Monday, December 31, 2012

Musings: Out With the Old

Venus hung like a jewel amid feathery wisps of pink and a bold white moon provided ample light to walk when the dogs and I ventured out beneath the pale stars of a crisp and dewy morning — the last of 2012.

Overall, it's been a good year, ending with a stretch of gorgeous days — clear skies, temps in the 80s, gentle breezes, big surf, skies impossibly blue. It's the kind of weather that has tourists picking up the real estate magazines, which is why it's no coincidence that when Hawaii accommodated a record-breaking 8 million visitors this year, the real estate market also jumped

Driving through Moloaa the other day, I was stunned at all for the For Sale signs on the CPR ag lots developed in the last real estate boom. Spec and flip. It's the name of the game.

Through ongoing collaborative efforts with global marketing partners and the visitor industry, the HTA is continuing to build a sustainable tourism economy.

Or so the HTA tells us...

Meanwhile, Rep. Derek Kawakami continues to demonstrate why he's such a disappointment. At Saturday's meeting of the Wailua-Kapa‘a Neighborhood Association, Derek was asked about Act 55, the Public Land Development Corp.:

“Put some trust in us,” Kawakami said. “Our intentions were well in meaning.”

If the Legislature's intentions were “well in meaning,” and politicians want to be trusted, then they shouldn't have snuck the bill through. It was so devious that Councilman Gary Hooser described it as a “travesty of the legislative process.”

The Garden Island went on to report, in its coverage of the meeting, how Derek sees the PLDC being used on Kauai:

[Kawakami] is also is looking at ways to help Hanapepe redevelop and become an economic driver by using state lands.

This underscores one of the big problems with Act 55 and the PLDC, which I outlined back in October of last year:

The bill passed with very little public attention, but I wasn't concerned until I watched the video of the legislative briefing held by Sens. Malama Solomon and Donovan Dela Cruz, who spearheaded the bill. They were pretty much licking their chops as they spoke about using the PLDC to create density around high-speed rail stations and spark the development of state harbors, rural areas and geothermal energy. It became clear that they, and likely other lawmakers and their developer cronies, have their pet projects that will be pushed right through.

Why do you suppose Derek focused his sights on the redevelopment of Hanapepe, especially when he doesn't even represent that district?  Where was the public discussion that determined Hanapepe should be given priority over any other place? Could his desire to turn Hanapepe into an "economic driver" have anything to do with furthering his family's economic interests in that area?

But at least we can take heart in changes within the Office of Prosecuting Attorney. Prosecutor Justin Kollar has not only extended a major olive branch to KPD, he's also updated the OPA website to add the vision/mission statement that was strikingly absent under the reign of Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho:

It is our mission to promote the fair, impartial and expeditious pursuit of justice in every case, to ensure safer communities, and to promote integrity in our profession. 

It is our mission to temper justice with compassion, and to do our work in an open, transparent, and accountable way.

Accountability? Compassion? Transparency? Hallelujah! He also replaced the cheesy campaign picture of Shay with a photo of himself looking prosecutorial in suit and tie on the courthouse steps.

Shay, meanwhile, has left quite a legacy, earning herself a place on the list of America's worst bosses.  Shoots, and they didn't even know the half of it.

Well, as the saying goes this time of year, out with the old, in with the new...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Musings: Matter of Perspectives

While admiring the pretty pink pastels of a streaky winter sunrise, I happened to glance down and saw the dogs similarly mesmerized by the view at their level: a smashed toad encrusted with feasting flies.

It's all a matter of perspective.

As America continues its feeding frenzy for guns — some dealers are so backlogged they're not even accepting new orders — it struck me as utterly bizarre that in this nation, you can order 32,000 rounds of ammo on line and have it delivered to your door. But unless you live in Colorado or Seattle or certain states with medical marijuana laws that are less punitive than ours, you can't legally buy a fricking joint, which would actually make most people less inclined to want to use a gun.

That's why,” said a friend.

Not to mention that you can slap your Rx for oxies on the counter at Longs, but where the hell are you supposed to get the medical marijuana you're legally entitled to with a blue card when you're too scared to risk a Green Harvest raid to even exercise your right to grow it?

Still, I heard the cops can't take anything out of your yard without a warrant,” I told my friend.

Don't the cops just do whatever they want and leave it to you to sort it all out later but by then the plant is already dead and worthless because they ripped it out of the ground too early?” he replied.

