Friday, January 30, 2009

Musings: Cops and Choices

A smattering of stars, some in recognizable constellations, filled the middle of the sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. The clouds that hung all around the edges slowly moved in to cover the sparkling center, causing the world to darken, rather than lighten, as sunrise approached.

The darkness seems to heighten my other senses: the scent of citrus drew my gaze upwards to a tree loaded with oranges; an intensity of chirping pinpointed the hangout of crickets; my skin registered the stickiness of a spider web and the softness of a moth’s wings.

It’s the hardest time of the year for morning walks, but each day the sun is rising a bit earlier, and setting a bit later, and slowly, the night is shrinking.

So, too, it seems are all the economies around the world. A Google search of “economy shrinking” pulled up stories with datelines from South Korea, Singapore, Spain, German, Hong Kong and, of course, the U.S., which contracted at a 3.8 percent pace in the last quarter of 2008. According to the Associated Press:

Although the initial result was better than economists expected, the figure is likely to be revised even lower in the months ahead and some believe the economy is contracting in the current quarter at an even faster pace.

The report brought to mind discussions held recently with various thoughtful people of my acquaintance, talks that left all of us wondering just how the economy can pulled out of a tailspin without resorting to the old models of consume and overspend that are trashing the environment and caused this financial mess in the first place.

Of course, that is exactly the approach planned by Washington, where the House already passed an $819 billion “stimulus bill” without a single vote of support from Republicans.

As the Canwest News Service reported:

"We don't think (the stimulus legislation) will work and, frankly, are disappointed in the product that we see -- a lot of wasteful spending that won't create jobs and won't help preserve jobs in America," said Representative John Boehner, the Republican House leader. "We think there's a better way."

Yes, there must be, but who is articulating it? Congress already approved a $700 billion bailout, which was supposed to fend off a pending collapse. But aside from feathering nests on Wall Street, where unrepentant financial executives received $18.4 billion in bonuses last year, it doesn’t seem to have made any difference on Main Street.

Will this new stimulus plan, also financed with borrowed money and heavily laden with pork, really be any different?

Yesterday, Katy Rose hosted a KKCR radio show with Patrick Reinsborough of the SmartMeme project. He noted that we can either “put people back to work building cheap crap or installing solar panels on roofs.”

That’s the choice before us now. There is still wealth in the world. People still have money to invest. Where will it be directed? Can we finally move beyond capitalism and communism, neither of which has worked, and implement some creative new models that blend in parts of each? Or will we just resort to the old ways out of panic and fear?

In the meantime, we can do things to boost the local economy, most notably, spend our money here. Just 12 cents of every dollar spent in a big box store stays on the island, compared to 46 cents of each dollar spent at a locally-owned business. So while you’re looking to save money, think about whether you’re doing it at the expense of your friends and neighbors.

Speaking of friends and neighbors, The Garden Island has a story today that reports a KPD sergeant was fired for sexual assault, and three others —two cops and a civilian employee — were suspended:

A lieutenant was suspended for 20 days for unauthorized off-duty employment, falsification of records, failure to adhere to departmental policies and being untruthful during the investigation. An officer earned a five-day suspension for conduct that is “contrary to departmental standards and not practiced under the color of police authority.”

A civilian was suspended for 30 days for failure to “provide assistance to an ailing citizen in a timely manner that placed the person’s well-being at risk.”

But here’s the rub: we, the public, won’t be told just who those bad cops are “due to terms of KPD’s agreement with the State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers and other rules.” It wasn’t even clear from the story whether the sergeant is facing criminal charges.

Meanwhile, even people picked up for petty offenses have their names printed in the paper’s police blotter. Why should the cops be any different, especially those who are in positions of leadership and doing seriously bad things, like falsifying records, lying during investigations and committing sexual assaults? Don’t we, the people, have a right to know?

It’s great that Chief Perry and the Administrative Review Board are processing a slew of misconduct allegations, many of them reportedly holdovers from 2006 and 2007. And it’s great that the Chief is reporting on the outcome. But so long as no one is named, and the details are omitted, it may be difficult to attain what the Chief says he wants for KPD, and that's “to gain the trust and confidence of our community.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Musings: We Can Handle the Truth

A light rain, dripping from the eaves, greeted Koko and me this morning, causing us to linger in the realm of drowse, delaying our walk, which is why we were out in the height of the mad-dash-to-work traffic and thus forced to stay in the wet grass alongside the road to avoid being flattened.

Would it be too much to expect that before folks get a driver’s license, they have to walk along a narrow road so as to know how it feels to have a truck with big tires fly within inches of their body?

Still, I took comfort in the gold-streaked pillars that rose above the Sleeping Giant, and found peace in the misty pink crown worn by Makaleha, the moss-green slopes of Waialeale dappled with cloud shadows.

And could anything be sweeter than last night’s sliver moon hanging cuplike beneath brilliant Venus?

Not so sweet is the muck that keeps oozing out of the legacy of the Bush Administration. Though it was forgotten, briefly, in the sheer relief of Bush's departure and giddy elation of having a capable, competent, caring man assume the Presidency, the slime just keeps slithering out from under the rugs and the doors of closed closets.

Now it’s front and center, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers again issuing a subpoena to former White House adviser Karl Rove. Conyers wants Rove, whose previous “absolute immunity” subpoena-skirting position was supported by Bush, to testify next week about the Bush administration’s firing of nine US attorneys and the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

And then there’s the issue of releasing the secret Justice Department memos on Bush-era policies regarding detention, interrogation, surveillance and prosecution in the so-called "War on Terror."

In a report yesterday on Democracy Now! Siegelman made a strong case for why it’s important to start digging into the wrongdoings of the past eight years, even though many would prefer to ignore them in the interest of healing partisan wounds and focusing on other issues:

But what—this is more important than my case. As you well know, this effort of bringing Karl Rove before the Judiciary Committee is just a start to get at the truth, the truth of not only about who hijacked the Department of Justice and used it as a political tool to win elections, but it’s also a start to find out why we got into the war in Iraq. Was it for oil, or was it for weapons of mass destruction? Who authorized torture? Who authorized the wiretaps? Who was involved in stealing elections? But this is far more important than my case or Karl Rove. This is about restoring justice and preserving our democracy. And, you know, Dennis Kucinich is talking about a truth and reconciliation commission, but we need an accountability and a responsibility commission, as well. We need to make sure that those people who were involved in these nefarious activities are held accountable and are punished, so that these things are less likely to happen again in the future.”

Many people I’ve talked to would like to see these things brought into light. It rankles them to think Bush and his crew may literally get away with murder, theft and other serious crimes. So yeah, we want justice and we can handle the truth.

If Obama is to right the ship, so to speak, it seems he needs to throw off some of that moldy old baggage that threatens to rot away the hull, clear out the crap in cargo that’s causing the nation to list badly.

It goes deep to the issues of accountability and personal responsibility — virtues that we common folks are now being admonished to adopt.

As Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders observed:

I think Bush will go down in history as certainly the worst president in modern American history, if not in the entire history of our country. The damage that he did to the United States and to the world, in so many areas, will take us decades to recover from.

Of course, he didn’t do this damage alone. So let’s get Rove on the stand and start holding those where the buck stopped accountable and responsible for their despicable actions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Paying Homage to Bush

I'm jammed with work this morning, which is so gorgeous it feels like sacrilege not to be out in it. So instead of writing an original post, I thought I'd share something that I found amusing:

The George W. Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages and accepting donations.

The Library will include:

The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.
The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.
The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.
The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.
The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.
The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling
The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.
The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, they make you to go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth visit.)
The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.
The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.
The Supreme Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.
The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.
Note: The library will feature an electron microscope to help you locate and view the President's accomplishments.

The library will be richly decorated with inscriptions of quotations from Mr. Bush's public appearances:

"The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.'"
"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
"Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child."
"'No senior citizen should ever have to choose between prescription drugs and medicine."
"I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy -- but that could change."
"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared."
"Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things."
"I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future."
"The future will be better tomorrow."
"'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world."
"One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures" (during an education photo-op).
"'Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it."
"'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur."
"'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
"'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made."'...George W. Bush to Sam Donaldson.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Musings: Shovel-Ready

It seems the new political buzzword these days is shovel ready, although it’s generally used to mean development projects that are ready to go, as opposed to the tool to have on hand to clean up the rhetorical kukae.

The phrase has been uttered a few times by Gov. Lingle in promoting her $1.86 billion economic stimulus package, aimed at fast-tracking some 1,521 projects, ostensibly to put some wind into Hawaii’s sails and create jobs.

