Sunday, May 31, 2009

Musings: Holding the Bag

The moisture-filled air had a sparkly quality to it when Koko and I went out walking this morning, just in time to see the sun rise and turn that sparkle pink-gold. But the most stunning sight of all was Waialeale, which kept me mesmerized, standing there all agog, as it went through a light-induced metamorphosis that took it, within the course of several minutes, from flat blue to silver-green to a mosaic of moss green, brown and deep blue, all softened by a veneer of yellow.

As we all watched, the Hawaii Superferry went through its own dramatic transformation in a process that was not nearly so swift or pretty. Initially billed as a state-of-the art, affordable alternative for inter-island travelers and goods, it sharply divided the islands, provoked protests and a “unified command” response, had our governor and legislators doing back flips to please it, generated god knows how many reams of legal documents and finally was fully repudiated by the courts for its bold and brazen attempt to circumvent the state’s environmental laws. Yesterday, in the latest chapter of a saga that’s not quite over yet, it filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

It’s really no surprise that it’s come to this. When the Hawaii Supreme Court issued its final ruling that shut the big boat down, both the state and company officials kept up the charade that it might be back when the EIS was pau.

I don’t imagine many thinking people believed that — which raises the question of whether DOT’s Mike Formby is a dunce or aspiring actor. We already know that Sen. Sam Slom, who continues to maintain that the court’s decisions were wrong, is a complete idiot.

Although HSF executives like to blame the Court and environmental activists for its financial woes, in truth, the Court’s decision was a way out for a company that never had a viable business model as a passenger ferry and was losing money on a daily basis in the Islands.

According to an Advertiser article, HSF just couldn’t scrape together enough work elsewhere in time to pay its bills:

"As a direct result of the Hawai'i Supreme Court decision last March, Hawaii Superferry had to shut down operations. There has been no relief from that decision," Superferry said in a statement. "With no ability to operate, the company has had no revenues, only ongoing expenses to maintain the vessels Alakai and Huakai, our second ship.

"Our recent objective was to charter the ships outside of Hawai'i, which would keep Hawaii Superferry operating at some capacity. Although there are potential charter opportunities around the world, they take time and haven't materialized in time for the company to meet its required financial obligations. Our efforts to refinance and restructure the company for this interim period with additional investment have not been successful, as yet. Accordingly, a filing of Chapter 11 was an unavoidable next step."

Doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that it wasn’t preparing for such a contingency when its case was before the Hawaii Supreme Court — a panel that had previously rejected its claim that an EIS wasn’t needed — instead of waiting until the decision was rendered?

Unless, of course, bankruptcy better serves the company’s purposes. The Maritime Association, which originally secured loans of $143 million for the venture, holds first mortgage on the boats. HSF also owes $22.9 million to Austal USA, which built the two ferries — and won a lucrative contract to build JHSVs in the process — and holds a second mortgage. Leasing the vessels to the military would work well for those two entities and primary investor JF Lehman, who currently has both boats in his Mobile, Ala., shipyard, while leaving the State of Hawaii, smaller investors and service providers holding the bag.

As I outlined in a previous post and Maui Tomorrow detailed in a letter to the Maui News, the state is paying dearly for its decision to jump on board the Superferry. (Hmmm, I wonder if the state will end up having all the court-ordered legal costs.)

State auditor Marion Higa in her official audit of the Superferry boondoggle, hinted at the unfortunate and expensive outcome of the state's tumultuous affair with the ferry:

In the end, the state may have compromised its environmental policy in favor of a private company's internal deadline," state auditor Marion Higa concluded. "It remains to be seen whether these decisions will cost the state more than its environmental policy."

So when the final costs are tallied, let's not forget who answered the door and said "come in" when the snake oil salesmen came calling.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Musings: Hidden Costs

The sky was a quilt of puffy gray clouds that slowly turned silver, then yellow, then orange, then pink while Koko and I were out walking this morning. The air was still and muggy, and the soil and all its inhabitants were drenched from yesterday’s welcome rain.

With the sun rising so early —it’s at its peak of 5:49 a.m. now — there’s a broad window for walking, and I haven’t seen my neighbor Andy or farmer Jerry on the road for a while. But as we passed Andy’s house, Koko heard his voice inside and began to whine, frequently looking back as we continued on, apparently in hopes that he and Momi would appear on the street.

A Hawaiian national who was busted on Oahu for driving a car without state license plates had to make the inevitable appearance in court. As he noted in an email:

Go to the Courts for a day and sit down and listen and watch what is happening in Hawaii with it's Courts systems. Look at the people and notice who is there. It's not the Rich or Wealthy, it's the poor people who are there trying to survive the American Holocaust.

As I go before the State Courts, Hawaii is My Hitler Camp. As a Hawaiian National living in my country, my Freedom is being Denied.

All while under the American system, many people from all over the world are being brought to my country to perpetuate the American Empire that is HEWA.

Meanwhile, it was interesting to note that at least one KIUC official also made a court appearance because utility lines are killing Newell’s shearwaters. In an article on Dennis Esaki’s resignation from the KIUC board of directors, he commented:

“As chairman, I have been subpoenaed to testify in the grand jury for alleged downing of shearwater birds due to our power lines and lights. This is one of the unintended and unwanted consequences of the chairman.

No, it’s one of the unwanted consequences of refusing to underground power lines that stretch across known Newell’s flyways. Could it be the feds are FINALLY going to take legal action against KIUC for its ongoing disregard of the Endangered Species Act?

It was also interesting to note that the same day The Garden Island ran a story highlighting a local farm that uses sustainable practices, the New York Times ran a piece about the tough times that organic dairy farms are facing.

It seems budget conscious consumers are forgoing purchases of organic foods, causing that once rapidly growing sector of the food industry to stutter. And the dairy farmers that were supplying it are up manure creek:

“We’re in big trouble,” said Craig Russell, an organic dairy farmer in Brookfield, Vt., who owes $500,000, mostly from converting his farm to organic in 2006.

Mr. Russell quit a day job as an accountant to farm full time last year. “I made more money in six months than in five years of conventional farming,” he said, but his farm is now barely hanging on. The price he receives from the distributor dropped another $1 per hundredweight on May 1, just when he most needed money to prepare for the summer grazing season.

“It’s going to cost me more to make milk than sell milk,” he said.

I’m a big fan of organic agriculture, because I believe it’s better for people and the planet. But the small organic farms I know of on Kauai are barely hanging on, and many would be sunk without the seasonal surfers and idealistic souls who are willing to trade labor for tent space or very marginal accommodations.

So if the small organic farms are struggling and the small conventional farms are struggling, that leaves the big factory farms. They’ve mastered the art of churning out cheap food — even though it means treating animals and the land badly and compromising human health.

It’s not unlike our approach to energy. We want it cheap and plentiful, with the true costs conveniently kept out of sight and mind.

Some, however, are intent on revealing some of these hidden costs. In the strongest scientific indictment yet of genetically modified foods, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium, product labeling and the immediate implementation of long term safety testing, including independent long term scientific studies to begin gathering data to investigate the role of GM foods on human health. The organization is also urging physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GM foods, and to consider the role of GM foods in their patients' disease processes.

According to the organization’s position paper (the footnotes were removed from this excerpt):

Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging and possibly lead to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented. A recent 2008 study links GM corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed GM corn. This study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in the mice fed GM corn. These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GM foods, including proliferative cell growth and disruption of the intestinal immune system.

Also, because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.

Americans spent $2.4 trillion on healthcare in 2007, which represented 17 percent of the gross domestic product. Many of these costs can be directly traced to eating a crappy diet in which GM foods figure prominently, including corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. So are we going to let the biotech industry off the hook with its unsubstantiated claims of safety? If the real — and currently hidden — cost of these foods was factored in, organic and locally produced foods would suddenly be a lot more competitive in the market — just as alternative energy would be a lot more competitive if the price of a barrel of oil included the full costs to environmental and human health.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Musings: Waiting Game

I’m always intrigued by all the microclimates on little Kauai. Yesterday, while heading north, I left cool temps and light showers at my house, ran into high clouds and a breeze along the coast at Kapaa, then hit heavy rains at Anahola and Moloaa, where the waterfalls were running for the second day in a row — a rare occurrence indeed. At Waipake, the clouds started to break, Kilauea was dry and full-on sun and Princeville was dead calm, hot and muggy.

You just never know what’s waiting around every corner. Unless, of course, you’re a Native Hawaiian seeking a homestead award or independence or a fair settlement of the so-called “ceded lands” claims. And then you can pretty much expect a repeat of the same old stall tactics that are employed to avoid dealing with the root issue: just what is the state’s responsibility to the indigenous people of the Islands?

Last month I wrote a post in which I reported that Maui District Court Judge Simone Polak had ruled the underlying issues of nationhood and land ownership in the Kahoolawe trespass case were political, not judicial.

