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Monday, January 7, 2013
January 7, 2013 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:32 PM :: 4713 Views

Ruff Times: Tsutsui to Challenge Abercrombie in 2014?

Hawaii Students Join Global Kick-off of New FIRST Robotics Season

Sea Level? Oahu Rising Two Feet Every 1000 Years

Akaka, Inouye Staffers Push Schatz, Hanabusa to Akaka Tribe’s Key Committees

CB: A closer look at the events that unfolded Friday night show that Hawaii emerged as the big winner compared to any other state, due in large part to back room lobbying by the Inouye and Akaka staffs, sources told Civil Beat. The committees the delegation was assigned, altogether, were particularly designed for maintaining the stream of federal money that means so much to Hawaii….

"I am confident that our entire delegation knows what is at stake with Sen. Akaka and Sen. Inouye no longer representing us," Rep. Colleen Hanabusa told Civil Beat in an interview late Saturday. "I am prepared to commit every ounce of my energy and every bit of my experience and abilities for the benefit of our state. Our senators served us with humility and devotion; we will need to do the same, and we each need to be all-in. Service to our state needs to be our only focus."….

The new committee assignments announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid contained only six changes — and all of them directly related to Hawaii. Four of the new seats were taken by Hawaii, including a reshuffle of assignments between Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, and the two others were Hawaii seats given up in exchange….

Both new Hawaii senators were granted all their top choices, considered unusual for freshman senators. Hirono was given a seat on her top choice, the powerful Armed Services Committee and Schatz was given his top choice of the influential Commerce Committee, which controls maritime and transportation, and Indian Affairs issues, aides to both senators confirmed to Civil Beat.

On the House side, incoming Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was given a coveted slot on both the Foreign Relations Committee and Homeland Security Committee. Hanabusa retained her seat on Armed Services and Natural Resources, the latter committee which controls the maritime, oceans, and Native Hawaiian portfolios.

In the reshuffle, Hirono was given the Armed Services assignment for Alaska Sen. Mark Begich giving up his Armed Services seat in a trade. Begich was given Inouye’s vacant seat on the Appropriations Committee….

“Our relationship with Hawaii is only going to get stronger,” Begich told the AP.

In the other changes announced late Friday, Schatz took Inouye’s seats on both the Indian Affairs and Commerce Committees.

Hawaii gave up one of the two seats it held on the Indian Affairs Committee and one seat on the Rules Committee held by Inouye….

“I could not have asked for better assignments for the needs and future of our State,” Schatz said about the three committees in a statement released Friday night….

read … Akaka Tribe

Access to ACT exam will Help DoE Boost Test Scores

SA: Department officials recently announced plans to give all public school juniors the ACT college entrance exam in the coming spring semester ….

the ACT is a suite of tests, starting with what's called the ACT PLAN test taken by eighth- and ninth-graders. High school sophomores take the EXPLORE exam, and the next year the students all get to take the college-entrance ACT. (EXPLORE tells DoE how to boost scores on ACT)

At a cost of $882,000 for just the first year of testing, DOE and Board of Education officials will need to monitor carefully to be sure public schools have a net gain from this investment. Once the problem areas have been identified, the faculty and staff and other resources need to be in place to oversee their efforts to address those shortcomings. (Clue)

The idea, said Teri Ushijima, who has been shepherding the ACT initiative, is that students do need guidance to assess their subject-matter mastery (the focus of most of the DOE's academic testing). (Another clue)

But what sets ACT apart, Ushijima said, is that it has a longer record than competing exams in spotlighting areas of greatest student interest and ability, and assessing whether they have the skills and study habits to explore them. (And another)

"A benefit of this tool is that it does give you how they're doing academically in those areas," she said. "There's a built-in career-interest tool or inventory. Another critical piece of the report tells us what specific areas to work on to improve their score at the next level."  (And another)

IQ Test:

read … More DoE Test Shuffling

Abercrombie Supports PLDC, Nature Conservancy Supports Abercrombie

CB: Gary Hooser is not the only Hawaii environmentalist who is disenchanted with Abercrombie….the governor's support for large development projects, exemptions from the environmental review process, and most recently, cuts to the state's solar tax credits, have rankled the conservation community.

Stuart Coleman, the Hawaii coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, said that his organization has been disappointed to find that Abercrombie is not aligned with with the group's philosophies after all.

"When he was first elected we were excited because we thought we were getting one of our own, someone who had a strong, progressive history and environmentally friendly policies as a congressman," said Coleman, "But slowly and gradually, we were a little dismayed by the number of decisions that he was making that didn't seem to have the environment in mind."….

Paul Achitoff, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, says Abercrombie has shown a flagrant disregard for federal and state environmental laws.

