Wednesday, May 10, 2017

All Pau

After nearly 10 years of writing Kauai Eclectic, and getting some 3 million views, it's time for a change. I'm in a very different place — literally and figuratively — than I was when I started this blog. My muse was crying out for a new venue, and here it is:
Please visit my new site, where I will be writing about science, agriculture, GMOs, tourism, philosophy, politics and whatever strikes my fancy.

Thanks so much for reading Kauai Eclectic, and to those who have offered words of support and donations, a special mahalo nui loa!

A hui hou!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Musings: Friday Finale

Earlier this week I wrote about Hawaii Community Foundation, and how undisclosed donors can funnel money through such entities to gain tax breaks and discretely influence policy.

As a friend noted:

What's going on at HCF is reflective of a massive national trend. A lot of new wealth philanthropists are dumping money into community foundations. It saves them the bother -- and accountability -- of starting up their own foundations and the more activist types quickly grasp that their donor-advised giving affords them anonymity. Meanwhile, the working press has been very slow to catch on to the "new politics" of using NGOs rather than political parties to advance their causes; hence, the philanthropy game eludes attention and public understanding. All this furthers the hard right and hard left and the various forms of disinformation and silo communities they create and nourish. It's bad juju and our friends in Russia have figured out that it's also a platform for creating havoc.

Yesterday, President Trump waded into the issue by signing an executive order that prevents the IRS from expanding its restrictions on political activity by religious groups. Currently, a tax-exempt group can lose its exemption if it is found to have endorsed or actively opposed a candidate for political office. Though his order does not change that prohibition, it prevents the IRS from expanding the restrictions

Though the actual order is more symbolic than substantive, evangelical Christian leader Russell Moore was already pushing for more:

"The very fact that religious freedom is part of the conversation and religious freedom is being affirmed I think is a step in the right direction. Now obviously if this is the end of the story, I'm really disappointed, but I think we ought to hold out the hope that this is just the beginning and that there are more steps to be made."

Meanwhile, a new report shows that the cultivation of biotech (GMO) crops has reached an all-time global peak, with nearly 90 percent of the crops grown by small-holder farmers. Developing nations planted 54 percent of the total. As I wrote in a blog post for the Alliance for Science:

Biotech crops also have achieved significant environmental benefits, according to the report. These include cutting herbicide and insecticide use by 19 percent; reducing CO2 emissions —largely due to reduced tillage — equal to annually removing approximately 12 million cars from the road; and conserving biodiversity by sparing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015.

I also found it interesting that GE crops also expanded in Europe, which is often touted as anti-GMO. Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic and Slovakia increased their cultivation of biotech maize by 17 percent between 2015 and 2016.
Further GE crop expansion is expected with the recent approval of two potato varieties and the Arctic Apple, which is now being sold as packaged slices. In Africa, field trials are under way to develop pest- and disease-resistant varieties of cowpea and banana, two important subsistence food crops.

And though Earthjustice has been busy taking credit for putting water back into the Waimea River, its recent Star-Advertiser commentary and last night's Kauai community presentation has been scant on actual details. Here's what the mediation settlement allows:

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) will assume responsibility for the operation and management of the Kokee Ditch system up to the Puu Moe Divide if it is able to execute a land agreement with the state Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC). Kekaha Ditch will remain under the management and operation of Kekaha Agriculture Association (KAA).

KIUC is allowed to divert a rolling average of 11 MGD at the diversions, and will be charged with delivering irrigation to farmers on ADC mauka lands, tenants on Hawaiian Homelands Puu Opae mauka lands, and farmers on ADC land on the Mana Plains, as well as providing storage for these irrigation users at both Puu Lua and Puu Opae Reservoirs.

The Waimea Mauka hydro will continue operations, but with reduced water being diverted. Waiawa may be rehabilitated with a smaller capacity and continue operations, but with vastly reduced water volumes. Both facilities will continue to be operated by ADC/KAA.

KIUC has an agreement in principle for its pump storage hydro project, which includes renovating three reservoirs, adding two power houses and associated equipment. But it still must execute final agreements with DHHL, ADC, and DLNR before it can proceed. The project also needs environmental, historic preservation and other permits and approvals, and it must prove to be economically viable for KIUC and its members. KIUC spokeswoman Beth Tokioka noted, “We anticipate roughly two years of study and permits before KIUC can make the decision to proceed with the project.”

