Monday, August 31, 2009

Musings: Trouble in "Paradise"

Koko and I woke to the sound of pigs tromping around in the underbrush, which got her whining and excited, and both of us quickly out of the house. As she sniffed curiously, I gazed up at Makalii and Triangle, directly overhead, and then we went walking under a mosaic of distant galaxies and countless constellations.

Dense clouds were bunched up on the eastern horizon, and they teamed up with the approaching dawn to slowly blot out all celestial bodies, save for Venus, which was far too bright to easily extinguish, much like the peace and happiness instilled in my own heart by the joy of spending all but two of yesterday’s daylight hours outside, and frequently in water, both fresh and salt.

We’re in the glory stretch of summer now, that time when the first north swell of the season comes in and freshens everything up and fills the air with the fragrance of limu, and both the water and air are warm and the light takes on that special golden sheen that gives all the greenness an ethereal glow.

It’s the kind of weather that fulfills most every tourist’s fantasy about Kauai, but apparently some — or at least one, according to an editorial in yesterday’s Garden Island — leave with hurt feelings when they discover it’s not entirely the idyllic paradise that the Visitors Bureau sells.

In this case, it was a father visiting his son (perhaps the unidentified TGI staffer who penned the piece?) who had an unpleasant encounter at a North Shore bar (care to wager it was Tahiti Nui?):

“Haole tourists!” a would-be hitchhiker yelled after being denied a ride to Kapa‘a. “No forget fo’ go home!”

The father did indeed go back home — in a fiery state of confusion. The lasting effect of this incident, and a growing number of similar tales we have been told over the past year, is will these victims of such senseless abuse ever want to return to the Garden Isle?

What the editorial fails to recognize — even as it scolds the cantankerous locals who are “undermining” the current $1 million effort of the Kauai Visitors Bureau to lure more tourists here and reminds us that “we should not bite the hands that feed us” — is that many locals (especially on the North Shore) do indeed hope that “these victims,” and the friends and neighbors who hear their sad stories, will go home and stay home.

Frankly, they’ve had quite enough of tourism and its spawn: vacation rentals, crowded beaches and surfbreaks, traffic, mainland mentality, ostentatious displays of wealth and yet more haoles — many of them with attitudes — moving to Kauai.

They haven’t been on the receiving end of all the wealth derived from the visitor industry, but they have endured all the fallout from its growth as they’ve watched tourism reach into every corner of this island and in the process, erode their communities and lifestyle.

They’re tired of being told to show more aloha when folks like Joe Brescia build vacation rentals on their burials, and sue them for objecting. They’re weary of dealing with tourists who behave with an ugly sense of entitlement because they’re spending a lot of money.

They’re sick of feeling like strangers — or worse, outcasts — in their own backyards.

I’m not certain if the editorial writer caught the irony in these statements:

When an embittered or unthinking local takes his or her frustrations out on tourists, or takes money or possessions from their cars or hotel rooms, what they are really doing is taking food off of their own family’s table. Take, take, no give, and suddenly there is nothing left.

That’s exactly what the visitor industry has been doing for years: continually taking more — the industry must always be growing and finding new secret spots to exploit and new diversions to entertain — while giving back to the locals a lot of low-paying, suck-up jobs. And as tourism so often disrupts fishing, it's actually taking food off their tables, too. Is it any surprise there's so little aloha left?

Yes, visitors are sometimes treated badly by locals who yell at them or rip them off. But by the same token, how many visitors (and clueless residents) have treated locals badly, dishing out a condescending attitude, trespassing on their land, disrespecting or denigrating their culture, stiffing them on tips?

And how many times have locals risked their own lives to save visitors from drowning, or offered directions, given advice, shared food or extended any number of kindnesses to total strangers who, like so many before them, are just passing through?

At any rate, aloha has to come from the heart. It's not something that can be mandated, nor is it to be expected as payment in a financial transaction.

The editorial, entitled “The Golden Rule,” goes on to advocate treating others as we would like to be treated – and I certainly can’t argue with that — before issuing the directive:

Reach out to a visitor as you would your neighbor. Offer some useful information without divulging favorite local secrets. When a friend or family member treats another person — any person — harshly or unfairly, step up and tell them to knock it off. That type of regrettable behavior demeans us all.

That’s fine advice, but again, why is it directed only at locals? To go back to the start of the editorial, why didn’t the father and son give the hitchhiker a ride to Kapaa? That would have been acting in the spirit of “ohana and the concept of kokua” that the editorial preaches, and perhaps they would have learned a thing or two about a fellow human being in the process.

If the hitchhiker was drunk, and they didn’t want him in their car, then why not just write it off as the kind of encounter one can expect in bars anywhere, instead of turning it into a personal affront, an indictment on locals?

Or is the real issue that tourists accustomed to privilege in their daily lives and besotted with the fantasy sold as Hawaii are shocked into discomfort when they encounter a down-and-out local whose only form of resistance is an in-your-face refusal to get with the program?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Musings: What Else is Here?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was in Hawaii this week, conducting public hearings on the Army’s application for a permit to possess some 17,600 pounds of radioactive depleted uranium.

Yes, after denying for years that it used the toxic material in the Islands, the Army was finally forced to ‘fess up after the facts came to light in documents produced during litigation over the use of Makua for live fire training.

As I reported in the current issue of Honolulu Weekly:

It’s unclear how much DU is located in the Islands, or exactly where. Initial surveys were conducted at just three Hawaii installations, and the effort was severely limited by dense vegetation, rugged terrain and what the military characterized as “safety considerations” due to unexploded ordnance.

“This is exactly the problem,” said Kyle Kajihiro, executive director of the American Friends Service Committee. “If you don’t look, you don’t find and you don’t have to report and be accountable for it.”

Actually, that’s just one of the problems. Another is that what has been confirmed is located on live fire ranges at Schofield Barracks on Oahu and the Big Island’s Pohakuloa Training Area. And that leads to yet another problem:

When DU is burned or exploded, it creates tiny particles of depleted uranium oxide (DUO) that travel on the wind and can penetrate skin, respiratory masks and protective clothing, said Dr. Lorrin Pang, a medical advisor to Hawaii County on the issue of DU.

“If it’s inhaled, then it’s in your lungs,” Pang said. “[It’s] insoluble and persists in the body for decades and becomes the most dangerous form of radiation of all, because it’s in the body.”

Before you dismiss Dr. Pang as some sort of nutcase, check out the Department of Defense’s own Depleted Uranium (DU) Radiation Awareness Training Video.

It clearly states the two threats associated with DU — heavy metal toxicity and radioactivity — and outlines precautions that troops should take to minimize them. The video includes the warning:

Avoid the threat of contamination, particularly the depleted uranium dust.

And it ends with this statement:

Bottom line, unless you’re involved in a detonation or fire with DU, the hazards are relatively small.

It was precisely that concern over the detonation of DU and subsequent spread of contaminated dust that prompted the Big Island County Council to pass a resolution in 2008 asking the Army to halt live-fire training in DU contaminated areas.

The Army hasn’t done that, and instead in July issued a report contending the public is not at risk from DU at Pohakuloa. According to an article in The Hawaii Independent, NRC staff echoed that stance in a public meeting held on Oahu:

[Deputy director Keith] McConnell replied: “The DU found is not an issue of safety to the public because the levels of radiation and radioactivity of the DU is so low. Since the range is currently active, decommissioning is not possible. Until the training area is inactive or not being used, it can’t be fully cleaned up.”

However, in their denials of public health risks, both the Army and NRC skirted the issue of dust, even as they acknowledged that DU is in active training areas and can’t be cleaned up. That means it’s subject to being detonated and/or burned, which means dust can indeed be created and, in a windy place like Hawaii, blown just about anywhere.

Needless to say, after hearing the Army lie for years about the presence of DU, folks are leery about trusting the official line that the stuff poses no harm – especially when its own training video states otherwise.

In a further erosion of trust, the Army hasn’t exactly been forthcoming since the presence of DU was revealed:

Kajihiro said the Army has stalled Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests he made in 2007 seeking more details about contamination at Schofield and Pohakuloa.

“There’s just been a sustained effort to keep the public in the dark and bury this,” Kajihiro said. “There needs to be some sort of call to account by the Army: why was this material here and why didn’t you know about it?”

But as I reported in The Weekly, the Army's permit application is structured to minimize its accountability:

The Army is pursuing a single permit to possess and manage residual quantities of DU at all of its American installations. The Army’s disclosure responsibilities under the permit application are limited to the big Davy Crocket round, even though uranium munitions are used in more than 24 weapons systems. The Army’s application does not address DUO.

And that leads us to yet another pressing question associated with the military’s presence in Hawaii: what else is here that they either don’t know about, or haven’t told us about?

