Friday, August 29, 2008

Musings: Political Sexploitation

It seems that Sen. John McCain and his campaign have sunk to a new low in their choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

It’s one thing to pick a woman in an obvious attempt to pander to disgruntled Hillary supporters. That's to be expected. It’s quite another to pick a woman who has no political experience aside from being councilwoman and mayor of a teeny, tiny town and spending just two years as governor of Alaska, a state that’s as much an inconsequential political backwater as Hawaii.

Let’s face it. Gov. Palin was chosen for the same reasons that women are consistently exploited: she’s pretty (a former beauty queen) and young, especially compared to McCain. And oh yes, she has one key political credential: she’s a woman against abortion.

The media, accustomed to celebrity exploitation, already are capitalizing on the glamour angle. One of the first is the Wall Street Journal magazine, which plans to debut not with an article on Palin’s political views, education or experience, but “her unusual workout and fitness routine.”

What an insult, to Palin, women and voters.

So now we have a presidential campaign with two firsts: the first African-American and the first trophy running mate.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Musings: Dog Pile

The County Council’s move yesterday to finally approve a bill allowing people to walk their dogs on the precious path — provided they can obey more commands than their mutts — revealed a number of things, none of which are heartening, about how government works on Kauai.

For starters, it took the Council months to adopt the measure, after trotting it out in numerous committee hearings that required the public (or at least, those who cared) to drop everything and spend hours in the frigid environs of the Council Chambers waiting to testify, never uncertain if this was the time the Council might actually do something. This prolonged public torture is typical of the way the Council conducts its business.

Comments made by Council members when adopting the bill also spoke volumes. First we have Councilman Tim Bynum, who introduced the ordinance, trying to put things in perspective:

“We’re not talking about the launch of a space shuttle. We’re talking about the liberty of walking a dog on the path.”

Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who seems to have a penchant for hyperbole and hysteria, saw things differently, and joined mayoral candidate and Councilman Mel Rapozo in voting no:

Citing the divisive nature of the bill and its effect on “everyone on this island,” she said it is indeed “like launching a spaceship on Kaua‘i.”

Come on, Shaylene. This bill will not, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, affect everyone on Kauai, the large majority of whom will never set foot, dog paw or bicycle on the path.

Trotting out some of the cloying win-win rhetoric that consistently annoys those who can still remember the days when she took strong stands, we have this from mayoral candidate and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura:

[Yukimura] characterized the final version as a compromise that found “a way that we can all live together and share both privileges and responsibilities.”

“People will have their places to walk in either mode,” Yukimura said. “The split vote shows that this council represents all of the community.”


And then there is the matter of actually implementing the bill. It’s complicated by the fact that the director of the parks department, Bernard Carvalho, on Monday began a prolonged leave of absence, which county spokeswoman Mary Daubert characterized as "taking vacation." That’s so he can run for mayor without pesky distractions like work, while still picking up a paycheck.

Given that the dog path bill is the biggest thing to come before the department since its inception, his timing is questionable. It prompted Andy Parks to assert on a blog post that Bernard timed his leave precisely to avoid the responsibility of implementing the bill. After all, as Andy points out, the measure would require the mayoral hopeful to deal with some weighty matters:

He [Carvalho] said there are issues relating to the hiring of three new park rangers for enforcement, union concerns regarding hitting dog feces when mowing along the path, signage, maintenance schedules and finalizing with the county attorney a liability-related document pet owners would have to sign when they apply for dog licenses.

Initially Bernard said the department could implement the measure by Dec. 1, a date that Mel Rapozo, saying the department was making commitments it couldn't fulfill, tried to extend to Jan. 1. Councilman Jay Furfaro, however, would have none of it.

“Your boss ... committed to that date,” Furfaro told acting Parks and Recreation Director Kylan Dela Cruz. “When someone commits to a date, you accept that responsibility.”

“In good leadership, your operation runs when you’re on vacation,” Furfaro said. “I have good faith this can be accomplished.”

So that leaves us, the public, wondering: is there good leadership in the parks department? I wouldn’t necessarily think so, giving the persistent lack of toilet paper and generally sketchy conditions in most park bathrooms. But perhaps maintaining the toilets is beyond the scope of even the most talented administrator. And was it Bernard who decided THREE NEW PARK RANGERS are needed for this endeavor? Good grief. What a waste of money, especially when Humane Society volunteers said they’d patrol the path.

Andy Parks also notes in that same blog post that Bernard apparently started this mess to begin with by unilaterally declaring the path to be a "linear park" — a previously unknown concept — and thus under the control of his department.

The really sorry thing is that for all this drama and hoopla and expense, the public is merely getting an 18-month trial period in which they can walk their dogs on a two-mile stretch of concrete provided they:

Are in command and control of the dog at all times, have no more than two dogs under their control, leave if the dog gets aggressive, visibly carry the necessary instruments required for the removal and disposal of dog feces, pick up and dispose of any and all feces left by the dog, have the dog wear a current dog license tag and use a non-retractable leash no more than 6 feet in length.

All I can say is jeez. But at least now you know why the county has never gotten around to dealing with the really tough issues, like solid waste, and planning.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Musings: Corporate Creep

I awoke about 3:30, the way I sometimes do, briefly, and as I waited to fall back to sleep I was struck by the utter blackness and silence of the night: no bullfrogs or crickets or traffic, just a very faint hum of the surf, way off in the distance, and an occasional drip from the eaves. And I was reminded again of how lucky I am to live where it’s dark and quiet.

When I got up for good, and set out with Koko on our walk, a little sliver of light clung to the bottom of the moon, and the sky was varying shades of gray. The air was heavy and still, and the sun, pushing its way through thick clouds, looked like a porch light that someone had left on. Farmer Jerry, who stopped to chat along the road, observed quite rightly that it felt like rain.

He was on his way to Lihue, where he and others have been setting up the Farm Fair for well over a week now, in preparation for tomorrow night’s opening. As a College of Tropical Ag employee and Farm Bureau officer, he’s inducted for a sort of double duty, and will spend all day, every day, at the fair until it closes Sunday night, then help tear the whole thing down.

It’s amazing how much work goes into what is arguably Kauai's biggest shindig, but he doesn’t mind the break from his job routine. For him, it’s all worth it when he sees the little kids so excited they’re jumping up and down, and Jerry said he can still recall the thrill he felt as a child when the striped circus tent set up in Lihue.

Today it’s the Pacific Blue Construction exhibition tent and the Coca-Cola food court and the Hawaiian Airlines entertainment tent and the Big Save agricultural exhibition.

I found the last one amusing, because Derek Kawakami, the County Council candidate whose family owns Big Save, acknowledged to a local farmer attending his fundraiser that he knows nothing about agriculture, save that Big Save buys produce. Perhaps a trip through “his” ag tent will expand his education.

Of course, we’re also seeing this corporate sponsorship play out in a big way at the Democratic convention, which is being staged in Denver’s Pepsi Center. This doesn’t seem to faze most of those in attendance, perhaps because their hands are so deeply in the corporate pockets. But as Democracy Now! reports, Rep. Dennis Kucinich used the opportunity of his convention speech to blast the Iraq war and corporate dominance, which is apt, since the two go hand-in-hand:

In an afternoon speech, Kucinich said the Bush administration invaded Iraq for oil. He also warned of the looming threat of a US attack on Iran.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “Wake up, America. In 2001, the oil companies, the war contractors and the neocon artists seized the economy and added $4 trillion of unproductive spending to the national debt. We now pay four times more for defense, three times more for gasoline and home heating oil, and twice what we paid for healthcare.”

It’s fascinating how this corporate influence has steadily crept into our lives, in both the overt ways that Kucinich describes and the more subtle trend toward “sponsorships.” It seemed to start with people wearing clothing adorned with advertising (what’s up with that?) and then steadily progressed to the point where corporations now dominate every facet of our lives.

Do Pepsi sales really skyrocket after people hear Pepsi Center repeated countless times in the media? Or is it all just part of an ingratiating effort by corporations to make us feel like we need them, that they’re part of the community, that they’re one of us?

Meanwhile, The Garden Island reports today that our own Gary Hooser, who served on the National Credentials Committee, is feeling all warm and fuzzy about the convention:

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, said the words of ailing U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and Michelle Obama moved him to tears and “chicken skin.”

“Living on Kaua‘i I realized that one person can make a difference,” Hooser said. “The political process is open to all of us.”

