Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Musings: Love-Hate, Good-Bad

The hate mail has been intensifying of late, which I always take as confirmation that I'm on the right track.

Still, I did take to heart the words of one critic: "How about one positive story?"

Hey, I can do better than that. I've got at least four. So here goes:

The Philippines Supreme Court today reversed its earlier ruling banning field trials of GMO talong, also known as Bt brinjal, or eggplant. Field trials are part of the deregulation process that determines whether a crop can be legally grown.

Of course, Greenpeace, which was shut down in the ruling, likely doesn't consider this good news.

But a lot of Filipino farmers do. They've seen the success that farmers in Bangladesh have achieved growing Bt brinjal, which fetches a premium price at the market because less pesticides are used in its production. Bangladeshi farmers are also controlling the seed, just as papaya farmers do in Hawaii.

Though the Cornell Alliance for Science was the first to report on the success of Bt brinjal, you don't have to take our word for it. Even Al Jazeera found it to be true when it actually went to Bangladesh and interviewed farmers, rather than listening to the fear-mongering and mistruths spouted by arm chair activists in the West.

In other good news, the AquAdvantage Salmon, though long reviled as “Frankenfish” by misinformed activist groups like Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, actually works to support environmental sustainability and local food production.

Why? Because it's grown in totally enclosed inland systems that can be located close to markets. This reduces the carbon emissions associated with importing tons of foreign-farmed fish, and totally eliminates the marine pollution associated with ocean-based fish-farming practices.

Here are a video and a Q&A blog post that tell more about the salmon, and the insane 20-year, $80 million deregulation process that led to its approval, making it the most intensely studied food product ever.

Of course, that's not good news to groups like the aforementioned CFS and EJ, which are making money suing the federal government over the approval process that both groups supported – indeed, demanded — until it produced results they didn't like.

Locally, the Kauai Planning Commission finally said no once and for all to the BS request from diamond broker Eddie Ben-Dor to turn his Hanalei vacation rental into a B&B. As you may recall, the planning department wasn't buying the ruse, and Eddie was even fined $3,055 for operating illegally — at a low-season rent of $5,800 per week — for several years.

But he waited six months, put his daughter on the deed and submitted a new application in her name. Once again, the commission voted to deny it.

This is great news for those who have been working to stave off the scam of pretending an illegal TVR is really a B&B in need of a permit. Though it's bad new for Ben-Dor — and all the others trying to game the system.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has launched a full-on effort aimed at eradicating invasive mammals: rats, stoats, possums and (shhh) cats. Yeah, they're kind of downplaying the cat thing because people get all emotional.

But wildlife officials and conservationists there, as in Hawaii, are well aware of how cats and other introduced mammals wreak havoc on native birds, lizards and other critters. So New Zealand plans to euthanize feral cats on conservation lands.

Could such decisive action be possible in Hawaii? It shares the same invasive species problems as New Zealand, and its native animals grew up in similar isolation, with no defense to mammalian predators.

Or will the trap-neuter-release folks like Basil Scott — close friends with Councilman Gary Hooser, btw — continue their vicious attacks on shelter director Penny Cistaro in their desperate attempt to keep their own nonprofit going?

Though a Kauai team has been working for a couple of years now on a feral cat ordinance, Scott's Kauai Ferals group is hoping to do a end-run with the help of Inge Gibson of the Humane Society of the United States.

Seems Gibson has invited Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends to help draft an alternative bill for an ordinance on Kauai to manage cats on the landscape. Or in other words, dilute and undermine the Kauai effort.

Gosh, it's so easy for the good news to careen off into bad. 

But then, as Shakespeare so astutely noted, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Still, it's hard to put lipstick on this pig, so I'll just let it rip, since it's been weighing heavily on my mind since Reuters first reported it last week: 

The earth is on track for its hottest year on record and warming at a faster rate than expected, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday.

"What we’ve seen so far for the first six months of 2016 is really quite alarming," David Carlson, director of the WMO’s Climate Research Program, told a news briefing.

"This year suggests that the planet can warm up faster than we expected in a much shorter time... We don’t have as much time as we thought."
Climate change impacts. Image by Grist.

