Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Musings: Ethical Concerns

Now that we’ve moved fully into fall, it’s dark most mornings when Koko and I go out walking. Not that either of us mind. I like the stars, and it provides her with cover to surreptitiously snack on things that she otherwise wouldn’t be allowed. Because I can’t tell, when her little face is buried in the grass, is she sniffing, or is she eating?

Just like when I got back to the house and looked at the debut of Koohan Paik’s latest venture, New Pacific Voice, and saw my Honolulu Weekly article on depleted uranium prominently displayed as the lead story, replete with the same graphic and video link, I couldn’t tell, is she is stealing outright, or is she just shockingly ignorant of copyright laws?

The Weekly editor sent her an immediate take-down order. I wonder how many other publications and/or writers will be annoyed to see their work reprinted in full without their permission, and in the case of my story, with no attribution even to the source.

Moving on to other ethical matters, the Garden Island today brings news that two members of the Charter Commission have formally resigned: attorney Jonathan Chun, because he’s worried about conflict of interest; and Carol Ann Davis-Briant, who claims her efforts on behalf of a county manager proposal have been intentionally stymied.

Let’s start with Carol Ann. As is often the case, unless you’re a player, it’s hard to know exactly what happened in the locker room. So like many Kauai residents, I look at who’s on the team to get a sense of what might have gone down. I do know Barbara Bennett to be a straight shooter, so I take her at her word when she’s quoted as saying:

“The Charter Review Commission is committed to moving this process forward as that is the Charter Review Commission’s job. Any comments from Carol Ann’s resignation stating that the commission blocked or created barriers — they are misconceptions by Miss Davis.

“We didn’t block anything, we didn’t create any barriers,” Bennett said. “We were in a process that was derailed by her resigning. ... I don’t want anybody to think this isn’t going to be taken care of.

But then I see that Sherman Shiraishi is the chair of that commission, which makes me think, OK, a lot of smarmy stuff could have being going on, especially behind the scenes. And since Barbara isn’t a political person, she likely wouldn’t even be aware of it. So I'm left not knowing what the true story really is.

And then you’ve got Jonathan, who is following in the footsteps of KEDB Director Mattie Yoshioka. Mattie previously resigned from the Charter Commission in the wake of an “advisory opinion” by the Board of Ethics that she should not appear before the County Council while serving on any county boards.

Apparently Jonathan grew weary of waiting for the Board to take an unequivocal stand on his owm request for clarification. There’s no excuse for the Board’s waffling on this issue.

Still, it’s kind of hard to know what, exactly, needs to be clarified when the Charter language is pretty darn clear:

No officer or employee of the county shall appear in behalf of private interests before any county board, commission or agency.

But then, Act 205 regarding no overnight accommodations on ag land is also pretty darn clear, and folks are still trying to “clarify” it into meaning something that better suits their own purposes. That's the thing about legal opinions. They're just opinions — issued by people who often have vested interests.

While it seems that it was proper for Mattie and Jonathan to resign, and other folks, like attorney Lorna Nishimitsu, who regularly do business with the county should follow suit, the whole issue raises a number of other thorny questions.

For starters, are the members of the Board of Ethics always ethical enough to be passing judgment? I know of one former member who flat out lied in a sworn affadavit, which certainly cast doubt on her ethical standards.

Then there’s the question of just who will serve on the county’s boards if all the insiders are removed. Since many of the movers and shakers are paid by their employers for the time they spend in service, it becomes a much greater sacrifice, especially in this economy, for folks to serve when they must do so without compensation. Perhaps people should be paid for the time they’re asked to spend in the middle of the work day. It might generate more general interest in serving on a board.

And is it any more ethical for someone like Sherman Shiraishi, who may not be personally appearing before the county, but has incredible insider connections and influence, to serve on a county commission?

Finally, is there any way to truly de-politicize what is inherently a political process, since elected officials are the ones who are approving these commission appointments?

In a small community, with an even smaller number of people who are actively involved in public affairs, folks are bound to have their fingers in a number of pies.

That's clear. What's less clear is how to be certain their public service isn't just a guise for self-service.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Musings: Outrageous

A star fell as Koko and I stepped out the door this morning, reminding me of the old saying that where a star falls, the fish are biting, so today, it seems, that would be in the east. The stars that stayed put gave way to clouds as we walked, further darkening the dark, and when a strip of dawn appeared on the horizon, it illuminated the scalloped edge of a cloud that I knew soon would be dropping rain, and it did, but not on us.

As we walked, I was thinking about outrage, a musing prompted by a comment a reader left on the last post, wondering where mine was when I wrote about the seal killer's light penalty (I guess I just did a poor job of conveying it), as well as all the other outrageous things that passed through my consciousness just this past weekend alone. I’m talking about:

• The “foreign bands” of pornographers who are taking advantage of the extreme poverty in Peru to obtain children as young as 3, often for 34 cents or a quarter of a chicken, to sexually assault in videos sold to other extreme sickos.

• The heavily-armed Pittsburgh cops who used tear gas, stun grenades, smoke canisters and a Long Range Acoustic Device, which emits a piercing whistle, to disperse people exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly at the G20 summit.

And related to that, the 20 countries that control 80% of the world's resources.

• The revelation that the equivalent of 560 coal-fired power plants, or 230 nuclear plants, will need to be built over the next 20 years just to satisfy the demand from our flatscreen TVS, computers, game consoles and other electronics, thus making it that much harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• The way the U.S. has wasted $150 billion developing missile defense systems — the bread and butter of Kauai’s PMRF — since President Reagan first proposed “Star Wars” in the 1980s “Yet in 25 years the program has not produced a workable weapons system, something unprecedented even in the annals of the Pentagon's bloated budgets.”

• The General Accounting Office report that the ill-conceived 661-mile-long fence on the U.S.-Mexico border will cost $6.5 billion to maintain over the next 20 years and haas already been breached 3,363 times.

• News that Glenn Beck will make more than $23 million this year for peddling his brand of blather, which he bills as the “fusion between entertainment and enlightenment.”

The declaration that “conspicuous consumption is definitely out,” because that means it once was, weirdly, “in."

• The ill-informed woman from LA who thinks she even has the right to weigh in on the vacation rental issue, much less criticize Barbara Robeson and Caren Diamond as “self-appointed civilian enforcers” while falsely insinuating they engaged in trespassing to gather their information about property owners breaking the law.

• People who called Ehren Watada a coward and traitor when he had the tremendous courage to stand by his convictions and refuse another tour of duty in Iraq.

• And, of course, that lying sack of shit Charles Vidinha, who claimed he was just trying to "scare" the monk seal he shot twice, (as if that’s a valid excuse) as well as his attorney Alexander Silvert — you can tell just by watching his eye movements on the video that he’s lying as he repeats Vidinha’s fantastic story — and KITV news, which tried to drum up sympathy for the monk seal killer by describing him as “an elderly Kauai paniolo” and saying: “Even though he said it was an accident, Charles Vidinha was immediately sent to prison.”

Kinda makes you wish for a return to ye old days of the public stocks, so we could heap all sorts of abuse and rotten veggies on the perps.

There’s still a lot that doesn’t add up with the story. If Vidinha was too broke to pay a fine, how did he come up with the $10,000 bond? You need keys to get through the gate to Pilaa, so was he working for Jimmy Pflueger, who owns most of that land? If so, does Jimmy generally arm his employees, and why? And what was that bit about preparing the beach for campers from Oahu? Are they running a little “private beach” tourism biz there?

The Advertiser, for some reason, didn’t allow comments on its article, but the Star-Bulletin story generated lots of outraged responses. My favorite:

One would think that firing 4 shots is more than just an accident. Too bad the seal wasn't packing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Musings: Why?

The rain had just passed, but white clouds were still clinging to dark green mountains, where a squall released the last of its moisture, when Koko and I headed to the beach this morning.

The sun beat us there, but we were otherwise alone, unless, of course, you count the iwa soaring on the currents and the cardinals cheeping in the bushes and the pueo cruising above the treetops. I’d finished swimming and Koko had finished racing up and down the sand and we were sitting on a rock, admiring the shimmer, when a glossy monk seal rolled up in the surf, not 25 feet away.

We exchanged blinking gazes for a few minutes, and she came up farther onto the beach and then I picked up Koko and we crept away, to let her have it all to herself, but she didn’t stay long, and as I watched from the hillside above, she shimmied back into the surf and swam away.

I felt honored — blessed — to have had such an encounter, so it was with bewildered puzzlement that I read the admission of guilt by monk seal killer Charles Vidinha in today’s The Garden Island:

Vidinha admitted that he was at Pila‘a Beach on Kaua‘i’s North Shore on May 21 when he saw a Hawaiian monk seal in the shallow waters off the beach.

He used his Browning .22-caliber rifle to fire four rounds at the seal, RK06, two of which hit and killed her.

“Vidinha knew it was a Hawaiian monk seal at the time he fired his rifle at her,” the [plea] agreement states. “Vidinha subsequently destroyed the rifle that he used to commit this crime. Vidinha deeply regrets his actions and he apologizes to the entire community.”

