Monday, February 28, 2011

Musings: Rich and Poor

It was cold, and the sky amply stocked with stars, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. A white crescent moon clung to a navy blue blanket, barely three fingers’ width above Venus, which glowed like a golden lamp.

As dawn arrived, the sky turned the palest lavender, and then got all fiery beneath spidery black clouds that loomed above the sun’s birth place. And I marveled, in looking up at the birds perched on telephone wires, at the way they start their day not eating, but singing.

We had barely stepped out of the driveway when we encountered Farmer Jerry, who was making what I discovered was his final drive into work. Or to be more precise, his day job. Even though he’s retiring, he’ll still be working on his farm, working for the community.

I see people I know retiring, and am reminded of my own not unhappy fate, which a friend so aptly described when telling me how he had responded to an inquiry about his retirement plan: die working.

Some people are literally dying on the vine, even though they are working, as a a Star-Advertiser article about the increased number of kids receiving free and subsidized school lunches points out:

"The economy is really bad," said Terry Proctor, principal at Wilcox Elementary on Kauai, which became eligible for Title I funds this school year for the first time in its history. "A lot of our parents are working two or three jobs."

Some 39 percent of students at the school qualify for free and reduced-cost lunch, up from 26 percent in the 2007-08 school year.

More students qualifying for the lunch program is "definitely one of the indicators of tough economic times," said Ivette Rodriguez Stern, program director of Hawaii Kids Count at the University of Hawaii Center on the Family. "The lower-income working families, they basically are slipping into the poverty ranks."

Many of the families I see are coping with reduced hours or the loss of the second or third part-time job that helped them make ends meet. There isn’t much of a safety net for these folks, who often make too little to live without anxiety, but too much to qualify for food stamps, Quest or housing subsidies, which are frozen right now, anyway. And with food and gas prices creeping up, they’re going to be pushed even closer to the edge:

Gasoline prices rose 4 percent last week to a national average of $3.29 per gallon. That's the highest level ever for this time of year, when prices are typically low. And with unrest in the Middle East and North Africa lifting the price of oil to the $100-a-barrel range, analysts say pump prices are likely headed higher.

But not everyone is hurting. As a special report on the world’s wealthiest people — anyone whose net assets exceed $1 million — in The Economist noted:

The Credit Suisse “Global Wealth Report” estimates that there were 24.2m such people in mid-2010, about 0.5% of the world’s adult population. By this measure, there are more millionaires than Australians. They control $69.2 trillion in assets, more than a third of the global total. Some 41% of them live in the United States, 10% in Japan and 3% in China.

The richest 1% of the adults control 43% of the world’s assets; the wealthiest 10% have 83%. The bottom 50% have only 2%. This suggests a huge disparity of influence. The wealthiest tenth control the vast bulk of the world’s capital, giving them a lot of say in funding businesses, charities and politicians. The bottom 50% control hardly any capital at all.

[A]s Credit Suisse puts it, “the past decade has been especially conducive to the establishment and preservation of large fortunes.” To get onto Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans in 1995, you needed $418m. Now it takes $1 billion.

Which prompts me to wonder, how much, really, does one person need, especially when others have so little?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Musings: Food for Thought

I had a chat the other day with Farmer Jerry, who had just returned from a conference in Kona related to his position on the state Board of Agriculture.

He was troubled, as he often is, over the condition of agriculture in the Islands, telling of how coffee farmers are dealing with a devastating pest known as the coffee borer, and “the poor bee guys,” already ravaged by the varroa mite, are now contending with a beetle that attacks the hives.

It struck me, as we talked, that just as ecosystems weaken and collapse as integral components are compromised, undermined, outright destroyed, a similar process can occur with human systems, and we’re seeing that now with agriculture, especially in Hawaii.

“You’re absolutely right,” replied Farmer Jerry, ticking off a few of the many factors now working to destabilize food production and distribution: invasive species and pests; escalating land prices; farmers dying off; climate change; rising oil prices.

And to that I might add the use of food crops and valuable farmlands for biofuel. According to a Reuters article:

Ethanol makers are expected to consume a record 5 billion bushels of corn this year, or some 36 percent of the harvest.

The same article went on to report this sobering news:

Huge U.S. corn and soybean plantings this spring will likely fail to refill razor-thin stocks enough to quell the surge in grain prices, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Thursday.

In updated forecasts for the world's biggest crop exporter, the USDA warned that it could take several years to restore inventories to comfortable levels.

The U.S. government's forecasts are likely to fuel more concern globally that high prices could persist far longer than they did in 2008 when they hit record highs, as supplies remain too thin to cope with any further weather disasters.

Despite criticism that using food for fuel was driving up prices and contributing to thin stockpiles, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the conference the government had no intention of scaling back on ethanol.

"There is no reason for us to take the foot off the gas," Vilsack told the conference. "This is a great opportunity for us because we can do it all, make no mistake about it."

Can we? Even though it means plunging tens of millions of people into extreme poverty and contributing to food riots in nations like Egypt and Algeria?

Can we? Even though other highly populated countries are becoming increasingly dependent on our exports?

Can we? Even though U.S. food prices are forecast to rise 3.5 percent this year -- nearly double the overall inflation rate?

Can we? Even though, as some analysts warn, a bad crop in the States could cause it all to come tumbling down?

Can we even continue to indefinitely do some of it, much less all, when so many of the components that comprise the “agricultural ecosystem” are weakening, failing?

As a Bloomberg Businessweek article noted:

Whether the world tips into agricultural catastrophe this year depends on the fate of the wheat on the North China Plain. "You need two perfect harvests through the summer of 2012 to get stockpiles back to an acceptable level," says Jason Lejonvarn, a commodities strategist at Hermes Fund Managers in London. Unless sufficient moisture reaches the parched seedlings, a net exporter of wheat could become a net importer of wheat, further stressing world markets. Short of that, a Chinese ban on wheat exports would also send prices higher, meaning that global grain shortages—once thought to be a disaster of the past—could return. Even American commodities buyers are feeling the pinch. "There is not one crop you can point to that is without supply problems," says Steve Nicholson, a commodity procurement specialist for International Food Products in St. Louis. "Production is not keeping up with demand."

The article goes on to report that while some Midwest American farmers and commodities speculators have benefited from the food crisis (and the ethanol scam), most Americans have not:

A record 43.6 million people in the U.S.—more than one of every eight—received food stamps in November, as the jobless rate stayed near a 27-year high, the USDA reported. In most parts of the developing world, there is no comparable safety net, which is why national leaders and nongovernment organizations alike are scrambling to devise solutions before the worst comes to pass.

And what will become of the U.S. safety net, which is already tattering with the economy still sluggish and Obama cutting and freezing spending for social programs?

The Bloomberg article ends with a question that can only be characterized as deeply troubling, given the late hour and the continuing state of denial among so many political leaders, including the Republicans controlling Congress:

Civilization has faced down pandemics and world wars—and has emerged stronger for having met the test. The current series of droughts and floods are not simply wreaking havoc on food supplies. They're harbingers of life in a hotter and more chaotic climate. Could hunger, and the threat to power that accompanies it, be what finally forces political leaders to act?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Musings: Sound and Fury

At sunset, thunder was rumbling over Kalepa, while the sky behind Waialeale, which itself was clear, save for some white clouds flowing like waterfalls over the summit, had that “God stay here” look of round billowing clouds laced with gold and orange and shooting out silver shafts of light.

Darkness fell and the thunder rumbled closer and by midnight was exploding in great cracks right outside the house while lightning created a strobe effect in my bedroom and the rain drummed down in torrents as Koko, panting, paced, her anxiety eased by a few doses of Rescue Remedy.

And then the storm moved on, allowing us to sleep, and when we went outside in the 5 a.m. darkness, it was all chilly and still, with bright stars, Venus, a perfect half moon, and no trace of the earlier sound and fury.

In much the same way, Hawaii yesterday became the seventh state to legalize civil unions when the governor signed a bill that the Legislature had passed without all the drama that effectively prevented a similar measure from becoming law last year — and with none of the bitterly ugly divisiveness that marked the 1998 marriage rights ballot measure.

Despite fundamentalist Christian contentions to the contrary, the new law does not allow same-sex couples to get married. But it does give them — as well as heterosexual couples who don’t want to enter into the baggage-laden institution of marriage — the rights, responsibilities, benefits and protections that Hawaii law provides to married couples.

