Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Musings: Celebratory and Not

Up early, unable to sleep; out early, walking with the dogs. The sky is buried beneath a blanket of gray; the air is thick, wet, dead. I am thinking, this is what it must be like to live in Guam, or the Midwest — ugh — when suddenly the wind gusts, gentle rain begins to fall and the birds bust out a celebratory songfest.

Councilman Gary Hooser is quoted in today's paper as describing what's happened over the last month on Kauai in response to his pesticide/GMO bill as a “celebration of grassroots democracy.”

It doesn't feel very celebratory to me, unless you're talking about the kind of celebrations staged by dysfunctional families where everyone's fighting and distrustful and taking sides and talking stink. The energy on the island has felt downright turbulent, with a striking number of people using the word “growly” to describe their state of mind.

But it does feel very much like democracy, in that what is being served up is not exactly what you want, but it's the only thing on the menu.

I think there's pretty widespread sentiment that the seed industry, like the tour boats and TVRs before it, needs to be more carefully scrutinized and managed. But when I look at the boating issue – that bitter standoff ended only when then-Gov. Cayetano stepped in, and two decades later the county is struggling with rules and threatened lawsuits — and the complete and utter debacle of the TVR law, well, let's just say it requires a greater imagination than mine to believe the county can implement Gary's bill.

And if 2,000 people show up, as Gary expects, at a venue that can seat 500 to 600 and even half want to give their three-minutes of testimony in an event that will last roughly 12 hours, you don't have to be a genius to see the math doesn't work. Which means a lot of folks will be left out, just like in a democracy.

I didn't end up going to last night's forum sponsored by the biotech industry. I thought about it, but I'd just been swimming in the ocean, and so I was happy, and I knew that if I went, I would get unhappy. Besides, I'm pretty well-versed in the pro-biotech arguments. I have actually studied both sides.

And I can totally relate to the concerns voiced by small farmers and ranchers who feel they are already over-regulated and fear their own pesticide practices will be scrutinized and possibly banned next. It ain't easy to make it as a farmer on Kauai, and I give kudos to every one who is pulling it off, conventional and organic alike. They really are getting it from all sides, and the new food safety laws will only make things harder.

As one non-farmer friend who opposes the bill put it: “I feel like I should be standing up for the farmers. It's kind of like that saying, 'first they came for the communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist, then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up and by the time they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.' Is it going to get to where I have to report to Gary Hooser every time I buy a can of Raid?”

To which I might reply, well, first we noticed that we no longer have bugs on our windshields, but nobody said anything, because we don't like bugs. Then we saw the amphibians die off — a new study has found pesticides in frogs 50-100 miles from California's Central Valley, at body concentrations higher than was found in the remote mountain ponds where they live — but we didn't say anything, because who cares about frogs and toads? Then we saw the bees dying off – the newest study implicates fungicides and the cumulative impacts of multiple pesticides in colony collapse disorder — and that got our attention, because they pollinate our food. But still, we didn't say much, because they're just insects.

I'd like to speak for all of them, because these die-offs are a way of speaking to me, as in canary-in-the-coal-mine early warning signs about the dangers of our pesticide use.

In a letter to the editor today, we have the Hawaii Nurses Association speaking up in support of pesticide disclosure and buffer zones to protect human health.

In testimony submitted on Bill 2491,  Dr. Carl Berg writes:

My preliminary testing for the pesticide Atrazine on Kauai has found positive readings for two west-side ditches and four streams. More sophisticated analytical techniques will be used to confirm these results.

A very preliminary survey by the Hawaii Department of Health in 2012 found detectable amounts of Atrazine, the insecticide Carbaryl, and the Nonylphenol surfactants used as wetting agents in pesticides, in Kauai streams. This was part of a preliminary nationwide survey and did not look for the full range of pesticides being used on Kauai. The raw data is under review by the HEER office and the results will not be released right away.

A study of more streams and looking for more types of pesticides is needed to show how widely agriculture, as being practiced on Kauai, has polluted our waterways and the ocean, and is detrimental to the health of our community and to the environment. Pesticides in the water are unhealthy for our people and for the tourist industry. If high levels of pollutants are found, the beaches must be posted and closed.

As an example of how pesticides may be entering the waterways, this video depicts erosion and runoff from one of Pioneer's Kaumakani fields last year.

So while this bill isn't exactly what I'd order up, it's at least got people speaking up about an issue that really does concern us all, in one way or another. If we can get to the place where we're actually conversing, well, then that will be cause for a celebration.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Musings: Need to Know

It's a week of big build-ups and bluster. First Flossie, followed by tomorrow's County Council hearing on the pesticide-GMO bill. The county's even going to offer free shuttle service from the Vidinha Stadium parking lot to the Veteran's Center, since you can't park on Kapule Highway. Well, except during the county fair, when they look the other way.

As the big day nears, mainland environmental groups are drumming up support for Bill 2491 beyond Kauai. Food Democracy Now! is trying to pit the visitor industry against chemical ag with its campaign, which offers this sample verbiage for emails to be sent to the Council:

Hawaii is a beloved tourist destination for more 8 million annual visitors and I’m concerned about the health of local residents and visiting tourists.

As long as they poison paradise, I'm boycotting Hawaii!