It’s worth thinking about, and asking about, what with a big chunk of Kauai’s Westside devoted to PMRF, which the Navy intends to use to conceive, test and deploy a new breed of weaponry and warfare.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Musings: Lotsa Laughs

The sky was rosy gold all around the edges, with Venus a glowing orb in the east, as Koko and I headed to the beach this fine morning. Waialeale and Makaleha each wore a cap of clouds, and their massive bodies were bathed in soft pink.

The sun began to rise, a glowering scarlet disc, just as our feet and paws touched the sand, and as it climbed it shot blue-silver shafts into the heavens and cast a sparkling path upon the sea. The wind rose, too, and iwa glided on the thermals, perhaps portending a shift in the weather, although that didn’t deter a fishing boat that had either been out all night or gotten an early start.

The Farm Fair, Kauai’s biggest event, started last night, and since I was in Lihue and had a free ticket, I cruised through it, marveling, as always, at how much work it takes to put it together and the absolute throngs of people who attend it.

I felt rather sorry for the animals, though, and not because they would soon be up for auction. I knew they’d been raised more humanely than any of the food that folks were gobbling on the midway.

No, I felt for them because the noise, light and commotion had them up way past their bedtimes, and looking a little nervous, as they suffered the indignities of dozens of strange hands trying to touch them and the antics of stupid people, like the man trying to photograph a sow’s private parts with his cell phone as his friends laughed uproariously.

Turns out Austal is laughing all the way to the bank following the boondoggle of the Hawaii Superferry. Brad Parsons blogged a link to a Finance News Network interview with Austal CEO Bob Browning that made it quite clear the whole thing was a set up:

[Interviewer] Clive Tompkins: Given the substantial hit you took to your bottom-line on the Hawaii Super Ferry contract, are you going to change the way you get paid for similar deals?

Bob Browning: Sure, yeah the Hawaii Super Ferry contract really was quite unusual. We were actually helping that company get started and put $30 million of mezzanine debt into the business which then allowed us to contract to build two large catamaran ferries for them. And strategically was important because it allowed us to build our workforce up in Mobile, Alabama which then allowed us to win the Joint High Speed Vessel program which is a very close derivative to that hull form. So while it was unfortunate that Hawaii Super Ferry filed for Chapter 11, it was an unusual thing that we normally wouldn’t do, but it did position us for a much more lucrative contract with the Navy.

Browning then goes on to talk about he expects that in two years, two-thirds of the company’s income will come from U.S. Navy contracts:

Clive Tompkins: And is this a conscious decision, or have you just followed the work flow?

Bob Browning: It really was a conscious decision. We were actually prevented form operating or selling in the United States through some protectionist legislation called the Jones Act, and so the establishment of our facility in Mobile Alabama was designed to allow us to produce ships for that market. We then saw an opportunity with a vessel we produced for a customer in the Canary Islands that we thought an adaptation of that would fit the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program and were successful in winning that contract.

It’s all very interesting, especially the part about the JHSV being “a very close derivative to the HSF hull form." It does make me wonder why the two Honolulu dailies never thought to conduct a similar interview, or if they’ll pick up the story. Surely all those Honolulu residents (and reporters) who were trashing Kauai folks for their opposition to the big boat and adherence to “wild conspiracy theories” would want to know they were snookered, right?

Kauai taxpayers, meanwhile, have been snookered into pungling up some $3 million for “special counsel” in the past two years, even though we have a fully staffed — and presumably fully capable — county attorney’s office. One down side of this practice is that outside counsel has access to the county’s deep pockets, and that gives rise to such tactics as trying to spend their opponents into submission, rather than settle. And of course, what incentive do they have to resolve things quickly when they’re earning, according to The Garden Island article, “an hourly rate of between $185 and $350”?

This has prompted County Attorney Al Castillo to wonder, profoundly, if it mightn’t be cost effective to hire more staff instead:

”I’m not an accountant, I’m not a fiscal man, but this is a lot of money,” Castillo said.

Of course, once they’re on staff, it’s harder to get rid of the incompetent ones whose bad advice and shoddy legal skills have gotten the county into some of the legal messes that it can only extricate itself from with the help of special counsel.

One of the high profile cases involving outside counsel is the county’s attempt to stop the resumption of commercial boating in the Hanalei River. The county yesterday lost its motion for a preliminary injunction against Lady Ann Cruises, which has been using Sheehan’s boatyard to launch Na Pali tour boat cruises.

The ruling had Lady Ann attorney Richard Wilson making some very questionable statements:

Wilson reasserted his claim that the injunction was politically motivated, with the county “pandering to a small group of people who are very, very vocal.”

The bottom line, Wilson said, is that the commercial boating operation is not harmful to the environment.

I think it’s more about attorneys like Wilson pandering to a small group of people — Sheehan and tour boat owners — who have the money to push for a use that the people of Hanalei have opposed for more than 20 years, precisely because it is harmful to the environment. Considering all the money that's been poured into legal fees on this issue — with more yet to come — win or lose, they're the ones laughing all the way to the bank.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Musings: What I Learned

I learned a few things this week.

While interviewing Jane Ely, a Native American Indian who is helping to organize this year’s Kauai Pow Wow, she explained the origin of and meaning behind some of the dances that will be performed.

One, in particular, stayed with me — the jingle dance. It seems that after a massacre, the survivors would pick up the spent bullets, along with the dead women and children, and then they’d fashion the bullet casings into costumes, which are properly called regalia. As they danced, and the shells jingled, the spirits of those who had died would be honored.

She also said many Native American Indians oppose the Akaka bill, because it would impose a blood quantum on Native Hawaiians and create a land reservation system. Both are aspects of how the American government has treated them that they find particularly distasteful, and disruptive to their culture.

While interviewing Larry Littleton, a Kauai resident who is the only deaf person to serve as an interpreter for the deaf in Hawaii — and one of just 89 such interpreters in the U.S. — he revealed that after he got a cochlear implant, he discovered that silence is, indeed, golden, and “hearing is not all it’s cooked up to be.” He’s glad that he can now hear music — and also glad that he can turn off his implant when he wants to enjoy the blessed pure silence that eludes the rest of us.

And a friend, who spends her spare time peering into shearwater burrows and watching albatrosses fledge and other fun cool bird stuff, sent this picture, which informed me that even when their wings are still nubs, just-hatched wedgetail shearwater chicks are already practicing how to fly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Musings: Howling

The wind was blowing, scuttling trash, which startled Koko, when we went walking on dark streets under dark skies this morning. A band of light separated two masses of black clouds, making me wonder if it would rain, but we decided to chance ‘em, and it didn’t.

Dawn neared and the space between the cloud banks increased until Venus was exposed, shining among swirling apricot-colored puffs as a strip of dusky pink smoldered on the horizon. An ambulance came up the street, siren wailing, and Koko sat on her haunches and added her own small, husky voice to the chorus of howling dogs.

One can only imagine how detainees must have howled as they were being tortured by CIA interrogators in cells and secret prisons around the world. But one need only check the news to learn how former Cheney is howling in indignation now that the CIA Inspector General's long-secret report on torture has been released and Attorney General Eric Holder has finally appointed special prosecutor John Durham to investigate the agency’s sordid interrogation practices.

According to an article in Reuters:

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Obama's ability to handle national security after the special prosecutor was appointed.

Cheney, who has emerged as a vocal defender of Bush administration policies since leaving the White House, said the intelligence obtained from harsh interrogation techniques had saved lives.

"The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions," he said in a statement.

Really? Are you inclined to say mahalo nui loa to the guys who, according to the CIA’s own report, engaged in such barbaric practices as waterboarding, slamming people against the wall 20 to 30 times consecutively, threatening to kill and sexually assault detainees’ families, staging mock executions, depriving detainees of sleep for days on end, dragging naked people along concrete corridors and beating a man to death with a metal flashlight?

Are you willing to say, hey, great job, no questions asked, and we’ll just trust you won’t keep doing this kinda stuff in your next assignment? And where are these guys now? Some, according to a New Yorker article I read a while back, have left the Agency. They could be working for independent military contractors, the U.S. prison system or law enforcement agencies. One, who several times struck a teacher in the torso with the butt of his rifle because the man “smiled inappropriately” during questioning, “was counseled and given a domestic assignment.” Oh, great. Others are still with the CIA, and have even been promoted.

Is it OK with you to just let this whole thing slide, without ever knowing exactly who authorized what practices or what lies behind the black marks that cover entire page of the heavily-redacted CIA report or how pervasive these policies were — and perhaps still are?

As attorney and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald noted in a Democracy Now! interview today:

This is yet another report that details that the abuses that took place were pervasive and systematic … involving hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, that they involved people who even the CIA report said there was no incredible intelligence to believe that they were involved in terrorism of any kind, meaning that they were completely innocent of any wrongdoing. These were the people to whom we subjected these abuses.

