Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Musings: Joy Infuser

I was lucky enough to be out among the albatrosses this morning, although Koko, unfortunately, had to remain at home. She isn’t too good at impulse control and I didn’t want to risk any dead birds, especially since the chicks are so vulnerable.

Surrogate parents successfully hatched two of the eggs taken from PMRF, and the chicks are recovering well from a bout with pox. At two months, they’re all fluff and emerging feathers, but starting to get the idea that in another three months or so their wings will be their ticket out.

A few juveniles were hanging around the colony, crooning and bobbing and taking advantage of the brisk trades to perform aerial acrobatics without a bit of flapping.

It’s so amazing to enter their world, lying on a bluff above a green and frothy sea, with iwa and flocks of red-footed boobies skimming by at eye level while whales spout offshore and squalls blast through. Being here is the joy-infuser, I told my friend. Yes, she agreed, a few hours with the 'trosses is indeed a very effective bullshit antivenom.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Musings: Accountability

I saw — and felt — more of the chilly, cloudy, windy wee hours than I really wanted to when Koko twice woke me in the night so she could go outside and eat grass.

She was still stopping frequently to nibble grass alongside the road, but not, of course, in the places where Round-up had been sprayed, when we ran into farmer Jerry on his way to work this morning. He was a little bit grumpy because equipment problems had kept from accomplishing all he wanted on his farm over the weekend.

“I was born in the wrong century,” he said, and I understood what he meant.

They’re always inventing more stuff that’s supposed to save us time, labor and money, and then we devote untold amounts of time, labor and money first getting it to work and then keeping it running — until the next new invention comes along to render it obsolete.

I was reminded of that when I saw a report about test flights of the “Terrafugia Transition,” a two-seater car that turns into a plane and can travel 450 miles at speeds of 115 mph. Oh, great, just as they’re talking about increasing fuel-economy standards for cars, scientists come up with a new way to burn more fuel. As company CEO Carl Dietrich noted: "This breakthrough changes the world of personal mobility."

Ummm, yeah, for the upwardly mobile, anyway. At $194,000, only the super rich will have this opportunity to waste even more resources.

That’s one problem with scientists. A lot of times they just want to make/do stuff to see if they can, without thinking about the consequences. Or other times they do think about it, but proceed anyway, because no one holds them accountable.

You know, kind of like the Bush Administration officials who sanctioned torture. Except for now six of them are being investigated by the Spanish courts for their dirty deeds. As the New York Times reports:

A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.

The article goes on to report that some American legal experts are saying the warrants could be more symbolic than practical and would not lead to arrests if the officials do not leave the U.S.

That very well may be, but it doesn’t change the underlying issue, which is accountability among, gasp, attorneys:

But Mr. [Gonzalo] Boye [the Madrid lawyer] said that lawyers should be held accountable for the effects of their work. Noting that the association he represents includes many lawyers, he said: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate and cover up torture.”

Go Spain! But don’t just stop with those six. Let’s bring in Rumsfield, Bush and Cheney, too.

While we’re on the topic of dirty deeds, though of a lesser scale than torture, a letter circulated by kanaka maoli scholars protesting the desecration of burials at Naue received one noteworthy response, and that was from John D'Amario. He works for Joseph Brescia, who is building the house atop the oceanfront burials, at a California company called Architectural Glass & Aluminum, where Brescia is listed on the website as CEO. In describing AGA, the website notes:

Its single foundational block is INTEGRITY. A very simple value.

That value seemed to be missing, however, in a March 25 email that D’Amario sent to Professor Kehaulani Kauanui at Wesleyan University, who was listed as the contact on the kanaka scholars letter. He wrote simply:

So how do you know that the people buried out there weren't assholes??

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Musings: Greened to Death

Showers and blustery winds kept Koko and me in bed later than usual this cool, gray, Sunday morning, which was just fine with both of us. We’re nearly always on the same wave length, which likely explains the absence of friction in our relationship.

A major source of friction in the Islands is now on its way back to its birthplace in Mobile, Ala., leaving in its wake the usual long comment thread alternately bemoaning the influence of special interest groups (which for some reason are always identified as environmentalists, rather than more aptly as political power brokers) and bidding bon voyage to the barf barge.

Guess we won’t have the Superferry to kick around for a while, but there’s still Lingle and her team at DOT, who have yet to fully inform us, to borrow the words of a Big Audio Dynamite song, why did it happen and who is to blame?

The question now is, will it be back? I guess that depends on what sort of lucrative contract it can get elsewhere, or whether the military is looking to lease a couple of prototype JHSVs while waiting for Austal to deliver the rest.

A friend suggested that maybe the state could sell the Superferry "improvements" at Nawiliwili Harbor on E-bay: Big ramp only used twice.

Meanwhile, DOT is doggedly pursuing the EIS it should have done years ago, saying it could be pau by the end of the year. But it’s still unclear whether it will be a full and complete EIS, or simply a souped-up version of the faux EIS allowed under the now discredited Act 2.

Changing course, three candidates advocating alternative energy (and no, I’m not talking nuclear) managed to squeeze their way on to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative board of directors. In an article in today’s Garden Island, the two that were interviewed sounded full of hope and enthusiasm. Of course, they haven’t actually sat down with the rest of the Board yet….

While it's good to get some fresh air in that closed room, I was a little concerned about comments made by Steve Rapozo, one of the newly elected KIUC members:

Rapozo hopes to see a solar farm on the Westside, wind farms in south and north central Kaua‘i, as well as updated hydro plants.

“If we can’t complete this in the three years, then at least to have it be in the works with some kind of master plan,” he said.

Let’s hope he’s not talking about resurrecting the Wailua hydro project, or he’s going to run into some serious opposition. We need to be talking about putting more water back in the streams, not diverting it for hydro.

As for wind farms, why in the world would we want to clutter up our beautiful landscape with those ugly structures? And worse, why would we want to create yet another death trap for endangered birds?

As the Star-Bulletin reported:

Developers of the first wind farm on Maui want to expand, adding a 21-megawatt sister facility, despite some endangered bird species found dead at the existing site.

Carcasses of two adult nene birds and a Hawaiian petrel were found at the existing wind power site between July 1, 2007, and June 30, according to Kaheawa Wind Power report.

A dead Hawaiian hoary bat was found at the site in September, according to federal officials. The deaths were within the numbers allowed for "incidental take" under a state Department of Land and Natural Resources permit.

"We're well within the take limit," [Kaheawa spokeswoman Noe] Kalipi said.

The state license to Kaheawa Wind Power allows up to 60 dead nene during a 20-year period and 40 for the Hawaiian petrel.

The wind venture also has authorization for incidental take of up to 40 'a'o, or Newell's shearwater, and up to 20 Hawaiian hoary bats during a 20-year period.

It seems strange that these “take limits” can be set for species like the Newell’s shearwater, bat and Hawaiian petrel, when we don’t even have have an accurate sense of their total numbers. Newell’s seem to be steadily declining on Kauai, and the population is even smaller on Maui. Nene are being successfully bred in captivy, but even so, their numbers aren’t robust.

And when you start adding in wind farms elsewhere around the state, will the allowable carnage be figured cumulatively, or just project by project?

But mostly I’m wondering, if the Maui wind farm hits its allowable take in 10 years, what’s the likelihood it will shut down? The feds have been trying for years to hold KIUC’s feet to the fire to reduce its Newell’s take, and aside from throwing some money toward picking up downed birds, KIUC hasn't dealt with the problem at its source by undergrounding utility wires in fly zones.

While it’s obvious we need to move away from our near total dependence on foreign oil, it seems that conservation hasn’t been emphasized nearly enough.

Embracing alternatives is tempting and trendy, but if we’re going to end up killing wildlife or making people sick and stressed just because we’re too lazy to hang clothes on the line or too spoiled to turn off the AC, well, that just doesn’t seem very “green” to me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Musings: On the Defense

Strands of pink floated in a magical lavender sky and the clouds draped themselves so as to give flat-topped Waialeale the appearance of jagged peaks when Koko and I went walking this morning.

The world brightened quickly with a blaze of orange in the east that reached out to set Makaleha rosily glowing. Palm fronds clattered and eucalyptus trees sighed as the wind gusted, carrying the smells of citrus blossoms, spider lilies, coffee, burnt toast.

That was the grand lead up to the decidedly less showy main event, when a pale sun pulled itself weakly up over the horizon and disappeared into a blanket of spackled gray.

Despite shutting down service, the Hawaii Superferry has not yet disappeared from discussion or scrutiny, with even formerly silent players going on the defense.