Would they also boycott us if they knew about the illegal overthrow, the toxic military installations and live-fire war games, the dirty water, the TVRs with ground floor bedrooms in the flood zone, the racism, the cronyism, the corruption, the poverty, the domestic violence, Hawaiians homeless in their own homelands, the ice epidemic that shameless posturers like state narc Keith Kamita try to cover up by portraying marijuana as the bogeyman instead?


The Pesticide Action Network, meanwhile, has released a new report, Pesticides in Paradise: Kauai Test Fieldsthat expounds on the growing presence of chem companies in Hawaii, as well as the “dirty little secret” of genetic engineering:

Most GE seeds are intentionally designed to drive up pesticide use, boosting market share for pesticide industry products.

Yup. That's why the chem companies started with GE crops that can withstand direct applications of their pesticides, instead of the traits they always like to plug, such as drought-resistance and increased nutrient yield, that will supposedly “feed the world.”

But is there really any glory in trying to feed the world if you can't do it without simultaneously poisoning the environment and harming human health?

The report advises us that the U.S. Department of Ag has approved over 100 new permits for GE field tests in Hawaii in the last few years — more than any place else in the nation — and these test fields are regularly sprayed with restricted use pesticides, including atrazine, paraquat and chlorpyrifos.

As the report notes, the chem companies are occupying pretty much all the available ag land on the westside, where Earthjustice recently filed a petition challenging the century-old Waimea River diversions that deliver water to some of those fields. It was pretty disgusting to see the photos of water being dumped while the river itself is reduced to a trickle.

That alone undermines the claim that these guys are such great stewards of the land they farm.

The Stop Poisoning Paradise site also has a list of restricted use pesticides applied to the GMO seed crops, with links to the product labels. Curiously, the website and report make no reference to Kauai Coffee.

Speaking of labels, I got this from county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka, prompted by last Friday's “Limiting Exposure” post, in which I referenced county workers spraying herbicides at the triangle across from St. Catherine's and Kapaa High:

Joan, I copied your post on herbicide spraying to our Parks and Recreation Department and received the below reply from Parks Maintenance Operations Chief George Ahlgren:

1. This was the Parks Department making this application.
2. The material used was Roundup Pro.  One of the reasons why we prefer to use Roundup is because of its safety to the applicator, the public and the environment.  This product carries a “Caution” label, which is the lowest category of pesticide toxicity.  The range goes from Caution, to Warning, to Danger.  Whenever possible we choose to use pesticides that carry the lowest rating for overall toxicity, and Roundup Pro is one good example.
3. My men have all undergone pesticide training and are familiar with Roundup Pro as one of their ‘tools”.
4. All indications are that my staff followed the pesticide label to the letter, which is the law.  Under personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the Roundup Pro label directs applicators to wear:  “long sleeved shirt and long pants, shoes and socks.”  Gloves and masks are not required by label or by law.  Again, that’s why we prefer this material.
5. The final comment [asking why the site wasn't flagged to warn people of a pesticide application] appears to be directed at what we refer to as the re-entry period.  This is defined as the amount of time following an application when the area should be “off limits”.  Again for Roundup Pro, the label is the law and it simply says to “Keep people and pets off treated areas until the spray solution has dried to prevent transfer of this product onto desirable vegetation.”  By the time my staff finished with the application, loaded up and left the site, the material was dry and safe for re-entry.
6.     When we apply this herbicide (according to label directions) we dilute it to a 1 ½% mixture that is not likely to create odors.

It's great to hear the county is following the label, and thus the law. But what if you're like me, and many other people, who want to know whether herbicide was recently sprayed whether it's dried or not, who aren't convinced that federal pesticide regs are sufficiently stringent to protect environmental and human health? 

Does that mean we're crazy, wacky, anti-science, anti-farming, anti-jobs? Or that we're concerned people who are justifiably suspicious because we have seen the government-industry team repeatedly lie about the safety of a product or practice? 

Is it the purview, the responsibility — heck, the duty—  of local governments to go beyond federal law to address citizen concerns and regional environmental issues?

That's the core issue under debate with Bill 2491, though it's buried beneath a lot of diversionary bullshit. Except we're not talking about one site in Kapaa, but thousands of acres on the westside. And the product isn't Roundup Pro — which I hear is safe enough to drink ;) — but dozens of restricted use pesticides sprayed on fields nearly every day of the week.

In the end, it all comes down to the same thing: We want and need to know.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Musings: Big Game

Wednesday's public hearing on Council Bill 2491 is starting to look a lot like another familiar spectacle: the Super Bowl. And it's not just because opposing teams will be butting heads for hours to the cheers and jeers of an amped-up crowd.

We've also got the pre-pre-pre-game events, starting with last Friday's “Save Kauai Farms” rally on the westside. The Garden Island covered it via press release, which perhaps explains why rally coordinator Kirby Kester was never identified as a manager at BASF, one of the chemical companies targeted by the bill.

Since the chem companies get pissed when the anti-GMO activists make like the field workers are too dumb to understand pesticide risks, they decided to employ the same tactic, in reverse. Which is why you have Synenta's Mark Phillipson, who is also president of Hawaii Crop Improvement Assn., saying:

Farmers from around the island, and hundreds of people who work on farms, as well as their family members and friends, are tired of people who don’t farm and don’t understand agriculture trying to destroy our livelihood, mischaracterizing our excellent record in caring for the environment, and belittling the good work we do for our community.”

