Sunday, June 29, 2008

Musings: Pondering the Fall

A wedge of darkness illuminated the brighter whole of the moon, which was floating among wispy clouds in a sky thickly sprinkled with stars when Koko and I went walking in that ethereal time on the night side of dawn.

Jupiter glowed round and solemn in the southeast among the stars of Sagittarius, reminding me that a reader wrote to alert us that Saturn and Mars will be dancing with the bright star Regulus for a week or so in the western sky about an hour after sundown, starting tonight.

Looking up and back, to admire the moon, a brilliant meteor shot across the sky, falling straight, not down, and heading mauka. Walking ever so quietly, so as not to disturb the neighborhood dogs, we passed a heavily laden mango tree and heard the swoosh, thump, thump, thump-thump of a mango taking others with it as it fell.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fall since reading Jeffrey Rosen’s excellent review in the New Yorker of books published to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Milton’s birth. I was struck by the many enduring contributions Milton made: he coined the words pandemonium and self-esteem, in addition to writing the epic “Paradise Lost” and other important works.

But I was especially interested to read about his dual role as poet and political activist, which had him writing pamphlets defending the beheading of Charles I and serving Oliver Cromwell, even after that hopeful government had turned into an autocracy, before doing time in the Tower of London when Cromwell’s son was overthrown and the monarchy restored.

Four centuries later, some of us are still trying to find the perfect political system, still trying to create, at some level, even if we reject any religious overtones, a sort of “heaven on earth” where justice and righteousness prevail. And it got me wondering, are all “political solutions” ultimately doomed to fail because they are constructs of flawed human beings?

We’re taught that democracy is the ideal, because we the people supposedly have a say and a voice, but I have to wonder to what extent that’s really true. The power elite decides which candidates will be allowed to run, and high level races are heavily manipulated. That very same issue of the New Yorker contained an article on GOP political trickster Roger Stone, whose “accomplishments” included orchestrating the November 2000 demonstrations that disrupted the court-sanctioned ballot recount in populous Miami-Dade County, “depriving Gore of his best chance to catch up in the over-all state tally,” reporter Jeffrey Toobin writes.

The rest, as they say, is history, and now we’re watching the most expensive Presidential race in history unfold, financed primarily by special interests that will want something in return. We are not in control of our republic any more, yet how do we change that? When you’ve got a dictator or a king, it’s clear who need to be ousted, but how do you overhaul a democratic system that is rotten at its core?

It has so many people and so many moving parts that's it's virtually impossible to make a clean sweep. So people are kept busy advocating for, and occasionally executing, endless little fixes that never really solve the root problems — problems that rest, it so often seems, in the very same jealousies, lust for power, vengeances and delusions that are the theme of “Paradise Lost.”

So what it seems to keep coming down to, at least for me, is that we’ll find no truth in our political systems, and must seek it instead in whatever ways we can. As Rosen wrote:

“For Milton, the great trial of life was to discover truth through error, but without falling off the path of good.”

Perhaps that, and love — Milton’s fall was nothing if not a testament to the power of human love — is the best we can hope to attain as we seek not to create a heaven on earth, or wait to be called onto one, but to witness, truly witness, the little bits of paradise offered up to us on a daily basis.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Musings: Get a Grip

The morning rain is moving through as I write, a wonderful sound punctuated by melodic trills from a shama thrush and the constant cheeping of tiny chicks.

I’m going to be taking a little time off, not going anywhere in particular except away from my computer and desk, so postings for the next week or so will likely be sporadic, erratic and decidedly eclectic.

And on that note, I'd like to announce that today I'm conferring two awards.

The first is the “This kind of thinking has got to change” award, and it goes to Gov. Linda Lingle for putting the “Right to Dry Clothes” bill on her potential veto list.

Now this bill doesn’t require anyone to actually use a clothesline, a practice that is a total no-brainer in this land of abundant wind and sun. It simply allows for the use of clotheslines on any privately owned single-family residential dwelling or townhouse — including those communities where hoity-toity neighborhood association rules forbid it.

While I personally can’t imagine wanting to live in a place where they can control your life right down to the clothesline level, many people do. And with electric and propane bills going through the roof, it seems reasonable to give people the option of hanging out the laundry.

Wasn’t the guv just on Kauai last week talking about how Hawaii needs to wean itself off imported oil? Well, here’s an easy and painless way to start. You might even find that you prefer the fresh smell of your sun-dried clothes over that sickening — literally and figuratively — “nature scent” stuff you toss in the dryer.

And the “Hysteria is unbecoming to an elected official” award goes to our own Councilman Mel Rapozo for his quote in Tuesday’s Garden Island, in reference to allowing dogs on The Path:

"You are asking me to approve a bill that could cause a kid to jump off a cliff," Rapozo said.

Apparently Mel fears that a vicious dog on a 6-foot leash will lunge at a dog-phobic child precisely on that stretch of 10-foot-wide path where there is another 4-foot buffer from the path’s edge to the side of a rocky cliff, causing said child to jump over.

I suppose it’s possible. As is the scenario of a person getting run off the Path at that spot by a pack of speeding bicyclists or four stroller-pushing moms jogging abreast.

Meanwhile, as the county labors long over this most pressing issue, each day on Kauai I see children walking and riding bikes on roads that can’t be much wider than 30 feet that are shared not only with dogs — leashed and unleashed — bicycles and sometimes horses, but two lanes of cars, as well.

Let’s get a grip.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Musings: Chief Says "No"

I wasn’t going to blog today, because I have so much to do, but when I checked out The Garden Island on line this morning, the news about Chief Perry halting construction at the Naue burial site was such a stunner I had to delve into it.

In an amazing turn of events, Perry said construction on the site could violate a law prohibiting desecration of burial sites. The article reports:

“Unless we have a directive or some kind of documentation or some kind of decision that is made at a higher level, as far as we’re concerned, if construction begins on this burial site, they’ll be in violation of Hawai‘i Revised Statutes,” Perry told protestors and workers.

“I’m aware of the statute and do not agree with his (Perry’s) interpretation,” said Walton Hong, attorney for property owner Joseph Brescia.

Not only did Perry’s action diffuse a very heated situation — the article reports that workers had moved a gate and were preparing to tell protestors to leave and begin filing trespassing reports when the Chief had his officers “stand down” — but it opens up a very intriguing legal question: how is it that burials are regularly disrupted when we have HRS 711-1107(b) on the books?

Or had Brescia failed to secure all the approvals he needed? The article reports that in light of the chief’s action, Brescia yesterday had submitted a burial plan to the State Historic Preservation Division. But from the DLNR spokeswoman's comments, it seems there already is an SHPD-approved burial plan.

[Update: I just talked to Ka`iulani, who said about the unexpected outcome: "You could have knocked me over with a feather. I told everybody, keep praying, no matter what, just keep praying, and I'm convinced that's what did it."]

Needless to say, Perry’s leadership in this issue should serve to dispel criticism that he’s too heavy handed in responding to demonstrations. It also seems to me to indicate that fairness, as he told me when I interviewed him a while back, is one of his overriding concerns.

I did, however, have to wonder where reporter Michael Levine came up with this bit:

Perry announced that construction would not begin, drawing a loud round of cheers and mahalos from protestors, including some 30 men in matching black T-shirts who may have been “Lua” — members of a secretive ancient Hawaiian martial arts sect that serves as an unofficial police force.

First, lua isn’t “secretive” — there’s been a book written about it — second, it isn't a “sect” and third, the guys don’t “serve[s] as an unofficial police force.”

The article concludes with:

Looking forward, KPD Assistant Chief Roy Asher said the issue will be addressed by the judicial system. 

“It’s in the courts now, which is where it belongs,” he said.

Yes, that is where this issue belongs. And how much wiser of the Chief to put it into the system this way, rather than through an untold number of trespassing cases that, aside from all their drama and angst and potential for conflict with the police during arrests, would allow construction to continue while they wend their way through court.

The police apparently were not relishing a confrontation, either, with one supporter describing on the radio how some of the cops "were crying" when Ka`iulani invited them onto the site to "say hello to the kupuna."

The Chief said in his column last Sunday that “I truly hope and pray that there will be a peaceful resolution to this issue.”

Looks like he figured out how to make that happen.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Musings: Look Quick

This morning I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Up before the garbage men, I was taking my can to the curb when I looked back, toward my house, and was captivated by a triangle of sky where the sun was preparing to rise.

Standing in grass left wet by nighttime rains, as roosters crowed all around in their strangely muffled din, I saw a blue background, spattered with white and puffy clouds, and atop that, a denser layer of clouds in a tumult of shapes — a dove, an old lady, a rabbit — and colors — bruised plum, gold, burnt orange, pale yellow, steel gray — and beneath all that, a thin strip of coral pink running along the horizon.

Two minutes later it was all pau, and the sky was colorless. You’ve gotta look quick sometimes, or you miss things. Like Koko missed the colors, but I missed the cat under the house, which had her transfixed and whining.

