the congressional debate:

* What they said: Former Congressmember Ed Case emphasized his experience and willingness to compromise. Lieutenant Governor and former Attorney General Doug Chin supports a single-payer healthcare system. State Representative Beth Fukumoto focused on free college, federal recognition of Native Hawaiians, and Medicare for all. State Representative Kaniela Ing emphasized free college, an anti-corporation stance, federal jobs for all, and Medicare for all. State Senator Donna Mercado Kim emphasized her experience. Councilmember Ernie Martin impressed me by stating that people should earn a free college education.

* What I heard is that many of the candidates support debt-free college and Medicare for all (a single-payer healthcare system), which means raising taxes.

* One of the candidates raised the issue of the Medicare and Social Security crisis. No one mentioned that this is a crisis that was created by government. Both public assistance programs were designed as pay-it-forward programs, in which younger generations support older generations.

* This was arguably the most exciting debate, with two verbal sparring matches: Ing vs. Fukumoto and Case vs. Kim.

Notes about the gubernatorial debate:

* What I heard: nothing really surprising. Congressmember Colleen Hanabusa asked about the false missile alert, challenging Governor David Ige’s leadership skills and aptitude; he answered that he was leaving the house for an event, and he turned around and went back inside to make phone calls. Governor David Ige asked about the Ko Olina tax credit, challenging Congressmember Colleen Hanabusa’s integrity; she answered by saying that the tax credit showed that Waianae is business-friendly, and the developer only used a small portion of the tax credit.

Some of the commercials were refreshing and positive, like messages from the Hawaii Community Foundation (giving to nonprofits), Legacy of Life Hawaii (organ donation), Hawaii Fido Service Dogs, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, and Catholic Charities; but I wish they had excluded all the political commercials.

What is your opinion of a three-hour Super Debate format? Which candidates surprised you or gained your support?