Is it? I suppose so, if you interpret that to mean that we all get a vote — provided it’s not cast on one of those faulty and/or rigged voting machines. But as I continue to see who is on the streets at the convention, and who is inside, schmoozing with the delegates, I can’t help but believe the door is held open just a little bit wider to those carrying the corporate checkbooks.

Yes, one person can make a difference, a huge difference, but to me that's most effectively done by how one chooses to live one's life. And that's one approach that doesn't require any corporate sponsorship. At least, not yet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Musings: New Starts

Today is Koko’s birthday, so we celebrated with two walks, first a short one beneath a crescent moon and the glittering stars of Orion’s belt, followed by a second one on a mauka trail lined with ripe guava, ferns and lush stands of vervain, well-tended by bees. Have you ever eaten the tiny purple flowers of the vervain? They taste slightly like mushrooms.

The only sounds were the wind in my ears and the trees, twittering, singing birds and the low vibrating murmur of cattle talk, punctuated by an occasional bellow. And Koko, panting as she thundered past, making countless loops through the pasture, chasing wild chickens.

I’m not sure if this is the day she actually came into the world, but it’s the day I brought her home from the pound, and so she was truly born again, without having to pledge any allegiance to Jesus. The minute I saw her hanging from a cage in the shelter, looking not unlike a captive fruit bat desperate to be freed, I knew she was the dog for me.

She was two or four or six years old; no one knew for sure, and though she’d been picked up as a stray, it was obvious she’d spent time in a house, and that she’d been trained, although not in the usual commands of sit and stay. Her repertoire consisted of duck, crouch and cower, and I’m happy to say she’s learned some new tricks in the two years since she joined me.

I don’t know what breed Koko is, other than poi, and she fits the ancient Hawaiian dog description laid out in “Native Planters” exactly: long body, short legs, large upright ears, small head, tail that curls forward. She comes from a gene pool that’s been in these Islands a long time.

I’ve had some great dogs, and Koko is no different. When I’m with her, which is most of the time, I’m often reminded of the words that the poet Mary Oliver wrote to describe her dog, Percy: “...more wonderful than a diamond necklace, which can’t even bark.”

In short, Koko never disappoints, which is something I cannot say about anything else, save for nature, and certainly not the politicians gathered in Denver and performing their ritual of choosing a presidential candidate and his running mate (the war monger Joe Biden) who supposedly represent us.

Never mind the mahalo receptions hosted by AT&T for the lawmakers that did their bidding and the rousing reception for House Speaker Nancy “impeachment is off the table” Pelosi and the corporations that shell out the huge donations that give them access and favor while the people, those with agendas like stopping the war and eliminating hunger, are relegated to the streets and detention cages where they’re threatened with arrest and blasted with pepper spray.

Yeah, there will be some new figureheads in the White House come next January, but the power brokers behind the scene will remain the same. I’ve never had much faith in elections, and I still don’t. The kind of change we need won’t happen in the voting booth, or the halls of Congress. What’s needed are far more drastic measures, an entirely new start. This system is broke past the point of fixing.

Finally, I have decided to start moderating comments, which generated a bit of discussion on yesterday’s post. I’d rather not do it, as it’s a hassle for me and I’m a person who personally appreciates maximum freedom. Some people liked the free for all, but others did’t, and it’s impossible to please everyone. All I know is I wasn’t enjoying a lot of the flotsam and jetsam that was caught up in my current.

It’s not, as the perps like to claim, an attempt to stifle dissenting views. I’m happy to get them. But if you’re making a personal attack, or a racist comment, or blathering, or hammering away with repeated comments that don’t break new ground, you’re not going to get published. Look at it as an opportunity to be creative.

Anyway, it’s all part of the grand experiment of blogging, so we’ll just see how it goes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Musings: Democracy 2008

It’s with a bit of twinge — of longing, not envy — that I’ve been following Ian Lind’s account of his journey to Denver to blog the Democratic convention. He had kindly procured blogging credentials for me as part of his staff, and I was keen to go. I attended college in Denver, and have family living nearby.

But while it would have been fun to cover the spectacle, and work with a consummate journalist like Ian, my former colleague at the Star-Bulletin, ill health waylaid my plans to join him.

In true blogger style, however, Ian promises to capture the flavor of the event and cover the interesting side stuff that the MSM passes over.

You can follow his accounts on his blog, where you’ll find both detailed posts and twitter updates, as well as photos.

I’m interested in the protests, not that I think they’ll have any impact on the delegates. But I find it fascinating that America’s so-called liberal party continues to tolerate the repressive treatment of those who wish to exercise free speech.

In following the example set by numerous other cities, Denver has limited demonstrations to a “designated protest area” — a 47,000-square-foot fenced area that has been dubbed the “freedom cage” — and engaged plenty of fire power to exert control.

To quote Ian: ”Authorities clearly decided to rely on overwhelming force here in Denver during the convention.”

If you have a couple of minutes to spare, listen to this commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who compares the situation today to the tumultuous Democratic convention of 1968.

As he so astutely observes: “Now, as in LA 2000, you can get your ass whipped — in a cage. That is what democracy looks like in 2008.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Musings: Worshiping at the Altar of Money and Convenience

Koko and I went out walking this morning on streets puddled with rain, beneath dove gray skies that promised more to come. At times it rained so hard in the night, great ferocious torrents roaring in from the east, that Koko jumped off the bed in fright.

I called a friend and left a message I knew would make him smile: “We love the rain.”

What’s not to love? It’s the life-giver, the life-sustainer.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and not for the first time, just why it is that we humans so often play an opposite role.

The other morning I was going to an interview when I passed a dead animal lying along the edge of a narrow country road. I wasn’t certain what it was, but the distinctive black and white coloring gave me a clue.

On my way home, I slowed, looked more carefully, and this time I had no doubt. It was an `A`o, a Newell’s shearwater. I couldn’t bear to leave it laying there, to be eventually flattened by traffic, so I went back and picked it up, supporting its lolling head, its feathers soft in my hands.

It was an obvious casualty of the utility lines: five lines running low and perpendicular to Waialeale, Makaleha — the interior mountains where these sea birds nest, flying back and forth all summer to bring food to their chicks. It’s a route they’ve followed, until fairly recently without obstruction, for tens of thousands of years.

KIUC and the other utility companies had a chance to underground the lines after Iniki, knowing full well the death sentence they regularly impose on Newell’s. But they opted not to, and so the fatalities continue.

It was too expensive, they said, as if money is the only factor to be considered in these equations.

I thought of others as I got out my shovel and buried that beautiful bird, which is officially listed as threatened, although many biologists believe its numbers have plummeted so low that it has reached endangered status.

I thought of its chick, waiting for food in its burrow beneath the uluhe ferns in the mountains, and its mate, conscientiously fulfilling its end of the food-gathering bargain, but unable, by itself, to provide enough food to sustain their single offspring, which ultimately will die of starvation.

I thought: “Well, that’s one nest that won’t be happening this year.”

And so one casualty turns into two.

A short time later I just happened to encounter an article about nine polar bears observed making these incredibly risky and exhausting long-distance swims, seeking stable ice or land, because by burning fossil fuels we’ve heated up the planet so much that the ice where they live is melting.

And why were the bears even noticed at all? Because Minerals Management Service had hired the federal marine contractor, Science Applications International Corp., to check for whales in advance of future offshore oil drilling.

We just don’t get it, do we?

We seem to think that we can keep killing off plants and animals, eliminating entire species, ratcheting up the global temperature by the same old thoughtless actions, and yet somehow we humans will survive the holocaust unscathed. It's a fantasy scenario we've all seemingly bought into.

In times like these, I’m often reminded of the quote from Starhawk, an environmental activist, who said of the world around us: “It’s all alive. It’s all connected. It’s all relatives.”

Indigenous people understood that interconnected web of life so much better than we. The other night I was reading “Native Planters,” a truly marvelous book by Handy, Handy and Pukui, and it was discussing how many plants and animals —even rocks — were viewed by Hawaiians as kino lau — the life forms taken by gods and supernatural creatures.

When you look at things that way, you just approach life differently. I know that indigenous people weren't perfect, and that they hunted some animals to extinction and altered habitat. But overall, they did a much better job of living in harmony with their environment, and most importantly, they understood their place in the overall scheme of things.

Now, it seems, nothing is sacred but money and convenience.