Then I checked my garden and gently redirected a pumpkin plant that had gone on a sudden sprawl, holding one taro plant by the throat and taking three others hostage.

I’m hopeful the scene can be managed with a similarly light touch up at the Naue burial grounds this morning, where construction is reportedly set to begin and the police are saying they can’t stop it, even though Ka`iulani Huff vows she will.

Although various factors kept me from getting up there this morning, I did spend a bit of time in the past couple of days reviewing some documents, all available as part of the public record, to satisfy my own curiosity about Joseph Brescia, the man who wants to build a house atop a site with at least 30 burials.

As you may recall, he was quoted in Sunday’s newspaper as saying:

“I’m not a developer, I’m just a regular guy in a very unfortunate, uncomfortable situation,” he said. “I’ve done everything I can to make this sensitive and respectful, and I don’t know what else can be changed.”

It seems that over the past eight years, Brescia and/or his wife, Jodie, have purchased 10 properties in Hawaii — nine of them on Kauai — and re-sold at least four of them. These aren’t the sorts of properties that the average middle-class person might buy, either. Among them are a condo at The Regency at Poipu, a lot in the pricey Hanalei Palms subdivision, a place at Anini that he ended up selling for $740,0000 — half his original asking price — and another at Anini that he sold for $950,000.

And then there are three parcels on Alalea Street in Wainiha, including the one with all the burials. He built a house on another, where one burial was found at the end of construction and reburied under the structure, that he recently sold. I don’t know what he got, but it was listed for more than $7 million.

Further, Brescia has formed at least three limited liability corporations in Hawaii to handle his various real estate transactions.

So maybe he’s not a developer, compared to those guys who build thousands of subdivision houses and strip malls, but he’s certainly a high-end real estate investor and speculator. And that, in my mind, at least, moves him out of the realm of a “regular guy,” which I would define more as the type who has to check his truck for change at the end of the month before buying snacks at Menehune Mart on his way to work in the morning.

On another, similarly seamy front, the fate of Kauai’s mayorship is taking some interesting twists and turns. As The Garden Island reports today, there’s now talk of holding a special election this fall to fill the remaining two years of Brian Baptiste’s term, and appointing an interim mayor to fill in until then.

My favorite comment came Ron Agor, our rep (and I use the term loosely) on the Board of Land and Natural Resources, and a failed Republican candidate for the state House:

”I would like to see a special election for the balance of Mayor Baptiste’s term held this November,” he said. “Furthermore, the selected interim mayor should not be eligible to run in the special election. That would be fair to all of Kaua‘i.”

Hmmm. Could Ron Agor be eyeing the mayor’s chair, and wanting to ensure he has a crack at it by making the interim mayor ineligible to run? After all, our dear departed mayor passed himself off as a Republican and was elected in large part because of the same Filipino vote that Agor could ostensibly muster.

JoAnn Yukimura, on the other hand, seems in no hurry to move Gary Heu out of the role of acting mayor, even going so far as to say:

”If possible, we should not rush into quick decisions, but should take the time to honor and remember the mayor before proceeding to the necessary political decision-making.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, and she may very well be sincere. Or she could be stalling for time to improve her own position. One just never knows with politicians, especially when they didn’t take much time to “honor” the mayor or even consider his proposals when he was still alive.

Meanwhile, some Council watchers are predicting Kaipo Asing will get the interim mayor job, largely because he’s seen as the least threatening in terms of future election bids for the top post.

My own take on the subject is there's an awful lot of wheeling and dealing going on behind closed doors right now. Best look quick, or you might miss something.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Musings: Scramble for Power

I had a call from a friend on Oahu who broke the news last night that Kauai’s Mayor, Bryan Baptiste, passed away yesterday afternoon. He apparently had a heart attack.

Accordng to KITV News, Baptiste, 52, had quadruple bypass heart surgery June 13 at Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, was discharged from the hospital on Friday and returned to Kauai Saturday night.

Now Administrative Assistant Gary Heu, who has managed to keep a very low profile during the six years he served under Baptiste, is serving as mayor pro tem.

KITV reports:

He [Heu] contacted Kauai's elected officials and plans to meet with county officials Monday to determine what happens next. Officials must determine the next steps according to the county charter.

What happens next, under the County Charter, is that the Council will select one of its own members to serve as mayor, with a new mayor to be chosen in the November election. The newly elected mayor will serve out only the remainder of Baptiste’s term, or another two years, at which point he or she will ostensibly be in a great position to run again.

Meanwhile, the Council gets to choose a person to fill the empty Council seat. Hmmm. I wonder who that might be? Hopefully they won't be so blatant as to bring on someone from Grove Farm, although that company certainly has had Council representation in the past. Or will they open the door to Derek Kawakami, who is already running for the Council and has the proper pedigree?

It ought to be interesting to see how the various Council members — Ron, JoAnn and Jay — who have already been eying the mayor’s seat conduct themselves in the scramble for power that this event opens up, especially since it’s happening in an election year.

One has to wonder, too, if Kaipo, who has more years than anyone on the Council, will decide he deserves the top post. Will Shaylene ditch her prosecutor’s bid and grab for the big chair? Will Mel decide he wants a piece of the action?

Yes, it ought to be quite a show. After all, opportunities like this don’t come around every day for a politician on Kauai.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Musings: The Right Thing

Today was one of the most lovely mornings Koko and I have experienced in a while, which is saying something, given the enduring loveliness of the Kauai dawn.

It’s just that this particular one arrived softly, with a hint of gold in the eastern sky that gradually grew bolder until it was replaced, all at once and briefly, by a solid splash of red, and then the sun arrived, sparkly through pukas in the vegetation and imbuing everything with a rosy luster.

And on top of that, the air smelled good, perfumed with plumeria, mock orange and other unidentified blossoms wafting on a very brisk breeze.

On days like this, it’s hard to imagine that everything isn’t right with the world — until I look at a newspaper or check my email, where I’d already been sent several messages with links to an article in today’s The Garden Island about the burial grounds up at Naue.

The article states that police met with Kaiulani Huff, who claims ownership to the land that contains the burials. She and others have been camping on the adjacent beach for the past three months to protect the bones from further disturbance.

Apparently, according to the article, the police feel that Joe Brescia has provided sufficient proof of his ownership that they must protect his right to begin construction on the site. Attempts to begin construction were derailed on June 3 when Kaiulani called the police to report that the contractor, Ted Burkhardt, and his crew were trespassing. The blessing was also derailed after the minister, who claimed she didn’t know about the burials, left in tears after being apprised of the situation.

It’s unclear whether Burkhardt, who had reportedly walked off the project, will continue to head up the job. At least one other company was approached to do the work, but declined.

The article quotes Chief Perry as saying:

We agreed as a department that we needed to meet with Ms. Huff and the rest of the demonstrators to get on the same page and make sure we respect their right to protest, but also to make sure they keep it peaceful.

Meanwhile, Brescia, who has built other homes in the subdivision previously, including at least one where a burial was found, is playing the “poor me” routine. The paper quotes him as saying:

I’m not a developer, I’m just a regular guy in a very unfortunate, uncomfortable situation. I’ve done everything I can to make this sensitive and respectful, and I don’t know what else can be changed.

It’s difficult to understand how Bresica — or anyone — could turn a decision to build a spec house on top of more than 30 ancient burials into something “sensitive and respectful.” But even if he had managed to achieve that, and he hasn’t, there’s still the question of what else can be changed.

Here are a few ideas: dedicate or sell the property to the Kauai Trust for Public Land or another organization in return for the tax write off; redesign the house plans; sit down with Kaiulani and others and get their manao on ways to proceed; back off for a while and see what can be worked out. It's not like he's going to be able to spin the place quickly, anyway, now that real estate sales have tanked.

The Chief, meanwhile, is appealing to higher forces for a resolution, according to his response to a question about the burials in his weekly Q&A column:

I truly hope and pray that there will be a peaceful resolution to this issue.

It appears that some additional guidance can also be found in Honolulu, according to an article in today’s Honolulu Advertiser that reports there’s a “high potential” the city’s proposed rail project will impact burial sites.

The article states:

Moses Aiai, an attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, agreed the city could encounter iwi in urban Honolulu. That makes it critical that the city conduct archaeological surveys at each location where digging will occur, he said.

"I would expect some kind of an impact on burial sites or other historic sites in that area," Aiai said. "That's what's so important about doing this sort of analysis up front before you begin digging, because you want to still have the flexibility ... and you're able to look at design alternatives."

At Naue, the burials were discovered when they were disturbed during site work — even though it seems archaeologists would have suspected they’d be present, since iwi have been found at many points along that stretch of sandy shoreline.

Still, as the Advertiser reports, the discovery of burials has not deterred development in Honolulu where 42 burials were unearthed for a Wal-Mart, which is now open. Another 60 were found at General Growth's Ward Villages project, which includes a Whole Foods market and luxury apartment complex and shops. However, the apartment project is currently on hold because 30 burials at that site must be left in place.

