Friday, July 31, 2009

Musings: Our Own Backyard

The KKCR radio show that Jimmy Trujillo and I had hosted to promote Saturday’s “Unmasking Statehood” event was pau. We’d covered a lot of territory — the negative impact of statehood on kanaka maoli, America’s desire to possess the Islands for military purposes, the disgusting spectacle of the lei-bedecked USS Hawaii, a $2.5 billion war machine billed as “7,700 tons of aloha,” the critical need to educate people about what really went down to counter the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of statehood.

And our guests had received, and answered, a number of calls posing many of the same questions that are raised whenever the topic of America’s illegal overthrow of the Islands comes up. Wouldn’t some other nation have taken over the Islands if the US hadn’t? [Ben Nihi: Great Britain did, and gave it back. Other nations honored international treaties.] Doesn’t Hawaii need the US to protect it? [Nani Rogers: No. America is the greatest threat to Hawaii.] Isn’t something, like a token land grant or the same status given to Native Americans and Alaskans, better than nothing? [Ben Nihi: Why should we settle for something when all of it is ours?]

We were preparing to leave the studio when the phone rang again. I picked it up, and a man spoke, hesitantly, on the other end.

“I’m calling about the show,” he said. This was followed by a long pause. “I’m not sure I can do this. I’ve never called a radio show before.”

I explained that we weren’t taking any more calls, but that if he wanted to make a comment, I would convey it to the guests.

“I don’t know where to start,” he said, and this was followed by another pause. “I don’t think I can say it. Never mind.”

His voice was full of emotion.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

“No, I’m not alright!” he responded vigorously.

“Maybe you’d feel better if you say whatever it is you need to say,” I replied, bracing myself for whatever that might be.

“Yes, I think I would,” he said.

This was followed by another pause.

“And what would you like to say?” I coaxed.

“I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation, and I just wanted to tell Kane Pa [one of the callers and a member of the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation ], forget about treaties. We had over 750 of them and not one got honored. And that call, the one that said we should give the Hawaiians what we gave to the Indians. Oh, we got something, alright. We got people trying to change our religion, our language, our complete way of life. We got land no one else would live on. As far as people in the world, we’re probably among the poorest.

“So I just wanted to tell your guests, don’t let the US treat you like Indians. Don’t ever, ever give up your fight for sovereignty, and never go with the Akaka Bill or whatever tries to treat you like Indians.

“Because we’ve been screwed forever.”

Later, as I reflected on his words, I thought of the well-meaning, and not so well-meaning, people who urge Hawaiians to “get over it,” move on, forget their dream of independence, accept the crumbs America is willing to share after it’s gorged on the entire cake.

It’s easy for those of us who have not known or experienced the direct effects of imperialism and colonialism to say such things. We’ve had the luxury of moving wherever we like to lay a claim to a better life. But we can’t forget that it’s come at the cost of those who were there first.

So our responsibility is not to assuage our guilt, whether we’re conscious of it or not, by encouraging others to forget the wrongs, but to right the wrongs, and we can start right here.

As the caller noted, “I see all those people driving around with their Free Tibet bumper stickers, and I want to say to them, what about looking first in your own backyard?”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Musings: Dirty Secrets

The sky was dense with old friends — bright Venus, twinkling red Mars, glowing Jupiter, Orion, Makalii — some of whom I hadn’t seen for quite a long time, when Koko and I went walking this morning.

The east brightened a dark blue that slowly drained first the stars, and then the planets, from the sky before a floating mass of gray blew in that promised to dampen the land and hide the sun upon its rising.

Meanwhile, a mostly hidden network of police, military and corporations is monitoring civilian groups. And as law professor and former Army intelligence officer Christopher Pyle revealed in a chilling report on Democracy Now yesterday,

The interview followed an earlier report that antiwar activists in Olympia, Wash., had exposed Army spying and infiltration of their groups, as well as intelligence gathering by the Air Force, the federal Capitol Police and the Coast Guard. When asked about the significance of that revelation, Pyle responded:

I think the significance is less that the Army is monitoring civilian political activity than that there is a network, a nationwide network, of fusion centers, these state police intelligence units, these municipal police intelligence units, that bring together the services of the military, of police, and even private corporations to share information about alleged terrorist groups in cities throughout the country. I was fascinated by the story of the Air Force officer from New Jersey making an inquiry to the police in the state of Washington about this group. This is an enormous network. It’s funded by the Homeland Security Department. Police departments get a great deal of money to set up these intelligence units. And they monitor, largely, lawful political activity, in violation of the First Amendment and, when the military is involved, in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

This is the kind of surveillance society this country does not need.

When host Amy Goodman asked Pyle what he thought needed to be done to curb this abuse of power, he replied:

I think that we need to prosecute the torturers. I think that’s the biggest single message that we could give to the intelligence community, that it is not above the law. That’s even more important than the domestic intelligence, and the domestic intelligence, to me, is extremely important. ….. And when you get into torture, kidnapping, secret illegal detention and assassination, it seems to me you’ve gone over the hill to the most serious abuses any intelligence community can possibly commit, and that’s the place to start. Don’t lose our focus on that.

And then, after that, we need to investigate ways of curbing domestic intelligence activity. And there’s an area of this which has not yet become publicly known, and that is the role of corporations working with the intelligence agencies, corporations which do data processing and data mining, which are totally exempt from any state or federal privacy laws. There’s no control on them at all.

So what is Obama and Congress waiting for? Why won't they delve into the nation's dirty secrets?

Closer to home, we’ve got our own dirty little secret: the contaminated water that laps on so many beaches.

I know what we're waiting for to resolve this problem: money for sewage systems, a clampdown on development that funnels runoff into streams and so into the ocean and most of all, the political will to clean it up.

Care to place any bets on whether the national or local dirty secret gets dealt with first — or at all?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Musings: Lacking Appreciation

A light rain fell on Koko and me as we were walking this morning, creating a sort of flashback to our stroll along Hanalei Bay yesterday afternoon, when showers were coming and going, but mostly coming. That didn’t seem to deter the tourists, who were clustered in the water right where signs warning of a rip current were posted.

The heavy cloud layer broke just long enough to reveal a waterfall plunging down the face of Waioli and then all the mauka grandeur was hidden behind dense layers of floating mist.

Isn’t it remarkable, my friend noted as we walked along the bay, that something so essential to life just falls from the sky? And yet so often you hear people grumbling about the rain, showing a total lack of appreciation for the abundance that is naturally bestowed upon us.

She then went on to tell me about a iPhone application that makes it easier to have extramarital affairs — aka “hiking in Applachia” — without getting caught. It seems the site experienced membership surges after Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day, when men and women, respectively, tend to feel especially unappreciated.

Ahhh, yet another example of the incredible sway that consumerism and commercialism have over our gullible society. When folks don’t get the cards, flowers, gifts or lovey-dovey strokes that Hallmark and advertisements hold out as the “norm” on randomly designated days, they feel neglected and start seeking greener pastures.

While we’re on the subject of green pastures, I hear there’s a good chance the farm worker housing bill will be shelved by the Council, whose planning committee is set to take it up again today. Apparently some of the original proponents have come to realize that a number of issues, such as CPRs on ag land, need to be resolved first to ensure that it doesn’t turn into yet another morass of ag land misuse. In pushing this bill as THE way to "save ag" and foster its "resurgence," some folks demonstrated a distinct lack of appreciation for both the complexity of the issue and the history of ag land abuse on this island.

The Garden Island published an editorial on Sunday that underscored the critical role that enforcement — a planning tool so often MIA on Kauai — must play if the Council is to approve such a bill. This, in turn, prompted a predictable letter from Realtor Mike Dyer, who helped create and sell so many of the ag parcels that now grow gentleman’s estates in Kilauea. He also played a key role in dismantling the plantation’s irrigation system. Dyer wrote:

In fact, a great deal of the land currently designated as “agriculture” on our zoning maps is unsuited for contemporary commercial farming due to any number of factors, which can include poor soil, rough terrain, limited markets and lack of sufficient irrigation water. Many of the lands currently zoned agriculture were not even suitable for sugarcane or pineapple production.

The county is currently making an effort to designate “Important Agricultural Lands” throughout the island. This process may finally result in a differentiation between lands truly suited for commercial agriculture and those lands that have been, for a long time, “agricultural” in name only.

Hmmm. So what role do you suppose the extremely powerful real estate lobby will play in this sorting out process? And do you suppose it will have the interests of the general public, or bonafide farmers, at heart?

One thing that has troubled me about the worker housing bill, aside from the fact that it’s ripe for abuse and primarily an effort to legitimize illegal structures in Moloaa, is the lack of support by so many of the island’s longtime local farmers. If it’s so great for ag, why haven’t they jumped on the bandwagon? Farm worker housing is a good idea. Let's just make it more inclusive, and do it right from the start.

The same holds true when it comes to reforming the nation’s healthcare system, where we’re seeing evidence that the health and insurance industries are heavily influencing the process to ensure that it doesn’t include a public insurance option.

