Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Latest Snag in GMO Taro

Here's a link to the article I wrote on the latest snag in the GMO taro debate — one that has a few people chortling.

Musings: Sleepwalking

Arriving home late last night after a stimulating conversation about the role/purpose/origin of evil/darkness/fear — one of my favorite, but so rarely discussed, topics — I was too wired to sleep, so Koko and I followed the orange crescent moon as it sunk toward to its resting place in the mountains.

And just as it slipped into a gap between Wailaleale and Makaleha, the star-packed sky let one of its inhabitants fall. We returned home then, cold and more-wide awake than ever. Well, not Koko. She snuggled up against me for warmth and promptly fell into the deep luxurious sleep that dominates a dog’s life.

The county planning commission must have been fast asleep yesterday. Otherwise, how could they possibly have thought it was in anyone’s interest but the developer’s to give him a three-year extension on the Coco Palms permits? Not only did their action reward bad behavior and defy logic — what’s the likelihood a developer is gonna spend money on fix-up stuff in bad times when he didn’t do it in good? — but now he has something of value to sell, rather than just a ramshackle collection of buildings growing a seriously creepy colony of mold.

Also seriously creepy is the news that G&R is leasing Dow Agro-Sciences some 3,400 acres of land to grow seed crops of corn, soybean and sunflowers. Now let’s put this in context, something that neither The Garden Island nor The Advertiser nor the Star-Bulletin did in its coverage, which apparently derived from a telephone press conference with Dow.

Right now, there’s only about 4,000 acres of seed crops being grown in the entire state.

So that means Kauai will rocket to the forefront of this industry and be firmly ensconced in the enviable position as GMO capital of the state. Wow, lucky us.

In making the announcement, G&R’s Alan Kennett uses all the familiar ploys to gain sympathy for its decision. The huge losses it’s facing. Costly cesspool construction for its camp houses — half occupied by retirees. Jobs (but just don’t mention Kauai folks will get all the low-paying, toxic ones, while the good-paying gigs will be filled by people drawn from out of state.) And, of course, the clinchers:

We’re going to be keeping the Westside of Kaua‘i green.”

“The alternative is to grow concrete and put hotels up.”

Heck, you could also spray paint the landscape green, but would that necessarily be desirable? As for the hotels, yeah, right. Don’t you think if that was a viable option G&R would’ve jumped on it a long time ago?

All three papers dutifully repeated some version of Dow’s platitudes:

We are committed to the Kauai community and will continue the good land stewardship that Gay & Robinson has demonstrated over the past decades," said Adolph Helm, Mycogen Seeds' project leader on Molokai.

Only one, the Bulletin, bothered to get another point of view:

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff, who opposes genetically modified crops, said the trend is alarming.

"We continue to have a need for locally grown, sustainable crops to feed our population," said Achitoff. "Instead of doing that, we're filling the acreage with crops that don't feed anybody in Hawaii."


But hey, take heart. They won’t be doing any biopharm crops. And you know that’s true, because they said so. And their say-so is the only thing we have to go on in these matters, seeing as how the state has been so lulled into a somnambulant condition by the seed industry dollar dollar signs it won’t lift a finger to regulate or oversee this industry.

Meanwhile, G&R’s decision to lease to Dow pretty much spells an end to another one of its ill-advised ventures: Pacific West Energy’s ethanol project. You know, the other plan to keep Kauai’s Westside green, whose developers applied for a permit to burn coal in the plant — just until the sugar part of the process came on line, of course.

I knew that project, which was slated to be on line last year, was a boondoggle when I first reported on it three years ago. Why? Because Pacific West is not an energy company, it’s a group of investors — with developer Bill Maloney and his family foremost among them — looking to take advantage of state and federal tax credits.

Henry Curtis, director of Life of the Land, was also wise to Maloney from the start, sending out a press release in 2006 under the email heading “Hawai’i Ethanol: Upsetting Facts" – that proclaimed: "Ethanol Production is a Scam.” He had estimated it would take 4.18 pounds of fuel to generate 1 gallon of ethanol. As I reported:

‘The idea of using fossil fuels to create renewable energy and then calling that green is kind of an oxymoron,” [Curtis said.]

Maloney, contacted on his cellular phone in Washington state, says he was a bit taken aback by Curtis’ suse of the word "scam." Although he acknowledges that LOL based its computations on data contained in Maui Ethanol’s [the company's prior name] permit application, Maloney says the overall picture "is more complicated" than LOL’s figures suggest.

"We put in an application for the boiler to be fired by coal because that’s the worst case scenario,"’ Maloney explains. "It’s really a coal-biomass plant. In the long run, we’ll be using sugar cane to produce ethanol, and this is certainly what we want to work toward."

Instead, now that the price of oil has plunged and the ethanol market has collapsed, so have all G&R’s and Maloney’s dreams of producing 12 million gallons of ethanol and enough steam and electricity to run itself and G&R’s sugar mill, while still returning 140 kilowatts of electricity to Kaua’i’s grid and making piles of money along the way.

Now G&R is dragging the entire island into its latest money-making dream-turned-environmental nightmare: GMO crops all over the westside.

Wake up!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Musings: GMOs, Swine Flu and Torture

It’s been my experience that the hour just before dawn is not the darkest, but the coldest, and the thermometer in my house read just 60 degrees when Koko and I slipped out for our walk this morning. Last night’s golden sliver of a moon had long since set, but Venus and Jupiter were still holding forth in a star-choked canopy that was starting to smolder smoky coral in the east.

We were just returning as the sun began to rise, tinting the streaky clouds pink and adorning the clear summit of Waialeale with rose-colored shafts of light. There was nothing to be said but wow, and mahalo ke Akua, with the birds adding their own exuberant refrain.

I had to get cracking on a story due today — and now, happily, filed — about growing genetically modified crops in wildlife refuges. It’s an issue that has implications for our own local debate, as about 40 percent of the state’s taro crop is grown in the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, according to the feds. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s published on Wednesday.

It’s always interesting to see the “official” responses that my GMO stories get. The pro side loves to accuse the anti side of distorting facts — indeed, that’s the most common criticism leveled at them, aside from engaging in fear-based rhetoric.

So I was amused to read the response to my recent story on GM crops in Hawaii from Alicia Maluafiti, director of the biotech industry’s Hawaii Crop Improvement Assn., in which she — you guessed it — distorted facts and engaged in fear-based rhetoric.

And an unidentified official/scientist from CTAHR, whose name and position were deleted from the email that was forwarded to me, criticized me for trotting out “the same old tired concerns.” So what, you gotta keep coming up with new concerns when the old ones still haven’t been addressed?

Science may (or may not) be objective, but that doesn’t mean scientists always are. How else to explain the quote"All this violin playing about the reefs dying is just eco-terrorism.” — by Ricky Grigg in yesterday’s Honolulu Advertiser article on the dismal state of Hawaii’s reefs? Grigg also claimed that most of the damage was from natural causes, such as storms and waves, and that the outer reefs are “healthy as a horse.” Hmm. Perhaps he was referring to the four-legged skeleton I saw in a Kapahi pasture the other day.

I suppose all the other scientists could be wrong, and Grigg alone is right. Just as it’s probably only a coincidence that he so often works with developers in preparing EIS documents that assert coastal projects will have no impact on nearshore waters.

Of course, the reporter dutifully reported Grigg’s self-serving nonsense, because that’s supposed to prove he’s an objective journalist.

Talked to farmer Jerry, and he noted that Kauai Producers, which I wrote about in Saturday’s post, was involved with the farmer’s cooperative at Wailua Houselots, the first ag park created by the state. Jerry was interested to see how the company’s shift into a general wholesaler paralleled the Houselots’ shift out of agriculture and into residential development. It’s all part of a trend that began in the 1930s.

Perhaps it will take a swine flu pandemic to jolt Kauai into getting serious about solving its farming predicament. If the Mexican borders are closed, who is going to harvest all of the U.S. produce, not to mention what Mexico grows itself? Hey, maybe the anti-immigration guys could be tapped to fill the void. After a few hours of stoop labor, I imagine they’d soften their views.

They're akin to the armchair warriors who are so eager to send someone else’s kids off to die, and those who liken the torture Americans dished out to college fraternity hazing, or remain unconvinced that water boarding, sleep deprivation, prolonged solitary confinement and beatings are torture at all. Think they might change their tunes if they were on the receiving end?

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that the CIA never got around to assessing whether its harsh interrogation methods even worked, despite calls to do so as early as 2003.

The Defense Department, Justice Department and CIA "all insisted on sticking with their original policies and were not open to revisiting them, even as the damage of these policies became apparent," said John B. Bellinger III, who was legal advisor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referring to burgeoning international outrage.

