Diplomatic Relations with Cuba Resumed

Cuba Relations Normalized with Prisoner Swap:
Today President Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and lifted the travel ban after 54 years of unsuccessful embargo.  Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez,has written about the hardships that the embargo and the repressive Castro regimes have imposed on the citizens of Cuba.

The Castros (Raul and Fidel) have maintained an iron grip on internet access. The blockade on internet information critical of the Castro regime means that Sanchez cannot even read her own blog posts online.

President Obama, in announcing the deal pointed to the 54 years of embargo and unbroken Castro dictatorship (first Fidel and now Raul) and said, “We do not believe we can keep doing the same thing over five decades and expect a different result.”

Mary Jo Porter and Maui resident, Karen Chun,  established TranslatingCuba.com, a Worldwide Translation Project for dissident Cuban voices in 2010, as an expansion of a similar effort that began in 2008. This project has been instrumental in internationalizing these Cuban voices and their descriptions of daily Cuban life under the Castros.

The bloggers are subject to Cuba’s repressive speech crackdowns. Several of the bloggers like Angel Santiesteban have been imprisoned and Sanchez herself has been detained by police.

Porter explains,

“What is important for Americans to understand — and this is the central focus of the TranslatingCuba.com work — is that the problems of Cuba are the fault of Cubans, not of Americans or the American government.

If you ask Cubans what their three biggest problems are, they like to say, “Breakfast, lunch and dinner.” One of the most prosperous and advanced nations in Latin America has been brought to its knees not by the embargo or by a lack of diplomatic relations with the United States, but by the Castro regime and its 50-plus-year imposition of a non-democratic totalitarian regime on its people.

The task of TranslatingCuba.com has been to bring the voices of Cubans living on the island, suffering under this regime, to readers around the world. Some of these voices have become very prominent, others barely get heard, on or off the island. They represent a plurality of opinions, and often disagree with each other, like people do in a free society. These are the voices of freedom from an un-free society.

We expect the Obama Administration’s announcement today to spark an outpouring of wide-ranging opinions from Cubans on the island. TranslatingCuba.com will continue to bring these voices to a broader audience.”

Ironically, the newly freed Alan Gross was imprisoned for bringing communications equipment for residents of Cuba.

 

 


 

Posted in International

House Passes Poison-Pill Appropriates, Leaves Town and Dares Senate Not to Pass It

In a gotcha move the House filled the Appropriations bill designed to avert yet another government shutdown with noxious provisions, passed it and left town for the year.  This take-it-or-leave-it bill which, if not passed, would have shut down the U.S. government on the Sunday included poison pills like:

1. Repeals Dodd-Frank ban on Wall St banks using taxpayer insured deposits to gamble on derivatives.  This was what brought down the economy and led to the huge bank bailout in 2008.  The Dodd-Frank provision was a weaker version of Glass Steagall which prohibited banks getting FDIC coverage for their customer deposits from also acting as investment banks.  Glass Steagall was put into effect after the Great Depression and was repealed under Clinton.

2. Raises the amount a wealthy couple could donate to political parties to over a million dollars and weakens the McCain-Feingold election reform.

3. Allows corporations to cut retiree pensions after they’ve retired. (e.g. legalized breach of contract.)

4. Cuts EPA’s budget by $60 million.

5. Defunds the IRS  $345.6 million – a somewhat strange move since the IRS brings in most of the money the government uses.

6. Bans the IRS from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs. This would make it more difficult to remove tax-exempt status from churches and astroturf groups who lobby and do fundraisers for political candidates such as the recent ITN election event featuring Duke Aiona and Elwin Ahu.

7. Prohibits D.C. from legalizing marijuana.

Nancy Pelosi attacked the bill saying, “This is ransom, this is blackmail.  We don’t get a bill unless Wall Street gets its taxpayer-funded coverage.”

But not to worry. The GOP provided for $521 billion in military spending.

The House passed the appropriations bill on Thursday, four days prior to a government shutdown and promptly left town.  In essence, they thumbed their noses at the Senate and saying, “Take it or leave it – government shut down is on you if you don’t pass these poison pills.”