But the story was missing the one thing that everyone interested in this issue wants to know: why?

Why, instead of feeling honored or blessed at seeing one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, did he instead have the desire to shoot her?

Is he senile? Insane? Was he feeling bored? Impulsive? Does he regularly shoot at animals that pose him no threat and will provide him with no meat? Or was this a random act of senselessness? Did he shoot the other seal? Was it a copycat crime?


In killing that seal, Vidinha also killed her pup, which was nearly ready to be born. That’s a big loss to a rapidly dwindling population of animals that has been around for at least 13 million years, but is now disappearing, like so many others, in an environment greatly — perhaps irrevocably — altered by man.

Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. Ninety days in jail, even for someone who is 78 years old, is pretty minor. A $25 "special assessment" — far less than you’d be charged for driving without a seat belt — is a joke. If he couldn't pay more, let him do community service.

But fines and jail time won’t bring back that seal, or make much difference in the psyche or actions of someone who engages in such bizarre, abhorrent behavior.

The least he could do is tell us why.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chief Perry Article

Here's the link to The Hawaii Independent article I wrote that drew upon the KKCR interview with Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry.

Musings: Friday Potluck

Creativity and time evade me this morning, so let’s skip the intro and get down to business.

That seems appropriate in light of what I see as the most pressing story: scientists are saying the impacts of climate change are happening far faster and sooner than they expected even two years ago. A report issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicates temperature increases of 6.3 F are likely by the end of the century.

According to an article in The Washington Post:

The increase is nearly double what scientists and world policymakers have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

"It's accelerating," he [Robert Corell, chair of the Climate Action Initiative] said. "We're not going in the right direction."

Here’s the kicker — UNEP is saying the increase is likely to occur even if nations enact every climate policy now proposed. And since we know that has zero probability of occurring, how much faster and sooner do you suppose the “catastrophic consequences including rising sea-levels, droughts and famine, and the loss of up to a third of the world’s plant and animal species” that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns of will arrive?

As the Post reported:

He [Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director] noted that since 2000 alone, the average rate of melting at 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges has doubled compared with the rate during the previous two decades.

"These are not things that are in dispute in terms of data," he said. "They are actually physically measurable."

Other findings include the fact that sea level might rise by as much as six feet by 2100 instead of 1.5 feet, as the IPCC had projected, and the Arctic may experience a sea-ice summer by 2030, rather than by the end of the century.

Now six feet is a big deal in an island chain. Over at Raising Islands Jan TenBruggencate has a post on two initiatives aimed at exploring what climate change could mean locally.

One interesting, and scary, aspect of all this is that the predictions are being revised in part because scientists are continually gaining a better understanding of how natural systems work. So since we’re still learning as we go on this one, what might we be overlooking that could change the predictions even more dramatically?

If that bums you out, you can always go talk story with Mitzi Gaynor, the star of “South Pacific,” on Oct. 4. Bringing Mitzi here for the 50th anniversary of that movie is just one of the bright ideas that the Kauai Visitors Bureau has come up with to spend some of the unprecedented $1 million the county forked over to re-attract tourists. In a broadcast on Hawaii Public Radio, KVB Director Sue Kanoho notes that Mitzi has a big following. Mmmm, maybe. But big enough to make a dent in the 20 percent decline in tourism on Kauai? I don’t think so. As a friend noted: “That generation is gone.”

But the plastic bags aren’t. Yes, the bill to ban ‘em hit another snag when county attorney Al Castillo jumped in, citing legal concerns and enforcement issues. So why hasn’t he piped up about the ag vacation rental bill when the very same issues of enforceability and legality have been raised about it?

Speaking of enforcement and legality, I learned a few interesting things while interviewing Police Chief Darryl Perry on KKCR yesterday, including that no disciplinary actions had been taken for the three years prior to his arrival. OK, boys, you just go ahead and have your fun, with no consequences. Yikes.

Further, he started work in a scorched earth environment, with no transitional reports — not even basic office supplies. That doesn’t say much for former Chief Lum’s professionalism, while it does speak volumes about the hostile, unwelcoming environment that greeted Perry.

I’ll be filing an article about the interview on The Hawaii Independent later today, so I’ll provide a link if you’d like to learn more about what the chief had to say.

One caller raised concerns about asset forfeiture laws, which are yet another troubling outgrowth of the war on drugs. As I reported in a 1996 Star-Bulletin story:

A Kauai case, in which Brian Lentz lost his Kilauea land and home in federal civil proceedings this year even though he was not convicted of selling marijuana from the home, drew a spate of letters and editorials in local newspapers from those who feared government was going too far.

Police said they found 31/2 pounds of marijuana in a 1992 raid on Lentz's house, after he allegedly sold five ounces of marijuana to an informant from the home.

"One of the problems with forfeiture is it has nothing to do with a criminal conviction," said Hilo attorney Chris Yuen, who argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court that hearings should be required before property is seized. "The amazing thing is that it can be imposed on an innocent person."

That’s right. They used to take the assets first, depriving you of your ability to use their value in financing your defense, and then you had to prove they weren’t linked to drug or other illegal activity — even if you were never convicted. There have been some reforms — now there has to be a hearing before they take it — but like much of the legal system, if you don't have money, it's hard to fight it, and since law enforcement agencies get to keep the booty, it does open the door to abuse, especially when the pickings are so good and resources are otherwise so tight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Musings: Godzilla vs. King Kong

I was talking with one of my sisters last night and she mentioned reading a piece by author and food ethicist Michael Pollan, who sees an interesting twist to the health insurance reform debate.

As Pollan notes, many of our health problems, and so many of the high costs related to health care, are directly related to the way we eat:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.
We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.

The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform.

As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise.

He then goes on to discuss how health insurance reforms, which would require insurers to provide a standard level of coverage to everyone at the same rate, will result in a “sea change” between the health insurance industry and the food industry.

The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.

Agribusiness dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.

Wow, sort of like Godzilla vs. King Kong.

But that’s what it likely will take to wean America off its deadly King Corn diet, which is not only making us sick, but animals and the planet, too.

Meanwhile, some very intriguing research has emerged that further defines the link between our corn- and soy-dominated diet and obesity. It seems that we, and the animals we eat, used to consume a lot of omega-3 fats, but in the last century, we’ve all upped our intake of omega-6 fats — the kind found in corn and soy.

We are now eating a diet that is supposed to fatten us up for winter, when weather is harsh and calories are scarce. But today food is never scarce for the average American. The base of our food supply has shifted from leaves to seeds, and this simple change means our bodies are storing more fat, leading to obesity and all its associated diseases.

The question now is how do you unravel all this? Farmers are deeply dependent on subsidies, people have grown addicted to their sodas and fast foods, medicine is geared toward repair and maintenance, rather than prevention, government policies favor the status quo.

The same scenario exists in our equally dangerous attachment to fossil fuels, with its own set of powerful interest groups, gas-addicted consumers and government policies that heavily subsidize fossil fuels. According to research done by the Environmental Law Institute in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

Fossil fuels benefited from approximately $72 billion over the seven-year period [2002-08], while subsidies for renewable fuels totaled only $29 billion. More than half the subsidies for renewables—$16.8 billion—are attributable to corn-based ethanol, the climate effects of which are hotly disputed. Of the fossil fuel subsidies, $70.2 billion went to traditional sources—such as coal and oil—and $2.3 billion went to carbon capture and storage, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Thus, energy subsidies highly favored energy sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases over sources that would decrease our climate footprint.

If it will take something as powerful as insurance interests to topple agribusiness interests, what will it take to topple fossil fuel interests? And what will it take to topple a system that is guided not by the best interests of the people and the planet, but the shareholders?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Musings: Weird Experiments

Makalii, Triangle, Orion and the rest of the stars, two of them falling, blanketed the heavens when Koko and I went walking this morning in air that had a slight — and welcome — chill. I like watching the sky turn from black to various shades of blue as dawn approaches, and today it arrived with apricot-colored puff balls and a bold streak of orange above the ocean, which was roaring.

Yesterday a friend and I watched a north swell build as tourists did classic dumb tourist things, like standing with their back to the ocean and walking on rocks drenched from an earlier set of waves. Two came to ask us to take their picture, and when we expressed concern about their safety, they brushed it off. You can’t tell people anything, but then they whine and/or sue and/or badmouth Kauai when they get hurt.

Fortunately, they were just the sideshow. The main event was a wedgetail shearwater colony, which always satisfies. One good thing about the Wailua Bridge widening — heck, perhaps the only good thing — is they’re going to underground the utility wires. So hopefully, we won’t see any more dead Newell’s shearwaters on the bridge. Like most rivers, Wailua a major flyway. Maybe one of these days they’ll underground the wires at Kealia, another death trap.