And I think, beyond that, the kinds of techniques, the kinds of tactics that were used … are incredibly brutal and barbaric, exactly the kinds of methods that we’ve long condemned and called for war crimes prosecutions when engaged in by other countries.

That’s what’s got Cheney wildly on the offensive in this whole thing. As The New American observes, Cheney’s primary concern is not protecting the public, or even the sadistically patriotic perps, but his own ass:

It's understandable that Cheney would publicly condemn the investigation, since the chain of responsibility points primarily to him personally on this issue. Cheney's own hide could — and should — be on the line in any meaningful investigation of torture. The last thing the nation needs is a series of fall guys within the CIA to take the blame for law-breaking politicians who would be immunized from their crimes.

Unfortunately, that’s what the investigation, as it’s now structured, is set up to do. As the New York Times noted in an editorial yesterday:

… Mr. Obama and his political advisers continue to shrink from the broad investigation of the full range of his predecessor’s trampling on human rights, civil liberties and judicial safeguards that would allow this country to make sure this sordid history is behind it for good.

…It will require a fearless airing of how the orders were issued to those men, and who gave them. Only by making public officials accountable under the law can Americans be confident that future presidents will not feel free to break it the way Mr. Bush did.

Will we, the people, start howling for that “fearless airing?” Or will we just let it all get swept under the carpet once again?

As Greenwald noted:

And so, my point really is that if Americans want to endorse the idea that torture is permissible as a means of combating terrorism and that that’s something that the United States is now going to do and that the people who did it, even though it’s clearly a felony and a war crime, should be immunized from prosecution, at the very least they should be made to understand what it is that they’re defending. They’re not merely defending the use of waterboarding; they’re defending the most brutal and horrific tactics that result in severe injury to helpless captives and even death.

And if, at the end of the day, America wants to defend and justify that, then at least they will do it with full knowledge and will be making a clearer statement about what the country has become.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Musings: Don't Ever Give Up

Koko and I woke up yawning at dark thirty and went out walking beneath a star-dense black canopy that offered just the faintest hint of dawn light at its far eastern edges. As we returned, invigorated, slivers of pink began to form on the horizon, and soon the sky was awash in a free-for-all of cloud-borne color.

Karl Kim’s presentation last night on the process of conducting Kauai’s Important Ag Lands study was reportedly similarly chaotic, but not so pretty. A friend left in disgust, reporting the meeting was hijacked by people who didn’t want to hear what Dr. Kim had to say, but just voice their own opinions.

“You know all of them, and you’ve heard everything they have to say a hundred times before,” he said in a phone call on his way home. “But that’s Kauai.”

Indeed it is.

I had planned to attend the meeting myself, but instead fell into the time warp of the Verizon store. After meeting a friend there who shares my wireless plan, and was having trouble with his phone, we emerged three hours later, well past the meeting’s start, but each equipped with a Blackberry that, thanks to an upgrade credit, rebates and two-for-one special, hadn’t cost us a cent.

Except, of course, the new additional monthly charges. But never mind. Soon I’ll be able to spend the odd spare moment transfixed by its 2x3-inch screen. That is, once I learn how to use the thing.

“Give it four to six weeks, and if you’re still having trouble, you might want to attend one of our two-hour classes,” advised the clerk.

Uh, no thanks. I already spent three hours getting the damn thing. I’m not gonna blow another two hours in a class learning how to use it. Devoted as I am to the phone, there’s a limit on how much of my life I want to give it.

As we left the store, and I expressed regret at missing the meeting, a taro farmer friend who had joined us inquired about its purpose. When I explained it was about designating the important ag lands, he offered his opinion: “No need. They’re all important.”

Indeed they are.

Equally important are those little historical vignettes that serve to remind us that life as we know it, won’t necessarily remain life as we know it. A friend, who did not explain why he happened to be reading about the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa, sent along this link with the comment:

was reading this and it sounded kind of familiar

Indeed it did.

Here are some pertinent excerpts that might sound familiar to you, too:

The cultivation of sugar was a labour-intensive process and the Portuguese began to import large numbers of slaves from the mainland. By the mid-1500s the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar. São Tomé and Príncipe were taken over and administered by the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573, respectively.

In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (roças), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, São Tomé had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, which remains the country's most important crop.

The roças system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. In the early 20th century, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions. Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepá Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African Continent were demanding independence, a small group of São Toméans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabon. Picking up momentum in the 1960s, events moved quickly after the overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974. The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies; in November 1974, their representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transitional government, São Tomé and Príncipe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as the first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa.

Colonies can be -- and repeatedly have been -- freed when the occupying nation becomes committed to giving up its colonies. And that movement can be driven by international pressure (and example) and a citizenry that believes colonization is wrong. Just because America is kind of behind the times in that regard -- I mean, we still have citizens who don't even know/believe America has colonies -- doesn't mean we should give up on freedom for Hawaii. So educating people about what went down here and forming an independence movement isn’t a waste of time or a lost cause.

Indeed, the message to remember is one voiced by an old tutu on a Sudden Rush song:

Never give up. Don't you ever give up.

Meanwhile, the Akaka Bill, which would require kanaka maoli to give up sovereignty-related claims against the United States in exchange for recognition as indigenous Americans, looms on the horizon. If you want to learn more, check out ”Understanding the Akaka Bill" in the current issue of Honolulu Weekly. Editor Ragnar Carlson lays out the meat of it in a Q&A format, while raising, at the every end, the interesting question of whether sovereignty claims could be released against the U.S., but still pursued in international court.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Musings: On TVR Hatred

“Why do people hate vacation rentals so much?” asked a friend who has one.

We were talking, of course, about the controversial and contentious ones that are outside designated Visitor Destination Areas and so must seek permits to get grandfathered in as legal uses.

I replied that I thought it had something to do with folks like Joe Brescia, who build lavish homes right on the beach and overwhelm residential communities with their commercial properties. This, in turn, raises property values and cuts into the supply of longterm rentals, both of which can work to push locals out. And in the process, neighborhoods are turned into defacto resorts, complete with beach umbrellas, teak lounge chairs and the stink of sunscreen on stretches of sand that only fishermen used to frequent.

At least, that’s the case in places like Wainiha, Haena, Hanalei and Kekaha.

On ag land, the same issues of rising property values and speculation come into play, unless it’s a rare bonafide farmer with the TVR, and then such activities are generally considered OK, because they help the farmer keep farming, and that’s a good thing.

Otherwise, the gentrification associated with ag TVRs works to push the price of land beyond what farmers can afford to pay. Those who do manage to pull off a farm get complaints from non-farming neighbors about noise and dust and trees that block their views.

But there’s more to it than that. Beneath it all runs a thick layer of resentment that folks, many of them living elsewhere, and many of them organized into investment groups, are making serious money off Kauai while giving nothing back. Indeed, they often show total disdain for the community, what with building on burials, blocking beach access and building big ass houses that are totally out of place and character.

In other words, people are feathering their personal nests at public expense. In many ways, TVRS are the worst expression of the old take up space, use up resources and move on mentality.

Undeniably, some of this resentment is linked to racial and economic animosities, because let's face it, many of Kauai's TVRs are owned by rich haoles.

From what I hear, such animosities apparently prompted at least one inspector to be over-zealous in issuing permit denials for bogus violations, which left the county open to litigation. And that’s reportedly why the Planning Commission reversed some of these denials in a hush-hush process that has TVR critics complaining about lack of transparency and Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho issuing subpoenas for those records.

It’s unclear whether Shaylene actually intends to get to the bottom of things and prosecute folks for the misdemeanor violation of operating an illegal TVR, or if she’s merely trying to make political hay and feed her feud with the current county administration.

However, in recent testimony by Protect Our Neighborhood Ohana (PONO) to the County Council, it appears that some of the TVRs that were denied did indeed have legitimate violations:

“Approvals” have been granted for some Wainiha/Haena TVR's despite habitation of ground-floor units for TVR use. Some approvals now illegally allow habitation on the ground floor of structures located within designated flood plain areas in violation of the National Flood Insurance Program and Flood Plain Management, County Code, Chapter 15: which states that Space below the lowest floor may be enclosed solely for parking of vehicles, building access, or storage.

PONO also has asked the County Council to launch an investigation or audit. In testimony delivered to the panel, it stated:

We do not support giving the Planning Department any additional authority to further grant “enforcement deals” regarding transient vacation rentals. PONO asks that the County Council exercise their oversight responsibilities regarding the implementation of Ordinance 876 & 864 which has been a fiasco. Lack of transparency has reached new lows in our Planning Department and Commission.

The group further testified that it appears that some applications were accepted after the Oct. 15, 2008 deadline, and some approvals were granted after the March 30, 2009 cutoff. It also questioned whether the Planning Department had fully considered the cumulative impact of TVRs on a neighborhood, as required under Special Management Area rules, as well as the General Plan.

