Monday, November 30, 2009

Musings: A Rat

One thing I love about my new house is the skylights in each room, because they bring the outdoors in. As I’m writing this, I can glance up and see sky and trees. The other night, while lying on the bed, talking to my sister on the phone, I turned off all the lights and watched the clouds racing over the moon — wisps that gave it a halo, large black clumps that blotted it out, thin streaks that turned it golden. And this morning, I awoke to glittering stars, the same ones that were out there when Koko and I went walking, encountering both my neighbor Andy and farmer Jerry, who was recognizable in the darkness only by his voice.

I finally got everything moved out of my old house yesterday, and the landlord repaid my security deposit in cash and thanked me for helping him to pay his mortgage. In all the years I’ve rented, he’s the first person to ever express that sort of appreciation, which was reflected in the fair and kind way he treated me throughout.

What a pleasant switch from so many of the other landlords I’ve encountered, who seem to forget that it’s a collaboration and instead maximize the exploitation aspect. Folks might be surprised to learn how various “upstanding citizens,” including one who served on the ethics commission and another who ran for Council, treat their tenants.

Yesterday’s Garden Island article about the $28 million sale of Papaa Bay drew an angry comment about how the new owner — described by the real estate agent as “soulful and caring” — treated the workers.

Contrary to rumors, the new owner is not actor Will Smith, but a cancer doctor. According to one worker at A Rat — Tara spelled backwards, a nickname given the place to reflect feelings about the former owner, Peter Guber — the new owner did require piss tests (easily thwarted through the purchase of clean urine at a local shop that has found a niche market untouched by the big box stores) and gave everyone a pay cut. But now they do have better health benefits and a retirement plan.

I guess even though have you $28 million lying around for a vacation home, it doesn’t mean you can afford to pay your workers a decent wage AND give them good benefits. Still, most anyone would be better than Guber, whose most valuable “improvement” to the property was not the house, stables, tennis courts and guest houses, but the lawsuit that ensured the public riff raff won’t be traipsing through that property on their way to the beach.

Ya gotta wonder if the new owner, who bought the 174-acre parcel “for the serenity of the site,” to quote Realtor Hannah Sirois, who has made a tidy bundle peddling that particular piece of land, will continue Guber's policy of directing his staff to discourage folks from using that beach.

Guber exemplified the worst behavior of the rich Americans who exploit Hawaii. Besides waging a nasty fight against public access, which included civil suits — ala Joe Brescia — against those who opposed him, he also dug out part of a cliff so he could get around the shoreline setback and build close to the ocean. In the process, they “inadvertently” encountered a burial that was stored in the electric utility room until the former caretaker got so sick and tormented that he conducted a proper reinterment of the iwi, and so found health and peace again.

Guber also installed flood lights, sprinklers and vegetation on the beach, which fortunately were ripped out in a giant northeast swell a few years back, although now that crap is floating around in the ocean.

So good riddance to Guber, although too many people just like him remain, as noted in a story in today’s Star-Bulletin on whether oceanfront property owners should own any newly accreted beach that forms in front of their lots.

Why are these private landowners always trying to grab more of what belongs to the public? You can see this all along the coast here, and on Oahu and Maui, too. I’m sure it would be happening on the Big Island if it had more beach to steal. And judging from the comments left on the story, the public really resents both the practice and the people who engage in it.

This issue has been prominent in my mind because I just finished a story on the continued vegetative encroachment of Hawaii’s beaches, which will run in Wedesday’s Honolulu Weekly. Quite remarkably, the state is fully aware that folks are intentionally doing this, but say it’s too hard to bust ‘em, so they need a new law before they can really crack down.

In the meantime, the plantings keep growing and so the beaches keep shrinking, making it awfully challenging to take a walk when the surf is up, as this recent picture of the Wainiha subdivision near Joe Brescia's house shows:

How long do you 'spose it will be before the ocean is lapping at their living rooms and they're begging for a concrete seawall — or sandbags, as is the case further up the coast — to protect them?

Perhpas instead of just picking up trash along the beach, folks need to start yanking the vegetation that's growing makai of the high wash of the waves. That's our property, after all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Musings: Good Examples

The crickets were still chirping and a few random stars were out when Koko and I went walking this morning. Soon, though, they gave way to bird song and a bright flush of yellow that turned a brief, light shower into liquid sparkles before the sky turned grey again.

I had just about reached home when I ran into my neighbor Andy, being pulled up the road by his daughter’s dog, whose exuberance was matched only by Koko, who gave each passing car that exceeded the speed limit a good talking to.

I’ve been especially attuned to speed limits since getting a ticket in front of Coco Palms two weeks ago. The lieutenant who stopped me didn’t know exactly how fast I was going, even though he was clocking me (cop talk for tailgating), but I did, and it wasn’t “considerably higher” than the 25 mph speed limit, as he maintained, but more in the realm of a few miles above. Still, as he informed me: “The judges have said we can ticket people for going two miles above the speed limit.”

OK, so legally and technically you can, I thought, but why would you when the hazards are created by people going 10, 15, 20 miles over the speed limit?

Anyway, before handing me the ticket, he asked if I had any questions, and I said yes, because I always have questions, and I’d experienced the following scenario many times: What should you do if you’re driving the speed limit and a cop is following really close? Should you just pull over and let him by, or keep going the speed limit and make him pass?

If you can’t read the license plate of the car behind you, that’s tailgating, he said. So if you observe a cop doing that, you should get the license plate number and call in a report, then we’ll take action against the officer.

Right, I thought, recalling the last time I’d called to report reckless driving by an officer. The dispatcher was rude and incredulous, asking how did I know the cop wasn’t on a call, to which I replied, well, isn’t that why their cars are equipped with lights and sirens? Then the dispatcher said maybe I’d like to think about whether I wanted to make such a report, and if I did, well, call back and ask to speak to a supervisor.

Needless to say, I did not, especially since two local friends expressed horror at the prospect. But that was before Chief Perry came in to clean house, so perhaps things are different now. Or not.

Do you have any other questions? the ticketing cop asked, citation in hand. Gesturing toward the stream of pau hana traffic flowing northbound over the Wailua River, I said, just one: do you really think everybody is going 25 mph over the bridge right now?

No, he acknowledged sheepishly, he knew they were not, but by targeting drivers randomly for tickets, they hoped to instill a level of paranoia that would cause them to strictly adhere to the speed limit, thus slowing traffic overall.

Of course, he didn’t put it exactly like that, but that was the gist.

So with that in mind, I decided to observe the cop who was driving behind me on Kuhio Highway yesterday as we headed north toward the Wailua River. First, he passed me quickly, so I knew he was going considerably faster than the new 40 mph speed limit, and he didn’t slow a bit as he entered the 25 mph construction zone — where a speeding ticket can cost you $250, plus a $47 “education fee — on the bridge. In fact, he kept zipping right along until he braked to pull into the lane to turn onto Kuamoo Road.

Needless to say, it rankled. And I couldn’t help but wonder whether it wouldn’t be more effective in slowing traffic overall, while building some much-needed respect for the police force, if the cops actually drove the speed limit, routinely, consistently, setting a good example for us all.

Instead, as I’ve seen repeatedly, they just drive any kine and get away with it.

What kind of role model is that?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Musings: Marginalize and Discredit

In reading the comments that have been posted about the bike path the past few days, I was struck in particular by one that noted:

folks forget or don't care that the continued assault of development is culimative [cumulative] and another example of the cultural genocide that takes place daily. the host culture can only take so much.

I thought it was a good response to the prevailing beliefs of the dominant culture that in this case have been expressed with such insensitive remarks as:

Why are they objecting now? The area was disturbed when they built the cane haul road and they didn’t say anything then. It’s a light footprint compared to undergrounding the utilities. Preserve your heritage, stop whining about how it was desecrated.

These thoughtless comments are way off-mark for a number of reasons.

First, as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs noted in explaining why it had reversed its stance and come out in opposition to the path on the beach:

Much has occurred in the Native Hawaiian community with regards to the understanding of the significant relationship of the various components of the traditional cultural landscape of the ancestors. ...

“The connections to the past, and thus the direction for the future, are being made everyday as the pieces of the past are lovingly, gingerly, and humbly put back together in a race against time and irreparable loss from destruction and alteration.”

In other words, cultural understanding is an evolving process when you’re trying to restore and revitalize an indigenous culture that has been damaged, fragmented and suppressed by an occupying nation.

Second, there’s the issue of time and money. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources to challenge an issue. Sometimes, offensive projects aren’t dealt with immediately because people are often busy waging battles on other fronts, educating themselves about the situation or simply tending to their own daily survival needs. And it’s difficult to get legal help, seeing as how OHA and Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. have limited funding and endless potential cases, and only a few good-hearted attorneys (go Hempey!) are willing to work pro bono on Hawaiian issues.

Meanwhile, they’re up against people who are being paid to fight against them, whether it’s private attorneys or government workers.

Third, these comments assume the premise that there is a specific time, some cutoff point, where people lose their right to object to the degradation and/or subjugation of their culture, or to express their opposition to a proposed project. Where, exactly, is that written? When, precisely, do people lose their right to say "no"?