But more than one person has asked me lately: Jobs for whom? Are local companies really going to get all this work? Or will the pace of construction — as seems to be the case in every Hawaii building boom — be so brisk as to overwhelm local firms, thus opening the door to mainland companies, which bring their own workers with them, adding to the competition for affordable housing and other services?

It’s a good question, sort of like just how does the guv plan to achieve the goal, stated yesterday in her State of the State address,of improving food self-sufficiency in the Islands?

Like the rest of her speech, it was pretty skimpy on specifics, aside from saying she wants to direct state agencies to buy local food, and will give them a 15 percent price preference in the bidding process. It’s great to see Lingle jump on an idea that was originally floated by our own Sen. Hooser.

But as farmer Jerry observed, it’s going to take a lot more than that to save agriculture. In an interview with The Advertiser, Dean Okimoto, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, concurred, echoing a comment that Jerry has made many times:

"It's like we're creating demand for something we cannot fulfill," said Okimoto. "The problem is we need to get more farmers out there. It's a production problem. Getting labor, land and water is making it hard. It's tough to do with no money. Not being able to afford the land, the water and the labor, that's holding back expansion."

Jerry, who is often called upon to advise the politicos, says that Lingle understands the inherent conflict between preserving agriculture and promoting development; most likely, other lawmakers do, too. But at some point, recognition of the problem needs to merge with political will to finally address the issue while we still have some land and options and time.

So perhaps what we need even more than new bridges and wider roads are some shovel-ready farming projects, some ag parks on state land with water and infrastructure and the right to build a little house so you can actually live where you farm.

And perhaps some of these ag projects could be tied into another goal: energy self-sufficiency. Jerry said he got discouraged listening to a radio discussion with Apollo Kauai’s Ben Sullivan on KKCR yesterday because it lacked historical perspective.

“Kauai was 60 percent energy independent in 1980, mostly because of the [sugar] mills,” he said. “The Lihue mill alone provided 30 percent of Kauai’s power. They could be growing guinea grass on Grove Farm land right now and burning it like bagasse. It can be mechanically harvested, and it doesn’t even need to be cultivated. But they sold all the guts to that mill. It all went to the Philippines. Their gain was our loss. So maybe we should think twice about letting Gay and Robinson disappear, about closing that mill. The energy contribution of agriculture in the past was tremendous. Sometimes you need to drive with a rear-view mirror.”

Of course, 1980 wasn’t that long ago. But in shows how in just three decades, we’ve gotten so used to the notion of shoveling in the dough by building luxury homes and resorts and shopping malls, so dazed by the lure of shoveling in easy money through the stock market and real estate speculation, that we’ve forgotten that shovels can also be used for something truly useful, like growing our own food.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Musings: Clarifying Obfuscations

My feet, bare in slippers, were cold within minutes of leaving the house, confirming that it was going to be a shorter walk than Koko would have preferred and I had planned, which is why I was wearing slippers and not shoes in the first place.

The ground was saturated from a night’s worth of rain and drops still hung from each gnarled leaf of the banyan tree. The sky was filled with quilted, streaky clouds, the kind that would have created one heckuva showy sunrise, except they were a bit too thick, so they smothered the sun instead. In the distance, Waialeale was not obscured, but not clear, appearing as a blue hulking mass behind a filmy haze.

It’s not unlike the Superferry, which is big as day, but still shrouded in obfuscations, including just how much, really, is it costing the state?

Yes, The Advertiser had a story yesterday that reported the costs at $5 million — in addition to the $40 million already spent — and a sidebar that indicated the security tab alone has topped $600,000.

Still, that’s not the whole of it. As Larry Geller notes at Disappeared News, there’s also the State's interest payments of about $2 million a year on the $40 million in state issued general obligation reimbursable bonds and the cost of conducting at least 12 legislatively mandated DOT funded meetings to receive input that an environmental review would have evaluated. He also lists seven more still uncalcuated — but legitimate and sizeable — expenses.

And even that’s not all. Larry also notes that the Gov still hasn’t produced the quarterly reports, which are mandated under Act 2 and intended to reveal “the costs incurred by the State in establishing and maintaining the enforcement activities required under this section.” So when is the Lege going to apply a little pressure to get those reports?

The amount spent on security is especially disheartening because it reflects such complete and total overkill on the part of the Gov and her “Unified Command” in responding to an unhappy citizenry. Capt. Barry Compagnoni, the Coast Guard Captain of the Port, Honolulu, and operational commander for Coast Guard assets on O'ahu, Maui and Kaua'I, tried to make it all seem like a worthwhile training exercise, rather than a massive show of force.

Still, his quote showed that he and the other “Unifiers” still don’t get — or want to ignore — what the protests were all about:

"This cooperation ensures that all sides of an issue have been considered and we, as government agencies, act in consideration of the public's best interests," he said in an e-mail to The Advertiser.

But wait, Captain. The protests at Nawiliwili were sparked primarily by outrage over the fact that the Hawaii Supreme Court had said “no,” yet Superferry sailed, anyway. Please, don’t be telling us that a clampdown is in our best interest when we’re legitimately protesting a flagrant flouting of the law.

While we’re on the Superferry, a few Kauai folks have written an op-ed in today’s Garden Island that seeks to clarify persistent misconceptions about the big boat, and Honolulu Weekly has a thorough and flattering review of “The Superferry Chronicles” book.

I’ve also got a short piece in the Weekly this week on a bill that Sen. Hooser is introducing that will make it easier for folks to get food stamps, simply by easing up on state regulations, which are stricter than those required by the feds. It seems little Kauai is leading the state in viewing food stamps not as a hand out, but economic development.

Changing the topic entirely, if you thought the election of a skinny black man in America was cause for hope, Bolivians yesterday approved a new Constitution that “promises more power for the poor indigenous majority,” according an article in the SG Gate. It went on to report:

But the charter's low support in Bolivia's lowland east — which controls much of the nation's wealth and fiercely opposes Morales' plans to empower long-suffering highland Indians — leaves the racially torn country as divided as ever.

Its passage nevertheless marked a historic transition in a nation where the oldest voters can still recall when Indians were forbidden to vote.

"Brothers and sisters, the colonial state ends here," President Evo Morales, 49, told a huge crowd in front of the presidential palace after the results of Sunday's referendum were announced. "Here we begin to reach true equality for all Bolivians."

It should be fascinating to watch things get sorted out in Boliva, as they deal with vested rights of large landowners and opposition by the nation’s mestizo and European-descended minority. Perhaps we can learn a few things that could be used here to similarly correct an imbalance of power that repeatedly leaves Hawaii’s indigenous people holding the short end of the stick.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Musings: No Look, No See

The feds have apparently closed their investigation into a passenger report that Hawaii Superferry hit a whale Wednesday morning. As the Star-Bulletin reported:

Wendy Goo, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said a federal marine law enforcement officer happened to be shipping his car on the Superferry and was on the vessel.

She said the officer conducted an investigation and interviewed passengers and the captain.

"He concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to conclusively say there was a ship strike," Goo said. "We're not pursuing it further at this time."

This conclusion doesn’t sit well with everyone. A friend, who is also a marine scientist, sent me this email:

What bothers me most about the news reporting concerning the whale miss is that HSF really has no idea how many they have hit or "glanced off of" without knowing it. They have not put cameras on the bow and stern looking at water level or under water, they have not done inspections after every cruise to check for body parts (whale, monk seal, turtle), they have not put a meter on board that would record any de-acceleration caused by hitting something. If they don't see it with those eyes looking out forward, especially at night, then it didn't happen. They really cannot say, ethically, that they did not hit a whale, seal, turtle; just that they have no evidence of hitting one. And if you don't look closely and check for collisions you will never have any evidence. But you can't tell me they didn't hit anything. I don't believe that.

The Save Kahului Harbor blog, in a post yesterday, also expressed reservations:

The person who was onboard HSF and reported the whale strike to NMFS yesterday has lived his whole life on Maui, knows the ocean and feels that his observation of a whale strike is being dismissed and covered up.

 He reportedly said:
“I know a collision. That was a strike. That was no wave. The entire boat shook underneath where I was sitting. They hit a whale. This was no calm maneuver. The boat slammed into a whale and came to stop. This is a cover up. They are covering this up. Other passengers around me felt the same impact. Other people in other parts of the boat did not."

Apparently divers were ready to survey the hull yesterday but were told to stand down due to lack of ‘credible evidence’.

Why not send divers on a hull survey, just to be sure and lay the matter fully to rest? If you look at the coverage carefully, the feds never do say conclusively that there was no strike. It also appears that the investigation was limited to interviews conducted by an agent who was himself patronizing HSF during the voyage in question. There’s no indication the boat was inspected.

