Saturday, December 14, 2013

As goes Kauai, so goes the State

Kauai has got me thinking. Most folks on that island populate the northern and eastern sides. Tourists and locals alike are in the coastal towns such as Hanalei, Kilauea, Kapaa and especially Lihue. But once you get past that, the road takes you to the still and quiet leeward side. Out there, Niihau is on the not-too-distant horizon. The paved road ends on the Mana plain at the foot of dried up mountains. Beyond that is a row of kiawe trees. Barking Sands - a vast white sand beach - lies on the other side.
The Garden Isle's quiet leeward side is the land of firsts. Waimea saw Capt. Cook anchor in the islands. His visit to Kauai is considered the start of the modern history of Hawaii. It certainly is the start of Hawaii's contact with the West. A bronze statue commemorates his fateful landfall.
Then there's Koloa: the first sugar plantation, established in 1835. All that's left of the mill is a decrepit brick chimney in the middle of town. The company that started the mill is long gone too. It passed hands for more than a century and a half before it was shut down for good in 1996.
The methods perfected at Koloa became the industry's standard. Koloa was the first plantation to really establish the notorious plantation store. The store was used by workers and accepted a private form of currency - deemed "Kauai currency." It could be redeemed only at the store and the store enjoyed a markup on the price. Koloa also started providing housing for the workers but took some of their pay in the bargain.
Koloa is now a major tourist attraction. The former plantation-era storefronts sell knickknacks, wind chimes and sarongs to visitors. It reminds me of Paia, Makawao and Lahaina. Tourism has moved into the old sugar infrastructure. The contrast is sharpest in Koloa - right in the town is a massive statue commemorating the migrations of workers that came to the islands to work in the fields.
The plantations are gone now. Even the archaic Gay & Robinson plantation - the only one that never had an organized workforce - does not produce sugar anymore. The old houses are rotting in the sun. Rusty iron gates close off roads that used to course through sugar cane fields. It's simply gone.
But the newer industries are also on leeward Kauai. The military has an outpost at the far end of the Kuhio Highway in the Kekaha District. The Pacific Missile Range Facility is on the beach across the channel from Niihau. For decades and throughout the Cold War, the Air Force has been launching test missiles from that remote spot.
Now, there's a new and divisive industry setting up shop out there. Just like on Maui, Molokai and parts of Oahu, seed companies have come to Kauai in a big way. Dow Chemical, DuPont, BASF, Bayer and Syngenta all have facilities on the island. And just like the folks here, their presence has divided the community.
Dow Chemical, for example, has something called an "agroscience" division that partnered up with Gay & Robinson to research and experiment with insecticide-resistant seeds. It has brought much-needed jobs and income to the quiet leeward coast, but many fear that the experiments may harm the environment and health of the rest of Kauai. All along the Kuhio Highway there were handmade signs in support of a bill that would regulate genetically modified organisms.
Very recently, the bill passed the County Council after a grueling session that didn't let up until 3:30 in the morning. Council Member Gary Hooser sponsored legislation to set up GMO-free zones around schools, hospitals, roads and other places. It authorizes the county to investigate the impact of GMOs in the environment. And it targets the big companies on the leeward side.
After all that, the mayor vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was legally flawed. Essentially, this is the kind of regulation, he argued, that should come from the state, not the county. Maybe so, but the state doesn't have to act (at least for now) because the council overrode the veto last month. The law will be implemented next year. The companies already plan on challenging the law. The seed showdown on Kauai continues.
What started on Kauai is spreading to other islands. The Big Island just passed a similar regulation, and now our own council got in on the act. Councilwoman Elle Cochran introduced a bill with a similar intent last week.
The seed industry is new to Hawaii, and Kauai's law is the first of its kind. Given the other things that the county has introduced to the rest of the islands - be it contact with the West or the sugar plantation - the companies setting up shop and the government response could be another historic first.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday is Taking Over Thanksgiving . . .

Perhaps there is no death more terrible, more ignominious, than having the life stomped out of you by frenzied holiday shoppers at the entrance to Wal-Mart at 5 in the morning. It may sound crazy, but that is exactly what happened to Jdimytai Damour on the day after Thanksgiving in Long Island.
In 2008, a crowd had started gathering outside the retail store the night before at around 9. It was a cold November night in New York, so by the time the doors were ready to open early the next morning, the crowd had swelled to around 2,000 and become unruly. When the doors started to open, shoppers started pushing their way in. The doors buckled and broke. Glass shattered and a stampede into the mega-store began.
Damour was thrown to the ground and trampled by the stampede. Pleas to stay calm and give the employees room to care for him went unheeded. Attempts to revive him failed and he died one hour later at a nearby hospital.
And that was how Black Friday began in 2008.
Don't think the madness over material goods was limited to Nassau County. Later that same day in Southern California, two people were shot in a gunfight that erupted inside a toy store. Since that year, stories of violence arising out of holiday deals have flooded in from all over the country. Shots are fired in Florida over a parking space. A woman unleashes pepper spray upon a line of her fellow shoppers waiting to see the latest Xbox because she did not appreciate all the pushing and shoving. Shoppers in the Midwest were discovered carrying knives, more pepper spray and handguns.
The big spending day has been escalating for most of the 20th century. The Macy's Day Parade is as essential to Thanksgiving as turkey and that green bean casserole with crispy onions on top. New floats are introduced every year, but since the 1920s the finale never changes: Santa Claus. He's there to mark the official start of the holiday season. And what better way to get on with the holidays than with a big post-Thanksgiving sale?
The shopping has now become what one of my friends has deemed "the cataclysmic mall event." Almost half of the states have declared the Friday after the holiday a day off for government workers (Hawaii is not one of them.). The post-Thanksgiving automobile and foot traffic around the shopping and commercial areas of Philadelphia got so bad that by the early 1960s, the police started calling that day black Friday. The term stuck and retailers have given up trying to shake it.
Nowadays, they use the day to advertise big sales and keep their doors open from the early-morning hours to late in the evening. Queen Ka'ahumanu Center announced earlier this month that it's going to be open as early as 6 a.m. today. It's not closing till 9.
Why do stores one-up each other on the deals and hours year after year? Because it works. Retailers snare huge profits on Black Friday. The National Retail Federation - a retail trade association - conducted a nationwide survey of shoppers in 2012 and reported that 247 million people went shopping over Thanksgiving weekend last year. The average shopper spent $423 per person; 89 million ventured out on Black Friday itself.
Stores want the weekend to last even longer and have started crossing over into Thanksgiving night. This year, Wal-Mart announced that the deals will start as early as 6 on Thanksgiving night. Shoppers can digest their meal as they push carts down aisles, I guess. The day after Thanksgiving is swallowing up Thanksgiving itself.
Nobody seems to mind all that much. People like the deals and revel in the madness. The parking lots around the malls here are surely going to be jampacked. The stores will be full of shoppers and the food courts will be buzzing. The shopping is now part of the holiday tradition itself.
It's a bit disturbing. I can't help but go back to Long Island and think of Damour. He was a 34-year-old immigrant from Haiti. He lived in Queens. His friends called him Jimbo. He wasn't even a Wal-Mart employee. He got the job through a labor agency that sent workers out to retail stores to help handle the holiday bulge. That was how he ended up on the front line of Black Friday before he died.
None of the violence streaming across national news feeds has ever come out of Hawaii. Let's be thankful for that.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Welcome home, gay marriage

