Saturday, August 5, 2017

Strict construction

Some oppose liberal interpretation of the Constitution and call for strict-construction. They argue it is not a living document (subject to interpretation) and oppose things called “welfare entitlements” as outside the constitutional enumerated powers saying any action not specifically designated is prohibited.
What does the Constitution have to say about welfare?  Starting with the Preamble  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and …, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.  Is that just rhetoric?  Article I.  Sections 8 - Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;
So it appears that welfare programs they object to are not violations of the original intent, but its fulfillment.
Unlike the received-wisdom of religious law, the Constitution was negotiated by fallible humble men and has a provision for amendment.  It was obviously intended to be updated and it has been, 27 times.  The Constitution was written at a time of tumultuous change often called the industrial revolution.  No longer the static nothing new under the sun world of Ecclesiastes, but the dynamic world of inventors  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Eli Whitney, James Watt, John Fitch some of whom were participants.
If strict-interpretation means literal, well Article. VI. no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. Would it matter if Obama was Muslim?
Would strict adherence to Amendment 1 - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; allow Preservation of Religious Liberty to justify prejudice as free practice of religion? Likewise, does or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; not apply to modern media? There were no radios, TV or internet in 1789, are Fox, CNN and Alex Jones only entitled to oration on a soap box and the printed page?
Strict-constructionists don’t object to the National Security Act of 1947 that created the Air Force merged it into the Defense Department, contradicting the Constitutional limits on Army funding.  In Article I.  Section 8 Powers of Congress To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.  Are programs for developing new ordnance, or the promise of a career limited to two year appropriations?  
Where in the Constitution is the justification for all the special tax provisions rich liberals and conservatives enjoy?  Would not strict-construction not invoke Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform …?
The framers, and especially James Madison who wrote it all down eloquently, expected it to serve for a long time, and it has.  Longer than any comparable document!  One could argue that religious rules have lasted much longer, but how many of us live by the literal interpretation of Biblical commandments.  Religious rules get reinterpreted too; they just don’t have an orderly non-violent process to do it.  Otherwise for example Christian women would all dress like 16th century nuns.  There are multiple versions of many religious texts, each with ardent followers of their one true version.
The logic of strict-construction seems to rely on Amendment 10 The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.  The Constitution limits what the Federal Government can do to you. Congress clearly has the power to tax, whether or not liberals or conservatives agree with how the money is spent.  

Strict-construction doctrine is like apostasy, Gods-will or Inshalla an all-purpose do-it-my-way objection without substance.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Green Harvest a Waste of Time and Money

I was about to submit a column about Constitutional issues, about which I am an expert recognized by no one, when my concentration was interrupted by a helicopter.  It did not just pass high overhead as helos usually do.  Soon joined by another; they circled for an hour.  My first thought was search and rescue, but the yellow choppers never went out to sea, just circled my peaceful law abiding neighborhood.   This is not the first time.

Back in 2011 the tranquility of my quiet South Kona neighborhood was shattered as multiple helicopters thundered directly overhead for over three hours.  Neighbors reported large numbers of police vehicles, including a gigantic SWAT type van.  I know what inner city residents are subjected to.  Normally we hear a helicopter a day, maybe two.   The number of overflights had been increasing for several days, then that day all hell broke loose.  Was it an invasion; a hostage situation; an act of terrorism?  No.  Somebody maybe spotted a pot plant.  I was asked several police agencies why most claimed “It’s not us”.  I eventually got the bizarre answer that some of your neighbors may choose to engage in an illegal activity.  Somehow that justified harassing the rest of us. (A few do have medical marijuana cards)

Green Harvest goes on with no evidence of public benefit.  Friday I made three calls and got to the State Narcotics Enforcement Division of The Department of Public Safety: Safety!  I asked (8296359) if they were responding to a complaint and learned that they were “conduction a mission” bureauspeak for looking-for-trouble.  I was told if no one came knocking on my door don’t worry about it.  New fiscal year, coffers brimming with cash, let’s turn taxpayer dollars into noise and maybe find a few MJ plants. With any luck we get some overtime and convict some kid of the heinous crime of growing grass that nobody but Jeff Sessions cares about.  That’s when the light went on.  The citizens of Hawaii and basically most of the US, maybe the world have made it clear that they do not consider cannabis a problem.  We even voted to tell the Hawaii Police to make it their lowest priority.

Now we have a new Attorney General and Howdy Doody, look-alike, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III who wants to go back to the failed nineteen seventies policies of Nixon’s all-out War On Drugs.  Prosecute anyone you can especially if they are not white.  Hawaii’s got plenty of not white.  Fill the jails at any cost:  Minimum sentences, Life in jail for possession of 29 grams.  Now I suspect there is a flood of Federal money to fly helicopters ($700 an hour).  Put those kids in jail at up to $200,000 a year and a broken family.  What’s $200,000 here and $200,000 there when you are on a mission like Carrie Nation or Harry Anslinger?  Protect America from Reefer Madness.  

Harry Anslinger - Google him- campaigned with religious fervor against demon marihuana.  (Prohibition had just ended. The G-Men needed new boogiemen) if you believe his followers weed’s more deadly that heroin, causes people to go crazy with lust, commit heinous crimes, and “reefer makes darkies think there as good as a white man.” There is no evidence of any of those claims.  It’s most serious faults are making people indolent and hungry; overdose has killed exactly zero Americans.