Compare that to California, where those with a medical mj recommendation can peruse an on-line menu with more than 25 varieties of cannabis — including Maui Waui [sic] — hash, wax, cookies, candies and ganja butter and have their order delivered to their homes.

Sales tax is added to all purchases.

Imagine what that could do for the economy of Hawaii. No need prostitute the public lands or bump up the GE tax.

So why, in Hawaii, are we less afraid of guns than accessible medical marijuana? It is actually easier to get a gun permit in the Aloha State than to get a medical marijuana license (blue card). Plus you have to pay $35 for a blue card, but a gun permit is free, even though it certainly requires significant police time to run the background check.

Anyone with a brain knows that guns are far more dangerous to police than medical marijuana. Yet over and over we see law enforcement in this state vigorously resist any effort to establish dispensaries or even move medical mj from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health, must less decriminalize or legalize the herb.

But have you ever heard a cop or prosecutor in this state complain about people being able to buy a gun at Wal-Mart?

Have you ever heard a cop or prosecutor question whether someone actually has a legitimate need for a gun? Yet they repeatedly question the validity of medical mj prescriptions that are written by a physician.

And though Keith Kamita of DPS had his knickers in a serious twist when the number of medical marijuana permits jumped from 7,593 to 10,454 within a year, have you heard him, or any law enforcement official, utter a peep about the “staggering 2,652 new guns [that] were approved in November alone,” just on Oahu?

Nope. They're all strangely silent as people amass arsenals that could so easily be used on them, not to mention the rest of us.  

Meanwhile, the number of registered guns on Oahu has risen from 13,182 in 2009 to 23,643 as of Nov. 30.

So you tell me. Which do you think is the biggest threat to the safety and security of these Islands? Marijuana? Or the steadily increasing number of guns, including assault rifles, in this state?

And they call it call it “reefer” madness.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Musings: Political Fortunes

It's amazing how political fortunes can change overnight.

One minute you're holding the largely symbolic office of Lieutenant Governor, and the next you're cruising with the Prez aboard Air Force One, taking the night flight to D.C. to assume your new job as a U.S. Senator.

I'm speaking, of course, of Brian Schatz, who hadn't even been sworn in to Dan Inouye's old seat before tossing his hat in the ring for the 2014 Senate race. And the 2016 race, too. In fact, now he's saying he wants to make the Senate his life's work.

So have the powers to be in the Democratic Party decided Brian's gonna be our boy for the next 40 years?

At least somebody had the balls to finally stand up to Inouye — now that he's dead. Because I don't think it set well with a lot of people, the idea that Colleen Hanabusa would be named his successor, just because it was his deathbed wish.

And at least we won't have to pay for, and endure, a special election so the politicians who aspire to something higher — and don't they all? — can play musical chairs.

Because no matter who we send to fill Dan's shoes, we're already screwed. As in no clout, no seniority, no connections, nobody to do the dirty business of twisting arms and calling in favors that Inouye did so well.

There are lessons for all of us in this.

First, keep your bag packed so you're ready to go when opportunity knocks. But remember, you have to actually open the door. And most likely fill out some paper work first. And never discount the value of laying the groundwork and engaging in some well-placed hoomalimali to grease the skids.

Second, don't cling to anything out of ego. Both Dans should have retired at least a term or more ago. It's not ageist to recognize the political insanity of having two Senators in their 80s. But both fought the infusion of any new blood and hung on too long, no doubt thinking they were serving the state as only they could.

Now we'll be living — voiceless and vulnerable, impoverished and inconsequential — with those decisions for years to come.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Musings: Bright Spot

Walking through air heavily perfumed by mock orange, past snow bush ablaze in white and Kapahi mango trees curiously bearing both fruit and flowers, I watch the scarlet snakeskin sky go gray and then there is a blaze of gold in the east, a bright spot before the always-welcome rain descends.

Well, there's one bright spot in the case of that wacko tossing the Japanese tourist off the cliff at Kalalau. Kee was closed for a few days, and the Kalalau Trail still is, giving those intensively used sites a teeny tiny bit of a break during the holiday visitor crush.

And the one bright spot to emerge from the massacre of school kids and teachers in Connecticut is a renewed public debate on gun control, though it's kind of a double-edged sword, since every time the words “gun control” are uttered it sets off a buying frenzy of weapons and ammo.