I was glad to read in Monday’s Garden Island article that the county is FINALLY asking people to turn off the lights at the ball parks and tennis courts by 8 p.m. during the shearwater fledging season. Still, it’s sad it took them so long to get with the program, and they only came on board to “mitigate their risk of fines of up to $25,000 for each ‘take.’”

As we watched waves and birds, my friend was telling me about a book she’s reading, ”Providence of a Sparrow,” that gets into just how smart and on it birds are. The author maintains that caging a bird is the absolute worst, because it deprives a bird of flight, and flight is the essence of bird.

I don’t think any creature does well in a cage. None of us evolved like that, yet when you look at it, a good deal of recent human effort has been devoted to perfecting ways of caging ourselves and others, and calling it progress.

I think about that when I go walking, and in so many houses, their sunrise is the same as their sunset: the flickering orange and blue of the TV screen. We’re engaged in a weird experiment that doesn’t bode well for the human race or the other creatures we impact.

While we’re on the topic of weird experiments, GMO crops just suffered two setbacks. On the national level, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture unlawfully approved Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beets, and required the agency to do a full EIS. The big issue here is pollen drift. In the order, Judge Jeffrey S. White found that:

“[a] federal action that eliminates a farmer’s choice to grow non-genetically engineered crops, or a consumer’s choice to eat non-genetically engineered food, is an undesirable consequence,” and that “[a]n action which potentially eliminates or .. greatly reduces the availability of a particular plant ... has a significant effect on the human environment.”

Finally, someone with authority is getting at the crux of the matter.

A press release sent out about the ruling contained another interesting nugget:

Monsanto has been the subject of increasing speculation that the Department of Justice's antitrust division is scrutinizing the biotechnology company's control of the markets for GE crops, and for commodities such as corn, soy and cotton.

And locally, the Maui County Council gave initial approval to a bill prohibiting genetically modified taro in Maui County.

While some expressed concerns about how the ban would be enforced, all nine councilors said they were moved by testimony from Native Hawaiians and supporters, and believed taro's cultural and spiritual significance was more important than any other factor.

"The legacy of the host culture and the value of the kanaka maoli must be protected, and it starts now," said Council Chairman Danny Mateo.

Gee, what a concept.

To end on a bright note, the visit to the wedgie colony resulted in this photo, which my friend sent with the comment:

And it doesn't even know when and if a meal if coming, when and if a cat is coming. The least we can do is smile back!

U no dat. So smile! And turn off those outside lights.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Musings: Good Questions

It was a splendid evening, so Koko and I went walking beneath a golden wedge floating on a bit of fluff in a navy blue polka dot sky. As it got darker, and the moon sank lower, the polka dots got bigger and started to twinkle.

This fall equinox morning wasn’t too shabby, either. Towering columns of orange-hued cumulus teetered over the ocean, as pink wisps snaked upwards toward glowing Venus. Waialeale and Makaleha were perfectly clear, their faces flushing lavender as a fiery orb peeked up over the horizon.

And to think I almost slept in and missed it.

If you missed my radio interview with Caren Diamond last night, I’ll fill you in. We were talking about transient vacation rentals (TVRs) and former Councilman Mel Rapozo called in from Minnesota. He was on the Council when it passed the TVR bill, which specifically excluded such uses on ag land. Why? Because he and others — including Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, now the county prosecutor — felt it was clearly prohibited by state law.

Mel vowed to personally file an injunction against the ag TVR bill if it’s passed by the Council, which again takes up the matter at its meeting tomorrow. [Correction: It's been deferred until Oct. 14.]

The question raised by Mel and others, including my former neighbor Andy, is this: “Why is the county trying to do something that circumvents state law?”

Good question, to which I might add, why does the county circumvent its own laws? Remember the little huts that were built along the Kealia part of the bike path, without any permits? I’m sure you readers can think of a few more examples.

Speaking of the bike path, it looks like the Wailua portion is becoming Mayor Carvalho’s first hot potato issue. As I noted in my article in The Hawaii Independent, the mayor reportedly promised to move the path off Wailua Beach if that’s what OHA recommended. And sho’nuff, that’s what OHA recommended, in a switch from its previous stance. The rationale given for the reversal was poignant, and speaks volumes about the challenges involved in rebuilding a crushed culture:

“The connections to the past, and thus the direction for the future, are being made everyday as the pieces of the past are lovingly, gingerly, and humbly put back together in a race against time and irreparable loss from destruction and alteration.”

More than one observer noted parallels between the controversy at Naue, where Joe Brescia has capped burials in concrete so he can build a house, and the bike path at Wailua. Plans call for drilling into the sand with a two-foot-diameter screw auger in order to make concrete pilings to secure the wooden boardwalk, possibly damaging iwi buried there in the process.

"When are we going to stop covering Hawaiian burials with concrete?” a friend asked.

That’s another good question, one that will be taken up by the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council, which is supposed to meet on Oct. 8 now that Gov. Lingle has finally appointed the two people — as yet unnamed — needed to form a quorum on the panel. Will one be a developer’s representative?

In the months-long hiatus since the Council last met, and deadlocked on a motion to reject the latest burial treatment plan, Brescia’s house has gotten just that much further along.

But in other parts of the nation to which Hawaii supposedly “belongs,” the discovery of burials stops construction dead:

A man stumbling upon a human jaw while out walking his dog was the first sign something was amiss. Then officials uncovered something more: More than 600 sets of remains, long ago buried and forgotten, on the site where luxury condos were supposed to be built.

The remains, found on a site overlooking the Mississippi River in Dubuque, have left the nearly $60 million condo plan in limbo, and the developer has sued the nuns who sold him the property.

[The developer] said there are no immediate plans to develop the land, where he had hoped to build two 12-story towers.

''It's very unmarketable because who would want that responsibility?'' he asked. ''So we will proceed to clean up the entire area for remains.''

As blogger Andy Parx noted in forwarding me the link:

Don't see any "oh they're just old forgotten bones" arguments here....

Congressman and gubernatorial hopeful Neil Abercrombie, meanwhile, is arguing that the feds should pay double for a big construction project in Guam so Hawaii folks can do the work. As an AP article published in SF Gate reports:

His idea is to legislate high wages for a massive construction project in the federal territory of Guam, restrict the ability of foreigners to get those jobs and hope Hawaii residents, although 3,800 miles away, will flock there for the work.

As for criticism that he’s blatantly playing to the unions:

"Of course I'm playing to working people. The building trades and working people have been the foundation of my political career for 36 years," he said. "If I didn't do this, people would say, 'What's wrong with him?'”

Oh, nothing that can’t be explained by spending 36 years as a politician. A better question is what’s going to happen to Guam when 17,000 Marines relocate there from Japan? That’s a 10 percent jump in its population. But hey, that’s what happens when you’re a federal territory. You get what Uncle Sam wants to give you.

And finally, Chief Perry gave his wife, Solette, and the people of Kauai a big gift when he withdrew his name from the selection process for Honolulu police chief.

In a story reported in The Garden Island — and reprinted in The Advertiser, which used to cover such stories itself — the chief said that “family comes first.” I’d heard Solette did not want to move back to Honolulu, and it says a lot that he sacrificed the chance to be the state’s top cop at a really crackerjack department.

Perry also acknowledged “an outcry from the public about my application,” but didn’t elaborate. Who among us would have welcomed the prolonged and painful prospect of finding a new chief, much less a good one?

The last line in the story said it all:

"Time to roll up the sleeves," Perry said in his Sunday e-mail.

Sigh. Yes, there’s still a lot to be done to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse.

I know I’m not alone in asking, how long might that take? And is it even possible?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Listen In

I'll be interviewing Caren Diamond, a coastal and community advocate akamai about a wide range of issues, from 5 to 6 p.m. today on KKCR's Monday Mixed Plate Show.

And on Thursday, I'll be interviewing Police Chief Darryl Perry from 4 to 5:30 p.m. -- a time slot I'll be filling every other week now.

You can listen at 90.9, 91.9 or 92.7 FM, or on line at www.kkcr.org.

Musing: More Crazies

The crescent moon set shortly after sunset, so the sky was full of dark, and stars, that stubbornly persisted, even as the day brightened, when Koko and I went walking this morning. Waialeale was topped with just a wisp of white, although the gray shimmer of a shower could be seen on its northern flank, and Makaleha was clear, as was a narrow band above the ocean, but above that were balls and piles of white and gray that muted the sunrise to soft shades of lavender.

Would that the same were true of the vitriol directed toward President Obama. Instead, it’s steadily escalating in intensity as the ugliest aspects of human nature are whipped up into a frenzy by people who want to hate. And amid it all, I’m recalling some of the nastiness that was focused on Bush. Did it not bother me so much because I thought he deserved it? Or is the hatred toward Obama more noxious and worrisome because it seems to be rooted in racism, and angry white guys have a history of killing black men in this country?

“I think that an overwhelming proportion of the intensely-demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, he’s African-American,” Mr Carter told NBC television, in a potentially explosive intervention in national politics.

“I live in the South, and I have seen the South come a long way. But that racism inclination still exists, and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but across the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.