Hawaii’s represenatatives Hanabusa and Gabbard voted no.  Mazie Hirono voted no and Brian Schatz voted yes.  Senators were put in an avoid-avoid dilemma.  A yes vote would lead to an eventual economic crash and bailout.  A no vote would lead to an immediate government shutdown and the prospect of an even worse appropriations bill once the GOP takes over both the senate and house.  Definitely a no-win proposition for our senators.

Posted in Uncategorized

Friday Dec 12 Morning News Summary

enoughisenough

National News: The Appropriations Bill

Republicans in the House inserted a poison pill into the Appropriations Bill written almost entirely by CityBank and gutting the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

In 2008 taxpayers were forced to bail out the Wall Street banks during the worst economic crash since the Great Depression because banks had been gambling on derivatives and securitized loans with FDIC insured deposits.  Letting the banks go belly up would have wiped out the taxpayer-insured deposits.

This came about from the repeal of Glass-Steagall.  Glass Steagall  (implemented after the Great Depression) required investment (gambler) banks to be separate from banks which took deposits.  Dodd-Frank partially restored this rule in that it required banks to use funds other than deposits to finance their derivative gambles.

House Democrats managed to remove some of the noxious provisions of the CityBank poison pill but the ability of banks to continue gambling with tax-payer insured deposits was still in the bill when it passed.  This is the proximate cause of the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banks and sets us up for another crash and bailout.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren led the insurrection with a speech on the Senate floor, calling the $1.01 trillion spending bill “the worst of government for the rich and powerful.” and Progressive Change Campaign Committee members made 50,000 calls to congresspeople asking them not to pass the bill as long as this risky provision remained.

The bill is now in the Senate and it appears that Democrats are more worried about the threat to shut down the government than they are the threat that Wall Street could once again torpedo the economy.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest signaled that President Obama would sign the appropriations bill even with the poison pill.

“I don’t think the vast majority of Democrats or even Republicans are going to look too kindly on a Congress that’s ready to go back and start doing the bidding of Wall Street interests again,” Earnest said. But he later added: “We certainly don’t want to see a government shutdown.”

The GOP has inserted another goody for the 1%: a wealthy couple could give as much as $3.1 million to political parties, three times the current limit.

Elizabeth Warren blasted the derivative gambling provisions saying that if Congress passes the appropriations bill with these intact

“then we’ve simply confirmed the view of the American people that the system is rigged.  “This is a democracy and the American people didn’t elect us to stand up for CitiGroup. They elected us to stand up for all the people”

National News: Torture…er….”Enhanced Interrogation”

In an amazing move that only happened once before after the CIA gave false information on Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the  CIA Director John Brennen gave a press conference defending the agency’s use of torture under Bush.  This is in response to the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture, revealing…you guessed…the CIA lied about the nature and extent of the torture.   After much questioning he backed off on his assertion that it produced useful information.  But this circumvents the problem.  The international prohibition of torture is absolute.  People who torture are war criminals regardless of whether they produced any intelligence.

The news media continues to use the term “enhance interrogation” as if calling it something else (doublespeak straight out of 1984) will somehow remove the stigma of war crime and violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture from the CIA’s actions.  And their emphasis on discussing whether torture produced good intelligence distracts from the question: “Why aren’t those involved with torturing brought to trial?”

Hawaii: EPA opens investigations into Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S)

For decades Maui residents have objected to the choking smoke and ash that falls on their homes, schools and businesses from the 240 days per year sugar cane burning by HC&S (a division of Alexander & Baldwin).  The last sugar plantation left operating in Hawaii appears to keep itself alive by burning coal at their mill and selling electricity to Maui Electric Company.  In 2014 there were over 1,000 complaints made to the Department of Health which grants HC&S their burn permit.  According to former Gov Abercrombie, smoke complaints form the highest category of complaints his administration received…which makes one wonder why he did nothing about the problem.

The situation has been aggravated because A&B which is primarily a property development company has converted cane fields to subdivisions surrounding its active farming.  Thus homeowners whose houses back up to fields are innundated with smoke and over-sprayed with herbicides including Ametryn, Pendimethalin, Diuron,  Hexazinone , Dicamba, and 2,4-D.

