Friday, June 29, 2012

Musings: Madness, Reefer and Otherwise

Shapes and faces in shades of rose and orange were drifting across the sky, doing a Venus fly-by, when the dogs and I went out walking in the pre-dawn chill. But it wasn't long before the clouds consolidated, turned gray and began delivering a much-welcomed downpour.

Email, meanwhile, delivered a much-welcomed message from Michelle Swartman, the local rep for Ohana Hanalei LLC, the Pierre Omidyar-owned company that wants to develop the old Hanalei Plantation Resort site —Kauakahiunu— where I've reported some recent access and parking problems. She wrote:

I can assure you that this issue - ensuring safe, open public access to property - is extremely important to us. We have reminded our security and our maintenance staff of what has always been our parking and public access policy: Individuals and families who wish to access our property using the pedestrian easement are allowed to park their vehicles along the side of the road outside of the gate, as long as they're not obstructing access or posing a hazard.

We want to be a good neighbor and to provide open access to our property, while ensuring a safe environment for everyone.

Aurai! Let's just hope it lasts.....

While we're on the subject of billionaire property owners, journalist/blogger Ian Lind had a good post on how it appears Larry Ellis will skate on paying the real estate conveyance tax for his purchase of Lanai. That's because it's set up as the sale of corporate stock rather than land. As a result, the state will lose about $6 million — some of which would have gone to support the Legacy Land Conservation Fund, the state’s rental housing trust fund and the natural area reserve fund.

Yeah, that sucks. But not as much as the latest “Reefer Madness” campaign, which I totally saw coming. I'm talking about the so-called “face chewer” in Florida. It's now being widely reported that he had only marijuana in his system, though in fact they can't even test for all the current synthetic drugs. Anyway, that gave rise to the "super strain" hysteria, as promulgated by the Associated Press:

An addiction expert said she wouldn't rule out marijuana causing the agitation.

"It could have been the strain of marijuana that increases the dopamine in the brain, such as sativa," said Dr. Patricia Junquera, assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

That total, absolute crock prompted at least one follow up story:

"Some people have said, 'Well, it must have been the marijuana that triggered [Rudy] Eugene's behavior.' That, in my opinion, is outrageous, and out of the question. Marijuana will not cause this type of behavior," said Dr. Bruce Goldberger, professor and director of toxicology at the University of Florida.

But the bottom line is, pot couldn't have triggered the attack. "Some media is reporting that pot isn't ruled out [as the cause of the attack]," Goldberger said. "I don't buy that. That's like talking about, 'If you take LSD, it stays in your body for a lifetime.' It's one of these misleading things you hear about drugs."

It's that ongoing demonization of marijuana that allows the government to turn Roger Christie, founder of the Big Island cannabis ministry, into a political prisoner. Deemed a "threat to the community," he's been held in a federal detention center without bail for nearly two years now as he awaits his endlessly delayed trial.

Coincidentally, I got a letter from Roger yesterday that coincidentally bore a cancelled stamp that depicted the American flag with the words, "Equality Forever." If that's true, and we all know it isn't, then why are marijuana smokers — even those who use it medicinally — discriminated against so blatantly?

Anyway, aside from noting he'd run into “Tex” Spears in the big house, Roger said the feds would not allow a British film crew from the National Geographic Channel to interview him for their documentary, “Drugs, Inc.” He also referenced a passage from the book, “Steve Jobs,” that stated, “his intellect flowered in high school after he started smoking marijuana and taking LSD.”

Despite the aggressive anti-cannabis campaign, we continue to we see these tiny steps toward liberation, such as Chicago decriminalizing possession of less than half an ounce of weed. As Reuters reports:

More than a dozen U.S. states and several large cities have already taken similar steps. Supporters said the Chicago measure, which takes effect on August 4, would help raise revenue for the city, save money and free up police to pursue more serious crimes.

Gee, what a concept. Instead of pissing people off and wasting time, money and fuel on Green Harvest, the Kauai cops could actually try to solve murders and stop ice. 

Finally, amidst the clamor about the Supreme Court upholding “Obama care,” I was interested in this piece on some of the lesser known effects of the massive law (emphasis added):

The health care legislation renews $50 million per year for five years for abstinence-only education. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, "programs that receive this funding must teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems." And they also have to teach that sex before marriage is "likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects."

OMG. Is it any wonder people don't trust the government?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Council Seeks Ethics Probe of Prosecutor

The Kauai County Council yesterday voted to ask the county Board of Ethics to investigate Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho's hallmark POHAKU court diversion program.

