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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Letters to the Editor

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

THINGS ARE BETTER BECAUSE OF LINGLE

David Shapiro clearly points out how the Democrats continue to work against Gov. Lingle ("Volcanic Ash," Jan. 11). The Democrats talk big but accomplish little for the people of Hawai'i.

But despite the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Gov. Lingle has accomplished such things as turning the budget deficit she inherited into a huge surplus, creating procurement reforms and increasing support for Hawaiian-only programs and agencies. Gov. Lingle has made people believe that things can be better. And because of her, they are.

All of Hawai'i shares in her accomplishments, and we should be proud she represents all of us so well at home, nationally and internationally.

Anne Sabalaske
Honolulu

AFRICA

SENDING COMPUTERS IS A GOOD FIRST STEP

In his article "Africa is a theatre of vain charity" (Island Voices, Jan. 6), Paul Theroux makes valid points regarding economic assistance. However, I disagree that sending computers to Africa would be "unproductive, not to say insane."

In the late 1970s, I lived in Malawi, a tiny truck stop between Tanzania and Zambia and one of the world's poorest countries no natural resources, marginal agricultural base.

Theroux is right; absent grassroots infrastructures, Malawi extensively imported foreign expertise like Peace Corps volunteer teachers. But sending only "pencils and paper, mops and brooms" to schools i.e., the lowest level basic supplies that they lack will not revitalize a moribund educational system.

A sustained interest from the developed world is needed to infuse expertise and create an appropriate infrastructure, including responsible government policies. Sending computers may not be a first-step solution for Africa, but it should be factored into any development plan. Radical new technology from MIT will soon make $100 mass-market computers a developing-world reality.

Perhaps we should recall the example of Dr. Paul Farmer, who pioneered strategies for infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis) in resource-poor settings such as Haiti. Farmer showed the world that providing the best possible healthcare not just "appropriate" technologies but the very best to the poorest, most vulnerable communities could help turn them around.

Partnerships between the Bill Gates and Bonos and Farmers of the world are needed to assure that computers will play a role in fragile African nations such as Malawi.

Kayleen Polichetti
Honolulu

ARTIFACTS

FORBES' CAVE ACTION WOULD BE CRIME TODAY

It is indeed ironic that Edward Halealoha Ayau is serving time in jail for disobeying Judge Ezra's order. In light of the recent revelation of letters written by William Brigham, the Bishop Museum's director in 1905, to David Forbes concerning the artifacts sold by him to the museum, it is now clear that Judge Ezra's order is tantamount to ordering Mr. Ayau to violate the law.

If found today, it would be Forbes who would be spending time in jail for desecration and grave robbing.

Those who believe the artifacts should be returned to Bishop Museum or one of the other claimants should recall the legal principle that a thief can never pass on good title to stolen goods.

At this point, it should be clear that Bishop Museum does not have a greater claim to the artifacts because it conspired with Forbes to conceal the stolen character of the items when it acquired them. Can the "stolen" character of misbegotten goods be changed due to the passage of time? The answer should be a resounding "No."

Weren't family heirlooms stolen by the Nazis from the Jews returned to the descendants of the rightful owners?

In light of the recent revelations casting additional light on the origin of the artifacts, what would be the greater wrong: to require Mr. Ayau to reveal the location of the artifacts so that another act of desecration can be committed, or to obey the law and one's conscience by remaining silent?

Roy Yanagihara
Kane'ohe

PROPERTY TAX

350 PERCENT INCREASE?

People are fearful about tax increases of 80 percent, with an average of 26 percent. From 2005 to 2006, mine went up from $742 to $2,600, an increase of 350 percent, which may force me to decide which medications I will not be able to afford. Find me someone whose tax assessment change is greater.

Richard Brill
Kane'ohe

OVERBURDENED

HAWAI'I TAXPAYERS SHOULD FIGHT BACK

I hope Hawai'i taxpayers continue to say "enough is enough" to recent tax and fee increases.

Hawai'i is considered one of the most overtaxed states. It is way past due for taxpayers and voters to rise up and tell state and county officeholders to make changes to their tax systems.

The prevailing idea that surpluses are only to be spent needs to be replaced with a balanced program of:

  • Spending on agreed-to needed programs (through negotiation by executive and legislative branches).

  • Returning part of surpluses to taxpayers as tax cuts and tax credits.

  • Removing regressive taxes, i.e., the 4 percent tax on food.

  • Fiscal discipline, i.e., creating a "rainy-day fund" for possible budget deficits and banning raids of special funds to cover budget deficits.

    As in O'ahu county, taxpayers statewide should call, write letters and petitions, and vote for those candidates who will listen and believe in fiscal responsibility and not overtaxing state and county homeowners and renters.

