• Sustainable Stupidity in Hawaii

    July 18, 2021 // 3 Comments »


    Who is making the cascading series of bad decisions about tourism and why are they determined to damage the Number 2 industry in Hawaii? With over a year’s pause to review things like sustainability and overuse why are we only now having such conversations even as we drift from problem to problem?

    Tourism is a part of our islands same as the ocean and volcanos. It won’t go away, should not go away if we wish for people to have jobs, and properly managed creates little pollution and lots of revenue alongside a lot of jobs, from restaurant servers to corporate executives. Let’s look at how that has worked out in the hands of incompetent leadership.

    -Hawaii is the only state still with COVID entrance requirements. Their ever-changing nature has created confusion in the marketplace. It is easier for visitors to go somewhere else. The crisis has passed yet Hawaii’s government alone clings to its emergency powers.

    -Once in Hawaii, the visitor is subject to the last remaining set of comprehensive restrictions, also ever-changing. Rules on masks and gatherings fall into 42 different categories and run dozens and dozens of pages. There are separate rules for botanical gardens and bowling alleys. No one can follow them all, and so visitors are assaulted with constant and often conflicting pleas to cooperate. Even the mayor of Honolulu admits they are unenforceable.

    -The ever-changing rules on how many people may gather indoors/outdoor are a death sentence to big-money tourism such as weddings, Asian group tours, and conventions. These need to be planned months or even years in advance, and can in one decision brings hundreds of visitors in. What planner is ready to trust Hawaii to have the same rules in place a year from now (Delta variant!) as today?

    -Same for other events planners. Concert promoters looking to fill arenas once again said Tier 5 does not do much for them. Rick Bartalini, the promoter who recently brought Mariah Carey and Diana Ross to the Blaisdell said, “Tier 5 is not a realistic solution to reopen the large scale event industry in the state of Hawaii.”

    -The latest rules, which appear to require restaurants to verify vaccination status before seating guests, are so ridiculous major restaurants are simply (finally) refusing to comply. They protest turning their hosts into “cops” and scaring away customers. Never mind the ridiculousness of demanding a minimum wage server check to see if a COVID test was the proper molecular type before reading the day’s specials. Coupled with the labor shortage which makes reservations hard to get, why would a visitor want to try a night out?

    -Why would a visitor want to try a night out when bars are still required to stop serving at midnight (is COVID more active after dark?!?) super fun beach vacation, guys.

    -In their arrogance, leaders of the state House and Senate said the summer surge in tourists shows that Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. They then fundamentally changed the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s funding and left its future uncertain. While Hawaii may be the only product in history which requires no advertising, competitor New York City launched a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign. Florida has numerous advertising campaigns underway, including a $2 million one focused on Orlando alone.

    -COVID restrictions saw tourism disappear, and car rental companies sold off their inventory such that visitors can’t find a car, and the news is running features on people renting U-Hauls to visit the North Shore. A rental car company fails to renew a car registration? The HPD tickets the tourist who rented it so they can tell their friends at home how to expect to be treated.

    -Uber and Lyft sent their prices skyrocketing. Local people stepped up and started renting out their own vehicles to solve the shortage and make visitors happy. The state’s move? Tax the new business to death, same as AirBnB, in hopes of protecting the old brick and mortar firms who have fewer customers anyway because of the government’s COVID shenanigans. If that play seems familiar, it was a version of the one used to sink the SuperFerry and push intra-island travel money into the airlines’ hands. Or the one which quickly ended Lime’s electric scooters, which remain popular as a traffic solution across the country, just somehow not in Hawaii.

    -How to get to your hotel from the airport? Well, the HART will be completed in approximately… never. The Bus does not allow luggage. So as in most third world airports the tired traveler starts his journey being overcharged for a taxi or car.

    -Hawaii has never been a budget destination, but taxes and costs for visitors keep climbing, and will reach a point where they consider other options. For visitors settling into a traditional hotel room, there’s a 10.25% Occupancy/Transient Accommodation Tax, followed by the 4.712% State Tax. Most places now stack on a “resort fee” of $35-50, plus usurious parking fees of $30-40 a night. The state’s move post-COVID? Grab more of the existing hotel tax for itself, and allow the counties to add on their own 3% tax. The final price for a room can easily double for guests.