As Disappeared News noted, Young Brothers defended the cost and speed of its freight service, which had been maligned in media reports about the demise of the ferry, and said its company and others that use state harbors have been subjected to environmental reviews.

And Tim Dick, one of the founders of Hawaii Superferry, used his blog to defend the boat’s environmental record, dismiss the military conspiracy theory and sling a bit of mud on those who opposed the ferry.

It was interesting to read his take on things, but the comments — aside from Brad Parson’s —seemed a bit too polished, perfect and predictable to be fully legit. Words like hence aren’t typically seen in comment sections dominated by ferry supporters. And then there are the fawning sentiments:

Thanks, Tim, for bringing it all into focus once again. Great vision and care for the environment drove this project from day one.

Gee, if only that sort of vision and care had been driving the nation’s financial markets, we wouldn’t be in such a mess. Or on second thought, maybe that’s precisely what did run it aground. At any rate, one statistic in particular has been running through my mind since I heard it on Democracy Now! yesterday in an interview with journalist Daniel Brook: 47 percent of Americans report living paycheck to paycheck.

And as Brook pointed out, when you don’t have universal health care and good public transportation, all it takes is a car break down or a medical emergency to push those folks right over the edge — or into the clutches of super-high-interest lenders.

On a totally unrelated note, I liked this report on a new study that shows yes, crabs do feel and remember pain, and so try to avoid it. It’s always so satisfying to see another one of our misperceptions about animals as unfeeling, clueless critters laid to rest.

The military, meanwhile, is trying to lay to rest any speculation that it was to blame for the January and February deaths of humpback whale calves and fish around Kauai and Niihau. As The Garden Island reports today:

“I’d like to further clarify that all activities that took place on the range during this time were normal and within the scope of our EIS, to include both classified and unclassified operations,” said PMRF spokesman Tom Clements in an e-mail, responding to a report in The Garden Island that military activity could have caused large fish kills and the deaths of two baby whales.

A DARPA official also said the military did not cause the deaths.

“There were classified military operations in the area during that time frame. I cannot provide details of these operations, but I can tell you definitively that no rodenticide or chemicals were involved, nor were there any underwater sonar, acoustics or explosions,” said Jan R. Walker of DARPA external relations in a written statement provided by Clements. “In short, the tests did not involve any activities that could harm fish or marine mammals.”

Well, there you have it. Case closed. Except I'm not quite sure where the reporter got the part about DARPA also says the military did not cause the deaths. Unless there's something missing from this report, Tom Clements never actually does exonerate the military. Instead, he defends the activities as being "normal and within the scope of our EIS." And that doesn't mean non-lethal.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Musings: On to Something

A strong, cool wind pushed me from behind as Koko — literally pulsating with energy despite a good 5 miles of scampering and romping on the mountain trail yesterday evening — pulled me forward. And in this way we set out for a brisk walk this morning.

Patches of pale pink-orange were infringing on an otherwise gray sky when we ran into my neighbor Andy, who was being similarly propelled down the street by a tethered team of two dogs, and we all walked together in the traffic calm typical of weekends and holidays — in this case, Prince Kuhio Day.

It’s also a new moon in Aries, making it a good time to set intentions, and I literally grounded some of mine when I planted more taro, a crop that amazes me with its hardiness, bounty and willingness to thrive despite periods of benign neglect.

I’m not so sure the reasons were benign, but Kauai’s Sen. Gary Hooser failed to muster sufficient votes to bring the civil unions bill out of committee for a full floor vote, which means it’s down for the count this session.

Journalist Ian Lind, who also works at the Capitol when the Lege is in session, made some interesting observations about the issue on his blog today:

I wish we all knew more about the behind-the-scenes battle in the Senate over HB 444. During yesterday’s floor debate, a couple of things struck me. Resentment was expressed over a senator’s political ambitions, which in context appeared to target Sen. Gary Hooser, who made an early announcement that he’s running for Lt. Governor next year. There was grumbling about forcing the issue while some claimed to be working on possible amendments. And although I’m tempted to reject the “concern about procedure” arguments as smokescreens, I respect people who spoke on both sides of that issue and would like to know more about how it was seen within the Senate.

But despite all that, it was a sad to watch Democrats claim to support the substantive issue while voting to doom the bill. Someone needs to step up with a reasonable public explanation, which so far is lacking.

Yesterday he had this to say about the behind-the-scenes action (and while you’re over there, check out his outstanding Taro Festival photos):

But the key seems to be the shifting position of Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who has been swiftly backpedaling from her early tacit support of the civil unions measure and now reportedly has been twisting arms behind the scenes to keep it off the floor.

Could we be seeing one of the first volleys in the 2010 elections?

It seems that the key to Hanabusa’s “backpedaling” can be found in this quote from an Advertiser article:

Over the past few days, Hanabusa has warned that the bill, if passed, could prompt a lawsuit from gay activists who could claim an equal protection right to marriage. In October, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that same-sex partners have a constitutional right to marry as a matter of equal protection under the law. Gay couples had challenged the state's civil-unions law as discriminatory.

A similar lawsuit in Hawai'i, Hanabusa and other senators argue, could drag on for several years and expose lawmakers who voted for civil unions to political backlash for opening the door to same-sex marriage.

Ah yes. Political backlash and being affiliated with the horror of same-sex marriage is just too much for some ambitious lawmakers to risk. Others, like Gary Hooser, seem to be more concerned about doing the right thing. Or in other words, treating all members of our society equally.

If this is the one of the first volleys in the 2010 election, you might want to amble on over to Gary’s website and make a donation to his campaign so he can stay in the battle. The thought of having the religious right holding political sway in Hawaii kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I was talking with a friend the other day who is gay in both the traditional and contemporary definitions of the word and I asked her why she thinks there’s so much homophobia. She observed that most of the vitriol and fear — you know, the bogus homosexuals as pedophiles bit — is directed at gay men, and she thinks a lot of it comes from straight men who are jealous because they believe that gay men are getting a lot more sex.

You know, she just might be on to something….

Meanwhile, the Garden Island is finally on to something with a story today that touches on a possible military link to the fish and whale kills at Kauai and Niihau. It reports:

In response to recent assertions that military activity could have affected marine life, causing large fish kills, Tom Clements, spokesperson for the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana, said no activities out of the ordinary were conducted when the fish were reportedly affected.

“Nothing occurred outside of the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement; nothing unusual,” he said.

Of course, if you’ve ever read the EIS for the base, you would know that the navy's definition of "nothing unusual" includes a lot of weird stuff, like net-centric warfare systems, air-breathing hypersonic missiles and high energy lasers. The story goes on to say:

Clements added that PMRF has a “very busy schedule” and over the past three decades, activities have virtually remained the same.

Yes, maybe the general activities — blowing stuff up, launching rockets, playing war games, testing new weapons, etc. — haven’t changed, but surely over the past 30 years there have been some major shifts in how they’re carrying out these activities, and the equipment and materials they’re using. Otherwise, America’s military would be seriously out of date and all the billions we've spent thus wasted.

The key point, however, is raised by Dr. Carl Berg, marine biologist and water quality expert on Kauai, who doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that classified operations were under way when the animals died.

His main concern is that if rodenticide cannot be linked to the deaths, why hasn’t another answer been found?

“It’s really upsetting that the state does not do more to find out what the true cause of this is,” he said. “The people of Ni‘ihau are afraid to eat the fishes because they don’t know what it is. It’s the state’s responsibility to look broadly at what is causing the fish mortality and not simply look at the rat poison problem.”

But given that the military wields even more power in Hawaii than religious fundamentalists, how likely do you suppose it is that the state would “look broadly” enough to find a cause that might reflect badly on the Navy?

If you answered "not very," I'd say you were on to something.

Finally, Hawaii’s Congressional delegation has introduced a new version of the Akaka bill that specifically prohibits gambling, thus ensuring that kanaka who go along with it will be fully stripped of power, including the ability to make serious money.

What the bill backers are really saying is "sure, you can have your nation — so long as it complies with all the laws of the state." And that brings to mind one of the signs on independence activist Mark Boiser's fence: "Free Like Iraq."

Maybe now folks will start to understand why those who oppose this bill are definitely on to something.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Musings: Relatives With Roots

The sky in the east was first streaked then smeared with pink when Koko and I set out walking this morning, while the clouds mauka were so dark and low as to render the mountains non-existent. Yet as the sun climbed, even this black mass was tinted rosy.

