Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Musings: Winding Down the Year

Great flashes of lightning lit up the sky and the thunder was rockin’ and rollin’ last night, causing Koko to tremble so violently that the bed was actually vibrating. So we went out into the wild night, during a break in the rain, and once she discovered what was happening, that seemed to calm her and we both settled down to sleep.

Sleep was all I wanted the first night back in my own bed after a week of staying up way past my usual bedtime and a long day of travel back to Kauai from Portland. It’s a nice city, not too sprawling or congested, and the downtown has a river running through it and buildings that aren’t scraping the sky.

Aside from daytime temperatures being 40 to 50 degrees cooler than Kauai, at least while I was there, I noticed a few other differences. For starters, folks were driving much smaller cars, and SUVS and pick-up trucks of any size were scarce. The people living there were also a lot whiter, and not just from lack of sun, and the food prices were about 30 percent lower.

It has a rather sizable homeless population, too, which seems to be comprised primarily of men, as opposed to the families you see here. Or at least, it was mostly homeless men who crowded the downtown library — a facility whose size and collection I haven’t experienced since leaving college, and it was even open on weekends — the cold afternoon that we stopped in.

All manner of public transportation was available, from trolley cars and buses to an above-ground rail, although we walked a lot, which was just fine with me, and there was an abundance of little coffee shops that always seemed to be full.

It was fun to do the city thing for a while, and even more fun to spend time with my family, although I must say that I was glad when I heard birds singing at the Honolulu airport and even gladder when I got home and received Koko’s enthusiastic greeting.

I like to be back in my own digs as the year winds down, so I can put things in order before the year starts. Apparently I’m not the only one who likes to tie up loose ends: the Hawaii Superferry Oversight Task Force has just released its final report to the Legislature, and a hat tip to Dick Mayer for noticing. (Click on the 12-29 report).

I had to download a new version of Adobe reader to access the report, but when I did I saw the panel, which is due to be disbanded this month, noted that many of the issues that need to be studied are beyond its purview. Still, it came up with a number of recommendations that should be implemented, including:

Establish an alternative night route during whale season and conduct further studies on the impact of marine mammals, give recognition and consideration to Hawaiian cultural customs and practices (presumably some that go beyond giving the ship a Hawaiian name), limit the restrictions on fin fish, octopus and limu for personal consumption and fund data collection for future natural resource issues.

Most notably, it recommends repealing the repeal date of Act 2, which was set to expire in 13 months, to ensure the EIS is completed and there’s opportunity for public review.

Hmmm. I wonder how that whole issue might be impacted by the case now before the Hawaii Supreme Court?

Anyway, I don’t have time this morning to go into the report in detail, so check it out and share your observations.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Musings: Cracks in the Facade

Portland, like much of the Northwest, has been pretty much paralyzed by the unusually high amount of snowfall it experienced over the past week. Some of the busier city streets were plowed, but badly, and many residents lack snow shovels to dig their way out. Big snow like this (and I'm talking about 10 inches in the city) apparently doesn’t happen all that often.

I’ve enjoyed walking through a winter wonderland, seeing sights like holly with vibrant red berries and red cedar frosted with snow and icicles dripping from eaves. But I think a lot of folks here are sick of what they view as a major inconvenience.

And then I checked my email and saw several references to last night’s lighting strike-induced black out on Oahu. It left most everyone on the island without power, including President-elect Obama, who apparently is staying in a beach-front rental home. Hmmm. I wonder if it’s one permitted for vacation rental use. At any rate, it seems HECO had similar problems following the Big Island earthquake, and they weren’t the only ones. The Honolulu Airport, Waikiki hotels and the water department also stumbled last night, leaving one to wonder why they haven’t worked out some sort of coordinated response to such situations.

It got me thinking that we don’t need to worry about terrorist strikes destabilizing the nation. A little bit of unusual weather, any disruption to electrical service or the transportation infrastructure, and the whole system just falls apart. Kind of makes you realize just how vulnerable and tenuous “modern civilization” really is. It’s all about power and mobility, and if either are restricted, it fails to function.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s demonstration at the state Capitol to protest the sale of the so-called "ceded lands" was relegated to B Section coverage in the Advertiser, which had to post its paper on-line because the power outage kept its printing presses from functioning. But a rally held in solidarity on Kauai got front page coverage in today’s The Garden Island.

The Advertiser article spoke of the “newly formed Hawaiian Independence Alliance” joining with Hui Pu, a pro-independence umbrella group, to stage the protest. I keep thinking that maybe this U.S. Supreme Court case may be the catalyst to mobilize and unify Hawaiians — and hopefully it will happen before it’s too late, or the Akaka Bill is pushed down their throats as an option to losing everything in an unfavorable high court decision.

The Hawaiian situation came up last night when one of my sisters mentioned Tibet, and how tragic and difficult it would be to live in or visit a place where a nation’s culture is being annihilated, And I said, well, that’s what’s happening in Hawaii.

It struck me that many Americans know more about what’s going in Tibet than one of their own states. We talked about the oppression of kanaka maoli in Hawaii and how Native Americans had suffered a similar fate, with miserable consequences, as exemplified by the two men we'd met on the MAX, Portland's light-rail system. We were coming back from the airport my first night in the city, and it was after midnight and bitter cold when the men hopped on to warm up for a while. I smiled at them and they struck up a conversation, quickly divulging that they were Native Americans, and homeless in their own land. My thoughts immediately flashed to all the homeless kanaka in the Islands.

The next day I briefed my brother-in-law on the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and “seized, not ceded,” lands issue, and his immediate response was: “that’s not right.” I think a lot of other folks living in the contiguous 48 would agree, if they only knew the facts, but they just aren't getting out.

Instead, Hawaii is presented repeatedly as a paradise where all is lovely and devoid of trouble and strife — until lightning strikes and the kanaka maoli rise up and the cracks in the facade are once again revealed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

The crescent moon kept Koko and me company on our walk this morning until we ran into my neighbor Andy and his dog, who joined us, offering laughter and conversation, though not so spirited as yesterday's discussion on just how the whole business of Hawaiian independence/sovereignty might work.

I'll delve into that in another post, as well as the topic of vacation rentals. I've got some hot new info on that one, but lately I've been pressed for time, what with trying to finish work and get ready for yet another trip to America. I'm headed to Portland today, where there's about a foot of snow on the ground in the city, below freezing temperatures and more snow expected tomorrow.

It's quite a shift from the sunshine that turned a light rain into a tiny specks of gold as Andy and I parted ways this morning, but the warmth of hanging with two older sisters, a brother-in-law and a niece, none of whom I've seen in quite a while, will take the edge of the chill. Meanwhile, blogging is likely to be sporadic over the next week.

I'm not much of a Christmas person, what with all the religious and materialistic overtones, but I wanted to share this photo of the lights that hang outside my window. In the photographing process, the lights somehow took the shape of hearts, so it seemed a fitting tribute to the true message of the season: peace and love.

Here's to more of it!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Musings: Surrender Politics

The sky was all soft lavender and rose, turning the clouds a smoky pink, when Koko and I went walking this morning, bathed in the rays of the sun, which lately has gone missing.

It’s the solstice, and while it’s the longest night of the year, it’s also the point where the shortening stops and the days soon begin to lengthen again, that transitional time between autumn and spring.

I’ve been watching Barack Obama prepare for his transition into the White House, and his Cabinet picks keep bringing to mind a comment made by GOP Presidential contender Mike Huckabee:

“My guess is that Barack Obama will more disappoint his supporters on the far left than he will enrage his critics on the far right.”

His choice of so many Clintonites; indeed, Hillary herself — since when is “star power” an important attribute for Secretary of State? — caused me some discomfort, as did his pick for Treasury secretary: Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and one of the architects of the big $700 billion public money giveaway.

Even worse was former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a supporter of factory farms, genetically engineered foods and ethanol subsidies, as Secretary of Agriculture.

While Obama’s other picks may be recycled middle of the road types from within the existing political circle, Vilsack and Geithner in particular represent the kind of unconscious “grow/spend our way out of this” mentality that is at the root of so many of our present difficulties.

As The Washington Post observed:

But many of Obama's other picks reflect his apparent preference for practical-minded centrists who have straddled big policy debates rather than staking out the strongest pro-reform positions.

To the most aggressive advocates for change in the course of government, Obama's preference for centrists such as Vilsack who are amenable to rival camps is a discouraging sign that the status quo will prevail.

I’ve shared my concerns with friends who are decidedly left of center, and while they are uneasy, too, the discussion keeps coming back to “well, at least he won’t be condoning torture,” and “hey, we have a chance to get universal health care, and that’s not a small thing.”

Most of them, like me, never did expect that Obama would usher in a whole new era of progressive change. It was more like he was viewed as someone who might at least halt the creeping, craven darkness of the Bush era.

My sentiments were best expressed in a New Yorker article that was published right after Obama won the election. Reporter David Remnick went to New Orleans, where he interviewed Jerome Smith, “a veteran of the Freedom Rides in Alabama and Mississippi” who now runs youth programs.