Then there are those who argue the cultural claims are mere artifice — and who are we, really, to determine that? — or a disingenuous cover for an anti-development attitude, as if they're two separate matters. When you have a culture that holds that land is sacred, and embraces such concepts as malama `aina and aloha `aina, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that concerns about development would dovetail nicely into cultural preservation efforts.

And then we have those who demand proof of sacred claims:

If the kanaka want to be taken seriously, they should bring some actual evidence to the table. I would tend to believe them if they had some evidence, something concrete, tangible, etc. Please try!!!!

What sort of concrete, tangible evidence would be sufficiently convincing? Or to put the question another way, what evidence has been presented to prove that the Vatican is sacred and shouldn’t be destroyed? Or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or any of the other Christian sites in Jeruselum? Or the Bible and various sacred Christian texts? Or the cathedrals in Europe?

Why is that only indigenous people must "prove," to the satisfaction of Westerners, that the lands and sites they’ve designated as sacred actually are? Why is that their sacred sites are up for grabs and/or destruction and desecration if they can’t prove their value to cultural outsiders and non-believers?

Of course, these arguments aren’t intended to advance a reasonable argument, despite the devotion to logic and reason that their proponents profess.

All these arguments — these dismissals, really — are part of a larger, far more insidious agenda: marginalize and discredit the host culture so that it can overridden and ignored.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Musings: True Believers

The sky was thick with stars, two of them falling, when Koko and I went walking this morning, my eyes trained upwards, feet left to find their own way along the street. Makalii was preparing to set, the Big Dipper dominated the north and Triangle pointed the way to Waialeale, invisible in the darkness.

And then the Giant was outlined in orange and all the blackness and stars drained from the sky, save for Orion’s bright belt, and then it was gone, too, and Lihue began to glow pink and all the mountains appeared, with each and every notch, nook and cranny exposed and ready to absorb the rosy hue of the rising sun.

Just about then I ran into my neighbor Andy, which got Koko squealing, and as we walked we discussed paddling and dentistry and global warming. I told Andy that I’d shared his solution to the world’s ills — develop a pathogen that kills all true believers — with one of the climate change conference scientists, who found it greatly amusing.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “It would force people to engage in deep self-examination to determine if they were, indeed, prepared to die for their beliefs.”

As opposed to, say, killing others for your beliefs, which, when you think about it, is pretty much what’s happening in regard to climate change and modern life. We believe we’ve got to have tons of stuff and unequivocal convenience, even if it means eliminating scores of other species and making the earth uninhabitable for legions of our own.

I was thinking about that yesterday as I drove through an agricultural subdivision dominated by vacation rentals, nearly all of which stood empty, and thought, OK, so we’ve sacrificed our ag land to the vagaries of tourism, and where has that gotten us?

Then I was waiting behind a car with a bumper sticker that read: “Quit bitching. Start a revolution.” And it appealed to me until I looked closer and saw the little trademark sign and thought, how revolutionary can an idea be if it’s trademarked? Besides, people get hung up on the idea that they have to start a revolution when really, it’s about just live a revolution, because it all starts with us, and the choices we make each day.

Meanwhile, two miles above sea level, atop Mauna Kea, record levels of carbon dioxide have been recorded — levels that match scientists’ worst case scenarios for global climate change, according to an Associated Press article.

Stephen Schneider, a Stanford University climatologist, said the world faces a huge risk.

"I think meters of sea-level rise are virtually inevitable, unless we can stop this. But I'm not such an optimist," he told journalists on a fellowship program with the Honolulu-based East-West Center. "The main message is we're in risk management. We do not know the science well enough to know exactly what the temperature is at when a tipping point will occur."

The article was followed by comments from deniers quoting the right-wing Washington Times.

Seems there’s another downside to climate change. According to a report on Democracy Now! researchers published a paper predicting a 50 percent increase in civil wars in Africa for every one degree increase in global temperature. David Lobell, assistant professor at the Woods Institute at Stanford, is quoted as saying:

”Sort of a rough calculation is that about 400,000 people, additional, would die because of the climate change increase in civil war conflict.”

How convenient.

Back on Kauai, Mayor Carvalho yesterday went through the motions of meeting with “stakeholders” in the Wailua bike path issue before announcing what he’d already decided, anyway: keep the path on the sand.

So now there’s likely to be more resistance, perhaps legal action, certainly bad feelings and huhu. And I can’t help but wonder why path proponents like Thomas Noyes and Randy Blake are so wedded to their desired alignment that they’re willing to blow off Hawaiians’ cultural concerns and piss off a lot of folks in the process.

To make matters worse, they came out with this statement:

“Our board members expressed appreciation for the mayor’s diligence in bringing all concerned parties to the table, and moving forward with respect on this sensitive matter.”

Exactly how does doing something that one group finds totally disrespectful become “moving forward with respect?”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Musings: Heat is On

The sky was smudged burnt orange when Koko and I went out walking this morning, the third in our new/old neighborhood. It felt so good to see the peaceful pasture, feel the slosh of wet grass beneath my feet, smell the slightly medicinal scent of camphor, the muskiness of hinano hanging from the hala trees.

All the weariness and tedium of moving slipped away when I woke in the night to the sound of hard rain, sat on my porch and watched birds flitting among the heliconia and lauae fern, stood outside in utter blackness, save for the light offered by stars. We are back where we belong.

“It’s the start of a new era,” said my neighbor Andy in greeting when we met while walking yesterday. I’d seen him at Saturday’s conference on global warming, and was curious about his take on things.

He’d left the event a little early because he was freezing cold, an irony not lost on many in attendance who shivered their way through the four-hour program in KCC’s theater, where the AC for some reason couldn’t be lowered.

Andy and I agreed that the first two speakers — Dr.Tom Giambelluca, a UH geography professor and rainfall expert, and Dr. Gordon Tribble, a USGS stream flow expert — had us wondering about the severity of the issue, since their predictions were couched in such qualifying language as “may” and “could.”

Still, they did present evidence that the Islands are warming, especially at higher elevations, which spells trouble for the endangered forest birds and plants that are barely hanging on there, and also at night, which similarly disrupts ecosystems and biological processes.

We’re also seeing a significant decrease in winter rainfall, as well as in our base stream flow, which has serious implications for water availability and agriculture. They know these things are happening, but aren't sure yet just why, or how it will all play out in terms of future weather patterns.

But the tone shifted dramatically when Dr. Chip Fletcher, a UH professor and expert on sea level rise, gave his talk. He said that he was a denier and skeptic in the 1990s, because the evidence wasn't compelling. But since then, he’s come on board, along with the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists.

It’s clear, he said, that the CO2 level is at its highest in 15 million years, the rate of loss in the ice mass is accelerating and the sea level is already rising to the point where it’s “changing lives” in some low-lying islands in Micronesia. Heck, salt water is already oozing into the streets of Waikiki at high tide.

Chip is expecting the sea level to rise about 1 meter by the end of the century, and said a major problem in Hawaii will be drainage. As the sea level rises, flooding will be triggered by less rainfall, especially in coastal communities that are backed by wetlands, like Hanalei, Kapaa and Wailua.

Chip ran a cool little clip that shows how that 1 meter sea level rise will impact Kauai’s coast, and it’s pretty sobering. Meanwhile, some parts of the island, like Haena, are experiencing severe coatal erosion. Looks like Mother Nature will eventually take out Joe Brescia’s house atop the burials, but ya gotta wonder why the county and state are still letting people build so damn close to the water there.

But then, why did they allow all those folks to rebuild at Poipu, where Iniki’s storm surge wiped the coastline clean? Shoots, the debris line extended all the way into the Kukuiula project now being built.

At any rate, Chip said “we should retreat from the coastline,” an assertion that seemed to contradict his later endorsement of a coastal path, including the stretch proposed for Wailua Beach.

I called him yesterday for another story I’m working on, and asked him about the Path, too. Chip said he agreed to advise the county on the Path only if they promised “to remove it the moment it begins to erode or interferes with beach processes and agreed it would never be defended with a seawall or other device at the cost of the beach itself.”

The county assured him that would be the case, and wanted to proceed with the project, even though Chip told them that a coastal path is not likely — even in the best scenario — to last more than a few decades.

So that’s where we’re at now, moving forward with a multi-million project that will ultimately be doomed, along with the expensive road widening there at Wailua. As one person from the audience asked: “Is anyone listening to what you’re saying?”

Andy left before Dr. Paul Jokiel delivered his sad account of how the increasing levels of CO2 are causing acidification of the oceans, with the result that we’ll see more of the major bleaching incidents that are already occurring in Hawaii. “We’re going into something geologically very new of having our reefs dissolve as we go through this century.” And that, of course, has dramatic implications for ocean ecosystems, fishing, recreation and protection from storms.

Paul said he didn’t like to deliver a doom and gloom talk without offering folks some hope. He then laid out a number of things we could do to reverse the CO2 levels, including eating less meat (or simply eating more healthfully), adopting alternative energies, painting roofs white and other relatively easy steps.

While some of the alternative energy measures are expensive, they pale in comparison to the money we're spending on war and already spent bailing out our financial institutions and jump-starting our economy, which he pegged at about $8.9 trillion.

“We’re just going to have to get it together and do the equivalent of building the interstate or sending a man to the moon,” Paul said. “I see it as a great opportunity to bring our civilization to a level that’s sustainable.”

