Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Musings: Advancing an Agenda

The Hawaii County Council today will decide whether to pursue a legal appeal of its anti-GMO law, which was overturned last month by a federal judge on the same state pre-emption grounds that killed the Kauai GMO/pesticide regulatory bill.

Hawaii County Ordinance 13-121 banned the cultivation and open-air testing of any new genetically engineered (GE) crops, which would have effectively stifled research intended to help small lettuce and flower growers by developing disease-resistant varieties. Cattle ranchers also would have been prohibited from growing GE corn that would have allowed them to finish their livestock on-island, rather than sending them to mainland feedlots.

Seeing the bill as an attack on Big Island agriculture, the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Cattlemen's Council, Pacific Floral Exchange and farmers Richard Ha, Jason Moniz, Gordon Inouye and Eric Tanouye joined the Biotechnology Industry Association to successfully challenge its implementation.

But even though the appeal had broad-based support among the Big Island agricultural community, and the bill itself was passed in a contentious 6-3 vote of the County Council, mainland-based advocacy groups like Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety continue to falsely portray the legal issue as “chemical corporations undermine the will of the people.”

And they wonder why they are rapidly losing credibility in the state. Why not drop the bullshit, guys, and stick to the truth?

In its press release about the Hawaii County bill being overturned, CFS states:

Large biotechnology companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta experiment with genetically engineered crops in Hawai`i because it offers year round growing conditions. Most of these crops are engineered to resist herbicides and pesticides. Testing these crops means repeated spraying of dangerous chemicals near neighborhoods, schools, and waterways.

Except that isn't actually happening on the Big Island, where Rainbow papaya is the only commercially cultivated GE crop. And it was engineered to help farmers reduce pesticide use by creating a variety resistant to the ringspot virus that was devastating that industry.

CFS is also circulating a petition urging the Council to support an appeal that states:

A large body of evidence shows that GE crop operations in the State of Hawai‘i, their heavy pesticide use and industrial farming methods have direct and harmful impacts on soil, water and air quality, while contributing no edible crops to our local food supply.

Pray tell, where is that large body of evidence? Or even a teensy, tiny body of evidence? As for contributing no edible crops to our local food supply, what about papaya? Or all the small farmers who cultivate crops in the fallow seed fields, and depend on the companies to maintain the irrigation systems they share?

Buried in the second-to-last paragraph on the website hosting the petition, CFS states the real reason why it's here fomenting unrest in Hawaii. And it has nothing to do with protecting the Islands from poisons, and everything to do with advancing CFS's own national agenda (emphasis in the original):

The outcome of this case could affect all U.S. counties, because it is the first legal challenge to a county law of this kind. It is vital that the Hawai‘i County Council appeal the ruling and stand up for the rights of County to enact legislation to protect itself from the negative impact GE seed operations can have on agriculture and the environment.

CFS can't get any traction at the federal level, so it's trying to create case law in small, rural municipalities where gullible citizens are easily manipulated and misled using fear tactics and such “talking points” as “home rule." Never mind that they have no intention of granting such rights to the Molokai residents who overwhelming rejected the Maui County GMO moratorium initiative, which is also being challenged in the courts.

An email sent out by GMO Free Hawaii Island also contains such ludicrous contentions as:

Accepting the lower court decision means accepting that GMO contamination of conventional and organic farms is legal, legitimate, moral, and ok to do.

Accepting the lower Court decision amounts to a wonton disregard of the property property rights and health concerns of those who do not use or want GMO crops and plants.

Accepting the lower Court decision without opposition is a rejection of the state motto of Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono (The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.")
Uh, no. Accepting the federal court decision means this: Refusing to spend taxpayer money advancing the agenda of mainland advocacy groups.

Ironically, Hawaii CFS spokeswoman Ashley Lukens told me the other day that she was tired of the divisiveness and negativity that characterizes the anti-GMO movement in the Islands. 

Aren't we all. 

But so long as her boss, CFS Director Andrew Kimbrell, continues to rally the troops with his overblown, deceptive rhetoric, it's gonna be hard to mend fences.

Because the farmers, the local plant researchers, the average citizens, the reasonable politicians — they actually know the truth. And it's not what CFS and the anti-GMO fringe is claiming.
Click to enlarge "Pearls Before Swine"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Musings: Mulligan Stew

The Kauai County Council is going to “take a mulligan” on several key issues this Wednesday, including administrative salaries, trash collection fees and a new real property tax classification for seed companies.

First up will be a vote on overriding the mayor's veto of the “agronomics” Bill 2546, which would place seeds and any experimental crops into a separate category so they can be taxed higher than other agriculture. The bill narrowly passed in the last meeting of the old Council, only to be nixed by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. But now that the Council composition has shifted, it appears doubtful the veto can be overturned.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura is requesting the release of three legal opinions related to 2546, and new County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask is starting off on a transparent note by saying he has no objections to their release.

Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro, whose employer, Grove Farm, would be affected by the bill, is taking the high road, advising his colleagues that “out of an abundance of caution,” he intends to recuse himself from any discussion on the bill while awaiting an advisory opinion from the Board of Ethics on whether it's proper for him to discuss or vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, Ken Taylor testified last week that Arryl also should refrain from voting on Allan Parachini's appointment to the charter commission because Allan “spoke out favorably for the biotech industry,” which leases some land from Grove Farm.

Huh? Under that sketchy reasoning, Councilmen Gary Hooser and Mason Chock also should be prohibited from voting on Allan's appointment because they spoke out against the biotech industry.

Failed Council candidate/anti-GMO leader Felicia Cowden took the hypocrisy cake when she testified that Allan should be barred from the commission because “he has mostly been involved in areas of controversy” and “it's important also to be involved in areas of constructive community building.”

Mmm, isn't volunteering for a county commission an example of constructive community building? And serving on the Citizens Emergency Response Team? As opposed to, say, spewing divisive misinformation on KKCR talk shows.

And though Felicia said she felt many persons were better qualified, at the time Allan was appointed, there were no other applicants. Even now, there are only two others, and two seats are vacant.

Allan made it clear that while he has “taken a position at odds with a small number of people on this island,” he has no association, secret or otherwise, with the seed companies. That prompted Council Chair Mel Rapozo to note that he, too, had “been accused of being in the back pocket of the seed companies, which is entirely untrue.”

Funny how no one, including The Garden Island, has said a peep about Steven Long being re-appointed to the Kauai Historic Preservation Review Committee, even though he was behind so many of those bogus "unsubstantial improvement" renovations in the flood zone and numerous TVR applications that lacked proper documentation. 

The new Council also will be revisiting the residential refuse collection fees that were approved by a 5-1 vote of the old Council, and due to take effect July 1. Councilman Ross Kagawa, who was absent when the “pay as you throw” concept was approved last October, has introduced a bill that would scale back the fees.

Under Ross' proposed draft Bill 2568, the monthly cost for collecting three 32-gallon cans or one 96-gallon cart would be halved from $12 to $6, while the fee for picking up one 64-gallon cart or two 32-gallon cans would drop from $4 to $3. All property owners would still be assessed a $6 monthly fee to use transfer stations or the landfill.

While JoAnn and Gary supported the initial bill as an incentive to recycling, Mel said “pay as you throw” is a component of curbside recycling, and without that, it simply amounts to higher trash fees.

And the Council will take up administrative pay raises that were first proposed by the Salary Commission back in 2009, but never approved. That same salary schedule was endorsed again by a unanimous vote of the new Commission this past November.

JoAnn spoke against the increases at the commission's Nov. 10 meeting, saying the raises would strain the county's budget.

But Commission Vice Chair Randy Finlay noted the panel recommends pay for fewer than 50 persons “and if the County budget is under a strain from salaries, it is from the far larger number of employees, which are completely out of the Commission’s jurisdiction. Giving raises to this group of people will not affect the County budget."

Commissioner Charlie King also pointed out that administrative salaries have been effectively frozen for five years.

According to the meeting minutes:

The Commissioners made special note that they were not giving department heads and deputies a 7% salary increase, but rather only setting maximum salary caps. Discussion ensued as to whether the 7% should be done in a two-step process whereby most Commissioners felt after five years that 7% was reasonable. This 7% should not be looked at as an increase, but rather as a restoration of salaries.

JoAnn also again made the allegation, which I disproved back in December 2010, that the late Peter Nakamura had received an “illegal” pay raise while working as County Clerk. Geez, JoAnn, Peter passed away a year ago. Give it up already and show a little respect for his amazing record of public service.

The proposed pay scale is:

Mayor $122,504; Managing Director $117,911; County Engineer $114,848; Deputy County Engineer $105,660; Director of Finance $114,848; Deputy Director of Finance $105,660; County Attorney $114,848; First Deputy County Attorney $105,660; Deputy County Attorney $101,066; Prosecuting Attorney $114,848; First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney $105,660; Deputy Prosecuting Attorney $101,066; Director of Human Resources $114,848; Chief of Police $114,848; Deputy Chief of Police $105,660; Planning Director $114,848; Deputy Planning Director $105,660; Manager and Chief Engineer, Department of Water $114,848.

This link will show you the existing salaries, and how they've changed since 2007.

Ironically, the Council is also set to discuss a settlement of auditor Ernie Pasion's questionable lawsuit against the county. And therein lies the real drag on the county budget: big salaries — Ernie is paid $114,848, even though he's not a CPA  and can't actually conduct any audits — for people who not qualified for their positions and settlements approved for shibai complaints.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Musings: Moral Quicksand

The horrible revelations contained within the Senate Intelligence Report on the CIA Use of Torture are extreme examples of what can happen when people decide that the ends justify the means.

That moral slippery slide is being used right now by some Congressmen to justify and excuse actions that any conscionable person would consider absolutely and unequivocally wrong.