A friend was attempting to explain the rationale behind the Second Amendment, and I said yes, I understand that it was drafted to ensure that people could rise up against a tyrannical government. So my question is, where were all the tyranny-hating gun owners when the government was passing bills that curtailed civil liberties, like the Patriot Act and the NDAA, with its indefinite detention clause?

Why aren't they screaming over the steady erosion of privacy, the expansion of government surveillance? As in stuff like cellphone tracking:

Law enforcement is more and more deploying International Mobile Subscriber Identity locators that masquerade as cell towers and enable government agents to suck down data from thousands of subscribers as they hunt for an individual’s cell signal. This “Stingray” technology can detect and precisely triangulate cellphone signals with an accuracy of up to 6 feet—even inside your house or office where warrants have been traditionally required for a legal police search.

The SkyWatch command tower is elevated 30 feet above ground level to give police a panoramic view of the streets and is fitted with sophisticated surveillance equipment. The manufacturer of the device boasts that the tower can be used for "civilian security operations" and "crowd control".

What would it take to get these liberty-loving gun-owners riled up enough to actually resist the tyrannical actions of their government? A ban on beer? A prohibition on junk food or the NFL?

It's going to be tough to enact any kind of meaningful gun control because Americans already own so many guns. Plus now we're looking at sick stuff like printable, downloadable guns — as in the Wiki Weapon.

It might be more useful to spend some time and money delving into why some people feel compelled to destroy their own lives and the lives of others. Could it have anything to do with prescription drugs that can make users violent, even homicidal and suicidal? You know, popular antidepressants like Pristiq, Paxil and Prozac, the sleeping aid Halcion and the anti-smoking drug Chantix.

Isn't it time to investigate the possible link between certain psychotropic drugs and violent behavior, seeing as how so many shooters are on this stuff? I mean, either these meds aren't working, or they're  working the wrong way.

But when you're a gun-maker or big Pharma, the only bright spot is profit. It doesn't really matter if you have to slip and slid through bloody carnage if you're on your way to the bank.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Musings: Hawaii A.D. (After Dan)

Venus glimmers briefly, brilliantly, in a pale band of morning sky and then the dark curtain falls, as does the rain, dampening the visitors' holiday vacations, countering the picture-perfect weather portrayed in the movies that attracted a whopping 22 percent of the first-timers here, but replenishing the aina, restoring the wai, the wealth. 

So now that Sen. Inouye is gone, amid tributes paid in hundreds of column inches and emails from Tulsi and Mazie, Hawaii is faced with a bleak financial future as political leaders ponder the burning question: who is going to bring home our bacon now that the Prince of Pork has passed?

In just a cursory review of some of the accolades and photos, I'm reminded that Dan was a player in virtually every economic arena, supporting PMRF, NTBG, the West Kauai Visitor and Technology Center, Sue Kanoho's tourism career, etc., etc., etc. Not to mention Honolulu's high-speed rail project, which he vowed to see through to completion, though fate intervened. Nor was he able to bring to fruition another plan, announced last February, to secure Department of Defense funding for a state-operated interisland ferry.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Inouye was instrumental in securing some $490 million for Hawaii this year to finance initiatives ranging from military construction and highway projects to native Hawaiian healthcare and disaster preparedness. Inouye secured funding to base F-22 Raptor fighter jets at Hickham Air Force Base and build a new Coast Guard command and control center on Sand Island.
[Peace activist Kyle] Kajihiro thinks Hawaii will see less military money “in a post-Inouye situation.” Though the Senator has announced his plans to run for a tenth term in 2016, it is questionable whether the 87-year-old will be able to fulfill that dream. His spokesman, Peter Boylan, did not respond to questions on how the Islands would fare economically without the clout of the Senate’s most senior member.
Let’s start looking at alternatives now,” Kajihiro urges. “What is a different economic model for our islands, one that is more sustainable?”

Well, we obviously didn't follow Kajihiro's suggestion, preferring to pretend instead that Inouye could live forever. So now he is gone, and with Sen. Akaka retiring, we have no one but a newbie — Mazie Hirono — in the Senate. How much cash do you suppose she'll be able to muster?

Which leads to Inouye's replacement. Though he reportedly chose Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa as his heiress apparent in a deathbed last wish, that kind of rubs me the wrong way. Talk about some heavy political pressure. I mean, we're not a banana republic, where political leaders get to name their successors, right?