Another battle — the one over boating in Hanalei — that was waged long, hard and furious, in both the courts and community, is also coming to a peaceful close, with a hearing tonight on proposed changes to state rules.

Among some of the proposed changes:

No commercial vehicles can load or unload passengers in the water or adjacent lands without a state permit and county approval, and passengers can access the loading area only through designated areas;

The state may issue up to five commercial use permits, with priority given to those who held such permits in November 2000. Through attrition, the maximum number of permits will be reduced to three. Vessels can carry a maximum of 25 passengers, with each permit holder allowed to transport no more than 30 passengers daily;

The state may issue up to two permits for guided kayak tours using the Hanalei launch ramp, with no more than eight passenger per trip and a maximum of 30 passengers per day. Again, priority will be given to operators who held permits in November 2000; and

State permits and county approval are required for commercial water sports instruction and tours, including surfing, canoe rides and stand-up paddle boarding, with a total of eight permits issued and no more than four students per instructor at any one time.

While the proposed rule changes promise to finally resolve the longstanding dispute that tore apart the community and ultimately led to the creation of a tour boat industry at Port Allen, they are also noteworthy because they were achieved by a group of citizens and government officials working together.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources was not initially receptive to such an approach, but Kauai member Ron Agor volunteered to meet with the community to hammer things out.

And, miracle of miracles, the group reached a consensus.

As one participant described it, “Holy shit, this has never happened before.”

The participant went on to say that Ron should be given credit for pulling the meeting together.

So in deference to a commenter who regularly raps me for failing to heartily applaud good efforts by our government officials — believing, apparently, that they can be trained, like dogs, to do the right thing through praise — let me just say, in all sincerity, “Atta boy, Ron. You’re a good, good boy.”

I only hope he’s not alarmed when, upon next seeing him, I pat his head and rub his ears.

And a big mahalo to the reader who suggested in comments that I try Rescue Remedy for Koko's thunder trauma. It's been a huge help.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Musings: Throw a Bone

Every now and then, the Planning Commission throws a small bone to we the people who care about this island — and not in terms of how much money we can make off it — to keep us from sinking into total, abject despair.

Yesterday was such a time, when the Commission voted against giving Inter-Island Helicopters a permit to land at a waterfall. It wasn’t just the denial that was significant, but the reasons as reported in The Garden Island’s coverage of the meeting: landings are noisy, offensive operations that should properly be confined to industrial-zoned areas; the impacts can’t be adequately mitigated; and the applicant’s promise to remove invasive species rang hollow.

Equally significant was the Commission’s willingness to go its own way, despite both a staff recommendation in favor and planning director Mike Dahilig personally arguing for the permit using the kind of smarmy, waffling language — “nothing is 100 percent compatible or incompatible” and “there are curves on the use that can be implemented in order to make this use compatible” — that serves to remind us he is an attorney, not a planner, regardless of his job title.

Moving on to other, related issues, someone left this comment on Monday’s post, which addressed a bill that would allow bingo on Hawaiian Homelands and how gambling has caused some culture clashes on native lands elsewhere:

Just how does one avoid being poor if all you do is subsistence farm/fish? Same old Joan, glorifying 1750 without bothering to address the reality. Nothing is stopping OHA or the Bishop hoard or any of the other Alii trusts from spending to put Hawaiians on their land except that the royalty new and old have no real interest in anything but themselves. No wonder they're Republicans.

Although the comment makes a false assertion that requires correcting — fulfilling the mandate of the Congressionally-created Hawaiian Homelands program is not the fiscal responsibility of any Hawaiian organization or trust, but the state — it caught my eye because it allows me to make a point about how we as a society define wealth and poverty.

It’s been on my mind ever since I read this in an article and ripped it out and tucked it away on my desk for future use:

The word “prosperous” meant “according to one’s wishes” long before it meant “rich” and it has long-standing associations with magic.

Using that definition, a person who is able to make his/her way in the world through the self-directed, self-sufficient means of subsistence farming and fishing is indeed far more prosperous than someone who is striving to accumulate cash and stuff in a hated/evil job, trying to beat the odds through gambling or a functioning as a pawn in that house of cards known as the stock market.

Or as I noted in a piece I wrote a while back and published as the very first post on this blog:

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

But there is waiwai, she reminded him, the word used interchangeably for water and wealth, and she’d experienced it herself at Aliomanu, just recently. Walking to the beach, after a month of heavy rains, she’d noticed naupaka leaves, plumped and swollen; ironwood needles, a tender pale green; springy moss, clinging thickly to gray pohaku.

The red soil had darkened deep brown with a surfeit of wet; heliotrope seedlings had sprung boldly from the sand.

It was suddenly all so rich, so plush, so luxuriant, that drought-parched patch of east Kauai coastline, restored to vibrant life by rain alone.

That’s when she saw with her own eyes, she told him, that waiwai truly is wealth. Because everything in that moist scene was so lushly abundant, it seemed wholly ludicrous to value anything more than water.

And you can call the rain, he reminded her. You can evoke the water; you can turn the trickle into a torrent. Isn’t that prosperity?

Just a little something to bear in mind now that, as Business Week reports:

[t]he stigma against conspicuous luxury seems to be fading further, says Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice at management consulting firm A.T. Kearney. For those who can afford it, "it's en vogue to spend money," he says. "They don't need to hide their luxury anymore."

Perhaps they’ll even throw a bone to the 9.4 percent of workers who have no job — and no subsistence hunting or fishing, either.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Musings: Discouraging - And Not

It was so quiet— even the roosters were strangely subdued — that I could hear the ocean crashing on the reef, miles away and some 800 feet below, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Though sunrise wasn’t far away — in clock time, anyway — our way was lit by Venus and a white moon on the fat side of half.

Rain clouds stretched like black spider webs across the eastern sky, waiting to capture the dawn, but that didn’t discourage the birds, which woke and added their vibrant songs to the crickets’ rich symphony.

While lengthy court proceedings often serve to discourage citizens who don’t have the same deep pockets as wealthy landowners, North Shore residents Caren Diamond and Beau Blair, aided by the pro bono services of attorney Harold Bronstein, refused to give up in a landmark shoreline dispute that dates all the way back to 2005 and finally saw some resolution this month.

I wrote about the case last year for Honolulu Weekly:.

A decision by Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe has invalidated the state’s current approach to determining the public shoreline.

In an order signed April 6, Watanabe found the state had improperly relied upon cultivated vegetation and current, rather than historical, wave wash data when setting the shoreline for a North Shore Kauai lot now owned by Craig Dobbin.

The decision stemmed from a long-standing dispute over the Wainiha lot’s certified shoreline, which is used to determine how far a house will be set back from the beach.

In signing the order, Watanabe struck down a certification based on a shoreline boundary that the state itself had rejected five years ago.

Watanabe further affirmed that intentionally cultivating vegetation for the purpose of creating an artificial line undermines the intent of state law, which is to give the public as much use of the beach as is reasonably possible.

The judge’s decision also undermines the state’s standard practice of using a “single-year snapshot,” or current conditions only, to set the shoreline. Watanabe found that interpretation of the law to be “arbitrary, capricious and/or characterized by an abuse of discretion” because it “conflicts with and/or contradicts the purpose and intent” of the state shoreline statute.

“The judge said, in effect, your decision is wrong and you have to go back and do it the right way,” Bronstein said. “She’s also saying, interpret the law correctly.”

But as I noted on this blog last May, the state — or more specifically, former DLNR head Laura Thielen — went ahead and again certified the exact same shoreline that Watanabe had overturned.

So Harold went back to court and in a Decision and Order filed on Feb. 16, 2011, Watanabe not only vacated that certified shoreline, she went ahead and set the new one herself, some 20 feet mauka.

Aurai Kathleen! Way to go, grrrrl!

Still, it’s pretty discouraging to think the state is playing those kinds of games with the public shoreline, not to mention taxpayer dollars.

And even more discouraging to think of where we’d be without those rare, civic-minded attorneys like Harold.

So I’ll offer this little note of encouragement to land use attorneys Max Graham and Walton Hong: it’s never too late to come into the light.

And finally, while certain county officials are up in arms over the prospect of — gasp! —making it a bit easier for persons with prescriptions to obtain marijuana, it turns out that the big pharmaceutical companies — surprise! — are the real scourge. As The New York Times reported:

For decades, antipsychotic drugs were a niche product. Today, they’re the top-selling class of pharmaceuticals in America, generating annual revenue of about $14.6 billion and surpassing sales of even blockbusters like heart-protective statins.

