Friday, September 30, 2011

Musings: Questions of Accountability

A steady, welcome rain subdues the morning light as I write this, but my memory is stuck on the moon: a thin, golden crescent illuminating the dark whole, sinking down into a bed of clouds atop Waialeale last evening as a sky choked with stars looked on.

It looks like the U.S. has sunk to another low in the “war on terror” with the reported assassinations by drone strike of two Americans who were never even charged with any crimes. Like all the bad, corrupt leaders we’ve supposedly been trying to topple, our President now has his own secret security force that can take out anyone he deems a threat. In this case, that included U.S-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who anonymous officials say is “believed” to have inspired and plotted attacks on the U.S., and Samir Khan, whose “crime” was apparently publishing a magazine that included advice on how to make bombs and use weapons.

How, really, is this any different than the death squads employed by dictators? How has a nation founded on the rule of law gotten to the place where we can justify assassinations of citizens based on unsubstantiated reports released by unidentified persons? And how can “inspiration,” whether for good or evil, be considered a crime?

I’m not the only one asking such questions as the U.S. uses the convenient excuse of terrorism to adopt its own lawless ways. The Guardian report included condemnatory comments from Ron Paul and a U.S. Constitutional law expert, as well as a link to the statement issued by the ACLU:

The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law. As we've seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts.

"If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the President does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state."

The ACLU previously had filed a lawsuit against Obama on behalf on Awlaki's father to stop the assassination. U.S. District Judge John Bates threw out the lawsuit, saying the father did not have standing and a judge does not have authority to review the president's military decisions. According to an AP report:

But Bates also seemed troubled by the facts of the case, which he wrote raised vital considerations of national security and for military and foreign affairs. For instance, the judge questioned why courts have authority to approve surveillance of Americans overseas but not their killing and whether the president could order an assassination of a citizen without "any form of judicial process whatsoever."

Still, seeing as how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others got away with torture, what is the likelihood that Obama will be held accountable for his crimes?

While we’re on the topic of accountability, Councilman Mel Rapozo has filed a complaint with the county’s Board of Ethics. He’s asking for an advisory opinion on whether there’s a conflict of interest in the relationship between the Salary Commission, Boards and Commission’s Administrator John Isobe and Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s administration.

At issue is whether it was proper for Salary Commission Chair Charlie King to direct Isobe to draft a resolution — apparently without concurrence or prior guidance of other commissioners — that reflected the mayor’s “salary-setting objectives,” rather than “independently establishing the basis of its salary-setting decisions in public meetings.”

The complaint states that the Commission’s action creates the appearance that it “is functioning as an ‘arm’ of the Mayor’s Administration” rather than as an independent entity.

Rapozo’s complaint also raises the question of whether it was proper for Isobe to include a pay increase for himself — indeed, he would be the only person to get a raise — in the resolution he drafted for the Salary Commission. The complaint says this creates “the appearance of a conflict of interest in the relationship” between the Salary Commission and the Office of Boards and Commissions.

The complaint is set to be reviewed by the Board at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Musings: Cruel and Unusual

While researching and writing an article on the controversy surrounding plans to bring monk seals down from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — you can read it here in Honolulu Weekly — I got to thinking about how we treat wild animals. Or more specifically, their rights. Because they’ve got ‘em, whether we want to admit it or not, and generally, we don’t.

All of our discussions and actions regarding protection and management of endangered and threatened species are pretty much dominated by the human perspective: our wants, needs and rights; how much it’s going to cost us; ways in which we may be inconvenienced; scientific research (and careers) that can be advanced; laws that must be followed.

I heard just one speaker, Dr. Gordon LaBedz, address the issue of animal rights in the recent public hearing on the monk seal translocation proposal:

“Abducting these animals out of their neighborhoods is cruel,” LaBedz said. “These are highly intelligent, sentient creatures. They have a right to live in their home.”

While I’m willing to believe that those involved in monk seal research and the volunteer monitoring programs have good intentions, I’m not at all convinced their actions are in the best interest of the animals.

Take, for example, this account, posted on the Kauai Seals blog, of how much one seal has been messed with, and it’s not even an adult:

On July 13, PIFSC scientists returned to Kauai to get a full suite of biomedical samples from her, and to change out her larger cell phone tag for a smaller satellite tag. She was also given a de-worming medication to help maximize her nutrition intake by lessening her parasite load.

This de-worming is done regularly, and researchers want to do more. Yet according to the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement created for the monk seal recovery plan, deworming is described as a “potential enhancement tool, should research determine it is effective,” while another reference found it to be ineffective because worm counts didn’t go down and the animals didn’t put on weight.

Scientists also want to use antibiotics, human vaccines and other drugs on the seals, which prompted objections from Dr. LaBedz, as well as Dr. Carl Berg:

“We don’t know the doses and we don’t know the side effects,” LaBedz said, with Berg adding, “We don’t know the true risks of these things.”