I've been wondering whether Gov. Abercrombie, who makes the pick based on a list of three nominees provided by the Democratic Party, will choose himself. I imagine some of the sheen has worn off the governor's job, now that he's been booed and badgered about the PLDC, the Lege has drawn the drapes on his "New Day Hawaii" and the state's coffers are empty.

In some ways, it makes sense to send him. Abercrombie surely has more clout in Washington than Hanabusa, and Brian Schatz, a personable guy, could take over as guv, with Senate President Shan Tsutsui filling his seat.

If Hanabusa is selected, a special election would have to be held to fill her seat in Congress, which means Charles Djou, the Republican who challenged her in November, might well be elected. And no way do the Dems want to risk that.

Who else is there? Tulsi Gabbard, another newbie, is probably the most popular politician in the state right now, and she's also captured national attention. But if they name her, we could be stuck with Mufi Hannemann as our Congressman, perish the thought. Surely they won't choose the big Muffster, and no way are they going to give Ed Case an edge.

In any case, with both of the Dans out of the Senate and Calvin Say no longer running the state House of Representatives, political life as we've known it for decades in Hawaii has ended. And it's not even 12-21.

Perhaps this is our chance to create a different future: one that incorporates more of the self-sufficiency and sustainability outlined in Abercrombie's “New Day,” but without so many of the federal handouts that require us to accommodate the military at all costs. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Musings: It's All Murder

Just a few questioning thoughts on the Connecticut massacre.

How much worse is it going to get? Are we going to wait until some guy shoots up a preemie unit in a hospital before we start clamping down hard on high-power weapons, personal arsenals?

Can we finally start weaning ourselves off our steady diet of murder, mayhem and predation — consumed on TV, movies, video games, news, Internet —that glorifies violence, desensitizes people to violence, feeds our basest instincts?

Is it possible for all of us mourning those little kids, both the ones who died and those who survived, only to suffer lingering psychological trauma, to extend that empathy to the people of Pakistan, whose children and family members are being killed and traumatized by our drones? Death dealt from the sky by a foreign power is just as incomprehensible to the victims and their families as death dealt by a gunman in an elementary school.

It's all murder.

A photo has been shown of President Obama wiping away a tear upon hearing news of the school massacre. How is that he remains dry-eyed about the civilian deaths by drones in Pakistan, a country not even at war with America?

As CNN reported in late September:

Obama has already authorized 283 strikes in Pakistan, six times more than the number during President George W. Bush's eight years in office,

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent organization based at City University in London, reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 - 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 - 881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228 - 1,362 individuals," according to the Stanford/NYU study.

Based on interviews with witnesses, victims and experts, the report accuses the CIA of "double-striking" a target, moments after the initial hit, thereby killing first responders.

It also highlights harm "beyond death and physical injury," publishing accounts of psychological trauma experienced by people living in Pakistan's tribal northwest region, who it says hear drones hover 24 hours a day.

We can't necessarily stop mentally ill people from waging murder, though we can make it harder for them to gain access to weapons of mass destruction. 

And we can, as a nation, stop drone murder as foreign policy, if the American people stand up and say, enough. Enough of this pain, this devastation, this senseless killing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Musings: Food Revolution

This morning's show-stopper, jaw-dropper, was a silver celestial composition against a black sky: a sideways triangle comprising Venus, Mercury and a sliver of waning Moon. Spectacular. And with the Geminid meteor shower heading toward its peak Thursday night, we're got lots of reasons to look up.

As the dogs and I walked, my eyes on the sky, I was nonetheless prepared at any moment to have a pig or two come crashing out of the brush and onto the road. I could hear them tromping around in the hau, silver oak and profusely blooming albezzia (what's up with that, this time of year?) and calling their soft “riiiiiii.”

It occurred to me recently, while digging in my garden, a shama thrush patiently standing by, waiting to mop the worms and bugs I unearthed, making the little clicks that are a part of its amazing repertoire, that the “dumb beasts” aren't really dumb. Listen. They've all got something to say. We just don't speak their language.

I was talking to one of my sisters on the phone the other night and she was telling me about something she'd read or heard, about how dolphins name their babies. Turns out dolphins, crows, primates and parrots all name their babies, as in using calls unique to that individual to get its attention.