Meanwhile, people across the nation are pushing for a single-payer plan, including yesterday’s demonstration at ABC News, where a petition protesting the network’s exclusion of such an option from its coverage was presented, and a rally in North Carolina:

Sarah Buchner, chair of the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, attended the rally. She said, "It comes down to the fact that we've got a bunch of rich white senators with Cadillac insurance plans trying to tell students, working people and poor people that we don't have the money to pay for health care. They are liars. If they would stop spending all our money to occupy other countries we could pay for whatever the people need. It's the same old story of the people with the bread telling the hungry to go eat cake. We all know how that story ends."

Of course, we all know this nation could easily pay for universal health care if it would simply redirect some salad from the gluttonous war machine. But universal coverage in itself isn’t enough. To me, it isn’t much of a reform if we all get coverage, yet we’re restricted solely to the treatment modalities that fit within the rigid AMA box.

Let’s open it up to include treatments by naturopaths, acupuncturists, herbalists, chiropractors and others who look at the whole person when providing care and seek to keep their patients off the prescription drug treadmill. Let’s give alliopathic doctors a little more time to spend with their patients, instead of cranking through 30 or 40 appointments per day. Let's give people a chance to be active participants in their own health care, rather than passive recipients.

Now that would be a truly revolutionary reform, one that gives some recognition to an extremely valuable component of the health care field whose contributions so often go unappreciated. If we’re just going to extend the same crappy care to more people, what's the point?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Musings: Past and Present

The sky was filled with a smattering of stars that soon gave way to quilted wisps stained pink when Koko and I went walking this morning. The air was heavily perfumed with the fragrance of mock orange and bird song was punctuated by the humming drone of buzzing bees and oversized truck tires on pavement.

The clouds were on the move, flying briskly east to west, and as the sun rose, casting the verdant folds of Makaleha in a golden glow, they gathered briefly on the summit of Waialeale, then blew on past.

A couple of past posts continue to elicit comments, which always interests me, as it adds to the puzzle of who is reading this blog, and where it goes. A humorous thread was launched by a comment I almost deleted from Saturday’s Quick Fixes post, and included a link to an amusing video clip and debate between capitalism and socialism. But what I found most funny was that some folks seemed to actually take the exchange seriously.

Not so funny are the comments that continued to be posted on last Wednesday’s Seeking Solutions post by people who take the issue of building atop Hawaiian burials, and the screw you attitude that so often accompanies such actions, very seriously.

That comment thread included a full on curse, frustrations over Western imperialism and an account from a teacher who, with other teachers and students, tried to leave hookupu (offering) at Brescia’s construction site but were denied access by his contractor, Joe Gallante. The teacher goes on to say that Gallante wouldnĘ»t tolerate our oli and pule we said from outside the gate saying we were trying to incite them by "calling them names."

The comment sheds further light on an incident I reported on June 27, after Caren Diamond arrived at the Naue burial site and found police there.

It’s too bad Hollywood doesn’t make a movie about the real horrors that abound here, in the form of rampant cultural insensitivity, land rape and asinine planning, such as the county’s approval of the two Waipouli resorts without an environmental review. That case is currently in court, with 1000 Friends of Kauai seeking donations for legal fees.

Instead, it has to make up some bullshit about a murder on the Kalalau Trail for a horror/thriller flick that wasn’t even filmed here.

While I applaud the unwillingness of Kauai Visitor Bureau chief Sue Kanoho to go along with the charade of pretending like the movie was set here, when it was filmed in Puerto Rico, I did cringe at her use of the phrase “the Kaua‘i brand.” The only reason to brand something is to claim ownership and sell it.

Hollywood has done more than any other industry to perpetuate a totally skewed image of Hawaii, and especially Kauai. Think Bali Hai, Jurassic Park and other such nonsense. So I applaud the way Lingle put the state film commissioner Donne Dawson and her staff on the layoff list. Yeah, the movie crowd brings in money, but so does the ice trade. The bigger question is, is it really good for Hawaii?

Meanwhile, if we follow the premise that publicity is good for tourism, the continuing hoohaw over Obama’s birth certificate is keeping the Islands in the news at no cost to the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

I was especially amused that the debate, if it can be called that, briefly held up Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of Island statehood:

The line "Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961;" has been construed by some who believe Obama is not a U.S.-born citizen as a thinly veiled attempt to get Congress to affirm Obama's U.S. citizenship.

Interesting, how that hung some folks up, but no one seemed bothered by the idea that Hawaii itself is an illegal fake state.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Musings: Right to the Core

The Colorado Springs Gazette had two outstanding articles this weekend that went right to the core of what’s wrong with war: it totally messes up so many of the people who wage it.

The articles, which you can read here and here, detail the violence that soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team have waged on the communities they returned to.

Here are a few excerpts:

“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” [Anthony] Marquez [a 21-year-old soldier who shot a man in the heart over a drug deal gone awry] said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”

After two tours in Iraq, [Kenneth] Eastridge [a 24-year-old serving time for accessory to murder] was depressed, paranoid, violent, abusing drugs and haunted by nightmares. But because he was other-than-honorably discharged, he said, he was ineligible for benefits or health care. He was no longer Uncle Sam’s problem. He was on his own.

“I had no job training,” he said. “All I know how to do is kill people.”

“I know the Army would like to say it is not responsible for this, that it didn’t train them to do this. But that is bullshit,” Michael Needham said. “They trained them to kill, then when they didn’t have enough men for the surge, they pushed these guys until they broke, then threw them away.”

“There are some good things going on,” said Davida Hoffman, the director of First Choice Counseling, a private clinic that treats about 250 Carson soldiers.

But counseling can do only so much, she said. The quality of treatment is not the cause of the problem. Combat is.

The more combat soldiers see, she said, the more problems they will have. The more problems soldiers have, the more problems Colorado Springs has.

“Soldiers simply cannot handle repeated deployments,” she said. “If these guys keep seeing deployments like the stuff they saw in Iraq, we could have a very dangerous situation.”

[Maj. Gen. Mark] Graham agreed that repeated deployments are tough on soldiers. But the Army has a job to do, he said, and the rate of deployment is not expected to slow for at least 12 to 18 months.

It’s all the more troubling when you stop to think that the lives of these young men, and their victims, have been destroyed because of the charade that was the so-called Iraqi threat. That brings to mind a quote that Nazi officer Hermann Goering made during his Nuremberg war crimes trial:

"Why of course the people don't want war....That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

And now we're doing the same thing in Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Musings: Demented

Koko and I returned to our old haunts for a walk this morning, an excursion prompted by running into my former neighbor Andy at Sen. Hooser’s campaign kickoff last Sunday.

It was the first time we’d seen each other since I moved, and we said, in near unison, “I’ve missed you!” with Andy asking whether I’d run into anyone on my new walking route who was intellectually stimulating.

Fact is, I haven’t run into anyone to walk with in the mornings, intellectually stimulating or otherwise, and Koko hasn’t met anyone who gives her head rubs and dog biscuits, so we agreed to get together sometimes and share a walk and talk, which we did on this hot and muggy morning.

I’ve been feeling a bit homesick for my old neighborhood, so it was nice to see the mountains from that particular perspective again, and to meander along the grassy shoulder of a country road nearly devoid of traffic. But mostly, it was great to chat with Andy, and our conversation ran the gamut before settling on a topic that seems to be on the minds of many: What’s happened to Kaipo?

We were referring, of course, to Council Chairman Kaipo Asing, who has been exhibiting behavior that seems uncharacteristic for a man long viewed as Mr. Aloha.

I didn’t attend last Wednesday’s council meeting, or watch it on Hoike, so I can’t say if Andy Parx’s recent blog post portraying him as Captain Queeg is accurate, although it was entertaining, in a tragic-comic sort of way.

But I have witnessed some dramatic changes in Kaipo’s behavior since I first saw him in action on the County Council 22 years ago. At that time, Kaipo was a true maverick and a darling of the anti-development crowd. He ran one-man, low-cost campaigns, and rather than hold sign, he blew kisses to motorists. Even though he was usually on the losing side of Council votes, he was gracious and warm to his colleagues and politely attentive to members of the public who came to testify. I always thought of him as kind, and he was very open with me as a reporter.

Then came the big sell-out. Kaipo wanted to develop land overlooking Alekoko (Menehune) Fishpond, and his plans required Council approval. They went along, and after that, so did he, either voting with the majority or casting a vote in opposition without comment. It seemed to me he’d lost his fire, and even though he was subdued, he was still gracious and polite.

In more recent years, however, he’s become increasingly dictatorial, secretive, aggressive, rambling and abrupt. While he did lead the charge against illegal vacation rentals on the North Shore, and has taken other actions that harken back to the old Kaipo, his personality has changed.

My neighbor Andy shared the story of a friend we have in common who has been a longtime Kaipo supporter. But she swore she’d never vote for him again after he treated her and others very rudely when they came to testify on some matter.