Why is it that people on both sides think the other side isn't smart enough to fully understand the issue, yet they have this blind faith that our County Council is? 

The pre-game skirmishes will continue with public forums on Monday night in Waimea and Tuesday night in Kapaa, where biotech and farming reps will talk about “how today’s food is grown and raised safely and responsibly, and what tools are used to preserve and protect our lands and resources for future generations.”

If you aren't keen to drag yourself out in Flossie's rain, you can peruse the "Save Kauai Farms" website, which invites you to “learn more” about such dubious pronouncements as “Bill 2491 will cost farmers their jobs, Bill 2491 will destroy agriculture on Kauai, Local regulation of pesticides and GM crops are unnecessary, the EIS and moratorium will hurt the economy, GM crops are safe for people and the environment. GM Papaya saved Hawaii Ag.”

The Empire strikes back.

Because the best way to counter hysteria and hyperbole is with more hysteria and hyperbole, right?  Especially when you have the money to buy radio and newspaper ads, and hire PR firms to spin, baby, spin.

If John Lennon were to rise from the dead and sing, “All I want is the truth, just gimme some truth now,” he'd be met on both sides with a derisive, "Truth? We don't need no stinking truth.”

Meanwhile, the pre-game and half-time entertainment planned by the anti-GMO team has been squelched with the venue change to the Kauai Veterans Center, as have the hospitality tents that both teams wanted to erect to ensure maximum comfort for their supporters. Which means that everyone will have to buck up and face the reality that this is not street theater, but a public hearing in all its protracted, tedious, repetitious, overheated, under-informed, butt-numbing glory.

For the Council, the event will likely feel much like being trapped on a non-stop flight to New York with a plane full of evangelicals and crying babies. Well, aside from Councilman Gary Hooser, who will be captaining the ship, navigating through turbulence and faced with the delicate task of  telling some long-winded supporter of his bill to STFU as the opponents scream for equal time.

I've seen some folks on Facebook express their dismay at being unable to attend the hearing – breathlessly billed as the biggest ever for Kauai — including one woman who I recall did manage to show when the issue was defending her lucrative vacation rental on ag land. 

To all those who fear they may be missing something, take heart. Unlike the Super Bowl, neither side is going to emerge victorious on Wednesday. No, this game is going to be called on account of darkness, fatigue and possibly some rule that governs just how long Council staff can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. 

It will then be moved to Gary's Council committee where it will be re-played over and over and over — perhaps extending all the way to the mayoral election.

Because isn't that the end goal here? [Update: Gary says no. "I am not running for Mayor, have no desire or intention to run for Mayor and Bill 2491 has nothing to do with running for Mayor. It is my goal to come to a positive conclusion as soon as is reasonably possible."]

So if you can't make it on Wednesday, or don't have the stamina to sit for hours until your name is called, no worries. This is a democracy, so you'll have many more chances to say your bit. Not that anyone really gives a rat's ass, least of all the County Council.

Getting back to John's song: 

I've had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas

All I want is the truth now 

Just gimme some truth 

Ah, I'm sick to death of hearing things

from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites

All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now 

I've had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope

I'm sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mama's little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now

But since truth is illusive, we'll just scrap instead.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Musings: Limiting Exposure

This morning I watched two county workers spraying herbicides on the triangle of land that lies across from St.Catherine's and Kapaa High School. One was spraying weeds that easily could have been mowed, weedwhacked or – god forbid – pulled, while the other was systematically saturating a mowed strip of grass along a heavily trafficked residential street.

These are men who, as county workers, presumably have undergone pesticide training and been advised of OSHA regulations. But neither was wearing gloves, masks or any other protection.

The triangle is an area where I regularly see children playing and riding their bikes, people walking their dogs and high school students parking their cars. Yet none of them will have a clue, save perhaps for the lingering odor of pesticides, that the ground where they're walking barefoot, in slippers, or with a pet, has just been dosed with chemicals.

On the other side of the island, where the chemical companies grow their seed crops, the same scenario is also playing out, though with greater regularity. DuPont Pioneer alone has admitted in court documents to spraying its fields on 65% of the days between 2007-12. Besides herbicides like Roundup, it's spraying restricted use pesticides — the gnarliest of the gnarly. And though Pioneer spokeswoman Laurie Yoshida claimed the company hadn't used atrazine “for several years,” court documents show was used in 2012.

DuPont Pioneer most frequently applies a class of herbicides known as chloroacetanilides, which are primarily applied to the soil before or shortly after weed germination to control the growth of weeds. According to court documents, Pioneer used 16,000 pounds of these particular herbicides, including alachlor, a restricted use chemical, in that five year period, along with 20 other insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in quantities ranging from 9,000 to less than 1,000 pounds each.
Source: Plaintiffs' attorneys Jervis & Smith
Look how close Pioneer's fields are to the sea, highway and Waimea town and river. Can Pioneer honestly say the chemicals it's applying to its sloped, windswept fields are not entering fresh and salt water, much less drifting into homes, yards, schools, shops or even vehicles passing by?

