Thursday, July 31, 2008

More on Superferry Military Links

It seems there’s a bit more news on efforts that are now under way to adapt the second Superferry, now under construction at the Austal USA shipyard in Alabama, for military uses.

First, we have The Advertiser reporting today — in a follow-up of the news posted yesterday on Larry Geller’s Disappeared News, for which he is given credit — that Hawaii Superferry paid for the installation of the ramps itself.

However, the company is still hopeful that the $210,000 it spent in lobbying last summer will pay off and the U.S. Department of Defense will ultimately pick up the tab under “a program that helps pay for militarily useful improvements to commercial vessels in exchange for use of the vessels by the military in emergencies."

The article has Thomas Fargo, Superferry's chief executive officer, saying “that the modification will help the catamaran operate during winter swells at Kahului Harbor on Maui and at an earthquake-damaged pier at Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island.”

However, in an email sent to a Kauai resident today, Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge writes: “Interesting, though, that HSF and harbors are discussing whether the new ramp can even be used on Maui. It might only be good for the Big Island or other harbors not currently on the route.”

In other words, Kauai? Or harbors completely out of the state? Maui Superferry follower Dick Mayer wonders if the new ferry is being outfitted with ramps “so that the Company will be able to transfer the vessel to other locations which do not have the specially designed (Hawaii gov't paid-for) barges at each port. It is called an ‘Exit Strategy’ !”

And then today, we have an article published in the Alabama Press-Register that reiterates that Austal has submitted its final bid for a contract to build the 10 Joint High Speed Vessels the Navy is seeking. The article quotes Bob Browning, Austal's chief executive, as saying the firm is "perfectly positioned" to build the vessels. It reports:

"We have the trained workforce ready today, we have the facilities available today to support construction, and we have already built a vessel of very similar design right here in Mobile," he said, referring the Hawaii Superferry.

Now isn’t that a coincidence.

The article goes on to say:

Part of a $190-million, two-ship contract, the vessel is being built for Hawaii Superferry Inc. The first superferry is in service in Hawaii, but the company's plan to run an inter-island ferry service has been plagued by environmental protests, and company officials could be positioning the vessel for sale to a third party.

Browning said he met recently with Thomas Fargo, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who is Hawaii Superferry's chief executive, and there was "no mention" of plans to sell the second vessel.

"However, the national defense features we are adding to HSF 2 would enable the vessel to be chartered to the military if they so desired," Browning said.

Now I don’t mind if HSF 2, or even the Alakai, for that matter, is made into a military ship, although it bothers me that the HSF spent so much money lobbying in an effort to get us taxpayers to pick up the tab. But I’m a fan of full disclosure, and when Hawaii Superferry came to town, asking for all sorts of state help and public acceptance for what is proving to be a rather dubious commercial enterprise, I think they should have been totally up front about their military aspirations.

Then we all could have weighed the issue more carefully, and asked such probing questions as whether HSF really is committed to the state for the long haul, or if we’ll be left holding the bag for those expensive harbor improvements, tugboat operations and litigation — and have no alternative form of transportation to show for it.

And then there’s still the unanswered question of why Gov. Lingle went out on such a limb to ensure the Superferry sailed. Surely it wasn’t just the replica of the Alakai she received from top Superferry investor John Lehman, who bequeathed a similar gift on that other key ferry skid-greaser, House Speaker Calvin Say, within months of the special legislative session being convened. (Sen. President Colleen Hanbusa, on the other hand, got only a framed photograph.)

But slow by slow, it seems the truth is being revealed, and perhaps one day the full tale will be told. Somehow, though, I don't think it will be The Advertiser that breaks the story.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Superferry Military Link

I just checked out Larry Geller's Disappeared News blog and he has a very interesting post that confirms something that many of us have believed all along: the Hawaii Superferry is indeed intended for military purposes.

Larry quotes a report in today's edition of BYM Marine and Maritime News that contains this nugget:

Austal was recently awarded a new contract to provide additional features and equipment on the second Hawaii Superferry to facilitate its use by the military. This follows on from the long term charter, since 2001, of the Austal built 101 metre vehicle-passenger catamaran “WestPac Express” by the III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) based on Okinawa, Japan. As an adapted commercial vessel “WestPac Express” has demonstrated the enormous flexibility, cost savings and efficiencies achievable by commercial fast ferry technology over conventional air or sea transport.

As you may recall, the company had sought federal funding to equip the second ferry with ramps that would allow the military vehicles to easily access the ship. Other documents indicated that Austal also wanted to add desalination and sewage treatment plants and widen the hull to facilitate military uses. The total price tag was $5 million.

The article also states that Austal USA, which built the Alakai, continues to participate in the process to secure the lucrative Navy contract to build Joint High Speed Vessels for the military. It states:

The Austal JHSV Team’s low risk, proven technology solution combines the expertise of Austal USA, Austal Ships (Australia) and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (GDAIS).

Austal USA’s Mobile, Alabama shipyard is unique in having the proven infrastructure and trained workforce in place to design, construct, deliver and service 100 metre+ high speed ships in the US. Austal USA recently launched the 127 metre trimaran LCS-2 “Independence” combat ship for the US Navy and has under construction the second 107 metre Hawaii Superferry catamaran high speed vehicle-passenger ferry. In 2007 Austal USA delivered the first Hawaii Superferry “Alakai” for intra-island service in the Hawaiian islands.

Thanks, Larry, for picking up that bit of "news."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Details of Naue Burials Lawsuit

As I reported yesterday evening, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. was unable to secure a temporary restraining order to halt construction of Joe Brescia’s house atop some 30 burials at Naue.

However, the NHLC also has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on behalf of Jeff Chandler, a fisherman whose family goes way back in the Wainiha-Haena area. That hearing is set for Aug. 12 in Kauai's Fifth Circuit Court.

The memorandum in support of that motion states:

Initially, Brescia’s contracted archaeologists produced an incomplete and misleading description of the affected burial site, leaving the Kaua`i/Ni`ihau Island Burial Council (KNIBC) with an incomplete picture of the extent of burials his luxury home construction would impact. In addition, following the KNIBC’s determination to preserve the thirty individual burials comprising the burial site located on the Brescia parcel in place, the State defendants failed to uphold their obligations pursuant to the State Constitution, Hawai`i Revised Statutes and the public trust doctrine to preserve the burial site. Instead, they improperly assented to county permitting and unilaterally usurped the Burial Council’s role, by approving a revised burial mitigation plan that allowed construction of yet another of a string of Brescia’s luxury residential investment property developments to commence.

In arguing that irreparable harm will be done if construction is allowed, NHLC cites OHA’s Kai Markell and Dr. Kēhaunani Cachola-Abad as saying construction of a home or any other substantive structure on the cemetery at the Brescia parcel is “'an extreme cultural affront' and a profound desecration of a sacred place, a wahi kapu, of the Hawaiian people…”

The document further states:

Chandler is irreparably harmed thereby because he will be unable follow ancient traditions to protect the `iwi. One of his most deeply cherished traditional and customary native Hawaiian religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices obligates him to ensure that the `iwi of his ancestors are not disturbed or desecrated. No mitigation can repair the damage that is done. In addition, even though construction has started, the damage is not complete. The existence of the home on the site will cause ongoing irreparable damage to Chandler and other Native Hawaiians.

The document also addresses the issue of traditional practices regarding burials:

One of the critical tenets of Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices related to burials is the kuleana (obligation) to ensure that `iwi (“Native Hawaiian skeletal remains”) remain undisturbed; and that they receive proper care and respect. This kuleana is a traditional and customary practice of Native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778. As a native Hawaiian, Chandler engages in this traditional and customary practice which is aligned squarely with the intent of Act 306.

The document states that Brescia bought the land from Sylvester Stallone on Feb. 11, 2000, and provides the following history:

In March 2007, Brescia began archaeological digging on the property and discovered a burial site, which is clearly “an ancestral native Hawaiian graveyard and cemetery” containing 30 individual human burials, seven of which would be directly affected by his proposed foundations. However, On December 11, 2007, Brescia prematurely received approval from the Planning Commission to construct his residence, subject to the condition that he comply with the requirements of the burial council and the SHPD [State Historic Preservation Division]. The Planning Commission also required Brescia to apply for the necessary building permits within four months after approval by the burial council, and the DLNR. On February 7, 2008, Brescia sought authorization from the KNIBC to relocate six of the thirty human burials identified through the AIS [Archaeological Inventory Survey] on the Brescia parcel. The KNIBC deferred its determination at that time. On April 3, 2008, the KNIBC announced that a revised burial treatment plan was submitted on behalf of Brescia that proposed the relocation of one additional burial, bringing the total to seven. However, the description of these burials failed to properly identify the extent of the burial site.

In placing the blame squarely on SHPD, specifically Kauai’s state archeologist, it further states:

In a letter dated April 24, 2008, then-acting State Historic Preservation Division administrator Nancy McMahon improperly approved the preservation component of Plaintiff’s burial treatment plan submitted by Brescia (revised BTP) without consulting the KNIBC or any appropriate native Hawaiian organization as to the proper treatment of the burial site, nor assuring consistency with its preservation determination. The revised BTP contemplated the construction of a portion of the planned Brescia residential development directly upon 7 individual burials within the burial site. The KNIBC was denied the opportunity to review the proposed treatment of the burial site and the seven individual burials located beneath the residence’s foundation.