As we walked, the wind, which had roared up from the valley in the blackness of pre-pre-dawn, moaning and crying and tugging at the house, continued its song, with the sighing camphor, squeaking albezzia and clanging wind chimes at a neighbor’s house joining in the tune.

And when we returned home, I weeded among the black, green and variegated stems of the taro as it bowed and swayed and danced to the wild music.

Today is the first-ever Taro Festival at the state Capitol, according to a press release from KAHEA, which is joining the Hawaiian Caucus to sponsor the event. It seems that from 11 a.m. to noon, “Taro lovers from all over Hawaii will unite to set a state record for the most people in modern times to kui kalo, or pound taro, together in one gathering. Organic Hawaiian taro will be provided.”

That last phrase is significant, because it seems that poi-pounding was notably absent from last week’s Agriculture Day at the Legislature, according to Farmer Jerry, who did attend. He also said organic farmers and the Hawaii Organic Farmers Assn. did not participate in Ag Day, as they usually do, apparently because they wanted to do their own thing with lawmakers.

Jerry was not the only one to express concern that the controversy over growing genetically modified crops, and especially legislative efforts to prohibit research on taro, is dividing Hawaii’s farmers at a time when they need more than ever to be united.

It seems that conventional farmers are pushing for co-existence. But when it comes to GMOs, that’s not always an easy state to achieve, largely because pollen and seeds can travel, as has been discovered with Big Island papaya. And if a crop is found to have been contaminated with GMOs, it cannot be certified organic, which creates an economic hardship for organic farmers. They’re concerned about their livelihood, just like the farmers who view genetically modified crops as offering an edge against their old enemies of disease and drought.

The emphasis among GMO opponents on taro as a culturally sacred crop has also grated on some, with one farmer commenting: “As soon as they made it a religious issue all discussion went out the window. Once you play that card, there’s just no way to argue about it.”

It seems to me that whichever side you’re on, it all comes down to a belief system, in part because so little independent research has been done on the environmental implications of releasing these organisms into the natural world and the long-term health ramifications of eating them. Similarly, there’s no scientific evidence that genetic tinkering will give commercial taro farmers the high-yield and disease resistant qualities they’re seeking.

And then there's the “religious” — I think ethical is perhaps a better word — issue of whether human beings have the right to experiment with culturally important crops or do things that would not otherwise occur in nature, such as crossing genes from organisms in different kingdoms. It’s an issue that’s been raised by a number of indigenous groups that have strong links to plants, including the Anishinaabeg, who have opposed genetic research on wild rice at the University of Minnesota. According to a Bioneers conference speech by Winona LaDuke that's well worth watching:

One of our chiefs said, “Who gave them permission?” And that is the ethical question, isn’t it? Who gave anybody rights to change the DNA sequence of life forms?

It took three years, LaDuke said, but they finally got the Minnesota Legislature to adopt a law requiring a full EIS before any genetic engineering work is done on wild rice.

These are our relatives. We have to restore our relationship with our original relatives that have roots.

In other environmental news, Earthjustice has filed a motion asking the courts to enforce orders dating back 30 years that require the state to protect habitat critical to the Palila.

The action is asking the court to order the State to construct a mouflonproof fence around the palila’s critical habitat no later than June 1, 2011.

“The state is not taking effective action to keep the sheep out of the palila’s critical habitat, and the palila population is suffering for it,” said John Harrison, president of the Hawai`i Audubon Society. Between 2003 and 2008, the palila population plummeted more than 60 percent, from an estimated 6,600 in 2003 to between 2,200 and 2,600 birds in 2008. “Palila are on a crash-course toward extinction in large part because browsing animals are allowed to continue to destroy their only habitat,” said Harrison.

The story, which I covered in some depth for the Honolulu Weekly and in a more condensed fashion for WildBird Magazine, intrigued me because it underscored how even legal protection doesn’t always stop a species from sliding toward extinction, especially when there's no enforcement.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Musings: Dig it

A silver crescent moon was cozying up with Jupiter in the brightening eastern sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. The air was alive with the sound of birds, and heavy with the alternating smells of citrus blossoms and unidentified dead things in the bushes.

And then the cacophony of bird song subsided and the sky went pale for a time until the sun, rosy-gold, made its grand appearance and flushed all the clouds pink as the roosters were madly crowing.

It’s definitely feeling, sounding and smelling like spring, even in my house, thanks to a load of first-of-the-season gardenias delivered yesterday by a friend, who prescribed them as the anti-venom to Richard Borreca’s column. Both Ian Lind and Disappeared News also weighed in Richard’s rant, while Star-Bulletin editor Frank Bridgewater today printed a clarification about the devil quote that fell a bit short in its clarifying.

Oh well. As any writer knows, you can never fully retract, clarify or correct something once it’s been printed. All you can do is go on. The same friend who brought the gardenia suggested helpfully that perhaps Richard was trying to do me a favor by increasing readership of my blog. Now that's an example of how kind and generous people on Kauai really are. And yes, I’d much prefer to think Richard was doing that rather than making a deliberate cheap shot dig.

Speaking of digging, I’ve been heartened by some of the small, but symbolic, things coming out of the Obama Administration, like First Lady Michelle Obama helping school kids to dig the White House garden:

Whether there would be a White House garden had become more than a matter of landscaping. The question had taken on political and environmental symbolism, with the Obamas lobbied for months by advocates who believe that growing more food locally, and organically, can lead to more healthful eating and reduce reliance on huge industrial farms that use more oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer.

And that’s not the only sign of awareness emerging like a spring bulb at the Obama White House.

There was also Obama’s videotaped appeal to the people of Iran that was timed to coincide with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz:

“My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

Wow, that’s a markedly different approach to Iran than was taken by the last guy who occupied the Oval Office. Maybe now we'll actually get somewhere, other than war.

But what really jumped out at me was the comment Obama made when he appeared on the Jay Leno show the other night and spoke of how the AIG bonuses exemplified the excesses that have come to characterize Wall Street:

“The immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem, but the larger problem is we’ve got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we’re going to be OK.”

Amen, brother.

I know Obama isn’t perfect, and I certainly haven’t agreed with everything he’s done and said. But these sorts of comments and actions are a strong indication that Michelle and Barack Obama have got it going on in the one area that counts most: a higher level of consciousness.

And I dig it. Welcome to the new world order.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Musings: Facing Failure

It seems that feelings are running high regarding Hawaii Superferry’s departure from the Islands, prompting even usually circumspect people like Richard Borreca, the Star-Bulletin’s veteran political reporter, to succumb to the urge to rant. However, in doing so he threw accuracy by the wayside and revealed some eyebrow-raising personal opinions that reporters in the mainstream media typically strive to keep secret in the pretext of maintaining their “objectivity.”

I’m referring to an editorial he penned in today’s edition, entitled “No Sale! Hawaii continues to slam door on business.”

In it, Richard aligns himself with Sen. Sam Slom in bemoaning the departure of HSF as “the last in a list of businesses pecked to death by Hawaii's anti-business ducks.”

He goes on to state:

But thanks to the need for an EIS, the Superferry debate was transformed into a raging, foaming-at-the-mouth storm that even had bloggers like Kauai's Joan Conrow call Lingle "the devil, the personification of evil." Lingle tried to talk to Kauai residents and was booed and cursed, while Kauai farmers, contractors and residents who wanted to travel among the islands were silenced.

Whoa, Richard, hold on a minute. I would have thought a reporter with your skill and experience would have taken a moment to do some actual research before flinging out a statement like that, which is not only flat-out wrong, but could be damaging to me professionally. I never called Lingle "the devil, the personification of evil."

What I actually wrote, in a blog post referencing the build up to Lingle’s now infamous visit to Kauai, where she threatened those who continued to protest the illegal operations of the ferry with federal jail terms and even the possible loss of their children, was:

After announcing Thursday's 6 p.m. meeting at the Convention Hall, a DJ on KKCR suggested listeners might think about what sort of comment they'd like to make to the governor about "her imposition of martial law at Nawiliwili Harbor." He then played a song that conveyed his comment, and its chorus went like this: "shout, shout, shout at the devil."

Is Lingle the devil, the personification of evil?

The question intrigued me, because it just so happens I'm reading M. Scott Peck's "People of the Lie," which delves into the psychology of evil. In it, he defines evil as "opposition to life, that which opposes the life force" and "that force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness." Evil people, he says, are those "who attack or scapegoat others, instead of facing their own failures."


