Friday, February 29, 2008

Musings: Bring on the Clowns

Koko and I were blanketed by a celestial patchwork of stars, white clouds and waning moon when we went walking, then dawn stirred and the quilt was reversed to a pattern of gray clouds and blue sky.

Ran into farmer Jerry along the road, who told me, when I asked why the Upper Kapahi Reservoir is so low, that the East Kauai Water Users Cooperative is draining it for repairs. It’s just one of many reservoirs on the island that need fixing, and fortunately some state monies came through to help the Coop — which actually provides water for farming — with the cost.

I asked him about Councilman Ron Kouchi’s comment, in killing the ag subdivision moratorium bill, that we don’t even know how much ag land is needed to feed the island.

“Every bit of it,” was Jerry’s reply.

However, Grove Farm apparently thinks it can be done with 1,000 acres it’s putting into orchards and taro. I had to wonder, if they think they can feed the island with that amount of land, does that mean they’ll be seeking the go-ahead to develop the rest of the 40,000 acres — much of it ag land — they own on Kauai?

It seems Rodney Haraguchi, the largest taro grower on Kauai, will be cultivating the Grove Farm taro lands. He already depleted the land he leases in Hanalei Valley land through intensive cultivation. Now he dumps chemical fertilizer on his fields five times over the 14-month growing period — with the excess flowing into the Hanalei River — and imports Micronesians to do the field work.

You know, just the kind of farming model we want to perpetuate elsewhere on the island.

Why can’t we get small farmers back on the land with long-term leases or better yet, affordable farm lots where they can also build a home?

A friend called yesterday to say she was disappointed to see Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum getting praise for supporting the ag subdivision moratorium, when they were such obstructionists in the vacation rental bill, especially as it related to vacation rentals on ag land.

It’s true. Those two were a total washout on the vacation rental bill, while Councilmembers Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and Mel Rapozo, performed well on that issue, then helped kill the ag subdivision moratorium.

What do these guys actually stand for?

What bothered me most about Shaylene’s and Mel’s stance on the moratorium is they thought it was an important issue, but didn’t like what the mayor had introduced. But rather than try and fix it, they killed it entirely.

"Maybe we could challenge them to come up with a really good bill,” suggested my friend, ever hopeful, even after decades in the land use political trenches.

Maybe. But earlier, I’d run into another friend who had what is perhaps a better solution.

“Let’s get rid of all seven of those clowns,” he said. “We need a new circus.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Musings: Dysfunctional Politics

As we all know on Kauai, somebody is always watching what you do. As a reader noted in an email last night:

“At today's county council meeting where the ag subdivision moratorium was being re-examined, one of those salivating was Falko Partners’ director Shawn Smith. He was salivating probably because Falko has some nice ag property to subdivide, and it didn't look like supporters of the bill could sway the opponents on the council.

“He said it was better than the cage match he watched last night. I wonder if it was rigged like wrestling. I love it when developers reveal themselves true to their ruthless stereotype.

“Shawn is so close to councilman Ron Kouchi that he felt he could send him text messages DURING THE MEETING. For example, after Ron made a point against the bill, Shawn sent him the message "Kick ass! [I love it] when you get rolling." In the address book is almost as good as in the pocket.

“I just wonder what he's planning with Mike Tressler over at Grove Farm.

“To another lucky text recipient, possibly Larry Bowman, he spilled the beans: "Here's my secret - I wrote that letter blasting Bynum." Sure enough, today's TGI has a criticism of Bynum attributed to one Brian Flournoy of Kapa'a. Previous letters by that alias have the same vitriol against ADU sunseting and ferry protestors.

"Never trust a developer, but do read over their shoulders,” the reader/eavesdropper concludes.

Nor, it seems, are emails private. Anna Chavez circulated her response from Councilman Mel Rapozo:

“The problem with the ag moratorium is that it would not prohibit the large landowners from creating CPRs, which would legally bypass the public input process during the division of land. In fact, if the moratorium passes, CPRs would likely increase. Lands would be divided without any opportunity for the public to comment. Is this what we want? I don't think so. Currently, when a landowner wants to subdivide a parcel, it has to go through the Planning Commission. This allows for public testimony. I don't want to see CPRs popping up all over the island. This is a complex issue, and a moratorium is not the answer in my opinion. Thank you for your valuable input. Take care.”

Mel declines to note that CPRs already are popping up all over the island. Nor does he mention that the county has the legal authority to regulate or even stop CPRs on ag land.

But to expect the Council to do anything that would go up against the powerful real estate and development industry is obviously unrealistic.

All it took was a threatening letter from the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii to make Councilman Kouchi babble their party line.

As the Garden Island reports today: “The bill lacks statutory authority, a legal nexus and amounts to an illegal taking, Kouchi said, reading from the foundation’s letter.”

Now aren’t you glad you didn’t elect him Mayor when he was running against Bryan Baptiste and our choice, as one friend observed, was “between the sly f*** and the dumb f***”?

Unfortunately, in this case Bryan has shown himself to be neither bright nor politically savvy, which is why his legislation went down in flames although the testimony received was 100-1 in favor of the moratorium.

According to the Garden Island, even the Kauai Farm Bureau backed the bill:

“Roy Oyama, co-chair of the Farm Bureau, said he supported the moratorium despite its potential to harm farmers by temporarily stopping them from subdividing their land for legitimate reasons.
“Let’s stop the squabbling and get to work,” he told the council.”

Of course, the Council could have fixed some of the flaws — JoAnn Yukimura, an attorney, had amendments ready to do that — but it was easier to blame the Mayor and skirt the issue entirely.

In the end, only Bynum, JoAnn Yukimura and Kaipo Asing voted to keep the bill alive, while Mel, Ron, Jay Furfaro and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho (she’s running for prosecutor next, just so you know) killed it.

So much for caring about what the people want. We’re only the citizens and voters after all, not the rich and powerful ones who can advance their careers.

According to the Garden Island: “To make big decisions you have to take risks,” he [Baptiste] said after the meeting. “I don’t see why the administration has to do it all. This is a legislative body ... they can do legislation just as well as I can.”

Problem is, neither arm of government is doing it well, which is why it continues to be business as usual on Kauai, with the developers and realtors still firmly in control.

As one reader observed in a comment left on yesterday's post: "There is so much dysfunctional politics at play makes you want to disengage from the process and advocate for anarchy."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Musings: Passing the Buck

The moon was just over half full and lined up, roughly, with Venus and Jupiter in a mostly clear sky when Koko and I went walking on a morning so chilly I wore sweatpants instead of shorts.

Waialeale and all the other mountains appeared as mere hulks in the pre-dawn landscape, then came sharply into view as the rising sun rimmed the eastern sky in gold. It’s so enchanting, that scene of night giving way to day, as roosters beat their wings and crow and all the birds start singing.

Still, Spring is on her way, despite the nip in the air, with a friend this morning delivering a bag of heavenly gardenias. The water has dropped a few degrees, too, as I’ve noticed recently on my afternoon swims. It’s hard at first to plunge in, just as it’s hard sometimes to leave a snug bed in the morning, but I’m invariably glad I do.

While driving to the beach yesterday I heard a man on the radio talking about GMOs, saying what’s the big deal; people have been altering and cross-breeding plants and animals forever, and that’s why we have so many different types of fruit and other crops.

His is a common misconception among those ignorant of the technology.

Genetic engineering is not akin to either the processes of hybridization or natural selection. Instead, it involves taking a gene from another organism — typically an entirely different species — and forcing it into an unreceptive cell. That’s done through use of a virus that invades the cell, or electronic bombardment that weakens the cell so the alien gene can slip through.

In this way, it crosses a barrier that Nature herself created precisely to prevent this type of transgenic propagation. But as usual, humans think they know best and have figured out ways to get around this ancient safeguard.

There ain’t nothin’ natural about genetic engineering, and it’s never been done at any time in the known history of the world. It’s a giant experiment, with the ecosystem — including us — as guinea pigs.

And here in Hawaii — the world capital of GMO open field testing — we’re not even allowed to know what the biotech companies are growing, or where. Anyway, if you want to learn more, I did a piece a while back on the technology and controversy for Honolulu Magazine.

I see it as one of the key issues of our time, because it has the ability to affect life as we know it on the planet. As Dr. Lorin Pang, Maui’s state health officer, has often noted (although not in his official position, as his views aren’t shared by the pro-biotech state administration): Once these organisms get out into the environment, as they do daily, wherever they’re grown, there’s no calling them back.

Got a couple of emails regarding the proposed ag subdivision moratorium. The moratorium is temporary, until the inventory of important ag lands is completed. This could take 10 years, and according to an email from Councilman Mel Rapozo, who was questioned by Jimmy Torio: “This is definitely beyond the legal parameters of a moratorium.”

However, Mel goes on to state that the bill came to the Council without a legal overview, so I’m not sure where he came up with the idea that a moratorium can’t last for 10 years.

He also thinks there needs to be “scientific data” to justify the moratorium, and “the crisis has not been adequately defined and supported.”

I guess Mel is not alarmed by our own planning director’s observation that 80 percent of our ag lands are not owned by farmers.

