Friday, December 19, 2014

How Should We Remember Pearl Harbor?

            On December 7, 1941 at 7:48 a.m., the first wave of Japanese fighter planes attacked Oahu. More than 350 fighter planes would descend upon the island. The Japanese managed to destroy and damage battleships, cruisers, and hundreds of planes. A total of 2,403 people were killed—68 were civilians—in 90 minutes. The Pearl Harbor naval base wasn’t the only attack sight. Bombs dropped all over Honolulu.
            When we look back on it, most note that daring raid by the Japanese as the start of America’s entry into World War Two. The phrase, “remember Pearl Harbor” became a clarion call in the United States. It was a rallying cry to mobilize American forces into a global conflict fought in two theaters on the opposite ends of the globe. We still remember Pearl Harbor with ceremonies, memorials, and speeches.
But many have forgotten that December 7, 1941 marks the start of one of the longest violations in history. Hawaii had been a U.S. territory and instead of a state constitution, the operative document was the Organic Act—an act of Congress that established and set up the territorial government of Hawaii.
Buried deep in the Act was a provision allowing the governor to suspend habeas corpus and declare martial law “in case of rebellion or invasion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it.”
The governor in 1941 was Joseph Poindexter. Hours after the attack at 3:30 p.m., Poindexter sat at his office at Iolani Palace surrounded by military brass. No one knew if the Japanese would come back. The death toll was unknown.
One of the officers in the governor’s office later wrote that Poindexter quietly walked onto a veranda and looked over onto the palace grounds. He saw two gaping craters in the lawn and wondered aloud if they were there the day before the attack. No one had an answer.
He turned to the officers and said he believed martial law was the only viable way to preserve order and keep people safe. The tone of the former federal judge, according to the officer, “was as if he were adjudging a death sentence.” After declaring martial law, the military took over the territory and wouldn’t let go.
The courts were suspended and replaced with military tribunals. The governor abdicated to a military governor whose orders were the law.
The military regulated nearly every aspect of life in the islands. It imposed a curfew and ordered a blackout to prevent night-time attacks. Civilians were ordered to turn off lights and blackout the headlights on their vehicles. Barbed wire was set up across beaches and checkpoints were a common sight in Honolulu.
The military closed public schools and Japanese language schools. Everyone over the age of six was required to be registered and fingerprinted. Money, labor, food, traffic enforcement, and even prostitution came under the aegis of military concern and regulation.
Civilian courts were suspended and replaced with a military tribunal. The tribunal presided over civilian and military violators of orders and proclamations.
Hawaii’s Japanese community became a target of exclusion and suspicion. They were closely monitored. Japanese language schools and Buddhist temples and a few Japanese Christian churches were shut down. Up to 1,400 people of Japanese descent were rounded up and held in internment camps scattered throughout the islands—including a camp in Haiku here on Maui.
This was the status quo for the territory. Hawaii had become a military dictatorship. Martial law lasted long after the threat of invasion had passed. Years after the attack on Oahu, two civilians challenged the validity of these courts during the occupation. The military authorities sentenced them to prison for violating either civilian law or an order of the military governor.
They managed to get their case to the United States Supreme Court and the court agreed that the martial law by that point was unlawful. The term “martial law” was supposed to “authorize the military to act vigorously for the maintenance of an orderly civil government and for the defense of the island against actual or threatened rebellion or invasion.” It was not supposed to supplant civil courts.

But the final word on the legality of martial law in Hawaii didn’t come down until 1946—after the war and long after the barb wire was removed from the sands of Waikiki.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Grand Jury and the Two Darrens