The article states:

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation unsuccessfully sought to temporarily halt construction at both the Wal-Mart and Ward Villages sites after iwi were discovered there. The group, which represents people it says are descendants of those remains, contends that developers and the state don't conduct adequate research into the potential for disturbing iwi prior to construction projects.

The Advertiser story includes a quote from Jan Yokota, General Growth's vice president of development, that might prove helpful to Brescia:

One thing that's important for all developers is to know, as best as they can, (is) to do as much proactive research initially and to continue to work with the families (if iwi are found).

It also quoted Thomas Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, as saying that design changes "happen very typically now in Hawai'i, where people will redesign something so that human burials can be avoided. That's becoming more and more common."

That’s what First Hawaiian bank did after three sets of burials were found at the site where it was preparing to build a new bank in Kailua. The article ends by quoting bank spokesman Brandt Farias, who said he did not know if the redesign had increased the project’s price tag.

If there was additional cost, we're happy to do it, because it was the right thing to do for the families and the community.

It seems, then, that those who understand the ethics and cultural sensitivity of such issues are willing to make changes. And those who do not, claim there’s nothing that can be done.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Musings: Aloha Power

A few stars were still sparkling in a sky that was turning rapidly blue when Koko and I got up to see the big, bright moon that had been illuminating the house all night. Our visit was short, as the interior clouds soon swallowed her whole, and then the sun rose, golden, in the narrow band of clearing along the horizon.

Yesterday evening, before we watched another show-stopping moon rise amid puffy clouds over the Giant as a soft, straight rain fell upon us, setting the stage for a moonbow that didn’t materialize, I was listening to a very interesting program on KKCR.

Hosted by Jimmy Trujillo and Katy Rose, it featured Naliko Markell, interior minister of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, and John Gates, a legal scholar and expert in international law who is helping the Nation with its groundbreaking legal case over land jurisdiction.

At one point, Kauai attorney Dan Hempey, who is lead attorney in the case, called in and was asked by Katy about the likelihood of Hawaiians prevailing against the United States without bloodshed.

Dan, after explaining that “the right for Hawaiians to organize as a nation is protected by law in Hawaii,” and that those engaged in such activities are not revolutionaries “doing anything illegal or treasonous, they’re exercising a right that guaranteed to them by law,” said: “It’s kind of a trend, colonized countries being let go by their colonizers.”

Katy, while saying that she hated to sound cynical, then remarked that often these colonies were freed only after “an intense struggle.”

This prompted Dan to note that the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation is “totally non-violent,” adding that he hoped the creation of a Hawaiian nation could be achieved without any bloodshed.

“They don’t shoot you for going to court,” he said.

Observed Katy: “I think they shoot you when you start to win.”

I hate to sound cynical, too, but Katy’s right. America’s history is littered with the bodies of both internal and external dissenters who were assassinated or otherwise eliminated when their words and/or deeds got just a little too threatening to the status quo that supports the continuation of the corporate-military-industrial complex.

Hawaii, of course, has its own large and key role in that complex. To borrow some lyrics from Sudden Rush:

“And another thing that might be quite scary, would they even give a damn if Hawaii wasn’t so important to the military?”

And while we all like to trust in the rule of law, the Hawaii Superferry case is one very visible recent example of how the integrity of the courts can be undermined and overruled by a special interest group that has the money and access to power to rewrite the law to suit its fancy.

Surely Hawaii’s landowners, who have long held political sway in the Islands, would be similarly averse to any legal ruling that might shift the balance of power into the hands of the indigenous people. We’re already seeing the State of Hawaii appeal the state Supreme Court’s ruling that prevents it from selling or transferring the so-called “ceded lands” — lands that it knows it doesn’t own, but is supposed to be holding in trust.

Yet despite the intense obstacles, I’ve consistently observed that those involved in the Hawaiian independence movement are strongly motivated by the perception that ultimately, justice has to prevail. Often, I’ve heard them express such terms as “Akua willing,” or “with the support of Akua.”

There’s a spiritual component there that keeps them from giving up while working through Western power structures that are heavily stacked against them. And it struck me that a belief in the righteousness and inherent power of fairness and justice has been the driving force behind many struggles for independence.

So once again, after yesterday’s show, when I was thinking of the struggle inherent in the independence movement, I found myself wondering, is aloha enough?

And then I has to ask myself, is there really anything else?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Musings: Journey to Babylon

Koko and I watched the full moon rise from the cradle of the Sleeping Giant’s body last night, and then disappear behind a mass of blue-gray clouds this morning. The rain fell hard and heavy sometime after midnight, and returned again just after dawn, sparing me the need to water the taro patch for yet another day.

Unfortunately, since the construction of the centralized judiciary building in Lihue, citizens who live on the north and west sides of the island have not been spared the need to drive all the way into town when they have matters before court.

Although I love their use of native plants in the landscaping, I’ve never been a fan of the large, imposing buildings — aka Babylon — that house the police and courts. The complex seemed wildly out of place on Kauai.

As a friend who was born and raised in Hanalei observed when he first saw Babylon:

“Whoever thought we needed something like that? I thought I was in Kapolei.”

That very same friend called me the other day and said, “Now there’s a good reason to open the Hanalei courthouse back up again: the price of gas.”

It seems he’d just had a visit from a friend who was called as a witness in a court case. Three times he and another guy, both of whom live in Wainiha, had made the trip down to Lihue to testify, only to have the case postponed. And since they don’t have much in the way of disposable income, they were extremely fret about the money they’d wasted on gas.

That got them talking about all the guys who have court dates. What if their cars broke down on the way? Would they be held in contempt of court?

That’s not such a wild scenario, considering that many of the people going through the court system don’t have much money, which often translates into old, unreliable vehicles, or no transportation at all.

I did a quick check of the bus schedule, and since you have to get a transfer once you get into Lihue, you can’t even get to the courthouse by 8 a.m. from Hanalei.

It seems that by requiring everyone to schlep into Lihue for court business, no matter how manini, the government is unduly increasing the costs incurred by citizens who live in outlying areas. Further, it’s putting them in greater jeopardy of missing court dates, which pushes them deeper into the spin of the judicial system — a place that’s largely foreign to all but the rarified few who work in it.

“It looks like the scales of justice are kind of tilted in their favor,” my friend observed.

As Gov. Lingle, who was on Kauai the other day, noted with her usual acuity: “The impact (of rising oil prices) on us is greater than anywhere else in America.”

And those impacts are even greater for the poorest among us, who are disproportionately represented in the court system. Maybe it’s time for the judiciary to reconsider having everyone journey to Babylon, and go back to sending court officials out to Koloa and Hanalei instead.

“Let’s be fair, let’s be smart,” my friend said. “Hey, we’ll even give you guys credit for this idea.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Musings: Military Wannabe

The full moon, bright all night and streaming through the windows, finally succumbed, as did the mountain tops, to a dense bank of clouds in the interior.

The sun fared better, heralding its arrival first with a band of gold, then quilted streaks of smoky-pink atop a blue background, followed by puffy white-gray clouds edged in gold. And finally it presented its brilliant silver-white self.

Ran into farmer Jerry, who gave me a brief geology lesson about the landscape I walk through nearly every morning. He also knew the names — `A`ahoaka and Pu`upilo — of two cinder cones I’ve long admired, though the latter is now marred with a large white house, and passed on what he termed an “ecological alert.”

“We won’t be able to see the waterfalls on Makaleha if the albezia keep climbing the mountain,” he warned, noting that the tall trees with their broad canopies are already beginning to obscure the view of Opaekaa Falls.

It seems, however, that we’re starting to get a clearer view of Hawaii Superferry’s intentions when it comes to the military, a subject that has been the topic of many a blog post and comment. The Honolulu Advertiser today is reporting that the company is spending large on lobbyists in an attempt to have the federal government pick up the tab to add ramps to the second ferry, now under construction, to make it more viable for military use.

According to the article:

Lobbyists hired by Superferry approached the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense to help pay for a vehicle ramp and other improvements. The ramp would allow the new catamaran to load and unload vehicles at most large piers instead of relying on shore-based ramps and barges.

Superferry paid Blank Rome LLC, a prominent law and lobbying firm, to try to obtain federal money through the National Defense Features program to cover the cost of improvements to its second catamaran under construction at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala. The defense program covers the installation of militarily useful features on commercial ships if the owners agree to make the ships available to the military during emergencies.

There are also reports that HSF wants to install a water desalinization and sewage treatment facility, as well as lengthen the second ferry to accommodate large vehicles, in addition to adding the folding ramp system. These features would cost about $5 million and make the fast ferry much suitable to military uses.

The article goes on to say:

Superferry executives had touted the military utility of the catamarans when they were initially describing the project to the state. A September 2004 document from Superferry, obtained by The Advertiser under the open-records law, discussed the growing training needs of the military in the Islands and said the catamarans would have strengthened vehicle decks to handle heavy military vehicles, helicopters, ammunition and other equipment.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but it appears that Superferry’s lobbying firm has experienced the same sort of difficulties as the company itself in filing accurate and timely lobbying reports.

