Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Musings: Fear and Accommodation

In thinking about the vacation rental issue, it struck me that two things are driving this current effort to legalize TVRs on ag land: the county’s fear of getting sued by landowners, and its desire to accommodate landowners who desire to maximize the economic value of their property, regardless of the cost to the greater community.

Then I got an email with photos of Joe Brescia’s house now that the dust fence has been taken down, and I thought, yes, this is what manifests from that mindset of fear and accommodation, this is what it looks like:

Wondering what happened to the iwi marked by the orange fence in this earlier photo?

The stakes have been removed and replaced with rocks and flags, similar to those denoting sprinkler heads. Before long, the flags will be gone, either removed intentionally, lost to the winter surf that washes across the lots along this stretch of coast or chewed up by weedeaters and lawnmowers. Soon it will be easy for people using this house to pretend they are not living above and walking upon 31 known burials.

Thinking of visiting the iwi? The two “no trespassing” signs warn against it.

Still questioning why this house was built atop iwi at all? Well, as Pua Aiu, administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division told me for an article in Honolulu Weekly:

[S]ince SHPD is “not allowed to do a taking” of private property, the agency had “very little wiggle room” in attempting to site the house Brescia wanted on a relatively small lot widely dispersed with numerous iwi.

Actually, Brescia wanted even more, but litigation brought by citizens, not government, required him to push it back from the shoreline and scale it down a bit. And if there had been adequate concern for the iwi, it could have been scaled down even more. But it wasn’t, because the county and state are driven by fear and accommodation.

It’s the same scenario that’s playing out now with the ag land TVRs. That's why, if this bill passes, we’ll end up with places like this and this that have absolutely nothing to do with agriculture— other than boasting a ”converted barn.”

Is this really the kind of blatant disrespect for the law, the community and ag land that we want to legitimize?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Musings: Driven by Economics

The sky had been drawn with pastels when Koko and I went out walking this morning, me marveling at how loudly a small bird can sing, Koko perhaps marveling at how many scents had been laid down overnight.

The clouds above Makalahea were the mottled orange-gray of an old bruise, but the scene bore no hint of violence, what with raindrops sparkling like frost on bushy ironwood seedlings and the sun rising gold behind a spreading albezzia tree.

Well, I suppose their flowering presence is a form of violence, considering what albezzia are doing to the native forest and birds as they march unimpeded up the mountains, but I chose instead to focus on the rainbow shaft that followed a mauka shower.

Meanwhile, Councilmen Tim Bynum and Jay Furfaro are giving the public the royal shaft with their support of a wholesale legalization of vacation rentals on ag land. It’s a subject The Garden Island revisited today with the lede that the bill is “gaining ground,” an apparent reference to the fact that paid shills showed up to testify on its behalf.

Attorney Lorna Nishimitsu summed up both her own personal philosophy and the crux of the issue well:

“This society is driven by economics, the difference is the amount of money.”

Yup, and the more folks have, the more they have their way because they can hire attorneys to threaten dreaded “taking” lawsuits, draw inane parallels between TVRs and Kapaa Middle School and claim that allowing TVRs on ag land will actually support farming — or more accurately, landscapers willing to plant fruit trees to create sham farms.

Anybody in line for one these permits should already be farming, seeing as how they supposedly built farm dwellings. Just like they should have obtained the special use permit they now want before they began operating.

What Tim and Jay and the attorneys haven’t been able to explain is exactly why these landowners should be rewarded for violating the law and breaching their farm dwelling agreements. And make no mistake, the reward for some of these folks is very, very big. Otherwise, the attorneys wouldn’t be on the scene.

Tim and Jay keep claiming they’re trying to keep the county out of a lawsuit, but which county attorney is offering advice? Ian Jung, who endorsed the fiction that the Dechka mansion/hotel (to be used, in their absence, by their “extended family”) is a farm dwelling? Maunakea Trask, who was so paranoid of liability he recommended against even thanking John Tyler for putting out rescue tubes at unguarded beaches? Or the unidentified CA who advised the county not to accept Waioli’s offer of the lateral access to Larsen’s Beach?

Anyway, I hadn’t planned to write about TVRs today until I saw the article in the paper and got pissed off. Instead, I’d planned to write about Sen. Gary Hooser’s fundraising campaign for the lieutenant governor’s race. I responded to his appeal for a donation before the June 30 deadline for the all-important campaign fundraising report, even though it’s really sad that a candidate’s viability is supposedly determined by how much money is in his coffers.

The average person wouldn’t even think about such things, or be able to put it into context, without the helpful assistance of the media — which, not coincidentally, is a major benefactor of that warchest, since it's used primarily to buy advertising.

Gary also had an op-ed piece in the Star-Advertiser about the need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels in which he wisely avoided any reference to biofuels, the next big boondoggle for our agricultural lands.

Unfortunately, he took some cracks in the comments section from people who are woefully ignorant of the facts, like the person who lambasted him for opposing the Superferry, which was “a giant leap forward for the entire state at very little cost.”

Meanwhile, Pacific Business News reported that harbor users — Matson, Young Brothers, you, me — will have to suck up the $40 million in harbor “improvements” made specifically to accommodate HSF. Hmmm. Not so little, that particular cost.

And finally, the recent thick cloud cover over the mountains has made me acutely aware of the tourist helicopters, which go out in any kind of weather and then fly low over people’s homes because their usual routes are socked in. I was thinking of how much fuel a helicopter burns, and wondering how this island can possibly justify such an industry (or Green Harvest, for that matter) in terms of its total waste of imported fuel and energy inefficiency.

I also found it interesting that some folks are raising the cry for a noise control ordinance targeting barking dogs, but efforts to control helicopter noise, which is far more intrusive and probably has adverse impacts on native birds, as well, never gets any traction. Ironically, one of those complaining most bitterly about barking dogs works for the helicopter industry manning its noise complaint hotline.

To return to Lorna’s comment:

“This society is driven by economics, the difference is the amount of money.”

And helicopter owners have a lot more of it than dog owners.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Musings: Thuggery

Stars flirted with clouds and the moon slid from east to west, a scene viewed in glimpses as I awoke in the night and looked up through the skylight, until it brightened enough to fully wake me and Koko and I set out walking in a freshly-washed world edged with a smear of gold.

The sun rose and all the puffballs turned pink-orange, billowing in that empty blue space between the tops of the mountains and the round, white moon.

“Now that’s a lovely sight,” I remarked to my neighbor Andy, who I also ran into yesterday morning. With the daylight shortening on the morning side, our paths are once again crossing, to the especial delight of the biscuit-addicted Koko.

Protestors in Toronto crossed paths with the police, thought not so pleasantly, during this past weekend’s G20 meeting, which ended with an agreement to halve budget deficits by 2013 — a move that’s likely to bring higher taxes and massive cuts in government benefits. Yet unsurprisingly, world “leaders” weren’t able to reach consensus on how to control the big banks that control them.

Much attention was paid to the 500 or so black-clad youth who burned some cop cars and smashed windows, but were stopped by a $1 billion security force numbering 19,000:

"What we saw yesterday is a bunch of thugs that pretend to have a difference of opinion with policies and instead choose violence to express those so-called differences of opinion," Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief spokesman Dimitri Soudas said Sunday.

His sanctimonious comment got me thinking, so how, really, is that any different than the “shock and awe” campaign that the U.S. launched in Iraq because we were pretending we didn’t like the policies of Sadam Hussein, which we had previously supported?

Or America’s use of drone attacks — denounced by the U.N., escalated by Obama and defended by the CIA’s Leon Panetta as “defending this country” — to assassinate people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen with whom we disagree?

“I’m particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe,” Mr. [Philip] Alston [the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions] said in an accompanying statement. “But this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”

The Alston report said that a targeted killing outside of an armed conflict “is almost never likely to be legal.” In particular, it rejected “pre-emptive self-defense” as a justification for killing terrorism suspects far from combat zones.

“This expansive and open-ended interpretation of the right to self-defense goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the U.N. Charter,” Mr. Alston said. “If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”

“It is clear that many hundreds of people have been killed as a result [of targeted killings by the CIA], and that this number includes some innocent civilians. Because this program remains shrouded in official secrecy, the international community does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, the criteria for individuals who may be killed, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed. In a situation in which there is no disclosure of who has been killed, for what reason, and whether innocent civilians have died, the legal principle of international accountability is, by definition, comprehensively violated.”