And then there was the HUGE news of 3-year-old Prince George offering ice cream to his pet dog, which some saw as an adorable sign of generosity and others denounced as "poisoning" and "animal cruelty." Some even said the toddler should be jailed. 
Yeah, it's too bad we can't just box everything neatly into good-bad/positive-negative to suit the simplistic among us. 

But life — and the crazy mix of people inhabiting the planet — are just a tad more complicated than that.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Musings: Dig In

Digging into the 2016 Kauai campaign funding reports reveals some interesting stories, which I'll be sharing over the next couple of weeks.

Let's start with Fern Rosenstiel, who is challenging Nadine Nakamura for the 14th District House seat. Fern received just eight contributions totaling $4,881.11 — the bulk of it from off-islanders.

The top giver, at $2,000, is Jeffrey Bronfman, founder of an ayahuasca church in New Mexico that ran afoul of its neighbors, who feared “hallucinogens (DMT and other chemicals) in vomitus and diarrhea containing ayahuasca would eventually enter and contaminate the groundwater and local aquifer.”

Another $1,000 came from Keely and Pierce Brosnan, whose contributions to the community have included allowing the beach to be planted, and fertilized with chicken manure, in front of their Haena TVR, and suing the late Cathy Ham Young, beloved icon of the North Shore anti-GMO crowd, when he wanted her taro patch water for his landscaping ponds.

Another $1,000 came from Kim Coco Iwamoto, a Honolulul resident who serves on the board of HAPA, the nonprofit founded by Councilman Gary Hooser. HAPA trained Fern to run for office through its Kuleana Academy. Cozy!

Only $588.11, or about 10 percent of the total raised, came from people in Fern's district, with Koloa resident and anti-dairy advocate Bridget Hammerquist throwing in $300.

So who, exactly, does Fern purport to represent?

Moving over to her pal Hooser....

While serving on the supposedly independent Joint Fact Finding Group on Kauai agricultural pesticide use, Doug Wilmore contributed $500 to Councilman Gary Hooser — the politician who introduced the failed law that led to formation of the JFFG.

Wilmore wrote a report for the JFFG on the Waimea Canyon Middle School sickenings that countered health department findings and echoed Hooser's take on the topic. After the JFFG released its report, Wilmore gave Hooser another $100. More cozy!

But most curious of all was the discovery that of the 90 total contributions Hooser that received this year, just two came from westside (Eleele-Kekaha) residents. And those were from anti-GMO activists Linda Harmon and Gordon LaBedz of Surfrider.

Compare that to the 17 donations Hooser received from people living on other islands and the mainland.

If westsiders really believe their lives and land are being systematically poisoned by the seed companies — as Hooser claims — wouldn't you think they'd be supporting his candidacy? 

Instead, the majority of his donors reside from Kapaa-Hanalei — on the opposite side of the island from the seed farms.

So is Hooser running to represent a movement, or the people of Kauai?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Musings: What's Been Lost

There was a lot of talk about perception, a divided community, inherent bias, character and credibility at yesterday's Kauai County Council meeting.

The focus was Beth Tokioka — longtime county spokeswoman who now works for Syngenta — and her nomination to the Kauai Board of Water Supply. Still, the points raised have broader implications.

Councilman Gary Hooser talked about inherent and perceived conflicts of interest as having equal value. So what are we to think of his decision to create a nonprofit — HAPA — dedicated to destroying the seed companies and advancing his version of “progressive” politics? How is that influencing decisions he is supposed to be making as a Councilman on behalf of the public good, which ostensibly includes seed company employees?

Hooser talked about the “egregious record” of Beth's employer, and how one's employer shapes one's world view. So what are we to make of his close affiliation with the propaganda-peddling, fear-mongering, self-serving, lie-telling Center for Food Safety, which gives money to HAPA?

Councilman Mason Chock spoke about transparency, accountability, steps that can be taken to build the public's trust of government. Well, then what are we to think about his sister, Malia Chun, serving as a poster child for the anti-GMO movement?

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, in probing whether Beth's connection to Syngenta “would taint her decision-making,” talked about “how hard it can be to take an independent stand when it goes against the majority, or the public opinion.” So what should we make of her abrupt about-face on the Bill 2491 vote as she confronted an angry mob?

Hooser said he had “great respect for the nominee,” no qualms about her character, didn't believe she would let her company tell her what to do, considered Beth “a dedicated member of the community who has served our community well.” So how can we fathom his decision to vote against her?