Things like physical and mental torture, secret payments to nations in exchange for establishing dungeons within their borders, doctors and psychologists complicit in harming the bodies and souls of prisoners in their care, agents hushed when they tried to question or stop the abuse, millions spent trying to hide the records from Senate investigators.

Yet still we hear people like Sen. Lindsey Graham say, well, yeah, but it's still not as terrible as what the Islamic nations are doing. As in, cutting off someone's head with a knife on video is worse than nearly drowning them dozens of times.

Sorry, but neither side can claim any moral high ground in that debate.

And now come the efforts to spin and deny — it wasn't really that bad; the Democrats are trying to make it look worse than it really was; yes, we tortured, but we didn't inflate the “value” of the program; and in any case, we were fighting the truly guys, so they don't deserve any sympathy.

There are parallels to be drawn here to the GMO-pesticide debate in Hawaii, with the antis playing the role of righteous, victimized America and the multinational chemical corps demonized like Islamic nations.

Of course, the antis would never see themselves as such. In fact, most would shudder at any comparison between them and the American oligarchy, much less the CIA.

But in fact, they used many of the same strategies to advance their agenda that were used to launch the “war on terror,” including fear-mongering, misinformation, outright propaganda, scapegoating, polarization, a “with us or against us” mentality and over-inflating both the dangers local communities are facing and the efficacy of their actions.

And all the while portraying themselves as the good fighting the bad.

Just like the failed “war on terror,” their own campaign continues unabated, as evidenced by yesterday's attack on Kauai Charter Commission nominee Allan Parachini, who dared to question the anti's movement, and hysterical commentaries like the one written by Fern Rosenstiel in Civil Beat today.

Fern begins by blaming the seed companies for fear-mongering, while never taking responsibility for engaging in the very same actions herself. Just as anti-GMO leader Felicia Cowden never saw the irony in testifying yesterday against Parachini's appointment, saying he “should have participated in constructive, community building efforts” though the antis themselves never mastered that.

Introspection is not a strong suit among the anti-GMO/pesticide contingent, just as it isn't among certain Congressional apologists and CIA spooks. 

Which is why they both keep finger-pointing, blaming and excusing their own bad behavior under the guise that their enemies are worse than they are, and anyway, the ends justify the means.

And all the while they're sinking in moral quicksand, even as they believe they're on high ground.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Musings: Crimes and Punishment

Who woulda thunk Judge Randal Valenciano was such a softie?

Hapless addicts, downtrodden kanaka, repentant repeat offenders — none of them faze him. But let “Diamond” Eddie Ben-Dor come a-cryin' and a-whinin' about how the big bad county was nailing him with civil and criminal penalties for his illegal vacation rental and the tiny tyrant got all a-tremble with indignation.

Why it's “an injustice” to ding poor Eddie twice, the judge sniffed. It's “extortion” to demand criminal and civil fines for a misdemeanor zoning violation stemming from Eddie's illegal TVR on Weke Road in Hanalei.

Oh, my, such a dreadful hardship for a diamond merchant/developer who was renting his place for $5,800 per week in the low season.

But since Eddie pled no contest, the judge had to do something. So yesterday morning he ordered Eddie to pay $1,055 in criminal fines and court fees, then turned around and ordered the county to return the $2,000 civil fine that Eddie had already paid.

WTF? The county finally grows a pair and with the help of Prosecutor Justin Kollar starts taking a tough stance on serious scofflaws who never even bothered to get a TVR permit. But rather than support them — or better yet, set a strong example by sending Eddie's ass to jail — Valenciano hangs the county and OPA out to dry.

And then later that day, the judge rescinded his order to make the county repay the civil fine it had collected. He offered no explanation for his reversal. So Eddie was fined a total of $3,055 for operating illegally for years.

Eddie, who conveniently was living under a rock during the years that the TVR permitting process was under way, claimed he thought his TVR was permitted. He also claimed he pulled his website and stopped operating once he got the planning department's cease and desist. But as I previously reported, his TVR was still listed on Flipkey last August 14 — after he had been charged with the misdemeanor offense — and booked right through the Christmas holidays.

What's more the four-bedroom, three-bath, sleeps-12 TVR was billed as having two full kitchens and two living rooms, and offered as a multi-family rental, which is also illegal. As its ad stated:

The house can also be broken into smaller private suites to fit parties of all sizes.” The full house rents for $5,800/week during the low season, while the Plumeria, Gardenia and Hibiscus suites average $2,000 per week.

Now Eddie's trying to get that illegal multi-family TVR approved as a B&B instead. The county properly turned him down, but he appealed to the planning commission. I'll report on that after I have a chance to watch yesterday's commission hearing.

Meanwhile, Charter Commission nominee Allan Parachini was raked over the coals in The Garden Island today by "reporter" Chris D'Angelo. Splashy top of the fold coverage, no less.

And why? Because failed Council candidate Felicia Cowden, who praised Chris on Facebook for covering Bill 2491 in a style favorable to the anti-GMO red-shirts, doesn't like Allan.