So when you really look at what we're doing, how is it any different than the so-called “thugs” in Toronto’s streets — except that they don’t have billions and the latest weaponry at their disposal? Or that they’re not pretending to be the world's defenders of the “rule of law?” Or that they were beat back by a security force that outnumbered them 38 to one? And most importantly, that they didn’t kill anyone?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Musings: Departmentalized

Koko and I stepped out this morning into a world filled with the sounds of surf roaring in the distance, birds warbling, tweeting and chirping and the steady plop, plop of spent rain drops falling from leaf to leaf.

Walking down the road, in a landscape washed clean by another night of rain, we rounded a bend and Makaleha came into view, three waterfalls coursing down her face. Waialeale, unfortunately, had none, and her cloud-shrouded summit appeared to be a boiling cauldron, salmon-colored, swirling.

The sun rose and the clouds gradually shifted and lifted, causing the mountain to go through a shape shift that held me mesmerized as her craggy slopes turned golden, then green, and her flat top appeared as numerous jagged peaks. Can there be anything more beautiful than a dawn unveiling of Waialeale?

As usual, there’s a lot of crap and human drama going down in the world, but in the good news department is the partial lunar eclipse that starts late tonight and continues on into tomorrow morning. It’s worth staying up — or in my case, getting up — to check out the show.

Moving on to the WTF are we doing to the planet — and ourselves in the process — department, there’s this story on the toxic load now being carried by sperm whales. Five years of research billed as the most comprehensive report ever conducted on ocean pollutants shows the whales have alarmingly high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium.

"The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings," [Ocean Alliance founder Roger] Payne said in an interview on the sidelines of the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting.

The consequences of the metals could be horrific for both whale and man, he said.

"I don't see any future for whale species except extinction," Payne said. "This is not on anybody's radar, no government's radar anywhere, and I think it should be."

Sperm whales, like us, are at the top of the food chain. We’re also being loaded up with heavy metals, even if we aren’t eating fish, and a number of physicians I’ve spoken with say heavy metal bioaccumulation, which wreaks havoc on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, is at the core of many chronic health problems people are suffering from today.

Moving on to the “fight the power” department, we’ve got Canada spending at least $1 billion on security alone for this weekend's G8/G20 meetings. Doesn’t it strike you that something is seriously wrong when they’re trotting out 19,000 security personnel armed with water and noise cannons, as well as the usual guns, to protect 20 world leaders as they plot ways to continue the domination of their destructive imperialistic, capitalistic, materialistic system?

I guess it’s because, as this video so vividly points out, “they few, we many.”

Segueing over to the growing military/police state department, the U.S. is stepping up its use of unmanned Predator drones — typically used to kill people by remote control in Pakistan and Afghanistan — here at home. Plans call for adding another two to the Mexican border at Texas and, what struck me as interesting, “nearby areas in the Gulf of Mexico.” Do you suppose Homeland Security dmight be worried about the prospect of civil unrest as the fallout from the oil spew is increasingly felt by humans?

As Time magazine noted:

[Suicide victim William Allen] Kruse may be the first casualty of the oil spill itself, but he is not likely to be the last as the accident continues to affect the bodies and psyches of Gulf Coast residents. "These are people in a serious crisis," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of the Children's Health Fund and director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "They're at ground zero of a catastrophe."

Continuing on to the callous and unfeeling department, the well-paid, fully insured, perk-laden members of Congress continue to bicker over legislation aimed at extending unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, more than 1.2 million people out of work for more than six months are being left to twist in the wind, wondering how they're going to keep food in their stomachs, a roof over their heads.

But hey, no worries, Uncle Sam is hiring. In just a few months of on-line training, the unemployed could be working for Homeland Security.

Or, minus any training, putting their lives and health on the line cleaning up BP’s mess in the Gulf.

Or maybe they might just start to understand what’s fueling the resistance in Toronto.

Another world is possible.....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Musings: Bogus

So the public hearing on ag land vacation rentals was held.

On the public’s side were citizens — people who took time out of their day, unpaid, to attend.

The vacation rental owners sent their paid property managers and attorneys, including three from Belles, Graham, Proudfoot, Wilson & Chun — all of them formerly in the county’s employ. You would think one attorney could have spoken for all the firm’s clients, but then, all three couldn’t have racked up billable hours. The owners, apparently, were too busy to attend themselves. More likely, they live off island or are part of an investment consortium.

Unless Councilwoman Lani Kawahara has the courage to break free of Councilman Tim Bynum’s spell, or bill-pushers Tim and Councilman Jay Furfaro have dream epiphanies, this bogus bill is gonna go through.

The day before, the planning commission approved a bogus “farm dwelling” at Sea Cliff Plantation that will cover nearly half an acre — almost as much as the one acre of turf the owners plan to have someone “farm” for them.

The owners, Steven and Diane Dechka, were assisted in this charade by the Commissioners, of course, and also Rep. Roland Sagum. It was all so blatant that even Commission Chair Caven Raco couldn’t resist saying something about it, right after Commissioner Camilla Matsumoto had the nerve to say the state was having problems enforcing farm dwelling compliance, like the county has no responsibility in the matter.

“You know what I’m thinking, right? It’s kinda funny ... and perhaps it’s a coincidence, that the applicant has representation from somebody that has power in the Legislature,” said Raco, referring to Sagum.

Ho, ho, ho. Yeah, funny like a heart attack, seeing how some of our bogus lawmakers are bought and sold.

Meanwhile, Aunty Louise Sausen came on KKCR yesterday, trying to raise $5,000 to defend against a bogus lawsuit filed by Joe Brescia. He’s suing her, and others, for alleged damages stemming from alleged civil conspiracy, vandalism and terroristic threatening and other offenses for opposing the spec house he's building atop ancient burials at Naue.

“A lot of us guys in the front line have to go with what’s thrown at us and we look at you as the backbone,” she told listeners. “I stood up not just for myself, but all of you and future generations. I hope you can kokua me in my time of need.”

Aunty Louise’s attorney, Harold Bronstein, is volunteering his time, but money is needed to pay for depositions, court filings and other expenses. So her husband, Papa Sau, has made a surfboard that will be auctioned off to raise money. She’s also looking for donations, which can be sent to her at PO Box 944 Hanalei, 96714. Or contact her at

“The precedent on Naue is a big thing,” Aunty Louise said. “Now we have another place besides Honokahua [the mass burial ground uncovered to build the Ritz Carlton Kapalua on Mau] to look at and say, ‘this is what we don’t want.’”

You can be sure Brescia, who has made a tidy fortune developing and flipping properties here on Kauai, won’t be holding a bake sale to finance his legal vendetta.

Unfortunately, he’s not the only one trying to frighten people into silence. The developers of the two Coconut Marketplace resorts that the county approved without even requiring an Environmental Impact Statement — and Judge Kathleen Watanabe upheld — aggressively came after Aunty Nani Rogers for legal fees, even though the case was headed for an appeal.

But if she would agree to drop the appeal, the developers’ attorneys told her, they wouldn’t press for the legal fees. Problem is, Nani wasn’t the only plaintiff — Kauai’s Thousand Friends also had to go along. And because they were worried about the prospect of Nani losing her house, they did.

So the appeal got dropped and the two resorts are now free to move forward — if and when the economy picks up again — even though concerns about burials, traffic and other environmental issues have not been explored or addressed.

Just a few more bogus incidents in what is rapidly becoming a bogus paradise for the rich.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Musings: More, More, More

The rain came early in the night and lingered, then turned into a downpour just before dawn, giving Koko and me an excuse to lounge around in bed for a while listening to the delightfully comforting sound of it beating on the leaves, roof, skylight, with me, as always, hoping for more.

So it was later than usual when Koko and I set out splashing through puddles and the little river flowing alongside the road, and that turned out to be a good thing, as I ran into both Farmer Jerry and my neighbor Andy, neither of whom I’ve seen much of for a while, as I’m usually up and out and back before either of them.

As Jerry and I chatted, we took note of a smoky cloud drifting over the Giant and the sun lighting up a corner of the backside of Kalepa, causing it to shine gold.

“Those are prime ag lands,” said Jerry with a satisfied smile that lifted all the fatigue from his face. He’s been working 16-hour days, doing his regular job, then coming home and harvesting lychee until it’s too dark to see.