“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 her order denying the motion [to dismiss].

More recently, in researching a story about how Micah Kane — now a finalist for Kamehameha Schools trustee — has managed the Hawaiian Homelands Trust, I again ran into a judge taking a similar political, not judicial, stand.

Is this case, Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. had sued Gov. Lingle and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for failing to request or secure sufficient public funding for the agency.

As Alan Murakami, the NHLC attorney who filed the suit, told me, ““The state has a legal mandate under the Constitution to adequately fund Hawaiian Homesteads.”

In a February 2008 Honolulu Weekly article on the lawsuit, Ian Lind noted:

The suit…points to Article XII, Section 2 of the State Constitution, passed by the 1978 Con-Con and adopted by the voters, which requires the Legislature to appropriate “sufficient sums” for development of development of home, agriculture, farm and ranch lots, loans, “rehabilitation projects” to improve “the general welfare and conditions of native Hawaiians”, and the administration and operation of DHHL.

Records of the Constitutional Convention, cited in the lawsuit, show that the intent of the amendment was to eliminate the “burden to generate revenues through the general leasing of lands” by requiring adequate legislative funding. The Con-Con’s action came after several years of protests and civil disobedience by Hawaiians angered that lands were being leased to politically connected businesses while their applications for leases languished without action, often for decades.

In January, however, a Big Island judge dismissed the Constitutional claims part of the suit, saying it was a political question that he couldn’t decide because there were no legislative standards set to determine what constitutes adequate funding. The rest of the suit, which challenges a commercial lease of homestead lands, is proceeding.

Meanwhile, the process of defunding DHHL continues full speed under Lingle and Kane. As Lind noted in his article:

It was not until 1987, after the election of Gov. John Waihee, that the Legislature first appropriated any general funds for the operations of DHHL.

General fund appropriations peaked at $4.2 million in 1992. 

Last year, the Legislature appropriated less than $1.5 million in general revenue to DHHL, while the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which is not constitutionally mandated, increased its state funding to $87 million.

As I report in my current article on Kane, he requested no general funds at all for the 2010 fiscal year. His rationale is that accepting taxpayer funds to operate programs that “benefit a single class of people” could open up the department to an equal protection lawsuit.

“We felt it was responsible to not give anyone the chance to do that.”

It seems the state should be defending DHHL against such attacks, not trying to avoid them. But of course, it’s in the state’s best interest to shirk its financial responsibility to DHHL even as the waiting list grows and more and more kanaka maoli end up homeless in their own land.

Instead of providing DHHL with adequate funding, Kane and Lingle have engaged in yet another land grab by accelerating the push to grant more commercial leases and revocable permits, which primarily benefit non-Hawaiians, under the guise of making the agency "self-sufficient.".

Some of what I wrote was cut from the printed article, so I’ll include it all here:

DHHL also receives $30 million annually under a $600 million settlement with the state over its prior uncompensated use of DHHL lands. That funding ends in four years.

Kane has maintained that the general leases he’s pursued will help make up for the loss of those monies. During his tenure, the agency approved 19 new general land leases totaling $4.6 million annually and 102 new revocable permits that generate some $2.45 million each year. Another six properties are currently being marketed, and the agency expects to formalize leases on them over the next 18 months.

For Murakami, Kane’s rationale doesn’t make sense because the numbers don’t add up.

Even at $30 million a year, it would still take 76 years to exhaust a wait list of 18,000 persons, he said. Furthermore, Kane previously testified that the agency needed about $100 million annually to make a serious dent in the waiting list. So how, he asked, can DHHL get people off the list while relying solely on general lease revenues that amount to about $12 million annually — or less than half what it had been receiving from the state? “It’s very questionable what’s going on here,” he said.

Kane lost his bid in the Legislature to have the general lease terms extended from 65 years to a maximum of 99, although the issue is expected to be taken up again in the next session.

In another section that was cut — ah, the constraints of print media — Molokai homesteader Glenn Teves noted that Kane also has de-emphasized agricultural awards, which could make Hawaiians, if not the agency, self-sufficient:

Teves is concerned about Kane’s decisions to develop DHHL’s ag lands and de-emphasize farm and pasture awards, noting that Kane did not create an agricultural department in the agency, as recommended by his predecessor, Ray Soon — also a Kam Schools trustee finalist.

“There’s a good chance the only ag left in Hawaii will be on Hawaiian Homes,” Teves said. “The rest will be speculated on. This subdivision of agricultural lands will be the demise of Hawaiian Homes’ big ag land holdings. The original intent of the Trust was rehabilitation of Hawaiians through agricultural production. You can’t ignore agrarian pursuits.”

Kane, meanwhile, has pursued state funding for infrastructure projects that primarily benefit commercial leases and general public uses, rather than solely DHHL beneficiaries.

“I just believe in a lot more inclusion,” he told me.

Unfortunately, that sort of inclusiveness tends to exclude the very people the Homestead Act was intended to benefit: kanaka maoli. In two years or less, Kane will go on to bigger and better things — if not Kam Schools, then some other plum job — without having made an appreciable dent in the homestead waiting list. He will, however, have put more non-Hawaiians on Hawaiian lands and helped to minimize the state’s financial obligation to DHHL.

"How people view my tenure here doesn't matter to me," Kane told me. "I know my heart's in the right place."

As Big Island homesteader Jerry Ma`uhili observed:

“What it always comes down to is this: we don’t have money and we don’t know when we’re going to get money so you folks just have to wait. We’ve waited half a century and we’re still waiting. Don’t make us wait another half century.”

But it seems that’s exactly what the state has in mind when it comes to all these thorny political questions about how to achieve some sort of justice for Native Hawaiians.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Musings: Cockeyed Thinking

It was a dove grey kind of morning, soft, with muted colors, when Koko and I went walking on streets wet from last night's rain. Mist crept up the flanks of the cinder cones and kissed the Giant’s cheeks as Haupu and Waialeale floated like islands in a foamy white sea.

The day arrived as a steadily intensifying saturation of pink in feathery clouds to the east, followed by a brief appearance of a vibrant orange disc, before the gray curtains were drawn again.

Along the way we passed a roadside recycling stand run by a man who sometimes leaves signs exhorting people to do this or don’t do that. Today it was a plea scrawled on the discarded lid of a cooler: I’m begging you, stop leaving trash here. I can’t magically turn your trash into something useful.

Hmmm, maybe he needs to tell that to the county, which remains infatuated with expensive and highly questionable “waste-to-energy” technology that promises to magically turn trash into that which we treasure above all else: electricity.

Jan Ten Bruggencate wrote a post the other day in which he compared the risks to birds of various types of power source and astutely noted:

The first fact, of course, is that EVERY form of energy production has impacts on the natural environment.

He then went on to say:

It may also be that wind energy has more potential for mitigation of wildlife impacts than other forms of power.

An example: Using a windpower firm's money to fence dogs out of a shearwater colony may save more shearwaters in a single season than a windmill will kill in its useful life.

Actually, that approach could be applied to other energy producers, and is, with varying degrees of success, since mitigation measures aren’t so cut and dried as EIS writers like to pretend, given that we often know so little about the creatures we’re wantonly destroying. KIUC is trying to avoid undergrounding the power lines that kill Newell’s shearwaters — I heard two flying overhead the other night, as a thin crescent of light held the darkened whole of the moon — by funding the SOS program. It was started decades ago by state wildlife biologist Tom Telfer as a way to collect fledglings downed by lights and wires on their maiden flight from their mountain burrows to the sea, and has since been co-opted by the co-op as a mitigation measure.

Is SOS having a net benefit on the Newell's population, and if so, does it give KIUC license to keep killing the birds when such deaths could be avoided? And how long do these mitigation programs have to be conducted? For the life of the electric lines (or windmill blades) that are killing the bats and birds? Or just for a year or two, until the scrutiny associated with getting a permit wanes?

More important, why are we continually in this mode of determining how much of nature can be destroyed, and how many species — including humans — killed solely to serve our selfish, and so often wasteful, purposes? What will it take to change this cockeyed way of thinking, which can only lead to our eventual demise?

Meanwhile, just to hasten things along, deaths and destruction stemming from our addiction to oil continue unabated around the world….

Here at home, the mayor paid a visit to the planning commission yesterday, purportedly to share his “visions and goals” for the county and outline the direction he wants the commission and planning department to take. According to The Garden Island:

Describing himself as “an ex-officio member” of all of the bodies to which he appoints volunteer [sic], Carvalho told the commission where they [sic] fit into his five broader goals — supporting the local economy; becoming more sustainable now; planning wisely for the future; caring for families, communities and visitors; and delivering customer service.

He told the commissioners and planners they “would be critical in helping plan for the future.” Gee, and all this time they were doing their part to support the local economy by never saying no. Good thing he stopped by to set them straight about their real purpose.

