Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Musings: Another Lie Bites the Dust

Now that a westside ob/gyn, Dr. Graham Chelius, has come right out and said, in a letter to the editor in The Garden Island today:

There is not an increased rate of cardiac defects of any kind on the Westside of Kauai.

do you suppose Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, nurse practitioner Marghee Maupin, mayoral candidate Dustin Barca, Babes Against Biotech, Hawaii Seed, Vandana Shiva, KKCR disc jockeys, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Moms Against Monsanto, SHAKA, anti-GMO propagandists and the “red-shirt” supporters of Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 will finally stop repeating this lie?

It was a lie from the very start, as proven when I printed the actual concerns and comments of westside Dr. Jim Raelson in Saturday's post. His entirely reasonable and circumspect words were cravenly and intentionally twisted by Gary and his supporters into something inflammatory, heartbreaking and utterly false.

And now, with the letter from Dr. Chelius, the "westsiders with birth defects 10 times the national average" claim is confirmed as rural myth. Dr. Chelius wrote, emphasis added:

There is not an increased rate of cardiac defects of any kind on the Westside of Kauai. In Mr. Hooser’s recent opinion piece he referenced an unnamed doctor who felt that there was an increased rate. This issue was evaluated recently and compared to the state birth defect report (which Mr. Hooser also mentioned) we have not seen more cases than expected on the Westside. Cardiac defects are common, and Kauai is expected to have about 14 children born each year with any cardiac defect and three to four will need surgery within the first year of life. A portion of these children will be born on the Westside.

Please encourage your loved ones who are pregnant to get adequate prenatal care.

Graham Chelius, M.D.

So now that we know, how will the damage and fear promulgated by this lie be rectified?

Will “Babe” Nomi Carmona, who slandered Mayor Bernard Carvalho with her ugly Facebook memes depicting him as the “birth defects mayor,” issue an equally public apology?

Will KKCR disc jockeys Jimmy Trujillo, Jonathan Jay, Gordon LaBedz, Felicia Cowden (now a Council candidate) and all the others who hyped this unsubstantiated crap during the 2491 frenzy take to the airwaves to set their listeners straight?

Will nurse practitioner Marghee Maupin pen another guest editorial to correct her Sept. 8 guest editorial "Was it worth it?" The one where she made the totally false claim: 

Let’s ask the mother whose child is going on his sixth heart surgery and will forever be on blood thinners and will not ever be able to be involved in vigorous play as most boys are (the birth defect he is plagued with has been calculated by local doctors at 10 times the national average).

What about Gary and Tim? Will they finally and publicly admit, “Yeah, even though we knew it wasn't confirmed, we deliberately hyped it to the max to frighten people and build support for our Bill 2491?”

Equally important, now that this key bit of propaganda has been exposed, will Gary, Tim and the others stop telling the rest of their lies? Like how none of the seed companies ship any product off island,  use 18 tons of pesticides annually and refuse to comply with buffer zones and disclosures — all oft-repeated statements I have revealed as false.

Will they all finally be discredited in the eyes of a gullible, tragically misled populace?

And now that we know Gary and Tim will stretch the truth, distort facts, pander, deliberately foment fear and anxiety among their constituents and flat out lie, can any thinking voter possibly still believe these two men are "public servants" who deserve another term in office? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Musings: Not a Stretch

While The Garden Island is busy covering creationism as news and repeating the same old complaints against Hawaii Dairy Farms, it continues to miss major stories impacting large swaths of raw land on Kauai.

It has yet to catch up on the 1,103-acre Princeville sale, and completely missed news that Jimmy Pflueger has sold his 383-acre Pilaa property in advance of a state foreclosure action. The state was preparing to seize the ag land, which lies between Kuhio Highway and the ocean, south of Kilauea, after Pflueger failed to pay a $4 million fine levied after he caused a big mudslide there in 2001.

The Star-Advertiser reports that Pflueger was due to close the deal last Friday. He reportedly sold the land to Koa Kea International LLC, which in turn will convey a portion of it to Pilaa International LLC and West Beach Kauai LLC, which is registered to Honolulu attorney Gino Gabrio. Ironically, Koa Kea means “white coral" — a stark contrast to the reef at Pilaa after it was buried under tons of sediment.

Koa Kea International was registered by Honolulu attorney Wesley Ys Chang on Aug. 14, 2013 and lists one principal, Melange International LLC, a Colorado-based gas and oil exploration company that holds interests in oil and gas fields in North Dakota.

Koa Kea's managers are Gary Stewart, CEO of Melange, Theresa Stewart and Sara Jehn, an architect involved with the Coco Palms restoration. Campaign spending records for 2012 show Gary Stewart contributed to ultra conservative Republican candidates in Colorado and Democrat Tulsi Gabbard in Hawaii.

One has to wonder how long Pflueger — still awaiting sentencing for his role in the 2006 Ka Loko dam break that caused seven deaths — will be allowed to pull these stunts and literally get away with murder. If you're well enough to pull off a multi-million land sale to beat a foreclosure, surely you're well enough to withstand a sentencing hearing.

Meanwhile, in The Garden Island's article on the new dairy, reporter Chris D'Angelo draws an unwarranted conclusion in an apparent attempt to be clever:

Hawaii Dairy Farms’ revised plan for 578 acres in Mahaulepu continues to cause a stink for one South Shore resort and a number of local residents.

Isn't the whole issue, the focus of the lawsuit, whether the dairy actually will cause a stink, or one that either the Hyatt or Poipu residents will notice? At least TGI ran a graphic showing the dairy is 2.5 miles from the Hyatt and 2.3 miles from the closest subdivision. That seems a very long way for a smell to travel. Even the purported fly problem is a bit of a stretch. Consider this, from Penn State:

Flies normally stay within l/2-2 miles of their point of origin, but have been known to travel as far as 20 miles to find food and ovipositional sites.