The company also sprays Lorsban Advance. The active ingredient in this organophosphate is chlorpyrifos, which the EPA prohibits from use in outdoor and residential areas where children could be exposed.

And though the state frequently claims this stuff is no cause for alarm, the state's own pesticide training materials warn:

Organophosphates “inhibit a chemical, called cholinesterase, in the nervous system of humans. A large exposure causes acute illness. Smaller exposures cause no apparent problem at first. They inhibit the cholinesterase, but not enough to cause immediate illness. Small, repeated exposures to these pesticides over several days or weeks may greatly reduce cholinesterase levels in the body. At that point, even a small exposure to a pesticide with relatively low cholinesterase-inhibiting properties may trigger severe illness.”

Its training materials also state, emphasis added:

Scientists, pesticide manufacturers, and the Environmental Protection Agency cannot yet be sure what the delayed effects of too much exposure to individual pesticides or combinations of pesticides may be. It may be years before there are clear answers on the effects of all the pesticides and combinations of pesticides in use today.

Meanwhile. it makes good sense to reduce your exposure to all pesticides as much as possible.”

But how can one do this if one is not informed, be it by the government or a chemical seed company, that an area has been or is about to be sprayed?

People have a right to know so they can take steps to limit their exposure if they so choose.

Bill 2491, which has its public hearing next Wednesday afternoon at the Kauai Veterans Center, seeks to require the main consumers of restricted use pesticides to disclose details on what, where and when they're spraying this stuff.

It's not a perfect bill, and I wish it addressed the county's use of pesticides, since those chemicals are applied to public parks and roadways where we the people are unwittingly exposed.

But it's a start. And if nothing else, it's pushing this community to have a discussion about pesticides that is long overdue. 

We need to stop pretending that this stuff is benign, and that it doesn't have singular and cumulative impacts on both human and environmental health.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Musings: Water Wars

When I opened the front door this morning, preparing to take the dogs for a walk, the first thing I saw was a huge heart-shaped cloud, tinted golden by the waning moon, flushed pale pink by a not-yet-risen sun. It's sure to be a glorious day with a start like that.

A water war has started on the westside, with Earthjustice taking legal action to limit century-old plantation diversions from the Waimea River. The complaint, filed on behalf of the Po‘ai Wai Ola/West Kaua‘i Watershed Alliance, claims the state Agribusiness Development Corp. and its tenants, the Kekaha Agricultural Assn., are diverting excessive amounts of water, some of which they end up dumping.

According to federal documents, Kekaha Sugar Co. built a 2,190-foot-long, 48-inch diameter steel siphon and some 28 miles of ditches, tunnels and flumes in 1907 to divert 50 million gallons per day from the Waimea River to its fields.

When Kekaha Sugar died in 2001, the Kokee/Kekaha ditch system was taken over by the new plantation — the chemical companies that grow seed crops. The chem companies and a few smaller farmers comprise the Kekaha Agricultural Assn., which maintains the system in partnership with the Navy. It's currently diverting about 40 million gallons a day.

As has been the case on other islands, the state did not conduct studies to determine how much water needed to remain in the river to serve environmental and public uses. Instead, the state set the instream flow standards to reflect the plantation's diversions. And now, the petitioners say, it's time to revisit that formula.

Though The Garden Island quotes ADC director James Nakatani making conciliatory noises —“They pointed out some good things — we shouldn’t be wasting water that we’re not using.” — a quick resolution isn't likely. Similar cases have dragged on for years, first before the state Commission on Water Resource Management, then over to the courts when the Commission failed to follow state law, then back to the commission under court order, then back to the courts when the Commission screwed up again.

Still, it's another strong message to the chemical seed companies, and the state, that “somebody's watching you.” And somebody should be watching the ADC. I mean, if it's a totally legit agricultural agency, why would its board members include Sandy Kato-Klutke, whose background is in tourism? To give you a sense of how Sandy is connected, and operates, she chaired the county planning commission that picked Ian Costa as planning director without placing his appointment on the agenda.

Earthjustice also released a final report from UH researchers that confirms sewage wastewater from Maui County's injection wells is entering the ocean at Lahaina, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and state water quality laws. The county has been doing this for the past 30 years.

The study concluded that 64 percent of the injected wastewater reaches coastal waters via submarine springs, which discharge pollutants that “impact coastal water quality and result in elevated nutrient concentrations.” The study also found that the wastewater coming out of the seeps is warmer, more acidic, and less salty than surrounding ocean water.

The wastewater, which contains nutrient pollution and pharmaceuticals, was found to be endangering public safety, contributing to algal growth and harming the sensitive coral reef ecosystem. What's more, turtles feed on that invasive algae, and NOAA ecologist Kyle Van Houtan thinks there is a link between the algae's high nitrogen content and the often fatal tumors that develop in honu.

So what does this study mean for the other counties, including this one, that also inject treated wastewater into wells? As I previously reported:

According to Ed Tschupp, Chief of the  Wastewater Division, three (3) of our County wastewater treatment plants use injection wells: 1) Eleele plant (4 wells) where injection well disposal is our only effluent disposal means; 2) Back-up disposal to irrigation re-use at Līhu‘e plant (7 wells); and 3) Waimea plant (2 wells).

