Monday, January 31, 2011

Musings: Powerful and Powerless

Venus struggled through clouds that left her murky when Koko and I went out walking in the star-encrusted cusp of dawn — me still missing Pa`ele, who this weekend went to a home selected by his owner, but Koko glad to be solo, and so indisputably top dog again. A slivery silvery moon that had been dancing with Venus the past two mornings today slept in and so found her well out of reach when it finally crested the Giant as the sky turned bright.

The neighborhood was quiet, unlike late yesterday afternoon when Koko and I sauntered through the hazy sunshine wrought by southwest winds and heard the whoops and hollers — some joyous, other mournful — that characterize men watching football. The $9 billion “sport” got some extra attention yesterday because dog abuser Michael Vick was starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

The Star-Advertiser ran an Associated Press article about the slow recovery of some of the dogs rescued from his fighting ring, while Time magazine had a weird piece, obviously written by a football fan, that reluctantly acknowledged Vick’s very bad deeds, even as it canonized the man:

Vick exited prison and worked harder than ever, transforming himself into a better quarterback than he was before his punishment. No matter what you think of Vick personally, that's an act of atonement.

You can still hate Michael Vick. But even if you do, you can say this guilt-free: by becoming a star for the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick, in a real sense, has been redeemed.

So far as I’m concerned, there’s justice in Vick returning to a game that has a high probability of leaving him brain damaged and crippled for the entertainment of others — the Times piece actually had a link to a video that showed what football does to the brain. The players, that is, not the watchers.

But what really got me was this statement:

He spent more time in prison than many people do for abuse of humans.

It’s not only patently false — anyone found guilty of systematically torturing and murdering humans for sport, and financing a ring that allowed him to profit off the practice for five years, would most certainly spend more than 23 months in prison — it perpetuates the belief that is at the root of factory farms, animal experimentation, discrimination against women, gays and people of color, imperialism and destruction of the environment.

And that’s the attitude that it’s really not all that big of a deal to do anything we want, even bad stuff, to whomever or whatever we think is beneath us for our own selfish ends and purposes. Which is why I’m still bothered by the image of that seal getting mugged on the beach by scientists who hold invariably themselves superior to the animals they “study.” I wrote that when the seal’s eyes met mine, they conveyed terror, but that wasn’t the right word. It was unwilling subjugation that I saw, a silent plea for help that I couldn’t provide that made me angry — angry at the men who were dominating the seal, angry at the woman who was justifying their actions, angry at a society that thinks it’s OK to mistreat and impose our will on those and that over which we hold power — especially when we claim we’re doing it for their own good, or worse, in God (or Christ’s) name.

Which brings me to Sen. Ron Kouchi’s sorry ass excuse, as reported by The Garden Island, for voting against the civil union bill — legislation that Gary Hooser fought so hard to get approved. Rather than admit he’s a homophobe pandering to fundamental Christians, Ron claims he’s worried that the bill doesn’t give same-sex couples the full range of legal responsibilities as married couples:

“It doesn’t say anything regarding to policy, procedure or method of dissolving these unions. Therefore it doesn’t say anything about how to deal with paternity,” Kouchi said.

There are some issues that were not addressed in HB 444, according to Kouchi. “They still are not addressed in (SB) 232.” Some of those issues deal with division of assets, he said.

Since Ron professes to be so concerned about making sure the law is consistent in the responsibilities it imposes, perhaps he’ll champion some changes in the medical marijuana law, which treats people with a marijuana prescription entirely different than those prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. Check it out. No other patient is forced to pay $25 to register with the Department of Safety, which scrutinizes their application and retains the right to check out their home to make sure they don’t have more than they’re allowed; abstain from using their medication in certain places; risk getting fired if their physician-prescribed medicine is found in a drug test or be denied any insurance coverage of both their physician visit and medicine. It’s totally discriminatory.

Finally, for those who don’t read comments, Councilman Mel Rapazo left this one on Friday’s post, after I raised the question of just how many people Mayor Bernard Carvalho has hired, what they’re doing, and how much they’re getting paid:

Joan, on December 12, 2011 [he corrected it to 2010], I asked the Administration to provide a matrix of all new and/or reallocated positions that were created during the recent "restructure." I was most interested in the fiscal impact to the budget. After numerous follow-up requests, I have received nothing. I will be asking Chair Furfaro to place this matter on the agenda in February if I don't hear from them by the end of January. Pretty simple request in my opinion.

Yup, pretty simple. That is, unless the release of such information would prove politically embarrassing. Perhaps Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum, so worried about the County Clerk’s pay raise and the process by which he received it, will join you in pressing for more accountability from the mayor’s office. Unless, of course, they were just grinding a political ax.

Oh, and who is the mayor's father's girlfriend? [See the above mentioned comments section.]

And does anybody know if Ron Agor is actually still living on Kauai, or who serves on the board of the Kauai Visitors Bureau? Just a few questions posed by readers....

Friday, January 28, 2011

Musings: Mish Mash

The sun is finally starting to rise a bit earlier, though almost imperceptibly; but still, we’ve turned the corner and the days are now, to my delight, growing longer on either end.

President Obama yesterday offered the tiniest inkling that he may be prepared to ease, if not end, the long-running and totally failed “war on drugs.” In an on-line forum, former deputy sheriff and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition spokesman MacKenzie Allen asked the Prez whether it’s time to discuss legalizing and regulating drugs. Obama responded that it is "an entirely legitimate topic for debate," and while he is not in favor of legalization, he sees drug abuse as a public health issue. He went on to say that a shifting of resources is required, away from the traditional approach of incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders.

But he still hasn’t put his money where his mouth is. The Obama administration continues to favor prisons and prosecution over treatment and prevention in the same two-to-one funding budget ratio of the Bush era.

Meanwhile, as Democracy Now! reported yesterday:

In Bolivia, thousands of people marched to the U.S. embassy in the capital city La Paz Wednesday in protest of the Obama administration’s opposition to the Andean practice of chewing coca leaves. The United Nations is currently reviewing a Bolivian proposal to remove a clause of a 1961 U.N. convention that declared the coca leaf an illegal narcotic alongside a number of hard drugs including cocaine and heroin. The United States has said it will file a formal objection to removing the coca leaf ban. Bolivia’s Deputy Minister of Coca, German Loza, called the movement to legalize the coca leaf "a social revolution."

German Loza: "This march is a social revolution, an action in defense of the coca leaf and its chewing, which has never had harmful effects on people’s health. That is why we can’t continue to be subjected to the powers of the international community that ignores the nature of the coca leaf."

It’s yet another example of the way America meddles in the affairs of its neighbors to the south, often with violent results. As Aljezeera reports, Chile is finally launching its own investigation into the death of President Salvador Allende, who was found shot in the head during a bloody U.S.-backed coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power on Sept.11, 1973. His death had been ruled a suicide.

Henry Kissinger, US secretary of state under then president Richard Nixon, made quite clear what US intentions were after Allende's election.

"The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves ..." Kissinger said at the time.

Which leads me to an article in the local paper about the mayor signing the bill that ends county furloughs. It seems that cutting county workers saved the county about $2.3 million — an amount that will soon be burned up on pay for Bernard’s top heavy administration, which includes a number of new and questionable management positions.

I heard that he was recently accompanied to a Council meeting by a man who identified himself as his protocol officer, and whose duties include making sure the mayor gets to his appointments on time. And maybe that he's wearing the right lei?

Doesn’t Bernard have a secretary? Or a smart phone? What about Beth?

It would be really nice if the Administration came clean about who has been hired by the mayor’s office, how much we’re paying them and exactly what they’re doing to justify their generous salaries.

It would also be nice if KIUC revealed to us, the owners of the cooperative, just how much it plans to pay Green Energy for the power generated by burning albezia and other wood. According to an article in The Garden Island:

David Bissell, KIUC acting president and chief executive officer, said the co-op needs to maintain discretion in pricing and therefore would not reveal the price KIUC will pay Green Energy per kilowatt-hour (kwh) under the PPA [Power Purchase Agreement].

Meanwhile, Green Energy is also trying to get federal grant money for the project and has gotten a sweet deal to lease state land, which is actually the so-called “ceded lands,” for its project. Are they getting tax breaks, too?

Which leads me to wonder, how much is this biomass energy project really costing us? Especially if the project never does fly, and the incredibly invasive albezia they’re growing continues to spread and destroys the watershed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Musings: Burial Disturbances

A white moon, waning toward a wedge, was still bright enough to light our way as Koko, Pa`ele and I followed our shadows mauka this morning. Scorpion slithered his way toward twinkling Venus and cobweb clouds drifted across the entire sparkling scene, eventually burying Waialeale in a deep pile of swirling gray.