If they've got plenty of manure at the dairy, why would flies be flying to the Hyatt? Except maybe the food is better.

It was especially bothersome to read this:

Koloa resident Bridget Hammerquist, an outspoken opponent of HDF’s plan and member of local group Friends of Mahaulepu, doesn’t believe it. She says the diary’s quest for profit should not be allowed to trump concerns about health.

Doesn't Bridget realize that HDF is intended to be a demonstration model? Because it is being financed by billionaire Pierre Omidyar's Ulu Pono Initiative, it doesn't have to be bothered with such pesky concerns as making a profit, or even staying out of the red. But those sorts of comments are bandied about to falsely portray this as some sort of evil corporate farm ready to sacrifice the environment to boost its bottom line.

The real meat of the story comes at the end, in the comment from Ulu Pono's Amy Hennesey:

[I]f development cannot coexist with agriculture, Kauai’s farmers, local food industry and, ultimately, families will be the “victims of unfettered growth.”

And with two large parcels of prime Kauai ag land being swooped up for upscale development just last week, that's not a stretch.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Musings: Looking for Answers

I recently wrote a post that questioned the current politicized approach to dealing with agricultural pesticides on Kauai, and noted that blood and urine tests can reveal the presence of agricultural chemicals in the body. I asked why none of these tests were being done to offer proof of pesticide exposure from the chem/seed companies. 

I received this comment from Pat Gegen, which I think is worthwhile to share:

Regarding the testing of the 75 chemicals you referenced - tests are available to test for specific or groups of chemicals and the metabolites they produce but they are very costly and not covered by health insurance. A basic test I am aware of that covers approximately 75% of the chemicals identified in the Waimea lawsuit used by Pioneer costs over $750.00. A test to determine the level of glyphosate in a person's system by it self cost me just under $100.00. Those are large amounts to spend on testing for individuals.

The doctor who expressed concerns that some birth defects may be 10 times the national average and need to be studied was Dr. Raelson who works out of KVMH. This was based on babies just delivered by himself and a few other providers on Kauai (study size was approximately 750 births if I recall correctly) - This does not include folks who may live on the westside but delivered somewhere else due to higher risk situations. His letter is in the public realm as it was submitted as testimony during deliberations of 2491.

I recognize that lab tests are expensive — though I'm not sure that none are covered by insurance if a doctor thinks they are needed — but still, why haven't some of the ant-GMO groups funded even a few such tests?  Hawaii SEED has spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing speakers here -- money that could've been used to accumulate some data and give worried families some answers. And what about the plaintiffs in the case against Pioneer?  Hasn't even one family paid out of their own pocket to find out for sure? I am not saying it is the responsibility of westsiders to prove they are being poisoned by pesticides, but still, hasn't even one person checked?

I also found an "open letter" from Dr. Jim Raelson, which I am reprinting here so that people can see for themselves what he really said:

Several people have asked about comments I made regarding birth defects (specifically cardiac defects) at the meeting we had a couple weeks ago with Kauai County Council members. I would like to clarify what I said at that meeting and share my thoughts on the issue. Dr. Chatkupt and I have for some time commented to each other on what we felt were an unusual number of certain birth defects in the population delivering at KVMH. Putting our heads together we seem to have a cluster of complex congenital heart defects. A few comments though about that:

1. There is no good data. I have learned that there has been no active Hawaii Birth Defects surveillance since 2005. In my verbal phone conversation with the director of the program I learned that due to administrative issues and the change of the program from UH to DOH there has been a lapse of the registry. DOH recognizes this deficiency and importance of having the data and has started an effort to resurrect data going back to 2005. A very informative complete report of hawaii birth defects broken down by year, type, county was published for the years 1986-2005:

but there is no reliable data after 2005. 

The only numbers that Dr. Chatkupt or I have is from our involvement the last 7 years with most of the significant cases of birth defects and our recollections. Some of our mothers deliver in Lihue and some in Oahu; we would not know about cases we had no clinical involvement. Also many serious birth defects including cardiac defects result in 1st and 2nd trimester spontaneous Ab's; which often would not be diagnosed.

2. Health Events clusters. Like cancer clusters, birth defects clusters need to have epidemiological evaluation to determine if the observed unusual incidence in a population is statistically significant or could occur by statistical chance alone. Because the population of our westside deliveries is so small I think this would require quite some time (years) to prove statistical significance. Certainly however DOH does have responsibility to collect and look at the data and do the epidemiological studies.

That being said, of particular concern is the incidence of serious cardiac malformations; particularly those that result from early embryogenesis defects that have occured in our population the last three years. We have had 5 major cardiac defects that have required early extensive surgical repair in San Diego the last 3 years: 2 cases of Transposition of the Great Vessels, 1 Hypoplastic left heart, 1 Hypoplastic Right heart with heterotaxy and 1 severe pulmonary stenosis. 

The transposition cases and hypoplasia cases are considered defects that occur in early first trimester. While cardiac birth defects are the most common birth defects these particular types of lesions are rare. 

Recent CDC statistics puts transposition at 1/3300births, hypoplastic Left heart at 1/4344 births and hypoplastic right at 1/17000 births. In the last 3 years we have had about 750 deliveries ; this gives us an incidence of 53/10,000 births for these 4 defects. National US data shows an incidence of 5.5/10,000 births, so we have 10 times the national rate. 

Interestingly, the report published for Hawaii's numbers from 1986 to 2005 showed an overall small downward trend over these years in total birth defects but with an increasing trend in transposition of the great vessels and pulmonary atresia.

