Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Musings: Hooser's Swiss Schtick

How many misstatements can Councilman Gary Hooser make in 2:45 minutes?

A fact check of his recent speech “defending Kauai” at the Syngenta shareholders meeting in Basel, Switzerland, turned up nine.
And that doesn't count his pre-fabrication; namely, this promise, issued in the press release distributed by the organization he heads, Hawaii Alliance for Progression Action:

Hooser will be speaking as an individual relating his individual experiences, thoughts and concerns and not in his official capacity.

But when Gary began to speak at the Syngenta meeting, nearly the first words out of his mouth were:

I presently serve on the Kauai County Council. I'm a lawmaker.

He then gave a rundown on his past work experience at the Senate and office of Environmental Quality Control (omitting his numerous failed campaigns and seat-of-his-pants re-election to the Council).

He never even mentioned HAPA.

In fact, he made like he was speaking for all of us:

And I appreciate your patience with me allowing me to share the message from my community.

Now on to the rest of those failed fact checks, in order of utterance:

Gary: I'm also here today to present a petition, a petition from thousands of our residents of our small island.

Fact: The petition was circulated throughout social media, and it's highly doubtful that all the signers were from Kauai.

Gary: Only 60, 65,000 people live where I live and we are very, very concerned about our community and the impacts that Syngenta has in our small community.

Fact: All 65,000?

Gary: Right now, Syngenta sprays enormous amounts of atrazine in the fields around the homes, schools and hospitals where we live.

Fact: Syngenta has just one field that is near public facilities. Field 806 is about one-third mile west of the westernmost property line of Waimea Canyon Middle School. It is even further away from KVMH and residences. 

The Good Neighbor Program reporting website shows Syngenta used 1,188 pounds of atrazine on 1,527 acres in 2014.

Gary: Syngenta sprays enormous amounts of paraquat.

Fact: The Good Neighbor Program reporting website shows Syngenta used used four pounds of paraquat over eight acres in 2014.

Gary And you do it daily.

Fact: Syngenta does not spray paraquat or any restricted use pesticide daily.

Gary: There are four other restricted use pesticides that are applied daily around homes, schools and hospitals where I live.

Fact: In field 806, restricted use pesticides are applied one or twice a week for roughly eight weeks. The field is planted once a year. That's a maximum of 16 applications — each taking about 10 minutes — annually. 

Gary: Imagine if you had to drive around, live in a community surrounded by GE test fields and every day, every day you know that they're spraying toxic chemicals in the areas around where you live.

Fact: Again, nothing is sprayed every day. And Gary doesn't actually live anywhere near any fields.

Gary: Imagine if the schools in your community had children getting sick like they do in my community and going to the hospital in ambulances, throwing up, while Syngenta is spraying fields right next door.

Fact: Syngenta doesn't spray field 806 until after 3 p.m. Though some kids were transported to the hospital from Waimea Canyon School in ambulances at least once, a number of years back, none of them were diagnosed with pesticide exposure. And the field is one-third mile away, not right next door.

Gary: Imagine if the doctors in your community, like the doctors in my community, are concerned about birth defects, who believe there is 10 times the rate, the national rate, of birth defects in a small hospital where I live.

Fact: Dr. Jim Raelson raised concerns about birth defects, but after his words were misused by the anti-GMO movement, he issued an open letter to clarify. It reads, in part:

The point I tried to make to Council members was that we don't know for sure if we truly have a problem of true clusters because it has not been adequately studied but as clinicians we are seeing suspicious clusters of disease. We also don't know about cause and effect but if we are seeing a true cluster of a disease that has been linked to low level exposure by good studies done elsewhere then that in itself is grounds for real concern that we are seeing serious health problems.

And in response to birth-defect fear-mongering, Dr. Graham Chelius, a Westside ob-gyn, also published a letter to the editor in The Garden Island that stated:

There is not an increased rate of cardiac defects of any kind on the Westside of Kauai.

