Sunday, November 30, 2008

Musings: Life Cycles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

Musings: Driving Over the Remains

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

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

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

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

I think that's the lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Musings: Spreading the Wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pimpare observes:

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

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

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

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

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

After all, it is our money.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Musings: Irksome Smugness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony went on to write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Musings: At the Old Ball Game

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

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

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

As Keone observed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

Musings: Playing Solitaire

For the past few days, I’d been blogging and posting, but receiving no comments.

And this evoked musings of a very different sort. Were the posts getting dull? Had people stopped reading? Was there suddenly a dearth of opining in the world?

Then this morning I found a couple dozen comments that had gone unmoderated, dating back several days. So my apologies to those who took the time to write a comment, didn’t see it posted and perhaps wondered why.

Anyway, that snafu prompted me to once again reassess how to handle comments, because one thing is clear: writing a blog is no fun if no one comments. I write plenty of other stuff for newspapers and magazines where I get very little response, and I like the immediacy of interaction that blogging provides. I also enjoy providing a forum of sorts where people with different viewpoints can share their thoughts, and I think the readers do, too. Without that, it’s akin to playing solitaire.

My inclination now is similar to the view I expressed in a previous post about allowing unfettered recreation on the bike path:

Screw the liability worries, spare the poor rangers their poop patrol and treat it as a lesson in folks figuring out how to get along and respect one another.

So please, do show some respect to me, the forum and other readers. And if things start to get stinky and unslightly, I’ll get out the giant pooper-scooper — aka the delete button — or turn on moderation again.

Mahalo for reading, and for leaving comments — especially thoughtful ones.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Musings: Living With Less

It was very quiet, the sound of drumming rain stilled for a time, when Koko and I went walking this morning on seriously saturated soil. The clouds were arrayed in layers of white and gray, with a patch of orange near Waialeale offering the only hint that the sun was on the rise.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, given that our walking schedules have been erratic of late, and he mentioned he was going to see Jefferson Starship perform tonight. It seems expensive ticket prices have kept him from attending rock concerts since, best as he could recall, he saw the band perform when it was still called Jefferson Airplane.

Apparently the rest of the nation is now catching up with Andy’s cutting edge cost-consciousness as it embraces the so-called “new frugality.”

“Consumerism being driven into retreat “ read the headline on an AP story in today’s Honolulu Advertiser, prompting me to wonder: Wow, can that really be true? Is it possible that materialism and consumerism have been felled not by a revolution — bloodless or otherwise — but a recession, a splash in the face with the cold water of reality?

According to the article, the shift is more profound, and fundamental, than simply pinching pennies for a time:

"It is a whole reassessment of values," said Candace Corlett, president of the consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. "We've just been shopping until we drop and consuming and buying it all, and replenishing before things wear out. People are learning again to say, 'No, not today.'"

Timothy Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, is convinced "the economy is moving away from consumerism." Just how far remains to be seen, but a recent Pew Research Center survey found that more than half of Americans say they have cut back in the past year and about half agreed that people "should learn to live with less."

People are not only buying cheaper, they're buying less, said Joachim Vosgerau, an assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business who specializes in consumer behavior.

And crucial for this trend’s longevity, it’s now reportedly entering the realm of hip:

Corlett said one recent WSL Strategic Retail survey detected a "saving is cool" culture developing, with more than half of those polled agreeing they take pride in the ways they've found to save money. "The longer this (downturn) lasts, the more entrenched it will become," Corlett said.

This screeching halt in spending is playing out locally with a number of luxury projects slowing way down, according to an article in Pacific Business News that blogger Aaron Stene kindly sent my way.

Among the Kauai casualties are the 1,010-acre Kukuiula project, reportedly “one of the largest residential projects under way in Hawaii,” where construction has been scaled back, and the $1.4 billion Kaua‘i Lagoons resort project, where the PBN’s report of a construction halt was later rephrased as a “construction realignment” in The Garden Island. The paper quoted Ed Kinney, vice president of corporate affairs and brand awareness for Marriott Vacation Club International and the Ritz-Carlton Club as saying:

“We’re talking about taking the opportunity, based on the economic conditions, to suspend vertical operations,” he said, adding that Marriott was continuing with sales operations without interruption.

Translation: you can still buy, even though they’re not building.

I’ve also heard the Kealanani ag subdivision project is in trouble — aw, shucks — following the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros., which was providing much of the financing.

It seems the dreams of a growth slowdown articulated by many have been achieved without the destruction of a hurricane.

But somehow, I don’t believe the “new frugality” is likely to survive the next boom, which is why it’s important to use this lull to reassess the general plan, renew our efforts to preserve ag land and support farming and seek ways of expanding our economy so it isn’t so dependent on tourism and construction.

The last time we had this opportunity was after Iniki, in 1992, but everyone was so focused on rebuilding and “bringing the island back” — in other words, the tourists — that in typical heads down, shoulder to the grindstone fashion, we never stopped to look at where we were headed, which is why we ended up here, with a lot of new high end real estate and a 20 percent increase in demand at the emergency food pantries.

But now that the entire nation is taking a sort of time out, we have another chance to plot a more sensible path for the future rather than grabbing at any sort of economic stimulation that drifts our way.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Musings: Environmental Menaces

The steady rain continues this morning, and after venturing out just long enough to see the summit of Waialeale wreathed in feathery white clouds, Koko and I retreated back to the warmth of the down comforter to ward off the damp chill.

Surfing the net, I was confronted with yet another of those curious workings of the universe: automaker Jimmy Pflueger was indicted yesterday on manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges during a downpour that weather forecasters had predicted would rival the storm the island was experiencing in March 2006, when Pflueger’s Kaloko reservoir breached, killing seven persons downstream.

While the severity of this storm seems to have been exaggerated, the response of Pflueger’s attorney provided the missing bluster. According to a report in today’s The Garden Island:

“This case is an absolute outrage,” said Pflueger’s attorney Bill McCorriston, during a phone interview. “Jimmy and his whole family are devastated ... there is hurt, anger and confusion.”

Gee, if my recollections are correct, that was the exact same response so many in the community had to the actual event — especially after hearing reports that the flood occurred because Pflueger had filled in the spillway.

An even more intriguing comment was included in a report in the Buffalo, N.Y., Business First newspaper:

“This is a sad day for Hawaii and for our justice system, which has failed to protect this son of Hawaii who is being unfairly and unjustly accused of a crime he didn’t commit,” McCorriston said in a statement.

Failed to protect? Ummm, you mean because his connections and self-reported payoffs failed to get him off the hook this time?

The Garden Island article continues:

McCorriston said the same report that states the dam failed because the spillway was filled in indicates that the state and county held just as much responsibility for the failure. “Why one man was indicted is beyond me,” he said.

Yes, it does seem that indictments might also be in order for former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka and former County Engineer Cesar Portugal, both of whom allegedly directed a county inspector to stop bugging Pflueger about grubbing and grading around the reservoir without a permit.