The point I tried to make to Council members was that we don't know for sure if we truly have a problem of true clusters because it has not been adequately studied but as clinicians we are seeing suspicious clusters of disease. We also don't know about cause and effect but if we are seeing a true cluster of a disease that has been linked to low level exposure by good studies done elsewhere then that in itself is grounds for real concern that we are seeing serious health problems. One of the things to advocate for is tfor CDC and DOH to do the unbiased epidemiology studies and to do bio-monitoring. As an example CDC recently did a study in central Washington of the birth defect anencephaly because they were seeing a fourfold increase in that defect over national data. 

So as I've written before, has anyone, like Gary or the anti-GMO groups, asked the CDC to do such a study? Instead of pursuing the EPHIS, which as currently designed will be a highly-politicized and expensive process unlikely to deliver reliable, respected data, why not ask a qualified outside agency to come in?

Also, if you take the time to look at the birth defects registry, you will see that factors such as inadequate pre-natal care, very young mothers and drug and alcohol use are the most frequent causes of birth defects in Hawaii. When you consider also that drug overdose — both prescription and illegal — is the most common cause of accidental death in Hawaii, is it possible that the ice and oxycontin epidemic in Hawaii could be playing a role if there is indeed a birth defect cluster?

Yes, it could be pesticide exposure, but it could be due to other factors, or a combination of things. I've often wondered how many people on the westside have heavy metal poisoning due to the lead paint and arsenic in the canec drywall used in the old plantation homes.

I personally got very, very sick from such exposure while renting an old home in Anahola. I paid out of my own pocket for medical tests that verified high levels of lead and mercury, and also for tests that documented elevated lead levels in my house. As a result of those tests, I got the proper treatment and I moved.

I am not trying to minimize any real health concerns that are taking place on the westside or elsewhere. My point is only that we need more information. I feel it's irresponsible for politicians to be blaming one possible source and stoking people's fears, without any real evidence. Responsible politicians and activists would be seeking answers, not court rulings and media coverage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Musings: In Other Words

Big changes are ahead for North Shore Kauai now that Jeff Stone has teamed up with a Thai-Chinese billionaire to develop a “low-density resort community” at Princeville to be unveiled early next year.

In other words, there go the mauka lands for more gentleman estates.

As reported by Pacific Business News and the Star-Advertiser — but not The Garden Island — Stone sold 1,103 acres, including the Prince Golf Course, to billionaire Chanchai Ruayrungruang's Reignwood International investment group for $343 million. Stone's Resort Group will retain ownership of 7,100 acres.

Fortunately, like all the other developers who come to Kauai, Ruayrungruang is “excited to be part of the Kauai and Hawaii communities.” Why? Because “[t]he island’s natural beauty is spectacular, and its open countryside translates well to our sustainability goals for our communities.”

In other words, they'll be able to sell the raw land at a large profit for years to come.

But don't worry, they have only the best in mind:

We’re committed to preserving Princeville’s regal heritage and cultural roots,” [Ni Songhua, the London-based head of global investments and acquisitions for Reignwood] said. “We believe that Reignwood’s profound respect for Hawaiian history, along with our green vision for the future, will help to advance the long-term vision of Mr. Stone.”

In other words, they'll keep it upscale, use Hawaiian names for the streets, generate plenty of service jobs for the locals and make a pile of kala. So glad, to use Stone's words, that he found “investors who love our place." Cuz we wouldn't want any of the usual shuck-and-jivers coming in.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how Kauai got shucked and jived by Vandana Shiva, whose schtick was revealed by Michael Specter in the New Yorker. And like clockwork, Vandana responded with a 5,000 word rebuttal — published on the obscure Permaculture Research Institute website — in which she trashed Specter and his journalism in the very first paragraph.

In other words, Spector was right on target when he said it's a classic strategy of Shiva and others in the anti-GMO movement to attack and attempt to publicly discredit anyone who dares to disagree with their skewed version of the “truth.” I've experienced it countless times myself, most recently on Tim Bynum's Facebook post, when Lyn McNut, a card-carrying member of the KKCR echo chamber, left a comment: “Stop following Joan. No longer journalism.”

Yes, I magically went from a journalist that Lyn lauded to one no longer worth reading solely because I exposed the deception and bullshit of Gary Hooser, Tim Bynum and the Kauai anti-GMO movement. Now I see similar attacks being levied against Allan Parachini for speaking up. Doncha just love open minds and respect for different points of view?

Which leads me to a comment that Michael Salling left on one of my Facebook posts about the pesticide/GMO debate that is dividing our community:

Exactly what is the middle ground?

It's a good question, and one that should be discussed.

But how do you have such discussions when the anti side is so heavily populated by people like Lyn, who totally shut out anything that differs from their point of view? And folks like Dorothy “Lady Light” Kulick, who leaves newspaper comments urging people to do “WHATEVER IT TAKES” to stop biotech? Or vindictive fanatics like Malama Kauai's Megan Pittsley Fox, who tried to destroy Johnny Gordine's flower business by leaving disparaging reviews on Yelp after he urged the Council to “vote no” on 2491? Or groups like Maui's SHAKA Movement, which blithely promulgates bald-faced lies in their attempts to raise money?

Which leads me to Gary's latest scheme to publicly grandstand and talk stink about big ag on TV before the election, using as a soapbox the Economic Development (Sustainability / Agriculture / Food / Energy) & Intergovernmental Relations Committee he chairs. He has scheduled the following for Oct. 9:

A non-decision making, informational workshop to discuss water issues in Kaua’i’s Puna District which have been raised by the community group Hui Ho’opulapula Na Wai o Puna (“Hui”). The Workshop is being held so that the Committee can become better informed and to engage the community in the broader issue.