Mmmm, who gives a rip what Felicia thinks? Is that worthy of a story that claims "some say" when only one disgruntled person does? Especially since she wrote her own nasty letter to the editor, which is printed today under a headline that inexplicably describes him as a "recent arrival," even though her letter makes no reference to that. 

When was the last time you saw any TGI coverage of commission nominees, much less 30 inches worth?

Felicia dug up some old, discredited dirt, which Chris rehashed, in a pathetic attempt to tarnish Allan's character.

She then moved on to his true sins: He — gasp — criticized her Council campaign and the anti-GMO movement. And in the lock-step world of the red-shirts, anyone who is not 100% with them is obviously in the employ of the seed companies, if not the Devil.

Except Allan isn't.

Felicia claimed Allan's “alignment with Kauai’s chemical seed industry has been clear with his championing the industry while disparaging the concerned citizens with false presumptive statements — as fact — in our newspaper.“ You know. Like what she just did to him.

In the article, Felicia is quoted as saying Allan has  “shown strong alignment with the companies seeking to suppress public participation in the democratic process.”

Once again, this underscores the myopic thinking of the “red shirts,” who believe that successfully suing to challenge a flawed law is somehow undermining the democratic process.

No. It's called following the rule of law, which is part and parcel of the democratic process.

Here's the real reason why Felicia doesn't want Allan: She knows she doesn't have a prayer of getting elected unless the Charter Commission approves Council districts, and she can't count on Allan to make that happen.

So she went crying to Chris, who obliged her with a hatchet job on poor Allan, who dares to be an independent thinker on an island of red-shirted sheeple.

Now aren't you glad you didn't vote Felicia onto the Council?

But watch Councilman Gary Hooser pick up her rallying cry.

Because stunted minds think alike.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Musings: Cry Babies

The anti-agriculture movement in Hawaii is akin to a group of spoiled toddlers: give them what they beg for, and still they want more, throwing temper tantrums when things don't go exactly their way.

A perfect example is the Mahaulepu dairy on Kauai. Opponents demanded an EIS, even though none was required. Hawaii Dairy Farms acquiesced, despite having gotten the green light from the state Department of Health for its animal feeding operation, and county building permits.

As we all know, an EIS includes scientific studies and opportunities for public comment, as well as a process for revising the plan in response to those studies and comments. HDF even agreed to let the DOH serve as the reviewing agency for its EIS.

But no. That is not enough. Just two weeks after HDF agreed to the EIS, the opponents mounted another attack. This time, they've made it plain that their call for an EIS was just a delaying tactic, and they have no intention of accepting its findings (unless they're bad).

Our clear goal is to work from every angle possible to persuade this operation that a dairy of this size is wrong for this location,” Koloa resident and group member Bridget Hammerquist, an outspoken opponent of HDF’s plan, wrote in an email.

So in other words, HDF is just wasting its time and money on an EIS, because Bridget and her pals will never be convinced that the dairy is anything but totally unacceptable. It doesn't matter what the scientific studies may show, or if other citizens support the dairy. They in their ultimate wisdom already know best.

Hammerquist said the Friends of Mahaulepu group wants there to be no doubts about the level of concern by residents, visitors and business.

Believe me, Bridget, none of us have any doubts about how freaked out you are by a fricking dairy, since Chris D'Angelo has dutifully reported your every speculation and unsubstantiated allegation. In fact, we are so aware of your continually uttered concerns that many of us would like to say, “STFU already and let the process YOU demanded work.”

Of course, we also now have no doubts that you folks are entirely unreasonable, and will be satisfied with nothing less than a total shut down, regardless of what the EIS reveals.

How are agricultural enterprises supposed to deal with this sort of dishonesty, these bad faith negotiating tactics? How are they supposed to work with people who have absolutely no intention of budging a bit? How are they supposed to present facts to people who prefer to trade in anecdotes, speculation and fear?

Is it any wonder that ag interests throw up their hands and say, fuck it, or else head straight to court? Meanwhile, the very same groups keep crying for sustainability, more local food production. But be sure to factor in millions of dollars for unnecessary litigation and environmental studies, and stay far, far away from their backyards — even though they did buy houses on or adjacent to agricultural land.

Oh, and don't forget their repeated calls for more “local control,” by which they mean only they, the opponents, should have any say in what goes down.

Which is why groups on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island will be waving their signs tomorrow afternoon to show how unhappy they are with the pre-emption rulings that have already overturned the crappy anti-GMO laws they pushed through on Kauai and Big Island, and how upset they are that Monsanto and DOW are challenging the equally flawed GMO moratorium on Maui.

They never mention that small farmers also joined the lawsuits on Maui and Big Island — to do so would challenge their mantra that it's them against the corporations, instead of them against their neighbors.

Some of their complaints don't even make sense:

"It is unacceptable that the citizens of Maui passed a GMO Moratorium and Dow and Monsanto did an end run around us," explained Autumn Ness of Maui United. "This is yet another incident of the government over-riding the citizens and it has people very upset."

Let me get this straight. Private businesses exercise their legal right to challenge a law and that is an example of government over-riding the citizens?