At any rate, Pflueger is supposed to turn himself in next week. I hope as a condition of his $71,000 bail that he’s also ordered to turn over the keys to any heavy equipment he owns. Given what he previously did at Pilaa, the man might not be a flight risk, but he’s definitely a menace to the environment.

Shifting gears slightly, in a post entitled "Got to Keep the Loonies on the Path," blogger Andy Parx yesterday incorrectly characterized my stance when he stated:

But like many others who have harsh words for a specific aspects of the “bike path” she still apparently remains neutral on the project as a whole.

Neutral? In previous posts I’ve stated my objection to putting concrete along the coast and encroaching into wild areas with any sort of development. I've also observed that the Path has wasted an incredible amount of Council and Administrative time that could have been better spent elsewhere, and noted that it will continue to be a drain on county resources. To expand further, it was likely a misuse of the intent of the federal funds that financed it and will be largely ineffective as means of supporting bicycling as a form of alternative transportation. To achieve that goal, it would have made more sense to widen the highway, which is plenty scenic, to create bike lanes.

Now that we’ve got it, though, and it’s clearly being used for recreational purposes, as opposed to alternative transportation, it should be wide open to bikes, horses, dirt bikes or whomever wants to recreate on it. Screw the liability worries, spare the poor rangers their poop patrol and treat it as a lesson in folks figuring out how to get along and respect one another.

And do not, under any circumstances, expand it any more, especially north.

Just my humble, non-neutral opinion, of course.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Musings: Tough Talk

The morning had a wintry feel when Koko and I went walking — well, as wintry as it can be with a temperature of 67 degrees and the smell of freshly mowed grass and mock orange lingering in the faintly misty air.

Given the nippiness, we might have lingered longer in the snugness of the bed, but sleep was made impossible when the chickens started in on one of their inexplicable weird rants — not unlike Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who this week attended her last Council meeting and uttered a remark that left me worried about how she’s going to handle her new job as County Prosecutor.

The topic was the Coastal Path, the northern portion of which remains closed because of “outstanding issues concerning rockfall mitigation, interpretive signage and additional fencing north and south of Kealia bridge that must be resolved,” [County Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Kylan] Dela Cruz said.

Never mind that former parks director Bernard Carvalho, who is now Mayor-elect, said the path would be pau in late August or early September. And perhaps it would have been, if he hadn’t taken vacation to run for office.

At any rate, people are — gasp — already using the path because it is paved, after all, and it follows a cane road route that they’d been using for years, well before the County decided to gussy it all up with concrete and fences. Pedestrians can easily skirt the locked gate by simply walking around it on the makai side, where, btw, the coastline is already heavily eroding.

Anyway, this egregious act of the public using public lands did not please Shaylene, who according to The Garden Island, compared “the ‘trespassing’ there to stealing a new blouse. She said just because one sees it and wants it, laws standing in the way must be followed.”

“We’re trying to protect the public from itself,” she said, adding that if someone gets hurt on the unopened portion of the path that person would likely sue the county.

OK, Shaylene, let’s get a grip. First, walking on a portion of the Path that has not been officially opened is not in any way like stealing a blouse. And second, you’re not trying to protect us from ourselves — whatever that is — you’re just trying to make sure the county doesn’t get sued.

And that’s what concerns me about the Path. Mark my words, we’re going to end up losing access when the concrete cracks or a dog bites somebody or coastal erosion encroaches — already a scenario at the portion by Pono Kai — and then the county will close it up, just like they’ve relinquished beach accesses, because they’re worried about liability.

In the meantime, best not be planning any scofflaw behavior, like walking Fido without a doo doo bag in hand and a carefully measured leash, because the county will show no mercy — and presumably, neither will Shaylene.

“We expect citations issued,” Council Chair Jay Furfaro said. “We don’t expect forgiveness. Those that abuse the intent are only hurting those who will follow the rules.”

Now if only former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka had used that kind of tough talk with Jimmy Pflueger regarding his fetish for unpermitted earth-alterations, we might not have had seven people die when the Kaloko reservoir breached back in March 2006.

It seems similar storm conditions are headed our way this weekend, although forecasters aren’t expecting the rain to last for 40 days and nights.

Getting back to tough talk that is actually followed up with action, Willacy [Texas] County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra brought an indictment against Vice President Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on state charges accusing them of responsibility for prisoner abuse in a privately run federal jail. According to Democracy Now!:

The indictment cites Cheney’s investment in Vanguard Group, which owns an interest in private prisons in South Texas. Gonzales is accused of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately run prisons.

Wow, amazing what a mere local prosecutor can do. Hmmmm. I wonder if we can get Shaylene to focus on something bigger than the bike bath and blouses.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Musings: In the Realm of Birds

The sky was inhabited by clouds, the moon (a smidge fuller than half) and a few sparkling stars when Koko and I went walking this morning. The street was crunchy underfoot with grit and gravel washed from the sides into the middle by the recent heavy rains, and the air was still and windless.

And then the sun arrived and brought color: wispy strands of dreamy pink, streaks of shiny gold and silver, clusters of dove gray, and a striated swath of brilliant starfish orange.

The Laysan albatross also have arrived, as they do this time of year, and a friend and I spent yesterday morning among them in a small patch of ironwood trees buffeted by wild gusts on a cliff above a restless, foamy sea. All the wind-loving birds were out enjoying the day: dozens of boobies, their wing tips bent down by the stiff breeze, iwa gliding silently, effortlessly, on the air currents and half-a-dozen albatross, giggling and crooning and clacking, their white feathers ruffling in the unrelenting trades.

I am awed by their ability to know exactly when to return, without aid of calendars or clocks; to rendezvous with their mates, without emails or cell phones; to find the place they were born, without GPS or maps.

We keep creating gadgets that are supposed to make us more efficient, more effective, but we don’t seem to notice we’re the only species on the planet that depends on this stuff for the most basic elements of existence. How can it be that we’re superior because we can create it, when we’re the only ones who need it? Could it be that we know how to live without the gear, we’ve just forgotten? Is it possible that each new piece of technology serves not to connect, but further separate us from that knowing, and each other? How would the world be different if we seriously entertained the prospect that we are not the most advanced species in it?

Those are the sorts of musings that drift into my consciousness when I spend time in nature, especially among birds, and with this particular friend, who had recently returned from Bhutan. She reported the citizens there were overjoyed at news of Obama’s victory, which coincided with the coronation of their king, whom they love and had traveled great distances, many on foot, to see. It was her third trip, and she was struck anew by the joyousness and loving nature of the Bhutanese, whose leaders are governed by the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.

They have few material comforts, she said, yet even those who are educated in America prefer to return home, to their families, rather than stay and accumulate the goods and goodies in the U.S., because their cultural values are so strong.