That's why I'm one of those who doesn't want the Superferry to ever come back to Kauai. For one thing, it's a speeding death ship just waiting to bang a monk seal or whale, which is totally unacceptable. For another, you've got the pillage mentality of people who ride it. That's not just a fear or suspicion anymore, either. It's been borne out by DOCARE's own statistics on Superferry inspections.

As the Save Kahului Harbor blog reported (and Andy Parx noted on his blog), Maui is indeed being plundered by Superferry passengers.

According to state DOCARE reports, over 400 pounds of reef fish were taken from Maui waters in a one month period, along with 250 pounds of limu and 49 pounds of opihi — a figure that increased to 75 pounds the following month. And that's just what they found. Remember, they don't inspect everything.

And why is all this happening? Quite simply, so that J.F. Lehman Co. can make money and folks can have a form of interisland travel that some find more convenient.

I'm sorry, but when you live on a place like Kauai, which still has so much to lose, and so much to offer, that "deal" just ain't worth it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Musings: Doing Damage

The pre-dawn sky promised color this morning and that, frankly, was the only thing that prompted me to leave my warm bed and the pleasant world of dreams and enter another world, with Koko pulling hard at the leash, where a light haze dimmed the moon and a chilly breeze reminded me that summer is on the wane.

The anticipated color was never delivered, but I did meet a neighbor who also often walks in the morning, and scratched the head of a white horse waiting impatiently for his bucket of alfalfa cubes and heard the wind sighing through the ironwood and eucalyptus trees.

I’ve been sighing a bit myself, too, wondering how much more damage the Bush Administration can do before it leaves office. In recent weeks I’ve learned of several attempts to enact dramatic changes in ways that don’t require Congressional approval.

Among them is a Health and Human Services proposal to redefine birth control pills, IUDs and the “morning after pill” as abortion, which would affect clinic counseling and insurance payment funding for these services.

Then there’s the direct hit on the Endangered Species Act, with an Interior Department proposal to eliminate scientific review of projects by federal biologists and instead give agency bureaucrats to determine the impact of their projects on the nation’s rarest species.

And now there’s a Justice Department plan to allow FBI agents “to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion,” according to the New York Times. It reports:

As the end of the Bush administration nears, the White House has been seeking to formalize in law and regulation some of the aggressive counterterrorism steps it has already taken in practice since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Other pending changes would also authorize greater sharing of intelligence information with the local police, a major push in the last seven years.

Meanwhile, new efforts are under way to crack down on dissent, starting with the Democratic National Convention, which will make use of the increasingly popular “designated protest zones” that conveniently keep citizens out of sight, and thus out of mind, of delegates.

The Colorado Independent reports the DNC is bringing together “the largest convergence of law enforcement, military and emergency personnel in the state’s history” and prompted plans to use a “super fusion center” to gather and share intelligence about “suspicious activities” that are so broadly defined as to include taking notes and photographs.

And Democracy Now! reports that those who are arrested at the DNC will be jailed “at a warehouse with barbed-wire-topped cages and signs warning of the threat of stun gun use.”

This is where we’re at in the final months of the Bush regime, this is the harvest we’re reaping from eight years of sowing the seeds of paranoia, repression, fear-mongering and government intrusion.

One can only hope and pray that in this case they are “terminator seeds,” genetically modified so as to prevent them from germinating a second time in the form of John McCain.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Musings: Jammin'

Was it the name of the event — “Jam the Harbor” — that raised alarm in minds trained to enforce law and order?

Was it the idea of a celebration thumbing the island’s collective nose at Hawaii Superferry with a celebration to mark the one-year anniversary of Kauai being “ferry-free” that was just too much for some to bear?

Was it the prospect of unruly throngs converging at Nawiliwili Harbor that evoked a knee-jerk clamp-down response among the tattered vestiges of the Unified Command?

Or was it simply a case of the cops and parks and recreation staff wanting to protect public safety — and minimize county liability — by ensuring that event organizers follow county rules?

It’s hard to know for sure, unless one has access to the email and phone records of KPD, Honolulu Police Dept., Hawaii Superferry, Gov. Lingle, the Coast Guard, Dept. of Land and Natural Resources and the county Dept. of Parks and Rec.

The end result, though, is the same: the People for the Preservation of Kauai is no longer officially sponsoring any event at Nawiliwili Park on Sunday afternoon.

The group had been planning "Jam the Harbor," a free event that promised music, a potluck, a homemade jam contest, a water parade and keiki games, for several weeks. Its president, Rich Hoeppner, told me yesterday that early on he met with Police Chief Darryl Perry and local Coast Guard officials to share his plans. Neither, he said, had any objections or concerns.

At some point, Rich said, Chief Perry reportedly got a call from the Honolulu Police Dept. “saying it was going to be a horrendous event, but the Chief reassured them that he trusted me and thought it would be fine.”

But on Monday and Tuesday, with the event less than a week away, Rich said he received five or six phone calls from Lt. Kaleo Perez of the Patrol Services Bureau “with question after question about the event.”

In forwarding me an email from Lt. Perez, Rich — a former police chief on the mainland — wrote:

I told him [Perez] I had talked to Chief Perry several times and there was no concern expressed by him. He [Perez] said the word had not got down to him. There seems to be a communication problem internally or somebody has a short memory. There couldn't possibly be a problem with honesty with Police Officers.

Perez expressed concerns about alcohol, different pro/con factions fighting and other things that we have never had problems with at any of our functions.

The group previously sponsored two Superferry-related gatherings at the park, which were scantily attended.

The email — sent at 7:41 a.m. Tuesday morning — went on to include comments from Park Ranger John Martin of the County Parks Section, who apparently was responding to an inquiry from Lt. Perez:

Afternoon Kaleo,

Yes, a permit is required, the fact that [they] never got one in the past does not make it ok. Because they are inviting the public to participate in their event, we will be requiring them to provide us with insurance coverage that shows the County of Kaua‘i as the additional insured. We will also be requiring them bring in portable toilets, the number depends on the amount of people they anticipate will attend. They will be responsible for cleanup and again, depending on the amount of people they expect, we may require them to bring in a dumpster to handle trash.

They will need permission from our office to enter the park to setup a trailer for a stage and they will have to set it up in such a way that the music does not cause a problem to surrounding businesses and Banyan Harbor residents. We will need a schematic of the park, showing where everything will be setup and taking place. We would also like to know what their parking plan is, as we will not allow vehicles to be parked inside the park boundaries.

Normally we require requests for large events to be in our office a minimum of 60 days prior to the event date. If they can come up with everything we need by Wednesday afternoon at the latest, I can process everything for them.

Rich said it would be impossible for him to meet those requirements in time, especially the insurance provision, so the group had no choice but to withdraw its sponsorship of the event.

It’s all a rather interesting turn of events, especially since previous PPK celebrations at the park were decidedly low-key affairs that apparently didn't even register on KPD's radar. And that raises the question: who put the bug in Lt. Perez's ear?

“At this point I have no control over who shows up or what they do,” Rich told me yesterday, adding that he thought more people might come than otherwise would have “because now they’re pissed. What this is is selective enforcement.”

Hmmm. Perhaps any gathering to celebrate public resistance to the Superferry is simply destined to be as spontaneous and unorganized as the original protests that made the ferry turn back a year ago, and stay away ever since.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Musings: No Ticks, No Fleas

The bright golden moon beckoned at 4 a.m., and I almost yielded to its call for a moonlit stroll, but just as I rose it slipped behind thick clouds, giving me an excuse to go back to sleep.

Two hours later, when Koko and I set out on our walk, the moon was still high, but drained white, and all the color had gone to the sun, which rose in a curtain of shimmering gold that danced among the treetops and cast the slopes of Waialeale in an ethereal glow.

I stopped to chat with farmer Jerry, who had a few stray longan from his trees rolling around in the back of his truck, and walked a bit with my neighbor Andy, who Koko greeted with all the body-squirming, whining, back-leg-standing joy that one small dog can muster.

We talked of pets and the parasites that like to suck their blood, and as I passed the election signs popping up along my road, it reminded me of a very short-lived campaign that I helped the Humane Society run several years back, when I was working there.