And that’s when it struck me that what’s really at issue here are values. We can continue on with business as usual (BAU), which is expected to result in a global temperature increase of 6 degrees C. Or we can literally chill by ditching the greed and excess and shifting toward a more equitable, sustainable society.

No wonder so many on the right find global climate change so threatening. Addressing it goes hand in hand with the kind of social change they're bitterly resisting.

“So what do you think it will take for people to make that shift?” I asked Andy as we walked.

“Something really big and serious, like Manhattan flooding, that can be definitively linked to global warming,” he said.

Until then, looks like BAU can be expected.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Musings: Higher Ground

The sweet crescent moon was the highlight of last night’s sky, where I saw rising in the east the constellations that this morning were setting in the west when Koko and I went walking for the last time in this neighborhood.

Venus was glowing over the ocean, above a band of clouds huddled along the horizon, and the sky turned first robin’s egg blue, then pink, then yellow, in colorful homage to the rising sun.

Koko and I will both be happy to get back to the higher ground, literally, of our old neighborhood, where I’ll just naturally happen upon my neighbor Andy some mornings, without having to make an appointment for a walk, and farmer Jerry can stop for a roadside chat on his way into work.

It’s a neighborhood that’s far more pleasing to my aesthetic sensibilities, too, and as I told Jerry, I’ll be waxing way more poetic when I move back to the land of mists, minimal streetlights and unobstructed mountain views.

Being on the radio yesterday, and hearing voices that are familiar to me call in, I was reminded of what a small place Kauai is. That point was driven home the other morning when I was talking to a friend on the cell phone and reported that I was following a pick-up that sped over the Wailua bridge, belching diesel smoke and bearing the bumper sticker: I’ll take my guns, money and freedom. You can keep “the change.”

“That sounds like Randy Weir,” my friend said. And sure enough, when I pulled up alongside the truck in preparation for a turn, the arch-conservative contractor was at the wheel.

Somebody, it seems, is always seeing what you’re doing, and talking about it, even if you’re oblivious to the scrutiny.

Our radio discussion on the bike path proposed for Wailua Beach, as well as the greater issue of encroachment on the shoreline by both development and nature, in terms of the rising sea level and more intense storms associated with global climate change, attracted numerous callers with differing points of view.

Dr. Carl Berg, who is putting on the free climate change conference at KCC from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow, raised the question of whether we’ll be pushed to fortify the entire island with seawalls to keep the ocean from lapping up and over all our shoreline development.

Now that kind of armoring, which we're already seeing along the eastside and northshore, would create a true “concrete choker” around Kauai, to adapt a great phrase that one caller used to describe the Path.

As I listened to the views expressed by the callers, I was struck by how the issues around the Path are the same ones that have played out repeatedly in the years I’ve been on Kauai: gentrification, commercialization of public resources, cultural disrespect and degradation, locals vs haole newcomers, natural vs artificial, general development.

One person in comments noted that Kauai is the “last bastion” of strong opinions. I don’t think that’s true. Folks on the other islands have very strong opinions about what’s happening in their communities, too, and they also take to the streets, council chambers and courtrooms to make their opinions known.

But it is true that Kauai has long been resistant to the kind of future charted out for us by the visitors’ bureau and real estate industry, and in my view, that’s a good thing. Look how over-developed Maui and Oahu got, all in the name of building their economies. Yet they ended up in the toilet, too. So if it doesn’t actually provide immunity from the ravages of recession, what, really, is the point of paving everything over?

Uncle Nathan Kalama, one of the cultural practitioners who organized last weekend’s vigil at Wailua, called in to say that if the Path was created to help the kupuna enjoy the shoreline, it failed. He was pushed in his wheelchair along the segment between Kapaa and Kealia, and found it uncomfortable.

“It was too hot,” he said. “There was no shade.”

Yeah, remember how the little pavilions along that stretch were supposed to be topped with large, leafy trees, rather than the roofs that were installed without permits or Council permission?

It does seem the Path has been plagued since its inception with planning and public communication problems, as numerous callers noted. But that’s nothing new on Kauai, either.

What I do wonder is whether it’s possible to take a new approach to addressing some of these long-standing core issues, instead of re-hashing them on each and every project, which takes a tremendous amount of energy and engenders a great deal of ill will. The General Plan is supposed to be one instrument for doing that, but it doesn’t seem to be a very effective or reliable guide.

Or are the values held by the opposing factions just too divergent to reconcile? How do you sit down and talk things out with people who think cultural concerns are all artifice, the natural world is for dominating?

Maybe it will take a greater threat, like a three-foot rise in sea level, to help us find some higher common ground.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Musings: This and That

Koko and I almost saw the sun rise when we went walking this morning. It’s not that we haven’t been out lately, it’s just that we haven’t been out that late, what with the sun waiting until a leisurely 6:44 a.m. to climb above the horizon.

We were strolling in that transitional time between night and day, a time I especially like, with a smattering of stars still sprinkled over a brightening sky. It was light enough to illuminate the puddles along the road, but not the mud, which made itself known through that smooshing, sliding feeling under foot.

Our meanderings along this particular stretch of roadway are, thankfully, coming to an end. Moving day — what a misnomer for a task that has never, in my experience, been completed in a single day — is just around the corner, which necessitated calls to the utility companies.

KIUC had me signed up in a few minutes, with no fuss and minimal chit chat. Hawaiian Tel, which last time failed to transfer my Internet service and erased all my stored email, was a different story. We’ve exchanged four phone calls already and service is still not guaranteed. Somehow they are unable to locate a house known to KIUC and the post office, even though I’ve provided them with the number of the phone that was previously installed there.

“Are you looking forward to moving?” chirped the Hawaiian Tel representative, before chortling: “That’s like saying you`re looking forward to somebody giving you a full body beating.”

Ha, ha. Thanks for cheering me up.

Then there was his colleague, who wasn’t sure she could transfer my existing phone number, even though I was sure it could be, since it was previously transferred from that very same road.

“But I could find you a really nice new number,” she cajoled. “One you might like even better.”

Where do they dig these people up? Which, come to think of it, is a question that could also be posed about some of those who leave anonymous comments on this blog. And since we’re on that subject, I want to correct a viewpoint that was erroneously attributed to me:

Joan has already admitted numerous times that she's against making the beaches more accessible to people.

In fact, I fully support ensuring public access to each and every beach in Hawaii. However, that does not mean every access has to be “improved” to the point where it’s easily traversed by every person.

And contrary to another false allegation, I like science and respect scientists, which is why I’m looking forward to Saturday’s conference (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at KCC-PAC) on climate change. A panel of experts will present their scientific research on how it’s likely to impact Kauai, and pre-registrations indicate the event is drawing folks outside the usual “green” crowd. Kudos to Carl Berg for pulling it together.

Carl will be talking about the conference on my radio show (4 to 6 p.m. Thursday on KKCR). I’ll also be joined by Caren Diamond, and we’ll be discussing shoreline setbacks, coastal development, Larsen’s Beach, the proposal to put the Path on Wailua beach and other timely topics.

Speaking of which, I’ve been preparing for a turkey distribution through the food pantry at the place where I work. Unfortunately, the Food Bank is getting just 350 turkeys for all its food pantries this year, which is less than half what it got last year. Meanwhile, demand for food is up 70 percent at the pantries.

The tough economic times are also evident in the monthly Kauai Business Report, where foreclosures dominate the civil case filings, most of the building permits issued are for solar panel installations and small residential jobs and the greatly shortened list of real estate sales included just three transactions over $1 million.

A friend in the trades told me of a guy who had driven from the Homesteads to Kekaha, just to install a washer-dryer, because he was so hungry for work. “It’s slim pickin’s out there,” he said.

The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism agrees, revising downward its previous predictions on job losses and visitor arrivals.

”Assuming continued improvement in national and international economic conditions, modest growth in the state's economy is forecast to return by 2011," DBEDT said in announcing the newest forecast.

Meanwhile, in another world, far away, things are far rosier, with Democracy Now! reporting that Wall Street is looking forward to record profits:

New government figures show Wall Street is on pace to have its most profitable year to date. On Tuesday, the New York Comptroller Office said Wall Street profits are set to exceed the record set three years ago, before the onset of the nation’s financial meltdown. The four largest firms—Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase—took in $22.5 billion in profits through September. The top six banks set aside $112 billion for salaries and bonuses over the same period. In a statement, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said, “The national economy is slowly improving, but Wall Street has recovered much faster than anyone had envisioned.”

First the robber barons crash the world's economy, then they reap record profits. Doncha just love capitalism?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Musings: Warning Signs

The stars, brilliant last night, remained so this morning when Koko and I went walking a good two hours before dawn. Orion, Makalii and Triangle sparkled in the western sky, which was rimmed around its edges by a band of clouds that promised rain.

As we walked, the wind whistled past my ears and sighed through the ironwood trees and caused a metal fence to creak and groan. It feels so good to have the cooler temperatures back.

Meanwhile, in a warming world, rising ocean temps have caused some 2,000 species of jellyfish to greatly expand their range, wreaking all sorts of havoc on human activities. As the Associated Press reports:

The gelatinous seaborne creatures are blamed for decimating fishing industries in the Bering and Black seas, forcing the shutdown of seaside power and desalination plants in Japan, the Middle East and Africa, and terrorizing beachgoers worldwide, the U.S. National Science Foundation says.