The vote was 5-2, with Councilmen Mel Rapozo and KipuKai Kualii in opposition. Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura asked the Council to approve the investigation request after various irregularities were revealed regarding the POHAKU contract and structure.

The action followed nearly three months of deliberation and several closed sessions with County Attorney Al Castillo, who earlier reported that both the state Attorney General and county Finance Department are investigating Iseri-Carvalho and her program.

Still, Kualii termed the call for an ethics investigation “premature.” Kualii said he had asked Council staff to check into past instances of the Council as a whole making such a request to the Board of Ethics, but staff couldn't find anything for at least 10 years back.

I think this is kind of an unprecedented move,” Kualii said. “I think the internal mechanism to determine if there is any impropriety is in mode and I don't think we should be jumping the gun for whatever motivation. I don't think it's prudent or necessary at this time.”

Rapozo agreed. “I'm under the impression this matter has already been forwarded to the Board of Ethics so I would agree it's duplicative and not necessary for this body because it's already being addressed in that capacity.”

But both Yukimura and Councilman Tim Bynum said the Council is sworn to uphold the County Charter and so is duty-bound to refer the matter to the Board of Ethics.

The Council plays a very important oversight function and I think it's our responsibility to stand for the highest standard of ethics,” Yukimura said. “I don't think it's of any matter that there hasn't been a referral before because I think this Council is paying a lot more attention to ethics than ever before,. And just because it didn't happen in the past doesn't mean it shouldn't have happened in the past.”

Rapozo, however, said the Council has been doing its duty by discussing the issue in executive session. “I don't think any of us have failed in our duty to uphold the charter. I think it's being addressed.”

Bynum said the Council had dragged its feet far too long, even after the County Attorney warned that delays could increase county liability. He also noted the ongoing investigation into possible violations of the state procurement law is separate from an inquiry into whether ethical lapses occurred.

Although Yukimura said the Council is “not making a statement on whether there is any violation,” Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura had previously supported deferring action on the issue, saying, “Once we get the [County Attorney's] report …. we can then determine what more needs to be done.”

By voting for the investigation now, after having received that report, it would seem to indicate a Council majority believes there is cause for concern. Under the Charter, ethics violations could result in a person being fined, suspended or even removed from office.

Nakamura asked Deputy County Attorney Mona Clark whether any investigations are currently underway within the State of Hawaii relating to the creation and operation of the POHAKU program. Clark hedged, saying ethics is separate from procurement.

Is there an investigation going on in respect to procurement?” Nakamura pressed, noting that “a concern was raised that it sometimes hampers an investigation if there are two simultaneously going on. I just want to have some reassurance that is not going to be a problem here.”

At that point, Castillo intervened and said an ethics review would not interfere with any other investigation. In a previous executive session that was inadvertently broadcast, Castillo had urged the Council to refer the matter to the Board of Ethics.

Both Council Chair Jay Furfaro and Councilman Dickie Chang also voted to send the matter to the Board of Ethics. Neither commented publicly, aside from Furfaro asking whether Iseri-Carvlaho had secured the special counsel she requested. He was told she had.

The Council previously approved spending up to $15,000 on special counsel for Iseri-Carvalho, who charged the County Attorney's office with a conflict of interest and refused to answer questions about POHAKU until she was given her own attorney.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Musings: Murmurings

Chilly temps and more blessed rain ushered in the dawn, and when the golden light appeared, two fat waterfalls could be seen streaking down the face of Makaleha. Now the wind is picking up, sending clouds on the fly and causing the ironwoods to murmur messages that are music to my ears.

Up on the North Shore, the murmur is all about the body found at Lumahai yesterday. Seems it's the same spot where one of the region's very bad boys was tied to a tree and brutally beaten about a month ago. Maybe a coincidence — or maybe not. Lumahai Beach is a notorious ice scene.

Then there's the sad news about that new shopping center being approved in Kilauea. But it's really no surprise. Since the ag lands around town have been turned over to vacation rentals, the guests need someplace to shop. How much ya wanna bet the shops that end up there will be catering to tourists, rather than the residents it's supposedly being built to serve? And as always, there's attorney Lorna Nishimitsu, shilling for the developers and even arguing against construction traffic relief.

And it seems the tanker that spilled its load on Kokee Road was heading up to refuel the helicopters that are trying to extinguish the fire, which is spreading really fast and is suspected to have been started by arsonists. Some Kokee residents were advised this morning to evacuate their homes.

Meanwhile, I've heard the governor has appointed a businessman as Kauai's interim representative on the state Board of Land and Natural Resources. Apparently, the selection committee didn't like any of the folks who had applied for the seat just vacated by Ron Agor. Still trying to confirm who the interim appointee is, but rumor is it's Avery Youn, architect and, ahem, “expeditor.”