The article notes:

Blank Rome's federal lobbying reports on Superferry for last year and the first quarter of this year have undergone substantial revision. The initial report for the last six months of last year, filed in February, showed less than $10,000 in lobbying income from Superferry. A second report in February raised the figure to $40,000. A third report, filed in May, put the figure at $120,000.

Blank Rome's lobbying report for the first quarter of 2008, filed in April, initially reported $30,000 in lobbying income from Superferry. An amended report, filed in May, raised the figure to $90,000.

The firm explained that the changes were made after the discovery of additional lobbying work on behalf of Superferry and because of the expenses from a subcontractor working with the firm on Superferry.

You may recall that journalist and blogger Ian Lind reported in April that HSF initially disclosed less than 6 percent of the costs incurred in lobbying for special state legislation.

So, you may say, who cares if the Superferry wants to serve the military? Well, as Maui’s Dick Mayer observes, if the company gets its upgrades and leaves Hawaii to use the ferries elsewhere, the State of Hawaii — read, the taxpayers — would be left holding the bag for the $40 million spent to construct the harbor barges.

And that's not counting all the money expended on legal fees, a special session, tugboats, an audit, an oversight task force and harbor security — not to mention undermining the integrity of our courts and all the associated community angst.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Musings: Weapons of Mass Aloha

The rain arrived very early again this morning, unbidden, but always welcome — one of those rare friends I’m happy to see drop by, unannounced, at any time of the night or day. Its presence overwhelmed the brightness of the moon, which is full tomorrow, and the interior mountains entirely disappeared behind masses of clouds.

The sun, now rising a bit later each morning, never did make a proper appearance, though it seems likely to poke its head out before the day is through. A friend from Hanalei called to saying he'd been up in the mountains for a couple of days, hooking `o`opu, which are heading downstream in preparation for spawning, while another friend offered to drop off a bag of mangos — the first of the season. Yum!

It’s not officially the solstice until Friday, but summer, for all intents and purposes, is already here.

And so, it seems, is the time of reckoning for the Hawaiian independence movement. With the Akaka bill, which would quash the dream of sovereignty forever, still alive and kicking, and the state pressing forward in its legal attempts to gain authority to dispose of the so-called “ceded lands,” things are starting to heat up.

I was interested to read a comment that Katy Rose, who has her own blog now, left on yesterday’s post. She stated:

Liberation has never been won in courts controlled by the imperialists, but in the battlefields and the streets.

Just as I was wondering why a progressive thinker would advocate the same old tired approach of armed conflict and violence, she added a second comment to clarify:

I don't necessarily think liberation must be achieved with blood-shed, but that the struggle must be intense and based on a mass movement.

Her remarks made me think of a statement made by Nelson Armitage Jr., the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation’s minister of foreign affairs, at the Nation’s convention this past weekend.

“We don’t have weapons of mass destruction," he said, "but we do have weapons of mass aloha.”

In the face of occupation by the most heavily armed nation on the planet, the kanaka maoli will never be able to achieve their independence through violence or armed conflict.

So they have the choice of either giving up, which doesn’t seem likely, or taking another approach. And that’s what the Nation is doing through its decision to wage its campaign to gain independence through the courts and the arena of public opinion.

Prime Minister Henry Noa said he has approached other nations “about recognizing us, but unfortunately, American dollars are stronger than what’s right. In talking with other nations America’s influence on them is really strong.”

Armitage also said that when he and Noa traveled to Venezuela to seek support for the Nation, there was much discussion about President Hugo Chavez’s famous speech to the United Nations, where he said the U.S. was on its way down and remarked, in reference to President Bush, “The devil came here yesterday. And it smells of sulfur still today."

“We live in the sulfur,” Armitage said, “yet we are still surviving.”

No empire lasts forever. We’re already starting to see the United States flounder economically, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eroding both its resources and standing in the world, while leaving its military forces overextended. The players on the world stage do change. Just look at Latin America.

No doubt, the success of the Hawaiian independence effort ultimately will depend on mass international support. But it doesn’t seem that support will be gained primarily in the streets, but through political, legal, philosophical, moral and even religious avenues.

“Public ignorance is your greatest enemy,” Dan Hempey, attorney to the Nation, told those assembled at the convention. “Influence public opinion.”

Added Armitage: “We don’t need to be aggressive. We’ve just got to be humble and stick to the protocol.”

It’s a model that many are quick to dismiss in a world that operates on the maxim of “might is right.” But then, Hawaii isn’t like any place else on Earth. Shouldn’t its model for achieving independence be different, too?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Musings: Cultural Insensitivity

The rain started when it was still dark, but close to dawn, and it fell steady and straight — loud enough to drown out the crowing of countless roosters, heavy enough to delay our walk and hard enough to saturate the ground, where I planted taro last evening in the setting sun’s golden glow.

The glow of stardom is a place where actor Pierce Brosnan, who spends part of his time on Kauai, is accustomed to basking, and he again had that opportunity this past weekend when the Maui Film Festival fawned over him and KGMB news fawned over the fawning.

It seems the Maui Film Festival gave Brosnan its “Maverick Award” in honor of his “commitment to making movies that matter” as well as his “commitment to environmental justice for all creatures of earth.”

This is another example of one of Kauai’s rich residents being lauded for supposedly “doing good” on a large scale while he meanwhile makes life miserable for his neighbors.

I’m referring to his ongoing lawsuit with Cathy Ham Young, who is seeking to have Brosnan release water from his landscape ponds so she can irrigate her taro patch. The case is now moving through the courts.

As is typical of so many who come here for the beauty and lifestyle, but don’t give a rip about the culture, Brosnan seems clueless about the ramifications of his aquatic hoarding or the requirements of being a good land steward.

In gushing over his part-time life in Wainiha Valley, Brosnan is quoted as saying:

I'm Irish and this is a bit like Ireland but with the heat turned up. I love it and it has been great for my children to grow up in a rural neighborhood.

Apparently the heat hasn’t been turned up sufficiently for him to transcend his own petty aesthetic needs so that he can recognize water is crucial to the survival of the Ham Young’s taro patch, which helps to feed their family.

Brosnan wants all the pleasures of a rural lifestyle, but can’t be bothered to follow its most basic principle in return: being a good neighbor.

I’ve seen this sort of selfishness and cultural insensitivity play out over and over again in Hawaii, and it seems to surface frequently when the issue of disturbing iwi — primarily so a newcomer can build a house, hotel or otherwise profit from a land use — comes up.

In recent comments on this blog, I’ve had people (I’ll go with the plural, although it’s hard to tell whether it’s one anonymous or several) say, what’s the big deal about building over burials? They seem to take the position that unless tombstones are in place, the burials don’t really count, and so they might as well be tossed aside or built over. They frequently argue that the past shouldn’t impede “progress,” and have made the claim that activists are opportunistically “using” the bones, and even the kanaka maoli, to try and stop development.

This attitude ignores the fact that the native community has consistently initiated the outcry over the desecration of Hawaiian burials. Those who hold these views also fail to understand that for many kanaka, the issues of development and burial protection are inextricably linked, and they stem from the premise that the people who have occupied this land for centuries should have some significant say in what is done with it, especially when their ancestors are buried on it. These aren’t separate issues.

And it does seem, from the many kanaka I’ve talked to about this issue, that it’s even more offensive when burials are disturbed by an outsider whose primary motivation is making a few bucks.

What it all comes down to is exercising a little cultural sensitivity and respect. And even if you don’t agree, or it doesn’t happen to be your cultural belief, would it really hurt you to put aside your own wants — whether it’s for landscape ponds or a beachfront vacation rental — in order to honor the needs, wishes and traditional practices of those who have already lost so much?

I mean, geez, where's your compassion? Where's your heart?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Musings: In Search of Truth and Justice

Will the concepts of truth and justice ultimately prevail when it comes to the issue of Hawaii’s self-governance?

That was the foremost question on my mind when I left Nawiliwili Park yesterday evening after watching the orderly workings of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation’s Legislature — it passed a resolution opposing weapons of mass destruction in Hawaii, among other actions — and listening to several inspiring speakers.

It was on my mind because the two words came up often in the Nation's speeches and deliberations, and it seemed to me that the Reinstated Hawaiian government is grounded in those very same concepts, which America supposedly holds dear.

Those who have been deeply involved with moving the Nation toward international recognition for more than a decade are banking on the belief that truth, justice and the rule of law will ultimately allow them to prevail in their effort to free Hawaii from 115 years of American occupation.

One of those believers is Dan Hempey, a Kauai attorney who has been representing the Nation for the past five or six years.

“People will respond to truth and light,” he told the Nation’s Legislature and other onlookers. “People want to be spiritually pono. People support you but are afraid of what they might lose. Show them the justice of your cause and you will win the most powerful tool of all: public opinion. A sovereign nation that has been stolen must be returned. When you act out of resolve and faith, you can shine the light on injustice.”