Of course, the rule of law doesn't matter, or if it does, it's only supposed to apply to them, not the other guys.

And though the Maui opponents are screaming for home rule, they somehow don't think the same should be granted to the residents of Molokai, who overwhelmingly rejected the moratorium.

Like I said, it's the mentality of a two-year-old: I want what I want and I want it now and if you don't give it to me, I'll scream and yell and hold my breath until I'm blue in the face because no one matters but me.

Fine. Go right ahead and cry yourself out. We'll just step over you while you're prostrate and blubbering on the floor.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Musings: Monday Mixed Plate

Bill Tam, deputy director of the state Department of Natural Resources, recently opined in a meeting that substituting imported foods is so important, the state should not lease lands to any growers who export produce to the U.S. mainland.

Mmm, maybe the state should start by looking at ways to help Hawaii farmers succeed in producing for the local market. Like addressing one of the big problems farmers face: the high cost of importing animal feed, fertilizer and soil inputs. And that leads us to the Jones Act and the shipping monopoly it perpetuates. As a friend noted:

Hawaii became viable for sugar planters when they got a Reciprocity Treaty. That remains our problem today -- reciprocity with a great and powerful continent doing business with the most isolated island archipelago on the planet. Don't expect any help from our congressional delegation. They're in bed with A&B, Matson, the ILWU and the League of Conservation Voters.

And so the dysfunctional state staggers on....

In related news, a senior United Nations official is predicting that all of the world's topsoil could be depleted within 60 years if current rates of soil depletion and degradation continue.  Soil destruction accelerates as the world gets hotter and the population grows, creating a vicious circle. But hey, let's not dwell on this heavy, doomsday stuff. Isn't Kim Kardashian wearing a new dress or something?

Speaking of money, the county is in the market for a new Finance Director, since current Director Steve Hunt is returning to his former position as head of the department's real property division, effective Jan. 1. According to county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka, the move is coming at Steve's request, since he always intended to serve only through the mayor's first term.

 Hmmm. Will former director Mike Tresler, now with Grove Farm, be returning to his old post?

Meanwhile, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.'s veto of the “agronomics” bill, which would have created a special real property tax classification for the seed companies, will be laid on the table at a special Council meeting on Wednesday. However, no vote will be taken at that time on whether to override or sustain the veto.

The “agronomics” bill was approved at the last meeting of the old Council, along with the amended shoreline setback bill, which includes the “brightline exemption” added by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura. The exemption inexplicably allows certain properties on rocky coastlines, such as Omidyar's Hanalei Ridge project, to skip the shoreline review process.

The mayor did sign the shoreline bill into into law, even though it's sloppy, contradictory, confusing and arbitrary — yet another Kauai law that is a litigating lawyer's dream. In this day and age, any reduction in coastal setbacks is crazy — unless the lure of new real property tax revenues blinds county officials to the hazards they're creating.

The shoreline bill was pushed hard by current and past employees of Sea Grant, whose previous head is a close friend and prior colleague of Eric Crispin, vice president of Ohana Hanalei, the company developing the Ridge project. Sea Grant also required its own employee, Adam Asquith, to help with the Ohana Hanalei fish pond design. Something sure smells stink...

In a classic case of manipulated circular thinking, Councilman Gary Hooser fed discredited blogger Andy Parx bad info for a post criticizing Council Chair Mel Rapozo's rule changes. New blogger Loren Kohnfelder then used Andy's erroneous post a source for his own post, which Gary is now promoting. Spin, baby, spin.

The Garden Island has its own credibility problems. In an article and opinion piece on the $10,000 it's contributed to the monk seal murder reward, TGI laughably lauded itself for “editorial excellence” before stating:

A newspaper’s job is to report the news.

Indeedy. So why are TGI's pages packed with fluff and puff, while the real news is typically MIA? For example, TGI has yet to write about the formation of the GMO/pesticide fact-finding group, even though the issue is one of the biggest in the state, the story has been picked up by Honolulu media and group members are now being vetted.

As for the sicko monk seal killer, while most of us do want to see him apprehended — yes, I'm certain it's a “him” — and money can make people talk, TGI would serve the community far more by spending that $10,000 to upgrade its editorial efforts.

Fern Rosenstiel — amusingly identifying herself as an "environmental scientist" — has a letter to the editor properly blaming ignorance and false information for the polarization over the seal. Ironically, she lacks the insight to recognize how that also applies to the disinformation campaign she and her allies mounted to turn folks against the seed companies. 

Too bad Dustin Barca — Fern's Ohana O Kauai cohort — didn't use his mayoral run to advocate protection and respect for the seal, and instead of nearly running one over as he launched his canoe. Wonder what's happening with the NOAA investigation into that incident, which is considered a "take."

Kudos to reporter Darin Moriki, though, for reporting on a critical issue: the successful efforts of southside residents, many of them elderly, to prevent the proliferation of vacation rentals in their neighborhood around Whaler's Cove.