I’ve got a story in Honolulu Weekly this weekly about the way burials are being handled at historic Kawaiahao Church on Oahu, and how the situation is yet another chapter in the growing trend toward usurping the power of Island Burial Councils. I previously wrote about how that played out with Joe Brescia’s house at Naue and in regard to the Honolulu rail project.

Just for the heck of it, you might want to check out how the Star-Advertiser handled the story, which inexplicably ran in the business section. Their article was prompted by a press release from the church, which was prompted by my investigations into the issue. It’s a good example of how so much of what the supposedly objective, impartial mainstream media “reports” is spun by public relations efforts.

But fortunately we still have a few independent sources of news.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to cover everything in the article, like how former Gov. Linda Lingle, even as she was restricting funds elsewhere, signed off on a $1 million grant in aid for the church. The church was required to spend the money by June 30, 2010, but in August, after the funds had lapsed, asked for an extension, which was recommended by the State Historic Preservation Division — the same agency that approved the questionable treatment of the iwi. SHPD claimed the multipurpose room that the church wants to build will help the agency’s own mission by preserving archival records, even though those very same records were unable to identify the 69 iwi that have been dug up.

I also didn’t have room to report how Kamuela Kala`i viewed the iwi, which were wrapped in muslin and stored in baskets on shelves in the basement of the church:

To say it felt eerie to view the kupuna in lauhala baskets stacked on shelves is to put it lightly. It felt tremendously sad to see them in this state and even more troubling to see empty lauhala baskets right on the opposite side of the room - waiting to be filled with more iwi.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Musings: Trails and Seals

I went over to Lepeuli Beach (Larsen's) yesterday to see for myself what was happening after receiving emails that Bruce Laymon was preparing to fence off the edge of Waioli property that borders the official public access — an action that would prevent people from taking the “easy” trail down to that beach. It was a sunny, stunningly stellar day, with big surf and soaring albatrosses and sleeping monk seals and spouting whales, which likely explains why some 40 cars — at least two-thirds of them rentals — were in the parking lot of what used to be a secluded, lightly used stretch of wilderness coastline. Auwe! Anyway, posts have been erected that, if fencing is stretched between them, will indeed prevent people from walking across Waioli land after leaving the parking lot. Instead they will have to take the county access down to the beach and then walk along the sand for a bit before picking up the old dirt road — or is it an ala loa? — that Bruce no longer can fence off parallel to the shoreline since surrendering his Conservation District Use Permit. It’s not surprising that Bruce appears to be moving ahead to erect the fence at the trailhead. Back in 2000, Waioli attorney Don Wilson sent a letter asking the county to "install a fence, or place boulders, along the pedestrian pathway that begins in the parking area and continues on to the beach, in order to restrict the public's access to Waioli Corporation's adjacent property. The entire length of the road from old Kuhio Highway to the parking area overlooking the beach is fenced, but the portion of the County's property located beyond the parking area is not fenced, nor is the County-owned pathway clearly marked, and public access from the parking area to the beach is therefore not now restricted to the publicly-owned property." 

It seems it would be difficult to prevent Waioli from fencing its land unless the “easy trail” is determined to be part of the traditional ala loa that once ran between Waipake and Kealia — a question that is not likely to be resolved any time soon, unless someone is willing to foot the legal bill to press it in court. While I fully trust Linda Akana Sproat’s recollection of the ala loa route, since she and her family actually walked it to access fishing and limu picking areas, I recently learned that Patricia Hanwright has hired an attorney to make the case that the ala loa runs much farther inland, well mauka of her land. The Hanwright parcel, shown here, is a key segment because it lies between the coastal trail that runs from Moloaa Bay across Thomas McCloskey’s land and the public access to Lepeuli. After swimming at the northern end of the beach, I was heading back when I spotted four men and two women mugging an endangered Hawaiian monk seal that I’d previously seen sleeping peacefully among the rocks. The seal’s face was covered with a net, but its eyes met mine and they conveyed terror, which left me with a sickeningly disturbed feeling that still lingers. Although signs erected around a snoozing seal further down the beach warned the public to stay away, this group was allowed to conduct the equivalent of an alien abduction— taking blood and fat samples, swabbing all its orifices and gluing a radio transmitter onto its back — because they are federal scientists striving to protect the seal, or at least help us humans figure out how to do so -- provided it doesn't cause our species too much inconvenience. While I understand the NOAA and NMFS folks have the very best intentions — which, as we all know, also pave the proverbial road to hell — if you check out the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for studying the dwindling seal population, you really have to wonder just how much trauma will be inflicted upon these native marine mammals in an effort to “recover” them. 

Some of the more controversial proposals include vaccinating the seals against diseases they don’t currently have and conducting various hazing activities — like administering electric shocks and making big noise — as part of a “behavior modification” effort aimed at “discouraging undesirable seal behavior in the Main Hawaiian Islands, such as interactions with humans or domestic animals.” No mention is made of shocking errant people or dogs that venture too close to the seals, however. Researchers also would continue to attach flipper tags, move juveniles to various locales around the Hawaiian archipelago and relocate aggressive males. It’s all designed to “promote the long-term viability of the Hawaiian monk seals in the wild” and “allow for reclassification to threatened status, and ultimately, removal from listing under the Endangered Species Act.” But while there were plenty of ideas for aggressively messing with the seals, I didn’t see anything that required humans to take any significant, sacrificial steps, like reducing commercial fishing quotas, cleaning up the ocean, slowing global warming and its associated sea level rise or halting Navy war games in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the seals’ primary breeding area. 

A friend who regularly messes with albatrosses — in the name of science, of course — justified her actions by saying, “We play devil so often, it’s nice to have a chance to play God.” But after witnessing the vigorous resistance of albatross and seals to our efforts to help them, I have to wonder if we really know the difference, and why we don’t devote instead significantly more efforts to altering the human behavior that is proving so deleterious to both our own survival and the wild creatures that share the planet.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Musings: Changing Consciousness

A light rain ushered in the chilly dawn and heightened the scent of angel’s trumpet and eucalyptus when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. The sky slowly brightened, revealing patches of blue overhead, but the sun preferred to stay snuggled under its dove-grey quilt, sending out just enough rays to make the summit of Makaleha glow green. The dogs poked around in their usual way, sniffing the various remains of road kill, predominantly chickens and mynah birds.

A friend called on Saturday afternoon to report he’d just witnessed two women tourists in a white Mustang convertible run down a nene as a pair of the state birds crossed that wide-open stretch of highway in Mana. He was headed out to surf the Westside and signaled for the car to slow down, but it didn’t, until it was right upon the birds, and by then, it had killed one.

The car proceeded on, so he turned around and chased it down and when he finally got the driver to pull over, asked if she knew she’d just killed a federally endangered species. Yes, said the driver, but we didn’t mean to. He then returned to move the bird off the road, and said the mate was still hanging around, forlornly.

He called to ask me to what to do, and upon my advice made a report to the police, which required a trip back to the Waimea substation, and called the DOCARE hotline — actions that cut into his surf time by a good 45 minutes. But that's no problem when you've got the aikea, rather than the ainokea, attitude.

I was hard at work on a story, so on his way home, he dropped me off some dinner he’d picked up at a restaurant in Lihue.

“Good thing they put it in this illegal plastic bag,” he said, pulling out the dripping styrofoam box, “because it had huli on the seat.”

“Maybe they’d go for getting plastic bags back in return for using biogradable containers,” I suggested, which turned the conversation to my last post. It elicited some interesting comments, like the one that read:

On Maui their landfill is in the middle of the saddle and thousands of bags blow onto the aina in plane sight. Maui County budgets $100,000.00 a year to clean them up because they are visible. On Kauai our bags blow from the landfill into the ocean where they are not as visible. The bag ban is the right thing to do and will have a big impact.

And that got me wondering, isn’t it the county’s responsibility to make sure that stuff thrown in the dump stays there? And if plastic bags are getting out, what else might be escaping into the ocean, and soon the neighborhoods of Hanamaulu if the new dump gets approved there?

I also found it intriguing that the plastic bag ban is seen by some as yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of locals vs. haoles:

Guys like Ben Sullivan, Tim Bynum, and all these environmentalists are so out of touch with our way of life because they are not from here. They have your typical "missionary" menatlity. Let's save the natives from themselves. Do us a favor and go save your hometown. Local people here already know how to recycle. We have been doing it before by using it in our trashcans. Surfers and watermen use it for their clothes. Gardeners use it to bring fruits over to the neighbors. This law is just a politcal statement. The impact is minimal. Ohhh this is a first step. Please....Ben Sullivan and Tim Bynum and friends, my advice to you. Go hangout with some real locals instead of just socializing within your little social circle. Then maybe you will know a little about our community. You mainland style is to stuff your crappy progresive beliefs down our throats. But really, all you are here for is to take advantage of our Aloha.