The group roundly criticized the Planning Department’s lack of disclosure:

Although the ordinance provides for the files to be publicly available by March 2, 2009, they have been largely kept secret. No files were available at the counter as required. PONO filed a Request to Access Government Documents on April 14, 2009 which has yet to be complied with. To date, only a small percentage of the files requested have been made available to PONO.

PONO further states:

The Council should be concerned about the absence of files available for public review and scrutiny. In addition, the files which were made available to PONO were egregiously lacking in the information required by the Ordinance.

The group then cited such examples as “no documentation or report of the required inspection of the premises, whether inspection occurred, or any indication the subject property passed or failed the inspection … No indication in the files whether or not the applicant had claimed a Permanent Home Use Real Property exemption on their property …[and] no signatures of approving staffers."

Meanwhile, PONO has filed its own lawsuit against the county planning commission over its denial of their request to appeal some of the North Shore TVR approvals. So now the county is looking at lawsuits from both TVR opponents and proponents.

It seems the Council, which drafted this law, and Carvalho’s administration, which is charged with implementing it, need to sit down together and straighten out this mess before they dig the hole any deeper.

"It wasn't supposed to be just a registry," said Caren Diamond of PONO, explaining that the law was intended to grant permits to TVR owners who had properly applied, paid their taxes and otherwise followed the law. "Instead, the Planning Department has approved them across the board."

And that leads to yet another reason for TVR hatred, the sense that some folks are flouting the law while the county once again looks the other way — or worse, condones it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Musings: A Pono Thang

My former neighbor Andy and I took a walk on the mountain trail this morning, which meant that Koko got to run free with Momi and we got to see ohia still in bloom and uluhe fern clinging to the steep slopes and kukui trees dense in a stream valley and other remnants of the landscape that once was before alien species and agriculture knocked it way back, but not out — not yet, anyway.

Fine rain drifted through occasionally, adding a layer of slick to the clay trail, and thin, misty clouds twined themselves around the jagged slopes of Makaleha. In the distance, a squall could be seen blowing through between Haupu and Kalepa.

When we got back to the road we were treated to a full, arching rainbow, then Jimmy Trujillo drove by, with a big wave and smile, and I thought it was too bad he couldn’t have stopped and joined in the conversation, which at that point had wound its way around to sovereignty again.

Andy and I have different views on the issue, but one reason I like talking to him is I know that while we may not always agree, we at least share core values. As he observed, while some of the comments left on this blog advance good arguments against independence, there’s often an edge to them that’s ugly and alienating.

I was more blunt.

“Yeah, some of them make me think, yes, and you’re one of the reasons why we need an armed revolution, you f*****.”

But those are only fleeting thoughts, since at heart I’m a pacifist, although as Andy noted, Queen Liliuokalani might have had a chance at preserving her kingdom if she would have fought back. Just 5% of the population was haole, he said, and only half of them supported the overthrow.

While I argued that she was obviously aware of America’s superior firepower and didn’t want to endanger her people, Andy thought it more likely she was recalling the brief British occupation of 1843. In that event, which also carried the force of a warship in the harbor, Kamehameha III surrendered, but lodged a formal complaint with Parliament, which repudiated the action and restored the king.

It’s likely that both factors played a role in Liliuokalani's decision to yield her throne:

Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

The Queen did appeal to President Grover Cleveland, who supported her restoration on the condition she pardon those who had conducted the coup. She initially balked at that, so Cleveland turned the matter over to Congress, which dithered, as it has a way of doing. The delay ultimately worked against her, as the annexationists were successful in lobbying Congress against the restoration.

In short, she put her faith in the rule of law, but American politics failed her. The rest, as they say, is history.

But as Andy and I discussed, history isn’t static. The independence movement was still going strong in 1897, as evidenced by the Kue petitions, but by the time the statehood vote came up, Andy said, sovereignty wasn’t even being discussed. It didn’t emerge again until the 1970s, as part of the Hawaiian Renaissance.

When statehood was proposed, Andy reminded me, the primary opponents were racists and rich haoles who didn't want to lose power. They liked having an appointed governor who was one of them and could be counted on to do their bidding. Many of the disenfranchised viewed statehood as a progressive thing, a way to gain access to political power.

As Andy sees it, Hawaiians were first taught not to want independence, then they were taught to want it. And you can’t be changing important things like statehood just because a different viewpoint has emerged over the years.

But under that reasoning, we’d be stuck with old, bad decisions forever, I argued. And we’ve made other political changes because people have been taught to change their attitudes toward African-Americans and women.

And that’s why we ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, Andy countered, tongue in cheek.

Sigh. Yup, no doubt about it, such changes are often slow, or incomplete, in coming. But still, if you believe in something, you’ve got to go for it.

Besides, I’m not convinced that the desire for independence was shut on and off like that. I think it’s long been a part of the Hawaiian consciousness, and ironically, it’s even expressed in the
state motto:

Kamehameha III proclaimed "Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka 'Aina I Ka Pono" - The SOVEREIGNTY of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.

"Ea" doesn't just mean life, it means "Sovereignty, rule, independence"—in fact that definition comes first. Our "state" motto comes from this event in 1843, the first time Hawai'i was illegally occupied. It celebrates the restoration of Hawai'i's sovereign independence, and calls for it to be preserved through pono action.

pono 1. nvs. Goodness, uprightness, morality, moral qualities, correct or proper procedure, excellence, well-being, prosperity, welfare, benefit, behalf, equity, sake, true condition or nature, duty; moral, fitting, proper, righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, beneficial, successful, in perfect order, accurate, correct, eased, relieved; should, ought, must, necessary.

But what is not "pono" is the state itself since it derives its power from the bad, underhanded, immoral, unjust, unfair, false, incorrect procedure by which the U.S. has acted as though it has acquired but actually occupied Hawaii, while all the time carrying on the motto through the "republic" and through the "territory" and through the "state" that each were the living denial of, the opposite of, the contradiction of.

That’s the core belief that drives so many who support independence. And that’s why it really doesn’t matter whether the movement is popular, likely to prevail or anything else. Cuz it's a pono thang.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Musings: Fat of the Land

The kolea are back. I’ve seen one on each of the past three days, looking lean after their long flight from Alaska, but frisky as they stake out their personal patches of grass. It was just a few months ago that they departed for their summer breeding grounds, and their return, like the shortening days and changing light, marks the shift into fall.

The book ‘Olelo No'eau, a collection of Hawaiian proverbs and poetical sayings, includes a number of references to kolea, and most are a variation on this theme:

’Ai no ke kolea a momona ho'i i Kahiki.

The plover eats until fat, then returns to the land from which it came. Said of a foreigner who comes to Hawaii, makes money and departs to his homeland to enjoy his wealth.

It’s the same sentiment that drives a lot of the opposition to luxury vacation rentals, real estate speculators, transient entrepreneurs and statehood, with today’s 50th anniversary prompting a march and rally in Honolulu. The 50th star was cut from the flag and burned in a graphic symbol of an ongoing quest for independence that has not diminished in the 116 years since the Hawaiian nation was illegally overthrown.

According to a press release issued by the Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance, a consortium of groups that staged the rally:

We believe a nation never dies unless its national consciousness dies. The years of colonization has not killed the Hawaiian nation as long as we retain the life of the nation in our hearts and souls.

We believe there is nothing to celebrate. The theft of Hawaii's independence in 1893 (called "Regime Change" today) and subsequent transition into a "Provisional Government", "Republic of Hawaii", Cessation to the U.S., "Territory of Hawaii", and "State of Hawaii" are merely rhetorical terms for an occupation and colonization of our sovereign independent nation-state. The passage of a long time since the initial theft does not diminish the seriousness of the theft. Instead, it makes the theft even more serious.

The U.S. should begin a course of self-examination and afford the Hawaiian nationals, victims of this theft, a process of self-determination. In that process, we support independence. We do not succumb to the U.S. practice of taking over weaker countries and forcing us as their territories.

It seems that process of self-examination could begin with a closer look at the plebiscite vote that made Hawaii a part of the United States. Statehood Hawaii’s 21-day countdown ended today with a posting of Proclamation 3309, the official document declaring Hawaii a state. Project director Arnie Saiki goes on to note:

I just wanted to quickly point out that of the three propositions on the ballot, only one of them was pertinent to the three options required by the United Nation towards the removal of a territory from the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, as required. “Shall Hawaii be immediately admitted into the Union as a State?” is the only question asked the people in regard to their choice for self-determination.
If anyone has wondered why those other two question, were put on the ballot, they were put there as a technicality, to submit to the international body, that the plebiscite offered three questions.

The plebiscite should have read, Should Hawaii remain a territory, be a state, or be independent?
Those were the three questions required; just Puerto Rico received them in 1953.

