Why we should oppose agribusiness mergers like Monsanto-Bayer

Such mergers raise serious antitrust concerns and threaten the democratization of food supplies and global self-determination.

Will Caron / Agriculture / Read
Mayor responds RE Rail, Blaisdell projects

Without addressing it directly, the mayor implies that Speaker Saiki's letter regarding simultaneous execution of these projects was misleading to the public.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued the following statement after receiving Speaker Saiki’s letter:

Funding for the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Master Plan and construction of the rail project come from completely different sources. Any attempt to confuse the public regarding these separate funding sources does a disservice to our community.

The rail project is being funded by O‘ahu’s half-percent surcharge to the general excise tax, the $1.55 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration, and a portion of the hotel room tax. On the other hand, the Blaisdell Master Plan will be funded by city-issued bonds and the possibility of public-private partnerships.

We don’t want the Blaisdell to become Hawai‘i’s next Aloha Stadium where taxpayer resources are going toward ever-increasing maintenance and upkeep costs. Just as important, Honolulu is competing with entertainment venues across the U.S. Continent and Asia, and top acts have already refused to book the Blaisdell because of the facility’s deteriorating condition. 

As mayor I will continue to focus on improving O‘ahu’s infrastructure as our residents and visitors deserve nothing less.

Hawaii Independent Staff / Rail / Read
Human quarantine: The state’s regressive policy on jails

Governor Ige's selection of the animal quarantine station as a preferred replacement site for OCCC is tragically revealing of the state's attitude toward criminal justice.

The Governor held a short press conference yesterday to announce the administrationʻs site preference for the replacement of the Oʻahu County Correctional Center (OCCC). It is the Animal Quarantine Station in Hālawa. How ironic—yet very revealing—for this administration to finally say out loud how they view their constitutional responsibilities regarding those people in the “care and custody” of the state.

Another tragedy of this dysfunction is that the state is spending millions of taxpayer dollars before the work of the HCR 85 Correctional Task Force, which is creating a road map for corrections reform, and the HCR 134 Pretrial Task Force is completed in 2019. There is a plethora of research showing that what we are doing is not only wrong-headed, it is harmful. Jails are the gateway to mass incarceration.

Jeremy Travis, former President of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and one of the authors of the National Academies report, “The Growth of Incarceration in the U.S.,” has said that we now arrest and incarcerate people for things that were only sanctioned a few decades ago.

The Office of the Attorney General recently released the Crime in Hawaiʻi 2016 report and said that “Crime in Hawaiʻi today is at less than half the rate it was in the late ’70s, early ’80s and the mid-’90s.”

As of July 30, 2017, the department of public safety reported that 79 percent of those imprisoned at OCCC were charged with the lowest felony, misdemeanors, technical offenses, petty misdemeanors and violations. At $152 a day per incarcerated person at OCCC, it costs taxpayers $1,178,912 a week, $4,715,648 a month, and $56,587,776 a year for these 1,108 individuals.

Imagine having $4.7 million a month to spend on community services that are more effective and less costly in addressing a personʻs pathway to wrongdoing. Investing in a diverse array of programs that support and strengthen our people and their families, investing in education, and valuing the many resources our people inherently possess are some strategies for building strong, healthy and just communities. Along with that, we must impress on our policymakers that incarceration must be the last resort; therefore, sentencing reform is necessary if we are to move forward.

The research is clear: Building more facilities is a thing of the past. Many jurisdictions are investing in social capital and funding community-based strategies as alternatives to incarceration. The Hawaii Justice Reinvestment Initiative is in statute. We can vigorously implement it, as has South Carolina and many other jurisdictions that decided not to build jails, but to build justice instead.

Hawaiʻi has a golden opportunity, with the two task forces underway to change our course. We can create a fair and just system that understands that merely locking people up does not address the host of challenges they face; in fact, it can make things worse.

As Angela Davis said, “Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.”

Kat Brady is the director of the Community Alliance on Prisons and a community justice advocate with a lifelong dedication to bringing the community’s voice into the public policy arena. She works to increase civic literacy and to encourage public participation to advocate for social, cultural, and environmental justice policy reforms that are scientifically sound, humane, and preserve human dignity.

Kat Brady / Criminal Justice Reform / Read
House to Mayor: One project at a time is all Honolulu can handle

With the precarious financial nature of the Rail project—just recently bailed out by the state—and the city's history of mismanaging it, the Speaker of the House today told Mayor Caldwell that the city should focus on getting its priority project under control before starting on ancillary ones.

Speaker of the Hawaiʻi House of Representatives Scott Saiki has sent a letter to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell asking that the city wait on building another multi-million dollar capital improvement project. The letter comes on the heels of the state legislature’s controversial approval, in September, of a funding mechanism to make up a $3 billion revenue shortfall in the city’s poorly managed Rail project through a combination of General Excise Tax extension on Honolulu residents, as well as a statewide Transient Accommodations Tax increase.