Trades have become lighter and less frequent and most burn plumes – even those by Paia, eventually collapse on Kihei, one of the fastest growing towns in Hawai’i.  With the addition of Vog from the Big Island eruption, Kihei is hit with a double whammy on Kona wind days.

On Wednesday, December 10th, those frustrated with the state’s lack in protecting health held a sign waving in Kahului.  More cane burning sign waves are planned for Kihei in an attempt to pressure the Department of Health to start actively enforcing bans on smoke entering people’s homes and businesses.

Meanwhile the EPA appears to be dissatisfied by the Dept of Health’s poor job in protecting air quality and has opened investigations into both the coal operation at the mill and the cane burning.

Posted in Dept of Health, Uncategorized

County of Maui Contributed to Buenconsejo Campaign?

UPDATE:  County of Maui clarified that this was a refund.

Unsuccessful Maui County Council candidate Ka’ala Buenconsejo reports a campaign donation from the County of Maui in the amount of $325 on 06/09/2014 .  Say what?!  County of Maui has become pretty corrupt under its current Mayor and 2014 Council Chair Gladys Baisa made no bones about her support of Buenconsejo, but donating taxpayer funds to a political campaign seems rather outré even for this administration.

One hopes this is simply an error on the part of this first-time candidate.

 

kaalaCountyMaui

Posted in Forward Progress PAC

Felony charges for PRP?

Honolulu Advertiser reports that the Campaign Spending Commission has referred complaints against Pacific Resources Partnership (PRP) to the Honolulu prosecutor for possible felony charges.

PRP and  Forward Progress are bankrolled by Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund (HCMRPF) and John White runs all three of them.  This relationship appears to have allowed for some Three Card Monte on reporting both contributions and expenditures.

‘Gov. Cayatano argued that White and PRP had shown “a pattern of disrespect and contempt” for campaign spending laws.’

The Advertiser article primarily focuses on two complaints.  Gov. Ben Cayatano’s complaint  contended that PRP began scheming to defeat his campaign for Honolulu mayor prior to filing their PAC papers and did not report substantial expenditures.  A second complaint brought forth by Campaign Spending Commission executive director alleges more payments that were not reported. Even more charges are on their way according to the Advertiser:

A third complaint filed last week by commission staff against PRP was deferred until next month, to give attorneys additional time to review it.

“We were concerned that the issue was arising under repetitive circumstances — that it wasn’t just one case, but we have two or three on the docket,” G. William Snipes, commission chairman, said after the meeting. “We were concerned that they were repetitive, that they were substantial sums of money involved and we thought it warranted further investigation.”

An allegation similar similar to Gov Cayatono’s comes from Maui where 18 months after it ended operations, a PRP contribution appears on Forward Progress backed Maui County Council candidate Ka’ala Buenconsejo‘s.

Buenconsejo reported  a contribution of $1,712.51 from PRP for “Campaign Consulting” on 06/30/2014  –  18 months after PRP supposedly disbanded in January 2013.

Since Forward Progress, PRP, and HCMRPF are all run by the same person, John White, one wonders who exactly paid for Buenconsejo’s “campaign consulting”.  Forward Progress?  If so, that is most certainly proof positive of illegal coordination.

Forward Progress poured approximately $377,000* into the Buenconsejo in an  unsuccessfully attempt to take down Sierra Club backed incumbent, Elle Cochran.  Their campaign included radio ads, a blizzard of mailers and a smear campaign against Cochran.

The PRP, Forward Progress, HCMRPF hui seems to be created to circumvent campaign finance laws.

 

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

*Note: Calculated by adding expenses attributed to Buenconsejo plus one-third expenses attributed to Buenconsejo and two other candidates plus one-half contributions attributed to Buenconsejo and one other candidate plus unattributed expenses that could be reasonably attributed to Buenconsejo.

Posted in PACs

Joe Souki’s conflicts of interest grow

joseph-souki

Last year John Oliver mocked Joe Souki and the entire House for determining that Joe Souki who was employed by the American Chemistry Council to derail the Styrofoam ban, didn’t have a conflict of interest. (See 9:06)

That conflict of interest may have provoked laughs on a comedy show but it turned serious this year when Souki appointed Clift Tsuji as chair of the House Agricultural Committee.

