Friday, August 30, 2013

Musings: Power Struggles

Summer's days are winding down. The smell of wild honey hangs heavily in the air in certain brushy places, pigs fat on fallen fruit meander casually across country lanes. The waning moon rides high in the sky at sunrise, while Venus is set like a sparkling jewel in a band of smoky-scarlet sunset smudge.

Seasons shift, and so do attitudes, which is why we're finally – five years into Obama's presidency — seeing an inkling that he might start to honor his 2008 campaign pledge to chill on cannabis. After years of harassing medical marijuana dispensaries in California and elsewhere, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the feds will let Washington and Colorado implement the legalization laws that their voters adopted.

Not that the Justice Department is taking a hands-off approach. It's still leaving room for federal prosecutors to selectively enforce on such broad and nebulous grounds as “adverse public health consequences.” According to Huffington Post, part of the problem has come from rogue U.S. attorneys at the state level who can't step out of their rabid prosecutorial mind-sets, and aren't reigned in from above.

It's all about power and control, and that's an area where many prosecutors and cops have issues, which is precisely why they're drawn to those jobs. What other career allows you to wield such power over another person's life, other than, say, drone operator or drone of the CIA, NSA, TSA, ICE, DEA or other shadowy acronym agency?

Which brings me to Roger Christie of the Cannabis Ministry, who has been held without bail for three years now at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center for the dastardly deed of distributing marijuana to his willing parishoners. At least a federal judge has finally ruled that he can present a religious defense at trial.

Meanwhile, Joseph Genaro Bonachita, the knife-wielding ex-cop who broke into South Park creator Trey Parker's house while stalking his ex-girlfriend, Lauren Kagawa, and who was found to have more knives, guns and ammo in his car when he was arrested on July 1, 2009, has been free on bail all this time, until he was finally sentenced this week to one year in jail. In the meantime, Kagawa “mysteriously” showed up dead in her driveway just six weeks after the break-in and a month after getting a TRO against Bonachita, saying he had choked and sexually assaulted her, and she feared for her life.

Bonachita claimed he was drunk off his ass — you know, from that legal booze — and didn't remember a thing about the break-in. His attorney, Michael Soong, argued for just 30 days in the pokey, saying Bonachita was unlikely to reoffend. Mmm, yeah, cuz Lauren's dead, so that obsession is gone.

Like I said, it's all about power and control.

Uruguay has decided the way to wrest power and control from the drug cartels is by legalizing marijuana. Its House just passed the Regulation of Marijuana bill, which is expected to win easy approval in the Senate. The idea is to make cannabis legally and cheaply available, both to cut profits to drug cartels and keep people out of the black market where nastier substances are sold. So sensible!

Are we next? Not likely, even though a recent study on global addiction, published in the Lancet, found that countries with the worst drug problems were those with the harshest penalties. And that includes the U.S.

America currently spends $20 billion annually on drug enforcement, with drug law violations accounting for the single largest category of arrests reported to the FBI. Of those, 82% are for simple possession, and half of those are for marijuana. Yet we haven't seen any parallel drop in use. In other words, we're wasting billions on yet another senseless war. 

As a Time viewpoint notes:

Hopefully, the Obama administration’s decision paves the way for new thinking and better strategies for addressing drug problems— not by waging war, but by offering help to those who need it and leaving in peace those who don’t.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Musings: Seriously

Morning arrived with a surprising, though welcome, chill and the joy of seeing Waialeale, fully revealed in all her craggy, weatherbeaten glory, blush first pink, then scarlet, then purple with the rising of the sun.

Not so joyous was seeing a plastic bag stuffed with newsprint in my driveway and discovering that's the new mode of delivery for MidWeek Kauai. It's apparently cheaper than having it go out by mail — if you don't consider the environmental cost of adding tens of thousands of plastic bags to the landscape and landfill each week. Why is it that businesses are barred from giving customers plastic bags, and motorists are prohibited from tossing stuff out their windows, yet Oahu Publishing Inc. is allowed to do both?

Of course, it's not as serious as the U.S. and U.K. preparing to bomb Syria, regardless of what the U.N. says. But don't worry, it won't turn out like Iraq. Because you know, we learned from that debacle. This time, the Pentagon is admitting up front that it can't really control its cruise missiles, so don't be expecting any surgical strikes and do be expecting "collateral damage." Because what better way to punish a government for killing its own civilians than to kill more of its innocents?

Never mind that it remains unclear just who used those chemical weapons. It was supposedly Israel — never the most objective source — that provided “proof” it was Assad's regime. But thus far, no evidence has been publicly disclosed, nor is it likely to be.

Kauai County Al Castillo, as I mentioned previously, is refusing to disclose his opinion that all the improperly approved vacation rentals get to keep their ill-gotten, life-of-the-property permits. Now he's saying he doesn't even have to reveal who the opinion was for. Was it for planning? The mayor? An unsolicited opinion intended to ensure the TVR travesty is never corrected?

We don't know, because on Kauai, our county attorney writes secret opinions for secret clients on the taxpayer's dime.

