Thursday, December 29, 2011


TOMBSTONE BLUES: We're screwed. And we're only going to get screweder.

With Gary Hooser's decision earlier this year to abandon a run for congress in the 2nd Hawai`i District it looks like we are going to get stuck the most revoltin' of developments- Mufi Hannemann living the Life of Riley, having a virtual "lock" on next November's election.

We didn't need to be reminded that with today's news that the Hawaii Teamsters & Allied Workers Union Local 996 has endorsed him, the carpetbagging creep moves one step closer to election. He's already the poster boy for all that's wrong with so-called American democracy's campaign finance system- one that produces winners by virtue of an overflowing war chest that scares off the good guys like Hooser from even entering the race.

Oh sure, there are some good candidates challenging the Moofster in the Democratic Primary- we'd vote for patients' rights advocate Rafael del Castillo in a hot second. Or maybe even Hilo attorney Bob Marx... although by virtue of the singular fact that Marx is not Hannemann.

But the only candidate with two shots of beating Mufi- slim and none to be specific- is Honolulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard, a bigoted piece of crap like her father who plays down her homophobia and plays up her supposed environmental credentials so as to woo unsuspecting progressives.

The fact is that Hooser came within whisker of deciding to take on Hannemann but, at the last moment, decided there was no way he could raise the kind of money it would take to beat him is a case study in all that's wrong with American elections in the 21st century.

Yeah, it will be soooo self-satisfying to vote for Castillo... just like voting for presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein who is seeking the Green Party nod. In both cases, come next November, we'll be able proudly have the distinctly unsatisfying privilege of saying "well don't blame me- I didn't for for him/her."

This is where we usually offer some kind of pie-in-the-sky solution- like supporting the "Move to Amend (MTA)" group that seeks to reverse the perverse Citizens United, US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling which invented "corporate personhood (CP)" by making money a form of speech. The problem is that not only are few aware of MTA- although they will be becoming more and more aware of it this summer as hundreds of millions of anonymous, "independent (yeah, right) expenditure" dollars flow into the presidential race- but ending CP still wouldn't take money completely out of elections. Full public financing of all elections would but, although some say it is possible under existing SCOTUS rulings (Buckley v Valeo), it might take a constitutional amendment to do it like any CP countering measure would.

But people- even progressives- seem to be more interested in half-assed movements that blame the individual senators and congresspersons rather than the corporate monolith that perverts the system that elects them. We especially like the one to cut congressional pay and benefits as if making sure that millionaires and billionaires were the only ones who could afford to be in congress would somehow reverse the trend toward making "independently wealthy" a requirement to serve in office.

Yesterday we came across a blog post by Robert Reich former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and currently Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley entitled "The Defining Issue: Not Government’s Size, but Who It’s For."

In it he details "how the surge of cynicism now engulfing America isn’t about government’s size. The cynicism comes from a growing perception that government isn’t working for average people. It’s for big business, Wall Street, and the very rich instead."

Yet even the most progressive of progressives seems to get their jollies by climbing on the tea-bagger "government: bad" bandwagon. Though, like voting for Castillo or Stein, it can be really satisfying- and for pundits all too easy- to ridicule the very nature of government based on what passes for democracy in America today, unless and until all of us focus on the obscenity of the legalize bribery that passes for a democratic electoral system, we'll be stuck with the stream of gags that substitute for a functional system of representative republican democracy.

Place the final joke here yourself... we're not in the mood today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


THE SUBJECT SURE WASN'T ROSES: You won't find a "label" saying "education" at the bottom of any of our columns. As a matter of fact we can't remember it ever being a subject of discussion.

And that's no accident.

We've usually got something to say about everything- learned or devoid of prior inquiry, solicited or unwelcome. But even though we've watched two generations of our own progeny wend their way through the Hawai`i Public School system our opinion regarding how to improve it has been limited to three words... "triple teachers' salaries."

What can you say after that? Assuming that all that;s said about a better educated citizenry and the correlation with productivity, it stands to reason it should easily pay for itself... and more

Not that the ridiculously low wages we pay teachers now is a total deterrent to many who are talented enough to make that treble sum elsewhere. There are an unexplainable slew that are nonetheless dedicated to the thankless, "hardest job you'll ever love" because, well, it's the job they love. But let's not forget that the same low wage has got to be an encouragement to at least a small few who somehow got through college yet would be lucky get a new paper hat each year with their W2.

There ones we're aiming at are those who would become teachers if only they got paid commensurate with their talents. The trick is to properly dispatch the "do you want fries with that" crowd and replace them with professionals by paying teachers like doctors and lawyers, not burger-flippers

Anyway, as usual we digress before we begin.

What caught our attention and convinced us to break our unwritten "don't talk about education" rule is not even just the recent news that the state of Hawai`i has somehow potentially blown the previously promised $75 million through the federal "Race to the Top" program- the only state so designated for reversal. It's that yesterday an article (paywall protected) by Honolulu Star-Advertiser education writer Mary Vorsino zeroed in on why we stand to blow the grant.

After the usual mealy-mouthed mish-mosh of unconvincing reasons why "tings wen' huli" since last year's acceptance into the program, Vorsino "revealed" what anyone who has followed the politics of state education for the last year sensed the day the feds said "not so fast there, Neil."