But my friend who called about the nene and brought me dinner is a local, and he thinks the bag ban is “well-intentioned,” even though he doesn’t recycle or bring a cloth tote to the store. So it’s really hard to generalize about people and their beliefs and behavior.

I told him I’d been thinking of the comment that John Harder made, about how no one ever has a reason to buy bottled water and so it might be the next item targeted.

“There are so many things that no one really a reason to buy,” I said, “like disposable razors and disposable lighters and Hummers and 8,000-square-foot homes, and straws, unless you’re an invalid. But just how much do you want government to intrude into people’s lives?”

“Isn't that the Tea Partiers line?” he asked.

Yes, and I hear they want to cut defense spending, too.

I prefer to educate, not legislate, and offer incentives for people to change their behavior, which is more of an anarchist, rather than Tea Party, approach. And that brings to mind a thoughtful comment left on another post:

Much of the literature on the tragedy of the commons focuses on saving the global commons through increased centralization and regulation, at the expense of the individual's autonomy and psychological sense of community. "Utopian" speculation in general and anarchist political analysis in particular are necessary correctives to misplaced attempts to merely rearrange the elements of the status quo rather than to radically alter it in a direction more in keeping with both survival and human dignity.

In other words, the only way the world is going to change is through a change in consciousness. And that’s not something you can legislate.

Still, as one reader noted about the plastic bag ban in an email:

It is a start at getting us used to changing our behavior. Maybe the "feel good" aspect and the visibility of this change has the advantage of making us feel good about actually doing ... anything and greases the mental skids a bit for more changes of greater consequence (and maybe greater inconvenience) in the future.

I know there is a long way to go, but I still see this as a step in the right direction. You know the old "journey of a thousand miles..." saying. I guess it isn't all that important if the first step is a big one or a small one. It was the getting up and getting ready to take that first step that was significant. We just have to be sure we don't sit back down now before the second step.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Musings: Ode to the Plastic Bag

I have a small stash in a drawer in my kitchen, and as is the nature of stashes, I am hoarding it, because who knows when I might get a plastic bag with handles again?

Actually, I did get one from a rogue merchant last weekend, after they were banned on Jan. 11 in an effort to reduce waste and protect the environment, concepts which I wholeheartedly support but remain unconvinced will in any meaningful way be achieved by prohibiting merchants from handing us our purchases in a plastic bag with handles.

Because I can still get baggies, both Ziplock and re-sealable, and produce/meat bags and 30-gallon garbage bags and kitchen trash bags — an item that for the first time in memory is on my shopping list because I need something in which to place my rubbish, small though the amount may be, given that I already practice the concepts of reduce, re-use and recycle, because ya know, paper bags just don’t cut it for wet, sloppy garbage.

Which got me wondering if the proponents of the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance gave any thought to how many more plastic bags will be bought now that the free ones have been banned, because paper and reusable totes are not especially effective for transporting things in the rain or wet swimsuits or fresh fish or bloody meat (which I know a good environmentalist is not supposed to eat, but don’t tell that to canine carnivores like Pa`ele and Koko) or condensation-covered six packs of whatever or plate lunches, what with the gravy and juice prone to slop over the edges. And why, pray tell, were the ubiquitous foam take out containers allowed to endure, especially when there are biodegradable alternatives? Or for that matter, the little pieces of green plastic that adorn fish fillets sold in the market? Or the foam containers they rest on or the plastic wrap that seals them?

I understand that we have a waste problem on this island, what with the Kekaha landfill already overburdened, but it is hard for me to see how prohibiting plastic bags will significantly reduce the load, especially when all the babies are generating 10 to 20 dirty diapers each per day, and doesn’t one Pampers take up a lot more space at the dump than a plastic bag? But I suppose no one wanted to take on the mamas.

And then there’s all the waste associated with our main industries of tourism (ever seen how many plastic bags of trash come off a plane?) and construction. I used to wash out plastic baggies, and still do if they’re not too funky, but after watching a $5 million house being built, and seeing entire dumpsters filled with plastic sheeting, it kind of put my efforts into perspective.

The day the ban became effective, I went into Big Save and asked the cashier how things were going and she said that even when folks had a small purchase, they wanted one of the paper bags with handles, and in those cases, the cashier had to charge, because they are too expensive to be handed out willy nilly.

And that got me thinking of how the plastic bag ban hits hardest the small merchants and sunshine market farmers we are all supposed to be supporting, as in “buy local,” but Costco, meanwhile, keeps on importing containers full of stuff covered in hard plastic packaging, some of which is recyclable and much of which is not. Then they put your purchases into one of their cardboard boxes, many more of which, I’m sure, end up in the trash than otherwise would if Costco, like other businesses, were paying for their disposal.

I also got to wondering how much more fossil fuel will be burned and carbon emissions generated by shipping over those paper bags and cloth totes, which are far heavier than their plastic counterparts, and that doesn’t even factor in the possibility of whale strikes and other marine damage and pollution generated by the shipping industry, or the toxic effects of paper mills and growing cotton, or the sweatshop conditions of the places that sew those re-usable bags or the water and soap required to wash them. And then there are the cheapo totes, like the one given to me that already has ripped handles, rendering it essentially useless and so eventually destined for the landfill. Which is all to say, there is nothing pure or free of impact out there, so let’s not pretend that even a lofty concept like BYOB is somehow environmentally benign.

Yes, I know, or at least, I heard someone on the radio say, it's a start. But why, I keep wondering, start there?

I read the Mid-Week article on Zero Waste Kauai’s John Harder, who helped push the plastic bag ban through, and he was quoted as saying the bags are a major source of roadside litter, but as a person who daily walks the roads, I can tell you that while I see lots of ketchup packets and foam coffee cups and countless candy wrappers, I rarely encounter a plastic bag. But I do see people using them to pick up dog-doo, for which they are extremely effective, though the plastic bags that hold the newspapers tossed on island driveways each Wednesday work even better, and they, for some inexplicable reason, have not been banned, even though I see so many of them transformed directly into litter.

And while I’ve seen the heart-rending photo of the turtle with a blue plastic bag in its mouth, I must say that as an almost daily beach-goer, I do not often see plastic grocery bags there, either, aside from the odd one or two that may hold the smelly remnants of frozen bait squid left by a fisherman, and those I use to pick up some of the aforementioned dirty diapers and hard plastic, whose use will be allowed to continue unabated, though I have seen with my own eyes on Midway the carcasses of albatross chicks that never got a chance to fly because they were so weighted down, starved or dehydrated by the lighters and toothbrushes and bottle caps and other plastic crap that filled their stomachs.

Getting back to John Harder, the article had him saying that no one ever has a reason to buy bottled water, and so they may be the next item targeted, and while I do not buy that product myself, I wondered if they were also planning to go after all the plastic bottles that hold juice and soda and vitamin water and sports drinks, etc., or just water. Because I see a lot of beverage containers at the beach and along the road, even though each one is worth a nickel, a fee that was imposed supposedly to prevent them from ending their lives as litter. And will the single-use foam ice chests found in the backseats and trunks of so many cars rented by visitors, and the plastic bags of ice that fill them, also be drummed off the island?

Because while I’m all for the concept of malama `aina and I love the critters even more than most humans and I am fully aware of the scourge upon the world that is plastic, it seems to me that going after plastic bags is a feel good measure that directs a lot of time and energy and money into something that, in the overall scheme of things, won’t amount to a whole heck of a lot, while diverting attention away from the bigger, tougher issues, like how to wean ourselves from our addiction to the consumerism that plastic shopping bags — and totes and paper bags, too — represent and how to transform our economy into something that is not wholly dependent on bringing people, fuel and stuff from places far away.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Musings: Tribal

The moon is full today, though that fact was easy to miss in the thick morning murk that blotted out the heavens, yet left Waialeale clear, a pale ghost mountain in the hazy distance. The dogs and I waited for a while to walk, hoping for more light, which the sky finally squeezed out, in shades of gold and red, but just around its eastern edges.

I haven’t said much about Pa`ele, the new dog in my house, partly because he came to me in a rather sad way, which leaves his future a bit uncertain. His owner was recently thrown in jail for what appears to be an extended stay, leaving a teenaged son and a two-year-old dog, both very sweet and looking for a permanent home that hasn’t yet been assured for either. I offered to keep Pa`ele until things got sorted out, and though it’s unclear if they will, or anytime soon, I didn’t have the heart to see the dog taken to the Humane Society or the boy faced with another loss. He wasn't ready to let go.