Of course, it's not as serious as the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, which is steadily leaking radioactive water into the ocean we share. As the Associated Press reports:

[Nuclear Regulatory Authority chairman Shunichi] Tanaka said there is a much larger ongoing problem at the plant: massive amounts of contaminated ground water reaching the sea. But that problem cannot even be rated under the IAEA's International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale because it is unknown exactly how much ground water is escaping, how contaminated it is and what effect it is having on the sea and marine products.

So much, it seems, is unknown. Like the planning department can't even come up with a list of which TVRs it approved for renewals, and which it denied, without spending 15 hours compiling the data. When I asked planning director Mike Dahilig how that could possibly be, he replied:

The TVR renewals for this past cycle have been processed manually. That information is being entered into a database along with other information that continues to be culled from the files through the hand audit process. This database is still in the process of creation, remains incomplete and is not ready to efficiently produce work product at this time.

Gee, you'd think they'd have made a manual list as they were going along, just something for reference, a little cheat sheet, so to speak. And what's the value of a database that can't regurgitate what's just been entered in?

This seems a good time to jeer at the deluded comment by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. in today's newspaper:

But, like in most things, we on Kauai are setting the standard for how it should be done.”

Now that's serious. Seriously funny, and seriously scary.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Musings: Cause and Effect

The clouds this morning contained an angel — always welcome — an orange mushroom, a lavender-blue-black swirl that looked like a miniature origin of the cosmos and a shark, replete with hammer head and dorsal fin.

With the recent death of a German visitor who had her arm bitten off in Maui waters, the Star-Advertiser has begun beating “The Jaws” drum for a hunt, though its editorial euphemistically substituted the word “culling” for “killing:”

The practice of shark culling has both opponents and proponents. Critics question its overall effectiveness, noting the migratory nature of sharks; and point out that the ocean is the sharks' — not humans' — domain. Proponents, though, will note that culling could reduce the number of sharks appearing in near-shore waters, and fewer numbers lower the potential for encounters.

For an island state like Hawaii, and as dependent as we are on tourism and ocean recreation for tourists and residents alike, shark culling should be on the table of options given this "unprecedented spike" in attacks here since the start of 2012.

Yeah, because even though it won't actually have any meaningful effect, it will look like somebody's doing something — sort of like that silly water safety video that loops endlessly, unwatched and ignored, at the Lihue baggage claim.

I'll never forget standing with longtime North Shore fisherman Bito Hermosura at the Lumahai overlook when a tourist got out of her car and asked, with trembling trepidation, “Are there sharks down there?” Bito didn't miss a beat. “Of course. The ocean is their home.”

Enter at your own risk. Still, I can see why the visitor industry doesn't like it. First we had that spate of drownings, now there's a string of shark attacks. But when you consider how we regularly disrespect the ocean with our sewage, pesticides, silt, plastic trash, sonar exercises, military explosions, boat noise, fuel spills, overfishing, aquarium collecting and what have you, is it any wonder that every now and then it exacts a little revenge?

Meanwhile, a paragraph in an article by Léo Azambuja on the Kikiaola harbor sand replenishment project slipped by unnoticed until Councilman Gary Hooser posted a link on his Facebook page:

The sand and silt accumulating inside the harbor cannot be used to replenish the beach, according to [state DOBAR engineer Eric] Yuasa.

He said a ditch coming from nearby agricultural fields brings pesticides and heavy metal into the harbor. Chemicals bind easier to fine silt than to coarser sand, he said, so the silt is unsuitable for beach nourishment.

But Yuasa said he would encourage contractors to take it away once it’s dredged out of the harbor.

So where would that contaminated silt be taken away to? And just where are those pesticides and heavy metals coming from? Which ones, exactly, are we talking about? And how are they impacting the marine environment and human health?

Those are the kinds of questions that need answering far more urgently than the movement of tiger sharks around the Islands.

And finally, I noticed a letter to the editor today from Dr. Graham Chelius, a Kekaha physician who talks about public health concerns that he feels are more serious than pesticides:

Islandwide, homes built before 1978 may be contaminated with lead-based paint. High levels of mercury are in marlin, ahi, ono and other fish caught right in our waters.

While I don't think we should ignore pesticide exposure, mercury and lead paint are very real concerns, especially on the westside, with its plethora of fishermen and old plantation houses. Camp houses often contain not only lead paint, but canec, an old-time fiberboard material made from sugar cane pulp treated with  inorganic arsenic compounds as an antitermite agent. As Dr. Chelius noted, a baby can suffer irreversible brain damage from eating a chip of lead-based paint the diameter of a pencil. And as the state DOH warns:

[E]xposure to deteriorating canec should be minimized. 

I got incredibly sick and was diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning after living for six years in an old house with cracked and peeling paint that I later learned contained lead. Fine dust regularly sifted down from cracks in the ceiling, which was made from canec. The doctors who diagnosed and treated me said they see quite a bit of heavy metal toxicity on Kauai, especially among people who eat a lot of fish and work in the construction industry, where they work with treated wood and do demolition involving canec.

But heavy metal bioaccumulation often goes undiagnosed and untreated because its symptoms – fatigue, muscle ache, memory loss, depressed immune systems, digestive problems , insomnia, irritability, nausea — are similar to those caused by other health conditions.