And The New Yorker had a fascinating article on America’s domestic torture: the prolonged solitary confinement of tens of thousands inmates in U.S. prisons. Not only does such treatment cause severe psychological damage in many inmates, it makes it more difficult for them to function once they get released. As the author notes:

One of the paradoxes of solitary confinement is that, as starved as people become for companionship, the experience typically leaves them unfit for social interaction.

Sounds like a great approach — if your goal is not rehabilitation, but ensuring a steady supply of meat for the ravenous prison complex.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Musings: Good, Bad and No Planning

The still blackness of a starry, new moon night had given way to an expanse of blue flushed with pink when Koko and I went walking this morning. Aside from bird song, and the inevitable crowing, it was so quiet I could hear the wind sighing in the very tops of the ironwood trees, and so chilly I made my sweatshirt sleeves long to double as mittens.

The dawn was awash in a shimmer of gold and pink, and a wedge of fleecy clouds had just parked itself on the summit of Waialeale, when we ran into my neighbor Andy, walking his dog Momi. We talked about family and shared some good laughs; truly, there’s no better start to the day than a lovely sunrise and laughter. I told him that land use attorney and author George Cooper had sent me an email, expressing wonderment that our mutual friend, Jimmy Nishida, is now the planning commission chair:

The reason I came to Kauai was he was in a lab I was leader of for a UH environmental course. We became friends from that lab. For his lab work I helped him research the environmental impact of Princeville, as I recall, then we came to Kauai and spoke about PV to classes at KCC and high schools. That eventually led to all the organizing work we did on Kauai and bodysurfing Brennecke's when it was still good there. In those years the Planning Cmn of course was a big enemy. And now Jimmy's running that show! Although: what does the PC have to do now since I guess no one's developing anything?

Well, as Andy noted, these down times are when all the developers come in with their projects because everybody’s crying, we need jobs, and they get their approvals and time it so their projects start at the beginning of the upswing, so they do well, and then everybody’s crying, how come we have all this development? That’s how planning’s done on Kauai. It’s no planning.

I revised my morning plans to take advantage of the good clothesline weather and followed the path of the sun shining on the sea down to the Laundromat, where I ran into my friend Jim, who is Native Hawaiian. He’d been reading a book by John Schofield, who in 1873 was sent on a secret mission to explore the strategic potential of a U.S. presence in the Hawaiian Islands. That led him to recommend America establish a naval port at Pearl Harbor, and he was later memorialized by having his name attached to Schofield Barracks.

Anyway, as Jim recounted, Schofield wrote that if America could just get in and “Christianize and civilize the natives,” it could make a nice little place for itself in the Islands. So that’s what they did, my friend said, “but we’re still not civilized enough for the haoles. I made one little shelter when I was fishing at Wailua and they called the police, saying I was one eyesore in their little community. Do they have any idea what’s it like to be called an eyesore when you’re just fishing the way we always used to?”

Fishing has been much on my mind lately — to the point of sapping most of my creativity and time from blogging — since I’m writing a very long piece on Hawaii’s fisheries. So Chris Pala’s piece in the current Honolulu Weekly caught my eye. It details the sorry state of the world’s fisheries, according to studies done by Daniel Pauly, who Pala describes as “perhaps the world’s most influential fisheries scientist.”

It seems not only are we catching more fish, but smaller ones, and as stocks are depleted, we move on to different species. And while we’re becoming more aware of it, this unceasing exploitation has been going on for a very long time. He reports:

Unfortunately, virtually all of the world’s fishing activity has been restricted by the effectiveness of the gear, not because people understood that if you take too much fish today, you won’t have any tomorrow. There are some exceptions, such as some Pacific islands like Hawai‘i and Palau prior to European contact, but not many.

“We have basically never fished sustainably and there’s no evidence the industry is about to start,” Pauly explains. “The world’s fishing fleet is twice the size it needs to be to catch the current amount of fish and a lot of countries are still spending their taxpayers’ money to increase their fleets.”

Pauly sees economics, rather than a change in consciousness, as ultimately turning the tide:

Inevitably, the price of fuel will rise for good. Boats that must tow big nets behind them for long distances, like trawlers and shrimpers, consume huge amounts of fuel and operated deep in the red last year because of the spike in fuel prices. When the prices go back up, even massive subsidies will not save trawlers that are exploiting depleted fish stocks.

“The fishing industry lobby is very powerful, but at some point the taxpayers are going to say ‘enough,’” says Pauly. “What will remain are small coastal fishers employing traps, lines and set nets, which are much more energy-efficient.”

Hmmmm. Yet another reminder that small, localized economic activities make a lot of sense. But it seems we're still stuck in the global trade mode, whether it's food or tourism, rather than planning for community-based economic development.

That message came around again when I headed over to an interview this morning with Pearl Nonaka, whose family owns Kauai Producers Ltd. The business started out as a farmer’s cooperative, and she recalled how in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kauai farmers were growing so much produce, they were shipping it over to Oahu.

Now the situation is reversed, and they get no local produce. Instead, it comes from Oahu and elsewhere. And why? “The kids didn’t want to farm because the work was too hard,” she said. “So they went off and got other jobs and the farmers divided up their land and sold it and probably made more money.”

She sees some farmers still trying to make it, struggling to grow corn in the old cane fields without any water, faced with competition from backyard growers who sell at the sunshine markets, unhindered by insurance and other costs borne by commercial farmers.

“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is for them,” she said.

If times get tighter, and fuel costs get higher, will farming also go the small, localized way that Pauly foresees for fishing? It seems likely. But even having that option depends on good planning so we have some land and water left for farming. And people will need to be either willing to get their own hands dirty — or show more respect for the labors of the farmers and fishers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Musings: Tis Sad

“Earth honored,” read a headline in The Garden Island today.

Yes, yesterday was Earth Day, the annual reminder of just how out of whack modern society has gotten.

Tis very sad to think that we actually need to designate a day to remind us to honor the earth, source of all that is and all that allows us to be — and worse, that so many even then fail to give our marvelous planet with all its remarkable ecosystems a thought, much less do anything to show their appreciation.

Considering how much the earth does for us, and the fact that Earth Day doesn’t cost us any money because no one is paid to take it off, doncha think we could celebrate it a little more often than just one measly day each year?

Tis also sad that another little piece of Kauai’s charm has been destroyed. The weekly “garbage dump kanikapila” at the Hanalei transfer station has been eliminated by the county, in what is seen as direct retribution for Uncle Bernard’s candid comments in last week’s Kauai People.

No more kupuna showing up to strum ukulele and share a little kaukau, some of it cooked on a grill donated by actor Beau Bridges, who has a home on the North Shore. No more laughter, no more community building, no more nuttin’.

The county could have come out smelling like a rose on this one by honoring Uncle Bernard for his obvious dedication and hard work. Instead, unable to handle any criticism, even when it’s warranted, it clamped down. And as the news spread through the coconut wireless, it was invariably followed by the refrain, “fucking county.”

As one friend noted: “Yup, ya gotta pound down all those fucking nails.”

Meanwhile, even though a few who left comments on yesterday’s post tried to skirt the issue of holding Bush officials accountable for torture by focusing on whether Mumia Abu-Jamal is, indeed, a political prisoner, evidence continues to mount that top Administration officials approved those evil acts. As Democracy Now! reports today:

More details have been revealed on high-level Bush administration involvement in authorizing torture. According to a timeline in the newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top White House officials approved torture methods, including waterboarding, as early as 2002. Attorney General Eric Holder has described waterboarding as illegal, while President Obama now says he won’t rule out prosecuting top Bush officials who approved illegal acts. Rice’s backing came in July 2002, when she gave a green light for the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. One year later, the list of officials voicing approval grew to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger.

Let’s just hope that Obama and Congress have the guts to move ahead on this, instead of just pretending the past is the past and leave it at that.

Tis sad to think of Cheney and his ilk getting off scot-free — and setting a precedent for this to happen again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Musings: What If?

The sky was multiple shades of gray when Koko and I went walking this morning, and though the sunrise created a hot pink flash on the horizon, the cloud bank quickly snuffed it out in an ongoing intolerance of sunshine.

Koko was snacking on grass at the roadside salad bar when farmer Jerry stopped by to chat. It seems the East Kauai Water Users Cooperative is getting requests for some hydro projects, which currently aren’t allowed under its agreement with the state. But the board is going to review its policies and see if hydro can be accommodated in its system.

I noticed in the most recent issue of KIUC’s magazine that the Wailua Falls hydro project is listed under future power-generating projects, although permitting and environmental issues were cited as a potential obstacle — just as they have been for the past 20 years.

Koko’s whining signaled the approach of my neighbor Andy, so Jerry headed off to work and Andy and I continued on along the road together. We got to talking about Coco Palms, and Andy said he had submitted a letter to the planning commission opposing the developer’s request for a two-year extension of his permits.