"He seems to have embraced the developer's mantra that these types of laws are simply a nuisance, and he is going to do what he can to get rid of them," Achitoff said.

Achitoff criticized the governor for dismissing opponents of his policies as "a bunch of rabble rousing, naysaying hippies."

But the governor also has made policy decisions that are serving Hawaii's environment well, according to at least one environmental organization, the Hawaii chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Kim McCoy notes that Abercrombie has asked the PLDC to slow down "after hearing several concerns about the agency."

While environmental groups have raised alarm about the agency's ability to sidestep environmental controls, she said that the governor's support for the PLDC stems from his focus on improving neglected state facilities.

"The state faces decades of deferred maintenance and that’s why the governor has said proper stewardship of public land does not mean simply leaving land untouched," she said in the email. "Many state parks, facilities and forest areas require much needed attention."

SA: Kawainui Marsh restoration will be completed in weeks

read … Naysaying Hippies

Gas? Solar, Wind Scammers Working Hard to Keep Electric Bills High

CB: Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, pointed out that Hawaii Gas is a client of FACTS Global Energy, as the report discloses.

"Although FACTS takes great pains to claim that they don't have any vested interests in whether or not Hawaii imports LNG, there is a clear, unavoidable conflict of interest: FACTS works for Hawaii Gas, who has petitioned (federal regulators) to import LNG to Hawaii," wrote Mikulina by email.

The report recommends that Hawaii contract with two ships to import LNG in case there is any disruption in supply. And it says that finding a supplier, and negotiating a fuel price, should start early to get the best prices.

The Sierra Club’s national chapter is working to stop mainland companies from exporting natural gas, including to Hawaii. The group has grown increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has been tied to water contamination and has raised concerns that some earthquakes may be caused by drilling.

Building a regasifcation plant in Hawaii, upgrading ports, and adding pipelines and other infrastructure for distribution will also cost hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment, according to the FACTS report. The study notes that this cost needs to be kept in perspective — Hawaii spends about $6 billion a year on oil.

But Mikulina worries these expenditures will detract from the large-scale investments needed for the switch to renewables. And lower LNG prices could also make it more difficult for renewables to compete.


read … Report Says Natural Gas Will Bring Major Cost Savings to Hawaii

Biofuel: Landowners, Developers, Military

HB: Major landowners and developers are investing in big biofuel projects, though actual sales to the military are, so far, limited. Hawaii BioEnergy is a company established by Kamehameha Schools, Grove Farm Co. Inc. and Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc. HBE has a contract to sell 10 million gallons of biofuels for 20 years to Hawaiian Electric Co., a deal that is currently going through regulatory approval, according to HBE’s Joel Matsunaga. In 2011, Boeing and HBE announced a collaboration to study biofuel development for the aviation industry. The company has already built a 33-acre research facility on Kauai for development of jet fuel from microalgae, on behalf of the DoD.

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co., owners of Hawaii’s last sugar plantation, which is on Maui, is another major player in biofuels. HC&S has received a five-year, $10 million research grant to study the possibility of converting former sugar plantations to biofuel production.

Pacific Biodiesel, currently the only local producer selling biofuel to the DoD, is ramping up. Pacific Biodiesel is now only processing used cooking grease into biodiesel and sells about 1,000 gallons a month to local DoD operations, but it is looking to create 5.5 million gallons a year and 60 to 80 new jobs in agricultural biofuels. Pacific Biodiesel mainly supplies nontactical DoD vehicles, those not used directly for combat, according to Jenna Long, sales manager at Pacific Biodiesel. The company has been working with the DoD for about seven years, she says, providing B20 (20 percent biodiesel, 80 percent diesel) for most of the nontactical vehicles at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and has recently successfully tested B20 in tactical vehicles at Fort Shafter.

read … Military Drives Alternative Energy in Hawaii

DoE Payroll on Antique Computer, Only One Person can Maintain

HB: “We’ve identified 743 different legacy systems,” Bhagowalia says. “This is a massive challenge. I have to call a spade a spade.”

“The systems that we’re using, some of them are over 20 years old,” he says. “FAMIS, the state’s financial accounting and management information system, is 30 years old. The payroll system is 40 years old. We have systems here that were written in COBOL, a programming language that’s defunct.”

“We have a paper form called the G-1,” Krieg says. “That’s sort of the universal form for requesting leave. You fill that out; it’s approved up the line; and then it resides with a person that’s responsible for keeping track. But the information on the G-1 is manually transferred onto a sheet of paper called Form 7, which is just a big grid of tiny squares. It’s like a whole year’s calendar on a single worksheet.” HR staff then use an old-fashioned 10-key adding machine to calculate available leave. Because these processes are so slow and tedious, employees often receive their overtime pay months after the fact.