It’s not easy being a farmer, which is why so many ag land owners skip that step completely and instead pluck the low hanging fruit of tourism. That crop is watered and tended and fertilized for them by state- and county-funded promotions designed to lure visitors to Kauai.

What condition do you suppose ag would be in if it was supported to the same degree as tourism? And what condition do you suppose Kauai would be in if people were working to malama the aina, instead of the visitor?

Anyway, the bill allowing vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land is up for a public hearing before the County Council this afternoon. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone shows up to testify besides the regulars in opposition.

It’s a little bit peculiar that TVR owners have been a no show at the meetings thus far. They haven’t been publicly petitioning the government, pleading their case, saying this is why we need this bill. Is it because they don’t really want it, don’t really care? Or is it because they don’t really need to, having already done their lobbying — or shall we say, lawsuit threatening — behind closed doors?

Other ag land owners seek to capitalize on both tourism and the well-heeled folks looking for second (or third or fourth) homes that it attracts, as in the case of A&B’s Kukuiula project near Koloa. They are so eager to cash in on the big bucks that they go through the process of taking the land completely out of ag so they can build a shopping mall, golf course and luxury homes.

And when the real estate market tanks, as it tends to do in cycles, they come crying to the county, looking for a break from their measly little 75-unit affordable housing requirement, which they're supposed to start meeting by 2013.

[A&B/Kukuiula's Tom] Shigemoto is arguing the current housing market has gone south since the deal was signed and wants better terms that are fair and concurrent with affordable housing policies.

Interesting that they’re not asking for more time to meet the requirement, as might be considered reasonable since the entire project is stalled, but instead want to dramatically weaken it so the houses can be sold at market prices within 20 years, instead of 90.

These big ag land owners seem to conveniently forget that they have already been given the huge gift of land reclassification and zoning, yet they always want more, more, more.

Just as the seed companies want more land on Kauai, which has Grove Farm pushing out the ranchers who currently lease their land, putting their cattle operations in economic jeopardy.

And just as Monsanto wants more and more control over seeds. In a Monday Supreme Court decision that both Monsanto and the Center for Food Safety claimed as a victory, the justices overturned a lower court’s ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa, but also prohibited it from being planted until it’s deregulated by the USDA, which is conducting an EIS.

It’s the first time the Supreme Court has ever heard a case involving a genetically modified crop. The decision points to the likelihood of more GMO litigation ahead, especially since it’s become clear that these crops cannot be contained and thus pose the potential for harm to both the environment and farmers who don’t want to grow that stuff.

Meanwhile, more and more and more of it is being planted on Kauai, with no EIS or thought to what it might be doing to our natural environment and our ranchers and farmers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Musings; Ready, Aim, Fire

Tomorrow marks the start of RIMPAC, that international bi-ennial firefight free-for-all carried out on the land and in the sea all around Hawaii.

It’s the time when the military shows its might and reminds just who really runs the show here, and why the U.S. colonized Hawaii in the first place.

This year’s war games will even include a guest appearance by the Navy’s newest star, its first littoral combat ship, the USS Freedom. It’s a variation of the JHSV/Superferry, a super expensive — we’re talking $500 million per — vessel designed to be used in shallow, nearshore waters, in response to perceived threats from China.

As part of its maiden deployment (or perhaps to generate some cash for its keep?), the LCS:

[C]onducted counter-illicit trafficking (CIT) operations, making four successful seizures that yielded more than five tons of cocaine, two "go fast" drug vessels, and nine suspected smugglers taken into custody.

So handy, that boat. And RIMPAC will give it even more opportunities to strut its stuff. It will be playing these war games with, according to Hawaii Navy News, 14 nations, 34 ships, five submarines, more than 100 aircraft and 20,000 personnel. Wow plenty guys gonna be converging on Waikiki.

The U.S., of course, will be running the show, with Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand. You know. All the super powers.

And what will they be doing? Conducting gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defense exercises, as well as maritime interdiction and vessel boardings, explosive ordnance disposal, diving and salvage operations, mine clearance operations and an amphibious landing.

In other words, blowing stuff up, using sonar, flying low and loud and generally making a mess and nuisance, just like they have been since 1971, doing stuff like this and this and leaving all their toxic crap in the ocean.

I’m sure the fish and dolphins and monk seals and all the other critters out there really appreciate it.

But hey, at least now they’re not bombing Kahoolawe.

And of course, we should be grateful, because they’re doing it all for us. According to the Navy, RIMPAC "helps ensure stability throughout the Pacific Rim" and encourages development and prosperity.

Like the estimated $43 million they’ll drop here through Aug. 1.

Oh, now I get it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Musings: Gold Rush

Last night’s Rorschach black cloud beneath a swirling vortex that hid the moon gave way to this morning’s summer solstice sunrise, which was all about gold, as in gold light shining on Makaleha, gold shafts beaming through the trees, gold wisps floating across a blue sky.

It was not about the kind of gold that A&B seeks to mine from Kukuiula, the upscale vacation home community on the southside:

”For those of you who want to become a developer, I want to share my pain with you,” said A&B Properties Executive Vice President Paul Hallin during the start of his speech.

Oh, yes, Paul. Cry us a river all the way to the bank. Of course, he was speaking to a sympathetic crowd at the Chamber of Commerce membership meeting. Meanwhile, one of his VPs, Brent Harrington, had this to say about a project that is described by residents as "the destruction of Koloa" and by its developer as “very sophisticated, cutting-edge,” yet somehow still having the "feel of a small plantation town:"

In addition, it “will create significant employment” and an “economic ecosystem” which will benefit the local community, he said.

I heard the other day that all the words like natural, sustainable, family farm, organic, pristine, green — words that used to mean something — have been co-opted by big business to sell stuff that’s not. And now, apparently, they’ve even bastardized the definition of ecosystem.

Brent’s comments brought to mind a comment I heard this weekend from a mainland transplant. He was wondering why locals like Ian Costa, Roland Sagum, Walton Hong and others are so eager to accommodate developers, vacation rental owners and the gentrification of ag land:

“They’re actually working to limit their own opportunities,” he said. “Don’t they realize that all this development is only going to attract more haoles, until they eventually take over the place?”

Like so many questions posed about the way things are done on Kauai, I really couldn’t come up with an answer that made any sense, except “there’s gold in them thar beaches and hills!”

On a related note, I picked up my health food co-op order the other day from a North Shore ag land parcel that is obviously a working farm. It has fields planted in crops, a tractor, farm workers in the fields, a packing shed used for packing veggies, steady customers who buy its produce. The main house is simple and rustic, as are the two vacation rental units (TVR) that help this real farm stay in business.

Indeed, it is the only farm in that neighborhood, which is zoned ag. But it is not the only place with vacation rentals. And it struck me as patently unfair that this place should be treated the same as ag lots that have been operating TVRs without even a semblance of farm use.

As I drove away, I thought of how bogus the discussion has been about what constitutes a farm. If you send an inspector out to look, it’s quite obvious who is actually using their ag land for agriculture. But if you don’t go look, or more importantly, don’t want to see, then you can pretend a mansion sitting on acres of lawn is actually a farm dwelling.

Some folks think that implementing a county manager system will improve the functioning of government on Kauai. I understand their hopefulness, but do they really imagine the Mayor and Council will bring in someone knowledgeable and experienced, from outside, no less, who will usurp their power and make them all look bad?

In reading The Garden Island’s report on a recent public meeting about that concept, I wasn’t sure which I found more disturbing, the fact that Sonny Gerado actually served as second in command of the county for eight years, or his comment that he "has not seen any mayor have a substandard performance.”

Like I said, if you don’t look, or don’t want to see…..

Getting back to land use, I had a voice mail message this weekend from Jennie Yukimura, JoAnn’s mom. She wanted my address, because she’d written me a letter. I was nervous returning her call, wondering if I’d penned something that offended or upset her.

That kind of tension is one of the casualties associated with being outspoken on a small island. I also felt it when my landlady told me yesterday that she read my blog.

“Oh, really,” I said noncommittally, unsure what her reaction might be.

“Yes, and I thought, how can such a sweet girl say some of these things? And some of the language you use! But you know, what it came down to is I really respect you for speaking up. Because it’s obvious that you really care about Kauai.”