As The Garden Island, which had the most thorough coverage of the incident, reported:

Goo said in a phone interview NOAA was initially “scrambling” to find an enforcement officer to meet the ship and conduct interviews when it arrived in Maui, but an O‘ahu-based officer was coincidentally on board the ship, not serving in any official capacity but taking a vehicle to Maui.

The officer was able to conduct an investigation, talking to the ship’s captain, crew and passengers and eventually determining that there was “no compelling evidence that there was a strike,” Goo said, adding NOAA was “standing down on it because we don’t have any conclusive evidence.”

Bill Robinson, regional administrator for the Pacific Islands regional office of NOAA Fisheries said yesterday in a phone interview that there was no confirmation of a whale strike.

“That doesn’t close the issue entirely. If new information comes to light, then we would continue to look at it. At this point, there just isn’t any real evidence that there was an actual strike,” he said.

When I first got word of the strike report and contacted the NOAA enforcement guys, I was surprised that their plan was to wait until the ferry docked at Kahului to check out the report. If the boat usually arrives about 10 a.m., and the report was made about 7:30 a.m., that means 2.5 hours elapsed — ample time for an injured or dead whale to leave the area or go out to sea.

Surely, if they can mobilize the entire state’s Coast Guard contingent to prevent people from protesting HSF, they could send one CG boat or plane out to take a look. It seems it would be pretty easy to spot blood in the water.

“But that’s assuming they really want to know if a whale was hit,” said an Oahu friend who is also involved in marine conservation issues.

What possible reason could there be for not exploring the matter further, aside from adverse publicity? Well, as the Garden Island also reports:

He [Robinson] said Hawai‘i Superferry has asked for an incidental take statement, a permit that allows holders to “take, harass and harm a marine mammal and be protected under the Endangered Species Act from prosecution.”

NOAA is currently in consultation with Hawai‘i Superferry, so any incidental take — whale strike — to occur before the permit is issued could result in substantial penalties.

A strike could also indicate that the avoidance measures recommended by NOAA in the interim are inadequate, or not being fully followed by HSF. As KGMB TV reported (and the emphasis is mine):

"The Superferry is making a very conscious effort to implement many of the measures we recommended, and they're aware of the public controversy that would be caused if they did hit a whale," said Bill Robinson, NOAA regional administrator.

Why isn't it implementing all of them, especially if it's trying to get an incidental take permit?

Unless a whale washes ashore, we’ll likely never know if HSF did actually hit a humpback. And as my friend’s email noted, that’s precisely the point. We’ll never have a true picture of the marine carnage that the speeding HSF inflicts because no mechanisms are in place to find out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Musings: The Real Revolution

The world was devoid of color, except grey, and green, of course, when Koko and I went walking in that dull stretch between night and dawn. But just about the time we crested the hill and ran into my neighbor Andy, who recently had knee surgery, everything turned soft pink in anticipation of the sunrise.

And then orange streaks flashed out above the crimped slopes of the fluff-topped mountains and something I’d never seen before appeared in the sky that had the color and shape of a rainbow, but the texture of clouds. It never ceases to amaze me that if you just look and pay attention, you’ll always see something different, even in familiar scenes.

It didn’t take Andy and me long to dispense with pleasantries — “How is your knee?” “Better.” — and get down to talking politics.

‘You’re always going to be disappointed,” Andy said, “because you’re never going to get the world you want. Maybe you need to lower your expectations.”

I’ll admit I’m an idealist; I really do believe it’s possible for people to live cooperatively, without violence, and in harmony with nature, although I don’t have any expectations of seeing that happen in my lifetime.

Still, isn’t there’s something to be said for setting the bar high?

Yes, Andy said, but while we still have a long way to go, let’s not forget that things have been improving.

While Koko appreciates Andy’s head scratches and dog biscuits, I appreciate his historical perspective, and today he talked about the many ways the U.S. has changed since the last time it was united, which was around the intense patriotism that accompanied WWII and the post-war years.

It was good that people began to challenge the blind obedience to government that such patriotism inspired, he said, and the resulting upheaval in the ‘60s is still playing out today. Conditions in the U.S. have changed dramatically in the last 40 years, he said, and generally for the better.

He doesn’t believe there’s widespread disillusionment and disenchantment in the nation, and Obama’s election, and the response to it, is evidence of that. People, Andy said, are generally pretty satisfied and content.

Perhaps a recognition of that is what prompted Katie Rose to state in her blog yesterday: “You want Zapatismo? You gotta have a viable revolutionary movement first. And like it or not, we're a long way from that right now.”

Still, political and social change are possible without a full-on revolution. My sister who lives in Colorado said that many of the groups that formed there as Progressive Democrats to get Obama elected have decided to stay together and continue their work as activists. And in a right-wing state like Colorado, that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, when you look at what’s happening in the real world, the natural world, as opposed to the contrived and artificial world of politics, that’s where the real revolution is under way.

At the risk of being accused of engaging in apocalyptic fetishism, to borrow Katy's phrase, I can’t help but notice that some serious, largely irrevocable shifts are under way that promise to affect all our lives — especially us Island dwellers — more deeply than any man in the White House ever could.

Reuters reported that a massive Antartic ice shelf is poised to collapse due to global warming:

Loss of ice shelves does not raise sea levels significantly because the ice is floating and already mostly submerged by the ocean. But the big worry is that their loss will allow ice sheets on land to move faster, adding extra water to the seas. The U.N. Climate Panel, of which [glaciologist David] Vaughan is a senior member, projected in 2007 that world sea levels were likely to rise by between 18 and 59 cm (7 and 23 inches) this century.

But it did not factor in any possible acceleration of ice loss from Antarctica. Even a small change in the rate could affect sea levels, and Antarctica's ice sheets contain enough water in total to raise world sea levels by 57 meters.

So is anybody noticing? Well, Jan over at Raising Islands has culled the bits of Obama’s speech that speak to global warming and related concerns. And he had an excellent column earlier this month on Hawaii’s non-response to the threat of rising sea levels.

A friend also sent me a link to a story on how a marine expedition off Tasmania had found new life forms previously not described in the scientific literature — and also that most reef-forming coral deeper than 4,200 feet in the area was newly dead.

"It is terrifying that even the deepest and most remote places on the planet, corals found more than a kilometer under the surface of the ocean are showing signs of stress and may have been killed by climate change," she [marine biologist Ghislaine Llewellyn, program manager of the Oceans division at the World Wildlife Fund in Australia] said.

Quietly, largely out of sight and unnoticed, the revolutionary forces gather.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reported Whale Strike

I got an email this morning reporting that a passenger on the Superferry called federal enforcement officials to say the ferry had hit a whale at about 7:25 or 7:30 a.m. today off Penguin Bank, and the boat had come to a screeching halt before resuming travel.

I checked in with federal agent Bill Pickering, who confirmed that a call was made to the NOAA hotline. "We're looking into it to find out if it's true or not," he said, noting that the ship's passengers and crew, as well as the caller, will be interviewed when the boat docks at Kahului Harbor.

I'll keep you posted.

Update: OK, so according to The Advertiser:

Hawaii Superferry said it used standard operating procedures today to avoid humpback whales on its morning voyage from Honolulu to Kahului Harbor.

Musings: On Cynicism

A reader took me to gentle task this morning for yesterday’s post on Obama’s inauguration, noting:

While I appreciate your blogs, this one proved far too cynical, particularly the opening paragraphs. "America" has a LONG way to go but...Look, an Afro-American man got elected president! Bush and his ilk are out! I'm just saying for one day, one day when almost everyone from Kauai to Mississippi unites, there is hope warranted, not cynicism.

That reader is not the only one who feels that way. During a phone consultation yesterday afternoon with my doctor, who now practices in California, he expressed surprise that I wasn’t jazzed by Obama’s inauguration. He’s a very progressive man, politically, medically and spiritually, and he’s looking at the Obama presidency as “a pivotal time in our country. Our country will lead the world into a new age.” In fact, several of his friends moved from the West Coast to D.C. to devote their talents and energy to Obama’s Administration.

And when I was shopping in Kojima’s, where the radio was tuned to KQNG, I heard a woman call in, tearfully asking Ron Wiley to replay the inaugural address because she couldn’t afford cable TV service anymore, and she'd been so moved by the President’s words that she wanted to hear them again.

Meanwhile, a friend got a TV specifically so she could watch the inauguration and another friend sent an email with the subject heading: “out of the Bushes!”and a message that read: “welcome to the new era.”

Then I glanced at The Advertiser this morning and saw an AP story that reported:

From the boisterous streets of New York to the suddenly silent casinos in Las Vegas and virtually everywhere in between, Americans celebrated Barack Obama's inauguration by answering his call for national unity: They gathered together.