Meanwhile, prepare for the next wave of resort housing in residential neighborhoods as illegal TVR owners attempt to convert their properties to B&Bs. First up, that poor lil' diamond merchant Eddie Ben-Dor, whose sad plight will be detailed in tomorrow's post.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Musings: That Vision Thang

A friend emailed me a link to a piece on chicken torture, with the subject line “ick” and a one-word comment: “disgusting.”

It seems a farmer on contract to Perdue had “an attack of conscience” and invited an animal rights group to come in and document how poorly he treats his chickens. It was all rather odd, because the farmer, who has been raising chickens according to Perdue's specifications since 1992, wasn't portrayed as feeling guilty about his own role in the abuse.

No. He was bothered more by the company's marketing lies, as in its false claims that Perdue chickens were treated humanely.

And it struck me as yet another example of how we love to blame the corporations, while never taking responsibility for our own role in the documented ugliness of the modern food system. As in our insatiable demand for chicken tenders, nuggets, sandwiches, buffalo wings, deboned thighs and breasts, grilled on rotisseries or hulihuli style — available 24/7, at the lowest possible price,.

Which is not to say it's OK treat chickens or any livestock badly — it's absolutely not — or for corporate advertisers to exaggerate, distort and outright lie — i.e., use the most common tools of their trade.

But we, the all-powerful consumers, make choices every single day in how we spend our money and time, how we respond to marketing, what we are willing to ignore for the sake of convenience, low-cost and satisfying our (often manipulated) desires.

The way we treat chickens is just another symptom of our denial about what a consumer-driven society fully entails, how we're actually living in this world, what things truly cost, beyond dollars and cents, what it really means to keep this dysfunctional system going.

Which leads me to a blog post by Luke Evslin, who expressed dismay about the lack of vision expressed by the current Council. Luke wrote:

Council Chair Rapozo's inaugural address was a clear statement that our island's systemic issues will continue to go unmentioned. Maybe my expectations were too high or I'm naive and idealistic, but I was hoping his speech would provide an outline for more than clean park bathrooms, quality performance audits, and support for burning trash as a solution to our landfill problem. The stark realism of that depressing priority list was topped off by his number one commitment for the county of Kaua'i: the re-surfacing of Puhi road.

Road maintenance is a basic county service, not a bargaining chip or an achievement. In just four years we traded in the grand and sweeping vision of Mayor Carvalho's Holoholo 2020, which included expanded bus service, a north and south shore shuttle, and green affordable housing for the stark fiscal realism of Council Chair Rapozo's vision of re-surfacing a road. Obviously the road needs to be paved, but, by promoting it as priority #1 our council chair is relegating our county government to just fulfilling basic services.

There are several points to be made here.

First, in 27 years of covering the Kauai County Council, I can't ever recall that body moving forward with any vision, lofty or otherwise. That vision thang has typically been the purview of the mayor, who then seeks Council support in the form of funding. If the Council and mayor have a good working relationship — and it seems Bernard Carvalho Jr. is taking steps to make that happen — the mayor's vision can become reality.

Second, when Kauai County has not yet mastered the art of providing its residents and visitors with the basics of good roads, clean park bathrooms and solid waste disposal, how can it be expected to articulate, much less execute, any sort of progressive vision?

Third, Mel's cautious, nuts-and-bolts agenda is yet another bit of blowback from the regressively progressive “vision” that was pushed by Councilman Gary Hooser and former Councilman Tim Bynum. The last Council was actually a very good one — until Gary and Tim went off on their own vision quest, which they then tried to shove down the throats of their colleagues and the public.

Their vision of Kauai as a trend-setter in restricting the chem/seed companies, and themselves as leading a grassroots rebellion proved delusional, divisive, expensive, distracting and ultimately fatally flawed. Tim lost his re-election bid, Gary barely made seventh and their two piece of legislation have died.

Meanwhile, a majority of voters — as evidenced by Mel's overwhelming victory — indicated they have no stomach for the Council as visionaries, especially when it costs them money and prevents the Council from achieving such mundane, but essential, services as paving roads and cleaning park bathrooms.

Luke writes:

What about a government that works to increase economic freedom, enables environmental protection, and fights for Kaua'i residents to retain their way of life? Nope, let's let the market take care of that while the government focuses on paving roads and cleaning bathrooms.

Or what about citizens who work to increase economic opportunities, and protect the environment and the Kauai lifestyle?

Much as we resist the idea, governments and corporations are direct reflections of us as individuals, and as a society.

We can shake our heads in disgust at the sordid chicken houses, the squabbling County Council, and blame the politicians, the corporations, for their lack of a better vision, the many wrongs in the world.

Or we can take responsibility for the systems we create and contribute to, pursue our own visions and work for meaningful change at both an individual and societal level.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mayor Vetoes "Agronomics" Bill

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has vetoed the “agronomics” bill that would have created a separate real estate tax classification for the seed companies.