So while we're scrutinizing the seed companies and their pesticide load, which we should, let's also spend a little time checking out westside schools and homes for deteriorating paint and canec, and step up the public education about mercury in our cherished ahi poke.

Because unless you bleed to death after a shark attack, it's often hard to identify just one cause for illness and death in our chemical-laden modern world.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Musings: Recognition

"Laugh" for the day:
Thought for the day:

Definition of TYRANNY
oppressive power <every form of tyranny over the mind of [hu]man — Thomas Jefferson>; especially: oppressive power exerted by government — or, I might add, technology, consumerism, religion, nationalism, media, fanaticism, commercialism, fundamentalism.... 
a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force <living under the tyranny of the clock — Dixon Wecter> 
an oppressive, harsh, or unjust act 
Recognize it anywhere around/within you?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Musings: Boosting the Buzz

The days are getting shorter, losing minutes on both ends now, but the bees are still hard at it, zipping in and out of the hive as they collect nectar from Christmas berry, palm flowers and whatever else that's yummy out there. Last evening I watched a waggle dance on the landing board of one colony, perhaps a worker bee telling her sisters about a great foraging spot to check out in the morning.

Pollen samples throughout Hawaii were checked out for pesticide residues as part of the USDA-APHIS Honey Bee National Survey, and the results look good. State apiarist Danielle Downey posted the report on the Hawaii Bee Facebook page (emphasis in the original):

GREAT NEWS! Pollen samples throughout Hawaii were tested for over 200 residues of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. The results confirm that Hawaii’s bees are finding CLEANER pollen than the rest of the USA. Most samples contained no residue, and of the 5 residues detected, two are registered Varroa treatments, and levels were far below US averages. As you can see from the data here, Hawaii has very low prevalence of these residues. Great news for our bees!

Nine samples were taken throughout Hawaii, with four on the Big Island, which has a lot of commercial beekeeping and queen-rearing facilities. Samples from Kauai, Molokai, Lanai and east Maui showed no pesticide residue.

It would be good to do some additional testing on Kauai, and the report did include a link to a site where pesticide residue testing for beekeeping and honey products can be procured. Though a lot of claims are made about the bees in regard to pesticides, we know very little about what's happening with them on Kauai.

I was interested in this interview with honeybee expert Dennis van Engelsdorp, a professor and research scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, about why the bees are dying and the roles of pesticides and fungicides in their decline:

[B]ack 20 years ago, a pesticide kill was easy to see. You would find a lot of dead bees in front of your colony. However, pesticides have become much more advanced. And so they're not killing bees directly as pronounced as they have before. Still you'll see mortality that's clearly pesticide kill, but we think pesticides are having a sublethal effect. So they're weakening the bees' immune system or they're changing the bees' behavior.

Still, it's not just an agricultural issue. As van Engelsdorp points out, there's a lot that folks can do in their own backyards, and should stop doing, too (emphasis added):

The other thing you can do is plant a pollinator garden, so have flowers that flower at different times of the year in your back yard that provide food for bees. And make sure you're not applying pesticides to these gardens. It's an amazing fact that backyard gardeners use many more times the amount of pesticides when compared to farmers per acre. And so don't use pesticides in your back yard. Also think about growing a meadow rather than a lawn. Why do we have these perfectly green lawns that are sterile? They're green deserts. So having different flowering plants in these lawns helps bees and the environment in general.

Here's a link to Selecting Plants for Pollinators, and another link to pesticide toxicity on bees. 

I've found bees really love holy basil, and it grows like a weed. So next time you're tempted to kill a weed, ask yourself, is this bee food? And if it isn't, can it be yanked instead of poisoned?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Musings: Pretty Facade

As a zillion raindrops sparkle gold in the ironwood trees against a sky of dusky rose, I am reminded of the distinction between Kauai's true beauty and its pretty facade, like “Kusaka's heiau,” all flowery and lush at the airport intersection and right smack behind it, the brown stunted stubble of an unidentified chem company's crop.

The propaganda war is heating up as the Council's Sept. 9 meeting on Bill 2491 nears. Did the biotech-friendly Hawaii Crop Improvement Assn. really think they'd get any sympathy claiming Hoike deliberately lost hours of videotaped testimony that no one is going to watch, anyway? Or by attacking Councilman Gary Hooser for how he ran a meeting three weeks ago, especially when he ran it well? If that's the best their high-paid PR firm can come up with, they need new flacks. Or better yet, just give it a rest.

On the other side, a group is seeking kids for a video that captures how youth feel about 2491. In an email going around, parents are urged to familiarize their kids about the bill, “as impartially as possible” before filming. 

Apparently that's to ensure a truly objective response when they're asked how they feel about large amounts of dangerous chemicals being sprayed in Waimea and possibly more areas on Kauai” and whether they “think it's a good idea for the island of Kauai to take care of this issue, or do you think it would be better to let Honolulu and the state of Hawaii - who are very busy with all the islands - to deal with this?”

The Council put off the meeting until Sept. 9 ostensibly to get the County Attorney's opinion on the bill. Will it be released to the public, or kept secret like almost everything else?