Televised coverage of government bodies is far from riveting programming. But last week Friday, the business of the state Capitol made for some pretty good TV. The House was debating the same-sex marriage bill.
I found the show to be a real eye-opener. I certainly don't pay much attention to our representatives at work. I certainly had never heard most of them speak before. Listening to speeches in support of or in opposition to the proposed bill was the most intriguing thing about the live coverage that night.
I like a good argument. On full display for everyone to see was the entire panoply of legislative justifications to do something or, in the case for some on the floor that night, to not do something.
There was Jo Jordan - an openly gay representative from Waianae - who emotionally stood by her decision to vote against gay marriage. Her reasons were kind of strange.
And then there was Maui's own Mele Carroll. Her position was a real head-scratcher. Her 20-minute oration in opposition to the now instantly historic piece of legislation meandered from criticism of the long lines of testifiers to quoting testimony from Native Hawaiians who believe that gay marriage is another form of cultural imperialism. In the end, I was left with no real clear explanation for her opposition. I just knew that she wasn't going to vote for it.
But perhaps the most eyebrow-raising opponent of the bill who spoke on the House floor was a woman named Sharon Har. Ms. Har's voice boomed into the microphone. She was enraged by the language in the committee report. She harangued the majority and waved her papers around saying that the legislative record was rife with inaccuracies.
The supporters were treating the affair as a foregone conclusion. And rightfully so. They knew they had the votes. House Majority Leader Scott Saiki reminded one of my friends of the guy at a wedding who has to give the obligatory mahalos for the slide show, the food and the wonderful centerpieces.
Presiding over this mix of personalities was the speaker, Joe Souki. The speaker was almost serene at times. And finally when everyone had his or her say - both for and against - there was the call for recess. Recess? What a cliffhanger! About 20 minutes later it was all over. The same-sex marriage bill passed, and it was now left for the Senate to approve it Tuesday.
The Senate did not want to reopen this debate and the bill passed in the form the House approved. On Wednesday, it was no surprise that the governor signed it into law and Hawaii joined the other 14 states that recognize marriage between members of the same sex.
The legislation is part of a much bigger story. Hawaii will always be linked with the same-sex marriage debate. It started here 23 years ago. In 1990, three same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses with the state Department of Health. The department unsurprisingly turned them down after the state attorney general issued an opinion stating that the constitutional right to marry was limited to members of the opposite sex.
The couples brought a lawsuit in Honolulu, but the trial court dismissed it outright before it went to trial. The couples took their case up to the Hawaii Supreme Court, and in 1993 the court held that a statute limiting marriage to members of the opposite sex was inherently unconstitutional.
The high court noted that this was a form of discrimination that did not comport with the equal protection clause in the state constitution. It sent the case back down to the trial court to determine if the government could justify this kind of discrimination. It couldn't, and for almost two years homosexual couples were free to marry in the state of Hawaii.
It sparked a nationwide debate. The backlash came in 1998 when the Hawaii Constitution was amended to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples. The constitution now had a dubious provision that allowed the Legislature "the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples."
After decades, the debate has come back to the islands. Proponents of same-sex marriage asked whether this power could be exercised to simply allow same-sex marriage. In a strange twist, the attorney general's office issued an opinion stating that it could.
That led to the legislation we've been reading about today. Opponents have already questioned whether this week-old legislation is even constitutional in light of the 1998 amendment. Rep. Bob McDermott has brought a lawsuit that challenges the Legislature's ability to even pass this law. That may mean this debate is not over, and his lawsuit may end up in the place where it all started decades ago: our Supreme Court.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Haunted Safeway?

Everyone has a ghost story in Hawaii. It doesn't matter how educated, how prominent, experienced or logical you are. Everyone knows about some kind of reportedly haunted spot on the island. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, you've still heard about a weird account from a friend of a friend or your hippie auntie or even your crazy uncle.
Every couple of years, a new development becomes the epicenter for rumor, conjecture and wild speculation. I remember when it was the Nature Center in Iao Valley and later The Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua. Now we've got Safeway.
When the developers of Maui Lani started clearing the kiawe, scrub brush and sand dunes just below the old Sand Hills subdivision and right across the street from Baldwin High School to make way for a new commercial development, it came across an unexpected find. The workers found old human remains and disturbed graves. A controversy began.
The developers had to appear before the burial council - an agency under the Department of Land and Natural Resources - to address how they would handle the disrupted graves.
Native Hawaiian groups described the need to be culturally sensitive and respectful to the remains found there. Some residents have even threatened legal action for the treatment of the graves. Last June, a group called Hui Pono Ike Kanawai held a 12-hour candlelight vigil for the iwi, or bones, that have resurfaced. The group noted the historical significance of the site.
The new Safeway may have been built over an old battleground. In the late 18th century, a few years before Capt. James Cook landed at Waimea, the islands were controlled by strong chiefs who forged alliances among the islands. The high chief who ruled Maui Nui, which included Lanai and Molokai, successfully repelled an invasion from a Big Island chief. The battle took place among the sand dunes of Wailuku. The invaders were outnumbered and destroyed. Many died in the dunes, and their bodies were piled in heaps.
The battle was very important. The casualties were so great and the Maui warriors were so dominant that it kept the invasion in check for nearly 30 years - before Kamehameha invaded. His battle in the West Maui Mountains took place in nearby Waikapu. This time, the Maui troops retreated through the sand dunes into Iao Valley, where they were ultimately defeated.
The builders stated publicly that they have respectfully relocated the remains as per a plan before the burial council. They also had the grounds of the Safeway and its parking lot blessed for good measure.
You can see the developer's efforts for yourself. In the parking lot between the store and the old Sand Hills subdivision, you can see two stately, low-lying platforms assembled from smooth stones. Ti leaves surround the platforms, and all around it is a black iron fence.
But some say the spirits of the dead are restless. Folks say the new Safeway is haunted. By now, most people have heard something about the new place.
The dead are a part of life here. Safeway's allegedly supernatural status is a classic kind of local lore. It combines pre-contact history, archaeological remains, land-use laws, and good old-fashioned ghost stories. In a lot of ways, it's the way our community responds to change.
The development has disturbed old graves, and that spells trouble for many people who identify with their ancestors buried in the sand hills. Many feel that it's a sign of disrespect. Whether the stories are true or not is irrelevant. The rumors and ghost stories are a sign of dissatisfaction in the community. The more land we clear, the more stories about haunted places will surely arise.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rethinking the Homeless

