Friday, May 30, 2008

Musings: A Common Enemy

The sky was dark, with clouds squeezing all the color out of the sky, save for a streak of red in the northeast and a wedge of moon shining white-gold in a small circle of clear directly overhead, when Koko and I went alking this morning.

We headed mauka, toward a mass of black relieved by patches of jagged gray that obliterated all the interior mountains, where surely it was raining. I thought some might reach us, with clouds swirling in from all directions, but save for a brief burst when we’d already returned home, none fell and the sky gradually grew lighter.

I had a talk yesterday with someone who shed a bit of light on responses from the police chief and Tom Iannucci, chairman of the police commission, that were printed in the local paper following a commentary written by Juan Wilson.

This source, whom I know to be a credible person with deep, and sometimes adversarial, connections to the police department, said that Chief Perry didn’t actually pen the piece that carried his name. Instead, it was most likely written by Deputy Chief Mark Begley.

While Katy Rose, in a letter published in today’s Garden Island, objects to the sarcastic and disrespectful tone of the responses from Iannucci and Perry, it seems there was a reason why that particular approach was taken.

Contrary to what some in the community may believe, the chief’s overriding concern at the moment is not the purchase of Tasers or what type of vehicles officers should drive, but unifying a badly fractured department into a cohesive whole.

My source estimated that at least 20 percent of a KPD officer’s time is spent accusing other officers of misconduct or defending oneself against such allegations. Meanwhile, the three divisions that are supposed to work together in unity — Investigative, Patrol and Vice — “despise each other.”

“So what’s the best way to unite people who hate each other? Create a common enemy,” my source said. “Of course, it could also be done through love, but that’s not going to happen, because we’re talking about the police. So now you have Investigative, Patrol and Vice all screaming ‘F*** Juan Wilson’ in unity.”

Certainly Katy’s right that it’s best for public officials to avoid derision and disrespect, even when responding to derisive and disrespectful communications from the public. But sometimes there’s more going on than what’s visible on the surface.

I personally do not want to see the Kauai cops armed with Tasers, especially if there is no policy that makes their use consistent with the model for deadly force — in other words, don’t pull your Taser in a situation where you couldn’t pull your gun. And that means no misdemeanors, or escaping misdemeanors, which account for about 90 percent of KPD’s case load.

However, it’s important to bear in mind that Tasers are only a very small issue in this very troubled police department. The bigger problems, as I see them, are rooting out bad cops and getting KPD to function at all.

So let’s step back a minute and put things in perspective. Chief Perry has been on the job just seven months. According to my source, before the chief was even hired, he was vetted by the FBI, whose public corruption unit was working to weed out some of the bad guys at KPD.

The chief’s first official act was to get rid of the FBI’s “two most wanted” guys on the force — cops that former Chief K.C. Lum wouldn’t touch, and to take on “some known brutality and corruption cases” within the department. [Update: Just to clarify, the two cops in question technically resigned in a "you can't fire me, I quit" scenario.]

Frankly, when you’re dealing with stuff like this, while also trying to implement an Internal Affairs division, learn the ropes and politics of a small town department and improve coordination with the Prosecutor’s office so that cases can successfully come to trial — all while watching your back — a person grumbling about the wording of the mission statement and suggesting the cops switch to electrical carts comes across like a flea to be shaken off.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t expect respectful dialogue with police officials, hold the chief accountable for serious reforms or offer thoughtful comments and solutions for the issues that concern us. And I'm certainly not saying Begley's strategy was the best one, even if it does prove effective.

But if we want to advance any of our own agendas, let’s just make sure we’ve got our priorities straight when we engage the KPD.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Musings: Spin On

The sun is now rising the earliest — 5:49 a.m. — it ever will this year, a schedule it will maintain until June 15 as it meanwhile sets a bit later each day. As a person who just naturally wakes at first light, I especially love this season because it seems possible to get all my work done, and still spend some serious time outside.

The air was completely still, and lightly perfumed — save for the eye-watering stench of dog pee on cement that briefly assailed my nostrils as I passed my neighbor’s yard —when Koko and I walked through our quiet neighborhood this morning.

Ran into farmer Jerry, who was expecting a pile of school kids to visit the CTAHR experimental station as part of “ag awareness day.” It sure beats the rocket-making sessions that are offered to students by high-tech companies that work at PMRF. It seems somehow disingenuous to get kids all excited about launching rockets without also explaining the implications of their military use.

Noticed that the good old boy KIUC Board, masters of cronyism that they are, chose to appoint two of their former members — Dee Crowell and Ron Paler — to fill two unexpected vacancies on the board, rather than runner-up candidates from the last election.

The Garden Island reports Paler as saying:

Paler said yesterday he’s honored to fill in for the remaining 10 months at the “will of the board,” as his past experience will save KIUC thousands of dollars in training and lessen the learning curve.

“We haven’t been away that long,” Paler said of himself and Crowell.

Shoots. Why bother with elections at all?

The article also reports:

According to Board Policy No. 20, it is considered “efficient” for the group to look to former members to fill vacancies, so long as it avoids the appearance of favoritism.

So actual favoritism is OK, it’s just the appearance of favoritism that’s to be avoided?

It was interesting to hear Ken Stokes, who has yet to secure a seat on the Board, talking about KIUC on the radio the other day. Ken actively supported acquisition of the utility, but acknowledged on the radio that things didn’t turn out quite like he expected.

They turned out exactly as I expected, given that sleaze master Greg Gardiner was one of the architects of the deal, and we ended up paying worth more than it was worth. And now we have some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

A friend on Oahu asked the other day, so what, is your energy surcharge about 20 percent of your electric use? I said no, the surcharge last month was actually $15 higher than my kwh use. He was absolutely astounded, but that’s just business as usual on Kauai.

He made a good point, though, when he said that so long as the utilities can pass the energy surcharges along to the consumer, they have no incentive to wean themselves from oil.

Much hay, meanwhile, was made in a fawning puff piece inThe Advertiser yesterday about the growing passenger count on Hawaii Superferry, which has yet to hit customers with the full cost of its own oil consumption. It’s still offering low subsidized rates, even as the Associated Press is reporting that the two Maui ferries, which serve Molokai and Lanai, are seeking rate increases from the Public Utilities Commission.

The Advertiser, which is increasingly coming across as a shill for HSF, reported:

The interisland ferry carried more than 5,500 passengers and 1,500 vehicles between Maui and O'ahu over the four-day holiday period. That's an average of 393 people and 107 vehicles per one-way sailing.

Brad Parsons, who follows the numbers closely, puts them in a bit more perspective:

First, that means nearly a quarter of all of their traffic for May happened during the 4 days of the Memorial Day weekend.

Second, there were 14 one-way trips over that weekend, so they averaged: 393 people per one-way trip and 107 vehicles per one-way which is enough to cover just their fuel costs for those 4 days, NOT the rest of their expenses. This is noticeably a higher ratio of people to cars than HSF has been averaging...onboard live blogging pictures on the web over the Memorial Day weekend indicated increased foreign visitor group travel onboard which would account for the blip of passengers and not so much cars over the weekend.

Third, they will have had 96 one-way trips for the month of May, so they would average: 219 people per one-way trip and
60 vehicles per one-way which is NOT Enough on average to cover just their fuel costs for the month of May. Furthermore, those trip averages for the Month of May are actually lower than the trip averages they were having in the latter part of April.

Spin on, Hawaii Superferry. Spin on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Musings: Just Leave

While I’ve opposed the war in Iraq since the get-go, I’ve often wondered how we can now extricate ourselves from that mess — provided, of course, that we really do want to leave before all the oil is privatized and securely in American hands.

Presuming we do, which is a pretty big presumption, considering that’s why we went over there in the first place, the answer, according to Iraqi journalist Raed Jarrar, is quite simple: just leave.

That’s right. Pack our bags, pick up and go.

“I also worry about what will happen, but really, it’s nobody’s business but ours,” he said. “Let Iraqis take care of that. Iraqis will fill the void because they are the ones there, and they know how to fill the void.”

Jarrar, who spoke last night to a group of about 100 at an event sponsored by the Kaua‘i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, the Associated Students of KCC and the American Friends Service Committee, is confident his countrymen can work things out on their own.

After all, he said, Iraq has existed as a nation for 6,000 or 7,000 years, and has had no civil or sectarian war in the last 1,500 years. It’s been attacked or occupied 20 times during that period, and always managed to defend itself against the aggressors or kick them out.

“There is not one precedent of after kicking out the foreign invaders, the sky fell,” Jarrar said.

On the other hand, some 1 million Iraqis have died violent deaths and another 5 million have been displaced from their homes since America invaded. That amounts to one-quarter of the nation’s population. Of those who remain, 75 percent have no access to basic services, he said.

“Who would believe that after five years of this Iraqis would be saying, ‘please stay and occupy us?’ They want the U.S. out and they want to be left alone. This is the message that is never heard.”

As Jarrar sees it, the struggle now is between those who want to partition the country, privatize its resources and keep the Americans around — a group he said is in the decided minority, and supported heavily by the U.S. — and those who do not.

Despite what is presented in the mainstream media, it’s not a religious or sectarian struggle, he said. “It’s very political and economic and both sides have all of the sects represented. They’re fighting over oil.”

The U.S., which is spending $720 million per day on the war, “on killing people,” has spent $22 billion training Iraqi forces over the past five years in order to fan the flames of divisiveness, he said.

