Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our Government Stuck it To Us Again


Our government likes to pull the wool over our eyes. We have what they call a "lame duck" Congress and they went ahead anyway to pass legislation that the incoming Congress would likely not agree with. Arrogance is the best word to describe those who are in charge of our government.

The country is divided into two groups. One group believes in Old English Law. They believe that everything came from the Crown and everything therefore is owned by the Crown except for that which the Crown decides to allow the subjects to keep. We derived much of our laws based on this concept.

The other group, as expected, believes in the exact opposite, mainly those things that are guaranteed to the citizens of the United States by the Constitution. For those of you who attended private school, let me lay out the two relevant provisions: Amendment IV and Amendment X.

Amendment IV (of the Bill of Rights) assured that we are all secured in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures...." by the government.  Amendment X reserves all powers "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution... for the States and the people". In other words, the people have all powers and only those powers granted to the Federal Government by the Constitution can be exercised by the Federal Government.

Over the years, Congress slowly changed things by passing legislation granting them powers over the people which are not authorized by the Constitution. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) needs to give approval for everything anyone does and can make things so prohibitively expensive that projects cannot be economically viable. A good example is the Superferry. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) can also be used by activists to shut down projects by making things so expensive that projects cannot turn a profit.

I could go on and on, but other than those who went to private school, most of you get the picture.

Before we examine the legislation extending the current tax rates, let's lay some facts on the table.

1. The top 1% of wage earners pay 41% of the income taxes.

2. The bottom 50% of wage earners pay 3% of the nation's income taxes and many don't pay anything at all.

3. The top 1% of wage earners make only 19% of the nation's income.

4. Many who pay no income tax actually get back money from the State and Federal Governments in what is called "refundable credits".

Let me further elaborate on #4 above. A single person with two young toddlers makes $20,000 in income. With various tax credits, low income rental credits, child care tax credits, etc., this person gets $4,500 from the State of Hawaii and another whopping $4,000 from the Federal Government. In addition, this person can qualify for Section 8 rental assistance, food stamps and other welfare programs costing thousands of additional dollars. This could be the equivalence of a $40,000 salary.

Let me state it another way. The tax credits are in addition to welfare benefits and is a direct payment to the recipient through their tax returns, bypassing the Social Services agencies. So the taxpayer pays for Social Services with higher taxes and for the direct tax credits through the person's tax returns. No wonder our governments are in a state of insolvency. We give a vote to those who not only pay no income tax, but get whopping refunds called "tax credits".

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from people who are willing to work and give to those who do not".

Now, let's look at the major provisions of the recently passed law that was signed by our President.

Dumb thing # 1. The tax rates were extended for only two years. It should've been made permanent. This is because most businesses plan for things in five and ten year projected increments. Two years will not motivate businesses and investors to expand if the rug is pulled from under them in two years.

Dumb thing #2. A credit was given to employees that is equal to 2% of their payroll. This is a reduction of the FICA (Social Security tax). Now, unless you went to private school, you would know that Social Security will soon be insolvent and there won't be money to pay future benefits. When they cut the "deposits" that were to fund Social Security, how will that increase the funds required to pay benefits? They have to make up for that shortage somewhere and I suspect it'll come from future tax increases, reduction in Social Security benefits or they will again print more money. Either way, our kupunas fall further behind.

Dumb thing # 3. The law also extended unemployment benefits for another 13 months. Stated another way, they are going to reward more people for not working. The cost of the benefits are passed on to the various states who in turn will pass that on to the various businesses in the form of unemployment taxes. Businesses are already faced with increased health care premiums for future employees and now they face even higher unemployment taxes. I don't see it as an incentive for businesses to hire more people. Better to buy goods produced by foreign workers and distribute those goods in the United States.

Dumb thing # 4. The Federal Estate tax was raised. Essentially, you get the first $5 million free in the form of a Unified Credit. But all assets over $5 million is taxed at 35%. This is a tax on your right to pass on assets (acquire with previously taxed dollars) to your heirs.

Let me assume that a business is worth $7 million. The owner suddenly dies. The IRS declares that the business is worth $10 million using the "capitalization of earnings method". The owner is not around to argue otherwise. Further, the value is based upon what the business was worth as a "going concern" with the owner still available to guide the company through profitability. The tax needs to be paid with cash within 9 months from the date of death.

The estate must sell assets in order to pay the IRS. The tax bill is $1.75 million. To raise that cash immediately, a forced sale of $3 million in assets is made. In all likelihood, the business would need to be liquidated and perhaps $5 million in assets needs to be sold at liquidation prices to acquire the $1.75 million in cash to pay the tax. Every employee is left without a job.

Note that I did not differentiate between Democrats and Republicans. Both Parties have members who believe that they're the elites of society and want a bigger government in order to use taxpayers' money to wield power. Essentially, it is the government against the people. I fear my government.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Looking forward to the New Year


I like to look back on my year every December to see where I can make changes to be a more productive human being for the coming year. I figure that at my age, I'd better make things count because I likely only have another 10 years where I can make contributions to our society and community. And that assumes that my good health holds up. After that, my body definitely will have deteriorated and I may be more of a liability than an asset to people and organizations. Even today, some question whether I'm of sound mind and body.

I have been in semi-retirement since 1989 so my income is somewhat limited, and thus, I am very careful on what causes I contribute to. I am still lucky enough to be able to give more than twice what the current Vice-President of the United States gives to charities. For that, I am grateful. The more the government takes from me, the less I will have left to give. The children are out of the house and my dog passed away in 2009 so I don't have people or animals to take care of. Thus, I've also been able to contribute more of my time, talent and ideas to selected causes. This blog will also be a year old in a few days.
Soldier protecting his country

Making the most of my time means that I may need to make choices based upon circumstances that come with aging. Having good bowel movements would be a concern every morning, I suppose. So would not laughing so hard that one's dentures fell out. All concerns that would await me in the future, I'm sure.

I have always made it a habit to help others in ways that are inexpensive by opening up my network of friends to each other. If someone is unemployed and another friend has a business that needs someone with his skills, I go out of my way to introduce them to each other. I do these things even in my daily activities.

For instance,  I make an effort buy goods from K-Mart/Sears when I can. Sears has a policy of making up the difference in salaries for employees who are in the reserves and are activated for our war effort so I want to show my appreciation to the corporation. I buy from the local supermarket rather than Costco or military exchanges because I want to make sure the local supermarket doesn't go bankrupt and pull out of my community. Anyone can do these things. And, it makes a difference in the community that you live in.

You may be wondering where I'm going with all this besides boasting about myself.

I've consistently argued that in order for our society to become whole again, we must contribute our time, talent and resources to make things better. The more government gets involved, the more expensive it gets and the job doesn't get done.

I may not have the talent or ability to do certain things. But, I know others who do. So I refer things to them and offer my expertise for projects they may be working on in exchange. Too often, people don't refer projects or business to friends because they fear that if something bad happens, it'll reflect upon them.

Well, the only way to have things run perfectly is if one does nothing. No matter what you do, you'll make mistakes. So will your friends. Pick yourself up and make things right. Then, you will have a collection of completed projects that you can be proud of. When a friend asks for help, do what you can. The friend asked you because he trusts you. Help could simply be an introduction to someone who can help solve your friend's problem.

This blog has chronicled my observations for almost a year now. I've tried to write at least an article a week. I've had to scrap a few features on people from time to time because I've been asked by the subjects to change a few things and I refused to compromise the integrity of the blog. If I allowed others to edit my observations, then it would no longer be my observations. It would be a P.R. piece for others.

I will continue to make observations, particularly those affecting our kupunas, but the articles may be reduced to twice or once a month. This leaves more time for my volunteering activities.

My entertainment schedule is taxing, not only because I do between 150 to 200 dates a year volunteering, but because my audiences are mostly people I entertain weekly. Thus, I need to have multiple shows and songs to present because they get bored, hearing the same songs and jokes every week. I need to concentrate on developing better shows and also do more performances with other musicians/dancers/singers.

