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Monday, February 18, 2013
February 18, 2013 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:58 PM :: 4519 Views

Do Property Rights Matter When the Environment is Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

Dallas police-fire pension fund has $Multi-Million bet on Hawaii real estate

Health Insurance Exchanges Create State Problems

Micronesia: Waa'gey Planning & Partnership Tour a Success

HCDA Lets Building Sit Empty 14 years over Botched Flooring Job

SA: A dilemma is brewing over the former Royal Brewery building in Hono­lulu.

The historic brick structure on Queen Street owned by the state has been vacant for 14 years because flooring installed during a 1996 renovation is emitting noxious fumes. But should the state spend $5 million to fix the problem and make the property inhabitable? (The fact that $5M kept downtown Honolulu real estate shuttered for 14 years proves HCDA incompetent.)

The Hawaii Community Development Authority, the state agency that owns the property, proposes to do the work and then move its offices into the building. But the agency’s board isn’t sure the expense is worth it.

“It’s not an inexpensive move,” said Anthony Ching, the agency’s executive director. “It’s a very agonizing decision.”

(Mathematical Proof of HCDA idiocy: $5m / 14 yrs = $357K / 12 = $33,600 per month. And how much would the building have rented for?)

read … It’s just a flooring job

Star-Adv: Stop Putting so Many Drug Dealers in Prison

SA: Mandatory minimum sentencing laws eliminate judicial discretion, testified Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons at the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, which voted to advance the bill last week. "These laws are problematic because they tie the courts' hands and mandate longer prison sentences, regardless of whether the court believes the punishment is appropriate, based on the circumstances and facts of the case."

In Hawaii, drug offenders convicted of possessing a certain amount of drugs, a Class B felony, are sentenced to the minimum prison term of five years for possessing a certain amount of "dangerous" drugs, while distributing it to a minor is a Class A, which would automatically end with 10 years imprisonment.  (Why the quotes around “dangerous” – crack, meth, heroin, oxy not “dangerous”?  They are trying to make you think this is all for marijuana.)

But is that offense such a danger to society? Actually, in a 2006 case study in Hawaii, 97.6 percent of the drug offenses were not violent or personal crimes. The average drug offender spends an average of 39 months in prison, costing taxpayers an average of $85,000 per drug offender, according to a 2009 study by Thomas E. Lengyel of the American Human Association in Denver and University of Hawaii-Hilo sociology associate professor Marilyn Brown.

Lengyel and Brown figure that the net cost to the state for the 197 drug offenders' total prison terms upon their release in 2006 had come to $15.6 million. "The cost of incarcerating drug offenders greatly exceeds the corresponding social benefit," they concluded. 

(Really?  All the people 197 pushers hooked on meth cost less than $15.6M?  They are laughing at you -- thinking you are so stupid that you will not question the ‘experts’.) 

read … Justice Reinvestment

Defense lobbyists say cliff now unavoidable

The Hill: The defense industry is no longer fighting to stop sequestration before March 1.

Recognizing that no one in Congress expects a deal before the across-the-board cuts hit in March, industry groups are now strategizing to get them reversed as soon as possible after they take effect, keeping the damage to a minimum….

AIA has been warning Washington about the dangers of sequestration for more than 18 months now, but most of the talk has been about the potential for jobs lost.

Now AIA will look to highlight what’s happening in real time as sequestration hits, from the nearly 800,000 civilian Pentagon workers who will face furloughs to the cancellation of the Hampton Roads Air Show at Langley Air Force Base, which was announced Friday, citing sequestration.

The across-the-board sequestration cuts would reduce the 2013 budget by $85 billion, including a $45 billion cut to the defense budget. Sequestration would reduce defense and non-defense budgets by $1 trillion over the next decade if it remained law.

The immediate effects of the cuts will be felt in places like ship repair yards and others in the services sector, Thompson said.

Many think the best chance for a quick fix to avert sequestration is the expiration of the continuing resolution on March 27, which the Pentagon has also warned would cause major disruptions if a Defense appropriations bill is not passed.

HNN: Defense lobbyists say cliff now unavoidable “The rear admiral who is chief spokesman for the Navy told HawaiiNewsNow that thousands of Oahu-based private sector employees of defense contractors will potentially be affected by such cost reduction moves as deferring scheduled maintenance on ships at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.”

read … Its all Bush's Fault

Enviros: Bag Tax? Conveyance Tax? We’ll Take Both

SA: Abercrombie estimated that a 10-cent fee for single-use checkout bags could generate $15 million for the natural area reserve fund, and that increasing the conveyance tax on high-end property transactions could bring in $10 million.

"I don't think it's a ‘versus' (issue)," said Mark Fox, director of external affairs for the Hawaii chapter of the Nature Conservancy. "The governor put both of those measures before the Legislature as either alternatives or combined opportunities to raise money for watershed protection and invasive species control. So the Legislature can choose between the two, or they can do some combination of the two, and I think either would be an excellent route for them to take care of our forests and our invasive species problems."