It seems that overfishing has reduced jellyfish predators, while polluted waters have increased the supply of microscopic plankton that they feed upon.

Yet another example of how we’ve greatly changed our world in ways we’re only beginning to understand, although none of it seems to be positive.

These increases in jellyfish should be a warning sign that our oceans are stressed and unhealthy," said Lucas Brotz, a University of British Columbia researcher.

And yet another warning sign that will likely go unheeded.

Closer to home, folks in Hanalei remain without drinking water after Saturday’s big rains — the kind of severe weather event that scientists are predicting will happen more frequently in a warming world.

I talked to a water department guy there yesterday, and he said they didn’t know when the water might be turned on, as it appears there’s a leak in a pipe beneath Hanalei Bridge.

Situations like this once again raise the issue of whether it’s really wise to allow extensive vacation uses in remote areas subject to flooding and lengthy road closures that leave people trapped. Resort managers have back up plans for their guests. Vacation rental occupants must manage on their own.

As a friend noted: “The county is completely unprepared when it comes to disaster preparedness.”

Another friend, who had to drive quite a bit on Saturday, said he saw things he’d never seen before while on the road that day, including the mouth of the Wailua River swollen to the size of two football fields. The river took up more than half the beach, he said.

But no worries, say the Path people. It’s an accreting beach.

He also encountered streams flowing over roads, torn up pavement, rock slides and downed trees. “Look what happens to us after just one day of rain,” he said. “We’re so vulnerable.”

It seems Gov. Lingle, whose only hope for a political future lies on the national stage, is vulnerable to federal criticism. What better explanation for her about-face on Furlough Fridays? Borrowing an idea floated initially by Sen. Gary Hooser, she’s now saying we should call a special session to allocate money from the rainy day fund to put kids back in school.

While it’s great she’s finally come to her senses, did she have to put people through so much angst in the process? Think of all the scrambling that’s been done, all the time, energy and money that’s been wasted, trying to deal with the school closures. And now she’s advocating a solution that could have been implemented from the get go.

I think it all boils down to a telling paragraph in today’s article in The Advertiser:

Lingle, who has second-guessed her decision to sign off on teacher furloughs, said her viewpoint changed on the rainy day fund as she watched the furlough debate unfold from afar during her two-week trip to China.

Have you noticed the pattern here? When things get tough in Hawaii, Lingle is so often off traveling, observing the train wreck from a comfortably safe distance.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Lege goes along now that it's the governor calling for a special session rather than one of their own, whose political aspirations they find threatening.

To end on a happy note, here’s a video clip that will make you smile. See, if you just take your dog out of a box and spend some time with it, you’ll be amazed at what it can do, and how much joy it can bring.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Musings: Powerful Message

The rain fell with an intensity yesterday that I have rarely seen, and regular calls exchanged with a friend in Hanalei confirmed that conditions up there were even more dramatic, though not in any way unwelcome.

“We love the rain,” was the message we shared each time we talked, and he was praying for more. As a Hanalei boy, he wasn’t worried, having stocked up on food when the bridge first closed, and relishing the peace and quiet that such a closure always brings.

I found it quite interesting that the big surf, lightning display and deluge coincided with the ‘Aha Ho‘ano that was held at the Wailua beach heiau during a 24-hour period that ran from noon Friday to noon Saturday.

The vigil, marked by chants, prayers and hula, was intended to draw attention to the sacred properties of Wailua, where a bike path is proposed to run along the beach. As The Garden Island reported:

Kumu Hula Kehaulani Kekua, one of the event’s organizers, said Friday afternoon following the 4 p.m. ceremony that she had “petitioned the elements to help us send a message,” and that she and other practitioners were “energized” by the lightning show, powerful surf and cool, comfortable temperatures.

And the elements responded by sending the most powerful message there is: nature, not man, is still very much in charge.

Just one episode of heavy rain had us reeling, stranded, paralyzed, stuck, complaining, as streams overflowed their banks and rocks and soil slid onto roads.

Many eastside ranchers had their fences knocked down by rushing water, and Farmer Jerry said that even though they’d been dumping water from the upper Kapahi reservoir for days, they couldn’t dump it fast enough. It was very full when I drove by it early Saturday morning, and the Moalepe trail looked like a stream bed.

In Hanalei, where the bridge is still closed this morning, the rain gauge broke yesterday at 13 feet — 7 feet is flooding — and cars were submerged and houses were swamped. An area that's been trashed and degraded in pursuit of the almighty dollar got scoured.

Another friend who lives that side said she walked Hanalei Bay this morning and “it stunk like sewage. There’s no way you can have that kind of development without an impact.” She said the smells reminded her of just how sick our island is because of all the crap — literally and figuratively — that's regularly dumped on it.

Yup, all the sewage and poisons and junk that people think will just stay put get washed all over every place when we get rains like this. (So much for claims that GMO taro could be contained from spreading when the loi are inundated.) Yet we keep pretending that we can make any kine, with no ramifications.

So will the proposed bike path — I mean, multi-use path — get moved off Wailua Beach, which this weekend was littered with debris from a big surf and a flooding river? (Btw, the mayor's office agreed to postpone the stakeholders' meeting, originally scheduled for Friday afternoon, out of deference to those who were participating in the vigil.)

To me, installing a boardwalk there is akin to putting a big piece of trash on the beach, because that’s what it’s ultimately going to be. Sooner or later, a big storm will take it out, and then we’ll have yet more junk floating around in the ocean. Because come on, what is the likelihood that public works will have the time, advance warning and manpower to pull up that boardwalk each time it’s threatened?

Yet a friend who attended the ceremony said that path mastermind Thomas Noyes and Councilman Tim Bynum, even when looking at the swollen river and surf debris on the beach, didn’t see any problem with proceeding.

Farmer Jerry said he remembered times when Wailua Beach would be full on rocky, entirely stripped of sand by big surf. In fact, the rock wall was built to keep beach debris from washing up onto the road, he said.

“People forget about cycles,” he said.

And then nature comes along and delivers a powerful reminder.

Will we heed it?

Do we ever?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Musings: Up All Night

It wasn’t a night conducive to sleeping, especially since a trembling Koko spent much of it panting in my ear. Outside, the rain fell in torrents, near-constant flashes of lightening illuminated the sky and the thunder cracked, rumbled and boomed at a volume and intensity that can only be described as unusually spectacular.

I knew we were in for some excitement when I saw the streaked and furrowed clouds that made for last night’s glorious sunset, which I viewed from the freshly washed sand of a beach pounded by giant, glassy waves that mirrored the pastel hues of the sky.

The thunder started early, and distant, almost mimicking the roar of the sea, but slowly growing nearer, and louder, until it was right on top of us, and it continued on that way through the night’s wee hours, before it slowly drifted away about 5 a.m., leaving me feeling simultaneously amped and bleary.

It seems that military activities in other parts of the world are leaving the same legacy of harmed marine mammals and toxic pollution that we’re seeing locally. A report in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, which is available on line only to subscribers, tells of how Welsh scientists are working to protect the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals from threats posed by active sonar exercises. The article also reports:

Much of the Aegean is also being polluted by uranium derived from ordnance detonation in the international waters surrounding the Greek Islands. “In 2003, during Aegean Sea exercises, the Greek navy fired 20,000 missiles containing depleted uranium…but later claimed to be unaware of the great hazards [to the marine environment] caused by this material,” says Anastasia Miliou, Manager and Head Scientist of the Greek non-profit Archipelagos, headquarered on the island of Ikaria. Training exercises in the Aegean are conducted not only by the Greek armed forces, but also by those from Turkey and NATO. “The result is a dramatic impact on marine ecosystems, as millions of organisms are killed, severe underwater noise pollution is produced, and large amounts of toxic substances are released into the environment,” she continues.

Kinda makes you wonder what’s happening here in Hawaii during the RIMPAC exercises. I mean, how likely is it that the Greek navy would be firing missiles with DU, but the American navy wouldn’t be? Especially when you consider that we’re making these toxic munitions. So far, all of the DU attention in the Islands has been focused on the Army. Maybe it’s time to look more carefully into the Navy’s record on this.

Meanwhile, Sen. Inouye is trying to get Congress to appropriate $68.5 million to build a missile defense site at PRMF, Kauai’s navy base, ostensibly to protect us from Iran’s missiles. That’s just about what it would cost to restore the full school year here in Hawaii, and yet another indication of how our nation’s priorities are seriously amiss.

In related news, The Guardian has reported that a whistleblower from the International Energy Agency is claiming that “the world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit,” but the news has been downplayed to stave off panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.

A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he added.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Musings: The Right Path

The roar of the surf woke me in the night, and again this morning, and it accompanied us a far ways mauka when Koko and I went walking, skirting puddles and gazing upon Orion, Triangle and Makalii, all lined up on a diagonal.

The moon was thin and white and chased by dark clouds that approached from the east, and on all sides we were surrounded by the flash of lightning in the sky and even at that early hour, the flash of TV sets in homes.

But how better to indoctrinate the masses, get them with the program, and then keep them on track? And if that doesn’t fully do the trick, there’s always the encroachment of advertising into every aspect of our daily lives.