    -Meanwhile, because of COVID and at those prices, most hotels won’t change the towels or bed sheets during a stay. Then wait until visitors find out must-see Hanauma Bay is now $25 a person plus $10 parking if they can even pry a reservation away from the tour companies. Diamond Head is headed the same way.

    -The operations manager for Roberts Hawaii, the agency hired by the state to handle Safe Travels screening and verify documents summed up Hawaii’s image today, saying “People gonna vent, aggravated, not prepared, in shock after spending so much money. People got to accept these changes, it is challenge, it is a challenge to come to Hawaii.”

    We’re seeing now the influx of visitors due to pent up demand. What happens next? Nobody knows when it will all become just too much and visitors will go elsewhere,  but Hawaii seems determined to push the boundaries. Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth worries. “We’re going to add another tax to our tourists and actually that’s a gamble whether the tourists are going to come back.”

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Trump, A Man in Full

    January 22, 2021 // 2 Comments »

    Twitterless, Donald Trump will soon disappear into obscurity or some commentator job, basically about the same. It will be for the fullness of history to judge his term, but it is certain the summation will be it was four years of lies and barely Constitutional actions that have forever dented America’s democracy. Lies and actions by Democrats and the media, of course. For Trump himself, history will show he accomplished little and personally mattered in the grander sweep even less.

    Trump’s term began with the Dem’s lie he was not legitimately elected. Though it was all swept away when Trump challenged the results in 2020, in 2016 the Democratic Party and MSM were embroiled in a whole of society effort to stop the Electoral College from making Trump the official winner (disbelievers, Google “faithless electors 2016” and note the fever over the technically meaningless popular vote) Another push was made to prevent Trump from taking office under the Emoluments clause. The actors described their own efforts as patriotic, life saving.
     
    The media told us with certainty the stock market would never recover. We’d be at war with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, maybe China. NATO would collapse. Putin would run the U.S. via blackmailing Trump because Trump had been a Russian agent since the 1980s. Trump judges would dismantle the rule of law, end same sex marriage, and make abortions illegal. White nationalists would control our cities. Everyone in Puerto Rico was doomed.
    None of that happened. It was all made up. Every bit of it fiction.
     
    Depending on your political stance, some “bad” things did happen. But they were stopped by courts (Trump’s plan to end DACA, his own election challenges) prevented by Congress (Trump’s plan to ease sanctions on Russia), undermined by the Deep State (Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria), throttled by the press (Trump’s continuation of the Obama child-separation policy), or corrected by civil servants (coronavirus misinformation.) Far from any authoritarian, when his executive orders were declared unconstitutional, Trump revised them to fit judicial requirements, as with the “Muslim ban.” Behind the chorus of whining from CNN and NPR, no one was jailed for criticizing Trump, let alone killed (Obama still solidly holds the record for the use of the Espionage Act to stifle sources and journalists.) By failing to understand how to work the levers of government, nearly everything Trump did was by executive decree and can be turned around on day one by Joe Biden the same way. Trump’s supposed fascistic acts were purely performative.
    Yet despite his repeated failings as a would-be dictator, false apocalyptic spiraling was applied to everything Trump touched. The Kavanaugh kid who was a slug in high school decades ago became a gang rapist whose purpose was to overturn Roe v. Wade while helping Hitler stay in power. A new standard was invented on the fly by the same people who worried about the rule of law, so instead of “innocent until proven guilty” it became “credible accusation,” adjudicated by online mobs. A narrative based on no facts whatsoever was created that somewhere in Trump’s taxes, undiscovered by the IRS all these years, was a 1099 form “Misc Espionage Work, Russia.”
    Russiagate was the peak. Democrats paid someone from British intelligence to make up bad things about Trump. American intelligence then used what they knew was a work of fiction as an excuse to spy for real dirt on Americans in the Trump campaign, lying to the FISA court along the way. It was an outrageous Constitutional violation and a direct act of interference by the intel community in a democratic election, as if this was Honduras or Guatemala. When even that illegal spying turned up nothing, the whole thing spoon-fed to the MSM, who ran the table with three years of outright falsehoods. 
    But COVID! The Democratic Party, et al, created one of the most successful information operations in history, convincing a large number of Americans they must fear for their lives and they must blame Donald Trump. The success here dwarfed the failure of Russiagate, though was equally untethered to facts.