What will constitute a sufficient crisis to protect ag lands, Mel? We already import nearly all of our food and three-acre ag lots in Kealia are selling for $500,000.

Meanwhile, the big land owners and speculators are salivating at the prospect of turning yet more of our ag land into lucrative estate housing for part-time residents.

Mel continues with this bit of buck passing: “Finally, the Mayor once told me that his job was to send over a vision to the Council. It was the Council's job to work out the details. This is totally irresponsible in my opinion. He has access to all the legal advisors, the department heads, the statistics, and the historical data required to properly draft a bill. To expect the Council to do all of the legwork for his vision is simply not acceptable. “

Yes, Mel, it would be nice if Mayor Baptiste did a better job of drafting the bill. But to even get a vision out of the guy is pretty darn good. You on the Council also have access to legal advisors (who give you opinions you don’t share with the public) and all the other county resources.

If the mayor isn’t showing leadership, can’t the Council? Or do we just keep losing ground — literally and figuratively — until somebody is willing to stop passing the buck?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Musings: Fuel-Sucking Tourists

Brrrr is the operative word this morning, which is feeling delightfully wintry, despite the sunshine.

After working all weekend, I have a bit of a respite, so Koko and I headed over to a trail where she can run free and chase chickens and I can walk far enough to escape all sounds of humanity.

I was watching worms move across the trail in that way they have of curling up into a ball and then flinging themselves forward, which I guess is faster than creeping, and all around me were uluhe ferns and birdsong and even a few ohia trees were blooming.

And then along came a helicopter, on the sunrise flight over Waialeale. It got me wondering, as the state moves forward with its 2050 sustainability plan — touted on its website as the “people’s plan” — about how much fuel is used in this state to entertain the tourists.

Just think of all the fuel being sucked down in the helicopter flights, boat rides and movie site tours. And that doesn’t include the AC and hot water in the hotel rooms, the gas in the rental cars. Tourism is the giant gaping puka in the state’s sustainability plan.

Surely Russell Kokubun, the smart, well-intentioned Senator from the Big Island who chairs the 2050 Task Force, recognizes that it’s inherently unsustainable to have 7 million people jet over to these islands every year to consume, consume, consume.

Yet somehow we think we can continue to have tourism and militarism — two of the most wasteful industries on the planet — as our economic mainstays and achieve some modicum of sustainability.

If we were really serious about sustainability, we’d be saving every speck of ag land and creating incentives for people to farm. We’d also be doing everything we can to support taro — the one food crop that we know can support a large population in the Islands.

The county’s ag moratorium is a start, but some on the Council — Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, Mel Rapozo and Jay Furfaro — are trying to kill the measure without any public discussion.

Councilman Tim Bynum yesterday sent me a copy of his views on the issue, which is running today as a guest commentary in the Garden Island.

The issue is coming before the Council again tomorrow, on what is already a packed agenda, with a presentation on the 2050 sustainability plan, a bill requesting money to FINALLY begin development impact fee studies (a system that many other states adopted some 25 years ago) and a resolution supporting SB 958, which imposes a 10-year moratorium on developing, testing, propagating, cultivating, growing and raising genetically modified taro in Hawaii.

Koohan “Camera” Paik, the woman who made the Discover Kauai video, sent me a link to her latest youtube video, which addresses the push to stop GMO taro research.

In the video, Kauai Rep. Mina Morita, who lives in Hanalei Valley, the center of taro production in the state, notes that kalo “is the symbol of sustainability.”

Camera’s video prominently features Chris Kobayashi, a Hanalei taro farmer who overcame her shyness and reluctance to speak out and became a major force in this issue. Way to go, Chris. Nobody can address the topic better than somebody who spends time in the loi.

While all GMO crops are controversial, the modification of taro is especially contentious because it has such tremendous cultural significance. Hawaiians believe they are descended from Haloa, a taro plant conceived by the gods.

“Without Haloa, we’re pau,” Mina said.

Yet the University of Hawaii has been pushing forward with its GMO research even though taro farmers have not requested it. If the state wants to help taro farmers, it should move to address the apple snail problem, water diversion issues and long-term taro land leases, and quit fiddling around with genetic engineering.

Finally, a couple of readers sent me a link to a story that reports Washington state didn’t get even one bid on the MV Chinook, a high-speed passenger ferry it’s trying to sell.

Maybe the Hawaii Superferry folks would be interested. It doesn’t carry cars, but presumably it is operational, which is more than can be said for the dry-docked, rudder-damaged Alakai.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Musings: Playing Charades

The moon, shrinking fast, was still bright enough to illuminate clouds playing ring around Wailalale when Koko and I went walking this chilly morning. But they disappeared before the sun began to rise, sending out broad bands of pink that framed shiny Venus.

It’s shaping up to be another beautiful day.

Ran into farmer Jerry, whom I hadn’t seen for too long, and as the sky slowly brightened we caught up on things, at least those that pertain to agriculture. You can’t cover everything in five minutes along the road.

Both he and I were quoted in a Star-Bulletin article yesterday on the Kealanani subdivision at Kealia. The friend who passed it along noted I could add “shibai expert” to my list of credentials.

I find it extremely ironic that the project’s façade as the state’s “first legal ag subdivision” — the developer’s self-proclaimed reference to a farming requirement in the homeowner association’s bylaws — not only got it approved, but has attracted widespread publicity.

Clever, dem.

Of course, when you’re developing a multi-million-dollar project masquerading as something else, you need to hire a good PR team. Just ask Hawaii Superferry.

And just as HSF hyped itself as being something it’s obviously not — a viable form of alternative transportation in the Islands — so too is Kealanani, with its hiking trails and ocean views and hefty price tags, pretending to be a farming community.

As has been the case in other articles that have appeared about this project, the story quotes buyers who— surprise! — have no actual farming experience, but just can’t wait to get their hands dirty. In this instance, it’s a Lake Tahoe, Calif. family that is planning to make the plausible shift from Poipu timeshare owner to hobby farmer.

They say they do not expect to make a living from farming the land, and instead see it more as a lifestyle. Of course, and it’s the same lifestyle that so many other gentleman farmers seek — one with plenty of manicured lawn around your spacious hale, a few fruit trees (or in this case, cacao) and maybe a horse to complete the pastoral scene.

When the reporter observed that the high land costs might deter real farmers from living there, co-developer Paul Kyno, a real estate agent, blithely replied that perhaps some of them could move into the affordable housing that is planned and work for the landowners.

Yes, the landowners will quickly grow tired of their hot, hard and dirty hobby, thus providing yet another opportunity for locals and earnest back-to the-land hippies to slave for rich haoles. It’s the new plantation model — with none of the worker benefits.

And anyway, Kyno fails to mention the affordable housing, if it happens at all — there is no requirement for the developer to build it — is a good 15 to 20 years off into the future.

Meanwhile, the land use charade continues in another guise. Jerry told me the newest ploy for developing mini hotels on ag land and elsewhere — while also getting around the ban on new vacation rentals and timeshares outside of visitor destination areas — is a scheme known as interval ownership.

Under it, a number of unrelated people join together to buy a property and build a gigantic house, which is broken up into separate living units once the county inspection is pau.

When it comes to making big money, you’ve got the big lawyers working overtime to dream up new ways around the law, while the county either looks the other way or fumbles through a belated response.

In the meantime, the council on Wednesday will again take up Mayor Baptiste’s call for a temporary moratorium on new ag subdivisions. Councilman Tim Bynum has supported the measure, saying there’s a need for an ag planning prcess, but apparently the initiative is meeting strong resistance from Councilman Jay Furfaro.

Hmmm. Do you ‘spose that could that have anything to do with Jay working for big landowner Princeville Corp.?

Baptiste first proposed such a moratorium eight years ago, while on the Council. Although he was unsuccessful then, he’s more confident it will fly this time. An article in The Garden Island quotes him as saying: ““I took a licking. But times are different.”

Are they? It seems like the same old vested interests — the developers, the realtors, the engineering companies, the big landowners — wield just as much power as ever.

What’s the solution? Jerry and I both agreed the county has to aggressively enforce the farm dwelling agreement, which is a provision of state law. Under it, you can own all the ag land you want. But you’d better make sure you’re actually living in the house fulltime and working the land.

So why doesn’t the county do it? It just might have something to do with these same old vested interests noted above.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Musings: Wrong Call

The wind shifted late yesterday afternoon and started blowing hard out of the southwest while I was washing my very grimy car. The rain arrived in the night, and I welcomed it. Already some of the brush on the eastside had started to go brown after this recent spell of dry, sunny weather.

Awoke to cloudy skies, imminent rain and bird song, most notably the intricate melodies of a shama thrush. I was reading the other day that some people keep them precisely for their beautiful music, although I’ve never been fond of seeing birds in cages.

Rats are another story, and while I can’t say I was exactly pleased to see numbah tree in the cage today — despite what I’ve heard, killing doesn’t get easier, at least not for me — it’s one less rodent in my roof. Guess he figured he’d get out of the rain, went to grab a midnight snack on his way to the penthouse suite and oops, wrong call. He's now with his buddies under the camphor tree.

Speaking of trees, noticed in The Garden Island this morning that Ted Erum has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Eric A. Knudsen Trust and its trustee, shopping center developer Stacey Wong, in an attempt to save the Koloa monkeypod trees. Meanwhile, weekly vigils for the trees continue.