Of course, it’s impossible to set some cock-eyed thinking straight, like the Republican reaction to Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rep. Lamar Smith, of Texas (where else?) really put his foot in it when he issued a statement saying that:

...he's concerned Sotomayor has shown "personal bias based on ethnicity and gender."

"Judge Sotomayor will need to reassure the country that she will set aside her biases, uphold the rule of law and interpret the Constitution as written, not as she believes it should have been written," said Smith, who will have no vote in the matter, as the confirmation is a Senate matter.

Yeah, Sonia. Don’t you know that only privileged white males are allowed to express personal bias based on ethnicity and gender? Not that they do, of course. They always set aside their biases, uphold the rule of law and interpret the Constitution — and the Bible — solely as written.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Musings: Because We Care

The morning was quiet, in the way that only holiday mornings are, and the remnants of last night’s rain dripped from the eaves, when Koko and I set out walking. Venus glowed through a thin veil of white and all the mountains were clear, but not defined, in the dim pre-dawn light.

Day officially began as a few pink puka in a mass of gray, then all of a sudden the sun popped out, a sphere of hot pink, and just as suddenly it was gone again, swallowed up by thick clouds, leaving a golden-pink cumulus tower and a band of light on the summit of Waialeale as proof of its existence.

As we walked, we passed numerous dead chickens and other birds in various states of decay smashed on the road and lying alongside it. Although I’m not a big fan of the wild chickens, a friend and I both agreed, as we were driving around dodging carcasses the other day, that we don’t like seeing all the dead chickens on the road. It’s an indication of two things that do not bode well for our community: people are driving too fast, and they just don’t care.

Of course, some folks can take the pretext of caring to troubling extremes, with the state Board of Education set to vote tomorrow on rule changes that are supposed to make schools "safer," while trashing privacy rights in the process. You can learn more about the rules, and how to submit testimony, at the ACLU website.

In UH law professor Jon Van Dyke’s critique of the proposed rules, he notes:

Allowing school officials to open lockers and to allow dogs to sniff these lockers, without any particularized suspicion that an individual student has violated any school rule, would send a totally inappropriate message to the students that they have no privacy rights and that our school officials have no respect for the constitutional rights that our predecessors have fought and died for.

But it’s an entirely appropriate message if you want to effectively train kids to be mindless, GNP-boosting zombies who haven’t a clue about their rights and the government’s ongoing efforts to usurp them using the highly effective propaganda tool that its repressive actions are being done in the interest of safety and security — or in other words, because it cares about its citizenry. You’ve got to start killing their spirits early if you want them to be sufficiently brain dead by adult hood.

Otherwise, how are you going to convince them to carry out your senseless wars? As testimony delivered to Congress by U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan indicates, the belief that government knows best and is acting in their best interest is very deeply ingrained in the troops. Unfortunately, they're often in for a rude shock when they find out it`s bullshit. Consider this account from former Marine sniper, Sergio Kochergin:

My second deployment was in the city of Husaybah in Al Anbar province in Al Qaim region on the Syrian border. First thing I want to talk about is the drop weapons. Drop weapons are the weapons that are given to us by our chain of command in case we kill somebody without any weapons, and so that we would not get into trouble. We would carry an AK-47, and if the person that was shot did not have the weapon, an AK-47 would be placed at his corpse, and when the unit would come back to the base, they would turn it in to identify the shot man as the enemy combatant. The weapons could not come from anywhere else but the higher chain of command, because after the raid, all weapons were turned in into the armory and should have been recorded.

Two months into deployment, our rules of engagement changed to a personnel with having a bag and a shovel at the intersection or on the roads, that they were suspicious. This gave us a bigger window on who we can engage. Looking at the situation, this point of view, a lot of enemy combatants that we shot were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were tired, mad, angry, and we just wanted to go home and stop this killing of our brothers. One of our intelligence officers told us that they received a call from one of the sources in the city telling them that there are fliers posted all over the town that says that there are unknown snipers in the city, they kill the insurgents and the civilians. We did not take into consideration that the innocent people are being killed by us, because every time we sent the pictures to the command post through the interlink system, we would receive an approval to kill people with shovels and the bags.

Now, I know that it wasn’t right to do that, but when you trust those who act like they care for you, you listen to them and follow their orders, because you don’t want to let your friends down. “What if?” was used as a propaganda and a way to relieve our minds from the actions we have partaken in and make it easier on us.

Or this account from former Army Captain Luis Montalvan, who worked extensively for General David Petraeus and somehow found the courage to do what was right, despite getting orders to the contrary:

In Iraq, I witnessed many disturbing things. I witnessed waterboarding. I was given unlawful orders by superiors to not offer humanitarian assistance to refugees caught between Syrian and Iraqi borders. I disobeyed those orders.

Perhaps Adam Kokesh, who joined the Marines in 1999 because he felt “a responsibility to take part in the national defense in some way,” says it best:

I would only hope that anyone considering joining the military today for those reasons of which I am very proud of realize that they have a higher calling than serving their country: to restore faith in our system of governance, before they make themselves ready to fight and kill and die in the United States of America, knowing that they may end up dying for a lie.

You do not have to have served to see how recent pressures on the military are making us weaker as a country. You do not have to have witnessed the occupation firsthand to see its absurdity. And you do not have to be an expert on international relations to see the disastrous effects of our foreign policy. Ignorance, propaganda and distraction have made up the last refuge of those Americans who would rather remain in denial about our current state of affairs. Now that we are facing the truth and the majority of America is at least nominally against the occupation of Iraq, what fate will we claim for our nation? For some, their silence will be their hypocrisy, and their inaction will be their complicity with the destruction of our great union.

Just a little something to think about on this Memorial Day, from those who have seen our government and its agents at their worst, yet still care enough to speak out in an effort to rectify those wrongs.

And on a totally different note, a story in today's Maui News on a surge in meth sales and use on that island noted:

The Maui police had "intel" that drug traffickers were using the Hawaii Superferry to transport meth from Honolulu to Maui, before the ferry service shut down, he added. That presented an especially difficult channel to block, because Maui police didn't have jurisdiction over activities on the high seas, he [police officer Ken Doyle] said.

Do you suppose the folks at HSF knew — or cared?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Musings: Desecration in the Hood

The sun was an hour past risen, and climbing fast, when Koko and I arrived at the beach this morning. Our timing was perfect, as evidenced by the puddles and wet sand left by a just-passed squall.

A little bump from the north was breaking on the edge of the reef, whose inside waters were pools of glass, save for the broad swath of sparkle twinkling up at the sun. Every now and then a turtle surfaced, its glistening wet head a ball of floating light.

The beach was broad and smooth, adjoining a reef exposed by the extreme new moon low tide and cloaked in soft shades of rust and moss green. No one was in sight, save for a surfer far to the north and a cluster of net fishermen far to the south.


Fortunately, it was a far different day at the beach than the one experienced by a friend on Friday when she went to her favorite neighborhood stretch of sand — which also happens to be where Joe Brescia is building his house and several other luxurious homes are going up.

She goes there often, because she loves the place and also to document ongoing desecration in the hood, whether it’s construction on burial sites, encroachment onto the public shoreline, illegal vacation rentals or what have you.

It’s not a role that is universally appreciated, and on Friday she was harassed by the crew at the Brescia site, where Joe Galante has taken over as contractor. The workers apparently didn’t go through any cultural sensitivity training, with one sporting a tee-shirt that bore the image of a knife-pierced skull.

As you can see from these pictures, they’ve poured more cement and are proceeding on the structure.

Later, she was deemed a “busy body” by a woman who had to move her septic tank mauka after my friend complained to the county and Department of Health about its proximity to the reef.

The woman, an Aussie who has applied for permits for her two lavish vacation rentals under the misnomer of My Bungalow, told my friend she thought people would be grateful that she had “fixed up” the old King house and so “improved” the neighborhood.

She then asked my friend, “Why can’t you go the beach where you live?” — apparently without realizing that the same question could just as easily – and perhaps more appropriately — be posed to her.

Such encounters take some of the pleasure out of a beach walk, but quite frankly, if residents aren’t on it — and willing to speak up — the county and state let all kinds of crap slide through.

Kudos to the couple who spoke up about the pregnant monk seal being shot — the second seal in just over a month — even though they reportedly feared retaliation.

The Advertiser reported that the seal was killed at Pilaa, while The Garden Island’s story declined to name the beach at the request of NOAA officials.

If it was, indeed, Pilaa — a lot of people do not know the proper beach names — it ought to be easy to find the culprit. Just see who has keys to the gate there. Perhaps the offer of a reward would get some folks talking. These things do not happen without other people knowing what went down.