I noticed that when I went to the doctor’s office the other day, a primary care physician who is nearly on par with God in the world of HMOs, which I joined when my part-time job offered me the health insurance that we’re all supposed to covet, even if it doesn’t fund the kind of care I really want.

I hadn’t been in a traditional doctor’s office for about 10 years, and it was with a little bit of a shock that I saw how thoroughly medicine has been co-opted by the pharmaceutical industry. Even the cardboard of the Kleenex box had been claimed by its advertising. And as I left, I saw the high-heeled, short-skirted drug saleswoman pulling her carry-on bag of wares through the parking lot.

Sex and drugs are still a winning combination, apparently.

Speaking of the latter, a friend took the day off yesterday, telling his boss he was a veteran of the war on drugs, an assessment with which his boss agreed.

And Breckenride, Colo., became the latest town to opt out of that crazy, wasteful war — as all wars are — when a proposal to legalize marijuana passed with 73 percent of the vote. Now folks in that popular ski town can possess up to an ounce, as well as paraphernalia.

"This votes demonstrates that Breckenridge citizens overwhelmingly believe that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of Sensible Breckenridge, a local project of the statewide marijuana law reform group Sensible Colorado.

I’d like to see Hawaii move in a similar direction, and not just because it would boost tourism and the economy, while refocusing police attention on really dangerous things, like speed and speeding. Making it possible for people to grow their own, or legally grow for others, would also cut down on some of the back country trashing associated with marijuana cultivation.

It seems growers living in Kalalau and elsewhere along Na Pali Coast are responsible for a lot of the opala that piles up there, and according to some of the folks who malama that region, they also damage ancient rock walls when creating their plots and steal irrigation intended to nurture native plant seedlings.

When I interviewed Sabra Kauka of Na Pali Coast `Ohana the other day, she said the group had given up on Kalalau because the problems there were so overwhelming, and each time they returned, all their work had been undone. So now they focus on Nualolo Kai, which has a chance to recover because it can only be accessed by boat.

I find it ironic that so many of those who choose to live outside “the system” and are dismissive of its private property rights think nothing of exploiting and mistreating public lands for their own economic purposes.

I also chuckled just a little bit when I read the closing paragraph in Juan Wilson’s screed about the Larsen’s Beach access issue on his website, Island Breath:

These attitudes and strategies are typical of property owners that see the land as a commodity with which to make money, and not the very source of our lives. It's time to take that attitude about "private property" behind the barn and put it down.

Funny, I distinctly remember interviewing Juan in the house he owns — and uses for his business — in Hanapepe. So how come Waioli Corp.’s private property is “the very source of our lives,” but his isn’t?

Getting back to the topic of access, I couldn’t help but wonder why Mayor Carvalho decided to schedule a “stakeholder’s meeting” for the Wailua Beach bike path project for Friday afternoon, which just so happens to fall within the 24-hour vigil that Native Hawaiians have planned to draw attention to the sacred aspects of that place.

This issue has been simmering for quite a while, and it’s been a good six weeks since OHA came out against building a boardwalk for the bike path on the beach. The vigil was announced more than a week ago.

So why do you suppose Carvalho, who claims he’s culturally sensitive, scheduled the meeting for a time when some of the most ardent opponents couldn’t attend? This is the kind of thing that makes people feel angry and dismissed.

As one person involved in the issue observed:

Classic, and shows exactly how they have done their job so far, in name only. If they plan it for a time we can't attend, oh well, they held the meeting. … too bad we didn't show up. We'll see if the mayor is full of crap, or has the ability to lead, or shall we say, choose the right path.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musings: Exhibitionism

The rain came in the night, several times, and drummed on the roof and poured from the eaves, but it was gone — although promising to return — by the time Koko and I went out walking in the light of early dawn.

It was cool enough for a sweatshirt, and a brisk wind came from the north, hard-driving a herd of gray clouds that turned pink as they passed over Makaleha and Waialeale, softening the green slopes.

A thin moon cupped the sky in the east where the sun was struggling to rise, and while I never did see it, I knew it was there from the fiery white light that blazed through a puka in the cloudbank and sent shafts of silver plunging down into the sea.

I was at the sea the last couple days, although not the place I usually go. Yesterday it was Larsen’s Beach, where I went to take some photographs and refresh my mind on the trails before writing another story about the access issue today.

The presence of nude sunbathers is a recurring complaint about that beach, and while I don’t mind if people swim or sun in the buff, there seems to be a fine line between naturism and exhibitionism. I’m thinking in particular of one old tourist, his face smeared with zinc oxide, who was dressed in an unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt, socks and shoes, but no pants.

Come on, buddy. Who are you trying to kid?

I guess what it comes down to is I don’t care if guys want to lie around with their dicks out, but it’s a different story when they seem intent on showing their members to me, which so often seems to be the case at clothing optional beaches.

There’s a different sort of exhibitionism under way up along the coastline of Wainiha and Haena, where folks are intent on displaying their wealth not only to beachgoers, but each other.

Standing on the deck of the house next door to Joe Brescia’s place, and seeing how it was hemmed in by other giant homes that had maxed out their lots, destroying the ocean views of their neighbors in the process, I couldn’t help but think they’d created a high-priced slum.

Brescia’s house is progressing rapidly, yet the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council won’t be taking up the issue of his Burial Treatment Plan at its November meeting, either. It’s very curious, this continuing delay.

Meanwhile, looking into his lot, it seemed so bizarre that people will one day be living in a house where they will gaze down onto numerous burials in the yard, which you can see surrounded by orange fencing on the mauka side of the private property sign. It becomes pretty clear, when viewed from the perspective of those who will be occupying the house, that it’s located smack in the middle of a graveyard.

That fact hasn’t been forgotten by Hawaians and others, who came by last weekend and said their pule and left offerings and refreshed the ahu that was built when Kaiulani was camping there on a triangle of public beach that the state is allowing Brescia to claim for his own.

We’re talking about that good-sized chunk of land that lies between the orange fence and Brescia’s black dust fence, and it’s indicative of a situation happening all along the coast, where landowners start treating their shoreline certification line as their property line and plant the vegetation that allows them to encroach and eventually claim it.

Because who is going to rip it out and risk arrest? And once it’s thickly covered with vegetation, it's no longer available for public use.

Shifting gears, it was a little sad to read in The Garden Island of the last sugar ship sailing into the sunset, and to realize yes, it’s pau now, and all we’ve got to replace it is GMO crops.

Veteran’s Day is always a little sad for me, because it makes me think of all the lives that have been screwed up and ruined by war, and for what? The ongoing exhibitionism of America's military might.

The other day I was talking to my friend Kaimi about a friend of his, a Kauai boy, who had enlisted in the Marines and gone to Iraq and come home angry and unsettled and troubled and guilt-ridden, because he’d killed kids, but not before they’d tossed an explosive into a truck that killed and maimed some of his comrades in arms, which he felt he’d allowed to happen because he hadn’t opened fire on them earlier, which he hadn't done because he didn’t want to kill kids.

Now who, really, can recover from something like that?

A lot of soldiers don’t, which is why we're seeing such high rates of PTSD and, as The Wall Street Journal reported, suicides:

Sixteen American soldiers killed themselves in October in the U.S. and on duty overseas, an unusually high monthly toll that is fueling concerns about the mental health of the nation's military personnel after more than eight years of continuous warfare.

The October suicide figures mean that at least 134 active-duty soldiers have taken their own lives so far this year, putting the Army on pace to break last year's record of 140 active-duty suicides. The number of Army suicides has risen 37% since 2006, and last year, the suicide rate surpassed that of the U.S. population for the first time.

And as Democracy Now! reports today, using the sad case of Chance Keesling, who was placed on suicide watch during his first tour of Iraq, then called back to duty again, ultimately taking his own life:

A longstanding US policy denies presidential condolence letters to the families of soldiers who have committed suicide.

Wow. Doesn’t that strike you as just a little bit cold?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Musings: Dismissive

Interesting, how tens of thousands of people can gather for a protest in Okinawa against the expansion of the American military presence there, generating international coverage, but it doesn’t even make the Honolulu newspapers.

Check out the picture of the protesters in the link above. These ain’t no "black block" guys, but middle-aged, middle-class citizens. Now that's a clear sign that the anti-American sentiment runs deep.

This paragraph, in the ABC News report, sums up America’s astonishing arrogance, and its grating effect on Okinawans, quite nicely:

Okinawa has long been called the United States' "unsinkable aircraft carrier" but the vast majority of Okinawa's 1.4 million inhabitants would like the Americans to sail off into the sunset.

Meanwhile, as Democracy Now! reports, our great ally Israel has a similarly dismissive attitude toward the Palestinians who chafe under their heavy handed occupation. In an action taken to commemorate today’s 20th anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall, Palestinian protesters knocked down part of the Israeli separation wall that divides the region:

Palestinians hung a banner on the wall reading "No matter how tall, all walls fall.” Israeli troops responded by firing tear gas and skunk spray, a chemical concoction that smells of corpses and feces.

Who thinks this stuff up?

And closer to home, about 40 to 50 people — some of them veterans — turned out at the Hilo Veteran’s Day parade to protest America’s illegal wars of aggression and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were also concerned about the participation of two command Stryker vehicles and several Humvees armed with machine guns. Because these vehicles had recently returned from Iraq and were engaged in live fire training exercises at Pohakuloa, where depleted uranium has been confirmed, they feared they could be contaminated with that toxic material.

