Friday, December 31, 2010

Musings: Year End Reflections

The sky was already streaked with shades of apricot when Koko and I set out walking this cool, quiet morning. Looking up, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a golden wedge, all that was left of the moon, as the quilted and snakeskin-patterned clouds shifted almost imperceptibly in the sky, their movement as slow as the wind was still.

As we moseyed mauka, accompanied by birdsong, the heavenly hues shifted to a deeper orange, then light pink and finally a blaze of scarlet as the sun peeked up over the Giant and quickly disappeared into a thick band of fleece, repossessing all the colors that it had so extravagantly put forth, save for a silvery gray.

It’s the last day of the year, a time when we tend to be looking back and forward in almost equal measure. When I reflect on 2010, I think of it in terms of how much beauty I was privileged to experience and all the words I wrote — some 242 posts on this blog alone, not to mention numerous stories for various publications, journal entries, the odd short story or poem.

But I also think about all the lives — frequently messy, difficult, troubled lives — that have been intertwined with my own as part of the job I’ve held for the past 18 months. After spending an hour or two in the morning immersed in intellectual musings on global warming, politics, land use, endangered species, Hawaiian independence, freedom of the press or what have you, I go to a place where many of the people I’m dealing with have much more pressing issues on their minds — basic survival issues like food, shelter, health and personal safety.

It’s a challenging job, one that often has me waking worried in the night, but it’s also rewarding, because it’s shown me that even though it’s very hard — OK, impossible — to change the world, it’s really quite easy to make a difference in an individual’s life, which in turn makes a difference in my own life. And isn’t that how the world is ultimately changed?

People often leave comments on this blog pressing me to provide solutions and answers, by which they mean external ones, and that’s where I’m not especially helpful. I don’t think any of our systems are capable of fixing the things that need to be fixed; indeed, they need to be torn down and rebuilt on a very different set of values. As I see it, there’s only one way out of the messes we’ve made collectively and personally, and that’s for each and every one of us to do the very best we can, to inform ourselves, to understand the world and its workings, to have more compassion and practice more kindness, to help one another, to constantly question our own beliefs, actions and assumptions and cast aside those that don’t serve us or others.

It's as simple, and as difficult, as that.

The transition from the old year to the new is a good time to engage in that process, and I received an email invitation from the Rev. Nori Fujimori to participate in the year-end Naikan Meditation at Waimea Higashi Hongwanji tonight. As he described it:

The Naikan is a therapy and it was developed by Yoshimoto Ishin (1916-1988), a devout Buddhist of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist in Japan. Naikan is a structured method of self-reflection. A more poetic definition of Naikan is “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. It is a structured method of self-reflection that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence.

I’m not Buddhist, but I found the questions that can be reflected upon in the meditation useful, so I wanted to share them:

1. Reflect on specific people in your life who have supported you during the past year. How have they benefited you?

2. Make a list of things you've received this past year without providing any compensation or consideration.

3. Do the reflection on someone with whom you've had trouble, discord, or stress during the past year.

4. Reflect on ways you caused trouble and difficulty to the people over past year.

5. Reflect on your speech this past year. In what ways have you spoken critically, harmfully, or inappropriately about others. What was the result of this to others?

6. Reflect on ways you mistreated objects during the past year. How attentive or inattentive were you with your belongings or others?

8. What have you learned this past year?

9. Create a list of all the people and objects that helped you to grow this past year. Personally, professionally, and spiritually.

10. Forgive yourself for not reaching any of the goals you might have set for yourself and reaffirm to focus on them in the New Year.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Musings: Reinstating a Nation

While some kanaka maoli have pinned their hopes for federal recognition and reconciliation on the now-dead Akaka Bill, others have taken a very different approach. As they see it, Hawaii was an independent nation that the U.S. illegally overthrew and continues to illegally occupy. Since sovereignty was never relinquished, it need not be asked for, given back or granted, but simply reclaimed — reinstated — essentially picked up where it left off in 1893.

That’s the premise of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, which formed a provisional government in 1999. As I wrote in a 2007 article for Honolulu Weekly:

Since then, supporters have been working to establish the Kingdom’s authority to be recognized as the lawful government of Hawai’i. They drafted citizenship rules, registered voters and held two elections, in which [Henry] Noa was twice named prime minister. They also adopted laws and the amended Hawaiian Constitution of 2000, an updated version of the one in effect when the constitutional monarchy was overthrown.

The Nation also moved to establish its sovereign rights through a July 2006 occupation of Kahoolawe that was intended to stake a claim to all the lands owned by the Kingdom when it was illegally overthrown. In April 2009, a Maui District Court judge found Noa and two other Hawaiian nationals guilty of trespassing, while issuing the seemingly contradictory ruling that “the Defendants failed to prove the Reinstated Nation of Hawaii is a sovereign native Hawaiian entity and the Court lacks authority to make such a determination.” That ruling is now being appealed.

Meanwhile, the Nation has begun working directly with Maui County to establish its authority there. “We had provided legal notice to Maui officials informing them we had completed our process by reinstating our native government and we would begin exercising some of the rights basic to us as nationals and as a nation,” Noa told me the other day.

But the cops continued to “harass our nationals,” Noa said, prompting the Nation to send county officials citations warning them of ongoing human rights violations.

“They started accumulating a little too many violations and weren’t sure how to handle the situation,” Noa said. “I told them they need to acknowledge laws passed recognizing the violations of our people and the rights granted to us to build a sovereign nation. We were just fulfilling these sovereign obligations and we were being repressed for it.”

As a result of the discussions, the Maui County Council earlier this month passed a resolution (six in favor and three absent) in which it recognizes the laws that Noa was referencing: United States Public Law 103-150, Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966.

“It was a way of getting them to acknowledge that these rights actually exist and they should start respecting them,” Noa explained.

While it took two years to get the resolution approved, Noa said the process was meaningful because it served to educate county officials.

“The Council members finally came to realize what we as kanaka have been trying to do all this time in fulfilling the obligations set within the laws,” he said. “We want them to acknowledge it so we can have more meaningful discussions. It resulted in a deeper respect between county government officials and what we’ve been doing as far as reacquainting them with our political status. They’ve actually acknowledged that these laws are in existence, and that will affect how we’ll end up dialoging and communicating in the future.”

Re-establishing a nation is a slow process, especially when the occupying forces don’t want to provide recognition and instead attempt to buy folks off with shams like the Akaka Bill, which would throw kanaka some money while forever stripping them of their sovereign claims.

But it's all going according to plan, as I reported in a June 15, 2008 post after attending a session of the Nation’s legislature:

“They’re not going to give you your country back,” [Noa] told those who were assembled. “It all comes down to how we’re going to take our country back, how we’re going to peacefully reclaim what is ours. It is by law that we will achieve our goal. We have achieved all the requirements under international law to be recognized as a sovereign nation.”

Noa told me the other day that the Nation is now turning its attention to Kauai, where it will be asking the Council to approve a similar resolution. Here’s the wording of the resolution passed on Maui:

Title: Recognition of United States Public Law 103-150, Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966.

Whereas, the people of the County of Maui, of the State of Hawaii, of the United States of America, and of this world are born free with rights derived from the inherent dignity of the human person; and

Whereas, these inalienable universal rights are adopted and codified by the General Assembly of the United Nations in what is commonly referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights, which generally consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. In addition to setting forth the rights of individuals, International Bill of Human Rights provides that each nation agrees to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the covenants, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status; and

Whereas, prior to the arrival of the first Europeans in 1778, the native Hawaiian people lived in a highly organized, self sufficient, subsistent social system based upon communal land tenure and that a unified monarchial government of the Hawaiian Islands was established in 1810 under Kamehameha I; and

Whereas, the United States recognized the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaii and extended full and complete diplomatic recognition to the Hawaiian Government; and

Whereas, in 1893, the then United States Minister assigned to the sovereign and independent Kingdom of Hawaii conspired with others to overthrow the indigenous and lawful Government of Hawaii and did depose the Hawaiian monarchy and proclaimed the establishment of a Provisional Government; and

Whereas, the United States Minister thereupon extended diplomatic recognition to the Provisional Government that was formed by the conspirators without the consent of the Native Hawaiian people or the lawful Government of Hawaii in violation of treaties between the two nations and of international law; and

Whereas, the native people of Hawaii were deprived of their inalienable universal rights with the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in January 17, 1893; and

Whereas, the United States of America recognized that the indigenous people of Hawaii never directly relinquished their right to their inherent sovereignty as a people, right to their lands, and right to their nation by the enactment of the Apology Resolution of 1993 adopted by both houses of the United States Congress, as is set forth as United States Public Law 103-150, Stat. 1510-14 of the 103rd Congress; and

Whereas, the Apology Resolution of 1993 acknowledged “the
illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893” as well as “the historical significance of this event which resulted in the suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people”; and

Whereas, the Apology Resolution of 1993 further expressed the commitment of the United States to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, in order to provide a proper foundation for reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people, and

Whereas, the State of Hawaii also acknowledged the illegal acts and enacted Act 359 in 1993 entitled, "A Bill for an Act, Relating to Hawaiian Sovereignty" with its expressed purpose being “to recognize the unique status the Native Hawaiian people bear to the State of Hawaii and to the United States and to facilitate the efforts of the Native Hawaiian people to be governed by an indigenous sovereign nation of their own choosing".


