Monthly Archives: February 2017

Trump’s travel ban could trip up the state

A marked decrease in international travelers to the U.S. following Trump’s initial ban on travel from seven countries, already seen in data from different parts of the travel industry, could end up taking a bite out of Hawaii’s visitor industry.

The problem seems to be that the U.S. is suddenly perceived as an unstable and unwelcoming place for international visitors as a result of the ban and the resulting global publicity.

The New York Times reported last week that travel bookings to U.S. destinations dropped after Trump’s ban was announced. Online searches indicating potential interest in future travel dropped as much as 47%, according to the Time’s review of data from a number of travel sites. See NY Times, “After Travel Ban, Interest in Trips to U.S. Declines,” February 20, 2017.

The short-term weaker demand for travel to the United States aside, the bigger concern for travel analysts is the ban’s potential to damage the country’s lucrative tourism industry in the coming years. Statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, part of the United States Department of Commerce, show that tourism-related spending in the United States was $1.56 trillion in 2015; tourism created 7.6 million jobs in the United States that same year.

According to Adam Sacks, the president of Tourism Economics, part of the economic research firm Oxford Economics, President Trump’s executive order is part of a broader policy platform and “America first” rhetoric that is creating international antipathy toward the United States and already affecting traveler behavior.

Earlier this month, his group conducted a study of travel to Los Angeles County and found that the county could suffer a potential three-year loss of 800,000 international visitors as a direct result of the ban, the equivalent of $736 million in tourism spending.

“It doesn’t take a lot of uncertainty or adverse sentiment to affect travel decisions,” Mr. Sacks said.

In a tweet on Sunday, economist and columnist Paul Krugman observed: “Tourism and education are surprisingly big U.S. exports, almost surely creating more jobs than, say, coal.” His tweet included a chart showing income from travel.

A friend emailed me wondering what the situation is at Honolulu International Airport? Is the “welcome” less welcoming than it used to be?

These are important issues for Hawaii’s overall economy, and any negative results are going to quickly trickle down to the rest of us.

Hints about the future of rural America?

I thought these observations gleaned from recent news stories, were worth sharing. They arrived in emails from someone who comments as “Compare Decide”.

The good news is that JC Penney has made its first profit since 2010.

The bad news is that they have decided to close up to 140 stores.

The worse news is that this will probably trigger the closing of many struggling shopping malls.

Most of these articles on this subject frame it in terms of the rise of online shopping, or the executive mistakes of the past.

But it has been little noted that these store closings are in rural areas.

The story of the century is the decline, obsolescence and doom of small towns and outside suburbs, and so few seem to see this pattern.

But back in September of 2016, an optimistic JC Penney was planning on replacing Sears and Macy’s.

Some of J.C. Penney’s most profitable locations turned out to be small stores in rural areas where the retailer pays almost no rent; two California stores opening this year will be completely funded by the landlord.

A less happy story from yesterday.

Penney on Friday eked out its first annual profit since 2010, but executives said they were closing weaker stores so they could focus their investments on revamping those in stronger markets. Penney said it would identify the locations that are set to close next month, though executives said many were smaller stores in rural locations.

Geography is critical.

Optimism is still evident in some parts of the retail industry.

But another mall giant, Gap Inc., posted higher comparable quarterly sales for the first time in two years. “If you read the headlines today, you’ll see the words dead, dying, sick. We are none of those,” CEO Art Peck told investors late Thursday. “We are healthy and strong and have a plan and clear direction.”

Um, that’s what JC Penney was saying last year….

Journalist jobs among the most vulnerable?

A brief column by Shelley Palmer has some troubling news (“The 5 Jobs Robots Will Take First“).

I expected the first to go would be things like warehouse worker, truck driver, etc.

Instead, at the top of Palmer’s list are middle management jobs, sales jobs, and–are you ready–“report writers, journalists, authors & announcers.”

Writing is tough. But not report writing. Machines can be taught to read data, pattern match images or video, or analyze almost any kind of research materials and create a very readable (or announceable) writing. Text-to-speech systems are evolving so quickly and sound so realistic, I expect both play-by-play and color commentators to be put out of work relatively soon – to say nothing about the numbered days of sports or financial writers. You know that great American novel you’ve been planning to write? Start now, before the machines take a creative writing class.

I know that a lot of financial reports are written by computers. Basic stories about upcoming public meetings or events can probably be done the same way.

And its certainly true that stories drawn from industry press releases can easily be automated. Or, as is already the case, simply reprinted without rewrites.

Complex news reporting will be more difficult to automate, at least I would hope so.

The state of the news industry is tenuous enough without worrying about the economics of news robots.

Column examines issues of proposed new jail and prison

The state and the legislature are approaching decisions on the future of our prison system on two separate tracks.

Just how this process is unfolding was the subject of my Civil Beat column this week (“Ian Lind: Count On Hawaii To Ignore Logical Prison Report/In the rush to build a new prison, the Legislature is likely to shunt aside the work of a task force it created just last year“).

On the one hand, the legislature last year approved over $5 million for planning of a replacement for the aging Oahu Community Correctional Center, the state’s largest jail. And a new bill moving ahead this year calls for setting aside that plan, and instead beginning planning on a new and much larger prison. The current prison at Halawa would then be used as the new jail. That new plan got the quick endorsement of the head of the state’s prison system, despite the obvious problem that facilities are normally designed around their intended functions, and so the design of the current prison is much different than what is needed in a jail. And a new larger prison is likely to cost upwards of $1 BILLION, a figure likely to make even stalwart proponents gasp.

But last year’s legislature also created a task force charged with reviewing correctional “best practices” in use elsewhere that could be used to reduce Hawaii’s jail and prison population, allowing any new facilities to be downsized rather than enlarged. The task force, unfortunately, was not endowed with any budget, but has been meeting since last June without benefit of funding.

The task force has released an interim report, with its final report and recommendations due prior to the opening of the 2018 legislative session. It’s well worth reading.

Here’s my brief summary:

“To improve outcomes and bring costs under control, Hawaii must chart a new course and transition from a punitive to a rehabilitative correctional model,” the task force says in its preliminary report. The move is driven by “the fact that all but a few of the men and women who go to prison will one day return to the community.” Therefore, the task force says, the question for public policy is how to use their time in prison to shape their lives for the better and change the behavior that landed them in prison.

The report proposes moving away from viewing prison as punishment and instead treating incarcerated persons “with aloha” as a core value.

One key is education and training for prison and jail workers, and the task force recommends creation of a corrections academy for employees in both the executive and judicial branches.

It recommends setting targets for reducing the prison population through diversion programs, bail reform and efficiencies in processing pre-trial detainees, and “focused, evidenced-based rehabilitative programs for those in prison.”

“The question should not be how large a new jail needs to be, but how small the jail can be with successful diversion programs? Overbuilding would be one of the worst mistakes the State could make,” the report states.

In any case, a messy issue. Check my take in Civil Beat. Feel free to comment here.