Monday, September 1, 2014

Musings: What Next?

Now that the judge has ruled and Kauai's pesticide/GMO regulatory law, Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 is dead, where to from here? Especially since the community is polarized, and ideology dies hard.

The always thoughtful Luke Evslin, who has defended genetic modification while supporting the “original intent behind 2491” (though I'm no longer clear exactly what that was), weighed in last week on his blog, Ka Wae:

As we move forward, it’s important to not let extremists from either side control the conversation and widen the rhetorical divide. There is a vast middle ground (where I believe that the majority of Kaua’i citizens are) that believes that some type of pesticide regulation is needed and acknowledges the related fact that small scale local agriculture is in a precipitous decline.

Allan Parachini also weighed in with a guest editorial in The Garden Island that outlined eight steps for moving forward, and ended with:

To be sure, this prescription foresees continuation of a difficult political debate on our island. But it is a debate we must now take to its conclusion.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau, meanwhile, is launching a $400,000 public relations blitz aimed at countering the anti-GMO movement by building support for GMOs and agriculture overall. Civil Beat reports that the campaign will cost nearly half the group's annual revenue, and employ such tactics as temporary tattoos for schoolchildren, sponsoring face-painting at community gatherings, running ads on popular TV shows and publishing op-ed pieces in newspapers.

Both Allan and Luke met immediate resistance from “antis.” Ashley Lukens of the Center for Food Safety, which has been doing its own media blitz, similarly shot down the Farm Bureau plan with a canned reply:

My sense is that the community is going to see through this because it doesn’t in any way address the concerns that the largest chemical companies in the world use Hawaii as the outdoor laboratory.”

Yes, the Farm Bureau campaign is likely to be seen as the PR push that is. But still, there is something valid and meaningful in the rationale behind the campaign, as articulated by HFB President Chris Manfredi:

Agriculture in Hawaii and across the nation is under attack. Across the nation, farmers and ranchers have been caught off guard by extremist activists that will stop at nothing to realize their utopian, misinformed and unsustainable vision of how you should farm.”

We've got a lot of different issues — farming methodology, pesticide concerns, GMOs, land use policies, home rule, ag land preservation and prices, aging farmers and island food self-sufficiency — all scrambled together, scorched with inflammatory rhetoric and manipulated by political opportunists at the local and international level.

To get out of this mess, I agree wholeheartedly with Luke and Allan that we need to move this discussion to the middle and eschew extremism. Even Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced Bill 2491, recently admitted:

No question, in the heat of the moment, both sides kinda stretched the conversation a little too far.”

We also need to separate out the issues and address them individually, while also looking at the big picture, because of course they're all related. But we're not going to have any meaningful discussions about any of these topics if we focus only on the seed companies as either demon or savior. They are one player — a big player, granted, but just one player. They aren't the only entities using pesticides. And if they disappear, small organic farms will not suddenly spring up in their place.

We also need to get realistic about what is possible — politically, legally, economically and socially.

A few days ago, I heard Marghee Maupin, a westside Kauai nurse practitioner who is sincerely convinced her patients are suffering from pesticide harm, express her frustration over what she views as the state's failure to respond to her concerns:

My question is not whether it's legal or illegal, but is it healthy?

That, to me, seems to sum up the crux of the communication breakdown and political strategy failure on Kauai, and elsewhere across the state, in regard to pesticides and GMOs.

Folks are asking the state and county to address their health concerns and fears by banning products and stopping practices that are approved, allowed and permitted by the federal government. And just as Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren determined that county laws are pre-empted in areas where the state has authority, state laws are similarly subordinate to federal laws.

The county has the power to limit pesticide use on its parks and roadways. The state has the power to determine if local pesticide practices are harming public health, just as it has the power to ascertain whether pesticides are polluting streams and nearshore areas, especially during heavy rain runoff.

These are the actions that people can push for if they want to “stop poisoning paradise” and quantify harm. The state and counties do not have the power to ban atrazine, kick out the seed companies, eliminate GMOs or stop licensed pesticide applicators from applying a product in accordance with standards that have been set at the federal level.

In other words, you can't ignore the issue of whether it's legal or illegal, and focus only on whether it's healthy, unless you are addressing your comments to the feds, who make that determination. The state doesn't set the allowable level of exposure to any pesticide, or decide whether that exposure is healthy.

If you want to argue that question in any meaningful way, it needs to be done at the federal level.

To keep hashing it out locally does nothing but heat up the rhetoric and mislead people into believing state and county governments can do things that are not within their scope of power, and frustrating them when they discover the inevitable limitations.

As Kauai moves forward, it's going to be difficult to re-establish relationships. Many people with a lot to add in discussions on agriculture feel burned by the 2491 battle, but we need their expertise. Just as we need people who can see all sides of an issue, like Luke Evslin. Those who have advocated extremist, intolerant views should not be invited to the table.