1. That all people of the world, of which the residents of the County of Maui and of the State of Hawaii are apart of, are born free and equal in dignity and rights. As members of the international community, there is an obligation to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions of any kind such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political and other opinions, all as enacted by the General Assembly of the United Nations set forth in the International Bill of Human Rights, that is fully recognized herein.

2. That the Apology Resolution of 1993 acknowledges that the overthrown of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 was illegal and native Hawaiian people were deprived of these rights as a result. The Apology Resolution of 1993 further acknowledges that steps should be taken to support reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people, which purpose is acknowledged herein.

3. That with the enactment of Act 359 in 1993 by our State, the unique status of the Native Hawaiian people was also acknowledged.

4. That the foregoing International Bill of Human Rights, Apology Resolution of 1993 and Act 359 are recognized and acknowledged. In furtherance thereof, it is acknowledged that steps must be taken to support the reconciliation efforts for the Native Hawaiian people.

5. As used in this Resolution, the terms “Native Hawaiian” and “Indigenous Hawaiian”, refers to the kanaka maoli people aboriginal to the Hawaiian Islands.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Musings: Sowing the Seeds

Lightning pierced the black sky followed by a mighty “KA-BOOM!” that caused both Koko, who was already trembling, and me to jump. Just about then the phone rang, offering a recorded report from Civil Defense that a flash flood warning is in effect.

I find it amusing that we spend so much money fighting the vague, ill-defined forces of terrorism, claiming it has the potential to disrupt our nation, yet major cities are repeatedly brought to their knees by the weather, which we are blithely making more extreme through greenhouse gas emissions that we refuse to curtail in any meaningful way.

Not so amusing was the report of how President Obama and Michelle visited military families at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base on Christmas Day to emphasize a message he also made in his weekly radio and Internet address:

"Let's all remind them this holiday season that we're thinking of them, and that America will forever be here for them, just as they've been there for us," the president said.

Ummm, except if they come back with traumatic brain injuries, in which case Tricare, the Pentagon’s health plan won’t pay for the cognitive rehabilitation therapy that can help them lead normal lives. Seems the price tag of $15,000 to $50,000 per soldier is just too rich. As a joint report by NPR and ProPublica notes:

With so many troops and veterans suffering long-term symptoms from head injuries, treatment costs could quickly soar into the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars — a crippling burden to the military's already overtaxed medical system.

The battle over science and money has made it difficult for wounded troops to get a treatment recommended by many doctors for one of the wars' signature injuries, according to the NPR and ProPublica investigation.

I’m horrified,” said James Malec, research director at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana and one of the reviewers of the Tricare study. “I think it’s appalling that we’re not knocking ourselves out to do the very best” for troops and veterans.

Especially when the Prez is mouthing platitudes like “America will forever be here for them.” Ya, right.

As a noteworthy aside, Home Depot magnate and philanthropist Bernie Marcus pungled up his own dough to start Project Share, a charity that serves some of the brain-damaged soldiers the Pentagon is too stingy to help.

Yes, it seems that war, while supposedly waged for ideologies like “freedom,” is, at its core, about dollars and cents. Did you know that the U.S. has payment guidelines for field commanders that put a value of “US$1,500 to $2,500” on a dead Afghan, which is not that much different than the $500 to $2,500 paid for a damaged or destroyed vehicle?

Needless to say, this irks some Afghans:

"Afghans must seem like animals to the Americans if they can put prices on them," said Ismail, a 55-year-old Afghan businessman in Kabul, shaking with anger as he spoke.

"If someone killed an American and offered to pay $10,000, would they accept it? They destroy a complete village if one of their soldiers is killed, but set a price of $2,500 for an Afghan's life," he added.

According to a report from the Herald Sun, Australia is coughing up even less:

Australian taxpayers are paying the “market rate” of $1200 compensation for Afghan civilians accidentally killed by Diggers (soldiers). Australian field commanders now keep US dollars on hand in order to make immediate no-liability payments to relatives of civilians who become “collateral damage”. The Defence Department is keeping payments secret, but the going rate for a life in Afghanistan is about $1200.

Taliban officials are disputing a new U.N. report that claims the number of Afghan civilians killed by insurgents is rising, while those killed by coalition forces are on the decline. But if, according to the report, “[m]ore than three quarters of all civilian casualties were linked to anti-Government elements,” and the government they’re fighting is a corrupt, fraudulent regime propped up by coalition forces that have invaded and systematically destroyed their nation, can you really claim that coalition forces bear no responsibility?

Meanwhile, retiring generals eager to keep riding the deadly gravy train are taking lucrative jobs with defense industry firms, sometimes while simultaneously serving as consultants or advisors to the Pentagon, the Boston Globe reports:

In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest….

But this is the Pentagon where, a Globe review has found, such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life at the lucrative nexus between the defense procurement system, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and the industry that feasts on those riches. And almost nothing is ever done about it.

From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.

The generals are, in many cases, recruited for private sector roles well before they retire, raising questions about their independence and judgment while still in uniform.

Apparently it’s just too hard to resist all that money floating around. Thanks to a link circulated by Kauai journalist Jon Letman, I learned the U.S. House of Representatives recently “passed a $725 billion military budget with no debate, the largest single military spending bill in world history.”

According to David Swanson, author of the book “War is a Lie”:

“It is really well over 50 cents of every income tax dollar going to this war machine,” he said.

As Jon notes, the bill also includes money to keep Gitmo operational, and “up to $75 million to train and equip Yemeni counterterrorism forces; $205 million for a program with Israel to develop its "Iron Dome" defense system; $11.6 billion for the development of the Afghan security forces and $1.5 billion for Iraqi security forces.”

It’s all rather ironic in light of a report commissioned in 2004 by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to study what causes terrorism. It found (emphasis in the original):

There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies — except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.

• Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing
support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.

• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that
Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.

• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.

Yet we continue on, sowing the seeds for more terrorism by the very same means we use to fight it.

Yes, it would all be very amusing — if it weren’t so damn tragic and sick.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Musings: On Giving

Silent night gave way to a subdued Christmas morning, the air heavy with moisture, which amplified the stillness, the calm, the quiet, broken only by bird sound and song, the rooster choir long over. Dew dripped like rain from palm fronds, eaves, drenching the grass; sun glinted hazily through sparkling leaves, turning spider webs into diamond-dotted strands of gold.

And as I sat on the porch, Koko happily gnawing on a bone, I took it all in and gave thanks and praise.

It’s the time of year to give, be it gifts or gratitude or alms to the poor, canned goods to the Food Banks, quarters to the Salvation Army kettle, year-end donations to favorite charities — gestures all intended, in one way or another, to make the world — lives — a little bit better. And that’s had me thinking the past few days about a recent exchange in the comments section that went something like this:

I would like to know what the "rich" have done to make this a better place for us all to live?

Dr Shibai

This was followed by:

what have you done to make this a better place? What have the poor done? what have the middle class done? As a group or as individuals? What kind of idiot question is that even? "The rich" is made up of individuals. Like any other arbitrary way you can group them up, of the individuals who happen to be "rich," some have done squat (like you maybe?) while others have done a great deal to make this a better place under any measure you'd care to define as "making it a better place."

Dr Shibai, a doer of many good deeds, later told me the challenge didn’t rankle, because it’s a question we all should ask ourselves periodically: what am I really doing to help others?