Today, more than a half-million youths take antipsychotic drugs, and fully one-quarter of nursing-home residents have used them.

The industry continues to market antipsychotics aggressively, leading analysts to question how drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for about 1 percent of the population have become the pharmaceutical industry’s biggest sellers — despite recent crackdowns.

Some say the answer to that question isn’t complicated.

“It’s the money,” says Dr. Jerome L. Avorn, a Harvard medical professor and researcher. “When you’re selling $1 billion a year or more of a drug, it’s very tempting for a company to just ignore the traffic ticket and keep speeding.”

Every major company selling the drugs — Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — has either settled recent government cases for hundreds of millions of dollars or is currently under investigation for possible health care fraud.

It's kind of discouraging to think our elected officials, and zealots from the CA's office like Justin Kollar, are wasting their time and our money fighting marijuana while the legal bad guys are laughing — and thumbing their noses — all the way to the bank.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Musings: All That Glitters

It was mostly gray, and the ground was squishily saturated following yesterday’s delightful deluge, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The mountains provided some visual relief, appearing as blue outlines in a hazy sketch of somber pastels, and then there appeared a few streaks of scarlet in the direction of Kealia. Emboldened, they reached out, soon covering half the heavens, and then the dark clamped down, squeezing tight until the sky extruded only gold.

Even the prospect of generating some gold hasn’t made the cash-starved Legislature look fondly upon gaming initiatives this session. But HB1225, which allows bingo to be offered by one licensee at one location chosen by the Hawaiian Homes Commission, with 20 percent of the revenues going to the state, 1 percent to a compulsive gamblers’ fund, 4 percent to administrative costs and the remaining 75 percent to Hawaiian Homeland, passed the Judiciary Committee on Friday and is now headed to Finance.

Rep. Mele Carroll, a Native Hawaiian, has pushed hard for the bill. She sees it as one way to generate money for the perennially — and many would say, deliberately — under-funded DHHL, which receives precious little support from the state in fulfilling its mandate of getting Hawaiians back on their land.

An email outlining the bill's progress made me think of a New Yorker article I read a while back about the Shinnecock Indian Nation, which is trying to open a casino, which required it to first gain federal recognition as a sovereign nation, a process that took 32 years.

The piece was especially interesting because of all the parallels with Hawaii. The Shinnecock reservation is set in upscale Southampton, just east of Manhattan, a place not unlike Kauai’s North Shore if you consider the outrageous cost of renting luxurious oceanfront vacation homes, the huge income disparities between the native people and wealthy newcomers, and the persistence of subsistence living among the artificial trappings of affluence.

The Shinnecocks, like the Hawaiians, own land — extremely valuable land. Yet if they wished to escape the poverty caused in large part by the rise of the dominant culture, they faced a difficult choice: sell their land or embrace gambling. Either option threatened to destroy their lifestyle and culture, which is based on communal, anti-materialistic values.

A Hawaiian friend who has spent quite a bit of time among the First Nations of British Columbia spoke of encountering similar conflicts there. The tribes’ casinos brought in lots of money for education, homes and medical care, he said, yet it also fully immersed their people into the Western money culture, which tends to be diametrically opposed to traditional values and lifestyles.

I’m not sure if Mele Carroll’s bingo bill will turn out to be a solution, or a problem. But something has to be done to infuse more money into the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, which requires beneficiaries to meet a blood quantum. The longer the state starves DHHL, the fewer Hawaiians are able to qualify for homestead awards, which makes it that much easier for non-Hawaiians to gain control of what are unquestionably Hawaiian lands.

In this, too, there are parallels with the Shinnecocks, as tribal elder Harriett Crippen Gumbs noted in The New Yorker’s poignant closing paragraph:

“You’ve got to know the white man wants this reservation,” Crippen Gumbs said, her white hair shooting out from under a baseball cap. “You know what their excuse would be now?” she asked, and leaned in close over her jewelry counter. “’You’ve intermarried too much. You’re no longer Indian.’ Well, who the hell are we?”

Sound familiar?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Following Up....

In following up on a post I published earlier today, I obtained from the county a copy of the complaint that the ACLU sent to Police Chief Darryl Perry and County Attorney Al Castillo regarding yesterday’s anti-drug rally, which the county officially cancelled but Councilman Mel Rapozo resurrected, supposedly in his capacity as a private citizen.

The ACLU’s specific concern was the potential use of public resources, including the time and labor of County employees, to express partisan political viewpoints. The Feb. 16 letter from legal director Lois K. Perrin also stated that the ACLU believes “Kauai County employees are acting outside the scope of their limited, delegated authority, thus exposing the County to litigation.”

The letter went on to ding the cops and County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, noting that their powers are limited and set forth by the County Charter:

Notably absent from these articles is any language that authorizes either the Police Department or the Prosecutor to spend public resources to educate the public about issues relating to crime research, prevention and education.

First, the plain language of the County of Kauai Charter limits the authority of the Prosecutor to prosecuting crimes…. The County of Kauai Charter similarly limits the authority of the Police. There is no statutory or other authority that grants the Police Department of [sic] the Prosecutor the power to expend public resources to educate the public on criminal justice issues.

The letter noted, “[i]t cannot be disputed that the overriding purpose of the Rally is to persuade constituents to lobby legislators to vote against the pending bills, HB 1169 and SB 58.” It then went on to cite Rees v. Carlisle to bolster the ACLU’s contention that “neither Kauai’s Prosecutor nor Police Department may engage in the type of activity proposed by tomorrow’s Rally.”

Perrin cited a county press release that quoted Shaylene as saying, in opposition to bills pending before the Lege, “[i]f passed, these measures will result in increased violent crime, economic crisis and a rise in marijuana usage among our children” and stated “police chiefs and prosecuting attorneys from each of the four counties stand united against this dangerous legislation.” Perrin then went on to write:

Such openly biased speech by public officials raises serious First Amendment issues.

Compelled support for speech by a public official using public funds is no less an offense to the First Amendment than compelled support for third-party speech…. The conduct in this case falls toward the end of the spectrum of biased advocacy. And nearly every court that has addressed this issue has found “the use of public funds for partisan campaign purposes improper, either on the ground that such use was not explicitly authorized or on the broader ground that such expenditures are never appropriate.

It would seem the presentation that Shaylene and deputy county attorney Justin Kollar (formerly with the prosecutor's office) made to the County Council during work hours would be similarly questionable, seeing as how it was intended for the same purpose: to persuade the Council and members of the public viewing the proceedings to oppose the legislation.

Musings: Of Service

It was a pale kind of night, neither light nor fully dark, seeing as how the full moon was suffocated by clouds that brought very little rain — far less than the predicted amount, which had prompted a flash flood watch, which gave Kauai County officials a pretty pathetic excuse, which they later partially retracted in favor of the truth, to cancel an anti-marijuana rally that had prompted the ACLU to file a complaint, the exact nature of which I am still trying to ascertain.

But the officially unofficial show went on, with county drug czar Theresa Koki marshalling the Boys & Girls Club and Councilman Mel Rapozo rounding up a Christian pastor to take an anti-drug stand.

Good grief. No one is trying to get the kiddies on drugs, except the schools that push parents to give their children Ritalin and other forms of legalized speed so they’re easier to control in class.

I only wish Mel, Theresa, County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and all the other taxpayer-supported reactionaries would put a bit of energy into restoring funding for the fiscally starved Boys & Girls Club so it can resume some of the after-school programs that are far more effective than rallies in keeping kids away from drugs. But that’s the kind of service that doesn’t garner any headlines.

As for state Public Safety Director Keith Kamita, rather than spending taxpayer money flying to Kauai to incite elected officials, he might want to help the poor, overburdened clerk charged with processing applications for medical marijuana, seeing as how his office is still working on prescriptions submitted back in September. But that’s the kind of service that doesn’t garner any headlines.

Moving on to other issues, I recently met with Joel Guy, who is very much interested in being of service to the 14th District, or more specifically, in gaining an appointment to the seat being vacated by Rep. Mina Morita, who has been named chair of the Public Utilities Commission. I was left with the impression that he's passionate about trying to make a difference, and I've always been a sucker for idealists.