That caused us both to reflect on the nature of American values, which seem designed only to advance and foster capitalism, and they are so different than the local/Hawaiian values that make it such a joy to live on Kauai, where someone had left papaya and flowers on our cars —a simple act of kindness and generosity needing no recognition or payment.

And so I left the realm of creatures that soar on the wind and fish from the sea and stockpile nothing more than what they can carry in the bellies and returned to the world of humans busily hoarding and fretting and power jockeying — and sometimes giving and loving and sharing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Musings: Something for Nothing

Rain fell throughout the night but took a break this morning, allowing Koko and me to venture out under a sky that was multiple hues of dark, and dimly lit by a ghostly waning moon. Wind gusted through the trees, herding the clouds at a brisk pace and sending leaves scuttling along a rain slick street.

The world felt fresh and vibrant — quite unlike the economy, which despite massive infusions of future taxpayer cash still resembles the carnage of post-rainstorm toads sprawled and flattened on the pavement.

Farmer Jerry told me he went to a investment seminar the other day that was attended by about 90 persons. When the seminar leader asked how many had their retirement funds in safe, conservative investments, only three raised their hands. The rest had lost significant amounts of money, at least on paper, causing them to refigure their retirement plans.

Others are scrambling to hold on to their homes, prompting government officials to fight over whether some of the $700 billion bailout should be used to prevent foreclosures, according to a report by Reuters.

On the one hand, we’ve got Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arguing that all the money should be used to recapitalize banks, while on the other, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Chairman Sheila Bair and some lawmakers want to divert funds into staving off foreclosures.

Bair, whose agency insures bank deposits, said some of the bailout money should be used to help homeowners in trouble because current federal programs were inadequate. She said an estimated 4 million to 5 million mortgages will enter foreclosure over the next two years if nothing is done.

Meanwhile, we’re hearing the auto industry sound the same sort of alarm that went up on Wall Street not so long ago, claiming the entire nation will collapse if the Big Three Detroit automakers, which employ some 5 million people, aren’t given a $25 billion loan package to keep them afloat.

The proposal has prompted people like Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to say: "This is just a beginning of corporate welfare in a big, big way.”

The reality is, however, that corporate welfare has been going on for a long time in this country, in the form of tax breaks, agricultural subsidies and other perks financed by the public.

According to the Corporate Welfare Information Center:

"The $150 billion for corporate subsidies and tax benefits eclipses the annual budget deficit of $130 billion. It's more than the $145 billion paid out annually for the core programs of the social welfare state: Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), student aid, housing, food and nutrition, and all direct public assistance (excluding Social Security and medical care)."

And that doesn’t include the biggest form of corporate welfare: allowing corporations to get away with business practices that create adverse social and environmental conditions. The costs created by this are borne by nonprofit organizations and government, or ignored altogether.

The truth is, our so-called free market system depends on placing no value on ecosystems or human lives. If the true social and ecological costs of intensive chemical agriculture, for instance, were factored in, it wouldn’t be economically viable to ship berries from Chile to America in the dead of winter.

The same holds true for war, which is dandy for the economy —and pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression — so long as you peg the cost of human lives and environmental destruction at zero.

Now that we’re starting to see this false, perverted system unravel in a big way, we’re faced with two choices: major overhaul, or continued prop up job on an increasingly grand scale.

As conservative columnist David Brooks asked:

Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests?

I’d say we’re already there. And the most amusing, ironic thing is, it isn't the socialists or the commies who have led the way but the bankers, traders and CEOs, chanting the false mantra, embraced by legions of loyal, deluded followers, that you can get something for nothing and unsustainable systems can be sustained.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Musings: Two Communities

The patter of rain on the roof served as a pleasant lullaby all night long, and continued into the morning, punctuated by gusting winds and trilling bird song. Birds love the rain, because they know it brings the landscape to life. And I always feel so happy seeing the `aina getting quenched, because water, really, is what it’s all about.

Some people, however, still don’t seem to grasp the basic elements of life — you know, oxygen, food, water. That became clear when I talked to a couple of friends who attended Friday night’s “Template for Lihue’s Tomorrow” event, which was intended to result in a planning model based on sustainability and "smart growth" principles.

Seems that during the break-out sessions, where folks were asked to identify the basic needs of Kauai residents, one person named jewelry. Now that wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t also a former member of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

“People just don’t understand the difference between wants and needs,” observed one friend.

And therein lies both the root of the problem we face in trying to attain sustainability and the reason why those attending — the Lihue Veterans Center was standing room only — were unable to reach agreement on either the definition of sustainability or the means for achieving it.

“There was zero consensus because there were two different communities in that room,” said another friend.

One is the community that understands that sustainability is, to use UH Professor Luciano Minerbi’s definition, any development that benefits Hawaiian ecosystems and improves the socio-economic conditions of its residents, especially its indigenous people.

The other is the community that wants to go beyond that and rake in extra cash so they can buy jewelry — and not the sustainable kind, which would be made with Niihau shells.

Given the existence of those two very different communities, it’s no surprise that Grove Farm — the largest landowner in the Lihue region — represents both the greatest opportunity, and the greatest barrier, to achieving sustainability in that district.

So where is Grove Farm on the issue? Well, at Friday’s meeting, company vice president Mike Tressler reportedly said Grove Farm had “tried some of this sustainable urban design stuff, but it’s just too costly.”

Yet he was singing a different tune in a TGI article promoting Grove Farm’s new 180-acre project between Hanamaulu and the courthouse, which is expected to add about 440 homes on the Hanamaulu side, and a theater, restaurant, shops with apartments above them, assisted-living facility, child care center, supermarket and business traveler hotel on the Lihue side:

What’s different about this project is its emphasis on smart growth and its target audience of current Kauai residents, says Mike Tressler, a Grove Farm vice president.

The project, unlike many started in the development boom of late, seeks to create a walkable community for kamaaina.

Tressler said the development is also aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification, the highest standard for “green” building and design.

OK, so the kamaaina get a community where they can walk to the multiple jobs they hold to pay that “affordable” mortgage. That’s great. But do you suppose that will prevent Grove Farm from creating luxury gentleman’s estates on agricultural land far away from all the riff-raff living in that dense (440 units in 52 acres) “smart growth” urban housing?

No. And why? Because that’s where the big money is, and Grove Farm wants its jewelry.

If we’re ever to achieve any semblance of sustainability here in Hawaii, we need to look at the model that was in place when Captian Cook arrived “and the economy was f….g thriving,” a friend said. “People had food, they had shelter, they had so much free time they went surfing.

“Economy,” my friend pointed out, “doesn’t mean money.”

And that’s true. It means:

Definition 1: Activities related to the production and distribution of goods and services in a particular geographic region.

Definition 2: The correct and effective use of available resources.

Now when you’re looking at creating a sustainable economy from that perspective, it takes on a whole new meaning and seems, suddenly, achievable. But if you’re all hung up on wanting your jewelry, well, that’s the dominant paradigm that’s created the completely unsustainable economic mess that now confronts us — the mind-set, held by so many of those in positions of power, that sees more of the same as the only way out.