(I)t's not yet clear whether the state will be able to show movement in one of the biggest areas of concern for federal officials: a continuing labor dispute with the teachers union that has stalled several major projects, including efforts to reach a collective bargaining agreement on improved teacher evaluations...

The U.S. Department of Education review, set for late next month, could make or break Hawaii's grant, whose "high-risk" status reflects federal worries about whether the state is capable of meeting its ambitious Race to the Top promises.

For those who have been in a cave since last summer, the teachers' union- along with most of the other state employee groups- were negotiating for new contracts as they had always done- in fits and stops and threats and other bizarre posturing on both their part and the part of the governor... in this case the newly-elected former educator and liberal lion, former Congressman Neil Abercrombie.

But rather than dicker around as even ultra-conservative Republican Governor Linda Lingle and her predecessors had done, Abercrombie gave the teachers the finger and unilaterally imposed salary and benefit cuts calling it his "best and final offer," telling the teachers to strike if they didn't like it.

The screwiest part was that, within a few cents either way, it was probably what the teachers would have settled for anyway, especially if and when other state workers had accepted the 5% pay cut with a slight raise of the employee contribution to their health care coverage- exactly what Abercrombie had been pushing since the legislative session ended and had already gotten out of the UH teachers and would soon get from the Hawai`i Government Employees Association (HGEA).

Of course the second screwiest was the fact that the $75 million the state stands to lose if the "Race to the Top" money goes south is that, within a few bucks, it's the same amount that the state stands to save on that "best and final offer" to the teachers.

And, if he had settled it rather than impose it, the whole debacle would be over now, not stalled before the labor board where it is being dragged out, ad infinitum, costing a big pile o' cash for lawyers and other legal logistics on both sides.

What the heck Abercrombie was thinking is anyone's guess. It's not the first, nor will it be the last, in a string of seemingly-endless, insanely-tone-deaf decisions he's made since taking office. Apparently he's unable to understand that he can't get away with the same "because I said so" nonsense that just went unnoticed in congress where, as 1 of 435, he didn't have the sole power to enforce his words. Now that he does, as 1 of 1, he stands to be responsible for what he says and does and is uncomfortable with all that power.

And he'd better learn that lesson fast. He's starting to make Lingle look sane.

Friday, December 23, 2011


GROUNDING THE BERLIN AIR LIFT: The weather guy on CNN this morning couldn't help but point to a map with a slew of airplanes headed for Hawai`i and comment on the fleeing hoi polloi, escaping snow-shoveling, followed by that messy march through the slushy, mushy muck which inevitably winds up inside their boots.

But little do they know that this year is the first time in decades that there is no White Christmas here on Kaua`i.

Those with short memories have probably forgotten the great Kaua`i white out that, until last January 11, covered every conceivable area- our sidewalks and oceans and rooftops, from Ha`ena to Kekaha. Sames went for Maui. And a couple of Christmases from now it will, with a little luck, be all over on the Big Island- and maybe even Honolulu- where white is still the decorative, if not festive, color of everything in sight.

For those still confused January 11, 2011 is when Kaua`i and Maui stopped trimming the trees- and everything else- with those hideous white plastic grocery bags.

Have you noticed? In one short year the island has gone from looking like the proverbial polar bear in a snowstorm to a place that is no longer an pervasive eye sore.

The news today is that, if Hawai`i Island Mayor Billy Kanoi signs the bill passed by an un-vetoproof majority of their council (5-3 and it takes six to override) there will just be one island to go: Honolulu. And, as Civil Beat reported this morning, Councilmember Ernie Martin says he will introduce a bill to get rid of their blight too.

But those in Honolulu who want to stop seeing red when all they can see is white are going to have to gear up for a battle royal, as the whining and sniveling crowd- the ones that don't think they can live without their precious plastic bags- joins up with the chemical industry to try to continue polluting their visual field... not to mention choking and filling the guts of ocean and wild life everywhere and expanding the great Pacific Garbage Patch- all so they don't have to pay for trash can liners or go buy a waterproof bag to put their wet bathing suits into.

The truth is that, amazingly enough, Kaua`i has gotten used to the idea of bringing reusable cloth bags to the store... although it would be nice if places like Safeway took after some of the local stores like Ishihara's and, while you're fumbling for your cash or card, actually ask you if you want a paper bag before automatically stuffing your crap into one.

Actually, we have lined our smaller rubbish cans around the house with plastic bags left over from the days of yore. But guess what? By not throwing anything wet or sloppy into them and walking a few feet to the big 13-gallon kitchen can when we have gooky, yuchy trash, we are still using the same bags that were in them last January since we just dump the contents into the kitchen can when they're full.

We still have a huge supply of plastic grocery bags in a closet somewhere- so much so that we're actually thinking of who we can give them away to some selfish, lazy, asshole who can't be bothered with a little extra effort so the island doesn't looking like a demented Christo and Jeanne-Claude exhibit with bags flying through the air like autonomous kites until they wind up draped on powerlines, trees and anything else that gets in their way.
We on Kaua`i are going to have to lend our support and testimony for the O`ahu battle, telling our stories about how we were not happy about losing the our precious plastic but now, when we look around and don't have to see those nasty things, we realize it's worth the effort to get a few reusable cloth bags.