Joel worked for Mina in the Lege for a number of years, so he shares her political philosophy. What’s more, he not only understands the legislative process, he actually can stomach it, which is an important consideration for any prospective lawmaker. He’s also North Shore born and raised, so he knows well the part of the district that is most apt to be ignored, including its many problems with ice, gentrification, dislocation of local residents and marginal public services.

Council Chairman Jay Furfaro and Councilman Derek Kawakami, who also have expressed interest in the seat, have the capability to serve, but the small problem of a prior commitment. Appointing either of them would leave a puka on the Council that would spark the kind of power plays and contests for control that characterize Kauai politics at their ugliest.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the Council would for sure select KipuKai Kualii, the eighth-place Council candidate, to fill any vacancy. But I just don’t feel comfortable letting them pick whomever they choose.

I can certainly understand why Jay and Derek, after sitting through a few Council meetings with its current line-up, would want to escape the frustrations and tedium of that panel. But they could have spared themselves their present agony by running against Ron Kouchi for the state Senate seat. Since either of them could have beat Ron, they would have ended up in the Lege, where they now want to be, KipuKai would be on the Council, Ron would be back pimping for Kauai Lagoons and we the people would be better served.

Derek has the potential and political machine to one day serve in Congress, and perhaps Mina’s seat will prove to be one stop on that road. Jay, on the other hand, is nearing the end of his political career, and it kind of sticks in my craw to think he would be handed the House seat, especially when he failed to beat Mina when he previously ran against her.

In the end, it’s up to a very small group of people — the precinct captains — to put together a list of three nominees, with the governor having the final pick. And I imagine he’ll be asking Mina who she would like to see carry on her work and be of service to her constituents.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Musings: Hard to Swallow

The moon, full tonight, was playing peek-a-boo behind layers of white lace when Koko and I went out in the darkness and looked up, through gently waving tree branches, at its waxing yellow splendor. Later, while I was lying in bed, it looked down at me, shining through the skylight and lighting up the room. And then a cloud swooped in and swallowed it up.

If you swallowed County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho’s hyperbolic hysteria about the marijuana bills moving through the Lege — “If passed, these measures will result in increased violent crime, economic crisis, and a rise in marijuana usage among our children” — you’ll turn out for this afternoon’s fear-fest in front of the Historic County Building.

There you’ll hear misinformed law enforcement officers repeat the standard party line, which blames the plant for what are actually the deleterious effects of prohibition. Now that Paul Curtis is gone, The Garden Island actually ran a fair article about marijuana that included comments from the alleged perpetrator discounting the cops’ pot-motive version of a recent stabbing and a rebuttal from James Anthony, former community prosecutor for the city of Oakland, and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

I just hope we’re not paying anybody overtime — or any time — to participate in this afternoon’s ignorance-fueled power play. Because it’s kind of hard to swallow the line that the cops are understaffed and the PA’s office is overwhelmed when they can find time to organize, publicize and participate in a Chicken Little rally.

It’s also hard to swallow the complaint that naturists — those who like to swim and sunbathe nude — are somehow being persecuted because Waioli Corp. won’t give them the easiest possible access to Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach, as a letter to the editor from John Tyler Cragg asserts, or that their interest in obtaining that access doesn’t have everything to do with getting the easiest possible route to the beach. Tyler writes, in part:

If you make access hard enough, you will discourage use and they will go elsewhere.

I have no problem with people getting naked, but if they’re too damn lazy to walk on the sand to get to the place where they want to bare their buns, then that’s their problem. There is a legal access, and despite all the erroneous claims to the contrary, it is not especially difficult.

I wish the people fighting so hard for an easier access to Lepeuli would direct some of that energy to the coastlines of Haena, Wainiha, Anini and Aliomanu, where vegetation has been planted that is actually preventing people from using legal beach accesses as well as traversing the beach itself. But since they don’t want to get naked on those beaches, they apparently don’t give a shit.

I’m not a friend or fan of Bruce Laymon, who supposedly has the naturists quivering from fear and righteous indignation, but neither am a fan of those who have tried to turn a private property issue into a morality play. What they don’t seem to realize is, right or wrong, the naturist defense is the one that is least likely to gain them either sympathy or that access. They’d be better off throwing some money and support to the Sproats in their effort to establish the ala loa, but then, I’m not certain the Sproats want them on their side, either.

And while I don’t think anyone should be harassed at the beach, to the naked men complaining about being hassled by Bruce and his workers, let me say, hey, now you know what it’s like to be a woman. As a female who likes to go to remote beaches because they tend to have more wildlife, I’ve had to deal with men who hovered around me, followed me, repeatedly came on to me, exposed themselves to me and jacked off in front of me.

I even had a wealthy male coastal landowner grab me by the neck and throw me to the ground when I complained about his muddy runoff onto the beach, and the cops did nothing because when they finally responded, an hour after I called, he’d managed to line up a witness who claimed the guy never touched me.

So yes, I know what assholes men can be at the beach, and I’ve learned to be wary and watchful and move when I feel uneasy and sometimes leave before I’m ready.

But none of that has stopped me from going, because I have a right to be there, I want to be there and I’m not going to let fear or the bad behavior of a few men stop me.

I’m sure the naked boyz can similarly learn to handle as we work to perfect this not-so-perfect male-dominated world.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Musings: Toughen Up

I passed Waldeen Palmeira, a Native Hawaiian burials preservation activist, on the Wailua Bridge the other day. I was headed north. She was headed south.

She didn’t see me, because she was looking at the cluster of men and heavy equipment installing the new bridge that will add another lane to ease traffic moving over the river so it can get jammed up a little bit farther north, like Waipouli, where the county — without requiring any environmental assessment — approved two resorts that will add some 547 rooms and a greater number of cars to that already congested corridor.

Waldeen was scowling, as anyone in the cultural know about Wailua often does when passing a scene that represents yet another intrusion upon sacred lands, another situation where Native Hawaiian concerns about unearthing ancient burials were overridden in the name of “progress,” “lifestyle improvement” and “the law” — by which, of course, are meant the modern Western versions of those words.

Waldeen’s efforts to stop the project were shut down by Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe, who expressed her sympathy and then urged Waldeen — as she did those fighting the construction of Joe Brescia’s house atop burials at Naue — to work with the state Legislature to toughen burial laws.

One such toughening action — HB155 — will be decided this morning by the House Committees on Hawaiian Affairs and Water, Land & Ocean Resources, which deferred a vote two weeks ago “so lawmakers could talk with the Hawaii Department of Transportation about the impact of the proposal on the construction of sewage lines and roads,” according to a report on Civil Beat.

The bill, which was introduced by Kauai Rep. Mina Morita, among others, seeks to amend the law to give Island Burial Councils jurisdiction over both “inadvertent” and “previously known” burials. Currently, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, in cursory consultation with Island Burial Councils, determines the fate of “inadvertent” discoveries — a state of affairs that doesn’t sit well with burial preservationists and many Hawaiians.

The reason is two-fold. First, there’s the perception that the state is apt to favor the needs and wants of developers over cultural concerns. And second, there’s the reality that DLNR is allowing some developers — including the City and County of Honolulu — to skip the comprehensive archaeological surveys that identify “previously known” burials, or to conduct them at such shallow depths or limited scope as to avoid finding any iwi prior to commencing construction. As a result, burials uncovered during construction are considered “inadvertent,” which puts them under the purview of the state, rather than the Burial Councils.

If passed, the bill will give the Burial Councils the power to decide whether both inadvertent and previously known burials should be relocated or preserved in place. The bill also specifies the time frame that must be followed in dealing with burials.

According to testimony submitted for the Jan. 31 committee hearing, the DLNR and Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, which comprises the consultants paid by developers to dig up the bones, are opposed to the bill. Both cited logistical concerns, saying it might be difficult for the all-volunteer Burial Councils to respond in a timely manner.

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to understand that their primary concern is, to use language from DLNR Director William Aila’s testimony, “adverse impacts, if any, on the activity that resulted in the discovery.” In other words, the bill might serve to slow down development.

OHA Trustee Donald Cataluna, who testified as an individual (OHA also submitted testimony in support of the bill) sees things a little differently:

[T]his bill would provide much-needed parity in the treatment, care, and protection of Native Hawaiian graves.

Living on and representing the island of Kauai, I have seen firsthand how the issue of discovery and care of burial sites divides our community. Across Kaua’i and across Hawai’i, many people have heard about the Brescia case. Like many Native Hawaiians, I believe that construction such as this should stop. I further believe that HB 155 would help remedy future similar situations by creating a single standard for all to follow.