I had a chance to converse with planning director Mike Dahilig today, via email and phone, about the Hanalei Plantation Resort access issue I've been covering. He dispelled the rumor left in comments yesterday, that he had flown on the county dime to meet with Ohana Real Estate Investors, the firm owned by billionaire Pierre Omidyar that wants to develop a super luxe resort on the site.

I do not make County travel arrangements to Honolulu to meet with applicants seeking departmental or commission approval on permit applications,” he wrote in an email. “They come to us.”

That's good. Not so good is the reality that the county doesn't really have it together when it comes to monitoring or enforcing beach accesses. It seems that different departments — planning, public works and parks — all hold easements, and they're all different types of agreements, with varying rights and responsibilities.

We need to establish protocols in house,” Mike acknowledged, so that there's consistency in how enforcements are handled.

To move against a landowner who is blocking an easement, the county would have to pursue legal action to have the courts compel the owner to live up to the terms of the agreement. It's a slow process.

But with the new civil fine authority, the county could also impose fines of up to $10,000 per day. Which is not a lot when you're a billionaire like Omidyar, but still, it's something. And as Mike said, it would provide more immediate relief. However, the county hasn't yet explored using that authority to enforce accesses.

In the meantime, Mike did say he will be contacting the landowner's agents on island;  Max Graham — oh, what a surprise — is the attorney. Mike said he also will send a letter to the commander of the Hanalei substation advising him the access should be left open and no one should be getting arrested for trespassing if they use it.

Thanks, Mike. I know I never would have gotten a response like that from Ian Costa.

I also spoke with Michelle Swartman, the landowner's PR person on Kauai, and she flat out denied the easement had ever been closed. Until I pressed her by repeating her words, and then she said, "What I'm saying is, from the time that I've been involved with the project that property has always been accessible.”

And then went round and round about what exactly that meant, with her speaking all the while in a voice and tone that was somewhere between timeshare saleswoman and Stepford wife.

She said she could not understand how in the world the community had gotten the perception the access had been closed.  Mmmm, maybe it was the lock and the no trespass sign?

When I asked why, if the access was now and always had been open,  Lance Laney had been threatened with trespass, and then having his car towed, she claimed total ignorance of how either of those events transpired. “Nothing is any different,” she claimed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Musings: Opt Out

Rain came in the night, bringing its marvelous restorative powers, and by morning it had departed, leaving a sky shot through with pastel hues of yellow, pink, orange and crowned by Venus, appearing as a small silver ball in the east when the dogs and I went walking.

Checking the mailbox, and finding the usual MidWeek, I thought, if we can opt out of smart meters, why not MidWeek and The Garden Island's plastic bag of trash, both of which arrive unwanted and unbidden?

The Guv plans to opt out of signing 19 bills — including a measure allowing transient vacation rentals (TVRs) on agricultural land that was supported by every single one of our legislators. The fact that the Lege had to amend state law to permit such a use proves it was never previously legal under state law, even though slick-talking lawyers convinced the mayor and certain Councilmembers otherwise.

And the fact that the Guv is vetoing Senate Bill 234 because it does not adequately define the minimal ag activity required for true "ag tourism" proves the law our Council passed is a similar piece of crap, because it doesn't spell that out, either.

But never mind. It served its real purpose: allowing people like Michele Hughes to sell “34+ immaculate acres overlooking Secret Beach” for “the highest price achieved for an oceanfront land parcel in the past 5 years.” The deal includes her two recently permitted TVRs, which are billed as being “surrounded by manicured lawns and tropical gardens,” with a nary a word about the fake farm she bullshitted through Planning.

Oh, and the buyers also get a perpetual pedestrian access to Kauapea Beach, thanks to the illegal, but after-the-fact-permitted, trail that was supposedly made to maintain the landscaping. Do you suppose they might let us use it to get to third beach, since our former Mayor Kusaka gave up our public access there?

Anyway, now that they're rolling in the kala, maybe Michele and the Realtors who copped the fat commissions — Debra Blachowiak, Paul Kyno and Roni Marley — will kick down a little sumpin for the campaign chests. Remember who loves ya, baby!

We know Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho never opts out of a chance to travel on the county's dime, but don't you think it's just a little teeny tiny bit of a stretch that she attended the Hawaii State Association of Counties meeting on the Big Island last week — even though she hasn't been a legislator for three and a half years now? I mean, check out the program for Thursday and Friday. Do you see anything that even remotely pertains to the OPA?