About this time, I encountered this quote from writer Jack London in an issue of “The Week:”

”A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”

And I started thinking about how it’s relatively easy to give when it’s easy to give, if you get my drift, but not so easy when you really have to give — of yourself, or some thing you do not feel you have in abundance. That’s the hard giving, the kind we tend to give short-shrift or reserve for those we love most.

Yet more of that hard giving is what we most need; long and short, it’s the “solution” to our myriad woes that people are always pressing for, but continue to ignore, because it can be hard work to do the hard giving. So we keep pretending we don’t know the way out, despite the admonitions and teachings of birthday boy Jesus and every other spiritual leader for thousands of years: Give a little bit.

And then a little bit more.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Musings: Connected

I saw no sign of the lunar eclipse, though a friend sent an email saying his son witnessed it while working in Waikiki. Instead, I was treated to the lulling patter of steady rain, which is continuing now into a blessed third day, this winter solstice day.

When Koko and I went out at about 6:30 this morning, the rain was light and the fog was thick, so thick that all the mountains were blotted out and even houses a few hundred yards down the street. Only the blue light from a distant Christmas tree shone through the milky swirl. The pea soup fog and relentless rain reminded me, happily, of my childhood in Northern California, although the temperature there was a good 20 degrees cooler.

I imagine the relationship between France and the U.S. has gotten a bit chillier with the revelation — in a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks — of the American strategy for bullying that nation into accepting genetically modified crops:

Summary: Mission Paris recommends that that the USG reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list when the extend "Reasonable Time Period" expires. In our view, Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the Commission. In France, the "Grenelle" environment process is being implemented to circumvent science-based decisions in favor of an assessment of the "common interest."

Combined with the precautionary principle, this is a precedent with implications far beyond MON-810 BT corn cultivation. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices. In fact, the pro-biotech side in France -- including within the farm union -- have told us retaliation is the only way to begin to begin to turn this issue in France. End Summary.

The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.

Yup, that’s our government – firmly in the pocket of Monsanto — at work, folks. But hey, we can rest assured that the USDA is strictly neutral and looking out for our best interests when it waives environmental impact statements on GM crops, determines they are essentially the same as non-GM crops, fails to require longterm feeding trials and balks at GMO labeling.

As a report on this topic on The Raw Story noted:

The law that was considered in France would have made farmers and biotech firms liable for pollen drift of their modified crops -- a move that "could make any biotech planting impossible in practical terms," [Ambassador Craig] Stapleton wrote.

It was essentially the same principle the US employs for environmental pollution: the polluter must pay. GMO firms, however, are given exception to those regulations in North America.

The spread of modified genes into the wild is of particular concern to critics of biotech food crops, who cite studies linking GM seeds to organ damage and infertility in animals.

Monsanto's genetically modified corn, currently banned across the EU, was also found growing in Ireland, the Irish Department of Agriculture said.

Kinda makes you wonder what’s happening with all the GMO corn being grown right here on Kauai. Not that we’ll ever know, because no one is looking, or even asking.

Related questions that likely won’t be answered any time soon were posed in an article on “Are we willing to poison owls and a variety of other wild animals in order to fight rats?” and “Just how far into the food web have these poisons penetrated?” Seems a Canadian study is linking new super-potent rat killers to the decline of owls, as well as other wildlife deaths:

“We’re finding this stuff all over the place,” said John Elliott, an Environment Canada scientist who co-authored the owl study published last year. “There’s a lot more rodenticide in the food chain than we would have ever thought. We’re surprised that there’s that much of the stuff kicking around.”

Studies in Canada, the United States and Europe show that this newer generation of rat poisons is killing a variety of wild animals, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, deer, squirrels, possums and raccoons, along with bald eagles, golden eagles, owls, hawks and vultures.

Some animals are ingesting the pesticides by eating poisoned rats as the rats stagger about, dazed but not yet dead. This goes on for days before the rats succumb, in the meantime making them easy targets for owls and other predators.

But there’s a mysterious wrinkle in this picture. How are plant eaters like deer and sheep ingesting rat poison? Grain eaters like squirrels? What about hawks that subsist almost exclusively on songbirds – songbirds that probably aren’t eating rats?

Gee, do you suppose everything actually is connected?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Musings: Monday Meanderings

The nearly full moon couldn’t be seen directly last night, but its presence behind the clouds was still apparent, as it gave the wet and foggy landscape an ethereal glow. By dawn, though, it had set and the world was left remarkably dark, even at 7 a.m.

With the winter solstice tomorrow, we’re in the time of an early-setting and late-rising sun, which makes for short days and long nights. And given tonight’s forecast for clouds and heavy rain all around the island, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be able to catch the full lunar eclipse, which starts becoming noticeable about 8:15 and continues until 10:53 p.m. But I can’t complain about this lovely, steady, soaking rain, which is nourishing our island, and besides, you never can tell when the clouds might part, revealing what’s happening behind the scenes.

With the recent repeal of the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, I’m sure a lot more soldiers will feel free to reveal their true sexual identifies, which is how it should be:

“Today's vote said that if discrimination has no place in America, it has no place in the armed forces,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. “It said that we don't care who you love as long as you love your country.”

And that made me wonder, do all those guys and gals who join the military really do it because they love their country, or because they have no other economic and educational prospects? Because what does loving your country have to do with fighting a misguided, civilian-killing, corrupt, imperialistic war? Not to mention that even after 10 years of death and destruction, the Obama Administration still can’t say for certain that they’re getting anywhere.

I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres and Obama tweeted their approval of the repeal. Do people really follow that stuff? Why? And am I the only one who feels it’s rather undignified for the nation’s President to tweet and appear on talk shows? I mean, you’d expect that from a publicity whore like Sarah Palin, who has stooped to starring in a reality show, but hopefully she’ll never actually sit in the Oval Office.

But that’s life in America, which is distracted by celebrities and fake "reality shows" as it quietly turns into a police state, and an apparently inept one at that. As the Washington Post reports:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials - called Super Users - have the ability to even know about all the department's activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation's most sensitive work.

"I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything" was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.

"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.

Gee, isn't that convenient. As the Post continues:

Much of the information about this mission is classified. That is the reason it is so difficult to gauge the success and identify the problems of Top Secret America, including whether money is being spent wisely. The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 21/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn't include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.

Another story details how the "war on terror" is playing out on the streets of America:

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

State intelligence analysts and FBI investigators use the reports to determine whether a person is buying fertilizer to make a bomb or to plant tomatoes; whether she is plotting to poison a city's drinking water or studying for a metallurgy test; whether, as happened on a Sunday morning in late September, the man snapping a picture of a ferry in the Newport Beach harbor in Southern California simply liked the way it looked or was plotting to blow it up.

Suspicious Activity Report N03821 says a local law enforcement officer observed "a suspicious subject . . . taking photographs of the Orange County Sheriff Department Fire Boat and the Balboa Ferry with a cellular phone camera." The confidential report, marked "For Official Use Only," noted that the subject next made a phone call, walked to his car and returned five minutes later to take more pictures. He was then met by another person, both of whom stood and "observed the boat traffic in the harbor." Next another adult with two small children joined them, and then they all boarded the ferry and crossed the channel.

All of this information was forwarded to the Los Angeles fusion center for further investigation after the local officer ran information about the vehicle and its owner through several crime databases and found nothing.

The FBI could collect more information, find no connection to terrorism and mark the file closed, though leaving it in the database.

It could find a possible connection and turn it into a full-fledged case.

Or, as most often happens, it could make no specific determination, which would mean that Suspicious Activity Report N03821 would sit in limbo for as long as five years, during which time many other pieces of information about the man photographing a boat on a Sunday morning could be added to his file: employment, financial and residential histories; multiple phone numbers; audio files; video from the dashboard-mounted camera in the police cruiser at the harbor where he took pictures; and anything else in government or commercial databases "that adds value," as the FBI agent in charge of the database described it.

Just when you think we can’t sink any lower, we do. We’re not the only ones, though. After reading the full allegations that the two Swedish women are making against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, it’s hard to believe that the Swedes are actually seeking his extradition from England:

"Both complainants say they did not report him to the police for prosecution but only to require him to have an STD test. However, his Swedish lawyer has been shown evidence of their text messages which indicate that they were concerned to obtain money by going to a tabloid newspaper and were motivated by other matters including a desire for revenge."