The ante is upped when that racism is wedded to the creed of the reactionary religious right:

Steven Anderson, the pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona, preached a sermon last month entitled "Why I hate Barack Obama", in which he declared, "I'm going to pray he dies and goes to hell".

Unfortunately, some people take the hate-mongers seriously, which is why you get guys like Chris Broughton, one of the Faithful Word’s faithful, showing up at Obama's speech last month carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle.

And it further escalates when you’ve got rabid media “personalities,” who say any kine, ad nausem:

Glenn Beck, a television personality working at the Fox news network, says on the air that Obama is a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people".

Beck is the same guy who is championing the “9/12 Project” movement, which for some bizarre reason advocates returning to that shell-shocked, numb, TV-fixated place that many Americans were in after the World Trade Center went down. You know, shortly before President Bush exhorted us to go shopping.

Um, no thanks. Remember how crappy the economy was then, and how many little American flags China had to produce so folks could prove their patriotism?

Put it all together, and you’ve got a dangerous mix. Conservatives are saying that the left was mean and disrespectful to Bush. Liberals are saying that racism is nothing new and cuts both ways.

But we can’t ignore the fact that Obama, as the first African-American president, provides a focal point for racist hate, in a way that hasn’t been true of past presidents. Nor can we forget that the death threat rate in the Obama Administration is 400 percent higher than it was under Bush.

The man is facing real risks that go beyond rudeness and politics as usual. To trivialize or dismiss that is to heighten his jeopardy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Musings: Speaking of Crazies

The night was filled with dreams so detailed and vivid that I was tempted, upon awakening, to slip back into that place, but I’ve learned from experience that my acupuncturist was right when he said that if you sleep too long, you actually feel more tired, because your body’s not getting enough oxygen. And sure enough, as Koko and I went out walking in fresh, cool air beneath a brightening sky, my head cleared and my energy soared.

Koko was feeling especially frisky, beefing briefly with a small Chihuahua-mix and lunging at large, noisy trucks. Waialeale was wearing a cap of gray-white clouds, but Makaleha was clear and bold, her slopes turning a shimmery green-gold when the sun rose, shooting up strobe light rays to announce the grand opening of another fine Kauai day.

As we walked, I noticed plastic bags that once held veggies and candy and The Garden Island’s Wednesday shopper and ice — the cooling, not smoking, kine, though likely some of those were lying out there, too. And I thought of how difficult/impossible it will be to rid our planet of the scourge of plastic bags — yet another legacy of our convenience-driven, materialistic, don’t give a rip about others or the earth society.

And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Apparently the Mafia has been involved in a lucrative scheme to dispose of toxic waste, some of it radioactive, by sinking ships loaded with such cargo in the Mediterranean Sea. Italian prosecutors say some 32 vessels may be involved. According to an article on Aljazeera.net:

Officials said Francesco Fonti, a former member of Calabria's 'Ndrangheta crime group, had disclosed the location of the ship to authorities.

Fonti said he used explosives to sink the vessel, along with two others.

Al Jazeera's Claudio Lavanga said investigators believe the mafia began sinking ships when the European Union introduced wider restrictions on toxic waste disposal.

Lavanga said the restrictions have made the process of waste disposal expensive and lengthy.

The blog Ensaios Imperfeitos has more:

Greenpeace has worked to trace the trail of large Cargo Ships that have disappeared from international circulation. Between 32 and 41 such ships are thought to have been sunk in international waters between Italy, Greece and Spain, but mostly along the Italian coastlines. Then, in 2005, a mafia “pentito” (one who repents) named Franceso Fonti testified of his involvement in the sinking of three specific ships called the Cunsky, off Cetraro, the Yvonne A off the coast of Maratea in Basilicata, and the Voriais Sporadais, said to be off the coast of Metaponto in Basilicata on the Ionian Sea. All are international tourist destinations with large fishing industries.

The pentito Fonti stated that wastes that he dealt with came from Norway, France, Germany and the United States.

Ya know, that’s the problem with nuclear energy. It’s got that nasty little disposal problem. But hey, given the right spin, even that toxic source of energy could be considered “renewable.” Just ask California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. As a Wall Street Journal blog reports:

Since nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases, nuclear proponents have been hollering for their inclusion in federal renewable-energy rules. As it is, both state and prospective federal rules limit “renewable energy” to solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass.

If Gov. Schwarzenegger does brand nukes “renewable energy,” it would be a huge lift for nuclear advocates in the Senate who keep pressing Democratic leaders to offer more support for nuclear power as part of the big energy bill.

The friend who brought the dumping story to my attention noted:

Just when ya think the crazies have done it all, a new twist of profit and the "no consequences" aspect of their psychopath pattern emerge.

Speaking of crazies, it was good to read that former cop Joseph Bonachita has been indicted on terroristic threatening and weapons charges for allegedly breaking into the home of “South Park” creator Randolph “Trey” Parker — I didn’t know he lived here — and threatening him and Lauren Kagawa — Bonachita’s former girlfriend, who was later found dead in her driveway — with a knife.

The Garden Island reports that “Bonachita has not been identified as either a suspect or person of interest in the ongoing investigation” into Kagawa's death.

Well, maybe he hasn’t been identified, but garans he’s a person of interest. Another creepy aspect of this case was previously reported in The Garden Island:

In 1999, while Bonachita was still a KPD employee, he was accused of sexually assaulting his former sister-in-law, charged with eight counts of sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault, but pleaded no contest to and was found guilty of two misdemeanor charges of second-degree violation of privacy and open lewdness in a plea agreement.

That plea agreement resulted in the dismissal of charges of kidnapping, family abuse and second-degree terroristic threatening, in another case against Bonachita.

As terms of the plea deal, Bonachita agreed to submit to sex-offender treatment. Court documents indicate he had a dating relationship with the victim before the alleged sexual assault took place.

“Defendant (Bonachita) is not likely to engage in a criminal course of conduct,” wrote Bonachita’s attorneys, June C. Ikemoto and Erick T.S. Moon, in an order granting a deferred acceptance of no-contest plea signed in October 2001 by 5th Circuit Judge Clifford Nakea.

It kinda makes you wonder two things: How is it that a person can remain on the force, and be allowed to voluntarily resign, when he’s involved in such crimes? And how do attorneys Ikemoto and Moon feel about helping to set this guy free?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Musings: Difficult or Impossible Choices

It was already full light, and wet from the night’s rain, when Koko and I went out walking a bit later than usual this morning, seeing as how it’s Friday and a low-energy new moon and I’ve had a busy week. The visual interest wasn’t in the colors of the sunrise, since there were few, but in the swirls of silver and gray clouds billowing in from the coast and the sheets of rain that drifted across the slopes of Makaleha and obscured Kalalea and blew into our neighborhood just as we returned home.

The rain is a welcome respite to the heat, as have been recent evenings at the beach, where the sea is sloughing off summer, depositing clumps of limu along the water line, moving around great masses of sand and washing up treasures like a perfect helmet shell that came home in my pocket.

It’s feeling like fall, and last night I thought the anniversary of Kauai Eclectic must be near and sure enough, it’s today. Two years, 629 posts and more comments than I wanted to count have passed since I launched this blog not really knowing what I was doing or getting into, but at this point, very glad that I did.

The blog has changed over that time, because I have, which is a good thing, because as nature reminds me every day, life is not about stagnation.

So thanks, everyone, for helping to keep Kauai Eclectic alive by reading and commenting and sending me emails, like this one following the recent posts on ag TVRs and farm worker housing:

Read your last two blogs and had my head spinning with the apparent contradiction.

I've been a farmer, and I know some of the problems of not actually living on the land you farm.

I was leasing the land, and the only reason the lease was cheap enough to permit farming to make economic sense (one of them, anyhow) was that the land could not qualify for a house.

Bunch of small time farmers [in Moloaa] have been able to buy land cheap because it couldn't have a house. Permit a house on those lots, and the next buyer will be paying far more than agriculture can support, it seems likely.


So to keep the land cheap enough for farming, you need to keep farmers in slapdash hovels that can't qualify for a mortgage because of zoning restrictions. That's not fair either.

If we resolve an issue for this generation of farmers by allowing farm dwellings, which seems appropriate, do we damage the opportunities for the next generation of farmers?

None of this is easy.

Life, full of difficult or impossible choices.

Tis true, and the difficulties are heightened when we have people making the choices who aren’t especially progressive or bright or thoughtful, or are governed by extreme self-interest. That’s why we’re having such a hard time figuring out how to reform health care, pull out of Afghanistan, protect Kauai’s ag lands and rectify the wrongs committed against indigenous people.

On that note, I was interested to learn that Henry Noa, prime minister of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, just returned from Aotearoa — the Maori name for New Zealand.

It seems some Maori are also interested in achieving independence and wanted to learn more about Prime Minister Noa’s model for building a nation. Representatives from Fiji and Samoa were there, too, as well as the Kingdom of Tonga. It’s good these guys are getting together, as they face many similar issues.