The forces that have been trained “are the same militias who defend the five (minority faction) parties. They just changed hats, and with the same line of command, were put into the Army. They are the forces who are responsible for the sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing. Supporting them is nothing to brag about," he said.

“The only way to achieve peace in Iraq and end the violence is to completely withdraw all the troops without any permanent bases or any mercenaries and give Iraq back to the Iraqis.”

While Iraqis were not happy under Saddam Hussein, he said, the government did have its good points, providing citizens with free social services that were among the best in the world, and low-cost gas and electricity.

“Iraqis never thought their life would be worse than under a dictator who killed them for expressing their opinion,” said Jarrar, who also took his message to three classes at Kapaa High School, where the kids are being heavily courted by military recruiters.

“But even if the Americans had made Iraq a heaven on Earth, which they haven’t, it would still be an illegally occupied nation and Iraq should protest against the occupation. There is nothing to justify occupying another nation.”

His words underscored comments that Nani Rogers made at the beginning of the program, when she outlined America’s occupation of Hawaii for the past 115 years. She also told of her experiences in meeting with indigenous people from Vieques and Majiro, who suffered the loss of their land and health problems as a result of American military activities and occupation.

Rogers, a Native Hawaiian, said she never chose to be part of America, a nation “that destroys other nations, all for their greed of power and money, and in the case of Iraq, oil.”

Jarrar, who now lives in the U.S., obviously made a different choice. Still, he shares Rogers' concerns about America's aggressiveness, which has expanded beyond the Pacific into the Middle East. He said his wife, Niki, observed that while Americans justified their incursions into the Middle East by saying the women were too covered up and needed to be freed from their robes and veils, the American missionaries had said the Hawaiian women were too free and naked, and needed to be covered up.

Either way, it amounts to people from one nation improperly imposing their will and values on another.

"There's a bully on the block that needs to be stopped," he said.

For more by Jarrar, check out his blog.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Musings: Cornering the Cops

You have to get up early these days to see the pre-dawn color, which offers the advantage, along with the light show, of encountering very little traffic.

The half-moon was bright and the eastern sky was edged in scarlet when Koko and I went walking on this warm, soft morning. The summits of the interior mountains were obscured, but the slopes of Waialaeale were not, and they served as a sort of reflecting pool for the orange-pinkness of the clouds that floated above them.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, and we chatted on subjects ranging from the height and size of 19th Century Hawaiians to relationships that span decades before I headed home, passing both the garbage truck and the biggest rat I’ve ever seen, flattened in the road, which made me glad I was not walking in the dark in slippers, as I have been known to frequently do.

It was nice, over the long weekend that honors the many American soldiers left dead by our endless warring, to take a major break from both the computer and the process of articulating my thoughts, but of course, others continued on in the never-sleeping cyber world.

In my in-basket, there’s been a small flurry of email about a commentary written by Juan Wilson in Saturday’s Garden Island, and yesterday’s response by police Chief Darryl Perry. I noticed there’s yet another perspective presented on the issue in the paper today by Police Commissioner Tom Iannucci.

In one of the emails, the chief was criticized for saying he hadn’t read Juan’s entire commentary before responding, but to tell you the truth, Juan lost me along the way, too.

While Juan did raise a few good points about the need for “aloha spirit” in the department’s mission statement — which seems to have already been addressed by the Chief, according to Iannucci’s commentary — Juan lost credibility, at least with me, and most likely many others, when he started out by saying the cops should give up their guns and cars and use “sporty electric golf carts,” bicycles and horse patrols.

That was before he morphed into a conspiracy bit about the cops “providing speculators security for unwanted development” and “protecting the pesticide spraying of GMO corporations on the Westside.” Huh?

When you come from an extreme premise like that, it’s easy to be discredited and dismissed, which both the chief and Iannucci did in their responses. And in the process, the legitimate concerns about the further militarization of police that Juan also raised go unexamined.

Then I saw other emails about Jonathan Jay’s plans to do a radio show featuring the Chief and Juan, although apparently not in the studio together. While I’d love to hear the chief on the radio answering questions from the public, why put him in a point-counterpoint position with Juan? What useful purpose could that possibly serve? Juan has already blown his wad with the cops, and he’s not going to get anywhere with them from here. He has lost all effectiveness, if he ever had any, as a spokesman on this issue.

I was talking to a friend on Oahu about this issue this morning, and he said, “That’s something the extreme left and extreme right have in common: distrust of the jackbooted paramilitary cops we have.”

There's tremendous distrust, for good reason, of bad Kauai cops. A lot needs to be done to open up and reform the department, increase its accountability to the public and decrease the trend toward militarization.

The question now is, what’s the best way to achieve those goals? Working with the chief, who at least says he is pushing toward reform, to make sure that public concerns are on his radar? Or digging into polarized us against them positions and advancing fanciful solutions that don’t have a prayer of prevailing?

I believe those of us who want to see substantial change in the department have an opening with this new Chief. Let's plan our strategy carefully to make the most of it. It would be easy right now to back him into a corner. But what good will that do in solving the many serious problems at hand?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Musings: In the Know

Chirping crickets were joined by the steady droning hum of bees, passionate bird song solos, the gurgling of a stream and the whirring wings of pheasants flushed from the brush by Koko when she and I went walking this morning.

We headed mauka, along a track lined with ferns, Philippine orchids and vervaine, with its tiny purple flowers that taste faintly of mushrooms, until we reached the high place where the ohia trees live, their gnarled branches bright with feathery blossoms in shades of red and orange.

The sun encountered a thick bank of gray and sent out brilliant shafts that touched down on the distant ocean, setting it all a-sparkle, as mist and clouds rolled over the verdant ridges of Makaleha.

When I got home, a friend called, suffering from a severe case of the flu following a trip to Honolulu.

“I know it was that lady on the plane,” he moaned.

“Why, was she sick?”

“No, she was trying to convert me. She wouldn’t let up, was on me the whole flight. I told her love is my religion, but she said I had to read the Bible. She was telling me I can’t talk to God directly, I have to go through Jesus, and I was like, come on, lady, how do you know?”

There are some equally elusive bits of "knowledge" floating around the County Attorney's office in the form of opinions that thus far, and for reasons unknown and publicly unstated, have been kept sequestered from the mere mortals who comprise the citizenry.

Councilman Tim Bynum has recognized that at least some of his constituents would like to know what is in those secret opinions, so he's drafted an ordinance aimed at making those opinions public. The draft bill is based largely on a 1991 advisory opinion from the state Office of Information Practices, and is similar to a practice already under way on Maui.

According to an article in today’s Garden Island:

Bynum said he has a standing request to have his draft ordinances placed on the agenda, but to date the chair has declined to do so.

[Council Chair Kaipo] Asing could not be reached for comment at press time.

Bynum said he is looking into whether the chair has the sole power to put items on the agenda, or if it is just how the county has historically done it.

As longtime Council watchers recall, and the newspaper reminds us, “Kaua‘i County has previously made public its legal opinions, but stopped years ago for unclear reasons.”

It’s pretty hard to justify this kind of secrecy and lack of transparency — unless, of course, you have something to hide. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you want the public to know the attorney’s opinion on such weighty issues as vacation rentals on ag lands, gated communities, shoreline certifications and lateral access?

I’d like to know how the other Council members feel about Kaipo holding Tim's bill hostage — that is, if Councilman Mel Rapozo can pull himself away from the critical issue of allowing dogs on The Path — a subject that has thus far drawn an astounding 125 comments on his blog.

I must say, after reading through many of them, I’m reminded of why I generally go places where other people aren’t — and why it’s crucial to keep The Path from getting any longer, unless you want a bunch of social Nazis controlling your every move along the coastline.

Speaking of control issues, I was disturbed to read in yesterday’s Garden Island about the substantial police presence at Thursday’s decidedly low-key informational picket on the foul emissions released by cruise ships at Nawiliwili.

Although no more than 10 citizens ever gathered at one time, according to event organizers, “there were 18 Kaua‘i police officers and other state law enforcement officers present during the protest, not to mention the presence of the United States Coast Guard on the water in boats.”

KPD's Capt. Quibilan is quoted as saying the overkill response was due to concerns about harbor safety and Homeland Security, before adding:

“We wanted to ensure their First Amendment right was protected,” Quibilan said. “There could have been someone there against their point of view.”

Thanks for clarifying, Captain. While you're being so candid, could you also let us know why so many cops were sent to close Black Pot Park and take down Dayne Aipoalani?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Musings: The Big Give Away

Waialeale was demure when Koko and I went walking this morning, with only its silhouette visible in the cool white light of an egg-shaped moon. And then the sun rose, exposing the cracks and crevices in her ancient face, which blushed pink in the dawn glow.

Mist rose high in the pastures, its ethereal cloak obscuring Ha`upu, and the grass along the road was wet from yesterday’s rain. Ran into my neighbor Andy, who offered Koko a dog biscuit from his pocket stash, but since she had three molars pulled yesterday, she had to forego her treat.

But not so the big landowners, who got major treats from the Lege this session, thanks to an “important ag lands” bill that offers them all sorts of goodies to ensure they keep their ag land in, well, agriculture.

Now why, you might ask, should they be rewarded — indeed, given major incentives — for adhering to the existing land use classification for their property? In my mind, they shouldn't.