Unless, of course, Sweden actually plans to deliver him to the U.S., which Assange rightly fears, seeing as how he might be treated as a terrorist or enemy combatant:

"Obviously it is extremely serious, and one of the concerns that we have had since I have been in the UK is whether the extradition proceeding to Sweden is actually an attempt to get me into a jurisdiction which will then make it easier to extradite me to the United States."

In other news closer to home, the Akaka Bill, which was sneakily tucked into the Omnibus spending bill as an earmark, is now dead. With that bad legislation out of the way, maybe Gov. Abercrombie will find the courage to take up issues affecting Native Hawaiians, especially land claims, that can be addressed right here in Hawaii.

And as Horace Stoessel notes in a letter to the editor today, The Garden Island is finally starting to understand that the pay raise flap isn’t about County Clerk Peter Nakamura, but the process followed in giving him that raise. Unfortunately, that insight is coming only after the paper allowed Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum to trash Peter on the front page a few times and spread numerous inaccuracies about what really went down.

Anonymous comments to the contrary, my posts on this subject have nothing to do with “hating” either Tim or JoAnn, because I don’t hate anybody. However, I do think it was highly inappropriate that Tim and JoAnn invaded Peter’s privacy and publicly leveled some very serious and totally unsubstantiated charges against him. And I found it highly ironic that in their defense of proper process, they breached it themselves by taking this matter out of executive session and into the newspaper.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Musings: On Feelings

Enchanted is the only word to describe the scene that greeted Koko and me when we went walking this morning. A swirling, steaming sea of mist lapped at the shores of the roadside, burnt-orange swaths of color lit up the Giant, still sleeping, and Venus burned gold high overhead. The world was muffled and strangely still, with muted crickets; even the roosters were subdued.

The swaths slowly stained scarlet and the rest of the heavens were tinted a delicate pinkish-baby blue. All the colors intensified, with the sky becoming a pale lavender and bleeding onto the faces of Waialeale and Makaleha, turning them deep purple, and as I climbed higher, I could soon see the land stretching out to Haupu, with all the cinder cones wreathed in mist.

On the way back, Koko lunged at a mynah bird wiggling toward the wedelia alongside the road, its wing dragging a bit. I wondered if it had been the victim of a vehicular hit and run, but when I stooped to check it out, it gave up such a chattering, squealing cry of alarm that I decided not to traumatize it further. Just then, two mynahs that had been perched on a tree directly across the street flew to the utility wires overhead and began scolding me loudly, as if they were keeping watch over their stricken comrade.

And people say animals have no emotions, no feelings.

I have to admit I wasn’t feeling especially sympathetic yesterday when a woman called in to Jimmy Trujillo’s show on KKCR radio to complain that rich people are being discriminated against on Kauai. Seems that all the outcry over gated communities, posh vacation rentals and McMansions on ag lands had her feeling that the elite were being unfairly scorned, rejected as a group when some of them are so nice and making a contribution.

She then went on to specifically mention negativity directed toward “the people on Kauapea Road” — an area that offers a perfect example of how ag land has been abused, to the detriment of farmers and the one-time wilderness beach below — which had me wondering if she worked for the reviled Michele Hughes. She also noted that when people criticize vacation rentals, they are belittling the people who work for them, which was a bit of a stretch.

Jimmy’s guest was Council Chairman Jay Furfaro, who responded with a little anecdote about how people often ask how long they must live here before they are considered kama`aina, and how he tells them it’s got nothing to do with time and everything to do with attitude and embracing certain cultural values.

We all know that some of the rich people who have moved here are nice and actually work to make Kauai a better place. But unfortunately, niceness doesn’t always equate with responsible, thoughtful actions. One example is Pierce Brosnan, who has been touted as nice by many, yet he’s waged a long and costly war over water with a Hawaiian farmer — he wants it for landscape ponds, she wants it grow taro —and his oceanfront Haena home is one of those where the yard is sprawling onto the public beach.

What’s more, rich people's “contributions,” which tend to be viewed primarily in financial terms, such as the property taxes paid on their palatial homes and the jobs given to the people who clean them, often come at a very high public price, like blocked access ways, narrowed beaches, disturbed burials and radically altered neighborhoods.

We’ve also seen over and over again how rich people who can afford to hire attorneys have literally bulldozed any opposition to their desires and/or bought themselves the consultants and politicians who can make their dreams come true.

And when rich people deliberately choose to shut themselves off from the community behind gates and high fences, or attempt to set themselves above and apart from others by ostentatiously flaunting their wealth, it’s not surprising that they generate some resentment.

Besides, if things get too uncomfortable for them, they have the luxury of being able to sell out, usually at a high profit, and flit off to one of their other homes — unlike the Native Hawaiians who are continually discriminated against and treated badly in their own homeland.

So no, I'm not feeling sorry for those poor, discriminated against rich folk.

Speaking of Hawaiians, I happened to be talking to kumu hula Kehau Kekua yesterday and asked her about Gov. Abercrombie’s visit to Kauai on Wednesday night. She said that he had specifically requested that the event be held at Wailua, which at first met with some resistance from cultural practitioners, but upon further reflection, was viewed as a good thing because it seemed to reflect his awareness of the special, sacred qualities of that place.

If that’s truly the case, and given his decision to choose Hawaiians committed to burial preservation as the director and deputy director of DNLR, we may be seeing a state government that is a little more sensitive to cultural issues and concerns.

In closing, some rich people are doing good things, like helping WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has finally been released from jail, although under strict controls. He's vowed to continue his whistleblowing, like the leaked diplomatic cables that show, according to a Democracy Now! report "the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general to pressure him to drop a $6 billion lawsuit over fraudulent drug tests on Nigerian children. Eleven children died. Others suffered disabling injuries including deafness, muteness, paralysis, brain damage, loss of sight, slurred speech."

Now that's the kind of sad tale worth feeling sorry about.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Musings: Move Forward

The air was chilly and mist clung thickly to the pastures when Koko and I went out walking this fine morning, the garbage truck wheezing and clanking behind us. The stars gradually disappeared as the day brightened, revealing a wispy cloud adorning Waialeale's flat summit and a mist lake in the hollows between the cinder cones. But Venus, shining first yellow, then white, was undeterred, even as the sun announced its arrival with a splashy scarlet-orange light show in the east.

After much splashy reporting about how the County Clerk makes more than the mayor, The Garden Island finally got around to reporting today that the Prosecutor and County Auditor do, too, and that the deputy county attorneys and deputy clerk also received raises in 2009, when the mayor and his department heads were foregoing theirs. It does not, however, mention that the Administration’s raises will be going into effect on July 1, 2011, at which time the mayor will be making more than everyone.

And just as an aside, why should the mayor necessarily be making more than either the Clerk or the prosecutor, both of whom are better educated and have more actual government experience than Bernard Carvalho?

But what really irked me were the comments that Councilman Tim Bynum — if correctly reported — made in the paper’s lead article about the ongoing controversy over the process followed in giving County Clerk Peter Nakamura that raise. (Curiously, nothing has been said about the process followed in granting raises to the deputy clerk, auditor and prosecutor. Is this just a witch hunt against Peter?)

In short, Tim came out looking not only like a weakling, but to anyone familiar with the issue, disingenuous. Take this, for example:

In a “media statement” last week, [Council Chair Jay] Furfaro said Bynum voted in favor of measures concerning Nakamura’s pay raise twice, once when receiving the commission’s communication and again when approving the FY11 budget.

As shown in the minutes of the council’s Sept. 23, 2009, meeting, Bynum seconded the motion made by Chang to receive the communication regarding the commission’s resolution.

“Seconding is meaningless to me,” said Bynum, adding that he didn’t recall doing so.

But as I previously reported, Tim not only seconded the motion, he and the other Councilmembers voted unanimously to accept the Salary Commission’s recommendation, which clearly set forth raises for the Clerk and his deputy, the County Auditor, the County Prosecutor and her deputies, and the Council.

As I also reported, based on a review of the Sept. 23, 2009 minutes, County Attorney Al Castillo specified that if the Council received the Salary Commission’s resolution that day, “it’s approved” and could then only be amended by the Commission. So how can Tim then claim he never approved the raise? Was he napping during Al's comments?

Tim then goes on to say:

“Receiving a communication is not endorsing all of its content,” Bynum said. “Voting for a budget is not a ‘recommendation from the appointing authority.’ Council members accept provisions all the time that have elements or portions they are not in agreement with.”