We all have ancestors; the desecration of ancestral graves should not be an acceptable practice, whether they are Native Hawaiian or not. RB 155 is a policy change that is well-done, balanced, fair, and culturally-appropriate in the 21st century.

The fate of the bill, which by no means would address all concerns related to the treatment of iwi kupuna, is uncertain. Its companion measure in the Senate has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing, which generally portends its death.

Meanwhile, on the island of Oahu, a protest is planned for tomorrow at Kawaiahao Church, where construction has resumed on a new multipurpose facility, even though some 69 iwi already have been disinterred under a state-sanctioned process that many find questionable. As evidenced by some of the comments I’ve read on emails, it’s becoming yet another heated, divisive, emotionally charged dispute over the treatment of iwi kupuna, with the state again taking actions that have pitted Hawaiians against Hawaiians, and preservationists against development occurring over burials.

In one of those emails, Kimberly Kalama expressed sentiments shared by others about the ongoing disturbance of iwi kupuna — acts of desecration that many believed the state burial law would stop:

I am outraged. I have stood in the shadows far too long. After hearing Kahu Kekuna yesterday, on channel 4 news, I know we are in serious trouble. I know our people are in grave danger. The bones of our ancestors hold the highest value of our culture. They are the foundation from the past to our future.

Open your eyes. We are not safe anywhere, dead or alive there is no regard. Where is the justice for all the ancestors from the past that were dug up. Our ancestor’s remains are not rubbish. When do we stand up for the rights of the human being. How many more ancestors will be unearthed? THIS INDEED IS A SACRILEGIOUS ACT.

Cultural expert Onaona Pomroy Maly expressed additional concerns on her Kumu Pono Associates website,

Never ever in my worst nightmare could I possibly imagine burials at Kawaiaha‘o cemetery would be allowed to be dug up in this day and age. Adding to the hewa, is the fact that this is a Hawaiian Church, and Hawaiians are facilitating the desecration.

Because it happened in the past, more so today, we cannot let it happen again. We have lost enough of our past, our history, our right as a people, it is time for all Hawaiians, all human beings who care, to make a stand. Watch out everyone, for if this is allowed to happen at this well known graveyard who is to stop other graveyards in the future of having this same fate.

Hawaiians seeking to protect their iwi kupuna are not going away. Regardless of what happens with HB 155, they'll be returning to the courthouses, Capitol and construction sites until their concerns, which speak to the fundamental integrity of their culture, are addressed.

Or as Halealoha Ayau of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai‘i Nei wrote in calling for the protest:

If we do not stand for our kupuna now, how will our descendants know how to stand for us tomorrow?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Musings: Beach Fight

It was hard to tell, what with all the drops sloughing off the trees, whether the rain had actually stopped, but Koko and I decided to venture out nonetheless this morning. The day was just starting to arrive via a pale spot in the east and two rivers ran silver along either side of the road. A gust of chilly north wind caused me to shiver, despite my fleece vest.

But I’m not complaining. I love this cool, wet weather, especially when it’s interspersed, as it was yesterday, with sunny skies and glassy windward water broken by big surf with rainbow-infused spray blowing off the back of the waves.

I took advantage of a similar break in the heavy rain to drop by Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach on my way back from the North Shore late one recent afternoon, and happened to encounter rancher Bruce Laymon chatting in the parking lot with Thomas Ka`iukapu, the state wildlife manager, who had been called out to check on the albatross that nest there.

I asked Bruce if he was still planning to run a fence along the posts that had been erected parallel to the walkway that leads to the public trailhead, and thus block off the so-called lateral access that runs through the nonprofit Waioli Corp. land that he leases for his cattle. He is, and when I inquired as to whether he thought the fence might be breached or vandalized, he replied that if it were, it would be very clear to the police that people were engaged in trespassing and criminal property damage.

Then Bruce proceeded to tell me of the many encounters he’s had — including one just prior to my arrival — with some of the regular beachgoers who are opposed to his fencing plan. The most recent apparently involved a video camera and a guy getting in his face and an exchange of angry words and other ugliness that I was glad I had not witnessed, because who wants to see that kind of drama when you’re going to the beach?

He told me of how he’d been threatened and insulted and the subject of falsehoods printed in the local newspaper, and people had called the cops on him and were continually reporting him to the state and county about alleged contrived offenses. Then he got into how one woman was throwing trash his crew had picked up back into the bushes and a group of naked men had approached his son to ask if he feared them and how other beachgoers tried to antagonize his crew in hopes of provoking a fight, so now he never sent any of his workers down there alone, or without a camera.

He said the FBI had even come to his house after hearing complaints that he was a racist and had been engaged in unspecified hate crimes, but the agents were surprised to learn not only that Bruce’s father is a haole, but haoles even come to his house. Indeed, two showed up while the agents were there.

Now Bruce is not an especially sympathetic character, and by no stretch of the imagination could be termed an ambassador of aloha, but as he recounted some of what has gone down this past year, and given what I know about the complexities of the situation and the distortions, if not outright deceptions, perpetrated by some of those opposed to his fencing project, I couldn’t help but think, good grief, how can we bring an end to this hostility?

Bruce was wrapping up what had turned into a rather lengthy rant/vent when two friends of mine drove up, local boys, both Hawaiians, who had come to do a little fishing, seeing as how the conditions were so good.

They didn’t know Bruce, but they knew about the conflict over the fence and felt it overblown, because, as they said, we still will have access and anyway, they said, they had no problem making it a little bit harder for folks to get down to the beach, seeing as how it was often dangerous and the site of many drownings and a place where monk seals like to lie on the sand.

Besides, one noted, “Sometimes get so many people down there, it’s hard for even fish.”

Lest anyone forget, as I knew from previous research and as Thomas, during a brief pause in Bruce’s diatribe, had pointed out, Waioli initially gave the county access across its land from Koolau Road in response to a request from fishermen who wanted a shorter route to the beach and reef, which is prized for both its fishing and limu.

So perhaps it's a just a little bit ironic that the fishermen are now disturbed by the growing crowds of people, whose numbers unfortunately seem to have increased since the cry went out to "protect and save" this wild beach.

My friends and I were about to venture down the trail when another guy I know came up from the beach, carrying a bag filled with plastic flotsam and jetsam he’d collected, and he asked if I’d heard what had gone down earlier, and I said I had, and he shook his head and said that it was a personal thing now for Bruce; he no longer cared about the land, he just wanted to have things his way.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if the same couldn’t also be said for those who oppose him because what they really want, and what all the talk about protecting the resources serves so righteously to obscure, is to continue walking down to the beach in the most convenient and effortless way.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Musings: Changing Landscapes

The air was thick with moisture when Koko and I went out walking on this still, suitably subdued Sunday. The ironwood trees were adorned with glistening raindrops and the blue-gray sky was painted with fine, feathery brush strokes of white. Great piles of gloomy clouds, headed northwest, were gilted — backlit by a sun that was slow to show itself, and when it did, it was a brief, through memorable, spectacle of gold upon pink upon pearl. In the distance, fog crept among the cinder cones and up the belly of the Giant, swirled among Norfolk pines that stood like sentinels in the misty blue-green landscape.

Evidence of the changing political landscape in Hawaii can be found in the House’s passage of the civil unions bill, with minor amendments that are likely to meet approval of the Senate and also our new governor. Yet the angst is far from over, as witnessed by the more than 366 comments that followed the Star-Advertiser’s cursory coverage, many of them left by fundamentalist Christians who simply cannot get past their religious blinders to see that this is not about marriage or morality, but civil rights.

And evidence of the changing physical landscape can be seen in Alaska, which has warmed at three times the rate of the lower 48 states since the early 1970s, according to a report by Reuters. The article looked at how rapidly melting glaciers and permafrost are causing mudslides, floods, fire, rampant vegetation growth, acidification of marine waters and coastal erosion.

Just a small wake-up for the climate change deniers — and a clear warning preview that likely will go unheeded by Kauai officials who proceed to build a concrete path along the coast and allow homes to be constructed within flood zones and far too close to an ocean whose levels are rising.

But hey, we’re not totally clueless. We banned plastic bags with handles!

I thought I’d used my last one the other day, but then found one in the vegetable drawer holding some collard greens that were turning into slime. In my oblivious past, I would’ve tossed the whole mess into the trash, but since the bags are now scare, they’ve gained value, so I carefully washed it out for re-use, while wondering whether the water pumped by imported fossil fuel shipped thousands of miles across the ocean created more of an environmental impact than the bag I was trying to save.