We offered Mutt, a poi dog, as our candidate, printing shirts and bumper stickers with the slogan: “No ticks, no fleas, no government sleaze.” It was all meant as a joke, to raise awareness about stray animals, but a few thin-skinned County Council members saw no humor in it. They complained to Laura Wiley, who was then Society president, reminding her that they controlled the purse strings for county funding of the shelter. She caved, and made us quash the whole thing.

The political sleaze, of course, lives on, as do the ticks and fleas, unless they’re vigilantly eradicated, and here we are again in another election season. The signs are going up, thick and fast on the well-traveled corridors, and in many places there’s a sort of duel going on, with signs for different candidates posted directly across from one another, and even in the same yard.

Among mayoral candidates, I notice JoAnn Yukimura has abandoned her red, white and blue of past campaigns for a new look, opting instead for a dignified steel blue. Bernard Carvalho has chosen a soothing aqua, while Mel Rapozo signs sport a logo with a wave that would be great for a new surf wear line.

Unfortunately, his name is printed much too small to be effectively seen by passing motorists, prompting one friend to observe about the former policeman: “Maybe he forgot he’s not still under cover.”

I don’t mind the political yard signs, although I prefer the one a few houses down the road that says: “FREE AVOS (But leave table and container).” It’s amazing what some people have to be told.

The yard signs, at least, stay put, unlike the ones that are waved wildly alongside the road during that Island campaign tradition known as “holding sign.” It’s a spectacle that I suppose is effective, or why else would people do it? Still, I often find myself getting a bit tense as a I approach a roadside throng.

For starters, I have to make sure I don’t bang anybody, or their car, while checking out the signs to see who they’re supporting, and if I know anybody holding one, because if I do, and don’t wave, I’ll hear about it later, and then if I don’t support the candidate, I’m faced with the dilemma of whether to wave, and be a phony, or ignore them, and watch crestfallen expressions replace the smiling enthusiasm.

I usually opt for a polite wave to everyone and a happy wave to the few candidates I support, although I confess I did give a big thumbs down (but not stick finger) to the fundamentalists who were out these holding sign for the same sex marriage ban a while back.

Soon, but not nearly soon enough, we’ll be able to go into the voting booth and put all this behind us. Of course, depending on who gets elected (dear God, is it possible that Americans, in their idiocy, could actually pick McCain and continue the reign of Bush?) our troubles could only then be starting.

Some say America is going to the dogs, and would that that was true. Dogs, at least, could be counted on for unconditional love, and an utter absence of disingenuousness. Our politicians ain’t nowhere near that level yet.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Musings: Economic Meltdown

Thick clouds put a damper on the full moon’s brilliance but couldn’t completely dim its glow, which persisted through the night until finally succumbing to the higher forces of dawn.

Rain, and Sunday morning laziness, made for a greatly abbreviated walk and Koko, who is not plagued by the torments of an over-active mind, immediately returned to bed and snuggled into the still-warm covers. I, meanwhile, made a cup of tea, revised a short story I’m writing and briefly scanned The Garden Island on-line.

That’s where I read that Hawaiian Homes has dropped, for now, its plans to develop a resort at Wailua and is instead pursuing a 700-unit residential project on the mauka side of the highway.

It seems the agency got revenue bonds that will cover the residential infrastructure costs, eliminating the need to build a resort to generate the money. And that’s a good thing, since the visitor industry is weakening and tourism so often works directly against the long-term interests of many Hawaiians, if you factor in the role it plays in promoting the real estate development that is pricing them out of their homeland.

Hawaiian Homes is supposed to be providing the housing to keep them on the land, which sounds good in concept but has generally failed in practice. Aside from the fact that it’s failed to deliver homes to many eligible beneficiaries — some 18,000 remain on the waiting list — and a lot of the homes it did turn out were unbelievably shoddily, there’s a huge inequity built into the system.

Although homesteaders must pay mortgages to cover construction of their homes and lease payments for the land they are built on, they — unlike any other homeowner in Hawaii — can’t turn around and sell their property and reap the benefits of the equity they’ve created. Nor can they even pass the house on to their kids unless the keiki have the right blood quantum, which used to be 50 percent but was reduced to 25 percent a few years back.

So even though everyone else can, and is, buying up land in Hawaii, Hawaiians in the homestead program only get to pay to use it for a while — they’ll never own it. How nuts is that?

Meanwhile, it seems the real estate market has screeched to a halt on Kauai. As I drive around the island, and walk on my own road, I see the same real estate signs that have been out there for months and months, the photos of the smiling — and invariably haole — agents fading in the sun, the signs themselves sinking slowly into the soil.

I don’t suppose anyone keeps statistics on such things, but I wonder how many of those real estate agents who flocked here when the getting was so good have already left Kauai, to be followed by the other opportunists.

As my friend Eddie, a Hawaiian born and raised on the North Shore observed: “I watch them wash in, and I watch them wash out.”

I’m also wondering how many other people, and businesses, will become casualties of the economic downturn that has prompted high level county and tourism officials to begin holding regular meetings to discuss the dismal state of affairs, although their hand wringing — they haven’t come up with any measures for dealing with the problem — has not been reported in the local newspaper.

I stopped by my favorite Lihue restaurant, Pho Kauai, a really great and reasonably priced Vietnamese eatery, to pick up some dinner the other night. It was about 5:30 p.m., and the place was deserted. The owner told me it was starting to get scary, as customers had been almost non-existent for the past three days.

“Eating out has become a luxury,” he said. “So many of the hotel workers tell me they’ve had their hours cut way back. They’re barely making it. I don’t what’s going to happen, but it worries me, because I’ve got a mortgage to pay.”

As I drove though Kapaa yesterday, with its many little shops and restaurants, I wondered how many of their proprietors are also worried, and how many of them will default on their mortgages because business has died and they can’t sell their homes and what sort of ripple effect that will have on the overall economy.

In the midst of this, we’re preparing to elect a new mayor and council, prompting one friend to observe that when we’re considering candidates we need to look beyond their views on growth and dogs on the path and the Superferry. What we need now, he said, are people with the vision and intelligence to guide Kauai through an economic meltdown.

And when you look at it from that perspective, the field narrows considerably.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Musings: Justice For All?

The pre-dawn sky was clear with a hint of gold this morning, prompting Koko and me to head for the beach where we could watch the sun, bold and orange, rise from a sparkling sea that, for a briefly blissful time, also contained me.

I really needed to top up my joy supply after spending hours yesterday observing the machinations of what is passed off as justice. Despite its grandeur, the new Kauai courthouse always leaves me feeling dirty and ice cold, with a brooding despair.

Yesterday’s Circuit Court hearing, which ended with the construction ban at Joe Brescia’s Naue house lifted and plaintiff Nani Rogers sobbing in the hallway — “They’re going to let him build over bones” — was no different.

Here’s the gist of what happened: The hearing for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of Brescia’s house will resume Sept. 3 before Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe. Meanwhile, she’s allowing work to continue using the same reasoning that prompted her to deny an earlier motion for a temporary restraining order: since the concrete footings for the oceanfront house have already been poured, the burials aren’t at risk.

Before the proceedings got to that place, Watanabe refused to qualify Dr. Michael Graves, a witness called by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., as an expert in Hawaiian archaeology. Never mind that he spent 21 years at UH teaching undergraduate and graduate students in archaeology and served as head of the department.

Since that prohibited Graves from discussing whether the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) acted properly in its treatment of the Naue burials, much of the hearing was devoted to Kauai state archaeologist Nancy McMahon defending her decisions regarding the burials there.

Quite a few intriguing tidbits emerged from her testimony. For instance, when the Burial Council was voting whether to relocate the burials or preserve them in place, McMahon hadn’t even provided the panel with the most current burial treatment plan.

And when she later wanted to give the Council a revised plot plan that showed where the burials would be in relation to the house, the panel’s chairman — Mark Hubbard of Grove Farm — told her no, he didn’t want the issue back on the agenda.

Her testimony also seemed to indicate that Brescia’s consultants either failed to publish an accurate legal notice, or didn’t publish one at all, when a second set of burials were found on the site. These notices are intended to give descendants a chance to claim the burials.

Further, McMahon repeatedly stated that none of the concrete footings for the house were placed atop the burials, which she had decided — without consulting the burial council — should be encased in a concrete cap. But Brescia’s archeology consultant told me that some of the pilings were indeed atop burials, although there was an 18-inch “vertical buffer” between them and the actual bones.

What’s more, due to a strange quirk in county planning laws, people can actually get permits to build in the Special Management Area, which includes the shorelines where burials are typically found, without first having their projects reviewed by SHPD.

