Monday, March 22, 2010

Hamakua Land Tour: Ag Land? Really?

I'm still pondering West Hawaii Today's story last Thursday, about the two prospective buyers who toured the Hamakua properties that the county wants to sell. Members of the Kenoi administration have repeatedly told me that the land is expected to remain in agriculture, since it was zoned that way -- though finance director Nancy Crawford did say that it depended on one's definition of "agriculture."

"Is a gentleman farmer a farmer?" she asked.

But the two prospective buyers, Marc Mishkin of Ka'u and Joe Steinbach of Colorado, don't exactly sound like farmers. To quote Nancy Cook Lauer's article, for instance:

"Steinbach and Mishkin were more interested in the smaller parcels than the more mauka larger ones, and they seemed satisfied that some of the smaller ones offered ocean views that made the land desirable..."

Huh? Since when did an ocean view make a parcel more desirable as farmland? Do orange trees produce better if they can see the ocean? Do dracaena or mac nuts or coffee trees or corn grow taller so they can peer over the heads of their neighbors at that gorgeous blue water?

At least, according to Lauer, the prospective buyers did as "question related to what kind of fruit trees or crops the land would support." But they also asked "when the ocean-view blocking eucalyptus trees would be harvested."

A farmer would have been more concerned with whether the trees blocked sunlight from hitting his soil in the early morning or late afternoon.

Kenoi and his minions have argued that one reason to sell to sell the lands, which have been nothing but weeds since the county acquired them, is to get them back into production. But if at least one of the two prospective buyers has the winning bid, it's apt to stand idle for quite a while longer.

"We're looking at holding onto the land a couple of years, at least," said Mishkin, according to the article; he admitted to Lauer that "Investment is his primary interest."

In other words, Mishkin is a land speculator, pure and simple: he wants to buy the land cheap from the county and sell it at a big markup, as other speculators have done in the past. As Councilmember Dominic Yagong has pointed out, the county sold one such parcel, adjacent to Mud Lane in Hamakua, for $1.3 million. Then the county improved Mud Lane, substantially increasing the land's value.

"Within a few months, that thing was on the market for six or seven million dollars," Yagong said.

The taxpayers were out the cost of a major road job, and the speculator was in the black by an five or six hundred percent.

And there are no covenants in the County's Purchase And Sale Agreement for the lands that would restrict the new owner from rezoning the property to put in another subdivision, once the price of real estate starts going back up.

Is anybody else's shibai alarm going off?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Susan Decker, 1952-2010

My ex-wife, Susan Decker, passed away from cancer last week. She is survived by her parents, Wayne and Jane Decker, and our son, Aidan John McNarie, 13.

Susan came with me to Hawaii 21 years ago, when we were a promising young "power couple": I'd just gotten my PhD in English and had been hired by UH-Hilo, and she was a new-minted attorney. She got a job at the prosecutor's office here, and got a quick lesson in racism and realpolitick, island-style: her boss there told her she needed to be "more Japanese," and her brash, direct style didn't set well with the local bureaucrats and secretaries. I well remember going to Christmas parties at the prosecutor's office where de facto segregation was the unspoken norm: in one room would be gathered attorneys with Japanese last names and a few token Caucasians (usually with Japanese-American spouses), while in another room, a smaller group would collect consisting of everyone else: Portuguese, Hawaiians, women.... Of course, Susan didn't last there. So she decided to open her own law office.

Meanwhile, over at the university, I wasn't doing much better. For the first time in my life, I was getting bad reviews from my superiors on my teaching. I wouldn't learn, until later, some of the politics behind those reviews.... But I kept at it for five years, because Susan and I had both fallen in love with this island and its people and I wanted to give her time for her law office to get established. When the handwriting on the wall at the university was clear, I worked out a deal with Susan, where I would work half-time as a paralegal at her independent law office and spend the other half on my writing.

Susan had decided to specialize in family law, especially family violence cases: a branch of law for which, unfortunately, there was an enormous need on this island. I'd already become aware of that need when I was a professor; I'd had to deal with students who couldn't complete their assignments on time because their significant others had come home drunk and forced the family to flee the house. And I'd seen the scourge first-hand as well; at the first apartment we'd rented in Hilo, the woman next door would go into screaming rages at least twice a week and start throwing dishes at her spouse; we could hear the impact of them shattering against the walls. At the next house where we lived, I was home writing one day when I heard shouting; I looked out the window and saw a man drag his spouse from their pickup truck, knock her to the ground and begin kicking her while their young son ran away down the street. I called the police. An officer didn't arrive until a half-hour later, when the incident was already over. He went up and knocked on the door; the abuser answered and spoke briefly with the officer, who then left without ever seeing the victim.

I've never seen a robbery, a burglary, a car theft or a murder. But I've personally witnessed at least six cases of domestic assault.