Was it just because, as Hooser said, “I would prefer to have a world view sitting on that board saying I want stricter testing, I want safe water?” Aside from the fact that Kauai water is clean — as Councilman Ross Kagawa noted, “This isn't Europe” — is his preference worth dragging a person through the mud, running an email blitz to stir up opposition from the mainland?

Yukimura said the mayor's nomination of Beth “wasn't well-advised” and "further divides the community."

Or perhaps it's a way to begin breaching the gap.

“If a child in school comes from a family with a bad reputation, I don't push them away,” Chock said. “I bring them in, and I care for them.”

Still, as Laurie Yoshida pointed out, “Syngenta's not on trial here.”

Just Beth — guilty as charged, according to 600+ cookie-cutter emails, two-third of them from off-island.

“People are seeing Beth as a stereotype, and they don't know who she is,” said Yukimura, with no touch of irony.

"The reality is that they don't know Beth," said Council Chair Mel Rapozo. "They have no idea what Beth has done for this community over the past three decades, and that's offensive to me."

Noted Beth: “I think it comes down to a matter of trust.”

And on Kauai, that's exactly what's been lost — shoots, intentionally destroyed — by a so-called "progressive" movement that believes it's “restoring democracy." 

Down we go, deeper into the rabbit hole... 

[Final vote: 5-1, with Hooser opposed and Yukimura silent, which goes with the majority.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Musings: Anatomy of a Propaganda Play

A successful propaganda campaign depends on controlling the narrative, and Hawaii anti-GMO activists are very wise to this trick.

Which is why they began their efforts to influence public opinion in the Islands and beyond with a series of carefully constructed articles, written and financed by anti-GMO sympathizers.

I first wrote about this initiative back in November 2013:

The Media Consortium has launched a “two-year collaborative project involving ten news organizations that will send reporters to Kauai to cover issues regarding pesticide-based pollution, GE food, corporate influence and other important topics,” according to an announcement by the Food Integrity Campaign.

It's sponsored by the Media Consortium, whose website maintains: 

Millions of Americans are looking for honest, fair, and accurate journalism-we’re finding new ways to reach them.

Turns out, though, that the reporting was neither fair nor accurate — and certainly not honest. Unless you believe it's OK to pay a supposedly independent journalist to tell a certain sort of story.

Which brings us to the Inter-Nation Cultural Foundation, a Kauai nonprofit created and bankrolled by anti-GMO advocates Shirin and Ken Hunt. In its 2014 tax return, it discusses spending $37,402 to support “The World is Watching — Kauai Media and Journalism project.” The return states:

With the help of our supporters and contributing journalists, we achieved the following:

Formed partnership with the Media Consortium; island visits and reporting by Truthout, Yes! Magazine and Earth Island Journal; published first round of articles shedding light on pesticide issues facing Kauai; published seminal article (The Kauai Cocktail), a data-supported expose on pesticide as part of a coordinated release with Grist, The Nation, Truthout and several participating NGOs.

The Kauai Cocktail was written by Paul Koberstein and published in the Cascadian Times. Rife with speculation and factual errors, it included such bizarre and unsubstantiated pronouncements as:

The four transnational agribusinesses that are experimenting with genetically engineered crops on Kaua`i have transformed part of the island into one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture.

For the better part of two decades, Syngenta, BASF Plant Science, DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences have been drenching their test fields near Waimea, a small town on the southwest coast of Kaua`i, with some of the most dangerous synthetic pesticides in use in agriculture today, at an intensity that far surpasses the norm at most other American farms, an analysis of government pesticide databases shows.

There’s reason to believe that the chemical companies might be violating federal rules about the application of the restricted-use pesticide products on Kaua`i. The rules are supposed to ensure that the pesticides do their damage to bugs and weeds, not kids.

In Waimea’s gusty climate, it’s a rare day when Lorsban and the other heavily-used toxic chemicals can be applied to the test fields without the wind blowing them right into somebody’s face.

Despite its errors and outrageous statements — or perhaps because of them — this article was picked up and repeated ad nauseum on social media and in the “alternative press,” thus establishing a totally skewed version of reality on Kauai. Koberstein's article was also featured in several anti-GMO videos, providing a veneer of credibility, as if a legit news outfit had actually done the reporting.