It’s yet another one of the situations I encounter regularly — difficult situations that are compounded by the restricted options that come from being poor, and even if your relatives want to take you in, if they’re receiving a housing subsidy they have to jump through numerous hoops before you can legally live with them, which means going to Legal Aid, which is overburdened, and so a call for an appointment might mean a 20-minute wait on the phone, whose minutes are bought with a prepaid card that might not get refilled for a good while because cash is perpetually short.

Then there is the man who had a good job, but lost it, and has been struggling to find another, unsuccessfully, and meanwhile he was jerked around by unemployment, which doesn’t even kick in for four weeks sometimes, as if most people can go that long without any income. He finally started to get back on his feet when his unemployment benefits were cut, leaving him unable to pay his rent, and when he got word of a part-time job, he had to borrow money for the gas to get to it and in the meantime, he’s eating meagerly with donations from the Food Bank because his food stamp application got lost in the shuffle of moving the office over to Waimea.

I wish those were the only two situations I could report, but they are not and each and every day I see people struggling to survive, desperate over financial worries that have no easy solution, if any, and many of them are the working poor, who make too much to get any support, yet not enough to live without perpetual anxiety.

Meanwhile, we’re spending trillions on war, and I often find myself thinking, there’s got to be a better way....

Then I went to the Hindu monastery for a story and was reminded again of how they live together harmoniously, in a communal existence of 20 monks, in which they are pretty much self-sufficient, producing most of their food and making their clothes and dividing up the tasks required to keep the extensive grounds beautiful and conduct their other worthwhile, mostly charitable, endeavors.

What was their secret? I asked Palaniswami, one of the head monks, who answered, with a beatific smile, "We live a sort of tribal life.”

“If you’re part of something bigger, it’s much easier to face the world,” he explained. “It’s so enriching for people to be part of a group. It’s like an extended family. It’s such an effective way to live. Maybe we’ll go back to that one day.”

And I thought of how we’ve created a so-called safety net designed to keep people from ending up in the poor house or the gutter, and it works, sort of, but not really well, and it doesn’t actually solve the deeper problems, but merely applies a band-aid, which often falls off, and meanwhile, we’re becoming more isolated, more separate from one another, connected through social networks rather than social systems, thinking we’re progressing when really, we’re missing a very obvious answer, one that worked for humans for thousands of year: decentralization and a return to the tribe.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Musings: Somebody's Watching You

I knew the moon was out there, because hours earlier I’d seen it peeking through the trees against a backdrop of stars made faint by its brilliance, but by pre-morning, clouds had reduced it to a false dawn in the west, where rays of muted light fanned out across a leaden sky.

A few things have caught my eye recently, and warrant mention here, like the fact that the County Council reappointed Jimmy Nishida as the mayor’s “environmental” representative on the Planning Commission. Remember when we fought to have those various categories instituted, thinking they would ensure the commission wasn’t entirely dominated by developers’ lackeys?

Also noticed that the mayor has appointed former Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro to the Water Board. Seems this is one arena where the Administration has fully embraced the concept of recycling. Ever get the feeling that the same, small group of people run everything on the island?

On a related note, the County Council’s Economic Development & Renewable Energy Strategies Committee on Thursday will be discussing whether to give the Kauai Visitors Bureau $200,000 — that’s in addition to the $1 million extra the county gave the agency last year, and on top of the $2 million it gets from the state — to promote an island already known around the world. According to an article in The Garden Island, KVB Director Sue Kanoho said $70,000 of that will be spent promoting the eastside in a “kama`aina campaign.” Oh, and $12,000 (6 percent) will go to “administrative fees,” as in "we’ll charge you to spend your money."

Among those supporting the allocation were, no surprise, Hawaiian Airlines. Why is it that the visitor industry doesn’t pay for all of its own ads and promotions, like every other business sector on the island? And why is the KVB going to spend $33,000 marketing the “Kauai Made” program — aside from the fact that its creator, mayoral assistant Beth Tokioka, is Sue’s best friend? Compare that to the Kauai Grown program, which got just $5,000 from the county — perhaps because it wasn’t the brainchild of the mayor’s brain.

Moving on, I got a report from peace activist Jim Albertini that folks attending a recent public hearing on the Army’s proposed expansion of the Big Island’s Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) were overwhelming opposed to the plans. That came just as the Army announced it was acceding to community concerns and so will halt live fire training at Makua, on Oahu.

Instead, the Army will conduct it at PTA.

The Big Island community concerns include the very real fear that blowing up the depleted uranium on the range turns it into deadly DU oxide dust — a concern that prompted the Hawaii County Council to pass a resolution on July 2, 2008 calling for a complete halt to all live-fire training and other activities that create dust at PTA until there is a comprehensive independent assessment of the DU at PTA and it’s cleaned up.

But that, of course, hasn’t been done, and now the Army plans to blow up even more stuff at PTA. Apparently Big Island community concerns don’t count for as much as the Oahu community concerns. Or more likely, they haven’t filed enough lawsuits yet.

While we’re talking about the Big Island, an activist there discovered, while researching an enforcement report on coral damage, that the Army used nuclear explosives to create the entrance channel to the Kawaihae small boat harbor back in 1970. But don’t worry. I’m sure, like everything else the military does, it had absolutely no environmental impact. [Update: The Army Corp contends in an Aug. 26, 2010 "information sheet" that it used "high explosives under the Research and Development study, code name "Project Tugboat" by Nuclear Cratering Group" to excavate the small boat harbor.]

Meanwhile, the Air Force is using Afghanistan to try out a new drone-based $17.5 million (that’s per) surveillance device called Gorgon Stare. It’s capable of, among other things, monitoring and transmitting live video images of all outdoor movement in entire towns and villages. The Washington Post gave it a glowing write up:

With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to point the camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force's assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."

But it wasn’t until the very end of the article that it got around to reporting this chilling tidbit:

They envision it will have civilian applications, including securing borders and aiding in natural disasters. The Department of Homeland Security is exploring the technology's potential, an industry official said.

Now do you see why you need to pay attention to what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq? Because the stuff they’re using on the “bad guys” there may one day be used on you here.

But only to better serve you in a natural disaster, of course.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Musings: Gravely Disappointing

Brief flashes of lightning broke through the darkness of a pre-dawn made even darker by clouds, and when it finally grew light enough to see, the bruised sky of another approaching storm was visible in the southwest. Scarlet streaks smeared the Giant when the dogs and I went walking, but the sun declined to make an appearance, preferring instead to hunker down beneath the swath of gray that rode the horizon.

Meanwhile, giant surf is forecast for the northwest shores, with accompanying predictions of flooding and major coastal erosion, which raises the perennial question of whether visitors staying in all those beachfront vacation rentals will get an even better view of the ocean than was promised in the ads.

In an effort to give passengers a better view of Hali`i Falls, Inter-Island Helicopters is seeking a county permit to land and conduct a tour there. But as The Garden Island reports today, the company’s claim to be a good neighbor rings false with the salt-makers adjacent to the Burns Field heliport:

During salt season, which lasts for three months, Inter-Island is asked not to fly over the salt patches because it spreads dust over the ponds, [Ku`ulei] Santos said.

“They continue to do it every single time,” she said. “They run their helicopters 20 to 25 minutes. All the dust, everything, it affects us, it affects what we do.”

What I found especially interesting was the admission — finally! — by a tour helicopter company — scourge of the skies — that its operations are a nuisance, and that its actions are solely dictated by money, despite its self-serving claims to the contrary:

[Pilot Luca] Rostagno said his reason for the request is “primarily to be responsible with the local community.” He said by adding waterfall landings to the tours, the number of flights would be less since the helicopters would be tied up for an hour at the falls, thus reducing noise pollution generated by the helicopters.

[Owner Robin] Venuti said his reason to request the permits was “absolutely financial,” but it would also be beneficial to the island because the noise would be reduced.

But what’s really rich is that even as these guys are disrupting the ancient practice of salt-making, they’re claiming they’ll spiff up the native flora at Kilohana Crater and educate folks about the value of the place. Ummm hmmmm.

I was going to write, “let’s hope the Planning Commission doesn’t bite,” but why set ourselves up for disappointment?

Because, ya know, I was hoping William Aila, the new director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources would be different, especially in regard to protecting burials. Instead, I was disappointed to read that he signed the programmatic agreement that will allow the Honolulu rail project to proceed without conducting an archaeological survey of the entire route.

As I wrote in a Honolulu Weekly cover story last year, the Oahu Island Burial Council is vehemently opposed to that approach:

Kawika McKeague, chairman of the Oahu Island Burial Council (OIBC), is not a psychic. But he and other preservationists say they can see the future of the city’s $5.3 billion elevated rail project, and to them, it looks something like this:

The city will build the line from West Oahu to downtown, where it will start finding large concentrations of Hawaiian burials. The city, citing the billions already invested to get to that point, will then pressure the Burial Council to relocate the iwi kupuna, or allow construction atop the bones. If Council members resist, they’ll be vilified as anti-development obstructionists and blamed for delaying — perhaps even derailing — the project and adding greatly to its cost. If they go along, they’ll be vilified as cultural sell-outs who set burial protection back to square one. The result, in any case, will be controversy, animosity, great sorrow and angst.