How fascinating that this issue is again raised, as HSF and the Lingle Administration — and now their mouthpieces in the media — seek to attack and scapegoat others rather than face their own failures. And their failure is simple and clear: choosing to bypass the legally mandated environmental review process.

After bashing me and other Kauai residents, Richard goes on to slap the folks on Molokai who dared to speak out against plans to build luxury homes at Laau Point before tarnishing GMO opponents with unsubstantiated speculation:

This year also marked the end of Monsanto Hawaii on Kauai, ostensibly because of a desire to concentrate its efforts on Oahu.

Others speculate that the international firm has only so much patience with the constant protests and belaboring of the perceived evil of genetically modified plants before it says "Puerto Rico and the Philippines like us, Hawaii doesn't, so good-bye and let us know how everything works out with all the empty acres."

Richard wraps up by repeating the “whispering” among businesses that Lingle also will fail to have an undersea cable built to deliver electricity from windfarms on Molokai and Lanai to power-hungry Honolulu, implying that these same “anti-business ducks” will again be to blame. What's more likely is that it will fail because it's not financially viable, which is why, given its dismal passenger counts, Superferry was sinking.

From his editorial, it seems that Richard believes Neighbor Islanders and naysayers should just shut up, bend over and let business and development interests do what they will — especially if it benefits Oahu in the process.

By his reasoning, or lack thereof, if it’s good for business, well heck, then it must be good for Hawaii.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Musings: That Viability Thang

Today is the first day of spring, although you wouldn’t know it from the gray skies, chilly temperatures and frequent showers passing through.

Just as you wouldn’t know the Hawaii Superferry did anything wrong if you went by the comment sections on newspaper web sites, where folks are pinning the big boat’s misfortunes on radical environmentalists, Neighbor Islanders lacking aloha, meddling justices, haoles and hippies, an anti-business climate and just plain backwardness.

In short, everyone and everything is to blame — except HSF itself. Hmmm. The company’s attorneys might not have been so crackerjack, but its PR people have done a great job of spinning this project from the start.

But even as the ferry departed Kahului yesterday to “a tugboat’s tribute and tears,” I couldn’t help thinking of what Kauai Rep. Mina Morita said earlier this week when I asked her for a comment on the state Supreme Court decision that placed the boat’s future in the Islands very much in doubt:

Again, we have to look at its financial viability. That’s what’s been missing through this whole thing, a thorough analysis of its economic viability. Is it economically viable? I don't think so.

That’s something that would have come out in a full EIS, which perhaps explains why the company didn’t want to go there.

Mina wasn’t the only one wondering about the fiscal soundness of this venture. Even a former Austal CEO had his doubts, as the Pacific Business News reported two years ago:

Whether Hawaii Superferry will be profitable is something that concerns Alan Lerchbacker, the former CEO of Austal USA, which built the ferry.

"I just worry about getting enough business to cover costs because of the sheer size of it," said Lerchbacker, who came to Hawaii to sell the ferry but works in another industry now.

Lerchbacker said he suggested a 72-meter vessel only to see the company order the 100-meter model.

"For a smooth ride on the ocean, that ferry will have to go over 35 knots, and it costs a lot of money on fuel to go that fast," he said. "They may need 400 to 500 passengers to break even."

Lerbacher’s estimates were right. HSF later told the state Public Utilities Commission that the Alakai could carry 866 passengers and 282 vehicles, and that its financial break-even point was traveling at 50 percent of vessel capacity. And as an akamai Maui observer noted, that financial break-even point was based on higher ticket prices, rather than the discounted fares now being offered. It also required a "fuel- adjustment surcharge" that is currently not being imposed.

So based on that scenario, how has the ferry been doing? Has it been able to achieve its 50 percent break-even capacity of 433 passengers and 141 vehicles?

Well, using figures that HSF provided to the state Department of Transportation that were printed in The Honolulu Advertiser on Wednesday, that same observer came up with a table that showed it wasn’t even close.

In November, the average number of passengers was 249, dropping to 207 in December and dipping even further in January to 166. Vehicle counts were similarly low, averaging 67, 61 and 46 for each of the three months previously cited.

You can view the whole table over at Disappeared News.

It seems that Lerchbacker might have been on something. A 71-meter vessel would have been closer to the right size for Hawaii — if efficiently ferrying passengers and cars in Hawaii’s notoriously rough waters was the goal.

But what if the goal was to test a prototype for the military’s new Joint High Speed Vessel program, whose bid specifications were being developed [Clarification: I was referring to Austal preparing its response to the JHSV RFP] while the 106-meter Alakai — the largest aluminum ship ever built in the US — was plying Hawaii’s waters, thanks to bypassing the EIS process?

Austal went on to win that contract, which is potentially worth $1.6 billion. If you check out the specs for the JHSV on Austal’s own website, you’ll see that the vessel is a 103-meter aluminum catamaran very similar to the Alakai.

Yes, I know that Austal has built other catamarans, including the WestPac Express, a 101-meter catamaran that was leased for a time to the Marines for use in Okinawa, back when the Navy was first exploring the concept of shifting some of its shipbuilding efforts into smaller, high-speed vessels that could operate well in littoral, or nearshore waters.

However, a key aspect of Austal’s JHSV specs is survival in sea state 7, which means a high average wave height of 19 feet.

If you check out Brad Parson’s Barf-o-Meter, which factors in wave height and wind speed, you’ll see that the Superferry was out zipping around in those conditions any number of times, providing ample opportunity for Austal’s designers to see what needed tweaking in order to land a JHSV contract with very rough water operability requirements.

Dismiss it if you will as a big coincidence or the ravings of conspiracy theorists. But as the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. While Austal sets to work building JHSVs, HSF is "looking for commercial and military charter options” for Superferry I and II — which conveniently was equipped during construction with the ramps needed for military use.

And as it departs, it leaves in its wake a big bill for harbor improvements and legal fees, a guv and Lege with egg on their faces, a squabbling citizenry and concerns about a backlash that may lead to weakening the state's environmental laws.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Musings: The Ugly Side

Well, it’s been six years since the U.S. began its “shock and awe” campaign to destroy Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein on those bogus “weapons of mass destruction” claims.

My how time flies — except for those guys and gals who keep having their tours of duty extended, and the Iraqis still living under the American occupation.

For the American public, it’s apparently turned into one big yawn:

"This is already one of the longest wars in American history. There's nothing new in Iraq," said Steven Roberts, a professor of media studies at the George Washington University. "We've read the stories of instability in the government a hundred times. Every single possible story has been told, and so there is enormous fatigue about Iraq."

Yes, let’s skip all that and get into the really interesting stuff, like the latest celebrity to enter rehab and Michelle Obama’s penchant for sleeveless dresses.
Never mind those tedious details, like the $800 billion price tag and the 4,261 Americans killed in the war — a figure that I’m not sure includes the alarming suicide rate among ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oh yeah, and then there’s the Iraqi casualty count, which CNN says is “harder to ascertain because of the lack of formal record-keeping.” But it’s “reached at least 128,000,” by CNN's tally.

And let’s just totally gloss over the torture thing.

Democracy Now! had an interview yesterday with author, journalist and professor Mark Danner, who this past weekend broke the story that two years ago the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In hearing the account of what happened to Abu Zubaydah, including beatings, cold temperatures, sleep deprivation, being kept in coffin-like boxes and waterboarding administered over the course of many weeks, I couldn’t help but think about what happened not only to the prisoner, but to the men who were doing the torturing.

I mean, what kind of mind set do you have to be in to systematically mistreat someone in such horrendous ways? How do you gear yourself up to go to work when that’s your job? And how do you ever go on to live a normal life?

Yeah, all of the above is the ugliness of war, the downside that most Americans don’t see and think about — and don’t want to see and think about.

Perhaps if they did they’d find it just a little bit inappropriate to have the crew of a target boat visiting Kalahelo elementary school as part of a “career development program.”

A photograph of a kindergartener being shown a piece of military equipment accompanies the story, in which Principal Erik Burkman chirps:

“It’s all about showing the students what kinds of opportunities are available to them once they leave school.”

OK, that’s fine, but while you’re also showing kids the war mongers dressed in their “smart black headwear, khaki-colored shirt and smartly pressed black slacks with black socks and black shoes,” how about showing them some of the amputees, or the guys who will never leave the VA hospital because of head injuries or the homeless vets living in the street or the ones whose lives are forever screwed up because they’ve got PTSD?

How about showing them photos of the kids just like them who are blown up and maimed and orphaned by American soldiers, sailors, Marines and suicide bombers fighting the occupation of their nation? How about showing them what happens to real people when the joy stick they’re operating isn’t controlling a video game, but a Predator drone?