This past year, I've cut back on providing music for funerals. In the past, I've volunteered my time and talents because I've believed that my music is part of the healing process for families and loved ones of the deceaseds. I still did 3 funerals this past year, but they had to call and request my services, which I gladly did so voluntarily.

Finally, I've cut back considerably on paid jobs. I will not do piano bars and will do private parties only if the gig intrigues me. And I can cull jobs by quoting higher fees. And, to support my fellow musicians, I will continue my policy of not performing for free on commercial projects. If the gig is a fundraiser for a legitimate cause, I will donate all or most of my fee back to the cause.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010



Christmas is one of the most marketed holiday in America. Mostly because of the tradition of giving gifts which has become a boom for the retail sector of the economy. Children grow up with the expectation of receiving gifts from birth, or, as soon as they are able to understand that they are to receive things at this time of the year.

Does that mean that those who don't receive gifts are not loved or are not good children so are being punished? We all know that the truth is that their parents lack the resources to participate in the gift-giving process. Some parents, in an attempt to save their children's self-esteem, use money meant for food, clothing, medicine and shelter to buy gifts. And they end up homeless, in failing health or, in bankruptcy court.

Our kupunas have a reverse situation. They grew up in a time that when they receive something from someone, they must give back an equal or greater amount. When going to a gathering, one must not go empty-handed. What happens when the kupuna doesn't have the resources to buy gifts or food to bring to a gathering as their contribution? I would guess that most would become reclusive and shut out family members from their lives. They would stay at home alone.

Some kupunas stop buying food and medicine so they can buy gifts for family members just so they don't have to be alone on Christmas. Many won't accept free Christmas dinners provided by charities because they grew up in a time when accepting something from someone means that they are obligated to pay back. Many don't have the resources to pay back. We try to convince them that they paid taxes so are entitled to some of the free things, but many aren't buying it. They know that their taxes are used to fund other things.

If we understand why they may be shutting everyone out, perhaps we can help them to "contribute" their fair share. For instance, if there's a family gathering where everyone is to bring a dish, one might buy the ingredients and go to the kupuna's house and ask for help in preparing that special dish that only he/she can make. Then you can go to the family gathering together with the prepared dish as your joint contribution.

When exchanging gifts, give the kupuna something he/she needs and wants but can't afford. Or, give a small box of $3 chocolates and insert a $100 bill in a card accompanying the gift. If the kupuna is spending $50 on gifts for you and your family, double that in your cash gift so the kupuna doesn't have to forego necessities like medicine or food.

This is a time of the year when many people go into deep depressions because they cannot afford to give gifts or go into debt by buying on credit. A true gift is something that helps to save the other person's self-esteem rather than to feed the giver's ego. Sometimes that can mean instituting a "no gift" rule among yourselves.

Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy and safe New Year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010



This Christmas Season, I've noticed more people are giving to help others who are in dire need due to the economic conditions in Hawaii and in the country. It appears that more are also volunteering to help others less fortunate than themselves.

I'm not a religious person so I am not motivated to praise God or spend time in prayer or praise. Rather, I'm more moved to help those who are in need of food, shelter and clothing. And as I age, the promise of 72 virgins is more of a disincentive than otherwise. Mazlow's Hierchy of human needs states that basic biological needs have to be taken care of before anything else. And that's what people appear to be doing.

I am impressed with some programs like the Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, Foodbank and others servicing our communities without the need for government intervention. Many individual churches quietly feed and clothe those in need quietly, and without fanfare. That's when churches and their members are at their best.
Then, there are programs that service our elderly communities year-round. Meals-on-wheels by Lanakila come to mind. They send hot meals to our elderly every day, using volunteers as their main distribution source. Food is sent to various distribution points by volunteer drivers and are picked up by other volunteers who bring the meals to the elderly who are generally housebound. These volunteers are sometimes the only human contact these elderly people have. So the volunteers serve as eyes and ears so they can alert authorities if the elderly person needs special help and care.

Hospice volunteers also provide a much needed service in our communities. End-of-life care is a special category of services for those who expect to pass, and also provide a tremendous assistance to the families and loved ones in the process.

Our business communities also contribute towards community efforts by volunteering employees, expertise and resources to help. Offering Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to the homeless is one example of what various hotels and restaurants contribute to our communities. Many fast-food chains donate edible foods that have been kept warm for too long and not up to the standards for selling to customers. Supermarkets likewise donate edible food that cannot be sold, to various community causes.

the Institute for Human Services Inc. © 2010

Here is a registry for those who want to volunteer by helping the elderly and for those who need help.

America is unique because as free people, we are able to dig down and help one another without the need for government interference. We have much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bankrupt Euro


Previously, we have opined about Hawaii's bankrupt Employee Retirement System and the equally bankrupt Healthcare System that Hawaii's civil service retirees are covered under. These are problems that have been created 45 years ago by the political philosophies we've adopted.

Europe is where Hawaii will be in 5 years or so. You see riots in Greece, Germany, France, and all the other countries with very liberal public pensions offered to the public sector employees. There is no money to pay the promised entitlements. They are also raising the cost of higher education. So people riot.

In the U.S., California, New York and all of the very liberal union-controlled states will be facing what Europe is now experiencing. It's no secret as to why these States have re-elected the very liberal politicians who got us into this mess. States cannot print money. The Federal government can. So these states expect the rest of the fiscally responsible states to bail them out. Based upon the recent election results where the Taxed Enough Already group taking over Congress, that's not likely to happen.

So the Fed tried another tactic. Cheapen the dollar by issuing $600 billion (printing) in debt so that companies in the U.S. can sell goods abroad. Har! The dollar got stronger. The Euro practically melted down and may crash in the next few months if something isn't done to stabilize the currency. Remember, a currency only has value if people trust the government issuing that currency. And right now, they trust the Euro less than they do the American dollar.

I received some very vile and angry emails when I opined that since Hawaii won't face their pension problems in a responsible way, taxes will go up. To shelter yourself, you must choose not to be a Hawaii taxpayer. People called me selfish, traitor and many things I cannot print. I invited those people to voluntarily pay more taxes to show how much they care for the people of Hawaii. We must choose to control our individual destinies. Giving the government control over your life is foolish.

I'll give two illustrations of my point. When the government passed laws about fuel standards and required gas to have a 15% ethanol mix, prices went up. Creating ethanol uses more fuel to plant, grow, harvest and convert the corn into fuel. Further, the corn is taken out of consumption so the cost of corn as well as beef and pork goes up because it costs more to feed these animals. The ones who gain are the government employees who are added to the payroll to oversee the program.

The second thing the government does is they lie to the citizens. When they declare that all federal pay will be frozen for two years, it doesn't mean that Federal employees won't get pay raises. It is the pay scale that is frozen. Employees will still be able to move up in pay by moving up in the GS pay system.

For those who don't understand how serious this problem is, consider that if the Hawaii ERS has $6.2 billion in unfunded pension liability, then the taxpayer must not only deposit the yearly normal cost of ongoing pension funding, but somehow amortize this $6.2 billion. If an acceptable amortization schedule is 10 years, then the taxpayer must cough up $620 million each year for 10 years just to retire this shortage. Let me repeat that. $620 million additional taxes that the State of Hawaii must collect each year to retire that liability. Add the $10 billion of unfunded healthcare liability and we're talking an additional $1 billion a year to that $620 million.

This is a huge problem. And it was never debated during the past election cycle. Not to find fault, but to find solutions. It's also noteworthy that the unions in California are pressuring their elected officials to continue paying the entitlements that they're legally entitled to. Like the people of Hawaii, they want benefits but don't want to pay for them.