    Theodore Taba
    Honolulu

    CLEAN, SAFE

    NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS A SOLUTION FOR HAWAI'I

    The governor is missing an important opportunity to propose a solution to O'ahu's energy crisis and increasingly expensive dependency on imported oil: nuclear power.

    Nuclear power has advanced far from the ugly cooling towers and nuclear meltdown fears of the 1970s. Modern nuclear power plants (mostly European designed) are small, efficient, extremely safe and discreet. They provide cheap, steady sources of electricity without causing harmful greenhouse emissions.

    True, storing the spent nuclear fuel is still an environmental liability, but not as much as continuing to import and burn foreign oil in the face of rising prices caused by "peak oil" (the theory that oil is only going to get increasingly hard to find) and geopolitical instability.

    It is not unforeseeable that the entire world will someday turn to nuclear power as the most efficient alternative to exhausted fossil fuels (China, for instance, is planning dozens of new reactors in the next decade).

    Because of the stigma attached to nuclear power, it will take enormous political courage, but the governor has a golden opportunity to set Hawai'i on the path to clean, cheap power for generations.

    Peter V. Lee
    Honolulu

    LEGISLATURE SHOULD TARGET THE INCOMPETENT TEACHERS

    Editor's note: This is another in a series of letters from previous Advertiser Community Editorial Board members on the 2006 Legislature.

    In 2006, the state Legislature should focus on improving the public education system for our children because they will be the leaders of tomorrow.

    One way of ensuring a good public education is by having competent teachers in our classrooms.

    Tenure is a policy whereby a teacher has seniority over other teachers, calculated by the number of years they have taught. A competent untenured teacher should not be replaced by a tenured teacher. An incompetent tenured teacher should be fired. The union rules make it difficult to fire incompetent tenured teachers.

    There are many excellent teachers in the state school system. However, there are also incompetent tenured teachers who get passed from school to school because they can't be fired.

    The teachers' union allows for untenured teachers to be replaced by incompetent tenured teachers in the system. The union looks at how many years a teacher has been teaching instead of how competent he or she is.

    The union view is that a teacher with more years in the classroom will be better than one with less experience. That is not always true. A teacher with less experience can be more competent. The teachers' union should focus on a merit system instead of a seniority system.

    Unions were formed to protect workers from abuse, and now they are protecting incompetent teachers instead of our children. I would like to see the Legislature fix this problem with the union and ensure competent teachers in the classroom.

    Bryan Ren Chao Lum
    Kalani High School sophomore

    PROPERTY TAXES

    CITY BEING TIGHT WITH YOUR MONEY

    Robbie Dingeman in a Jan. 15 article reported on the effects rising property values have had on several taxpayers. In all the cases, the effects have been negative; and this issue is one that the Hannemann administration takes seriously.

    The article implied that the sole reason for the jump in property taxes has been the result of increasing property values. However, further examination would have revealed that property taxes are also affected by other factors, such as thousands of dollars in home improvements that increase the value of a property, which was the case with at least two of the homes Dingeman mentioned. (Building permit information is available publicly online.)

    In addition, the story failed to note that the Hannemann administration agrees with the need for relief from that added burden and has proposed relinquishing $40 million of those additional taxes beginning in August. Of the remaining $85 million, $65 million is needed for added costs that the city is obligated to pay, for arbitrated pay increases, fuel costs and debt service.

    In addition, the remaining $20 million is absolutely needed for a fiscal stability reserve fund that really should be at least $50 million. As columnist Jerry Burris pointed out in the same issue of your newspaper, local and state governments nationwide are facing a huge budget crisis because of a change in government accounting requirements that will require them to start reporting future healthcare benefits in two years.

    The fiscal stability reserve would help us weather that change and be available for natural disasters or economic downturns. The experts say both are likely to occur. Failure to have a reserve will likely cost taxpayers even more money.

    In addition to forgoing $40 million in added taxes, we're proposing to create a new tax class that would lower tax rates for homeowners, something that the Neighbor Island counties already have. Should the City Council concur, that law would take effect in the 2008 fiscal year.

    How best to spare taxpayers the additional $40 million next fiscal year is something we will work out with the City Council. Councilman Gary Okino's proposal to give homeowners an additional $80,000 exemption works out to $60 million islandwide. Obviously, that begs the question of where these additional dollars are going to be found. As we have pointed out, the Hannemann administration has put forth a tremendous effort to cut unnecessary spending and foster more public-private partnerships.

    We constantly hear demands for additional city services: more police, smoother roads, cleaner parks, more buses, more driver licensing examiners and facilities, longer hours at satellite city halls, and on and on. Those things all cost money, and real property taxes are the city's largest single source of revenue.

    No one, including us, likes to pay higher taxes. The Hannemann administration is doing all it can to hold taxes down, cut foolish spending and responsibly ensure that the city provides needed services at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.

    Mary Pat Waterhouse
    City director of budget and fiscal services