I asked for a copy of the CA's logic- and morality-defying opinion that all the folks who gamed the system get to keep their vacation rental certificates because they were approved by former Planning Director Ian Costa, albeit improperly. 

But County Attorney Al Castillo refused to release it, citing attorney/client privilege. I'm still waiting for him to identify the client. Is it the mayor? The planning department? The Council? Though it's called the “county attorney's office,” which would seem to include the people who live here, citizens don't actually have any legal representation at the county unless we hire it ourselves.

Speaking of those improper approvals, I asked county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka, “Why does the mayor keep Ian Costa on staff in light of the planning department's own revelations about the bungling of the TVR ordinance that occurred under Ian's leadership? Is Ian going to be held in any way accountable?”

To which Beth replied:

As you know, in late 2010 the Planning Commission voted to remove Ian as Planning Director.  The Mayor appointed Ian as Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation in December 2010 because he felt he had experience and qualifications that would benefit that area of county operations.  The Mayor is pleased with Ian’s performance in that capacity, not only managing parks operations, but also utilizing his skills as a licensed architect to benefit parks capital improvement projects.   [Update: Beth said she made an error. Ian resigned as Planning Director. He was not removed.]

So in other words, it's all good with the big guy. 

To paraphrase that great line from “Apocalypse Now:” The bullshit piles up so fast on Kauai you need wings to stay above it.

Hey, I've been hearing talk about Rep. Derek Kawakami running for mayor. Now that's a candidate who could beat Bernard Carvalho Jr. He's got the political machine, business and management experience, intelligence, youth and ambition on his side. And he must be sick of schlepping over to Honolulu with the likes of Rep. Jimmy Tokioka. As mayor, Derek could stay home, make more money and gain visibility for a key race. He could even create a legacy. I mean, heck, Bryan Baptiste didn't do nuttin', and they named the busiest bridge on Kauai after him.

In other political news, the Charter Commission is pressing hard this year to get an amendment on the 2014 ballot that would establish County Council elections by district. They're looking at five geographic districts, and two at large. Now that's a step in the right direction if we want to bring in some fresh blood, because it's very hard for unknown candidates to canvass the entire island. But there's gonna be stiff opposition from the three commissioners who do Bernard's bidding – Jimmy Nishida, Carol Suzawa and Mary Lou Barela. So if you support Council districts, let the Commission know. It will be dealing with this topic at its Aug. 26 and Sept. 23 meetings, which begin at 4 p.m. in the conference room of the Moikeha Building. Or you can email

In looking at the commission's agenda, I was amused to learn the county really is getting serious about sustainability. No, not by supporting farming or reducing imports or anything like that. It's starting with small, manageable steps, like discontinuing the practice of providing commissioners with bottled water. Instead, they have been issued water bottles which they must bring in to be filled.

Like I said, there's the real, and there's the facade.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Musings: Playing Human

Nearly every day it seems a new study is published that underscores health risks associated with existing products and practices. Most recently, it's a pair of studies, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, that show a possible link between plastic packaging — specifically Bisphenol-A (BPA) to obesity and DEHP, a phthalate, to diabetes — and chronic health problems in kids.

Neither offers the “smoking gun” that federal regulators seem to require before they act, but what about common sense, taking steps to minimize risk wherever possible? And it is possible, because some manufacturers are already starting to use other compounds in response to consumer pressure.

But it's increasingly feeling like government and industry are operating from the premise that the price we will pay for cheap food, convenience, technology, transportation, medicine, packaging — in short, all the goodies hawked by Madison Avenue — is being bathed in a chemical cocktail from uterus to coffin. And if other species fall by the wayside, well, so be it.

As an example, a recent Time magazine article on the demise of honeybees contained this disturbing line:

There are more than 1,200 pesticides currently registered for use in the U.S.; nobody pretends that number will be coming down a lot. Instead, the honeybee and its various pests are more likley to be changed to fit into the existing agricultural system. Monsanto is working on an RNA-interference technology that can kill the Varroa mite by disrupting the way its genes are expressed. The result would be a species-specific self-destruct mechanism — a much better alternative than the toxic and often ineffective miticides beekeepers have been forced to use.

So you let the chemical companies try and “fix” the bees so they can conveniently sidestep the mounting evidence that pollen — the primary protein source for baby bees — is frequently loaded with systemic pesticides and fungicides. Is it any wonder that bees languish when they're poorly nourished and exposed to chemicals from inception, just like our kids?

Already, we learn, wild bees have pretty much died out in China due to pollution, and wild pollinators are on the ropes everywhere. Meanwhile, Harvard is experimenting with “robobees,” and there's talk that honey bees may become like the sad and literally sick “feedlot” chickens, pigs and cows that are fed a diet of GMOs and drugs, and then fed to us.

As is so typical of our species, we refuse to address the core problem and instead fixate on bandaids as mass media preps us to accept that things are going to be different, as in bye-bye biological diversity. Instead, we'll get the artificial “diversification” served up by the synthetic biology gang. 

They're the ones who want to bring back extinct species even though we're still actively engaged in behaviors that are driving thousands more species over the edge. Or clone some weird thing for novelty — read money-making — purposes. Or simply because they can, and if no one is stopping them, they will.

