Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Musings: Down on the Farm

After years of printing — without question — every bit of inflammatory bullshit that Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser and the anti-GMO activists fed it, The Garden Island finally sent a reporter out to one of the biotech farms.

And guess what? She discovered the fields aren't the dead, toxic wasteland that anti-GMO activists have portrayed.

Sadly, these revelations are a little late. Because of the lazy, biased regurgitating of Chris D'Angelo — who has found a more suitable home at the uber fluffy, and staunchly anti-GMO, Huff-Po Hawaii — far too many people have a false idea of the Kauai seed industry.

They still believe the companies are doing experimental pesticide research, blithely spraying their neighbors with chemicals, poisoning school children, drenching crops with pesticides, using 18 tons of chemicals annually, dousing plants with herbicides to see how much they can take before they make, spraying 24-7 and refusing to disclose their activities or impose buffer zones.

Yes, all that has been promulgated by Hooser, former Councilman Tim Bynum and the groups that profit politically and financially from fear-mongering.

In reality, the companies are just growing highly specialized plants in a modern, conventional manner that actually uses less land and water, and fewer pesticides, than the sugar cane formerly grown in the same fields.

It's always hard to counter propaganda — Christoper Pala's hit piece is still circulating, since The Guardian has refused to even post corrections, much less take it down.

And TGI's reporter did get one thing wrong: biotech crops are not “engineered to withstand heightened amounts of herbicides and pesticides.” They're simply engineered to tolerate regular amounts of herbicides, period.

Still, the truth about biotech is slowly emerging. And that spells trouble for hard core anti-GMO activists who are so fearful of scrutiny that they seek to discredit or silence anyone who questions their rigidly dogmatic point of view.

No, biotech is not a silver bullet, or totally benign, and I've never heard its supporters characterize it as such. It's simply one agricultural tool that has been demonized by special interests — most notably, the organics industry — and ignorant, fearful people.

I was reminded of that fearful ignorance — bordering on paranoia — when I saw a Facebook post by kooky Terry Lilley, attacking blogger "Joan Crow," which I assumed was me. Though I don't know any of the people who commented on Terry's post, I did recognize some of the names as being active in the anti-GMO movement:

‪Mahana Mari We the good honest people of Kaua'i stand with you ‪Terry. It makes me utterly sick how much hate you receive by protecting what you love. 
On another note: what else is happening here? My mom plus 3 more of my friends here on Kaua'i almost completely passed out of Friday. My 80 year old mother almost got rushed to the hospital because she couldn't stop spinning & fainting. Then went to see another friend play music, a big guy, & he almost complete fainted on stage. & another friend kept fainting & went to the doctor. Is this due to another sonar blast? EMP? I can't take it anymore. The reefs are dying, the animals are dying, the people are dying... WHEN will it end?! So grateful for the small group of Protectors we are that are passionate & dedicated to saving us all before it is too late! May your enemies learn the truth & may the truth set us all FREE! Time to flush the vampires OFF The Garden Isle!

1 · 47 mins

‪Celeste Harvel U just can't fix stupid!What u do is crucial !world in denial!still we r losing reef at an alarming rate!wake up to this evidence our credited researcher finds!environment under attack!no denying

‪Celeste Harvel My friend risks his life for us!he got fried by electronic warfare and almost was killed!massive heart attack!our Ocean and her creatures r being extincted by military,pollution,warming does not help either!if u don't care u r part of the atrocity!

Derek Diehl These are worthless people , they should stuffed into a gas chamber along w all the military personnel in the world.

Mmm, why are we letting people like this drive policy in Hawaii?

On another note, I saw a flyer from Steelgrass Farm, seeking tenants to lease 1 to 20 acres of ag land:

In the foothills above Kapaa, we are returning to productivity 50 acres of ag-zoned land, and we invite growers to be part of our sustainable, organic diversified ag project.

But there is a caveat:

If you’ve always dreamed of farming the land, we applaud you, and encourage you to embrace your dream, but we are looking for people who are far enough along in their process to be ready to actualize their vision.