At that point, HAPA and Kauai Ohana member Fern Rosensteil, who was surreptitiously filming Gary's talk, was forcibly removed from the Syngenta meeting. End of Gary's tape.

By that time, he had uttered one lie every 18 seconds. 

Why can't Gary make his case and tell the truth?

Gary also demanded that Syngenta withdraw its lawsuit challenging Bill 2491/Ordinance 960, the bad bill that Gary and Center for Food Safety wrote, that was overturned by a federal judge, and is now on appeal.

The Syngenta shareholders took no action.

But Gary got what he really wanted: Coverage in the Swiss media — again, using the only cache he has, which is Councilman — by telling the same mistruths he told Syngenta shareholders. 

Demagoguery at its finest. 

And since he blew off a Council meeting to attend, your tax dollars at work.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Musings: Implications

The bee sting lawsuit now working its way through Kauai District Court underscores why many farmers worry about a pesticide disclosure law: It opens them up to litigation by people who believe they've been harmed.

In this case, Luis Soltren is suing his beekeeping neighbor, Jesse Castro, after Luis suffered two stings that sent him to the hospital with an allergic reaction. Though it's impossible to know whether the bees belonged to Jesse, he's being fingered as the culprit because he kept managed hives.

Similarly, farmers worry that they'll be dinged with lawsuits because under recently proposed laws, they'd be the only ones required to disclose pesticide use. So they'll be blamed whenever a neighbor suffers some sort of malady, even it it's due to a pesticide applied by someone who isn't bound by disclosure, or not pesticide-related at all.

In Luis' case, he has some additional protection because beekeeping isn't allowed in residential neighborhoods without a permit. But when you consider that agricultural districts have been overrun by non-farmers who have zero tolerance for pesticides, dust, noise, smells and other ag by-products, it's not at all far-fetched to think they would use disclosure laws to harass legitimate farmers. It can cost thousands of dollars, and much angst, to defend yourself against a legal action, even if you prevail.

It's so easy to call for more regulations, but they all have far-reaching implications that need to be thought through, and frequently aren't.

Mark Lynas, an author and former Greenpeace activist, made that point in his recent New York Times commentary, where he talks about the implications of a ban on Bt brinjal (eggplant) that anti-GMO activists are seeking. Lynus discussed his visit to the Bangladesh farm of Mohammed Rahman:

As we squatted in the muddy field, examining the lush green foliage and shiny purple fruits, he explained how, for the first time this season, he had been able to stop using pesticides. This was thanks to a new pest-resistant variety of eggplant supplied by the government-run Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.

Productivity nearly doubled. Mr. Rahman had already harvested the small plot 10 times, he said, and sold the brinjal (eggplant’s name in the region) labeled “insecticide free” at a small premium in the local market. Now, with increased profits, he looked forward to being able to lift his family further out of poverty. I could see why this was so urgent: Half a dozen shirtless kids gathered around, clamoring for attention. They all looked stunted by malnutrition.

In a rational world, Mr. Rahman would be receiving support from all sides. He is improving the environment and tackling poverty. Yet the visit was rushed, and my escorts from the research institute were nervous about permitting me to speak with him at all.

The new variety had been subjected to incendiary coverage in the local press, and campaign groups based in Dhaka were suing to have the pest-resistant eggplant banned. Activists had visited some of the fields and tried to pressure the farmers to uproot their crops. Our guides from the institute warned that there was a continuing threat of violence — and they were clearly keen to leave.

Conventional eggplant farmers in Bangladesh are forced to spray their crops as many as 140 times during the growing season, and pesticide poisoning is a chronic health problem in rural areas. But because Bt brinjal is a hated G.M.O., or genetically modified organism, it is Public Enemy No.1 to environmental groups everywhere.

I understand that many anti-GMO activists view everything through the lens of Roundup Ready crops, and thus reject them as encouraging pesticide use. But other biotech crops, like those with Bt (a gene transferred from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that produces a protein that kills specific insects) are designed to reduce pesticide use.