            The grand jury has got a lot of press lately. Two stories have highlighted this very old procedure in our criminal justice system. The first is the national news story about Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.
Officer Wilson shot an unarmed black teenager to death. The death sparked protests and a clampdown by the police that made national news. Pressure mounted to the point where the prosecutor appeared before a grand jury and presented evidence against Wilson. The jury heard hours of testimony and met for several days. It even heard the testimony of Wilson himself.
When the grand jury did not indict the officer protests erupted in more than 150 cities. The town of Ferguson was again set ablaze and the National Guard and the police have clashed in its streets all over again.
            So what exactly is the grand jury? Why do we even have it?
            We inherited the grand jury from England. Back in in 1166, King Henry II issued an order requiring twelve “good and lawful” men from the community to come together and determine if any person in their villages or towns had committed the offense of robbery, murder, theft, arson, or other serious crimes. If they agreed, they would inform the King’s officials and a charge would be brought. From there, the accused would probably stand trial of some kind and would most likely be subject to a terrible demise like hanging or decapitation.
Apparently we live in more enlightened times and the government does not cut people’s heads off anymore. But we still use the grand jury. It became part of English legal landscape and later the colonies. Our founders felt it was important enough to guarantee it in the Bill of Rights.
            Our state constitution has a grand jury guarantee too. Sixteen men and women in the community are empanelled at the start of each year and hear cases presented by the prosecutor’s office. They hear testimony of witnesses, police officers, and whoever the prosecutor wants to present. And then they deliberate in secret to determine if charges should be brought. It happens in every county in the State.
            So much for the history lesson. What’s it do? The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecution and determine if there’s probable cause that a crime occurred. The standard is less demanding than proof beyond a reasonable doubt—the level of evidence needed to convict. If the grand jury finds probable cause, it may return an indictment. If not, it will return a no-bill.
The other thing about the grand jury is that it’s all done in secret. The accused does not have the right to attend and certainly is not compelled to testify. The prosecutor almost never presents defenses before the grand jury. That’s what made the grand jury in Missouri so different. Wilson testified and the prosecution presented possible defenses to the shooting. Hence the nationwide disappointment and anger.
            Nor is the grand jury needed for every charge. A grand jury presentation is only required for serious crimes. The US constitution requires it only for “infamous crimes.” Courts over the years have ruled that certain crimes—like murder or sexual assault in the first degree—require an indictment.
            Others don’t. Driving under the influence is not so serious that a prosecutor has to present evidence to a grand jury. Neither is abuse of a family or household member, which is why the other case in the news is so curious.
The other grand jury story is a local one; and it involves another cop named Darren. This Darren—Honolulu Police Department officer Darren Cachola—was caught on camera attacking his girlfriend in a restaurant. The attack looked pretty savage and intense. It was so bad that others intervened.
            The Honolulu prosecutor’s office did not file a complaint alleging the misdemeanor offense of abuse of a family or household member. Instead, it opted to present the case to the grand jury. The grand jury in Honolulu, as with the grand jury in Missouri, returned a no bill. And people were scratching their heads or outraged at the lack of a prosecution.
Perhaps the grand jury system worked in these cases and we’re just not used to it. The grand jury is really supposed to protect the accused from unwarranted or overzealous prosecutions. I guess everyone else from Honolulu to Ferguson felt that these prosecutions were warranted.

            But often times it’s been criticized as a rubber stamp for the government and is known for indicting anyone for about anything. New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously said that if the prosecutor wanted to, a grand jury could “indict a ham sandwich.” Ironically, the chief was later indicted himself. But that’s another story for another time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wailuku's Happy Valley isn't the Only One

            When you head down Market Street you will see the efforts by community organizations, small businesses, and the County to make Wailuku Town more attractive for tourists, residents, and investors. It’s a walkable town. It’s quaint. It’s an all-around nice place to work, live, and hang out. Then you drive down to the bottom of the hill and cross Iao Stream to the small neighborhood we all know as Happy Valley.
            It should come to no surprise to any Mauian that Happy Valley has a reputation. And it’s not a good one. For as long as I could remember, people would say that crime and danger lurked around every corner. It was the “ghetto” and people always talked about break-ins, prostitutes, and drugs.
            The name was always strange and ironic to me. Where did that come from? Turns out Happy Valleys can be found across the globe.
            The most famous and earliest Happy Valley comes from England. Famed writer Samuel Johnson penned a satire in the eighteenth century called “The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.” The story begins with a weary prince living in the lap of luxury in the Happy Valley. Although it’s pleasant and life is easy, it’s boring and bland.
            Johnson’s story proved to be very popular among the English and by the nineteenth century, when English imperialism peaked, there were real-life Happy Valleys all over the world.
            Hong Kong’s Happy Valley is the historical heart of colonial Britain. In the 1840s, the valley was an early camp for the British Army, which eventually colonized Hong Kong and held it until 1997. The valley was a marsh and many soldiers were killed off by malaria.
            The death rate for the British settlers in those days was quite high and the valley became a cemetery for the early colonials. The name of the cemetery was dubbed Happy Valley, which was a common name for graveyards in those days. The name stuck.
There are a few notable HVs in the United States too. Nittany Lion alum and fans fondly call State College, Pennsylvania—the home of Penn State University—Happy Valley. The term is also used frequently in Utah. Early Mormon settlers referred to the Salt Lake region as Happy Valley. Today, the term is still in use out there, but some use the term derisively to mock the cheery optimism of its inhabitants.       
It’s unclear when folks started calling the gully along the Iao Stream Happy Valley, but it’s certainly not the first place to earn the name. It’s even more unclear if the name for the Wailuku vale was meant to be ironic like the Mormons and Johnson or if it was earnest like the Penn State alum. Maybe there’s an old forgotten cemetery?
We may never know. One thing is certain, though, Happy Valley isn’t all that bad. Not long ago, after work, I headed down into the valley to check it out. The sun had just set. The sky was pale and the clouds crowning the West Maui Mountains were pink.
Those notorious narrow streets weren’t dangerous at all. First, there’s the world famous Banana Bungalow hostel. Tourists who either can’t afford or simply shun the luxury hotels in Wailea or Kaanapali gathered in the dusk to plan the next day’s itinerary of activities on Maui.
I went mauka into the valley alongside the Iao Stream. Folks were sitting on stoops and kids were playing alongside the chain link fence running along side the stream. At the park in the back of the valley more kids were playing baseball.
Back on Market Street, Takamiya Market was bustling with energy. Folks were grabbing food for their families to take home for dinner. People were talking story. At a community center nearby a hula halau was practicing. Parents and residents were standing around watching. It reminded me of the old neighborhoods surrounding Kalihi Valley on Oahu. It reminded me of Paia when I was a kid in the 1980s.
Folks waved, smiled, and were generally downright decent and cheery to each other. Perhaps the name for that narrow Wailuku gulch isn’t so strange after all.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Remembering Glen Grant