For those unfamiliar, the Puna District is the eastside. And of course it's non-decision-making, because the state Water Commission has kuleana over water use and water allocation. This is just an election year dog-and-pony show intended to give Gary another platform. 

It's the exact same scenario as the pesticide/GMO issue: the state won't play their game, so they come knocking at the Council's door and swell-head Gary is happy to open it up. Tim has already said the next big battle will be over water. 

In other words, mundane stuff like landfills and roads and speed limits and feral cats just isn't sexy enough for Councilmen who have basked in the glow of national and state spotlights.

Sadly, most farmers and ditch men won't show up to give these people a reality check so they'll get to make all sorts of unchallenged claims on the TV cameras as Gary nods and looks oh-so-very concerned and promises to do something that he can't if folks just vote him in for another term.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Musings: Right Down the Middle

I got a voice mail from Councilman Tim Bynum the other day, saying he wanted to talk to me about what I'd been writing lately, especially the Sept. 1 post, which I ended with:

Vote wisely, and avoid single-issue politics and politicians. Agriculture and food issues are far too complex for simplistic, jingoistic approaches, even if they're well-intentioned, and especially when they aren't.

Tim ended his message with: “Move to the middle, Joan, the middle is where the story is. You're right about that.”

“Middle” is the new buzzword these days, bandied about by those who enjoyed pandering to the fringiest of the fringe during the hey day of Bill 2491. But now they're scurrying to the middle, hoping to collect the votes that are concentrated there.

So I went to Tim's Facebook page, just to get a sense of how middling he really is, see who is following him and cheering him on. Guess what? It's the same old “red shirt” crowd. In a Sept. 8 post, Tim writes:

Since the introduction of 2491 I have more than 600 new Facebook friends! I appreciate all the messages of support and thanks for my courage and hard work and you know I share your passion.

HOWEVER this is an election year and I need my new passionate friends (and the passionate old ones) to step up and make a donation at timbynum.com. Today. There is a huge difference between a grassroots candidate like I have always been and a Corporate one.

He then goes on to take a swipe at first-time candidate Arryl Kaneshiro, who scored a remarkable third in the primary:

As of today I have one individual donation greater than $100.00. That’s it just one. No landowners, no corporations. Compare that to Arryl Kaneshiro who reported $16,150.00 in large donations from 34 sources including Larry Bowmen [sic] and our friend Allan Parchini [sic].

Actually, a review of Arryl's campaign reports shows he raised $27,665 from 15 sources, including his dad, Hawaii Government Employees Association, Louis Abrams, attorney Dan Case, William Sanchez, Malina Ranch, Koloa Rotarian Hugh Rowe, Hawaii Operating Engineers Industry, ILWU, civil engineer and former water department employee Heath Prow and yes, Larry Bowman and Kilauea furniture-maker Allan Parachini, who gave just $150. What exactly about that makes Arryl the “corporate candidate?”

Or is Tim just jealous because his impoverished campaign is being subsidized by state taxpayers? He goes on to write:

I have collected $5,150 from 87 small donations of $1000 or less. I do receive State-matching funds for about $4,000.00 of that. So total funds for my campaign so far less that $10,000.00. Just one week of radio on Kauai is about $3000.00.

Interestingly, one of those donations came from policeman Mark Begley, whose EEOC claim against KPD is now before the Council. Hmmm. Small conflict of interest, Tim?

Tim isn't the only member of the anti-GMO slate — which includes Gary Hooser, Mason Chock and Felicia Cowden — desperately drawing from the same shallow well. 

As I previously reported, Gary sent out own his own paranoiac plea shortly after the court overturned 2491. And Felicia recently distributed a “campaign strategy letter” where she co-opts the Hokulea image to bill herself as “a steersman for a cloudy day.” She admits to burning through $20,000 before the primary, before confessing: "The weak area for me was with the absentee ballot voters who mostly voted BEFORE my advertising came out, and this was largely the Filipino community."

Yes, Felicia, I'm sure they didn't vote for you only because they missed your ads.

As further evidence that Tim is nowhere near “middle ground,” he posted a link to Gary's fact-challenged guest editorial in The Garden Island, the one where Gary trots out all the old unsupported allegations — birth defects, sea urchin die offs, sickened school children, health complaints — to convict only the seed companies, while giving  Kauai Coffee's pesticide use a free pass.

Tim prefaced the link with this glowing endorsement:

This is a must read for anyone on the island regardless of your position or who you support in the coming election. There are new developments daily and people on Kauai are starting to focus on the truth before us and less on the divisive rhetoric that does nothing to inform. Share widely.

Truth? Non-divisive rhetoric? As just one example of the serious shibai, Gary wrote:

Ordinance 960 was a modest attempt to deal with those concerns by requiring disclosure, buffer zones and a study to determine health impacts. Rather than disclose to our community the quantities and types of pesticides they are spraying and allow us to study those potential health impacts, the companies have done everything possible to keep this information hidden.

Gary and Tim are apparently unaware that under the good neighbor plan, the companies voluntarily contacted residents within 500 feet of their operations — Kauai Coffee expanded it to a 1,500-foot radius — to ask if they wanted to be on the disclosure list. Syngenta and DOW went house-to-house, while Kauai Coffee sent out a mailer.

Those on the list are notified before spraying commences, and told what pesticides will be used. This was done before Bill 2491 even passed, and it continues to this day. About 110 are on the Kauai Coffee list, while just 10 signed up with Syngenta. I don't have the figures for DOW.