According to the report of one protester:

It should also be noted that members of a right wing citizen group called "The Eagles" were walking as escorts for the Strykers and there were several Hawaii County police on bicycles also acting as a security escort for the Strykers.

[A]nd even many of the vets in the parade gave positive thumbs up signals to many of our signs such as: "No War Surge," "Protect the Troops from DU," "Aloha Means Peace," "Stop the Wars," and "End Occupations."

Who can be against that?

Oh, more than a few folks, I imagine. But they’re not usually the ones who are actually doing the fighting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Musings: Two Reasons Why I'm Moving

The dog that lives across the street from me spends much of its life in a squealing, yipping, futile pursuit of attention. When its master, or anyone, turns into the driveway, the dog begins yipping — loudly, frantically, desperately. But they pay it no heed and go inside, without a glance, much less a word of greeting, as if the dog, despite its cries, did not even exist.

And as it recognizes that it has once again failed to enter their sphere of consciousness, the dog’s yelps for recognition diminish in frequency and volume, ending, eventually, in a final, forlorn yip…...….yip……....……..yip.

This is not your usual mistreated dog in a box. It has a large wire kennel on grass, covered to provide a mix of sun and shade, protection from the rain, and a good-sized dog house where it often sleeps. I’ve seen a man bring it food, the way a jailer might deliver a meal, without a word, smile or a touch of affection.

I’m sure they think they are doing fine by that dog, treating it well, and speaking strictly from a physical perspective, they are. But what about its mental and emotional needs?

Sometimes I fantasize about standing in their driveway and yelling: “Hey, would it kill you to take 30 seconds out of your life to simply acknowledge your dog? Dogs are not lawn furniture.” Or, more discretely, expressing a politely worded version of that sentiment in a note pinned to their mailbox.

But I don’t, because I really don’t think they’d be receptive, or get it. Instead, I do nothing but listen, and my heart feels sad.

Meanwhile, a woman has moved in next door, into the rental that my landlord created from his carport. She is close, far too close, close enough that I can hear her clear her throat in the morning, smell her cigarette smoke and cooking odors, follow conversations that I’m not interested in.

Her grandchildren have come to visit. All morning there is acrimony, and she metes out a steady stream of punishment with what sounds like a little switch.

“Get away from that door!” Whap.

“Stop that right now!” Whap.

“Get inside!” Whap.

“I told you now!” Whap.

“What did I tell you?” Whap. Whap.

And then one of the kids whaps another.

“What are you doing?” Whap. “Didn’t I tell you not to hit?” Whap. “I don’t like it when you hit.” Whap. Whap. “Why are you hitting your brother?” Whap. “You’ve been asking for it all morning.” Whap. Whap. “Stop that crying.” Whap. “Are you going to keep hitting your brother?” Whap. “Pull down your pants so you can feel this on your bare bottom.” Whap. Whap. Whap. “Did you learn yet?” Whap. Whap.

All the kids are crying now, wailing, snuffling.

I walk next door. She is putting something into her car, and when she turns around, I say hello, keeping my voice low, my face neutral.

“Is everything all right?” I ask.

“They’re fighting,” she responds.

“Yes, but is everything all right?” I ask.

“I’m just teaching them not to hit,” she answers.

“By hitting them?” I ask.

“I don’t like it when they fight.”

“You’re trying to teach them not to hit by hitting them?” I ask again.

“Yeah, so they’ll know how it feels.”

“Has it been effective?” I press.

“If I want to swat my grandkids on the butt I will,” she replies.

True enough.

And like the people with the dog across the street, what she’s doing isn’t physically severe enough to warrant a response from the cops or CPS or the Humane Society.

No, it’s just some of that run-of-the-mill soul-destroying, mind-warping stuff that’s perfectly legal — indeed, some would even argue it’s their right.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Musings: On Thinking

Sitting down at the beach late yesterday afternoon, dampened by a fine misting rain that felt colder than it really was because it was delivered by a stiff wind, debating whether I should jump in the water, and knowing that I must, because it was so beautifully gray and blue and green. And so I did, as Koko danced on the shore and barked, and in this way, the psychic BS was washed away and I emerged dripping and smiling and renewed.

Remarkable, how the ocean — nature — works its magic if we only let it.

That reminds me of a call I got from farmer Jerry yesterday afternoon, telling me he’d spent four hours in a closed, air-conditioned office the day before, working on an application, and found the process deadening. “I felt like my brain just shut down and I couldn’t even think,” he said.

“And just think, that’s how all our major decisions are made, by people who spend the bulk of their lives in rooms entirely closed off from the life force, from nature,” I replied.

“No wonder things are so screwed up,” he said, and I agreed, although that’s only one of the reasons.

Lately I’ve been thinking it’s also due to what we eat. I discussed this with my friend Ka`imi, a taro farmer, the other day, and again on Thursday’s radio show. He said Hawaiians had an old saying — “no pilikia in the taro patch” — that still persists today because there’s an understanding of the dynamic that one’s thoughts, feelings, intentions are transmitted into what we create.

This is especially true of taro, because it is grown submerged in water, and we know from the research of Masaru Emoto that human vibrational energy affects the molecular structure of water, which comprises 70 percent of our bodies and covers a similar percentage of the earth’s surface.

So think about the animals we eat, which have large amounts of water in their bodies, too, and the horrid factory farm conditions in which nearly all of them are raised. As Jonathan Safran Foer writes in a New York Times excerpt (ironically, factory farm enabler Monsanto has an ad on one the web pages) from his new book, “Eating Animals”:

According to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. and others, factory farming has made animal agriculture the No. 1 contributor to global warming (it is significantly more destructive than transportation alone), and one of the Top 2 or 3 causes of all of the most serious environmental problems, both global and local: air and water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity. . . . Eating factory-farmed animals — which is to say virtually every piece of meat sold in supermarkets and prepared in restaurants — is almost certainly the single worst thing that humans do to the environment.

Every factory-farmed animal is, as a practice, treated in ways that would be illegal if it were a dog or a cat. Turkeys have been so genetically modified they are incapable of natural reproduction. To acknowledge that these things matter is not sentimental. It is a confrontation with the facts about animals and ourselves. We know these things matter.

It’s obvious that factory farmed animals are harming the planet. Doesn’t it stand to reason that they're harming those of us who eat them, too? Is our society so sick, literally and figuratively, because of the negative energy and bad vibes that permeate our food? It makes sense to me, and thinking about this has prompted changes in my diet.

Here on Kauai, carnivores are fortunate to have access to wild pigs, fish from our local waters and beef from cows that never know the misery of a feedlot and graze in pastures that help keep ag land out of development. It’s yet another reason to eat local, plus it supports the people who live here, rather than big corporations.

The whole factory farm approach to livestock has grown up out of the capitalistic mindset, which calls for minimizing expenses and maximizing profits, with no thought to the life force that’s extinguished along the way.

And that brings to mind a George Helm quote that Ka`imi brought up: “I don’t want a piece of the pie. I want a piece of the poi.”

It’s a sentiment that speaks to the difference between pursuing cash, or a lifestyle grounded in a different set of values. And it’s worth thinking about this time of the year, the makahiki season, which is all about peace and the harvest and giving thanks — giving back.

Ka`imi told of the trip he’ll be taking to Kaho`olawe next week, a special makahiki access, when the participants bring the very best of whatever they have grown or gathered — big, perfect taro, awa, sweet potato, poi, fish, ulu — and offer it up with the humble request that they’ll be blessed with abundance next year, too.

It’s all about giving back the best first, before asking for more. And that got me thinking about an email from Maui Farm Bureau President Warren Watanabe that is being sent around to rally support against a state proposal to return more water to Maui’s streams. Watanabe wrote:

For every person on Maui, this sent a message that fish in the stream have priority rights to water.

Farm Bureau's position is that all uses ...instream and offstream uses must be accounted for when decisions are made. The Maui Community must be protected. Agriculture which will not exist without these waters cannot be sacrificed.

At the same time we are strongly advocating for new source developments which will provide more water. As more water is available, decisions to return more water to the streams can be reasonable.

So in other words, they want to have the guarantee of being able to take more before they’ll even think about giving some back.

That’s how turned around our thinking has gotten, and it’s played out in every political, cultural, economic and social scenario you can think of — because that’s what we’re thinking.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Musings: Exercising Caution

The moon began wearing a halo when the sky turned from black to blue as Koko and I went walking this morning. Peachy puffs floated past on their way to join the steel-gray clouds huddled atop Makaleha and Waialeale, while over the sea, salmon-pink streaks turned first hot pink, and then an intriguing lime-green, as the sun prepared to rise.

Venus kept on shining, even as the world brightened and flushed rosy, and we were refreshed by a brisk trade wind that whistled down the street, rustling leaves and allowing bits of gold to shine through the trees.

Since delving into the topic of depleted uranium, I often wonder just what is blowing in the wind. While doing research for the story that I published yesterday in The Hawaii Independent, an activist told of being up in the Saddle Road area of the Big Island in the midst of an intense windstorm and picking up very high radioactivity readings on a monitor. That’s where the Pohakuloa Training Area and its DU stash lies, in the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and it’s an area that is subject to fierce winds that blow in both directions.