It turns out Jennie’s thoughts were along the same lines, but about someone else.

“I just wanted to thank you for writing that letter to the newspaper defending Caren Diamond,” Jennie told me. “I admire her so much. She does so much. She works so hard, and it’s not for herself, you know. It’s for all of us, because she really cares about the island. If you see her, would you please let her know how much I appreciate what she does?”

“Yes,” I assured her. “I’ll pass that along.”

Because people like Caren are worth their weight in gold.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Musings: Path to Implosion

After another night of delicious, sleep-enhancing rain, Koko and I went out walking in a quiet world of soft colors. Apricot–colored clouds nestled up against the dove grey fleece piled atop Makaleha, rosy strands drifted toward the pearly pile-up above Waialeale and a baby blue background held it all together.

Today represents the beginning of the end of the super early sunrises that I love so much. Tomorrow, the sun will rise a minute later and keep on slipping until the winter equinox, although the days will continue to lengthen a bit on the afternoon end for a while yet, offering ample opportunities to get out and about.

That's what the Green Harvest helicopters have been doing for the past couple of days, prompting an uproar that falls upon the deaf ears of a police chief who continues to annoy the populace and waste time and money waging an aerial war on a plant. As The Garden Island reported:

“People are getting angry,” said [Kaua‘i Air Tour Help Line operator Sheila] Heathcote, adding she has never handled as many calls from as many upset Kauaians. “They’re furious,” she said. “It’s been nonstop all day long. It’s been crazy.”

If the cops are flying so low that they’re causing people to get bucked off their horses, then something is really wrong. And it’s the same thing that’s wrong with the way cops drive on the road: they do whatever they want with impunity, because who is going to stop them?

Our police chief, meanwhile, was endorsing yet another major invasion of privacy in the questionable interest of “security”: the full body scanner just installed at Lihue Airport. Now why Lihue got such a system before Honolulu or other major urban airports, or even at all, is as much a puzzle as why the cops stage Green Harvest locally even as the ganja flows in unabated from America and British Columbia.

“From what was presented at a Wednesday briefing by TSA, I strongly believe this system offers a greater level of security for our traveling public and will discourage those with malice in their hearts to use Kaua‘i as a staging area for violence,” said Kaua‘i Police Department Chief Darryl Perry in an e-mail after attending the briefing on the new equipment.

Ummm, Chief, I hate to break it to you, but the only ones using Kauai as a staging area for violence are over at PMRF. And they, like the cops, do what they please with no accountability to the public.

While we’re on the subject of cops, I was deeply troubled by the account of Utah’s execution by firing squad. I was bothered both by the legal murder, and they way they used cops to carry it out:

The five executioners, certified police officers who volunteered for the task and remain anonymous, stood about 25 feet away, behind a wall cut with a gunport, and were armed with matching .30-caliber Winchester rifles.

This is not good. What kind of people would volunteer for such duty? And do we really want guys like that carrying guns and patrolling the streets?

Another form of legal murder continues in the Gulf, where the latest news is that the high concentrations of methane gas being released in the oil spew will potentially suffocate marine life and create "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.

And in Afghanistan, which now has the dubious distinction of being the longest running war in American history, with no end in sight. In case you’re still unclear exactly what we’re doing there, consider the recent news that Afghanistan has minerals valued at over $1 trillion. As The New York Times reported:

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but note how the Associated Press, in reporting that the minerals may be worth $3 trillion, described Afghanistan as a “violent country.” Yeah, you try to defend yourself against invasions by two super powers and you get labeled the violent one.

At any rate, the minerals give the U.S. several excuses to avoid a pullout and prolong the war, including the threat that China might try to get the goodies. But as author Tom Engelhardt notes in an interview on Democracy Now! today, the war in Afghanistan helped destroy the Soviet Union, which led to the end of the Cold War — and the start of some hot ones:

But it is striking that our leaders, in declaring [Cold War] victory, decided to go down, in essence, the Soviet path, which was the path to implosion.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Musings: Transformations

After a night of much welcome rain, dawn arrived as a band of bold crimson sandwiched in between layers of gray. It didn’t feel like a day for rushing, so I let Koko sniff to her heart’s delight as we made our way down the road, which was devoid of cars, save one, but not of bird song and flower fragrance, which were present in abundance.

The sky grew bright and turned everything gold: the light streaming through the trees, the raindrops hanging from leaves, the spider webs strung between branches, the distant cinder cones and Kalepa ridge, which I recalled seeing from the top of the mountain trail the other day.

I was standing amid ohia lehua, with their vibrant red blossoms, one of which I picked because I was really hoping for rain, which made me think that perhaps that legend is tied to the understanding that the forces of nature do, indeed, respond to our acknowledgement and appreciation, which brought to mind the urgings of Kehau Kekua to renew our recognition of nature as a living being, as Native Hawaiians believed, and so do I.

As if in response to these thoughts, I saw a rainbow alight upon the northern end of Kalepa and stay there, where it proceeded to stain the land with all the hues it possessed — aqua, turquoise, deep blue, purple, yellow, among them — until the mountain was transformed into a palette of vibrant color.

I’ve had a several people approach me over the last week and express their concern about the transformation of Kauai People into MidWeek Kauai. The new paper, they have correctly discerned, contains a lot less information about Kauai than the old one, and they’re wondering who is going to print the stories about this island that just aren’t being told.

Their comments are invariably accompanied by story ideas, and they aren’t all investigative pieces or exposes, either, but articles about the people who live here who are trying to do things differently.

And then they’ve asked me: Can’t you start/do something?

Which got me thinking that yes, I could, although time and money are always factors to be considered, but I’m already spending time on this blog, which doesn’t pay me any money, and I’ve been feeling like I want to do something different with Kauai Eclectic, anyway,, so maybe I could shift some of that energy into doing more stories, which I could publish here and then who knows where it might go.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Musings: Kingdom Come

This morning’s pink sky made me think about last night, when I went walking with a friend, hoping to see Venus cozied up with the crescent moon, and looking up, sure enough, both were there, floating in a sea of pink that turned lavender and then purple and slowly faded into midnight blue.

Later, returning outside to check their progress, I found a canopy of bright stars, a warming, welcoming sight after a long stretch of nighttime clouds, and the Venus-moon partnership, golden now, preparing to descend into a foreboding murky mass above the mountains.

The friend who had come to visit is a customary chief in the Kingdom of Atooi, and he had an identification card that had been issued by the Kingdom. It looked like a driver’s license, with all the pertinent info about date of birth and physical characteristics, and a number, which was not the same as his Hawaii driver's license number, at the top.

On the back was a bar code and this statement: Do not detain this individual. UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. He said that as a chief, he’s entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Anyway, I found it very interesting that he and others have been using the cards when traveling and haven’t run into any opposition, or even questions, at the airports.

The Kingdom also has minted a 100-kalla coin that is an ounce of pure silver. On one side is an engraving of Dayne Aipoalani, the Kingdom’s alii nui, with the words “Aleka (which means God, my friend said, “but he no make like he better than anyone else) Aipoalani.” On the flip side is a seal with the words “sovereign authority.”

We got to talking about the word Atooi, which he said means the light of God, and variations of that word that have also been used to describe this place. Atuai means spirit of light, he said, while Atuoi means surpreme authority, or lord of the light. Kauai, he said, means light shining through the rainbow, which seemed to me an apt description.

The meanings of many Hawaiian words have been garbled in translation, he said, such as hanai, which doesn’t mean adopted but spirit siblings forever, and haka. “It’s not a war chant, but the truth,” he said. “Why do you think they’re screaming it?”

As for his and the Kingdom’s take on the state’s plans to do rockfall mitigation in Kalalau Valley, they don’t like it and will be actively opposing it.

“They’re smashing the mountain, they’re trying to kill our energy,” he said. “It’s all shrines and they’re destroying them.”

The state has claimed that loose rocks around Ho‘ole‘a waterfall and above the sea cave at Kalalau Beach pose a hazard to campers and hikers, and the entire beach and a portion of the trail will be closed for two months while the work is done. According to a press release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources:

Mitigation work will involve manual rock scaling methods using ‘o‘o, crowbars, and compressed air bags to remove loose and unstable rock materials from rock shelves above these areas. No explosives nor heavy equipment will be utilized in the project area. 