BASF has no fields near homes or public facilities, so it's not engaged in that same disclosure. Waimea residents are not getting disclosure from DuPont Pioneer because either they are or their neighbors are suing the company over dust, and Pioneer is legally prohibited from contacting plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

The companies also have voluntarily adopted 1,000-foot buffers around schools and hospitals, where they have let the land go fallow. They have 100-foot buffers between their fields and homes, and in some sensitive residential areas, are neither planting nor spraying.

As for studying health impacts, I recently learned that it is possible, through blood and urine tests, to determine if  75 chemicals — including many used by agriculture — are in the human body.

While Gary and Tim are fond of citing claims of pesticide poisoning, I cannot recall hearing of any lab tests confirming it. And I can't help but wonder why. Are these tests not being ordered by nurse practitioner Marghee Maupin and the always unnamed doctors that Gary likes to reference, even though they believe pesticides are the source of the patients' problems? Why the reluctance to gain evidence?

Perhaps because allegations have proven so much effective than facts in fomenting fear, gaining political clout and attracting new Facebook friends.

Which brings us to this: Can the county, and its citizenry, really afford to let the fear-mongers hold sway over public policy? If people are truly being harmed, let's find out and deal with it. Mechanisms do exist to find answers.

But let's not let the craven continue to use overblown rhetoric, unsubstantiated claims and outright lies to divide the community and distort the issue for their own selfish political ends.

Yes, the middle is where it's at if you want to heal this torn and battered community. But try as they might, Gary, Mason and Tim just can't move there while still maintaining cred with the fringe.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Musings: Death and Taxes

As the Kauai County Council considers a slew of property tax reform measures today, one proposal in particular is an eyebrow-raiser: Councilman Gary Hooser's bill to subsidize the taxes of vacation rental owners.

His proposed draft Bill 2559 would allow a property with multiple uses to be taxed on the percentage dedicated to each use. It was prompted, in part, by complaints from Toni Martin, the owner of the Tiki Hut TVR in Haena, who said her entire property was being taxed as a vacation rental, though she lives in the main house and only rents out a guest house.

But this can holds a tangle of worms. In its online ads, Tiki Hut promotes the entire property and its amenities — garden, hot tub, hammock on the lawn — as well as its location. So why shouldn't the entire property be taxed? What's more, a guest house isn't supposed to have a kitchen, but Tiki Hut does. It's also a ground-floor rental in the flood zone. 

By permitting a multi-use tax structure, the Council is effectively condoning a multiple use designation for a single TMK, which conflicts with both the North Shore Development Plan and the county zoning ordinance. Additionally, by giving commercial TVR owners tax breaks, the Council would be removing the incentive to return these properties back to a residential use.

Furthermore, a review of the property tax history for this parcel shows that it went from a high of $8,738.34 in 2008 down to $4,153.74 in 2012 then back up to $7,170.40 in 2013. The 2014 taxes were $7,208.96 — an amount that could be earned with just 27 days of rentals. So why is the owner complaining and expecting others to subsidize her taxes? 

It's an odd state of affairs when you have Gary advocating higher taxes for ag land, but lower taxes for resorts in residential neighborhoods. Unless, of course, you consider his affiliation with the high-end real estate industry.

Better to provide relief for those who really need it, as Mayor Berard Carvalho proposed with Bill 2554, which would give residential and homestead class owners a credit if their taxes increased by more than $500, provided they meet specific qualifications.

The Garden Island does a good job today of laying out the different proposals in what has become a highly politicized issue in this election year.

Also on today's Council agenda is an item dealing with the now-moot proposed beach access through the Kahuaina Plantation property at Waipake. It was recently sold to a buyer who does not plan to develop the land and will be relinquishing the subdivision, which triggered the access requirement.

It will be interesting to see whether certain Council members — Gary, Tim Bynum, Mason Chock and JoAnn Yukimura — try to exert pressure for an access when the new owner has already done the good deed of abandoning the development entitlements.

Update: In a classic example of spin, Rayne Regush of the Sierra Club, Kauai Chapter, blamed the failure to secure the access on Falko, claiming they had requested numerous delays as a "stall tactic." In fact, the Council repeatedly delayed it. In her testimony to the Council today, Rayne then went on to say "thank goodness the proposed access is off the table" because the ala loa (historic trail) is better. What she didn't mention is that the existence and/or route of the ala loa has never been determined, and may never be because the state isn't interested in pursuing it. So in essence, she was saying two birds in the bush are worth one in the hand. Uh, sure, whatever you say, Rayne.

Though some commenters like to claim that I “hate rich people,” this sale gives me a chance to lay that falsehood to rest. First, I don't hate anyone. Second, I'm fully aware that some rich people do very good things, like giving up development rights to keep the Waipake land open. Or Larry Bowman selling it to someone who was willing to keep it open, even though he could've made more by selling it to a developer.

And let's not forget the $3 million that Bowman's Falko Properties gave to school computer labs, youth sports, the Kauai Humane Society, the Hawaii Foodbank, Special Olympics, NOAA for its monk seal work and other grassroots efforts.

No, I have nothing against the rich per se. It's only the greedy ones who give nothing back that irk me.

Meanwhile, looking to the bigger world, the climate change news is grim, especially for an  island state.

Ocean acidification is increasing at a rate not seen in 300 million years. As carbon dioxide from all our fossil fuel emissions is absorbed by the seas, it turns into carbonic acid, which decreases the water's pH level. This, in turn, harms coral reefs, mollusks and other marine life. Combine that with other stressors, like over-fishing and pollution, and the ramifications aren't pretty.

What's more, even if carbon emissions are radically reduced, which seems highly unlikely, the acidification will continue as the seas process their stored carbon dioxide.