It’s puzzling why someone would do it. Killing an animal for food is one thing, but to kill a rare animal like that for sport is pretty weird and creepy — and another form of desecration in the hood. Let’s just hope there’s only wildlife exterminator out there and that he — you just know it’s gotta be a man — is soon busted.

On a brighter note, my friend Ka`ili said he ran into Mark Barbanell, who earlier prevented him from practicing his indigenous fishing rights at the Wainiha River, and Mark apologized and the two made nice.

While it will still be worthwhile to have someone from Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. come over to give a public talk about gathering rights, it's good that Mark and Kaili worked things out on their own, as two adults living in a very small community.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Musings: Something New

The moon, shrinking and rising later each day, was lagging well behind Venus in the fiery streaked eastern sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. The temperature was brisk and the ground was saturated from a much-appreciated rain that slipped in yesterday afternoon, quenching the heat and refreshing the land and flora.

I stopped on the way back to check the headlines on my neighbor’s newspaper, and saw one article extolling the virtues of stand up paddle boards as a boon to the island’s economy, which seems a bit of a stretch. What’s more likely is the fad is helping a couple of surf shops.

But if folks follow the Chamber’s advice, the sport could turn into yet another of those unregulated — or push the rules because there’s no enforcement — free-for-alls that seem to pop up every time somebody figures out a new way to commercialize, and thus capitalize on, Kauai’s natural attributes.

“It’s a good business to get into as the sport is growing,” said Randall Francisco, president of the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, who is no stranger to enterprise success. “From the business standpoint, an opportunity like this adds to a visitor’s experience, as they are always looking for something new and also it’s a chance for residents to get out in the water and enjoy themselves.”

While the paddleboarders are enjoying themselves, the short board surfers aren’t quite so much. Seems the stand up guys, who can catch any wave, are hogging rides, and conflict between them and the surfers is increasing. After one altercation at a southside beach last week, a stand up guy found the air had been let out of all four of his tires.

Surfers, of course, can fend for themselves. What really bothered me about Francisco’s comment was his observation that visitors “are always looking for something new.” Here they are, in one of the world’s most beautiful spots, with a totally unique culture and endemic flora and fauna, a place that is almost guaranteed to be better than what they have back home, and they’re bored already. Been there, done that. Yawn. What’s new? What’s next?

And we keep catering to it, wasting water by running it down the irrigation ditches so folks can go tubing, stringing up zip lines because the spectacle of this place isn’t thrilling enough, exploiting each and every hidden nook and cranny as the latest “secret spot” that tourists can go to get away from it all — only to find, inevitably, each other.

We’ve got the tour boats on Na Pali and kayaks on every river and helicopters over every valley. We’ve got vacation rentals on nearly every beautiful beach. And it’s still not enough. The insatiable clamour continues: What’s new? What’s different? And in the course of providing it, we whittle away what is new, what is different in this crowded, homogenous world: a distinctive place that isn’t entirely — yet — devoted to human pursuits, presence and pleasures.

Meanwhile, "Dr. Beach," who in a just world would be forced to live out the rest of his life under a freeway overpass with the author of the Ultimate Kauai Guide, has generated unwanted and unneeded publicity for poor, beleagured Hanalei with his pronouncement that it’s America’s best beach.

I found it amusing that The Garden Island ran it as “breaking news” in its online edition, and devoted sizable coverage to the "story” in today’s print edition. Do we really need to be told how special that place is by a self-proclaimed beach expert who uses it to promote himself and write off his travel to beaches?

Worse, though, is the utter gushing bullshit that characterizes AP’s story:

Hanalei features postcard views from every angle and is untouched by the feverish development that has transformed the coastlines of other islands.

So what are all these expansive and expensive homes that now line the white sand, and the eyesore of the Princeville Resort that hangs over its edges?

The village is a throwback to old Hawaii. There are sprawling plots of taro, which is used to produce poi, a staple in the Hawaiian diet. Neighborhood kids sell fresh leis on the corner. Gift shops, art galleries, surf stores and casual restaurants line the main drag.

Yup, sure sounds like “old Hawaii.”

The writer then shows his complete ignorance with this paragraph:

Hanalei first gained fame when the hit musical "South Pacific" was filmed here five decades ago, and it hasn't changed much.

First, Hanalei has been famous for centuries as the subject of numerous songs and chants. It didn’t come into existence simply because Hollywood found it, and on the process created such fake and persistent place names as “Bali Hai.”

And second, Hanalei has changed tremendously in 50 years. Just 40 years ago, a friend who grew up there told me, he and his cousins would race to the road and stare in wonder when a car drove by. Traffic was scarce, tourists were rare, and very few haoles lived in the region.

Now the traffic along the road is unceasing during the day, and as old Uncle Walter, a Haena native and veteran of Hamburger Hill, opined at the Kapaa Laudromat the other day: “Get too many haoles on the North Shore these days.”

Nowhere in the article is there any mention of the high bacteria counts that give surfers and swimmers “the itchies” at certain times of the year, or the sailboats that anchor in the bay in the summer and dump their waste.

Nor is there a peep uttered about the rising property taxes and the proliferation of vacation rentals that have pushed out locals and undermined what once was a strong and vibrant community.

And of course there’s not a whisper about the locals, who don’t even want to go to the beach because of all the tourists, who feel overrun, who regularly have altercations with oblivious tourists and arrogant newcomers who are so caught up in the myth of Hanalei they entirely miss the real place.

But fortunately, the spotlight will only be on Hanalei Bay for a year. Because, of course, even “heaven on earth” gets boring and you’ve got to keep giving the tourists something new.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Musings: The Real Culprits

The wedge moon was directly above Venus, and about an arm’s width apart, when Koko and I got in the car and headed north, passing the road crews just pau work from their all-night shift in Kapaa. The ocean was glassy at Kealia, and the sky started to brighten about Anahola. By Waipake, pink fingers from numerous unseen hands were reaching out to the mountains, which were clear and deep lavender, softened by light infused with dew and ehu kai.

At Lumahai we parked and walked onto that broad, long expanse of olivine sand shimmering in the just-risen sun. The surf was cracking — translucent green barrels hurled themselves on the shore in an explosion of white pyrotechnic glory. Mesmerized, I sat on gray rocks still filled with the night’s cold and just watched for a long time.

That was yesterday. Today when Koko and I set out walking the air was chilly and the sky was packed tight with stars. In the east, Venus was on nearly equal footing with a golden crescent moon bright enough to illuminate its whole. They formed a triangle with Mars, faintly red, and remarkable for its naked-eye visibility, while Jupiter reigned in the south.

We returned home just as Wailaleale was crowned in a pink halo, compliments of the sun peeking out of a bed of orange clouds. On days like these, where spring lengthens into summer, the natural world beckons me like pollen lures bees — yet another species suffering the ill effects of sharing the planet with humans.

It seems evidence is mounting on the cause of colony collapse disorder, and not surprisingly, one of our toxic creations — imidacloprid, the world’s best-selling insecticide — is implicated. According to an article in Salon:

... the National Honeybee Advisory Board, which represents the two biggest beekeeper associations in the U.S., recently asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the product. "We believe imidacloprid kills bees -- specifically, that it causes bee colonies to collapse," says Clint Walker, co-chairman of the board.

Beekeepers have singled out imidacloprid and its chemical cousin clothianidin, also produced by Bayer CropScience, as a cause of bee die-offs around the world for over a decade. More recently, the same products have been blamed by American beekeepers, who claim the product is a cause of colony collapse disorder, which has cost many commercial U.S. beekeepers at least a third of their bees since 2006, and threatens the reliability of the world's food supply.

Scientists have started to turn their attention to both products, which are receiving new scrutiny in the U.S., due to a disclosure in December 2007 by Bayer CropScience itself. Bayer scientists found imidacloprid in the nectar and pollen of flowering trees and shrubs at concentrations high enough to kill a honeybee in minutes. The disclosure recently set in motion product reviews by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the EPA. The tests are scheduled to wrap up in 2014, though environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, are petitioning the EPA to speed up the work.

Also not surprisingly, Bayer CropScience has resisted calls for a ban of its best-seller:

Bayer CropScience spokesman Jack Boyne says his company's pesticides are not to blame. "We do a lot of research on our products and we feel like we have a very good body of evidence to suggest that pesticides, including insecticides, are not the cause of colony collapse disorder," he says. "Pesticides have been around for a lot of years now and honeybee collapse has only been a factor for the last few years." (Imidacloprid has been approved for use in the U.S. since 1994 and clothianidin has been used since 2003.)

Yes, even as one of its most popular products is implicated in a phenomenon that could threaten the world’s food supply, the Bayer CropScience website proudly maintains the fiction that it is “safeguarding food for a growing world population” and “developing new crop protection, plant breeding and plant biotechnology solutions to help increase farm yields throughout the world.”