Also noticed my neighbor Andy has added a Stokes 4 KIUC bumper sticker to his truck. I ran into my buddy Ken Stokes at the Laundromat the other day, where he gave an enthusiastic account of his new electric assist bike, which helps him get up the hills. He’s even outfitted it with a little trailer so he can transport his laundry, although he had his car the day I saw him.

Ken, who founded the Kauaian Institute and authors the SusHi sustainability in Hawaii blog is certainly well qualified for the KIUC board and akamai about ways to wean us from imported oil.

The “energy adjustment” charge — which allows KIUC to pass on the rising cost of oil — was actually higher than the kilowatt hour charge — the actual amount of electricity I used — on my last bill. It’s pretty nuts for a single person with a small hot water heater, no washer, dryer or TV and conservative electrical use to pay $140 per month. Especially when a friend staying with a friend near San Francisco reported he was grumbling whenever she left a light on because his monthly electric bill was a whopping $35.

Yes, I know the oil has to be transported over thousands of miles and we don’t have the same economy of scale as big American utilities, but come on! Maybe they could start cutting expenses by eliminating their “Currents” magazine, which costs them tens of thousands of dollars to produce and mail. It's an awful lotta hype for a little utility.

Finally, got a nice email from Jonathan Scheuer of OHA who told me he didn’t think there were any federal agents at the "ceded lands" meeting held on Kauai Wednesday night. Two people in the crowd told me there were, but since I didn’t verify it myself, I shouldn’t have printed it.

Still, it didn’t seem necessary to have state DOCARE officers there. I’m not sure whose call it was, but in my opinion, it was the wrong one, because it set a negative tone of fear and mistrust. And that's not a message you want to send to people who are supposed to be your beneficiaries.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Musings: Snookerferry, Homeless and Settlements

Exquisite is the only word to describe this morning on Kauai.

The sun was rising when Koko and I went walking, and Wailaleale — so clear that every crack and crevice was revealed — was tinted a rosy pink and crowned by a still-bright moon just slightly less than full. Ahhhh.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, whom I hadn’t seen for a while, and Koko was ecstatic to see his dog Momi. During the short time our walks converged, we managed to cover the Kauai caucus — he said Sen. Gary Hooser helped save the day at the Lihue precinct by making suggestions for processing voters more quickly — and early sentiment toward Annexation and Statehood, before moving on to the Superferry, which he has now nicknamed Snookerferry.

Since I posted two pieces yesterday, he (and perhaps others) missed the one about the ferry’s extended stay in dry dock, and Brad’s comments with additional links, which can also be viewed here.

In another post on his own blog on the repairs, Brad notes: “BTW, I don't believe Kauila Clark's blessing worked on the Alakai. If they try to operate again commercially here in Hawaii, I might recommend they seek another blessing.”

As Andy pointed out, the ferry has only been operational a fraction of the time since it began service.

“Why is it still here?” he asked. Good question. How much longer will this charade of it providing the Islands with an alternative source of transportation continue?

Apparently some homeless are still at Hanamaulu Beach Park even though the county has prohibited camping there for a month during a major clean up. In her story, Garden Island reporter Amanda Gregg leads with the observation that those who remained “didn’t typify what some envision when thinking of the homeless.”

It’s good to see the message getting out that with Kauai’s high housing costs and outrageous rents, the homeless no longer fit the stereotype of drunken, drugged derelicts. Instead, they’re regular people who can’t scrape up the big money for security deposits and ongoing rent.

Got an email with a link to the House’s proposed bill (HB 266) on the OHA “ceded lands” revenue settlement issue. It still gives OHA $13 million cash and land, but instead of $15 million per year, it proposes a method for doing a yearly assessment of the revenues collected from ceded lands income, and giving OHA a share of that.

There’s a hearing on the bill on Saturday by the committees on Water, Land, Ocean Resources & Hawaiian Affairs, Judicary, and Finance.

And now it’s time to get to work so I can go outside and play on this absolutely gorgeous day. ☺

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Musings: Promoting a Fraud

The charge of working both sides of the street came up numerous times during last night’s Kauai hearing on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ proposed settlement with the state over money it’s been screwed out of for the past 30 years.

The two sentiments voiced most frequently were that OHA, a state agency, cannot be trusted to fully represent kanaka maoli in negotiations with the state, and that such negotiations represent a tacit acceptance that the state has jurisdiction over the 1.4 million lands in question. (Another 400,000 acres are held by the fed.)

“You’re promoting a fraud,” said one man.

“You’re asking us to be collaborators with the enemy,” said another.

About 100 kanaka maoli attended, and a few non-kanaka, with at least two DOCARE officers and some federal agents keeping an eye on the crowd.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett was not there, reportedly because a sinus infection prevented him from flying, although I think Elaine Yadao’s comment that he was “too chicken” to face the group was probably more likely. Charlene Aina, a sweet, mild-mannered deputy AG of Hawaiian descent, was sent in his place.

I’m only assuming she was native with a capital N, as opposed to small n, which denotes those of at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood. As many asked at the meeting last night, when is the state going to stop that archaic system of delineation and begin referring to all indigenous people as kanaka maoli?

Another interesting tidbit that surfaced is the state Capitol is made from “stolen sands” from the so-called ceded lands. In others words, it was yet another commodity taken from lands that once belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy for which the kanana were never compensated.

There was a fair amount of anger expressed, although in a non-threatening way, especially after attorney Bill Meheula, who helped OHA negotiate the settlement, acknowledged — in response to a question as to whether the settlement is a “done deal” — that nothing he’d heard so far would cause him to change his recommendation that the Trustees accept the package.

Hale Mawae asked if some of the money awarded in the settlement would be used to support Kau Inoa, the registry of Native Hawaiians that many see as being tied into the Akaka Bill, which would effectively end all hopes of independence.

When OHA staff member Jonathan Scheur said some of it likely would, Hale said that was a good enough reason to oppose it.

In short, most of those present seemed to resent the idea that the land was illegally taken from the Kingdom during the overthrow “and now the Hawaiians are begging and suing day in and day out” to get some scraps of compensation for the theft.

As the media and bloggers debate whether Tuesday’s Democratic caucus was conducted inappropriately and possibly resulted in a fraudulent vote, they’re missing the bigger picture. The entire State of Hawaii is a fraud.

Musings: Big Boat Breakdown

The clouds shrank before the setting moon this morning, huddling over Waialeale as Koko and I went walking. I missed the little bit of eclipse that was visible in Hawaii, but a friend said he saw the moon rising while paddling in at Hanalei last night, and it looked like the Cookie Monster had bit a piece out of the top.

Meanwhile, rat number two bit the bait and got caught in the trap, and was dispatched before the sun rose, then laid to rest under the camphor tree.

The Pacific Business News reported yesterday that Hawaii Superferry will be laid up for three weeks longer than expected.

It was taken out of service Feb. 13 and set to return March 3, but that date had been extended to March 25 "due to damage to Alakai's hull that occurred during the drydocking process and additional maintenance that was identified while the vessel has been in drydock."

The Advertiser expanded on the story this morning, quoting Hawaii Superferry president and CEO John Garibaldi as saying “the rudder problem is the result of a design flaw, and that staff from shipbuilder Austal USA came to Honolulu to assist with repairs, which involve strengthening the metal around the housing.

Apparently a a similar vessel built by Austal recently experienced the same rudder trouble. But no worries. The big boat is still under warranty, and these repairs are covered.

Speaking of boats, Brad Parsons of Maui has been diligently researching China’s foray into high speed catamarans for military purposes.

As you may recall from earlier posts in this blog, the U.S. military is pushing to develop similar small, versatile craft known as Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) precisely because of perceived threats from China. But that program has been dogged by the usual delays and cost overruns.

Now it seems that China has apparently beat America to the punch with a missile-armed catamaran designed by an Australian company, AMD. Meanwhile, another Australian company, Austal, is also building an LCS for the American Navy and has bid on a JHSV design contract, for which Hawaii Superferry could be a prototype.

Interesting how the Aussies are working both sides of the street. Of course, they’re not alone in that approach. What’s the old saying? All is fair in love and war — including, it seems, the means for making both.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up"

Democracy Now! has a great interview today with Yuri Kochiyami, whose family was among the more than 100,000 Japanese — many of them American citizens — locked up in U.S. internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The experience prompted her to become a lifelong civil rights activist, and she witnessed the assassination of Malcolm X.

Kochiyama is the author of “Passing It On,” a memoir, and said years after her internment: “In order for things like this to never happen, we have to protest… so don’t be afraid to speak up.”

You can read the transcript or listen to the interview here.

Musings: Moonlight and Mist

Hawaii might have thought it was all about Obama and Clinton last night — Obama won in a landslide — but for me, it was all about the moon.

Saw it rising at Ka`aka`aniu Beach yesterday evening after swimming in crystal clear turquoise water and watching albatrosses flying overhead, landing on a grassy bluff and giggling madly to one another.

A friend and I shared a couple of hours of laughter, conversation and joy, before I headed south and she went north, the moon rising higher as I drove and creating a shining path on calm waters at Kealia.