"I knew I had to be with people for this moment, not just sitting at home by myself," said Amanda Hoff, 32, who skipped work to watch Tuesday's ceremonies with hundreds in a Philadelphia skyscraper. "It's the kind of moment where you'll always remember where you were when it happened."

Clearly, I’m out of step with millions, perhaps tens or even hundreds of millions, of people around the world, and it’s not the first time I’ve been in that situation, or that it’s given me reason to pause.

I’m not sure where my cynicism comes from, but I do know I recognized it back in sixth grade, when as punishment for some infraction the teacher required me to copy a page out of the dictionary. Cynicism was one of the words, and its definition — “Believing or showing the belief that people are motivated chiefly by base or selfish concerns; skeptical of the motives of others” — resonated with me.

Being a reporter and seeing people lie and posture and backstab and pander for nearly 30 years hasn’t helped matters, either. Yet I recognize the paradox in this way of thinking, because nearly every week I interview people who care deeply about this community and are dedicated to improving it and give selflessly of their time, money and manao. They invariably inspire me, humble me and motivate me.

In fact, meeting these folks often makes me wonder how it is that so many individuals can be so good, and yet our systems, which, after all, comprise individuals, are generally so bad, whether they’re political, religious or charitable.

So when I hear a president call for unity, I’m not convinced that’s necessarily a good thing, especially if the reason for the unification is to perpetuate the imbalance that America represents in the world, and when I listen to a speech, I can’t help but search, reporter-like, for the contradictions and the platitudes and the hyperbole.

Yet I’d be the first to say yes, I welcome a new era; yes, I want people to care; yes, I’d like to see people get off their asses and get involved; yes, I do believe that change is not only possible, but essential; and yes, I think people are tired of feeling disillusioned and cynical, me among them.

And if Obama is the catalyst for making that happen, if he can inspire people and motivate them and give them a reason to get out and make a difference, then more power to him. I wish him, and all those who still have hope, well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Musings: Meet the New Boss

Well, it’s Barack Obama’s big day.

I didn’t get up to watch the inauguration because I don’t have a TV, and at the risk of sounding like a bad American, I really don’t much care. Pomp and circumstance don’t mean anything to me.

Still, it's great to see people all excited about our new Prez. Heck, even the movie stars are feeling inspired, according to an Associated Press report on the Oprah Winfrey show, which yesterday featured a “surprise appearance” by Joe and Jill Biden, where she revealed that Obama had offered her husband his pick of VP or Secretary of State:

Winfrey also interviewed movie star couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher about how Obama has inspired them to pledge to help end slave labor around the world and encourage other people to make a pledge to improve their communities. Other celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, Justin Timberlake and Forest Whitaker appeared by videotape to talk about what Obama's election means to them.

Wow, I can’t think of anything more intriguing. Yawn. But a friend who happened on yesterday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Day celebration at Kukui Grove said she was touched by a poem that an African-American teenaged boy had written around the “I have a dream” theme. It included the dream of being able to walk into a mall without being shadowed by security guards, and ended with how he had achieved his dream of seeing a black man elected to the nation’s highest office, which gave him hope for his own future.

Web coverage of the inauguration showed Bush to be all smiles, and why wouldn’t he be? He’s walking away without criminal charges from a huge mess, as an AP story on Obama’s speech underscored:

With 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars lost in the stock market's tumble, Obama emphasized that his biggest challenge is to repair the tattered economy left behind by outgoing President George W. Bush.

"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed," Obama said in an undisguised shot at Bush administration policies. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America."

And today, it seems, is not a moment too soon. As AFP reports, citing a recent Gallup poll:

“The number of Americans who say their lives are a struggle climbed steeply last year from less than half the population to nearly six in 10 people…

Some are jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, with reporting that military enlistments are way up in this dreary economy:

The last fiscal year was a banner one for the military, with all active-duty and reserve forces meeting or exceeding their recruitment goals for the first time since 2004, the year that violence in Iraq intensified drastically, Pentagon officials said.

Yup, the rich get multibillion dollar bailouts and the poor get shot up and/or traumatized fighting imperialist wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. What a great plan! Don’t you just love America?

Of course, America ain’t the only place that’s hurting. AFP is also reporting that Australia’s economy is heading for a “scarily fast” fall:

"This is not just a recession. This is the sharpest deceleration Australia's economy has ever seen," the Access Economics think-tank said in its quarterly business outlook.

China's booming demand for mining resources such as coal and iron ore have driven years of good growth but the slowdown in the Asian giant's economy has revealed Australia's vulnerability, it noted.

"China's slowdown is Australia's recession," the forecaster said.

And yes, even mighty China is slowing, with AFP reporting that folks from China to Singapore are toning down their Year of the Ox celebrations.

It might be a tiny bit of an overstatement to blame all the world’s woes on the Bush-Cheney team, but as Maui’s Dick Mayer noted in an email, today does indeed mark “The End of an Error.”

As for Obama, I’m not expecting miracles. Shoots, I’d be happy if he could merely live up to this part of his inauguration speech:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

But then, maybe that is wishing for a miracle after all.

Mahalo to LightLine for the cool Obama photo. Ya gotta love a guy who can flash a mean shaka.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Musings: Random Firings

All that glitters is indeed not gold, as evidenced by the stars that sparkled brilliant silver in a super clear sky last night, providing ample light to navigate the dark road, although it was hard to walk with my gaze fixed on the heavens.

By the time Koko and I dug ourselves out of bed and faced the cold this morning, all that remained of that stunning celestial show was a wedge of white moon shining in a sky tinted the faintest shade of purple.

The mist receded into the deepest pockets of the pastures as we walked, quickly, in the pre-dawn chill, and though Waialeale, clear when we started out, repeatedly shrugged off drifting bits of clouds, her summit was covered by the time the sun crawled out of its own fleecy bed.

I’ve been taking advantage of this recent spate of stellar weather to hit the beach and work in my taro patch, but I did conduct a phone interview yesterday with Sen. Gary Hooser, who was in Washington, D.C., but due back on Kauai tonight.

It’s looking to be a rather interesting legislative session, what with the Senate majority package seeking to strengthen the safety net by emphasizing human services, health care, education and renewable energy, while the Guv is pushing for infrastructure spending.

Gary said Senators also plan to introduce a bill prohibiting future power plants from using fossil fuels to generate electricity. “It’s a pretty big thing,” he said, noting that Hawaii is the first state in the nation to consider such a proposal.

It seems HECO has already “tentatively agreed” to the legislation, but KIUC reportedly is not on board. Perhaps this law will give it the kick in the butt it needs to break its dependence on imported oil.

I’m not sure what lit the firecracker under KITV’s ass, but yesterday it finally got around to reporting that the Naue trespassing charges were dropped, a story that ran in this blog and The Hawaii Independent last Thursday — the day it actually happened. It used to be that media outlets were embarrassed when they missed news and tried at least to give catch-up stories a second-day angle. But now it’s more like whatevah, whenevah.

Unless I missed something, the Garden Island still hasn’t picked up the story. But yesterday it did get around to reporting on Wednesday’s Council meeting and today it has a piece on last Tuesday’s planning commission meeting.

The most interesting aspect of their tardy coverage was learning that former Councilmembers Mel Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura, who lost their seats in a failed mayoral bid, are remaining active in politics, only this time it’s as lowly members of the public giving testimony to bored persons who already have their minds made up.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that The Advertiser is running a new blog, He Hawaii Au, by Hawaiian activist Trisha Kehaulani Watson. Yesterday she wrote that the DLNR’s response to a sovereignty gathering she attended on Sunday at Iolani Palace was overkill.

The news story on the gathering prompted the usual spate of anti-Hawaiian comments, including one by a person who asked:

How many of these protesters...i repeat, how many of these protesters are working, have an education, and not taking hand-outs from the govt.

Ummm, you mean like Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a Punahou grad and attorney?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Musings: Death of a Nation

Well, it looks like the big blow was a no show, at least on windward Kauai.

“We’ve turned into a bunch of wimps,” said farmer Jerry, who nevertheless took advantage of the mandatory day off from his state job to work on his farm.

It was dead calm until about 4 p.m., when the wind started gusting out of the north. Koko and I took a walk on the mountain trail, where the trees roared as loud as the pounding surf and fine rain blew in sheets, like ghostly figures marching, creating rainbows in numerous incarnations.

It kept on through the evening, causing those dreaded brown-out surges that had me unplugging everything and occasional black outs that twice killed power to the cordless phone while I was on it.