    COVID was a global event. U.S. deaths (91 per 100,000 people) for example, are lower than in Belgium (158), Italy (107), Spain (102), Britain (97), and Argentina (92), none of which were presided over by Donald Trump. It seemed hard to point a finger based on those numbers, so the finger was pointed at mask shortages, ventilator shortages, hospital shortages, racism, and Republican-run superspreader events. The vaccine which was going to take years to develop instead took months. We never needed the Navy hospital ships. We never needed the hospital tent facilities set up in Central Park. We never needed the mass graves. We never ran out of ventilators.

    The irony is that if anything in the last four years might have opened the door to a more authoritarian president it could have been COVID. Trump, had he really had authoritarianism in mind, could have federalized the National Guard to secure hospitals (or whatever fiction the public would have accepted, and in March of last year they would have accepted pretty much anything.) He could have created some sort of WPA-like body to decide nationally who could work and who could not. He could have demanded censorship to “prevent panic.” It was all on the table, and Trump did none of it. Not exactly Kim Jong Un-level material.

    What the media wanted so badly to be the capstone event of the last four years, the Charge of the Rednecks against the Capitol Building, was not. A mob out of control at worst, with the usual weak performance by the Kapital Kops, amounted to nothing. America awoke the next morning to find it was not Judgment Day, merely morning. No tanks on the White House lawn. Not even a cop car burned.
    The event was goonish, embarrassing, but in the end about as historical meaningful as a floor brawl in the Taiwanese legislature. For it to be a coup, insurrection, etc., it would have needed a path toward accomplishing a change of government. There never was any. Joe Biden was always going to be president. All the mob accomplished was a meaningless few hours’ delay in that happening. Trump’s actions vacillated between bizarre and shameful, his tone pathetic, but it was almost all just meaningless words no one will remember; nothing stuck and he’s gone. No civil war. Hardly Weimar material. As the fat kid in Jojo Rabbit said, “Not a good time for Nazis.”

    So what did happen? Trump is the first president since WWII not to start a new war. U.S. military fatalities during the Obama term were 1,912. Trump’s number to date is only 123. ISIS is gone. He was the first president in some 20 years to conduct active diplomacy with North Korea. For the first time in a quarter-century, Arab nations normalized relations with Israel, the Abraham Accords. Actually quite a bit of diplomacy from a guy popularly credited with destroying it. Record stock market highs. Trump appointed 227 conservative judges, more than a quarter of the total, including three to the Supreme Court.

    Some things did change under Trump. The media gave up any pretense of objectivity, and the majority of Americans welcomed it. They came to imagine tearing down some old statues or seeing a gay couple in a Target ad were real social progress. Public shaming by a mob — canceling — became a fine way to deal with thought crimes. Humiliation and name calling took the place of commentary. Terms of Service replaced the 1A. Corporate censorship of people and ideas is firmly now the norm, welcomed by a large number of Americans.

    Those left of center developed striking political amnesia. After decades of complaining about police brutality, they wanted more of it when directed at conservatives at the Capitol. They want censorship, against Trump, against ideas they disagree with, against whatever “hate speech” is defined as today. They want corporate speech police. They want a president who has voted for and helped run wars for the last ten years. They demanded new anti-democratic standards, Because Trump means any means is allowed if it justifies the end. They believed accusations of mental illness against a sitting president by doctors who never met him, a tried Soviet and Maoist tactic, are part of legitimate political discourse. Nancy Pelosi was still invoking this days before Biden’s inauguration, screeching for a resignation, the 25th Amendment, outright impeachment — something! — a bit of vengeance blithely supported by far too many Americans. Third World moves, bro.

