After driving through intersections with traffic signals blacked out by the hours-long, island-wide power failure — marking the second time this week the lights went out at my house — I spent some time beneath the planet- and moon-dotted skies of the westside last night, chatting with people about the downside of living near the seed corn fields.
These weren't hippies, or anti-GMO activists, but locals — folks who were grown here, not flown here, to paraphrase a bumper sticker. And they've watched their quality of life and health deteriorate over the past 12 years as the chemical companies — Dow, Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, they're all here — have ramped up and expanded production.
We're talking kids getting nose bleeds after the fields are sprayed, cancer clusters, headaches, Waimea Valley residents reluctant to grow gardens because they don't want their veggies getting contaminated by drifting pesticides. Even the lovely cooling breeze has become a source of concern, because it carries chemicals into their homes.
The pesticides are really the over-arching issue, because while not all of the fields contain GMO crops, they all do use pesticides. In some of the experimental fields, where they're trying to figure out how much poison can be applied before the herbicide-resistant crop dies, you can well imagine they're using quite a lot. There was also some discussion about Dow's new corn, which has been genetically-engineered to withstand direct application of 2,4-D, a chemical linked to cancer and classified in California as a reproductive and development toxin. And since Kauai is where they conduct their experimental trials, it's quite likely that corn was — or even is — being grown here. Disclosures are not required.
It was kind of stunning driving over to the westside and seeing all the Gay & Robinson fields now planted with the chemical companies' crops, which stretched mauka as far as the eye could see. And we know what happens whenever it rains — all that poison-drenched soil flows into the rivers and sea. Meanwhile, construction is under way on a big new sorting facility for Syngenta at Kekaha and Pioneer/DuPont is talking about expanding.
The folks I chatted with were especially pissed by the puff piece on Pioneer/DuPont that ran on the front page of Sunday's paper. They took it as a slap in the face, an insult, because not only did it perpetuate the usual myths about genetically-modified crops — feeding the world, drought resistant, governed by a sound regulatory system, uh-huh, ya, right — it failed to mention anything about the very real concerns that westside residents have been raising for years.
Speaking of concerns, the KIUC board passed a policy amendment that supposedly dealt with the privacy issues that have been raised about smart meters. It says the utility won't give the data it collects to law enforcement or other agencies without a warrant or subpoena.
But as Ken Taylor noted, before he was shut down by Chair Phil Tacbian, the policy doesn't address hackers. And as this article indicates, it was pretty easy for hackers to get smart meter info from the German firm Discovergy.
I also was interested in this recent report by the Congressional Research Service on the privacy and security implications of smart meters. Among the issues it raises are the increased likelihood of the data being stolen. It also goes into some detail about Fourth Amendment issues, which are still very fuzzy regarding smart meters:
Because smart meters are an emerging technology not yet judicially tested, it is difficult to conclude with certainty how they would be handled under the Fourth Amendment. Further, beyond the possible constitutional implications of smart meters, federal communication and privacy statutes may also apply.
When I talked to taro farmer Adam Asquith about his lawsuit against KIUC, he noted that several law review articles and Congressional reports have been written about smart grid privacy concerns. “This issue will be adjudicated and it may well go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Adam said. “But we shouldn't be the ones spending money on this.”
Yet it looks like we will be, because Adam's injunction is now moving forward....
While we're on the topic of spending money, the County Council today will decide whether to allocate $10,000 for the police commission to hire outside counsel to seek a judicial ruling on whether the mayor can legitimately suspend the police chief, as happened earlier this year.
And that got me wondering just how much this debacle has cost the county. How many hours have highly-paid administrators and attorneys devoted to this issue, rather than more pressing matters? Was there additional overtime being paid at KPD when three top executives were out, or did the work just pile up in their absence?
Although it's not likely that Kauai judges will be especially useful in making the call about whether Mayor Bernard Carvalho acted improperly by suspending the chief, I gotta hand it to the police commissioners for at least challenging his actions. That can't be easy for Commission Chair Charles Iona, who was a big contributor to Bernard's campaign.
And it certainly stands in sharp contrast to the roll over and play dead response of the Planning Commission when the mayor totally usurped the Charter-granted powers of that panel by installing Mike Dahilig as director of the planning department.
So if the Council doesn't kick down the money, then what? Bernard just gets his way because he controls the county attorney's office that told him what he was doing was OK?
Meanwhile, the Charter Commission is mulling whether voters should be asked to clarify the mayor's powers. Perhaps to help ensure the question doesn't gain traction, Bernard recently appointed two of his people — Carol Sugawa and Jimmy Nishida, his lackey from the planning commission who didn't even bother to attend meetings for the last nine months of his term — to that panel.