If that’s you, we’d like to hear from you. We’re for real, so we need you to be for real also. You need to have a farm plan, with specific crops you want to grow, and be able to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience necessary to follow through, or have a trained crew to do it for you. You also need to demonstrate financial competence. Minimum lease term is two years, maximum twenty.

Yes, folks, there you have it: farming is at core a business, even if you're not one of the dreaded “industrial corporate” farms.

And as Jan TenBruggencate points out, organics are flourishing in Hawaii — despite false claims by Hooser and anti-GMO activists that the state isn't doing enough to support organic growers as it meanwhile gives preferential treatment to the seed companies, which are occupying all the good farm land.

The reality, as usual, is something quite different. As Jan reports on his excellent Raising Islands blog:

Sixty-one farms produce $8.7 million in vegetables. One hundred twenty-six farms produce $3.4 million in organic fruits. That makes the industry worth $12.1 million.

And that’s a big increase since a survey in 2008, when the total was $7.6 million. That represents a 60 percent increase in organic farming value over six years.

Still, it's kind of manini compared to the seed companies, which grew 548 percent since 2000, at an average annual rate of 18.5 percent, according to an industry report, which went on to state:

The authors are not aware of any other Hawaii economic sector or sub-sector exhibiting such growth. 

The seed companies also reported annual operating expenditures of $243 million, tax payments of $29 million and anticipated capital investment in Hawaii averaging $25 million over the next 10-years.

Does anyone in their right mind really believe the state will, or even should, give these guys the boot?

And even the organic guys aren't focused solely on feeding Islanders, as Hooser demands of local ag. Returning to Jan's post:

The survey shows that 49 percent of organic products are sold within 100 miles of the farm—which pretty much means on the same island as where they’re grown. Another 16 percent are sold within the state of Hawai`i. 

That said, a big proportion, 35 percent of organic crops, are shipped out of state. (The 35 percent breaks down to 30 percent shipped within the country and 5 percent internationally.)

I found these statistics in Jan's piece especially eye-opening:

Only 52 percent, 3,642 of 7,000 of Hawaiian farmers do it full-time. And of those farmers, 2,666 are 55 or older. Of those, 1,445 are 65 years old or older.

If they're sincere in their call for food security, Hooser and the rest of the anti-GMO folks would be better off spending their time and money training the next generation of farmers, instead of grooming politicians. Because the latter typically only get their hands dirty when, like Hooser, they're busy slinging mud.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Musings: Grand Delusions

It's always fascinating — and often downright funny — to observe delusional thinking.

Like this excerpt from the draft mission statement for KKCR, the supposed “community” radio station on Kauai:

We provide a forum for overlooked, suppressed, or under-represented voices.

We broadcast news, opinion and civic affairs that foster our community’s capacity to think independently, skillfully, and critically.

Mmm, since when does an echo chamber filled with all the same old voices and group speak foster independent, skillful or critical thinking? Yet these guys honestly think they are presenting a balanced view of the world and giving voice to the “voiceless.”

This is followed in the minutes by Mickey Sussman, president of the station's Community Advisory Board:

Mickey says that we have a different world than from when the last [mission] statement was made. Our island is under attack (poisons and policies) and we need to talk about it.

Yup. There's that echo I was talking about. Though Mickey might find some people have a very different idea about who and what is poisoning the island — if he actually stepped outside the chamber, that is.

Then there was the woman whose family bought a house in Wainiha six years ago because she thought the double bridges — now slated for replacement — would keep big trucks, and thus “McMansions” out of her neighborhood. “We moved here for the solitude,” Christina Presley tells The Garden Island.

Presley obviously has no clue what has already gone down on "her" side of the bridge, where so many of the small houses that formerly served as affordable long-term rentals have been slicked up and greatly expanded — often in violation of federal flood laws — to serve the high-end vacation rental market.  Nope, not even the bridges could stop that lucrative action — they just made more trips with smaller trucks — or the growing hordes of tourists. But watch, they'll be the first ones to scream about lack of services if there's a disaster.