So then you run into the scenario, which is what happened up at Naue, of a landowner securing county approval to build, then finding burials, which puts his project before the burial council when it’s too late for them to do much of anything about it.

Yet way back in 1991, the former head of SHPD, Don Hibbard, had sent the county a letter saying the Sylvester Stallone subdivision at Naue was likely to contain burials and so his office wanted to review permit applications for those parcels prior to any permits being issued.

That obviously was not done, further strengthening NHLC’s case that Brescia's permits were improperly granted. But the judge refused to accept Hibbard’s letter into evidence.

Deputy Attorney General Vince Kanemoto, trying to get SHPD off the hook, asked the judge to dismiss all charges against the state, saying it was the county that had approved the house. She denied that motion.

Watanabe went on to say the court was making every accommodation for the case “because I understand the issues on all sides are very critical and I understand we have a community that’s split and this issue continues to create divisiveness in this community …. and so it needs to be resolved.”

But I wondered, is the issue really causing divisiveness? Or is it more accurately causing embarrassment for government officials, and the kind of public unrest that makes them so uneasy?

After the hearing, I was talking in the parking lot with Andrew Cabebe, one of the Hawaiians who camped out for weeks to protect the bones. “These places never work for us,” he said, gesturing toward the courthouse. “They just distract us and delay us. The only thing that’s going to make any difference is getting independence.”

Frankly, I had to agree.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Musings: Anger Is An Energy

I wasn’t sure if I imagined the rain I heard in the night, so deeply was I immersed in the world of dreams, but Koko and I found proof when we went out for our walk: sparkly raindrops on the poinsettia leaves, drenched grass and the dark brown of well-watered soil in the taro patch, where tiny majiro (white eyes) lighted gracefully on the leaves, hunting bugs.

Meanwhile, the neighbors on the mauka side continued at 6 a.m. the loud fight they’ve been having the past three nights, which they abruptly stop at about midnight and then pick up where they left off the next morning. As I told a friend, “I’m trying to send them some vibes of joy” and she said: “Yeah, that and a muzzle.”

Briefly perusing my other neighbor’s Garden Island, as Koko lunged, safely leashed, at the school buses that rumbled by, I noticed that the planning commission has ordered the planning department to conduct an investigation into the accuracy of the burial treatment plans prepared for the Naue property.

It will be interesting, as the county investigation unfolds and documents are presented in court, to see exactly what went down up there. It does seem, from what I’ve been able to determine, that some serious irregularities did occur.

When I interviewed Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. for a story that will appear in the Honolulu Weekly today (but won’t be on line till next Wednesdays), he said that a full archaeological survey for the entire oceanfront subdivision at Naue had been required as early 1991 because it was likely to be an area of “high value” — meaning a heavy concentration of burials. (Update: I just heard from the editor that the Weekly is now posting without a lag, so the piece is up.)

But the survey didn’t begin until last year, after a number of houses had already been built, including one by Joe Brescia, where a burial was found. And then, of course, at least 30 were found on the parcel where he is now building a home, and state archaeologists predicted there could be three times that many on the site.

Are these kinds of delays due to a lack of departmental oversight caused by inadequate funding and staffing? Or can they be attributed to negligence and corruption? I don’t know the answer, but it’s quite clear the system as it’s now set up is not working.

These things are not supposed to have to come down to people protesting and crying and getting arrested and filing lawsuits and banging on the burial council and planning commission. There is a process, and the state — for whatever reason — is not properly implementing it.

Also addressing the burial issue today is Katy Rose, who over on her blog, published a post entitled “Screw Guilt- Get Angry,” in which she suggests “we get angry, furious, outraged” over the displacement and other indignities inflicted on Native peoples.

I remember listening to John Lydon of Public Image Limited angrily singing: “Anger is an energy” and I identified with that sentiment, and viscerally felt it, too. But I’ve learned, after a lifetime of hotheadedness, that it’s not an energy I want to put out there in the world, or into my own being. Hearing my neighbors’ harsh words morning and night confirms that.

Anger isn’t going to solve any of the problems that face us at Naue or aid us in resolving any of the other troubles in the world. Why? Because it’s a dead-end, reptilian, boomerang emotion. The most effective and admirable activists I’ve met — Nani Rogers, Henry Noa and Palikapu Dedman, to name but a few — have moved beyond anger and into a place where they come from the heart and just keep plodding ahead.

It’s easy to get angry. God knows there were times when if I’d had a gun, I would have happily and impulsively shot to kill — and, as the old saying goes, repented in leisure. It’s much more difficult, yet ultimately far more rewarding, to strive to remain in that space of loving peace.

So get educated, get involved, get conscious, get active. But no, don’t get angry. And if you need some inspiration, here are some lyrics from John Cruz: "Shine on, shine on, let your light fill up this world till dawn."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Musings: What Really Matters

Yesterday, after finishing an article on the abject failure of the state’s burial preservation laws, which will appear in tomorrow’s Honolulu Weekly, I had the pleasure of accompanying a friend who shares my sense of wonder and is blessed with the gift of laughter to a special beach where magic just naturally happens.

And sure enough, it did. We saw rainbows floating in on two passing squalls that brought the kind of gentle precipitation that makes each falling drop distinctly visible, which I observed from beneath the shelter of an ironwood tree, my body already damp from swimming in a tide pool constantly refreshed by the bubbling foam of breaking waves.

We carefully checked out an oceanfront “condo complex” — if only they could all be that low impact and truly sustainable! — that had been dug into a slope by `Ua`u kani, or wedgetail shearwaters. Peeking into burrows, we spotted some of the newest seasonal residents: pale feathered fluff balls with impossibly bright eyes and long, curved beaks that speak to a successful fishing future.

(I’m posting a photo she took, so you can say “ohhhh” and feel happy, too.)

Then as we were standing there, marveling at our great good fortune to have seen shearwater chicks, who should land on the rocks right in front of us but five ruddy turnstones, newly arrived from their summer home in the Arctic and still dressed in their breeding plumage. They may be small, but they can fly at speeds of up to 40 mph, which comes in handy, I imagine, when covering those sorts of distances.

“I always feel so reassured when I see them, to think that even with global warming and the ice melting, they’re still able to survive up there and find their way back here,” my friend said.

“Yes," I agreed, “and they’ll be at it far longer than we will, because they’re much more clever and adaptable.”

And as if to prove that point, just then two iwa flew low and somber directly overhead, only their tail feathers twitching as they soared effortlessly on the thermals.

As I drove home, beneath the rosy hues of sunset and a bright, companionable moon, I had a smile on my face and words of gratitude in my heart that I spoke aloud to the lovely evening: mahalo, mahalo, mahalo.

While waiting for my dinner to heat — a yummy pasteles purchased from a roadside vendor this past weekend — I checked my email and discovered the blog trolls had been wasting minutes that are precious even in their marginal lives posting inane comments comparing me to Hitler.

Poor tings, dem! Is it any wonder they’re so miserable?

I have a small bit of advice for them, although I really doubt they’ll take it: every now and then, you might want to step away from the computer and get out into nature, where things are alive and ideas and belief systems and opinions don’t matter.

Just please, resist the urge to destroy anything while you’re out there.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Musings: Hawaii's Spiritual Core

The days are shrinking on both ends now, a minute here, a minute there, offering inexorable proof that summer is on the gentle wane. Not so the moon, which shone brightly through my front windows for much of the night, headed toward full on Friday.

It had set, and the sun not yet risen, when Koko and I took our walk in the fresh, cool pre-dawn air. The doves were singing their throaty chorus and a shama thrush let loose with an intricate melody. Koko, head down, immersed herself fully in the splendid world of sniff, and clouds poured like silver waterfalls over the summit of Waialeale, against the backdrop of a pale pink sky.

These, to me, are all sacred things, far more holy than anything I’ve experienced in a church of man’s creation, where I’m boxed in by walls and altars and stained glass and pews. Out here, in the mundane surroundings of my neighborhood, I’ve got a direct line to the source, and I don’t need anyone or any place to serve as intermediary.

I’ve often thought, and more so lately, that a lot of the clashes we’re experiencing here in Hawaii stem from our giant disconnect from the sacred. I don’t profess to be an expert on Hawaiian culture, but it seems to me that at the root of it all was a recognition of the sacred. Chants were an integral part of every action; everything, animate or not, had an acknowledged essence.