Sounds like a good time to reassess that practice and look more closely at whether these injection wells are contributing to the marine ecosystem degradation that we're seeing on Kauai.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Musings: Exploitive Exploits

In Hawaii, kupuna are typically treated with respect — except at Lihue Court Townhomes (LCT), a low-income rental project managed by Mutual Housing Association of Hawaii and a member of the national NeighborWorks America.

The buildings at LCT were constructed of untreated wood, prompting the need for regular termite treatments. One such tenting is currently under way at a building that houses a 95-year-old lady, Miss Gennii. A veteran of WWII, Miss Gennii has a long life of public service behind her, but very little money and no family, which is why she's living alone at LCT.

Recently, the staff at LCT dumped a bunch of plastic bags off at Miss Gennii's apartment and told her to prepare for the tenting. If she needed help bagging all the food, toiletries and medicines in her apartment, they would provide it — at a cost of $25 per hour.

She and the other affected residents were told that meals would be provided while they were unable to access their units. However, they would have to return to LCT to be fed, which was problematic for Miss Gennii, since she uses a walker and has no car. 

They were also told they would be put up at Tip Top overnight. If they chose to stay elsewhere, they had to pay out of pocket and later would be reimbursed $75 per night. Miss Gennii decided to stay at the Kauai Palms, since she felt it would be safer and it's close to LCT, which would make it easier for meals to be delivered. She asked to be reimbursed for a second night because she felt physically unable to return to her unit at night. She also needed a place to rest during the seven hours between checkout and the time she could return to her unit.

The management of LCT — Dave Nakamura, Roland Ruiz and Brian Alston — refused her request for a second night and balked at delivering her meals. About this time I got involved, because I used to work at LCT and had myself delivered meals to residents who had no transportation. I'd also seen residents with physical limitations get reimbursed for a second night's stay.

So I called Roland, who said he would need to check with Dave, who officially nixed the request. In an undated, unsigned letter, Roland claimed that as a nonprofit, LCT can't afford to reimburse her $75 for a second night. Yet he and Brian each are paid about $50,000 per year and Dave makes a six-figure salary. 

They eventually agreed to bring her meals, though Brian said he planned to draft other residents for delivery service. It's just one of the many ways that residents at LCT are routinely exploited because they are fearful of losing their units. Previously they had a manager who extorted a monthly kickback from residents who were legally qualified to have comfort animals and stole their aluminum cans to buy alcohol for the staff Christmas party.

I asked Roland where he expected a 95-year-old woman in a walker who needed regular access to a bathroom to hang out for hours, since there was a sizable gap between hotel check in and check out times and the tenting schedule.

“She can sit in our meeting room,” he said with an imperious air.

I wonder, would he expect his own tutu to sit in a straight chair in a room also occupied by 50 rambunctious kids from the Boys and Girls Club for seven hours, two days running? Would he, Dave or Brian let their own tutu stay alone at a dive like Tip Top?

Where's the compassion, the respect?

Such an attitude wouldn't be unusual in a for-profit apartment complex. But Mutual Housing, which receives significant government funding assistance, prides itself on being different from other housing projects because it has a resident services program specifically to assist the tenants, many of whom are old and/or physically and mentally challenged.

But when such assistance is actually needed, it's not there. It's all for show to impress government agencies and funders who think they're helping an organization that is in fact regularly running over people who are among the most vulnerable members of our community. 

I talked to the HUD fair housing officer in Honolulu, and he said that Miss Gennii's requests seemed entirely reasonable, so I'm going to make sure she gets reimbursed. I already paid out of my own pocket for an early check-in, helped her pack up her stuff and will bring her home and get her unpacked. So things will likely work out for Miss Gennii because she has an advocate and her own wits about her.

But many others do not. They are entirely alone, and typically afraid to speak up. One resident at LCT was a virtual prisoner in her apartment for several years because the management had ignored her request for a wheelchair ramp. She never wanted to press the issue for fear she'd lose her apartment, even though federal laws require landlords to make reasonable accommodations for disabled residents.

So next time you're tempted to grumble about people who are getting HUD, think instead “there but for the grace of God go I.” Because if you knew how much paperwork, invasion of privacy, micro-management of one's life, landlord exploitation and flat-out fear is associated with housing subsidies, you'd be grateful for your ability to pay market rate.

And next time you're tempted to give a donation to a nonprofit, or laud its services, dig a little deeper. You just might find their mission statement diverges wildly from their actual operations. I've worked for four nonprofits on Kauai, and though they all had worthwhile goals, the actual execution was invariably stymied by dysfunctional mismanagement and a propensity to waste gobs of cash.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Musings: Catch Up

A poinciana tree, so vibrant it appeared ready to burst into flame, rivaled the cloud fire above the horizon as the day dawned this morning. Ultimately, the tree triumphed, its orange-red blossoms still raging even as the color drained from the sky.

Remember that so-called “mob robbery” at Polihale that was splashily reported by The Garden Island last month, based on the second-hand account of a woman whose brother was supposedly there? But it seemed suspicious to the cops because no one filed a complaint, prompting folks to claim the cops were covering for the “bad guys?”

I've been meaning to tell you that I found out what really happened.

Seems a bunch of young adults from North Shore threw a birthday party for a woman out at Polihale and it turned into a real rager. People were drinking and drugging, the music was blasting super loud and guys were racing their trucks up and down the beach. After midnight, one of the westside aunties went over to party central and politely asked them to reduce their noise, as other campers were trying to sleep.

