Friday, December 17, 2010

Why NOT Earmarks!?

Hawaii lost $321 million of earmarked federal funding yesterday after the U.S. Senate abandoned a $1.3 trillion appropriations bill, leaving 141 projects left to forge for funding elsewhere. This is a big deal.

As my last post focused on, Senator John McCain led a charge against the bill and dissed many meaningful projects across the nation while doing so, including $300,000 funding for the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

But funding for these projects are comparatively frugal as the Economist points out in an article posted on Wednesday,

"YESTERDAY John McCain, or one of his aides, informed the world via Twitter of his intention to make a speech calling for cutting the federal deficit by eliminating earmarks.

SenJohnMcCain 6:25am via Web

Heading 2 the floor 2 talk about the $1.1 Trillion 1924 page omnibus spending bill that includes 6488 earmarks totaling nearly $8.3 billion

The mathematically literate reader will note that $8.3 billion is less than 1% of $1.1 trillion."

The republicans slam this bill as wasteful spending by the government counteractive to their goal of reducing the federal deficit. On the flip-side, the republicans ironically led the passage of a major tax-cut extension, primarily for the wealthy, that will cost the nation approximately $858 billion, over 100 times more than the earmarks. They were successful at this and Obama is signing it as I type. See some hypocracy here?

Sure, some might argue that with an extension of these cuts, Reagonomics may EVENTUALLY come into play and benefit workers and the economy as a whole. But supply-side economics has never been shown to be more reliable, or better able to foster a robust, national economy, than thriving State economies--and by subsidizing sustainable fishing initiatives, farming productivity improvement research, and other means of intellectual capitol, the humble earmarks in the Senate Appropriations Bill did just this. If my reasoning seems sketchy to you, I'm open to comments and criticism.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Leadership for the Honolulu Zoo!

I turned on Hawaii News Now tonight and was enthralled to see Carlisle's appointment of a new director for the Honolulu Zoo. Under the leadership of Redman, to Quintal, then to his assistant Higashino, recent improvement of the Honolulu Zoo has been marginal at best for the past half decade or so.  Manuel Mollinedo, from the San Francisco Zoo has just taken charge of the post. Despite a single unfortunate event, Mollinedo has a track record of success in attracting visitors and improving revenue. Finally; what a great surprise! I'll tell you why I say finally:

Video of elephant stress-exhibiting behavior at Honolulu Zoo. Last year, this exhibit ranked among the world's 10 worst for elephants. A new exhibit is in the works with 27,000 square feet of room to run around in as well as have pools big enough for swimming.

Last week, my girlfriend and I took a spontaneous weekend visit to the zoo after surfing and was taken back--actually, she was appalled--by the condition of the zoo facilities and the apparent health of the animals. We witnessed hundreds of exhausted, almost sick-looking, lethargic, mammals and reptiles alike in the worst condition that I have seen them since I first visited the zoo over a decade ago.

A poor orangutan, for examples, had her face stamped flat against the viewing glass and wept silently while trying to tend to a 4 inch long, 3 inch thick, major, salmon-meat-looking laceration on her left shoulder. Her friend looked like he was starving and was keeping busy by eating a large piece of thick, plastic wrapping!

We were a little stunned so I gave the zoo-keeper a call from the number listed on a nearby sign. On the other end was an aide who told me that the plastic was left in there on purpose because the apes apparently like to hide under the plastic for fun. I told her it didn't look like that's what they are using it for and I am sure that they are eating it. She said she would send the zoo keeper notice to check-in but didn't seemed more annoyed than alarmed. Hey, but what do I know: maybe plastic helps regulate the digestion of the orangutan's high-potassium diet?

The "watering hole" where the Savannah animals gather and the lake display near the entry were disgustingly overrun by algae and molds. Flamingos were being overcrowded by mynas and Honolulu flying rats--a.k.a. rock doves or pigeons. Displays with grass were usually under-watered while displays with water (i.e. hippos and alligators)typically had glass displays blurred by algae and debris.

The gibbons, however, were as active as ever. You got to love those guys!