“Kaipo never used to be like that,” Andy said. “What happened?”

I suggested that perhaps it’s the onset of dementia, and relayed the story of a friend whose mother, a sweet, accommodating, well-mannered, 70-year-old Midwesterner, has become increasingly aggressive, antagonistic and argumentative. She’s extremely critical and easily irritated, to the point of getting quarreling with guests at dinner parties.

Her account prompted me to ask, incredulously, “Your Mom is doing that?” because, like Kaipo’s snapping, it seemed so out of character.

My friend believes her mother is suffering from Sundowner’s syndrome because she seems to get more confused and irritable as the day wears on.

And I’ve watched a good friend of mine, who is now 76, go through dramatic personality changes that have caused him to become irritable, fixated on certain ideas, delusion and forgetful. His son took him to a doctor, who issued a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s related dementia.

I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, so I don’t know if that’s what’s happening to Kaipo. But he is 73 years old {correx: he's 79 this year], and it’s a very common condition associated with aging:

About 13% of Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer's and half of those over age 85 will develop Alzheimer's -- or a closely related dementia. 

Health analysts estimate that in just five years the number of Americans with Alzheimer's will jump to 7.7 million and by 2050 the number is projected to more than double to 16 million.

It’s something to consider, and perhaps it will prompt us to look upon the recent spectacle of the County Council meetings with a bit more compassion. After all, we baby boomers could be next.

On a bizarrely related note, Ian Lind had an interesting post yesterday about the current status of the Superferries and the link between Adm. Tom Fargo — the former Superferry President and CEO — and Sago Systems, the vendor of a suicide bomber detection system for the state’s harbor passenger terminals. My, those HSF guys do have their fingers in an awful lot of pies.

Ian also reveals that the Department of Homeland Security, which funded the detection system nixed DOT’s request for unmanned aerial vehicles and infrared sensors, noting:

Apparently the Harbor Police wanted their own Predator drones, which could have been deployed against Superferry protesters.

Now that’s really demented.

And for those who have asked several times in the comments section of a recent post on the planning commission’s reversal of vacation rental permits that were denied, with more reversals set to come: “So when IS the next meeting?” the answer is 9 .m. Tuesday, July 28. You can check out the agenda here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Musings: Quick Fixes

I was lounging around in bed in a Saturday morning kind of way when a streak of pink caught my eye and drew me to the window, where the east was erupting in a blaze of orange and scarlet that got me out the door and down to the beach just as a red sphere was rising from a gray sea into a pink and silver sky.

No one was around and a steady breeze was blowing and Koko was spinning and bucking and doing her mad dashing to and fro and the water was calm and clean and warm, just about the same temperature as the air, yet totally refreshing.

Looking mauka, it was a very different scene, with Waialeale and Makaleha gone missing behind big, black, ball-shaped clouds that were most likely dumping some serious rain.

In leaving office tomorrow, Sarah Palin is preparing to dump the constraints implicit in serving as governor, even of a minor league state, and begin building a power base via the vehicle that best suits her language skills and intellectual depth: Twitter.

”Ain't gonna shut my mouth / I know there's got to be a few hundred million more like me / just trying to keep it free," Palin said in a recent Tweet, quoting the song "Rollin'," by the country duo Big & Rich.

Hey, no one ever got elected by underestimating the vacuity of the American public and its propensity for jingoism and quick fixes. How else to explain the disillusionment that so many are feeling because President Obama hasn’t, in six months, fixed all the messes that were years in the making? As the reported:

Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, said: "When it's the president's economy, it's the president's trouble. Americans are eager for the change that they voted into office. They support him, they just want to see results sooner rather than later."

Ah, yes, ye olde quick fix mentality, the same approach that Americans take to most everything, including health care — just give me a pill, doc, don’t make me eat right or exercise — but excluding cutting greenhouse emissions — sure, we’ll do it, just give us 40 years.

I’m not feeling disillusioned, because I was never under the illusion that Obama was going to usher in any major changes. Symbolically, it was great to have an African-American ascend to the nation’s highest office, and psychically, it was fantastic to get rid of Bush-Cheney.

But while Obama seems like an earnest, committed guy — though I still don’t get why he sidestepped the whole torture-abuse of power-war criminals-Cheney as assassination ring leader thing, more deeply mired us in the muck of Afghanistan and moved to escalate the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan — that which ails us is so deep and systemic that it can’t be fixed in the White House, but only in each and every house, with individual people changing how they think, and so how they live in the world.

And that's where my disillusionment sets in.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Musings: Playing Chicken

The sky was gray, save for shiny Venus, but it was quickly shot through with streaks and strands and wisps of pink when Koko and I went walking this morning. The air was heavy, still and thick, carrying the sweet fragrance of plumeria and the acrid smell of urine-soaked concrete from the dog-in-a-box structures that dot the street.

A mynah stood in the middle of the road and screamed, and the colony of wild chickens collected by the little boy who lives two houses down from me clucked and crowed, with a rooster inexplicably lying make in front of one of the cages.

The kids on my street often catch the chickens, which they care for as pets, and I sometimes hear them calling loudly to each another: “One of the chickens got out!” Other times they report excitedly on the chicken fights — natural, not staged — that they witness.

It’s all far more wholesome than the fighting and squabbling that characterized the most recent Council session, with Michael Levine today reporting more of the sordid details for those of us lacking the stomach to sit through 11 hours of it on TV.

The relationship that kids have with chickens is such a quintessentially Kauai kine thing, as epitomized by a classic scene Jimmy Trujillo and I witnessed the other day while driving down Kawaihau Road, heading to the radio station. Two young boys were on a bicycle, one sitting and pedaling, the other standing behind, holding a white chicken close to his chest.

It made me think of a story that a friend, who was running an after-school program at the time, recounted to me. It’s part of a much longer piece, entitled “Parallel Universes” that will be published in Bamboo Ridge, Hawaii’s literary journal, this fall:

“I’ve got the kids and we’re down at Lumahai, you know, where we always go, on the beach road, and we can’t get out because the tourists have parked on both sides and this Jeep blocked us in, so I send the kids to go ask every tourist on the beach whose car is it but nobody’s admitting nothing and I’m getting mad and the kids got a pet chicken, you know, and they take it around and stuff and this tourist lady was kinda yelling at them, saying it was on too short a leash, and I’m like, ‘lady, give it a rest,’ and then this other tourist starts in, she’s some kind of animal expert or something, and she’s saying they shouldn’t take the chicken around on a leash and I’m saying to the kids like, ‘let’s go already, get in the truck,’ then the first lady said, ‘what are you gonna do with that chicken?’ And the kids said, ‘eat it!’ and she said, ‘that’s it, I’m calling the police,’ and by then I’m just boiling and I put the truck in four-wheel-drive and push the Jeep out of the way and the kids are in the back and one of the boys starts yelling, ‘fucking haoles!’ as we drive away.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Musings: Trade-Offs

A welcome and blessed rain came in the night and was still falling gently this morning when Koko and I set out walking beneath gray skies streaked with yellow and the faintest hint of pink.

The interior mountains were totally obscured by a thick, gray cloud bank that covered even the Giant down to his base, and a pile up on the horizon promised more rain today, which is a very good thing.

Not so good is the toll on turtles, birds, marine mammals and especially sharks that Hawaii’s longline swordfish fishery takes. In reporting a story on a proposal by National Marine Fisheries Service to expand the fishery, I was stunned to learn that two to 10 sharks are caught for every swordfish, prompting one observer to dub it a “shark fishery, not a swordfish fishery.” The ratio is even higher — 10 to 20 sharks for every fish — in the greater Pacific longline fishery.

"Are you sure?" asked the editor. "That seems like an insanely high number."

What can I say? We humans are frigging nuts. How long do you suppose "harvests" like those can continue before the shark population is depleted?

The article really got me thinking about the trade-offs we make, so often unconsciously, in what we choose to eat:

“Every swordfish you eat literally comes with a side helping of sea turtles, whales, dolphins and seabirds,” said Teri Shore of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Meanwhile, The Garden Island today offered a few tantalizing, tasty tidbits about yesterday’s heated Council meeting, where the panel finally took up the issue of transparency, rules and policy.

It’s good to get it all out on the table, but ya gotta wonder where it’s gonna go from here when the members are exchanging barbs and accusations of dishonesty. Perhaps some family counseling is in order. Otherwise, we’re gonna have a badly split Council that is even less effective than usual.

But in order to know the whole story, we’ll have to wait for the Hoike broadcast, if you’ve got a TV and the fortitude to sit through hours of squabbling, or wait for the rest of Michael Levine’s report tomorrow.

And if you're an animal lover, or just in the mood for a sad story, read this piece on the fallout of the big midwest dog-fighting bust.

Just another example of an unconscious trade-off — gambling and sick thrills for the lives of so many dogs — that human beings make.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Musings: Seeking Solutions

The Native Hawaiian Corp. was back in court yesterday, trying once again to get Judge Kathleen Watanabe to order Joe Brescia to stop building his house above burials at Naue.