Our kupunas end up as the big losers. Most will not move to another state so they have to continue to pay Hawaii taxes. The government will be pressured to increase social services, financial aid and it appears that our elected officials will readily comply. Private investments will leave Hawaii and businesses will be called upon to pay more in taxes. When unemployment insurance costs go from $65 to $1,000, companies would be less inclined to hire more people. When health insurance costs go from $900 a month to $1,300 a month per employee, companies not only will curtail hiring, but may lay off employees.

Theoretically, this means there will be more people who have free time to volunteer. Hopefully it'll be in the area of assisting our kupunas. Thus far, this has not happened. Volunteering presents the volunteer with opportunities to show others his/her work ethics, discipline, talent and abilities. This could convert into fulltime employment.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Kupunas live in fear


One of the problems with aging is that the person slowly and steadily loses his/her independence. And fear sets in. Well-meaning family members and often, not-so-well-meaning ones, begin taking over the elderly person's life. Many times, this means control over their finances.

Financial abuse is very common. This is when a family member, friend, or a helper raids the elderly person's assets. Some bully them into signing over the house so that they may be able to obtain a loan for themselves. Most of the time, the elderly is aware that this is happening and fear that other family members will find out and trouble will erupt within the family. Or, the fear could be that the caregiver may decide that the elderly person can no longer handle his/her finances and thus, the kupuna will lose more control over his life.

Equally difficult for the elderly is elder abuse. Abusers could be paid caregivers, neighbors, friends or family members. Like in financial abuse, it is a crime to abuse the elderly. But, the elderly may not choose to reveal what is happening to family members for fear of losing more of their independence. So the abuser, in most cases, go free.

Many elderly don't report falls to anyone for fear of being forced into a wheelchair or walker. They sometimes experience pain and also don't report it because they don't want their family members to worry excessively. Same with dizziness, which many experience because of medications or other health issues. This often results in serious health issues getting worse because treatment is not provided.

One of the causes of family disputes is the loss of driving privileges. The elderly will not report accidents or driving citations to family members because they fear the loss of the freedom that comes with being able to drive a vehicle. It also is could be an indication that the elderly person is losing mental awareness, mobility and vision.

The caregiver needs to be aware of changes in behavior so that problems may be addressed before they become serious. When the elderly's money supply becomes limited, the elderly will cut back on food, medications and limit personal hygiene to cut back on electricity and water costs. Sometimes this change in money supply is caused by the elderly making frivolous purchases on T.V., internet, and telemarketers. If you notice new items around the house, it may be a good idea to check credit card charges and checking account balances to see if in fact, frivolous purchases are being made.

The caregiver must be gentle and sensitive to the elderly's desire to remain independent. Develop a trusting relationship with the elderly and keep communication open. Let them know that you are partnering with him/her and do what you can to enhance the person's life rather than restrict it.

Social services can offer some help. The family doctor can also assist. Watch for new bruises, track their medications and refill their prescriptions so you have a handle on things.

Eventually, the elderly person will lose all independence and rely on the caregiver for everything. In many cases, the elderly accepts their new position in the life cycle and the fear is no longer there as long as a trusting relationship exists. It is up to the caregiver to continue to honor the kupuna and remind him/her of the great contributions he/she made during his/her lifetime. We are grateful for their contributions and we ought to remind them of that as often as we can.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Government Stealing our Kupuna's wealth


Our government has the ability to steal from each citizen without the usual technique of taxing goods and services. They simply manipulate the currency. And they have been doing this for decades when they created the Federal Reserve and de-coupled the dollar from gold. If you look at your currency, it no longer says "SILVER CERTIFICATE" which means they have to pay you in silver upon demand. Instead, it says, "Federal Reserve Note" which means it's an IOU issued by the government.

Money has certain functions. First, is that it stores value. If you have a car, but have no use for it, you can sell it, thus converting it into cash which stores the value of the car you no longer own. The second function is that it is a medium of exchange. If you have watermelons and want oranges, but the person who has oranges doesn't want watermelons, then you can sell your goods (convert into money) and you can exchange your money for the desired oranges. The third function is that it serves as a measurement or unit of account or value. If you have something that's worth $10 and someone else has something that's worth $20, the monetary value can measure who has more wealth.

When the government issues more money to pay for its debt, they have increased the supply of money in the system. This means that the dollar is no longer as valuable as it was because the measuring tool has changed. Like a yardstick that is no longer 3 feet in length. That's why interest rates go down when the government floods the system with money. Money is no longer as desirable so the cost (interest rates) of the money goes down. It's not your real estate that goes up in value, it's the dollar that has been manipulated downward.

Here are the rules of investing. If you expect inflation (more money into system), you invest in real estate, commodities and oil. Because the dollar is plentiful, it is worth less than these items. Some would argue that the hard assets liked commodities, rare coins, art, etc. represent real wealth against an unstable currency that's manipulated by politicians. One can transfer $2 million in value in a rolled up painting from one country to another, which can't be done with real estate.

If you expect deflation (falling prices) then you invest your money in monetary vehicles like bonds. This allows you to loan your money to someone who has to repay you with dollars that will be worth more than the dollars you loan them, even at 0% interest rates.

If, on the other hand, you have a healthy economy with growth, then equities (stocks) would be where your money would earn the most.

The problem is that our government has manipulated our money supply and debt and that no one trusts the dollar. When that happens, the currency will collapse. The Roman Empire was faced with such a large government bureaucracy that they had to punch holes in their gold coins to be able to make and circulate more coins. Once that bubble burst, the Empire fell.

Right now, Congress is contemplating extending the Bush tax cuts. If they don't extend it for everyone, then people with unrealized gains will sell their stocks, properties, etc. to realize their gains in 2010 at a lower tax rate. This may cause the market to crash. Further, because they've extended unemployment compensation and installed a huge healthcare plan, businesses won't be hiring new employees, thus stunting economic growth. A further extension of unemployment benefits increases the unemployment taxes businesses have to pay for future employees.

Investors need to find places for their wealth. Many have stored their wealth in gold. If you believe that the Hawaii retirement system and health plans for the public employees are heading for bankruptcy, you need to anticipate rising taxes because the voters overwhelmingly voted for the very politicians who caused this problem. You need to stop becoming a Hawaii taxpayer. If you have investments in Hawaii real estate, the government will raise the excise taxes and the property taxes to try to make up for the shortfalls in the public employee retirement and healthcare system.

If you have business income from other states, incorporate your company in a state like Nevada where there are no income taxes. And develop and place as many employees there as you reasonably can. Stay away from states with a confiscatory attitude towards the private sector. You may even wish to explore stable countries like Australia where capitalism is still revered.

Where does this leave our kupunas? Most kupunas are on fixed income like Social Security and a fixed pension from their employment. With the issuance of another $600 billion of debt the other week, that fixed dollar income will be worth less. It will buy fewer goods and services. Prices of food and drugs will go up. And they will have to get by with less. They cannot go back to work to make up for the shortages.

While the politicians and the political operatives manipulate us and our economy, we, the people at the ground level have to step up our volunteering to help these kupunas live their final days with some dignity.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

OYA KO KO Malama Kupuna

Attached is a copy of a speech by Eric Saul, US Army historian given at the ceremony to honor Medal of Honor winners William K. Nakamura and James Okubo in Seattle on March 25, 2001.
 He is an Army historian from Monterey, CA and has great knowledge and insight  on the accomplishments of the Nisei soldiers and the JA (Japanese-American) community. 

 So why was it you Nisei, second generation, born in America, were willing to volunteer for the Army from the plantations of Hawaii often when you were considered second-class citizens, or from concentration camps in America?

Your parents couldn't become citizens or own land, so land was put in your name. Before the war, you wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and professionals, but you couldn't. No one would hire you.

So you worked on your family farms, flower orchards, and shops.You were often segregated in the Little Tokyos and Japantowns. You couldn't go where you wanted, be where you wanted, be whom you wanted.

Furthermore, your President, on February 19, 1942, signed an Executive Order that said you weren't Americans anymore, you were "non-aliens."