So hard to say, and so many trade-offs to be weighed, like whether it’s worth it to dam the Wailua River to generate electricity. KIUC is pushing the project by saying that it’s needed to wean us off oil. But as I shivered my way through frigid Foodland on an already chilly afternoon, I wondered whether we might not focus on conservation instead.

I mean, just who and exactly what are we generating all this electricity for? The super-duper laser project at PMRF? The lavish mansions on the North Shore, with their multiple Sub-zero refrigerators and landscape ponds that require the constant use of pumps? A friend was telling me of how actor Johnny Depp kept the AC cranked down so low when staying in one of those Kauapea Road ag land resorts last summer that the pipes were sweating in the walls and water was flowing off the slab, requiring extensive and expensive repairs.

But never mind. The movie industry and military, which are all about waste, pump millions into the economy. So their wastefulness is to be overlooked, ignored, forgiven.

As for the rest of us, shut up and wash out your plastic bags. That is, if you’re so politically incorrect as to still have some — and craven enough to still want some.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Musings: End of an Era?

After yesterday’s delightfully drenching downpours, Koko and I headed out beneath a smattering of stars and that brilliant beacon, Venus. The brightening sky was streaked with gray and stained with scarlet, and the ground had that smooshy feel that follows a good soaking rain.

We were on our way back when we ran into my neighbor Andy, who asked: “Did you hear Mubarak resigned?”

I hadn’t. But as I told Andy, it’s amazing that it took the U.S. this long to pressure its puppet into stepping down, considering the kind of economic influence we have over that nation. I recently read a piece on that stated:

Egypt gets the most U.S. foreign aid of any country except for Israel. (This doesn't include the money spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.) The amount varies each year and there are many different funding streams, but U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt has averaged just over $2 billion every year since 1979, when Egypt struck a peace treaty with Israel following the Camp David Peace Accords, according to a Congressional Research Service report from 2009.
That average includes both military and economic assistance, though the latter has been in decline since 1998, according to CRS.

Wow. That’s a lot of dough. Just think of how many social programs in America could be boosted with that sort of annual infusion. But don’t worry, we — or rather, Israel — get something in return. As the article continued, citing a 2009 U.S. embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks:

President Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the USD 1.3 billion in annual FMF as "untouchable compensation" for making and maintaining peace with Israel. The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.

As the article noted, the aid is given ”without conditions,” in terms of human rights. And despite our rhetoric about wanting to bring democracy to Egypt, or anywhere else for that matter, even Mubarak was “deeply skeptical of the US role in democracy promotion” and U.S. funding is limited to NGOs registered with the government, which excludes most human rights organizations.

So the people have risen up and thrown the bum out on what is, interestingly, the 32nd anniversary of the fall of another American puppet, the shah of Iran.

The crowds are celebrating and jubilant, justifiably heady with a feeling of liberation and victory after overcoming the fear barrier and taking to the streets for 18 days of unprecedented mass protests.

But with Mubarak handing control over to the military — a breach of the Egyptian constitution, which specifies the speaker of parliament should take over — and the U.S anxious to re-assert its power and influence in the region, it remains unclear whether this is truly the end of an era, or merely another "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" American-orchestrated transition.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Musings: Political Animals

Light comes late on these cloudy winter mornings, and grudgingly: a few salmon streaks in the east; faint pink tinting on the cumulus towering over the Giant; a pukalani that blazed briefly before being closed off by gray. Through it all was the nearby buzz of crickets, the far-off crowing of roosters and in between, the enchantingly melodic warbling of a hwamei, the first sound that greeted me when Koko and I went walking this morning.

A few odd animal items caught my eye recently, including two emailed by readers. One, with a subject line that read “the karmic wheel,” was about the stabbing of a Kauai guy who had previously, and bizarrely, cut off the head of a dead monk seal. The other, which came with the subject line “Darwin Award Contestant/ Cock Fighting Casualty,” was about a rooster in California that lethally stabbed a cockfighter with the razor strapped to its leg.

Then there was the disturbing article in today’s paper about the poor shark that gave premature birth on the beach at Pono Kai and then died — a victim of “hooking mortality.” The piece did a good job of making people aware of the longlining fleet’s disgustingly wasteful impact on unwanted bycatch — a topic I wrote about for Honolulu Weekly back in 2009:

[Hawaii-based] longliners have historically hooked two to 10 sharks for every swordfish. At least 60,000 sharks–and more often around 100,000–are caught each year by swordfish crews, who often cut off the fins from live animals and then allow them to slide off the deck and drown.

The Weekly article also delved into the industry’s impact on turtles, and I just got word of a settlement in the Earthjustice lawsuit against the very same federal agency charged with protecting endangered marine life that dramatically reduces the number of rare loggerhead turtles that longliners can hook.

Speaking of agencies, the state Office of Environmental Quality Control will be capably led by our own Gary Hooser — great news that a conservative rag I won’t name or link greeted with the smearline: “First Morita, now Hooser: Abercrombie appoints another anti-Superferry protester.”

We all know Gary and Mina to be so much more than that.

Speaking of Mina, I was amused in reading The Garden Island’s coverage of a topic I’d written about a couple of days prior — who will be appointed to fill her 14th House District seat — to see Council Chairman (and House seat hopeful) Jay Furfaro’s comments about how if he is picked, the Council would convene to choose a new chair rather than handing it over automatically to Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura. And Jay said that if he or Councilman Derek Kawakami is chosen, their replacement would not necessarily be KipuKai Kualii, who came in eighth in the last Council race. Like I said, wouldn’t it be hilarious if they brought back Kaipo Asing — and then made him chair?

It's Kauai, ya know, so anything is possible.

A quick aside on the Council: I got an email notifying folks that the Council’s rules subcommittee is meeting tomorrow morning and urging them to send suggestions on possible revisions to the rules that govern the panel. It read, in part:

Perhaps things were handled differently and in a way you would prefer where you came from…

Oh, yeah. That approach always goes over so well...

Returning to the topic of political appointments, I noticed on today’s Council agenda that the mayor has nominated Wayne Katayama, head of Kauai Coffee, a subsidiary of A&B, to serve on the Planning Commission. At least he also reappointed Herman Texeira, one of the few commissioners with the balls to speak up, to a second term.

Not surprisingly, reps from A&B’s Kukuiula Development, as well as Grove Farm and other developers, are supporting the county’s watered down plan for implementing the charter amendment — passed overwhelmingly by voters — that caps the growth of tourist accommodations.

The county reportedly spent some $60,000 on outside legal fees trying to see if it could legally circumvent the public’s will, and when it learned it was written too tight to challenge — unless, perhaps, the legal battle was funded by deep pocket developers — it came up with a draft bill that weakens the overall goal of capping the growth rate at 1.5 percent. It also returns a lot of power to the Planning Commission, which is even less accountable than the Council.

Given the down economy, a mayor heavily backed by the construction industry, and the heavy turnout of developers and their attorneys at the Planning Commission hearing, we can expect another David vs. Goliath fight over this bill.

But sometimes, as the rooster-stabbing incident indicates, the underdogs do prevail.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Musings: Dark Ages

The gray sky wore a black cap pulled down low over its eyes, creating a world so dark that the stars and Venus were afraid to show their faces, when Koko and I went out walking this morning. Dark clouds poured in over the dark mass that I knew to be the Giant, making the dawn, still dark as night, darker still, and then they dumped dark rain.

When it comes to medical marijuana, Hawaii’s law enforcement community is still in the Dark Ages, as evidenced by the testimony it submitted in opposition to SB1458, which establishes a state-regulated process for distributing marijuana to patients, including “compassion centers” — aka dispensaries — that would give people safe, secure access to the medicine their doctor prescribed.

There was the usual unsubstantiated fear mongering — More children will have access! Murder and violent crimes will increase! — and discriminatory rhetoric — We don’t want those kinds of people in our neighborhoods! — from cops and prosecutors who have everything to gain, in terms of drug forfeiture revenue and job security, from keeping the herb locked down.

But the most ludicrous, hyperbolic and ultimately ironic testimony came from the Department of Public Safety, which unfortunately now runs the medical marijuana program. Consider this:

The [White Paper] report found that in California, marijuana dispensaries are commonly large moneymaking enterprises that will sell marijuana to most anyone who produces a physician's written recommendation for its medical use.