Obama winning the Presidency breaks a historical rhythm, but it does not mean everything,” Smith said. “His minister did not lie when he said that the controlling power in this country was rich white men. Rich white men were responsible for slavery. They are responsible for unbreakable levels of poverty for African-Americans. Look at this bailout today, which is all about us bailing out rich white men. And there are thousands of children from this city who have gone missing from New Orleans. Who will speak for them? Obama?

“Obama is the recipient of something, but he did not stand in the Senate after he was elected and say that there is a significant absence in this chamber, that he was the only African-American and this is wrong. He is no Martin Luther King, he is no Fannie Lou Hamer”—who helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, in 1964.

“He is a man who can be accommodated by America, but he is not my hero, because a politician, by nature, has to surrender. Where the problems that afflict African-Americans are concerned, Obama can’t go for broke. And the white people—good, decent white people—who voted for him just can’t understand. They don’t have to walk through the same misery as our children do.”

Smith was angry but, as an activist contemplating a mainstream leader, not entirely misguided. It’s inevitable that euphoria will fade. The commemorations will fade. And what will remain is a cresting worldwide recession, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crumbling infrastructure, a rickety, unjust health-care system, melting polar ice caps—to say nothing of the crisis that comes from out of nowhere.

The dramatic transitions that we as a world must make — especially America, with its immense power and wealth — are not going to be implemented by politicians, either right or left of center. Instead, they must be rooted in individual citizens waking up, speaking up and acting up to make the kind of radical shifts in their own thoughts and actions that will spill over and affect the world around them, one neighborhood, one community at a time.

It's a time to surrender fear, disempowerment and most especially, faith in the transcending powers of politicians and politics.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Musings: Lyin, Cheatin' and Thievin'

It was blustery and gusty and very dark, though not especially early, when Koko and I went walking this morning. As we edge toward Sunday’s solstice, the sun is late in rising.

The moon, exactly half, was made ghostly by racing clouds and the loathsome albezzia creaked and groaned in the wind as the inflatable Santa down the street took a wild Superferry-kine ride in his madly bobbing sleigh.

For those who just can’t get enuf of the Superferry, here’s a link to yesterday’s oral arguments before the Hawaii Supreme Court. The issues are the constitutionality of Act 2 — the special legislation that allowed the boat to run without an EIS — the public’s right to have a proper EIS done on the project and whether attorney fees for Isaac Hall, who has been challengng the state and HSF on this matter, should be limited to $200 per hour.

It seems only fair that Isaac should be awarded more than 200 bucks an hour. After all, yesterday he went up against two attorneys for the state and three for HSF, all by his lonesome. And shoots, the state has already pissed away well over $40 million on this boondoggle. What’s another mill or two for ole Isaac? God knows he’s earned it as one of the few attorneys in the state willing to do what’s right instead of sell out to liars, cheats and land thieves.

Besides, the state could make HSF pick up most of the tab, because according to the auditor’s report, this whole fiasco was driven by the company’s demands, anyway.

Yesterday I chatted with Rep. Mina Morita — she’s on vacation, skiing in Mammoth — about the auditor’s report. Her take on it:

“Everyone was criticized, and rightfully so. This was bringing out the worst in politics. They (lawmakers) were not even thinking things through, but trying to please and help their friends.”

As you may recall, Mina and Kauai Sen. Gary Hooser were among the few who voted against Act 2. Mina made a good point when she noted that an even bigger issue than HSF’s environmental impact is its financial viability “and they still haven’t proven that.”

Mina went on to say that overt end-runs of HRS 343, the state’s EIS law, aren’t the only concern here. She’s also worried about the more subtle erosion of the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC), which implements that law.

“They’re so short-staffed and they play a really important role. With the budget cuts, for many years there’s been a dismantling of that office. We’re going to have to pay special attention to what happens to OEQC.”

We also need to pay special attention to the ongoing problem of domestic violence, what with a record 11 women being killed this year in Hawaii and untold others beaten and/or emotionally abused. The Advertiser and KGMB teamed up for a multi-part series that does a good job of expressing the underlying dynamics of power, control, secrecy, shame and fear.

Of course, drugs and alcohol often play a role in so many troubled families. I interviewed two women yesterday who run a social services program on Kauai, and they said they are now seeing great-grandparents raising children because the grandparents and parents are in jail, many for ice. Incarcerating multiple generations isn’t going to solve this problem. We need to stop treating addiction like a crime and provide rehab services, while addressing the socioeconomic issues that so often are the root cause.

A friend who lives in Illinois was telling me that many of the folks she works with at a concrete plant, as well as those in the local construction trade, have prison records. She wrote in an email:

Once again, it is the glaring discrepancy of what blue collar people do time for vs. white collar crime. Incredible.

Yes, just take a look at Wall Street, where the perps made off like bandits and the feds stepped in with billions to cover their crimes. How many of those Armani-suited crooks will ever see the inside of a cell, even the country club prison kine, or be forced to turn over their ill-gotten gains?

Meanwhile, the bruddahs do time at KCCC and are ordered to pay restitution from their $10-an-hour jobs.

Justice ain’t blind. It’s just tends to look the other way when the rich and powerful are doing the lyin’ and cheatin’ and thievin’.

And on that note, be sure to check out the documentary "Noho Hewa," which will be screened at 6 Saturday night at the KCC performing arts center. Garans, it'll make you think, and likely cry a little, even if you're not the thinking, crying type.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Musings: Kill the Messenger

It’s fitting that the papers today — at least, the Maui and Honolulu ones — are all abuzz with news of the final state auditor’s report on Hawaii Superferry — just as the state Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of Act 2.

And interestingly enough, state auditor Marion Higa is especially critical of Act 2 — the law adopted in a special session to let the ferry run — for all the reasons that have been raised by its opponents. She notes in the summary:

We also found that the legislation on behalf of Hawai'i Superferry compromised
the State’s environmental laws and set a worrisome precedent for future
government accommodation that puts the interests of a single business
before the State’s environmental, fiduciary, and public safety responsibilities."

Higa provides the detailed rationale for her criticism of Act 2 on page 28 of the report (and hat tip to Dick Mayer for finding all the juicy bits):

….Act 2 undermines the State’s environmental policy and review process as it relates to large-capacity ferry services and ferry vessel companies and substitutes a negotiated environmental review process tailored to the Hawai'i Superferry Inc. It muffles the EIS law by insulating significant elements of the Hawai'i Superferry Inc. operation from any required environmental review under Chapter 343, HRS.

Higa also lays bare the shibai that the law wasn’t drafted solely to benefit HSF:

Because Hawai'i Superferry Inc. is the only ferry vessel company able to take advantage of the small window of time created by Act 2, it appears that the legislation was designed to benefit a single operator.

She then raps the Lege and goes right to the gist of this whole sordid mess:

While it is within the Legislature’s authority to amend laws in response to judicial decisions, it is questionable policy-making to suspend current environmental laws for a 15- to 16-month period to enable “large capacity ferry vessels” to operate under a temporary law. Once the window is closed, Chapter 343, HRS, will go back into effect for ferry operators. In the end, Act 2 enabled the Hawai'i Superferry Inc. to enter the market without having to meet the initial requirements of addressing its operational impacts on the environment set forth in Chapter 343, HRS, and reinforced by the state Supreme Court."

Higa also focuses in on the state harbor expenditures to accommodate the ferry in an assessment that reflects poorly on the Lingle Administration:

State officials ignored
 the recommendations of their technical staff, setting off a chain of events that
 culminated in the selection of inadequate harbor improvement systems.

Saddled with a deadline imposed by Hawai'i Superferry and supported by 
administration officials, DOT technical staff implemented the only harbor 
improvement system that could meet their time horizon, a combination of barges 
and ramps, which was not their preferred choice.

The state-funded $38.5 million
 harbor improvement system has proved to be problematic, best exemplified by
 Kahului Harbor’s barge, which is continually battered by high winds and waves. 
Not only have the barge and pier incurred more than $3 million in damages (the 
liability of which has yet to be determined), the barge also requires the services of
a tug boat to secure it to the pier during ferry operations. Like the barge and pier
damage, responsibility for this significant extra expense has yet to be determined.

But the State has a larger and more expensive challenge over the horizon. Last
 summer, Hawai'i Superferry officials announced that they will be outfitting their
 second ship with an onboard ramp, a feature that eliminates the need for the $10 
million barge-and-ramp system at Kawaihae Harbor and the $2.5 million ramp at 
Nawiliwili Harbor, both built to accommodate Hawai'i Superferry and no other 
users. If company officials choose to retrofit their first ship, the Alakai, with 
a loading ramp, the State’s entire $38.5 million barge-and-ramp system would 
quickly become unnecessary. Because the barges were designed specifically for 
Hawai'i Superferry use, they cannot be repurposed in their present configuration
by other harbor users. In addition, since they were built in China and are therefore 
prohibited from transporting cargo within U.S. waters, the barges may have little
 use for potential buyers. This situation would have been avoided if state officials
had required Hawai'i Superferry to carry an onboard ramp in the first place.