I'm also still hearing grumblings about Mayor Bernard Carvalho's six-day trip to Los Angeles for “The Descendants” promotional event during the Oscars in late February. Two things seem to irk: that he went right after suspending the police chief, when the acting chief wasn't on island, either, and that Kauai Visitors Bureau picked up the tab for his expenses. (He paid for his wife.)

And where did KVB get the money for this promotional event, including the mayor's travel expenses? Ummm, its grant from Kauai County.

"Is that an ethics violation?" a reader wanted to know. A gift that should have been approved by the County Council before it was accepted? A gift that the mayor should disclose on his tax return?

I don't know the answer to any of those questions, but I'm curious.

Just as I'm curious as to why the National Marine Fisheries Service has utterly opted out of its legal requirement to protect the Hawaiian population of false killer whales even though its numbers are estimated at just 170 and the longline fishing fleet is killing it at rates three times higher than the population can sustain. As a result, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sued to have it placed on the Endangered Species List and Earthjustice just filed suit to force NMFS to implement a take-reduction plan approved by conservations, fishermen and scientists.

Come to think of it, I actually can give an explanation for the federal agency dragging its feet as yet another species slides toward extinction. All you have to do is consider the incredible lobbying power of Wespac and this comment from NMFS regional administrator Michael Tosatto:

The measures being proposed require careful analysis, particularly as they may impose additional compliance costs on the fishing industry, including gear reconfiguration and possible area closures.”

So you might just want to opt out next time you're tempted to buy one of those bags of frozen mahimahi or what have you at Costco. Look on the package. If they're caught by longliners, those fillets come with a side order of shark fins and drowned or mangled false killer whales, turtles, albatrosses and other sea birds.
Hawaiian false killer whale — "by-catch" dying for your dinner.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Musings: Beat It

Just when you think a problem is solved reasonably and equitably — in this case, the re-opening of the closed public access at the former Hanalei Plantation Resort, whose proper place name is Kauakahiunu— it turns out it's not.

To back up just a minute, I first wrote about Lance Laney's encounter with three cops who threatened to arrest him for using that easement. Then I wrote about how Michelle Swartman, who represents the landowner, billionaire Pierre Omidyar, acknowledged that the easement does indeed exist, and that pedestrian access is allowed.

Well, Michelle finally got around to calling Lance personally to apologize, confirm the access and otherwise ho`omalimali. “You would have thought we went to high school together,” Lance recalled.

She also suggested that perhaps he'd like to join the little cadre of residents helping Omidyar achieve his vision of an “eco-resort” — and some 34 mansions — on the bluff overlooking Hanalei Bay. Seems another group of citizens is simultaneously working to oppose the uber-luxe project in its entirety.

Lance wasn't interested in joining her group. “I just want to go fishing,” he said. But when he went to use the access this past weekend, parking where he usually does by the still-locked gate, he returned to find a warning citation issued by Princeville Corp. It read: “You have beach access only. No parking. You will be towed.”

The citation, undated and unsigned, was left only on Lance's vehicle. A moped that was parked at the gate when he got there was not given a similar notice. Not a single sign indicated it was a no-parking zone.

Lance called Princeville Corp. four times to ask what was up, but no one returned his call.  So he reached out to his new BFF, Michelle, who feigned total ignorance of any parking issues associated with the access.

She knows, of course,” Lance said. “She told me she's in charge of anything that happens with the [Omidyar] land on this island, so she's gotta know about this. I'm totally convinced this is a big end-run to keep people from using that access.”

Lance next reached out to Carl Imparato of the Hanalei-Haena Community Assn. Carl told him that Omidyar owns Hanalei Plantation Road all the way to the police station, which Lance estimates to be about a mile from the access gate. "I think the county was really negligent when they let that happen," Lance said.

Meanwhile, a friend who was working up in the area checked out the access and sent me these pictures, with the question: “how can they put a locked gate across a 20-foot-wide public easement?”
The public uses that little track through the grass to the left of the gate.

At the other end, coming up from the beach, the “access” is even more inhospitable — and dangerous. Folks have to walk 15 feet to the left of the locked gate to clamber through the brush and over the pushed down fence.
As you can see from the approach to the gate, there's ample room for roadside parking — and nary a “no parking” sign to be seen.

Another friend who recently walked the easement said she and her friends parked near the houses on Hanalei Plantation Road. They encountered no security guard. As an interesting aside, one of the properties on the mauka side of the road is listed for $14 million, which gives you an idea of the hefty price tags those planned rim-side lots might carry.