But that’s not all that’s ahead for the poor seals:

Plans also call for trying to train seals to stay away from boat ramps, harbors and fishing gear through the use of loud noises, electric shocks and other hazing techniques, as well as chemical behavior modification or euthanasia of aggressive, unruly males. Scientists are also looking to develop new “adversive conditioning” tools in a bid to reduce interactions between seals, dogs and humans, especially fishermen.

Getting back to the seal blog, it reports that weaned seal pups are routinely given flipper tags, pit tags (like the microchips put on pets, some of which have been linked to inflammation and other health problems) and cell phone tags so that every aspect of their lives can be monitored. Researchers also regularly take tissue and blood samples from seals that are lounging around on the beaches, and swab their orifices. All of this is supposedly done for the good of the seals, yet despite all the info collected, their numbers continue to plummet.

Meanwhile, as I’ve reported previously, quite a lot of trauma is inflicted on the seals in the process of data collecting and monitoring. I can’t help but wonder how much stress is caused by the constant surveillance and frequent handling. And couldn’t that be a factor in their decline? But scientists, whose salaries and careers are built on such meddling, and volunteers, who like to be part of that special clique that can get close to the animals and tell others to stay away, are never going to look at, much less admit, how their actions might be harming the animals they supposedly care so much about.

Just as animals have the right to be left in their home territory — and that applies to the Lihue airport nene slated to be sent to internment camps on Big Island and Maui — they also have the right to be left alone, and to have some privacy as they mate, rear their young and live their lives.

The latest proposal to kidnap pups and haul them down here, then take them back to the compromised habitat of the NWHI in three years, while possibly well-intentioned, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. It's also pissing off fishermen and ocean users, and turning them against the seals in the process.

Instead of going through all these controversial contortions, and pursuing intensive, expensive and questionably effective management actions, why not focus all efforts on improving the habitat? Because as we have seen over and over with Hawaii's endangered species, that is where the bulk of the problem lies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Musings: At a Crossroads

The blackness of a new moon night lured me out to lie on the grass and look up at the smoky swirl of the Milky Way, contemplating the vastness of the universe and those who gazed upon it in the centuries preceding me.

At the first faint light of morning, Orion and bold Jupiter remained, along with a smattering of stars, though Waialeale, exquisitely clear for the past two days, had pulled the veil back over and around her. An orange mass in the east hinted at both the arrival of the sun and the possibility of rain, which we now so badly need.

How much ag land do we need to feed ourselves, possibly grow some fuel? Or as some others might ask, how little ag land can we get away with saving so we can develop the rest and make money?

Those are some of the questions that will come into play as Kauai County prepares to take the draft final report of its Important Agricultural Lands study out for public review next weekend. (Here’s the link to the general website.)

Already, though, at last Friday’s meeting of the Hawaii Congress of Planning Officials, attorney Max Graham was asking the question that matters most to those in the land development industry: what will happen to the ag lands that aren’t deemed “important?”

Because there’s a sentiment that anything not classified IAL is wide open for non-ag exploitation. And it's gaining momentum in the current economic drought, where construction, real estate sales and development — not to mention all the lucrative lawyering that goes with it — has slowed to a trickle.

But there are those who are bucking that tide.

“The mantra has to be, nothing changes,” says farmer Jerry Ornellas, one of the few real tenders of the soil to serve on the IAL committee. “This not going to be the second Mahele.”

Indeed, there is nothing in Act 183 that says ag land not designated “important” is suddenly taken out of the ag district, automatically rezoned or looked upon more favorably for development. The only thing that Act 183 does is outline the process for designating IAL, while Act 233 sets forth the significant incentives that can be leveraged to coax developers into actually using their ag land for agriculture.

The only way that our county can make the leap that any ag lands that don’t get the IAL designation are not important for farming, and thus suitable for non-ag development, is if our planning department, planning commissions and politicians adopt that mind set.

Unfortunately, the stage is already being set at the planning commission, where vacation rental owners are coming in and claiming one of two scenarios: either they can’t possibly use their ag land for agriculture, and so they need a permit for a commercial use, or their fruit trees and horse constitute a bonafide farming venture.

Either way, the farm dwelling agreement they signed be damned as politicians like Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura look the other way, making public comments like heck, nobody follows the farm dwelling agreement.

While we’re on the subject of the planning commission, I find it interesting that on the agenda for today’s meeting, as well as the previous one, there is an executive session for the purpose of evaluating the interim planning director. For those who don’t know, that’s Michael Dahilig, the former deputy county attorney whom the mayor, in violation of the County Charter, appointed to run the department after pulling Ian Costa off the job. That was 10 months ago, and Mike is still running the show.

Back in May, when the mayor invited me in for a little talk story session, I asked why Ian had been removed as planning director. His answer:

Ian was not doing a good job managing and supporting the commission. And that became even more important now that we’re beefing up enforcement.