But given their toxic track record, and penchant for outright deception, can we really afford the kind of “help” that the world’s largest pharmaceutical and chemical companies want to offer?

As author Michael Pollan noted on a recent Democracy Now! broadcast, these biotech firms are successfully co-opting the language, if not the actual principles, of the new buzzword — sustainability:

Monsanto is very much on the attack right now, pushing its products, particularly in Africa, and making the case that the most sustainable agriculture will be intensive production on the land base we have. The argument is that there’s only so much arable land in the world, we have ten billion people on the way, and that the only way to feed them is to get more productivity over the land we have, to further intensify agriculture, using their genetically modified seeds.

…it’s very interesting that Monsanto should be arguing that it has the key to improving productivity. If indeed what we need to do is improve productivity, don’t look at genetically modified crops. They have never succeeded in raising productivity. That’s not what they do. If you look at the—the Union of Concerned Scientists just issued a report looking at the twenty-year history of these crops, and what they have found is that basically the real gains in yield for American crops, for world crops, has been through conventional breeding. Genetic modification has—with one tiny exception, Bt corn used in years of very high infestation of European corn borers—has not increased productivity at all. That’s not what they’re good at. What they’re good at is creating products that allow farmers to expand their monocultures, because it takes less management. So, if indeed we need to go where Monsanto says, there are better technologies than theirs.

Meanwhile, the bees are dying, most likely from the very same crap that these self-proclaimed saviors of agriculture have been peddling for years. As UC-Davis entomologist Eric Mussen noted:

…. ongoing research into chronic exposure to insecticides will be crucial. It's likely, he says, that exposure to even low doses acts like a one-two punch: It can weaken the bees until a parasite or pathogen moves in to finish them off.

That cumulative effect is something that doesn’t get talked about much, whether we’re looking at environmental or human health. What, really, are the ramifications of immersing ourselves and other organisms in a lifelong chemical cocktail? How do these products work synergistically? We don’t know, because we’re not looking and very few are even asking.

The bees, of course, are not the only ones dying from the creations of the big pharm-chem companies. As The Garden Island reports today:

Prescribed medications are killing more people than illegal drugs, according to a Hawai‘i-based drug educator.

The article goes on to quote Gary Shimabukuro, who has apparently finally wised up to the fact that the legally sanctioned stuff is far more deadly — and available — than the illegal substances. He also notes that:

Only marijuana is abused more than prescription drugs, said Shimabukuro.

(However, he fails to mention that there has NEVER been even one death linked to marijuana. So what is the rationale for its illegality?)

My point in all of this is that we lock up small time drug pushers and fine minor polluters while allowing the real culprits — the international pharmaceutical and chemical companies — to not only run free and massively profit, but gain increasing power over our bodies, minds, food, environment and future.

Doesn’t this strike you as kind of crazy?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Musings: Disasters of War

A cold breeze that lingered from yesterday’s welcome cooling rain was blowing intermittently, softened every now and then by a warm gust from the west, when Koko and I went walking this morning.

The wind disappeared altogether when the sun rose, staining gray fans and swirls in the eastern sky a vivid burnt orange that faded to coral pink, casting Waialeale’s base in an ethereal golden light.

Koko was the first to spot my neighbor Andy, greeting him with upraised paws and a whine as he asked whether I’d run into trouble getting my car back after it was towed in Honolulu. No trouble that money couldn’t solve, as is so often the case in America, although I later learned, when recounting the story to a friend who moved to Kauai years ago from Oahu, that his cousin owned the tow yard and so he could have gotten me a break on the towing fee. “You should have called me,” he said.

And Andy advised me that the art museum has its own lot, which I’ll certainly bear in mind next time I’m tempted to peruse the galleries there, where I saw, and am still haunted by, an exhibit of Goya’s “Disasters of War.” The etchings, though small, offered a graphic account of the rapes, beheadings, castrations, hangings, piles of dead bodies, firing squads, fleeing villagers and overall mayhem that are part and parcel of mankind’s strange propensity to wage war on itself and the land.

Goya made his prints, which were not shown until after his death, as a way to bear witness to the atrocities he witnessed when France invaded Spain in 1810.

“It was so personal back then,” I remarked to my friend. “And now it’s being done remotely, by Predator drones.”

Nearly every day we hear reports of people in Pakistan being killed by these unmanned drone attacks, which appear to be primarily launched by CIA operatives. The most recent was on Saturday, with Al Jazeera reporting:

More than 40 drone air raids have taken place since the beginning of last year, most of them since September.
More than 320 people have been killed in the raids, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani security officials, district government officials and residents.

Others put the overall death toll much higher, while noting that the drone attacks aren’t quite so accurate at targeting “Taliban fighters,” various and sundry “insurgents” and the catch-all “al Qaeda operatives” as America likes to claim. As The International News reported:

Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

Indeed, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine using data collected in Iraq indicated that air attacks were the most deadly for civilians:

In events with at least one Iraqi civilian victim, the methods that killed the most civilians per event were aerial bombings (17 per event), combined use of aerial and ground weapons (17 per event), and suicide bombers on foot (16 per event). Aerial bombs killed, on average, 9 more civilians per event than aerial missiles (17 vs. 8 per event). Indeed, if an aerial bomb killed civilians at all, it tended to kill many. It seems clear from these findings that to protect civilians from indiscriminate harm, as required by international humanitarian law (including the Geneva Conventions),4 military and civilian policies should prohibit aerial bombing in civilian areas unless it can be demonstrated — by monitoring of civilian casualties, for example — that civilians are being protected.

This kind of “collateral damage” can cause backlash. As the New York Times reported, the strikes may actually be serving to unite warring tribal factions in Pakistan against America:

Even when precise, the drone strikes often kill women and children in militant compounds. When that happens, local Pashtun customs of “badal” obligate their survivors to seek revenge.

These attacks also tend to be under-reported and down-played, even as the U.S. has upped the ante by using the MQ-9 Reaper, a faster and more powerful craft that carries a lot more firepower than the Predator. As the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network reports:

The phrase "war on terror" might have been quietly dropped from the United States's military lexicon - to be replaced (according to a memo to Pentagon staff) by "overseas contingency operation". But it is clear that to some degree there is continuity in practice in the tactics being pursued by the coalition in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An example is the relatively little reported campaign in western Pakistan characterised by what (in another euphemism) are commonly termed "drone incidents" but which would be better called air-raids.

As they operate the death machines from the comfort of their ground control stations in America, the drone operators and pilots can divorce themselves more easily from their dirty deeds. A youtube clip offers an indication of how detached — and deluded — they can be:

“You get the sense you’re a guardian angel, an eye in the sky for them,” gushed Capt. Catherine Platt, a sensor operator discussing how the drones support ground troops.

“When you step out [of the control station], you go back home to your family and live like anyone else,” added Maj. Clayton Marshall.

Meanwhile, back in Western Pakistan or Iraq or wherever these drones have left death and destruction in their wake, it’s very much upfront and personal for the folks on the ground. They're left with the same old burned homes, piles of dead, orphans, maimed citizenry and "disasters of war" that Goya witnessed two centuries before. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Musings: Why Are You Here?

The sun rose dark orange in a wide smear of purple as a white half-moon, Koko and I looked on. As we walked, Waialeale brightened from the top down, the hues of its bulk shifting from gray to lavender to blue as mist crept deeper into the recesses of the pastures on this still and silent — save for bird song — morning.

It was quite a contrast to Friday, which I spent in busy Honolulu picking up an award from the Hawaii Ecotourism Association at a lovely luncheon.

The worst part of the day was coming out from enjoying the exhibits at the Honolulu Academy of Arts to find the rental car had been towed from its space on a street where parking isn’t allowed after 3:30 p.m. Ka-ching! On the taxi ride to the tow yard, a personalized license plate offered an apropos message: SPEND IT.

The best part of the day was receiving so much aloha, which came in words, smiles, hugs, a very nice award made of koa and four fabulous lei, including a gorgeous triple strand purple crown flower, which I’m told was the Queen’s favorite, a delightfully fragrant double strand of white ginger, a distinctive ti leaf, kukui nut and shell lei and a beautiful orange ilima.

I felt like a million bucks wrapped in nature’s splendid handiwork. I’ll take Hawaii’s form of adornment over diamonds and pearls any day.

When I got home, a friend who had stopped by to check on Koko and drop off some moi caught on the North Shore that morning said, “You leave a mean waft trail when you walk.” He then recalled how he was decked out with lei up to his nose following his 1978 high school graduation, and had hung the string of mokihana in his various cars all these years until it finally bit the dust a few months ago.

He said it always brings tears to his eyes when the UH Warriors are given lei on seniors’ night. Although many of them are not from Islands, they’re still covered with lei and even they start crying from the outpouring of aloha. “Only in Hawaii,” he said.