So is DU oxide dust from PTA getting blown around the island, and Islands? Most likely. Is that cause for worry? The Big Island County Council was sufficiently concerned to pass a resolution in 2008 that calls, in part, for:

[A] complete halt to B-2 bombing missions and all live firing exercises and other actions at PTA that create dust until there’s an assessment and clean up of the depleted uranium already present.

Now in addition to the DU found at various training areas, the military is regularly bringing back equipment from Iraq that is contaminated with this stuff. Despite its claims that there’s nothing for folks to worry about from DU oxide lying on the ground and floating on the breeze, the Army has developed a protocol under federal hazardous material laws for dealing with vehicles that may have DU residue on them. As I reported, citing the Army fact sheet:

”Those identified as contaminated with DU are wrapped in plastic and tarps (encased) to prevent the spread of any removable contamination or residues. They are then shipped through the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, to the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland. Here, the vehicles are assessed for decontamination and repair, or for recovery of parts.”

But Major Doug Rokke (Ret.), the former director of the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium project, said that process doesn’t always do the trick. In a written statement, he said:

“Even after extensive depot level cleaning, I found DU and other radiological, chemical, and biological contamination in vehicles years later.

And what about the clothing and personal items of soldiers who have been in the battlefield? How is it cleaned?

In response to the objection voiced by some Big Islanders about Strykers and other vehicles from PTA and Iraq participating in the Hilo Veteran’s Day parade, Dr. Helen Calidicott, the outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons and power who helped found Physicians for Social Responsibility and taught for years at the Harvard Medical School, also issued a statement:

”Depleted uranium 238 is a deadly carcinogenic and mutagenic poison that remains radioactive for over 4.5 billion years.

When used in battle it is converted to tiny aerosolized particles that are inhaled into the terminal bronchi, translocated to the thoracic lymph nodes, and also deposited in bone, kidneys and excreted in the semen where almost certainly the uranium can cause birth defects.

The incidence of childhood cancer in Basra has increased 700% since these weapons were used there in 1991 and the incidence of severe congenital malformations has also risen 700%.

Uranium particles will contaminate the cradle of civilization for eternity inducing more and more cancer, especially in children, genetic diseases and congenital malformations.

Such US military policy is beyond a war crime."

Dr. Lorrin Pang has also raised the issue of nanotoxicity in regard to DU, which he termed “yet another unknown.”

When I think back to all the things we’ve released either unknowingly, or intentionally, that have been found to cause serious harm to humans and the environment, I can’t quite understand why we’re so being cavalier about something potentially poses such a dangerous threat.

Shouldn’t we be exercising caution until we know for sure?

And that goes for the activists who are planning to protest the Hilo parade. If you’re concerned about DU, why would you want to place yourself anywhere near it?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

KKCR Today

I'll be on KKCR from 4 to 6 pm today with Jimmy Trujillo and my friend Ka`imi Hermosura, discussing a wide range of issues. It's the semi-annual fund drive, too, so please pledge some money and make me look good.

Musings: Long Overdue

The stars were bright, and so was the moon, when Koko and I went walking in a morning that was delightfully crisp and fresh and cool — weather that is very welcome and long overdue.

In a major victory for Hawaiians that is long overdue, the Circuit Court found yesterday that the state has been way too slow in awarding Hawaiian Homestead leases. Of course, anyone with a brain knew that already. But the court action, which itself took a decade, was needed to force the state to wake up. As the Advertiser reports:

State First Circuit Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is required to place Native Hawaiians on lands set aside for them by the federal government in a prompt and efficient manner. Hifo's decision means the state could owe unspecified millions in damages to more than 2,700 Hawaiians who have been waiting for land.
About 19,000 people with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood are waiting to be placed on homesteads, which were promised to them as part of the Hawaiian Homes Act of 1920 passed by the U.S. Congress.

The decision came just as I learned that musician Shilo Pa — "got to leave some land for the Hawaiian people" — had lost his Homestead award because he had lost his job due to the economic downturn. It was really sad, because I wrote an article about the family’s struggle to qualify for the homestead mortgage. And now they’re seeing that dream slip away, just as so many Hawaiians have also seen their dream of a home in their homeland slip away.

Just the day before I was interviewing Koloa architect Ginny Latham, who has designed a number of very nice, but not lavish homes — “I won’t design a home over 5,000 feet unless it’s for a family of 12,” she said — and we were talking about how if the state and/or counties had assessed an impact fee on every home built in Hawaii, there would be plenty of money to provide Hawaiians with homes.

We agreed that it’s never too late to start, because we all know the development of Hawaii is not pau yet. It seems only fitting that those who are contributing to the displacement of Hawaiians should also be making some contribution to get them on the land that was set aside for them 89 years ago. That is, if the government was really serious about fulfilling its trust duties.

Getting back to the court case:

In her ruling, Hifo pointed to several specific examples of the breach of trust:

• The state failed to return 29,000 acres of land that had been taken out of the trust for government entities and private individuals.

• DHHL failed to maintain financial records for a number of years, making it impossible for the agency to issue bonds as a means of financing housing projects until the mid-1980s.

• The state should have conducted a land inventory when it took over trust responsibilities from the federal government in the early 1960s.

In human terms, here’s an example of how people have been jacked around by DHHL:

Among the beneficiaries who would be eligible for damages is Irene Cordeiro-Vierra, 82, of La'ie, who said being awarded a homestead years ago would have made an enormous difference in her life. By the time she was awarded a lease, she was retired and not in a position to afford a mortgage, she said.

Cordeiro-Vierra said she left her home in Honolulu to live on the beach at her brother's property in Puako from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s while working two jobs in the Kona-Kohala region. Cordeiro-Vierra said she applied for a lease in Kawaihae in 1984 but lost out in 1986 to about 40 other applicants ahead of her on the list.

Cordeiro-Vierra said she was ready to agree to take other available properties at that point but was told by a DHHL employee to wait for an upcoming project that would better suit her needs.

She waited until 1988 for such a project to come about but it did not. "Until this day, I don't have a Hawaiian home," she said. She gets calls and letters now from DHHL asking if she'd like to apply. "I'm not capable anymore," she said. "It has been very frustrating."

So when you see how badly the state has screwed up Hawaiian Homes, which represents just a fraction of the lands it’s supposed to be holding in trust, it stands to reason that the state is doing an equally shoddy and unjust job of managing the ceded lands trust.

Time to give it all back to the Hawaiians, while there’s still some land and some Hawaiians left.

And while we're on the topic of shoddy, unjust and corrupt management, this comment left on a previous post caught my eye:

true. and yes, many gifts/favors flow from the development side into the hands of plan. dept. staff.

Really? I'd like to hear a little more about that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Musings: Denial

Koko and I were just about to head out into the darkness when a big rain came, so she went back to bed and I drank tea and worked until it stopped. The moon — super bright last night, and adorned with intricate cloud patterns — was struggling to be seen through the mauka pile up as we went walking through the puddles, accompanied by the constant swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of cars on wet pavement.

It made me think of a comment that a friend made last week when we stood on Kuhio Highway in Lihue town. “Just think of how much quieter it would be if all these cars were electric,” he said. “Electric cars are the answer.”

To which I replied: “No cars is the answer.”

But that day ain’t coming any time too soon, which is good, since I need to drive into town this morning.

My friend’s comment was prompted, or at least preceded, by a discussion over lunch about climate change, and just what it might take to get people to snap out of their stupor and make the hard choices necessary to reduce carbon emissions.

When the price of oil gets high enough, it’ll force cars like those off the road, he said, gesturing toward a monster truck parked outside the restaurant. Still, he said, he was kind of worried about the economic shocks that might occur when oil, already priced high, despite the current glut, is suddenly in demand again.

It all — and always — seems to come down to economics, and fears over the perceived high cost of actually taking steps to restrict emissions seems to have had the effect of causing folks to question whether climate change is really occurring.

In short, how do you deal with “an inconvenient truth?” Why, through denial, of course.

According to a recent piece in The Week, which can be read on line by subscribers only, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center indicates that just 36 percent of Americans believe that global temps are rising because of human activities — an 11-point drop since last year. And only 57% think there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, down from 71% in April 2008.

As the Associated Press noted:

The poll was released a day after 18 scientific organizations wrote Congress to reaffirm the consensus behind global warming. A federal government report Thursday found that global warming is upsetting the Arctic's thermostat.

"The priority that people give to pollution and environmental concerns and a whole host of other issues is down because of the economy and because of the focus on other things," suggested Andrew Kohut, the director of the research center, which conducted the poll from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4. "When the focus is on other things, people forget and see these issues as less grave."

Andrew Weaver, a professor of climate analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said politics could be drowning out scientific awareness.

"It's a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public," he said.

Interestingly enough, just 35 percent of Republicans believe climate change is happening, compared with 53 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats. (Anarchists, it seems, are never polled.)

The Week quoted Steve Benen of as saying:

“The more GOP leaders characterize climate change as an ideological/partisan issue — it’s only something liberal eggheads with their annoying ‘data’ and ‘evidence’ care about — the more the rank and file will agree.”