Finally, Time magazine has a troubling report on our lack of preparedness in dealing with the next global pandemic:

From Ebola in West Africa to Zika in South America to MERS in the Middle East, dangerous outbreaks are on the rise around the world. The number of new diseases per decade has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years, and since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has more than tripled.

Research groups are working feverishly to predict the next pandemic before it even happens. They’re cataloging threats and employing next-generation genetic-sequencing tools to speed the discovery of new or mysterious viruses. They’re helping identify and track outbreaks as they happen.
But microbes evolve about 40 million times as fast as humans do, and we are losing ground. “Of all the things that can kill millions of people in very short order,” says Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, “the one that is most likely to occur over the next 10 years is a pandemic.”

Speaking of risks, one police department found a humorous way to build traffic on its Facebook page:

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Musings: Epic Fail is Right

It's easy to hate on the Hawaii State Legislature. Shoots, everybody has their gripes about what did and didn't get passed.

But what's with the epic fail shame strategy advanced by the Young Progressives Demanding Action, Sierra Club, Center for Food Safety and Gary Hooser's HAPA as they march on Miller Street this morning?

Haven't they learned yet that silly tactic doesn't work with the Lege, or elicit sympathy from the general public?

I understand they're trying to build participation by allowing folks to indulge their narcissim. But soliciting selfies with the hashtag #HiLegFail really falls flat.

Because truthfully, nobody really cares if Hawaii Center for Food Safety's Kimiko LaHaela Walter is unhappy about the fate of HB 790 and HB 1580. Or anything else:
Well, the effect achieved is just silly. And what's with the banana? (Which looks like something imported from the despised corporate plantations in Central America. She couldn't find a locally-grown variety?)

Center for Food Safety jumped on this bandwagon with its usual simplisitic view of the world:

So many bills that would have benefitted everyday people and the environment died this legislative session because our lawmakers continued to serve the interests of large corporations.

Come on. It's not that black-and white, cut-and-dried. If you're trying to lead a political movement, much less a revolution, you really need to grasp both the nuances and complexities of the legislative process. Especially when your own organization is funded by the heirs of large corporations, as CFS is.

As I noted in the comment section of Hooser's Civil Beat column excoriating the Lege and urging folks to join his shame-blame game:

Actually, Gary, it looks like HAPA "failed" to convince lawmakers of the value of its agenda, which was replete with poorly written bills, fear-mongering testimony and a "my way or the highway" refusal to negotiate or compromise. And you got this poor result despite spending thousands of dollars on advocacy (undisclosed lobbying). Maybe you need to look within, instead of playing your usual blame game.

Hooser was trying to make the case that the Legislature's failure to approve bills he supported “should hasten the movement for new leadership.”

So why aren't the Young Progressives and their supporters — one woman aptly dubbed them faux-gressives — presenting a proposal on how they would have funded and implemented all the stuff they demand/desire?

Instead of “demanding action” from others in their usual self-entitled way, why not be the action? Recruit some viable candidates, run for office, do a good job. But maybe start with articulating a solid platform that includes how they expect to pay for it. Yeah, that's the tough part. So easy to dream and demand. Do much harder to do the work and foot the bill.

In any case, Hooser's Kuleana Academy candidates mostly fell flat, as did he, despite spending more money than any other candidate in the history of Kauai elections. That ought to tell him people's appetites just aren't whetted by either his menu or its execution and presentation.

As one commenter observed:

HAPA seems more like a one-man band than a competent movement.

Of course, if Hooser hadn't indulged his own narcissm and ego, he might still be in the Lege, where he could be working his will on his colleagues and making his faux-gressive dreams come true. But instead he abandoned a powerful post as Senate Majority Leader to make doomed runs for Congress and Lt. Governor. With his tail between his legs, he returned to the Kauai County Council, sold out to the anti-GMO movement, and in the last election, was rejected there, too.

The voters have repeatedly given Hooser a failing grade. So how is it that he thinks he can now sell them on his revolution?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Musings: Reassessing Assumptions

Organic farming is often idealized — and commercially promoted — as producing a better product and treading more lightly on the land. Indeed, folks pay a premium to indulge this perception.