And one last thing: believe it or not, we witnessed a peacock stalk a family getting burgers and fries from the food bar, sneaked up to the table, JUMPED ON, and started pecking away swallowing a fry at a time. It was the table right next to us, I got up and tried to shoo it away but it wouldn't budge even when I gave it a little nudge. The elderly woman and her grandchildren had to move their food!

I love the zoo. It is a wonderful attraction for the City and I believe it could also be revamped to being quite economical. But every year it was seeming to get worse. This visit pushed me over the edge. My girlfriend and I left disconcerted, and wanting to take action. Upon leaving we actually vowed to take a stand.  First, we planned to look into the zoo's success and animal standards to be sure we weren't overreacting or wasting our time, then if our hunches had any truth, start a campaign to get the community involved and help save the animals and the attraction as a whole. After Carlisle's announcement, all I have to say is "Phew...!"

John McCain v. Polynesian Voyaging Society

A couple days ago, John McCain obtusely bashed the Polynesian Voyaging Society for being the "#1 pork-barrel-funding project in America".

First, in an ill-researched speech attacking earmarks in a senate spending bill, the Arizona uber-conservative singled out dollars designated for the the maker and keeper of the history-shaping sailing canoe Hokulea.
"One of my all-time favorites that is always on here every year -- $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. Now some people are watching and thinking I'm making this up. I'm not making it up,$300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society."

Then the Senator, or some intern, tweeted a list of the most wasteful earmarks with PVS TOPPING the list for the day. My conscience conscripted me to retweet and respond to the arguably most ignorant tweet of the year--right up there with the worst of Kanye's.

We are talking a measly $300,000. With the trillions being spent by the federal government yearly, as compared to Hawaii's State Budget, $300,000 would be a proportional equivalent to less than a cent allocated by the State to a worthwhile project. Through another lens, FIM-9 Stinger Missiles for the Stinger anti-aircraft system costs $13,800 EACH. just 8 of these would overtake the funding of PVS. Currently, about 13,400 of these missiles are available in the Army and Marine Corps partly due to McCain's voice and votes.

Thankfully, The Economist, a popular and respected cenrist-positioned, national-weekly publication, has taken the side of the Polynesian Voyaging society in an online article posted yesterday morning:
"So why did John McCain pick this item as his "#1 pork barrel project"? In five seconds, I found an earmark for a historical-archaeological project that is equally expensive and obviously less valuable than the work performed by PVS: The Alamo Heroes Cemetery and Spanish Colonial Hacienda Preservation project...
But projects with the word "Alamo" in them don't attract the ire and ridicule of people like Mr McCain, while projects with the word "Polynesian" in them do. I wonder why that might be."

The publication correctly describes the purpose and value of the organization, which can be extended to the national level by the research and history revisions the society accomplished.

Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson also responded publicly:

"If he's questioning the quality of our work, I'll fiercely defend the sacredness of that canoe, the work of thousands and thousands in our communities here in the Pacific for 35 years of taking care of her, sailing with purpose, and doing our very best to create educational opportunities that help our children in Hawaii,' -- in an interview with Jim Mendoza of Hawaii News Now.

Thompson continues in an article by By Leila Fujimori of the Star Advertiser: "McCain said we take rich people on sails outside Waikiki," Thompson said, inviting the senator to Hawaii to see for himself what the society is about.
"I think it's disrespectful, and I don't think it's appropriate ... to attack the integrity of our organization," he said. By doing so, he attacks "both the symbolism and the reality to not just the people in Hawaii, but people in society. When he attacks the PVS, he attacks the canoe and attacks a whole race of people."

Nainoa Thompson is an intelligent modern Hawaiian hero, and an incredibly effective leader who almost single-handedly sparked my social-awareness, which led me to figure out how to most meaningful dictate my future, with a speech he gave our Senior class in High School a mere week before graduation (Kamehameha Maui 2006). John McCain is an unbranded range animal (a "maverick").

Monday, December 13, 2010

Progressive Christmas.

I stumbled across this ornament at Hallmark and couldn't resist snapping a photo and sharing it (via Android) with my Facebook friends--intriguing and provocative huh?  You tell me: does this come across as a reflection of progress towards a more harmonious society, raw ignorance, or something else?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Really Safeway, Right Next to Times!?