Given the makeup of the new Council, a veto override appears unlikely. The bill, introduced by defeated Councilman Tim Bynum, was passed by a 4-2 vote at the last meeting of the old Council, with Councilmen Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa opposed and Jay Furfaro absent.

In a letter to Council Chair Rapozo, the mayor said that in taking the oath of office on Dec. 1, he was sworn to uphold the state Constitution, which calls for protecting agricultural land and diversified agriculture.

"After studying the bill, it is my conclusion that it does not achieve these goals and in fact impedes the promotion and expansion of diversified agriculture on Kauai,” he wrote.

The mayor characterized the bill as “poorly crafted" and said it "disincentivizes certain forms of agricultural production, and would be difficult and costly to implement and enforce.”

He went on to write that key terms in the bill are not clearly defined “and do not reflect the regulatory realities that currently exist at the federal and state levels of government.” The mayor also pointed out that “the majority of the crop acreage which this bill appears to target is not regulated by the federal government.”

The bill specifically references crops regulated by the federal government in an effort to single out GMO and experimental crops.

Furthermore, since some of the companies are subleasing land to others and growing cover crops used for grazing, “this bill would also effectively raise property taxes on ranchers and smaller farmers growing crops such as green beans, ginger and sweet potatoes,” the mayor wrote.

“This point underscores the fact that these companies are part of our diversified agricultural mix, and provide valuable agricultural benefits to Kauai beyond their core business of growing seed crops,” the mayor wrote. “In addition to working cooperatively with farmers and ranchers, they maintain agricultural infrastructure such as roads and irrigation systems which fell into disrepair following the demise of the sugar plantations.”

The mayor concluded the bill would be “detrimental to our efforts to expand agricultural opportunities for all types of farming on Kauai” and the financial benefits would not justify either the costs to administer it or the impacts on agriculture.

“We look forward to continued partership with the council, along with our ranchers and farmers, on how we can create opportunities for support and expansion of diversified agriculture on our island,” the mayor wrote in his final paragraph.

Musings: Controlled Opposition

Now that statewide media (except The Garden Island) are picking up a story I broke Saturday on the creation of a Kauai pesticide/GMO study group, it's already becoming clear that facts aren't a core issue for some folks.

Take Ashley Lukens, head of the mainland-based Center for Food Safety office in Hawaii. Hawaii News Now reported her as saying:

I only think the joint fact finding process makes sense if it's a part of a much larger process that includes modest regulations for pesticide use.

In other words, it doesn't matter what the facts actually are in terms of pesticide drift and exposure, she and her pals — including Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser — already have their minds made up that more regulations are needed.

But curiously, only modest ones, and only to be imposed on the seed companies, not other pesticide users. They're laying out certain outcomes, even before the “meta question” is answered: Are people actually being harmed from pesticides being sprayed by GMO companies? And if they are, shouldn't there be more than “modest” regulations imposed?

Fortunately, however, the panel is going to look beyond just agriculture, to pesticide use in termite treatment, golf courses and other uses.

Ashley told reporter Keoki Kerr that her group wants buffer zones around schools — which the Kauai seed companies already have created voluntarily — and that a year is too long to wait for the panel's results. Well then gee, maybe you should've started with the studies, Ashley, instead of going straight for the legislation, which is falling like dominoes.

Unless, of course, that was the goal all along.

Meanwhile, some folks are trying to discredit federal Judge Barry Kurren, who is ruling on the GMO litigation because back in 2011 his wife was a trustee of The Nature Conservancy, which received contributions from DOW and Monsanto, along with many other groups and individuals. Many of them are also donors to the Center for Food Safety, including Goldman Sachs and oil heiress Anne Getty Earhart, who has a house on Kauai.

The anti-GMO groups tend to use two strategies: spread false information while resisting efforts to obtain the facts; and claiming that anyone who disagrees with them is a paid shill for biotech

But it's OK for them to be paid shills, like Ashley Lukens. Or her boss, Andrew Kimbrell, who made nearly $279,000 in 2012. Yet they'll keep asking you for more dough, ostensibly to fight the bad guys.

Still, they keep losing — because they're “controlled opposition.” A comment was left on a previous post that underscores what I've been saying for over a year now about how the whole BS anti-GMO movement played out in Hawaii:

there can be no meaningful mass movement when dissent is generously funded by those same corporate interests which are the target of the protest movement.

There never was any big swell of resistance in Hawaii. The election results proved that. It was all made-up, manufactured, to pass crappy bills and achieve a result that never would have been obtained in the Legislature: statewide pre-emption.

In other words, ya'll been snookered — especially those of you who gave your money and votes to Gary Hooser, who is a major player in this charade.

Which brings me back to the inaugural County Council meeting, where members were immediately forced to pick sides over both the Council chair and its rules. A friend said he left the meeting feeling disgusted with both sides, characterizing it as “a reality TV show with artificial drama for the benefit of the audience.”

I don't think any of us want to return to the days when Kaipo Asing ruled the Council with an iron fist, stifling dissent and preventing bills from getting on the agenda. But it was bad form for Gary to start the session by accusing Chair Mel Rapozo of planned totalitarianism. Instead he should've waited until he actually couldn't get a bill introduced, and then gone public. Now that Mel is on the record as saying he won't squelch legal bills, there shouldn't be a problem.