And aren't we all pretty much in agreement that reducing pesticide use is a good thing?

Lynas goes on to write:

In Uganda, the valuable banana crop is being devastated by a new disease called bacterial wilt, while the starchy cassava, a subsistence staple, has been hit by two deadly viruses. Biotech scientists have produced resistant varieties of both crops using genetic modification, but anti-G.M.O. groups have successfully prevented the Ugandan Parliament from passing a biosafety law necessary for their release.

So then what are the ramifications for Ugandans growing cassava and banana? Crop failures? Lost income? More pesticide use? Prolonged poverty?

In much the same way, scientists developed technology to help papaya resist the ringspot virus, thus allowing the commercial cultivation of that crop to continue in Hawaii, especially on the Big Island, while reducing pesticide use. But that hasn't stopped misinformed and fearful activists from waging war against GE papaya.  

Though the anti-GMO movement hit Hawaii like a socio-political tsunami, it's time now, with the waters receding, to take a breath and look realistically and reasonably at the bigger picture of biotechnology in the Islands, and the implications of both its presence, and attempts to regulate it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Musings: Wow. Just Wow

Sometimes, when confronted with something shocking, or startling, all you can say is wow. Just wow.

Like this bit of misogynist hate spouted on Facebook by a Mauna Kea “defender” in response to a petition in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) posted online by Mailani Neal, a bright young student-athlete attending Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea on the Big Island:
Gee, three people actually “like” this? Oh, and great way to build support for your cause, guy. Kinda reminds me of the “dialogue” that characterized the anti-GMO debate. Have any of the TMT opponents publicly denounced it?

Update: A reader shared this denouncement of sorts, or at least, a definite distancing, posted on Facebook.

Like this bit of ignorance, spouted by defeated Kauai mayoral candidate, cage fighter, Mauna Kea-front-liner, anti-GMO activist and self-proclaimed “aloha aina warrior” Dustin Barca:
GMO albezzia? Cross-pollination? With what? Uh, yeah, sure, Dustin. Whatever you say….. And why does all of his rhetoric include a veiled threat?

Like this “CodeFore” blog post on the 1993 rape-murder of 4-year old Lacy Woolsey Ruff that claims “a cover up” by Kauai police and prosecutors has kept the real murderer out of jail, while his brother, who admitted to the rape, is serving a lengthy sentence. 

I had to follow up with Kauai Prosecutor Justin Kollar, who replied:

We have been in touch with the author and many of the individuals mentioned. We followed up on this as we would in any case and will continue to do so.  We appreciate their vigilance and their intent to ensure that justice prevails; we share that intent.

Like the flaming comment thread on Friday's post about the homestay/B&B ordinance. This is obviously a very touchy subject. But tell me, how can it be anti-haole and racist to support a crackdown on B&B/homestays, if they're supposedly being operated by locals trying to hang onto their homes? 

Mmmm, you can't have it both ways, kiddos.

Like the request — deferred at the last Council's meeting until the full panel is present — to expend up to $322,194 paying the final bills incurred defending the county and two others in the Tim Bynum vs. Kauai County et.al., civil suit. The breakdown is $135,525 for the county, $130,189 for former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri and $56,480 on planning supervisor Shielah Miyake.

This is in addition to the $750,000 inlegal fees already spent, which means the county blew more than $1 million to settle a suit for just $290,000.  WTF? This is what happens when the damage done by a vindictive prosecutor is exacerbated by certain Council members who dragged out a settlement. Bad move, boys — and you know who you are. Your stubbornness, misplaced loyalty and/or sheer stupidity cost the taxpayers a pile of dough. 

Or like this bit of social justice in Finland, where traffic and other fines are assessed on a sliding scale based on the latest income of the offender. Which is how a guy who made $7.2 million ended up with a $60,000 fine for speeding.