Ultimately, it seems NHLC's argument is based on the assertion that Brescia submitted a burial treatment plan with maps that indicated the location of individual burials, but these maps failed to define the boundaries of the burial site. There is a difference, under state law, between individual burials and a burial site, which is identified as “any specific unmarked location where prehistoric or historic human skeletal remains and their associated burial good are interred, and its immediate surrounding archaeological context, including any associated surface and subsurface features.”

At Naue, burials as well as “a variety of traditional artifacts” were discovered, and NHLC is arguing that “contrary to what Brescia described in his BTP, the 30 burials constitute a single burial site” and “constitute ‘an ancestral native Hawaiian graveyard and cemetery.’” It also notes that under state law, “burial sites in areas with a concentration of skeletal remains are of ‘high preservation value.’”

The document further states:

In addition, the evidence points to two to three times the amount of unmarked burials on the Brescia parcel. Dr. Abad agrees there are “further burials in and amongst the 30 burials” on the undisturbed areas of the Brescia property, relying in part on Brescia’s own archaeologist, who conceded that “it is likely that more human burials remain unidentified and in situ in the land surrounding the project area.”

Of particular interest in the memorandum is this assertion:

At the April 3, 2008 meeting, due to erroneous legal advice it received from its appointed counsel, the KNIBC members announced that it was their understanding that they could not prevent the developer from building even if the Council voted to preserve in place. Nevertheless, the council voted to preserve all thirty burials in place, not only the seven which Brescia proposed to relocate, and voted to recommend that any future `iwi found during the construction process, also be preserved in place. Thus, the council effectively voted to preserve the entire burial site in place, but failed, due to erroneous advice, to identify the outer boundary of the site.

Well, I guess that kind of lays to rest claims that have been made in the comments section of this blog that Hawaiians don’t care about burials and none of them are up in arms about this and it’s not really a cemetery and it's no big deal and other such nonsense.

It also raises troubling questions about how well SHPD is carrying out its responsibilities of protecting burials and other ancient cultural sites. And that, it seems, is really at the crux of this issue.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Naue Burials Legal Update

I just learned that a motion for a temporary restraining order, filed Friday by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. to halt construction of Joe Brescia’s house atop ancient Hawaiian burials at Naue, was denied today in Fifth Circuit Court. However, a hearing for an injunction to stop construction is set for Aug. 12. I’ll write more about this and the specifics of the pleadings tomorrow.

Musings: Pretty Little Dream

A cool, wet night shifted almost imperceptibly into a cooler, wetter dawn that morphed into a quiet Monday morning, just the kind I like. Koko and I slipped out briefly, during a slight lull in the downpour, and it did my heart good to see my taro plants already rejuvenated from a couple of hours of heavy rain.

You can irrigate plants all you like, but if you watch them carefully, it’s obvious that rain is what they really want. It’s got stuff they need that we can’t even fathom — minus the chlorine from municipal water and the chemicals found in plastic hoses.

Looking at the perky plants all covered with raindrops got me thinking about an article that Farmer Jerry gave me a while ago, in part to convince me that scientists manipulating food crops have our best interests at heart and GMOs can play a crucial role in feeding the world.

Entitled “Ears of plenty,” and published in the Economist, which unfortunately doesn’t allow full on-line access to its stories without a subscription, it tells the story of wheat — “the strange little grass that has done so much for the human race.”

Although the author turned me off in the second paragraph by dismissing gluten allergies, which can be life-threatening, as a “fashion” making “wheat seem less wholesome,” I kept on reading about how some 11,000 years ago, people in what is now Syria began cultivating wild grass seeds, one of which “contains the identical genetic fingerprint of modern domesticated wheat.”

From there comes a fascinating tale of how wheat began to evolve and humans shifted from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture, with its accompanying “drudgery, subjugation and malnutrition.” The author goes on to state: “Population growth was now inevitable. Within a few generations, wheat farmers were on the march, displaying and overwhelming hunter-gatherers as they went…”

And we’ve been playing catch-up ever since, desperately trying to feed a steadily growing number of humans. As the author notes, the population crash forecast by Thomas Robert Malthus was staved off in the 19th Century by bringing more land in North America under cultivation — an action made possible, though not recorded in this article, by displacing the indigenous people and killing off the buffalo.

Then came the tractor, which the author said “released about 25 percent more land for growing food for human consumption” because draft animals no longer had to be fed.

But then soil fertility became an issue. The author notes that “British entrepreneurs scoured the old battlefields of Europe searching for phosphorus-rich bones.” Then it was on to seabird nesting islands, which were mined for guano — at an untold cost to bird populations.

When the guano ran out, the nitrate deposits in the uplands of Chile were mined. Then Carl Bosch and Fritz Haber figured out how to make nitrogen fertilizers, which at first were resisted by farmers who had the good sense to realize that “fertilizer must in some sense be alive.”

But they grew used to this synthetic substitute, and wheat was adapted to this new source of fertilizer, including several naturally-derived mutant strains developed by Norman Borlaug, who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to averting famine in India.

From there, the author states, genetic modification was invented “as a gentler, safer, more rational and more predictable alternative to mutation breeding — an organic technology, in fact. Instead of random mutations, scientists could now add the traits they wanted.”

So here we are, with demographers now predicting that the population will peak below 10 billion people not long after 2050, according to the article, which goes on to state:

Of course feeding ten billion will not be trivial. It will require at least 30% more calories than the world’s farmers grow today, probably much more if a growing proportion of those ten billion are to have meat more than once a month. (It takes ten calories of wheat to produce one calorie of meat.) That will mean either better yields or less rainforest — which is why fertilizers, pesticides and transgenes are the best possible protectors of the planet.

But this article was published Dec. 24, 2005, before skyrocketing oil prices drove the cost of fertilizers made from fossil fuels right through the roof and farmers began planting crops not for food, but for biofuels, and rainforests were cut down to grow palm oil plantations, leaving the hungry among us in a decidedly more precarious place than was envisioned even two and a half years ago.

As I read this article, I wasn’t enthralled by the science that has brought us to this place but appalled by the consistent pattern of resource exploitation and human displacement — with all the concurrent wars, environmental degradation and misery — that has characterized our efforts to stay one step ahead of collapse.

And here we are still, on the very same track, now foolishly thinking the GMO crops peddled by multinational corporations driven by profit and the desire to control the world’s seeds, will be the ones to save us once again from the Malthusian crash.

The harsh reality just may be that eight billion, 10 billion, people are not sustainable on this planet, no matter how hard we try push the limits — especially when so many of us are unwilling to share what we’ve got, to give up even a little so others can have more.

But no one really wants to think about that nightmare scenario, and how we might change our course instead of following this one to its inevitable dead end. Instead, we hold on to the pretty dream that we can keep growing our way out of our woes, and that science will somehow come to the rescue.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Musings: Flouting the Law

A lone star and the waning moon — whittled down to a perfect silver half — gleamed directly overhead when Koko and I set out this morning on streets lined with puddles and shining with rain.

Thick black clouds, heavy with moisture, hung low over the interior, obliterating all signs of Waialeale and Makaleha, while to the northeast, towering white puff balls edged in gold floated in a field of blue.

The dawn breeze was clean and refreshing — quite unlike the action that was taken Tuesday by the Kauai Planning Commission and reported in The Garden Island today.

The Commission’s action, which allows an 8,700-square-foot “house” to be built on agricultural land at Kahili Beach in Kilauea, stands as the latest piece of evidence that Kauai County has absolutely no regard for Chapter 205 — the law pertaining to the farm dwelling agreement.

As I reported in The Honolulu Weekly, the law defines farm dwelling as “a single-family dwelling located on and used in connection with a farm, including clusters of single-family farm dwellings permitted within agricultural parks developed by the State, or where agricultural activity provides income to the family occupying the dwelling.”

Yet in this case, the Commission followed the planning department’s recommendation and nixed the proposed agroforestry plan because of its close proximity to the estuary.

So since there is going to be no agriculture on the land, how can there possibly be a farm dwelling? But that contradiction didn’t seem to faze county attorney James Tagupa, who is supposed to be advising the commission on the law. And if any of the commissioners raised that point, it wasn’t reported in the paper.

Yeah, I know, the public is supposed to be grateful because the final conditions put 80 acres in conservation and require the California homebuilder, Charles Somers, to maintain Rock Quarry Road. And yes, he did so magnanimously agree not to also build a 2,600-square-foot “barn” and a 1,400-square-foot caretake'rs cottage.

But when it comes right down to it, nothing should have been built there but a farm dwelling — and I ain’t never seen no 8,700-square-foot farm house — linked to a farm. And if a farm can’t be operated without damaging the estuary, then the land shouldn’t be developed. Oh, I know all the private property rights folks would be screaming over that one, but are we supposed to go so far as to break state law to allow some rich idiot to use his property?

The planning commission’s decision makes a complete mockery of Chapter 205 and once again underscores how the citizenry must obey the law or risk arrest, yet government officials think nothing of flouting the law when it suits them.