Then there was the Center for Food Safety's Ashley Lukens — yes, her again — bitching about the inadequacies of the “Good Neighbor” program, in which the big ag companies agree to voluntarily disclose restricted pesticide use and impose 100-foot buffers. It started on Kauai and is about to go statewide. But Ashley tells Civil Beat:

Time and time again we’ve seen that voluntary measures don’t capture bad actors so a voluntary program isn’t going to be adequate by itself, but information is absolutely a starting point.

Yet on Sept. 30, she was lauding the advent of “a historic Good Neighbor Program on O'ahu!” and taking credit for something that has been in the works between the Dept. of Ag and the seed companies since March:
Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser also weighed in on the call to make disclosure mandatory:

It’s volunteer [sic] so we have no way of knowing how accurate the numbers are unless there’s some government oversight. Without some oversight it’s based on pure trust of the industry. My experience with the industry is that’s not enough.

Yet we are supposed to trust him, even when he repeatedly lies....Like I said, this stuff is humorous.

Which brings me to Baby Hoos — Dylan — who penned this letter to the editor:

To be clear: I do not condone witch hunts of politicians or their supporters on social media or via rabid bloggers, but I do support truth.

Being a victim of such witch hunts as a child of a politician and as a candidate, they leave me with an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. Especially when being used as tools to manipulate facts.

Meanwhile, his own father is a fount of mistruths and manipulation. And Dylan has been at the forefront of the Kauai anti-GMO movement, which is characterized in large part by its witch hunts on social media. He himself held the infamous “shame” banner at the Lege, trying to cast aspersions on politicians who disagree with his view on biotech.

Dylan concludes with this little gem:

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

Yeah, Dylan, you and your “ends justify the means” comrades tell us all about it.

I'll close with this, posted on Facebook by Kaiulani Kimbrell, whose father, Andrew, runs the Center for Food Safety and helped bring Vandana Shiva to Hawaii so she could spread her poisonous message of fear:

It was posted with this message:

One of my DVD/CD projects [yes, Kaiulani is on the CFS payroll, too] we recently finished just arrived in the mail! Feels good! It's a manifesto for a new food future! Thanks team!

Proving once again that one person's propaganda is another's "manifesto."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Musings: Transparently Opaque

Who really is influencing politics in Hawaii, and how can the public find out?

As I reported on Monday, the Hawaii Center for Food Safety believes that seed companies are unduly influencing the Legislature, and it requested emails from five lawmakers to try and find a smoking gun.

When CFS failed to get the legislative emails — two Representatives said no, because the files are "personal and pre-decisional," and three Senators said the request was “overly broad, vague, and ambiguous”— CFS appealed to the Office of Information Practices. And then it appealed to its mailing list, claiming “our democracy is on the line” and asking folks to sign a petition demanding release of the emails.

Let's set aside the whole GMO debate for a moment and focus solely on the issues of transparency and influence, both of which are favorite rallying points for CFS.

I was particularly struck by this line in the CFS petition appeal (emphasis added):

Only overwhelming public support for transparency will ensure these records are released and our democracy is protected from corporate greed.

So again I ask the question, why is there concern only about the transparency of for-profit corporations, and absolutely none for nonprofit corporations? Does anyone actually believe that only for-profit corporations are greedy, or trying to exercise undue influence on the political process?

In its petition appeal, Center for Food Safety writes (emphasis in original):

HCFS filed the request on behalf of the community to ensure the proper functioning of our democratic process. Reviewing these records is the only way for the public to truly assess the extent to which the pesticide-seed industry exerts pressure and influence on our elected officials and policy-making process.

So why doesn't CFS believe the same holds true for its own records? How are we to assess the proper functioning of our democratic process, and who is influencing it, if advocacy groups like CFS don't have to reveal their funding sources, or who pays them to lobby?

And make no mistake, they do lobby, and they lobby dirty and hard.

Hawaii CFS Director Ashley Lukens is a registered lobbyist for a political advocacy group masquerading as a nonprofit, which allows her to avoid reporting the source of her lobbying funds. In an email to me, Ashley defended her lack of disclosure:

Donor disclosure only applies for lobbying for candidates or ballot initiatives which Center for Food Safety does not do.