Helicopter sling loads will be used to assist in the manual removal of fallen material to designated mauka areas. 

More details, apparently based on the consultant’s presentation to the county planning commission, were reported by The Garden Island, which quoted the consultant, Tobias Koehler, environmental planner for AECom, saying they’ll be starting Sept. 7 to take advantage of the wide beach:

“The chances of impacting with the ocean are basically zero, and our plan is to be done and out of there before any kind of real winter swells start to take the beach away,” he said.

My recollection of living on the North Shore is that the first big swells start to happen right about that time and are certainly well under way in October and November.

Given the logistics and many uncertainties of the project — especially those connected with removing two blocks of rock on the cliff’s face that are estimated at 230 and 1,250 cubic yards each, which is a pretty wide spread — I think Kauai attorney Kurt Bosshard is correct in his assessment that the project won’t be done in two months.

When pressed to say the worst-case scenario, Koehler said if the project wasn’t finished they would have to abandon it temporarily, close that portion of Kalalau Beach, and be back after April 30, 2011 to finish the job.

Even the planning commission didn’t buy into the two-month bit, adding a condition to the permit that work must be done within two years. But what if it isn’t? What about all that loosened rock rubble, which will be exposed to the big surf and possibly torrential rains of winter in the meantime? And as Kurt notes, will it result in the indefinite closure of Kalalau Valley?

My friend offered his own assessment: "They have no idea what they're getting into."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Musings: A Farm By Any Other Name

The rain was hovering all around the eastern edges, and indeed falling on Kalepa, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Waialeale appeared to be topped in soft snow and low-lying clouds drifted up lazily, like smoke, between the cinder cones.

The rain drew closer, moving like a ragged dark shadow across the Giant, and then arrived as pink haze, fine and light. The drops grew bigger, came down harder, prompting us to take shelter beneath twin banyan trees, and when they subsided we stepped out into the open to find a fat double rainbow emerging from the gray shrouded summit of Makaleha.

The pot of gold is Kauai’s agricultural lands, and the county’s ongoing struggle to determine who should do what on them emerged clearly this week with two issues that came before county officials. One was the farm worker housing bill, and the other was a request for a special management area (SMA) permit to build a “farm dwelling” in Kilauea’s ritzy Seacliff Plantation subdivision.

As The Garden Island reported, Councilman Derek Kawakami’s dream-driven epiphany not only stole Councilman Dickie Chang’s power as the swing vote on the farm worker housing bill, but made passage, previously very much in doubt, appear likely.

Kawakami, who is emerging as the man to watch in Kauai politics, said he had forgotten that his own family’s roots were in farming:

“When I look into the eyes of farmers like Louisa Wooton, when I look into the eyes of farmers like Roy Oyama, when I look into the eyes of farmers like Jerry Ornellas, it reminds me that I’m looking into the eyes of my own ‘ohana,” Kawakami said.

He went on to say he believed the intent of the farmers was “pure from the heart.”

No doubt the intent of those particular farmers, and others, is indeed pure. Problem is, non-farmers now own the bulk of Kauai’s ag land, and their intent is not always so pure.

Take, for example, the case of Steven and Diane Dechka, who own Canadian-based Canpotex Ltd , which claims to be the world’s largest producer of potash. They hired land planner Roland Sagum, who moonlights as the westside’s rep in the state Legislature, to help them get the Planning Commission to approve an SMA permit for their “farm dwelling” at Seacliff.

Sagum claims the 5,930-square-foot house, with its 1,777-square-foot covered lanai, constitutes a farm dwelling because they plan to devote one half acre of their 16.95 acres to fruit trees and one acre to turf.

“All it is is a frigging lawn,” observed one true farmer. “They say they’ll cut it up and sell it, but if there’s no market, or they don’t want to, then they’ll just keep mowing it.”

Ironically, the nearby Kilauea ag park, which was created as a condition of the Seacliff Plantations subdivision to ensure farming could continue in that town, is stalled out because of water issues. Yet these new “farmers” want to irrigate grass and put in a 4,513-square-foot swimming pool.

As The Garden Island reported, Commissioners Herman Texeira and Hartwell Blake were suitably skeptical of this so-called farm dwelling:

“I don’t know why we continue to entertain this anomaly,” he [Blake] said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Even Chairman Caven Raco, an architect, raised an eyebrow:

“We know it’s the state law, we know it’s a farm dwelling. It’s kinda blatantly putting one big house, and saying you’re going to mow the stolons, and do the fruit,” said commission Chair Caven Raco.

“It’s kinda hard to swallow,” he said.

Amazingly, the one person with farm experience on the panel, Commissioner Jimmy Nishida, seemed to have no problem:

“I saw you guys’ farm plan, I thought this is one good solution,” Nishida said. “The pay scale for landscapers tends to be more than agricultural labor.”

It’s yet another distressing stance by Jimmy that brings to mind the lyrics from a song by The Cars: “Jimmy, Jimmy, what’s the matter with you tonight? Are you pretending nothing’s wrong?”

Equally amazing, and distressing, was the way the planning commission’s attorney was going along:

“Why do you call this a farm lot?” asked commissioner Herman Texeira. “I don’t understand it.”

It is a home in connection with a farm, said Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung, advising Texeira to look in the packet of written documents he received that contains the turf-farm plan.

And that brings to mind the comments made by former Mayor and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura at the hearing on the farm worker housing bill, which she helped craft:

Yukimura said the council makes laws, but the mayor and the administrative departments are the ones in charge of enforcing the laws.

“I have to say the track record with respect to vacation rentals and shoreline setbacks; and all of these things haven’t been really good up until now,” Yukimura said. “We really have to ask the administration to step forward and do their part.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the Roland Sagums and Walton Hongs and Joe Brescias and Mike Tresslers of the world have already beaten us to it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Musings: Skimming

It’s that time of year when the sun is rising at its earliest, and Koko and I were down at the beach this morning to greet it, walking across a broad swath of sand washed clean by a very high tide that had receeded to very low.

Above us, clouds whipped across the sky, puffs colliding with wisps, and a pink and blue rainbow formed in one white patch above the sun, which was sending silver shafts down into a gray sea where dozens of boobies were soaring, hovering, skimming the water, looking for fish.

It’s not unlike the process we follow in perusing the net. I’ve been struck in reading comments on this blog and elsewhere by how often people misinterpret what they read, and it seems to me it’s because we’re all doing a lot more skimming.

When I’m reading on-line, I often feel this push to quickly move on to the next thing, which is just a click away, or to switch back and forth between my mail and web pages. When I'm holding printed material, I find it much easier to give it my full attention.

Then I read a quote in The Week that was excerpted from a fascinating article in “Wired” that was excerpted from Nicholas Carr's new book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” The article explored how Internet use is shattering our focus and rerouting our neural pathways:

What kind of brain is the Web giving us? Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

The article goes on to report:

Navigating linked documents, it turned out, entails a lot of mental calisthenics—evaluating hyperlinks, deciding whether to click, adjusting to different formats—that are extraneous to the process of reading. Because it disrupts concentration, such activity weakens comprehension.

So we’re getting much more information, a lot faster, but we’re making less sense of it all, retaining less of what we read. It's sort of like junk food. We consume it and feel full, but have gained no nutrients. And this continues even when we're off line. According to Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity:

[O]ur online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply. As we multitask online, we are “training our brains to pay attention to the crap.”

Once again, we have made ourselves the guinea pigs in a profound experiment before thinking through just what it portends. As Carr concludes:

What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Musings: On Loyalty and Fear

A night of rain made it clear that clouds would obscure any pre-dawn view of Comet C/2009 R1 McNaught but it also freshened up the landscape that Koko and I walked through this quiet new moon morning.

The sky was already shot through with pink that was rapidly retreating, leaving white in its place, and soon I could see the rays of the sun, which was already buried in piles of gray, shining down like a shimmery silver curtain upon the land, causing raindrops on leaves to sparkle and the Haupu range to glow in a distinctive way that I have been unable to describe in words.

Words are powerful, which is why there’s so often an attempt to control them, especially by governments and employers. It’s a topic that’s been at the forefront of my mind ever since I got the ax from MidWeek for criticizing the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is actually a separate company, although both have the same owner.