The county is looking at giving the Maryland-based developer a six-month extension, during which time he’s supposed to clean up some of the mess that he hasn’t cleaned up thus far, even though his permit conditions required it. And if he does, he’ll get the rest of the extension he’s seeking.

So how many chances does a guy get? I asked.

Really, answered Andy. What kind of parents are we?

Sigh. What if the planning commission actually said no once in a while?

Meanwhile, the developer is proposing such extensive changes — selling the Seashell restaurant, turning the coconut grove over to the state, building a hotel instead of time shares, keeping buildings that were proposed for demolition — that Andy and others are arguing the project no longer resembles the one that was originally approved, and so should go through the process again.

He suspects the developer has run out of money and is just trying to get the permit extension so he can sell the project. Because without permits, that wreck ain’t worth much.

I heard the money also ran out for one of two developers who last year got approval to build timeshare resorts near Coconut Marketplace. The developer of the project that was going to be on the highway, where all the coconut trees are, was served with a non-judicial foreclosure by its bank. So it looks like we’ll be saved from that bit of very bad planning.

Hey, what if the foreclosing bank decided to fire sale it to the trust for public land or something, seeing as how the resort business is kinda flat these days?

The other developer, however, is still alive and kicking and fighting a demand to do an Environmental Assessment for his project. That case goes to trial in a couple weeks.

Speaking of court, a friend recently stopped by the Lihue courthouse to file a paper. It was her first visit to Babylon, and she called me from its cavernous depths, her voice reflecting both shock and awe.

“How many people do they plan to incarcerate?” she asked. “Is this a vision here? What if they put all this money into community-building instead of locking people up?”

What if? And what if they started locking up the really bad guys, the ones who do stuff like plan torture and mass murder for personal and political gain, rather than just the small time ice-addicted burglars and check forgers?

It seems a case is building for doing just that. A new report by the Senate Armed Services Committee turns up more lies by top Bush officials, who claimed they only tortured terrorists when they wouldn’t talk. But they actually began developing the torture program in December 2001 — well before any al- Qaeda suspects were caught and also prior to receiving legal approval by the Justice Department.

As Democracy Now! reports:

In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Carl Levin said the new evidence provides a direct line from top Bush officials to abuses at prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Levin said, “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques…[They] bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.” Levin went on to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to establish a high-level commission to investigate high-level Bush officials.

After a bit of disheartening flip-flopping, Obama is now sounding like he might just look favorably upon such a review:

“For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and—and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”

Yes, it does get complicated when the highest officials of the previous administration are held accountable for illegal and despicable actions. But it’s even more complicated to try and explain why they should be allowed to literally get away with murder while political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal sit on death row.

I mean, what if there really was justice for all?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Musings: Saving the Day

After a bordering-on-balmy weekend, the brrrr factor was back in effect when Koko and I went walking this morning on ground drenched in heavy dew. Thick mist crept out from the pastures and onto the road, and wide blue shafts preceded the sunrise, which my neighbor Andy — otherwise preoccupied with walking three large dogs — wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t brought it to his attention.

We were talking about UFOs, and Andy said he believed in them because there are lots of objects flying around that the average person can’t identify. He then recounted how he was sure he’d spotted one very early the other morning when he noticed an extremely bright light on the horizon that seemed to be coming toward him. But it was moving ever so slowly, and then a cloud obscured it, and he later realized it was probably Venus rising.

My acceptance of the phenomenon is based more on the belief that it’s ludicrous to imagine we’re the only life in the universe, as well as by what my father told me. It was his job, when he was serving in the Air Force in Alaska back in the late 1950s, to investigate all reports of UFOs, which had him traveling to remote villages and also talking to USAF and commercial pilots.

While he was able to determine that weather balloons and military flights accounted for some of the civilian reports, the stories from pilots left him baffled. They told of strange disc-shaped craft that came in and tucked under their plane’s wings, then zoomed off at unimaginable speeds or performed maneuvers that even military aircraft couldn’t. The pilots were sure they’d encountered alien craft, and that’s how it went down in the reports when my father was unable to find an alternative official explanation.

It’s definitely not official, but a friend offered the best explanation yet for the financial crisis. “There’s no more powerful or addictive drug in the U.S. than $100 bills,” he said.

As a corporate lawyer recently opined in the Wall Street Journal, while noting that “the system is warped” and attorneys really should have seen the crash coming:

The emergency-room atmosphere that permeated the processing of derivatives deals, corporate takeovers, and whatever else has been going on at Goldman, Bear, Citi and Merrill for the past decade, could rival that of an operating room during open-heart surgery. Only, of course, it was a matter of money -- not life or death.

Money made the mad hours worth it. This is why the insanity of working as if the very fate of nations were at stake when it was actually just about whether or not to do a leveraged buyout of, say, a company in Decatur, Ill., went unnoticed by an entire industry.

Anyone in a position to criticize this inhuman work ethic -- meaning, anyone who liked sleeping, or dating, or occasionally walking his own golden retriever -- opted out instead. These are the people who are now attorneys in the public sector, who run nonprofit organizations, or who simply made what money they could and are now painting landscapes in Taos, or skiing full-time in Sun Valley.

I can’t help but wonder about all those people who traded their lives for money, only to see that false world crumble all around them. Do they now — did they ever? — question whether their lives had any meaning, whether they were contributing something to the greater good? Do they ever reflect on how their greed brought down the world’s financial system and caused untold suffering in the poorest nations?

Now Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is saying that Americans need to sharpen their financial know-how, which is all well and good. But it sounded like he was talking to just the average folks, when it’s really the big players who need to check into King Midas rehab.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, it seems that many still haven’t yet gotten the message that the greed fostered by unrestrained capitalism is not good for humans and other living creatures. A recent article in The Week noted that the work of free market crusader Ayn Rand is more popular than ever, with her epic “Atlas Shrugged” selling at its fastest rate since its 1957 publication. The article reports:

A 1991 survey by the Library of Congress described Atlas Shrugged as the second most influential book in the U.S., after the Bible.


Apparently she’s not been discredited, even though her most devoted modern disciple, former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, admitted last October that he was "partially" wrong to resist regulation of some securities and believe that lending institutions would protect shareholder’s equity.

People are still buying into her idea that the industrialists and capitalists will save the world, even as they systematically destroy it. But frankly, when the shit really comes down, it isn’t the CEOs and investment bankers and guys who in suits who will save the day.

It’s people with common sense, ingenuity and creativity, people who understand and can work with the land, people who are hardy and not afraid to get their hands dirty, people who can cooperate with others. It’s people like those in the video Coconut Revolution, which I recommended before and am putting out there again as a heartening alternative to the “Road Warrior” scenario of a post-apocalyptic world, one that emphasizes community, not capital.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Musing: That Elusive Truth

Venus was rising and Jupiter was snuggling up to a moon on the waning side of half when Koko and I went walking this morning. All the stars were gone, save for Antares in the west, and as the sun — blood red and bold — peeked up over the horizon, it and the planets were scrubbed from the sky, leaving the moon white and all alone.

Mist huddled densely over the pastures, drifting up to cling to the lower extremities of the Giant, and the craggy face and flat summit of Waialeale, buried in clouds for so many weeks, flushed pink in the dawn. Spider webs, some weighted at the bottom with a dead leaf or tiny stick, hung from utility lines or anchored on fences, their perfection back lit by the sun.

It was all so magnificent that when I ran into my neighbor Andy, and his dog, Momi, it was easy to extend the walk so we could catch up a bit. I haven’t seen Andy or farmer Jerry in a while, and I enjoy their take on things. We think enough alike that our conversations don’t turn into heated standoffs, yet we’re different enough that they always leave me with some new perspective on an issue.

Today it was GMOs. I related how a friend who works with UH-CTAHR had responded to an email I sent asking what type of genetic research was being done on taro with the information requested — no research is currently under way on taro in Hawaii, but one project had been looking at three different GE applications to confer disease resistance to Taro Leaf Blight in Bun Long (Chinese) taro — as well as his concerns:

….because funding ran out, these plantlets are sitting in suspended animation in the laboratory, and being maintained on a shoestring. If funding does not resume, and/or if the taro moratorium bill is passed in the legislature, then these transformed plants will, too, reach the end of the line.

The really sad thing about this is that this kind of research is simply that, research. This is not any sort of evil conspiracy. The vast majority of the anti-GMO/GE groups do not even know what is going on because they choose not to inform and educate themselves of what the facts are, and continue to perpetuate and fuel fear mongering. In my opinion, to stop research is akin to burning the books.

Andy said he doesn’t have any problem with research, either, but as I pointed out, once a lot of time and money has been invested into research, it becomes very difficult to prevent its application, especially if the work has been done by a private company with shareholders to satisfy.

As The Maui News reports today, the Lege has found a sort of middle path in this dispute, with the so-called “taro security bill” passing the Senate this past week.