The Maui News reports that Higa was unaware of the Supreme Court hearing and did not time her release to coincide with it.

The Honolulu Advertiser also covered the story, reporting:

Brennon Morioka, the director of the state Department of Transportation, said in a written response to the audit that new ramps on Superferry would not render the state's barge-and-ramp system obsolete and described the finding as "an inaccurate conclusion." Superferry is repaying the state for the harbor improvements.

Morioka also claimed that Higa exceeded the scope of her audit and reminded her that the governor and the Legislature were seeking to "strike a balance between the public interest need for an alternative form of inter-island transportation and concerns for the environment."

So once again we have the Administration essentially claiming that all this circumventing and undermining was OK, because it was really in the public’s best interest, so Higa should just shut up and stop poking about in all the corners and closets.

The Star-Bulletin’s coverage focuses on the intense pressure exerted by HSF, with a subhead that reads: “A report depicts an aversion to making the company conform to legal requirements.” It goes on to state:

Hawaii Superferry made it clear: Build the ramps or the ferries are not coming to Hawaii, [state Harbors Division director Mike] Formby added. In 2004, state officials were told -- prior to the construction of the Alakai -- that a ferry with a built-in ramp would not work with the design of the boat.

Furthermore, when permanent harbor improvements, including building a new pier at Kahului Harbor, were suggested, they were shot down to meet deadlines imposed by Hawaii Superferry.

According to the report, the administration felt it could not "secure all the necessary environmental assessments for the permanent harbor improvements in time to meet Hawaii Superferry Inc.'s deadline."

Both Honolulu articles are followed by comments, but those on the S-B site are more interesting. I especially liked the one complaining that all of the auditor’s reports are “negative and damning” — and then blames that not on a repeated history of state screw ups, but the auditor’s own personal failings and “need to punish.”

Classic. Don’t finger the culprits, or hold them responsible. And please, don't tell us all this bad stuff we don't want to know. Instead, kill the messenger and keep us all in blissful ignorance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Musings: Facing Future

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon in the wind and salt spray, amid a colony of Laysan albatrosses doing their thing in what is now the nesting season. Lying on my belly on soft grass, I watched them soar, effortlessly, silently, fast, their orange feet acting as rudders, at times swooping right over me and on take off, their giant wings just feet from my head.

Being with the birds always causes me to wonder just why it is that humans have gotten into this mindset that we need so much. You don’t see any birds building giant nests to impress their neighbors or creating multiple nests that they don’t use or need or constructing warehouses to store up supplies of squid.

No, each pair claims just one small patch of earth, and using the materials at hand, crafts a little bowl of ironwood needles and soil in which they lay an egg.

This year their nests are higher than I’ve ever seen, some rising a good six to eight inches above the ground, almost like platforms above a moat, prompting speculation that perhaps they’re expecting a very wet winter.

While there, I saw two infertile eggs replaced with eggs taken from nests at Pacific Missile Range Facility. The Navy doesn’t like birds on the base — they actively discourage nene from grazing on the lawns, too — so the poor albatrosses that nest there (adults return to the place they were born to raise their own young) never get a chick. It’s just another one of the small ways we screw with nature.

But at least their eggs are moved elsewhere so the population increases on the North Shore, where they aren’t considered a nuisance or threat to national security. And the adults gracefully accept the new eggs and go on to raise the chicks as their own.

We have albatrosses here because we don’t have the mongoose, or at least not large numbers of them, although the Kauai Invasive Species Committee folks tell me they are certain that at least a few of these critters, which prey on ground nesting birds, are now established on our island.

The bad news is that controlling alien and invasive species is likely to be one of those programs hit hard by the hard times, meaning further degradation of Hawaii’s unique native ecosystems. It’s really unfortunate, but not surprising, that Gov. Lingle’s economic plan included no new initiatives for conservation projects to protect the environment that is literally and figuratively our bread and butter.

Environment Hawaii reports that the Lingle Administration has failed to implement a law adopted by the Lege that calls for a new cargo fee to beef up inspections on imported goods. Somehow she and her team still haven’t recognized that it costs far more to eradicate pest species — if such action is even possible, and it usually isn’t – than to keep them out in the first place.

Meanwhile, we’re trying to promote Hawaii as a paradise even as we’re importing the little fire ant (on Kauai, there’s already one infestation in Kalihiwai) and other pests and allowing the natural world that makes this place so unique and special to deteriorate.

Go figger.

And that’s just on the local scale. Globally, scientists are warning that the Arctic is warming at an unforeseen pace:

The US National Snow and Ice Center says temperatures recorded today weren’t expected for another ten to fifteen years. Researchers say autumn temperatures were higher because of the heat accumulation from increased melting in the summer. The process, known as Arctic amplification, could signify Arctic melting has hit a point of no return.

Do you suppose the kids in Greece are rioting not just because a cop killed a teenager, and the economy is flailing and they’re sick of the corruption that permeates their own government and others around the world, but because they recognize, at a much deeper level, that the future that’s being handed to them isn’t much of a future of at all?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Musings: Mixed Plate

Late yesterday afternoon, a friend, thwarted by dirty water in the unending quest for surf, joined Koko and me for a walk on the beach at Anahola. A big load of guava and hau wood had been washed down by the river and deposited on the sand, where some of it had been fashioned into a sculpture decorated with Christmas lights.

From that vantage point we could see, and hear, a huge thunderstorm rolling its way seaward from the interior, a swirl of heavy black clouds and flashing lightning that dumped big rain on Kapaa along the way, and kept raining and rumbling through much of the night.

This morning, it seemed to grow darker, rather than lighter, as dawn approached, and Koko and I went out walking under what could only be described as a lowering sky. Waialeale and Makaleha were obliterated, and even the Giant was enveloped in a floating cloud mist.

I’m loving all this rain, which seems to me to be a major cleansing of the earth, although I’m sure some folks have had enough, much like the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at the Prez, and unfortunately missed.

It was too bad to learn that afterward he was beaten in custody. I mean, wasn’t it clear he’s already suffered enough? Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Middle East newspapers are filled with glee over the incident:

Most commentators see it as beyond doubt that the treatment meted out to Mr Bush by Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi is a just response to the president's policies in Iraq, although one chides the shoe-thrower for expressing his protest through violence rather than "tough questions".

But surely everyone by now realizes that skirting “tough questions” is perhaps the one thing at which Bush is truly adept.

However, there was a bit of poetic justice in the incident, as Dana Perino, Bush’s shameless apologist, I mean press secretary, ended up with a black eye. Funny, isn’t it, how the universe works?

Meanwhile, it didn’t take flying shoes but a blog post to get the attention of Kauai County Council members Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara, who contacted Farmer Jerry and asked him to get involved in the county's pending ag land legislation. It seems some four bills are being considered that deal with saving ag land.

Still, as Jerry noted, what is being done to save the farmers? He apparently spent some of this recent rainy weather reviewing the documents he’s collected over the years, and in the past, both the state and county did much more to aid farmers than is being done now.

I haven’t had time to delve into the $1.86 billion economic stimulus plan — nearly all of which is directed at Oahu — that Lingle just unvieled, but in reading The Advertiser story, I see no mention of any agricultural initiatives.

Instead, it’s all about infrastructure, which is fine, but what about the basics of feeding us and achieving food independence? Or have those goals gone by the wayside again now that oil prices are in free fall?

The drop in oil prices has got to be good news for Hawaii Superferry, although what will happen when the Supreme Court hears the constitutionality of Act 2 case on Thursday is anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, thanks to Dick Mayer for directing us to this blog, which has posted the briefs in the case.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Musings: "Working" the Land

At some point in the night the rain stopped, the clouds drifted and the moon, full on Friday, was allowed to boldly shine forth. It was still bright and white when Koko and I went walking on this chilly Sunday dawn, in a world so saturated that even the tree trunks are soaked.

Waialeale, hidden for days, was emerging green and fresh from its thick, puffy quilt, and waterfalls streaked down the slopes of Makaleha. I found an elaborate bird nest beneath a stand of ironwoods, a place where I’ve previously collected nests blown down in a storm, and wondered how many birds live in this roadside row of trees.

And then, surprisingly, I ran into farmer Jerry, who was driving not to work but Wailua Homesteads, where he was going to help his friends move out of a $700-per-month-bedroom in someone’s home into hopefully better digs.

Kauai’s long-term rental market has improved slightly, now that the housing boom has bust, and hopefully the folks who were gouging their tenants or acting as slumlords will get their come-uppance with long-term vacancies.

Jerry and I got to talking about housing on ag land, a subject near and dear to both our hearts, especially his, since he’s a bonafide farmer and what you might call an agricultural activist. He’d been attending meetings for months to hammer out a bill for farm worker housing and thought the language everyone had agreed upon was clear — until he saw the draft bill, which was signed by former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who had attended the same meetings as Jerry, and Councilman Jay Furfaro.

Seems the draft bill was lacking key language to make worker housing portable — a provision intended to ensure that the housing wouldn’t remain if the farm was no longer viable. Without such restrictions, the bill amounted to a defacto zoning change for ag lands, Jerry said, because once a house gets built, it’s almost impossible to remove it.