Ever hear of a movie called “Hobo with a Shotgun?” No really, it’s real. Rutger Hauer plays a homeless vigilante who takes on a crime boss in a small town with, well, a shotgun. It’s really violent, and unless you liked “Grindhouse” or “Death Wish,” you probably shouldn’t watch this film.
The title and the movie play upon the unfair stereotype of homeless men and women. They are depicted as dirty nomads, who are mentally unstable. Seems like the only time the individual homeless make the news is when something dramatic happens as in Engling’s case.
In April, this paper devoted multiple stories to Alan Engling—the fifty-nine year-old man who was indicted for assaulting golfers and police officers at the Maui Country Club in Sprecklesville with a pellet gun. Emphasizing Engling’s homelessness does not help fight the stereotype.
Stories about individual men and women who have no homes are almost always bad news. In this paper uses the word as a moniker for dangerous criminal defendants: homeless man assaulted another homeless man with a bottle; police are looking for two homeless men who allegedly attacked someone; a homeless woman given probation (and jail) for stabbing another at a camp. The stereotype doesn’t help anyone.
People end up without a place to live for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s caused by drug and alcohol abuse, a lack of affordable mental health care services, and sometimes those who have been released from prison or jail have no place to go. Then there are the financial reasons. Hawaii is expensive. A study back in 2009 showed that the tight housing market and mortgage foreclosures were common reasons for families living in cars or ending up on the streets.
The homeless population has become more and more visible these days. In Honolulu, people sleep in the streets and “camp” in tents on sidewalks. In places like Chinatown, the sight of upper and middle class bar hoppers cautiously stepping over men and women curling up against doorways or underneath defunct bus stops is disturbing to say the least.
In greater Oahu, the homeless have gathered in camps along the Waianae Coast. They live deep in thickets of keawe trees, look out for one another, and even have representatives that present their needs at community forums.
The City took an aggressive stance toward the homeless. This year it passed a law prohibiting tents and shopping carts in all city parks. The council also changed the hours to major parks and closed them from midnight to 5:00 a.m. And years ago, former mayor Mufi Hanneman notoriously ordered the uprooting of entire populations on the leeward side.
Maui has its population too. A few years ago, the police cleared out a large camp that had been established right outside of Lahaina, just across the highway from Puamana Beach. Since then, Wailuku has become a new spot for folks to gather and walk around all day and night. Or perhaps you may have seen a few people pushing a shopping wagons into the bushes in Kahului. Maybe you’ve noticed folks who perpetually live at Kanaha Beach Park in an old tent faded from the sun or in a beat up van.
The latest came this year when our Legislature considered a pilot program with the Department of Human Services to give homeless persons a one-way ticket to the mainland. The bill was modeled after the controversial measure put in place in New York City by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007.
It would have required a person without a home—presumably living in shelters, on the beach, or elsewhere—to consent to the deportation and then clear a clean bill of health. At that point, they’d be whisked away to the mainland with no intention to return. Critics called this a legislative blessing on mass deportation. Proponents, on the other hand, said it was completely voluntary and that they wanted to leave.
The governor also tried his hand at solving the problem. In 2011, Governor Abercrombie wanted to reduce homelessness dramatically within 90 days. The government drew criticism, however, when he encouraged people not to feed the homeless because it would encourage others to become homeless.
Government responses have been tepid. The bill that would have bought a one-way ticket died in the House, and never made it to the governor’s desk for signature. The governor’s plan has brought only taken 500 people off the streets statewide. In the meantime, the tent city on the leeward coast thrives and the folks living out of shopping carts are still in need.

Traditional Camps in Hawaii Democratic Party Breaking Down?

Something new is afoot in state politics. No, we don't have a sudden and strong Republican response to years of Democratic dominance in the islands. Far from it. The Hawaii Democratic Party seems stronger than ever.
The state Senate has only one Republican in it; the House has seven. That makes us one of the most lopsided legislatures in the country. But don't be fooled by that. A subtle change is taking shape.
For nearly 40 years, the Democratic Party could be divided into two distinct camps that have battled each other in bitter and ferocious primary elections. The first symbolic clash came during the 1970 gubernatorial primary between the incumbent, now-mythic John A. Burns, and his former lieutenant governor, Thomas Gill, equally legendary.
The governor had the support of the first generation of Democrats who took control from Republicans in the later years of the territory and led the Democrats throughout the 1950s and '60s. These were prosperous years for Hawaii, and Gov. Burns had support from land developers, hotels, the military and builders who saw the state as an excellent investment. This included the big labor unions. Burns and his supporters fought the good fight together. They had a common experience through the "plantation days," a world war, and the economic boom that followed statehood.
Gill played the part of the upstart. He was younger, more charismatic, and a better speaker than the incumbent. He captured the vote of Democrats who were not part of the inner circle of power. Gill supporters tended to be students, environmentalists, activists, the first wave of migrants from the Mainland, and the burgeoning Native Hawaiian movement. They were Democrats too. Gill lost the primary, and Burns comfortably won the general election and started his third term as governor.
But ever since that Burns-Gill primary, the roles for Democrats were clearly defined. After his death, Burns' lieutenant governor, George Ariyoshi, took up the banner as the candidate for the established big business and big labor. Tom Gill ran again, but the opposition vote was split between him and Frank Fasi, a very different kind of upstart.
The Burns-Gill divide has manifested itself in all kinds of races throughout the state for decades. At Democratic rallies and events, you can still hear candidates talk about how their ancestors were hardworking plantation laborers. The takeover from the Republicans is still a rallying cry 60 years after the fact.
In the other camp, the Gill candidates - whether they know it or not - promise to buck the status quo and create a more responsive and encompassing government for those who may not have been part of the establishment from the get-go. And that's how it went. Sometimes, the establishment candidate won, other times the upstart would win. Either way, the Republican lost.
But something happened in 2006 when Ed Case challenged incumbent Daniel Akaka in a race for the U.S. Senate. At first glance it didn't seem all that different. Clearly, the incumbent was an establishment candidate. And Case was certainly an upstart.
However, Case was a moderate Blue Dog Democrat. This did not fit the classic Tom Gill candidate. Ironically, the activists, environmentalists and the others in the party who would normally support the upstart joined up with Akaka's backers.
The old dividing line within the party got blurrier when Neil Abercrombie squared off against Mufi Hannemann in the gubernatorial race. Could you call Abercrombie an upstart Gill candidate? Not in 2010. He was definitely an outsider liberal from New York in the 1970s when he ran for office. He has long been a proponent of green industry, gay rights and other progressive causes. But when he ran for governor, he had already served for many years on U.S. House committees overseeing the armed forces and was a quiet supporter of the military presence in the islands. Was Hannemann the establishment candidate? Not really. He may have had the support of big business and developers, but he was not a fixture in Hawaii politics like Abercrombie.
Now it seems that the next big primary is for the U.S. Senate, and again the lines are blurry for now. Sen. Brian Schatz is no upstart. Big labor and the establishment supported him in his race for the lieutenant governor in 2010. U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is the challenger and is also supported by labor unions. In fact, like Gill, she was a labor lawyer. But unlike Gill, she's part of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats that advocate free trade and are pro-business.
These candidates are harder to pin down. Perhaps the Burns-Gill model is breaking down for good. The recent primaries have forged new alliances, new power brokers, and, hopefully, new ideas. It could be a healthy sign that as a state, our politics are moving in a different direction.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How your Right to a Jury Trial Made it to Hawaii