Now that that's done, how about that Styrofoam crap?- do we really need it? We'll bet anything that if you give it up and use the cardboard ones for a year you won't even notice it when that year is over.


We're still taking a semi-hiatus here, working on a long form project and other things.

Friday, December 16, 2011


ROUND AND ROUND SHE GOES: When we wrote our "how-to" instruction manual for how one breaks into the county's old boy network a week ago- using the case of former KIUC Board Member, now County Energy Coordinator, Ben Sullivan as an example- we might have made it seem like the system was an invention of current Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.


The "flack catcher" model has been the prime modus operandi of up-and-comers for decades, with administrations going back to statehood and before, picking the best and the brightest of those willing to stick their neck out, draw a dotted line and place it on the chopping block, somehow surviving to populate many if not most of the county's appointed positions.

The only difference is that Carvalho has established the ability to "take one for the team" as the only pre-requisite for a job in his administration.

But when Joan Conrow broke the story on Tuesday about the absurd plans of Grove Farm to tear down the most affordable of all housing, the old sugar-cane-era "Koloa Camp", to build "affordable housing,"- here defined as almost half-a-million-dollar homes that people need to make around $75,000 to get a mortgage for- we realized that we touched only on those entering the county's revolving door system.

We were reminded that the spokesperson for Grove Farm is VP Mike Tresler whose rise to the plantation-era company- now owned by AOL founder Steve Case, cousin of senate candidate Ed Case- is a prime example of what one can accomplish on the back end if one is inclined to fall on swords on a regular basis.

You can read Conrow's coverage at her Kaua`i Eclectic blog and her account of last night's meeting with Koloa residents at the web site of "For Kaua`i" for all the gory details- except for this "what the 'f' was he thinking?" quote from Tresler, obtained by Vanessa Van Voorhis of the local newspaper:

“(The eviction is) a tenant-landlord issue. That’s a private issue … They’re trying to make it a public issue and we’ll push back and just say it’s nobody’s business. We’re required to give that notice, so we’re going to give them that notice. … have we applied for any permits or anything yet? No. Are we in the whole planning stages of it? Yes, we are.”

Tresler- who, perhaps because of the publication of the ill-advised quote, was not at the meeting because, Conrow says, he allegedly had a flight to Honolulu last night- didn't just stumble upon his high paying job as a Grove Farm's chief henchman.

Tresler earned it as Director of Finance for the county and his role in putting the final nail in the coffin of the police career of former Kaua`i Police Department (KPD) Chief KC Lum by, when all else had failed, canceling his contract with the county on orders from... well, let's just say from above because, although Mayor Brian Baptiste was in charge at the time, anyone paying attention knew that forces behind the effort to slander and fire Lum was former Council Chair Kaipo Asing and current Councilmember Mel Rapozo.

We've detailed the stories of both Lum and Tresler in these pages before, describing details of secret investigations and pseudo trials as well as the covering up of secret documents, including the one written by the administrative judge in Lum's hearing containing exculpatory language actually clearing Lum. When the document was leaked and a member of the public tried to submit it to the council as part of his testimony, Asing actually refused to allow council services to take possession of the report.

But none of that was legally enough to fire Lum. The only way to do that, according to the county charter, was apparently by getting the Director of Finance to cancel Lum's contract.

Tresler, a sycophant of Baptiste, whose loud rants in the county building halls attempting to intimidate those who had publicly charged Baptiste with a variety of unethical and politically unsound actions was legendary among the "nitpickers,"- the council regulars who "got" what was going on as Lum, along with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Police Commission, got the shaft.

Well, as if you couldn't guess, canceling Lum's contract was one of Tresler's last actions as Finance Director and it wasn't more than a twinkling of an eye before he landed his cushy VP job with Grove Farm.

Has Tresler gone too far getting caught in a callous sounding quote? If you think so, you haven't been paying attention. A raise and a promotion seem more like it. Or did you forget that this is Kaua`i?


Look for light posting next week- we need a break.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


AND THE EXTRA POINT IS GOOD: As we approach four years and a thousand posts at this location, most of those who peruse our pages regularly recognize- perhaps with a "there he goes again" eye-rolling now and then- what, to be kind, might be called pet peeves and perennial postulates...

One such "kick" is a result of the fact that, when it comes to Kaua`i Island Utilities Coop (KIUC), the self-drawn target on KIUC's collective butt seems to be subject to re-detailing every time the board meets.

And because they seem to have chronic foot-in-mouth disease and a penchant for opaque operations, they've become easy targets even when their actions are fairly innocuous, as has been the case with the so-called controversy over "smart meters."

Even after going on a quest debunking the health scare- and questioning the so-called "privacy concerns," especially those of Facebook users (a nominee for the the "picture in the dictionary" under "irony"), it's been hard to get those concerned about the energy future of Kaua`i under KIUC on track.

Our long-standing gripe in KIUC's case has been a simple concept that most agree with when they hear it: that the problem with the "coop" is that they still have a business model that says "well sell electricity to our customers," rather than seeing their "job" as facilitating the generation and distribution of power in a manner that empowers the individual "consumers," especially though home generation, at the lowest possible cost and in a manner that's fair to all... cost notwithstanding.

As with many of our repeated rants, we're no closer to actualization than we were the first time we said it than now after the 100th.