The drunks got smart and said essentially screw you, we wanna party.

The aunty then called some guys in Waimea, and they came out to break up the party. A few fistfights ensued, but no one was seriously hurt, and some of the revelers had their gear confiscated in the process. As they fled in the night, they left behind a lot of trash.

The episode wasn't haole vs local, because there were plenty of locals in the party crowd, nor was it North Shore vs westside. It was a simple matter of respect vs disrespect. The revelers knew they'd behaved disrespectfully to both the place and the aunty, which is why they left with their tails between their legs and never filed a complaint with the cops.

Oh, and since we're playing catch-up, the well-paid private attorneys under contract to the county have filed motions to dismiss Councilman Tim Bynum's civil rights suit against former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, planning supervisor Sheilah Miyake and Kauai County. So it's cost the county $461,000 just to get to this very preliminary point — a point that is still far from where Councilman Ross Kagawa wants to go:

This is a time when we need the truth to come out and we need to go to trial for this case,” he said.

Wasn't he the guy who ran on the platform of fiscal responsibility? Not to mention that legal actions so rarely have anything to do with truth or justice, but who has the most money to burn.

Witness Jimmy Pflueger dragging out his criminal trial for years and then getting a plea deal that allows him to plead no contest to one count of reckless endangering, while his corporation [wtf?] pleads no contest to seven counts of manslaughter and pays the state $50,000 for each person who died when the Kaloko dam failed in 2006.

I can't see anybody represented by a public defender getting a sweetheart deal like that.

Anyway, Jimmy is set to be sentenced in January, where the 87-yer-old could get a year in jail, which is doubtful, and/or community service. Perhaps he'll be allowed to work it off at his car dealerships, much like former state Rep. Roland Sagum was permitted to do his rock theft community service with the Royal Order of Kamehameha. 

Lady Justice may wear a blindfold, but don't go believing she's actually blind.

Getting back to Tim for a moment, I was glad to see his new property tax reform ordinance actually prohibits people who are running a vacation rental from also claiming a homeowner's exemption for the property. That's a no-brainer that's taken the county how many years to correct? 

And finally, I'm hearing Councilman Gary Hooser currently does not have the votes to pass Bill 2491, the ordinance that deals with restricted pesticide use disclosure, buffer zones and an EIS for the GMO crops. Only Councilman Bynum is solidly on board. So no doubt the rhetoric will ramp up as both sides seek to convince the other five.  Given what's been printed and said thus far,  the public hearing on July 31 promises to be pure theater in the best tradition of Kauai public hearings, which makes the KCC Performing Arts Center an apt venue.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to see signs proclaiming “GMO Free Zone” popping up along roadsides. What, really, is the purpose of these signs? What do they mean when they're stuck in someone's yard? That you've agreed to an inspection to ensure that you don't have a GMO ingredient in your pantry?

I've seen just one place where such a sign seemed appropriate or made any sense: near the packing shed on Lee Roversi's farm, where it serves to inform customers of her organic growing practices.

Otherwise — and I'm someone opposed to GMOs — these little proclamations come across as visual pollution akin to campaign signs. Please, resist the urge to contribute to this blight.

Or as a friend noted, in jest, “You can get one, too. But you have to attend an orientation first, like buying a time share.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Musings: Managed to Death

How much are the Hawaiian monk seals themselves being considered in the effort to protect them? I wondered while studying this photo in today's newspaper.
Photo: National Geographic Remote Imaging
I've watched a lot of monk seals, and they like to roll in the sand, snuggle right into it, shimmy around on their front, back, all sides, and in the water, slither eel-like through narrow crevices in the reefs.

Hard to do with a big ass video camera epoxyed behind your head by a team of men that steal upon you while you're snoozing on the beach, throw a net over your head, hold you down, sedate you, attach a bulky surveillance device, take blood and tissue samples and swab your orifices, leaving you groggy, sore, disoriented, tracked and targeted for a repeat abduction when it's time to retrieve the device.

All in the name of saving you.

The scientists know this critter-cam stuff is potentially harmful to these critically endangered species, which is why, according to this blog post by federal seal researcher Charles Littnan, they passed up a possibly pregnant mother on Molokai. Instead, they picked a male that watchers had profiled as "a bit of a nuisance to his fellow seals" and thus apparently more expendable.

They justify the intrusions in the name of saving the species, which most recently has been defined as using the video footage to “enchant and inspire” people to save the seals, as in endorse what feels like a pre-determined decision to transport young female seals down here from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, where just 20 percent reach adulthood. After a few years, they'd be rounded up and taken back, each trip a weeks-long voyage that Littnan acknowledged is extremely stressful and occasionally lethal.

All in the name of saving them.

As The Garden Island reported, in covering a recent screening at the Grand Hyatt of footage from the critter cams:

Don Heacock, an aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources on Kauai, questioned why NOAA and National Geographic would want to focus their research in the MHI, where the population of seals continues to thrive, instead of in the NWHI.

Littnan said the population here is still considered endangered and that much of the research being done here is population assessment. In addition, local fishermen are interested in knowing what impact the animals are having on the fisheries and environment.