We don't know where exactly the right to a trial by jury came from. The ancient Greeks had a massive number of citizens - sometimes up to a thousand - sit on a single jury and the Romans had a form of citizen participation in trials too. But our jury trial is a direct descendant from England.
The United States inherited the tradition from the English colonies and incorporated it into the federal Constitution. Each state more or less took the lead from the federal Constitution and made it part of their declaration of rights too.
But the way trial by jury came to Hawaii is a little different. It came directly from the English - a particular Englishman, in fact. Lord Byron, cousin to the famed poet of the same name who epitomized the Romantic movement, arrived in the islands in 1825 and is considered the man who introduced the principle.
Lord Byron was a captain with the Royal Navy on a sad mission. His ship carried the bodies of King Kamehameha II and his wife. The king and queen were the first royal Hawaiians to go abroad. While the royal couple toured London, they were exposed to the measles and died because they had no way to fight the Western disease. Their remains are buried on the grounds of Iolani Palace in the corner near King Street.
When Lord Byron got to the islands, he was invited to address a small group of chiefs about the British government. The captain did not want to dictate how the kingdom should be run, but he did come up with a list of suggestions.
He advised that "no man's life be taken away except by consent of the king, or the regent, for the time being, and of twelve chiefs." This suggestion soon developed into a fully formed right to a jury trial in death-penalty cases.
The first murder trial took place in 1826. The jury was selected by none other than Queen Ka'ahumanu. The details of the evidence and even the name of the accused have been lost, but the jury did not convict him. The jurors doubted that the accused really intended to kill. The unknown defendant was acquitted. Unfortunately, the governor of Oahu felt otherwise and ordered the execution anyways. The accused was publicly hanged.
The judicial system gradually improved. By the time Kamehameha III ascended the throne in the 1840s, the right to a jury trial extended beyond capital cases. Any offense with a possible fine exceeding $100 had to be tried by a jury.
But what kind of jury? The king passed a law that determined the composition of juries based on the status of the litigants. If the parties in the lawsuit were foreigners, then the jury had to be made up entirely of foreigners. If they were natives, then the jury had to be native. If it was a foreigner versus a native, then the jury had to be split equally.
A dispute quickly arose as to whether an island-born or naturalized white litigant was a "foreigner." In a series of cases to the early Supreme Court of the kingdom, it was resolved that these subjects were considered "foreigners," even though they had been naturalized citizens of the Hawaiian kingdom. In other words, "native" meant Native Hawaiian. The division now depended on ethnicity.
Ethnically divided juries continued long after the kingdom. The practice remained in effect well into the 20th century. The infamous Massie trial highlighted the racial tensions in territorial Hawaii.
In that case, Mainland haoles were horrified to learn that "native" jurors acquitted dark-skinned defendants accused of raping a white woman on the beach at Waikiki in the 1930s. They were equally horrified when another jury convicted the conspirators who kidnapped and murdered one of the acquitted defendants. Like the governor in power for the first murder trial, the territorial governor disagreed with the jury and commuted the sentence from 10 years hard labor to one hour at Washington Place.
One would like to think that those days are over, but the cases from the 1840s haunt us even to this day. This summer the trial of federal agent Christopher Deedy sparked a debate about "locals" and "haoles." Some considered the fatal shooting of a local male at the Waikiki McDonalds a modern-day Massie trial.
The jury was made up of folks from the islands and some born on the Mainland. One juror later spoke out and said that it was a diverse group. In the end, the jury was hopelessly divided, and the only thing that was hung was the jury itself. Deedy may be retried next year. No matter what the verdict will be, the conflict and the right to a jury trial will live on.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hawaii is not a "Right to Work" State

Hawaii is not Wisconsin. No kidding. It's not Michigan either. But in his State of the State address earlier this year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie had to assure us of these obvious facts.
He was talking about organized labor. The governor assured us that although he "is not going to abandon collective bargaining," he won't let labor unions "bankrupt the future for all by buying some temporary solution that does not address the fundamental fiscal issues we cannot escape."
Last winter, workers came out in droves in Michigan, braving the cold to storm the Capitol in Lansing and oppose what they called a legislative hammer to the labor movement. And Wisconsin was the site of a possible resurgence of the labor movement.
But they could not stop their legislatures and governors from passing another "right-to-work" law in this country. Michigan was the latest battleground in an effort to curtail union-dominated workplaces. Twenty-four states have passed these right-to-work laws.
So what exactly is a right-to-work law? Why is it even called that? The actual laws are all a little bit different, but the bottom line is that the law prevents a labor union and the employer from creating a workplace in which every employee is required to join a union or pay fees equivalent to union dues as a condition of employment. In other words, being in a union is not required to work. Hence the name, a right to work (without having to pay union dues).
On the other hand, the term is kind of a misnomer. It doesn't establish a right to work at all. It deprives the other dues-paying union members from their right to have a union. If an employee could have all of the benefits of being in a union shop - like a grievance procedure, arbitration of employer actions and guaranteed wages - without having to pay union dues, how many employees would dutifully pay union dues? None, say the opponents of these laws.
Without money from union dues, the union has no money to hire lawyers to represent workers in grievances and in contract negotiations. They wouldn't have the funds for walkouts, strikes or other kinds of action. In short, the union is stretched thin. Its resources dry up and it withers on the vine.
Hawaii has never passed this law. Far from it. Hawaii has a strong unionized workforce and the majority of political leaders are pro-union. And given the governor's speech, it doesn't seem like the state will join the other 24 anytime soon.
What if our governor did want to join Michigan and Wisconsin? What if the Maui County Council or the mayor wanted to? Could we become a right-to-work state? Or even a right-to-work county?
Probably not. If the state or county had the political will and wherewithal to pass such a law, the unions who have closed shops - such as the HGEA, HSTA and ILWU - would have something their Midwestern counterparts didn't have: the Hawaii Constitution.
The state constitution guarantees - right along with the freedom of speech and the right to privacy - the workers' right to organize. This protection has been part of our state constitution since 1978.
Would a right-to-work law be considered an infringement on a right to organize? A court would have to decide that. And in doing so, it would have to examine our constitutional right to organize.
Maybe it is constitutional. Perhaps the right to organize could be narrowly construed so that it would only protect workers in assembling and forming a union in the first place. That would mean that the law could prevent unions and employers from requiring the payment of dues from workers who choose to opt out. It would not infringe on the right to form the union and keep the union there in the first place.
Then again, the law could be unconstitutional. The right to organize - like the similar freedom of assembly - certainly includes something more than simply getting together and forming a union. It encompasses the right to negotiate and settle the terms of the employment from the employer, which would include the payment of dues in a union shop. The right to organize would be meaningless if it did not include this protection.
Who decides this question? First, a trial court would have to rule and the loser would almost certainly appeal to the highest and most authoritative interpreter of the Hawaii Constitution - the Hawaii Supreme Court. So in Hawaii at least, if the right-to-work law was miraculously passed by the Legislature and, even more incredibly, approved by the governor, the last word, then, would come from the courts.
So when the governor says that his administration is not going to abandon collective bargaining, that's great news, but it's certainly not newsworthy. He probably can't.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Monsanto's in Hawaii (and it's here to stay?)