Prime Minister Henry Noa concurred.

“They’re not going to give you your country back,” he told those who were assembled. “It all comes down to how we’re going to take our country back, how we’re going to peacefully reclaim what is ours. It is by law that we will achieve our goal. We have achieved all the requirements under international law to be recognized as a sovereign nation.”

So how is the Nation pursuing that process of reclaiming its lands and reasserting its authority to govern them?

First, there’s the ongoing case involving its initial claim to Kaho`olawe. On July 31, 2006, Noa and two other nationals were arrested by the state and charged with entering a restricted area. Nation strategists saw Kahoolawe as a good place to start because it is unoccupied and has special status, which was conferred upon it when the U.S. Navy returned the island to the State of Hawaii, specifically to be held in trust for a sovereign Hawaiian nation.

The idea was to get the matter into court, where the Nation could argue that its nationals can’t possibly be charged with trespassing because they hold claim to the land. It’s taken some 18 months for the motion to dismiss to move through District Court on Maui, with a ruling expected any day. If the Nation loses the motion, the case will go to trial.

Hempey said the process could take six years, if rulings are appealed. But it creates a forum where the legal basis for the Hawaiian Nation, including testimony of experts in international law, is entered into the judicial record.

“Whatever the judge rules, you’re proving a Hawaiian nation is emerging,” Hempey told the crowd.

Meanwhile, Noa said, the Nation is moving forward to further establish its claims to land and jurisdiction. It has erected ahu — stone structures that he said are “spiritual and physical symbols of our action” — on Kahoolawe and at a number of sites on so-called “ceded lands” on Maui. The Nation also planned to build ahu at Nawiliwili park and Salt Pond on Kauai today.

“Like the U.S. staking its flags, its our way of staking our claim,” he said, noting that a similar action is planned for Oahu. “I believe you cannot keep stolen property forever, so I will report to the police department that this is property is stolen, and can you assist us in reclaiming it? That is what’s coming down the pike.”

The Nation also has begun serving county officials on Kauai and Maui with formal notice of human rights violations against Kingdom nationals. This action is base on the premise of United Nations Article 15, which holds that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality.

“Our government has advanced to the point of being able to hold the de facto government accountable for its actions against our nationals,” he said.

The Nation also will be asserting its right to travel by issuing license plates this year, and will be forming its own constabulary.

“We’re reclaiming our nation in a very civilized fashion,” Noa said.

In the meantime, John Gates, a member of the Lakota Nation who has moved to Hawaii to help the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation, warned those assembled against ongoing efforts to dismantle the independence movement. He pointed to the state’s current legal efforts to regain control of the so-called “ceded lands” following a state Supreme Court ruling the state could no longer sell or transfer those lands, and the federal government’s attempts to push through the Akaka Bill, which would give Hawaiians the same status as Native Americans.”

“That’s the farthest thing that you want, that model,” said Gates, noting that on his reservation, there’s 70 to 80 percent unemployment and the infant mortality rate is several times higher than the national average. “We’ve lived with the treaty process that have been broken since 1868 and that’s what’s coming your way.

“Don’t let anyone foist a creation of Congress upon you,” he said. “That is not true sovereignty.”

If you’re interested in the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation and the legal and moral principles behind it, I urge you to read the article I published in Honolulu Weekly.

And if you’re at all concerned about the concepts of truth and justice, I urge you to begin educating yourself about America's overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, its subsequent annexation of the Kingdom and the many ongoing efforts to right that wrong. It’s fine to be concerned about the occupations of Iraq and Tibet. Just don’t forget that Hawaii is occupied, too.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Musings: The Dark Side of Tasers

Now this is more like it. The rain fell most of yesterday and a good part of last night, often heavily, and when morning came, Koko and I found ourselves walking in a magical world of sparkle, glisten and rainbow.

Waterfalls, the first I’d seen in months, streamed down the face of Waialeale, whose slopes had already visibly greened, until the clouds descended again, bringing more showers. That prompted us to head home early, but not before we ran into farmer Jerry, who said he had stayed up last night to enjoy the rain, and my neighbor Andy, who said he couldn’t remember such a long dry spell.

It seems the rain had everyone was smiling this morning, even the cop who drove by with his window down — a sight you don’t often see on a cruising patrol car — and waved.

He was the same cop who said aloha and flashed the shaka at the showdown over the burials at Naue last week. A friend of mine said he’d chatted with the cop, who comes from the mainland and said he loved being a police officer here — it was the best job he’d ever had.

It shows in his attitude. While teachers who come from the mainland often face a rough transition in the classroom, where cultural nuances and pidgin can be hard to grasp, recruiting cops from the mainland could be a positive thing.

It could help break up some of the longtime family and other alliances that make it difficult at times for local cops to enforce the law and speak out against other cops who are doing bad things. And the new cops might even be grateful enough for the relatively easy duty on Kauai that they approach their jobs with a sort of cheerfulness that translates into compassion and respect.

One can only hope. Main thing is we don’t bring in cops who have picked up bad habits elsewhere, like the techniques of Taser torture. I’ve been getting quite a few emails lately about Tasers, which a Kauai attorney recently described as “the asbestos of this generation.”

As he noted, “for 30 years asbestos was considered harmless and that’s what manufacturers and contractors told us, even though there was abundant information that it caused mesothelioma.”

“There will be decades of expensive litigation about Tasers,” the attorney predicted.

It seems it’s already started. In a very extensive post about Tasers on his blog, Disappeared News, Larry Geller references an article in Bloomberg News that reports Taser International Inc. recently lost its first product liability case.

The article notes that a California jury awarded $6.2 million to the estate and parents of a 40-year-old man who died after police shot him several times with a stun gun. The jury found that Taser had failed to warn police that prolonged exposure to electric shocks emitted by the gun could cause cardiac arrest.

It seems, according to an article posted on on CBC News that officers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — a force not known for its excessive violence — do tend to fire their Tasers multiple times, despite rules prohibiting such practices. The article states:

The RCMP policy, in place since 2005, states that “multiple deployment or continuous cycling of the CEW [conducted energy weapon] may be hazardous to a subject. Unless situational factors dictate otherwise, do not cycle the CEW repeatedly, for more than 15-20 seconds at a time against a subject.”

The article goes on to report:

The investigation also revealed that in 2,200 of the 3,000 RCMP Taser incidents between 2002 and 2007, the person the Mounties were dealing with was unarmed.

It seems that cops are perhaps a bit more quick to draw their Tasers than guns — and keep on firing once they do.

And it’s not just the public that’s getting zapped and suing. According to the Bloomberg News article:

Taser previously won two trials, one over claims by a police officer injured in a training accident and the other involving a death in custody. Taser has settled at least 10 cases involving injuries to police officers during training, company lawyer Doug Klint told Bloomberg News last year. Taser said it will appeal the verdict.

On his blog, Larry Geller uses testimony submitted by law enforcement officers to support his contention that Tasers are still widely touted as non-lethal weapons, even though they have already killed people.

The Kauai attorney I cited earlier predicted that Tasers purchased for Kauai cops would likely “end up in the closet” with the riot gear that Chief Perry also wants to purchase.

That may be true. However, given the many cases surfacing about the physical harm inflicted by Tasers, as well as the seeming propensity of cops to use them in a more cavalier fashion than guns, we might just want to hang back a bit before we give Kauai cops a weapon that it hasn’t been proven they actually need.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Musings: Talking Story

Clouds had settled in thick and low over the interior mountains, where rain was thankfully falling, when Koko and I went walking this morning. The ground was wet from showers that had drifted through overnight, and when the sun rose as a dim orange sphere, it cast the interior in a sort of silvery-purple sheen.

Along the road I picked handfuls of yellow waiwi (guava), which I enjoyed, although Koko wasn’t pleased with the small showers that fell upon her each time I pulled down a branch, releasing the rain that had collected on the leaves.

Ran into farmer Jerry, whose smiling face adopted a worried expression as we discussed the important ag lands legislation — still awaiting the guv’s signature — and his concern that it will turn into a feeding frenzy for realtors and developers.

After all, Hawaii has some 1.9 million acres of ag land, and if only a quarter of that total is set aside as “important,” as some estimates project, does it mean open season on the rest? Of course, the Board of Realtors and vacation rental associations did support the bill, so you’ve gotta figure they expect to get something out of it.

One concern is that under the bill, big landowners could set aside 85% of their land for the gentleman estates variety of ag, and still get to develop the other 15%. Or worse, Jerry said, the 85% will be used for tenant farming “and there will be no land reform. We’ll never get a chance to buy it. The big guys will stay in the saddle and still ride us like they did in the plantation days.”

We also encountered my neighbor Andy, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. Koko gave him the kind of enthusiastic greeting that only dogs can get away with, and I was happy to see him, too.