True, but the truer answer is it's part of a public relations campaign to build support for the seals, in this case, apparently, with folks living outside of the Islands. Evidence the resort screening, which reportedly attracted about 150 persons, primarily tourists and monk seal volunteers, and just three identified ocean-users.

The footage is also supposed to convince local fishermen that the seals aren't stealing their catch, though that's about as likely as convincing anti-GMO activists that stinkweed made the westside school kids sick.

Littnan took care to note that for every fish a seal caught it passed up 300, and a National Geographic video stresses that the seals prefer to forage beyond the reef, where fishermen are less likely to be.

But the seals apparently forage primarily at night, so none of that behavior is recorded on the critter cams, making the footage of questionable value as a feeding study. And Littnan said the seals fed on just 26 of 1000 forages. Could that indicate the cameras interfere? Or do they even consider that perhaps their approach could be skewing results?

At any rate, the local fishermen that the feds supposedly hoped to attract were reportedly nowhere to be seen Tuesday night, and none signed up for “interviews” with NOAA. 

In other words, even though at least eight seals have been seriously messed with in the process of obtaining this footage, the gulf remains unbridged between fishermen and the federal scientists in the Main Hawaiian Islands. 

I have no doubt the scientists are well-intentioned, though this does not mean they are not also considering their own interests, in terms of keeping their research funded and careers moving forward. Nor does it mean that they doing the right thing by the seals.

Which is why the questions nag at me: What about the seals? Can this critter cam stuff really be in their best interest, especially since the fishermen aren't even watching the footage? How much harm and trauma are we inflicting in our attempts to save the seals from us, even as we ignore the bigger issues of climate change, over-fishing, habitat degradation?  

Isn't there some middle ground between allowing them to go extinct, and managing them to death? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Musings: There and Back

Whenever possible, I sit on the left side of the plane when flying into Kauai so I can catch that breathtaking view of Haupu, which always makes me happy to return. When I came in late yesterday, I was dismayed by the construction that's underway at Kauai Lagoons. It appears there's virtually no setback for the buildings that are being framed right on the edge of the bluff.

Coastal hazards? What coastal hazards?

After spending a week in Oregon and visiting Portland's opulent farmers' markets — we're talking artesianal cheeses and beers, charcuterie, fish, game, eggs, bread, preserves, flowers, fruit and veggies galore, all at reasonable prices — I was reminded anew of how little food we produce in Hawaii, especially on Kauai.

Instead, we grow luxury estates, golf courses, resorts and seeds.

Still, our lack of edibles can't be blamed solely on those particular land uses. Kauai hasn't fed itself for 50 years, in part because it's cheaper to ship stuff from places like Oregon than grow it here, where land ownership is highly centralized and farming implements and inputs are virtually all imported.

It was great to gorge on apricots, cherries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, marion berries, strawberries that are red through and through, vine-ripened tomatoes, artichokes, sweet corn and other seasonal goodies that are grown in the surrounding countryside. Much of it was being hawked by earnest young people, some of them from longtime family farms, a sight that gave me hope. 

Portland is a neat city because it's so green, both figuratively and literally, but it's also odd because it's so white. The lack of cultural diversity was striking, with people of color apparently pushed to the urban fringes through a process of relentless gentrification.

Not that we've got any lock on cultural harmony just because people of different races are living together here in Hawaii. A letter to the editor today on the George Zimmerman verdict noted “that stereotypes, and likely their second cousin prejudice, are alive and well, even in the Land of Aloha.”

I would say especially in the land of aloha. The newest arena where stereotypes and prejudices are rearing their ugly heads is in the debate over the proposed county ordinance that would require pesticide use disclosure, buffer zones and an EIS for the chemical/seed company operations.

A friend said he sat next to the mother of a seed company official on a flight to Honolulu and she expounded upon how “it's these trust funders on the north shore that never worked a day in their life trying to put us out of business.”

Then there was the comment that an anti-GMO activist left on a pro-GMO Facebook page about how “you haoles are making money off poisoning the land.”

Meanwhile, I've heard other comments about how westsiders, locals, Filipino field workers are “ignorant of the facts” and “brainwashed” by their employers, like they don't have the ability to access information and make independent judgments, and so need to be "educated" by the anti-GMO forces.

Ugh. Can't we just focus on the issue, which is contentious enough, without bringing in all the stereotypes and prejudices, too? Because from what I've seen, there seems to be support and opposition among all different races and socio-economic groups.

On another topic, I was reading an article in The Oregonian about how bees are the new chickens, in terms of urbanites wanting to raise something and commune with nature at home. Though like the rest of the mainland, Oregon beekeepers lost some 40 percent of their bees over the winter, a decline that has not been reported in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, the backyard poultry trend has turned out rather badly in some cases, with animal shelters and sanctuaries reporting a dramatic rise in unwanted chickensIt's unclear what will happen to these cast-off flocks, especially since some shelters impose strict “adoption” guidelines, including a promise to treat the hens and roosters like pets. 

Portland is a very dog-friendly city. You'll see water bowls set out on sidewalks, dogs sitting with their owners at sidewalk cafes and restaurants with signs welcoming canines. It was the only place I've ever seen fresh pet food for sale in refrigerated cases in mainstream grocery stores, and dog tethering posts outside public restrooms.