Then about midnight, the wind gave up with a sigh and the morning arrived sunny, wet, still and cold enough that I can see my tea-warmed exhalations of breath in the house as I write this.

Looks like it should be good weather for the big march planned today on Oahu to mark the 116th anniversary of America's overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Check out commentator Paul Harvey’s take on it, which was originally broadcast in 1993. In this famous "Rest of the Story" broadcast, he speaks of "the death of a nation, January 1893, away from the headlines and the TV cameras, down in the shadowy realms where U.S. foreign policy shakes hands with the devil..."

The usual overthrow observance promises to be even larger this year due to outcry over the state’s attempt to grab the so-called “ceded lands.” According to the Advertiser:

Organizers say tens of thousands are expected to participate in a march and rally in Waikiki today to protest Gov. Linda Lingle's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a January 2008 Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling that bars the state from selling or transferring ceded lands until Native Hawaiian claims to those lands are dealt with.

As some of us had hoped, the current threat to the “ceded lands” is serving to bring different groups together:

Wayne Kaho'onei Panoke of the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, which is organizing the march and rally, said representatives from the traditional Royal Order of Kamehameha I to independence groups such as Hui Pu are participating.

"This is one issue we can all agree upon that it's wrong," Panoke said.

Meanwhile, as some of us had feared, efforts are also under way to accelerate passage of the Akaka Bill. When I ran into attorney Dan Hempey, who represents the Reinstated Hawaiian Government, at the courthouse on Thursday, he noted that with the “ceded lands” issue going before the U.S. Supreme Court and other challenges against Hawaiian entitlements continuing, it could create “the perfect storm” to push the Akaka Bill forward.

The Advertiser, as evidenced by an editorial yesterday, is already whipping up the winds of support, using language intended to lull folks into believing the Akaka Bill is really good for kanaka:

Federal recognition will end the legal challenges to the trust funds derived from part of the revenues from lands that once belonged to the Hawaiian kingdom. And the focus then can turn back to the use of these funds for the benefit of Native Hawaiians, as they were intended.

What it doesn't say is that federal recognition will extinguish all hopes of independence or true sovereignty. Worse, the editorial advocates leaving the bill, currently being rewritten yet again, in its present form, which was heavily watered down in previous years to placate opposition from Bush and Republicans:

And it would make more sense tactically to leave the bill intact. This will make it easier to recommit the votes already in hand from supporters and avoid roiling the opponents.

God forbid we should roil the opponents by insisting on what's right, not what's expedient.

Anyway, the editorial drew some 50 comments that represented the wide range of opinion that this issue generates. Perhaps that’s why Kahu Kaleo Patterson will be participating in today’s march and rally, and also welcoming folks to a “service of reconciliation” tonight sponsored by the Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center and numerous churches.

The flyer for the event offered these words of wisdom from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the “fight fire with fire” method….is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and the creation of the beloved community….

It isn't easy to love all the Hawaiian-haters out there who are masquerading as friends or trying to characterize a legitimate moral and political struggle to throw off a colonizer as racism. But as Dr. King knew, love is what's needed when you're trying to create and not destroy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Musings: Kanaka vs Babylon

I passed through blowing mist and then a full-on squall on my way to the Lihue courthouse this morning, but when I saw a bright rainbow shining over Babylon, I figured things were going to be alright.

And they were. District Court Judge Trudy Senda dismissed trespassing charges against four of the guys arrested following an attempt last Aug. 7 to stop Joe Brescia from building his house atop burials at Naue. Charges also will be dropped against the other two who were arrested. It’s unclear what’s going to happen to the two men who have not yet been served with warrants.

Trial on the case was set for next Thursday, but attorneys Peter Morimoto and Dexter Kaiama were in court this morning defending motions to have the charges dismissed on constitutional grounds and insufficient evidence.

In the end, deputy prosecutor Justin Kollar, who was obviously anxious to avoid a trial, joined Peter and Dexter in stipulating to some rather dramatic findings of fact and conclusions of law that Judge Trudy deemed were “reasonable and appropriate” to grant the motions to dismiss.

The findings of fact stated that the defendants had pursued all the administrative remedies available to them to malama iwi kupuna — take care of ancient burials — on the property, but the administrative process had failed them. It states:

As a result of the failure of the administrative process, Defendants, believing that further desecrations were imminent, were compelled to occupy the property on August 7, 2008 to malama iwi kupuna.

The conclusions of law were based on the “choice of evils defense” established by State v. Marley, which held that defendants are justified in violating the law so long as there is no alternative available that does not involve violating the law, the harm to be prevented is imminent and the defendant’s actions are reasonably designed to actually prevent the greater harm. It states:

In this case, defendants (1) did not have any alternatives available on August 7, 2008 due to the failure of the administrative process, as subsequently recognized by the 5th Circuit Court, (2) were acting to prevent imminent harm to the iwi kupuna at the property and (3) acted reasonably to prevent further harm by peacefully placing themselves between construction and iwi kupuna.

“My main thing is that we are decriminalized,” said defendant Andre Perez of Oahu. “We walk away from this thing with dignity. We know who the real criminals were that day.”

The prosecutor’s office earlier had offered to reduce the charges to second-degree trespassing, but the defendants balked. “I’m not going to agree to something like that because I'm not guilty,” said Andrew Cabebe of Kauai. “I know in my heart I’m right.”

Still, Judge Trudy made it clear that she wasn’t giving the guys carte blanche to occupy the property, noting that “this isn’t a precedent-setting ruling in this case. These stipulations are limited to the allegations of Aug. 7 only.”

The Naue defendants weren’t the only kanaka smiling in Babylon today. I also ran into attorney Dan Hempey, who had just gotten charges dismissed against Titus Kinimaka, who had been cited for running a surf school without a county license. But as Dan pointed out to the judge, the county ordinance stated that only those without licenses could offer commercial services in county parks. “I’m going to have to take it literally,” Judge Trudy said in dismissing the charges.

I imagine that bit in the ordinance will be revised — eventually. How long do you suppose it takes the county to get around to fixing stuff like that? And do they employ proofreaders? In the meantime, Titus can keep on teaching, and as Dan noted, surfing is about as Native Hawaiian as you can get.

Dayne Aipoalani, leader of the Kingdom of Atooi, was also in court today and had charges dropped against him, although I’m not sure what the alleged offense was. Like others who challenge the Western system, he ends up spending a lot of time in court extricating himself from it. He’s still facing trial for charges stemming from the Aug. 26, 2007 protest over the Hawaii Superferry.

Interesting, that of all the people arrested, only Dayne and Robert Pa, two kanaka, are still being prosecuted. Everybody else got off. Should be interesting to see what Hempey has up his sleeve when he takes that case to trial as Dayne's court-appointed attorney.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Musings: Justice or Immorality?

“So is this the year the Hawaiians get their land claims settled?” I asked a friend recently during one of those conversations on what the New Year might bring. “Or is this the year they get totally f*****?”

I was referring, of course, to the State of Hawaii’s attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the state Supreme Court’s moratorium on sales of the so-called “ceded lands” that were seized during America’s illegal overthrow of the monarchy.

“They’ll get their land claims settled and then they’ll be totally f*****,” he said, referring, of course, to the Akaka Bill, which proposes to make things right with the Hawaiians by placing them under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior and extinguishing forever any claim to independence.

We aren’t the only ones worried that the Akaka Bill, which has taken various incarnations since it was first introduced back in 2000, will again be aggressively pushed forward in an attempt to stave off the state’s blatant land grab.

Driven by that sense of urgency, Akaka Bill supporters will trot out the tired colonial reasoning that something is better than nothing, which is what the kanaka maoli will get if the Supremes rule in favor of the state. And unfortunately, that’s not an unlikely scenario, given that a majority of the Justices don’t appear to much care about justice.

And now we’re presented with yet another scenario as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Senate leaders reveal plans to introduce legislation aimed at heading Gov. Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett off at the pass. According to an article in today’s Star-Bulletin:

"We continue to believe that the justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled correctly, and this bill is the legislative vehicle to implement the decision," OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said.

Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee, said he is also considering similar legislation and expects support from other legislative leaders.

"The Senate president (Colleen Hanabusa) is also going to have a proposal; we will hold a hearing and then, if there is support, consolidate the ideas into one bill," Hee said.

The proposal, Apoliona said, would prevent the sale of the ceded lands, but it would not stop the state from transferring ceded lands between state agencies or stop the state from leasing ceded lands.

The prospect of such legislation is intriguing. For starters, it’s a major political slap down of the Lingle-Bennett team, which has taken the eye-popping position in its U.S. Supreme Court filings that the Hawaiians have no land claim at all.