And that leads me to the issue of our dear Criminal in Chief, George Bush, and his partner in immorality and crime, Dick Cheney. I keep wondering why it is that they aren’t being prosecuted, or at least thoroughly investigated, for the wrongs they have perpetrated on both individuals and our nation.

Today, Rep. Dennis Kucinich will be making a presentation on the topic of impeachment to the House Judiciary Committee, in which he promises to point out the lies and lack of accountability that have characterized the current Administration.

It’s unclear how far he’ll get, seeing as how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unilaterally decided to take impeachment proceedings off the table and the Democratic majority in Congress, including Barack Obama, is still unfathomably sucking up to the President, handing him such prizes as immunity for the telecommunications companies that spied on Americans.

What is clear is that Bush and Cheney and many other top officials have lied and broken at least the laws pertaining to torture, if not others. That was the focus of a recent Democracy Now! interview with New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, who has just published a book, “The Dark Side,” on how the war on terror and turned into a war on American ideals.

According to transcripts for the interview:

In the book, Mayer reveals a secret report by the International Red Cross warned the Bush administration last year that the CIA’s treatment of prisoners categorically constituted torture and could make Bush administration officials who approved the torture methods guilty of war crimes. Mayer also reveals that the Bush administration ignored warnings from the CIA six years ago that up to a third of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake.

At the end of the show, host Amy Goodman pressed Mayer to say whether Cheney or Bush should be tried for war crimes. Although Mayer deflected the question, saying it wasn’t one that she as a reporter could answer, she did say:

What I want, personally, I want the facts. I want to be able to get the records, get the memos that are still secret, find out as much as we can about this interrogation program. And I would like to see a debate, and I think it’s developing in the campaign, about whether this country, which was founded on the idea of everybody having inalienable human rights, whether this is the right thing for our country to be doing, to be hurting people to get them to testify against themselves.

Of course, the whole sordid business related to torture and our treatment of detainees is only part of the story. There's also lying about the war to begin with, spying on Americans, making secret deals to secure oil contracts, allowing mercenaries to literally get away with murder — the list goes on and on.

I’ve read that some lawmakers think Bush and Cheney should just be allowed to fade off into the sunset, making their post-office millions in speaking engagements, books and various other lucrative deals in which they are likely to participate. Why air America’s dirty laundry, they say, especially in an election year?

Why? Because we’re supposedly a nation of law. If we can’t be bothered to at least ferret out the truth behind this Administration’s deeds, and then hold them accountable for any harm they’ve done, then we may as well just admit that the judicial system really only applies to those who lack the power, wealth and privilege to secure immunity from its consequences.

And then, armed with that knowledge, we can all proceed accordingly.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Musings: Issues Great and Small

It’s a cool, windy, dark morning, following a night of rain. It’s more the sort of day one would expect in November, than July, but I’m not complaining. After our super dry winter and spring, it’s been a blessing to have a nice wet summer.

A friend from the North Shore called to say that all the waterfalls up there are pounding, due to heavy rains, and another called to say he’d been by the burials at Naue, where construction has already begun on Joe Brescia’s latest oceanfront home.

He said it was very disturbing to see that some concrete footings had already been poured and heavy equipment was working on the lot, which has been enclosed by a large screen and is monitored by security guards. He and a number of his friends, all Native Hawaiians, have been involved in the issue for some time, and he said it was yet another example of Hawaiians trying to figure out the pono way to respond to actions that are decidedly not pono.

It seems that the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. has determined the best approach is to seek a temporary restraining order to halt construction, according to Kai Markel, director of native rights, land and culture at Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who was on Ka`iulani Huff’s radio show yesterday.

Markel said the motion could be filed as soon as today, likely against the state Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, whose Historic Preservation Office signed off on the project, as well as others.

He said the excavation and concrete work had been done “without any oversight by people who are not vested in the system. This is really unacceptable.”

Markel also noted that Ka`iulani had gotten a tattoo when construction began — an action that traditionally was taken to express deep grief. Ka`iulani said the tattoo had been done on her spine, and “it was painful, but not as painful as watching this happen.”

After maintaining a four-month vigil at the site, she said she’d also needed to “take some time out to grieve” when it turned out the cops couldn’t stop Brescia from building, and so the project moved ahead.

I know that some people have expressed derision toward Ka`iulani and claimed that concern about burials was merely a ploy to stop development. But when you talk to the folks who are deeply concerned about the disruption of burials at Naue and elsewhere, you come to realize that those kinds of comments merely reflect the ignorance and cultural insensitivity of the folks who make them.

As Kauai Police Chief Darrly Perry noted in his statement on the matter:

Without a doubt our kupunas and those who have come before us are an important part of who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture because they are the foundation of our existence.

This respect does not only hold true in Hawaii but also in every culture throughout the world—they are our guiding light. And I have yet to speak to one kupuna who believes that it is “pono” to build this house over the graves of our Hawaiian ancestors, even if it is “authorized.”

I hope that somewhere down the line, a leader of great vision will take up this cause and correct the unconscionable decisions by some of our appointed public officials who authorized/permitted the building of this home, and future homes under similar circumstances.

In the absence of such a leader, I'm glad NHLC is stepping into the fight.

On a lighter note, I got a little giggle from Nathan Eagle’s opening sentence in today’s Garden Island story on Wednesday’s Council meeting:

Daryl Kaneshiro, clad in lei and with his nameplate back on the table, took the oath of office yesterday morning at the Historic County Building to start his 18-week stint on the Kaua‘i County Council.

Wow, all he was wearing was lei?

I also found it interesting that as the Council was reorganizing — making Jay Furfaro its chair now that Kaipo Asing has moved on to mayor — Mel Rapozo asked to get back on the Parks and Recreation Committee, apparently because he doesn’t like the bills that Committee Chairman Tim Bynum drafted regarding dogs on the path.

Yes, that burning issue is still stuck in committee, with the Council dithering endlessly over amendments, including one that Kaipo wanted introduced.

Ah, priorities. As the world ponders war, global warming and famine, and the American economy enters meltdown, Kauai fusses over where dogs should be walked, and on what length leash.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Musings: Rituals

The clouds were on the move and most of them were gray, save for those turned briefly golden as they flew across the moon, when Koko and I took our walk this morning.

The neighbors’ cats skulked across the yard, staking out positions along the little path where the wild chickens emerge at daybreak from the gully where they roost. A rooster came up first, looking around tentatively before hightailing it across the grass, followed by several sets of chicks protected by fierce hens, a few chickless hens and half a dozen more roosters, some of them cautious and some of them crowing.

The cats, and Koko and I, simply took it all in, this daily ritual performed under the soft pink light of dawn.

And in the world of human affairs on Kauai, we’re entering our own little ritual — election season — which has now begun in earnest, following yesterday’s campaign filing deadline.

So who do we have in the line up of County Council hopefuls? Some big Kauai political names — Kawakami, as in Derek, and Thronas, as in George — for starters. With surnames like that, and the political machines that accompany them, they come in to the race with a huge advantage.

Similarly advantaged by virtue of their incumbency alone are current Councilmen Jay Furfuro, Ron Kouchi, Kaipo Asing, Tim Bynum and now Darryl Kaneshiro, who was brought in to fill Kaipo’s seat while he serves as interim mayor and subsequently decided to run again for Council. That was a mighty fine gift the Council presented to Darryl, giving him the edge in a crowded race.

And then we’ve got a whole slew of other people. Most of them don’t have a prayer, but a few look interesting. Among them are Kipukai “Leslie” Kuali‘i, a labor organizer and social activist from Anahola who started out campaigning hard and early, and has a big family to help.

Then there’s Lani Kawahara, the Kapaa librarian and one of five women running — none of them likely to grab a seat. The others are state archaeologist Nancy McMahon, whose candidacy falls into the ‘what in the world are you thinking?’ category because she is so widely reviled for her slack efforts on behalf of the historic sites she is charged with protecting. If elected, it’s unclear whether she’d quit her side job of offering Hummer tours into a Kauai rainforest with historic sites.

Rhoda Libre, who has some good ideas but has never been able to get elected, is running again, along with first-timers Linda Pasadava, a non-denominational minister who performs beach weddings and is former president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Assn., and Christobel Kealoha, who worked with the state AG’s office in Child Protective Services, neither of whom has the name recognition needed to win.

Mr. Wala`au — Dickie Chang — has the name recognition, but probably not enough to secure a Council seat, especially when coupled with his lack of qualifications, although that hasn't stopped some folks from getting elected.

Rounding out the pack of not-too-likely to win are Bob Bartolo, a businessman who has been active with Rotary and Kapaa traffic issues and started the Coconut Festival, former mayoral candidates Bruce Pleas and John Hoff, Ron Agor, a failed Republican candidate for state house who serves as our rep on the Board of Land and Natural Resources, Harry Kaneakua, Ken Taylor and Scott Mijares. Oh, and let’s not forget Bob Cariffe, the perennial angry candidate.

It’s good to see some new names on the ballot, although I dobut we’ll see any real changes on the Council. Yes, we have three puka to fill, with Mel Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura taking on Bernard Carvalho for mayor, and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who turned out to support Mel’s candidacy, running unopposed for prosecutor.