The other day I was talking to Palikapu Dedman, the longtime Hawaiian activist who has succeeded in advancing many of his causes, which is probably why the right-wing Hawaii Rag, I mean Reporter repeatedly tries to denigrate him by preceding any first reference to his name with the words “convicted felon.” As if anyone cares that nearly 20 years he was busted for growing pakalolo.

Anyway, Pali — and others whom Nani Rogers so aptly described as the “creme de la creme of na Kanaka veteran warriors” — came to Kauai last week to show support for efforts to preserve the Naue burials. I hadn’t seen him in many, many years, and we had a chance to catch up while they were camping at Waipa.

Now Pali, who is probably about 60, grew up in Ka`u, on the Big Island, where his grandmother, who was raised in the old ways, had a tremendous influence on his upbringing. As a result, his political activism, including the Pele Defense Fund, has always been steeped in the spiritual. We were talking about some of the comments left on the Star-Bulletin articles about the Naue burials. Friday’s piece generated a whopping 177 comments, while Saturday’s follow-up got 137. If that’s any indication, and I think it is, this is obviously a topic of interest for people.

And it’s a topic that to me so clearly expresses the growing divide between those who value the inherent Hawaiianess of Hawaii, and those who live here for reasons of economics, climate or what have you.

While some of the comments expressed dismay at the desecration of burials, others expressed the view — echoed by some in the comments section on this blog — that people should stop blocking “progress,” that bones shouldn’t stand in the way of building luxury vacation homes, that the Hawaiians should just get with it because western culture, with its emphasis on money, is the dominant force in the Islands today.

Palikapu, as you might expect, had a different take on the issue.

First, he expressed dismay that other ethnic groups that immigrated to Hawaii aren't speaking up about the ongoing desecration of Hawaiian burials when all of them come from cultures that revere their dead. It's sad, he said, that they've lost so much in just a few short generations.

“These things can’t be directed by the money, they have to be directed by the soul,” he said. “If individuals want to sell their souls, fine, but when you have the state set up to require everyone to lose theirs, well, that’s where you run into problems.

“What does Hawaii mean? The islands are like eight temples. That’s how it’s supposed to be viewed. It’s very spiritual. It all has to do with spirituality. And if we ever lose that, there really is no meaning to the word Hawaiian any more.”

Do we really want to lose the essence of Hawaii, its spiritual core? Because it seems to me that that’s where we’re headed unless we restore Hawaiians to their rightful place at the head of the table.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Chief Explains Naue Response

The Kauai Police Department is now working with the county prosecutor’s office to identify those protesters who remained at the Naue burial site yesterday after police told them to leave. Warrants will then be issued for their arrest, on a charge of petty misdemeanor trespassing.

I had a chat with Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry today and asked why he took that approach, rather than arresting them at the site. He said there were several reasons why he chose that route.

“I believe the protesters were expecting us to have a knee jerk reaction and arrest them, and there were several cameras on site to record it," he said. "They wanted publicity. But we wanted to keep the focus on the issue and not on KPD.”

Perry said he also had learned the contractor was not planning to do any work on the site that day, and so was not pushing to have the protesters arrested.

“The protesters were very civil and cooperative and they weren’t creating any disturbance,” Perry said. “Time was on our side. We decided to play it cool, play it safe and wait until we had resources available and then go down there and place them under arrest. But before we could do that, they voluntarily disbanded.”

Perry said the protesters, who had linked themselves together with sections of PVC pipe, could have been injured if the police had tried to remove them and "that’s the last thing we wanted.”

The Chief also dismissed rumors that the cops were planning to use Tasers to break up the protest. While the department does have Tasers now, he said, “we’re not going to use them in those situations. This is a very unique situation and we have to develop unique strategies for dealing with it.

“We were not going to use chemical sprays or club them or do anything to them except we were just going to give them more water if they needed it. That was our only plan.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stand-Off Ends in Stand Down at Naue

I spent several hours today at the Naue burial grounds, where about 30 protestors succeeded in halting construction on Joe Brescia’s house. But quite remarkably, the Kauai police declined to make any arrests.

And seven guys — all but one kanaka maoli — wanted to be arrested. They’d come together from throughout the islands specifically to make a public statement against the “continuing desecration” of the burials there, and they’d linked themselves together with elbows of PVC pipe, a set up that would require cops to cut them apart.

You can see pictures and video at Ehu Cardwell’s Free Hawaii site.

Some veterans in the Hawaiian rights movement, including Palikapu Dedman, Skippy Ioane and Hanalei “Hank” Fergerstrom, also came to Kauai to provide support.

“We came to the conclusion we have to take matters to a higher level to force the so-called authorities to deal with this,” said Andre Perez of Pohaku O Kane, a Koloa boy now living on Oahu who was one of those willing to be arrested.

From the get-go, though, the cops took a conciliatory, hands-off approach, and the protestors were mellow, too. The first two cops arrived, sirens wailing, at 9:22 a.m., and after checking out the scene, called for back-up. Another two showed up, then another, and they conferred with contractor Ted Burkhardt.

The cops told the protestors that construction had stopped at the site in anticipation of next Thursday’s hearing for a permanent injunction, and the crew wasn’t planning to do any digging work today. If the protesters would just let them do a bit of string work for a site inspection survey, they’d be out of there in half an hour.

The guys said no. The cops said they had to warn them that if they didn’t leave, they’d be arrested for trespassing. The guys said good. The cops backed off, then returned and said Police Chief Darryl Perry wanted one of the protestors to call him.

Apparently they’d had a 1 p.m. appointment with the chief, and he wasn’t pleased that they’d gone to Naue instead of his office. The minutes ticked on.

It rained, and Palikapu invited the cops to come under the tarp that protected a picnic table from the elements. “Come inside, we’re not enemies,” Palikapu said. “No, none of us are enemies,” a cop replied, smiling, and he joined the protestors under the tarp.

(As an aside, the graffiti on the table included a drawing of a man with a big gun, standing in front of a big building, and the words: “Protest this.” Andre, pointing the graffiti out to the cops, complained: “This is the kind of cultural insensitivity we have to deal with every day.”)

Les Milnes from the county showed up to do the site inspection, and at Palikapu’s request, he agreed to return another day. Then the construction crew quickly gathered up its gear and took off.

The cops came back and told the protestors they could all leave now, but the protestors said no. “We’re giving you the opportunity to leave without getting arrested,” one of the cops said incredulously.

“We came here with a purpose and we’re sticking with the plan,” Andre said.

Added Hanaloa Helela, of Oahu: “There’s always the option for you guys to stand down.”

And that’s precisely what happened in the end. After about eight hours, the cops and the protesters all split, with the understanding that construction would cease until the hearing.

I must say, I’d never seen anything like it in all the demonstrations I’ve covered. For starters, there was the PVC pipe thing, a set-up known as a “black bear” that Andre had read about in accounts of logging protests in the Pacific Northwest.

Then there was the congenial vibe between the cops and the protestors. But it was the ending that totally blew my mind, serving as yet another example of how Chief Perry has figured out some innovative ways to diffuse protest situations.

As you may recall, he previously stymied a show-down at Naue when he determined that allowing construction to proceed would constitute a violation of state laws prohibiting burial desecrations.

Unfortunately, his opinion was overruled by the state Attorney General and county attorney and construction commenced. Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe later denied a request for a restraining order to halt construction until the Aug. 14 injunction hearing, and so work has begun at the site.

I was pretty shocked by how much the site — now totally enclosed in a high black plastic dust fence with 24/7 security — had changed in just a few weeks. Previously, the entire site was covered with markers that denoted where 48 burial areas (some 30 of them intact skeletons) had been found.

Today, just 16 markers remained on the edges of the site. The rest were gone, and in their place were 26 large concrete pilings that had been poured to support footings for the house, which must be elevated.

As I looked at the scene, I got a wave of chicken skin that left me with a very bad feeling. Clearly, building luxury vacation homes atop Hawaiian burials is not a good thing.

As Andre had noted the night before: “Who else in Hawaii has to crawl under someone’s house to visit their kupuna?” The answer, of course, is nobody.

While today’s action ended without any arrests, it did serve to generate some local and national publicity and affirm the commitment of those opposed to the ongoing disruption of burials.

“If the governor does not intervene and construction is not stopped, we will continue to mobilize and occupy,” Andre vowed. “We will be back.”