And they’re not the only ones in the Pacific. I’ve also been reading lately about the efforts of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, to gain greater autonomy and cultural recognition from Japan. As Koichi Kaizawa, a leader in that movement, wrote:

….[A]fter I got to know other foreign indigenous peoples, I started to wonder why I had to abandon my ethnicity and why the majority could deny the minorities’ culture.

To be honest, I dreamt of Ainu independence when I was in my twenties. That would allow us to recover our culture and language. But when I traveled to China and talked about that with the government executives, they said, “You could be independent, but if you want independence you will have to shed blood to achieve it. That is because Hokkaido, the United States, China and the Japanese government would not accept you becoming independent, so you had better rethink about seeking independence.” So I thought “That is true. There is no use for the people to kill each other. Of course, the Ainu spirit called ukocharanke tells that we should solve problems through discussions rather than by force. So, we gave up becoming independent and concentrated our efforts on restoring our culture through negotiation.

Yet the Ainu serve as a good example of how the legal process has failed indigenous people, as evidenced by a dispute with Japan over plans to build the Nibutani Dam on land the Ainu consider sacred:

On March 27, 1997, as part of the Nibutani Dam case (Kayano v. Hokkaido Expropriation Committee), the Sapporo District court became the first state organ to officially recognize the Ainu people as indigenous, which the Japanese government still refuses to do. The decision by the Sapporo court also recognized that the Ainu’s right to the enjoyment of their own culture is protected under both Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution.

The ultimate outcome of the case, however, rendered the legal content of Article 27 and the constitutional protections as mere rhetoric. While the court held that the administrative decisions to expropriate Ainu land and approve the dam project were illegal, it would not reverse the all-but-complete dam construction.

Hmmm. Kind of like the situation involving Joe Bresica's house atop the burials at Nae.

So if indigenous people don’t want to resort to violence, and they’re shut down in the courts, what avenues do they have for settling their very legitimate beefs with their colonizers?

I guess you just have to keep forming new alliances and putting up resistance, and chipping away at the resistance of the dominant culture. That's the approach the Ainu took in more successfully fighting a second dam project and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is taking in opposing Kauai County’s plans to build the bike path on Wailua Beach, which kanaka consider sacred. As OHA administrator Clyde Namu`o wrote in a letter to the federal transportation agency helping to fund the path construction:

Economic stimulus is truly important in this time of difficulty. We also believe that spiritual stimulus is equally important as well and the well-being of a populace can be measured in many different ways.

It’s not impossible to right some of the wrongs that have been committed, or to show greater respect for indigenous cultures and beliefs. We just have to make the choice, which for many is difficult, to do it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Musings: Beautiful Prison

The sky was packed with brilliant, glittery stars last night, but only a few were still visible, struggling to shine through a dense layer of clouds, when Koko and I went walking this morning.

The only sounds were the roaring surf and the muffled thump-thump-thump of roosters flapping their wings before they crowed and crickets chirping beneath a mock orange hedge. As a pink dawn approached, the clouds shifted to the southwest, creating a mass of blackness mauka and exposing in the east a golden crescent of light cupping the dark whole of the moon just about three fingers width from Venus.

It’s looking to be another fine day, with the kind of gorgeous weather that makes the tourists happy, except perhaps those who were sitting in the blazing sun in open convertibles for 20 minutes at noon yesterday, waiting for flagmen to wave them through the road construction up near the Hanalei transfer station.

A Honolulu-based reporter for NPR is on island this week, doing a story about how Kauai is weathering the slack economy, and he called me to get some information and contacts.

“Have their been any noticeable indications of the decline in tourism?” he asked.

“Well, our traffic problems seem to have eased,” I replied.

I do still see lots of tourists around, but with the Hyatt’s occupancy down to a stunning 60 percent — now remember, this is a hotel that has enjoyed near-full occupancy since opening — it’s obvious the industry is hurting, especially on the high end.

While we’re on the subject of economics, someone left this comment on Sunday’s post:

If you don't mind me asking, how is it that an apparently accomplished professional journalist and general writer such as yourself comes to live in such humble surroundings? 

No home ownership, having to (I assume) rent very down-scale digs, no typical modern appliances that most take for granted, no TV, etc. 

Austerity choice or living with a bad hand of cards, as they say? IF so, why? 

Just wondering.

It’s kind of hard to know where to start on that one, except to say that it’s all by choice, I don’t feel deprived in the slightest and humble is a relative term, anyway. I suppose I could spend more of my time accumulating stuff, so that I could join the millions of Americans who are now stockpiling crap they don’t really want/need in the 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space now available in this nation. I guess could give up going to the beach so I could spend hours staring at the TV or shopping. I might even possibly be able to rearrange my thinking so that the glint of gold, rather than stars, made me happy. But why would I want to?

And when are we going to get past that life- and planet-destroying notion that material acquisition is a good measure of success?

Going through Hurricane Iniki, and living for 11 years on a multi-million-dollar estate, cured me of my fascination with stuff. Ultimately, it just becomes a burden, or as the original owner of the estate once described it: “I’m living in a beautiful prison.”

But plenty of folks seem eager to lock themselves up, which is partly why our ag land is being turned into luxurious gentleman’s estates. While doing some research, I came across this ad, and its numerous misspellings, on Craig’s list:





Now, I happen to know that this land is zoned agriculture. Indeed, it’s an agricultural subdivision, with one true working farm, and numerous vacation rentals, so I sent an email to the seller asking:

How come you never mention that this is agricultural land and so the houses here are supposed to be FARM DWELLINGS?

I got this reply:

Aliomanu Estates is an upscale division of custom homes overlooking the ocean. you wouldn't want to build anything less

How, I wonder, is the county ever going to put the genie back in the bottle? With this kind of mentality so firmly established, we might as well just kiss our ag land goodbye.

Meanwhile, Mayor Carvalho has taken the bold political step of supporting the proposed bill banning plastic bags. Yes, I know that Indian cities like Dhaka, Bangladesh and Mumbai have already banned the bags, along with San Francisco, Oakland, Mexico City and entire nations, like South Africa. Others have imposed hefty taxes to discourage their use. Getting rid of these greenhouse gas-making, landfill-choking, wildlife-killing bags is a growing international trend.

But the County Council, which seemed all set to pass the bill last week, balked and deferred when the Kauai Chamber of Commerce and Retail Merchants of Hawaii sent in letters of opposition. Will they come around now that the mayor’s on board to share the political heat?

The Garden Island reported in an article today that Papaya’s has already instituted its own ban on plastic bags and noted: “Costco is another business that currently does not provide plastic bags for its customers at checkout.”

Ummm, that’s probably because so much of the stuff they sell is already encased in plastic that can be neither re-used nor recycled.

In other political news, Gov. Linda Lingle continues to recycle the tired, and false, argument that the Superferry didn’t need to do an EIS because Matson and Young Brothers didn’t have to. In a reply to the scathing Maui News ”Sour Grapes” editorial that told her to admit she blew it with the big boat, Lingle wrote:

The facts bear out there was no mistake.

Young Brothers has never filed an EIS to haul cargo between the islands; Matson never prepared an EIS; and the cruise ships have not been required to complete an EIS. In short, we applied the same standard to the Superferry as has been applied to every previous use of our state harbors for interisland travel. Our state Supreme Court decided to impose an EIS on this single ship, a clear example of legislating from the bench.

But as a Superferry story follower astutely observed:

The Governor neglects to point out: that several environmental studies WERE done for harbor facilities; that a previous (1989) proposed ferry on Oahu had to do a major EIS; that the other transport systems which she mentions were started before the environmental laws were established; and that the Supreme Court, the State's Environmental Council, and the State Auditor said her administrator's decisions were wrong.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Lingle then goes on to say:

It is time to remove from leadership positions and political office those who are unwilling to represent us when controversy flairs.

The only political leader to speak up clearly in support of the Superferry was Rep. Joe Souki. Let's hope that in the future more politicians will tell us all what they are for rather than what they are against.

Yikes. Holding up a smarmy, back-room wheeler-dealer corporate stooge like Souki as a role model speaks volumes about Lingle — none of it good.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Hawaii Independent: Farm Worker Housing

If you're interested in the latest twists and turns on the farm worker housing issue, check out my story at The Hawaii Independent.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Musings; The Gamut

The moon, shrinking, was still bright white, although the dark sky was turning crimson around the edges, when I pulled up at my former neighbor Andy’s house for our walk this fine Sunday morning.

The clouds drifted to the south and north of us, and we could see them dropping rain, but not on us, as we headed for the mountain trail where Koko and Momi could run free through mud puddles and pastures and fingers sticky from snacking on three kinds of guava could be wiped clean on wet fern fronds and gauzy tendrils clung to jagged green peaks.

Last week when we walked we were so busy talking about other things that we didn’t get into politics until the very end, when we just briefly touched on the debacle that is Afghanistan and had a conversation that went something like this:

“Why did we even get involved there?” I asked.