But with five incumbents well-positioned, and Derek Kawakami pretty much assured of victory, that leaves just one seat that’s really up for grabs.

I heard Jimmy Torrio, a former Council candidate himself, talking on the radio yesterday about how he thinks we might see some shake ups because the demographics of Kauai have changed — in other words, they've gotten more white. It’s true, they have, but that alone doesn’t mean that any mainland haole candidates have a chance.

Many haoles who have moved to Kauai are Republicans, some don’t actually live here enough to consider this their primary voting place and others simply don’t go to the polls. Just check out the voting returns for the North Shore, that bastion of new whiteness, and you’ll see that district has one of the lowest voter turnouts on the island.

I hate to discourage anyone, what with some folks feeling a glimmer of hope about this campaign season, but it seems most likely to me that come Election Day, it’s gonna be a lot of the same old-same old. Two decades of following politics on Kauai has taught me that familiarity breeds election, even though voters may articulate contempt.

Still, when I go into the voting booth I’ll be casting my Council ballot for the underdogs and fresh faces, just as I always do. It's my little subversive ritual, because hope, at least in my heart, springs eternal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Musings: Utterly Intoxicated

The sky was a mosaic of gray, pink, white, coral and gold, all swirled together onto a soft baby blue background and crowned by the rapidly shrinking moon, which turned from gold to silver to white, right before my eyes, as morning pushed the last vestiges of night from the sky.

Koko and I slipped out for a short walk between the rain showers that first arrived around 7 p.m. and then returned frequently throughout the night, escorted each time by a cool, refreshing breeze. The taro leaves were adorned with rain drops, and the air was scented with plumeria, mock orange and wet earth.

I don’t know about Koko, but I find that quiet, pre-dawn time utterly intoxicating, filling me with a profound sense of joy, peace and wonderment that has never been produced by any drug. And it’s out there every day, free and legal, just waiting for us to imbibe.

I noticed the Honolulu Advertiser has a story this morning on the HSTA’s reluctance to do widespread random drug testing of teachers, citing its concern over constitutional rights. The paper reports:

[HSTA President Roger] Takabayashi said lawyers have advised the union leadership that random drug testing of all teachers would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects against "unreasonable search and seizures."

"We want to make sure that whatever method is agreed to, it can withstand the constitutional challenge we know we're going to get," Takabayashi said.

It seems to me a prudent approach to take, as the whole idea of drug testing teachers is a colossal waste of money that could be better used for other purposes. It was forced upon the teachers by the Lingle Administration, which was simply moving in lockstep with a Republican mindset that seeks continually to invade the privacy of American citizens, right down to monitoring our bodily fluids. Teachers should have been given a well-deserved raise without also having to promise to piss in a cup, and I hope the HSTA can successfully challenge the provision.

More disturbing, as always, were the comments that followed the story, with the majority of those who posted advocating for the drug tests.

It just goes to show how thoroughly brainwashed people have become on this issue. There’s absolutely no proof that widespread drug testing, which now generates millions in revenues for the companies that perform these “services,” has resulted in decreased drug use or fewer people intoxicated on the job.

It has, however, produced a whole new industry for beating these tests, right down to a fake penis that releases pure pee of the right temperature, suitable for those who are watched during piss tests. This product, which is one of many, just goes to show how meaningless this entire exercise has become.

Yet in their usual sheeplike way, so many Americans have just bought unquestioningly into the shibai of enhanced “public safety” that these tests supposedly provide. And then instead of asking, ‘why are we testing all these workers and has it made any difference?’ they chime in with, ‘well, if all these other workers are being tested, why not the teachers?’

Perhaps one of these days we’ll take a closer look at why America, as a nation, is the world’s largest consumer of drugs (both legal and illegal) and why we have so many people locked up for this activity. Or, maybe we won’t. Denial is such a popular pastime in the US of A.

At least Obama has promised that if he’s elected President, he won’t allow the federal government to harass medical marijuana patients or challenge states that have passed such laws, including Hawaii. And that's a big step in the right direction.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Musings: Shake Ups

Blustery is the key word for today, with brisk trades gusting up the valley, roaring through the camphor trees and shepherding large cloud banks that totally obliterated the interior mountains and did a very good job of muffling the rising sun.

Last night, the wind pushed dark clouds quickly across the round, white face of Mahina in her fullness, and I almost expected to see witches on broomsticks flying, too, it was such an unsettled evening. But then, that’s what wind does: it shakes everything up.

Speaking of shake-ups, while listening to Democracy Now! yesterday about the nation’s enlarging economic woes, I heard news of yet another unexpected consequence of the mortgage foreclosure crisis: West Nile virus.

That’s right. In an apocalyptic scenario that even Hollywood missed, perhaps because it hits too close to home, California officials are worried that water left standing in the swimming pools of abandoned, foreclosed properties is creating a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes, thus increasing the risk of West Nile infection.

Democracy Now! guest Danny Schechter, author of “In Debt We Trust” and the forthcoming book “Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Sub Crime Scandal,” is quoted in the program transcripts as saying:

And this has already caused cases of West Nile fever in California and in Florida. There’s fear even of malaria. So, the consequences of this crisis are just being felt by many, many people, and it’s not pretty.

Fascinating how these things play out in ways we never even could have imagined.

Meanwhile, Max Fraad Wolff, economist, writer and instructor at New School University, pointed out that the Bank of Scotland “is estimating 150 to 300 small to midsize [bank] failures in the next eighteen months.” He also expressed his concerns about the situation at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, where the government is planning a major bailout:

And the reason this matters, writ large, is because our housing markets are already sliding, and if anything happens to make them less robust, less able to buy and back mortgages, you can go ahead and expect maybe another five to 15 percent decline in the average house price. And there again, it’s the death of the middle class and the death of the American dream, because if your house is your major asset, it’s already slid 15, 20 percent, and the structures that help support it, particularly low- and moderate-income homes, are weakened, you can expect further pain, further damage and further trouble.

Yet our President continues to act like everything is A-OK, prompting the question, is he stupid, clueless or just an accomplished liar? Here’s his take on things:

I think the system basically is sound. I truly do. And I understand there’s a lot of nervousness, and—but the economy is growing. Productivity is high. Trade’s up. People are working. It’s not as good as we’d like, but—and to the extent that we find weakness, we’ll move. It’s one thing about this administration: we’re not afraid of making tough decisions.

Of course, it’s not surprising that the man who morally bankrupted our nation with Guantanamo, torture and a war waged on false pretenses has also bankrupted us economically, too — and much of the fallout is due to the kind of greed and disregard for the law that has characterized the Bush Administration.

As Danny Schechter observed, when he came on Democracy Now! back in August 2007:

I said that this is not just a market correction, but a criminal matter, and I called subprime “subcrime.” The FBI seems to agree with me now, and they have 1,200 investigations underway, including an investigation into Bear Stearns and to what happened there, IndyMac, and other banks. So, I think when the dust shifts, you know, finally, we’re going to find out that this is a criminal action—cabal, really—by people in the market who were out, driven by greed, to make as much money as they can. The victims of all this can be seen in the mounting foreclosures that are sweeping the nation.

Yet in the midst of all this evidence of the utter failure of Republican principles and policies, a Bush clone (you know how the clones age faster than the originals) is just 8 percentage points behind Barack Obama in the presidential race.

It seems that many voters, like rats, cling stubbornly to a sinking ship.

Finally, on a local note, I was surprised to read in today's Garden Island that Kaipo Asing, who was sworn in as interim mayor yesterday, is planning to deal with the tour boats in Hanalei, where Mike Sheehan is again promoting the fiction that tour boats can legally launch from his facility on the river. The paper quotes Asing as saying: "“The Hanalei boating situation will receive my immediate attention.”

Now this ought to be interesting.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Musings: Trying Situations

The moon — full tonight in Capricorn, just before 10 p.m. — was busy illuminating the darkness until the clouds rolled in and she was blotted out by the rain, which has continued to fall throughout this gray morning, cutting Koko’s and my walk very short, indeed.

I do not mind getting wet, but Koko is not fond of water, except to drink. She shuns rain, heavy dew, stream crossings and the surf, which she approaches only if I’m in it, and then never higher than her armpits. Baths are something to be endured, trembling all the while.

When you adopt an older dog, you never know what phobias have already been imprinted on their brains and must be gently navigated. Which is similar, actually, to dealing with the walking wounded in the world. Or in other words, pretty much everybody out there.

I’m always fascinated by the approach people take to trying situations. A friend told me she was greatly annoyed yesterday by a horrible noise, and went out to see what it was. No, it wasn’t the neighbor’s gardener doing his usual mow and blow, but two guys running a giant borer that breaks up the roots around each water meter so a digital mechanism can be installed to meter reading more efficient.

Her initial annoyance turned to worry for the guys, who weren’t wearing any ear protection, so she went inside and made them each a mango smoothie. They were so appreciative that she decided to make one for the gardener, too.

“I felt much better about the noise after that,” she said. “And then the noise was finally over, thank God!"