I also learned that the access has been blocked for the entire 4.5 years that Omidyar has owned the property, in apparent violation of the 1984 grant of easement to the County that states: The Grantor and its successors and assigns shall "maintain and keep in good repair said pedestrian pathway easement."

I sent Planning Director Mike Dahilig emails on June 7, 13 and 21, asking about the status of that easement, and what recourse the public has when an easement is blocked. He said on June 8 that he would get back to me, but so far, nothing yet.

Additionally, I learned that on March 23, the Hanalei Bay Coalition sent Omidyar and his wife a letter, expressing concerns about the project and most especially the closed beach access:

We have been shut out by a gate and a sign that calls us trespassers on our own land. Over the course of six months of community meetings conducted by your organization’s development agents, not once has this deeded access been publicly acknowledged.

The Coalition got this reply:

"Thank you for your letter. We appreciate the care and concern you have for Hanalei. We share it as well. We are aware of all the concerns you raise. Our team is working diligently to design a project that will be good for the environment, for the community and for the economy. Please communicate directly with Eric Crispin [the leader of the project development group] if you have further questions."

When the Coalition responded that the project development group was blowing them off, it got this final rely from Omidyar's people:

"We appreciate your concern. We continue to believe that the best way of resolving issues regarding the property is through the team led by Eric [Crispin]. The issue of public access is not as simple as it appears. Please speak with Eric about this."
Though the legalities may be complex, the moral issue is quite simple. 
It just shows the mind set of the property owner,” Lance said. “The people who are going to build up there don't want us around, anyway, so they don't care what the community thinks. It would be very simple for this guy to be a neighbor. He doesn't have to be a jackass.”

As for Lance, well, after two ruined fishing trips, and facing the prospect of a long walk or expensive tow, he's lost enthusiasm.
“I think they pretty much beat me," he said. "When you look at how much money this guy has, well, David won once, but Goliath usually ends up swallowing all the little guys. Now I gotta find a new place to go fishing.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

Musings: Hands Off

Maybe it's because I have a cold that I feel a little scratchy— though I did see nesting turtle tracks on the beach for the second morning in a row, and before that, heard a Newell's shearwater, all things that make me smile.

Or maybe it's because the fricking low-flying helicopters — green harvest? or re-routed tour guys? — are buzzing my neighborhood for the second day in a row.

At any rate, when I finally got around to reading The Garden Island article today about the HGEA endorsements, I noticed it specifically states that County Council incumbents JoAnn Yukimura, Tim Bynum and Dickie Chang didn't get endorsed, nor did state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka.

Yet the article never mentions that Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvlaho didn't get the nod, either. What, is there a hands-off policy when it comes to Shay?

Too bad Hawaii — and Kauai — aren't hands-off when it comes to RIMPAC. Yes, the Navy is planning its biggest “war games” gathering ever, with more than 40 ships, six submarines, 200 aircrcaft and 25,000 personnel set to deliver five weeks of guns, destruction and electromagnetic energy disturbance, starting June 29.

Dr. Carl Berg of Surfrider nailed it when he said on the radio today: “We don't like the idea that we're having war against the environment and calling it a game.”

No shit.

As he noted, with that many ships out there, the probability of something happening is really high, as in running over or smashing into marine mammals, fish kills, sewage dumps, chemical spills. Not to mention all the toxic emissions into the air and sea from the millions of gallons of fuel that they'll be burning.

I know, the new "green" Navy spent a cool $12 mill to buy 450,000 gallons of biofuel — a mixture of algae-based fuel and fuel developed from used cooking oil and non-food-grade animal fats — but that's just to power its aircraft carriers. The rest will be burn in the same old fossil fuels.

Besides the usual bombs and bullets, the combatants plan extensive use of sonar, which kills whales, dolphins and seals outright, or disorients and deafens them so they die later. The mad scientists/engineers at DARPA, meanwhile, will test an advanced blue laser-based submarine through-water communications system.

As an interesting aside, when I was researching that blue laser stuff, I came across a Wired article about how Darpa handed out seven research awards worth $15.5 million under its Living Foundries” project, which “aspires to turn the slow, messy process of genetic engineering into a streamlined and standardized one.”

Synthetic biology, as Darpa notes, has the potential to yield “new materials, novel capabilities, fuel and medicines” — everything from fuels to solar cells to vaccines could be produced by engineering different living cells. But the agency isn’t content to wait seven years for each new innovation. In fact, they want the capability for “on-demand production” of whatever bio-product suits the military’s immediate needs.

It's no coincidence that GMO companies are snuggled up around PMRF. And it's no coincidence that our state lawmakers won't touch them.