What’s really unfortunate, aside from Aila’s troubling stance, is how it sanctions the equally troubling and increasingly common practice of allowing projects to move forward before their impact on ancient burial sites is fully assessed.

I was also disturbed to read that Aila sanctioned a “preservation council” created by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, which Burial Council members saw as a direct attempt to undermine their own power. As the Star-Advertiser reported, in a story whose headlines described the burials as “problematic” and parroted the city’s stance that the process would protect graves:

Aila said, "There are a number of mitigation measures to ensure that rail does not erase the diverse history of this corridor, including the creation of a preservation council to educate land and building owners around the route on the importance of historic preservation."

Ironically, preservationists feared that Mufi Hannemann’s election would ensure the state’s sign off on the programmatic agreement. Yet here it is happening under Abercrombie and Aila. Auwe! Apparently the rail project is just too big to stop or slow, no matter who is sitting in the governor’s chair or the BLNR director’s seat.

It’s just another reminder that government will never be the source of significant progressive change.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Musings: Dam It All

I hadn’t seen my friend Venus in a while, but there she was, sparkling in a patch of blue sky when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. And what a morning, and what a sky, layered with a snakeskin pattern in scarlet as pearl white cumulus towered above the Giant and sheets of black blew by, traveling fast south to north, while in front of Waialeale, gray clouds touched all the way to the ground.

That’s where I ran into my neighbor Andy, who I don’t see all that often unless I walk late, which was the case today, since I was waiting for the rain to leave and the light to arrive. It’s a little treacherous walking in the dark on a branch-littered road that has small streams running down either side, especially when so many motorists would rather force me into the wet grass than turn their steering wheels a few inches to the left, even when they have the run of the whole damn road.

Andy and I got to talking about new plans — is this the third or fourth resurrection of that still bad idea? — to study the feasibility of a hydro project at Wailua Falls. As Kauai Sierra Club President Judy Dalton noted in a recent email, after spying a public notice in The Garden Island last November:

The project is to make electricity and includes: "a 503-foot-long, 23-foot-high earth-filled, roller-compacted-concrete dam creating a 35-acre reservoir with storage capacity of approximately 430 acre-feet" It also includes a 20 foot high intake structure, fish screens, a closure gate, a penstock, a powerhouse of 60 X 40 feet, channel to return water to the river, (below the falls) a switchyard with transformer, and almost 2 mile long transmission line to the Lydgate substation. No mention is made of roads and other changes that would be necessary. "The estimated annual generation of the Wailua project would be 20.7 gigawatt-hours."

Here’s a link to the Federal Register notice, which includes details on how to comment; the deadline is 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Disturbingly, it’s the exact same project that was proposed — and shot down — five years ago.

Andy recalled voting against the project when he was on the county Planning Commission in the early 1990s, and I recalled Rep. Mina Morita and the late David Boynton both fighting hard against earlier incarnations.

But here it is again, and this time it’s part of a broader effort by KIUC and Free Flow Power Corp. to explore the feasibility of four hydro projects on Kauai. Although the Wailua Falls project isn’t specifically mentioned in a KIUC news release I received via email — nor are any of the others — the initiative is apparently driven by the availability of federal funds:

The financial strength of the co-op provides an opportunity to move forward with this important project. KIUC has access to low-cost government sponsored financing. The Rural Utility Service (RUS) has recently approved a loan guarantee of $110 million, which makes available significant funding for renewable projects.

At any rate, KIUC is promising to “engage the community in broad discussions about appropriate technologies, locations and the wide range of environmental, cultural, economic and other concerns” at public meetings that reportedly are now being lined up.

While I understand KIUC just entered into the agreement with Free Flow this week, it doesn’t play well that the comment deadline on the Wailua Falls feasibility study permit comes before any public discussion locally. Nor does it look good that KIUC's release touting a commitment to public involvement fails to include the most rudimentary details about the four hydro projects under consideration.

Gay & Robinson is reportedly opposed to the other hydro projects, which involve instream systems in irrigation ditches. Apparently G&R doesn't want to relinquish its control over ditch water to KIUC.

Anyway, it seems like it’s all really an issue for the state Commission on Water Resource Management, which determines instream flow standards and who has control over the water.

Andy and I also discussed the news that the lateral trail to Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach will not be blocked by Bruce Laymon’s fencing project, as I reported earlier this week.

While Andy was glad the trail would remain open, he said his bigger concern is establishing the alaloa, especially while people like Linda Akana Sproat, who recalled walking on it as a child, are still around to share their experiences. And as we both agreed, it would be nice to have a coastal trail (as opposed to a bike path) around the island, especially since — as I’ve reported numerous times — so many land owners are planting vegetation onto the sand, which blocks access along the beach itself.

Problem is, if the state doesn’t want to take on the alaloa issue, it’s very expensive for a private party to pursue it, as there are both esoteric legal principles and complicated factual issues at stake. Plus the case would have to be filed in the Kauai courts, which is never a cheery prospect.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Musings: Commercializing Conservation Lands

I went out in the night with the dogs to see a sky as wild as the wind that moaned through the trees, sent small sticks skittering, swept the black and gray clouds into odd shapes, swirls. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a witch on her broomstick fly past the yellow half-moon, which was sinking toward Waialeale, but none did — at least, none that I could see.

It’s not the kind of weather that most tourists want, though yesterday I saw them bravely viewing Opaekaa Falls, their hair blowing sideways, like the waterfalls must have been. The tourist brochures teach them that it’s always sunny and dry, which is what they learn to want, even though that’s often not what they get.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) today will take up the issue of what a certain group of landowners in the Haena conservation district want — to continue using their homes as vacation rentals — as it begins an arduous contested case hearing to determine what they’ll get.

The issue before the Board today is to choose an officer to conduct the hearing, which will decide whether the 14 landowners should be allowed to deviate from certain conditions imposed on the Conservation District Use Permits they received some 15 to 40 years ago in order to build their homes along the coastline there.

While not all of the owners are currently renting their homes out to visitors, they all did agree, in obtaining their permits, that they would not rent out their homes. The permit conditions were based on state rules that prohibit single family home rentals in the conservation district without specific approval from the BLNR.

According to the staff’s report to the Board, the owners were told to cease and desist from the prohibited use by June 30, 2007, or face fines of up to $2,000 per day, plus possible penalties.

In the approach that has become so standard, the errant owners then sought to get approval for their wrongdoings after the fact by filing a “petition for deviation,” in which they asked the Board to drop the no-rental condition. The Board considered the petition at two meetings in late 2007, and rejected it. The owners then asked for a contested case hearing, which the Chair denied. The owners appealed that to Circuit Court, and Judge Kathleen Watanabe upheld the denial. They then appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which ruled the Board must be consulted on contested case requests.

The matter went back to the Board on Nov. 12, 2010, and the staff asked the Board to deny the contested case. But with Kauai's always disappointing representative Ron Agor making the motion, the Board voted to allow it. So here we are, again facing the question of whether commercial uses should be permitted in the conservation district, and whether people who willingly agreed to a condition should be allowed to drop it because there’s so damn much money in rental fees at stake.

In case you’re wondering, the landowners seeking this special privilege – that is, beyond the privilege of being allowed to build in the conservation district — are Mark Moran, Edwin Cryer, Murcia-Toro Inc., Micael Tiernan, Barbara Baker, Gary Stice, Caroline Simpson, Earl . Bart Trust, Pieter Myers, Diane G. Faye Trust, Helferich Family Trust, James Greenan and the Ive Revocable Trust, with a lot of et als thrown in.

Those opposing it are the same ones who have fought the trend toward turning their community into a resort: the people who live there fulltime. They raised their concerns at the Dec. 14, 2007 meeting where the Board rejected the petition for deviation.

At that same meeting, Sam Lemmo of the state Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands, did an excellent job (scroll down to page 16 of the above PDF) of explaining why the Haena conservation district was never intended for short-term vacation rentals, and why the petition failed to take into account the longterm impact of TVRs on environmental and cultural resources. As he noted so eloquently:

I’ve always thought that getting approval to use conservation land is a privilege, not a right. Now they’ve gone and turned these into a quasi-resort use, short term vacation rentals. We are simply trying to enforce the spirit of the rule. This change has potential to place tremendous strains on the...natural and cultural resources of the area including Haena State Park — the marine resources, reefs, and the cultural resources of the area. Tourists behave differently in terms of how they perceive and interact with our natural environment. The impact of tourism on natural and cultural resources results not only from the development of tourism infrastructure, but also from the tourists themselves possibly overusing or misusing the resources.