Unlike, say, those reputable pharmacies at Walmart and Long’s.

Then it delivered these lines:

Furthermore, storefront marijuana businesses are prey for criminals and create easily identifiable victims.

Drug dealing, sales to minors, loitering, heavy vehicle and foot traffic in retail areas, increased noise, and robberies of customers just outside dispensaries are also common ancillary byproducts of their operations.

Unlike, say, the broad daylight armed holdup of Aureo Moore outside the Safeway pharmacy after he’d filled his prescription for a whopping 150 oxycodone and at least 50 morphine pills — the same guy who was later shot to death, again in broad daylight, near a beach park, allegedly because the robbers wanted to silence his testimony.

Just yesterday I was talking to a woman who the week before had tried to commit suicide using some of the oxies and morphine her doctors had prescribed for years — massive doses that left her barely functioning, anxious, sick, desperately depressed and still very much in pain. Having survived the attempt to end her life, she was struggling to find some way to get off the shit and out of her dark hole, but as we all know, there’s no treatment center here. Her doctors had nothing to offer but another prescription drug.

Unfortunately, she and Aureo, both turned into addicts by their doctors, are not isolated cases. According to a press release from the Prosecuting Attorney’s office printed last month in The Garden Island:

”The intentional abuse of prescription drugs, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives is a growing concern particularly among teens, who often misconceive that these substances are somehow safer than traditional illegal drugs,” the release states. “Both the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and the Kaua‘i Police Department are committed to reversing this emerging trend by actively pursuing enforcement and prosecution of prescription drug offenses in our community.”

So they indicted 14 poor saps, who themselves are likely addicts, for possessing drugs that at one time were prescribed to somebody. Interestingly, no doctors, pharmacists or drug company salespersons were among them, even though they are the ultimate pushers.

I recently talked to a physician who has spent his 30-year career in palliative care, that is, in helping those who are in pain find relief. Much of his practice these days is devoted to writing prescriptions for medical marijuana because, he said, he got sick of turning people into junkies, of making them ill from the toxic side effects of the pharmaceuticals, of giving them increasingly higher doses when they built up tolerance.

“In so many cases, marijuana works just as effectively as pharmaceuticals, without all the nasty side affects or risk of addiction,” he said. “It’s really quite a miraculous substance.”

The rain is past and the misty sky is finally brightening, in shades of baby blue, pale pink. The drenched vegetation is glistening, glowing green. And the Legislature is, once again, considering bills that would lessen the state’s Draconian approach to marijuana, which, unlike pharmaceutical drugs, has never been linked to a single death.

Let’s hope they listen to doctors and patients, rather than cops and prosecutors. Because it’s time to move out of the dark and into the light.

SB 1458 will be up for a vote by the Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday, and the Health Committee next Monday. No testimony will be submitted, but you can make your views known to PGM Committee Chair Sen. Will Espero at 808-586-6360 or; and Vice Chair Sen. Michelle Kidani at 586-7100 or; and Health Committee Chair Sen. Josh Green, M.D., at 808-586-9385 or and Vice Chair Sen. Clarence K. Nishihara at 808-586-6970 or

All of these Senators co-introduced the bill. A simple phone call or email in support of SB 1458 will let them know you’re behind them in getting it approved.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Musings: Politics and Birds

Yesterday's Musings on who might take Rep. Mina Morita's place, as well as other topics, prompted a few comments about former Sen. Gary Hooser perhaps being tapped to take her place.

I also had thought it would be great to get Gary back in the Lege, but according to this map of Mina's 14th House District, it does not appear that Gary lives in the district. However, I believe that Councilman Derek Kawakami does. The district includes Kapahi and the coastal area through the Houselots, but not Wailua Homesteads.

And according to Haw. Rev. Stat. §17-4; see §17-4(a), emphasis added:

§17-4 State representatives. (a) Whenever any vacancy in the membership of the state house of representatives occurs, the governor shall make an appointment within sixty calendar days following the first day of vacancy to fill the vacancy for the unexpired term by selecting a person from a list of three prospective appointees submitted by the same political party as the prior incumbent. The appointee shall be, at the time of appointment, and shall have been, for at least six months immediately prior to the appointment, a member of the political party. The appointee shall, at the time of appointment, be a resident of the same state representative district as the prior incumbent. The political party shall submit the list of prospective appointees to the governor within thirty calendar days following the first day of vacancy.

If Derek or Council Chair Jay Furfaro is appointed, this language from Section 3.05 of the County Charter speaks to the process to be followed in filling a vacancy on that panel:

“Section 3.05. Vacancy in Office. In the event a vacancy occurs in the council, the remaining members of the council shall appoint a successor with the required qualifications to fill the vacancy for the unexpired term. If the council is unable to fill a vacancy within (30) days after its occurrence, the mayor shall make the appointment to such vacancy. The foregoing provisions shall apply in the event a person elected as councilman dies before taking office; provided, however, that the vacancy shall be filled by the newly elected council within thirty (30) days after the beginning of the new term.”

I also noticed that the county is moving ahead with its Habitat Conservation Plan for endangered seabirds, according to its press release. At the very end of the release, it states:

The lighting retrofits at Vidinha and Hanapepe stadiums are completed and the project is underway at three other county facilities including: Isenberg Park and Peter Rayno Park softball fields; and the Lihu‘e County Park tennis court.

It certainly didn't take the County long to retrofit its most egregious lights once the Department of Justice held its feet to the fire. It's only unfortunate it didn't get on it sooner and avoid the ugliness and "fird bucking" associated with the abrupt cancellation of night football games last season.

However, it appears that the County still is not willing to risk a full schedule of night games, as noted in the press release:

For stadium facilities, the HCP calls for the county to retrofit lighting using partially shielded fixtures, and to conduct a minimal number of night games with the shielded lights that is estimated to result in up to a 40 percent decrease in the number of birds currently impacted by the lights.

For sports facilities with significant lighting, such as soccer and baseball fields and tennis and basketball courts, the county agrees not to illuminate playing fields and courts during fledgling season, between Sept. 15 and Dec. 14, until such time as those facility lights are fully shielded.

So the question arises, why did the county decide to go with partially shielded, as opposed to fully shielded, lights at the stadiums?

Still, even with its plans to minimize outdoor lighting during fledging season, the County is looking for a permit to "take" up to 15 birds annually.

I was pleased to note this, even though the language is incredibly wishy-washy:

The HCP also states that the county will examine the feasibility of a county-wide or county facility-wide policy or ordinance that will stipulate the use of bird-friendly lighting for all new development on Kaua‘i, the release states.

Let's hope the feds and state delete the "examine the feasibility of" language and replace it with "will adopt a county-wide ordinance."

Because it certainly seems the Council and Mayor should be able to craft an ordinance to that effect — unless, of course, they subscribe to the philosophy of "buck the firds."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Musings: Blow by Blow

The wind arrived at 11:44 p.m., roaring in like big surf, slamming itself against the south-facing walls, hurling twigs and branches, letting eucalyptus seedpods fly. By morning, when Koko and I went walking, it had quieted somewhat, though the banyan was still dancing wildly like the massive multi-limbed organism that it is and the ironwood trees were sighing loudly and the clouds were racing across the sky — gray atop black, white atop blue — colliding and converging in their mad dash to the northwest. A smattering of chill rain stained my sweatshirt, beaded like dew on Koko’s fur, but waited to deliver its full load until we were safely ensconced in the house.

After 14 years in the House, Rep. Mina Morita soon will be moving into her new position as chair of the powerful Public Utilities Commission, where she will be expected, according to a statement from Gov. Abercrombie, “to direct Hawaii toward energy independence.”

It’s a big job, but those of us who have watched Mina in action on the county planning and police commissions, and more recently in the Lege, know that she works hard, is a straight shooter and truly believes in the concepts of transparency and accountability. And while it’s sad to lose her powerful voice of conscience in the House — remember her courageous stand on the Superferry bailout bill? — it’s good to know she’ll be running the show and asking sensible questions, like what’s your business plan? if another ferry project comes around . Plus it’ll certainly be reassuring to have her in a position to scrutinize KIUC if it does move ahead with damming the Wailua River for hydropower.