Anyway, this year's super-sized RIMPAC is just a preview of what's to come. The draft EIS the Navy is now accepting comments on was prepared because it wants to greatly expand training exercises in the area that runs from Hawaii to the coast of Southern California.

The level they're doing right now is unacceptable and they want to do more,” Carl said.

Surfrider Kauai wants folks to watch for anything unusual during that time, and report it immediately. You can post on its Facebook page or call Dr. Gordon LaBedz at 337-9977.

So what to do, besides keep an eye out for fallout, and report it so it can't get spun or buried? Well, Nina Monasevitch, chair of Kohola Leo, believes that folks can stop the war training if they put enough pressure on lawmakers.

Writing one letter represents 250 constituents, so it's a powerful tool,” she said on the radio today. “If enough people speak up, by the hundreds of thousands, eventually we can turn the tide.”

To get you in the mood for irate letter-writing, here's a video of the U.S. and our Aussie allies busting up the Big Island. Think of it as the Army's mini land-based version of RIMPAC.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Musings: No Turning Back

Driving down Kawaihau Road, near the busy intersection at St. Catherine's, a big, un-neutered pitbull crosses the street behind me. I watch in my rearview mirror as he stops in the middle of the road and just stands there, looking confused. He is obviously lost, but I know my dogs, already barking, will never let him into my car.

On the outskirts of Anahola, a shirtless young man walks into the opposite lane as I pass and begins waving his arms wildly to induce an oncoming motorist to stop. I watch in my rearview mirror as the approaching vehicle slows, veers tentatively to the center of the highway, a string of cars stacking up behind.

At the beach parking lot, a guy sitting in his truck, American Bull Terrier beside him on the passenger seat— “my baby,” he says — strikes up a conversation as Paele pisses on his tire, tells me they leave the house so rarely that the dog does all his business in the bathtub. They are both blinking in the pale sunlight. “This is all kind of new and different for us,” he says, in a trembling voice, as I smile in reassurance and head for the trail.

An hour later, returning home, they are all gone, and I can't help but wonder what happened to them, how they are.

Just as I wonder how the 3,000 residents of Lanai will fare when I read that Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison — America's third richest citizen, a man the Wall Street Journal described as “one of the nation's most voracious consumers of trophy real estate” — is their new owner. It seems so bizarrely feudal that their fate is tied to the whims of the uber-wealthy. But then, when you stop to think about it, isn't that true for all of us 99 percenters?

And it strikes me, as I think of Pierre Omidyar, Steve Case, and now Larry Ellison, how the techies are becoming the new colonialists in Hawaii, wielding vast power and influence by virtue of their wealth alone.

Also wielding vast power is the American Medical Association, which decided at its annual meeting this week that there is no scientific justification for labeling bioengineered — as in genetically modified — food.

Never mind that a majority of Americans want it. Big medicine, which is controlled by big pharm and big insurance, has joined big chem in saying consumers shouldn't have information that will allow us to make a choice. And not just a choice about what we want to put into our bodies, but a choice about a pesticide-intensive farming method that many of us find questionable.

Though the AMA report dismissed concerns about eating modified foods — “The review of peer-reviewed literature revealed no reported and/or substantiated overt consequences to human health” — it couldn't say the same about ecological impacts:

During the testimony, it was acknowledged that there are concerns about the environmental effects of bioengineered foods. As Mario Motta, MD, a representative from the AMA Council on Science and Public Health, explained, "there are potential problems, but they aren't so much in the eating of the food."

The adopted report, entitled "Labeling of Bioengineered Foods," calls for continued research into the potential consequences to the environment of bioengineered crops. It also urged the government, industry, and consumer-advocacy groups to educate the public and provide unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods.

There are currently 80 transgenic crops that have undergone regulatory clearance in the United States. Approximately a dozen of these are marketed for human consumption.

And I can't help but wonder what will happen to us, and the planet, from this grand open air GMO experiment, which is not unlike the decision to introduce dozens of chemicals before we really understood — or admitted — that they are terribly harmful to human and environmental health. But once they're out there — and now they are — there's no turning back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Musings: Be Brave

It's the summer solstice, though the cool temps and misty rain hint otherwise, and I marked it by checking out my bees, with the guidance of my bee mentor, Jimmy Trujillo. After the initial trauma of a small hive beetle scare and two attacks by robber bees, it was a relief to find a healthy, pest-free, growing colony.
My top bar hive shortly after we installed the bees.
In a time of apparent global unraveling in the social, economic and environmental realms, it's comforting to tune in to those bits of the web that are intact, and functioning well.