Compare that to the U.S., where everyone gets assessed the same amount, and poor people who can't possibly pay their fines endure years-long court ordeals, mounting costs and repeated imprisonments.

“...with liberty and justice for all?”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Musings: Friday Flashbacks

It was a little disheartening to listen to the County Council's first reading of the proposed homestay/B&B bill because I kept getting flashbacks to the transient vacation rental (TVR) debacle.

As homestay operators and Realtors came before the Council, they made pretty much the same arguments as their TVR predecessors: We never knew we needed a permit; we don't need no stinking regulations; absolutely no caps on the total permits granted; we're not bothering anybody; everyone should be grandfathered in; it's a great way for the County to make money; it's the only way “local folks” can hold on to their houses, and the real capper — well, if you don't want them in residential neighborhoods, then just open up the ag lands.

When Councilman Ross Kagawa noted “Hanalei is gone” and “we haven't even solved the TVR thing,” after wondering why the county had waited until it had 320 cease and desist orders before dealing with the homestay issue, well, that pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

To his credit, Councilman Mason Chock said the county really needed to prepare itself, because AirBnB and VRBO were “coming like a freight train.” But he apparently does not realize that train is already in the station, with hundreds of property owners now using those sites to advertise their illegal TVRs/homestays/B&Bs on Kauai.

Per usual, the county is trying to close the barn door years after the cows got out and moseyed into the meadow.

Councilman Gary Hooser, meanwhile, was absent, even though he'd promised prospective voters, while seeking donations for another Council run, that homestays would be one of his top priorities. But he and his HAPA group have a hot date in Switzerland, and we already know that ranks higher than his dull old Council duties.

Eddi Henry, a retired mortgage banker who bought a house on ag land in Moloaa that she now operates as “curated lodging experience” known as The Palmwood, first played the sympathy card — “We're all retired senior citizens” — before claiming that TVRs and homestays “are completely different animals.”

Except, of course, the TVRs that converted to homestays so they could fly under the radar. Which is why some of us who have been following this issue for a long time are kind of skeptical, and why any TVR cited for illegal operations should be barred from applying for a homestay permit.

Nicki Pignoli, who has a B&B in Kilauea, brought up “the inequity” of the B&B/homestay ordinance, compared to the TVR ordinance, where folks were never issued cease and desist notices while the law was being written and then were “automatically grandfathered if they'd paid taxes.”

And how well did that work? The county was slammed with TVR applications, most of which failed to properly document they were entitled to the permit, and then Planning Director Ian Costa ended up signing off on mass approvals, which gave homeowners a valuable TVR certificate for the life of the property. Meanwhile, folks who actually had followed the law and never started a TVR were forever excluded from having one.

Then the Council made matters worse by allowing TVRs on ag land, while removing all the inspection requirements. Never mind that the North Shore ag lands were some of the best on the island, and now they've been gentrified and fenced off to the place where kanaka maoli are pretty much excluded, except as cleaners and yard boys.

Can the County Council possibly be considering making the same stupid mistakes with homestays/B&Bs as it again grapples with “finding the balance” between property owners who want to maximize their investments and citizens who want a real neighborhood?

Though The Garden Island printed only testimony from those opposed to regulations, Caren Diamond and Sam Lee — neither has a financial stake in the issue, and both have seen their Poipu and Wainiha neighborhoods commercialized with TVRs — made some very salient points.

Sam lives in a 58-home enclave where 27 of the houses have already converted to TVRs, prompting the county to consider turning the entire neighborhood into a Visitor Destination Area. While residents are receptive to B&Bs “in some settings under certain conditions,” he thinks a Class IV zoning permit should be required to ensure a public hearing and citizen review of homestay applications.

The community is especially adamant that the county cap the number of B&B/homestay permits granted, Sam said. “The industry has been unable to self-regulate, suggesting a limit of this kind is imperative.”