So why did you join the army?

Why did you become soldiers, and ironically become, of all things,  the most decorated army unit that this country has ever produced?

There were words like giri and on, which your parents taught you. Which means "duty," and "honor," and "responsibility."

You had to pay back your debt to your country.

Oyakoko: love for family. Your parents couldn't become citizens, but you loved your families AND you had to prove your loyalty at any cost.

You used your bodies as hostages for your families to prove your love for democracy and justice when you volunteered from those camps.

Kodomo no tame ni: "for the sake of the children." Many of you didn't have children at the time, but you knew you wanted to have families. And you knew that you didn't want your children to have to suffer as you did. You wanted your children to be able to be doctors, and lawyers, and professionals. If you went into the military, did your job, perhaps things would change. You knew it, and you fought for it.

You even came up with your own regimental motto that's on this honored regimental flag in front of me. It was "Go for Broke." You set the tone for your own regiment, and lived up to its motto. You made democracy work.

Because of your wartime record, your children can now be what they want in a country that you wanted for them.

Enryo: humility.

There's an old Japanese proverb that says if you do something really good and you don't talk about it, it must be really, really good!

You never talked about your wartime record.

You didn't tell your children, you didn't tell your wives, and you didn't even tell the country.

Gaman: internal fortitude, keep your troubles to yourself.

Don't show how you're hurting.

Shikata ga nai: sometimes things can't be helped. But other times, you have to go for broke, and you can change things.

Haji: don't bring shame on your family.
When you go off to war, fight for your country, return if you can, but die if you must.

Shinbo shite seiko suru: strength and success will grow out of adversity.

When I was curator of the Presidio Museum, I wanted to know why you joined the Army. Why did you join from a concentration camp?

A veteran from Cannon Company named Wally told me a story. His family was sent from Los Angeles to the Santa Anita racetrack, which was an Assembly Center for Japanese Americans. There, they were put in a horse stall.

Before the war, they had a flower shop, they had their own home in Los Angeles, and they were a middle-class family. Now they were living for weeks in a horse stall that hadn't been cleaned when they moved in,
and it stunk of horse manure.

Wally's father said to him, "Remember that a lot of good things grow in horse manure."

It did.

I remember hearing a story from a Chaplain Higuchi, the chaplain of the 442nd, who was from Hawaii. I asked him, "How could the Niseis have joined the Army under these circumstances? How could they have done what they did?"

Chaplain Higuchi said he himself couldn't understand, because he was from Hawaii and hadn't suffered the same discrimination. But his job as chaplain was to go through the pockets of the Niseis who had been killed in combat.

He remembered going through the pockets of one mainland Nisei. In his wallet was a news clipping that told how the family farm had been burned down by racists near Auburn, California. Yet this Nisei still volunteered for the service.

Chaplain Higuchi said that there was no medal high enough in this country to give to this Nisei who had been killed and was lying in front of him. Chaplain Higuchi had to write a letter home to his parents.

You Nisei fought for this country, your country. It has taken fifty-six years to get to this point,
but you made democracy stand for what it really means.

When you came home from the war, President Truman had a special White House ceremony for you. It was the only time that the President of the United States had a ceremony at the White House for a unit as small as a battalion.

It was raining that morning in Washington, and Truman's aide said, "Let's cancel the ceremony." Truman said to his aide, "After what those boys have been through, I can stand a little rain."

He said to the Niseis, bearing their regimental standard with the motto of "Go for Broke," "I can't tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to tell you what you have done for this country. You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice and you won. You have made the Constitution stand for what it really means: the welfare of all the people, all the time."

Lastly, he advised the Niseis to keep up that fight. So in the 1980's you fought for redress. One of the reasons that redress passed so overwhelmingly in Congress was the overwhelming record of the 100th/442nd and the MIS.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided an apology for your parents and for your suffering. So on the battlefields of France, Italy and Germany, "Go for Broke" stood for the welfare of all of the people, all of the time.

You never lost faith in your country, and we are here today to celebrate that faith. The result of that faith is that your children can be anything that they want: professionals, doctors, and lawyers. The price that you paid for democracy was the highest combat casualty rate of any regiment that served in the United States Army.

The 100th/442nd suffered 314% combat casualties. The 100th/442nd was an oversized regiment, with its own cannon and engineer company, and even its own artillery battalion.The four thousand men who started off in February of 1943 had to be replaced nearly three and one half times.

Eventually, about 14,000 men would serve in the 100th/442nd. I see many of my friends from I Company and K Company here today. In one battle alone, the battle for the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in October 1944, which you fought in, two thousand of you went in to rescue two hundred Texas soldiers who couldn't be rescued by their own division.

You went and suffered almost a thousand casualties in that one battle alone, of almost five days of constant fighting. In K Company, you started off with 186 riflemen. By the time you reached the Lost Battalion, there were only eight men standing.

Other Companies did worse. It was unbelievable! You rescued the Texas Lost Battalion, and for that you won two presidential unit citations.

The army designated the Rescue of the Lost Battalion to be among the top ten battles fought by the U.S. Army in its 230-year history. You Niseis ultimately won seven unit citations, and no other unit for its size and length of service has won that many presidential unit citations.

Chet Tanaka counted how many citations and how many medals the 100th/442nd earned. Of the fourteen thousand men who served, there were eighteen thousand medals for heroism and service. You had become the most decorated unit in American military history for its size and length of service, The US Army had three infantry divisions lined up to breach the Gothic Line, which protected the Po Valley and the entrance to Austria..

And those three divisions couldn't do it - they were stalemated for six months. The Army then asked the 442nd, the "Go for Broke" Regiment, to break the stalemate. The commander and officers of the 100th/442nd said to the commander of the 92nd Division, "General Almond, we have a plan. We can create a diversionary attack and break the Gothic Line if you give us 24 hours.

The General figuratively fell out of his chair and said, "Impossible. We've had three divisions hammering away at the Gothic Line." The Germans had their best SS Divisions on the mountains and it was considered an impenetrable fortress. He told the Niseis to "Just create a diversionary attack and we'll do the rest."

But you Nisei soldiers had your own plan. You were smart. Your average age was about twenty and your average IQ was 116, which was eight points higher than necessary to be an officer in the army. You were barely a hundred twenty-five pounds soaking wet, but you were college-educated, and you were going to "Go for Broke."

So you climbed up that mountain called Mount Fogarito,  which the Germans had so heavily fortified. You climbed it where they didn't expect you. It was nearly a 4,000-foot vertical precipice. You climbed the mountain that was unclimbable, in combat gear. The Germans couldn't possibly expect an attack from that point..

From nighttime until dawn you climbed, almost eight hours.. Men fell down as they climbed the mountain, and no man cried out as he fell. You took the mountain and you broke the Gothic Line. It didn't take 24 hours, as you thought, or a few weeks, as the Army had planned. It didn't take six months. The U.S. Army reported that you broke the Gothic Line in only thirty-four minutes!

If the story of the 100th/442nd is unbelievable, there is a more unbelievable story. It is the story of the Military Intelligence and Language Service. More than 6,000 Niseis served throughout the Pacific in a super -secret branch of the military.

Niseis provided the eyes and ears of intelligence and language skills that helped to break the stalemate in the Pacific. They broke secret codes, interrogated prisoners, provided valuable propaganda, and translated millions of documents to help win the war in the Pacific.

By the war's end, General Willoughby, General MacArthur's chief of intelligence, declared that the Nisei shortened the war by two years and saved a million Allied lives. Never had so many owed so much to so few.

I only wish that a million people could be here to hear your story and know of your service. I wish every American could know your story. We owe a great debt of honor to you Niseis for what you did for the country and for democracy. It is a debt that can never be repaid.

I am here to tell the story for your children, because I know you can't say it. It is a legacy that they must carry on and remember what you did for them and for all of us. Your legacy continues to protect us all.