If only I could say the same about the highest echelons of the Kauai County government. The more I learn about what's going on behind the scenes — and unfortunately, I can't report it yet — the more I marvel that things are getting done at all. Politics can be a very vicious, and secretive, world.

Or as a friend noted, after reading my post about the many masters that the county attorney's office must serve: the answer isn't five more attorneys. What we need is for all these people to do the right thing and start obeying the law.

Speaking of which, I asked Chief Darryl Perry if it would be possible to educate beat officers about beach accesses around the island, so that cops and the public could be spared the kind of confrontation that occurred when Lance Laney used a blocked access at the old Hanalei Plantation Resort.

The chief said he would take it up with the commanders at their next meeting and let me know.

I was amused/annoyed by one comment left on the follow up post about the landowner agreeing to re-open the access after Lance documented the legal easement:

I wish Lance would try to access the legal county access at Kauapea (formerly known as Benji Garfinkle's). It has been fenced and landscaped off for almost a decade, only open to chosen few rich and famous.
Ummm, why the heck should Lance do it? Folks need to step up and take kuleana for their own neighborhoods, instead of waiting for someone else to push the envelope. Be brave, people! Squeaky wheels get the grease.
Which is why Adam Asquith got what he is terming a permanent opt-out from smart meters — though the Public Utilities Commission could still order one installed — as opposed to the deferral that KIUC is now offering. The utility maintains it's essentially all the same, with KIUC spokesman Jim Kelly telling me, “We've already said we're not going to force a meter on anyone who doesn't want it.”
But Adam says it's different, prompting Mark Naea, who has been leading the charge against smart meters, to file a formal complaint with the PUC and consumer advocate. He alleges that KIUC is discriminating against other co-op members by giving Adam “special treatment.”
I'm not sure if people realize that the PUC approved the smart meter roll out as proposed by KIUC, and the consumer advocate did not express concerns about health or privacy issues.
While we're talking about privacy, I was glad to learn that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are expressing their worries about the government's ramped up use of domestic drones. As the Associated Press reports:
Jeff Landry, a freshman Republican congressman from Louisiana's coastal bayou country, said constituents have stopped him while shopping at Walmart to talk about it.
"There is a distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government," Landry said. "It's raising an alarm with the American public."

An American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist, Chris Calabrese, said that when he speaks to audiences about privacy issues generally, drones are what "everybody just perks up over."

There's concern as well among liberal civil liberties advocates that government and private-sector drones will be used to gather information on Americans without their knowledge.

Even if the FAA were to establish privacy rules, it's primarily a safety agency and wouldn't have the expertise or regulatory structure to enforce them, civil liberties advocates said. But no other government agency is addressing the issue, either.

Fear that some drones may be armed has been fueled in part by a county sheriff's office in Texas that used a homeland security grant to buy a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone for its SWAT team. The drone can be equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun. Randy McDaniel, chief deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, told The Associated Press earlier this year his office had no plans to arm the drone, but he left open the possibility the agency may decide to adapt the drone to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

Gee, now isn't that a cheery thought....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Musings: Elephant in the Room

I was outside at about 4 a.m. — it was Koko's idea, not Paele's or mine — and once the sleep left my eyes I was entranced by the stars, so long hidden by clouds. I could only discern Triangle, pointing southwest, before the curtain was drawn and the overcast returned and now, four hours later on this new moon morning, raindrops are glistening on the ironwood needles.

You probably didn't realize this, but it's officially “Hawaii Pollinator Week,” as in the guv has recognized the value of honey bees, and the fact that they're declining, which, as the proclamation proclaims, “is a threat to the agricultural economy across the state.”

Not to mention all the backyard fruit that we take for granted here in the Islands, and the overall fabric of life. So he's gonna give some money — small kine, cuz the Lege has more important stuff to fund, ya know — to the UH for bee hive research, which is grand. But what if we dig just a little bit deeper, into some of the causes of this decline, with all arrows pointing toward chemicals, including those used by the seed companies that presently, and unfortunately, pretty much comprise the agricultural economy of this state?

Lately, I've become increasingly annoyed whenever I see the word “sustainability,” and not just because it's used ad ad nauseam. It's more because it is a word that has been used so carelessly, and wrongly, that is has been rendered meaningless, when it has a perfectly good definition: Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.

Two recent examples of sustainability shibai: the 769-unit Kapaa Highlands II project proposed near Kapaa middle school is being billed as a “sustainable community,” even though it takes land out of agriculture. The developer apparently gave it this designation because a solar facility has already been built on one part of the land, the homes will have energy-efficient light fixtures, and bikeways and walkways will lead to a newly-built county swimming pool and a commercial center. Sorry, but there's a bit more to sustainability than that.