His motivation may have been mostly racial, Mexicans, blacks and entertainers were the primary users, in fact it had been mostly called hemp or cannabis until the Spanish name was picked to emphasize its foreignness.

I think our county police are a professional organization motivated to do what’s right for the people of Hawaii, but Federal pressure and Federal funding can tilt the scale.  So let’s hear from the Governor.  Why are to people of rural Hawaii targeted and harassed by this mission nobody wants?

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail

 Green Harvest a 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Land of opportunity

America is the land of opportunity, or so we’re told. For the vast majority of us, including immigrants, it is. For a minority it’s just not. At a certain level, the barriers are just a little too high.
Regressive taxes: The federal income tax was supposed to be progressive. The personal exemption in 1913 when people worked for a dollar a day was $3,000. A common cliché’ was, “I wish I made enough to pay income tax.” Over the years, the exemption has varied. It’s now $4,050, nowhere near a year’s pay. Not even at minimum wage. (2,000 hours at $7.25 = $14,500) Progressivity is supposedly built in but the successful have more deductions available to keep income safe from a higher marginal rate.
Mortgage interest deduction: not if you are a renter. Deductions for travel to “inspect your rental properties”: nope. Medical expense deduction: only for the part that exceeds 10 percent of your gross, even if that’s for elective plastic surgery. Deductions for business equipment (that might experience a little private use): nope. The list goes on but I’m not a tax lawyer, oh, yeah, that’s a deduction, too. If you use a lawyer to help you avoid income tax, that’s deductible. There are even special deductions that only apply to select wealthy individuals.
Sales tax (VAT, GET): The rate is flat, and sometimes food is exempted whether it’s rice or lobster. It’s taxed if it’s served ready to eat whether it’s $99 chateaubriand at the Four Seasons or 99 cent corn dog at a gas station. The hotel maid takes the bus to work, shops at the local store where everything costs 10 percent more than Walmart and maybe 50 percent more than Costco, where she can’t afford a membership. Thus she not only pays more, but pays more tax. The way GET is calculated the small store pays at Costco, includes it in their cost, then adds it on again at retail.
TAT: Everyone pays at hotels, even the cheapest, but if Obama vacations free on Rick Branson’s yacht in the Virgin Islands: no tax.
Gasoline and vehicle weight tax: Hits hardest those who travel furthest to work in older cars that weigh more and use more gas.
Both the rich and the poor are equally forbidden to sleep under bridges or steal bread. Granted, it’s an old cliché’ but it’s a valid commentary. The person who can barely afford his old car is more likely to experience an expense he cannot pay to pass nitpicking safety inspection: can’t pay, can’t get to work.
Health care system: It is very good at what it is designed to do. What it is designed to do is insure that insurers profit from insuring healthy people. The insurance is deductible to the employer and untaxed benefit to the employee who is lucky enough to qualify. The under-employed, not being part of a group, pay a much higher rate, if they can even get it. Not so bad if you stay young, healthy, accident-free and not pregnant.
Here is what I don’t understand. How does it benefit us to deny pregnant women health care? How does it benefit our nation if children are born with preventable health problems? How does it benefit us all if a mother dies in childbirth, if the welfare mom has another baby because she was denied birth control, if the unloved child falls in with bad companions? How does it benefit society when an able-bodied worker dies of a simple infection? Would not a healthy worker be more productive?
Sometimes greed motivates progress, but greed that denies basic dignity and imposes long-term costs on society is not only mean, it’s stupid. Limiting essential care is like watching your neighbor’s house burn down and refusing to lend him your hose because he should have bought his own. If everyone has that attitude, one day the whole town burns down.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. Email


I confess, I am voting for Hillary, proudly.  I think her basic values are consistent with mine and the Bill of Rights.  She may be the most prepared candidate ever. The GOP has been after Hillary for as long as I can remember, yet every ‘scandal’ fails.  Calling someone a cheat or liar does not make it so, no matter how often or loudly.  If there was substance you would think there would be at least an indictment, nope, not one. A grand jury could indict a spam sandwich.  Not one allegation I can find has made it to formal charges.  The notorious Ken Starr could not make a case against her.  Some things she has said are not totally accurate, but who’s that perfect, Mr. Spock?

She has bent a few rules, who hasn’t?  Being able to bend a few rules and not crash is proof of ability to manipulate politics, as our most effective Presidents have. There’s an old joke.  Clintons go back to Illinois for her high school reunion.  They pass a man digging a ditch.  Hillary comments that in High School she dated him.  Bill opines, “If you married him you would be married to a ditch digger.”

“No!  If I married him, he’d be President.”   Everyone I have told that story agreed she could.

When I look back at the Presidents I have known, from Eisenhower, I wonder which one Hillary could be most like.  She won't be too close mainly because the world has changed.  In her case I don't think gender is going to remain an issue.  She was scandalized for wearing an expensive jacket.

Eisenhower: best known for playing golf and the Interstate Highway System.  He added "and Defense" to the title to get it passed.  Conservative Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to integrate the High School and finished with a budget surplus; got us out of Korea, but into Vietnam. In the light of history he looks better now.  I can't see HRC playing golf while there are Conservatives to convert.