And that raised the question: was the bill really intended to help farmers, or the real estate and construction industries? It's a legitimate question, given that JoAnn received substantial contributions from realtors during her failed mayoral bid and Jay previously worked for Princeville Corp., which has a lot of ag land still undeveloped, and apparently still serves as a consultant to that company.

It’s a question that also could appropriately be asked of another bill, reportedly drafted by JoAnn, but introduced by Jay, that would allow vacation rentals on ag land while the county conducts its assessment of which farm lands are "important" enough to retain that designation. It's unclear just when that inventory will be completed — if ever.

The bill states:

The Council finds it would be reasonable to permit single-family transient vacation rentals on agricultural lands to continue to operate where it can be proved that they were in existence and legal operation prior to enactment of Ordinance 864 except for the State requirements for farm dwellings. This grace period would be allowed only until the County’s agricultural land planning study and related regulations are completed and implemented;…

It’s telling that blogger Charley Foster found the reference to the bill on a blog maintained by Realtor Ronnie Margolis, who cites a letter reportedly from Furfaro providing rationale for the bill:

"…since Ordinance No. 864 regulating single family vacation rentals was signed into law by Mayor Bryan Baptiste on March 7, 2008, the financial system of our country has been thrown into major upheaval, with far reaching consequences for our hard-hit visitor industry in Hawai`i. In a recent briefing of the County Council, Kaua`i Visitor Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said that the Kaua`i Visitors Bureau and the Hawai`i Tourism Authority are now focusing on visitors who CAN come to Kaua`i, as opposed to those who WANT to come."

So in other words, once the going gets a little tough, throw all the regs out the window and return to the “anything goes if it brings ina buck” way of thinking that characterized the post-Hurricanie Iniki years and led to the development boom that is now crashing around our ears.

Margolis goes on to offer what appears to be his own take on the matter:

This legislation is also meant to help farmers who need to provide housing to their farm workers by renting the housing that is on the land they are working. Hopefully, this will relieve some stress for those who work the land and provide local-grown food, and help their cash flow in these recessionary times.

I have no problem with giving a break to bonafide farmers who are also running a vacation rental to help them survive. I know of one person who fits that description and have been told there at most a handful of others. So why not do something specifically to assist them, rather than use the ruse of “helping farmers” to allow realtors and off-island landowners to keep their foot in the door with vacation rentals on ag land?

When I sent Jerry a link to these posts on Friday, he replied in an email:

I'm not surprised. The rationale they use is that this will help farmers stay in business. To add insult to injury the farmers who have not broken the law by setting up an illegal vacation rental on their farms cannot have visitors stay on the farm because they will not be "grandfatherd in". I am close to despair over the treatment of those who work the land.

Problem is, folks seem to have different ideas about the definition of "working" the land.

Meanwhile, the Malama Kauai sustainability show on KKCR ended Friday with this message from Ben Sullivan: "Everybody grow more food."

And so we are confronted with yet another one of those Giant Disconnects.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Musings: Giant Disconnects

I wasn’t expecting much from the sky this morning, given that it’d been rainy and blustery all night, and dark was the operative word when Koko and I set out walking. But then the sun rose, casting a sheet of gold over the Giant, infusing the gray with a wash of pink and forming a rainbow that flung itself up into the ether.

And then it all faded back to gray again.

The wind was brisk, sending the clouds scurrying to the north and rushing through the trees with that deep hooooooo sound it makes, turning the leaves all backward on the java plum and camphor. Stopped to snack at guava alley, a section of the road lined with ripe waiawi, and ran into my neighbor Andy, who was also picking the yellow fruit.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said, because we hadn’t seen each other since the day before that holiday, when I headed out to Colorado to visit my Mom. As I told Andy, she’s moving out of her apartment and into an assisted living facility, a decision that had her feeling excited about meeting new people and making a change.

Even at 84, you can make a fresh start — if you’re willing.

A fresh load of soil was delivered into the sea during yesterday’s storm, in large part because the county is unwilling to get serious about grading runoff, leaving Kauai with a severe case of “ring around the island.”

The situation prompted Don Heacock, our state aquatic biologist, to call me and say he’s been recommending for years that Kauai follow the lead of Washington state and ban grading during the winter months. But the county continues to ignore that suggestion, much to the detriment of our reefs, marine animals and coastal water quality.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the ocean below the Running Waters resort project — now-stalled, and unfortunately, aptly named — fared during the downpour, given that it has so much bare earth exposed on steep slopes. Last time I flew in to Lihue, I couldn’t understand why the county had allowed them to grade such a large area at once.

And if you take a look at Dennis Fujimoto’s photos on The Garden Island website, you’ll see that Kukuiula harbor was seriously muddied and fouled by runoff, too. It seems a likely culprit is all that bare earth at A&B’s Kukuiula project, which has also slowed way down now that luxury digs ain’t selling like they used to.

But in the article that accompanied Dennis’ photos, Don was the only one who commented about the cause of all that muddy water, which prompted the state Health Department to issue a “'brown water warning' yesterday advising the public, statewide, to 'stay out of flood waters (brown water) that may contain pollutants from overflowing cesspools, sewer manholes, animal wastes, dead animals, pesticides, chemicals and associated flood debris.'”

Meanwhile, we have Sue Kanoho, the head of Kauai’s visitors bureau, telling us that we should treat all our tourists with extra TLC because their numbers are dwindling:

"We should all be very aware that the visitors we have now are critical to us. Let’s be sure we're doing the best we can because they are our best advertising. When people have the choice to go wherever they want in the world and their dollar is extra special to them, we need to remember how critical competition (with other destinations) is."

So the tourists arrive and can’t even get in the water or use the beach because the projects that are being built to accommodate more tourists — the ones who haven’t actually yet spent a penny to come here — are polluting the ocean with their runoff.

Don’t county and state officials see the giant disconnect here?

Every now and then, the EPA does get involved, such as leveling a $63,000 fine against Bali Hai Villas in Princeville after finding the company had “failed to install adequate control measures to prevent soil and sediment-filled stormwater from running off the site” while building the condos there.

“It’s unfortunate that for whatever reason they neglected to have their pollution controls in place,” said Dean Higuchi, an EPA spokesman for Hawai‘i. “We went out there once before and found similar violations. We tried to work with them.”

Maybe the fines need to be larger; the company had to pay $15,000 after it was cited for similar violations in 2004.

Ironically, Bali Hai offers its guests a program intended to educate them about the marine environment — while simultaneously polluting it. It's yet another in a series of giant disconnects between what we say and what we do.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Musings: Give Peace a Chance

At midnight, a rumble shook the bed as a thunderclap exploded overhead, and then for the next two-and-a-half hours it was Koko’s trembling that shook the bed as the sky flashed and roared and the rain came pouring down.

Finally, the storm calmed, as did Koko’s nerves, and we resumed our formerly peaceful slumber.

The topic of peace, and the decidedly Hawaiian approach to it through the practice of ho`oponopono, is the topic of an article I wrote for Honolulu Weekly that can now be viewed on-line.

It features the teachings of the Rev. Kaleo Patterson, who has been instrumental in infusing non-violence into many Hawaiian issues, including sovereignty. I like his story because it’s a good example of how people can engage in effective direct action without having hatred in their hearts or resorting to violence.

And I like the ho`oponopono aspect of it because it demonstrates how the Hawaiian culture has responded to what Kaleo terms the holocaust of Western contact.

I was thinking the other day of how the Hawaiian culture is continually co-opted and exploited for all sorts of dubious purposes. The most recent example is the strange amalgamation of park-and-ride, commercial nursery and miniature golf course that is on its way to being built along the highway in Kilauea. According to The Garden Island:

The course will have a Hawaiian heritage theme, showcasing the history of the islands and its flora. Placards numbering the holes will provide descriptions of the Hawaiian Islands, from its volcanic origins, to Polynesian discovery, to the missionary movement, Pearl Harbor, statehood, and on up to the present, the report states. The history of Kaua‘i, particularly Kilauea’s plantation heritage, will also be included.

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first project to merge Hawaiian heritage with the decidedly un-Hawaiian game of miniature golf. I mean, why not tell the history of the islands around the loi and canoe hale and other things that were actually part of the culture? And exactly what version of the history does it plan to tell? Which hole will the overthrow be on?

Anyway, the project is being promoted as a gathering place for the community, much like the new 56,000-square-foot Safeway “lifestyle” store, which the Planning Commission approved Tuesday.

It’s not just a big Safeway, either, but essentially another whole new mall — with an astounding 1,028 parking stalls — on 23 acres near Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. I can’t imagine that we actually need another shopping mall in the Kukui Grove area, but when it comes to consumerism, it’s all about wants, not needs. And besides, the developer is promising us “a range of stores at Hokulei Village that are not now represented in the retail mix on Kaua‘i.”

Oh, joy. Aren’t we lucky.

