Thursday, April 10, 2008

Musings: Interconnectedness

The sky was filled with wispy, streaky, quilted clouds, all of them gray, save for a few that briefly turned pink and gold in a faltering sunrise, then faded to gray again, when Koko and I took our walk this morning.

It feels like the rain is all pent up and just waiting to bust out, or maybe I’m just projecting….

Anyway, I was yawning large as we walked — can it only be Thursday? — but Koko was as perky as ever. Of course, she gets a lot more sleep than I do, and wisely spends no time in front of the computer.

Which is why she’s back in bed snoozing and I’m perusing the on-line newspapers, something I don’t regularly do, because who wants to get bored, depressed and irritated on a daily basis? But every now and then I check in and catch up.

First, I learned from reading my neighbor’s Garden Island (it wasn’t posted in the on-line edition) that the House killed the GMO taro research moratorium bill. Once again, the lege caves to pressure by the biotech industry.

Both the Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertser featured front-page coverage of the Associated Press story on the General Accounting Office’s probe into the Western Pacific Fisheries Council.

It was a bit surprising that neither of the dailies had their own reporters on a big local story like this, but at least they ran the AP version, which reports:

The Government Accountability Office plans to investigate whether the federal advisory body responsible for protecting fisheries off Hawai'i and other parts of the Pacific is properly using and accounting for government money.

The comments from Peter Young, former director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and a member of the Wespac Council, spoke volumes. Young told AP he had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain copies of the council's budget and meeting minutes from recent years because the council wouldn't give him the documents.

"Things like budget and minutes of meetings are the types of things that every member of the public expects a government agency to provide without hesitation," Young said. "It has been frustrating and I'm hopeful that we can get a clear understanding of how federal money is being spent."

The state finally had its big “ah ha” moment — everything really is connected! — with the delayed revelation that the Aloha Airlines shutdown is likely to have an unpleasant rippling effect on the local economy.

According to an article in today’s Star-Bulletin:

“Hawaii's economic growth could fall to zero and its jobless rate could rise by nearly a percentage point as a result of Aloha Airlines' decision to stop flying.”

And that’s not even factoring in how higher fuel prices might equate to pricier airline tickets, which could further dampen travel, and thus tourism. Nor does it delve into how the steadily rising costs of gas, electricity and food are likely to stymie discretionary spending by residents — at least among those of us who work for a living.

A portent of things to come was found in the comments section that followed the Star-Bulletin story, where Ainokea4u wrote:

More belt tightening coming....

replace the pulehu steak with spam.

replace the shoyu poki with sardine.

replace the poi with pork and beans...weenies optional.

life in hawaii is on a budget...with all these jobs being lost...what next? more homeless shelters built? when does the state say "enough is enough" and when do they start to take care of it's own? soon the only one's owning land will be foreigners. in 30 years there will be no true full blooded hawaiians left.

all because we neva take care of the little things.

As another example of our interconnectedness, farmer Jerry forwarded a New York Times article that explores how the ethanol corn craze and rising fuel and commodity prices are playing out on the mainland.

It seems farmers are pulling land — much of it marginal, sloped, wooded, prone to erosion or near streams — out of federally subsidized conservation programs in order to take advantage of higher prices for corn, soybeans and wheat. Some 35 million acres are at stake.

The article provided a fascinating look at how things turn ugly fast the minute the going gets rough:

Environmental and hunting groups are warning that years of progress could soon be lost, particularly with the native prairie in the Upper Midwest. But a broad coalition of baking, poultry, snack food, ethanol and livestock groups say bigger harvests are a more important priority than habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. They want the government to ease restrictions on the preserved land, which would encourage many more farmers to think beyond conservation.

“We’re in a crisis here. Do we want to eat, or do we want to worry about the birds?” asked JR Paterakis, a Baltimore baker who said he was so distressed at a meeting last month with Edward T. Schafer, the agriculture secretary, that he stood up and started speaking “vehemently.”

Among farmers, the notion of early releases from conservation contracts is prompting sharp disagreement and even anger. The American Soybean Association is in favor. “We need more food,” said John Hoffman, the association’s president.

The National Association of Wheat Growers is against, saying it believes “in the sanctity of contracts.” It does not want more crops to be grown, because commodity prices might go down.

That is something many of its members say they cannot afford, even with wheat at a robust $9 a bushel. Their own costs have increased, with diesel fuel and fertilizer up sharply. “It would decrease my profit margin, which is slim,” said Jeff Krehbiel of Hydro, Okla. “Let’s hurt the farmer in order to shut the bakers up, is that what we’re saying?”

Randy Schuring, a dairy farmer with 200 acres in the program, said there was no possible solution that would make everyone happy.

“If the government lets the land out and then crop prices fall, that’s going to hurt a lot of farmers,” said Mr. Schuring, whose farm is in Andover, S.D. “If it doesn’t let the land out and prices keep going up, that will hurt a lot of consumers. If only we had a crystal ball.”

Ah, yes. If only.

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