But there’s a certain weird sense of entitlement that major large landowners have that comes from ag land being treated like urban/rural/residential land in-waiting — an attitude that has arisen because state and county officials have for so long given them the privilege of reclassifying their ag land into more lucrative uses.

This attitude is summarized in testimony offered by Dan Nellis, operations manager of Dole Food Company in Hawaii:

If the support of diversified agriculture is a constitutional mandate to meet a compelling public interest and our agricultural land is to be downzoned to achieve this purpose, we believe it is unreasonable to expect landowners to bear the brunt of subsidizing the public interest.”

I’m not sure how he figures that keeping ag land in agriculture is “downzoning.” But such is the mindset of those who hold sway with certain members of the Lege, and thus were able to convince them — following a series of backroom maneuvers — to pass a bill that will give landowners who agree to protect certain agricultural lands the right to reclassify 15 percent of the total into the urban and rural districts.

They also get all sorts of other goodies, including the right to build housing on 5 percent of the protected land (the “majority” of which would be for farm workers), loan guarantees for certain projects, and tax credits for building roads, utilities, irrigation, farm worker housing and buying ag equipment.

Under this bill, the state will even give landowners tax credits for the legal and consulting fees they rack up trying to obtain or retain water rights — a resource that the state constitution holds is a public trust.

Not surprisingly, the backers of this bill include the Hawaii Association of Realtors and the Building Industry Association, along with the big landowners. The Farm Bureau also jumped on the bandwagon, reportedly because they were desperate to finally see some movement toward designating important ag lands, an initiative mandated 30 years ago by the state Con-Con.

Kauai’s Sen. Gary Hooser and Rep. Mina Morita voted against it, with Mina noting at the recent Eco-Roundtable meeting:

There are some good elements in the bill, but the bill is slanted toward all of these taxpayer-funded incentives to large landowners and also limits, I think, the public discussion in taking land of ag and putting it into rural and other uses. It’s a dangerous step we’re moving toward.”

Gary, who said he was concerned it had the potential to increase urbanization “in an unplanned, haphazard way and seemed like a windfall to the major landowners,” also told me:

If we just enforced the laws we have and said ag lands could only be used for ag purposes, the value of these lands would drop and would become more valuable for farming.”

Now the issue is before Gov. Lingle, who has the power to veto the bill, and the big PR push is on to get her to sign it, using farmers as the front men. Both the Maui News and Star-Bulletin recently ran viewpoints submitted by Farm Bureau reps arguing that the bill isn’t a giveaway and instead will save agriculture.

But not all farmers agree. Glenn Teves, a farmer and Molokai ag extension agent, sent a letter to the guv that stated, in part:

In life, it's not what you do; it's how you do it. Architects of the convoluted version of the bill that passed, including the House Speaker [Calvin Say], purposely short-circuited the legislative input process to jam this bill through, and circumvented legislative checks and balances. This bill is just a reflection of this travesty of justice since it cuts out community input in the land use process, which is so vital to sustainable community planning. I believe this is a major selling point of this bill for landowners, but it cannot be at the cost of future generations wondering who gave away their rights. Furthermore, this bill defies sane sustainable development by promoting spot zoning, and doesn't afford the protection needed to keep our prime agricultural lands locked in agriculture.

Big Island farmer Jack Kelly, in another letter to the guv, also addressed the questionable tactics used to change the bill’s language and push it through:

The original language in SB 2646 was balanced and productive and I thought at long last we had a bill we small farmers could run with but the political maneuvering by House conferees dashed that hope and we ended up with a really bad bill that gives away the farm to a powerful few really large landowners at the expense of any hope of integrated land use planning in the future, at the expense of public process and at the expense of a viable sustainable future for Hawaii's children.

The Legislature, true to its penchant for the ironic, held a super positive Solar Roofs bill hostage to garner
 the 85/15 provision in SB 2646 that could open up thousands of acres of former AG lands to urbanization.

It seems fishy to me that after 30 years of sitting on their hands, the Lege finally managed to deal with the issue right at a time when the economy is stalling and the usual suspects are pressing to push us back into the cycle of endless development.

As Gary observed, in explaining why we're in this situation:

I think the people in charge of our state since statehood, and probably before, have been the major landowners. They come before us and plead poverty and say if you don’t let us develop, we’ll pack up and sell off. There will need to come a time when the county councils and planning commissions say, I’m sorry, that’s (agricultural uses) what you’re entitled to do with it.

But I don’t know when we’re going to see that.

And if the guv signs this bill, we never will.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Musings: The Privilege Thing

The world was suffused with moisture when Koko and I ventured out this morning. It clung to the leaves, dampened the pavement, hung low in the pastures as mist. Scents traveled far in the heavy air: angel’s trumpets, burned rice, spider lilies, newly cut Norfolk pine.

The moon was still bright in a sky that was quickly growing brighter, and when the sun rose — a warm, salmon-pink shimmering orb — it was in direct opposition, literally and figuratively, to the cold whiteness of the moon.

I saw a convoy of about 10 African snails, of widely varying size, creep along a concrete block wall, headed off, no doubt, to consume tender young green things, and watched one feeding on a snow bush. It clung to the branch in a sort of hugging embrace that looked innocuous enough until I realized it had completely devoured the leaf beneath its body.

It seemed an apt metaphor for the script that’s underlying the popular paradigm for relationships — you know, the “can’t live, if living is without you” suffocation variety — and it reminded me of a talk I had with a friend yesterday afternoon. She recounted how she’d realized that she and her partner had purposes in this life that went beyond their connection to each other, and when they could allow one another the freedom to pursue that, even though it meant living apart at times, they could each bask in the pride and joy that came from seeing the other fulfilling their greatness, rather than wallow in the self-pity of deprivation.

That, it seemed to me, is real love.

After the snail revelation, ran into both farmer Jerry and my neighbor Andy, and the talk turned to yesterday’s blog, which generated a number of comments, including one from a person who asked:

So, moving forward.... How do we bring more Filipinos in? Japanese? Does anyone have any real cultural insight to offer?

No one offered any, so I asked around and got some answers as to why more locals aren’t currently involved in the environmental/slow growth/anti-urbanization movement.

I’ll start with my neighbor Andy, who said a lot of it’s historical. He referred to George Cooper’s “Land and Power in Hawaii,” which notes that one reason activists were successful on Kauai early on is because “the movement involved a probably greater proportion of locally-born people than had been the case on any other island…” Kauai’s movement originated in the local community, largely through the Niumalu-Nawiliwili Tenants Association, which formed in the early-to-mid 1970s to protest the planned eviction of about 20 families in that area for development, and also through the Ohana O Maha`ulepu.

As more haoles got involved in the movement, Andy said, their aggressive, loud, confrontational tactics served to turn off some locals, who tend to be fairly conservative socially.

I saw this at the Senate hearing on the Superferry last year, which a number of those early activists attended. But they did not join the mostly haole throng inside, and instead sat together outside, with some commenting, who are those guys in there?

Some locals don’t want to associate with the people who are in the movement now, especially since they don’t know a lot of them, while others, Andy said, are like him: just tired. They’ve been in the trenches for 30+ years.

Farmer Jerry offered this suggestion: They've got to go out to the Filipino and other communities and work with the leaders there, which means they've got to be willing to share power and be open to doing things in a different way.

Other takes:

“They don’t understand how deep the distrust is. The locals have been screwed over so badly by the haoles.”

“It’s been a melting pot, but these guys don’t melt. Because they’ve isolated themselves. They’ve got the money and that’s the life they’ve chosen.”

“Sure, they want you to come to join them, but it’s all on their terms. They want to be the ones in charge. You have to do it their way.”

“The ones coming in now, they all get money. They don’t see how the locals struggle just for survive. We no more time for be one activist, even though we feel it in our hearts.”

“They don’t have a clue what’s gone on before them. They think they invented this.”

“They set themselves apart, how they act, where they live. They just talk to each other and think that’s how it is.”

“Just because we don’t come to their meetings, they think we no care. We got our own ways of doing things.”

Perhaps this will help to shed a little light on the subject. The antipathy, it seems, runs deep. I’ve been reading Isabella Bird’s “Six Months in the Sandwich Islands,” which was written in the 1870s, and I was struck by the great cultural divide that existed between haoles and Hawaiians back then.

It’s not just the missionary thing, or the colonial thing, but the money/privilege thing that has long created distance between haoles and all the other ethnic groups in Hawaii. And from what I can see, that’s still a huge factor in the gulf that exists today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Musings: Do Gooders

The air was still and the sky was leaden when Koko and I took our walk this morning. Thick clouds were drifting in from the northeast and piling up over the Giant, cloaking his body in swirling gray mist, although Waialeale remained clear.

It was so nice walking on ground that was still saturated from yesterday’s big rain, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a while, but hopefully will again today, as the small smatterings that dampened us on our return have now become a serious steady shower.

It’s a good morning for staying inside, which I wanted to do yesterday, but instead ending up spending the entire day and part of the night with do-gooders. Not that I use that word in any sort of derogatory context, as I believe strongly in doing good, although I often grapple with the best and most effective way to do it.

The day was devoted to do-gooders who act largely independently to achieve some personal vision of what will make their little corner of the world a better place, with actions that ranged from cleaning up Kealia Beach through chanting to monitoring violations in the Wainiha-Haena conservation district.