As I inched through that heavily congested area yesterday, trying to make a 4 p.m. meeting at KCC, I wondered how it could really handle any more traffic. But perhaps it won’t attract any new motorists. Maybe the regular commuters who are already clogging the highway there will inch their way into Safeway and commune with their neighbors over the hot food take-out section before inching back onto the highway and onward to home.

The most amusing part of the project is that it’s based on the assumption that DOT will finish widening Kaumualii Highway to four lanes at just about the same time it’s supposed to open, in approximately two years. That's a good one.

Finally, in comments left on previous posts, some readers continue to assert that Hawaiians do not own the so-called “ceded lands,” claiming that they were handed over to the state in the Admissions Act.

I don’t imagine they necessarily want to be educated on the subject, but those who do may want to read a piece I wrote for the Honolulu Weekly that looks specifically at the issue of who owns the “ceded lands.”

Here’s an excerpt:

The truth is that the lands in question, while often referred to as ‘ceded,’ were actually seized from the Kingdom of Hawai’i during the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy. One hundred years later, the U.S. Congress deemed that action unlawful when it approved the ‘Apology Resolution.’

‘Our land was taken at the point of a gun and now the Hawaiians are begging and suing day in and day out to get what is rightfully ours,’ said Naliko Markel, a minister with the Reinstated Hawaiian Kingdom.

In 1898, the Republic of Hawai’i — led by those who masterminded the coup — ‘ceded’ control of 1.8 million acres of Kingdom lands to the U.S. government and sold the rest to private parties.

‘Ceded lands are stolen lands and therefore they have to be returned to their rightful owners,’ [Kekuni] Blaisdell said. ‘And the rightful owners are not the federal government, the state or OHA. It’s the people who are descendants of the subjects of the Hawaiian queen.’

I wonder if the miniature golf course is planning a restoration of sovereignty hole.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Musings: Hard Times

The moon, growing fuller, was opposite Venus and Jupiter, which are continuing their dance in the southwestern sky, when Koko and I came off the trail last evening. She’d spent her time sniffing, while I feasted on small yellow guava plucked from the trailside trees.

Moonlight continued to illuminate my house all night long, but by morning, thick gray clouds signaled an impending Kona storm and now it’s raining, with the drops falling straight and hard.

Someone sent me a link to Hawaii Tribune-Herald story from last week in which a 66-year-old Big Island man was sentenced to 20 years hard time following his arrest for commercial cultivation of marijuana. Deputy Prosecutor Jason Skier argued that if the judge didn’t slam him with serious jail time, it would "erode the community's respect of the law."

So let me get this straight. Failing to send a pot grower to jail for two decades would erode our respect for the law, yet allowing those in the Bush Administration to get away scot-free after engaging in torture, redactions, assassinations, invasions and other crimes against humanity in the so-called “war on terror”shouldn’t even faze us. Alright. No problem.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving to rescue America’s “Big 3” from their self-inflicted hard times with yet another in a long string of corporate bailouts, this time in the form of a $15 billion loan for automakers.

I’m not a fan of the Cato Institute, which is calling for telling the auto workers' union that its contracts simply can’t be honored. But it did make a good point when it noted that the Big 3 are losing $6 billion a month – so what good, really, will $15 billion do?

Once again, we find that an overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to the bailout, just as they were against the $700 billion shoveled out earlier to save the corporate elite deemed too important to fail. Initially, it seems, folks supported aid for the auto industry.

But evidence in surveys from other organizations suggests that the poor performance by executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler at congressional hearings, and the admission that they had taken private jets to get there, resulted in a steep drop in support for government assistance to automakers.

I think a lot of Americans are feeling like if they have to start watching their pennies, then the fat cats should, too — especially if they’re coming to the taxpayers for a handout and asking their workers to eat it, too.

And just as many predicted, the first federal audit of the $700 billion bailout indicates that oversight is woefully inadequate.

As for the bailout plan, auditors specifically cited weaknesses in determining whether institutions that received bailout money are complying with limitations on executive compensation and dividend payments. For instance, some top executives at institutions that receive rescue funds must repay any incentives or bonus pay that was based on inaccurate financial statements.

"The GAO's discouraging report makes clear that the Treasury Department's implementation of the (rescue plan) is insufficiently transparent and is not accountable to American taxpayers," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Gee, what a surprise. A Congressional oversight panel is scheduled to issue its report today. But given how this bailout was crafted, and who is in charge of its implementation, why would anyone expect that it’s anything but a massive taxpayer-subsidized handout designed to keep the elite on top?

Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time seeing how the auto industry bailout would be any different.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Musings: Ramblings

As the year winds down, and Bush’s remaining days in office dwindle, there’s still time to thank him for protecting us from terrorism through the use of torture, illegal wiretapping and military prisons where people who have never been charged with a crime are held in solitary confinement. Yes, you can join the other 1,049 who have already signed on to express their gratitude.

I bet Sen. Gary Hooser is grateful to his parents for leaving Weedpatch, Calif., where “The Grapes of Wrath” was filmed, and heading for Hawaii — even if he did end up at Radford High. That little nugget, and more, is revealed in “The Hooser Story,” a video posted on his website.

Gary also offers his graphic take on Hawaii’s economic troubles:

The governor, like the department heads and legislators, faces her own budget conundrum. After all, when the economy was good and the budget flush with the now disappeared surplus, it was the governor who pushed to the head of the parade to preen and crow with pride at the great job she had done. Now, faced with the perplexing problem of no one to blame except perhaps the nefarious "global conditions", it is the governor who has ordered the meat cleaver taken to the school budgets.

What else can she do? She has signed on long ago to the "no new tax pledge", so raising additional revenue is out of the question. She has decried the transferring of "special funds" and beat up relentlessly on the legislature for using this tactic to balance past budgets. And she has dissed the next President of the United States.

Thus it is the governor who finds herself now in a box, pursuing the only solution put before her - which is actually no solution at all. For it is not possible to simply cut nearly a billion dollars from the state budget without getting blood all over the floor, and all over your hands.

Sounds like the next session of the Lege is going to be messy. Best put your boots on, Gary.

Speaking of the Lege, the Hawaii Supreme Court is set to decide next week whether Act 2, the law that Lingle and the Lege passed so the Superferry could run without an EIS, violated the state Constitution.

According to an article in today’s Honolulu Advertiser:

Many political observers thought the legal challenges were largely over, but the court's willingness to hear the appeal so soon raises the possibility that Superferry may again be stopped.
"This case is now a case of even greater public importance," Isaac Hall, the Wailuku attorney representing the environmental groups, said in court filings.

Seeing Isaac’s name there in print got me wondering if the state and Hawaii Superferry have ever paid the legal fees that were awarded to him in the last go-round of court proceedings. And just how much were they?

The article goes on to report:

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), said she believes the Legislature acted properly. She wishes, however, that the state House, Lingle and Superferry had agreed with the Senate and supported an environmental review of the project before the court ruled that such a review was required.

"If the Supreme Court comes back and says that we don't have the right to make exceptions to the law, for whatever reason, then we're going to have a major problem," Hanabusa said.

I know that in theory, the Court is supposed to be neutral and weigh each case solely on its merits, but do you suppose the Justices might be a little pissed off that they issued a clear ruling about the ferry, and then the Lege and guv thumbed their noses and passed Act 2?

All I can say is it sure would be great to see the Court smack down the Lingle Administration on this issue again.

And finally, even though some of my posts irritate him to no end, John Powell over at Hiking in Kona blog kindly sent over a link to a Scientific American article on GMO crops that offers this chilling assessment:

To date, Hawaii's fertile soil has nourished more than 2,230 field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, wheat, alfalfa, beets, rice, safflower, and sorghum—more than any other state. A total of 4,800 acres (1,940 hectares) of such crops now grow throughout the state, some 3,500 (1,415) of which are corn and soybeans, 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of which yield genetically engineered papaya, and the remaining 10 percent are field trials for new potential GM crops.

It ends with this apt observation:

The bottom line: Hawaii may be the GM crop test capital of the world, but the debate over biotech foods is far from over.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Musings: Land Grab

The sky was a smattering of stars, with the Big Dipper’s handle pointing down toward my house, when Koko and I went walking on this dark, cool morning. We ran into farmer Jerry, who alerted us to a fog bank up ahead, and though I never saw it, I felt its cool embrace.

Dawn approached, revealing streaks of cirrus clouds, which it tinted pink, until they were overwhelmed by masses of dark that rolled over Nounou ridge. Down the road a piece, the neighbor’s inflatable turkey-Pilgrim has been replaced by Santa and his sleigh being pulled by a team of two, the other six reindeer apparently MIA, or in this case, left uninflated on the shelves of Wal-mart.

Ah yes, tis the season of the deeply ingrained myth that once a year an omnipotent being will overlook the previous months of bad behavior and grant all the wishes we’ve detailed on a cleverly crafted list.

That seems to be the myth that’s driving Gov. Lingle and her AG, Mark Bennett, in their attempt to convince the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) that the State of Hawaii should have control over some 1.2 million acres of land appropriated from the Kingdom of Hawaii following the 1893 illegal overthrow.