In January, when the national grocery mega-chain, Safeway, revealed that it would construct an excessive, large-scale supermarket directly adjacent to the Beretania Times Supermarket, my instincts instructed me to immediately get hold of my contact lists, organize a coalition of sign waivers and outspoken protesters, get the local media on my side, and kill this behemoth before it even gets off the ground.

But I restrained myself and vowed not to take action at least until I was able to adequately research the economic/community implications of such a project.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The $65 million, 61,000 sqaure foot mega-store is just about shovel-ready."][/caption]

As a localvore-in-training, I have dictated a personal regimine to buy local whenever possible, and have been shopping exclusively at Foodland and Times for my supermarket needs (you can't always make it out to farmer's markets, and it's always nice to support local businesses) for the past couple of years.

1) Local supermarkets have a greater communitarian value: they foster personal and business relations between local growers and packages, wholesalers, retailers etc; and they are not subject to corporate regulations and customer-service standards that may not necessarily be accustomed or compatible with the Kama'aina way of life.

2) Local supermarkets have a greater economic value: they buy a greater proportion of local produce to their total stock as does their mainland counterpart; and consumers' money spent in local supermarkets have a much greater chance of being spent and circulated within the local economy.

Above all else, I just feel as though both the service and the products I receive from Foodland and Times are just plain out superior to that of Safeway.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption=""Foodland Farms" attempt to appeal to the buy-local movement here in Hawaii. --from Martha Cheng's March 3, 2010 Article in The Honolulu Weeekly"][/caption]

But I fully understand and do not condemn those who shop at national chain super-markets, as I myself may be seen at Wal-mart (arguably the most notorious chain retailer) from time to time. There are economic benefits of doing so:

- the convenience of not having to drive to numerous locations--the sureness and comfort of your entire shopping list being in one location--means time saved traveling and remember what local shops carry which goods.

- lower prices means more money in the pockets of local consumers which in turn could spur economic growth with increased spending in other local industries.

So will local shoppers migrate over from Times to this giant neighbor who will most likely carry Time's entire selection and more?

Derek Kurisu, executive VP of KTA, a Big Island based retailer, clearly points out the threat to his business:

“The enemy is not other local vendors or other supermarkets, because we’re all just trying to make a living here,” he says. “It’s the Mainland sellers that are hurting us.” Buying cheaper goods from the Mainland or overseas put local suppliers out of business, he says. - SHARA ENAY Hawaii Business July 2010

With no change in population or consumption in Honolulu, there does seem to be a zero-sum grocery market whereas the only way to increase business is to take business from competitors.

But the president of Times Supermarkets does not seem to worried about this particular opening. Times, the quasi-local grocery chain (sold to a California chain in 2002), acquired rival Star Markets last year and has lived for years with Safeway operating across the street from its Beretania Street store, said Bob Stout, who was recently named president of Times Supermarkets. “Competition is a good thing, it’s great for the consumers,” he said. - Janis L. Magin, April 2, 2010 Pacific Business News

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Can Times Supermarkets really compete with this? Owner and President Bob Stout thinks so."][/caption]

This intense competition means consumers get more places to shop, more selection and generally lower prices.
The outlook for growers may not be too grim either. Even though Safeway may carry a relatively low proportion of local goods, increasing the size its Beretania store three-fold will increase its stock of local produce three-fold as well, assuming that the proportion of local-imported produce remains the same. This means more business for growers.

All-in-all, I'm hoping for the best turnout and the greatest welfare for local consumers, retail businesses, and growers alike upon the opening of this new store, and I am optimistic that it could work out for all parties. But I am concerned about further crowding out of local retailers by Safeway, which to me is a large, soul-less giant that is continually proving to hold minimal ethical constraints to their business methods:

Monday, December 6, 2010

LSAC's Implicit Response to Economic Stimulus Criticism?


In reality, each of the above statements are indeed true, and thus the United States' current ~10% unemployment rate is not a sufficient indicator of U.S.'s current economic state, policy critics.

I stumbled across this logic-based question while studying for the LSAT.  I would suggest the question reveals the testwriters' biases towards the politics surrounding our current economic state, but to be fair, this particular question is from the June 1996 LSAT. But what a great question!