The Senate Water and Land and Energy and Environment committees in a joint decision-making session Thursday advanced a conveyance tax bill that would increase the tax as well as raise the percentage of tax proceeds paid into the natural area reserve fund to 35 percent from 25 percent. Senate Bill 1166 moves on to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The House Housing Committee amended its version of the conveyance tax bill, House Bill 935, to increase the percentage of the tax that goes toward the rental housing trust fund to 50 percent from 30 percent, while leaving the percentage increase to the nature area reserve fund undetermined….

Business groups such as Retail Merchants of Hawaii have opposed bag-fee legislation, saying it would hurt businesses and consumers.

read … Bag-fee bill would raise funds to protect watershed

$8.4B Short? ERS' new leader confident fund will meet obligations

SA: Vijoy Paul Chattergy, the new chief investment officer of the Hawaii Employees' Retirement System, said current retirees shouldn't worry about their benefits being shortchanged because of the $8.4 billion shortfall in the state public pension plan.

"They should rest easy that we are going to meet their obligations," said Chattergy, whose interim title was removed Nov. 1. "What they've worked for over the years should be fine to plan on. And for the folks who are a few years out to retirement or just starting out, that's why the board went to the Legislature last year and reformed the benefit structure. Now we're trying to build up the investment office so we will be able to meet their retirement needs going on into the future."

The ERS pension fund provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits to 113,282 active, retired and inactive state and county employees. But it had a funded ratio of only 59.2 percent at the end of its fiscal year on June 30….

The pension fund became mired through a confluence of events through the years. Those included a previous law that required excess returns above the targeted percent to be returned to employers rather than kept in the fund; people living longer and thus collecting more benefits; increased volatility in the stock market; and pension spiking, which involved employees working a lot of overtime toward the end of their career to boost their retirement benefits. Pension benefits are calculated on an employee's highest three years of compensation….

Best Comment: "The ERS board has targeted an annual 7.75 percent return from its investments."  -- Nice target, but how realistic? From the January 3rd, 2013 edition of Barons:

“The average speculative-grade bond [junk status] yield has now stands at 5.975%, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch High Yield Master II Index, undercutting the previous all-time low of 6.001% set Dec. 19...All of this has been enabled by the Federal Reserve’s ongoing efforts to pin down short-term interest rates near zero and force investors into riskier, higher-yielding asset classes, creating a barren, yield-free investing landscape in which “high yield” now officially means less than 6%.”

Mr. Chattergy's bold assertion that the ERS "...investments are run relatively conservatively..." borders on the absurd, if his 7.75% return expectation has any foundation in reality. Even the government "guaranteed" bonds of near bankrupt European countries such as Greece and Spain do not offer such a lucrative return.

Reality: Abercrombie Plan: Shortchange Retirees for next 150 Years

More Reality: Act 100: How Hanabusa and Cayetano launched Hawaii Pension crisis

read … Pension

Care Home Industry Pressures Lawmakers to Weaken Inspections Bill

CB: Amid a downpour of last-minute criticism from the adult care home industry, Hawaii lawmakers further diluted a bill that would require the state to post online its inspection reports of facilities for the elderly and disabled.

The powerful lobbying group has kept the initiative off the books for years, but some muddled form of it may still survive this session.

Under the latest version, the only violations that could be posted online would be those involving gross negligence, willful misconduct and financial abuse. The original bill would have included the entire inspection report, which details the quality and conditions of the facilities.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me that you can get the whole enchilada if you put your request in writing and have 10 to 15 days to waste but to get the information now, when you need it most, you get a watered down online version that tells you only part of the story,” said John McDermott, the state's long-term care ombudsman.

After clearing three House committees, House Bill 120 is now in the hands of Finance Chair Sylvia Luke. Her office said last week that she hasn’t decided whether her committee will give it a hearing.

read … Pressures

After 10 years, Home-school bill on hold again

SA: Lawmakers have again shelved a bill to allow Hawaii's home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools — a recurring debate at the state Capitol for at least the past decade.

But the issue remains in play, as Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jill Tokuda said she will ask the state school board to thoroughly vet the issue and make a recommendation to lawmakers before next year's legislative session.

"Maybe we can put this issue to bed once and for all," Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kaneohe) said.

Tokuda will introduce a resolution directing the Board of Education to look at how other states and school districts have tackled the issue. A report would be due to lawmakers 20 days before the 2014 session, which Tokuda says will give them time to craft legislation.

Tokuda and Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) introduced bills this session to allow home-schoolers to participate in activities such as athletics and clubs at their neighborhood public schools. The Senate Education Committee deferred Senate Bill 789 on Wednesday and SB 922 earlier in the session.

School districts in at least 30 states allow the practice, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, but it's prohibited for the approximately 4,000 students who are home-schooled in Hawaii.

read … Home Schooled

Kona: UH seeks to save cash by trimming some work at West Hawaii campus

SA: The University of Hawaii is seeking ways to close an $8.8 million shortfall so it can begin construction of a long-planned community college campus in West Hawaii.

UH wants to build the Hawaii Community College Palamanui Campus on a 78-acre site about a mile mauka of Kona Airport. Its first phase would accommodate 700 students.