I went to college in San Francisco and wrote for the university's paper. It was not uncommon to see activists of all stripes.
Bike messengers wanted equal rights with automotive commuters. Students were driving military recruiters off campus. The pole dancers' union (Local 790) wanted a better contract. You name it, we saw it.
Then there was Monsanto. It didn't seem real. My friend from Santa Cruz provided the perfect catchphrase for the anti-Monsanto movement: "Blame it on Monsanto."
It was rumored that Monsanto's corn seeds were spreading uncontrollably in Mexico. Monsanto seeds supposedly spread to fields and farms that nobody wanted, and started contaminating the indigenous strains of corn.
I was skeptical. That was preposterous, I thought. It had to be another fable made up by neo-hippie activists that need to get out of the Bay Area every now and again.
In law school, Monsanto came up again, but only in passing. I learned that ultraconservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas worked for Monsanto as a young lawyer soon after graduating from Yale Law School in the 1970s. By then, I was living in Kansas, where the only protesters were for the right.
I never thought Monsanto would find its way to the islands, but I was wrong. Monsanto's here. The fields along Piilani Highway at the entrance to Kihei are Monsanto products. There is an even more visible presence on Molokai and in Central Oahu. Kamehameha Schools has been leasing land on Oahu to Monsanto since 1999. The Monsanto seed company brings in more money to the state than sugar and pineapple. This industrial giant is a new player in the islands and is considered a rising star in the business community.
The protesters came here too. On the north shore, anti-Monsanto graffiti appears on stop signs, the bunker-turned-message-board next to Maliko Gulch, and even on that bike path between Paia Bay and Baldwin Beach Park. This year, there have been two large protests in Kahului in which folks gathered to march against the company.
A lot of the anti-Monsanto folks on Maui are cousins of the Northern Californians. In fact, some are former Northern Californians. But before we just wipe off the graffiti and marginalize the protesters as bourgeois Mainlanders, consider Vernon Bowman.
Bowman is not your average anti-Monsantonian. He would most definitely stand out in the vitamin room at Mana Foods. He's a 75-year-old soybean farmer from Indiana. Bowman bought Monsanto's soybean seeds that were resistant to Roundup and other herbicides. Monsanto products like this one are limited to a single harvest and require purchasing new seeds every year. Bowman bought Monsanto seeds secondhand at a grain elevator and used them late in the planting season. He even considered them subpar seeds.
Monsanto sued for patent infringement and won around $84,000. The case went up to the United States Supreme Court earlier this year. Justice Thomas did not recuse himself, but it didn't matter. The high court ruled unanimously for Monsanto. When it handed down the ruling in May, Monsanto had already sued 466 farmers and smaller agriculture businesses in 2013 alone. So maybe Monsanto protesters aren't just wackos.
On the other hand, Monsanto says that their fears are misguided. Monsanto products are not going to hurt organic farmers. They will not cross-pollinate with indigenous and native plants, and they are safe to consume.
In fact, Monsanto likes to point to the papaya case to show that genetically modified foods have a place here. Local farmers have fought against the papaya ringspot virus since the 1940s. By the 1990s, it threatened the very existence of papayas in the islands. To combat the problem, the government introduced a genetically modified and virus-resistant papaya.
The "rainbow" papaya created a buffer zone that allowed farmers to harvest an organic, nongenetically modified strain of papaya. It was a perfect example of organic farmers and agribusiness working together for the benefit of the community.
Now it seems that the Big Island may be banning even that papaya.
On top of its attempts to allay such fears, Monsanto is giving back to the community. It awards public schools thousands of dollars to fund science programs and horticulture. The company also provides much-needed jobs on Molokai and has helped to diversify our state's tourist-based economy. State and local governments are happy with the revenues and support, and they like relying on something other than the tourist industry.
Genetically modified foods and tampering with the building blocks of our food will never sit well with us. It's a new frontier. On the other hand, science is about exploring the unknown to make life better. The more involved Monsanto becomes in Hawaii, the more people will want to know about it and its seeds.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Many Different Hawaii Supreme Courts

This month, the Hawaii Supreme Court heard arguments for a case at Baldwin High School. This was the first time the court ever left Oahu. It's part of a community outreach program from the Judiciary designed to show students what the justices actually do.
This was a big deal. After all, from a lawyer's perspective, Maui is one of the Neighbor Islands. (The phrase itself is new and politically correct. When I was younger, we were simply known as the "outer islands." The old term always reminded me of the outer rings of Saturn or Outer Mongolia.)
This newspaper, and other media, ran a story about it and noted that this was the first time the court had convened on Maui since the middle of the 19th century. These reports of an earlier instance, however, are wrong.
It's a common misunderstanding. The Supreme Court drapes itself in a lot of tradition. Look at the building. Ali'iolani Hale is a sandy-colored palatial building with columns, a large clock, and massive bricks straddling King and Queen streets in downtown Honolulu. It serves as the stately backdrop for the famous statue of King Kamehameha I and is in thousands of snapshots by tourists from around the world.
That's where the Hawaii Supreme Court usually hears arguments. Inside there are white-with-marble floors and staircases, a museum, and official oil portraits of the chief justices from the recently retired Ronald Moon to William Little Lee, the New Yorker who was appointed to the Supreme Court of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1857. Every session begins with a strange cry: Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!
But don't be fooled by ancient French, white marble steps, or 19th-century oil portraits. The Supreme Court that sits on King Street today isn't all that old. The Hawaii Supreme Court is only as old as the state itself. It was created by the Hawaii Constitution in 1959. The court that came out here in the 1800s was very different institution with a similar name. The difference is far from technical.
The various constitutions for the Hawaiian Kingdom created a Hawaii Supreme Court. So did the brief, oligarchic Republic of Hawaii. These courts are very different institutions with the same name.
This is exactly what caused the problem and scandal with the Bishop Estate. Bernice Pauahi Bishop's will expressly states that trustees are to be appointed by the "Justices of the Supreme Court." The will also added that trustees had to be Protestant.
Long after statehood and after the Protestant-trustee requirement, the Hawaii Supreme Court continued to appoint trustees. It somehow did not matter that probate courts normally appointed trustees and received reports for charitable trusts.
The territorial Supreme Court was probably the most different animal of them all. Territorial justices were appointed by the president of the United States with the consent of the U.S. Senate - people who had no ties to the islands. But statehood changed all that.
Our court today has almost no federal oversight. It's created by the state constitution, not a piece of congressional legislation. Our justices are appointed by the governor of Hawaii and their tenure is reviewed by a state commission, the Judicial Selection Commission. Most importantly, the state Supreme Court is free to interpret state laws and the state constitution as it sees fit. Its decisions cannot - unless they violate federal law - be overturned by any other court.
This is not a technical nicety. Early justices of the new Supreme Court were cognizant of their break with the past. When Gov. John Burns appointed his former lieutenant governor, William Richardson, in 1966 to head the court, the institution was ready to depart from not only federal precedent, but from the laws and decisions of older Hawaii supreme courts.
The Richardson Court started to really distinguish itself from its territorial antecedent. Its rulings were much more sensitive to the rights of Native Hawaiians. It ruled that beaches and waters were held in the public trust. In criminal cases, the court has regularly departed from federal cases and created more protections for the accused.
The justices themselves were different too. In less than 10 years, the court went from presidentially appointed justices to a group of local lawyers from vastly different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. Today, the court continues to be one of the most diverse courts in the nation.
Even though the Hawaii Supreme Court still hears cases in the same building as the courts of past governments, it's not the same court. This court has the freedom to make a clean break from the precedents of the past whenever it feels the time is right. When that time comes depends on the consciences of the justices themselves.
- December 28, 2012