Sen. Shan Tsutsui, D-Kahakuloa, Wailuku, Waikapu, Kahului, Lower Paia, said the bill was pragmatic since it allows the science to continue moving forward while respecting the cultural perspective.

"Wouldn't it be ironic if one of these genetically modified taro species saved Hawaiian taro someday from being wiped out," Tsutsui said.

Only Republicans Sam Slom and Fred Hemmings dissented, which tells you something, and I’ll let you decide what that is.

The House already approved its version, HB 1663. Now the two bodies have to hash out their differences, but the final bill will be something like this: a five-year prohibition on developing, testing, propagating, releasing, importing, planting or growing any genetically engineered Hawaiian taro varieties. Open-field testing on non-Hawaiian GE varieties also would be banned.

So it looks like the research my friend was concerned about can continue, if it gets funding. And considering that taro research is still in its infancy, all the bill really does is put the fight off to another day, giving both sides a chance to regroup and re-arm.

While the taro research is being done by UH scientists, the same isn’t true for the other GE crops. And as I told Andy, I’d feel a little more comfortable about the technology if it wasn’t being developed by the same folks who brought us Agent Orange and dioxin. It’s kind of hard to believe these guys when they say, “trust us, GMOs are completely safe.”

Meanwhile, Germany joined Austria, Hungary, Greece, France and Luxembourg in banning Monsanto’s GE corn because it is dangerous to the environment. But as Spiegel Online International reports, that claim may be tough to prove in court.

And the Union of Concerned Scientists this week released a report that contends that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields and “is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.”

So much for that oft-repeated industry claim.

With so much conflicting info out there, the question becomes, who to believe? Unless you’re doing the studies yourself, it’s hard to know for sure. But when you consider those with financial interests in the technology are proclaiming its virtues, and those without aren’t, it does raise a few doubts, at least in my mind.

It makes me think of a conversation I had the other day with my sister, who was stunned to discover that something she’d read in a news story was a blatant lie. “I realize that sometimes they might not tell the whole story, or maybe they spin it a certain way, but to present an outright falsehood as the truth, well, I just didn’t think the newspapers did that,” she said.

Ahhh, Grasshopper. It’s a shock, I know, but they don't call it the "corporate media" for nothing.

I think Pink Floyd had it right when they sang: “Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words, and most of them are lies?”

Or as my philosopher-scientist friend from CTAHR observed: “Truth is simply one's perception.”

Hmmm. Is it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musings: Big Spenders

The east was emblazoned with hot pink when I awoke this morning and hurried Koko out of the house — not that she ever needs urging — so as not to miss a bit of it. The color slowly drained as we walked down the street, caressed by the lightest sprinkle of rain, and even the sun, when it rose, couldn’t penetrate the gray.

I’ve been noticing that the wild chickens suffer a high infant mortality rate. You’ll see a hen shepherding a flock of eight to 10 tiny chicks, but by the time they’ve tripled in size and can fly a bit, she’s often down to one or two. Which, when you consider the current teeming population, is a very good thing.

Government spending, when done by Democrats, anyway, is not such a good thing, according to blowhards like Sen. Sam Slom, who attended the ”tea party” tax protest staged in Honolulu and elsewhere yesterday:

”Don't forget we are and always will be the patriots who love our country ... who will fight and die. You want to stimulate America? Believe in and practice the free market," said state Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kahala, Hawai'i Kai), wearing a top hat emblazoned with the American flag. "We will fight, we will win, we will return our country."

Return it to what? The Bushites who racked up a giant debt to destroy Iraq while funneling billions to Halliburton and its ilk and simply "losing" billions more over there? The bankers and investment brokers and car makers who came crying to the feds for a huge bailout as soon as their free-market free-for-all turned into a fiasco?

What an idiot.

Yet for all their whining about government spending, how many of them would be willing to seriously cut, I mean pare ruthlessly to the bone, the one thing that really sucks up the tax dollars? Yup, I’m talking about the military.

A report by the National Priorities Project shows how the federal government spent each income tax dollar in 2008: a whopping 37.3 cents went to the military and military-related debt, while environment, energy and science-related spending split just 2.8 cents.

Wow. Just 2.8 cents. Does that spending scheme mesh with your priorities, your world view?

If you want to get really depressed, you can go to this link and watch your money being frittered away in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t worry, there’s no blood and guts depicted, just the result of your sweat and tears.

Hey, what if we were to get really radical and flip that formula, and start spending large on restoring the environment, developing clean and renewable energy projects and beefing up scientific research and science education? (See, contrary to what some might think, I am not at all anti-science, anti-technology or anti-engineering. I happen to like nerds and a lot of the stuff they dream up.)

What kind of nation do you 'spose we could make if we channeled all the money and creativity and innovation and intelligence that now goes into destroying life into endeavors that would instead support it?

Do you suppose we could try it? Come on. Just for a little while or a few trillion, whichever comes first.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Musings: Start Over

Sometimes there’s a lot to be said about going back to bed and starting over, which is what Koko and I did after first venturing outside when the world was cold, wet and windy, and mostly gray with just a hint of pink around the edges. Ninety minutes later, the sun was out, the wind had lost its bite and the birds were madly singing.

Setting my own hours — pretty much, anyway — is one of the nice things about working for myself. That, and the lack of office mates. A friend who works in a cubicle often sends me emails that perfectly summarize the worst of that environment. Today’s was classic:

There's a guy here, total hypochondriac, and yesterday I'd about had it if I had to hear about his diarrhea one more time. Of course it was 'worse than most people's' since the prednisone he was on masked the bacterial infection compounded by the lipitor and heart meds he's on......

Made me think about an interview I did with a progressive doctor last week, who said he just can’t understand why people who are devoted to meds, eat crap, never exercise and do nothing to improve their own health aren’t charged higher insurance rates, as in the model used for high risk drivers.

I’m always fascinated by the work that other people do, and getting a glimpse into it, without actually having to do it every day, is one of the better parts of being a journalist. I did a piece on Uncle Bernard Mahuiki, the dump master at Hanalei, and it was not only good fun, because he’s such a kick, but an eye-opener into how the county works — or doesn’t.

He said he was given a list of guys — cronies of county bosses — who shouldn’t be asked for their pre-paid tickets to dump commercial waste because they were getting freebies. In that case, he told them, I won't ask for anyone’s tickets. Oh, you can’t do that, he was told. I can and I will, he replied. Either everybody pays or nobody pays.

Folks often think that really big money changes hands in back room deals and friendly favors. But a lot of times, it’s pretty manini, like $10 or $20 bucks a day in waived dumping charges. Still, as Uncle Bernard noted, that does add up over time.

Uncle Bernard said the 10 years he spent working at the Kekaha landfill blew his mind. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff people throw away,” he said, including department and discount stores that dump entire racks of perfectly good clothing rather than give it Goodwill.

Even at the transfer station, the waste is unreal. He said one guy from Princeville brought in his new rider mower to dump because he hadn’t used it in a year and couldn’t get it started. Needless to say, it was snapped up by someone who quickly fixed it.

The county discourages that passing along form of recycling at the transfer stations, and it’s forbidden at the dump. The gleaners that you see in developing nations are absent from our solid waste programs as we continue to spend billions on landfills.

Heck, even little Kauai is looking at spending $385,000 just to study waste reduction or conversion technologies, including waste-to-energy. As JoAnn Yukimura noted at the last Council meeting, that money could be used to find land for a materials recovery facility — a place where the still-good stuff that’s now dumped could be re-used.

It must be frustrating for JoAnn to be relegated to a (largely unheeded) voice in the audience. I notice Mel Rapozo hasn't been over there lately, and he pulled his blog, too. Maybe he's just had it with politics, which is entirely understandable.

I was interested to learn that despite the much ballyhooed effort by the citizenry to fix up Polihale, the state still has not announced a date to reopen the park. It seems that people can do all the work, but the government still runs the show.

Problem is, if the transfer stations and parks are any indication, it does it very badly. That's why, frankly, I have a hard time getting revved up to testify at public meetings or participate in campaigns or otherwise participate in the workings of a dysfunctional system. It mostly amounts to band-aids, window-dressing and wheel-spinning as we try in vain to fix something that's inherently broken.

What we really need to do is scrap it and start over.

And on that note, I just have to share this very short video.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Musings: Same Old New Bosses

Brilliant stars filled large patches of the night sky, offering a celestialscape that’s been decidedly rare in these months of wet weather, but it, too, soon succumbed to the thick clouds that delivered rain up until the crack of dawn, when Koko and I went walking on streets that glistened in the flashing orange lights of the garbage truck.

The wind was chill, making me glad for long pants and a sweatshirt, and it gusted through the trees, spattering us with large drops that mixed with a fresh new shower and sent us heading quickly for home.

Koko is not fond of getting wet, unlike, I’m assuming from its breed name only, the Portuguese water dog that has taken up residence at the White House. I’m sure it was just a bit of media hyperbole that prompted this caption on a Yahoo slide show of the pup last night:

The news all Washington is bracing for will break on Tuesday -- the debut of the new White House dog Bo.