While that stance may play well with such Hawaiian-haters as Ken Conklin and the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii, it’s pretty obvious that most folks believe the kanaka are entitled to at least something, as evidenced by support for creating OHA during the last Con-Con.

Passage of such a bill also would serve to further ostracize Lingle, thus undermining her dreams of attaining higher office, and indicate that the Lege would be unlikely to approve Bennett should Lingle (shudder) nominate him for a seat on the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Most important, it would prevent the state from selling off the so-called “ceded lands,” which comprise the land base of a sovereign Hawaiian nation, until the nation’s claims can be properly settled.

It’s clear that the Hawaiians do have legitimate claims. For starters, there’s the 1993 Apology Resolution, which recognized that the Hawaiians never relinquished their claim to sovereignty and acknowledged America’s wrongdoing in the overthrow.

But the Apology Resolution isn’t the only indication that the federal government recognizes Hawaiian land claims. When the Navy gave up Kahoolawe, which it had abused for decades as a bombing target, it specified that the state should hold the land in trust until it can be returned to a Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.

Now, if the feds didn’t believe the Hawaiians had any claim to sovereignty or land, they would have just given Kahoolawe to the state, as Lingle guys claim the "ceded lands" were given to the state under the Admissions Act. Instead, you’ve got the Navy — an armed enforcer of American policy — telling the state, “Kahoolawe isn’t yours, it belongs to the Hawaiians.”

And if the state has always maintained, as Lingle-Bennett also contend, that the Hawaiians have no legitimate land claims, why did it agree to hold Kahoolawe in trust until it could be returned to a sovereign Hawaiian entity?

On the upside, Lingle-Bennett’s attempt to ace Hawaiians out of their land could serve as a much-needed catalyst for the sovereignty movement. As The Hawaii Independent recently reported, a forum on the Supreme Court case drew a packed house and prompted a heated debate.

Interestingly, during that session Bennett asserted:

“The Hawaiian people have a moral claim to the land, but not a legal one,” Mr. Bennett said. “These decisions are committed to the discretion of Congress, whether or not it is immoral.”

That statement made me wonder what kind of a man would energetically argue an immoral position, especially when the stakes are so very high.

The article also quotes Andre Perez, an independence activist who is facing trespassing charges for a protest at the Naue burila site, as saying:

“…for those actively seeking justice, Mr. Bennett is a dead end.”

“Don’t waste your time with this forum,” he said. ”We need to come together. We can put down our differences and gain power. We can build a lahui and get back to a nation.”

To that end, 10 groups have come together as the Hawaiian Independence Alliance. And longtime sovereignty activist Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell is currently gathering signatures on a letter asking Obama “to immediately instate a moratorium on the Akaka Bill in the U.S. Congress.”

Things are clearly coming to a head. Less clear is whether justice or immorality will ultimately prevail.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Musings: The Big Chill

A perceptibly whittled down moon was white and high in a sky dappled with orange clouds when Koko and I went walking on a morning so nippy that the water emerged already chilled from the tap.

Some folks claim that Hawaii doesn’t have seasons, but when you have to bring a sweatshirt to the beach for a late afternoon swim, and native plants with white flowers bloom, like hala and kukui, let me tell you, it’s definitely winter.

The Star-Bulletin yesterday put the chill on Hawaii Superferry with an editorial that made a crucial point about the draft EIS:

Many of the mitigative measures would rely on state agencies, such as the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, either through enforcement of current regulations or heightened inspections, at a cost to taxpayers. But whether the state, which seldom seems to fund these divisions adequately, and the agencies that lack the capabilities for even current enforcement levels can handle additional biosecurity duties is questionable.

It ends by saying the final EIS is supposed to be pau by June, at which time the special legislation — Act 2 — that authorized ferry operations is supposed to be repealed, although the Lege could extend it “so other ferry companies can take advantage of it.”

Yeah, right. That gambit might have been plausible if other ferry companies were in the wings — or even on the horizon — when the law was passed, but since they weren’t, it’s obvious the bill was intended to benefit only HSF. At any rate, the SB weighs in with its opinion:

Given the current situation, extending the legislation would be risky.

The issue of selective enforcement is being raised by attorney Dexter Kaiama in his bid to have charges dropped against Palikapu Dedman and Andre Perez, who were arrested following last August’s protest at the Naue burial site.

Dexter called me before Christmas to discuss the circumstances that led to the warrant for my arrest on trespassing charges being dropped, and said he planned to address that in his defense. Trial for the two is set for Jan. 22, but this Thursday he’ll be arguing his motion for dismissal before Judge Trudy Senda.

Meanwhile, rumor has it that new Kauai Prosector,Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho will be dropping trespassing charges against all those who were arrested well after the protest, a move that would save the taxpayers significant money.

And Joe Brescia’s civil suit against Kaiulani Huff, who camped out on the beach for months in an attempt to prevent his house from being built atop the burials, is set for trial at 1 p.m. Jan. 26. She’s looking for 100 people to donate $50 to pay legal fees, and says those inclined can send a check made out to attorney Dan Hempery care of her at 6165 Alapaki Rd, Kapaa. 96746.

[Update:The legal fees Ka`iu is seeking are not for the civil suit, which also names Jeff Chandler, Nani Rogers, Louise Sausen, Dayne Aipoalani and others. She's instead "going on the offensive" and seeking a restraining order against Brescia to prevent construction at Naue from continuing.]

Finally, is anyone else getting tired of hearing Bush and Cheney defend their indefensible actions while in office? The last straw came at Bush’s last news conference, when he showed once again how utterly out of touch he is.

I disagree with this assessment that, you know, that people view America in a dim light," he said. "It may be damaged amongst some of the elite. But people still understand America stands for freedom."

You mean the elite like the beleagured Iraqi civilians and orphans, on whose behalf an Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi threw his shoes?

The sooner this clueless guy gets the deep freeze, the better.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Musings: Teach Your Children Well

A pink glow lured me out early this morning, although I’d been up late the night before enjoying good conversation and that gorgeous big moon, which reaches full this evening. It had already set by the time Koko and I stepped out into the rosy haze of the pre-dawn world.

Walking down the street, we watched a hefty wedge of salmon-tinted clouds slide off the top of Makeleha. Shafts of golden light cut across the Giant as the sun nudged upwards, casting stands of guava in the rich hues of an alpenglow. The ironwoods sighed softly, stirred by a gentle breeze, and hunting dogs in a passing pick up truck exchanged barks with Koko.

It was the kind of morning that made me glad to be alive, and it made me think of how my friend last night expressed puzzlement over the recent spate of kids committing suicide even though they live on Kauai, a place where so many other people would love to be.

His comment made me think of an interview I had earlier in the week with a woman, born and raised on Kauai, who works as a substitute health aide on the local public school campuses.

She told me of encountering droves of elementary kids who find the smallest excuse to come to the health room, just to get a few kind words, a bit of love and attention.

Older kids, too, line up outside the health room door, arguing over whose turn it is to talk with her that day as they seek counsel about some pressing issue.

“They want to talk,” she said. “They’re looking for guidance. A lot of these kids have some serious worries on their mind and no one they can trust or talk to.”

Some complain of sore stomachs, the result of not eating for a couple of days because there is no food at their house. And some report that their parents are “wasted” all the time, or that they give their food stamp EBT cards to the dealer in exchange for drugs.

Others have parents who are struggling to pay the bills, yet too proud to seek any sort of public assistance. “It’s usually the local people who need help the most,” she said, “but they’re the least likely to seek it because they’re ashamed to admit they're not making it and they think everybody else is.”

When she offers the kids forms their parents can sign qualifying them for free meals at school, some express fear they’ll “get cracks” for talking about family problems with a stranger. So she gives them words to use with their parents, tells them to explain that they need to eat so they can learn and improve their lives.

“I feel such joy when the kids come back to school all smiles with that form signed,” she said.

Other kids tell her of being paid to run drugs between customers and dealers, an activity that troubles them, but how else are they going to get money? She said that one boy, after being asked to think about how the drugs he delivered were affecting the user, said, “You’re right, I don’t really need those Quicksilver shorts.”

"They don't seem to have anybody teaching them what's right and wrong," she said. "It's all about making money."

And that made me think of my young friend Kaimi, born and raised on the North Shore, who works with a lot of youth on that part of the island, which has been hard hit by gentrification. Besides teaching them how to fish and hunt and grow taro and do the other things he learned as a kid, he spends much of his time trying to counteract the messages of inadequacy perpetuated by popular culture.

“I let them know they’re alright just the way they are, that they don’t have to be one Justin Timberlake or Brittney Spears,” he said. “They have no idea how special this place is, how much other people want what they already have. All they see is that they don’t have money, but all these people coming from other places do.