His words reminded me of something another friend said as we were walking through the museum and he recounted some of the highlights of a year-long trip he’d taken around the world.

“So even after seeing all those places you knew you wanted to return to Hawaii?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “without a doubt. I saw other places that were as beautiful, or more beautiful, but they didn’t have the aloha spirit.”

If you’re open to it, it can change you in ways that are deep and indescribable. If you’re not, well, then all I can say is you’re seriously missing out. And why are you even here?

That seems to be a fitting segue to the ongoing dispute over Joe Brescia building a house atop burials at Naue. While in Honolulu, I discussed the resumption of construction with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp director and a staff attorney who is representing some of the folks that Bescia is suing. We talked about the personal and financial toll that is often exacted upon citizens who speak up and get involved in community and cultural issues, which is especially tragic in this case, because the courts found that the State Historic Preservation Division failed to properly do its job.

Then in today’s Garden Island I see state archaeologist Nancy McMahon defending the move to build atop burials, saying it happened in pre-contact times:

“The Hawaiians did it all the time,” said McMahon, explaining that Hawaiians used to bury their family members and then build their homes over the burials. McMahon said it is common practice in today’s Hawai‘i to build over cultural and burial sites. “We do that with (cultural) deposits all time.”

“We did that in Kapa’a,” she said. “There’s a huge cultural deposit, and you drive on top of it all the time.” McMahon said the area goes all the way through Kapa’a, and has burials in it, also.

Surely McMahon recognizes the difference between a family burying its own dead under the house or in a plot nearby, as is still done in Samoa and the Cook Islands, and having an outsider erect a spec home atop ancient burials. And just because the state has allowed it to happen in modern times, does that make it right?

Even more intriguing is how McMahon and Brescia’s attorney have such different takes on why those burials are now capped:

McMahon said Brescia did not have permission from the Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau Island Burial Council to cap the burials, explaining that construction workers have placed large circular cement slabs over the burials, a few feet below the surface, and then covered them with dirt.

“He wasn’t supposed to do that, they never got that approval,” McMahon said. “They did that on their own, without consulting the burial treatment plan.”

“We’ll let her lie,” Chipchase fired back, explaining that the plan under review by the SHPD says that the burials must be preserved in place. “Capping is one part of that.”

Chipchase said the only caps that were placed are within the house’s blueprint. The house will sit on stills [sic] above the ground. “Nothing actually rests on the burials themselves.”

Actually, both sides aren’t quite speaking the truth here. If you go back and read the “Living in Limbo” post I wrote following the Burial Council’s Nov. 5, 2008 rejection of the burial treatment plan and the comment left by Mike Dega, Brescia’s archaelogist, you’ll see that this whole issue of timing and approval is all a little fuzzy.

But the fact remains that the burials were capped shortly before a hearing on a motion for an injunction to stop construction. And it was precisely because of the capping that the judge three times refused to grant such a motion, saying that considerable work had already begun.

Now, with each passing day of construction, the project becomes further entrenched, and Dega and SHPD have yet to produce a new burial treatment plan for the Council to review, as the court ordered.

So when will it be ready? When the house is pau with a for sale in front?

Meanwhile, the Burial Council did its part in rejecting the BTP that would have given after-the-fact approval to capping the burials. But it didn’t go one step further and ask the Planning Commission to revoke the permit because that condition had not been met.

That wasn’t because they don’t care if Brescia builds his house on those iwi. It’s because they’re told that if they don’t follow the advice of the state Attorney General’s office, they won’t have representation if they’re sued. And the AG's office doesn't tend to offer counsel that might hamper the plans of those who are here because of one reason: money.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Musings: This Is Not Good

Another day dawned with no rain in sight, and the grass in Hanalei, of all places, is already starting to turn brown. And summer is still officially five weeks away. This is not good.

As I drove up to the North Shore yesterday, I heard a guest on KKCR talking about how Kauai is the wettest spot on Earth, which may be debatable. But even if it’s true, the reference is solely to Waialeale, not the entire island, so it creates a false sense of abundance.

In truth, water remains a dwindling and precious commodity on Kauai, like ag land. So I was a bit concerned when farmer Jerry told me that former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura has proposed holding off on the enforcement of transient vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag lands until the important ag land study is completed. It seems rather ludicrous to back off after the County Council went through the laborious process of drafting a TVR ordinance that specifically precludes their use on ag land.

As Jerry noted, it gives folks the idea that only the lands deemed “important” will be worth saving, which then puts all the other ag lands up for grabs. And if we’re ever going to achieve anything close to self-sufficiency in food, we’ll need all the ag land we can get. Such an approach also fails to help those who IMHO are the only ones who should have a TVR on ag land — the true farmers who could use the income boost from a rental to help them keep farming.

Meanwhile, Joe Brescia is trying to add another vacation rental to the burgeoning North Shore mix. Construction quietly resumed on his oceanfront house yesterday as workers began installing brackets atop the concrete pilings that are atop the burials.

Work has been shut down since last fall, well before the Burial Council rejected the burial treatment plan. No new plan has yet been developed, and when I checked in with Nancy McMahon at the state Historic Preservation Division, she didn’t know when it might be ready. Nor could she tell me what Hawaiian groups had been consulted, as was ordered by the courts.

Although Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe last year would not approve an injunction stopping construction, she did advise Brescia’s attorneys that if he continued work on the project, it would be at his own risk because the Burial Council ultimately might decide to relocate the burials that were covered in cement without the Council’s approval.

Apparently now he’s willing to risk it. Maybe it’s because the construction business has fallen so badly that he can get guys to work on it for less than he would have had to pay a year ago. But if it does get completed, and that’s still an open question, I’m not sure how he’ll be able to get approval to use it as a vacation rental. He can’t grandfather in that use like so many of the other houses in the neighborhood. And surely he’s not going to live there……

On my way up there to see what was happening, I picked up a friend who was born and raised in Hanalei and is not at all political. As we turned into the neighborhood, his jaw tightened and his face took on a scowl.

“You haven’t been here in a while, have you?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “because when I see this, it just pisses me off and then all I want to do is instigate. So I just stay away.”

In this way, locals are subtly pushed out of the places they've always frequented. Because going to the beach and getting pissed off is not good.

The changes that have recently occurred there — and are still occurring, with construction under way on several lots — are dramatic. Aside from the massive houses that line the shoreline — some of them two deep — the once largely deserted beach is now occupied by sunscreen-slathered tourists with their beach umbrellas and teak lounge chairs. At the access path stood one of the guys who had formed a consortium of investors to build many of the vacation rentals along an incredibly beautiful stretch of sand that he, in his arrogance, has renamed “Banana Beach.” Sigh.

Kaiulani Huff is still camping out up there, on the beach side of Brescia’s lot, her little encampment standing in stark contrast to the luxurious houses going up on all sides.

This one, the former Billie Jean King property, is being developed by an Australian vacation home consortium. They were kind enough to install the septic system on the makai side of the house, right above the reef. This is not good. But this is what's becoming the norm on too many North Shore beaches.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Musings: Like It or Lump It

Bright Venus was peeking through an orange veil in a golden sky when Koko and I went walking this morning. Bees were busily working the fragrant white angel’s trumpet blossoms and a fat meadow lark landed on a telephone wire and belted out a vibrant, metallic song.

The sun rose in an ardent blaze that caused Makaleha to blush, and all the clouds, too, and just about then we ran into my neighbor Andy, who was walking Momi and his daughter’s dog, Kahu.

Seems he’d spent the better part of yesterday at the county planning commission, which was hearing a request to reconsider its approval of the Coco Palms permit extension. Two citizens and Commissioner Hartwell Blake, who voted for the extension, requested the review, hoping the commission would add some more conditions. One would have required the developer to begin demolition within 10 months to ensure his project is on schedule to meet the timeline allowed by the extension.

The developer, however, resisted. And why wouldn’t he? He doesn’t want to put any money into the project before he sells it, and given the current market, he’s not likely to dump that white elephant within the next 10 months. The commission went along and declined to impose that condition, with Chairman Jimmy Nishida casting the swing vote.

Andy said that Commissioner Cammie Matsumoto was among those hesitant to impose the deadline, saying she didn’t know too much about construction. Well, then what is she doing on the planning commission? She should go over to the Ethics Commission, where it’s not what you know, but who you know, that matters.

I know there are always two sides to every story, and yesterday Wainiha land owner Mark Barbanell posted a very lengthy comment giving his account of what went down in the "Gathering Rights” incident that underscored a dispute about access for traditional gathering rights.

I read his comment, and the many that followed it, upon returning from a sojourn to a favorite coastal spot that required me to use a public access between two very expensive North Shore properties. My pleasure at the excursion was somewhat dimmed when I noted that one of the landowners had not only planted a hedge and trees as tight as could be up against the fence line, but had installed sprinkler heads in the easement itself.