I’m not sure if any such beef up is actually under way, and perhaps Mike was helpful in cleaning up the department a bit. But the fact remains that he is the mayor’s pick, not the Commission’s, and no one else was considered. The Commission should be actively recruiting for that position and reviewing a wide range of applicants. Why evaluate Dahilig unless you’re contemplating keeping him on, or conducting the personnel equivalent of a sole source bid?

We all know the Commission is essentially a rubber stamp for the mayor and County Attorney’s office. I recall Commissioner Jimmy Nishida telling me, “We just do what the attorneys say so we no get sued,” and thinking, a) what a chicken shit approach to planning; and b) what makes you think the attorneys know what they’re doing, especially in a county that invariably hires outside counsel whenever they want to win?

Meanwhile, here's a story on how the decision to rezone ag land on the southside for the massive, and super luxe, Kukuiula project has turned out. The title says it all: How one Hawaiian Paradise Became a Ghost Town.

We’re at a land use crossroads right now on Kauai with the IAL study coming out and the economy way, way down. To ensure the the best route for our county is taken, we need a transparent, accountable planning department and planning commission, and an active citizenry. In other words, we need a miracle.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Musings: Shifting

The dogs and I observed the bookends of the overnight shift into the autumn equinox, walking the beach beneath the fiery clouds of sunset, walking the road beneath the thin moon and shiny stars of pre-dawn. Despite what the calendar says, all the signs of fall were already in evidence: cooler nights, north swells, shortening days, golden slanted light.

I fluffed up the remaining empty garden bed and planted green beans, tat soi, more arugula, and before the day ends, I will press seeds collected from especially tasty kabocha and sunrise papaya into tiny pots for later transplanting. Soon, I will start digging again, preparing new beds, hoping for abundance, yet always aware that harvest depends on the vagaries of nature.

Hopes of material abundance are starting to diminish, at least for all but the upper echelon, as the U.S. and other Western nations face the reality of a prolonged economic downturn.

I was talking to Sen. Ron Kouchi at the monk seal hearing last week, and he spoke of the budgetary challenges facing the state Legislature. He said he’d been out chatting with constituents, and one woman asked if things were going to get better, or if it was time to hunker down.

He advised her to hunker down, and told me, “We haven’t even seen the bottom yet.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing reports that many federal entitlement programs, including Section 8 housing subsidies and food stamps, will be facing dramatic cuts — up to 50 percent in some cases — in the years following the presidential election.

What that means is the prospect of more homeless, more hungry, more people living in precarious economic conditions.

At the hearing, I heard numerous fishermen, worried about the future of subsistence fishing at a time when they might need it more than ever, object to possible increased competition from monk seals brought down from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

More than a few uttered some variation on the theme of “I’m sick of people from other countries and other nationalities telling me what do in my own country.”

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard expressed often, and I wondered if the often uneasy relations between locals and everyone who wasn’t born here will be further strained by rough economic times.

As the saying goes, “high water covers the snags…”

I mention this not to create fear or worry, but to encourage us to start thinking of how we might assume more responsibility for ourselves, and others. How can we take care of those less fortunate, when the government gravy train slows or stops running? How can we become more self-sufficient, more self-reliant? How can we help facilitate the transition from rampant exploitation to sustainable harvest, with the same ease that summer shifts into fall?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Musings: From the Inside Out

A white moon just a whisker short of half was darting amongst the clouds beneath the steady gaze of Jupiter when Koko, Paele and I went walking this morning. Along toward the end, of both the road and our walk, pink began to creep out and claim first the sky and then the land, infusing it all with rosy color.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the land lately, particularly the battles over how to use it, because I just completed a piece on the state’s Legislature’s thoughtful gift to the people — or at least, the people with connections, the people with investment capital. I’m talking about the Public Land Development Corp., a Honolulu-centric entity with the power to run roughshod over any local development concerns, much less cultural, environmental and historical considerations.

The PLDC seems to be aiming the final shot between the eyes at all those who have struggled since statehood to bring some sanity into the land development process; to look out for the interests of poor folks and cultural sites displaced and destroyed, respectively, for some dubious project or another; to level the incredibly uneven playing field that exists between economic growth and cultural-environmental protection.

I’d been thinking about it before I even started the article, while researching a book chapter on Kauai land struggles stemming from the 1970s. The list read like a sad litany of battles lost: Niumalu-Nawiliwili, Nukuolii, the Hyatt, the Westin (now Marriott), Running Waters, and in more recent years, Kealia Kai, Kealanani, Grove Farm’s ugly oozings all around Lihue, the travesty of Kukuiula, the two new Coconut Marketplace resorts — unbuilt, but still alive — and Joe Brescia’s house, built atop the bones of people who once were alive.

Sure, there were small successful skirmishes along the way, little bits of land here and there tucked away in conservation easements, accesses given as others were taken away, costly delays, a Supreme Court ruling on shorelines that the state and county continue to ignore.