And whales not only make up new tunes, their songs spread “all over the Pacific, from Australia to French Polynesia, thousands of miles, over a couple of years.” Chimps use sticks in the same sort of play that little girls develop with their dolls, and they also use mediators to resolve disputes.

Do you suppose one day we'll come to find out that all the animals we dismiss as stupid or emotionless, actually have a lot more going on than we think?” she asked. “Because when you look at dogs' faces, they definitely have expressions.”

Indeed. And no doubt they have a whole lot more going on than we want to acknowledge because then we'd have to treat them differently. As in better, kinder. More fairly and compassionately.

I was reading an article in The New Yorker written by a 44-year-old gay staffer who was marveling at the “startling transformation in the status of gay men and women in the United States.”

When he was born, homosexual acts were illegal in every state but Illinois. This year, we're seeing the legalization of gay marriage in some states, the election of the first openly gay Senator, the political power of a previously marginalized sector of the population.  No, it's not perfect, but we've made tremendous progress.

So do you think the rights of animals, the rights of nature, might be next?

I was heartened by a report that Australia's largest supermarket chain, Coles, will stop selling pork and eggs from animals kept in factory farms. As an immediate result, 34,000 mother pigs will no longer be kept in stalls for long periods of their lives, and 350,000 hens will be freed from cages. The other major supermarket chain in that nation is following suit.

This was accomplished through a media campaign launched by an animals' rights group that pointed out that farm animals are routinely subjected to treatment that would be outlawed as cruelty if inflicted on cats and dogs.

In short, it urged consumers to use their considerable purchasing power. And it worked. It could also work here, where a poll found:

[T]hat 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from abuse and cruelty, and that 71 percent of Americans support undercover investigative efforts by animal welfare organizations to expose animal abuse on industrial farms.

Consider this: fear of consumer backlash kept McDonald's from using genetically engineered potatoes — a move that pretty much killed that crop's production in America.  

As farmer Jerry noted, when I discussed some of this with him, consumers have tremendous power. But people need to let farmers and food producers know what they want. Right now, it's all turned around, with the advertisers telling us what we want. 

Flip it, and we might just have a food revolution on our hands. Heck, throw in some consideration for the rights of nature, and we're talking about a consciousness revolution.

Now that's some exciting stuff.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Musings: Land to Sea

Happily, gratefully, digging in soil plumped and enlivened by 3 inches of rain after a long stretch of too dry, I got to thinking about the “The Dust Bowl” documentary, which vividly imprinted on my mind. Its release seems eerily prescient, given the current drought through much of the nation and Hawaii.

Mostly, though, the film got me thinking anew about how humans lay utter waste to the most splendid creations, some of them millions of years in the making. And so often, we engage in these destructive acts even though we know they're wrong, because of greed and stupidity.

Which brings me to Kauai, or more specifically, the stuff that is running off this island and into the sea, killing the coral at Anini and Makua, and perhaps elsewhere, too.

Because it is almost certain, according to Dr. Thierry Work, a wildlife disease specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey, that land-based activities are the culprit.

I recently interviewed Dr. Work for a short article in Honolulu Weekly, and we talked about the possible causes of the infectious outbreak of cyanobacteria that he characterizes as an “epidemic” at Anini and Makua.

We know that corals have disease,” he said. “All animals get diseases. The problem is when you have these flare ups on a large scale. That's an unusual event. What is it about North Kauai and what is it about now that this thing is suddenly showing up? That's what we're trying to find out. When these wildlife diseases bloom like this, it's an indication that something has gone awry in the ecosystem.”

He's got his ideas about the specific causes, “but no data yet to back them up,” he told me. Still, all signs point to the usual suspects. One is soil run-off. “We know that sedimentation on corals is not a good thing,” he said. But since the disease has been seen in places without sedimentation, that's not the sole factor.

When I asked if it could be sewage, he replied, “Absolutely. The sediment is only what's visible. It may be a combination of injection wells, a recirculation of [contaminated] sediments....”

So let's stop for a moment and think about Anini and Makua. What do they have in common? I mean aside from hordes of sunscreen-slathered snorkelers, which Work dismissed as a possible cause.

Well, both coastlines are lined with those really big — as in sleeps 8 to 16 — vacation rentals, which are actually mini resorts, with their septic tanks and leachfields, heavily fertilized and irrigated yards and regular pesticide applications in and around the house. All of that flows and seeps into the sea.