“Well, if we pull out now, the terrorists might be emboldened and go after the Golden Gate Bridge,” replied Andy.

“Assuming they're even in Afghanistan,” I countered.

“That’s where Al-Qaeda was.”

"That’s where they said it was."

"No, I’m pretty sure that’s where they were."

“Oh, that’s right. And Iraq had the weapons of mass destruction.”

Then I came home and turned on the radio and lo and behold, two knowledgeable people who have traveled extensively in Afghanistan and produced a documentary and wrote a book, “Invisible History: Afghanitan’s Untold Story,” were talking about that very subject on New Dimensions.

You can listen free to the broadcast through Sept. 16, and I highly recommend it. I learned a lot about America’s manipulations of the situation there, including the way we baited the Soviets into the same quicksand where we’re now floundering, and also that the Taliban did not evolve from a tribal group, but is a security force started by Pakistan.

Anyway, to make sure we didn’t miss our political discussion this week, I launched right in by asking Andy if he’d seen former Councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Mel Rapozo’s new blog, Straight From the Heart.

I hadn’t realized he’d started blogging again until he left a comment with a link on my last post, and when I checked it out, I found in his first six posts he’d covered TVRs on ag land, the planning department’s dismal performance and the bike path on Wailua Beach, among other topics.

“And he shares our views on all those topics,” I told Andy, which caused us to agree that perhaps we should have voted for him instead of JoAnn. I imagine he’s eying another run, and that she is, too.

Mel’s blog got us talking about why the county continues to hang on to Ian Costa, an architect who is as poorly suited to the planning department as he was to engineering, where former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka first got him on the county payroll.

Andy said he’d heard that Ian was the only qualified applicant for the planning director post, adding, “whatever qualified means,” to which I replied, “maybe he was the only one could speak pidgin.” Or as Andy noted, “could bring in a thousand votes.”

Who knows, maybe one of these days when the Planning Commissioners get tired of being sued and taking the fall they’ll remember that they have the power to hire and fire the director and they’ll use one of those executive sessions they adjourn to so frequently to discuss personnel matters.

Until then, we’ve got him, and obviously we’re not the only ones who are frustrated, as evidenced by this paragraph in Mel’s most recent post:

Take a look around. Planning Department trying to allow unregistered vacation rentals outside of the VDA. Unlawful structures being permitted. Shoreline certifications being waived in the interest of rich landowners. Council considering legalizing an illegal activity. TVRs on ag land are illegal. Why are we doing these things? Why are we not fighting for the PEOPLE OF KAUAI? Why so much effort to assist the transplants at the expense of our LOCAL PEOPLE? Let's try to help the local people for once. You know, the guy that wants to build an extension but gets hammered along the way? The guy that wants to build a family room for a homeless family member but gets denied right out of the chute. What about the local residents that have been told, for decades, that vacation rentals are illegal on ag land so they never rented out their homes as vacation rentals. THEY FOLLOWED THE LAW and now are being punished because they were law abiding citizens. The transplants that disregarded the laws are now allowed to continue the illegal operations. Come on County, WAKE UP!!!

It is hard to understand why the county bends over backwards to accommodate the Joe Brescias and Nicky Michaels of this island. Then Andy mentioned he had enjoyed the link to the Maui News editorial raking Gov. Lingle over the coals for dissing that island’s business community.

“She’s shooting herself in the foot and alienating everybody, even the business community,” I said.

“Oh, I’m sure she still has her supporters,” said Andy, referring to all the rich white conservatives that have been flocking to the Islands in recent years. He noted that former Gov. Ben Cayetano, in the final chapter of his autobiography, talks at length about the changing demographics of Hawaii.

“I wonder how Turk Tokita and those other staunch Democrats and old-time liberals who worked so hard to expand tourism and development feel about all the conservatives moving in,” Andy said. “Do you suppose they even realize that it was their policies that attracted their nemeses?”

“What do they care?” I replied. “They’re old now and they’ll be dead before these guys get firmly entrenched. And they profited hugely in the meantime.”

Then somehow we got to talking about state and county workers, and the widely held view that they’re all lazy slackers, even though most people would have been right there feeding at that trough, too, given the chance.

Andy, a retired state worker, said he thought most government workers do work hard, and we’ll realize that when we furlough and or fire them. But that some jobs, like the demoralizing task of cleaning the park bathrooms, could probably be privatized, and then if the guys weren’t doing their jobs, they’d be fired. Net result: cleaner bathrooms.

I’m not so sure. I went to the county recycling center near the Kapaa armory on Labor Day evening and it was so packed with materials — as it is at the end of weekends that are two days, much less three — that folks had piled their stuff up outside the bins. I returned the next day to drop my load and while the bins had been emptied, through what I believe is a private contract, the broken glass crunched so heavily underfoot that I wished I wasn’t wearing slippers and lots of loose trash was blowing in the wind. It looked like hell.

So whose job is it to clean that site? Ideally, the recycling public shouldn’t make such a mess, but since it does, somebody’s got to tidy up. You’d think it would be the guys picking up the bins, since they're right there. As Andy and I agreed, if there’s no oversight, it doesn’t matter whether the public or private sector is doing the work.

We also touched on NASA’s plans to fire a rocket at the moon, which prompted a friend of mine to email:

That made me sad. It isn't right or necessary. The comments that were for it saddened me too. Humans deserve every bad thing coming towards us. The rest of the critters don't but we do.

Andy didn’t think it was such a big deal, and I said, "Yes, because you’re a man. All these rockets and bombs and missiles are part of the patriarchal mindset characterized by the constant need to dominate and penetrate. Just look at the shape of these things."

“That’s the shape that’s the most aerodynamic,” he argued. “You wouldn’t made an arrow shaped like a feather.”

“No, feathers are not aerodynamic at all,” I replied, and we both got to laughing as he acknowledged that was a bad example.

All too soon we were back at Andy's and he was dispensing biscuits to the dogs and as we said our goodbyes, I thought again of how I miss living right down the street from Andy. But it makes me appreciate our weekly walks all that much more, and besides, it’s a beautiful day and I’m happy as a clam — not that clams probably are all that happy, what with the heavy metals and other crap we’ve dumped on their homes — because for the first time in nine years I have a washing machine at my home, thanks to my transfer station-scavenging landlord, who discovered this cast-off works just fine.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Musings: Moon Missions, TVRs and Bitch Slaps

The surf was roaring at the bottom of the hill, while atop it, the lull time between night and dawn was so quiet this morning that I could plainly hear the clicking of Koko’s nails on the pavement and the crunch of gravel beneath my feet as we went walking.

Somewhere in the distance a barn owl screeched — look out, rat — and a star fell to its death in the blackness that surrounded the hulking mass of Waialeale. The rest of the stars and Venus were bright amidst swirling clouds that formed a ring around a perfect half-moon, and as I looked up at its silvery-white form, I thought about the Centaur rocker booster that's heading its way.

When I first saw the blurb “NASA Planning to Bomb the Moon” on Richard Diamond’s “Museletter,” I dismissed it as Internet fiction. But then I heard a few other people talking about “blowing up the moon,” so I Googled that phrase and discovered NASA doesn’t really plan to blow up the moon — unless something goes terribly awry — just attack it. According to an enthusiastic report from The Mercury News (honest, that’s the paper’s name):

NASA is preparing to fly a rocket booster into the moon, triggering a six-mile-high explosion that scientists hope will confirm the presence of water.

And despite all the serious scientific talk about hydrogen signatures and lunar regolith, flying a rocket booster into the moon at 5,600 mph to trigger a massive explosion is just flat-out cool.

Cool? Or flat-out weird? Mostly, just so typical of human beings, who seek to explore and learn through force and destruction — always taking the least subtle approach.

“Does the moon belong to us?” asked a comment on one website. “Do we have the right to blow it up?”

“am I the only one who thinks we should blow everything up *here* before we start blowing everything up elsewhere?” asked another.

Anyway, after digging around a little bit more, I discovered that today NASA is announcing which crater is lucky enough to be targeted in this $79 million mission, which is scheduled to impact the moon on Oct. 8. Poor moon. What did it ever do to us?

Much closer to home, I went to the County Council meeting this week and was reminded that such gatherings have long been a social event on Kauai, and I did, indeed, see some of my favorite, and not so favorite, people. I remarked to one friend that it had been a long time since I’d sat in on a session and got the reply: “Yeah, and they’re still shitty as ever.”

I was there for the public hearing on a bill to regulate vacation rentals on ag land, and posted my story The Hawaii Independent yesterday.

One thing that struck me as rather strange is the way JoAnn Yukimura continues to draft bills, including this one, even though she’s no longer on the Council.

Those who have been operating TVRs on ag land offered up a number of reasons as to why they should be allowed to continue. One said it was written into his deed, which prompted a friend to say, “So if I write into your deed that you grow pakalolo, does that make it legal?”

Apparently even Councilman Jay Furfaro has bought in on that line of thinking, arguing to a mutual friend that these folks had been paying their GE taxes, which was like a permit. To that logic my friend replied: “So if I start a whorehouse and pay my GE taxes, does that give me a permit to keep operating?”