Jan TenBruggencate has done an excellent job of covering this topic on his Raising Islands blog. You can do a search on the site to find his numerous posts on the subject.

Climate change is also likely to severely impact bird populations, according to a new report by the Audubon Society, pushing many species toward extinction. In areas like Hawaii, where the native bird populations are already small and fragile, it may be especially difficult to survive as habitats shrink and mosquitoes bring avian malaria to higher elevations.

It brings to mind a passage written by the author, journalist and environmentalist Charles Bowden, who died Aug. 30:

We are at the crucial moment in the commission of a crime. Our hand is on the knife, the knife is at the victim's throat. We are trained to kill. We are trained to turn the earth to account and make money off it. To take it for granted. Logically, we will never be able to reverse this part of our culture in enough time to stop that knife in our hand. But that is the task at hand — to cease this act of violence.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Musings: Facts and Fears

Though Kauai's Big 5 ag companies have been disclosing their use of restricted use pesticides since December 2013, Councilman Gary Hooser and his supporters curiously continue their cry for disclosure.

Last Saturday, The Garden Island published a letter to the editor from Rob Brower, whose daughter, Andrea, helped pass Ordinance 960, the pesticide/GMO regulatory bill recently struck down by a federal judge. While claiming no one is “anti-ag,” he wrote:

Ever since the agrochemical industry has come under scrutiny, it has chosen to duck and weave rather than go eye to eye with their host community. Cooperate with disclosure and buffer zone regulations and ante up a few more tax dollars? No, easier to cozy up to the Farm Bureau so they can say, “we’re just a bunch of good ol’ farmers doing good ol’ farming just like your grandpappies did.”

Yet a review of the Kauai Agricultural Good Neighbor website shows that Syngenta, Dow, BASF, Pioneer and Kauai Coffee have disclosed eight months' use of restricted pesticides. And if I'm reading it right — and it ain't that easy to parse the report — it's a helluva lot.

A tally of the figures show the five ag operations used about 760 pounds and 1,145 gallons (9,160 pounds) of restricted use pesticides (RUP) between January and June 2014. That's a total of 9,920 pounds, or 4.96 tons. Of that, 810.5 pounds were active ingredients like atrazine, paraquat, chlorpyrifos, alachlor and permethrin.

So now that we have solid data on pesticide use, why aren't Gary and his supporters referencing it, instead of continuing to falsely claim that “all they want is disclosure?” Perhaps because the figures show that annual RUP use is closer to 10 tons, rather than the 18 tons Gary continues to assert, or the 17 tons referenced under “let's remember the facts” in Marghee Maupin's guest editorial yesterday.

What, isn't 10 tons sufficient to generate concern? Why such reluctance to stick to actual data — the facts — now that we have it?

Brower goes on to say:

We all support Kauai Coffee.

So why is Kauai Coffee given a free pass, and only the seed companies reviled? The disclosure reports show that in the past six months, Kauai Coffee used 248.9 gallons of Gramoxone, which translates to 497.8 pounds of the active ingredient paraquat dichloride on its fields. In other words, its RUP use is comparable to the seed companies.

Yet Councilman Tim Bynum does not include Kauai Coffee in his ag tax bill, and instead only excludes the seed companies from an ag tax dedication because of the “tremendous impact they've had on the community.” If they're all using comparable amounts of pesticides, wouldn't their impacts be the same?

What is the goal here? 

The disclosure reports also provide valuable information about how much ag land is being directly impacted by restricted use pesticides. Though the five companies control thousands of acres, the largest field size where RUPs were applied was 326 acres. Other field sizes ranged from less than an acre to 20-, 30-, 50- and 100-acre fields. Most of the sites were less than 50 acres. This seems to refute the oft-made claim that all of the land is “drenched” with pesticides on a daily basis, while supporting the contention that specific fields are being sprayed. It's impossible to tell from the data whether some fields are being sprayed intensively, as has been claimed, because tax map keys aren't provided.

In another letter to the editor, John Patt writes that Kauai County must “continue our struggle to protect our island from toxins known and unknown,” despite Ordinance 960 being struck down. He goes on to write:

One avenue is to appeal Judge Kurren’s decision. Another approach would be to revise 2491 by concentrating on the pesticide issues and putting the GMO regulations on hold. The dispersal of numerous pesticides into our air and water with unknown consequences, and with multiple untested by-products is a more imminent threat to our health and safety than the GMOs.

What John and others who have not read the court order do not seem to realize is the judge ruled the county has no authority to regulate either GMOs or pesticides. Though it's great John and others are belatedly realizing that pesticides are a greater threat than GMOs, the county's authority in this area has been greatly curtailed by the failure of Ordinance 960.

It seems that many of the 960 supporters still do not realize how much was at stake in this flawed bill that they pushed through — and how much has been lost by the pre-emption decision.

Still, what we do have is voluntary disclosure data on restricted pesticide use — data that could be used to pressure the state to conduct more environmental studies on pesticide drift, and the presence of pesticides in storm runoff, dust, streams and nearshore marine waters. Such studies could guide meaningful actions, if warranted, such as buffer zones, health studies and tighter regulations on use.

Instead, folks are still claiming we have no disclosure and pretending the county has options, both of which stymie any movement forward. 

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, meanwhile, wants to pursue the EPHIS study, even if it requires an appeal of the judge's order.

Setting aside the fact that an appeal could take a very long time, and an EPHIS even longer, there's also the question of just how meaningful any study will be that is planned and managed by a partisan, politicized group.

If the true objective is to provide relief for the sick and suffering on the westside, why not take steps now to ask the state for help in assessing the situation, using the data that is already disclosed? Or ask the CDC to come in and do a health study?