Lemmo also noted that his office had tried to deal with the landowners reasonably and amicably, and so instead of going for a revocation of their permits, had simply asked them to cease and desist. Running a TVR constitutes a new use of the property, for which there should be an application and Environmental Assessment, he said, and none of that was done.

Lemmo also noted that the landowners’ attorney, Roy Vitousek, had claimed TVRs were not a commercial use, which led to a discussion between Lemmo and Board member Tim Johns, who questioned at what point a use becomes commercial. Lemmo replied:

I defer to the Chairperson. I thought that if you were exchanging money, that you’re taking money from someone using your home, that would constitute – that would meet the definition of commercial use under our rules.

Johns noted that anything greater than a month is considered residential and not commercial.

Vitousek said that he wasn’t looking to create a statewide precedent, “we’re trying to say Haena is different and just deal with this specific issue.” Ironically, the reason he and the landowners think it’s different is because they’ve pursued uses that have turned it into more of “an urban or suburban area” than the conservation district it is.

Caren Diamond testified at the 2007 meeting that 12 guests often stay in a Haena TVR, which is far higher than the number in a typical family, and so has greater impact.

Wendy Wichman testified that her family has lived at Haena for 60 years and the reason why it’s so beautiful and still special is because it’s in the conservation district, which has rules regarding its use. She went on to say:

It seems wrong that a property owner can agree to conditions that make their property valuable in the first place and then turn around and disregard those same instructions. These property owners are wealthy, educated individuals with access to first rate realtors and lawyers. They know or should have known about these restrictions when they purchased their property. And they should not be above the law just to make a profit.

The Board apparently agreed, because it voted unanimously to reject the petition for deviation. But the owners wouldn't give up, so here we are, treading the same territory over three years later, for one simple reason: the landowners want to maximize the amount of money they can make off their houses. It has nothing to do with a taking issue, as they were allowed to build. But that wasn’t enough. Like so many others who see Kauai as an investment opportunity rather than "home," they want more, more, more.

They agreed to the conditions. But Vitousek is now arguing, in some cases decades after the fact, that their property rights were unfairly restricted by an undefined condition in their permit, and that the condition is illegal and unconstitutional and should be removed or modified.

Vitousek also claims his clients have been trying to deal with the issue for years, but DLNR and OCCL keep throwing up roadblocks. He seems to conveniently forget that they are the ones who were engaging in an illegal use and are now seeking special treatment, and so it is up to them to prove their case.

The state is often criticized for failing to adequately protect conservation lands. But in this case, the staff has done the right thing all along. Unfortunately, we are seeing yet another example of people who do not care about the rules or values associated with fragile lands in the conservation district. All they can see are the dollar signs.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Musings: A Different Animal

Going outside at 11 p.m., I was treated to a bowl full of stars descending into a layer of thin clouds that swirled around the mountaintops and cut off part of the crescent-shaped setting moon, turning it into a golden hoof that hung above the misty pastures where the cows huddled together in the cold.

After prolonged wrangling with the community, cowboy Bruce Laymon of Paradise Ranch has dropped his controversial plan to build a pasture fence along the shoreline at Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach.

Facing a request for a contested case hearing on the agenda of this Thursday’s Board of Land and Natural Resources, Laymon’s attorney, Lorna Nishimitsu, yesterday sent a letter to the Board surrendering the Conservation District Use Permit that former Board Chair Laura Thielen had approved on Feb. 16, 2010.

As a result of Laymon abandoning that part of his fencing project, landowner Waioli will not be able to block off use of a lateral trail along the beach, as it had desired. Kilauea resident Linda Sproat had challenged the permit, saying it would result in closing a traditional alaloa, or coastal trail, and thus impinge on her rights as a Native Hawaiian. Surfrider Foundation and Malama Moloaa also opposed the permit.

Both Sproat and the conservation groups had petitioned for a contested case hearing on the permit, which Thielen had denied, prompting the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. to file a lawsuit on Linda’s behalf appealing the denial of her request.

But there’s a new chair in town, William Aila, and Laymon and his attorney apparently read the writing on the wall after reviewing the staff submittal that recommended the contested hearing be granted not only to Sproat, but the two conservation groups:

Staff, together with the Department of Attorney General, believes that Ms. Sproat has raised serious questions as to whether she is entitled to a contested case hearing in order to determine and consider her Native Hawaiian rights.

Staff believes that holding a contested case in this matter is appropriate, given the high level of public interest and the difficult legal issues raised in the lawsuit. Holding a contested case would in no way determine or admit that the chair abused her discretion by awarding the departmental permit, that Ms. Sproat is entitled to a contested case (the issue would be moot), or that the Board’s previous action was incorrect.

Apparently realizing that he could lose the contested case, which in any case would rack up some sizable legal fees, Laymon decided to drop the controversial part of his fencing project. The letter surrendering his permit states that no fencing or maintenance activities will occur within the Conservation District, save for cleaning up debris and trash. It goes on to state:

While Paradise Ranch and the landowner, Waioli Corporation, sincerely believe that its original proposal of engaging in habitat management and maintenance of the section of land adjacent to the sandy beach was in the best interests of all concerned, which would have provided a safe environment free of debris and litter, this long and costly battle involving the landowner’s rights to preserve and protect its property while encouraging agriculture can no longer continue. Paradise Ranch has been waiting far too long to fence the makai section of its leased lands to expand its pasture area and needs to attend to confining its livestock while providing it the best forage possible.

Although surrendering the permit saves Laymon time and money, it also leaves unresolved some of the bigger issues surrounding this project, including whether the trail is, indeed, an alaloa, and what sort of rights are associated with such a designation.

As I wrote in a March 17, 2010 post:

So if it’s an alaloa, don’t you have to keep it open so Hawaiians can exercise their traditional access and gathering rights?” I asked Waioli attorney Don Wilson, who was also at the beach last Saturday.

Don, while noting that “nobody’s ever suggested we wouldn’t allow Native Hawaiians to exercise their rights,” said “the law hasn’t been developed sufficiently to determine what’s included in traditional cultural rights — does it include hiking? – and how it all works in with private property rights.”

Now, that's a rather glaring legal puka.

There’s also the question of the alaloa’s alignment. While old maps do show a trail, it’s hard to pinpoint if it’s exactly the same as the dirt road/trail in use now.

“So how do you determine the route of an alaloa?” I asked Don.

“I don’t know,” he said, again noting that the law doesn’t outline a process. “I’m certain Native Hawaiians who have used that would think they would have some idea.”

But would that be enough to satisfy the courts? As I’ve seen in following the Naue burials issue, and other situations involving traditional rights and practices, the Hawaiian approach often doesn’t jibe with the Western legal/political system. And when push comes to shove, the latter invariably prevails.

And then there’s the issue of whether alaloa access rights would apply only to Native Hawaiians engaged in traditional practices, such as fishing or gathering limu, or to everyone. Proponents of the latter argue that in the old days, anyone could use an alaloa, so there’s no reason to believe it would be any different now.

Apparently those questions will be wait to be answered another day.

In the meantime, the reversal on this issue seems to indicate that the DLNR under William Aila will be quite a different animal.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Musings: Laughable, and Not

I had to laugh at an article in The Garden Island that has publisher Randy Kozerski announcing the paper will be spending $100,000 to upgrade its printing press:

“The Garden Island is committed to making key investments to ensure our readers and advertisers receive the best possible products,” he said.

The Garden Island recently invested over $300,000 in 2006 and another $250,000 in 2008 to refurbish its press and building, respectively.

Ummm, Randy, how about spending a little money on your editorial staff to upgrade your core product: the news?

More than a little questionable was the article’s inclusion of a gushing promo from Beth Tokioka, the mayor’s assistant:

“TGI has been a fantastic example of a Kaua‘i Made member that truly gives back to the program in addition to receiving the benefits,” said Beth Tokioka, a founder of the program, which endorses authentic products from the island.

Hmmm. Perhaps that explains why we never see any critical reporting on the Administration.

I didn’t laugh at the news that the U.S., in trying to build a case against WikiLeaks, has gone to court to seek data from Twitter about founder Julian Assange, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir “and others either known or suspected to have interacted with WikiLeaks.”

Some of those named in the court order have said they suspect other companies — such as Facebook Inc., Google Inc., and the eBay Inc.-owned Internet communications company Skype — have also been secretly asked to hand over their personal data.

But I did cheer tiny Iceland’s response, as well as some of the 69,000-plus comments that followed the story, most of them critical of America’s bullying tactics:

"(It is) very serious that a foreign state, the United States, demands such personal information of an Icelandic person, an elected official," Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson told Icelandic broadcaster RUV.