That’s another crock. Al clearly told the Council that it had the power to accept or reject any part of the Salary Commission’s resolution, which means Tim could have made a motion to turn down any one or all of the raises. Instead, he did nothing, which brings us to the weakling part:

“I didn’t make that motion because it would’ve been argumentative,” said Bynum, noting that he had been having other differences with Asing. “If I go on the floor and make motions that I know are going to be defeated over and over again, that means I’m going to be more an outsider.”

Bynum said he could have — and maybe should have — spoken up about the pay raise when it was before the council, but was concerned about being seen by his colleagues as grand-standing.

Oh, please, Tim. First, what kind of an elected official are you if you’re too afraid to speak up? And second, so wat, now you’re not worried about being argumentative or grandstanding as you take your case to the newspaper?

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who began beating this drum after she and Tim lost the vote to hire an executive search team to find a new Clerk, backs him up by saying, “it’s hard to think of everything in the moment. Sometimes you still should make motions, even if you don’t have support.”

Yes, especially if you’re later going to be bitching to the paper way after the fact about how the process wasn’t followed and you didn’t support the raises. Tim also tries to make himself look good by claiming he didn’t want the pay raise he voted to give himself:

“I tried to give it back,” he said, adding that the charter forbid it.

Well, guess what, Tim. Peter is similarly forbidden to give back his raise.

And then there was all this hoohaw about Peter’s evaluation, when it appears that Peter’s biggest shortcoming is working too hard and too much. I also found it quite interesting that Tim alleged that Peter’s personnel file contained no evaluation. Is it legal or ethical for Tim to be publicly discussing the contents of Peter’s personnel file, a private matter that the state sunshine law specifically allows to be taken up in a closed session?

Meanwhile, apparently unsatisfied with the front page stories she's been garnering, JoAnn also pled her case today in a lenthy letter to the editor, where she she says she "I will certainly apologize publcily if I am wrong." Oh, how big of you. Do you think that will undo the damage that's already been done to Peter's repuation, JoAnn?

On another note, Council Chairman Jay Furfaro told me that he’s going to be moving toward getting more Council documents on line. But it isn’t something that can happen overnight, he said, because the Council has to invest in the right scanners and other equipment, train staff and also set policy guidelines for posting and removing documents to reflect the changes that bills go through as they move through the process.

Jay also promised all Councilmembers access to the agenda, which should soothe one of Tim’s ongoing complaints. “I don’t see myself kicking anything off the agenda,” Jay said. “Better to discuss it and get it out for a thorough review.”

Maybe now with Jay running the show Tim won’t be afraid to make motions and he can more effectively serve the people who elected him, as well as those who didn’t.

Anyway, it’s like Councilman Mel Rapozo told me the other day: JoAnn and Tim lost the vote on Peter and now they need to move forward with the will of the majority.

If there was any procedural mistake, it likely was committed by former Chair Kaipo Asing, who is no longer on the Council and can’t be punished, anyway. So how much time and energy is the Council going to spend on this issue, which is over a year old, when it has so many more pressing issues before it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Musings: Screaming in the Dark

It wasn’t that early, but a thick cloud cover made it so dark when Koko and I went out walking this morning that I was forced to use a flashlight, something I rarely do, other than to turn it on to alert approaching cars to my presence.

But today I needed it, and was glad I had it, when we approached a densely vegetated valley and heard the snuffling of pigs. I knew they often crossed the road in that spot, so I was on the alert, as was Koko, with her ears up, posture erect, tail high. And then we heard the pigs screaming, and scuffling sounds, and more screaming. If you’ve never heard it, let me tell you it’s a chilling, unnerving sound, especially in the dark.

Koko started whining then and pulling hard at the leash, and making short little barks. The screaming started up again, and I knew a pig(s) was trapped. Then I heard men’s voices and two muffled gunshots and all was quiet, save for Koko, who was now in a small frenzy, wanting nothing more than to check out the action up close. I know the damage pigs do, and I love smoke meat, but still, it was sad.

Almost as sad as hearing some KKCR DJs spreading misinformation on air yesterday. The county has finally begun retrofitting the Vidinha Stadium lights, a fact that came to me in a text from a friend that read: “They are working on the stadium shearwater killers.”

One of the KKCR DJs had seen the contractor at work, too, which prompted him to say on air that since there were no more night football games, it seemed that fixing the lights should be a low priority for the county. This prompted another guy with a microphone to say maybe they were getting rid of the lights, and then they started to read from a Star-Advertiser article about hundreds of wedgetail shearwaters being collected on Oahu, so what was the big deal on Kauai, where only 12 were killed?

Unable to bear it any longer, I had to call in and set them straight: that the county was retrofitting the lights as part of its plea agreement with the Department of Justice so that night games could be played again; that the birds at issue here are Newell’s (`A`o), not the more common wedgies, and that no one really knows how many `A`o died on Kauai this year. They seemed interested, and asked me a few more questions, but when I got off the phone they moved on to talking stink about County Clerk Peter Nakamura, using a recent Andy Parx blog post as their sole reference….

Moving on to other topics, I’ve been watching construction proceed on the ”solar farm” being built on a four-acre site along Olohena Road, near the Kaapuni Road intersection. I guess that makes solar panels the newest crop being “grown” on ag land. Better than mansions, but still….

It certainly won’t be the last alternative energy to be constructed on ag lands, not with massive wind projects planned for Lanai and Molokai so the electricity generated — some 400 MW — can supply Oahu via a transmission line of up to 200 miles. It’s a project of superlatives: the largest energy project in Hawaii history; the largest amount of power brought on line at one time and the longest transmission line ever built at one time in the Islands, according to Henry Curtis of Life of the Land, who already filed the group’s comments in response to an Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice (EISPN). As Henry sees it:

[A]s a result of its cost and the size of the renewable systems being planned, it will displace other alternatives that might achieve the same thing, with different technologies, different costs, and with different winners and losers.

Right now the losers are slated to be the folks who actually live on the rural islands of Lanai and Molokai and object to their land, including the sacred area of Keahiakawelo (erroneously known as Garden of the Gods) on Lanai, being industrialized to keep the AC going in Honolulu.

When I interviewed Henry for a recent article on biofuels in Hawaii, he noted HECO (Hawaiian Electric Co.) has officially launched, albeit slowly, a feed-in tariff program, a concept that started in Germany in 1990. Unlike net metering, the utility has to pay for excess power generated by independent users/producers through solar, wind and hydroelectric.

But KIUC managed to get an exemption from implementing the program because, according to Henry, "the co-op is membership based and KIUC said we’ll do what our members want, and they’re not asking for it.”

So if you do want it, you might want to ask. Because as Henry sees it, feed-in tariffs offer a cheap, cost-effective and truly community-based way to get utilities off the grid. It's certainly something to think about before the state moves into a costly and controversial project like the Molokai and Lanai windfarms and undersea cable.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Musings: Digging Dirt

The air was filled with moisture, which expressed itself as a shimmering halo around Venus, foggy mist creeping silently out of the pasture and onto the road, when Koko and I went walking this morning. Meteors shot through the constellations, leaving satellites – so many methodically ply the skies now! — in their dust. A friend sent an email saying she’d spotted 34 shooting stars between 3 and 4:30 a.m., and the show’s not over yet.

The cool damp air and Christmas lights twinkling in two windows offered proof that it is winter, as did the thin streaks of pale-pink and yellow clouds that huddled in the west at sunset. I watched them gather around the bold blue hulk of Waialeale while walking on the mountain trail, which pigs had crossed in numerous places, leaving fresh tracks in the soft, moist soil. Nearby, it was easy to see large swaths of land where they'd dug up the dirt, offering evidence of the threats they pose, especially to native forests.

Salon is one of the few media outlets that’s keeping the WikiLeaks story front and center, while focusing on some of the deeper issues, like Glenn Greenwald’s piece on how prosecuting the site and its founder threatens freedom of the press and investigative journalism. He then goes on to note:

Amazingly, the Obama administration is surpassing its predecessor when it comes to assaults on whistle-blowing and a free press.

What's most striking about all of this, as usual, is how the worst and most tyrannical government actions in Washington are equally supported on a fully bipartisan basis.