To top it off, both areas saw some significant flooding last spring, which increased the amount of chemical runoff and sedimentation landing on the reef. Anini has experienced additional erosion from construction at Princeville, as well as houses built on the bluff at Anini Vista.

When Work and Dr. Greta Aeby returned to Anini last week, they were amazed at the amount of sediment that had accumulated on the reef in just a month. “That sediment's got to be coming from somewhere,” Work said.

It's still unclear whether the cyanobacteria, which Work first observed at Hanalei Bay in 2009, is a new introduction, or was “present at low levels and allowed to bloom.” One thing is certain, he said: “The widespread distribution and number of corals affected is something I've seen only on North Kauai.”

That doesn't mean it isn't elsewhere. Only a fraction of the reefs around Hawaii have been surveyed, Work said, which is why he “really depends on the public to keep an eye out.”

Scientists are now trying to determine the exact cause and extent of the disease, as well as possible impacts on marine and human health. “Like it or not, ecosystem health is very related to human health,” Work said.

In the meantime, there are “things we can do right now to reduce sedimentation and run off from land,” Work said.

Is anything happening in that regard?

The state will have to take the lead,” Work said. “The regulatory and conservation agencies will have to come to the table. Hopefully management agencies can work on their end to mitigate land-based activities that could be contributing. I’m hoping this serves as a catalyst.””

So given the gravity of the situation, is there any type of task force that springs into action when Work or other scientists discover epidemic diseases on our reefs, the same reefs that support fisheries, provide recreation for the treasured tourist trade?

All of our reports are sent to the DLNR folks,” Work said. “They're aware of it.”

Thus far, the only official response has come from the mayor's office, which has scheduled an informational meeting for 4 to 5 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 13, at Hale Halawai in Hanalei.

It's not too late to do something, Work said. There is still live coral at both Makua and Anini, and the most recent visit to Anini seemed to indicate the disease's pace had slowed.

Nature has remarkable abilities to recover, but sometimes we have to help it out,” Work said.

The thing we’re concerned about here is the Western Caribbean and Atlantic lost 60 to 70 percent of their corals due to disease, but have no idea why,” Work said. “We don’t want that to happen in the Hawaiian Islands.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

High Court Orders New Trial for Mundon

The Hawaii Supreme Court today ordered a new trial for James Mundon after determining that former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho had improperly used evidence to convict him of kidnapping and attempted sexual assault.

It was the one case that Shay took to trial during her four-year term, which ended Monday.

This will be Mundon's third trial on charges stemming from a February 2004 attack on a Canadian visitor. He was acquitted of 23 counts in his first trial, and successfully argued that those acts should not have been used in securing his conviction on five counts in the second trial.

The judges did uphold convictions on two counts of third degree assault, but ordered the Circuit Court to hold a new sentencing hearing. Mundon has been representing himself through these proceedings. The appeal was unsuccessfully argued by former deputy prosecutor Charley Foster, who was fired by incoming Prosecutor Justin Kollar.

In a second slap-down, the high court yesterday rejected Shay's Oct. 30 request to have Judge Kathleen Watanabe recused from presiding over the trial of Darren Galas, who is charged with murdering his wife Sandy. 

Shay also failed in her bid to have Watanabe sanctioned for judicial misconduct. Shay claimed the judge's staff had improperly provided me with information — they hadn't — and that Kathleen had both lambasted Shay in open court and questioned the integrity of Shay and her staff.

In their order, the Justices said that Shay had other means for seeking relief, and that the writ of mandamus she had sought was “an extraordinary remedy.”

Wonder how much Shay's display of pique cost the taxpayers....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Musings: Another Planet

Such a glorious, planet-packed morning, with a fat half moon producing enough light to walk, Jupiter crouching atop Makaleha and Saturn, Venus and Mercury aligned in the pale blue eastern sky. And as the sun rose, the dew and remaining raindrops sparkled like a trillion diamonds cast onto grass and trees.

A recent piece on NPR reports on the observations of a science writer Craig Childs, who camped for a long weekend in a 300-acre Iowa cornfield to see what is living there. Childs was inspired by the work of photographer David Liittschwager, “who spent a few years traveling the world, dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, oceans, and then photographing whatever, or whoever came through.” In the upper reaches of a Strangler fig tree in Costa Rica, for example, Liittschwager recorded more than 150 different plants and animals living in or passing through that one square foot.