Kennedy: charismatic war hero but ineffectual against a hostile Congress.  HRC not charismatic, instead she gets things done often letting others take the credit. The list is way to long for this space, Google it.

LBJ: aka Johnson, D for charisma, but A plus for getting things done that Kennedy hoped for but couldn't get through Congress: Civil Right Act, Voting Rights Act. If he had gone the other way on Vietnam he would be a considered a great President.

Nixon:  no one is as secretive, underhanded and hard to analyze as Tricky Dick.  No.

Gerry Ford: nice guy in the White House. No major goof ups (pardoned Nixon). No leadership, but stood up for the Mayaguez crew.

Jimmy Carter: another nice guy.  Not a bomb dropped of bullet fired in anger.  His policies ended most Latin American dictatorships, but Iran errors were his undoing.

Reagan: the Patron Saint of the GOP, in spite of his sins, like Iran-Contra, and tax increases.  The Teflon President managed to dodge every bullet. HRC is the Post-it candidate the GOP attaches allegations to her but none of them have any substance.  

Poppy Bush:  war Hero, lifetime civil servant, hero of Kuwait but victim of an economic crisis the Republican economic ideology could not cope with.

Bill Clinton: his best move was marrying Hill. On the other hand he, like Ike finished with a budget surplus.

Bush II: blew Bills budget surplus, let Cheney run the country from the basement.  HRC will be in the middle of everything. VP who?

Obama: cautious slow-on-the-draw deep thinker; slowly mended the economy.

HRC is informed on and has already position on most issues. I don’t always agree with her, but we’re getting closer.  She like LBJ will browbeat anyone who gets in the way until practical policy is done deal.  Some people would disagree but the world would be in good hands. Bill gets paid to speak, so?  People with too much money donate to the Clinton Foundation, which then helps people who don’t have enough. The Clintons have done well by doing good.  That’s why.


“Every country has the government it deserves" and "In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve."   Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre 1811.
Now, like it or not, we are getting President Trump, thanks largely to the liberal media, that he excoriated, giving him free publicity.  There will not be as much change as people fear, or hope.  After the outrageous things he has said, almost anything else may look reasonable.
Previous Presidents have learned, changing the Government is like turning a battleship, with a canoe paddle.  Let me explain.
There are almost 22million government employees.  Almost all of them civil service; he can’t fire them, or stiff them like contractors.  For the most part they will do what they always do as covered by their job description, habit and long standing department policies and procedures.  Never forget the prime mission of a bureaucracy, like any organism, is its own continuation. Those with the power to make changes have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution, not the President, and see that the laws be faithfully executed.  Hmmm, even the President swears to support and defend the Constitution.  He might have to have someone to read it to him. Most Civil Servants do not work for the Federal government but state and local government; they get their direction from governors, judges and local officials, who have sworn a similar oath.
So the President has a Cabinet plus a few thousand appointees at his beck and call, but they in turn have to work through 1.4 million Civil Service bureaucrats who, see above.  He has a similar number in the armed forces who also have policies and procedures that change as often as rivers flow backwards.  All the officers and enlistees have taken the oath.  While the grunts might not appreciate it, most of the officers take it very seriously.  They understand from Nuremberg what executing an illegal order can mean.
Trump likes to say he’s not a politician.  If I might paraphrase Mayor Kenoi, ‘If you run for office, you’re a politician.’  Politicians have a history of broken promises. Trump has a history of broken promises. Why would Politician Trump be any different?  If he could not keep a promise then, why should anyone think he can now?
"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." - H. L. Mencken. Trump has made these brash promises in a factual vacuum. Whether or not he was aware of that no longer matters. Now he will have to deal with reality where there are no simple answers, no quick fixes, no do overs.  You can’t manage an entire country the way you bankrupt a casino (or hotel). Everything about a country affects everything else, everything.  Even things you can’t imagine, because the whole world’s involved.  A decision to isolate Iran could precipitate another Pearl Harbor.  Every proposal will require the consent of someone, Congress, the Senate, the Joint Chiefs, Governors, NATO; all the people in the chain of command who, like Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, can monkey wrench anything that goes against their principals. 
For example, to overturn Roe v Wade he would have to pack the Supreme Court. Unless another liberal Justice dies or retires that’s almost impossible.  Republicans decry activist courts, and some conservatives become liberal Justices, e.g. Earl Warren.  He will need someone to file a lawsuit claiming Roe v Wade has deprived them of their right to, to what, their right to not have abortion?  That will take some creative lawyering.  Then it goes through the system starting with a State Court that might just kill it, and get past Federal Judges including a Supreme Court reluctant to overturn previous decisions.  It could take 100 years, or 1000.
I hope, against evidence that he will do right.  If not we still have the ACLU, courts and a Congressional election in two years. 