Despite all the talk about getting a shelter dog, the First Family ended up with a purebred from a breeder that is likely, given Americans’ penchant for copycat behavior, to spawn a run on Portuguese water dogs, as happens every time a particular breed gains celebrity. And since they tend to be hyper, with coats that are hard to maintain, it’s likely a good many of them will end up in shelters months or years down the road, where they’ll add to the legions of unwanted dogs that are euthanized.

The dog, just six months old, is now in its third home, having passed through what appears to be a highly contrived scheme to give it the appearance of a “rescue dog.”

Bo reportedly was adopted from Texas breeder Martha Stern by someone who then “gave it up” and from there it went to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s trainer, who kept it for a month before the Senator presented the dog as a gift to the Obama girls. Uh huh. Likely story. Who thinks this stuff up?

It's too bad they didn't adopt a shelter dog, because the actions of the Obamas bear a lot of weight. Just consider the shuddering reaction from the chem ag MidAmerica CropLife Assn. to the organic garden.

But organic gardens aside, Noam Chomsky pretty much summed it up in a Democracy Now! yesterday when he said:

As far as policy is concerned, unless [Obama] is under a lot of pressure from activist sectors, he’s not going to go beyond what he’s presented himself as in actual policy statements or cabinet choices and so on: a centrist Democrat [who’s] going to basically continue Bush’s polices, maybe in a more modulated way,” says Chomsky.

In other words, he’ll close down Guantanamo and the secret CIA black sites — while still allowing the agency to retain the power to detain suspects "on a short-term transitory basis."

You know, just long enough to get them to a black site operated by somebody else.

Meanwhile, it seems there’s another side to the piracy story, one that tells of Western nations poaching in Somali fishing grounds and dumping barrels of nuclear and toxic waste off the coast there. Nevertheless, Obama is promising not a full investigation, but a crack down only on the Somali rogues, with some war mongers even calling for a land invasion.

As my accountant observed yesterday, noting the prescient quality of so much music from the ‘60s: “meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

That holds true for our planning department, too, where Ian Costa, the junk old boss, was chosen to continue on as the junk new boss by a mayor identified, in what can only be described as a Freudian slip by KONG DJ Ron Wiley, as Bryan Carvalho.

It seems the County Council, like the rest of us that aren’t brain dead, is wondering why the department has failed to do so many of the planning projects it’s supposed to do, while remaining largely unaccountable for its actions.

Well, at least some on the Council were wondering. According to The Garden Island Darryl Kaneshiro “tried to rein in the line of questioning,” while Planning Committee Chair Jay Furfaro urged the others “to trust him in his new position, saying he has had conversations with Costa about setting realistic and attainable deadlines for the reports.”

Ummm, shouldn’t “Bryan” Carvalho be having those kinds of conversations with his appointee? (Clarification: As Andy Parx helpfully pointed out, technically, the Planning Commission appoints the director.)

Former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who certainly would have axed Ian if she’d been elected mayor, was sufficiently disturbed to show up at the Council and complain:

“The planning process in the director’s head is extremely worrisome. ... We are treading in very dangerous waters,” Yukimura said. “It’s important to have good plans in place and regulations to back up the plans. If regulations mean a draft ordinance, that’s fine. ... Otherwise it’s a constant ‘I need more money’ and you’re never where you need to be.”

But JoAnn, you don’t understand. When it comes to planning on Kauai, it’s not about needs, it’s about wants, and the planning department, under Ian, is exactly where it wants to be. And that's in bed with big landowners like Grove Farm and the other developers who benefit from having all the long range planning and updates left undone.

In short, we're looking at a continuation of the same old planning policies set by the last two do-nothing administrations — Kusaka and Baptiste — which is what happens when you keep the old bosses instead of finding someone new.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Musings: It's a Pity

A shrinking moon floated in a sphere of iridescence before it was swallowed up in a sea of gray when Koko and I went walking this morning. We soon encountered two mynahs beefing on a neighbor’s front lawn, with a small flock of bystanders raucously egging on the combatants. Koko was ready to rush in and break it up, but I thought it best to let them work it out on their own.

As we walked, entertained by a chorus of bird song, the sun appeared first as golden gilt on a puffy cloud that grew into a band of orange on the eastern horizon. But the light show was quickly extinguished by a rain squall that arrived just as we returned to the house, where I had a good laugh reading the comment left on the last post by a person who actually believes that only humans are sentient beings.

Now why would a person want to limit himself to such a small dead world, when it’s actually teeming with life? I asked Koko, as I prepared to whip up a batch of hot cross buns. Koko did not reply, because she can’t, of course, speak, although I discerned a pitying expression in her eyes.

And pity the poor people who are regularly duped by the mainstream media, which loves nothing more than to drum up fear through the dissemination of propaganda because, as a friend astutely noted, when people are afraid, they are stupid.

For a bit of back story, let’s return to last Sunday, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich started some tough talk about how he would have shot down the North Korean missile.

This was preceded by his assertion a week or so earlier that America was in grave danger from a nuclear attack:

Again: One to three missiles tipped with nuclear weapons and armed to detonate at a high altitude — to achieve the strongest EMP over the greatest area of the United States — would create an EMP “overlay” that triggers a continent-wide collapse of our entire electrical, transportation, and communications infrastructure.

Within weeks after such an attack, tens of millions of Americans would perish. The impact has been likened to a nationwide Hurricane Katrina. Some studies estimate that 90 percent of all Americans might very well die in the year after such an attack as our transportation, food distribution, communications, public safety, law enforcement, and medical infrastructures collapse.

We most likely would never recover from the blow.

This was followed by more tough talk last Tuesday about how the Obama Administration is weakening the missile defense system — aka “Star Wars” — that Ronald Reagan dreamed up and Gingrich helped resurrect during the Clinton presidency.

Now Tuesday just happens to be the same day that the New York Times ran — under the headline “Indictment Says Banned Materials Sold to Iran" — a story on an indictment related to the alleged sale of “sensitive materials” to Iran. The story was picked up by newspapers all across the country, including the Wall Street Journal, which led its story with:

Authorities accused a Chinese defense company and its manager of illegally accessing the U.S. financial system and aiding Iran's nuclear program and pursuit of ballistic missiles.

What these high profile stories fail to report, however, is that according to the actual indictment, the materials in question — including maranging steel, a high nickel content specialty steel that can be made into a centrifuge for uranium enrichment —were not actually delivered to Iran. Indeed, the shipment was never even started.

The fact remains, as it did before this story came out, that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon and doesn’t have the right materials and equipment to make one.

But the media spin on the indictment works to dramatically stoke fears on the Iranian menace, thus prompting folks whose wallets have been closed since the Madoff indictment to start giving money again to Israeli defense and charity projects.

It also serves to build political support for Newt Gingrich, who is pondering a 2012 Presidential run and financial support for the missile defense system, which has been estimated to cost some $200 billion and is one of the major activities at Kauai’s PMRF.

So it wasn’t such a surprise, then, to look at yesterday’s Garden Island and see a front page article on a groundbreaking at PMRF for a $200,000 facility that will serve the strange dual purpose of “eternal memorial” for the fallen war dead and missile test viewing site.

And who should be in attendance at this otherwise mundane event but our own Sen. Dan Inouye and Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a nonprofit organization that seeks, according to its website, “to educate the general public with respect to missile defense issues and the urgent need for it.”

As The Garden Island reports:

“Having these defenses gives the president another option to pre-emptive military action,” Ellison said in an interview following the ceremony, noting strong missile defense efforts will keep soldiers out of harm’s way and also deter rogue nations from pursuing ballistic missiles, helping “secure your neighborhood.”

“Future defense tests ... ensure our country and our people are safe,” Ellison said in his remarks.

Now all this isn’t a coincidence, and it isn’t a conspiracy. It’s an orchestrated PR campaign.

So the government starts spending billions on this program and the executives of the corporations selected for the lucrative contracts make contributions — of their own free will, of course — to both political parties, with the party in power getting the bulk and the one on the outs the rest.

In this way it becomes, if not a perfect way to defend the nation, a perfect way to fund political parties for sizable amounts of money. And this initiative — like the never-ending “war on terror,” with its nebulous and ever-changing perps — is especially perfect because you can keep throwing money into it without ever having prove it works.

Because to truly test it, you’d have to launch a global thermo-nuclear war, which nobody is going to do, right?

Meanwhile, as America moves to spend billions on this scheme and a trillion to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, a projected budget deficit of a measly $303 million has prompted a proposal for massive cutbacks that would close 23 Detroit city schools and lay off 600 teachers. And with a crappy education, what kind of future do poor black kids have — I mean, aside from the military?