As an article on de-extinction in National Geographic noted:

And yet for [bioethicist Hank] Greely, as for many others, the very fact that science has advanced to the point that such a spectacular fear is possible is a compelling reason to embrace de-extinction, not to shun it.

Because science, of course, never fucks up. It always leads us down the primrose path, the one where there are no unforeseen consequences, no dangerous side effects, no horrible repercussions that underscore how little we really know about how the world works, right?

Which is not to say I'm anti-science. I respect it, but I don't revere it, because it's just another human construct. And that means it's subject to all the inherent failings and flaws of the human mind and ego that conceived and direct it.

Though the National Geographic article and others frequently couch the synthetic biology/cloning/genetic engineering discussion in terms of whether we're "playing God," I don't see it like that. It's very much playing human, which means we act first and think about the consequences, the big picture, later. Much later. If at all.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Musings: So Comfortable

It's moving into a full moon this evening, and the Internet is down this morning, so this will be a brief post, powered by my personal hot spot — a handy smart phone feature when your high-speed DSL provider is the frequently crippled Hawaiian Tel and you suffer, as I do, from an internet addiction.

I wanted to bring two things to your attention. The first is a response from Chris Jaeb of Common Ground replying point-by-point to the criticism directed toward him in a recent post. I think what really struck me were his comments related to the economics of farming on Kauai, which prompted his decision to put Common Ground on the market:

CJ -- We had a farm payroll of approximately $10,000 per month and were losing $4,000/month on ag operations alone. This included an ag leader and three workers. When you factor in a 40-hour work week before overtime kicks in, benefits, vacation pay, health insurance, and all applicable taxes it is not easy to make farming work on Kauai. Very few farmers on Kauai have use profits from ag as their sole source of income. Looking back, I was naïve to think the numbers would work straight up. We are now resetting with our ag program and going to start at a size that is economically sustainable. The next phase of CG ag operations will be economically viable.
CG was put up for sale because I realize my vision for a full on health and wellness and sustainable resource environment may not be economically viable here. Feel like my time would be better spent in where the economic headwinds are not so large, namely the high cost of high housing, labor, fuel, electricity, food, etc.

And there you have it folks. Even someone who came here with millions is struggling to make an organic farm go. Agriculture is a tough row to hoe on Kauai, which is partly why we have the multi-national chemical companies growing seed from Lihue to Mana.
But it's deeper than farming, or even land. It's about the prevailing consciousness, which is imbued with a deluded sense of what it will take to change course, an ignorance of how deeply we are all participating in the system — right down to the Round-up Ready corn that's made into the ethanol that's in the gasoline that's transporting folks to their GMO-free zones.
Which leads me to a thoughtful full moon report by Jon Waldrup, that expresses so well my sense of where we're at right now as a species:
The question is really whether or not we still want to live on planet Earth, or maybe it’s just better to live on planet Market? Planet Market seems really easier – smooth technology, homogenous persona of intelligent choicemakers, easily identifiable social stratigraphy and boundaries… those kinds of things that make the challenge more about what than why. And we’ve said yes to that for a very long time.

For me the choice is really between the existing, dominant and growing-in-power spiritually sterile culture and a way of being that is alive with birdsong and the stomping dusty feet of women gathered to feed each other renewal.
I am not a luddite, but I am aware of a kind of laziness that pervades our culture. We’d rather not sweat. What if a mosquito bites me? It’s keeping so many of us indoors.
How long has it been since you’ve had a blister – on your hand, from shoveling maybe; or on your foot, from walking?
There are so many little lids on, but in this country, it’s about comfort.
And we’re in the part of the passage where we can still decide not to go all the way. We can still say yes to that easy-yet-dead way.
And so we have to remember why we are willing to continue into this unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory.
Personally, it’s just so hard to remember… “keep stretching the boundaries of belief. Remember, you chose to be here to open a new way. Remember, we are a species.”
And as Bruce Lipton puts it, “Nature is not concerned with the best human, nature is concerned with humanity.” So we’re giving birth to new selves focused on being part of that, rather than selves so caught in the I.
There is a force that would like to keep humanity and nature separate. I’m not sure why. I think it has to do with the concentration of wealth. And I think this force is very effective at making it seem so uncomfortable to recall the sacredness of the Earth. So effective at making cubicles and sweatshop clothing and perfect little markets seem so much better than sweat and blisters and dirty fingernails.
When you realize your belief creates your world, then you have some choices to make. Worldviews create worlds. Give birth to something really beautiful.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Musings: Untouchables

A little thrill shivers through my solar plexus when I walk with the dogs as night gives way to day, Orion and Makalii glimmering overhead, everything quiet and fresh, the morning full of promise, adventure, and even as the sun rises gloriously, a golden ball in a scarlet band, Jupiter beams on, a shining celestial jewel.

I'm not sure why the county and The Garden Island continue to refer to Hanamaulu Beach Park as that community's “jewel.” Surfrider's monthly water report consistently identifies Hanamaulu Stream as one of the most polluted on the island. The August report shows it with an annual geomean enterococcus bacterial concentration of 949.4 — it should be less than 35. Yet that dirty little secret is never ever mentioned in all the talk about cleaning up the park.