But yesterday, after a conversation with founder and facilitator of the "p2pKauai" Facebook group Jonathan Jay, we realized one big problem with this proposed change of philosophy is the lack of- or actually a dispute over- the definition in this context of "consumer."

That's because KIUC is organized as a "coop" and so it is comprised of "members." That's a concept that works well with things like credit unions and organic food distributions where anyone can join based on their desire to participate.

But it is the wrong model for a public utility, where every single person on the island is forced to be a "user."

And especially one on an island with a limited, "closed" system.

Jay told us that even though he lives "off the grid" and doesn't use KIUC's services at home, he is forced to use it every time he goes to the store.

And like a majority of users on the island, he has no voice in the energy decisions being made for him at KIUC. With a population of around 70,000 and the number of "members"- defined as someone who has an electric meter and pays a bill- at around 7,000- only one of 10 have a say in their energy future.

KIUC- to be fair, like other electricity coops- never got around to changing the business model left over from when our system was owned by a for-profit company. Instead they latched onto a common model used across the country, mostly in rural locales.

But changing the business model alone won't really make for a participatory organization where people feel they have a "buy-in" to decisions made in their name.

For that, KIUC needs to move off the current model of serving its "members" and begin serving "users."

That's even more important due to the unique nature of the "closed system" we are forced into by virtue of being an island. There are no far flung places to integrate into our "grid" so where and by whom power is generated, distributed and used becomes much more personal. If we want everyone care about decisions on things like conservation and generation issues we need to empower all the users- everyone on the island- not just the few who directly pay a bill to KIUC.

Recently at a KIUC Board of Directors meeting, according to Jay, a "member" questioned the board's policy of only allowing members to speak at meetings. Amazingly the board decided that it will now let any member of the public speak on agenda items at meetings. Of course non-agenda items are still forbidden from discussion so, for all intents and purposes, it is virtually impossible to get the board to engage in a public discussion of concerns- even those of members, much less all users.

It's time for KUIC to take a good look at the philosophies behind their process and let that decision to empower "users" at meetings be a precedent for an attitude adjustment.

Monday, December 12, 2011


ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN: We've been merciless with our local newspaper, especially since the departure of "Big Mike" Levine who is making quite the name for himself covering the Honolulu City Council for the online news source Civil Beat with the same rabid no-holds-barred coverage he provided for the Kaua`i community.

But what made the era remarkable- especially considering the seemingly determined efforts of the owners and publishers to dumb down the content and bend over for the Chamber of Commerce crowd- was Levine's tag-team partner Editor Nathan Eagle who, despite the orders from above, managed to shine even with a usually semi-literate, untalented group of underlings.

And now it's Eagle's turn to exit as we've learned with a one-way ticket to South America where he plans to both work and play, "hopefully more of the latter."

Eagle, whose last day will be Wednesday, has no idea who his replacement will be but we fear the worst given that the search for a new editor has been ongoing without success.

The facts that the salaries are traditionally of the starvation variety at the paper and that the job has been advertised locally don't instill much hope that anything resembling professionalism will be a trait of Eagle's replacement.

For the uninitiated, there is a "circuit" where many new J-school grads jump on board, travel the country, spend a couple-o-few years working, first at small papers and then gradually larger ones, trying to make their mark and move up the ladder while honing their skills. Many do it because they need the experience- others because they like the lifestyle.

And separate from the chaff, some of the highest quality semolina has come from that job mill.

The thing is that a Hawai`i assignment usually attracts those who will work for less, and many times that is reflected in their work. The Anthony Sommers, Dennis Wilkens, and the Levines and Eagles of the world are the exception rather than the rule. They generally arrive sans family or attachments and, although they sometimes intend to stay a while, they usually eventually depart for bigger and better things, disgusted with the way they've been treated both financially and as to the freedom to report what they actually see without a filter imposed from above.

The Andy Gross episode of a few years back is typical. The then fairly newly-hired Gross started nosing around the sale and operation of the then newly-created electrical "co-op" and eventually had his copy squelched by then weekend-Editor Paul Curtis, a former close associate of Gregg Gardiner, the "founder" of KIUC. With Gardiner at the helm and Curtis writing the copy at the notorious "The Kaua`i Times" they worked to, among other ventures, overturn the Nukoli`i vote, support the Hanalei boaters and champion various other efforts that took a crap on the people of Kaua`i.

So don't expect much when the new editor is named, especially with Publisher and CofC Board Member Randy Kozerski in charge. Kozerski fired the last business editor for perceived disregard of Chamber news and then hired the next one with instructions to pump up the CofC with more and more "positive" coverage.

So get ready to meet the news boss. We can only hope they're the same as the old boss.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


IT'S BEN DOVER TIME: Our "extra" post yesterday- a news item on Ben Sullivan's hiring by the county to be the new Energy Coordinator- was confirmed in a county press release today.

But apparently others weren't as caught off guard as we were. We heard from quite a few readers saying that they were Casablanca-style "shocked-shocked" that Sullivan parlayed his short stints as founder and head of Apollo Kaua`i and election to the Kaua`i Island Utilities Coop (KIUC) Board of Directors into a well-paid job in the administration of Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.

But looking back on Sullivan's rise from FOB malahini to appointment to Carvalho's crony-filled staff shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watches the administration's hiring practices and has interacted with Sullivan since his election to the KIUC board.