But two recent articles are casting doubt on those beliefs.

The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on organic dairies, which may be much larger and less bucolic than some consumers imagine. It focuses on the Aurora Organic Dairy in Colorado, which has some 15,000 cows producing enough milk to supply Walmart, Costco and other big box retailers.

It was interesting to read that “the USDA allows farmers to hire and pay their own inspectors to certify them as “USDA Organic.” It was also ironic, considering how many of the Hawaii anti-ag folks dissed the seed companies' voluntary disclosure of restricted pesticide use as insufficient.

Basically, the article is saying that the coveted “organic seal,” which boosted annual sales from $6 billion in 2000 to $40 billion in 2015, is based on “an unusual system of inspections” that are pre-announced and funded by farmers.

You mean, it's really all kind of a sham/scam? As the article concludes:

The growth of mega-dairies that may fall short of organic standards and produce cheaper milk appears to be crushing many small dairies, some analysts said.

The mom and pop — the smaller traditional family dairies — who are following the pasture rules are seeing their prices erode,” said [Pete] Hardin, the Milkweed editor. “It is creating a heck of a mess.”

You mean, consumers who have bought the organic marketing speil, but balk at paying a premium, are undercutting the very system they claim to cherish?

My sister, who lives in Portland, likes to buy Tillamook because she sees their cows grazing on her way out to the coast. But it claims neither to be organic nor GMO free. In response to a consumer question, a dairy spokesperson noted: 

Even organic feed for organic farms is extremely difficult to verify as GMO-free because of cross-pollination.

Maybe it's time to revisit the organic standards, and re-assess consumer attitudes. Are consumers truly looking for organic, or do they actually want pasture-raised? Of course, even pasture-raised doesn't pass muster for some, as we saw with the opposition to the proposed rotational-pasture dairy farm at Mahaulepu. (Btw, I ran into this piece about how very little manure leaves well-managed pastures.) 

Do people even know what they want? Or like the barn-raised dairy cows that had forgotten their natural grazing instinct, are we so manipulated by marketing that we've forgotten how to think, how to assess our true needs and desires?
Meanwhile, a columnist with the Daily Camera is writing a multi-part series on the GMO crop ban recently adopted in Boulder, a Colorado county where the sensibilities are akin to North Shore Kauai. The ban was passed, despite unanimous opposition from county open space farmers, including the organic growers.

Columnist Mara Abbott, who spent five months researching the debate, starts by citing a 2015 briefing paper that Colorado State University developed for county commissioners considering the ban on planting GMO crops in the county's open spaces:

[O]rganic crops on six Nothern Colorado farms used 10 times more water, five times more pesticides and released six times more sequestered carbon from the soil than genetically engineered crops.

I was paralyzed. I had always self-identified as a good Boulder environmentalist, and figured that meant that non-organic was a non-starter (and the organic definition excludes GMOs). Now where was I supposed to buy my kale?

After all, the ban's loudest supporters claimed to be fighting for reduced pesticide use and more sustainable cropping methods. Commissioner Deb Gardner specifically cited researching carbon sequestration as a top priority of the transition.

It also turns out that "organic" doesn't mean "pesticide-free." The pesticides just come from natural rather than synthetic sources — and apparently some of those are harmful to honeybees, too. Given that the purpose of an herbicide is to kill weeds, and an insecticide to kill insects, any crop protection practice won't be completely benign. Some natural pesticides are less effective, requiring more frequent applications, and higher overall life-cycle toxicity.

This isn't to brush off the value of organic, but it is to say that agriculture is rarely black and white — and that's actually why diverse approaches are important. Really, the only way to know what is being put on your food is to know the farmer who grew it.

"It's just such a complicated web in agriculture," third-generation county farmer Scott Miller told me. "You can't just say you're going to block one thing and that is going to fix it."

Once again, we're reminded that the world is so complex. Try as we might, we can't contain it into neat little boxes of good-bad. There are no silver bullets, no one-size-fits-all solutions, especially when human nature comes into play. We want to blame the corporations, but the corporations are also us. We want to return to the good old days, but there's no turning back the clock. All we can do is move forward, and try to be honest about the issues and our own choices.