I remember during the Iranian crisis that there was talk of keeping Iranian Americans possibly in protective custody.Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga said, "You can't do that. That's already been done, and you were wrong then."

So your wartime service protects all of us.You did make the Constitution stand for all of the people, all of the time.  History works. You made it work, and you made it work for me, for your children, and for this country.

President Ronald Reagan remembered, when he signed the bill enacting the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was called House Resolution 442, that blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color.

America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race. but a way, an ideal. You Niseis came home, and became professionals and could go where you wanted and do what you wanted to do. You went about your lives, but you made sure that your parents could become citizens.

By 1953, you saw your parents naturalized. Your parents had to wait, in some cases, sixty-five years to become American citizens. And that they could own land for the first time. And that others of Asian descent could own land for the first time.

Your greatest success was that your children could be what they wanted to be, without the discrimination that you suffered.  Some of you became lawmakers and entered the House and the Senate. There were more than 590 laws in California in the 19th and the early 20th century against Asians.

You fought a fight to make sure those laws were challenged and overturned one by one.

We thank the Japanese American senators, Sparky Matsunaga and Dan Inouye, veterans of the 100th/442nd, for doing that. We thank you for your providing the legacy upon which they could fight for those rights.

Justice prevailed, and your parents became citizens. We stand at a pinnacle of your history in your golden years. Redress passed and a nation apologized for a terrible injustice perpetrated against its own citizens.

A few months ago at the White House, President Clinton belatedly awarded 20 Medals of Honor to Japanese Americans. Clinton stated in his speech of the Niseis that "in the face of painful prejudice, they helped to define America at its Best."

Last night I was speaking to one of my K Company friends, Tosh Okamoto, and he said to me, "You know, the awarding of the Medals of Honor to our boys is sort of the icing on the cake. I've sort of been angry for a long time at my country and what happened to us during the internment. Getting redress and the apology, and having the country recognize my buddies, lifted a cloud from my head. I now really feel like I'm truly American, and it was all worth it."

 So this is the happy ending of the 100th/442nd/MIS story,

 and I thank you for sharing it with us. I salute you.

 God bless you.

 And tell your kids to tell the world!

EDITOR: As we celebrate Veterna's Day, I offer a special salute to our parents, who were the super veterans of the 20th Century.

Sunday, October 31, 2010



I don't have a financial practice anymore, but since I am closer to the grave than most folks, I often get calls and inquiries from people asking about reverse mortgages. This is a financial tool that can be very helpful to an elderly person under certain circumstances. Note that I am not offering financial advice or consultation but am merely offering some insight on what a reverse mortgage is.

Many mortgage brokers offer reverse mortgages without knowing the circumstances of the individual. As do many movie stars, T.V. stars and the cousins and well-meaning relatives who offer unsolicited advice.
A reverse mortgage is a method where a homeowner uses some of the equity in the home and makes no payments for the cash received from the mortgage. Let's say the house is worth $550,000 and there is a $200,000 mortgage on the property and the homeowner is 70 years old. Roughly, $144,000 is available to the homeowner after paying off the $200,000 mortgage balance.

The homeowner has about 3 options on the $144,000. He may take it as a lump sum, as a monthly payment for life for as long as he lives in the home or keep it as a line of credit in case of emergencies. No monthly payments are required, however, the amounts the homeowner receives, plus annual interest is added to the loan balance. This balance is paid after the homeowner dies or sells the home. The homeowner or heirs will never owe more than what the home is worth no matter how many payments are received or how high the interest rates go. This means that any amount owed above the market value of the home is "non-recourse" and the lender doesn't have any legal recourse to anything other than the house.

The reason this can be done is because in the example provided, they're only lending $344,000 ($144,000 plus the $200,000 mortgage to be paid off) on a house worth $550,000. As interest and fees are added each year, it'll take a while before the market value of $550,000 is reached. They also believe that the property will appreciate in value over the years.

Reverse mortgages generally have higher closing costs than regular mortgages. The loan origination fees are higher, mortgage insurance is required and the interest rates are adjustable although some lenders are offering fixed-rate interest. Currently, they use the interest rate of the 1 year T-Bill, LIBOR index or 1 year CMT. Other costs for the FHA- Insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage are Title Insurance costs, Title Attorney and Recording fees, Property Appraisal and survey costs. There is also a monthly service charge (about $30) added to the balance of the loan. If the senior depends on welfare and Medicaid, the reverse mortgage payment may be factored in when eligibility tests are made for welfare qualification.

Qualifying is generally easy since credit scores and income are not part of the equation. The senior must be 62 years old, own the home and be living in the home as a primary residence. The amounts available depends on the age, interest rates and the value of the home. Currently, the maximum value of the home is capped at $625,000 until the end of 2010. In other words, calculations on how much one can borrow is based on the lesser of the market value of the home or $625,000.

If you use a reverse mortgage to increase your standard of living, you would be wasting a tool that is intended for emergency situations, such as needing resources for medical care as you age. If you use the cash to give money to your children or grandchildren, you will not have this tool left to take care of yourself. My experience with elders is that once the younger generation gets the elderly person's assets, the elderly is left to fend for himself. Harsh, but true in 50% of the situations I've dealt with.

Many seniors are going into reverse mortgages so they can take trips to Las Vegas or around the world. Again, this is, in my opinion, not what reverse mortgages ought to be used for. Further, as is noted in the example I provided, one only gets to use a small portion of one's equity with a reverse mortgage. It may be better to move to a smaller place and get the full equity out of one's property. Because the interest is not paid, it is compounded annually so the longer the kupuna lives, the more likely that the entire home equity will be depleted.

Fortunately, the kupuna is required to attend counseling sessions by an independent HUD (Housing and Urban Development) counselor prior to receiving a reverse mortgage. Many of these counselors only know the details of the reverse mortgage so I would recommend that the kupuna also seek the advice of a financial planner who does not deal with reverse mortgages so there is no conflict of interest or ethical violation. Such a planner can determine whether the program fits the kupuna's financial situation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010



I got to know Jenn when I noticed her ads in Craigslist, seeking volunteers for Hospice Hawaii. Over the course of a few months, I got to know her via email correspondence and needless to say, I'm impressed with her commitment and professionalism. Her education and training has been in Community Agency Counseling so it is a nice fit for both Hospice Hawaii and Jenn.

Jenn has been with Hospice Hawaii for about 18 months and is involved with recruiting and managing the volunteers. Medicare requires that 5% of a hospice's direct patient care be done by volunteers so hospices depend on volunteers a lot. Yet, the recruitment, management and training of the volunteers are not covered by Medicare reimbursement so they are also highly dependent on donations from the community to cover those expenses.

Volunteers who will have any kind of patient/family interaction are required to complete 20 hours of training after passing an extensive screening process. There is an interview, criminal background check, reference checks and TB checks. Once they begin training, the training process is also used as a screening tool to determine if the potential volunteer is emotionally prepared for this type of volunteering.

Many volunteers choose not to have patient/family contact and these individuals are able to volunteer right away doing clerical or other work not involving patient or family contact. Hospice Hawaii runs  2  training cycles a year so many of those who wish to volunteer right away are able to volunteer in non-patient/family contact situations while they wait for their training period to begin.

Hospice care is a range of services that provides for the health and comfort to individuals who are nearing the end of their lives. Typically, they are individuals who are terminally ill and are expected to live for six months or less and have refused or are not good candidates for additional curative treatment.

The hospice team is made up of physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists, aides, spiritual providers and volunteers. They work together to make the patient and family as physically and emotionally comfortable as possible. Acceptance of the ending of one's life is also a very important part of the program. Many patients, as do family members experience fear, anger, depression and other very intense emotions.