All night, it was out and super bright as Democrats rallied around their “native son” candidate, helping to build his national lead over Sen. Clinton.

It was calling to me well before the crack of dawn, so Koko and I got up and went out to revel in its glow, moon shadows tagging along behind. Mist was thick in the pastures, where the cattle were lying down, but still watchful, dark hulks in the silvery light.

The moon slipped lower and lower, changing from white to dark yellow, until finally I paused and watched it disappear behind the southern end of Waialale.

I turned to head home, the eastern sky growing brighter behind Venus and Jupiter, the mist leaving the pasture and spreading out over the road, enveloping us in its cool dampness.

As the first streaks of pink lit up the sky, heralding the sun, a shama thrush burst into glorious, warbling, melodic song. Another day begins.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Musings: Raising a Stink

It was chilly when Koko and I headed out this morning, so we walked fast to warm up in the pre-dawn chill. The moon — full and eclipsing on Wednesday — had already set, but both Jupiter and Venus were still shining bright, and fairly close together, in the southeast sky.

All the mountains, both mauka and makai, were clear, and the only clouds I spotted were a fluffy pile in the east that the rising sun transformed into a crimson fireball.

When I got home and looked at the star charts to determine if that bright orb above Venus was, indeed, Jupiter, I was surprised to learn that another name for the morning-rising Venus is Lucifer. I wonder how the planet of love picked up that moniker?

Speaking of picking stuff up, was reading an article in the very mainstream The Week magazine about how a new study has shown that babies pick up phthalates — hormone-altering chemicals that can effect a baby’s developing reproductive system — from all the scented lotions, powders, shampoos and other products smeared on them.

It seems that phthalates are used to hold in fragrance and color, but are one of many things — like genetically-engineered ingredients — that are not required on labels.

They’re also found in laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Every time my neighbors on either side do laundry, I’m inundated with that fake perfume smell. Yuck. Not only does it stink, it’s harmful, too.

It’s not surprising that babies, and anyone else who uses products with added fragrances, are absorbing these chemicals. After all, the skin is the largest organ.

But we humans, of course, aren’t the only ones getting dosed. Some time ago, I wrote a piece for Sierra Magazine about how these and other chemicals in our personal and cleaning products, as well as pharmaceuticals, are showing up in ground and surface waters.

In some instances, these products are causing sex organ mutations and dysfunction in fish and other aquatic species.

As Don Wilkison, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, told me: "We don’t make the connection between what we do on a day-to-day basis in our homes and the health of the nation’s rivers. Red flags should be going up."

The toxicological and biological effects of these compounds are not well understood, he said. "And when you think of aquatic organisms constantly being bathed in a pharmacopoeia of unknown and changing concentrations," he adds, "I think we should have some concerns."

In the previous issue of The Week, they reported on studies that showed bisphenol A (BPA) a chemical found in numerous household plastics, like baby and water bottles, is released much more quickly when exposed to boiling liquids. BPA also can mimic female hormones, and may heighten the risk of cancer.

So next time you’re tempted to put some plastic in the microwave or use perfumed products (other than the all-natural kind), you might just want to stop and think twice — for all our sakes.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Musings: One Down, ? To Go

Rain was falling when I first awoke, so I lounged in bed for a while this quiet Sunday morning, then Koko and I went walking.

The sun, smothered by the clouds, released its white light in wide, subdued shafts on the lower slopes of Nounou, and a broken rainbow climbed the sky in front of hidden Wailaleale.

The sky was steely gray in the interior, the same color it was late yesterday afternoon, when it prompted a friend to remark that it felt good to see it like that, because you knew Mama Aina was getting replenished right where she needed it most.

And just as Koko and I turned around, a light rain, a tad heavier than mist, blew in from the southwest and followed us home — a home now shared by one less rat.

That’s right, we have victory. I grew tired of waiting for the poison to work and the young buck to return and assess the situation, so I baited a live trap with fat from a steak and placed it right by the entry way the rat was using.

Sure enough, a fat black rat with a very long tail was quickly caught and is presently in a watery holding tank, awaiting burial.

I’m hopeful it’s a more sweeping, and lasting, victory than the one Bush declared in Iraq, but since rats, like cockroaches and ants, tend to travel in groups, I’ll keep baiting that trap until I don’t hear any more scratching.

Moving on to scratchy, got an email announcing Andy Parx “throws up new daily ‘blog:’ Got Windmills?- The Daily Tilt.”

It’s good to have Andy in the blogsphere, as he'll cover stuff I can't get to, plus now I know mine will never be the most vitriolic blog on Kauai. :-)

I also wanted to direct folks to a very interesting article about the origin of the Hawaiian Islands that Jan TenBruggencate wrote for his Raising Islands blog, which is worth checking out regularly for his original reporting.

And don’t miss the very cool collection of photographs posted by another Kauai blogger, Juan Wilson, on Island Breath (scroll down to Feb. 8), which depicts what people all around the world eat in a week.

It’s an eye-opener, that’s for sure.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Musings: Rave On

It had been a long time since I walked beneath the stars, and I missed them. So I got up when I first awoke, because I could tell from the chill in the house that the skies were clear, and Koko and I set out under that silvery light.

We snuck past the two boxers chained in their front yard, so as not to set off any wild barking, and the only sounds were roosters crowing, crickets chirping, and in the ditch by the pasture, bullfrogs wheezing.

I saw two stars fall, one in the north, the other in the south, and Waialeale naked, with a crown of stars. Venus first watched my back, then guided my return, and Orion’s belt cinched the end of an S-shaped constellation.

And when I got home an hour later, with the sky just starting to lighten, it was all so exquisite that I drank a glass of water and went out and walked all over again.

This time, only Venus remained, although it quickly lost ground as dawn washed out the sky. The bullfrogs, roosters and crickets were joined by birds that always wake up singing, and Waialeale had donned a jaunty cloud beret.

Koko exchanged greetings with a truck full of hunting dogs, and they continued the conversation in their deep, baying voices for a little ways down the road, until I heard their owner, the driver, yell out “quiet!” and they were.

The rising sun turned its pathway coral pink, illuminating the Sleeping Giant, and when we turned into the yard, again, my heart was doubly full of glad, and my legs were cold and tired.

This is what I love about Kauai, although it’s not unique to here, any more than the red ohia lehua I found at the crest of the trail yesterday, or the four hinano blooming, muskily, on the ancient hala tree at the channel where I later went to swim, or the monk seal that was snoozing, lifting a flipper occasionally to brush away flies, on rough-grained sand at the end of the beach.

Nor do we have a monopoly on really nice people, like the big brudda with a diamond stud in his right ear and awesome tattoos on his left arm, who heard me pop the hood of my car outside Ace Hardware, and figured I might need help, so the next thing I know he’s lifting the hood and pouring in the motor oil I’d bought and a perfect stranger became Irv.

The good stuff is everywhere out there, if we just open our hearts, eyes, ears.

I have a friend in Portland who is an author and an editor, and he emailed me the contents of a piece of paper he found inside his pocket, remnants of a meeting with my favorite poet, Mary Oliver:

“I am learning to stand still and be astonished.”

“Attention without feeling is only a report.”

“I say to my heart, rave on. “

They started out as her words, and are now all of ours.

I have another friend here on Kauai, who is a good surfer, both of ocean waves and the net, and he sent me this link to with an excerpt from the piece — "There's some speculation that the ferries will be sold to the military for the new Joint High Speed Vessel project..." — and his own comment: “now where in the whirled did he get that?”

The author (not the surfer) apparently took a couple of rides on the Superferry, which he managed to sandwich in between the ferry’s down times, and noted: “On both trips, there were fewer than 50 vehicles and under 100 passengers. (At about 2,000 gallons of fuel per hour for three hours each way, our carbon footprints must have been huge.)”

He also mentioned that a judge had ordered the state and Hawaii Superferry to pay $100,000 in legal fees to Isaac Hall for that four-week court hearing last year, the results of which were overturned by the Lege. (My own note: Deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff is still whining that the award is unfair.)

The writer goes on to note that “Many Alaskans would like to tie up or sell their two fast vehicle ferries, too. Ever since their introduction a few years ago, these controversial boats have been plagued with problems and plans to add more have been dropped.”

And he recounts the troubles — outlined in this blog last year — by both the Rochester-Toronto service and BC Ferries. “Selling failed fast vehicle ferries isn't easy,” he says.

Nor, it seems, is running them at a profit, or even keeping them running at all.

Meanwhile, the EIS process creeps forward. The March meetings I mentioned in yesterday’s post are the first step in the state-financed review, and intended to apprise folks on what is planned for the process, including issues to be studied and a proposed schedule. I’ll keep you posted as the dates near.

Until then, as a much-appreciated comment on yesterday’s post noted: “Happiness, the brightest of lights, share it others.”

Yes, hearts, rave on.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Musings: Put on a Happy Face

I slept in this morning, and aside from a quick walk around the yard for Koko’s sake, barely ventured out into the natural world before doing a quick scan of the cyber world.

Yikes. Makes me want to pull the covers over my head.