Now I happen to be familiar with that landowner, and I couldn’t help but wonder why, with 21 acres at her disposal, she found it necessary to infringe into the public easement with her irrigation and plant vegetation so close to the access that it was already sprawling over the fence and beginning to impede access. Unless, of course, she's hoping people stop using it.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. When I went up to Haena last week, I was shown several such coastal accesses where adjacent landowners had planted plumeria, heliotrope and other trees that ultimately would grow to block the trail. I’m also aware of an easement in Aliomanu where landowners planted up the area where folks are supposed to be able to park. I’m certain there are more cases elsewhere around the island.

Such actions speak to an attitude that is offensive in every way: I’ve got mine and I don’t want you here and I’m going to make what I’ve got bigger at the public’s expense. So the public either loses our or is forced to engage in confrontations with the landowners to keep the access open because the county is not protecting these easements. Indeed, in many cases it’s giving them up because it doesn’t want the liability.

This is the larger context, unknown to many, in which the confrontation between Kaili and Mark occurred. It’s particularly pronounced on the North Shore where lavish homes and arrogant owners are literally squeezing out the common folk.

I’ll admit I’m biased in this case because Kaili is a friend and I don’t know Mark. Nor was I there to see it all go down. But I found several aspects of Mark’s comment troubling.

For starters, it’s never going to go over well when a haole tells a Hawaiian to “show more aloha.” As a friend noted: “That’s guaranteed cracks right there.”

Since some people who read this blog likely will not understand why, I’ll lay it out. It implies that an outsider knows your culture and how to practice it better than you do, and that’s insulting. It’s even more offensive and aggravating in a place like Hawaii, where the indigenous culture was first heavily suppressed, and then heavily co-opted, by outsiders.

And it’s easy to counsel the disenfranchised to “let go of the anger and hopelessness” when just one of your two vacation rentals is pulling in more in a week than a lot of these young guys make in a month cleaning yards, playing music in the bars, pulling taro and otherwise scrambling to make a meager living. Even then, they’re still unable to afford a place to rent, much less ever have the hope of buying a home in the area where they grew up — an area that is becoming more expensive in large part because those very same illegal vacation rentals have artificially inflated property values.

Further, much of that rage and hopelessness comes from having outsiders — who no matter how long they’ve been here will always maintain that status — say things like “You all need to go with the flow and adapt,” when you don’t want to adapt to the kind of values and lifestyle they represent, and what’s more, even if you did, you don’t have the economic means to do so.

It’s really just code for shut up and let me do my thing and if you don’t like it, lump it.

Now who, really, wants to be on the receiving end of that even once, much less over and over and over and over?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Musings: Bearing Fruit

A ghost moon floated in a sea of gray when Koko and I went walking this morning. The air was thick and still, the way I imagine it must be in places like Georgia, with only the faintest whisper of a breeze.

We passed the place where a row of ti leaves had been shorn by a bull that escaped from its pasture in search of a treat, leaving a cow pie in return, and met up with my neighbor Andy, who wondered aloud at Koko’s subdued nature.

I explained she’d been a bit under the weather since Friday night, when we went to the beach to watch the moon rise orange out of the sea, and as I enjoyed the spectacle, she enjoyed chasing crabs in the moonlight. But later, she had to purge a belly full of coarse sand, and spent most of Saturday recuperating.

Fortunately, she’d recovered to the point where she happily accepted a dog biscuit from the cache that Andy carries in his pocket and then he mentioned he’d appreciated the "Gathering Rights" post I wrote last week about my friend Ili’s thwarted fishing trip — even though reading it made him feel sick to his stomach.

“It perfectly expressed everything that is going wrong here,” he said. “People who come over here and say they love the place and the people, and then try to make it into something different.”

Folks don’t seem to understand that if they treat locals with kindness, they’re apt to get the same in return, he said, and one of the most effective ways to protect your property is to enlist their cooperation, rather than alienate them.

Now, it was interesting that Andy brought up the subject, because in one of those strange little twists of fate, or “coincidences,” if you happen to believe in such things (and I don’t), I got an email yesterday from a woman who lives in San Francisco. She had contacted a travel agent out of the blue to reserve a North Shore vacation rental, and it turned out to be the very same man who had turned back Ili from the river.

He started telling her about the area and mentioned that a lot of Hawaiians engaged in subsistence practices and was talking enthusiastically about the Native Hawaiians who live there. She expressed concern about the clashes that had been occurring in the region over development and burial grounds, and he said that such confrontations were not the norm.

However, he said, he'd had one himself just the other day. And then he proceeded to tell her the story of his interaction with Ili. It seems that a guest in one of his vacation rentals had something stolen from the lanai and something of his had also gone missing and he’d seen a young man passing by there several times before, so when he saw Ili, he thought he was the culprit and the two had what he described as a rather heated confrontation.

After Ili walked away and the man went into the house, he felt he should have handled it with more aloha, so when he saw Ili pause on the Wainiha bridge, he yelled after him that he’d lived there for 30 years and that the land there was his kuleana, but Ili just put his head down and walked away.

Then later, the woman stumbled across my blog post and realized it recounted the very same confrontation. She then felt moved to contact me, thinking perhaps she could help to bridge the gap between the two, and we talked this morning.

She felt like the man believes he is respectful of the native culture, “but maybe he doesn’t get he’s not as much as he thinks he is. You wrote at the end of your blog that you hoped something positive would come from this, and it seems like this is an opportunity to make a connection between the two sides.”

And perhaps it is. Because I forwarded the post to a very cool blog — the Ka`ena Cultural Practice Project — and a woman named Summer emailed back that she had sent it on to the woman who runs a Peacemaking program for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. She also offered to get in touch with Ili and his friends to offer aid and guidance and then she gave me a great idea for a story.

Meanwhile, the Hanalei to Haena Community Association has offered its support and assistance in the matter. The issue is especially pertinent as the vacation rentals in the area are now all coming up for permits, and the Association wants to ensure that traditional fishing rights aren’t lost in the process of turning that culturally rich region into a resort.

Ili and his friends are also talking about forming a North Shore Kanaka Council to deal with access rights and other issues, so suddenly they’re feeling empowered and excited, rather than bitter and beaten down.

All of this highlights the value of working together and being willing to speak up and take action. It also underscores one of my favorite things about writing a blog: I just never know who is going to read it or where the message will go.

So as folks on Oahu turned to the Lege for support in working out the clash between hunters and hikers on that island’s trails, Kauai people are taking their own steps to resolve an ongoing access problem in their community.

It’s only a seed right now, but I feel confident it will bear sweet fruit.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Musings: Local Knowledge

It’s helpful to have local friends. I called one the other day, a surfer, to ask how to treat a piece of coral in my foot, knowing he’d been in the same fix countless times.

“You gotta dig it out right away,” he said. “Get a needle and just dig it out.”

That bit of advice out of the way, I mentioned that I’d possibly lost a work assignment because I’d written something in my blog that pissed off the person who controlled the money. And that got me thinking about how many people I might have pissed off inadvertently because I’d written something critical about someone they like or are related to.

“It’s not your fault,” he consoled. “You’re from the mainland, so you don’t know any better. You don’t know just how connected people are in this little place. You don’t know you have to ask your mama, ‘is that guy my cousin?’ before you take him out.”

Yup, locals know a lot of things that we mainland transplants don’t — at least, not until we’ve been shown or told.

Like when I ran into farmer Jerry, he knew why Makaleha stream was running low, even though we’ve had rain locally. It’s actually fed by Waipahee, he explained, and that’s in an entirely different ahupuaa, one that’s much drier. He also knew why my neighbor Andy’s stream was running so high. “We’ve been putting water in there,” he said, referring to the system managed by the East Kauai Water Users Cooperative. Seems it’s not a stream but a ditch that runs through Andy’s property on its way to the taro farmers on Bette Midler’s land near the bypass.

And my neighbor Andy has filled me in on countless bits of Hawaii history, both ancient and modern, along with details on various people in our neighborhood. They, in turn have filled me in on how the streetlights got installed and the roads got paved.

Some friends know about all things kanaka maoli, including the words to Hawaiian songs and their meaning, proper place names and why it’s important to use them, protocol for all sorts of cultural activities, the whys and hows of supernatural stuffs and even more that we haven’t gotten into yet.

Other local friends have shared their knowledge of where to find mokihana and maile, and how to pick it properly, the names of countless plants and their uses, how to harvest banana, papaya, breadfruit, taro. They’ve shown me how to catch and clean reef fish, then fry it without making a mess. They’ve explained all the important family connections (which I still haven’t mastered), and taught me how to make feather, flower and ti leaf lei, laulau, poi, kim chee, nishime, sushi, mochi, lilikoi juice, potato-mac salad, fish cake, poke. And they've told me the best places to buy all that stuff when I don't want to make it.