Caren, who witnessed the mess caused by the planning department's inability to handle the flood of TVR permits, supported a B&B cap as a way to ensure permit applications are properly processed. She also recommended the county impose a moratorium on B&B/homestay permits pending approval of a regulating ordinance.

If the county had done that during the TVR debate, more than half the TVRs that got permits wouldn't have been approved, she said. In any case, if the county now wants to allow B&Bs, then it needs to reduce the number of TVR permits. With Kauai hosting 1.25 million visitors annually, if all the tourists stay in residential neighborhoods, where will the residents live?

As Ross noted, hammering out the ordinance is going to be a long, painful process. A public hearing is set for May 19, and then the planning committee will take up the issue on May 27.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Musings: Nexus

A friend recently posted this photo on Facebook, with the comment:  "I hadn't seen the situation in Kakaako until today. These photos don't come close to capturing the scope of this shameful mess. What the hell happened to Honolulu?"
It brought to mind similar scenes I'd encountered in urban India, though the Honolulu tarps are newer, cleaner and waterproof:
Westerners expect to see impoverished homeless people in developing nations. But right next to the fab new John Burns medical school in up-and-coming Kakaako? On the streets and beaches of the tourist mecca marketed as “Paradise?”

Not so much. Still, that's the ugly reality of life in the Islands, and most folks go about their day-to-day without giving it much thought. Just like they return to their self-absorbed, planet-busting business-as-usual after celebrating Earth Day.

Meanwhile, a reader sent this email shortly after I returned from India:

While you’ve been gone, a new and bigger insanity has gripped the state: People are up in arms, absolutely indignant that a university would try to construct a telescope atop Mauna Kea.

First, the fight against building telescopes on Mauna Kea is not new. It's been going on for decades, with the most recent battle against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) spanning at least seven years. What's new are the Johnny-come-latelies, the anti-GMO protestors who, having failed to achieve anything in the political arena, are turning their attention to TMT in hopes of building an alliance with the Hawaiian community.

And that's where the two comments find a nexus: Why is it that the fight to protect Mauna Kea has gotten more attention, more interest, more recruits, more social media coverage — particularly among non-Hawaiians — than the ongoing fight against homelessness in Honolulu?

Especially since homelessness affects a disproportionate number of Native Hawaiians (click on images to enlarge):
And why is that non-Hawaiians are quick to take offense at the prospect of another telescope atop Mauna Kea, while remaining mum about the hordes of Hawaiians living houseless in their own homeland? Aren't they, as fellow human beings, the indigenous inhabitants of this archipelago, also sacred, like the summit of the highest mountain?

Why is it that students from Kawaikini Charter School and Kauai Community College are protesting TMT, but saying nothing about the mass of tourists traipsing through Ke'e, or Princeville's attempt to co-opt the heaiu there? Why aren't folks taking to the streets to rage against the ice epidemic that is stealing the sacred souls — and thus the culture — of so many Native Hawaiians?

Or to take it one step further, why is it that a telescope on Mauna Kea has ignited the passions of people locally and around the globe, but the horrors of the Kailua-Kona tourist trap, the gentrification of South Kona and North and South Kohala, the ongoing "economic genocide" — to borrow a phrase from the late Peter Nakamura — is a great big ho-hum?

Perhaps it has something to do with social media, where it's easy to garner likes, shares and #We are Mauna Kea supportive selfies for a simplistic message like “Hawaiians fight to protect their sacred land.” But more complicated concepts, like homelessness, and the gentrification and high cost of living that causes both it and the mass out-migration of kanaka to Las Vegas and elsewhere, aren't easily minimized to Internet memes.

It's easy to attract social media devotees and adrenalin-addicted activists to the latest cause celebre. But using that as gauge falsely inflates the size and power of the movement. I've heard the TMT fight likened to Arab Spring, which is actually a pretty apt comparison. While Arab Spring was a big success on social media, it was a big dud in terms of enacting real and meaningful political change.

