Grammy an auspicious
beginning for Hawaiian


Five albums will compete for the first Hawaiian music award.

THE first Grammy award for Hawaiian music won't be part of the national prime-time telecast from Los Angeles tomorrow, but as the local saying goes, it's "no beeg t'ing."

Recognition of island music as a unique genre will be enough for now. Though the award for "Best Hawaiian Music Album" is tucked into the folk music category, it is a tribute to the talent, creativity and cultural vibrancy of Hawaii's artists and will raise the profile of music produced here.

The five albums vying for the new award represent a diversity of performances -- from languid slack key instrumentals to chants, falsettos and crisp harmonies. The variety only skims the amazing depth of musical abilities, styles and artists that has long flourished in Hawaii.

The outside world's acquaintance with music from Hawaii has largely been derived from Hollywood caricatures of plinking ukulele and hip-swaying, cellophane-skirted hula dancers. Don Ho, whose name has become synonymous with local sounds, contributed a Hawaiian aura befitting the times. More recently, the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's stirring "Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World" has sparked interest in the Hawaiian language songs his albums also included.

Although Hawaiian recordings have been eligible for Grammys, the singular category is likely to bring an increased awareness of the local industry in the nation's entertainment hub, which could boost sales and opportunities for Hawaii's musicians, and open the doors for greater understanding of the native culture.

Features: Getting in the Grammy awards was not an easy task

Best Hawaiian Music Album nominees
Various artists, "Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2"
Ho'okena, "Cool Elevation"
Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K, "Amy and Willie Live"
The Brothers Cazimero, "Some Call It Aloha ... Don't Tell"
Keali'i Reichel, "Ke'alaokamaile"


Medicare drug plan
deserves overhaul


The White House's new price tag for the program exceeds the initial estimate by $324 billion.

WHEN the Bush administration pressed Congress to approve its Medicare prescription drug benefit legislation in November 2003, it assured cost-wary Republican conservatives that the price tag would be $400 billion over 10 years.

Two months later, the administration corrected that estimate to $534 billion, a figure Medicare's chief actuary had calculated before the bill's passage but had been prevented from revealing under threat of dismissal.

Now, the White House estimates the drug benefit will cost $724 billion. There was no deception, the administration says, because the previous numbers included years in which the benefit would not be in effect.

Be that as it may, members of Congress -- including several of the president's allies -- are correct in calling for revisions, unsettled by an ever-growing deficit, Bush's budget proposal that relies heavily on reducing myriad social programs and the indeterminate cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Foremost should be removal of the provision that bans the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. Tommy Thompson, Bush's first-term secretary of health and human services, said he would have wanted that power and the idea has bipartisan support.

The drug benefits are available regardless of income or assets. Congress should consider eliminating subsidies for wealthy beneficiaries or pegging benefits to ability to pay. Other proposals that merit study include legalizing imports of low-priced drugs from Canada and other countries and cutting coverage for so-called lifestyle drugs like Viagra, which Medicare officials approved last week.

Bush said he will veto the bill if Congress tampers with the legislation. He's in a tough position. As he criss-crosses the country on a campaign for his controversial Social Security plan, Bush cannot afford any further disturbance among older citizens.

Though he has waged political capital on Social Security, Medicare's long-term unfunded liability at $27.7 trillion eclipses Social Security's $3.7 trillion shortfall by far. With his refusal to raise any taxes, Bush's initiatives paint Americans' sunset years a dangerous shade of red.

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