But in looking back over the past 40 years, pretty much every developer who came to Kauai has gotten his way. And when they were stymied, ever so briefly and slightly, by the County Council’s moratorium on resorts, they simply turned the entire North Shore into a resort, via vacation rentals, and then bullied the county until it caved in and legalized their illegal minihotels, even those on agricultural land.

All the heated public hearings, the contested cases, the lawsuits, the protests, the pickets, the arrests, have pretty much come to naught.

Attempts to make changes through the system have hit similar dead-ends. Just look at what the county is trying to do to the citizen’s charter amendment on growth. We’ve even watched in dismay as former land use activist Jimmy Nishida turned coat and sided with developers once he got appointed to the Planning Commission.

(Speaking of which, how many meetings is a commissioner, even a lousy one, allowed to skip? Jimmy has been missing in action for many months now. It’s time for him to resign, so the mayor can appoint another rubber stamp.)

My point in all of this is there’s got to be another way, a better way, to influence land use decisions. The current approach has not worked. It will be even less effective in a crappy economy, where it’s gonna be even more all about the money, honey. And it's going to prove especially ineffective under the PLDC process, which gives citizens just one opportunity, at a Board of Land and Natural Resources hearing, to comment on proposals to transfer public land and development rights to private investors, who in turn are exempted from all zoning and building code restrictions.

Yup, the door has been opened really, really wide. It’s time for those of us who care about the Hawaiian culture and the natural world to develop some new strategies for resisting the relentless push to give it all away for mere pennies on the dollar.

From what I've seen, major change cannot be affected within the current narrow, corrupt political system. We need to stop bashing our heads against that hardening concrete wall, stop fighting the battle on their terms, in their arenas.

The only thing that will help us now is a complete overhaul of our institutions, starting with our own values, actions, beliefs that, inadvertent or not, still serve to perpetuate the injustices, the wrongs, the destruction and desecration.

In short, we need to wage a revolution from the inside out.

Fortunately, it’s already under way. Wake up, get conscious, and join us. The hour is getting late.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Musings: On Time

Take 3:39 minutes out of your life and watch this.

"The concept of time creates what we call the self. What is the 'I' without time?"

If prominent scientists say that time is merely an illusion, than what are we?

"The world is more than it appears to be." — Socrates

Friday, September 16, 2011

Musings: Indigenous Rights & Fire Ants

A heavy rain fell in the night, so heavy that the ground was thoroughly saturated — much to the delight of the garden — when the dogs and I went out walking beneath a waning white moon snuggled up to golden Jupiter. Clouds draped themselves around the summit of Makaleha as I inspected the taro patch, where every huli transplanted from a Wainiha loi has firmly rooted and is sprouting new leaves. Yes!

Growing taro makes me happy, not only because it’s beautiful and tasty, but because the hardiness and resiliency of the plant that is the ancestor of the kanaka maoli gives me hope for the Hawaiian people, the Hawaiian nation.

Of course, not everyone would like to see the resurgence of an independent Hawaiian nation. According to an article in Indian Country Today:

The U.S. feared that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) would help Indigenous Peoples assert their right of sovereignty over their lands and resources, according to cables released by the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks. The cables also reveal an almost obsessive preoccupation on the part of the federal government with Bolivia’s democratically elected President Evo Morales and the indigenous leaders who admire him and oppose laws opening Native territories to oil, mining and logging companies.

Initially, the U.S. was one of only four nations to vote against the declaration, which later was signed by President Obama.

Thus far, only Kauai attorney Dan Hempey has been akamai enough to use UNDRIP to advance the rights of kanaka maoli, successfully invoking it in his defense of Dayne Gonsalves and his right under the declaration to carry a Kingdom of Atooi badge. That case is now headed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals after county prosecutors objected to Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe’s ruling in favor of Hempey’s motion.

Apparently, this sort of judicial review is precisely what the U.S. feared. When Morales signed UNDRIP into Bolivian law, worried U.S. embassy officials sent a cable that read:

“The new law contradicts existing land laws, and therefore will be subject to judicial interpretation when it begins to be cited in legal cases.”

The Indian County article goes on to report, still citing from an embassy cable:

"Although most indigenous leaders seem to view the UN Declaration as a ‘feel good’ document that will give them more inclusion in the public sector, some leaders are citing the Declaration in support of concrete aims like self-governance and control over land and resources.” The “post,” meaning the embassy, promised to “watch for further developments, particularly with regards to property rights and potential sovereignty or self-rule issues.”

Now this is going to be an interesting case to watch.

Moving on to another subject, I feel compelled to come to the defense of actor Ben Stiller, who was implicated in an article that appeared in yesterday’s The Garden Island about the ongoing efforts to eradicate fire ants from properties on Kalihiwai Road.