Does anyone truly believe that photos like these will stop the TMT?
Or that Gov.Ige will be swayed by 5.000 “likes” and 3,000 “shares?” Especially when he's essentially washed his hands of the conflict, issuing the statement:

The TMT team is legally entitled to use its discretion to proceed with construction.

It's clear, from the many passionate commentaries written by folks on both sides of the issue, that there's no clear consensus on the TMT among Hawaiians or non-Hawaiians. I tend to agree with Ian Lind, who wrote:

I’m guessing there are many people who, like me, see this as an unfortunate clash between two positive sets of values, the urge to preserve and protect our natural and cultural resources, and the urge to understand and investigate the nature of the universe around us.

I understand the rage and frustration that many kanaka feel. I understand the value of political symbols. I understand, and deeply respect, the concept of sacred land.

But what I don't understand is the selective attention paid to certain issues — especially among non-Hawaiians — while others of equal importance are ignored. Shouldn't these struggles, which share a common root, produce similar sufferings, be addressed as the complex, inter-related whole that they are, rather than reduced to a bumper sticker slogan, a street march or a selfie?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Musings: By Any Other Name

As the Kauai County Council prepares to take up the homestay ordinance tomorrow, we've been hearing the oft-repeated cry of “gosh, we had no idea we needed a permit” from so many operators. 

Especially those who have been issued a cease and desist order from the county.

So imagine our surprise when we took a little gander at homestays/B&Bs offered in the Kilauea area, for just one example, and discovered that some of the owners are Realtors, people who already have TVR permits — in short, folks who really ought to know better.

Like Realtor Bruce Fehring, who has a legal TVR, Hale Kaikalani, as well as Twin Hearts — a not-so-legal “homestay.” In the web copy, he even has “homestay” in quotes, because he knows — wink-wink — that Twin Hearts is a TVR on ag land that failed to secure a permit, and is now masquerading as something it's not.

Then there's Allen and Catherine Rietow, who rent the Aloha Sunrise Cottage and its twin, the Aloha Sunset Cottage, on their seven-acre ag parcel. But they don't even try in their ad copy to pass them off as either B&Bs or home stays, just unpermitted TVRs.

Randy and Jill Smith, meanwhile, rent the Jasmine Nights cottage, which presumably could pass as a “homestay” because the owners at least serve as hosts. But how, exactly, is it any different than a TVR on ag land, for which permits are no longer being issued?

And since the proposed ordinance only addresses homestays/B&Bs in the residential district, what exactly is going to happen to the dozens operating on ag land?

Francesca Azuremare-Woolger, also a Realtor, advertises “Several private cottages in and around Kilauea area,” while Richard A. rents out the Coconut Hut.

Realtor Harvest Edmonds — who claims to be “a passionate supporter of sustainable agriculture on Kauai,” even as she helps turn North Shore ag lands into resorts — argued passionately for TVR permits on ag land, claiming she and her husband would otherwise lose their land. She got a permit, but then went ahead and created another TVR/homestay/B&B — the “Green” Cottage.

Then there's the “Kauai Retreat Center,” on ag land in Waipake, that offers six-bedrooms — all with “private outside keyed entrances.” At what point, you may legitimately ask, does a B&B become a hotel?

Let's not forget The Palmwood, which bills itself as “an update on the traditional bed and breakfast,” because it's actually a three-story TVR in the hills of Moloaa that rents its three rooms for about $300 each per night.

Or the Anahata Sanctuary, with its six “sacred chambers” (bedrooms) and meditation temple that is “a perfect place to meet Conscious Like-Minded People.”

Are you starting to get the idea that these aren't really mom-and-pop establishments operated by na├»ve landowners who have been brutally victimized by callous county enforcers? 

Instead, they're just the latest round of TVRs seeking permits that were no longer supposed to be granted.

The question now is will the county cave? Or stand its ground and shut 'em down?