I quickly found out that my job at Susan's law office could not be done half-time. There was always an affidavit to fill out or an emergency restraining order to file, and it had to be done right and done right now, because somebody's life was potentially at stake. I became very good at helping battered clients tell their stories to the court through affidavits. I never became good at some of the other skills required by the profession. But the jobs all had to be done. We'd spend 8-12 hours a day at the office, and then go home, where I'd often work until 3 or 4 a.m. on my writing.

The stories that had to be told in those affidavits were often horrifying. I documented the sodomizing of children and the breaking of women's bones. Sometimes, after recording a particularly gruesome affidavit, I'd have to go out on the lanai of the law office building and mentally put myself back together. And those stories were still going on, even as the affidavits were being filed. Abusers did not let go easily; they continued to mess with their victims all through the divorce process, and even afterward. And some local attorneys, unfortunately, were gleeful participants, prolonging the fights and milking both parties for every penny of their assets.

Susan wasn't anywhere near the top of her class in law school, but she plunged into that battle with everything she had. We lost some heartbreaking cases, but we also extracted children from the clutches of a stepfather who'd been "sharing" them with other pedophiles, and helped a woman recover a daughter from an abusive ex who'd fled the state with the girl, and helped many women to just get out of nightmarish situations. Sometimes those clients got involved with other abusers; old mental habits are hard to break. Sometimes the abusers continued to stalk their exes. Sometimes, after the divorce, the abuser would charm his (or her; abuse isn't always a male thing) way back into his ex's life, and the whole thing would start again. But every once in a while, everything would go right, and the circle of abuse was broken. We couldn't win the war, but sometimes we could help an individual to escape it.

Unfortunately, those most in need of help were often the least able to pay, and Susan ran her law office more like a crusade than a business. The war eventually claimed nearly everything we had. The law office went broke. We lost our house to the bank I suffered a physical breakdown (I'm glad it wasn't mental as well). And the stress of fighting a war that could not be won, but was so important that it demanded everything be subordinated to it, finally claimed our marriage as well. Susan returned to the mainland with our infant son, leaving me here to liquidate our remaining assets. I'm still attempting to pay off some of the debts left from those years.

On the mainland, Susan opened another personal practice specializing in family law. She kept at it until bone cancer forced her to stop.

The monster that she fought so valiantly is still out there.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

We Need a Shibai Tax

I just read the article in yesterday's Star Bulletin, re the feuding between Governor Lingle and the legislature over budget cuts. Each is accusing the other of "shibai."

Shibai was originally a Japanese word meaning a theatrical performance. In Hawaii, it's come to mean any display or hypocrisy; in practice, it's pretty much interchangeable with the word "bullshit."

The legislature is accusing Lingle o
f shibai for, among other things, withholding our tax refunds until next year in order to balance the budget until she's safely out of office. Lingle is accusing the legislature of shibai for making budget cuts it can't legally make: "For instance, Lingle said the House took out budgeted money from her office to fund required vacation payouts for workers who will leave the Governor's Office with her in December. It also removed $100,000 in transition funds from the governor's budget.

''This is not possible; it is shibai,' Lingle complained."

I think both sides are guilty as charged. But the real losers aren't Lingle or the legislators. They're us.

The state gets to keep our tax refunds until next year? Do we at least get interest while they're using our money?

And we have to pay former Lingle Administration members for their vacations after they're out of office? That really grates, personally. A few years ago, when I left the University of Hawaii, I was told I wouldn't get paid for my accumulated vacation and sick leave unless, at some future date, I was employed again by the state of Hawaii. I think the legislature should immediately pass a bill making the same true for all state employees, including Lingle's patronage employees.

And I think they should pass another law, making it a crime to commit shibai while in public office, with fines of $5,000 to $100,000, depending on the severity of the offense.

With such a law in place, we'd solve our budget deficit in no time.

New Rules for Green Homes

I have a new article out in the Big Island Weekly, re the freshly-enacted "International Energy Conservation Code of the County of Hawaii." The code, which requires insulation and other energy-saving measures in new structures and in major rehabilitations of old structures, is well-meaning and should save energy, but will add a fair amount to the cost of each home, spell bad news for some existing plantation-era homes, and just doesn't always make sense for our climate....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kapulena Ag Park Article Out

'Sorry about the dearth of recent postings on this site. I've been busy writing articles for people who pay me....

The current Big Island Weekly features an article article of mine about Mayor Billy Kenoi's proposed Kapulena Ag Park in Hamakua, for instance. It turns out that when Kenoi announced that the Kapulena lands were "generally considered the best of the county-owned lands for farming purposes," the county hadn't even gotten back its soil surveys for those lands. Now the surveys are in, and the results aren't the best they could be....

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Corporate Emancipation!

I’ve been pondering the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the same rights of free speech as human beings, and therefore can put unlimited amounts of money into election campaigns. I’ve decided that maybe the Supreme Court is right, so long as corporations are given all the constitutional rights of human beings. They already have the right to bear arms, as is evidenced by Blackwater (sorry, Xe Services LLC) and countless security guards. I suppose they can exercise freedom of religion, though I’ve never seen one in church. But what about the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlaws slavery?