We don't need more litigation, whether it's appealing the 960 decision or suing the state. We don't need short-sighted political responses with long-term ramifications, like revisions in agricultural taxes. And we don't need politicians who are using ag as a platform, and simplifying what is a multi-layered issue.

Gary recently said that he supports “ranching and other sustainable ag. Clean, grass-fed beef – we can do that. We have the pasture land available. Unfortunately, the landowners are drawn to the high rent of seed companies and don't want to tie up land with ranchers. Ranchers can't get longterm leases. That's an issue I plan on digging into.”

I was blogging about ranchers — and small farmers — losing their short-term leases to the higher-paying seed companies back in 2011, but no one seemed especially interested. Unless farming is subsidized, or the state/county make land available, private landowners are going to lease to the highest bidder.

I also wrote a piece for Honolulu Weekly in October 2011 about the challenges facing beef, pork and chicken producers statewide that is still relevant today. Land and leases are only one part of the equation. Processing, economies of scale, marketing, distribution, imported feed costs and tiny profit margins are also major factors limiting production. 

And given the response to Hawaii Dairy Farms — a subsidized venture that doesn't even need to worry about the bottom line — are Kauai residents likely to support more livestock, with its associated waste and slaughterhouses?

We don't need any more deceptive language. Gary recently said, in regard to Ordinance 960:

We're not restricting anybody's agriculture. We're just asking for disclosure and buffers. Even the agrochemical companies it would not restrict their activities at all.

So long as the companies are prohibited from growing any crops — even organics — in the buffer zones, that's simply not true. And let's get real: the whole intent of disclosure and buffer zones is to restrict activities that some folks believe are bad.

We really don't need any more propaganda/PR, whether it's by Monsanto, Hawaii SEED, the Babes, or Hawaii Farm Bureau. How about some honest, accurate information? I don't think that's likely, or even possible, with the first three, but I'd love to see HFB put its $400,000 into education, rather than PR. There is a distinct difference between the two, and it starts with intention.

In the meantime, there's an election coming up. Vote wisely, and avoid single-issue politics and politicians. Agriculture and food issues are far too complex for simplistic, jingoistic approaches, even if they're well-intentioned, and especially when they aren't.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Musings: Beg and Spend

The ink had barely dried on the judge's order vacating Ordinance 960 when the Center for Food Safety began using it to solicit money.

Though no appeal has been filed, or even announced, CFS Hawaii Director Ashley Lukens seized the opportunity to issue a call for cash. Ironically, the anti-pesticide/GMO appeal sports a photo of Hanalei's herbicide-treated taro fields. Ashley then goes on to claim:
I am confident we stand arm and arm [sic] with the people of Hawaii.

LOL! Oh, are you now?

This line in particular was gag-inducing, especially for a mainland-based organization that only opened a Hawaii office last year:

WE ARE wind-resting ‘a‘ali‘i; no gale can push US over.
Though it references an iconic native plant, the plea links to a donation form with a picture of CFS's Washington, D.C.-based director, Andrew Kimbrell, preparing to snuggle with India's Vandana Shiva. What, they couldn't find even one kanaka to pose?
Councilman Gary Hooser, too, quickly hustled out a hustle for kala, begging folks to send him dough under this whiny, paranoiac plea:

For me personally this election has been the toughest one I have ever been involved in and without a doubt it will get even rougher in the weeks ahead.

The attacks driven by industry bloggers and their legions of anonymous commenter’s increase daily and the negative campaigning, rumor and innuendo is sure to escalate as the General Election draws closer.

They are determined to take me out and I am determined to win :-)

Which “industry bloggers” are those, Gary? I haven't seen any “industry bloggers” taking you on. Just lil ol' me — your disenchanted former supporter — and Joni Kamiya-Rose, the Hawaii farmer's daughter

Gary then goes on to say:

While I will am [sic] running an ole [sic] fashion campaign, knocking on doors and holding signs on the highway, it is critical that I also run an aggressive media campaign to counter that of the opposition. 

My focus will be on the positive vision of the future we hold for our community and on my track record of accomplishment, experience and leadership.

What “accomplishments and leadership” are you referencing, Gary? Exactly what have you done in the past two years — I mean, aside from tearing the community apart, alienating the state, disillusioning young voters, burning your colleagues, undermining Mason Chock's political career, setting back progressive politics and costing the county big bucks on your flawed, ego-driven bill? Oh, and getting your name in the national news?

Gary also writes:

Will the decisions of the future be driven by industry and large land owners or by independent decision makers grounded in community, focused on building a sustainable future and not beholden to any financial special interest?

If you're including yourself in the latter, Gary, you got some 'splaining to do about your connections to Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice and all the special interests you and your HAPA group are catering to. 

Just so it's clear, though, Gary states exactly what folks can expect if they re-elect him:

I am committed to pressing forward via the appeal process, the state legislature and additional County legislative efforts. If our community needs to sue the State of Hawaii to do its job then perhaps that is also an avenue we must pursue.