Koberstein helped to establish this false narrative in follow-up stories for the Cascadian Times and Truthout, citing his original piece to “document” his claim that seed company practices were harming Kauai people, pushing native flora and fauna toward extinction and poisoning kids.

His misleading articles were reprinted in the Hawaii Independent, which is owned by Ikaika Hussey, board member of the anti-GMO HAPA, as well as Grist, Earth Island Journal and The Progressive, giving the Hunts a bigger bang for their funding buck and further spreading the false narrative. So much for “independent” reporting.

The Foundation also gave $22,500 to Ohana O Kauai, the group founded by Dustin Barca and Fern Rosenstiel (now a state House candidate), in 2014. The money was used for outreach to “educate” people about the “many health problems” being caused by spraying “toxic pesticides near hospitals and schools.”

I keep wondering when Fern, who is running on a transparency in government platform, will disclose how much money Ohana O Kauai took in, and where it went.

The Inter-Nation Cultural Foundation gave $3,423 to Kauai Rising, also for GMO outreach, and $1,141 to help Change for Balance produce “Aloha Warrior,” a documentary of Barca's “efforts to fight off the 5 biggest argochemical companies in the world from invading his island and their natural resources.”

The video includes Barca's usual shibai, as well as his wife spouting such nonsense as “corn is super GMOed, even if it's organic.”

Oh, just as an aside, here's an example of that "warrior's" most recent show of “aloha”:
Yeah, watch our for those "wolves in sheets clothing." One of 'em might be Barca. Or the decidedly more tolerant KKK.

In closing, even though we're often told the Hawaii anti-GMO movement is “spontaneous” and “grassroots,” and it's generating media coverage because it's such a pono cause, the reality is quite a bit different. It's all staged. It's all orchestrated nationally with local pawns paying, and being paid, to play along.

And once again, we see a nonprofit group blessing us with the charitable activity of propaganda in exchange for its tax-exempt status.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Musings: CFS Steps Up Attack on Water Board Nominee

The mainland-based Center for Food Safety has intensified its efforts to build opposition to Beth Tokioka's nomination to the Kauai Board of Water Supply.

The anti-GMO advocacy group sent out an email blast to its list yesterday, urging people to submit testimony against Beth's nomination prior to Wednesday's Council vote. CFS is opposing Beth solely because she works for Syngenta.
The blast generated more than 300 emails -- update: it's now over 500 -- against Beth, many of them by people who live on other islands and the mainland.

Each email was identical, though the first batch misspelled Council Chair Mel Rapozo's last name.

Meanwhile, in a spontaneous show of support, Kauai residents were sending in emails endorsing Beth's appointment to the Board, which is charged with drilling wells, running pumps, purifying water and operating a distribution system.

The attack on Beth raises two key questions: Does one lose the right to engage in public service — the position is unpaid — simply because one works for a seed company? And should that overshadow all of the other experience and skills one can bring to service?

The campaign also underscores the cozy relationship between CFS and Civil Beat, which yesterday printed an article highlighting concerns that CFS and Earthjustice had about the appointment. Prior to the article, the Council had received no comments against Beth, and 18 in her favor — more than had been submitted on behalf of any other candidate for a county board or commission.

This is the second time that a Civil Beat article or editorial has appeared just hours before CFS launched a direct action. Previously, CB published an editorial endorsing the recommendations of the Joint Fact Finding Group on pesticides the same day that CFS had scheduled a press conference and meeting with the governor.

The editorial board includes Civil Beat founder and benefactor Pierre Omidyar, who has donated money to CFS.

Meanwhile, CFS is also picking up its advocacy efforts on behalf of a slate of candidates it endorses, including Fern Rosenstiel, a candidate for the state House. CFS has been organizing phone banks to call voters on all islands, though its tactics alienated at least one resident.

A North Shore woman reported receiving a call from an unidentified man who asked if she supported sustainable food supplies. When she said she did, the caller said there was one candidate running for State House in our area who supported sustainable food supplies and that was Fern. The woman replied that what the caller was saying was untrue, as the other candidate, Nadine Nakamura, also supports sustainable food supplies and he shouldn't misrepresent the facts. The caller then laughed and hung up.