Then there's the county's energy sustainability plan, which is supposed to chart the course for Kauai to achieve total energy sustainability by 2030. Some of the “tips” Ben Sullivan recently shared to help us get there — buy an electric car, install solar water heaters, upgrade appliances — are based on the inherently unsustainable actions of purchasing stuff elsewhere and shipping it here. While some of the other pointers — wash clothes in cold water and hang them on the line, take the bus — would result in some valid energy savings, they aren't going to get us to that goal.

I'm a big fan of conservation, and we all can do our part, the plan totally ignores the giant unsustainable elephant in the room: tourism.

Even as the county is urging us to carpool and minimize unnecessary trips, we have some 25,000 visitors daily on this island piloting rental cars — many of them gas guzzlers — and driving around to see the sights. As the county pushes us to use microwaves to heat small portions of food, the air conditioning is billowing out of shops and resorts that cater to tourists.

Consider this: the Hyatt, which is one of the “greenest” hotels on the island, with a number of energy saving measures in place, is still burning some $300,000 worth of electricity each and every month — or the equivalent of about 2,700 households like mine. And that doesn't include the liquid propane that heats all of its hot water.

Yet this sort of information — and the county's desire to keep expanding unsustainable tourism — is missing from the discussion on energy awareness. So long as it is, we are never going to achieve sustainability, much less within 18 years, no matter how many towels we hang on the line.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Musings: HGEA Picks Kollar

Venus was all by herself this morning in a blotchy sky of wind-driven clouds, having lost the escort services of a waning moon that is new tomorrow. Dawn arrived to bring another day of rainless gray, the grass in my backyard already going crispy in places, and it's not even officially summer until Wednesday.

The Hawaii Government Employees Assn. (HGEA) — the state's largest union — has officially endorsed Justin Kollar in the Kauai prosecutor's race, striking a serious blow at the re-election aspirations of Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. HGEA is the only union that actually has members working in the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, which adds significance to its already powerful endorsement.

"I'm humbled and honored to have HGEA's support,” Justin, a deputy county attorney, wrote in an email when I asked him for a comment. “As Prosecutor, I'll give every employee the respect they deserve. The work they do is critical to public safety in our community, and I am going to give them the support and the leadership they need to succeed in executing their mission. I'm not going to let them down."

SHOPO, the police officers' union, earlier announced its support for Shay — an endorsement reportedly driven largely by the perception that Justin, who is KPD's legal advisor, sided with Mayor Bernard Carvalho in suspending Police Chief Darryl Perry earlier this year.

From what I've been told, Justin had nothing to do with the politically, if not legally, ill-advised opinion that the mayor had the authority to suspend the chief. Still, he works in an office that is run by the mayor's appointee — County Attorney Al Castillo — and the political blowback from that affiliation, evident in the SHOPO endorsement vote, speaks to a deeper problem.

And that's the craziness of having a single legal office, under the authority of the mayor, represent so many diverse clients.

How can one stable of attorneys interchangeably represent the prosecutor, the County Council, the mayor, the police chief, various boards and commissions, and the public — especially when some of these parties are investigating and/or suing each other — while simultaneously trying to keep jobs that depend on remaining in the good graces of a boss who is appointed by the mayor?

It's become a ridiculous mess.

People need to feel they can trust their attorney, and that the advice they are getting is in their best interest. No matter how ethical an attorney strives to be, it would be difficult to believe someone is fully in your corner when his or her job is controlled by your political nemesis. Additionally, it places deputy county attorneys in an untenable position when they are privy to confidential information concerning competing interests.

It creates an inherent conflict of interest that isn't otherwise present in either the civil or criminal legal arena. Council Chair Jay Furfaro is trying to address this problem with a proposed ordinance, draft bill 2438, that calls upon attorneys to report their conflicts. I didn't have a chance to read it thoroughly, so I'll be delving into it more deeply before the July 11 public hearing.

Councilman Mel Rapozo, meanwhile, has introduced a resolution that calls for changing the Charter to restrict the mayor's power over certain departments — a proposal that has both pros and cons, and should most certainly be debated by the public.

I wish I could link you to both of these documents, but unfortunately, the June 13 Council agenda and video — with the links to supporting materials — have gone missing from the webcast site. Perhaps they'll be reposted once all the executive session revelations have been purged.

In the meantime, Justin's campaign has gotten an infusion of vibrant new energy from the HGEA endorsement. The only question is whether he'll actually need it, or if Shay and her empire will crumble before the election rolls around.