"This is even more serious when put (in) perspective and concerns freedom of speech and people's freedom in general," he added.

More than a few will cheer this news:

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has agreed to stop planting genetically engineered (GE) crops on all its refuges within a dozen Northeastern states, according to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by conservation and food safety groups. Because the federal government would not agree to end illegal GE agriculture in refuges nationally, new litigation is being prepared in other regions where as many as 75 other national wildlife refuges now growing GE crops are vulnerable to similar suits.

All the conservation groups want is for an Environmental Impact Statement to be done first. Is that so unreasonable? If GE crops are as safe as the government keeps telling us, why not do the EIS and prove it?

Finally, if you’ve got a little time and always wondered just how our money system works, this animated video will help you gain some perspective on the dark side of the American dream. And despite the cartoon format, that ain't no laughing matter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Musings: Words Have Consequences

I was lying in bed, a dog on either side — yes, Koko has a new friend, though she’s not yet entirely convinced Po`ele is one — thinking of how effective they were in warding off the chill, when I looked up at the skylight and saw a light bright as Venus pass overhead, moving much faster than a plane, but not nearly so fast as a meteor.

My curiosity aroused, I bundled up and we all went walking beneath a canopy of stars where nothing moved, save for a satellite and the planes — red lights blinking — approaching the airport in a part of the sky that was slowly beginning to brighten.

Back home, still bundled up because the temperature inside remains a brisk 59 degrees, I perused the Internet and noticed a headline about a “Tucson rampage,” which is the type of article I don’t usually read, until I saw that Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among those wounded in a shooting that also left a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, along with four others, dead:

Greg Segalini, an uncle of the girl, told the Arizona Republic that a neighbor was going to the event and invited her along because she had just been elected to the student council and was interested in government.

What a tragic introduction to what is becoming the increasingly sordid world of politics, although it’s just one arena where, as I wrote in a post about Kahu Kaleo Patterson’s peace work, we can so clearly see “the subtle, and not so subtle, ways that violence has ingratiated itself into our culture through language.”

The connection between language and action, including the heavy use of gun imagery during the campaign by her re-election opponent, Jesse Kelly, wasn't lost on law enforcement investigating the mass shooting:

But in Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested "all this vitriol" in recent political discourse might be connected to Saturday's shootings. "This may be free speech," he told reporters, "but it's not without consequences."

Nor was it lost on political commentators, at least one of whom was quick to dismiss any link between Sarah Palin and her Facebook page map that depicted crosshair targets on the districts of Democrats she wanted to see defeated, including Giffords', and who Tweeted: “"Don't retreat, RELOAD!" As The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz wrote, perhaps to ease his own guilt over routinely using violent language:

Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?

That’s just the point. Our use of violent language has become so routine that we express surprise when someone who is obviously mentally ill takes it to heart and acts upon the underlying message.

While we’re talking about language and the mentally ill, I want to take The Garden Island to task for its really unfortunate and insensitive repeated use of the phrase “Crazy Carrie,” in both its headline and article on the arrest of a Kilauea woman for attempted murder. Yeah, it makes for some sensational copy, but it also perpetuates old stigmas and stereotypes. And if writer Leo Azumbuja didn’t understand that, his editor certainly should have.

And while we’re talking about Leo, his article today on the County Council rules subcommittee resolution that I wrote about last week contained an error that unfairly cast Councilman Mel Rapozo in a bad light:

Rapozo, however, ended [sic] breaking one of the rules by speaking for seven minutes, right after criticizing council members for breaking the same rule. The rules allow council members to speak for five minutes on a given subject.

As Mel noted in the comment section:

If you were paying attention, you would have known that the rules allow council members to speak for 10 minutes on any given subject, not five as you reported. This is another example of how your paper misinforms the public at the expense of others. Don't even bother putting in a correction. I think the people have come to learn that the stories in the Garden Island must be validated by independent sources.

It does seem that Leo, who unquestioningly reports whatever Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum tell him, which led to a series of attack articles on County Clerk Peter Nakamura, has something against Mel. You may recall Leo described Mel as a “noisemaker” in an embarrassingly bad article on the new Council, where he fawned over JoAnn and offered some bizarre, yet flattering, observations on the other members.

JoAnn, as I feared, appears poised to use the rules subcommittee as an opportunity to continue her vendetta against Peter, who apparently didn’t step and fetch high and fast enough to suit her when she was mayor and pulling such stunts as sending him faxes on his honeymoon and calling him away from the hospital bed of his dying father.

She used the discussion about the subcommittee resolution to claim once again that the Council apparently hadn’t followed its rules in giving Peter a pay raise by saying it hadn’t been granted by a physical majority of the Council. She and Tim like to conveniently forget that the entire Council unanimously received the Salary Commission resolution establishing the raise after County Attorney Al Castillo made it crystal clear that such a vote meant the raises would go through.

And since this post is about language and its consequences, I’d like to point out that the big problem I have with JoAnn is not that she raised the issue of how Peter got his raise but that she did it through a deliberate smear that she knew was entirely unsubstantiated:

Second, there are issues which due diligence requires be cleared up before I can vote for Mr. Nakamura. The most serious is a 2009 pay raise that Mr. Nakamura accepted which he knew, or should have known, was not legal.

Which leads me to Tim’s recent claim that he didn’t want the pay raise that the Council also gave itself in receiving the resolution establishing the raise for Peter and others. In fact, Tim even claimed that he tried to give it back, but the Charter forbade it.

If that’s the truth, then why didn’t he also object to the Council pay raise in the April 1, 2010 letter (scroll down toward the end of the PDF) he submitted to the Salary Commission? Instead, Tim asked only that the panel revise the salaries of the Clerk, County Auditor and County Prosecutor. There was nary a peep about revoking the pay raises for himself and the other Councilmembers. How curious, for someone who supposedly didn't want his own raise.

As we all know, words have consequences. Especially when they’re false and/or incite others to commit violent acts.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Musings: A Little Too Ironic

It was a shivery kind of morning, one that had me wishing I’d put on more clothes, when Koko and I went out walking in the pale light of a newborn day. A steady, straight rain was falling — heavy enough to require an umbrella, but not so heavy as to make Koko dejected — and it had the effect of pulling a fine lacy curtain across the body of the Giant and erasing all the other land forms.

Back in the snug of my house, I was reading some of the articles now being published saying the recent mass animal die offs are no big deal, they happen all the time (never mind that the public has never seen or heard much about them before now), when I ran across this quote, which I liked:

”The irony is that mass die-offs — usually of animals with large populations — are getting the attention while a larger but slower mass extinction of thousands of species because of human activity is ignored," [Harvard biologist E.O.] Wilson said.

Like the dramatic decline — we’re talking up to 96 percent in the last 10 to 15 years — of four previously abundant species of North American bumblebees, which are crucial pollinators, due to habitat loss, pesticides, pollution and diseases spilling out of greenhouses using commercial bumblebees.

And that got me musing about a few other ironies I encountered this week. Like how, after writing a post about rethinking our criminalization approach to addiction, I drove by the hulking new judiciary and cop shop and realized we’d come up with millions to build that monument to Babylon but still hadn’t managed to achieve two mayors’ dreams of establishing an on-island drug rehab center — not even for youth, and not even at the old dog pound, which was abandoned by Kauai Humane Society because it was inhumane to animals.

And how the cops are always complaining they don't have enough officers to properly serve the island, but they had two unmarked cars at the Lihue Fire Station this morning in one of those traps for motorists.

And how the Star-Advertiser earnestly reported that the house Obama stayed in over Christmas got a major historic homes property tax break, while totally missing the bigger story, which Civil Beat just reported, that the residence is an illegal vacation rental.

And how the U.S., after slaughtering at least 100,000 Muslims in Iraq and an untold number in Afghanistan, announced it is “deeply concerned” about what appears to be “an increasing trend” in attacks against Christians in the Middle East.

And how a sanctimonious Baptist minister who backed Prop. 8, the California ban against same-sex marriage, was charged with six felony counts of sexual conduct with a child under 14.

And how the U.S. rushed to develop the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as a relatively cheap (a mere $450 million per ship) way to deal death on our “enemies” in shallow waters, but in the process created death traps for our own troops with a warship that is not expected to fight and survive in the very environment in which it was produced to do so..

And how the Pentagon is making big hay about how even it will be tightening its belt by cutting some $78 billion over five years from its half-trillion annual budget (a whopping figure that doesn’t include the billions spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), in part by laying off some 47,000 troops and increasing the insurance premium costs for military retirees — yet military spending will still increase by 3 percent next year.