The inefficiencies of these paper-driven, manual processes affect all departments. For example, the ancient, COBOL-based program that the Department of Education uses to process its payroll runs on a 40-year-old VAX computer with tape drives and a dot-matrix printer that still prints on stacks of green-bar, continuous-feed paper. (Attention anarchists. Your target has been identified.) That system interfaces with the equally dated systems at DAGS, where the paychecks are actually written. For a large organization like DOE, with 254 schools and about a third of the state’s 41,000-plus employees, the consequences of such an antiquated process are manifest. “Right now,” says assistant superintendent and CFO Amy Kunz, “if you want to make changes to the payroll, someone has to go locate that line in a giant stack of green-bar paper, cross it out by hand, and make the correction with a red pen. Then, that goes back to DAGS, where they have to keypunch all the changes into the system by hand.”

Another consequence of so much paper is the lack of current information. With so many employees at so many schools, Kunz says, it is important to track who works where and budget accordingly. Because the state’s payroll system can’t keep up with frequent employee moves, the only time DOE can fully account for its payroll is at the end of the fiscal year. “We start our school year in July,” Kunz says, “but we don’t know until September or October what the payroll figures are going to look like. Right now, we don’t get actual payroll information; I think we have about a month lag time. Once a year, basically, we have good data.”

…financial reporting is one of the most troubling results of the state’s old, disjointed IT system. Perhaps the best example is the state’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR). Remarkably, the state still operates on a cash accounting basis rather than an accrual basis. In order to complete the CAFR, though, DAGS still has to convert the state’s financial data to accrual. Using FAMIS, the state’s 40-year-old financial accounting system, this is a long, tedious process, much of which has to be done manually. Even worse, the DAGS staff responsible for CAFR has dwindled from six employees to two. As a result, the 2010 CAFR wasn’t completed until after the 2012 fiscal year had begun, which delayed the state’s ability to issue bonds….

In many ways, the situation at DOE is typical: “We still have a VAX machine,” says Kunz. “I think it’s one of the only VAX machines in the world, so the risk of that going down is huge. Nowadays, we can only get replacement parts for it on eBay, and there’s only one guy remaining at DOE who knows how to maintain the system and he’s getting very close to retirement. He could say he’s going to retire any day.”

“We’re talking about a 12-year plan, which, in the IT world, is a very, very long time.”

read … The State of Hawaii's Plan to Modernize its Medieval Tech Systems


Tourism Carries "Sub-Par" Hawaii Economy

HB: “Tourism is at an all-time high, but more sobering is looking at it from a long-term perspective,” notes Richard Lim, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. “In 1988, tourism produced 30 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. In 2012, it produced 17 percent. It’s not growing as much as the rest of the economy.”

Surprisingly, if you account for inflation, the cost of a hotel room today in Waikiki – an average of $175 a night – is cheaper than 10 years ago, says Lim. That’s even though there are 4,000 fewer hotel rooms in Waikiki today than in 2001, when the number peaked at 32,000.

Hawaiian to Add Fleet of Long-Range, Single-Aisle Aircraft

read … It’s the Tourism, Stupid

Hawaii's Shield Law: Defend Your Right to Know

HB: Without it, a vindictive official or lawyer could persuade a judge to subpoena a reporter and demand the name of an anonymous source, access to leaked documents or a reporter’s confidential notes. If that happens and the source is exposed, others will refuse to talk and put themselves at risk. Crucial stories won’t be told, secrets will remain hidden and corruption may survive.

Hawaii already has an effective Shield Law, but it is scheduled to sunset on June 30, 2013. The existing law was scrutinized, debated, modified and then passed unanimously by both houses of the state Legislature in 2008 and signed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. It has operated effectively and without controversy for more than four years.

Nonetheless, some government officials and legislators are willing to let it die or cut it in half with what they claim are minor or legitimate exceptions.

read … Shield Law

Act 221: No Scams Running Now

HB: What are the current trends in venture capital in Hawaii?

BS: I would say there are no trends. Since Act 221 ended, incentive and motivation to invest in things has really gone off the cliff….it has affected the pipeline of money. There are a lot of companies that were seeded with Act 221 money. Now they’re struggling to grow and attract more money.

read … Great news

Road death count rose in 2012, but pace slowed late in year

SA: There were 57 traffic fatalities on Oahu in 2012, up about 10 percent from 2011….

read … Deaths

Hybrids Killing Cyclists, Pedestrians

NHTSA estimates the odds of a hybrid vehicle being involved in a pedestrian crash is 19 percent higher compared with traditional gas- or diesel-powered vehicles. For a bicycle crash, it's 38 percent higher.

read … Hybrid Killers



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