And once again, the judge didn’t go along, saying attorney Alan Murakami had presented no evidence that things had substantially changed since the last time he made, and she denied, such a request.

Alan recounted the events that had transpired in the nine months since the judge ordered the State Historic Preservation Division to engage in proper consultation with the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council and other groups. As part of her ruling, Judge Watanabe directed Brescia to do nothing to demolish, alter or prevent access to the burials.

And while she didn’t tell Brescia to stop building when she issued her order last October, she cautioned him against taking actions that could foreclose options that the Burial Council might want to exercise, such as removing the concrete caps that Brescia’s archaeology team placed — without state approval — over the burials that lie beneath the house.

Alan argued that “imposing a physical structure” over some of the iwi did constitute alteration, saying it would be “no different than if someone was building a house on a corner of Arlington Cemetery. It doesn’t just include burials in the ground, but the whole column of the burials, so if you’re building atop that, yes, they’re being altered.”

Alan also argued that by pushing ahead with construction — he noted contractor Ted Burkhardt expects to be pau by year’s end — Brescia was foreclosing the Burial Council’s options, as it would be much more difficult for the panel to order the caps removed if it meant dismantling a house to do so.

Alan objected as well to construction workers “lounging around the burials,” which he said are afforded inadequate protection by the orange plastic fenses erected around them.

As for access, Alan said that it was hampered by the house’s construction, while Cal Chipchase, Brescia’s attorney, countered that when and if someone registers as a lineal descendant of the burials — a process that some kanaka consider culturally inappropriate as it requires them to divulge their geneaology in a public record — Brescia will deal with the access issue.

Alan also brought up the issue of the septic tank and leach field, saying “I dread to think what might happen when excavation continues. I fear there will be further desecretion, further alteration of the burials, and no Burial Treatment Plan in place to prevent the release of sewage water over the burials beneath.”

In closing, Alan urged the judge to consider not just the technical details of the law, but what was just. Judge Watanabe, however, said “the authority of this court is not limitless,” and noted she did not have the power to write law.

Pointing out that the burials had already been capped, and the concrete pilings poured, before she issued her order last year, the judge said, “I have not heard any evidence whatsoever to demonstrate there has been anything denoting alteration or denial of access. I see no no evidence of any violation of the court’s order.”

And that was that.

After the court hearing, I got to thinking about an email I received a week ago from Maui Tauotaha, who had found my bloggings via a Google search for Naue and wrote:

I truly believe that if enough people found out what is going on we would have the support to motivate Ms. Lingle to appoint two members to the KINBC who DO NOT think it's cool to build over graves. Seriously, it's a common sense issue and I'm very surprised it's gotten this far.

I've written a letter to this guy Brescia and his wife but I don't think it did too much. I would very much appreciate your knowledge and guidance to help foster a pono resolution to this situation. The way it's going right now, it's not good.

I’ve been pondering that email since I got it, as I and others have been trying since this whole situation started to figure out it might be resolved “in a pono way.” Following yesterday afternoon’s courtroom action, it came to mind again, and was joined by a comment that Uncle Nathan Kalama made when I interviewed him last Sunday. He was telling me about the difficulties he’d faced in trying to live his culture in a Western world, until he received some guidance from the late Aunty Nona Beamer, who told him:

If you have a Hawaiian problem, view it from the Hawaiian perspective. If you have a Western problem, take a Western approach.

It seems to me that the Naue burial situation is both a Western and a Hawaiian problem. Since I’m not Hawaiian, it’s not my place to suggest a Hawaiian approach, although I’m wondering if there are ceremonies or other actions that could be taken that would draw attention to what’s happening, while educating Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike about proper protocol.

As far as a Western approach, I have two suggestions. The first is to help Alan gather evidence that can be presented to the judge. Are there any soil or water or concrete engineers out there who could shed light on how placing these pilings atop the burials might affect them, or if they’d be damaged by runoff from ground altering or other activities? Are there any construction workers who can step forward to and speak to burial disturbances? Does anyone else have ideas on evidence that could be presented to sway the court?

And then there’s the other Western solution: the Legislature. What if some of the despair and frustration over this issue was channeled into drafting better burial protection laws, and lobbing lawmakers to adopt them?

As for the Burial Council, could we sponsor some workshops that would bring council members together to help them understand the extent of their powers? Have we asked thoughtful people to apply to serve, and lobbied Lingle to appoint them?

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure other people have more, and I hope they’ll share them. Surely, by working together, we can come up with ways of educating the community at large about the issues at stake with Hawaiian burials and come up with some pono solutions to the stand-off at Naue.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Musings: Shadowy Side Roads

I saw the last of the moon yesterday morning — a golden sliver cupping a white sphere — so I knew Venus and Jupiter would be all alone this morning, and they were, reigning over the eastern and western skies, respectively.

Waialeale and Makaleha were all slopes and no summit, weighed down by the clouds that had brought a heavy pre-dawn rain, and the sun rose in a smear of smoky pink that spoke of showers along the coast and the likelihood of more to come.

And as former Councilman and mayoral candidate Mel Rapozo noted in the comments section of a previous post, more approvals of previously denied vacation rentals are also to come.

These rentals were previously denied permits because they sported such blatantly illegal features as enclosed ground floor units in the flood zone and multi-family units. But then, faced with the specter of a lawsuit, the planning commission, at the advice of planning director Ian Costa, rolled over and let them in, anyway.

One of the big problems is the lack of documentation on so many of these applications. This makes it difficult for the commission, much less the public, which has already been roundly shut out of the process, to know exactly why permits were approved or denied.

Let’s not forget that the planning department, with its bungling and lack of transparency, is the same agency that will be charged with monitoring and enforcing the farm worker housing bill once it’s passed. And have no doubts, it will be passed, because ag is now a sexy issue. Politicians want to be able to claim they’re helping farmers (and that includes ranchers and tree growers, too), even as they move to approve vacation rentals on ag land —a driving factor in the speculation that has pushed the price of farm land out of the reach of farmers.

Councilman Jay Furfaro called in to the KKCR talk show that Jimmy Trujillo and I were hosting yesterday afternoon to toot his horn about his leadership on ag worker housing and say we need to be willing to “take a risk” in passing a measure that supposedly will help farmers.

So does that mean Jay’s acknowledging the Council can’t/won’t draft a bill without loopholes? The planning department has already admitted that enforcement will be a major problem, which Jay glossed over, saying that could probably be addressed with funding and staffing.

I think the enforcement issue is more a question of political will, and let’s face it, there isn’t any when it comes to cracking down on people who are generating large amounts of property tax, even illegally.

Jay went on to justify giving permits to pre-existing TVRs (transient vacation rentals) anywhere, so long as they have a history of paying taxes, by saying the General Plan requires the county to regulate, not eliminate, them. Yes, but the Plan also says they’re supposed to be restricted to Visitor Destination Areas, which excludes Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and, ostensibly, ag lands.

It’s important for people to realize that with Kauai’s beach front land pretty much all taken, the island’s remaining real estate wealth lies in its ag lands, and there’s going to be tremendous pressure to develop them — if not outright, then through these shadowy side roads like farm worker housing.

And once the land is tied up in fake farms, it’s gonna be awfully hard to create the real farms needed to grow the real food that could reduce Hawaii’s $3 billion annual expenditure on imported food.

That’s right -- $3 billion. Of course, that pales in comparison to the $7 billion we shell out every year for oil, all of it imported, too. As Sen. Gary Hooser mentioned in discussing his platform — energy independence, environmental protection, education, equity for all — at Sunday’s campaign kickoff, just think what it would mean for the state if that money stayed here.

It would certainly erase the $786 million deficit and eliminate the need to cut programs and lay off state workers. A friend who is just two years from retirement recently got his pink slip. However, he can keep his job if he fingers another worker in his office to be fired in his stead. And as Gary mentioned, Department of Health Director Lillian Koller sent out notices advising workers in her agency to call a recording to see if they’ve been terminated.

Surely if firings are warranted — and I have to agree with Sen. Inouye that this is more of a political power play than a necessity — they could find a more humane way of doing it.

Finally, I was forwarded a link to an intriguing article in the Boston Globe that reports about a dozen municipalities have adopted measures that give nature rights under the law.

But proponents see it as part of an ongoing progression, an expansion of rights that slowly brings about an increasingly just society. After all, not so long ago, slaves and women were in some legal regimes deemed property, just as nature is today. Now we all accept universal human rights. The concept of animal rights has also become familiar, if much more contested. Advocates of this agenda see the extension of rights to ecosystems as the natural next step. And they believe it could spark a profound shift in our relations with nature, leading to more effective environmental protections.

Imagine that.