I told him I’d recently interviewed a 90-year-old woman who said that when she attended college, the only professions open to women were teaching, nursing and secretarial. I found it remarkable that we’d seen such a dramatic shift in just 60 years, and Andy observed that social restrictions had eased for everyone in that time, largely because of the efforts of liberals.

Then he told me his father — the late O.A. Bushnell, a noted Hawaii writer and UH professor — had said that Andy was born in the best of times, as things were never going to get any better, and were likely to get quite a bit worse. Andy said he often wondered if it was his father who had been born in those “best of times,” or perhaps it was the part of their lives that had overlapped, as it seemed some of those bad times weren’t too far off.

That made me think of another interview and conversation I had this week with Adam Asquith, a scientist, conservationist and “peak oil” theorist who is now devoting nearly all his time to growing taro and running a biofuel processing plant. It was sort of a doom and gloom talk, but when I followed up with a phone call the next day, we agreed that neither of us felt gloomy.

With fuel prices rising, we’re going to experience some major social and economic adjustments. Adam said, but with them will come opportunities to restructure our society in ways that could make our lives more meaningful. And a lot of Kauai’s problems related to the rapid pace of development will solve themselves as the economy slows way down.

Meanwhile, a friend who works construction called last evening to report that Ted Burkhardt has walked away from the Joe Brescia job in Naue, where he was supposed to build an oceanfront vacation home on a site with more than 30 ancient burials.

Apparently at least one other contractor was recently asked to bid, but didn’t want to touch the project with a 10-foot pole.

What contractor in his right mind would want to take on a job where attempts to bless the property and start construction have already failed in the face of protests? Moral issues aside, my friend said, “it’s bad for business.”

Seems like the pressure exerted by Ka`iulani Huff and others is having some effect. Because one thing's for sure: if they hadn't been out there to say no, construction would already be under way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Musings: One Thing Leads to Another

A friend called yesterday afternoon to report he was gazing at a perfect half moon so clear he could see its valleys and craters, and so of course I had to check it out, too, my binoculars enhancing the remarkable view.

It was long set by the time I rose this morning, not that it would have been visible anyway in the darkly clouded sky. The air smelled like rain, prompting Koko and me to cut our walk short, arriving home just as a shower fell in earnest.

I could hear the roar of the eastside surf all through the night, and it made me think of the chapter in Isabella Bird’s “Six Months in the Sandwich Islands” that I’d been reading before I fell asleep.

She wrote of staying at Waimanu, a remote and beautiful Big Island valley that I have walked through, where the surf thundered continuously. It seemed to me she unwittingly summed up the Western contributions to the Islands as she described cockroaches the size of mice, mosquitoes that pierced without warning, cannas from India growing riotously among the native flora, a native population that had dwindled from 2,000 to 117, two lepers and a Christian church.

Fast forward 135 years and it’s much the same scene, minus the monarchy, and with the addition of many more invasive species, timeshares, fantasy resorts with captive dolphins and other such nonsense, palatial private estates and the U.S. military.

And now there’s the Superferry to add to the list of scourges. As my little birds correctly reported on Sunday, Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge did indeed come through with an article on the Lingle Administration’s refusal to kick down various documents related to its decision, which the state Supreme Court later found incorrect, to exempt the Superferry harbor construction from an environmental review.

In choosing to withholding this information, which includes emails from the AG’s office, Lingle and state Attorney General Mark Bennett cited executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.

It may be their legal right to withhold the documents, but there’s no way they can put a positive spin on their secrecy. Kauai’s Sen. Gary Hooser nailed it when he said:

"It seems clear that there was a legal analysis and the Lingle administration needs to provide that," he said. "And, I would think, that if the legal analysis supported their position, they would have provided it already."

Yup, it seems they would have.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, an attorney, also summed things up nicely:

"Either way, they [the Administration] really messed up on this one," he said. "If they did not ask for a legal opinion, they were negligent. If they did ask for a legal opinion and they did not follow that, they were grossly negligent."

And, as these things have a way of going, one negligent act leads to another. You may recall that as a condition of letting the boat run before an EIS is completed, Lingle came up with a list of operating conditions for the ferry, one of which allowed the big boat to speed through the breeding grounds of the endangered humpback whale.

Yet (uh, duh!) fast ferry travel isn’t compatible with whales, especially young animals, according to a scientific paper presented at the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting now under way in Santiago, Chile. (Hat tip to Brad Parsons for sending it along.)

Titled “Increasing Numbers of Ship Strikes in the Canary Islands: Proposals for Immediate Action to Reduce Risk of Vessel-Whale Collisions,” the abstract of the paper written by Manuel Carrillo and Fabian Ritter states:

The Canary Islands, known for their extraordinarily high cetacean species diversity, have witnessed a rapid expansion of fast and high speed ferry traffic during the past few years. At the same time, ship strikes have been increasingly reported. 556 cetacean carcasses, found ashore in the Canary Islands (or being reported) between 1991 and 2007, were examined. 59 strandings (10.6%) were found to involve vessel-whale collisions, the great majority of strandings (58%) occurred on Tenerife. Species most affected were sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus, N=24, 41%), pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps, N=10, 17%), Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris, N=7, 12%), short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus, N=6, 10%) and at least three baleen whale species (N=9, 15%). 26 animals (44%, N=42) were either calves or juveniles, and one was a newborn.

The temporal distribution of strandings indicated that lethal strikes have dramatically increased in recent years. Many ship strikes, assumingly by large and fast moving vessels, likely caused the death of the cetaceans as indicated by severe injuries like huge slashes, cuts or animals separated into halves. Given these numbers and the widely accepted fact that only a portion of ship strikes will be recorded due to lack of reporting and carcasses drifting away or sinking, ship strikes appear to be a major threat to at least some cetacean populations in the Canary Islands, and especially to sperm whales.

Moreover, the issue is a matter of human safety, as crew and passengers are at risk of being harmed, too. In this situation, a number of measures to mitigate the risk of ship strikes are recommended as a matter of high priority. These include the placement of dedicated look-outs on fast moving vessels, the shift of ferry transects where feasible, a speed limitation for a number of high-risk areas where cetacean abundance is notably high, the introduction of an obligatory reporting system of vessel-whale collisions and the conduction of detailed studies dealing with this pressing issue.

Lingle likely will continue to cover up so she can cover her ass when it comes to her Administration’s faulty decision to exempt the Superferry from an environmental review.

But she still has time before the whales return to revise the ferry’s operating conditions. By requiring the fast ferry to slow way down and completely avoid the sanctuary, she can perhaps minimize the likelihood of bloody encounters with our really important winter visitors — the ones that have been coming to Hawaii far longer, and more regularly, than even the most dedicated timeshare owners.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Musings: Wake Up Calls

It seemed as if rain was imminent when Koko and I set out on our walk this morning. Dark gray clouds massed in the northeast and clung thickly to Wailaleale and Makaleha, shrouding the summits.

And indeed, some rain did fall, but it was that fine, light, teasing rain that didn’t even dampen my clothes, much less quench the thirsty soil.

Ran into farmer Jerry, smiling as usual on his way to work, and I mentioned that I’d glanced at my neighbor’s newspaper before heading out. The headlines were all about conserving water and the perils of Hawaii’s extreme dependence on imported oil.

“How many more wake-up calls are people going to need?” I asked him.

“A lot,” Jerry answered, as he noted that he’d heard on the news this morning that gas is expected to hit $5 a gallon before the Fourth of July, and diesel has already topped that locally.

Then he added jokingly: “Science will save us.”

“Or government,” I chimed in, and we both laughed, recognizing the fallacy of counting on any such rescues.

For starters, there’s currently no source of alternative energy that can quickly and cheaply replace oil in time to forestall the tremendous social and economic ramifications associated with rapidly escalating oil prices.

And as Jerry noted: “We’re never going to have any more water than what’s on the Earth already.”

We started talking about all the businesses and services that rely heavily on gasoline, ranging from the postal service to the trucks that transport our food and the pumps that power our water wells. The higher prices they’re paying for fuel are going to be passed on to us consumers sooner, rather than later, which means gas pumps aren’t the only place we’re gonna feel the pinch.

According to the Garden Island’s reprint of an Associated Press report of a talk given by Maurice Kaya, who recently retired as the state's energy manager and now works as a strategic energy and management consultant:

“The [energy] crisis is here and it’s going to be a long one. We are well beyond the time to act, and business owners need to be pro-active in demanding clean energy at predictable costs from suppliers."

Kaya also noted that Hawaii now gets 99 percent of its fossil fuels from foreign sources, whereas in the past, Alaskan oil was dominant.

“The status quo carries way too much risk for you and me,” he said.

Kaya went on to address how rising fuel prices will affect Hawaii’s tourism industry:

“The darkest cloud is the immediate impact on discretionary travel,” he said. “You see that happening already — not as many people are flying.”