But that kind of education might distress and depress the poor keiki, and perhaps even require parental permission. Far better to fill their heads with propaganda and nonsense to prime them at an early age to fight the next imperialistic war.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Musings: Moving On

What a sweet morning! Bird song — warbling, trilling, tweeting, soaring —woke me this mornin, and when Koko and I went outside we were greeted with pink haze as the sun peeked its head up over the horizon.

My honohono orchid is blooming, the papaya tree has flowers, the grass is growing. Spring is definitely on its way.

And so, it seems, is the Superferry, if a report on KHON is accurate:

The Hawaii Superferry has released more than 230 employees and contractors, and sources say the Alakai will likely be leaving the islands.

Several sources confirm the ship owners are looking for a new home for the first vessel, eyeing places including Guam.

Perhaps the military will be interested, since that's what the boat was all about in the first place. As a report on the Joint High Speed Vessel project in Defence Professionals notes:

The aluminum catamaran design of the JHSV will be similar to that of the Austal-built fast ferries for Hawaii Superferry, also powered by MTU Series 8000 engines.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Mark Bennett is sticking to the maxim of never give up the ship, even when it’s sunk, or sailing without him. According to The Advertiser:

It's a long decision. We want to carefully study it," Bennett said. "We want to make sure our motion is on appropriate grounds. We have one shot to do this. ... If we don't succeed, then we have to accept it and move on."

The Lege, to its credit, already has:

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha) said yesterday that, given the latest court decision that Act 2 is unconstitutional because it was designed to benefit a specific company, "I'm not sure there is anything the Legislature can do or is willing to do (to help the Superferry)."

Hanabusa said the Senate also is not interested in revamping the state's environmental review law, known as Chapter 343, to ease the rules. Although the Legislature last year allocated money for a Legislative Reference Bureau study of the law, "we are not going to do anything to it piecemeal to help Hawaii Superferry. That's not going to happen."

Well, perhaps they haven’t all moved on, if this comment from Sen. Sam Slom is any indication:

"When the governor took office six years ago, she said the open-for-business sign is on again," he said. "Unfortunately, a number of people have not recognized that.”

Yeah, I guess somebody should tell the Hawaii Supreme Court to get with the program.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, is not planning to get with the program on the House bill that prohibits the state and county from regulating GMOs. In response to an email I sent, he wrote back:

Thanks for writing me. I agree that HB 1226 is a very bad bill and don’t plan on scheduling it for a hearing.

The bill should die now. But bad legislation, like vampires, sometimes comes back to life through a technique called “gut and replace,” in which the contents of a live bill are stripped and replaced with a dead one.

As Rep. Mina Morita warned on this one, it’s not safe to pronounce it dead until 11:59 p.m. on the night the Lege closes.

Finally, if you’ve been following the Niihau fish kill story, I have posted another update on The Hawaii Independent that delves into the classified military operations under way at the time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Musings: Lacking Integrity

I was already awake when the garbage truck, squeaking far more loudly than usual, made its usual Tuesday morning rounds through the neighborhood, prompting Koko and me to get up and out in the world.

The sky was thick gray, with no hint of the sunshine that warmed the island yesterday morning, and the half-moon glowed eerily through a haze of clouds as Koko and I picked our way past overturned cans and the usual little piles of trash that didn’t make it into the truck.

We ran into my neighbor Andy and his dog, Momi, and wasted no time jumping right into the hot topic at hand: yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Superferry.

Despite an article in today’s Advertiser in which Superferry officials, in announcing the big boat’s shut down, claimed to be "hugely disappointed," Andy saw it a little differently.

“I bet the Superferry folks are happy,” he said, noting that now they can close down a money-losing business and bail on Hawaii without looking bad, then go on to sue the state.

There might be something to that. Because really, how long can HSF survive a shutdown, especially when the Maui Tomorrow folks are pushing to restart the faux EIS process currently under way? According to The Advertiser:

But Maui Tomorrow will insist that the review start over because it was conducted under a law that has now been ruled unconstitutional, Bowie said. Her group wants the review to follow the more rigorous guidelines of the state's primary environmental review law.

I think what’s really jumping out at me in all of this is Gov. Lingle’s "ends justify the illegal means" response. First, we have The Advertiser reporting:

Lingle also defended her administration's decision to exempt the project from environmental review, which triggered the legal challenges from environmentalists.

"I'm sure there are all sorts of political opinions out there," she said.

"But we know from the beginning we were correct and accurate, did the right thing, and we've been able to provide a great service for the people of Maui and Oahu, one that they've come to appreciate and in some cases to depend upon, especially in the case of small businesses."

And then the Star-Bulletin reports:

Lingle said her administration is reviewing various courses of action in light of the court's decision, including a legislative remedy, possible mediation and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lingle said her administration did the right thing in providing a "great service" to the people of Maui and Oahu.

"Our administration has been in accordance with the law," she said.

Come on, Linda, give it up! This is twice now that the Supreme Court has said no, your Administration did not act in accordance with the law. And a legislative remedy? My god, woman, don’t you learn? Or another appeal to SCOTUS, ala the so-called "ceded lands" case, with Attorney General Mark Bennett, who helped lead the state down this discredited path, arguing the case?

Why can’t she just admit she was wrong and proceed from there? It kind of reminds me of the position that former VP Dick Cheney is taking in still defending the Bush Administration's repugnant counterterrorism tactics, like torture and CIA black sites:

It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.

Now contrast Lingle's stance with the comment I got yesterday from Kauai’s Rep. Mina Morita, who opposed Act 2 for all the reasons that the court struck it down:

The role of the Legislature is not to bypass a process. There was a process for permitting and all the Legislature did was craft a way to bypass it. Well, first of all, all the governor did was ignore it and then the Legislature tried to legitimize it by by-passing it, and that’s not good law making.

It wasn’t the law’s fault. It wasn’t the environmental review’s fault. It was the lack of integrity on the parts of the people involved.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

Musings: Supreme Court Slap Down

Well, today the Hawaii Supreme Court found that the Superferry by any other name is still the Superferry.

In a 113-page opinion, the Justices ruled that Act 2 was actually written to benefit just one company — Hawaii Superferry — despite language in the law that referred to a “large capacity ferry vessel.”

And because Act 2 exercises legislative power over lands owned by the state at Kahului Harbor with a special law, as opposed to a general law, the Justices found it is unconstitutional. You can read more details on that particular issue starting on page 30 of the opinion.

They also found that “Act 2’s limited viability of twenty-one months effectively limited its benefits to Superferry, as no other large capacity ferry could realistically enter the market and compete with Superferry during this limited time frame.” Check out page 49 for more on this.

As you may recall, Act 2 was adopted in a special session specifically so the ferry could offer service to Maui without an EIS. And why was that law sought? Because the Court had already found that the Lingle Administration erred in allowing the project to proceed without the proper environmental review in the first place.

So Lingle, who insisted that Attorney General Mark Bennett and Superferry officials be involved in drafting Act 2, has been slapped down twice by the state Supreme Court for her mishandling of the big boat. And now the Lege — save for that tiny handful of lawmakers who voted against Act 2, Kauai’s Rep. Mina Morita and Sen. Gary Hooser among them — has been slapped down, too.

The Supreme Court also upheld the Circuit Court’s award of legal fees of $86,270.28, which means the state and HSF will have to pay attorney Isaac Hall for the time he’s spent fighting their cozy deal-making. Fees, however, were reduced from $5,442.44 to $4,532.09.

Now the big question — indeed, the only question — is what’s going to happen to the Superferry? It seems it’s got to stop running until the EIS is pau, and that could be a number of months. Can it survive a shutdown, especially in this economic climate?

The timing is certainly good for the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, which has scheduled HSF President and CEO Adm. Thomas Fargo as the keynote speaker at its Thursday night dinner meeting. This most recent event ought to spark additional interest in his talk.

My inbox, meanwhile, has been popping with jubilant messages about the ruling, but folks aren’t happy just because they won. They also see it as a vindication of the rule of law and the belief that laws are supposed to apply equally to everyone. You don’t just go in and have a new one written when a court decision comes down that you don’t like.

Indeed, the Justices wrote in their conclusion:

That our Constitution prohibits laws which provide disparate treatment inended to favor a specific individual, class or entity or to discriinate against a specific individual, class, or entity is a fundamental principle of the democratic nature of our government: equal rights and treatment for all persons under the law.