It's time to take county politics and politicians out of the picture and focus attention and pressure on the state and feds. Either that, or keep wringing our hands and throwing rhetorical jabs and posturing as the pesticide users continue business as usual and the westsiders have no facts to allay their fomented fears.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Musings: Monday Mish-Mash

It's a full moon Monday, a time for sharing a few things that caught my eye, or were sent my way, in recent days.

Let's start with this, from the Los Angeles Times:
Meanwhile, Falko Partners has sold Kahuaina Plantation — 360 acres of ag land along the pristine, secluded coast at Waipake — to a buyer who wants to keep the land open and build just one house, or maybe nothing at all. It was listed for $67.5 million, but I'm not sure how much it finally sold for. Only that it did, and there will be no development of the 76 CPR lots — and thus no new beach access. The access was exacted as a condition of the subdivision, triggered once density exceeded six homes. But since the subdivision is being withdrawn, the access condition disappears.

Gee, if only the Council had approved the access when Falko first laid it on the table, it would've been a done deed, instead of a dead deal. But no, Councilmen Gary Hooser, Tim Bynum and Mason Chock, egged on by misinformed activists, wanted more, more, more. This is what happens, people, when you stupidly wrangle for something better, when you were already getting something great, and thus end up with nothing at all. 
But hey, it's wonderful news for the area's monk seals, turtles, birds and other wildlife, who won't have to deal with the masses.

Speaking of which, cops aren't just getting armored tanks and automatic weapons from Homeland Security. As reported in The Guardian:

Local police have also received millions of dollars in grants for Stingray surveillance devices, the invasive and controversial spying tool that police have been using to secretly suck up cellphone data from entire neighborhoods – then covering it up.

And at least 10 schools in Texas are also stocking up on surplus military weaponry, ostensibly to respond to campus “shooter” incidents:

In all, the departments received 64 M16 rifles, 18 M14 rifles, 25 automatic pistols, and magazines capable of holding 4,500 rounds of ammunition as well armored plating, tactical vests, and 15 surplus military vehicles.

Continuing in the category of “dumb fuckin' ideas” — the subject line of an emailed link sent to me by a surfer — you'll find a plan by the Coco Palms' hucksters to also develop a 400-unit resort in West Oahu centered around a four-acre surfing wave pool. As the surfer noted:

Waves are energy and take a lot of energy to create.

Besides, who wants to come to Hawaii and surf in a pool?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water:

The election, meanwhile, continues full force, with a few images speaking volumes:

And finally, as a thoughtful counter to Facebook memes, bumper sticker philosophies and knee-jerk activism, check out Luke Evslin's most recent posting on his blog, Ka Wae. 

What, the world isn't black-and-white?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Musings: Real Objectives

As the County Council bandies about a plan to tax the seed companies differently than other agricultural uses, it's time to ask, what is the real objective here?

Is it to drive out the GMO seed companies? Open the land for development? Generate more property tax revenues for the county? Stick it to the largest private landowners? Pander to voters in an election year? End subsidies for only certain types of corporate ag? Or some combination thereof?

Councilman Tim Bynum, who introduced Bill 2546, said in yesterday's Council committee meeting that the seed companies have created “significant impacts on the community. Do we want to give them the same subsidies as we do people who provide food, flowers, coffee?”

To remove that subsidy, Tim's bill calls for “excluding lands that are used primarily for the research and development of crops or parent seed production” from the definition of agricultural use. They would be placed instead into a separate classification: agronomics. Tim justifies it in part by his repeated undocumented assertion that the seed companies are engaged only in research, and do not produce anything for sale.

But as Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura noted:

If you take land out of an agricultural dedication it is assessed at its highest and best use, which is its development value. I believe that has all kinds of implications in terms of a pressure on farmers to develop their land.

So how does that fulfill Tim's stated goal of the ag dedication, which is to keep ag lands in production? And what about the ag vacation rentals that do a wink-wink phony nursery to get an ag dedication, when their real income is derived from luxury short-term accommodations? Haven't they created a “significant impact on the community?”

JoAnn proposed amending the bill to keep the land in ag, while creating another assessment for seed companies.

Tom Shigemoto of A&B, which owns 7,000 acres of ag land, with 4,000 acres currently leased for coffee and seed corn, brought up another point:

Removing land from the ag dedication will significantly increase real property tax assessments and payments. For landowners dedicated to keeping land in agriculture, it may represent a challenge in obtaining ag lessees that are able to effectively utilize large tracts of land. Land costs are a significant component in the overall success of farming.

In other words, by taking thousands of acres out of ag and putting them into a higher-priced agrinomics category, the county is essentially ensuring that only multinational chemical companies will be able to afford the taxes. And as Tom noted, even they may not want to pay.

Imposing additional financial challenges [on the seed companies] may result in either some of these entities scaling back or relocating to other entities with more favorable tax structures, with the unintended consequence of jeopardizing the longterm viability and sustainability of Kauai's agricultural industry.

Is it an unintended consequence? As I've reported previously, high end realtors are backing the anti-GMO movements on Kauai and Maui. They certainly stand to benefit from the demise of ag on the undeveloped westside, with all its lovely sunset and Niihau views.

Though some may say "good riddance" if the seed companies scale back or pack up and leave — which is Councilman Gary Hooser's intent in supporting the bill — what will happen to the thousands of acres they lease that would no longer be in agricultural dedication, and taxed instead on their highest and best use?

You got it: development. The landowners would have to pay the property taxes somehow. And the reality is that there is no other ag enterprise — not ranchers, farmers or flower growers — ready, willing or able to cultivate the land now used by the seed companies.