That big glitch in the process helps to explain why many consider the plebiscite a fraud that cemented America’s earlier theft of the Islands through the 1893 illegal overthrow and subsequent annexation.

As Saiki further notes:

…the question that begs examination is: why did Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations Secretary-General in 1959, accept Resolution 1469 (December 1959), the “Cessation of the transmission of information under Article 73 e of the Charter in respect of Alaska and Hawaii?”

An example of a vote held within the guidelines of the United Nations was the U.S. colony, Puerto Rico. Out of a total of 873,085 eligible voters, 640,714 went to the polls in 1953, and the votes were cast and split among options for commonwealth/statehood/independence. More that 3/4 of the eligible population voted, which was in accordance with the Sacred Trust that was mandated with Chapter XI of the Charter. Almost without controversy, Puerto Rico voted for commonwealth (the Puerto Rican controversy lay with the voting on its Constitution). Again, Hawaii had only 1/3 of the eligible voting population voting and that is a sound basis for contestation.

In The Advertiser’s coverage of today’s march, organizer Lynette Cruz is quoted as saying:

"We're trying not to engage in hate speech. That's not it. This is not driven by hate."

What they are trying to do is establish a discussion, a dialogue, she said.

"We have not had the discussion about what is the future — what is the next step."

Another aspect is to get people to understand the facts of the history of the overthrow, Cruz said.

Hawai'i's statehood is predicated on an illegal action, she said.

"It's illegal, it's immoral, and it's not real," she said.

Some may call it tilting at windmills, but it seems America, which prides itself on following the rule of law and demands — often at the point of a gun — that other nations do the same, should be willing to more closely examine the illegal actions that have allowed it to fatten itself on land still owned by others.

As Prof. Francis Boyle observed:

France once annexed Algeria and determined it was a department of France--just like Paris. No one believed them then. And Algeria is a free and independent state today. The same will happen to Hawaii.

Unfortunately, so long as the big mainstream newspapers continue to print articles like the smug, skewed piece on statehood penned by Paul Theroux for The New York Times, it's not likely America's masses will hear the truth any time soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Musings: WTF Moments

Did anyone else raise an eyebrow over yesterday's article in The Garden Island about Judge Randal Valenciano doubling the sentence of a man who made an attempt at humor by saying "give me liberty or give me death" in his written plea to avoid jail time?

“This is not fun and games here,” Valenciano said. “You bought yourself more time” with the “disrespectful” display, said Valenciano, adding that by putting pen to paper Kodama dug himself a deeper hole.

The written statement was Kodama’s chance to impress Valenciano, and Kodama told jokes, Valenciano said. “We’re in court.”

So a judge can just invent a new crime -- "saying something stupid that triggers the judge" – then find the defendant guilty, with no trial, and summarily impose a 90-day sentence? Hmmm.

Far less troubling, but still annoying, is reporter Paul Curtis’ persistence in editorializing his stories:

When given the right to remain silent, sometimes accused people should exercise that right.

Speaking of editorializing, I thought The Garden Island’s recent opinion piece on the possible departure of Police Chief Darryl Perry was right on the mark.

Like the paper, I’m also disheartened to hear Perry has applied for the chief’s spot at the Honolulu Police Department. Running KPD is one of the least coveted jobs in the state, and the likelihood of us getting another chief of Perry's caliber is slim. As the editorial noted, Perry has made some significant contributions to KPD in the time he's been here.

Of course, nothing gets Rabid Reporter Andy Parx slathering more than seeing a bone tossed to the chief, and yesterday he used his blog to launch yet another attack on Perry. This time he also called out the newspaper for failing to promote his own doggedly revisionist view that a revenge-driven Perry worked behind the scenes to dethrone former Chief K.C. Lum. Mmmm hmmm. Yeah, right.

Andy seems to take Perry’s application to HPD as a personal affront to the people of Kauai, and has repeatedly claimed that Perry made like he was gonna be here forever. Apparently Andy's forgotten, or perhaps he never knew, that the Police Commission only gave Perry a three-year employment contract, which began Oct. 1, 2007. Who in their right mind would pledge to keep that thankless job indefinitely?

Let’s be realistic about the situation. Perry has two choices. He can stay here and continue his efforts to rehab a rinky-dink department burdened with decades of baggage, buffoonery and backstabbing as a snarling dog snaps at his heels. Or, he can take a shot at earning more money as the top cop in the state, leading a bigger, far more professional department that he personally helped build. Which would you choose?

Getting back to the topic of editorializing, I noticed this on the Star-Bulletin’s home page:

No state fought harder than Hawaii to become a full-fledged member of the United States, and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin beat the drum for the movement from the beginning.

Kinda makes you wonder how fair and objective the paper was in reporting the statehood vote when it was going down, and how fair and objective it's been in covering the ongoing opposition to the fake state.

Finally, a very progressive friend got an email from the GOP asking for a contribution to “help protect us from universal health care” that provoked this response:

Let me see if I got this right. You want me to help you prevent people from getting routine access to medical care? But that would make me complicit in your plan. Then I would be as evil as you are. Why don’t I give you money to help keep the gas prices high, too?”

Seems his brother got a similar email, which he described as “a real WTF moment.”

Come to think of it, there's a lot of that going around.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Musings: One Chance

Waking in the night to complete and utter stillness, I marvel at the beauty of silence. Later, I wake and hear the distant roar of the surf, and think the tide must be high now. Still later, rain arrives, and I listen to it dripping onto leaves, falling from the eaves, and fall back into sleep again.

I wake again to intermittent flashing, and Koko and I emerge from the house into darkness, the sky chock a block with stars. Venus and Jupiter hold down opposite sides of the heavens, but the moon has not yet risen when we set out walking, with lightening playing peek-a-boo behind clouds in the north.

Before long the lightening has extended its range, stretching from north to west, across the interior mountains, and then it is in the south and east, too, encircling me, and the stars have disappeared. I can hear the rain coming before it actually arrives, softly at first, then picking up intensity, until Koko and I are both fully drenched. Then it stops, the clouds part briefly, and I look up to see the thinnest sliver of golden moon.

Things change quickly in nature, and it seems that’s the case with the global warming trend, which appears to be progressing far more rapidly than predidcted.

Already, UN chief Ban Ki-moon is warning of dire consequences if the world doesn’t get serious about this pressing issue at climate change talks set for December. According to an
article by AFP:

Ban said unchecked climate change would intensify drought, floods and other natural disasters and bring water shortages and malnutrition -- aggravating tensions and social unrest and even sparking violence.

"The human suffering will be incalculable," Ban said.

He said he was confident the world could avert catastrophe but time was running out. "We have the power to change course but we must do it now."

He’s not the only one warning that we’re down to the wire on this one. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, created the world’s first climate models and is sometimes referred to as the “father of global warming.” According to a New Yorker profile entitled The Catastrophist:

Hansen has now concluded, partly on the basis of his latest modeling efforts and partly on the basis of observations made by other scientists, that the threat of global warming is far greater than even he had suspected. Carbon dioxide isn’t just approaching dangerous levels; it is already there. Unless immediate action is taken — including the shutdown of all the world’s coal plants within the next two decade— the planet will be committed to change on a scale society won’t be able to cope with. “This particular problem has become an emergency.”

What is now happening, Hansen said, is carbon dioxide is being pumped into the air some ten thousand times faster than natural weathering processes can remove it. There’s no precise term for the level of carbon dioxide that will assure a climate disaster; the best scientists have come up with is “dangerous anthropogenic interference,” or D.A.I. Hansen estimates the dangerous amount of carbon dioxide to be no more than three hundred and fifty parts per million. The bad news is that carbon dioxide levels have already reached three hundred and eighty-five parts per million.

In scientific circles, worries about the D.A.I. are widespread. During the past few years, researchers around the world have noticed a disturbing trend: the planet is changing faster than had been anticipated. Anartica, for example, had not been expected to show a net loss of ice for another century, but recent studies indicate that the continent’s massive ice sheets are already shrinking.

At the other end of the globe, the Arctic ice cap has been melting at a shocking rate; the extent of the summer ice is now only a little more than half of what is was just forty years ago. Meanwhile, scientists have found that the arid zones that circle the globe north and south of the tropics have been expanding more rapdily than computer models had predicted.

I couldn’t help but reflect on that article, and others I’ve read on the topics of global warming and climate change, when skimming through a report on Sunday’s annual KIUC membership meeting in today’s The Garden Island:

[KIUC President and CEO Randal] Hee told KIUC members that one of the co-op’s key components is to become more energy efficient. KIUC is working together with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to figure out how much the co-op can reduce usage on Kaua‘i.

The co-op’s long-term strategic plan says that by 2023, 50 percent of its electricity has to come from renewable sources, without burning fuel fossils.