I'm not sure who you're using as a political advisor, Gary, but I can't imagine many folks are gonna jump on board when all you can promise is single-issue politics and more legal bills. As for suing the state to do it's job, maybe you should've started there. But then, that wouldn't have suited the anti-GMO agenda of CFS and Earthjustice, now would it?

So what has Gary, and his misguided Bill 2491/Ordinance 960, cost the county?

Let's start with legal fees. County records show that $109,888 has been spent to date, with invoices for July and August, when the court hearing was held, still to be submitted. The Council has authorized special counsel expenditures of $210,000.

Next up, police overtime. The July 31 public hearing at the Veterans Center cost $20,153, while the August 5 committee meeting cost $2,513. Another $33,820 was spent for the various special council meetings in October and November related to Bill 2491.

The county has spent $14,266.96 in payroll since May 1 for the Office of Economic Development (OED) compliance specialist who assisted with all the rule-making outreach and meetings and set up the web page and forms that would have been required by the ordinance. Alas, all for naught.

Then there were the hundreds of hours expended by the County Attorney’s Office and OED on researching and drafting the administrative rules, meeting with stakeholders, amending the drafts, planning and conducting the five public outreach meetings that were held in May, amending the drafts again, preparing for and appearing before the Small Business Regulatory Review Board, finalizing the rules for public hearing and preparing for the rules public hearing that was ultimately cancelled.

These hours consumed the time of the OED director and ag specialist, who could have been working instead on meaningful ag issues, a deputy county attorney and support staff in both offices.

As for the Council Services staff, they also expended hundreds of hours on this bill, with its stressful political theatre and repetitious testimony, in addition to conducting their usual duties. Gary and Councilman Tim Bynum, meanwhile, charged taxpayers $406.40 so they could attend the July 26 Honolulu court hearing on the bill.

And that's not even counting all the time and energy burned by those poor exhausted “red shirts” who begged the Council to pass an illegal bill because they were just too tired to continue the fight to get it right.

So we're at $181,047, with staff time not included and the bills still coming in, and nothing to show for it. Nothing but a legal precedent that confirms what the County Attorney's office had said all along: state law trumps county law. 

Yeah, I know. That's still less than former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri Carvalho cost the county.

But let's not forget the voters rejected Shay for her costly, narcissistic behavior. 

Please follow me on Twitter @joanconrow

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Musings: Happy?

So are you happy with the decision?” my sister asked as I fielded phone calls, emails and texts yesterday after a federal judge overturned Kauai's GMO/pesticide regulatory bill on the grounds that it was pre-empted by state law.

No. How could I be happy about multinational chemical companies gaining more power? How could I rejoice in having the pre-emption issue so starkly defined and clarified? How could I be reveling in the realization that environmental and progressive politics have been set back 20 years by fools who thought their little mob action was more powerful than state law?

Those of us who were environmentally conscious and active before some of the “red shirts” were even born will never be happy with the ignorance, the drama, the ugliness and now the stunning precedent that has been set by this epic political failure.

A precedent that gives the chem companies the right to thumb their noses and say, we can do whatever the state lets us do. A precedent that will stymie any future attempts to manage pesticide use at the local level. A precedent that will leave us worse off than we were before Bill 2491.

Yup, we're talking about a precedent that goes way beyond anything that could have gotten through the state Legislature. Instead, it was all wrapped up with a bow and presented to the chem companies, courtesy of Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum — the self-righteous, posturing apostles of Bill 2491. 

What's more, this precedent affects the entire state. Kind of makes you wonder who they're really working for. Because it sure as hell ain't the public good.

Still, I do find some satisfaction in seeing Gary and Tim fall flat on their faces. Just as I find some small vindication in being able to say, yeah, I was right all along and I stuck to my guns, even as Gary's “red-shirts” and “fistees” turned on me with a savage vengeance for daring to tell them the truth: They'd been suckered into supporting a bill that was legally flawed and would never give them any answers or relief.

It brings to mind some lyrics from the Prince song, “Face Down:”

4 those who know the number and don't call
Huh, fuck all y'all

So here we are, with nothing — nothing but a legal bill, a torn community and a potent political backlash, just as I and others predicted. Even the Environmental and Public Health Impact Study (EPHIS) is in danger of being tossed out, with attorneys trying to determine whether the judge's order invalidating the entire ordinance precludes that study from moving forward.

And if it doesn't, the worried westside folks are gonna have to throw themselves on the mercy of the state, and beg for health and environmental studies. Because Hawaii SEED, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Surfrider, Earthjustice, Kauai Rising, Babes Against Biotech, Kauai Ohana and the other folks who fed their fear and led them down the primrose path ain't gonna do shit to help them.

Gary, still dangerously seeped in his delusions of grandeur, says he wants to continue the fight, as does Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff. Of course they want to appeal. That's how Earthjustice gets money, and Gary gets publicity. But they don't have a hope in hell of getting the Administration or the rest of the Council to go along with their charade. The game is up.