It's not surprising that CFS is employing a disinformation strategy, since that's long been the group's stock in trade. It has characterized its entire approach to GMOs, and most especially its efforts to pass anti-GMO legislation in Hawaii.

Still, it is rather ironic that CFS has been pushing anti-GMO legislation in Hawaii under the call for “home rule.” Given its recent actions, it seems CFS defines home rule as meaning a Washington, D.C.-based group should be able to meddle in local politics and dictate who serves on county boards and commissions thousands of miles from its headquarters.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Musings: On Water, Egos and Food

In his typical smarmy fashion, Councilman Gary Hooser said nothing critical to Beth Tokioka's face when she appeared before the Kauai County Council regarding her appointment to the Board of Water Supply.

Indeed, he lauded her many years of public service.

And then he turned around and complained to Civil Beat

“I think appointing a representative of Syngenta to this particular position is insensitive and shows poor judgment.”

And its typical smarmy fashion, Civil Beat asked Ashley Lukens of Center for Food Safety and Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice to weigh in.

Why, pray tell, should either of those Oahu residents have any say in who serves on the Kauai water board? Especially since they're avowed enemies of the GMO seed companies, and are involved in litigation against Beth's employer. 

Though reporter Anita Hofschneider included comments from non-residents eager to advance her smear job, she failed to report that 18 Kauai residents submitted testimony in support of Beth's appointment, including Dr. Daleep Bal, the Kauai District Health Officer. Not one person is on record in opposition.

As Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura observed at the July 6 Council meeting:

“I don't think we've ever gotten as many letters of support for a nominee as we have for you. I think that's a real testimony to the level of support that's out in the community for you.”

It's so ironic to see Civil Beat printing quotes about how a “perception of a conflict is a problem” when it refuses to acknowledge that its own funder and founder, Pierre Omidyar, is also funding the Hawaii Center for Food Safety. Indeed, it's actually deleted every comment I've left pointing out that very real conflict.

But then, the financial connection does helps to explain why Civil Beat goes out of its way to quote CFS and keep the group in the limelight.

Beth's appointment will come up for a final vote on Wednesday. Since Civil Beat sat on the story for a week, its publication today appears timed to generate opposition.

Also on the Council agenda is a request for yet more legal fees. Seems the mayor isn't willing to accept the Intermediate Court of Appeals ruling that authority to discipline the police chief lies with the police commission, not him. 

He's seeking $30,000 for special counsel to pursue an appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Another $15,000 would be allocated to represent the chief and police commission.

Do the taxpayers really want to bankroll this expensive game of egos?

And finally, though I was glad to see Dr. Lee Evslin offer some sound healthy-eating tips — cut down on sugar and refined foods — in his new column, he made several dubious assertions. Since The Garden Island inexplicably disabled comments on his column, I'll address them here.

Evslin wrote:

Pesticides in our food is a new and perhaps frightening line of research. If we take children, test their urine for pesticide metabolites and then put them on an organic diet and check them again, the level of pesticides in their urine drops dramatically and quickly.

In fact, the key study done on this topic included this caveat:

Children and their families participating in this study do not reflect the general U.S. population, and therefore no attempt should be made to extend this conclusion to other children.

Furthermore, the study looked only for synthetic pesticides, and not for the pest control products used on organics.

In head-to-head comparisons, natural pesticides don't fare any better than synthetic ones. When I compared the organic chemicals copper sulfate and pyrethrum to the top synthetics, chlorpyrifos and chlorothalonil, I found that not only were the organic ones more acutely toxic, studies have found that they are more chronically toxic as well, and have higher negative impacts on non-target species.

And in any case:

Almost all pesticides detected on foods by the USDA and independent scientific studies are at levels below 1% of the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) set by government regulators.

Systematic reviews of dietary pesticide exposure all come to the same conclusion: that typical dietary exposure to pesticide residues in foods poses minimal risks to humans.

As a detailed study in the Journal of Food Science noted:

"from a practical standpoint, the marginal benefits of reducing human exposure to pesticides in the diet through increased consumption of organic produce appear to be insignificant."

Evslin also wrote:

If it fits into your budget, buy organic dairy, produce and bread. The more organic we buy, the more it is produced and the cheaper it gets.