So we’re looking at another 14 years before our utility is even half-weaned, and that’s if all goes according to plan. Thus far, it seems like pretty much everything is still in the “study” phase.

Meanwhile, according to The New Yorker, Hansen is sufficiently alarmed by the current unraveling of the global climate that he’s moved outside the comfort zone of the scientific world and begun engaging in political action and civil disobedience in an effort to wake us from our stupor.

Speaking before a congressional special committee last year, Hansen asserted that fossil fuel companies are knowingly spreading misinformation about global warming and that their chairmen “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

He’s compared freight trains carrying coal to “death trains,” and wrote to the head of the National Mining Association, who sent him a letter of complaint, that if the comparison “makes you uncomfortable, well, perhaps it should.”

Hansen insists that his intent is not to be provocative but conservative: his only aim is to preserve the world as we know it. “The science is clear,” he said, when it was turn to address the protestors blocking the entrance to the Capitol Power Plant. “This is our one chance.”

Somehow, I just don’t think we’re going to take it — or make it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Musings: Seat at the Table

The moon, winding down to begin anew on Thursday, was cozying up to Venus in a sky that turned from black to dark blue when Koko and I went walking on rain-slickened streets this morning.

A Newell’s shearwater called repeatedly, on its way to or from feeding its chick in a mountain burrow, and the neighbor’s rooster crowed suddenly and loudly, watchdog like, when we passed by his cage.

By contrast, the state is planning to let its 50th anniversary pass by quietly, according to an Associated Press article that today was featured on

The article’s subhed notes that “Many remain uncomfortable with U.S. takeover, exploitation of culture,” while the body of the story contrasts Hawaii’s relatively subdued celebration to the rip roarin’ wing-ding that characterized Alaska’s golden anniversary.

The AP article did, surprisingly, include references to the “tainted statehood vote” and the act of “celebrating a lie, a theft. ” But in discussing the overthrow of the monarchy it never used the word illegal, even though the U.S. has already ‘fessed up to that fact and it’s key to broadening public understanding of what really went down.

It’s always interesting to see what's being served up about Hawaii to American readers. The same friend who sent me the link to the AP article previously passed along a PDF of a blurb she’d found while leafing through a magazine left in the lunchroom at her job in Illinois. Under the heading "Hawaii Five-O," it reads:

Fifty years ago this month, the Aloha islands became the 50th U.S. state. If a visit isn’t in the plans this year, take a tour of homes from your sofa. Check out the book “The Hawaiian House Now” for a peek inside 21 houses from old cottages to oceanfront escapes.”

This prompted my friend to write:

Wonder how many beachfront luxury homes are built on Hawaiian bones like Brescia’s…. but hey, it’s a statehood celebration – right? What a strange world. Enjoy Hawaii from your sofa.

While that little blurb was strange and superficial, the AP article is insidious, advancing as it does the notion of salvation through the Akaka Bill:

One way Hawaiians are moving toward having a voice in their self-determination is through legislation pending in Congress that would treat them similarly to Native American tribes and Alaskan natives.

After a decade of efforts, the measure could pass into law as soon as this year with the support of Hawaii-born President Barack Obama.

Let’s hope not.

For a take on what recognition could mean for Native Hawaiians, as articulated by someone who should know, check out this youtube video, where Russell Means, former president of the American Indian Movement, sums it all up by saying:

That’s the reality of federal recognition. Someday, none of this [land] will be yours. Welcome to America.

But hey, at least kanaka maoli will get “a seat at the table” — where they can cooperate in the further plundering of their nation.

And doncha wonder why, even though the bill has gone through numerous incarnations, just one hearing has been held in Hawaii on the proposed legislation, and that was back in 2000?

Changing topics, kind of, kudos to The Garden Island for staying on top of the dirty water story with a big front page spread today and the promise of more to come.

The Advertiser, meanwhile, has an interesting piece on how various public agencies are using public money to hire professional lobbyists to work public officials to get more public money. But don’t worry. They’re not trying to influence anybody, just “track what’s going on.”

Finally, I want to clear up something that Andy Parx wrote in post about KKCR on his blog last week:

The one recent bright spot is that experienced local news reporter Joan Conrow has managed to elbow her way into one of those regular slots on a irregular basis. But in true KKCR fashion, we hear from KKCR insiders that she had to battle (and have someone on the inside battle for her) to be allowed to get a foot in the door and that happened only with a promise from her- one that was opposed by the vanity radio gang because she hadn’t done it before appearing on air- that she will answer telephones and do things like “stuff envelopes” at some future date.

While I appreciate that Andy sees me as “bright spot” at the station, I didn’t have to elbow my way to a seat at the table. I did not wage any battle, and to my knowledge, none was waged internally on my behalf. Nor did I ever promise to stuff envelopes or answer phones at some future date.

In short, after filling in on-air a few times for Katy Rose, who writes about her move back to California in her new blog, Nofogetfogohome, it seemed to me that the extent of my involvement with KKCR would be dictated not by the station management or internal politics, but my own time constraints.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musings: Part of the Universe

I saw Jupiter rising last evening, a fuzzy white ball in the east, and by the time I awoke and went out walking with Koko, it had moved on over to the west, its place assumed instead by a crescent moon and shiny Venus. Pleiades — or Makalii, as it’s known in these parts — was directly overhead, next to a distinctive triangular-shaped constellation that I later learned, after consulting the handy interactive feature at, is aptly named Triangle.

The night sky always gives me a little thrill, which is physically expressed as a shiver of joy when I’m out under it, looking up at it, and as I was admiring it in that special time between night and dawn, a falling star shot across the sky.

I was reading an article about Siberia the other day and the author described the night sky as so clear and brilliant there that he felt as if he was of it, and it brought to mind similar experiences I've had at Haleakala, Naue, Lanai, the slopes of Mauna Loa. And that made me think of how it must have been back in the time before light pollution took that marvelous experience out of the realm of every day. You’d just have to view the universe, and our place in it, very differently if every night you actually felt yourself a part of it.

While listening to the radio yesterday, the DJ noted that August 15 was first day of the Woodstock festival, some 40 years ago. Woodstock was a bit before my time, but of course I know the legend and have heard the trademark song written by Joni Mitchell countless times.

He played it again, as covered by a British group, and as I listened to the lyrics, I thought, gee, and in those four decades we’ve gotten closer to the garden shop than the garden, and the bomber jets have turned not into butterflies, but unmanned Predator drones.

What happened?

Still, some folks haven’t given up the (alternative American) dream of getting back to nature and living lightly on the land. Do you suppose it’s too late to change the design of the Wailua Bridge into something way cool like this instead?

Meanwhile, it seems that President Obama’s influence is truly widespread, reaching folks on the very fringe of the political system. What greater tribute to the Prez than Ecstasy mimic tablets made in his image?

A friend who experiences more annoyance than ecstasy in the comments section of this blog sent along a helpful link with the comment:

Damn Weblog Pests have a handbook….

The site, named "Derailing for Dummies,” notes:

Just follow this step-by-step guide to Conversing with Marginalised People™ and in no time at all you will have a fool-proof method of derailing every challenging conversation you may get into, thus reaping the full benefits of every privilege that you have.

The best part is, you don't even have to be a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, cissexual, upper-class male to enjoy the full benefits of derailing conversation! Nope, you can utilise the lesser-recognised tactic of Horizontal Hostility to make sure that, despite being a member of a Marginalised Group™ yourself, you can exercise a privilege another Marginalised Group™ doesn't have in order not to heed their experience!

If you read the comments section, I’m sure you’ll recognize a few, including “Aren't You Treating Each Other Worse Anyway,” “Unless You Can Prove Your Experience Is Widespread I Won't Believe It” and “
I Don't Think You're As Marginalised As You Claim.” Then there’s the classic, which often comes up when the conversation turns to Hawaii’s independence: “Don't You Have More Important Issues To Think About?”

But hey, don’t let any of this, or anything else, get you down. If you ever start getting too full of angst, or yourself, just check out this youtube video. When you consider that there are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe, even the biggest problems facing humanity are pretty darn inconsequential and small. And if you believe, as I do, that it’s all energy and it’s all connected, then wow. What reason could you possibly have for holding yourself, or others, back or down when you're an integral part of this vast and beautiful universe?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Musings: Planning Overhaul

For the first time in several days I saw stars — Orion, to be exact — when Koko and I went walking this morning. Even Kalepa and Haupu were visible, although Waialeale’s summit was still socked in and a bank of deep blue clouds laid low over Makaleha.

As dawn approached, the eastern sky turned pink and gold, and though the faintest breeze stirred the trees, it wasn’t enough to cool a day that was already hot and sticky at 6 a.m. The muggy days of August are fully upon us.

And so, it seems, is the reality of the state’s budget crisis, with The Advertiser reporting today that proposed layoffs in the Department of Agriculture could imperil food imports and exports.