Then there’s the face-saving stuff, like when to shut up and listen, what constitutes disrespect, the proper way to behave around throw net fishermen, what to bring when you go visit somebody, how to greet kupuna.

I've never forgotten the wise counsel offered by Jan Ten Bruggencate (whose blog I greatly admire) shortly after my arrival on Kauai: “Don’t try to speak pidgin.”

And in that same vein, another friend’s advice, issued upon seeing my stiff, contorted shaka: “Don’t ever do that in public. Otherwise somebody going think you making stick finger. Then they might wanna beef and I’d have to fight ‘em. And I don’t wanna have to do that, cuz it might be my cousin.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

Musings: Whippin's and Lickin's

It was warm and sticky when Koko and I went walking this morning, and the rising sun was losing a battle with the clouds when we encountered my neighbor Andy and his dog, Momi. We got to talking about discipline, since I'm working to stop Koko from lunging at trucks and pulling on the leash, and he recounted an article he'd read in Newsweek about a principal who had brought order into his school through whippin's — or lickin's, as they're called here.

I expressed reservations. Was it the paddling, or the talk the principal had with the kids before meting out the discipline that did the trick? Andy recalled that one of his classmates at Manoa School was regularly paddled, but it did nothing to deter his incorrigible behavior.

Don't whippings just reinforce a feeling of powerlessness in kids? I asked. And what about when other principals pick up this practice, ones who enjoy giving whacks and get carried away?

What other form of discipline would you suggest? Andy asked, tongue firmly in cheek. Waterboarding? Because it doesn't do any damage, you know. It just scares them.

You've got it, I said. They could send out slips asking parents for permission to punish the kids only to the point of organ failure.

What sort of punishment should be inflicted on politicians who fail to give all citizens equal rights by shelving the civil unions bill? And what about those who level false accusations at other politicians? Or is mud slinging just part of the political territory? As I noted in Tuesday’s post:

Lingle also identified Rep. Hermina Morita, D-Hanalei-Kapaa, as the lawmaker who killed a proposal to ban new fossil-fueled electrical generating plants. Morita did so at the behest of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, the governor claimed.

I later discovered in researching the legislation that the Senate put in the language to exempt KIUC from the ban until 2015. So it looks like the guv was way off base in fingering Mina as catering to special interests. I am definitely not an energy expert, but at this point, since we’re certainly not ready to abandon fossil fuel generation altogether on this island, perhaps it’s more efficient, “greener” and cheaper for KIUC to put in a new combustion turbine than to keep using the older diesel generators at Port Allen.

I only wish KIUC was a little more reliable. I mean, three power outages in the past four days is a little extreme, doncha think?

Anyway, I got this response from Mina, so here is her side of the story:

Thanks for the comments in your blog. Of course the issue and my personal feelings are more complex than what will and can be reported in the typical media. First of all, I do support and participate in the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). The 70% scenario is what can be technically and economically achievable. However, there are many other factors that weigh in like financial resources, public acceptance to various projects and political will, as well as perceived “ownership” of the HCEI. When Lingle started branding it as THE governor’s initiative it sure makes it hard for me to do my part in the Legislature. But that’s another story. HCEI and the 70% clean energy is sort of similar to Zero Waste. A total zero waste scenario may be unrealistic but it sure is a worthy goal to achieve. HCEI and 70% could be a realistic goal but all of our ducks have to be lined up as I mentioned earlier.

Blue Planet’s insistence [on a full ban] almost got a good bill killed. The ban was in House bill 1464 and I dropped the language in a proposed conference draft and refused to put it back in. The remaining language increased the renewable energy portfolio standards to 40% renewables in 2030, established an efficiency portfolio standard and cleaned-up the language in the solar water heater mandate. That bill (HB1464), Senate Bill 1202 which helps to set up the infrastructure for electric vehicles and HB 1271, the barrel tax for energy and food security, were critical for me this session. Hope this helps to clarify what is happening in the ivory tower on Oahu.

Her position is further elaborated in a formal statement posted on Brad Parson’s Aloha Analytics blog.

And hey, the moon will be full upon rising tonight, so check it out.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Musings: Gathering Rights

Rain during the night left everything fresh and well-rinsed and also gave rise to some very unusual fog, which was floating up the flanks of the Giant and hovering over the pastures and road when Koko and I went walking this morning.

We ran into my neighbor Andy and as I practiced techniques learned from watching “Dog Whisperer” while eating poi and fried aholehole at a friend’s house last night — make the correction then relax the leash; be a calm and assertive pack leader; nip outbursts in the bud — the sun rose bold orange in a lavender sky and stained Waialaeale purple.

As Andy was saying that Koko was so subdued he thought I must have given her a drug — she usually whines and whimpers and pulls at the leash when his dog, Momi, is running free, especially when chickens are around — a neighbor pulled up beside us and remarked, wonderingly, on the idyllic light and pastoral scene: “Isn’t it beautiful?" she said. "I feel like I’m somewhere else.”

A man who lives on the Wainiha River, where he operates two unpermitted vacation rentals, told a young friend of mine, Kukailimoku Puulei-Chandler, to go somewhere else when Ili was trying to fish.

“You don’t belong here,” the man told Ili, a Native Hawaiian who has lived his entire life in Wainiha, and whose family name is synonymous with the North Shore.

The man, who had come down from his own house to confront Ili on the river bank, went on to say, “I’ve seen guys like you” — code for young and local — and that he’d had some things stolen from his property in the past.

“But not by me,” protested Ili, who was carrying a throw net. “I’m just trying to fish.”

“Go on the other side of the river then,” the man said.

“But this is where the fish are,” Ili protested again, having already spotted some fish under the shade of a tree. And besides, the other side of the river was thick hau, making passage impossible.

Ili tried to explain that he had a right, as a Hawaiian, to go there and fish. The man told Ili he’d lived on Kauai for 30 years and he’d never heard about any such rights.

“He was telling me about Hawaiiana and aloha,” Ili recalled. “He was telling me he knows. He don’t know.”

Now Ili is not a young man with an attitude. He’s soft-spoken and sweet, and was still visibly upset by the encounter hours after it happened.

“He was totally in my face, just yelling at me,” Ili said. “I told him, hey, I’m not gonna assault you, because I’m not like that. But I’ve got a right to fish.”

The man remained adamant and threatened to call police.

So how did it end? I asked Ili.

“I left,” Ili said. “He had no heart, nothing. He just told me to get out. I was just trying to fish and it ruined my whole day.”

When I expressed sympathy, Ili shrugged and said it wasn’t the first time.

“We run into that all the time,” he said, noting that people living by North Shore beaches and rivers frequently try to claim them as their own and prevent fishing access. He said that another Wainiha riverfront homeowner had forbidden neighborhood kids to use the swimming hole in front of his house.

Ili’s encounter underscores a troubling situation. While I am not at all well-versed in Hawaiian gathering rights, it does seem from an on-line brochure produced by Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. that he has a right to access the river for subsistence purposes. It cites the law that informed the Hawaii Supreme Court decision in the PASH case:

The Hawai'i State Constitution Article XII section 7: The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua'a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights:

The law does not apply to fully developed property. When I drove to the North Shore yesterday, I cruised by the area in question and found that a road separates the houses from the riverbank in the section where Ili wanted to fish. So would the riverbank be considered developed? I don’t know if the guy’s deed extends all the way into the river — apparently, some do, such as the landowner building the monster house next to Haena Beach Park, whose property extends halfway into Manoa Stream.

Let’s just assume, for the sake of discussion, that in this particular case Ili did, indeed, have the right to walk along the riverbank to fish. How does he enforce that right?

Does he have to get arrested and go through all that trauma and drama and hope that in a trial a couple of years down the road his rights will be upheld?

Does he have to endure the unpleasantness of a verbal confrontation with a landowner as he tries to express and press his rights?

Either way, he is not going to have a pleasant day and he is not going to catch any fish.

And while the landowner may have a valid concern in trying to prevent burglaries and theft, does that give him the right to prevent someone not involved in those activities from accessing the river?

I suggested to Ili and his friends that perhaps some indigenous form of an education committee is needed, one that can approach landowners and inform them of the law and thus spare individual cultural practitioners the pain of personal confrontations. Forget the cops and DLNR, I said. The community needs to let that guy know that such behavior isn't acceptable.

A friend who serves on the Hanalei Community Association said Ili should come talk to them, as they can follow up on complaints of denied access.

I hope that something positive does come from this, and that Ili and his friends don't just hunker down with more buried resentment and landowners don't get cockier as they succeed in intimidating young Hawaiians from doing what their ancestors have done for centuries.

But one thing about all this still really troubles me, and I'm not sure how it can be resolved. How come, after living here for 30 years, that guy hasn't developed any cultural sensitivity, caught on to the concept of aloha?