Except CFS most definitely does lobby for ballot initiatives. It helped draft Kauai Bill 2491, and as its own website admits: 

CFS has a number of “model” state bills or local initiatives to better protect non-GE farmers, prohibit GE crop planting or require labeling. Through these efforts CFS has successfully assisted in the passage of a number of bills around the country in the past.

And Ashley herself lobbied for the Maui anti-GMO initiative, as first one, and then another, of her own press releases reveal.

CFS does have a separate political action fund, which should be doing the lobbying, not the nonprofit. What do we know about this group? Nothing, aside from the fact that it got IRS approval.

We do know CFS spent $455,000 on the Washington state GMO labeling initiative, and $1.1 million to promote the Oregon labeling initiative. CFS clearly has been trying to influence the legislative process in those states, but it's far less clear where CFS gets its money, other than, as I previously reported, fortunes derived from big oil, big industry, big pharma and big banks.”

And that information was never disclosed by CFS, but painstakingly uncovered by reviewing the tax filings of foundations and trusts.

So even as CFS publicly clamors about the corrupting influence of corporate money, it is itself a tool for corporate money — well-hidden corporate money. 

Now CFS is spreading some of that corporate money around to other Hawaii nonprofits, like the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, which claims to be a grassroots organization, but apparently has been unable to raise even $25,000 from individuals.

As I recently reported, CFS and HAPA are banding with nonprofits — Life of the Land, KAHEA, Hawaii SEED and others — to launch an initiative aimed at getting so-called “progressive” candidates elected. But we'll never know who is bankrolling this very deliberate attempt to influence Island politics, because these groups don't have to disclose their funding.

And what do we know about CFS, which came to Hawaii like gangbusters, and began a very calculated effort to manipulate Island politics and people through disinformation and propaganda campaigns?

Well, it's pretty much the Andrew Kimbrell show — a fact that prompted the Better Business Bureau to ding CFS in its charitable accountability review.

Now maybe you don't mind if Andrew Kimbrell and the scions of the 1% manipulate Hawaii politics under cover of nonprofits.

But surely we can all appreciate the hypocrisy, and rich irony, of Kimbrell and Ashley Lukens claiming they're worried about “saving democracy” even as they intentionally and actively work to undermine it.

To quote Ashley herself in a Hawaii Business interview:

"I'm all about giving people freedom within really clear expectations, with transparency and accountability throughout."

Except, of course, when it comes to Center for Food Safety. Then transparency and accountability are only for the "other guys."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Musings: Charter Changes

The Kauai County Charter Commission is considering a few measures that could make the 2016 election more interesting. 

But will it go gangbusters, and put some really juicy stuff on the ballot? Shoots, why not?

It's looking like voters will asked to decide whether Councilmembers should be elected by district, a concept adopted in other Hawaii counties, but rejected three times previously by Kauai voters. Though the tough part is determining how to create the districts, it seems the easiest and most sensible route would be to elect one member from each existing House District and four at large.

That approach also establish a training ground, if you will, for new legislative candidates in the various House districts.

The commission is also toying with the idea of changing the percentage of registered voters required to get charter amendments and initiatives/referendums on the ballot. It's currently easier to get a charter amendment on the ballot than an initiative/referendum, which is why we've seen groups like Kauai Rising try to pass off an initiative as a charter amendment, only to see their efforts fail to meet the legal sniff test.

One thought is to reduce the percentage of signatures needed for referendums (the process of voting on an ordinance already adopted by the Council) and initiatives (the process of proposing an ordinance), and raise the percentage for charter amendment. 

The Charter currently requires initiative/referendum petitions to be “signed by registered voters comprising not less than twenty percent (20%) of the number of voters registered in the last general election." Petitions for a charter amendment, which are actually much more serious, require just 5 percent. Seems an adjustment is in order.

Commission Joel Guy, meanwhile, is planning to put forth a proposal that would change how the Council fills its vacancies. Currently, the Charter states:

In the event a vacancy occurs in the council, the remaining members of the council shall appoint a successor with the required qualifications to fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.