Now that's the real pity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Musings: Persistent Myths

The moon was full last night, not that it had much chance to shine, covered as it was in a thick, persistent of layer of clouds. I woke in the wee hours to a muffled roar, and it took me a few moments to realize that it was the sound of big rain approaching. It continued intermittently, and briefly sprinkled upon Koko and me while we were out walking this morning.

I remembered to bring a beet and a carrot for the small white horse that lives along my route and she was pleased to get a little something more than the usual scratching between her ears, under her shaggy forelock. Snacks trump petting any day of the week.

The air was perfumed with citrus blossoms, spider lilies, horse manure and the smell of damp earth, and the street was blissfully quiet on this holiday morning. I never could understand, I told my neighbor Andy, how the secular state can legitimately celebrate a fully religious holiday like Good Friday.

Christmas is one thing, because despite its religious origins, it’s turned into more of a pageant. But there’s no way to take the Christian veneer off Good Friday, which a friend likes to call Bad Friday because it launched that whole weird myth that turned a murder into a heavenly sacrifice. Talk about spin masters.

It’s sort of like that myth of happily-ever-after. I was interviewing a man the other day and asked him if he was close to retirement. “I don’t want to retire and stay home with my Portagee wife,” he exclaimed. Added his sidekick: “I don’t think too many married men do want to stay home with their wives.”

Getting back to the Jesus-as-savior myth, Andy remarked that he’d been talking to a man who expressed his fear that Obama was trying to destroy America as a Christian nation. Where did you get the idea that America was a Christian nation? Andy asked him, to which the man replied: It’s in the Constitution. Andy reminded him that some of the founding fathers were Deists and advised him to go read the Constitution, realizing later he should have directed him to the Bill of Rights.

Not that it would have mattered, anyway, because it was obvious, Andy said, that the man was just repeating something his pastor had said.

A woman stopped by my house the other day and was offended I didn’t want to take “the invitation” she was extending to all her neighbors to attend a Son Rise Service. I wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings, but why accept something that’s gonna go straight into the recycling bin? Now if she would have been passing out chocolate bunnies, she might have gotten my attention.

The Los Angeles Times certainly got the attention of its reporters when it decided to run an ad that resembled a faux news story on its front page. And since it’s LA, the ad was for a TV series — and not even a reality show, either. Of course, papers like the Star-Bulletin have pop up ads that cover the content on their websites, but it’s not likely anybody’s gonna mistake a Pizza Hut special for news, even in this dumbed down society.

According to a report by AFP:

"The NBC ad may have provided some quick cash, but it has caused incalculable damage to this institution," it said. "Placing a fake news article on A-1 makes a mockery of our integrity and our journalistic standards.

"Our willingness to sell our most precious real estate to an advertiser is embarrassing and demoralizing," the petition said.

But what the reporters viewed as heresy, the financially-strapped publisher termed innovation. Looks like another crack in the myth of objective journalism.

Geez. Is nothing sacred anymore?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Musings: Two Masters

Dark was the operative word when Koko and I went walking this morning, although it wasn’t all that early. But the dark sky was mottled with darker clouds and the streets were dark with rain. At times Koko nearly disappeared when she slipped into the shadows, following some tantalizing scent, prompting me to recall a conversation I had with a hunter the other day.

You always want to have at least one white dog in your pack, he said, so you can follow it out in the dark.

Makes sense.

Numerous trucks passed me, with all the drivers waving, and then I passed a small, black truck parked alongside the road. Its entire back window was filled with old English lettering that read: Charge Um Like One Visa.

Ran into my neighbor Andy and his dog Momi, who always greets me with sweet, restrained affection. It’s in marked contrast to the way Koko says hello to Andy, which is standing on her back legs, front paws waving, and all the while whining.

We got to talking about a number of things and somehow the conversation wound around to the bisexuality of the alii, with one Hawaiian scholar suggesting that perhaps it was safer for chiefs to have sex with other men because then they didn’t have to worry about offspring, especially those who might be of lower status or plotting to kill their siblings in order to gain power.

Makes sense.

We parted ways and within a minute I heard a raucous, wild squawking, which set Koko to lunging, and I looked through a hedge to see one rooster mounting another. Then they parted ways, shaking out their feathers.

Stopped to read the headlines on my neighbor’s newspaper and a man walked by, smoking a cigarette, and asked, what kine dog that? I don't know, I answered, just poi. We smiled at each other and he stopped to pet Koko, then I turned my attention back to the headlines and was aggravated to see yet another front-page splash on that lame Wailua reservoir fish-stocking project. It's a perfect example of the conflict between the mission and actions of DLNR.

On the one hand, you’ve got our state aquatic biologist, Don Heacock, fighting these releases because numerous scientific papers show how badly introduced species impact the native environment.

And on the other you’ve got DLNR employee Wade Ishikawa pushing them — under the guise of “natural resource management,” no less.

As one scientist noted in an email to me:

By law DLNR is supposed to malama the natural environment, protect native species, not destroy them.

It’s the same conflict we see over feral animals, with the state caught between its mandate to protect native species and its desire to perpetuate hunting. What’s that old saying about you can’t serve two masters?

I thought about that while reading an Advertiser article that was distributed today via email under the subject heading Hewa: Settlement Proposed in Battle Over Hawaii Ceded Lands. For those who don’t know, the Hawaiian dictionary defines hewa as mistake, wrong, incorrect, defect, and the man who distributed the email often uses it to mean evil.

The proposed agreement, being drafted by attorneys for the state and OHA, calls for the lawsuit that was just bounced back from the U.S. Supreme Court to be dismissed with prejudice in return for Gov. Lingle signing a bill that would require two-thirds approval from the Lege on any sale of the so-called “ceded lands.”

The article states:

The proposal appears to be a way for the two sides to come to a compromise each can live with while taking away the uncertainty of an impending Hawai'i Supreme Court ruling.

Problem is, it would quash attempts to secure a moratorium on “ceded land” sales until Hawaiian claims are resolved. So any such settlement is bound to result in folks condemning OHA as an instrument of the state, a sell-out.

Like DLNR, OHA often finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place — which is not to say that such predicaments aren’t at times entirely of its own doing.

If you’ve been wondering what the big agribusiness and chemical companies are doing in Hawaii, you might want to check out the cover article I wrote for Honolulu Weekly. It gives an overview of what’s happening with GMOs in the Islands, and some of the related issues.

And in the midst of it all is the state again, trying to please the folks who produce our number one farm commodity, while mandated to protect the environment and public health. Except in this case, they aren't even making the pretense of serving two masters.

I’ve also got a piece in that issue on how the Maui District Court decision on Kahoolawe relates to sovereignty.

Support your independent newspapers!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Musings: Screw Nature

I’m not sure if comment sections in newspapers or blogs are representative of wider public opinion, but I certainly hope not given the sort of responses posted to an Advertiser article on Congress appropriating $5.7 million for Hawaiian monk seal recovery.

Aside from the fact that many readers seem to be ignorant of the difference between state and federal funds, among other things, there was a discouraging “screw nature” attitude running through the comments. Guess when money gets tight, although not, curiously, for military expenditures, the first thing some folks want to cut is money for environmental programs.

This sort of comment was typical:

$5,700,000 for the seals. Polihale closed for 2 years unless you people on Kauai get out your shovels and start digging out your STATE PARK. I might kick the next Seal I see at Polihale when it opens back up. Joking, but sounds good.

Lots of folks are lauding the volunteer effort that got Polihale re-opened to the public after heavy rains washed out the bridge and road. But farmer Jerry wasn’t so sure. “Mother Nature closed that park,” he said, “and maybe it needed to stay closed for two years so it can recover from overuse. Now it’s open again so people can four-wheel out there and tear up the dunes and the plants.”

It does seem a few heavily-used places would benefit from a breather, like Kealia and Kee, to name two.

Of course, some people do understand the value of malama `aina. Was talking to a couple of Hawaiian friends who farm taro yesterday and they were expounding on the need to care for the land even before you take care of yourself and your family, because without the land, you won’t be able to care for yourself and your family.

“It’s simple, but people just don’t get it,” one friend said.

Perhaps that’s because so many people are so far removed from anything that comes from the land that they think if you just take care of the supermarket, bank and mall, then you can screw nature.

As Jerry noted the other day in response to a recent call out for Kauai folks to start 1,000 gardens a year until we achieve food self-sufficiency: “that’s not going to make much difference in meeting our food supply, but at least it might make people appreciate how much work farmers do to feed them.”

Meanwhile, the state DLNR is participating in an aquaculture project at Kapaa High School. It’s great to teach the kids how to raise fish and give them real world learning experiences. But why are they talking about releasing alien fish — bluegill and catfish — into the Wailua Reservoir as being part of an “ecosystem restoration” process? Those fish are not part of the native ecosystem, and in fact compete with native freshwater species. Are we going to have a whole generation of kids growing up believing tilapia are native because they’ve never seen or eaten an oopu?