            Call it what you like. Ghosts, spirits, superstitions, or belief in the paranormal are part of life in Hawaii. Even if you have just moved out here, it won’t take long before you run into someone who insists on blessing a home or someone who refuses to live in a house without ti leaves nearby. It simply comes with the territory.
            I’ve always been fascinated by the subject. I remember in elementary school looking desperately for scary stories to read about. And for all of the superstitions and local lore we have in Hawaii, there weren’t a lot of books on the subject.
            Sure, they were easy to come by when everyone gathered around during sleepovers to talk about them. I can still remember being scared of the Guava Man at Camp Maluhia (it might have been Camp Keanae). That was the strange man that came out of the woods looking for kids to take back with him into the dark. Everyone had stories about vanishing hitchhikers, Madame Pele, or the night marchers roaming the old trails and beating drums.
But you could never find a place to actually read about this stuff. Our library had Eric Knudsen’s “Spooky Stuffs,” which featured not only homegrown ghost stories about the Garden Isle, but brilliant watercolor illustrations of Guy Buffet. Knudsen’s stories featured giants, one-eyed monsters roaming the mountains and woods, and skeletons. They were timeless and seemed to have come from a different era. None of his stories were about modern Hawaii.
            That all changed with Glen Grant’s “Obake: Ghost Stories of Hawaii.” Unlike Knudsen’s timeless stories about Kauai, Grant’s tales took place in metropolitan Honolulu. They were told by local folks, who had witnessed something supernatural. Some saw the faceless woman in the ladies’ room at the Waialae Drive-Inn. Others claimed to have felt the presence of ancient spirits on lonely stretches of the roadway out to Kaena Point. All of the stories were on Oahu.
            Grant got popular when I was in high school in the 1990s. Not only did he write books, but he also conducted walking tours around Honolulu at night. He even made it out to Maui once. I remember going to hear him tell stories at Iao Congregational one night around Halloween time. He was a fantastic story teller and it always seemed like he was smiling as he talked about mythology or some kind of weird tale.
            His books made me think that I could do something like that too. My chance came when my English teacher told me I had to write a book report. Now, back then, I hated reading (most people have a hard time believing that). I couldn’t get through a novel to save my life. So I chose a book I read already: Glen Grant’s.
            My teacher saw right through it and challenged me to do something more than just write a report. What I came up with ghost stories of my own? If Glen Grant went around Oahu for decades collecting ghost stories, why couldn’t I do that for Maui?
            I used the book report as an excuse to call anyone who’d talk to me about ghosts and the supernatural. I sat down with windsurfers or hippies, there were retired cops, the long-time residents recalling the by-gone territorial days, and the hotel workers who had all kinds of rumors floating around the work place.
            It was my first taste at interviewing witnesses. I was learning as I went. I took notes and put it all together until I had the story. Then I’d set out writing it down. In the end, I had about fifty stories. One of them got published.
            I stopped the ghost project when people started calling my house asking me to investigate the spirits in their own home. No thanks. I’d rather listen to a good story. The last thing I wanted to do was see a ghost.
            By then, I was finishing up high school and I was in the school paper and starting to outgrow the subject anyways. But Grant and the experience got me hooked on writing and stories. Glen Grant was not a literary genius, but he was a local author. He wrote about Hawaii and entertained people with his stories about the weird, the unexplained, and the downright scary.