I’m sure we’ll hear the usual cries and moans about how this sends out a message that Hawaii is a bad place to do business. But what it really sends out is the message that it’s a bad place to pull a fast one, conduct shady business and work the political process to get special favors for your business.

And it seems to me that’s a good message to send to the world. But will the guv and the Lege hear — and heed — it? Because we all know this isn’t the first time this kind of stunt has been pulled, and I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Musings: Slow Learners

With all the recent cloudy weather, it’s been a while since the stars were out, but they were last night, in all their glory: Orion, the Big Dipper, Pleides and numerous other individuals and constellations whose names remain unknown to me, all sparkling brilliantly in the cold blackness.

The darkness was gone, but the cold remained — the thermometer in my house read 57 degrees — when Koko and I went out walking in a dawn that was every bit as resplendent as the night. It started with a pink glow around the edges, then went gray, then gold streaks emerged and the mountains lit up, glowing in that special way they do, climaxing in a pink pile-up atop Waialeale, with a pillar rainbow connecting heaven and earth.

And all the while my neighbor Andy and I were talking about Hawaiian women warriors, Galileo and the large frontal lobe characteristic of human brains, which I maintained was perhaps not such a great thing evolutionarily, as it’s gotten the human race into the kind of pinches that could ultimately lead to its extinction.

Andy said the problem wasn’t the frontal lobe, but that humans don’t seem to learn.

I can’t argue with that, and saw evidence of it this past two days, when monster surf pounded the northeast coastline, piling up a couple feet of sand under the heliotrope trees and cleaning all the debris off the beaches. It also nailed the Lizama house and greatly eroded the makai side lane of Aliomanu Road, which leads to that house and others.

The situation there is a perfect example of folks failing to learn about the deleterious effects of seawall construction, and of citizens failing to learn that the county government does not act swiftly, if it even acts at all.

The seawall in question was built illegally some 28 years ago to protect the Morgan property — where a large vacation rental house now stands — north of the land that the Lizama family bought back in the 1930s.

In the years since, the seawall has led to the steady erosion of the coastline south of it, including the Lizama property, Aliomanu Road and land owned by the Lemkes, who were forced to move their house 40 feet mauka to keep it from toppling into the sea.

The house was even featured on page 20 of a state booklet, Natural Hazard Consideration for Purchasing Coastal Real Estate in Hawaii.

According to an article in The Garden Island, Buddy Lizama warned the planning commission back in January 2007 that the house could go in the next big storm:

The nearly three-decade-old battle with the private builders of the wall and the county has left the property owners doubting if government can properly protect its citizens when a wrong has been committed.

“Government screwed up,” Lizama said. “That is why we are where we are today.”

If the home breaks up and debris litters the reef, the homeowners — all retirees of state and county government — will be liable for a cleanup they can ill afford, Lizama said.

Meanwhile, state and county officials were alerted last Wednesday that the house was collapsing onto the beach, as these pictures show.

According to an email response from an official with the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Land:

…the landowners are under order from the DLNR to keep all the debris cleaned up off the beach. We may need to respond to this latest failure to comply with this order if they do not clean up the mess. They have also been advised (strongly recommended) to demo the house several times. As far as forcing removal, the DLNR has felt this is a county responsibility since they permitted the dwelling in the first place.

Well, I don’t think they’re going to have to worry much about the clean up any more, as the ocean seems to have taken care of some of that problem.

But has the county learned from this boondoggle? Of course not. As you may recall, it built its own seawall — without a permit — behind Pono Kai and lo and behold, the subsequent erosion is jeopardizing a portion of the newly built coastal path. So to “solve” the problem, the county plans to spend at least $2 million to build another seawall on top of the existing one.

The surf also took out a lot of naupaka, much of it planted by homeowners trying to extend the size of their lots. Thanks to the efforts of Kauai residents Caren Diamond and attorney Harold Bronstein, who fought the issue all the way to the state Supreme Court, it’s now clear that that the public beach extends to the seasonally highest wash of the waves. And as we saw this past weekend, the public beach is a lot bigger than some of the coastal landowners have been pretending.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Musings: Speculations

The air was almost frosty when Koko and I went out walking, bundled up, or at least me, on wet streets under a rapidly waning moon and a sky that held some promise of clearing.

I ran into my neighbor Andy and we got to talking, in response to a post he’d read on Andy Parx’s blog, about why the wild pig population seems to have increased. My neighbor found it hard to believe Andy’s report that a farmer claimed some 500 pigs had been released in the Kealia area, although Andy's speculation that access to hunting areas has been closed off seemed more reasonable.

Then my neighbor Andy offered some speculation of his own: Kauai now has fewer feral dogs and cats that otherwise would be feeding on piglets and chicks, respectively, and thus holding the population down.

Who knows?

Meanwhile, speculation over the cause of the Niihau and Kalapaki fish and whale kills continues, with The Garden Island weighing in today in its usual inimitable fashion.

First, there was the photo caption that had the date of the lanternfish kill at Kalapaki wrong, while making a reference to three dead humpback whale calves, a new number that was not elaborated on in the story.

The story had its own problems, with writer Coco Zickos allowing Ilei Beniamina to make a strong assertion about the cause — the rodenticide application at Lehua — without actually contacting the Fish and Wildlife Service, which did the aerial drop, to see if there’s anything to her claim:

Beniamina said Thursday she considers the decision to drop two applications of poison on Lehua during January was seasonably unfavorable and believes the massive fish kill on Ni‘ihau and Lehua, including a young whale found on Kaua‘i, in the following weeks was the result of rogue pellets being swept out to sea by wind and rain.

As I’ve reported previously:

Tissue samples taken during and immediately after the application of rodenticide pellets on Lehua showed no sign of the poison in fish caught off the island’s south side, and on-site monitoring done after rains “found no detectable movement” of the pellets on land, according to Chris Swenson of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

So if the pellets aren’t moving on land, they could not have been blown or washed into the sea. Furthermore, when asked if the rodenticide could be linked to the fish or whale deaths, our state aquatic biologist, Don Heacock, told me flat out: “No. I don’t think it has anything to with rodenticide.”

Why? For starters, he said, “there’s no way it could get into a baby whale. They’re only drinking milk and the mamas don’t feed here.”

And given the wind direction and currents from Lehua, if the rodenticide was the culprit, the dead fish would have piled up at the north end of Niihau, right at the channel, Heacock said. Instead, they were concentrated at the southeast tip of the island. “How would they have gotten there?” he asked.

The Garden Island also includes a comment from Keith Robinson, whose family owns Niihau and opposed the rodenticide application:

Robinson added that there are reportedly about a dozen monk seals who used to regularly visit the island and have recently “gone missing,” while others appear “extremely sick.”

Heacock said that when he and a vet visited the island in early February, the monk seals all appeared “completely healthy and not lethargic.” He also discounted the likelihood that reef fish poisoned by any cause would impact the seals.

“The vast majority of seals don’t feed on reef fish, but in waters that are 150 to 600 feet deep, although a few young ones do feed occasionally on the reef,” he said. At the depth most seals feed, any poison would be so dilute it would not affect the fish there, he said.

Now one way to find out just what happened to the fish would be to do the $15,000 National Water Quality Assessment on the samples that remain from the fish kill, as Heacock recommended. That protocol looks at all kinds of contaminants, he said, including 150 pesticides, metals, petrochemicals, hydrocarbons and other substances.

But until state and federal agencies kick down the dough to test, we won't be able to rule those things out or in. Perhaps the Robinsons, who enjoy a chummy relationship with the Navy, could ask them chip in for the testing — unless, of course, the Navy is worried that its own activities, which were under way when the fish started dying, are to blame.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Musings: Odds and Ends

It’s a nippy 62 degrees in my house this morning, which is why I’m bundled up and my fingers are semi-stiff and even a brisk walk under gray skies with Koko failed to warm me. Koko did the sensible thing and immediately went back to bed, having wisely never succumbed to the temptations of the keyboard, inbox and Google.

It feels like an odds and ends kind of a day, so let’s see what comes together.

For starters, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush got a three-year prison sentence for assaulting a foreign leader. Well, I guess you could call Bush that. Anyway, Muntadhar al-Zeidi has received a tremendous outpouring of public support — we’re talking massive street rallies, an art exhibit and even a sofa-sized sculpture of a shoe in Iraq, and numerous throw-a-shoe at Bush websites in the U.S. — and he seemed entirely unrepentant, reportedly shouting, "long live Iraq" when the sentence was read.