But I didn't see any dogs like Koko and Paele.  Like the Islands, our poi dogs are unique. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Blog Break

I'm in Oregon, the state of big berries, big cherries and big mountains.

Taking some time to literally stop and smell the roses.

Be back next week.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Musings: Power of Economics

It seems that some folks have unrealistic ideas about the pesticide/GMO bill, like its passage will inflict a body blow on biotech as Kauai leads the world to an new-old era of small, sustainable, pesticide-eschewing farms.

In the places that actually grow much of the world's food, however, the reality looks very different, and quite a bit more grim.

About 90 percent of the corn currently planted in the U.S. is genetically modified, as is 90 percent of the cotton and 93 percent of the soybeans, according to the latest USDA agricultural statistics. The U.S. is the world's top producer of GMO soy, followed by Brazil.

China, which now imports about 70 percent of Brazil's GMO soy, has just cleared three new soy varieties for import, a move that is expected to increase GMO crop acreage by 14% in Brazil.

Dow launched Powercore — the first-ever five-trait corn — in Argentina last year, and Canada approved Enlist E3, the company's herbicide-tolerant soybean last month. In short, these companies are not reeling from protests, they're expanding their product line and footprint. They've also begun working together to improve their bottom line by sharing licensing agreements.

In America's corn belt, meanwhile, the failure of biotech has led not to an embrace of organic practices, but increased insecticide use as farmers battle rootworm that has developed resistance to one type of GE corn. As NPR reports:

It appears that farmers have gotten part of the message: Biotechnology alone will not solve their rootworm problems. But instead of shifting away from those corn hybrids, or from corn altogether, many are doubling down on insect-fighting technology, deploying more chemical pesticides than before. Companies like Syngenta or AMVAC Chemical that sell soil insecticides for use in corn fields are reporting huge increases in sales: 50 or even 100 percent over the past two years.

This is a return to the old days, before biotech seeds came along, when farmers relied heavily on pesticides. University of Nebraska entomologist Lance Meinke tells farmers that if they plant just corn, year after year, rootworms are likely to overwhelm any weapon someday.

The problem, Meinke says, is that farmers are thinking about the money they can make today. "I think economics are driving everything," he says. "Corn prices have been so high the last three years, everybody is trying to protect every kernel. People are just really going for it right now, to be as profitable as they can."

Ah, yes, the power of economics.  It's the same force that led Kauai Beach Villas timeshare developer Lynn McCrory to challenge the constitutionality of the Charter amendment that voters approved limiting the number of new transient accommodation units (TAU).

U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi recently ruled in McCrory's favor, finding that both the amendment and subsequent ordinance violate an earlier Kaiser Hawaii Kai "no zoning by initiative" decision.

In plain terms, Hawaii residents are not allowed to directly address land use issues at the ballot box. According to the ruling:

Further, Zoning by initiative is inconsistent with the goal of long range comprehensive planning, and "[i]t seems unlikely that the Legislature intended the possible frustration of comprehensive zoning through the initiative process."

Now as I hear it, a former county attorney felt the initiative was illegal, but let it go on the ballot, anyway, thinking it would never pass. Instead, it passed overwhelmingly, and the county spent a lot of time and money developing the implementing ordinance 912 and defending the measure in court.

So now what? As Carl Imparato, who has been closely involved in the issue since its inception, notes:

What Ordinance 912 did do was to ensure that the next wave of tourist accommodation projects would be paced. So it was still very important legislation. The void that would be left by doing nothing in the wake of the federal court ruling would mean a return to the old "business as usual", with new waves of tourist development projects assaulting Kauai in the future and being routinely approved by the mayor’s Planning Commissioners. So doing nothing is not an option.

He suggests the county could pursue an appeal to a higher court. An executive session is set for Wednesday's Council Meeting to discuss this (and $225,000 more to defend the county against Councilman Tim Bynum's lawsuit).

Perhaps more importantly,” Carl continues, “the people of Kauai need to strongly encourage the County Council to pass Ordinance 912 once again ("Son of 912"). Ordinance 912 basically stood on its own: other than some non-operative language in the "whereas" clauses, there was only one sentence in the entire ordinance that linked the rate-of-growth mechanisms in Ordinance 912 to the Charter amendment. So Ordinance 912 could easily be rewritten to completely decouple the ordinance from the Charter amendment by changing just one sentence. Note that the court did not express any opinion that an ordinance like Ordinance 912, or an rate-of-growth limit, would be unconstitutional.

"So it is clearly within the scope of the Council’s authorities and duties to amend the CZO to enact another ordinance that would be virtually identical to Ordinance 912. And it is clear (64%-36%) that the citizenry wants tourist development’s impacts to be properly managed.
"Therefore, the Council should simply "do the right thing" and act promptly to fill the void created by the court’s ruling. There is no need for hand-wringing, or for extensive research and debate about what to do next (the types of study-it-to-death delaying tactics that stalled TVR ordinances from being enacted for almost a decade, during which the problem mushroomed out of control). The Council could very simply and very quickly pass once again the ordinance (as "Son of 912") that 5 of the current Councilmembers (Nakamura, Rapozo, Furfaro, Yukimura and Bynum) already voted for less than two years ago.
The public needs to speak out."