Sadly, Gary has become so accustomed to lying during this whole boondoggle that he just can't stop, as evidenced by his quotes in the Associated Press article:

These companies have fought compliance for over a year now. They have much more money than the county ... they're billion-dollar corporations determined not to follow the rules of Kauai County," he said. "This is a long way from over."

Actually, they haven't fought compliance because “the rules of Kauai County” never went into effect, and now they've been declared invalid. Wake up, Gary. It is so over — just like your political career.

Gary goes on to say:

"This is just disclosure and buffer zones, nothing more. If they were good neighbors they would just comply."

But they have. They are voluntarily disclosing their monthly pesticide use, and according to court documents, they'd voluntarily adopted buffer zones around schools and hospitals before the law was even passed.

So what is that you really want, Gary? Aside from carte blanche to keep blowing the taxpayers' money on a dead law, just so you can keep yourself in the spotlight?

Sadly, like all good propaganda, lies spread by Gary and the “red shirts” have become entrenched in the citizenry, as evidenced by John Patt's comment on the same AP story:

How many more young mothers will give birth to deformed children, how many more cancer victims must we endure because these mega international companies refuse to comply with buffer zones between their test fields where they spray unknown amounts of restricted use pesticides, and our schools, our hospitals and our elders?

Yes, the uninformed rhetoric will continue to live on, even though the law is dead and soon to be buried.

So no, I'm not happy at the incredible waste of money and human energy burned by by this bill, or the disgusting divisiveness it spawned. I'm not happy to have discovered that the so-called “progressive” media is a witting or unwitting propaganda machine when it comes to GMOs. 

I'm not happy that Tim and Gary played Mason Chock for their own purposes, effectively derailing what might have been a promising political career. (Which is not to say that Mason couldn't have taken the high road and refused the Council appointment, a move that would have elevated him in the eyes of many.)

I'm definitely not happy that decent, highly intelligent, caring people, like Deputy County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask, were trashed by know-nothings who never even read the bill.

Still, I can take heart in thinking that maybe some of the sleazy players who came and disrupted our community will go back where they came from, now that the flow of money is about to dry up.

And I can smile with irony when I stumble across ridiculously grandiose headlines, like the one that “red shirt” activist Andrea Brower attached to a 2013 Huffington Post blog: “Chemical Corporations Tremble at Kauai's Unwavering Determination.”

Oh, yeah. They be tremblin' alright. Shaking with laughter as they chortle with glee.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Judge Strikes Down Kauai GMO/Pesticide Law

A federal judge has struck down Ordinance 960 — Kauai's pesticide/GMO regulatory bill — finding that is pre-empted by state law, and therefore invalid.

In issuing his Aug. 23 judgment, released this morning, Judge Barry M. Kurren enjoined Kauai County for implementing or enforcing the law, which was due to take effect Aug. 16, but extended to Oct. 1. However, he did not rule on all the issues. 

In his order, he states:

Because the Court finds that Ordinance 960 is without effect due to state preemption, the Court refrains from addressing Plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection claims. Similarly, in light of the conclusion that state law preempts Ordinance 960, the Court declines to address the summary judgment motions as to all of the remaining claims.

The decision vindicates Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., who vetoed the bill on advice from the County Attorney's office that it wouldn't withstand a legal challenge. The Council initially failed to override his veto, then installed Mason Chock to fill a vacancy on the panel and cast the deciding vote to override. The judge did not rule on the validity of Chock's appointment.

The decision also sounds the death knell for a Big Island ordinance banning new GMO cultivation and a Maui ballot initiative calling for a moratorium on GMO cultivation because it makes it clear that only the state can regulate the GMOs and pesticides.

The judge wrote:

This decision in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kauai. The Court’s ruling simply recognizes that the State of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the County.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court’s function is not to try issues of fact, but rather, it is only to determine whether there are issues to be tried.

Judge Kurren agreed with Margery Bronster and Paul Alston — attorneys for the seed/chemical companies — who argued the counties have no inherent power, but only the authority granted to them by the state, and that Hawaii statutes already designate the state Department of Agriculture as the entity charged with regulating pesticides.

The judge wrote:

Ordinance 960 regulates pesticides in two ways. First, it imposes various pre- and post-application reporting requirements. Second, it establishes an array of pesticide buffer zones in which no crops to which pesticides would be applied may be planted. Accordingly, the “subject matters” regulated by Ordinance 960 are record keeping and reporting, and areas of permissible planting and associated pesticide use.

Though not utilizing the specific phrase “buffer zones,” the state regulatory framework expressly addresses the DOA’s role in determining unreasonable adverse effects of pesticide use including the use “in or adjacent to certain areas.” Additionally, state law expressly sets out reporting requirements surrounding the use of RUPs. Accordingly, the Court finds that the statutory scheme and associated administrative rules cover the same subject matter as Ordinance 960.

He found that the Board of Agriculture and Department of Agriculture clearly have authority to regulate the distribution and use of certain pesticides, and are empowered to conduct inspections:

That counties and local governments are wholly absent from this framework of rulemaking, oversight, and enforcement evidences the legislature’s intent that the State have exclusive authority over pesticide regulation.