Still, it’s pretty creepy to think we’ve gotten so far removed from nature that we actually have to pass laws that acknowledge it has an inalienable and fundamental right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Go Gary

If you support Sen. Gary Hooser in his bid for Lieutenant Governor, show up and show face at his Kauai campaign kick-off from 4-6 pm today at the Kauai Veterans Center, near the airport in Lihue. No need ticket. Just come. Mark's Place is catering, so you know the food will be good.

Musings: Out of the Closet

Kauai is so delightful in the dead of night when the world is silent, save for cricket songs, gecko clicks and the roar of the sea in the distance. Then came the patter of rain, falling on the roof, dripping from the eaves, lulling me back to sleep until the roosters broke the peacefulness, followed by the whooshing of cars, and soon Koko and I were up and out ourselves.

A thin slice of white waning moon appeared briefly before it was overwhelmed by gray clouds racing mauka on the trades, sliding down the face of Makaleha, weighing heavily on Waialeale. As we walked, I was struck by the juxtaposition between the brilliant blossoms of the shower and Poinciana trees and the dullness of the rain- and sun-faded trash that lined both sides of the street.

One streetlight after another clicked off as we passed beneath, signaling the official end of night, but a few others inexplicably stayed on, stubbornly refusing to yield to the light of a new day.

And the same, it seems, is true of the debate over marijuana. Some folks are still clinging to the old “Reefer Madness” propaganda, while others are embracing decriminalization and legalization as a way to introduce some justice into the criminal justice system, weed out overcrowded prisons and generate dough for revenue-starved municipalities.

During last week’s KKCR radio show discussion on the drug wars and Green Harvest, Roger Christie of the Big Island’s THC Ministry discussed the concept of “ganjanomics,” while attorney Dan Hempey pointed out that marijuana is the most valuable crop in California, a state that also produces one helluva lot of food.

And I noted that prior to the implementation of Operation Wipe-Out, Hawaii’s eradication campaign, the value of the marijuana crop surpassed sugar cane, pineapple and everything else grown here combined. Now it’s gone, and so is pine and sugar in any meaningful measure, leaving us with the GMO-dominated, Roundup-intensive seed crop industry.

Two people sent me links yesterday to a SF Gate article that reports marijuana has become “a major economic force” in California, prompting discussions there of legalization as a means for taxing it like liquor, which could generate revenues of $1.3 billion a year.

The crop itself has an estimated value of $17 billion, “dwarfing any other sector of the state's agricultural economy,” according to the article, and it also “props up local economies, mints millionaires and feeds a thriving industry of startups designed to grow, market and distribute the drug.”

You know, a free-marketer's dream.

Advocates point out that making pot legal would create millions if not billions of dollars more in indirect sales — the ingredients used to make edible pot products, advertising, tourism and smoking paraphernalia.

With a recent poll showing more than half of Californians supporting legalization, pot advocates believe they will prevail. And they say other states will follow.

Now why can’t Hawaii, whose ganja, like its beaches, is already world-renowned, capitalize on that trend, too? We’re talking about true community-based development that would also prop up the sagging agricultural sector.

Some of the tax revenues could even be earmarked to fund treatment centers for the plethora of ice addicts, which in itself would prove to be an economic and social boon for the Islands.

While California is taking giant steps toward easing the cannabis clampdown, Hawaii is taking baby steps. We do allow medical marijuana use, although you’ve got to register with the Department of Public Safety, aka the prison complex, which is a deterrent to some.

Due to the efforts of Roger and other activists, Big Island voters approved a measure that requires the police there to make marijuana for adult personal use (not to exceed 24 ounces or 24 plants) their lowest law enforcement priority.

When I asked Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry what he thought of such a measure, he replied:

I believe from a professional and personal point of view that they are making a terrible mistake. It sends the wrong message to our community; particularly to our youth.

If a similar ordinance were attempted here, I would be against it, and I believe the people of Kauai would also be in opposition to such a law.

The chief then went on to cite short- and long-term health effects related to marijuana use, an issue that The New York Times took up in an article yesterday on whether marijuana is addictive. Opinions ran the gamut:

“We need to be very mindful of what we are unleashing out of a Pandora’s Box here,” said Dr. Richard N. Rosenthal, chairman of psychiatry at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. “The people who become chronic users don’t have the same lives and the same achievements as people who don’t use chronically.”

“I see people every day dying from alcohol, stimulants and opiates,” said Dr. Matthew A. Torrington, an addiction specialist and clinical researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Marijuana may be an up and comer, it may be transforming into something that will become a bigger problem in the future, but at the moment I don’t see that.”

What is clear is that marijuana is the country’s most widely used illicit drug, many people smoke it without developing a dependency and some people have a propensity to become addicted to just about any substance.

And the fact remains that it has not been linked to a single fatal overdose or major health problems, unlike say, acetaminophen, which is widely available over the counter even though about 100 people OD on it each year and high doses are linked to liver damage and failure. Even the Tylenol website now includes a caveat about how “it is safe when used as directed.” Yet no one is talking about making Tylenol illegal, but merely changing the label.

A couple of people who called in to KKCR thanked us for the show and commented that we were “brave” to take on the issue. To me, it’s not a question of bravery, but common sense. When we look at the human and economic costs of suppressing and criminalizing marijuana, and compare it to its low potential for harm and high potential for revenues, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

It’s time to get marijuana out of the closet and into the open, and one of the best ways to do that is through public discussion and looking to the reform models already created in The Netherlands, Spain and, much closer to home, California.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Musings: Shammin'

Today is the day when we start to lose daylight, with a minute shaved off both ends, signaling the shift that will take us to the shortest day of the year.

And this will be a short post, because I don’t have much time.

For starters, tune in to KKCR this afternoon from 4 to 5:30 p.m. when co-host Jimmy Trujillo and I will be discussing the War on Drugs and its spawn, Green Harvest. Our guests will be Big Island cannabis activist Roger Christie, who will discuss the new law that makes marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority there. Kauai attorney Dan Hempey is also scheduled to join us, and hopefully we'll have some written replies to questions from Police Chief Darryl Perry, who declined an invitation to appear on the show.

Shifting now to another battle, the one to preserve rural neighborhoods as communities, rather than resorts, the Planning Commission on Tuesday denied Protect Our Neighborhood `Ohana the right to appeal approvals granted to Transient Vacation Rentals (TVRS) in Wainiha and Haena.

After several lengthy executive sessions, the Commissioners followed the recommendation of the Planning Department, which said PONO’s appeals should be denied because the appeal process was intended to serve only landowners whose applications were denied.

So in other words, the public has absolutely no say when it comes to whether TVRs will be allowed in their neighborhood. It’s now clear that in issuing its approvals, the Planning Department is giving just about everyone — with one puzzling exception that raise the issue of retribution — the green light, so long as they were previously using their property as a TVR and got their application in on time.

No consideration is being given to density, sewage, impacts on the infrastructure, location in a tsunami zone, special management restrictions or public concerns. It certainly comes as no surprise that the TVR review and permitting process is a total frigging sham.

On a related note, I got an email from a prospective visitor seeking a kanaka-owned B&B, hotel or TVR. I wracked my brain and asked around, but alas, could not identify a single one. If someone knows of one, please leave a comment.

Meanwhile, at least one self-described farmer is balking at attempts to make sure the so-called “farm worker housing bill” doesn’t turn into yet another giant give-away of agricultural lands. Unfortunately, he’s getting support from Councilmembers Tim Bynum (who lives on ag land that he doesn’t farm) and Dicke Chang.

As The Garden Island reports in an article on attempts by the County Council’s planning committee to plug giant loopholes identified by the planning department:

Some farmers took issue with the focus on preventing misuse rather than the importance of helping farmers, the original aim of the legislation.

“This is a farm worker housing bill, not a close-the-loophole-on-abuse bill,” said farmer Bill Robertson.

Tim Bynum acknowledged that the council may need to “risk some potential abuse” to ensure that the bill helps in its broader goal of securing farm land for farming, and Dickie Chang said the council was trying hard to work for farmers but could not expect a “fool-proof” bill.

I wasn’t aware that the original intent of the bill was, as Tim says, to secure farm land for farming. In my understanding, it was primarily to give housing rights to people who currently do not have them, while allowing other farmers — a term yet to be defined — a chance to build housing for their workers.

It seems to me that if people are getting rights they currently don’t have, even if they’re engagd in the noble pursuit of growing food, they ought to be willing to live with a few restrictions aimed at ensuring we actually do have some ag lands. Otherwise, we're just gonna end up with another big land use sham, just like TVRs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Musings: Misplaced Priorities

A welcome heavy squall had just passed through when Koko and I went out walking this morning beneath a cloud-scattered sky and utility wires occupied by sodden, silent doves.

We were nearly home when another shower blew in, falling first in light sprinkles, then heavy enough to prompt Koko, head down, to pick up her pace. And the last thing I saw, before slipping inside, was a horizontal rainbow working its way mauka where Waialeale was veiled by sheets of white rain.

The last thing you want to do in a state that already has way more foster kids than homes to take them, a serious crystal meth problem and distracted parents trying to survive economically is cut a program like Healthy Start, which has been effective in preventing child abuse.