Volunteer trainees at Hospice Hawaii are trained by their Chaplain, who focuses on the significance of death and the intention and motivation of each volunteer who want to serve. He firmly encourages them to reflect on their own losses in life. The trainees are also exposed to the other members of the staff who each give insights from their own specialty's perspective. They are also exposed to a panel of caregivers so the trainees can obtain firsthand experiences of caring for a loved one facing death. Veteran volunteers also give the trainees insight on their volunteer experience.

After the 20 hour course, all trainees are required to complete 3 two-hour visits to one of Hospice Hawaii's in-patient units so that they gain experience in a supportive environment where staff members are on hand to supervise and mentor them. Following these visits, trainees are paired with veteran volunteers whom they shadow for a visit to a patient's home.

After these steps are completed, the volunteer is assigned his/her own patient. Jenn monitors the volunteers to make sure they maintain healthy boundaries of helping too much or not being able to let go after a death of a patient. Jenn herself volunteers with patients on her own time and that keeps her involved with the issues her volunteers may face from time to time. When Jenn herself needs help and support, the Chaplain is able to supervise and mentor her.

Jenn finds that working with her own patients also feeds her spiritually in ways nothing else does. She is also inspired by her co-workers because they share a common goal.... patients come first.

Many who are unemployed during this downturn in the economy turn to volunteering. Volunteering at Hospice Hawaii keeps one's mind active and also helps in networking for other opportunities. And that makes sense. Many business people are involved with nonprofits and often refer volunteers they meet to their network of business owners when good employment opportunities open up. The life's skills one learns through the volunteering experience are valuable to a prospective employer when he has a key position to fill.

To Jenn and her volunteers, I tip my hat.

Sunday, October 17, 2010



Employees who are covered under the State and County Employee Retirement System may be facing a serious situation where all possible options end up with negative consequences for everyone. Let me first state the first phase of the problem. Yes, it comes in two phases.

Employees who work for the State or Counties are covered under a defined benefit pension plan. This means that the retiree will receive or is receiving a certain benefit at normal retirement age based upon his years of service, highest 3 years of pay of the final 5 years multiplied by a certain percentage. The formula was changed for new hires a few years ago so we won't work with specific percentages.

As of a few months ago, the pension fund was underfunded by about $6.2 billion to as much as $7 billion dollars. Yes, that's billions. There is no way that the fund can make up that shortage to meet emerging liabilities of payments to retirees. Here's why.

When the actuaries set up the assumptions of a plan, they assume a certain rate of return (8% for ERS), a certain rate of turnover, a certain rate of deaths and disabilities. This brings them the annual cost of the plan to fund it to meet retirement payments. Most plans use funding assumptions that are conservative in nature and make funding corrections over a period of perhaps 10 years. Some may even use a second set of funding techniques, such as amortization schedules and use the most conservative funding schedule.

In the case of the ERS, it appears that in years that the plan had investment gains, the year's deposits were adjusted downward to lower the pension cost to equal the gains in the investments. This is well and good, but in defined benefit plans, shortages must also be made up immediately. That means, when the economy is good, the governments are flush with gains and cash and the politicians spend whatever excesses show up in the budget.

Just in case some of you went to private school, let me explain it simply. If you have a pension plan with one employee who is due to retire in 10 years, the "normal cost" (excluding interest, mortality, etc) each year is $10 to fund a $100 liability in 10 years. Suppose you're 5 years down the line and you experience an investment loss of 40%. So instead of having $50 in the fund, which is the reserves required, you only have $30. If you keep putting in the normal $10 each year rather than $14 to catch up, you will only have $80 to fund a $100 liability. Calculations become dynamic when you add in interest because for every year you're underfunded, you get further away from the possibility of making up the shortage. Now, plug in assumptions where you have to fund for potential 80,000 current and future retirees, some of whom are scheduled to retire in 1 year.

When the economy is bad, the sword is equally sharp and the governments must put in more to make up for the shortage at a time when tax revenues are down because business activity is down. So the shortage cannot be made up unless they increase tax rates on the private sector. When that happens, private investors will take their money and capital elsewhere, thereby increasing the shortage in tax collections.

In 1964, Hawaii changed the temporary 1% excise tax to a permanent 4% tax. Soon thereafter, the Big 5 companies left Hawaii, followed by Dillingham. No one in their right mind would domicile themselves in Hawaii and subject their world wide income to such a hideous tax. When they forced Bishop Estate to sell their land, Bishop took their investment capital that was now converted to cash out of Hawaii. At least with the land, they were stuck in Hawaii. We liberated their capital and it took Hawaii 10 years to recover from the recession caused by the first Gulf war.

States cannot print money. Aside from tax revenues, they can borrow by floating bonds. But no one would buy such bonds if the State faces such a liability in their pension plan. They could unload the pension obligation onto the Federal government under the Pension Benefit Guaranty program. Or, the employees could agree to take a fraction of the benefits promised.

We'll have to see how it plays out.

The retirees are also given free medical coverage by the State and Counties. Newly hired employees are not eligible for this program. Most retirees pay for their own Medicare premium and buy their own supplemental plans like Medicare Advantage. Not so with State and County retirees. They are reimbursed for their Medicare premiums and have free coverage for the supplemental benefits to where there is no co-pay, deductible or "donut" holes under Medicare Plan C.

Here's the bad news. Under the new Healthcare law that was just passed, it's difficult to determine how much the State and Counties are underfunded in their healthcare plan but a good guess would be between $7 billion to $10 billion.

What do they do? The employee/retiree under the ERS wears two hats. One as a taxpayer and another as beneficiary who was promised a benefit in retirement. If you believe that the State will tax the private sector, then you must stop being a taxpayer and divest yourself of all investment holdings in Hawaii. If you don't, you'll be asked to shoulder the taxes required to make the ERS whole.

If you're retired, you could consider moving to a state that is fiscally conservative and not subject your pension to Hawaii taxation. New York and California are in worse financial condition than Hawaii and they will tax residents to get out of the hole, thus further increasing the already high cost of living in those states. More likely, they will declare bankruptcy to offload their public employee pension liabilities. Then, we may see anarchy. Note France and Greece. Those public sector employees/retirees won't give up their entitlements.

There are solutions but I won't go into them. Politicians who attempt to solve the problem will be thrown out of office by the public sector unions.

We cannot control our politicians. We can only control how we react to the situation they've placed us in.They love money (power) and use people. We must, as a community, begin to love people and use money or resources to take care of each other without government interference.

Meanwhile, our kupunas will once again be thrown under the bus because they have already outlived their productive life. It is imperative that we step up our volunteering to help them.

I have not offered financial or investment advice. I merely point out potential solutions each individual could consider. Please see your financial and tax advisor before taking any action. Chew your food well before swallowing. Look both ways before crossing the street and, of course, when swimming, don't breathe while your head is under water.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Phase 2

Healthcare, phase 2

The healthcare law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, or PPAC has different phases which affects private coverages at different stages. The politicians passed the law without reading or understanding the 2500+ pages. 70% of the American public opposed the law but our leaders passed it anyway. To keep the anticipated costs below $1 trillion, they promised to cut $500 billion from Medicare. The $1 trillion is what they guessed would be politically acceptable to Americans.

Here are some provisions of the law:

1. Ban on annual and lifetime caps on claims.

2. Ban on underwriting (everyone who applies must be covered regardless of health)

3. Mandatory provision to allow children to remain on parents' policies.

4. Ban on cancellation of coverage due to sickness or accident.

5. Creation of an information exchange for comparison of different policies.

All of the above provisions will result in increased premiums for everyone. Of particular interest is the estimated 32 million uninsured people who will be given free (paid for by the government) insurance. This alone will tax the healthcare industry because we currently don't have enough doctors to service both  new and existing patients. When demand goes up for services and the supply remains the same, prices will rise.