Another friend, born and raised North Shore, headed over to Hanalei Bay to surf that little swell that rolled in a week or so ago. Observing the line-up was all-white, he paddled out, yelling, “That’s right, I’m a local. Take a good look.” Then he proceeded to surf as if he was the only one at the break, and very soon he was, as all the other guys moved down.

“That sounds pretty intense,” I said. “Did you have a good time?”

“I had a fantastic time,” he said. “I had the place all to myself, the way I used to.”

Another surfer friend tells me the new “Suckaferry” (to use his term) TV commercial, which features interviews of drive on passengers and footage of two vehicles with stacks of surfboards and paddle boards, isn’t endearing the big boat with the guys at the line up — the group that kept it out of Kauai.

I suspect the passenger counts will crash when the ferry has to raise its current heavily subsidized rates of $49 per passenger and $65 per vehicle, one-way. That’s a better deal than the airlines can offer right now, but even the deep pockets of J.F. Lehman Co. can’t keep up with rising fuel costs for that guzzler. And the winter swells that sidelined it so often last year are just around the corner.

I noticed our own Jimmy Trujillo had a letter to the editor in The Garden Island the other day about the Superferry, in response to one of those wild rants, full of misinformation, blaming surfers/protestors for forcing us to miss out on all the goodies the Superferry could bring, including mainlanders traveling in motor homes.

Jimmy wrote, in part:

As one who chose to protest in the water I must remind him of another reason for being in the water: to protest the failure of government.

When Gov. Linda Lingle chose not to acknowledge over 6,000 signatures of Kaua‘i residents requesting a thorough EIS, the ultimate disrespect in my opinion, and the decision by Rep. Joe Suoki to not hear SB1276 on the floor of the House of Representatives, the failure of government helped to create the conditions for a “perfect storm” of dissent and disgust for officials and elected leaders to allow a company to put “profits before people.” This failure by our government and the attempt by HSF to bribe locals with $5 rides ahead of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court decision to overturn Judge Cardoza’s ruling helped to draw several thousand nonviolent protesters to assemble at Nawiliwili. By preventing the Alakai from operating before an EIS was conducted, these citizens, surfers and non-surfers, helped bring to light some of the failures of our government to provide clarity and guidance to businesses wanting to operate legally and ethically in Hawai‘i.

And that, in a nutshell, is what the Superferry outcry was really all about: a spontaneous, largely peaceful assertion of the public’s right to be consulted on issues that matter.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Musings: Whole Lot of Nothing

What a marvelous morning it was, with a soft red-gold sunrise that touched everything with a fleeting, rosy alpenglow. As I basked in that brief and special light, and Koko ran wild circles the way she likes to do, the finest little rain began to gently fall. And just as we returned to the house, it began to pour in earnest, giving a moist, fresh start to the day.

I like to get up and out early, because I never know what I’m going to find, much as I never know how people are going to respond to each day’s blog post.

Yesterday’s post drew a whole slew of comments, many from people who have never commented before, and I was impressed by the numerous thoughtful proposals and intriguing views. (One exception is Doug Carlson, who in his comment wrote: “Since I'm the subject of much that's written in today's post and comments, let me weigh in.” Huh? Guess it's typical of a PR man to have an exaggerated sense of importance.)

At any rate, it’s clear from the comments that most people are aware that even as the information age continues to wildly expand, they’re still getting a whole lot of nothing. And they’re not happy about it.

A whole lot of nothing seems to characterize so much of the modern age: the abundant processed food that’s nearly devoid of nutrition; the “goods” sold at Wal-Mart that are essentially trash in waiting; the political rhetoric that sounds great, but ultimately goes nowhere.

Even the American dream, as it’s currently served up to the poorest and most desperate of immigrants, is proving to be a whole lot of nothing, as a really heart-wrenching story on Democracy Now! revealed yesterday.

The story actually starts some five decades ago, when the U.S. (at the urging of United Fruit Co.) sponsored a coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, which put an end to land reform and led to the beginning of a military regime. From there, we went on to spend millions of dollars helping to train and equip the Guatemalan Army to carry out its brutal, repressive regime, including the use of death squads.

As a result, we now we have a country of about 10 million people, most of them desperately poor, especially the indigenous Mayan Indians. Worried about how they’re possibly going to feed their families, the thoughts of some turn north, to America. Surely, in that land of incredible wealth and abundance, they can earn a pittance that will help their families survive.

And so, as Democracy Now! recounted in its report, some of those desperate Guatemalans entered the U.S. without the proper documentation. One man walked all the way, alone, across Mexico, and slipped across the American border.

Some of them banded together and header further north, to Postville, Iowa, where work was available in a meat packing plant. And why was it available? Because it’s the kind of crappy, low-paying, injury-inducing work that Americans don’t want to do. And then on May 12, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested some 400 of them, in what was touted as “the largest immigration raid in US history.”

So they’re carted off to jail and quickly processed through on plea bargains that most don’t fully understand and many are ordered to spend five months in jail before they are deported.

Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and Spanish-language court interpreter who was flown into Iowa for the trial, is the one who broke the story, explaining the incredible hardships endured by these people and how “every waking hour they would be consumed by the worry as to whether their family was going to make it, as to whether any of their children was going to make it that day. And on top of that, they would have to carry the burden of having failed their families."

With no money or support coming in for five months, they worried, rightly, about what will happen to the family members back home — to those who are waiting in a land that was headed for the kinds of land and social reforms that could have eased their misery until America stepped in and quashed it because one of our corporations didn’t like it.

Professor Camayd-Freixas, in describing one interview with a man who wept throughout the entire session, because he was the sole provider for his wife, children, mother and sister, said:

And one of the burdens of the interpreter is that in order to really be able to interpret accurately and convey the meaning and the spirit of the meaning that each person says, you really have to put yourself in their place. You have to become them, so to speak. And when I became this man, so I could interpret for him accurately, I was placed in the position that he was in, and I found it, quite frankly, to be an intolerable burden.

Yet day in and day out, we as a nation are forcing people to bear those intolerable burdens. First, we thwart their attempts to achieve democracy and land reform, then when conditions get so bad that they come to the U.S. to work the crappiest imaginable jobs for low pay, we arrest them and put them in jail, prolonging the misery of them and their families. In short, we're continually screwing with people's lives to support our own selfish political and economic interests.

Oh yes, America’s particular brand of "cultural melting pot, land of the free, home of the brave, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, liberty and justice for all" rhetoric sounds so good. But the minute you start scratching into the disgustingly dirty real history of this nation, you quickly learn that all that patriotic mumbo jumbo is just a whole lot of nothing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Musings: On Blogging

The rain came in the very early morning, falling straight, hard, fast and long, soaking the summer-dry earth and cleansing everything. I laid awake and listened to it falling outside my fully open windows, felt its cool freshness drift through the house and smelled its aliveness, mingled with the scent of a mokihana lei, which I’ve noticed always smells more pungent when the air is filled with moisture.

It was all over by the time Koko and I got up, but traces of it were everywhere. Poinsettia leaves held big fat drops, the soil beneath the taro was dark and the mountains that weren’t snuggled up with clouds had that particular stunning clarity that is found the morning after a drenching rain.

Clarity is something I’m always seeking, with mixed success, and lately I’ve been trying to get a little more clear about blogging — specifically, its purpose and pitfalls, value and meaning.

I noticed over on Disappeared News, a blog I read regularly, that Larry Geller has been a bit critical of Doug White's (correx: that's Doug Carlson's) new pro-rail blog, which he is being paid to write. Andy Parx also takes Doug to task for failing to prominently disclose on the site that it’s a paid initiative.

While I personally like to know if a blog is a paid effort — especially an advocacy blog — this discussion raises a bigger issue. The other day, a friend who deals regularly, and warily, with the media asked me: “So just what are the rules of blogging?”

I had to tell him that so far as I can tell, there aren’t any, except those imposed by each blogger. And that’s where I start to get a little bit worried about blogs, just like I get a little bit worried about so-called citizen-journalists, a term that is not only a misnomer, but an insult to every professional journalist. Both are out there operating with a lot of the freedoms of a journalist, but none of the training or responsibility.

If you pull out your kid’s loose front tooth, you’re not a citizen-dentist. If you offer a friend some words of comfort, you’re not a citizen-therapist. If you do a pro se divorce, you’re not a citizen-attorney. Yet just because somebody has written a blog post, or recorded a bit of sound or video and put it up on the net, they think they’re a citizen-journalist.

Worse, newspapers such as the Advertiser pander to this delusion with their “My Advertiser” section in which they encourage people to submit stories. Yet if you look at them, they’re generally press releases, often from marketing firms. What’s of value here?

I have no problem if a person happens to be in the right place at the right time and they get a great shot of something. Sure, go ahead and run it, and give them the credit. But this idea that citizens should, and are able to, report the news alongside the professionals is a false one. Journalists spend time studying and practicing their profession. It has certain codes of behavior and ethics associated with it. There’s a lot more to it than simply regurgitating some “facts” or snapping a photo.

So just as we now have all these supposed citizen-journalists running around just waiting to entrap an unwary politician with a hidden recording or a cell phone photo, we also have an untold number of bloggers regularly churning out news and opinion of widely divergent quality and accuracy.