Accordingly, the Court holds that the pesticide provisions of Ordinance 960 are preempted by state law and are barred from taking effect.

Under similar reasoning, he also found:

Accordingly, the Court holds that the GMO notification provision of Ordinance 960 is preempted by state law and is barred from taking effect.

However, he also noted that counties do have some say in agricultural matters:

The fact that the state Constitution declares agriculture to be of statewide concern, does not by itself preclude all county regulation in the entire field of agriculture, or trigger a requirement that the State must expressly grant the counties specific authority in the area of agriculture. Indeed, art. IX § 1 states “the state shall provide for the protection and promotion of public health,” and art. IX § 5 provides that housing is of “statewide concern.” Neither constitutional provision indicates that the counties have any role to play, but this does not preclude the counties from enacting ordinances affecting either area where an ordinance falls under the counties’ generally granted powers.

[T]he legislature has expressly recognized that the counties have some role to play in
enacting regulations that affect the field of agriculture. This conclusion that the
County has some authority in the area of agriculture is, however, only the first step
in the required analysis of County police power under HRS § 46-1.5(13).

In addition to empowering county governments, “HRS § 46–1.5(13) was intended to be a provision mandating the preemption of any ordinance that either conflicted with the intent of a state statute or legislated in an area already staked out by the legislature for exclusive and statewide statutory treatment.”

He further found that Ordinance 960 does not conflict with the Right to Farm Act or jeopardize privacy provisions of the state public records law, and that disclosing the location of pesticide applications was not pre-empted by FIFRA, the federal pesticide laws. Nor does federal law preempt the annual GMO notification provision of Ordinance 960.

The county issued a statement saying the meeting on rule-making for Ordinance 960 scheduled for tomorrow has been cancelled. The EPHIS — environmental and public health impact study — will not go forward, either, since it struck down along with 960.

The judge also denied the defendant's motion for dismissal on the grounds that the U.S. District Court lacked jurisdiction.

The county was joined in defending the law by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety. Earlier, Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff had expressed confidence, saying he considered the U.S. District Court "friendly." 

 But today the Star-Advertiser quoted Achitoff as saying he was "disappointed" by the ruling:

"It has unfortunate consequences on Kauai and throughout the state. The state has shown complete disregard for problems that the pesticides on Kauai has been causing. The federal court decided that the state only has to the power to do anything about it but the state has refused to do anything."

However, that's not true. The state negotiated with the chem/seed companies for voluntary pesticide use disclosure and conducted some statewide water samplings that found low levels of pesticides. More is needed, but now that the state has been totally reviled, alienated and dissed, and the election is nearly upon us, where's the impetus? 

As I and others have said throughout the months of turmoil, angst and bitter conflict that accompanied this bill's passage and adjudication, if folks would've started by pressuring their state Legislators to act, things might have turned out differently.

Instead, Councilman Gary Hooser convinced them to put their faith in him, and his big gamble. While he won national notoriety and local political acclaim, he lost the battle, leaving his supporters with nothing, and little recourse for future actions.

Way to go, Gary.

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Musings: Known and Unknown

As I watched golden finches happily munching from a thistle bag this morning as humming birds slurped from a feeder, I was reminded of a sad story I read about the massive solar plant in California's Mojave Desert that's burning birds as they fly overhead.
An average of one bird — nicknamed "streamers" for the smoke plume that follows their fatal fall — is ignited every two minutes at the $2.2 billion BrightSource Energy plant. As the Associated Press reported:

More than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers each looming up to 40 stories high. The water inside is heated to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes.

One of the plant's owners is Google, whose international servers consume 260 million watts of electrictiy — enough to continuously power 200,000 homes. According to a 2011 report in Time:

But to make up for the 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that Google emits every year—mostly from purchased energy to power its data centers—the company buys and generates its own renewable energy or purchases carbon offsets (essentially, funding green efforts elsewhere). The company invests in enough renewable energy to power more than 350,000 homes.

Solar may be renewable, but is it really "clean" if one plant alone is killing possibly as many as 28,000 birds — some of them rare — per year? And I was reminded again that no energy source is truly "green."

Now the company wants to build an even bigger facility, with BrightSource offering to pay $1.8 million in compensation for the anticipated bird deaths. The money would be used to spay and neuter domestic cats, which kill an estimated 1.4 billion birds annually. But we all know that fixed cats still hunt, and as conservationists pointed out, the program does nothing to help the desert bird populations impacted by the solar plant.

Must every human activity be supported at the expense of the natural world? Does everything really have a calcuable price? Are tens of thousands of birds deaths a reasonable trade-off for solar power? 

What about TV, radio and cell phones, when communications towers kill an estimated 7 million birds annually? How long can wild populations survive those kinds of losses? And if 70 percent of the deaths are caused by just 1,000 towers, and 70 percent of those losses could be eliminated by changing the solid red light to a blinking one, why isn't it done?