And how even as the bloated, pork-ridden, lobbyist-directed, Congressional district-driven military budget staggers forward, the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, was telling NBC News that he doesn’t think the government has a responsibility to help those who “won’t compete” in our competitive society.

Yes, as Alanis Morissette might sing, “isn’t it ironic, a little too ironic?”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Musings: Creeped Out

After a night of rain, I expected more of the same when Koko and I went walking this morning. Instead, my breath was taken away when I emerged from the trees around my house to see a vast expanse of stars — made all the more sweeping by the absence of clouds over the Giant — topped by a brilliant, twinkling Venus.

The air was chill, with a brisk wind blowing from the north, driving a wedge of clouds makai, and as we walked through the blackness, senses fully alive, I felt something and looked up to see a pueo flying silently overhead, its tawny wings faintly illuminated in the starlight.

Anybody who reads this blog knows I have an affinity for birds, which is why I took a particular interest in the massive bird deaths that occurred in Arkansas on Saturday, followed by a smaller number of deaths in Louisiana on Monday.

Then came the report of a large number of birds found dead in Sweden on Monday night and Tuesday morning, with the Swedish National Veterinary Institute saying autopsies performed on five of the birds showing they died due to "sudden, hard external blows," and another report of some 200 dead birds in Texas, and yet another report of mass bird deaths in western Kentucky.

And that's not all. There were also numerous reports of mass fish kills. This site gives a world map view of the recent mass animal deaths.

The die offs have even caught the attention of the U.N. Environment Program, which is calling for more research.

So when I saw the headline, ”Mysterious bird deaths explained,” followed by a report that the Louisiana birds supposedly were startled into a mad flush by fireworks, I just didn’t buy it. And when I looked at some of the 3,308 comments that followed that report, it was clear that a lot of other folks are skeptical, too, raising such points as if that were the case, why don’t we see mass bird deaths every 4th of July, and how, then, to explain the deaths elsewhere?

What also emerged in looking at comments posted on reports about these birds is a lot of people don’t trust the government, with good cause.

My take on it is that it's an acoustical weapon. Or as a friend described in an email:

What a clean way to kill things...subsonic sounds (very deep) with big sound waves. I’m creeped out.

Yes, we should be creeped out. While I'm not one to believe in the Apocalypse, when you start looking at some of the weapons that are being developed, it becomes pretty clear that there's some worrisome stuff going on.

Along those lines, global food prices rose to a record high last month and food and fuel prices are expected to keep going up. Meanwhile, 48 million Americans are living in poverty.

And still the war drum, and its associated economic, social, environmental costs, keeps beating, with Obama sending another 1,400 Marines to the quagmire of Afghanistan.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Musings: Back to Work

I woke up early and felt inspired, so I have two posts today. They're actually related, if you consider that politics is a sort of addiction.

The Council gets back to work today with a light agenda that carries a surprising amount of weight: two proposed resolutions that show Council Chairman Jay Furfaro is making good on his pledges to ensure a level playing field for all members and get more Council documents on line.

One resolution establishes a human resources sub-committee charged with determining whether the Council and County Clerk’s office have sufficient personnel to transact county business and recommending any needed revisions. Jay is appointing Mel Rapozo and Dickie Chang to that panel, along with Tim Bynum, who has long claimed that County Clerk Peter Nakamura and former Chair Kaipo Asing co-conspired to deliberately thwart his own noble efforts to put more Council documents on line. Now he’ll get a chance to see whether that was really the case, or if it was due to more mundane factors, like insufficient staffing and equipment. That is, if he can move past his own addiction to being the victim....

The other resolution creates a rules subcommittee tasked with reviewing and proposing amendments to the Council’s rules. That’s another area where both Tim and former Councilwoman Lani Kawahara claimed Kaipo’s iron-fisted reign prevented them from fully discharging their duties. Jay has named JoAnn Yukimura, Nadine Nakamura and Derek Kawakami to that panel, so we’ll see if they can come up with rules that ensure everybody plays fair.

Kudos to Jay for making the Councilmembers find solutions. That is, if they can all get past their ego addictions.

Musings: Rethinking Addiction

The picture told the story. Even before I read today’s article, in which the father of murder victim Aureo Moore told of his son’s addiction to oxycodone, I knew from the vacant eyes in that first photo that Aureo was a lost boy, a junkie.

I’ve seen those eyes all too often here on Kauai, where an untold number of people are soul dead due to their addition to ice, alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs or some combination thereof.

Their addictions, like Aureo’s, often lead to other crimes. His father acknowledged that Aureo sold some of the oxycodone that doctors prescribed, which is a relatively common occurrence, and he was robbed of his recently-filled prescriptions for some 150 oxycodone and 50 morphine tablets, which is another common occurrence, although having it happen at gunpoint in the Safeway parking lot, with a shot fired, is not. Ultimately, his addiction led to his murder, though the motivations and circumstances for that crime remain to be proven in the first-degree murder trial of Vicente Hilario.

Because addictions often are linked to crimes, and because some of the addictive substances are illegal, police and members of the public like to treat it as a law enforcement issue. They focus on busting people who are selling and using, which results in an unending stream of addicts moving through the judicial system. All too often, because of their addiction and criminal history, they end up impoverished and homeless, which exacerbates their addiction and leads to more crime.

And so the cycle continues. Meanwhile, the public gets frightened and demands longer jail terms and more cops on the beat, and the police and judiciary get frustrated by the revolving door clientele and take an even more punitive approach, and everyone loses their compassion and starts talking about locking these people up and throwing away the key because they’re not getting any better, you know, and the problems they’re creating for society, are getting worse.

We’ve been doing it like this for quite a while now, and we haven’t made any real headway in reducing either addiction or the associated crime. But we have filled up the prisons and clogged the court system and destroyed numerous families and flushed a lot of lives down the toilet.

Do you suppose we could try a different approach, one that starts by taking a fundamentally different view of addiction? Do you suppose we could stop treating addiction as some shameful weakness or moral failure, or even a disease? Do you suppose we could actually begin looking at the root cause, and attempt to address it there?

Over the holidays, I listened to a series of Democracy Now interviews with Dr. Gabor Maté, a Vancouver physician and author who has worked extensively with addicts, and so has come to gain a deep understanding of what led them down that path. His compelling observations had a profound affect on me:

The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, but according to all studies in the States, as well, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.

And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

Maté then went on to talk about the biology of addiction:

You see, if you look at the brain circuits involved in addiction—and that’s true whether it’s a shopping addiction like mine or an addiction to opiates like the heroin addict—we’re looking for endorphins in our brains. Endorphins are the brain’s feel good, reward, pleasure and pain relief chemicals. They also happen to be the love chemicals that connect us to the universe and to one another.

Now, that circuitry in addicts doesn’t function very well, as the circuitry of incentive and motivation, which involves the chemical dopamine, also doesn’t function very well. Stimulant drugs like cocaine and crystal meth, nicotine and caffeine, all elevate dopamine levels in the brain, as does sexual acting out, as does extreme sports, as does workaholism and so on.
Now, the issue is, why do these circuits not work so well in some people, because the drugs in themselves are not surprisingly addictive. And what I mean by that is, is that most people who try most drugs never become addicted to them. And so, there has to be susceptibility there. And the susceptible people are the ones with these impaired brain circuits, and the impairment is caused by early adversity, rather than by genetics.

When people are mistreated, stressed or abused, their brains don’t develop the way they ought to. It’s that simple. And unfortunately, my profession, the medical profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics rather than on the environment, which, of course, is a simple explanation. It also takes everybody off the hook.

[I]f people’s behaviors and dysfunctions are regulated, controlled and determined by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies, we don’t have to look at the kind of support that we give to pregnant women, we don’t have to look at the kind of non-support that we give to families, so that, you know, most children in North America now have to be away from their parents from an early age on because of economic considerations. And especially in the States, because of the welfare laws, women are forced to go find low-paying jobs far away from home, often single women, and not see their kids for most of the day. Under those conditions, kids’ brains don’t develop the way they need to.

And so, if it’s all caused by genetics, we don’t have to look at those social policies; we don’t have to look at our politics that disadvantage certain minority groups, so cause them more stress, cause them more pain, in other words, more predisposition for addictions; we don’t have to look at economic inequalities. If it’s all genes, it’s all—we’re all innocent, and society doesn’t have to take a hard look at its own attitudes and policies.

His comments about the current approach to addiction — criminalization — were especially poignant:

[I]f people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.
The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. [S]tress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very—there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

As Albert Einstein reportedly said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

Using that definition, it’s clear that our current approach to addiction is sheer and utter madness. So do you suppose we could try something different? Something that gets to the root of the matter? Something that actually prevents addiction, and helps the addicts? Because they are, after all, our children, our parents, our sibings, our spouses — maybe even ourselves.