The Blaisdell complex project is part of the city’s efforts to initiate “transit-oriented” development along the Rail line, but the speaker does not believe that the taxpayers of Honolulu County should bear the burden of funding both projects simultaneously. The text of the letter follows below:

Dear Mayor Caldwell:

I respectfully request that the City Administration seriously consider postponing its work on the Neal Blaisdell Complex redevelopment project. Although the concept of modernizing the Blaisdell Complex is worthy, Oahu taxpayers cannot take the brunt of paying for rail construction, rail operations and this project. Once the City Administration committed itself to the rail project, it cannot further burden our future generations with additional debt. The current estimated $500 million-plus cost of the Blaisdell Complex redevelopment could be better spent on mitigation of unanticipated future rail construction cost increases, rail maintenance and operations, and transit oriented development­related infrastructure (such as sewage capacity).

It may also be more prudent for the City to wait for the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) response to its rail financial recovery plan submission. Because rail financing remains in a precarious stage, it is not strategic to signal to the FTA that the City’s prioritization of the Blaisdell Complex may divert resources from rail. If rail is indeed the City’s top priority, then the City must make every effort to achieve proper fiscal management to ensure the completion of the rail project.

I support the modernization of government facilities. However, I believe that the timing of the proposed Blaisdell Complex project is not currently in the best interest of Oahu taxpayers.

Will Caron / Rail / Read
Common sense regulations necessary to create a sustainable agricultural industry in Hawaii

Is it​ ​possible​ ​to combine​ ​the​ ​power of genetic engineering with the ideals​ ​of​ ​sustainability ​to​ ​revolutionize ​the​ ​agricultural industry​ ​in Hawaiʻi? Only if public policy puts people ahead of corporate profits.

Adeline Crosthwait / Agriculture / Read
Want to keep guns in the hands of ‘good guys’ only? Background checks would help

In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Bill, which required federally licensed gun retailers to run a background check for every gun purchase. Since then, Brady has prevented more than 3 million gun sales to people who are prohibited purchasers (because they have committed a felony, domestic abuse or have a mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others). It should have kept the Sutherland Springs gunman from purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer, but the Air Force did not enter his domestic violence crime into the federal background check database. And Brady does not apply to sales at gun shows and sales made through the Internet, which means that the Sutherland Springs gunman could have bought his weapons at a gun show even if he had failed his background check.

It’s a loophole with major consequences. While some states have tightened their background check laws, others only rely solely on Brady. In the states with tighter controls, only 26 percent of sales happen with no background check. In the others, more than 57 percent do. This discrepancy means that every state in the lower 48 is subject to the weaker laws, since people can buy guns in states with weaker laws and drive them across the border into states with stricter ones.

Sens. Murphy and Blumenthal have been trying to pass the Background Check Expansion Act and close these Brady loopholes at the federal level since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Americans, no matter their party affiliation, are consistently and overwhelmingly supportive of background checks. But the bill has not moved in Congress because the National Rifle Association (NRA) fights any attempt to stop gun violence and has essentially bought the allegiance of the Republican Party.

Republicans in Congress have fought for years to block any legislation that would protect Americans from gun violence. They were once again quick to offer their “thoughts and prayers” in response to the tragedy in Texas. But thoughts and prayers will not keep weapons of war out of dangerous hands or even begin to address our country’s horrific gun violence epidemic.

Sens. Murphy and Blumenthal know they face the same uphill fight this time around, but they are still demanding their colleagues act. As Sen. Murphy noted last night following the Texas tragedy:

My heart breaks for Sutherland Springs. Just like it still does for Las Vegas. And Orlando. And Charleston. And Aurora. And Blacksburg. And Newtown. Just like it does every night for Chicago. And New Orleans. And Baltimore. And Bridgeport. The terrifying fact is that no one is safe so long as Congress chooses to do absolutely nothing in the face of this epidemic. The time is now for Congress to shed its cowardly cover and do something.

Hawaii Independent Staff / Public Health / Read
After Koa Ridge, food sovereignty is more important than ever

As Koa Ridge breaks ground on some of the Hawaiʻi's most fertile land, the Sierra Club recommits to shifting the state's policy toward local food production.

On November 2, 2017, Castle & Cooke Hawaiʻi broke ground on Koa Ridge after more than 15 years of opposition from the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, the Save Oʻahu Farmland Alliance, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends and many other organizations and community members. Like Hoʻopili, the Koa Ridge development is being built on land that is blessed with an abundance of clean freshwater, sunlight and fertile soils, making it some of the most prime agricultural land in the state.

“While we are ultimately disappointed that the Koa Ridge development officially broke ground, we will continue our work to protect farmland from suburbanization,” said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi.