So many issues; so little space on a page.
Every culture or religion in the northern hemisphere it seems commemorates the winter solstice, and for what seems like a good reason to the primitive mind.  The days were getting shorter.  What happens if they keep getting shorter and it becomes night all the time?  What will happen to us?  Of course the more astute tribal members were aware of the cycle and had learned to predict almost to the day when the days would start getting longer, a time for rejoicing, or perhaps penitence.  This has taken many forms; I’m sure far more than I am aware of.  Is there a Southern Hemisphere equivalent?  One of these ancient celebrations has settled into a complex form usually known in the modern western world as Christmastime.
There it becomes an unnecessary controversy.  Some insist it is a religious holiday requiring certain reverence others want it to be just a fun time for spending money, and possibly even licentious behavior at least on New Year’s Eve.  Some have different holidays that they want to celebrate independently of Christmas. My personal wish is that everyone gets to celebrate this wonderful time of year in the way that brings them the most joy to share.
America is unusual among nations in that it did not evolve from a unique tribal culture, but as an amalgam of many.  Now it is true that the most powerful factions have not always been kind to the powerless, however our founding documents say we should.  Some of us try to blend, while others feel put upon that some minority wants equal (special?) treatment.  One faction’s religious display in a public place becomes offensive to another.  The other wants equality, but does not have comparable resources.  There is not enough choice public space to please everyone.  A minority’s humble display might look tacky (or respectful) next to a wealthy sect’s ostentatious display.
So many things to disagree over.  Some are obsessing over coffee cups that are too sectarian, or not sectarian enough. Is it right to put a Christian Christmas tree in a public park?  Wait! the tree was a harmless Pagan symbol that northern Europeans elected to keep, when they were Christianized over 1000 years ago.  In fact if you look into the past of many religious symbols you find will that in one way or another they were adopted from another culture.
To me whatever faith my friends and neighbors choose to follow, or to not follow is their business.  I hope it gives them hope and comfort, but I do insist they not force it on others.  I do not have faith in a divine being, nor do I deny one; I do notice a lack of evidence.  Perhaps “God is an imaginary playmate for grown-ups,” Morgan Freeman, The Big Bounce. “He who made kittens put snakes in the grass,” Jethro Tull, Bungle In The Jungle. 
I have my faith that the laws of math, physics and chemistry will always have predictable outcome; that the laws of the soft sciences, if we ever understand them, will be similarly predictable and that human curiosity and ingenuity to solve what problems we still have, that almost everything can be scientifically explained.
I do believe: There was one miracle: Somehow, improbably, unexplainably, life started spontaneously, on this insignificant lonely planet.  There is no evidence of anything like it within the observable universe.  Evolution via natural selection is a viable explanation for the adaption of a variety of life forms to their environment leading from inexplicably simple life forms to one that attempts to understand it all and appreciate one another.
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do. They're really saying I love you.”  Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World. Although I may not share another’s faith I am never offended by a friendly greeting whether it’s Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Mele Kalikimaka, Shalom Aleichem, Aloha, simply Hi or Happy New Year it’s all the same.  They're really saying in a small way I love you.” 

green polution

There is a source of pollution nobody seems to notice.  A huge quantity of green waste is allowed to rot on the ground in Hawaii, conservatively 60,000 tons a year* (*my estimate) No doubt others will challenge my figures, but they’re the best I can find.  Sure it makes topsoil, in about 100 years, but it makes pollutants, methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) immediately.

Hawaii, like most places, has energy issues, but environmentally friendly options.  Wind and solar are popular but they have limits too; neither can be depended upon when the need is greatest.  Solar needs sunlight, but peak demand is in the evening.  Wind is fickle.  The turbines only work in a relatively narrow speed range, if the wind is too slow they can’t make usable power, if it’s too fast they can break.  Some efficient inexpensive storage is needed. Unfortunately all known methods for storing electricity are expensive or inefficient.

There are a number of technologies that can turn that green waste, a fuel, into electricity, and while storing electricity is difficult, storing fuel is not.  We have been doing it for eons. Green waste is not only available it is abundant.  Hawaii County Environmental services collects 40,000 tons of green waste annually converts it to mulch, hauls it 40 miles and gives it away.  That pales compared to undocumented green waste rotting by the roadside.  The total green waste is probably over 100,000 tons a year*.  Half the people I know have a secret “puka” where they dump green waste rather than burn gas to drive 40 miles to Puuanhulu.  I alone dispose of a thousand pounds a year from my house lot.  Then there is the timber from trees that Helco has to cut to protect power lines.  No the diesel fuel to haul it to a power plant is not prohibitive; I did the calculations.  Burning 100,000 tons of green waste - renewable biofuel- could generate about 290 megawatt hours* of electricity a year, about what we need.  If those numbers sound absurd, consider that Hawaii used to export over a million tons of sugar a year (Wikipedia) and burn a comparable amount of the bagasse, waste to generate electricity.  The idle Hu Honua plant was built to burn bagasse; then converted to coal and recently began conversion to burn logs.  Anything that will burn and release energy, can be used to fuel a power plant. (Babcock and Wilcox) Yes, there are more sophisticated ways to turn waste to electricity, or even motor fuel.  Why not?

Now one objection that comes to mind is that burning creates CO2, but so does rotting.  Rotting also creates methane a greenhouse gas ten times as powerful as CO2.   A power plant that can turn green waste to energy can also do it with garbage and trash.  If adding recyclable paper, to the mix can make it viable that should not be arbitrarily ruled out.  Granted there are concerns that in order to make such a plant viable there would be a temptation to burn recyclable material. So?

I support recycling but just as there is a wasteful mentality there is a recycle-at-any-price mentality that leads us to pay $140 a ton to ship low value recyclable materials to the mainland where most of it will hopefully be recycled.  On the other hand using paper for fuel - worth maybe $40 a ton* - is summarily rejected. So the actual cost to recycle it is about $180 a ton. There is an environmental impact of shipping it 2600 miles.   