Which one do you think is going to prevail in creating a template for the Lihue, and the Kauai, of tomorrow?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Look Familiar?

Here are photos that show Austal's JHSV, published in Marine Log. It notes:

The JHSV will have a 103 m catamaran hull (which is actually shorter than the 113 m Hawaii SuperFerry cats built by the yard) and a speed of more than 35 knots. A draft of 3.8 m will allow superior access to "austere" ports.

The second Superferry had these types of ramps installed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Musings: Time is Telling

In response to a recent post about the Superferry, and my belief that it won’t be returning to Kauai, a reader ranted, er, commented:

why do you continue to cling to the Brad Parson's Fantasyland of wishful thinking that parades as a THEORY that the whole thing is a Military facade and will go away? Probably because you contributed to the THEORY (that's right THEORY THEORY THEORY THEORY THEORY).

Well, it may still be a theory, but it's one that continues to gain credence with the news that Austal USA, which built the Superferry, reportedly has won a $1.6 billion contract to build up to 10
 Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) for the Navy.

Citing U.S. Sen.
Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, as its source for the contract award, which has not been confirmed by the Navy or Austal, — Update: now confirmed — the Mobile Press-Register, reports:

Maritime industry analyst Tim Colton, of Florida consulting
firm Maritime Business Strategies LLC, said that if Austal
is indeed the winner, it is likely that the company's
experience and ability to tackle the work made its bid
superior. Australian parent Austal Ltd. is an expert at
building high-speed fast ferries, and the U.S. shipyard is
now putting finishing touches on the second of two such
vessels for Hawaii Superferry Inc.

The JHSV is a transport ship, not a combat vessel, and would
 be similar to an Austal Ltd. ship leased by the military for
 use by Marines in the western Pacific. The Navy is the 
contracting agency for the JHSV program, though the Army
would also use the vessels.

As you may, or may not, recall, in Part VI of my “Lifting the Veil” series, I reported:

The navy, which is leading the program, released an RFP (Request for Proposal) for the JHSV contract last year, and the response period closed Sept. 10, 2007. One contractor will be selected this year to build all eight JHSVs. The navy is looking to pay $150 million for the lead ship, and $130 million for the other seven. Five will go to the Army, and the Navy will operate three for itself and the Marine Corps.

Its design specifications are based on lessons learned from leasing four high-speed commercial catamarans: the Venture, Spearhead, Swift and Westpac Express. The latter two are still in service. The Superferry is a near dead ringer for the Westpac Express, which also was built by Austal USA.

Then in final installment of that series, I noted:

And here comes the Superferry, which is .... proving itself by running at high speeds day after day, weather and harbor surges permitting, in some of the nation’s roughest waters.

As one source told me: “In an accelerated procurement environment, it would give [Congressional appropriations] committees great comfort in granting money for something up and running.”

In that same post, I quoted Terry O’Hallloran, who is no longer directly employed by HSF (but still works as a consultant), as saying the Superferry — the largest aluminum ship ever built in the United States, whose construction was documented by National Geographic — is no different than other fast ferries around the world.

“The idea that this vessel is unique….or has some kind of military connection is absolutely false,” he said.

Only time will tell if he’s telling the truth.

Since then, we’ve seen the second Superferry outfitted with ”national defense features” that would “enable the vessel to be chartered to the military if they so desire.” The company also announced it would put the second ferry to use elsewhere for at least a year, or until HSF can “develop this market” in the Islands.

And now here’s the news of Austal reportedly winning the contract to build the JHSV. As for what’s in it for HSF, well, let’s not forget that its chief investor is J.F. Lehman, and as I reported in Part VII:

Since its involvement with HSF, J.F. Lehman has made acquisitions that could support both JHSV and LCS construction contracts, including Elgar Electronics, which manufactures electrical power test and measurement equipment for the military and commercial uses, and Atlantic Inertial Systems, a leading niche supplier of highly-engineered guidance, stabilization and navigation products and systems for aircraft, weapons and land systems applications.

Most notably, J.F. Lehman also bought Atlantic Marine Holding Co., a leading provider of repair, overhaul and maintenance services for commercial seagoing vessels and U.S. Navy ships that is located adjacent to the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala. The company owns and operates another shipyard in Mobile, as well as one in Jacksonville, Fla., where it also leases a third facility at the Naval Station Mayport.

Time, it seems, is starting to tell.

Musings: Personal Contact

The moon, full and wearing a golden halo, was sinking in a snakeskin cloud sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. It was the same moon I’d seen rise last night in Honolulu, the same moon that shone silver upon Wailua Bay when I drove home, the same moon that finally slipped, round and pale, below the mountains as the eastern sky flushed pink.

Walking along our narrow road, where tendrils of mist rose from dew-soaked pastures, returning the waves of motorists passing by, stopping to give one of Koko’s dog friends a belly rub, I reflected upon how much different life is here than in the city.

And walking in Honolulu yesterday, I thought about the last time I’d walked in Lihue, where the sidewalks, stained orange with our red clay, are nearly devoid of pedestrians and I saw four people I knew drive by while waiting to cross at a Rice Street intersection.

But Honolulu isn’t an unfriendly town of strangers. Larry Geller, the man behind Disappeared News, kindly treated me to a dim sum lunch at Chinatown, then served as my guide downtown, suggesting we drop by the Honolulu Weekly office, where publisher Laurie Carlson pitched me two stories and I was introduced to editor Ragnar Carlson, before delivering me to the door of my interview appointment.

It’s fun going to Honolulu and finally meeting people I’d dealt with only over the phone or email. There’s nothing quite like personal contact, and in my recent trips, I’ve had a lot of it. I’m continually struck by all the good people in this world — or at least, the circles I generally move in.

Coming home, I was on the same plane with Nancy McMahon, the state archaeologist who has been the subject of some intense criticism in this blog. Yet when I passed her seat, she greeted me without a hint of animosity, and I thought of the Albert Schweitzer quote that runs beneath the signature line of her emails: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

It’s easy to focus on people’s actions, or our interpretations of their actions, but it’s not so easy to know what’s really in their hearts.

And that made me think of a conversation I had the other day with a member of the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council, a Hawaiian who supports sovereignty and chose to serve because he hoped he could change what he considers a flawed process; someone who believes that some areas — like Brescia’s lot — just shouldn’t be built on because they have too many burials.

In other words, he thinks a lot like I do, and he was also saying that he thought Mark Hubbard, who recently resigned from the Council, was treated shabbily, that the Council had picked him as Chair because he knows how to run meetings, and it wasn’t right that he had been treated disrespectfully at the October meeting just because he’s a haole who represents business interests.