Yes, Ben does own one of the parcels being treated for fire ants, but he had nothing to do the infestation. That credit goes to his neighbor, Anne Earhart, one of the heirs to the J. Paul Getty fortune, who insisted on having mature trees imported from the Big Island for a palmarium that a mainland landscape architect had designed.

I, and others, tried to warn her, stating the very real concern of importing invasive species on such massive root balls, but she wanted she wanted, and couldn’t wait for smaller trees to grow into maturity.

Her local landscaper, Dan Shook, obliged, and sho nuff, the ants came, too. Now, 12 years later, they’re not only still present, but apparently have moved onto Ben’s property, which he purchased three years after the ants were introduced. I wonder if he knew? And I wonder if KISC, which is always short of cash, is billing the landowner for the protracted eradication efforts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Musings: It's Sad

It’s sad to read articles like the one printed in Civil Beat today — and reposted in The Garden Island — about the nene being “kicked off” Kauai.

It’s sad because the article, and the subsequent question posed to spark discussion — “What do you think about the decision to spend $7.2 million to ship endangered birds from Kauai to Maui and the Big Island?” — work so effectively to turn people against endangered species by making it all about money.

To the average person, $7.2 million sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But given Civil Beat’s emphasis on telling the bigger story, it would have been nice to see the article put that figure in some sort of context, like how much is currently being spent on bird control at state airports, the cost of bird-related aircraft crashes, or even the cost of implementing our fear-based Homeland Security programs at the Lihue Airport.

Because this is supposedly all about protecting us humans, right?

And it missed the big question: where is the money coming from?

What’s really sad, though, is that the article fails to get into how this, like all endangered species “problems,” is caused at root by humans: our needs, our wants, our values, our fears, our priorities and in this case, one person’s bad decision to establish a nene population at Kauai Lagoons.

Instead, it just serves to make people blame the birds, rather than the federal aviation officials who are pushing this project to forestall the relatively remote possibility of a nene air strike.

Dumping on the nene, turning this into yet another "us against them" scenario, as the media did with the Newell's, is so much easier than examining our own behavior, or own shortcomings as a species.

So I did get a laugh from one totally unconscious comment left on The Garden Island article:

Any organism that is so pitiful that it can't adapt to new problems to save its life deserves to die and make way for those that can.

Ya know, buddy, you're right, and that's exactly where the human organism is headed.

It was also sad to see The Garden Island article — or more accurately, press release reprint — about how Grove Farm land will be used to grow crops to help provide fuel for a bioenergy plant on Oahu.

Aside from the obvious question of why Grove Farm couldn’t have reached a similar agreement with KIUC, so that the use of our water and ag land would benefit our island and our goals of energy self-sufficiency, how in the world can it be considered “green” to burn fossil fuels to ship biomass to another island so its power plants can avoid burning fossil fuels?

There’s a certain insanity in some of these “green energy” proposals that seem to have a lot more to do with the color of money than environmentally sound proposals.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Musings: Pile on the Poisons

The full moon, which I watched rise from a purple-black mass and beam a shimmering path across a dappled sea, had long since been swallowed by the thick bank of gray atop Waialeale when the dogs and I went walking this dawn beneath a pale sprinkling of stars.

The moon is in Pisces, which I have always found to be a fine time for planting, and sure enough, some of the taro huli that I tucked into the soil yesterday morning had already begun to leaf by day’s end. Every time I look out there, I think of how I was told I had to use poison to get the guinea grass under control. Instead, I dug it up and created an organic garden.

When are we going to stop drenching the `aina with poison? Especially since new research published in the respected journal Pediatrics has linked pesticides in food to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). According to an article published on

Children with substantially higher levels of a breakdown product of neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

"It's mainly exposure through food. Diet is the driver," says pediatrician and public health expert Phil Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of the department of community and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "For most people, diet is the predominant source. It's been shown that people who switch to an organic diet knock down the levels of pesticide by-products in their urine by 85 to 90 percent."

The study looked at organophosphates, a class of pesticides that includes the ubiquitous Roundup, which is sprayed so wantonly all over our beautiful island.

The problem is compounded by the proliferation of genetically modified food — pretty much all the corn and soy products found in the supermarket — because those crops are engineered to withstand massive applications of Roundup.

Just something to think about as our “leaders” continue to embrace the GMO-intensive, pesticide-drenched seed industry that has taken over the Westside.

The article reports the conclusion of university researchers: parents should buy organic for their kids.

That's great, except organics generally cost more. So it’s the rich people’s kids who get to stay healthy and the poor people’s kids who get to consume the pesticide-contaminated food that makes them prone to develop ADHD, which in turn makes it hard for them to do well in school and gets them branded as troublemakers and too often results in a prescription for some sort of drug that will further screw up their health and thus their lives....