In a brief filed Friday,, the state took the stunning new position that Native Hawaiians have no claim to the land at all.

In taking this approach, the state is seeking not only to overturn the Hawaii Supreme Court injunction that bars it from selling the so-called “ceded lands” until Hawaiian land claims are settled, but to ace kanaka maoli out of their land entitlement altogether.

If the high court buys in, it would effectively scuttle the restoration of a sovereign nation, casting Lingle and Bennett in the roles of those who not only conducted a second coup, but extinguished the last flame of hope that keeps many kanaka maoli going.

Wow, that’s a great legacy you’re building, Linda. Seems like just the dirty deed that's needed to firmly cement your standing among the other imperialists in the Grand Ole Party.

Needless to say, the Lingle-Bennett position has a lot of folks justifiably up in arms, as Gordon Pang reported this weekend in The Honolulu Advertiser. The article generated well over 200 readers’ comments and prompted calls for Lingle’s impeachment.

The sentiment of many was summed up in this statement:

It's a pretty immoral position for the governor to take," said Bill Meheula, an attorney representing OHA [Office of Hawaiian Affairs] in the case.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, a professor at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, also nailed it:

"This is against all the agreements that we've had with Gov. Lingle about ceded lands and this is a way to undercut our rights to ceded lands," Kame'eleihiwa said.

The New York Times ran an article yesterday on the demise of Molokai Ranch in the face of community opposition to its development plans. It ended with a line that contained language and sentiment not often expressed in mainland publications:

And beyond matters of fair market value, there is another challenge: achieving this elusive thing called pono.

It is difficult indeed to achieve a state of pono in a place where the power structure has been built upon actions and practices that represent the antithesis of righteousness and balance.

The Lingle-orchestrated land grab offers not a correction, but more of the same.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Musings: News Great and Non

If you ever wonder why Kauai isn’t further along in achieving progress on all the things that could really make a difference — affordable housing, sustainability, supporting local ag, reducing waste, eliminating ice — it’s because so much energy is being squandered on total bullshit.

For starters, instead of spending all its time caring for discarded animals, finding new homes for critters and dealing with the tremendous feral cat problem, the Kauai Humane Society is diverting both volunteers and paid animal control officers over to The Path to beef up patrols by county rangers.

As The Garden Island reports:

A volunteer team is monitoring compliance. The group submits a daily summary sheet reporting the number of bicycles, walkers, joggers, dogs and other pertinent details, {KHS Director Becky] Rhoades said.

The humane society has officers patrolling once a day at different times each day in addition to county park rangers’ enforcement, she added.

And this is after “The Kaua‘i County Council grappled with the legislation for more than three months before approving a compromise bill in August,” according to the paper.

But so far, so good. We can all sleep well at night knowing that apparently not one pile of doggie doodoo has been left on the Path.

Then over in Hanapepe, we’ve got Kimo Rosen leading a pro-Superferry protest that is based in the delusion that it’s Kauai activists who are now keeping the big boat away from the island rather than the company’s own financial interests.

He was joined by folks whose thought processes are similarly stunted:

Still, Jennifer Houle said the opposition has not been straightforward. For example, she said there have been no incidents of the catamaran hitting whales.

OK, so under that line of thinking you can only express concerns about the possibility of a huge speeding boat hitting a whale AFTER the humpback is slashed and bloodied in the water.

Meanwhile, the big issues of the day, the ones that could really make a difference in how we all live and exist on this planet, slip by unnoticed, save for a few, like science writer Jan Ten Bruggencate.

In his most recent post on Raising Islands, he reports: “Our island state and the world are even more severely threatened by the acidification of the ocean than previously known.”

Citing research — some of it conducted in Hawaiian waters — by Tim Wootton of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and others, Jan reports that the acidification, which is linked to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, already is causing population declines for some creatures, which serve as food for others.

And you know how everything is linked together, and once one thing falls, it creates a domino effect through an ecosystem. Or then again, if you're a member of the oblivious clan, maybe you don't.

Anyway, Jan reports:

“An alarming surprise is how rapidly pH has declined over the study period at our site--about 10 times faster than expected said in an email to RaisingIslands.

As Jan concludes:

The essence: things are changing, changing fast, and we don't know exactly where they'll end up.

It used to be that Jan’s reports would be published in The Honolulu Advertiser, which apparently no longer has a science writer since Jan left, or any general reporter savvy enough to pick up leads from Jan's blog.

Heck, even one of The Garden Island reporters could have grabbed this story and run with it, since Jan already did all the research and names his sources.

But then, they wouldn’t have time to write about the really compelling non-news of the day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Musings: Back to the Center

I flew yesterday from the brown of Colorado back to the gray of Seattle, where domed and snow-covered Mt. Rainier appeared as the classic baked Alaska dessert, floating on a bed of clouds, with one drifting up to form a halo above the summit. Not too many swimming pools in the backyards of homes in that city, but there is a nice greenbelt that runs through the center.

From the air, and walking through airports, it's easy — and kind of shocking — to see how much land and how many resources are devoted to moving folks around.

Then it was on the emerald balminess of Kauai, treasured both as home and for the gem that she is. A joyous reunion with Koko tempered the sadness I felt at having my Mom and one of my favorite sisters so far away.

We stopped at Opaekaa Falls on the way to my house and listened to the roar of rushing water as the waxing moon somehow interacted with Pleiades and Orion to create light rays shooting up from Nounou.

I recalled the words of the ticket agent in Denver, when he looked at my boarding pass and driver’s license and said, oh, you live there. What a pleasant life that must be, all by yourself in the middle of the Pacific, a separate little world.

And it is, and it’s a marvelous one, despite the flotsam and jetsam — human and otherwise — that regularly washes up on her shores, and then is cast adrift again. Though some who are unevolved, or jealous, may characterize living here as “hiding out,” I see Kauai as being the center of the universe — separate, but very much connected, kind of like the chamber in the bee hive where the queen lives, protected, yet tuned in.

Kauai’s ancient names — Kamawailualanimoku, among them — speak to that standing, though they aren’t used often because it’s so much more convenient, when raping and pillaging the `aina, to pretend that this is just a meaningless chunk of old basalt.

While traveling, I was reading and editing a manuscript on the Alakai and the author made a reference to how Hawaiians considered mountains to be sacred, a connection I explored in a piece I wrote about the mists of Kokee . Other indigenous cultures also revered high places, both because of their proximity to the stars and the most far off distant places, and the role they play in generating water. It seems to make sense to me to cherish the landforms and natural resources that perpetuate life,and when you come right down to it, they all do, for one creature or another.

The question now before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether to perpetuate the status quo in the form of colonialism and appropriation of lands rightfully owned by the indigenous people of this land, or to perpetuate the Hawaiian nation by preserving the land that the state is supposed to be holding in trust until there’s a settlement of the sovereignty issue. The state’s briefs in the case are due today, as Charley Foster noted on Planet Kauai, so it should be interesting to see what kind of arguments they come up with to counter the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling.

Still, can anyone really expect justice from the highest court of the nation that did the taking in the first place? Especially when it's got so many members appointed by an imperialist like Bush.

On the local front, there’s a meeting at 7 tonight at the Lydgate Park main pavilion on the next leg of The Path, which calls for building a boardwalk along the sand and dunes of Wailua Beach. What kind of harebrained idea is that, on a windward coast prone to erosion? Alternatives are going mauka of the highway, fronting the Coco Palms, or following a tree-shaded, one lane road along the Wailua Drainage Canal behind Coco Palms.

If we can't stop the Path, let’s at least put infrastructure along already existing roads and in developed areas, so we can keep our beaches naturally.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Musings: Spontaneous Combustion

It’s a clear, blustery morning in Colorado, with the temperature edging toward 60 and the snow covered peaks of the Rockies visible since the first time I got here.

Took a walk with my sister around McIntosh Lake yesterday, and while the honking Canada geese and gliding hawk of the day before were gone, the sun had tempted a colony of prairie dogs to emerge from their burrows, where they squeaked loudly to sound the alarm of our approach before ducking for cover into their holes. Crossing a stream, what on first glance appeared to be a rock turned out to be a muskrat, which swam gracefully toward its den in the brush that lined the bank.

Then last night, the crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus formed a triangle in a sky streaked by the deep red of a western sunset. Can anything be more soothing, more satisfying, more restorative, than to recognize and appreciate the existence of the natural world?

That connection is part of our DNA, because for all the time that humans have been alive we’ve needed to interact with nature — know it intimately — in order to survive. And in that sort of mindset, all land, all creation, is sacred, because it’s part of the great web, as are we.

It’s only been relatively recently in mankind’s short tenure on Earth that we’ve forgotten that cooperative relationship and adopted the belief system that domination and destruction is progress, and the best course of action is to bully our way over and through.

And that, of course, is the stuff of genocide, racism, intolerance and colonialism, and it remains alive and well, as expressed in all its sordidness in the comments left on ”Driving Over the Remains.”