The Hawaiian way, he said, is to sit down together, try and figure out a solution. The Burial Council members know better than anyone the problems in the system, he said, and what they need from the public is not finger-pointing and accusations and grumblings, but guidance and solutions.

I saw those kinds of solutions and suggestions presented at the November meeting, where the locale was different, and Mark was not the chairman, and the crowd was smaller and the mood was calmer. And while the Council didn’t go as far as some wanted — writing a letter suggesting the planning commission revoke Brescia’s permit — it did reject the burial treatment plan from the state.

They probably would have done more if the threat of a lawsuit by Brescia weren’t hanging over their heads. It’s easy for us in the audience to say go for it, but no one wants to be sued, especially if your term is winding down and you’re wondering if Brescia will go after you personally, or if you’ll have representation after you leave the Council.

And it made me think, as I have many times, of how one can stop wrong-doings and effect change and expose wrong-doers without falling into personal judgment or dehumanizing and vilifying others. Because that seems to lead not to resolution, but polarization.

I still don’t have an answer, except strive to be kind, keep an open heart and mind and as often as possible, make personal contact.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Odds and Ends

The big moon, full tonight, kept the roosters up all till all hours, and howling dogs added to the chorus, so Koko and I were out in the neighborhood early this morning, which worked out well, anyway, as I’m off to Honolulu for work today.

But just wanted to share a few tidbits before I go.

First, it seems the State Historic Preservation Office on Kauai is closing, due to budget cuts, and the district archeologist position — held by Nancy McMahon before she was promoted to #2 in the division — has been frozen. So the state presence here will be minimal, at best.

Second, as Koohan “Camera” Paik is organizing parties to launch her book, “The Superferry Chronicles,” she’s already meeting with some resistance. Kimo Rosen is planning another “bring back da Superferry” demonstration at the first party — set for Dec. 3 at Hanapepe United Church of Christ — to protest the book. His protest is at 5 p.m., and the party starts at 6.

As he notes: “It obviously is a book against free enterprise and what is constitutional, since it is totally unconstitutional that the superferry was grounded and no other form of mass transit that pollutes was grounded, inclusive of Cruise ships, barges, freighters, yachts, airplanes, buses, cars and motorcycles.”

Umm, OK, Kimo, if you say so. Oh, and watch out for falling rocks.

Now as you may recall, Kimo’s last protest didn’t draw a sizable crowd, but when you’re promoting a book, I guess any publicity is good.

As for the Superferry, I think it’s pretty obvious that it ain’t comin’ back to Kauai. And that’s good news for our new voyaging canoe, the Namahoe, which may be able to take its space at the pier, making it easy for school groups and others to tour the canoe. I’d say that’s a far better use of harbor space.

And finally, I just couldn't resist directing you to this article, in which Bush proves he isn't a complete idiot by acknowledging a few of his regrets. Among them are the "Mission Accomplished" banner at a speech he gave back in March 2003, about a month after invading Iraq, and his "Wanted: Dead or Alive" reference to Osama bin Laden.

Oh, and don't forget this one:

He also said he regretted telling Iraqi insurgents in 2003: ``There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on.''

In the interview yesterday, he said, ``My wife reminded me that, `hey, as president of the United States, be careful what you say.'''

Obviously, however, he failed to listen to Laura.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Musings: A Matter of Conscience

The wheezing, beeping and squeezing of the garbage truck gave way to a peaceful interlude of crickets and cooing doves this quiet holiday morning — that is, until the chickens started in with a particular kind of honking and squawking that gets Koko all excited, whining and barking and eager to join the chase.

It seems failed Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin had the same effect on some people, according to a report yesterday on Democracy Now! that stated:

The Secret Service has disclosed Republican attacks led to a spike in death threats against Barack Obama during the final weeks of the presidential campaign. According to Newsweek magazine, threats on Obama’s life peaked after then-Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin accused him of “palling around with terrorists.” Palin was referring to Obama’s tenuous ties to William Ayers, who once hosted a gathering for Obama during his first run for office.

Gee, how’d you like to have that on your conscience? But then, conscience hasn’t seemed to be a particular hallmark of some within the GOP. Just look at how the Bush Administration is pushing through deregulations during its waning days, “many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment,” according to The Washington Post.

Then there’s the recent Treasury Department’s tax policy change that gives banks a giant windfall “of as much as $140 billion,” according to The Washington Post, in addition to the $700 billion bailout. And let’s not forget the Bush and his buddies embraced torture.

As a friend wrote in an email:

I can't believe that it was so bad, and also that we all did little or nothing to protest it. Me included. All we did was rant and rave to our friends. It is sobering.

Yes, it is sobering how the American populace and the world — aside, ironically, from terrorists — was cowed into submission. In the end, though, it did vote, although not unanimously, or even by a landslide, for a man who promised something different.

And I’m glad that Obama is moving right away to shut down one of the most shameful legacies of the Bush Administration: the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Speaking of bays, as in Nawiliwili, the scene of last year’s Superferry showdown, I received a preview copy of “The Superferry Chronicles, Hawaii’s Uprising Against Militarism, Commercialism and the Desecration of the Earth,” written by Koohan “Camera” Paik and Jerry Mander.

I was especially curious to see how it turned out because I contributed some of the blogging I did on the military link and I'm always nervous about my name being associated with a larger product over which I have no control. But I'm in good company with contributors attorney Dan Hempey, Kyle Kajihiro, Haunani-Kay Trask, Hannah Bernard and even Sen. Gary Hooser, in the form of his floor remarks on Act 2.

While I haven’t had a chance to look at it, the first line on the back cover did catch my eye: “Fifteen hundred protestors line Kauai’s pier.” Hmmm. I’d never heard the figure pegged anywhere that high.

One friend noted: “I think it was closer to 500. The legend grows.”

Another friend said: “I actually counted the individuals, twice. I think I came up in the 300-plus range. That was still the biggest protest in the Island's history. It denigrates the importance of the event to hyperinflate the numbers and creates a target for detractors. And that's unfortunate, because the plain truth is a hell of a good story.”

Meanwhile, Steven Valiere, one of those arrested in the protest, expressed his views upon receiving a e-flyer about the book. Since his story apparently wasn’t told in the book, and it’s an interesting one, I thought I’d share it here:

“i am looking forward to seeing your book and see if it represents the sentiment i have and the feelings my son and i shared sitting in a cold damp jail cell. are there any photos of me. i was the one sitting right in front of that toxic waste dump the first night. was consequently run over by the coast guard which back its twin props into my surfboard, leaving me floating alone deep water Nawiliwili harbor near dark with the return of the ferry eminant. i was picked up by the guard but jumped overboard near shore then joined the nighttime protest in the streets, the next evening on another surfboard i was singaled out and basically attacked by the guard in the water with all the others around. On the six o'clock news it was broadcast. i was pulled aboard put in cuffs and had someone sit on me til we got to the docks where the cops took me in booked, still wet and cold. several hour later my son came in along with robert pa and a couple other friends ,all arrested somewhere on land , a friend bailed me out and i proceeded to scramble around until well after midnight scrounging bail for the other four including my son shane. i went to the cops and tryed to press charges of false arrest against just about everyone i could think of involved but the police never looked into it. of course. it took nearly eight months for me to retrieve my confiscated and damaged surfboards even after all charges against me were dropped!