Of course, the production of these poisons has its own downside — tons of molten slag — as a photo and caption in Discover pointed out:

The slag, which typically includes some radioactive uranium and radium in addition to calcium minerals, is the waste product from the conversion of phosphate ore to phosphorus. Monsanto operates the only such plant in the United States and uses the phosphorus to produce glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. According to the EPA, each pound of phosphorus produced generates about four pounds of slag. Monsanto’s Soda Springs plant produces more than 200 million pounds of phosphorus each year.

Ah, yes. Better living through chemicals.

As for me, I'll just keep digging up the guinea grass, one clump at a time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Musings: True Security

I woke often in the night to the sound of rain, that steady, straight, persistent rain that delivers the deep drenching that we really need, and my thoughts each time were on my garden, both the nourishment it was getting and the soil that was softening so that I may easily dig more beds.

Don’t plan on lounging about in bed tomorrow morning. Our mayor has ordered all on-duty cops and ambulance drivers to gather at the nearest fire station so they can let the emergency vehicle sirens rip in unison for a full minute at 7 a.m. The island's dogs are gonna love it, because it gives them an excuse to bark and howl, but I’m not quite sure how that constitutes a fitting tribute to the tenth anniversary of the Twin Towers going down.

Notice I didn’t say “Al Qaeda terrorist attacks,” because to tell ya the truth, I’m still not convinced it wasn’t an inside job. Let’s not forget Building 7, and the thousands of SEC files on corporate fraud and God knows what else lost there. Yes, I know anyone who questions the official story is dismissed as a “conspiracy nut,” just as anyone who questioned the subsequent attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq was deemed “unpatriotic.” But if you don’t believe our government would harm its own people for a political/economic agenda, just look at how many Americans have been killed, maimed and jailed for political/economic agendas in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Vietnam, Korea and yes, the good old U.S.A.

But regardless of who pulled off the dirty deed, it certainly has been an effective tool for mind control of the sheeple, and the anniversary gives yet another opportunity to drill the fear message deeper — right down to the latest hype over a commemorative terror threat.

Like the Christmas decorations I saw in Ace Hardware the other day, the build up to the anniversary began well before the big day. “A nation transformed” read the special coverage headline on the Yahoo home page, and though I don’t watch TV, a friend who does tells me the TV networks are filled with similar pronouncements.

Americans are fascinated by that one bad day in our history, and aside from the families of Sept. 11 victims who have traveled to Afghanistan, most appear oblivious to the long string of bad days still being endured by the nations we’ve so wrongly punished for it.

Over the past decade, we’ve waged wars, undermined civil liberties, committed torture and launched Predator attacks, all in a futile attempt to guarantee our populace some mythical, and unattainable, sense of control and security. Billions have been spent, untold tens of thousands killed, and yet we are told we still must stay that course or risk more attacks.

Though I, and other longtime residents of Kauai, can’t claim to know the pain and trauma endured by those who experienced the collapse of the Twin Towers, we do know something of the human response to destruction and loss, of having our world turned upside down on Sept. 11.

That was the unforgettable day in 1992 when the Civil Defense sirens screamed, the sea boiled into a steaming witch’s cauldron, coconut trees flew by like paper airplanes. When the 200-mph winds of Hurricane Iniki departed, we were left with what then-Mayor JoAnn Yukimura termed “complete devastation.”

That was only the beginning. The next day brought the sweeping vistas — and scorching heat — that follows the loss, en masse, of shade-providing leaves from all the trees. With it came the equally stark realization that survival and clean up would dominate our lives for the foreseeable future, eclipsing every other plan, goal, dream.

In the hectic weeks that followed, armed National Guardsmen drove through the streets and the whump-whump-whump of low-flying helicopters was heard constantly overhead. It was not unlike living in a war zone — without, of course, the maiming and death, the opposing sides. We had our fear, though, and it slept lightly in some at-the-ready primal place, re-awakening with each storm warning, each strong gust of wind.

Then came the months of deprivation and disorder, the dreariness of rain-drenched ragged landscapes dotted with sodden debris. I remember most especially the huge mounds of trash — moldy mattresses, corrugated iron roofing twisted into odd shapes, ruined appliances, torn and splintered wood. The cherished “stuff” that comprises the foundation of our materialistic culture was no longer a joy, but a burden.

What became important instead were relationships — friends to help with the heavy work, bring news, share a meal and a laugh. With telephones, cell towers and electric lines down, we had to venture out to engage, come together for entertainment. And people did. We stopped hiding in front of our TVs, sitting on the sidelines, keeping our distance.

Though life eventually returned to “normal,” a powerful lesson from that time — security and control are complete illusions — reshaped my own way of thinking and living. Our lives can be upended at any moment, our world irrevocably altered by outside forces, and in truth, there’s no way to prevent or guard against it.

All we can do is respond, preferably well, in a resourceful, cooperative and yes, even loving manner. We’ve seen many examples of how we already excel at that as individuals, neighborhoods, communities. So why not as a nation? Because that’s where our true safety resides, not in airport scanners, Homeland Security, a nebulous, never-ending “war on terror.”