Latinos are the Nisei of Tomorrow

Immediately after the polls confirmed that Barack Obama had been elected for a second term, pundits across the country announced that Latino voters had finally made their voice heard. The sleeping giant has awoken, they exclaimed. The new shift has caused the Republican Party to think about its future and the need to change its tone toward Latinos and others. It should. This could mark the start of a sea change.
It's not the first time a new class of voters started to flex their political muscle. Just look at our own history.
Territorial politics were dominated by a Republican Party representing a white oligarchy and its business interests for nearly 50 years. Republican supremacy had a lot to do with voter exclusion. The immigrants from Asia were not allowed to vote because federal legislation stopped them from becoming citizens.
The exclusion, however, could not extend to their children. The first section of the 14th Amendment guarantees that anyone born in the United States is a citizen of the United States. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that that right extended to territories of the United States too.
This meant that the Hawaii-born sons and daughters of Asian immigrants were citizens, while their parents were not. It also meant that an entire generation of children who grew up watching disenfranchisement, social exclusion and economic inequality was going to someday be able to vote and participate in their government - rights that their parents were denied.
Many in the Republican Party then saw that change was on the horizon. In the 1940s, while the Republicans still controlled the territorial Legislature, they adjusted their policies. For example, Republicans passed the "Little Wagner Act" that allowed cane and pineapple workers to organize and join labor unions. By the 1950s, they had become much more moderate than their Mainland colleagues. Asian-Americans were on the ticket and William Quinn was a model Hawaii Republican who worked with the opposition.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, most of the new electorate of Asian-Americans did not embrace the party that made life difficult for their parents. With every election, Democrats won more and more seats. In 1954, they took the Legislature and the congressional delegate - a nonvoting member of Congress. The Democrats have never lost control of the state Legislature since that election.
Ironically, no one on the Mainland seemed to notice. When Hawaii entered the union with Alaska in 1959, Mainland politicos believed that the two additional states would maintain the balance of power: The Republicans would keep Hawaii, the Democrats Alaska. Of course, we all know what happened. Hawaii has consistently sent Democrats to Washington and became the home state for national figures like Daniel Inouye, Eric Shinseki and Barack Obama. Oddly enough, Alaska switched too and gave us big-name Republicans like Ted Stevens and Sarah Palin.
Hawaii's history shows that when a generation that comes of age under the shadow of discrimination and inequality starts to vote, we can expect a momentous shift in power.
So what's going to happen in Arizona?
There, the Republican Party controls the state and most local governments. It faithfully sends Republican senators and representatives to Washington. It has passed laws authorizing police officers to demand those suspected of unlawfully entering the United States to provide documentation of their immigration status. This is where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arapaio continues to get re-elected. Arapaio's policies include a tent city for inmates (he even called it a concentration camp) that exposes them to Phoenix's elements day and night.
What about Texas with its similar "papers please" law? Or Alabama, which passed anti-immigration laws so strict that workers left crops abandoned and rotting in the fields? And what about Kansas' secretary of state, Kris Kobach, the lawyer who helped write these laws?
The change in the Republican Party has already started. Mainstream leaders are talking about reaching out to Latino voters but are finding opponents within their own party. Many, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have clearly shown that unless the Republican Party changes, it will be left behind.
Across the country a new generation of Latino citizens who were born and raised in the United States is gradually reaching majority age. They have witnessed - like the Asian-Americans in Hawaii decades ago - disenfranchisement, economic inequality and state-sponsored exclusion.
Thanks to the 14th Amendment, once they are able to vote, they will have the ability to radically shift the balance of power in these traditionally red states. If the Republican Party continues to target them and their parents, then the wave of change that started in Hawaii could reach the Mainland. Arizona, Texas and even the Deep South could go blue and never look back.
- January 25, 2013

A Love Letter to Kihei

We've all heard complaints about Kihei. It's too hot. It's ugly. It's overrun with tourists walking around in snow-white shorts and matching shoes or green newcomers zipping around on mopeds. Maybe it's true.
Kihei may not look like your typical town on Maui. Compared to Wailuku or Hana, the subdivisions are pretty new. And yes, there are a lot of condominiums squeezed between South Kihei Road and Piilani Highway.
But despite the way it looks, Kihei isn't all that different than the other towns on Maui. In fact, South Maui carries on a long tradition in Hawaii.
More than a hundred years ago, sugar and pineapple were the biggest industries in the islands. Sugar and pineapple companies owned most of the viable lands, ran the major economic engines of the time, and controlled just about every facet of the government.
The companies recruited workers from all over the world to sweat it out in the fields, harvest the cane and run the mills and canneries. They brought in immigrants from Asia, Europe and the Mainland to the islands and settled them into small, single-industry towns with such precision that they could essentially dictate who would stay and who would have to leave.
Waves of immigrants from Japan, China, Portugal, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were no accident. The migrations were the result of conscious decisions of the landowners and industrial giants. They were assigned to little towns built entirely for a single industry, such as Paia and Lanai City. These are the same towns we now call "historic" and consider the quintessential local towns now that the industries that created them are long gone.
Now, look again at Kihei. If sugar and pineapple were the industries of the past, tourism and construction are the industries of today. Instead of a compact company town, we have an unplanned boomtown on the dusty south shore.
Of course, the hotels and construction industries aren't as heavy-handed as their predecessors. They cannot pick where most of their workforce comes from, nor do they have company towns. However, as was once the case in Puunene, Kihei is where the workers in today's industries call home. And like the first generation of folks to arrive in Puunene, most of the people who actually live in Kihei are new to Maui.
It's full of newcomers, immigrants from other countries, and even locals who all come together to work in pretty much the same industry and live side by side. Just about everyone who lives there came from somewhere else, be it Mexico, Missouri or Makawao.
The story of the generations of people who move there, work hard in the service industry and raise their kids on the south side continues the local tradition. Plantation camps were full of people from other places getting together and working for a single employer. The story isn't that much different for a lot of people who call Kihei home. Most people living in Kihei work at the major resorts in Wailea, run late shifts at high-end restaurants, and man the kiosks and counters for vacationing tourists.
It may not be pretty for some, but then many probably didn't think the towns created by the sugar and pineapple industries to be all that attractive either. Nobody at the time figured that Paia would become such a quaint, gentrified center for organic food sellers, high-end yoga shops and hip tattoo parlors.
Kihei will get there too. South Maui is maturing. Generations of families are claiming Kihei as the only home they have known. The need for a high school is becoming more and more pressing. People who moved there in the 1970s, '80s and '90s want to raise their own children there. They want parks, schools, a hospital, and the infrastructure enjoyed in more established towns on the island.
Kihei is going to be old someday. It will have a historical society and be considered quaint. Maybe future Mauians will demand that its government preserve that late 20th- and early 21st-century look. Maybe they will argue that "historic" homes in Maui Meadows or the "classic" condominiums on South Kihei Road are the best examples of the tourism or construction industry booms of the era and should be spared the wrecking ball. We could even have a tourism museum where old pictures and real uniforms of pool attendants and valets are on display. Imagine hearing Kihei folks debate how much longer their ancestors have lived, worked and played along the sunny, hot stretches of South Kihei Road.
By then, Maui may find a new industry and a new startup town will be there for everyone to frown upon.
- February 8, 2013