It'll be fascinating to see how the cops plan to keep a lid on Hanamaulu Park, considering their total inability to keep derelicts, druggies and drunks out of the pavilion adjacent to both their Kapaa substation and the mayor's shining Path.

And seeing the picture of deputy parks director Ian Costa in today's paper caused me to wonder — again — how is it that he still has a high-paying management job with the county when as planning director he totally blew off implementating the vacation rental bill?

I was interviewed about the TVR mess on Hawaii Public Radio's “The Conversation” last Friday, where I identified a lack of political will as the primary reason why there's been no enforcement. The fact that Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. pawned Ian off on his campaign manager, Lenny Rapozo, in Parks & Rec seems to underscore that. Because if Ian hadn't been doing the mayor's bidding, don't you think he'd be gone?

Imai Aiu, the former deputy planning director who actually approved most of the improper TVR certificates before being reassigned to Housing, soon will be gone. His last day with the county is Wednesday, which means the County Council lost its chance to ask him what went awry, unless it issues a subpoena.

Speaking of legal stuff, attorney Peter Schey, director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, has generously offered pro bono legal services to “vigorously defend” Bill 2491, the pesticide/GMO ordinance, against challenges brought by the chemical companies.

See, that way the county can save its money for the really important legal issues, like defending former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and planning inspector Sheilah Miyake against Councilman Tim Bynum's civil rights claim.  How much do you suppose Tim would've settled for? Subtract that from the half-million spent to date on legal fees, and the difference is what we're paying to spare Shay's ego.

Getting back to 2491, I've heard people say it's so great we're having this debate about chemicals and GMOs on our island. While it doesn't feel like a debate, since neither side is actually talking to the other, there is a discussion of sorts going on. And that is definitely good. It's an important issue, and it needs to be addressed.

But it felt really creepy to read this in a recent letter to the editor:

When in the presence of field workers, I start having breathing problems — couldn’t understand why until I noticed it happening while in the Waimea Library and grocery stores and seeing these men in there when looking to see what could be causing the sudden breathing problems.

We need to hold the chemical/seed companies accountable. They should tell us what they're spaying, and ensure that it's not drifting into homes, hospitals and schools, contaminating the environment.

But when people start treating field workers like lepers whose mere presence in a store is making them sick, well, that's something entirely different, something really, really ugly that needs to be nipped in the bud.

Because yes, pesticides are poison, and they can do and do make people ill. But so do anxiety and stress. So let's not compound the pesticide problem by preying on people's fears and relegating our neighbors to a class of untouchables.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fallen Fruit Chronicles 2

A letter to the editor in today's The Garden Island slammed Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura over her hesitations regarding Bill 2491, the proposed pesticide/GMO ordinance. Jasmine Schaefer of Princeville wrote:

If we enact laws, people will not have the right to break them on their private property. Enact the law, JoAnn. Enforce it.

Ah, Grasshopper. If it were only that easy. But haven't you noticed that Kauai County has an enforcement aversion?

Heck, it can't even enforce camping regulations at Hanamaulu Beach Park without closing the whole place down at night. And while some of us would love to see that happen to the chemical companies, they're likely to put up a tougher fight than the homeless who will slink away from Hanamaulu to Anahola, Niumalu or downtown Lihue.

Enforcement — or more specially, a decided lack thereof — is one reason why we have so many improperly permitted and downright illegal transient vacation rentals. Two others are greed and deception

Which brings me back to Hale Pulelehua, a TVR first featured in Abuse Chronicle s#17. When the county initially, and properly, refused to grant a TVR certificate, attorney Lorna Nishimitsu threatened to sue for a “taking” — even though it had never been a TVR before and the owner failed to prove it was eligible. The stumbling block was a guest house with an unpermitted kitchen. In a blustering letter to the planning department, Lorna claimed the guest house was irrelevant:

The NUC [nonconforming use certificate] was sought for the Dwelling and not the Guest House. Whether or not the guest house, for which NO NUC was sought, may have not been in compliance with all state and county land use laws should not have been a determining factor in the denial of appellant’s application, and yet it was used as the sole basis for such denial.

The county caved and issued a certificate for the sleeps-10 main house. But guess what? Oh, you're too quick. Yup, that's right, the guest house for which NO NUC was sought nor granted is being actively rented.

The ad on vacation rental by owner offers small group discounts and openly proclaims:

Other amenities include: Outdoor shower, barbeque grill, Wireless High Speed Internet, quality linens, beach chairs, umbrella, and beach towels.
One bedroom guest house

Keywords: Guest House available for larger groups

Heck, there's even a photo with the caption: Hale Pulelehu`a guest house.

The guest reviews tell more of the sad story:

We moved into Hanalei from Haena which was a huge difference being in town. The beaches on weekends were very busy. We had finicky friends stay in the guest house and they could not have been happier.

Wrote another:

We had two families for a total of 10 people and we had plenty of room in the kitchen and living area. We also used the "tree house" which was nice as well. The tree house is detached from the main house and you can feel a little disconnected from the main house, but that can be a good thing. It's just a few steps through the yard to get to the main house.