When we as a citizenry can truly grasp that concept, and demand our elected officials live by it, rather than react with drone attacks, ethnic profiling, wiretaps and waterboarding, then perhaps we can honestly proclaim ourselves “a nation transformed.”

Until then, it's pretty just the same old-same old Testament eye-for-an-eye, defense contractor-friendly business as usual bullshit in America.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Musings: Askew

Rising in the night to grab another blanket, I take the opportunity to go out and adore the stars, splendidly strewn across their eternal black canvass, a sight that always fills me with wonder, awe, joy.

Later, at the first glimmer of pink light, I pull on a flannel shirt and venture out with the dogs to check the garden, which is happily, or so I imagine, soaked with the night’s passing rain. Green onions and kai choi sprouts have joined the line up.

Walking in the cool, golden light of a September morning, gazing at the pale green cragginess of Waialeale, its midsection draped with clouds that have sidled up to the summit of Makaleha, causing it to appear snow capped, I think of an article I read that reminds me every cloud has a silver lining: it seems many young people nationwide are too fat to join the military.

Something’s got to get us out of these endless wars...

The sun rises like a fireball behind us, turning Waialeale purple, shimmering the raindrops atop the grass, and I think of the animals and plants that are fleeing north to escape global warming, even as some humans deny its existence.

I think, too, of all the people I know who are ready to jump out of jobs, marriages, living arrangements. Situations that once could be slogged through have become untenable; among people unafraid to feel I sense an edginess, a willingness to leap, an inkling that something big is about to happen. Or as my sister described it, it’s as if life has gone askew and now we're just waiting to see which way it tilts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Musings: Don't Buy It

The stars, in that dark time between moon set and sun rise, have been spectacular lately, brilliantly arrayed between a line up of planets, well-worth some neck-craning to take it all in. This morning, it was Triangle that caught my eye, pointing the way to a meteor falling in a silver flash toward the black hulk of Waialeale.

Returning to the house, both dogs and a blanket gathered near to ward off the chill of impending autumn, I open my laptop and scan what passes for news: two-thirds of Americans polled are willing to give up some freedoms in the fight against the terrorist bogeyman; fears of another recession — caused in large part by our expensive war against terror — cause stocks to fall; fears of anything related to the supposed home of terror prompt Texans to boot a Brazilian-born Al Jazeera journalist from a high school football game.

Ugh. I don’t want fear influencing my day, undermining my life. But it’s a steady stream that’s being fed us, especially with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 on the approach, and our government is taking that opportunity to beat ever harder on the war drums: ”we must stay in Afghanistan or risk more attacks!”

I don’t believe it, and like 99 percent of what’s being sold us, from policy to products, I don’t buy it.

So I shut my laptop and went back outside, where the day was waking up and applying a layer of gold gilt to towering columns of cumulus and all the mountains were exquistely clear and thin streaks of pink clouds stretched out, like arms seeking an embrace, from both the summit of Makaleha and the eastern horizon, and there were the dogs and me, walking joyously right smack in the middle of all this beauty, perfection, complexity.

Back at the house, I checked on my new garden: two beds that look like fresh graves, encircled with the dog pens to keep out the chickens, covered with chicken wire to deter the doves.

It was only Friday that I sprinkled in the seeds, covered them lovingly with the soil that I’d dug and worked and then worked some more, and by Sunday the arugula had already sprouted, followed yesterday by daikon and this morning, lettuce and kale.

I looked down at those little starts, the wheel of life turning in my own back yard, the promise of abundance fostered by my willingness to provide a bit of support and care.

I looked and saw the results of directing my energy and attention on love, and not fear.

Yes, energy flows where attention goes.

What would you like to bring into your life today?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Musings: Ticking Time Bombs

I awoke with a feeling of intense excitement, though I’m not sure why, a sense that I needed to get up and go out, so I roused the dogs and we all went to look at a sky so black and clear and brilliant that it took my breath away, Jupiter gleaming like a spotlight and near it I could count, flesh puckered in chicken skin, all seven sisters in the home constellation of Pleiades/Makalii.

And I thought of a friend, now dead, who spent almost 20 years locked up in Halawa, and he told me that sometimes, if he was in the right cell, he could look through a high window and catch a glimpse of the moon, the stars, and the one thing he missed more than anything in prison was the freedom to go outside at night.

I’ve been on vacation, letting my mind and life run free, following my intuition, rather than any kind of schedule, responding to no demands other than those few made by Koko and Paele, digging garden beds, spending quality time at some of my favorite places on the island.

It was at one of those yesterday that I ran into a man visiting from upstate New York, and though I don’t usually chat up strangers, we got to talking and I asked him, because I often wonder, especially when I see worried-looking tourists trying to turn left onto Kuhio Highway, or pale, sunburned backs still exposed to the sun, or cruise ship passengers ambling through the tawdriness of Anchor Cove, just what kind of visitor experience he had.