In Defense of the Steven Tyler Act

Ironically, the so-called "Steven Tyler Act" needs a better press agent. It's really too bad the media (and the Legislature itself) decided to call it the Steven Tyler Act in the first place. Extremely wealthy people who own private jets, fly out to Maui and hang out at exclusive estates and homes aren't the most sympathetic folks.
But that doesn't mean the bill itself is a waste of time. These days, it's not hard to fall victim to invasions of privacy. With smartphones running rampant, a plaintiff doesn't need to be a celebrity at all. Could it perhaps be used by anyone who finds an embarrassing picture from the beach or the backyard on Facebook? I'd bet that no one would like a personal photograph or an awkward birthday photo to become an overnight Internet meme.
People are ridiculed, pranked and bullied relentlessly by others on the Internet. In some instances, it could easily be considered an invasion of privacy and actionable under the new bill.
I can't help but wonder about a very different Tyler. Remember Tyler Clementi? He was not a rock star or anybody who made a career out of being famous.
Clementi was a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey until his roommate secretly recorded him kissing another man in his room. After his roommate posted that footage on the Internet, Clementi tragically jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Arguably, Clementi's estate could have used something similar to the Steven Tyler Act to pursue punitive damages.
Despite the smirking and ridicule from the public, the state Senate has approved the bill with overwhelming support. Its fate now lies in the House.
So maybe when it gets there, the bill could be recast as a different kind of measure. Maybe it could get some good PR this time around and become an effective tool to stop online bullying and harassment. In that sense, all of us could become celebrities.
- March 8, 2013

Remembering Prince Kuhio

Last week Tuesday was Prince Kuhio Day. These days it's hard to find folks who know about him, let alone why we have a holiday for him.
Here are the basics. Jonah Kuhio was born into a high-ranking alii family in Koloa on Kauai in 1871 but was not considered a prince until he was adopted by King David Kalakaua. Like many in his socioeconomic class, Prince Kuhio was educated at the Royal School and Punahou on Oahu. Afterward, he went to more schools in California and in England.
King Kalakaua later made the prince part of his Cabinet. He also served Queen Lili'oukalani. During the time of the overthrow, the prince was loyal to his queen. He fought against the small group of white businessmen who had organized the overthrow and set up an oligarchic government.
Prince Kuhio joined the armed insurrection against the newly established Republic of Hawaii. He was detained, tried for treason against the republic and sentenced to death, but that was commuted to a year in prison. After serving his year, Kuhio left the islands.
The oligarchy that engineered the overthrow and had set up a republic enjoyed tight political control of the islands by limiting the voting populace to mainly the white minority (the oligarchs had a property-ownership requirement for voters). They also lobbied the Republican Party to annex the islands to the United States.
When Prince Kuhio returned, the islands had become a territory and the oligarchs enjoyed tariff-free exports of sugar to the Mainland. They had also officially become staunch Republicans. But they had a new problem.
The property-based voting franchise was gone. The election of a delegate to the United States Congress was now wide open to not only the white minority but to any and all adult men born in the islands - including the Native Hawaiians who objected to the overthrow and annexation. In fact, the Hawaiians formed their own party - the Home Rule Party - and elected the flamboyant revolutionary Robert Wilcox as their candidate for Congress.
Wilcox enjoyed a strong populist appeal among the Hawaiians. He was also the worst nightmare for the oligarchs. Like Prince Kuhio, Wilcox fought against them and led an armed insurrection against the Republic in the 1890s. He too had been sentenced to imprisonment. He openly called the government in the islands the "Dole Oligarchy." Wilcox was a rabble-rouser. He rejected even the restoration of the monarchy and advocated a truly independent republic - a position considered too radical for many Hawaiians.
The Republicans needed a viable candidate that could at the very least split the Hawaiian vote. Fortunately for them, Prince Kuhio left the Home Rule Party and joined their ranks. In 1902, Prince Kuhio ran against Wilcox. During his campaign, the prince used his royal status and ran as a man who would have been the rightful heir to the overthrown throne. Wilcox didn't have this royal pedigree and was crushed in the election.
Prince Kuhio was a consistent delegate to the United States Congress. Although he joined the oppressors, he made it clear in speeches that he was his own man and he wanted above all to help his people. He was re-elected nine more times and served until his death in the 1920s. He urged Congress to pass the Hawaiian Homes Act, one of the first governmental programs designed to help Native Hawaiians.
On the other hand, Prince Kuhio's switch from the Home Rule Party to the Republicans helped the Republicans gain total control of territorial politics. Eventually the Home Rule Party fizzled out and the Democratic Party was moribund for nearly 50 years.
These days, those who know about Prince Kuhio see him in two very different lights. Some think of him as a turncoat who left the rebellious Home Rulers and threw in his lot with the ruling class. And very recently, Native Hawaiian scholars have argued that Prince Kuhio became a Republican because he felt he could serve his people better with the majority party. These scholars write that he was a conscientious leader of Native Hawaiians, seeking practical change and legislation.
Despite the divergent opinions about the man, one thing is certain: He is considered the first modern Native Hawaiian politician. He was born in the days of the kingdom, fought against the oligarchic republic, and served his people as he saw fit in the territory. And that's enough of an achievement to honor him with a holiday.
- April 5, 2013