Just a little FYI for planning director Mike Dahilig as he reviews renewals. You might want to double check this one. If nothing else, it will give Lorna some billable hours as she fabricates a tale to explain it all away.

Oh, and while you're on the North Shore — I mean, if you do actually take a drive up there — here's another one to check out: KauaiBeachfront Retreat.

The owners applied for a TVR certificate, and weredenied. But why let that stop you from making $199 per night?  The calendar shows it's pretty much all booked up.

No wonder it's all rainbows for this property owner.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Musings: Don't Blame the Youth

It's been 10 years since then-Mayor Bryan Baptiste proposed building a youth drug treatment center at the old Hanapepe dog pound, which the Kauai Humane Society had deemed unfit for animals.

Now a $50,000 county-funded study has finally confirmed that such a facility is both needed and possibly feasible, prompting Mayor Bernard Carvalho to boldly bite the bullet and announce he'll pick a site by the end of this year.

While it's great to see even this smidgen of progress, the study doesn't sit well. For starters, it totally skirts the use of meth/ice addiction, which I think we all recognize is ravaging our community. Why? I asked Theresa Koki, coordinator of the county's Life’s Choices Kauai, who gave me this response:

The current data gathered from adolescents usually ask about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The prevalent use of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs was higher than methamphetamine use.  Keeping in mind that youth who are meth dependent, normally do not attend school where these surveys are taken.  The consultants focused on the more prevalent drugs for adolescents.  

So since the ice-using kids missed the school survey, their needs aren't even considered? Aren't they the ones a rehab center is supposed to help? Or are we thinking that the island's rampant ice addiction only kicks in after age 18? 

Oddly, the only place meth is even mentioned in the study is a paragraph on how teen-aged inmates at KCCC reported using alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamine, prescribed drugs like oxycontin and vicodin, and cocaine.

Two, the report blows off girls, determining it's not economically feasible to maintain a residential program for them on Kauai. It's not that girls aren't using the stuff. The report actually shows girls have higher rates of alcohol and prescription drug use than boys, and quotes a study that found, “For treatment needs by gender, a slightly higher percentage of female adolescents (8.3%) met the criteria for abuse or dependence for any substance use.”

But Kauai girls wont get rehab. Instead, they'll be offered Multisystemic Therapy, which “works with the youth and parents on specific goals that will enable the youth to continue living at home, going to school or to work and avoiding arrest or re-arrest.” 

Unfortunately, home is often where the problem lies, especially for girls who are being sexually abused, which is frequently at the root of substance abuse.

Three, it's proposing to accommodate just six-to-eight youth for a prolonged period:

Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least a year in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their substance abuse and that the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.

However, in another section, the report states: 

Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their substance abuse .

Either way, very few Kauai kids will actually get into rehab. The study reports that seven Kauai adolescents were placed in the Bobby Benson Center on Oahu between July 2012 and January 2013, a figure that no doubt would have been higher for an on-island center. Indeed, “about 592 Kauai adolescents were estimated to require treatment for substance abuse,” the report notes.

So a facility housing six-to-eight kids is a mere drop in the bucket, serving about 1 percent of the youth who need treatment. Of course, not all of those kids require intensive residential treatment. But they're not all getting outpatient treatment, either. As the report demurs:

There has been an historical gap between the need for services and access to services.

We're falling down in the area of prevention, too. Funding for prevention programs was cut 57 percent this year, and the report notes that:

“Kauai services do not appear to be integrated in screening and services of adolescents. The agencies appear to provide their services in silos, with little attempts to integrate their services through either regular meetings, consolidated screening tools, and transitional services to higher level services.”

Most of the public attention has focused on the location of such a facility, with a proposed site in the Isenberg tract getting the typical NIMBY opposition from people who don't realize these kids already are in their backyards.

It's clear Kauai kids need residential rehab on-island. But while the study shows some models for making that happen, it doesn't answer the question that must always be asked on this island: can the County of Kauai actually do it?

I mean, just look at the history of this facility to date, based on information that Koki provided.

In 2003, Bryan Baptiste said let's do it at the old Hanapepe dog pound. In 2004, he and the Council asked the state for $1.6 million to build it. The state kicked down $560,000, private donations of $50,000 were given to the County and a scholarship program for those unable to pay for the treatment was started with a pledge of $100,000 per year.

The county spent $56,743 on preliminary design and some construction at Hanapepe before the project was scuttled due to concerns about runoff onto the historic salt ponds. The county had to return the rest of the money to the State.

The scholarship program was never established. It was a pledge only, and since the center wasn’t built, the donor did not follow through.

And the private donations totaling $50,000? Who manages those funds?

We still have that donation, and I manage that account.” Koki said. “I recently got in touch with the donor and his wife while they were on vacation here, and gave them an update.”

In other words, it started off gangbusters, went through a few expensive missteps, languished for nearly a decade and has now been resurrected after a $50,000 study. And though none of the original problems concerning  location, funding and operation have been resolved, it's all systems go.

Sound familiar? 