I felt good after hanging with these three individuals, all of whom I will write about, and it was obvious they were pleased with their efforts, even though they’d encountered resistance and setbacks.

But I left the evening do-gooder event with a decidedly different feeling, one that was more akin to frustration, annoyance, even despair.

While I know many of the people who attended the meeting are smart and caring, and committed to doing something meaningful for Kauai, I kept feeling like much of the effort expended on their various initiatives would come to naught.

Why? Well, for starters, as my neighbor Andy observed — it seems I run into him everywhere — while the faces were different than those he’d encountered at environmental meetings in the past “the complexion is the same.”

Even after all these years, the environmental movement has managed to engage only a small portion of the community, and one that has relatively little power at that. And so long as it’s largely comprised of haoles from the mainland, it’s simply not going to be effective.

That situation is compounded by the fact that some of the people in it are themselves part of the problem. This point was driven home when I heard a man speaking about the need to pass the proposed Charter amendment that would give the Council, rather than the Planning Commission, the final power to approve resort developments.

He was saying that if it didn’t pass, people should just stop complaining that Kauai was getting overdeveloped and rapidly turning into Maui. Yet this man happens to live right next to door to a good friend of mine in Hanalei, where he built the typical “all house, no lot” expensive home — the kind that has driven up property taxes there — replete with a formidable “don’t wanna interact with my neighbors” stone wall that didn’t meet county regs and now requires his previously shunned neighbor’s help to come into conformance.

He doesn’t seem to understand that he has already created for some existing residents the type of community he is now rallying against.

I see this giant disconnect over and over again, and it’s really at the core of the weakness of Kauai’s anti-growth/environmental movement. So many of its members want a certain kind of community, but they’re pursuing their objectives with no real understanding of what is already here, how the existing residents might feel about it, and the impact that they themselves are having.

Like I said, I believe in doing good. But first, I think, you’ve gotta make sure you really are.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Musings: Goddamn the Pusher Man

I awoke in the night to a sound I hadn’t heard for a long time, and fortunately it wasn't rats, but something welcome, though it took my sleep-dulled mind a moment to register: rain! Strong, steady, ground-saturating rain.

I’d been missing its presence, and most of all its effects on the earth, and its return last night was particularly welcome because it allowed me to plant taro this morning in soft, wet, receptive soil. It’s a full moon in Scorpio, too, so especially good for planting.

The soft, unformed brains of teenagers and adolescents are also fertile soil for planting all sorts of messages, a fact that isn’t lost on marketers, who make gazillions exploiting the fears, insecurities and peer pressure that plague most Americans — especially teens.

So why would anyone be surprised to discover that kids are using prescription drugs to get high, as is reported in a Garden Island story today on "pharming," or that alcohol continues to be the top drug of choice?

After all, from the time they’re tiny keiki they’ve been watching TV, with its plethora of prescription drug ads, abundance of beer commercials and myriad booze-sponsored sporting events. Why wouldn’t they think it’s the norm to self-medicate, when they see it happening constantly, both all around them and in that strange pseudo world of TV?

And then, of course, there’s the fact that kids today are medicated legally at a higher rate than we’ve ever before seen. Most of that comes in the form of drugs like Ritalin, which are based on the chemical methylphenidate and used to combat Attention Deficit Disorder.

As BBC news reports:

In 1994 there were just 4,000 prescriptions for methylphenidate, 10 years later that figure had gone up to 359,000 - a 90-fold increase.

Sometimes, they’re even given these drugs by the schools, or parents are told they have to medicate their kids or keep them home.

Is it any wonder, then, that they don’t think that drugs peddled by the multinational pharmaceutical companies — the new, legalized pushers — are any big deal?

I’ve also read a number of articles lately about how very young children — I’m talking under 8 — are being given heavy-duty psychotropic drugs after questionable diagnoses of manic-depressive disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses typically not associated with children. These drugs have not been tested on kids and the long-term effects on developing brains and bodies aren't known.

As Kauai’s Dr. Gerald McKenna noted in the Garden Island article:

”The drugs keep changing, but the problem doesn’t change,” McKenna said. “The whole idea that we are an addictive society is the problem.”

That’s a big part of this ongoing issue, but it’s not the whole story. There’s also this desire to achieve some sort of “norm” in human behavior. Problem is, that “norm” is largely defined by the pharmaceutical companies, which promise that if only you take their drugs, you’ll be like everybody else supposedly is: happy, slim, sleeping through the night, focused, always ready for sex, young and perky— but not too much so.

It’s all a bunch of crock, but so many Americans are buying it and even foisting it on their kids. Why in the world would we think kids wouldn’t model this behavior, with often tragic results?

To change the subject entirely, I’ve begun blogging for Audubon Magazine, too, so if you’d like to read my posts, and the marvelous photos by Hob Osterlund, please check out their site.

And tomorrow night I’ll be one of several speakers discussing the Hawaii Superferry — my topic is its military links, which some people still doubt — at the 6 p.m. meeting of the Eco Roundtable at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall on Hardy Street in Lihue. Stop by if you want to hear the latest.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Musings: Pathogens

Clouds joined the haze in dimming the morning sky, but Koko and I headed for the beach, anyway, where the sun rose in a wash of rosy color that reflected upon a reef exposed by a dropping tide and water so placid that it more closely resembled a reservoir than the ocean.

No one was around, which is just the way I like it, and we stayed until I was dry and Koko had wearied of chasing crabs and digging holes in the fresh-washed sand. Returning home, it was my turn to dig for a while to accommodate more taro, until heat and hunger drove me indoors.

Browsing through today's on-line edition of The Garen Island, I read an account of Wednesday’s County Council hearing on proposed ordinances to allow dogs on the revered coastal path.

I found one provision of the proposed ordinance, which would require persons walking their dogs to carry a bag to pick up Fido’s doodoo, rather amusing. So what, now the cops can approach and demand to see your bag? How do you know they’re not just shaking you down for pakalolo? And what if you’ve already used it? How many bags are you supposed to carry? Do you have to hang on to the evidence?

While I understand the desirability of keeping the shining path free of kukae, this is the sort of the thing that can turn into an enforcement nightmare, the cost of which, coupled with the allegedly higher maintenance fees that would be associated with allowing dogs to walk there, are the basis for Councilman Mel Rapozo’s opposition to the bill, as outlined on his blog.

Both he and Andy Parx remarkably see eye to eye on the point that the path was originally funded by the feds for transportation purposes, and so should be limited to bicycles only.

Still, Councilman Tim Bynum makes a good point in saying: “What is transportation? Anytime anyone moves from Point A to Point B.”

And if the path is just for transportation, then how come it came with all those little huts along the beach? Sure looks like a recreational use to me.

Andy Parx also reported that Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who is running for prosecutor, had a letter to the editor that stated: “I’m sure the rest of the community would take offense if I decided unilaterally to pick and choose which laws I wanted to enforce or not.”

Which made me wonder, so how come Shaylene has never pushed to enforce the farm dwelling agreement? You know, the law that requires people who build homes on agricultural lands to actually engage in farming.

I also wondered why it took The Garden Island so long to run the story. It’s not, after all, like there’s tons of breaking news to crowd it off the front page. Even though Police Chief Darryl Perry continues to assert, in his quest to justify the procurement of Tasers, that Kauai isn’t a sleepy little place anymore, you wouldn’t know it from reading the local paper.

Am I missing something, or is The Garden Island? Or is the Chief just adhering to the Boy Scouts “be prepared” mantra? Kinda like when he reportedly dispatched 20 Kaua‘i police officers, including K-9 dogs, and 12 DOCARE officers to close Black Pot Park?

I’ve got an idea. Maybe the Council and KPD could work together on this one, and any cops caught misbehaving or misusing their Tasers could be assigned to doggie doodoo enforcement duty. Surely that would get them on the right path.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Musings: Food or Fuel?

I wondered where the light was when I got up this morning, thinking surely there should be more of it, but it was subdued by a thick layer of vog that obscured the mountains and turned the sun into an eerie red disc as it rose, its intensity greatly dimmed, while Koko and I were feasting on yellow waiwi along the road.

Actually, only I was eating guava. Koko was sniffing, one of her favorite pastimes whenever she’s out of the house.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who was out early before joining an on-line auction, and he said he’d never before seen vog like this in Hawaii, where he was born and raised, and while I don’t know exactly how old he is, I’m presuming, since he’s retired, that he’s at least 60.

We got to wondering what effect Kilauea’s ongoing eruption is having on global warming, which prompted him to remark on a book he’s been reading about primitive cultures that included a time line on temperatures. Seems there have been peaks and lows throughout history, but we’ve been in a prolonged warm “peak” period for a while, which helped him understand why humans didn’t develop agriculture sooner.

“It was just too darn cold,” he said.

So now it’s warm, and getting warmer, with uncertain implications, except our growing population is always going to need food, and it’s generally easier to grow it in a warm climate than cold.

Unless, of course, you’ve begun using your farmland to grow crops that feed our hungry electrical plants and cars, rather than us.

We’re seeing this play out globally, as food prices soar and the world’s poorest people go hungry — a scenario that prompted Jean Ziegler, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, to speak out harshly against the practice. According to a BBC report:

It was, he said, a crime against humanity to divert arable land to the production of crops which are then burned for fuel.
He called for a five-year ban on the practice.