UH put together $16.8 million in public and private money for the project, but after low bidder Nan Inc., with a bid of $21.5 million, withdrew, the next lowest was $25.6 million from F&H Construction.

Part of the funding gap was addressed Feb. 7 when the UH Board of Regents Budget Committee approved a request to redirect $6.5 million in housing renovation bond proceeds for Palamanui, said John Morton, UH vice president for community colleges.

The full board is scheduled to vote on the request Thursday.

Although that would still leave a $2.3 million shortfall, Morton said the university is trying to reach an agreement with the contractor to defer construction of some items, which would lower the cost.

read … Palamanui

Public land sought for artists’ lofts

SA: A Minnesota-based developer of housing for artists has partnered with a Hawaiian cultural group to build low-income rental apartment lofts on state land in Kakaako where artists can live and create and showcase their art.

The two organizations, Artspace and the PA‘I Foundation, propose developing a nine-story building with 80 live/work lofts plus commercial and community space at 1025 Wai­manu St. makai of Public Storage and the Pacifica Hono­lulu condo tower.

Rental units would be reserved for artists earning 50 percent to 60 percent of Hono­lulu’s median income, or close to $40,000 for a single person and up to $61,800 for a family of four. Rents would range from about $965 to $1,390 a month for one- and two-bedroom units with large loft spaces for working.

The complex is also designed to include 4,000 square feet for PA‘I to teach and perform traditional Native Hawaiian arts such as hula and music, as well as a gardening area and a community room available to nonprofit and community groups.

read … Bennies for Artists

Italy makes 'Mafia' arrests over Sicily wind farms

BBC: Police have arrested five people in eastern Sicily suspected of involvement in Mafia corruption over contracts to build wind farms, Italian media report.

The mayor and a councillor in the small town of Fondachelli Fantina, in Messina province, were among those detained.

The five face charges including extortion, fraud and Mafia association.

The investigation, which began in 2009, is linked to sub-contracts awarded to build energy farms near Agrigento, Palermo and Trapani.

A total of 11 people were under investigation, including two managers from a firm that won the main contract to build one of the wind farms, installing 63 turbines.

The contract was worth some 120bn euros (£103bn).

In December, police arrested six people and seized 10bn euros (£8.6bn) in assets in an investigation into suspected Mafia infiltration of other renewable energy facilities in western Sicily, Ansa reports.

The proceeds from contracts are believed to have been channelled to the fugitive head of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, Matteo Messina Denaro.

Amazon: The Wind Farm Scam

read … Mafia Wind

9-11 Trooother Claims Academic Freedom to Take Over Military Mom’s Library

ILind: A Hilo High School teacher who invited longtime Christian ex-convict and peace activist 9-11 trooother, Jim Albertini, to speak to several classes about public participation in democracy life as a professional protester has been told they will be barred from meeting in the school library unless “the presentation will be strictly informational with zero negative slants” about U.S. military or foreign policy.

The restriction on library use was bluntly stated in an email on Friday from librarian Amy Okuyama to Joseph Watts, the teacher who organized Albertini’s appearance on campus. (This will soon be a news item. Watch for it.)

According to Albertini, Okuyama wrote:

Thank you for this outline of your speaker’s topic and your class objectives. I welcome any speaker in the library for educational purposes. But in this case, the speaker is a “well known activist”, and (I now find out that) the topic is the military. As a “military mom”, I request that the speaker stick to the topic as described here, and not deviate to personal negative opinions/attacks on the military, its actions, or its presence anywhere, with instructions on how students can or should protest the military, etc. in any manner. I can’t opt out of my library and be forced out of my own work site and I won’t be subjected to anti-military speeches as had once occurred w/another speaker in here. My son was deployed at the time and it was extremely upsetting to me; Mr. Dircks said he wouldn’t permit it to happen that way again.

Okuyama’s alleged email, as well as Watts alleged reply, are posted on the website maintained by Malu ‘Aina, an organic farm and “spiritual community” near Hilo founded by Albertini three decades ago….

Watts responded that the teachers would move Albertini’s presentation back into their classrooms if necessary.

(Read the comments. The progressives are bloodthirsty to squelch Okuyama.)

read … Liberals attack military mom

Scoop the nuts: Mentally ill roundup plan after train pushes

NYP: The city is (doing something Hawaii should copy) making a major push to sweep the streets of dangerous, mentally ill New Yorkers — and has even compiled a most-wanted list, The Post has learned.

The measure follows a pair of high-profile subway-shove fatalities from December allegedly involving mentally ill individuals.

The city has already drawn up a list of 25 targets, sources said.

“After the Queens subway attack [of immigrant Sunando Sen], the [city] decided to take a proactive approach to track down the most dangerous mental-health patients that currently have mental-hygiene warrants” out for them, a law-enforcement source said.

The city is now concerned it could be liable if one of those people goes off the rails and hurts someone — or themselves, the sources said.

And that’s prompted the Health Department to seek more help from the NYPD. 

Related: Connecticut Shooting: Failure of Mental Health System

read … NY Post

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