It got me thinking about the true costs of our other actions, and how we're all part of the problem, much as we love to point the finger at others. Just as we choose to focus attention only on some problems, while ignoring others.

Consider this: Some 80,000 chemicals are available for use in the United States, but just 200 of them have been tested under the Toxic Substances Act. Furthermore, there's been virtually no testing to determine how these chemicals interact with one another.

And I wondered, given how little we know about the chemicals that are part of our every day life, how can Kauai County ever determine through its puny little EPHIS whether agricultural pesticides are causing illnesses on the westside? Or even assess the extent of health problems there? At the end of the day, the folks who live there aren't going to know any more, or be any better off, than they are right now.

To me, that's the travesty of Bill 2401/Ordinance 960. People were suckered in with a promise of hope, answers, solutions, help. But they're not going to get any, even if the law stands, because this expensive, bitter exercise never was about identifying a problem and finding a reasonable solution.

Politics so rarely is.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Musings: Shivanized

While reading an article about anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva in the current issue of The New Yorker, I suddenly understood what had happened to little Kauai: We were Shivanized.

The “take no prisoners, no co-existence, us against them” mindset; the disinformation campaign; the strategy of attacking and ostracizing critics; the characterization of the seed companies as “pure evil;” the messianic call to “expel them from your islands,” starting with Kauai; the war terminology, and most especially, the fear-mongering — it all began with Shiva at her Jan. 17, 2013 Kauai talk sponsored by Hawaii SEED.

As acclaimed reporter Michael Specter makes clear in The New Yorkers, that's Shiva's schtick. As part of her ongoing “pilgrimage,” Shiva unceasingly trots the globe saying stuff that ranges from not quite true to outright false, viciously attacking anyone who disagrees, simplifying the complex issue of food and agricultural production down to a single simple solution: If we just return to organic farming, eliminate any seed created in a laboratory, ban all fertilizers, everything will be OK.

Except, as Specter points out, it won't.

Specter is no apologist for modern agriculture. He is well aware of the damage that can be caused by an over-reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and water-sucking crops. He is cognizant of the dangers posed by pollen drift and insect-resistance, though he says both concerns can be addressed. He also recognizes that some 10 billion people will need to be fed by the end of the century:

Feeding the expanding population without further harming the Earth presents one of the greatest challenges of our time, perhaps of all time. For most of the past ten thousand years, feeding more people simply meant farming more land. That option no longer exists; nearly every arable patch of ground has been cultivated, and irrigation for agriculture already consumes seventy per cent of the Earth’s freshwater.

He addresses Shiva's claim that “If you look at the graph of the growth of G.M.O.s, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s.”

And then debunks it:

Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)

Specter goes on to point out how “Shiva’s absolutism about G.M.O.s can lead her in strange directions,” including condemning the Indian government for permitting the shipment of GMO grain and soy to feed the millions of starving homeless following a 1991 cyclone that killed 10,000 people.

He also questions her credentials:

Most of her book jackets include the following biographical note: “Before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists.” When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn’t list any such position in her biography.

And while Specter agrees that there has been an increase in the use of herbicides, he disagrees with Shiva's assertion that genetically-modified crops are the culprit:

But farmers face the problem whether or not they plant genetically modified crops. Scores of weed species have become resistant to the herbicide atrazine, for example, even though no crops have been modified to tolerate it. In fact, glyphosate has become the most popular herbicide in the world, largely because it’s not nearly so toxic as those which it generally replaces. The E.P.A. has labelled water unsafe to drink if it contains three parts per billion of atrazine; the comparable limit for glyphosate is seven hundred parts per billion. By this measure, glyphosate is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine.

Specter discusses how “Shiva’s speeches are filled with terrifying anecdotes that play to that fear” of eating GMO foods, even though “humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and have draped themselves in thousands of tons of clothing made from genetically engineered cotton, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result.”

Specter also addresses Shiva's claim that “294,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves because they cannot afford to plant Bt cotton.” He writes:

Shiva contends that modified seeds were created almost exclusively to serve large industrial farms, and there is some truth to that. But Bt cotton has been planted by millions of people in the developing world, many of whom maintain lots not much larger than the back yard of a house in the American suburbs. In India, more than seven million farmers, occupying twenty-six million acres, have adopted the technology. That’s nearly ninety per cent of all Indian cotton fields. At first, the new seeds were extremely expensive. Counterfeiters flooded the market with fakes and sold them, as well as fake glyphosate, at reduced prices. The crops failed, and many people suffered. Shiva said last year that Bt-cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002.

In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily. While they remain higher than those of conventional seeds, in most cases the modified seeds provide greater benefits. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, Bt farmers spend at least fifteen per cent more on crops, but their pesticide costs are fifty per cent lower. Since the seed was introduced, yields have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent.