In 2013 the House leadership fight between the Say faction and the “Dissidents” or more liberal faction led by Speaker Souki was resolved by courting Republicans and appointing them to vice chair positions.  This year apparent defections from the Say faction meant that Souki could win the leadership fight without going to Republicans.  One result of this was the former Say supporter, Tsuji’s chairmanship of the House Agricultural Committee.

Tsuji has been castigated by Babes Against Biotech for being one of the top 3 in taking donations from chemical companies operating in Hawai’i (Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and DuPont).  Four of these companies are members of the American Chemistry Council employing Speaker Souki.

This year will see a pitched battle between the counties and the Big Six chemical companies on state pre-emption of county ordinances regulating chemical and GMO experiments, buffer zones for agricultural spraying, disclosure of what chemicals are being sprayed and bans on GMOs.

The battle is heating up.  In January  Kaua’i passed a buffer zone and disclosure ordinance which Dow, Syngenta and DuPont immediately challenged in court.  Dow and DuPont number among Speaker Souki’s employers.  No unseemly conflict of interest there, right?

The first judge ruled in favor of Dow, DuPont and Syngenta saying that state law pre-empts the counties on pesticide regulation, citing HRS 149A which establishes a comprehensive framework of pesticide disclosure and rules.   Groups are appealing.

Then Big Island passed a GMO ban and wound up in court also.

Last week Maui passed a GMO moratorium. This is essentially a ban because it requires that no more GMOs be planted unless they are proven safe – something that, despite the chemical companies’ frequent assertions, probably can’t be done.  Certainly the $7.9million in PAC money that Dow and Monsanto spent on Maui to defeat the initiative would hint that they have doubts about being able to prove safety.  Dow is Speaker Souki’s employer.

In a twist, supporters of the Maui GMO Moratorium jumped the gun and sued the County to be involved in rule making citing Mayor Arakawa’s antagonistic comments toward the initiative.  A few days later Dow and Monsanto filed to stop the ordinance from being implemented.

In 2010 the Biotechnology Industry Organization honored Clift Tsuji and Calvin Say with their BIO Legislator of the Year award saying:

“Speaker Say and Rep. Tsuji have been vocal proponents of agricultural biotechnology, its economic and fiscal contributions to the state, and the potential of genetically engineered crops to help feed the world,” said Fred Perlak, HCIA president.  “For the good of the state, both of these individuals have worked effectively and tirelessly to minimize policies that might negatively impact this vital industry.”  [emph added]

So Kaua’i, Big Island and Maui county won’t be looking for any help from the House Agriculture Chair for removing state pre-emption over pesticides and GMOs.

And Speaker Joe Souki should be in line for a big bonus from the American Chemistry Council.

Posted in Joe Souki

Were big money PACs successful in Hawai’i?

dollarsign

How effective were  PACs in Hawai’i races?  Here’s the run down.

Highest funded PAC in Hawai’i history at $7.9 million dollars: Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban (a front group for mega-corporations Monsanto and Dow) spent $362 for each “no” vote they got, and lost.  The GMO Moratorium Initiative in Maui County passed 50% to 48%.  Monsanto and Dow aren’t giving up, though.  They announced they are suing to stop implementation of the initiative.

American Comeback Campaign (Republican Governors) spent $1,799,662 against David Ige and lost.  David Ige beat Repubican Aiona by 49% to 37%.  12 points.

The Democratc Governors got in the act with Hawaii Forward  and spent  $1,459,908 against Duke Aiona.  They won which is to be expected in a predominantly Democratic state.

Forward Progress (funded by the construction industry and developers) spent  a million dollars mostly on county council races on Maui and Big Island trying to unseat councilmembers who got in their way with pesky zoning laws and developement regulations.  Here’s a rundown on the races they poured money into with mixed results – losing one more than they won.

Maile David won.
Brandon Elefante won.
Mike White won.  (He was trailing Mike Molina in the primary prior to Forward Progress’ mailers)
Ka’ala Buenconsejo lost.
Joe Ponantilla lost.
Ron Gonzales lost.
Tiffany Edwards-Hunt lost.