I liked the statement from Julian Assange released by his mom after she visited him in prison, where he’s been held in solitary confinement and just today was granted bail:

We now know that Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and others are instruments of U.S. foreign policy. It’s not something we knew before.

So I was interested to see that Honolulu Civil Beat, whose publisher, Pierre Omidyar, is chairman of eBay, which owns PayPal, ran an editorial last week in which it discussed how the Wikileaks case had exposed the vulnerability of Internet publishers. The editorial had a bland, stilted tone that perhaps reflected the uneasy relationship between its First Amendment ideals and its funding source, and it reserved its criticism for the government, not the corporations that caved in to its pressure:

Unlike the press barons of old, the executives of these businesses cannot tell their shareholders that it will hurt their company more to cave on a matter of principle than to drop a customer. It is their right and common practice to shut a customer down when they receive complaints from criminal investigators, even without a court order. This even though the existence of a criminal investigation is no indication of guilt.

The executives have a fiduciary duty to do what's best for their shareholders. And if they didn't respond to government warnings, they very well could risk their own business being shut down. The end result, we're learning: A website can be cut off and cut down, even by a foreign government.

I find it ironic that even as we ignore and destroy the web of life that connects all species, we’re simultaneously creating a connective web via the Internet and world trade that recent events have shown is equally fragile and subject to disruption.

And that corporations, which control politicians through campaign donations, simultaneously fear government, which we all know has the power to fuck with anybody about anything. Or, in the case of the billions in federal bailouts that allowed the big Wall Street banks to earn record profits, dole out generous favors.

Finally, I had an opportunity to talk with Kauai County Council Chairman Jay Furfaro yesterday and asked him what the Council planned to do about the allegations of wrongdoing that Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura had leveled against County Clerk Peter Nakamura, who was recently reappointed to his job by a 4-2 vote of the Council. (His sister-in-law, Nadine Nakamura, recused herself.)

Jay replied that — (as I reported previously — the salary commission’s resolution recommending a pay raise for Peter, the County Auditor and the Prosecuting Attorney was passed unanimously by the Council, which also had the power to reject it or amend it. “There was nothing illegal about that process. That’s the first thing we need to make clear,” he said.

Jay then went on to say that the County Council conducts a review of the County Clerk every six months. “We will continue that process and every Councilmember will have a chance to participate. That is my plan going forward.”

So that gives JoAnn and her ally in the attack, Councilman Tim Bynum, until June to dig up some dirt, I mean, conduct their due diligence.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Musings: Cyber Revolution

After a day of rain, and a forecast for more, I was surprised and elated to emerge from the house into a pre-dawn thick with stars. Looking up, I immediately saw one shoot across the sky, making a bee line for the coast, and as Koko and I walked down the dark road numerous meteors — some faint, some bright— streaked across the black canvas, heading off in all directions.

We were heading mauka, and so were the constellations, with Orion slinking toward Waialeale and the Big Dipper pouring the contents of its cup onto Makaleha. I recognized the boxy shape of Crow, just to the southwet of Venus, which shone so golden and pure that it gave the peaceful, still scene a feel of silent night.

Well, except for the TV on blur whose garbled nonsense was carried into the street. But never mind, the sky was brightening with a hint of pink, revealing mist overflowing from the bowl in the pasture, and soon the birds were singing the world awake with an insistent exuberance.

I’ve been similarly exuberant about the “hacktavists” waging cyber war on those who have attempted to stifle and stymie WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, who is now languishing in a British jail awaiting Tuesday’s extradiction hearing. Who would have thought the sensible Swedes would have been involved in something so bogus, allowed themselves to be such pathetic pawns of the U.S. government? Because that's who really wants Assange.

And who would have thought that the response of the “hacktavists” would reveal not just a new form of civil disobedience, but quite possibly the means for waging a nonviolent, truly grassroots, international cyber revolution, if people put their minds and PCs to it?

Consider this report from the LA Times:

Rafix was set to attack. The target was The weapon: a battery of personal computers ready to jam the site with millions of simultaneous log-in requests.

"FIRE at WILL, gentlemen!" Rafix wrote in an online message. "Enjoy the epic battle of glory!"

Within seconds of the battle cry, the attackers crippled the website of the world's largest credit card company. Unable to weather the massive surge in traffic, Visa's site remained out of commission for most of the day.

Visa came under fire for its decision to suspend processing donations to WikiLeaks, the controversial website that has been publishing confidential U.S. government documents. The attack was coordinated through an Internet chat room where more than 1,000 online activists were signed in, massing for the call to fire.

"This is the first time we're really seeing a mass movement of cyber-sabotage with political overtones," [Marc Cooper, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism] said. "Whatever the legality and morality, I think it has an undeniable Robin Hood type of resonance with lots of people."

Damn straight. Because much as a media-driven culture that worships the cult of personality is trying to make this all about Assange — right down to the contrived sex scandal, calls for his assassination and reports of a secret grand jury convened in Virginia to consider espionage charges against him — the WikiLeaks story is essentially about corporate and government attempts to maintain control and stifle free speech.

And the “hacktavists” are a people’s army that has spontaneously risen up in opposition to it, united and directed not by generals, but chat rooms and social networks, and armed with nothing more than than their conscience and an Internet connection.

The WikiLeaks story raises many critical questions that aren’t getting much attention. Like how “free” is the Internet when its traffic and commerce are controlled by corporations that cave at the slightest pressure, its neutrality by an industry-dominated government commission? What do we the people do now that it’s confirmed — once again — that our government lies to us and other nations, and does very bad things? Just how far will our terror-fixated, post-9/11 government go in trampling the First Amendment and stifling dissent?

And now a new one is emerging: What will people do with their newfound cyber power to drive corporations, governments and other targets to their knees, even temporarily — without having to leave their homes or get blood on their hands in the process?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Musings: "Try Positive"

Looking up at a 2:30 a.m. sky choked with stars so low and bright and pluckable that the world seemed to consist of nothing else, I saw a meteor blaze across the heavens. It was gone in a flash, leaving in its wake a thick white streak that lingered for just a moment before being swallowed up by blackness, an apt metaphor for a well-lived human life.

Three hours later, waking to see stars still glimmering through the skylight, I felt compelled to go out again for another look. Venus was beaming down from a sky barely brightening in anticipation of a dawn already heralded by roosters, the wind blew chill from the northwest and more meteors slashed across the sky. So after watching for a time I went back inside to check A Darker View, my source for astronomical events, and found that the Geminid meteor shower is under way, and then I went to to double check if that seriously bright star in the southwest was Sirius, and it was.

Meanwhile, the night’s emails — mostly blog comments — were coming up in my inbox, and so I took a look and found one from someone who issued me a challenge for the New Year “to try to find ways to be part of a solution,” and then another comment left on a different post by the same person:

Having just left a "Try Positive" comment, I feel compelled to let you know this video made me smile BIG TIME. 

I actually see you as a positive person, Joan -- I LOVE the morning sky views you share -- but from my perspective you're just not bringing that aloha to the Kauai politics table. Maybe you think it's not worthy of aloha? Maybe it's just been too long of a struggle for you? I don't know. (You seem jaded to me...) 

Anyhoo, I just want Kauai to thrive... and I want you to thrive, too. ~Aloha.

It was followed by a comment from someone who made this observation:

That last one reeks of condescension and--I dunno--Pollyannaish passive-aggressive denial? Perhaps someone upon whom you've trained your cynical, jaded, truth-seeking eye on recently? Anyhoo...I just want truth, and cynicism, and sarcasm, and thrive along with all this Kaua`i aloha. (strains of "All Along the Watchtower" in the background)

Back outside, walking with Koko beneath a blue-black sky, Venus shining determinedly, mountains clear as a bell, cricket song palpable in the bushes, I think about those comments and decide, no, I don’t have the same aloha for Kauai politics that I have for nature, because nature isn’t driven by ego, and it doesn’t play petty, self-serving games. Besides, nature is restorative, whereas politics are draining, and when nature destroys stuff, it’s not due to greed.

And I know that I am basically a happy, positive person who finds joy and beauty all around me, but yes, I also am jaded and cynical because I keep seeing the same battles waged over and over and over again, and yes, it has been a very long struggle and it’s far from over yet. For me, though, there’s no dropping out or turning back because somewhere along the line I took the red pill, and I don’t want to take the blue pill and go all unconscious again.