We've seen how that plays out thrice in the last five years, and each time it's left a bitter taste in people's mouths.

In 2008, Kaipo Asing left the Council to fill the mayoral vacancy left by Bryan Baptiste's death. The Council chose former Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro to take his place. Daryl proved instrumental in passing a vacation rental bill that essentially grandfathered in all the illegals, while prohibiting the law-abiding folks from ever getting a permit. He was definitely a politicized pick.

In 2011, Derek Kawakami left the Council to finish out Rep. Mina Morita's term after she was named to the Public Utilities Commission. He was replaced by KipuKai Kualii, who had placed eighth in the previous Council election. The list of nine applicants for the position was kept confidential. There was some public grumbling about that, as well as the fact that a majority of the Council had apparently expressed its intent to pick KipuKai before the vote was actually held. What's more, he was nominated before the public had been given a chance to testify on any of the prospective candidates.

Then in 2013, Nadine Nakamura left the Council to work as Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.'s top aide. The Council was set to override the mayor's veto of Bill 2491, the controversial GMO/pesticide regulatory law. When it appeared the Council was unable to muster enough votes to override the mayor's veto, it recessed for a day and met in secret to pick Mason. The following day, the Council again took up the bill, and with Chock's vote, overrode the veto.

Again, none of the other candidates were publicly identified, though one was KipuKai, who had come in eighth in the last election. But when it became clear that the Council was headed for a 3-3 tie, which would have allowed the mayor to pick the new member, former Council Chair Jay Furfaro picked Mason.

The whole deal was dirty, and possibly illegal. It was one point raised, but not decided by the judge, when the seed companies sued to overturn 2491. Their complaint stated:

It [Bill 2491] was adopted — over a veto by Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho at the advice of his legal counsel — by a supermajority of the County Council that included a member who was selected in a manner that violated the Hawaii Open Meeting Law (H.R.S. Chapter 92).

Allowing the Council to choose a replacement from the public at large unduly politicizes the process. And in the case of Mason, it put a taint on his political career. What's more, Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced 2491, vetted at least one prospective candidate to determine his stance on the override. That's improper. There's also no reason why the list of candidates should be kept secret.

It would be a lot cleaner to change the charter so that the eighth place candidate is automatically tapped to fill a vacancy. And if that candidate is not available or interested, it goes to number nine. Anyone who comes in eighth or ninth already has some cachet with voters.

The commission could also get really brave and come up with an amendment to clarify whether the mayor has the power to suspend and/or discipline the police chief. The issue has been festering for three years now, ever since the mayor suspended Chief Darryl Perry. Now it's headed for oral arguments next Wednesday before the Intermediate Court of Appeals. As the ICA summary notes:

The dispute arose because, in or around February 2012, the Mayor suspended the Chief of Police from work for a period of time and then placed him on administrative leave. The Police Commission unanimously voted to have the Chief of Police return to work and ordered him to do so. However, when the Chief of Police returned to work, he was not allowed into his office and was informed that the Mayor refused to reinstate him and he was still on administrative leave. Despite their ongoing disagreement, the Police Commission and the Mayor subsequently reached a decision to allow the Chief of Police to return to work.

Wouldn't it be better to let Kauai voters weigh in on this issue, rather than letting the courts decide?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Musings: Double Standards

As Civil Beat reports today, the Hawaii Center for Food Safety has demanded, without success, all emails exchanged between five state lawmakers and seed industry officials.

The ostensible purpose of the request is to determine whether the biotech industry exerted any untoward influence on lawmakers when agricultural pesticide bills were up for consideration last session.

But what Civil Beat fails to reveal, likely because it's never bothered to look, is that Hawaii CFS director Ashley Lukens, herself a registered lobbyist, has never disclosed who is funding her work. In her reports for January-February 2015 and March-April 2015, she offers no clue as to how she earns her keep. No lobbying reports were filed for 2014.

Meanwhile, the 2014 tax return for her CFS parent organization in Washington is not available and its 2013 IRS 990 report makes no reference to Hawaii.