I never met him when I moved back. He died in 2003, the year I graduated from college with a journalism degree. But he’s far from forgotten. Glen Grant’s student and protégé, Lopaka Kapanui, has picked up where he left off and continues to talk story about the unexplained. His books are still reprinted and sold all over the place. Who knows? He may even appear in a ghost story of his own someday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

David Ige and Elwin Ahu: Absolute Beginners

            Two mystery men in Hawaii politics are in the biggest race in the State.
Let’s start with David Ige. Who’s he? Here are the basics: David Ige’s from Pearl City on Oahu. His father served in World War Two in the famed 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, saw action in France, and earned a purple heart and the bronze star. After the war, he worked as a steelworker in Honolulu. His mother was a registered nurse and a dental assistant. They had six boys. David is the second youngest.
Ige got his degree at UH in electrical engineering and later got a master’s degree in business administration while working at GTE Hawaiian Tel in the 1980s. He was an engineer in the private sector for a long time before Governor George Ariyoshi appointed him to the House to fill a vacancy in 1985. He’s been in politics ever since. He remained in the House until he switched over to the Senate in 1994.
But what exactly are Ige his politics? For starters, he’s got some of the trappings of a classic Hawaii liberal. He has voted in favor of the gay marriage bill. He has openly criticized the rapid development of luxury condominiums in Kaakako and has said such development is irresponsible. And a few weeks ago, I noted that he’s open to dispensaries for medical marijuana patients.
One of his favorite talking points is education. He’s a big fan of public schools and wants to work hard to help out the teachers, students, and every stakeholder in our public institutions. But that’s only part of him. What’s he like?
            His friends describe him as humble. For example, when he was nearing the end of his high school years at Pearl City, he got accepted to prestigious places like University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also applied for UH.
            But he also knew that his family wasn’t rich. He knew that it would have been a struggle for the family to pay tuition for Cal or MIT. It would also make college for his younger brother harder too. So he didn’t tell anyone and went to UH. Now that’s humility.
            The other unknown is Elwin Ahu.             Ahu grew up in Kalihi, but, like Ige, was raised in Pearl City. He went to Kamehameha Schools and was a volleyball star. After a career in volleyball at Graceland College in Iowa, Ahu got his law degree from the University of Hawaii in 1980.
            Ahu was a trial lawyer with stints at Legal Aid in Molokai, then as a public defender in Honolulu before entering a private practice. He worked civil and criminal jury trials on Oahu until he was appointed as a full-time District Court judge in 1994. By then he’d been married twice.
            Back in 2001, he was featured in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He was candid about what was going on in his life at the time. He said that as his family life started to disintegrate, he found a new faith while sitting in traffic.
            He pulled out an old tape with a pastor’s sermon on it. That led to him attending the New Hope Christian Fellowship and Pastor Wayne Cordeiro. Things started looking up for him.
            “Once I put God in my life, everything went click, click, click,” he told the Advertiser. Click it did. In 1997, then-Governor Ben Cayetano appointed him to the Circuit Court and a year later he married a third time.
            He remained on the circuit court bench for only two years before stepping down to become a full-time pastor at New Hope Metro in Honolulu. He announced his candidacy in February of this year.
            When he did, he said that “government leaders are no longer grateful, it seems, for Divine Guidance, nor are they mindful of our Hawaiian heritage, consequently we’ve lost our uniqueness as an island state.”
            Later, in an interview, Ahu said that his decision to run for office came from what happened with the same-sex marriage debate in in 2013. He said that holding the special session as opposed to a ballot measure moved him to get into politics. Not surprisingly, Ahu opposed the special session.
            Since winning the lieutenant governor’s slot for the GOP, Ahu has not been making too many headlines of his own, and his stance on political issues remains unclear. Still yet, many see him as a rising star in Hawaii politics. Win or lose, no one expects this to be his last race.

            It’s rare in Hawaii for unknown candidates vying for the top office. It’s a race usually reserved for well-known and seasoned politicians. Whoever wins this race, our executive branch will be headed by new faces indeed.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maui's GMO Moratorium: How'd we get here?