“And unless there’s somebody to show them otherwise, they start thinking like money is all that matters. They don’t realize that once they leave, it’s not so easy to come back.”

As he sees it, the answer is to keep reinforcing values that offer an alternative to the mainstream model of acquisition and consumption, and to teach kids what's special and unique about local culture, and the role they can play in perpetuating it.

The school health aide also thinks that people need to move away from the emphasis on making money and return to the old ways of sharing and cooperation — values that strengthen families and communities, values that used to characterize life on Kauai.

"We were poor growing up, very poor," she said. "But everybody else was, too, so it didn't matter. We had each other, we had our friends and family, we raised chickens and had our gardens. I think the kids would be better off if we went back to living like that, because then at least their parents and families would have time for them."

Perhaps such a shift is the silver lining in this current economic downturn. Still, I’m not sure it will manifest spontaneously. Instead, it seems there needs to be a conscious and concerted effort to embrace the values of frugality and simplicity, to counteract the message of fear and deprivation now being touted by the media and remind kids — and ourselves — that people for many centuries have lived and been happy with less.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Musings: No Worries

As any thinking person would have predicted, the newly released draft EIS for the Hawaii Superferry has determined that the big boat is likely to cause some significant direct and indirect impacts on the Islands.

It also comes as no surprise that these impacts are the same ones that opponents have been citing all along: invasive species, traffic, depletion of resources, whale collisions, harbor congestion, degraded cultural resources, worsened air quality.

But as those who are familiar with the EIS process know, it is not the finding of impacts that matters. They are almost always identified, except by the military, which consistently maintains that blowing stuff up, building big weapons systems and carrying out live fire training exercises results in no environmental, social or cultural impacts at all.

What really matters is the mitigation, and after 20+ years, I haven’t yet run into an EIS that has identified impacts that it claims can’t be mitigated.

And sure enough, if you start reading the EIS right here, you’ll begin encountering words like “temporary” and “not significantly” and “minimal” and “unlikely.” Before you know it you’ll be thinking like a consultant: hey, no worries, all those impacts are no big deal.

Well, unless you’re a Maui fisherman or surfer or canoe paddler who uses the West Kahului Harbor area, where plans to build a new pier for the ferry would wipe out two surf spots and disrupt generations of traditional fishing practices. But if HSF keeps on using the same berthing area it has been, no problem! (Ummm, unless a north swell is breaking….)

And so what if the view from the Big Island’s Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Park is ruined by pier construction. Heck, they can always “use paint to soften the visual effects of sheds and storage buildings.” And if the pile drilling and blasting threaten to harm the rock structure, don’t give it a second thought: “alternative methods would be considered.”

Oh, and don’t fret about military vehicles spreading depleted uranium; exposure to DU is “highly unlikely.” Why? Because “the Army doesn’t use such weapons in Hawaii” — at least, not anymore. Never mind that DU has been found at Pohakuloa and Schofield, and the Army hasn’t finished its study of whether that deadly stuff has spread.

Traffic jams? Shoots, putting a signal at the intersection of Nawiliwili Road/Rice Street/Kailikea will solve that problem in a jiffy. And if the traffic flows gets degraded below acceptable levels, well, that will be due not to the ferry “but rather regional growth of the area.”

When it comes to biological impacts, take heart: it appears from “casual observation” that all the whales struck by boats in the previous 22 collisions in Hawaii survived the impact. Besides, HSF is already doing its whale avoidance thing, and the noise it generates is not likely to “induce trauma,” although it “may cause masking of acoustic cues or acoustically-induced stress.” Meanwhile, the risk of a collision with a monk seal or sea turtle “is considered minimal.”

Granted, invasive species are a significant problem, but again, no need to fret. The ferry “represents only a small fraction of the overall risk” of spreading pests around the state, even though vehicles transported on the boat “do represent a novel pathway for inter-island dispersal of invasive species.” Still, posting some signs warning passengers about prohibited items, conducting random baggage checks and not rushing the inspectors should do the trick. Oh, and don’t forget to train the inspectors and consistently and thoroughly question the passengers.

As for the emissions from those four main diesel engines and three diesel-powered electric generator engines, hey, minor! Besides, cruise ships are way worse, you know.

So yes, the ferry will cause major impacts, but there’s no cause for alarm, because luckily, they can all be mitigated. Now everybody just settle down and go back to sleep. DOT, HSF and Belt Collins will take care of everything.

Besides, we're not talking about Hawaii Superferry, anyway, but a generic, run-of-the-mill statewide large capacity inter-island ferry.

Musings: That Fairness Thang

Venus was a brilliant jewel sparkling in the western sky last night and the moon, headed toward full on Saturday, shone brightly through a mosaic of clouds. It had been a while since I’d seen either, or awakened in the wee hours to deep silence, broken only by the haunting song of the bufos and a cricket chorus.

The rain reprieve continued into morning, and Koko and I walked under a patchwork quilt of white and blue. I was admiring the way salmon-colored mist was draping Makaleha when we ran into my neighbor Andy, whom I hadn’t seen since the most wonderful time of the year. He gave Koko a biscuit to ease her agitation at being unable to join his dog Momi in off-the-leash frolics, and we talked of knee surgery, the growing Gestapo-like nature of the Kauai Humane Society and transient vacation rentals (TVRs).

Andy had been amused to learn from my recent post that judges are among those who have been operating illegal vacation rentals on Kauai, and said he’d have to ask Cliff Nakea about it the next time he sees him. Cliff’s a nice man — he officiated at my wedding, granted my divorce and sent my ex-husband to jail for violating a restraining order — and I know other folks on that list, and some of them are nice, too.

The issue, however, is not niceness, but fairness. As it stands now, folks will be grandfathered in to the exclusion of people who had been waiting for the county to develop regs so they could operate a TVR legally. It seems to make more sense to determine how many TVRs can be allowed outside of the Visitor Destination Areas after conducting a study on impacts to a neighborhood. Instead, those impacts will continue. Perhaps the number of TVRs won’t increase, but those who are already suffering the ill effects won’t get any relief, either.

Still, incremental progress is being made on this issue. First, the County Council’s planning committee yesterday did clean up the TVR bill to ensure the public is able to view the list of TVR applicants in time to comment before the planning department grants approval.

And even though the full Council hasn’t acted yet, the first 132 names have been posted on the county’s website. Deputy planning director Imai Aiu reportedly has promised to publish all 500 in increments of 100 or so.

Funny how just a couple of months ago, a citizen was told by planning it would cost thousands of dollars up front for her to secure that list, and now, voila, here it is for free. The log is different than the list released by the real property division, which Imai reportedly said he had never seen, so who knows what is going with that. At any rate, the new log includes the zoning of the parcel in question, and some of those seeking applications for TVRs are in the open and conservation district.

None, so far, are in the ag district, although I imagine that will change if Councilman Tim Bynum has his way. It seems Tim wants to introduce a bill that would allow TVRs on ag land to be grandfathered in just like the other ones.

According to an article in today’s Garden Island:

“In my opinion, the laws about what you can and cannot do on ag land are not clear,” he [Bynum] said. “It wasn’t fair to say ‘if you’re on ag land, you can’t continue.’ It’s still very controversial what’s legal and what’s illegal on ag land. The county needs time to figure it out.”

Bynum said the Important Ag Land study could take years, and clarified that the grandfather clause — which applies to any vacation rentals that were created “appropriately” before the law was passed — could extend to ag land rentals even beyond the conclusion of that study.

“Fairness is a big important issue to me. (Landowners) had ordered their economic life around the status quo, which was at that point to do vacation rentals (on ag land),” Bynum said. “To take that away without good reason would be devastating for some people. They’d lose their property on Kaua‘i.”

Bynum said he voted against the original law, the only member to do so, because of the ag land issue.

“Now it looks like there is a will, at least from some people, to correct that mistake,” he said.

Just where is that will coming from, Tim? The real estate industry, which fattened up selling overpriced ag land to folks on the promise that they could make their mortgages by doing a vacation rental on the side?

And there is a good reason to take that use away. It's called the state law that prohibits anything but farm dwellings on ag land.

As to fairness, if that was really his concern he would be taking steps not to grandfather in all the people who are running ag TVRs with no farm in sight, but to offer a chance for real live legit farmers to operate a TVR if that’s what they need to make their farms go.

Instead, those guys will be shut out of TVRs forever in favor of people who bought land they couldn’t afford, many of whom don’t even live here.

I’ve said before that if anyone is allowed to operate a TVR outside the VDA it should be farmers who are actually farming and contributing something to this island. For everyone else, it’s just a total hand out at the expense of others.

