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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 29, 2006

Letters to the Editor



Judge Alex Kozinski, one of the 15 judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing the case of John Doe v. Kamehameha Schools, has been quoted as stating, "What's so great about having a school where everybody you meet is just like you?" I'd like to know exactly which Kamehameha students he is referring to.

Although my daughters are not fortunate to attend Kamehameha Schools, they do participate in the Summer School Programs. They, like much of the student body, have yet to encounter others there or anywhere else who share their ethnicity of 5/16 Japanese, 5/16 Chinese, 1/4 Vietnamese, 3/32 Hawaiian and 1/32 English.

Clearly, Judge Kozinski and those who share his views sadly lack any knowledge of cultural diversity to offer just consideration regarding this issue. There is a thick line between heritage and racism.

M. Chang



The confusion of many folks about genetically modified organisms is well-expressed in Joni Kamiya's June 26 letter noting confusion and exasperation over the lack of substantive information on the dangers of GMOs.

This is a valid concern. The conflict over GMOs is here to stay. Hawai'i Nei is on the frontline of this struggle: Witness the struggle over the patenting of sacred kalo by the younger children of Wakea and Papa.

This is not just the latest "the sky-is-falling" freak-out by "eco-nuts" who don't understand science or who value nature over economic interests and human health. In fact, it was the U.S. Supreme Court's lack of scientific understanding that resulted in the Supreme Court's poor decision in allowing life forms to be patented in the first place.

One well-known example of the dangers of bioengineering is that of Klebsiella planticola, where a German biotech company bioengineered a common soil bacterium to become one able to break down plant wastes like wood and also produce ethanol for fuel. It had passed all the government and university safety tests.

Luckily one graduate student at Oregon State University decided to test it not in sterile soil, but in living soil ... and discovered that all plants sprouted in that soil died. And it persisted in that soil. (See http://www .biotech-info.net/UCS_review.html.)

According to famed natural scientist David Suzuki, had Klebsiella planticola been released for general use as intended, it could have spread and conceivably destroyed all plant life on the continent of its use.

Lance M. Foster
Director of native rights, land and culture, Office of Hawaiian Affairs



All who are against paying increased taxes, especially for the fixed-rail transit system that will place an increasing financial burden on the majority for many years to come, should vote against all the state legislators and city and county people who endorsed and voted for the increase of the general excise tax. We should not allow these politicians to continue to financially bleed our society.

Wilbert W.W. Wong



I am appalled that the residents of O'ahu are standing by this excise tax increase, which will benefit a small portion of the population for a rail system.

This additional cost for food, medications, etc., will affect all of us on the Neighbor Islands, too, as most of our goods are shipped from O'ahu.

What about the homeless who need affordable housing while the priorities of the city and the state are focused on a rail transit that costs everyone?

B. Helenihi
Kona, Big Island



Do we need it? Can we afford it? Can we maintain it?

Mayor Mufi vowed these questions would guide his every decision. OK, let's apply them to the proposed rail transit system.

Do we need it? We surely need something, but is this it? Nobody, not even its most ardent supporters, believes this system will significantly reduce our traffic congestion. If that's the case, why do we need it?

Can we afford it? The estimate for the project is $3 billion. Of course no government project has ever come in on budget. Not only that, but this figure doesn't include the cost of the trains themselves, the purchase of right-of-way land along the route or operational and maintenance expenses. Can we afford it? Sure, if we don't mind throwing piles of our money into a black hole ... forever.

Can we maintain it? Are you kidding? Let's review. How well have we maintained our streets and highways? Our water lines? Our sewer system? How about our public school buildings? And the restrooms in our public parks? What about Aloha Stadium? The Natatorium? Our dams and reservoirs? Can we maintain it? Our record leaves little room for optimism.

It just feels as if this whole thing is being shoved down our throats. Why not take some surveys to learn what the public really thinks about it? After all, we're the ones who'll have to pay for it.

Bob Lamborn
Lower Nu'uanu



In reference to Jerry Burris' June 25 commentary, the same issue of growth occurs over and over again without solutions. Businesses and government incessantly continue to co-habitate in building without conscience and consequence.

If we can remember back in 1970, land struggles were rampant in communities in an effort to save them and the environment. One in particular that comes to mind is Ota Camp in Waipahu. The major issue among the residents, developer and the city was resident displacement. The minor issues that were brought forth were the fear in depletion of water, infrastructural support, sewage and waste treatment facilities, electricity overage and traffic. Aren't these issues very similar today in 2006?