            Surely everyone has heard something about that “GMO thing” by now. It started on Maui back in June with a voter initiative.
The initiative petition is a unique procedure allowing voters themselves to propose an ordinance. In other words, it need not be introduced by Council members. The County Clerk received a voter initiative containing more than 9,000 signatures asking the County Council to temporarily ban the farming of genetically modified organisms.
A GMO was defined by “in vitro nucleic acid techniques” and “[m]ethods of fusing cells beyond the taxonomy family that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection[.]”
This is the definition used all over the country that is confronting the same issue. Despite the need for a biologist to translate what this means in plain English, the consensus seems to be that no matter how it’s defined, bi-tech companies like Mycogen and the more well-known Monsanto are going to be adversely effected.
            The moratorium would last until more studies were done to ensure that they were safe for the environment and the health and well-being of Maui’s inhabitants. The ban could be lifted by the Council, but it would require a long and drawn out process with comprehensive studies, a 2/3 majority, public hearings, and a finding by the Council that lifting the ban would not “result in significant harm and will result in significant benefits to the health of present and future generations of Maui citizens, [and] significantly supports the conservation and protection of Maui’s natural beauty and all natural resources[.]”
            And so it began. Monsanto and other bio-tech companies lobbied very hard against the passing of his ordinance. On the other side you had the anti-GMO groups and the SHAKA movement. Both sides presented their experts and the Council sat through hours upon hours of testimony both for and against. The Council didn’t vote on the bill and by law, the bill would be decided by the voters in November.
            But first—this being America—a brief interlude into Court. A group of County residents and organizations like the Molokai Chamber of Commerce and Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban sued the County Clerk and the Chief Election Officer of the State. The plaintiffs argued that the question on the ballot was misleading and confusing. Along with the lawsuit came a restraining order prohibiting the question from going onto the ballot. The Court was unpersuaded and dissolved the restraining order in September and allowed the question to go through onto the ballot.
            And so the stage was set for November. Voters will be asked a single question:
 “Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which establishes civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?”
This is why you can’t open a newspaper, turn on the television, listen to the radio, access a website, or do just about anything else without getting some kind of message about this question.
            The media blitz on both sides is reaching a feverous pitch. “YES” folks include Native Hawaiian activists like Walter Ritte and Dr. Lorrin Pang. They are allied with concerned parent-types and organic-foodies. The arguments for the moratorium are that it’s “temporary,” and are designed to ensure that GMOs are safe to have around.
            Camp “NO” seems to have slick television ads and highly-recognizable folks. They argue that this moratorium is unnecessary and will cost the County a lot of jobs. Some are even concerned about putting local farmers not only out of business, but in jail. (As a defense lawyer, I had a good chuckle when I saw the ad with former Honolulu prosecutor Peter Carlisle deeply concerned about a new misdemeanor on the books in Maui County.).
            If the majority of voters check the “YES” box, the issue might try to get back into Court before the moratorium goes into effect. Remember Kauai? A similar thing happened when Kauai County tried to label GMOs. A federal judge ruled the ordinance unlawful this summer.
And if the question is answered in the negative, then you can bet the opposition to bio-tech companies aren’t going to just pack up and leave—especially since most of them are born and bred local folks and Maui residents.

So no matter how this long, wordy and hotly-debate question is answered, you can bet the issue won’t be resolved this November.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hawaii's Need for Marijuana Dispensaries

