Thursday, September 30, 2010

Honolulu from a Big Island Perspective

We just returned from a trip to Honolulu to help our son move into an apartment.  Our last trip was 8 months ago, in January 2010, and the changes in Waikiki were dramatic.  In January, the streets of Waikiki were empty and the parks were packed with homeless.  Now the streets of Waikiki are so packed we could barely get through the crowds and the homeless have been moved out.  All along sidewalks in front of the beach front hotels on Kalakaua Avenue, mimes, bands, fortune tellers, street dancers, and even the Hare Krishna cult members assaulted us and other tourists trying to maneuver along the sidewalk.

Walking around the Waikiki beach-front hotels in the morning, we were asked for money three times in less than five minutes from people dressed in upscale Aloha-wear. This was a surprising change from the sparkling clean and hassle-free Waikiki sidewalks of the past. Over half of the tourists seemed to be from Japan and the stores and restaurants are making sure to cater to them with Japanese signs and menus.

Ala Moana Mall has transformed into a super upscale designer mall, taking over for the stores that use to line Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. Security at the mall protected us from the onslaught of street performers and beggars but not the huge crowds and tight parking. One section of the mall was like a micro-Tokyo with a Japanese bakery, Japanese home products, food and even an impressive selection of silk kimonos.

Traffic was bumper to bumper on the streets and freeways. The surprise was the road rage of frustrated drivers shaking their fists and cursing at our unpracticed lane changes. It felt more like Los Angeles than the Aloha State. We don’t get experience doing freeway driving on the Big Island so it is easy to get out of practice. Everything is close in Oahu, as the whole island is about the size of Puna, but the number of cars, one way streets, and complex traffic rules that change depending upon the time of day, makes everything seem far away.

Helping to stock up a new apartment gave us the opportunity to do a lot of comparison shopping as well as experience the traffic and parking challenges of Oahu. We often hear about how much more Oahu has to offer in shopping as compared to the Big Island. We went to the new Target store, hidden next to Pearl Harbor Naval Reservation, K-Mart, Wal-mart, Costco, Pearlridge Shopping Center, Ala Moana Mall, Best Buy, Borders, and numerous grocery stores. We found clothing to be much cheaper and with more size and style selection. Some electronics were cheaper, but the offerings in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Costco matched the prices we pay and food was the same or more than what we pay on the Big Island. We are attached to the Big Island beef at KTA and their other local and organic offerings. The most similar store to KTA on Oahu was the Times Market, but Big Island beef was nowhere to be found except in expensive restaurants.

In spite of the inconvenience of maneuvering through Honolulu’s traffic and crowds, we are happy to see that their economy is in good shape, tourists abound, and businesses are holding their own. We did not see empty store fronts and deserted malls like we have on the Big Island. Hopefully, business will continue to improve in Oahu, the homeless will find jobs, and the frustrated residents in Honolulu will rediscover the laid back Hawaiian lifestyle.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Currency manipulation destroys Capitalism

During the last century, the question about which economic system would survive was answered when the Soviet Union collapsed and China adopted capitalistic methods. China transformed itself into the second largest economy and attracted trillions of dollars from investors around the world. Meanwhile, the economies in the western world have imploded and their labor market is rapidly disappearing.

As effective as capitalism is, it requires free market economics to function. Currency manipulation, like China’s fixed exchange rate, destroys the free market system. Any country that agrees to trade with another country that uses a fixed rate currency cancels out the benefits of a free market in their own economy. A fixed currency controls the price by guaranteeing a lower cost of goods and labor as opposed to a free market economy where price is driven by quality, productivity, and demand.

The loss of the free market economy in the US has become so pervasive that Americans no longer even think of the country’s economic problems in terms of free markets or global competiveness but in terms of how government give-aways can be increased and extended.

American consumers have been happy to ignore China’s currency manipulation because it resulted in ever cheaper manufactured goods. American companies have been happy to ignore the currency manipulation because it guaranteed them an easy increase in profit by moving production overseas and lowing labor costs and taxes. Investors have been happy to ignore currency manipulation because it made it easy to “invest” their money in Chinese companies since it pays higher returns and is less risky than in a free market system. The big losers in the scheme have been the American workers and small business owners as the free market economy that rewarded them for being smart and working hard is all but gone and they alone are left to tax in order for the US government to fund their give-aways.

Allowing China to fix their currency to a value less than the US dollar, rather than floating it based on actual market value, has effectively ended capitalism in the US. Not only does a fixed currency make it impossible for US made products to compete, it makes it impossible for the US economy to compete for capital investments.  US produced goods will always be more expensive against an artificially, lower currency rate and capital investors will be drawn to an economy where the fixed currency rates assures them of a higher rate of return.

Capitalism is based on free markets. Without a free market there is no capitalism.

If we want to return to a capitalistic economy and restore jobs and the high standard of living that capitalism brought the US, all of our trading partners must allow their currencies to be traded freely in the global currency markets. If we allow the world's second largest economy to continue to operate with a fixed currency rate, we do so at our own peril, as the current situation in the US and Europe demonstrates.

Politicians in Washington have considered global currency manipulation a minor issue that is not worth their time. We can only hope that the unemployed and unhappy country of voters will “educate” our current politicians to the importance of the free market system for a healthy, capitalistic economy in the US.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Top Free Health and Fitness iTunes Apps

Health and Fitness Apps (short for Application) are interactive interfaces that connect to databases of information and perform calculations to support your health and fitness goals. Even if you don’t have a mobile Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod device, you can get access to the same capabilities through the internet sites. Below are the top five ranked, free Apps in the US for Health and Fitness and their web sites.

Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal
This App supports making weight loss goals by providing an entry system for exercise and calories.  A database of over 450,000 foods and 350 exercises can be used to track what you are eating and what you are burning.  You can monitor your progress and post your results to Twitter and Facebook if you want.  And, on the internet site you can hook up with a community of over million dieters.

Lose It!
Use this App to set goals and create a calorie budget and then track actual food and exercise to stay in your budget. It has a large database of foods and exercises and allows you to create your own recipes for complex foods.  You can monitor your progress and  export the data to an excel spreadsheet, obtain email reports and reminders, and post results on Facebook and Twitter. Setting up an account on will let you backup your data and meet friends for support.

BabyCenter® My Pregnancy Today
This pregnancy App allows you to enter your baby’s due date to become your daily pregnancy guide. It provides fetal development images, pregnancy check lists, videos, and support through birth clubs that connect you with women due at the same time. It has a due date calculator, nutritional guide, and counts down to big day.

WebMD Mobile
This App is provides easy access to a database of medical information including conditions, drugs and treatments, first aid information and local health listings. You can check your physical symptoms to learn about potential conditions or issues and find information about the causes and treatments for your known conditions. A pill identification tool helps you identify a pill based on its color, shape and imprint.

Weight Watchers Mobile
This free WeightWatchers app allows you to see a featured recipe daily and save 10 favorites.  You can create a shopping list from recipes and read success stories, tips and articles, Weight watchers meeting times and locations are also available. The full power of the app and website, are available to Weight Watchers eTools. subscribers.