Shiva also says that Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell” his seeds. Most farmers, though, even those with tiny fields, choose to buy newly bred seeds each year, whether genetically engineered or not, because they insure better yields and bigger profits.

Specter traveled to India to meet with farmers and found :

The first thing that the cotton farmers I visited wanted to discuss, though, was their improved health and that of their families. Before Bt genes were inserted into cotton, they would typically spray their crops with powerful chemicals dozens of times each season. Now they spray once a month.

Everyone had a story to tell about insecticide poisoning. “Before Bt cotton came in, we used the other seeds,” Rameshwar Mamdev told me when I stopped by his six-acre farm, not far from the main dirt road that leads to the village. He plants corn in addition to cotton. “My wife would spray,” he said. “She would get sick. We would all get sick.” According to a recent study by the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, there has been a sevenfold reduction in the use of pesticide since the introduction of Bt cotton; the number of cases of pesticide poisoning has fallen by nearly ninety per cent. Similar reductions have occurred in China. The growers, particularly women, by reducing their exposure to insecticide, not only have lowered their risk of serious illness but also are able to spend more time with their children.

The World Health Organization has estimated that a hundred and seventy thousand Indians commit suicide each year—nearly five hundred a day. Although many Indian farmers kill themselves, their suicide rate has not risen in a decade, according to a study by Ian Plewis, of the University of Manchester. In fact, the suicide rate among Indian farmers is lower than for other Indians and is comparable to that among French farmers.

Most farmers I met in Maharashtra seemed to know at least one person who had killed himself, however, and they all agreed on the reasons: there is almost no affordable credit, no social security, and no meaningful crop-insurance program.

Specter also dismisses Shiva's claim that Monsanto “control[s] the entire scientific literature of the world.” Nature, Science, and Scientific American, three widely admired publications, “have just become extensions of their propaganda. There is no independent science left in the world.”

Monsanto is certainly rich, but it is simply not that powerful. Exxon Mobil is worth seven times as much as Monsanto, yet it has never been able to alter the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of climate change. Tobacco companies spend more money lobbying in Washington each year than Monsanto does, but it’s hard to find scientists who endorse smoking.

Perhaps most revealing — especially in terms of how Kauai has been Shivanized — is this quote by Britith environmentalist Mark Lynas, previously a staunch biotech opponent who reversed his stance after studying all scientific literature:

When you call somebody a fraud, that suggests the person knows she is lying,” Mark Lynas told me on the phone recently. “I don’t think Vandana Shiva necessarily knows that. But she is blinded by her ideology and her political beliefs. That is why she is so effective and so dangerous. She is very canny about how she uses her power. But on a fundamental level she is a demagogue who opposes the universal values of the Enlightenment.”

And on Kauai, she helped to create hundreds of little demagogues who are similarly blinded by ideology, and thus similarly dangerous.

Spector notes:

The gulf between the truth about G.M.O.s and what people say about them keeps growing wider.

And I recalled a dreadful article recently published about the Kauai GMO fight by some guy whose relatives belong Kauai Rising. It was so full of shibai that when I saw it on the Truthout.org site, I thought yes, he left the truth out.

A woman who has worked as an agricultural advisor in Hawaii for 25 years sent me an email with a link to the Truthout article, despairing over its falsehoods and asking, “How is this going to change?”

I wasn't able to give her much encouragement. It's hard to turn the tide once misinformation gets entrenched, and people who question it are bullied. But slowly, ordinary people and journalists like Michael Specter are beginning to speak up, and that gives me hope.

Specter ends his article — and I urge you to read it in his entirety — with this:

Genetically modified crops will not solve the problem of the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. It would be far better if the world’s foods contained an adequate supply of vitamins. It would also help the people of many poverty-stricken countries if their governments were less corrupt. Working roads would do more to reduce nutritional deficits than any G.M.O. possibly could, and so would a more equitable distribution of the Earth’s dwindling supply of freshwater. No single crop or approach to farming can possibly feed the world. To prevent billions of people from living in hunger, we will need to use every one of them.

Or to quote Frank Zappa: A mind is like a parachute. It only works when it's open.

And finally, a sincere mahalo to those who have contributed to Kauai Eclectic. Your support and acknowledgement means a lot!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Musings: From Ferguson to Kauai

As protests continue in the wake the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., a debate is emerging on whether the growing militarization of the nation's police is appropriate, much less warranted.

Locally, a friend who recently visited Scotland, England and Ireland, where the police traditionally haven't carried guns, noted:

In fact, there was a small item in one of the local papers about an inquiry into the number of Scottish police now carrying guns on routine patrol and how people were bothered by it, they didn't want to see their Americanization of their police.

A New York Times guest commentary on the M-16s,camouflage uniforms and armored tanks used by police in Ferguson, a town of 21,000 citizens, revealed:

Ferguson’s police force got equipped this way thanks to the Pentagon, and it’s happening all over the country. The Department of Defense provides military-grade weapons and equipment to local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program, enacted by Congress in 1997 to expand the practice of dispensing extra military gear. Due to the defense industry’s bloated contracts, there is a huge surplus. To date, the Pentagon has donated military equipment worth more than $4 billion to local law enforcement agencies. And the giving goes on, to police forces in all 50 states in the union.