Talking with attorney Dan Hempey afterward, it’s clear that at least a few folks are going to be hard hit by a prohibition against ag TVRs, like the man who was farming, then had to stop for health reasons and was counting on his rental for income, and now has nothing.

But on the other hand, you have the woman who flew in from LA for the hearing, wasn’t quite sure what fruit trees she’s growing, has never sold any of her produce and bought her land three years ago with the idea of vacation rentaling it until she can eventually retire.

It’s kind of hard to feel quite so sorry for her, or the folks who own the 11-bedroom (each with ensuite bath) Beau Monde Villas with its “four principal buildings totaling more than 11,500 square feet of enclosed living area plus 4,000 square feet of lanais, verandas, porte-cohere, decks and garage,” or the five-bedroom, seven-bathFun House, with its 50-foot water slide. Oh, it has fruit trees, too, so they must be farming.

This is the kind of stuff that’s happening to our ag lands through TVRs, folks. Actually, it seems more accurate to call these structures lodges or boutique hotels. And tell me, what do you think that’s doing to the price of ag land?

According to a survey done by Protect Our Neighborhood Ohana, properties with TVR uses have a 30 to 50 percent higher valuation. And when it’s a multi-million property, that’s not chump change.

That’s a mighty big gift the county is giving some people.

Another problem with JoAnn’s bill, besides giving these folks a chance to keep their foot in the door, is it’s tied to the Important Ag Lands study. Her idea is that lands found to be important can’t have TVRs, which totally screws over real farmers who might actually benefit from such a use so they can supplement their farm income, while those that aren’t "important" are up for grabs in what Farmer Jerry has started calling “the third mahele.”

Meanwhile, as some folks are paying four grand a night for a vacation rental on Kauai, Democracy Now! reports:

The Census Bureau says 2.6 million Americans were plunged into poverty last year, bringing the poverty rate to an eleven-year high of 13.2 percent. It was the first major increase to the poverty rate since 2004. Median household income also fell 3.6 percent—the largest such decline on record. Meanwhile, the number of people without health insurance rose from 45.7 million to 46.3 million, the eighth straight year the ranks of the uninsured have grown. On Thursday, President Obama said the figures underscore the need for healthcare reform.

But hey, the politicians, doctors, insurance folks and lobbyists haven’t lost their insurance, so what’s the rush?

And finally, after Lingle did some bitch slapping at the Maui business community over its tepid support for the Superferry and Maui's legislative delegation for its "pathetic" reaction to the sailing, the Maui News, whose publisher, Joe Bradley, is the chairman of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, slapped back yesterday. An editorial entitled ”Governor’s sour grapes” concluded:

Frankly, we are tired of politicians who will not admit they made a mistake. Fess up, governor, your administration blew it. The Superferry may not have made it even with an EIS, but without one, it was doomed. And your administration is the one that let it sail without one.

So, governor, the next time you are looking for someone to blame for the failure of the ferry, try looking in the mirror. Without that personal admission, everything else is just sour grapes.

And just so Linda knew that it wasn’t written by some run-amok liberal editor, it concluded with the note:

Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Musings: Crying and Wailing

The sky was dense with quilted clouds that streamed thickly over a moon on the full side of half when Koko and I went walking this morning. No one was out but the neighborhood cats, which lurked in bushes, flattened down to avoid detection as we passed, then scurried across dark, wet pavement beneath street lights that inexplicably went off as we passed.

I hadn’t planned to get up quite so early this morning, but decided I might as well after listening to a neighbor’s baby cry for 45 minutes, its wailing and evident distress increasing with each passing minute.

It’s not unlike the situation the county now faces with its transient vacation rental (TVR) ordinance. Property owners, accustomed to their privilege of bringing in hefty revenues, are crying over the prospect of having that use — even when illegal — denied, while citizens, weary of having their neighborhoods commercialized, are wailing over the county’s bizarre implementation of the law.

And the planning commission, it seems, is becoming increasingly distressed at having to sort out this mess in a piecemeal fashion in the form of blanket reversals of TVR permits that county inspectors initially denied, but now — for reasons not made public — county planners are seeking to allow.

The most recent batch of what one participant termed “32 more flips for the TVR travesty” came before the commission yesterday, but while they’ve approved 33 such reversals in the past, this time the members balked.

According to an article in today’s The Garden Island:

Barbara Robeson of Wainiha, a former planning commissioner now with the group Protect Our Neighborhood ‘Ohana, argued against “blanket approvals,” saying there are many problems with some of the parcels in question, including five where owners are receiving homeowner exemptions for property-tax purposes (where owners pledge their homes are their principal places of residence) and also submitted signed, notarized documents saying their residences are vacation rentals.

To make their case, Barbara and Caren Diamond used a Haena vacation rental known as Pohaku House as an example. Its web advertisement clearly states:

The Lower level features a suite with 2 twins, separate kitchen, and bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and shower combination. A separate bedroom with queen bed, flat screen satellite TV and detached bath with showerstall completes the downstairs.

Yet this is a house in the flood zone, which means no permanent improvements are allowed on the ground floor. And that’s not all. The PONO folks also presented Commissioners with documentation that showed the house had no history as a vacation rental, even though approvals are supposed to be limited to “grandfathered” uses. Further the county's website showed the application was received past the deadline.

This is also one of those houses that was totally redone — its own website boasts “newly built” and “Totally brand new” — under the ”unsubstantial improvement” scam with a building permit valued at just $60,000 and numerous waived inspections.

When confronted with such facts, Deputy Planning Director Imai Aiu didn’t know quite what to do, except claim the property was inspected and passed and the county can't be responsible for things that happen after it’s inspected. Caren countered that the property had, in fact, looked like that ever since it was rebuilt and PONO had submitted that information even before the inspection supposedly occured.

So either the county didn’t actually inspect the property, or it ignored the violations.

Well, after hearing all this, the Commissioners thought it might be nice to actually have some documentation from the planning department to back up their request to reverse the denials, or delays in approval, or whatever they were, exactly. The planning director's letter to the Commission did not say that all 32 were denied, but that "the delay in approval stemmed from the Department's need for further investigation into compliance with the qualification requirements enumerated in the TVR Ordinance."

According to the Garden Island story:

Commissioner Herman Texeira asked if there are other potential violations on the list.

[Deputy County Attorney Ian] Jung said once NCU [non-conforming use] certificates are approved, owners have certain vested rights.

Commissioner Hartwell Blake, a former county attorney, asked if permits are supposed to be revoked if new violations occur.

Jung said that is a “gray area,” to which Blake responded, “This is a blatant poke in the eye,” adding that he is not surprised many residents are upset about how the new law is being implemented and interpreted.

Blake said he’s not anti-TVR, but argued that if a county ordinance is going to be implemented, interpreted and enforced, it should be done right.

“It’s just wrong,” Blake said.

Anyway, two of the 32 items were withdrawn and the Commission voted to defer action pending more information. It also voted to deny approval of a TVR on ag land — a use expressly not allowed under the ordinance — because the owner didn’t file his appeal of the denial in a timely fashion.

So now we have a landowner and his attorney, Dan Hempey, arguing not just that the TVR should be allowed, but that the land in question shouldn’t even be zoned ag because, according to an article in The Garden Island, “one-fifth of the land is brackish marsh and a 10,000-square-foot lot is too small to allow farming.”

And then Dan used the words that always instill deep fear in the county:

”Overall, we’re talking about a pretty significant property right,” Hempey said at the commission’s regular meeting at the first-floor meeting room of the Lihu‘e Civic Center’s Mo‘ikeha Building here.

But wait. If the state law only allows farm dwellings on ag land, how does the landowner have the “right” to operate a TVR? And if you're halting an illegal use, is that truly a taking?

Meanwhile, planning director Ian Costa, his deputy Imai and the mayor’s brain, Beth Tokioka, apparently had an interview with The Garden Island’s Michael Levine last week in which they attempted to justify the reversals the department has been seeking.

Beth reportedly noted that 200 of the original 500 applications had been denied. But 33 of those were already reversed, another 32 are pending and more are planned. So how many of these denials will actually stick remains an open question.

Ian Costa reportedly claimed the ordinance and its deadlines had “created resource and timing issues,” but as I recall, the Council did approve two new positions specifically for TVR inspections.

Anyway, Dan Hempey reportedly said the next stop for his client might be court, which is where the PONO folks are also headed, and if Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho has her way, those people who are illegally operating TVRS may be going there, too.


It seems like a good time to put a freeze on this entire process, conduct a thorough audit of the approval and inspection procedures, see what emerges and take it from there. Otherwise, the county will just continue to dig itself deeper into what is already shaping up to be an expensive and complex hole that will have taxpayers crying over the hefty legal bills and wailing about the county's incompetence.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Musings: Laborings

The moon was a faint patch of white floating in a celestial sea of darkness when Koko and I went walking this morning. On our return, the wind contained a touch of rain that quickly transformed into a shower, but I fended off the wetness, holding my umbrella in front of me like a shield as streaks of orange and scarlet illuminated a pale band of sky between the cloud bank and the ocean.