Like rising fuel costs, the effects of declining tourism will ripple through the state’s entire economy, affecting even those who aren’t directly employed by the visitor industry. So we have the price of everything going up, just as the economy is going down.

Meanwhile, in addition to urging Kauai residents to conserve water, especially in east Kilauea, The Garden Island reported that drought conditions are affecting farmers throughout the state. It included this comment from Faith Shiramizu, the water department’s spokeswoman:

Most of the rain gauges on Kaua‘i along with the rest of the state recorded below normal rain totals for the past couple of years.

So here we are, in a situation where fuel prices keep rising, tourism is declining and agriculture is getting squeezed by a number of factors, including a drought that is impacting even Kauai, home to Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on the planet.

Yet still we see people pretending like everything is hunky dory. They rail against government mandates for solar hot water heaters. They make fun of the “peak oil” theory, ignoring the reality that it doesn’t matter whether the cause is due to greedy oil companies or scarce resources, the effect — rising fuel prices — is the same. They undermine attempts to preserve agricultural land. They mock efforts to achieve sustainability or reduce our near total dependence on outside sources of food and fuel.

Why? Are they oblivious? In denial? Ignorant? Oppositional? Obstructionist? Foolish? Maybe they believe that somebody or something is going to save us before things get too uncomfortable.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say: “Hawaii is too important militarily. Do you really think the government would let us starve?”

Maybe not. But before you start getting complacent, just remember the government “response” to Katrina. Besides, if crises are breaking out all over, how high a priority will Kauai be in the overall scheme of things? And trust me, you do not want to be dining on MREs — the “meals ready to eat” that were the government’s solution to feeding people after Iniki.

I’m not writing this to freak people out or make them shut down. I’m not into fear. I am, however, into realism. And it seems to me that we could go a long way toward addressing some of these looming problems if we simply stopped wasting so much gas, water, food and energy.

As the Garden Island article noted:

Though the county Water Department is asking residents to conserve water this summer, Shiramizu said water conservation should be a way of life.

“Our hope is that everyone will choose to be good stewards of water, which is a very precious resource,” she said. “Water is a resource that none of us can survive without. Although we hope that consumers use water wisely on a daily basis, the dry conditions that we’ve experienced over the last couple of years makes water conservation even more important.”

Yup, that’s pretty basic stuff. Yet daily I see water being wasted. And the same is true of all the other basic commodities that have become so cheap and plentiful that we take them for granted to the point of serious waste. In fact, people have even reached the point where they believe it's their right to be wasteful.

That kind of mentality has got to change, along with our consume madly because the cup is full to overflowing way of life in America.

As Kaya noted:

The most powerful solutions are always local.

And when you come right down to it, ain’t nothing more local than the way we live our daily lives.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Musings: Bird Talk

The birds, as usual, woke me this morning, and one told me that Derrick DePledge — briefly my colleague at The Honolulu Advertiser — is writing another series of stories on the Lingle connection to Hawaii Superferry.

The evidence, this little birdie said, seems to clearly point to the premise that the Lingle administration sought a legal opinion on whether an EIS was required, but ignored the opinion that was given.

Unfortunately, the birdie noted, the Lingle administration has refused to turn over any documents/communications that directly show the legal opinion that everyone knows was given. So it seems it is still technically in the realm of "speculation," however obvious.

Tweet, tweet.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Musings: Diffusing the Edginess

The spicy-sweet scent of mock orange was the first smell to greet me when I stepped out my door this morning. The first sound was the cluck-cluck, cheep-cheep-cheep of a hen guiding her flock of puff balls from their roost, which caused Koko to strain at her leash while I was putting on my shoes.

And then we were off, under a sky that was mostly gray, although before we returned a small puka had opened up to showcase the gold glow of the rising sun and Waialeale had slipped free of her clouds and stood clear, although within an hour, she was covered up again.

Things do change, even as they remain the same, and that's true not only of the sky and weather. Lately there’s been a fair amount of discussion about how the police are changing on Kauai, with complaints that they’re becoming more militaristic and aggressive.

I began wondering if that was really true, especially after listening to a program about direct action on KKCR the other day and witnessing the mellow response of the police at Naue when folks gathered to halt construction of a house atop burials.

For starters, there’s a long history of direct action in Hawaii, going back to the early 1900s when plantation workers began striking to protest bad working conditions, and an equally long history of using the police to control the populace.

An article in People’s Weekly World noted:

In 1882, some 3,454 laborers were arrested for leaving their jobs before their contracts were up. It was estimated that over one-third of the Hawaiian police force was involved in controlling contract laborers.

The article went on to say:

The plantation owners introduced anti-union legislation to break strikes and used the cops to evict strikers from their plantation homes.

In some of these actions, people were killed, including 16 plantation workers in the 1924 Hanapepe Massacre.

An article in the Honolulu Advertiser notes:

Police armed with guns and clubs intervened at union headquarters, where they clashed with Filipino strikers who used homemade weapons and knives to defend themselves. At least three police officers were also killed.

Things settled down for a while on Kauai and then there was a resurgence of protest — this time against development — that began in the late 1960s and continued on into a dispute over plans to evict residents of Niumalu-Nawiliwili for a development project.

By 1977, the conflict had reached the point where it was thought police might be sent in to arrest those who refused to leave, according to the book “Land and Power in Hawaii,” which went on to state:

The chief of police told reporters that 25 officers were being trained in “crowd control.” Essentially they were practicing how to arrest a large group of people.

The next flash point occurred in 1980, when 32 people protesting a hotel project at Nukolii (now the Hilton) were arrested after forming a human chain across the road and, according to the book, “a few were slightly roughed up by police.”

In the years since, I’ve covered many demonstrations throughout Hawaii, including those against geothermal development on the Big Island, resort development and burial disturbances on Maui, the bombing of Kahoolawe, and a meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Honolulu.

They were all peaceful, and the police, though present at all of them, were fairly low-key. This was true even at the ADB protest, which police feared might turn as raucous as the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle. As I accompanied the marchers through Waikiki, police in civilian clothes and lei were visible along the main streets, while heavily armed cops dressed in riot gear were massed in the side streets and alleyways.

But Kauai, meanwhile, saw relatively few direct actions, save for those staged by Hawaiians to protest conditions at homestead housing and rocket launches at PMRF. Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki had pretty much knocked the wind out of the anti-development sails. In all of the actions, people were arrested, but no one was ever killed and the cops never got nuts.

Then along came the Hawaii Superferry, and Kauai saw not only its first direct action in a long time, but the biggest ever. Meanwhile, the world had also changed following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Suddenly, we had Homeland Security and all the fears instilled by a government waging a never-ending “war on terror.”

And that’s where we’re at right now. The cops are edgy at the thought of controlling crowds, something they haven’t had much practice with on Kauai. The activists are edgy after seeing Coast Guard boats train their automatic weapons on the crowd at Nawiliwili Harbor and hearing Gov. Lingle threaten protestors with federal jail time and fines if they entered a security zone around the ferry. And residents are edgy after watching the TV news repeatedly replay footage of a few protestors who got out of hand and started banging on cars at one Superferry demonstration.

But underneath, something really fundamental hasn’t changed. This is still little Kauai, a place where most folks treat one another with kindness and respect, cops rarely pull their guns, direct actions have been historically peaceful, especially in the last 40 years, and violent crimes and actions — whether perpetrated by citizens or cops — are relatively rare.

So maybe, as we move forward in staging direct actions and dealing with the police, we can focus more on the fundamental things that remain unchanged. It seems to me that an understanding of history, and open dialog, can go a long way toward diffusing this new sense of edginess.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Musings: Honoring the Source

I awoke hot and stuffy, which made it clear that the place to begin the day was in the shimmer of the eastside sea. And so Koko and I headed down the hill, away from the mauka clouds to the sunshine of our favorite beach.

The tide had pulled way out, exposing the treasures of the reef, where a lone man with a sack and a stick was hunting tako, and pockets of water, where I wanted to be, that were calm and bottle green.

The sandy beach was broad as it ever gets, smooth and unsullied, until Koko, running wild laps and circles to burn off her bounteous energy, left her small tracks along most of it.

After my swim, which left me cool and refreshed, heart calm and head clear, I recalled standing on this beach about a week ago with a friend, who commented on the sweetness of the water I’d brought from my house.

We figured its source was Makaleha, and in my mind’s eye I saw those jagged peaks and that lush, narrow valley, with its beautiful clean stream where I have numerous times recovered my laughter and joy beneath its cold, rushing torrent.

And then I felt a deep sadness in the place between my heart and solar plexus. I not only could see Makaleha, but feel it, and I knew the stream was gravely diminished.

“It’s starving,” I told my friend, and not just because its water is diverted and the rains have failed to return and replenish, but because we no longer know it, tend it, malama it.

“We just keep taking and taking, giving nothing back, not even our acknowledgement of its existence or appreciation of its gifts,” I told my friend, who agreed.