The question now is who will finish out her term in the House? I’ve heard that Sharon Pomroy and Joel Guy, who ably served as Mina’s legislative assistant, are both interested in the seat, as are Councilman Derek Kawakami and Council Chair Jay Furfaro, who wants it really, really bad. The Democratic Party, which is currently clarifying the selection process rules, will meet and recommend three names to the Guv, who will make the final pick.

If either Derek or Jay is chosen, the Council will name a replacement. That would typically be the next-highest vote-getter from the last election, which means KipuKai Kuali‘i. Although wouldn’t it be funny if they chose Kaipo Asing? And if it’s Jay, does that mean Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura would automatically become chair (shudder), or would the Council reorganize and give it to Derek, who Jay wanted as his successor, until JoAnn pushed her way in?

In other legislative matters, Sen. Ron Kouchi and Rep. Jimmy Tokioka teamed up to introduce bills — HB 552 and SB 1208 — that would hold travel authors and publishers liable if someone is injured or killed while trespassing on private land to reach a spot highlighted in a visitor publication, which includes guidebooks, websites, flyers or even a Tweet. The bills also would absolve the landowner of liability.

I certainly have no sympathy for people like “Ultimate Guidebook” co-author Andrew Doughty, who has exploited every spot he can find for his personal profit, with apparently no regard for the environment, visitor safety or even accuracy in his guiding. Still, the bills seem to be an assault on free speech and don’t address the many dangerous places accessed through state and county land.

And I found some irony in clamping down on guidebooks that direct people to unsafe places even as Kauai County allows hundreds of unsuspecting visitors to occupy vacation rentals within the tsunami/flood zones at Aliomanu, Anini, Hanalei, Wainiha, Haena and Kekaha — some of them with illegal ground floor units, and others essentially mini-hotels that sleep 10 to 12.

How many people do you think are at risk of death or injury because of the county’s decision to turn those remote and vulnerable areas into resorts — without the emergency plans, evacuation procedures and support services offered by resorts?

Meanwhile, Mina and newly elected Rep. Dee Morikawa of the pesticide-laden Westside have introduced HB 1387, which is intended “to reduce the negative impacts of pesticides on public health and the environment through an accurate and detailed collection of pesticide use data that will allow for adequate and scientific assessments of potential health problems related to pesticide exposure.”

It “[r]equires the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to publish an annual report on pesticide use in the State including investigations of health complaints by the Department of Health. Requires users of pesticides to report usage to DOA. Permits DOA to impose a fee to recover costs.”

It’s a good way to make the seed companies a little more accountable and let the public know what’s happening in regard to complaints about pesticide use.

The bill was supposed to be up for a hearing on Wednesday, but is no longer scheduled. I imagine it’s going to meet significant resistance from those who would just as soon we not know the types and quantities of poisons being used in Hawaii nei.

And finally, the Senate on Friday passed SB 1460, which would make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil, rather than criminal offense, with a maximum $100 fine.

Let's hope the Legislature can get it together to pass that bill into law this time around, as well as SB 175, which would take the medical marijuana program away from the Department of Public Safety and put it with the Department of Health, where it rightfully belongs. There's a hearing on Tuesday, and you can submit testimony by following the link above.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Musings: Take Note

Venus had just crested the Giant and it was cold, dark and starry — quite suitably, on this new moon day, which is also Imbolc, the mid-point between the winter solstice and spring equinox — when Koko and I went out walking.

Stars shone through tree tops, crowned mountain tops, filled an expanse of sky that spanned mauka to makai, while beside us, a sea of mist rose up from the hollows of the pasture and lapped at its edges. It was so beautiful that I had to go out again, an hour later, and watch the world turn gold-pink, Waialeale blush lavender, the mist-sea recede, like low tide.

And through it all I was thinking of a man I visited at the Regency at Puakea yesterday, a man whose mind was, not all that long ago, sharp, focused, prone to brilliant observations and reflections, intensely curious about the world, and adding greatly to the body of knowledge that is Hawaiian cosmology.

Now, as he told me, his mind is all over the place, though when it comes to rest it still imparts penetrating insights, probes the puzzles and mysteries of why we are here, what came before us.

I had last seen him in October 2004, in the parking lot of the Anahola store, where he was sharing some deep wisdom with David Boynton, who is gone now, and me. He had developed a theory about Hawaii heiau and their connection to the stars and sacred sites around the world that was so fascinating, so intriguing, that I went home and wrote it down.

Knowing that he was old, and in frail health, I kept thinking that I should search him out, follow up on his teachings, see where his further explorations had led him, but as so often happens in the busyness and preoccupations — so many of them trivial — that characterize modern life, I put it off for weeks, months, years, until this past weekend I ran across the pages where I had recorded the conversation that still stands out in my mind, though others rarely do.

His number was no longer listed, and I was uncertain if he was still alive, but I found him through Google and asked if I might visit, and he said yes, and I brought along those notes and read them to him, hoping they would stir his memory, prompt him to tell me more, but he just smiled and shook his head.

He handed me a stack of papers, saying perhaps they contained something that might be useful, and as I leafed through them, I saw that he had written about the topic that had captivated me, but the pages were out of order, and many were missing, and I realized I might never be able to fill in the missing pieces.

And I was reminded again of the folly of waiting, of postponing, of thinking that there is still time, when time indeed is running short, and I thought of how so many of our intellectual pursuits die with us, and I wondered, is the love we create, the service we provide, any more enduring?

Just then he looked at me, and his mind came to rest and I saw clarity in his eyes.

“Take note of what interests you,” he counseled, “because you never know when it might pass your way again.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Musings: Food and Drugs

Waialeale had draped herself in a lacy shawl and Venus was climbing through an apricot sky when Koko and I went out walking this chilly morning. As we headed mauka, the sky slowly faded to the shade of weak tea and by the time we headed home, all the color had disappeared, leaving the heavens a dead mosaic of gray and white, waiting to be enlivened by the rising sun.

The County Council meeting of Feb. 9 is likely to be enlivened by County Councilman Mel Rapozo’s introduction of a proposed amendment to the plastic bag reduction ordinance. After hearing from numerous restaurateurs concerned about the health ramifications of having people bring their own bags to carry take-out containers, he’s introduced an amendment that would exempt food service establishments, which are defined as:

“Food Service Establishment” means any building, vehicle, place, or structure, or any room or division in a building, vehicle, place, or structure where food is prepared, served, or sold for immediate consumption on or in the vicinity of the premises; called for or taken out by customers; or prepared prior to being delivered to another location for consumption. This term includes, but not limited to restaurants; coffee shops; cafeterias; short-order cafes; luncheonettes; taverns; lunchrooms; places which manufacture wholesale or retail sandwiches or salads; institutions, both public and private; food carts; itinerant restaurants; industrial cafeterias; and catering establishments.

Apparently some cities that pioneered the bag ban have amended their own bills to allow food service establishments to use fresh plastic to package their products, because of health and safety concerns. An article by Consumer Reports, questioned some of the chemical industry-funded research, but did end with this conclusion:

It’s easy to spread bacteria from meat, fish, or poultry to other foods – in your kitchen or in your grocery bags. So we do think it’s wise to carry those items in disposable bags. Reusable bags are fine for most everything else, but it’s a good idea to wash them occasionally.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, perhaps the food service establishments would be willing to switch to biodegradable boxes and cutlery in exchange for getting the use of their plastic bags back. Because while I can find lots of uses for a plastic bag, I’ve never yet re-used a foam take out box. And we sure do go through a lot of them on this little island.

While we’re talking about restaurants, I noticed a letter to the editor from Louisa Wooten, producer of the renowned Kunana Dairy goat cheese, the other day. While doing a search engine check, her son discovered at least four restaurants — one a five-star hotel — that claimed to be using their product, even though two had never bought her cheese and two others had stopped ordering well over a year ago. Guess there’s no need to buy local if you can lie local.

On another note, I’ve heard Beth Tokioka claims that I always bash the mayor. So I’ll take this opportunity to give him props for finally moving ahead with a youth drug treatment facility. A meeting is set for Thursday night so people can give their comments about its location, with a press release from the county stating:

“A recent series of meetings focusing on the critical need to provide these services for our youth has made us hopeful that the so-called ‘NIMBY’ issues are behind us and that our community is ready to move forward on behalf of our kids,” said the mayor.

However, it does not reveal the location of either of the two proposed sites, other than “Central Kauai,” which covers a lot of territory. But it’s a clever way to deflect NIMBY-ism, because no one is motivated to turn out in opposition if they don’t know exactly where it is. Doncha just love transparency?