But in the corn field, Childs reports:

"I listened and heard nothing, no bird, no click of insect."

There were no bees. The air, the ground, seemed vacant. He found one ant "so small you couldn't pin it to a specimen board." A little later, crawling to a different row, he found one mushroom, "the size of an apple seed." Then, later, a cobweb spider eating a crane fly (only one). A single red mite "the size of a dust mote hurrying across the barren earth," some grasshoppers, and that's it. Though he crawled and crawled, he found nothing else.

"It felt like another planet entirely," he said, a world denuded.

Yet, 100 years ago, these same fields, these prairies, were home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, hundreds and hundreds of insects. This soil was the richest, the loamiest in the state. And now, in these patches, there is almost literally nothing but one kind of living thing. We've erased everything else.

It made me think about the similarly pesticide-drenched corn fields that now stretch from Lihue to Mana, and the sugar cane plantations that preceded them, and the tremendous diversity of Hawaii's original native landscape, which has been largely diminished and silenced, just like the Great Plains.

How much longer, do you suppose, can we live apart like this, separating ourselves from the beautiful, complex workings of the world, destroying anything and everything that gets in our way?

And given the magic of a bee turning nectar into honey, a spider spinning a web, a bird weaving a nest, why do we even want to? 

As Robert Krulwich concludes in his piece for NPR:

There's something strange about a farm that intentionally creates a biological desert to produce food for one species: us. It's efficient, yes. But it's so efficient that the ants are missing, the bees are missing, and even the birds stay away. Something's not right here. Our cornfields are too quiet.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Musings: Political Shifts

So nice to wake to the shush and drip of rain, to a shift in the unseasonably dry, hot weather.

Another shift occurs today when the recently elected county officials are sworn in. It's out with the old and in with the new as Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and Councilmen Dickie Chang and KikuKai Kualii are replaced by Prosecutor Justin Kollar and Councilmen Ross Kagawa and Gary Hooser. Otherwise, the line up remains the same.

Will anything change? Time will tell, but I'm pretty sure we'll see less drama in the Office of Prosecuting Attorney, and more Council members grandstanding in a bid to position themselves for the 2014 mayoral race.

The Police Commission, meanwhile, has changed its mind and decided to appeal Judge Randal Valenciano's decision that Mayor Bernard Carvalho had the authority to suspend Chief Darryl Perry last February. I was told that two commissioners wanted to approve an appeal at the Nov. 14 meeting, when it was voted down, but were intimidated by the presence of the mayor, an ex-officio member of that panel.

Apparently, they collected their courage in the last two weeks. Charlie Iona, who had been absent from the Nov. 14 meeting due to heart surgery, added his vote to the affirmative at last Friday's session.

The Garden Island reports that the commission will be asking the County Council for money to fund the appeal, though Corlis Chang of Goodsill Anderson Quinn and Stifel reportedly had offered to do it pro bono before the first vote was taken.

It's unfortunate that the mayor chose to turn his disappointment about the most recent vote into a personal attack on the integrity of some commissioners:

Carvalho said he spoke with the police commissioners when the challenge was first raised, and said they agreed to take the matter to court and to stand by judge’s decision.

“We don’t always have to agree, but it’s disturbing to me that I can no longer depend on the word of some of the commissioners,” Carvalho added. “Finally, an appeal will add cost, which the taxpayers of Kaua‘i will ultimately pay, to this already costly exercise.”

Appeals are part and parcel of the judicial process. Commissioners should be free to make decisions as they see fit, based on the public's best interest, not bound by a behind-the-scenes promise to the mayor.

Speaking of the public, how come we weren't given a chance to vote on this issue? It came before the Charter Review Commission, but never made it onto the November ballot. It seems the voting booth would have been the appropriate place to determine whether the citizens of Kauai feel the mayor should have absolute authority.

Of course, it's easy to see the reason behind the mayor's irritation. He wants Darryl to beat it, but that ain't gonna happen so long as an appeal is alive, giving the Chief a shot at vindication.

Meanwhile, it's my understand that the employee complaint that started this avalanche has yet to be resolved. Is the county going to end up spending thousands more on another EEOC settlement because of its slow response to a worker's charge?