Recycling is a means to achieve a goal. It should not be the goal.  Otherwise we could recycle more by insisting on more wasteful packaging. Sometimes the highest and best use of surplus material is to extract the energy.  The measure is not how much we recycle, but how little we consume unnecessarily.  What do you think?

war on poor

One leading cause of being poor is being born poor with limited job opportunities, higher expenses, defeatist attitude of poor neighbors and extra attention from police.  Lacking a Costco card, or a way to get there, or even WalMart one has to pay the inflated prices at the local liquor store.   
It’s hard to start a business; it can take a year to get simple permits, complicated to employ and if necessary fire people. Business owners oppose increasing minimum wage for obviously selfish reasons that often sound a lot like slave owners opposition to freeing slaves. Many employers argue that increasing minimum wage would make them less competitive, even though their competitors would bear the same burden. Employers schedule short capricious work hours that make it impossible to qualify for benefits, and difficult to hold down a second job. Seattle/Tacoma raised minimum wage to $15 and business there is booming.

Some financial transactions are taxed the same amount whether the transaction is $10, $10,000 or$10,000,000. Hawaii car registration fees are based on weight, so the owner of an old beater pays more. General Excise Tax (GET) is regressive in a subtle way. It is an added cost of doing business to local businesses, where the poor often have to shop, but less costly to chains that buy nationally. There are strange exceptions that seem to benefit the wealthy, like aircraft maintenance. The tax code is so complex that only those who can afford professional help pay the legal minimum. Parking fees are hard to make progressive, but why does it cost less per square foot to park a personal jet at the airport than a family car. (I did not make this up)

Affordable housing is a great idea, but the most affordable version, the ohana unit is often illegal.  
If a person is fined for an offense it should be equally painful no matter who the offender is, but it's not. If the laborer is fined $55 for a parking violation that is a day’s take home pay. His kids might not eat. To the stock trader that's just one less imported cigar. "Thirty dollars or thirty days" is catastrophic to the dish washer, insignificant to the trader.

Courts treat failure-to-appear very severely. The unschooled laborer is likely offend inadvertently and be subjected to unpayable fines. Faced with losing a day's pay or not making a court date may seem simple. Mandatory minimum sentencing impacts those who cannot afford representation making it difficult to comply and get out from under the legal albatross; the victim is stigmatized for life.
Efforts to combat drug dealing and violent gangs often sweep up the poor who just happen to be in the path. Guilt by association often works against the defendant. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to confiscate property. The well off can weather it, or hire a lawyer, the poor just become poorer, possibly losing their only way to get to work. 
It seems like any one with more than a high school education here has their kids in a private school. The public schools are filled with immigrants for whom English is a second language. Even if the teachers were highly qualified, and many are not, it would be hard to teach well with this demographic. Their recent goal, have third graders reading at grade level in ten years!  Hawaii public schools consistently rank close to number 50. Parents are charged extra for school bus service!

Can we fix all of these?
Probably not, but some are obviously not in the best interest of us collectively.  Raising minimum wage circulates money and boosts the economy for everyone. An extra dollar earned amounts to about $2.40 to the economy in a year, because it changes hands many times. Better education creates better workers.


       “They’re called conservatives; what do they conserve?”  Conserve: protect something, (especially an environmentally or culturally important place or thing) from harm or destruction. Based on their political behavior we seem to have a contradiction, but that is based on emphasizing the parenthetical. They seem opposed to conservation.  First of all we must remember that neither conservative nor liberal is a species.  Until recently there was more variation within either grouping than between them. They even overlapped. Both sides talk Flat Tax, but with entirely different goal. Unfortunately we have become more polarized since Vietnam.  Conservative used to mean: A person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics or simply safe.  In most professions conservative means doing what you know will probably work or at least do no harm.
Many so called conservatives today do not seem to want to preserve what works but rather to re-implement policies that it seems will be to their benefit, many of which are old abandoned policies like Jim Crow laws, intrusions into personal life that should be nobody’s business, and especially less tax for the rich.  They seem to be pro fossil fuels and pro war, any war, like the War-On-Drugs. War and fossil fuels are highly profitable for some.
There are different kinds of conservatives, and I won’t claim to identify them all. The Conservative leadership is dominated by white, old, rich, men (WORMS) e.g. McConnell, Gingrich, defending trickle-down economics. To give them credit they are very good at raising banners that collect followers. Second are the ideologues that read Ayn Rand and believe in a conservative philosophy much like a religion, for example the “Militia” that occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. They cling to what is or they believe should be theirs. The largest group is ordinary people who tend to agree with those around them who happen to act conservative because of their environment: police, military, small town, or Bible-Belt. They watch Fox (Faux) News and call for less government rules for themselves, but law-and-order for those that they perceive as undeserving, e.g. minorities, and “liberals”.  
The typical conservatives have not been victim of discrimination so they seldom perceive it as a problem.  Some however have started to portray themselves as persecuted when they are told not to discriminate. Very few conservatives are a member of a minority, but there are exceptions: Carson, Thomas.  Conservatives tend to support discrimination such as complex voter ID rules, and regressive taxation e.g. GET (sales tax) on food, but not aircraft maintenance.   They also tend to lockstep on issues.  Agree on every principal or be labeled a ‘Liberal’. A liberal might support a conservative idea, but seldom the reverse