The residents of Ota Camp won their battle with the developer and the city. The residents were relocated to West Loch. However, we, as citizens, lost the war on saving our natural resources and the headaches over maintaining development's infrastructure in West O'ahu and now throughout the island.

We can continue to plan the Master Plan, but what good is a plan if there is nothing left?

Frank Lee


In her June 18 column, talented Lee Cataluna commented on the failure of the Akaka bill to be heard by Congress.

She obviously feels deeply about the lot of Native Hawaiians, and I am sympathetic as well. But I have seen, firsthand, what happens to Native American Indians when our government has tried to protect them after so many years of abusing them. The results are generally dismal.

When you read the Akaka bill, you see that it tries to make Indians out of Hawaiians, and no matter how it tries, the fit is not a good one.

To the extent the Akaka bill is meant to redress the role that the United States had in the overthrow of the monarchy, it misses its mark. Sen. Akaka insists the bill is not racist, but how can a bill be anything but when it favors only one race? For this reason alone, it may well be unconstitutional. (It is paradoxical that the Chinese, the only race that was discriminated against under the monarchy, are now on top of the socioeconomic ladder.)

If redress is the aim of the bill, how about the two-thirds of the citizens of Hawai'i at the time of the overthrow who were not Hawaiian? How do their descendants benefit? In her column, Cataluna asks: "What is the Hawaiian word for hypocrisy?" I do not know, but the Hawaiian phrase for democracy is "aupuni a ka lehulehu" and two-thirds of the lehulehu (population) then (and now) were not Hawaiian.

Looking back at Hawai'i's history since Captain Cook's arrival, it appears to me that the monarchs themselves were the culprits. They were so enamored with the trappings of European royalty and self-indulgence that an eventual overthrow was inevitable. It was fortunate that, unlike when Kamehameha I conquered the Islands, the overthrow, when it finally happened, was a bloodless one.

As a citizen of Hawai'i for well over half a century, I am always amazed at how well the races have come together: through marriage and just plain good will. And none have intermarried more than the Hawaiians. (Less than 2 percent of our population is full-blooded Hawaiian.)

It is unfortunate that so many of those in need are Hawaiian, but let's help them as needy, not as Hawaiians.

Robert B. Robinson
Retired chairman and president, Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i



Last week, I voted with a majority in the House of Representatives to reduce and simplify the estate tax (also known as the death tax, or inheritance tax). I voted to reform the estate tax because of its impact on family-owned businesses, particularly here in Hawai'i.

The estate tax falls on a substantial number of family businesses nationwide, but it is of special concern in Hawai'i because of our state's high property values.

Two or three generations ago, a small-business owner may have paid a reasonable price for the land on which his or her business sits. Now that land may be worth more than the $2 million threshold above which the tax currently applies.

The estate tax takes almost half of all assets beyond that threshold. If the heir to the family business cannot afford the tax bill, he or she must either sell out or take on debt to pay it. For every family business sold to pay tax, twice as many are sold early to avoid passing on a legal mess to the next generation.

Generally, this benefits large public companies, which are not subject to the estate tax. They either swallow up the family business or face weakened competition. When large public companies supplant family businesses, the economy loses.

Family businesses have proven to be more nimble and innovative. According to the University of Southern Maine's Institute for Family-Owned Business, they account for 78 percent of new job creation. It makes no sense to stack the deck against the engines of growth and innovation in our economy.

Because the current tax is so complex, compliance is costly. Family businesses have to retain estate planners to make sure they pay the right amount and receive all of the deductions for which they are eligible. They have to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance premiums to cover that bill. This capital could be used instead to add to payrolls, expand businesses and generate profits for reinvestment.

Ultimately, the cost of paying an inheritance tax levy could mean liquidation of the business and the loss of jobs that have sustained loyal employees for years.

At a time when we face monumental federal budget deficits, it is not possible to abolish the estate tax outright. However, we can and should make the estate tax simpler and less burdensome.

If we raise the amount subject to exemption to $5 million per individual and reduce the rate, we make it easier for families to hand down their businesses to succeeding generations and reduce compliance costs for all parties, including the IRS.

That's why I voted to reduce and simplify the estate tax.

With luck, we will be able to secure final passage before the end of this year. Reduction and simplification will give family-owned businesses a chance to survive, grow and remain in the hands of families who built them.

Neil Abercrombie
D-Hawai'i, U.S. House of Representatives