The days are shortening dramatically — we’ll lose 27 minutes of light by month’s end — and the light has that decidedly autumn feel as we head back to work after a holiday devoted to our laborings.

The Labor Day weekend made me think of a comment that lifelong westsider Kealii Aguiar made when I interviewed him about his new position as Waimea High School’s head football coach. He said the young men on the team had been diligent about their training, which he likened to the blue collar ethic of westsiders: show up, punch in, work hard, do what needs to be done.

Each day I see the evidence of that ethic all around me, as people in so many different occupations show up and do what needs to be done to keep things functioning, for the benefit of the whole. When viewed in that context, it seems bizarre that there’s such a pay disparity between workers.

I mean, does the CEO making $10 million a year really work that much harder, or contribute that much more, than the guy earning $30,000? As the AFL-CIO observed:

CEO perks alone grew in 2008 to an average of $336,248—or nine times the median salary of a full-time worker. Meanwhile, the economy tanked for working people while many companies were bailed out with more than $700 billion in taxpayer money, as well as low-interest loans and guarantees.

And as a friend noted last night, “yeah, and those guys are the ones that destroyed the economy.”

It’s true. Folks might want to blame union workers — be they on the state payroll or GM’s — for dragging the economy down, but I think the oil companies, which were raking in record-breaking profits as the world’s economy staggered under the burden of high oil prices, had just a little bit more of an impact.

Meanwhile, a friend who never carries a balance on his credit cards was recently informed his interest rate would be increased from 12.9 percent to 23 percent. That’s just one way that many banks stuck it to consumers before the new law intended to curb some of the banks’ more vicious lending practices went into effect.

He’s got good credit, so he probably will be able to find cards with lower interest rates. But what about all those millions of Americans who are currently unemployed, or maxed out, and so can’t make the switch? They’re going to be stuck with interest rates that will ensure they remain in perpetual debt.

The same friend informed me that the retirement account he had faithfully contributed to for 30 years has lost a third of its value since the financial market meltdown. What’s the likelihood that he’ll ever recoup those losses? And do you really think that the suffering was shared by investors across the board, including those who manipulate that legal racket known as the stock market?

Then there’s the “Making Home Affordable” program. It was intended to provide relief to homeowners on the verge of foreclosure, but due to meddling by the banks, it hasn’t quite lived up to that promise. As an investigation by CNN discovered:

Housing counselors, homeowners and consumer advocates tell endless stories of banks giving homeowners the runaround: declining apparently eligible applicants; pressuring them into loans they can't afford; placing homes in foreclosure while the owners are being considered for a modified loan; lenders telling homeowners to waive their legal rights, even though the program prohibits it; or banks telling homeowners that they have to be in default to qualify, which isn't true.

According to the Treasury Department's most recent report, only 230,000 of the up to 4 million eligible homeowners have new mortgages under the program.

We’ve all been sold this bill of goods about the good life we can achieve through our laborings. Yet in reality, it eludes most people. While some live exceedingly high on the hog, others struggle, while still holding on to the dream that if they just work hard enough, or make the right investment, somebody they’ll be elevated to those coveted higher echelons.

It’s pervasive, and even in the midst of this economic crunch, it’s still alive and well and infecting the next generation.

Yesterday I was listening to three of the little boys in my neighborhood talking about what they want to do when they grow up. Their conversation went something like this:

“I’m gonna go in the Air Force. Are you?”

”No, I’m not gonna go in the Air Force, because I don’t feel like dying.”

“I just want to be a regular guy and have a regular job and buy people all kinds of things and live on the mainland because they have way more stuff there.”

“That’s all you want to do?”

“Well, maybe be a billionaire, or a millionaire.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Musings: Tax Dollars at Work

A dawn rain kept Koko and me in bed a little later than usual, so by the time we got up and out the sun was shining and the humidity was rising, which prompted us to cut our walk short and head directly for the beach.

The tide was dropping, exposing a thick shell line, and no one was around but a wandering tattler — 'Ulili — that teased Koko with a lengthy shoreline run before executing a perfect get-away with an overwater course.

Those birds are smart. The other day I had Koko on a leash and the `Ulili would walk to within a foot of her, apparently understanding that she was tethered, and thus posed no threat.

The same is not true for Gov. Lingle's plans to layoff half the state's ag inspectors, which drew an angry crowd of Maui folks to a Senate hearing on the proposal. They were justifiably concerned about the threat it could pose to farmers and the environment. As the Maui News reported:

In the Agriculture Department's Plant Quarantine Branch, 52 of 112 positions are to be eliminated, representing 54 percent of the state's agricultural inspectors.

The paper goes on to report the layoffs will save only $5 million, which was termed “a drop in the bucket” in light of the state’s $900 million deficit.

Seeing as how invasive species are such a serious threat to our native environment, agriculture and even tourism, it seems foolhardy to cut the ag inspectors so drastically.

But after reading the transcript of Lingle’s web address — and considering that it was delivered the day before a binding arbitration hearing with HGEA and she was unavailable for media questions afterward — it seems she’s more concerned with building her Republican credentials than taking a collaborative approach to solving the state’s budget woes.

Lingle delivered the kinds of lines that could so easily be cut and pasted into a future GOP campaign speech:

I am not willing to leave to Hawai'i's next Governor the tough choices that need to be made today.

We truly have a government that we no longer can afford.

Further, we need to remember that each dollar in taxes we take out of the private sector means less money businesses have to create jobs, re-build companies and re-grow our economy.

She also criticized the type of Senate hearing that was held on Maui, where some 100 people came to express their concerns about cutting the ag inspectors:

Holding multiple and repetitive legislative hearings to criticize these decisions as they are made does nothing to address the deficit, and it detracts from the work cabinet directors must undertake to implement these difficult but necessary changes.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable that the public’s views should be considered on matters that concern both their tax dollars and their lives, which brings us to a few updates I’ve been wanting to provide on marijuana decriminalization/legalization efforts. For starters, Big Island cops recently staged an eradication effort, despite a new initiative that requires the county to refuse state and federal funds for such programs.

Apparently the cops used “leftover” monies from the previous fiscal year. But as West Hawaii Today reports:

In accordance with the new law, no plots of 24 or fewer plants on private property were eradicated, said Sherlock and Lt. Miles Chong of the Kona Vice Section.

OK, so why can't we get something like that in place here?

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, meanwhile, has published a paper on “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Decriminalization and Legalization for Hawai`i” that finds:

Economic analysis of current public policies on marijuana reveals that Hawaii state and county governments could reap up to $33 million annually in new revenues and cost savings if tax and regulatory policies were to replace law enforcement to control marijuana distribution. Furthermore, research indicates that enforcement expenditures of up to $10 million each year statewide have failed to reduce the amount of marijuana available in Hawaii.

Looking east to the Americas, Denver’s marijuana policy review panel recently decided, according to The Denver Post, “to send a letter to the presiding judge of Denver County Court urging a $1 fine as penalty for possession of marijuana of less than an ounce. The idea is that lowering the fine would send a message to police "that it is not worth their time or the court's to issue any more citations."

And Mexico moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all major narcotics, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and crystal meth, prompting Time magazine to run a story on how “Mexico's New Drug Law May Set an Example.” The article noted that in striking contrast to the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has been “decidedly guarded in commenting on the new legislation:”

Many view such a change as evidence that Washington is finally reconsidering its confrontational war on drugs, four decades after Richard Nixon declared it. "There is a growing opinion that the use of force has simply failed to destroy the drug trade and other measures are needed," says Mexican political analyst José Antonio Crespo. "It appears that the White House may be starting to adjust its approach."

"Governments seeing that Washington did not condemn Mexico for its law may be bolder in their own legislation. Countries are becoming aware that the United States with its millions of drug users should not be judging them on their policies," he [Allen St. Pierre, head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws] says. In February, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico signed a statement calling for decriminalization of several narcotics. "Current drug-repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions," it said. (On Aug. 25, the Argentine supreme court essentially legalized the private use of small amounts of marijuana.)

And finally, if you need yet another reason to support independent media, read the Honolulu Weekly’s piece on the dispute between the state and feds over health care for Hawaii’s Micronesians. It was the only account I read that delved into why so many Micronesians are here, and why they need to chemotherapy:

The U.S. Eniwetok and Bikini were used as nuclear testing grounds, setting off 67 open-air atomic and hydrogen bomb blasts that equaled, [Dr. Keola G. K.] Dowling says, “1.7 hiroshima-sized bombs every morning 12 years…One of the islands in their homeland was turned into white light. It was vaporized.”

“Of 160 Micronesians who are under chemotherapy in Hawaii, most of them are from the Marshall Islands, and most of those came from where they blasted those bombs on Eniwetok and Bikini,” Dowling notes.

Just another example of your tax dollars at work.