Friday, April 29, 2011

New Post on PIKO: Pile of Pohaku Part II

I've just posted part two of "Pile of Pohaku," which outlines how a vacation rental that had zoning violations and was never approved by the Planning Commission is nevertheless being actively rented.

The post shows how Planning Commissioners did recognize that some of the TVR-related transgressions were, to use the words of Commissioner Hartwell Blake, "just blatant, in your face, poke you in the eye."

Yet they failed to follow up or dig deeper. Instead, they blindly trusted former Planning Director Ian Costa and Deputy Director Imai Aiu, both of whom were subsequently removed from their posts without public explanation, and the advice of inexperienced Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung.

It also shows how the Council simply compounded the problem with its recent passage of the amended vacation rental bill, which allows non-compliant properties to slide on through since no inspections are required. You can thank Councilman Tim Bynum for that little gift to the speculators.

It's ugly, and it's sad, because this particular case illustrates so vividly how some developers have totally scammed the system as the county either looked the other way or abetted the deception.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New on PIKO: "Pile of Pohaku"

PIKO has a new post, Pile of Pohaku. It's the latest installment in the ongoing chronicle of the scam that has allowed developers to transform modest beach homes into lavish vacation rentals, while bypassing federal flood insurance rules.

Read it and weep, then check in Friday (ran out of time, so had to delay it a day) for part two of this particular segment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Musings: Complete Insanity

A wedge of gold moon hung in a soft sky that appeared to have been colored with crayons when the dogs and I went walking this still morning. Rosy wisps and swirls brushed elbows with towering cumulus that took the shape of dragon, fox head, heart, bunny ears, as meanwhile a rain-bearing block of gray approached steadily from the east, rising just enough to allow a white sun to slide in.

Now that KIUC has allowed Free Flow Power (FFP) slide in and stake its claims to Kauai waters — supposedly on our behalf — some folks are likening the Massachusetts-based FFP to pirates. As Dr. Adam Asquith writes:

They have NO interest in our history or our future. They can read public information and see what our electrical rates are. They understand FERC completely and understand that FERC allows for, even encourages, predatory claims to water development anywhere in the U.S. They understand that if they can keep everything within the FERC process, then if we do not want them involved, our only option is to purchase the permits from them. Pirates they are. They sailed all the way here from the Atlantic for the sole purpose of claiming our water resources and making money from them by either selling us electricity or paper.

What’s most disturbing about FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) is that it trumps a state’s jurisdiction over its water. In California v. FERC, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the feds superceded the state’s right to set minimum stream flows. And that’s critical in Hawaii, which has a unique water code that factors in the rights of native ecosystems and Hawaiians.

Interestingly, FERC has jurisdiction only over navigable waters, a term the feds have interpreted quite broadly. But the state apparently fought off a FERC application 15 years ago by arguing that the upper Wailua is not and never was navigable.

So why KIUC would opt for a FERC process to develop hydro projects on irrigation ditches, which are clearly not navigable, unless you count inner tubes? Why would it embark on a course that is guaranteed to generate opposition and expensive litigation?

Or in other words, why did KIUC join the pirates? As Adam opines:

In October 2010, the pirates of FFP moved to steal the development rights to some of our water. KIUC freaked out because then THEY (US) would not be able to develop the water. So they began negotiations with the pirates. They agreed to pay a ransom for our water. Then KIUC figured that these pirates were really good at using the FERC process to claim water rights, so they agreed to hire the pirates as consultants to further steal some additional water.

Adam is circulating a petition to KIUC members that asks the Board to reconsider its contract with FFP and bring the issue to a vote of the membership. Signatures must be gathered by April 29, and he’s posted an electric petition at Unfortunately, that site is “experiencing intermittent downtime due to a denial of service attack from China … in response to a petition signed by more than 100,000 people worldwide standing against the detention of Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei.”

But don't worry. KIUC won't cut your juice if you sign.

While we’re on the topic of energy plans gone awry, today marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. This photo gallery offers an eerie and disturbing look at the human creations that were radiated, and so had to be abandoned, in the exclusionary zone.

And on a related note, in this video geophysicist Leuren Moret talks about how the Fukushima nuke plant destruction and subsequent release of radiation was far worse than Chernobyl. She also gets into Queen Elizabeth's vast uranium holdings and the HARP weapon system, noting:

What this HARP system, this new weapon of war, is doing, is it’s artificially triggering natural events that release huge amounts of energy that can be used as a destructive force.”

Moret sums it up by saying:

We’ve been nuclear guinea pigs since 1945. Nuclear power, nuclear weapons, are not compatible with human life. What species kills their young for energy? What species kills their young for security? What species kills their young for power? None. It’s complete insanity.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Musings: Friday Finale

The sparkling brilliance of a starry midnight had been replaced by a cloud-mottled dawn when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. A hapai half-moon lit our way along a street that was quiet, in a holiday (for some) kind of way, which allowed the sweetness of bird song to dominate.

We had already returned home, and the dogs had their faces deep in their food bowls, when the sun rose through the trees, a hot pink sphere that turned the world a shimmery gold before assuming that color itself, its rays seeming to pulse as they moved through the moisture laden air and shot directly into my eyes. Wake up and live!

It’s Friday, a good time to clear the desk, and mind, of things that caught my interest recently.

For starters, the Hawaii Supreme Court has agreed to hear Ikaika Pratt’s long-running case pertaining to the rights of Native Hawaiians to engage in their traditional and customary practices. It stems from Ikaika’s arrest for camping in Kalalau for longer than is allowed, and without a permit, while he cared for a heiau there.

Attorney Dan Hempey, in successfully petitioning the high Court, noted:

From Petitioner’s perspective, the case has almost played out like a trap, with the State conceding an important point at trial, the trail court agreeing that the matter has been proven, and the Petitioner then losing the case on appeal because an ICA [Intermediate Court of Appeals] judge held that he failed to present evidence on the very same conceded issue.

While we’re on the topic of Hawaiian issues, Gov. Abercrombie, apparently unfazed — or perhaps unaware — of the circumstances that led to former deputy planning director Imai Aiu’s demotion within the ranks of county personnel, appointed him to the Hawaiian Homes Commission. Among those submitting supportive testimony to a recent hearing chaired by Sen. Brickwood Galuteria was Pua Aiu, Imai’s sister and the State Historic Preservation Division director who approved the very controversial plan to allow the disinterment of burials at Kawaiahao Church, a project in which Brickwood’s mother has played an instrumental part.

And while we’re talking about burials, Pua Aiu and demotd public servants, the County Council this week deferred action on a resolution nominating Nancy McMahon to the Kauai Historic Preservation Review Commission. Nancy, as you may recall, was the former Kauai district archaeologist and SHPD deputy director who approved the burial treatment plan that allowed Joe Brescia to build on top of iwi kupuna. Pua Aiu signed off on the plan after it was rejected by the Kauai Niihau Island Burial Council, thus setting the precedent that capping iwi in concrete and building over them is compatible with a determination to “preserve in place.”

In looking back through the Kauai Eclectic archive in response to a request for information about the Naue/Brescia debacle, I encountered this reference, which pretty much sums up why Nancy shouldn’t be appointed to the Commission — unless, of course, you’re looking for someone who isn’t going to be advocating for preservation:

But that irritation was tempered by the good news that Nancy McMahon, the state archaeologist whose misdeeds created the Bresica boondoggle – to quote Judge Watanabe: ““The heart of this case is the failure of the state to follow procedures put in place to protect cultural practitioners, the general public and the rights of landowners.” — has been placed on indefinite administrative leave without pay. Her suspension followed a National Park Services inquiry into and state legislative hearings on the screwed up mess that is the State Historic Preservation Division.

Councilman Mel Rapozo asked for the deferral after receiving an email from Richard Spacer, who has been active in the access issue at Lepeuli (Larsen’s Beach). Richard alleged that Nancy had refused to come and inspect an archaeological feature in the area where Bruce Laymon wanted to run cattle, even as she signed a petition saying Bruce was doing a good job of cleaning up the beach.

Speaking of beaches, I couldn’t help but think of how vulnerable our built-up coastlines are while watching the video posted over at Disappeared News under the apt heading “Latest tsunami video horrible to watch.”

And for a soberingly different perspective on the fallout from the Japanese nuke plant disaster, check out this site, which reports on the efforts of animal rescue operations to help thousands of animals abandoned, and often starving, in the radiation exclusion zones:

“It’s like Katrina with radiation – a ghost town with only animals. All we hear are barking dogs,” said Brenda Shoss, the executive director of Kinship Circle, an animal organization working in the exclusion zone to rescue animals at the direct request of their guardians. “It’s a crisis for domesticated animals. It’s not like we’re in a disaster aftermath. The disaster is still happening.”

And while we’re talking about animals, in the aforementioned archival search I also stumbled upon this excerpt from an entry written after one of neighbor’s dogs had killed my cat:

One of the dog owners contacted me to say he was taking steps to make sure his dog never did that again to another animal, and that’s really the best outcome I could hope for from this unfortunate situation.

Ah, yes, Miss Pollyanna hoping for the best. Yet one year later, the guy’s dog is still running loose and was part of the pack that attacked Paele.

So to the person who chided me in comments to “look for the good in people and believe perhaps that they and most people, have goodness in their heart” let me just say that I do, indeed, always look for the good that I believe is in every heart.

Unfortunately, it’s often deeply buried under selfishness, stupidity, unconsciousness and greed.

Which seems to be a fitting segue to the Ainana Hou project, and the Sierra Club’s denouncement of approvals granted for it, in part due to concerns about the precedent it could set in allowing commercial uses of ag land though the special use permit process.

As I noted previously, merits of the amphitheater aside, if developer Bill Porter was truly sincere about wanting to do good for the community, he should have sought a land use reclassification from the state and zoning change from the county.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Musings: Outnumbered

The moon — yellow, and losing its fullness fast — guided Koko, Paele and me as we headed mauka in that ethereal time when the sights and sounds of day replace those of night. On our return, when I could see things more clearly, I spotted a mound of mist in the middle of a pasture, perfectly formed into a dome, like some ephemeral outdoor sculpture. I could see Venus, pale white in a brightening sky, but clouds that shone red through the coconut palms caused me to miss the other players in the great planetary conjunction that continues into next month.

A Neighborhood Watch meeting where I work caused me to miss the KIUC dog and pony show last night, and thus the opportunity to assess the mood of co-op members who came to collect a free bag of rice. But all was not lost, as I did learn a few things, like KPD has just two beat cops on duty between Kalaheo and Polihale during each shift, and only three officers patrolling the beat that encompasses the area between Maluhia (Tree Tunnel) Road in Koloa and Kukui Road in downtown Kapaa.

“So when I see three cop cars respond to a situation here, that means we’ve got all your available manpower locked up?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” the sergeant replied.

It’s amazing to think such a small force is able to respond to all the calls that come in — so many of them small-kine stuff that people should be able to work out themselves — and also issue a whopping 20,282 citations last year.

Sometimes the chronic staff shortages result in tense situations, as apparently was the case recently in Nawiliwili, when the cruise ship came in and the passengers and crew headed for the harbor area bars. Before long, a fight broke out and soon two guys were beating on each other. The cops used their Tasers to subdue the perps and were preparing to handcuff them and take them away when the 80 or so drunk onlookers started to move in, prompting the badly outnumbered cops to pull out their pepper spray.

That tale left me thinking again of how tourism is such a double-edged sword. Yes, the boat people are out spending money in Lihue, but certainly not without some public cost. Maybe the cruise ships should have to provide onshore security.

It also got me thinking of how unlikely such a scenario would be if those people had been smoking cannabis instead of drinking alcohol. Yet the herb continues to be illegal — with a bill that would have decriminalized possession likely to fail again this session in the Lege, despite a promising start.

Meanwhile, even as folks in Mexico protest against using that nation’s military to fight drug cartels, the U.S. is opening another front in its own war on drugs, this one against prescription painkillers. The plan includes doctor education, apparently to counter the hype offered by the pharmaceutical companies, and requires all states to adopt prescription drug monitoring programs to track what physicians are prescribing and what pharmacies are dispensing.

I found it interesting that drug companies, which spend so much marketing their wares, will be asked to contribute to a public education campaign aimed at keeping stuff like oxycodone away from kids.

While government officials are touting it as the first-ever comprehensive strategy against the abuse of opioids, not everyone is convinced it will achieve its rather modest goal of reducing misuse by 15 percent in five years.

"Anything would help, because we're drowning in it up here in eastern Kentucky," [Letcher County Sheriff Danny] Webb said, adding that he is skeptical any government plan will ultimately work. "I don't know if there's ever going to be a winning to this war on drugs."

He's not alone in that view. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Mexican drug cartels are setting up shop in the U.S., with the Justice Department estimating that Mexican cartels now directly control drug markets in 230 major American cities.

AOL News also reported that the U.S. government has received uncorroborated information that Mexican criminal gangs may intend to attack U.S. law enforcement officers or U.S. citizens, in Mexico, in the near future.

And that prompted this response from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition:

“Al Capone brought appalling violence to American streets during our first prohibition,” says former US Border Patrol and Homeland Security Officer, Terry Nelson. “But, it was nothing in comparison to what the Mexican drug cartels have in store for us if we do not stop this senseless war on drugs.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Musings: Industrial Disease

The black clouds that had hovered over the mountains all afternoon swooped in last night and brought the kind of steady, noise-blotting rain that makes it easy to sleep, which is why the sun was well-risen when the dogs and I went walking this morning. Rounding a corner, I saw two thick streaks of white on the face of Makaleha, nearer to whom I’ll moving next month, and as I drew closer to Waialeale, six slim waterfalls could be seen streaming down the front of the mountain.

And I thought of how multiple falls aren’t seen on Waialeale’s face as often as they used to be, and they do not linger long. Yet even in her diminished state we’re still making our plans to exploit her further, for more drinking water, hydroelectric power. When was the last time we acknowledged what she already gives, much less say thanks?

The executives and shareholders at BP are giving thanks that their profits are once again strong and stock dividends are being paid. Yes, it’s only been a year since BP created one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes, but it’s already back to business as usual. As Live Trading News reported:

The 1st deep-water permit issued after the Obama administration lifted a post-spill drilling ban went to Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE:NBL) for work on a well off the coast of Louisiana.

BP is not the operator but it has a 46% stake in the well. BP also bought out Shell’s 25% interest in 2 Gulf fields in December, making BP the sole owner of both.

BP’s spokesman Scott Dean said the leading leaseholder in the Gulf, will remain active in all facets of the Gulf of Mexico Crude Oil exploration. The Company has applied for a permit to drill 1 new well in the Gulf and is certain to apply for more.

Meanwhile, many of the folks who live in the ravaged areas and helped clean up the giant mess are finding their fortunes and future are not quite so bright as BP's. Yes, just as everyone with a brain expected, they’re experiencing all sorts of medical problems associated with their exposure to the nasty substances found in chemical dispersants and crude oil, most notably benzene.

“Mystery illnesses plague plague Louisiana oil spill crews” reads an Associated Press headline, but really, it’s no mystery at all. It’s what happens when living creatures are exposed to toxins:

Some similar symptoms, including eye irritation, breathing problems, nausea and psychological stress, have been seen among responders to the Prestige oil tanker spill off Spain in 2002 and the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 off Alaska.

Local chemist Wilma Subra has been helping test people's blood for volatile solvents, and said levels of benzene among cleanup workers, divers, fishermen and crabbers are as high as 36 times that of the general population.

"As the event progresses we are seeing more and more people who are desperately ill," she said.

"Clearly it is showing that this is ongoing exposure," Subra said, noting that pathways include contact with the skin, eating contaminated seafood or breathing polluted air.

"We have been asking the federal agencies to please provide medical care from physicians who are trained in toxic exposure."

She said she has received no response.

BP officials, meanwhile, have learned well from the government, which continues to avoid responsibility for the medical ailments of toxin-exposed military veterans and 9-11 responders:

"Illness and injury reports were tracked and documented during the response, and the medical data indicate they did not differ appreciably from what would be expected among a workforce of this size under normal circumstances," [BP] added.

Any compensation for sick workers would fall under state law, and "BP does not make these determinations, which must be supported by acceptable medical evidence."

[Mike] Robichaux, an ear, nose and throat specialist whose office an hour's drive southwest of New Orleans is nestled on a roadside marked with handwritten signs advertising turtle meat for sale, says he is treating many of the local patients in their homes.

"Their work ethic is so strong, they are so stoic, they don't want people to know when they're sick," he said.

"Ninety percent of them are getting worse... Nobody has a clue as to what it is."

Actually, Dire Straits pegged it correctly as industrial disease:

There's a protest singer, he's singing a protest song, he says

They wanna have a war to keep their factories
They wanna have a war to keep us on our knees
They wanna have a war to stop us buying Japanese
They wanna have a war to stop industrial disease

They're pointing out the enemy to keep you deaf and blind
They wanna sap your energy, incarcerate your mind

Which leads me to this website, which shows where all those taxes we just paid go. Note how number one is “national defense.” But what, really, do Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have to do with “national defense?”

And wouldn’t protecting the health of our citizenry and natural resources more logically be considered “national defense" — without the associated industrial disease?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Musings: More for Less

The dogs and I went out walking beneath the moon, which was bold and bright, though on the wane, riding the magic carpet of a wispy cloud and heading down fast, becoming more golden with each passing minute, just an arm’s length from the clear, flat summit of Waialeale. The east was a sullen gray blob with smoldering eyes, crowned by Venus valiantly holding forth in a pale sky.

Behind the clouds were nearly all the other planets: Neptune, Uranus, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars, lined up like planes awaiting take off on a runway, converging for what A Darker View describes as “this year’s great planetary conjunction.” The AstroViewer site can also help you figure what you’re seeing as the planets exchange partners in their month-long dance above the horizon.

I’ve been seeing a disturbing trend that began in the recession and seems to be lingering, even as we enter the so-called recovery. I'm talking about the practice of people working harder for less money. Or some people, anyway. As USA Today reported for the year 2010:

The median amount that CEOs actually took home — which includes salary and cash bonuses, as well as stock and options awarded in previous years that vested or were cashed in — was $8.6 million. That’s the most CEOs have pulled down since the median of $9.2 million in 2007, according to GovernanceMetrics’ analysis of S&P 500 companies.

It seems the median pay for CEOs of large corporations in the U.S. increased 27 percent last year, while pay raises for all workers in private industry averaged just 2.1 percent and unemployment held steady at 8.8 percent. Meanwhile, firms are spending their hefty profits — 47 percent last year for companies in the S&P 500 — not on workers and their wages, but mergers, which tend to result in more layoffs.

In doing some research this past week, I noticed that the “work harder for less” formula is also playing out in the Islands, with the state Department of Economic Development, Business and Tourism predicting:

The state’s visitor count is expected to exceed the 2007 peak level of 7.6 million by 2013, but the wage and salary job count may take longer to recover to its peak of 631,000 jobs in 2007.

Are folks employed by the visitor industry going to have to hustle harder to serve the growing number of guests, or are more visitors staying in places that don't require a wage-earner to tend them?

A report on the national Housing Predictor website pretty much nailed it when it noted:

[A] larger picture of a society in transition is taking place in the Islands, where tourism and second home vacation sales and rentals are the cornerstone of the economy.

Yes, the two do seem to go together, kinda like ham and cheese. Which is why I take always take hits when this blog gores those sacred cows.

So let me say mahalo to the readers who submitted supportive comments last week, especially the person who described my writing as “luminous.” Wow. Your kind words really mean a lot when I check comments during my busy day, especially because, as one reader noted:

Amazing how many people read this blog for the sake of dissing you...get a life. Its like they stalk you just to attack your writings.

Yeah, it is kinda weird. But hey, so long as at least some of you find value in this blog, I'll keep writing!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Musings: One Thought Leads to Another

Rain was falling so lightly that it felt like wet wind when Koko, Pa`ele and I went walking this morning. It was just enough to make my skin shine, the dogs’ fur glisten, and as it grew heavier, I wondered how much radiation it carried, and recalled the words on one web site: “There is no safe dose of radiation.”

I thought of a woman who told me she had forbidden her children and grandchildren to go to the beach, because she was worried about their exposure to radiation in the water. So she keeps them inside, where they’re all exposed to her second hand cigarette smoke.

And that made me think of the mother I heard the other day yelling at her child, who looked to be about three, “Get in the house before I break your arm.”

Which made me think of concerns I heard voiced the other day that funding for Section 8 (HUD) housing may be dramatically cut, which prompted the City and County of Honolulu to send out a heads-up to all their Section 8 recipients, which caused those of us who heard this news to ask, “What will happen to all those people on Section 8? Are they just going to end up homeless?”

"But what do you do when there is no more money?" countered the bearer of the news.

Except there is money — for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now Libya, where, according to a report on Democracy Now! today, the allied forces are going well “beyond the United Nations mandate authorizing air strikes to protect civilians and impose a no-fly zone” and vowing to keep up the fight until Gaddafi is overthrown, regardless of the cost in property and lives.

That reminded me of the warning that a Honolulu businessman gave the other day, about how insurance companies seeking to recover their losses on the Japan tsunami and earthquake will be dramatically raising premiums next year, and how that’s going to have global implications.

Which made me think of a New Yorker article I read recently about how commercial nuclear energy was going nowhere until Congress created a government-run insurance pool for the industry. The article went on to report:

After several decades and billions of dollars’ worth of studies, the U.S. still does not have a plan for developing a long-term storage facility for radioactive waste, much of which will remain dangerous for millennia. Instead, spent-fuel rods are stored at each of the country’s hundred and four nuclear power plants. More than two dozen reactors in the U.S. have aboveground storage pools similar to those that have failed at Fukushima—the only difference is that the American pools contain far more waste than their Japanese counterparts. In a conference call with reporters the other day, David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and the director of the Nuclear Safety Project of the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the risks currently posed by spent-fuel pools in the U.S. “about as high as you could possibly make them.”

And that made me think of a guy I heard on KKCR the other day — I didn’t catch his name, because the hosts so often fail to re-introduce their studio guests for the benefit of those who tune in late — talking about how he was trying to get some sort of hydro project with what sounded like a hydrogen energy storage component going here on Kauai. But apparently he hadn’t been finding much receptivity, and it pissed him off, not only because people weren’t embracing what he was trying to "give them," but they were asking how would it impact the endangered native Newcomb’s snails and or affect stream flow.

His take was, who gives a shit about the snails and stream flow when oil is killing whales and dolphins and warming the planet. And while it’s true that oil is a killer and our love affair with it is indeed a Faustian bargain, does that mean we should just ignore the environmental impacts of alternative energy sources?

Which made me think of people who write in comments that I shouldn’t get worked up about the chicken manure being used on the beach at Haena when there are more serious problems in the world. Which there are, but does that mean you can only choose to focus on one problem at a time, or ignore your own backyard while worrying about Libya or Japan or global warming or plutonium?

And that made me think about another comment that was made about how there was no more naupaka in front of Pierce Brosnan’s house than any other along that coastline, which is exactly the point: one person does it and gets away with it, then the neighbors follow suit and pretty soon the whole beach is planted.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Musings: Give and Get

Walking up from the beach in the rosy remnants of yesterday, salt-encrusted, wind whipped, hair and skin still damp from immersion in clear water, I stopped, looked back, and was filled with such a warm love for the place I’ve visited nearly every day for the past 11 years that I said aloud, “Mahalo, mahalo for everything.”

That spontaneous expression of gratitude got me thinking about everything that particular beach has given me: solace, refreshment, all kinds of healing, spiritual restoration, pleasure, intense beauty, inspiration, fond memories, clarity, insights, profound joy, interactions with numerous wild creatures, glass floats and shells, entertainment, sanity.

I was struck, in that moment of reflection, by the bountiful gifts offered so freely, the recognition that deep intimacy can be forged with places. I’ve come to know that beach so well, yet every day I find it different.

And I thought of how lucky I am to have had that opportunity, and how sad it is that some people just view the beach as a marketing opportunity, a means for increasing the value of their property, when really, its true value lies in its intrinsic properties.

Kauai’s beachfronts are, unfortunately, lined with those kinds of people, who are supported by the apologists — usually paid, or wannabees — who tell us we should look the other way, “get a life” that doesn’t include speaking out against the loss of a treasured public resource, that it’s OK for folks like celebrity Pierce Brosnan to encroach on the public beach because he gives so much money to community causes or developer Michele Hughes to make illegal trails to the beach and hire private security guards to patrol it because her houses generate big tax revenues.

I thought, after receiving a couple of comments like that in regard to Saturday’s “Chicken Shit” post, of how many times in my 24 years on Kauai I have heard people say Mr. X or Ms. Y should be allowed to do such and thus because they’ve given so much to the community, as Mr. X or Ms. Y simultaneously claim that they’ve been drawn to Kauai by the desire to “give back,” even though their giving always seems to include some element of getting even more of what they already admittedly have in abundance.

And I always wonder why, if their desire truly is to “give back,” they don’t just give, rather than tying it into some quid pro quo formula that inevitably seems to include an aspect of take.

Most recently, this is playing out with gazillionaire Bill Porter, and his desire to develop the Kilauea amphitheater on land zoned open in the agricultural district, adjacent to the tacky putt putt golf course he earlier constructed. Porter is quoted as saying the project is about “giving back” as he also remarks that it’s a “real loser” from a commercial standpoint. Why should that even matter, if it’s truly about “giving back?”

I’m not necessarily opposed to an amphitheater in Kilauea, and I don’t have much sympathy for Kalihiwai Ridge residents, since most of them are contributing to the gentrification of the agricultural land they profess to now be protecting. But what I don’t understand is why Porter, who has deep pockets and the supposed desire to unite the community, didn’t follow the more proper process of seeking a redistricting of his land through the state Land Use Commission, rather than a special use permit from the county planning commission.

If he’s really keen to “give back,” why doesn’t he pay property taxes on the 473 acres of land he bought off Kuawa Road, rather than plant a “timber crop” that has no local market, but drops his tax bill down to zero?

And though I’ve heard the CPR process for that land was already under way when he bought it, I also heard his representative, Karen Tang, say on the radio that he had absolutely no plans to develop gentleman’s estates, and then later qualify it by saying, “not that I know of” and “certainly not at this time.” No, I wouldn’t imagine he would do anything at this time, not with the market so down. But if it picks up, it could very well be a different story.

At any rate, Porter got his approval, and he may yet prove to be Kilauea’s benevolent benefactor. Or he could turn out to be like so many of the others who came to Kauai and found that by giving a little, they can get quite a lot.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Musings: Baffling and Disheartening

The days, happily, are getting noticeably longer. It was still quite light when I left the beach at 6 last night, and even without benefit of moon and stars, it was bright enough to walk without a flashlight at 5:30 this morning, beneath a patchy sky that delivered light rain just as the dogs and I returned to our gardenia-perfumed house.

I got an email about radiation advising people to stay out of the rain, and now that the Japanese are finally admitting just how bad their nuclear mess is — which Greenpeace reportedly figured out three weeks ago — you have to wonder what else the world isn’t being told, even as Japan’s prime minister gave his people a Dubya-like post-9/11 “go shopping” pep talk:

"Let's live normally without falling into excessive self-restraint," he said. "We should eat and drink products from the quake-hit areas as a form of support."

I don’t think I’d go that far, but I love the rain too much to consider it a threat.

I also love it when readers report the news, which one person did in comments last night: “It’s Councilmember Kualii!” Better yet, it was unanimous. Now that’s a positive thing, and I’m glad to see someone I voted for every time he ran finally in office. Congratulations, KipuKai!

Still, I have to question why the list of prospective candidates was kept secret. I mean, why shouldn’t we know that after all these years, Maxine Correa still has political aspirations?

Speaking of which, Deputy County Attorney Justin Kollar is preparing to run for Prosecutor, and rumor has it that Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho isn’t, but may run for Council instead. In case you’re not familiar with Justin, he’s among the growing legions of Shay’s disgruntled former deputies and one of those who, along with Shay, recently lobbied the Council to oppose the Legislature’s medical marijuana bills:

Deputy County Attorney Justin Kollar said “it is baffling and disheartening to see so much more effort being put into making more drugs available to more of our residents.”

What’s baffling and disheartening is how county employees — and attorneys at that — can engage in political lobbying during work hours with impunity.

It’s also baffling and disheartening to see how developers like Michele and Justin Hughes can, without the proper permits, make a very elaborate trail down to the beach and create high-end vacation rentals on ag land, then go in and seek after-the-fact permits even as they’re selling the land whose value was greatly enhanced by the illegal trail and TVRs.

Their devious deeds are being assisted by good old Neal Norman, who is sucking up large so he can market their high ticket properties. As his website announcing the sale gushingly notes:

"I am honored to be selected by Michele Hughes, to market in this unique way, the ultimate 'one of a kind' property. This is the quintessential opportunity for my valued clients/associates to obtain one of the finest and most coveted beachfront estates in Hawaii, lovingly created and nurtured with the meticulous and aesthetic attention to detail that is the signature of the owner and highly respected real estate developer, The Michele Hughes Company."


It goes on to say, for the benefit of the “selected clientele” to whom it’s being marketed (emphasis in the original):

Secret Beach, where miles of silky white sand meet outcroppings of primordial lava rock and the turquoise sea. Hiking, surfing, shelling, swimming and whale watching are yours privately and exclusively. Offered for the first time in its entirety, the 34 acre Secret Beach Hideaway estate includes six beach and bluff home sites, three guest home sites, and over 2/3 mile of sandy beach frontage. Accessed by three private gates on Kauapea Road—Kauai’s “ultimate address”—the three parcel estate offers breathtaking ocean and mountain views including legendary sunsets over Bali Hai, two exquisite guest homes, an office, an organic nursery, underground utilities, park-like acreage, ponds, waterfalls, and miles of beach trails.

What I find amusing is how the website for one of Michele’s vacation rentals states the land “is zoned agricultural but most of it is unsuitable for farming,” yet somehow they’ve managed to create “an organic nursery and park-like acreage.”

Which leads me to something else I found amusing, and that’s a comment left on the post about how Pierce Brosnan is planting up the beach in front of his Haena home:

Has anyone called Tim or Joann? Maybe they can help with an ordinance that would allow this behavior, like they did with the TVRs on ag lands. Then it wouldn't be an issue anymore.

Always good to remember to laugh.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Musings: Keep Believing

The light was in that murky place between darkness and a charcoal dawn when the dogs and I went out walking this still, warm morning. I hadn’t gone too far when I spotted a nice machete lying in the road, so I stuck it in the bushes to pick up upon my return. And I hadn’t gone too far beyond that when I looked up to see a column of towering cumulus marching along the eastern horizon against a backdrop of pearly pink, which turned bright scarlet and then settled down to a soft rose that lingered for a while before fading back to gray.

While change is constant and often rapid in the natural world, it’s different in the realm of man. A reader the other day thanked me for what I write, then asked if I actually believe things will ever change.

Not really. But still, you’ve got to believe, or at the very least, bear witness. Otherwise, it becomes too easy to justify a life of self-indulgence, which is not only boring and superficial, but amoral. And isn’t that largely why we’re in our present predicaments?

Still, sometimes it’s hard to keep believing, like when I saw an email, with graphic photos, that Caren Diamond sent to the Office of Coastal and Conservation Lands back on Feb. 15, 2007 alerting them to the coconut trees being planted with chicken manure on the public beach fronting Pierce Brosnan’s house. And here we are, four years later, with the exact same scenario.

That’s not to ding OCCL, which like the rest of DLNR is ridiculously overworked and underfunded, but to raise the question of why we apparently place so little value on our beaches, especially that one, which is featured prominently in so many tourism promotions.

Still, Councilman Mel Rapozo’s request for an investigation did at least generate a prompt reply — on a Sunday, no less — from Planning Director Michael Dahilig, who promised to send out an inspector this week and also notify OCCL. And in that way I start believing again….

Still, it’s a little hard for even an optimist like me to believe the process to choose Derek Kawakami’s replacement on the County Council will proceed smoothly, with the panel united in its efforts to find the person who will best serve the public. It doesn’t help that Councilmembers will begin deliberations late this afternoon, already bleary after a full day of budget briefings.

It seems a number of people have been calling and emailing the Council offices to express their preference for one person or another, apparently laboring under the misconception that this is a public hearing and their views are being sought. They aren’t. This isn’t about what the people want, but how members can strengthen their own political alliances and undermine those of their adversaries.

Perhaps that explains why a full roster of potential candidates has not been publicly released. Still, I’ve heard various names bandied about — some that can possibly be taken seriously, like Planning Commissioner Jimmy Nishida and Sandra Kato-Klutke, and others, like Kimo Rosen, that can’t.

Most notable is former Chair Kaipo Asing, who has expressed interest, along with KipuKai Kualii, who came in eighth in the last election. Because of that ranking, he’s been pushed by some as “the people’s choice,” prompting one observer to note wryly: “If he was the people’s choice, he would have come in seventh.” Or as another person remarked: “Kaipo would have been eighth if he hadn’t been smeared at the last minute.”

The prospect of appointing Kaipo is bound to meet intense resistance from Councilmembers Tim Bynum and JoAnn Yukimura, so in order to avert a bloodbath, other “blast from the past” appointees may start to look more attractive. I’m specifically talking about Lani Kawahara and Daryl Kaneshiro, both of whom, like Kaipo, were sent off buried in lei and equally flowery and perishable accolades when their terms ended in 2010.

I suppose the Council could bring any of them back, but that’s sort of like getting together with an old boyfriend: yeah, he’s familiar, but there’s a reason why you broke up.

At least Kaipo wanted to get back on the Council, unlike Lani and Daryl, who bowed out.

The question extends beyond who will get the nod to how long it might take for a simple majority of the Council to reach that place. It has 30 days before the decision reverts to the mayor, so no need rush into anything or back anyone into a corner just yet.

Interestingly, when the Honolulu City Council last had to fill a vacancy, it required nominees to vow they would not seek election as a way to avoid giving the appointee an unfair advantage in the next election. What do you suppose is the likelihood a similar requirement will be imposed here?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Musings: Chicken Shit

When the tsunami surge arrived on Kauai’s North Shore last month, it washed out and salt-fried a lot of the vegetation that had been planted along the coast in Haena. But even that strong message from Mother Nature didn’t deter landowners, who quickly got to work recreating the thick plantings that give them privacy and some erosion protection — at the expense of the public’s beach.

Since everybody knows Pierce Brosnan, let’s use his house — which, secret-agent style, doubles as "The Cove," renting for $12,000 per week — as an example.

Pierce has seven acres of land, but still he felt compelled to begin claiming the public beach, as evidenced by this photo, which shows the chicken manure applied to the plantings in the sand fronting his lot back in 2007.

By 2009, his vegetation was thriving and already encroaching onto the beach, making it difficult to traverse.

Soon, thanks to regular fertilizing and watering, he had quite a lush hedge of naupaka to reinforce his message of Keep the Hell Out!

But the tsunami took a hit, and his vegetation ended up looking pretty scraggly, as you can see from these photos taken last week:

So Pierce’s gardeners got to work restaking their boss man's vegetative claim to the public beach by installing new coconut trees and other plantings.

To ensure the plantings thrived, they also added irrigation and applied copious quantities of chicken shit.

So now there’s shit on our white sand beach, and such a lovely smell wafting through the salt air.

For good measure, they tossed out some wood chips as mulch.

But don't worry. I’m sure none of this will wash out on the reef — so long as we don’t get any rain or another swell.

Main thing, Pierce is getting back the privacy he — and his high paying guests — require.

So next time you see him, be sure to say mahalo nui loa for being such a good steward of our island home, ya little chicken shit.

Photos by Caren Diamond

Friday, April 8, 2011

Musings: It's Clear

It was a drippy kind of morning, with previously fallen rain mixing with newly falling rain — in other words, it ws utterly delightful when Koko and Paele and I went out walking this morning. Mist swooped along the base of the Giant and swirled in the pasture, while the sun glimmered through random thin spots in clouds that still huddled in the east. Looking west, though, it was a very different world, and the summit of Waialeale and waterfall-streaked slopes of Makaleha were perfectly clear.

It was also perfectly clear that my neighbor – the one whose pack attacked Paele on Wednesday — hasn’t learned a thing, or at least, not enough to change his behavior, as his dogs were again running loose this morning. Paele is recovering, but still too sore to be touched on his shoulders and sides without yelping, which makes it hard to towel off after a wet walk.

The ever thoughtful Dr. Shibai asked in comments, after reading about the mugging, “What is the solution to "lack of responsibility" that plagues the human race?

I don’t know the answer to that weighty question, other than education, or more drastically, removing the unconscious jerks from the gene pool. Unfortunately, my neighbor has already spawned and at least two of his four progeny are just as irresponsible as their dad in allowing their dogs to run free.

Going through this has made me very aware of how violence begets violence, as whenever I see him and his dogs, I think angry, vengeful thoughts, and Paele and Koko moan and whimper. The once warm friendship with my neighbor Andy, who exhibits the classic white male colonialist sense of entitlement and selfish arrogance, is clearly dead.

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that ratepayers and the KIUC board have strikingly different ideas about the meaning of a “cooperative.”

The very word brings up images of working together, cooperating, which implies a certain amount of give and take, or at least some direct communication. But all that has been missing as the Board totally blows off coop members and steamrolls ahead with its plans for hydro development.

The most recent example of arrogance was the Board’s decision on March 29 to contract with Free Flow Power, a mainland firm, to secure the rights to hydro development in several Kauai streams. Members Carol Bain, Ben Sullivan and Jan TenBruggencate voted in opposition, with Jan stating his concerns that “it lacked a comprehensive community engagement strategy.”

Indeed. In fact, the community outreach has been so poor — and the cluelessness of Free Flow so pronounced — that the utility has yet to dispel the notion that it plans to build a dam on the Wailua River. It’s not surprising that I, and many others, got such an idea when we looked at one of the permits Free Flow filed with the Federal Energy Commission (FERC) to generate power on the Wailua River.

As it was explained to me, in anticipation of doing actual engineering, the company supposedly stuck in the description of the old, defeated dam proposal as a place-holder in the slot that says "Project Proposal.” It's hard to believe they could be that stupid, but supposedly KIUC is not planning to build any dams.

It's also hard to believe the Board majority could be so stupid as to think it's OK to hire a firm that does business mainland style: get the permit first and do outreach later.


So now there’s mounting opposition to these permits, which FERC has already approved, and Seagrant extension agent Dr. Adam Asquith is leading an initiative and petition drive to ask the Board to cancel its contract with Free Flow. In a widely circulated letter, he wrote:

In summary, as KIUC coop members, you have asked, and will soon be paying for, a mainland company to seize the water rights and develop several hydroelectric projects on Kauai. Furthermore, you have asked the Federal government to preside over this action and seize any lands that you need to accomplish your goal. As KIUC Coop members we should recognize that these predatory claims are inexcusably insensitive to the past injustices of water use in Hawaii. We should know that these claims are an egregious breach of the protocol for how we think of, and access, water in Hawaii. We should know that this action will put the Coop in an unnecessary aggressive and possessive position that will lead to conflict, litigation and ultimately no access to water for electrical generation.

Coop members who don’t like this approach are urged to contact KIUC at and ask the Board of Directors to repeal its decision to engage Free Flow Power to secure water rights to develop the hydroelectric projects. Adam is also circulating a petition — you can download it and find more info at Island Breath. Adam wants to compile the signatures this weekend, so get on it.

Meanwhile, Free Flow and the KIUC Board are finally going out to the community starting April 18, which is apparently after the deadline for submitting signatures in opposition to the contract. It’s smarmy as heck, but hey, they’ll give ya a free bag of rice if you show up.

As one observer noted in an email: “Is that what they think is the mentality of Kauai people? I was unable to find out how many members they have but I think that’s a lot of rice. Plenty money to throw around.”

Yup, and it’s our money, don’t forget.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New PIKO Post

With the first lane of the new Wailua cane haul bridge opening, following a blessing by Rev. Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira and coinciding with a weather forecast for heavy rain, lightning and even hail, it seems an appropriate time to revisit an article I originally published in Honolulu Weekly on Aug. 4, 2010. Check it out on PIKO.

Musings: Moving On

This morning started off lovely, with good energy, until my neighbor’s dogs — two of the same ones that killed my cat last April 4, plus another one he’s since adopted from the shelter — attacked Paele.

It wasn’t pretty, seeing little Paele on the ground, belly up, and those three big dogs mugging him. My neighbor was uselessly issuing verbal commands when I started hitting Kahu — one of the dogs I’d seen with my cat in his mouth — with my umbrella. That caused him to let up long enough for Paele to escape and my neighbor to gain some semblance of control over his pack.

But did my neighbor offer an apology, express concern for Paele, or Koko, who had run off in the affray and was cowering nearby in terror?

Nope, he blamed Paele for “hassling” his dogs. Never mind that both Paele and Koko were leashed, and his dogs were not, and each of his three dogs are a good five to six times the weight of Paele, and I’d warned him that one of his dogs was growling and two of the dogs are proven animal killers.

How do you deal with people like that? Other than report them to the Humane Society, which is what I will do and should have done a year ago, despite the promises they would make sure to keep their dogs controlled, and haven't, which resulted in another neighborhood dog being killed last November and my neighbor having to put down the perperator.

Paele seems to be OK, but I’m still agitated and trembling. And I’m afraid the relationship with my neighbor, which had just begun to thaw, has frozen solid again as I look in earnest for a new place to live. So if anybody has a line on a rental that accepts pets, please email me at eastsidegrrrl at

Speaking of moving on, Derek Kawakami is resigning from the County Council today and heading off to Honolulu to serve out the rest of Rep. Mina Morita’s term.

I wish him well.

And I really wish the process to choose Mina’s replacement was done in a more fair and open manner. Although District 14 Democratic Party Chair Susan Wilson makes like she’s an expert on the rules and claims that a bogus process that allowed Foster Ducker to interview candidates while seeking the nomination himself is “democracy in action,” there’s a little more to it than that.

It’s true that the Democratic constitution and rules don't give much guidance on situations involving conflicts of interest. However, if an issue is not directly addressed by the party rules, then those same rules and Constitution stipulate that Roberts Rules of Order shall prevail.

And as the relevant section of Roberts states:

It is a general rule that no one can vote on a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest. Yet this does not prevent a member from voting for himself for any office or other position, as voting for a delegate or for a member of a committee.

A sense of delicacy usually prevents a member from exercising this right of voting in matters affecting himself except where his vote might affect the result.

It seems that Foster lacks not only a moral compass, but a sense of delicacy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Musings: Purveyors of Propaganda

Out last night at dusk, I looked up to see the thinnest possible sliver of golden moon emerge from the mass of gray hovering over Waialeale.

Out this morning at dawn, I looked up to see a riot of butterscotch clouds as the rising red sun tried hard to fight its way through a cumulus pile up over the sea.

I’ve been trying hard not to get irked at the local “news” papers because I know their reporters are largely inexperienced,new to the island and underpaid. Still, that’s no excuse for becoming blatant purveyors of propaganda. I’m talking specifically about The Garden Island’s totally bogus five-part “Seeds 101” series that gives the island’s chemical/seed companies the chance to shamelessly toot their own horns and sugarcoat legitimate health and environmental concerns, and MidWeek Kauai’s cover story on Grove Farm’s true believer, Marissa Sandblom.

The two are related, you see, because Grove Farm – a land development company — leases so much acreage to the seed companies, whose production practices includes the cultivation of seeds for export, including genetically modified crops, and the extensive use of chemical pesticides.

Given the inherently unsustainable nature of their businesses, it’s really hard to hear them not only touting the virtues of sustainability, but deceptively claiming they are committed to and actively engaged in it.

But it’s even harder to read the Dow flack uttering bald-faced lies like, “We support our local farmers 100 percent and never encourage anyone to do otherwise” as Sandblom claims, in reference to Grove Farm’s still-stalled 1,000-acre ag project at Mahaulepu: “The vision is to grow food for Kaua’i.”

In reality, Grove Farm has been quietly evicting ranchers and diversified farmers — folks who actually do produce food for Kauai — so it can lease that acreage to Dow and the other seed corn companies, which are willing and able to pay a lot more acre. We’re talking hundreds of acres here — choice land that comprised the heart of longtime ranching operations. But the ranchers don’t talk publicly about it because they’re afraid they’ll lose the rest. GF, for all Sandblom’s claims of corporate coziness to the contrary, is a bully and a tyrant.

Still, the ag community knows what’s going on, and that’s the reason why Grove Farm can’t find tenants for its big Mahaulepu project. The farmers are nervous because they’ve seen the shitty way GF has treated some of its other lessees. But that actually suits GF just fine, because despite the “green” rhetoric that Sandblom is paid to spout, it knows the real money lies in growing houses, shopping centers, gentleman’s estates, industrial parks and seed crops. So if it can’t make a go of food-kine ag, it gives them an excuse to say, see, we tried. Now let us develop.

But while the MidWeek story let Sandlom put a wild spin on Grove Farm, the “Seeds 101” series let the seed companies issue outright lies.

For example, it had Pioneer’s flack saying: “What makes us unique is evident in our…collaboration with the communities we serve” and “Environmental stewardship is a Pioneer core value” and “Biotechnology can positively impact the environment through fewer pesticides.”

Never mind that numerous studies have shown these crops have actually increased the use of pesticides and even led to the creation pesticide-resistant super weeds.

The topper, though, was the Syngenta shill saying: “Biotech or genetically modified crops are not new. The conventional crossbreeding technique farmers have used for thousands of years to develop new hybrid plants is a type of genetic modification. The process improves the genes of plants to make them more useful for humans.”

In truth, the genetic modification practiced today is nothing like conventional crossbreeding, and nearly all of the modification has been done to serve not the needs of hungry people, but the pesticide makers.

It’s irksome to see our local papers give GF and the seed companies extensive space to present their views unchallenged. Yes, there is a place for that kind of stuff in the paper, but it’s in the advertising section.

Grove Farm, as the largest landowner on Kauai, and the seed companies, as the largest ag enterprises, have tremendous impacts on the island and the people who reside here. It would've been nice to read some thoughtful, credible coverage of these important companies. Instead, we got the undiluted corporate line.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Musings: Kinda Makes You Wonder

Though I couldn’t see Waialeale, the sky above her was infused with pink and dotted with pearly mushroom heads when the dogs and I went walking this morning. A hen, safely perched in a tree, started making one heckuva racket, and that set Koko and Paele into a whining, barking frenzy of thwarted chicken-chasing lust that had me hoping the people who lived there were already up. In the east, a two-tone curtain of gray and orange hung over the sea, and it wasn’t clear whether it planned to rise or fall.

The political star of Councilman Derek Kawakami is definitely on the rise now that Gov. Abercrombie has catapulted him to the state House to finish out former Rep. Mina Morita’s term. I like Derek and feel he will do a good job, so I’m glad to see him headed for the Lege. Next stop: Washington, D.C. Mark my words.

Still, the slap down that Kauai Democrats gave Mina by failing to nominate her pick, Joel Guy, is all rather curious…

Now the Council has 30 days to pick a replacement for Derek. Let’s hope they pick KipuKai Kualii, the people's choice at number eight in the last election. And let's really hope they don’t do their usual dithering, or else it will go over to Bernard Carvalho, who likely still has a few campaign supporters and failed former department heads and deputies he needs to reward with lucrative positions.

Speaking of which, I noticed Imai Aiu, former deputy planning director and now “special assistant” to the Housing Director (ahem), is asking the Ethics Commission for a ruling on whether it’s a conflict for him to have a side business as a planning consultant. Ya think?

He writes:

“I am proposing that it would seem that with careful project selection and the understanding that this would be a venture limited in size that I could carry out this business without a conflict of interest.”

So nice of Bernard to move Imai over to Housing so he can do planning on the side. Kinda makes you wonder whether Imai was serving the public or currying favor with potential clients while he was working in planning.

And Deputy County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask wants to know if it’s OK for him to star in and narrate a documentary on fishing in Hawaii — to be produced by Teresa Tico. Cause ya know, those county guys have a lot of sick time and vacation they can burn doing side jobs — even when they're already earning more than most every other working slob on Kauai.

Continuing on the topic of ethics, it’s a little disturbing that Kauai Democrats saw nothing wrong with allowing Foster Ducker to both throw his hat in the ring for Mina’s seat and serve on the committee that chose three nominees, including him, for the governor to consider. In fact, they defended it as a long-standing policy of inclusion.

I guess the thinking there is that if you’ve been doing something wrong long enough, it becomes legit, sort of like the way this county approaches land use and zoning violations.

Still, Kauai Dems aren’t the only ones confused about ethics. Consider this from The Washington Post:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, which led other House panels by hiring six lobbyists this year, is drafting legislation sought by oil and energy firms. At least four staffers on the committee payroll worked for those industries last year.

Richard J. Meltzer, the policy director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was a lobbyist until 2009 for oil and gas companies, hospitals, insurers, investment banks and nearly a dozen other large industries.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said policy aides are required to disclose any potential conflicts involving former employers, but the need for Meltzer to recuse himself “has not arisen.”

Meanwhile, over in Japan, those in charge of the doomed nuke plant are falling back on that age-old “solution” of the sea as the ultimate dumping ground and diluter, releasing 11,500 tons of highly radioactive water into the ocean last night so they could make room in the storage tanks for even toxic stuff. It kinda makes you wonder what good are regulations if they can be handily discarded in an emergency.

Even as the Japanese government — heck, all governments — claim the dumping poses no “immediate” threat to human health, it turns out that fish ¬— big surprise — are getting contaminated. As the LA Times reported:

Nuclear experts have assumed that radioactive iodine, which has a brief half-life, would become diluted in the ocean and decay too quickly to be detected in fish, but Monday's finding has raised doubts about that, said Ohara.

Kinda makes you wonder just how much they really do know — even as they seek to reassure folks that everything’s fine.

It brings to mind the words of a Cherokee woman who spoke at the intercultural gathering hosted by Kumu Hulu Kehu Kekua at the Taro Patch yesterday:

”The earth is hurting and it’s telling us to take care of it. Fortunately, some of us are starting to hear that message.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Musings: Grand Unplanned Experiments

Life seems to have taken an accelerant, speeding by so fast I was struck by the presence of low-priced asparagus in the market, the sight of a kolea looking dapper in full breeding regalia, and thought, can it really be that time already?

It is, and today marks the Aries new moon, an aspect of setting intentions, making fresh new starts, offering us yet another opportunity to change the perilous course that we humans have set for our existence on this planet.

There’s certainly not a moment to waste, what with Japan continuing to struggle — unsuccessfully — to contain the radiation leaking from its failed nuclear reactors, a situation that government and utility officials are now saying is not likely to be resolved for months.

The official word across the globe is “no worries:” it’s all totally safe, the amounts of radiation are minute, well below the level that can make humans ill, no problem at all for the sea and the atmosphere, which serve to dilute it, with supposedly no harm done to either, before it reaches any other shores. As a result, some folks are still embracing nuclear power as a safe, even green, form of energy, because we tend to think only of how humans are affected, or more accurately, only of what humans want.

But there is more to it than just that, as I realized when I read a call for a prayer ceremony issued by Masuro Emoto, the man whose amazing photographs showed that water molecules respond to human thoughts and emotions. The prayer, uttered by untold numbers of persons across the globe last week, was simple, yet profound in offering us a different perspective:

“The water of Fukushima Nuclear Plant, we are sorry to make you suffer. Please forgive us. We thank you, and we love you.”

Is it really so far-fetched, when you consider that our bodies contain 55 to 78 percent water — and we know that everything is connected?

Meanwhile, over in the Chernobyl exclusionary zone, there’s a grand unplanned experiment on the evolutionary effects of radiation going on, with the plants and animals serving as guinea pigs. As reported by Outside magazine, dense forests have sprung up and large mammals have returned in droves in the 25 years since most humans left the area, which is now open for tourism:

They've effectively turned the zone into a giant radiation lab, a place where the animals are mostly undisturbed, living amid a preindustrial number of humans and a postapocalyptic amount of radioactive strontium and cesium. On the outside the fauna seems to be thriving: there have been huge resurgences in the numbers of large mammals, including gray wolves, brown bears, elk, roe deer, and wild boar present in quantities not recorded for more than a century. The question scientists are trying to answer is what's happening on the inside: in their bones, and in their very DNA.

For 17 years, biologist Igor Chizhevsky has been studying how animals metabolize cesium and strontium. On the surface, Igor says, the wildlife seems to be thriving, but under the fur and hide, the DNA of most species has become unstable. They've eaten a lot of food contaminated with cesium and strontium. Even though the animals look fine, there are differences at the chromosomal level in every generation, as yet mostly invisible. But some have started to show: there are bird populations with freakishly high levels of albinism, with 20 percent higher levels of asymmetry in their feathers, and higher cancer rates. There are strains of mice with resistance to radioactivity—meaning they've developed heritable systems to repair damaged cells. Covered in radioactive particles after the disaster, one large pine forest turned from green to red: seedlings from this Red Forest placed in their own plantation have grown up with various genetic abnormalities. They have unusually long needles, and some grow not as trees but as bushes. The same has happened with some birch trees, which have grown in the shape of large, bushy feathers, without a recognizable trunk at all.

"Genomes, er, unpredictable," says Igor. "Genome not exactly same from generation to generation. They change."

This is not good for a species. Genomes are supposed to stay the same. That's what holds a species together. No one knows what these changes could result in.

The area has become a laboratory of microevolution—"very rapid evolution," says Igor—but no one knows what will emerge or when.

It’s not unlike our grand unplanned experiment with genetically modified organisms and their associated high herbicide use, which is now taking an ominous — though certainly not expected by some of us — twist. As the Los Angeles Times reported:

Don M. Huber, an emeritus professor at Purdue University who has done research for Monsanto on chemical herbicides, alleges that he has found a link between genetically modified crops and crop diseases and infertility in livestock: an "unknown organism" he and other researchers claim to have discovered last summer in Midwestern fields like Friedrichsen's.

"This organism appears NEW to science!" Huber wrote in a letter in January to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the matter. He added, "I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status. In layman's terms, it should be treated as an emergency."

I urge you to read the full text of Huber’s letter, which notes, in part:

Pathogen Location and Concentration
It is found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.

Linked with Outbreaks of Plant Disease
The organism is prolific in plants infected with two pervasive diseases that are driving down yields and farmer income—sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soy, and Goss’ wilt in corn. The pathogen is also found in the fungal causative agent of SDS (Fusarium solani fsp glycines).

I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years. We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders. This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.

We are not alone in our choices, our actions. Everything we’re doing is affecting everything else on the planet, and as Emoto would note, the elements, too. It's time to start looking at the much bigger picture before we embark on yet another grand, unplanned experiment.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Musings: Nary a Clue

Rain, always a welcome visitor, came in the night and lingered, its darkness delaying the dawn. Trees shook themselves like dogs, creating secondary showers as Koko and Pa`ele — yes, he’s back for a bit — and I went walking this morning through a green landscape that was muted by mist and downpours in the distance. Gray ghosts drifted through the gap in the Giant, Waialeale temporarily ceased to exist and small rivers ran alongside the road. The sun, well hidden, offered nary a clue that it had risen.

Members of the East Kauai Water Uses Cooperative, whose system includes the Wailua reservoir, had nary a clue that KIUC was seeking approval to study the feasibility of a 6.6 megawatt hydro project on its system until they read about it in yesterday’s paper. By then, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had approved the utility’s application for a preliminary permit.

As the paper reported:

Filed by energy developer Free Flow Power on behalf of KIUC, the Wailua River Hydroelectric Project permit calls for the construction of a 23-foot-high, 508-foot-long concrete diversion structure 1,000 feet upstream of Wailua River and a 35-acre reservoir, according to the FERC application.

It stands to reason that such an extensive diversion would certainly impact, and most definitely involve, the water cooperative, which provides agricultural water to a number of farmers. So it seems that KIUC would have consulted extensively with the water cooperative — or at the bare minimum, given them a heads up — before filing such an application. But it did not.

As one observer noted bitterly: “They did it real haole style.”

In first announcing its plans to pursue hydro projects, KIUC promised that it would conduct the process in a transparent manner, with plenty of public involvement. To my knowledge, just one briefing has been held, and that was for the Kauai Economic Development Board — hardly the general public. I was even told that a session was being considered specifically for bloggers so we could be fully informed of the utility’s plans and have a chance to ask questions. But thus far, I’ve heard nothing.

Meanwhile, KIUC has filed six such applications within the last five months, and three have been approved — without any public involvement. According to The Garden Island’s account of a presentation that KIUC CEO, David Bissell made to the Lihue Business Association (again, hardly an open meeting with the general public):

Hiring Free Flow to quickly file preliminary permit applications along the island’s rivers and ditches is more about securing the resources for future development rather than allowing private energy developers access, Bissell said, comparing it to staking claims during a gold rush.

What right does KIUC have to “stake claims” to water, which in Hawaii is a public resource – especially without consulting the public that owns it and the farmers who are now using it?

Then Bissell discloses that this is not the end of it:

“There are three or four more permits that are expected to come into the fray,” Bissell said. “We have to have a lot in the works because some may not go through.”

So exactly when is KIUC planning to present its members - and the public — with a full account of its plans for our rivers? A cooperative should be consulting with its members every step of the way — and not through canned press releases, but dialogue in an open forum.

But at least, according to Bissell, the utility is not planning to dam the Wailua River for hydro — a controversial project that stood a snowball’s chance in hell of winning approval. A number of people thought the utility had just thrown that one out there so that it could withdraw it, thus pacifying the opposition.

As one observer noted: “It’s like asking someone, do you want me to kill you or just beat the hell out of you? Of course you’re going to choose the beating.”