David Arakawa of the Land Use Research Foundation raised the specter of legality, saying there could be court challenges associated if acreage currently designated as Important Ag Lands is placed in a different tax category. He also asked whether the bill would be affected by the recent federal court ruling that pre-empted Ordinance 960, the county's pesticide/GMO regulatory bill.

“You can't put lipstick on a pig,” he said.

“Are you saying this bill is a pig?” Gary shot back.

“If the intent was to go after GMOs, no amount of changing a word here or there is going to hide that,” David replied. “That not gonna fly. A judge is gonna see through it.”

Gary, who previously defended the legality of Ordinance 960, pooh-poohed the idea that Tim's tax bill could be illegal. “Disingenuous is the word for closing the afternoon. It's important for us to clarify things for the record. The public hears these accusations that we're targeting, it's against the law, we're going to end up in court. The county clearly has the authority over taxes.”

Yes, I've always agreed that disingenuousness is wrong, and things should be clarified for the record. But every time I try to do that with Gary's falsehoods about Ordinance 960, GMOs and pesticides, he flips out and goes on the attack.

“To have this misinformation spewed from the microphone is inappropriate,” Gary said, before spewing a bit of his own.

“We're not raising anyone's taxes,” Gary said. “We're discussing the possibilities.”

The Council will resume discussion on the bill in two weeks. Which would be a good time for the public to press for honest answers to the question: What is the real objective here?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Musings: Food for Thought

Much of the current debate about food and agriculture in this country is elitist.

As I've witnessed the denigration of biotech, the trendiness of organics and locavorism, the Islands' flailing efforts to achieve food sustainability and self-sufficiency, I've noticed that an important issue is often overlooked: feeding the poor.

Those who depend on food banks and food stamps (now called SNAP for supplemental nutrition assistance program) do not have the luxury of being picky about what they eat. They're hungry, they're broke and they eat what's given to them, what their limited budget can afford and what's available in stores in their neighborhoods.

A new study makes the disparity clear: Better dietary quality was associated with higher socioeconomic status, and the gap widened with time.

As Roberto A. Ferdman blogs in The Washington Post:

"Price is a major determinant of food choice, and healthful foods generally cost more than unhealthful foods in the United States," the study said. A significant portion of the U.S. population, after all, has enough trouble feeding itself any food, let alone fancy food—some 15 percent of the U.S. population and 17 percent of U.S. households were food "insecure" as of 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which means that they occasionally run out of money for food, or food entirely.

That rate is even higher in the Islands. On Kauai, 20 percent of the population depends on free food distributed by the Hawaii Foodbank – Kauai Branch. Most of them are keiki, kupuna, single moms, the working poor.

According to an article in USA Today:

The widening rich-poor diet gap is disconcerting and "will have important public health implications," said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. Diet-linked chronic diseases like diabetes have become more common in Americans in general, and especially in the poor, he noted.

"Declining diet quality over time may actually widen the gap between the poor and the rich," Hu said.

This gap is nothing new. As Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, told Newsweek back in 2010:

In America, food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say—social class.”

Though it's easy to say let's get rid of GMOs, eliminate pesticide use and stop industrial ag/monocropping/chem farming or what-have-you, the immediate, widespread adoption of such tactics would have stark results: higher food prices and more hungry people.

Which is not to say we shouldn't be embracing farming methods that are kind to the land and livestock, and we should absolutely support local producers. But agricultural transitions take time, money, land, water and farmers. Meanwhile, the world's population keeps growing, and it wants more food, more meat.

So it comes down to choices, some determined by values, others by economic necessity and still others by personal taste. When I was giving out groceries at the Lihue Court Townhomes food pantry, I was surprised to see most people choose canned fruit over fresh, Spam over tuna, white rice over brown. None of them ever requested GMO-free or organic, and I'm quite certain none of them ever bought any “red shirts.”

They often rejected fresh veggies because they didn't know how to cook them, or preferred the convenience and familiarity of processed food. Others were homeless and had no cooking facilities. Some restricted their cooking to a microwave because they didn't want their kids using the stove, or were trying to keep electric bills down.

It wasn't simply a matter of making healthy foods available. There's an education component involved, too, and it's complicated by the multitude of stressors that poor people face. As the study noted:

"Nutrition knowledge, which is strongly related to education level, is likely to play a role in adoption of healthful dietary habits, and better nutrition may be a lower priority for economically disadvantaged groups, who have many other pressing needs."

It seems that progressives are devoting an inordinate amount of time, energy and money to GMOs, rather than the bigger issues of social justice, economic disparity, feeding the hungry and supporting local agriculture.

For example, rather than waging a doomed campaign for mayor, Dustin Barca could have used that same energy, money and cache with young people to open up taro patches and start community gardens. Rather than waste money on the Babes' girlie calendars, folks could've fed homeless keiki.

Rather than waste countless hours preaching to the choir on KKCR and Facebook, people could've conducted a healthy food drive, operated soup kitchens, or taught nutrition education classes. Rather than fund flawed charter amendments, the uber wealthy and gentleman farmers on this island could have opened some of their land to small farmers, funded agricultural initiatives.

Or as Joni Kamiya-Rose noted on her HawaiiFarmersDaughter blog, rather than spend at least $80,000 on speaking fees for Vandana Shiva, Hawaii SEED could've provided some 200,000 meals for the hungry.

When your belly is full and you've got enough money to shop at the health food stores, it's easy to be didactic and uncompromising about food and farming practices. But that's something of an elitist luxury when a fifth of all Islanders don't have enough to eat.

September is hunger action month. Please give generously to the Hawaii Foodbank, which operates on all islands, including Kauai. And on Kauai, accept no substitutes. Hawaii Foodbank is the real deal, the only food bank actually feeding the hungry. More on that later this week.