Now this global issue is playing out locally, with the state Board of Land and Natural Resources slated to vote Friday, May 23, on a proposal to allow the Green Energy Team to lease 250 acres of state ag lands at Kalepa — one quarter of all the land that’s irrigated there — to grow trees for their biofuels project.

Green Energy reportedly has backed away from its controversial plans to grow invasive albizia there, and plans to grow eucalyptus instead, which it will then chip up and burn to make electricity for KIUC.

Funny how real farmers can’t get any of that choice Kalepa acreage — the last public ag lands on the eastside — until it’s transferred over to the Agribusiness Development Corp. But Green Energy can snap up 250 acres without an open bidding process. And ironically, if a big chunk of the irrigated lands is no longer available for farmers, the ADC won’t accept Kalepa at all.

This would open the door to the seed companies, which have already said they want to move into Kalepa, or reinforce it as the domain of cattle ranchers, who currently are viewed as interim users and so are on month to month revocable permits.

Meanwhile, Gay and Robinson has already said it wants the entire 6,000 acres at Kalepa for a biofuels project — even though they haven’t managed to get one using bagasse up and running on their own Westside land.

So we’ve got several issues at stake here, the most crucial of which is preserving the original intent of the Kalepa acreage, which is to make land available to bona fide farmers through reasonably-priced, long term leases.

Then there’s the injustice of letting Green Energy snake their way in to Kalepa with a project that is totally unproven and in all likelihood will fail. That’s coupled with the unlikelihood the state would actually make them clean up their mess when they do go bankrupt, thus leaving a big chunk of viable farm land rendered useless because it’s covered with eucalyptus.

And then there’s the whole question of pursuing biofuels at all — especially on public land — when we’re seeing it turn into a global boondoggle and we aren’t even close to feeding ourselves in this state, much less on the so-called Garden Island.

In fact, if you look at the most recent Hawaii agricultural statistics, of the 1.3 million acres in farm acreage throughout the state, only about a third is devoted to stuff you can actually eat.

The situation is even worse on Kauai, which lags behind Maui, Big Island and even urbanized Oahu in real food production. (I’m not including sugar, though I know some people consider it one of the basic food groups). We’ve got just 100 acres in veggies and melons, compared to 3,500 acres in the City and County of Honolulu.

This makes me a tiny bit nervous, living as I do on the most isolated inhabited land mass on Earth, as I watch government allow our farm land — especially that precious irrigated farm land — to be gobbled up for luxury homes/vacation rentals and speculative biofuel projects with their enticing tax credits.

If you’re concerned, too, please submit testimony urging the Board to vote against agenda item D-3. If Green Energy wants to pursue its project, let them find land some place else. They do not need the irrigated lands at Kalepa.

You can fax testimony to (808) 587-0390 Attn: Board Members or e-mail it to

Friday, May 16, 2008

Musings: Growing Farmers

The vog is still thick, but it couldn’t blot out the moon last night or the mountains this morning, though the haze and high clouds have cast the sky in a gray pallor. Still, for a brief period when the sun rose as Koko and I were out walking, the world took on that golden-pink shimmer of ethereal beauty that reminded me the magic is always present, even when it's hidden.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, and to answer yet another inquiry, no, it’s not rabid reporter Andy Parx, but Andy Bushnell, the retired KCC history professor.

Anyway, Andy mentioned he’d read the piece I wrote on Jerry Ornellas — aka farmer Jerry (might as well out everybody this morning) — in this week’s Kauai People, and noted: “See, he agrees me with me that there aren’t guys lining up to do farming.”

It’s true, and it’s something I’ve talked to Jerry about more than once, as well as other people involved in agriculture. The question is why? Is it because they’re not interested, or they’ve given up the dream because it’s so darn hard to get land?

Let me correct myself. It’s easy to get land if you’ve got money. There’s stuff for sale right now — at $300,000 to $500,000 an acre. Problem is, paying down a nut like that requires way more revenue than you can generate from any legal crop. And then you’ve got to deal with anti-farming neighbors in your so-called “agricultural subdivision.”

As for leasing, the agreements tend to be a little too short to make the investment required for farming feasible. A couple of guys I know who were looking for taro land could only get one-year leases, which doesn’t quite wash with a 14-month crop. Several other people told me of getting squeezed off Grove Farm land because the terms were short and the rent kept increasing.

Who else is leasing any sizable acreage? Of course, there’s the state, but Kalepa Ridge, which is supposed to be for the general public, needs to be transferred from DLNR to the Agribusiness Development Corp. before it can be turned over to farmers — a process that’s moving along at a snail’s pace. In the meantime, it’s being mostly used for grazing.

Interesting, though, how the state lands at Kekaha, which are leased primarily to the seed companies, got transferred over to the ADC toot sweet. Guess it shows who has influence.

Maybe what’s needed is for those who are interested in farming, especially at Kalepa, to begin applying pressure to DLNR to make the transfer. Much of the land there has water, and its central location just outside Lihue adds to its desirability. It might be good for folks to start moving on that, before the seed companies expand over there, too.

In the meantime, to ensure that farmer wannabees know what they’re doing when land becomes available, Malama Kauai has been running a farmer incubator program, and Kauai Economic Opportunity has been teaching people how to grow papaya so they can supply the new fruit fly disinfestation facility that’s coming on line on Kauai.

I recently talked to Terry Sekioka, a farmer and former CTAHR administrator who is doing some of that KEO training, and he seemed to think that people do want to farm. But when the topic turns to marketing and business, “they close their books. They’re not interested in that part of it. But you have to understand all of it to succeed in farming. It really helps if you have a spouse or partner who can handle that part of it, because most farmers are busy farming, and they let the business and marketing end slide.”

And as Andy mentioned this morning, when KCC was talking years ago about developing farming curriculum, it was recognized that small engine repair is yet another skill that most farmers find useful.

Then there’s an understanding of irrigation, soil health, pest control and the varieties and cultivation techniques that work well in the tropics. It’s not quite as simple as dropping seeds in the ground and letting nature work its magic.

Farmers also need to write up a plan, Jerry said, if they expect to lease land. But most of all, he said, they need that commitment to stick with it — or even get started in the first place.

So where are we at when it comes to farming? We’ve got some land and water, some marketing assistance, some logistical support, some training. And I believe we’ve got people who are serious about doing it.

What I’ve been pondering lately is how to bring it all together before we lose more prime ag lands, more irrigation systems, more people who abandon their dreams of growing food in frustratation and discouragement.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Musings: Shock and Awe

Venus and a few of her showier friends were still visible when the first tendrils of pre-dawn orange began to appear in the northeast sky this morning.

The mountains were all clear, but as Koko and I walked and the birds began singing, a blanket of fleecy white descended on Waialeale and turned first pink, then purple-pink, as the sun rose in a full-on glorious streak show.

Watching the day arrive never ceases to fill me with a sense of awe, as does going holoholo on Kauai, where I’m always awed by her tremendous beauty, and shocked by what’s happened since the last time I went and looked.

And so it was yesterday when I headed north with a couple of friends to check out the taro fields that are being opened at Ha`ena State Park and the burials on Joe Brescia’s land that Ka`iulani Huff and others are trying to protect.

The first shock was Ke`e. If you haven’t been to the end of the road lately, steel yourself first, because alarming is the only word to describe it.

Cars were parked all the way down to the wet cave, and the parking lot that previously was used by Na Pali tour boat companies was totally full. And it’s not even peak season. My friend Ka`imi, who was working in the loi there, said 900 cars go to Ke`e daily, and if you figure two people in each car, that’s at least 1,800 people packed into that small, gorgeous, fragile place, with its stinking portable toilets, every single day.

We stopped before reaching the beach to visit with the Hui Maka`ainana O Makana guys who are restoring the taro loi in the park under an agreement with the state, but one of my friends continued on down to the water, where he said the air was thick with the smell of suntan lotion and the sand and lagoon were crowded with bodies.

“I saw one big pile of fish, but with all those tourists, no way going get close enough to throw,” he reported, prompting the guys to grumble about new state regulations requiring them to register their nets, which they see as yet another intrusion.

Meanwhile, as we gazed in wonder at the mountains that come right down to the sea, there was the incessant buzz of tour helicopters overhead.

Still, it was encouraging to see the progress they’ve made in the past few months, with three loi planted and another one opened and ready to go. They were clearing brush with chainsaws and a bobcat when we arrived, and will soon be cleaning up the fishpond so it can be refilled with water.

They’re doing it all for free under a curatorship agreement that isn’t without the usual bumps that any relationship with the state entails. For example, they can’t put up any interpretive signs to keep people off the reef, away from the hula heiau and out of the loi. The state doesn’t have the manpower or money to do any kind of real restoration or cultural interpretation itself, but it still wants to exert full control over those who step forward to take on the job.

As we headed south again, past an ocean that was turquoise-hued and impossibly calm, we forded Maniniholo Stream and gasped when we glimpsed the giant house — and I use the term loosely — that’s being constructed within feet of the road, streambed and beach park. It was impossible to imagine how the county and state could approve a structure in that particular location, especially one that large.

When we got to the beach at Naue, our moods turned somber. We walked through Brescia’s lot, where numbered stakes marked the burials that were dug up in anticipation of constructing yet another monolithic house on pillars, like all the other eyesores that have popped up along that stretch of beach.

How could anyone want to build there, we wondered, when the entire lot was literally covered with burials? How weird can they possibly be? And how sick is the system that would let them?