“Slavery,” according to Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, is defined as “1: DRUDGERY, TOIL. 2: Submission to a dominating influence. 3 a: the state of a person who is chattel of another. b: the practice of slaveholding.”

I assume that 3a is the type of slavery that the Thirteenth Amendment refers to, since it was passed in the wake of the Civil War. “Chattel,” for those who don’t know, means any property that isn’t real estate.

Someone should immediately mount a Supreme Court challenge to emancipate the corporations.

The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits the ownership or “involuntary servitude” of human beings, unless they’re convicted of a crime. But even unconvicted corporations are routinely held in stocks and kept in bondage. You can’t buy or sell human beings. But corporations are bought and sold daily. Corporate families captured by corporate raiders are often torn apart and their individual companies are sold, never to be reunited. Sometimes a brutal new owner will even vivisect them, cutting out or transplanting whole departments and excising employees who were members of the corporate body. No human being, whether homo sapiens or homo corporatiens, should be treated this way.

It’s time to acknowledge that Wall Street is a slave market, trafficking in corporate human misery. It must be shut down. Corporations must be free to earn their own way, without fear that someone else will buy them, strip away their assets and take the fruits of their labors.

A final argument for corporate emancipation: if we can’t own them, they can’t own us. This breach of the Thirteenth Amendment works both ways, after all: corporations may not own our souls, but they own our jobs, our food supply, a percentage of our houses -- even our genes. They already own huge numbers of politicians and at least five Supreme Court justices. If they don’t hold us as chattel, then they at least hold most of us in drudgery. When we allow a privileged class to exploit human corporations, we all lose our freedom.

I don’t expect change to happen overnight. Just as with slavery, the supporters of corporate trafficking will argue that it’s an economic necessity -- that the nation cannot survive without it. They will argue that corporations don’t know how to survive by themselves without the enlightened guidance of their masters. Some may even take up arms to support their “right” to own corporations. But justice must eventually prevail. We must get a writ of habeus corpus so that Microsoft can appear in court and tell us if it really wants to work for Bill Gates. We must prohibit the sale of any more shares of Bank of America unless it has been indicted by a grand jury, read its Miranda rights, and tried and convicted for its alleged crimes by a jury of its peers. We must sever the bonds of tyranny that hold Chrysler in thrall to Fiat, 20th Century Fox in servitude to Rupert Murdoch, HBO in captivity to Time-Warner, Random House in the yoke of Bertelsmann AG, ABC in peonage to Disney, NBC in bondage to General Electric, and Spartina in foul grip of Stephen Colbert..

But I don’t think corporations should be allowed to vote or make campaign donations, at least for now. They’re not ready for that, just as uneducated, rapacious corporations are not ready to sit on juries. They must first learn to be good citizens, a job for which their bondage has not prepared them. They must understand, first, that they are truly free, and learn the responsibilities that freedom entails.

Otherwise, corporate votes are controlled by their masters, who can use them to oppress the rest of us.

That must not happen. We shall overcome.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Trash Outside the Transfer Stations

The Jan. 20 issue of the Big Island Weekly ran a story of mine called "Trash Talking," about the new restricted hours at the island's outlying transfer stations. I reported that a number of household trash bags had been pitched along the roadside on Volcano Highway. After the story ran, I got the following report from Rene Siracusa of Malama O Puna, about the state of things along the highway to Pahoa:

"On the 2 mile stretch between Pahoa Village Rd. and Kaohe Homestead Rd., there were 26 dump sites that began with the new reduced hours of 8 to 4. Included are 4 pig carcasses in varying stages of ugh.... [Solid Waste Division head] Lono Tyson says they are working on a plan to change the hours again, but that in the meantime the dumping is expected until people get used to the new hours. When I pointed out that the 8 to 4 hours are prohibitive for people who work, he replied that they go shopping on weekends so they can go to the tranfer station on weekends too. There goes your day off!"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two Personal Appeals

Aloha all,
As you may have noticed, there haven't been a lot of blogs here lately. That's because, quite frankly, I'm broke, and I've had to concentrate on stories that I could get paid for, so I can keep the phone and electricity on. This blog hasn't earned me a dime since my first post. Google's marketing strategy of basing advertising placement on key words just doesn't work very well on a locally-oriented blog such as this; I've even seen adds from Mall Wort here just because I wrote a blog critical of them.

So I'm putting out an appeal for sponsors. If you'd like to see more stuff here, get in contact with me. I'm going to go over the fine print of my Google contract, but I believe I can post my own ads as photo attachments. I'm thinking $15 for an ad on one blog would be appropriate.

Second appeal: If anyone out there has any news or anecdotes about the new transfer station hours or increased littering and dumping since the hours began, please post a response here. I'm working on a story about the issue for the Big Island Weekly.