And it struck me then, and again this morning, that therein lies the failings of our modern material world. We have become so fixated on the results — the goods — that we almost wholly neglect the source of all that is.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Musings: Runaway Train

I love the geometry of light that is created when the sun is low in a cloudy sky. Large squares illuminating the slopes of the distant Haupu range. Triangles running up the side of the Giant. Rectangles beneath a row of guava. Octagons shooting through a grove of ironwood.

And so we walked this morning, me in my world of sights, Koko immersed in her world of smells. Until we reached the mock orange hedge that stands in front of my house, and I succumbed as well to the pleasures of her existence, plucking a bunch of fragrant white blossoms and literally taking breakfast out of the mouth of a bee.

Glancing at my neighbor’s newspaper, I saw The Garden Island covered yesterday’s situation with the bones at Naue, which I blogged about yesterday afternoon. You might just want to skip to the bottom third of the article, where it has a classic quote from attorney Walton Hong, claiming his client, Joe Brescia, has been delayed in building his home atop a burial ground because of “environmentalists’ ‘stall tactics.’”

The article then lays out the many legal challenges regarding shoreline setbacks that have affected this conservation land, where the likelihood of discovering burials was identified as early as 1991. Walton doesn’t seem to realize his client started these legal challenges by trying to build closer to the shoreline than he was allowed.

Apparently there’s going to be a meeting this morning to address whether Ka`iulani Huff or Brescia rightfully owns the land. If the answer is found to Brescia, I’m wondering if Walton, as Brescia’s attorney, will be the one to do the dirty work of pushing for trespassing charges against those who are attempting to protect the burials, since Brescia, who lives in California, isn’t around to do it himself.

I also wanted to direct you to a piece in the current issue of Hawaii Business, which makes the bold assertion in its headline that “A string of controversies on Kauai is changing the way people do business. The rest of the state might not be far behind.” The article that follows, however, fails to support that claim, other than mentioning how southside developers set up a dust hotline for residents there.

What the article did do is show that Kauai business leaders recognize the widespread unhappiness that many island residents feel about recent development. But these "leaders" remain utterly clueless and/or spineless when it comes to actually slowing this runaway train.

My favorite part was the Baptiste Administration trotting out its meager, day-late-dollar-short measures — proposed ag land moratorium, use it or lose it zoning restrictions — while criticizing the 2000 General Plan that was pushed through by his political mentor, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, and passed by the Council when he was a member. Yet he never said a peep about how his planning director uses some of the same planners that also serve developer Grove Farm, and other ways in which Kauai's government keeps stoking the development engines.

The article also states:

Early-stage dialogue with communities about development is critical today.

Yes, I’ve been hearing that for years. Problem is, developers tend to identify “communities” as the state and county planners and elected officials who can get their projects approved. And then together, they ice out the citizens, who once again take their frustration to the streets.

Despite the Hawaii Business headline, nothing has changed on Kauai. It's still business as usual.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Musings: Rest in Peace?

The rising sun was kissing the tops of Na Pali when I walked past the burials — flagged with sticks, orange survey ribbon and tiki torches — in the oceanfront lot at Naue this morning.

I slipped into the circle on the beach just as the pule was beginning, and joined hands with Andrew Cabebe, who cried softly during the blessing, and Hale Mawae, whose hand was still cold from his dawn hiuwai (cleansing) in a small tidepool exposed in the reef by the shrinking tide.

After Hale's pule and chant, Louise Sausen told the group how to respond if the police attempted to make arrests: everyone who chose to should pick a gravesite and sit with their knees up to their chest, in the same way that the women and children were buried in that sandy soil hundreds of years ago.

Over the next couple of hours, more people joined in, including some of the lua guys, who stood guard at both entrances to the burial grounds. In all, about 50 people were there.

As we waited, I talked with Andrew, who along with Ka`iulani Huff and Hale, among others, have been keeping watch, camping on the beach adjacent to the graves for about 10 weeks now.

He said being at the burial site had “really changed my life. When you spend nights praying to them, talking to them, listening to the wind, the surf, listening to the birds, then all the people who come malama, knowing it’s the thing to do, it keeps you going.”

Even visitors were surprised to discover that “our burial rights are not in place,” Andrew said, and that the state regularly allows iwi to be dug up and reburied elsewhere, or structures placed right over them.

“So here we are, pockets everywhere in Hawaii trying to do their little thing to improve what needs to be done for the Hawaiian people,” Andrew said. "We even have kanakas who are against what we’re doing. They want to be Americans and they have that choice.”

At about 9 a.m., the contractor, Ted Burkhart, showed up with a rather frail looking security guard and several members of his crew. They were followed by some of Esaki’s surveyors and an archaeologist.

One of the lua guys began pleading with Ted to walk away from the job and leave the burials in place, and Nani Rogers and Louise went to talk to them. The rain, which had been falling intermittently all morning, increased.

“This is not a political thing, it’s a spiritual thing and you must know the consequences of what you do,” Nani told Ted.

Added Louise: “That’s why the sky is crying. It’s our kupuna.”

Then Ka`iulani, who says she has a royal patent giving her ownership of the land in question, came up from the beach and said: “I have title to this land. I’ve called the police, and everyone who is not invited has to leave. You’re on my property. Get off.”

Ted and his crew agreed to move to the dirt road that runs through this neighborhood, which happens to be the very first place I lived upon moving to Kauai 21 years ago. Then, the beach side was all ironwood and false kamane. Now it’s densely lined with very large mainland-style houses — most of them vacation rentals — built on pillars, supposedly to protect them from floods and tsunami.

As they walked away, Louise, one of the few Hawaiians who still lives in the neighborhood, called out: “This is not the first time I’ve been up against him [Joe Brescia, the California developer who wants to build a house on the site]. He moved my kupuna for a septic tank.

“I’m the one who pays for the oil to light the torches so the kupuna can be seen,” Louise continued. “Meanwhile, you’re all making money off our land.”

She also noted that because of the high prices of houses along there, her property taxes have risen to an assessed rate of $110 per square foot — a price that’s increasingly difficult for her to pay.

“All you contractors, all you workers, you have a choice, you can walk away from this job,” Louise called out. “Enough is enough. Stop building vacation rentals on my iwi.”

As we stood on the road, a police car with two cops drove up. The one who was driving said, “Aloha,” and when no one responded, he said it again and flashed the shaka. Nani told him everything was fine and he wasn’t needed right then, and he pulled off to the other side of the road, and they remained in their car.

I talked with Ted for a little while then, and he said he had signed the contract a year ago, before more than 30 burials had been uncovered by a backhoe during excavation for the foundation. Some were broken up in the process.

If he were to back out now, Ted said, Brescia could sue him for breach of contract and most likely could prove he’d been damaged “because who could he get to the do the job now?”

“It’s affecting me very deeply,” he said. “The last thing in the world I wanted to do was have a conflict with anybody, especially the Hawaiian people, who have treated me very well.”

Ted said he’d built another house for Brescia just a few houses down, and that one burial was found nearly at the end of the job. At the direction of the state, it was reburied under the house. He’d also encountered burials on one other job on Kauai.

In this case, he said, since the Burial Council recommended the burials stay in place, an archaeologist would show them how to create a moat around each grave, then pour concrete around it. Seven burials would be under the house, with the remainder in the front yard on the makai side.

When I asked if any of his crew had backed out because of the burials, or if he was concerned about supernatural ramifications, he said: “No, I don’t fear for that, just for offending other people.

“I’ve thought a lot on this,” continued Ted, who was born in Iowa and moved to Kauai in 1962. “I’ve prayed on it in my culture and talked to other kupuna.”

He said that Nani was right; “The state law need to be revisted. There's been such a cultural renewal it’s obvious it needs to be done. Because when all is said and done, the law we all live under, as opposed to the Kingdom of Atooi, is the law of the land, and he [Brescia] hasn’t violated any.”

I joined the group for another pule, and then Lady Ipo, who had been retained by Brescia to do a job site blessing, showed up. Andrew told her he couldn’t let her on the land, and the two were engaged in a very emotional talk as I left for an interview in Kilauea.

Driving away, I saw no cops at the site, but there were two cop cars parked along the road about a mile away, and I passed another three, headed west, before I reached Hanalei. Later, I called a friend for an update, and he said that Lady Ipo had left in tears, without doing a blessing, and that all five cop cars had shown up at the site.

He said the cops were very low key and courteous, and talked to Ka`iulani about her ownership papers, which she declined to show them. In the end, he said, no one was arrested and Ted and his crew simply left, although those present felt they would return another day.

I couldn’t help but wonder why Brescia, who reportedly has built and sold another seven houses on the street, doesn't just deed this site over to the Kauai Public Land Trust. Yes, he would lose some money, but as someone in the crowd said, there's the moral issue to be considered. The entire lot is literally covered with burials; no structure could be built there without impacting them.

So will he find a way out of this standoff, or push forward with construction? I don’t know. I could only recall the last words I exchanged with Andrew:

“If you’re being led by the money, you’re going nowhere. I’d rather be led by the spirit.”