Hawaiʻi imports more than 80 percent of the food it consumes. The archipelago’s extreme isolation within the Pacific makes this lack of food security a major concern. Now more than ever, public policy in Hawaiʻi must shift toward protecting its remaining agricultural lands, especially in the light of increasingly strong and frequent storms caused by climate change. To withstand the uncertain shift in climate, Hawaiʻi must double down on its efforts now to produce more of its own food.

“This is about our survival,” said Sierra Club volunteer Randy Ching. “Preserving Hawaiʻi’s remaining farmlands, especially on Oʻahu, is essential to a more resilient and sustainable Hawaiʻi. And that means concentrating future housing construction in the urban core of downtown Honolulu,” Ching added.

“Our members and supporters fought hard against this development on farm land in active production. Though the project is moving forward, there is still work to be done. The Sierra Club and its partners will do everything we can to ensure Koa Ridge is built in the most sustainable ways possible—everything from clean energy to complete streets. We invite others to join us in this effort” says Townsend.

Hawaii Independent Staff / Food Sovereignty / Read
NFL players are not “inmates”

The racism inherent in one NFL owners comments regarding the ongoing player protests show that these protests have every reason to continue.

Roger Goodell and the National Football League’s owners have been doing their best to be seen in public as engaging with protesting players. But behind closed doors, it’s painfully clear that Goodell and the owners are working hard to silence these players and their efforts to promote both criminal justice reform and an end to systemic racism in America.

An ESPN report revealed that, at the recent NFL owners meeting, Texans owner Bob McNair said of the protesting players: “we can’t have inmates running the prison.”

After the owners finished, Troy Vincent stood up. He was offended by McNair’s characterization of the players as “inmates.” Vincent said that in all his years of playing in the NFL—during which, he said, he had been called every name in the book, including the N-word—he never felt like an “inmate.” ... McNair later pulled Vincent aside and apologized, saying that he felt horrible and that his words weren’t meant to be taken literally, which Vincent appreciated.

For McNair to refer to the players as “inmates” is telling. It reveals just how racist the NFL, as an institution driven by its billionaire owners, really is and points to the irony of owners demanding athletes’ respect when they give none themselves. It shows just how owners like McNair feel about the situation: that Black men belong under the thumb of white owners. McNair’s comments are so offensive, star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins walked out of practice once he heard them. Now the whole team is planning to take a unified action against the team’s owner. His comment, dripping with racism, proves that these protests are not only warranted, they are critical to standing up against racism, police brutality and injustice.

Additionally, the same ESPN report that revealed McNair’s comments noted that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder were openly angry with San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York for not punishing Colin Kaepernick when he first knelt last year. Despite the owners disdain for Kaepernick, he will be sitting across from them at next week’s meeting between the players and owners. If those inside the NFL with power—from owners to leadership—don’t use this as a moment to push for real reforms, than they are doing nothing more than enabling and supporting racism and discrimination.

McNair’s comments and the league’s silence on them makes it hard to believe that they are acting in good faith in their negotiations with the protesting players. Roger Goodell and the NFL owners need to immediately repudiate McNair for his offensive comments.

Comments like these have a chilling effect on athletes’ right to protest—and not just in the NFL. Every time we’ve seen Trump, NFL owners, or powerful media figures attack players who protest, we see a wave of parents, coaches, local police, lawmakers and school administrators lash out at young athletes who protest. Which is why it is critical for Roger Goodell and the NFL owners to loudly condemn these comments.

It is no small thing that so many athletes have spoken out and used their bodies to express the desire to see a long overdue national dialogue on justice, dignity and police accountability in our country. And it is alarming that, instead of welcoming that dialogue, NFL owners continue to band together to chill free speech and send a message that speaking out against government-sanctioned violence is a career killer. That 70 percent of NFL players are Black and yet there is not a single Black majority owner, CEO or president of an NFL team, creates a disturbing power imbalance.

Despite that, these athletes continue to put themselves in harm’s way by taking action every game. History continues to teach us that their courage likely comes at risk of financial and professional repercussions, public ostracism and even death threats. When those that have a public platform use that platform to speak truth to power, we need to have their backs.

NFL players are not “inmates.” They are human beings, some of whom have chosen to protest the very real institutional racism that exists in America and manifests itself in the form of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence (among other forms). Using the American flag as cover to defend racist policy and behavior is what is truly unpatriotic, not kneeling in defense of human rights.

Will Caron / Human Rights / Read
What native insight can teach us about responsible development

The criteria for economic decision-making among indigenous peoples often involves holistic considerations that go beyond simply balancing people, planet and profits.

Umi Perkins / Resource Stewardship / Read
‘Island Earth’ connects food security, corporate malpractice and the human impact

What the recent documentary teaches us about pesticides, GMOs and the future of agriculture in Hawaiʻi and around the world.

Karianne Myklebust / Agriculture / Read