Three Holidays in a Single Day

Three unofficial holidays fall on the 1st of May. In Hawaii, there's Lei Day, or May Day. This was a really big deal in elementary school. In the days leading up to the pageant at Haiku School, volunteering adults built a stage out of plywood and chicken wire and adorned it with dark green ti leaves and fresh flowers. In the meantime, each class practiced a song or hula. Lucky kids were selected onto a court that represented each island's flower and color.
When the big day finally came, parents gathered with teachers in the yard down the hill from the cafeteria. We performed, and then we had a luau. I'm sure other schools had similar celebrations.
In high school, a substitute teacher told us about the other May Day she discovered while going to school on the Mainland. She was from the islands and was homesick. Then she heard about some May Day events at some building on campus. She couldn't believe it. She was so excited to see lei, talk to others from Hawaii, and maybe even eat some local food again. When she got there, she was disappointed. There were no flowers. No locals. And certainly no hula.
Instead, she saw angry students who needed haircuts. They wore drab clothing and talked about things like class struggle, the Paris Commune and the Soviet Union. There was no food at all. So much for May Day on the Mainland.
I was reminded of that story when fliers started popping up around my college campus in California around the end of April. Sure enough, on May 1 there was a little demonstration with similar angry students in drab clothing. This time they weren't talking about communism. They were more interested in the World Trade Organization, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and stopping the Gap and the aptly named Banana Republic from exploiting workers abroad.
The celebration of working people still occurs on May 1 in just about every country in the world except this one. In Latin America, El Dia del Trabajo is commemorated with parades, rallies and cookouts. The Eastern Bloc staged massive military rallies and parades. Ironically, it was celebrated in both West and East Germany. And what's even more confusing is that both the extreme left and the right have claimed the holiday as their own. It's still really big in Europe. Annual protests flare up in nearly every capital city throughout the industrialized world.
Not here. The United States government has made conscious efforts to end May Day. In 1958, President Eisenhower declared May 1 as "Law Day, U.S.A." A federal statute even declares that on Law Day, Americans - instead of protesting and marching -- should reaffirm their loyalty to the United States and respect the law. Law Day should be observed "with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways."
It seems like something straight out of "Dr. Strangelove." Back then, we were in the middle of a long Cold War and were downright fanatical about opposing anything that even hinted at communism. You'd think that all that stuff would have faded away, but every single president since the '50s has declared the 1st of May as Law Day, and not a day to acknowledge international solidarity among the working classes.
And still May Day dies hard. Last year, thousands marched in solidarity in New York City to protest the excesses of Wall Street and the brutality of the capitalist system as a whole. This year was no different. Labor unions and other groups staged demonstrations across the country. They cried out for justice for undocumented workers, a living wage, and ending unsafe working conditions that may have led to death and destruction in West, Texas, last month. They continued to question the doctrine of an unbridled free-market economy.
At the same time, the American Bar Association still encouraged Law Day. Here on Maui, the Hawaii State Bar Association will hold a free legal clinic tomorrow at the Maui Mall from 8 a.m. to noon. Volunteer attorneys will be there to help anyone with legal matters of any kind.
Our clinic is a far cry from Law Day's anti-communist origins, but it's no demonstration either. It's somewhere in the middle. Perhaps President Lyndon Johnson's 1968 Law Day proclamation summed it up best when he urged "all those members of the bar, the bench and the law enforcement system who work to improve the performance of this system - to make it more just, more effective, and more responsive to our people's needs. America is grateful to them for their efforts to improve and extend legal services to the poor; to streamline the machinery of our courts . . . "
In the end, we get to have all three. Enjoy Lei Day, consider May Day, and see you on Law Day.
- May 3, 2013

Movies in Hawaii are Hardly About Hawaii

Hollywood loves using Hawaii. Although producers, our government and most of public opinion welcome the brief economic surge accompanying the filming and production of major motion pictures, the movies themselves are pretty bad. "Battleship," for example, is a forgettable action flick based on a board game showcasing American naval prowess - and Rihanna.
It's safe to say that with little exception, most movies filmed in Hawaii - even the better ones - are seldom about Hawaii. Take "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." This very funny flick revolves around a heartbroken guy from Los Angeles. He ends up flying out to the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu to forget about his ex-girlfriend only to find her in the room next door with her new British beau.
The only two "local" characters in the flick involved the gentle giant Kimo, the cook at the resort, and the aggressive and scrappy Keoki, who false cracks the main character when he sees him with his ex-girlfriend. These are the old, annoying stereotypes of local folks. In the end, the plot (and the characters) moves away from the islands and normal life resumes again in California. Hawaii becomes a distant, exotic memory.
But the locals in that movie were tame compared to Rob Schneider's pot-smoking Ula in "Fifty First Dates." He runs around with his five "keeds," speaking pidgin lamenting about his overweight and unlovable wife. It was hard to believe that character got the green light in 2004.
Hawaii and its inhabitants are usually nothing more than a backdrop for the main plot and characters (who are almost always Caucasian). It's nothing new. About a week after rewatching "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "From Here to Eternity" was on the classic movie channel.
Most of the action and drama took place on a military base, where just about everybody came from someplace else. Instead of stereotypes of local people, "From Here to Eternity" didn't feature any local people. They were practically nonexistent.
Donna Reed's character worked at the New Congress Club in Chinatown, where she made her money spending time with lonesome soldiers. And like the lead role in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," she came to the islands to get away from something on the Mainland. In the end - and after quite a dramatic ride - she packed up and boarded the liner back to the Mainland. She told Donna Kerr that she was never coming back to the islands. The final scene was a departure.
"From Here to Eternity" was released in 1953, when Hawaii was still a territory. Fifty-five years later in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Hawaii is still just a backdrop for characters from the Mainland to indulge in escapism. While in this island paradise, the conflicts that they took with them are resolved, they grow, and head home happy.
Nobody around here seems to mind. The tax incentives are huge. When a Mainland production comes to the islands, our local media go wild. The television news features the latest big-budget production that comes to the islands. More earnest efforts to depict daily life in the islands are not met with the same enthusiasm. "The Descendants" didn't get a buzz until it was deemed Oscar worthy. And there was not nearly enough buzz when our home-grown production of "Get a Job" was being filmed, edited, produced and distributed from Maui.
The scary part is that some of us discourage anything other than the stereotypes. Remember that "Saturday Night Live" skit with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson?
The Rock worked at a hotel restaurant reminiscent of the one in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." But this time the main characters were the workers playing the ukulele and wearing grass skirts. There were no gentle giants, no hotheads and no happy-go-lucky locals. The Rock's character was articulate, sarcastic and witty.
When a guest commented that they must "love living here," the response was downright vicious.
"My brother and I here live 15 miles inland. There's a rusty pickup truck with weeds growing out of it. Yeah, that's our house." The Rock then chimed in. "Wanna come visit? It's real easy to get to. Just drive through the shantytown, make a right at the meth lab, and you'll see a 15-year-old girl who got pregnant by an out-of-town businessman. Then ask for her brother. That's me."
Then-Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona was not happy and described the skit as offensive. The Hawaii Tourism Authority - our government agency that promotes and encourages tourists to visit us here in the islands - announced that "anything that pokes fun, or puts us in a bad light, our culture, the Hawaiian culture, that affects all of us." I agree. So how come no one was offended by the characters from the scores of movies over the past 50 years?
- May 17, 2013