Whereas the Department of Defense hands over weapons directly, the Department of Homeland Security provides funding for arms. It has distributed more than $34 billion through “terrorism grants,” enabling local police departments to acquire such absurd items as a surveillance drone and an Army tank.

For a police department like Ferguson’s, the path to becoming a paramilitary force is a short one. After loading up with free military gear, it is no surprise that law enforcement agents want to use it. In fact, the 1033 program’s regulations require that the police use what they receive within one year.

In the absence of extreme violence or actual terrorist threat, what happens — as the American Civil Liberties Union has documented — is that the equipment and weapons are used by SWAT teams in routine situations, such as low-level drug raids or the execution of search warrants. As Ferguson shows, this militarizing of routine police work exacerbates tensions and increases the likelihood of disorder. This, in turn, appears to justify a militarized police response, and so the cycle continues.

Kauai attorney Dan Hempey, who has been speaking out against the growing militarization of police for years, sent me a link to the ACLU report. It found that these military arsenals are used primarily in the “War on Drugs,” and disproportionately among people of color.

Among its other findings:

SWAT raids are undoubtedly violent events: numerous (often 20 or more) officers armed with assault rifles and grenades approach a home, break down doors and windows (often causing property damage), and scream for the people inside to get on the floor (often pointing their guns at them). During the course of this investigation, the ACLU determined that SWAT deployments often and unnecessarily entailed the use of violent tactics and equipment, including Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), and that the use of these tactics and equipment often increased the risk of property damage and bodily harm.

Of the incidents studied in which SWAT was deployed to search for drugs in a person’s home, the SWAT teams either forced or probably forced entry into a person’s home using a battering ram or other breaching device 65 percent of the time. In some instances, the use of violent tactics and equipment caused property damage, injury, and/or death.

So how is this playing out on Kauai, aside from the SWAT team shooting death of Dickie Louis on his rooftop, which prompted a lawsuit against the county? 

I contacted Police Chief Darryl Perry, who is running for County Council, to ask what sorts of things the department had purchased with the Homeland Security funding. His reply:

Incident Command Vehicle for critical incidents like hurricanes, and tsunamis, to long term search and rescue situations; new P25 compliant portable radios, mobile computers for our patrol officers, Radiological-Biological-Chemical protective gear, body armor (bullet resistant vests), and our new Armored Rescue Vehicle for use in hostage situations involving an armed suspect. The ARV will also be deployed for Active Shooter situations which I pray won't ever happen here on Kauai.

We (KPD) also contributed a portion of our allotment so that KFD [Kauai Fire Department] could get the helicopter which is used frequently to rescue our visitors and locals.

Though much of it sounds warm and friendly — disaster response, search-and-rescue — it can be used for much less benign purposes at KPD's discretion. As the ACLU noted:

Local police departments should develop their own internal policies calling for appropriate restraints on the use of SWAT and should avoid all training programs that encourage a “warrior” mindset.

Finally, the public has a right to know how law enforcement agencies are policing its communities and spending its tax dollars. The militarization of American policing has occurred with almost no oversight, and it is time to shine a bright light on the policies, practices, and weaponry that have turned too many of our neighborhoods into war zones.

Problem is, it's not that easy to obtain the info. 

In March 2012, when KPD was buying Tasers, I made a public records request for a copy of the department's policies regarding Use of Force and Electronic Control Devices (ECD). The document I received was heavily redacted, prompting me to file an appeal with the Office of Information Purposes. 

Though it took nearly two years for my request to work its way through the system, I did receive another copy of the document, with fewer redactions that the original. Some of it is protected under a court ruling that determined details of police policies that might "benefit those attempting to violate the law and avoid detection" should not be released. 

Still, information is missing on when an ECD should not be used, other than it should not be used to punish an individual, or if a person is “displaying resistance not rising to the level of an immediate threat to the officer(s) or another person.” Nor should it be used against a person by more than one officer at the same time, "unless it's justified and articulated" in various report forms.


No information is included on when or how KPD should use its Homeland Security gear. 

As the nation, and Congress, review the trend of sending military gear to small town police departments, It seems time for the Kauai community to have a discussion on what level of militarization and force is appropriate for the local cops before we have an incident, or an accident, another death and the inevitable lawsuit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Musings: 'Nuff Said

Kauai Mayoral Candidate Dustin Barca posted this on Instagram:
Upon reading it, another young man — a product of the same environment — said it made him think of this poem by Ikkyu:

Having created
The demon mind yourself
When it torments you mercilessly
You're to blame and no one else

When you do wrong
Our mind's the demon
There's no hell
To be found outside

Abominating hell
Longing for heaven
You make yourself suffer
In a joyful world

You think that good
Means hating what is bad
What's bad is
The hating mind itself.