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell

          Conservatives seem to consider Liberal the worst insult without ever defining Liberal and apply it to anyone who disagrees.  They often give it the same inflection as vermin.  American conservatism tends to unify on many seemingly disparate issues, pro-life, but anti-health-care subsidy, lower taxes, but mainly for the rich, trillions for defense, but not one red cent for Planned Parenthood. Liberals on the other hand are famously disorganized, because by definition a liberal is one open to new ideas, albeit sometimes too open.  Liberals I know are like WillI am not a member of an organized political party; I’m a DemocratRogers. Liberals can agree to disagree and still be friends. They get angry and complain about perceived injustice, sometimes for themselves, but often just for others.  Liberals never seem to promote hate of people.  I hope I am wrong, but conservatives seem to use fear and hate to ‘conserve’ i.e. protect white, old, rich, male privilege. 


Who knew

Everybody knew health care would be complicated!   It’s not just the health care itself that is complicated.  To some extent that is unavoidable; humans are complex and fussy about their comfort.  The health care delivery system does a pretty good job for most Americans most of the time. 
Unfortunately the health care financial system is like a platypus redesigned by a dysfunctional committee using meth.  Actually you can’t really call it a system, because it’s an uncoordinated conglomeration of semi-autonomous entities.  I can’t name them all, can you?  First, in the news, is the GOPcare replacement for ACA (aka Obamacare) then, Medicare and Medicaid. That’s just the Federal Civilian programs.  Then pubic private partnerships like Queens.  The military has their own, plus CHAMPUS for dependents, and don’t forget the VA.  On the civil – aka, free market - side we have HMO’s like Humana and Kaiser.  We also have insurers like Blue Cross (HMSA), and Aetna.
Health care providers work hard and deserve to be paid, the problem is that each payer has a different schedule of what they will pay and when.  If the payment is too attractive the unnecessary happens.  If the payment is stingy, necessary care may be delayed or forgone; providers have to beg and borrow to get paid.
One reason America spends more than any other country and has mediocre results is that the “system” is configured to insure that at least 20% of health care dollars are siphoned off as insurance profit and operating cost.  Hospitals bill for every penny with a huge markup:  (cotton ball $0.09, Aspirin $0.48) spending more to account for stuff than to buy it.  To get paid they need an extensive detailed cost collection system, like a factory, but unlike a factory every unit is unique and every hour is different.
The ACA was crippled from the start, because it is an assigned risk pool.  It gets the leftovers after the profitable population has been scooped up.  The ACA carriers got all the high risk poorer, older, sicker patients with bad habits.  The low risk young-and-healthy have no motivation to enroll.
What are the options, besides more of same?
One is a single payer system. The providers would not spend time figuring who pays how much for each element of a service. There would be less duplication of effort, but someone would still have to tally up a bill and someone else to negotiate a payment and eventually pay it.  Automatic payment has a frightening potential for abuse.
Another is National Health Service:  Everyone pays a tax like we do for other government service.  Everyone gets treated; providers get standard compensation.  It’s run much like the Fire Department.  Sure some people would overconsume but how many?  It has to include everyone especially Congress.
Third option, take all the money the government and industry spend on health insurance and put it in a pool.  Everyone gets a stipend adjusted for age and demographics.  They can spend it on insurance, HMO, or even a Medical Savings Account (a naive option).   The existing providers can compete for the business.  The idea of a truly free market for health care is almost ludicrous though; nobody can negotiate in an emergency and the products are way too complicated for the buyer to comparison shop. Individuals have no real bargaining power.
GOPcare: Free market solution, chose your own plan, pay with tax credits for those who earn too little to pay taxes, or do without.
I know you’re thinking.  (I would be)  “OK, wise guy what would you do?”  I would have a small select non-partisan committee. Nine members plus staff like the Supreme Court examine the National Health Services of large countries.  Determine which one is most effective, and copy it exactly.  Don’t let Congress try to improve it because when it comes to health, failure is not an option.