But many of us still remember a different way of being, and we can and do say, “wait, this isn’t pono,” because there’s absolutely no way that it is. We also know that those of us who don’t want to clamber after the gold aren’t “losers,” but have simply chosen a way of being that has other rewards.

I often wonder, as I read the almost hysterical comments left by some, just why it is that they’re so deeply threatened by the idea of sovereignty or independence in Hawaii, or the cultural and traditional beliefs of others.

I know that their views won't be changed, but it's important to keep an alternative voice out there, which is why I write this blog. As for some of those who comment, my brother-in-law, a computer wiz who had a blog before people even knew what they were, said a lot of folks just go searching for "flame wars."

So who knows. Maybe the flamers will spontaneously combust, much like America's capitalist system, which is now officially in a recession. And predictably, the stock market tumbled once folks were jolted out of their mass denial.

Now the talk is: how long will it last? What more can be done to save the wealth and privilege of a few, while pretending it’s all for the benefit of “Main Street?” It’s no coincidence that the phrase “bail out” is used repeatedly; it fits the sinking ship metaphor aptly.

I’ve mentioned the desirability of passing the reins over to the citizenry. While it’s unlikely government is going to make that move, Richard Cook, a contributor to Global Research, is advocating another approach to give consumers some relief: stop paying credit card bills.

He writes:

So until real relief is forthcoming, citizens who are in distress should simply destroy their credit cards and stop paying the monthly bills. People are already doing this. Arrearages and defaults are climbing, and credit card debt is starting to be viewed as the next bubble to burst. But so what? If people have to use a credit card, that means they can’t really afford to buy whatever it is they think they want. If they can afford it, they should use a debit card instead.

Then tell the credit card company you cannot pay. Ask them to write off some or all of the debt, and if they want to take you to court, go on your own and defend yourself. You don’t need a lawyer, and you don’t need anyone’s permission. You also don’t need to go through the horrendous “reformed” bankruptcy system the credit card companies got Congress to pass in 2005. Failure to pay credit card debt is not, thank God, a crime in this country, and there are no debtors’ prisons—yet.

Besides, if people do not pay credit card debt, that money remains in circulation. So default is actually a form of patriotism in today’s trying circumstances.

Hmmm. Maybe cutting up credit cards and opting out of the consumer frenzy will become the 21st Century's symbol of a new form of liberation, much like burning draft cards and bras back in the '60s. Just don't torch 'em, because burning plastic is toxic, sorta like the system that worships them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Musings: Life Cycles

The gray of Seattle gave way to the brown of Denver, where a fierce wind carrying sleet chilled me as I waited at the airport for a bus to take me north to Longmont, where my Mom moved two years ago with my sister and brother-in-law.

Powdery snow, the first of the season on the lowlands, fell Friday night and is still on the ground this morning, though some of it disappeared in the sun of yesterday afternoon. Wearing a hat and coat borrowed from my sister, I was able to take a nice walk, even though the temp was just 32 degrees.

I lived in this area for three years while I attended college, working in Longmont as a cook at the Et Yet? Inn, and hadn’t been back for 27 years.

Needless to say, I didn’t recognize the place, which has sprawled eastward at a furious pace, gobbling up the farms, although some remain, such as the one right next door to my Mom’s place. It’s part of an open space belt, which the Boulder-Longmont area is famous for, so it’ll be allowed to survive, in part because it contains a lake that yesterday attracted a large flock of Canada geese and in the summer hosts pelicans.

I struck up a conversation with a woman on the bus about my lengthy time away from the region and its unfamiliarity to me now, and she remarked that if she were a Native American she’d be very upset about the urban encroachment into the prairie, where burial mounds and other sacred sites had been disrupted.

So I guess that ”cornpone” — as one commenter described it yesterday —about having some sensitivity to those who came before us does have a few followers even in the US of A.

I’ve been caring for my Mom since I arrived, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to do something for her, considering all she’s done for me. As I helped her dress, I thought of all the time she’d spent dressing her eight children, and as I made her meals, I recalled all the breakfasts, lunches and dinners she’d prepared for us.

“There comes a time when children have to become parents to their parents,” she said, which got me thinking about that thing called life, and its inevitable changes, and many cycles, and what it all really means.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Musings: Driving Over the Remains

Friday morning finds me in America, or at least, roaming its periphery during a long layover at the Seattle airport, enroute to Denver. After enduring five and half hours of extreme body positions that approached torture, I arrived, bleary-eyed and dazed, in darkness that slowly gave way to a low-hanging gray that has barely brightened in the two hours I’ve been watching it.

I’m on my way to visit my Mom, who has been in the hospital for a week and hopefully will be released today. Reading Ian Lind’s post yesterday made me wonder how many families are dealing with similar situations.

He offered his take on it all, and I can only agree:

Bottom line: Treasure the time you have. You never really know when it’s going to end.

I think that's the lesson.

At least his Dad is on-island and not thousands of miles away in what feels like — and is — such a different world, one of coats and boots and people who don’t make eye contact.

No bird song greeted me this morning, just the din of CNN blaring from a big screen TV mounted in every concourse and 40-year-old rock and roll songs blasting from a speaker in the restaurant where I was reacquainted with the jolting effects of coffee — yowza — and threw away bacon that otherwise would have been shared with Koko.

Professor Tse, the kung fu grand master who gives me acupuncture and splits his time between Honolulu and Kauai, said that Kauai folks are healthier because the island is so much quieter. It’s hard on the nervous system, he said, to be exposed to constant noise, to have no opportunity to enjoy the peace of simple quiet.

A handful of people were holding sign outside the Waipouli Bay resort yesterday, trying to remind folks that iwi kupuna buried there before construction started still aren’t resting in peace. Apparently many of the burials remain in a storage container, even though the resort’s been open for what, a couple years now?

My friend Kaimi, who came to stay at my house and watch Koko, said he’d heard reports of doors slamming at the resort and windows opening and closing on their own.

That reminded me of an interview I had with Doug Sears, general manager of the Hyatt, and he was telling me that Stella Burgess, the resort’s director of Hawaiian and community affairs, is called upon to do a blessing or clearing somewhere on the resort grounds at least once a month to quell some sort of “spiritual disturbance.”

At least he and Stella are aware of what’s going on, and how to deal with it. What about all the clueless people who have bought homes or timeshares on similarly disrupted properties, and have no idea why things don’t feel quite right?

That made me think of a comment, left recently on a Nov. 6 post, that most readers probably missed:

Regarding iwi on Kaua'i, I wish that more awareness was given to the massive Kukui'ula project. There are "sites of historical significance" that are blocked off with orange safety nets. These certain areas are off-limits to all individuals and contain iwi and critically endangered species. The orange fences are easily viewed on the new Western Bypass road, going South, at the intersection of the old site road (where the fruit stand was.)

Unfortunately, these sites are only feet from busy roads and have had thousands of cars and heavy equipment zoom by.

On a thousand-plus acre site, I wonder how many iwi were not contained in a small preservation area. There is no doubt that an expansive ahupua'a would have remains littered throughout the numerous lava tubes and rock formations. So, the rich billionaire Bennett Dorrance of Arizona has hired companies to scoop up the rocks, grind them into a huge machine and make little rocks to pave roads and change elevation.

SO, when you are driving on the Western Bypass and golfing at the new golf course, the remains of Native Hawaiians litter the path below.

And it struck me that throughout the Islands we’re driving over the remains of Native Hawaiians both literally and figuratively as we continue to build on burials, continue to overwhelm the indigenous culture, continue to disregard native people and traditional practices that get in the way of a Western notion of progress, continue to store iwi in storage rooms and cargo containers, continue to pretend that the past — and the people who lived it — really don't matter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Musings: Spreading the Wealth

It was a rosy sort of morning when Koko and I went walking on streets devoid of people and cars, save for one truck driven by a hunter with his dogs in the back that got Koko all whirling and twirling and excited. We passed a house with an inflatable hybrid Pilgrim-turkey out front and it gave me a flashback to all those turkeys I made in elementary school while learning a highly romanticized version of the first Thanksgiving that reinforced the notion of white superiority.

I imagine kids are still making their turkey art projects in class, but I wonder if what they’re being taught has changed, now that we have a much better sense of what really went down.

Meanwhile, the news is full of talk about the other thing that's down, and that's the economy, but it’s harder to assess exactly how the shake up is playing out. The other day I was talking to a man who runs a jewelry store, and he said a lot of folks had been turning in their gold Hawaiian heirloom jewelry for scrap value, just to get by. But on the other hand, although tourist traffic has slowed, those who do stop by the shop aren’t holding back on spending money.

So clearly some folks still have, and others who did, now do not.

Democracy Now! recently had an interesting interview with Stephen Pimpare, author of “A People’s History of Poverty in America.” In his book, Pimpare asked: “How has the experience of being poor and in need changed over time?”

And what he found is that even though we like to tell ourselves that things have gotten better for poor people because they now have TV sets and in some cases, access to government and nonprofit aid programs, the “experience of poverty over the course of American history has changed much less than we might like to believe.”