As a result, we’re got more information than ever before, but it’s also less reliable than ever before. Equally troubling is the way blogs, both left and right, become these weird little outposts of vigilantism.

The most recent example can be found on the liberal Daily Kos, which is all a-twitter about the Obama “New Yorker” cover, with people saying it should be stopped, urging folks to cancel their subscriptions, etc., etc. I mean, hey, wait a minute. What about the First Amendment? And what about the fact that this is a magazine cover that will be on the stand for one week. It’s really no big deal.

And then there’s the viciousness of the comments. Maybe it has something to do with the power to say anything, under the cloak of anonymity, that causes people to say all kinds of really mean and stupid things. I think the low point for me personally came last week, when a person likened the comments section of my blog to a “message board version of Jerry Springer” — a television show that has absolutely no redeeming value.

I must admit, that set me back a bit and got me thinking more about what kind of message I want to be putting out, and why it is that people respond the way they do. Words are such powerful things, and they're spewed about these days with so little thought as to their consequences. It’s a strange little medium, blogging. I can’t help but wonder if we’re creating a monster.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Musings: On Killing

Killing doesn’t come easily to me, especially when it’s something large and beautiful, like an oio writhing on a fishing line, its body all a-sparkle in a Kauapea rainbow. I couldn’t, and didn’t, end that vibrant life.

It’s a little easier with rodents, because I can take the “buck up, little Missy, it’s got to be done,” approach. Still, I once was so traumatized after cutting a big centipede in half, and watching the two parts struggle separately, that I vowed never to kill another one. I’d also heard that such pacts deter them from stinging, but I can report that’s not true.

Yet when it comes to ants, even though I bear them no particular malice, I nonchalantly kill swarms of them every day. I’m regularly flushing them down the toilet, washing them down the drains, wiping them up enmasse from kitchen counters.

I was struck by my willingness to commit wholesale ant slaughter the other day when I was sitting and watching two ants walk across the floor and thought, they could be gone in an instant. But since they really weren’t bothering me, I let them live.

That got me thinking about what happens to the psyches of people who regularly have the power of life and death over others. Does the killing become rote and automatic, like ants?

And was I able to be so cavalier about ant carnage because they’re so small and so anonymous, so numerous and so easy to kill?

Then it struck me: maybe that’s what’s happened to the human race. It seems that as our numbers keep rising, our respect for all life keeps diminishing. It’s gotten so easy to kill large of numbers of our “enemies” in a detached way by dropping bombs, releasing poison gases, blowing things up. Just like it’s gotten so easy to destroy entire ecosystems by blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal, or kill thousands of non-target fish while sweeping the ocean with giants nets that scoop up everything in their path.

I started wondering about the philosophy of Ahimsa — do no harm — and the Jains, who gently sweep the ground before them so as not to tread on a single ant. What would the world be like if each us took the time to be that aware of the consequences of our actions — if each of us were that reluctant to do any sort of harm to another creature?

And if some of us humans already are able to achieve that level of consciousness, love, compassion and respect, what’s hanging up the rest of us?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Musings: Mish-Mash

Koko and I kind of follow the sun, which has put us out and about well before farmer Jerry and my neighbor Andy for some weeks now. But the days are already getting shorter, so soon we’ll be rising later, too, and will have a chance to again see our old friends.

Even if you’re not an early bird, the sky is well worth checking out at about 5 a.m. You’ll see big, round Jupiter, with its golden glow, shining low in the southwest, while rising in the east is my favorite, Pleides/Makalii, and I know some of you reading this will understand exactly what I’m talking about when I call it the home constellation.

Today is gonna be a mish-mash of stuff. First, some of the most shocking news I’ve read lately was the piece in today’s Star-Bulletin about putting lifeguards — finally — at Kee Beach. It seems that an unbelievable 700,000 people visited that little spot at the end of the road last year.

That is absolutely nuts, and the wear and tear is showing, not only on the beach and surrounding Haena State Park, but the locals who live down there and have to deal with the crowds and non-stop traffic — all in the name of accommodating tourists.

Doesn’t Kauai have any limits? Or is the philosophy just bring ‘em on until everything collapses under the strain? And in typical state fashion, even though it gets lots of use, it doesn’t get much maintenance money, which is why only now some decent toilets are being put in.

The best news I’ve read lately was printed in Current Concerns. It reports Monsanto has to pay Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser for contaminating his crops with their GMO strains.

As you may recall, Monsanto tried to sue Schmeiser for patent infringement, claiming he had illegally used their product and so they owned the harvest. But because he was able to prove he’d never used the company’s GMO seeds or herbicide, he was acquitted. He again discovered GMO plants in his field in 2005 and had them professionally removed, sending Monsanto the $660 bill. When Monsanto refused to pay, Schmeiser sued.

Monsanto later agreed to pay, but only if Schmeiser agreed to keep the whole matter under wraps. He refused, and an hour before court hearings were set to proceed, Monsanta settled — with no confidentiality agreement. It just goes to prove that GMO crops cannot be contained and even the little guys can sometimes win against ruthless, deep pocket giants like Monsanto.

Thanks to John Tyler for that, and also for noticing in yesterday’s Garden Island that the county found 1,050 vacation rentals advertised online, but only 129 registered for such use. That means about 90% are under the table, and the county could be losing out on $3.03 million in tax revenues because people are paying residential rather than resort property taxes.

Wonder how many of those are owned by off-island residents? At any rate, maybe the prospect of money will finally prompt the county to deal with the issue.

And finally, I was talking yesterday to the artist Keala Kai, who has lived his entire life in Kapaa, and he offered this perspective about the bike path:

“In the past, when it was the cane road, there was plenty of room and nobody had any problems. You could go with your horse or whatever and everybody got along. When people were down there, they were looking for fish, or watching the ocean, just minding their own business.

"Now it’s too structured. Everything has been concentrated into a four-foot path, so everybody’s just looking at each other. That’s when they start complaining, he’s not doing that and he should be doing this and you get all kine trouble. People need to get off the path and back on the beaches, where they can reconnect with nature."

Can't argue with that.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Musings: People Are Grieving

As Koko and I were driving over to the beach yesterday, I was struck by the brilliance of all the flowering trees. The Poinciana was aflame, the shower trees were jumbles of multicolored blossoms and the bougainvillea were a riot of purple, red, white and pink.

All this splendor was juxtaposed against a bright blue sky and a verdant landscape of green, creating such deep delight for the eye and the soul that it seemed impossible to feel anything save for complete and utter joy.

But earlier, on the radio, I’d heard Ka`iulani Huff crying, talking about how painful it was to live on Kauai and witness the ongoing disrespect and destruction, likening it to “a constant staph infection,” yet not wanting to live anywhere else.

She was still reeling from the news that the KPD won’t be able to prevent Joe Brescia from building atop burials at Haena because the law, it seems, is on his side. OHA, for what it's worth, has meanwhile jumped into the fray, writing to DLNR Chair Cynthia Thielen July 8 and asking her agency to issue a cease and desist order "against ongoing ground disturbance" at the site.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard kanaka maoli, as well as others who care about the island, express similar sentiments — I’ve felt the same despair myself. It seems to me a lot of people are grieving on Kauai, and we tend to blame development, greed, corrupt and inept politicians and the other usual suspects.

Those are all factors, yet it’s deeper than that, and Ka`iulani’s guest, Henry Noa, prime minister of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, nailed it when he said: “All the hewa [mistakes, wrongs] comes from a foreign government occupying our lands.”

For well over a century, kanaka have lived under this occupation, and for decades before that, their population was decimated and their culture suppressed by Westerners who inadvertently and deliberately did great harm.

This adds up to a lot of deep psychic wounding, and you don’t just “get over it,” as many have suggested they do. But there are those who don’t want to dwell in victimhood, either, or incinerate themselves with fury, so they’ve chosen another alternative, and that’s to work for change.

That’s why thousands of kanaka are actively involved in sovereignty and independence activities, and many more are watching and listening from the sidelines, waiting for the right time to come onto the field.

A lot of non-kanaka scoff at them, or make derisive comments, but I can’t help but wonder how many of the naysayers have devoted years of their own life to achieving anything but their own narrow self-serving interests?

Why is it so difficult for them to have some understanding of what kanaka have been through and what they’re trying to accomplish? Why is it so hard for them to search their hearts and find some empathy and respect?

Over and over again in comments I see folks taking jabs at those who are trying to right wrongs or curb injustice, saying they’re dreamers, troublemakers, meddlers who are wasting their time. But then I ran across this quote from Michael Josephson the other day, and it seemed to say it all: "People of character do the right thing, not because they think it will change the world but because they refuse to be changed by the world."

Shifting gears to the mayor’s race, which is supposed to be all about people wanting to do the right thing, as in serving the public, etc., (yeah, right) I was struck by The Garden Island’s coverage yesterday of Bernard Carvalho’s announcement.

Proving that they’re true political animals, Annette Baptiste and her four kids showed up at the County Building to pledge their support for Bernard, just a day after burying their husband and father. The show, it seems, must go on.