And I have a feeling more guys will join them next time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Musings: Hot Air

Tis the season for campaigning, and along with the yard signs and beef stew fundraisers and bumper stickers come pledges and promises that are perhaps heartfelt, but in the end prove to be essentially hot air.

I’m thinking in particular of one that the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste made upon taking office six years ago, when he pledged that combating ice was his number one priority.

And now the mayor is gone, but Kauai’s ice problem, alas, is not, although a few of the purple "End Kauai's Ice Age" bumper stickers remain. What’s more, we still don’t have a residential treatment center on this island, following the total collapse of Baptiste’s ill-conceived initiative to turn the old dog pound — a facility that former Humane Society director Sherry Hoe said was too dilapidated to warrant renovation for animals — into a rehab center for kids.

At yesterday’s ”drug summit” on Kauai, county drug czar Theresa Koki said the county now hopes to break ground on another facility by 2010, but offered no clue as to where we'll get the dough. As the Garden Island reports:

Finding additional funding to support anti-drug efforts is also a high priority. There are currently no state or federal grants available for the county’s substance abuse programs, states the report. Many programs rely on private foundations, corporate support and limited state grants-in-aid to get by.

“We want everyone to realize funding is a big issue,” Koki said.

Looking back, I see the state Legislature allocated $560,000 to rehab the old dog pound. One can’t help but wonder how much of that money the county burned through before it finally realized the project was never going to fly with westsiders, largely because it was so poorly designed that they feared runoff would damage the salt ponds.

I’ve got an idea. Why not transfer some of the millions that are being spent on the "bust ‘em and lock ‘em up" side — an approach that has proven an abysmal failure — over to the "heal ‘em and reintegrate them into society" side? As Hawaii U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo, who is not running for office but still has ample hot air, told those at the summit:

“Law enforcement is not the answer to every problem,” Kubo said, adding that treatment and prevention are key to a holistic approach to the drug problem.

Yes, Ed, we know that. So how come law enforcement gets all the money, but prevention and treatment have to scrounge for crumbs?

In other election season news, the Garden Island reports today that 19 County Council candidates and all four mayoral hopefuls share the belief that the Hawaii Superferry should not return to Kauai without an independent environmental impact statement.

Not to rag on the dead, but again, this was another issue where our dear departed mayor failed to show any leadership, even when it was ripping the island apart. It came to mind because I happened to run across this hot air quote of his in my files the other day: “No economic gain is worth destroying the community.” Uh huh. Yeah, right.

While we're on the topic of economic gain, did you know that Darryl Kaneshiro — the former councilman who lost the last election, but was invited back to serve out the remainder of Kaipo Asing’s term and is now running again — is not just a rancher, but a developer, too? Yup, he’s got a little “ag subdivision” in the works down there at the junction of Omao and Koloa roads. And even the water shortage in that area hasn’t hung him up, as he’s tapping into Kukuiula’s source. Guess it helps to have the right connections.

And finally, the County Council is, for reasons unknown, considering an inane amendment to the County Charter that would allow blank ballots to be counted as “no” votes on charter amendments.

The newspaper reports:

The proposed charter amendment would also redefine what “a majority of all the votes tallied upon the question” means.

“This majority shall constitute at least 50 percent of the total votes cast at the election ... this majority constituting at least 30 percent of the total number of registered voters,” the proposed resolution states.

In a line of reasoning that makes me worry about the mental capacity of the woman likely to be our next county prosecutor, Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who introduced the amendment, defended her proposal:

She argued that theoretically in an election with 4,000 cast ballots, an amendment could pass with 10 people voting for it if only five people vote against it.

 “Why should 10 people decide what’s applicable?” she said.

And why, Shaylene, should voters lose the right to cast a blank vote on an amendment? A blank is not the same as a yes or a no. A blank is also a way of saying, I’m not certain, or I don’t know enough to vote, or I’m neutral on this issue.

As Carl Imperato of the Kaua‘i Group of the Sierra Club noted in his very reasonable query:

“The question really is why do we need something like this?” Imparato said.

And the answer is, we don't, unless you want to make it very difficult for charter amendments to be approved.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Musings: Liar, Liar

The mock orange was intoxicating, infusing my entire house this morning with its sweet, spicy scent and offering a pleasant contrast to the distinctively malodorous smell of the garbage truck, which was wheezing and oozing its way down the street when Koko and I set out walking.

The sky was filled with feathery wisps of gray clouds that suddenly found themselves contrasted, as were the utility lines, against a background of fiery red that lasted just minutes — long enough for my mind, as it does at times, to dredge up an old childhood rhyme: “Liar, liar, pants on fire, hanging on a telephone wire...”

I’ve known a number of liars in my time, and invariably came to the same conclusion: no matter how much I liked them, or wanted to think they were telling the truth, sooner or later I was forced, for the sake of my own sanity, and even safety, to stop believing what they said.

Yet for some reason, the Bush-Cheney administration keeps managing to regain our trust, whereupon it tells more lies. Think back to those giant whoppers about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction and providing material aid to al- Qaeda. Both claims have been proven false, yet they were stated often enough that among the ill-informed they're still accepted as true.

Then there was the anthrax scare following 9-11 that killed five people, sickened 17 others and paralyzed the nation’s mail service. Larry Geller over at Disappeared News has been following the most recent news on this, as has Democracy Now! and, among others.

As Democracy Now! reports, Sen. John McCain and Bush both initially tried to link Iraq to the anthrax, and “White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by al-Qaeda.”

Of course, it has since become clear that this wasn’t the case at all. As Greenwald writes, following last week's reported suicide of Bruce Ivins, one of the nation’s top experts on the military use of anthrax.:

We now know — we knew even before news of Ivins' suicide last night, and know especially in light of it — that the anthrax attacks didn't come from Iraq or any foreign government at all. It came from our own Government's scientist, from the top Army bioweapons research laboratory. More significantly, the false reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government — from people with some type of significant links to the same facility responsible for the attacks themselves.

Even the reports that Ivins was about to be indicted appear to be trumped up, with Greenwald noting during an interview yesterday on Democracy Now! that various FBI investigators are now saying that the evidence they have against Ivins is, quote, “entirely circumstantial.” As you may recall, the investigation initially focused on Steven Hatfill, Ivins’ onetime colleague, but that was obviously bogus because the Justice Department this past June settled with Hatfill for $5.82 million.

What, you think it’s far-fetched that our government might have planted anthrax and then tried to blame it on Iraq in order to ratchet up the public’s fear and build support for invading that sovereign nation? Then you need to go back and read some history, or skip right to the present and peruse Seymour Hersch’s New Yorker article on the Administration’s ongoing attempts to provoke a war with Iran.

In an interview at the Campus Progress journalism conference last week, Hersch noted:

There was a dozen ideas proffered on how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was, why don’t we build—we, in our shipyard—build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats, put Navy Seals on them with a lot of arms, and, the next time one of our boats goes through the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives. And it was rejected, because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. But that’s the kind of—that’s the level of stuff we are talking about: provocation. But that was rejected.

Why does the government come up with this kind of crap? Because it works. Remember the incident in the Strait of Hormuz this past January when Iranian patrol boats supposedly made aggressive moves toward three Navy warships — an incident that was later found to be a bunch of hype? As Hersh reports:

But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more.

I puzzle over this Pavlovian response. Is it due to Americans’ stupidity, vengefulness or ignorance? Or is it because so many feed on a steady diet of right-wing radio propaganda that seizes upon something, no matter if it’s false, and keeps trumpeting it until people think it’s true?

I’m not sure what’s worse: that the Bush-Cheney administration engages in such blatantly dangerous lies or that the American people believe the bullshit or that the mainstream media and Congress go along with the various frauds.

No matter how you look at it, it’s not in any way reassuring. When I was kid, we used to end the rhyme of “Liar, liar, pants on fire, hanging on a telephone wire!” with the words “and then along came a birdie and pecked out your eyes,” because even at that young age we knew that if you regularly lie, you become blinded to the truth. And surely, that’s not how we want the guys who have access to the red phone to be.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Musings: Energized

The pre-dawn light was slow in arriving this cloudy morning, so I was expecting a minimalist sunrise. But once again I was reminded not to underestimate nature, for as Koko and I dodged puddles on a very wet road, the somber sky shifted into a kaleidoscope of gold, blue, white, red, orange, gray and pink.