            Suppose you’re injured from a car accident. You’re in a lot of pain. You don’t want to be prescribed the usual pain medication that would turn you into a zombie. Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with an illness that has caused dramatic and even dangerous weight loss and your doctor wants you to gain and maintain weight on the double.
            Let’s say you want to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite some friends looking askance at your need for weed, you can. The law allows it.
            A physician first has to determine that the patient has a debilitating medical condition, which includes cancer, HIV, AIDS or even severe nausea or pain. The physician also has to certify that the potential benefits of using marijuana for medical purposes would likely outweigh the health risks for the patient. Both the patient and the physician have to register with the State.
            The government issues a certificate, which is now in the form of a little blue card from the Department of Public Safety. Once a patient has the “blue card,” he or she can lawfully acquire marijuana.
            But good luck getting your pot.
            This is the dilemma of nearly 13,000 patients who’ve been issued the blue card. These patients can acquire, possess, and use marijuana to treat their illnesses, conditions, or injuries. It is a viable alternative to traditional prescription drugs. And yet, the law does not provide a clear and legal way for these patients to get marijuana.
            In other words, it’s still against the law for someone to give patients marijuana. The practical reality is that to get marijuana, patients need someone willing to break the law. Drug dealers—by nature of their occupation—are willing, but in doing so, otherwise law-abiding sick people are exposes to the black market, which gets a bit dangerous at times.
            Our State has wrestled with this problem since the medical marijuana laws were passed almost fifteen years ago. It’s a problem that’s bugged more than a few legislators. Back in January, Maui’s own House Speaker, Joe Souki supported dispensaries to resolve the legislative loophole. But nothing happened.
            The senate was reluctant to get started on it and all that emerged from the headlines and media speculation about dispensaries was a joint resolution to create a task force. The committee would study the problem and come up with a report to recommend for the legislature in 2015. So no solution came about this year.
But that’s not the end of the story.            The task force has been touring the islands and been very public about its postings and findings. The University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center has been the central hub for all things related to the task force. If you’re really curious you can see it for yourself at:
            One of the most talked-about ways to solve this problem is to set up a system that will bring this market out of the shadows. Other states have brought about heavily regulated (and heavily taxed) entities that are authorized to cultivate, harvest, and distribute marijuana for patients. Some places require a well-trained staff, heavy security, and quality control. It also could be a cash cow for the State.
It’s also a money maker. Colorado, for example, taxes up to $14,000 for medical marijuana cultivation centers. Three years ago, the City of Oakland alone apparently collected $1.4 million by taxing dispensaries. For now, the task force is working its way toward issuing a report and making recommendations to the Legislature in 2015.
Then maybe the real political beef will begin. One senator has been pretty keen on the idea and supported dispensaries (but he did not support outright legalization of marijuana). That was David Ige. When he ran against Neil Abercrombie he declared that he was “open” to dispensaries “if there’s a way we could do it so that those who would benefit from medical use of marijuana would get it legally without going to a drug dealer or growing it yourself.”
Now that he’s the Democratic front runner, he may be the one ushering in a new era of medical marijuana in Hawaii.
            But let’s not forget the loyal opposition. Police departments and prosecutors have opposed medical marijuana in any way, shape, or form. And law enforcement is still expected to oppose wide distribution of marijuana to patients.

            For now, the task force is wrapping up its studies and its recommendations will surely make a splash next year. If dispensaries are really going to happen, then our elected officials will have to close this legislative loophole over the objections of law enforcement. Maybe then patients can find a way to get what they are entitled to get without having to depend on someone else to break the law?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Maui's own militarized police force

            Ferguson, Missouri is a small town on the eastern outskirts of St. Louis with a population of around 21,000 people—that’s less than Wailuku. This month, the Midwestern town went from a quiet suburb to a warzone.
            By now, most folks know about the killing of Michael Brown. Brown was eighteen years old, black, and unarmed when he was shot several times by a white police officer in broad daylight. People in the community gathered in outrage at the killing.
            The police response to the protestors, however, was astounding. It started with mass arrests. Journalists were picked up and detained for not leaving a McDonald’s fast enough. Days later, an elected official for the City of St. Louis who had been very critical of the police was arrested while sitting in his parked car. (He’s African-American.)
            Then there was their gear. The Ferguson Police Department looked more like a part of the U.S. Army in Iraq or a battalion in the Eastern Ukraine than a municipal police force. Unarmed and predominantly black protestors were met with cops decked out in helmets, shields, rubber bullets, and combat boots. They fired deafening noise devices, spectacular light bombs, and tear gas into crowds and busy intersections.
            They patrolled the streets in armored cars resembling tanks or Humvees armed to the teeth. The clash between citizens and police has raised a troubling question: just how militarized have police forces in this country become? This police force in Missouri isn’t an anomaly. The amazing display of excessive force from Ferguson has simply highlighted a national trend.
            A lot of the gear used by the Missouri cops came from the federal government. For almost twenty years now, the Department of Defense has had a program that granted excess military items to local police forces. The long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have apparently created a surplus of big, heavy, military vehicles. Many vehicles, known as mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, are sold or sometimes even given to local police forces here in the United States.
            That’s just one program. Other programs assist police departments in purchasing military assault rifles, armored vehicles, shields and helmets. The militarization of our police force shows that the police can—and often do—declare war on its own citizens. From the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City to Ferguson, militarized police forces appear to be the response to protesting citizenry. Politicians of all stripes, from President Barack Obama to Senator Rand Paul, have come down hard on the Ferguson Police Department.
Can it happen here? Maybe it already has.          Remember the Bearcat? Last year, the Maui Police Department acquired an armored vehicle known as the Lenco “Bearcat” that can withstand a .50-caliber projectile. That’s the same ammunition size used in World War Two for anti-aircraft guns. The U.S. Coast Guard uses .50 caliber rifles to disable armed helicopters. I’m not sure if a .50 caliber weapon had ever been used on a police officer on Maui.    Make no mistake: the bearcat can take the hit.
But the vehicle caused a minor stir. Many just could not fathom why the police needed something so vicious. Folks wondered why the County spent $280,000 for such a beast of a machine.
The mayor came to the defense of the police. Mayor Alan Arakawa wrote that the bearcat would “ensure the safety of our officers and the citizens of Maui County.” It is unclear if a federal grant was used too.
            The mayor also reported that then-police chief Gary Yabuta told him that Maui wasn’t the only county with such a vehicle. He said that Honolulu and the Big Island had bearcats, and soon Kauai would have one too.
            Our mayor provided gave a scary scenario in which the bearcat could come in handy. He reminded us about the hostage standoff in Kahului a few years ago. In that situation, the vehicle would have been an asset for the officers who had to get into the line of fire.
            The mayor has a point. A vehicle that can withstand enormous firepower would always be an asset for officer safety. But even he had to admit that something as dramatic as a hostage standoff is infrequent on the Valley Isle.
So what do with the bearcat in the meantime? Has it been used since it was purchased? How much does it cost to maintain it? Couldn’t we at least use it as a float in the Maui Fair parade?

