I've been traveling this holiday season in the Land of Enchantment — yet another of those tourism-driven monikers — and while the landscapes and light are, indeed, enchanting, it could also be described as land of chilly temperatures (11 degrees last night); cheap gas ($1.86 for regular, down from $1.88 two days prior, prompting speculation on just how low will it go?); super cheap electricity (thanks to one of the world's largest and most polluting coal-burning power plants, so be grateful KIUC directors didn't take that route); super-sized skies; amazing clouds, and dire poverty (disproportionately suffered by Hispanics and Native Americans, despite revenues gleaned from the casinos and tax-free cigarettes and gas sold on the pueblos and reservations.)
As in Hawaii, brown-skinned people do most of the dirty/hard work; domestic violence, DWI and addiction-driven thefts and burglaries are the most common crimes; government is stymied by cronyism and nepotism; agriculture is struggling to survive; and the economy is skewed toward tourism and military.
Unlike Hawaii, oil and gas wells, rather than development, threaten sacred sites; tourists are given a welcoming smile, rather than stink eye; colonialism — the kind practiced by Mexico against the Indians — is celebrated, rather than decried; and the indigenous people have control over large tracts of land, where they set the rules — with approval by the feds, of course. Most recently, the Justice Department decided Indians could grow and sell marijuana on the rez.
In the grocery stores, be they Whole Foods or Albertson's, organic, conventionally-grown and GMO foods peacefully co-exist, arrayed side-by-side so consumers can decide whether it's worth an extra $2 to buy blueberries grown without pesticides in Mexico. GMOs are a non-issue, even though GMO corn and cotton are major crops, along with cattle, pecans, hay, sheep, onions and their famous chilies.
And when a local paper wrote about the hardships suffered by cows and workers — most of them Mexican immigrants — on the “factory” dairies in the southern part of the state, many of which are owned by state legislators, it included comments by small dairymen who blamed consumers, with their unceasing demand for cheap food, for those unassessed costs. Because few people were willing to pay significantly more for sustainably raised milk, they said, and even fewer wanted to do the hard work of humane dairying.
The radio stations favor country and Latino tunes, Texans are derided in spite of — or perhaps because of — their big-spending ways, and hunters chosen by the luck of the draw track elk, deer, goats, oryx, antelope, turkeys and quail, all of which are intensively managed, as is seemingly every stream and river in the state.
Bumper stickers denounce fracking, plead for wolf tolerance, and pledge allegiance to Obama. Two of my recent favorites: “I Miss Reagan” and “It's Such a Nice Day. Please Don't Fuck it Up.”
As I cruise through deserts, gaze at snow-covered mountains tinted lavender by the setting sun, watch migrating sandhill cranes fly gracefully across corn fields cultivated for their benefit, my smart phone keeps me connected to news and friends back home, one of whom characterizes the steady influx of haoles to Hawaii as colonialism, the constant westward movement of white folks who must destroy the buffalo and Indians — or in this case, the kanaka maoli and locals — who already occupy it in order to turn it into the place they left behind.
Meanwhile, The Garden Island continues its trend toward news ultra-lite, and shows over and over it just doesn't get it. Like Tom LaVenture's blandly banal piece on the proliferation of vacation rentals that totally misses all the controversy, angst and conflict over TVRs on Kauai.
And today's list of top stories of 2014. Though Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 is rightly identified as a big issue, TGI covered it so poorly and so superficially that it became almost a non-issue. Sadly, Chris D'Angelo missed the biggest story of his career.
“Punishment for old school punishment” is curiously listed as a major story, apparently because it “went viral,” a phenomenon directly attributed to TGI's own poor coverage of the case, which presented a horribly skewed version of events.
Other top stories, according to TGI: The Anahola monk seal death. Perhaps in the eyes of TGI, which overplayed it, but in the overall scheme of things? Not so much. Private Prince? The actual story, which they also missed, was how that is but one more example of the overall trend toward the uber rich buying up big swaths of Kauai land while the citizenry is distracted fighting a dairy and GMOs.
There was nothing about homelessness, drug addiction, kanaka maoli issues, the attack on agriculture, domestic violence, vacation rentals, the community polarization caused by the GMO issue, falling tourism counts and the county's economic woes because TGI essentially ignores any stories that are bleak or challenging to write, or that require a bit of effort, investigation or analysis.
But truly, what can you expect from an editor who not only writes about, but participates in, a race that encourages binge-drinking and barfing? Prompting speculation about how low, really, will he go?
While I have no hopes that TGI will improve in what has become a one-newspaper state, I look forward to continuing my coverage of the otherwise untold stories on Kauai and Hawaii in 2015. I already have a new investigative series planned, so stay tuned, thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!