Though the sale of organic food has skyrocketed in recent years, prices have not declined and remain high. Why? It's more expensive to produce organic food, and consumers like Evslin are willing to pay a 10-40 percent premium for a product that offers no real advantages over its conventional counterpart. In other words, they're paying for marketing hype.

Evslin also wrote:

Eat much less bread. [T]he wheat for the bread is often sprayed with pesticides right before harvesting.

This claim, which first surfaced on a pro-organic blog, was deconstructed on the myth-busting Snopes site, with additional insights offered by a Canadian wheat farmer.

Evslin is, of course, free to believe what he wishes. But his column bothered me because it confirmed the biases that Evslin brought to his role on the Joint Fact-Finding Group for pesticides, which resulted in deeply flawed recommendations.

Furthermore, it needlessly incites worries among parents who are unable to afford organics.

On an island where one in five residents lack sufficient food, it's the epitome of elitism to preach the organic sermon. The message should be: eat lots of fruits and veggies, regardless of the source.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Musings: Dark Days

It doesn't get much darker than this, moaned the anti-GMO groups, when confronted with the new labeling bill that President Obama is expected to sign into law.

Which underscores just how screwed up their priorities are. Really? A deadly drought is hammering East Africa, 84 people in France were just mowed down by a terrorist, cops and citizens are killing each other in America and a fricking food label is the darkest thing on the horizon?

Still, I can't help but chortle when I see Andrew Kimbrell, director of Center for Food Safety, sputtering and wringing his hands in despair. Whassa matter, Andy? Worried about losing one of your longest-running fundraising gambits, the demand for labeling?

Or are you just whimpering because you gambled, and lost, when you believed that teeny-tiny Vermont would serve as a labeling model for the nation? You folks pushed, and Congress pushed back and voided Vermont. So suck it up and deal.

Kimbrell and crew took a similar gamble in Hawaii with the anti-GMO bills they pushed through here. The Hawaii laws have nothing to do with protecting anyone (save CFS's fundraising machine) and everything to do with establishing a precedent for supposed “home rule,” which groups like CFS define as their right to meddle in local affairs.

Thus far, however, the courts have dealt the antis a losing hand, firmly establishing the pre-emption authority of state over counties in these matters. We'll see whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals solidifies that authority further, as it appears inclined to do.

It's also fascinating to watch these guys whine about how the law keeps people in the dark, when the anti-GMO groups themselves are so very non-transparent about their own funding and actions. To use their line against food manufacturers, if you've got nothing to hide, why aren't you disclosing?

Speaking of which, I see that Kauai House candidate Fern Rosenstiel is promising: “Personally I will work to develop a strong reputation for very transparent and clear decision-making relating to all positions I take.” So why not start, Fern, by disclosing the finances of your anti-GMO group, Ohana O Kauai — like who gave you money, how much and where it was spent? Also, how much have you gotten in crowd-sourcing, and did you declare it as taxable income? And why are you giving your occupation as “environmental scientist” when you're a bartender at Tahiti Nui?

Meanwhile, the labeling issue is becoming increasingly moot, anyway, since the USDA has declined to regulate crops modified through the new process of gene-editing. First up: canola oil rich in omega 3 fatty acids and mushrooms that resist browning with age. Also in the works: genetically-edited soybeans that produce oil able to withstand high cooking heat without producing trans fat; low-gluten wheat and potatoes with fewer neurotoxins.

Though the antis have lost labeling as a powerful fundraising tool, they can still simplistically exploit many other complex issues, such as pollinator health. The Hawaii Branch of CFS just came out with a scary schtick in which they are trying to blame pesticides for the decline of native Hawaiian birds — uh, guess they never heard about habitat loss, avian malaria and rat/cat predation — while painting a dire picture of honeybee health.
In fact, Hawaii's managed honey bee colonies are among the healthiest in the nation. There has been no colony collapse disorder in the Islands, and there's a hearty feral bee population. The greatest risks to Hawaii bees are the varroa mite and small hive beetle, but they're not sexy fundraisers, so CFS focuses on pesticides.

In the real world, pesticides are but one of many threats facing pollinators. Scientists are now starting to suspect a new culprit in the decline of bees: soaring levels of carbon dioxide associated with global warming. As Yale Environment 360 reports:

The adverse impact of rising CO2 concentrations on the protein levels in pollen may be playing a role in the global die-off of bee populations by undermining bee nutrition and reproductive success.