            Perhaps the Ferguson police had this problem too before Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death. Then, the shooting sparked civil unrest they finally found a reason to use all that gear from the Pentagon. It makes me wonder what we will end up using the bearcat for someday. Let’s hope never.

Why do we name Hurricanes?

            Iselle and Julio. These two were the stars of last week’s news cycle. They convinced me to buy water and canned goods, top off my gas tank, and bring in deck chairs. They even got me to bring the dog into the house—a true first.
Newscasters went crazy over them. Thankfully it ended without any major injuries or death. Iselle took on the Big Island and quickly broke up. Julio wandered north and sent nothing here other than a summer swell.
            The whole ordeal got me thinking why we name storms in the first place. Naming something personalizes it. Tornadoes in Kansas don’t have names. Neither do the icy, winter blizzards that wreak havoc across the plains. Why the different treatment? How come we name hurricanes, tropical storms, depressions, and typhoons? It might’ve started with a colorful weatherman.
It might have started with the colorful Clement Wragge, an English meteorologist sent to Queensland, Australia. Wragge started naming storms in his weather bulletins.
Wragge was a real character. His statements on storm movements and their names were highly entertaining. For example, in 1899, he informed the Australian public about a new tropical disturbance named Mahina. “Mahina,” he explained, “is a girl’s name culled from fair Tahiti with its coral strand, waving palm trees and mountain peaks. . . . We fear . . . that Mahina will not prove so soft and gentle as the Tahitian maiden of that name.” Other times he’d use names from the Bible, mythological creatures, and even politicians he didn’t like.
Author George Stewart is believed to have come across Wragge forty years later. Stewart wrote a novel called, “Storm,” in which is main character is Maria, a non-tropical storm that ravages California for twelve days. Maria got her name from a junior meteorologist who named systems after ex-girlfriends.
Real life meteorologists assigned to Saipan in the middle of World War Two were fans of the book. They started naming storms after their wives. By 1945, the military approved of a list of names for typhoons in the Western Pacific.
The names came in handy. Instead of using difficult coordinates to identify the storm in bulletins and communications, a quick name for a system that lasted for several days proved ideal and easy to use.
Naming the large storms caught on in military weather bureaus. By 1950, the National Weather Service adopted the practice. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, the Central Pacific bureau had adopted a list. For the rest of the twentieth century, tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and Pacific had names. The Indian Ocean basins came out with lists in the early 2000s.
            But there are rules to naming a storm. First off, not every raincloud gets an appellation. In order to be a named storm, it has to be a cyclone, like a tropical depression or a tropical storm. From there, the name depends on where it started.
            The ocean is carved up into different regions. In the Pacific, there’s the east, which is right off the coast of Mexico. That’s where most of our tropical cyclones get real close to Hawaii. The eastern Pacific has six lists of names for storms in alphabetical order (inexplicably excluding the letter Q). Iselle and Julio were on the list. (Karina, Lowell, and Marie are next). The same list is used after a six-year period. The Central Pacific has its list of Hawaiian names. That’s where Iniki, Iwa, and the more recent Wale came from.
            The names are used over and over again until it’s retired. A name gets off the list when the storm causes a great deal of damage. That’s why there will never be another Katrina or Iniki. Flossie, on the other hand, wasn’t destructive enough to get it off the list. Expect another storm named Flossie in 2019.
            The names themselves are created by a committee from each region. The Central Pacific uses Hawaiian names. The Eastern Pacific tends to use Spanish names since they originate off the coast of Mexico. The name game gets even more complicated in the Western Pacific. There, a group of countries in the region like Japan, Korea, and China get to pick names on the list. The end result is a hodge-podge of different names from all over Asia and it’s not in alphabetical order.
            As for the names themselves, they are not intended to target any group of people or a particular person. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the names are designed to be short, easy to communicate, and familiar to the people in the region in which they originate.