We began getting them soon after Sullivan's election- emails, comments and phone calls increasingly expressing disillusionment and dissatisfaction with Sullivan's apparent unwavering shift from perceived dissident to KIUC defender of the realm.

It came to a head with his support for the whole FERC-FFP deal followed by the propaganda- some say misinformation- driven vote that allowed the co-op to go ahead with federal involvement in hydropower projects rather than rejecting FERC in favor of strictly state oversight... especially given the potential for federal "trumping" of the more environmentally-protective local regulations and approval process.

But that alone wouldn't be enough to be a "good fit" for the yes-men and women that kow-tow to Carvalho, in an administration where "never is heard a discouraging word" from appointees... or at least not if they expect to serve in their "at-the-pleasure-of" positions for long.

Sullivan didn't just support board decisions as is required under KIUC rules- he firecely defended them. Board Rule 27 mandates lock-step public adherence to board-determined positions and policies and requires all public statements by board members to be cleared by either the chair or (get this) the CEO. The latter creates a potentially unethical if not illegal situation whereby employees of the not-for-profit are directing members of the board.

He has seemingly relished engaging members of the public in support of those positions and dove in head-first in a rare-for-Kaua`i trait of personal engagement with dissidents... of which there are many when it comes to the electricity coop.

And that is what has made Sullivan a perfect fit for the Carvalho administration. It seems to matter not that he is an architect by education and, although his non-profit work has dealt with electrical power issues, one would think that a highly paid, highly skilled position like this would be filled by someone with training and/or experience in the field... although that hasn't stopped most of Carvalho's appointees from landing jobs with a notable lack of credentials.

Sullivan has proved his worth to Carvalho simply through his ability to stick to the guns of his higher-ups, as evidenced by his stick-to-it-ive-ness in taking on all comers in defending the KIUC realm.

It matters not that he is a relative newcomer to the island or that he is a not "local"- usually a negative for patronage hires under Carvalho. It matters only that he is ready, willing and able to act as a human shield for arrows directed at his boss.

We like Ben. He's the nicest of guys and actually we're sure he actually believes in what he says and what he does. It's likely he will bristle at this analysis of why he got his "dream job."

But given the history of the hiring practices since Carvalho took office just over three years ago, it's hard to come to any other conclusion.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011



(PNN) Kaua`i Island Utilities Coop (KIUC) Board Member Ben Sullivan is resigning to take the newly created Energy Coordinator job with the County of Kaua`i, according to a Facebook post by Sullivan.

He will begin working on December 19 to carry out the recently completed Kauai Energy Sustainability Plan.

"I am excited about the new position," Sullivan wrote in the post. "I will be working within the Office of Economic Development, with one of my major responsibilities being planning & implementation of energy efficiency & conservation programs for the County. Will be working on PUC issues, advocating on County energy issues to the State leg., working with the Council, and a lot of other cool stuff (helping integrate electric vehicles, etc.) I will also be pursuing grants for County energy projects and working with the team on strategy and implementation of (The Kauai Energy Sustainability Plan) KESP. Dream job, I'm jazzed up about it."

According to KIUC's by-laws, their board will appoint a replacement to complete Sullivan's term.

According to the website of the Kauai Planning & Action Alliance (KPAA), which helped develop the KESP, it "was developed for the County of Kauai by SENTECH Hawaii LLC with assistance from Maurice Kaya LLC and Kauai Planning & Action Alliance (and) integrates stakeholder and public input with objective energy analysis to create an implementable energy plan intended to offer guidance for Kauai to utilize local, sustainable, renewable energy. "

Sullivan will be working under the head of the Office of Economic Development George Costa in the administration of Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.


ANOTHER CLICK IN THE WALL: The fact that "Photography Is Not A Crime" when taking pictures of police in the performance of their duties- with certain caveats- has been a subject that has piqued our interest many times in this space, most recently when it hit home with the case of blogger Damon Tucker who was arrested and apparently beaten- allegedly by Big Island police.

The charges of obstructing a government operation against Tucker were dropped- without prejudice, meaning they can be brought again- and Tucker has said he is planning on a lawsuit although he hasn't done so... yet.

But his case may be bolstered due to an appellate ruling by a federal, three-judge panel in the First Circuit which has denied limited immunity to cops who arrested one Simon Glik based, the court ruled, on his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

In refusing to grant immunity to the officers the panel ruled that:

Glik was exercising clearly-established First Amendment rights in filming the officers in a public space, and that his clearly-established Fourth Amendment rights were violated by his arrest without probable cause...

(A) citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.

The story goes that:

As he was walking past the Boston Common on the evening of October 1, 2007, Simon Glik caught sight of three police officers — the individual defendants here — arresting a young man. Glik heard another bystander say something to the effect of, “You are hurting him, stop.” Concerned that the officers were employing excessive force to effect the arrest, Glik stopped roughly ten feet away and began recording video footage of the arrest on his cell phone.

After placing the suspect in handcuffs, one of the officers turned to Glik and said, “I think you have taken enough pictures.” Glik replied, “I am recording this. I saw you punch him.” An officer then approached Glik and asked if Glik’s cell phone recorded audio. When Glik affirmed that he was recording audio, the officer placed him in handcuffs, arresting him for, inter alia, unlawful audio recording in violation of Massachusetts's (sic) wiretap statute. Glik was taken to the South Boston police station. In the course of booking, the police confiscated Glik’s cell phone and a computer flash drive and held them as evidence.