On the import side, [Big Island Rep. Clifton] Tsuji said, he's already heard from a major produce importer who warned that a dramatic slowdown in the time it takes to have items inspected could spell the end of the import of certain types of lettuce or other food products that perish easily.

"If they don't have the inspectors, they might have to cease importing these items," Tsuji said.

It’s a double-edged sword.

If some stuff’s not coming in, it could increase demand for locally-grown veggies and so spur production. But if we don’t have enough inspectors, it harms exporters, who are a major force in Hawaii’s diversified ag sector. It also increases the risk of more pest species being introduced, which is a major concern for the native environment, farmers and our overall quality of life.

It raises, once again, the question of whether Hawaii is serious about ensuring that agriculture is part of its future.
That question will be front and center as Kauai goes through the process of identifying its Important Ag Lands. We’re the first county to do such a study, which is mandated by Act 233. Dr. Karl Kim of UH has been awarded the county contract, and he’ll be talking about the process at a meeting set for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24 at the Kapaa Library.

I was talking to Farmer Jerry the other day, and he said the most important message that needs to be conveyed about the IAL process is “it’s not gonna be the third Mahele for the developers.”

He was referring to the Great Mahele, which launched the Western land grab, and the Kuleana Act, which attempted to address the needs of commoners who had been aced out.

Some seem to have the attitude that whatever isn't classified IAL will be opened for development. Jerry and others disagree, saying that the process is only intended to identify the very best irrigated lands, with the intent of ensuring they are protected and made more productive. It doesn’t mean the rest of our ag lands aren’t useful.

Some 1.9 million acres of land are zoned ag statewide, but according to Jerry, the best guess is that perhaps only a few thousand acres — and at best, 400,000 to 500,000 acres — will be designated IAL. So as you can see, an awful lot is at stake in this process, both in terms of money to be made and a viable future for ag in Hawaii.

And that brings us to two related issues: transient vacation rentals on ag land and our messed up planning department. In a comment left on Monday’s post, a reader made a good point in asking:

Why is it that a TVR on Ag land cannot be considered a legal use, but a long term rentals on Ag land supposedly are legal? Don't they both involve commercial profit based on a non-Ag use?

The reader then went on to state:

But the general plan (the one embraced by the charter amendment last year) says that TVRs in non-VDA are good things and it instructs the County to "regulate" them. …..
So the general plan embraces TVRs. The State taxes them like lawful businesses. County attorneys say they are legal. Then suddenly the Council declares that all TVRs have been illegal on AG land all along and they must all stop operations immediately.

While I agree that the county has been totally slack in enforcing state law regarding farm dwellings, which quite clearly says that all houses on ag land must be tied to farm operations, I'm not sure where the reader got the idea that the General Plan says TVRS outside the VDA are "good things" or that it "embraces" such uses. The actual language is:

“ Alternative Visitor Accommodations

(a) The County of Kaua`i shall recognize alternative visitor accommodations, such as B&Bs, vacation rentals, inns, cabins, and retreat centers.

(b) The County shall enact clear standards and permit processes for regulating alternative visitor accommodation structures and operations in Residential, Agriculture, Open, and Resort zoning districts.

(c) County development standards and permit processes shall be scaled to the size and potential impact of the use: […]

(d) Permitting processes should consider the cumulative impact that a large concentration of alternative visitor units have on a residential neighborhood.”

I’m no attorney, but it seems the process of regulating such units could include saying they are not allowed at all unless they are associated with a farm use. And as the PONO folks on the North Shore would credibly argue, the county has completely failed to consider the cumulative impact of TVRs on residential neighborhoods and Special Management Areas.

They’re still trying to get the county planning commission to provide some justification as to why it suddenly approved some 33 TVR applications that had been denied, without any documentation provided to the public. They’ve also submitted a letter asking the panel to reconsider its action:

The decision by the Planning Commission to "consent" to the issuance of Non-Conforming Use Certificates [was] based on the "facts at hand", yet no facts were on hand, and no facts were in the public record.

The group also is objecting to amended rules adopted by the panel that make it extremely onerous for citizens to appeal TVR permits, contrary to the intent of the law passed by the Council. The process now requires citizens to:

1. File an appeal of the TVR NUC permit (or annual re-issuance?), but only if you reside within 50 yards of the TVR.
2. BTW, your appeal is really not an “appeal,” it’s a request for revocation of the TVR permit.
3. After having filed your Petition to Appeal (or is it Revoke?) there will be a hearing in front of a Commission Panel where you are required to present evidence such as:
_ Providing a sworn affidavit
_ Bringing witnesses
_ Providing proof (photos, advertisements, building permit records, etc)
_ Documenting instances of disturbances
_ Providing written, audio, video, or photographic evidence, police reports, etc.
4. Or…you can, as you should probably have done in the first place, hire an attorney at considerable cost to you.

How is it that the burden of proof documenting illegal activity of TVRs has now shifted from government to enforce the law, to the public who is then forced into going through the process outlined above?

It seems that we’re going about things all wrong here on Kauai. Before we attempt to overhaul our ag land classification system and TVR regulations, we really need to overhaul our planning department. Otherwise, we’re never going to properly sort things out.

That ball is squarely in Mayor Carvalho’s court. Or to use a metaphor that’s more familiar to him, is he gonna run with the ball or punt?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Musings: Dirty Water

Driving back from Lihue yesterday, I noticed the usual "ring around the island" that appears after heavy rains.

Wailua was totally chocolate, as was Kealia and apparently just about everywhere else. Still, as The Garden Island reports today, it wasn't brown enough to warrant an official brown water advisor from the state Department of Health.

Such advisories are rare because they're bad for business — the tourist business, that is.

Meanwhile, unsuspecting visitors are exposed to who knows what as they play in our ocean and streams.

The problem, of course, isn't limited to the period following rains. I noticed a photo of stand-up paddlers in Tuesday's edition of The Garden Island with the caption:

Stand-up paddle surfing students get help from Krishan Yatagama of Kaua‘i Beach Boys at the mouth of Kalapaki Stream, Monday, as people elsewhere in the state kept an eye on the approaching Tropical Storm Felicia.

Now who, if they knew the truth, would knowingly put their body into Kalapaki Stream?

As Dr. Carl Berg of Surfrider Foundation of Kauai notes in today's article on brown water:

Berg, however, said there are many beaches and rivers not monitored by the DOH and methods used to collect samples are not comprehensive enough, citing Kalapaki Beach as an example.

“Kalapaki is one of the worst polluted streams around,” he said, adding that samples are not taken in close proximity to the stream, potentially skewing data.

It seems that putting the tourists in remote vacation rentals close to the ocean and streams, while failing to warn them of the dangers or offer tips about evacuation and emergency procedures, isn't the only way we do our beloved visitors wrong.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musing: Ethics and Economics

Dark was the operative word this morning. I dressed in it, so as to preserve my night vision, thinking all the while of how much harder it is to do these days, now that labels are printed on clothes instead of sewn in, then Koko and I walked in it, beneath dense clouds that obliterated both sky and mountains.

The only light came from the reflections cast by street lamps and headlights on the rivulets and pools of dark water deposited by rain that fell all night and paused just moments before we went outside. Felicia was kind enough to provide us with a good soaking, rather than a drenching, and a friend on the North Shore said he hoped it would be enough to send the 'o'opu down in earnest. He’d already begun hooking a few.

One of the big hooks in the Obama campaign was the promise of health care, and not just for those with good jobs and lots of money, or no jobs and no money, but even for the tens of millions who fall somewhere in between.

Instead, what we’re likely to get is something far less. As Hendrick Hertzberg so eloquently observed in The New Yorker:

Pretty much everybody who believes that health care should be a human right, not a commercial commodity, and who makes a serious study of the abstract substance of the matter, concludes that the best solution would be (to borrow Obama’s words at the press conference) “what’s called a single-payer system, in which everybody is automatically covered.” But, by the same token, pretty much everybody who believes the same thing, and who makes a serious study of the concrete politics of the matter, concludes that a change so sudden and so wrenching—and so threatening to so many powerful interests—is beyond the capacities of our ramshackle political mechanisms.

The cry most often heard is that we simply can’t afford it. But even as we’re claiming we can’t provide basic care to all, we’re providing extraordinary care to some. Among them are the tiny premature babies, many of whom, according to a nurse friend, will require extensive medical assistance for the rest of their lives, and the elderly, who are often subjected to expensive, invasive and ultimately futile procedures at what would, without these interventions, be the natural end of their lives.

And then there are the transplant patients. In a riveting New Yorker article entitled ”The Kindest Cut,” Larissa MacFarquhar discusses the emotional, ethical and practical complexities of organ transplants, focusing on kidneys. She writes about the advent of dialysis:

….a federal entitlement through Medicare was passed that secured access to dialysis for nearly everyone. The result of this has been that thousands of kidney patients who forty years ago would have died quickly now die slowly while waiting on the [transplant] list.