Turns out he was an accidental tourist — he owns a timeshare and the only opening was a condo in Princeville. So he came to Kauai with no particular expectations, and found it beautiful and lush.

I pressed him a bit and more details came out, though he shared them mostly without complaint, save for the $30 spent on lunch at the Hanalei Dolphin.

“Was it at least any good?” I asked and he said it was alright, and they were doing a brisk business, which was why he, and perhaps the unsuspecting others, had stopped in.

Then he told of going to the end of the road, and the madness at Kee Beach, where someone had parked kapakahi and blocked in a whole row of cars, including his, so they all had to wait until the thoughtless tourist moseyed back to his vehicle.

“People were so desperate for parking that they were just leaving their cars anywhere,” he observed. “It was awful. I just wanted to get out of there.”

And then there was the incident the night before at Ching Young Village in Hanalei.

He was walking to his car in the parking lot at about 8:30 p.m. when he heard a couple of local boys calling, but didn’t realize initially they were speaking to him. They were mad, though he didn’t know why, and approached his car and demanded he roll down the window, which he did, and one of them started going off, though he couldn’t understand just what the guy was trying to say, and he got a little worried and rolled up the window and prepared to back out, which pissed them off even more, and one of the guys had a rock and smashed it into the passenger side of his car, leaving a good-sized dent that spoke to both a large pohaku and considerable fury.

He called the police, because he knew he would need a report for the rental car agency, and thought that if they went right away, the guys would likely still be there. But the dispatcher told him the station at Hanalei wasn’t staffed at night, so it would take some time before an officer could respond, which was true, because it was about 10 p.m. by the time a cop showed up at his door.

The next day he went back to the shopping center and talked to the manager, who showed him the video cameras that he has mounted all over the place, and sure enough, the entire incident was captured on tape, but the resolution was so poor that they couldn’t make out the license plate number of the perps.

“And he didn’t know who the guys were?” I asked, because Hanalei is a very small place.

“No, but he seemed determined to find out,” said the visitor. “He felt really bad about what happened. He gave me a tee-shirt.”

But what the man really wanted to know was why the guys were so angry, and so angry at him, because he couldn’t think of anything he might have done to offend them.

“Maybe it’s just because you’re a tourist,” I ventured.

He was confused by that, wanting to understand the why behind the animosity.

Because we open our doors wide to visitors, you know, spend big money begging them to come in, talk up the aloha spirit. It’s not unreasonable for tourists to think they’ll be welcomed, or at least free from a violent altercation.

I tried to explain how much the North Shore has changed, how it’s developed so rapidly that the lifestyle has been greatly altered, the locals heavily displaced. I shared the “I feel like a stranger in my own backyard” line uttered by a friend who grew up in Hanalei, told of how some of the guys don’t even want to go to the beach anymore because it’s so choked with tourists.

“So they’ve just given up?” he asked.

“Not exactly,” I replied, though of course some have. “It’s more just this simmering resentment, in part because a lot of big money has come in to the North Shore, and some of those super rich guys do look down on the locals and they feel it, and they don’t like it, and meanwhile, the place has gotten all built up with these big bling houses and they’re angry because they feel powerless. And if you throw a little ice or alcohol into the mix, which is so often the case, you’ve got a real volatile situation.”

He felt badly about all that, and I felt sad for him, because it’s not his fault that the flagrantly callous Eddie Bendors and Joe Brescias of the world chose Kauai’s North Shore as the place to increase their fortunes. (Btw, old Joe was on island recently, staying in his house atop the burials, no doubt sleeping peacefully...)

Then he asked if I would show him how to get to the Hindu temple and produced a map that was utterly ridiculous in its near absence of secondary roads or landmarks that might make navigating easier and I thought, good grief, is this the best we can do for our tourists? No wonder so many of them wander aimlessly, lost in the back roads of Kapahi and Wailua Homesteads.

I drew him a map instead and sent him on his way, but not before he told me that he actually hadn’t minded the altercation at Ching Young, because it showed him so vividly how irrationally people can act when they’re consumed by the anger that's born of fear.

And isn’t that the mind state of so many people these days?

As he left, I thought of the speciousness of the industry that is our economic mainstay, of the incessant push to bring in more visitors even though our special places are already bursting at the seams, the willingness to take a wad of their money even though we fail them in such basic ways.

I thought also of the two young guys who had instigated the incident in the parking lot, and what sort of future might lie ahead for them: rage doused by alcohol or ignited by ice, some shitty job cleaning yards, most probably a stint in jail, and beneath it all, the terror of alienation, a prevailing sense that they no longer fit in the place that is their home.

And I thought of how they, and so many other locals, have been pushed away and aside in the mad pursuit of the almighty outsider’s dollar, the bulk of which doesn’t even remain here, creating, in the process, these ticking human time bombs, and I wondered how, really, we had gotten to the place where that could be seen as a reasonable, fair trade.