But, importantly, due to other rulings the judges ruled that, because Glik was openly recording the events he was not in violation of the "wiretapping" laws that many police across the nation have tried to use as "probable cause" and therefore a defense and a reason to arrest those taking picture of police.

As to the actual First Amendment rights, the court was unequivocal- a significant ruling in that it is apparently the highest appellate ruling in this kind of case. They wrote:

The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame it, fairly narrow: is there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.

It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978); see also Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (“It is . . . well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.”). An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.’” Houchinsv. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11 (1978) (quoting Branzburg v.Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681-82 (1972)).

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.”

Similarly the court threw out Fourth Amendment claims because of the open nature of the recording and therefore the lack of probable cause. Massachusetts law- as is true in most states- says that, to be considered wiretapping, the recording must be made secretly.

Also significant was the fact that the court said it doesn't matter if the person taking the pictures is a reporter or journalist, as was an issue in "blogger" Tucker's case as well as many on the mainland.

They said that:

It is of no significance that the present case... involves a private individual, and not a reporter, gathering information about public officials. The First Amendment right to gather news is, as the Court has often noted, not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media; rather, the public’s right of access to information is coextensive with that of the press...

(C)hanges in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.

This. of course, is not the end of it, just a small victory in only one circuit and just by a three-judge panel, not an "en banc" (the full appellate court) ruling.

But it is significant for the sweeping nature of the words that can and no doubt will be used by other circuits when dealing with the issue of whether private citizens are entitled to photograph- which of course includes taking video- police in a public place as long as they are not impeding the actions of the police.

Monday, December 5, 2011


I IN MY KERCHIEF AND MA IN HER CAP: We admit it. Listening to fiscal and financial discussions- actually anything that falls under the subject of "the economy"- is, for us, like taking a handful of Ambien.

So when we sat down to watch the Kaua`i County Council discuss "Resolution 2011-77... establishing the County of Kaua'i reserve fund and reserve fund policy"- as they did last Wednesday- we carefully ensconced ourselves with a nice blankie and set the recliner on stupor.

The issue isn't new and, although some councilmembers obviously disagree, it comes down to a negative semantic that has caused embarrassment to councils past.

For decades the term "unexpended surplus" has been used on Kaua`i for the amount that was "leftover" when the budget was completed. And that has been an open can of worms slithering around on the council table for just as long, as people ask why there is one since, in theory, the council is supposed to adjust the real property tax rate based on how much it budgets.

In practice, some of it is "appropriated" throughout the fiscal year, as needed, through "money bills" and the rest is left over for the next year's budget.

Enter stage right, Mr. Fiscal Conservative, current Council Chair Jay Furfaro, a former hotel manager who has made it his mission to reform this practice by changing the name from "surplus" to "reserve fund."

Now we've given Furfaro plenty of guff for his habitual bombastic oratory that often baffles the assembled with its pomposity and buffoonery. But although we really wouldn’t know because unless it's the theory of surplus value, we're pretty much unable to comprehend complex money matters, when it comes to fiscal affairs Furfaro sure seems to be able to tell his assets from a hole in the ground.

It seems that surpluses are "out" these days and those who recommend fiscal policy on a national basis prescribe "reserve funds"- specifically in amounts of 20 to 25% of the jurisdiction's budget.

Furfaro has talked about this for years so the resolution in question was, in his eyes, a first step in establishing the correct way to look at the fact that the county will still be collecting more than it spends- or at least the councilmembers will have an explanation for the public that doesn't push the "hey- that's my money you're spending" button as hard.

Now, enter stage left, Councilmember Tim Bynum, the "progressive" responsible for things like the plastic bag ban and the exit- by falling off the stage- of former Chair Kaipo Asing after Bynum challenged Asing's secretive, paternalistic policies in the name of open and good governance.

But Bynum found himself in an unaccustomed slot this year as Chair of the Finance Committee after complaining all last year that Mayor Bernard Carvalho's county-employee "furlough" program was actually a political stunt designed to make the legislature think the county was being fiscally conservative enough to deserve our fair share of the transient accommodations tax (TAT)... or at least that was our take on the effort at the time.

So Bynum, seeing the opportunity to make sure that these kinds of shenanigans were a thing of the past became a Republican For A Day.

As a spreadsheet of sorts was posted on the wall-mounted screen, Bynum read off the "surpluses" going back to 2001... $12 million... $14 million... $17 million... $18 million... until he got to last year, reading off- with the proper emphasis and outrage- $68 MILLION.

Noting that this was quite obviously more than the 20-25% recommended for a reserve fund, Bynum pulled out an amendment to Furfaro's resolution that would set a policy for what to do, not only if the fund dipped below 20% but what to do if it got up above 30%.

And, in true populist anti-tax Norquistian Republican form he stated that if it were to go above 30% his "first priority personally would be to reduce the amount that we're taking from the people who live here to give a tax refund or rebate or lower taxes.

"Give it back," he demanded, "It's not our money. It belongs to the people of Kaua`i."

Bynum went on and the only thing missing from his spiel was the actual use of the phrase "tax and spend."

Meanwhile Furfaro looked like he was going to have a conniption fit waiting for Bynum to finish. And when his turn came he managed to crystallize his thoughts in one booming sentence.