Regardless of what one may think of Ka`iulani, and some people have been making some pretty nasty cracks, if you actually go up there and take a look, you’ll understand why she’s upset. Desecration and sacrilege are not overly strong terms, not to mention total insensitivity.

But then, if you see the new houses that are crowded in all along there, you realize that not one of those property owners has the slightest bit of sensitivity to their surroundings or the character of that neighborhood, which has degenerated into the characteristically Kauai bizarre mix of over-the-top “look at me” architecture and local-style humble hale.

As we drove home, past startling blue green mountains and the lake-like calm of Hanalei Bay, stopping to talk with friends and acquaintances and hearing everyone express the anguish of loss, I could only wonder how anyone could possibly believe that Kauai would benefit in any way from one more lavish home, or even a half-percent increase in tourism.

Though I heard rumblings of gas cans and matches during my travels, it's too late for that already. Only a giant tsunami can help us now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Musings: Take, Take, Take

A huge ring circled the moon in the middle of the night, but both were gone when Koko and I rose hours later and set out under a sky smudged with gold and crowned by Venus.

All the mountains were clear, though clouds hovered near Waialeale’s summit, and mist hung thick in the pastures and crept across the road. As we returned, the sun rose, smoldering orange, and we found ourselves walking through a sparkling pink haze.

It looked like the perfect day to dry laundry, so I headed down to the Laundromat, where I ran into my friend Jim, another early riser born in the year of the Rooster, and as my clothes washed, we chatted about Kapaa, where he was born and raised, and how the reef fish had pretty much disappeared along that stretch of coastline.

He blamed run-off, including chlorinated water, for killing the reef, but said that people had also overfished — taken too much while giving nothing back, and none of the young kids growing up today had any sense of the culture, much less its spiritual aspects, which were at the core of caring for any resource.

"Now days it's all take, take, take," he said.

It made me think of a conversation I had on Monday with a man who has family on Niihau, and recently returned to that island, after a 10-year absence, for a relative’s burial.

He was struck by how much it had changed in that time, saying that only about 100 people still remain, and they’re dependent on their Kauai relatives because there’s no work for them on Niihau anymore, now that the kiawe charcoal and honey enterprises have gone bust.

All they’ve got to live on are food stamps and money they can make from Niihau shell lei. A few of the old paniolos help out with the exclusive hunting trips that are the only form of tourism, save for the helicopter rides that drop tourists on the beach for a picnic. Hunters, also transported by helicopter, pay about $1,500 for a day’s hunt, but they’re pretty much guaranteed to kill something, because the island is loaded with pigs, goats and the game animals brought over years ago from Molokai Ranch.

Subsistence hunting and fishing is a big part of the residents' existence and helps them remain somewhat independent, he said, so it broke his heart when he saw how many people have started coming over from Kauai to fish and collect opihi.

“They don’t realize they’re literally taking food out of the mouths of the Niihau people,” he said. ‘They have no respect, using bleach, which kills everything, picking every opihi they can find, pulling up on shore and poaching cows and other animals.”

It used to be that no one came close to Niihau. Folks respected the island’s privacy and isolation; they gave it wide berth. But that’s all gone, he said. As the fish are depleted around Kauai, they’re looking for easy pickings, and right across the channel, there’s Niihau, with its relative abundance.

And then you’ve got the curiosity seekers, those who just want to go to someplace that’s “forbidden,” and so they sneak onto the beaches, not realizing how much it frightens the people who live there to have strangers show up, unannounced and uninvited, with no idea of their intentions, in that very isolated place, he said.

“I wonder what’s going to happen to Niihua when Bruce [Robinson] is gone,” he said, noting that the barge that brings drinking water and other supplies only goes to the island very intermittently these days. The caretaker role that the Robinson family formerly played has pretty much disappeared, he said, now that economic opportunities on the island have dwindled.

“People have this idea that Niihau is this little paradise for Hawaiians, the last untouched place,” he said. “But it’s not. It’s really very depressing. The people there have so little, and now other people from the outside just want to grab what’s left. All they want to do is take, take, take.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Musings; Boom Goes Bust

Waialeale popped its head out and said hello —the first time its summit has been visible in weeks — when Koko and I went walking this chilly morning. A few wispy tendrils clung to the lower slopes and Makeleha, to the north, was bundled up in gray, so I had a feeling the clarity wouldn’t last.

Sure enough, the clouds were already starting to drift in before I’d even finished watering my taro patch, which has been wondering, where the heck is the rain?

Meanwhile, the County Council is asking, where the heck is the County Attorney? According to an article in today’s Garden Island, the Council has authorized $75,000 for its own legal fund because it can’t get any service from the County Attorney’s office.

The article reports:

“There’s a total lack of respect for any activity that is going on here,” Councilman Ron Kouchi said, referring to [County Attorney Matthew] Pyun reportedly saying he does not want his deputy attorneys wasting their time sitting through often lengthy council meetings.

The attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Council members said they want a county attorney on hand at their meetings to answer legal questions, a service that has been intermittent over the past year here but should regularly occur as it does at council meetings across the country.

When I used to cover Council meetings, former County Attorneys Mike Belles and Kathleen Watanabe — not their deputies — sat through the whole dang thing. So what’s changed? Is the office now seriously overwhelmed? Understaffed? Mismanaged? Disdainful? Do the county attorneys avoid Council duty because they don’t want to get beat up or bored? Or is this yet another indication of the fractured relationship between the Council and Administration, with taxpayers paying the price?

Still, it’s rich to hear Ron Kouchi expound on “respect” when the Council regularly withholds from the public opinions issued by the attorneys we pay for. Talk about getting dissed.

It was also interesting to note that the Council authorized more money for the bus, Kauai Food Bank and home meals for the disabled and elderly — indications that rising food and gas prices are expected to take a higher toll on island residents this year.

Seems that Councilman Jay Furfaro called a private meeting of the county’s business leaders last week to assess the island’s economic condition, and consensus was, the situation is bleak. Construction, real estate sales and tourism are all down. At the same time, officials are aware that residents are fed up with the rapid growth in all three sectors that has been occurring, pretty much unabated, ever since Iniki.

So maybe it’s high time for a time-out. Problem is, a lot of folks have gotten used to the boom, a lot of folks recently moved here because of the boom and a lot of folks picked up hefty mortgages and big car payments during the boom. Looks like serious crunch time as the boom goes ka-boom.

Except, apparently, not for Princeville Corp. — one of Jay's consulting clients — which is moving ahead with plans to carve up Princeville Ranch into ranchettes. The super rich are unfazed by economic downturns, and that’s who Kauai caters to now.

As for the rest of it, looks like it's gonna be catch as catch can.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Musings: Misguided Intentions

Gray clouds were building up thick in the northeast when Koko and I set out this morning, while before us, the mountains were capped in white fluff. The sunrise was limited to a pale orange smudge, and even the birds were subdued in their singing.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who was also out early, roused as I was by the light that’s now stretching the day on either end. Koko was, as usual, happy to see him, and she stood up and hugged his calf, bringing her head closer to his hand, or perhaps it was the pocket with dog biscuits she was aiming for.

Earlier, Koko had spent a lot of time snuffling around in the place where the pigs cross the road, traveling from one valley to another. With the guava fruiting, they’ve got plenty to eat.

A friend recently told me he’d heard Kauai’s pig population was estimated at about 65,000 — a figure that’s comparable to the resident humans. That stockpile could come in handy if food prices, driven in part by oil that is now $126 a barrel, keep rising.

It seems wild pigs are increasing even on Oahu, where hunting may be expanded in some parts of the island to keep a lid on the population, according to an article in today's Advertiser.

But it seems there’s a conflict with some folks who live in Manoa, Makiki and Tantalus and actually put out food for the wild pigs — sort of like the well-meaning, but woefully misguided, people here who feed the feral cats and chickens. They all reproduce wildly, and with few predators, it doesn’t take long for the numbers to get out of control.

When I was on Lanai, I was chatting with a guy who works for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Although he primarily manages the hunting areas there, he was also helping some of the other state guys trap the feral cats that are preying on the black-rumped petrels. Lanai actually has the state’s largest population of these endangered birds.

Anyway, since nothing goes unnoticed on that small island, when the traps arrived by barge, word quickly spread to the cat rescue society and the state guys had to pull a few diversionary maneuvers to avoid a confrontation.

Apparently, the cat people had been spaying wild cats then releasing them back into the wild. Yes, that does help to curtail the population, but it does nothing to stop them from eating endangered birds and other wildlife, or slowly starving to death when the pickings are slim.

I love cats, and all animals, but everything has its place. And with so many of Hawaii’s native bird species on the ropes, the backcountry is no place for kitties.

The Kauai County Council, meanwhile, will conduct a hearing on Wednesday on bills that would allow folks — but only the responsible ones, mind you — to walk their dogs on The Path, which is considered a "linear park," and so off-limits to canines.

According to an article in The Garden Island, Councilman Tim Bynum, who introduced the meaaures, received some 80 pieces of mail on the subject, and all but three supported dogs on The Path.

"This is a serious issue," he said. "There are people who are intimidated about dogs, and sometimes dog owners just don't understand that. But as a society, we've decided having dogs on leashes in public is the norm."

Actually, dogs chained up in yards is more the norm on Kauai.