Now that we have a Human Resources Manager — Janine Rapozo, who was appointed to that position on July 1 —  as well as an EEOC/ADA Coordinator  Linda Nuland, who started sometime in August — perhaps we can avoid another public brawl between the chief and mayor over an employee's workplace complaint. Because these HR professionals are supposed to know how to handle such matters promptly and efficiently, right?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Musings: Cultural and Common Sense

What will it take to put the brakes on the county's plans for the Wailua Beach section of the Path so that we can find, to borrow the words of Councilman KipuKai Kualii, “the win-win solution so all the community can be behind it?”

Because given the testimony presented at the last Council meeting, a lot of folks are not pleased with the county's plan to spend $1.9 million ripping out the stone wall along the highway, removing 10 trees and placing concrete slabs that are 10 feet long, 9 feet wide and 12 to 18 inches thick on the mauka edge of an eroding beach.

The county is all set to go on Jan. 11, unless the administration can be convinced otherwise.

Those testifying in opposition to the plan raised cultural, environmental, fiscal and common sense objections.

“We stand here before you today as the people from there,” said Sherri Yokotake, who recounted a family geneology that includes births at Hikina`akala. “There's still families around who are actually stewards of the property being discussed.”

“To say they did this legally is one thing,” Sherri said, referencing administration comments that all the permits are in hand. “But for us, it's immoral. I'm not sure what I'm asking of you folks except to recognize we are totally against this. We are totally against anything going through that area.”

And by that she means nothing on the beach, and nothing linking the Path to Hikina`akala or the other heiau around the Aston Aloha Beach Hotel and Lydgate Park.

James Alalem warned the county that “darkness will fall if you continue this unpononess, this unrighteousness.” He said the federal Section 106 cultural consultations were “just formalities” because government officials already had their minds made up. “Our people's cries are not being heard.”

Councilman Mel Rapozo, who characterized the comments made by Hawaiians as "powerful,"  asked, "How do we ignore that testimony?" He said people would not support disturbing areas that Native Americans consider sacred, yet some seem to think it's OK to intrude on sacred Hawaiian sites.

Carl Berg, Carl Imparato and others suggested the county work with the state DOT to place the Path on the existing asphalt. Though it may mean narrowing the Path, Berg pointed out that the bike lanes on the new stretch of Kaumualii Highway in Lihue are only a few feet wide.

Others, such as Judy Dalton and KipuKai, questioned why the Path can't use the road that runs alongside the canal behind Coco Palms. The road already exists, so no burials would be disturbed. And as Judy pointed out, that route would be a lot more pleasant than having the Path run alongside Kuhio Highway, which will eventually be four lanes.

Caren Diamond and others raised the issue of whether it makes fiscal sense, or common sense, to proceed with the $1.9 million project as planned. “If you see a beach that's heavily eroding, why would you put public infrastructure there?" Caren asked.

Caren and others are concerned that a concrete Path, even if built in moveable slabs, will hasten erosion of Wailua beach. “That is a concrete structure along the shoreline,” Caren said. “That is a seawall. What is not known is how it will affect the beach structure.”

And if it accelerates erosion, as sea walls tend to do, the state could end up putting in an even bigger seawall to protect the highway, resulting in the total loss of Wailua Beach.

Thomas Noyes of Kauai Path was resistant to any of the proposed changes. “Things are in place to proceed based on the best knowledge and expertise that can be brought to bear on the project and it's time to move forward with the plans and they exist,” he said.

Still, he did say that the Path could be narrowed to the width of a sidewalk, though "then it wouldn't be a multiuse path and you'd have crashes, bicyclists running into other path users."

County Parks Director Lenny Rapozo also acknowledged the Path could be placed on the mauka side of the existing highway for the Wailua Beach segment, but that would require Path users to cross the highway in two places, raising “safety concerns.”

Caren said it's unclear what conditions would prompt the county to remove the Path. “It doesn't look like it's that temporary,” she said, noting that shoreline rules define "temporary" as something that lasts six months.

Both Mel and KipuKai questioned whether the county's SMA permit for the project is still valid, and if the project violates shoreline setback requirements. “Would we allow a developer to do what we are doing, in terms of not following our own rules?" KipuKai asked.

Council Chairman Jay Furfaro said he would be scheduling the issue for another meeting to address those questions and other concerns that were raised. Though the Council has no authority over money or permits for that particular stretch, Mel did suggest the Council had some leverage because it controls the release of funding for other sections of the Path.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking.....