Anyway, I hope to check out the book soon, and I’ll let you know what I think.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Musings: Getting Away With It

Waialeale was totally blotted out with yellow clouds and mist crawled down Makaleha when Koko and I went walking this morning. Above us, a patch of rainbow appeared in a blue and white sky, and the shiny pavement served as a reminder of the previous night’s rain.

We ran into my neighbor Andy, walking two dogs, and he asked me: “So, do things feel any different?”

I knew he was talking about the world since Obama was elected President, and I answered without hesitation, “Yes, they do.” Several people told me they felt like a psychic burden had been lifted, as if a dark, ominous cloud had suddenly blown away and the sun was out again. Perhaps what they were describing was the return of hope.

I was reading “How they see us” in The Week last night, and it seems that Europe is feeling it, too:

America has been “resurrected,” said Reymer Klüver in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. “The election of Barack Obama was an act of liberation, indeed, of cleansing, for America.”

This is not just a breakthrough on race, said Vittorio Zucconi in Italy’s La Repubblica. It is also the triumph of the intellectual. American voters finally stood up and declared that “they were tired of being treated like a bunch of idiots content to be governed by a drinking buddy who makes them feel less stupid.” The next inhabitant of the Oval Office will be someone who is not “just like me” but, when it comes to the ability to lead and govern, is “better than me.”

It’s a good thing Obama is so exceptional, said Spain’s El Pais in an editorial. All over the globe, “Bush has left an enormous legacy of bitterness, and unenviable challenges await” the next president.

Fortunately, Obama is moving quickly to meet those challenges, and a group of advisers already has compiled a list of about 200 of Bush’s more odious and onerous administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone, according to The Washington Post.

I know I’m not the only one wondering if Obama and Congress will finally investigate some of the illegal actions of the Bush Administration, especially violations of the Geneva Convention. As several people have told me, that’s not being partisan, that’s pursuing justice. The thought of Bush and his cronies being able to get away with their dirty deeds leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many.

Speaking of getting away with it, I wonder if Bush will pardon Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted of corruption, but re-elected, anyway. A pardon would allow him to avoid expulsion from the Senate.

And while we’re on the subject of getting away with it, I’m still wondering just how it is that field archaeologists were able to make a unilateral decision to cap the Naue burials. In a comment on Thursday’s post, the project’s lead archeologist, Mike Dega, defended the action, saying:

They made the correct call, methodologically, in terms of protecting the burials within their natural context without being fully encased, enclosed, incarcerated, etc.

The only "screw up" was in not immediately informing the SHPD [State Historic Preservtion Division] that we had put in one side, and not four sides, as outlined in the BTP. We made the field call to further protect the burials. The field crew did an exceptional job in protecting those remains within their natural context.

That may be. But what is the point of having the Burial Council and the state archaeologist approve a Burial Treatment Plan (BTP) if archeologists can make their own call out in the field?

They’re obviously not supposed to do that, because they got scolded. So that leaves me still wondering why they didn’t immediately inform the SHPD of their action, or ask first. These guys are all professionals, and they had to be aware of the controversy surrounding this particular project.

Did they not check with Nancy McMahon because to do so would have delayed the foundation and prevented Joe Brescia from starting work on his house before a court hearing on an injunction to stop him?

It seems that grave desecration isn't an issue only in Hawaii. Disappeared News' Larry Geller sent me a link to this story, which reports on the outcry over a decision by Israel's Supreme Court to allow the destruction of part of an ancient Muslim cemetery in West Jerusalem.

But they aren't going to disturb the bones merely for a fancy beach front vacation rental. No, it seems they have something much more meaningful planned: a new Jewish "Museum of Tolerance."

Do you 'spose they'll get away with it?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Musings: Parade Day

Gray, cool, misty, Saturday — it all added up to perfect conditions for lounging around in bed, which I did for a while, but fortunately Koko got me up and out so I could complete a propone run, which was required in order to enjoy cup of tea, just before they closed off the road for the Veterans’ Day parade.

Flags lined the highway, while marching units and troops in dress uniforms assembled at All Saints Church. On the side streets, classic cars, hot rods and old military vehicles waited to pull out onto the road.

It was a poignant scene, both because it was small-scale and folksy, Kauai-style, and yet so earnest and sincere in its patriotism, which is a sentiment I’ve never felt, but can respect in others, like the old veteran who had made his way to the Triangle Park in a motorized chair and staked out a solitary front row seat on the bench there.

I’m always struck by how the universe works; just as I was writing this, I got a call from the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation asking for a donation to buy care packages for veterans in hospitals. You know, basic stuff like razor blades, magazines and socks, which one would think the government, with its gazillion-dollar “defense” budget, could provide.

I said yes, because while I’m not patriotic, I do feel for all the guys who were part of that particular boondoggle and now are struggling, like so many of the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, with PTSD, physical disabilities, substance abuse, homelessness and alienation. Our government is always eager to send them off to do its imperialistic bidding, but all too often ignores them or screws them once they get home.

I’ve done a number of stories on guys fighting for disability payments, their lives a fricking mess not so much because of the war experience, but the post-war trauma and degrdation of dealing with the VA. Unfortunately, their stories are so common that most publications aren’t interested unless they’re especially compelling. But let me tell you, they all are.

The first one I ever wrote was probably 25 years ago, about a veteran who participated in the atomic bomb tests that were conducted in the 1950s in the Nevada desert. He was among the troops sent in to see what kind of damage the bomb had inflicted on the target, after watching the explosion on the sidelines. He said he'd used his hands to cover his eyes from a flash so bright he could see every bone in his fingers.

“And then I went home and threw my uniform in the wash with the baby’s diapers,” said the vet, who 30 years later, in his 50s, was suffering from numerous cancers and fighting the VA over his medical bills. They wanted to blame his radiation exposure on his job at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, and he’d come to me, hoping I could write a story to alert other vets to the situation.

I’ve thought of him every now and then over the years, along with the other veterans I’ve written about, including one here on Kauai who suffered chronic pain and was living the most marginal existence on partial disability payments, condemned to poverty by a government he'd served. I can’t remember any of their names, but I can recall their faces, their suffering and struggles.

So when I passed by the pre-parade decorations and festivities today, I had mixed feelings and wondered, can we honor our soldiers, our veterans, without glorifying nationalism, imperialism, war?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Musings: Living in Limbo

It was a beautiful day, and I spent the first half it at the Burial Council meeting and the second half at Midas, where the guys are really nice, btw. But there was still time when I got home to hit the mountain trail, which Koko thought was a splendid idea.