Then yesterday I happened to tune in to a segment on Democracy Now! about the BP oil spew in the Gulf. The company required fishermen hired to help with the clean up to sign a contract that made talking to the press grounds for termination. Host Amy Goodman caught up with one of the fishermen who signed because he needed the work:

AMY GOODMAN: So why are you talking to me?

GLENN SWIFT: I don’t feel it’s the right thing to shut somebody up, you know, just because you’re working for them. We’re supposed to live in the United States, and we’re supposed to have freedom of speech.

The company later amended the contract to remove the ban, but Amy said many fishermen were still terrified to talk to them, even though they had important things to share, like they hadn’t been allowed to wear masks during the clean up because BP feared it would make the situation look as dangerous as it is. There already have been reports of trained workers wearing protective gear getting sick. So how do you suppose the fishermen with no gear, and a fear of speaking up, are faring?

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is hunting for Julian Assang, founder of Wikileaks, which I imagine is causing him a bit of fear. For its part, the Pentagon fears that Assang plans to publish some 260,000 classified State Department cables dealing with American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The State Department claims their publication would pose a security threat. But would it be to our nation, or to those making billions off the death and destruction?

The cables reportedly were leaked by 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland. Manning, now in custody in Kuwait, is allegedly the same man who gave Wikileaks the controversial video that showed a U.S. military helicopter gunning down unarmed men and firing on a vehicle with children.

He’s likely to not only lose his job, but spend time in prison — a price he apparently is willing to pay because he felt the information he was privy to needed to be made public. I applaud him and Assang and Glenn Swift and all the others who chose not be to silenced by fear.

In following the discussion about my firing on Ian Lind’s blog, I was struck by a comment from Mike Middlesworth, former managing editor of The Advertiser:

We all expect public loyalty from people who take our money.

While I understand and have practiced the concept of company loyalty, I was intrigued by the flip side to that comment. It seems we consumers and taxpayers should also expect loyalty from the corporations and governments that take our money; in other words, to not poison our land and water, make us sick, sell us out, rip us off, kill us.

Or perhaps we're only supposed to expect them to make public displays of loyalty, through their PR and election campaigns, while behind closed doors they're free to make their deals to stick it to us.

More likely, given the climate of fear that the government and corporations has created for the citizenry, we're not expected to have any expectations or complaints at all. And if we do, we're not to publicly voice them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Musings: Real World

The sky was equal parts gray and blue when Koko and I went out walking in a world seemingly populated only by birds, and happy, exuberant ones at that. The clouds bore unusual lines, like parted hair, as they drifted southwest, clearing the way for a showy dawn.

It began with a pink smear that deepened into coral, then shifted to orange and grew, soon staining the entire northeastern sky, casting the pastures and cinder cones and shrouded mountains in shades of soft, shimmery salmon, creating alpenglow in the trees and leaving jewel-like triangles and squares of rich light upon the ground.

And then it was gone.

My tenure with MidWeek newspapers was also short-lived. Just as the premiere Kauai issue was being distributed, I was being told they wished to “sever our professional relationship,” which was the only relationship we had.

It wasn’t me, since I’d already been lauded for my “professionalism and enthusiasm,” or my work, which was termed “outstanding,” but this blog, or more accurately, a critical observation I made about the debut of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which is owned by the same man who owns MidWeek.

“You shouldn’t have called the paper manure,” the messenger told me.

I didn’t. I called it “the hybrid of the two mediocre Honolulu dailies,” which it arguably is. The manure reference was to the lead editorial, or more specifically, a few lines in it:

We will strive mightily to be on the side of angels. We will work constantly to do, and shout, the noble thing.

And as I pointed out to the messenger, their reaction to my comment was proving me true.

But the decision had already made, by “higher ups,” the messenger said

“How high?” I asked.

“All the way to the top,” I was told.

It seems they feared my comment “could affect the paper’s profitability.”

“It really took me by surprise,” I told a friend later.

“Why, because the retribution was so quick?”

“No, that they find me so threatening.”

Besides, I told the messenger, I used to criticize The Advertiser all the time when I wrote for Kauai People, which Tiser published, and they never said a peep.

“Well, this is a whole new order,” I was told.

Apparently. And it got me wondering, if that sort of fealty is required of a lowly freelancer on the Kauai MidWeek, what sort of line-toeing and suck-upping will be expected of the reporters in the Star-Advertiser city room?

After the messenger and I said goodbye, I went out onto the grounds of the low-income rental housing where I work part-time. A resident quickly flagged me down. Her smile was wide and bright, a sharp contrast to the last time I’d seen her, when she’d been anxious and crying, worrying how she would pay her rent. I’d listened, given her Kleenex and a hug and directed her to a place that could assist until her unemployment benefits got sorted out.

“You helped me so much,” she was now saying. “I was so worried and stressed out, it was making me sick. I’d been in a funk for months. I was spiraling down. Getting that month of free rent took all the pressure off. I got my car fixed. A friend came over to help me clean my house and I realized it'd been eight months since I dusted, I was so depressed. What can I ever do to repay you?”

“You just have,” I said, and gave her hug.

Walking away, I recalled the words of the messenger: “This is business, Joan,” I was told. “This is the real world.”

No, I thought. This is the real world.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Musings: On "Manafestation"

I was just putting on my shoes and Koko was already leashed when the rain came, hard and heavy, prompting us to linger on the porch, watching it fall, smelling the anise scent of lauae fern, hearing the splatter-patter on roof and leaves.

The shower departed and we set out walking. The sun, as represented by a lemon-yellow puka in the gray, was behind my right shoulder, while the ghost mountains of Makaleha and Waialeale were straight ahead. The wind was brisk and cool, pushing thin wisps of mist over the Giant, and birds regaled the start of day.

I was thinking of a conversation I had with a Hawaiian friend last night, who said we need to focus not on “manifesting, but manafesting” — bringing the sacred back into our lives.

Waldeen Palmeira tried to do that yesterday in Circuit Court, but Judge Kathleen Watanabe, while expressing her usual sympathy for the plight of Hawaiians and urging her usual remedy —seek relief from the Lege in the form of stricter burial laws — sided with the state and said the Kuhio Highway widening project can go.

What the judge doesn’t seem to understand is that the problem lies not in the law, but deliberate attempts by the state and counties to circumvent it, with Wailua providing two examples of that trend. One is to segment an obviously comprehensive initiative — in this case, the Path, bridge overhaul and road widening — into separate projects so as to avoid conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement and looking at the cumulative impacts.

The other is to conduct a superficial analysis of burials in the hopes of not finding any. This is not done to avoid disturbing iwi, but to ensure that if any are found during construction they are treated as inadvertent discoveries, which puts them under the purview of the State Historic Preservation Division, rather than known burials, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Island Burial Councils.

In reading the paper's report on the hearing, I was struck by these comments from state deputy Attorney General William Wynhoff, the same learned man who argued the state’s case in the Superferry debacle:

Wynhoff said the narrow area to be used for the road-widening has already been “fully developed,” and Palmeira’s assertion that the road would be built over a graveyard “is just not so.”

“If we do find bones they’re going to be treated sensitively,” he said. “We might encounter some bones.”

So it seems that even with all the denials that any burials are there, the state is acknowledging that yes, it very well might find some. But then he claims they’ll be handled “sensitively” — as opposed, say, to sticking them in boxes in a cargo container or state archaeologist Nancy McMahon’s garage, as has been done with previous “inadvertent discoveries” on Kauai — when Hawaiians believe that the very act of uncovering iwi is desecration.

In any case, the judge didn’t need to scold Waldeen for not behaving in proper lawyer-like fshion. For Wynhoff, it’s just another dispassionate day at the public trough defending the state’s right to do whatever. For Waldeen, it’s an agonizing, painful, unpaid attempt to stop the systematic dismantling of her culture. So excuse her for getting a bit emotional and God forbid, interrupting a mighty judge of a colonizing nation.

Moving on to other matters, the Council today is set to again take up the farm worker housing bill. Word is that Kaipo Asing will try to kill it and Jay Furfaro will try to defer it until after the election. I was talking with Farmer Jerry the other day who said the bill was initially intended to help some of the farm workers in Moloaa who are living in marginal conditions – tents, buses, what have you.

It's a noble thought. But I wonder if the bill will actually result in housing being built for these workers, who are living like that because their employers don’t make enough to pay them a decent wage, much less build them a house.