But that’s exactly what the Lingle Administration plans to do. Meanwhile, the Board of Education is considering cost-cutting proposals to close libraries in such rural places as Hana.

Yet we’re still shoveling millions into the Hawaii Tourism Authority to promote a place that is already known and coveted around the world. I know the state has financial problems, but its fundings priorities are really screwed up and incredibly short-sighted. Every kid that falls through the cracks now is going to cost the state much more down the road. And that’s not even factoring in the psychic pain they’ll carry forever.

In a case that seems to be dragging on forever, the State Historic Preservation Division has rejected Draft 11 of the burial treatment plan (BTP) for Joe Brescia’s property at Naue, where he’s building a house on a lot with some 30 identified burials.

As a result, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp has asked SHPD to officially inform the Kauai Planning Commission that the rejection constitutes a failure to meet one of the conditions imposed on the project, which could lead to a revocation of his permit.

NHLC also wants the state to join it in a motion seeking an injunction on construction until a BTP is approved. That hearing is set for next Tuesday afternoon. NHLC attorney Alan Murakami writes in a letter to Deputy AG Randy Ishikawa:

We request this action because of the urgency caused by Mr. Brescia's past unilateral actions that are making a mockery of burial protection laws.

In particular, please note the provision of HRS secs. 6E-11(b) and 6E-72(a)(1), which makes it a civil and administrative violation as well as a criminal offense to … destroy or alter a burial site, "except as permitted by the department." Having rejected BTP-11, Mr. Brescia has no DLNR permission to do anything on the burial site at Naue, but is conducting construction activity that is clearly altering, if not injuring and destroying the site (or sites, even if one assumes there is more than one).

So things are heating up, even as Brescia’s house is still going up, and this news, which I read in comments, makes me feel like rising up: a new nuclear-powered attack submarine named USS Hawaii is heading to the Islands to participate in the fake state anniversary farce. Wow, if that isn’t the ultimate co-opting of Hawaii, and a full-on slap in the face to kanaka maoli, I don’t know what is. And it only cost a cool $2.5 billion to build it — enough to fund Healthy Start and rural libraries for many a generation.

What’s more, we don’t even need it. See what I mean about screwed up priorities?

Speaking of which, in a follow-up to yesterday’s musing on food safety paranoia, I got a call from Farmer Jerry, who had just gotten a call from one of the North Shore organic farmers who is going through an audit required to sell produce to places like Whole Foods. Under the food safety rules, he can’t have one bit of bird kukae on his crop. Now how do you prevent birds from crapping as they fly over your farm? And then there’s the matter of all our wild chickens, not to mention the taro that’s grown in a refuge created specifically for endangered birds, which are definitely making doo doo.

What kind of insanity is this? Animal, and even human, waste has been a part of agriculture since the beginning, and yet the human race managed to survive and thrive. So has doo doo suddenly gotten much more dangerous? Or is there something wrong with our factory farm practices, or equaly likely, our perception of the threat?

Meanwhile, GOP senators are trying to push the perception that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is racist and sexist, and so too biased to serve on the high court, which is supposedly above such things.

Yet a recent article in The New Yorker clearly outlined the “stealth activism” of Chief Justice John G. Roberts:

Roberts’s hard-edged performance at oral argument offers more than just a rhetorical contrast to the rendering of himself that he presented at his confirmation hearing. “Judges are like umpires,” Roberts said at the time. “Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

Seems that when it comes to breaking into the good old boy club, what’s good for the gander is clearly not good for the goose.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Musings: Obsessions

The morning found Koko and me at the beach, watching the sun struggle up through gray clouds stacked upon a gray sea. Next thing I knew, she was gone, off on her second unauthorized walk-about in the last three days.

I knew she was tracking chickens, and so I was soon tracking Koko through haole koa and stubbly grass, my feet slipping in muddy slippers, until finally I spotted her on a hill, panting, tongue-lolling, that crazed chicken-chasing look on her face.

Koko is usually a very well-behaved dog, but when it comes to chickens, she loses all self-control. So even as I secured the leash to her collar and told her, as we walked to the car, that she had lost all-off leash privileges at the beach for a while, I knew it was just a stop-gap measure. I'm not sure there's a cure for her chicken-chasing obsession.

The current obsession over “food safety” is now having some bizarre consequences for America’s farms, where nature and all its dirtiness and germs is being exterminated in the interest of sterility. As SF Gate reports:

Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare - spinach, peppers and now cookie dough - ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer - and anything that shelters them - are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria.

In pending legislation and in proposed federal regulations, the push for food safety butts up against the movement toward biologically diverse farming methods, while evidence suggests that industrial agriculture may be the bigger culprit.

Of course, a lot of what’s driving this is profit and litigation. As the article notes, the food industry “has paid more than $100 million in court settlements and verdicts in spinach and lettuce lawsuits, a fraction of the lost sales involved.”

The rest of it stems from media-hyped hysteria:

"It's all based on panic and fear, and the science is not there," said Dr. Andy Gordus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.

Food-born pathogens have killed only 14 people in the past three years, which is pretty manini when you consider all the food that is produced and consumed in this country. Compare that to the 37,248 who died in automobile crashes in 2007 alone. Yet what gets all the press?

What I found especially interesting were the comments by Seattle attorney Bill Marler:

”In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I've never had a case where it's been linked to a farmers' market," Marler said.

"Could it happen? Absolutely. But the big problem has been the mass-produced product. What you're seeing is this rub between trying to make it as clean as possible so they don't poison anybody, but still not wanting to come to the reality that it may be the industrialized process that's making it all so risky."

So that gives us another good reason to buy local. Reading the article made me think of comments left on the post about the worker housing bill that described island agricultural independence as an “absurd fetish.” As I see it, we’re not self-sufficient only because we currently have the luxury not to be. But what price, really, are we willing to pay for our bagged salad greens from Safeway and Cosco?

Strangely, even as we’re destroying nature in our quest for safe food, we’re copying it in our obsession for a safe world — or at least, one under our control. DARPA is in the process of developing nano air vehicles, tiny new spy craft modeled after hummingbirds. According to the DARPA website:

The program will explore novel, bio-inspired, conventional and unconventional configurations to provide the warfighter with unprecedented capability for urban mission operations.

Hmmm. Why don't I feel reassured?

Meanwhile, our obsession with convenient disposables has plastic poised to take over the world. As the Honolulu Weekly reports, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only the tip of the iceberg. Micro-plastics — what we get when plastic junk breaks down — is a newly emerging threat, according to B.E.A.C.H. co-founder Suzanne Frazer:

“Once you’ve got micro-plastics just a few millimeters big, that’s the right size for many of the bottom-of-the-food-chain type of marine organisms to eat and ingest. Plankton has been shown to ingest plastic pieces and this is the most troubling of all because fish are being opened up and they find they are just filled with plastic.

"When you’re talking about plastic dust, microscopic plastic in our ocean, when 71 percent of our earth is ocean, how do we clean it all up? We don’t have the technology or the equipment or the know-how to do it and it’s out there and we can’t get rid of it.

Is this going to be part of evolution and change species?” Frazer asked. “Is it going to destroy species? Who knows? Who knows where this is going to lead.”

All of a sudden Koko's chicken-chasing obsession is looking pretty innocuous.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Musings: Full Story

The sky was mottled gray when Koko and I went walking in that time between night and day when the streetlights hadn't yet self-extinguished. Roosters, including those living in the valley and in cages across the street, were calling out to one another, and responding, in a sort of round-robin of crowing that began well before we rose and still continues hours later.

A light rain that turned heavier arrived before the sun, blotting it out, save for a yellow streak in the east, followed by a brief rosy glow, as Makaleha and Waialeale huddled beneath thick layers of black clouds that diminished the full story of their grandeur.

I was talking to one of the North Shore boys this weekend and he told me the full story of what really went down in the shooting incident at Haena last week.

Apparently the boys had finished lua practice and were milling around, not easily seen in their black shirts in the darkness, when a van drove up and a guy jumped out “acting all wild” and started messing up cars in the beach parking lot. Some of the cars belonged to the boys, so they caught the guy, gave him dirty lickings, then tossed him in the van and told him not to come back.

But as the boys turned their cars around and prepared to leave, somebody in the van started shooting, and then the van took off and a few of the boys gave chase, throwing rocks at the vehicle, including one that went through the windshield and hit the driver in the chest, causing him to stop and veer off the road. By that time the cops had arrived and they took over from there.

“Did you know the guys?” I asked.

“Nah,” said my friend. “They were fresh off the boat; they shipped their van over from the mainland. People had been complaining about car break-ins, but the cops blamed the locals and the tweakers because the haoles can do no wrong. I asked [name withheld] if the tweakers were doing that shit and he said, ‘no, 90 percent of the stuff that happens, we don’t do, even though everybody blames us.’”