For starters, there’s the troubling news that the Army has completed an Environmental Impact Statement that identifies Hawaii as the preferred site to base the Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Of course, both Senators Inouye and Akaka praised the announcement. And of course the Army identified impacts associated with construction and training, but states confidently: “Each of the impacts can be mitigated.”

Tell me, how do you mitigate the impacts of depleted uranium? I’ve been researching this issue and it’s alarming. But I’ll save the gory details for another post, just to give you something to look forward to. Heh

On a brighter note, HB 2076, which requires the state health department to establish air sampling stations to monitor depleted uranium at Makua, Schofield and Pohakuloa, is moving forward and yesterday was sent on to the Finance committee. Kauai Reps. Jimmy Tokioka and Mina Morita voted yes.

Since we’re talking about the Stryker Brigade, might as well mention I also got two emails related to the Superferry. One provides a schedule of upcoming “public information meetings” that run March 11 through the 31 on all the islands, although there’s no mention of why or what for. Hmmm. That's curious.

And if you’re into the rudder thing, you can go to Lee Tepley’s blog and click on Superferry Rudder Problems - New data.

Then there’s the news that the state is proceeding with its plans to auction the Kokee cabins to the highest bidder.

The final master plan for Waimea and Kokee parks is also due to come before the Land Board in a couple months. The draft plan was hotly contested because many residents felt it would both commercialize and change the rural character of these upcountry parks.

It’s still unclear just how many of the public’s concerns are being addressed in the revised plan.

After telling The Garden Island that activists “decided to pick a fight on the [master plan] issue and it actually got ugly,” our land board member, Ron Agor, goes on to say that “I am optimistic that most of Kauai will be satisfied with the final outcome.”

Is he now? So why do I have such an uneasy feeling?

My uneasiness grew after reading Larry Geller’s blog post about a San Francisco Chronicle article that notes “the federal government has assumed the authority to institute martial law, arrest a wide swath of dissidents (citizen and non-citizen alike), and detain people without legal or constitutional recourse in the event of 'an emergency influx of immigrants in the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs.'"

Apparently Kellog, Brown and Root — a Halliburton subsidiary — has gotten contracts to build detention camps within the U.S. and “the government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees,” the article reports.

As I’ve noted before in this blog, Sect. 1042 of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act gives the Prez broad power to invoke martial law.

The Chronicle article notes: “For the first time in more than a century, the president is now authorized to use the military in response to ‘a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or any other condition in which the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order.’"

Call me paranoid, but I just don’t see this particular Administration, which has gone to such great lengths to cement its power, gracefully handing over the reins to Obama or Hillary.

Gee, after reading through all that cheery stuff, the pile of work on my desk suddenly seems appealing. Or maybe I’ll take Koko for a walk on the trail. Garans, it’ll put a smile back on my face. You know. No worry, be happy. And all that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Water and Land Committee Hearings

Friday afternoon is a big hearing day for the Senate Committee on Water and Land, which will take up a number of bills related to parks and public access.

The panel will hear SB 2835, which ensures a public right-of-way is available to access any and all public recreational areas, including beaches, shores, parks, and trails before any new development occurs.

Also on the agenda is SB 2529, which clarifies that the predominant concern of the state park system is to conserve park resources and values, not turn them into cash cows for other state programs.

And SB 3189 requires owners of privately owned shoreline access paths to keep access to the shoreline open to the public, at minimum, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., although longer is mo bettah.

It’s easy to testify. Just send an email to and reference the bill number in the subject line.

Musings: Dark Ages

Green and gray were the dominant colors when Koko and I went walking this morning. Green, because that’s what the landscape always is where I live, and gray because the inland mountains were buttoned up tight in clouds that hung low and thick.

Ran into my neighbor Andy along the way, and we walked back together, talking politics. A couple of days ago we were debating whether to attend next Tuesday’s caucus. Neither of us has ever been, but my sister, who lives in Colorado, got involved there this year, and an Oahu source who called to chat last week said he was looking forward to the caucus there, even anticipating it as "fun."

Anyway, since Andy was drafted to help sign up people for next week’s Democratic caucus in Lihue, I might tag along and check it out. Apparently they’re expecting a big crowd.

It does seem the election is capturing people’s attention. A reader sent me an email saying, “You know, I think this is the most exciting election in my lifetime, and I'm 82!” And I was surprised to learn my Mom, who traditionally votes Republican, finds McCain too reactionary and is leaning toward Obama.

Since I don’t have a TV, I’ve missed all the stumping on the mainland, but a friend sent me a youtube link, with 462,129 views, of Obama in New Hampshire.

I was struck by the footage of people — so many of them young — lined up for blocks in the snow to vote, and also by his comment: “You can be the new political majority. You lead this nation out of a long political darkness.”

Yes, the Bush years do seem to have been a sort of Dark Ages, and I find it heartening that people still believe in the process, even though it was heavily tainted in the prior two presidential elections.

I haven’t heard too much about who is running for what locally, except that Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho is leaving the council to run for Prosecutor, so her seat will be up for grabs.

It’d be nice to see another five or six council members step down, but that ain’t gonna happen.

Who knows, maybe somebody really good will come out of the woodwork and not only run, but win. Somebody who is also preaching a message of change. Somebody who can help pull Kauai out of its own dark age.

Maybe. But after observing two decades of elections on Kauai, I’m not holding my breath.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Musings: Snappin'

It was chilly and the grass was wet with dew when Koko and I set out as the sun was rising. Wailaleale was mostly visible, obscured on the southern end by a few clouds cruising lazily by, and birds were chirping mightily.

The days are definitely getting longer — we gain a full 32 minutes of sunlight this month — although it’s been slow to lighten on the morning end.

Got an email from a reader, Terry Patterson, who observed we start our days on Kauai in a similar way. Apparently my musings prompted some of his own, as he wrote:

“Read an Obit about David Kaheleiki "Bear" Kaaumoana's passing. Takes me back to the Black Pot days---just groups of men with a love of music--and beer. Anyone with extra fish and food brought it to the Pot. I remember refrigerators plugged into a connection on one of the power poles--Best music in all of Hawaii played for their enjoyment only- my Dad playing the gut bucket- Me a 15 year old getting to sit with the men. Kauai was small then---One police officer based out of Kapaa. Miles to the Hardware store--when we pulled a nail out of a board it was straighten and put in a jar---Sorry this is so disjointed--I just get to rolling sometimes--thanks for listening.”

And thanks for sharing, Terry. It’s nice to be reminded of Kauai in a slower, simpler time.

It makes today’s report in The Garden Island about a youth arrested for throwing beer bottles at a tourist car all the more incongruous. Last month, another guy was arrested for allegedly popping a tourist who had reportedly caused a three-car pile up at Anahola.

The paper quoted Police Chief’s Darryl Perry today as saying he “can’t understand why this individual would commit such an act against our visitors,” a comment that struck me as a bit naïve.

While I certainly don’t condone such actions, they’re easy to understand. A lot of folks get frustrated by the way tourists drive, and some of them snap. Throw in some alcohol and ice, and you’ve got a whole lotta snappin’ goin’ on.

A taro farmer who has loi near the Hanalei Bridge gave me this account recently:

“I hear a lot of things on that bridge when we’re out there pulling taro. People screaming at each other, swearing, fights. One time it sounded like a guy was banging one other guy’s car on purpose. There isn’t a time we work in that field we don’t hear something like that going on. You’d be surprised how much road rage get at that bridge.”

All this raises — again — the question of just how much tourism Kauai can take. How long can we ignore the underlying social tensions caused by the growing economic disparity between residents and continued displacement of locals?

Meanwhile, Hawaii Superferry is in dry dock for two weeks. It went in yesterday, a day earlier than scheduled, because ocean conditions were unfavorable for travel. It seems surprising to me that the company so greatly underestimated the amount of down time it would experience due to rough winter seas.

As some readers observed, it was the ocean, not the courts or demonstrators, that kicked the Superferry’s ass this winter. Chalk it up to sea rage.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


My neighbor Andy and I discussed the presidential race this morning. We're both Obama supporters, it turns out, although I must admit I do have my doubts, given the cost of this race and the nature of campaign fundraising, as to how much clout we mere citizens have in the process.

Then I found this photo, sent by a friend, in my inbox:

It seems I'm not the only one with some skepticism here.

Musings: Behind the Scenes

It was a peaceful sort of morning when Koko and I went walking. I’m not sure if it was me, or the day itself, with its minimal traffic, soft wind, golden light, warm air. But either way, things felt mellow.

Maybe it’s because I awoke soothed and happy after spending yesterday's late afternoon, with friends, laughing, sitting on black lava rocks overlooking the ocean, watching whales cavort and big waves come barreling in, carrying rainbows in their spray, as albatrosses soared just barely overhead.

Or perhaps it’s because the little Chihuahua that I saw get hit by a car a month ago was out in his yard today, apparently no worse for wear.

Life goes on.

And so, I hear, will Kaiulani Huff, whose “Songs of Sovereignty” show is set to return to the KKCR airwaves at 9 a.m. tomorrow. That’s good news for me personally, as I really like her program, and for the station, since it appears to be finally resolving something that could have been dealt with weeks ago.

The other two suspended programmers, Katy Rose and Jimmy Trujillo, still have to sign some sort of agreement, the details of which have not been presented, before they can get back on air.