While most of the action was in the northeast, clouds halfway across the sky turned an almost translucent red, snuggled up against patches of baby blue flecked with dots of white that were devoured by swirling masses of gray. And the shapes and colors shifted constantly, because way up there in their world, the wind was blowing and everything was on the move.

I’ve been thinking about the power of wind after reading an excellent New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert on a Danish island that has managed, in a decade, to reach a point where it is producing more energy from renewable sources than it uses. Much of that power comes from wind turbines, which aren’t pretty. But then, neither are the oil spills, refineries, shale oil mining pits and Middle Eastern battlefields that are the backstory of our fossil fuel addiction.

What I liked best about the story was the revelation that the island’s 4,300 inhabitants aren’t greenies, or folks out to save the world. They just made a conscious choice to change the source of their energy — without government assistance and special tax breaks. As Kolbert writes:

The residents of Samsø that I spoke to were clearly proud of their accomplishment. All the same, they insisted on their ordinariness. They were, they noted, not wealthy, nor were they especially well educated or idealistic. They weren’t even terribly adventuresome. “We are a conservative farming community” is how one Samsinger put it. “We are only normal people,” [Jørgen] Tranberg told me. “We are not some special people.”

That got me thinking. Even though we on Kauai like to think of our island — and ourselves, by extension — as special, we are also ordinary people. And we have tremendous opportunities for solar, wind, wave and biomass available to us. Could it be possible for us to achieve energy independence, too?

Of course, it would require some major adjustments, not just in how we generate energy, but how we power our economy, too. I’m not quite sure how the fuel-sucking tourism industry, with its helicopters, boats, rental cars and abundant AC — and the jets that ferry folks from all parts of the world — would factor into the equation, or the military, with its missile launches and war games and plans for giant lasers that gorge on electricity.

But maybe these wasteful pursuits are the kinds of things we need to be examining closely, anyway, in the overall scheme of things.

As Kolbert notes in her article, a group of Swiss scientists has determined that 2,000 watts per person is the level of sustainable energy use for the world. And that includes everything, from food to electricity to transportation. To put that in perspective, the U.S. and Canada are 12,000-watt societies, and much of that energy is wasted. As Kolbert writes:

Relying on widely agreed-upon figures, the [Swiss] scientists estimated that two-thirds of all the primary energy consumed in the world today is wasted, mostly in the form of heat that nobody wants or uses.

Upon reading that, I recalled visiting my sister in New Zealand many years ago. When she wanted hot water, she built a small fire of wood, scrap paper and cardboard in a burner beneath the tank, and we bathed, did dishes and washed clothes while the water was hot. We weren’t deprived of the luxury of hot water, but since we lacked the convenience of getting it on demand, we had to become more conscious of and efficient in our actions. And always, at least in my opinion, becoming more conscious of our actions is a desirable thing.

Interestingly, the people of Samsø didn’t cut their energy use. It seems that when their homes were better insulated, they simply heated more rooms. All of us in the Western world have learned to take energy, and the comforts it brings, for granted, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn new tricks. The question, of course, is whether we can bothered to change our ways.

Perhaps, as energy prices rise and we’re confronted with more and more evidence of global warming and its unpleasant consequences, we’ll be motivated. I don’t think we’re there yet, but perhaps isolated islands fully dependent on imported oil are good places to start.

In her article, Kolbert asked Søren Hermansen, one of the movers and shakers behind the Samsø conversion, what other communities might take from their experience:

“We always hear that we should think globally and act locally,” he said. “I understand what that means—I think we as a nation should be part of the global consciousness. But each individual cannot be part of that. So ‘Think locally, act locally’ is the key message for us.”

And with that, I'm going to shut off the breaker to my hot water heater and use what's already heated for the rest of the day.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Musings: Nailing the Noisemakers

A stunning sunrise ushered in this dew-drenched, chilly dawn, which was preceded at 12:14 a.m. by the new moon and total solar eclipse, although the latter obviously was not visible here.

As we walked, Koko kept her nose pressed to the wet grass and I kept my eye on the sky, where towering piles of clouds in both the northeast and southwest were infused with gold and pink by the sun’s slow emergence, giving them the appearance of something far more solid, like craggy floating mountains, their peaks and crevices defined by light.

I love to witness this continual rebirthing, to see it all start fresh again, and new. It feels to me like an ongoing reiteration of hope.

I had a similar reaction to the news, discussed yesterday afternoon on KKCR and reported in today’s Garden Island, that a group called Stop-DAT — the letters stand for Disrespectful Air Tourism — has formed to once again try and bring some order into the noisy chaos of Kauai’s skies.

The din caused by Kauai’s thriving air tourism industry is nothing new. Residents began complaining at least two decades ago, when little Kauai gained the dubious distinction of having more sightseeing flights than any other island, a title it most likely still holds.

Then, the troublemakers were helicopters that flew any kine, with nary a thought to those who lived below. Now they’ve been joined by fixed-wing airplanes, biplanes and ultralights, all seeking a piece of the lucrative market.

At the crux of the issue, then and now, is the state’s unwillingness to regulate the air tourism industry and the industry’s refusal to regulate itself. The public, with no place to complain and no agency responding when they do, ends up getting screwed.

Back in the 1990s, when the issue became very heated and numerous meetings were held around the state, the FAA did come up with a rule —SFAR-71 — that prohibits tour aircraft from flying any lower than 1,500 feet above any person, private property or natural feature in the state.

Meanwhile, “Fly Neighborly” plans were drafted that specified the routes tour aircraft should take to minimize their impact on residents. But those flight paths were voluntarily and the FAA didn’t enforce SFAR-71, so it wasn’t long before the industry simply blew them both off.

Which brings us to the current free-for-all, with helicopters and other aircraft flying from dawn to dusk, mauka to makai, unless the weather is so cloudy and rainy that they can’t fly at all. They cruise over beaches and mountains, towns and rural neighborhoods, into Kalalau Valley and through Waimea Canyon. And if a tourist wants a photo op or better view, they’ll fly lower, loop around, double back.

And all the while the air tour industry is raking in the dough at the expense of those living in the prettiest places, or enroute to them, who must endure the constant drone of one aircraft after another flying overhead.

Tired of two decades of broken promises, a group of concerned residents met recently with the tour industry to see if they could work things out. They couldn’t. They turned to the mayor’s office, which stepped in “but got nowhere,” said Hanalei resident Carl Imperato, speaking on the radio yesterday.

“Apparently the industry doesn’t care enough to resolve the problem,” he said, noting astutely: “It’s obvious we’ll get no help with this from government.”

So they formed Stop-DAT and now plan “to go after the industry where it counts: in the pocketbook,” Imperato said. The group’s first move is an informational picketing at the airport intersection between 3 and 5 p.m. on Monday.

They’re not trying to shut down the industry, Imperato said, “but there’s really no reason why air tourism has to be done disrespectfully.”

The industry, predictably, responded in exactly the same way it has for the past 20 years: blaming a few rogue operators for the problem and a few residents for the outcry, forming an association and proposing a hotline for complaints.

Here’s the spiel from Curt Lofstedt, owner of Island Helicopters Kauai, as reported in the Garden Island:

“If they called us direct and said someone flew over their place, we’d do something about it,” Lofstedt said. “But if we don’t get direct calls, there’s nothing we can really do.”

He said some new fixed wing companies sometimes stray from the fly neighborly agreements. The newly formed association wants them to join.

“We don’t fly over Hanalei Bay or the other areas they’re complaining about except in case of bad weather,” Lofstedt said. “It’s a vocal minority pushing this. We’re doing what we can.”

Yawn. How many times are they going to trot out this same tired non-response? We’ve had hotlines in the past, and the complaints went nowhere. And why do they keep lying about where they’re flying, as if we don’t see them with our own eyes, hear them with our own ears?

Stop-DAT is pushing for no flights on Sundays and holidays, and to have helicopters fly one-mile offshore. They’re radical proposals, but as even the county’s Director of Economic Development, Beth Tokioka, noted: “Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get really productive dialogue.”

The air tourism industry has long been a scourge, in my view. It’s fuel-guzzling, unsafe, incredibly intrusive, harmful to wildlife and the worst expression of lazy, lookey-lou tourism. I’m heartened to see that a new group has formed to again take it on. With the support of those who appreciate peace and quiet, perhaps this arrogant industry can finally be reigned in.