Finally, as both the Associated Press and Science News reported, a new study shows that dolphins are temporarily deafened by direct exposure to loud military sonar. According to the AP story:

Marine biologists led by Aran Mooney at the University of Hawaii exposed a captive-born, trained Atlantic bottlenose dolphin to progressively louder pings of mid-frequency sonar.

The scientists fitted a harmless suction cup to the dolphin's head, with a sensor attached that monitored the animal's brainwaves.

When the pings reached 203 decibels and were repeated, the neurological data showed the mammal had become deaf, for its brain no longer responded to sound.

The deafness, though, was only temporary and the dolphin was not hurt in the experiment, said Mooney.

Now how does he really know whether it hurt the dolphin or not?

The Science News article offered a little more depth in its coverage:

That’s a mild threshold shift, and physiological changes caused by sonar may not be as important as the animals’ behavioral reactions, comments veterinarian and stranding specialist Paul Jepson of the Institute of Zoology in London. Startled animals may panic and surface so fast that they get decompression sickness, which would explain some of the damage Jepson has seen.

While 20 minutes of deafness in a tank where you’re being fed fish might not be such a big deal, it’s a very different story out in the wild.

Still, as I read these articles, and the perennial scientific conclusion that more tests are needed, I had to wonder what, really, was the point? Even if we find a definitive link between sonar and cetacean strandings, what is the likelihood the Navy will give it up? All they have to do is play their trump card — national security — and it's screw nature.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Musings: Senseless Violence

Rain, which had passed through quickly numerous times during the night, seemed imminent when Koko and I set out walking this morning. Dark gray clouds were piled up against a lighter gray sky, but not so thickly as to prevent a blush of pink from heralding the sun, which arrived in a flash of bright gold, followed by a heavy shower.

Fortunately by that time I’d run into my neighbor Andy, who shared his umbrella and also his knowledge of history and politics, both of which were welcomed this morning.

I asked him if thought there was a Japanese-American power bloc in the Legislature, or whether that was just an old myth. He said it was an old truth, but he wasn’t sure if it still applied, and thought Kolea had done a good job of debunking it in yesterday’s comment section.

I especially liked one comment Kolea made:

There are also ethnic factors affecting the perception of "political observers," whether malihini or local.

It’s a good reminder that so many factors affect our perception of everything. And when you figure that all 6.7 billion of us are operating within our own sphere of reality, and reality is 100 percent interpretation, it’s no wonder we have so many disputes, and kind of amazing that we ever reach agreement at all.

That idea was underscored during the Mixed Plate program on KKCR yesterday, where Ka`iulani Huff was interviewing attorney Dan Hempey and Naliko Markel, a minister of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation on the topic of independence and Hawaiian lands.

As Dan noted, the courts have said that Hawaiians do not have a legal claim to the land, but a moral one. So for the people of Hawaii and their state legislators to do nothing about resolving those claims, he said, is to choose an immoral path.

I liked that he put it in those terms, as it seemed to move the issue out of the abstract political and legal arenas, and made it very personal.

Of course, individually and collectively people choose immoral paths all the time, like the most recent Red Cross report that finds “US medical personnel were deeply involved in the CIA’s torture of prisoners held in overseas prisons.”

And then there’s the whole issue of waging endless war. Now we’re shifting the enemy, and so the materials used to fight it, to that nebulous group known as “insurgents.” That ought to give us another 60 years’ worth of battles to fight.

It made me think of an analysis I read over the weekend on the recent spate of gunmen blowing people away in America. It included a quote from Obama:

"We have to guard against the senseless violence that this tragedy represents," President Barack Obama said in Europe on Saturday.

But what violence isn’t senseless, when you get right down to it? And does the president of a nation whose largest export is military equipment and weapons, who has authorized the expanded use of unmanned drones — which have killed numerous civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan — have any credibility in cautioning others about senseless violence?

The analysis goes on to ask:

Put aside for a moment the debate over guns. This isn't about policy. It's about asking the urgent question: What is happening in the American psyche that prevents people from defusing their own anguish and rage before they end the lives of others? Why are we killing each other?

I don’t think you can put aside the debate over guns, especially if you’ve ever watched the movie “Bowling for Columbine.” But I had to wonder why the writer wasn’t asking the even bigger question: Why are we killing so many more people who aren’t Americans?

The answer, as usual, is follow the money. We're spending billions on stuff that maims and destroys, and giving folks a paycheck to do it. And now it seems the revamping of America’s military could very well line the pockets of the Hawaii Superferry folks. As I noted in a March 29 post:

The question now is, will it be back? I guess that depends on what sort of lucrative contract it can get elsewhere, or whether the military is looking to lease a couple of prototype JHSVs while waiting for Austal to deliver the rest.

And voila, what should emerge from Gates’ plan but this little blurb in Navy Times:

The Navy will also lease four joint high speed vessels next year, instead of two, until DoD takes delivery of its own ships in 2011, Gates said. The Navy leases high-speed catamarans, such as the Swift, now on a humanitarian deployment in the Caribbean, but has ordered its own purpose-built JHSVs from the Austal shipyard in Mobile, Ala.

How convenient that HSF has two all ready to go.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Musings: Hot Potato

Heavy rain blew in on strong winds just as the sky was brightening, causing me to wonder if our walk would be scuttled or delayed. But the squall moved out as quickly as it had moved in, and Koko and I set out in a gusty world glowing in soft, filtered golden light.

The brisk trades were invigorating, the freshly washed landscaped smelled clean and alive and the birds expressed their approval of it all by mightily singing. In the distance, rain could be seen falling from black clouds that raced across the sky and collided with the mountains.

Kanaka maoli once again collided with the mighty mountains of Babylon when Maui District Court Judge Simone Polak ruled on Friday that three members of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation were not acting to reclaim land stolen from the Hawaiian Kingdom when they landed on Kahoolawe back on July 31, 2006, but instead were simply trespassing.

The defendants weren’t surprised. After attorney Dan Hempey put on a lengthy defense, which included testimony by an expert in international law, to prove that the Nation was a legit sovereign entity, the judge denied his motion to dismiss the charges on that basis.

“An action by this Court would, in turn, direct Congress and the State Legislature to recognize the Reinstated Nation of Hawaii as the native Hawaiian sovereign entity, and this Court cannot act where Congress and the State Legislature must,” the judge wrote in order denying the motion.

As Dan sees it, both the District Court and U.S. Supreme Court — in its decision last week in the so-called "ceded lands" case — are saying that the issues of nationhood and land ownership are political, not judicial. But even though “the state has passed all these laws that dance around the issue and say we feel so bad about what we did to the Hawaiians, the Legislature has never met to even discuss recognition of a sovereign Hawaiian entity,” he said. “It’s basically been a string-along.”

And while Gov. Lingle campaigned on the promise that reconciliation with Native Hawaiians would be a top priority of her administration, she hasn’t delivered on that promise, he noted.

The Akaka Bill, meanwhile, is not intended to recognize a sovereign nation, so “the answer ain’t gonna come from Washington,” Dan said. And with the court now saying it lacks the authority to make such a determination, the political hot potato has been passed back to the Lege.

“The Legislature will either now do something, or bite their fingernails for another 50 years while the same situation continues,” Dan said. “Who’s going to be the lawmaker who stands up and does something really big?”

He suggested Sen. Gary Hooser might have the gumption to bring the matter into the public debate, but some political observers say Gary pissed off the Japanese power block when he pushed to bring the civil union bill up for a vote, and will be stripped of power as punishment. I guess we'll see if that's true in the next legislative session.

At any rate, Dan observe, “it’s not going to change without great public pressure on the Legislature. The ugly political process has got to be done.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Musings: Parallel Struggles

Kauai’s Dan Hempey is in court on Maui today representing three leaders of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation on charges they trespassed on Kahoolawe. The men landed on the island, where entry is allowed only by permit, and planted their flag to make a point: if the Kingdom never gave up Kaho’olawe – or any of the lands under its control at the time of the overthrow – how can Kingdom nationals possibly trespass there?

And so began Ia long legal slog, with Dan doing the case pro bono.

The judge already ruled they can’t use the sovereign nation defense, so today’s action is a trial with stipulated proceedings. You can get some background here.

This case, and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, is pushing the key question: what will it take to get Hawaiian lands back in Hawaiian hands?

Meanwhile, in a move that works to further erode the kanaka land base by making real estate speculation so attractive, the county has begun posting its approvals of transient vacation rentals that are not in the designated Visitor Destination Areas. You can sort the log by status to see who has gotten the go-ahead, and where.

Interestingly enough, the planning department approved some in the Ag district, where they’re prohibited by state law, and appears to be granting wholesale approvals to the TVRs in Hanalei, Haena and Wainiha. Some of those approved North Shore units are actually on the ground floor of homes that have been elevated to comply with regulations for building in a flood zone. That space is supposed to be open so flood waters can move through.