My opening, nature-oriented paragraphs, which some people hate, are my ode to “try positive,” a reminder of the abundance and beauty and majesty that is always there for us, except most of the time we’re too blinded by self-absorption to see, and I juxtapose it with the petty world of politics to remind people that our systems are deeply, horribly, sickeningly flawed, but because they’re human constructs, they can be changed.

As for the “solutions” that are put forth here and there, I want to buy in, but can’t, because I see them primarily as Band-aids or feel good measures or ways to delay the inevitable. Because when I look at the problems that humans have created and must fix to survive, there’s only one real solution, and that’s a change of consciousness, which comes only from within.

Our walk completed, it’s still too pretty to go in, so we drive over to the beach, past big puddles left by the rain and dogs smiling from the windows of passing cars, down to and past Kealia, where the dead dog along the road has finally been taken away, and in the distance, a rainbow has formed, shooting straight up into the sky.

I trudge through mud that clings to my rubber slippers and turns them into platform soles and leave them at the edge of a beach freshly washed by a high tide now dropping and I swim beneath fine, steady rain as the rainbow approaches, doubles, then recedes, then approaches again, drops its double and arches, connecting land and sea.

That’s when I say my own personal good bye to my friend Gary Blaich, whose life was like the meteor I saw in the night, in that it was noticeably bright and left a trace, and I become aware of another "solution," and that’s if we all, more often than not, just strive to do the very best we can.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Musings: Cobbled Together

The storm that was predicted arrived in a dawn delayed and darkened by clouds, bringing rain that Koko and I ventured out into — me by choice, she by necessity; me with umbrella, she with tail up, but ears back and down. Needless to say, she did not want to linger.

It feels like a cobble together kind of day, a good chance to share some things that I found of interest, but just haven’t been able to work into a blog post, like a recent study on how the rocket emissions from space tourism — Spaceport America has opened its first runway — could end up altering wind patterns, raise temperatures at the poles and accelerate the melting of sea ice. Debris is another problem facing the industry, which comes as no surprise to us dealing with land tourism.

As study author Martin Ross notes:

"We have to come together to take care of the space commons.

But first maybe we should learn how to take care of the Earth commons. To me, this raises the question that no one wants to answer: So just how far will we let private industry go in destroying the planet?

On a related note, a judge earlier this month ordered Monsanto to destroy hundreds of acres of genetically modified sugar beet seedlings. The judge had earlier ruled that no GM sugar beets could be planted until an EIS is done, but the USDA allowed Monsanto to proceed with planting seedlings for a future Roundup Ready crop. This prompted a lawsuit by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety on behalf of a coalition of farmers and conservation groups. One big concern for the judge was the very real problem of contaminating non-GMO crops. Although Roundup Ready alfalfa also is banned pending completion of an EIS, this is the first-ever court-ordered destruction of a GMO crop.

While we’re talking about agriculture, I was extremely heartened by Gov. Abercrombie’s choice of Sen. Russell Kokubun to head the state Department of Agriculture. Though he’s been in politics for years, Russell used to grow zucchini on the Big Island, so he’s able to bring a farmer’s perspective into the state bureaucracy. I talked to him a few weeks ago for a story, and he said he’s still tilling his fields and growing cover crops, with the idea of returning to the farm when he leaves government service.

Moving into some breaking news, I found myself chortling as the “hacktivists” dished out payback in the form of cyber attacks against the Swedish government, MasterCard, VISA and PayPal, with Amazon reportedly next on the list, for their treatment of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. We’ve entered a whole new world, which this post explains well:

Yes, this time the revolution will be streamed. It will be digital.

Go Wiki go!

Speaking of streaming, I watched portions of a live web stream of the County Council meeting yesterday. Though I hear some folks experienced technical difficulties, I had no problem once I download the required application, which was very quick. I had to laugh at this reported comment from Council Chairman Jay Furfaro, who apparently didn't want the Council to be blamed for the kinks that disrupted service:

The Administration is having technical problems."

Which leads me to, have you noticed all the high-priced redundancy in the mayor’s Administration? I mean, why do we need Janine Rapozo administering the county’s risk management programs, or Kylan Dela Cruz overseeing Civil Defense Manager Mark Marshall or Tommy Contrades managing the capital improvement projects? It’s really discouraging to see the gravy train running full speed when the rank and file folks are still derailed by furloughs.

Moving on to the Hawaiian government, I just found out the Kingdom of Atooi ID, which reportedly got folks through TSA at the airport, is not accepted by guards at Nawiliwili Harbor. So don’t be throwing away your Hawaii driver’s license just yet, folks.

And I liked this observation: Hawaii isn’t in America. America is in Hawaii.

I’ve been reading a collection of Welsh short stories lately, and wanted to share this despair-countering excerpt from “The Teacher,” by Gwyn Thomas:

Remember what I told you. Mankind, one body. Even if it stumbles and mortally crushes you, remember that its limbs are still strange to one another, its brain in fragments, kept in fragments for aeons longer than has been strictly necessary. If it bleeds, clean the wound, let no dirt remain in it to rankle. If it falls, never snarl at it for clumsiness. Smile at it, lift it to its feet, tell it its legs are getting stronger, its directions surer.”

Finally, for those who complain — anonymously, of course — that I never say anything positive or offer any good news, here’s a seasonal video sure to warm even the hardest heart, unless you’re an animal hater, in which case there’s no hope for you anyway.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Musings: Bridging the Gulf

It’s been dusk to dawn beauty here, starting with the crescent moon, gold white in a soft, smoldery-orange sunset sky, followed by blackness illuminated by a zillion twinkling stars, with brilliant Jupiter up front and center, and after that, the gentle pink of morning, with mists and haze lounging in the lowlands, the mountains deep blue and a scarlet-rimmed cloud bearing the rising sun.

There’s no natural way to segue from glory like that into the mundane doings of political beings, so I’ll just jump right in and note that today is the first time the Council will be meeting since Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum dug a deep divide between themselves and the rest of the body. It’s also the first time that folks at home can have the pleasure of watching the action — or at least, what can be caught on camera — via online streaming.

We’ll also be able to watch Planning and Police commission meetings, and Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s weekly show, “Together We Can.” Oh, will our joys never cease!

Which reminds me of one of my favorite comments of late, left in response to my report on attending a Council meeting and uneasily watching some sausage-making in progress: you know why there's so many political vegans out there


The planning committee will be taking up the shoreline bill, which Caren Diamond and I discussed on our last radio show. Councilman Mel Rapozo weighed in with the observation that “obviously the Administration and County Attorney’s office are pushing to pass the bill,” which he said will essentially “allow people with smaller buildable areas to build bigger homes.”

And this at a time when Hawaii coastal expert Dr. Chip Fletcher, who attended the recent workshop on the shoreline bill, told me that erosion rates used in determining shoreline setbacks have been underestimated. “There are lots of reasons to build farther back from the coast,” he said. “We want lot lines and plots to be deeper and have long lines perpendicular to the coast, so buildings are set back farther.”

But hey, who wants to listen to the experts when they’re telling you things you don’t want to hear?

Getting back to Mel for a minute, I’d asked him to call into the radio show that day to explain why he cast the lone vote against reaffirming Al Castillo as County Attorney. Mel said he was concerned about the ethics of Al, Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung and former Deputy County Attorney — and now interim Planning Director — Mike Dahilig apparently lobbying Councilman Dickie Chang at his home, over a cold pack, on the vacation rental bill.

But that wasn’t all. “There are some very serious things going on with the County Attorney’s office,” he said. “I want to get a special counsel to investigate.”

When I pressed for more details, Mel wouldn’t elaborate, saying he wanted to discuss the issue with his fellow Councilmembers in more detail.

Now compare that to JoAnn’s approach in resolving her concerns about County Clerk Peter Nakamura, which she took to her supporters and then to the local newspaper. I looked back and saw the Council held an Executive Session on Nov. 22 to talk about the appointment of the Clerk and Council Services staff and on Nov. 30 to talk specifically about the Clerk.

Surely she had an opportunity to raise at least some of her objections in those sessions. And though she claims she was not able to access all county records prior to being sworn in on Dec. 1, and so could not conduct her “due diligence.” But after that, she did have full access to all records.

So instead of playing politics, she very easily could have done her due diligence at that time and reported it back to the Council in an Executive Session, where personnel matters are most appropriately discussed, Indeed, they are one reason that Hawaii’s sunshine law allows an official body to meet in closed sessions. If there was evidence of wrongdoing, the Council could have voted at that time to fire the Clerk or take whatever action was deemed appropriate.