As she circled through the pastures, rounding up cattle that didn’t need to be herded, I stuck to the fern-lined path, where a pueo flew overhead and circled back, making its distinctive little click-click-click call. Later, a barn owl screamed as it zeroed in on its prey in the gathering dusk, and the Moon, Jupiter and Venus gave a repeat performance of last night’s rosy sky line-up.

Today’s Burial Council was not, fortunately, a repeat performance of last month’s tense, dramatic and highly-charged meeting. Perhaps it had something to do with the setting at Queen Liliuokalani’s Children Center, where the doors were open to the sunshine and a maile and mokihana lei-bedecked portrait of the Queen graced the room, as did signs with Hawaiian value words like makaala (pay attention), aloha, ahonui (patience) and lokahi (harmony).

While the tone of today’s meeting was entirely different, it again ended in a sort of limbo about what should be done with the iwi on the Naue land where Joe Brescia wants to build a house. But whereas the Council simply continued the matter at last month’s meeting, today it took action, rejecting the burial treatment plan (BTP) presented by the state.

That plan would have approved what is already a done deed: capping seven burials that lie under the house in cement. And a very interesting bit of information surfaced today about that capping process: it seems it was done without the approval of either Kauai state archaeologist Nancy McMahon or Mike Dega, the lead contract archaeologist on the project.

Nancy, who as you may recall was found by the court to have failed to consult with the Council and others before approving the first BTP, divulged that nugget during an emotional outpouring that came across as part confession and part self-defense — AKA CYA.

“I wanted you guys to be a part of it,” she told the Council. “I did not approve the capping. I reprimanded the archaeologist for what they did.”

Now that raised a few eyebrows, as did her comment that the late LaFrance Kapaka, who for many years was a strong force on the Burial Council, “was my best friend.”

So I asked Mike Dega what happened. Seems that while he was at a convention in Ireland last June, he had a phone conversation with some of his company’s “guys in the field” and they told him they’d capped the burials. He asked if that was OK with Nancy and they said they hadn’t asked.

“We screwed up on that one,” he said, noting that yes, Nancy had scolded him soundly, and he’d scolded the guys who did it.

But the fact remains that the burials were capped without permission, and ain’t no amount of scolding going to rectify that — although Mike said the caps could be removed in a matter of hours without damaging the iwi.

Now this is important for two reasons, one cultural and the other legal. On the cultural side, Council Chairman John Kruse likened the caps, which are four inches thick and six feet in diameter, and rest about three feet above the iwi, to “sewer covers.” Elaine Dunbar, in her testimony, called it “post-mortem incarceration.”

On the legal side, capping the burials allowed work on the concrete foundation pilings to proceed shortly before Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe was to hear a motion for a restraining order to stop construction. And with the pilings in place, the judge three times refused to grant the order — precisely because significant work had already been done on the house.

So whom do you suppose told the “guys in the field,” who are working for Brescia, to cap those burials? All signs seem to point to Brescia, or one of his representatives. It’s kinda hard to believe they got a wild hair up their ass and decided on their own, hey, let’s cap the iwi.

And so what about accountability? Remember back in June, when Police Chief Perry halted construction on the project, saying it could violate a law prohibiting desecration of burial sites?

“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.

Well, no decision was made at a higher level. So wasn’t the law violated?

That’s not the only squirrely thing. As John Kruse noted, the building permit for the house was issued before the planning commission had granted its approval and set conditions for the project. This revelation prompted Walton Hong, Brescia’s attorney, to explain that the permit was actually one that had been granted before Brescia had to redesign his house to move it back from the shoreline, and that Public Works had simply amended the original permit “and didn’t want to hang on to it.”

Hong said he’d sent a letter to the Planning Department saying “Public Works is forcing us to take the permit, so we’re taking it, but we won’t do any work whatsoever until the conditions have been met.”

Caren Diamond testified that the county was supposed to revoke the original building permit and issue a whole new one, but it never did. Instead, it amended it twice to reflect first the setback change and then a new contractor for the project.

Meanwhile, Caren said, the county gave Brescia’s contractor verbal approval to proceed with the foundation with no inspectors on site, and no foundation reports have ever been filed, as is required by law.

Perhaps now you can understand why some folks question Brescia’s claim that he’s been a victim in this whole thing.

When I asked Mike if that type of unauthorized capping had ever occurred on any of his other projects, and he has many around the state, he replied: “never.” When I asked what, then, was up with this project, he said, “I don’t know. It’s hexed.”

Question is, it hexed by unhappy spirits, or Brescia’s own impatience and greed?

Anyway, although the speakers strongly encouraged the Burial Council to send a letter to the planning commission, asking it to revoke Brescia’s permit, it didn’t go that far. Instead, it rejected the BTP. But even that is just a recommendation to the state Historic Preservation office, which has final say.

In other words, Nancy could go ahead and approve the BTP. When I asked the Deputy AG what, then, was the point of the judge’s ruling, which required Nancy to bring the plan back for the Council’s approval, he said the judge was merely concerned because some of the proper consulting hadn’t been done. And he didn’t think anyone needed to worry about Nancy proceeding unilaterally with the BTP, like she’d done before, because typically the state and the Councils “work hand in hand on these things.” And besides, if she did that, people could always take her back to court.

Following the Council's decision, Nancy said she needed to comply with the court order and do some consulting about the BTP with Hawaiian groups, anyway. That was interesting, seeing as how she hadn't felt compelled to do that consulting prior to trying to push the BTP through at the last two meetings.

So there you have it, or at least, the latest installment in this ongoing, crazy-making serial.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Musings: New Day Dawning

The stars were shining, the air was crisp, the mountains were clear and my mind, focused on the Presidential election results, was singing “Ding dong the witch is dead, the wicked witch, the witch is dead,” when the neighbor’s pit bull took advantage of an open gate and charged Koko this morning.

Now when you have a small dog, you get used to it being mugged by large dogs — a kumu hula once told me he turned into a tiger to rescue his Pomeranian from two hunting dogs — so even though my mind had stopped singing and instead was imagining the worst case scenario of Koko’s pin head in the pit’s large jaws — it was too dark to see exactly what was going down — I quickly became, in best “Dog Whisperer” fashion, leader of the pack.

In a loud firm voice, I said, "no!" and then, "easy," and the pit bull chilled and let me pet him. I think he was more curious than vicious, having seen Koko walk past his house hundreds of times.

My neighbor was concerned and sincerely apologetic, which I appreciated, and told him so. Tragedy averted, we continued on down the street, where I ran into farmer Jerry. Although he felt lousy, his cornfield was calling, so he was headed into work to check on his crop.

We both agreed that it was wonderful to have the elections behind us. I could almost feel the nation breathe a palpable sigh of relief. Or maybe it’s just me. For the first time in eight years, I didn’t wake up depressed after Election Day. Jerry wasn’t as enthusiastic as I about Obama’s win, saying: “I just hope he doesn’t tax me to death.”