Pimpare observes:

We have historically understood poverty as a moral failure. In fact, we have a whole architecture of language we use to talk about this, the culture of poverty. The notion that there is either something inherent in individuals that leads them to be poor, some sort of moral emotional, intellectual failing, or some sort of collective culture that is born and bred in poor communities, in which we pass poverty around, almost as if it is some sort of disease.

The interview was intriguing because it juxtaposed this view with the prevailing attitude that has driven the massive handouts to corporate America and Wall Street: they’re too big, vital and important to fail. Yet we know that some of them are tanking because of moral failures, in the form of excessive greed, selfishness and disregard for the shareholders, and that some of their actions stem from a collective culture that is born and bred in the communities of the nation’s elite.

Why is it OK to give them the big handout, with few or no questions asked, while the average folks who are down on their luck are treated like losers, dirt bags and scum who must fill out long forms and undergo close scrutiny and evaluation before they government kicks down some food stamps, subsidized housing or cash?

And that’s caused me to wonder, what if we gave all those billions to the people, rather than the corporations, brokerage houses and banks? What kind of nation and economy would be created if people who have spent their lives struggling — the poor and middle class — suddenly had the capital to start a small business or join with others to form a manufacturing cooperative? What if they could attend a college or trade school to improve their skills? What if they were able to pay off their mortgage and their credit cards and live without that crippling, stifling debt?

In short, what if the people, rather than the power brokers, were given the big bail out, the sudden windfall that allows them to dig themselves out of a hole and move ahead?

After all, it is our money.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Musings: Irksome Smugness

Venus and Jupiter are dancing in the west about sunset time these evenings, and though they were long gone by the time Koko and I hit the road this morning, we were treated to another lovely show of sun-flushed clouds in hues of coral, pink, lavender and yellow.

As we approached my neighbor Andy, Koko stood on her back legs, front legs waving in delight, and he remarked that no one greeted him quite so warmly as Koko.

Just imagine how the world would be if people showed their enthusiasm like that, I said. Yes, he agreed, but then think about what would happen when we approached people we didn’t like and started growling.

Ah, the niceties of so-called civilized behavior, where one hides one’s true feelings beneath a veneer of politeness in an attempt not to offend.

Of course, some folks let it all hang out, among them former Star-Bulletin reporter Tony Sommer, who is lately trying to make hay and even scores with his book “KPD Blue,” a poorly researched and highly editorialized rehash of old news billed as a political expose.

In an email to blogger Andy Parx, it became clear why Tony's tenure in this place was so miserable. His take on the recent Council elections and committee organizations reeks of the white man’s burden still shouldered by the neo missionaries who come to Kauai to try and save the poor locals from themselves, and then give up in disgust when the ingrates fail to realize what’s good for them. He wrote:

But, the fact is, the Kauai County government REALLY does represent the majority on Kauai. They REALLY are much more like Asing and Carvalho (Dumb and Duymber) than like us haoles.

And that's why there is no hope for that place.

It really is about race (or at least provincialism).

After espousing that most Kauai locals are “pretty ignorant” and the “smart, ambitious ones all left for Honolulu or the mainland,” he went on to say he would love to be a guest on blogger Katy Rose’s KKCR talk show, discussing “racism [presumably not his own] and brown privilege as it exists on Kauai.”

“What brown privilege?” asked farmer Jerry when I met him on the road and dished the dirt on Tony. “You mean living on the beach for free because you no more one house?”

Tony went on to write:

The majority on Kauai don't want "change in society." They want it to stay just the way it was about 50 years ago. That's their "perceived set of interests." They don't care about your "sincerity, empathy and commitment." They just want you to, as they like to put it: "Go back where you came from."

Tony, whose grousing is most likely based in the unpleasant discovery that, as Katy put it, “his skin color doesn't automatically gain him a place of privilege in social interactions in Hawaii,” did finally take the hint and went back to America – Arizona, to be exact — where he no doubt finds plenty of opportunity to entertain his notions of superiority in a place he describes as “a bit primitive.”

Unfortunately, Tony's attitudes are shared by too many others in America's colonies. They all might be able to learn something by watching a fascinating video interview — posted on Katy’s blog — where Angela Davis speaks quite eloquently on racism, capitalism and prison abolition.

And while I’m on the subject of smug attitudes that irk me, Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge last week reviewed the “Superferry Chronicles” in which he disses the book in part because:

The central theory — so far unproven and denied by Superferry executives — is that Superferry is a military prototype designed to help shipbuilder Austal USA win lucrative defense contracts.

I’m not quite sure why Derrick feels that Superferry executives, who are prone to lies and exaggerations, should be trusted. But despite his refusal to even entertain the notion of this central theory — perhaps because he didn’t think of it himself — evidence to prove it continues to mount.

The most recent little nugget is contained in an Air Force Times article reprinted — well after blogs, including this one, had already broken the story — in his very own newspaper about Austal winning the Joint High Speed Vessel contract.

The article reports:

The contract to build up to 10 Joint High Speed Vessels, or JHSVs, is worth $1.6 billion if all the initial options are exercised.

Unofficially, the program could grow to more than twice that — Pentagon planners are said to be revising upward the number of JHSVs they want to buy, perhaps to as many as 25 ships.”

It goes on to state that the design is based on Austal’s WestPac Express, which was leased to the Marine Corps at Okinawa, then notes that the new JHSVs must meet other requirements:

The ships are to remain operational in Sea State 3 and able to survive Sea State 7.

And where do they regularly have seas that are that rough? You got it, right here in Hawaii, where the Superferry has spent the last year bucking through big Barf-o-Meter waves, showing Austal exactly what does, and doesn’t, work with its design.

But no, there’s nothing to that military prototype theory. Nothing at all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Musings: At the Old Ball Game

A gust of cool wind was the first thing that greeted Koko and me when we stepped outside this morning. The trades are back, and as we walked, I watched them driving huge anvil-shaped clouds toward the mountains, where other clouds were already stockpiled, obscuring both summits and slopes.

From a report circulated via email by Council-watcher Keone Kealoha and an article in today’s The Garden Island, it seems that Kaipo Asing, still heady from his brief stint as stand-in mayor, played a similar role at yesterday’s organizational Council meeting.

The end result of his machinations? Kaipo installed himself as chair, although Jay Furfaro was the top vote-getter, and he set up all the Council committees to ensure that his little voting block — comprising newcomers Derek Kawakami and Dickie Chang, and in-and-outer Darryl Kaneshiro — will prevail on those panels.

As Keone observed:

The count is 4-3; whether you take a walk or consider you're self out, the outcome will appear to be the same in every case.

Such behavior is to be expected from power-hungry Kaipo, who is likely kicking himself in the okole for not running for mayor and whose action is designed to ensure that Jay can’t easily position himself for a mayoral run in 2010. As for Darryl, well, as a rancher he operates under the herding instinct.

But it’s really unfortunate that Derek and Dickie chose to make their entrance into politics in such a partisan way, rather than taking the opportunity to become their own men and establish themselves in their own right.

New TGI reporter Luke Shanahan did a good job of reporting just how dirty and closed Kauai politics can be —and remember, this is what’s conducted in public:

Furfaro, [Tim] Bynum and [Lani] Kawahara each proposed different committee structures, one including repackaging Transportation and Public Works into the same committee.

After meeting resistance, a visibly frustrated council member Bynum suggested that it is not fair that the rest of the council was not privy to the committee assignments process.

Back at the table, Kawahara said she had not been asked anything about how she might like the committees to be organized, and asked councilmember Kaneshiro if he felt the “pre-structured” committees to be in keeping with the idea that the majority rule, but the minority be heard.

“I haven’t heard any reason why it’s no good as it is,” he said.

The article went on to show how Kaipo, his big smile and penchant for blowing kisses aside, is no benevolent dictator:

As the frustration around the table grew throughout the two hour session, Bynum frankly summed up his take on the afternoons proceeding.

“You get four votes,” he said, speaking to Asing from across the table, “then you get to dictate the rest of the process.” He went on to suggest that, though it was legal, it didn’t seem fair.

At one point in the meeting, the new chair expressed frustration at Kawahara and Bynum.

“You pushed it, and pushed it, and pushed it,” he said to Bynum. “Lani pushed it and pushed it.”

It also became clear why Derek, who is obviously looking at his Council term as a springboard to higher office, was willing to align himself with Kaipo:

When Bynum asked for the reasoning behind Derek Kawakami’s appointment to chair the committee on Public Safety/Energy/IGR, Asing said that, as someone with family and other connections tying him to the Legislature, he was well suited to “bring home the bacon” to Kaua‘i.

Dickie, to his na├»ve credit, expressed dismay that “We don’t have a community assistance committee.”

Dickie, Dickie, Dickie. Don’t you know the Council does not exist to assist the community? Just take a gander at the actions of the man you’ve chosen as your leader.

Anyway, looks like the voters who were hoping for some more unity on the Council, and larger roles for Tim and Jay, have struck out. And those who watch the game from the peanut gallery should have plenty of opporutunity to boo, hiss and yell “kill the umpire" and "throw the bums out."