            So much for Wragge’s practice of naming storms after politicians. Given the timing of the primary election, this would have been a perfect opportunity to name these storms Colleen and Brian.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Maui Shelves the Styrofoam ban

            Our County Council has stoked an old fire this week. It’s about foam. The Council heard testimony both for and against a ban on plastic foam containers that would essentially force food vendors to look at an alternative to the most common way to serve plate lunches and take-out food.
            We’ve all seen and used the product before. The white round clamshell containers are found in nearly every eatery that serves food from a counter. Polystyrene—the generic term for what everyone calls Styrofoam—containers are commonly associated with our beloved plate lunches.
            The ban was first proposed six years ago. Back then, the Council deferred action so it could study the issue some more. Now, the Council revived consideration of the bill because it’s been deferred for so long.
Despite the long respite, the exact same arguments both for and against the bill emerged. Not surprisingly, there are businesses owners against the bill. Food vendors and the Maui Chamber of Commerce president testified in opposition of the legislation. The polystyrene containers are cheap, light, and easy to find. Switching to paper containers may be nice, some have argued, but it would be too costly. Biodegradable products are more expensive than their polystyrene counterpart. (Back in 2009, when the bill first came up for debate, it was estimated that a plate lunch would cost an extra 15 to 25 cents.).
This isn’t the first time the business community raised a hue and cry over containers. In 2011 businesses opposed the ban on plastic bags. Their reasoning was eerily similar: paper is too costly, it will hurt sales, and we will be forced to pass the cost onto the customer. Despite these objections, the bill carried the day, the ban went into effect, and things started to change for the better.
         Suddenly, it no longer required seven or eight thin plastic bags to bag a handful of groceries. My mother missed plastic bags so my brother in Honolulu would bring them over for her whenever he visited. It was like we were living in some Eastern European Communist country and my brother from the West would smuggle in plastic bags for us.
            But eventually, her need for plastic bags waned and she started keeping her reusable bags in the car. She wasn’t alone. Consumer habits on Maui did in fact start to change. Now after four years most folks don’t even notice the ban.
            That is, until you go to Honolulu. Shopping there is still a shock for me when the plastic bags are used at the grocery stores, gas stations, and other points of sale. Not only that, they’re also in the gutters, flapping in tree branches, and pressed up against chain linked fences. Seems like the ban on bags wasn’t so bad after all.
            Now polystyrene is on the chopping block.
We aren’t the only ones grappling with a ban like this. The north shore town of Kilauea on Kauai has already implemented a ban. A big sign greets visitors to the town reading: “Welcome to Kilauea. A Styrofoam Free Community.” The efforts to rid the town of plastic foam food containers were spearheaded by the Kauai Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and other nonprofit organizations on the island. Other townships on the mainland are also following suit. Perhaps Maui is next.
            So why ban them in the first place? Well first there’s the environment. For a long time now, scientists have told us that polystyrene is non-biodegradable. That means it will not break down like paper products. It’s estimated that that take-out box we use once will take hundreds of years to break down and return to the earth.
            Apparently, it’s not just the environment that suffers. In the cities that have banned polystyrene, lawmakers have cited a link between styrene—which is contained in polystyrene—and cancer. And this month, the National Research Council announced that styrene “is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Whatever that means.
            Questions remain. How exactly does styrene in a plastic cup get into the human body? Does it come from breaking down in the environment? But what about all this stuff about containers taking hundreds of years to break down in the first place? Apparently nobody testifying before the Council this week had any expertise on this issue, and the bill was shelved for another time (yet again).

            And so action has been deferred. For now, we can save a few cents and still get take out in a bright, white, polystyrene container. A container that will take centuries to dissolve and a container that could be “reasonably anticipated” to contain carcinogens. Until a more definitive study comes out, I guess we can enjoy the bright, white, non-biodegradable, and possibly cancer-causing clamshells holding the food we eat.