In closing, I'll leave you with this amusing little call to action from the Maui Babes Against Biotech, which typifies the simplistic, reactionary approach that underlies so much conflict:
Yup, nothing says home rule like an email blitz from thousands of miles across the Pacific.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Musings: Giving and Getting

Newly released tax returns offer a look at the spending priorities, staff salaries and steadily growing coffers of the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Islands' largest philanthropic initiative.

The foundation closed 2015 with net assets of nearly $460 million — successfully soliciting some $45.6 million in grants and donations that year, according to its 2015 federal form 990.

This represents a dramatically upward trend of undisclosed mainland philanthropists parking money at HCF, where they are allowed to discretely engage in donor-advised giving. In 2011, HCF reported gifts, grants and contributions of nearly $16.7 million. That figure increased to $23.9 million in 2012, $27.7 million in 2013 , $30.5 million in 2014 to $45.6 million in 2015.

However, HCF cut the total amount of grants it awarded by $573,897 between 2014 and 2015.

Overall, HCF spent $13.8 million to award grants of $29.4 million in 2015.

In 2015, HCF spent some $6.7 million on salaries, up $266,447 from the previous year. Kelvin Taketa, HCF president and CEO, was paid $359,792 plus $149,129 in additional compensation from HCF and related organizations, for a total of $508,921. HCF's top 11 employees, including Taketa, received compensation totaling $2.3 million in 2015.

HCF spent $3.2 million on fundraising, $725,225 on conferences, conventions and meetings, $120,256 on advertising and promotions and $106,563 on travel.

The foundation's giving pattern also indicates a receptivity to funding organizations that talk about alternative approaches to farming, as opposed to actually advancing viable agriculture. 

For example, it gave a whopping $476,670 to the Kohala Center — a Big Island group that reported income of $5.2 million in 2014, with little to show for it. The Center's School Garden Network is directed by anti-GMO activist Nancy Redfeather.

Malama Kauai, another do-nothing faux ag group, was awarded $100,000 by HCF — more than a third of the $274,846 the organization reported as income in 2015. The group spent $121,598 to deliver fruit and veggies to after-school programs and Kauai food banks, and $35,077 on its community garden and “food forest.” But what, pray tell, was the value of the food it actually produced?

Similarly, HCF gave $80,000 to the Center for Food Safety — ostensibly for “environmental” programs — while Gary Hooser's Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action was given a $52,500 grant for “public policy and advocacy.” Yet just today, Hooser published a Civil Beat column bemoaning HAPA's complete failure to advance any of its objectives in the state Legislature — while blaming lawmakers, of course.

HCF also gave $12,500 to the Kauai Community Cat Project (KCCP), which engaged in a vicious cyber-bullying campaign against former Kauai Humane Society Director Penny Cistaro and is now suing Kauai County to stymie its efforts to develop an ordinance aimed at controlling the island's feral cats. Furthermore, the KCCP spent $80,000 to manage just 510 cats.

And inexplicably, HCF gave $10,000 to SHAKA, which mounted an anti-GMO moratorium in Maui County that was later thrown out by the courts. Though SHAKA's 2015 tax return has not yet surfaced on Guidestar, its 2014 return showed income of $329,056. It ended that year with just $46,053, having spent $87,931 on “management,” another $84,243 on advertising and promotion and and $30,321 on legal fees. 

Uh, so what, exactly, was the public charitable purpose that SHAKA provided with its money? And none of its funding sources were disclosed, either.

Why is HCF funding groups that are decidely opaque, and actively working to undermine agriculture and sow discord in Hawaii? Especially when its mission is “investing in community well-being” and “strengthening Hawaii's communities.”

Now compare the grants given to those self-serving groups with their very narrow agendas to the amounts awarded to organizations that serve a broad sector of the public: $116,295 to Aloha United Way; $62,000 to Big Brothers/Big Sisters; $78,600 to American Cancer Society; $85,403 to American Red Cross Hawaii Chapter; $50,000 to Polynesian Voyaging Society; $55,888 National Tropical Botanical Garden; $10,000 Hawaii Meth Project.

Something seems out of kilter here.

I do give HCF kudos for listing all of the grants it made. However, in the name of public interest and transparency, it would be even more revealing to see where it's getting the money that is being used to effect change in Hawaii, and what sort of strings the donors have attached.