Unfortunately, Americans aren’t the only ones with their heads in the sand. As the Calgary Herald reported:

Canadian climate-change scientists say growing skepticism about global warming in the media is confusing federal politicians and causing delays in action that could prevent dangerous changes in the Earth's atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the deniers continue to pump out their propaganda and obscure the issue by levying personal attacks.

And through it all, the clock keeps ticking as the temperatures keep rising and the ice keeps melting and the ocean keeps acidifying as we keep dithering.

As the old saying goes, never underestimate the power of denial.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Musings: Reheated

The moon, just hours from fullness, fell into a puffy black pile atop Makaleha and was lost, a silvery gilting the only trace of her presence, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Orion and the Big Dipper squared off in the south and north, respectively, as golden Venus rested on a flying carpet of gray in a sky that turned first robin’s egg blue, then pale lavender and finally hot pink.

As we walked, several bicyclists passed us and it got me thinking about the Wailua-Kapaa Neighborhood Assn. poll on the proposed bike path at Wailua Beach. I got an email from the Sierra Club on Saturday, urging me to vote, with the question posed as:


Well, when you put it that way….. But it seems the poll must have closed, as I couldn’t find a link on the WKNA site.

Self-select polls are becoming more popular, especially on newspaper web sites trying to build traffic. But do they really have any meaning?

Now the county is getting into the act, with a survey planned to poll people on whether dogs should continue to be allowed on one small stretch of the very same path — although here it’s called “multi-use” — so long as their owners follow a slew of rules or face fines and a court hearing.

Who wants to screw with that or worry about an encounter with a ranger and/or path vigilante when you can walk your dog so many other more desirable places without having to worry about blatantly displaying a doo doo bag or measuring the length of your leash? Do you suppose one of the survey questions will be should we just drop this nonsense and let people exercise common sense and courtesy?

A friend who is a strong supporter of the path often makes the case to me that it’s needed to ensure lateral access to the coast. That’s all well and good, but one reason I go to the beach is to get away from humans and their incessant need to control the actions of the others and cover the earth with concrete.

And that brings me to another topic. I’d often like to respond to some of the comments left on this blog, but I rarely have the time to get into such exchanges. So every now and then I’ll pull a few into a post, such as this one left on the No Aku Birds post after I did leave a comment saying that living lavishly is morally indefensible: please explain how being wealthy is "morally [in]defensible" other than you think, because you are poor that no one should have more than you do. It appears that you think that if they are more productive than you, that they should give it all to those who CHOOSE to live a less productive lifestyle rather than working hard for something to better themselves. How does being productive and enjoying the fruits of one’s efforts hurt humanity? You socialist continue to make the same logical errors over and over by espousing a system where hard work is not rewarded other than the self-satisfaction of having done a good job. It worked quite well in Russia, is working quite well in North Korea and even the Chinese communists realized that people just mope along if there's no good reason to make an effort. It's you liberals moral bankruptcy that is failing in that you think you are owed something you didn't work for because you CHOSE not to work for it because you feel it's your right to goof off and be under employed rather than making an effort to actually improve people's standard of living through invention and ingenuity. The liberal concept of taking other peoples' money is a loser philosophy. Charity should be for those who actually need it; not for those who choose to be hedonistic leeches.

First, I never said that being wealthy is morally indefensible, but living lavishly, because it boils down to some people consuming far more than their fair share of the earth’s finite resources, while others have nothing. As for hedonistic leeches, I think that term could quite fairly be applied to some of the trust funders and capitalist exploiters who have, in fact, taken other peoples’ money, and sometimes their life energy, too, so they can live excessively large. And let’s not kid ourselves that everyone is on a level playing field, and that simply by working hard and being productive they’ll be assured of accumulating wealth. There are plenty of people busting ass every day with nothing to show for it.

And when you get right down to it, there seems to be a much stronger sense of entitlement among the wealthy, who so often have the attitude that money, or their pursuit of it, gives them the right to build on burials, blow the tops of mountains, use child labor, blow off laws and engage in all manner of crimes against nature and humanity.

Then there was the comment left on the ”Incremental Change” post:

Big difference in those Wainiha lots.
No burials on the Dobbins lot. The north shore ohana has had it's day as KD has been exposed of telling falsehoods to support the NSO's position. 
Naupaka grows naturally on the beaches, and in the "rain forest" of Wainiha it grows like crazy...

First, I don’t think anyone can say there are “no burials on the Dobbins lot” when just 5 percent of it was surveyed to a depth of .067- 1.30 meters. Second, Caren Diamnd has not told falsehoods to support the NSO’s position, and so she has not been “exposed” and the NSO has not “had it’s [sic] day. And yes, naupaka does grow”like crazy,” especially when it’s watered and fertilized as is so often the case along our coastlines.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Musings: Out of Control

Halloween — repackaged by one local pre-school as “career day” in deference to the religious views of some parents, who apparently are not disturbed by the prospect of little kids growing up to become pirates, princesses, vampires and Hulk — came and went once again with nary a trick-or-treater, although choke kids live in my neighborhood.

The tradition, however, apparently still lives on, as I did see a few costumed kids out roaming when Koko and I went strolling last night under a dazzling moon that is nearing full, but had set by the time I pulled up at my former neighbor Andy’s house for our walk this morning.

It was still darkish when we set out, but the sun wasn’t too long in rising through the wispy clouds that floated off the Giant, casting the world in a soft golden glow. The ethereal effect was enhanced by a fine, almost misty rain that, in turn, caused a vibrant rainbow to arch over the mountains.

As we walked and the dogs sniffed, I filled Andy in on the meeting I’d had last week with representatives from Waioli Corp. and the county about the Larsen’s Beach access. I need to do a bit more research, but I’ll be writing another story about it in a few days. Suffice to say, it raises a lot of intriguing issues and the county doesn’t come off looking too good. In fact, it never did move to record the warranty deed that conveyed the land for the roadway access and trail to the beach, and if Waioli hadn’t done it, some 21 years later, we would have lost it.

And that’s just one of many angles in what is shaping up to be a very interesting story.

Nationally, folks seem to find Hawaii’s shortened school year an interesting story. As I noted previously, our Furlough Fridays prompted a critical op-ed piece by the Secretary of Education, and yesterday The New York Times chimed in, saying that while other states had scrimped through the budget crisis, “Hawaii has sacrificed its own schoolchildren.”

The editorial made reference to the federal stimulus funds:

(The state instead used the $105 million to cut its own contribution to education, which was legal but hardly admirable.)

And then it made Lingle look as lame as she is:

The governor, who had ordered the Department of Education to cut its $1.8 billion budget by 14 percent, now says she had not expected the union to take its furlough days from instruction time. She said she regretted the settlement, even though her attorney general defended it in hearings over two federal lawsuits filed on behalf of parents and children trying to restore the school days.

I find it fascinating that Lingle and other Republicans were quick to blame Superferry opponents for the national coverage of that debacle, which they claimed made Hawaii look like a “backwater.” Yet they’re mum about this negative publicity, which makes it clear that we actually are a “backwater.”

Speaking of negative publicity, the problem of cops gone wild with Tasers was back in the news recently when a judge rebuked Orlando, Fla., police officers for killing an unarmed man by shocking him with a Taser eight to 12 times in two minutes. According to Courthouse News Service:

Judge Stanley Marcus said the repeated shocks were "grossly disproportionate to any threat posed and unreasonable under the circumstances."

The report goes on to state that the victim, Anthony Carl Oliver Sr.:

[W]as pronounced dead at Florida Hospital, a result of "being struck by a Taser," according to a forensic pathologist.

So much for Police Chief Darryl Perry’s recent assertion that “All the research I’ve read says that Tasers are safe.”

The safety of depleted uranium is being called into question following reports that Lt. Col. Warline S. Richardson, commanding officer of the Big Island’s Pohakuloa Training Area, wants to put Stryker vehicles fresh from Iraq in the Hilo Veteran’s Day parade. Jim Albertini, president of the Malu `Aina Farm Center for Non-Violent Education and Action protested the plans in a letter that stated, in part:

The fact that these Strykers are currently doing live-fire training at Pohakuloa, known to be contaminated with DU, risks spreading that contamination, endangering the health and safety of troops and the citizens of this island. Bringing these Strykers, that may be contaminated with DU, down the streets of Hilo adds insult to injury.

Every time I blog about DU I get a nasty comment from Pentagon shill Roger Helbig. He most recently claimed that because of “liars like Lindorff, Conroe [sic] and other Hawaiian activists” the military was about to waste tax dollars on a massive scale. Although it wasn't clear, he was apparently referencing the Army's application for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission permit to manage its radioactive stash. He writes:

Wouldn't you rather have that money actually be used for something useful like healthcare or reseach into helping soldiers recover from or cope with traumatic brain injury or PTSD?

Of course, But instead of skimping on containing its radioactive waste, perhaps the military could cut a bit from the Afghanistan war budget. As Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, wrote in Counterpunch:

Pentagon officials have told the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House that every gallon of gasoline delivered to US troops in Afghanistan costs American taxpayers $400.

According to reports, the US Marines in Afghanistan use 800,000 gallons of gasoline per day. At $400 per gallon, that comes to a $320,000,000 daily fuel bill for the Marines alone. Only a country totally out of control would squander resources in this way.

Need I say more?