Though beekeepers can supplement with protein patties in the fall, no such option exists for native bees, which actually do the lion's share of pollination. 

 Meanwhile, high CO2 levels are affecting more than protein levels in pollen:

Samuel Myers, a senior research scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health, has published groundbreaking studies on how rising CO2 levels lower the nutritional quality of foods that we eat, like rice, wheat, and maize, which lose significant amounts of zinc, iron, and protein when grown under higher concentrations of CO2.

“We are fundamentally transforming all of the biophysical conditions that underpin the global food system,” said Myers. “Global food demand is rising at the same time the biophysical conditions are changing more rapidly than ever before.”

To quote Mr. Toad: “Hold on to your hat, because away we gooooo.....”

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Musings: On Us

You wake up one day, and five police officers have been killed in Dallas.

You wake up a different day, and people are glued to their phones in an obsessive search for Pokemon.

You wake up every day and another American citizen — or two or three or five — has been killed by a gun, not infrequently wielded by a toddler.

The media treat all these events as worthy of equivalent coverage.

And perhaps they are, in terms of what they tell us about us.

Pokemon was born, back in 1990, by a designer seeking to combine his love of video games with his childhood passion for collecting insects.

Now insects — the woefully misunderstood, largely unstudied animals essential to our existence — are declining dramatically in many parts of the world, due in large part to us. 

But few of us notice, and even fewer care, our attention diverted from the natural world we actually live in to the virtual world within our phones.

Which is how an electronic game comes to be deemed “an inescapable force of nature,” on par, say, with tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis.

“Billionaires can't buy Bernie” reads the bumper sticker on a Lexus SUV, spotted on the day that Sanders endorses Hillary Clinton. 

And so one revolution of rhetoric fizzles as yet another revolution of rhetoric flourishes:

In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race.

On the internet, Mr. Trump is invoked by anonymous followers brandishing stark expressions of hate and anti-Semitism, surprisingly amplified this month when Mr. Trump tweeted a graphic depicting Hillary Clinton’s face with piles of cash and a six-pointed star that many viewed as a Star of David.

“I think what we really find troubling is the mainstreaming of these really offensive ideas,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate groups. “It’s allowed some of the worst ideas into the public conversation in ways we haven’t seen anything like in recent memory.”

"It's so sad when voters are forced to choose the lesser of evils," bemoans my 98-year-old hanai mom, who has seen the world repeatedly turned upside down by the worst in us: racism, fascism, totalitarianism, terrorism, ignorance, apathy, greed and fear.

On Kauai, meth addicts rage, homeless pack the parks, feral cats devour endangered birds, agriculture struggles, roads clog, sewers overflow, the landfill towers. And the County Council indulges in distractions like dog doo and parents smoking in cars.

The bakery case offers a “paleo cookie” for $3.75. The hungry line up at food pantries, grateful for a box of sweet, stale snacks among the canned goods. 

Countless hours, untold amounts of cash, are expended in a bitter fight over how to disclose the role of a plant breeding technology in the production of processed food in the world's wealthiest nation. “Mothers have the right to know what they're feeding their children,” we are told.

And every 5 seconds, a child starves to death — up from one every 10 seconds just five years ago.

“The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.” — Charles Trevelyan, British civil servant and colonial administrator

We are outraged. We are outraged by the outrage. We are outraged by the outrage over the outrage.

And yet the status quo churns on:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Musings: Power Grab

Hawaii anti-GMO groups are pushing their candidate slate hard in the upcoming Primary, offering more evidence that securing political power is their underlying goal.

But with nearly all of the funding for these groups coming from outside Hawaii, the question becomes, who really benefits if their power grab succeeds?

The most vocal entity in this political machine is the Hawaii Center for Food Safety Political Action Fund. Tax documents show that its parent organization, Center for Food Safety, took in $3.5 million in 2014. CFS spent $738,569 on the Hawaii office that year, and a total of $425,000 on lobbying. But that's all the information that it has disclosed, and it has yet to release its 2015 return.

So Hawaii voters have no way of knowing who is bankrolling the group's political activities in the Islands, or how much the Washington,D.C.-based CFS is spending to influence elections here.