The article was fascinating because it showed how we've got the technology to perform these organ transplants, but in so many of the cases involving live donors, there are all sorts of psychological jam-ups on both ends that have not been resolved or even dealt with in a comprehensive way. And even with organs taken from cadavers, there's a big dispute over how to dispense them fairly.

Similarly, people struggle with guilt and other intense emotions when faced with having to decide if they really want their loved ones to receive all the care that hospitals are willing, even bound, to provide.

As a result, we're providing some people with an extended life that is often poor quality, while withholding care that could actually improve the quality of life for others.

Once again, technology seems to have outpaced humanity.

We all know that if we weren't spending so much on the military, we'd have more to spend on health care. But those misguided priorities don't seem likely to change any time soon. And currently, we don't have either the facilities or trained professionals to provide the ultimate level of care to everyone.

So some choices need to be made.

I’m not saying that any of the groups used as examples in this post should be denied care. But I would really like to see us, as a society, having discussions on how health care resources should be allocated, and not just from the standpoint of economics, but ethics. Right now, millions are being excluded, and millions are being included, without any social debate as to who should get what, and why.

As our technology advances, these questions will become ever more compelling, and our need to address them ever more urgent. But if we continue to focus only on the money side of health care, which is, at its core, a human and social issue, our efforts to reform the current unweildy system are bound to fall terribly short.

Perhaps where we really need to start is by examining our seeming reluctance as a society to face up to the one truth of our existence: none of us will escape alive.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Musings: What Kind of Trade Off is That?

It was dark, but getting lighter, when Koko and I went walking this morning on a street that was once again unusually devoid of both traffic and other walkers, even the usual ones. The sky, with its great masses of black and occasional fleeting glimpses of the moon, was what some might call ominous, but to me it was beautiful.

It had rained heavily during the night, and I stopped for a while, fascinated by the rapidly changing reflection of the dark sky in a dark puddle. Fatigue, or perhaps just a lack of will, prompted me to cut our walk short, which proved to be a good thing, as we’d just gotten back inside the house when a downpour arrived.

It seems likely that Felicia’s clouds will block viewing of the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks tonight and next, but the trade off will be some much-needed rain.

I’ve been thinking about trade-offs since I had a conversation with my former neighbor Andy a couple of weeks ago about statehood, and whether its benefits had been outweighed by its impacts on kanaka maoli.

He expressed concern that many Hawaiians had failed to buy land back when it was still relatively affordable because they had put their faith in the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. The Act was supposed to “rehabilitate” Native Hawaiians who had suffered under Western occupation by awarding them land leases. Specifically (emphasis added):

The Congress of the United States and the State of Hawaii declare that the policy of this Act is to enable native Hawaiians to return to their lands in order to fully support self-sufficiency for native Hawaiians and the self-determination of native Hawaiians in the administration of this Act, and the preservation of the values, traditions, and culture of native Hawaiians.

(b) The principal purposes of this Act include but are not limited to:
(1) Establishing a permanent land base for the benefit and use of native Hawaiians, upon which they may live, farm, ranch, and otherwise engage in commercial or industrial or any other activities as authorized in this Act;
(2) Placing native Hawaiians on the lands set aside under this Act in a prompt and efficient manner and assuring long-term tenancy to beneficiaries of this Act and their successors;
(3) Preventing alienation of the fee title to the lands set aside under this Act so that these lands will always be held in trust for continued use by native Hawaiians in perpetuity;
(4) Providing adequate amounts of water and supporting infrastructure, so that homestead lands will always be usable and accessible; and
(5) Providing financial support and technical assistance to native Hawaiian beneficiaries of this Act so that by pursuing strategies to enhance economic self-sufficiency and promote community-based development, the traditions, culture and quality of life of native Hawaiians shall be forever self-sustaining.

By all reasonable accounts, the state has done a miserable job of fulfilling that trust duty, which prompted a class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians. The trial began last Tuesday and is expected to run through September.

In its meager coverage of opening arguments, The Advertiser reported that attorney Thomas Grande argued the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) has failed to put Hawaiians on Homestead lands in a timely fashion, as required by the Act.

But Deputy Attorney General Randolph Slaton, arguing on behalf of DHHL, said the act does not provide beneficiaries with rights and entitlements other than what the agency can offer.

As of June 30 there were 19,886 Native Hawaiians waiting for residential leases, and many others have died without ever getting an award, including an estimated 200 since the suit was filed a decade ago. Meanwhile, as I have reported, DHHL has awarded numerous commercial, industrial and pasture leases to non-Hawaiians, ostensibly to raise money for its operations. This approach has been accelerated under the Lingle Administration.

So getting back to the conversation with Andy, he was concerned that Hawaiians had already lost out once because they put their faith in the Homestead Act, which didn't deliver. And now, by putting their faith in independence/sovereignty movements, which he feels are unlikely to prevail, kanaka maoli are at risk of being left behind again.

The assumption there, which I find inherently faulty, is that being "left behind" means failing to take full advantage of the goodies proffered by the American system, and that accumulating money and stuff is a good measure of success.

It’s not.

Among the young kanaka maoli I know, having to survive in a system dominated by those values, which they see as false, without getting caught up in it, causes them a great deal of frustration, anger and angst.

As I noted in the very first post on this blog:

Prosperity isn’t even a word in the Hawaiian language, Ka`imi said. It’s an entirely Western concept, that idea of making good in a way that sets you apart from others; accumulating possessions with an eye toward achieving status; attracting money and material things to be stored up, hoarded.

Yet in the ultimate suppression of their culture, that’s what they’re now expected to do if they don’t want to be left out, left behind. What kind of trade off is that?

And how does that fit into the goals of the Homestead Act that by “pursuing strategies to enhance economic self-sufficiency and promote community-based development, the traditions, culture and quality of life of native Hawaiians shall be forever self-sustaining?”

Meanwhile, even as we’ve seen the travesty of mismanagement that has characterized the state’s handling of Homestead lands and the so-called “ceded lands,” the federal government is again asking Hawaiians, through the Akaka Bill, to trust that things will be different this time.

In other words, forever relinquish your claims to sovereignty and independence in exchange for another empty promise of "something" followed by interminable delays in its delivery.

What kind of trade off is that?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Musings: Storm Brewing

It was uncharacteristically, even eerily, quiet when Koko and I rose and went walking this morning. Venus was low on the horizon, while the white moon, nibbled away by the passage of time, was high in the sky. Both were swept by clouds that piled up atop Waialeale, where they assumed the appearance of a vivid, old bruise as the sun sent forth color to herald its intention to rise.

And somewhere out there is Felicia, now downgraded to a tropical storm. After surviving Iniki, I don’t worry about weather anymore. I've got food, water, emergency supplies and an understanding of what to expect.

But I do worry a bit about the tourists, especially those staying in vacation rentals in the more remote reaches of the island, like Haena and Wainiha. This region is naturally vulnerable to the vagaries of nature, and pounding surf, howling winds and swollen streams are common there.

Further, there’s just one road in and out, and it’s prone to landslides and flooding in numerous places.

So many of the vacation homes exacerbate the hazards, seeing as how they’re so often built right on the ocean, with just a narrow strip of buffering sand, or alongside streams that are prone to flash flooding. And to make matters worse, some of the units are built on the ground floor of houses, enclosing areas that are intended to be open, so flood waters can wash through without killing people or inflicting extensive property damage.

Sure it's dreamy staying in the wilds of the North Shore, until a storm hits and you're left without water and food and the means to obtain them. I still remember how cut off that area was in Iniki, and how slow aid was to arrive. The people there really had to look out for themselves, and they did.

Now, on any given day, they’ve got hundreds of clueless tourists in their midst, and in the event of an emergency, the burden for their care and feeding will fall on the residents. And since so many neighborhoods have been overwhelmed by these properties, fewer locals are even around to lend a hand.

Resorts have food and water stockpiled, as well as generators and evacuation plans. Tourists staying in the vacation rentals are totally on their own. Our county Civil Defense director told me he worries about these people, too, because he knows the limitations of his agency.

But the county keeps on approving these units, without looking at the cumulative impact on communities, including disaster response and preparedness.

Meanwhile, I heard Cheryl Lovell-Obatake on the radio the other day, wondering why we’re spending millions on a bike path when we don’t even have an alternate route to evacuate the tens of thousands of people living and vacationing along the coast. We already know Kuhio Highway can’t handle a lot of traffic, and it’s right in the tsunami zone.

It seems like we've grown complacent in the 17 years since Iniki blasted through. I just hope it doesn't take another such event to snap county planners and vacation home owners out of their stupor.