The other revealing nugget in that article was that Beth Tokioka, the county’s director of economic development, is serving as the co-chair, with Lenny Rapozo, of Bernard’s campaign. Does this mean he’s the candidate of choice for those who want to keep their jobs for another two years?

While I imagine it’s legal for Beth to take that position, or presumably she wouldn’t be doing it, it somehow smacks of impropriety to have a top government official running a campaign while working for new mayor Kaipo Asing. Aside from the total lack of loyalty it conveys, there’s also the question of whether other county workers will feel unduly pressured to participate in Bernard’s campaign.

And then there’s the question of just how much time Beth will be able to devote to her real job — working for the people of Kauai running the office of economic development — while she’s trying to run a mayoral campaign.

Surely Bernard could have found someone else.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Musings: No Surprises

Beauty was the keyword this morning.

It started about 4:30, when Koko and I went out beneath a brilliant canopy of stars. Jupiter was holding court in the southwest, while Pleides (Makalii) was rising in the east. And in between were billions of stars, formed into constellations I didn’t know. It was utterly quiet, save for the bullfrog symphony, and the air was delightfully cool.

About an hour later, as the sky was just beginning to brighten, a rain came through and soaked everything real good and then the sun came up in a fiery blaze of red that turned all that moisture-laden air into a magical shimmer world of rosy color, and pink clouds slid lazily down the face of Waialeale.

Two encounters like those, before 6 a.m., provide enough sustenance to carry me through the day, although I’m sure nature still has some gorgeous surprises in store for me.

Not so surprising were the two lead articles in today’s Garden Island: Kaipo Asing was chosen mayor and the cops can’t stop Joe Brescia from building on top of the Naue burials.

More interesting than Kaipo getting the mayor’s post, as was widely expected, were JoAnn Yukimura and Mel Rapozo immediately announcing their own candidacies for mayor in the upcoming special election.

I was surprised that Mel thinks he’s qualified for the job and has a chance at winning. I was less surprised that JoAnn is once again trying for a post she lost the last go-round. It's unfortunate she got off on the wrong foot by having to apologize for pressing Kaipo for a promise that he wouldn’t run for mayor. Feeling a little insecure, JoAnn?

JoAnn can likely beat Mel, but I think Kaipo could beat both of them. And don’t be thinking that old Kaipo isn’t considering a longer run, even though he’s already filed for Council, or that people won’t be inclined to give it to him. Aside from totally selling out to the other Council members some years back in order to develop his Niumalu property after the planning commission said no, he has a lot less baggage than JoAnn, who provokes deep loathing in many people, and Mel, who has the Fanta-See Express scandal lurking in his closet.

I found it quite fascinating that the Garden Island reported:

Asing said he has no intention of resigning from his council post before tomorrow’s council meeting.

Two council members will be absent from that meeting because they will be attending the National Association of Counties annual conference in Kansas City, Mo.

Asing said he wants to be at the council meeting to ensure there is a quorum and business can be conducted.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it just sort of smacked of a power trip to me. It’s like, come on, Kaipo, you’re mayor now. Resign from the council already. I mean, even the other Council members think you should.

As for Naue, all I can say is you gotta hand it to Chief Perry for getting creative and trying to find a solution to a situation that can only be described as tragic and ugly, and all the more so because it’s driven by greed.

You can tell from his comment to The Garden Island that he thinks the whole deal stinks:

Perry is not certain of what will happen once construction starts.

“Certainly there will be protesters, and the county, mainly KPD, will once again have to deal with issues that were created by the state entities,” Perry said. “Nevertheless, we will continue to demonstrate compassion, sensitivity and extraordinary restraint in enforcing the law.”

Meanwhile, it seems Brescia has lined up another contractor, Joe Galante, to do his dirty work after Ted Burkhardt backed out. He'll have his hands with Galante, who has a reputation for being tempermental and inexperienced in finish work. In her blog, Katy Rose writes that Galante is "a regular working guy facing tough economic times like so many of us. So often, the squeeze put on the working class is utilized as an effective way of dividing us from one another. I have compassion for this contractor, but I believe we have a responsibility to let him know how we feel about this...and that we can do it in a way that honors our class solidarity with a workingman."

I'm sorry, Katy, but whether he's a workingman or not, I'm not feeling too sympathetic. People make choices every single day about what's right and wrong, and so often they justify their decision with ye olde "economic squeeze" argument. He's a contractor. That business is all about boom and bust. Other contractors are also feeling squeezed right now and they're not stepping forward.

So now the big question remains: why does the state, which is charged with protecting Hawaiian burials, continually allow them to be disrupted, disturbed, destroyed and built on? What kind of protection is that? It’s all a sham, and yet another example of how the state is utterly failing to fulfill its responsibilities to the indigenous people of these Islands.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Musings: Tick, Tick, Ticking

Jupiter was glowing away in the southwest, hovering just above the horizon, when Koko and I set out this morning under a mostly cloudy sky. The birds were singing their little hearts out, and we actually stopped awhile beneath one tree to listen to an especially passionate song.

As we walked, we passed a lot of fallen mango on the road. Some trees are so tall and big you don’t really know what they are until they start dropping fruit. It’s definitely a bumper crop for the wild pigs, and for us humans, too. I’ve been drying mango and freezing some for future cobblers and the like. There’s something about putting up food that I find so satisfying, perhaps because it’s such an ancient ritual for us humans — and yet another one we’ve largely abandoned.

An ancient ritual of another sort — paying homage to the dead — was playing out yesterday at the Convention Hall, where Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s services were held. I didn't attend, but I heard from a couple of folks who did that too many people wanted to talk, and so it went on way too long.

All the political big wigs were there, ranging from Sen. Akaka and Gov. Lingle — who certainly found a more receptive crowd than the last time she appeared on the stage at that venue — to all of Kauai’s Council members.

One friend likened the scene to “a bunch of dogs sniffing each others’ butts,” and said he was a little disgusted, because “here it is, the guy’s memorial service, and the air was just charged with that political atmosphere. You could see all the Council members making their rounds, the whispered conversations, everyone jockeying for position.”

Of course, they had no politicking time to spare, since today is the big day when the Council will choose a mayor to serve until Dec. 1. And since there’s nothing in the County Charter to prohibit the interim mayor from running for the remaining two years of Bryan’s term — and ostensibly two four-year terms after that — the stakes are high. Because we all know an incumbent has the advantage.

Not that anyone can do much in five months, except get in a good position to run again on Nov. 4 and begin recruiting people to serve in one’s administration.

There’s been talk of a rapid, wholesale sweep of Baptiste appointees, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Who would want to take one of those jobs for just a few months — unless they’re assured that a chance to serve for at least another two years is likely?

I’m wondering if all of Baptiste’s initiatives are also dead, like the ag land development moratorium. (Btw, I’ve got an article in the Honolulu Weekly on the whole issue of farm dwellings, and how non-enforcement of that law is affecting ag land prices and farming.)

And then there’s the question of who will pick up all his supporters. As my friend noted, Baptiste managed to bring together a large group of people, of all races, so who is going to get them now?

Hmmm. Perhaps whichever candidate managed yesterday to convey the greatest degree of fawning concern for the bereaved.

Meanwhile, as Kauai deals with such mundane matters as a new mayor, life continues on in the rest of the world, where a study by UH scientists has shown that our carbon emissions have begun altering the chemistry of the oceans, too.

According to the Advertiser article:

In the article, the team of chemical oceanographers, led by Richard Zeebe from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, conclude that the ecological and economic consequences are difficult to predict but possibly calamitous.
The researchers warn that halting the changes already underway will likely require even steeper cuts in carbon emissions than those currently proposed to curb climate change.

It seems the oceans have been absorbing a lot of those emissions, which has slowed global warming, but with the result that the seas are getting more acidic, which can damage marine organisms like coral reefs.

"If we continue with business as usual and don't cut carbon dioxide emissions, carbonate reefs will ultimately start to dissolve. This is basic chemistry," Zeebe says in the [Science] article. "The biology is a bit trickier. Most lab and field experiments show that calcifying organisms struggle under high-CO2 conditions but it's very difficult to predict their long-term reaction, let alone responses of entire marine ecosystems."

Yet it seems like continuing with business as usual is exactly what’s planned. Ever get the feeling that the clock is tick, tick, ticking?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Musings: Land Rush

I saw the celestial show of Regulus, Mars, Saturn and the crescent moon, all lined up over the mountains last night, from what turned out to be a perfect vantage point at Lydgate Park.

I’d gathered with some friends to hang out with George Cooper, author of the classic “Land and Power in Hawaii,” who is visiting Kauai right now. I had to promise that everything discussed last night would be off the record; it seems not everyone likes to have their utterances end up on my blog.

Well, actually, only one person voiced an objection, so out of respect to him, I won’t repeat any of the juicy nuggets I heard last night — even though none, ironically, were contributed by him.

But previously, I’d spent some time with George, who hasn’t been to Kauai in seven years, a period that has seen rapid growth of a mostly palatial kind. He was stunned to see the changes, yet what he found especially hard to take were the local families that are now involved in acrimonious disputes over their land.

Kauai land has gotten so valuable that more and more families are experiencing the bitter, divisive conflict between those who want to cash out while the getting is good and those who want to hold on to the land.