Maui Timeshare Ohana Political Action Committee got into the Maui election, piling on in excess of  half a million dollars for some of the same candidates as Forward Progress on Maui: Buenconsejo lost, White won and Pontanilla lost.  Batting .33 – good in baseball but not so good for a high-spending PAC.

National Association of Realtors Fund  spent $2 million supporting what looks like the guaranteed winners and mostly power centers in the Lege.  Their only loss was Malama Soloman who Sierra Club targeted as their priority to eliminate this election – as they successfully targeted Pono Chong and Mufi Hannemann for anti-environmental positions in previous elections.  We suspect the Realtors were trying to buy access to the more powerful players in the Lege who were slated to win, rather than trying to influence the election.  Oops! They should have checked whether they were backing someone the Sierra Club had in their sights first!

Roz Baker won
James Tokioka won
Henry Aquino won
Gil Keith-Agaran won
Jill Tokuda won
Joe Souki won
Scott Saiki won
Sylvia Luke won
Malama Solomon lost

Local Food Coalition primarily funded by venture capitalist Ulupono Initiative spent half a million dollars successfully convincing people to pass Con Amend #2 which removed the requirement that land owners put their parcel into Important Ag Lands prior to being eligible to get a state bond issue for their operation.  Oh goody!  Now developers like A&B can get state-backed bonds for “ag” infrastructure and turn around and develop the land.

When Bart Dame indicated his doubts about this change, Gov-elect Ige (who felt it would help the smaller farmers) said people have to work with others to make sure the implementing legislation is designed to help the little guys instead of the big firms.

I suspect Brandon Lee of Ulupono Inititative might disagree since it is unlikely that a small farmer hui who can’t get a bank loan would successfully  get a bond issue.  Ulupono is the creation of E-Bay billionaire Pierra Omidyar and is a venture capital company.

That’s the run-down on PACs who spent half a million dollars or more.  Looks like they nudged the results but were not entirely successful – especially once it was made clear to voters how much money they were spending.

This points out the importance of the Campaign Spending Commission and making sure that we get both a reporting date prior to absentee voting and another one a few days prior to the election date.  While the legislature is tweaking dates, perhaps they can invalidate rule 06-01 which allows the multi-million dollar noncandidate committee Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund  (a slush fund for the construction corporations and developers) to get away with not disclosing it’s donors.  HCMRPF was the sole donor to Forward Progress.

Posted in PACs

Maui takes on Monsanto and Dow and wins!

vote

Outspent $7.9 million dollars to $60,000, Maui County citizens showed that community organizing can triumph over corporate PAC money and passed the GMO Moratorium 50% to 48%.  The initiative asks the chemical companies to do an environmental study showing safety of their operations prior to being allowed to plant any new GMOs.

Monsanto and Dow spent $174 for each of the 45,356 voters in the election.  Or $362 for each ‘no’ vote.  This is more money than has ever in the history of Hawaii elections been spent on any race including statewide governor or U.S. Senate races.

It was a long journey to get this initiative on the ballot – the first time that any group was able to gather the onerous 20% signatures of registered voters voting in the last election.

Then Monsanto and Dow ran nonstop ads against the initiative calling it a “Farming Ban” even though only 1% of Maui farms grow GMOs –  one coffee plantation, a small farmer growing GMO corn in Kula plus Monsanto and Dow.

It looked like Monsanto and Dow would overwhelm public opinion with their nonstop TV ads on every station until the Campaign Spending Disclosure came out a week before the election and voters realized that these two billion dollar corporations had spent almost eight million dollars attempting to buy the election.

The revelation that the entire “No” campaign had been funded by Monsanto and Dow and the astounding amount by which it was funded had a profound effect on voters.  Early mail-in and walk-in votes were counted on the first readout.  Many of these votes were made prior to the $7.9 million disclosure and showed the GMO Moratorium losing by 10 points.   Then as the election day votes came in from the voters who had become aware of the huge amount of money that the two chemical corporations had spent the tide turned.