Speaking of radio programs, Democracy Now! yesterday returned to the topic of InfraGard, the spooky alliance between business leaders, the FBI and Homeland Security.

Larry Geller picked up the story from the station last Friday, when he reported there’s a Hawaii Chapter, too.

Its board members are Chris Duque, 
Kenneth Newman, 
Kimman Wong,
 Miles Sato, 
Karen Lugo,
 Sterling Yee
 and Wayne Ogino.

What is it? Well, according to Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, who broke the story: “The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does — and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to ‘shoot to kill’ in the event of martial law.”

In his interview on Democracy Now, Rothschild said: “It’s an FBI program that works directly with businesses across the country. More than 350 of the nation’s 500 Fortune 500 companies are involved in it. And on one level, it’s like a corporate TIPS program. These companies, these representatives of these companies feed the FBI information about threats. They also can give the FBI information about disgruntled employees and have the FBI investigate them. So the pipeline goes that way.

“And the pipeline goes the other way, too. The FBI gives these 23,000 businesspeople almost daily threat warnings that the public never gets. In at least one occasion, a government official, Gov. Gray Davis of California, didn’t get, until he heard from his brother, who was in InfraGard, about threats to the bridges in California.”

The interview continues:

AMY GOODMAN: But just to clarify, Matt Rothschild, who exactly is empowered to shoot to kill if martial law were declared? The business leaders themselves?

MATT ROTHSCHILD: The business leaders themselves were told, at least in this one meeting, that if there is martial law declared or if there’s a time of an emergency, that members of InfraGard would have permission to protect—you know, whether it’s the local utility or, you know, their computers or the financial sector, whatever aspect. Whatever aspect of the infrastructure they’re involved with, they’d have permission to shoot to kill, to use lethal force to protect their aspect of the infrastructure, and they wouldn’t be able to be prosecuted, they were told.”

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Matt Rothschild, how does this story that you’ve just exposed fit into the many stories that you write about in You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression?

MATT ROTHSCHILD: Well, it’s just another piece, you know. It’s another piece of our Bill of Rights just going down the tubes. It’s another aspect of repression that the Bush administration has built up. It goes along with, you know, the illegal searches and seizures. It goes along with Guantanamo and torture. It’s kind of all of a piece, and once you put the pieces of the puzzle together, it’s really frightening what’s happening to our democracy here, Amy.

Hmmmm. When you think about what’s going on behind the scenes in this country, it seems the peacefulness of the morning was merely an illusion.

The question now, as the Presidential race heats up, is whether any of the front-runner candidates can reverse the trend, or if they'll even get a chance to serve.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Musings: Ceded Lands Skirmishes

Pink streaks were replaced by strands of goldish-silver as Koko and I set out for our walk under partly clear skies. When we returned, the sun was rising above the mountain, and it felt good to feel its warmth on my face, see it light up the pastures with that soft morning glow.

As I mentioned to Andy, when we passed on the road, it’s feeling like spring, which prompted him to say that must mean summer, with its heat, is just around the corner.

It seems the marketers are always trying to push up the seasons, at least as they’re defined by shopping opportunities. When I was in Cost-U-Less yesterday, I noticed the Easter candy was already out, alongside the Valentine’s Day booty. Then the clerk pointed out that their Christmas tree was still up, too.

Last night, Nani Rogers forwarded me an email that she got from Sen. Hooser saying that “meetings have been scheduled on Kauai” about the proposed ceded land settlement between OHA and the state.

The email came in response to Nani’s request that OHA and the State Attorney General “hold community meetings on the ceded lands settlement.”

Last Friday, the day before the Senate hearing on the settlement, Nani forwarded another email to various senators and me that included a post from the oha lies! blog alleging that OHA was sending emails and letters to the nonprofits that receive OHA grants, pressuring them to send in testimony supporting the settlement.

The post states: “According to several OHA staff members, several grantees are feeling pressured by OHA to submit testimony in favor of the Ceded Land Settlement, because they are made to fear that OHA will stop funding the programs and services they represent. 

Hence, several grantees are sending favorable Ceded Land Settlement testimony under distress to the committees of the Hawai‘i State Legislature (Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs, Water and Land, and Judiciary and Labor)…”

It’s a serious allegation, especially since nonprofits are not allowed to lobby.

Indeed, such lobbying activities by an organization that receives federal funds are at the crux of the allegations against the Western Pacific Fisheries Council and its director Kitty Simonds, which prompted Sen. Henry Waxman to request an investigation, as I reported in last Wednesday’s post.

Meanwhile, the The Advertiser today is reporting about all the stuff that was intercepted by Superferry inspectors. Readers of this blog may recall that the same info was posted last month right here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Musings: What Else Matters?

The sun rose in a blaze of orangey-pink glory, and Koko and I were there at the water’s edge to greet it, the musky fragrance of hinano, the hala flower, mingling with the scent of salt and limu.

I swam in the shimmer path in a foamy, wind-tossed sea, and we walked on sand washed fresh by the waves, the first to leave our tracks on an otherwise deserted beach. An albatross soared and dipped just feet above my head, and then was joined by another, and they flew in wide, soaring circles over the heliotrope and ironwood trees.

In such a setting it was easy to reflect upon the three words my sister in Portland had shared at the end of our telephone conversation on Friday: compassion, attention, gratitude.

Really, what else matters?

And as I drove home, Koko riding side saddle on my lap, as she always does, into the land of cloudy skies that lies mauka of the Sleeping Giant, I had a smile on my face, love in my heart and waffles on my mind.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Musings: Doggie Dress Ups and Hauntings

Koko and I slipped out for a walk under mostly gray skies this morning, although one big cumulus cloud was entirely pink, with a distinct male face.

I like being out on the weekends, as traffic is generally very light. Koko exchanged greetings with the hunting dogs in the back of a pick-up truck — a Saturday morning regular — and lunged and barked at another truck going way too fast. I can’t imagine where she picked up that “give ‘em” attitude.

Nor can I imagine the doggie boutique in Waipouli will be in business for long. While waiting for our food at busy Monico’s last night, a friend and I wandered through the shop, which was filled with clothing and German dog food priced at $3 a pound.

The lady tried to sell me a $23 collar for Koko, which seemed a stretch, considering I use a piece of cast-off twine for a leash. I’ve yet to see a dog dressed in clothes on Kauai, except for the two little mutts a crazy lady used to push around in a stroller in Kapaa.

But maybe tourists missing their dogs do pick up a new outfit or two for Fido while on vacation. I suppose Koko would put up with it, but it might spook her friends in the neighborhood if she pranced by in a frilly pink and feather frock.

Apparently some folks are getting spooked by the goings-on at the Waipouli condo resort, across from Safeway. I’d heard a few reports of unusual events, and then Brian at the post office, who always asks what I’m working on, suggested yesterday I might want to write about how the place is haunted.

He said he’d been hearing stories of doors opening and closing in the night, furniture moving around by itself, strange noises. “But it might get some people upset at you,” he cautioned.

“Well,” I responded, “other people already got pretty upset when they dug up all those bones at the site and built those condos.”

A number of Hawaiians tried to block construction there after the burials were discovered, but didn’t prevail. For a while the iwi were stored on site, in a cargo container, and I’m not sure where— or even if— they were eventually re-interred.

Anyway, it seems like the original inhabitants are making themselves known.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned I didn’t know Lee Tepley, the man who was circulating an email questioning whether the Superferry had hit a whale. Dick Mayer of Maui informed me that Lee is a retired scientist/engineer on the Big Island, who has a website that delves specifically into how the boat will impact whales.

Meanwhile, The Garden Island is continuing to follow the story on the possible impacts that Syngenta and its pesticide applications are having on students and staff at Waimea Canyon School.

It was especially interesting to note in yesterday’s story that Syngenta has finally got a PR person — after years of mostly dodging press inquiries — and that the Dept. of Education declined to back Sen. Hooser’s bill restricting pesticide applications around elementary schools.

Now why do you suppose they wouldn’t support something like that?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dem Pesky Rudders

According to the Superferry's PR firm, McNeil Wilson, the boat is "taking advantage of the off-peak travel season to [move] up its annual drydock for maintenance and recertification by the U.S. Coast Guard to make permanent repairs related to the vessel’s auxiliary rudders, which will enhance passenger comfort. The Alakai will be drydocked beginning February 13 for approximately two weeks... with service expected to resume March 3."

Dick Mayer of Maui makes note of the "very interesting coincidence" that Feb. 13 happens to be the same day the Superferry Oversight Task Force is scheduled to meet on Maui and conduct a Kahului Harbor inspection.

Now, it seems, they'll have nothing to see.

Musings: Making a Mess

The street was wet and its sides sodden and sloppy, but perhaps the weather is shifting, because I caught a glimpse of Waialeale this morning, and that made me glad.

Koko was happy, or I should say happier, because she’s ordinarily a very happy dog, to encounter her old friends Bear and Girl, who came bounding out of their yard to say hello, but were left standing dejected in the street when I commanded them to stay.

Koko cast forlorn looks back in their direction, but perked up when we ran into Andy’s dogs, and Andy, who was wearing a Chinese New Year shirt, although that was yesterday, and it was adorned with a rabbit.