“Well, if he does,” I said, “it’ll be to pay off all the debt that’s been racked up, like the $700 billion bailout and the $10 billion A MONTH we’re spending in Iraq.”

“Yup, we’ve got to pay that off,” agreed Jerry, predicting that Obama will leave office aged, with white hair. I think he meant because he has such an impossible task before him, and not that he’ll be in there for two terms, which would make him 54, and thus entitled to some white hairs, by the time he gets out.

I told him I’d heard about Obama’s win via an email from my young niece, born and raised in New Zealand, who’d been keeping an eye on the CNN website all day. She sent her congratulations, saying she and her friends thought this would help get America back on track.

Yes, the rest of the world has been freed, like us, from the grasp of greedy, petty tyrants leading us down the slippery slope to fascism. I know Obama’s not perfect, but I'm pretty sure he won’t be torturing people in secret prisons, refusing to meet with leaders of nations deemed the “Axis of Evil” and staffing the Justice Department with neo-Nazis, I mean, neo-cons.

As a friend noted, “Obama is so much more inclusive,” and Jerry and I agreed that perhaps his early years in Hawaii had something to do with that.

On the way back home, I ran into my neighbor Andy, and said, “At least today we’ve got reason to smile,” to which he replied: “Well, half a smile, anyway,” since he’s a JoAnn Yukimura supporter.

I voted for JoAnn, too, but don’t feel we’re headed to hell in a hand basket just because Bernard Carvalho was elected mayor. Well, not any more than we were under Bryan Baptiste, because Bernard will likely just be a continuation of that regime. Still, he could score some giant points by immediately firing planning director Ian Costa.

Andy wasn’t thrilled that Darryl Kaneshiro and Dickie Chang made it on the Council, saying the former was a proven disaster and he had absolutely no hope for the latter, but at least we have three new faces on that panel, and one of them is Lani Kawahara, who seems promising. I would have liked to see Kipukai Kualii in the mix, but hopefully he’ll run again.

Derek Kawakami did amazingly well, coming in second, so it looks like he’s started on a political track that could very well include mayor or the state Legislature.

And Kauai voters did manage to see through the badly worded, to be charitable, and downright deceptive, to be accurate, charter amendments and make the right choices. That is, aside from the sunshine law measure, where they were tricked into thinking that the Council would actually have to be more open, when the current charter is already stricter than the state law.

Oh well. At least the voters spoke loud and clear in saying they’re tired of folks with conflicts of interest and special interest and vested interest running the government and pretending like they’re serving the public interest.

Their overwhelming approval of the last and lengthy measure also shows that people want to put the brakes on growth, at least the kind that caters to tourists. I mean, what’s the point of having a General Plan if it’s not followed? I think anti-growth sentiment also played a role in Ron Kouchi losing his long-held seat on the Council.

I was very pleased to see that Big Island voters passed the so-called “Peaceful Skies” initiative, which makes marijuana the lowest priority for law enforcement and prevents the county from accepting federal funds for marijuana eradication. In other words, no more “Green Harvest,” with those damn helicopters flying everywhere. I’d love to see Kauai adopt a similar ordinance, and am willing to put some energy into it if others would like to help me.

Obama already has pledged that the feds won’t interfere any more with the states that have adopted medical marijuana laws, so that’s a step in the right direction.

“I feel hopeful, even though I know Obama’s not a miracle worker,” I told Andy.

“You know, maybe he will be a miracle worker,” Andy said, noting that the country was in such a malaise after Jimmy Carter that Ronald Reagan was able to come in and make some dramatic changes. Unfortunately, they weren’t the right ones, but Obama, who is also very charismatic, has a Democratic majority in Congress to support him and a public hungry for change.

And with the birds singing and the rising sun casting a golden-pink glow on Waialeale, it did feel like morning again in America.

Until a friend stopped by and said, "Yeah, yeah, just wait a few months and it'll be right back to business as usual......"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Musings: Duping the Electorate

As Koko and I walked this morning on dark streets stained with garbage truck ooze, it dimly penetrated my consciousness, like the slivers of pink beneath steely gray clouds in the east, that folks had already been voting for hours in America.

Turns out they’ve been standing in some very long lines to do it, too, which I found rather touching. Even with all the bogus stuff that has happened in the past two elections, even with all the ongoing irregularities that cast doubts on the integrity of the electoral process itself, people are still willing to take time out of their lives to participate in their government.

The faith that this demonstrates makes the dirty tricks that have been played —exclusively by Republicans, so far as I can tell — seem even more craven. I’m talking about telling people that Republicans vote on Tuesday and Democrats on Wednesday, warning college students that they’ll be checked for outstanding parking tickets and book fines when they show up to vote, equipping black precincts with an insufficient number of voting booths so the waits are prolonged.

And then there’s ye olde vote flipping, as discussed by Mark Crispin Miller, author and professor of media culture and communication at New York University, on Democracy Now! yesterday. Crispin spoke about new legal developments in the Bush-Cheney election subversion conspiracy that played out in Ohio in 2004 before going on to say:

But what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is basically a replay, on steroids, if you will, of what we saw in 2004—vote flipping by machines in West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, that we know of. And let me make something clear, Amy. All the flips go in one direction. It’s all from Obama either to McCain or to Cynthia McKinney, as it happens.

We did hear of three people who claimed that their votes were flipped from McCain to Obama in Tennessee. But they’re all related to a Republican official. Their numbers are unlisted. And they told the local newspaper and not the election commission, so I have my doubts about those three cases.

But there have also been, as usual, very long lines in Democratic precincts only. We’re talking about a calculated kind of shortage that magically does not afflict Republican precincts, only Democratic ones.

So here we are, a supposed beacon of democracy, a country that invades, occupies and kills to impose our form of governance on other sovereign nations, and we can’t even assure our own citizens of a fair, clean, legitimate election.

As a friend more cynical even than I noted: “Well, it was the CIA that taught all these other countries how to have fraudulent elections.”

It’s even gotten to the point where people are forming voter assemblies that will convene and press for proper investigations if there’s an election upset — in other words, if against all odds, McCain somehow wins.

Personally, I don’t have much faith in the American system of government, or the usefulness of political action in effecting meaningful change. I don’t really believe in the power of an individual vote, at least not in national elections, even though I will dutifully cast my ballot today. So I’m not expecting too much out of this so-called historic election, although it would be great to see a black man in our nation’s highest office, and we can’t get Bush-Cheney out of power a minute too soon.

But what really bothers me about this election is seeing all the millions of people out there who do believe in the system, who are trying to be good citizens, who are doing their part. Meanwhile, other folks on the inside are actively working to dupe, trick, work and cheat them.

And that stimulates my desire to champion the underdog, deeply offends my sense of fair play.

Is it only in the pretend world of superheroes that truth and justice can accurately be equated with the American way?