Hopefully the Council will find ways to mend fences — Arryl Kaneshiro and Mason Chock were particularly diplomatic — and focus on true county business.

And finally, HECO just got purchased by a huge mainland outfit known as NextEra, which owns Florida Power and Light. Which should you make you glad that Kauai has its own little cooperative.

Meanwhile, oil and gas prices keep falling, which is great when you're filling up your tank or paying your KIUC electric bill.

But how is that going to encourage people to conserve, convert from fossil fuels, in order to address climate change?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Musings: Business Like

If the inaugural meeting of the Kauai County Council meeting was any indication, it's going to be a scratchy two years for that panel.

Or as one observer described it, “a shit show.”

Councilman Mel Rapozo introduced new rules intended to make the meetings more cost efficient,  with better order and decorum, which rankled Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Gary Hooser.

JoAnn said she had planned to vote for Mel as chair — until he refused to give JoAnn her way, which would be to keep defeated Chair Jay Furfaro's rules in place until Mel's proposed new rules could be hashed out at great length.

JoAnn, who is known for her protracted – some would say ad nauseum — comments, said she was concerned the chair would be limiting Council debate and discussion. But is that necessarily a bad thing, when Councilmembers blather on and repeat themselves?

Gary, who characterized the rules as anti-democratic, showed how democratic he is by employing a bit of blackmail: If Mel agreed to put off a vote on rules for two weeks, he would support him as chair. Otherwise, he wouldn't. Like Mel needed Gary's vote.

Councilman KipuKai Kualii came to Mel's defense, saying voters had told them they wanted the Council to “be more efficient, get more business done in our meetings and be more fiscally responsible.” For JoAnn and Gary to talk stink about Mel “lacks aloha, especially on a day like today.”

Ross Kagawa, who was elected vice chair, said he also was “quite disappointed by the statements. Councilman Rapozo has a lot of respect and experience speaking for the small guys.” Both he and Councilman Mason Chock said they'd be willing to discuss changes to Mel's rules in the future if people have concerns.

Mel said voters had told him “they'd stopped watching the meetings already. It goes on too long, people ramble,” and when the meetings drag on, they become very expensive. Mel also objected to claims that he was trying to reduce public testimony time, noting that citizens in Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii counties get just three minutes to speak, while his rules give Kauai folks six minutes.

And he flat-out rejected Gary's claim that the new rules would limit his ability to put bills on the agenda.

To insinuate I would withhold a bill for the Council that's legal and defensible is unfair,” Mel said. “Because I would never do that. It's all about building trust.”

In the end, everyone voted for Mel and his proposed rules, except JoAnn and Gary, who were left out in the cold.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.. meanwhile, signaled a conciliatory approach with the Council. Using the metaphor of a hukilau — cooperative fishing project — to express the need to “move forward in harmony,” he spoke of joining Mel and Ross to “bring the bountiful catch to shore together.”

Contrast that to this paranoiac post from defeated mayoral candidate Dustin Barca, who discovered, all of a sudden, that nobody really cares what he has to say. Or maybe the whole anti-GMO thing is running out of steam? 
Meanwhile, the oft-touted ideal of a small, sustainable family farm is moving further from reality as agricultural technology advances.

As an article in the New York Times points out, family farms are surviving by getting bigger and embracing the kind of technology that only the largest operations can afford:

Equipment makers like John Deere and AGCO, for example, have covered their planters, tractors and harvesters with sensors, computers and communications equipment. A combine equipped to harvest a few crops cost perhaps $65,000 in 2000; now it goes for as much as $500,000 because of the added information technology.

The technology helps the farms to be more productive, which helps them successfully compete with giant agribusinesses. It also allows them to more accurately plow fields and apply fertilizer, water and pesticides only when and where they're needed — all of which benefits the environment.

A prototype weeding robot, which may use “infrared data to help identify weeds it then plucks” could be in the fields next spring, helping to reduce pesticide use.

But the drones, sensors, self-driving tractors, GPS satellite data and cloud computing are most cost-effective when applied to single crops grown at the largest possible scale, which isn't conducive to crop diversity or small-scale growers who are being left behind as farm technology surges ahead.

The story profiles Kip Tom, a seventh-generation Midwest farmer whose family's holdings have increased from 700 acres in the 1970s to 20,000 acres today. Some of that land has been acquired from other family farmers that couldn't hold on.

In the past, “a farmer with 1,000 acres could make a good living,” Mr. Tom said. “I’m not sure that’s going to last.”

His 84-year-old mother adds another perspective:

Too many people don’t think farming is a business,” Ms. Tom said. “When we were first married, I told my husband, ‘You don’t ever go to town dirty; that’s what those people think farmers are.' We’re a business, and if you don’t keep up, you get left behind for good.”

Note to Gary and JoAnn: Government is a business, too.