    Those ideas, the rejection of democratic ideals and any politics but your own, won. The Trump era changed America but it is hard to argue it was for the better.

     

    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    The New York Times and Trump’s Taxes: Another Marker on the End of Journalism

    October 3, 2016 // 12 Comments »

    7104173173_53ca7109fa_k

    I don’t support Trump. I don’t support Clinton. But what I really don’t support is shoddy journalism, and that’s what is all awhirl regarding the leak of three pages of Trumps’ federal tax return from 21 years ago.



    Trump the Tax Cheat?

    The New York Times is running front-page amok (italics added here) with the exclusive that Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial, the writers claim, it could have allowed him to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.

    The Times continues “Although Mr. Trump’s taxable income in subsequent years is as yet unknown, a $916 million loss in 1995 would have been large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over 18 years… [the loss] could have eliminated any federal income taxes… for each episode of The Apprentice, or the roughly $45 million he was paid between 1995 and 2009 when he was chairman or chief executive of the publicly traded company he created to assume ownership of his troubled Atlantic City casinos.”



    How To Do Journalism With No Information

    Let’s pause for a moment: all the Times has is three pages of Trump’s lengthy tax filing from 1995. None of the schedules are there, nothing that details the profits and losses. Everything the Times writes otherwise is speculation, extrapolation, and that word, “could,” over and over.

    The newspaper even uncorks a statement that would get any undergrad booted out of her first journalism class “In the absence of any disclosures from Mr. Trump, The New York Times and other news outlets have attempted to fill in the gaps.”

    Pro-Clinton Vox takes it another step, stating without any evidence “Trump still isn’t releasing his returns. And here’s what that means: whatever is in his returns is worse than what the New York Times is telling the world is in his returns. The Trump campaign has decided it prefers the picture the Times is painting — a picture where Trump didn’t pay taxes for 18 years — to the picture Trump’s real records would paint.”

    Summary: in the absence of information, 2016-era journalists can just make up whatever they like.



    How Taxes Work for Grownups

    But all that aside, let’s go back to the shoddy journalism.

    For all of the Times’ hyperbole, it seems to miss, or just not bother to state, the obvious: what Trump did, deduct business losses from gains to reduce his tax burden, and likely spread those losses over a period of years, is exactly what every business does. In fact, the tax forms even give you little boxes to insert those numbers in to take the deduction.

    There is literally nothing to see here.

    I know of no person who actively seeks to maximize the taxes s/he pays.

    Instead, every taxpayer does what the tax laws intend, take deductions to lessen the amount they pay in taxes. I do it, you do it, the Clintons do it. There are the business loss deductions, the capital loss deductions, the business expense deductions, the mortgage interest deductions and on and on and on. If you follow the tax law, then the amount at the end of the return is what your “fair share” is.

    Even the Times’ story has to sorta, kinda admit that, assuming you make it deep into the text, that “Tax experts consulted by The Times said nothing in the 1995 documents suggested any wrongdoing by Mr. Trump.”

    That line seems significant, especially given what came before it on the front page.

    And yep, most of these deductions are only available to the rich, at least in dollar amounts that matter. We can argue separately how messed up the tax system is (a subject the Times may consider covering at some point), but we cannot argue that what Trump did is not the way the system is. Neither can Clinton.

    But the funnest of fun parts here is while the Times, and Clinton, reluctantly point out that nothing Trump did was illegal, they both make it clear they think what he did was ethically wrong, a bad thing worthy of slinging around. Given the parallels to the emails (not illegal!) and the Clinton Foundation (not illegal!), that seems thin ice to skate on.

    BONUS: Coincidentally, it was only at last Monday’s presidential debate that Hillary Clinton said Trump was refusing to release his tax returns so voters would not know “he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.” Then, what do you know, a few days later an excerpt of those returns just pops into the New York Times’ Inbox. Small world.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas