Category Archives: Culture

Trump’s Effect on Hawaii

The state’s congressional delegation lays out five risks, two opportunities and five strategies for Hawaii in the Trump era.

April, 2017

Interviewed for this story are the four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, all Democrats:

Sen. Mazie Hirono
Sen. Brian Schatz
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard


FIVE RISKS

1 OBAMACARE

(The repeal of Obamacare would) have an impact on everybody on Medicare in Hawaii," says Sen. Mazie Hirono.

(The repeal of Obamacare would) have an impact on everybody on Medicare in Hawaii,” says Sen. Mazie Hirono.

One of the biggest changes proposed by President Trump is a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, with no specific replacement yet agreed upon. An estimated 20 million people nationwide receive health insurance through the ACA. In Hawaii, the potential loss of the ACA is mitigated by the state’s long-existing Prepaid Health Care Act, which had already provided health insurance to many of the categories of people covered by Obamacare elsewhere in the nation.

“In general, Hawaii and Massachusetts have been the two states that had the most difficulty complying with the exchange requirements of the ACA,” Hanabusa says. “That’s because we already had what I consider to be the best health care systems in the country.”

Those systems will largely remain in place if Obamacare is repealed, but many of those who keep their overall coverage will still lose some benefits. “It’s going to have a huge impact on everybody on Medicare in Hawaii,” Hirono says. “They will end up paying more for prescription drugs, for example. And they won’t get the kind of preventive care they get under ACA, even though a lot of them don’t realize that yet.”

Similarly, people who are self-employed or between jobs will either lose their coverage, or at least the subsidies that make their coverage affordable. Obamacare requires health insurance companies to cover people with existing medical conditions; many Republicans say they will continue that provision, but no longer require people to have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty. That requirement helped subsidize the premiums of less healthy people; without those subsidies, it’s likely that health insurance premiums will skyrocket.

2 IMMIGRATION

Hirono notes that Trump’s anti-immigration policies will be another risk for Hawaii, especially given his choice of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

“Sen. Session’s position on immigration is very clear,” she says. “When I first got elected to the Senate, Democrats were in the majority. Since the majority members preside, I took many turns presiding over the Senate. Sen. Sessions would come down to the floor of the Senate on a regular basis to express his opposition to any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.”

That opposition was in the context of one senator among a hundred. As attorney general, Hirono says, Sessions will wield wide prosecutorial discretion. For instance, he could help decide what happens to the young people in the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That program allows some undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of protection from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

“At his confirmation hearings, when he was asked if he would start deporting the DACA people, he wouldn’t say he wouldn’t,” Hirono says. “We have about 300 DACA people in Hawaii. And there are many more undocumented aliens not in DACA; they won’t come out of the shadows for fear of providing information that could be used against them in some way.”

Hirono is relatively confident that people who enrolled in DACA are safe for now. “I think there would be such a hue and cry if the DACA participants were targeted for deportation, because part of what they were told was that their information would not be used for those purposes – although there was always a caveat that could change.”
Noting she’s an immigrant herself – the only immigrant in the Senate – Hirono says, “I will do everything I can to make sure they’re not among those who are deported, just because they participated in DACA. Remember, DACA allows these young people to go to school, join the military, participate in the life of our communities in a way that brings them out of the shadows.”

3 ENVIRONMENT

Hanabusa, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee in the House, says one of the most important issues for Hawaii is how Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress approach key environmental issues, such as the Endangered Species Act. “For example,” she says, “there have long been attempts by the Republicans to, in effect, limit the number of endangered species, not allowing new species to be added to the list.”

Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world, and the Endangered Species Act has been a key tool in protecting some of the state’s most fragile habitats. Diluting the ESA, or limiting enforcement of its provisions, could affect everything from military training protocols to land-use practices in the state.

There’s also climate change. As a tropical island chain, Hawaii is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change: rising sea level; the loss of coral reefs due to ocean acidification and warming sea surface temperatures; the increasing frequency and intensity of major storms; and the gradual loss of unique ecosystems. But Trump and many in the Republican majority are climate-change skeptics and support domestic oil extraction, fracking and the resuscitation of coal mining. All of these accelerate climate change. That’s why Trump’s nomination and the confirmation of Scott Pruitt – a climate-change denier and advocate of the oil, gas and coal industries – to head the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have the most effect on Hawaii.

4 RUSSIA

All these issues – Obamacare, immigration and environmental policy – have long been part of the basic divide between Republicans and Democrats. But Hanabusa says the Trump victory has introduced new risks, though their specific impact on Hawaii may be more attenuated.

“One area that I feel will be a problem,” she says, “is the whole issue of the security briefings that we’ve received about the role of Russia in our election. It has nothing to do, necessarily, with this particular administration’s beliefs about Russia; it has to do with finding out exactly what happened. To have the three major intelligence agencies agreeing (that the Russians interfered in the election) I think is a major statement. So, I see lines drawn on this specific issue, but I don’t necessarily see it as Democrat versus Republican, because you hear Republicans, like John McCain, who feel there really needs to be an investigation of the actions taken by the Russians.”

Hanabusa, like all members of the House, has seen the classified version of the report on Russian meddling in the election. She say’s she’s confident in the conclusions drawn by the intelligence agencies.

“I think they were very careful, perhaps even too conservative in their conclusions. Maybe that’s a better way of putting it. I think that they could probably have gotten further than they did. But, that notwithstanding, there’s still the fact that they’re not finished with their investigation.”

5 UNKNOWNS

"We remain well situated to attract further Department of Defense investment." -Sen. Brian Shatz

“We remain well situated to attract further Department of Defense investment.” -Sen. Brian Shatz

Russia is a known risk, Hanabusa says, but it’s the unknown risks that are more worrying.

“I think the real issue for Hawaii is that we don’t know what a Trump administration is going to look like,” she says. “The concern I have is the fact that Trump got elected in such an unconventional manner. He wasn’t elected by the party; he’s an outsider. You don’t even know whether or not he’s interested in re-election. And it’s the desire for re-election that tempers what his next step will be.”

Trump isn’t the only source of worry, Hanabusa says. She points out that Republicans in Congress have also introduced some new and novel risks, though their exact impact isn’t clear yet. She gives the example of the Holman Rule, a procedure that allows any member of Congress to use the budget process to reach down to any individual in the federal government and cut their salaries. First enacted in 1876, before the advent of merit-based employment in the federal government, the Holman Rule was rescinded by Democrats in 1982. This year, though, reviving the rule was one of the first affirmative acts of the Republican-controlled House.

To federal employees, the return of the Holman Rule looks like a scary attempt to undermine the independence of the civil service – especially combined with early moves by the Trump administration to identify federal employees who disagree with administration policies. In a heavily Democratic state, like Hawaii, there are undoubtedly a lot of federal employees who would fit that category.

“People may not take the rules of the House seriously,” Hanabusa says, “but they have major implications. The Holman Rule is one component of that. There are also components regarding subpoenas. All this gives you an idea where they’re headed. But, when they implemented the Holman Rule, you have to wonder, How do they want to use this? What do they think they can do with it?”

TWO OPPORTUNITIES

1 MILITARY SPENDING

Increased military spending in Hawaii largely depends on whether the new administration sustains Obama’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region. This plan reflects the growing importance of the region and shifts military resources so that, for example, 60 percent of the country’s naval fleet would be based in the Pacific. After all, the Pacific Command, based at Oahu’s Camp Smith, is responsible for 55 percent of the Earth and includes the world’s three largest economies: the U.S., China and Japan. Trump hasn’t said much specifically about the pivot – either on the campaign trail or as president – but he has advocated for a major increase in military spending. That bodes well for Hawaii, which depends heavily on military spending to balance the ups and downs of the tourism industry.
In some ways, the Asia-Pacific pivot and the potential increase in military spending in Hawaii predates and is independent of the Trump presidency, according to Schatz.

“There are some specific opportunities for Hawaii over the next four years that exist regardless of who’s the president,” Schatz says. “And we remain well situated to attract further Department of Defense investment.”
He points out that retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis and Rex Tillerson, the new secretaries of defense and state, both support the pivot, as do key members of Congress.

“My judgment is that Trump hasn’t thought very deeply about it, but that he will defer to his secretaries on this. And, at the legislative level, we now have a bipartisan consensus around Hawaii’s critical role. So, when it comes to the shipyard at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, the Pohakuloa Training Facility on the Big Island, the Jungle Operations Training Center at Schofield, all of the service branches are full speed ahead when it comes to defense investment.”

Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, as is Hanabusa, notes there’s a similar consensus in the House. “I also see an interest and growing commitment in Congress to pass not only an authorization bill, but an appropriation bill in a timely fashion. One of the challenges for the private sector, as well as the military, is that when you have temporary continuing resolutions and temporary funding bills that only last for a month, or three months, or six months, that lack of certainty is quite harmful to our military capabilities. You can’t plan training activities, and it ultimately costs more in the long run. So, passing a funding bill where you know how much you have to spend for the year has been the No. 1 request from our military leaders in Hawaii.”

Although Trump hasn’t spoken much specifically about the pivot, he has said he wants to build more ships. That could bode well for Pearl Harbor, according to Hirono.

“ ‘Ships’ means ‘Navy’,” she says. “And the Navy’s presence in the Asia-Pacific is very much here in Hawaii.”
But Hirono expresses caution amid all the noise about increased military spending.

“There’s an issue as to how we’re going to pay for the over $350 billion increase in military spending over the next four years,” she says. “I certainly wouldn’t want to sacrifice the domestic programs that are so important. Not to mention that national security isn’t only dependent on what we do with the military; it’s also the appropriations and money that we give to the State Department, the FBI and Homeland Security. Those are all nonmilitary areas that are just as important for our national security. Then, there’s the state of our economy. If our economy is not flourishing, of course, that also affects our national security and our ability to do things for our country and our people. It’s all tied together.”

All the same, military spending looks like one area where Trump will prove to be an asset for Hawaii.

“Everybody knows I’m not a Donald Trump fan,” Schatz says, “but one thing I’ll say for him: He’s not a small-government guy. So, from the standpoint of being worried about a massive reduction in federal funding, that’s a little lower on the list than other risks, like geopolitical instability and unlawfulness.”

2 INFRASTRUCTURE

"The Armed Services Committee is the most partisan in the House." -Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

“The Armed Services Committee is the most partisan in the House.” -Rep. Colleen Hanabusa

Trump’s willingness to spend also bodes well for infrastructure investment in the state.

“Hawaii is not different from most other places,” Gabbard says. “The infrastructure needs we have across the state, in each of our counties, is great. This is the same challenge in many states in this country, and it’s an area where both Democrats and Republicans and this administration, I think, have an opportunity to work together and actually get an infrastructure bill passed. This would be good for Hawaii and for communities across the country.”

The question, of course, is: Why would the Republicans in Congress pass an infrastructure bill now when they steadfastly refused to increase infrastructure spending during the Obama administration? Maybe it’s because now Republicans are working with other Republicans, rather than across the aisle. Whatever the reason, Trump has created momentum in Congress to do something about infrastructure, Gabbard says.

“Republicans are talking about the need to pass an infrastructure bill, and the president has already begun to meet with different building-trade unions, as well as with Democrats and other Republicans to begin forming an idea of what an infrastructure bill would look like. Democrats in the Senate are putting forward their own ideas. So, on both sides, there’s interest and an appetite for working together and passing this legislation.”

It’s easy to overstate this consensus, though. Democrats, still stinging from the Republicans’ treatment of Obama, remain skeptical. Also, the two parties have widely divergent philosophies about how to pay for any infrastructure bill. Trump’s “plan,” for example, is largely funded through an 82 percent tax credit for private investment. In other words, investors would build roads, schools, airports and bridges largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and then own them and collect the tolls or rents. To Democrats, that looks like a government handout to wealthy investors. Democrats, on the other hand, want to pay for infrastructure through taxes, ideally on the rich; but the tightfisted Republicans in Congress have long balked at new taxes of any kind.

So, while everyone seems to want an infrastructure bill, it’s not clear there’s a plan they can all agree on. Gabbard remains optimistic.

“I think it’s premature to say there’s any one, specific plan that’s been put forward. There have been a lot of different ideas, and I think some have potential and others don’t. The point is that the conversation is happening, and that’s what’s necessary in order to end up with a final product. Hopefully, that will be able to pass Congress with bipartisan support.”

FIVE STRATEGIES

1 COMMITTEES

Broadly speaking, Hawaii’s congressional delegation agrees on the big issues in the Trump era. The real question is: How should they address those issues?

One thing working for them is that all four Hawaii members of Congress serve on committees that are strategically important for the state. In the House, both Gabbard and Hanabusa are on the Armed Services Committee. Hanabusa also serves on the Natural Resources Committee, and Gabbard is on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Between them, the two congresswomen are well situated to participate in the debates that most affect Hawaii. The problem is that the House of Representatives is a purely majority-rule body. That means Democrats in the House have almost no power. To get anything done, they have to work with Republican allies. That’s easier on some committees than others. Given Hawaii’s reliance on military spending, it’s fortunate that Armed Forces is one of the easiest committees on which Democrats can find Republican allies.

“The Armed Services Committee is the most bipartisan in the House,” Hanabusa says. “So, if we’re able to share our concerns about how we address the Asia-Pacific, in terms of China and North Korea and those issues, if you can find a partner on the other side of the aisle who shares similar concerns, we can get a lot of things done.”

She points to her work on the National Defense Authorization Act with Randy Forbes, the former Republican congressman from Virginia. The NDAA, which funds the military, is the one piece of legislation that always passes the House in a bipartisan manner, she notes.

“When I was in Congress before, Randy Forbes and I had a series of meetings about, ‘What does the pivot to the Asia-Pacific mean?’ Working together on that issue, we were able to put what I consider to be necessary pieces of legislation in place through the NDAA, and we were able to address a lot of the Asia-Pacific questions. That was only because Congressman Forbes and I shared the same interests and concerns.”

Gabbard offers similar examples of partnering with Republicans on issues important to Hawaii.

“One is the Native Hawaiian Education Act,” she says. “This was a piece of legislation that Sen. Inouye and Sen. Akaka had championed when they were in the Senate. It required reauthorization, but it faced opposition from some Republicans and even potentially some Democrats. I was able to work in a bipartisan way with both Republicans and Democrats to be able to get this legislation included in a larger education bill that passed the House of Representatives. This wasn’t something that was necessarily easy to do, but by having a working relationship with my colleagues on both sides, treating them with respect and Aloha, this kind of collaboration resulting in passing legislation is possible.”

2 RULES

Collaboration isn’t the norm in the House. That’s because the Republican majority of 237 to 193 (with five vacancies) is large enough that the votes of Democrats, like Gabbard and Hanabusa, typically carry no practical weight. It’s also why House Democrats are sometimes forced to resort to political stunts, like their sit-in on the floor of the House over gun control last June.

Even in the Senate, where you need 60 votes to get some things done, Democrats are sometimes obliged to resort to symbolism – for example, boycotting confirmation hearings, even though Republicans would simply change the quorum rules and vote with no Democrats present. These tactics may not affect legislation, but they have meaning, according to Hirono.

“Majority rule is a lot more challenging,” she says. “So, in a place like the House, the voice of the loyal opposition becomes ever more important. That’s why, when they held the sit-in, it was an important symbolic action. And symbolism can go a long way. Look at the Women’s March, for example. You can call that symbolism if you want, but I think that, to the extent that all these millions of people marched all over the world, and that they continue their engagement, that will make all the difference.”

Senate rules make that chamber of Congress much more bipartisan than the House. Consequently, Hawaii’s senators are better positioned to block some of Trump’s proposals. Hirono serves on five committees, including the Armed Services Committee, where, as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Seapower, she can be an important voice for Pearl Harbor and the shipyard. But it’s Schatz who’s probably best positioned to resist some of the more controversial proposals of the Trump administration and the Republican majority. As a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Schatz has real say on how Congress actually spends our tax dollars.

But, regardless of their committee seats, the members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation still have to make strategic decisions about how to deal with Trump and the Republican majority. This is a dilemma faced by every Democrat in Congress. Some believe Democrats should pick their battles and cooperate when Trump proposes things like increased infrastructure spending, or paid family leave – policies that have long been planks in the Democratic platform.

Others advocate full resistance. They say the party should do what the Republicans did to Obama: Oppose everything the Republicans and the Trump administration propose. Hawaii’s Congressional delegation isn’t that revolutionary and they look for opportunities to work with Republicans. According to Hanabusa, Russia is one area where Democrats can find enough Republicans who share their concerns about Trump.

“I think you’ll find Congress will come together on that,” she says. “It’s not just a matter of whether (Russian intervention) affected the victory of Donald Trump or the loss of Hillary Clinton; it transcends that. It’s about the integrity of our system and whether we’re going to allow a foreign power, or the leader of that country, to interfere with something as sacred to the people as our electoral system. I think that’s going to be a major surprise. I don’t thing they will stick to the party line. I think you’ll find both sides agree on that. I think you’ll also find the House Oversight Investigation Committee will hold meetings on that.”

3 SENATE

Any hopes for resistance to the Trump agenda likely rests in the Senate. Not long ago, that opposition would have centered around the confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet nominees. Hirono and Schatz voted against most of Trump Cabinet nominees, but all those who didn’t withdraw were confirmed despite Democratic opposition.

This highlights how the Senate’s vaunted 60-vote rule has diminished since the Democrats, under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, changed the rule that required 60 votes to confirm presidential nominees. Now, except for Supreme Court nominees, approval only takes a simple majority. That’s what every Trump Cabinet nominee got, though Betty Devos needed a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. This raises questions about how Hawaii’s two senators will approach Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

“I will be spending a lot of time going forward on the Supreme Court nominee,” says Hirono, who sits on the Judiciary Committee. “That person could have a very pivotal impact on individual rights. For example, this court has, I think, tipped the scales in favor of corporations against individuals. I can cite a number of cases that exemplify this: Lilly Leadbetter, Hobby Lobby, Citizens United. Many of these were five-to-four decisions, so the next person on the Supreme Court could make the difference.”

At press time, a Supreme Court nominee still needs a super-majority of 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. The question is whether the Democrats will be willing to use a filibuster to try to block Gorsuch (or any Trump nominee) from taking the bench. If they do, they risk Republicans invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” using the same procedure as Harry Reid to get rid of the filibuster for all executive nominations. Even given that risk, Hirono is unequivocal about her willingness to use the filibuster to protect issues important to her.

“If the nominee is someone that raises concerns regarding fairness, access of individuals to the courts, and things like that, I would do everything I could to raise those concerns. I really care about the potential of overturning Roe v. Wade.”

4 APPROPRIATIONS

"On both sides, there's interest and an appetite for working together on infrastructure." -Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“On both sides, there’s interest and an appetite for working together on infrastructure.” -Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Regardless of what happens with the Gorsuch nomination, the Senate’s 60-vote rule still applies to legislation. That’s part of what makes Schatz’s role as a member of the Appropriations Committee so important. The House of Representatives may pass a budget on a simple majority vote, but Appropriations has to pass a bill that actually authorizes how that money is spent. Ending debate and bringing that bill to a vote will still require 60 votes.
Perhaps more important, Schatz says, the Appropriations Committee is one of the last bastions of bipartisanship in Congress.

“It takes a certain kind of senator to even want to be on that committee anymore, because there’s not a lot of fighting. There’s negotiating, but we try to hold each other and our priorities harmless from whatever battles are happening on the Senate floor or in the country. So, although I’m never overconfident, I’m reasonably certain that, when it comes to people like Thad Cochran and Pat Leahy, when it come to myself, as the top Democrat on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, this is about what’s in the country’s best interests and what’s in our own states’ best interests. It’s especially true that my being the ranking member on the Military Construction Subcommittee puts us in a better position to make sure that resources continue to flow into Hawaii. There’s never zero risk and, with Donald Trump as president, there are tremendous challenges ahead. But, when it comes to making sure that federal investment continues to come to Hawaii, the Appropriations Committee is where the rubber hits the road.”

Schatz’s optimism about the Appropriations Committee extends to its role in limiting Republican plans to gut Obamacare. The House can act alone to cut the program’s funding, using a procedure called reconciliation. But they can’t pass a new law without going through the Senate. “So, they can only ruin the current law,” Schatz says. “They can’t do any fixing without 60 votes, and without the participation of multiple committees: the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; the Finance Committee; and the Appropriations Committee. My judgment is that it is now more likely than not that the Republicans will either leave the Affordable Care Act alone, or make minor tweaks and call it something else.”

Schatz also thinks the political and economic realities of gutting Obamacare are causing many in the Republican majority to lose their nerve.

“I’ve learned, since 2016, that I’m not very good at predicting,” he says, “but I think it’s fair to say that they’re realizing the promises they’ve made on the Affordable Care Act just don’t add up in terms of the math. Just to take one part of this: They promised to provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions; they want to extend coverage to young people until they’re 26; and yet they want to eliminate the individual mandate. That will not work. We need a risk pool to be able to subsidize people who may require more expensive care.

“The Republicans didn’t have to worry about any of that as long as Barack Obama was president; they could pass all these irresponsible bills (confident he would veto them), But now it’s, ‘You break it, you bought it.’ They don’t have President Obama as a foil anymore, so if they muck with the health-care system and make it worse – and they’re certainly going to make it worse – they’re going to own that. They’re terrified of that prospect.”

5 ENVIRONMENTAL RISKS

Even on the environmental side, where Trump and the Republican majority are probably most at odds with the Democrats, Schatz is curiously optimistic. Although he and Hirono were both among the most ardent critics of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s controversial choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Schatz doesn’t believe the survival of the nation’s major environmental laws is at stake. More to the point, he’s confident the election of Trump doesn’t spell disaster for Hawaii’s delicate environment.

“On the Appropriations side,” he says, “we think that we have a pathway for dollars to continue to flow to Hawaii for environmental priorities. Of course, on the policy side, it’s fair to say we’re not hopeful about making progress on any new laws. But the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act – those all remain federal law. So, regardless of the pronouncements of the new administration, they are duty-bound to obey the law.”

Schatz’s argument can be extended to address how Democrats should deal with Trump’s propensity to ignore the truth: It’s OK to search for common ground with Republicans, but you have to stake out principles that are non-negotiable.

“There’s a tendency in this administration for the president to declare things to be true that he wishes to be true, and to try to short circuit the arduous process of making or changing public policy. While I understand we’re not going to make a ton of environmental progress under Trump, there’s no reason to accept that we’re going to backslide on the bedrock of environmental law in this country. That includes clean air, clean water and endangered species protection.”

Schatz pauses a moment for emphasis before adding, “That’s an area where I’m perfectly willing to engage and fight.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Hawaii Business, Politics, SPJ

Can Hawaii Feed Itself?

See this story in Hawaii Business Magazine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Hawaii Business, National AABP, Science, SPJ

Hibiscus and the Ghosts of Hawaii Past

hibiscus-mdThe other day, I was scrolling absently through the abstracts in a recent issue of Pacific Science, when a paper by Hiroshi Kudoh made me do a double-take. Its subject was the typically modest question of modern evolutionary biology: how to explain the loss of seed buoyancy in Hibiscus glaber, a species of hibiscus found in the subtropical Ogasawara Islands, a Japanese owned archipelago about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo. The paper compares H. glaber with H. tiliaceus, its pan-tropic progenitor, and finds that the air spaces in the seeds of H. glaber are smaller than those in the seeds of H. tiliaceus. Kudoh et al. attribute this to a shift in habitat as H. glaber moved inland. Presumably, seed buoyancy becomes less valuable the farther a plant gets from the sea.

But it wasn’t the paper’s science that got my attention. It was the title of the paper: “Loss of Seed Buoyancy in Hibiscus glaber on the Oceanic Bonin Islands.”

The Bonin Islands–another name for the Ogasawara Islands–share a largely forgotten connection with Hawaii, one that has fascinated me since I chanced upon fragmentary memoir of the lonely archipelago. Here it is, in brief:

Although the Bonin Islands are well served with the basic necessities of life–abundant fish, arable soil, reliable sources of water–they were situated far from traditional sailing routes in the Pacific. Consequently, even though they were claimed at various times by Spanish, English and American explorers, and apparently visited by a Japanese expeditionary force as early as 1670, the islands had no permanent inhabitants until well into the 19th Century–just the occasional shipwrecked sailor anxiously awaiting rescue. The word “bonin,” in fact, is an archaic version of “bunin”, meaning “no people,” or “uninhabited.”

That changed in 1830, when a group of colonists arrived by sloop from Honolulu. Honolulu was already common port of call for whalers, and apparently,there was quite a bit of talk among the sailors and merchants about the “newly discovered islands” ever since the uninhabited archipelago was claimed by the British explorer Captain Beechey three years earlier. With the support of the British Consul to Hawaii,  a group of Western adventurers, included two Americans, a Dane, and a man variously listed as Italian or Croatian, set sail for Bonin in early May, arriving a month later. Most accounts of the Bonin Islands add, almost as an afterthought, that these Westerners were accompanied by as many as 25 Native Hawaiians, or Kanaka, including seven women. These 30 to 35 settlers, (accounts vary as to the exact number), along with an assortment of castaways and beachcombers who joined them over the next two or three decades, became the progenitors of what ethnologists call the Bonin Islanders. Their story is an interesting one.

Much of what we know about the settlers and their heirs comes from The History of the Bonin Islanders, an account by Lionel Cholmondelely, the Anglican chaplain to the British Embassy in Tokyo, who visited the islands sixteen times between 1894 and 1922. According to Cholmondeley, the longtime leader of the Bonin colony was a former American sailor named Nathaniel Savory. Savory, who, despite his nationality, spent most of his early life working on British ships, apparent became stranded in Honolulu, in 1829, after being injured in a shipboard accident. While recovering from surgery, he joined in with a group of Westerners that were trying to get the British consul to support an expedition to the newly discovered islands. Surprisingly, the Consul agreed–maybe because of Bonin’s strategic location close to the then mysterious country of Japan–and helped provide for and provision a ship.

Once they arrived, there were conflicts between the colonists. The ostensible leader of the group, Matteo Mazzaro, the Italian (or Croat) fought with Savory. There were arguments about property and leadership and personal conflicts as well. Nevertheless, Mazzaro remained the titular leader of the colony for several years. But when Mazzaro died in 1848, Savory married his widow, and became the undisputed leader of the Islanders until his death in 1874 at the age of 80. Much of the history of the island is tied up in his interactions with the ships that visited the port, especially the incursions by pirates and marauding crews of some whalers. There also continued to be conflict among the islanders themselves.

But the biggest challenge for the original Bonin Islanders and their descendants came with the arrival of Japanese colonists, beginning with a failed expedition in 1861, and followed by a more successful waves of settlers starting in 1875. Japan’s claim on the islands was tenuous, but dated back more than 200 years. Nevertheless, their proximity made them much more likely colonizers than Spain or England, both of which may have had prior claim to the islands. In time, the growing number of Japanese settlers would swamp the small population of Bonin Islanders. Eventually, the Bonin Islands were subsumed into the Japanese Empire (despite a visit from Commodore Perry, who even bought a stretch of land along the harbor to help insure American title) and the Islanders were made citizens of Japan.Gradually, they intermarried with the Japanese population, and, bit by bit, the culture and language of the Bonin Islanders changed. But it’s fascinating to reflect on the little we now know about it.

First, in this polyglot group of early settlers, Native Hawaiians predominated. As a consequence, the Bonin Islander culture seems to have had a distinctly Hawaiian flavor, including a taste for lei and a kind of local version of hula. Maybe more interesting is the lingua franca of the Islands, a kind of English dominated pidgin that shared a lot of the features of Hawaiian pidgin. That may also be partly because of the predominance of the descendants of Savory, who, like the early missionaries in Hawaii, was a New Englander. Finally, it’s intriguing to find that the Hawaii connection didn’t end with Bonin’s colonization. There seems to have been a steady (well, as steady as the Age of Sail allowed) correspondence between the two archipelagos. In fact, Mazzaro made at least two separate trips back to Honolulu to try to secure more support from the English Consul, and at least two more Native Hawaiians made the trip to Bonin. Savory also maintained contact with some of the merchants in Hawaii. (He also kept of a lengthy and fascinating correspondence with his relatives in New England.)

The tail end of the Bonin story is also fascinating. Bonin would play an important role in WWII. At the outset of the war, the Japanese removed all the Bonin Islanders back to Japan and fortified the Islands as a supply base. In fact, the larger geographic entity, the Ogasawara Islands, include the famous Iwo Jima. When George Bush was shot down as a Navy pilot, it was within sight of Chichi-jima, the largest of the Bonin Islands, which was also the site of one of the most notorious Japanese prisoner of war camps. War crimes trials, after the war, led to the hanging of several Japanese officers on Chichi-jima.

Amazingly, though, many of the Bonin Islanders were rounded up after the war and returned to Bonin, which, like many Pacific Islands post WWII, fell under the administration of the U.S. Navy. This was a kind of hey-day for the Bonin Islanders, who, for the first time in nearly a century, once again predominated in the local population. It was a time of interest, among ethnographers and linguists, in their unique heritage. But it wouldn’t last.

In 1963, without consulting the Bonin Islanders, the Navy restored ownership of the archipelago to Japan. Not surprisingly, many of the former inhabitants and their children began to return. Quickly, the population of ethnic Japanese once again overwhelmed that of the Bonin Islanders, and, over the ensuing five decades, the unique island language and culture has begun to vanish. Travelers say you can still find a few of the old-timers who, despite the dilutions of intermarriage and the dominance of Japanese culture, still maintain a bit of their peculiar, and ever so slightly Hawaiian, heritage. Just not for much longer.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Science, Travel, Uncategorized

Marine Protected Areas

MiloliiI see in the latest Hana Hou, Michael Shapiro took the left turn off Mamalahoa Highway on the Big Island, and “went down Milolii”. This hard scrabble community, which many bill as “the last traditional fishing village in Hawaii,” really is a piece of the past. For example, there’s no electricity. That, as Shapiro notes, is largely by choice–the village elders trying vainly to hold onto their heritage. But, once you make the trek down Milolii Road to the seaside, it’s pretty clear you’re far away from anywhere else. 220 volts wouldn’t change that.

Shapiro made the trip, it seems, to check out the Milolii Lawaia Ohana Camp, a sort of summer camp intended to help sustain traditional fishing practices. This year, more than fifty kids and their families attended. It’s a big celebration for a community that practically exists because of traditional fishing.

Missing from Shapiro’s piece is a detail that makes remote Milolii part of a vast and growing world community. In 2006, the Hawaii State Legislature approved a bill that made the waters off this scruffy fishing village one of the first Marine Managed Areas in the state. Since then, the community has been working with nonprofit groups, like the Community Conservation Network (now, the Hawaii Community Stewardship Network) and the community’s own Paa Pono Milolii, to draft the rules and principles for a community managed marine area–one in which near shore marine resources are protected through traditional management techniques.

Milolii is just one of nearly two dozen Hawaii communities, on all the major islands, that are trying to bring marine conservation to a local level. For mostly Native Hawaiian communities, like Milolii, fishing and access to fish is a key part of sustaining traditional culture. But this isn’t just a local issue. Community-base marine protected areas are now scattered across the Pacific. This controversial model of conservation is intended to revive and sustain reef fisheries by establishing no-take zones where fish populations can recover from the pressure of over-fishing. They take many forms. One vision of the Milolii community managed marine area would require all fishermen within its bounds to use traditional fishing techniques. That would mean fishing for opelu, the main fishery for the village, from wooden outrigger canoes, which would essentially mean only locals could fish there–sport fishermen in their big fiberglass boats with powerful outboards would be banned. Other communities use different strategies: complete take-free zones, seasonal fishing restrictions, community member fishing only etc.

As remote coastal communities in the Pacific compete for fewer and fewer fish, these types of arrangements will likely become even more common. Just along the Kona Coast of the Big Island, Milolii, Honokaa and Honaunau all are seeking some kind of community control of their near shore marine resources. And if traditional fishermen in other communities want have a nearshore fishery in the future, they’ll be trying to do the same thing soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Science

Smithsonian’s Pacific Origins

SmithsonianI’ve always been a binge reader. Sometimes people mistake that for erudition, but if you pay close attention to my ranting, you’ll notice I repeat myself a lot. Not that I say the same things over and over (although my wife may disagree), but I definitely quote the same people with distressing frequency. That’s because, when I decide I like a particular writer, I read everything that writer ever wrote.

By the time I was 10 years old, I had read all the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe and committed to memory every insipid line of his poetry. By 12, I read all the short fiction of Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. By 14, all the lyrical nonsense of Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson. The usual bibliography of a young boy, in other words. As an adult, my tastes have been maybe a little more eclectic, but no less monomaniacal. In school, I underwent sequential obsessions with Lawrence Durrell, Samuel Beckett, Peter Mattheissen, Milan Kundera, Jorge Luis Borges, and Roddy Doyle.

But my biggest obsessions have always been nonfiction. While in school, I discovered essayists like Steven Jay Gould, Lewis Thomas, and Loren Eisley. I gorged myself on the grandees of the New Yorker, E. B. White, Joseph Mitchell and John McPhee. And it’s not just individual authors that pinion me; my bookshelves are knotted with clusters of books on surprisingly few, if diverse, themes. There are dozens of books on sailing and the maritime arts. I have a library of dictionaries and grammars in foreign languages I barely speak. I seem drawn to revisionist histories of single subjects: cod, coffee, poison, lobsters etc. And every trip I’ve ever taken has apparently encumbered me with a new manual of birds or flowers or insects. In short, the obsessions of my old age are no less limited than those of my youth.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that, after reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”, I immediately went out and got “Sea of Glory, America’s Voyage of Discovery”, his epic description of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, a four-year odyssey involving six ships, hundreds of sailors, and a squadron of botanists, geologists, linguists and cartographers. The Ex Ex, as it came to be called, also turned out to be the last voyage of discovery completed entirely under sail.

The goals of the Ex Ex were ambitious ones. They were to confirm the existence of the continent of Antarctica, which neither Cook nor Tasman ever got close enough to see, due to the threat of sea ice and bad weather. They were to chart and explore the great Northwest coast of North American, the Columbia River basin, and the islands of Fiji, all crucial to the continued commercial success of the country’s far-flung whaling and sealing fleets. Most importantly, the Ex Ex was to serve as symbol of America’s growing power as an industrial and scientific nation.

But this 19th Century voyage of discovery was in many ways benighted. The leader of the expedition, Lt. Charles Wilkes, who in many ways seemed like the ideal captain for such an enterprise–a meticulous and inventive cartographer and apparently a beloved mentor to his young crew–turned out to be an insecure and paranoid martinet. The Ex Ex had barely left the country before the sailors and scientists began to lament his leadership. As was the custom for these kinds of voyages, most of the crew kept official journals, which they had to surrender at the end of the expedition. These diaries are catalogs of hate for the young Lt. Wilkes, and an obsessive tabulation of his perceived (and all too real) sins. This virulent loathing would later play a large part in obscuring the success of the expedition.

And yet, the Ex Ex was an astonishingly successful expedition. In addition to discovering Antarctica, the Ex Ex mapped hundreds of miles of coastline and charted the shipwreck-strewn islands of Fiji. Many of the maps created by Wilkes and his crew were still in use at the outbreak of World War II. Maybe most important, the scientists of the Ex Ex collected hundreds of barrels of cultural artifacts, biological specimens, and scientific observations. They conducted some of the earliest ethnological studies of the peoples of the Pacific, and visited and charted dozens of previously unknown islands. The Ex Ex put an American stamp on the largest ocean on the planet, setting the stage for the country’s quiet colonization of the Pacific Basin.

But perhaps the most fascinating part of the story happened after their return. Wilkes and his crew became embroiled in a string of lawsuits and courts martial that threatened to overshadow the discoveries of the expedition. Indeed, who among us have ever heard of Charles Wilkes. And yet, the accomplishments of the Ex Ex were, in many ways, more substantial than those of the earlier Lewis and Clark Expedition.

But Wilkes, for all his flaws as a captain and a leader, proved a much better self-promoter and a politician. In the years following the return of the Ex Ex, he jealously guarded the collections of the expedition, even to the point of perjuring himself in court to maintain control. And here’s the kicker: In 1843, five years after the Ex Ex set sail from Norfolk, custody for the collections of the expedition was awarded to the new National Institution for the Promotion of Science, with Wilkes at the helm. The National Institution was a kind of political end-around the ongoing arguments about what the country should do with a half-million dollar (about $11 million in today’s dollars) bequest to the nation from a wealthy Englishman named James Smithson. Ultimately, the National Institution and the thousands of artifacts, biological collections, and ethnographic materials from the Ex Ex would become the Smithsonian Institution.

So it’s not too far-fetched to say that the seeds for the greatest museum complex in the world weren’t planted in the country’s dismal capital, but in the wide expanse of the Pacific.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Science, Uncategorized

Hawaii and Nantucket

Nickerson-Essex-drawingI recently–and belatedly–read “In the Heart of the Sea, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”, Nathaniel Philbrick’s award-winning account of the shipwreck that inspired Melville’s Moby Dick. A fascinating story for any sailor who’s ever known the nagging anxiety of being to sea in a small boat. In this case, the captain and crew are set adrift when their ship is stove in by an angry sperm whale and sinks. Left to their three open, light-weight whaleboats, they begin a 4,000-mile journey upwind from the waters northeast of the Marquesas toward what they hope is salvation in Chile. Only 8 of the 20 stranded sailors survive. Several of those that perish are eaten by the others. Bad things happen.

The survival-at-sea-story is a genre, of course. This one is richer than most because it’s larded with so much history and industry backstory. There’s all the fabulous detail about Nantucket and its brief moment as an industrial powerhouse during the heydays of whaling, when the island whale oil barons were the John D. Rockefellers of their era. And there’s the fine description of the dirty business of whaling–harpooning the harmless (usually) beasts, spearing them to death, then hauling them ship-side and laboriously flencing them of their blubber and beheading them and emptying their great heads of hundreds of gallons of spermaceti, the high quality oil that whalers mistook for semen and that give the sperm whale its name. The whole ghastly business was concluded in the conflagration of the trying pots, where the thick sheets of blubber were rendered into oil before being packed in barrels and stowed in the hold. A successful whaling expedition might bring in between 2,000 and 3,000 barrels of oil and take two to three years.

But for a writer, maybe the best parts of the book are the artifacts of its research. Philbrick lards his tale with descriptions of the first-hand sources that he used to write it: local histories, private journals, company correspondence, ship’s logs, personal letters, business documents et al. He also itemizes the historians (and one novelist) that came before him, and hints at their strengths and weaknesses. And, as a historian, he concludes with a hell of an index. It was all so fascinating, that I promptly returned to the library and checked out Philbrick’s follow-up work, “Sea of Glory, America’s Voyage of Discovery”. Perhaps another time, I’ll talk about that one.

What stands out about both books, though, is how intimately the small island of Nantucket and the remote Kingdom of Hawaii were tied together in the 19th Century. Whaling was part of it, albeit mostly after the sinking of the Essex. By 1846, more than 700 whaling ships a year visited Honolulu and Lahaina, most of them from either Nantucket or New Bedford. George Pollard, the unfortunate captain of the Essex, would get another ship when he finally returned to Nantucket. That ship would run aground on the unmarked reefs of French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and Pollard and his mostly Nantucket crew would be rescued and carried to Honolulu to try to find passage home. (Pollard never got another berth; he finished his life as a nightwatchman in Nantucket.) Even today, curators at Honolulu’s Mission House Museum communicate regularly with their peers at the Nantucket Historical Association and its Whaling Museum. Several so-called Kanaka crewmen from the whalers lived in Nantucket boarding houses, and thousands of Nantucket crewmen caroused in the ports of Honolulu, Lahaina and Kealakekua. At the peak of the whale oil boom, whaling was the main engine of the Hawaii economy, and Hawaii was the most important port of call for the Nantucket whalers.

Pretty cool stuff for a sailor living in Hawaii.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture

Featherwork

“Na Hulu Al’i”
“Said of the adornment of a chief, or of an elderly
chief himself who is one of a few survivors of his
generation and therefore precious.”
—‘ Ōlelo No‘eau

 
A million tiny feathers. Brilliant red ones from the
‘i‘iwi bird. Pale yellow ones, sometimes plucked just six
or seven at a time from under the wings, tail or thighs
of endemic forest birds like the ‘ō‘ō and mamo. Miles of
fine olonā cordage, spun by hand and knotted a million
times into a lacy filigree. And the nimble fingers of
old Hawaiian haku hulu, deftly plying their dazzling
craft. These are the basic elements of Nahi‘ena‘ena’s
Pā‘ū, a feather skirt of almost unbelievable luxury and
beauty, and one of the showpieces of Bishop Museum’s
outstanding new exhibit on the Hawaiian art of
featherwork.

 
The exhibit is the source of much excitement
among museum staff. Betty Lou Kam, Vice President
for Cultural Resources, breathlessly describes Nā Hulu
Ali’i as “absolutely the best exhibit at the Museum this year.” And with good reason. Although Bishop Museum has the world’s largest collection of
Hawaiian featherwork, many of the most outstanding
pieces have seldom been displayed to the public. This
will be the most extensive exhibit of featherwork ever,
with over 40 early pieces on display, including several
of spectacular beauty and historic significance.

 

Līloa’s Sash, one of the earliest pieces of
featherwork known to exist, is a pre-contact item
that is the earliest representation of the ali’i dates back as early as the 15th century. The sash has played an important role in the history of Hawai‘i. Passed down through the Kamehameha dynasty, this is
the ceremonial sash depicted on the Kamehameha
Statue. Līloa’s Sash was found at an estate sale by King
Kalākaua who assumed control of it. This amazing
10 ft. piece is extremely delicate and will only be on
display for the first 6 weeks of the exhibit.

Nahi‘ena‘ena’s Pā‘ū is the largest piece of
Hawaiian featherwork known to exist. In its original
form it measured 20 feet long by 2½ feet wide.
Featherwork was considered kapu, and normally
restricted to men. This pā‘u was one of the only large
pieces made specifically for a female. Nahi‘ena‘ena,
the daughter of Kamehameha I and Keopuolani, was
asked to wear the pā‘u for a formal reception with the
English representative who returned the bodies of her
brother, Kamehameha II, and his wife Kamāmalu from
England. Under the influence of her mother, Keōpūolani
Ka‘ahumanu, another of Kamehameha’s wives,
Nahi‘ena‘ena had converted to Christianity after the
death of Kamehameha I, and the abolishment of the old
religion. Only with great difficulty was she persuaded
to wear the ceremonial skirt. Much later, Nahi‘ena‘ena’s
Pā‘ū was cut in half and the two pieces joined to form a wide funeral pall, which was used at the funerals of both her brother,
Kamehameha III, and, much later, of King Kalākaua.

 

Two remarkable feather images thought to
represent the war god Kūkā‘ilimoku will also be on
display. One of these is said to have been passed down
from Kamehameha the Great, and represented his status
and authority during his unification of the Hawaiian
Islands. There are only 19 of these images known to exist, and this will be the first time Bishop Museum. Artistically, they epitomize the high technical achievement of Hawaiian craftsmen in both featherwork and basketry. Culturally, they are almost without parallel in representing the Kamehameha era.

 

Several traditional forms of featherwork will also be on display. Long capes and short cloaks were both called ‘ahu‘ula. Mahiole were the iconic feathered and crested helmets worn into battle by high chiefs. Sashes, sometimes of remarkable length, were called kā’ei. Lesser pieces included feather lei (lei hulu) and head lei (lei po’o.)

 

Because of the tremendous labor and resources required to produce it, featherwork was always reserved for the ali’i. Its cost made feathers a real part of the economy. Every community had its kia manu – its bird catchers – who knew intimately the habits of their prey. The dearest feathers, the pale yellow ones of the ‘ō‘ō and the mamo, were taken from birds captured live.
Such a bird may only have six or seven useful feathers.
Sometimes taxes were collected in feathers. Even as late as 1876, a kapu was placed on yellow feathers while a cloak was being made for Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani.

 

Featherwork sashes, cloaks and helmets have been historically been considered the sacred insignia for the highest chiefs of Hawaii. These beautiful works carry a freight artistic, cultural and historic significance. One look is enough to understand their artistic significance. Early European visitors to the Islands were astounded by the opulence of Hawaiian featherwork. Captain Cook compared the brilliant cloaks to “the thickest and richest velvet.” Remarking on the feather regalia of the Kamehameha Era, Captain James King wrote in 1779 that their “beauty and magnificence” were “equal to that of any nation.”

 

Culturally and historically, featherwork continued to serve as the badge of nobility throughout the monarchy. The exhibit will include several important kāhili, the feather standards of royalty that were borne in the processions of chiefs, such as at funerals, or set up ceremonially at royal residences. In addition, visitors can see the cloaks and lei po‘o (head lei) belonging to Kapi‘olani Nui, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and Queen Emma.

 

When the ali’i traveled, they often bore gifts of featherwork, a tremendous show of generosity in light of their value. The exhibit will also feature some non-traditional pieces that tell of the impact of featherwork in other places. These include featherwork capes made in England after Kamehameha II and Kamāmalu traveled there in the 1820s. A number of these pieces, often
in green or blue feathers, have made their way back to Hawai‘i and into the Bishop Museum’s collections. These, along with some more contemporary works, will also be on display.

 

Feather cloaks and capes ceased being made toward the end of the 19th century, when the art of bird catching and featherworking skills largely disappeared. Featherwork might have died out completely if not for the work of kupuna such as Johanna Cluney, Marie McDonald and especially Mary Louise Kaleonahenahe (Peck) Kekuewa. Featherwork today consists mostly of lei po‘o and lei hulu, but recent visitors to Bishop Museum might remember Aunty Mary Lou’s beautiful ‘Ahu‘ula O Mailelani, which was a part of the Ku I Ka Ni’o exhibit and recalled the glorious days of old Hawai‘i.

 

The birds of featherwork —  the ‘i‘iwi, the ‘apapane, the ‘ō‘ō, and the mamo—are all either endangered or extinct. It is said that Kamehameha himself supported their conservation, saying: “The feathers belong to me, but the birds themselves belong to my heirs.” It was not to be. The heirs of Kamehameha did not get the birds. But, through the collections of Bishop Museum, at least they can still say, “The feathers belong to me.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Ka Elele, Uncategorized

Moving Cans

Just about everything in your life—food, cars, building materials—comes to Hawaii via the waterfront. We went inside the world of the longshoremen, who load and unload all that cargo, and found that centuries of muscle and sweat have given way to skilled labor and powerful machines.

Story by DENNIS HOLLIER
Photos by LUCY PEMONI

Matson's gantry cranes run all night.

Nate Lum and his gang of linemen spread out along the wharf, watching impassively as the Lihue lumbers into dock beneath the gantry cranes at the Matson yard at Honolulu Harbor. The linemen are here to secure the vessel—the first of several gangs of longshoremen who will handle the ship while it’s in port. They’re a motley group, mostly older and thick around the middle; except for their hard hats and orange vests, they’re dressed haphazardly in street clothes.

But linemen are among the most experienced longshoremen; the members of this gang have spent decades in the shadow of ships like this one. And the Lihue is a behemoth: a 787-foot containership, crammed stem to stern with that ubiquitous beast of modern freight, the ocean container. These “cans,” as the longshoremen call them, are stacked as many as 12 abreast and 11 deep and tower more than seven stories over the water. And yet, despite its ungainly load, the Lihue docks gracefully. As the harbor tug slowly nudges the stern the last few feet toward the pier, the crew begins to send the dock lines ashore. The linemen collect them methodically, hitching the hawsers—thick as a man’s thigh—to a forklift and snaking them to bollards down the pier. The whole operation takes place almost wordlessly.

Containerships like the Lihue have come to dominate ocean freight, accounting for more than 80 percent of the household goods coming into Hawaii. Most of the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture in our homes and, indeed, most of the material in the homes themselves, arrive in containers. The Matson yard teems with the massive machinery needed to manage the endless stream of cans: gantry cranes and jack cranes, top-picks and side-picks, bomb carts and forklifts. But these are all just tools. It’s still the longshoremen themselves who make the docks work. The waterfront is a world where centuries of muscle and sweat have given way to skilled labor and powerful machines, and I’ve come down to the Matson yard for a glimpse at how things have changed. Nate Lum, foreman of the lineman gang and chairman of the longshoremen’s union, has agreed to be my guide.

Lum is a second-generation longshoreman. He’s been on the docks for more than 30 years and embodies many of the contradictions in the modern stevedore. He’s a sober, burly man; but he laughs easily and carries himself with a self-assured grace. Like many accustomed to hard, physical work, he’s taciturn; but he’s passionate about the union and articulate in defense of its traditions.

Specialized containers are needed to haul liquids.

Lum’s career has coincided with the great technological changes that have transformed life on the docks—changes about which he’s ambivalent. When he began, much of stevedoring was still backbreaking grunt work. Today, although most of the heavy lifting is done with powerful machinery, old-timers like Lum still remember the personal cost of hard, physical labor. The containerization of modern shipping is a conundrum; although it’s made the life of the longshoreman less backbreaking, it’s also reduced work opportunities. Still, Lum is a realist. “We can’t fight technology,” he says. “We have to embrace it to survive.”

After getting me a hard hat and an orange vest, Lum and I hop into his truck for a tour of the waterfront. As we drive through the shipyards of Honolulu Harbor, he explains the organization of the longshoremen. In the old days, when the workers were predominately Native Hawaiians, the wharves were lined with great warehouses. Some longshoremen worked the wharf, sorting cargo in the warehouses and carting it back and forth to the ships. Others worked aboard the ships, loading and unloading cargo and securing it for passage down in the hold. Although containers have changed much of the work, longshoremen still operate within the old structure.

“Longshoremen are organized into gangs,” Lum explains. “Ship gang. Wharf gang. Machine operators. Crane operators. Linemen.” The modern wharf gang, they move the cans around the yard and man the “puddle”—the loading zone beneath the gantry cranes. The ship gang handles the difficult manual work aboard a ship, locking and unlocking the cans from one another, and lashing and unlashing the stacks. In the early days of container use, workers used chains to lash the stacks against ocean storms. Today, the lashing is done with 20-foot steel rods secured with turnbuckles. The awkward task of scampering between the stacks, balanced on temporary walkways called duckboards, is still considered one of the longshoremen’s most dangerous jobs. “The meat and potatoes of longshore work is this ship gang,” says Lum.

Out on the edge of the apron—the broad tarmac that runs along the pier—several members of the wharf gang sit in the shade of the container yard tower, waiting for the unloading of the Lihue to begin. Lum drops me off there to find out how technology has affected regular stevedores. Even here, though, longshoremen often have years of experience. Some, like machine operator Kahea Sanborn, have been on the docks more than 20 years. But the experience runs deeper than that. Carlton Cortez, the gang foreman, is a third-generation longshoreman.

A basic “can,” or container, is 40 feet long, eight feet wide and eight feet high. Locking mechanisms at the corners allow them to be securely stacked and moved around by the machinery in the yard. There are variations, specialized containers such as refrigerated cans for food, flat racks for lumber and cattle cans with slatted sides—but they still fit together like Tinker Toys. Containers are also standardized across freight platforms, so the cans from the containerships can be loaded onto semitrailers or stacked two deep on railroad cars. Within the past five years, the cans have also become GPS-equipped; their locations are monitored and recorded on computers in a Matson control room in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Machine operators also use increasingly sophisticated machines to move the cans. Little cabs, called UTCs, shuttle the cans between the cranes and the container yard, hauling them around on yellow utility trailers, nicknamed “bomb carts.”

Powerful vehicles, called top-picks and side-picks, lift the containers on and off the bomb carts. Like giant forklifts, they can hoist a 20-ton can onto a stack four stories high. The sheer mass of the loads and the gear makes this an especially dangerous job. Kahea puts the risks in perspective: “You don’t get injured. You die.”

Being a machine operator is considered a talent position, and the first advancement of most basic longshoremen is to get qualified to fill in as a substitute machine operator. “Used to be all labor,” Lum says. “Now it’s all skill jobs.”

The most easily recognized feature of the Matson yard is the rank of huge, yellow gantry cranes along the pier. They tower over the docks like the robots in War of the Worlds, their legs spread far enough apart that four lanes of traffic can pass under them. They load and unload the cans from the containerships. High above even the largest containership, the crane’s boom juts out over the water, cantilevered by the weight of its massive machine house. The cab, instead of being fixed, is attached to a trolley that runs on tracks beneath the boom. Shuttling in and out in his cab, the crane operator is always directly over his load. The entire crane rides on railroad tracks along the dock, so it can be moved fore and aft along the ship. Sometimes as many as four cranes work a single ship. A good crane operator can move more than 30 cans an hour in a precise ballet.

Lum takes me up to the break room in the back of the Matson yard to meet a handful of crane operators waiting for their shifts to begin. Like the linemen, crane operators have decades of experience—and, in the union, where seniority is paramount, they’re at the top pay grade. It’s a position for which longshoremen have to wait years.

“When I got in [to the union], back in 1970,” Lum says, “my goal was to be a crane operator. Took me five years to get there.” Now, it might take twice that long. Richard Rees, a 25-year veteran of the docks, puts the wait in perspective. “I’ve been driving a crane about five years,” he says. “At Matson, we have seven gantry cranes. Crane operators work in pairs; two guys share a 10-hour shift, five [hours] on, five off. There are only 21 crane operators.”

I glance at the other crane operators milling around the break room. None of them look like they’re ready to give up their privileged positions, though it can be a lonesome job. Later, each of them will head out to his crane, climb the 10 flights of stairs inside one of the crane’s legs, then spend five hours in his cab, moving cans. They carry a lunch with them, and an old jug usually serves as the latrine.

Lum takes me up in the control tower to meet Rusty Leonard, Matson’s general manager for stevedore operations. Leonard has been on the docks for 30 years, five of them at Matson. Within the industry, he says, the big changes started in the early 1970s. “Before, there used to be mostly break bulk carriers like the old Maunalani and the Manukai and the Moanalei.”

Before the use of cans, cargo was loaded into the ships piecemeal, and stevedores climbed right down into the hold to do it. Cargo was segregated according to its destination port, and the ship gang had to serve as carpenters, too, building bulkheads and frameworks in the ’tween decks to shore up the cargo. Later, surveyors passed through, checking to make sure the shoring would hold.

Older stevedores talk about those times with dark humor. “The worst was getting on the tuna boats,” said Leon Camara, a winch man. “Got all the frozen tuna piled up inside. Frozen, but still stink though. Used to have to throw away our clothes.”

There were no gantry cranes back then. Instead, shipboard jack-cranes crowded the vessel’s deck—sometimes as many as seven to a ship, one for each hold. Cargo—the small stuff packed in bales and boxes and crates, the large stuff left loose—was hoisted in and out of the hold on pallets. Stevedores loaded and unloaded the pallets one by one, using handcarts to push freight around the enormous dockside warehouses. This called for a lot of labor, and, at its height, the longshoremen’s union had more than 4,000 members in Hawaii.

Modernization took a bite out of the union, and by the late ’50s and early ’60s, more than 2,000 stevedores were laid off. As Lum points out, “When I got hired in 1970, there were only about 400 longshoremen.” As harbor operations have grown, that number has gradually increased, and today there are about 1,000 longshoremen in the local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

A visit to a monthly meeting at the union hall reveals a surprisingly diverse group. Most of the longshoremen had to wait a long time before they got their opportunity to join, even starting longshore work as a second career. “We’ve got a lot of athletes,” Lum says. “Got Jesus Salude, the former world flyweight champion. Got football players, too: Elvis Satele, Karl Lorch, Levi Stanley.” And it’s not just athletes who gravitate to the docks; there are also former policemen and ex-firefighters.

I look over the meeting hall. It’s a serious day for the union—they’re debating some of the details for their upcoming contract negotiations—and many of the stevedores have crowded their folding chairs toward the front of the room to listen to what the leadership has to say. But there’s also an air of conviviality in the room, and I’m struck by the sense of brotherhood there. During the union meeting, stevedores move in and out of the room, greeting each other with warm embraces. There are still a lot of Native Hawaiians among the longshoremen, and they often pause to honi in the old-fashioned way.

I head downstairs to the parking lot where some of the stevedores are preparing food. I find Ward Mariani there behind a grill, carefully tending the shoyu chicken and teriyaki steak. Mariani spent 34 years as a cop, but he’s been a longshoreman for seven years, three of them as foreman on a wharf gang. He points out that, even with all the machinery, the docks can be hard on a middle-age man. “I wish I was a little bit younger when I got in,” Mariani says. “What helped me was I stayed in shape. Lashing is hard work. It takes a lot out of you.”

When the meeting upstairs finally ends, Lum comes down and introduces me to Karl Lorch, one of the most famous stevedores. He joined the longshoremen after more than a decade as a professional football player with the Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins.

Lorch knew people at Hawaii Stevedores Inc., one of the two big stevedore companies, so when his football career ended, becoming a longshoreman seemed like a good option. “It’s a hard job,” Lorch says. “But I went to school just to get by and to play football. This is a good job.” The ILWU is still a powerful union in Hawaii, so the wages and benefits are good for the stevedores. Although it’s dangerous work done in all weather, the basic laborer makes $31 an hour. Longshoremen often endure criticism for being overpaid, but, with the hours they work, they don’t make much more than other skilled blue-collar workers, like electricians and plumbers. Still, the longshoremen are sensitive about the subject.

Lorch also talks about the air of brotherhood I had noticed. “This is my first experience with a union—a real union,” he says. “Everybody’s like cousins, a big family.”

Lorch has been a stevedore for 18 years now. Normally, that would be enough time for a longshoreman to become a machine operator or a winchman, but Lorch remains happy on the wharf gang. “I started here when I was 40 years old,” he says. “I figured by the time I became a crane operator I’d be an old man. So, I just let the young guys go by.”

I ask Lorch what surprised him the most when he became a longshoreman. He thinks for a moment. “The first thing I noticed,” he tells me, “the pier is running 24 hours a day. With the lights on and the whole pier lit up, you’d think it was daylight. At 10 p.m., you’re just as awake as you are at noon.”

Listening to Lorch describe his early days on the docks, I think of something that a foreman on the wharf gang told me: “Just remember, at 2 a.m., when you’re home in bed dreaming, we’re down here. Moving cans.”

Dennis Hollier is a freelance writer with a real fascination for the hubbub of the waterfront. He writes about business, culture, science and the environment, but he can usually be seen staring wistfully out to sea.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine, Technology

Community: A Matter of Trust

Can community land trusts provide affordable housing? Maui is set to find out.

DENNIS HOLLIER

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez

Maui may be the center of Hawai‘i’s crisis in affordable housing. With the average home price approaching $700,000, working families there are increasingly excluded from home ownership. And Maui is only the worst example. Affordable housing is in short supply throughout the state. But Maui is also at the forefront in the search for solutions. Recently, affordable-housing advocates, the Realtors Association of Maui and the county government collaborated to create Na HALE o Maui, a community land trust (CLT).

Na HALE o Maui is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to acquire land and develop affordable housing. Although it plans to sell homes, the organization will never sell the land, instead remaining the permanent landowner. By definition, CLTs like this offer long-term, renewable leases—a concept familiar to Hawai‘i homeowners. In addition, when the owner decides to resell his home, a CLT will typically retain the option to buy at a specified price. The price is fixed by a formula that gives the seller a fair profit. These rules ensure that the homes remain affordable for future buyers.

CLTs aren’t new; more than 30 states have them. For example, BCLT, of Burlington, Vt., has provided affordable housing for more than 20 years. Recently, BCLT merged with another organization to become the Champlain Housing Trust and now oversees around 2,000 homes.

Here in Hawai‘i, the CLT model enjoys bipartisan political support, including that of state Sen. Robert Bunda (D). Last year, Bunda introduced legislation making certain state lands available to CLTs. According to Bunda, “We have lots of land currently zoned for agriculture that would be appropriate for this kind of development.” This year, Bunda expects to introduce legislation authorizing private developers to build homes on state land leased to CLTs.

CLTs have some downsides: Homeowners may not receive the traditional benefits of owning a house. For example, CLTs limit the amount of equity a home can accrue, minimizing one of the primary ways a fee simple home builds a family’s wealth. Some experts are also concerned about the use of state resources for private gain.

But Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, president of Na HALE o Maui, says support for the CLT is strong. The county council has already appropriated $50,000 for it, and the Realtors Association of Maui chipped in $15,000. “We’re moving ahead,” says Blackburn-Rodriquez. “We’re already in consultation with a number of developers.” Private landowners have offered to donate land. With luck, construction could start within a year. Not a moment too soon for Maui’s strapped homebuyers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine

Waimea Redux

Courtesy Audobon Society

Gary Gill has big plans for the future of Waimea valley. He just doesn’t know exactly what they are yet. It’s not surprising. As executive director of Hiipaka, the nonprofit created by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to manage the park, he just took charge of the valley on Feb. 1. It’s been a mad rush to get basic systems in place. “Up to now, we haven’t had time to look at long-term planning,” he says.

That’s not to say Gill doesn’t have a vision. The 1,875-acre park will continue popular programs, like its botanical gardens, but he expects a stronger focus on native Hawaiian culture.

“This is a place for local people to come,” says the former city councilman.

“We’d like to see a lot more cultural programs: hula and weaving and Hawaiian language. Over time, we hope to make the valley a living puuhonua (sanctuary).”

Gill believes visitors will also be drawn to authentic Hawaiian culture. That’s an important consideration, because the valley has operated at a loss in recent years. OHA plans to spend millions of dollars to take care of the park’s long-deferred maintenance, but, ultimately, Waimea should be self-sustaining, he says.

“We’ll probably be increasing the business staff,” Gill says. “We have an existing gift shop, which we’ll be redefining, and refocusing on native Hawaiian goods. We’ll also be reopening the Proud Peacock [restaurant] and concentrating on improving facility rental space.”

Butch Helemano is the kahu of Puu o Mahuka, the largest heiau on Oahu, which sits on the bluff overlooking Waimea. “Some people don’t want to see any entertainment in the
valley, but I believe the tour buses belong there,” he says. “You have to have respect for the culture, but it’s possible to have these programs without bastardizing Hawaiian culture. We just need real practitioners.”

Gill knows that, for any of his plans to succeed, he’ll need the support of community members like Helemano. “Everyone loves Waimea,” he says, “and everyone has a stake in it. But if you want people to come, the first thing you have to do is invite them.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine, Travel