As for Tim’s argument that people ordered their economic lives around the status quo, which just so happened to be illegal, well, hey, the same could be said of those who used to make good money growing pakalolo before Operation Wipe Out was introduced. Is Tim going to become their champion now, too?

At least that would bring some much-needed cash to the locals and contribute to the island's economy. Instead, Tim wants to help people build equity in land whose value has been artificially inflated because it’s being used for everything but agriculture.

And that just perpetuates the vicious cycle of speculation that is undermining efforts to make agriculture viable on Kauai.

What, pray tell, is fair about that?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Musings: "Haoleized"

I received an email today from Karen Chun of Maui. It was written in response to a student from New York City, who is helping her professor research the Hawaii Superferry fiasco and was curious why Maui and Kauai folks reacted differently.

Karen’s response intrigued me because it’s been so often alleged that it was just haoles who staged the protests at Nawiliwili Harbor. Yet Karen writes that Maui moved to challenge the ferry legally, rather than through civil disobedience, partly because the island has become so "haoleized.”

She also offers her perspective on the troubles facing Maui — a place that has long stood as an example of what folks don’t want Kauai to become:

We have let tens of thousands of people live in gated enclaves where they have no contact with local people. It is an ex-pat type of existence for them.

Even the Maui County Hawaii Canoe Association (MCHCA) has become a "sports" organization and abandoned its roots to the Hawaiian culture. Their attitude is so bad that, not only was my canoe the only canoe on the water [when the ferry docked at Maui], but MCHCA is now SPONSORED by Hawaii Superferry! In a very short-sighted, money-motivated view, they lack the ability to extrapolate forward and understand that adding another boat to the harbor will eventually result in the two canoe hale being kicked out.

So even though Irene [Bowie of Maui Tomorrow] and I were successful in organizing a large number of people to come out, only a few of them were passionate enough to do civil disobedience. Thus we made the decision to stay legal.

When laws become a tool for corporations to over-ride public interest, that leaves us no choice but to commit civil disobedience. Given the way HSF and Gov Lingle twisted the legal system to their own ends, I believe Maui has had their eyes opened to the need for civil disobedience if something like this comes up in the future.

But whether the huge presence of foreign and mainland people who have brought their mainland ways here will prevent us from assembling an effective number of people is a question still up in the air.

There is a pervasive sense that we are powerless...even some kupuna have sold out and formed an organization (Na Kupuna O Maui) made up of members who receive money, land leases, and perks from our biggest visitor accommodation developer, Everett Dowling, in order to co-opt the Hawaiian voice. So we have the example of our elders selling out to the exploitation of Maui for money and favors (sound familiar?) Enough of the majority of our county council members are corrupt enough to go along with Dowling.

My husband, who was active in taking back Kaho'olawe, is discouraged by the overwhelming presence of newcomers whose ways are contrary to the Hawaiian value of malama`aina.

Seems like it used to be that folks would come over here, love the land, love the culture and assimilate. But now, they retain their old ways that overwhelm the more gentle and accommodating Hawaiian culture. And I am not just talking about the U.S. and Canada but also Mexico, Europe and the Philippines. They have quite different cultures that put an emphasis on individuality, competition, pushiness, and the acquisition of money and ever more and more possessions. They consider the land and sea to be a possession to be used (up) instead of a trust to be cared for.

So the tendency - especially now that we are older - is to try to make small corners of our lives as good as possible and retreat from the rest of the island.

I still get out there and testify and rabble rouse but I do it only because I want to go to my grave knowing that I did everything I could -- even though it is very discouraging to see people (including many on our County Council) motivated not by what is best and right but by bribes, self-interest and greed.

Right now, we are not taking direct action because every day of operation HSF loses more money and EVENTUALLY they will tire of their charade and go be military contractors.

The lesson that Kaua'i should learn from this is to:

1. Stay strong on your stand against gated communities
2. Avoid second home vacation subdivisions
3. Avoid importing labor from other countries
4. Have the county government put local interests first
5. Treasure your Kingdom members who are courageous enough to back everyone up when action is needed.
6. Treasure yourselves for being courageous enough to act. Turns out you folks chose the more effective way.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Musings: A Right to Know

While driving to an appointment this morning, I became aware of something strange in the sky. It was yellow and bright and warm — oh yeah, the sun! I’d almost forgotten what it looked and felt like, and how it could do cool things, like illuminate patches of vibrant green atop Makaleha and cast long shadows across the road.

But despite the sun’s reappearance, a distinctive gray area remains, most notably on the topic of whether Kauai folks should be allowed to know whether someone is operating a mini hotel in their neighborhood.

Last year, as you may recall, the County Council finally passed a bill to regulate transient vacation rentals (TVRs), saying they were “occurring at a greater rate and inflicting a larger impact on the community than was ever anticipated.”

The bill also recognized that the “uncontrolled proliferation” of these rentals was “causing significant negative impacts to certain residential neighborhoods…” especially on the North Shore.

OK, so it was clear the units were out of control and causing harm. Now comes the slippery, shadowy part: regulating them. The bill includes a “grandfathering” clause — in other words, those who did the wrong thing, and did it long enough, will be allowed to legally continue. Meanwhile, those who obeyed the law all these years have lost their chance to operate a vacation rental cuz by the time all the illegal guys are grandfathered in, going be too much already. Sorry!

Anyway, in order to receive that gift of being able to forever rent out their homes for commercial purposes, the illegal guys must register their TVRs and obtain a non-conforming use (NCU) certificate from the county.

The bill includes another provision, too, which states: “any member of the public may initiate proceedings to revoke a non-conforming use certificate or to stop an unpermitted use.”

Sounds reasonable, yeah? Unless, of course, members of the public are not allowed to know who has registered a vacation rental, who has applied for an NCU or who has been granted an NCU.

Since the vacation rental bill does not specifically state that such information should be made available to the public, some Council members feel it should not be disclosed. The Council’s planning committee is set to discuss an amendment requiring the info be made public at its Wednesday morning meeting.

Under the law, the county’s real property division is tasked with handling the registration, while the planning department is supposed to check out and approve the applications.

In typical obstructionist fashion, the planning department balked at a request for a list of TVR applications and approvals, citing the size of the file and the busyness of its staff.

The real property office was more forthcoming, providing copies of its registration log, which totaled 13 pages and included some 323 registrations. It’s unclear whether that’s a complete list.

(Larry Geller at Disappeared News kindly posted links to the 13 PDF files for me since I don't know how to do that: list 1, list 2, list 3, list 4, list 5, list 6, list 7, list 8, list 9, list 10, list 11, list 12, list 13)

Now in reviewing this list, quite a few interesting things came to light, including several applications to register TVRs in the ag district, where they are expressly prohibited. The list also includes some homes in the Wainiha-Haena area where the state currently is citing owners for illegally operating vacation rentals in the conservation district.

Also on the list are some properties that are currently under construction, as well as others that never were used previously for vacation rentals. And then there are some homes where the bottom story, which is supposed to be open because they’re located in the flood zone, has been illegally enclosed to create a TVR.

I was also intrigued by the names, among them former Judge Clifford Nakea (who has four units on Anini Road) and per diem Judge Joe Kobayashi, guys you’d expect to follow the law. Not so surprising was architect and land speculator Stephen Long, who submitted choke applications on behalf of unnamed owners, perhaps former clients whose homes he designed precisely for that purpose. Then there is Gaylord Wilcox, who despite his millions is seeking to legitimize four rentals on Hanalei Bay. Heck, even Michele Hughes, who added to her fortune by selling off Kealia Kai, is getting into the act with her vacation rental above Kauapea (Secret) Beach.

And then there are a bunch of LLCs and something called The Parrish Collection — you know, the average folks next door.

Most were registering just one unit, but a man named Klaus Bermeister has 16 units on the same TMK. That seems kinda like it’s edging into the realm of a hotel use, doncha think?

While it galls me to think that our beaches have been developed so mainland LLCs and folks who are already loaded, like Gaylord and Michele, can run profitable business ventures, I’m deeply troubled by the possibility that the public might be denied its right to know who is getting these perks and where these TVRs are.

Given what we know about the planning department’s slack and lax attitude toward inspections, and the county’s tendency to give certain people a great deal of latitude when it comes to following regulations, it’s imperative that the public have access to this information so it can challenge the improper granting of NCU certificates.

Don’t we have the right to know if the county is grandfathering illegal structures, or grandfathering structures illegally?

Shouldn't we have the right to demand the county hold public hearings before approving commercial uses in the Special Management Areas, like the beaches at Haena and Hanalei?

And what possible purpose could the Council have in denying us that information, that right to know, other than it really doesn’t want to get serious about cracking down on TVRs?