The meaning was clear, although Furfaro made it clearer. We've already spent that $170 million- or at least have committed to spending it very soon. The county recently refinanced its old bonds and took out new ones for all sorts of "capital improvement projects" from sewers to levees to bridges and roads... 81 of them to be specific.

And if anything was going to happen with the (don't-call-it-a) surplus over and above the recommended "reserve," Furfaro said it should be used to pay for what we already spent by paying down our debt faster than the current $4.7 million a year.

In other words, now that we've collected the "tax" it's time to "spend" it.

The issue of whether to set a policy in the current resolution- which is actually non-binding and is only to set up the policy of creating the reserve fund that will later need to be codified in an ordinance- or whether to include the policy for what to do if the fund is over or under the Goldilocks range of 20-25%, the paradigm shift of the two councilmembers acted on us like half a dozen cups of espresso, the idea of a nap now only a dream.

While we don't particularly "get" this high finance stuff, we think the means of production should be in the hands of the proletariat- or whatever the 21st century equivalent is. But we usually "get" the politics.

Except in this case we've got Furfaro, the ultra conservative- at least for Kaua`i where conservatism usually goes to die- attempting to spend the "extra" already collected taxes while our classic liberal wants to give it back.

It was a good thing that Carvalho's weekly "Together We Can" snooze-fest was coming up next or we'd never have gotten any sleep.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


METERING MR. SMARTY PANTS: We've spent a goodly part of the last decade predictably disappointed after Kaua`i was able to purchase its electric utility under the rubric of a "co-op."

Despite efforts to ensure things like democracy and open governance, right off the bat we could see the handwriting on the wall- the lack of adherence to those tenets has been all we thought it wouldn't be.

Kaua`i Island Utilities Co-op's (KIUC) opaqueness and manipulation of recent ballot issues has left most "members" disillusioned if not downright pissed off. And who can blame them.

That has also made every single thing they do subject to not just legitimate scrutiny but every wacko conspiracy theory that is even remotely related to providing the public with electricity.

So enter the latest paranoia-based plot to supposedly do us harm- "smart meters."

According to Wikipedia:

A smart meter is usually an electrical meter that records consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system.

Some have questioned the safety of smart meters because they "communicate" using electromagnetic signals. That is true- they use much the same low-level radio frequency (RF) signals and pulsed signal structure as wi-fi, modern cordless phones, garage door openers, baby monitors and similar devices.

But because any electromagnetic force (EMF) is defined as "radiation" there is concern among those who aren't privy to the science behind low, as opposed to high, level RF.

For an excellent detailed discussion on the subject of the health effects of smart meters we turned to an article by Bob Spofford the Energy Chair of Sustainable San Rafael, an independent, Marin County, CA, umbrella non-profit "dedicated to advocacy and community education (of) residents and business people organized around the idea that we can-and must-do more in our own community to fight global warming and encourage more sustainable living."

The article was published at the web site of "Open4Energy" an independent, consumer non-profit that evaluates energy technology devices.

An EMF creates electromagnetic waves (EMW). Spofford writes that it

pours out of every star - - not just as visible light, but in a very wide range from radio frequencies (thus radio astronomy) and all the way up beyond visible light to X-rays and gamma rays. This is important, because it means that humans evolved in an environment that included a lot of electromagnetic radiation (from the sun) and that we are adapted to certain kinds of radiation hitting us and passing through us with no harm.

There are two potentially harmful types of EMF, ionizing radiation and dielectric heating which have been extensively studied since the 1930's.

Spofford describes the ionizing radiation (IR) saying that that

is where very short wavelength waves are able to knock electrons off of molecules creating ions (charged molecules.) These in turn can cause all sorts of nasty biological effects. The lowest frequency that can cause ionization is ultraviolet, which can result in sunburn and skin cancer. They go up from there through X-rays, gamma rays and the particles from radioactive decay, all of which can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer and more.

As we all know, this is the kind of radiation that can have a cumulative effect.

The second health issue is dielectric heating (DH) which includes things like microwave ovens, cell phones and yes, smart meters.

The potential harm in DH is related to the amount of power and the proximity to the source. While there is anecdotal evidence that long term exposure to a cell phone placed right beside the brain could cause cancer, it's important to note that despite 20 years of study no one has been able to show any spike in health issues for cell phone users in legitimate, published, peer-reviewed studies.

But it's also important to note that the dielectric heating in cell phones- and smart meters- is not the kind of radiation that is cumulative and is generally, as noted, all over the place in the atmosphere. And, of course, no one is sticking their head next to their smart meter for hours on end. As a matter of fact, the signal from a smart meter is emitted in short bursts, at most a few times a day.

As Spofford notes:

The reason for the focus on cell phones is that the radio transmitter in a smart meter is quite similar to a cell phone. It operates on 900 MHz at a power of 1 watt or less. On the other hand, it is usually much, much farther away from your brain. A 1-watt cell phone 1 inch from your brain would is 1,296 times stronger than a 1 watt smart meter 3 feet away (and it’s 14,400 times stronger than one 10 feet away and 57,600 time stronger than one 20 feet away.) This is the inverse square law in action.

The thing is that if you get burned or even "fried" by DH- as happened when a worker stood right in front of an extremely powerful microwave transmitter, Spofford notes- you'll know it. But it's a one time event, unlike the ionizing radiation that radioactive materials emit.