Instead, all those tourists will be stuck there on the ground floor when a tsunami hits. So much for extending the aloha spirit to visitors. And so much for the county inspection process.

Approvals also have been granted to homes that are newly constructed, making a mockery of the supposed “grandfathering” provision.

But while TVRs in the open district in rural coastal ares have sailed through, the only denials thus far are for three TVRs in Kalapaki Villas in Lihue town, where the zoning is R-20. Go figger.

Finally, I thought I’d share a link to a thought-provoking video that was kindly provided by “Anonymous” in the comments section of a previous post.

It not only tells the story of a revolutionary movement that doesn’t seem to have gotten much media attention, but depicts the environmental and social consequences of copper mining on a tropical island. Especially fascinating is its account of how the residents of this island have responded with ingenuity and innovation to a blockade that's left them without fresh infusions of Western stuff.

The film raises a lot of intriguing questions about self-determination, the lasting effects of colonialism and the role of armed resistance in a struggle for independence, with more than a few parallels to the same struggle that's been under way in Hawaii for more than a century.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Musings: Nothing Personal

When Koko and I went out walking last night the clouds were playing tag with the stars and a half-moon, which I’d last seen high and white in the late afternoon sky while watching two dark-colored helicopters, one very small, flying low and headed north along the coast. I’ve noticed this duo a number of times lately, always together and traveling routes that the tour choppers don’t take, which set me to wondering who they belong to and what they’re doing.

Was talking to a tourist the other day, a Baptist minister recovering from an overdose of Jesus, and I asked him how he was liking the island. Well, he said, he’d stopped into Tahiti Nui one night and sat at the bar for half an hour as the bartender served everyone who walked in the door, except him, until he finally got it: this place is for locals only.

It’s nothing personal, I said, it’s just that a lot of folks on the North Shore are really over the whole tourist thing because they’ve been so badly overrun.

I understand, he said, then proceeded to tell me how he’d paddled out to the surf break near the Waiohai in Poipu and smiled at a local guy and exclaimed over the sunshine and the waves only to have the guy scowl and reply, what, you think I don’t have eyes for see?

It’s nothing personal, I said, it’s just that he viewed you as one more Barney in the line-up.

Even though tourism continues to slide — an AP article on reports visitor arrivals on Kauai were down 19.8 percent over the previous February — it doesn’t seem like folks are any more inclined to suck up to the ones who do come.

Interviewed attorney Joe Moss, who specializes in bankruptcies, among other things, for a story yesterday. He noted that filings are up 70 percent statewide over a year ago, and increased 19 percent in March from the previous month. Locally, that translated into 25 bankruptcy hearings yesterday, compared to the 10 to 15 per month that Kauai had been averaging.

“Hawaii is now starting to feel what’s been happening on the mainland for a while,” Joe said, noting that he’s starting to see folks who bought at the wrong time and are now upside down on their houses.

One thing he hasn’t seen, however, is any indication that local banks and credit unions were involved in risky lending. The questionable mortgages were all issued by mainland banks, prompting him to think there had been a bit of predatory lending going on.

“I think that as a generalization that Kauai people are very trusting and sometimes naïve and they can fall prey to some lenders and companies that really take advantage of them,” Joe said.

His message to his clients, and others, is stop shopping.

“We don’t have to be in this thing that I call the consumer society,” Joe said. “We’re inundated with advertising and they’re very good at it, but you end up buying things you don’t need. It is hard for people to make it here. You really can’t fall into the mainland thing of buying stuff.”

That got me thinking about an article I read in The Week that posed the question: is America’s love affair with the mall over? It included a great quote that confirmed what I’d observed the last time I cruised through Ala Moana:

”The most important fact about our shopping malls,” says social scientist Henry Fairlie, “is that we do not need most of what they sell.”

The article goes on to report:

“One of the biggest consequences of mall closings is the loss of a sense of community,” says David Birnbrey of The Shopping Center Group, “a place where people gather and socialize.” And exercise. Retirees Dick and Anne Saplata work out by walking around the largely empty halls of the Metcalf South Mall in Leawood, Kan. It’s likely to close soon, and there’s talk that a developer will raze the place. If the mall goes under, Dick Saplata asks, “where are we going to walk?”

Wow. Maybe it’s just me, but that speaks volumes about the devolution of American society.

While we’re on that subject, as you may recall I discussed America’s failed “war on drugs” and its impact on Tijuana in a previous post, in which I mentioned that a journalist friend who lives there was working on a story about the situation.

Well, that story is out now and can be read in the on line edition of the San Diego Reader.

He wrote in an email to me:

Already getting some negative feedback in comments of the "kill the messenger" variety, but I know what I wrote is a true and accurate reflection of what my fellow Tijuaneses are going through.

It's nothing personal, I told him, it's just that folks love to attack those who say the stuff they don’t want to hear.

As the line in one of my favorite Sudden Rush songs goes: “I only speak the truth got no reason to be lying.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Musings: It Ain't Over Yet

A few rectangles of light on the eastern horizon offered evidence of a sunrise, though the celestial body itself was nowhere in sight when Koko and I went walking this morning. As is typical of the little microclimates in my neighborhood, the street got progressively wetter, with small streams running alongside, as we walked further mauka, where we ran into Farmer Jerry, who told me about a 130-year-old whale that had been killed during a hunt in Alaska, prompting a conversation about maintaining traditional cultural practices in a modern world.

Then we met up with my neighbor Andy, who picked up a mailbox that had been knocked off its post in the night, likely by the same people who broke the rear window out of a car parked on the shoulder, and we got to talking about the harassment encountered by transsexuals and whether animals know if they’re going to be euthanized.

My mind thus stimulated, and disturbed, Koko and I walked the final stretch alone, and in silence, save for the metallic call of the meadowlark and the background chorus of crowing roosters.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett is crowing absolute victory in yesterday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, taking the definitive position that:

"As a result of this decision, there cannot be a new ruling barring the state from transferring ceded lands.”

In fact, what the decision actually says is:

When a state supreme court incorrectly bases a decision on federal law, the court’s decision improperly prevents the citizens of the State from addressing the issue in question through the processes provided by the State’s constitution. Here, the State Supreme Court incorrectly held that Congress, by adopting the Apology Resolution, took away from the citizens of Hawaii the authority to resolve an issue that is of great importance to the people of the State. Respondents defend that decision by arguing that they have both state-law property rights in the land in question and “broader moral and political claims for compensation for the wrongs of the past.” But we have no authority to decide questions of Hawaiian law or to provide redress for past wrongs except as provided for by federal law. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Hawaii is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

And that’s why Sherry Broder and Bill Meheula, who argued on behalf of OHA and four Hawaiian individuals, respectively, are also claiming victory, saying the decision correctly finds that it’s up to the state court to interpret state laws.

Only thing is, now those attorneys can’t rely on the Apology Bill to support their claim that the state can’t sell or transfer some 1.2 million acres of land that was seized, not ceded, in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

It’s no surprise that the high court dissed the Apology Resolution. While the U.S. is willing to admit it acted illegally and improperly, actually rectifying that wrong is another story. As UH Hawaiiian Studies professor Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa aptly observed:

Why are we not surprised? If they had ruled otherwise every native nation whose lands have been taken by America would file suit for a return of their lands.

And think what that would do to the American empire. Shudder.

Still, it’s a bit of a stretch for Gov. Lingle and Bennett to claim that the decision unequivocally resolves the issue of who owns the so-called “ceded lands.” As the Star-Bulletin reports today:

"I think it settles an issue that's been up in the air for too many decades," Lingle said. "It's, I think, a definitive commentary on the fact that the state of Hawaii did receive these lands with an unclouded title and that it's best for the state of Hawaii because everybody now recognizes that these lands are owned by the state."

Can the guv really be that out of touch, to believe that “everybody now recognizes that these lands are owned by the state?” (And what about the 400,000 acres that the feds snagged?) Or is she still suffering from the same delusions and denial that prompted her to claim that her Administration had done nothing wrong regarding the Superferry — even after the state Supreme Court twice found that it had?

Meanwhile, the Lege still has its chance to weigh in on the issue, with the Senate today taking testimony on SB 1677, which allows lawmakers to reject such land sales to non-state entities.

"If, as a Legislature, we believe that there should be a new shift in policy or make it clear what our position is on ceded lands, then that's something we will be addressing," said House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).

The Lege has supported OHA's position. But after seeing the way lawmakers chickened out on the civil unions bill, I wouldn’t expect much leadership or moral fortitude out of this group.

I think Kane Pa of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation had it right when he called in to KKCR yesterday and said: “This discussion about ceded land is just to confuse people so they support the Akaka Bill.”

In any event, the issue is far from settled, and not even close to being over.