The U.S., meanwhile, is repentant for illegally overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom, if Public Law 103-150 is any indication, but that’s not supposed to mean anything. A Wall Street Journal article on the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision noted:

In recent years, government apologies for official wrongs have proliferated. In 1988, Congress apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II, and in 1990 approved an expression of "deep regret to the Sioux people" for the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. Seven states have apologized for forced sterilization of disabled, poor and minority residents in the early 20th century. Five states have apologized for slavery.

But the Hawaii case might be the first where an apology resolution received legal weight, says Eric Miller, a law professor at Saint Louis University who has worked on campaigns seeking redress for African-Americans. Governments on rare occasion have paid restitution, but only through separate legislation.

Prof. Miller worries that if the Hawaii opinion stands, future apologies might be rarer still. The "process doesn't necessarily get off the ground if people are going to be punished for it," he says.

Yes, we wouldn’t want the government to actually have to make amends for any of its wrongdoings when simple lip service can suffice. I guess Miller never heard of the saying: sorry don’t feed the bulldog.

Or since we’re talking about Hawaii, the pitbulls and Chihuahuas.

And since we’re talking about pitbulls, blogger Andy Parx, “the rabid reporter,” has gone to great lengths to log all the bills that have survived the first round in the Lege that are of interest to Kauai.

It’s a very thorough compendium, and a good example of how blogs can be useful.

Bills dealing with GMO research on taro are still alive, along with — inexplicably — what is known as the GMO pre-emption bill, which has the biotech industry’s fingerprints all over it.

Now why the Lege would want to go along with a proposal that “prohibits state administrative regulatory actions and county regulatory actions from banning or otherwise regulating activities related to genetically modified plant organisms” is beyond me.

As Dr. Lorrin Pang, the Maui health official who has been a strong proponent of using the “precautionary principle" in our approach to GMOs, noted in an email:

If you actually think about the Bill it is rather odd. It would be one thing to say that the Feds are always smarter so let them have the only say on GMO’s in Hawaii. That would be a true preemption bill. But what it says is that when the Feds say yes to GMO’s we will allow it. And when the Feds say “no” (supposing Obama actually forces labeling) ? Then what? The local pro-GMO guys can try to override this? Whoever wrote this Bill does think in this case that he is smarter than the Feds. So this “one way” preemption Bill is not really supporting the Fed position but rather the position of always saying yes to GMO’s.

To end the day on a light note, Tom Tomorrow has a great cartoon on what we can expect in a future without real reporters, although The Garden Island, with its front page reports on overgrown lots in Kapaa and book sales, seems to be already there. And if you haven’t seen the Saturday Night Live spoof on Kauai’s visitor industry, here it is.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Musings: Power and Control

I spent about an hour standing at the intersection of Ahukini Road and Kapule Highway at pau hana time yesterday, holding a sign that read: STOP DV.

I didn’t make the sign, or I probably would have chosen other words, but how, really, does one address the complicated, emotionally supercharged issue of domestic violence on a piece of cardboard small enough to be held on a windy day?

That’s why I tend to shy away from bumper stickers and sign holding; such expressions seem to do little to shed any real light on an issue. But sometimes it’s important to stand up and be counted, which is why about 60 or 70 of us — kids, men and women of all ages and races — showed up and stood there holding signs, listening to people honk their horns, seeing folks wave, give a thumbs up, flash shakas.

We didn’t do any yelling or waving of our own. We were there to honor Fredlyn Hoapili, who was stabbed 18 times, mostly on the left side of her chest. Her husband, Joseph, is accused of the March 3 murder, which was witnessed by their son John in the family’s Anahola [correx: Lihue} home.

That alone was enough to set a somber tone, although I’m sure more than one of us there was recalling some unpleasant memory of his or her own. I was thinking as well about John and the other children in the Hoapili family. According to The Garden Island:

There had been a history of violence in the Hoapili home. Court records show that Fredlynn Hoapili briefly filed for a protection order more than a decade ago alleging a wide range of abuse against her and her children before withdrawing the request days later.

Just days earlier I’d read a report from Science magazine summarized in The Week — neither article can be read on line without a subscription — that found abuse can actually alter the functioning of a child’s DNA, making him or her more vulnerable to stress and depression into adulthood. The study, done at McGill University in Montreal, found:

The flood of stress hormones early in life prevents these genes from “turning on” properly, making life much more stressful and painful. It’s as if their nerves are exposed, with no defense against negative experiences. As a result, abused children have a much higher incidence of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

And so the cycle of misery and pain continues.

Near the end of the vigil, Chief Darryl Perry showed up and joined the line that was stretching mauka. I was glad to see him there, and told him so, and on the way home I reflected that his place at the end of the line was an apt one. In domestic violence, the cops so often do represent the end of the line.

Yet it also struck me as ironic that the resolution of a situation based on the dynamics of power and control is so often dealt with through power — the cops — and control — locking up the offender. I’m not faulting that, because it’s one way to diffuse a volatile situation and when you need back up, believe me, you’re damn glad the cops are there.

But where do we go from here? Yes, we’re making some progress through education and counseling and public awareness, but still, nearly all our relationships with animals and other human beings, whether individually or systemically, on a personal or global scale, are invariably based on two underlying dynamics: power and control.

Until we can figure out how to behave in a more collaborative fashion, I don’t see much hope for ending that cycle of pain and misery that plays out as domestic violence in private and war, terrorism, racism, sexism, imperialism and oppression in public.

Meanwhile, the ongoing struggle between America and the kanaka maoli for control over land took an interesting twist on Maui yesterday when members of the Reinstated Hawaiian Government were cited for trespassing after camping at Waihee park. According to an article in the Maui News, which was picked up, and shortened, by The Advertiser:

"Is the county the legal property owner? We want the documents showing they're legal," Nelson Armitage of Haiku said as police vehicles and officers lined the park entrance.

"Inherent sovereignty, that's us," said Armitage. "Inherent sovereignty is the proper claimant (of Hawaii lands). The Reinstated Hawaiian Government is the proper claimant.

"It's not right to possess stolen goods," he said, referring to the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom.

The police apparently won't be the only issuers of citations. Armitage held a clipboard with a list of 19 officers' names neatly printed on yellow-pad paper.

"They give us citations. We give to them, too," he said with a smile.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Musings: Something's Fishy

The moon, full today, burned brightly through a blanket of swirling clouds all night, emerging occasionally, encircled in a halo, dimming only slightly when the rain came that left the streets wet when Koko and I went walking this morning.

The sun, weak by comparison, rose as a yellow streak in a gray sky that briefly turned a demure orange-pink in the east as we walked through a neighborhood saturated by rain. And though we attempted to skirt puddles and mud slicks, Koko’s belly was wet and dirty when we got home, while my own was clean, but hungry.

It seems the residents of Niihau are also hungry, according to an email that was sent out last night, prompting plans to collect basic foodstuffs at the state capitol for shipping to the island on Friday.

The email reported:

apperently the barge has been unabl;e to reach them because of the weather, and the [Robinson family] helicopter is broken, and they wont eat the fish because they think its posoned.

I was intrigued by this call out, because I had just written a piece for The Hawaii Independent on the fears that Niihau folks have about their fish following mid-January’s still unexplained mass fish kill.

The article delves into a possible link to Navy activities, which reportedly were staged in the area Jan. 15 to 18. And that’s when all sorts of strange things started happening in the waters around Kauai and Niihau.

In The Hawaii Independent article, I noted that Bruce Robinson first noticed fish washing ashore on Niihau on Jan. 17, and a dead humpback whale calf on Jan 21. As you may recall, a mass kill of lanternfish, a small deep water species, and squid washed ashore at Kauai’s Kalapaki Bay on Jan. 20.

As I reported in a previous post, there was some initial concern that perhaps the fish deaths were linked to the Jan. 6 and 13 aerial applications of rodenticide on Lehua, a small island near Niihau. But fish tissue samples taken after the application showed no sign of poison and there was “no detectable movement” of the rodenticide pellets on land, according to Chris Swenson of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Don Heacock, the state aquatic biologist for Kauai, said he doesn’t think the rodenticide had anything to do with the fish kills, either. He isn’t sure what caused the fish and whales to die — another calf washed in at Kekaha on Feb. 9 — saying, “I don’t know, and I don’t want to put clothes on the emperor.”

But he did recommend that his top boss, BLNR Chairman Laura Thielen, ask the Navy just what it was doing at that time “so we can get a better idea of what’s going on here.”