This is a vast oversimplification of the science. If you want a whole lot more than you probably ever wanted to know- or if you've actually studied this stuff and want the full low-down- we suggest you read Spofford's essay in full.

As to the actual arguments from those who claim there might be a scientific basis for the health danger of smart meters he says:

That’s pretty much where established science leaves off and speculative theories begin. The people opposed to smart meters haven’t been arguing that the danger is recognized things like ionizing radiation or tissue heating. Rather, a lot of them express a sort of generalized fear that there’s just “too much radiation” in our environment, and the smart meter is one more log - - perhaps one log too many - - on the fire. They fear that some day we’ll discover a health problem from the cumulative affect of all this low level radiation around us.

I have several problems with this line of thinking:

1. If there is something going on, the big culprit will have to be the cell phone, since the radiation exposure there is so much higher than all the other sources. Compared to cell phones, the smart meter isn’t a “log” on the fire, it’s more like a broom straw. So we should keep looking at the cell phone research, but in 20+ years, not much to be worried about has emerged.

2. They don’t really propose a mechanism by which this unspecified damage might occur, so they can’t tell us what facts would change their mind. This makes it well-neigh impossible for the PUC or any other fact-based body to say “here’s the proof you want that these things are safe.”

3. They keep coming back to the possibility of cumulative exposure to a number of low level radiation sources, and drawing parallels to things like cigarettes, which people once were told were safe. However, cigarettes and other cumulative risks are like ionizing radiation. There are chemicals in cigarette smoke that damage cells from the first exposure, and that damage then accumulates with repeated exposure until symptoms appear. Plus, the epidemiological connection between smoking and cancer was crystal-clear as soon as people started looking at the statistics.

We’ve been working with radio waves for over 100 years, and we’ve been walking around in them since the dawn of time, and we haven’t discovered any such pernicious effect from the kind of waves coming off the smart meters.

As to the rest of the health-based arguments against smart meters:

Beyond the cumulative exposure worries, there are people advancing a bunch of ideas that are just pure speculation (to use the polite word.) Their common thread is that there is something unique about the radiation from a smart meter – because it is attached to house wiring or transmits in pulses – that makes it a much greater health threat than other devices radiating at the same frequency and power. (Fact check: computer WiFi, garage door openers and modern cordless phones all use the same frequencies and pulsed signal structure.)

These claims of unique dangers are posited in very sketchy terms by writers who seem to have little understanding of the underlying science, so I have to guess at the supposed basis for them. As best I can determine, they seem to be borrowing – and misunderstanding – little snippets from ionizing radiation, the propagation of electrical noise and the mathematics of square waves. Until I see a more complete explanation for one of these theories that makes sense in terms of known science, I have to treat them as wishful thinking. However, the proponents are quite certain that their wishful “theory” alone is grounds to reject smart meters entirely.

One more item. Many argue that the Precautionary Principle- which, according to Wikipedia, says that "if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action,"- should be operative here as it is with, for instance, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

With GMOs the possible disastrous scenarios in changing the genetic material in organisms and releasing them into nature and in fact ingesting them, is well established and even proponents don't argue there are dangerous scenarios, only that they haven't found anything... yet.

But with smart meters, Spofford concludes by saying that:

My understanding of the Precautionary Principle is different. We can’t “prove” that anything is absolutely safe. That would require certainty of an absence of something, which no one can deliver. (There’s probably a long word for that in Philosophy courses.) The precautionary principle requires that if someone can advance plausible, specific reasons why a product might be harmful, we should hold back until we meet some reasonable level of proof that this isn’t the case. My interpretation of “plausible” in this context means that the feared threat, even if highly improbable, is at least consistent with known science. Otherwise, I could propose banning cotton clothing based on my personal theory that wearing cotton for 40 to 50 years makes your gut grow, your hair turn gray and your eyes go bad. (After all, there’s certainly a correlation.)

So far, the claims I’ve seen that the radiation from a smart meter is somehow “special” do not pass this test.

So, my net takeaway on the health issue is, yes, there’s always the distant possibility that some solid evidence connecting cell phones and health risks will emerge even after all these years. However, even if that happened, we’d have to question whether devices like smart meters, with thousands of times less radiation exposure than phones, are a danger.

We're sure that those that are convinced that smart meters are a monstrous plot to kill us all are sincere. Some cite reasons other than health-related reasons for banning them or at least allowing people to opt out of installing them and we won't deal with them here. But none have addressed the science and instead have used innuendo and "you don't trust the government/big corporations/etc. do you?" arguments which, on Kaua`i, given the history of KIUC is an effective, if fallacious, argument.

So what's the harm in letting people do the Chicken Little routine? The problem is that while they and those they convince are busy tilting at windmills, there are real energy-related issues that demand attention like fracking, Canadian sand-oil and the proposed pipeline, and off-shore drilling... as well as peak oil.

It wastes the precious energy of the small pool of apparently dedicated activist on something for which there just isn't any "there there."

Don't be fooled by pseudo-science or ad hominem and straw man arguments. There are bigger fish to fry than smart meters and indeed, if we are ever to end our dependency on fossil fuels and integrate carbon-free alternative energy into our grids, smart meters are going to be an essential element of that effort.