I was talking to a young Hawaiian friend from the North Shore the other day who told me he sometimes goes to the food pantry at Church of the Pacific in Princeville. I was curious, since I run a food pantry at work, and asked him who patronized it.

“It’s all those people that live on the farms, the real skinny ones, the hippies. They no more enough to eat because they get really small wages. You can only eat lettuce for so long.”

Then yesterday I heard one of the hosts on KKCR talking about how he’s raising hardwoods up in Princeville and would like to see the bill passed so he could get some more workers, offer them a break on housing instead of wages.

So how is that going to lead to a better standard of living overall for farm workers?

Meanwhile, rancher Darryl Kaneshiro has recused himself from voting on the bill, but that didn’t stop him from introducing two amendments designed to weaken eligibility requirements.

And word has it that if the bill fails, the county is going to crack down on the illegal structures and substandard living conditions at Moloaa, prompting one farmer to ask, “Why does the county always go after the poor people, the dirt farmers? Why don’t they check out the illegal vacation rentals on ag land, the rich gentleman farmers who are violating their farm dwelling agreements?”

Likely for the same reason that The Garden Island’s publisher, Randy Kozerski, rudely and totally blew off Caren Diamond when she complained about the vicious, libelous, mean remarks that were being left about her in his paper’s comments section because of her stance against vacation rentals.

As a friend observed, “Don’t you think he gets a lot of advertising revenue from realtors? How many ads do you think Caren Diamond has bought?”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Musings: One More Day

The beach is the place where I like to spend my free time. It doesn’t matter that I almost always go to the exact same spot, because it’s different each time I arrive and I’m different each time I leave.

Lately, I’ve been really getting into the sparkle, that little light show that happens when the rays of the rising sun stretch across the sea, bouncing off the water like hard rain. At first glance it seems relatively subdued, but keep watching and the chaos emerges, creating a strobe effect that definitely alters brain waves.

And that got me thinking about how our brain waves have been altered by spending so much time in front of flickering computer screens and TV sets, rather than the flicker of natural light on natural surfaces, like the pattern created by the sun moving through clouds, leaves, and how that has changed us (dulled us?) as human beings.

It’s just another one of the many ways that we’re unwittingly influencing our evolution, and whether that’s a good or bad thing, I can’t say for sure. Besides, we’re all caught up in it now, anyway, just as we are in our dependence on oil.

In recent days, since looking at still photos of wildlife stuck in the Gulf oil spew and slick, I’ve been gazing into that sparkle and thinking about how I would feel if that mess was washing up here, if my walks along the shore required me to wear shoes, if I found not shells on the sand, but oil soaked birds and turtles, if I could no longer swim in the water, eat local fish.

It’s quite clear I’d be despairing, just as the people who live in the Gulf states and interact so closely with the ocean must be.

Yet still I get in my car and drive, flick on the electric lights, throw clothes in the dryer, eat food transported thousands of miles, call upon the magic of search engines working behind the flicker of my computer screen, all the while aware of my remarkable ability to invest in denial of what my very comfy lifestyle actually costs.

Yesterday, while driving and listening to Democracy Now! on the radio, I heard the voices of Alaska natives who had gone to the Grand Bayou, an indigenous community in Louisiana that I never knew existed, to share information and show solidarity with the people there. The Alaskans talked about how they are still feeling the effects of the Valdez spill, some 22 years later, and it wasn’t just in the fisheries, but that some bird species had never returned and there were many long-term health impacts for the workers who had helped clean up the spill.

As for compensation from Exxon:

Well, we got really good compensation: we got the value of about six cents on the dollar. And that’s it. When we went to the Supreme Court finally for our $5 billion jury award they reduced it to $500 million.

Earlier in the show there was a report from Associated Press:

More than half of the federal judges in Gulf Coast districts with pending spill-related lawsuits have financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

Later, I read a really good ProPublica report about how BP’s own internal audits had warned it was disregarding safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it didn’t change its ways. It didn’t, and so 11 of its workers died and the Gulf is horribly fouled and will be for decades, at least, to come.

So I’m digesting all this and thinking of the big, intertwined picture: the immense amounts of money involved, the political and judicial influence, the health and environmental costs, the wars, the destruction, and at the core of it, our unceasing demand for this highly polluting product, which is what allows us and the government we put in charge of watching out for us to look the other way — essentially, do whatever it takes to ensure it keeps flowing.

Because we’ve all bought into the idea that oil = progress and that progress is a good thing. We can have it all — the grapes from Chile, the stainless steel cookware from China, the trip to France, a steady stream of Twitters, the world according to Google. So yes, we’ve got it all, or at least, some of us do. Many of us are living longer, more comfortably, but who and what is dying at our expense?

A friend who is living in a house with a catchment system for water and solar for electricity said she still has all she needs, the only difference is that she must be very conscious of what she uses. And that struck me as a good thing, because one huge problem with our everything anytime we want it modern world is that it’s so easy to glut ourselves when we can’t see the finiteness of the supply, the impact of overuse.

So how do we, as individuals and members of the world’s most consuming society, scale back, decrease our demands, lower our expectations? Because clearly, we can’t really have it all anytime; we’ve just been pretending.

As Faith Gemmil, a Neets’aii Gwich’in, noted:

We can’t allow this industry, which is so polluting, to continue to harm our peoples, but not only us, all peoples. This is not our issue; this is everyone’s issue. Everyone is affected by global warming. Fossil fuel development is the leading human-induced contributing factor of climate change. We’re all dealing with it. And it’s time for us to shift our energy. This spill is a wakeup call. And we need to do it. And that was a promise by Obama. I want to see it fulfilled. This is a wakeup call, America. It’s time to move forward, to change what we’re doing, because our survival as humanity is on the line.

And I know it, and I’m feeling it and thinking about it, and I’m pondering a comment left by a reader who gave up driving and now either rides the bus or walks everywhere and what it would take to make changes in my own life to reduce the impact. And yet in a few minutes I’m going to post this on line and take a shower in water heated by an electric water without a timer and then I’m going to get in my car and drive 20 minutes into work and probably buy something at Costco that has way too much packaging for our staff lunch and later, if all goes well, I’ll burn more gas driving to the beach.

And through it all, the lyrics of Neil Young's classic song about addiction will also be playing in my head:

So easy to go, for one more day….

Monday, June 7, 2010

Musings: Old and New

It started out as a pale kind of morning, with a silvery light coming in through windows left open to a non-existent breeze and a faint rain falling almost imperceptibly when Koko and I went out walking. The air was thick and perfumed with spider lilies and it occurred to me that this is the kind of weather that causes mushrooms to pop out of the cow pies in the many pastures in my neighborhood.

There’s a different sort of manure to be found in the lead editorial of the new Star-Advertiser, which looks and reads exactly like the hybrid of the two mediocre Honolulu dailies that it is. The editorial intones:

It is a milestone day -- heavy with history, with societal significance and with rededication to do right by our island community.

We will strive mightily to be on the side of angels. We will work constantly to do, and shout, the noble thing.

Oh, puhleze.

I’m not shedding any tears over the loss of the smug Advertiser, which was founded by the son of a missionary and taken over by a man who helped oust the monarchy. Do you suppose now we might actually see some fair coverage of the independence/sovereignty movement? Is that cause pono enough “to be on the side of angels?”

I’m not even sad to see Honolulu become a one [mainstream] newspaper town, since in truth, neither paper ever strayed far from the other. But I am bummed that some really good people are jobless right now, a point that was driven home when I read the staffers’ farewell piece in the Advertiser. I would have thought the merger provided an opportunity to compile a crack editorial team with the best from each paper. Instead, a lot of dead, even diseased, wood was kept, while some healthy branches were cut.

But at least the new paper actually has a story from Kauai that didn’t come from The Garden Island. It’s about a revolutionary project that addresses the homeless issue by getting parking lot owners to let the homeless sleep in their cars there, without fear of getting harassed and ticketed by the cops. How benevolent!

Only problem is, they’re trying to find parking lots on the north, east and west sides with access to bathrooms. And you know how rare they are.

The Garden Island, meanwhile, devoted coverage to the complaints of two wahine beyond upset about barking dogs, with Dr. Becky of the Humane Society weighing in for a dog nuisance law.