So the public is left completely in the dark, in terms of knowing who has funded Ashley's lobbying and other work, which supposedly is carried out on the public's behalf.

Why should CFS demand that lawmakers be held to a higher degree of transparency than a group that enjoys nonprofit status and claims, like legislators, to be working for our best interest? Don't the taxpayers, who are subsidizing these activities, have a right to know who is funding the work of “nonprofits” that are striving to influence the political system?

It's yet another example of the double standard practiced by anti-GMO groups, and allowed by unquestioning reporters like Civil Beat's Anita Hofschneider.

Gary Hooser's Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, HAPA, is similarly engaged in shadowy, nontransparent political activities. Though he was a regular at the state Capitol last session, and his group has launched a training academy specifically for “progressive” political hopefuls, neither he nor anyone from his organization have bothered to register as lobbyists.

After I wrote about HAPA's “Kuleana Academy,” program coordinator Aria Juliet Castillo contacted me to clarify that though participants will have to raise $1,000 for HAPA, their $9,000 tuition “is funded from grassroots support of Hawai'i residents and various grants from trusts and foundations.” 

She ended her email with: 

If you have any other questions, I would be happy to answer them.”

To which I replied: 

“And which trusts, foundations and individuals have provided funding for this?”


So what are HAPA and CFS trying to hide? Why won't they reveal who is funding their work?

Laurie Cicotello, a strong supporter of Hooser and HAPA, filed a complaint against Kauai Rep. Jimmy Tokioka after he erred in filing his campaign funding report. As she told The Garden Island:

Part of the reason why I felt compelled to do this was because as a voter, I absolutely believe we need to have transparency in the democratic process.”

But Cicotello seems unconcerned about the lack of transparency exercised by groups she supports.

Neither she nor HAPA made any mention of the fact that HAPA filed a report with the state Attorney General, claiming the organization is exempt from filing an annual financial report because it received less than $25,000 in contributions. Meanwhile, the National Center for Charitable Statistics showed HAPA with gross receipts of $121,446 and assets of $16,127 in 2014, the same year it got its nonprofit approval from the IRS and made that claim to the AG.

Hawaii SEED has similarly failed to register Capitol regulars Jeri DiPietro, Nancy Redfeather and Walter Ritte as its registered lobbyists, even though CFS executive director Andrew Kimbrell was featured in a youtube video congratulating Nancy for her years of work in the Legislature. And like CFS and now HAPA, Hawaii SEED is slow to file its tax returns, which offer the only glimpse into what they're doing.

Meanwhile, Monsanto, DOW, Syngenta, Bayer and Hawaii Crop Improvement Association all filed their lobbying income and expense reports, and contributions they make to politicians are duly noted in timely campaign reports.

But the supposedly progressive, supposedly transparent, supposedly public-minded groups hide their income sources and bundle their expenses, so the public can't easily learn who is funding their very political work, or how they're channeling those donations.

Rory Flynn, the capable editor of Farmers & Friends, (and I strongly urge you to subscribe) has done a bit of digging, and learned that HAPA received a grant from CFS to produce an anti-GMO/anti-seed company propaganda  video. (Where, btw, they used Gary's totally discredited claim that the companies applied 18 billion tons of pesticides on Kauai.) 

HAPA also got a grant from the Hawaii People's Fund, which typically gives less than $5,000, and another $10,000 from the Herb Block Foundation

But we'll never know to what extent, if any, North Shore Realtors and trust-funders are supporting the group's drive to draft political candidates.

Because at the end of the day, nonprofits are under no legal obligation to disclose their funders. Of course, groups like HAPA and CFS could voluntarily disclose how they get their dough, just like the seed companies have voluntarily disclosed how much pesticide they use. 

But the advocacy groups aren't doing what they demand of others.So they can lobby and influence legislators and the citizenry with no public scrutiny. And their funders can receive tax-deductions for what is in fact non-deductible political activity.

Both sides of the political spectrum game the system in this way. So when you see one of the players — especially one that claims to be "progressive," like CFS — crying foul, beware the crocodile tears.