Other players are the tawdry Babes Against Biotech, which echoes CFS stances and reposts its social media memes; the smarmy Kuleana Coalition for Change, which is soliciting “anonymous” donations to support Maui candidates on the CFS slate; and HAPA, the political advocacy group masquerading as an educational nonprofit, which was founded by Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser and trained several of the slate candidates through its Kuleana Academy.

According to its 2014 tax return — 2015 is not yet available — HAPA has spent its money producing propaganda and holding meetings. Though I previously disclosed that HAPA had received a grant from CFS, HAPA has not disclosed any of its funders.

So how is this totally non-transparent political machine working to influence elections? Using the same kind of deceptive, fear-mongering tactics that have characterized all of its actions in Hawaii:
The CFS PAC is hosting “virtual phone banks,” where callers are directed to share messages like:

Our keiki can't vote for legislators who will protect them from pesticide drift, but we can and it's up to us!

Join citizen volunteers across Hawai'i calling voters from home to make a proven difference for our keiki! Starting at 3PM, a quick and easy training online then jump on the phones to help change Hawaii's agricultural future forever.

[CALLING ALL FOODIES] We need your help! One of the most effective ways to create real change is electing leaders who share your values and will pass legislation to create the future we all want to see for Hawaiʻi!

The "future we all want to see for Hawaii"? I'm reminded of the old Lone Ranger-Tonto joke, with the punchline, “Who is 'we,' white man?"

In order not to run afoul of the IRS, the CFS PAC claims to be “a non-candidate, non-partisan, not-for-profit committee. The activities of this committee are not conducted in coordination with any individual candidate.”

No, not any individual candidate, just their “true food” slate of candidates. Oh, and Rep. Kaniela Ing, since they're doing a phone bank for him. And one for Tiare Lawrence, who is also seeking to represent Maui in the state House.

They've also got a little deal going with Sen. Russell Ruderman, who is facing Councilman Greggor Ilagan in the Democratic primary. In soliciting volunteers on the Big Island, the CFS PAC promises those who “reach the most voters” a $10 gift card to Ruderman's store, Island Naturals. Kinda sounds like "coordination with an individual candidate to me."

Though its funding is non-transparent, the group has been quite clear about the sort of politics it supports. It recently lauded Rep. Chris Lee's $2 million organic tax credit bill:
Besides discriminating against small conventional farmers, the bill was passed through the reprehensible “gut-and-replace” method, earning it this year's Rusty Scalpel Award from Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters. According to League President Ann Shaver:

“This makes a travesty of the democratic process.”

How ironic, then, that it's celebrated by the very same folks who have joined a campaign claiming Monsanto is “poisoning democracy” by challenging the Maui GMO moratorium in court.

The group is also quite open about how it will influence Hawaii elections:

We will use your donation to:

Pay phone bankers and canvassers to get out the vote
Send educational mailers to voters in key legislative districts
Buy ad space in local newspapers and counter the agrichemical industry’s messaging in corporate media.

Which raises another question: Are local voters truly served by candidates running on a very narrow pro-organic, anti-pesticide, anti-GMO, anti-conventional farming platform?

Meanwhile, Hooser is desperately seeking to broaden his appeal among local voters, which prompted him to record a backyard video for Facebook, in which he tells us, in a weird third person narrative:

Nobody likes smoke meat, or likes a BBQ, more than Gary Hooser does.

He's madly trying to distance himself from his failed fireplace bill, which, despite his protestations to the contrary, most assuredly could have been used to ban backyard barbecues, smoke meat, cooking in imu, or the roasting of marshmallows on an open fire, as well as torch lightings, fireplaces or the burning of wood, charcoal or gas.

Though Hooser has his loyal sheeple, many others are smart enough to see through his shibai:

Kalani Kapuniai Nobody likes smoke meat more then the guy who tried to stop us Hawaiians from actually making smoke meat... Let the fires smoke! Let the dogs bark! Time to wake up Kauai‬. I'm not well educated in politician terms but I do know what's going on. And I know this is election year, and to win in an election you need to cast a large number of votes.. And I can help you with that. Go make it right with the real people and leave the puppet shows for story time in keiki corner.. And trust me... Those are where the votes come from... People vote for real people‬.

Listen up.