That would have been the decent thing to do, the fair thing to do, the approach that would have protected Peter's privacy.

So why did JoAnn go public with her unsubstantiated accusations? Why did she decide to taint and target Peter in that way? She knew, or should have known, that this is a private employee relations matter that should be addressed in executive session, just as she knew, or should have known, that personnel issues raised in closed session really shouldn’t be discussed publicly.

In short, JoAnn simply wasn’t acting in good faith.

The question now is what she will do to set things right, restore the trust between Councilmembers that has been damaged and heal the rift that has polarized the Council even before it had a chance to get started.

Because I’m quite sure that the public does not want to see another two years of bickering, fighting and dysfunction. Not when there is so much that needs to be done.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Musings: Dead Ends

With polluters, industrialized nations and the World Bank moving to ensure that only market-based “solutions” — and thus, no real substantive changes — dominate at the Cancun Climate Summit, alternative energy remains a topic of hot debate.

I explore the Islands’ current fascination with biofuels as part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative in a Honolulu Weekly cover story that delves into some of the many obstacles we face in transitioning away from our dependence on imported oil.

Shortly after writing the article, I heard a Democracy Now! interview with Derrick Jensen, who was talking about how “the dominant culture is killing the planet.” It was a thoughtful exchange, which I hope to delve into a little more in future posts, but he made one point that should be at the forefront in our discussion of alternative fuels:

[O]ne of the problems that I see with the vast majority of so-called solutions to global warming is that they take industrial capitalism as a given and the planet which must conform to industrial capitalism, as opposed to the other way around.

That pretty much sums up the issue. So long as we keep trying to perpetuate a way of life based on the endless consumption — and waste — of precious renewable resources, we’re going to keep running into dead ends. Literally.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Musings: Going Rogue

The black sky was a twinkling treasure trove when Koko and I went out walking this chilly, clear morn. At the far western end of the sparkling expanse, Orion and Makalii prepared to duck out of sight behind Waialeale, which I could not discern in the darkness, but knew from past experience was there. On our return, Venus was the crown jewel, guiding us toward the dawn, where a wisp of cloud was patiently waiting to turn red.

A woman remarked the other day that when she attended the Council inauguration last week, she found it significant that everyone was wearing black, except for JoAnn Yukimura, who wore red. When I asked what she thought it signified, she replied that she intuited JoAnn wanted to be taken seriously, and “what better way to center attention than to wear red...done all the time by politicians...remember Sarah Palin?”

Yes, I do remember Sarah Palin, and her tendency to “go rogue,” which JoAnn apparently also shares, as evidenced by her recent decision to level some very public and questionable accusations against newly reappointed County Clerk Peter Nakamura — right after she failed in her bid to have the Council undertake an executive search for his replacement.

It started, at least publicly, with an email that JoAnn sent out to her list at 10:56 p.m. Dec. 2, the day after the inauguration, in which she offers an explanation of why she voted against Peter’s confirmation:

There are issues which due diligence requires be cleared up before I can vote for Mr. Nakamura. The most serious is a 2009 pay raise that Mr. Nakamura accepted which he knew, or should have known, was not legal.

Note how she is initially unequivocal in her accusation of illegality. But in the next few lines, right after slinging a little mud at Kaipo Asing, she adds qualifying words, emphasis added:

It may be that the former Chair of the Council acted improperly and against Mr. Nakamura’s will and advice. However, knowing the law and how to properly establish pay raises is Mr. Nakamura’s job, and I believe Mr. Nakamura must be held personally responsible for accepting what appears to be an illegal pay raise.

Oh. So she doesn’t actually know if it’s legal or not, yet she chooses to send out a public missive accusing him of illegal activities. The email goes on to state:

By law, a pay raise for a department head in 2009 required a recommendation from the appointing body. The Clerk’s appointing body is the County Council. There is no record, to my knowledge, of a council recommendation of this pay raise. A vote, taken at a properly noticed meeting is the only way the Council can make a decision.

Now if you go to the Council minutes of Sept. 23, 2009 and scroll to the bottom of page 2, you will see the Council take up Salary Commission Resolution No. 2009-2 relating to the salaries of certain officers and employees of the county. This resolution, which the Commission adopted on Aug. 25, notes that the mayor had asked the panel to defer until Dec. 1, 2011, his pay raise, and those for his Administration that were scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2009. However, the resolution does not defer the scheduled salary increases for the Prosecuting Attorney and deputies, nor for the Council, Clerk, Deputy Clerk and Auditor.

The resolution also states that pursuant to the County Charter, the Commission’s recommendation shall take effect 60 days after its adoption “unless it’s rejected by a vote of not less than five (5) members of the Council. The Council may reject either the entire resolution or any part of it.”

On pages three through seven, you will see some Council discussion on the resolution, with Jay Furfaro, Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara asking if they could go before the Commission to ask questions or testify before the resolution takes effect. County Attorney Al Castillo says yes, but makes it quite clear that if the Council receives the resolution that day, “it’s approved” and could then only be amended by the Commission. In fact, on page six he says, “it’s my opinion it would be better to defer because if it does take effect today you would have to reverse… you would be asking the salary commission to reverse that they have suggested.”

Yet on page eight, the motion to receive the communication, which means the pay raises would go into effect, carried unanimously by the Council. So the Council did approve the pay raise at a duly noticed public meeting.

Not one Councilmember, not even Tim Bynum, who joined JoAnn in later taking her allegations against Peter to The Garden Island said a word against Peter receiving the raise. The resolution also states that the appointee must receive a favorable evaluation. I do not know if that occurred, since it would be in a private personnel file. However, several weeks ago, I did ask Peter if he was evaluated each year, and he said yes, and if any shortcomings in his performance had been pointed out to him during those evaluations, and he said no.

Surely, if Tim were concerned about the process or Peter, he could have raised the issue before he voted to receive — or in other words, accept — the Commission's recommendation of a raise for the Clerk.

The Garden Island ran a splashy headline about how the Clerk makes more than the mayor — in fact, it has raised that point at least twice before in recent weeks, once claiming, falsely, that the Clerk is the highest paid employee in the County. In fact, the Clerk currently earns the same as the Prosecuting Attorney and County Auditor. All three salaries are set at the same level as other County department heads, who would have been making the same as the Clerk, Auditor and Prosecutor if their 2009 raises hadn’t been deferred.

As you can see from the Salary Commission’s most recent communication to the Council, Resolution No. 2010-1, those deferred raises will go into effect on July 1, 2011. At that time the mayor will be making more than anyone, with pay of $122,504, and his deputy, Gary Heu, will be earning the second-highest pay, at $117,911. So the newspaper’s coverage of salaries is sensational and disingenuous, at best, and deliberately misleading, at worst.

JoAnn also juiced up the newspaper article with some accusations that weren’t in her original email by claiming Peter, who has never taken a real vacation in all the years he's been Clerk, was paid for unused vacation time. Tim, meanwhile, used the opportunity to throw in some dirt left over from the last term, saying the Clerk took a long time to respond to some Council requests for documents before going on to claim that Peter reportedly had had difficulty locating electronic records of council meeting minutes:

“Does this not leave an unacceptable risk that these key public documents could be lost completely?” Bynum asked.

Come on, Tim, you know darn well the official record of the county is intact, so quite trying to pretend otherwise.

While Peter Nakamura, and by extension, former Council Chair Kaipo Asing, are the overt targets of this attack, JoAnn is simultaneously dinging the four Councilmembers — Jay Furfaro, Mel Rapozo, Dickie Chang and Derek Kawakami — who voted for Peter’s confirmation. Or rather, voted against her desire to have an executive search team find his replacement.

Because let’s be quite clear here: this is a power struggle, pure and simple. It's all about JoAnn wanting her way.

Tim, the Council outsider, is only too happy to go along for the ride because it serves his own desire to get rid of Peter, who he sees as an extension of his old enemy, Kaipo.

What’s really unfortunate for the people, however, is the giant rift that JoAnn and Tim have created in the Council.

Just a few weeks ago Councilmembers were expressing optimism that the polarization of the past term was over and work on pressing issues could finally proceed.

Now the term is stalled at its start, with lots of bad feelings all around.

It’s looking to be a long and ugly two years ahead.