While I feel for the cops who will be assigned doo doo patrol to ensure people pick up after the pooches, let's hope the Council can see its way clear to pass these ordinances. If we've got to endure concrete along the coast, at least let us share it with our best friends.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Musings: Bearing the Burden

Birds provide such delightful bookends to the day, as I observed this morning, lying in bed and listening to their pre-dawn songs and calls fill the valley below my house with music, and yesterday at sunset, when Koko and I went deep mauka, accompanied by a traveling bird symphony, to visit the ohia trees.

They’re blooming, adorned with feathery, deep-red lehua blossoms, and if there is a tree that more deeply touches my heart, for reasons I can’t explain — not that I need to — I haven’t yet encountered it.

The albizia, too, is blooming, a sight that fills me with some dread, as it’s easy, when their canopies are a mass of tiny white flowers, to see how quickly they’re marching up the mountains, how far they’ve already come.

They’ve traveled high up Makaleha and Hihimanu, two important watersheds in Kapahi and Hanalei, respectively, and they’ve pretty much taken over Kalihiwai Valley. In the remote, backcountry regions, they shade out uluhe fern and crowd out ohia — two plants that effectively collect water.

The uluhe also provide cover for the burrows of Newell’s shearwaters — a rare seabird that comes ashore on Kauai to nest and is already challenged by the proliferation of electric lines and lights in previously dark areas.

I think about these things when I’m out and about, and often I get to wondering why it is that we humans, with our oblivious, short-sighted ways, cause so much trouble for other species, and even our own.

That thought came to mind the other day when I was listening to Niumalu resident Gary Craft talking on KKCR about the air pollution emitted by Norwegian Cruise Lines when the “Pride of America” is in port at Nawiliwili.

As Gary, a teacher and reasonable-sounding man, discussed how he began researching the health effects of the sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and particulate matter released from the ship’s smokestacks while it hangs overnight at the harbor, I heard the worry in his voice.

I also heard the frustration he and others experienced when they tried to seek help from the Legislature, only to have a bill that would have required the ships to burn cleaner fuel while in port defeated, and the state, only to be told it couldn’t determine the source of the contaminants.

“We want to support tourism,” Gary said. “We just don’t want to die for it.”

How much burden, I wondered, should one community have to bear to support Kauai’s predominant industry? And what burdens are already being borne by other communities?

Well, to name just a few, Koloa is being systematically destroyed to make way for more shops and vacation houses. Hanalei and Haena have been completely overrun by a proliferation of unregulated vacation rentals. Kapaa is choked with traffic.

Sure, tourism is our bread and butter, but how many of the impacts we’re feeling are the unnecessary result of poor planning, lack of political will, incompetence and sheer greed? I’d venture to say nearly all of them.

I remember once, many years ago, when Puna Geothermal Venture was building its plant to generate electricity in the Big Island’s Puna District and residents were complaining that it was emitting toxic fumes that were making them sick, destroying their community and driving down their property values. Ironically, many of them had chosen to build homes that were totally off the grid, so they wouldn’t even be using the electricity.

I happened to be interviewing Sen. Dan Inouye when he came to Hilo for a political affair, and asked what he thought of the residents’ concerns about geothermal. He replied that everyone had to share in the burden of providing the needs required by our modern society, just as he endured the traffic noise generated by the freeway that ran near his Honolulu apartment.

There’s some truth to that, but what about when the burdens can be mitigated, or entirely avoided? And is it fair to make those who aren’t gaining any direct benefits shoulder heavy burdens?

These kinds of questions, if they’re raised at all, are regularly ignored or dismissed by most government agencies and political leaders. Meanwhile, government continues on the same path, scuttling a bill that would make NCL clean up its act, approving a questionable biofuels project that will allow a company to plant more albizia downwind of the watersheds that serve us all.

Sometimes, though, attempts are made to break through this unconsciousness, and such is the case at Nawiliwili, where a number of actions are planned for May 22 that are intended to make Norwegian Cruise Lines — and its passengers — aware that real people are being affected by their business decisions, and these real people aren’t happy. It’s an effort that deserves support. And who knows? Maybe it’ll lead to more instances of people rising up to say “no!” When people go through the proper channels, and still get no relief, truly, what other options do they have?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Musings: Cop Shop Talk

I love living in a place where the pile-ups involve not cars on the freeway, but pink and gray clouds atop Waialeale, and madly singing birds, not sirens, capture your attention and the air smells not of exhaust, but flowers, if you’re mauka, or salt, if you’re makai.

Those were my thought when Koko and I went walking on this lovely spring morning that's all golden, warm and breezy. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but it likely had something to do with chickens, smells and the likelihood of my neighbor Andy kicking down a dog biscuit, which he did.

Both Andy and farmer Jerry stopped to talk about the article I wrote on Chief Perry for this week’s Kauai People, and then the conversation expanded into a broader discussion of the police force — a topic that Katy Rose and Jimmy Trujillo also broached in their very interesting KKCR program yesterday.

The Chief’s request for tasers and riot (aka “protective”) gear has attracted much of the attention, with folks debating whether such equipment serves to increase or decrease violent behavior among cops, or if it's even needed on little Kauai.

My own feeling is that a cop’s humanity diminishes when the protective armor goes on and the face shield goes down. Such gear is also intimidating as hell to citizens, and tends to change the tenor of a protest or demonstration into something way more radical. When confronted by a face-off with heavy armored cops, citizens might react by doing stuff they otherwise wouldn’t, like throwing bottles or rocks.

As a friend who was listening to the KKCR broadcast with me observed: “You play nuts, you get nuts. You play big city, you get big city.”

Still, I can understand the point that both Jerry and Andy made, which is that Kauai is not the sleepy little place it used to be, and cops might feel more secure if they have protective gear.

And as Chief Perry already acknowledged in budget hearings before the Council, “operational plans are now in place to partner with other agencies to effectively respond” to incidents like last summer’s Superferry protests.

So would we rather it be our own cops in riot gear, or guys brought in from somewhere else, like Honolulu, who might not be inclined to cut us any slack?

I’ve also heard the argument that when cops have tasers, they’re less likely to pull their guns. But as Jonathan Jay noted on the radio, how often do Kauai cops use their guns right now? It’s not a very common occurrence. Would they be more likely to zap someone with a taser?

I don’t think any of us know the answer to that question. It seems like a lot of it comes down to what kind of training they get, and what kind of cops are on the force — two areas where the Chief is trying to make major changes.

It also seems the Council, which holds the purse strings, is inclined to defer to Chief Perry and give him whatever he thinks is needed to pull our very troubled police department together and achieve national accreditation.

In its coverage today of the public hearing on the county budget, The Garden Island included comments from two Councilmen:

Some of the items in the police budget are not a reflection of things stemming from the August protests of Hawaii Superferry at Nawiliwili Harbor, [Jay] Furfaro said.

It is about helping the department under the leadership of new Kaua‘i Police Chief Darryl Perry reach its goal of earning national accreditation, he said. This includes specific training, certification and retention requirements.

“The chief is not there to militarize, he’s there to professionalize and bring accountability,” Councilman Tim Bynum said yesterday.

After talking with Chief Perry, I feel that Tim's assessment is true. While I personally don’t think KPD needs riot gear and tasers, it’s just one tiny part of the much bigger, and more sordid, picture at KPD. I’m way more concerned about the stuff that’s playing out behind the scenes, which is all about who really controls the department, and I hope the community doesn’t turn against the Chief over this issue.

That said, I also hope the Chief makes a statement soon about last week's take-down of Kingdom of Atooi leader Dayne Aipoalani. As my neighbor Andy observed, even if Juan Wilson’s account was exaggerated, it does seem like excessive force was used.

And as Andy Parx noted on the radio yesterday, if the cops could have accomplished the same thing simply by calling Dayne on the phone, it raises the question of whether the county really needed to make a $50,000 appropriation to Councilman Mel Rapozo — the former KPD sergeant who left the force following the Monica Alves scandal and now has his own PI biz — to bring in some of the guys with outstanding warrants.

Finally, someone left a very clever comment on yesterday’s post that seems to accurately sum up Kauai’s attitude toward the big boat. Who needs bogus newspaper and blog polls when you’ve got akamai observers like that?

Mahalo for the laugh.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Musings: Persona Non Grata

There’s a certain comfort to be found in the sound of rain falling in the night, when I’m safely snug in bed, a certain reassurance I feel when I hear the world around me getting the nourishment it treasures most.

Ask any plant if it would rather have rain or chlorinated water from a hose — and some hoses contain lead, I hear, although I can’t imagine why — and I know without it saying a word what the answer would be.

After our walk, in which Koko strained at her leash, whining and yipping in a classic case of chicken envy as my neighbor Andy’s dog, Momi, chased a few stragglers alongside the road, I spent a little time in my taro patch, weeding, and marveling that one small leaf could hold a good quarter-cup of water, sparkling in the sunlight that filtered through the camphor tree.

I escorted four large African snails out of the patch; they didn’t appear to be eating the taro, just hunkering down in the moistness, but I generally take the approach that snails of any kind are persona non grata in the garden.

The question of whether the Superferry has a similar status on Kauai continues to be addressed by the media, with The Garden Island today taking up the topic on its front page.

The article quoted yesterday’s Honolulu Advertiser coverage, which included comments from new Hawaii Superferry CEO Thomas Fargo saying the company was waiting for an affirmative sign from the community before resuming service.