This is the year of the rat, and yes, they’re still with me, hidden behind the walls and ceiling. Sigh. I remember a Mokihana Pest Control guy telling me about going to a house where a guy had blown a hole in the floor trying to kill a rat with a shotgun.

I can empathize, although I don’t have a shotgun and am not fond enough of housework to want to do something that will deliberately make a mess.

Since we’re already on that topic, I figure I might as well bring up something I’ve hesitated to discuss, since I have absolutely no proof, and that’s the issue of whether the Superferry damaged its rudder because it hit a whale.

Like I said, I have seen no evidence, but the discussion has not died down since it first surfaced over a week ago.

A certain Lee Tepley, whom I do not know, has been circulating an email in which he makes the observation: “Rudders would always stick down into the water and would add to the vessel’s drag — reducing the ferries already poor fuel mileage. To minimize this effect, it would be reasonable to make the rudder and supporting posts as thin as thought practical. Thus, if the rudder should strike a whale, it might easily crack. In fact, an auxiliary rudder could be one of the weakest underwater parts of the Superferry.”

Tepley continues: “So if a whale were lucky enough to avoid being impaled on one of the sharp leading edges of the Superferry’s pontoons, it might still be struck by an ‘auxiliary rudder.’ In fact, the rugged pontoons would be unlikely to be damaged by a collision and, unless the whale were impaled for a long period of time, the collision might go unnoticed. There would be a slight bump from the collision but it might not be detected by the barfing passengers. Also, the crew would not be likely to officially report it.”

The point was also raised as to why Superferry folks would have gone looking under the boat, which is how the cracked rudder was discovered, unless they had some reason to think there was a need to check things out.

While we likely will never know the truth on this one, it does raise troubling questions about whether the public will ever be informed if the ferry does hit a whale, especially in rough seas.

But whether the rudder broke because of poor design, faulty construction, severe weather or hitting a whale, none of those scenarios bode well for the big boat.

For those who are following the increasingly dismal Superferry numbers, Brad Parsons sends this:

Passenger counts for Feb. 4: Offloading on Maui: 66 vehicles, 5 motorcycles, 150 people counted. Onloading: 92 vehicles including 2 large commercial vehicles, plus an additional 22 military vehicles, and 3 motorcycles.

Passenger counts for Feb. 5: Offloading on Maui: 35 vehicles including 3 large commercial vehicles, 3 motorcycles, and 60 people counted. One suspect car offloading. Onloading: Only 17 vehicles, including 1 large commercial vehicle.

And just so you know, now that John McCain is enjoying a surge, he’s the candidate of choice for Superferry Chairman John Lehman, who is registered as a bundler to collect campaign contributions for the hawkish McCain.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Musings: National Attention

It’s a new moon today, so it wasn’t showing, not that it would have been seen through the clouds. But by the end of our walk, I did see a faint white orb, masquerading as the sun, peeking out of the gray.

I like the chilly rain we’ve been having. It’s not the lie-on-the-beach weather most tourists dream of, although it might look good to an East Coaster. My sister sent me a copy of the Sunday New York Times travel section, whose cover featured the kind of dreamy photo of Na Pali that would make anyone want to come visit.

Knowing the crowds we already get at poor, beleaguered Ke`e, I couldn’t bear to read it. But I did glance through the photos and didn’t see any of trucks sporting the newest window decals: Keep it Kaua`it and NOCOMEKAUAI.

Meanwhile, the struggle over who will control the fisheries and other resources in the Northwester Hawaiian Islands has found an audience in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman is calling for a federal investigation into the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Wespac) and its director, Kitty Simonds, over its use of federal funds.

The Congressman’s request are detailed in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.

The circumstances leading up to this are rather complicated, but I covered it in some detail in a recent Honolulu Weekly story.

The gist of it is whether Wespac, with its interests in maintaining commercial fisheries, had an undue influence in creating the Aha Moku council program.

That program is an effort by the state to bring traditional cultural practices into resource management, and promote local stewardship.

The allegations of wrong-doing were initially made by Kauai’s own Makaala Kauamoana and former Big island Council Woman Keiko Bonk, among others.

It’s not clear who got Waxman’s attention, but the letter refers to credible sources that raised similar concerns. Hmmm.

I’m not sufficiently versed in the dirt about Wespac and its director to recount it, although I’ve heard quite a lot. Let’s just say, this will be interesting to watch.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Musings: Not Adding Up

The days are stretching, especially on the evening end, which I noticed when I was at the beach yesterday and it was still quite light at 6 p.m. The wind was blowing and the air was chill, but the water was not.

Ran into a friend of mine there, and as the albatross and iwa drifted on the air currents overhead, we chatted about healing prayers, extraterrestrials, his new I-phone (the first time I’d seen one) and the Superferry.

I got two calls on the latter subject yesterday, one from a man in the San Francisco Bay Area who has been following the story, and by his reckoning, the company’s $6.5 million escrow fund should be exhausted by now.

As he figured it, Hawaii Superferry has to pay $4 million in interest only payments annually and another $2.3 million to the state in harbor fees. And that doesn’t cover advertising or operating expenses during start up. So since they aren’t making any money with their tiny passenger loads and days stuck in the harbor, that fund should be pau already.

The other call came from a friend who was recollecting how HSF, when pressing for the quick go-ahead at the special session, kept threatening to take the boat elsewhere, saying they couldn’t hang around for more than six or eight weeks, with no revenue coming in and costs of $650,000 a week even while idled at the dock.

Yet here the boat is, still around, well beyond that six or eight weeks, even though it’s barely bringing in any revenue and its expenses, now that the fuel costs of running to Maui — when it’s not idled by rough seas or repairs — are added in, have got to be more than $650,000 a week.

As my friend at the beach noted, the company’s business plan has never made sense.

Still HSF officials say they’re in it for the long haul, with strong backing from their investors. I wonder. The only entities I know with such deep pockets and a willingness to throw good money after bad are governments.

Speaking of governments, LightLine today distributed an AP article about a federal judge’s ruling that President Bush cannot exempt the Navy from earlier court rulings limiting its use of sonar that may harm whales.

While the sonar issue is being legally challenged in California, it has implications for Hawaii, where the Navy likes to use sonar during its training exercises.

Those exercises are just some of the expenses covered under Bush’s new $515 billion military budget.

However, the figure does not include supplemental funding for nuclear weapons or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has already topped $600 billion, Democracy Now! reports. "The Pentagon budget proposal marks a seven-percent increase over last year and the 11th consecutive year it’s gone up. It comes just days after the Bush administration announced plans to seek deep cuts to Medicare and a freeze on new Medicaid spending. Overall the White House is trying to slash $208 billion from federal health programs over the next five years. The Bush administration has increased military spending by 30% since taking office.”

Even though he's poured billions into military spending, Bush has actually made the world less safe, not more. And yet he's asking Congress to keep joining him in this folly, at the expense of health care and other social problems.

It doesn't add up — unless you're a defense contractor.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Musings: Making Waves

The sky actually seemed to grow darker, though sunrise was fast approaching, as Koko and I walked this morning. The clouds were low and leaden, but released no rain. I guess they got a lot of it out of their system last night, when I woke several times to downpours, rumbling thunder and the sizzling flash of lightning.

Talked to a friend in Hanalei yesterday, where the rain was so heavy I could hear the torrent over the phone line, and he reported there was so much water on the road that when cars drove through it, they created a near surf-able wake in his front yard.

OK, so that was probably a bit of an exaggeration. But the big swells and rough ride encountered by the Superferry on its last voyage are documented on this short video, shot by Molokai’s George Peabody.

Just watching it made me feel queasy, but mostly I was astonished by the noise. It sounded like the start of a motocross race. Even if the thing isn’t colliding with whales, it’s got to be annoying the hell out of them making all that racket.

I noticed that website also had a link to the USA Today story on the Superferry that ran right about the same time as that paper’s piece on the development in Koloa.

I find it fascinating that the critical, or at least questioning, stories about Hawaii seem to be published in the travel sections. The news side of publications in America rarely touch that stuff, but it somehow makes a “destination” more desirable to recount tales of paradise on the verge of being lost.

I’ve got my testimony on the House’s version of the proposed shield law all ready to send in to House Judiciary Chairman Tommy Waters. It’s not a bad start, except for the bit about limiting protection to those who complied with and met applicable standards of journalism ethics.

In this day of infotainment, advertorials and other such bastardizations of the news, I think the media would be would be hard-pressed to define journalistic ethnics, much less the lege.

The law does a thorough job of protecting professional journalists associated with media outlets, but bloggers, independent journalists and other news disseminators do need protection because they do not have the same legal resources as the media corporations to fend off requests for information.

I’ve been called upon twice in my career as a journalist to reveal information. Once was in my cub reporter days, when I took a fake obituary over the phone. The case resulted in both civil and criminal charges against the caller. The paper’s attorney said I had to testify in the criminal case, which I did, but was given the option of testifying in the civil case, which I didn’t.

The second was when an alleged suspect in the Kauai serial murder cases sued me, as well as a reporter from The Garden Island and the police department, over a story I published in Honolulu magazine that contained comments from unidentified police officers. The attorney thought the case was a “fishing expedition” to try and learn what evidence the cops had against the guy, and it was eventually dismissed.