That left me wondering if the same guys were perhaps responsible for the recent rash of car break-ins at my favorite beach. That isn't something that typically happens there. I also couldn’t help but wonder if such incidents — and the community’s response to them, as detailed by my friend — are figured in when determining the ranking of the world’s best islands, seeing as how Kauai is now number four.

Do you suppose the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine, in casting their votes, also consider things like the gallinules that like to feed right along the highway, near the entrance to the Wailua golf course? Each time I pass them I think, wow, that is so cool that Kauai has drive-by endangered birds, but please, don’t come any closer to the highway, and please, don’t anybody pull over right here.

And are the readers swayed by events like Kumu Kehau’s powerful and poignant paina and concert, held last night in Princeville? Do they consider all the work and energy and commitment it takes for a small community to put something like that together? Are they aware that our little island has the state’s highest rate of volunteerism and charitable giving?

But most important, do the readers who ranked us so highly realize that here on Kauai, they can still experience some semblance of the real Hawaii, the one with 10,000 known native species, 90 percent of them found nowhere else in the world, and far too many of them headed toward extinction?

Some know the full story, I’m sure. Others don’t have a clue. They just like Kauai for her beaches, scenery, weather, seclusion. Or worse, what they can get from her.

Hawaii has the highest percentage of millionaires in the nation — defined as a household with $1 million or more in investable or liquid assets, excluding sponsored retirement plans and real estate — and no doubt many of them are looking to gain more wealth here. What else could explain the homes built atop burials and vacation rentals in conservation zones and arrogant attitudes and dubious development schemes?

They likely don’t know, and certainly don’t adhere to, an old Hawaiian saying that last night left me teary-eyed as I reflected on just how far we've drifted from this core value, how much of the full story we're missing:

The land is chief, the humans but a servant.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Musings: Shouts and Whispers

A downpour hit just as Koko and I were preparing to set out for our walk, so we snuggled on the bed, listening to water pour from the eaves, until it passed and we emerged in a world of puddles and glistening pavement.

Venus was low in the eastern sky and a ringed moon, still bright and round, though her lower right side had been nibbled away, was headed west, with Jupiter in tow. We were headed mauka, passing a banyan tree inhabited by dozens of birds twittering without need of a messaging utility, and passed by the squeak, squeak, squeak of a man walking in wet rubber slippers.

The sky brightened with shards of delicate pink that turned a silvery-gold and then the sun rose, a glowing orange sphere that pierced the mass of gray clouds above it with a bold ray of red light.

Far more difficult to pierce is the veneer that surrounds so many “military appreciation” efforts, which gloss over all the blood and guts and waste of the armed forces and focus instead on the God Bless America red, white and blue.

Such was the case with the ad — at least, I think, and hope, it was a paid advertisement — that appeared in the current issue of “Currents,” the useless publication of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

It had a banner headline that read Military Appreciation and was signed with aloha by Dennis Esaki, the former KIUC board chairman. In it, Dennis detailed his recent “opportunity, courtesy of the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s DV Program to fly to the nuclear aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, spend two days on it on an official tour, observing day and night flight and other operations, and was catapulted off its deck.”

In case you’re not familiar with the DV program, it’s a little perk offered — at taxpayer expense — to people like Dennis, who have the means to go out and promote the military after they’re given VIP treatment aboard a vessel.

You may remember that during one of the more ill-fated DV excursions, Commander Scott Waddle, captain of the USS Greeneville, was showing off for his guests (after revealing classified information about American sub capabilities) by performing an emergency surfacing maneuver. In the process, he managed to sink the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing training vessel, killing nine persons aboard, four of them high school kids.

So anyway, Dennis was out on a similar excursion and duly reported to all of Kauai’s electric users his gushing praise for the boys and girls who man our “multi-million dolar jets, bombs and nuclear reactors.”

They are our ambassadors to the world. They are prepared to protect us at the drop of a hat.

We sit at home complaining about nuclear power in our backyards, while we expect these men and women to live above nuclear reactors, bombs and millions of gallons of jet fuel.

You know, it’s pretty darn weird when you look at it like that. Why do we expect — heck, allow — kids to live like that? Surely we could find something less hazardous, and more meaningful, for them to do.

The piece jumped out at me not only because I found it annoying to see that bit of propaganda in the KIUC mag, which co-op members pay for, but because it made me think of a call I received from DWPS, a frequent commenter on this blog, when I was doing the recent KKCR show on the military’s impacts on Hawaii.

He wanted to know if I’d be just as willing to do a show featuring guests who appreciated the military, and in the interest of fairness, I said sure.

But seeing Dennis’ piece reminded me that the military does a bang-up job of tooting its own horn. Why should we take up valuable community radio time when the military spends millions on recruitment ads, PR staff and DV programs?

Meanwhile, the alternative point of view is expressed by nonprofits that find themselves up against government lawyers when they try to obtain information that affects us all and really should be public.

In other words, they’re a mere whisper in the wind that is so often drowned out by the military megaphone that we all pay for. And how fair is that?

Finally, if you’re interested in the issue of roadside herbicide spraying, I have a piece on that subject in the current Honolulu Weekly.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Musings: Power Struggles

The sun had not yet risen when Koko and I arrived at the beach this morning, and even when it did, it never fully showed itself, hiding instead behind the clouds it tinted first orange, then salmon-pink, then finally silver as it climbed higher over a sea that appeared steel gray, until I got in it and saw that it was clear green.

Boobies flew south overhead and Koko raced about on the sand, doing the 360-spins that characterize her joy at being free. Ahhh. I know the feeling.

Before we went down, I noticed a new pile of broken car window glass in the parking lot. The other evening, when a friend and I went to that same beach, I saw a car with a big puka in the passenger side window, a pile of broken glass on the seat and a glove box that had been opened and rifled.

We went in search of the owners, but saw no one, and when we returned from our swim, three adults and a couple of kids were giving a report to two cops. We told what we’d seen, with my friend adding that my glove box had been rifled there, too, not long ago, but since I leave my car unlocked, they hadn’t broken the window.

“That’s what the rental car companies say, leave your car unlocked,” one of the cops said. “But then, if you’ve got valuables in there, you want to lock it.”

Oh, really? Brilliant, officer. Now we know why you’re not a sergeant.

Meanwhile, in a land far away — Afghanistan — U.S. Predator drones keep up a steady pace of killing, with 45 reported dead yesterday. At least Democracy Now! is keeping count, while sharing the news that the U.S. is settling in for a nice, long, expensive occupation, awarding five-year contracts worth up to $7.5 BILLION to DynCorp and Fluor Corp for “support and logistics" at U.S. military bases in that unfortunate nation. KBR, accustomed to feeding heavily at the trough in Iraq, “says it may challenge its exclusion from the deal.”

While we pour billions down a rat hole, computer hackers are waging their own quiet, inexpensive, but nonetheless damaging, war on computer systems in South Korea and the U.S. — including the White House, Treasury and Transportation departments, Secret Service and Federal Trade Commission. The Globe and Mail reports that the usual suspects — China, Iran and North Korea — are, well, the usual suspects. And even though the attacks began on the Fourth of July and were still disrupting American systems four days later, the Department of Homeland Security downplayed their severity. The Globe notes:

Countries like Iran and North Korea, as well as terrorist groups, are devoting increasing amounts of resources to cyber and electronic warfare, said Andrew Brookes, a defence analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

“They can't take the West on with conventional tactics like big armies, big air forces or big navies. Instead, they are trying to look to cheaper activities – ballistic missiles, work in space or cyber attacks,” he said.

Well, that’s one way to even the playing field. It’s pretty obvious that the U.S. would be totally paralyzed and useless if its computers went down.

The blog agrees:

I believe that this is where the future of battles will be conducted. Bringing down another nations computer networks could give the attacking nation intel and control. As we move forward, it is important that American continues to provide funds for the protection of our governmental computer networks. If we fail to do this, other nations will develop technologies and methods of infiltration that we will not be able to combat.

Oh joy. Now we can engage in not only an arms race, but an IT race.

Back at home, The Advertiser won the slow race with its front page report today on the Naue burials issue. Usurping even The Garden Island in the better late than never category, it finally gives some serious coverage to a story that’s, gee, only two years old.

Unfortunately, despite its length, it’s a rehash of stuff that I, at least, have already covered, and doesn’t manage to break any new ground. But perhaps it will bring the matter into the consciousness of Honolulu residents.

My favorite comment on the story was from Jonny Zahaby, who wrote:

Why do ANY houses need to be built on Kauai? There are plenty of new houses for sale.

He’s got a point. Of course, the construction industry thinks otherwise. But if you look in the Kauai Business Report, you’ll see that most of the building permits are for solar panels and small kine projects. Seems like the days of the multi-million-dollar mansions are pau. Meanwhile, the legal section is filled with foreclosure notices, something you never used to see on Kauai.