As of September 23, there is "free" preventive care requirement for newly installed plans. Many plans will become "new" plans because they have to change substantially in order to meet other mandatory requirements. All plans must remove their lifetime and annual limits beginning with anniversary renewals starting on September 23. If you pay for your insurance yourself, you will see a big increase in premiums on your plan's anniversary date. If your employer pays for your premium, then many things could happen, including passing on the increase to you, terminating your health insurance plan or terminating your employment.

The $500 billion in Medicare cuts will hurt our kupunas because no doctor would provide services without adequate payment. We have already seen them beginning to turn away Medicare patients because the reimbursements are already too low. With fewer healthcare professionals servicing 32 million more people, the aged, who need more services, will be denied medical attention. There has also been a huge increase in Medicaid (welfare) recipients because of the high unemployment rate and that puts a strain on the providers.

Now, there are some tax credits that will come into play in 2014 to help the lower income people pay for medical insurance. This goes back to the redistribution of wealth that's so popular among politicians. This should scare you unless, of course, you went to a private school.

To pay for this new law, the politician is sticking his hand into your pocket. When you say "NO", they demonize you as being selfish and not having alternative solutions to the problem. The problem is actually created by our very government.  Just the increase in the government bureaucrats required to police and regulate this new law will increase the cost of healthcare.

Let me explain it another way. If a man imposes himself on a woman in spite of the woman saying "NO!", can he then justify himself afterwards by claiming that " 'No' is not a solution"? What solution is he looking for? Better yet, what's the problem other than his desire to violate the woman?

Just so that our politicians understand what "no" means, let me be clear. "MY MONEY IS MINE AND DOESN'T BELONG TO THE GOVERNMENT! TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF OF MY MONEY!" There! I feel better. I not only don't trust my government, I fear them. They're bullies.

Yeah, I know. Our elected officials are going to do whatever they want regardless of how I feel, but what we can do is come together as a community and help each other by stepping up our volunteering. The life you save may be that of your neighbor's.

Our elderly were promised certain benefits when Medicare was passed in 1965. Yes, the politicians made the promises in exchange for votes. The reality is that  the politician will not be around when the government breaks that promise when the costs get too high. For Medicare, that time is now.

Meanwhile, the elderly has already passed their productive lifespan and has no way of being able to produce an income to replace the promises that our government will not fulfill. We cannot change our politicians. But, we can all help if we get into the spirit of volunteering and help those who can no longer help themselves.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


MARY T. ROGERS... Hospice Volunteer

I met Mary as she was getting off her shift as a volunteer at St. Francis West Hospice. She looked Filipino so I played Da Hil Saiyo and followed with Ikaw, 2 very popular Filipino numbers. That got her attention and she decided to stop for a minute. She even bragged that most medical workers today are Filipino so I would be popular with the staff if I played more Filipino music.

I like being popular so I played Maala Ala Mokaya to see if staff members would come out and swoon over me. No such luck. So I took a short break to chat with Mary.

Mary has been volunteering with St. Francis for almost 35 years. She assists patients with whatever they need to have done for them as well as feed them at mealtime. A big part of her job is to keep them company as they face their final days on earth. She makes sure that they are treated with dignity at all times.

Mary grew up in the Kalihi-Palama area as I did. She's currently a Makakilo resident and also plays the ukulele in her spare time.

Mary had always wanted to volunteer and asked around but no one knew how or what she needed to do to get started. Then, in the late 70s, she talked to a priest at a church function who referred her to St. Francis Hospital who had a hospice program that needed volunteers. She jumped at the opportunity. After going through 6 weeks of training, she has been volunteering ever since. St. Francis has since sold their hospital operation and now operate two hospice physical plants, but most of their work is with home services for end-of-life care for patients and families.

Veteran volunteers like Mary know how important a patient's dignity is. The following is something an old man wrote as he awaited death in a hospital. It was found by the nurses among his belongings after his passing and has been circulated on the internet among healthcare providers since.

Crabby Old Man
What do you see nurses? . . .. .. . What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . . . when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man . . .. . . not very wise,
Uncertain of habit . . . . . with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . . . . . 'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . .. . . . the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . A sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . . . lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . . . The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking? . . . . . Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . . . . . you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am. . . . .. . As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, . . . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . . . . . with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . . who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen . . . . with wings on his feet.
Dreaming that soon now . .. . . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . . . my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . . . . . that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now . . . . . I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . . . .. . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . . . With ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons . . .. . . have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me . . . . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . .. . . My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . . . my wife is now dead.
I look at the future . . . . . shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing . . . . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . . . and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man . ... . . . and nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles . . . . . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . . where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . . . a young guy still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . . . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . life over again.

I think of the years, all too few . . . .. . gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people . . . . . open and see.
Not a crabby old man .. . . Look closer . . . see ME!!

People like Mary don't realize how she has made our community a better one through her volunteer work, but the patients and families she has worked with surely know how she has helped them with her end-of life care.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Suzy Housecoat... IN HER OWN WORDS

My first volunteer job was with the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program. It is a program that has breast cancer survivors visit with newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. It used to be a much bigger program, but through time, hospitals have been getting better at dealing with this sort of thing and now most of them have their own support groups and the like.

Suzy.... beauty, brains and a big heart

Over the past couple of years I've had very few calls. The ACS does a recertification workshop for us every year and that's always nice because we get together and talk about breast cancer issues, but as a volunteer opportunity, it's been pretty disappointing.

Next, I got involved in volunteering at a local hospital in May of 2009. I worked in their Heart and Vascular building with 4-5 others. We discharge patients, take specimens to the lab and run any other errands that are needed. Every once in a while, it can get very busy or even a bit dramatic, helping people get to the ER or even having emotional conversations with people leaving the hospital who have just gotten very bad news about tests that are done.

I really like the people I worked with who range in age from 50-87. The 87 year old is an amazing man - still very active and clear as a bell - great sense of humor too. The hospital auxiliary is instrumental in raising money for the hospital and has made huge contributions. This is the biggest hospital in the northern part of my state. They really depend so much on their volunteers.

And finally, in May 2010, I began to volunteer for a hospice program in the next state. There were a series of training workshops first, which I found very interesting and helpful. I was assigned to an elderly woman who is in an assisted care facility. Actually, she is receiving total care, at this point. She has 2 daughters in their 50s - one lives up north and tries to come and visit when she can, but she works full time and it is difficult. The other daughter has MS and is in a wheelchair. My patient lived with the daughter who has MS.

The daughter runs a business from her home and her mother helped her with the business and prepared meals, etc. The mother had been absolutely fine until having a sudden massive heart attack in April. She was hospitalized, in a coma, on a respirator and they thought she wouldn't make it, but she did and came off the respirator. She's not the same as she was, is bedridden and has short term memory problems. But she knows what's going on and is very depressed and worried about her daughter and her own health problems.

She has progressive gangrene of her feet due to circulatory difficulties, little appetite and is fading away. She is so sad and cries every time I visit. I see her every week and call her daughter after my visit. I act as another set of eyes for her daughters when they can't be there. My job is to visit the nursing home and be a support for her daughter as best I can. I try to get there at lunch time so I can help out with feeding her. It is a very intense and emotional situation. There are financial and insurance issues and all kinds of things they are dealing with. I feel bad for all of them.

Between the two volunteer jobs, the fact that two of my kids are living at home, caring for my parents, and taking occasional art classes, I am very busy! I can't say it wouldn't be nice to be working and earning a paycheck...but there are definite rewards to volunteering and I am very glad to be able to be of some use to the community.

So much suffering out there - so many people are dealing with awful things and going through it all alone...If there's any possibility that I can make a difference, I am glad to at least try. Not sure if all this would make a good blogging story. I am not a hero - just an ordinary person who feels good being useful. People are so appreciative of any little thing...

Editor's note:

I've known Suzy Housecoat for more than 10 years but we've only met through the words we've exchanged over the years via the internet. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and what she's gone through in life. When she tells me that I'm wrong on something, I listen, because I respect her wisdom.