Hawaii is ground zero for GMO and associated pesticide experimentation.  These corporations are able to buy most of the politicians which is why the counties of Kaua’i, Maui and Hawai’i have all passed county ordinances restricting these chemical companies and their GMO/pesticide experiments. Chemical/GMO companies have been issued more open air EPA experimental permits in tiny Hawai’i than any other state in the union.

Ironically these two companies have been claiming for years that there are “thousands of studies proving their safety”.  The Maui GMO Moratorium simply asks them to do an environmental assessment proving safety.  One has to wonder why they would pay $8 million to defeat this rather than to gather these studies and have them ready to present in order to lift the moratorium.

Dr. Lorrin Pang (one of the five individuals bringing forward the initiative and the Maui Public Health officer) said,

“Now they’ll sue us.  But we’ll use it as an opportunity to educate.”

Reprinted from DailyKos

Posted in GMO-Chemical Corporations, PACs

FACE opposes Con 4 (public money for private preschools)

Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE)  analysed Con measure 4 in detail and came out with a statement advocating a no vote.

This plan would take the money that once was available for junior kindergarten and transfer it from the public system into the private preschool system.

Writing for FACE, Mary Weir pointed out that private preschools are concentrated around areas where parents are more affluent and can afford to pay for private preschool.  Thus taking public funds away from public schools to subsidize attendence at these private preschools gives a larger benefit to the more well to do parents.

In today’s Hawaii, when most working families hold down two jobs, this is unaffordable, and there is simply no time in the day for many parents to add a side trip to a different neighborhood in order to drop off and pick up their preschoolers.

She points out that we could take the same money without a constitutional amendment and pay for public preschools and asks why this is not being discussed instead.

No constitutional amendment is needed to expand quality preschools in public schools. So why isn’t a plan for expanding the number of public preschools even on the table? Public schools accept all children, they’re accessible to all children

In advocating a no vote she talks about the well-funded campaign in favor of the measure,

I don’t doubt their sincerity and genuine love for children, but I do doubt their willingness to include the well-being of blue collar and lower income families in their plan.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Monsanto & Dow kick in almost $8,000,000 to defeat Maui voter initiative

You folks on all the islands wondered about all those TV ads against the “Maui Farming Ban”. Who the heck was this group, “Citizens Against the Maui Farming Ban”? And where are they getting the money to paper over our TV stations with their ads?

Not to mention why would 9,000 people sign an initiative to ban farming?  (Obviously the PAC name is as misleading as its ads)

Campaign disclosure is out and, as suspected, Monsanto and Dow are the funders of “Citizens”. And wow baby! Did they fund it! $7,896,163 worth!

As of the filing date, Monsanto and Dow had spent a total of  $6,335,083.

Interestingly some of that money was paid to Support Agriculture Coalition Committee of Aiea for “Professional Services”. We were unable to find any information on this company nor any registration with the Hawaii Department of Consumer Affairs.

After denying (by implication) that he was doing PR for Monsanto and Dow, we find out that Tom Blackburn-Rodriquez & Associates got a big chunk of change from them…over $16,000.  Another active pro-GMO facebook poster and failed state House candidate, Christy Gusman got $3,483.  This would seem to reinforce the theory that Monsanto and Dow are paying people to comment on social media.

Contrast this to the amount of money that the YES on the GMO Initiative people raised. “Maui Citizen’s Initiative for a Temporary Moratorium on GMO Crop Cultivation” got $52,422 this reporting period all but one from regular residents of Hawaii.  $5,000 was donated by an individual in Colorado.  They spent $55,342 on their mailer and radio ads.

We knew Citizens United was going to drown out voters’ voices with unlimited corporate cash but this seems a little excessive.  The ratio of Monsanto cash to  Hawai’i voters’ cash is 150 to 1.

Measures which could prevent campaign PAC surprises like this

Add another filing deadline a week prior to absentee ballots going out. The Monsanto-Dow PAC was allowed to operate for two months (starting at the beginning of September) without disclosing who was funding nor how much was being spent.

Untroduce transparency by requiring that the top 3 donors to the PAC be disclosed on any ad.

Posted in GMO-Chemical Corporations

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