I was thinking of this as I was driving on Hauiki Road, between Kapahi and Wailua Homesteads the other day, and was struck by all the spec houses and raw land — much of it marked “reduced” — that’s for sale over there. Much of this was once homestead land, which immigrants purchased when they completed their plantation contracts, and it’s been passed down at least one generation, and maybe two.

Now it’s moving forever out of local hands and into a price category that only people with money from elsewhere can afford. And as the fancy houses are built among the ramshackle ones, driving up the property values, what’s going to happen to the property taxes of the local working class families that for so long have lived there?

I’m not saying that local families don’t have a right to sell, because of course they do, and they have many reasons for doing so that they don’t need to justify to me or anyone else.

It’s just that when it comes to current land prices, and who is getting squeezed out and who is coming in, we’ve embarked on a course that won’t be easily reversed — save perhaps through Hawaiian independence — and it promises to have a profound and lasting effect on Kauai. In short, locals who don't already have land don't hold much of a prayer for ever getting it, not with the current giant disconnect between wages and real estate prices.

Land sales may be slowing right now, but that’s not going to change things. The top feeders who can afford Kauai’s prime are pretty much immune to the current economic downturn. They’re the ones who are currently wreaking havoc on the land, the social fabric and local culture as the rest of us struggle to survive. And unfortunately, they just keep on coming.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Freedom to Shop

I’ve never been too interested in American icons like flags and anthems and liberty bells, although as a child I read a biography of Betsy Ross, and once composed a tribute to my Golden Retriever, Milo, to the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

But I’ll tell you, I warmed right up to the picture of the Statue of Liberty that I found on my 2008 Economic Stimulus Payment — the first check I’ve gotten from the federal treasury in a long, long time.

There it was, made out to me, no strings attached, and I knew it was sent with full permission to spend. Glad as I was to have it, it seemed strangely irresponsible that our government is sending us our own money to blow. Never mind that people have more consumer debt than ever and more crap than anyone in their right mind needs. Buy more. It's alright. Spend it.

That’s what our government’s doing. It's putting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the giant MasterCharge, the one with no limit. It's blowing money, literally, every single second. Why should we taxpayers miss out on all the fun?

I see the check, sitting on my table this Fourth of July, and I think of the lyrics by the sovereignty group, Sudden Rush:

“The lady with the torch don’t mean nothing to me cuz Mauna Kea is my statue of liberty.”

Strange, how despite the lofty ideals set forth by our founding fathers, we haven't taken a course much divergent from the militarism and colonialism of the oppressors we shook off. But hey, we have maintained that most precious quintessentially American freedom of all: the freedom to shop.

I look around my house. I can’t think of anything I want or need. I’ll likely just deposit it in the bank, and use it to for my estimated tax payments. I learned a long time ago that there is no free lunch.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Musings: Mixed Plate

I awoke in the night to hear the bullfrog orchestra. It’s a marvelous song they play, with the sound stretching way, way out, then pulling back in again, with a sort of elasticity that makes it captivating.

And then the rain fell, drowning out the frogs with a louder kind of music, and somewhere round about dawn, the roosters took center stage with their raucous, unmelodic chorus.

Everything was fresh and damp from the rain when Koko and I went out walking beneath a sky filled with clouds of every shape and color, including mounds of apricot fluff in the east, brooding masses of silver-gray, black, purple and white in the southwest and two over Makaleha that were streaked with rainbows.

Saw farmer Jerry for the first time in a while, and he said he was studying up on the precautionary principle, which as he informed me, is not a scientific, but political and social.

It’s a concept that’s often raised in regard to genetically modified organisms, and our penchant for using them in basic food crops and growing them outdoors, where they can enter the natural environment, before we know what impact they’ll have. Basically, it’s the premise of “better safe than sorry.”

I’ve often heard people say about GMOs, well, there’s no proof they’re unsafe. And that’s because, as an article distributed by LightLine points out, genetically modified foods “are not required to undergo any kind of safety testing before entering the market.” That’s right. We’re all guinea pigs in this giant experiment, thanks to the Bush Administration’s industry-dominated Food and Drug Administration, which holds that modified and non-modified foods are essentially the same.

Although I already knew that the U.S. leads the world in genetically modified foods, I was quite astounded to read in the article that “up to 80% of its [Amercia’s] prepared and prepackaged foods” are modified. So if you’re eating anything but organic, you’re getting GMOs.

It was also recently brought to my attention that in order to improve its image here in Hawaii, the hotspot for GMO testing, a national GMO trade association bought a PR firm, Pono Communications on Maui. Among its listed clients are golf courses, the Maui County Farm Bureau and Monsanto Hawaii.

Changing tracks, I got an email from Dick Mayer with a link to a story that reveals John Lehman, a major investor in Hawaii Superferry, is currently serving as National Security Adviser to McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. I knew he was a financial supporter when I ran across records of him serving as a campaign “bundler” while doing Superferry research earlier this year, but this indicates a much deeper, and more troubling, relationship.

And as an interesting aside, I just happened to look at the Superferry website, where I noticed they’d written:

Hawai‘i Superferry assembled advisory boards on Maui, Kaua‘i and the Island of Hawai‘i, comprising community leaders and experts in fields like marine life, ranching, tourism, business, invasive species, and farming. We looked for individuals passionate about their communities, willing to tell us what we could do to improve our service and address community concerns. Our advisors are independent volunteers; they receive no compensation from Hawai‘i Superferry. Many ideas from these boards have been incorporated into policy and procedures.

Yet while the members of the Maui and Big Island advisory boards were listed, there was nothing about Kauai. Could that be because there is no such board, and Superferry is engaging in its usual fabrications?

Finally, as the big day (Monday, July 7) approaches for the Council to meet and select one of their own to serve until the voters elect a new mayor to finish out the late Bryan Baptiste’s term, my thoughts have gone frequently to our distinguished County Clerk, Peter Nakamura, who once again is finding himself in the place he most hates to be: the hot seat.

Ironically, the last time he was in the hot seat was also because of Baptiste. It was the mayor’s primary in 2006 and Peter had to make the call that Baptiste had won outright — a decision that prompted a lawsuit by mayoral candidate John Hoff that ultimately upheld Peter’s decision.

Will Monday's actions be equally controversial? It should be very interesting.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Musings: Save What Speaks to You

In the northeast, when Koko and I went walking this morning, the thinnest sliver of silver light held up the pale whole of the moon, while glowing, round Jupiter held down the southwest sky.

The mountains were touched with nary a cloud, and a few lingering stars blinked out as the sun gathered energy and poured it into a mound of fleecy white that was blocking its way. When the day arrived, I went back out and marveled at Waialeale in all her craggy glory, thinking of how much water had poured down her ancient face to create all those crevices and crannies.

Speaking of ancient, I noticed in The Garden Island this morning that Joe Brescia now is willing to sell — at market value, of course — the Ha`ena lot with more than 30 burials where he’s been trying to build a house.

It seems, from the article, that Keone Kealoha of Malama Kauai is willing to play a lead role in meeting with Brescia and his attorney, Walton Hong, to figure out a solution. Keone also astutely noted that “state legislators and administrators need to work with the community to develop a more comprehensive policy to handle burials in a more sensitive manner.”

It also seems that Chief Perry’s move to stop construction of the house last week is a little more solid than some critics claimed, as apparently Hong isn’t moving to challenge the Chief in court, as those same critics falsely predicted.

The paper quotes Brescia as saying:

I was disappointed that Kaua‘i Police Chief Perry took it upon himself to treat any work done on my property as a violation of Section 711-1107 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statues, and interrupted and halted the work planned,” Brescia said. “The law was obviously designed to punish those persons who desecrate burials without authorization.”

So is the issue then not whether an act constitutes descretation, but whether it’s authorized? If that's the case, it does appear to be time to revisit the burials law.

Meanwhile, it’s also time to be aware of just how much information the government is collecting about us and what it plans to do with all that data.

Finally, in what some may dismiss as coincidence, but I view as serendipity, I had just finished posting Sunday’s blog — where I mused about what course we are to take in this beautiful, troubled world — when I tuned in late to New Dimensions on the radio, just in time to hear the guest, Michael Meade, say something that brought it all together for me, and so I wanted to share it with you, too.

Meade is a storyteller, you see, so he told a story of a man who rescued a small fish that was afraid of being eaten by larger fish, and as he moved the fish into different containers, it just kept getting bigger and bigger, until it was so large the man finally had to carry it to the sea. In return for his kindness, the fish warned the man that a big flood was coming and told him to make an ark, which the man did and so was saved.

Meade went on to urge us to reach out to “the little things that speak to us to be saved,” and if each of us finds these things, and if enough people do their parts, these become the things that continue on when the big cultural structures — the political and religious systems — go up in flames.

It’s all about “weaving yourself back into the design,” he says. “Take the little thing that is talking to you and carry it as far as you can carry it, and maybe you will run into others carrying their fish along the way.”

You can listen to Meade’s talk all week for free. It’s well worth the time, especially because, as Meade notes:

Myths are trying to say through metaphor how to act when things threaten to fall apart.