Curiously, Fargo declined to comment to The Garden Island, although he’s already talked to the Star-Bulletin, Pacific Business News and Advertiser. It kind of makes me wonder if his previous interviews were merely a dog and pony show staged for the Honolulu folks.

Nor did HSF spokeswoman Lori Abe respond by press time to a request for more info about the company’s purported outreach efforts here. Again, you’d have to think she’d welcome the opportunity for some exposure in the local press — unless exposure is exactly what she doesn’t want, if you get my drift.

Fortunately, Mayor Bryan Baptiste continues to exercise his stunningly strong leadership in the issue, with the paper reporting his astute observation that “the complexities surrounding the issue have not abated.”

“I’m not sure if we can come to a consensus; there’s so much passion on both sides,” he said yesterday. “My concern as mayor is the divisiveness this issue has caused in our community.”

Baptiste said the county would, however, support a forum or poll conducted jointly by state and Superferry officials.

Oh, you mean the same guys who ganged up previously to bully the ferry’s way into the Neighbor Islands? Yes, that would certainly be the team to conduct a poll that would leave everyone assured of its accuracy and fairness.

Meanwhile, Dick Mayer on Maui raised a good question in an email yesterday as to whether it’s a conflict of interest for Fargo to serve on the board of Hawaiian Airlines while Hawaii Superferry offers corporate-subsidized cut-rate tickets intended to lure business away from the airlines.

Of course, the whole corporate world in Hawaii is so intertwined — some might even say incestuous — that it’s tough to figure out just which nest these guys are feathering when they’re serving on multiple boards.

But I think chances are good that those nests don’t belong to you and me.

And that reminds me: I found a tiny gray feather in the loi and brought it inside with me. Now I’m thinking, after this brief foray into the human/cyber world, that I should have stayed with it outside.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Musings: Syngenta, Superferry, Chemtrails and Cops

The cloud-filtered sun produced the kind of light this morning that made it hard to tell whether it was spring or fall, but the flowers provided ample hints that it’s the former.

Albezia — scourge of the watersheds — is ablaze with tiny yellow-white blossoms that blow in the wind, creating a carpet of petals beneath the trees. I also noticed — or rather, my nose did — that some of my taro is blooming, exuding a delightful scent that is far more complex than one might expect from the simple appearance of its flowers.

Syngenta, it seems, is planning a simple solution to concerns that the pesticides it’s spraying on fields adjacent to Waimea Canyon Middle School are making kids and teachers there sick.

No, it’s not going organic. Instead, I learned yesterday from a reputable source, it’s planning to take those approximately 10 acres out of production. Apparently the company was concerned that local Syngenta reps haven’t expressed adequate public concern about the situation, so they sent one of their big wigs over from America to tidy things up.

Since they have a long term lease on the land, they can’t just let it sit there, so they’re looking at other uses, including an ag education program and worker housing, although both of those proposals have some drawbacks.

In the meantime, some folks on the Westside continue to monitor the situation and post various videos on youtube.

My favorite was "Prehistoric Monster," not because it’s compelling video, but because it was sent out with this hyperbolic intro:

Like a prehistoric monster looking for it's prey, a chemical sprayer works it's way towards a building of classrooms on Waimea Canyon Middle School campus. With winds blowing towards campus it's sonance carried on the breeze strikes fear in children and adults knowing it's breath will soon cause discomfort, pain, illness, and possible future death.

It prompted a friend of mine to respond: “They should have been around when the plantations did that with aircraft.”

Speaking of aircraft, a new blog, Kauai Sky, has been started that is devoted solely to monitoring chem trails — the “streaks of condensed water vapor created in the air by jet airplanes at high altitudes.“

I’m not really too familiar with chem trails, although I’ve heard them discussed by Bill Rash on KKCR radio, and the blog associates them with such diverse impacts as climate change and inability to concentrate. It also references a USA Today story that states:

A new conspiracy theory sweeping the Internet and radio talk shows has set parts of the federal government on edge.
The theory: The white lines of condensed water vapor that jets leave in the sky, called contrails, are actually a toxic substance the government deliberately sprays on an unsuspecting populace.

OK. Moving on to the Superferry, Councilman Mel Rapozo is running a little survey on his blog asking whether the big boat should return to Kauai.

Brad Parsons, meanwhile, sent me an email with comments from Sen. Gary Hooser and Rep. Mina Morita that indicate neither is expecting its imminent arrival.

Said Gary: I may be wrong, but in my opinion the HSF is not likely to propose any return to Kauai until they 'prove the model' on Maui and stabilize their financial picture and community perception.

Mina weighed in with: They may see Kauai as further damaging their cash flow situation and decide not to come or see as an opportunity to put them in a better financial situation which I doubt - that's what I think their determination to return to Kauai will be based on.

And The Advertiser, once again running behind a story already covered by blogs, Pacific Business News and the Star-Bulletin, has a piece today reporting that new Superferry CEO Thomas Fargo is waiting on a sign not from heaven, but the Kauai community. And not just us rank and file types, but those who supposedly lead us.

If the Superferry were to get some kind of signal from the community, especially from leadership, that service is desired, the carrier would respond to the request, Fargo said.

Asked what would constitute a signal from the community, Fargo said: "There'll be a momentum or view by the community that they would like Superferry service." He added that he wasn't sure how that view would be communicated.

The story also has spokeswoman Lori Abe maintaining once again that “the company is continuing to talk with community members on Kaua'i.”

It’s unclear, however, who those community members are, or exactly what they're talking about.

Finally, if you’re curious about our new Police Chief Darryl Perry, you can look in your mailboxes for the story I wrote in this week’s issue of Kauai People. If you don’t live on island, you can read it on line here. It starts on page six.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Musings: Troubling Trends

I had the complete and utter pleasure of being at the ocean when the sun both set and rose, something that I technically could do each and every day, if I wanted, but I don’t, and it made me wonder why it is that we willingly hold ourselves back from that which brings us great joy?

And joy it was to walk Lumahai as the sky went all purple and gold, the ocean mist mingling with the smell of a mokihana garland I wore around my neck, a gift from a friend who had made his annual pilgrimage to a tree that this year offered up a bounty of plump, anise-scented berries.

Later, I stood under the stars at the edges of Waioli Park and listened to the lua guys chanting and stomping their way through their practice, invisible in the darkness of a new moon night, but sending their presence deep into the valley, which echoed back, reverberating, and ate just-caught akule fried so crisp no need worry about the bones.

This morning I was in the water when the sun came up at a beach much closer to home, where no one was, or had been, because the sand was still smooth and unmarred, and as I swam in water made shallow by a cutting tide, an `auku`u sat on the reef and watched for a meal. And when I pulled on my sweatshirt, the same one I’d worn last night, it still bore the fragrance of moki.

Before I ended up on Lumahai at sunset, I stopped in to oversee a repair at a friend’s Princeville condo, which I’m watching for her while she’s on an extended stay with her hospitalized father in Ohio. I’ve been there many, many times before, but I made two wrong turns; I so often lose my bearings in Princeville, where the buildings all look the same and a recent rash of condo construction has obscured my old navigational landscapes.

Tourism is booming there, most all of it the timeshare type, and it made me think of a conversation I had last week with a local woman who lives in Koloa and has worked in tourism all her life. She now specializes in incentive travel — you know, the free trips given to folks who achieve high sales or some other sort of corporate excellence.

She was saying it’s the form of travel that actually puts the most money in the hands of Kauai residents, because these visitors tend to spend a lot of cash on shopping, activities and meals because their trips are otherwise paid for.

But we’re losing that business to Maui and the Big Island because so many of our oceanfront properties are now timeshares that only the Hyatt can provide the kind of accommodations they seek.

The new Westin that just opened above Anini Beach is timeshares, as is the new hotel under construction at Running Waters in Kalapaki — where, btw, a surfer friend told me there’s no longer access to the surf break there.

Property owners love timeshares, the woman said, because they can recoup their investments quickly and cut down on housekeeping and other staff. So they actually provide fewer jobs that don’t pay as well or offer the good benefits that the hotels did. “Everyone’s in it for the quick buck,” she said. “Nobody cares about aloha, or delivering a good experience any more.”

Meanwhile, we’re also seeing a proliferation in the vacation rental biz, where people often tend to work for cash cleaning the houses and taking care of the yards, which seems fine until you realize how expensive it really is to pay for all your own benefits — if you have them — and that you have no real recourse as an under-the-table worker when the wealthy off-island owners delay payment or stiff you entirely or make you pay for stuff (like cleaning a pool when some lawn clippings blow in ) that you can’t afford.

So here we have all the impacts of tourism — the people, the high prices, the land speculation, the rising property taxes and rental rates, the environmental and cultural degradation — as the economic benefits that are supposed to make it all worthwhile steadily shrink.

Kinda screwy, if you ask me, and it’s yet another troubling trend that we just sort of fell into, without much thought and no clear way out.

As I mentioned in a previous post, another troubling trend is the crack down on the Kingdom of Atooi, which is all part of the growing militarization of cops everywhere, including Kauai.

Over on Island Breath Juan Wilson and Koohan Paik explore that topic in two posts that delve more deeply into the details of Dayne Aipoalani’s arrest and link it to the Superferry protests.

It's the kind of overreaction that needs to be nipped in the bud — especially because the cops are due to be getting more riot gear and tasers.