Of course, if the answer is anything like the one I got from PMRF’s Tom Clements, which you can read in the Independent article, it won’t reveal much — except that the Navy operates with tremendous secrecy, and impunity, in Hawaii’s waters.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Musings: Opportunities

I was tired, so I almost went back to sleep when the dawn light started to fill my bedroom this morning, but Koko was keen to go out walking, so we did, and I was glad, or I would have missed the opportunity to catch up with my neighbor Andy — and score two grapefruit in the process — see Waialeale flush green as the sun rose, her summit lightly gilded with clouds, watch the mist float through the pastures, walk in a shimmery golden rain.

So, too, some folks — President Obama among them — are viewing the current lean times as an opportunity, despite all the doom and gloom dished out daily by the dailies and broadcast news. In his weekly radio address Obama noted:

"We've experienced great trials before," Obama said. "And with every test, each generation has found the capacity to not only endure, but to prosper — to discover great opportunity in the midst of great crisis. That is what we can and must do today. And I am absolutely confident that is what we will do."

I know that one of Obama’s many jobs is to rally a shell-shocked, dispirited nation that is watching the collapse of life — at least, the stuff-driven kind — as they’ve known it. But he’s not the only one looking on the bright side. Every day I talk to folks, including some who have lost jobs and are facing home foreclosures, and they invariably speak of this cloud’s silver lining.

It’s an opportunity to regroup, they say, to embrace simplicity, to pursue an existence based on values rather than things, to regain some balance in their lives, to step off the treadmill for a while and reassess. Many talk about wanting to find a job they feel passionate about, work that’s meaningful, not just a way to make money. In short, even though they’re feeling the crunch in some way financially, they’re not despondent. They feel like the ship not only needs to be tightened, but its course reversed.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman addressed this phenomenon this morning in a column that Dawson kindly brought to my attention:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

Now regular readers of this blog will recognize this as a sentiment I share, and while it’s sometimes dismissed as fringe Luddite thought, I don’t believe that’s true, at least, not any more. The column goes on:

“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

I read news reports in which analysts and economists struggle to decide whether we’re in a Depression, a “Great Recession” or a “prolonged episode of economic stagnation,” as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake calls it. But maybe all those phrases, and the responses and reactions they illicit, are outdated, no longer relevant.

The current global economic situation, with its interwoven markets and free trade agreements and strange new breed of financial instruments, is unlike any that’s ever existed before. Now we’re watching it make a dramatic adjustment, if not totally collapse. It seems that “The Great Disruption” — and all the paradigm shifting opportunities it entails — is an apt new moniker for the times.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Musings: Sooner or Later

Sometimes I’ve just got to get in the water, no matter how windy or cool or rainy the weather is, and since today was one of them, and Koko’s always good to go, we headed out to our favorite beach and slip-slided down a muddy path to the sand. She had a great time frolicking on land while I frolicked in the sea and when it started raining really hard we headed back, me with the hood up on my sweatshirt, she with her ears and tail down. And as we piled, wet and sandy, into my old car, red clay-stained beach towels protecting the seats, I was once again glad that I don’t have the kind of automobile or dress code or make-up regime that might cause me to miss out on these little adventures. They’re such juicy, joyful bits of life.

As we neared the house, it became evident it had been pouring mauka while we were away at the coast. The trail had turned into a rapidly flowing river of brown water that broke, where the road Ts, into four smaller streams rushing downhill, puddling. It’s headed back to the source, where we were, sooner or later.

With all the many troubles before him, I was glad to see that President Obama moved sooner, rather than later, on his campaign promise to stop federal raids of state-approved medical marijuana clubs. Regardless of how one feels about medical mj, the fed’s heavy-handed approach came off like jack-booting, trampling citizen and state rights.

Now that the fear of federal raids is gone, maybe Hawaii will ease up a bit on its own Calvinistic approach to medical mj. The Honolulu Weekly had a good cover story on the topic, pointing out that even though patients can legally use it, many can’t easily get it.

As Editor Ragnar Carlson reports, Maui Rep. Joe Bertram Sen. Bertram, and others introduced a bill to resolve some of the problems in Hawaii’s law:

“How are patients supposed to get their medicine,” [Jeanne Ohta, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i] asks. “Particularly people who live in condos, on military bases, people who live where their plants would have to be visible. We don’t have an effective distribution system. That’s the number one problem.”

Bertram’s bill seeks to remedy that problem. The bill establishes a production of the plants by certified small farms catering to no more than 14 patients each. It also creates a tax-stamp system designed to allow caregivers to facilitate access of patients to the medicine. “We think this is a massive improvement,” Bertram says. “Our bill closely mirrors what New Mexico has done.” That state’s system, enacted last year, has won praise from medical marijuana advocates for creating an effective system of production and distribution and from law enforcement officials for tightly controlling who is allowed access to the marijuana.

The bill seems to have stalled out, along with a similar bill in the Senate and another House bill that seeks to make the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil offense, subject to a $100 fine.

Even if they had passed the Lege, it's not likely they would have made it past Lingle. Last year she vetoed a billl for a committee to even study the options. Now that’s kinda close-minded.

Still, at least our lawmakers are thinking about these matters, from both humanitarian and practical perspectives, and trying to take a sensible approach. The state can’t afford to be jailing people for this kind of stuff, says Rep. Hanohano. Besides, if you have small farms licensed to grow da crip for patients, it helps support local agriculture and works as a grassroots economic stimulus package, too.

Think of it as shovel ready projects, all ready to go.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Musings: A Big Mess

Bits of cloud drifted lazily like smoke off Nounou ridge when Koko and I set out this morning on a walk delayed by rain well past sunrise. Not that the sun was anywhere in sight, but I knew by the brightness of the sky that it was up there somewhere. I collected an armful of oranges that had fallen from a tree whose bounty seems to be ignored by everyone but me, and felt a secondary rain as drops fell from its drenched branches.

Birds sang as they bathed in the small streams that had formed between the pavement and the strips of grass that line it along both sides of the road. What a concept, to view the rain as an opportunity, rather than a nuisance. I’ve grown weary of hearing people complain about this winter’s chilly, wet weather. Can’t we be grateful that the Earth is still functioning and it’s getting what it needs?

Do we need some 519 transient vacation rentals on Kauai? That’s the number of applications received by the county from folks seeking a special use permit to keep operating. Now that’s not all the TVRs on the island, mind you, just the ones that have applied for the permit.

You can go to that link, if you’re so inclined, and check out just who is applying. While many are owned by real people, some of them with multiple rentals, a sizable number are owned by entities like Daystar Invest Corp., Hanalei Buddies LLC, Aliomanu Sand Castles LLC and Waiwai Nui Haena LLC. And we’re supposed to believe these rentals are just the way that ordinary folks make their mortgage?

Equally interesting is the zoning for these TVRs. We’ve got some in the conservation district, where the state, not the county has jurisdiction, some in the open district and some in the ag district, where they are not allowed either by state law or the most recent county ordinance.

And it seems that some of those conservation land applicants previously argued they weren’t doing vacation rentals when the state moved to crack down on that unpermitted use. Now they’re saying they are, so they can get grandfathered in with the county. Sounds like they’re admitting guilt, but is the state checking out applications submitted to the county?

While no part of the island is immune from the influx of vacation rentals, a quick perusal shows a very large number in Haena, Wainiha and Hanalei. Although multi-family dwellings are not allowed in Haena-Wainiha, some people are asking for multi permits. Will the county grant them?

The situation prompted one North Shore resident who is alarmed by the proliferation of vacation rentals in that region's rural residential neighborhoods to exclaim: “We’re pau, we’re totally screwed. If you look at Hanalei, almost the whole town is taken over.”

A group called PONO, Protect Our Neighborhood `Ohana, has formed to challenge some of these applications, especially those in the Special Management Area, where the first single family house built is exempt from the SMA process, but businesses are not.

“They said they were building a house, but they were building a business,” the resident said. “They’re fricking liars.”

Will the county go along with the sham, or look at the cumulative impact of allowing TVRs in the SMA? And as the county slowly processes these permit applications, the TVRs will keep on operating.

One thing’s for sure, it’s a big mess that will likely end up in litigation.

This is what happens when the county just goes along and goes along and lets a situation get totally out of hand before it deals with it. By then, everyone is claiming they have vested rights, even though they didn’t have the right to do what they were doing in the first place.

Unfortunately, all this is coming to a head at a time when the economy is down, a situation that so many times in the past has prompted the county to take an anything goes so long as it brings in some money attitude.

It doesn’t seem to matter what's lost in the process.