One of the women, Liz Stevens of Lawai, had a letter to the editor in yesterday’s paper in which she offered the all too familiar lament of someone who visited here and thought she had found paradise, then moved here and discovered it’s actually a real place with all sorts of real problems, including mistreated dogs and mainland transplants who buy rural property with no clue as to the realities of kua`aina life.

Now she’s trying to sell her place and is hoping to close the deal and slide on out of there without disclosing the noise. Nice! But of course she’s not part of the problem.

While we’re on the topic of mainland transplants, I got a copy of the press release, which TGI reprinted, about a ”community dialog” on what it means to be haole in Hawaii. It's being sponsored by a Nonviolent Communication group.

I forwarded it to a local friend, who did a take-off on my “Parallel Universes” theme with this excerpt from a calendar listing:

Lua (Non-Verbal Communication class) practice 7pm Wed Prince Kuhio Park bring sticks

Friday, June 4, 2010

Musings: Deadly Addiction

Purple may be the official Kauai color, but it seems that green and gold are the hues I most frequently see, such as the gold-infused light that caused the green grass of the pastures and green uluhe fern on the slopes of Makaleha to glow as the sun rose in a broad swath of gold in a patchwork quilt sky of pink and blue when Koko and I went out walking this morning.

My usually busy mind was silenced by the trills, tweets, warbles, chirps and coos of birds singing in the bushes, on telephone lines, atop trees, in the fields. It was the sound of life and joy, quite unlike the scene in the Gulf right now, where so many birds are suffocating in oil. Larry Geller posted the link to these extremely disturbing photos on his Disappeared News blog yesterday.

I’ve been avoiding visual images about the oil spew’s impact on wildlife because I knew they would upset me. It was bad enough reading the transcript of wildlife author Carl Safina’s report on Democracy Now! last week about the long term ecological effects of releasing that much oil into the ocean and then mixing it with a chemical dispersant banned in Europe. As Safina noted:

Well, the dispersant is a toxic pollutant that has been applied in the volume of millions of gallons and I think has greatly exacerbated the situation. I think the whole idea of using a dispersant is wrong, and I think it’s part of the whole pattern of BP trying to cover up and hide the body. They don’t want us to see how much oil, so they’ve taken this oil that was concentrated at the surface and dissolved it. But when you dissolve it, it’s still there, and it actually gets more toxic, because instead of being in big blobs, it’s now dissolved and can get across the gills, get into the mouths of animals. The water below the floating oil was water. Now it’s this toxic soup.

That’s what the birds and marine life are living in right now. So while it’s disturbing, it’s good to take a look and be reminded, yeah, this is the really ugly side of oil, the side that we like to pretend doesn’t exist because we enjoy the freedom of driving our cars and switching on an electric light so much.

Meanwhile, in another expression of our deadly addiction, a new study shows the amount of ice covering the Arctic Sea is smaller than it has been in 5,000 years, and shrinking fast.

"The current reduction in Arctic ice cover started in the late 19th century, consistent with the rapidly warming climate, and became very pronounced over the last three decades," the study states. "This ice loss appears to be unmatched over at least the last few thousand years and [is] unexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities."

And you know that's affecting more than a few species — perhaps even pushing them into extinction.

Interestingly, another study of low-lying Pacific Islands indicates that islands may have “a natural ability to respond to rising seas by accumulating coral debris from the surrounding reefs.”

But the two scientists said islanders still faced serious challenges from climate change, particularly if the pace of sea level rises were to overtake that of sediment build-up.

The fresh groundwater that sustained villagers and their crops could be destroyed. "The land may be there but will [the islands] still be able to support human habitation?" Prof. [Paul] Kench said.

That's no small point for us living here in Hawaii, and it seems it's the point that’s so often missed in our abstract, intellectual, detached discussions (and denials) of global warming.

The planet won’t be destroyed. But its ability to support life as we know it — and us — very well could be.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Musings: Things to Think About

Up and out when when others were mostly asleep, Koko and I encountered the pure blackness of a night where the moon had not yet risen and the stars were extinguished by a thick blanket of fleece.

Morning arrived similarly subdued, with a streak of clear light sandwiched between gray layers in the east and the quilting that covered the sky tinted pale orange. In the distance, lavender clouds were crawling all over Waialeale and it was hard to predict just what the day might bring.

It’s also hard to predict what the future might bring for humankind. While many folks seem to be either in denial about the challenges we face, others think science, engineering and technology will save the day. In short, we’ll be able to invent our way out of our woes, especially in the area of energy.

This idea was laid to rest in a recent article in The New Yorker on inventor Saul Griffith, who estimated that the human race currently consumes energy at an average rate of about 16 trillion watts. To cap greenhouse gas at a level that would result in a global temperature increase of only two degrees Celsius would require a dramatic shift to renewable and non-carbon based sources.

And doing that, Griffith said, would require building the equivalent of all the following: a hundred square metres of new solar cells, fifty square metres of new solar-thermal reflectors and on Olympic swimming pool’s volume of genetically engineered algae (for biofuels) every second for the next twenty-five years; one three-hundred-foot diameter wind turbine every five minutes; one hundred-megawatt geothermal-powered steam turbine every eight hours and one three-gigawatt nuclear power plant every week.

“Right now, everyone sees climate change as a problem in the domain of scientists and engineers,” Griffith told me. “But it’s not enough to say that we need some nerds to invent a new energy source and some other nerds to figure out a carbon-sequestration technology — and you should be skeptical about either of those things actually happening. There are a lot of ideas out there, but nothing nearly as radical as green-tech hype.

Guess that's why we're just sticking with oil and coal and pretending it'll all be OK.

That same issue had another article, on Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1831 journey to America, that included an excerpt from his writings about the way in which America was acquiring Indian lands. It jumped out at me, because it reflected the same approach America used in taking the Hawaiian Kingdom:

…he notes that America is expert at talking a noble language while committing ignoble deeds. The extermination of the Indians has been done “tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without spilling blood, without violating a single one of the great principles of morality in the eyes of the world.”

On a related topic, Dawson, a frequent, thoughtful presence in the comments section of KauaiEclectic, forwarded a link to this article with the comment:

No wonder the "we rule the world, get over it" commentators on your blog are sounding so strident!

And changing the subject entirely, a survey shows that many married women in America would rather sleep, watch a movie, read or do just about anything rather than have sex with their husbands.

Just a few things to think about this quiet morning.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Musings: Invasion of the Vacation Rentals

As this graphic shows (click to enlarge), there’s a very good reason why some folks are hoppin’ mad about vacation rentals. They’re all frickin’ over the place, especially on the North Shore.

The red dots represent the transient vacation rentals (TVRs) that have already been approved by the county, based on its own records. As you can see, there’s a sizable number in Kekaha and Lawai, but the biggest concentration is on the North Shore.

In fact, there are so many that Caren Diamond had to place dots on top of each other and run them out into the water and up Na Pali Coast in order to fit them all onto the map.

“I do want to do it over again with smaller dots,” she said. Actually, she may need to use a fine-tipped red pen.

At the Council meeting where Caren presented this, Councilman Jay Furfaro said, incorrectly, “Oh, you mapped Princeville.”

No, the shocking fact is that these are all TVRs outside the visitor destination areas (VDA) where they are allowed. In other words, these are the TVRs that are not in the designated resort areas, but instead have turned residential neighbors into de facto resorts.

The blue dots represent TVRs on ag land that applied for permits, but have not yet been granted approval. They are the ones that would be allowed under the bill now before the Council.

And they do not, by any stretch of the imagination, represent all the TVRs currently operating on ag land. Many ag land TVR owners did not apply the last time around because the bill specifically excluded them. Why would you apply if you didn’t think you could get approved?

The bill pending before the Council will open the door to all of them, so long as they pay their $1,500.

So we don’t really know how many more ag land TVR owners will apply if the bill is passed, and how many more blue dots will be added to ag land that is supposed to be occupied by farm dwellings. Just as we don’t know how many of the other illegal TVR owners who couldn’t make it the last time around because they had various zoning violations will re-apply under the new bill, which does away with pesky inspections and other compliance requirements.

The county’s rationale for allowing more TVRs is that it risks getting sued if it doesn’t. Yet somehow it does not fear the liability of funneling thousands of hapless vacationers into a tsunami zone with only one way out and no evacuation plan.

As this map clearly shows, the TVR scene is out of control. It’s time to start working on attrition, not addition.