I didn’t even have my notes anymore for that story. I write a lot of stuff and live in a small house, and I can’t keep my notes forever. I always wondered, anyway, if a reporter had to just turn over the notes, or decipher the chicken scratching, too.

While I think it’s best to use attributed sources as much as possible, the reality is that many people who know something are afraid to talk, or not authorized to talk or otherwise feel they would suffer some sort of recriminations for speaking on the record. It’s important to be able to reassure those people that information they’re giving confidentially won’t be traced back to them.

And it often seems like the bigger the story, the less likely people are to talk on the record.

Still, it's important for journalists to ensure they aren’t being duped, and evaluate carefully both the information that’s given off the record, and the sincerity and possible ulterior motives of the person who provided it.

I consider that part of journalistic ethics, and it should come into play whether one is shielded or not.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Musings: Advertiser as PR Machine

The sky was gray and white, and promising rain, which it delivered half-way into our walk this morning. Beneath the protection of a black umbrella I watched it drift past the Sleeping Giant, immersing him in mist, and all the inland mountains were so hidden that it was almost as if they didn’t exist.

Even on these days when the sky is monochromatic, the landscape is full of color: red hibiscus, orange tangerines, yellow blossoms, white spider lilies, pink oleander, all set against a background of varying shades of green.

Thunder is rumbling and the winds here have died down some, but are still gusty. Apparently the conditions are rough enough to keep the Supeferry in dock — this is day eight now — even though its rudder repairs are reportedly finished.

I was quite stunned to see, right there above the Honolulu Advertiser’s main on-line story about the Superferry, a sidebar that looks remarkably like an advertisement, passed off as a news story.

Entitled "Your guide to Hawaii Superferry," it is a full on plug for the ferry service, replete with schedule and the line: WHETHER FOR WORK OR PLAY, A NEW WAY OF INTERISLAND TRAVEL.

The paper seems to have crossed the line here between reporting and advertising, and its publication of this "sidebar" really calls into question the newspaper’s objectivity in regard to this issue.

Unfortunately, the main article itself isn't much better, starting with the misleading headline: Superferry toughing out winter weather.

Sidelined for eight days running, and six days before that, it is clearly not toughing out the winter winter.

Indeed, the lede asks: How long can the Hawaii Superferry hang on?

And then it proceeds into a long promotional piece on how even though the ferry is carrying only a fraction of its projected load, it's current in all its payments and has no plans for military service.

Not a word is said about its recent rudder problems, but It does include a comment from a so-called “transportation management expert” — UH business professor David Bess — claiming there’s no reason a ferry service shouldn't succeed in Hawaii. He then attributes a lot of the Superferry's troubles to “a case of bad timing.”

This is followed by his full-on plug for the ferry: “All the specifics aside, it's good for competition, and having an alternative to air travel opens up the flow of commodities for freight travel that are not currently available."

Later in the piece his comment is revealed to be shibai by one of the Superferry’s own investors, Maui Land and Pine, which isn’t even using the service because "currently the rates are not cost-effective.”

The article does report on the plight of one couple stranded by the ferry — the first time this week the paper has bothered to look into that aspect of the ferry's spotty service — but then wraps up with another pitch by another UH professor, Tom Kelleher, saying that all the ferry’s gotta do is hang in there.

Persistence, it seems, is the key to its success.

That, and getting front page promo pieces published in the Advertiser. Heck, why buy ads when you get coverage like this for free?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Musings: Fighting the Odds

A friend called yesterday as I writing the post about the gutless, toothless vacation rental bill. She’d worked on it for years, and was so upset about what was going down at the last County Council session that she actually had to leave the meeting because she was feeling ill.

She was frustrated because she lives in an area that is being overrun by vacation rentals, with the usual fallout of no housing for locals and a diminished sense of community. She was frustrated because she had devoted so much time and energy for naught.

And she was frustrated because this is yet another one of those issues where our supposedly democratic system of government is compromised by money, and the influence it brings.

“The realtors are there at the Council meetings every time, but the people can’t be,” she lamented. “They have to work. What do you tell people? Come every week? Come every week for two years, and then in the end, nothing changes?”

Her comments underscore a serious problem with the way our Planning Commission and Council work. Developers, realtors and others with financial issues at stake can afford to pay their attorneys to sit through all those endless meetings. What do they care if the thing drags on for months when they’re getting $250 an hour, or have hefty profits at stake?

The public, meanwhile, is not compensated for its time, for the expense of driving in to attend meetings, for taking time off work to testify, for coming back again and again when the issue is deferred.

And when you throw in the factor of paybacks for campaign contributions — several people told me that was an issue in the vacation rental vote — the deck becomes even more stacked against Jane Q. Public.

The deep resentment and frustration that comes from continually having to compete on an uneven playing field causes burnout among many who care enough about their communities to participate in the governmental process.

It also can serve as a motivator.

I think that’s why the Superferry has galvanized so many people. I wasn’t much interested in the issue when I first heard about the petition to gather signatures for an EIS. It seemed like a done deal, and it was.

But when I felt the power surge that rippled through the community after Kauai residents turned the ferry away at the harbor, watched the pitiful special session proceedings unfold, researched the military link, and now witness the boat floundering, it came to epitomize for me, and many others, that ongoing struggle between citizens who are sincerely concerned about the Earth and their communities and lawmakers who repeatedly sell out them out.

It's hard to go on fighting against such odds, but the occasional small victories, and a sense of being unable to sit back and let greed and ignorance run rampant, encourage those in the trenches to keep on re-enlisting.

Just yesterday, I got a note from one of them:

“My moods swing up and down as to whether change is truly going to happen in this country in all the needed arenas and for all the deserving people,” she wrote. “But I do see positive progress for bold conservation efforts and these are built on staunch vision and the contribution of many, many ‘seers.’”

Amen, sistah.

And now, with the state Supreme Court decision that prevents the state from selling ceded lands, Hawaii is at another crucial crossroads in that very same struggle.

Will this mobilize nationhood supporters to defeat the Akaka bill and restore the sovereignty that the Hawaiian nation and kanaka maoli never relinquished?

Or will it prompt the rapid passage of the Akaka bill, solidify the power of the state-created Office of Hawaiian Affairs and thus perpetuate the wrongs and outright theft that have characterized America's presence in Hawaii?

Hope, at least in my heart, and I know I'm not alone, springs eternal.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Superferry Still Stuck Part 2

It seems the repair job that Hawaii Superferry claimed it could whip out in one day is taking a bit longer than that. The company’s website announced at 11:15 a.m. that Saturday’s voyages will be cancelled as well, “due to continuing repair work.”

At least now they’re ‘fessing up about why it’s still in dock — after the truth was revealed by the Coast Guard and reported by two Honolulu TV stations.

So that makes a full week of no service, and they’re still not operating yet.

I’m not the mechanical type, but both Poinography and Island Breath have interesting posts about the boat’s rudder problems for those who want more technical details/speculation.

Musings: Do Nothingness

The wind whipped up again last night and ushered in a few showers as Koko and I were walking this blustery morning. During the heaviest rains, we took shelter first beneath a hedge of shell ginger, whose glossy leaves offered excellent protection, and then a stand of ironwoods.

When it eased up a bit, we headed home, as small patches in the sky turned faint pink, hinting at a sunrise somewhere behind gray clouds.

I was looking for a bit of brightness, a flash of inventiveness , a dash of leadership and courage, as I read today’s account of the County Council action — to use the word very loosely — on a vacation rental bill.

I looked in vain.

Instead, the Council took a timid do-nothing approach. The Council has known for eight years it needed to deal with this critical issue. Citizens have devoted countless hours to this matter, and in the end, the Council passed a bill that does absolutely nothing to address the deep issues associated with the proliferation of vacation rentals outside the visitor destination areas.

Why? What else but money?

Vacation rentals are reportedly good for the economy — although I’ve seen no real facts to back up that assertion — so nobody wants to shut them down. So what if they’re taking up good ag land, destroying neighborhoods and allowing people to build equity in homes they couldn’t otherwise afford, all at the public's expense?

At least Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho tried, proposing “’to phase out all single-family transient vacation rentals outside designated visitor destination areas after 18 months,” an article in The Garden Island reports. But she was shut down by Councilmembers Tim Bynum, JoAnn Yukimura, Ron Kouchi and Jay Furfaro.

As for allowing vacation rentals on ag land, the bill is “kind of moot” on that issue, the article quotes Bynum as saying. Never mind that his comment makes no sense. Such activities are prohibited by state law, and the county has not bothered to enforce it, due to pressure from the real estate lobby.

I know of a few legitimate farmers who depend on their vacation rentals to help pay the mortgage. I have no problem with them seeking special use permits to continue their operations, which would at least give their neighbors a say in the matter. But the vast majority of ag land rentals are owned by people who are simply trying to build a personal investment while doing absolutely nothing related to agriculture.

At the very least the county should have dealt with them.

Instead, we have a do-nothing Council that once again did nothing but maintain the status quo — while acknowledging that yes, a big problem does exist.

Auwe! It’s a total joke, but nobody’s laughing except the land speculators and realtors, who once again held sway.