She is an amateur photographer and recently began  taking painting and drawing classes, which take up much of her time. She and her husband also travel the world frequently.

Suzy is a breast cancer survivor. She has had a number of careers. Wife, mother, and registered nurse. A few years ago, she went back to school to become certified as a science teacher and taught for a few years. And now she volunteers. When I asked her if I could feature her, she was reluctant, mostly because she doesn't think she is a hero, but is just doing practical things to make a difference in this world. She inspires me. I made some changes to her story to make sure the privacy of the patients she assists are protected.

Suzy Housecoat isn't her real name. She is in the Federal Volunteer Protection Program.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


YOSHIMI OTAKE.... Combining artistry and healing

I had the opportunity to observe Yoshimi at a therapy session the other day and needless to say, she is very impressive. Yoshimi is a certified therapist with Sounding Joy Therapists, Inc., one of the four therapists there. She has been with them for 2 - 1/2 years.

A native of Japan, she had gone to Minnesota in 1999 to study music therapy. To be a certified therapist, one needs to have at least a BA in music therapy and 1200 hours of internship. Yoshimi has a BA degree in psychology and a MA in music therapy.

She has practiced music therapy in New York as well as in Japan before obtaining the position in Hawaii with Sounding Joy. Yoshimi began playing the piano when she was 2 years old so music has always been a big part of her life. She now also plays the guitar and the flute.

When I observed her, I could tell that she was accomplished on the piano, even though she was working with a 61 key synthesizer and played mostly simple children's and folk songs. Those are the types of songs that the patients in the nursing facility have connections with and they provide a good foundation for therapy because the songs puts them in their comfort zone. She was very smooth in her chord changes and deftly inserted passing chords in appropriate places to subtly give the songs more depth. I mention this to illustrate how she plays "music" rather than just playing "notes" as many do.

Many entertainers play songs that they want to play, rather than playing songs that the patients want to hear. Or, in my case, I have to play the few songs that I can play. Over and over and over, if necessary. The children's songs bring back memories of a happy time in patients' lives and that encourages them to participate in the music rather than doze off. This enables Yoshimi to work with them on a physical level, emotional level and on a mental level because the music reaches them at all those levels.

Sounding Joy was established in September 2002. In 1994, Medicare began reimbursing for music therapy services. To qualify for reimbursement, the therapy must be prescribed by a doctor, be reasonable and necessary and the patient needs to show improvement in his/her condition as a result of the therapy. Medicaid also provides reimbursements as do various private insurers.

Please visit Sounding Joy's webpage a browse the services that they offer.

Yoshimi has always had music as a part of her life and found that whenever she encountered difficulties in her life, playing music somehow comforted her and brought her peace. That motivated her to want to learn more about music and its healing powers.

And the patients she services are glad that she decided to become a music therapist. Their eyes light up  every week when they see her.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Just when I begin losing confidence in our young 'uns, I run into someone truly inspiring. Corynn is a Pearl City native who is learning to use her musical skills to help other people.

Corynn plays the piano, cello and sings. When she entered Indiana University in 1996, her course of study was in vocal performance. Needless to say, I would be embarrassed to sing or play the piano in her presence. She would likely giggle. Or maybe just plain laugh out loud. I would do the same, quite frankly, given similar circumstances.

I observed Corynn at the Hiolani Center which is a part of Kahala Nui  the other day. She was assisting Yoshimi, a musical therapist with Sounding Joy Therapy, Inc. What they do is, through a universal language like music, get the elderly to interact by banging on tambourines, bells and other percussion instruments. It engages the patient's physical, emotional and mental processes. I was very impressed.

I watched as they held the instruments out and made the patient reach out a little further each time for physical exercise. It also engaged the patient mentally because they have to recognize that they have to hit the instrument. At the same time, the patients emotionally embrace the music and their fellow patients by interacting with each other through the music.

Corynn has been a flight attendant for about 10 years. She is currently with Hawaiian Airlines, but was with Aloha when they closed their doors. That's when she decided to think about returning to school to secure a better future for herself. But she wasn't sure as to what she wanted to do for a career. It dawned on her that she enjoyed helping others as she had volunteered at her son's school for various projects. She also realized that she maintained her passion for music.

So, she took action and enrolled at Honolulu Community College in their Human Services program. Part of the requirements for obtaining her degree was to have 6 credit hours of practicum experience. She feels very fortunate to be able to volunteer at Sounding Joy Therapy because it offers her the ability to have hands-on experience with helping people, utilizing her musical skills and fulfilling her practicum requirements. While her participation is minimal at this time, she is able to do hands-on work with the patients and provide encouragement during the sessions.

Sounding Joy has a Gala to be presented  on September 12. An organization such as this needs to rely on fundraisers to continue to operate. Also, please browse through the webpage to see the work they do in using music as therapy.

Corynn's progress at school is at a slower pace because she works fulltime and can only takes classes that fit in with her flight schedule. She is in her third semester in her practicum work with Sounding Joy. Last semester, she was able to assist Sounding Joy therapists at Campbell High School and worked with students with mental or physical disabilities.

Meeting Corynn gave me some hope as a geezer that there are talented and caring young people going into the field of caring for those who cannot take care of themselves. An amazing person who will do well in her chosen career.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

End of Life Care


When a person's health is in a position where they aren't expected to live for more than 6 months, then end-of-life care comes into play. We all think of hospice care as a facility like a hospital, clinic or a home. It is, in fact, a service rather than a facility. In 90% of the cases, hospice care is provided in the individual's own home.

Under hospice care, a team of people are involved, including the doctor, nurse(s), therapists, volunteers social workers and nurses aids. When deciding on hospice care, the patient and the family has made a decision to refuse additional treatment to cure the ailment. The focus of the team is to make the patient comfortable and relieve any pain he/she may be experiencing.

A big part of the hospice service is the counseling either through faith-based by pastors or via psychologists to prepare the patient and the family members for the expected passing of the individual. And the approach differs based upon a person's cultural and religious beliefs. The Christian, who believes in redemption may seek the following (as expressed by a speaker from Hospice Hawaii): 1. I forgive you. 2. Will you forgive me? 3. Thank you. 4. I love you. 5. Goodbye. That completes the acceptance process of death for that belief system.

A person of another belief system may look at impending death as if one would be looking in a mirror, which reflects how one lived. I would guess that making a list of what the dying person contributed to society and his fellow man would help him/her accept that his/her life was good. Either way, the grief counseling helps them to complete their unfinished work in their relationships.

Someone much wiser than me once said that those facing death usually don't have regrets for what they did in life, but what they did not do. Those who have regrets generally fear death.

By far, most people who utilize hospice care have cancer, followed by end stage heart diseases, end stage liver disease, dementia, lung disease and end stage kidney disease. In many cases, the family members and loved ones are impacted to a greater degree than the one facing death. And certainly, many suffer severe disabling depressions after the death. I know of a number of people, mostly women, who suffered from PTSD as well as schizophrenia. Some can't even leave the house to go to the grocery store unless heavily medicated.

Family members or informal caregivers provide a number of functions to help. They provide companionship, assist in running errands, help in organizing medications, communicating with doctors and nurses, preparing meals, provide transportation and helping to manage the finances. Hospices are always looking for volunteers to help with these functions.

Hospice organizations are always in need of people to work in the office organizing, filing, inputting information on the computers and freeing the paid staff to do other work. Two people, Gail and Phil have been volunteering at St. Francis West for as far back as I can remember. The staff truly appreciate their services.
Phil and Gail in the lobby of St. Francis West

Two organizations in Hawaii that do a good job are St. Francis hospice and Hospice Hawaii.

Even though one of the hospice organizations listed above is a Catholic organizations, the services and spiritual counseling offered are diverse. Both my parents passed away at St. Francis Hospice's facilities and they were both members of the Buddhist faith. So there are no pre-packaged hospice services because everyone comes from a different cultural, economic and religious backgrounds.