And Hawaiian-hater Ken Conklin apparently has some followers on this blog, judging from a comment he left on the Advertiser article that has oft been echoed here:

It’s very clear that most ethnic Hawaiians today do NOT believe that the spirit of the dead person continues to live in the bones... The fuss is being done for two main reasons: anti-development activism, and political demands for ethnic Hawaiian race-based sovereignty. Spirituality is merely being used as a pawn in their political power struggle.

Of course, Westerners, and Christian missionaries, would never resort to such a ploy…..

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Musings: Can of Worms

Crimson streaks were shooting up out of the east and iwa were drifting south, riding the thermals, when Koko and I arrived at the beach this morning. The sun rose white-gold in a pearly sky and a monk seal popped up its head and looked around, lolling in the shimmering shallows of a receding tide.

Brisk trades whipped up a frothy white chop on the silvery sea and sent a band of horizon-hugging fleece scurrying north as stacks of towering cumulus marched west. And in the center of it all were the smoky-gray and scarlet wisps of cirrus clouds.

So, too, is agricultural land at the center of the current land use debate on Kauai, with an unsettling bill for ag worker housing set to be heard by the County Council this afternoon.

It seems like a great idea on first blush. Everybody wants to keep ag alive on Kauai and help farmers, right? And it’s kind of a no-brainer that small farms often don’t generate sufficient revenue to pay farm workers the kind of wages they need to rent houses in this pricey market.

The solution, as some ag boosters see it, is to allow farmers to construct housing for their workers on their land. The theory is that this will allow them to attract more workers, and so continue production, or even step it up, allowing small-scale, organic agriculture to flourish.

The material I’ve seen circulated in favor of the bill portrays a rather dire scenario, claiming that without the measure, “many [farmers] may have to stop farming altogether and leave the island.” Specifically, they’re talking about the organic farmers at Moloaa, who seem to be both the primary impetus behind this bill, as well as its primary benefactors.

Many of the affected farmers bought Moloaa land from Mike Strong, who divided a larger parcel into farm lots and sold them at relatively low prices because no houses could be built on them. This land has since turned into a productive pocket of primarily organic farming.

Now some of the farmers want to be able to build legal homes for themselves and their workers, claiming that without such provisions, they can’t attract the labor force they need to keep their farms going. With worker housing, they argue, Kauai can take a giant step toward food sustainability and the production of healthy, local food.

It’s a great vision that’s shared by many, myself included.

The problem, however, is that the bill before the Council is more likely to usher in a can of worms than an agricultural renaissance. Real estate agents, architects and ag land owners presently stymied by vacation rental restrictions are likely licking their chops as they look at all the exploitable loopholes that threaten to further undermine the integrity of our ag lands as places that actually produce food.

The county planning department, in reporting on the Planning Commission’s discussion on the bill and offering its own review, notes the “vague distinction between transient accommodations and/or activities (i.e. agro and eco-tourism) and genuine farm laboring (as done by either permanent or migrant labor), and the potential for the bill to be abused.”

It’s not like we haven’t seen that happen already. It seems to me that before the county opens the door to yet another ill-defined use of ag land, it should clear up the existing messes with vacation rentals, gentleman’s estates and faux barns that are increasing the density and price of ag lands, without contributing anything to agriculture.

It also needs to look carefully at the enforcement issue. The county either can’t, or won’t, enforce the farm dwelling agreement that requires homes on ag land to be associated with an agricultural venture. In its review of the worker housing bill, the planning department expresses reservations about worker housing enforcement, too, noting:

To allow landowners to build housing over and above the maximum allowable residential density allotted under the County Code is an advantageous provision for landowners that could very well open the door to misuse or abuse. Thorough scrutiny of all applications and operations will be required, a level of scrutiny for which the Department may not have the necessary resources or staffing.

In the event that misuse, abuse or noncompliance is discovered, bringing landowners and their respective uses into compliance — particularly concerning housing — is, historically, a contentious, and at times, calamitous, process that demands vast amounts of time and resources, and in may cases remains unresolved for several years.

It’s important to note that the proposed farm worker housing bill is not the only option. Farmers currently have the ability to seek a county use permit to construct worker housing, a process that requires a public hearing.

The Moloaa farmers, who appear to be committed to farming, could also dedicate their land under the state’s recently-adopted Important Ag Lands law, which would not only preserve the land in perpetuity, but allow them to build houses and give them other perks intended to support agriculture. This seems to me a really good option that would help to meet their particular needs without placing other farmlands at risk for speculation and non-ag development.

While this bill is being pushed with some sense of urgency, I hope the county will move slowly and plug all the holes that can be exploited by those who are looking to reap big bucks rather than an edible crop. Yes, let’s help the farmers at Moloaa, and elsewhere, get the labor they need to thrive. Let’s just make sure it isn’t done at the expense of ag land island-wide.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Musings: Coming Together

The moon — just hours short of fullness —was low and yellow, playing hide and seek with pearlescent clouds, when Koko and I went walking last evening. It remained bright through the night, peeking in my window, penetrating my dreams, shining even through a sudden downpour that left rain dripping from the eaves, while in the distance, the surf roared.

It was still up, causing the wet leaves to sparkle, lighting our way as headed mauka this morning, until it was swept into a mass of gray to the south of Waialeale and succumbed, finally, to the pink-streaked murkiness of a windswept dawn.

Through it all, my mind was on the radio show that Jimmy Trujillo and I hosted yesterday evening, and how it had revealed to me — yet again — the many ways that the state pits Hawaiians against one another and places them in the quandary of opting out completely or participating in a system that isn’t really intended to serve their interests.

And that’s particularly true with the Burial Council, as Presley Wann, who just completed two four-year terms on the Council, outlined in recounting his tenure on that panel.

He applied to serve because he’d encountered iwi a number of times during his 34 years in the construction industry. Back in the days before the burial laws were passed, he’d simply wrap the iwi in ti leaf, say a short pule, return them to where they’d been found, backfill and keep on going.

As a Hawaiian, Presley was always bothered by whether he’d handled the iwi appropriately, so when he was approached to serve on the Council, he agreed, in hopes of learning more and broadening his understanding.

And while Presley looks to the day when kanaka will have their nation back, he also wanted to know more about how the state functions, so that he could work effectively on behalf of his people in the meantime.

He’s emerging from his tenure convinced that the burial law must be radically altered. The Council, he said, needs to be consulted up front, rather than at the end of the process “when everybody’s all frustrated. That’s why we took a lot of the heat. We need to be involved way ahead of time. As Hawaiians, we know where our burials are.”

And laws governing real estate transactions in the Islands need to be revamped to include the caveat that “nobody’s guaranteeing you the right to build.” Because some places, like the Naue site where Joe Brescia is building a house atop more than 30 burials, simply aren’t suited to development, Presley said.

The Council also was advised that by law, “we couldn’t totally stop a building,” Presley said. “We didn’t have that kind of power.”

Instead, they were limited to preserving the burials in place, or reinterring them elsewhere. And many times, he said, neither was the option the Council would have chosen.

The extent to which the Council could change the design of a house or its placement on a site was always a gray area, he said, and Judge Kathleen Watanabe’s ruling that Brescia proceeded at his own risk by continuing to build without an approved Burial Treatment Plan (BTP) “made it even more gray.”

A caller read from a letter she’d received from Pua Aiu, director of the State Historic Preservation Division, stating that the agency won’t be investigating a revocation of Brescia’s building permit — even though the permit’s conditions require an approved BTP — “as we don’t have the legal authority to do so.”

Does it? Perhaps that’s a question, like the full extent of the Council’s power, that’s intentionally left gray, unanswered, because to do so would almost certainly hamper development.

And truth be told, the purpose of the burial law is not to fully protect and malama the iwi, but to create a process by which they can legitimately be disturbed so as to allow development.

Still, as Presley pointed out, until there’s a day of sovereignty or a Hawaiian nation, the Burial Council is the only means afforded kanaka by the state to have a say in what happens to their iwi kupuna.

While Presley’s first-hand experience was valuable, I was especially touched by the way it affected Nani Rogers and Andrew Cababe, both of whom have been deeply involved in the Naue burials issue. Nani, teary-eyed, said she finally understood what it was like to sit in the chair of a Council member, and she apologized to Presley for the ranting and raving that the panel had experienced.

Presley, too, was teary-eyed, as was Andrew, because it was clear they’re all on the same page and deeply troubled by what has happened at Naue. They all want to keep the iwi from being disturbed and desecrated. Building on burials or digging them up and moving them elsewhere is not something that they consider culturally appropriate.

But that's the process created by the state, which sucks them into a system that serves not to further their cultural interests but to turn them against one another, make them believe that they’re on opposing sides.

Afterwards, in the parking lot, the three of them exchanged ideas on how to work both within the system and outside it, and they parted as friends and allies.

So yes, as long as the state is running the show, it’s good for conscientious and caring kanaka to serve on the Burial Council and work for dramatic changes in the law.

And they also need to keep coming together, communicating with one another, breaking down the barriers to their unification erected by the state whose interests are best served by the old technique of divide and conquer.