Rob Parsons

Pau for Now

The New Year is ripe for change. But will we see any?

by Rob Parsons

January 14, 2010

"I was a warrior who thought I could bring peace. Sooner or later, though, you always have to wake up." - Jake Sully, Avatar

2010 started with a bang. Literally. Like so many New Year's Eves before, much of Hawaii became a simulated war zone, with fireworks and aerial explosions out of control. It's local tradition, after all.

And because of that simple fact, don't hold your breath for a proposed fireworks ban, though one was introduced by four Oahu legislators and will be considered during this year's session. It's hard to imagine the majority of elected officials—let alone the public—waking up and smelling the sulfur. It just doesn't work that way.

Still, it's hard to fathom how nostalgia continues to trump common sense. This year, a record 112 people—half of them children—were admitted to hospital emergency rooms with fireworks-related injuries. Among them were two Maui children who were severely burned and whose parents now face potential criminal charges, since permits require adult supervision.

"For a payoff of $185,825, the city of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii are blatant sponsors of terrorism," wrote a Kaneohe man to Honolulu Weekly. (Actual number of permits, a record 8,055, times $25 per permit, equals $201,375.) The man also wrote that the explosions were so severe in his neighborhood, his $900 Kamaka ukulele and some glasses "vibrated off the shelf and smashed on our floor."

But pyromaniac celebrants clearly don't care about their neighbor's animals cowering in terror, about those with asthma or other types of respiratory diseases gagging on smoke, about the litter, or the outbreak of brush and house fires. They simply want to retain their right to make noise and blow stuff up. How cool is that?

A ban just makes sense. Yet when it comes to controversial matters and forward-looking initiatives, our elected officials are far better at discussion than action. Of course, since it's voters' responsibility to hold our decision-makers accountable, it's appropriate to invoke the Walt Kelly quote from his Pogo comic strip: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

A friend recently directed me to a comment left on the Kauai Planning & Action Alliance Web site, describing the "Hawaii condition:" "It's all about putting off changes as long as possible. We want action now. Example. The Department of Land and Natural Resources recently estimated it would take $4 million and 2 years to take care of the damage to Polihale and reopen it to the public. Kaua'i residents completed the job in 8 days with donated time, labor, equipment and supplies. Think about that one for a few minutes and then realize that the whole state government operates in the same manner. Personally, I think revolution is the solution. As it is, no one is held accountable. So the corruption continues and grows."

I like to think that hope springs eternal, that we will finally elect leaders who are true visionaries and are also adept enough at swimming upstream against bureaucratic currents to actually implement positive change. But in the 32 years I've been in Hawaii, I have yet to see it happen, with a few manini exceptions. Maybe 2010's the year…or maybe not. At a BLNR meeting last Friday in Honolulu, a longtime friend and state employee shared that seeing the four island Mayors gathered to plead for the Transient Accommodations Tax revenues to be returned to Neighbor Islands sure looked to him like the Old Boy network was alive and well. (He was referring to their political style and backing, rather than the subject of county versus state revenues.)

It is ironic that our own Mayor Charmaine Tavares would be asking for the revenues now, when she is mainly responsible for quashing the TAT pay-in generated by an estimated 1,000-plus vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts. Tavares, in an interview given to The Maui News in mid-December when she announced her bid for re-election, said that in a down-turned economy, she's proud of the work her administration has done to help small businesses.

Somebody pinch me, please—this must be a bad dream. Has she been so unwilling to listen to those in the community affected by her TVR shutdown that she doesn't realize its broad impact to our fragile economy? Like the New Year's celebrant, she seems arrogant and uncaring of the cries of those who disagree with her mandate even as she blows up their livelihoods.

There appears little middle ground, however, between those who like and dislike vacation rentals, even if properly regulated and taxed. Once again, it's up to us all to get out and vote, or stop grumbling.

On Monday, bloomberg.com and others reported that crude oil hit a 15-month high, at $83.67 per barrel. Former Maui resident Brad Parsons of alohaanalytics.blogspot.com, who posted the link, offered this succinct comment: "If this continues, you can forget about an economic recovery. For Hawaii, just watch the airfares climb and occupancy fall."

But wait, Brad. Are you saying we didn't learn anything about self-sufficiency, replacing petroleum imports and diversifying our economy since oil first hit $100 a barrel, exactly two years ago? Or are you just saying what I'm thinking—that we have not moved decisively enough, quickly enough, to provide Hawaii with a new and improved economic roadmap? What does it take for us to change our head-in-the-sand, stuck-in-the-mud consumptive ways?

In last week's interview with super-activist Julia Butterfly Hill, I related her belief (and mine) that to inspire people to take action and change, it takes a combination of information and inspiration. Alone, they don't work.

"You can show people a clear-cut," said Julia, recounting her historic tree-sit to protect old-growth forests, "and it's like a gut punch. Show them a pristine forest habitat, and they are like, 'Oh my God, it's so beautiful.' Put the two together and people will respond."

I'm well aware that people have enough outrage in their lives and aren't looking for more bad news about the direction of the human race or the fate of the planet we call home. The blockbuster movie Avatar is a blend of outrage and beauty, desperation and hopefulness.

"Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream," says protagonist Jake Sully, a wheelchair-bound ex-marine whose core reality is being tweaked by his interaction with the planet Pandora's aboriginal culture, which recognizes the connectedness of all things and reveres the circle of life. The military protecting the corporate investment in the planet's resources, however, have clearly never hugged a tree and felt the life energy therein.

This is my 150th Rob Report in Maui's last independent newspaper. I have been humbled and gratified by the opportunity to share thought, ideas, initiatives and blueprints for a better Maui, a better Hawaii and a better world.

But now it's time for change in my life as well. I'm launching a business this year, one of the coolest, best, green technologies I have found in many years of looking. I'm excited for the opportunity to share it, to become a part of the green economy.

The Rob Report will likely appear in a new form, sometime soon, in order to reach the most people in the most productive and interesting fashion. I am supremely grateful to Editor Jacob Shafer, and all the other folks at MauiTime who have helped along the way.

And I'm big-time appreciative of the readers who provide feedback on a regular basis, letting me know they are inspired by what they read in my columns. Mahalo nui loa to all.

Happy New Year, too. Pau for now—and don't forget to vote