Meanwhile, Gov. Neil Abercrombie just announced a new working group devoted to analyzing the state’s juvenile justice system, in large part because the state is balking at the $190,000 per year cost of incarcerating a kid. As the press release notes:

A significant number are in custody due to the lack of accessible treatment services and programs, especially on the neighbor islands.

Clearly, Kauai needs to get with it and help our kids. But is a county facility that will cost over $1 million per year to operate, and serve just six to eight boys, the best we can do? It seems an awful lot of kids will be left out in the cold.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Musings: Random Observations

It's been cloudy at night, which is great, because it brings the rains that keep Kapahi from crisping. But it cuts into my stargazing, which means my attention has been trained instead on observing humans and their many quirks.

Like the County Council, and its approach to opinions from County Attorney Al Castillo. Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, for example, swallowed Al's dubious claim that a Council investigation into the TVR debacle would further slow planning's snail paced-enforcement by “freezing the files.” Yet when the CA's office determined that hundreds of crappy, incomplete applications were legit, just because a former planner had rubber-stamped them, JoAnn demanded to see that opinion, with legal citations included.

Councilman Tim Bynum insisted on a copy of that opinion, too. But when it came to letting the CA weigh in on Bill 2491, the pesticide/GMO ordinance, Tim was like, no need, imua. Councilman Mel Rapozo, on the other hand, though typically one of Al's toughest critics, felt the Council should wait for his opinion on 2491.

My suggestion: take all of Al's opinions with a big grain of salt, and when you need some top notch advice, do what Al does: hire special counsel.

Getting back to Tim, I couldn't help but take notice when he gushed, in an open session, about the tremendous respect he has for both Jeri DiPietro, the face of GMO Free Kauai/Hawaii Seed, and Cindy Goldstein, a DuPont/Pioneer scientist who for a time was the company spokeswoman. And I wondered, how can you have great respect for someone who is shilling a company that you believe is covering up its systematic poisoning of the westside?

While watching the testimony in support of Bill 2491, I was struck by the Molokai brudda who made several references to those who are “a'ole koko” — no blood — which is apparently the phrase now used to describe a haole with whom one is politically aligned. Well, at least to their face.

I was also puzzled when Waimea resident Phoebe Eng gave a theatrical reading of testimony in support of Bill 2491, supposedly on behalf of a couple dozen “well-known, long-time westside families.” Phoebe, being relatively new to the island, apparently doesn't know that when it comes to public testimony, one local equals a dozen “a'ole koko.” So by becoming their voice, she blew their chance to make a really big splash. But apparently she will let them speak for themselves one day when, presumably under her tutelage, they are “fully in their power.”

Meanwhile, up in Kilauea — home to so many self-proclaimed agricultural visionaries — the ag land is being consumed by non-ag uses. I mean, think of all the small organic farms that could have been created when Guava Kai went under. Instead, Bill Porter planted trees so he could land bank his CPR lots under low ag tax rates, and Chris Jaeb somehow convinced the planning commission to let him turn Guava Kai's snack shop into a full-on restaurant, market and wedding facility at Common Ground.

Now the Resonance Project Foundation wants to convert the former Kilauea Plantation manager's house, located on land zoned open and ag, into a research park. Plans call for building a 3,600-square-foot research facility, a 1,963-square-foot lecture facility and various other buildings, including two “dormitories,” each 4,510 square feet.

The planning department is recommending the use permit be approved, having determined that a research center and mini-hotels are a natural fit for agricultural lands and will have no significant adverse impacts to the environment or community — provided, of course, the buildings are a “dark earth-tone color” and obscured by substantial landscaping.

However, as neighboring landowner Peter King notes in testimony opposing this decidedly non-agricultural use:

Absent the requisite permits, it appears the Foundation has already begun work on their plans to convert the Kilauea Plantation Manager’s House property into a “Research Park” Being that our property is adjacent to the Kilauea Plantation Manager’s House driveway/easement, we have noticed activity along this driveway/easement (photo 19) has increased exponentially given the team of researchers, staff and volunteers who are accessing the grounds on a daily basis.

Further, just the other night my wife was awaken in the middle of the night by strangers trespassing on our property from the Manager’s House grounds via a bridge we use to maintain the auwai (photo 14), and who attempted to enter into a separate guest cottage opposite the main house where I, my wife and two children were sleeping.

Perhaps they were looking for a bathroom?

Come now, Peter, we all have to do our part to welcome those who need the aloha spirit that we, according an unsigned commentary in The Garden Island, serve up for free.

Which prompted Mike Miranda to note on his clever blog, All I Need is One Mike:

I guess it is free when all Hawaii needs to do is dedicate its resources to feed the tourism machine with the altruistic blood and sweat of the working class that drives tourism; sacrifice education, housing, public works, raising the minimum wage, and bringing tax code reform, thereby further entrenching our working class in the service and retail industries, and failing to diversify the economy. No extra money to be spent--just rob Peter to pay Paul.

When Hawaii is done miseducating its neo-plantation workers, will we get our 40 acres and a mule? Well, maybe after the whole GMO thing clears up and farming isn't such a controversial thing.

But by then, sorry, they'll be fresh out of agricultural acreage. You may, however, be allowed to pitch a tent at Common Ground in exchange for the privilege of growing herbs used in the restaurant.