The automobile takes a lot of criticism, some of it deserved.  Yes, they consume fossil fuels and contribute to air pollution, but engineers are working on that and things have gotten much better.  The worrisome criticism is the number of fatalities, and injuries.  It’s not as safe as airlines, but then Island Air does not come to my door. Not quite as safe as busses that only pass my community 6 times a day (or not) and seldom go where I need to.  What if I need to go to 3 places or 10?  Think of the things you could not do without your car.
Critics forget two important things. The fatality rate is relatively low compared to the alternatives and for the benefits autos confer.  I did lot of research for my accident analysis books.  It’s hard to locate comparable data for injury accidents relative to walking, horses or bicycles but the available data suggests it’s much higher per mile. Horses bite, kick, run wild, pollute and carry disease.  Planners feared in 1890 that New York City would soon be uninhabitable due to horse manure.  The gross accident numbers for non-motorized travel injury appear small because so few miles are traveled.
The automobile is the flying carpet of Arabian Nights. It takes you where you want to go, when you want, quickly in any level of comfort you are willing to pay for and you can take the family.    Henry Ford did more for common people than any statesman.  His inexpensive Model T gave the working man the power to go anywhere to get a better deal: better wages, hours, or working conditions.  Farmers got the ability to take produce where they got the best price and all of us the ability to shop where prices and service are better.  Kekei go to better schools.   It has been a great equalizer, the elderly and disabled can travel as quickly, and almost as comfortably as the privileged.  You can describe middle-class as car owners.
How many lives are saved every year by the motor ambulance and fire truck?  How much would fresh groceries cost without refrigerated trucks to distribute them? How would you get fresh food home without your car?  Would it even be available or would you be content with bread and beans?
Cars changed our attitude towards strangers.  Driving or walking we have learned to trust drivers to not put us in danger. Some of us pick up hitchhikers, and sometimes hitch a ride to solve a problem, trusting strangers. To facilitate cars we paved the roads almost everywhere, and they are clean.  Before, paving was only in the wealthy areas and even those roads were mostly rough filthy cobblestone.  Filthy rods make life dirty.  There is the sheer pleasure of driving, being free.  I could go on, but plainly motor vehicles improve our lives immensely.  True there is a cost in injuries, but evidence convinced me that it more than offsets the injuries and deprivation there would be without them.  
Our right to travel freely is under assault.  In the name of Zero Fatalities®, an admirable goal, speed limits are lowered with totalitarian enforcement. This European congested city, pedestrian oriented strategy cannot reduce crashes, because it creates chaos.   Can you imagine cultivated traffic jams, or $3000 speeding tickets? The Department of Transportation proposes such unrealistic measures toward that goal. They claim that no one dies from congestion, but traffic delay wastes thousands of lifetimes, one minute at a time.  Why would you cause it on purpose?  When the National 55 mph speed limit was repealed state speed limits went up and traffic fatalities went down!  A car trapped in gridlock seems safe but that’s not what cars are for.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail

Why healthcare

1790 A yellow fever epidemic killed 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population. During epidemics everyone lived in fear, sometimes there were not enough healthy people to do the work.
Every house had a pit privy in back and a well out front, many wells were contaminated. Disease led city officials to hire Benjamin Latrobe to build a pumping station in 1801. He pumped water from the Schuylkill River, into wooden tanks and pipes.   We know that having abundant clean water to drink and wash sharply lowers infection rates. They had been losing 400 residents a year to cholera, afterward less than 10.  Today we take clean water for granted, but engineers and epidemiologist consider it the most important advancement of all time
1871 Union veterans Col. William Church and Gen. George Wingate formed the National Rifle Association, not for political purpose or personal gain. Their motivation was to reduce the time and cost of training city bred inductees who lacked marksmanship skills so we could have better defense.  
1896 The British army was dissatisfied with the sickly condition of recruits.  To strengthen their military they campaigned for and ultimately passed the National Insurance Act of 1911.  Compulsory health insurance was provided for low paid workers. The worker contributed fourpence.  An estimated 13 million workers came to be covered under this scheme.  It evolved into the National Health Service
Also 1896, Robert Baden-Powell, serving in Rhodesia, met Frederick Russell Burnham, the American-born Chief of Scouts.  During their patrols Burnham taught Baden-Powell woodcraft; skills little known in the British Army but well-known to the American scout. Baden-Powell was concerned that soldiers lacked the skills to survive outdoors weakening the army.  He published Scouting for Boys, describing the skills of frontiersmen and indigenous Americans starting Boy Scouts to make better soldiers.
1914 Henry Ford doubled the wages at Ford Company, not out of generosity.  Poor attendance and high turnover were making it hard to keep his factories running.  He became one of the richest men in history but also created the modern middle class.  Workers could buy the cars, creating a demand for more production and more workers.  He also set up schools for immigrant workers to learn to read and write English, so they could be more productive and he could make more.
1933 Henry J. Kaiser and other large construction contractors had formed an insurance consortium to meet their workers' compensation obligations, but the costs were too high and the only hospital was failing. Harold Hatch, an engineer-turned-insurance-agent suggested that the insurance companies pay Dr. Garfield a fixed amount per day, per covered worker, up front. This solved the hospital’s immediate money troubles and, at the same time, enabled Dr. Garfield to emphasize maintaining health and safety rather than merely treating illness and injury. Thus, prepayment came to America. For five cents per day, workers were provided this new form of health coverage. For an additional five cents per day, workers could also receive coverage for non-job related medical problems. Thousands of workers enrolled, and the hospital became a financial success. They profited by helping others.
All of these stories and countless others show the wisdom of providing essentials such as health care. We should not think of public health service as a give-away. When we invest tax dollars to immunize other children we protect our own children from those same diseases. The Constitution admonishes the government “to promote the general welfare.”  Healthy people are smarter, happier, safer and more productive; less likely to go on strike, resort to self-medication, drugs, alcohol and other things that lead to crime.  The young and healthy who do not need care today can think of it as insurance for when they will need care. Universal health care is the smart thing to do.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail


We had a small group for dinner once –not quite 100 people- and I overheard a guest say “Everyone knows that we choose our own parents.” I interrupted him to say “That’s funny not everyone, because I didn’t and still don’t “but he ignored me and continued his new-age-astrolo-babble.  I have to admit that some famously rich and powerful people had the good sense to pick parents who left them an inexhaustible money machine:  William Randolph Hearst, (all the silver in Nevada) and Howard Hughes, (Hughes tool, drills for all the oil wells in the world) come to mind.  You can probably know half a dozen more. They don’t advertise their silver spoon birth, but wind up in politics or Hollywood. This is not as exclusive a company as it might sound. Ivanka and Jared had the good sense pick wealthy parents, as did the Golfer-In-Chief.  What could you have accomplished if you had inherited $40 million?  
What a sideshow, much sound and fury accomplishing nothing but a shoo-in nomination to the Supreme Court. Repeal Obamcare, repeal Obamcare, repeal Obamc….. Executive Orders displayed with the pride of an eight year old coloring inside the lines.  A list of things promised to accomplish immediately, well maybe soon: completed zero.  Attempts to unring the bell, repeal other orders or regulations, but are more like vague permission to not fully comply. Poorly written new regulations quickly deemed illegal. This method is like setting fire to the house to get rid of the fleas.  Drain the swamp, but only enough to give the alligators a bigger advantage over the sucker-fish.  Be careful: while you watch the sideshow someone is picking your pocket, then they max out your credit cards or steal your car.
Fortunately most bureaucrats did their job, and obeyed the law.  Obeying orders is not a defense, but doing the right thing usually is. It also lets you sleep. Unsurprisingly a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific, that happens to be in a State, this little State, can block an illegal order;  that’s how it’s supposed to work. We have a complex system of checks and balances, not only with three branches of government, but 50 State governments, each with three branches.  The branches have branches, House and Senate, Grand Juries and Special Prosecutors, U.S. Marshalls and the CBO.  There are NGOs like the ACLU, NRA, PTA and a free press.  The beauty of a free press is that they compete for attention try to expose fakes.   
“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”  HL Mencken 1926
The Emperor-new-clothes has lived by this advice.  Surprises every day, seemingly random picks for high posts have started to backfire. There are some good ones, and some, well let’s hope. It’s just a matter of who, like James ‘Watergate’ McCord, spills the beans first to avoid jail, and how many henchmen go to Club Fed.  Does Mr. Ratings Machine declare “mission accomplished” and retire before the GOP finds the fortitude to impeach? I don’t know if they will do it to save the country, but probably will to protect Party-unity.  You would think repealing Obamacare was the nation’s highest priority, like “Get Osama bin Laden” was; well after Party-unity. No wait, the highest priority was making Obama a one term President. Crime rate peaked around 1991 so Sessions wants to take justice back to 1973. If you are not confused you have not been paying attention.  Mind your pockets the main event is yet to come.

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail


Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree Russel B. Long, probably.
The history of taxation is a history of unfairness there has probably never been or ever will be a fair tax.  What can we do?  It sounds fair to tax everyone their portion of the County budget. Five hundred million dollar County budget divided by 200,000 people comes to $2500 each. Some families could not pay that if you took everything they own.
To add to unfairness state law limits a county to a few sources. Property tax, GET (sales tax), Fuel tax, TAT (transient occupancy tax)
Money is like manure. If you spread it around it does a lot of good. But if you pile it up in one place it stinks like hell. Clint Jr. Murchison 
I sweated my way through Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, gave up halfway, but tried again when I learned that it included recommendations.  The most constructive form of taxation is one that limits the gross accumulation of wealth.
One way the County can do that is property tax, but that has problems.  To determine the tax one needs to value the property.  We could tax all land at the same rate, but obviously some land like beachfront is worth much more than other, like mauka desert.  It does at least aim at the accumulation of wealth, but can fall particularly hard on farmers because they need a lot of real property i.e. land, to be viable. Property tax also discourages the preservation of natural features that pay tax, but provide no income to the owner. There are exceptions granted for things like hospitals, schools and houses of worship. There is the tax windfall when the neighbor’s farm turns into a shopping center and adjacent land suddenly has a higher appraisal. So that which sounds simple gets complicated. Thus value based on similar property sales may be the best we can do.
GET: Just an insidious and vastly complicated sales tax that puts the government finger in every single transaction.  The County is allowed to add a surcharge which adds complexity but raises little additional revenue.  Like all sales based taxes it falls hardest on those with the least ability to pay or avoid and puts an accounting burden on small business.
Fuel tax:  Sounds equitable, but on Hawaii the most common fuel purchase is gasoline. Who purchases the most? Low paid workers who live in Kau or Puna and commute 80 miles a day in an old car that gets 12mpg.  Maybe the fuel tax could be lower in Kau and Puna.  ­
TAT: This was supposed to be shared with the counties, but the State keeps taking a bigger bite, because they can.  Of course the State and Honolulu County are almost inseparable. So essentially Honolulu gets the governors 4 votes making 5 votes and the other 3 counties get one vote each.
No one likes to pay taxes, but many of us don’t mind too much if we feel the rate is fair. What is fair? First the rate for an individual, family or business should not cause hardship or depravation. Like the Federal Income tax, progressive with an exemption so that low income people don’t have to starve to pay their tax. They still pay plenty of other taxes indirectly because taxes are built into everything that they buy.  At the other end of the scale are the truly wealthy.  It would take an extremely high tax rate to cause them to actually suffer, unless you think doing without champagne popsicles a 100 foot yacht and two villas in the South of France as suffering. Can property tax be progressive with rates that rise along with increasing valuation? Rate times    value to the 1.02 power.  
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail