Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blog Break

I'm giving the blog a little rest while I explore some different dimensions. I'll be back before long. As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Musings: Admission of Submission

It’s possible to describe the colors — pearlescent, shell pink, baby blue — but not the full effect when they converge with misty clouds atop the green ridges of a mountain range just as the sun is rising to create a soft sort of light, a muted, golden scene, that is so quintessentially Kauai.

Today, there was all that. And like the cherry on a sundae, Makaleha also was topped with a thick rainbow that arched into a sky that in the east was all slashes of gold and scarlet, with a yellowish band of gray escorting a passing shower.

Lucky we live Kauai.

My neighborhood is generally quiet, and this morning it was even more so, with the school bus and most commuters given the reprieve of a state holiday, which a friend dubbed Submission Day. Though Hawaii’s admission to the union occurred on Aug. 21, 1959, it has been conveniently rescheduled — like so many other “noteworthy” days — to the third Friday of August to make a three-day weekend.

I cannot think of Admission Day without thinking of the military’s legacy in Hawaii, since the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom — a sovereign nation — would not have been possible without the military’s assistance, nor would its continued occupation.

It’s no accident that the military controls more land in Hawaii than other state, with some 14 major installations, or that Hawaii has the highest percentage of armed service personnel in the United States. A whopping 13% of U.S. military active duty personnel deployed Worldwide is stationed in the Islands, which seems like kind of plenty for a place that's not an official "war zone."

It’s not just the military’s presence here that’s a concern, but what it’s done and is doing to the wai, kai and `aina, since it operates pretty much with impunity.

As I reported in the current issue of Honolulu Weekly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the Army the lightest possible slap on the wrist for possessing toxic radioactive depleted uranium (DU) on two Hawaii bases — Schofield Barracks and Pohakula Training Area – without a license:

The NRC found that the Army had violated federal regulations, but waived the $3,500 civil fine “to encourage prompt and comprehensive correction of violations.” The Aug. 1 notice of violation came some 18 months after Big Island resident Isaac Harp petitioned the NRC to take enforcement action against the Army. Harp argued the Army had no license to possess the radioactive material, which was contained in weapons used for training in Hawaii in the 1960s.

During a May 10 conference call with the NRC and Army officials, Harp termed the agency’s investigation “a farce.”

Bear in mind that for decades the Army denied it had ever used DU in Hawaii until the Earthjustice law firm inadvertently came across emails with contrary information in 2006.

Since the Army is getting a blanket permit to handle DU on all of its American bases, we’ll likely never know exactly how much DU is in the Islands, or where. The NRC has not yet required the military to conduct a thorough search for the material, which its own website acknowledges “poses some chemical toxicity danger to the kidneys if ingested – either through inhaling dust or drinking contaminated water, for example.

It’s that inhalation and drinking part that worries akamai residents, since the DU is in areas used for live fire training, which allows it to become wind- and waterborne.

As for our own PMRF, it’s already the world’s largest military test range capable of supporting subsurface, surface, air and space operations. And as I reported in 2007, when the draft EIS came out on the Navy’s “planned enhancements” for the base:

Among the projects planned for PMRF are research and development in ‘advanced hypersonic’ and ‘directed energy’ weapons, which could include a high energy laser. Other plans call for testing unmanned boats and aircraft, along with air-breathing hypersonic vehicles that cruise at four times the speed of sound. The navy also wants to operate a portable undersea tracking range and increase its antisubmarine and missile defense activities.

The base would be used as well for testing and training in new weapons systems, including electronic warfare; supporting and rapidly deploying naval units and strike brigades; live fire exercises on land and sea; building and operating an instrumented minefield training area; and expanded international Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises.

[T]he Navy plans ‘to increase the tempo and frequency of training exercises’ throughout the state, and particularly at PMRF.

Which includes, of course, all that sonar activity that has been linked to adverse impacts on marine mammals.

But no worries. According to the final EIS, it’s all good:

The Navy is a global environmental leader. The proposed training and RDT&E activities would not adversely affect the biodiversity or cultural integrity within the HRC [Hawaii Range Complex] including the open ocean, offshore, onshore, or human environment.

And despite all the lies, denials, cover-ups and general environmental and cultural trashing associated with more than a century of military activity/occupation in Hawaii, you can take their word for it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Musings: Talk About It

A friend who lives on the west side of the Hanalei Bridge — flood country — recently returned from a trip to Hilo, where she was struck by the number and prominence of signs denoting the tsunami evacuation zone — signs that clearly told people where to go when an inundation occurs.

They stood in stark contrast to the absence of such warnings on our own island, especially the tourist-thick North Shore. “It’s like a big secret that no one on Kauai wants to talk about,” she observed. “But up here, there is nowhere to go, so I guess that’s why we’re not gonna talk about it.”

The Garden Island has a long article today on KIUC’s planned switch to “smart meters” that included a lot of talk about “how great this is” and just a little talk about the privacy issues and electromagnetic health risks that prompted local lawmakers to criminalize their installation in a portion of California’s Marin County.

What struck me was how the KIUC Board and management were going to talk to each other about an opt-out program for members. Mmmm, fine, but why not talk to the members about it, too?

Which reminds me, some months ago, I asked Anne Barnes, the KIUC PR person, for a copy of the Board’s community outreach plan. She told me she’d look into it, but so far, not even a word. Shouldn’t we, the members, be allowed to know how our cooperative plans to reach out to us? I mean, other than those puffy pieces in the local paper where they talk down to us.

Meanwhile, that bastion of capitalism, the World Bank, is trying to get people to talk about the direct correlation between rising food costs and massive social unrest. As Democracy Now! reports:

José Cuesta, a senior economist at World Bank’s Poverty Reduction and Equity Group, unveiled the new findings.

"Global prices of food remain very high, very close to 2008 peak levels, and basically one-third above of the prices that they were one year ago. They will find more difficult to access and to buy food. They will find more difficult to diversify their diets. And the cost of living for everyone, for all consumers, of course, especially the poor, will worsen. The cost of living will increase, and that will worsen their ability to buy the diversified foods."

But hey, we’ve got Costco, so no worries. Actually, I was in Costco the other day, thinking about food, like what happens to all the perishable stuff that doesn’t get bought, and how is it that tomatoes picked on Aug. 2 not only hadn’t rotted two weeks later, but were still hard, when the label said, “vine-ripened?” No one really likes to talk about what’s happening to our food to give it such an extended shelf life.

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard the DJ talking about how county is distributing the new trash bins for automated pick up now, though they won’t actually be in use until September. What I wondered, though, was why they are giving people receptacles that have three times the capacity of a normal trash can, when all the county can talk about is how we’re running out of landfill space.

And finally, it’s nice to encounter a community group that is more action than talk. I’m talking about Surfider and its net patrol. I contacted them about a net that had washed up on a favorite beach, and they quickly scheduled a clean up. I figured the least I could do was show up and help, so I joined about a dozen other volunteers who cut up the heavy net into manageable pieces, which we then carted up a steep hill to the parking lot and loaded into the beds of five pick up trucks.

From there it went not to the aforementioned dump, but a cargo container, where it is stored until the container is full. Then it’s shipped over to Oahu, where it’s shredded and burned to create electricity.

It took a few hours, felt good and was one of those activities that truly does make a difference. Or in other words, it was the epitome of the adage, walk the talk.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Musings: Food Fight

The sky has been incredible lately. Yesterday afternoon it was a snakeskin pattern of white against deep blue, while this morning I awoke to a mustard-rose palette adorned with a silver moon whose roundness gave no hint that it was on the wane.

As the sun rose, a pearlescent convergence above Makaleha and Waialeale became a giant puffball of pink that slowly bled down onto the green faces of the mountains, causing them to blush.

An article that is no doubt embarrassing to the Kauai Independent Food Bank (KIFB) appeared last week in the Honolulu edition of MidWeek and is supposed to be published, with even more juicy details, in the issue that will start arriving in Kauai mailboxes today.

Penned by Bob Jones, the piece outlines the acrimonious split between the KIFB and the Hawaii Food Bank and gets into how KIFB had to repay a large federal grant, prompting the splashy headline: “Kauai Food Bank Misuses $779,000.” From what I hear, the state Attorney General’s office is now looking into the matter.

The article’s publication coincided with last Thursday’s blessing of the Hawaii Food Bank’s Kauai branch, which I attended, both because I work for an agency that has a food pantry and because I agreed to serve on the HFB’s Kauai community advisory board.

Though the KIFB gets more coverage in The Garden Island than any other nonprofit — perhaps because publisher Randy Kozerski serves on the KIFB board — virtually nothing has been reported locally about HFB's growing presence on Kauai or the reasons behind the split, save for a convoluted and misinformed piece in April 2010.

As a result of this virtual news blackout on the issue, Kauai folks seem to be confused about the presence of two food banks on our island. There’s also been some negativity directed toward the HFB, like it’s trying to muscle in on KIFB’s turf, and even some mistruths spread, like the food and money collected here is sent to Oahu. It's not.

In fact, nearly all of the agencies that distribute food to those who need it — a whopping 18 percent of Kauai residents — have welcomed HFB for one simple reason: it has provided us with more food and better food, like meat and regular supplies of fresh fruits and veggies.

And since nearly all the pantries have a shortage of storage space, we’ve also benefited from having HFB deliver frozen and chill items on our distribution days. That alone has made a huge difference in the quality and quantity of food that we can give out.

Like most of the other pantries, I shop at both food banks because I have only one interest: getting food for the 300 or so people who come to our pantry each month. Without the HFB, there would have been numerous times in the past year when I wouldn’t have had enough food, and would have had to turn folks away empty-handed.

Though the focus has been on the dirt and politics of the split between the two food banks, let’s not lose sight of the real issue, and that’s feeding the growing numbers of people who need food. Contrary to what some might think, the overwhelming majority aren’t homeless derelicts or freeloaders, but working people who are struggling to survive and feed their families in this crappy economy.

I keep remembering what a man said when I was collecting money for the Hawaii Food Bank outside Safeway a few weeks ago. He was supposed to pay for the pre-packaged bag of groceries inside the store, but gave me the money to buy it instead, saying, “It doesn’t matter who pays, just so long as someone gets fed.”

Right now, both food banks are feeding people, so it doesn't really matter which one you support. But it costs a lot of money to keep the trucks, refrigerators and freezers running, and so eventually, one of the food banks is going to shut its doors, or perhaps re-shape its mission.

My guess is that the HFB is here to stay, in part because it is carrying a little less baggage and has access to a lot more resources. And when it comes to procuring food for the hungry, that’s a very good thing.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Musings: Look Up

The moon, building toward full today, got me up and out in the night, not because it was disturbing, but because it was so boldly beautiful I felt it was my duty, my privilege, to leave sleep and pay homage; to stand out beneath it in the chill air, silent save for crickets and water running through a stream, the sky an interplay of racing clouds and light.

And I thought of what artist Keala Kai, who was raised by people born in the 1800s, had said during an interview the day before:

My grandfather always told me, ‘look up’ but today, with cell phones, too many people look down.

It’s a concept I’ve thought about in regard to light pollution in the night sky: what will happen (is happening) to our species as we lose contact with the stars, a sphere that has been an integral part of human existence since the beginning, save for the last half-century or so?

What happens when we no longer instinctively look up, and out, when we’ve dropped our gaze, narrowed our world to the size of a screen?

Earlier this week, the financial advisor who manages the 401-K accounts where I work came to talk to us about investments, and did a hard sell for stocks, which, as he showed us in a graph, had gone consistently up for the past 100 years, save for some rather dramatic peaks and valleys along the way, and there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t continue thus for another century.

“Why is it that governments, businesses, people all around the world, believe that it can all just keep growing, going up forever?” asked a friend, when we were talking later. “That’s not real, except if you’re talking about the population.”

Yes, the tightly interlocked world economy is based on the fallacy of limitless growth, even as the global ecosystem shudders, raw materials grow scarce, pollution builds and so many of the key pieces start to go missing.

The best news I heard all week was that the monk seal slated for death at Kure Atoll didn’t show up for his execution. Deemed too aggressive to live, even for a member a gravely imperiled species, federal officials planned to off him — or in official jargon, engage in “lethal removal.”

It’s a reaction that’s so typically American — I’m sure the Norwegians could have found a different solution — and it comes, of course, with a rationalization:

NOAA believes this action is necessary for the long-term survival of the species. While every animal is precious in a population that continues to decline, concern for the overall species needs to be a priority. Not taking action at this time would put these pups, juveniles and those born in the future at continued risk.

It seems that the seals — named KE18 and KO42 — have been observed attacking young seals, and are suspected of causing some deaths. What I found fascinating was how wildlife staff responded:

To protect pups from immediate threats from males and to also discourage the males from future interactions with pups, KE18 and KO42 were subjected to what is called “aversive conditioning”. This includes approaching, yelling at and throwing objects (rocks, coral, sticks, debris) at these males in an attempt to make them flee areas where pups haul out. Initially these interventions occurred during attacks; however, once the two males displayed a pattern of aggression, staff intervened upon sighting either male.

In the past, NOAA officials banished bad seals to Johnston Atoll — you know, the place where they burn all the chemical weapons — but they were never seen again, and presumed dead by shark attack or starvation. That was deemed too cruel.

As for lifetime incarceration, apparently only four facilities have the proper permits, and none could take the troublemaker right now. But since the permit process is so lengthy, no other facility could get one in time to capture the male this season — when the atoll is accessible by boat — and they didn’t want to risk any attacks next year.

So they passed down a death sentence, most likely by shooting, since it’s more convenient than cleaning up the chemicals.

“Talk about making your own bad press,” observed a scientist friend.

And talk about focusing on the tree rather than the forest. As NOAA itself writes, emphasis added:

Hawaiian monk seals are declining in the NWHI, largely due to low juvenile survival. The primary cause of mortality of young animals appears to be food limitation; however shark predation, entanglement in marine debris and male aggression also contribute to losses of young seals.

In other words, the seals are starving to death. And why? Because of dramatic changes to their habitat that can be directly attributed to humans through overfishing, pollution and climate change.

But dealing with the root cause and engaging in massive habitat restoration requires the kind of sacrifices and financial outlays that humans don’t want to make.

So instead, they shoot a male aggressor or two, mug seals and swab their orifices and kidnap babies from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to rear in a facility off Kona, only to release them back into the same trashed habitat.

It’s not unlike what’s happened with the endangered forest birds, raised in captivity, and in the case of the alala, held there, because the forest, with its rats and mosquitoes and alien plants, is too dangerous for their return.

Until we get the habitat restoration side down, much of what we’re doing amounts to little more than what one scientist termed “conservation masturbation.”

We gotta start looking up and out, folks. Not down.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Musings: Mixed Bag

Koko, as usual, was up first, and insistent that I join her, which this morning was a good thing, as I soon heard the garbage truck and remembered I hadn’t taken my can, piled high with guinea grass I’d dug out of the yard, to the curb.

I got it there just in time to see it disappear into the back of a truck already filled with other people’s castoffs, which made me think of a friend, whose mother recently died, and how the family needed several dumpsters to cart away the things that no one wanted, not even a charitable organization. And I was struck, and still am, by the realization that in America, we each leave such a huge legacy of trash.

Others, of course, leave a different sort of trashy legacy, like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is being sued by two Americans for developing, authorizing and using torture techniques in Iraq. A federal appeals court has refused to dismiss the lawsuit. As Democracy Now! reports:

Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel were working for a private U.S. government contractor, Shield Group Security, in 2006 when they witnessed the sale of U.S. government weapons to Iraqi rebel groups for money and alcohol. After they became FBI informants and collaborated with an investigation into their employer, the company revoked their credentials for entering Iraq’s so-called Green Zone, effectively barring them from the safest part of the country. Shortly afterward, they were arrested and detained by U.S. troops, moved to the U.S.-run prison at Camp Cropper, and subjected to extreme sleep deprivation, interrogated for hours at a time, kept in a very cold cell, and denied food and water for long periods. They were eventually released and never charged with a crime.

Their case offered an extreme example of a story reported in Wired about the unhealthy impact of hostile co-workers, as assessed by a new study:

In particular, the risk of death seemed to be correlated with the perceived niceness of co-workers, as less friendly colleagues were associated with a higher risk of dying. (What’s troubling is that such workplaces seem incredibly common.)

While this correlation might not be surprising – friendly people help reduce stress, and stress is deadly – the magnitude of the “friendly colleague effect” is a bit unsettling: people with little or no “peer social support” in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study, especially if they began the study between the ages of 38 and 43. In contrast, the niceness of the boss had little impact on mortality.

One interesting factor influencing the correlation between peer social support and mortality was the perception of control. This makes sense: the only thing worse than an office full of assholes is an office full of assholes telling us what to do.


Moving on to other, though not unrelated, matters, I heard a member of the KIUC board say that the furor over the FERC-hydro process was due to “a rumor. It was all based on rumor.”

I could only think, OMG, is that what you took away from it? Can you really be that clueless? And are your views shared by the rest of the Board? Because it becomes so easy to just blow off membership concerns when you think they’re full of shit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Musings: Power Sharing

Towers of gray cumulus clouds stood in stark contrast to the pink background sky, creating the appearance of a magical city on the horizon, when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. Makalehea was well-draped in lacy white, and a black mass was racing toward Waialeale, who has rarely shown her face this summer.

Then suddenly, there was a flash of light and the just-risen sun squeezed through a small crack in the gray, blinking, blinding, changing everything, but only for a moment or two, before it slipped back into the clouds.

The prosecutor’s office suffered another setback yesterday when Judge Kathleen Watanabe upheld her original order requiring the Kauai cops to give Dayne “Aipoalani” Gonsalves back his Kingdom of Atooi marshal badge.

But in true “never say die” fashion, the prosecutor’s office immediately announced it will take up the matter with the Intermediate Court of Appeals. Who knows, maybe the Hawaii Supreme Court ultimately will be asked to decide whether kanaka maoli do, indeed, have the right to build a nation with all its appurtenances, including law enforcement officers carrying badges.

In the meantime, Dayne’s badge remains in lock down.

One of the things that most concerns me about this issue was expressed in a comment left the last time I wrote about this topic:

[Assistant] Chief [Roy] Asher is concerned because he doesn't want Kingdom Marshalls pulling people over, threatening tourists, etc. The badge might say "Marshall," but if two big Hawaiian guys flash badges and tell you to do something, you're going to do it.

Umm, sorry, but the law is not supposed to work that way. As another commenter noted:

KPD should not be able to confiscate the badge because someone might misuse it. WTF are we a free country or not?

Exactly. This kind of pre-emptive action, which is typically driven by selective enforcement and profiling, is extremely dangerous. If taken to extremes, which cops are wont to do, it could give them justification to do all sorts of arbitrary, un-Constitutional stuff, like confiscate guns and heck, even lock up all the young brown boys deemed to have an attitude. Cuz they scare the mainland transplants and tourists and just might commit a crime, ya know.

Yet as The Garden Island reports today — and I’m so glad they’ve begun covering this story — that mindset appears to be driving the prosecution’s fanatical prosecution of this case:

Responding to the judge’s questions, [Deputy Prosecutor Melinda] Mendes expanded on initial concerns that the badge was evidence, asserting that its public use could come in conflict with the rights of citizens and in accordance to Hawaiian and U.S. laws.

And just what citizen “rights” might be in jeopardy here? The right to be shaken down only by KPD officers, and not Kingdom marshals? Come on.

As for “in accordance with Hawaiian and U.S. laws,” the members of the Kingdom of Atooi and Reinstated Hawaiian Government that I’ve talked to have no interest in enforcing state or federal laws. They only want to enforce their own nation’s laws. And why shouldn’t they?

The real issue here is that the cops currently have all the power, and they aren’t into sharing.

As Henry Noa, prime minister of the RHG, noted in his recent presentation to the Kauai Police Commission:

Our nation is registering motor vehicles. We are allowed to do this. Every nation on earth requires registration of its vehicles. But if a Kauai Police officer sees one of our citizen vehicles with our registration or a license tag – the usual result is a citation or an arrest and KPD confiscating the registration and tags. That is illegal. When police confiscate our government’s property – because they believe that a driver has not complied with their laws, the police are violating the law. It is one thing for KPD officers to ticket our nationals for driving a vehicle that is not registered with your government. It is quite another thing for a police officer to deem our license tags or registrations to be “fraudulent” or confiscate them as somehow being offensive to KPD.

We cannot implement our nation building, and exercise the rights to self-determination that have been promised to us, if we are met with police resistance at every turn.

We are supposed to be treated as partners and not as a subjugated people. We are here to respectfully ask that your police department be instructed to consider whether they themselves might be violating the law when they confiscate our government property and arrest our citizens for asserting self-determination – when they are supposed to be acting as our partner in returning what was stolen.

So far, the judicial system has agreed with Henry Noa. In ordering the cops to return Dayne’s badge, Judge Watanabe made it clear that the police had acted inappropriately in confiscating it. And if it’s not OK to take a Kingdom badge, how could it be OK to take a RHG license plate or identification card?

Let’s just hope that every kanaka working toward sovereignty, in whatever form it may take, doesn’t have to go through the trauma and expense of arrest and prosecution to bring the cops and the prosecutor’s office into compliance with the law.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Musings: The Tao of TAU

You can tell a lot about a bill simply by who shows up to testify.

Which is why it was so revealing to see Randall Francisco, president of the Chamber of Commerce; Tom Shigemoto, the former county planning director who now works for A&B’s Kukuiula Development; and David Arakawa, director of the pro-development Land Use Research Foundation, show up at Wednesday’s Council meeting to speak in support of Bill 2410.

That’s the bill that seeks to implement the charter amendment, which voters approved by a two-to-one margin in 2008, that puts a cap on transient accommodation units (TAU). Or in other words, limits the amount of resort-oriented development allowed on Kauai.

Offering testimony in opposition to the bill as drafted by the Planning Department were Carl Imparato of the Coalition for Responsible Government, which initiated the charter amendment; David Dinner of Kauai’s Thousand Friends; and various advocates for the citizenry, including Glenn Mickens, Walter Lewis and Rich Hoeppner.

Given that line up, are you starting to get an indication of just whose interests the bill supports?

To offer a bit of background, the General Plan that was adopted in 2000 recommended a growth rate for tourist accommodations of about 1.5 percent per year. That figure was based on the number of units needed to house the Plan’s high-ball estimate of 28,000 daily visitors by the year 2020.

Yet between 2000 and 2008, the Planning Commission approved some 4,500 units, which represents three to five times the number needed to meet the highest estimated growth rate of visitors.

In response to the Commission’s inability to “just say no” to developers, voters approved the charter amendment, which took the authority for processing most TAU away from the Commission and gave it instead to the County Council. The Council could return authority to the Commission, provided it adhered to a strict annual growth limit of 1.5 percent.

Since then, the economy tanked, construction came to a screeching halt and the county has been trying to figure out how to implement the charter amendment without actually limiting growth. Which leads us to the bill currently on the table.

A primary source of contention is what to do about the 3,000 to 4,000 units that were approved, but not yet built. The amendment allows no exception from the 1.5 percent growth rate for these units, which means that if they all go forward, no new projects can be approved for 20 years.

Needless to say, that does not set well with developers, which is why they like Bill 2410. As Imparato pointed out in his testimony, the proposed ordinance exempts not only “live” projects that received approvals in the last 10 years, but also projects that have not yet been proposed for resort lands.

As a result, he said, compliance with the Charter amendment could be pushed back by more than 30 years. He argued that only projects that are actually under way in this century should be given special treatment.

Furthermore, the bill allows an exemption for “tentatively approved subdivisions” and other multi-lot subdivisions. Imparto contends there is no justification for such an exemption, which would violate the charter.

That’s not the only problem. The bill allows future growth to be based on the actual number of TAUs rather than the allowed number of TAUs. In other words, if you factor in the big backlog of approved projects, it would result in a growth rate that is 20 percent higher, or 2.3 percent annually, than specified under the charter amendment.

Or as Imparato phrased it:

Under the proposed definition, the further out-of-compliance the County is (with respect to the number of TAUs allowed under the Charter), the greater the number of TAUs the Planning Commission would be allowed to issue in the future!

Advocates of the bill, on the other hand, spoke of the need to protect a developer’s “vested rights,” with LURF’s Arakawa arguing that no cap should be placed on projects deemed exempt and Shigemoto saying that the General Plan “never intended for a finite growth cap to be adopted.”

He also reminded the Council of the “many people who rely on the visitor industry for their livelihoods and contractors who have to rely on timely approvals to keep their employees working. There are also people in the development industry that need a certain level of predictability to sustain our long term viability.”

Francisco, for his part, maintained that it was crazy to think of limiting growth in a depressed economy.

At the core of this issue is just how much we realistically can expect the visitor industry to expand, especially now that experts are saying we likely have already hit the pinnacle, and just how much we want Kauai to grow.

But even more crucial than that is whether the bill, as proposed, truly reflects the sentiment of the voters who approved the Charter Amendment. Those who did the signature gathering to get it on the ballot, and so are in position to speak to intent, say it does not.

Perhaps the Council, if it truly represents the people, should listen to them.

The bill will be back before the Council’s planning committee next Wednesday, which is when amendments are likely to be introduced.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Musings: Gaping Gap

Going out with the dogs into the cloudy mist of very early morning, my first thought was, wow, it’s dark. The days are long only on the tail end this time of year, as the sun dawdles and rises later each day.

The Kauai Police Department inexplicably dawdled for three years, reportedly conducting over 40 investigations and making some 11 arrests, before it took the sudden action yesterday to tear down “Pine Trees Inn.”

What I’m wondering is, why now? After seeing criminal stuff supposedly going down there for years, why did KPD finally decide it had to go yesterday?

A friend sent me the county’s press release on the action with the message, “Another landmark bites the dust.”

Indeed. I was at JJ’s for lunch the other day, and observed that “Pine Trees” was the only bit of localism in an area that is otherwise entirely dominated by tourists. But I guess even that was too much for some of the area businesses, which would prefer that their well-heeled visitors don’t have to mingle with the scary locals — aside from those who serve them, of course.

This was reinforced by a quote reported in today’s The Garden Island:

Another mall employee, Trenton McClary, said crime is an issue, but is unsure if removing the structure will have an impact. He considered Pine Tree Inn an eyesore that blocked the view of the beach from the stores. The customers, he said, are “people spending $10,000 on a vacation and $1,000 for a helicopter ride.”

Which calls to mind an article I read recently about the widening wealth gap between whites and people of color. As AP reported:

The recession and uneven recovery have erased decades of minority gains, leaving whites on average with 20 times the net worth of blacks and 18 times that of Hispanics, according to an analysis of new Census data.

The analysis shows the racial and ethnic impact of the economic meltdown, which ravaged housing values and sent unemployment soaring. It offers the most direct government evidence yet of the disparity between predominantly younger minorities whose main asset is their home and older whites [like so many of the tourists and retirees coming to Kauai] who are more likely to have 401(k) retirement accounts or other stock holdings.

It goes on to report this shocking figure, which I believe is also reflective of the disparities between many haoles and locals on this island:

The median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, according to the analysis released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

A report on Democracy Now! got into even more detail in an interview with Roderick Harrison of Howard University:

It really takes us back to a period where—characterized by the Kerner Commission as two societies, separate and unequal. This is a chasm that just is striking.

We’ve been seeing now for decades increases in inequalities in income. And this is—there are many factors in that, including the incredibly—the incredible increases in the ratio of the incomes of executives and managers to workers within firms. But also, some of it is driven by the growth of the very good incomes of families with two college-educated workers and the stagnation of wages amongst males and a very slow growth amongst females and very slow growth amongst people with less than a college education. So, these things have contributed to the gap. And one would expect that since you do need to make sufficient income to be able to have savings that you can invest, whether it’s in savings accounts or stocks, bonds, etc., one would expect the increase in income inequality to gradually produce increases in wealth inequality, as well. But clearly, the recession has, just in a few short years, thrown us into a truly different world. The black and Hispanic income levels, you mentioned, wiped out 20 years of gains; they’re back to where they were in 1993, approximately.

I think the prospects, at least for the next decade or two, are fairly grim.

It’s going to be very difficult [to reverse this trend.] I don’t see them—if they can recoup, if they can get back to the net worth levels that they were in 2005 within the next 10 years, I would be surprised.

As for what lies ahead:

People use net worth or draw on net worth to invest in their children’s education, to help with perhaps a first home, a down payment for a first home. We’re entering a period now where black and Hispanic families, one-third of whom have no net worth at all or negative net worth, won’t be able to help their children in this way. So this is going to definitely play into the next generation.

Which, in turn, ensures a steady supply of poor folks to serve the wealthy, fight the wars and fill up the privatized prisons.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Musings: Canine Conscripts

I woke to the calls of Newell’s shearwaters — as in more than one, what sounded, perhaps, even like several — and as I drifted back to sleep in the dark stillness of 4 a.m., I felt a surge of hope for this dwindling species. Later, walking with the dogs beneath pink spider webs that spanned a yellow sky, past aggressive stands of guinea grass and African tulip, as hundreds of roosters roared, I was brought back to reality.

I don’t mind the roosters; it’s the fighting of them that disturbs me, the joyous cheers that arise — mostly from men, with the voices of a few women and children joining in — sometimes accompanied by the beating of a drum, when some poor creature is getting mangled and bloodied. It’s a creepy way to get your kicks, make money.

As a friend noted, if people want to beat each up other up, that’s one thing, but leave the animals out of it.

That was the feeling I had when a friend sent me an email about ”war dogs” — the canines used by Navy SEALS and other branches of the military to do their dirty work.

It included a number of offensive photographs that showed how people take advantage of a dog’s loyalty to teach it to do things it normally never would, or should.

I did a bit of checking around and found The New York Times had covered the issue, reporting that Gen. David H. Petraeus wants even more dogs than the 600 currently enslaved in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems they have many uses, besides sniffing out explosives and running down “suspects.”

Finally, dogs can be used to pacify an unruly group of people — particularly in the Middle East. “There is a cultural aversion to dogs in some of these countries, where few of them are used as pets,” Major [William] Roberts said. “Dogs can be very intimidating in that situation.”

And isn’t the military all about intimidation, especially when it’s an occupying force? Kind of like the Kauai cops who confiscate the badges and identification cards of Hawaiian nationals.

It seems the Brits are also getting into the act by training their own high-altitude parachuting pooches:

Once down in hostile terrain in Iraq or Afghanistan, the dogs will be sent in first to seek out insurgents' hideouts with tiny cameras fixed to their heads.

An SAS source said: “The dogs will be exposed to very high levels of danger on these operations and you never know what’s going to be behind a door. Nobody wants to see the dogs get killed but if it’s their life or a man’s it is obvious which the CO would prefer.”

Yeah, cuz everybody knows animals are expendable.

Which brings me back to the post cited in the original email:

As for the ethics of sending dogs to war, that’s pretty much a moot point,
 don’t you think? If it’s ethical to send humans into combat, then why not

Ummm, because people volunteer for duty, but dogs don’t? Because people have a choice, but dogs don’t?

Still, I suppose we’re supposed to feel heartened by this revelation:

At least the U.S. now treats its war dogs as full members of the military.
 At the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. combat dogs there were designated
 as “surplus military equipment” and left behind when American forces pulled

Or as my friend noted in his own comment on the email:

WAR.....isn't it wonderful?

And we just gave the Pentagon another $50 billion to blow over the next decade. Whee!